A look at Zero Zero from Dell Sweet


ZERO ZERO

By DELL SWEET

Published With Amazon Digital

Copyright 2014 Dell Sweet

Copyright 1976, 1983, 1987, 2009, 2014 independAntwriters Publishing & Dell Sweet. Copyright renewed 2015, Dell Sweet. All rights reserved

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Much Thanks to: M. Laughlin, C. Maxon, G. Dell, C.J.


FOREWORD:

Somewhere in everything that I have written over the last seven or eight years, resides the story of this book. I spent a few hours trying, but I could not find it. There are times where I irritate myself and this was one of them: Because although I could have easily rewritten the information I spent the better part of an hour looking for it; as if somehow that made more sense. Of course it didn’t turn up. Things that were close to explaining it turned up, but not the text I remember writing. So I will write the story once more.

In 1976 I was a young man and I wanted to be a writer. I wrote a short story about this closed up series of caves where bad things happened. I didn’t know what bad things happened there, only that they were bad; probably very bad. I had some vague ideas, Russians, Dead people, Military types. All the things that used to scare me back then. I struggled for what was probably a few months and managed a short story that had very little to do with the caves and more to do with some post apocalypse cave man who was affected by radiation deformities, part of which made him want to kill and eat other people. That short story was sixteen pages long, handwritten, and everyone who read it thought maybe it was a joke of some kind and maybe I should consider doing something else instead of writing.

So I put it away and life took a giant step forward to 1983. I found myself working at home and had a lot of extra time on my hands. I happened across the manuscript as I liked to think of it, all sixteen yellowed and dog eared pages, and began to re-write it. It held my attention for a while and then life took another step forward to 1987. Still working at home, only now involved in the world wide web, as we called it. A thing most people thought would go nowhere at all. I got back into writing and fell into that story. This time it actually went where I wanted it to go, where I thought it should go all those years before. I wrote it and then wrote a sequel, and then a few dozen short stories and then life took another giant step.

When things shook out again it was 2010 and I was in a position to once again write. I thought about that first book, and the sequel, and the short stories, all lost now, gone to who knew where. Thinking didn’t bring them back but it did get me writing again. The first thing I did was re-write that book. It came out nothing like that long before first book had: It had taken a few twists and turns in the writing; in trying to remember what the other book had been about so many years before, and colored by all the things that had happened during that passage of time.

In any event I liked it, so I wrote another part and added it to it, and then another, and pretty soon there were twenty books written from that long ago first book. A series really. Then I wrote another book, and  another, and one day I woke up and realized that I was not still hoping to be a writer, I was a writer.

Sometimes I would think about that first book and regret losing it, but I would also remind myself that if I had not lost it I would have never written all of the other books that I had written, or at least not the way they were written,. Maybe they would have been better, maybe worse. Who can tell when you think about changing circumstances. I moved on, literally forgot about those books and stories, and then one day my son called me and told me he had found those files in a digital format. All of them. He doesn’t know if we can get them or not, or if they will be readable if we are able to get them. He only knows we have a shot at getting them.

To make a long story short we did get them, and everything except for the second book was easy to get and download to my own computer. The second book was not easy at all. I ended up using a program that downloads the file no matter what condition it is in. It simply fills the corrupted sections with zeros. Amazing. I got about 95% of the second book that way. Small sentences missing here and there, a few words or a paragraph there, but easily reconstructed.

I marveled over the technology that allowed me to pluck that book out of time, nearly twenty years of it, and then took a walk back through time and read that first book and those short stories from way back then. There were some that I did not even remember writing until I began to read them and then the story flooded back into my head. It was great.

The thing was life was busy and I had a lot of work laid out in front of me. It took awhile to get back to that first book. I debated over whether to do anything with it except read it and then let it sit. But after I read it I decided that in very many ways I liked it as much as the books I had written to replace it. In some ways even more.

