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Old 08-15-2016, 01:11 PM   #221
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


Conners sipped his own drink, waiting for Bingham to continue.

“We tried to continue our own work even so,” Bingham went on, “but it
was soon all too clear that whatever it is that’s going on here is directly
connected to the item, or its current possessor. We know for a fact that
he is in town, and my people have been trying to shadow him, but his
movements are hard to track, he has his own people working for him as
well, and there are other players.

“A few nights ago, two of my people were staking out a place in the woods
to the west of the city,” Bingham went on. “To their surprise, they found
themselves caught in a cross-fire between our quarry’s men and persons

Conners tried to show little sign, but hearing that his alertness jumped, he
suddenly made the connection between the corpse found in the woods
and what Bingham was saying.

“They informed us of this, and when we put the pieces together with
some other sources of information, we realized that your organization
was involved as well. That led me to contact Robert. There is more
going on here than any of us know, and I think we might be wise to…
shall we say compare notes?”

Conners looked at McLaird, who nodded in approval.

"What can you tell me about this 'item'?" Conners asked.

"I've spoken with my client," Bingham replied. "I can't tell you anything
about him personally. But I can tell you that we're talking about an artifact
of the Atlanteans. I haven't seen it myself, and apparently there no available
photographs. It was described to us, though, as being egg-shaped, and
apparently made out of yellow glass. About six feet long, give or take a
little bit. Covered in facets, or so I'm told.”
Bingham fell silent for a moment, then continued, saying, “From what we
were told, it was found in Australia, back before the turn of the century.”

“Atlantean artifacts in Australia?” Conners asked, trying to sound doubting.

“Don’t pretend to ignorance, Mr. Conners,” Bingham said dismissively.
“You know better, and I know that you know better. Artifacts of those
times are few and far between, but they’ve been found all over the world.
Europe and Asia, North and South America, Australia and Africa.”

Conners nodded. “Granted.”

“Anyway, I can’t tell you very much about how it passed from Australia to
San Francisco, which is where my client, and his rival, made their bids for
it. Mostly because I don’t know much about that myself, you might be
able to find out more than I know on your own. I know a bit about the
auction where it was up for bid, but I am not at liberty to discuss that.

“But what I can tell you is that this item, this thing, whatever we want to
call it…it’s not inert. It’s some kind of machine or device, and it’s not dead.”

“It’s still working after what, six thousand years?!” Conners asked. This time
his doubt was not feigned.

“Apparently,” Bingham replied. “Keep in mind that I’m going by information
provided by my client and talking to people who have been near this thing.
It’s all second-hand information.”

“So what does this…item…do? Or what happens when it works?”

“Nobody knows that it’s supposed to be for,” Bingham replied, “or so I
am told. But as for what it does…by the accounts of the people who have
been near it, sometimes it flashes and glows, spontaneously. It has been
observed to make strange sounds as well, again for no clear reason.

“By some accounts,” Bingham went on, “it can be dangerous. One story
goes that a man who was standing near it happened to be resting his hand
on it when it suddenly flashed for a few moments, and when it was done
the man’s hand was maimed, 'withered' the witness said. I don’t know exactly
what that might mean, other than that the witness told us that his hand
never worked again, and he ended up having to have it amputated because
it was starting to rot.”

“Charming,” McLaird commented. “Do you believe your witness?”

“I believe she believed what she was saying,” Bingham said. “She was badly
shaken up by the memory, though, so I’m not sure how accurate her
recollections were. But there are other accounts, at third hand. One story
associated with this thing is that it was stored on a cattle ranch for a long
time, and that while it was, the herd showed a markedly higher rate of failed
pregnancies and deformed offspring.”


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Old 08-17-2016, 09:58 PM   #222
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


"However," Bingham went on, after a long sip of his whiskey, "that is not
the most
interesting story associated with this 'thing'. There's a story
associated with it that initially struck me as totally improbable, I was sure
it was a shaggy dog story, until this business in Harrystown unfolded."

Bingham fell silent for a long moment, finished off his whiskey, and set his
glass on the desk with a silent request for more. McLaird obliged, refilling
the glass with the liquid, and Bingham took another sip before setting his
glass back on the desk and leaning forward slightly, intently.

“This story has it that the thing was stored near a small town in Texas for
a while, back around 1890,” Bingham explained. “Same place as the cattle
problem, in fact. Supposedly it was stored there for over five years, and
each year the deformations and health problems of the herd worsened,
and the effects began to spread to herds of cattle, and other animals, on
surrounding ranch land, by the third year.

“The effect was getting bad enough, or so the story goes,” Bingham went
on, “that the then-owners began to think they needed to find a new hiding
place. But what apparently put them over the edge and led them to decide
to get rid of the ‘thing’ entirely, happened in the fifth year. Apparently,
that summer, in 1893, the thing suddenly got really active, flashing and
glowing a lot, more of the strange sounds and weird effects near it.

“But also about that time, somebody started tearing up the local cemeteries.”

Conners sat up straighter, sufficiently startled as to be unable to hide his
sudden reaction in spite of his determination to reveal as little as possible
by his manner.

Bingham nodded. “I thought that would get a reaction. I reacted more or
less the same way when I heard what was happening here in Harrystown.
Up until a few days ago, I was dismissive of this part of the story, but now
I believe it. The accounts we heard sound a
lot like what the rumors
are saying about what’s going on right here and now. We’ve seen the police
reports, the ones they’re keeping from the public, and I assume you have
as well. If not, I’ll get you copies, I’ve got a line on the State Police here.
But either way, what’s happening here and now matches what we were
told eerily closely.”

