Authors: Robert Neil Baker
Tags: #Contemporary,On the Road
He parked the Nash in the side alley
next to Gary Grant’s Grocery again, checking for a little lunatic blue-haired woman with a baseball bat before shutting down the riding mower-size engine. He walked to the front of the store trying to decide whether or not to go in. Beth Kessler had warned him to stay away from Gary, but she might have been less than honest in saying she wasn’t jealous of a prosperous relative. He could go in there, give Gary’s money back and walk away. And then he could find a job washing dishes from eight to twelve p.m. for minimum wage of a buck-something an hour.
A man on the creaky side of eighty walked out and nodded pleasantly. Tom nodded back and entered the grocery store.
“I was wondering when you would show up,” complained Gary.
“I got burned out of the place I was going to live in. I had to find something else.”
“No kidding? Sorry about that. Did you lose your stuff?”
“No. I wasn’t even moved in, and I’m probably better off.” Tom glanced around the store. Empty. “So what is it you need me to do for you?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” Gary took a
sign out from behind the counter, shut and locked the front door, and mounted the sign in the window. He tossed his head. “Let’s go to the back.”
Tom recalled the miniature office, and briefly considered admitting to the claustrophobia, but it was not the way to start out with a new employer.
Robert Neil Baker
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Hiding Tom Hawk
COPYRIGHT © 2015 by Robert N. Baker
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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First Mainstream Mystery Edition, 2015
Print ISBN 978-1-5092-0191-4
Digital ISBN 978-1-5092-0192-1
Published in the United States of America
Ellsworth Road was designed for fifty miles an hour and Tom Hawk was northbound doing twice that, white-knuckled. Morning spilled over the Superstition Mountains into the Valley of the Sun, but the light was inadequate to his speed. Tony Sartorelli’s pursuing Cadillac gained on his year-old 1971 Olds Cutlass and this could be the last day of a life barely crowding three decades. How the
had they found him?
He had one hope. Ahead was the main entrance to the General Motors Desert Proving Ground. It was shift change time and the gatehouse was being re-built, greatly slowing movement in and out. There would be a nasty traffic jam in front of the General’s winter playground. He would try to blast past the line of northbound right-turners on the narrow shoulder. If the larger car chasing him tried to follow, it might slide into the drainage ditch. If not, maybe he could slip by the gate before a left-turning southbound vehicle blocked his pursuer.
The northbound GM line-up was shorter than he’d hoped. He braked hard and steered onto the shoulder at forty miles an hour. His passage peppered the commuter vehicles with loose gravel from the shoulder as he fought to keep the Cutlass from sliding into the drainage ditch. Horns sounded as he passed car after car on its right.
Tom glanced back and saw the much wider Cadillac execute his “pass on the right” maneuver. The driver of a pick-up truck with a vigilante streak apparently saw it too. He moved his vehicle onto the shoulder just enough to keep the Cadillac from jumping the line like Tom. Tom watched the Caddy swerve to avoid hitting the pick-up, its headlights veering right and then tilting crazily as it plunged into the drainage canal and stopped.
When he looked forward again, a stunned GM security guard was standing in his path. Brakes! The guard leapt into the ditch as Tom stopped five feet short of the spot he had abandoned. People got out of their cars, and two more guards from the proving ground gate headed for him. Tom cranked the wheel full left and pirouetted around a Mercury (not a very loyal GM employee). He floored the accelerator and headed back to the south, passing two angry stout men struggling to get out of the Cadillac.
It was time to flee from Phoenix. The government’s new witness protection program was a joke. They couldn’t protect anybody, and they would have to convict Tony without him. Where he was going to flee
? Not back to California. Should he just continue going south to Mexico? He had no almost money, he spoke no Spanish. Where was that little university in Michigan Greg had almost graduated from, the one buried in the forests?
Ten days later, Tom stared out a window at the traffic on U.S. Highway 41 that inconveniently cut through the middle of the Michigan Tech campus on the way to downtown Houghton. He waited impatiently for the woman reviewing his thin file. She looked no more than thirty-five and not unattractive even if she was clinging to a Jackie Kennedy Onassis hair style that was wrong for her. His eyes got to her left hand, saw the ring, and he ended his assessment. He thought of California and Claire, the woman he’d met at the employment office, who he’d dated twice and who had known about the pizza parlor job. Was she safe? Was he?
Houghton was, as Greg had promised, near the end of the earth. Both city and university clung to the south slope of the river valley carved by what was now the Portage Canal. That waterway severed the rugged Keweenaw Peninsula jutting into Lake Superior to the north from the rest of the much larger peninsula that formed Upper Michigan. The U.P. was itself isolated, bounded on the southwest by the thinly populated north of Wisconsin and on the southeast by Lakes Michigan and Huron.
The woman looked up from Tom’s file. “This all looks good, Mr. Hawk. You got your engineering degree at UCLA. Grades were great. As soon as you were out, you went into defense work for several years. Then you joined the Marines.”
