Nibble, you amaze me, I said, patting him on the back the next time I saw him. Nibble had come panting into the barn while I was milking. He was frothing at the mouth. You must have been up all night, you look beat.
"Water," he panted, "I've been running..
How about some warm milk? Here, open your mouth I'll squirt some in right out of the tit...what have you been up to... were you in some kind of trouble?
Averting his eyes, Nibble gulped down the milk. "I was running deer. It's something I'm not supposed to do, in fact, it's against the law, but sometimes I can't help myself - ever heard of anything so stupid? There are more deer than you can count, but we dogs aren't supposed to chase them... almost got caught by the Game Warden and cut my foot pads again too... ughrrah... ouch. Let me lie down here and relax."
I've been thinking about this story you've been telling me, Nibble, I said, how could you have known all these people so intimately? Were you Irving Allen's dog...or one of Scoggins' hounds... or did Fred Straker keep hounds?
"Please...don't rush me," Nibble yawned," I know when I tell you, you won't believe me but you'll see... everything will fall into place and you may be surprised too... I certainly was. Right now, since everyone's talking about her, I think I should acquaint you with Rae Greenfield."
You mean the lady who got Irving Allen to shoot his creatures? The richest woman in the world, the recluse who sells melons from her pickup?"
"The same... and her pickup truck and trailer is as good a place as any to begin because she's been living out of it for so long it's like they're same object. Imagine her driving east on this road, out of Little Rock, Arkansas on her way to Memphis. The drive from Cheyenne, Wyoming, where she's been working for the past two years, has been fatiguing and now, almost at the end of her journey, she's comes to a detour."
" 'Gotta cut this line somewheres, a young flagman says. 'You'll have to stop here.'
'What's that?' says a tanned face between a pair of stereo headphones. Miss Greenfield takes off her head gear, surveys the scene, slides out of her truck and stretches. 'Guess I need a break, looks like I'm in for it... how long does this go on?'
'Bout twenty miles,' says the flagman, 'past Forrest City.'
'How long, you figure I'm going to be sitting around here?'
'Till the line waiting at the other end - the westbound lane - gets back here, Ma'am... 'bout forty minutes I reckon,' the flagman smiles.
'I might as well brew up some coffee,then,' says Rae Greenfield, 'care to join me in a cup?'
'I best stay out here, Ma'am, but I sure wouldn't mind if you could pass one out to me.'
Just as Miss Greenfield was climbing back into her trailer, a big new Chevy 4 x 4 pulls up and a good looking man jumps out.
'Maybe you'd like a cup too?' Rae looks him up and down and smiles, 'long as we're going to be here for awhile.'
'Pretty plucky for an older gal,' the flagman says as Rae disappears into her trailer.
'Light or dark?' she yells, sticking her head out the window.
'Dark with sugar,' comes the reply.
'What's your name, cowboy? Says Rae, producing two mugs.
The tall man's lips tighten.
"Sorry, no offense," Rae says. 'Been working this restaurant out of Cheyenne... had a lot of customers - real cowboys... you look like one of them."
He grins at Rae and introduces himself. 'Mike's the name... Mike Armstrong.. I'm the foreman on this job... you really get around, don't you?'
'Not like this, I don't.' Rae says, extending her hand. 'Maggie's my name, Maggie Fuller,' giving her latest alias.
'Why don't you go over to Interstate 40, Maggie," Mike says. "No detours there... just a couple of miles north... how come you're on this road anyhow? This here is the old road from Little Rock to Memphis, you're on the wrong road."
Swallowing a mouthful of coffee, Rae Greenfield shook her head. 'Never travel those Interstates, Mike, they put me to sleep. Once I went to sleep on Interstate 5 out in California - almost got myself killed. Besides,' her eyes twinkled mischievously, 'You never meet anyone interesting on Interstates. I always travel the side roads.'
'Must take you a long time,' Mike wondering what Rae is up to.
'Sometimes I get stuck in a town and don't get out for months,' Rae says passing him some coffee, 'That's how Cheyenne was... I'm eating at this restaurant, family type place, when the hostess there has a heart attack... poor thing, helped her get to the hospital and they saved her life but she couldn't work again for two years... I took over her job so she'd have it when she recovered.'
'Did she recover?' the flagman asks.
'Why yes, Rae says,' that's why I'm rollin' again.
'This here is Elwood,' the foreman introduces the flagman, a teen-ager with long blond hair.
'Hi, Elwood,' Rae says, 'How long you been on this job?'
