The wood-frame house, a century old, but in good shape, dominated the hilltop. Near it, a barn, in disuse for many years, struggled to keep from collapsing. A large white peace sign on the back side had faded, but Belinda knew it was there. She helped paint it.
Across the dirt road, a field radiated golden as the rays of the sun dipped behind the huge maple trees at its edge. Belinda sat on the porch and waited for the first of the stars to become visible, a mug of herbal tea on the table next to her, and one of the barn cats in her lap. She looked towards the woods at the edge of the field to the path, now overgrown with brush. She tried to remember the people she and James, her late husband, had helped along the path on their way across the border into Canada.
Like the peace sign on the barn, Belinda knew her life was fading. Bad enough that her body failed her once in a while, she thought, but once my mind is gone, well that’s it isn’t it? It amazed her that yesterday’s goings-on were quickly forgotten but something that took place in the ’60s or early ’70s seemed to be as vivid as if it just happened.
She could see James walking towards the farmhouse with a young man, long hair blowing in the wind, a couple, or even someone with a military haircut, trudging next to him. Rucksacks with a few possessions, maybe a sleeping bag, was all many had with them. They were on the run. The ones with the short hair were AWOL soldiers, soon to be labeled deserters, drafted into a war they hated. Others were political radicals, one step ahead of the law. She remembered the long discussions about the war and the state of the country as she, James and new arrivals would sit at the kitchen table talking until the time came to move them across the border.
“Time for you to go hunting, and time for me to call it a night,” she said to the cat as she put him down. Belinda looked out at her view of the field, said goodnight to James and went into the house.
The morning broke sunny and Belinda, listening to NPR while she cooked her eggs, jumped at the knock on the door.
“Come on in, can’t let the eggs overcook.”
A tall stranger opened the screen door. His long white hair was swept back and his goatee cut short. His clothes were fashionable for his age which Belinda figured to be the mid to late ’70s, like herself.
“Oh, I expected my neighbor from down the road. He should be here soon.”
He wasn’t but Belinda wanted the stranger to think that.
‘I’m sorry to surprise you like this, Belinda.”
“Do I know you?”
“We had some mighty conversations around this table. I’m Jackson Pierce. You and James helped me escape across the border 55 years ago.”
A vision of a younger man worked its way into Belinda’s memory. She placed it with the older man in front of her now. The brown hair now white. The skinny kid now a fit older man. The smile and the eyes though, they were the same.
Belinda put her hands to her face. “Oh yes, I remember now. Well, come in and sit Jackson. I’ll cook up some more eggs.”
Jackson sat at the table, the same one from years ago. Old oak and sturdy. Meant to last generations. He moved his hands across the smooth surface willing the table to talk, to reveal long lost conversations.
Belinda put out another plate and fork.
“Absolutely. I still have my vices.”
Belinda poured two cups from a percolator on the stove.
“I have a feeling we have a lot to talk about,” she said, eyeing Jackson.
“Sorry to hear about James.”
“Thank you. His heart gave out or maybe up… but why are you here?”
Jackson moved the cup of coffee around in his hands searching for a way to begin.
“Do you remember when I came through here?”
“Vaguely. Refresh this old brain.” Belinda remembered but wanted to see if their version of events were the same.
“I was the editor of an alternative paper. We had been doing stories on everything from the war to local corruption. Of course, you remember we certainly didn’t make many friends in the establishment or law enforcement. So they set me up on a drug charge. Someone planted heroin in my desk. You know how it was…long hair, radical, drugs, equals guilty. I knew the bastards would hang me if they could, so after getting bail I ran. James helped me across the border.”
“That’s pretty much how I remember it,” said Belinda. “But you came back. I remember reading something in the paper years ago that said you were cleared.”
Jackson’s eyes turned hard. “A junkie on his death bed admitted he set me up. Got paid well by the cops to do it. But that’s all ancient history, Belinda. You still fighting the good fight?”
“I didn’t go to the dark side if that is what you mean, but I am not that young thing you met years ago. Time and the world have taken their toll. Do I pay attention to what is going on? Yes, I’m paying attention and I don’t like what I see. People got to learn all over again it seems. Democracy withered on the vine because people didn’t give a damn or wanted a strong leader. Fuckers got one. We thought Nixon and Trump were bad. This new guy and his National Party make them look like children. But you didn’t come all this way just for a visit so I am asking, why are you here?”
“We need the path again.”
Belinda could feel a stirring in her.
