(Note: This novel contains critical ENEMIES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC
"plot spoilers,"so consider reading that book before plunging into this sequel.)
Ranya was slumped down in the driver's seat of a rusted-out ambulance, behind a defunct auto repair shop that bordered a truck stop. She was staring across the backs of a row of eighteen-wheelers, toward the truck stop's mini-mart. High up on the red and yellow Love's sign facing the interstate, diesel was advertised for $28.99 a gallon. Below the price were the words "Cash Only."
She finished a plastic container full of fruit salad from the warden's kitchen, while watching the store for the return of a driver. Much of the fruit she recognized from D-Camp's fields and orchards. Linssen's brown backpack was on the seat beside her, ready to grab. After 45 minutes of observation, Ranya had narrowed her attention to a pair of trucks that had entered from the direction of Oklahoma City, and immediately gassed up. The driver who returned from the Love's mini-mart first would be her initial target.
In the meantime, she listened to AM talk radio through the ear plugs on Linssen's jogging radio, dreading a breaking news announcement about a murder and a prison escape. The host was yelling about an upcoming Constitutional Convention scheduled to take place in Philadelphia. It was the first she had heard of it. Any news that had dribbled into D-Camp was at least a couple of months old. The new detainees spent at least that long in interrogation centers before arriving.
An hour earlier, she had watched the dead warden's black pickup roll into a half-acre cattle stock pond. With the hood, doors and tailgate open, the truck had disappeared without leaving more than ripples and a trail of bubbles on the opaque water. The water would hide the pickup from helicopters, even from their infrared scopes, but by abandoning the vehicle so permanently, she had committed herself to finding transportation at the insignificant crossroads town. Ranya had changed out of Linssen's ISA uniform in the concealing shade of a willow tree by the pond. The dead warden's casual clothes were loose on her, but with the belt cinched tightly around her waist, the pair of khaki hiking pants she had selected fit tolerably well. The nylon pants had legs that zipped off above the knees. Ranya decided to remove them and stash them in the warden's backpack. She was grateful that the dead woman seemed to have been an outdoorsy type. Linssen's camping and hiking gear was now being put to good use.
From the cattle pond, it was only a short hike across bare fields to the abandoned junkyard behind the truck stop. She was halfway between Oklahoma City and the Texas line. Her newly dyed black hair fell just to her neck, cut straight around at the level of her earlobes. She was wearing a pale green scooped-neck sleeveless t-shirt over her khaki pants: effective low-key camouflage. Her neck 'tattoos' had been mostly rubbed off with spit and elbow grease while waiting in the ambulance. She had forgotten to look for makeup remover or cold cream in Linssen's house.
One of the double glass doors of the mini-mart opened with a flash of reflected afternoon sunlight. A man wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and a black cowboy hat walked out, he was one of her chosen westbound drivers. Ranya slipped from the abandoned ambulance, swung on the backpack, and walked through tall weeds behind several other junked cars to the truck parking area. The trucks were all slant-parked at a 45-degree angle, with their cabs toward her. She crouched behind a wrecked mini-van, and she watched. His truck was a dusty red Peterbilt, with a generous sleeping compartment behind the seats.
The Stetson-wearing driver walked from the back of his rig carrying a plastic shopping bag, inspecting his tires as he went. He paused by the passenger side of his cab, unlocking the door with a remote control on his key chain, then stepped up on the platform over his fuel tank. He was a sunburned and clean-shaved Caucasian about forty or so years old, Ranya guessed. Not bad looking, but a bit on the hillbilly side.
She moved out from cover, stepped over the guardrail at the property line, and walked toward him displaying her most fetching smile. She hoped that she came across like an eager-beaver small town truck stop whore. The Glock was in her right hand, hidden behind her hip. They were isolated from casual view in the narrow slot between two trucks.
"Hiya, cowboy! Listen, you wouldn't be heading west, would you?"
The driver was just opening the door, taken completely by surprise and turning toward her. "Huh... Uh...well...I...I can't take hitchhikers. It's, uh, company policy." He was standing above her, his eyes flicking between her face and her chest.
Ranya wasn't having it. "Oh please, I insist." She raised the Glock and leveled it at his stomach, moving to within a few feet of him, just out of kicking distance. "Get in. I can handle this rig just fine, no problem, but I'd rather have you drive. So please, don't make me put a hole in you. Really, I just want a ride." Her smile was gone, her pistol steady. "Drop the bag inside, climb in and slide across behind the wheel. Keep your hands where I can see them. I'm getting in right behind you. Please believe me: I'll shoot you if you do anything stupid."
The driver stared open-mouthed at the pistol. She waved it toward the cab's open passenger door to get him moving, and he dropped the bag into the foot well area. "Look, the company? Oh shit, forget it. J-just get in, a-and watch that trigger, okay lady? Don't slip or any?"
"I won't slip. I just want a ride, that's all."
"What's the matter?" he croaked, "A boyfriend after you? Or the law?"
"Just get this thing started, and get on the highway, heading west."
"Yes ma'am." He slid behind the wheel and did as he was told, starting the massive engine, releasing the brake, and pulling smoothly out of his spot.
In short order he was going through the gears, merging into the right lane, westbound on I-40.
She kept the pistol aimed at him, resting it across her stomach. "I'm going to Albuquerque. How long until we get there?"
"Albuquerque? I'm not going that way."
"Oh really? Change of plans. This gun says we are."
"Look, you don't understand. I'm not routed there. If I go off my route, the GPS is going to alert my dispatchers, and they'll check me out. Automatically." He pointed through the roof with his finger, presumably indicating the location of the GPS transceiver, or perhaps the orbiting satellites. "Then they'll call me. And then if I don't check in, they'll call the highway patrol, and they'll come looking for that trailer I'm pulling. I can't turn off the GPS. I'm sorry, but that's how it is."
