Near the Bering Strait
The walls and ceiling were roughly round. The makeshift chamber was twenty feet wide by ten feet high. It was greenish, milky white, and cold.
The floor was hard, frozen ground. Three kerosene heaters and two pumps attached to hoses stood about three feet from the wall of ice, designed to slowly melt the ice wall at the back of the cave.
Artificial lamps cast an eerie, wavering glow in the man-made ice-cave. It was mid-afternoon on a sunny day, but you wouldn't know it in here. The half-dozen people, anonymous in identical parkas, looked like they were in space, though they'd been told there was no need for the care they were taking. Even after several weeks, the thought of all this equipment digging ever deeper into a massive, moving, growing block of ice made all their movements nervous and tentative.They were mid-glacier, in a horizontal hole they had dug and melted, with ice all around them, throwing the interior into even more of a greenish, milky haze. Somehow it seemed more tenuous and dangerous than an earthen cave.
The heaters were slowly melting the back wall, or front, if you considered the movement into the glacier as "forward", with the water dripping into a tub before being pumped out through three-inch hoses where it quickly re-froze outside.
One of the men monitoring the progress, Mike Sketnik, was bored. Some post-graduate internship this turned out to be, he thought. Watching a glacier melt was almost as exciting as watching paint dry, only sitting under a few tons of ice made this much more dangerous than sitting in a room staring at wet paint. Of course, Mike hadn't always felt this way. In the beginning, the growing tunnel was a blue-green wonderland. It looked like something from an old Star Trek episode. But after a week, it started getting old. He was ready to go back home to his church Media Ministries team and his Internet classes. Mike was an avid "oldies" fan, so to help pass the time, he tried to remember the words to old songs. But it would always degenerate to something relevant, like:
"If you're ever in Alaska
stop and see - ee
my cute little Eskimo"
Or, as he was now thinking:
"So if you don't want me to be
cold as ice,
(thumpity - thump - thump)
Treat me nice."
He was so preoccupied, he almost missed it, since his shift was practically over. But at the words "cold as ice", he glared at the melting, whitish-gray wall in front of him... and saw something. He turned around and called out, "Hey! I see something! Something's in there!"
Jason Schmidt, who was only a few feet away doing one of his frequent equipment checks, muttered, "This better not be another one of your stupid jokes, Mike. 'What?' we say. 'There's ice in there', you say."
Mike shook his head."No, for real! Is Joe here?"
Joseph Kosagnarak, a graduate student who had distinguished himself and was now shift supervisor, looked up from the letter he'd been reading. Normally he waited until he was on his own time before he opened his personal mail, but he'd been on pins and needles waiting for this one.Lord, he prayed in silence, It's been too long. I need to be with her again. But now he stuffed it into his parka and walked to the wall. "Yes, I'm here, Mike. Let's see what you found. Where is it?"
Good, Schmidt thought, That's the right way to talk to him. Don't ask that turkey 'what?' Ask him 'Where?'
"It's still in there a ways, but it's kinda here..." Sketnik's gloved finger outlined the vague shape he saw. "It's some kind of animal," he said, enthusiastically. "Hey! Maybe it's a woolly mammoth, like they found that time in Siberia."
"You sure you don't mean mastodon?" Kosagnarak muttered, staring through the ice. After a while, catching the enthusiasm himself, he said, "No...no, I don't think so."
"Why not? It is an animal, right?"
"Looks like one, but it's too small and shaped wrong for a mammoth." He grinned at Sketnik. "Looks more like a big reptile... or maybe a bird."
"Wow...that means it's even older, huh? I mean, this is an even more important find than we thought it was."
Kosagnarak nodded without consciously hearing the question, muttering, "If this thing is really what it looks like. Remember, at this point it's just as likely to be a broken tree trunk or something." He turned, searching. "Jorge!"
One of the parkas looked up and waved.
Kosagnarak beckoned and Jorge sauntered over.
"Get some pictures of this and let's focus on it from now on," he said. "I know I don't have to tell you to be careful, but let the record show that I did, okay?"
