THIRTY ‑ THE SWITCHBOARD

 

 

San Francisco is indeed the Great Painted Lady of the West Coast. It is also the crazy painted face of the clown that hides in the darkness within the jack‑in‑the‑box.

     The weather was mild and cool, and a light rain had fallen early in the evening. The streets still glistened as Gideon pulled off Highway 101 and onto Seventh Street. He had Carmen's address on a creased, soiled sheet of paper in his wallet. The address of the Mobilization Switchboard was in one of his folders. He decided to try there first, since it was closer.

     Gideon drove in awe through the roller coaster streets of San Francisco. He'd never seen such a beautiful city. Old, ornate houses leaned against each other on the steep hills, each with different designs on their stained‑glass windows and turrets. Neighborhood stores were bright and casual under the street lights, and the sidewalks were filled with laughing flower children. They were dressed in bright colors and their costumes ranged from renaissance to futuristic. Every street corner was filled with young people selling flowers and big balloons. Ragged salesmen peddled underground newspapers and glossy magazines. Gideon was grinning at the world outside and didn't even know it until someone grinned back.

     He found the building that housed the Switchboard, and parked as close as he could. The wind was just slightly crisp as he stepped down onto the sidewalk. It was shirtsleeve weather. He dodged his way through the colorful crowd and found the right door.

     RADICAL MOBILIZATION SWITCHBOARD AND BULLETIN BOARD, the sign read. A second one, hand painted in multi‑colors, said DRUG HELP ‑ UPSTAIRS ‑ HOTLINE.

     Gideon stood in the doorway and paused. The hall was dark and musty. A lot had happened since he'd last seen Carmen, and he needed to see her again. Far inside Gideon a plan was coming together, and Carmen was a loose end he had to deal with.

     He pushed the door shut behind him and turned left into the first room. Two big bulletin boards dominated the wall before him. They were filled with scribbled notes ‑ notes asking for rides to Portland and Long Island and across town. Guitars were offered for sale, as were beds and boxes of jewelry, fringed leather vests and vehicles. Other scraps of paper called to mates and lovers and lost children. Family notes begging, "Please get in touch."

     Beyond the twin boards, the bright yellow walls of the room almost hurt his eyes. They had a newly painted, glossy look. The room was large and open, broken only by a series of low, grey metal desks. The street front side of the room was almost all glass, and the wonderful city filled the panes as though it was some fantastic painting. His eyes searched the room and saw only one person there, almost invisible behind a desk three rows back and near in the center of the room.

     She was small and thin, with frizzy, coal black hair. Her jacket and jeans were so covered with patches that it was hard to tell what color they had been.

     "Hello?" Gideon said.

     "Huh?" The girl looked up at him, her large, brown eyes out of place on her tiny face. "Need sumpin'?" An open, dog‑ eared copy of Tolkein's The Hobbit was in her lap.

     "Yeah," he said. "Where's Carmen Woolsey?"

     "Carmen?" the girl said, then slapped her face with her hand. "Hey, do you know who you are?"

     "Yes."

     "You're Gideon Holley, man!" She slapped herself again. "Oh, wow! Far‑fucking out!"

     "Is she here?" Gideon tried to keep the conversation on track.

     "Oh, hey, man," she leaned back in the chair and looked him over. "I mean, shit! You're Gideon!"

     "Carmen?" Gideon asked politely.

     "Man, you really make the news!"

     "What news?"

     "They said you were in on that bombing down in San Jose this morning, man!" she became more excited with each word until she was breathless.

     "They said I was involved in a bombing?"

     "Shit, yeah. The pigs come in here every time your name hits the streets, and they hassle Carmen."

     "Carmen?" he said. "Why?"

     He was shaken. Carmen was still catching hell from what he did. He wondered how many other friends were being harassed every time he made the papers. He thought of Sarah, and J., though he couldn't imagine anyone intimidating J. Hubbard.

     "Yeah," the girl sighed wistfully. "She was gone this time, though. She and Tony, they went up to Oakland yesterday to help co‑ordinate a Black Panther rally here in the city. They'll be back in the morning."

     Two separate revolutions were being waged in America in 1969. One was the anti‑war and student rebellion, and the other was the black revolution. They sometimes crossed paths, but were not the same.

     "Tony?" Gideon said.

     "Oh," she looked troubled, and her eyes darted around him. "Tony's the director of the Switchboard. He's a good dude. He and Carmen are...friends...sort of."

     "It's okay," he felt like laughing.

     "I mean, hey, man," in her confusion she stood up, and the book fell to the floor. "She digs you, man. Carmen's always talking about you!"

     Gideon was glad to hear that Carmen had a Tony, but the girl couldn't stop trying to explain.

     "See, the Black Panthers are having a food giveaway tomorrow, right here at the Switchboard. We heard the Pigs are going to try and break it up."

     The student revolution had always tried to emulate the civil rights movement, but they were two fundamentally different forces trying to occupy the same space. The black struggle was a thoroughly grass‑roots organization that, desperate to fill a terrible gap left by the death of Martin Luther King and heal the riffs caused by splinter groups in the movement, still turned to the community for help.