"Shit. So where are you heading, then?"
"Salt Lake City. I'm going to take 287, up into Colorado. We don't hardly ever go into New Mexico, not anymore. Almost never."
"What's the matter with New Mexico?"
"What's the matter with New Mexico? Where have you been, darlin'? First of all, it's Nuevo Mexico now, that's what they call it. I can take you as far west on 40 as Amarillo, but that's where I turn north, and if I don't..."
"I know. Your GPS rats you out." She heaved a sigh in frustration.
"Mind if I smoke?" he asked. "Makes me mighty nervous, you pointing that thing at me."
He withdrew a Winston from a pack in his console, and lit it one handed, his left hand on the big wheel. "You in trouble?" He glanced over at Ranya, taking in the incongruent tan lines on her arms, the residual ink marks on her neck, and the choppy haircut. "Look, I've had my own run-ins with the law. I've done some time, in my younger days."
She changed the subject. "So, what's the deal with New Mexico?"
"Shit. That place is messed up bad, even more since last year. That's when they passed the 'Spanish only' laws. Español Solamente, they call it. You speak Spanish?"
"I can speak it okay."
"Well, you'll need to speak it good in Nuevo Mexico. Most of the highway signs are in Spanish now; almost everything is. They made all the cops take a Spanish test, and fired everybody who didn't pass it. All the gringo cops got the axe. They did it after Idaho passed an English-only law--at least I think Idaho was the first. That's what I heard on talk radio, anyway. Montana and Wyoming did it too--passed English only--and then they started booting out the illegals. You know, illegal alien Mexicans, mostly. Even ones that had the amnesty--they said the federal amnesty didn't count, at least not in Idaho and Montana."
"How could they do that, if the illegals had been given amnesty?"
"Well, it was amnesty, but not exactly citizenship, not yet. It was pretty complicated. Anyway, they said the illegals had gotten faked, I mean forged--no, that's not the word either--no, it was 'fraud,' that's it. Up north, they said the illegals had gotten the amnesty 'by fraudulent means,' so it was no good. They started checking, and thousands of illegals were all supposedly living at the same addresses for years and years, and working at the same labor centers. The records were all the same, just Xerox copies with different names! Can you imagine? So they started taking away the amnesty, and kicking them out."
"Kicking them out to where? Mexico?"
"No, just over their state lines--but they couldn't stay there either. Like in Wyoming and Colorado, the state police met the deportation buses at the state lines, and they escorted them south."
"They deported all of the illegal aliens out of Idaho?"
"Oh no, they didn't have to. Once Idaho and Montana took away the bogus amnesties and went after the employers, the illegals started leaving on their own. No jobs, no more free school, no more free medicine, no food stamps, stuff like that. Washington raised hell, but they stuck at it. They didn't have to use a lot of buses--mostly the illegals left on their own, when the gravy train dried up. I mean, if you're picked up and deported on a bus, that means your car gets left behind, right? Most of the illegals decided they'd rather drive out and keep their cars, than get put on a bus. This was really big news--where were you that you didn't hear about it?"
"If I told you, you wouldn't believe me."
"Well, okay. Anyway, that's part of why it's so crazy in New Mexico now: the ones that got booted out of the other states are really pissed off--they seriously have it in for gringos. It's nothing but hassles, driving through. You'd think you were in friggin' Castro Cuba or some damn communist country! Trucks get impounded and confiscated right and left. And now they've got these new cops, called Milicias. They're the 'brown berets,' and they have special checkpoints all over the place. Anyway, I won't go into Nuevo Mexico, no ma'am, not if I don't have to. I'll take 287 straight up into Colorado instead, even though it's longer. This is my truck we're sitting in, and I aim to keep it."
Ranya sighed again in resignation. "Sign we just passed says it's two hundred miles to Amarillo. Three hours, right? Any problems at the Texas state line? Weigh stations, checkpoints, things like that?" She still held the Glock across her lap, now only casually pointed at him.
"There's an inspection station a few miles in. It's not open, or it shouldn't be. And Texas doesn't care about the federal gun laws, if that's what you mean by checkpoints. Nothing like back East. I can find out about it out on the CB." He reached for the radio microphone, mounted in the ceiling.
She waved the pistol at him, bringing his hand quickly back to the wheel. "No radio. We'll take our chances." Traffic was sparse out here in western Oklahoma. An unusual percentage of the vehicles that she did see seemed to be loaded down with luggage, furniture, and jerry cans, somehow reminiscent of a distant generation of Okies fleeing the dustbowl days of the 1930s. "The Grapes of Wrath." She remembered the Steinbeck classic from high school English class. It had seemed like ancient history at the time.
After long minutes of silence between them, he glanced over at Ranya and said, "Look, if you're really set on going to Albuquerque, I know where you want to go first. It's a place in Texas, north of Amarillo. If I wanted to find the best way into New Mexico, with no hassles, it's where I'd go. I mean, I've been in trouble with the law, I know how it?"
"Save it. You don't know anything about me."
"Oh, I think I do know! Look, can you please put the gun away? Point it somewhere else? I don't need a heart attack, okay? If I wreck this thing, it won't do either of us any good. And grab a couple of sodas out of the bag down there. Please? If my mouth was any drier, it'd catch on fire." He turned and looked at her. "Listen lady, I'm trying to help you, okay? I'll drop you off at a place where you'll be clear, and then you can find your own way into New Mexico. It's a campground a little west of 287. Honest, it's your best bet. Deal?"
Ranya kept her hand on the Glock, but she pointed it forward, away from the driver, her finger well clear of the trigger. "Deal." Then she reached into the plastic shopping bag on the floor with her left hand, and twisted out a pair of cold Mountain Dews from a six-pack.