Jorge grinned."You got it."
They moved away in different directions. Kosagnarak headed for his tent to record the find in his journal... and to finish reading his letter.
Jorge turned and gave orders to the diggers impatiently, eager to send a message of his own.
"Yes, yes; I see it," the older man said, with growing enthusiasm. In spite of the cold, his iron-gray hair was damp and plastered to his forehead. His green eyes squinted as he focused on the ice in front of him. His coat was open, and his whole body was tense with concentration. After several minutes he turned and said, "Joe?"
Kosagnarak came to attention. "Yes, Mr...uh, Bob?" He was still uncomfortable with the informality, but the older man insisted, so he tried to comply.
"You made the right decision. I'll back it up. Recovering the creature should be our highest priority. You're a paleontologist, aren't you?"
"Right. Of course, I like archaeology, too..."
Robert Bernat sighed and waved off the disclaimer. "Once this creature is available to study in detail, you won't be able to assist me anymore with digging. You'll be too busy with your 'first love'. Let's be realistic."
Kosagnarak didn't know what to say to that. He ran his hands through his straight, raven-black hair and shook his head. His own emotions were a strange mixture of sadness and elation. He loved working closely with Professor Bernat, who all the students called "the Prof". But here was an opportunity to study a totally intact creature. This was much more than a skeleton! He stared through the ice, trying to push the form into greater clarity through the force of his will. The effort only gave him a headache, but that didn't dull his appreciation for the find.
HALF AN HOUR LATER
EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Karl Diefenbach, Professor Emeritus of Paleontology at Cambridge and current president of the Boston Natural History Museum, was edgy. He was 59, looked 45, and felt 80 right now.
Though he usually affected the traditional garb of academia--open necked shirt, sweater, nondescript pants and jacket, he always wore subdued suits at the museum to enhance his authority.
He looked up from the museum's financial reports as his fax machine beeped. He stood, stretched his long, thin frame, and stared at the lights of Boston through the bay window his office boasted, and finally sauntered over to the phone to read his incoming message. His eyes lit up with a smug pleasure as he scanned the page.
"Excellent!" he said, aloud, "Excellent!"
Then he scribbled a quick note, placed it in the machine, punched the numbers he'd memorized and hit the "send" button. As it went through, he stared back out at the city he revered as the intellectual capitol of the world. He was pleased with it, and with himself.
48 HOURS LATER
THE GLACIER DIG
Professor Robert Bernat and Joseph Kosagnarak turned reluctantly away from their discovery and stared at each other. They'd stopped noticing their breath weeks ago, but now they weren't even aware of their eerie surroundings.
"Do you realize," Bernat whispered, "what this means?"
"Well, if it's not a hoax, our names will be in the next edition of every history and science textbook that's published from now on," the younger man said. Though he tried to be matter-of-fact, his voice trembled.
"More like an unmarked grave," the professor said. "This discovery destroys over a hundred years of teaching and understanding.Textbooks, research grants, videos, museum displays...millions, billions of dollars... as well as lives dedicated to teaching and research."
They turned back to the figure, now a little clearer, though still entombed in the ice. They could see the reptilian face, the nearly useless front legs, the powerful hind legs that held it upright, the snakelike tail... and an unnatural complication around its torso that looked suspiciously like leather.
The professor shook himself. "Let's go to the commissary. We need to think this through."
"What about the rest of the team? Shouldn't they know about the danger?"
"I don't know yet." They turned and followed the hoses through the greenish-opaque tunnel into the daylight. The air pressure seemed to change with the light as they stepped outside.
About fifty feet away was the makeshift shack that housed their cantina, cafeteria, snack bar and post office. No one paid attention to the two figures as they made their way silently to it.
Inside, they found the coffee urn and fixed one each: light with no sugar for Bernat, black with two sugars for Kasagnarak.
The place was busy--they'd called a break before their private talk in the glacier--but they were still able to find a table away from the others.