'Too long,' Elwood replies rolling his eyes, 'dropped outta high school three years ago... had to unwind... going back next week.'
'It's good to get an education,' Rae observes. 'I was a high school teacher once myself.'
'School teacher.' Mikes nods approvingly. 'Nice.'
'Yes, a high school teacher,' Rae lied, 'retired early... thought I'd like to get out and see the world while I could still get around.'
Mike smiles, pointing to a cloud of dust on the horizon. 'Looks like the westbound lane is movin'. Elwood, you best get back out there....so you're bound for Memphis then, are you?' he asks Rae.
The way he asks, it sounds to Rae like he would like either to go along with her or would like her to stay.
'Well, that's where I'm headed,' Rae said tentatively, 'got a musician friend there, real old man, I want to see him before he dies. Never can tell though. I don't make plans, might not get there...'
Mike Armstrong was impressed that a woman Rae's age would be so together. 'Mind if I ask you something, Maggie?'
'What's that, Mike?... Ask and ye shall receive.'
'My trailer's parked over in Forrest City - that's the next town. What say you and me have dinner together. By the time you get through this darn detour it's gonna be too late for you to drive on to Memphis."
'Sounds fine to me,' Rae smiles.
'Here comes the west line," Mike laughs. 'Meet you at the other end... you'll see a foreman's shack there... just park behind it and wait on me till I come, okay?'
'Okay,' Rae yells brightly, getting in her truck.
Nibble yawned and rolled over on his side. "Am I boring you, he groaned, and I replied that on the contrary I was interested in hearing more about this interesting woman. Nibble stretched, got up and shook himself, sat down and began again.
"Well," he continued, "On the way to Forrest City, something about Mike's laughter made Rae feel like a teenager again. Odd memories popped into her mind... like Bailey's Beach in Newport which she hadn't thought of in years... her friend Mini's cabana and having her first period there... bleeding all over the place and how no one in her puritanical family had ever bothered to mention such things would happen to her. Standing there in front of a mirror covered in blood she'd suddenly found herself ugly and wished herself dead .... cried and cried and fell in a heap on the floor."
"That summer, filled with the carefree enthusiasm of being thirteen, she'd sailed with her father, mother and several cousins from her mother's place on Naushon, across Rhode Island Sound past Cuttyhunk and Skonnet Point to Newport for the races. The smell of the salt water, the flapping canvas sails, the brightly colored flags on the rows of yachts in Newport Harbor, how well she remembered them. Two weeks of luncheons, swimming parties, dinners and glittering balls kept everyone busy but not her. Awkward, gawky, ugly duckling, were the words people whispered behind her back as she sat alone dance after dance and boys who were introduced to her ran the other way as soon as they dared."
"Now, forty years later, she could still hear Mini's laughter as she and her friend Kate flirted with their beaus and suddenly, there on that Arkansas detour, she realized how the memory of that awful time had hovered over her life like a black cloud."
"Of course, Mini and Kate had discovered her plight, come to her rescue, explained that she wasn't going to bleed to death and returned her to her father's cottage; and that fall she'd gone to boarding school, the same one attended by Mini and Kate, and somehow her school days had passed and life had gone on."
"Mini and Kate had both married dashing husbands, suffered through their infidelities, lived all over the world, influenced events in Washington, London and Paris, drank too much and talked too much and were now space cases. Rae had heard that Mini, attended by her own doctor, was confined to a a very large yacht with its own helicopter pad, on which she sailed continuously around the world, dropping anchor at one resort after another, restlessly cruising in search of God knows what. And she'd heard Kate spent her days drifting from Newport and Saratoga to Palm Beach and Lexington, and back again, accumulating a stable of lovers to match that of her thorough-bred horses."
"Rae had followed their progress in the social columns of the newspapers but plain Rae Greenfield had chosen a different life. Perhaps her homeliness had saved her, or her stubbornness. While she was alive, Rae's ambitious mother had arranged several marriages for her which had fallen apart - one at the very altar itself. Finally, liberated by death from the clutches of this woman, Rae had taken up painting, kept a studio in Greenwich Village, summered on a friend's farm in Wales and, living as obscurely as she knew how, was moderately happy. But a few years later when her father died and his fortune passed into her care, she panicked, decided to disappear and, chucking everything but her father's New York town house, a hilarious marble monument which she had closed, purchased a truck and trailer and escaped into the American interior, a place which, as she'd never been west of the Hudson River, was as strange to her as the most exotic foreign land. Armed with a list of friends an acquaintances whom she planned to visit in places like Santa Fe, Phoenix and Santa Barbara, she set out. Along the way, however, she became so fascinated with the adventures in which she became involved, that she soon threw away her address book and set about divesting herself of the character and trappings of Rae Greenfield."