She leaned forward across the old oak table.
“We know there is a crackdown coming. We need to get people out of the country before they are rounded up or worse. The official border crossings are becoming iffy. Your path into Quebec is an old one that most people don’t know about, thanks to you and James keeping it a secret all these years. Plus your farm is isolated, not many neighbors or prying eyes.”
“James isn’t here to lead them to the ‘Promised Land’ and I can’t do it anymore.”
“I know Belinda. It will have to be me.”
“You’re no youngster anymore either, Jackson.”
“I’m still in good shape and maybe we can train someone younger.”
“Maybe.” Belinda was skeptical.
“Where are you staying Jackson?”
“The Colonial outside of town.”
“Check out and bring your things here. We need to get some planning done.”
“Sounds ok to me.”
After breakfast, Belinda and Jackson walked out onto the porch.
“This view is still beautiful.” He smiled and held his hand over his eyes. “I can see the path. A bit overgrown. Hasn’t been used for a long time. We should keep the opening overgrown so no one suspects.”
“On your way, Jackson. See you this afternoon.”
Jackson walked to his car, turned around and flashed the peace sign to Belinda.
She chuckled. “Kind of cute for an old guy.”
That afternoon Jackson returned. He had changed into jeans, cotton shirt, and hiking boots. He got out of his car, slung a jacket over his arms and carried his suitcase to Belinda’s porch where she sat waiting. She too had changed clothes and tied her long white hair into a ponytail. A little makeup to hide the age lines. A girl has to look presentable she had said to herself.
“Well, at least you got out of your fancy city clothes, Jackson.”
Jackson noticed the change in her too. “If I could have found my old bell-bottoms, and if they would still fit, I would have worn them. These will have to do,” he joked.
“Come on in, let’s get you settled down.”
“You mean I don’t have to sleep in the barn this time?”
Belinda laughed. “You get your own room. You aren’t on the run, Jackson.”
“Not yet,” he said with hesitation.
Belinda looked back at him, then looked away as they passed through the kitchen and into the main room of the old farmhouse.
Jackson saw the flat-screen TV on a stand and the laptop on a small desk. Gone were the anti-war and psychedelic concert posters. In their place were expressionist prints. Bookcases lined the room. History, politics, and fiction were everywhere and she had them categorized. He went to the fiction section and pulled out a copy of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury.
Belinda went over to him.
“That’s my banned book section. It has been getting larger,” she said coldly.
“The hound and the firemen will get you, Belinda,” referencing the books’ characters, whose job was to burn books, not put out fires.
“Let them try.”
He put the book back in its space which was flanked by ‘The Iron Heel’ by Jack London and ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ by Sinclair Lewis.
They walked up the creaking wooden stairs to the room Jackson would be staying in.
“It’s not much but it’s clean and comfortable,” Belinda said.
“This will be fine.” Sunlight lit it up through a small window. A dresser against the wall and in the corner near the bed a plush chair. A small closet held some of James’ clothes.
“Meet me in the kitchen when you are settled in, Jackson.”
A bowl of unpeeled potatoes and carrots were on the table. A small roast sat in a pan while the stove heated up.
“You know the drill here, Jackson,” Belinda said. “You peel the potatoes and carrots. Everyone chips in.” She suddenly felt melancholy. “Except there are only two of us. Used to be a lot more.” Memories of a table full of people, tie-dye shirts and jeans, and animated discussions flooded her mind.
“How about some music?” she said, recovering and brightening her voice.
“Whatever you want, Belinda.”
“There is a nice bottle of Spanish Rioja in the rack over there and the corkscrew is on the counter. You open and I’ll pick the music.”
Belinda went into the living room, opened up her laptop, turned on her satellite speakers and picked some music. The strains of Déjà Vu and the sweet harmony of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young weaved through the house. She came back into the kitchen humming.
“You have done well here, Belinda. The farmhouse is in good shape.” Jackson poured the ruby-colored Rioja.
“James work as a union carpenter and mine as a nurse kept us going. Our pensions and social security helped too.”
After the roast and fixings were put in the oven they sat down at the table.
Belinda held up her glass of wine, leaned forward and clinked Jackson’s glass.
“To the revolution.”
“I remember saying that as we all sat around this table. Do you remember the people that came through here, Belinda”?
“I remember faces, especially the ones that had to stay awhile like you and that AWOL soldier. Do you remember his name?”
