Important note: The following pages are preliminary. They have not been vetted/edited/edited/criticized/proof read/deleted/laughed at by anybody except the author. Please read at your own grammatical risk.
Bat McKinley and Jake Sherman were doing what they liked best. They were excited to be deer hunting in the dense woodlands of Clearwater, just outside of the small town of Dawsonville, Georgia. The pair, who lived in neighboring towns, had not seen each other in a long while. At age 35, Jake was a supervisor at the Dawsonville Municipal Water Department. He stood six-feet-one, with curly brown hair, he could stand to lose a few pounds. Bat was five-foot-nine and 34 years old, with short, straight black hair. An amazing example of fitness, he was a well-respected general surgeon at Northside Hospital in the nearby town of Cummings, Georgia, and always dressed sharply. This particular Saturday morning was a fine autumn day and, as usual, the Clearwater air smelled fresh and crisp.
“How’s Harriet doing?” Bat asked.
“She’s great, but you know how that Corbans place is with all that crazy government work they do. She still likes her job and smiles when she sees me, so I cannot complain. How is Johanna?”
“She is doing fantastic. They just made her a manager down at the Super Center and are about to open the lumberyard.”
“That’s great news! A promotion, wow! And the kids?”
“Jim is doing fine, and Kyle’s having fun in the fifth grade. He says he has a girlfriend.”
“Well, he has been packing extra cookies in his lunch to give to her.”
“I remember when your sister was that age.”
“Hey, we agreed that that topic of each other’s sisters was permanently off limits. Do you want another beating?”
“Well, the last time we talked about your sister and my sister, let’s see—”
“I recall that I had to put in three stitches in you, and my arm was in a sling for a week. I think that was the second time I put stitches in you.” Bat said with a grin.
“We did get a bit out of control.”
“Well, hey, we’ve turned into big, tough grownups now and can deal with stuff like that in a mature way.”
“Yeah; it’s funny, though.”
“What?” Bat asked.
“Each of us losing our virginity from each other’s sister?”
“Well, it wasn’t like there was a prettier girl in all of Clearwater than your sister.”
“Same with your sister. Why did we get into such a big fight about that?”
“Probably because we care as much for our sisters as we care about each other.”
“Hmm, I guess that’s true. We did grow up in such a small town.”
“Yeah, but it was wonderful.”
“It was. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The pair had been gradually approaching a hill for the last two hours when Bat quietly asked, “Is that a buck?”
Jake raised his rifle, looked through the scope and said, “You know, for a surgeon you have bad eyesight. That’s a tree stump.
“But there’s a buck way off to the left. Cover your ears.” Jake fired his rifle, and the buck suddenly moved to the right and began to run.
“Nice shot.” Bat said with a grin. “I think you got him in the neck. Let’s get a-huffing.” The pair hustled toward the area where the buck had been shot.
Several minutes later, they found a blood trail. “I see you’ve been keeping in shape.” Jake said.
“Hey! I’m in surgery all day. Unlike you turd herders who get to crawl down pipes looking for dentures.”
“That little remark is going to cost you.” Jake said in a cautioning tone. As the pair came over a ridge the buck was still moving but much more slowly. “I got this.” Jake said as he lowered his rifle, carefully aimed and shot. The buck fell in mid-stride.
“You were always a better shot than me.” Bat admitted.
“You are probably going to make some sort of sewer gas remark.”
“No, really, you are a great shot.”
“A real compliment?”
“Of course. I don’t give out fake compliments to just anybody.” Jake snickered.
“I wish we could do this more than twice a year, but my schedule is crazy. Now with Johanna’s job and the kids in school, it’s hard just to take time off and play in the woods.”
“Hard for me too. We’re replacing a bunch of water lines, and all the water meters are going to be electronic. Now I have to become a computer expert!”
“They have computer classes for people like you.”
“Another remark that’s going to cost you.”
Bat laughed as they reached the fallen buck and he said with a grin. “Right through the eye.”