That is this book you are about to read. Started when I was a kid just out of the service with a young wife and son, finished when I am at the other end of that spectrum. Kind of funny. Maybe it puts end to what I began. I don’t know. I do know I liked the book then, I thought the story just flowed from me and I really felt a part of it, and that has always been the hallmark of good writing to me, being right in the story. Falling into it. Starting to care about the characters and their circumstances.

So here it is forty years late: The road to publishing this book was a hard one, but I hope that you like it as much as I have enjoyed watching it come together.

Dell Sweet

July-24th 2014


This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

This novel is Copyright © 1976 – 2014 Wendell Sweet & independAntwriters Publishing. Dell Sweet is a publishing name for Wendell Sweet. All other copyright notices are herein encompassed. All national and foreign rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.

Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.


ZERO ZERO


Preamble

June 15th

Ira Pratt stared at the squared board lost in thought. If he moved to the right, he would surely lose two checkers. Maybe, he thought, as many as four. Moving to the left would not help either. There was actually only one semi-safe move to make, and that was straight ahead. But even that move could put a hurtin’ on his few remaining checkers, he thought. Nothing to do for it though, but move it, and see what happened.

He stared into the thoughtful eyes of the older man across the table, trying to read them. No good, he was a master at hiding his thoughts. His face was calm and carefully composed, not so much as a smile played at the corners of his mouth.

Ira gave in and decisively moved one checker forward and then leaned back into his chair, waiting to see what the older man would do.

“Well, I see you have left me little choice, Ira,” the older man said. He picked up one of his own checkers and carefully slid it forward as he finished speaking.

“That was what I was hoping you’d do,” Ira said grinning as he jumped two of the older man’s checkers.

“No doubt about it, Ira, you’re just too good for me,” the older man replied. He smiled widely, and pleasantly, and then changed the subject. “How about we take a short break, Ira, maybe go for a walk. You must get tired of beating me all the time?”

“Well,” Ira replied, “I kind ‘a get the idea you let me beat you some times, but sure, I wouldn’t mind a break at all.”

“I would never let you beat me, Ira. It is a good thing we don’t play poker though. I might gamble the entire kingdom away trying to beat you,” the older man replied laughing. “Besides I have my reasons for wanting to take a break right now. I see it like this, if you and I take a break, maybe once we return your concentration will not be so keen, and then maybe I will win one of these games for a change.” He rose from the small table as he finished speaking. “Ready, Ira?”

“Yep.”

Ira closed his eyes. He could have kept them open, and a few times he had, but the trip was unnerving enough without adding the visual aspects to it. Not that there was anything to see except darkness for the split second they would be traveling, he thought. Still…

He opened his eyes. They had actually only been shut for less than a second, but in that space of time they had traveled a considerable distance, or at least seemed to have. The small table that had been before him was gone, replaced by a lush green valley. A calm blue river flowed across the valley floor far below. He followed it with his eyes as it wound away in the distance.

“It’s beautiful,” Ira exclaimed, “but will it still be…?” He let the question trail away.

“Yes it will, as will several others, Ira. But it need not be this place, there are so many to choose from,” the older man informed him. “Come.”

Ira blinked, and when he opened his eyes they were standing in a high mountain meadow. Wild flowers covered the meadow, and a large, summer-fat herd of deer grazed peacefully among them. A large buck raised its heavily antlered head and stared at the two men, but perceiving no threat went back to grazing the field.

“This is also beautiful,” Ira said quietly.

“It only matters where, Ira. There are so many. There were even more, and there will be again.”

“I’ll have to tell Cora about this place, and the other,” Ira replied, still watching the deer graze.

“You should, Ira. In fact, there will be many things to tell her. Things she will need to know, Ira.”

“Tonight?”

“Yes. The time is short.”

“I was afraid of that,” Ira said slowly.

“There is no reason to be afraid, Ira.”

“I know that. I guess I mean afraid, as in I wish it didn’t have to happen.”

“I knew what you meant, Ira, but it is necessary. As much as I would wish that it was not, it is.”

Ira nodded his head slowly. “I know.”

The two men stood in silence for several minutes, watching the deer in the field. It seemed so peaceful to Ira, a good place to be, a good place to live, and that made it harder to accept that most of it would soon be gone. The older man spoke, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.

