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Old 05-01-2017, 11:31 PM   #231
Join Date: Dec 2008
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


McCord had been very busy over the previous few weeks, and frantically worried about his 'collection'. It is difficult to explain to most people just how intense and consuming that particular sort of fixation can be. Relatively few people ever display it to its full degree. Still, McCord was one of those people, and almost from the moment the news had come of the initial explosion in his warehouse, McCord had thought of little else other than his collection.

His anxiety had only increased as the strange subsequent chain of events had unfolded. The narcoleptic sickness, the desecrated graves, the inexplicable presence of foreign agents of a dozen sorts in the area, and the still-unexplained attack on McCord himself and his men in their initial attempt to enter the caves and reach the tunnel, all had taken their toll.

This anxiety is mostly sufficient to explain why it required so much time for Henry McCord, who was in no sense of the word either foolish or careless, to think clearly about certain matters.

Now, though, perhaps because he had reassured himself that his collection was intact and safe, if not yet fully recovered, McCord found his thoughts moving in new directions. His thoughts continued to follow a chain of logic as he returned to his rented house in the city.

McCord watched as one of his security men unlocked the door to his temporary abode, and went inside first. As he followed the man inside, and told his personal chef to prepare dinner, or breakfast, depending on what one wanted to call the meal, his mind returned to the problem that had been worrying him throughout the trip back to the city.

Am I being paranoid? McCord asked himself, as he sat down to a long-delayed meal of steak and eggs, hash browns, and steaming hot coffee., I'm not being paranoid, it doesn't add up.

What did not add up was the claim recently made by his long-time employee and associate, 'James Davis', that he had installed a secret tunnel under the warehouse when they first constructed the hidden storehouse for the collection. Even when Davis had first told him about the tunnel, a few weeks before, something about the claim had bothered McCord.

At the time, he thought his doubts were simply because Davis had never told him about it. But that was not so huge a matter in itself, there were of course many details of his extensive activities that his employees took care of themselves, no one man could keep track of every detail of such enormous organizations as McCord Oil or his other employees and companies.

Now that he was thinking more clearly, though, and more calmly, it occurred to him that he really should have questioned another aspect of the tunnel, it was something he should have seen immediately.

Davis had told him that he had dug a three-hundred-meter long tunnel, in secret, under the streets of Harrystown, to connect the underground storehouse and the natural caves in the bluffs to the west. That tunnel was supposedly dug by a few men, in secret, as an emergency precaution.

Now that he was thinking clearly, though, it occurred to McCord that this made no sense. A three hundred meter tunnel, a bit over a meter across, was an enormous project for a small group of men, especially since they would have been forced to use mostly hand tools. Power equipment or explosives would have been out of the question, considering the need for secrecy, but digging out that tunnel by hand in a reasonable span of time, with only the small group of men Davis had available for such work...McCord suddenly knew that it did not add up.

McCord had made his fortune in the oil and construction businesses, among other things, and he had considerable first-hand experience in both. As he considered just how much material would have to have been moved, in quiet and secrecy, and he considered the disposal of that material, it suddenly looked to be totally impossible.

The tunnel certainly did exist, it had been dug somehow, but McCord was now quite sure that the explanation he had been given was nonsense. If he had been thinking straight, he would have realized it the moment he heard it, but his mind had never been far from his collection for weeks. Now, though, the falsehood was obvious in retrospect. As McCord finished his breakfast/dinner, he reached the grim conclusion that Davis was hiding something very important from him, though he did not know what it might be or what it might mean.

If Davis had lied to him, though, that meant he had to assume that Davis might have been lying about other things as well, and it also meant that he had to consider everything Davis was involved in as being potentially compromised. Which was disturbing, because Davis had been his right hand man in his most secret, delicate activities for many years.

In fact, McCord mused, Davis had been involved in hiring the very security guards who even now watched over rental house, and guarded the doors, and most of his other on-site personnel. Which meant that he could not assume that their first loyalty was to him.

McCord was a hard man, and a very smart one, when he was thinking straight. As he turned in for a long-delayed sleep, his mind was racing as he considered what his next move should be.

