The flashing signs on both sides of I-94 south into Minneapolis read: POLICE
CHECK AHEAD. PREPARE TO STOP. Farther on, past a disused overpass, the morning
traffic was slowing to a crawl as barriers with winking red lights funneled
it into a tailback along the inner two lanes. A line of delinquents stood pulled
over on the shoulder. Jarrow was glad that Larry had picked him up earlier than
usual. It would all clog up quickly, even though traffic these days wasnt
heavy as the moving nose-to-tail jams of times gone by. He was due to see Valdheim
at 8:45, and the thought of being late for doctors appointments was one
of the things that made him anxious.
"They do it on purpose," Larry muttered as they eased into line.
"This time of morning everyones in a hurry and snarly, and they just
want you to give them a hard time. You talk back, and then they hit you with
the works. Their scores go into their records. The meanest ones get the promotions."
Larry liked to think of himself as a man who believed in saying what he thought,
with the result that no topic escaped without receiving the imprint of his opinion.
Jarrow saw it more as an inability to refrain from airing views that most people
would have considered better left unsaid. That would have been careless at best
on anyones part, and bordering on foolhardy for a halfway-prudent professional---which
in itself would have been enough to make Jarrow uncomfortable. But for a teacher
at junior high school, charged with a responsibility for the shaping of young
minds, it crossed the line into recklessness and invited suspicions of subversive
designs. And that made Jarrow positively nervous.
"Get a load of this guy coming up behind," Larry said, nodding at
the rearview mirror. Jarrow moved his head to see in the side mirror mounted
on the door. The vehicles following them were squeezing over to make way for
a limousine impatiently flashing an official blue-and-yellow light. From the
silver badge on the front, Jarrow guessed it to be from one of the international
regulatory agencies. Larry stayed in the center of the lane, pretending not
to see the irate wavings of the state trooper marching forward from among the
uniformed figures ahead.
|A two-note siren blast came from behind, and then a voice cut in over the
pop jazz playing from the vehicles sound system. "Pull over, ahead.
Youre obstructing official business."
"Now, theres what I call creature comfort," Larry said, contemplating
the lines of the limo, now thrusting up close behind them like a motor yacht
trying to nudge past a tugboat. It was large and majestic, probably capable
of cruising at 150 on smooth-burning hydrocarbon synthetic. By contrast, the
electric getabout that he and Jarrow were riding was stark and utilitarian,
and could putter along at fifty with up to four people, at a squeeze, and hundred-mile
hops between cell changes.
"For Gods sake; let it through," Jarrow grated, rubbing his
moist palms together. He had an inborn dread of confrontations, and more than
suspected that Larry was doing this deliberately to rattle him. Larry had a
strange sense of humor that way.
Larry spread his hands briefly. "Thats our money theyre driving
around in, isnt it? Why should we be kicked out of the way like trash
on the street?"
The siren sounded again, insistently. Larry stayed put for several more agonizing
seconds until Jarrow really thought that he was about to get them a ticket,
or worse, and then pulled over at the last moment. The limousine swept by disdainfully
and was waved on past the barrier.
Jarrow wiped his hands on his knees. "If you want to complain about the
system, there are proper channels," he said tightly.
"Right. And theyll get you the same place as the other tubes too."
Larry opened the window and turned on an innocent expression as the trooper
hove to, purple-faced, outside.
"Is something the matter with you, mister? You deaf as well as blind?
Maybe you shouldnt be out on the street."
"We were talking. I guess I got absorbed."
"Well, thats not good enough. If youre in charge of a vehicle,
youre supposed to know whats going on. Okay? Let me see your papers."
The traffic check was nominally to catch cars with even-date-only tax stickers
being driven on an odd day of the month---the enforced ride-sharing that this
imposed was the only reason for Larry and Jarrow to be traveling together---but
no cop was going to let a chance go by of grubbing for other morsels too. Larry
passed out the wallet containing his operators license, owners registration,
road-tax receipt, insurance certificates, vehicle-inspection certificate, environmental-compliance
certificate, metropolitan area usage permit, medical statement detailing blood
type, drug allergies, and current treatments, and whistled silently to himself
while the trooper scrutinized them. From Larrys other side, Jarrow watched
the blue-chinned mouth framed by the window, bunching in a grim, down-turned
line and snorting as each document failed to show a fault. Larry glanced across
and winked confidently.
The trooper fished a compad from one of his tunic pockets and punched in the
registration, but he was already scowling in anticipation of the clear of
violations response that appeared on its screen a moment later. He backed
off a couple of paces and stood, fists clenched on hips, surveying the vehicle
from end to end.
