Episode Fifteen ♦ Louisville

Anita and George entered Sterling’s train station. “And don’t forget to look for a Daisy at the Seelbach!” Matt said as he and Parker waved goodbye.

She was exhausted. They had done little more than walk through the small market to the jam and honey stand before heading over to food carts. Even a roast turkey sandwich and iced tea were unable to keep Matt from chattering like a lonely cricket. She felt as if she had run a marathon. And she had a horrible headache.

“Wow, weren’t they the nicest guys,” George said. “I would love to visit their place. I bet it’s up in the mountains. Maybe the mountains over the mine. You’re right, someone sent them to pick us up. Do you think it was Catherine? I wonder if we could raise bees out west…”

Was it contagious? “Shut up!” She just could not take any more. “Sorry. George, my head feels like a train packed with tired commuters.”

“Are you okay?” He raised his eyebrows with a scrunch of his forehead.

“I’ll be fine. Just need a bit of quiet and some rest.”

People hurried to the platform. Matt and Parker had timed it so they arrived just before the train pulled into the station. It was difficult to find two empty seats near each other in the train buzzing with conversations. As she sat, George stored their bags on the rack over her head, then took a seat across the aisle and down a few rows. She closed her eyes as he watched her.

The three people next to her jabbered on about the afternoon’s airball game between the Lexington Coopers and the Knoxville Honkies. She imagined herself, alone, back on the forest platform delighting in the sun’s warmth as a light breeze tickled the leaves.

In Lexington the train emptied of fans eager to see the match. She opened her eyes as George slid into the window seat across from her. “Are you feeling any better?”

“Quite. Thanks.”

“I was afraid the noise bothered you.”

“No, since no one was talking to me, it was easy to tune it out and get some rest. Maybe I got a bit too much sun today.”

“Would you like some water?”

She shook her head. “Thank you.” A moment of panic grabbed at her stomach. “Neither of us have used our — where are our sunglasses?”

George grinned. “Do you honestly think Catherine would send us away unprepared? They’re in our bags. I saw mine when I put away my book this morning.”

Leaping up, Anita grabbed her bag: she had to be certain. She dug through the clothing and found the glasses wrapped inside a shirt. She removed them, closed the cloth bag, set it on the empty seat next to her, and returned to her seat. She opened the thick, dark brown, recycled plastic frames and placed them on top of her head.

She looked around, making sure no one was within earshot. “We’ll soon find out if they’ll work.”

George nodded. “Were you serious about going to Saint Louis?”

“I guess. It’s one of the places he mentioned, right?”

Nodding, George said, “But also Memphis, Norleans, and Twin City.”

“What do you make of all that,” she shook her head between her upheld outstretched fingers, “nonsense that Matt was blathering on about?”

“Oh, he’s just a friendly guy. Maybe he gets nervous and loose-lipped around new people.”

She pondered the prior couple of hours and said in a hushed tone, “I can see why you might think that, but maybe he does that to confuse anyone listening in. You know, on the Informateur.” She tapped her skull near where they had operated on her. The proximity made her wince.

“Does it hurt? Is that why you have a headache?”

“No, actually that doesn’t bother me at all. Pretty amazing, don’t you think?”

“I’m guessing the bio-adhesive they use has anesthetic properties,” he said.

“That would make sense. Or maybe it has something to do with the bit of engineered skull bone they used to cover the hole where my socket was.”

George pulled a face as if he were in excruciating pain. “I’d rather not think about that. As long as you’re okay.”

“So, back to our friendly magpie. Besides everyone being his cousin — wait, do you think that was his way of saying they’re like a big family? You know, like UGO?”

George’s eyes bugged out; it was clear to her the thought was a revelation for him. “If so, then the only other thing he brought up over and over was Louisville. Maybe it was a message. ‘You need to go to Louisville’.”

“To that hotel to find this Daisy person.”

“So what’s the downside?” he asked.

“I don’t believe it’s a trap. No one can track us, so how could you-know-who find us out there in the forest?”

George looked out the window at the fields whizzing by as the train slowed on approach to Frankfurt.

♦ ♦ ♦

Before leaving Louisville’s waterfront station, George stopped to read an historical marker:

Kennedy Interchange (aka Spaghetti Junction)

Near this spot stood a multistory interchange for multilane limited-access roadways which made up the Interstate Highway System. Built in the mid 20th Century, the interchange allowed human-controlled vehicles to change between routes without stopping by using a ramp system. Thousands of automobiles and tractor-trailers passed daily carrying people and goods across the land. After the Great Petroleum War, the Interstate Highway System was replaced by a passenger rail network while goods returned to historical rail corridors.