"At first the physical effort involved in driving a big truck and trailer exhausted her. Soon, however, she realized she was going too fast, and slowed down, bought a bicycle and made frequent sorties into the country side. Rae had always been strong physically, but stopping to ride her bike two or three miles a day, she realized she was feeling younger and younger. Finally she found someone to drive her truck, spent most of her time on her bike and actually pedaled over the Rocky Mountains from Billings Montana, to Oregon."
"It was in Portland that she realized if she was ever to achieve her goal of looking and feeling like everyone else she should find a job. Accordingly, she enrolled in a welding school, became an apprentice in a shipyard and eventually a card carrying member of the shipyard workers union. After a awhile, however, remembering that she had planned to see the whole country she quit her job at the shipyard, purchased a new truck and trailer and began driving south, finding work where she could, stopping in R.V. camps, taking up salmon fishing and getting to know loggers' wives and girlfriends. For a time she even worked a gold claim on Oregon's Illinois River and spent two winters packing in by mule to that remote spot. Later she got a job working in a truck garden near Sebastepol,California, sold vegetables from the back of her truck in Bolinas and Stinson Beach, beat drums in the moonlight on the cliffs of Big Sur and the sands of Venice, became a taxi driver in Los Angeles, a hospital worker in Phoenix and finally a hostess at the Prairie King restaurant near Cheyenne, Wyoming."
"Yes, thinking it all over, she had to smile, what a trip she'd had. And here she was now outside Forrest City, Arkansas waiting for a fellow named Mike and, as usual, not knowing what might happen next."
"The only thing that really irritated her was her obligatory connection with The Greenfield Foundation, that monolithic charitable trust which her guilty grandfather had finally set up, and her weekly conversations with its secretary, one Larsen McKantor in New York."
"For years she had studiously avoided any involvement in the affairs of the foundation by going along with whatever the other board members decided, but that ended one day when she picked up a wild-eyed hitchhiker near San Francisco who told her he'd worked as a biologist in a lab that was going to manufacture monsters. At first his story sounded like science fiction, but when she questioned him throughly and discovered that the project he had worked on was funded by the Greenfield Foundation, she was horrified. She loved America and had always believed Americans were essentially good people. Who was behind these horrible goings on?"
"Ten minutes after she'd dropped the hitchhiker off near Golden Gate Park, she was at a pay phone talking to Larsen McKantor in New York, demanding to know the truth. Evasively, she thought, he had referred her to Dr Irving Allen, who admitted everything. A few days later when she received information that he had destroyed his lab, and a few days after that received a large package containing all his research papers on the project, she was delighted. But a year later when she read that a certain Dr Irving Allen and his companion had been shot at the Yale Club in New York she felt conscious stricken. And worse, now, because she'd objected to this obscene project, Dr Allen's associates were asking for a face to face meeting."
"After thirty years in which she'd finally succeeded in becoming an average happy person was she going to get involved? She was almost sixty and had a lot to lose - her independence, her freedom. She knew why this Frederick B Straker wanted to see her. Was she going to fall into his trap? No, but how to stop him.?"
Nibble was yawning again and I had finished milking. Are you tired, I asked that distinguished dog, or should we call it a day? "Only a few minutes more and I'll come to a stopping place..." Nibbled sighed, "I am tired and I should get home." So finish and I'll drive you home before lunch.
"So...Mike's big yellow truck came to a screaming halt next to hers. 'There's a good chicken joint down the road,' he grinned. 'Let's go eat.'
'I'll fry you a couple of chickens if you can find some,' Rae smiled.
'You got a deal,' Mike said. 'Follow me, I'll get you squared away, then I'll go shopping down the road.'
"A few minutes later she was parked next to Mike's rig in the R.V. camp and had just enough time to shower and change before he appeared with a big bag of groceries and a bottle of wine. As she set about preparing their dinner, he opened the bottle of wine and began telling her the story of his life: how he was born in Butte, Montana the youngest of three boys; how his mother had died having him and how a year later his father was killed in a mining accident and he and his brothers were sent to a state orphanage. Rae served up dinner and listened as he told her how he'd married young and how his wife had died of emphysema before they could have children. She told him how she'd always wanted children, but never had been fortunate enough to meet the right man. They sat up half the night talking.
