No cars passed by.
They could have been the only ones left on the planet.
He looked right, left, and then at his target and gave Cole a nod.
They stepped out.
Puller had on his fatigues and his face was blackened. M11 pistols forward and back. His strapped MP5 rested against his chest.
Cole was dressed in black pants and a dark shirt. Her face was blackened like Puller’s. She had her Cobra, and a throwaway in a belt holster.
Sweat stained Puller’s undershirt. The humidity level was off the charts. The combination of the heat and air moisture was debilitating. He could imagine the people in the old homes with no electricity sweltering in the oppressiveness. Or maybe they felt lucky to have a roof over their heads.
He eyed the dome of concrete. It rose up into the night sky like a solid tumor among otherwise healthy organs. He used metal clippers to cut a hole in the fencing, and a few minutes later he and Cole were next to the tumor.
Cole pulled some pages from a knapsack she carried and they studied them under a penlight Puller had in one of the pockets on his pants.
“We need to get an approximate size on this thing,” he said, and she nodded.
While Cole waited where she was, he turned west and stepped off. A hundred long strides later he stopped. He’d been doing roughly four-foot exaggerated pacing. It was difficult in the undergrowth, but he managed as best he could. Four hundred feet. Longer than a football field.
He next stepped off the width of the dome.
Two hundred strides later he stopped. It was eight hundred feet wide. Nearly a sixth of a mile. He calculated roughly the square footage inside and came away impressed. The Feds rarely did anything in a small way, particularly back then when they actually had money to burn.
A large facility. Large enough for what?
The blueprints he’d found in Strauss’s safe hadn’t revealed that.
The plans had contained a warning from the federal government that no blasting could take place within two miles of the dome. In addition, various spots on the blueprints had been marked with the symbol for danger. There had been no date on the document. There had been no explanatory notes. Puller and Cole had scanned every inch of the plans and still didn’t know what the place had been used for.
Clandestine. Top secret. Probably why they picked Drake. Today it was a massive lump in the middle of nowhere.
Puller rejoined Cole. She said, “How big?”
“Bigger than it looks,” he replied quietly.
He looked back through the woods at the neighborhood. Late 1950s style. Over half a century old. A lot going on back then in the world.
He turned to her. “What else did your parents tell you about this place?”
“Not that much. There was a siren one time that went off. No one was ever told what happened, my dad said. The police were never called here, that I know of. Sheriff Lindemann’s predecessor was sheriff back then. I talked to him about it long after he retired. It was totally out of his jurisdiction, he said.”
Puller slipped the paper he’d taken from the firehouse out of his pocket. A fire plan. The numbers 92 and 94 written into the margins.
“So did you figure out what those numbers mean?” Cole asked.
If it was referring to what he thought it was, this case was about to take on an entirely new and potentially catastrophic angle.
“I’ll tell you when I’m sure.”
“Why not now? You’ve been speculating to me before.”
“Not like this. I want to be sure. I don’t want to cause a panic if it turns out I’m wrong.”
She licked her lips. “I’m already panicked, Puller. I mean, pipeline, nuke reactor. How much worse could it get?”
“It could get a lot worse.”
“Okay, you officially panicked me right past my maximum level.”
He knelt in the woods, listened to the sounds of the wildlife passing close to him. Dawn was breaking. He heard a rattle from a nearby snake. He knew there were copperheads in here as well. The swamps in Florida had been filled with aggressive water moccasins. During the last stage of Ranger training some injuries came from snakebites. Some of his fellow Rangers had been afraid of snakes, but they could never show that fear. One had almost died from a deadly bite from a coral snake, but he’d recovered. Only to die four years later in Afghanistan when an IED had exploded under his feet.
Snakebites were bad. IEDs were worse.
Puller listened, considered their options. His deliberations went fast. He didn’t have many. He approached the concrete wall from the back side. He pushed through the thick vines and forest tendrils covering its surface. He touched the rough hide of the thing.
“You sure your dad said this was three feet thick?”
“Yes. He watched them do it.”
On a structure this big that would have been an ocean of cement. Only the Feds could have done something like this. It was like building the Hoover Dam in a way.
And for what?
“We have to get inside this sucker,” he said.
He touched the smooth surface. Concrete, unlike wood, became weaker over time, especially in elements like these. But three feet allowed a big margin of error for degradation of the material. He stared up the side; it rose nearly ten stories into the air. A few trees were taller than it, but not many. He could climb some of the vines to the very top, but then what?
Three feet. He couldn’t hack through that. At least not without people knowing about it. He’d need a jackhammer plus dynamite. He looked down, where the concrete met the dirt. Burrow underneath?
He pulled out a collapsible spade from his knapsack and began to dig. Two feet in he struck something. He removed some more dirt and hit the hole with his light.
“Looks like iron,” said Cole.
“Yeah, it does. Rusted but still intact.”
He wondered how far out from the perimeter it went. It was probably a good many feet. People who engineered gigantic domes had almost certainly not gone cheap on the other details.
No way under. No way over.
Yet there had to be a way. You didn’t build something like this and not provide a back door just in case something happened and you needed to get back in.
Something hit him. “Let me see the plans again.”
She handed him the packet. He rifled through several pages before he found the one he wanted. He looked at the writing. It was clear. He just hadn’t focused on it before. That was it.
He looked at Cole. “We need your brother.”
“Randy? What does he have to do with this?” She scowled. “You’re not telling me he’s involved in this? First, you think my sister tried to blow you up and—”
He grabbed her arm. “No, I don’t think your brother is involved in this, but I think he can still help. We need to find him.”
THEY CLEANED UP back at Cole’s house and started looking. But finding Randy Cole proved harder than it probably should have in such a small town. Cole exhausted all of her possible places within an hour. She called her sister, but Jean had no idea where he was. They went into the Crib and then scoured the small downtown area, taking it block by block.