With their styrofoam cups in front of them on the folding card table, they sat and took tentative sips. Then Bernat chuckled without humor. "I keep thinking of that line that Uncle Billy says in 'It's a Wonderful Life'.It was something like, 'Oh, this is a pickle!' This...is...a...pickle!"
The enormity of their position began to intrude into the young man's thoughts."But...well...I mean, what do we do?"
Bernat became a scientist again, but with a new wariness. "First, we must make absolutely sure it's not a fraud. Then, we must be careful about whom we tell, and how we tell them. And, we need to make out our wills very carefully."
"Wills?"Joe chuckled. "No need there. My parents are both gone, I'm an only child, and I don't even know who my cousins are."
"But there is that special young lady, right?"
"Uh, yeah.Pamela. Pamela Suisalak. But...I mean...I don't even own anything!"
"Nevertheless, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know how to contact her." Bernat was so serious that Joe decided to stop protesting.
"Hey, no problem.She's already my official 'next of kin' on the forms I filled out when I applied for this gig."
Bernat nodded, satisfied. "Good.Thank you."
"But why do you think our lives are in danger? I mean, the media could just do like they always do: ignore us, debunk us, make us look like fanatics. Don't you think that's the real danger?"
"It's a more likely danger, but I want to be prepared for the worst. Besides, I don't want that to happen to you, either.Your career hasn't even really started yet. I don't want it to get shot down before you even have a chance to do anything."
Joe noticed that the Prof hadn't mentioned himself, but let it go.
With that out of the way, Joe was ready to issue orders to the crew. He looked around the room. "Where's Jorge?"
The short, dark man currently known as Jorge Aiello had slipped into the glacier moments after they'd left and studied the creature himself. It took him longer to recognize the details, but when he realized what he was probably looking at, he figured it was enough for another secret bonus from Boston. He ran to the all-purpose shack and into the corner containing the office equipment.
He had a very important fax to send.
Diefenbach stared at the fax in horrified disbelief. His normal pedantic self-satisfaction was gone. At first, all he could think of was, "No...no...no...". Then he shook himself and paced around the oak-paneled room. It was a fraud, a hoax...it had to be. Probably planted by one of... one of them!
He couldn't stand the thought of people being taken in by this. If taken seriously, it could cause the whole world to question modern science. And who wouldn't take it seriously, with this prestigious museum underwriting it!
He wasn't due for a drink for another half-hour, but he strode to the cabinet against the wall to the left of his massive desk. The kind of decision he needed to make required steady nerves. Grasping the crystal decanter, he poured a generous dollop of brandy into a snifter and measured his options.
The easiest was to simply shut down the dig and pull everyone home. That might work, except the wrong people had already seen the abomination and would waste no time in spreading religious lies about it. In no time civilization would be back in the Dark Ages.
What else was there?
He could recall the present team and send in a more reasonable one to replace them. But who could he trust? Who could guarantee that they would sell photographs to the tabloids?
He could travel there himself, declare the find a hoax and discredit the discoverers. He liked that one.
But they would challenge him. They'd probably do it publicly, too. After all, they'd be fighting for their credibility and their futures... as would he.
What else was left?
He did not consider himself a ruthless man. Decisive, perhaps. Assertive, not aggressive. Nevertheless, this particular situation was extraordinary... an emergency. These circumstances were extreme... and extreme circumstances called for extreme responses.
In ten minutes his response was speeding across Canada, toward the Arctic Circle in the Northwest.
An extreme response.
A few hours later, a strong and sudden impulse came over Joe Kasagnarak. First, he rummaged through his gear and brought his camera down to the find. After staring again for a few minutes, he turned on every lamp there and took several pictures of it, in the best light he could produce. He put the film in an envelope and addressed it to John Signewski, at his home address in Seattle, with a note of instructions he didn't fully understand himself. Next he found his address book, put it in an envelope, and sent it to Pamela with a note taped to the front cover: "Please hold this for me. If anything happens, try to contact these people. See you soon. Love, Joe."
