Pfand X
Chapter 20

Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac

In the room of a small motel that was part of a regional motel chain, Carl watched television from the comfort of a new mattress that had been delivered along with himself. He looked over at Jennifer who was busy painting her toenails. The look of concentration on her face almost made him want to laugh. World leaders were falling all over the place and she was painting her toenails. There was something ironic about that.

Carl said, "We make a good team."

"I think so," Jennifer answered concentrating on getting the light pink nail polish on the nail of her little toe.

"We should make the team permanent."

"That would be nice," Jennifer said absently while inspecting the result of her work on the toes of her right foot.

Satisfied with her work, she shifted her attention to her other foot. She knew that she had attractive feet. Even though Carl didn't have a foot fetish of any kind, she felt it was proper to present the whole package in an attractive manner.

"So you agree?"

"Sure, whatever you want."

Carl smiled. "Maybe I should talk to your father."

"About what?" Jennifer asked wondering if she had missed something.

"About making our team permanent."

Jennifer looked up from her toes.

After replaying the conversation over in her head, she asked, "Are you asking me to marry you?"

"Yes," Carl said.

"Like that?" she asked.

After having been with each other all day, every day, for months on end, there were few conversations that they hadn't already had. This was not the first time they had this conversation although it was a unique approach to it.

"Sure," Carl said.

Pouting a little, Jennifer said, "That's not very romantic."

"What? We're in the best room of the Motor Court Motel watching the civilized world collapse on television. How much more romantic can a guy get?" Carl asked with a grin on his face.

"You have a point," Jennifer said breaking into an equally large grin.

"So what do you say? Wanna get married?"

"Do you have a ring?"

"No."

"Do you have a job?"

"I don't know."

"Do you have a stable lifestyle?"

"No."

"What have you got?"

"I've got a dog that probably doesn't remember me," Carl said.

Jennifer said, "You aren't bringing much to this marriage, are you?"

"Nope."

"I guess I'll marry you," Jennifer said.

"You don't need to think about it?" Carl asked.

"Nope," Jennifer said.

"You're sure?"

Jennifer leaned over and picked up a stuffed rabbit. Holding it out, she said, "Poor Bunny Boy is going to have to sit on the shelf except when you're on trips. No more good night kisses for him so long as we're married."

"I feel sorry for Bunny Boy," Carl said.

"You should be jealous of all the time he's had with me," Jennifer said.

"I'm very jealous."

"Good."

"How about we walk down to the diner and eat a meal around people for a change?"

"That might be a little dangerous," Jennifer said with a frown at the shift away from the lighthearted exchange.

"Hammond and Samantha can be our bodyguards. We won't be in danger," Carl said.

"I don't know."

Carl shouted, "Hey, Hammond."

Hammond charged into the room with his pistol in hand. They were supposed to be quiet and he took the shout as indicative of a threat. Looking around for danger, he asked, "What is it?"

"We're hungry," Carl said.

"I'll let our host know that after I finish beating you for shouting. We're trying to keep a low profile," Hammond said through clenched teeth.

The stress of maintaining a vigilant watch over Carl for so long was getting to him. He and Samantha were mentally and emotionally exhausted. Unfortunately, there just wasn't anyone else who could step in and relieve them of their duties.

"We were thinking of going down to the diner," Carl said.

"You'll get killed."

Carl asked, "Have you been watching the news?"

"Yes."

"I think the storm has passed over me and that a lightning rod isn't necessary any more," Carl said. "There's no one left to pay anyone for killing me. If any rich guy is still loose, then he has much bigger problems than dealing with me."

Tired of living the life of a fugitive, Jennifer said, "You do have a point."

"Besides, after Vegas, the police haven't been a problem. We're in an area of law abiding citizens who have probably been watching the news. I think they'll accept that I helped bring down a bunch of criminals."

Although he had remained on the FBI's most wanted list, the energy with which he was pursued had decreased significantly. He should have been caught by now either by chance or because some clever person somewhere had figured out what was going on. There had been a few very tense occasions, where he had run into a police officer. Those individuals had turned a blind eye to him.

