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The Terrorist Plot at Gopherville by Steve Bartholomew - HTML preview

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Contents

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
Dead Body

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.”
“Excuse me?”
“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.

Chapter the Second Faustus

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.”
Sylvia shrugged.
“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