MENDENHALL

“Eddie” Jackson had taken them twenty kilometers north on the main road out of Juneau. From the Visitor Center at the edge of Mendenhall Lake, Parker had gazed across at thirty-meter cliffs of ice that rose from the water on the other side, and held her breath. The edge of the glacier was an iridescent blue, an effect Jackson attributed to the ice being packed so densely that it bent the light passing through it.

“It’ll look white on the other side,” he told her, handing her a pair of plastic pants. “Here. Put these on. They’ll keep you from getting soaked.”

But Parker hadn’t been sure she wanted to go there anymore. She had been waiting for Jackson to load the Forest Service helicopter when the ice had shrieked and a huge sliver the height of a ten story building broke loose and toppled out over the water. It seemed to fall in slow motion, sending up a plume of mist and water four stories high.

“You want me to walk on that?” she had asked Jackson doubtfully.

But here she was, two hours later, stomping along a remnant of the last ice age and wondering how she was going to make it back on the return journey. Jackson had tied a piece of rope between them and was carrying the backpack ahead of her. Finally he came to a stop when she decided to complain about her boots. She told him the crampons weren’t gripping the ice properly. But that was just an excuse to get in a five minute rest; she didn’t want to admit that she was already having trouble keeping up.

Now she had a chance to stop and look around for the first time, instead of watching where her feet were going. She could hear her editor’s voice, drilling her for the story. So you’re on the ice. You stop. What do you see? Look around. I want to feel like I’m there, Parker. You take off your sun­glasses and you see… What?

Parker removed her sunglasses to get a truer sense of the colors — and was almost blinded by the glare from the ice. To her left and right, and in the distance ahead, towers of black rock stood sentry over a landscape that was utterly desolate and silent.

Jackson was inspecting her boot the way a blacksmith checks for a stone in a horse’s shoe. “Looks all right to me,” he said dropping her foot back down.

“How far to go?” she asked.

Jackson turned and faced up the glacier again. “See that ridge in shadow? Just the other side of that. I’d say about another hour.”

Another hour, she thought. That, plus an hour spent there having lunch and looking around, and three hours for the journey back. She added it up. Five hours. Another five hours out here! She didn’t think she could do it. There wasn’t anything out here but ice. What did any of this have to do with what was going on back at Imtech? Where in God’s name were they anyway?

Jackson gestured for them to start moving.

“There better be a Pulitzer in this one,” she said to herself as they started off along the ice again. “A purple heart, at least…”

MEXICO CITY

From his position at the window the surveillance agent could just see the front gate of the Chinese Embassy one block down. He took off the ear­phones, rubbed his ears, and put them on again. “Four thousand bucks,” he said, “and all I can hear is fucking Chinese… Come on, pick up the phone and pay my bills, you assholes!”

He had been listening for days, and so far the exercise had been an utter waste of time. Certainly it had to be a waste of money — the bug which they were testing, and would probably never see again, had cost his section $4,000. It was a state-of-the-art microphone and microchip receiver now embedded within a telephone inside the Embassy. He was using it to monitor not only the calls made on the phone, but also every other conver­sation that took place within the room. Unfortunately, as the young intelli­gence officer had quickly learned, the embassy officials never addressed each other in anything but Mandarin. He couldn’t believe his luck — more than 200,000 phone taps in the country and he had to end up on this one! The only time he had heard Spanish spoken was during the occasional phone call.

Angry, he turned away from the window and looked at the open door­way across from him. “They could be running opium out of that room and we wouldn’t be any fucking wiser!”

His partner came out of the bathroom with a red towel wrapped about his waist, his hair still wet. “You got something?”

“What’s the matter with you, huh? You got water in your ears? I just said — ”

Through his earphones he heard the sound of a door being closed somewhere. Did someone just leave the room at the Embassy, or… No. There it was, the sound of a number being punched into the phone; the embassy official was making a call in private. The second agent threw up his hands and turned back to the bathroom.

