Jerrod stood in front of an ATM attached to a Wells Fargo drive-through bank on the southwest edge of town. A bitter gust whipped thin, cold rain into his face. The ski mask blocked most of it, but some found its way down his neck, drawing a shiver from him. It was seven in the morning, and he was going to rob a bank.
Not that he wanted to, but what else could he do? Until he knew who to trust, he needed to stay a step ahead of the police. Not to mention the FBI and the United States Navy and who knows what other government agencies. He was pretty sure they wouldn’t be satisfied just getting the device back. There was no way they would let him walk away, not with what he knew. They would lock him up and throw away the key.
Parker is always going on about how the government “disappears” people they think are threats to the power of the elites. Jerrod had never paid much attention, but if there was ever a situation that could result in a “disappearance,”, surely this was it. He needed to disappear himself for a while, buy some time to figure out what he was going to do. For that he needed money.
He had been practicing with the device and had gotten better at holding his doppelganger steady at greater distances. He was good up to three miles now. It wasn’t clear to him why that should be. It seemed like the determining factor should be how steady he could hold it in his hand, something that shouldn’t improve much with practice. But it did. When he concentrated, really got focused, something clicked; he seemed to get “in the zone,” as though he and the device were acting as one.
A telephone book in the motel lobby had given him the location of several ATM machines within a three mile radius. He had picked the Wells Fargo bank because they were such a big enough that the theft would hardly amount to a rounding error in their books. He knew he was just rationalizing his actions to sooth his guilty conscience, but it made him feel a little better about it. The bank was a mile and a half from the motel.
Navigating the doppelganger around town had turned out to be trickier than he had expected. He kept getting lost. Eventually he realized that he could put his doppelganger up in the air above the town, find where he wanted to go, and then bring his doppelganger down there.
He had materialized behind an auto parts store a block away from the bank, and walked up to the ATM like a normal customer.
There was a camera in the upper left corner. He tried to ignore it. After all, between the hat and the ski mask, it would be hard to identify him. Still, it required considerable will power to stand there and do what he had to do knowing that the police would soon be viewing the video. Man, were they in for a surprise.
Keeping the device covered with one hand, he adjusted its field of effect — that’s what he had decided to call it — so that it extended about a foot into the machine. It took a minute to find his motel room again. Then he pressed the Jump button.
When he materialized in the room, the section of the ATM that had come with him fell over on to its side with a crash. He had gotten about half of it, presumably leaving a perfectly sliced semi-circle in the side of the bank building, along with a sizable bite from the end of his bed. That would present a puzzle for the police, one that wouldn’t get any clearer when the motel reported a missing section of an ATM in one of their rooms.
But that wasn’t Jerrod’s problem. His problem was that he had gotten only half the money. Literally. The energy field had cut two stacks of bills — twenties and fifties — neatly in half. The other halves were presumably blowing around in the wind outside the bank.
He stared at the back of the machine for several long seconds. “You have got to be kidding me,” he said.
Then the absurdity of the situation caught up with him and he started laughing. If this was going to be his new career, he was going to have to work on his slice and dice technique.
He located another ATM — a USBank branch — and this time expanded the energy field so that it extended farther into the machine. He located his room and hit the jump button. Someone yelled just as he vanished.
The ATM tottered back and forth for a few seconds in his room, but managed to stay upright. When he walked around it to see if he had gotten all the money this time, he discovered two problems. First, he had gotten almost the entire machine, which left the money locked inside. Second, three fingers lay on the floor; human fingers; fingers cut off just above the first knuckle. Blood oozed on to the carpet.
“Oh shit,” he said.
He had cut somebody’s fingers off. How had that happened? He pushed back a wave of nausea. Someone inside the bank must have been standing next to the ATM. Maybe even servicing it. When he jumped, three fingers must have been inside the field of effect.
He sank to the floor, unable to pull his gaze away from the fingers. There was surprisingly little blood. A pressure formed in his chest and began to rise up his esophagus.
“Nope,” he said. “Not going to throw up.”
He grabbed the room’s ice bucket, raced down the hall to the ice machine, filled the bucket with ice, and ran back to the room. He wrapped the fingers in a towel and put them in the bucket, covering them with ice cubes. Then he teleported to the sidewalk in front of the ATM; what was left of it.
Part of the first ATM — the one from Wells Fargo — lay on its side in the semi-circle perfectly cut from the side of the building, exposing the inside. A middle-aged woman was visible through the gap. She was on the floor, holding her hand and sobbing. He was surprised at how much blood there was. Two younger women knelt beside her; one of them had wrapped a piece of cloth around her hand. The sound of sirens told him they had called 911.
“Hey,” Jerrod yelled. He was breathing hard. One of the women looked up. He put the ice bucket on the ground and pointed to it.
”Her fingers are in here. They might be able to re-attach them.” She stared at him with a blank expression.