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Old 05-10-2017, 11:46 PM   #232
Join Date: Dec 2008
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


McCord spent some hours sleeping that morning, from necessity. McCord had been awake for over twenty-four hours before finally going to his bed around dawn, sleep was not something he could put off any longer. He finally went to sleep still making his plans, and when he awakened, slightly past noon, he was still cogitating. Already, he had some idea of what he intended to do, and Henry McCord was a man of action, when he decided to do something, he usually proceeded to do that thing, promptly and efficiently.

Still, this matter called for caution. If 'Davis' was not loyal, that meant that the man who had overseen much of his hidden activity for many years could have been undercutting his employer. McCord knew he dared not assume that any of the men immediately around him would side with him against Davis, if matters reached that point.

On the other hand, McCord had never been so trusting that he ran everything through the intermediation of any one man. McCord had some employees that he could call upon for 'forceful' action who had no connection to Davis, or so McCord hoped and believed. A few phone calls early that afternoon brought some of those men heading toward Harrystown.

A few more phone calls to various old friends, acquaintances, and people who either feared McCord or owed him favors put some additional players into the game, the first of them arrived in Harrystown on the morning train the following day. It was then that McCord informed Davis, and the other men he already had in place in Harrystown, that he had changed his plans, and meant to begin moving out the artifacts in the cache immediately.

This was not his initial intention, he had been hoping to work out a cover story and means for transporting the rare items in safe secrecy, his plan had been to start moving the contents of the collection in another few days. Now, though, McCord had multiple reasons for setting aside his usual caution and moving quickly.

One of those reasons was precisely to gauge the reaction of 'Davis' to his intentions, and in this he was not disappointed.

It would have been too much to say that 'Davis' seemed to be startled. In all the years that McCord had known Davis, never once could he recall the man ever appearing startled, surprised (except in an unemotional way), or shocked. Still, Davis argued against hurry, and his arguments were all superficially convincing enough, until examined more closely.

In fact, it was apparent to McCord that Davis was stalling for time, trying to delay recovering the artifacts from the trove. Other than the risk of discovery, though, there was really no good reason to wait, and several reasons to move quickly. Now that McCord was thinking clearly, he could see that Davis, for whatever reason, simply did not want to move the contents just yet, but at the same time did not want to admit this reluctance.

McCord had no idea what Davis gained from such delay, but he had no intention of waiting to find out, either. Now that he had some men with him about who loyalty he could be reasonably confident, McCord felt it wiser to move quickly, even with the concomitant risk of discovery.

Making it a point to always have some of his 'own' men in the party, along with the employees Davis had arranged to hire, McCord began organizing an effort to start moving items out that very night, beginning as soon as the sun had set. They would move the most valuable or convenient artifacts out through the tunnel and load them onto a small boat moored on the edge of the river, near the chosen cave entrance, and work through the night. Guards and scouts would be posted against interference from any of the other known and unknown groups working secretly in Harrystown, and McCord intended to be very careful to make that Davis himself was always with McCord and some of the 'new' men he had brought in as insurance.

That very evening, in what for them was tearing haste, the removal project was begun. While the watchmen and guards covered all approaches to the cave entrance, and more guards watched the tunnel entrance within the cave, items began to come down the tunnel and then out through the caves. Small artifacts of various sorts, ancient writings on sheets of thin metal or mysterious 'paper' that did not decompose, objects of less comprehensible nature, all passed down the tunnel from man to man, and out to the boat.

All the while, Davis worked with the rest of the group, if still protesting that this was dangerous and a needless risk. McCord concealed his thoughts, and waited to see if there was some specific item that was motivating Davis.

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Old 05-14-2017, 10:48 PM   #233
Join Date: Dec 2008
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


McCord was not unaware that Davis had a point about the inherent risk of moving so quickly, of course. They dared not work during the day at all. The only practical way to move the items was by boat, and there was too much risk of being seen coming and going on the river if they worked by day.