That wheels wearing low. Theres vibration at the rear end. Get
your bearings looked at."
"Yep, reckon Ill just do that."
"On your way."
"You have a nice day too." They moved on through, speeding up and
staying to the right to continue south, skirting the downtown area of Minneapolis.
Larry waved to indicate the direction ahead, in which the limousine had disappeared.
"You know, there was a time when everyone who had the money could own a
machine like that. Now you have to convince some bureaucrat that youve
got the need. Why the hell should it be someone elses business?"
Jarrow sighed. "Oh, come on. You know how it was with those gasoline burners."
Everyone knew how it had been. Why did Larry have to ask pointless questions
all the time?
"Well, Im not so sure about that, Dick," Larry said. "I
know a guy who used to be an engineer in the business. He says that ten percent
dirty cars caused fifty percent of the problem. All they needed was a tune-up.
It could have been fixed for peanuts compared to what they spent tearing thee
industry apart. So maybe it wasnt the way everyone gets told, either."
They were passing Loring Park. An exit sign ahead indicated Groveland. Jarrow
leaned forward in his seat and pointed, glad of the chance to drop the subject.
"Thats it. This one coming up now. Stay over on the inside. We need
to go right at the first intersection."
"There at the light?"
The light changed to red as they approached. Larry grunted and eased to a halt.
He drummed his fingers on the wheel, humming tunelessly to himself, then glanced
across at Jarrow while they waited. Jarrow stared ahead, waiting for him to
pick up the theme again, but Larry read his mood and decided for once to leave
it at that. For him simply to remain silent, however, was too much to hope for.
"What is it that you need to see this doc for---just a checkup or something?
If its not personal."
"No thats okay. . . . Its a neural thing. Not anything wrong,
really. More just something theyre curious about---some kind of irregularity
in the brainwave pattern, to do with the sleep rhythms." Jarrow shook his
head. "I dont really understand it myself."
"Is it anything to worry about?"
"Theyre not sure. Apparently, its a new area theyre
just getting into. Theres a theory that it could trigger unconscious stress
patterns and affect all kinds of other things. Thats why theyre
Larry grinned as the light changed, and they moved off again. "You see,
Dick. Its what Ive been telling you all along: You take life too
seriously. Try easing up a little."
"So now its medical advice, as well, eh? Youre an M.D. as
well, all of a sudden?" Jarrow hadnt meant to sound that sarcastic.
Really, he was reproaching himself for being more forthcoming with detail than
was called for, as if he needed to justify himself.
But if Larry noticed, it didnt show. "Just a detached but perspicacious
observer of life. . . . Anyhow, it didnt cost you a nickel. Where do we
"Straight on past the trees. . . . Its one of the houses now, the
green one with the laurel. . . Okay, thisll do fine."
The car pulled up in the service lane, separated from the road by a strip of
grass. Its two occupants made a contrasting pair: Larry younger by at least
ten years, easygoing and relaxed with his collar-length yellow hair, and dressed
casually in a fleece-lined jacket and wool sweater against Minnesotas
April cold; Jarrow in a black overcoat with collar and tie, trimmed mustache,
hair graying at the temples. Jarrow felt that working for the State was to represent
the State, with a duty to project an appropriate image. Larrys kind didnt
worry about things like that.
"Need a ride into the school later?" Larry asked as Jarrow was getting
out. "I have to go into town at lunchtime on an errand. I could detour
this way if you like."
"Its okay. I can catch the Mono."
"Wouldnt be any trouble."
"No, Ill be fine. Besides, Im not really sure how long its
likely to take. . . Er, thanks."
"Okay. See you around later, then. Oh, and Ill catch you later this
afternoon sometime for that book."
"Book? Oh, yes, sure." Jarrow had promised to let Larry have a book
that he still had out from the staff library.
The car pulled away, and Jarrow turned toward the house. Larry was young and
headstrong, but really not so bad inside, he told himself. He had been wondering
if a quiet word with Irwin Shafer, the principal of Linden Junior High, about
some of Larrys indiscretions wouldnt be out of place. But on reflection,
as he came to the end of the path and stopped at the door, he decided against
it. It was something that could keep until another day. He extended a finger
and pressed the bell push beside the engraved brass plate reading: DR. M.R.
VALSHEIM, M.D., PH.D., M.A.P.A., M.I.P.N. CONSULTANT NEUROPHYSIOLOGIST.