The Terrorist Plot at Gopherville by Steve Bartholomew - HTML preview
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Chapter One – The Dead Body..... Page 1. Chapter Two – Faustus................ Page 11. Chapter Three – In Gopherville.... Page 21. Chapter Four – Dead Rock.......... Page 43. Chapter Five – Octavia................ Page 65. Chapter Six - Blizzard................ Page 111. Chapter Seven – Hail to the Chief Page 163.
Chapter the First the
Bradshaw was on his usual early morning search for road kill when he found the wreck.
It was a lovely spring morning, with plants about to blossom and deer running in the woods. Only two days before, Bradshaw had found a treasure, enough meat to keep him fed for weeks. It was a young doe, not fully grown, small enough to carry home on his shoulders in one piece, but with plenty of fat. The guts he had fed to Melchizidek the Cat. The hide he had stretched out and scraped dry for tanning; the meat that he couldn’t consume in a day or two was slow-smoked over charcoal. All in all, a profitable and honest day’s work. Oh, of course Bradshaw knew that eating road kill was technically against the law. But then, so were a lot of other things. And there weren’t many cops in this part of the woods. This road was remote enough so there wasn’t much traffic, but people drove fast on it, especially tourists headed for ski lifts. Bradshaw patrolled the road for a mile or two every three or four days. There was hardly a time he didn’t find something edible. Certainly, he preferred to take stuff before the buzzards found it, which was why he got out before dawn. In the winter he didn’t find as many animals, but what he did find lasted longer.
And then, he often ran across stuff besides edibles. Every now and then, something good would fall off a truck, or somebody would drop something out a car window. Over time, he had constructed a whole other room on his cabin with lumber he’d found on the road, pieces of plywood, two-by-fours, even sheet-rock. Early on a spring day, on a country road, you just never know what you’ll find.
This was Tuesday, or at least he thought it was, he didn’t really keep track. When he came around the bend at the bottom of the hill, he saw the wrecked car. This wasn’t the first time he had encountered wrecks. Usually they were just fender-benders. People drove fast on this road. Two years before, he had saved the lives of a couple tourists by riding his bicycle into town to call an ambulance.
This was the first time he had found someone dead.
There was only one vehicle: a late model BMW, piled up against a tree. hardly dented. driver’s side, he saw the dead driver. He was sitting up straight, head back, hands in his lap, eyes wide open. There was blood all over. Bradshaw noticed the collapsed air bag in the man’s lap. He wondered what had caused all the damage. Then he noticed the bullet holes in the door.
Bradshaw looked all around, taking his time. There were bullet holes in the side, and several in the roof. One of them had gone down through the roof of the car into the man’s head. Strange. He tried the car door: It opened, unlocked. The man was middle aged, wearing a sport coat, slacks, no tie. Good quality clothes, expensive shoes. Bradshaw went The front end didn’t look too bad, in fact But as Bradshaw came up around the through the man’s pockets. The only thing he found was a wallet. It contained several credit cards, a driver’s license, some cash. Bradshaw pocketed the cash without bothering to count it.
“Don’t guess you’ll be needing that,” he remarked. The license said the man’s name was Mark Tiller. There was one other item – a blue card laminated in plastic with Tiller’s picture and fingerprint. It identified him as an employee of some outfit called Faustus Laboratories, Inc. The card had a magnetic strip down one edge. Bradshaw put the wallet, minus cash, back in Tiller’s pocket.
“That you, Oscar?” he said, having just heard a familiar clearing of throat behind him. He turned around. Oscar was standing there watching him. Oscar rarely spoke, unless he had something really important to say.
Oscar was a gnome. He usually wore brown-colored bib overalls and work boots. His black beard hung to his waist. Sometimes he carried a hammer or a pick. One day he had followed Bradshaw home from the old mine shaft up in the hills. He had been hanging around ever since. His head came up to about Bradshaw’s chest.
“Tell you what we’re going to do,” Bradshaw said. “There’s no point in getting the Sheriff all upset about this. But this fellow does deserve a decent burial. So we’re gonna go on back to the cabin and fetch Bozo.” Bozo was the mule.
“We’re gonna take this poor fella up on top of the hill and bury him right. I’ll even make him a little head stone that will say, ‘Mark Tiller, RIP.’ How’s that sound?
“But before I do that, I’m gonna bring Bozo back here, hitch up the car, and tow it on up to the barn. You know that Mr Samuel Goody, down in town? No, I forgot, you hardly ever go in town. Anyhow, Sam buys good used auto parts from me, stuff I find on the road. I bet he gives me twenty bucks easy for the stereo. I think I can get ten for just the ignition module. I’m gonna take that vehicle apart and sell her one piece at a time. No point in letting her go to waste, is there? Why, I can winch out the engine block and have Bozo haul that into town on the donkey cart.
“Now, don’t go giving me that look. It’s not like I’m greedy for money. I don’t even need money. Do I ever buy anything, except clothes at the thrift store now and then? And maybe some books. It’s not the money, it’s just I hate to see things go to waste, and you never know… Oh, forget it.”
Oscar was silently shaking his head. Bradshaw noticed something else just then. A small black object sticking out from under the driver’s seat. He reached down and picked it up, just as he heard the sound.
“Uh-oh.” He knew that sound. A distant clop-clop sound. Helicopter.
“Better make ourselves scarce,” he said to Oscar, but the gnome had already vanished. Bradshaw tucked the black object under his arm and slipped into the woods. He didn’t go far, merely climbing the hillside a ways, until he could conceal himself behind a bush and observe without being seen.
The helicopter came down in the road, in a wide space not far from the wrecked car. The chopper was black and unmarked. Two men got out; they both wore black suits and mirror sunglasses. One of them shouted to the other, across the road:
“Are you sure they got this road shut down?”
“Sheriff swears to it,” the other answered. “There’s not much traffic this time of year anyway. Nobody’s been here.”
After that, the two men stood closer to each other. If they said anything, Bradshaw couldn’t hear. They messed around the wrecked car for awhile, apparently looking for something. They even pulled out the back seat.
After a few minutes, a tow truck pulled in. It was the regular AAA truck that Bradshaw recognized as belonging to Sam Goody.
“Well, not much point in hanging around,” Bradshaw said. He said that to Oscar, but Oscar seemed to be gone. Bradshaw wasn’t quite sure. Sometimes he could see Oscar only out of the corner of his eyes. He shrugged and started up the hill.
* * * *
One of the men from the helicopter was named Carl. He spoke in low tones so the tow truck driver wouldn't overhear.
“I still don't see why you couldn't land last night. We woulda been home by now.”
The other man was named Jim. At least that was the name he used.
“I explained that,” he said. “If I hit an overhead wire or a tree branch in the dark, that's all she wrote.”
Carl glanced overhead.
“I don't see no overhead wires.”
'Yeah, well I didn't know that in the dark. Wires don't always show up in landing lights. Look, I'm the pilot, you're the shooter. You stick to your job, let me do mine, okay?”
Carl got a body bag out of the chopper; Jim helped him zip up the victim.
“The item isn't here. Somebody might have grabbed it before we got here.”
“No way," Jim snorted. “There's nobody out here. Not another house in twenty miles, I checked the database. We had this road closed five minutes after the hit. Road blocks at each end, nobody came in or out. He must have concealed the item somewhere in the car, maybe inside the gas tank or something. We'll find it.”
“Wonder what's so important about it anyway?” They loaded the body into the cargo compartment of the helicopter.
“The item?” Jim said. “Hey, if I told you that, I'd have to kill you. I always wanted to say that. Damn if I know, don't care, don't wanna know. Faustus Labs and Homeland Security both want it back real bad, that's all I know. They'll find it, they'll take the car apart one bolt at a time till they do. Go, take off now. I'm riding back with the tow truck so I can keep an eye on things.”
* * * *
Bradshaw made his way up a concealed deer trail that crossed a path that led up to his barn. He made sure Bozo was happy, then walked around a bit to make sure the critters were not getting into his vegetable garden. Then he went inside his cabin. The cabin had begun life long ago as an Airstream trailer. Then Bradshaw had got hold of some lumber and built a room attached to the front door. Then, later he had built a bigger room onto that one. This room he called his study, or den. With a wood-burning stove, it was the warmest room during the winter. Bradshaw had figured out how to use old newspapers soaked in baking soda as insulation. He was currently working on yet another room, unattached to the others. He was beginning to think of the place as more of a rambling mansion than a cabin.
Bradshaw went into the study, tossing the thing he'd found in the wreck onto his dining table/desk.
Melchizidek was curled atop a bookcase, his favorite perch. He said, “You went off and forgot my breakfast again, Brad.”
Everyone who knew him never called him anything but Brad. His real name was Dr Thomas Aloysius Bradshaw III. Not many knew his first name, and hardly any the Doctor part.
“I know, I know,” he said to the cat. “Give me a break, nobody's perfect. Matter of fact, I'm hungry myself. How about some of that good leftover squirrel stew? Hey, don't complain, if you were living in town you'd be getting canned Kitty Feast every day.”
“Yum,” Melchizidek said.
The stew still smelled edible, so Bradshaw fired up some wood in the stove and put a kettle on to simmer. While it was heating, he told Melchizidek all about what he had seen that morning.
“I don't hear any more helicopters, so that's good. Maybe everything will get back to normal. Tomorrow I'll go look for fresh road kill again.”
“As long as I don't have to start hunting and gathering for the both of us,” the cat remarked. “You'd gobble up more mousies than I could catch in a week.”
“Well, I never had much taste for mousies or small birds, but I see your point.”
They ate in relative silence. Melchizidek never liked conversation during a meal, and Bradshaw preferred reading. He was reading Plutarch again. There were book shelves all along one wall of the den. Most of the books were old, ones he liked to read over and over again. There were also two or three library books, overdue as usual.
