Ira Pratt stared at the squared board lost in thought. If he moved to the right, he would surely lose two checkers. Maybe, he thought, as many as four. Moving to the left would not help either. There was actually only one semi-safe move to make, and that was straight ahead. But even that move could put a hurtin’ on his few remaining checkers, he thought. Nothing to do for it though, but move it, and see what happened.
He stared into the thoughtful eyes of the older man across the table, trying to read them. No good, he was a master at hiding his thoughts. His face was calm and carefully composed, not so much as a smile played at the corners of his mouth.
Ira gave in and decisively moved one checker forward and then leaned back into his chair, waiting to see what the older man would do.
“Well, I see you have left me little choice, Ira,” the older man said. He picked up one of his own checkers and carefully slid it forward as he finished speaking.
“That was what I was hoping you’d do,” Ira said grinning as he jumped two of the older man’s checkers.
“No doubt about it, Ira, you’re just too good for me,” the older man replied. He smiled widely, and pleasantly, and then changed the subject. “How about we take a short break, Ira, maybe go for a walk. You must get tired of beating me all the time?”
“Well,” Ira replied, “I kind ‘a get the idea you let me beat you some times, but sure, I wouldn’t mind a break at all.”
“I would never let you beat me, Ira. It is a good thing we don’t play poker though. I might gamble the entire kingdom away trying to beat you,” the older man replied laughing. “Besides I have my reasons for wanting to take a break right now. I see it like this, if you and I take a break, maybe once we return your concentration will not be so keen, and then maybe I will win one of these games for a change.” He rose from the small table as he finished speaking. “Ready, Ira?”
Ira closed his eyes. He could have kept them open, and a few times he had, but the trip was unnerving enough without adding the visual aspects to it. Not that there was anything to see except darkness for the split second they would be traveling, he thought. Still…
He opened his eyes. They had actually only been shut for less than a second, but in that space of time they had traveled a considerable distance, or at least seemed to have. The small table that had been before him was gone, replaced by a lush green valley. A calm blue river flowed across the valley floor far below. He followed it with his eyes as it wound away in the distance.
“It’s beautiful,” Ira exclaimed, “but will it still be…?” He let the question trail away.
“Yes it will, as will several others, Ira. But it need not be this place, there are so many to choose from,” the older man informed him. “Come.”
Ira blinked, and when he opened his eyes they were standing in a high mountain meadow. Wild flowers covered the meadow, and a large, summer-fat herd of deer grazed peacefully among them. A large buck raised its heavily antlered head and stared at the two men, but perceiving no threat went back to grazing the field.
“This is also beautiful,” Ira said quietly.
“It only matters where, Ira. There are so many. There were even more, and there will be again.”
“I’ll have to tell Cora about this place, and the other,” Ira replied, still watching the deer graze.
“You should, Ira. In fact, there will be many things to tell her. Things she will need to know, Ira.”
“Yes. The time is short.”
“I was afraid of that,” Ira said slowly.
“There is no reason to be afraid, Ira.”
“I know that. I guess I mean afraid, as in I wish it didn’t have to happen.”
“I knew what you meant, Ira, but it is necessary. As much as I would wish that it was not, it is.”
Ira nodded his head slowly. “I know.”
The two men stood in silence for several minutes, watching the deer in the field. It seemed so peaceful to Ira, a good place to be, a good place to live, and that made it harder to accept that most of it would soon be gone. The older man spoke, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.
“Would you like to look at some others, Ira?”
“I believe I would at that. I think I’d like to look at as much as I kin before it’s gone, I guess. Does that sound wrong?”
“No, Ira, it does not, I too wish to look… Ready?”
Ira nodded but did not close his eyes. Darkness enveloped him, and a sense of speed. The absence of light was complete; he could only sense the presence of the older man beside him as the traveled through the dark void.
