January 4th, 2559
Firebase Seven Nine Tango,
North of Faisal,
Corporal Charles Keller waited for the thrust-blast to cease before he stepped from behind the small concrete barricade. The shuttle’s engines slowly idled down. The rear ramp opened up to show a soldier standing in front of a large number of crates strapped to the deck. The new soldier walked down the ramp, pulling his duffel bags hung from an anti-gravity unit.
The soldier was a walking arsenal, for he carried a BR75, an M905 pistol, and a spin-knife. Keller walked up to Jon, his boots stirring up small dust clouds. “Corporal Walker?”
“That’s me,” Jon replied.
“I’m Corporal Keller. Welcome to Echo, Fifth Highlanders and Firebase Seven Nine Tango,” he said, his accent changing “Keller” to “Kellah” as he held out his hand.
“Pleasure,” Jon said as he shook Keller’s hand firmly as he studied his guide. Keller had longish brown hair, hazel eyes, and a solid build. On Keller’s chest pocket was the silhouette of Alliance House, indicating Keller had once been a member of the Presidential Life Guards. Above the pocket, next to Keller’s Infantry Designator rested the black shield of an Aggressor.
“Where were you at?“
“Sector Fifty, down south. Fissile field on the edge of no-fucking-where. You?”
“Sector Four, out of Compound One,” Jon replied.
“Where’s home?” Keller asked.
“United States, on Earth,” Jon said and shifted his rifle slightly. “You?”
“Australia,” Keller replied. “Let’s get you checked in. You’re gonna be in Second Squad, First Platoon. Gonna love it here.”
“I’ll never love it here. No beer,” Jon replied.
“Trust me, you’ll love it here. The locals dick with us daily out there,” Keller said as he gestured towards the city of Faisal in the distance. “But since their last effort about three weeks ago, they stay the hell away from us.”
“Gotcha. What’s the game plan?”
“Annual weapons qual today for the squad. Since I’m still current, I’m here to help you check in while the squad qualifies. We hook up with Top, get you checked in, find you a hole, hook you up with the squad and get ready for tomorrow.”
An hour later, Jon stood at rigid attention in front of a tall, muscular First Lieutenant.
“I’m Lieutenant Brux. You spell it B-R-U-X. I’m easy to get along with. Got a problem, use the chain of command. If you are the problem, chain of command will straighten you out.
“I’m putting you with Second Squad. Staff Sergeant Perrine will hook up with you shortly. He’s a good NCO and you’ll learn a lot from him. He has about seven months left on his tour.
“Three things that really rub me raw. First is weapons discipline. Your weapon will be within arm’s reach at all times outside of your hooch and shower.
“Second is weapons maintenance. Dirty weapons are dangerous ones. I’ve been known to do random inspections. Keep your weapons clean.
“Third is your maintenance. We do PT and all that, but many troops forget that they are weapons. I expect you to maintain proper hygiene and enforce the standards accordingly. Cleanliness is a must, however, we are somewhat lax on haircuts and moustaches for a reason. Since we don’t wear rank insignia here, the terrorists know those intending to go Professional tend to keep their hair shorter than the conscripts.”
“Perimeter has a two kilometer kill zone, measured from the wire. At the far edge of it, there’s a few small mounds we left up. We could knock them down, but we leave ‘em up for comic relief.”
“They’re preregistered for mortars,” Keller chuckled. “We have a few sensors planted outside the blast zones to tell us when to fire. Every so often some genius thinks they’re going to mortar us from that area, so we wait until they get set up then hit them.”
Jon grinned approvingly.
“Anyway, we have mines out the wazoo for half a kilometer from the wire. Used to be all anti-personnel with a few Topshot anti armor-mines blended in.”
“All the mines in one belt, half a klick in depth?” Jon asked. Keller nodded. “We’d be better off with several smaller belts further out and a final belt fifty meters in depth from the wire. Confuse them more and slow down the momentum of their attack.”
“You know it and I know it. But the fucking politicians who write the Rules of Engagement don’t know it. They’re afraid Omar the Oppressed is going to get hurt when he lets his goats stray onto our vegetation-free kill zone to graze.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me any. Give me Kronskye Rules of Engagement anytime!” Jon said, referring to the no-quarter policy the Aggressors operated under.
“Agreed. Anyway, we’re going to be planting more anti-armor mines soon. Because of the attack, we’re actually going to get the new Per-D system. Ever see what one can do?”
“I’ve seen testing tapes of the Perimeter Defense system in action.”