Bradshaw gazed out the window and chuckled at something he'd just read in Plutarch. He wondered where Oscar had gone. Maybe back to the mine. He didn't like it when other people were about. At least not most people.
Bradshaw pushed his plate away.
“I'll wash the dishes later,” he told his cat. “After you lick them.” Then he noticed the item lying on the other side of the table. He'd forgotten all about it. Now he picked it up and turned it over in his hands.
It was similar to a wallet, but made of black vinyl, with an airtight flap. On the outside was a white logo with the word Faustus in a circle. Bradshaw pulled open the flap and examined the wallet's contents.
There was only one thing inside, a shiny plastic disk which he recognized as a DVD ROM. Actually, it said that on the label. Handwritten above that were the words, Project Emperor. Bradshaw examined the disk carefully, admiring the way light reflected like a rainbow. Then he replaced it in the envelope.
“We'll have to check this out tomorrow,” he told the cat. “Today we got too many chores.”
Now, anyone meeting Bradshaw for the first time might have leaped to a number of mistaken conclusions. One of them might have been that he was anti-technology. That wasn't it at all. It was just that over time, he'd found he had less and less use for it. Years ago, he'd discovered what a waste of time radio and television are. He didn't have much use for electric lights, because he preferred to go to bed early and get up at dawn. There were no power lines out here anyway. Bradshaw just liked his peace and quiet.
Another wrong impression might have been that Bradshaw was poor. It was just that he didn't think much about money, didn't have much use for it. He still chuckled to himself at remembering the time that social worker had come out to visit him. Nice enough fella, he was. Well dressed, too. He explained to Bradshaw that he was involved in a County anti-poverty program that was getting a lot of money from the Government.
“Now, for example,” he said, “we have this free food program. We could deliver groceries right to your doorstep every week. You wouldn't have to rely on eating road...”
“What sort of groceries, exactly?” Bradshaw asked.
The young man smiled, prepared for the question. He even had a printed list.
“Why, you could get Cheerios or oat meal for breakfast, cholesterol-free egg substitute, pre-cooked bacon, frozen tv dinners, ice cream...”
“I don't have a freezer.”
“Hey, no problem. I can get you a grant for a gaspowered frig. We might even be able to get the power company to run a line out here...”
The young man had mentioned that to qualify, Bradshaw only needed to have a low income and not more than five hundred dollars in the bank.
“Don't have no bank accounts, to speak of” Bradshaw said.
“Excellent.” The young man had begun enumerating additional benefits he might bring to Bradshaw's life.
“That's a nice suit you're wearing,” Bradshaw interrupted. The young man grinned, obviously pleased.
“Why thanks. I like to dress well, it shows respect for my clients, you see. We could also give you a clothing grant...”
“How much did that suit set you back, if you don't mind my asking?”
The young man brushed imaginary lint from a sleeve of his jacket.
“Well, as a matter of fact, I don't like to mention that sort of thing...”
“You're just about my size,” Bradshaw said. “I'll give you one thousand dollars for it.”
“One grand, a thousand bucks. I'll lend you a pair of overalls you can wear back to town. Deal?”
Bradshaw pulled two crisp new five hundred dollar bills out of his own pocket and dropped them on the table.
It took the young man a while to get over his coughing fit. Bradshaw still chuckled at the memory.
Another mistaken impression a stranger might have was that Bradshaw was ignorant and uneducated. That idea would be extremely wrong. Yet another possible impression might be that Bradshaw was crazy as a loon. In this, our theoretical stranger might possibly be correct.
Early next morning, Bradshaw returned to the road to resume his interrupted search for road kill. However, down the road he noticed a group of ten or fifteen men wearing orange vests walking slowly along the edge of the road, their eyes on the ground. They seemed to be searching for something. Two other men were directing possible traffic.
Bradshaw thought better of his mission. He shrugged. Didn't really need the meat anyway. He didn't think the men had spotted him. He went back up to his cabin. A short time later he returned on his bicycle. He rode past the men in orange vests, waved and smiled. He started on the ten mile ride into town.
At that same moment, early in the morning, there was a meeting taking place deep within the offices of Faustus Laboratories. Anyone driving past the building would have taken it for some minor business office, probably having something to do with accounting or real estate. This would have been a mistaken impression.
“Someone has screwed up royally,” Sylvia, the owner and CEO was saying. The only other person in the room willing to meet her eyes was Babbage, the man from Homeland Security.
“The first screw-up was giving this guy Tiller a security clearance in the first place,” he said.
Sylvia was not intimidated.
“Granted. But he was the inventor of this device. He was the only guy who could make it work. He could have taken it somewhere else.”
“Evidently, he tried to.”
“The point is, what do we do now?”
Sanderson was head of Security for Faustus. He knew his job was on the line.
“We're pretty sure Tiller had the DVD with him at the point our helicopter caught up with him. He wiped out all the files and hard drives before he left his office the other day. That DVD is the only remaining copy of his plans. I've been doing some more checking in the past 24 hours. Tiller had a lot of debts and some shady connections. He was planning to sell that device to the highest bidder. My guess would be al Qaeda.
“Hey, our security here is good. We knew what he was up to practically before he got in his car. His car already had a tracking device. He didn't know that. We give one to all our most important personnel in case of kidnapping, or whatever. We followed the bastard. He didn't stop anywhere for two hundred miles, not till we stopped the car for him. He must have still had it.”
Sanderson looked at Babbage.
“If it wasn't in the car – and I guarantee we tore that vehicle apart down to the last screw – he must have thrown it out the window just before we caught him. Right now I've got men out searching every inch of that stretch of road. If it's there, we'll find it.”
Babbage looked like he needed more coffee.
“And if it's not there? Look, the only reason DHS is involved is that you people have a Government contract. If the device is lost, then the contract is null and void, there's no reason for me to stick around. I just need to make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.” He gave Sylvia a speculative look.
“I'm not supposed to know exactly what this thing is, or what it does. Need-to-know basis, and so on. But tell me this. Just how important do you think this device is?”
Sylvia looked really, really serious.
“It's practically the ultimate crowd control device. It's almost totally non-lethal, but it's guaranteed to disrupt any mass demonstration instantly. It will probably work better on some ethnic groups than others, but then it would work even better in the far north. That's about all I can say, Mr Babbage.”
“I just pray al Qaeda doesn't get their hands on it,” Sanderson said.
All three looked like they needed more coffee. Or something.
* * * *
Bradshaw's first stop in town was at the Post Office. It took him an hour to get there on his bike, but it still wasn't open yet. He sat on a bench out in front, reading a newspaper he had found on the bench. It was the day before yesterday's paper. Gopherville didn't have a very big paper – it only came out three times a week, and was only a few pages. The lead story was about the high school Spring Fling. Bradshaw read every item in the paper, then folded it and tucked it into a coat pocket. It would make good insulation later.
When the P.O. was open, Bradshaw went inside to check his mail box. It was stuffed full as usual. Most of it was junk mail and offers of new credit cards. There was also a statement from his bank in the Cayman Islands, also a letter from someone at the bank offering to manage his investments in a perfectly legal tax shelter. (It was true he had no bank accounts “to speak of,” but he did have some trust funds and cd's and mutual funds, and so on.) Bradshaw shook his head and dropped the whole load of mail in the recycling bin. He supposed sooner or later he would have to do something with all that money. Some worthy charity, if he could think of one. Maybe he should just give it all to the Government and have done with it. They probably needed it more than he did.
Bradshaw was at the front door of the library when it opened. He smiled at Mrs Smithers. She always gave him a strange look, no matter how many times she saw him. But she tolerated him. Bradshaw went straight to one of the computers in the back of the room. There were three of them, set up for public use. People used them to read their e-mail. High school students supposedly used them for research. The computers were not the latest or most powerful models, but one of them was equipped with a DVD drive. Bradshaw went straight to it.
He was the only one in the library, other than Mrs Smithers. That was good, he might need to concentrate. He slid the DVD into the machine. In a few seconds the title came up: Project Emperor.
There were a lot of diagrams, formulae and technical jargon. Bradshaw sat there for an hour, flipping through screens. Every now and then he would nod, or mutter something, such as “Clever,” or “I'll be damned.” He took a few notes on some scrap paper. At some point – Bradshaw didn't notice when – Oscar came in and sat down next to him, watching. Bradshaw suspected that Mrs Smithers couldn't see Oscar. If she did, she chose to ignore him. When it came to avoiding the town, Oscar sometimes made an exception with the library. It was quiet and uncrowded and cool, somewhat like a cavern.
“What do you think?” he asked Oscar. Oscar looked worried, but he merely shrugged.
“Wonder how much it would cost to put this thing together?” Bradshaw asked. Oscar shook his head, as if to say, Don't you go messing with that stuff. But it did look interesting. It was one of the few really new ideas Bradshaw had run across in a long time.
Aside from all the technical information, there was a small video file on the disk. Bradshaw decided not to open it just yet. He didn't want to get Mrs Smithers upset with whatever sound track might be on there. (There was a big sign on her desk that said, Quiet Please. It was an ancient brass plaque.) Besides, Bradshaw wanted to think about what he had been reading. He would save the video for another occasion. Before ejecting the DVD, he selected one other file and saved it on the hard drive as a text file. Then he took the DVD out, replaced it in its wallet, and went up front to Mrs Smithers. She gave him a strange look.
“Now, Mrs Smithers, I know I have some overdue books again, but I promise to get them back to you by next week. You know I'm always happy to pay the fines, exorbitant as they may be. Right now I have two favors to ask. I wonder if you could be imposed upon to keep this wallet for me in a safe place. There's nothing valuable in it, it's not money or jewels. Actually it's just a DVD. I don't have a computer of my own, I'm afraid it might get scratched if I leave it lying around my cabin. I thought if you could just keep it for me in your filing cabinet...”