He teleported back to the motel room, turned the device off, and sat on the floor with his head in his hands. He felt empty inside. He hadn’t meant to hurt anyone. He just wanted the ATM. But he had hurt someone. He had chopped off a woman’s fingers. There was a pretty good chance they would be able to re-attach them, but they would probably never be fully functional again. Because of him. Because of him and the device. An old memory appeared fully formed in his mind.
He was fourteen, and he had taken his dad’s .22 caliber rifle out into the small wooded area behind their house to do some target practice. A movement to his left caught his eye. A squirrel had hopped up on a log about thirty feet away, and was watching him. He brought the rifle up and fired, knocking the squirrel off the log. Elated, he trotted over to the log and found the squirrel, still alive, trying to drag itself away. But it’s hind quarters weren’t working. It stopped struggling and looked up at him. Fear-filled eyes seemed to say, “Why?”
There was nothing he could do for it, so he shot it in the head to put it out of its misery. He felt achingly guilty for weeks. He never told anyone. Even now, all these years later, the memory brought with it a mix of emotions: guilt, anxiety, remorse, embarrassment. And those little eyes asking, “Why?”
The same feelings flowed over him now. He went into the bathroom and washed the blood off his hands. There was some on his shirt, too, so he took it off and set it to soaking in cold water.
He couldn’t change what he had done to the woman. He might as well get the money he was after. The machine was intact, so he had to use the device to cut it open. Three cautious slices later he was holding more cash than he had ever seen before. He counted it out on what was left of the bed: $63,160 in twenties, and $21,400 in fifties, for a total of $84,560.
He sat on the floor staring at the two piles of bills, feeling empty. He had made a mess of it. Not just the woman’s fingers — that was bad enough — but the whole stupid thing. It wouldn’t take the FBI long to Jerrod to the bank robbery. He might as well have called the FBI and said “Hey, I’m in Casper, Wyoming. Come and get me.”
He really should have thought the whole thing through before doing it. Parker would roll his eyes and say, “Dude, you gotta learn to think first, then act. You keep getting it turned around.”
He needed to get out of Casper. He needed someplace to hide. Denver was 200 miles away, and had a population of nearly 3 million people in the greater metropolitan area. He would be a needle in a haystack as long as he kept his head down. But he didn’t want to get too far from Bozeman just yet.
Cheyenne would have to do, at least for now. It was 150 miles, which translated into fifty 3-mile jumps. Kind of a pain, but safer than, say, a Greyhound bus. The FBI would eventually expand their search to include Cheyenne, but he hoped that would take a day or two.
Between Casper and Cheyenne lay the northern Laramie Mountains and the Shirley Basic. Three jumps got him out of Casper, a few more took him over forested Casper Mountain. Then a long run southeast through the Shirley Basis, a mix of prairie and scrub land.
He developed a rhythm: extend his doppelganger as far as we could hold it steady, look around to make sure nobody was at his doppelganger, jump. Wash, rinse, repeat. Too bad there wasn’t a spin dry cycle; It was still raining and he was soon soaked to the skin again and shivering. He lost count of the jumps by the time he reached a bluff overlooking Cheyenne from the northwest. It wasn’t much bigger than Casper, but it was the state capitol had a bigger downtown with a lot more stores; he planned to spend some money.
He put himself over the city and looked around. As much as he would have liked to have stayed in a high-end hotel, he needed to maintain a low profile. He also needed a place that would take cash, without a credit card, and no awkward questions.
He looked back toward the bluff where his real self was standing. At first, he couldn’t pick the bluff out from among the several similar looking bluffs that guarded the western edge of the valley. When he did, he couldn’t make out the tiny figure of himself at all. It had to be more than two miles. More like five. And he was holding rock solid. What was his range now?
He left Cheyenne behind and continued east, following I-80. After a while he realized he was picking up speed. Towns flew by below him. He passed over a town he recognized: Pine Bluffs. He had been there before. It was on the border between Wyoming and Nebraska, something like 70 miles from Cheyenne. He turned the device off and his doppelganger collapsed into his real self on the bluff west of Cheyenne. Why had the teleporter’s range suddenly increased? He didn’t now.
He explored the outskirts of town until he found a Motel 6. It was long, two-story building; the rooms opened to the outside. He teleported into an alley behind the motel and got a second floor room for two nights. After he had changed his clothes and draped his wet clothes over a chair that he placed above a heating vent in the floor, he sat cross legged on the bed and thought about the teleporter’s greatly extended range.
Up to that point, his range had been 3 miles. Beyond that he couldn’t hold the doppelganger steady enough to risk a jump. He didn’t want to come out a hundred feet in the air, or fifty feet underground.
But now, for no apparent reason, he could hold it steady at 70 miles. How much further could he go?
