“SON. OF. A. BITCH!”
Oka-a-ay. It was a fine spring Montana Sunday morning. As usual, Sissy and I started the day by joining Jack, Carolyn, and Wayne for breakfast. Wayne cooked, Carolyn served, and Jack usually kicked off a round table discussion with a topic he wanted to explore.
But we’d never heard him kick one off quite like this.
Hearing the front door open and close, he looked up from his computer screen, saw my raised eyebrow, and shook his head.
“Yeah?” Sissy took my coat to hang on the rack, leaving me free to shuck my overshoes and head on into the kitchen. Hill’s working desk was in the next room, but through an open archway and completely visible from the kitchen table. “What about Benghazi?”
“Woods and Doherty.”
“Tyrone and Glen? The SEALS?”
“Just got an email forwarded from Ghost. Looks legitimate. It says those two former SEALS killed sixty of the attacking force before the mortar got them. Seven hours, sixty enemy dead, and never one lick of support for our guys from the Administration. They got hung out to dry, and still they knock down sixty before they check out.”
“Ah.” There wasn’t much more to say. This was one topic that never failed to rile the long-lived Hill. Obama’s coverup, aided and abetted by the spiritually and ideologically corrupt leftwing media, had been smothering the Benghazi story from the get-go. Not even Fox News had a whole lot on it these days. To suddenly discover that–
“–Jack, does that email give an estimate of how many enemy screamers they were up against, all told?”
“Yeah. Says here, somewhere between 100 and 200. And that when our guys were finally overrun, the terrorists were totally ticked off–well, the Chaplain who wrote this up didn’t say ticked off, he said incensed. Totally incensed that just two men had caused all that death and destruction.”
Carolyn West was starting to set the table. Wayne Bruce had a spatula going, serving up a batch of fried eggs. The bacon was already stacked on two plates, dripping grease down onto the paper towels folded beneath the meat. Sissy moved to help Carolyn.
I cheated, just poured myself a cup of coffee and got out of the way. Shaking his head, Jack shut his computer down, then copied my rather sensible action. Division of labor right there, the two lead dogs with their elbows on the table, eyeballing each other over steaming mugs of joe while the gals and the gay guy dished up the chow.
Worked for us.
“It ain’t the only miscarriage of justice going on out there in the big, bad world,” I reminded my mentor.
“No,” he sighed, “It sure as Hell isn’t. In fact, here’s another one. You know that EDTA we all use, the stuff that keeps your arteries nice and clean?”
I nodded. “Sure. Oral chelation. The WonderLabs product.”
“That’s the one.”
“What about it?”
“Looks like Google’s got a vendetta going against WonderLabs. Shut them down tight last June, I think it was. They couldn’t get a lick of Internet sales traffic until they scrubbed every trace of EDTA from their site.”
“They told you this?” Both of my eyebrows went up this time.
“No,” he shook his head. “I asked, but they weren’t talking. It’s not like they have any reason to trust me. I’ve been a good customer since, let me think…2006. But they don’t know me. So I had one of my contacts do some investigating after I couldn’t find any EDTA on their site to reorder. Told him I wanted to know what was really happening. He did his sneaky investigation thing, and guess what he found out?”
I realized I’d already inhaled my first mug of coffee and got up to get a refill. The eggs and bacon were on the table. Time to eat, but first…”No clue. Fill me in.”
Hill seemed to be unaware there was food on the table, so Carolyn slipped the old man’s plate out from under his nose and began heaping it with goodies.
It turns out that Google has been after WonderLabs for pretty much all of the ten years they’ve been selling online. They’ve lost dozens of good products just like they did this one, the EDTA. WonderLabs staffers believe Google and/or the FDA intends to force EDTA off the market.”
Hm. “Does that make any sense?”
“Nope. Not a bit. Not unless Google has a competitve product. Then, maybe. But you know what I think is most likely really going on?”
“Let me think about that for a bit. There’s a pile of bacon here calling my name.”
We fell to eating, doing justice to Wayne’s culinary mastery. The gay warrior was no chef; he didn’t go in for fancy schmancy dishes like blintzes or sushi or any of those Hell’s Kitchen offerings. But give the man a hot stove and a few basics, he could fill your belly and leave you begging for more.
Halfway through my second plateful, I had it. “Google doesn’t care one way or the other about WonderLabs. Some individual at Google hates WonderLabs. One person, or at most a small clique of employees. Not the big boss; it’s doubtful he’s even heard of the company.”
Jack Hill winked at me. He didn’t dare answer verbally, his mouth being stuffed at the moment.
Great minds run in the same channels.
We said no more on the topic till the dishes were cleared. Then I took up where I’d left off. “It’s not really about the products. Heck, I did a Google search on EDTA just the other day. There are other brands out there you can buy, and Google’s not bothering them.”
“Precisely.” The Protector smiled that wry, one-sided way that meant he was not amused at all. “It could be even be somebody who worked for WonderLabs at one time and got fired, the old disgruntled former employee gambit. If the big bosses found out, he–or she–would be in trouble, probably, but they’re not likely to find out. None of us peons like you or me or the WonderLabs people being persecuted…nobody’s going to get through to top management.”
“Well,” I shrugged, “as Ghost would say, it is what it is. There’s no way we can help out. Even if we did stir up some trouble, it would most likely backfire on the people we were trying to help. Plus, as you’ve told me more times than I care to count, we gotta pick our battles. And brother, I’d say ours have already been picked.”
“True that. Besides, it’s Sunday. Give me twenty minutes to take care of my morning constitutional, and then let’s go spelunking like we planned, eh?”
