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					Sheldon/Thunder                                           1

Lee Sheldon                                       @77,500 words




                            PROLOGUE



     Campbell sat with his legs crossed on the greasy stone

floor of the tiny room, working methodically. Oblivious to the

perspiration that streamed down his cut and bruised face, he

bent a thin strip of iron in an impromptu vise formed by the

corner of a cot. He strained to lever the band into shape with

hands scraped raw and bleeding. The blood mingled with sweat to

lubricate the metal so that it twisted like an eel in his grasp.

     Piled on gummy, ragged bedding in the corner of the eight

by eight room were carcasses of the two metal cots he and Gus

Eckstein had dismembered. Behind the two men was a single barred

window, set in slimy brick walls, and covered by a scrap of

burlap that hung limply in the heavy humidity.

     But they ignored this window, the strange feverish chanting

that swelled and echoed in the courtyard beyond it, and

concentrated on the immediate task before them.

     Campbell was a tall man in his middle forties, his leathery

face etched with rugged lines by sun and wind. His hair was
Sheldon/Thunder                                        2


thick and predominately black in color although here and there

were strands of pure white. Cold gray eyes were set deep in his

tanned face now crisscrossed with coagulated blood. He wore the

remnants of army fatigues painted in a camouflage pattern of

green and beige, and streaked with blood dried to a dark purple.

     Campbell removed the strip of iron from the vise and held

it up for his companion to see. Eckstein nodded and his homely

face broke into an incredibly wide sloppy grin. He was older

than Campbell. How much older was anybody's guess. Campbell knew

he'd been in army demolitions during the Second World War, when

Campbell was still a boy scavenging amid the flaming ruins of

London.

     But Eckstein was tough, built like a bull: short, stocky,

no neck, great meaty hands. He carried a lot of weight for his

five foot seven inch frame, but Campbell knew most of it was

still hard muscle.

     Eckstein had been attacked like Campbell by the mob out-

side, his fatigues almost torn from his body. Looking into his

friend's battered face, Campbell remembered that moment six

hours before when he, Eckstein, and the eleven other men had

been brought to the brick building with its wide, flat steps and

massive oak doors so warped and twisted by the moist air they

would not close.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        3


     The building was now called the People's Hall of Justice.

It had once been the British Embassy. The soldiers standing at

attention in a line on the lowest step were the People. And so

was the crowd that filled the courtyard and the street beyond

the gates.

     There had been hundreds of them then, and Campbell guessed

their ranks had swelled even more as news spread of his capture.

They were black Africans, victors in the short, savage war that

had ended only two weeks before. Now a Provisional Government

ruled in the former Portuguese colony renamed Muanda. That

government was meeting at this very moment, Campbell knew, in a

large chamber within the Hall of Justice.

     When Campbell and the others had been dragged into the

cells, hastily converted from the embassy's servants' quarters,

the crowd had pushed and clawed at them. Some carried crudely

scrawled signs in Portuguese and English: DEATH TO THE MERCEN-

ARIES, DEATH TO THE CAPITALIST JACKALS.

     Now the thirteen men were locked away behind the brick

walls and thick wooden doors in the People's Prison, convenient

to the People's Court, and the other brick wall in the field

beyond, the one pock-marked with bullet holes.

     As Campbell worked, twisting a small bit of metal into a

loop, he could hear the crowd come alive again despite their

long vigil in the oppressive tropical heat.
Sheldon/Thunder                                          4


     "La luta tontinua! La luta tontinua!" they cried. This was

Portuguese, Campbell knew, for "The struggle continues."

     Eckstein stretched his stiff spine and wiped the sweat from

the back of his neck with one of his huge hands.

     "I tell ya her name was Marta from Marrakech," he said,

continuing a conversation that had lagged over an hour before.

"God, could I use a cigarette!"

     Campbell smiled and his gray eyes lost some of their

coldness. "Marta from Marrakech Sounds like a song title," he

answered in his clipped British accent. "And if she can really

do all those things you say she can, at the same time, mind you,

then she should be in the British Museum or on tour with a

circus."

     "Marta's shy." The beefy man groaned as he put all his

strength into bending a stout metal bar. "She don't get out much

in public.

     "When would she have time? What bloody bullshit!"

     Eckstein grinned as he inspected his work. "Maybe," he

continued. "Maybe it was Marta from Marrakech. Maybe it was

Myrna from Mozambique. I can't remember all the names, but it

was a night I'll never forget!"

     "Here, let me have that." Campbell took the twisted piece

of metal from his companion.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           5


     "Or was it an afternoon?" The stocky man scratched at his

gray crew cut. "God, could I use a cigarette!"

     Campbell took the twisted loop of metal and slid it down a

straight shaft. He then secured it with the bit of metal

fashioned into a homemade clip, and held the finished product

up. It was a dangerous looking approximation of a pickaxe.

     He smiled. "Crude, but lethal, wouldn't you say?" Eckstein

grinned and nodded, but his eyes flicked briefly to the burlap

covered window, then back to Campbell. The chanting had ceased

abruptly. Something was about to happen.



     Several miles to the east a large olive-drab military

helicopter without markings of any kind clattered low over the

dense Muandan forest and out across the farmlands that ringed

the capital city, Zatamba. Several farmers working in the fields

below didn't even glance up as it passed a few yards above their

heads, buffeting the heavy leafed tobacco plants. Such things

had become a daily part of their life.

     In the helicopter's hold, a large empty space fitted for

troop transport, eight black men crouched in olive green

uniforms. Their leader, Adella, was very dark, tall and

muscular. His shaved head glistened with sweat. He wore

lieutenants' bars. Adella checked his watch, then gazed
Sheldon/Thunder                                        6


impassively through the open sliding door at a small herd of

spindly cattle grazing on the side of a low hill.

     Soon the helicopter reached the outskirts of the city,

roared low over the scattered huts, and the wide brown river

that meandered westward to the sea. It banked to the north and

began dipping and weaving between the taller buildings there,

sometimes only a few feet above the cracked and rutted dirt

streets.



     From his vantage point at the tiny barred window Campbell

could see the steps lined with soldiers, part of the crushing

mass of people in front of them, and the huge oak doors of the

main entrance slouching to either side of the dark entranceway.

     Cheers went up from the crowd as a small man wearing a

general's uniform, highly decorated with ribbons and medals,

stepped from the darkness of the hall. At his sides were two

aides in civilian clothes. He raised his arm to wave and the

cheers grew louder.

     This, Campbell knew, must be General Ahndi, the Cuban

trained strategist that had led the attack on the Celeto River

stronghold in the southeast.

     The general smiled and motioned for silence. The hush was

immediate and complete. One of the aides held out a sheet of

paper and began to read from it in Portuguese. He finished and
Sheldon/Thunder                                           7


the second aide held up a similar piece of paper and began to

read the announcement in English to a small group of scruffy,

unshaven, perspiring reporters, standing to one side. The crowd

began once more to chant.

     "La luta tontinua! La luta tontinua!"

     "The People's Provisional Government of Muanda-" the aide

shouted to be heard above the din. "-has today decreed that the

thirteen mercenary murderers now confined within the People's

Prison will be given a fair and democratic trial to determine

whether or not they are guilty of the charges against them."

     "What are the charges?" one of the reporters yelled. But

the aide ignored him and continued reading.

     "This will be a trial for all the world to see that swift

and final justice is brought to those who would invade a

sovereign nation and make war against its people."

     The aide lowered the paper and nodded to the general. He

smiled, waved again at the people, and turned to go back inside.

     It was at that moment that the helicopter appeared and

hovered above the People's Prison, the sound of its rotors

drowned by the chanting of the crowd. But people became aware of

the helicopter and gradually the chanting died.

     The general turned on his heels as the clattering became

audible, and followed pointing fingers to where it hung

suspended not more than ten feet above the prison roof.
Sheldon/Thunder                                            8


        From the opening in its side men began dropping on to the

roof.

        The general screamed in rage and shouted at the line of

soldiers to open fire, but by the time the first shots began

crashing in the courtyard the helicopter had disgorged its

passengers and swung to cover behind the building. Instead, the

bullets, fired in haste, splattered against the brick walls of

the building and began ricocheting back into the crowd. There

was instant bedlam.

        Inside the tiny cell Campbell leaped back as a bullet

pinged against one of the bars of his window.

        "Jesus Christ!" Eckstein yelled. "I thought they lined ya

up at that wall out in the field!"

        "I don't think it's the firing squad, old friend," Campbell

replied. He'd heard the helicopter, out of sight somewhere above

and behind him. Listening to the shouts and screams from the

courtyard, he reached for two hunks of iron bent at right angles

with jagged tips.

        "Whatever is happening it would do to be ready."

        Eckstein nodded and lifted the pickaxe.

        Forcing open the roof access door, Adella led five of his

men down a flight of stairs at a run. Two remained on the roof,

maintaining a cover fire that sent General Ahndi and his aides

scrambling behind the reporters' jeep.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           9


     Inside the cell block a guard peeked apprehensively through

a small window at the confusion below. Behind him the door to

the stairs opened suddenly. He started to turn. Two of Adella's

men grabbed him. An arm around the throat and a knife thrust

through his shirt up under the ribcage into his heart cut short

his cry of alarm.

     The lieutenant then led the five down the hall. He looked

through a small opening into the first cell. Two men in

camouflage fatigues sat against the wall and scowled at him. He

trotted to the next cell. Here he found two more cowering in the

corner. The third cell appeared to be empty except for the

jumbled bedding and the remains of two cots.

     Adella motioned four of his men down the hall to guard the

other door. He waved at the fifth man, who carried an automatic

rifle.

     "This one."

     The man opened fire on the door. The lock shattered and it

popped open. But the cell still looked empty. Adella stood in

the hall, listening to the gunfire outside.

     "Gentlemen," he began in a voice of quiet urgency. "Please.

In a few seconds the guards will be upon us. I have a helicopter

on the roof."

     Inside the cell Campbell and Eckstein were flattened

against the wall. The stocky man held the crude pickaxe ready.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        10


Campbell was crouched in the corner, the short bars of jagged

metal in each hand, ready to charge the door.

     But the lieutenant didn't move. "I am Adella," he explained

impatiently. "I was Colonel Saxon's aide. I have orders to put

you on a plane. You must hurry!"

     The two men in the cell looked at each other.

     "I remember a guy with that name," whispered Eckstein. Then

he said loudly, "Just what shade are you, Adella?"

     Adella scowled and glanced toward the door at the far end

of the hall through which his four men had run. Ragged gunfire

could be heard just on the other side of it.

     "Black as your lungs, Eckstein. Come on. I have some

cigarettes in the copter."

     Eckstein peered around the corner of the door, then stood

up and grinned.

     "Lieutenant Adella! Old Pal!"

     He dropped the pickaxe and joined Adella in the hall.

Campbell followed him, tossing the bars of metal on the bedding.

Adella glanced once at the weapons they'd discarded and nodded

grimly, remembering how dangerous these two men could be.

     Just then the door at the end of the hall burst open and

two of Adella's men staggered through backwards, firing as they

moved.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           11


     Adella led his two charges down the hall. By this time the

other prisoners were all at the windows of their cell doors.

     "Colonel Campbell!" one shouted.

     Campbell turned to the black lieutenant. "Free these men,"

he ordered.

     "Sorry, Colonel. My orders were to pick up you and

Eckstein. No one else."

     The fighting at the far end of the narrow hall was

increasing. Stray bullets began whistling by. One of Adella's

rear guard fell back against the wall in a heap, as the other

tossed a grenade at their pursuers, dimly seen now through the

cloud of gunsmoke. The grenade's shattering roar was punctuated

by screams of agony from the outer hall beyond the door.

     Campbell's men began shouting, pounding their fists against

the solid, unyielding wooden doors of their cells. Campbell

confronted Adella.

     "I won't go without my men!"

     "I'm afraid you have no choice," replied Adella, leveling

his pistol at Campbell. He hustled the two men out the door amid

cries of help from the other prisoners and the ringing of

gunfire.

     On the roof, Adella motioned for his two men there to

defend the stairwell, then indicated with his pistol that

Eckstein was to climb the rope ladder dangling from the hovering
Sheldon/Thunder                                        12


helicopter. Eckstein obeyed, fighting the wash from the ma-

chine's rotors that threatened to dash him on the roof. He was

yanked inside when he reached the top.

     Adella waved the gun at Campbell and he put one boot on the

lowest rung of the ladder. He pulled himself to the second rung

of the ladder, then without warning kicked out at Adella's hand.

The lieutenant's gun went skittering away across the gravel.

Campbell leaped back down as Adella raced to retrieve his

pistol.

     The colonel sprinted to the roof door and looked down the

stairwell. The remaining five of Adella's men were rapidly

losing ground in a desperate holding action on the stairs. As

Campbell watched one was hit, his legs wrenched out from

underneath him, he toppled over the wooden rail to fall four

stories to the stone floor below. There was no way Campbell

could get to his men.

     Adella was beside him again, waving the pistol angrily. He

shouted in Portuguese to the men and they retreated swiftly up

the stairs. Then he turned to Campbell, his eyes wide with

anger, and yelled above the clatter of the helicopter's rotors

and the gunfire.

     "Colonel, I have no more time, no more patience, and no

more men to waste. You will get aboard the copter, or I will

kill you. They will have to settle for Eckstein."
Sheldon/Thunder                                        13


     Two of Adella's men dodged past them, began climbing the

rope ladder. The thunder of boots could be heard getting louder

on the stairs.

     "We could've got my men out!" Campbell shouted right back

at Adella.

     "Are you coming or will you die here?"