“Well, last August, thirty raggies got the bright idea to attack Alliance Island. They thought they were being stealthy when they came in. They anchor far enough out so they don’t alert the satellite warning system and swim underwater with air tanks to get to the beach. Dumb shits forgot we have underwater sensors.
“Anyway, they surfaced in front of two Per-D boxes and a rolling sentry twenty meters away. The boxes launched about twenty thousand rounds each through the lot in a second flat. Instant fish food.”
“Obviously,” Jon said dryly. “What’s the plan if they try anything with us before we get Per-D?”
“When the siren goes off, run to your position, lock and load and watch--your lane!” Keller said, mimicking the command used on combat marksmanship ranges.
“Gotcha. Where’s the plat daddy?”
“Platoon Sergeant Fowler is on a contraband hunt. He’s gotten a bit strange since Prohibition began.”
“That’s what we call the ban here.”
“Oh yeah. So what’s with the plat daddy?”
“Prohibition was a two phase plan. Minister of War turned off the tap, said no beer was to be shipped after September first. However, beer already here or in Transit would be consumed as normal rather than waste money shipping it offworld or destroying it in place. The Palis went along with that.
“The Island was already dry when I got here. How much beer is still floating around?” Jon asked.
“Officially everyone is supposed to be dry. It was announced that after November first, anyone caught with alcoholic beverages would be prosecuted bigtime. Since my old unit was coming to the mainland before I could finish school, they replaced me and I came here. When I got here, Sergeant Perrine--our squad leader--said that when they got word of the upcoming ban, Fowler started hoarding and buying up the non-drinker’s beer rations.
“Apparently, he just ran out. You can expect a real bitch of an inspection because he’s searching. Naturally, his goal is to ensure no contraband exists,” Keller chuckled.
“Of course,” Jon said, knowing Platoon Sergeant Fowler would “personally destroy” any beer he found.
“He’s a good field troop, knows his shit, but he’s a bit nuts in the rear. How he inspects depends on his mood and the reputation of those he’s inspecting. He went into one hooch and tore it apart because one of the troops supposedly didn’t have his bunk made right. Catch is that one of the non-drinkers in the hooch was reported to have saved his beer ration and hidden it for resale at ten creds a bottle.”
“He would have gotten it too,” Jon said.
“Anyway, Fowler didn’t find anything and two hooches down, he overlooks something even worse and keeps on going. Just make your bunk right and you’ll get through hooch inspections.”
“Gotcha,” Jon said.
“Top Wisner is one hardcore dude who doesn’t fuck around. I’m sure he knows what Fowler is up to and I suspect a Highlander Dry-Pop is in Fowler’s future.”
“What do they teach now at Alliance Island?” Keller asked incredulously. “A Highlander Dry-Pop is our slang for a boot in the ass.”
“Gotcha,” Jon replied.
“Anyway, Top is a good First Sergeant and classy. He has a story about him now that no doubt will be Army-wide within a year,” Keller said enviously.
“Do tell,” Jon said, for most of the “best” Professional soldiers inevitably had a reputation-enhancing story.
“Had the raggies breach the perimeter about three weeks ago. Waited until we were out in town doing patrols when they started with fairly heavy mortar fire to keep everyone pinned down. Second group of mortars concentrated on the defenses where they wanted to breach.”
“Gotcha,” Jon replied, understanding the situation.
“Anyway, the raggies were really going for it. Couple of trucks were rigged to fire crude Minefield Clearing Charges to clear lanes. They blow the MCCs and get into the perimeter. The fuckers were fast, perhaps two minutes from the first impact to the time they were in the wire.
“Top was in the showers when the first round hit. Grabs his boots, helmet and his BR, and runs to his fighting position.”
Jon laughed at the mental image. “Oh, no!”
“Oh, yes!” Keller laughed as he enthusiastically nodded his head. “Anyway, he had to take cover because the raggies were pounding away at us. So he jumps in an empty hole and starts banging away with his BR75. Stray round takes his rifle out. Breaks the fucker in half! Top is not thrilled about it.
“Top figures he better move out smartly and does so. The raggies had already gotten through the wire and were trying to fan out. One raggie had jumped in Top’s regular fighting position and was reloading when Top jumped in.
“The guy sees Top is wearing nothing between helmet and boots except a huge smile. Top winks at the guy. The raggie thinks he’s about to become Top’s personal manyouk--boy for sex--screams, drops his weapon and runs!”
“No way!” Jon laughed loudly. “What happened?”
“Top chambered a round, shouted, ‘thank you’ and shot the raggie with his own weapon.”