“All right, Mr Bradshaw, but you know I can't take responsibility...”
“Oh, of course, I understand. I really appreciate your help, Mrs Smithers. The other favor – might I use the printer, for two or three pages?”
“That would be twenty-five cents per page, Mr Bradshaw.”
“Oh, certainly. Here's a dollar, keep the change. I do appreciate your help.”
Mrs Smithers flipped a switch behind her desk that turned on the printer remotely. Bradshaw went back to the computer, brought up the page he had saved, then clicked on Print. Then he deleted the file. When the printer finished humming, he picked up the three pages it had cranked out. The heading was: Parts List.
He smiled at Mrs Smithers.
“Thanks again, Mrs Smithers. Okay, Oscar, let's get out of here.”
Mrs Smithers gave him another strange look.
Before heading back to his cabin, Bradshaw made one other stop. He rode his bike down the street to the Gopherville Computer Shack store, which was owned and run by Danny Williams. Danny dealt with just about all the computer or electronic problems in town. Bradshaw had never before entered the premises with the intention of buying anything, but he liked talking to Danny, who didn't seem to mind.
Today Danny seemed a little distracted. He was surfing the Web, standing up behind his counter.
“Hi, Mr Bradshaw. Say, did you hear about all the commotion in town yesterday?”
“Haven't been in town. What sort of commotion?”
“Oh, well, Sam Goody's tow truck hauled in a car from the road up your way. It was full of bullet holes. Sam's nephew Charles was driving the tow. You know how he likes to talk. He claims two men in black loaded a dead body into a helicopter and then it took off, with one of the guys riding in the tow truck. He says the guy never said a word, except for warning him not to say anything. Charles does tend to exaggerate sometimes. But a lot of people in town saw the car, before a big black van pulled in, loaded it up and drove off. Sheriff Martinez was talking to what looked like some Government men.
“Then these Government guys wandered around town talking to folks, asking if they saw anything unusual. Sam Goody says they ordered him not to talk about the tow job. Martinez isn't talking, he says it never happened. But some high school kids took pictures of the car as it was being towed in. I hear they took the pictures down to the Gopherville Gazette and sold them for fifty dollars. Biggest news that's happened in town since the flood, but it's supposed to be some big secret.”
Bradshaw shook his head.
“Can't keep no secrets in a town like this.”
“Nope. My guess is, it's some kind of mob hit. Either that or Terrorism. Maybe we'll never know.”
“Prob'ly not. Listen, Danny, maybe you could answer a question or two for me. See, I got this idea for a little project. I was doing a little research over at the library and came up with this idea. But I don't know if the parts are actually available. I wonder if you could check out this parts list for me?”
Bradshaw handed over the pages he had printed out. Danny looked them over, then scanned them again.
“Peculiar list, Mr Bradshaw, can't imagine what you've got up your sleeve. Yeah, most of these parts are pretty common, they're used a lot in stereo and tv sets. But this one item – the acoustic klystron. Never heard of that one. Give me a minute, I'll check my parts supply sources.”
Danny turned back to the machine where he had been surfing. He clicked his mouse a few times, then typed in, “acoustic klystron.” Then he raised his eyebrows in mild surprise.
“Yeah, looks like there is such a thing all right. There's only one company that makes them. Looks like it's some kind of specialty item. They don't exactly say what it's for. My guess is, it's one of these proprietary inventions they can't find a use for, so they put it out hoping somebody will want one, and create a demand. You never know, sometimes that works. I can order one for you, if you like. It's only $49.98 plus tax and shipping.”
“Sure, you go ahead and order one, Danny. I'll come back in a couple days to pick it up. You might as well get the rest of the stuff on that list together, too. Thanks, you've been a big help. By the way, what's the name of the company that makes that part?”
“Huh? Oh.” Danny glanced at the monitor. “Never heard of them either. The Faustus Labs.”
Sanderson watched the security videos one more time. He kept hoping to notice some detail he'd missed earlier. He was still shaking from that morning's private meeting with Sylvia. Without Babbage around, she had pulled out all stops. She had, so to speak, ripped him a new one. She seemed to think the loss of Project Emperor was all Sanderson's fault. Or maybe he was just in her line of fire.
On the video monitor, he watched Mark Tiller again, copying files to a DVD. The perp put the DVD into a vinyl case, then inserted another disk into the machine and clicked on “Run.” The other disk was a program that blitzed everything on the hard drive, so thoroughly it was impossible to recover a single file. The machine was networked to a mainframe. The blitz program searched the entire net, found every file related to Emperor, and wiped them. The only remaining record was on the DVD in Tiller's pocket.
Sanderson watched Tiller get up and stroll past the security camera. As he did so, he looked directly at the camera and gave a big smile. The time log on the screen said 11:32 p.m. The security system was good – well, anyway it was pretty good. The act of deleting files from the mainframe had set off a series of security alerts that no one noticed until the next shift came on duty at 1:00 a.m. Then the Acting Chief had to make some phone calls to verify there was actually a security problem. By the time Sanderson knew about it, nearly three hours had gone by. Tiller was already on a highway headed for the State line.
Sanderson watched Tiller as viewed by another camera in the company parking lot, as he got into his car and drove out through the checkpoint. Sanderson could even see the wallet in Tiller's hand, as he opened the car door. Sanderson zoomed in on the image – he could make out the Faustus logo.
The next video was from the helicopter, some time later. By that time, Homeland Security had been notified, but the message hadn't yet got down to the State Highway Patrol. All the chopper could do was follow. If it hadn't been for the tracking device in Tiller's car, they might never have found him. As it was, the satellite tracker knew where he was every minute from the time he started the car.
By the time it might have been possible to set up a roadblock, however, Tiller was up in the hills. In that county, there were only one or two sheriff's deputies on duty to patrol two hundred square miles. Sanderson had decided not to take any chances. He told the chopper to move in and intercept. He had said intercept, not shoot. That was a decision of the field operatives, and probably a stupid one. If Tiller were still alive, he could have been interrogated.
The last video was of Tiller's car swerving off the road and piling into a tree. It would have been too bad if that DVD had burned up in the crash. Emperor would have been lost, but at least it would not have fallen into enemy hands. Now, it was lost – at least for the moment. And it might well fall into enemy hands.
Sylvia had told Sanderson he was a “stupid idiot.” That was about the mildest thing she had said to him.
He ran the last part of the video again, from where Tiller turned off the main highway onto that stretch of road where he was finally stopped. The chopper had been taping the car with a night vision camera, from a high enough altitude that Tiller couldn't possibly notice. It was even flying without lights.
Sanderson believed that if Tiller had tossed the wallet out the window, it would have shown up on the video. He hadn't stopped anywhere, and his window was still up when the car was inspected. Therefore, the wallet must still have been in the car. Therefore, someone must have taken it out before Faustus's men got to it. Despite the fact the road was closed and nobody lived out in those woods.
Just then, an odd memory came back to Sanderson. Something he had paid no attention to at the time. Early that morning, he had been on the phone with the crew chief in charge of searching the road. The man had reported finding nothing, other than two or three soda cans. Sanderson had asked him, routinely, if he had noticed anything at all unusual.
“Not a thing, chief. Other than one funny-looking geezer on a bicycle.”
Sanderson stared at the wall. He said out loud,
“I'm going to have to go up there myself.”
Now Sanderson sat on a park bench, glumly regarding Gopherville's main street. What they used to call a onehorse town. This trip had taken longer than expected. The only way to get here was by car, since there was no airport and Sanderson didn't want to risk asking Sylvia for another helicopter. At least the trip got him out of her line of fire for a couple of days.
He was staying at the Sequoia Inn, the town's one tacky motel. It had taken him all day just to drive up here. Then Sheriff Martinez turned out to be not all that cooperative. He wasn't in when Sanderson found his office – there was one deputy filing papers and answering the phone. Martinez was out on a “domestic dispute” up in the hills somewhere. He wasn't expected back till much later.
When Sanderson finally pinned him down, this afternoon, Martinez took his time about answering questions.
“So you're private security,” he commented after examining Sanderson's ID. “You're not with the Feds. Or the State.”
Sanderson used his diplomatic tone.
“Yes, Sheriff, that's correct. But if you like, I can make a phone call and get clearance from Homeland Security in a few minutes...”
“No, that's all right, Sanderson, I'll take your word for it. What was it you wanted to know?”
Sanderson opened his briefcase and produced an aerial photograph. "This stretch of road, where the accident occurred...”
Martinez raised an eyebrow.
“I mis-spoke.” Sanderson smiled. “I should have said incident...”
“By the way,” Martinez interrupted. “Have you seen this morning's paper? The Gazette only comes out three times a week, so it's usually a day or two behind. But they do a good job for a small town paper.”
Martinez pushed a fresh copy of the Gopherville Gazette across the desk. Spread across the front page was a close-up picture of the bullet-riddled car being towed in. There was also an interview and picture of the tow truck driver, with his description of seeing the body taken out by helicopter.
“Oh, dear God. No one was supposed to talk about this.” Sanderson thought, It gets worse and worse.
“Well, people do talk in a small town,” Martinez said. Sanderson wasn't sure if he was being sarcastic. He sighed and pointed to the aerial photo again.
"Our databases all indicate there are no dwellings anywhere in this area, and no one living there. However, there appears to be a small dirt road with some type of structures at the end. Perhaps tool sheds? Do you know of anyone living out there?”
“Just Bradshaw. Crazy old coot who talks to himself. He's harmless, pretty much keeps to himself. Comes into town once or twice a month to pick up his mail and get supplies.”
Sanderson was beginning to lose patience.
“And why didn't you mention this person to us before now, Sheriff?”