“Right through the eye,” Jake repeated. “That’s the way you got to do it.” The pair hoisted the deer up a tree and gutted it. Jake unpacked his portable aluminum game cart, placed the gutted deer in a bag, and they put it on the cart.
“How many points?” Bat asked.
“Six. Not bad for a bunch of old farts like us. Well, let’s get back. It will take a few hours to cut it up into steaks.”
“No need. There is a butcher that will do it all for eighty dollars in Cumming.”
“Eighty dollars? You are getting soft, old man. But that sounds a lot easier. Beer’s on me.”
“Now, that’s what I’m talking about. Let’s go.”
The pair walked in the general direction of where they had parked. Bat puled the game cart and was whistling to the tune “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Jake occasionally picked up a rock and threw it to amuse himself . Suddenly, Bat tripped and fell forward. “Nice,” Jake said with a chuckle.
Bat was holding his knee and said, “Nice. Really? That’s all you have to say? Damn! That really hurt.”
“Hey, what’s this?” Jake said, looking at the obstacle Bat tripped over. “It kind of looks like a manhole cover.”
“Given your years of working at the water department, you should know what a manhole cover looks like by now.”
“And yet another remark that’s going to cost you,” Jake said as he looked at the cast iron object for a long moment. “What the heck?” He exclaimed. “It says DMWD.” The pair moved some dirt and twigs that covered the metal circle.
Jake looked the object over carefully, with a puzzled expression. “Well, it’s got the Dawsonville Municipal Water Department logo on the top. But it can’t possibly be one of ours. Where are we?”
“We’re about forty feet away from the Addams parking lot and 300 feet from the Jacob Len reservoir .”
“The worst part is that I can’t get any water from that darn reservoir,” Jake complained. “Who puts in a reservoir, then doesn’t let the nearby town use the water? Look at all that clean water flowing down there. I could be sending every single drop of that through the treatment center.”
“What I want to know is. What’s the deal with the manhole cover here?” Bat asked.
“The deal is that your number tens tripped over it.”
“But it’s not your cover?”
“No. It must have something to do with the reservoir.”
“But the reservoir is a state thing. So why does it have the DMWD logo on it?”
“Good question. Why don’t we open her up and find out?”
“Can we do that?”
“The manhole cover says Dawsonville Municipal Water Department. You bet I can open her up! Look. There’s an old piece of iron pipe over there. It looks about the right size. We can probably use it to pry the cover off if we work together.”
Bat stuck the pipe into the manhole cover access hole.
“A perfect fit,” Jake said. “How about that? Look at the pipe, it has a dent in it like somebody used it to move the cover before. That’s strange.”
The pair moved the manhole cover out of the way. “Rungs? Nice!” Jake said with a smile. “That’s kind of odd. The rungs go way down. At least thirty feet. That’s not the typical setup.”
Jake dropped a rock and they heard a thump when it reached the bottom. “No water at the bottom,” Jake observed. “Did you bring a flashlight?”
“I have my phone.”
“That will work too.” Jake pulled out his phone and turned on the flashlight function. He then took off his hunting backpack and began climbing down the rungs of the manhole.
“Are you seeing this?” Jake said as he descended. “This is crazy.”
“No,” said Bat, who was still at the top.
“Well, take it slow, and get your surgical butt down here.”
Against Bat’s better judgment, he descended into the darkness. At the bottom of the shaft, the area opened up. In front of them was the type of door you’d expect to see on a Navy ship, with a strange-llock. “Stinks down here.” Bat said while holding his nose.
“This is really not that bad.” Jake said with a smile.
“How many times did I tell you that you picked the wrong job?”
“Now what?” Bat asked.
“Hold on.” Jake handed his cell phone to Bat and reached into his back pocket. “Is that a lockpick set?” A surprised Bat asked.
“Yes.” Jake began to work on the lock.
“I’ve been doing some evening work.”
“You are pranking your boss again.” Bat rolled his eyes.
