Guardian Angel-2 Elsewhere, part 1 of 3

Ethan shot his hands up into the air before he nodded toward the woman at his feet.  The man on horseback relaxed and waved his gun casually in the woman’s direction.  Ethan bent down slowly, and lifted Jill’s head from the grass.  “Miss Lucas.  Jill.”  He spoke softly, and while he held her head up with one hand, he set down his briefcase to put his other hand on her cheek in a soft caress.  Jill fluttered her eyelids before she opened them.  She saw him and smiled before she screamed.

The horse bucked. The man on horseback had to turn the animal to keep from trampling the couple even as he grabbed tight with his knees to keep his seat.

“What are you doing here?”  Jill clenched her teeth in an attempt to whisper.

“I don’t even know where here is!”  Ethan shouted before he also whispered.  “We have company.”  He shook his head in the big man’s direction as he helped Jill to her feet.  He noticed she slipped the watch-thing into her lab coat pocket.

aa-lars1The man quickly settled his horse like an expert rider and kept his gun at the ready the whole time.  He said something in a bouncy language and then added, “You are Anglish?”

“Yes,” Ethan said.  He raised his hands again the moment he was upright.  He felt the nervous perspiration that covered his hands, and the cool air chilled the sweat on his forehead.  It made him feel like he had a fever.  Oddly enough, his tongue felt completely dry.

“How did you come to cross my farm?”  The man shut one eye to scrutinize them more closely.

“Accidental,” Jill said as she stepped to the front.  “My name is Jill Lucas, and this is my husband, Ethan.”

“Husband?”  Ethan blurted the word.

“Husband?”  The man on horseback’s question came a second later, even as Jill stepped back and slipped her arms around Ethan.  Ethan had to lower his hands, but otherwise he thought this was a wonderful idea.  She felt as warm, comfortable and exciting as he had imagined.

“So you are married?”  It seemed the man wanted to be sure he understood the language properly.

“Just married.”  Jill emphasized the “just” and gave Ethan a kiss on the cheek.

“Only a week,” Ethan added.  He was unable to contain his smile until Jill pinched him in the back to tell him to be quiet.

“You came out from New Amsterdam on the train?”  The man on horseback looked thoughtful.

Jill nodded, so Ethan nodded.  “But we don’t know your name,” Jill said, sweetly.

The man thought for a minute before he holstered his gun.  “Lars Hjorth.  It is too late to walk back to Hill Town tonight.  Come.”  He turned his horse around, and they were obliged to follow, having nowhere else to go.  Besides, Ethan was not about to argue with a man who carried a six-shooter.

Jill let go of Ethan the minute Lars’ back was turned, but Ethan picked up his briefcase and took her hand, and since they were pretending to be newlyweds, she could hardly deny him.   He smiled as he looked around and thought that this was his first real chance to examine this God-only-knew-where place.

aa-ethan-2He was surprised at what he saw.  The oaks and maples with the occasional birch and pine looked remarkably like the trees back home.  He saw a robin in flight, a squirrel that might have lived in the tree outside his own house, and the bushes were just bushes and the grass was just not suburban mowed.   When they walked downhill, he saw a field of stubble in the distance that he guessed was freshly harvested corn—plain, ordinary corn, and he felt the urge to risk a whisper.

“Hill Town?”

“Hush.”  Jill responded rather firmly, squeezed his hand, and Ethan hushed and thought that for all the familiarity in the setting, he would never walk back home at the rear end of a horse.  He turned up his nose and felt very confused about what was going on.

“Besides,” Lars spoke up loudly over the tromp of his horse and the swish of their walk through the tall grass.  “You haven’t paid the toll.”

“Toll?”  Ethan spoke before he could stop himself and Jill squeezed his hand extra hard.

Lars turned his head to eye the couple and closed that one eye again to look close.  “Half price for newlyweds.  Two gold crowns would do, though I should charge double for Anglish.”  He snickered and said no more.