So McCord set a guard over the cave entrance during the day, with orders to stay out of sight, and another pair of guards within the caves, near where the hidden tunnel opened into the caves. He made a point of using 'his' men for this task, rather than the employees he suspected might owe their first loyalty to Davis. Davis, of course, was aware that his employer had suddenly brought in new men, men he was not associated with, but he made no initial comment, other than the protests about needless haste.

McCord was not sure exactly what he was waiting for, what sign would mark Davis revealing his own agenda. They spent the next three nights running emptying out the underground chamber, working as quickly as they dared, and McCord himself marveled that nobody seemed to have caught on to what they were doing, he began to dare to hope they might even succeed in getting all the precious items out before they ran out of time.

It was on the fourth night of work that they reached the last and most difficult pieces of the collection. By now, they had managed to remove most of the smaller items, but there were a few things left in the underground chamber that were too large to easily move, or tricky to handle, or otherwise presented problems. McCord was particularly concerned about his most recent acquisition.

This was an item he had purchased in an auction, by proxy, no more than a few months before. It was a large object, made apparently out of some kind of incredibly tough, translucent glass, faceted over much of its surface, and with a lemon-yellow color. McCord was not sure it was actually made of glass at all, though.

For one thing, there was no trace of a mark anywhere on the object, other than the grooves and facets original to it. There was no trace of a nick, not so much as a single scratch, to be seen anywhere on the object. It struck McCord as improbable that an object made of glass could endure for thousands of years, much of it buried underground or moved in secret, and take no scratches at all in all that time.

The composition of the object mattered less, just then, than its inconvenient size, however. It was easily the height of a man, and a third that wide at its widest point, midway along the long axis. It had the shape of a narrow 'egg', an ovoid, and it massed over one hundred kilograms.

The tunnel through which they were removing the contents of the cache was only slightly more than one meter across, along most of its length. In theory, they could move the 'egg' out through that tunnel by passing in longwise. In practice, that promised to be very difficult. It would fill most of the width of the passage, it was very heavy, and there were narrow spots in the tunnel.

Along with that, there was the issue of the opening they had made in the concrete floor of the chamber, they now had to enlarge that, at considerable effort, simply to make the opening large enough to pass the 'egg'. Then they had to work the object down the tunnel, slowly and by extreme effort, and not without several 'jams' and problems along the way.

Moving this huge object down the tunnel ended up requiring most of the night, they started working on it in the early evening, before the sun had even set outside, and by the time they got it out of the artificial tunnel and into the caves, it was approaching dawn.

Once in the caves, moving the object was somewhat easier, the cave passages to the surface were wide enough and high enough to let them use a litter to carry it, with four men at work. This made the project much simpler, and they were just emerging from the caves when the attack began.

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Old 05-14-2017, 11:27 PM   #234
Join Date: Dec 2008
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


It all happened at once. Even as they were sliding their strange
prize out of the cave entrance, and about to carry it down to the
waiting boat, the sound of shots suddenly broke the pre-dawn
silence, and the group scattered to cover, guns appearing as
McCord and his men looked around for the source of the attack.
The artifact itself fell to the ground with its litter, sinking into the
soft river-side ground but otherwise not moving.

One of the party went down in the first volley, and McCord knew
at a glance that he was dead. There was no question of survival
after a head wound of that sort. Everyone else had made it to cover,
but McCord was aware that some of his own party seemed to have
disappeared, and no surprised at all that it was the original men
who had first come to Harrystown with him. The men chosen by
'James Davis', who had himself suddenly vanished.

Not that McCord believed that 'Davis' was far away at all.

They were pinned down at the base of a steep slope that rose to
the south, wooded and with a narrow shelf of land between the
base of the slope and the river's edge. The cave entrance from
which they had emerged was at the base of the slope, but retreating
in that direction was out of the question, there was an area of open
ground near the entrance.

The shots were coming from above them on the steep slope,
somebody had gunmen ready to fire, concealed in the woods upslope.
If the ground between the slope and the river had been entirely
open, McCord and his party would have been wiped out, but there
was broken cover of various sorts, boulders that had slid down the
slope in the past, trees and brush here and there, just enough to
enable immediate survival.