     Where the student groups and emerging counter cultures carried on lengthy philosophical debates on the evils of war and the need for social revolution, the black movement stayed close to family and church. Even the most radical faction, the Black Panthers, remained entrenched in the community through legal aid programs and the distribution of food and clothing. The angry creed of the Panthers, however, kept them on a collision course with the police. Their short history so far was one of confrontations, shootouts and death.

     The girl kept talking about the movement and Carmen and the Switchboard in a bumbling patchwork as Gideon backed toward the door. Finally, in a last attempt to make up for her mistake, she almost shouted, "Can't you just hang around here tonight?"

     "Nope," Gideon said. "Look, I have to find a room, and clean up, you know?" She was making him uncomfortable.

     "I know plenty of places where you can crash," she said.

     "That's okay, I get money to stay over. I'll be fine." He started backing out of the room.

     "Come back tomorrow," she shouted to him as he disappeared around the corner. "If you don't, it'll kill her!"


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY ONE ‑ THE CAT

 

 

Colletti and Lobajeski had been sitting in the Winnebago since seven o'clock in the evening. It was now well after midnight, and Moranne was still in the office of the Bureau of Subversive Investigations. It was nestled in a fashionable part of the Bay Area on the outskirts of San Rafael. The two men had eaten every scrap of food in the motor home, and were still hungry.

     They had spent most of the afternoon calming the Inspector. When he'd regained his composure he drove like a maniac up the coast to San Francisco. They hadn't eaten a meal since breakfast. When Moranne returned to the Winnebago Colletti was beating Lobajeski at rummy, and Lobajeski wasn't taking it well.

     "Next time we use my fuckin' cards," he grumbled to his partner.

     "Oh, shut up," Lobajeski said. His stomach growled.

     They looked up when Moranne opened the camper door, and were startled to see a fluffy tabby cat in his arms. The cat had a blue ribbon around its neck, and Moranne was smiling down at it warmly. They stole a glance at each other, and wondered if their boss had gone insane.

     "Well," the inspector said, watching them as he ruffled the cat's fur, "what do you think?"

     "About what?" Colletti said guardedly. He wasn't sure how to respond.

     "What the hell do you think?" Moranne snapped.

     "It's a nice cat," Lobajeski said. The inspector looked at him, then at the other man.

     "Gentlemen," Moranne appeared to be his old self again, calm and cool, "this is not your ordinary cat." He pulled a piece of cheese from his pocket and placed it in front of the cat. Colletti and Lobajeski watched the cat gobble it up.

     "Why not?" Lobajeski asked, though at the moment he didn't care.

     "In his neck," Moranne said, holding the cat up for them to see, "is a little piece of electronics. Our boys have implanted a direction finder."

     "A what?"

     "A beeper, you might say." Moranne's face once again wore the icy smile his men had grown accustomed to. He pointed to a spot on the cat's neck where the tiny gadget had been installed. It was impossible to see it.

     "Why did they do that?" Colletti asked.

     "This cat is our friend," Moranne said. "With this device in his neck we could give Holley a two-week head start, and find him with our eyes closed."

     "But, what are we going to do with him?" Lobajeski said. Colletti felt an icy finger tickle his spine.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY TWO ‑ UNCLE JOHN

 

 

Gideon drove around until he found a motel with vacancies. He parked the van in the parking lot beside the neon‑lighted office, but didn't get out. He was drained of energy. The last few months had finally caught up with him. A sudden, sweeping wave of darkness poured over his senses and took his strength, leaving him with an utter tiredness he'd never known. When at last he was able to move, he walked on shaky legs toward the happily dancing neon sign that claimed the shabby, lime green stuccoed building beneath it was the ELECTRA‑FLITE MOTEL ‑ FREE COLOR TV.

     He paid a sullen, white haired man for a room but, instead of going to it he decided to take a walk. Gideon moved along the busy, night‑time sidewalks, his feet dragging him into the city. He looked into the brightly lit shops and saw children stealing useless items from the store shelves while other children hassled the shopkeepers, demanding their full attention.

     Gideon looked beneath the colorful hats and leather caps he passed on the sidewalks and saw frightened, lost eyes crying for help. His own eyes rose from the fringed vests and paisley shirts and saw dead‑zombie‑junkie eyes that stared past him into Hell. Young girls in heavy makeup watched him, their eyes promising favors in return for favors. Everyone appeared to be bumming quarters, dimes and dollars.

     He stepped into a liquor store and bought two six‑packs of Olympia beer and walked back to the motel. The room was overly decorated, and the walls were thin. The two sides of love were being showcased by unseen instructors in the adjoining rooms. To his left a man and a woman were arguing loudly. To his right, a syncopated, grunting chant, accentuated by the bass drum sound of a headboard slamming into a wall.

     Gideon opened a can of beer and turned the television on, twisting the volume control until Doc Severinson's orchestra drowned out the other noises in the room. He sipped his beer and ignored Johnny Carson while trying to think about what he'd gotten himself into.