“Could you get me copies of what your sources told you about this thing?”
Conners asked. “The grave desecrations, the weird effects, all of it?”

“I can,” Bingham replied. “Robert and I have decided that an…alliance
between our organizations might be in both our interests. As a gesture of
cooperation, I’ll provide you with written copies of that information, and
those sources that I feel I have the right to reveal.”

“I’d also like,” McLaird said, “for you to bring in your man Batson to meet
with one of our people, Howard Lake. He’s the closest thing we have to an
expert on this sort of thing.”

“Agreed,” Bingham said. “Your superior was referring to Fred Batson, he’s
an academic I hired to work for me to help me deal with crap like this.
Whenever something comes up that involves esoteric matters along these
lines, I bring in Fred Batson.”

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Old 04-16-2017, 10:06 PM   #223
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


"I'll let Howard know as soon as we leave here," Conners said. “What can you tell
me about the man who made off with this…item?”

“His name is Henry McCord,” Bingham said.

“Wait a minute,” Conners said, as realization followed recognition of the name.
“You don’t mean
the Henry McCord? Iron Henry McCord? The
owner of McCord Oil?”

"The very same," Bingham said with a nod. "I take you're familiar with the man?"

"Only by reputation," Conners replied. "Another fat cat, invested in oil just in time
to get filthy rich when they started making cars by the millions. He's got a reputation
for being dangerous to cross, but I've never had any sort of direct dealings with him."

“His reputation is well-deserved,” Bingham replied, reaching out to take another sip
of his whiskey. “The man is greedy, ruthless, and well-connected. Half the politicians
in Albany owe him favors, and he’s got his hooks into more than a few Senators and
Congressmen in D.C., too. He’s even richer than most people probably think, too.
He’s the controlling shareholder in McCord Oil, as you observed, but he’s on the
board of a dozen other major outfits, and can pull strings behind the scenes in a dozen
more. He’s not as rich as Rockefeller or Morgan Jr., but he’s a lot closer to them
than you’d think just from reading his tax papers.”

“And he’s buying Atlantean artifacts?” Conners asked.

“On the quiet,” Bingham confirmed. “We don’t know how he found out they even
exist, but he knows and in the circles where the artifacts move, he’s a player. Not
by his own name, of course. Everybody in that circle just knows him ‘the Collector’,
even his procurers are in the dark about his identity. We only worked out who he
was ourselves in the last few months, and it took some work, let me tell you.

“Here in Harrystown, he owns several warehouses down on the riverfront, including
the very one that so spectacularly exploded not long ago. Mind you, his own name
doesn’t appear on any of them, he owns them through multiple layers of blinds and
false fronts, it took my lawyer weeks to sort through it all even after we had the data
for him to work with, and he’s very good at his work.

think, and let me emphasize that word, because we can’t be sure, but we
think that McCord was using the warehouse that exploded as a repository for his
private collection. We think that because, as far as we can determine, it was the
end stop on the route across the country for the artifact we’ve been talking about,
and we’ve traced down similar movements by McCord’s people that seem to be
linked to places and times where rumors of such artifacts have circulated.”

“So how much surety would you put on these…thoughts?” Conners asked.

“A lot, since we know for a fact that Iron Henry is in town,” Bingham said quietly.
“We’ve tracked him here, and it was his men, and we’re pretty sure Iron Henry himself,
that my people were staking out the other night. Somebody else was there too and
exchanged fire, and my people were caught between. If Iron Henry is in town, in
person, and risking life and limb in person that way at his age, that’s enough for me
to conclude that our guess about that warehouse is probably right.”

Even as the conversation in the train car continued, events were accelerating. Some miles away, at just about that time, two of the men Conners had set to exploring the caves in the bluffs to the west of the city made a rather grisly discovery. Deep within the cave network, wedged into a narrow tunnel, they finally discovered Phillipe LeMoine.

To be somewhat more precise, they discovered the earthly remains of the aforementioned individual. Not only was it clear that LeMoine had been dead for some days, but the the body had been mangled and torn and clearly fed upon by one or more large meat eating creatures. The clothing was torn and shredded, but the body remained sufficiently intact to be recognizable.

When their superiors were informed and the body had been laboriously removed from the tunnels, a task made the harder by the need for secrecy, an examination of the remains was made by a medical professional in the ranks of the Seven Aces. What he discovered made the grisly discovery that much more disturbing, even by the lights of what had already been happening.

For one thing, the bite marks on the body, where the corpse had been fed upon, were fairly clearly human. It was the professional opinion of the examiner that some one or more human beings had fed on the body of Phillipe LeMoine, biting the flesh directly from the body. Further, though he could not be quite as confident, it was his opinion that the nature of the wounds and the body indicated that it was likely that LeMoine might have still been alive during some of this grisly process.

When Conners read the report, looked at the corpse, and interviewed the examiner, on top of everything else that had happened in Harrystown in previous days and weeks, he was left feeling surreally as if he was living out some sort of horror movie. Yet it was all too real.

HMS Overflow-For conversations off topic here.

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Old 04-17-2017, 09:37 PM   #224
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


Fortunately, the Aces were able to recover many of the personal effects that had been with LeMoine. Whoever had mutilated the corpse, and left the half-eaten remains stuffed into a remote corner of a network of caves, had not bothered to go through the clothing he been wearing, or anything that he had been carrying. While this added to the mystery, it also gave the Aces some information to work with.