Still, they were pinned down.

Then, just as a glimmer of pale light appeared above the hills to the
east, more shots rang out, but these had a different sound, coming
from pistols rather than rifles, and coming from the woods upslope.
Hearing that sound, Henry McCord smiled ferociously to himself.

After all, he mused, nobody ever said one could not ambush an ambusher.

McCord had given heavy thought to the sorts of things that might
Happen when Davis made his move, and one thing that had kept
coming back to him was just how good a place for an ambush this
particular site would be.

After all, exactly that had happened to McCord already, at another
entrance to the cave system, though he had not known who was
responsible. Now he had a strong suspicion that his own man had
arranged that previous ambush to delay things. During that former
ambush, the attackers had managed to avoid hitting McCord or any
of his men, even though there had been ample opportunity.

Yeah, McCord mused, as he and his new men waited under their
frail shelter,
Davis wanted to slow me down, so he set up that
fake ambush a few weeks ago. None of us were hit because we
weren’t supposed to be, and at that time I had Davis’ men all around
me anyway. They might even have been in on it themselves, for all
I know.

McCord looked over at the corpse of one of his employees a few
meters away, and his featured hardened.

This time he means it, McCord thought savagely. If I had not
been ready for it, we’d all be dead right now.

McCord, realizing what a good place this particular site represented
from the perspective of a person setting up a trap, and set some men
of his own in the woods above, in hiding, each night that they had
worked, ready to act if something happened.

They were not as heavily armed as their mysterious attackers, who
had rifles, but they were thoroughly familiar with the slopes, had
scouted them out quietly during the daylight hours while McCord
and Davis and the others had slept, and their pistols were fully and
completely adequate to the task at hand.

More shots rang out above, their attackers were fighting back, but
had been caught by surprise in the double-ambush. They did not
know the terrain as well, they had been caught by surprise, and as
it would turn out, there were fewer of them than of McCord’s men.

A few minutes later, silence fell, and a single shout from above, of
a prearranged code word, told McCord that the situation was now
under control.

McCord and his own men raced to get the object aboard their boat, knowing that the sound of all the shooting was likely to draw untoward attention quickly, and acutely aware of the fact that the sun was now well above the horizon. McCord had a fallback plan ready, and he now put it into effect.

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Old 09-18-2017, 12:51 AM   #235
Join Date: Dec 2008
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


While McCord and his men were working to remove the contents of the hidden cache under the ruined warehouse, Conners and his men, and Bingham and his men, were investigating the various clues and strange things occurring in Harrystown, trying to get a 'hold' on what was happening. They did not lack for information, if anything they had too much information to deal with, too many clues and leads to put together coherently.

This is part of why the hasty removal of the contents of the warehouse went undetected by the Seven Aces and the Bingham Agency, their personnel were simply occupied elsewhere at the time. In that sense, it might be said that Henry McCord simply got lucky.

By the time the Aces and the B-Jones men reached the site of the 'encounter' with the creatures in the woods, the police had already gone over the site. This information was available to the men, albeit semi-illegally, but there was little left of the site to study by the time they arrived. It had been raining, and whatever tracks might have existed had been obscured by both the rain itself and the police (and others) already on the site.

Still, the Aces and the B-Jones men tried to find what they could, and they had some resources the local and State police lacked. The B-Jones men, in particular, had extensive experience in finding 'unusual' clues on sites that the conventional authorities might not recognize or understand if they recognized.

One thing they found was a set of hairs that, trapped where something heavy and strong had broken a large branch. When examined closely, those hairs did not look like most animal fur. Moreover, not too far from the site of the supposed encounter, a B-Jones man found a place where something large had apparently passed, breaking a strong young tree in the process. The police had found this too, but credited to an animal.

A careful examination of the break point, though, convinced the B-Jones people that whatever had broken the tree had been bipedal.