“David. I don’t remember his last name. We talked a lot in the hayloft at night, and then on the path as James led us to the border. I doubt he would have survived in Vietnam, and if he did he would have been a much darker person.”
“A sweet kid if I remember right,” said Belinda. “The Army and the war would have destroyed his soul. He talked a lot in this kitchen too. He got drafted and off he had gone to boot camp. He knew he wasn’t cut out for it. Soon as he got leave he jumped at the chance to get out. Someone in the movement passed him on to us. James was a Quaker so his pitch was to stay out of all wars. Mine was more political. Screw the establishment. Don’t participate in their war machine.”
“What else do you remember Belinda?” Jackson settled back, the warmth of the Rioja easing him into his memories.
“I remember people sitting around the table reading the latest Rolling Stone, when it was a decent counter-culture paper and then talking about the articles for hours.” Belinda laughed. “Of course the joints being passed around kept the conversation interesting. I remember the political ones all fired up ready to burn everything down. At the time I thought they were right. Age kinda mellows one out. I would rather find common ground than burying someone in the ground. Well, most people anyway. But enough of the past, Jackson. Tell me about yourself. You came back, then what?”
“Well, I ended up doing what I did best, journalism. Of course when the newspapers went bust and all the layoffs took place I had to find something else to do. So I went with an online news organization and that worked well until this new president came in. I got married along the way, three children, all grown now of course with kids of their own. My wife Karen died from breast cancer ten years ago.”
Belinda reached over and grabbed his hand. “I am so sorry Jackson. I know how you feel.”
The warmth of Belinda’s hand stirred something in both of them. Of times past, of loves lost.
They finished supper, cleaned up the dishes and went out onto the porch. Belinda with her tea and Jackson with a glass of the Irish whiskey he had brought with him. They settled into the chairs to watch the sunset. The barn cat circled them unsure of the newcomer. Then without warning, he leaped onto Jackson’s lap.
“You have a new friend, Jackson.”
Jackson leaned over towards Belinda, one hand balancing the cat and one on his glass.
“A little flavor for your tea?”
“Plying me with liquor are you?” She smiled. “No, I’ll pass. It would put me to sleep.”
Jackson stroked the cat and took a sip of his whiskey. “If it is all right with you I will tell people in this sector we have a way out.”
“You can do that. The first batch might have a tough time going down the path. Make sure they leave their city shoes home and wear hiking boots. It is only two miles but it is overgrown and most city people are used to sidewalks.”
“I’m going to leave tomorrow and start the organizing of the escapes. I’ll come back up to lay out the plan when it is finalized. I don’t trust phones even that old landline you have.”
“Jackson, don’t tell me about other sectors or escape routes. I don’t need that information, you know, just in case.”
They sat out on the porch for hours talking about the old days, Belinda drinking her tea and Jackson getting a little tipsy from his whiskey. Music from the ’60s and early 70’s played in the background. Moths gravitated towards the oil lantern hung in the porch post, burned their wings, and dropped. Crickets chirped, adding a symphony of sound.
A pensive Jackson looked over to Belinda. “I miss the old days.”
“Don’t forget they were dangerous days too, Jackson. Busting people for having one joint and giving them 20 years in prison. Getting harassed for being a hippie. And don’t get me started on the FBI and Nixon’s war on us. And here we are doing it all over again. Never underestimate the stupidity or the plain meanness of the American voter. It’s funny. We were the ones calling for freedom and the liberty to do what we want and were called unrealistic dreamers. Maybe we were.”
“And speaking of dreaming, Belinda, time for me to turn in. I have a long drive tomorrow. But before I go in the morning I want to check out the path.”
Jackson could hear Belinda humming in the kitchen as he came down the stairs in the morning. She had tied her white hair back again and had jeans and a sweater on. Her well-worn boots completed her outfit.
“Coffee is ready and French toast coming up with real maple syrup. When we’re done we’ll go to the path.”
They walked through the field to the path, steadying each other all the way.
“I enjoyed sitting on the porch with you last night, Belinda. I felt at peace. Haven’t felt like that for a very long time.” He took a risk and held her hand.
She didn’t pull away. Belinda leaned in towards him. “I liked it too.”
Then as if they realized what they had done, laughed, and separated.
“Let’s look at the path, Jackson. Been a few years for me. I tend to see ghosts when I come down here.”
They pushed their way through some blackberry brambles that blocked part of the path and walked in.
The path took some turns and went up some knolls. Parts of it strewn with rocks by flooding from a nearby creek. They held onto each other, old bones and muscles stretched to the limit.