“Sounds good to me.” In fact, I agreed wholeheartedly. Sam’s cave, which we’d renamed Wolf Cave long before Sam Trace had been killed, was beckoning. Some sources were saying there were already upward of 30,000 drones–licensed drones–operating in the U.S. From all reports, our Morse Code adventure had been finished and done with in time; it wasn’t likely any little spies in the skies had observed any of that.
But the next time, we might not be so lucky…and the only place we knew to be drone-proof was the cave, hidden from spying eyes under a literal mountain of granite. We had plans for spy-proofing the cabin in front of the entrance with sheets of aluminum foil, maybe even lead, but that was no sure thing.
Only Wolf Cave remained invulnerable to the droney thingie, should law enforcement or the DoD or the Cartel or a few paid assassins bring such things to bear. We needed to explore that cave a whole lot more thoroughly…and we needed to, if at all possible, find another way out.
I checked my watch as we slipped through the hidden door in the cabin’s back wall: 8:03 a.m. We were getting a good start.
Jack called the entrance to Wolf Cave a portal, as if the underground cavern were not a natural cave but a manmade mine. On previous Sundays, as time permitted, we’d explored the Great Room–high ceilinged, 40 feet across, and 49 feet long–plus three openings in the granite large enough to permit a man’s body to pass. Jack knew how to survey with a transit; I served as rodman.
The first opening, off-branching from the right side of the Great Room, initially showed great promise. For nearly fifty feet of its length, we were able to travel without doing more than bending at the waist occasionally or, in one wasp-waisted tight spot, turning sideways to pass through. But then we came to a dead end
Well…not a complete dead end. The passage continued, an opening through the rock perhaps large enough for a badger to pass. Not a man, though. Not even a good looking six-foot-two, broad shouldered black man like myself.
I laughed aloud when we first examined the way ahead, which was no way at all.
“What’s so funny?” Jack asked, and I had to tell him.
“I was just picturing my uncle B.J. trying to fit through there. All 300 pounds of him.”
Hill marked the spot with a slanted slash of ink topped by a dash of green highlighter–Narrow/Difficult Passage (Explore Further). We’d return here someday with blasting equipment, to see if the badger hole could be turned into a manhole.
For now, it was time to move on.
“Good spots here and there for an ambush,” I pointed out, “or hidden storage.”
After that came a much shorter tunnel, almost nothing more than a narrow room leading from the other side of the cave. It, too, had an exit at the far end…but one suited more for a ground squirrel than a badger. Jack green-marked it, just like the other one, but I wasn’t holding my breath.
At the far right corner, though, we hit the jackpot. A third “exit tunnel” led off. Less than 20 feet farther on, we had a choice: Keep on keeping on, or turn to the right. We held left, wound around a bit, discovered a mini-Great Room that, though a fraction of the real Great Room’s size, was still large enough to house us all indefinitely in a pinch. There was a narrow spot between the two rooms that could easily be dynamited shut in an emergency.
Beyond that, an exit tunnel…ending some 120 feet from the mini-Great Room’s far end.
We couldn’t find even a squirrel hole here, but Jack green-marked the spot on his working sketch anyway.
“I’ve got a hunch,” he explained, and I’d learned to respect the hunches of Jack Hill. You don’t get to be more than 250 years old in the same body without your hunches working out pretty well overall.
Ah, I’m boring you. Sorry about that. When I get to talking about cave exploration…yeah, I can see your eyes glazing over.
I’ll cut to the chase.
Roughly 15 feet down the other, righthand fork, we’d come to a narrowing of the passageway that looked less intimidating than the others. Jack Hill, considerably smaller than me, could almost make it through the tight spot to where–as we could see with our miners’ lights and flashlights–it opened up again. A Vietnam tunnel rat could have scooted through there without so much as scraping his hide.
So, last Sunday, we’d blasted the thing.
We didn’t use power tools to drill the holes to place the dynamite. Sure, we could have set up a generator outside the cabin, strung 100 feet of cable to run a compressor, and fired up a rock drill–what Jack called a buzzy. He actually owned one of those things, an interesting contraption made by a company called Gardner Denver.
But we hadn’t dared. “Start doing interesting stuff near the portal, Tree,” he’d explained, “and we might as well send up a smoke signal to whoever’s out there watching us.”
So Jack had shown me how to use a single jack.
In case you don’t know, before power equipment, miners drilled 3/4″ holes into solid rock all the time that way. It’s a matter of using a series of carbon chisels in one hand, a 4 pound hammer in the other…and going for it. Hill had shown me a YouTube video of the 2009 Single Jack Championship being won, the contestants swinging that hammer nonstop for a full ten minutes.
After trying it for real, my overall take on the topic was: Holy crap!
After a minute of swinging, that 4 pound hammer transmogrified into a 40 pound hammer. Wore. My. Ass. Out. And just about busted my thumb once, missing with the hammer after the lactic acid had set into my hammer arm.
The old man made it look easy. He didn’t try to match any champions, either in speed or endurance, but he had a rhythm. White boy got rhythm after all. We’d taken the day to do it, but by sunset that day we were back out of the portal, waiting for the -WHUFF!- dynamite explosion.
“All 40 holes went,” Jack had nodded in satisfaction. I wondered how he knew, just from the sound, but I didn’t doubt him.
Today, it was time to clean up the mess. With wheelbarrows, muck sticks, and a few hand-lifts for the larger pieces, we went to work. Nothing speedy about it, no Tennessee Ernie Ford and his Sixteen Tons of Number Nine Coal, but steady. We kept at it till shortly after noon by my watch, then sat down to rest our weary bones and gobble the meat loaf sandwiches Carolyn and Sissy had packed for us.
Neither of us spoke. We didn’t have to. The tight spot had indeed been brief; we were leaned up against rock walls, staring down a tunnel that had to be at least two feet wide and eight tall for as far as the lights could shine.
We were onto something.