Jean pulled the food truck over at Chuck’s Place. It seemed the same as usual. Faded awning above a concrete step that was part of the pad the building was built on. Two gas pumps out front, one gas, the other diesel. Shelves inside were full of usual gaudy-packaged treats. Faded painted metal sign outside, swinging in the light, hot breeze.
Chuck’s daughter Rochelle (named after her godmother — the same one that started those nursing schools) bounced out to meet us. Faded plaid shirt, sleeves rolled up, tucked into tight stove-pipe blue jeans, above flip-flops. And she hug both of us in turn.
“Jean! Hami! It’s been awhile. Too long. Are you just here for gas, or do you have time to sit a spell?”
Jean looked back down the road. The black SUV had pulled over about a mile away. A flashing glint meant they had some binoculars or scope pointing our way.
“Your parents are gone?”
Rochelle nodded her red head. “Until probably dusk. What’s up? Something to do with those black helicopter types out there?”
Jean looked into her green eyes. “Can you feel them from here?”
“Of course. You know me too well. They’re up to no good, but aren’t any of the usual government/military types. Something else.”
“That’s what I got, too.”
I just shook my head at the two of them. “You guys are above my pay grade on that one. Maybe some day we can swap cooking lessons for remote sensing ones.”
Rochelle grinned at me. “Promise? I think Dad and Mom would love me to improve their venison stew — just a little bit…”
Jean broke in. “Right now, we’re safe. But we need to stay in their sight — but out of the sun, so it’s not obvious we know about them. They’d figure we were up to something.”
Rochelle put her arms on both our shoulders. “OK, then. This means a round of lemonade coming right up. Jean, you can top up the truck on the house — I doubt if it needs much. Hami, just cool your dogs as you sit on the bench, and I’ll be back out quick with a pitcher and three cups.”
She scooted inside with all of her exuberant youth, plaid shirt and jeans taking the steps in a few strides.
Jean walked around the front of the food truck and appeared to stumble, then walked on as nothing happened.
Rochelle stopped just inside the front door, a pitcher of lemonade in one hand and three tall plastic cups stacked in her other. But she didn’t come out right away. She was looking at something in front of the food truck.
Nodding once, she came out to the opposite sife of me and let me pull out one of the cups. Rochelle filled it, and then let me pull out another for Jean.
As she filled it, slower than she filled mine, her back was between me and the SUV.
“Hami, I don’t doubt they can pick up sound or read lips. Don’t look anywhere but my face. Out in front of the truck — no, just look at me. Out in front of the truck are two people who are here to help us. Now, this is going to kill you out of curiosity, but just don’t look. Oh, that cup is full. Here, hold mine for me.”
I shifted Jean’s cup to the bench beside me, and took Rochelle’s out of her hand.
“OK, I can only tell you a little bit more, or they’ll know I’m standing here talking. It’s probably going to get weird here in a few minutes. But just roll with it. I’m going to take this pitcher back inside, like I’m going for refills, but you just sit back and relax. Remember, it’s going to get weird — but my part is to stay inside at the register, like usual. Just so you know.”
I nodded. Then took her full cup to set it down besides Jean’s. Then sat back and tried to relax, while I sipped cold lemonade and waited for whatever was going to happen.
The next thing I heard was two people running out the back of Chuck’s Place, purposely making a lot of sound with their feet.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the SUV start up and turn off the road. It was going over the flat scrub desert toward those runners and raising a could of dust as it went. Spitting up rocks and probably scratching its paint job to shreds.
Then two more people sprinted out from the front of the food truck. This surprised me and made me sit up. One looked like Chaz and the other like Meg. They were angled off next to the road, back the way we’d driven up. I could tell by his running that tall one was Chaz — and he was holding back to make sure Meg could keep up.
I heard the SUV screech and turn in all the gravel and dust.
Jean then replaced the nozzle, closed the gas flap on the food truck, and showed up in the driver’s seat. He started up the truck and just sat there, looking at me through the window, smiling.
I just shrugged and put down my lemonade next to the others on that bench.
About that time, Rochelle called me inside. “Hami — come in here. You’ll want to see this. But take your time, it’s no emergency.”
So I took the clue and stood, turning to walk into the doorway. Right inside, Meg grabbed my wrist, smiling.
“Hami sends his love, and asked me to bring you to him.”
I turned to look back at Jean and pointed his thumb at someone standing behind him. It was Chaz, with a wide grin on his face.
The grip on my wrist didn’t allow me to turn. But both the food truck and I were shimmering…
We showed up in the garage right next to our saloon. And precise enough that me and Meg just fit between the building’s inside wall and the food truck in front of us. The truck was hot, but wasn’t running, even though I could smell leftover exhaust and other fumes from a hot engine and running gear.
Chaz led Jean out of the food truck and rushed toward me. A long hug, a long kiss and another long hug. Finally, I could see Jean smiling behind him as I peeked over Chaz’ tall shoulders.
Meg squeezed by the two of us, patting my shoulder as she went. She wound up standing next to Jean with an arm around his waist, which he returned in kind.
The rapidly darkening light in the garage could only mean it was hours later after we left Chuck’s place.
“OK, now could someone fill me in on what just happened?”
Meg nodded. “That would be me. During the last several hours, we’ve all made different trips and appeared in all sorts of places. And in more than a few times. Often at the same time in different places. The whole point was to throw them off and foul up their tracking gear.
“They re-located Chaz to set a trap for me. But Chaz had to help me spring that trap and all the others they were setting. It meant he had to see himself appear in the same place many times — a literal army of him’s and me’s showing up at several places all over. He came through like a trooper. Most people would go a bit nuts, but even though I didn’t have much time to explain it all to him, he picked it up fast. As a matter of fact, he gave a lot of good tactical ideas and freed me up to just work out the times and crossings.
“Finally, we came to get you guys extracted. And we had to do some traveling even then. We had to force that SUV to follow us on their own accord. So what they saw was you and I getting back on that food truck, about a mile away from Chuck’s place. Right where they could see us. And then they saw us on a side road heading away from them, while the truck in front of them disappeared. And then that truck led them to another one before vanishing, and so on.”
I frowned at this explanation. “I don’t suppose that I’m supposed to understand much about this?”
Meg just chuckled. “In time. Let me just say that I ‘borrowed’ copies of ourselves from various times in what is now our recent past. Between Jean and I, we were able to make these copies show up in all sorts of places. “
Jean just nodded. Chaz hugged me tight again.
“But I don’t remember because…?”
“You really don’t want to. Neither do those agents. In time, you can if you want. Right now, it’s better to just forget about the last few hours than try to make sense of it. The main result is that they won’t be messing with us any time soon. I can see that for sure. Doesn’t mean they won’t try again.”
I glanced at the now dark garage windows. And saw the lights in the saloon were on.
“Well, thanks, Meg. Sounds like we had a nice adventure. But you know what time it is?”
Meg smiled, but shook her head no. More like being polite. “Let me guess — no, go ahead and tell me.”
“Time for some real comfort food.”
Meg cocked her head to the side. “Hear that?”
I heard a beater truck roll to a stop outside with a squeal of brakes, then cough as it was turned off.
“Sounds like Chuck, and he may have brought his family along. Maybe Rochelle can help you out in the kitchen and get some cooking tips.”
I just had to laugh.
Helluva road trip.
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Originally published at Living Sensical.