A short Staff Sergeant looked at Jon. “I’m Staff Sergeant Perrine. I’m your squad leader,” he said, shaking Jon’s hand. “Let’s take a walk, shall we?”
“Sure,” Jon replied as he picked up his BR75.
“I see you took the pistol option,” Perrine said, gesturing to Jon’s M905 pistol. As of January 1st, NCOs were permitted to purchase the standard railgun pistol for duty use.
“Better to have and not need, than to need and not have,” Jon replied.
“Right about that,” Perrine said. “Second Squad is not your standard mech squad. “What did they tell you about mech on the Island?”
“That roughly half the tracks are in for upgrades. We ride on top for safety, and that once all the tracks are back, we can ride inside again.”
“Right. Part of the fuel tank is unarmored and exposed to the interior of the vehicle. If a Cheapshot anti-armor grenade lands right on top of the fuel tank area, the crew is barbecued before the fire suppression system can do anything. We ride on top, to make extra certain nobody gets a chance to toss one.
“Tomorrow, we’re going to work on getting you integrated with Alpha Team here, then on the sixth, get you up to speed with the squad with a patrol around the perimeter before we go into town. On the seventh, we go on a power walk.”
“Show of force. We’ll mate up with other units, form a couple of large convoys and go through town. It’s a PsyOps thing, intended to let the terrs know that we can come and go as we please and offer them the opportunity to prove otherwise.”
January 6th, 2559
Sandy View Apartment 16, Las Vegas:
Sarah had just completed her exercises with the spin-knife when she heard a knock on the door. She hurriedly hid the spin-knife and looked out the peephole.
“Hi! Busy?” Leah said when she saw the peephole darken.
“Oh no,” Sarah replied as she opened the door and motioned Leah to enter. “Have a seat.”
“Sure I’m not interrupting something?” Leah asked, gesturing to Sarah’s sweat-soaked shirt.
Sarah closed the door. “No, just finished up my aerobics.” She went to the kitchenette and pulled out a soda. “Want something to drink?”
“No, thanks,” Leah replied.
Sarah stepped back into the living room and sat next to Leah. “What brings you by?”
“You haven’t been to a party in a while and I was worried about you, that’s all.”
“Thanks,” Sarah said, sincerely touched by Leah’s concern. “I just didn’t feel like celebrating 2558. It was a really bad year for me,” Sarah replied truthfully. “I only wanted it gone.”
“Anything I can help with?” Leah asked as she put a comforting arm around Sarah. “You can talk to me.”
“I’ll be fine. I survived it and that’s all that matters,” Sarah said.
“What are you doing tonight?” Leah asked as she ended her one-armed embrace and looked at Sarah.
“Go out for dinner, come back, watch holo until dawn and get back on my sleep schedule for the week,” Sarah said.
“Well, ummm, mind if I join you?” Leah asked shyly.
“Sounds like fun. Let me get a shower and we’ll be on our way.”
“Okay,” Leah said brightly as Sarah stood up. Sarah started walking towards the small bathroom, peeling her shirt off as she went down the hallway and into the bathroom, but didn’t bother to close the door.
Leah leaned against the open door while Sarah undressed, stepped into the shower and drew the curtain.
“Where do you want to eat?” Leah asked as she looked at the pile of sweaty clothes on the tile floor.
“I don’t know. Some place that won’t break my budget,” Sarah replied as she turned on the shower. She gasped at the inevitable first blast of cold water. “Pizza good for you?”
“I’m tired of pizza. How about Thai?” Leah offered as she raised her voice to overcome the rushing water.
“Eek!” Sarah said as she stuck her head and shoulder from behind the curtain to reach for a bottle of shampoo. She looked at Leah. “Thai is way hot! How about something else?” Sarah said as she withdrew into the shower again and looked at the curtain, trying to think how to handle the situation.
“Whatever it is, not too formal,” Leah said as she caught an unpleasant whiff. She sniffed suspiciously and found the scent was coming from her arm where she had embraced Sarah. “I stink!”
“Room for two in here!” Sarah laughed. After a moment of silence, Sarah wondered if she had upset Leah.
Leah stepped into the shower with a gentle smile on her face. “Pass the soap?”
January 6th, New Palestine:
As Perrine promised, the perimeter patrol was intended to get Jon “up to speed” with the rest of the squad in a relatively safe environment. The squad’s remaining M333, named Enchanter 2 followed the squad a safe distance behind.