– 2 –
Far below the small city of Watertown New York, Richard Pierce sat working before an elaborate computer terminal. He had just initiated the program that managed the small nuclear power plant hidden deep below him in the rock. A small handset beside the computer station chimed, and he picked it up and listened. He did not speak at first, but as he listened a smile spread across his face. “Very good,” he said happily, when the caller was finished, “keep me advised.” He set the small handset back into its cradle and turned his attention back to the screen in front of him. The plant had powered up just as it was supposed to, no problems whatsoever, and that made Richard Pierce extremely happy. Two more days tops, he thought, and then maybe I’ll get out of this dump.
He supposed he should feel honored that he was even here. It was after all one of the biggest projects in the country, albeit top secret, but he could not help the way he felt. He was close to a mile underground, totally cut off from everything and everyone, and he hated it. If he had a choice, which he had not, he would never have come at all. But he had written the software that handled the power plant, as well as several other sections of the underground city, and that made it his baby. There were a couple of small bugs, mainly due to the fact that no one had been allowed to know what the entire program was supposed to do. The way the rewrites were going however, it looked as though he would not be stuck here anywhere near as long as he had originally thought, and that was something to think about. He had begun to feel that he would never leave this rock bound prison, and wouldn’t that be a real bitch.
– 3 –
At a large gravel pit on the outskirts of Watertown, Gary Jones carefully maneuvered the wide mouth of the loader bucket over the dump box of the truck, and pulled back on the lever closest to him to release the load. Ain’t this something, he thought as he slowly topped off the dump box, barely 10 AM and we’ve already sent out twenty seven truckloads of gravel to the base.
Six men out sick, and another forty truckloads to deliver before five tonight. What in hell are they doing with all this gravel? He wondered. It was a question he had asked many times before, and still had not gotten an answer to. Uncle Sam paid well though, and on time to boot, so he guessed he probably shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. He signaled the driver, and he pulled away with a whoosh of air as he released the brakes. Another dump truck lumbered up to take his place, and he pushed the questions out of his mind as he began filling the box.
– 4 –
In Seattle Washington, Harvey Pearlson sat at his wide mahogany desk and talked quietly into the phone.
The extravagantly appointed office was located on the top floor of one of Seattle’s most highly regarded newspapers. Pearlson had worked his way up from the bottom, after starting as a carrier in 1955, sixteen floors below.
“No,” Pearlson said quietly, “I don’t want to know. I just thought that maybe it could be handled in some other way.” He listened for a few minutes nodding his head as he did.
“Yes, yes I see, but?” He rubbed his eyes as he listened. “No, I don’t,” he said emphatically, “I happen to like him a great deal, and if you give me the time…” The voice on the other end of the line cut him off, and he once again listened quietly.
“I see,” he said, once the voice had finished speaking. “No, I do understand. I won’t. Do you think I’m that stupid? Give me a little credit here, will you. You wouldn’t even be aware of it if I hadn’t called you in the first place, for Christ’s sake.” He listened for a few seconds longer, then hung up the phone.
There was no reasoning with Weekes, he told himself, and he was going to do what he was going to do. For Frank’s sake, he wished he had never called him at all. Too late now though, he told himself, far too late. After all, he had done his best to swing Frank away from the story, but Frank Morgan was not a man who could be easily swayed, and, he told himself, unless he wanted to find himself in the same circumstances, he had better just shut up and let it go. He reached over and thumbed the intercom button.
“I’m going to be out the rest of the day, Cindy, and if Frank Morgan comes looking for me before he leaves, you don’t know where I am, correct?”
“Anything important comes up you can reach me on my mobile, Cindy.”
“Yes Sir, Mister Pearlson.”
Harvey Pearlson picked up his briefcase and left the office. Whatever Weekes had in mind, he wanted nothing to do with it, and he didn’t want to be available for any sort of questions that might arise either. It was unfortunate enough that he had started the whole ball rolling;he had no intention of sticking around to see where it ended up stopping. No, he told himself, the lake was the best place to be. The only place to be, and he intended to stay there until the whole thing blew over just as he had been told to.
