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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ode to Miss Texas: Pt. V

An unadorned, unexaggerated account of real life intrigue

After putting Miss Texas on her bus, I headed to Lincoln Center. On the way, part of me patted myself on the back for my cleverness. Still, the fifty dollars haunted me. Were it really a matter of life and death, I wouldn’t have given the money a second thought. I tried to put it out of my mind, concentrating instead on her relief and smile. If for no other reason, I kept telling myself, I spent the fifty bucks wisely.

I made it back to my apartment by about 6:30pm. The red light on my phone machine blinked three times, indicating the number of calls I had received. The first message was a hangup. The second one came from Miss Texas' supposed CIA kidnapper in Jersey. He wanted to know if she got on the bus okay. The third call was from the same guy, repeating the earlier message. I called back and told him that Miss Texas was on her way back to Denton and that I watched her get on the bus myself. He wished me good night, then hung up.

Around nine o’clock, I got another call from him. He asked again if Miss Texas had gotten on the bus. I assured him that she did.

“Well, that’s strange,” he said. “I had some friends in Washington who were coming over to meet her. They waited for the bus. It came, and she wasn’t there. She wasn’t in Philadelphia or Baltimore either, and I’m getting kinda worried. Are you sure she left okay?”

“Yes.”

“All right, then,” he said, before wishing me good night again and hanging up.

Why would he send friends to meet her? Why would he be worried if she didn’t get off the bus? Her original route didn’t have her changing coaches in Washington, Philly, or Baltimore. She could have just been asleep in her seat, or doing crossword puzzles while her bus sat at the gate. Did he really have three different sets of friends who were just going to casually meet her in all those bus terminals? Or was it one set of friends who were following the bus? Either way, those had to be some friends.

I started playing video games. Soon, the phone calls, Miss Texas, work and ten thousand other things faded into RBI Baseball. In the middle of an inning, the phone rang. Same guy. Same questions.

“Are you absolutely sure she boarded?” he asked, unmasked hostility in his voice.

“I put her on the bus myself.”

“Was it her scheduled bus?”

“It was her scheduled bus,” I replied, not exactly lying. We scheduled it. Twenty minutes before it left, we scheduled it.

“Listen,” he commanded, “I want you to tell me the truth. Where is she?”

“On her way to Denton, Texas.”

“She was scheduled to make a stop in [some podunk town, the name of which I can’t recall], and my friends still haven’t seen her yet! Did she leave anything there?”

“Nothing that I’ve seen,” I lied. In addition to the disc, she also left behind the basketball and the beach pail.

“And she left exactly at 3:30?”

“Yup.” Hell, I had already told one outright fib. As they say, in for a penny, in for a pound.

“The bus that goes through Washington?” he continued.

“I believe the one you’re looking for goes through Washington --”

“Tell me the truth. Where is she?”

Tired of this merry-go-round, I told him I didn’t know, said goodbye, and promptly hung up the phone.

This guy had done all he could to keep from going into complete rage over the telephone. His questions sounded like they had come out of the mouth of a prosecutor, or police detective, or some other hostile person with authority. CIA or no, this guy was obsessed. From the tone of his voice, I would have no trouble believing him to be potentially violent. Even though I still had a hard time buying into Miss Texas’ cloak-and-dagger story, I now knew that he really would “get” her if he had half a chance. I haven’t missed that fifty dollars since.

A thought came to me. The ticket clerk at the Greyhound station kindly printed out all of our scheduled itineraries. I looked at the town he had just mentioned. The call came about ten minutes after her original bus was supposed to have gotten there.

If you’ve never had the pleasure (ahem!) of traveling by dog, then I should point out a couple of things. Believe it or not, the buses usually arrive on time or early, even though they are notorious for leaving the gate late – chalk it up to lead-footed drivers. So, the schedules that I had were quite reliable. Looking up the next town, I correctly predicted the time of the next call.

Secondly, only major cities have what can honestly be called ‘bus stations’. Stops in East Podunk might occur outside one-room Greyhound offices, local businesses, or even a bench at the crossroads. He couldn’t have just called the station and had her paged, for he really wouldn’t know whether she had taken another bus, or simply ignored him. For really small towns, there’s no station to call to have someone paged. The Greyhound offices certainly wouldn’t release any information regarding passenger manifests without a subpoena. The only way he could be sure that she wasn’t on her original bus, would be to physically inspect the bus. And he sounded quite sure.

The next call came right on time. Same conversation, only more intense on his end--not that he believed a word I said. It didn’t matter. I felt duty bound to keep him at bay. I finally turned off the telephone ringer, and began screening calls. He kept ordering me to pick up the telephone, but I hate taking orders. He then began shouting, swearing, and accusing me of being up to something -- which, of course, I was.

The next call surprised me since it came earlier than I expected. He must have been trying to guess the alternative route. The towns he mentioned indicated that his people were looking primarily in the southeastern US, far away from the Canadian countryside where she actually was at the moment, so I didn’t panic. All the same, I vowed not to answer the phone for fear that I might say something that would give her away.

The calls continued into the wee hours of the morning, so I turned off the volume of the machine. When I woke up, the little red light flashed for a solid twenty-five seconds. The calls continued all the next day, following night, the day after that, and the day after that. At one point, they came every five minutes. I even ran out of tape on one side. In those days, I recorded my own musical messages. I selected a particularly long one that ran over a minute. I use it when I don’t feel like responding to silly messages, as most people lose patience waiting for the beep and hang up, unless it’s actually important. If he wanted to harass me, at least I could make him pay for it.

The calls eventually tapered off. Had she traveled her original route, she would have already been in Denton, possible abduction notwithstanding. I checked my messages over the past four days to see if I had gotten any real ones. This “CIA Jimmy” had gone through a litany of tactics to get me to tell him where she was. He threatened me. He accused me. When that didn’t work, he tried to reason with me, stressing that Miss Texas was “a very sick woman” who had all kinds of wild notions about him. Granted, her notions about him were wild. But, her description of him as a creep was dead on the money.

By the end, he almost sounded broken. His voice grew hoarse and weak--not surprising since he had called me nonstop over the past few days. He said that he had given up his search and would “appreciate it” if I told him her whereabouts.

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