“Um – because no one asked?” Martinez looked innocent. Behind him, Sanderson heard the deputy snicker.
“If he lives in that area, why doesn't he show up on any database?”
Martinez shrugged again.
“What database? I mean, what data are you basing? Telephone book? Power company? Bradshaw has no phone, no electricity, no mail delivery, no street address. He doesn't vote. Why would he show up anywhere?”
“No phone or electricity...” Sanderson could not quite comprehend the idea. “Not even a cell phone?” Martinez shrugged again.
“Okay,” Sanderson said. “This Bradshaw. What's his first name?”
“Brad, I guess. Only name I ever heard.”
“Does he ever go anywhere else in town? Talk to anyone?”
“Talks to everybody, including himself. Sometimes he sells salvage to Sam Goody down at the garage. He visits the thrift store frequently, sometimes the drug store. And the library. Everybody knows Bradshaw.”
“How long has he lived here in town?”
“Before my time. I heard he's from somewhere back east, but I dunno. He stays out of trouble, I don't bother him.”
“Thank you, Sheriff. You have been most helpful.” (Even though he hadn't been, at all. Well, not much.)
Now Sanderson sat on a park bench, thinking and watching the street. He had a hunch the missing DVD was somewhere in town, and someone knew where. He took out his cell phone and called his office. He got Davis, his second in command. He described briefly where he was and what he was doing.
“It's a long shot,” he said. “But it's always possible this Bradshaw geezer might have seen or heard something. Just to be safe, I'd like a background check. I got his real name, D.O.B., and Social Security number from the public library. Told the librarian I was from D.H.S.”
Sanderson gave Davis the information and told him he would call in later for the results. He didn't think he would get any big surprises. He clicked off his cell phone, wondering if there was any good place to eat in this dump. He would go see this Bradshaw early tomorrow morning. * * * *
Bradshaw himself, at that very moment, was at the library. It was nearly closing time; Mrs Smithers was surprised to see him so late in the day.
“Here's those overdue books, m'am. Told you I wouldn't forget. How much do I owe in fines?”
She told him, and he counted out some bills from a small wad of cash.
“There was a man asking about you, Mr Bradshaw. Just a little while ago. I hope you haven't gone and got yourself into some kind of trouble.”
“So do I, Mrs Smithers, so do I. What sort of man was it?”
“Some kind of Government person. Homeland Security, I think. He asked a lot of questions and wanted to see your records. You know we're required to answer, under the Patriot Act. But we're not supposed to tell you about it.”
“Well, no one will hear you told me, Mrs Smithers. I do appreciate your mentioning it.”
“He kept asking what kind of books you like to read. I told him mostly ancient history books.”
“Ah. Did you tell him about that DVD I asked you to keep for me?”
“He didn't ask about that, Mr Bradshaw.” She gave him a sweet smile.
So Bradshaw took the DVD back to the computer in the back of the room. He had a pair of headphones borrowed from Danny Williams, so as not to disturb the library with the speakers on. He plugged them into the back of the computer, then popped in the DVD. He selected the video file, then clicked on Open.
There was no title screen or intro, just a man staring into the camera. Bradshaw recognized the face of the man he had seen dead in the crashed car.
'If you are watching this video, it means I am dead,” the man said. “My name is Mark Tiller. I don't know who you are, or what your interest in this DVD, but I feel I at least owe you a warning or two. I want to tell you briefly what you have in your hands, and explain what I am doing and why.”
Bradshaw felt a brief sense of relief. He had been afraid this would turn out to be some dumb music video, or maybe a porn flick. But this looked interesting.
He listened as Mark Tiller gave a brief description of the DVD's contents: what the device was and what it could do. Bradshaw had already figured out this much from reading the technical specs. What he didn't know was why Tiller had died for it.
“I just can't work for that company any longer,” Tiller said. “Sylvia, the CEO, is a petty tyrant. She is motivated entirely by avaricious greed for money and power. Originally, I conceived of this invention as an instrument of World Peace. I thought it could be a way to instantly neutralize an attacking army without actually injuring anyone. But Sylvia wants to sell it to the CIA or the Pentagon, where it will be used for social control and warfare. I've had it up to here. I might even have gone along with it if Sylvia had at least paid me a decent salary and given me credit... But that's neither here nor there. I have made arrangements to meet someone in Las Vegas, who will pay me a decent price for the plans. What happens to it after that, I don't care. I'm heading for South America. Or maybe Fiji.”
Tiller had a few more comments, mostly about how despicable was his former boss. He gave no hint about who was going to buy the plans from him, for what purpose, or for how much. Bradshaw sighed. It was a sad world out there.
* * * *
True to his resolve, Sanderson was up before dawn, driving out to the Bradshaw place. He liked pounding on people's doors, getting them out of bed. Not out of meanness: he had found that this technique always rattled the suspect and made him more likely to make mistakes and answer questions.
Sanderson hadn't yet called Davis to ask about the background check. Since it wasn't high priority, it might take a little longer to clear. Besides, he didn't expect anything interesting to turn up. This was, after all, just some old coot who happened to live nearby.
When he got there, he found Bradshaw already up, pulling weeds in his garden. It was barely dawn. He turned around and smiled as Sanderson drove up. Sanderson had heard somewhere that country people get up early, but this was ridiculous. He got out of his car, considering the most effective way to intimidate the old man. But Bradshaw spoke first.
“Morning! I guess you’d be Mr Sanderson, come to ask me a few questions about that car wreck last week!”
Sanderson stifled a curse. There seemed to be no secrets at all in this town.
“How did you know my name?” he barked, knowing at once this was a mistake. He was letting his suspect have the initiative.
“Oh, there’s not many secrets in a town this size, Mr Sanderson. But come on in, please! I’ve been expecting you! There’s coffee on the stove, unless you prefer tea. How bout a stack of flapjacks with real butter?”
Before he could refuse, Sanderson found himself following the old man into his cabin. He sat at the dining table while Bradshaw poured steaming black coffee, that somewhat resembled motor oil, into an old mug.
“I have been thinking it over, Mr Sanderson. I have decided to come clean.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You know, make a clean breast of it. Come clean. Bare my soul. Fact is, my conscience has been bothering me something terrible since I stole it. I suppose now you’ll want to arrest me, read me my rights and so on, and take me down to the slammer. Well, I guess I’m ready to go. I’ll just have to make some arrangements for my cat and my mule.”
From a corner of the room, Melchizidek muttered, “We should be so lucky.” Bradshaw ignored him.
“Then you’re confessing that you took it. Well, the DA might be willing to make some kind of a deal, since you’re ready to confess. That is, if you return the item…” Sanderson could barely believe his good luck. He might actually be able to save his job.
“Yes sir,” Bradshaw said. “I didn’t really mean to take it, I just don’t know what came over me. It must have been the stress of the moment. But I have it all here, right in my pocket. I swear I haven’t spent a penny.” With that, Bradshaw took a small wad of bills from his coat pocket and flung them down on the table. Then he folded his arms, waiting.
“This is what you took,” Sanderson said. It didn’t sound like a question.
“Yes sir, that’s what I took, every penny of it. Sixty eight dollars exactly. I swear that’s all there was. Guess you’ll be wanting to handcuff me now.”
Sanderson sat for a minute staring at the pile of money. Finally he cleared his throat.
“Well, Mr Bradshaw. Since you’re making restitution and show genuine remorse, perhaps we can avoid prosecution. I’ll have to discuss this with the D.A. However, I do have a question.” He raised his eyes and stared directly at Bradshaw.
“Are you absolutely sure this is the only item you took from the wreck? Was there anything else at all, perhaps an item so unimportant that you have forgotten about it? Anything at all?”
Bradshaw frowned and screwed up his face, apparently trying to think.
“Well sir. Now, what exactly were you looking for? Something you lost?”
“A vinyl plastic envelope. It contained nothing but a DVD.”
“DVD? What’s that?”
“Digital video disk. It’s a small plastic disk, really shiny on one side. Thin.”
Bradshaw seemed to be attempting to concentrate.
“You mean something like a phonograph record. I don’t own a phonograph. Come to that, I don’t have electricity. But I s’pose I’d remember something like that if I’da seen one.”
Sanderson took that as a no. He sighed.
“Well, Mr Bradshaw, thank you for your time. Here’s my card. If you think of anything else, you be sure to give me a call, hear?”
Bradshaw peered at the card.
“Sure would, Mr Sanderson. If I had a phone.”
Sanderson sighed again, turned to go.
“Aren’t you going to take that money?” Bradshaw asked.
“Oh. Yes, I’ll be sure to return this to its rightful owner.” He scooped up the cash. “By the way – I don’t suppose you saw anyone else at the scene of the wreck? I mean before the helicopter landed? Perhaps someone who might have been there before you? No? Well, be sure to call if you think of anything.” Sanderson had a sudden urge to get away from that house as quickly as possible. He had begun to realize that he was dealing with a lunatic. And the black cat made him nervous, staring at him from a corner like that.
Nutty as a fruitcake, he decided. Complete waste of time.
After he had gone, Melchizidek looked at Bradshaw.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire.”
“Why, I never said a word what wasn’t true,” Bradshaw replied.
* * * *
Sanderson went back to town in a funk. He was at a dead end. For a while he just wandered around town, looking in windows, watching people in the park. It was still early, so he had to wait awhile for the one coffee shop on Main Street to open. He was the first customer. He went in and ordered coffee and scrambled eggs. There was only one person working there, a middle-aged plump lady, evidently the owner.
As she was pouring his coffee, Sanderson on impulse inquired if she happened to know Bradshaw.
“Brad? Sure. Everybody knows him. Crazy as a loon, but harmless. He comes in here once in awhile, always orders the same thing. Apple pie a la mode. Sometimes he talks to himself.” She whispered the last sentence, as if imparting confidential information.