     There was a quick burst from an automatic weapon and a yell

of pain one floor below them. In seconds Ahndi's men would come

through the roof door.

     Campbell glared at Adella, then ran to the ladder, Adella

on his heels. He began climbing with the lieutenant right behind

him, as soldiers burst through the door onto the roof. The

helicopter pulled abruptly up and away with the two men still

dangling as bullets whizzed by on all sides.

     Campbell struggled rung by rung up the crazily swaying

ladder until at last his fingers found the edge of the heli-

copter door. Strong hands jerked him inside and Adella was

pulled in after him.

     The helicopter gained altitude rapidly and headed for the

coast. Inside Campbell found Eckstein puffing happily on a

cigarette. Adella looked at his two surviving men, his jaw

working.

     "Five men killed..." he said softly.
Sheldon/Thunder                                            14


       "And eleven of mine still trapped in that hell hole,

lieutenant. Whoever ordered this has some accounting to do to

me."

       Adella nodded. "To me also, Colonel."

       Campbell studied him. "You said you. were Saxon's aide?"

       Adella nodded, his face now a blank mask.

       "Do you remember another lieutenant in that outfit? An

Arab?"

       "Rajeer?"

       "That's the one," Campbell nodded. "Where is he?"

       "Dead. Killed at the Coleto River."

       Campbell took a deep breath and nodded. He seemed relieved.

Adella wondered at this, but said nothing.

       "Where are you taking us?" Campbell asked him.

       "One of the abandoned military airfields. A plane awaits

you there.°

       "And then?"

       Adella shrugged. "Another war?"
Sheldon/Thunder                                           15




                           CHAPTER ONE



     Late the following day another helicopter headed toward the

Manhattan Island skyline carrying Campbell and Eckstein from

Kennedy International Airport. This one was sleek, painted in

blue and white swirls. On its side was a modishly abstract

corporate logo with the name ARCON in its center.

     The air was crisp and the sky gray. There was snow on the

ground, but no new snow had fallen in several days and the

streets beneath them looked clear and dry.

     Campbell gazed at the tall buildings without expression,

his thoughts returning to the People's Prison. He looked at his

hands, now cleaned and bandaged, and wondered about his men.

He'd seen a paper at the airport that had described the rescue

of two mercenaries from the Muandan prison, and realized with a

surge of hope that the presence of the reporters in Muanda could

very well mean that General Ahndi would have to go through with

the trial of the eleven remaining mercenaries as he had

announced. That meant Campbell would have a couple of weeks to

try and figure out how to rescue his men.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        16


     He looked at Eckstein smoking quietly beside him in the

comfortable seat. They had been provided with warm coats and had

been given rudimentary medical attention, but were both still

dressed in their tattered, bloodied fatigues.

     Campbell looked across to the seat facing them and found

the young man in the tweed vested suit and tan overcoat staring

at him again. Campbell had caught him doing it every few minutes

since the young man had met them at the airport. Simpson was his

name, he remembered. And Campbell realized that Simpson was

frightened to death of them.

     "What's the date?°

     Simpson blinked stupidly at him. These were the first words

Campbell had spoken since leaving the airplane.

     "The date? Uh, oh!" He checked his calendar watch. "The

tenth. January tenth..." he smiled weakly.

     Eckstein grinned broadly at him. "Looks like we missed

Christmas!"

     "Uh, oh. That's too bad..." Campbell noticed that Simpson

tried to push himself back into the cushion of his seat to main-

tain the greatest possible distance between himself and his com-

panions.

     "What did Santy Claus bring you, Mr. Simpson?" Eckstein

asked in a friendly voice.
Sheldon/Thunder                                              17


        Simpson shook his head, trying to center his thoughts on

the question, then even seemed to blush a little. He pulled back

the sleeve on his overcoat to show Eckstein a complicated-

looking digital watch.

        "Say, that's a nice watch!" Eckstein beamed at him. "What

do they call those things anyway?"

        "It's a diver's watch.   There's an alarm and a stop watch,

too."

        "You must lead an exciting life!" Eckstein continued to

grin at him. Simpson shifted uneasily.

        "Where are we going?" asked Campbell, looking out at the

buildings that now rose on all sides around them.

        "I'm supposed to drop you at The Tower, then take Mr.

Eckstein to a hotel."

        "What tower?"

        Simpson looked surprised. He thought everybody knew what

you meant when you said The Tower. "There." He pointed.

        They were rising along the flank of a tall pinnacle of

mirrored glass. There was a landing pad on the roof with the

huge ARCON symbol covering it.

        Two security guards in blue uniforms waited as the

helicopter set down and Campbell climbed out. He ducked beneath

the whirling blades and ran to meet them. They led him to a door

in the roof and for a moment he stood there watching the
Sheldon/Thunder                                            18


helicopter rise slowly into the sky again. He had a brief flash

of the other helicopter rising from the prison roof in Muanda,

and him left behind at the mercy of the soldiers. He shuddered

and accompanied the two guards inside.



       Inside the helicopter Eckstein was still grinning at a

fidgeting Simpson.

       "Can I have it?" Eckstein asked.

       "I beg your pardon?"

       "The fancy watch. Can I have it?"

       "But..."

       "Ya see, I missed Christmas. Santy Claus don't deliver down

where I was. No chimneys. So I thought if ya gave me your watch,

why that'd be a nice gesture, and I would feel very good from

it!"

       "Uh..." Simpson looked toward the pilot's cabin for help,

but the door was closed. Eckstein watched him deflate inside his

coat. Simpson carefully took off the watch, looked at it sadly,

then handed it over. The stocky man grinned back at him. He put

the watch in a pocket and lit another cigarette.

       "Thank you, Mr. Simpson! Merry Christmas!"

       "Merry Christmas," said Simpson, swallowing hard.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           19


     Campbell waded through a sea of evenly spaced metal desks

beneath white fluorescent lighting. He guessed there must be at

least fifty pale-faced women with a few men scattered among them

busy at their typewriters when he walked in flanked by the two

security guards.

     His heavy coat hung open and one by one the typists stopped

suddenly to stare open-mouthed at his ripped and bloodied

fatigues. When Campbell and his escort had reached the far end

of the vast room, a stunned silence was broken by an excited

chattering, the work momentarily forgotten.

     A thickly carpeted wood paneled hall marked the end of the

common worker's domain and the beginning of executive comfort.

Here Campbell's boots bounced on the thick pile. Here all sound

was muted, colors subdued and tasteful. Here secretaries he

spotted through open doorways glanced briefly at the odd man

between the guards, then went back to their work as if the

appearance of such a man was an everyday occurrence.

     At the end of the long hall was a set of walnut double

doors reaching to the ceiling. One of the guards knocked, opened

them and motioned Campbell inside.

     For one brief moment Campbell had the urge to turn around

and walk back down the hall, past the typists, find an elevator,

and get the hell out of there. But he was tired and hungry and

the guards looked ready to discourage all movements not
Sheldon/Thunder                                           20


preordained by the powers that obviously lay beyond the double

doors; and Campbell had a few things he wanted to say to those

powers. So he smiled to himself and entered the room.

     The door was closed behind him, the guards remaining

outside. Campbell surveyed the room. Bookcases filled with

volumes that looked like they'd been chosen by weight, a

portable bar, a ring of comfortable looking leather furniture.

And in the middle of the room was a coffin shaped table of dark

polished wood.

     A group of five shiny, pink faces looked up at him

expectantly from the padded chairs arranged around the table.

There were five men, no, Campbell quickly revised his first

impression. Four men and a woman. The woman was dressed in a

knit suit and had short brown hair. Her face was carefully made

up and powdered, definitely not shiny.

     There was a lengthy silence as the five studied Campbell

and he returned their scrutiny. The man at the head of the table

was thin and pale, his hair thick and plentiful. He was dressed

in an expensive, conservatively cut gray suit. Campbell guessed

he was in his middle fifties, although there was only the

slightest trace of gray in the hair.

     Even if he had not been at the head of the table, Campbell

would have recognized him as the man in charge. There was about

him a quality not of leadership, but ownership, as if he enjoyed
Sheldon/Thunder                                           21


buying human beings instead of fancy cars. He sat, Campbell

decided, like a sartorially splendid spider in the center of his

power web. And Campbell saw his left hand move imperceptibly, as

he jerked the strand attached to a younger, more junior member

of the gathering.

     This one, in his early forties, was dressed more stylishly.

He had blond, curly hair and blue eyes. Campbell would have

pegged him as a surfer or skier if he'd had any trace of a tan.

The blond man clucked his tongue in response to the other's

silent command.

           "Couldn't they... clean him up a little?" he frowned.

     This could not have been the opening remark the spider

sought, yet he gave no sign of displeasure. Instead he smiled at

Campbell, his thin lips becoming longer, with just the trace of

an upward curl at each end.

     "There wasn't time," he replied in a carefully modulated

voice. "Welcome to New York, Mr. Campbell. Or should I say

Colonel Campbell?"

     "You people have some explaining to do," Campbell said

quietly.

     An older, balding man, stout and seemingly collapsed in his

chair rather than sitting in it, looked at Campbell sharply.

     "The least you could do is say thank you."
Sheldon/Thunder                                        22


     "For what?"

     The older man's pink face became flushed. "We are re-

sponsible for your rescue, sir! A great deal of time and money

went into-"

     Campbell interrupted him. "Eleven of my men are still back

there in that brick oven, sir." he said bitterly. "You signed

their death warrants."

     The man's face grew redder yet. "Why, that's absurd!" he

blustered.

     Campbell turned on his heel and headed for the door. There

was a lot to be done before he and Gus Eckstein could return to

Muanda and rescue his men. He'd been wrong to waste his time

arguing with a group of well-tailored imbeciles.

     "Mr. Campbell, please! Wait!" the man at the head of the

table called after him. Campbell turned at the door.

     "We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. Let's try

again."

     Campbell shook his head. "I'm going back to get my men."

     There was a rustling of silk from the other side of the

table and Campbell glanced in that direction. The woman was

smiling at him. Easily the youngest member of the board,

somewhere in her late thirties, she was definitely attractive if

overly made up for Campbell's taste. And he didn't care for

short hair on women. But there was a hard-edged glint in her
Sheldon/Thunder                                          23


eyes. Campbell saw in them a hungry aggressive burning and

suspected that here might be the match for the spider at the end

of the table. A token woman in this room she might be, but there

was no denying a commanding, assured presence she exuded like an

expensive perfume.

       "We didn't realize this would be a problem," she began, her

voice low and firm. "We may be able to arrange for something in

their behalf."

       "Now, Janice, that would be foolhardy," piped up the bald

red man.

       She smiled at Campbell. "But, I suspect, necessary.

Correct, Mr. Campbell?"

       "Right, Janice." She met his gaze steadily, challenging

him.

       The man at the head of the table nodded. "It could be made

part of the proposition."

       Campbell considered for a moment. Somehow these people had

been able to arrange for a military operation to free Eckstein

and him. Another must be well within the realm of possibility.

He lowered himself into the thickly padded leather chair that

faced the spider down the length of the table.

       "Make a phone call. I'11 wait.°"

       The man's left hand twitched once more and the younger man

looked at him.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        24


     "Crawford," the spider asked. "Will you see to it?"

     "Of course, Mr. Stapleton."

     He left the room trying to look as if he were not hurrying.

The man he'd addressed as Stapleton now fixed his gaze on

Campbell.

     "You understand it may take some time?"

     "How long?"

     Stapleton shrugged. "A matter of days. No more. Are you

prepared now to listen?"

     Campbell nodded.

     "Excellent. Perhaps we should introduce ourselves first."

Stapleton nodded to the one person in the room who had yet to

speak, a tiny little man whose face seemed to disappear behind

thick glasses. He had spent the entire time shuffling some

papers in front of him and pecking at what looked like a Palm

Pilot.

     "This is Mr. Garvey." Garvey shuffled papers.

     He next acknowledged the bald man, still red and now

sweating profusely, and introduced him as Mr. Bickham. The woman

was Janice Eaton.

     "And I," he concluded, "am Leonard Stapleton. We are for

our sins the board of directors of the Arcon Oil Syndicate. Do

you know what that is?"
Sheldon/Thunder                                        25


     Campbell rubbed at the polished top of the wooden table

with the thumb of his right hand, and scratched at the bandage.

     "You the people who fix the price of petrol?"

     Stapleton smiled. "We're the people who try to keep the

prices down."

     Campbell chuckled at this. "Oh..."

     Stapleton glanced at Garvey, who blinked rapidly several

times, then fumbled with the PDA on the table in front of him.

It was actually some sort of remote control device because when

he pushed a button the lights dimmed. Garvey pressed another

button and a screen appeared out of the ceiling and slid down in

front of one of the bookcases. A third button and the lights

came back up. Everyone blinked.

     "Oh! Sorry! Not quite used to this gadget yet!" Garvey

peered anxiously around.

     The lights dimmed again and a map appeared on the screen.

It was a general map of the state of Alaska with major cities

and topographical features marked. The map was bisected by a

crooked line headed roughly south from the Arctic circle to the

Gulf of Alaska.

     "The TransAlaska Pipeline, Mr. Campbell," Stapleton said

proudly. "We helped build it. We had other partners in several

major oil companies, of course, but without Arcon it would never

have become the reality it is today: eight hundred miles of pipe
Sheldon/Thunder                                           26


from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, an ice free port on the Gulf of

Alaska. Those green and red dots are pumping stations.    Thanks

to improved technology and oil additives we have been able to

close the stations you see there marked in red. The six green

ones are currently active.

        Another slide appeared on the screen. This was a more

detailed relief map of a portion of pipeline in the desolate

Endicott Mountains of the Brooks Range.

