“Get off here and go north on 55,” I said. We had just passed through Joliet.
“North on 55? I thought you said it was on the other side of the Mississippi?”
“Yeah. Go up to the third exit, I don’t know, about seven or eight miles, and get off on 30 West.”
John didn’t say anything, but got over to get off of 80 onto 55.
“I’ll let you know now, if it makes it easier, that we’ll stay on 30 all of the way across Illinois.”
We had gotten up before 5 again. John hadn’t said a word about finding me in bed with him. He showered as I puttered around. He then wrapped me up. It didn’t bother me that he saw my breasts. It was just a part of my body, like my feet or stomach. It is the way we both approached it. Sure, it’s possible he was secretly turned on, but I didn’t care. He was the perfect gentleman and only showed interest in them in that they were well hidden.
We hit a truck stop for breakfast, and I was back to hot chocolate, though John did get a coffee to go and let me have half of it.
We hit the Chicago morning rush hour at the beginning and were heading out for a lot of it, so it wasn’t terrible, but there were some places that were even slower than Buffalo had been. I think that leaving 80 behind had thrown him for a bit of loop. He drove in silence. I realized that for the first time since we had returned to North America he was in unfamiliar territory.
After about 20 minutes on 30, just at the edge of the outer Chicago burbs, John finally decided to talk.
“So Margret, can you clue me in?”
“Sure. Just across the river in Iowa there is a little park on a bluff over the Mississippi. I hid it there.”
We went a little farther in silence before he spoke again.
“I’m going to need a little more than that. In fact, this is going to be another long day of driving, why don’t you start at the beginning?”
I had grown to trust John, so was a little surprised at the change, but not too surprised. This was his game, after all. I shrugged. There really wasn’t any reason why I shouldn’t say anything.
“You know my cousin, Jane, who lives in New Jersey?” He nodded. “She flies out to see her sister, Sue, in Chicago a few times a year. Her husband travels to Chicago for business all of the time, so they usually go together.”
We drove on for a while. John didn’t say anything.
“Jane had told me a few weeks ago that she had a trip planned, but didn’t think she could make it. She had shortened it to just the weekend, flying in with Brian, that’s her husband, on Friday night and then back out to Jersey on Sunday afternoon. She had rented a car, because she was planning on driving to Iowa to see her mom and hadn’t canceled it yet. Something came up for that Saturday and she couldn’t leave. She half-jokingly asked if I wanted to go. We look a lot alike, you know.”
John still said nothing, but I could see the shadow of a smile.
“I left the apartment with the case on Thursday night. I called Jane from a pay phone and made plans. I found a place to hide, then made my way to Newark on Friday. Brian brought Jane’s passport and a credit card. We went to Chicago together, a nice couple.”
John’s smile became visible.
“I took the car she rented, drove out to Iowa, planted the case in a small park, I think it’s Eagle Point, then drove back. On Sunday I flew back to Newark. End of story.”
John let out a half laugh. “Brilliant,” he said. “Nobody knew how you did it, but that’s because we were too cloak and dagger.” He turned towards me with a big grin. “We looked at every woman flying alone out of Newark, LaGuardia, Kennedy and every other airport within 200 miles. We paid close attention to those who had only recently bought a ticket. That’s how we found out that you had booked a flight to Mexico, though obviously you didn’t take that flight.”
He chuckled to himself as he drove. I now also had a big grin. I didn’t realize that I had slipped through their dragnet by just doing something that came natural to me.
“Flying on tickets that were bought a while ago was plus,” he said. “Flying as a member of a happily married couple, one who made the flight often, was a stroke of genius. Same with taking her rental car. You flew under everyone’s RADAR by being so normal.”
“Thanks. Do you want to know where the case is hidden? Now that you know generally, I can tell you a little more specifically.”
He shrugged. “If it makes you feel better, sure.”
“In the park, away from the main lodge and closer to the pavilion, there is a storage shed. It has things like lawn mowers in it. Shoved in the back is a large box. I don’t know if anybody knows what it was originally for. There is some ancient sporting equipment, like a volleyball net and such, in it now. Actually, this very minute, there is also an attaché case in it.”
“How did you know about it?”
“You should know. My aunt and uncle live in a small town just outside of Clinton, close to the park. My cousin used to work there during the summer when she went to school.”
“No, my other cousin, Susan.”
He continued to drive in silence.
“Now that you know how to find it, are you going to drop me off someplace?”
“Are you crazy?” he asked. “It isn’t just Ng after you. Those thugs at the rest area and their friends in the car were what you might call the Russian mafia. There is also Mafia mafia of half a dozen different flavors, agents from a dozen countries, more organized crime than you knew existed and who knows who else out there. You’d be dead by sundown. You stay with me. For both of our protection.”
“Both? You mean just in case it isn’t where I told you?”
“No. The only reason I’m still alive is that I’m with you. Mr. Ng sees me as a traitor to his cause. And there are others even less scrupulous than he is. Ng hasn’t tried to hit us. It’s the others.”
The rest of the day went pretty smoothly. We didn’t stay on 30 the entire time, but mixed it up a bit, even driving on a highway, 86, for a while. During the drive, we swapped cars four times. John said that we didn’t throw the big guys off, but the big guys weren’t as dangerous as the smaller players. All of the hits had been the small players, with the possible exception of the Air Canada plane.
We crossed over into Iowa on 30.
“Turn here” I said when we came up to 67, but John continued straight.
We went out of the small town, Clinton, a few miles. He made a few switches on country roads, the typical John bewildering maze of roads, before pulling behind an old farm house and parking our vehicle, a pickup truck at that point, in the barn.
“We spend the night here and grab the case in the morning,” John said.
I didn’t have the energy to argue. My side was in pain and I wanted nothing more than to soak in a tub again. Well, there was something more than a soak in a tub.
“Hey John,” I said. “Can we pop back to Clinton and see if we can pick up a bottle of wine?’
“Why do we need to go back to Clinton?”
He brought me into the kitchen. There was a small rack with several bottles.
“I was going to cook pasta tonight. Does a nice Chianti Classico Riserva sound good to you?”
Did it ever.
As did another meal cooked by John, who I decided must have been a master chief when he wasn’t out spying.