     "What the hell am I doing?" he asked himself. He thought of Sarah. She had asked him what he thought he was doing "right now, in the present."

     He didn't know.

 

     "Damn," he whispered, wishing he could make sense of who he was and where he was going. He forced himself to go over all that had happened to him since he'd started college. The two six‑packs of beer disappeared one can at a time into the waste basket. An Alan Ladd movie was showing on the television when Gideon stood up, bracing himself against the foot of the bed. He lectured himself for not eating anything all day.

     He walked to the lobby, ricocheting off the walls every few feet. A row of pay phones stood in the shadows beyond the front desk, and the silent old clerk eyed him suspiciously.

     "May I help you?" the clerk said.

     "Yeah," Gideon said it a little too loud. He opened his wallet and pulled out a ten dollar bill. "I need change."

     "All of it?"

     "Yes. All of it."

     The clerk blew out a lung full of air and shook his head. He stepped through a door behind the desk and returned in a few minutes with neat stacks of quarters.

     "'Preciate it," Gideon staggered slightly as he walked to the pay phones.

 

 

"Uncle John?" Gideon asked quietly when he heard a voice on the line.

     "Gideon, is that you?" a familiar, faraway voice came through the receiver. His uncle pronounced it, "Gijun."

     "Yes, Uncle John," Gideon almost cried. "How are you?"

     "A little sleepy. It's two thirty in the morning."

     "I'm sorry," Gideon looked at his watch. "I'm out in California. I forgot about the time difference."

     "It's okay, boy," Uncle John said, "are you all right?"

     "Yes, sir. Just tired, mostly."

     "We been awful worried about you, Gideon. What they're saying about you in the papers, and all. You sure you're all right, son?"

     "Yeah, Uncle John," Gideon said, snorting back a tear. "Listen, do you suppose if I came home you could find some work for me to do around there?"

     There was a pause on the line. "You bet, son. You really mean it?"

     "I sure do. And, Uncle John," Gideon wiped his nose on his sleeve, "when I tell ya'll what's really been happening, you're going to bust your sides laughing."

     "Well, we always knew you ain't done what all they said you done," his uncle's voice faltered for the first time. "We'll be waitin' for you."

     "Thanks, Uncle John."

     "You want to talk to Alice? I can wake her up."

     "No," Gideon knew he wouldn't be able to talk to his aunt without crying. "I'll talk plenty when I get home."

     His uncle was quiet.

     "Okay?"

     "Yeah," the man said at last. "You be careful."

     "I will, Uncle John. See you soon."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                            

THIRTY THREE ‑ URIAH

 

 

It had rained during the night as Gideon slept. He woke to the steam press sound of cars moving along the wet streets, and he felt refreshed.

     Gideon showered only once that morning. He was in a hurry to see Carmen. He wanted to tell her she wouldn't be harassed anymore because of him. He left the motel early and walked swiftly through the fresh, cool morning air. The city had cleaned itself sometime before dawn. The sidewalks and streets sparkled, the buildings shone like new and the morning people looked bright and happy.

     He bought a new pair of jeans and a new western shirt and took them back to the motel, tried them on and examined himself in his new clothes. The fit was good, but the new jeans were too stiff yet to be comfortable. He decided he'd change back into his old clothes when the time came to leave San Francisco. To start his long ride home.

     A young woman was busy behind the front desk when Gideon dropped off the key. She smiled, and he smiled back. He ate a light breakfast and watched a blur of activity outside the wide, plate glass windows of the Commodore Restaurant. He thought about the Switchboard, and hoped Carmen would be there.

     'Carmen and Tony,' he thought, smiling at the sound of it in his mind. He was happy for them. Gideon thought of Sarah, and his mind darkened for a moment. She was the only part of this whole silly game he couldn't forget completely, given the time. He thought of asking her to leave it all and go with him, to disappear into the jungle of rural Florida. He wondered if she would say yes.

     Gideon paid for his meal and walked across the wet parking lot to his van. When he reached the driver's side door he found a tabby cat tied by a leash to his mirror. The cat was sitting delicately in a small puddle of rainwater. It had a blue ribbon around its neck and a note attached to the ribbon. A small bag of opened cat food sat rolled closed behind him.

     Gideon reached down and removed the note. The cat walked back and forth between his legs while he read. It tangled itself up in the leash. The note said:

               Yours looked like a friendly home,

               so I chose you. The draft board is

               after me, and I have to split. Please 

               take care of my cat. His name is Uriah.

               He loves cheese. Thank you.                

               The note was unsigned. 

       Gideon looked from the note to the cat, then glanced around the parking lot. There was no one in sight. "Well," he said to the cat, "I don't guess either of us has a choice." The cat only stared. It reminded him of J. Hubbard.

     He opened the van door and untied the leash, examining the inside before placing the cat on the padded engine cover. He wanted to see if the cat's owner had helped himself to anything before he left for Canada. Nothing seemed to be out of place. He hooked Uriah's leash around the handle on the passenger door so he couldn't jump out while they were in motion. The bag of cat food went behind the seat.