“It looks manageable,” Jackson said.
“Do you have someone on the other side to take them on?”
“That’s being worked on.”
After a mile they turned around and walked back to the farmhouse, Jackson hunched over a bit. “I am getting too old for this,” he moaned.
Belinda laughed and rested her hand on his back. “I told you.”
Jackson loaded his things, drove off and waved to Belinda as she stood on the porch. She wished him a safe trip and more importantly a speedy return.
During the time Jackson had been gone things had gotten worse in the country. White nationalist groups were out in force and brazenly marched down city streets as the cops stood by and congress did nothing. Cities were in chaos as the militarized police and security forces tried to keep order in neighborhoods that fought back against curfews and stop and search. Most ominous of all were the incidents of activists and journalists being gunned down in the street. Like a scene from a South American dictatorship, two people on a motorcycle, the one on the back, pistol in hand finding his target and shooting. It was open season on the left as the new president gave tacit support to “his people” on the right. They said it couldn’t happen here. Well, it did. It made Belinda nervous knowing Jackson was in the middle of all that.
A month later Jackson came back. He drove up towards the farmhouse, the dust from the dirt road chasing him. Belinda walked to him and hugged him. She noticed the different car.
“You look exhausted. Did you get a new car?”
“It hasn’t been a good month. Let me get my things inside and we can talk. I need to put the car in your barn too.”
“Sure, go ahead.” Belinda walked back to the house, worry accompanied her.
Jackson came into the kitchen. The smell of the coffee percolating on the stove restored him somewhat.
Belinda set a cup in front of Jackson and sat down.
“What happened? I expected you to have others with you.”
“The crackdown came sooner than we thought and we were unprepared. We had people ready to go but Homeland Security found out what we were up to and who we were going to smuggle out. In this sector, I had five people. Every one of them got lifted by Homeland Security. They almost had me too except I ran out for a few minutes to the drug store down the block. As I walked back I saw their van and men around my house. They had my car blocked too. I went to a friend’s place a few streets over not knowing what to do. He is sympathetic but not involved in our work. He had a second car and let me take it. I left with just the clothes on my back and a few things from the drug store. I didn’t even stop on the road.”
“Does anyone in your group know of me and the path?”
“No, I kept all that information in my head. I didn’t share it with anyone. By the way, your path will be called the Quicksilver Route.”
“Are you Quicksilver, Jackson?”
He looked into Belinda’s eyes and saw a hint of worry. “Yes, I am.”
“I don’t think we will sit out on the porch tonight, Jackson, just in case.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. I signed up for this. It’s not like we haven’t done this before. It will be alright. And I still have some of James’s clothes. You are about the same size.”
They watched the news but nothing on it about any crackdown or roundup, as if it didn’t happen. But the families of those detained knew. They were told to keep quiet or they would be joining them.
At the end of the news, it was announced that the border would be closed until further notice due to suspected terrorist activity.
“Hell,” said Jackson. “It’s got nothing to do with their made-up terrorist threat. It is all about our people, not only here but in other parts of the country, trying to escape.
When they went upstairs to the bedrooms Belinda stopped by hers.
“Come stay in mine Jackson. I feel the world getting darker and colder. Hold me tonight.”
Jackson followed her into the bedroom and closed the door behind him.
Belinda had already been up for a few hours and sat at the table waiting for Jackson to come down.
“Good morning, Belinda.” His face looked troubled.
She smiled at him over her cup of coffee. “I didn’t think you were going to get up. You tossed and turned all night.”
“I kept having nightmares of them knocking down the door and grabbing us.” Jackson paced around the kitchen. “I made a decision. I have to go across the border. I can’t do my work here, too much of a risk of getting caught. Somebody is bound to notice you have a guest, no matter how remote this place is. I don’t want you getting arrested too.” Jackson put his hands on her shoulders. “Do you want to come with me?”
The scenario played out in her mind. The long, arduous trek to the border, leaving her home behind, and then… what?
“As much as I would like to Jackson, I can’t. I’m too old to leave my home and start all over in Canada. Besides, when you get across you will have your work and you need me here.”
That night they chanced it and sat out on the porch. Belinda turned the music up and opened a bottle of Pinot Gris. They slow-danced on the porch to the strains of the music they loved from the past and put the present out of their minds. When they went upstairs Belinda left her door open. Jackson went in.