“Any idea what he used to do for a living? Do you know anything about this fella?”
“I think he used to be a school teacher or something. Why? You got some business with Brad?”
Sanderson shook his head.
“No, it’s just he has my mother’s maiden name. I had an idea he might be a distant cousin or something. Guess not, though.”
After breakfast, Sanderson remembered he had not yet checked in with his second-in-command. No doubt an exercise in futility. He had a feeling he might not be working for Faustus Labs. much longer. He went back to the motel and used the house phone to call in.
“Any luck?” he asked the voice on the other end.
“Not much, I’m afraid. Tiller had a hotel res in Vegas, for what it’s worth. This Bradshaw looks clean, no arrest record, not even a parking ticket.”
“That’s what I thought. Did you find out Bradshaw’s former profession?”
“Well, yeah. That’s the only peculiar item. He used to be a professor of math at M.I.T. I mean, it’s kind of strange a guy like him would settle in an out of the way place like Gopher, isn’t it?”
Sanderson felt a prickling sensation at the back of his neck.
“Gopherville,” he corrected. “How long ago did he retire?”
“He didn’t retire, just walked off the job one day, ten years ago. That’s all the info I could get…”
The prickling began to crawl down Sanderson’s back. He was beginning to have a Hunch. A Major Hunch.
“Run that down, will you? Call people at M.I.T. I want to know whatever you can find out. Oh, and find out if Bradshaw has ever been in a psycho ward. Did you get anything about Tiller's next of kin?"
Davis said, "Just a niece. Name of Victoria or Olivia or something. We're trying to run her down now. You know, to notify her of Uncle's demise and so on. I doubt she knows anything. I hear she's been out of the Country for several years."
Sanderson clicked off. Now even his feet were prickling.
Sylvia was pissed. Indeed, there was nothing unusual in this, since she had been in this state for most of her life. At the moment, she was in conference with Willie Burgess, her R and D manager. Willie found himself sweating despite the air conditioning.
“I am beginning seriously to doubt Sanderson’s dedication and competence,” she said. It was typical of Sylvia that she rarely split infinitives. Especially when she was pissed.
“In the matter of Project Emperor,” she said, “I can not help but feel something has been overlooked. I would like your own objective assessment.”
That word “objective” – it caused Willie to begin trying to think of what Sylvia wanted to hear. He shuffled his notes, to give himself a moment.
“As I see it,” he said, clearing his throat, “we have three possible scenarios. One, Best Case: the project is only temporarily lost. We will either find it again, or manage to reconstruct the main design features. Personally, I think this is possible, though it will take time.” Seeing that Sylvia’s expression remained unchanged, he continued.
“Second scenario: Next Best Case. The project is permanently lost, we never find it, we can’t redesign it. At least in this case it falls into no other hands but ours.” Willie spoke slowly, playing for time. This was all so obvious he feared Sylvia might erupt again.
“Third – Worst Case: The project is already in someone else’s possession. Possibly even foreign terrorists. I prefer not even to contemplate the implications of that.”
“On the other hand,” Sylvia interrupted, “let’s contemplate. If someone had the plans, how difficult would it be to build an actual device? How long would it take? What about the raw materials?”
Willie coughed. He had not been expecting this exact question. However, he was prepared.
“Well. Actually, it wouldn’t be too hard provided it was someone with a grasp of the basic theory. But the theory is pretty revolutionary, so there aren’t many of those around. A lot of people thought Tiller was crazy when he first advanced his proposal. The only reason we let him go ahead was that we knew it wouldn’t cost much. And we had this new component that we couldn’t find a practical application for. So there wasn’t much to lose by letting him try…” Willie felt another drop of sweat roll down his face. He could tell Sylvia was getting impatient, the way she stared at him.
“But to answer your question, actual construction of the device would not be difficult. Most of the components are common and readily available, with one exception…”
“The acoustic klystron,” Sylvia said.
“Yes, m’am. Fortunately, we have a monopoly on that. It’s been on the market as an experimental device for the past year, but we’ve had few actual sales. And it’s not something that would be easy to copy…”
“Few sales, you say. How many have we sold?”
“Last time I checked, five. Four of them to different Government research departments, one to a university. I think…”
“Don’t think,” Sylvia said. “Double check. In fact, I want to know right now. I especially want to know if we have sold any acoustic klystrons since the plans were stolen by Tiller. There’s the monitor right next to you.”
“Yes, ma’m.” Willie turned to the computer monitor on the conference table. He logged on, entered his password, and clicked on Marketing. He entered a query to Inventory Control. Reading the entry, he raised his eyebrows.
“Yes. Why, it seems we just sold one unit, a couple days ago. It’s already been shipped out.”
“Who purchased it?” Sylvia’s voice sounded dangerous. Willie swallowed, clicked his cursor on another item.
“It went to some small electronics supply outlet. Some place I never heard of. Called Gopherville.”
Bradshaw decided to ride Bozo into town, instead of taking his bike. Bozo needed the exercise, and Bradshaw thought he might have more stuff to carry back than he could pack into the basket on his bicycle’s handlebars.
As usual, Bozo grumbled and complained as Bradshaw put the saddle on him.
“Quitcherbellyachin,” Bradshaw said. “It ain’t too tight. You always tell me it’s too tight, hoping I’ll make it too loose and fall off. You think I don’t know what goes through a mule’s mind?”
Bozo mumbled something under his breath. Bradshaw adjusted the saddle bags and mounted up.
When he arrived at the Computer Shack store, Danny Williams had a grin for him.
“Got all the stuff you ordered, Brad. That klystron thingie came in yesterday by Express. Everything else was pretty easy to find. Are you sure you can afford this stuff? I know you’re on a fixed income, and all…”
“I won the lottery,” Bradshaw said. “What’s the damage?” He made a face, looking at the tab, but didn’t comment. He pulled some fresh bills out of his pocket and passed them across the counter.
“People don’t usually pay that much in cash, Brad. Most would use their credit card. But I’ll sure be glad to take it off your hands.” He began wrapping and packing various parts into a cardboard box.
“Anyone been asking about me lately?” Bradshaw asked.
Danny shook his head.
“Asking about you? No, why do you ask?”
“I heard there’s some kind of confidence men in the area. Sheriff Martinez warned me about them. They carry some kind of phony I.D. and claim to be from some Government agency like the F.B.I. or Homeland Security. They have some cock and bull story about investigating terrorist threats. It’s all just a scheme to swindle the elderly out of real estate or property. The Sheriff thinks they might be interested in my land. If you talk to anyone like that, just say you never heard of me. Then call the Sheriff soon as you can.”
Danny looked seriously concerned at this information. He gave it some deep thought for several seconds.
“Why, that’s terrible, Brad. Thanks for the warning. I sure will keep that in mind.”
After Bradshaw left, Danny scratched his head. He wondered how much of that story to believe. Everyone knew Bradshaw was a little bit daft. He could be imagining things. Danny would have to ask Sheriff Martinez later. Then he went back to surfing the Web.
Five minutes later, the phone rang.
“Yes, ma’m, this is Gopherville Computer Shack. What can I do for you? Faustus Labs?”
Danny’s face took on an alarmed expression. He listened to the woman’s voice on the phone.
“Well, ma’m, I think that’s confidential information. I don’t think I have to tell you who ordered that unit. Now, how do I know you’re really Faustus Labs? Why don’t you give me your phone number so I can call you back?”
Danny held the phone away from his ear, wincing as the woman on the other end went ballistic. “I’ll confidential you, you idiot…” Finally he put the phone down without trying to get in a word. He debated whether he should call the Sheriff. After all, it could have been a completely legitimate call. And there was probably nothing the Sheriff could do about it anyway. But the call inclined Danny to take Bradshaw’s warning more seriously. There were a lot of strange things going on around here lately. He would have to be careful about what he said, to whom.
He wondered what Bradshaw planned to do with that peculiar collection of electronic parts. Maybe he had some kind of new invention in mind, like one of those crackpot scientists you read about. Danny stared out the window. He wondered if Bradshaw was finally getting his electric power hooked up.
* * * *
Bradshaw rode Bozo back to his house, with only a few grumbles. The package of parts fit easily in one of the saddle bags. It wasn’t as if Bozo had to pull the cart or carry a couple kegs of oil on his back, which he sometimes did, with many complaints about cruelty to animals. On a bicycle, the ride took about an hour. With Bozo it took twice that. A four hour round trip, plus an hour or so Bradshaw had spent in town. So he had been gone nearly six hours by the time he got home. When he got there, he found the place had been thoroughly searched. Not that it was obvious at first glance. Bradshaw noted a couple footprints in the soft earth outside Bozo’s stall. He took his time making sure Bozo was fed and comfortable, making sure to thank him for his efforts. Then he went inside.
A couple of books had been moved slightly from their positions on the shelves. A dresser drawer was no longer left slightly open, someone had brushed against dust on the windowsill. Melchizidek came crawling out from under the bed as Bradshaw entered. He stretched lazily.
“Who was it?” Bradshaw asked. “How many?”
“You know I can’t count, I’m a cat. They were just some men. Never saw them before. I didn’t like them.”
“I’m not surprised. Low class sneaks, the lot of them. Are you ready for dinner, as if I should have to ask?”
* * * *
Sanderson was having a bad day. He had searched Bradshaw’s place himself, with the aid of three experienced security men. They had been fast but thorough. Sanderson was sure they had missed nothing. He was equally certain that Bradshaw (“the Suspect”) would not notice he had been searched. Sanderson had one of his security ops posted near Bradshaw’s place to let him know when he left. He also had a man in town to follow Bradshaw and see where he went. The scene went down something like this:
Sanderson’s cell phone beeps in the middle of his breakfast. He answers.