Then he took both packages to Kimberly at the concession/office/mail shack. He prayed for guidance, and that worked as long as your heart was right, but afterwards he never could explain what he was doing or why.
Sometimes he couldn't even explain it to himself.
Professor Bernat found a hand truck, then finished labeling his own package and brought it to the makeshift campsite Post Office.
Kimberly Mischat, a student from Seattle, worked hard to maintain her "blonde" reputation, despite a native intelligence she could never quite conceal. When she saw Bernat entering with the clumsy package, she put down the paperback copy of Anna Karenina and smiled. "Hi, Professor." Then she noticed the box. "Wow! Most of us want to get 'CARE' packages. You actually send one to somebody!"
Bernat forced himself to chuckle. "My nephew's freezer broke, so I'm sending him some natural ice."
She nodded sagely, as if she believed it. "Su-ure!Makes good sense to me."
When the package was weighed and her customer was gone, Kimberly read the name again: "Leland Bishop in Winston, Pennsylvania." Then she hefted it...man, this thing was heavy!...on the shelf to wait for the daily trip to town. "Wonder if this nephew in Pennsylvania's married?"
A few feet away, in the restaurant part of the shack, an athletic-looking black girl approached a table where Jason sat with Kim and another young man from the team named John Signewski.
Jason said, "Hey, Terri! Have a seat, why don'tcha. You look worried about something. You okay?"
Terri ripped open her bag of salt and vinegar potato chips as she sat down. "Yes to both. I'm okay, and I'm worried about something."
"Yeah, I have a mild case of the willies, too. How about you, John?"
Signewski nodded."I agree. Something's definitely going on."
Terri accepted that as encouragement. "Joe and the Prof are always putting their heads together, and suddenly nobody else is allowed inside the glacier anymore."
Jason looked back and forth between them. "That's right. It all started earlier, when Mike found something in the ice."
Terri said, "Found something? What'd he find?"
John snorted."That's what they don't want us to see."
Jason noticed that their words sounded angry, but they didn't look or act that way. "Well, it's all the same to me at this point.I'm headed back home to Florida in a couple of days to finish my break before getting my sheepskin. You think they're trying to get all the credit for whatever they found?"
Terri shook her head."No, it's not like that at all.It's like...like they're trying to protect us."
The firm of Merodach, Balaam and Manassah occupied a building on Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, two blocks east of the New York Stock Exchange.
The first floor of the building contained a local branch of Citibank, which was used by several neighboring firms for their payrolls. The rest of the building's twelve floors were owned and occupied by what everyone believed was just another brokerage firm. The employees believed they worked for one of the many brokers in the area. And, to a very limited extent, they were right.
But the firm of Merodach, Balaam and Manassah did much more than buying and selling stocks and bonds.
The top floor had its own elevator, which could only be reached by passing through a retina-scan foyer just off the main lobby. Then a security guard would verify identities before allowing anyone past. The floor itself consisted of a central lobby with three administrative assistants and eight doors. One led to a conference room. The seven others led to the offices of the owners of the firm. None of them were named Merodach, Balaam or Manassah. None of them were brokers, though each of them held a controlling interest in a chosen field.
There were four members present at the meeting being held there today.
Emily Hargreaves, whose liberated sexuality had not hindered a sharp intellect and an aggressive ambition. She had controlling interest in pharmaceuticals and medical companies.
Anthony DeNazzo, an ex-Roman Catholic priest who was now an expert on all faiths and an adherent of none.
Julian Farnier, a professional lobbyist whose influence in Washington was as powerful as it was invisible.
Gunther Baumgartner, whose inherited wealth and military expertise combined to make him an arch-mover in national defense decisions.
All of them were now seated in the conference room, at its large round table with seven chairs. At the center of the table was a lamp that illuminated its surface while leaving the rest of the room in darkness.
It was Baumgartner's turn to be moderator.