        "A little background is needed here," continued Bickham.

"At the time it was built the pipeline was the greatest private

construction project in the world.    Completed in 1977 it took

three-and-a-half years to build. Since it was first announced

the pipeline attracted the attention of environmentalists with

justifiable concerns which we have vigorously addressed, and

various other groups with their own political agendas. Today

we're hard at work on our rights-of-way which must be renewed in

2004.    And despite an aggressive Environmental Impact Study that

will take two years or more, political opposition activity has

increased.    No one will deny the pipeline has had a few mishaps

over the years.    But nowhere near what one might expect from

such a massive project.

        "And we manage to move nearly twenty percent of domestic

oil production, over one million barrels a day, across three

mountain ranges, thirty-four major rivers and hundreds of miles
Sheldon/Thunder                                         27


of arctic tundra from Prudhoe Bay up there, the largest oil

field in North America, to the terminus at Valdez.

     The lights flicked back on. Campbell couldn't tell if it

was planned or an accident. He held out his hands.   "I'm waiting

for the other shoe to drop, Stapleton," he said. "The tour's a

treat, but what does it have to do with me?   I'm what you Yanks

might call a hired gun."

     "Yes, we know. Mr. Garvey?"

     Garvey fumbled at the papers and scattered them in all

directions. Squinting, he began to read.

     "Campbell, Ian. Born into a working class family in London,

yet educated at Harrow and Cambridge. In 1977 you left your

chair in history at Cambridge after your wife and two young

daughters were killed in an automobile accident-"

     "You can skip all that," Campbell murmured.

     Garvey glanced at Stapleton and was rewarded with a nod.

Stapleton smiled at Campbell.

     "The pertinent facts are these," he said. "Since 1981

you've made it a point to turn up, shall we say, in several of

the hot spots of the world. You then proceed to make them

hotter. Algeria, the Middle East, the Balkans, even Ireland, I

understand. You are apolitical. You are a mercenary, of course.

I hope that word does not offend you?"
Sheldon/Thunder                                           28


     Campbell looked at him, saying nothing.

     "You are a specialist," continued Stapleton. "Exorbitant

sums are paid to you for specific assignments or targets within

a given conflict. You are almost unbelievably successful. This

most recent fiasco in Muanda being one of the few exceptions.

But the blame for that can hardly be laid on your doorstep. Your

superiors were, how shall I put it, not superior in any sense of

the word. They've paid for their stupidity.

     "You managed to stay alive. And I suspect, given time, you

would have been able to extricate yourself and your men from the

dangerous situation in which you found yourselves. Unfortunately

time is one thing we do not have, hence your rescue. Am I

essentially correct so far?°

     "Except for one thing. I'm not overpaid. I'm unique. Like

fine wine or beach property. You get what you pay for."

     "I'm sure of that," Janice smiled at him.

     Campbell looked at her with renewed interest. They were

going to talk about money, one of his favorite subjects.

     "How much?" he asked her.

     "Five hundred thousand dollars to be divided among however

many members of your team you require. Plus expenses."

     "Plus the release of my men in Muanda?"

     She didn't bother to glance at Stapleton. "Yes," she

replied.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           29


     "That's a great deal of money. To do what?"

     Stapleton nodded at Garvey. The myopic little man pushed

another button on the gadget in his hand and from the direction

of the screen a youthful male voice, scratchy and fuzzed with

interference, began to speak.

     "Soldiers of the Free Earth Liberation Army today secured

our first beachhead in the war against the unholy alliance of

the dictatorship of the United States of America and the

corporate pigs of the oil monopolies..."

     Garvey stopped the tape, and Bickham, his face now having

reverted to its normal pink, spoke up.

     "This... this FELA group has taken over one of our pump

stations."

     The lights went out again and now a slide appeared of the

pumping station in question, located in a barren river pass.

     "Pump Station E, Mr. Campbell," Bickham continued.     "During

the winter months the arctic storms pretty much cut it off from

the rest of the world.   The gravel road that follows the

pipeline route is impassable."

     "Under the best of conditions," Janice Eaton added, "the

road, officially known as the Dalton Highway, is so bad the

drivers call it the Kamikaze Trail."

     "Yes, uh..." The interruption appeared to disconcert

Bickham for a moment. Campbell suspected that he still had
Sheldon/Thunder                                        30


trouble with the idea that a woman could be his equal in the

Arcon power structure. And Janice Eaton looked like she enjoyed

reminding him.

     Another slide appeared. Somehow in the darkness Bickham had

stolen the remote control from Garvey.

     This slide was an aerial view of a pump station, snowbound.

A jointed line of gray pipe, supported by trestles or pylons,

snaked its way through a trough-shaped pass, dark against the

snow. On the flattened tip of a ridge the station itself was

surrounded by a chain link fence.

     A number of buildings were scattered about the site, all

painted in a dull, almost army green color. The pipeline entered

the fenced area, disappeared inside a long, shed-like building,

emerged on the far side and continued on its way, diving

underground before it reached the perimeter fence on the

opposite side. Smaller pipes connected various buildings and

three huge storage tanks along a third side.

     An L-shaped building, somewhat separated from the rest of

the station had a parking lot out front and bumps of snow that

might hide vehicles underneath. There was a communications tower

and a couple more buildings with steam rising into the frigid

air. A single gate connected the camp to a road that disappeared

in the surrounding forest of spruce and pine.

     Bickham's narration continued.
Sheldon/Thunder                                          31


     "This was taken from the air one week ago before the

weather closed in again. The station is in no real danger during

these storms. The men have supplies for a month or more even

though they only work two week shifts. And daily radio contact

is maintained. But on January 1st PSE missed its scheduled

broadcast. Our people in Wiseman tried to reach them, but there

was no reply. That is until two hours later when the message

you've just heard was received on the company's wavelength."

     "Was that the entire message?" asked Campbell.

     Bickham glanced nervously at Stapleton. The spider laughed.

     "Hardly. It went on and on about how we'd manipulated the

oil shortage in '73 to bull through government approval of the

pipeline. How we've paid off politicians, cheated the Eskimos

and Indians, faked environmental impact reports. All couched in

the proper revolutionary invectives, of course."

     Campbell smiled. "No truth in any of that?"

     Stapleton smiled and shook his head.

     "What do they want?"

     The smile faded from Stapleton's face.    "They want the

pipeline to go away, Mr. Campbell. All eight hundred miles of it

are to be torn up and hauled off. They've given us until noon on

January 21st to publicly announce that they are in control of

one of our stations and that we will comply.   Or they'll begin

executing hostages."
Sheldon/Thunder                                           32


     "It's insanity!" exclaimed Garvey, jerking forward to pound

a tiny fist on the table.

     "They don't want money?" Campbell inquired.

     "No," Stapleton answered him. "They claim their concerns

are ecological and political."

     Bickham tossed the remote-control device on the table where

it landed with an audible crack. Garvey swept it up and examined

it, holding it close to his weak eyes.

     "I wish I'd never heard of permafrost," Bickham complained.

"Or the caribou's migratory behavior. This country needs that

oil. Why can't these creeps face up to reality?"

     "Looks to me like they are facing up to it, Mr. Bickham,"

responded Campbell, "if they are genuine. Talking didn't stop

the pipeline."

     Janice said, "You can't mean you agree with them?"

     "Issues don't really interest me. I'm on the side that

pays."

     "Ah, yes..." She sat back looking pleased.

     "An operation like that must have cost quite a bit to set

up," Campbell mused.   "I'm a bit rusty on US politics, but

aren't most of your whackos these days rightwing neo-Nazi types

and survivalists?   Most of the fringe left is a bit less

radicalized, isn't it, or under-funded at least?   Writing

passionate letters to Congress rather than blowing up things?"
Sheldon/Thunder                                           33


     Stapleton nodded. "Which is, I admit, why this attack

caught us so off guard. Believe me our security procedures will

undergo a complete review and overhaul. But that is for the

future. We need something else right now."

      Campbell thought for a moment as the others waited.

     "What about regular army troops?   SWAT teams?"

     "Twenty-eight of our workers are hostages of the FELA,"

Janice explained. "They've threatened to kill them if any

attempt is made to retake the camp. They have spies in contact

with them by radio. They accurately reported maneuvers at Fort

Wainwright near Fairbanks before we even knew about then.      Any

unusual troop movement or police activity and our people die."

     Campbell frowned. "Washington must have something to say

about this."

     The board members looked at each other uneasily before

Stapleton answered him.

     "We'd like to keep this one in the family. That's why we

arranged your liberation.°

     "Oh, Christ!" Campbell stared at him, then looked at each

person at the table in turn.   They looked serious.    He laughed.

"You want to launch a secret paramilitary strike on United

States soil?"

     "Perhaps you are unaware of the investment the major oil

companies put into the pipeline." Stapleton eyed him stonily.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           34


"The initial construction coast was eight billion dollars, Mr.

Campbell.   We'll spend two hundred million this year alone on

maintenance and upgrading systems to keep the oil flowing.

     "Twenty percent of the nation's oil, Mr. Campbell.    One

million barrels a day.   If they shut us down for an hour we've

lost the equivalent of some nations' entire monetary supply.

And if the other groups opposed to the pipeline... if

Congress... if any of our partners gets wind of this, the damage

is incalculable."

     "How would you like to spend ten dollars a gallon for gas,

Mr. Campbell?" Janice Eaton asked.

     "I don't own a car."

     Bickham said, "And there is the naturally more immediate

concern for the welfare of those hostages.   Not to mention what

the union would do to us, if any of them were hurt."

     Campbell saw the steely look Stapleton gave the man.

     Undaunted, Bickham plowed on.   "The deadline is now less

than two weeks away. We must handle this as quickly and as

quietly as possible. You, Mr. Campbell, were mentioned to us as

the man who could do just that. We have to keep a lid on this.

But even now rumors are everywhere. Our present position is...

precarious."

     "I shouldn't be surprised," Campbell agreed.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           35


     Janice broke in. "We believe a small squad of mercenaries

posing as an independent geological survey expedition might be

able to move undetected into the area and retake PSE with a

minimal loss of--"

     "Capital?" Campbell interjected.

     "The word I was going to use was life."

     "What do you think, Mr. Campbell?" asked Stapleton.

     "I think you're all crazy."   The room seemed to hold its

breath. "Why the FELA hasn't talked to media already, I don't

know," he went on. "But... there are eleven of my men in that

Muandan prison. And I'm not certain I can get them out on my

own. You've said you'll take care of that."

     Stapleton nodded. "You have my word."

     Campbell was silent for a moment, then added, "Five million

dollars."

     "What?"    Garvey dropped the remote.   It landed with a crack

on the table.

     "You can bury it in your annual maintenance budget.       No one

will ever miss it."

     Stapleton exchanged a glance with Janice Eaton, then

nodded.

     "Very well."

     Campbell looked at the map on the wall, now washed out by

the bright light.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        36


     "None of the people I'd want to hire have had any arctic

experience. And my knowledge of geology wouldn't fool anyone."

     Stapleton nodded. "We've arranged for Mr. Harvard Lane, one

of our geologists, to train and guide you. He is a little

eccentric perhaps, but he's an authority on arctic survival. He

will know nothing about your true purpose, and will believe

himself to be in charge. Let him continue in that belief for as

long as possible. Will you help us?"

     Campbell nodded.

     "Fine. Mr. Garvey will fill you in on all the details."

     That sounded like a dismissal to Campbell, and he was

right. The board members, all looking considerably more relieved

than when he'd first entered the room, stood in unison. Campbell

rose, too, now that he was just one of the hired help, bought by

Stapleton.

     Garvey headed toward the door, clutching the remote control

like a wounded bird.

     "Please come with me, Mr. Campbell."

     After a last quick glance around the room, Campbell

followed him out.

     Bickham took out a handkerchief and mopped at his brow as

soon as the door had closed on the mercenary.

     "A most unpleasant man," he sighed.
Sheldon/Thunder                                          37


       "I rather like him," Janice laughed. "He is certainly a

change from most of the people one meets in this business."

       Stapleton smiled at her. "Crawford should have some

preliminary information for him on his men in Muanda by this

evening. Why don't you drop it by his hotel?"

       "Thank you, Leonard." Her eyes mocked him. "I'll be happy

to."

       "I think we should have told him about Hailey and his

militia," Bickham cut in.

       Stapleton shook his head. "When you mentioned the union, I

thought you were going to.   That would only have confused the

issue."

       "Most likely they'll never come into contact with each

other," Janice agreed.

       "But if they do!" persisted Bickham, now flushed once more.

"My God, it could be the start of another civil war!"
Sheldon/Thunder                                        38




                           CHAPTER TWO



     A red Dodge van bumped and shuddered over the packed snow

of a narrow, winding road, its oversized tires biting into the

hard crust and sending up a white spray behind.

     Driving the van was a tall, slender young man, aged twenty,

named Ben. He slowed the van and parked it against a wall of

shoveled snow in front of a tiny cabin made from huge logs

plastered in place. He got out of the van and trudged through

the cleft in the wall of snow.

     He was dressed in a fur-lined parka, heavy wool pants and

high leather boots. Smoke curled from the black pipe in the

cabin's roof. That meant the man he had come to see was around

somewhere and not off on one of his long excursions into the

back country.

     Drifted snow reached almost to the roof of the cabin. Ben

knew it was left that way for most of the winter to provide

additional insulation. Winters got mighty cold in Twin Falls.