They were both subdued in the morning, not wanting to part and say goodbye. Jackson had dressed for his hike in some of James’s old clothes. Belinda filled a backpack with some food and water just in case. The meowing of the cat near the door, wanting to be fed, broke the silence in the kitchen
“OK you, wait your turn,” Belinda said to the cat as she poured some food into a bowl on the porch.
Jackson stepped out onto the porch ready to go.
“Do you want me to walk you to the path, Jackson?”
“No. You should stay here.”
Jackson embraced Belinda. “I don’t know how to say this…”
Belinda put her finger to his lips. “Then don’t. We will see each other again.”
She watched Jackson walk through the field and reach the mouth of the path. She could swear she saw James standing by him. Too many ghosts she thought. Jackson waved, turned, and slipped through the brambles.
The maple trees were a bright hue of color heralding the fall and preparing for winter. Belinda sat on the porch and thought of Jackson, gone now for three months. Out on the road, a car pulled into the drive and approached the farmhouse. She could see three people in it. The driver, a woman in a postal worker uniform, got out and walked towards the porch.
“Are you Belinda?”
“I am,” she said cautiously.
She smiled. “Quicksilver sent me. I have some friends that could use your help.”
In the car sat a young Asian man and a middle-aged black woman. They looked frightened and wary.
“I have to get back, they are yours now.”
“But how will they get across the border? I can’t take them.”
“That’s been taken care of. Someone is coming later.” Duty done, she hugged her passengers, got in her car and drove away.
Belinda looked at her two guests. “Well, come on into the kitchen,” she said, shaking their hands. “Go ahead, sit down and get comfortable. This big old oak table has plenty of room, always has. You must be hungry. But around here we all chip in. You can peel the potatoes and carrots while I get some chicken ready to roast. And when we are done eating I will tell you the plan and show you the path. Everything will be alright. You’re safe here.”
The young man grabbed the bowl of potatoes, eager to help and to relieve his anxiety.
The woman, distressed when she came in, ran her hand over the worn surface of the old oak table and visibly relaxed as if it too told her she was safe now.
Belinda looked out the kitchen window at the edge of the field and smiled. Jackson pushed through the brambles at the mouth of the path and walked towards the farmhouse.
Belinda went out and stood to wait on the porch.
As they met they embraced, lost in each other’s arms, the months of anguish disappearing from Belinda, tension and fear evaporating from Jackson.
Belinda held his face in her hands.
“Are you hurt? There is blood on your face…and scratches.”
“Just from the brambles at the mouth of the path. I’m alright.”
He gave her a weary smile. “I hear you have some travelers at the house.”
They walked into the kitchen and Jackson greeted the new arrivals sitting around the old oak table.
“Some things never change, Belinda.” He smiled thinking back over 50 years ago.
He introduced himself with his code name Quicksilver.
“The less you know of me the better. I am your guide across the border. So far this is a safe route but you never know. And since the border was closed there is more surveillance along the line. That is why you were told to ditch your cell phones. We don’t need any tracking devices. As for this farm and your host…it and she doesn’t exist, so remember that. No betrayals. But even though you don’t know me, I know all about you and why you were chosen and need to be moved over the border.” Jackson’s face softened. “But enough of that right now. We will eat, get a little rest and leave at midnight. There is a full moon so we can travel like it is daytime. People who grew up and live in big cities don’t realize what a full moon in the country is like. There is a brilliance to it.”
Jackson turned to Belinda after the tea and coffee were placed on the table.
“I am going to let our guests tell you why they are here.”
“I’m Jimmy Chan. I am…I was the director of the Immigrant Rights Center in Syracuse. You know how bad it has been. The firebombing of our center was devastating. And it wasn’t even hidden. The guys who did it stood by laughing. The next day when I went to the center to see what I could salvage another group was there. One of them took a shot at me but luckily missed.”
Jackson broke in. “Jimmy is on a hit list. We found out and tracked him down with some help from friends of the network. We put him in a safe house until we could pick him up and move him along to here.”
The middle-aged black woman told her story next.
“My name is Althea. I administered a health clinic for women in Cortland. We started getting harassed a few years ago by a group called The Army of God, even before this new guy and his thugs became the government. Bunch of so-called ‘Christian warriors’ determined to keep women barefoot, silent and pregnant. My clinic did outreach and recommended Doctors who would still perform abortions, especially in the rural areas where this ‘Army’ was recruiting and terrorizing people who didn’t support their agenda. Being black didn’t help me either. Well anyhow, it went from spray-painted graffiti to smashed windows. And when the National Party took over the government it just became open season on my center and me. I guess we didn’t realize the extent of the propaganda against us. A lot of people drank the kool-aide and we became the enemy.”
