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Chapter Twenty Nine

While Markus dozed in his office, Colt woke up in his apartment. The first thing he heard was the ringing in his ears. The next thing he heard was more ringing in his ears. He rolled out of bed and went into his bathroom. He turned on the cold spigot, splashed water on his face and watched the whirlpool of water as it ran off into the drain. Fully awake, he dried off and ran his hands through his hair. The high-pitched sound was worse in his right ear, but it seemed slightly softer than it had been when he fell asleep.

Colt sat down on his bed and considered what to do next. His father’s favorite phrase, “In for a dime, in for a dollar,” summed it up. Confronting the albino at the Nano Research Center wasn’t any worse than breaking into his apartment. Colt still had to retrieve the foot and deliver it to the Coroner in time to be buried or cremated with Darci’s body. After the siren blast, the little prick albino also deserved a punch in the head—let him listen to his own ears ring for a while.

Colt unfolded the 12” x 18” map of the CU tunnel complex and studied the layout. He located the underground entrance to the Nano Research Center and found the nearest street-level access to the tunnels, next to the Student Housing Administration building on University Drive. He drew a line along his underground route with a bright yellow marking pen. At the first tunnel intersection after Student Housing, a left turn would take him under the Birney Computing Center. He would then continue straight until he came to a second intersection under Structural Engineering Sciences. At that point, he would make a right and follow the passageway under Earth and Space Sciences, directly to the sub basement entrance to the Nano Research Center.

There was no scale of distance on the map, but it didn’t seem like a difficult trip—just the first left and the second right. It appeared to be no more than a 15-minute walk, a piece of cake. Even if the structures weren’t marked in the tunnel, the numbers of the above ground standpipes and hydrants were indicated. Colt circled the numbers nearest the buildings along his route in case he became lost. He was confident he could navigate the maze. He had an excellent sense of direction above ground. Colt had never been lost on the Indian reservations or on the vast energy fields in northern Wyoming and as a child, he could find his way home alone on horseback from distant places in the Powder River Basin, navigating in dust storms or snow, in daylight or moonlight.

Colt dressed. Tonight he wanted to look like a student, not a firefighter. He put on jeans and a University of Wyoming sweatshirt. He decided to wear his cowboy boots and his father’s rodeo belt. When he wiped away the dust with a dirty T-shirt, the boots gleamed with a deep brown gloss from years of polish and wear. In Wyoming, he had lived in these boots, but when he pulled them on, they were stiff and pinched his feet, as though he had never worn them.

On his way to the CU campus, Colt thought about how surprised the albino would be. He was determined not to take any lip from the freak. It would be a quick discussion, like an in-and-out with plenty of air left in his SCBA. All Colt wanted to do was get the foot and look directly into the albino’s eyes while he explained why he abandoned Darci at the Surfrider. Colt decided not to hurt him unless he asked for it.

When he arrived on campus, the map of the tunnels didn’t help Colt find the Student Housing Administration building. Once again, the size of the university overwhelmed him. He was nowhere near the hospital or anything else that looked familiar and the darkness didn’t help. He discovered that University Drive was a main street, which circled around half the campus.It took 30 minutes driving back and forth before Colt arrived at his destination.

He parked on the street, left his paramedic card on the dashboard and crossed to the cement blockhouse that housed the access door to the stairs. Colt held the map in one hand and shined his halogen flashlight on it. He turned the paper 90 degrees, lined it up with the street and got his bearings. The blockhouse door was unlocked and well oiled. Colt entered and descended two flights of metal stairs, his boots pinching his toes at every step. At the bottom of the stairwell, a sign indicated STUDENT HOUSING ADMINISTRATION. So far, so good. He knew exactly where he was and it appeared that each building would be marked on the tunnel wall. He looked up to confirm that the stairs had taken him in a half circle. He turned his map again and aligned it with the turn of the stairs. Colt looked into the tunnel, an eight-foot-wide half circle lined with cement. He expected fluorescent lights, but saw only bare overhead bulbs encased in metal cages secured to the ceiling. They were spaced far apart and the light was dim. The air was cool, damp and stale. Colt set off toward his first landmark, standpipe 460, which was half the distance to the left turn under the Computing Center. In the silence, the ringing in his ears seemed much louder.

Walking through the tunnel, Colt thought of a tragic search and rescue incident years ago in Sheridan. Two teenagers, boys he knew at school, decided to explore one of the abandoned gold mines in the hills outside of town. The old mines were extremely dangerous—the ceilings and walls were weak and the passages contained toxic gas and snakes. When the boys failed to return later in the day, near hysteria ensued in Sheridan. Fire and Rescue was dispatched with a full complement of equipment—breathing apparatus, protective gear, special lights, ropes and radios. They spent 24 hours searching, but were unable to find the teenagers. A special team flew in from Denver and the following day they recovered one boy’s body at the bottom of a shaft. The second body was never found. For weeks, people in the area talked about how stupid it was to enter the old tunnels. After that tragedy, the entrances were sealed. Colt had never forgotten the incident.

Walking underground without reference points, Colt found it hard to judge how far he had gone, but he thought he had covered quite a distance. The semicircular shape of the passage had become a rectangle. The smooth cement walls abruptly ceased, replaced by large stones held in place with mortar. Moisture seeped through the walls in places, running down over the rough rock and collecting in small puddles. Colt continued. It seemed that the tunnel was on a slight incline. He passed a point where a passageway connected from the right. Colt stopped to refer to the map. He hadn’t yet made the left-hand turn under the Birney Computing Center and the map showed no intersecting passage before that point on his route. In this underground world of half light, time as well as distance seemed to melt away. Colt checked his watch. Could he have been underground for half an hour? He walked further and approached a set of stairs and a sign for PARKING-WEST.

PARKING-WEST? Colt studied the map. Where was he? Did he pass the Computing Center? Where was the spot where he was supposed to make a right turn under Earth and Space Sciences? He looked for PARKING-WEST on the map but couldn’t find it. There were several rectangles and squares marked PARKING, but without further identification. He started up the first set of stairs and saw a fire-hose connection labeled Standpipe 472. He studied the map again and swore. He was on the wrong side of Student Housing. Colt Lewis, excellent navigator of the high plains of North Central Wyoming, had somehow managed to set off through the tunnel in the wrong direction.

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