“Would you like to look at some others, Ira?”

“I believe I would at that. I think I’d like to look at as much as I kin before it’s gone, I guess. Does that sound wrong?”

“No, Ira, it does not, I too wish to look… Ready?”

Ira nodded but did not close his eyes. Darkness enveloped him, and a sense of speed. The absence of light was complete; he could only sense the presence of the older man beside him as the traveled through the dark void.

– 2 –

Far below the small city of Watertown New York, Richard Pierce sat working before an elaborate computer terminal. He had just initiated the program that managed the small nuclear power plant hidden deep below him in the rock. A small handset beside the computer station chimed, and he picked it up and listened. He did not speak at first, but as he listened a smile spread across his face. “Very good,” he said happily, when the caller was finished, “keep me advised.” He set the small handset back into its cradle and turned his attention back to the screen in front of him. The plant had powered up just as it was supposed to, no problems whatsoever, and that made Richard Pierce extremely happy. Two more days tops, he thought, and then maybe I’ll get out of this dump.

He supposed he should feel honored that he was even here. It was after all one of the biggest projects in the country, albeit top secret, but he could not help the way he felt. He was close to a mile underground, totally cut off from everything and everyone, and he hated it. If he had a choice, which he had not, he would never have come at all. But he had written the software that handled the power plant, as well as several other sections of the underground city, and that made it his baby. There were a couple of small bugs, mainly due to the fact that no one had been allowed to know what the entire program was supposed to do. The way the rewrites were going however, it looked as though he would not be stuck here anywhere near as long as he had originally thought, and that was something to think about. He had begun to feel that he would never leave this rock bound prison, and wouldn’t that be a real bitch.

– 3 –

At a large gravel pit on the outskirts of Watertown, Gary Jones carefully maneuvered the wide mouth of the loader bucket over the dump box of the truck, and pulled back on the lever closest to him to release the load. Ain’t this something, he thought as he slowly topped off the dump box, barely 10 AM and we’ve already sent out twenty seven truckloads of gravel to the base.

Six men out sick, and another forty truckloads to deliver before five tonight. What in hell are they doing with all this gravel? He wondered. It was a question he had asked many times before, and still had not gotten an answer to. Uncle Sam paid well though, and on time to boot, so he guessed he probably shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. He signaled the driver, and he pulled away with a whoosh of air as he released the brakes. Another dump truck lumbered up to take his place, and he pushed the questions out of his mind as he began filling the box.

– 4 –

In Seattle Washington, Harvey Pearlson sat at his wide mahogany desk and talked quietly into the phone.

The extravagantly appointed office was located on the top floor of one of Seattle’s most highly regarded newspapers. Pearlson had worked his way up from the bottom, after starting as a carrier in 1955, sixteen floors below.

“No,” Pearlson said quietly, “I don’t want to know. I just thought that maybe it could be handled in some other way.” He listened for a few minutes nodding his head as he did.

“Yes, yes I see, but?” He rubbed his eyes as he listened. “No, I don’t,” he said emphatically, “I happen to like him a great deal, and if you give me the time…” The voice on the other end of the line cut him off, and he once again listened quietly.

“I see,” he said, once the voice had finished speaking. “No, I do understand. I won’t. Do you think I’m that stupid? Give me a little credit here, will you. You wouldn’t even be aware of it if I hadn’t called you in the first place, for Christ’s sake.” He listened for a few seconds longer, then hung up the phone.

There was no reasoning with Weekes, he told himself, and he was going to do what he was going to do. For Frank’s sake, he wished he had never called him at all. Too late now though, he told himself, far too late. After all, he had done his best to swing Frank away from the story, but Frank Morgan was not a man who could be easily swayed, and, he told himself, unless he wanted to find himself in the same circumstances, he had better just shut up and let it go. He reached over and thumbed the intercom button.

“Cindy?”

“Yes Sir?”