They discovered that LeMoine had been carrying a pistol, still fully loaded and never fired, simply lying unused in the clothing and gear that his attackers had tossed aside. They found a map of the area, hand-drawn but very accurate, including some marked entrances to the cave system that they had not yet found themselves. They found some papers written in French, in LeMoine’s handwriting, which turned out to be a collection of local folklore. It appeared that LeMoine had been researching the same matters that the Seven Aces had been studying, but he had found some stories they had missed, as well.

One such made a reference to the mysterious obelisk atop the ridge line, and even showed recognizable drawings of the some of the same symbols the Aces knew to be carven into the obelisk. The accounts made reference to another man who had visited the same obelisk, in March of 1903.

This caused a stir, because of the lately-added carvings on one side of the obelisk, carrying the date of March the eighth of that year. The papers mentioned a name that the Aces set to work to trace down, and also referred to some sort of cache of old books and information and items that had supposedly been hidden in the caves by this man. Suddenly the strange presence of LeMoine in the caves began to make a certain amount of sense, though his personal papers did not explain exactly was hidden, or why it was important.

Nor did that explain, if LeMoine was in the caves searching for the supposed cache, exactly what had befallen him. The medical examiner, on consideration, informed Conners and the rest of the Aces that he thought it most probable that LeMoine had died of blood loss, mostly probably from the wounds taken when someone had begun to feed on his body. Apparently he had been unable to struggle or resist, but there was no sign of rope marks or other means of restraint on the corpse, and the mystery of the unfired pistol remained as well.

Obviously, they could not simply contact the relevant French authorities and demand to know what LeMoine had been doing in the United States, or why he had been exploring (illegally) caves in a rural bluff. For that matter, they could not be sure that the name they knew him by, Phillipe LeMoine, was even his real name. If it was, there was no doubt that the French authorities would of course never have heard of him and would have no idea how he ended up where he finished his mortal span.

Or at least, they could not ask the French officially. Unofficial contacts could sometimes be another matter.

While McLaird and Bingham began working their private, unofficial contacts, Conners doubled up on his exploration of the caves, though now all his exploring parties worked in trios, and were heavily armed and under orders to take no chances and to assume anyone else they encountered might be a cannibalistic murderer. Conners felt ridiculously melodramatic issuing those instructions, but there seemed little other choice. They double-checked the areas of the caves listed in the papers from LeMoine, and discovered that there were several connecting passages that they had never suspected.

Among the things they found when they combined the maps from LeMoine and their own explorations was that some of the connecting passages were artificial. This seemed unlikely, but there was little question that someone had dug out artificial links between different parts of the cave system. The rocky walls still bore the tool marks, where chisels and other tools had been used to cut through solid limestone. A few of these artificial connections even had brick arch work in places to hold up the tunnel against collapse.

The sheer amount of work necessary to cut those extra passages, using hand tools, argued for a large group of people with strong motivation. That this motivation was illicit was testified to by the fact that all the man-made links were carefully hidden by false doors and concealed slabs of rock. They could be found and opened if one knew what to look for, but were well-enough hidden that one could walk or crawl past one and never suspect its existence in the darkness of the caves.

Yet there was no hint of such passages in the stories the Aces had tracked down about the area, and no obvious candidate for the identity of their makers. It was clear that the passages had been there for some times, as well, most of them were heavily laden with dust and showed no sign of any presence, not even animal presence, for at least some years, probably much longer.

Even as they were exploring the caves, their effort to track down the man mentioned by LeMoine in his notes began to bear some fruit. Apparently, he had been a Scot, the son of a wealthy man who had been forced to sell most of what would have been his inheritance to pay gambling debts. The son of this man has also apparently been active in the shadow world that swirled around the artifacts and remnants of the Antediluvian Age, but there was not much information available about the details, nor was that any trace of how he had come to the attention of Phillipe LeMoine.

In the meantime, as they had agreed to with Bingham, Conners arranged for Howard Lake to meet up with his counterpart in the Bingham-Jones group.

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Old 04-17-2017, 11:07 PM   #225
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)

The Bingham-Jones consultant was Frederick Miles Batson. Formally a professor of history and philosophy at the University of Syracuse, he was something of an antiquarian and well-versed in various areas of archaic lore that were most definitely not a matter of public knowledge or discussion in the closing months of 1927. Batson had that much in common with Howard Lake.

Unlike Lake, who was a technical man, trained in engineering and chemistry as his professional background, Batson was a historian. Like Lake, he had seen action in the Great War, and like Lake, he was part of a very limited and quiet ‘shadow academia’ that focused on the esoteric lore and surviving remnants of the Antediluvian Age, and on matters likewise shadowy.

At first their meetings were of limited utility, for lack of trust, as they sounded each other out. Then, as they found that they had some acquaintances and correspondents in common, they began to open up, and discovered that each was possessed of a fascinating range of knowledge unknown to the other. As they compared notes, they discovered some patterns that neither would ever had discovered alone.

It was now mid-October of 1927, and events continued to proceed. By this point, working indirectly, McLaird had found a way to put pressure on the necessary authorities in New York State to take charge of the explosion site at the warehouse, and with the appropriate forged credentials, that let the Seven Aces take charge of the site as well.

Naturally, Henry McCord protested, albeit through the layers of pretense that separated him from his property. Normally, as the legal owner of the site (or rather, as the man who controlled the legal ownership of the site, through his blinds), McCord could have taken the State to court and probably forced the issue successfully, the more so because the relevant insurance companies might likely have joined the suit. In this case, though, McCord dared not press the issue because he did not wish his ownership of the site to become public knowledge. This gave Army Intelligence, and the Aces, some time and room to maneuver.