Next, the sound of a phone ringing at the other end of the line. Surely there had to be someone in the agency who understood Chinese, he thought bitterly. The CIA would have managed it. He walked over to the table and switched on the tape recorder.

The next voice he heard was that of a male. “Hello?”

All right! he thought. Who the hell are you? He raised the volume in his headset.

In remarkably good Spanish the Embassy man said, “I’ve been told you’re on vacation.”

“Who is this?”

Wait. That voice… It sounded somehow familiar. But before he got a chance to listen to it again the person hung up.

Damn. He reached over to switch the machine off, but heard the num­ber being redialed.

This time no one picked up. It rang four times. Five… Pick it up. Pick it up.

Click. “Yes?”

The same voice. The agent went back to the window and looked down the road. There was something familiar about that voice. It was almost as if —

“Shit.” When he realized who it was he was taping, his immediate reflex was to shut off the recorder. But then he stopped when he saw his partner staring at him from across the room.

“What is it?” he said rubbing a towel across his head. “What have you got?”

THE BASEMENT

It was 11:15 A.M. and Rawley had still not shown. The last time Kirby had seen him was the day before. He had set off looking for adventure over at the Naval Air Station and never returned. Now Kirby wanted to talk with him.

After listening to Boehlert’s story Kirby was now convinced his friend’s death had been no accident. Frey had been purposely killed. But why? The only person who could tell him, it seemed, was McCormick — Rosen’s unlikely choice for a CEO.

Kirby knew better than to try confronting McCormick directly. He had already lied about Frey’s trip to Juneau. And then there was the question of how much Rosen knew about all of it. It was his company, after all. He too had lied about sending Frey to Alaska. But it wasn’t clear how tight a reign Rosen kept on McCormick. That he could have had any part in Frey’s death just didn’t seem possible to Kirby. He felt he knew Rosen better than that.

From his office — Frey’s old office, he remembered with a shudder — he dialed the number for Rosen’s secretary and asked her whether Rosen had come in yet.

“No,” she said. “He called to say he’d be in after lunch.”

“OK, Tina. Thanks.”

He had guessed as much. The reason he couldn’t find Rawley was probably because he was holed-up in his rental car outside Rosen’s place keeping watch on him. Perhaps that was a good thing, he decided. It would give him a chance to check out Boehlert’s story.

Kirby left his office and headed downstairs.

When he reached Production he stepped from the elevator, turned left, and walked directly toward the storeroom at the northeast corner of the floor. Nobody took any notice of him. As he walked he glanced at the far wall which ran south from the storeroom almost the entire length of the section. It stopped short before the far offices. If Boehlert was right about a second elevator, it would have to be behind that wall. What else was hid­den there?

Kirby noticed a recessed corridor at the south edge of the wall, near Kendall’s office. He made a mental note to take a look later when no one was around. But right now he could check out the storeroom without drawing attention to himself.

He went through to the tiny office at the back, and for a few moments he waited, making sure he was alone. Through the outer door he could see people going about their work in the center of the floor. He closed the door to Boehlert’s room. Then he put his ear to the wall.

Takes a while to notice it. Specially with all the noise going on in Production.

He listened. But at first he heard nothing. Takes a while to notice it.

He kept listening, trying to ignore the noise of the floor. Finally, after several minutes, there was a clank. It was distant and muffled, but clearly metallic. Then, for a few seconds, the hum of a motor. Another clank. Silence. The motor again. The old man was right. It did sound like an elevator.

A second elevator.

Kirby went up to the lobby. He approached Sato. “How long have you been working here, Rumi?”

“Since Imtech started up. Why?”

He asked her whether they had a copy of the building plans on the premises.

Sato shrugged. “I could ask around.”

“No. Don’t do that,” he told her. “It’s not that important.”

“Your wife called. She said she can’t make it for lunch.”