"The next morning Mike was at her door telling her he was going off to work. 'You won't leave will you?' he asked shyly like a school boy. 'Just take the day off and get some rest. I'll cook dinner for you tonight.' "
"So Rae spent the day peddling around the nearby town on her bike, called Larsen McKantor in New York and told him she didn't want to meet Mr. Straker or Mr Rostov but wouldn't object to some kind of conference call, and for the first time in several years, bought herself a new dress. That night Mike returned with a bottle of champagne and cooked up some fresh caught Catfish."
'What's the champagne for,' she asked?
' Celebration,' Mike declared.
' What're we celebrating.'
'Your next job.'
'My next job?' Rae laughed, 'and what might that be?'
'Workin' for me,' Mike laughed.
Rae smiled, 'In what capacity, may I ask?'
'Well Elwood, you remember him, he's quittin' tomorrow. I thought since you've done everything else you might want to try flaggin' down traffic. How about it? I'm in a bind... can't find no one to take Elwood's place and he's gotta go back to school." Impulsively he took Rae's hand in his. 'And I gotta real ulterior motive because then I'll be seein' more of you.'
"That night Rae scrutinized herself in the mirror, something she rarely did; squinted and made faces at her reflection and decided that for almost sixty she was in pretty good shape. Then she wondered why she'd done it and suddenly realized she might be falling for Mike. Two days later she was on the road as Elwood's replacement. At first, even though everyone knew she was under the protection of Big Mike, she took a lot of flack from her fellow workers. Amused by her plucky manner and snappy comebacks, however, they soon came to respect her and life settled down to a pleasant routine and as the late summer unwound she and Mike became inseparable. Then one Saturday night after they'd returned from a drive-in movie, he made love to her."
'I'm fifty-nine years old,' Rae said, blushing after their first long kiss. 'Don't you think this is rather silly?'
'Does it feel silly?' Mike asked, holding her close and kissing her again. 'How old do you think I am?'
"Oh... I'd say about forty,' Rae, not daring to meet his eyes.
'Wrong, I'm fifty-two... now does that make you feel better? When you're over fifty, seven years don't make that much difference...'
'Always figured I got dealt a pretty poor hand to play the love game with,' Rae smiled... makes me feel foolish."
'Bet by tomorrow mornin' you won't be feelin' so foolish,' Mike said and took her up in his arms and carried her into bed.
"The next morning when she woke up, Rae realized that indeed she did not feel foolish. In Mike's strong arms she had been reborn. Over and over he had embraced her, made love to her far into the night and told her how wonderful she was, how beautiful. When she woke up she found herself in a state of delirious euphoria and everything around her seemed to glow.
'Imagine me being beautiful,' she kept saying to herself, lying there beside him, tears streaming down her cheeks. And over breakfast, looking into her coffee cup, she told Mike it was worth the wait and he stared back at her. 'What do you mean?' "
'I mean you're the first," Rae blurted out, "and you were worth waiting for.'
Mike looked astonished. 'The first... ever?'
'I know it sounds impossible nowadays,' Rae sighed, 'But, yes, the first ever... an endangered species... hope that doesn't scare you or make any difference?' "
"Mike's eyes opened wide and getting up, he took her in his arms and held her tightly. Rae burst into tears and they went back to bed again. Later he put Rae's trailer up on blocks next to his, built a porch between them and they started living together. At first, after living alone for so long, it was hard for her to adjust to another person's habits especially a man's. But she soon realized that up till then, although she'd had hundreds of friends, she'd never really known anyone that well. How long could this dream last, she wondered? At her age, the physical part couldn't go on forever but there was companionship, and she guessed the companionship of a loving man like Mike was worth the occasional loud snores which woke her up and the smell of his pipe which often caused her to lose her appetite."
" And so the weeks passed in a pleasant succession of busy days and nights. She continued her job as a flag woman on his crew. On weekends they drove to a nearby river where Mike taught her how to fish for the brown trout and cat fish which lurked in the still deep pools beneath the roots of trees. Later, when fall came and the Arkansas days turned crisp, they went duck and pheasant hunting and attended local football games."
"After Thanksgiving when it began to rain and the highway construction season ground to a halt, Mike's paycheck stopped and he went on unemployment. Rae suggested that, as it looked like a long winter, perhaps they'd be better off driving down to the Gulf Coast where she was sure they could both find work. But Mike said he had payments to make on his trailer and didn't want to get behind on them; driving all that way with no sure job lined up was the kind of gamble he didn't want to take. In Forrest City he could collect unemployment and do odd jobs for people he knew."