That did not mean, of course, that McCord did nothing at all. The Aces were aware that every move their people made, in their various legends and covers, was being monitored by people who worked for Henry McCord (not that that connection would have been easy to prove). Evading this watch was taking up more time and effort than Conners liked, it was clear that McCord was employing some very competent people, and equally likely that McCord knew that the Aces were not what they were claiming to be, either.

In that Conners assumed correctly. McCord was well aware that someone in the Federal Government was pulling the strings that had led New York State authorities to take charge of his property. He was not sure who it was, but it was clear to McCord that the various covers the Aces were using were just that, covers.

McCord, of course, had his own connections in Albany and Washington, some of them very highly placed, and was working them. McLaird informed Conners that they could not count on the status quo holding indefinitely, already Army Intelligence had been seeing some quiet inquiries from members of the New York State Congressional delegation, and from Albany.

So matters stood one chilly, rainy evening, as Conners and his right hand man, Charles Adams, in his warm and relatively secure hotel room on a Saturday night in October of 1927. The room had been carefully checked for microphones, the windows were tightly closed and the thick curtains drawn, the radio was on and tuned to lively music, and the room was guarded, albeit unobtrusively. Both men felt free to speak fairly freely, and did so.

“It’s too bad we can’t put any pressure on McCord himself,” Adams opined,
as he and his leader sat near the radio, sipping beers and considering their
next move. “Might make our job easier.”

“I’d like to,” Conners said in reply. “But it’s not practical.”

“If he’s guilty of half what Bingham says he’s done,” Adams said, “or a
quarter of what I’ve heard about in rumors and read in the muckrakers, we
ought to be able to threaten him with the rest of his life in a cell, at the least.
That might make him a little more cooperative.”

“Oh, he’s guilty, all right,” Conners said with a humorless laugh. “He’s
guilty as sin, at the very least, of either committing or ordering arson,
assault, bribery, fraud, blackmail, stock manipulation, theft, breaking and
entering, heck, probably murder, if we knew. But just try
proving any
of it in court. People have tried, and gotten nowhere fast. The man’s rotten,
but he’s no fool.”

“I’ve heard they almost got him a couple of years ago, one of those assault
and conspiracy charges. He had some of his goons breaking legs on striking
workers, and some of their relatives too,” Adams said. “If the muckrakers
can be believed, though, he just bought the jury.”

“Or the judge,” Conners agreed. “Or both, for that matter.”

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Old 04-24-2017, 09:40 PM   #226
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


"So," Adams said, "if we can't put pressure on McCord directly, what about
his people. There ought to be somebody close to him with some kind of
deep dark we could get a hook into."

“His immediate inner circle are pretty tight,” Conners replied. “We’ve
Been looking them over, and we haven’t found anything very useful yet.
But one guy looks more interesting, and that’s his associate that he’s been
seen here in Harrystown with, a guy named James Davis. Or at least that’s
the name he uses. We haven’t been able to find anything on him.”

“What’s he to McCord? Employee? Best buds?”

“We don’t know exactly. When I say we’ve found nothing, I mean just that.
Nothing. The birth certificate looks good, but we’re sure it’s fake, nobody
in his supposed home town appears to have ever seen or heard of him. He
apparently went to school at a college in Texas, and they’ve got records of
a ‘James Davis’ there with grades and everything…but we couldn’t find
a single person there who remembers him. I doubt if he’s ever set foot on
that campus in his life.”

“Taxes? Military records?” Adams asked, as he finished his beer.

“Both of them. A set of reasonably convincing tax records, and supposedly
an unexceptional stretch in the Army in the 1890s. Records available, but
we got in touch with his supposed platoon mates. Nobody remembered him,
including the man who would’ve been his commanding louie.”

Adams sighed. “And of course if we try to put pressure on ‘em for fake
records, they’ll suddenly come up with all kinds of people who remember
the guy from way back when. Ain’t money grand?”

“Unfortunately, you’re right, Charlie. We couldn’t put enough pressure
on them that way to do any good, at least not without revealing too much
our underhanded doings in the process.” Conners said with a laugh.

Over the next few days, the Aces and the detectives of the Bingham-Jones Group continued to probe quietly for anything that could shed light on the very strange situation. Recognizing that ‘James Davis’, Henry McCord’s mysterious aide, looked like their best ‘hold’, the Aces and the detectives began quietly shadowing his movements, and between them they had enough men to make a decent job of this.

It was obvious that Davis knew he was being watched, because he became very carefully ‘ordinary’ about his public movements in town, and used evasive tactics when he wanted to do something that would interest his watchers. It quickly proved that Davis was very good at evasive tactics.

In the meantime, McLaird and Bingham, working their respective hidden contacts, finally managed to get enough pressure in play to get the necessary legal authority for their men, in their various ‘covers’, to be able to dig into the warehouse that was the center of the original explosion. Of course this was done under the guise of action by insurance companies and safety inspectors and supposed State officials, but it was done, and finally workers and heavy equipment began to dig into the rubble.

Conners found himself fascinated as he watched one device in use by these men. He had heard of the new digging machines that they were calling ‘bulldozers’, but this was the first time he had actually seen one in action, a heavy curved blade mounted in front of a crawler with a large engine, it reminded him of the ‘tanks’ he had seen in operation during the Great War. Conners almost found it disturbing to watch as the machine tore through piles of rubble, shoving aside huge blocks of stone and metal as if they were nothing.