“His last prank scared me half to death! Frickin’ skeleton in my tool shed holding a fake gun on me. Almost made me piss my pants! It’s revenge time. Damn.” Jake added. “This is a complex lock.”
“Tell me. Wha t is your revenge plan?”
“Well, I was going to put his lawn mower in his office. He’s changed his office lock since I left that potbelly pig in there. I’ve been practicing with lockpicks for the last three months.”
“Jake, you never change.”
The stubborn lock pinged. “Got it,” Jake said with a big grin. The pair turned the wheel, and the door opened with a creaking sound. Jake pushed the door inward slightly, and a loud click came from above the door. The pair looked up: they were staring at a shotgun barrel pointed right at their heads. Jake looked at Bat in horror. “What the hell?” He said while shaking.
Bat moved lower, maneuvering his phone to see the gun. “It’s a real gun. Probably a dud. What are the chances?”
“Chances enough to kill us! A dud saved our damn-fool lives. Look at that lever down there .” Bat shifted the light to investigate further.
“If you open the door just a bit, you will have enough room to move that lever and the gun probably will not go off.” Bat said. “We dodged the big one.”
“Well, now I really want to see what’s inside.”
They pushed the door fully open to reveal a small, cement room. On the right side were several pairs of neatly arranged shoes and a place to hang jackets. On the left side, ropes hung on large hooks. The middle of the small room contained a collapsible hoist system with a crank. The metal door on the far side looked like it belonged in an office.
“This looks like a mudroom.” Jake observed. “The hoists probably let you get stuff into this crazy place.”
“What do you think it is?” Bat wondered.
“It looks to me like a serious survival shelter. Probably really expensive.”
“That makes sense. Hey, there’s a light switch.” But when Bat reached for it, Jake yelled, “Stop!” He pointed to the shotgun.
“Yeah—you’re probably right. How the heck can they get the power down here for a light, anyway?”
“Probably a bunch of batteries.”
Bat took a closer look at the weapon above them. “Hey, look at this gun. Do you recognize it?”
Jake looked at it carefully. “No.” We said. “But look at the workmanship on gun holder. It is really high quality.”
“Hey, look at this.” Bat called out as he held a jacket with a Corbans Inc. logo on it. Jake looked at the logo in confusion. “Your wife works at Corbans, right? Do you think this belongs to one of her coworkers?” Bat asked.
“Hey! What’re you saying?”
“I’m saying nothing.”
“What else could it be?” Jake asked.
“True. Well, do we dare open the door?” Bat wanted to know.
Jake shrugged as Bat slowly twisted the doorknob at the other end of the room. There was a quiet click, and Bat opened the door. Jake took a quick look inside and whispered “It’s a hallway.”
Bat peered inside. “There’re dim lights at the end.” Looking down the narrow hallway, they saw several doors on each side and immaculate white tile covering the floor. The hallway ended at another door about 100 feet further down. The cement ceiling held several metal cable trays that carried wires of different thicknesses and colors.
About to enter the hallway, Bat turned as Jake blurted out, “Wait!”
“I don’t think this is a survival shelter,” Jake said.
“I was thinking the same thing. Look at the two flags.”
“That can’t be right. That is a Russian flag and—is that a French flag? What the heck?”
“A French flag? A survival shelter for the French and Russians? That does not make any sense.”
“Use your phone to take a picture.” Jake said.
“I don’t know; it just seems like the right thing to do.”
Bat took several pictures of the hallway and flags, then turned to Jake. “OK,” Jake said, “Let’s think this though.”
“So what are you thinking?” Bat asked.
“Look how clean this is. Take your shoes off and put these shoes on.”
“So, your number tens don’t leave any mud tracks to let them know we were here.” The pair changed to the shoes near the door.
“Alright. Here we go. Take it one step at a time.” Jake said. “Real slowly, now.” He carefully stepped into the hallway and looked around. He pointed to a light switch, then shook his head. The pair slowly walked down the hallway. On their immediate left they saw a wooden office-type door and Jake carefully opened it.