The effect was complicated by the presence of many civilians in the area as well. By now a number of locals were sufficiently alarmed that groups of men were scouring the woods around the city, most of them armed, looking for whatever it was they thought they were looking to find. After everything that had happened over the previous weeks, there was by now a hint of panic to be sensed in the city of Harrystown.

The suspicion on the part of the Aces/B-Jones men that whatever those hunters had encountered was the same whatever that had destroyed the car led them search the area between the site of the destruction of the car, and the 'encounter', and as they did, they began to discover more signs of something very strange having passed between those two locations. There were broken trees and brush in just enough places along a rough line between the two sites, occasional odd markings and tracks in the rain-soft soil, and now and then, bits of hair that seemed unlike the animals of the region. Some of the broken brush was broken in a way that seemed more like what would happen if an impossibly large and strong human had passed through.

Then one of the B-Jones men found something else very strange along the track: a place in the wooded slopes of the hills where some tracks, very like the tracks near the wrecked car, were found to lead up to a blank exposed face of rock...and vanish, as if whatever had made them had walked right through a solid rock barrier, leaving no opening or mark.

Neither Conners nor Bingham believed for a moment that any such thing had happened, they were sure that some sort of concealed opening existed in the cliff face. It was easily tall enough, a good four meters, to conceal such a door, and after two days of examination they found the opening. It was well concealed; even after they found the door, the gap between the door and the surrounding rock was almost imperceptibly narrow. Someone had expended an enormous amount of effort and skill in concealing the doorway, disguising it to look like a bare expanse of exposed limestone.

The 'door' was roughly halfway between the place where the car had been destroyed, and the site where the hunters reported their encounter.

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Old 09-18-2017, 01:31 AM   #236
Join Date: Dec 2008
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


They searched for the means of opening the door for an entire day, but there seemed to be nothing in the way of a latch or hidden control, no sign of a lock or an opening for a key. Eventually, they found a place in the rock face, near one side of the door, in which the otherwise relatively smooth rock contained a 'handhold', a place where someone had subtly cut out a piece of the stone to leave an opening well-suited for a human hand to grip and pull.

The only problem was that the stone 'door' was far too massive for any human to ever move by such a method. Even a professional weightlifter or the like would have been unable to move the massive stone slab in any way. Conners doubted that a horse or an ox could do much to pull such a mass.

Bringing in machinery to move the door would be difficult, because the cliff face was surrounded by thick forest, with no access road or the like anywhere close, and they hoped to avoid drawing any more attention to the site than they could possibly help.. The matter was already too complicated and public for comfort, so cutting a path through the woods seemed unwise and too time consuming an option to be considered.

Also, they had no idea what was on the other side, and if they did force the door, whoever, or whatever, it was that had passed through would surely know and they might well lose any track of their quarry.

Instead, after a conference, McLaird, Conners, and Bingham decided to ‘stake out’ the site with their best woods-wise men, and see what developed. They did their best to avoid leaving any trace of their presence, and set up ‘blinds’ from which the location could be watched. For the sake of safety, they made a point of having at least two men from each group on site at all times, well-armed and ready for trouble, if trouble there was to be.

Then came the report of yet another 'monster encounter', this time from a pair of local young people, who had been near the river fishing, on the north side of the river, when they saw what they described as a tall, 'very oddly proportioned' figure walking along the far bank of the river, the same side as Harrystown. They had only realized how tall the figure was when they saw him walk past a tree they knew about, and then they realized that it had to be 'over seven feet tall', and built very heavily, and 'wearing some kind of fur coat all over' and walking with a strange, 'hunched over' gait.

The boys had not reported this until the following morning, and by good fortune the Aces and B-Jones men were among the first to get word of it, so they arrived at the river site in time to discover a good set of tracks in the soft muddy ground near the river bank. The tracks did indeed match what would be expected if they were made by a humanoid figure with a height of about two meters.

The tracks were vaguely human-like, but not definitely not human. The footprints were definitely those of a biped, though. The foot proportions were wrong, too long, too wide, with deep impressions as if they were heavily clawed. As one Ace commented, if a bear could walk like a human for a long period, with a nearly human gait, the tracks might have looked something like what they had found.