As this work proceeded, McCord redoubled his legal efforts to stop the effort. This suggested to Conners that the theory that he had hidden some of his supposed ‘collection’ somewhere in the warehouse was likely to be valid. That seemed reassuring, though Conners had no idea what it would mean if they did find such a collection, or what they would do, if they did.

In the meantime, Howard Lake and Frederick Batson continued their own studies, and this had led them back to the clearing with the ruined foundation and the strange obelisk, on a sunny but cold morning in early November of 1927.

“There’s no question about it,” Batson said, as he examined the weathered
carvings on one face of the obelisk. “It’s the same writing, if you want to
call it that, that was found on the Belmon Shard. The various symbols are
recognizably the same, even the spacing is the same.”

Lake had
heard of the Belmon Shard, in the restricted esoteric circles
in which he moved, but he had never had confirmation of its existence until
he met Fred Batson. The story went that in the 1870s, a British antiquarian
named Belmon had purchased what was supposed to be an ancient artifact
in China. The artifact supposedly had been found in the depths of Mongolia,
and had passed through several hands before it ended up with Belmon, who
brought it back to England when he returned home.

Most historians who had viewed the fragment had dismissed it as a transparent
hoax. For one thing, it was made of a kind of rock that was rare in Mongolia,
for another, it was carved into smooth, polished surfaces and engraved with
strange carved markings that seemed far too precise to be ancient. The thing
supposedly looked like something that might have been produced by a modern
stone wright. The symbols resembled no form of writing used in that part of
Asia, either in the present or in the known past.

Still, there had been those in the esoteric world that had thought they saw some
indications of genuine antiquity. The story went that Belmon had hidden the
thing away, and refused to allow anyone else to examine it.

Lake had heard the story, but he had never known whether it was true, or if the
whole thing was a ‘shaggy dog’ story. Certainly, even in his circles, not every
story was true, there were plenty of ‘tall tales’ circulating.

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Old 04-24-2017, 11:08 PM   #227
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


Batson, however, claimed to have actually
seen the Belmon Shard,
many years earlier, though he was not authorized to give details about the
circumstances. Lake was frustrated about that, but not angry, he understood
the rules of the game as well as anyone did. According to Batson, a number
of small, odd artifacts had been found by various people over the years bearing
markings somewhat like the ones on the obelisk, all but one of them in Asia,
usually in Mongolia or modern China. The one exception had been found
in the Dutch East Indies.

"But this obelisk isn't Oriental in origin," Lake commented, as the two
stood looking up at it. "We confirmed that it was built on this site, or
planted here, anyway, not too long after the Revolutionary War. We even
know the stone cutting company that carved it."

"I don't doubt you," Batson returned, "but the symbols are the same, or a
great percentage of them are. Somebody may very well have cut this thing
back in the day, but whoever did it knew about the symbols from those
artifacts, or was given instructions by someone who did."

"Where on Earth would the owners of that house," Lake said, gesturing at
the burned out ruin that had been a house once, over a century before,
"have learned about such things? And if they did, why use them to make
this thing? Why stick it up here on top of the ridge at all?"

"If we knew that," Batson said, "we'd probably understand this whole
business. But let's think about those people for a minute. You read that
account in the old diary that your chief has, I'm sure."

"Yes," Howard Lake replied, shuddering again as he remembered reading
about what the long-ago sheriff had claimed to have found in the house.
"Weird, and sick, and twisted, if it really happened that way. We've got
an account at second hand, after all."

"Maybe, but there are other weird things in this matter as well," Batson
said, his precise Boston-born accent sounding academically calm as they
discussed some rather disturbing history. "For example, this clearing itself."

Lake nodded reluctantly. "I know. It shouldn't be here."

Which was true enough. By most accounts, the old house had burned in
the early Nineteenth Century. A review of property records showed that
no one had lived there since, and there was no sign of subsequent construction,
no sign of farming on the site, in a period of over a century.

Yet the clearing remained.

"This whole clearing ought to have been wooded up a long time ago," Lake
admitted. "Even allowing for the rocky soil and the exposed location,
by now it ought to be solid trees. But it's not. Just some deep grass, and
even that's sparse in spots. Something is keeping the clearing clear."

“I assume you inquired among the locals about anyone who might be doing
such a thing, openly or not?” Batson asked.

“Yes,” Lake replied, “as discreetly as we could manage. Nobody admitted
to it or knowing anything about it. Some people even commented that it’s
known among the locals that this place won’t grow trees or anything like
that, it’s one of the reasons some of the locals claim it’s haunted.”

Batson looked at Lake for a moment, then smiled softly and said, "And
are you entirely sure that they are wrong?"

Lake looked up, startled, and said, “I don’t know that this is the time or
place for jokes, Fred.”

“Why do you assume that I am joking, my friend?”


Batson, still smiling that same soft, slightly ironic, smile, began to speak
in a tone and manner that sounded as if he was quoting, “ ‘Haunted: ‘Often
visited by the ghosts of the deceased’. ‘Regularly visited by a person,
animal, or other entity, often of supernatural origin’. ‘Inhabited by’.”

“What are you getting at?” Lake demanded.

“I was quoting from the dictionary I keep in my office at the University,
actually,” Batson said. “I memorized the definition for that and a few
other words long since.