     Ben had lived his entire life in Twin Falls. Located
Sheldon/Thunder                                           39


at the end of a tiny spit of road running east from Labrador's

single railroad, the tiny town was a major jumping off place and

supply depot for prospectors and engineers who trekked across

the desolate central plateau of this Eastern Canadian province

in search of precious metals, minerals and oil.

     The town got its name from two sets of rapids that churned

the Unknown River enough to keep a small stretch relatively ice

free even in the sub-zero temperatures that were the rule for

that part of Labrador's winters.

     Ben marched up the cleared path to the door of the cabin

and knocked.

     "Harvard?" he called out. "You in there?"

     There was no reply so he flipped the latch on the door and

peered inside. The old Franklin stove was giving off almost

visible waves of welcome heat, but the main room was deserted.

He called again, but there was no response. If Lane had still

been in bed in the back room (a possibility Ben quickly

dismissed, it being nearly seven in the morning), he'd have

heard the young man call. People said Harvard Lane slept with

one eye open and an ear cocked.

     Ben closed the door and looked around, scratching his head

through the hood of the parka. His breath escaped in great foggy

clouds.
Sheldon/Thunder                                         40


     Listening carefully, he turned toward the sound of the

falls: a muted roar in the distance. There was another noise

there, too hard to make out against the falling water, but

definitely alien. Ben headed down another cleared path toward

the river.

     He came around a stone outcropping and stopped dead on the

bank of the river. He stared. The alien sound could now be

identified: loud and exuberant singing.

     Ben saw a lean, well-muscled man with several weeks' growth

of beard standing stark naked, waist deep in the fast rushing

water of the river, soaping himself and singing. He was in his

late thirties, which accounted for the song he was singing, if

not for his actions.

     "I been through the desert on a horse with no name...     it

felt good to be out of the rain..." he sang cheerfully, now

lathering his long curling hair with the bar of soap.

     "Harvard!" the young man yelled. "You're crazy! Get out of

there! It's ten below!"

     "Be just a minute," Lane laughed. "The pipes in my cabin

froze, Ben. A man's gotta keep clean."

     "Yes, well the pipes in your body are gonna freeze and I'll

not be comin' in after ya!" Ben retorted in the soft Eastern

Canadian dialect that sounded almost Scottish.
Sheldon/Thunder                                          41


       Harvard Lane ducked under the water and came up shaking

himself like a seal, steam rising from his body. Ben grabbed a

blanket from a nearby rock and held it open for him. as he

climbed up onto the bank. Wrapping the blanket around himself,

Lane jogged up and down in place, his bare feet sinking into the

soft snow.

       "Race you to the cabin, Ben!" he suddenly cried, sprinting

off up the path. But Ben just laughed and ambled leisurely after

him.

       In the cabin Ben made coffee while Lane toweled himself dry

and dressed in a flannel shirt, jeans, thick woolen socks, and

worn leather boots.

       Ben always found Lane's cabin cozy and inviting. The main

room was heated by the Franklin stove, and there were powerful

space heaters in the bedroom and bath. The furnishings were

rough, but comfortable. In one corner of the front room that did

double duty as the kitchen was a heavily cushioned chair that

was incredibly worn looking, but made up for what it lacked in

looks in comfort. To its left was a tall reading lamp. Most of

the walls were covered with shelves.

       On these shelves was housed a vast assortment of rocks and

minerals Lane had brought back from his wanderings. A11 were

carefully labeled with torn scraps of paper taped below each

one, but they were not in any particular order. Iron pyrite,
Sheldon/Thunder                                           42


commonly known as fool's gold, sat right alongside a piece of

quartz veined with the real thing. On the shelves nearest the

chair was a huge collection of books ranging from geological

tracts to paperback murder mysteries.

        The kitchen was small, but complete with a large modern

stove and refrigerator. Food supplies lined the shelves here and

were stacked in every available corner. It looked like enough

food to feed an army for a month, and it probably was.

        But Ben knew Lane was like many of the men who lived their

lives in the wilderness. He'd adopted the feeding habits of the

animals themselves. Sometimes he would go for days without food.

But given the chance he could consume three inch thick steaks, a

half-dozen potatoes, and a quart of coffee, and then ask for

seconds. You just never knew where your next meal was coming

from.

        Ben poured them each a cup of coffee and they sat at the

round, unfinished wood table in the center of the room. Lane

took a sip of his coffee, then glanced speculatively at his

young friend.

        "What brings you out here, Ben?

        "Got a radio message from Goose Bay for you."

        Lane nodded. Ben worked at the lodge in Twin Falls. Besides

having the only telephone hookup for miles, the owner, Mort

Akely, maintained a twenty-four hour watch on the powerful short
Sheldon/Thunder                                        43


wave radio for messages from stranded prospectors, weather

reports, and news from the outside world.

     "Tell me," he said.

     Ben took a crumpled piece of paper from inside his wool

shirt and smoothed it out on the table.

     "It's from Mr. Crawford at Arcon Oil. He wants you to lead

a survey team."

     "Goddamn it!" Lane roared. "How do they always know when I

need a stake? Here I am in the dead center of nowhere and they

know."

     He sighed and finished off the steaming coffee in two quick

gulps before continuing.

     "You can run away and hide from the world for a little

while, Ben, but if they want you, they find you. What else?"

     "The team will fly in the day after tomorrow."

     "Not wasting any time, are they? Where?"

     "Commercial connection from Montreal to Labrador City, then

Dave Adams'll fly them in to the river in his bush plane."

     Lane scowled as he poured himself another cup of coffee.

     "I coulda picked my own people. What's Crawford up to?" he

wondered.

     Lane had met Crawford face to face on only one occasion and

he had disliked the man immediately. He'd found himself looking

into eyes colored with a naked greed and cutthroat ambition that
Sheldon/Thunder                                        44


the blond hair and hip clothes couldn't disguise. He knew

Crawford, as head of Arcon's Survey Operations Division, was low

man on the corporate totem pole. He also could tell that

Crawford didn't plan on things staying that way for very long.

     Aloud he said, "They say where this survey's to take

place?"

     "No, that's it."

     "I hate these company things. Oh," he shrugged. "I suppose

a coupla months from now I can be back out in the wild again

hunting after that elusive golden gleam."

     "Maybe you'll strike it this time."

     "Maybe,°" Lane grinned. "But then what would I do?"

     "Get rich!" Ben shouted enthusiastically, waving his cup.

     "Wear a suit? Sit in an office?"

     "Wouldn't you like to be rich?" Ben asked, puzzled.

     "Ben," Lane looked at him with a stern look on his face,

but his eyes were humorous. "If a man just wanders around these

waste places up here, they call him crazy. If he's got a good

and proper reason like greed, well that's okay. Do you see the

moral irony in that?"

     Ben laughed. "Sure, Harvard. You got a reason, but folks

still think you're loony!"

     Lane joined his laughter.
Sheldon/Thunder                                         45




                          CHAPTER THREE



     Campbell entered the hotel lobby, ten thousand dollars for

expenses tucked safely away in an inside pocket. He got his room

key from the clerk. He'd been able to return to the hotel

earlier after his lengthy briefing by Garvey, a session that had

lasted most of the afternoon. He'd removed the bandages from his

now healing hands and taken a shower. The closets and bureaus

had been well stocked with sports clothes in both his and Gus

Eckstein's sizes, thoughtfully provided by their new employers.

     Eckstein had left around three to see to what he

cryptically referred to as "errands." After Campbell had cleaned

up and eaten a late lunch in one of the hotel's dining rooms he

also left for two appointments of his own.

     Renting a car with some of the expense money, Campbell had

first visited a certain bank. This was a regular pilgrimage he

made each time he was in New York. Its purpose was to check the

safe deposit box where he kept one hundred thousand American

dollars in emergency cash and two sets of documents: passports,

visas, etc., he had acquired several years earlier after an

incident in the Middle East. These papers, produced by a Dutch
Sheldon/Thunder                                           46


craftsman of unparalleled genius, established for him two

fictitious identities: one British and one South African.

     Just in case, he'd told himself. Just in case his past or

his profession one day began to catch up with him.

     After having ascertained that all was as it should be at

the bank, Campbell had driven to the dock area on the East

River. There he'd been greeted in a shabby office piled high

with stacks of yellowing orders and receipts by a scrawny,

middle-aged Texan dressed in Stetson, hand-tooled boots, and a

suede sport coat with elaborate filigree stitching.

     Although the name of the company was Nathan Aster and Sons,

International Freight, he called the man he spoke to "Nasty" for

short. This was the name by which the thin Texan had come to be

known in the shadowy circles in which Campbell sometimes had

occasion to move.

     Nasty's freight business was a legitimate and highly

profitable enterprise, Campbell knew. But he and his plump son,

Bobby, supplemented it by a brisk business in arms and munitions

trading. There was another son in California somewhere, Campbell

remembered. He had something to do with women's fashions, but

Nasty never mentioned him.

     Nasty and Bob prided themselves on supplying quality goods

at competitive prices to individuals, organizations, or
Sheldon/Thunder                                         47


even countries, currently out of favor with the more mainstream

arms dealers like the United States Government. And

unfortunately such competition, even here in the capital of

capitalism, was frowned upon.

     But Nasty took the view, and rightly so Campbell thought,

that the world balance of power, as volatile as it was, made it

possible that at any given moment those out of favor might

suddenly find themselves on top again. Nasty enjoyed having

friends in high places. Particularly if he helped put them

there. And if he could turn a tidy profit above and beyond his

reported tax base, a profit in excess of seven million dollars

per year, well that was just dandy too.

     Nasty had greeted Campbell with effusive back slapping and

several shots of Chivas Regal neat. He'd readily agree to supply

Campbell with all the special hardware he would need.

     Campbell had decided early on that the team would be

restricted to the fewest possible. A number that would include

himself, but exclude their guide.

     Garvey had described Lane as a "nature lover with a streak

of misanthropic bitterness." Lane had left the United States

sometime in the mid-eighties for the wilds of Labrador, and

returned only occasionally when work required it.

     Stapleton had called him "eccentric." Garvey found him a

"puzzling paradox." And I'm stuck with him, Campbell thought.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           48


The perfect guide for a mercenary assault team on an extra-legal

military operation. He fervently hoped Lane would not discover

until it was too late exactly where he was guiding them and why.

     Campbell settled finally on a team of four. This small

number reduced logistics such as food supplies, shelter

necessities, weapons and transport, to an easily handled mini-

mum. He made his requirements known to Nasty.

     Since Gus was an explosives specialist, having learned his

trade in U.S. Army demolitions, recruiting was reduced to just

two more.

     After he'd finalized the deal with Nasty over a last scotch

and made the down payment, Campbell made a call from a nearby

telephone booth, setting up an appointment for eight that

evening in a midtown Manhattan bar called Denny's Den. This

would give hint time to return to the hotel, have a leisurely

dinner, and talk over details with Gus.

     When Campbell unlocked the door and went in he found their

hotel room was dark. Only the TV was on, its light shifting and

changing in the room. The sound was off. A cloud of smoke hung

in the air testifying to Eckstein's presence, even if Campbell

couldn't see him.

     The twin beds against the right hand wall were both un-

occupied. The chairs on either side of the double bureaus were
Sheldon/Thunder                                           49


empty. That left the couch facing the TV, which was sitting on a

small table between two windows in the far wall.

        Campbell almost choked on the smoke as he closed the door

behind him.

        "Don't turn on the light." Eckstein's voice reached him

from the deep couch in front of the TV.

        "Why are you sitting in the dark?" Campbell asked, shedding

his coat and crossing the room.

        "Watchin' the tube," was Eckstein's reply. He was slumped

on the couch, lighting a fresh cigarette with the butt of his

last. There was a half-empty bottle of wild Turkey on the low

coffee table in front of him.

        "May I open a window?" Campbell inquired. "You single-

handedly put New York's attempts at air pollution to shame."

        Eckstein shrugged, not looking at him, so Campbell crossed

to the window to the right of the TV and tugged at it. It didn't

move.

        Eckstein sat up and poured three fingers of bourbon into

the glass.

        "They really expect me to believe that Indians had nothin'

better to do than ride in circles around wagons and get shot?"

he asked, swallowing the bourbon in one gulp.

        "Bloody window's sealed shut." Campbell looked sadly at the

rim of frost on the pane, then turned to Eckstein.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        50


     "It'd be easier that way for the good chaps to win," he

said, answering his friend's question.

     "You mean good guys. What good guys?"

     Campbell abandoned the window and threw himself into a

nearby easy chair, wiping at his watering eyes.

     "The hotel must have too many guests taking the quick way

down."

     "Sometimes the quick way is the best way. What good guys?"

his stocky friend persisted.

     "Cowboys, I expect. It's your country."

     "Maybe we shoulda gotta buncha wagons, made a circle and

let the Muandan Leftists run around them."

     Campbell shook his head. "They were trained by Cubans.

Cubans don't run around wagons."

     "Oh."

     Campbell waved futilely at the dense smoke in the air, and

resolved to take as shallow breaths as possible.

     "Why do you have the sound off?"

     "I know what they're sayin'. It don't mean nothin'."

     Campbell studied him. Eckstein at the best of times was

gruff, but there was something else in his manner now Campbell

hadn't seen before.

     "You get your errands done?"
Sheldon/Thunder                                           51


        "Yeah, finished." He poured and downed another drink. "The

end."

        "Gus?"

        Eckstein looked up at him at last and grinned.

        "Had a little trouble gettin' up some a them hills over in

Muanda. You know I'm fifty-seven years old?"

        "You don't look a day over fifty-six to me."

        Eckstein chuckled, but the sound was harsh. Campbell waited

patiently.

        "Thought I'd get me a checkup, Colonel. First one in years,

and I won the jackpot right off."