Inside was a conference room with a bug blackboard that had Cyrillic [Russian] writing on it. In the was a large conference table with comfortable chairs. On the left side, a large bookshelf contained many books. To the right were storage shelves with boxes and old office equipment. An emergency light above the entrance door provided just enough light to see. “This is crazy.” Jake said. “Take more pictures. Get some close-ups of those books and get some shots of what they wrote on the blackboard.” The pair used their cell phones to take pictures of everything in the room. Next, they looked into the room on the right.
It held an identically sized conference room. Only the furniture was more modern, and there was a whiteboard covered with what appeared to be French writing. To the left was a stack of unused computers. On the right was a large bookshelf with many books. The corner held a bronze statue of a soldier holding a book and looking stoic.
“Why do they need to have a conference way out in the woods?” Jake asked. “Some sort of secret meeting place? Maybe secret negotiations?”
“But what’s that crazy statue?”
“No idea. It looks out of place.” The pair silently took several pictures, then quietly closed the door.
When Bat opened the next door on the left, they were greeted by the noise of electrical equipment. “Pumps?” Bat wondered.
“No, generators. To power this place.” Jake said with confidence.
“The reservoir must provide the water for the generators.”
“Do you mean they put in that entire reservoir just to power this place?”
“I don’t want to think about that now. Let’s take more pictures and then leave. I am getting a really bad feeling about all this.” Silently, each man wondered what they were taking pictures of.
Bat held up his hand. “Jake?”
“Do you feel that?”
“Yes.” Bat looked at Jake with concern. “This is big.” He said with a shaky voice.
”Really big.” Agreed Jake. “What do you think we should do?”
“Take pictures, and make sure we do not leave anything behind.”
“I was thinking the same thing, but we have to make this quick. We might have set off an alarm or something.” They finished taking pictures of the equipment, closed the door, and Bat wiped off the doorknob with his shirttail. Jake looked at him and nodded. Bat walked back and wiped all the doorknobs behind them.
Jake opened the door to the right. Inside was a kitchen area with a sink and a long table in the center. They saw three large refrigerators and five wire shelves. Four were empty; the fifth was stocked with food. Bat opened a refrigerator, covering his hand with his shirttail, and said, “It’s cold and half full of food. That means that people have been here recently.”
Jake opened the next refrigerator. “This has a case of Rolling Rock beer. My favorite.”
“Leave them alone.”
Bat laughed quietly and said, “Stop being an ass.”
The third refrigerator would not open. “Leave it.” Bat cautioned.
“No arguments here.”
The food on the shelves bore unusual brands. The pair took several pictures, then carefully closed the door behind them.
To their left, the next room held several cots, some furniture, and a small video screen with a stack of eclectic DVDs. At one end of the room were a toilet and a small sink. At the other end was a large cabinet with Russian and French writing in black painted stencils. Jake gently opened the cabinet. Inside were several rifles and handguns. “That’s an Uzi and an AK.” Bat said with a surprised voice.
“I’m getting an even worse feeling now.”
“Let’s just get this done and leave.”
“Just three more doors and we are gone!” The pair took pictures of the room and closed the door behind them.
Bat opened the next door on the right. This room was much larger than the other rooms they had entered. Inside were several equipment racks containing computers. Many of the racks had large Raven Communications logos on them and their LED indicators were blinking. The room was noisy from the many computer fans and each rack connected to the other with myriad wires held in cable trays above them.
A work area held soldering irons, microscopes, assorted electronic parts, and computer parts. On the left side was a large stack of unused computers. Behind the racks were approximately 50 large reel-to-reel tape recorders. They took up more than half the room and did not appear to be in use. On the right side were ten wire racks with hundreds of one-inch, reel-to-reel tapes.
The pair looked around in stunned silence as they took more photos. “These are one-inch tapes like for a music recording studio.” Bat said.