“You see,” Batson went on, “even in such men as ourselves, used to dealing
with the esoteric, the antiquarian, the little-known, there are habits of thought
that are so normal to us that they are difficult to banish. I suggest that this
clearing might be haunted, or imply it, and you automatically dismiss it as
a joke. Yet you know from experience that what are sometimes vulgarly
called ‘psychic powers’ are at least sometimes real, you have seen with
your own eyes things that the majority of the good people of this county,
the nearby town, or our own friends and family would dismiss as fable.

“So why be so quick to assume that the local residents must be wrong to
call this placed haunted? They live here, after all. We have been here
for a few weeks, they have been here, many of them, all of their lives,
and their grandfathers as well. Even if the nature of whatever it is that
they might think is to be found here is not what they believe, does that
mean there is nothing here?

“In truth, Howard,” Batson asked, “do you not feel something here
yourself? I do. I have not felt at ease from the moment we first set foot
in this clearing. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, almost from the
moment we arrived here, I have the odd and distinct sensation that we are
watched, and I continue to feel it even now.”

Lake looked around the clearing, and slowly, reluctantly, he nodded.

“Yes,” Lake said. “I feel something here too. I have every time I’ve been
on this site since this whole business started.”

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Old 04-26-2017, 09:23 PM   #228
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


"Perhaps it is simply our own overwrought imaginations," Batson said,
"worked on by the site and the strangeness that has been occurring.
But we should not dismiss it as such without some evidence for making
the decision. I have heard veterans say that one should never ignore that
creeping feeling in the back of the neck, or whatever sensation it might be
that they associate with danger."

Howard Lake nodded. "Absolutely, it's a good way to get killed."

"Likewise, we should be no quicker to dismiss instinct in other matters,"
Batson asserted. "Both of us feel
something amiss here, and so do
various our of respective associates. The feeling has come independently,
among a number of people who we can reasonably call intelligent and
experienced. I consider that to be good and sufficient reason to think that
there is
something to what we are sensing."

The two men had left the immediate vicinity of the obelisk, guided by
some silent mutual impulse to walk toward the foundations of the burned-out
former house. As they walked, the wind intensified, sending a chill through
the air even though the Sun was near the zenith in a clear sky.

Howard Lake pulled his coat more firmly around his lean body, wondering
as he did whether the cold he sought to ward off was entirely a matter of
the temperature. There was no denying that the old clearing seemed cold,
in a way that the forested slopes below had not been.

As they reached the foundations, Lake found his mind going back to the
story in the old diary, the second-hand account of the sheriff and the story
of what he had claimed to have found in that house, now more than a
century in the past. Lake did not want to believe the story, but deep down
he did. It was too plausible, too many elements that could be checked had
checked out accurately.

Still, Lake, like his commander and the other Aces who had read the diary
account, recognized that there was something missing in the story. For
that matter, even the man who had recorded the story in his diary had
commented on the obvious missing pieces in the story the sheriff had related.

For example, the sheriff had refused to tell the diarist or his grandfather
why he and his party had burned the house. As horrible as the hanged
bodies he claimed they had discovered might have been, that was hardly a
reason to set the house on fire, in itself. Nor had the old sheriff revealed
anything about how the hangings might have come about, or who had done
it. After all, by the account of the sheriff, some of the corpses had been
hanging there long enough for decay to set in, in relatively cool weather.
But two of the men had been alive the day before, so the hangings had to
have happened over several days.

Nor did the diarist make any mention of manhunts or other legal action by
the sheriff. Six murders, two of them small children, by hanging, with the
corpses apparently having been damaged after death, would certainly have
been reason for a manhunt, if anybody had had any idea of who was responsible.
Instead, the sheriff and his party had, by the account of the sheriff, burned
the house and any evidence it might have held to the ground, and refused to
reveal what they had seen, other than to the diarist’s grandfather, under a
promise of secrecy that had been mostly kept.

Further, apparently all the men in a fairly large party had kept their silence
afterward. Which implied some kind of strong motivation, if the story the
sheriff had told was true.

They were hiding something, Lake mused to himself, as he and Batson
looked at the scorched old stones that had once been a house-foundation.
They were hiding something…or else…they were trying to destroy
something? Was the fire the result of a fight with whoever murdered the
family and their relatives? Or maybe I should say…whatever murdered
them? Is this place getting to me, or am I really sensing something?

As they stood there looking at the burned rocks, memories came rushing
back to Howard Lake of some of the strange things he had seen as an Ace,
and especially some of what he had seen in Brazil, two years before. Some
of those memories were like excerpts out of a nightmare, but all had been
all too real.

“I don’t know whether-” Howard started to say to Batson, but he was interrupted.

A sound rose in the distance, carried on the wind. It was like a cry, or a
howl, or perhaps more like a distant growling snarl. It seemed to partake
of all of those sounds, combined into a single wailing cry.

It was faint, sounding as it if came from a great distance, but it went on
for several seconds, before fading away into a silence that suddenly
seemed almost loud.

“What was that?!” Lake exclaimed, looking around the clearing, one hand
on his pistol.

“I don’t know,” Batson said with apparently calm. Lake envied him that,
he had heard the nervousness in his own voice a moment before. Still,
Lake could sense that the superficial calm in his companion was not entirely
genuine, there was a new tension in his stance and manner. “But I think we
have just heard one of the sounds that the diarist spoke about.”

“Could you tell what direction it came from?” Lake asked.