"Torn between a desire to get out of the bad weather and her love for Mike, Rae began to feel miserably guilty. She saw that for thirty years she'd survived by moving on before she became involved in other people's problems. This admission came as a terrible shock. Mike's warmth had melted her defenses and she began to view her former behavior as mean and self-serving. Here she was, a rich woman, not touching money which could help others, not to mention the man she loved. She wondered that such contradictions had never before presented themselves to her, but then she'd never been in love. Love, which for years she'd locked up inside herself, had suddenly been awakened and was transforming all her judgments. She wanted to pay off the balance on Mike's rig - but how? Could she say she had a fairly good income from her teachers retirement program. Wouldn't he want to see the checks someday? What would his reaction be if she told him the truth? Would he be able to forgive her for not being honest with him to begin with? If anything happened to their relationship it would break her heart and for the first time in her life she realized she did not want to grow old alone."
"As it turned out, Mike wasn't able to find extra work and the week before Christmas caught a cold which turned into a bad case of flu. For the next two weeks, as rain fell steadily out of a grey Arkansas sky, Rae nursed him, told him not to worry - that as a retired school teacher she had enough to pay off his loan. As she had feared, he was fiercely proud. For some time he could not or would not look at her and stared straight out the window at nothing."
" 'Never took money from any woman in my life,' he grumbled at last.
'Thanks a lot,' Rae said. 'I had hoped I wasn't just any other woman.' Hardly believing she'd made such an admission, she went on. 'For God's sake, Mike, what's yours is mine and I'm sure if I were in the same position you'd feel like I do. Give and take - isn't that what companionship is all about?'
'Dunno,' Mike shrugged. 'Guess it might be.'
'Well then, what's the problem,' Rae, near tears. 'Why won't you look at me?... Oh Mike!'
'It's these high prices,' he said, drumming his knuckles on the bedside table. 'I'm really hurtin'. Guess I didn't plan ahead far enough, huh? Goddamn... I hate gettin' caught like this... don't you understand, it's me that wants to take care of you... don't want you supportin' me. Think how that makes a man feel.'
'Never heard anything so crazy,' Rae said.
'Crazy is what it makes me feel like.'
'What does it matter where the money comes from as long as it's there?' Rae asked.
'You'd see alright if we started livin' off your money. You'd be the boss. I couldn't take that. I can't take no woman bossin' me around.'
'There you go again,' exclaimed Rae. 'what a terrible remark... people in love don't boss each other around.'
'Guess I should feel flattered somebody wants to help out old Mike, huh?"
'Old Mike, indeed, what about old Maggie?... feel flattered then if you want to for mercy sake, does that mean yes?'
Extending his hand, Mike gently pulled her down beside him and took her in his arms. 'Don't pay no attention to what I say... I get real crabby when I get sick... guess it's 'cause I'm always so healthy... anything you say is okay with me, really.'
'Then we can get out of this awful weather and find some sun?' Rae asked.
Mike kissed her on the cheek. 'Soon as I'm on my feet again I'll knock that porch apart and we'll head on south.'
'You mean it?'
'Guess I got no choice, have I?' he smiled. 'I'm in love.' "
"Now the first thing Rae did when she arrived in a new place was to look for a job and in all the years she'd been on the road, it had never taken her more than three days to find one. So-called menial work didn't bother her. 'Work is work,' she would sigh, 'boring work to feed the stomach, that's man's fate, but it does give you an introduction to wherever you are, helps you find out what's going on and that's important.' "
"And so it was, guided by this practical philosophy, that soon after she and Mike arrived in Biloxi, Rae found herself a job as a clean-up waitress in a restaurant overlooking the local yacht basin. And a week later, she got Mike a job driving a bulldozer in a nearby landfill project. Rae had been at work about a week when they brought the hurt owner of a D-8 into the restaurant, which was the nearest place they could clean up his mangled leg. Spotting the foreman among a group of men, she'd managed to speak to him about a replacement and the next day Mike was on the job."
