"The Old Man's been under a lot of pressure over the Lizard incident," Jones explained. "There are really only two families that are making the noise but it creates more turmoil than you can imagine."
Foster sat with Jones in the hidden retreat and looked at the pale blue sky and squinted at the brilliance of the day.
"I don't know what else they think he should have done," he replied at length.
"He had to balance the realities of calling in outside help with the needs of the entire group."
"Some accuse him of playing 'lifeboat' -- picking who will die to preserve the group as a whole."
"That's ridiculous! If I know anything about the Old Man, he would have tossed the secrecy of the community out instantly if there was any real benefit to calling in help," Foster returned.
Jones nodded. "I think so, too. Anyway, the two families are going to be leaving. Fortunately, neither of them are among those who could actually identify our location -- they've promised not to say anything anyway. And I'm sure they are being straight. They just can't handle the risks, they say. We are supplying them with new identities -- sort of a reverse collector's job."
"So when are they leaving?"
"The Old Man -- as you know -- has agreed to your leaving on your mission, so they will leave when you do. Minimizes the risk. Interestingly enough, Foster, Russ and Cathy have decided to stay on despite Lizard's injuries," Jones replied.
Foster looked again at the quiet skies and surroundings. He thought of how he would miss the solitude once he had gone. Two more days , he thought.
Foster packed his tote bag as it stood on the end of his cot. His transportation back to the outer world would arrive soon. It had taken several weeks, but the Old Man finally agreed to send him out to the collectors. In the intervening time, Foster's journal of his near miss with the psychological gulags, his slaying of the young Ridley, and his flight from the authorities had stirred an uproar back in the Seattle area and the entire Northwest.
The stamp collection had been placed in the vault next to the volume of modern history that he had written. Foster saw no use in trying to continue the collection and there was even certain historical significance to the year-by-year addition of commemorative stamps which he had collected. They belonged in the vault.
As he had promised the Old Man, Foster packed a small Bible in his kit. Beside it, he slid in another small volume that the Old Man had also supplied containing pieces and separate quotes from Malcolm Muggeridge. But as he put it away, he noticed the edge of a small yellow sheet marking a page. His curiosity drove him to retrieve the book and open it to the marker. A small red dot was carefully placed before a single, short paragraph. Foster read it and almost laughed aloud.
"There is a funny book to be written about becoming a Christian in the late 20th century," wrote the cynical, sarcastic journalist. "The comedy arises from the prevailing assumptions that there must be some extraneous circumstance, such as senility or the fear of death, for so outmoded and reactionary a step."
How very Muggeridge, Foster thought as he chuckled and continued his packing. And perhaps , very Foster , he added to himself.
A tapping came at the door.
"Come in," he called dropping in several pairs of socks. The tall figure of Jones peeked around the door.
"Thought I'd come by and get my own farewells in," he grinned.
"I would have been disappointed if you didn't, my friend," Foster said. "You -- maybe even more than the Old Man -- you, I'm going to miss."
"I brought you a little something as a momento," Jones said sheepishly as he handed the older man a package.
"Want me to open it now?" Foster asked."Yeah, go ahead," Jones answered.Foster pulled the string off from around the brown paper covering. It was definitely a book judging by its shape and weight. When the paper was removed, there was a compact hardbound copy of Confessions of Augustine.
"I figured that it all started from there, and you might want to have a copy around."
Foster was speechless. It was appropriate for him to carry the volume with him while he did his work. Emotion welled up and he took Jones' hand in both of his.
"Thanks," he croaked.
The rest of his packing took only minutes and both of them left the cell to the central corridor leading out to the desert floor. On the way, the Old Man met them and accompanied them as they went.
"Looks like high adventure awaits, Foster," the Old Man said. "Like the old stories of the young man off to find his fortune."
"Only this is more like the old man off to lose his head," Foster replied with a smirk. "Still, I may find the 'wicker gate' on this trek, if you get my meaning."
The Old Man grinned and nodded.
Jones only looked perplexed.
"An 'in' joke," Foster added looking at Jones.
Outside the sky was mostly clear with a few frail tissues of clouds being ripped across the blue by the jetstream. A vaguely familiar van waited with its side doors open.
Another blind ride, Foster thought.
He tossed his bag inside and turned to face his two friends.
"I guess this is it, huh? I've decided to work primarily in the South and the Midwest. My first stop is Missouri -- I have some contacts there that I believe will be safe -- and even sympathetic."
"We'll be praying for you," Jones said. "That's probably the closest thing to contact we'll have."
"Yeah, It's not like I can write letters or anything."
"I'm sure you'll do fine," the Old Man said. "I just finished reading your manuscript yesterday. A fine job -- it will be a great contribution to our library. I only wish you could stick around and do some more."
Lizard came from the cave and leaped upon Foster's neck. There were tears in his eyes.
"G'bye, Mr. Foster," he said. He sped off back to the cave as quickly as his hobble would permit.
Foster saw the van's driver anxiously eyeing him. "I think it is time to go off into the night so I'll just say good-bye," he said to the Old Man.
He turned, climbed into the van, and slammed the door. The engine hummed to life and soon all that remained was a distant dust cloud rounding the rocks at the valley's end.
Jones shook his head.
"Missouri, huh? Pretty strange place to start. I wonder where he'll end up?"
The Old Man smiled. "Oh, I suppose he'll end up in Celestial City."
As they watched the dust settle Major Marty ran up. Huffing, he said, "A buggy's missing -- and we found this."
In his hand was an opened anklet once worn by Sears.