“He just left,” the voice on the phone says.
“Roger that.” Sanderson clicks off, punches another number. The man in town picks up.
“He’s on his way,” Sanderson says. “We’re headed out there. You can’t miss him. He always rides a red bicycle with a handlebar basket.”
That was earlier. Now it was early evening. Sanderson had just checked in with his town man to find out where Sanderson had gone.
“Never showed,” the op said. “I would have seen him.”
Sanderson thought it over. He called his stakeout back.
“Are you certain you saw Bradshaw head for town?”
“Affirmative. Of course he could have turned off somewhere when he was out of sight. But he was headed in that direction. You said not to tail him.”
“Yes, I did.” Sanderson pondered another moment. “And he was riding his red bicycle, right?”
“Negative. He was on a brown mule.”
Sanderson sighed and clicked off the phone. He was not having a good day. He checked his message service. There were several calls from Sylvia, probably telling him he was fired. Much against his will, he called her back.
“Ah, Sanderson. About time you called back. What have you been doing up there, playing with yourself?”
Before Sanderson could think of a response, she told him about Danny’s Electronics, about how an acoustic klystron had been shipped there, and about her unproductive phone call.
“I want you to get over there right away and find out who bought the thing. Say you’re from the F.B.I., C.I.A., whatever. Just get the information. If we find out who ordered that thing, we’ll know who has the item.”
“First thing in the morning, ma’m. They’re closed now. Exactly what is this acoustic whatsis you’re talking about?”
“You don’t need to know that, Sanderson. Let’s just say it’s an essential component of the device. The item disappeared near that town. Someone in that town wants the component. There isn’t any other known use for the component.
Ergo, someone in that town is trying to build And this Danny person knows who bought it. It’s even possible Danny himself is building the device. Maybe we could have him charged with terrorism, that ought to loosen his tongue.”
“I’ll get right on it, ma’m.” He clicked off.
Then he opened a thin folder which contained some FAX sheets he’d picked up after returning from today’s search. They were a summary of information obtained by his research assistant back at Faustus. It appeared Bradshaw’s history was fairly interesting, but only fairly. He had left M.I.T. under some kind of cloud. He hadn't actually resigned. It seemed no one working there now remembered him, but he had at one time been mentioned as a brilliant mathematician, specializing in theoretical physics. There had apparently been some sort of conflict with Administration, or other staff members. He had once refused an offer to work on an important Government research project. Sanderson, from perusing the records, got the impression that Bradshaw was unstable even back then. A loose cannon. Well, they did say a lot of geniuses were half crazy.
Sanderson wondered if Bradshaw himself would be able to build this device, whatever it was. He doubted it. Bradshaw didn’t even have electricity. But he might know someone else who could, maybe a foreign agent. Maybe he was secretly in contact with al Qaeda. This, in Sanderson’s mind, made sense. Bradshaw would bear watching. * * * *
After dinner, Bradshaw stared out the window for awhile. This was his favorite time of day, before sunset. It was quiet outside, the daytime birds falling silent, bats coming out, just before the owls and other night time creatures awoke. Usually Bradshaw would read one of his old books before turning in. Sometimes he would bathe in the solar heated shower he had rigged behind the back porch. He liked taking all his clothes off outdoors and letting the water run over him. That was one of the advantages of living outside of town. Some day, he supposed, the town limits might expand till this place was inside them, but that would not be till after he was gone. He sighed.
This evening, instead of getting out a book, Bradshaw looked at the package he had picked up from Danny. It was heavy but not large. He’d had to purchase a few test instruments besides the stuff on the parts list. Project Emperor – such a simple idea, one of those ideas that made you wonder why no one else ever came up with it before. But it was going to take him a few days to get it working. Meanwhile, those Government people would be watching. Of course, the good news was that you could just about count on the fact that the Government or any other large organization was totally incompetent. Bradshaw came to a decision.
“Oscar, are you around?”
The gnome stepped around from behind him. Oscar made a habit of sneaking up behind.
“Oscar, I think I’m going to need your help. Up at the old mine.”
Oscar did not look at all happy about this news.
Sylvia was having a fit. A controlled fit, but a fit nonetheless. This time it was Samuels from Accounting on the carpet.
“Do you understand what it means if we lose Project Emperor?” she demanded. “Have you considered the ramifications?”
Samuels stammered, trying to say something without actually doing so.
“Our stock prices tripled when we announced this contract to our shareholders. Our credit rating doubled. The Board took advantage of that to borrow several million for R&D. We are heavily in debt.”
Samuels knew that in reality the Board did whatever Sylvia told them to do. He also knew that a large part of the R&D money went directly to the privately owned winery which Sylvia ran on the side as a sort of hobby.
“If we lose that contract, sooner or later the auditors are going to show up. There may be an investigation. We’re looking at possible bankruptcy. And you are in it up to your eyebrows, Samuels.”
Samuels of course remembered that Sylvia herself had ordered him to start cooking the books. He also knew there was no way he could prove that. His right eye was starting to develop a nervous tic.
“I wish there was something…”
“Oh, I don’t even know why I called you in here,” Sylvia sighed. “I find myself surrounded by feebs. Get out of my sight, please.”
That was the best thing Samuels had heard all day. * * * *
The next morning, early, Sanderson dropped in on Danny’s Electronics Supply and Computer Shack. He was determined to get to the bottom of this. He reflected that originally he’d seen no necessity at all of visiting Gopherville. When he did come here, he’d planned to spend one or two days at the most. This had already gone on too long. He brought one of his Security men as backup – he knew that two men were always more intimidating than one. His plan was simple: He would talk to this Danny person, flash his ID, mention the Patriot Act, scare him silly in the first ten seconds. Danny would melt and confess all.
That time of the morning, as usual, Danny was checking his e-mail and surfing the Web. It so happened he had been doing a little research on scam and bunko artists.
Sanderson slammed the door open, stomped in with his backup man right behind. Sanderson flashed his I.D.
“Homeland Security authority,” he announced. If questioned later in Court, he could claim that what he meant was that he was operating under authority of D.H.S., not that he actually was that.
“We have a few questions to ask,” Sanderson said. “About a recent order you filled for an acoustic klystron from Faustus Labs.”
Danny looked up from his computer monitor and waited for more. This annoyed Sanderson. Danny should have said something, such as “yes, sir,” or “I’ll never talk.” To just wait for more information was annoying.
“We want to know who ordered that item, and why. Or did you order it for your own use? We’ll want to see your books.”
“Do you have a warrant?” Danny inquired.
“We don’t need one. Under the provisions of the Patriot Act…”
“Under the provisions of the Patriot Act,” Danny interrupted, “We’re supposed to report all suspicious activity.” Danny reached under the counter, pulled out a double-barreled shotgun, and pointed it at Sanderson’s head.
“I’m placing you both under citizen’s arrest,” Danny said, “for impersonating Federal officers, as well as for fraud, attempted elder abuse, and anything else I can think of. And tell your buddy to keep his hands clear of his gun.”
Sanderson was speechless. He glanced at his backup man, noticed the face behind the mirror sunglasses had gone dead white. A double-barrel 12 gauge at that range would about clear any room.
“Now, you both hold still, while I phone the Sheriff,” Danny said.
As it turned out, this mess took most of the day to straighten out. Sheriff Martinez was occupied, as he often was, at the other side of the County. One of the deputies came over when Danny told him he was holding prisoners at gunpoint, and why. The deputy was not impressed by Sanderson’s credentials. He relieved the back-up of his sidearm, then had them both come down to the office. At least he didn’t offer to handcuff them.
When Martinez finally showed up, he was in a bad mood. He had already talked to Danny. He folded his hands on his desk.
“Now, I understand you identified yourself as Homeland Security,” he began. Sanderson’s ID was spread open on the desk in front of him.
“Absolutely not,” Sanderson said. “I showed him my credentials…”
Martinez held up a finger to stop him. He took a DVD from his coat pocket, slipped it into a player, and picked up a TV remote control. He clicked on a monitor across the room.
“Security camera at Danny’s Electronics,” Martinez explained.
On-screen, Sanderson and the backup barged into the store; Sanderson flashed his card for about 2 seconds. “Homeland Security Authority,” he announced. Martinez clicked off the monitor.
“Now, I’m going to put this down to a simple misunderstanding on everyone’s part,” Martinez said. “However, under the circumstances I’m going to have to ask you to not harass our honest citizens. If you bring in some real Federal agents, you can try again. Or a search warrant. As things stand, I hope Danny doesn’t decide to file a law suit.” Martinez pushed Sanderson’s ID across the desk.
“You’re free to go now, unless you have questions. The deputy outside will return your firearm.”
Sanderson considered saying something else, such as demanding that the Sheriff destroy that security camera DVD. Instead, he sighed. This was not going well at all.
As Sanderson turned to go, Martinez said,
“Oh, by the way...”
“Yes?” Sanderson paused by the door.
“Danny says it was Bradshaw who purchased that acoustic thing. Danny doesn't know what he wants with it.”
“What? How did you get him to talk?”
Martinez gave Sanderson a thoughtful look.
“You might say I used a special interrogation technique. I asked him politely.”
Bradshaw went to see Indian Jane. Jane lived about two miles from Bradshaw, in a neat modular house further up the hillside. Bradshaw didn't know what kind of Indian Jane was. Sometimes she claimed to be Maidu, sometimes Pomo; most often she was vague about it. She had electricity from solar panels and drove an old Ford F100.
Jane invited him to lunch, which he was happy to accept. She raised her own chickens and was fairly good at cooking them. After lunch she picked up a basket she had been working on. Bradshaw knew she had an agent who sold them to art galleries and auction houses in the City for hundreds of dollars each. This was a specially intricate work, with different colored bird's feathers worked into a pattern.