She had a slightly questioning look. She was probably wondering why an engineer with a critical skills deferment would voluntarily go into service. As the Vietnam thing had unfolded, he had wondered himself.
He squared his shoulders. “Yes, I was pretty idealistic.”
“Good for you. My husband did similar. Uncle Sam gave you some good added engineering experience. So, based on that strong background, you’re admitted to Michigan Tech’s graduate program albeit at the last minute.”
“I appreciate the expedited treatment very much.”
“We want to help our vets. Welcome to fall term, 1972. What’d you do this summer?”
It was polite conversation; she didn’t really care. And the honest response,
hid from the mob
, would just upset her. “I’ve been knocking around, doing a little traveling for a couple months.”
“Right. So, I’ve got what I need. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“How about part-time work? I don’t mean necessarily technical work, but anything at all.”
“Oh boy, I don’t think so, you getting here so late. Houghton is a small town and the university is the biggest industry. We’ve got excess part-time labor force.”
“Yeah, I figured.”
had a number of fellows get work at a grocery store in New Range, a little town near here. You might go down there and ask, if you’ve the time.”
“Sure, why not? I know where the town is. Where’s the store?”
“I’m not exactly sure, but I believe it’s right downtown. Maybe it’s called Lee’s or Lincoln’s. Since they have lots of student employees, they must do quite a lot of business.”
“I’ll find it. Thanks for everything.”
They rose, shook hands, and Tom left. Nice people here in Houghton, he reflected. Friendly, but didn’t ask a lot of questions. At best, Tony Sartorelli’s men would never find him here until he testified. At worst, he’d somehow make sure no one else got hurt this time. No more collateral damage because of him; no paper boy with a slug in the arm.
The village of New Range was a half-dozen wooded miles southwest of Houghton on the highway to the lyrically named larger town to the west, Ontonagon. The steeply sloped Main Street transected the highway, which Tom thought odd, because the highway ran flat through the hillside town and would have made a more practical commercial strip. The high school, built from copper-colored Romanesque stone, was at the bottom, not the traditional top of the hill at the head of Main Street. That site had been taken earlier by the Lutheran church. Two blocks down, the Catholics’ larger church fronted on a side street parallel to the highway rather than on Main Street. Tom suspected that was so it could turn its behind to the presumptuous Lutherans.
The rest of downtown was a clutter of two-story, early twentieth century buildings. It all struck him as reassuringly remote and quiet. Grant’s Grocery stood opposite the church. Grant’s, not Lee’s or Lincoln’s, but close enough. It looked outdated and small. Tom parked the Cutlass and walked in.
Seconds later he faced the owner, Gary Grant, at the cash register by his front door. The hawk-nosed, slightly gap-toothed grocer was light-skinned even for this northern community and probably within a few years of Tom’s age, but looked the product of a harder life.
He scratched his chin. “A job? Geez, no, I’m sorry. I’d like to help out a veteran, but I don’t need any more people.”
“Sure. Thanks anyway.”
“I’m fully behind our troops. You saw my poster for President Nixon in the window.”
Favoring Tricky Dick’s re-election didn’t necessarily equate to supporting those in uniform, in Tom’s view. “Thanks anyway. I’ll pick up a couple of things while I’m here.” Fighting his claustrophobia, he strolled to the back of the crowded store and found the personal grooming and health care aisle.
He cradled two toothpaste tubes in large, well-formed, if indifferently manicured hands and debated over Colgate or Crest. A dingy Coca-Cola advertising mirror faced him, and he made an immodest self-assessment. Not bad: twenty-eight years old, thick sandy hair, over six feet tall, in shape, bright, and educated. The problem was, he had seen something he shouldn’t have, and for it his life might go down the toilet.
He found the canned ravioli he’d used at the safe house, but fifteen cents more than in Phoenix last week. A grocery store this tiny had to charge more. The whole place was uncomfortably, miserably small; about the size of the produce department he was used to shopping in. It didn’t look like anything had been changed in thirty years, unless you counted the new “Re-elect the President 1972” poster in the front window. He would go nuts working in here if Grant had a job for him, which he didn’t. Where were all those student employees the Admissions woman had spoken of?
Movement and sound by the cash register broke his daydreaming mood. Grant faced a well-tanned female customer with long blonde hair, attractive in profile. She might even be beautiful, but Tom couldn’t tell, because her face was choked with rage. He hadn’t noticed it before, but Grant was short. No, check that, he wasn’t; the woman was
; perfectly proportioned, but big. She was easily six-foot-one, maybe taller than Tom, while the grocer was of average height and build at about five-nine. With inch-plus heels on her sandals, she towered over him as they faced off across the counter. And there was something else. She held a gun.
Grant wagged a finger and argued with her while ignoring the weapon—a man with guts but no sense. Tom wanted to do the smart thing, to find the back door, leave, and keep himself out of this. He couldn’t. There was no ignoring the anger he felt in seeing one person threaten another with a gun after what had been happening to him for two months.