        He stared at the TV for a minute before continuing.

        "The Big C, ya know? Just like the surgeon general warned

me!" He tapped the cigarette pack. with his finger, still

puffing on the one in his mouth.

        "How bad?"

        "I saw the X-ray. They didn't want me to, but I can be a

very persuasive fellow." He laughed. Campbell followed

Eckstein's gaze to the stocky man's wrist, where there was a

fancy looking watch. It seemed familiar, but he couldn't

remember having seen Eckstein wearing it before.

        "Like somethin' from outer space," Eckstein went on.

"Tentacles, Christ... It's in here," he tapped his chest,

"eatin' me alive. I'm supposed to go back for tests. That's
Sheldon/Thunder                                           52


bullshit. Tests? I saw it. It looked back at me and gave a big

grin and said 'Gotcha mother!' Shit."

        He lit another cigarette, then added, "So how was your day,

Ian?"

        Before Campbell could think of anything to say, there was a

knock on the door. Instead he asked Eckstein if he was expecting

anybody. Eckstein shook his head.

        Campbell crossed quickly to his coat and pulled out a .45

caliber automatic, the first piece of the special hardware Nasty

was providing.

        Eckstein grinned. "Accessories for the well-dressed man. "

        Campbell tossed the gun to Gus. He caught it easily and

sauntered into the bathroom. Campbell waited until the door was

closed, leaving a thin crack of darkness, then he went to the

hall door and spoke through it.

        "Yes?"

        "It's Janice Eaton," was the muffled reply.

        Campbell opened the door. She was dressed in expensive

evening clothes and a mink cape. She was tall. He hadn't noticed

that when she'd been seated behind the conference table at

Arcon. Even without the spiked heels she stood at least five

nine.

        "You look much better when you're clean," she said.

Campbell just looked at her.
Sheldon/Thunder                                         53


      "May I come in?"

      He stood aside to let her enter, but felt one of her

breasts brush his arm as she passed. Her perfume was strong

enough to battle the smoke in the room and not give an inch. He

closed the door and waited while she surveyed the room and

wrinkled up her nose.

      "I wanted to tell you that your men are still alive. The

trial is set to begin the day after tomorrow with foreign press

attending. We're making arrangements to free them, but they

won't be out in time for this... is mission the right word? It

sounds so war-like."

      "It is."

      "Yes, of course."

      They stood there for a moment. Campbell made no move to

take her cape or show her to a chair. She reached out a gloved

hand and flipped the switch by the door. The overhead light went

on.

      "That's better... for the moment."

      She took off her gloves and stuffed them in a pocket in the

lining of the cape, then she handed the mink to Campbell,

walking over to the nearest bed and testing it with her hand.

      "I've been at the dreariest party. It was quite a relief to

get away."
Sheldon/Thunder                                           54


     When Campbell just stood at the door, cape over one arm,

watching her, she shivered.

     "There's a chill in here. Would you offer the lady a

drink?"

     "I'm tired Ms. Eaton."

     "Do call me Janice. You did this morning." She smiled and

turned her back to him.

     "Could you get my zipper, please?°"

     Campbell knew he'd be lying to himself if he said he didn't

want her. Needs, urges he'd buried deep down months ago in the

Muandan jungle stirred and came to life. Gus, lurking in the

dark bathroom was no problem. They could go somewhere else.

Another room in the hotel. Another bed...

     She would be aggressive and insatiable. He could see her

face now in his mind's eye, looking down into his as she rode

him, her lips wet, her breasts heaving. But he'd also see her

eyes. Her flat, dead eyes. He felt his desire drain out of him

as swiftly as it had appeared.

     She turned now to look over her shoulder at him. Assured.

Impatient. Perhaps wondering why his hands were not yet on her,

his words of thanks and promises whispering in her ear.

     He said, "Perhaps some other time, Janice. I have to see a

man tonight."

     She looked at him with a wry smile.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        55


     "A man... how interesting. I can make the visit... short?"

Goddamn it! She was so sure of herself, and him. "Is that

supposed to be a plus?" he asked.

     Her eyes narrowed then. Campbell whistled softly and

Eckstein came out of the bathroom grinning, playing with the

.45. She was nearly a head taller than him.

     "Oh!" Campbell could tell she was startled. Her left

shoulder jerked just a hair, but she didn't miss a beat.

     "Mr. Eckstein?"

     "Howdy!" he waved the gun at her.

     "How do you do?"

     "Well, it is very kind of you to ask, Janice. Actually, I

was feelin' pretty horny tonight. And if Ian ain't interested in

what ya got to offer, I'd like to take a shot."

     Campbell could now see minute cracks in the marble of her

composure.

     "You're joking, of course."

     Eckstein's grin faded as he looked her over very slowly.

     "No, I ain't jokin'."

     She shifted uneasily under his unblinking gaze and turned

back to Campbell.

     "Really, this is becoming quite absurd. Why are you

treating me like this? I helped you today. It wasn't necessary

for us to help your men."
Sheldon/Thunder                                        56


     "You helped yourself." Campbell felt anger rising within

him where just a few short seconds ago there had been desire.

"You needed me, so you made a suggestion. I'll give you credit.

You saw it was the only way I'd agree."

     "I see," she said, her lips tightening into a hard line.

     "Right. And now you come sniffing around for your reward.

Perhaps trying to find out what it's like to go to bed with a

man who has killed hundreds, maybe thousands? What would you

call it, Gus? An Eva Braun complex?"

     Her eyes alight with rage, her carefully powdered cheeks

flushed, she crossed swiftly to Campbell and slapped him hard

across the face. She wrenched the cape away from him, flung the

door open and stalked off down the hall.

     Campbell closed the door gently and checked the lock.

     Eckstein tossed the .45 on the bed beside him and sat back

down on the couch, reaching for the cigarettes.

     "That was a little rough."

     Campbell rubbed his cheek as he walked over to stand in

front of the couch.

     "She's an empty lady, Gus. Must be the altitude of these

buildings around here. You have to drop too much ballast to get

to the top floor."

     Eckstein lit another cigarette. Campbell watched him, then

began again, choosing his words carefully.
Sheldon/Thunder                                         57


     "About your situation--"

     "I don't want to talk about it."

     "Gus?"

     Eckstein looked up at him sullenly.

     "Just this: don't get stupid. If you are planning on going

out in some blaze of fire-eating glory, I can't use you."

     Eckstein laughed. "Think I got the death wish, Ian? More

than before?" He laughed louder. "More than you?"

     Campbell turned away from him, went back to his coat, and

picked it up.

     "Turn the lights off on your way out," Eckstein called

after him.

     He flipped the switch by the door and went out. Eckstein

heard the rasp of the key in the lock and settled back on the

couch, watching the changing images on the silent TV.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           58




                             CHAPTER FOUR



        Denny's Den was one long room, one hundred feet at least

from the front door to the tiny raised platform with the piano

at the back. The room could not have been more than fifteen feet

wide.

        A tired-looking woman with a blond wig and long black dress

sang soft laments in a low contralto, accompanying herself on

the piano. There was a single yellow spot on her. The rest of

the place was almost pitch black except for a couple of dim red

bulbs over the bar and flickering candles in round red glasses

on the tables and in the booths. How Nelson, the bartender,

never made a mistake, Campbell could not figure out. Each drink

was just right.

        Denny's Den was crowded, but not noisy. Many of the

customers listened respectfully to the singer, applauding po-

litely as she finished each number, and leaving tips in the big

glass snifter on the piano.

        This was a bar for drinkers, not glad-handed salesmen with

their loud stories or swinging singles on the make for whichever
Sheldon/Thunder                                        59


combination of sexes was currently in vogue. For this reason it

made a pleasant and. discreet rendezvous. Also, Campbell knew

the man who would be joining him soon liked the darkness.

     Campbell sat in a dark booth. He lifted his glass from its

plain white napkin and took a sip. The liquor went down easily.

Campbell replaced the glass in the exact center of the napkin

and stirred it idly with the swizzle stick, listening to the

tinkle of the ice cubes. He thought about Gus, and he thought

about death.

     Campbell had grown up in a stifling London slum, and there

death had been an ever-present part of each day. Since the age

of ten he had belonged to a gang. They were his true family. His

mother had died when he was still a baby. He could remember

nothing of her. His father alternately swore at her faded

photograph on the mantel or praised her as a "sainted lady." To

Campbell, she was more like a figment of his father's gin-soaked

imagination. If he felt something missing in his life, he knew

it was not his mother.

     There had been eight of them in the gang. They called

themselves the Outcasts, and were led by a giant of a thirteen-

year-old named Carl. It was during the sixties, Campbell

recalled. British music was re-colonizing the globe for the

empire, and Britain was becoming a melting pot as former

colonies dumped their citizens on its shores.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           60




     How old was he then? Twelve? Yes, he must have been. A year

younger than Carl. Carl, with the slight foreign accent.

     Campbell and the other boys had speculated on what

nationality Carl might be, but never came to any agreement, and

Carl swore he'd been born only a few blocks away. Carl was their

leader and they obeyed him without question.

     The gang's headquarters was a burnt out warehouse on a

street of tumbled down buildings slated for urban renewal. From

there they would forage each night for the spoils of London,

looting shops and selling their plunder to an elderly pawnbroker

in Soho.

     Vietnam was a meaningless name to them, or known only as

the source of new faces in the streets. The stories they would

overhear of the Americans stopped dead in their tracks by the

North Vietnamese were far less real than their war with a rival

gang called the War Dogs, whose territory bordered theirs on the

east a few blocks from the headquarters.

     Here it was that Campbell was introduced to death. He

remembered the day clearly. Damp, overcast. He, Carl and the

youngest of the Outcasts, David, were lounging about in a

doorway, picking over an evening meal of bread and cheese. David

insisted he was ten, but he looked seven.
Sheldon/Thunder                                         61


     Four of the War Dogs came sauntering up the street. Taunts

were hurled back and forth and the taunts became threats. Carl

agreed to meet the leader of the War Dogs, a tall, dark-looking

boy with a livid scar on one cheek, in combat. Weapons were

chunks of twisted metal. Not unlike those he and Gus were pre-

paring to use in Muanda, Campbell realized.

     At one point it looked as if Carl would win. They'd both

lost their weapons, but Carl had straddled his opponent and was

beating at him with his fists.   The knife seemed to appear like

magic in the scarred boy's hand.   The next minute Carl was dead.

     Even the War Dogs seemed stunned for a moment. They had all

stood in a circle together staring down at the maimed bodies of

their comrades. A suspended moment in time, their war

momentarily forgotten. The moment passed.   The other gang ran.

     David and Campbell carried Carl's body to his father's

store and left him there on the doorstep to find the next

morning. They didn't see this as a cruel thing to do. They were

bringing Carl home and that was that.

     Without Carl the others of the Outcasts looked to Campbell

to take over as the next oldest, but he refused. After a period

of months he had left the gang entirely and found a job as an

assistant gardener at a country estate miles from London.

     Campbell remembered that when his new employer had asked

him about his family, he had lied and said his parents were both
Sheldon/Thunder                                        62


dead. The man, Sir Edward Hart, was some sort of bigwig in the

Government. Having no children of their own, he and his wife

took Campbell under their wing. And while he was never offi-

cially adopted (their goodwill stopped short of bringing a

working class boy into the family), they were the ones who saw

to his education and upbringing.

     It was while reading for his fourth in history at Cambridge

that Campbell met Mary Reston, a clerk in one of the town

stores. Their marriage pleased no one but themselves. But that

was all that mattered. Mary showed him a love and tenderness the

like of which he had never encountered before. The Harts had

been kind and, Campbell knew, felt considerable affection toward

him, but they kept themselves aloof, removed. When they smiled

at him it was as if they were looking at him from behind a pane

of glass. And Campbell knew that glass was a way of thinking, a

class barrier they could never bring themselves to breach. But

with Mary the warmth at last was there, was real, and lasting.

     In 1973, with one daughter a year old, and a second baby on

the way, Campbell became a history tutor at a large private

school. Then in 1976 he won a junior seat in history at his old

alma mater, Cambridge, and returned there, his future bright and

secure, with his wife and two daughters: Emily, aged four, and

Melissa, aged three.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        63


     It was a rainy, fog shrouded night when Mary, having taken

the two girls with her shopping in town, was returning to their

small brick cottage in Morgan Lane. The car skidded and hit a

stone retaining wall. Thus, Campbell reflected, he and death had

renewed their acquaintance.

     Campbell noticed his glass was empty and jiggled the ice in

it, trying to disperse his ghosts.

     A hand suddenly reached into the red glass on the table and

with thumb and forefinger extinguished the candle. The little

finger was missing, as was the first joint of the ring finger.

What remained of the hand was puckered with strips of scar

tissue. The owner of the hand slipped into the shadows across

the table from Campbell.

     "Hello, Lew," Campbell greeted him.

     "Colonel Campbell..." The voice was harsh, guttural.

     A bar maid approached when Campbell waved.

     "Same again, please, love."

     "That was JB rocks, right?"

     "Yes."

     She turned to his shadowy companion.

     "Gimme some tonic water on the rocks."

     "Gin and tonic?"

     "Did I say gin, honey?" the voice rasped.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        64


     "Tonic water, sure."

     She noted it down, then struck a match to relight the

candle. The man in the shadows blew it out.

     "I'm an ugly son of a bitch, honey," he explained. "Better

off in darkness.°`

     The bar maid shrugged and walked away.

     "I need two friends, Lew," Campbell began. "One close in

and quiet, one long range."

     "No problem."

     "They must be in the air tonight."

     Lew's laugh was more like a series of ragged coughs.