“All right, things to look for on the roads when you’re walking. Rocks are randomly placed. If you see a bunch of big rocks in a pattern, get away from them. The raggies like making IEDs that look like rocks.
“When it rains, look for depressions where the ground settles. If it’s dry, look for a dark spot, where the earth is freshly turned and the moisture hasn’t evaporated yet. You can smell the moisture in the dirt sometimes. That’s where the raggies don’t disperse the spoil far enough,” Perrine explained as his helmet chimed. He held up his fist. The squad automatically took up defensive positions as Perrine listened intently.
“Mount up! We have a priority knock!” Perrine shouted.
The squad ran quickly to Enchanter 2 and climbed up its sides and front quickly, taking designated places so as not to hinder the crew’s vision or operation of the weapons systems.
“This is gonna be a fast and dirty Knock. Perrine, I want Olds’ team to make the Knock. Put Walker with Olds,” Brux said crisply on the leader’s frequency.
“Yes, sir,” Olds and Perrine replied. Perrine changed to a private frequency he shared with Jon.
“Jon, you’re going with Olds on this Knock.”
“Right, Sergeant,” Jon replied, knowing he was being sent to gain experience. His helmet chimed, indicating Olds was paging him.
“Perrine tell you you’re with me?” Olds asked.
“Yeah. What do I do, where do I go?”
“I want you stick with Keller and cover his back. He has a knack for Knocks,” Olds replied. “Collating info, we’re six minutes out!”
The frequency went silent as Olds studied the information on the house, the three occupants, and the surrounding terrain. Olds’ team frequency came alive again.
“Okay, Bravo team, listen up. Perrine’s team is going to cover the back and sides. No problem on this house. When we get there, Keller takes the door with Walker covering. VanCise, you take the left window. Stapleton covers you. Selkirk take the right window. I’ll cover you. Are we clear?”
“CLEAR!” the team responded.
“Two minutes!” Perrine shouted.
Jon felt a rush of adrenalin like nothing he had experienced before. His first “real” mission as a Highlander. Living the dream. He grinned and saw Keller looking at him. Jon gave him a thumbs up. Keller smiled.
“Thirty seconds, get ready!” Perrine said as Enchanter 2 slowed.
The squad jumped off the moving M333 quickly, rolled and jumped up. Perrine’s fireteam ran to the right side of the house and checked it out and worked their way to the back quickly. Olds’ team ran to the front of the house quickly, eyes nervously scanning for signs of trouble.
“In position,” Perrine reported on the platoon frequency. “Olds, do it.”
“You heard the man, make the knock,” Olds told Keller.
Keller tapped on the door loudly from a squatting position with his rifle. “Mister Al-Uteri! Army! Open the door!”
The door opened wide. Jon studied the fattest man he had ever seen. “Welcome! Please come in!” Al-Uteri said grandly. “We are all ready to go!”
“Go,” Keller said softly as Al-Uteri stepped back from the door. Keller stepped inside, followed closely by Jon and Stapleton. Two women, wearing baggy dresses and headscarves stood by a pile of luggage on the living room floor. “Cover the door,” Keller texted Jon and Stapleton. They took up positions to prevent a surprise attack from the kitchen and prevent Al-Uteri and his wives from leaving.
Keller compared the pictures to the women standing before him. He turned to Al-Uteri. “Sir, we cannot take all of these bags!” Keller said as he looked at the small mound of bags. “One bag per person is what you were told.”
“You have plenty of room in your vehicle,” Al-Uteri declared confidently, starting the inevitable haggling that was nearly an art form on New Palestine. “Or on top of them. There are only three bags per person.”
“We do not have room or the time to make them secure. One bag per person. You have one minute to decide which bag you take before I make the decision for you,” Keller countered.
“The Mayor will confiscate anything we leave! We’re going to need help moving!” Al-Uteri opined. “We will not leave our bags behind.”
“We are leaving,” Keller said as he texted Olds. “Catch.”
Al-Uteri looked at his wives. “Pick up the bags. We go now,” he ordered.
Keller knew New Palestinian men treated their wives as property and was disgusted by the practice. The women nodded acceptance and walked towards the bags. They ignored the larger bags and reached for the smaller bags.
“The big bags,” Al-Uteri said in Pali. Keller’s helmet translator picked up the emphasis immediately.
“Ell Tee, I have three cars moving in close. Loaded with men. They don’t see me, do I open fire?” Fowler said.
“Negative. Have a track pull out in front of them. Perhaps facing the thirty millimeter finger of death will convince them to take another route,” Brux said and shifted to Keller’s frequency. “Get them moving.”
