Adam and Linda fumbled about in the dark, rolling into each other and the walls as the van turned and accelerated. The doors were locked from the outside and they found nothing inside to help them escape. They wedged themselves into a corner, sitting alongside each other for bracing and support, both physical and spiritual.
"Do you have your cell phone?" asked Linda, who then recalled, "Oh, oh … we left them in the bin outside Percy's lab."
"We couldn't exactly go outside the lab and ask the delivery guy to wait a moment while we got our stuff and made our getaway. Don't forget the car keys were in there too."
Which were now with Buzz Cut, no doubt following us in my Pathfinder.
Adam felt Linda shaking, and it was not just from the van's vibrations. He recalled her anxiety in the mine, in the enclosed space they shared with Ben and Hedda.
"Linda, are you okay?"
Despite the cold air inside the van, her blouse felt wet against his body.
"I … I'll be all right. Just need to focus." Her breathing came in short bursts.
"I'm guessing you're a little claustrophobic?"
"I can usually beat it down … but just now…"
Adam held her tightly. "Try to relax. We'll be okay. If these guys wanted to harm us, they would have done so already." She snuggled close enough to him that Adam could feel her warm breath against his chest.
He added, "We'll get through this just fine … I promise."
After a few minutes the ride evened out. They appeared to have reached a highway judging by the steady speed. Adam kept his arm around Linda in an effort to calm her as well as himself. Linda reached her arm around his broad shoulders bringing them even closer together. They cocooned themselves against the chilly evening air seeping through the walls. The adrenalin rush had exhausted them. Although they tried to stay alert, it was difficult to ignore the seductive, hypnotic monotone rumbling of the van. Morpheus soon embraced the duo in his comforting arms.
dam woke up with a start. All he saw was black. Blinking his eyes, he recalled where he was—still in the van, but it was not moving. He felt about for Linda. "Linda, where are you?" He crawled along the floor, reaching out, searching and whispering her name.
He found the doors locked. Making his way forward, he tried moving the sliding panel, but to no effect. With his back to a wall he slid down and sat with arms propped up by his knees. After a moment more, he sunk his head between them and listened. All he heard was the beating of his heart, steady and loud, making it difficult to hear much else. After a few minutes, as he calmed down and his pulse slowed, he focused on the sounds outside. There were none. No traffic, no people chattering. He thought about Linda, about how stupid all this was, and in a fit of anger he swung both arms back and struck the wall panels. He beat the walls over and over hoping that the deafening thumping might get the attention of someone outside. Time passed and no one came.
Adam once again slouched against the wall, contemplating defeat. It was then that he noticed something strung about his neck and dangling over his chest. He reached into his shirt and pulled the chain over his head. He felt the disk in his hands—the weight of it, the hole in its center.
"But how could that be?" he wondered aloud.
As if in response to his rhetorical inquiry, a scraping sound broke the stillness. Adam returned the medallion about his neck. His hackles stood on end. The scraping continued. In the confines of the van the sound seemed to come from everywhere. He crawled over to the front wall and listened again. This time it came from the rear, from the doors.
Adam yelled, "Hey! Is there someone out there? Get help, I've been kidnapped!"
No reply. The scraping ceased paused for a moment, and when it resumed, it was louder. Adam did not know what to make of it. Maybe it was an animal of some kind. Maybe he was abandoned in the woods somewhere. That would explain the silence, and perhaps the scraping as well.
It could be a large animal, maybe a bear that caught the scent of him. The doors were made of steel so it was doubtful that any animal could break in.
"Hey! Mr. Bear, forget about it! You can't get in here."
The scraping paused, but only for a moment, and as it started up again it seemed even louder. Adam felt the van move slightly with each unnerving scratch. He made his way to the back, closer to the sounds. He moved his hands along the flat metal door panel and found several long indentations. He recoiled as another scrape yielded a groove which he felt appear just beneath his outstretched hand.
He crawled back to the front of the van. Beads of sweat began running alongside his face, down his neck and soaking his shirt front. The scraping would not stop.
Adam stared intently at the back doors, or at least where the doors should be, since the only light penetrating within came from tiny pin points near its edges, providing the barest outline of the frame. The sounds of scraping changed pitch. Suddenly a crescent of light crossed his face. There was a gash in the door. Terrifying metallic tearing noises accompanied more slashes of light. Adam sucked in his breath and pressed his back against the front wall of the van in an effort to get as far away as possible. His eyes locked on the doors. The number of jagged gashes was growing. Thin, dazzling strips let in jagged beams of light, making it hard to see what was tearing up the door.
The gut-wrenching slashing stopped. Adam saw only the outlines of an elongated ragged hole in the door. Beyond the opening there was nothing. There were no further sounds coming from the outside.
Maybe the bear, or whatever, moved on.