They always sat in the same seats, since selecting them over twenty years before. There had been several replacements, usually engineered by one of the others in the group. Baumgartner looked to his left. "DeNazzo?"
The accented, well-modulated baritone voice intoned, "The increase in church attendance is already dropping off. As you know, the scandal among priests and bishops is dividing American Catholics.They will soon be as fragmented and confused as their 'separated brethren'. Islam continues to grow, though hostility toward it also continues to rise. Others are holding their own on the fringes, with varying degrees of acceptability in the mainstream. That is, of course, obvious. We're planning something that will scandalize all theistic beliefs. It should be ready in about two years."
They all knew not to inquire about the nature of the plan. DeNazzo, in his forties and still handsome with wavy, iron-grey hair, preferred to present victorious accomplishments to describing his plans. He liked being admired after the fact more than bragging ahead of time.
Emily Hargreaves, still beautiful at 48, though slightly heavier in the face and build, composed her face for recitation. She did not want unnecessary attention--yet. She kept her expression deadpan and gave her report.
"Popular resistance to cloning is wearing down. People are continuing to medicate their troubles away. A new drug will soon be introduced that will kill sperm in the male before sex. We think women will love it, since it takes the burden of birth control away from them."
Baumgartner knew there was more, but this was simply an update of previous briefings. The serious reports would come later. He turned to the handsome, high-energy lobbyist.
"The integrity of every contender for the next presidential election is about to be seriously undermined. They've already all compromised themselves, though some don't even know it yet. They will all be replaced by our people, and then it won't matter which party wins."
Baumgartner, whose turn came last, turned his heavily-jowled face around the dim circle and gave a cynical little smile. It made his face hideous, and he knew it. But he didn't care. "You know how the military's ranks have swelled with zealots recently. Most of them will be gone in three years; almost all of them in five. Then we'll be able to start imposing some of our policies a little more aggressively."
Then he turned his attention back to Hargreaves. "We are waiting to hear what the Boston expedition to Alaska will be finding."
Hargreaves cleared her throat uncomfortably."They were... expected... to find skeletal remains to support the 'Lucy' arrangement in the ground outside their camp. But they haven't gotten near it yet. Something unforeseen occurred."
Nasher, who had heard something about it, said, "The explosion?"
Hargreaves said, "No, that was emergency damage control. What they found was a thescelosaurus wearing a harness."
Shocked silence reigned for almost a full minute.
Finally Baumgartner asked, "How many people actually saw this?"
"Three that we know of. One was ours. The other two perished... in the explosion, of course."
"We didn't believe so, but our man is investigating and will... contain... any other witnesses."
"Was anything else found there?"
"A few artifacts, the kind of thing we've already dealt with: ancient batteries and the like."
DeNazzo said, "Have the New Agers insist that it's Atlantean, or from the Lost Continent of Mu, and the entire culture shifts it over to the fringe."
"Yes, but we inherited that. We didn't invent it."
Hargreaves interrupted."There is more."Everyone listened. "One or two of these artifacts were removed from the site. I believe the perpetrators were the...decedents."
Baumgartner picked up his theme, strengthened by this new development. "And the find?"
"As I mentioned, there was an explosion."
Everyone smiled and relaxed.
But Hargreaves had more to say. "Frankly, I think this is over Dieffenbach's head. He's a zealot and a 'true believer'. Therefore, he's been shaken. I believe he lacks the stability to deal with this alone. Mercenaries have been hired to keep the incident controlled. I believe this will soon be just another non-event."
"It had better be," Baumgartner muttered. "Too many people know about the tools found up there, and the human and dinosaur footprints found together in Texas."
DeNazzo waved the concern away. "The general population couldn't care less, especially when we show them that the people who draw attention to these things also take the Bible literally."
Baumgartner nodded."I guess we can't keep that information from everyone. At least the ones who know about it are known to be fanatics, and they're helping us without knowing it."
A soft chuckle went around the table before they moved on to other concerns.
After the meeting, Hargreaves made a phone call. Her invitation to dine at DelMonico's was accepted. Then she called the restaurant and reserved her four usual tables, all at strategic angles to each other.