"As Rae liked to say, coincidence had always played a big part in her life. Which started her thinking about how not all the coincidences had been happy ones. Some times things could coincide that were meant to be kept apart; like Mike and her other life, the shadow life she was forced to lead as phantom trust protector of the Greenfield Foundation. That was to be kept separate at all costs, but deep down inside herself, she felt that inevitably fate would intervene and spoil everything - which it did. It happened like this:"
"Once a week on her lunch break, Rae would slip into a nearby phone booth to call Larsen McKantor in New York. It was the only time she could make these calls undetected and even then it was always on her mind that, as he was working just a few blocks away, Mike would somehow stumble on to her in the middle of one of her conversations. Accordingly, she would usually look up the local film listings in the paper so that if he should suddenly appear and ask her whom she was calling, she could say she was calling up to find out when the feature picture went on. Which, in fact, happened. Not once, but twice during the next few weeks. So that Mike began to wonder just what was going on and decided that if he should see her phoning again, he would try to overhear her conversation. A few days later he got his chance."
" 'No, no,' Rae was yelling angrily. 'You say he insists on a face to face meeting. I won't meet that man. I won't. All these years of freedom and you expect me to come out for him? He must be horrible... the worse type I'm sure who wants to talk me into something I don't want to do...this crazy scheme of his.'
'You could order the trustees to sell all our TCI stock,' the smooth voice of Larsen McKantor interrupting her.
'Not on your life, then it would be out of our hands. We started it by supplying the original funds and by God we are going to finish it. I'll not allow that stock to be sold. I'll buy more if necessary... buy him out. How much of their stock do we own, anyway?
'About fifteen percent,' McKantor reminding himself to buy a few more shares for himself. 'But really, I believe if a meeting could be arranged you would.....'
'I won't even consider it!' Rae said.
'But there's a good possibility you could persuade them to change their minds... tweak their consciences... avoid a take over fight... whatever... after all your arguments aren't all that out of line.'
'Thank you very much, but the answer is no. And who is 'them'?'
'Well, there's Dimitri Rostov, Dr. Allen's former assistant. He's very anxious for the project to go forward -something about the Russians...
'Lars, Rae interrupted, you know how difficult this is for me. I just want to put a stop to all this nonsense...you really believe a meeting is necessary? Give me a straight answer.'
'Yes, Miss Greenfield.'
'Yes what?' Rae asked crossly.
'Yes, you do really have to have a meeting with them. The trustees would be very upset if you went against them without even bothering to have a meeting.'
'Listen, Lars. We've been talking for years. You've never seen me, but I feel you must know me by now... just a little bit. You know I've been alone in life for a long time now. A few months ago I met someone I'm really happy with who loves me and I love him... if he finds out about me just now I know it'll ruin everything... we're together all the time... tell me, how can I possibly have a meeting with this Straker person. I've spent thirty years working very hard not to do things like that.'
'Then don't have a meeting and let them go ahead with the project, I know the board members see nothing wrong with it... you're the only...'
'Over my dead body,' Rae cried, thinking that's exactly what might happen. 'It's a frightening idea. Sorcery of the worst sort... got to be stopped before it goes any further... I'll get a court order... go to the President if necessary.'
'Then you must express your views to them, take the moral high ground.' Larsen McKantor purred.
'You tell this Straker, and you can tell those cousins of mine on the board of the Greenfield Foundation, that as a major stock holder in TCI... I will get a court order to...'
'Think of the publicity, ma'am... We must keep the whole affair secret... otherwise the media will pick it up and hunt you down..'
'I see ,' Rae said sadly. 'Publicity... either way I lose.'
'Not at all," Larsen McKantor said soothingly. 'The country might go for it, slaves and all that.'
'Nonsense,' Rae shouted,' you know the people are never given a choice in these matters. If the people were to pass judgment on this sort of research, it would never get off the ground. Americans are too smart for that.'
'Perhaps their leaders aren't.'
'You're saying this Straker has political clout.'
'You might say he's been working on that angle of it.'
'They want me to come out in the open so they can make a fool out of me, I know, shoot me down just like they did poor Dr. Allen. With me out of the way it would be smooth sailing wouldn't it?'
'Dr. Allen was killed by the CIA because he refused to curtail his life extension research,' McKantor replied blandly, 'nothing to do with this slave thing.'
'Lars, I can't talk to you any longer. I don't believe what you're saying about the CIA. Let me think things over and I'll get back to you...you do some thinking too. You said I might talk on the phone with them, won't that be enough?"
Rae slammed down the receiver and emerged sobbing from the phone booth into Mike's waiting arms. "Mike!" she stammered, "What are you doing here, I thought you were..."
'You in some kind of trouble?' Mike whispered anxiously. 'Can I help?'
' O God,' Rae cried, glancing up at him. 'Yes and now I'm going to be in real trouble. We'd better go back to my place... there are things you ought to know.'