Samantha stepped into the room saying, "I kind of agree with you."

"There are a lot of crazies out there," Hammond said.

His greatest fear was that they would get sloppy near the end, and lose it all. Of course, the events of the past few days did suggest that the worst was over. It would be horrible though if Carl were to die now just when the end was in sight.

"We just watched the worst of the crazies get taken care of by our friends. I think we can manage a minor crazy person. After all, he or she isn't going to have an army with him or her," Carl said.

"I don't know," Hammond said.

Like the others, he was tired of the life of a fugitive. It was uncomfortable and boring, more boring than most people could imagine. The crossword puzzle out of the newspaper, a couple of games of Sudoku, and perusing the business section of the newspaper ate up two hours. There were twenty-two left in the day. His security concerns could eat up another three. It was still way too much free time.

Traveling was even more boring than sitting in a hotel room. It was murder to sit in the back of a truck for most of a night. There were no windows so one couldn't even make up silly road games to pass the time. His social life had collapsed down to seeing the same three people all day long.

Carl said, "Besides, we have to celebrate our engagement. I proposed to Jennifer and she accepted."

"Again?" Samantha asked dryly.

It seemed to her that they had the same conversations a hundred times. In a way, it was pretty pathetic that they couldn't' come up with much to talk about that hadn't already been talked to death.

Giving up, Hammond said, "We'll have to go as painters."

"I hate that disguise," Carl said with a groan.

He had a coverall that basically hid his body. He wore a painter's cap with a fake ponytail that stuck out the back. He had a pair of black plastic framed glasses with little paint specs on it. Hammond had a little bottle of paint they would use to complete the disguise.

"How about us?" Samantha asked afraid that she knew what Hammond would answer.

"The trailer park trash outfit," Hammond said with a grin.

It was a simple disguise consisting of skimpy clothing that showed too much skin, temporary tattoos that looked real enough, and crudely applied makeup. With minor changes in mannerisms, the two women would never be recognized.

"I hate tattoos," Jennifer said in disgust.

"The whale tail, too?" Samantha asked knowing what the answer would be.

Hammond said, "You wouldn't look right without the whale tail of your thong."

"Are you sure that you want to eat out?" Samantha asked.

"Yes," Carl said. "If I don't get out of here I think I'll go crazy."

It took Carl and Hammond ten minutes to get into disguise. It would take the women a lot longer than that considering that they had to apply the temporary tattoos. While waiting for the women, Carl and Hammond watched the news reports on the television.

Hammond said, "It only took them two days, but they are managing to connect the dots."

"They are managing? The whole story is on the web for them to read," Carl said.

"Oh, look at her," Hammond said with a grimace.

The woman on the television had an expression on her face that was downright scary. Her voice was tight while she read the words about the involvement in the plot by the late owner of the network for which she worked. It was easy to see that she was trying to control herself, but it wasn't easy for her.

Carl said, "I guess she finally saw the video where her former boss was talking about her."

A lot of the television stations hired extremely attractive women to deliver the news. Smart, attractive, and confident, the women really were very sexy. In private conversations with others, the late owner had focused primarily on the attractive part while denigrating their intelligence. Some of what he said wasn't too kind. Some of the acts he wanted to perform on her were disgusting.

"I would say so," Hammond said.

Carl said, "I was watching one of the green earthers talking earlier. Despite hearing the so-called expert talking about faking data and using the crisis to herd people into what would effectively be slums, he was still trying to protect that agenda. Doesn't anyone have common sense?"

"He's a sheep. He's denying that he's been feed a line of bullshit. He needs it to be real, or his ego will be devastated," Hammond said.

"The evidence..."

"It doesn't matter," Hammond said. "The easiest way for the mind to protect itself is to deny what it doesn't want to be true. You can rub his nose in it and he will continue to deny. It's not a matter of logic, but of emotion. He can't stand the idea that he might have been wrong, so he tries to force the world to fit his view. It's that simple."

"A sheep, huh?" Carl said.