“Roger!” Keller said to Brux. He turned to Al-Uteri. “We’re going now. Everyone out. Jon, keep an eye on the doorway ‘til I tell you.”
Stapleton stepped between the women and the big bags. “We must go now! Go out the front door,” Stapleton said as she pointed to the front door.
Al-Uteri sputtered indignantly at having his authority over his wives interfered with--and by a woman at that! “Pick up the bags,” he said as the whine of an M333 grew louder.
“Let’s go,” Keller urged.
“With our bags,” Al-Uteri said bluntly to him. “Either they carry them, or you infidels can carry them. It does not matter to me. We will not leave without them.”
Keller smoothly plucked a grenade off of his fighting vest. “We’re leaving now,” the Australian said, as he spread his fingers slightly to show Al-Uteri the markings on the grenade, then looked at the pile of luggage, back at Al-Uteri and nodded. He brought the grenade to his mouth and bit the pin with a feral grin.
“No!” Al-Uteri shouted as Keller pulled the grenade away from his mouth, the safety pin clenched between his teeth. Keller looked at the pile of bags again, his eyes widening further, implying a touch of insanity.
“One,” Keller said through clenched teeth.
“Run!” Al-Uteri cried.
The family ran for the door.
“They’re going outside!” Stapleton shouted.
Al-Uteri reached the door first. His eldest wife pulled him away from the door and ran outside. As Al-Uteri lunged for the door, he collided with his second wife, who had no intention of finding out what that thing in Keller’s hand was capable of. They fit through the narrow door together and joined the eldest wife outside being shepherded by the rest of the squad to Enchanter 2.
Keller took the pin from his mouth and replaced it in the grenade with a pouting look.
“I’ll never get to throw a grenade!”
January 7th, 2559
“We’re supposed to randomly stop and search. We’ve been out here for five hours, and nobody seems to be worried about us doing any searching,” Jon said to Perrine.
“The search is at my discretion.”
“May I make a suggestion?”
“Let’s double back and search that auto shop we passed. The one on the corner.”
“On what basis? Gotta have a reason for legal purposes.”
“Two things. It seemed a little too well-equipped for an auto shop. I thought I heard them use a word that translates into Common. Calibre.”
“Calibre?” Perrine asked. “What’s that?”
“Arabic for caliber. Not ‘caliper.’ I think we just passed a weapons factory.”
“That’s an interesting theory. How do you know that?”
“I used to work for a gunsmith. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out if I might have heard a different word or I’m being paranoid.”
“Okay. Hold on while I call it in,” Perrine said.
“Squad, we’re changing direction. We will turn around at the end of the block and double back. Third squad will do the swoop and snatch.”
“Perrine, your newbie has a double issue of imagination,” Platoon Sergeant Fowler growled. “We haven’t found shit.”
“Bring him in here,” Lieutenant Brux said. “Let him see for himself.”
“Walker! With me!” Perrine shouted. Jon rose from his position and went inside.
“I don’t see a damned thing that looks like a weapon or a part of a weapon. Nobody else sees it either. Look around and see for yourself,” Fowler said as he studied Jon’s face.
“Yes, Sergeant,” Jon said, his face reddening at the wasted time and effort.
Perrine knew Jon was at least paying attention, for a check of the linguistic database indicated the word “calibre” did mean caliber. Even though the platoon didn’t like being out after dark, they knew Jon had to learn sometime.
Jon walked around the shop. “We went through everything, Corporal. Looks like a garage to me,” a Lance Corporal said, his voice full of sarcasm.
Jon ignored the sarcasm and looked at the tabletop. A piece of heavy gauge sheet metal had been laid out and several pieces had been cut from it. Silvery metal shavings indicated a saw had been used.
“They cut it, but where’s the metal?” Jon asked himself as he looked around, expecting to see the pieces on or near a car needing body repair. “Sergeant? Look for a car needing body work. Why would they have sheet metal laid out if they aren’t using it for something? I don’t see a car needing body work or someone making something for themselves. Where are the pieces?”
“Have everyone look at the cars,” Perrine said.
“Piece of metal, say about twelve by sixteen centis?” the sarcastic Lance Corporal asked as he looked at the large section of sheet metal.
“Yes!” Jon said.
“In the garbage can. I thought it was scrap.”
“Which can?” Jon asked anxiously.
“That one,” the Lance Corporal said as he pointed to a can. Jon grinned broadly as he walked to the garbage can and saw two pieces of heavy-gauge sheet metal. Jon remembered receiving a stern reprimand from Julian Riggins for tossing scrap metal into the regular garbage can instead of the scrap can.