     "How would you like to go to Florida?" Gideon said to the cat. Uriah hopped from the engine cover to the passenger seat and lay down on the sun‑warmed cloth. He began to purr.

 

 

Gideon pulled up to the Switchboard office again and found a parking place two doors away. He thought of how nice it would be to see Carmen again. He hoped she would feel the same about him.

     "Keep a lookout, Uriah," Gideon shook his finger at the cat. "I'll bring you some cheese when I come back."

     Gideon locked the van behind him. He had left the side windows open far enough for the air to circulate. The cat watched him through the glass.

     On his walk to the Switchboard Gideon thought about Uriah, and decided it wouldn't be so bad having the cat around. At least he'd have someone to talk with on the long trip home.

     The sidewalk in front of the Switchboard building was crowded with blacks and street hippies digging through cardboard boxes of used clothing and standing in lines where bags of canned food and bags of flour were being distributed by young black men in black turtleneck sweaters and black berets. Other members of the Panthers skirted the crowd, watching each passing car apprehensively. Gideon opened the door to the Mobilization Switchboard and stepped inside.

     He saw Carmen immediately. She was seated at a desk in the rear of the room, her back to a yellow wall. On the uncluttered desk top sat a familiar glass paperweight. It held a little log cabin and several tiny trees. Gideon had given it to her a long time ago. He watched her as she thumbed through the pages of a thick telephone book. She looked worried.

     There were a few other people in the large room. They wore a variety of clothing, shirts mostly old Army and Air Force issue, pants either dungarees or wide legged bell bottoms. These other people also looked worried.

     Gideon walked quietly to Carmen's desk and stood for a moment looking down at her. Pre‑occupied with her work, she didn't notice him. She was sliding the fingers of one hand over the pages of the telephone book. The fingers of her other hand twisted a loose strand of long, blond hair.

    "Excuse me, ma'am," Gideon said, "but could you tell me how to get to Macalester College?"

     Carmen looked up at him.

     "Gideon!" she said, knocking over a flower vase as she jumped to her feet. A white daisy fell to the floor. Gideon stepped around the desk and met her beside the chair. They embraced and he felt her hands at the back of his neck. She was laughing and crying at the same time, her tears wetting the front of his new shirt. She sniffed and pulled away from him.

     "Rorrie said you were here last night," she said. "I was afraid you wouldn't come back." Her blue eyes searched deep into his own.

     "I'm here," he said. "You look good, Carmen."

     "And you look tired, Gideon," She was very serious. "So tired."

     "I am."

     "And you've changed, too," her eyebrows raised as she studied him. "There's something different about you."

     "You're right," Gideon said. "You wouldn't believe how much I've changed."

     "What is it?"

     "I'm getting out, Carmen."

     "What do you mean?"

     "I'm leaving the revolution," he said. "Someone else can take care of things. Someone else can finish it."

     "I don't believe you're saying this, Gideon," she stiffened.

     "Well, I am."

     "I just can't believe it."

     "Look, Carmen," he put a hand on her waist. "I'm not who they think I am. Hell, I'm not even who you think I am."

     Gideon could see the confusion in her eyes. He knew how dedicated she was to the causes she'd worked so hard to promote.

     "Look around you, Gideon," she said. "These are the things I do believe in. The cops said that if we tried to have the Panthers here today for the giveaways, they'd make sure we never did it again. I'll be here to make sure we do."

     "I wish I had your convictions, Carmen," Gideon said, the tiredness sweeping in on him again. "But I'm not sure I've ever believed in anything."

     "You really have changed," she said. She moved back around the desk and picked up the white daisy, placing it gently into the vase and righting it.

     "I'm not sure. Sometimes I think I have, and sometimes I wonder if I'm just finally finding out who I am."

     "But what about the revolution?" she asked.

     "Carmen ‑" Gideon started, but was interrupted by the sound of the front door crashing open. Two young black men ran into the room. Their eyes were wide and beads of sweat glistened on their foreheads. They were dressed in black turtlenecks and black pants. One wore a black beret. Each man's face wore a mask of fear that belied their shouts, and the shiny pistols in their hands.

     "The pigs!" one of the men shouted. "They're gonna shoot ‑!" His words died in his throat as the room exploded.

     Gideon watched the windows disintegrate as a wall of noise deafened him. The young, black man who had shouted a second ago was thrown into the air like a piece of black paper. His stomach burst through the turtleneck and spattered across the room. The second man crashed into the desk in front of Carmen's, and fell to one knee. He looked back at his dead friend, then up at Gideon.

     "I don't understand," Gideon said.

     "You never will, brother," the man said, just as gunshots filled the room like a drum roll. It was an explosion of sound. Typewriters came apart and books danced across the desktops. Gideon felt his arm snap backward, pulling him with it. As he spun he felt something rip along his back. The paperweight on Carmen's desk exploded and he watched the insides fly away, surrounded by tiny snowflakes.