Hammond said, "Don't worry. There are a lot of stags out there, you just won't see them. Rather than deny what they are seeing, they make an honest appraisal of what is happening. They judge the danger and react to it."

There were a lot of men who viewed themselves as bulls. They felt they were strong and able to take care of problems; that they were above threats and could push their way through a dangerous situation using brain and brawn. Bulls don't survive long. It doesn't take long to discover that there are situations that can't be pushed through.

A lot of men who think of themselves as bulls are actually stags. They are aware of danger and avoid it when possible – not out of cowardice, but out of recognition that there are some situations that just aren't survivable. Training in the martial arts teaches one situational awareness and to avoid the fight where possible. That isn't a 'bull' mindset.

The only time that mistaken association was a problem, was when someone felt that they should have bulled their way through some hopeless situation, when they had followed the nature of a stag. It often led to guilt about what they should have done. In the next crisis, they would try to act like a bull when acting like a stag would have been appropriate.

"Like us?"

Hammond answered, "Yes. There actually are a lot of people just like us, out there."

"What effect do we have on the sheep?" Carl asked.

"Sometimes, the reaction of the stag to danger gives the sheep and sheepdogs enough time to face the wolves."

"Is that what I have been doing? Giving the sheep and sheepdogs enough time to face the wolves?"

"I think that is a fairly accurate assessment of what you've been doing."

Carl was silent for a second while thinking about it. "I guess I should feel proud of what I've done, but I don't."

"I guess I can understand that. You're a stag and you were just being true to your stag nature," Hammond said.

He hadn't realized when he had told Carl about sheep, sheepdogs, wolves, and stags that Carl would embrace the idea of being a stag so thoroughly. In a way, he represented all that was the best of the Pfand. He didn't live in a state of denial concerning threats, he was brave enough to be willing to flee rather than fight, he was willing to fight when there was no choice, he lived without hate for those who were attacking him, and he was gentle with those who helped him. It was a rare combination of characteristics.

"I suppose that's it."

"Have you given any thought about what you'll do once the crisis is over?" Hammond asked.

"I just want to have a normal life. I want to open my pickle factory. I want to have a wife and kids. I want to be able to look out the window when I'm in a vehicle," Carl answered.

He was getting tired of riding in the back of a truck, not knowing what sights were outside. He had crisscrossed the country a dozen times and had not seen any of it. It was strange to know that he had ridden past the Statue of Liberty three times and had never seen it. He had been within two blocks of Niagara Falls without seeing it. There were so many sights that he could have seen, but hadn't. There had been the wall of the truck separating him from the view.

Hammond said, "Anything else?"

"I'm going to marry Jennifer. I'm going to get my dog back even if it doesn't remember me," Carl said.

It was amazing how much he missed his dog. Sure, it was just a dog and he hadn't had it for long, but it was his and he had loved it. Skippy definitely wasn't a lapdog. Skippy would accept some attention before his energy forced him to move around. Perhaps when he got older he'd become a little more sedate.

Hammond understood the desire to have a normal life. The past few months had been hard on him as well. He was looking forward to sitting back and drinking a beer while watching a ballgame at a sports bar. He looked forward to taking some young lady out for dinner and dancing. As shocking as the idea might be, he was even looking forward to mowing his lawn some Saturday morning and then washing his car that afternoon. It was often the simple things in life that one missed the most.

Hammond said, "I don't know if you'll ever be able to have a normal life."

"Why not?"

"People will be after you to tell them where you got all of the videos. They'll want to know if you were the mastermind behind the other day."

"You're probably right," Carl said.

He was just as curious as to how they had managed to get so many videos that were so damning. There had to have been cameras in a lot of locations. There had just been so much evidence.

"Damensterns," Hammond said as if reading his mind.

"What?"

"The Damensterns placed the majority of the cameras."

It had not been easy, and the risks had been high. They had placed cameras in offices, homes, boats, and private planes. A woman with a little hand purse didn't have much room in which to carry cameras. A man had even less room, just a pocket or two. A handful of deaths of Damensterns were believed to be a result of getting caught placing cameras.

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