Thank you, Julian! Jon thought while he removed the two pieces. He cautiously moved the garbage around and found five more. He pulled them out and saw dots drawn on two of the metal plates with a black marker pen.
“Gotcha!” Jon announced confidently as he looked at the dots. He carried the pieces over to the table and laid them roughly in the areas where they were cut from.
“What?” Perrine asked.
“Someone cut these pieces and threw them in the garbage can. I can understand measuring and cutting one piece wrong, but not seven pieces. You don’t throw quality steel into the regular garbage, you save it and use it for another project,” Jon announced to Perrine, Fowler, and Brux. He looked at Perrine.
“Do you have a picture of the AK series of weapons in your helmet?”
“Call up the left view of the receiver. Then superimpose the pin holes with the dots on this piece.”
Perrine did so and his eyes widened. The dots were in the same pattern as the pins that held the internal parts on the venerable Kalashnikov rifle.
“El Tee, I think he’s onto something. Unfinished weapons.”
“This is a weapon?” Brux said as he looked at the pieces of steel. “How?”
Jon looked around and picked up a scribe and a metal ruler. “Can you call up the specs for top to bottom measurement on the sides of the receiver?”
Perrine did so and recited the numbers. Jon measured the distances with the ruler, and then scratched two straight lines down the length of the piece of metal.
“The AK receiver is stamped from a single piece of metal in the shape of the letter “U” when viewed from an end. Stamp on the lines, and you have the beginnings of a receiver.
“If I took this to the Island’s metal shop, all I would have to do is drill out the pin holes, cut out the mag well and trigger hole, file off the rough and bend on the lines. One unfinished AK receiver,” Jon said confidently.
“Then I would heat treat the receiver for strength, finish for rust resistance and appearance, add parts and tomorrow I’d have a relatively high-quality weapon. If I was in a hurry, I could skip the heat treat, paint it black for shits and giggles and be ready for tonight’s festivities. It would work well enough before stresses of firing eventually made the weapon fail. But I could strip out the parts afterwards and build another receiver.”
“Where’s the rest of the parts?” Fowler asked.
“Let’s get some fresh eyes in here. Second squad take over for Third. Perrine, when your people get in here, have them tear this place apart!” Brux said with a grin as the five men tried to look nonchalant.
An hour of careful searching turned up nothing. Brux was starting to wish he hadn’t ordered the search.
“Give me a hand with this,” Keller said as he gestured to a barrel filled with scrap. “It’s too heavy for me.”
Fowler walked over to Keller. They started tossing pieces of scrap metal on the floor to lighten the barrel.
“Watch the short, fat guy. He seems to be slightly worried that we’re here at this barrel. Let’s move the barrel, check the floor by it, and then walk away as if we’re satisfied with this in a second.”
“I noticed. I’ll clue in Ell Tee,” Fowler said softly as they moved the barrel.
“Nothing,” Keller said disgustedly and dusted his gloved hands off. He feigned interest in a tool cabinet and started looking around it while Olds and Ellis idly poked around the inside of the barrel. Olds and Ellis moved the barrel further from its resting place and glanced at the previous resting place.
“Seeing nothing,” Olds texted Keller.
Keller finished his “search” of the tool cabinet and sauntered to the spot he had a suspicion about. He knelt quickly and saw the dirt was thick and oily as the repair shop’s floor was. Then Keller put his fingers on the sludge and noted that the built up sludge was slightly moist, not hard and dried like elsewhere in the shop.
Keller smiled. “Walker! Get me a thin piece of steel, I need a scraper!” Jon complied quickly and knelt next to Keller with the long, thin piece of metal in his hand.
Keller quickly scraped the oil and dirt off the section of floor and saw a fifteen by fifteen centimeter wide square hole, covered with a tight-fitting concrete door painted to blend with the floor. “Ell Tee! I got it!” Keller said triumphantly.
The proprietor was brought to the hole. “What is this hole for?” Brux asked.
“I didn't know it was there, sir. Please, I am a businessman only wanting to--” the man said as Keller pulled the door open quickly and handed the slab to Jon, who set it aside. Keller used a corner checker to check for booby-traps.
“No traps, Ell Tee,” he reported as he reached inside and started pulling out cloth-wrapped bundles that rattled as they moved.
Fowler opened a the cloth-wrapped bundle and shook out the internal parts and held up a rifle barrel.
“You were saying?”