“Oh? Seems like everyone’s standing me up today.”

Sato grinned. “Hopefully you’ll have better luck tomorrow, huh?”

“Tomorrow?”

He realized she was talking about Montoya’s visit — the visit he had promised to keep confidential.

“You didn’t happen to mention that to anyone, did you?”

“Don’t worry. If I couldn’t keep a secret, Dr. Kirby, I wouldn’t last very long around this place.”

“You may be more right than you know,” he said.

OFF THE ICE

Parker grew excited. She hurried to catch up with Jackson. “That’s got to be it, right?”

They had been approaching the edge of the ice flow for the last twenty minutes. As they had inched their way past the ridge that Jackson had pointed out an hour earlier, a huge silt plane had come into view, a field of frozen dirt that sloped gently away into a towering wall of black rock. A third of the way up the bank Parker could make out a wooden hut facing back toward the ice. It looked like a matchbox-sized block of wood sitting beneath a ten foot curtain of ruffled stone. It was a scene from the land­scape of some other world. Alien. Without movement. Sterile.

She felt her energy returning.

When they got to the edge of the glacier, the ice became rough as it curved over about a meter above the frozen ground. They had to crawl off it on their bottoms.

“Why would anyone have lived out here?” Parker said getting to her feet, slapping the icy mush from her pants.

“Only one reason,” Jackson said. “Gold.” He pointed to a passage through the rocks way off to their left. “Probably used to be a stream coming through there. This silt, for all I know there’s a river of gold at the bottom of it. But you probably wouldn’t get much farther than the guys who built that cabin. Ground’s what they call permafrost. Frozen solid. You can see where they tried to sink a few shafts over there.”

Parker tried to imagine what life must have been like for anyone crazy enough to try to make a living out there. “What happened to them?” she said. “The gold miners.”

“See for yourself in a few minutes. They’re buried further up, out be­hind the cabin. Two of them anyway. Guess the others just gave up and went home. Good idea if you ask me.”

Parker scanned the slope. It was time to go to work. “I need to look at everything that occupied Arnold Frey’s time when he was here,” she told Jackson. “Everything.”

It took another ten minutes to reach the cabin. Parker was surprised at how big it seemed closer up. In reality the ‘match-box’ structure she had seen from the edge of the ice was constructed from solid timber logs that must have weighed in at close to a 1,000 kilograms a piece.

“How did they get those up here?” she wondered as they went inside.

Whoever built the place had clearly believed they would be there a while. The cabin had been made to last. It was not small, either. Inside was sufficient space to accommodate a dozen men. The chairs and bunks were still there, some still with the straw mattresses the miners had used. They looked like the stage props for a film set in the Alaskan Frontier a hundred years ago. There was even a round table at one end of the room. Jackson dropped his backpack on it.

“He didn’t spend any time in here,” he said as they looked around briefly. “What do you think you’re looking for?”

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “I’m hoping it’ll be obvious when I find it.”

They went outside. On the south side of the cabin they found a well-preserved wooden sluice and a barely-rusted mechanical dredging device that looked like it could have been the centerpiece in a period museum. It was about the size of a car. The only other structure was a much smaller shack located behind the main cabin. Jackson told her it had probably been used to store food but was now completely empty.

“Like I told your friend Kirby,” he said. “Frey spent most of his time just pottering around, looking at the soil. Waving that instrument of his around.”

“You said there were some graves here?”

“Two of them.” Jackson turned and started to point up the slope. “There are a couple of markers about…” He dropped his arm and took a step forward. “Hold on a second. What’s that?”

“What’s what?” Parker said looking in the direction Jackson had been pointing. By now the two of them were walking slowly up the grade, away from the cabin.

“Those two mounds of soil,” Jackson said. “They weren’t there before.”