'You in trouble again?” she asked.
“Now, Jane, whatever makes you say that? Can't I just
She snorted, put down the basket, began filling a corncob pipe.
“You white men been in trouble ever since you got here. You woulda starved to death, hadn't been for us.”
“Can't deny that, Jane. I was just hoping you might look in on my house for a week or two. Check the vegetable garden, feed Melchizidek. You can take any vegetables you want. I have to go away for a few days.”
Jane blew a smoke ring.
“I hear tales about you out here. Government men after you. Just like you were a bandido.”
“Maybe I am. Maybe I'll decide to reform, after this.”
“And maybe the buffalo come back.”
“There were never any buffalo up here in the mountains. So, can you do me this small favor?”
Jane grinned, revealing some gold teeth.
“Where you gonna be hidin' out, case I hafta find you?”
“Up at the Dead Rock Mine, where else?”
At that, Jane frowned.
“I thought you weren't going in that place anymore.”
"It'll be ok, Jane. I'm not going in far, just inside the entrance where I have some supplies stashed. And Oscar will be there to take care of me.”
Indian Jane squinted across the room.
“That true, Oscar? You gonna let him do this?”
Indian Jane was the only other person Bradshaw knew who could see Oscar. Or at least she claimed she could, sometimes. Bradshaw looked back over his shoulder, to see Oscar frowning and nodding his head. He knew Oscar didn't approve.
“You got somethin' up your sleeve, don't you?” Jane said to Bradshaw. “You're planning something, I can tell.”
“Jane, I will be forever grateful.”
'Hee hee. Sometimes I think you're as crazy as I am,” she said.
As Bradshaw was leaving, he glanced again at the certificate hanging by the door. It was her doctorate degree in anthropology, from the University of California, Berkeley. * * * *
Sanderson had decided to call in an outside operative. His name was David Brandt. He worked for another private security company, but he and Sanderson had worked in the field together before. Sanderson thought he was not a complete idiot, like most of the other personnel he was forced to work with. It had taken him nearly two hours of argument with Sylvia before she would approve the funds to hire him. Sanderson had threatened to resign, which by now he was inclined to do anyway.
He had to wait another day for Brandt to get into town. Then he filled him in over a beer at the Gold Coin, Gopherville's main saloon.
“Bradshaw must have been picking up the equipment while we were out searching his place,” Sanderson said. He sounded unhappy. “He probably still has the material. But that isn't what we're looking for. We need the DVD.”
“So why haven't you brought him in?” Brandt asked.
That action, of course, would not have been entirely legal. One of the things that Sanderson liked about Brandt was that he didn't let details like that bother him.
“Because there's someone else in on this,” Sanderson said. “Someone who thinks he can build this device, whatever it is, by himself. It isn't Bradshaw. I've been out to his place. He has a wood-burning stove, reads by candlelight, and eats roadkill. He's a crazy hermit. But he must know someone with the right training. Bradshaw worked at M.I.T. He probably still has some contact from those days. When we find out who it is, we'll know who he gave the DVD to.”
Brandt leaned back, watching the bubbles in his beer.
“What's his motive? Money? Political?”
“Who knows? He's a lunatic, does he need a motive? I've got somebody watching his house. Next time he comes into town, we'll know it.”
Brandt looked up.
“What if this someone doesn't live in town?”
“There's no one else out there. Bradshaw is the last house on the block. Well, there is one – an old Indian woman who lives a couple miles further out, up on the border of the Res. I'm told he went up there yesterday, but he rode his bike. He wasn't carrying the equipment he bought. I doubt she has anything to do with it.”
Brandt asked if Sanderson was tapping Bradshaw's phone.
“Haven't you been listening? No phone, no electricity. Not even a cell phone. Does his business in an outhouse.”
Brandt shook his head, finding this difficult to comprehend.
“I think we both need to go talk to this lunatic.”
“Absolutely,” Sanderson agreed. They headed out without finishing their beer.
But when they got to Bradshaw's place, he wasn't there. Instead, they found Indian Jane picking green beans in the garden.
Sanderson looked around. He had one of his best men, O'Reilly, on stake-out. He wondered where he was. He wondered why he hadn't called in, if Bradshaw had left the premises.
“Where's Mr Bradshaw?” Sanderson demanded. “And who, may I ask, are you?”
“I believe it's whom,” Jane replied. “Bradshaw ain't here. I'm mindin' his place while he's away. My name is Dr Jane Greenbranch. What's yours?”
Sanderson flipped his ID at her. Doctor, indeed.
“I'm Sanderson, working on contract for DHS, Department of Homeland Security. Where's Bradshaw, and when is he coming back?”
'When?” Jane studied a green bean, as if she had just discovered some mutant variety. “Maybe a week, maybe more, didn't exactly say.”
Sanderson gave Brandt a despairing look.
“Did he say where he was going, ma'm? This is important.”
Jane gave him a gold-toothed grin.
“He said if anyone came around asking, to tell 'em he went up to Dead Rock Mine.”
“Dead Rock Mine. And where, may I ask, is that?”
Jane shrugged. “Maybe five miles that way, maybe ten the other way. Never been there myself, wouldn't go there. Full of evil spirits. I told Brad he's stupid to go there, that's what I told him. Even with Oscar along to help.”
“Oscar? Who's Oscar?”
“Just an old gnome.” Jane pulled up another handful of beans.
Brandt spoke up.
“Madam. Would you mind telling us how long you have known Mr Bradshaw, and how well you know him?”
Jane looked him up and down, as if just noticing his presence.
“Actually, it's Doctor Bradshaw. We met shortly after his arrival in this County, some ten years past, sir. Although you have not asked, I can see your salacious mind at work, sir. No, we have never been lovers. However, we have discovered we have many interests in common, such as our mutual complete disillusionment with the academic life, and our utter contempt for authority figures in general. I hope this satisfies your curiosity, sir. Whatever your name is.”
Neither man could think of any further questions.
“Want to search the place again?” Brandt asked.
“Waste of time,” Sanderson said. “He's smart enough to remove anything incriminating.”
As they walked back toward their car, Sanderson took out his cell phone and punched O'Reilly's number. It beeped once and O'Reilly answered.
“Where are you, O'Reilly? What's going on? Where's Bradshaw?”
“Sir.” O'Reilly's voice quavered. O'Reilly was nearly thirty, but sometimes he sounded like a teenager. He was former CIA, with a lot of experience in stakeouts and tailing people through cities without being noticed.
“Sir, the fact is – well, I seem to be lost...”
“Lost? What the hell is that supposed to mean? What do you mean, lost? Why haven't you called in?”
“Sir. I was watching the subject as instructed. He was up at dawn, went to the barn, and came out with a mule, loaded down with packs. I followed discreetly, as instructed, sir.” O'Reilly's voice had taken on the stilted cadence of a formal report, as if he were speaking into a tape machine for the record.
“Well, sir. I followed the subject discreetly. I'm certain he never saw me. But the thing is – well, sir, all my experience is in tracking subjects in cities. I guess I'm not accustomed to the rural, or woodsy, environment. I followed the subject along a trail until it disappeared in a little clearing. Then I couldn't tell which way he went. Before I knew it I was – well, lost, sir. I tried to call in, but my cell phone must have been in a dead zone... Sir, I've been out here in the woods for hours. I sure am glad you showed up.”
Sanderson took a deep breath and held it. He thought, You won't be so glad when I kill you. But no, he wouldn't actually do that.
“Stay where you are, O'Reilly. When we get back to town I'll have the Sheriff send out a search party, maybe with blood hounds. In the meantime, you can acclimate yourself to the woodsy environment.” He clicked off.
“What about this Dead Rock Mine?” Brandt asked.
“Obviously a lie. But I'll get someone to check it out anyway. If it even exists. Evil spirits...” Sanderson was beginning to wonder what it would be like working at WalMart.
* * * *
Bradshaw had no problem getting rid of his tail. Of course, he had known he was being watched. He was a bit miffed they had only put one man on him; they might have considered him more dangerous than that. He had simply led Bozo off the trail and concealed him behind a convenient tree until the man passed by. No doubt the fellow thought he was being stealthy, crashing through the woods like that. Bradshaw felt sorry for him, wearing those expensive city shoes. He was going to ruin the shoes and get his socks full of burrs. After he passed, Bradshaw doubled back on the path a short distance, then turned off on a deer trail. That was the way he meant to go anyway; it was shorter than taking the road.
The mine was only about ten or twelve miles away, but the path meandered around hill sides. Bradshaw stopped at a creek to water Bozo and eat lunch, which was some dried deer meat. By the time he reached Dead Rock, it was late afternoon. Bozo snorted and grumbled something when he saw the place.
“Don't worry, we're not going inside,” Bradshaw told him. “Not tonight anyway. We'll camp outside.”
There was an old shack outside the mine entrance, which must have been some kind of office in the old days. There was a faded sign over the door, still legible: DEAD ROCK. Bradshaw unloaded the packs from Bozo and stacked them on the front porch, but didn't go inside – he didn't trust the floor boards. The place had a musty, evil smell about it, like the odor of bad karma. The porch was solid enough to walk on, though, and had a roof to keep off sun and rain, so it was as good a place to camp as any. He built a small fire on the ground and set about cooking a stew, using vegetables he'd brought from his garden.
Along about sunset, he looked at the mine entrance, a yawning mouth in the side of the hill.
“We're not going in deep this time,” he said to no one in particular. “Only a little ways inside.”
Oscar was nowhere to be seen.
* * * *
Earlier, Sanderson had met with Martinez. He explained the problem about O'Reilly. Martinez picked up his phone, got someone else on the line and explained the problem again. Basically, he said, “This guy is lost in the woods a couple miles northeast of the Bradshaw place. Think your guys can find him before dark?” Martinez listened a moment, then hung up.