The tracks ran from west-to-east, as if whatever had made them was walking along the river toward Harrystown. They followed the tracks as far as they could, but half a kilometer outside Harrystown the tracks turned away from the river, and up into hard rocky ground. From there the trail was lost.

They did not have a solid time on the sighting, all the boys who had been fishing remembered was that it had been sometime well after the Moon had risen, but before the latest wave of thick clouds had obscured the Moon. They had seen the figure by moonlight, after all. The Moon had risen roughly at two in the morning, which meant that the sighting had occurred sometime after roughly two in the morning, but before about five-thirty.

That gave them a three and a half hour time window. Which became especially interesting later in the morning, when news came of yet another cemetery desecration.

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Old 09-18-2017, 10:41 PM   #237
Join Date: Dec 2008
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


The reports came in late morning, in part because rain had fallen throughout the early hours, from shortly before dawn until mid- morning. The cemetery in question was one of the ones that had previously been attacked, but this time the damage was more extensive.

According to the police reports, the local newspaper, and the rumor mill, someone had actually ripped the door off an elaborate old mausoleum, one belong to one of the old founding families of the town, dragged out over a dozen corpses, and left the bodies scattered across the cemetery. In some cases, all that remained of the older bodies had been bones, and these bones were scattered at random around the grounds as well.

The cemetery had a high wall around it, made of heavy stone, and a heavy cast iron gate, normally chained shut at night. During the early hours of the day, while the rain had been falling, someone had apparently broken the chain, and wrenched open the gate with such force that the hinges were now out of true. There was no trace of the coming or going of the culprits.

This was the last straw to many in town. Most of the attention of the city police and the county authorities were now spent trying to keep mobs from forming, and going after whatever scapegoat seemed plausible.

In the meantime, McLaird, Conners, and Bingham considered the likelihood that the sighting the night before was connected to the desecration. Their conclusion was that it was a near certainty. None of the three doubted any longer that the various sighting were real, there was something moving around Harrystown and the surrounding territory, and that something was dangerous and very strange.

It was not surprising that it had taken so long to discover the damage. The cemetery was not commonly visited in the early hours of a work day, and the rain had made it the less likely. One when a groundskeeper had gone to the site to do some maintenance had the damage been discovered.

The Aces calculated that the...whatever it was...that had been seen down by the river could have reached the site of the cemetery on foot fairly easily in the known time window. It had a long stride, and could have cut through various alleys and short-cuts to avoid the main roads in town. There would have been time and to spare to get there, do the damage, and get out.

Of course that left the questions of 'what' and 'why' unanswered.

A regular spot check of the 'stake out' near the opening in the cliff indicated that nothing untoward had happened. This was actually disappointing, but not surprising, Conners seriously doubted if the entrance they had discovered into the tunnels in the hills was isolated, he was sure it connected up to the warren of passages and tunnels in the bluffs south of the river, and they already knew that someone had modified those tunnels artificially over the years. There might have been any of a hundred other places where their mystery-creature might have entered or left the tunnels.

Meanwhile, though, some of the B-Jones men had picked up on the ongoing activities of Henry McCord again. It was a stroke of luck that let them catch him moving materiel out down the river to his temporary hiding place, but once they had it they carefully watched, hoping he would reveal the particular item the Bingham-Jones Group had been hired to find, and hoping also that they might reveal something to explain the madness that had befallen Harrystown over the previous month or so.

McCord had arranged, through a blind, to rent a house near the river on the east side of town, sheltered from the rest of town by half a mile of woods lots. It was possible for a boat to pass the town in the dark, rowed rather than using its motor, and moor against the shore near the rented house, which McCord was using as a temporary storage site.

The Aces observed in secret over two nights as McCord and his men quietly moved things down the river, and traced his starting point to the cave entrance west of the city. Thus it was that when the fighting broke out between the men loyal to Davis and the men in the 'double ambush' that McCord had set up, the Aces and B-Jones men were close enough to hear the weapons firing, and arrived only about fifteen minutes after McCord departed.

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