     A large patch of red was smeared across the yellow wall and Gideon looked down as he fell. Carmen was lying in an ocean of blood beneath the patch of red. Her face was gone. Gideon felt a searing fire tear across his face, and his world darkened as he bounced off the edge of the desk and went down. His face struck Carmen's thighs as he sprawled across the wet floor. He began making an ocean of his own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I said, I talked to Sarah before and after she saw Gideon in the hospital. She said he would live. She didn't tell me about J.'s plan to kidnap Gideon from the hospital, however; but, then, she didn't know me very well. I didn't find out about it until later.

     I'd found a job at Port Reyes, north of San Francisco. I worked for the state road department. My job was to walk behind an asphalt truck and spread the hot, sticky tar into the pitted highway. I worked from sun up to sundown six days a week for three weeks. At the end of those three weeks I had enough money saved to buy an old, 1956 Chevy panel truck I'd found for sale in Canyon, California, a small hill community just outside Berkeley.

     I felt rich. On top of the world. I paid 250 dollars for the panel truck and had 87 dollars left over, after a tank full of gas.

     If I hadn't bought the panel truck I might never have met Gideon again. As it was, I met him and Sarah and, for the first time, J. Hubbard. We all met in the mountains of Mendocino National Forest, near Lake Pillsbury. It was there they told me of the daring escape.


 

 

 

THIRTY FOUR ‑ THE PLAN

 

 

It was just like a scene from a movie. The white corridors were active with the paced hustling of doctors and nurses. Orderlies worked their way up and down the halls with cluttered handcarts.

     The door to Gideon's room was different from all the others only because there was a policeman sitting in a folding chair outside. He was a young officer but he was alert. He was a two-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department. His name was Roger Wiggins. The men he worked with called him Roger‑Dodger.

     Roger was getting used to some of the faces that passed him every day in the hall. Some were people who worked at the hospital and others came every day to see Gideon. Patrolman Wiggins had to frisk each of the males in this last group, except for other officers he knew and worked with; and, of course, Inspector Moranne. The floor nurse on duty inspected all the women. Not that Roger wouldn't have like to search some of the females.

      'Like that Sarah Ash, for instance,' he thought, blushing and grinning.

     Inspector Moranne came regularly ‑ every day ‑ to see Gideon Holley. He never went inside. Each time he came, he would nod curtly to the officer on the door, look inside, then close the door and walk away without a word. He was like a child with a new puppy. He didn't want it to run away.

     Gideon's lawyer showed up every other day at 1:15, and stayed exactly 22 minutes. The officer wondered how he did that. The man was dour faced, in his fifties, Roger guessed, and out of his league. He heard one of the Inspector's men say the radicals were having trouble getting the lawyer they wanted. Something about him being busted for dope, or something, and the three men from the Bureau of Subversive Investigation laughed together. It made Roger want to be a part of their team. As it was, he was just a flatfoot doing hospital duty, searching bags and frisking men in suits.

     A short, intense young man with thick glasses and eyes like glowing coals had been in to see the prisoner twice. His name was Evan Hubbard, and he was from the mayor's office. Each time Hubbard visited Gideon Holley, patrolman Wiggins frisked him and rummaged through the black attache' case he carried. Each time, Hubbard would smile at him.

     "What's your name, officer?" Hubbard had asked the first time. Roger had told him. "How long have you been on the force?"

     "Two years, sir."

     "Well, keep up the good work, officer," Hubbard had nodded warmly to Officer Wiggins. "As head of the Mayor's Subcomittee on Crime, I can tell you we're always on the lookout for recipients of our recognition awards program."

     "Thank you, sir."

     You're welcome," J. Hubbard said. "And make sure you keep your eye on this sly son of a bitch, Wiggins."

     "Yes, sir." Wiggins planned to do just that. He had been doing more than just logging people in. His notebook was filled with impressions of the different people who came and went. Gideon's court‑appointed lawyer, for instance, was a rich source of visual information. His curly blond hair and heavy dimensions gave Wiggins page after page of description. He was going to write a book about all this.

     Each evening, before being relieved by the night cop, Wiggins would open the door and look in at Gideon, lying bandaged and still on the bed. Each afternoon he would make the morning cop check with him to make sure Gideon was still there. It was nice to be noticed by the Mayor's office. He imagined a dinner just for him. He began writing a speech in his mind.

     The second time he'd frisked Evan Hubbard, the man had seemed even more impressed.

     "Tell me," Hubbard had said, straightening his silk tie, "do you plan to be a beat cop until you retire, or would you like to work toward something better?"

     "Yes, sir," Wiggins was floating on air, "I plan to be much more than a beat cop."

     "Good!" Hubbard beamed. "I like a man with ambition."

     J. left the elated officer and walked into Gideon's private room. It was being paid for by the state, with a supplement from the federal government. The rooms on either side of Gideon had been locked and emptied for security reasons. Moranne didn't want anyone to find a way to break through into the room and steal his prize.

     Each day, Sarah visited Gideon and checked on his progress. Each day, she would help him work at getting around on his own. It was difficult, seeing him struggle so hard. He was haunted by the death of Carmen.

     "She was just a kid," Gideon said more than once. Sarah held his hand.

     "So am I," she said. "And so are you."

     "No," he said, "I'm not a kid. I just act like one."