     "That narrows the field. You left most of the guys in

Africa."

     "It's being attended to."

     "Yeah, I heard a little. Lotsa bread being paid out.

Someone must want to do you a favor pretty bad."

     Campbell smiled at him, and Lew laughed again.

     "So I'll know in a week. I got my finger on the pulse, like

they say. I know just about everything that's going down these

days. I can wait."

     The bar maid brought them their drinks and departed. They

sipped at them for a few moments, listening to the lady in the

blond wig singing soft and low.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           65


     "Who can you get for me?" Campbell asked as people

applauded.

     "Where do you want them to be tomorrow?"

     "Montreal."

     "That's easy. Marcel lives there now. Got a big family to

support. He can use the bread."

     Campbell paused only for a second before he said,

"Perfect," and asked about long range.

     The scarred hand lifted the tonic water to shadowy lips,

then replaced the glass on the table. As Lew thought, Campbell

tried not to remember the face and body that went with that

hand. He'd glimpsed Lew full face only once in the half light of

a dim street lamp. He didn't know how Lew had become so horribly

disfigured, or how he became "the man who knew everything." He

didn't want to know.

     "I got an individual in Miami Beach," Lew said at last.

"But there's a problem."

     "Who is it?"

     "Nadja."

     Campbell shook his head impatiently. "Who else?"

     The dark shoulders shrugged.

     "Pettison's in India somewhere."

     "Olvaro?" asked Campbell.

     "Dead. Nadja's the best anyway."
Sheldon/Thunder                                           66


     Campbell toyed with the drink, sliding it back and forth

between his hands on the napkin. Then he shook his head once

more. "She won't work with me again."

     "Guess I can't help you then."

     He finished his tonic water. "Double fee," offered

Campbell.

     "There just ain't anybody, Colonel."

     Campbell considered for a long moment, then sighed.

     "Okay, let's do this: tell her five hundred fifty thousand

dollars, if she's in Montreal tomorrow morning. We'll meet her

at the airport. Vouch for the buyer, but no names."

     He could feel Lew's eyes boring into him.

     "Five hundred thousand dollars, Colonel?"

     Campbell fished inside his jacket and brought out a thick

packet of bills.

     "I've doubled your usual finder's fee.   I hope that'll be

sufficient?"

     "More than generous.   But five hundred thousand dollars?

Who are you starting your next war with?"

     Campbell grinned.   "You don't really expect me to answer

that, do you?"

     "Anything else?" Lew sighed. "Hardware?"

     "I saw Nasty this afternoon. He's fixing us up."

     The shadowy head nodded. "Nice to have you back, Colonel."
Sheldon/Thunder                                        67


     Lew slid out of the booth and was gone. Campbell finished

his drink, and sat there, staring into his empty glass. Nadja.

It would complicate things enormously. Why had he agreed?

Because of the woman with the empty eyes who had offered herself

to him only a few hours ago? He wasn't sure. He only knew that

he had to see Nadja again.

     He remembered the Arab, Rajeer, dogging his footsteps in

Africa, appearing behind closed doors, smoking in the shadows,

always watching. But when Adella had rescued him and Eckstein

from the Muandan prison, he'd said that Rajeer was killed.

     No matter. If that were true, there'd be another to watch

and listen. Campbell had a notion who that might be, but there

was no time to do anything about it. And now Nadja.

     He would have to be doubly on guard, if any of them were to

survive.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           68




                          CHAPTER FIVE



     Campbell and Eckstein were lounging against a thick

concrete pillar at one end of the huge Air Canada ticket area.

     Dorval International Airport in Montreal on that afternoon

of January 11th was still jammed with late returning Christmas

vacationers, or families bound for Florida for the season. There

was much commotion and a festive bustling about, while harried

employees of the airport struggled to take down decorations.

     Campbell watched absently as two men on ladders unhooked a

long, green plastic string meant to simulate a single fir bough

that ran impossibly the entire length of the ticket booths.

     Eckstein was blowing smoke rings with consummate skill and

immense pleasure.

     "She's gonna take one look at you and hop right back to

Miami on the next plane," he observed.

     "And give up fifteen thousand dollars, Gus?"

     "She won't take your money," Eckstein chuckled. "But maybe

I was wrong. Yeah, she won't get right back on a plane.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           69


        She'll stay long enough to expertly place one bullet

through the middle of your foolish face."

        "We need her. There's nobody else."

        "Let me talk to her first then--" Eckstein suggested,

blowing a smoke ring and marveling at its perfection. "Maybe I

can--" The smoke ring was blown apart. "Jesus Christ!"

        Both men jumped and swiveled around quickly. Then they

relaxed. There stood a pale little man sporting a thin mustache.

He had obviously been standing behind them for some time.

        Campbell smiled at him. It was Marcel Lebeau. In actual

height he was no shorter than Eckstein, but Lebeau weighed

considerably less. Upon his compact, wiry frame the French

Canadian had draped neatly tailored sports clothes in a somewhat

bizarre mixture of bright colors. And around his neck, plunged

into the open shirt front was a rainbow-like cravat that

attempted to bring some sort of order to the ensemble. Campbell

thought it failed.

        "Lebeau, you bastard!" Eckstein cried. "How long you been

standin' there?"

        Lebeau grinned at him and shook hands with Campbell. Over

his left arm was a heavy fur-lined coat, and in that hand was a

soft leather shoulder bag.

        "Good to see you, Marcel," Campbell greeted him. "You look

fit."
Sheldon/Thunder                                           70




     Lebeau nodded happily, still grinning at Eckstein.

     Here, thought Campbell, was a smile that could match in

gusto if not in size Eckstein's own.

     "Just as talkative as ever," Eckstein observed.

     He gave Lebeau a friendly, but solid punch, directed at the

small man's arm. It never landed. Faster than the eye could see,

Lebeau's free hand arced up and knocked Eckstein's ham-like fist

easily aside. He stood there, rock solid, not moving an inch.

     Eckstein held up his hands and backed off.

     "Oh no, I ain't takin' you on with all that fancy oriental

shit. One kick and I'd talk like Mickey Mouse!"

     Lebeau nodded happily.

     "But seriously, Marcel," Eckstein continued, his bushy

eyebrows narrowing. "I think you're losing your touch. I knew

you were there all the time."

     "You are truly a liar, my slow, fat friend!" beamed Lebeau.

     Eckstein turned to Campbell, a hurt look on his face.

     "Why do I let him talk to me like that?"

     Campbell laughed, then looked at Lebeau.

     "All packed, Marcel?"

     "Here in my Gucci bag!" he exclaimed, holding it aloft.

"And I have many major credit cards! Perhaps this time we go to

the place who accepts them? Holiday Inn?"
Sheldon/Thunder                                           71


     "Right," Campbell said, exchanging a look with Eckstein.

"Watch out, Canada's foremost consumer is on the loose again."

     "How's the wife?" Eckstein asked him.

     Lebeau grinned and shaped his arms into a bow in front of

his stomach.

     "Again?" Eckstein laughed. "How many's that gonna make?"

     "Only seven. But this is a significant and lucky number!"

     "Announcing the arrival of Air Canada Flight 104 from

Toronto and Miami," boomed the P.A. system, first in French,

then English. "Now deplaning at Gate 43."

     Campbell and Eckstein looked at each other. Eckstein

sighed.

     "Tell the Colonel the story of your life, Lebeau. I'll be

back in a couple minutes."

     He stalked off, lighting another cigarette. Lebeau looked

at Campbell, a worried expression on his pleasant face.

     "Mademoiselle Cooper?" he asked.

     Campbell, realizing he'd overheard their conversation,

nodded grimly.



     At Gate 43 Eckstein waited to one side as the long line of

disembarking passengers were met by family and friends. He

watched with interest as one man, similar enough to him in build
Sheldon/Thunder                                         72


to be his brother, but dressed in a neat suit, was greeted by a

wife and several excited children of various sizes.

      The kids swarmed over their father, laughing and all

talking at once. What had he brought them? Where? Where?

Eckstein wondered how the man could hold them all at once. He

followed the family with his eyes as they moved off, a bubbling

mass of energy.

      He turned away suddenly, an unfamiliar coldness twisting

his stomach into a knot. He plucked the cigarette from his

mouth, looked at it for a long moment, then dropped it on the

floor, grinding it out savagely with his heel. Then he looked up

again, trying to shake the depression that had fallen over him.

      The passengers were thinning out, and then he could see

Nadja Cooper coming up the carpeted ramp. His heart lifted.

Jesus, she was beautiful, he thought with something closely akin

to pride. Hers was a dark, exotic beauty: high cheekbones and

almond shaped eyes. Long black hair cascaded to her shoulders,

shimmering in the light. Her body looked like it was in top

condition. She moved with the easy grace of an athlete, carrying

a suitcase lightly in one hand.

      She searched the crowd with her eyes. Eckstein took a step

forward so she would see him. She did at last, and her face lit

up.
Sheldon/Thunder                                              73


        "Gus!"

        She ran to him, dropping the suitcase, and leaping into his

arms.

        "Hiya, lovely. Christ, don't squeeze so hard!" he laughed.

        There were tears in both their eyes. She released him at

last and stepped back to study him. He grinned foolishly, wiping

at his eyes.

        "Shit..." he chuckled.

        "You look fantastic, Gus! Like a proud beast!" she

exclaimed in heavily accented English.

        His grin, impossibly, grew wider as he wiped at his crew

cut and blushed.

        "But I thought you were in prison!"

        "Our employers got me out."

        She grabbed his arms and squeezed tightly, looking him

squarely in the eyes.

        "Five hundred thousand dollars, Gus? On the level?"

        "Absolutely."

        "What can the assignment be? Are we invading Canada?"

        "No, lovely," Eckstein laughed. "But you'll earn it."

        Nadja nodded, frowning for the first time.

        "I need this money."

        "Somethin' wrong?" Gus inquired anxiously.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        74


     "My parents have been threatened. I must send them back to

Israel to live with my father's brother. This takes much money

to arrange."

     "I'm sorry."

     "It was my decision to leave the regular army. In my

fashion I still fight for Israel. But it is hard when the

innocent suffer," she sighed, then added, "As they always seem

to do..."

     Eckstein swallowed the lump in his throat.

     "Yeah," was all he said.

     "But this job!" she said, brightening at once. "Are you in

command?"

     Eckstein lowered his head.

     "No, I'm not..."

     "Do I know--" she began, then stopped, her eyes going hard.

"Gus?"

     He looked at her soulfully.

     "No. You would not do this!"

     "Lovely, I--" But he couldn't finish.

     "So. It is that. Some dirty trick."

     He shook his head. "The job's for real."

     "What made you think I'd work with him again?" she asked

angrily.

     "You never heard all of it."
Sheldon/Thunder                                        75


     "I am not blind!" she cried, waving her arm. "His actions

told me the story his lies could not hide!"

     "I thought you knew him better than that."

     This reminded Nadja of how well she had known Campbell in

the old days and she faltered.

     "We will not speak of it!"

     "We need you on this one, Nadja," Gus pleaded. "Marcel

Lebeau's here, too."

     "I cannot. I could never trust him." There were tears

forming in her eyes. The sight of them stabbed at Eckstein.

     "Then trust me!" he pleaded. "This is the last one for me,

lovely. I... I'm gettin' old. I wanna retire. And your folks--"

     "I cannot... I..."

     And then Nadja saw him walking toward her with Lebeau. She

felt a wave of shock hit her like a slap in the face. She reeled

back, tasted the bile rising in her throat and knew that unless

she got away from there that instant she was going to vomit.

     "Oh God!" she cried, putting a hand over her mouth and

stumbling away through the crowd, blindly pushing aside people,

knocking packages with brightly colored wrappings to the floor.

     She saw a nearby door with FEMMES/WOMEN stenciled on it and

slammed it open, rushed inside.
Sheldon/Thunder                                          76


     The two men joined Eckstein and looked at the crooked trail

of outraged chaos Nadja had blazed to the swinging door of the

restroom as it sighed shut.

     Eckstein turned furiously on Campbell. "Damn it!"

     "We have to catch our plane."

     Eckstein lit another cigarette. "I hate airports," he said.

     Lebeau looked from Campbell to Eckstein and back again,

saying nothing. Campbell watched the door to the restroom.

Eckstein stared off into space. Several minutes passed, the

three men a silent island amid the resumed hustle and bustle.

Finally Campbell glanced at his watch.

     "We're going to miss our plane."

     "Colonel, Look!" exclaimed Lebeau.

     Nadja had come back out of the restroom and was walking

erect, her eyes dry. She stopped in front of Eckstein, ignoring

the others and stared at him.

     "Our employers are not Arabs this time? I have your word on

this, Gus?"

     Campbell clenched his teeth.

     "Yes," replied Eckstein.

     Nadja gave a quick decisive nod of agreement, picked up her

suitcase, and stood waiting. The four moved off together.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        77


     Minutes later their tiny Air Canada jet was airborne and

headed northeast from Montreal toward the icy plateau of

Labrador.

     Nadja stared from the window at the thick carpet of clouds

beneath them, and thought of her parents in the small house

outside of Miami. They were frightened, alone except for her and

her Uncle Abe in Tel Aviv. She would see to it that they were

not alone or frightened anymore. But when she thought of her

homeland, she couldn't keep her thoughts from the man sitting

next to Lebeau in the seat in front of her. The man who had

betrayed her and her country. A man without honor.

     So, in spite of her resolve, the memories returned until

finally she gave up and let them flood into her.

