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It was at this time of the year . . .

As the two exquisitely tailored men looked out the great window to the valley below, even now a few yellow leaves dotting the beautiful Vermont countryside on this still, hot August morning, the one in the black three-piece suit, Henry Ross, spoke next.

“It says, she is mentally ill and dangerous, her modus operandi is to walk around naked, and to report her at once.”

The man in the grey suit, Dean Jorgon, said, “Can I see it?”

“No, I don’t have a copy. Deniability, you know.”

The Dean wrinkled his chin. Then looked out the window and sighed, noticing the perfectly pruned row of trees on the campus green. “And you sent this out to where?”

“We faxed it to towns in southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, along the same interstate that’s near Brian Cook’s gallery. It is logical that she would begin to head east along that road.”

“Quite a longshot, isn’t it, thinking that faxing this to post offices and police departments would work?”

“It’s not as unlikely as it seems. I think a naked girl would attract attention. It’s very possible that people who see the fax would have heard about the naked girl, or vice versa. We might well get some calls, enough to begin our investigation.”

“So whom do they contact?”

“The fax has a fictitious psychiatrist name out of Chalfont and a number that’s connected to an answering machine in an empty office somewhere on campus.”

Jorgon showed the trace of a smile. “You won’t tell me where?”

“No.” Ross, too, had a trace of a smile. “The answering machine has a neutral announcement. And caller I.D. just in case. If someone asks questions we can just stage a fake investigation into it and call it a prank by persons unknown.” Now Ross turned to face Jorgon. “Percy, I think this is a good way to find her and flush her out. She’s smart enough to know that a naked girl alone is in a lot of danger. The first thing she’s going to do is go to the police or walk into a public building. And bingo.”

“The police or whoever call us with their story and we finally catch her rejecting nudism?”

“Exactly.”

Jorgon’s brow furrowed. “Henry, we’re putting out a written communication calling her a nut. Isn’t that libel?”

Ross shrugged dismissively. “I doubt very much she’ll ever see the bulletin. Besides, her parents are probably too stupid and uneducated to know any of the right lawyers. And they’d have to sue in Arizona or wherever the fax was posted. Even if they were, uh, sophisticated, I doubt they have the dollars to bring a lawsuit out there.”

Jorgon sighed again and his shoulders slumped. “So -- to go through this again -- she didn’t crack, not even in the middle of that . . . exhibition.”

“No.”

“I’m not comfortable with these tactics, Henry.”

“It’s for her own good. She doesn’t want nudism any more than we do.” Ross tried hard to feign a tender tone. “Her being without clothing is very bad for her, besides being very bad for us.”

Jorgon was deep in thought. “I offered her clothes. And she said no.”

“She had every reason to think it was a trick.”

“True.” Another pause. “I’m getting very tired of this whole thing, Henry.”

“This is our last ditch effort. I don’t want to state the obvious, but the situation is out of our hands. You realize what’s going to happen in September the minute she steps foot on campus.”

The Dean smirked mordantly. “If it’s a BARE foot, that is.”

The two men looked out the window silently.

Finally Jorgon shook his head quickly as if shaking off a bad dream. He reached under his vest to adjust his belt and sat down behind his big oak desk. “That was some buffet at Brignon’s book party last night.”

Ross nodded. “I stuffed myself on that shrimp.”

“Me, I filled up on the turkey.” Jorgon rounded his finger under his white starched collar. “Goodness, it’s hot in here. What happened to the air conditioning?”

Henry Ross shrugged amiably, pulled out a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his own forehead, and looked out the window with an inscrutable expression.

. . . .

At the same moment this conversation was taking place, three time zones to the west a naked 19-year-old girl crouched and shivered on the dirty tar paper roof of a diner, watching the rising sun with hollowed-out eyes.

She had been unable to sleep through the freezing night. Besides being naked and cold and exhausted, she was dirty and hungry. She hadn’t eaten in almost two days. Hugging her knees to her chest, looking down at her gritty, dirty toes, she tried to stop the shivering but just couldn’t. In fact she was on the verge of hypothermia, the temperature having hovered around 45 degrees Fahrenheit all night.

She felt the urge to cry again but she had no more tears left in her -- just the dull sad sense that this really was the end. She went over her situation again in her fogged mind. She knew now that she had not been expelled from college -- not yet. But the choices before her were stark, as stark as her nudity. She could lurk through the world as a naked girl, alone and vulnerable in a world full of rapists, not being able to go to the police. Or she could run in crisis to the authorities, and then -- ? There was a nationwide manhunt for her. She would be medicated and committed to a mental hospital. Maybe never to come out. She remembered a dream she had once, about Henry Ross having her committed for the rest of her life, 60 years or more, naked and crazy.

She could call her parents, or Rod, but how could they help her? Not while she was way out here, thousands of miles away. And it would upset them. She loved them very much and didn’t want to hurt them. She had to get back to them on her own. But how?

The diner had just opened. The naked girl’s nostrils flared as she smelled the eggs and potatoes cooking below. In her misery she waddled forward a couple of steps, looking at people coming and going, clothed, warm, fed. And here she was up above, having to stay out of sight, naked and freezing and dirty and exhausted and hungry. Surely God couldn’t have such a fate for her in mind, starving and freezing to death so horribly.

The naked girl looked up at the sun, her eyes exhausted reddened slits, and prayed in whispering tones that shook with her now violent shivering. “P - p - please God - d - d.” She closed her eyes. “W - what p - pur - pose . . . Don’t . . . want . . . t - to d - die. . .”

She kneeled there, eyes closed, as the shivering began to die away and the life started ebbing out of her.

“Rebecca!!”

It was the hoarse voice of a construction worker. Tami stiffly leaned forward to look. A tough-looking woman of about 40 came out to meet him, she wearing a hard hat too. “I see your diet went to hell again, Travis.” Travis set down a bag of take-out on the wood crate below. “What’s taking Bill so long?” They both went inside.

The aroma of scrambled eggs, coffee, and home fries wafted up to the hiding naked girl. Her eyes opened wide. Seeing she had only seconds to act, she jolted herself and her cold stiff bones into action. Tough, dirty bare feet hit the crate, and the bag disappeared upward.

Tami apologized to the construction worker in her heart, then quaked with relief as she silently opened the bag and grabbed the plastic fork and started wolfing down the omelet, the toast with margarine, the home fries with bell peppers and onions, the coffee. This guy was a big eater, had ordered a big meal. Life returned to her, she felt warm again. She heard the three workers come out and wonder what happened to Travis’s lunch, looking around and around, seeing no one in the vicinity, finally after ten minutes concluding that a raccoon must have made off with it. Travis ordered another breakfast and the three were soon gone in their county pickup truck. By this time the naked girl was smiling and lying on her back, not minding the pebbles scraping her butt cheeks, rubbing her full tummy, feeling the caffeine do its work. Though the temperature had hardly risen much, she felt warm right down to her toes.

Tami looked over to the sun and saw that it was rising over a patch of cactus. Saguaro cactus, with fruit where flowers had been. She remembered from her wild plants course that saguaro fruit was edible!

“God, you have given me life again. I know my purpose now. I will use all my wits and all my strength in Your loving protection. I WILL find clothes and make it home safe to the people I love! I WILL!”

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