He move to the floor and leaning against the end of the bed, facing east, and activated the device. Two minutes later he was flying a hundred feet above the ground, running parallel to I-80.
He was picking up speed again. He took his finger off the travel button, and came to a halt over a dairy farm. When he started moving again, it was at his original speed. After a minute or so, it was obvious that he was again picking up speed. The longer he kept moving, the faster he moved.
Soon he was traveling faster than the traffic on I-80. He passed Pine Bluffs again, and kept going. After a while he figured he must be doing a couple hundred miles an hour. Which was getting a little scary, so he stopped and restarted at a more reasonable speed. Twenty minutes later he was over a major urban area. It had to be Omaha. He didn’t know exactly how far that was, but it had to be at least 500 miles. And the doppelganger was still rock solid steady.
He brought himself down in a park, looked around to be sure nobody would see him, and hit Jump. His real self immediately collapsed into this doppelganger. The sun was high in a mostly clear sky.
He looking at the device in his hand. “That beats the heck out of flying sardine-can-airlines.”
He found a store called Western Outfitters, where he bought himself a new wardrobe: some basic items like shirts, pants, underwear, socks; also some not-so-basic items. He turned around and around in the dressing room admiring his new look: lambskin leather jacket, calfskin boots, bison leather belt with a solid sterling silver buckle. He was especially taken with the black felt cowboy hat. Never in his life had he owned such a fine set of clothes.
He gulped at the final total — $3,680.49 — but what the heck, he had more money than he knew what to do with, and he could get more anytime he wanted. Not that he wanted to rob another ATM. Or anything else.
The cashier was taken aback when he pulled out a roll of fifty-dollar bills. She studied each one, which took long enough for the store manager to wander over to find out what was going on.
After watched for a while and said, “We don’t get many people making such large purchases with cash.” He looked at Jerrod, obviously waiting for an explanation.
Jerrod met his eyes and tried to sound nonchalant. “I’m not surprised. You do accept cash, don’t you?”
“You understand that we have to check the bills in a case like this to be sure they’re not counterfeit.”
“That sounds like a good policy to me.”
The cashier got through all seventy-four bills and gave him his receipt. He put everything he wasn’t wearing into a backpack and headed out the door.
He had learned something: paying cash for large purchases was going to attract attention, something he did not want. What he needed was a way to turn all those $20 and $50 bills into something that wouldn’t raise eyebrows. Like a credit card. But it needed to be anonymous.
A little research on the internet at a library branch led him to a Simon Mall where he purchased ten $500 gift cards at the Guest Services booth, and five disposable cell phones at a T-Mobile store. He got more suspicious looks, and every bill got scrutinized carefully, but he got what he needed. Neither the gift cards nor the cell phones required him to provide any personal identification, and the cards would function like Visa credit cards with a fixed maximum value.
He found his way back to the park where he had landed. He put one hand in his coat pocket and activated the teleporter by feel.
“I wonder how fast I can get there,” he asked himself.
He visualized his room at the Motel 6 in Cheyenne, 500 miles away, and pressed forward on the travel button. Everything became a dizzying blur for a moment, and then he was in his motel room. Or rather, his doppelganger was in the motel room. He — the real him — was still standing in a park in Omaha, Nebraska. His thumb was still pressing on the travel button, so he slid it off. But the device had apparently decided that this was where he wanted to be, so it has stopped by itself. He slowly moved his thumb to the third button, pushed down on it, and found himself back in Cheyenne. The real him.
“Well!” he said. “That was … I dunno … amazing.” It somehow didn’t seem like an adequate description.
Jerrod’s stomach growled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. There was a restaurant across the street from the motel. It was called McKenzie’s and had the look of a mom-and-pop throwback to an earlier era, with large windows extending it’s entire length.
He wandered over to the restaurant and sat in a booth at the end farthest from the door. He ordered a cheese burger, fries and a cup of coffee. While he waited for his order to arrive, he realized that he had take a seat at the back of the restaurant because he wanted to have a clear view of anyone approaching the place.
“Jeeze,” he said to himself. “Been watching too much television.”
He returned to his room and lay down for a nap. He was tired, but sleep eluded him. He was still hyped up about the teleporter’s new-found capabilities. He had no idea why his range has suddenly jumped to 500 or more miles. Nor did he understand why it had taken him directly to his room at blindingly fast speed and then stopped. Maybe it had some kind of memory capability. Last ten places visited, or something like that.
He got up and splashed water on his face. Then he used one of the disposable cell phones to call his parents. They lived Hendersonville, a little north of Nashville. It was unlikely they had heard that he was a wanted man, but he figured he’d better find out so he could explain if they had. Not that he knew how he would do that exactly. The phone rang several times.
His mother answered. “Hello.”
That one word, with it’s Tennessee drawl, tugged at his heart. He had to fight back sudden tears.
