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6.


Point Judith, Rhode Island. 7:21 P.M.

Luke Peterson was a retired printer. His wife was twenty years dead, and his kids were scattered around the country. He owned a spacious brick home in Point Judith, with a lovely view of the sea. He had wide lawns and a paved driveway and plenty of room for his grandchildren, who loved the place and arrived in flocks every summer. He'd come to the ocean when he lost his wife, bought the property for $110,000. Now it was worth three-quarters of a million, and he wouldn't have been able to afford to keep it except that he was over seventy and there was a special provision in the tax law to protect homeowners against runaway real estate values. He'd run the print shop out of it for ten years, had published commercial and tourist flyers, and done various custom jobs, business cards, stationery, whatever. It'd been a nice living, but he'd gotten bored with it. Life was too short to spend in a print shop, and when he was able to close it, he did.

Luke had invested well, so money wasn't a problem. He played pinochle Wednesdays, and attended a great books club on the second Monday of the month. (They were reading Marcus Aurelius for the May meeting.) He played golf two or three days a week, as the mood hit him; and he usually ate lunch with a few guys from the Rotary. The Lunch Bunch, they called themselves.

He still got lonely. He missed Ann, and most days the house was quieter than he liked. But he'd adjusted reasonably well. She wouldn't have stood for his moping around and feeling sorry for himself, and he did what he could to follow the advice she'd written on the last birthday card she'd sent him, to treat life like an overripe grapefruit, and get all the juice out of it he could.

So he watched the TV reports with interest and a little trepidation. (Fear was part of the grapefruit, too.) But the ocean looked reassuringly calm and flat. Pennsylvania Turnpike, northwest of Philadelphia. 7:33 P.M.

The traffic, which had moved sporadically for three hours, had now stopped altogether. State police channels reported that the turnpike was a parking lot all the way out to Valley Forge.

The convoy had long since dissolved. Archie could see four company trucks strung out behind him. The rest were gone, swallowed somewhere in the crush.

"Claire," he asked, "do you know what the justification was for building the interstate highway system?"

She had no idea.

"Eisenhower said he wanted to be able to move troops quickly from one place to another. In case of invasion."

She looked around at the gridlock and smiled. "There were fewer cars then."

Pickups, station wagons, vans, all were loaded with cartons and blankets and kids. Furniture was piled on top. Lamps stuck out windows, and trunk lids were tied down atop chairs. Archie had been in the Caucasus during peacekeeping operations, when local strongmen had tried to eliminate minority ethnic groups and the Turks hadn't cooperated in the rescue. He remembered people on the roads, headed south and east, away from the killing zones. There had been a lot of cars, and the roads were decent. Not the Pennsylvania Turnpike, certainly. But there was something in this automotive crush that reminded him of those frightened multitudes.

Something.

Maybe the kids huddled in the back seats; and scared drivers getting out to push stalled cars off the road; and even occasional gunfire. In the Caucasus it had been snipers posted along the highways. Here he didn't know what it was.

Ahead, a blinker rotated slowly on a cruiser, but the cops were as helpless as everybody else.

Old cars were overheating or running out of gas. Electrics were exhausting their batteries. The Pine River trucks had been charged before leaving the plant. But even they would not get through the night.

"How you doing, Claire?"

She shrugged. They were inching past an off-ramp. It was. loaded with vehicles trying to exit. There was an extra lane of traffic along the shoulder, but it wasn't moving either.

He'd tried several times to reach Susan on his cell phone. But the circuits must have been jammed and he couldn't get through. The roads were probably bad everywhere. He thought about her trying to navigate I-287 around New York, and regretted having encouraged her to go. "These people are crazy," he said finally.

She grinned. "We're out here with them."

"Yeah. But we're being paid."



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