Nibble nodded his head sagaciously. "Later, Rae thought she could have explained away that phone call and her agitated state of mind by saying she was talking to a person in charge of her Teachers Union Retirement Account who had made some mistakes. But what happened next completely blew her cover."
'Ahoy, Rae... Rae Greenfield... Ahoy!, came a shrill voice from the nearby yacht basin.
"The voice sounded vaguely familiar to Rae, but knowing Mike thought her name was Maggie and Rae Greenfield meant nothing to him, she quickly maneuvered him in the opposite direction. A number of luxurious pleasure boats were moored nearby and from one of them a small figure debarked and came staggering after them"
'Ahoy, Rae, Rae Greenfield, I know it's you, dahling.' the voice shouted 'Don't try to run away, it's Mini your old room mate, dahling, Mini at Wellesley dahling.' The apparition that now bore down on them bore no resemblance at all to the Mini Rae had once known.
'At last I've caught up with you... naughty girl,' a deeply tanned skinny old woman wearing hot pants and high heeled sandals caught up with them. 'Gotcha!' she rasped breathlessly, her eyes popping, and grabbed Rae's arm.
'I'm afraid you've got the wrong person,' Rae said politely disentangling her self from Mini's drunken grasp...'Really....My name is Maggie, Maggie Fuller.'
'Maggie Fuller,' Mini shrieked, reeling back, 'what nonsense... you're Rae Greenfield... it was your voice, your crying in that phone booth. I didn't spend four years with you to forget that!'
Rae thought she was going to faint.
With the sixth sense of an alcoholic Mini persisted. 'I've been on the look out for you for years, darling, and now I've found you....yes, your crying... I would have known that anywhere.' Then, suddenly, as if struck by lightning Mini reeled back and stared at Rae. 'But look at you... just look, you haven't changed at all, think of that, in fact you look better, dahling... and who is this?' she asked as though seeing Mike for the first time, 'Is he yours? I mean, a good looking one like that is hard to find...I'm on my sixth, but none of them ever looked that good.'
Stepping back to get a better look, Mini tripped and Mike grabbed her. 'Hi Podnah,' Mini cooed, swaying in his arms and toasting him with her highball, 'How about a drink. You look like a drinking man to me. Com'on now and have a drink with us.'
'We're in a terrible hurry, Mini,' Rae said quietly. 'We'll come back and have a drink with you some other time.'
'Ahem,' Mike growled softly, looking like he might enjoy having a drink on Mini's boat.
'What's your hurry, Rae dear,' Mini slurred. 'I saw you in that restaurant the other day clearing away dishes... couldn't believe my eyes. How can that be my Rae, here in Biloxi of all places I asked myself? But that little whimper of yours just now, darling - it gave you away. You naughty girl - what have you been doing with yourself all these years? Come, follow me."
" Poor Rae..." Nibble whimpered slightly, "Very reluctantly she allowed herself to be ushered aboard Mini's huge ocean-going yacht where she was introduced to Mini's sixth husband, a very fat man also drunk, and where during the next twenty minutes or so it became clear to Mike, sitting restlessly in a rattan chair that was uncomfortably small for him, that he'd been living with someone who was now a total stranger. Inevitably, this led to complications. and later that evening, nestled against Mike's warm chest Rae tried to explain herself."
' Guess it's hard for you to understand what I did...' her voice trembled. 'If I'd been a man or if it had happened nowadays, I would have probably taken over my father's affairs. But at that time, as I looked around at my friends, women like Mini, and saw what their lives were like... that they were all going slowly insane... I just thought I'd try something different... that's all,' she shrugged... it was that simple. I'm not a communist or a crank, I don't hate money... God knows I've worked hard enough for it... I just wanted to do something real... my expensive education never prepared me for anything more practical than shopping and bossing servants around so when I decided to work for a living I found the jobs I could get were pretty limited... but quite interesting too... I met a lot of fine people and that's what has been important to me... have good friends all over this country."
'Why didn't you tell me all this in the first place?' Mike asked, 'your real name... you should have told me."
'I've been going by the name of Maggie Fuller for years... don't even think of Rae Greenfield, Rae sniffed and rubbed her eyes. 'And I was afraid, afraid it would make a difference to you....'
'So you conduct your business on the phone, is that it?'
' It's not business,' Rae said, and tried to explain the Greenfield Foundation and her stand against the slave project..
'You lost me,' Mike yawned restlessly as Rae launched into an angry denunciation of Frederick B. Straker, 'afraid I can't help you, sounds like Sci-Fi stuff to me. I'm real simple."
'You don't believe I should get involved in it then?' Rae asked.