“I’m going to be out the rest of the day, Cindy, and if Frank Morgan comes looking for me before he leaves, you don’t know where I am, correct?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Anything important comes up you can reach me on my mobile, Cindy.”

“Yes Sir, Mister Pearlson.”

Harvey Pearlson picked up his briefcase and left the office. Whatever Weekes had in mind, he wanted nothing to do with it, and he didn’t want to be available for any sort of questions that might arise either. It was unfortunate enough that he had started the whole ball rolling;he had no intention of sticking around to see where it ended up stopping. No, he told himself, the lake was the best place to be. The only place to be, and he intended to stay there until the whole thing blew over just as he had been told to.

He took his private elevator down to the garage area, walked across to his Lincoln, and drove out of the parking garage, turning right on Beechwood. He passed a hooker standing at the corner of the building, and thought just how badly Beechwood Avenue had gotten as of late. He would have to speak to the security people when he got back from the lake. Putting up with the hookers that had taken over the avenue at night was one thing, but broad daylight? Standing right in front of the frigging building? No, something would have to be done, and if the security people couldn’t take care of it, maybe he’d speak to Weekes. After all, he owed him one now, didn’t he? He pushed the thought away, signaled, and pulled out onto the loop. In an hour he’d be at the lake, and then he could forget about the whole mess, for today at least. He eased the car up to sixty, and leaned back into the leather upholstery to enjoy the drive.

– 5 –

April 11th 1952

Ira Pratt drove the old tractor carefully down the side of the slippery hill. It had been raining for close to three days, and it didn’t look as though it was going to let up right quick, he thought.

The rain was causing all sorts of problems, and not just for him, he knew, but for the cows as well. The biggest problem was the creek, and the only way the creek wasn’t going to be a problem was to unplug the thing.

He sat on the tractor as it slipped and slid its way down the hill through the gray sheets of rain. Ira let out a sigh of relief once it reached the bottom. For a second there, he had been sure both he and the old tractor would end up in the creek, but God was smiling on him today.

He slipped the worn gearbox into neutral, and sat looking at the rush of muddy-brown water. The creek was a good four feet above the point of flooding, and he wasn’t sure it was a smart move to try to put the tractor in that. The tractor was sure footed, but so was a goat, and he’d seen more than one goat end up on its ass. But there wasn’t anything else for it. If he didn’t move the trees that were clogging the creek, and flooding it out and over the banks, then he might as well just sit back and watch a couple more cows drown.

Ira knew cows, pretty much anyhow, and every one that he and Cora owned were just as stupid as any other cow he’d ever seen. The cows didn’t understand flooding, they didn’t understand how the water could weaken the banks, and so the big dummies just walked on down to the creek, just like any other day, and got swept away when the bank crumbled under their weight. Three days of rain and four dead cows, and though cows were stupid, they weren’t cheap.

Ira sat in the pouring rain and stared at the creek. Normally, the creek was no more than eighteen inches deep at the most. Course normal wasn’t what it was today, he thought, and wishin’ it was wouldn’t make it so. It was his own damn fault, he reminded himself.  Two of the trees that were clogging it had been there last summer, and hadn’t he promised Cora he’d take ’em out before fall? He had, but he hadn’t, and so here he was in the pouring rain fixin’ to half kill himself to get ’em out.

Looked like the best way, Ira thought, might be to try and snag the biggest one right from the bank. He squinted as he shielded his eyes to peer through the rain. One thing was for sure, sittin’ on the tractor and thinkin’ about it, wasn’t gonna get it. Reluctantly, Ira climbed down off the tractor and edged closer to the bank. The rain was coming down hard, but the section he stood upon seemed solid enough. “Probably what the cows thought,” he muttered as he moved closer.

He walked back to the tractor, unwound a long section of chain from behind the seat, and walked back to the creek. The top of the bigger tree was sticking a good three feet over the bank, and he was glad that it was. He could see that the water was rising faster, and moving along quicker, and he had no wish to get any closer to it than he had to. Quickly, but carefully, he wound the chain around the tree and pegged the links with an old bolt to hold them. Looks good, and solid as well, he thought as he slipped the other end of the chain over the bucket. He genuinely didn’t want to try and turn the tractor around. In fact, he thought, as muddy as the ground was, he’d be damn lucky just to get it back up and away from the creek when he finished.

