Mr and Mrs Joe yawned at the same time. The series of flights had been long and arduous; more so the rushed packing they had done in the days just leading up to the journey, and the moving of their stuff into the two large container-trucks, scheduled to arrive at their new home later in the week. Now at last, after having been cooped up for so long in airports and planes, it felt good to be in a car again.
In the back seat of the vehicle, the fourteen year old boy with the unusual name sat quietly, looking out the window at the morning sun and lamenting his predicament. He lamented having moved again and thought about the friends he’d just left behind back in Libby.
“Bubble,” boomed the voice from the driver’s seat. The man behind the wheel looked at his son through the rear view mirror, “You okay back there?”
“Yes, I’m fine Dad,” replied the boy, looking back at his dad in the mirror. Then he turned his attention outside again and continued to daydream.
Then, up out of the two-hour-long-uninterrupted profile of snow-covered pine trees, the makings of a city began to peer over the horizon. Mrs Joe beamed and pointed in its direction. “Hey, Bubble; look! It’s Hallan.”
Bubble gazed out through the windows at the dark early morning silhouettes of mini-skyscrapers and smaller buildings, surrounded by a beautiful band of steep snow-covered hills. A very beautiful sight it was indeed, but Bubble didn’t take much note of it; for his mind was preoccupied with another town far away.
Bubble Joe was the only child of his parents, Bob and Martha. Now, the nature of the two parents’ jobs had meant that the little family had travelled quite extensively and moved house several times—precisely five times in the last four years. Each move had its implications and consequences for Bubble. They had not lived anywhere long enough for Bubble to have a stable childhood and make long-lasting friendships; except maybe for Libby, the last place they had lived and from where they had just come. There, they had stayed the longest, a whole year and a half.
After a year, Bubble had just started getting used to the place and, happily, actually managed to make a handful of decent friends. It had been too good to be true, though, as this was cut short by both his parents’ coinciding transfers to the new offices of the company they both worked for, in the city of Hallan in New York State.
And so, they were moving once again. Yes indeed, once again Bubble had packed all his things. It usually didn’t take him long to do this, for having gotten used to the family’s nomadic routine, he always had his belongings well organised and easy to pack up in the event of the odd announcement to move. In Libby, however, he had finally come to believe they would stay for a long time and so he had settled in completely, therefore packing was not as easy this time, and was all the more painful. Also, it was right after school broke for the holidays, meaning he wouldn’t even be able to spend Christmas with his friends.
Now, the city of Hallan; dominating the horizon, was coming ever closer, and with it was coming the future; new people, a new house, a new school …
Bubble wondered how long it would take him this time to settle into school and find new friends. He wondered what kind of future awaited them in this snow-laden city, and how long or brief it would be before they had to move and start all over again.
But he did have to admit; the name of the city had a nice ring to it. Hallan.
The man driving the black Ford Explorer yawned, tired from his hectic movements in the two last days. Alone, keeping his watchful eyes fixed on the white Jeep Cherokee two cars ahead, he drove deftly, exhausted and tired, with adrenaline still running through his veins, for now he had no idea where he was headed and where this ride would stop. He had been forced into this assignment only a few days ago, to take over from a very weary agent, codenamed Julius, who had been on this stalking and surveillance assignment for years. He had hoped for a smooth operation and to quickly carry out his primary objectives but, in an unforeseen turn of events, on the very same day he arrived to take over the watch, he found that the little family was packed and leaving.
A few days before his arrival, his predecessor, Julius, had had to vacate his watch early due to serious and unexplained circumstances, thus all the commotion of the family’s move must have happened right after Julius left. Therefore no one back at headquarters knew what was going on—that the family was moving. Had he come just a day later, like he had initially planned, he would have missed them altogether and been in a big mess. Quickly he had had to alter his plans and, without unpacking his stuff into the house opposite them, followed the family to the airport, having no idea where in the world they were going.
The previous day, Monday the 22nd of December 2014, on arriving in Libby, he took a quick drive by the family Joe’s house to familiarize himself with the layout of the neighbourhood. On reaching their street, Utah Avenue, he was shocked to see the two large container trucks pulling out of the large driveway and the father of the house packing suitcases into the back of the silver Dodge Ram parked outside the garage, while a kid threw a small carrier bag into the back seat and got himself into the truck. They were in a hurry.
In a split second his quick mind processed and assimilated what was going on, and in another split second, he changed his plans to accommodate this new development. He drove very slowly towards the end of the avenue, while he watched through his rear-view mirror for the Dodge Ram. Finally, a minute later, he saw the beautiful truck pull out onto the street some distance behind him and dash off in the opposite direction from him. Now, with finesse characteristic of his profession, and in one continuous flow of body movements from his cockpit, he screeched his beige Nissan Titan around on the narrow street without stopping and then, with a roar of the animal of an engine, he accelerated to catch up with the swift 4x4, which he knew had very special cargo aboard.
Arriving at Kalispell City Airport in the little city of Kalispell, thirty minutes’ drive from the town of Libby, he followed the little family of three into the terminal and walked close behind, not wanting to take the chance of losing them at all. He was all over them and if they had been in less of a rush they surely would have noticed him stalking them, but then the family was very preoccupied and the young boy sulked, looking down the whole time while his parents rushed along. It was obvious that they were definitely late to catch a plane.
They stopped at a check-in counter and their stalker rushed to stand right behind them. He had to be close in order to hear where they were going and then to book the same flight.
“JFK,” said the Missus to the check-in attendant, while her husband attended to the bags, placing them on the little carousel rolling by next to the attendant.
“Ah, planning a nice Christmas back in New York, eh? Going to meet family?” the pleasant and interested attendant asked. The equally pleasant Missus replied, “No. Actually, we’re moving to Hallan. Job transfer. We don’t have any family there.”
The check-in lady glanced down at the sad little boy, looked back up at his mum and began to type on the keyboard of her PC, while talking. “It must be hard having to move with a family and readjust to a new place, new people and a new school for the kid.
“It has its ups and downs. It definitely is an adjustment.”
“But Hallan… hmm. I hear it’s a swell place; I am sure you will have a wonderful stay there. You know, there’s a popular saying going round that once you stay in Hallan for a year, it is very hard to move out.”
“Here are your tickets Ma’am.” And she stared at the kid again, looking into his sad brown eyes, and then looked back to his mum again. “I wish y’all well.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Have a nice flight. You’ll have to hurry though, the gate’s almost closing.”
The family left the front of the little queue that had just formed behind them, started quickly for the boarding gate to their already late flight and immediately the pleasant check-in attendant had to jump back, startled as a nervous man rushed forward a little too fast.
“Hey, slow down Mister,” she said in her dragged out tone, with a smile. “And where are you heading to, Sir?”
“Ah, I see. You’re going to have a merry Christmas in New York City, eh?”
“New York City? No. I’m going to Hallan.”