     Ian, she knew, was unsure of the precise sequence of events

that led him to become a mercenary, so naturally for her the

details were even more hazy. But he'd cried out to her as they

lay side by side in the narrow bunk in the tiny room at the

desert base in the Sinai. And in time she'd been able to piece

together something of the story.

     He told her in ragged gasps and snatches of painful memory

of leaving the university after the death of what was to him the

last in a series of attempts at finding a family.

     She knew about his father, still alive in a state-run

institution, and how Ian had searched desperately for him in the
Sheldon/Thunder                                        78


months following the accident. Only to find him a catatonic

vegetable, his mind dissolved by drink.

     She knew that he'd finally gone to Edward Hart, now Lord

Hart, who had put him into contact with certain people in MI6,

but British Intelligence wasn't the answer Ian was looking for,

and Lord Hart's only solution was to try another job, and then

another.

     Ian had left England then and traveled extensively until

his savings began to run out. And as he traveled he grew more

and more cynical. He noticed the great distance between the

haves and the have-nots of the world, a gap that ultimately led

to revolution and war and death. And he remembered his own

violent beginnings, and how he'd leapt that chasm, if only for a

brief time.

     In his own words he had explained to her that it was as if

the fates had toyed with him, had set up a life of happiness and

contentment and held it out to him like a carrot on a stick. Ian

had been foolish enough to reach out for that carrot, and they

had squashed him and kicked him back in the gutter where he

belonged. It seemed the fates had a class system all their own.

     But even in the gutter he knew there was a hierarchy. And

if he was unfit for the one world, he was determined to reign

supreme in the other. When he'd been a member of the gang, Ian
Sheldon/Thunder                                        79


knew he had survived, even prospered in a limited sort of way on

the spoils of war. He would do so again.

     How from this dark philosophy built upon the ashes of his

life, on his aimless wanderings around the world, he had finally

set about putting his jumbled thoughts into action, Nadja wasn't

sure, but by the time they met at the secret training base in

the desert, Ian was a veteran of global warfare for profit.

     He was in Israel, training an elite division of troops, she

remembered. Cold, aloof, his steel gray eyes seemed to look

right through her.

     How had they finally become lovers? How had she finally

come to share his nightmare world? It seemed impossible to her

now, but at the time it was the most natural and inevitable

thing in the world. But she couldn't, wouldn't think now of the

betrayal that had followed.

     Nadja turned away from the window and looked at Gus slumped

in the seat beside her, snoring softly. She smiled

mischievously, separated several strands of her long black hair,

and tickled him under the nose with them. Eckstein awakened with

a snort and grinned sleepily at her. In a very short time they

were laughing together.
Sheldon/Thunder                                         80




                              CHAPTER SIX



     Harvard Lane and Ben stood on the wide Twin Falls public

pier and watched as Dave Adams' bush plane made its approach

against a blue sky hung with white cotton clouds.

     Here the Unknown River was wide and slow. Frozen solid for

much of the winter it served as an impromptu runway for the tiny

planes fitted with skis that were the fastest form of

transportation available.

     The plane touched down, its single prop sputtering, skidded

slightly to the left, then began a long sliding turn that would

bring it close to the pier.

     The plane's motor was switched off, and after a moment the

door on the passenger side opened and, one by one, four heavily

bundled figures climbed out, each carrying an olive green duffel

bag. They made their way carefully over the slick ice toward the

steps to one side of the pier.

     Lane and Ben looked at each other.

     "Sun tans for God's sake! And a woman! What's Crawford

trying to pull?" Lane asked angrily.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           81


     "She is pretty," Ben responded with a sigh.

     Lane shook his head. "Geologists shouldn't be pretty, Ben.

It causes problems."

     Campbell and the others scrambled up the icy steps to the

two men waiting for them. He put down his bag and held out his

hand. Lane grasped it firmly.

     "Harvard Lane? My name is Campbell. This is Mr. Lebeau--"

     "What accommodations, please?" Lebeau asked, frowning.

     Lane blinked at him as they shook hands.

     "Your finest hotel," Lebeau insisted. "Which way?"

     Lane roared with laughter. "Oh! The hotel! I run it. We'll

be driving over there shortly."

     "Do you take the American Express?"

     It took Lane a few seconds to realize the little man meant

a credit card and not a train.

     "Hell, shorty," he grinned. "I'll take your I.O.U.!"

     Lebeau was nonplussed. This bearded giant was obviously

unfamiliar with the finer points of credit transactions.

     Campbell introduced Nadja and Eckstein, and Lane shook

hands with each of them. Ben was wrong, he thought; she wasn't

pretty. She was exquisite, but his admiration was soon dampened

by a puzzled curiosity.

     As Eckstein lit a cigarette, Campbell noticed that Lane was

upset about something.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        82


     "Anything wrong?" he asked.

     "Thought I knew most of Arcon's geologists, is all."

     "Our last assignment was Africa. We've never been up north

before."

     "Oh?" Lane asked, interested. "Whereabouts in Africa?"

     "Muanda," growled Eckstein. "It was a lot hotter than

here."

     "Most places are," Lane agreed.

     "Crawford has put us in your hands," Campbell told him.

"We've had no arctic training. We have four days to become

acclimated."

     "Four days. As long as that?"

     He looked at them shivering. But not all four, he noticed

with surprise. The little one, Lebeau, with the least meat on

his bones appeared to feel the cold the least. His eyes had a

faraway look to them.

     "Say," suggested Eckstein. "Can we get this show on the

road. I'm freezing my tail off!"

     Lane nodded. "Let's get your gear in the van."

     As the van churned along the bumpy, snow-covered road, Lane

studied his passengers while Ben drove. They were certainly a

strange crew. He could see there was a great deal of tension

between the man Campbell and the woman with the foreign accent.

She even avoided looking at him.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        83


     The one who chain smoked, by all outward appearances was

the picture of solid strength, yet there was an odd hesitancy in

his bluster, as if he'd once learned his tough guy lines well,

but had no conviction in saying them anymore. Lane was already

choking on the thick clouds of blue smoke, and was gratified to

see Ben, despite the temperature, crack a side vent. That one

would have problems when the sub-zero air got at his lungs.

     The small French Canadian was an enigma, too. He did not

talk that often, but when he did, his words were punctuated.

with brand names like a commercial on television.

     Campbell was obviously the unofficial leader of the four,

and Lane expected he would have the most trouble with him. When

you were untold miles from the nearest human habitation, it was

best to establish once and for all who was in charge. Orders

must be obeyed instantly, without question, if everyone was

going to stay alive. Lane decided he had better put the question

of leadership to rest the first chance he got.

     Yes, all in all a pretty weird bunch. And Lane was not

unaware of certain peculiarities in the arrangements the devious

Crawford had made. As they rode Campbell had explained to him

that Lane was to outfit them for their training in Labrador

(apparently Crawford had remembered Lane had equipment enough

for half a dozen), yet their clothing for the actual survey

would be sent on ahead of them to Fairbanks.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        84


     So Alaska was to be their destination. Then why all the

secrecy? Every oil company in the United States must have

geologists crawling all over the state since the Prudhoe Bay

deposits were discovered.

     And there was one other thing, too. Most geologists,

petroleum or otherwise, whenever they got together, had a wealth

of stories to relate about expeditions they'd been on, and the

strikes they had made or missed. They enjoyed speculating about

what they would find on the upcoming journey. But not one of

these four had so much as mentioned a single encounter with

porous and impermeable sedimentary rock. A curious omission he

vowed to explore.

     At Lane's cabin he watched as the four piled out of the van

and got their first look at his "hotel." To his surprise, there

was no comment. Even the little one shrugged philosophically.

Apparently, despite their appearance, this group was used to

roughing it. Well, he would see.

     That night after dinner Lebeau was stretched out on his

sleeping bag in the main room of Lane's cabin, apparently

asleep. Nadja sat in the comfortable easy chair reading a murder

mystery. Campbell, Lane and Eckstein were seated at the rough

wood table studying a pile of maps and charts.
Sheldon/Thunder                                             85


       "The Endicott Mountains?" Lane roared. "In the middle of

the winter? Crawford must be insane!"

       "A man named Penwarren made the initial tests," Campbell

explained, remembering Garvey's afternoon long briefing.

       "Gravity tests? Magnetic? Or seismic?" Lane shot back at

him.

       "Both gravity and seismic," Campbell responded. "After

extensive geochemical analysis was made of the permafrost."

       He paused, holding his breath, hoping he'd gotten it

correct.

       "I know Dan Penwarren," Lane nodded. "He drinks, but when

he's sober he's a damn good geologist."

       Campbell relaxed. "That's why we can't wait. Apparently

Penwarren did some drinking and some talking in a Fairbanks bar.

Atlantic Richfield and BP are already putting together their own

teams. But they only know the general area."

       Lane tugged at his beard. "If there's such a rush, why did

Crawford saddle me with you four? You have no conception of what

it's like up there!"

       "There was no one else available."

       "I could've found somebody," Lane grumbled.

       Eckstein exhaled a cloud of smoke. "You ain't very

sociable."
Sheldon/Thunder                                           86


     "See this line?" Lane glared at him, pointing at the map.

"That's the Arctic Circle. We're going above that. Do you know

what that means?"

     "Tell me," Eckstein grinned at him.

     "Tell you?" Lane cried. "I can't tell you! Do you know it's

only fifteen below outside right now? Cold, isn't it? Well there

are recorded temperatures in those mountains of eighty below.

Add to that gale force winds driving ice particles at you like a

million tiny bullets. And a wind chill factor that can drop the

temperature past minus one hundred degrees. How can I train you

in four days to survive in that?"

     "You bloody well better try," Campbell said to him.

     Lane shook his head. "I won't do it."

     "Crawford said you might say that. So I'm to tell you that

if you ever want another job, not just from Arcon, not just from

any oil company, but from any other firm that hires geologists,

forget it. He'll see to it that you are blackballed from here to

Antarctica. And he also said you know him well enough to realize

he can and will carry out his threat."

     "I know him," Lane said quietly. "You're saying I have no

choice. Is that it?"

     Campbell looked at him and smiled. Lane glanced at

Eckstein. He was grinning.

     "You're suicidal. All of you."
Sheldon/Thunder                                         87


     Eckstein laughed.

     Lane shrugged. "Oh hell. Labrador will probably kill you.

Then I can get my own team."

     His grin grew as Eckstein's faded.

     The sleeping arrangements for the first night had Lane and

Lebeau in the bunk beds in the bedroom. Campbell, Nadja and

Eckstein were stretched out in sleeping bags on the floor. Lane

had offered to let Nadja have the privacy of the bedroom to

herself, but she had refused politely in her precise accent. She

did however put Eckstein and as much floor space as possible

between her and Campbell.

     When Lane climbed down out of the top bunk the next morning

at dawn, he discovered Lebeau was missing. Puzzled, but not

alarmed (he was fast becoming used to the eccentric behavior of

this team), he dressed quickly and warmly and strode into the

kitchen area, where he picked up a huge metal skillet blackened

with use and age. He began banging on the skillet with a spoon.

     "Okay, everybody! Up and at 'em!"

     Campbell, Eckstein and Nadja began to stir. Eckstein

coughed to loosen the night's accumulation of phlegm.

     Lane looked around. "Where's the little guy?"

     "Greeting the sun," answered Campbell, jerking his thumb at

the front door.
Sheldon/Thunder                                          88


     Lane went to the door and opened it. Silhouetted against

the rising sun Lebeau was slowly, methodically, and with great

concentration, moving in a weaving, dance-like pattern in a

circular space he'd cleared in the snow.

     Nadja came up beside Lane in the doorway. He looked at her,

then back at Lebeau.

     "What is that?" he asked.

     "T'ai chi chuan," she answered simply.

     Lane watched the small man dip and sway gracefully wearing

no coat or gloves, then closed the door, shaking his shaggy

head. He went back to the kitchen and began breakfast.

     Several dozen pancakes and a couple quarts of coffee later

and the training had begun.

     Lane led the way, wearing lightweight, but warm clothing

and carrying a backpack. He slid along the hard crust of a flat

expanse of snow and stopped to turn and inspect his charges.

Luckily they all seemed to be in pretty good shape, and once

they mastered the awkward sliding walking motion of the flat,

webbed snowshoes they would be able to make pretty good time.

How long they could keep it up was another matter entirely. The

intense cold could sap the strength from anyone in a remarkably

short while.

     His plan was simple. Start them out on the basic stuff.

Show them what it felt like to be exposed to extreme cold for a
Sheldon/Thunder                                           89


length of time. This sliding along on the flat snow was kid's

stuff, he knew, but it would give him an idea of what he could

expect in the way of stamina and discipline.

     Then a return to the cabin for a last sleep in the warm

shelter it provided. The next two days and one night they would

spend in the rugged, lake dotted country to the northeast,

hiking until their bodies cried out for rest, then climbing

jagged clumps of rocks and hiking some more. He obviously

couldn't teach them all he knew about finding shelter and living

off the land. But he could teach them specific tasks in the

setting and striking of camps, preparing of meals, and the like,

that would ease his burden of actual labor.

     They had been trudging dutifully through the snow behind

him since nine that morning. It was now two in the afternoon so

Lane called a short halt. He showed them how to squat down and

rest as comfortably as possible without removing their

snowshoes, and keeping their backs to a brisk, biting wind.

     "Sixty below is the magic number," he began. "Any colder

than that and we stop, find shelter and wait it out."

     "We won't have time to sit around," Campbell interjected.

     "Time means nothing when you're dead," replied Lane. "And

that's exactly what you'll be if the moisture from your

breathing crystallizes and freezes in your lungs. If you had

been up there awhile you could have stood it for a half-hour or
Sheldon/Thunder                                          90


so at seventy below, but we're going to be exposed for a lot

longer than that, believe me." He checked his watch. "Okay.