“Not with confidence,” Batson replied. “But I-”

Before he could finish the sentence, Batson was interrupted by that same
sound again, much as it had been before, though to Lake it now sounded
as if it was coming from a slightly different direction, and also, perhaps,
slightly closer. Perhaps, though Lake could not be sure, the sound of the
steadily strengthening wind made it difficult to judge the sound precisely.

“My friend,” Batson said, still with a calm voice, “I believe it might be
only wisdom if we were to exercise the better part of valor.”

“Let a noise scare us off?” Lake said, hoping he was concealing his own
shaken nerves. The sound had been like nothing else he had ever heard,
not like any animal, any machine, or anything else exactly, and it had left
him far more unsettled than he wanted to admit.

“Most certainly,” Batson replied, and added with a smile, “with our tails
between our legs.

“There are only two of us here,” Batson added more seriously, “only one
of us is armed, we have no means of sending for assistance, we are not really
familiar with the area, strange things are known to going on, professional
agents and experienced professional operatives have been killed, and we are
hearing sounds we can neither identify nor explain. I believe returning with
reinforcements would be the wiser course than waiting here.”

Batson was right, Lake realized. There was a different between courage
and foolishness, and to take bad risks with little possible benefit, simply
for the sake of personal pride, was the latter.

“Let’s go,” Lake said with a nod. “We need to report this, anyway. My
chief will want to know about this as soon as possible.”

As the two men began to make their way back toward the path back to
the distant road upon which they had left their vehicle, Lake tried to
convince himself that the sudden, intense nervousness he felt was simply
his imagination carrying him away. He attempted this, but he was unable
to convince himself. Somehow, he
knew it was more, much more.

They made their way down the ridge line, through the thick trees, the only
sound their boots in the leaf-litter of autumn, and the wind. The sound of
the wind was muted now, because they were in the lee of the great ridge
and much of the wind was cut off.

It was about a twenty minute walk back to the car, made the slower for the
lack of a real trail. Neither man spoke as they descended the ridge, crossed
the smaller ridge, and finally approached the place where they had left their
car parked, hidden just off the side of the road, amid some concealing trees.

Finally, they approached the car, and as they did, they both stopped short, as
they simultaneously saw that their car, a 1925 Chrysler sedan, had changed.
The long hood was crumped, one of the large driving lamps on the front
was shattered, the other bent out of position. The roof of the cabin was
peeled partly back out of position, and the bumper was entirely detached,
and had been smashed through the wind shield. One of the front wheels
was actually detached as well, lying several yards from the car.

As the two men stared in numb shock at the state of their transportation,
the sound rose again. It still sounded distant, but with the wind shielded
by the ridges, it was easier to assess the direction. Both men looked north
and east, toward the top of the ridge, from which the sound seemed to be
emanating. Though it was impossible to be sure, the sound sounded very
much as if it was coming from just about the location of the clearing that
they had departed, half an hour or so earlier.

“Walk it?” Lake asked his companion, as the sound trailed away into a
resounding silence.

“With alacrity,” Fred Batson agreed. “Now.”

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Old 04-30-2017, 10:51 PM   #229
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


The two men wasted little time in putting their decision into action. The fact was that both men were badly frightened, their initial anxiety and uncertainty from the sounds they had heard amplified considerably by the damage to the car. Though it was a walk of many hours back to town, neither of them cared to linger in the area just then.

As it happened, they did not have to walk all the way back to Harrystown, because when their absence was noted late in the evening, others came looking for them. A party sent out by Mr. Bingham found the two, still making their way toward town, around sunset.

The following day found Conners, Lake, Batson, Bingham, and a few others from each of their groups were to be found in a service garage in Harrystown, where the damaged vehicle had been brought in for examination. What they learned as they examined it was somewhat disturbing.

"No doubtabout it," the mechanic said, as he pointed at the join where the
bumper had formerly connected to the body. "This was
ripped off,
literally rippedoff!"

The mechanic from the Bingham-Jones organization had a peculiar speech
pattern, and seemed to be perpetually excited, but Nathan could hardly
blame him for not being blasé about this.

"Somethin' just grabbed this bumper," the mechanic, who Nathen guessed
to be about twenty-five, continued, "and
yanked, and it yanked it hard
enough to tear the metal apart!

"Whoever it was, or
whatever it was," the mechanic continued, almost
running around to point at the missing wheel, "it apparently didn't need any
tools to rip the wheel offa that axle, either. And what's worse, taka lookat
this on the roof!"

The mechanic, who seemed to be getting steadily more excited, led the
group to look at the metal of the roof, which had been peeled back. There
were indentations in the metal, indentations that looked rather as if someone
with very large, but otherwise human-like, hands had simply grabbed the
metal and peeled it back by sheer strength, leaving indented handprints in
so doing!

"Yeah," the mechanic said in response to a comment from Charles Adams
to just that effect, "it suredoes looklike that, don't it? But look at the engine!"

The mechanic guided them to the engine, now exposed after the remains
of the hood had been cut away, and said, "Our man met his match, lookslike,
when he tried to smash the motor! Looka the bloodstains!"

As the mechanic had said, there were indeed dark brown stains on the
engine block, near some dents, that looked very much like blood. To Nathan,
it looked as if someone, or
something, had tried to strike the engine
with his fists, but had discovered that the hard metal of the motor block
was too much and had lost some blood in the process.

Later, after they left the mechanic to continue his study of the remains of the car, the leaders of the groups retired to another room to consider what it meant. The discussion went on for hours, but the fact was that none of them, for all their often strange experiences, knew what to make of the possibility that there was someone out there strong enough to do what had been done to that car. Animals, yes, there were animals that strong, or stronger, but this had apparently either been a man, or something similar.