He took his private elevator down to the garage area, walked across to his Lincoln, and drove out of the parking garage, turning right on Beechwood. He passed a hooker standing at the corner of the building, and thought just how badly Beechwood Avenue had gotten as of late. He would have to speak to the security people when he got back from the lake. Putting up with the hookers that had taken over the avenue at night was one thing, but broad daylight? Standing right in front of the frigging building? No, something would have to be done, and if the security people couldn’t take care of it, maybe he’d speak to Weekes. After all, he owed him one now, didn’t he? He pushed the thought away, signaled, and pulled out onto the loop. In an hour he’d be at the lake, and then he could forget about the whole mess, for today at least. He eased the car up to sixty, and leaned back into the leather upholstery to enjoy the drive.
– 5 –
April 11th 1952
Ira Pratt drove the old tractor carefully down the side of the slippery hill. It had been raining for close to three days, and it didn’t look as though it was going to let up right quick, he thought.
The rain was causing all sorts of problems, and not just for him, he knew, but for the cows as well. The biggest problem was the creek, and the only way the creek wasn’t going to be a problem was to unplug the thing.
He sat on the tractor as it slipped and slid its way down the hill through the gray sheets of rain. Ira let out a sigh of relief once it reached the bottom. For a second there, he had been sure both he and the old tractor would end up in the creek, but God was smiling on him today.
He slipped the worn gearbox into neutral, and sat looking at the rush of muddy-brown water. The creek was a good four feet above the point of flooding, and he wasn’t sure it was a smart move to try to put the tractor in that. The tractor was sure footed, but so was a goat, and he’d seen more than one goat end up on its ass. But there wasn’t anything else for it. If he didn’t move the trees that were clogging the creek, and flooding it out and over the banks, then he might as well just sit back and watch a couple more cows drown.
Ira knew cows, pretty much anyhow, and every one that he and Cora owned were just as stupid as any other cow he’d ever seen. The cows didn’t understand flooding, they didn’t understand how the water could weaken the banks, and so the big dummies just walked on down to the creek, just like any other day, and got swept away when the bank crumbled under their weight. Three days of rain and four dead cows, and though cows were stupid, they weren’t cheap.
Ira sat in the pouring rain and stared at the creek. Normally, the creek was no more than eighteen inches deep at the most. Course normal wasn’t what it was today, he thought, and wishin’ it was wouldn’t make it so. It was his own damn fault, he reminded himself. Two of the trees that were clogging it had been there last summer, and hadn’t he promised Cora he’d take ’em out before fall? He had, but he hadn’t, and so here he was in the pouring rain fixin’ to half kill himself to get ’em out.
Looked like the best way, Ira thought, might be to try and snag the biggest one right from the bank. He squinted as he shielded his eyes to peer through the rain. One thing was for sure, sittin’ on the tractor and thinkin’ about it, wasn’t gonna get it. Reluctantly, Ira climbed down off the tractor and edged closer to the bank. The rain was coming down hard, but the section he stood upon seemed solid enough. “Probably what the cows thought,” he muttered as he moved closer.
He walked back to the tractor, unwound a long section of chain from behind the seat, and walked back to the creek. The top of the bigger tree was sticking a good three feet over the bank, and he was glad that it was. He could see that the water was rising faster, and moving along quicker, and he had no wish to get any closer to it than he had to. Quickly, but carefully, he wound the chain around the tree and pegged the links with an old bolt to hold them. Looks good, and solid as well, he thought as he slipped the other end of the chain over the bucket. He genuinely didn’t want to try and turn the tractor around. In fact, he thought, as muddy as the ground was, he’d be damn lucky just to get it back up and away from the creek when he finished.
He gave an experimental tug at the chain, and then climbed back up on the tractor. Carefully, without grinding the gears any more than he surely had to, shifted into reverse. He played the clutch out slowly and brought up the slack in the chain.
“Well God?” He asked, looking skyward, “You keepin’ a watch down here? I could sure use a hand about now, Lord. Amen,” Ira finished.
He let the clutch out a little further, playing the gas pedal as he did, and let the tractor go to work. The oversized tires spun, caught, and the tractor began to slowly back up the steep bank, pulling the tree out of the muddy water as it did. Ira released the breath he had been holding, and just as he did the chain snapped in two. Ira barely had time to register what had happened, when the old tractor flipped, crushing him beneath it.