A.I.
Chapter 8

I decided not to check out. When I'd checked in my name had been Joe Schmoe for all anybody cared, no flags on it. But now it was all over the airways and probably in the morning 'paper too; I didn't need to call any attention to that telltale credit card.

Of course not checking out might serve the same purpose; the desk clerk might look a little harder. But that would be later, after I was long gone.

As a precaution I took a little while to wipe down everything in the room that I'd touched. I even opened the door to leave using a dry washcloth. They had bogus fingerprints now; if they did happen to track me here I didn't want them finding real ones.

I'd talked to Spook briefly on the laptop before I left, mostly to tell him I'd be pretty much incommunicado for the next couple of days except for the cell. I wasn't much of an out­doorsman, but the only way I could think of to avoid the ID problem was to find some secluded spot and camp out for the night. Oh, well, it would only be one night.

Breakfast brought a bit of a rude shock. I picked up the 'paper to keep me company as I ate, and the second I turned it over there I was, down at the bottom of the damn front page! Ashley or somebody was going all out; I was "wanted for questioning" in connection with "possible terrorist activities."

It got worse. I was a "dangerous fugitive" and "might be armed," to boot. Jesus Christ, was he trying to get me killed? I had a sudden mental picture of those movies where armies of cops surround one poor guy all with their guns pointed. In the movies I remembered mostly the guy got shot full of a very large number of holes.

I looked at the picture to reassure myself. It looked even less like me in slightly grainy print than it had on my cell display. Nobody'd recognize me from that.

Even so, it didn't help my appetite. I'd been hungry when I came in, but I wound up ordering only coffee and a danish. Being "on the lam," as Lee had jokingly said it, looked even less amusing in the light of day.

All things considered, it would probably be a good idea to get out of the area. I still didn't think it was all that likely they'd trace me to the motel, but that credit card imprint made me fretful. Anyhow I'd need to be in Virginia tomorrow, where I'd had Spook send the new ID and credit cards; why not go now?

The Metro could take me there, but it involved a small but finite risk; I'd have to transfer at the downtown station, and there was just a chance I might run into somebody I knew there and who, much more critical, knew me. On the other hand, if I got off a few stops early, hailed a cab and took it to someplace near another station and then took the train the rest of the way, I'd bypass the main terminal and be much less likely to be spotted.

It would also leave less of a back-trail. That was the way to go, I decided. I'd actually started the first leg of the trip before I had an even better idea.

Long before I was born there used to be a railroad that ran from the inner Virginia suburbs well out into the country. It had been known as the Virginia Creeper, which ought to give you some idea about its performance. When they closed it down and salvaged the tracks and ties, somewhere back in the 1960s, there was this long skinny right-of-way left that some environmentalist group managed to persuade the various governments to turn into a nature trail.

I was in pretty good shape, and a year or so back Lee and I had rented bicycles and done the whole trip. This time why not buy a bike and do it again, at least far enough to get where I needed to be? The more I thought about it, the better it seemed as a plan. It would also take care of my secondary problem, which was that I had a day and a half to kill and it probably wasn't smart to do it in public places around town where I could be stopped and my ID demanded.

So when I got off the train I found a quiet corner and got Spook to give me the address of a Virginia bike shop, and then had the cab take me to an office building nearby. I paid a bunch of cash for a fairly high-end trail bike, which seemed kind of a shame since I'd probably wind up abandoning it in a day or two, and then as an afterthought stopped off at a camping supply place a few doors down and picked up a padded vest and a compact sleeping bag that I also expected to abandon.

And a baseball cap. I didn't like them and never wore them, but I had a use for this one the next day.

By the time I got done it was after 11:00, and time to call Lee. I pedaled my new bike into an empty field in back of a gas station, got Spook on the cell and told him to patch me through.

"Jackie!" she exclaimed after only a single ring. "I've been so worried! Are you OK?"

"I'm fine, Lee," I reassured her. "And good morning to you, too, sweetie."

She ignored it. "Have you seen the news? And the 'paper, too, my God it all makes you sound awful! And the picture, you look so shifty—"

"I've seen it all, honey," I cut her off quickly. Ashley, or at least his people, would be listening in, and I didn't need her saying anything more about the retouched photo. If they realized it was bogus they'd start looking around for real ones, ones Spook couldn't access, and then they'd start to wonder how I'd managed the retouch, and that would get them a lot closer to Spook than I wanted anybody to be looking.

"Look," I continued, "I can't talk long now. I just wanted to let you know I'm OK and I'm still clear. And also that I still love you, sweetheart."

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Consensual / Heterosexual / Science Fiction / Slow /