“Hi mom,” he said.
“Jerrod, dear, how are you?” She sounded pleased to hear from him.
She yelled to someone, “Don, dear. It’s Jerrod.” He couldn’t make out the response.
She said, “Are you calling from Bozeman?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Yes,” she said to his dad. “From Bozeman.”
She addressed Jerrod again. “He’ll be here in a minute. He’s doing something out back.”
“That’s okay,” Jerrod said. “I just wanted to see how you guys are doing?”
“Oh, pretty much the same. Your father pulled a muscle in his back yesterday. I don’t know what he’s doing out there. He ought to be stayin’ in his recliner. Lilian’s daughter had a baby.” Lillian was their next door neighbor. “That’s about the most exciting thing to happen around here for a while. How are things with you?”
“Trish and I are good. Life goes on. No complaints.”
“She’s a sweet girl. You’re not callin’ to tell us you asked her to marry you are ya?”
“No, mom. Neither of us is ready to take that leap yet.”
“Well, dear, don’t wait too long, or someone will come along and sweep her away, and that would be a dyin’ shame. Here’s your father.”
“Hey son, how’s things?”
“Good, dad. Mom says you did something to your back.”
“Pulled a muscle. Still hurts a little, but it’s better to keep it moving than sit around letting it stiffen up.”
That wasn’t true, but there was no point in arguing the matter with him. They talked for a few minutes about nothing in particular, and then his dad put his mom on again, and they talked some more.
After a while he said, “I gotta run, mom. It was nice to hear your voice. Say bye to dad.”
“You take care of yourself, Jerrod. And don’t be afraid to call more often. You can reverse the charges if you need to.”
“Thanks mom. Bye.”
Nothing in the conversation suggested that they had heard anything about his trouble with the law. At least, not yet. He was surprised how relieved he was.
He was their problem child, the one who couldn’t seem to get his life together and make something of himself. It didn’t help that he had two over-achieving sisters — one a doctor, the other a lawyer. He knew his parents loved him no matter what he did, but it hurt to know that they were disappointed in him. His dad more than his mom. Maybe the device would provide him with a way to dig himself out of his hole and move forward with his life. Not that he had any ideas about what he might do with his life.
He took the device out of his pocket. At home he had a coffee mug with a picture of Garfield the Cat on it, and the words “I only look harmless.” The device looked harmless enough. Except for the on/off button that obediently formed when it felt his touch. And the other buttons that creepily formed when he turned it on. And the fact that he could use it to see anywhere and go anywhere. It was anything but harmless.
Naval Intelligence Specialist Second Class Neil Anderson had been right. In the wrong hands, this was a dangerous weapon. No wonder the FBI was after him. He had what might be the most powerful weapon in the world, and they wanted it back. God only knew what the government would use it for. Was that what got Anderson killed? Had he decided that even his own government couldn’t be trusted with it.
So what was Jerrod going to do with it? They would never stop looking for him; not while he had the device. Even if he gave it to them, they would probably lock him away for a very long time. Maybe even kill him. Was he doomed to a life of running? He wished Parker was here. Parker was a thinker. He’d have some ideas.
He missed Trish, too, with her quick mind, her long red hair, her bubbling-brook laugh. They’d been together for almost two years, but there was a tension between them that hadn’t been there at first. She had become more short-tempered, and quicker to point out things he did that irritated her. He knew he had his share of faults. Like not replacing the toilet paper when he used the last of it. But he’d always done that, and it hadn’t bothered her before. Why did she get so upset about it now?
She wasn’t Miss perfect, either. She had a passive-aggressive tendency that drove him crazy. Like the time they were going to go see a movie, and he made the mistake of asking her what she’d like to see. She suggested an historical romance, which she knew he would hate. He said that was fine, but he’d rather see the latest Star Trek movie. She said that would be fine, too, so they went to the Star Trek movie. She pouted all the way home afterward and said she wasn’t up to sex, and that maybe he should go watch an old science fiction movie on television instead. What was that about, anyway?
But he love her anyway. And he was pretty sure she loved him. Maybe it was just a part of the normal course of a serious relationship as they discovered the things that irritated them about each other. In any case, his mom was right: Trish was the best thing that had ever happened to him, and he’d be an idiot to let her get away. Right now he missed her a lot. It was like a piece of him was gone, and he wanted it back.
Using the same throw-away phone he had used to call his mom and dad, he called Parker.
Parker answered after three rings with a flat, “Hello.”
“Hey man,” Jerrod said.
There was a pause. Then, “Glad to hear you’re alive and well.”
“Yeah. Just a quick question. Where’s Trish?”
Another pause. “Can’t be sure, but I think she joined the Church of Latter Day Saints.”
Jerrod had to think about that for a moment. “Thanks, Parker. Take care.”
“Let me know if I can do anything.”
“You can count on it.”