She put her head down and became silent. She couldn’t believe she was an ‘enemy of the people’ and had to leave the country that brought her ancestors here as slaves.
Jackson interjected. “We found out that the government is augmenting the border guards with not only National Party supporters but with members of The Army of God. So, there is no way Althea can cross the border officially. She is on their list too.”
“Where are you getting this information?” asked Belinda.
“The Dark Web, especially since the news networks ran afoul of the new censorship laws. Anyhow, we rest up for a few hours and then at midnight we will be on our way.”
The autumn air was chilly but they were prepared with warm jackets, knit hats, and hiking boots. All in black to help hide them.
They stood on the porch ready to take off.
“Come back to me soon…Quicksilver.”
Belinda winked at the use of his code name but the lines around her eyes bespoke worry.
“I will when I can.”
They embraced, said goodbye and the trio headed towards the path through the field and vanished through the brambles and onto the path towards the border.
The walk was uneventful except for the two city people startled by deer crashing through the brush and other sounds of the night that was common in the woods.
Talk was at a minimum, just a few swear words from stumbling over a tree branch or a rock.
Before long they had reached the border. Jackson took out a small flashlight and signaled three times then two. The correct flash came back and they crossed over to a young man waiting for them.
‘No. We made good time. Not sure how easy it will be when the snow hits.”
The young man turned to the two travelers. “Welcome to Quebec. We have a little way more to go to get to my car, then we will go to a house where you can sleep. Then after breakfast, we move on to Montreal.”
The Canadian turned to Jackson. “How long are you staying?”
“Not sure. I have to check in. I hope I get a little rest.”
At Montreal, Jackson, his travelers and the Canadian guide went to the office of the American Resistance Movement (ARM).
Jackson’s travelers were each handed over to a caseworker who set them up with places to live and assignments at the office. They weren’t in Canada just to escape but to work and help others escape across the border.
Jackson went to the office that handled crossovers in this part of the country.
Amanda Ferguson was on the phone when Jackson walked in. She motioned for him to sit.
“I know the situation where you are but you need to understand we are short-staffed and overwhelmed. Yes, four lines are open but “Copper” got arrested and the line shut down.” As she listened she pointed to the coffee machine for Jackson to help himself. “OK, I will. Keep me updated.”
“What a fucking mess. A whole line of safe houses in jeopardy.” She rubbed her thin face and brushed her salt and pepper hair back off her forehead. In her mid-40’s, the job was wearing on her and it showed.
“Jackson, it is good to see you. Brought two more over I see. Good. How are you holding up?”
There was a concern that the work might be too much for him.
“I’m fine.” Jackson’s voice was confident, his body was rebelling at that statement.
“Jackson we need you to go back in a few days and bring someone over. He will go to your safe house by way of Vermont. Your corner between Vermont and New York still seems to be secure.”
Jackson smiled at the thought of going back and seeing Belinda.
“Who am I getting out?”
“One of the leaders in our Massachusetts network. Homeland Security raided the executive committee and arrested everyone but him. He was lucky and escaped from the raid. But he is being hunted and we need to get him over here.”
“Give me two days, Amanda.”
“No problem. Come back tomorrow and we will finalize this extraction.”
Two days later Jackson was walking the path towards the farm and Belinda.
Her pickup truck wasn’t there so he waited just inside the brambles. After about 20 minutes he saw her pull up the drive. He walked up to her as she got out.
“What a surprise! I wasn’t expecting you back so soon. Good thing I just got some groceries. Here you can help me take this stuff in.”
“With pleasure, Belinda.”
“What brought you back so soon,” she said as they unpacked the groceries.
“An important traveler, so they say. One of the leaders of the Massachusetts group. Homeland Security is hunting him. By the way, I brought some new encryption software for your laptop.”
Later that evening Jackson installed the encryption software and using an anonymous browser contacted someone on the Quicksilver line for the latest news and a status report on his new traveler. It took about an hour through various secure proxy servers but a reply came back that he was at safe-house Echo and would be at his location later tomorrow.
“My traveler won’t be here until tomorrow. But the news just keeps getting worse. There was a roundup in Binghamton of all the progressive groups, union leaders and political leaders on the outs with the new government. Hell, they even shut down the libraries and arrested some of the staff. Herded them all into the Arena downtown. People said buses came to pick them up but no one knows where they are being taken.”