He gave an experimental tug at the chain, and then climbed back up on the tractor. Carefully, without grinding the gears any more than he surely had to, shifted into reverse. He played the clutch out slowly and brought up the slack in the chain.

“Well God?” He asked, looking skyward, “You keepin’ a watch down here? I could sure use a hand about now, Lord. Amen,” Ira finished.

He let the clutch out a little further, playing the gas pedal as he did, and let the tractor go to work. The oversized tires spun, caught, and the tractor began to slowly back up the steep bank, pulling the tree out of the muddy water as it did. Ira released the breath he had been holding, and just as he did the chain snapped in two. Ira barely had time to register what had happened, when the old tractor flipped, crushing him beneath it.


One


 ALEA IACTA EST


ONE

June 15th: Seattle Washington

~1~

The wind kicked up along Beechwood Avenue in Seattle’s red light district. A paper bag went rolling along the cracked sidewalk: Skipping over Willie LeFray’s feet where he stood watching the traffic… thinking. One trick… The right trick… Somebody with money and he could call the night good. Just enough to get a good high… Or enough to get enough shit to get a good high tonight and maybe a good high tomorrow when it all wore off and the jingle jangles set in? … Maybe, he decided. Maybe. Willie stood watching the cars as the paper bag bounded over his feet and tumbled along the avenue.

– 2 –

For Franklin W. Morgan, just Frank to his friends, June 15Th, had been a particularly hard day.

As he sat at the small, scarred, wooden table at Mikes Pub on Sixth Avenue, nursing a shot of gin, his thoughts turned inward, mulling over the same problem he had been mentally chewing for the last several weeks. It always came back, no matter how far away he pushed it.  It slipped right back to the front and began to hammer away at him. But today was much worse. It had seemed endless as it dragged on, and he had been able to concentrate on next to nothing. He had avoided the office, and Pearlson, no sense compounding things when he was so close to the truth by chancing a confrontation with Pearlson.

Pearlson was… Pearlson was, a piece of shit, he thought. However, at the moment it wasn’t just Pearlson that had him so keyed up and anxious, it was leaving, and, he supposed, that was just as it should be.

The thing that had made it difficult to get through was the pressure and anxiety he always felt when he was on the trail of a promising story. That and the stress associated with the story.

It was not so much the stress his job placed on him; he had always dealt with that quite well. He knew what it was, and what it had been for several weeks now. All of those late night calls to his sources in New York. No sleep, virtually working around the clock; sifting through the information this source or another provided; sorting out the truth from imagination, and getting to the facts, or as close as he could get to them. That, coupled with the fact that he had been the only one, save Jimmy, who believed it, and now Jimmy was apparently missing so he could add the disappearance of a good friend to the growing list of worries that kept him up at night. This was turning into a three ring circus damn fast, and he didn’t like. He didn’t like it at all.

He was sure now, or as sure as anyone could be. But, who the hell would believe him? Not his editor, that was for sure. He would not soon forget the day two weeks ago, when he had approached the subject with him either. It had been partly his own fault, Frank realized. He had not been as prepared as he should have been. He had also possessed no hard facts, he reminded himself, and he had speculated far too heavily for Pearlson’s taste. Even so, he was just as convinced as he had been then. No. More so now, he amended.

Two additional weeks of digging into it, with Jimmy’s help, had produced a wealth of information, and it was no longer just conjecture as the old man Pearlson had said, but a steadily growing stack of cold hard facts.

Pearlson had still laughed, and told him he should try writing fiction for a living. But there had been something else lurking just behind that laugh, hadn’t there? Perhaps a hint of nervousness maybe?

Pearlson had also suggested that just maybe Frank needed a vacation, and, things being the way they were Frank had taken him up on the last suggestion.