He crawled over to the hole to get a better look. It was large enough for his head, so he craned it through. Standing a few paces before him with hands on hips was Ben Wuijcak. Ben stared at Adam with his bespectacled eyes wide open and his mouth in a sardonic twist.
While Adam struggled to get past the shock, Ben lolled his head to the side slightly. His mouth curled up into a smile. "Adam. My dear boy."
"Ben, help me get out of here. Watch out for the bear." Adam was too stunned for coherent thought. His mind was trapped in a kind of psychic molasses. He knew he should be wondering why Ben was here.
"Adam. My dear boy."
He's repeating himself.
Adam tried to reach the door handles through the opening while keeping a steady eye on Ben. He managed to grab one, but it would not budge. Ben continued to smile at Adam, but did not move. He seemed unconcerned about Adam's plight. "Adam. I'll help you, but first give me the medallion." Ben's eyes were now squinting. His brows furrowed as his demeanor gradually shifted from weirdly happy to bizarrely serious.
The medallion? He wants the medallion?
Ben approached the van, and with each step his body seemed to blur, shifting out of focus for a moment. At first Adam thought there was something wrong with his vision. Ben seemed to be changing as he neared. Facial features elongated, the eyes sunk into dark recesses, the cheeks rose, becoming more pronounced, and the mouth grew larger. His eyeglasses fell off and long, sharp teeth emerged from the widening mouth. Ben snarled through two very long canines. "Give me the medallion."
Ben, or what had been Ben, splayed out his arms and opened his hands. "Give it to me," it snorted.
There were long claws protruding from its finger tips. The horror compelled Adam to roll back into the van seeking out the farthest corner, hoping to stay out of reach of those claws. The doors flew from their hinges with a deafening tear. The spectacle entering the van now looked like Bigfoot himself—its clothes torn and shredded, and peeled off the chest and legs of this massive, hairy monstrosity.
It grunted through oversized teeth with spittle dangling from the hairs on its chin. "The medallion."
Adam had nowhere to run. A sudden lunge and the creature was at his throat, pinning him down to the van floor. He was powerless against its immense strength. Furry arms swiped at his chest again and again. Blood and cloth flew before his eyes. He felt detached, remote, as if he was sinking into the deep warm covers of his bed, pulling the pillow over his head to cut himself off from the frightening world outside. His eyelids became heavy. As if his lifeblood's rheostat had been turned down, his awareness dimmed out. He glimpsed the creature's hands cradling something shiny and gold, covered in dark, red spatter.
The creature grunted. Then it turned to look down at him, cocking its head. Its arms rose for a final blow. Adam's eyes closed. Gray faded to black. His body shook.
"Adam. Adam. Get up, I think we've stopped."
It was Linda's voice. He blinked his eyes, everything was still dark. He felt her arms around him. Not quite convinced he was awake, he felt his chest. The shirt was intact, no sticky blood, and no medallion. He stiffened as he heard a scratching at the van doors. Linda felt him jerk away, trying to get as far away as possible from the sound.
"It's okay. Someone is opening the doors."
"Sorry, Linda. It was a bad dream."
The doors squealed open. Starlight outlined two vague shadows. It was night and the moon was not in the neighborhood. A pine scent hung in the damp air. The chirping of crickets and the croaking of frogs completed the impression of a countryside venue for their evening outing. A flashlight clicked on, momentarily blinding them, followed by Buzz Cut's raspy voice.
"We're here. Get out."
"Where's here? What's this all about?" asked Adam, while helping Linda out of the van.
Adam received a shove for an answer. Buzz Cut held a revolver and motioned the duo to follow the driver who held the flashlight. They single-filed their way along a narrow, winding trail surrounded by tall fir trees which obscured most of the night sky. As they entered the forest, the chirping and croaking faded away. The only sounds they heard were of their own footfalls crunching on uneven ground, and the lofty whispers of a breeze meandering through tree tops. As they moved deeper into the woods, a shadow slipped off the van's roof and silently joined the procession unseen at the rear. Minutes later, the group paused at a clearing. Looming at the far end of the meadow was a large two-story farmhouse outlined by a hazy twilight. A barn and silo sat to its rear and a small pond to the side added a pleasant calm. A six foot stone wall surrounded the house. The trail led up to a wooden gate set within the wall. The bucolic scene would have been charming under other circumstances, however, with present company, the farmhouse took on a decidedly sinister appearance. Several ground floor windows sported a soft yellow flickering glow. When they reached the gate an overhead light illuminated a backdoor alongside those windows. Razor wire ran along the top of the stone wall.
The van driver reached up to a post near the gate and whispered. Several seconds later a dull click announced the release of a spring-loaded latch and the group moved through to the farmhouse grounds. When they were several paces into the compound, the latch clicked behind them. Adam and Linda both turned their heads back and saw only Buzz Cut. "Turn around and keep moving. That's just the gate closing. You should be more interested in what's ahead."
Buzz Cut prodded Adam, "Go on in," while the driver opened the backdoor.