“Huh,” George said. “How do you think ‘human-controlled vehicles’ differed from vehicles on The Track? I mean, I assume Parker was controlling the vehicle we rode in — as much control as is needed when one tells the Informateur a destination.”

“Hard to say. But their communication devices were quite primitive. I’m guessing someone had to physically maneuver those automobiles. I dread to think what it would be like with everyone deciding how fast to go, when to stop, where to turn, all on personal whim. It must have been utter chaos.” She touched her glasses. “So, you ready to see if these things work?”

Together they lowered the sunglasses into position, George reached out for Anita’s hand, and they passed through the station’s open doors and out into the sunny warm afternoon. In front of his left eye he saw “RAIL CHARGE/FEES $67.98;” the other eye, “BALANCE $2,332.02.”

“Huh. That was strange,” said George.

“What was?”

“Instead of the credit symbol, it had a dollar sign, and it showed the fraction of a credit.”

“I didn’t notice, but look, we made it outside the station without a hitch.”

“And that’s another thing – what would have happened if we weren’t wearing them? There are no gates, no guards, nothing. Who would know if we entered or exited without paying?”

Anita shrugged. “So, I’m guessing we need to find that hotel.”

In an inadequate attempt at imitating Matt’s accent George said, “The Seelbach Inn. Look for Daisy at the Seelbach Inn.”

“So where’s it at?”

It was George’s turn to shrug. “Should I ask someone?”

“That would be stupid. People get directions off the Informateur. We don’t need to call attention to ourselves. Let’s just get a cab.”

“Hey, look at that.” George nodded towards a man holding a sign. He was dressed in coachman’s livery and stood next to an open, horse-drawn carriage. “That sign says ‘Anita and George Winston’.”

“What sign?”

He pointed. “That sign the guy next to carriage is holding.”

As they walked over to the carriage stop, George wondered if Matt and Parker had arranged this. Then the thought that it might be a trap slithered across his mind.

Anita spoke to the well-groomed man. “Where do you take people?”

“Ma’am. I drive coach for the Seelbach Inn.”

“We’re Anita and George.”

“Your room is waiting.”

♦ ♦ ♦

George opened the door of the London Mod suite and was wonderstruck by the antique furnishings. One wall, overlooking the swimming pool, was glass. The other three were snow white. An L-shaped, sky blue vinyl sofa was the room’s centerpiece. Over it arched a chrome lamp which focused light on a large piece of clear glass supported by a chrome framework. On the table were oversized printed volumes: Vogue: Fashion for the Twenty-first Century, Churchill Downs: The First Two Centuries, Manhattan Landmarks, and Post Hyperrealism and Remodernism in the Visual Arts.

To the left was a similar but taller glass table with four high-back chrome chairs padded in either red or blue. On this table sat a thick glass globe. White roses and Shasta daisies rested haphazardly against the rim.

George watched Anita open the double doors to the bedroom. If the main room was bright like daylight, this room held the night. Chrome and glass night-stands stood sentry on either side of the grandest bed George had ever seen. It was covered in a midnight blue bedspread and a cascade of rectangular pillows in colors ranging from the same deep blue to brilliant white. On each side and at the foot of the bed were silver-gray rugs with pile so long they looked like untended lawns. The walls and ceiling were also midnight blue and bore a night sky painted with great attention to detail.

Through another door was the en suite bathroom filled with gleaming white tile and porcelain, chrome fixtures, and a spotless mirror the size of his bed in Hartfield.

When speech finally came George said, “All this for two nights, breakfast and dinner included, and it doesn’t cost us a thing. Matt insisted we come here…”

“But I’m sure UGO is picking up the tab. It’s not like they can’t afford it.”

George remembered the one hundred thousand plus credits in savings attached to his former identity. “Yes. That they can.”

“I want a shower and a nap before we go to dinner,” said Anita.

“If you don’t mind, I could use a walk.”

She nodded as he left her in the bedroom. He closed the door behind him and walked down the hall reading the names on other doors: Petite Trianon, Monterrey Sunset, Mansfield Park, Twelve Oaks. Each name evoked an image of a time and place with a distinctive style.

He entered the lobby where a young woman with curly ebony hair and mahogany skin said, “Good afternoon, Mister Winston.”

“Good afternoon,” said George. “Tell me, if you wanted to go for a nice walk, which way would you go?”

“You might enjoy walking up Fourth Street away from the river. Between the two college campuses are a number of historic buildings.”

“Sounds perfect.” George exited the inn and noticed two men standing outside. They wore dark suits and sunglasses.

He walked up Fourth Street consumed with one thought: there is only one bed – a very big bed – but one bed none the less. What will she think if I sleep on that couch?

♦ ♦ ♦