'Don't really know enough about it, one way or 'nother, to give an opinion,' Mike, self-consciously. 'And you could probably sit here and explain it to me all night long and I wouldn't get it. I'm real uneducated, honey, just simple dumb Mike.'
'You're not simple and you're far from dumb,' Rae scolded.
'I am... you don't know how basic I really am... I did real bad at school."
'You're going to break my heart,' Rae said and started to cry.
'I don't wanna break your heart... but this other life of yours sounds real complicated... not sure I could handle it... sounds like a lot of pressure. I'd end up bein' just....'
'Just what?' sniffed Rae.
Mike shrugged. 'I dunno, just nothing'. Compared to your world I'm nothin'.'
'But I don't live in that world, Rae objected.
'Maybe you don't live in it, hon, but you could... you got all that money and security there and you know if you lose a job and can't find another you won't starve.'
'I've worked hard for almost thirty years, don't you think I've paid my dues?' Rae asked.
'Yeah, because knowin' you got somethin' to fall back on gives you security, which gives you energy and a positive attitude... people pick up on that so you always get jobs.'
'I'm not fussy about what I do... with my abilities I can't be. That's why I get jobs. I also like to keep busy,' replied Rae.
'Because you got all that loot behind you, that's why you ain't fussy,' Mike grumbled. 'But if you had nothin'... no advantages... you'd see you get real negative... it's hard to deal with.'
'You've had nothing and you're not negative - you're one of the most positive people I've ever known.'
He looked thoughtful. 'You don't know the real me... how negative I can really get. I cover it up because I found out it didn't get me anywhere, but inside I'm real negative about things... never had no father or mother... I'm an emotional cripple and don't believe in much... just try growin' up in an orphanage in Butte, Montana, all I ever had was my looks.'
'I never knew my parents,' Rae objected. 'My mother disliked me because I wasn't pretty and my father was so busy I had to make an appointment to see him.'
'It's not the same...' Mike, shaking his head. 'You had luxury and advantages, people who taught you how to talk and act right. I never had that.'
'Being from a very rich family can be just as much a problem as being poor. It's what you do with having it or not having it that matters.'
'Oh yeah...' Mike smiled, 'just try not having it."
'I have... What do you think I've been doing for the last thirty years?
'You ain't kiddin' anyone but yourself,' Mike smiled. '... No, ma'am."
"Over the next few days as things went from bad to worse, hoping to salvage their relationship and put it on a firm footing, Rae suggested they start up a contracting business. Mike knew a lot about highway construction, why not pick a place and do something together?"
"But Mike remained fiercely proud. 'Just can't hack it,' he said, rising abruptly from the breakfast table one morning. 'it would be your money and you'd be makin' the decisions... me... I don't know how to make decisions... couldn't handle it... all my life never had more 'n five thousand in the bank.'
'Don't put yourself down so,' Rae smiled. 'Of course you could.'
'I'm not and I couldn't,' he grunted. 'I'm no businessman and I don't want to be one... when I finish work I wanna forget about it and relax.'
'That's the way I feel too...why can't we just go on as we have been?'
'We just can't,' he said, rising and going to the closet, getting out his suitcase. 'If you can't understand that... I can't explain it."
'What are you doing?'
'I'm packin' up.'
'Packing... Where are you going?'
'Back to Forrest City, I think. At least I'll head that way and pick up my rig.'
'You mustn't... Oh Mike, please... I love you I'll do anything... can't you see how much you mean to me?' Rae collapsing on her bed.
Stolidly, Mike continued to pack and when he finished, touched Rae gently on the shoulder. 'Think you'd better go after that Straker character you was tellin' me about... sounds like a mean man. Me... I'll be rooting for you on the sidelines somewheres... sorry I can't make it, honey... honest. I'm really sorry but it would never work out...'
"And so he left... Rae cried all night... morning came and he didn't return. A day passed in which she lay in bed unable to get up and another... and after a week had gone by and he was still gone, Rae gave up and called Larsen McKantor."
'I've had an idea, Lars,' her voice weak from crying, 'I'll agree to a video conversation if you'll make the arrangements. I hear such things can be arranged nowadays.., TV conference calls?'
'Just what I've been thinking,' McKantor agreed whole heartedly. ' are you still somewhere in the south... we can set up in Houston or Atlanta, whichever is closer to you."
'I'll go to Atlanta then...'
'Fine, I'll inform Mr. Straker.'
'Please do,' Rae sighed.' "
© Elwyn Chamberlain 2009