A few hours later, she was sitting alone in the booth she always used when the maitre d' brought two well-dressed men to the table. They slid in opposite her and the maitre d' left.
"Good evening, Mr. DeRosena," she opened, addressing the older, darker, thinner and more comfortable of the two men.
He inclined his head."And to you, Ms. Hargreaves. May I introduce Benjamin Van Leep?"
Before he could go on, Hargreaves gave a cool smile to Van Leep and said, "Ex-Army Intelligence.Received an Undesirable Discharge due to drug abuse. Now a freelance expert in persuasion and bodyguarding."
Van Leep, six-two and muscular, with sandy hair and a wispy mustache, quailed under the unflattering description. He almost snarled out something in response, but just barely controlled himself.
"No longer freelance." DeRosena smiled. "He's once again graced with a powerful, full-time employer."
Conversation faded as Hargreaves considered the two men across the table. The waiter appeared to take their orders. She ordered her usual--grilled chicken salad, vinaigrette dressing, a glass of burgundy and a small bottle of Perrier.
DeRosena ordered salmon with Chablis and a side salad, and Van Leep was no surprise. He had steak--medium rare, of course--and Coors Light.
"A powerful, full-time employer," DeRosena had called himself. She'd have to correct his assessment of that. Not too harshly, though. He was a much more valuable asset than Dieffenbach, and was quite interesting... for a man, and a criminal.
She turned to Van Leep, pointed to herself, and announced, "I am your powerful employer." She felt DeRosena's reaction, and ignored it. "Nevertheless, Mr. DeRosena does hold your life and your future in his hands. You will follow his instructions implicitly." Only then did she favor DeRosena with a look that said, "And you will answer to me."
With that out of the way, it was time to get down to business. "Here is the scenario. We authorized, and financed, an archeological dig under the auspices of Boston's Natural History Museum. The Director believes he's in charge, and it suits my purposes for him to continue believing that... for now. But things are happening which were...unplanned. I want to regain control, and make sure that certain spurious and alleged 'discoveries' do not come to the public's attention."She handed a manila envelope to DeRosena. "Here are photographs of the people who participated in the expedition. Two are deceased. Their beneficiaries' photos are also included. Study them. You both may need to recognize these people by sight." Then she handed a slip of paper to Van Leep. "You will go to this place and intercept any packages from the site..." She smiled and quoted Malcolm X: " '...by any means necessary'. You..." This was to DeRosena, "will re-establish contact with Dieffenbach, and do what you have to, to make him obligated to you in this. You'll probably end up taking the project over from him." The rest of her plans for Dieffenbach didn't need to be spoken.
DeRosena nodded, but inside he was calming himself. He did not consider himself a male chauvinist. In fact, he often supported and defended women. He often avenged rape victims anonymously, and went out of his way to help old ladies. But this overbearing witch was different. He enjoyed the thought that someday he would make this one squirm and cry her way to humility.
He was a patient man, however, and was willing to play the servant until his accumulated information put him in the position of power. One day soon, protection from exposure would mean more to this overblown matriarch than the power she loved to slap men with.
He inwardly shook himself back to the present. After all, there was another order of business to be taken care of before he could indulge in that pleasure. This lady scientist wanted him to suppress some facts in the name of science.
He suppressed his cynical snicker and nodded again.
Outside the restaurant, the two men caught a cab and jumped into the back. The meal had gone quickly after that, with each one enjoying private fantasies that involved pain and discomfort for the other two. Van Leep ordered a second beer, which the other two pretended not to notice.
The driver was dark, bearded and wore a turban. Van Leep sneered and stared out his window. "Where shall I take you to?" the driver asked, rolling the "r".
"LaGuardia," DeRosena said.
"I am sorry, sirs.I do not leave Manhattan."
Van Leep sat up."Hey listen, sucker..."
