It was like ice water. Adam felt himself go cold. "That's not possible. Ben told me himself that he lost the guy, your man Steven, in the breaker. Maybe there was an accident."
"Yes, an accident. Accidents can happen. And, then there is the matter of the missing policemen. When Paul and I left the mine, we passed a police cruiser along the way. There was no one in it. We assumed the police were on foot elsewhere, but when I checked with my law enforcement connections the next morning, the officers were missing."
Herman stood and directed his men to bring along his guests. The group followed him into an adjoining room where a small table lamp spot-lighted bookcase-lined walls. He drew aside a set of heavy drapes and flicked a wall switch which illuminated a hidden alcove. Linda drew herself nearer to Adam. An assembly of glimmering components sat on a pedestal—cylindrical and cubic shapes protruded from the three-foot pyramidal construct. A flag emblazoned with a Swastika draped behind the exhibit hinted at a deep and frightening purpose. The spotlight from above gave the bizarre hodgepodge a brilliant golden sheen and an unsettling feeling the alien machine could sputter to life at any moment. Adam's medallion sat squarely in the heart of the apparatus, like a centerpiece on display in a museum devoted to cutting-edge sculpture. It was astounding and baffling, and perhaps more accurately, bewildering.
"So, what do you think?" asked Herman as he clasped his hands together, rocking back on his legs.
Careful not to annoy his host any further, Adam asked, "What is it?"
"It is a talisman."Herman pointed to the center of the dazzling display. "You have investigated this disk? Yes?"
Adam nodded but his eyes were drawn to the details of the pseudo-mechanical wonder surrounding his disk.
"Then you know that the disk is not of this Earth. Yes?" Without waiting for a response, Herman continued. "We have been waiting for years for this sign, proof of the existence of a superior race on this planet. This machine is an undeniable testament to such a race. All the theories and beliefs of our forefathers are now validated. With this unearthly object we can call together our sons and daughters to prepare for a new world order, a world order that has been too long in coming."
As Adam expected, Herman relished the chance to share his story. Starting with allusions to the Aldebarans and Aryans living within the Earth, he pointed to the inevitable rise of the glorious Fourth Reich. While Herman blathered on, Adam continued his visual analysis. Since the disk contained a stream of data, it must have been read and translated into some kind of action. He spotted a rectangular component with a slit imbedded on one end. There were several other suspiciously functional-looking parts, but they seemed out of place. Logic did not seem necessary to reassemble the machine, rather, the endeavor appeared hasty, aimed at building an idol, a tribute to an alien god.
No wires anywhere. The technology and the civilization behind the machine are more than impressive.
When Herman paused to draw a handkerchief from his robe, Linda took the opportunity to ask, "Just how do you propose this object will act as a call to a new world order?"
Herman wiped his chin. "Scientists like yourselves will be given the chance to examine the materials and conjecture on the purpose of this machine. Its age and workmanship will provide convincing evidence of an extraterrestrial origin. That it was the work of an ancient and superior race. Their conclusion will be that this race descended from the original Atlanteans who now live beneath the surface of this planet waiting for the moment when they can re-emerge and assume their rightful place. When these findings are announced to the world, the news will call the Aryan nation into action, preparing the world for a new age."
Adam asked, "How can you be sure that these scientists will conclude so much from these bits of metal?"
"Ach, Adam. These scientists will be free of the prejudices and biases of your stagnant society. They will be open-minded and willing to explore possibilities."
"I get it. They'll think like you do, and conclude what you want them to. Borman, what do you think this device was?"
"What I think is unimportant. It's clearly old and its original function is unimportant." Herman pocketed his handkerchief. "Once the masses are aware of its existence and origin, we will be able to shape their response. The rise of the Fourth Reich will be a certainty when we rally our Aryan brothers from all over the world. It may take some time, but we will attain our dreams of an ordered society properly ruled by pure-blooded humans with superior strength and intellect. There are no limits to what such a society can achieve."