Nathan issued orders that none of the Aces were to be at the clearing site, or near it, alone or unarmed, no groups smaller than four, and Bingham agreed that this was a wise policy.

While the they had been examining the car, Aces and personal from the B-G Group had been checking out the area around the damaged car, and now reports came in that they had found strange prints in the soft ground, as if something very heavy had approached the car, then headed away back into the woods, but the steady rains over the previous twenty-four hours had wiped away much of the evidence, and they soon lost the tracks in the mud and the forest litter.

The tracks that survived, however, did not look like those of a human, nor did they look like any animal familiar to the men of the two organizations.

In the meantime, Nathan was beginning to wonder if the Aces needed to sacrifice secrecy for public safety. It was becoming clear that whatever it was that they were investigating was dangerous, potentially dangerous the everyone in the area, and part of Nathan thought the local authorities should be brought in and informed of what was happening. On the other hand, he was no by any means sure what to tell them if they did break secrecy.

As it happened, though, events outran his considerations. Before that day was over, they learned from their sources in the local and State police departments that a pair of hunters in the woods to the south of town had been attacked by something that had left both men injured and one with broken limbs, but the accounts were garbled and impossible to reconcile.

One claimed that the thing had been human-like, but about two meters tall, covered in scales, and with long claws. The other man said it had been something more like a monstrous scaly bear. Both men vociferously insisted on their account, and the police reports said there was no sign of inebriation.

The wounds were real enough, though, and something had left a huge slashing claw mark along one side of one of their bodies, slicing through a heavy flannel overcoat, a cotton shirt, and an cotton undershirt to do so.

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Old 04-30-2017, 11:34 PM   #230
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


While all this was unfolding, 'Iron Henry' McCord was continuing with his own plans. He was all the more frantic to get his 'collection' out now, because he knew that the government, or someone within it, was interested in his former warehouse site. This led him to conclude that he had to risk acting more quickly than he otherwise would have done.

After the shootout that had emerged in the previous effort my McCord and his men to use the cave entrance that led to their secret tunnel, McCord and his men had scouted through the caves in the bluff until they found another entrance, sometimes dodging the other men in the caves as they did. Indeed, McCord was amused to contemplate that the caves, which were officially off limits anyway, were practically overrun with various people exploring them at that time, and hiding from each other as they did.

McCord and a small party used this other entrance to reach their tunnel on the night after the attack on the hunters. The tunnel that Davis had installed when the warehouse facility was built was small, just large enough for a large adult male to pass through crouching. This meant that even if they succeeded, some of the items in the 'collection' would be too large to pass through. Still, most of them would be able to pass, McCord mused, it was far better than nothing, if they could just break through to the warehouse.

The problem, of course, was the protective barrier of concrete that separated the emergency access tunnel from the hidden warehouse basement. It was only two inches of hard, high-quality concrete, but two inches of concrete can be a very substantial barrier indeed when one has only limited space to work, limited available equipment, and a need to avoid untoward attention.

McCord had an answer to that problem, or at least he hoped that he did.

He had tasked some of the chemists in his employ, in the oil company that bore his name, to prepare an acidic mixture that could eat through the concrete. They had done so, and some days before this mixture, in the form of a dense gel, had been applied to the concrete. Then they had abandoned the area, because the fumes produced by the reaction were less than entirely healthy. Now they had returned to check out the situation.

McCord and his party found that the mix had indeed done its work, there were gaps in the concrete. Not large ones, but large enough that men with heavy steel tools could make them larger, breaking off chunks from the weakened barrier, until at last they managed to create an opening large enough for a man to crawl inside. All this was done in haste, though care was still necessary because the fumes from the reaction lingered in the tunnel. In fact, they had been forced to use a gas-powered 'blower' mechanism to clear the air of the tunnel sufficiently simply to safely work within it.

Normally, McCord would have sent one of his men into the chamber. He was not, by any stretch of the word, a coward, but he was no longer a young man, either, and he was quite prepared to let well-paid employees take the risks he paid them to take.

This was a special case, however. The collection was his special obsession, and he was eager to see with his own eyes that it was intact after the explosion and other untoward events over the previous weeks. Thus it was that McCord himself was the second man through the gap, right behind one of the men who had dug the hole itself.

Inside the chamber, which had been carefully hidden below the basement of the former warehouse, McCord and his men found that the refuge had indeed protected the collection. Some boxes were broken open, or lay where they had fallen from the shelves on the walls. Some items that had been atop small platforms were on the floor. For the most part, though, the collection was as he had last seen it, months earlier.

McCord was relieved, relieved with a passion that only an obsessive collector could understand, but seeing that his collection survived was only the first step. Now he had to get the collection out of the underground chamber, before someone from above stumbled across the entrance amid the rubble. Time was of the essence, but this project was still going to require care.

That very night, they moved some of the smaller items out through their new hole in the floor, down the three-hundred-meter tunnel, and into the caves in the bluff to the west. From there it was was painstaking, and time-consuming, but straightforward, to move the items down to the small boat they used to reach their chosen entrance to the caves.

When dawn approached, they concealed the tunnel entrance within the caves behind what they hoped looked like a natural rockfall, made up of loose stone and gravel, and returned to the city with their prizes. As they made their way up the river to the docks, McCord was torn between relief at his success in retrieving his precious collection, and a gnawing doubt that had begun to congeal in his mind about how he had done this.

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