In a short while, Ethan saw a simple log cabin with a brick chimney where smoke promised a snug fire against the chill in the air.  They had to wait at the door while Lars tied off his horse by the big barn that stood off to the side of the house.  It stood, separated from the house by a tremendous vegetable garden protected by a wire mesh, designed to keep out the free range chickens that clucked and ran around the rest of what passed for a front yard.  A few pigs wallowed in a nearby pen, and a bull in a fenced in area promised cattle somewhere.

aa-lars-3aEthan thought about the cows and decided that Lars looked like a cowboy.  The big man came complete with cowboy hat, boots, chaps, a lasso tied to the saddle and a six-shooter at his side.  Maybe Ethan felt confused about where he was, but he could not deny the reality of either the place or the big man who stepped up to the door and slapped him on the back hard enough to make him wince and rub his shoulder.

“I see you have luggage.”  Lars pointed to the briefcase clutched in Ethan’s hand.

“My work,” Ethan responded and he noticed that Jill barely kept her foot from kicking him in the shins.  Obviously, she wanted him to shut-up.  He looked at her closely and wondered what she knew that he did not know.  Sure, she was Grimly’s assistant, but as far as he knew, this was her first trip to God-only-knew-where too.

“Angelica!”  Lars hollered from the doorway and then turned to the couple when they came into a living room with a cathedral ceiling that was lit up by a great fire and several oil lamps.  A kitchen, and a long table for eight sat at the far end of the room, and a hallway in the middle of the back wall led to some back bedrooms.  A staircase on the back wall led up to a loft that overlooked the high-ceilinged room and was open, but for a railing.  The loft looked full of junk, as far as Ethan could see around the great bearskin rug that hung over the railing.  “My wife was Anglish once,” Lars explained, regaining Ethan’s attention.  “Angelica!”

Ethan heard a door click shut in the back of the house and the shuffling of slippers on a plain wood floor in the hallway before a round, older woman came into the room.  She tried to push back a long strand of hair that had escaped the bun on her head.  She said something in that singsong language, and Lars responded in kind while he hung his hat and chaps on hooks by the door.  He looked once at the couple and squinted with that eye before he took himself and his gun down the hall.

“You are Anglish?”  The woman looked directly at Ethan.  “And what business has brought you into New Sweden?  My husband said you came out from New Amsterdam.”  She had a welcoming smile, but she was clearly not satisfied with what she had heard thus far concerning their sudden appearance.

aa-jill-9Jill stared at Ethan for a second.  “My wife had better explain,” he said.  He set down his briefcase and stepped over to the big fireplace to warm his hands while Jill smiled.

“We are newlyweds, but we found the city too stifling.”  She sounded so reasonable as she spoke, Ethan wondered how anyone could question her.  “My husband and I wanted to spend some time in the country, just the two of us, and the train ride to Hill Town was fun.”  She stepped over to Ethan and curled up in his arms.  Ethan was so pleased with this charade; he could not help acting like a lovesick puppy.  He kissed her, smack on the lips, and she was obliged to kiss him back.

Guardian Angel-1 The Company, part 3 of 3

“You’re the accountant?”  The security guard got up from his desk, opened the big research and development steel doors, and frowned.  Ethan had to fight to keep a frown from forming on his own face.

“Ethan Hill.”  He stuck out his right hand to shake and shifted his briefcase to his other hand.  The briefcase held his all-important supplies: a couple of blank notebooks and pens, and his laptop.  “Marketing.  Not accounting.”  The guard who blocked the doorway to the hall shrugged as if it made little difference in his book, but after he examined Ethan’s identification, he opened the door wide enough for Ethan to squeeze through.

“The powers that be want to be prepared with information for the select committees.  Reelection time, you know.  But it is with the understanding that nothing will go public without say-so.  All kept hush-hush.”  Ethan tried to keep his smile while he babbled, but his guide seemed too dour ab-grimley-lab-1for hope.  The guard opened a door down the hall and Ethan got ushered rudely into a room that had the look of a high school science classroom, with a big lab table in the middle surrounded by stools, and some charts on the walls.  Whiteboard covered large portions of the walls.  The door closed loudly behind him, but Ethan looked up to see an older man and the woman he had been dreaming about for the last two days.  The old man returned Ethan’s smile, which still covered his face in the vain attempt to penetrate the grumpy face of the security guard.

“Come in.  Come in.”  The old man came close and took Ethan by the hand.

Ethan felt the warmth of the old man’s reception even as he noticed the frigid stare from the young beauty.

“Doctor Grimly?”  Ethan knew who it was.

“Yes, yes.”  The doctor brought Ethan to the side of the lab table that looked covered with a mess of electronic parts.  Ethan could not even guess what most of those parts were good for.