They sat around the table, Belinda drinking her tea, Jackson some of the Irish whiskey he now kept in one of Belinda’s cupboards. The barn cat, inside now as the nights got colder, rubbed herself along Jackson’s legs. The mood was somber.
“I’m tired, Belinda. I’m not going to be able to do this much longer. I still want you to come over with me.”
Belinda sighed. “We’ve discussed this before. I am not ready and probably never will be.” She looked out the window to the darkened field but saw daylight and memories. “It would take an earthquake to move me.” She laughed, “And we don’t get many of those here. Although I admit the talk in town about roundups creeping closer to us has me and others worried.”
“Just keep it in mind, please.”
“I will, Jackson. Now it’s late, let’s turn in.”
They went upstairs to the room they now shared. Jackson hung his clothes in the closet and noticed the rifle leaning in a back corner.
“Wow, I didn’t expect you to have one of these.”
“James was the pacifist, not me. I didn’t get it until after he passed. He wouldn’t have allowed it. But out here alone, well it just gave me some security. And believe it or not, I am a good shot, a natural.”
The next day they sat out on the porch drinking coffee, waiting for the new traveler. Jackson’s contact had sent an encrypted message giving an approximate time for his arrival.
At 4 pm a mail truck drove up the drive and backed in towards the porch. The woman postal worker who had delivered Jimmy and Althea got out.
“Hi, folks. Special delivery.”
She moved some large boxes around and a disheveled man in his early 40’s stuck his head up. His hair was brown, his eyes blue but cold. He had a face that looked like he had been in a few fights and built like he could handle himself in a street brawl. “Name’s Alex,” he said, looking around at his surroundings intently.
“Well, let’s get you inside,” said Belinda.
Alex headed towards the porch stairs, stumbled, grabbed his knee and cried out in pain. “Shit, not now.”
Jackson stepped over quickly to help him up the stairs as he hobbled into the kitchen.
“Sorry about that. I always was a little clumsy.”
“You sit here. I will be right back.”
Jackson went out to the postal truck where Belinda and the driver were talking.
“Is he ok?” Belinda asked.
“I hope so, but we might have to take the path tomorrow instead of tonight.”
“Is that wise?”
“We might not have a choice.”
Jackson turned to the driver. “I’ll contact people and give them the situation. You take care.”
“I will, and you two as well.” With that, the driver got in her truck and drove away.
When they went into the kitchen the young man was hobbling away from the door.
“I guess I am a bit of a burden right now.”
“We won’t move tonight. Tomorrow will be best. Let you heal a bit overnight. I’ll get you an ice pack to take to your room.”
Belinda, off to the side, thought she noticed a slight smile on Alex’s when Jackson told him he wouldn’t leave tonight.
Jackson got the ice pack and took him to the spare room, telling him to come down in a few hours to eat and talk.
“Well, that messes things up tonight.”
“More time for us, Jackson.”
Later the three of them sat around the table drinking coffee after their meal.
Alex told them his story.
“We had been meeting at a professor’s house outside Boston. There were eight of us from the executive committee and a couple of people who helped out in outreach to other groups we wanted to pull into the movement. It was dark out and I was in the kitchen when I noticed activity around the house. I yelled out to people but it was too late. Homeland Security rushed in and started rounding up people. In the confusion, I slipped out the back and got away. I ran until I couldn’t run anymore. I went to a friend’s house and made contact with some people who put me in touch with people on this Quicksilver line. I have been going from one safe-house to another for over a week.”
Belinda looked at him with concern. “You’re lucky. How’s your knee?”
“The ice helped. I should be ok to travel tomorrow.”
Alex got up from the table and limped into the other room to Belinda’s bookcase.
“Quite a collection you have here.”
He wanted to reach out and grab one but something held him back.
Alex moved to Belinda’s desk and the laptop. “How do you get the internet way out here?”
“Satellite. Too expensive to run cable out here. Nothing but junk on TV anyhow. Use an antenna for local stations. I can pick up Burlington pretty well. No cell phone reception though.” Belinda thought she saw a frown on his face but he quickly smiled.
“Must be nice to be so far out and nobody will bother you. Peaceful like.”
“Well, boys, you have a busy day tomorrow. I think it is time we all turned in.”
Jackson went to Belinda’s room and Alex to the spare room.
As they climbed into bed Belinda whispered, “I don’t know if I trust him, Jackson.”
Jackson looked at her. “What brought that on?”