DeRosena put a hand on his arm. "It's okay." Then he leaned forward and pulled out his wallet. "Why don't you leave the clock off and we'll call the fare an even hundred?"
The driver's eyes widened. "You will pay me a hundred dollars just to go to LaGuardia Airport?"
The broad smile enveloped both of them. "It will be a pleasure." With that, he pulled into traffic, cutting off two cars and a delivery truck.
Van Leep looked resentful. "Hundred bucks," he muttered.
DeRosena smiled."Nice to have an expense account."
All the way through the Midtown Tunnel and through Queens to the airport, the two men studied the photographs and the brief biographical sketches attached to each one. Every now and then Van Leep scowled at the driver and nurtured dark thoughts about terrorists and "camel jockeys".
DeRosena asked, "How long does it take to know the city as well as you do?" and settled back, pretending interest in the long, proud reply.
Van Leep got out first, and prepared to board the Delta flight to Pittsburgh, after which he'd endure a puddle-jumper to Williamsport.
DeRosena left the cab at the American terminal, just in time for the shuttle to Boston. He was glad he'd started cultivating Dieffenbach several months ago, as soon as Hargreaves had mentioned him. He wasn't very happy about the fact that she'd somehow found out about it.
Of course, that didn't stop him from taking a nap on the short flight.
Van Leep fidgeted in his seat, trying to look cool and calm like the heavy hitters. After all, that's where he was heading in life. He wished he had shades to wear. They always made a guy look like he didn't care about anything. Not that he cared about what people thought, of course. He just hated flying. It wasn't so bad in the big jetliners, but this stupid Sky King crate was getting on his nerves.
He almost jumped when he heard the seatbelt announcement, but forced himself to relax.After all, he'd be back on the ground in a few minutes.
The flight took almost half an hour, and felt much longer. He finally climbed down the steps and marched across the tarmac and into the small, ridiculous terminal.
There was a car rental booth, and a taxi service. He decided on the taxi. He didn't want to use too many of his IDs too quickly.
The driver was a woman, probably in her thirties. Her red, fuzzy hair was pulled up under a baseball cap. She might have been attractive, if she paid more attention to her appearance. "Good afternoon, sir!" she chirped.
"Wha...oh.Yeah, uh...good afternoon."
"Where'd you like to go today?"
He almost said, "Away from this hole," but shook his head, thought for a moment, and said, "Uh...How about City Hall?" As soon as it was out of his mouth, he wondered if a Podunk town like this would even have a City Hall. If it didn't, he'd have a problem; she'd remember him.
She hesitated, then nodded. After she looked around for luggage and didn't find any, she opened the back door for him. When he had seated himself inside, she closed his door and slid into the driver's seat.Soon they were leaving a cloud of dust behind them.
Van Leep was beginning to feel like he was in another country. A dirt road leading to an airport belonged somewhere in Ubangi-land, not America!
Once they reached downtown Williamsport, however, he began to feel better. At least they had sidewalks and stores here. He even saw a Burger King and a T. G. I. Fridays.
She turned a corner and pulled up in front of a stately, officious-looking building. "Here y'are!" she announced."Three-fifty."
He tossed a five over the seat, grabbed his overnight bag and stepped out. She thanked him and asked if he wanted a receipt, but he didn't hear. He trotted up the steps and through the front doors.
The lobby was so small, dark and old looking he began to feel claustrophobic. But it looked official, frosted glass and everything.
On his left was a metal rack sitting on a small counter, filled with full color brochures advertising the wildlife and scenic locations this area had to offer desperate tourists. The header was bright green, with white block letters saying "FREE! TAKE ONE!" The rack looked too modern for this place; it didn't fit. Next to it was a glorified night table holding some incredibly skinny phone books.
He picked one up and looked through the Yellow Pages section. He couldn't get over a phone book that had yellow pages and white pages, and was still way skinnier than the Bronx white pages alone!Finding a number and address, he then flipped to the front and found a local map. He found the address he wanted, then looked over the other books until he found the one that included the village of Winston.
Van Leep was practically home free.