“Ampex? Is that a good brand?”
“I think it’s the best.”
“What are all these computers doing?”
“You got me.”
“Take pictures and leave!”
The next room to the right was the same size as the first computer room and it held several equipment racks bearing Raven Communications logos . It was much better-organized, and the wiring looked neater. Jake estimated it contained quadruple the computers the other room had. On the left side were a small work area and spare computers. Notably absent were the large reel-to-reel tape recorders. The pair took several pictures, then carefully exited.
At the end of the hall, a large door displayed a sign with Russian and French writing. Below was a diagram of a flashlight and a camera, with large red lines drawn through the images. “I guess you’re not supposed to have light in here.” Jake said as he carefully opened the door with his hand in his shirttail. Inside were a dim green light and another door. The pair entered, closing the first door behind them.
“Make sure the flashlight on your phone is off,” Jake warned Bat.
“Alright, got it. Did you look at yours?”
“Got it.” Jake used his shirttail to open the second door. Inside was a massive room built on several different levels. Jake estimated it at 400 feet long by 40 feet wide. Each section was eight to fifteen feet tall, extending upward 60 feet. The room was illuminated by dull green lights in the ceiling which made it impossible to distinguish colors. At certain points, strong steel poles supported the ceiling.
On the right side, thick cables entered the room a few feet above the floor, supported by aluminum stands. Above each cable entrance to the room was a large sign with neatly printed letters. The cables traveled across the room to the other side and exited the wall on the left. In the middle of each cable was a large enclosed area and it reminded Jake of a garden shed.
Bundles of cables came out of the enclosed area to cable trays suspended from the main room ceiling. The entire room had been excavated such that it contoured according to how the cables intersected the room. Steps and ramps led from one level to the next. Jake counted thirteen cables between ten and thirty feet apart. Neither Jake nor Bat had any idea what they were looking at.
When they walked up to the nearest enclosed area, they found small viewing windows. The cable entered on one side and, three feet in, the outer casing had been removed. After this, the internal cable’s wire pairs were expertly exposed. By Jake’s estimate, there were more than 500 individual wire pairs. Neatly attached to each pair was a small circuit board. Jake could see that the circuit board did not electrically attach to the wire but instead a component on the board was glued to the wires. The circuit boards were supported with articulated aluminum holders . Each circuit board had a small connector and a thin cable going to a rack full of electronics. The equipment racks had large Raven Communications logos on them. Jake looked at Bat and shrugged.
Arrows painted on the floor led to the next enclosed area which also had a viewing port. Inside the thinner cable had its outer casing removed to reveal approximately 200 thin single strand wires. Each one went into thin aluminum cylinders with a slot along the long axis. The slot appeared to have been designed such that thin cable could come into contact with something without breaking. Aluminum stands supported the cylinders, and each one had a cable leading to an equipment rack. Like the other equipment racks, they had large Raven Communications logos on them.
“Do you see what they’re doing?” Jake said after staring at the configuration for a while. “It looks like they are tapping the cables. The first one looked like telephone wires, and this one looks like fiber optics.”
“You mean that they are monitoring and recording the calls?”
“Yes. They are probably also recording computer data on the fiber optics.”
“How do you know that?”
“We have dug up a lot of cables.”
Jake laughed quietly and answered, “No.”
“This is really freaking me out.” Bat added.
“Tell you what. Put your phone in your hat, turn it on with the screen covered, and then peek inside to start shooting video. I want to get everything in this room.”
“So, no light?”
“Exactly. Remember, the sign said no light. There might be some sort of sensor that would set off an alarm. Let’s do this and leave.”
They went from enclosed area to enclosed area while Bat made a video of everything.
“Get a shot of those labels on the walls.” Jake said. “I’m betting they tell what kind of cables are being monitored.”
After Bat finished, they retraced their steps, with Jake wiping off door handles along the way. Bat looked at the ground for any evidence of their presence.