They stepped into a swath of welcomed, warm air and the sweet smell of burning wood. A large sofa and a pair of sitting chairs faced a crackling fire set in a huge stone hearth. Above the mantle a shotgun and two deer heads to either side spoke of a hunter's den. However, above the rustic array, a framed Swastika emblem hung for all to see, seemingly out of place in this pastoral setting. A variety of blackened metal pots, ladles and spoons hung from beneath the mantle.
Where's the cauldron and the witch? Make that a Nazi witch.
The fireplace was the oversized type, one in which a person could stand straight up. Several logs were glowing atop the raised grating. The fire threw off a bright buttery yellow light, dancing elongated shadows on the walls.
"Sit," spat out Buzz Cut.
Adam and Linda sank into an overstuffed divan replete with pillows. The driver remained standing just inside the door, while Buzz Cut assumed a position at the room's interior entryway. He occasionally looked back into the darkened recess of the house as if expecting someone. Minutes passed. Adam and Linda did not mind the wait, since they were happy to absorb the heat of the fire, dispelling the chill. Gentle shuffling sounds, slippers to rug, announced the arrival of their host.
"Good evening. Or should I say good morning?"
Herman Borman entered the room wearing a silk burgundy housecoat. He eyed the couple on the settee and sat on a leather-upholstered chair next to the fireplace facing them.
"Mr. Borman, why have you brought us here? You have the medallion," Adam asked with a trace of exasperation in his voice.
Linda added, "It's outrageous. You can't kidnap people. You'll go to jail for this."
Adam placed a hand on Linda's shoulder, trying to settle her down. It was clear they were in a bad situation. Herman tented his hands together as if praying. He placed his chin atop finger tips. "My, my. I am doing you two a favor. Consider yourselves my guests. Since you are both scientists, I thought you might like to see what your so-called medallion is really all about."
"Adam, let's leave. Now."
Linda arose and Buzz Cut moved between her and the door. She sat back down with disgust splashed across her face and snarled, "Guests? I didn't think so."
"Please try to relax my dear."
Adam asked, "How did you find out about my medallion?"
"Your medallion?" After a moment to regain his disquieting calm composure, Herman continued. "I have dedicated people throughout this coal mining region. After discovering the artifacts in the River Slope Mine years ago it became clear they were part of a device, a device beyond our technology left on this planet a long time ago."
"Wait a minute. Are you saying you're the one who found the artifacts?" asked Adam.
"Why, yes. Actually two of my miners came across the find, but they were too stupid to realize its importance. So, I had some of my more trusted colleagues conduct a thorough dig."
Linda asked, "Was that by any chance the day the mine flooded?"
In the warm earth tones set off by the hearth Herman's face assumed a deep ruddy blush. But the voice was cold when he answered. "That was an unfortunate accident. It had nothing to do with me or my men."
Adam gave Linda a quick look and saw that her eyes had become thin slits. Herman turned the topic back to the find. "Once we collected the metallic pieces, it became clear that some parts were missing, and that they may have strayed away from this immediate area, possibly sent out with local deliveries. My only hope was to keep a vigilant eye. My people monitored all the nearby museums and universities as well as testing laboratories for any clues regarding golden artifacts."
"The lab explosion. I know that was you," Adam said.
For a moment Herman was taken aback. "The explosion was not my doing."
"But you knew about the analyses."
Herman nodded. "We were there the next morning … looking for the medallion. I assure you the explosion had nothing to do with us."
Adam recalled the near encounter with someone in the shadows of the blown out lab later that same day when he went back to retrieve his laptop.
Herman continued. "A discussion with your friend George pointed us to you."
The fake cop.
Adam followed up with a change in direction, "What about Ben Wujciak? Did you visit him too?"
Herman looked confused, but answered with a steady voice. "We never had any interest in Dr. Wujciak. He was convinced that more artifacts like Hedda's might be found in the old mine. We thought him harmless enough, so we let him dig around in the mine. In any case we could easily monitor his excavation finds just in case he got lucky. He certainly seemed obsessed about the matter."
After a moment's pause Herman continued. "Back at the mine you gave us quite a chase"
Linda said, "You people had no right to chase us across town and hunt us down like animals."
"Ah, yes. Linda. You certainly did not act lady-like when you threw the table upon me. Perhaps you are the animal?"
"And I'd do it again if I had the chance!"
She attempted to rise, but Adam held onto her.
"Tsk, tsk," Herman chortled. "You have quite the temper, my lady." Turning to Adam, he asked, "But tell me, what did you do to my assistant?"
"The fake cop?"
"No, not that one. It took him some time but he eventually made it down. I'm referring to the other one. His name was Steven."
"As far as I know, we did nothing to him. Ben told me he lost the guy at the far end of the building."
"'Lost' is an interesting choice of word. Steven was indeed 'lost' in a manner of speaking. We found him along the riverbank. Rather dead."