     "Gideon ‑"

     "I came here to tell her goodbye, Sarah. I was going to quit."

     "Quit?"

     "Yeah. I called my uncle John and asked him if I could come home, and he said I could. I was going to ask you to go with me."

     There, seated in a chair by his bed, Sarah felt as though she were falling, and she clutched his arm for support.

     "This shit is never going to stop," Gideon said. "Everybody enjoys it too much."

     Sarah wept.

     "I'm sorry, Sarah," he said.

     "God," she said, "don't say that."

     "Why?"

     "Because," she leaned over the bed and kissed him softly, "I would've said yes."

     Gideon was quiet and she listened to his machines. Sarah's mind was racing out of control, and she couldn't stop it. J. Hubbard had called her at her motel room the day of the raid on the Switchboard. He told her what had happened, and she had cried without shame. The news reports had listed Gideon as one of the dead, but the next morning he was said to be in critical condition at the hospital. Then, J. called her again.

     "Sarah," he talked as though he'd known her forever, "we have to get him out."

     "I know," she'd said. "I've been in touch with the Radical Speakers Bureau and they're putting their best people on it."

     "I don't think so," J.'s faraway voice was firm. "They're going to feed him to the wolves, Sarah. They need a martyr."

     She had been indignant. "That's ridiculous!"

     "We'll see," the voice said. "But, just in case it isn't, I have a plan to get him out of there."

     "You're insane!" she was getting angry. "I don't even know you."

     "Yes, you do," his tone was paced, almost slow, and she nodded her head without thinking. "I'm one of Gideon's two friends, and you're the other."

     "Well, then you know they have no reason to hold him. In fact," Sarah regained her self‑control, "he may have a very good lawsuit against the San Francisco Police Department."

     "Have you seen today's paper?" J. asked.

     "No."

     "Get it," he said, "and I'll call you back."

     She left her motel room and found a newspaper box in the lobby. There was one copy left. The front page headline said, HOLLEY TO BE INDICTED IN BOMB PLOT, PANTHER SHOOTING. Sarah felt weak, and tired.

     A smaller caption, under a photograph of Gideon Holley shaking hands with Stuart Mosely, the bomber, said, Holley and San Jose bomber just hours before the carnage. They were both smiling.

     The phone rang.

     It was Gideon's roommate again. "Have you read the article?"

     "Not yet," he made her uneasy.

     "I'll wait."

     Sarah read through the gory details. 21 dead, almost 50 injured. Two pointless massacres in just two days. Sarah had the phone tucked under her chin, and when she reached the middle of the lengthy article she sucked in a sharp breath, almost dislodging the phone.

     "You found it," J. Hubbard said without emotion.

     "Yes." The cold facts of the dual killings were followed by a series of quotes from important people ‑ politicians and police alike. The fourth quote was under a tiny photograph of Bob Rome, the top act at the Radical Speakers Bureau. He was gesturing toward the photographer.

     "Some of these people in the limelight now," Bob Rome's words looked so heavy in print, "have more zeal than common sense. I knew he was a loose cannon. This man is a true guerilla fighter. A true revolutionary."

     "Jesus," Sarah whispered.

     "Not even close," J. said. They sat joined by the telephone line for several minutes, aware of each other's silence.

     "What are we going to do?" she said, half to herself.

     "I thought you'd never ask."

 

 

Each day, after she spent her time with him, Sarah would leave the hospital and wander around the city until she found a pay phone. She used a different phone each day. She would call J. Hubbard and let him know how Gideon was doing, and how much he had improved. J. saw himself as the weak link in his plan, and had limited his visits to two necessary days.

     "Hell, Sarah," he'd said to her the first day they spent together, "it was the best idea I could come up with. I just figured that I couldn't be more unnoticeable than coming on as someone from the mayor's office. I mean, who notices anyone from there?"

     With each telephone call from Sarah, however, J. Hubbard was losing faith in himself. He wondered if his flawless forgeries would be found out, if his arrogance of using his own last name would backfire on him.

     The plan depended on a good solution. And the solution was time. He believed that, with Gideon secreted away somewhere, they would have the time and notoriety to get him the legal help he needed to beat the charges. Sarah had connections in the Movement outside the RSB, and J. Hubbard had connections of his own in the legal profession. Both his parents were well‑respected lawyers. He hoped it would work.

     "We can't do more than this, J.," Sarah said.

     "Oh, I know. But, I don't know if it's enough."

     "It'll work or it won't," she replied, too tense to continue the conversation. "What should I do next?"

     J. Hubbard had been giving her instructions on how to carry out his scheme each day. For three weeks Sarah had been dividing her time between Gideon and the annual convention of the Radical Students Association, where Gideon had been elevated to the status of Legend. By the end of the third week, his eyesight had returned to normal, though he couldn't see well at all when the doctors came around. They held up charts and smeared salve in his eyes. They clucked and shook their heads as they examined the healing scar that ran in a ragged line across his forehead.

     Gideon's forearm was still in a cast, but the bandages had been taken from his back where a gauze dressing was changed every day. Now, at the end of the third week, Gideon said he was ready. He asked how Uriah was.