“There'll be ten searchers up there within the hour. They'll find him with any luck.”
“I thought you didn't have that many deputies available,” Sanderson said.
“We don't. That was Mr Peters, the high school gym coach and Scout Master. He'll have ten Boy Scouts up there soon as he can round them up. Don't worry, two or three are Eagle Scouts.”
Sanderson closed his eyes and tried not to think about one of his best ex-CIA operatives being rescued by Boy Scouts. When he was through not thinking about that, he asked Martinez about Dead Rock Mine.
Martinez pulled a geodesic map out of a drawer.
“Sure, it exists,” he said. “I've even been there a couple times, just to check out the territory. A sheriff has to know what's in his territory, even if there's nobody living there. It's right here, on this map. They still show the old mines, even though they haven't been active in years. I believe this one was closed about eighty years ago. I've been told it used to be mainly silver, some gold. I guess it just got worked out. Personally, I wouldn't go inside. These old tunnels tend to be unstable, likely to cave in any minute. Sometimes there's poison gas. What do you want to know about it for, anyway?”
Sanderson told him about Indian Jane, and her claiming Bradshaw had gone up there. Martinez laughed.
“Sound like B.S. all right. Maybe he's hoping you'll go up there and fall in. I think Jane's almost as crazy as Bradshaw.”
“One other question. This Indian Jane person mentioned someone named Oscar, who may be meeting Bradshaw. Do you know who that would be?”
Martinez gave Sanderson an innocent look.
“Haven't met him myself. I understand he's a gnome.”
Sanderson sighed. This just kept getting better and better. * * * *
After sunset, Bradshaw unrolled his blankets on the porch and sat for awhile watching the stars, while his fire flickered out. This place was about a thousand feet higher in elevation than where he had started from. The stars were bright. The air was clean. He loved it here. After awhile he lay down and went to sleep, and dreamed. It was the same dream he always had, when he dreamed about the mine. He wandered lost in a dark tunnel, while foul smelling water dripped. Somewhere in the darkness was a sound: chink, chink, chink... Suddenly, after Bradshaw had slept and dreamed for an hour or so, he awoke and stared at the sky, remembering his first visit to this place…
Bradshaw had found the mine when he was still new in the County; he'd only been there a year or two. He'd never heard of it before, though he learned later that most people knew of its existence. They just didn't talk about it much. He discovered the mine one day when he was out riding a horse he owned at that time. The pony began to shy and act skittish. Bradshaw dismounted, trying to calm her. That was when he spotted the mine entrance. He didn't go inside, but he walked around the old sheds and machinery nearby. It looked to him like the miners had all just put down their tools and left. There was still furniture in the office and some papers scattered on a roll-top desk. The door of an old safe hung open. On top of the pot belly stove sat a coffee pot, full of cobwebs.
He didn't go back for several months. He asked questions around town and did some research in the old newspaper files at the library. This was before anyone suspected that Bradshaw was crazy, but he knew better. That is, he knew he was crazy. Hadn't they told him so, back at M.I.T.?
The more he learned about the Dead Rock mine, the more his curiosity grew. Strangely, no one else in town seemed to be curious. Bradshaw would have enlisted help exploring the place, but no one he approached was interested. Finally, he one day loaded a pack mule with equipment, saddled his horse, and set out alone for the Dead Rock.
One thing he had wondered about was machinery in a small shed off by itself. The walls and roof were still sound, being built of rock and slate. On closer inspection, he realized he had been right about his first guess. The machine only needed some oil to become functional again. It was a one-cylinder steam engine that powered an electric generator. There was still about half a cord of firewood stacked in the rear of the shed. He didn't fire it up just yet.
Bradshaw camped out that first night. His sleep was furtive and disturbed. He had a dream about walking through a long, dark tunnel while foul water dripped, and there was a sound of chink, chink, chink...
The next morning he had breakfast and got some equipment together in a backpack: Food, water, two flashlights, candles. A prospector's pick. He knew that these old gold mines, though they might be worked out, often were full of quartz crystals. Sometimes you might even find a vein or two of gold. He hoped to bring home a specimen or two. He put on his hard hat.
When he was ready, he decided to turn loose the horse and mule. He knew the mule would make its way back to the barn, and the horse would follow. He could walk back when he was done, but he didn't know for sure when that would be. He untied the mule first; it ambled off in search of some crab apple trees they had passed earlier. Oddly, when he unsaddled and untethered the horse, it immediately moved away and set off at a gallop for home.
Bradshaw shrugged and entered the mine shaft. At first he could see nothing, even with the flashlight – the tunnel was so much dimmer than outside. When he had walked a few paces he felt cooler – the temperature outside had been in the 90's. It was like walking into an air conditioned room.
He paused to look around. There were a lot of tools and equipment lying about. In fact, he realized he was lucky not to have blundered into something, or tripped. There were buckets, shovels, hammers, picks lying around everywhere, as if they had all been dropped in a hurry. The walls and roof of the tunnel were braced with wooden beams that looked solid. At least they seemed solid to Bradshaw.
He found he had no way of judging distance. Sunlight from the entrance did not reach far. He might have gone fifty feet or a hundred. Suddenly the tunnel ended in a blank wall. But no – he saw that was an illusion. It didn't just end – it branched off to right and left. Here and there in the tunnel walls he saw glitters of crystal. He didn't try to dig any out yet; he wanted to look around first.
Bradshaw shone his light down one branch, then the other. There was only darkness at the end of the light beam. He shrugged and turned to the right, wondering how far it went. He began to notice the silence. Not a whisper reached here from outside the mine. Now and then he thought he heard a creak from the wooden braces, but he wasn't sure. There were not as many tools lying about, but there were a few places with fallen debris, rocks that had spauled off from the bedrock. He noticed a lantern lying smashed on the floor, glass still scattered around. Then he stopped short, reaching an old wooden barrier, partly collapsed. He realized the barrier was to keep people from falling into the vertical pit that yawned at his feet.
Bradshaw shuddered. If the barrier hadn't been there, he might have plunged in, not seeing the pit till it was too late. The tunnel itself ended a few feet beyond. The barrier was merely a few narrow beams stacked up between wooden stakes driven in the floor. Something had shifted, the beams had fallen at one end. But he was grateful they were still there.
He shone his light into the pit. He was somewhat amazed to find a ladder still in place. It seemed to be a well-made mahogany ladder, designed to support the weight of a man carrying a load of ore or equipment on his back. He took one last look around and, before he could think better of it, stepped onto the ladder. He thought, No gain without a risk...
After this, Bradshaw would later have trouble remembering details except for momentary flashes. It was utterly silent, except that now and then a drop of water fell. The tunnel was narrow and claustrophobic. The walls glittered with quartz. It seemed to him that he walked a long time, but he was never sure of that. He realized he was getting hungry and thirsty; he sat down to drink some water and eat a concentrated food bar from his pack. After that, part of the tunnel sloped downward at an angle, so that it was hard to walk. Then there was another ladder, that brought him even deeper.
His batteries were getting dim. He turned on a second light while he changed them. Then he noticed his watch, and realized it was after sunset outside the mine. He thought, I might have to spend the night down here. He had a sudden, horrifying idea that he might be lost, but dismissed that notion. To find his way out, he needed only to keep going up.
Eventually, Bradshaw decided he was getting too tired to go on. It would be more difficult climbing out than it was going down. Down here it was warm, he guessed in the 80's. He decided to sleep for awhile; then he would make a decision either to keep on or go back. After all, this was not a coal mine; there was no danger of fire or explosion. There was no danger at all. He turned off the light, took off his hard hat, and lay down on the ground, using his pack as a pillow.
It was utterly dark and silent. He realized how tired he was. All his muscles ached. He fell asleep almost at once. He dreamed of walking through a long tunnel, with the sound of dripping water.
Then he was suddenly awake, sitting up in a panic, forgetting for the moment where he was and what he was doing. Remembering, he groped for the flashlight. It lay where he had left it, in arm's reach. He switched it on and looked at his watch. He had slept for about three hours. His brain felt fogged and aching. He wondered if, after all, there might be toxic gases in this mine. He looked at the few pieces of quartz he had collected on the way down. Perhaps they were enough. Perhaps he ought to go back.
He got to his feet and realized he didn't know which way he had been walking. There had been several side tunnels – this mine was larger than he had thought. It must have taken a long time for men to remove all this rock with picks and shovels. Bradshaw lifted his pack and began moving, looking for a ladder or an upward-sloping tunnel. He wondered how far below ground he had gone.
In the distance, he heard a chink-chink sound. Like someone tapping a rock with a hammer. That was impossible. Bradshaw remembered something he had heard once, about auditory hallucinations in deep caverns. It had to do with sensory deprivation. Deprived of normal background noise, the brain begins to invent sounds. Or one might begin to see things, creatures or movement that could not be there. No doubt this was the origin of stories about goblins, dwarves and gnomes.
The chink-chink sound was faint, but growing louder. Then he saw someone. That is, Bradshaw thought he saw someone. A man. He could not be sure. The tunnel was long and narrow and very dark. His own light reached only a few feet. He was beginning to feel intense claustrophobia, as if he could scarcely breathe. He could reach out with both arms and touch the rock walls on either side. The roof beams were barely above his head. It was impossible to judge distance, but far off for just a moment, he saw a man walk past.
The man came out of one side tunnel and entered another, crossing Bradshaw’s line of sight. The man had a small light on his head, attached to his cap. He carried tools over one shoulder, a pick and perhaps a sledge hammer. He wore brown, dirty clothing, almost the same color as the rock. Bradshaw nearly called out, but stopped himself. He had a feeling that would not be right. He had a feeling of witnessing something from a great distance, something he would not be able to affect in any way. It was a distance of time, not space.