The theme was all too familiar. Adam felt like he was on the set of yet another B-movie with bad guy Nazis secretly preparing to take over the world. Adam looked at Herman with a kind of perverse admiration. "That's quite a plan. And what do you want with us? Isn't it enough you have the artifacts? You've got your talisman, now you can let us go."
Adam was almost sorry he brought their plight up, since the response was likely to sour Herman's disposition. Herman extracted the handkerchief once again and wiped his chin. "We will need to keep the details of this machine a secret for the time being. Our followers will be busy for the next few weeks leaking information to the media about the finding, about what our scientists are saying, and what it all will mean. Although the media are easy to control they must be directed carefully. A worldwide following will require attention to detail and precise cultivation.
"Now as for you … I had a hope you might volunteer to be the first scientists to announce the artifact to the world. Fame and fortune would quickly follow. I thought it only right that your efforts in this adventure be rewarded. Of course, I can see now that will not be possible. It is a shame. Besides, we cannot have you contacting the media with contrary stories. I'm afraid you two represent an obstacle."
Linda exclaimed, "But others already know about the medallion."
Adam lifted a finger to his lips. She might be putting other innocents in danger.
"We are aware of George Freedman back at your university. He had promised you to keep your secret, so there is no rush. Besides, he had a rather limited understanding of the medallion. A simple traffic accident will take care of the matter, isn't that right, Otto?"
So, Buzz Cut had a name.
Seeing the astonishment on his guests' faces, Herman contorting his face into a look of mock empathy. "And before you ask … Hedda is an ignorant old lady of no threat to us. However, your friend Percy at the Brookhaven Laboratories is, or was, another matter." Herman paused to look at his wristwatch. "By this time an unfortunate laboratory fire has both ended his life and destroyed whatever data you were able to collect."
In an unthinking split second Adam lunged at Herman. Before he took two steps, he was slammed to the floor from behind. Linda jumped on Otto wrapping one arm around his thick neck while beating him about the head with the other. A moment later she flew across the study, rolling to a stop at the foot of a bookcase. Herman made a show of shaking his head in disapproval and replaced the alcove drapes.
Adam crawled over to Linda. Both Otto and the van driver had pistols drawn. "Are you all right?"
Linda rubbed her arm. "I think so."
"Thanks for jumping in."
The moment was brief and the situation dire, but lying there on the floor, it was electric. In that instant they looked into each other's eyes and saw themselves as one. Whatever was about to happen, it would not change what they had become. Their fear had transformed into a grim determination to survive.
Herman asked Otto, "You brought Dr. Dove's automobile?" Otto nodded. "I think it is time to bid farewell to our guests. You know what to do."
Otto and the driver ushered the two captives to the living room doorway. As they emerged through the backdoor exit, Herman bade them farewell with a wave of his handkerchief. "Have a safe and pleasant trip."
Don't you mean short and sweet? You son-of-a-bitch.
They trudged along the gravel pathway to the gate. Otto looked back to Herman at the farmhouse and the gate door buzzed open. When they reached the small parking area beyond the stand of fir trees, Adam nudged Linda and whispered, "Do you see what I see?"
Edging itself over the horizon, a half-moon was now peering through a wisp of clouds. A silvery tree line surrounded the clearing. A black wedge jutted up in the distance against the firmament—a structure all too familiar.
"The breaker," Linda said.
Otto barked from the rear. "Hey, you two. Shut your traps and get in."
The driver opened the van doors and pushed them inside. There was no point in asking any questions. Adam noticed his car parked in front. The van started up, moved a few feet, and lurched to a stop. The driver rolled his window down and yelled, "Hey. What's wrong?"
Otto angled his head through the Pathfinder window. "Did you hear that? It sounded like a gunshot, like from far away." They listened for a few moments. A chirrup of a Blue Jay flying overhead heralded the resumption of the normal din of forest sounds. Far off somewhere a rooster crowed.
"Damn, Otto. I don't hear nothin'. Let's get goin'."
The van pitched forward. "How are you holding up?" Adam asked.
"I'm okay. We're in a mess aren't we?"
"As I see it, they're about to dispose of us. You could say that would be the bad news."