Screw him, Frank thought as he sat at the table and drained the last of his drink… Just screw him.

That was what had made his days so long and his nights so sleepless, he reasoned. Churning around in his head was all of that knowledge… Along with fear, fear of what that knowledge may mean.

But did he actually know anything? He asked himself, and could he actually prove what he did know? Yes, Dammit… And just as suddenly, probably not. He couldn’t prove all of it yet, at least not entirely, he admitted.

Not for much longer though, he told himself, the proof part of it was about to change. He had made plans to go to New York. Directly to the source, so to speak, and find out just exactly what was going on. No conjecture, no guessing, no screwing around at all. If Pearlson wanted facts, Frank would get them one way or the other, he had decided. And the suggestion to take a vacation couldn’t have been a better cover for him to go under, he reasoned.

No, he decided, it wouldn’t be much longer at all. Two weeks in upstate New York and he would know for sure. Frank saw no way that Pearlson could kill the story then. Not faced with cold hard facts.

But Pearlson could be an idiot, what if he still rejected the truth even after the facts were presented, he asked himself. Well, if he did, Frank reasoned, that would open up a whole new set of problems. Maybe Pearlson was involved somehow… Maybe not, but the whole thing had smelled of a cover up from the start, and if Pearlson cut the story loose, if he still placed no faith in it, then there had to be a reason, and maybe… And maybe shit! If it turned out that way, then maybe it would be time to move on.

He rose slowly from his chair and fighting his way through the crowded table area, made his way to the bar.

“Another Gin, Mike,” he said, once he had gotten the old man’s attention. “On second thought hold the ice , just straight up.” He stared miserably at the jukebox in the corner that blared incessantly, and silently urged it to fall silent as he waited for the drink. His thoughts, still clouded, turned back to the problem he was constantly turning over in his mind, when a glance at his wristwatch reminded him of how late it actually was.

He turned his attention back to the bartender. “Shit! Mike, I’ve got to go see the kid’s and I am already late,” he threw a twenty on the bar, “that should cover the tab.”

“What about this?” Mike asked, holding up the shot glass.

“You drink it, Mike, I truly am late. I’ve gotta go,” Frank replied as he started to turn towards the front door.

“Hey?” Mike called in a questioning manner. Frank turned back to the bar.

“Get some sleep, Frank,” Mike said, “your eyes look like two piss holes in the snow.”

“Yes mother,” Frank joked, “I will.”

Frank smiled to himself. They always played this game, and had been at it for the twenty years that Frank had been coming into Mike’s. Mike seemed to think it was his duty to mother him, even more so since Jane had died.

“See you in a couple of weeks or so, Mike,” Frank called as he stepped out the door. He glanced at his watch once again as he did. I’ll never make it, he thought, no way.

He resigned himself to the fact that he would more than likely be late, and not for the first time this week. He had already been late three times, picking up Patty and Tim from the sitter.

Cora Pratt, the sitter, could pitch a real fit when she wanted to, he thought. “Well I’ll deal with her when I get there,” he mumbled to himself. Besides, he thought, tonight I don’t have to pick them up, just say good-bye for two weeks.

The heat assaulted him as he stepped out of the air conditioned comfort of the bar, and he winced.

Twenty seven years of living in Seattle had not changed a thing for him. He felt about the city as he always had. It was too hot in the summer, what there was of it, and too damn cold and windy in the winter, and it wasn’t home. He still thought about it as a place he was only visiting. He never had gotten used to it, and, he knew, he never would.

Frank worked the handle upward slowly, pulling the driver side door of the company car open carefully. He had to as this one stuck if you were forceful, and then he would end up crawling over the damn passenger seat to reach the driver’s side. It seemed to him that he had once had this car when it was new. It was hard to tell though as it was a pool car, and the younger generation of reporters in the press pool beat the hell out of all the cars.

“Too many hot-rod kid’s driving the piss out of them,” he said aloud as he keyed the motor and pulled the Plymouth Voyager out into the traffic. He headed out of the city, towards the suburbs and Cora Pratt…



 

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