To avoid any undue attention, he decided to take a circuitous route across rural roads far off the standard maps, one he had experimented with years ago while exploring the countryside. As his Mustang left the truck stop’s driveway, Ray noticed another black car starting up and quietly turning in the same direction. He smiled; glad to see that these NSA folks were going by the book that he knew all too well. It would make it easier to lose them before he finally reached Gonzales.

Instead of returning to the main highway, Ray headed onto a dirt road in the opposite direction. The black vehicle swerved around and followed him.

Ray turned again and headed back toward the highway. He passed the black vehicle as he sped behind the truck stop. It took a few seconds before his pursuers reacted, but when they did, it wasn’t a pretty sight. The vehicle spun wide this way and that on the dirt road and kicked up a fair amount of sand in its wake.

Once underway, the car followed Ray out of the truck stop, past the on-ramps to the highway, and proceeded under a highway bridge. The black vehicle slowly began accelerating.

Ray had been watching the clumsy maneuvers carefully and laughed to himself. He revved the classic V-8 engine in his Mustang, which he had tweaked up considerably in recent weeks, and floored the gas pedal. To the onlooker, Ray’s car looked like an old wreck with a dented body and torn upholstery, but it was packed full of the latest technological gadgets, plus a few electronic gizmos based on his loose interpretation of future technology. He had added them in the last few months when he feared that NSA agents might track him when it finally came time to return to Area 51.

However, he was surprised that the black vehicle matched his pace. Within minutes, it almost caught up with Ray, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before it was running neck and neck; an obvious attempt to flee wouldn’t look very good.

Ray’s heart pounded faster and faster as the black vehicle came closer. He made one last attempt to increase his speed, but the Mustang was already going as fast as it could. Finally, he saw what he was hoping for and slowed down as the road swung around and headed northeast. He breathed slowly for a few seconds in an attempt to attain the state of calm he needed and accelerated to top speed. His car shot forward, completely confounding his watchdogs.

About 30 seconds later, he tossed his car around the bend, watching in his rear-view mirror as the black vehicle struggled vainly to react in time.

Ray observed the black car careening out of control as it attempted the sharp turn. Within seconds, the vehicle plowed right into an old barn, coming to a stop right in the middle of a pile of hay. Soon the coughing, gasping agents stumbled out of the car, cursing the twilight sky and shaking their fists at him.

Seeing that they didn’t appear to be injured, Ray simply laughed and continued on his way. His magical lucky streak – well maybe it wasn’t that magical — had saved him for the second time today. Next time he didn’t expect to be so fortunate.

* * *

Night had fallen by the time Ray arrived at the home of Gonzales’ friend. He parked the car in front of the house, a rather shabby, rundown structure and rushed inside, where his friend was sitting on a couch looking impatiently at his watch. The old soldier seemed ageless, with only a few wrinkles around his mouth to betray his advancing years. He was clean-shaven, bespectacled, with thinning gray hair. Yet in contrast to his own sloppy appearance, Ray didn’t miss the fact that Gonzales’ slender frame was neatly tucked into a dark, smart suit and tie, looking not unlike a senior NSA agent, one clearly accustomed to command.

He deliberately ignored Ray for a moment that seemed like an eternity before acknowledging his presence.

“You’re late, Captain Perkins,” Gonzales said sternly, but with a wink.

“I’m sorry, sir.” Ray saluted, with a wink of his own, while still trying to catch his breath. “But I had to use that detour to get here. I’m surprised I made it here before midnight.”

“Ah, ran into your NSA friends again?”

“Yeah, but I took care of them in spades this time.”

“You should know better than to say that, Ray. You know, they’ll be back on your ass in no time.”

Ray smiled. “I know, but by the time they return, with luck, I’ll have the new car and I’ll be far away from here.”

Gonzales smiled back. “Well, if you want to get it tonight, we better start talking about prices and options. My friend’s wife packed us dinner so we can eat on the way.” Ray hadn’t had a meal since scarfing down a low-carb bagel with nonfat cream cheese that morning. His stomach told him he was starving.

Over Gonzales’ protests, he donned his twenty-third century garb and placed the wristview on his left arm. Ray grabbed his overnight bag as Gonzales shut the door behind them. Since Ray’s Mustang remained a target, they headed to Gonzales’ vintage Mercedes 220D diesel.

The lovingly restored car started up like an old truck and it took its sweet time to accelerate before speeding into the darkness.

Soon Ray was gobbling down rolls, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and to top it all off, a luscious piece of apple pie for dessert. He ate so much so quickly that he was left with a rather groggy feeling. He dozed off just minutes after the last bite of apple pie.

* * *

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