When they reached the mudroom, they took off their shoes. “Which way did the shoes point when we got them?” Bat asked.
“I don’t know. Did you take a picture?”
Bat flipped through the pictures on his phone. “No, I didn’t get it.”
“Well, let’s do the best we can.”
“What about the gun?”
“I think I can reset it.”
“I don’t want to get shot.”
“Me neither.” Jake and Bat put their borrowed shoes back where they thought they came from. Jake closed the outer door partway, then carefully set the gun latch. Then they closed the outer door, spun the wheel, and the lock made a loud click. Jake picked up the rock he had dropped to check for water. He also picked up a few leaves and stuffed them in his pocket.
They climbed back to the surface, moved the manhole cover back, and covered it with dirt and leaves. Bat put the metal pole back where he found it, and they made sure the area looked as natural as possible.
With Jake pulling the game cart, Jake asked, “Do you think the Russians and French are working together?”
“It looks that way.” Bat said. “Are you sure they were monitoring the phone lines?”
“I’m no expert, but that’s what it looks like. The thing is that, for my job at DMWD, I have a huge map of all the phone lines in the area.”
“No phone lines go anywhere near here. And those were really deep; far deeper than normal phone lines.”
“So those are not normal phone lines.”
“I don’t get it.” Bat said. “What do you mean, not normal phone lines?”
“I think they’re government phone lines. You know, top secret military communications and such.”
“What do we do?”
Reluctantly, Jake admitted, “We have to tell people in the government.”
“We have to talk to the FBI.”
“Well, we can’t just call them.”
“The Russians and French could be monitoring the phones.”
“What do we do?” Bat asked.
“What if we made up a different story?”
They kept walking, and Bat finally said, “How about we call them and say we want to talk about some other crime. When we meet the FBI people, we tell them the truth.”
“What kind of crime?”
“How about that we found a corrupt cop?”
“No, too small. Counterfeit money?”
“I think that’s the Secret Service.” Bat countered.
“That sounds better. What kind?”
“No, too easy. How about pictures with a hooker?”
“Closer. How about pictures with a mob boss?” Jake suggested.
“That sounds good. Which politician?”
“How about our congressman?”
“Maybe. Who is the congressman for Georgia?” Bat wondered.
“You are a big-time surgeon and don’t know?”
Jake laughed and answered. “No! Why don’t you whip out your phone and do a search?”
Bat pulled out his phone again. “It says Darryl Rodgers. That sounds right. I think I voted for him.”
“How about I take the buck to the butcher. You call the FBI from a payphone and arrange a meeting.”
“It has to be an FBI office in Duluth. I do not want it being anybody from this area that might know us.”
“Why the payphone?”
“So, it does not trace back to us.”
“Makes sense. When do you want to meet with them?” Jake asked.
“Well, it’ll take the butcher three days to do the meat. How about Friday? Can you take the day off?”
“Sure. Can you arrange for no surgery on Friday?”
Bat laughed and answered. “No problem.”
“Really, that easy? I picked the wrong line of work.”
“I told you that when you were thirteen.”
“I will make the call. What about our wives?”
“You know that we cannot tell anybody anything.”
“Remember the Corbans jacket?”
“Harriet is not involved. No way. Besides, we do not keep secrets from each other. She even talks in her sleep.”
“Recipes and such.”
“Recipes? Really? And how long has she been working for Corbans?” Bat asked.
“It paid for her college.”
Bat looked at Jake for a moment. Jake shook his head and said, “No, no. Completely impossible! Look, every year they have fundraisers for blind children and they give away Corbans jackets. That’s got to be it.”
“Look, just don’t say anything. In fact, let’s stop talking about it. OK?”
“You’re probably right. I am sure it is all just a coincidence. Someone probably found that jacket on the street or something.”
“Here is the deal. Make the call and I will meet you on Friday at 11:00 a.m. at the FBI in Duluth.
“Now that that’s settled -- you never did finish telling me what your kids were up to.”