     "Fat," Sarah smiled, "and getting fatter."

     She had been given Gideon's new cat the day she first went to see him at the hospital. The police had found him in Gideon's van and he eventually wound up in the hands of a member of the San Francisco Mobilization Committee. The member's name was Richie Ray.

     Richie met Sarah shortly after she left the hospital that day. He told her about Uriah, and asked if she knew anyone who would care for him. "Even the cat is a legend," he said to her.

     "Where did Gideon get a cat?" she asked. He didn't have one in the mountains.

     "Beats me, Richie Ray said. He hunched his shoulders and raised his hands, palms upward. "You'll have to ask Gideon."

     Richie was a student at the University of San Francisco, and worked at Bob's Beanery at night. Bob's was located on Fulton Street. It was a meeting place for Bay Area radicals. The night job didn't pay Richie's tuition, by any means. The tuition was paid by the Bureau of Subversive Investigation. It was a you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours arrangement.

     The next day Sarah asked Gideon about Uriah. At first, he didn't remember. He didn't remember much without a great deal of effort, those first few days.

     "A cat?" he asked, rubbing his head with the heel of his palm. He thought hard, and his head ached by the time he remembered Uriah. He told Sarah how he'd found him, then he went to sleep. Sarah took Uriah in and cared for him while Gideon was in the hospital. Uriah was a friendly cat.

     The day Gideon said he was ready, Sarah called J. Hubbard. He told her to get ready before her evening visit. She knew what to do.

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY FIVE ‑ THE ESCAPE

 

 

J. Hubbard went into the hospital early that day. His blue business suit was pressed and spotless, his wingtips polished to a glassy shine. He looked like a man from the mayor's office.

     He carried one other item that day besides his attache' case. It was a large box, gift‑wrapped in white paper with a fluffy yellow bow on the top. A card was taped to the wrapping paper under the bow. It said, THE GANG AT WORK MISSES YOU. GET WELL SOON.

     J. let himself get lost on Gideon's floor, walking casually down a corridor that merged with another hallway running beside Gideon's room. The two hallways met four doors farther down from his room, toward the back side of the hospital. A men's bathroom occupied the corner between a service elevator and the stairwell.

     J. stepped into the men's room and entered the third stall. He placed the box on the toilet, then stood inside the stall and waited.

 

 

Sarah made sure Gideon understood what he was to do. When they had whispered through the procedures twice, she stood and brushed nervously at her blouse.

     "Well," she took a deep breath, and then another, "let's give it a try." She leaned over Gideon and kissed him. He looked at his watch and nodded to her. She reached for the door.

     "It'll work," he said, smiling at her. "If J. Hubbard is behind it, it'll work." Sarah smiled back at him, then opened the door. As she walked past Officer Wiggins Sarah put a hand to her forehead.

     "Oh," she said softly. Her knees turned to rubber and she collapsed, hitting the floor solidly.

     Officer Wiggins leapt from his chair and knelt beside Sarah. He took her arm and helped her into a sitting position. She straightened her skirt. "Are you all right, miss?" he asked, genuine concern in his voice.

     "Yes," Sarah said, her eyelids drooping for a moment, then opening again. "Yes, I'm okay. Thank you."

     "Let me get that," Roger Wiggins reached for her purse, then put a strong hand under her arm and helped her to her feet. She closed her eyes and leaned on his arm.

     "Thank you, officer," she said. "I'll be fine."

     Sarah backed away from him and turned toward the row of elevators. He watched her closely as she walked unsteadily down the corridor. When she reached the elevator he returned to his chair. She pushed the button and rubbed her head.

 

J. Hubbard had circled back around and passed Sarah on the way to Gideon's room. He gave no indication he'd even noticed her.

     "Good afternoon, Officer Wiggins," J. said warmly.

     "Hello, Mr. Hubbard," Wiggins said as he rose to his feet. He leafed through the small man's papers then, as J. raised his arms, patted him down politely.

     "I think we're getting somewhere with this guy," Hubbard said. Wiggins had been wanting to ask what the mayor's office was doing in this case, but was afraid he might offend Mr. Hubbard. The guy's eyes gave him the creeps.

     "Good, Mr. Hubbard," he said. "Good."

     "And, Officer Wiggins," Hubbard continued, "I put in a good word for you yesterday with the mayor."

     "Thank you, sir!"

     J. glanced down the hall and saw the elevator open for Sarah. It was empty. 'Perfect,' he said to himself. Officer Wiggins sat back down and J. walked through the door to the hospital room.

     J. raced back out seconds later, his face red with anger. He pointed at the closing elevator doors as Wiggins jumped to his feet.

     "You fool!" J. shouted at him. "He's gone, damn it! I just saw him in that elevator!"

     J. pointed down the corridor. Officer Wiggins' face turned an ivory white. He threw open the door to Gideon's room and looked in at the empty bed.

     "No!" he almost cried. "It can't be!"

     Officer Wiggins raced ahead of J. Hubbard to the elevator, watching helplessly as the lights above the elevator doors indicated it had stopped in the lobby. He turned to run to the nurses' station and fell over J. Hubbard. They both crashed to the floor.

