The Invisible Cipher - A Jagged Journeys' NovellaIda Smith / Actions & Adventure
THE INVISIBLE CIPHER
A Jagged Journeys’ Novella
THE INVISIBLE CIPHER
By Ida Smith
Copyright 2015 by Ida Smith
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Special Thanks to my wonderful husband, Rick Smith, for all your support, encouragement, and help. I couldn’t do this without you.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One – Miscalculations
Chapter Two – Filtered Perceptions
Chapter Three – Deciphered Dilemmas
Chapter Four – A New Code
About the Author
Other Books by Ida Smith
Chapter One - Miscalculations
Neil Gatlin traveled the back roads, hoping to avoid state police and other law enforcement. He’d managed to slip out of Missouri undetected and was now inching his way through Illinois, he just had to make it to Indiana before Sunshine had her baby.
By the level on the gas gauge Neil knew skirting around Cleavemont wasn’t an option and he didn’t dare try siphoning gas during the day. If only ol’ Gorgons hadn’t caught him slipping a few twenties from the till. Hadn’t he worked for it? He’d tried to explain to Gorgons that he needed the money now, he couldn’t wait around ‘til pay day. But Gorgons wouldn’t hear of it and threatened to make Neil pay with the sweat of his brow—sure that Neil had stolen money and tools on other occasions.
What could Neil do but run? The smell of gasoline interrupted his justification. The gas gauge on his 1950’s International pickup showed a fifth left.
The smell nauseated him. Before he could open the passenger window, the engine sputtered to a stop. He coasted to the roadside and tried the engine again. It started but stopped a few minutes later and wouldn’t restart.
A look under the hood revealed gas under the diaphragm. His fuel pump was shot.
He slammed the hood shut. Why did this have to happen now? He stared across the miles of fields. He’d push his truck into the field and hide it if the corn was higher. A short walk into town, catch the bus and he’d be gone. The police wouldn’t be looking for him on a bus.
He kicked the truck. Abandoning it here would be foolish. They’d find it and start asking around. A stranger in a small town would stand out in a bus station with few if any customers. As soon as they found his truck he was as good as caught.
He could hitchhike, though the idea of some nosey stranger’s questions already raised a sweat. How could he come up with a believable story under pressure? He’d never been any good at lying. Give him time, sure he could devise a story, but not under pressure.
Neil marveled at his choice of routes. The good and bad was that no one would find him. He thought of the forty-seven dollars he had. Money he’d saved for Sunshine and the baby he now needed to fix his truck so he could get home and announce that once again, he’d failed. At least she had the fifty he’d sent a few weeks ago.
He might as well hoof it to a nearby house. He grabbed his knapsack from the cab, slammed the door, and set out to the farm he’d seen several miles back. “Maybe they can help,” he mumbled unbelieving.
He looked at the western sky. Why did it seem he was always headed backwards?
Half a mile from the truck a farmer in a flatbed slowed and offered to tow Neil’s truck to town. Neil managed to keep the guy talking about his crops and the area so he didn’t have to answer too many questions. The farmer dropped him off at a service station in Cleavemont.
“Good luck,” the man said.
“Thanks.” Neil waved to the man. “Luck,” he muttered to himself. Bad luck, he’d always had. Good, that’d be a nice change.
By early afternoon he sat in a bar trying to determine how much he’d have left for Sunshine after fixing the pickup and filling it with gas. He fingered a black and white snapshot of a slender blond with a wide smile wearing a wild patterned mid-thigh dress and go-go boots. Sunshine, so aptly named. She was the only sunshine he’d ever known in an otherwise gray life.
Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, and Marty Robbins took turns singing on the jukebox in a corner. Across from him several young men shot pool.
“Hey, Mister,” one of the men in a t-shirt said. “You want to play?”
“Why not.” Neil stood. “It’s been a while.” He noticed several suppressed grins.
“I’m Charley,” said the guy who’d invited him. “This is Scotty.” He pointed his pool stick at a clean shaven blond, “and this here’s Willis.”
“Don’t see guys with long hair around here much,” Willis said.
Neil glanced around. “I doubt you do.”
Their first game looked like a bunch of beginners as Neil warmed up and the other three missed shots Neil had seen them make minutes before he’d joined them.
After a couple of games Willis suggested they play for money. Hadn’t Neil seen this coming?
“You don’t mind a little friendly competition do you?” Scotty asked.
“Not at all.”
Charley racked up the balls and Willis broke.
“What brings you to Cleavemont?” Scotty asked.
“Just passing through when my truck broke down.”
“Bad luck,” Charley said.
“Only luck I seem to have.”
Charley shot a quick glare at Willis. “Where’s it at?”
“At the Mobil station down the road.”
They all nodded.
“Clem will do you good,” Scotty said and toyed with a class ring on his finger.
The round-faced bartender swept some imaginary dirt several feet from them. “You boys just going to wear out my pool table?”
Scotty leaned his stick against the table and pulled out his wallet. “Get us each a beer.”
Neil dropped the last ball but it wasn’t enough to keep him from owing several dollars. Scotty suggested they play several more games and Neil agreed.
“So where’s you headed?” Willis asked.
Neil bristled. This was what he was afraid of. He stalled, trying to think of what to say. He could sense their eyes on him. “Chicago.” Why hadn’t he said someplace south? Did Charley just raise his eyebrows at Willis? Why didn’t he say Springfield?
“You taking one-thirty-six?” Scotty asked.
“If you need a place to stay for the night I’ve got an uncle about fifteen miles out of town, only place for miles. I’m sure he’d let you sleep in his barn. Just tell him you’re a friend of Charley’s.”
“Thanks.” Neil leveled his pool cue hoping to knock the twelve into the right corner. “I’m planning to be long gone by then.” He tapped the cue ball but the blue stripped ball stopped short.
Scotty hit the last two balls in and Neil handed over a few more dollars.
Charley finished his beer and ordered another round.
Neil hated taking these guys money, but knew he needed to pay the mechanic—and besides, they didn’t seem to have too much trouble taking his money. When it came his turn he dropped a couple balls in but withheld from putting any more in. By the end of the game Neil had won.
Neil looked at a Budweiser clock made to look like a gigantic pocket watch that spun over the bar. “I’d better go check on my pickup.”
“Oh, you can play one more game,” said Charley, then glanced at Willis, who gave a slight nod.
Neil sighed, “One more game guys.”
Scotty and Neil had both taken their turns when Willis made a show of looking at the clock. “Boy, howdy. Sorry boys, but I told the little woman I’d be home for dinner. I’m gonna have to skedaddle.” He tossed a five on the table. “There’s for the tab. See you around. Nice meetin’ you Neil.”
Scotty ordered more beer and Charley took his turn. Neil sunk a few more balls, gave each of the guys another chance then finished the game.
“Looks like your skills have improved,” Charley said.
“Guess I just needed some warming up.”
It was nearly six according to the Paul Bunyan sized pocket watch when Neil ambled over to the Mobil station. He’d had a couple more beers than he’d have liked and hoped he didn’t let something slip. He shook his head hoping to clear it. Maybe he would take Charley up on his offer to sleep in his uncle’s barn. It would sure beat searching for someplace to hide his truck.