“Ethan Hill.”  He gave his full name and Doctor Grimly looked up and raised an eyebrow, but Ethan hardly noticed.  He kept looking at the young woman in the hope that she might add her name to the mix.  She declined.

“Lovely to have you here.”  The doctor said, as he went back to concentrate on his work.  He scribbled in the margins of a notebook and fiddled with a wristband of some kind that looked something like an old wristwatch with an enormous dial.

aa-grimley-1Ethan stood quietly and watched, his eyes fastened on the beauty, his mind as blank as a new sheet of paper.  Suddenly, he did not know how to get things started.

Jill got up from her stool at the table and brought something to the doctor.  She set the piece down beside Doctor Grimly’s watch-thing rather firmly, frowned at Ethan and returned to her stool where she appeared to be working on a similar device.  The doctor stopped, looked at the piece and then looked up as if two and two finally made four in his mind.

“So, who are you exactly, and why are you here?”

“Ethan Hill.”  Ethan tried again.  “Didn’t you get the memo?”

“Memo?  No.  I never bother with that sort of thing.  Miss Lucas intercepts them anyway to keep me at my work.”  He waved generally in the direction of his assistant.  “She is a slave driver, that one.  Brilliant.  But a slave driver.”

“Mister Hill.”  Jill started to speak.  Ethan thought her voice sounded as beautiful and enchanting as her gray-blue eyes, and he hated to interrupt, but he did.

“Ethan.  Please.  I am not here to interfere with your work.  I just want to know what you are doing to see if any of it, with your permission, might be worth squeezing a few extra dollars out of the budget committee.  All of the departments are cooperating, only I am sorry to say, you’ve got me.”  He shrugged, sheepishly.  It was his cover.  “I will try not to take up more of your time than necessary, though I’m afraid you will have to explain things slowly and in plain English, if you don’t mind.”

“Mister Hill.”  Jill tried again, and once again, Ethan interrupted.

aa-jill-c1“Ethan, please.”

Jill took a deep breath.  “Ethan.  What I am trying to say is at present there is nothing I can tell you.  It is just research for now, not good for anything in this world.”

“Perhaps, Miss Lucas, but I know you are not just driving down roads at random.  I am sure you have some final destination in mind.”

“No end yet in sight.”  Jill shrugged and smiled in a friendly manner.  She assumed that should end the conversation, but Doctor Grimly, having carefully added that last piece to his watch, took the jeweler’s lens from his eye, stood, and grinned broadly.

“Not exactly true.  It worked well enough on the rabbits.  Bilbo Baggins.  There and back again.  Eh?  I believe we are ready.”  He held out the watch, and Miss Lucas gave Doctor Grimly a look intended to wither the man’s mouth.

“Rabbits?’  Ethan asked.  “Ready?”  He jumped on the word.

“Yes,” The Doctor said, as he forced the watch on Jill.  “It should confine to body plus six inches or so to account for clothes.  Maybe further, I am not exactly sure, but not less for sure.  Can’t send you out naked, my dear.”

“Mister Hill.  I’m sorry.  Ethan, if you don’t mind you can see we are at a critical point.”  Jill took the watch but at the same time, she took Ethan’s arm to escort him to the door.  Ethan gripped tight to his briefcase.  “Now is not a good time for interviews.  If you would not mind waiting outside, or better yet, perhaps tomorrow.  You come back tomorrow and I will be glad to sit down with you and explain everything.”

aa-lars1“Wizard of Oz?  Go away and come back tomorrow?”  Ethan got more curious than ever.  He sensed something important was about to happen, and he craned his neck around his escort, while she held fast to his elbow and pushed him toward the door.  Doctor Grimly slipped around the table to a computer console.

“Now, you will see something, Mister Ethan.”

Ethan got out the word, “Hill,” and Jill shouted over him, “No!”  The brilliant flash of light came which Ethan knew would leave him seeing spots.  He felt Jill let go of his arm, even as he raised a hand to rub his eyes.  When he could see again, he shouted.  He found himself standing in that open field with grass beneath his feet.  Jill had fainted, and a very large blond man on horseback rode up and pointed a gun at him.

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Guardian Angel chapter 2-Elsewhere, M, T & W of next week, 8AM post.  Don’t miss it.