Parker’s pulse rate shot up when she heard the confusion in Jackson’s voice. For all the effort she had put into getting there, she really hadn’t expected to find anything. She wasn’t even sure that they had yet. But there she was, fumbling to take out the pocket-sized Nikon she had brought with her as they moved up the slope toward the piles of dirt. She couldn’t take her eyes off them.

“That’s where the graves are?” she asked.

But Jackson seemed to be lost in his own thoughts and did not answer her. Instead he broke into a slow jog and began to leave her behind. When he got there he stopped, looked down at his feet, and put his hands on his hips. She heard him say, “I don’t fucking believe this.”

Moments later, as Parker approached him from behind, Jackson said, “Someone dug them up.” When she came around to his side she stopped to catch her breath and found that she was staring down into two open graves, each about a meter and a half deep and looking like it could have been hacked from the earth just days ago.

But that wasn’t what astonished her.

“They’re empty,” she said.

If there had been bodies buried there before, there was no trace of them now.

“I presume this is what you were looking for,” Jackson said.

“Why would somebody go to all that effort?” Parker wondered. “Just for a set of old bones?” She moved around the open graves, taking photo­graphs from different angles, including one with Jackson in the foreground for scale. She could already see the pictures spread across a news page in black and white. All she needed now was the story to go with it.

Jackson squatted down beside one of the graves and broke a piece of earth off the edge of it. “They probably got more than just bones,” he said standing up again. “Ever hear those stories about entire mammoths being discovered in the ice up here?”

“Yeah?”

“Truth is, the place where you find mummified remains tends to be in ground like this. Frozen silt. It’s like putting a steak in the freezer.”

Parker was trying to imagine it. “Are you saying that whoever was buried here came out of that ground in the same state that when they went in?”

“Not exactly. I know that with animal carcasses you get a good deal of preservation, though. The freezing tends to evaporate the fluids, so they sort of dry out. Like I said, they come out like mummies.” He gestured at the open graves. “Probably expect the same thing here. But why the hell you’d want to dig them up…”

Parker’s head began to swim. Preserved bodies. Body snatchers! It didn’t seem real. But from the moment of their discovery, she knew that this had to be connected with Imtech. She knew this had to have been the purpose of Frey’s trip. She just knew.

“How long ago do you think they were exhumed?”

Jackson shook his head. “A week. A year. It’s hard to tell up here.”

“I’m going to look around.” She began searching the area for clues as to what it was all about.

“I’ll check over here,” Jackson said. He wandered off to the south while she went north.

After a few minutes she gave up and came back to the graves. She tried to imagine how many people had been involved in digging the bodies out. How long had it taken them? Those dirt mounds suggested that it had involved a lot of work.

She stared at them. They were made up of clumps of solid icy silt ranging from the size of her fist to pieces as large as a football. A few of them lay scattered about the ground. She kicked at one, sending it back to the edge of the nearest mound. It bounced off a wooden stick that was protruding from the dirt.

She hadn’t noticed that before.

She went over and prized it loose. It took a while because the stick was buried deep in the mound and turned out to be part of a wooden cross which was still intact. It was the marker for one of the graves. On it were carved the words LEST HE BE FORGOTTEN. BILLY MAITLAND. AGE 32. JAN 1919. Parker took out a small notebook from her breast pocket and copied down the inscription. Then she looked around for the other grave marker but could not find it.

Jackson came back. “Find anything?”

Parker shrugged. “Just a name.”

INTERCEPTION

Miguel Ramirez slipped the cassette into the tape player, while Montoya sat waiting with her arms crossed.

“It was intercepted at the Chinese Embassy this morning,” he told her. “Routine surveillance. I’m currently having someone check the back­ground of the official who placed the call. But listen to the other voice.”

Ramirez started the tape. As titular head of the intelligence service he was only ever apprised about the government’s wiretapping practices when something serious cropped up. This was one of those times. He stood back and waited for Montoya’s reaction. As the tape wound slowly through the machine Ramirez was already interpreting in his head the exchange he had listened to several times over the last hour.