“Just a feeling.”
“You’re just nervous, Belinda. He will be gone tomorrow.” He smiled and wrapped his arms around her.
The next morning Jackson came down the stairs thinking he was the first up until he smelled the coffee. He saw Alex sitting at the oak table.
“Good morning. Coffee?” He poured Jackson a cup.
“Thanks, Alex. How’s the knee?”
“I can make it today. Just say the word.” Alex’s smile was infectious and calming.
“I need to check in and then we will see what the schedule is.” Jackson walked over to the desk, turned on the laptop and logged into the secure link with his contacts. Immediately an email popped up.
Warning! Your traveler is NOT who he says he is. Not with us but works with Homeland Security. Quicksilver Line is compromised. Safe-houses have been raided. Suspect the traveler has a tracking device. Take drastic measures and leave your safe-house immediately. Reply receipt of this message.
Jackson let out a gasp.
Behind him, Alex had been looking over his shoulder.
His infectious smile now a malicious grin.
He grabbed Jackson and threw him to the floor.
“Surprised, Quicksilver? Or should I call you Jackson? The walls in this old house are thin and it’s easy to pick up bits of conversation. And no, I am not with you scum. Homeland Security recruited me from the Aryan Brotherhood. Your side is easy to fit into, so predictable. Just spout the right slogans and you’re in. So trusting and gullible.” He laughed. “You need people so bad you will take anyone into your organizations.”
Jackson began to stand.
Alex kicked him. “Down old man.” He circled Jackson and kicked him again, hard in the ribs. “You Boomer hippies make me fucking sick.”
He kept circling Jackson. “Your so-called Quicksilver line has fucking had it. Crushed like the Copper line. Did you think you could oppose us? You and your old hippie girlfriend Belinda are history. No joint cell for you two at the Albany Detention Center.”
He raised his foot to bring it down on Jackson’s face. The boot was inches away when Jackson heard a shot ring out, the sound deafening in the farmhouse.
Alex staggered back, clutching his chest, the blood seeping between his fingers, surprise on his face. The last thing he saw before he crumpled to the floor was Belinda at the top of the stairs pointing the rifle at him.
She came down the stairs cradling the rifle but shaking uncontrollably.
“My God, I killed him!”
Jackson stood, pain radiated from his ribs from the kicks, making it hard to breathe.
Belinda stood over Alex’s body in shock. His blood seeped into the wood floor.
Jackson went to her, wrapped his arms around her to soothe her.
“Belinda, you saved our lives. Did you hear what he said?”
“Most of it. I thought he was going to kill you.”
“Your earthquake is here, Belinda. We have to leave quickly or we will be the dead. Somehow he is sending out a tracking signal. Everywhere he has been is now compromised. We don’t know how close the hounds are. I’ll put the body in your truck and ditch him a few miles away. I need to send an email to my contact in Canada letting her know what happened. You need to start getting some things together.
“And my cat.”
Jackson grinned. “Yes, and your cat. Hurry now.”
Jackson backed the pickup to the porch, put Alex’s body on a rug so he wouldn’t smear blood on the floor when he dragged him out of the house and put him into the back of the truck. An old tarp covered the body. He drove a couple miles to an old logging road, stopped, pulled the body out and dragged it into the woods. If Alex had a tracking device implanted this would be where they find him not Belinda’s house. Just might give them some precious moments to flee across the border.
Back at the farmhouse, Belinda was waiting. She had put another rug over the blood-stained floor and filled a backpack with personal belongings, documents and a picture of James. Next to her the cat in a carry case and the laptop.
Jackson put the pickup into the barn next to the car he borrowed from his friend when he was first on the run.
He walked to the porch and held Belinda’s hand.
“Ready?” He searched her eyes for confirmation and found sorrow.
“I’m as ready as I can be, Jackson.”
She locked the door of the farmhouse and they walked across the field towards the mouth of the path. Jackson stepped through the brambles.
Belinda hesitated and turned around. Fifty-five years of memories flooded her mind. James leading political fugitives and resistors to the farmhouse, gatherings in the kitchen around the table, preparing people for the trek along the path to freedom, animated political discussion, people out to save the world. The memories faded as she wiped away tears. One last look and James was standing by the farmhouse waving goodbye. As the image dissipated, Belinda blew a kiss across the field. It was her turn to travel the path now. She whispered to the wind “we will be back.”
She stepped through the brambles onto the path following Jackson to Canada and safety. There was work to do.