"And the good news?"
"We're still alive. It looks like they're arranging for us to have an accident, or else we would have been shot already. Accidents seem to be popular with these guys."
"Somehow, that doesn't make me feel much better."
Adam hugged her. "We'll have to make a move when they stop. It sounds like we're following a car … probably Otto."
Linda said, "So, I'm guessing were on our way to an accident in your car?"
"That's my guess too."
"Listen, we're only going to have one shot at this. There're two of them and two of us."
Linda said, "Which one do you want?"
Adam smiled and although the interior of the van was dark, he knew she was smiling too. He brought her closer and they kissed. Their embrace became fire. Heat and passion mingled, flowed through their bodies. For a moment the terror surrounding them faded away. They rejected it. The one person they had become, alone in the void and focused on survival, refused to succumb to fear.
The van rolled to a stop. Adam drew back. "I'll take Otto. When we get out of the van, make it look like you've given up … get hysterical, cry if you can."
"Oh, I think I can do that."
"We need a distraction that might make them careless, even for a second. We have to attack without hesitation, without mercy. Our lives will depend on it."
"You do recall that they have guns."
"Yeah, but if they really plan to set up an accident, I don't think they'll want to use them."
"Accident victims with bullet holes…""…are murder victims," Adam finished.
Herman closed the backdoor. He hated the early morning chill. The dampness played havoc with his arthritic shoulders and knees. He limped over to the fireplace and stood before it soaking in the heat. His eyelids drew together as he reviewed the events of the day. His plans had worked out perfectly. The Aldebaran artifact was complete. Invited scientists would be arriving later this day. He was looking forward to their reactions. After so many years of planning and waiting, the deep feeling of satisfaction intermingled itself with the warm embrace of the hearth. He felt rejuvenated, young again. He used a poker to adjust several of the smoldering logs and looked on as they flamed up. He replaced the poker in the hearth and settled into the divan. With a sofa pillow in his lap he stared at the fire and listened to its sizzling and popping. Within minutes his eyelids began their inexorable descent and he sank farther into the sofa.
Then the door opened. The man who walked in was tall, a bit over six feet. He wore a jogging suit, black with thin white stripes along the arms and legs. The cold air which followed him in, roused Herman. He focused on the face in an unsuccessful attempt at recognition. It was oval, dark-complexioned, and sported large round eyes with a jaundiced sheen. Tiny black pupils darted left and right. The hair was shaggy and black, covering most of his forehead.
"Who are you? How did you get in here?" As the thin-lipped mouth parted to answer, Herman reached into his housecoat and pulled out a Luger. He brought it up to aim, but the gun did something remarkable. It pulled away from Herman's grasp and flew through the air, landing in the stranger's gloved hand.
"How? How did you do that?"
The reply was slow with an exotic foreign air. "You have the … disk … the golden disk."
It was more of a statement of fact than a question. Before Herman could stop himself, his eyes betrayed him with an involuntary glance in the direction of the study. The stranger was quick to catch on and ran into the adjoining room. By the time Herman pulled himself out of the sofa, the stranger had returned. The medallion was in his hand.
Opening the door, he tossed the Luger out into the yard and then turned to Herman. "You are mistaken … with your theories."
The stranger ran out into the pre-dawn darkness. Herman staggered out of the sofa and seized the shotgun from the mantle. Propping the door open with his foot he fired at the receding shadow. After a moment, the smoke cleared and Herman walked toward the gate, but saw nothing. The stranger was gone. He fumbled through the pockets of the housecoat looking for his cell phone. He had to let Otto know what just happened. The phone was dead.
The van doors swung open to a faint glow in the eastern sky. A cool breeze carried with it several maple leaves. Adam could hear rustling through trees nearby. Otto was standing by the rear of the Pathfinder about thirty feet beyond the driver who was holding one of the van doors. Both had their revolvers out.
Otto spoke up first. "Let's go. Get out of the van."