The wiretap began with the sound of a ringing phone.

A man answers. “Hello?” It is a distinctive voice, but so far unrecognizable.

“I’ve been told you’re on vacation,” the Embassy official says.

“Who is this?” the man replies tentatively at the other end. Then a click as he hangs up.

Next, the sound of the phone number being redialed. After five rings it is picked up again.

Yes?” So far the voice is still unidentifiable.

“Please do not do that again,” the Embassy official tells him.

“Is this a secure line?” the man inquires.

At this point Ramirez glanced at Montoya. The identity of the man whose voice had been captured on the tape was unmistakable. But Mon­toya remained expressionless, listening without reacting.

The Embassy official on the tape now laughed. “You would know that better than me. No?”

Silence.

“Listen. Everything’s in place,” his contact reponds coolly. “It’s just a matter of waiting. There’s nothing left to do, OK?”

Oh, I doubt that,” the Embassy official tells him. “Certainly there’s one thing which springs to mind. And let me remind you that time is quickly running out for the both of us. Frankly, I could do with an assur­ance from you that you’re up to dealing with her, because if — ”

“Just follow your timetable. You can be sure I’m following mine.”

“Good… So long as we’re clear on the matter.”

“Don’t contact me again.”

At the sound of the two phones being hung up Ramirez stopped the tape. He waited for Montoya to speak first. There was no need to ask whether the President had recognized the voice as that of her attorney general, Sergio Solano. It showed on her face.

The fool,” Montoya said, more with disgust than anger. She got out of her chair. “He is plotting against me, Miguel.”

“Well, we don’t know that yet, but — ”

“I’ll destroy him,” she said evenly. “I shall break his pathetic little body into pieces and toss them in the square. The crows will have his eyes.” She turned to Ramirez. “Mark my words, my loyal friend, I shall obliterate the man.”

Despite Montoya’s measured calmness, Ramirez knew she meant busi­ness. Without exception, it was the things she whispered in that room that came to pass.

“Where is he now?” she said impatiently.

“Fishing in the Pacific, I’m told. Somewhere off Santa Margarita Island.”

“Fishing?” Montoya’s cat lines arched high on her brow. “How conven­ient.” Her face dropped back into a scowl. “Get him on the phone and tell him to drag his sorry ass back here now!”

Like every other high-ranking head of government, Solano had been issued a satellite phone which allowed Montoya to reach him no matter where he went. Even if, in this case, it was a boat miles out to sea off the Baja Peninsula.

“Unfortunately,” Ramirez said, “he’s not answering his phone. I can’t reach him.”

Montoya suddenly looked as contented as the evil queen.

“He knows I know, the insect.”

“I doubt he knows anything of the sort,” Ramirez told her. “Which means we have the upper hand. Provided he’s actually — ”

Up to something?” she said questioning her chief of staff’s guarded­ness. Montoya was always criticizing Ramirez for his circumspect nature. He was the sort who planned ahead, gathered information, considered repercussions. Montoya on the other hand was prone to acting on spur-of-the-moment instinct. “Trust me, Miguel. It was just a matter of time. When is he due back?”

“Monday.”

“Pity,” she said. “Then I shall have to deal with him when we get back.”

“You could postpone your trip. It might even be wise under — ”

“For him?!” Montoya stomped around the room, stopping at the win­dow. “Oh, I don’t think so. No. Our Mr. Solano will not be interrupting my plans. Not now. Not ever.”

Montoya dragged a finger the length of her ruby lips.

“No,” she decreed. “He will wait.”

--

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In the storytelling tradition of Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy comes a tale of climate-induced chaos sparked by the hottest year on record. High action follows page-turner suspense after an undisclosed ecological catastrophe changes the face of Northern China.

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Leonard Crane

Leonard Crane

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Heavily science-oriented. In the past I have spent time dabbling as a: physicist, novelist, software developer, copywriter, and health-related product creator.