     "Idiot!" J. screamed at him.

 

 

As J. Hubbard and Officer Wiggins raced to the elevator, Gideon crawled out from behind the table that sat beside his hospital bed. He stepped quickly to the door and pulled it open. Everyone in the corridor had rushed toward the elevator to see what was going on, and Gideon slipped unnoticed down the other end of the hall to the men's room.

     He found the box waiting for him in the third stall. J. had locked the door from the inside and climbed out over the top. Because of his arm, Gideon had to lie down on the cold tile floor and crawl under.

     Inside the box Gideon found a pair of white coveralls with LINDEN'S TEXACO in red letters on the back. Over the pocket, the name BO was embroidered in red. Under the coveralls was a pair of scuffed desert boots and a pair of thin socks with a car key stuffed inside one of them. A dirty blue knit cap and a pair of black‑rimmed glasses lay together at the bottom.

     Gideon slipped out of the hospital gown and dressed quickly, pulling the wide arm of the coveralls over the cast on his arm. He checked the top pocket and found a very realistic, clipped moustache. In the back pocket was a greasy, rolled up copy of Hot Rod Magazine. Gideon laughed.

     When he was in full disguise he stuffed the gown and pink plastic patient's bracelet into the box and tossed it into the bag‑lined trash can. He walked casually out of the men's room and down the corridor J. had taken earlier. With the help of diagrams Sarah had shown him Gideon found another elevator and made his way through the hospital to the emergency room. His heart was pounding from the exertion, and he worried about J. and Sarah.

     Gideon sat in the emergency room for an hour as J. had told him to do, surrounded by hundreds of people in pain. He leafed through a stack of old magazines, trying not to stare at the clock until he thought the time was up. He found that, with the greatest control he could muster, he stared at the clock every three minutes. Police officers came and went, giving the room a cursory search each time. Finally, the hour was gone and he stood, turned, and walked out of the hospital through the emergency room door.

     He walked slowly past the gathered crowd that milled curiously outside, and headed for the parking lot. His heart turned to ice at the slightest noise. He found a two-year old white Chevy Impala exactly where J. said it would be.

     Gideon backed out and drove to an exit. A pair of policemen stood in his way. One of the uniformed men moved around to the side of the car and glanced at him, then shone his flashlight around in the back.

     "Would you mind opening your trunk?" the other cop said.

     "No," Gideon said. He stepped out, trying to steady his weak legs as he walked to the back, aware of the cops' eyes on him. He opened the trunk and there, in a bundle of clean work shirts, was a small stack of Playboy magazines. One cop picked up the top issue and fingered his way through it. He opened the centerfold.

     "Is that how you broke your arm?" he asked, and the other cop giggled.

     "Shit, no," Gideon grinned foolishly. "My buddies gave me those to help build up the muscles."

     Both cops laughed and the first dropped the magazine back into the trunk. He closed the lid.

     "You can go," the other man said.

     Gideon climbed back into the car and cranked it up again. He leaned his head out the window and looked up at the cops. "What's happening back there?" He thumbed over his shoulder to the hospital.

     "Read about it in the morning papers," the policeman said, waving him on.

 

 

Poor Officer Wiggins. He would never be something more than a flatfoot. Only something other than a flatfoot. He was just plain Mr. Wiggins, now.

     Moranne was frantic. The San Francisco Police Department had worked well into the night, but hadn't come up with a single clue as to the whereabouts of the three fugitives. The inspector had checked out Sarah Ash's motel room personally, but found nothing to tell him where she'd gone. When ex‑officer Wiggins gave him a description of the man named Hubbard, from the mayor's office, Moranne had paled.

     "God damn!" he roared. "Nobody even frigging bothered to keep tabs on Holley's roommate. We thought he was still at school back in Minnesota." The looks of scorn on the faces of San Francisco's finest rankled him.

     "We'll get him, Inspector," the watch captain said from behind his desk.

     "That bastard!" Moranne spit out the words. "Holley must have some goddamned hypnotic power over people to get them to do this kind of shit for him."

     "Some kind of frigging power," Lobajeski agreed.

     "Maybe they just like him," Colletti said.

     "What?" Moranne's wrath focused on his man.

     "I said, 'maybe they just like him,'" Colletti said, rubbing his eyes and wishing he could sleep. Moranne studied him for a long time, then blinked.

     "Don't be stupid," he said.

 

At 11:30 p.m., Captain Norm Luck of the SFPD returned to his office. Moranne was waiting for him.

     "Tell me," Moranne said.

     "Nothing to tell," the captain said. "I still have every available man on the force searching for them but, so far, we've found nothing."

     "Shit." Moranne stared out the dirty window into the misty night.

     "However," Norm Luck said as he sat on the desk top, "It's my belief that the three of them are still in San Francisco. The underground groups here can hide a man pretty well, at least for a while." Moranne snorted, but didn't turn from the window.

     "They're in town," the captain said to the inspector. "You'll see."

     He was wrong.

 

 

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