The two stepped down and the driver assumed a position to their rear, prodding them toward Otto. Adam took in their surroundings. Extreme fear had a way of heightening his senses. Up ahead his Pathfinder pointed away and toward a thin line of tall, thin pine trees, black against a gray mist. The rustling sound was not coming from above, but from below. As they neared Otto and the car, it became louder, changing into a dull roar, the kind of sound fast-moving water made as it squeezed through rocky channels.
We're on a cliff, and that's water below us.
Linda fell to the ground and began to sob. Both Otto and the driver stood their ground with pistols raised. Adam saw them exchanging grins. Linda looked up at the pair, and then at Adam. She screamed, jumped up and attacked Adam, slapping at him in a hysterical fit. "You freaking asshole! You got us into this mess! I hate you!"
Caught off guard by the suddenness of the assault, Adam raised his arms in defense. "Linda! Stop it!"
She came at him like a demon, beating at his arms and shoulders with round-house blows that Adam was barely able to deflect. He stumbled backwards and grabbed onto her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders in an effort to put a stop to the madness. Linda kicked at him as he held on, shrieking all the while. The pair grappled with each other in a kind of macabre dance, with a medley of grunts and groans for music.
Otto and the driver moved in, their grins replaced with grimaces. In that moment, as they lowered their guns, Adam and Linda parted. Adam rushed at Otto and Linda, at the driver. The driver was careless and his gun fell to the road as he and Linda tumbled to the ground. Adam saw them roll off the road and into a ditch. Otto was not as careless. Adam's hands were both firmly clenched about Otto's right wrist, keeping the weapon pointed upwards. His momentum pushed Otto backwards toward the Pathfinder crashing them both into its rear. Otto's free hand grabbed at Adam's face, twisting it away, trying to gouge his eyes. The fingers found purchase on his right eye and the pain was immediate. Adam moved his right hand to deflect Otto's left away from his face. Unfortunately, this gave Otto a distinct advantage. He had the strength of two. Adam fell back as Otto pushed off the car. Otto's face took on a decided leer. The prospects of survival were fading. In a moment of inspiration brought on by sheer desperation, Adam cocked his head back, closed his eyes and shot it forward, smashing his forehead into Otto's nose with a sickening crunch. Warm, wet goo spattered his face, and Otto's body and arms became limp. Adam swung his knee up between Otto's legs. The gun fell to the ground as Otto bent over and grabbed at his crotch and face. Adam wiped the ichors out of his eyes and hurriedly searched for the fallen weapon. It was just a few feet away. However, before Adam could take a step toward it, he rocketed forward—his arms seized by Otto's massive limbs. He struggled for a few steps more before toppling to the ground face first. Spitting out dirt and gravel, he labored to catch his breath. The behemoth was on his back, pressing him to the ground. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't move. Then he felt an arm cradle his head and begin to pull back on it. His spine began bending backwards, nerves in his neck began screaming. The pain was shutting down his mind. His vision narrowed.
So this is how it ends… damn.
Adam saw stars. He blinked several times in an effort to dispel the dancing lights. And then the pressure disappeared. He was lying on his back. Otto was no longer on him. He blinked some more, shook his head and squinted. He saw fragments of a face floating before his eyes. "What? Who?"
"Easy, take it easy. It's okay."
The voice was distant but very familiar. It was Linda's. The jigsaw puzzle of her face gradually came together before his eyes. She was bending over him. "This is becoming a habit, you know. Me, waking you up."
"What happened? Where's Otto?"
"You don't have to worry about Otto." Linda gave Adam a peck on his lips. "Feeling better?"
Adam had to admit that the kiss was a fine way to return to the world of the living. He propped himself up on his elbows and looked about. The rising sun had breached the horizon line, sending bright yellow slivers through the trees and across the road. Otto lay unmoving on the pavement near the Pathfinder. As if reading his thoughts, Linda said, "We had a little help." She tilted her head to the side. Adam followed her gaze. Leaning against the van was a shadowy figure dressed in a dark jogging suit. The figure nodded and held something glittering in his hand—the medallion. Linda could see Adam's brow lower and added, "I'm just as confused as you."