Fifteen minutes are up. Let's start back."

     Lane watched as they rose without complaint. Only Eckstein

seemed to be really struggling. A dry, rasping cough seized him

for a few seconds. But he shook it off and they were on their

way. Perhaps the thought of the warm cabin made them reach into

their reserves of strength, because Lane observed that the pace

on the march back was almost as hard as the one he had started

them out on in the morning.

     That night in the cabin Campbell and Lane went over the

list of supplies Crawford and Garvey had arranged to be shipped

to Fairbanks. The list included food for a month, insulated

arctic tents, heavy clothing, ski masks, and snowshoes. Plus the

surveying and mapping equipment Lane thought they would need. He

didn't know it, but Campbell planned to jettison that as soon

after they were on their way as possible.

     Even so, each of them would be carrying close to forty

pounds attached to the aluminum frames on their backs.

     Lane supplied everyone with a special rubdown oil of his

own concoction that contained lanolin to keep their skin from

drying out. And all evening long he kept pressing on them as

much water as he could, until finally Eckstein cried out in

dismay and threw a full mug across the room at him.
Sheldon/Thunder                                         91


     "I ain't thirsty, I tell ya! I'm gonna drown before I

freeze to death!"

     "One of the biggest dangers of prolonged exposure in

extreme sub-zero temperatures," Lane explained, refilling the

mug to its brim, "is dehydration. It weakens you more than any-

thing else. At least with frostbite all you have to do is am-

putate the infected part, whatever it is."

     He handed the mug to Eckstein, who took it sullenly. The

stocky man toyed with the mug, but when Lane continued to stand

over him he swore and gulped the liquid down.

     At dawn the next morning Lane rose to find not only Lebeau

missing, but the others as well. He dressed rapidly and with a

sinking feeling hurried to the front door.

     There in the snow Lebeau led the other three in the T'ai

chi chuan ritual. Nadja matched him move for move like a mirror

image. Campbell was a beat or two behind, aggressively attacking

each movement. Eckstein was off to one side waving his arms and

legs and jumping up and down in the snow. He appeared to be

making it up as he went along, but his face wore an expression

of grim determination.

     Lane shook his head and closed the door on them.

     "And people think I'm loony," he said to himself as he

began making coffee.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        92


     After breakfast they dressed in down-filled parkas like

those they would be using in the Brooks range. Their ski masks

had slits only for the eyes. Each person wore two pairs of pants

and a couple of shirts with insulated underwear beneath it all.

Boots, Lane had found, were the hardest fit. He had none in

sizes small enough for Nadja and Lebeau, and so they were forced

to wear several pairs of the heavy wool socks to take up the

slack.

     Lane also distributed the tents, cooking utensils, climbing

gear, food and medical supplies equally between the five packs.

He considered only briefly short-weighting Nadja's pack, but

realized she would be angry with him if he did. For some reason

Lane found himself taking special care that he did nothing to

upset Nadja or make her think he was treating her differently

from the rest.

     For this journey Lane added two rifles. One he kept for

himself, the other he handed to Campbell. But Campbell in turn

passed his on to Nadja.

     He saw Lane's annoyed frown and smiled.

     "I'm a terrible shot," he explained.

     Lane considered forcing the issue to drive home the point

then and there about who was in charge. But he stopped himself,

afraid that he might offend Nadja, if he took the gun away from

her. Let her carry it if she liked, he decided; he'd be doing
Sheldon/Thunder                                        93


any necessary hunting for tonight's meal. He handed her a box of

cartridges that she stowed, then they went outside.

     There they strapped the snowshoes to their boots, pulled on

the heavy mittens and hefted their packs, helping each other to

adjust straps and distribute the twenty or twenty-five pound

loads to ride high on their shoulders. Finally he and Nadja

picked up the two rifles leaning against the wall of the cabin

and they started out, Lane again in the lead.

     For the first few hours their line of march took them

across fairly level terrain similar to that they had traversed

the day before. Only an occasional hill or gully sprinkled with

clumps of low trees broke the monotony. But by mid-afternoon the

scattered trees had become a great pine forest and each hill

seemed only like a step up to the next higher one.

     Among the trees they removed their snowshoes, strapping

them to their packs, and walked on a thick mat of pine needles,

lightly dusted with snow that had filtered down from the heavily

laden branches above their heads.

     Beyond the forest the land again lay out flat before them,

a carpet of gray and white beneath a pale blue sky brushed with

thin tendrils of high, cold clouds. A fierce wind blew unchecked

by tree or hill, and the ground had been swept clean of snow

except for vast drifts that reminded Campbell of sand dunes

beneath the blazing Sinai sun.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        94


     He turned to look past Lebeau at Nadja. She was walking in

an easy, rhythmic gait, head slightly bowed. He saw Eckstein's

eyes on him, then they flicked to Nadja. Campbell turned back

and continued after Lane.

     The terrain revealed itself to them mile after mile in a

patchwork of tiny lakes with gently sloping pebble beaches,

clusters of jumbled rocks and isolated stands of spruce and

pine. Some of the lakes were frozen solid, easily crossed. The

larger lakes showed patches of blue water reflecting the sky.

These they skirted.

     The thing that struck Campbell most was the impenetrable

silence that lay across this desolate plateau. It settled around

them, absorbing the slight scuffling sounds of their boots on

the frozen ground. Even the wind had lost its voice. It was

almost as if they were deep-sea divers trudging slowly across

the ocean floor on lead weighted shoes. The weight of his

clothing and the pack added to the illusion of the pressure at

great depths.

     They were circling a lake shaped like a bass fiddle, half a

mile across and nearly a mile in length when Nadja's sharp eyes

spotted a flash of white in a blue patch of open water. She

called out and everyone stopped, following her pointing arm with

their eyes.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           95


        A low wall of movement was churning the water and borne on

the wind came at last a sound. A strange, eerie noise that for a

moment reminded Campbell of the background chatter of the

cocktail parties Sir Edward and his wife used to throw.

        Suddenly the wall broke up and rose into the air. A dozen

pale white geese swooped low over the lake and circled there for

a moment, their honking and the beating of wings cutting through

the stillness. Then they spiraled downward again and settled

back into the water.

        "Hey, Lane!" Eckstein shouted through his ski mask. "Those

birds make good eatin'?"

        Lane nodded. "But we can't shoot them, no way to get out

there to retrieve them. We'll keep an eye out for a gaggle

overland."

        He sensed, but couldn't see Eckstein's grin behind the

mask.

        "A gaggle, you say?"

        "That's the word," Lane nodded impatiently. "Save your

breath, and let's get moving."

        The silence descended once more around them.



        Hours passed, each one blurring into the next until the sun

was low on the horizon. They'd only stopped for two quick rest

periods and the fatigue was setting in. Even Lebeau lifted his
Sheldon/Thunder                                           96


feet like they were encased in iron. They had not sighted

another living thing since the geese, certainly nothing

resembling supper. Lane was afraid they'd have to use the dried

beef and fruit he'd packed instead.

        He finally halted when they'd reached a series of low but

steep cliffs and granite outcroppings, debris deposited by the

glaciers thousands of years before. He stood gazing up at the

sun, hanging low in the western sky, shielding his eyes. The

others, trudging wearily up beside him, stood gasping in the

frigid air, their breath filtered through the ski masks in gray

clouds.

        Campbell followed Lane's look, and guessed at what he was

seeing. There was a distinct halo around the sun. The wind was

from that direction. Moisture-laden air was heading their way.

        "Storm?" he asked.

        Lane nodded. "We've got three or four hours yet. It'll hit

after we've made camp." He turned tothe others. "Well, children,

you're in luck, you're going to receive an unexpected bonus in

your educations."

        Eckstein was hunched forward, bracing his hands on his

knees shaking his head slowly from side to side.

        "Cut that children crap," he wheezed.

        Nadja was looking off in another direction entirely. To the

east.
Sheldon/Thunder                                          97


     Lebeau took the news stoically enough, as Lane had come to

expect. He was probably dreaming of drifting on a rubber

mattress in a heated pool at the Waikiki Hilton. Thanks to

frequent flyer discounts and the wonders of credit, of course.

     "We'll circle this cliff to the north and make camp on the

lee side--" He was interrupted by the loud crack of a shot that

shattered the stillness. He turned to see Nadja lower her rifle.

     "What the hell are you doing?" he demanded angrily.

     "Supper." She pointed across an open space to a cluster of

trees more than a hundred yards away.

     "Supper?! "Eckstein panted. "It'll take us till dark justa

hike over there!"

     Lane could not see what she had shot. At that range, he

strongly doubted she could have hit anything. That old

Winchester of his that she was carrying fired up and to the left

making it pretty inaccurate for anything not close range. She

threw back the hood on her parka and pulled her ski mask off,

waiting for him to say something.

     "Let's go take a look," he told them. As soon as he said

that, he thought he saw the briefest hint of a smile touch her

lips, but it was gone before he could be sure.

     When they reached the copse of trees, Lebeau suddenly

bounded forward with a cry of delight and scooped a good-sized
Sheldon/Thunder                                           98


rabbit up out of a red patch of snow. The others walked over to

him and examined the rabbit.

        Nadja touched the wound in the animal's neck, then shook

her head in disgust.

        "The rifle is no good. Up and to the left it shoots!"

        The wind had picked up considerably and snow had begun to

fall by the time they made camp in a cleared space between two

giant boulders. Lane skinned and dressed the rabbit while

Campbell and Eckstein pitched the two low tents. Nadja and

Lebeau scouted up fuel and built a very respectable fire without

Lane's guidance.

        As they ate, the wind increased in intensity and the

snowfall became heavier. Eckstein, Lane noticed, was coughing

again.

        "How are the lungs?" he asked, watching Eckstein above the

flames of the fire.

        "Better," Eckstein replied.

        "If you didn't smoke so much they'd be fine."

        Eckstein jumped to his feet and came quickly around the

fire.

        "Keep off me..." he warned.

        "Gus..." Campbell's voice cautioned as Lane stood to face

the burly man. Eckstein glared at Lane for a long moment, then

turned away and crawled into one of the tents.
Sheldon/Thunder                                         99


     Lane turned to Campbell. "I'm in charge here, Campbell. If

I need any help, I'll ask for it."

     Campbell stared into the fire. "Right," he said.



     By the next morning enough snow had fallen and drifted over

their tents. They had to dig themselves out. Nadja, Eckstein and

Lebeau pulled themselves from one tent, and Lane and Campbell

crawled out of the other.   They set immediately about preparing

a light meal of dried beef and biscuits. There was no greeting

the sun that morning.

     If the first day had been rough, this trek was ten times as

bad. Now they were facing almost directly into the wind-driven

snow and had to bend forward at an angle to keep from being

blown over. But as Lane cheerily explained, the temperature was

actually up around zero somewhere, and the wind was blowing no

more than twenty knots. In the Brooks Range they would pray for

weather like this.

     They got back to the cabin just after sunset, bone-tired

and frozen stiff; their eyebrows, where they were unprotected by

the ski masks, were caked with ice.

     After a big meal Nadja was extremely restless and asked

Lane if she could try his other rifle. After he had agreed she

found a flashlight and some tape and set off into the night
Sheldon/Thunder                                             100


alone. The snow had tailed off, but the temperature was dropping

fast.

        Lebeau sat down on his sleeping bag and began sifting

through his credit cards. Eckstein leaned back in the easy

chair, but left the light off, content to blow smoke rings from

the first cigarette he'd had that day. Campbell sat at the table

studying maps.

        "Which will I have to use in Fairbanks, Colonel?" Lebeau

asked. "The American Express or the Master Charge?"

        "Watch that Colonel stuff, Marcel," warned Eckstein.

        "Don't worry, my friend," Campbell answered the little man.

"It's all taken care of."

        "Alors," Lebeau shrugged. "I will buy the souvenirs for mes

petites."

        Lane came out of the bathroom and Campbell looked up at

him. Something was different. It took Campbell a few seconds to

realize what it was. Lane had shaved. The beard was gone.

        Eckstein saw his red, freshly scrubbed face and burst out

laughing.

        "What's the matter, Pard? Your beard freeze off?"

        "Since I'm returning to civilization tomorrow, I thought

..." Lane's voice trailed off sheepishly. Then he scowled,

grabbed up his coat and mittens and headed for the door. He
Sheldon/Thunder                                        101


turned and looked at Eckstein, about to say something more, but

Eckstein started laughing again and he stormed out.

     Lebeau started chuckling, too, as Eckstein continued to

laugh, his body shaking. But then they saw the expression on

Campbell's face and they grew quiet. A few minutes passed and

they heard the rumble of a motor outside. There was a knock on

the door, and Ben stuck his head in.

     "Mr. Campbell?"

     "Yes?"

     "You got a long distance phone call at the lodge. I'll

drive you over in the van."

     Campbell pushed back his chair and stood up.

     "Be right with you."

     He slipped on his parka and followed the young man out.

     As Campbell and Ben headed for the van, they heard the

distant crack of a shot, then another. Ben looked at Campbell.

        "Target practice," Campbell said quietly.

        Ben nodded. They climbed into the van and drove off.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        102




                           CHAPTER SEVEN



     Above the rapids of the river where Lane had bathed, he

came upon Nadja crouched in the snow on one knee, firing across

the river at a denuded tree. She'd taped the flashlight to the

rifle barrel to illuminate her target.

     Taking aim she squeezed the trigger and the tip of a branch

flew away into the night. Lane came up behind her quietly,

rubbing self-consciously at his naked jaw. She fired again and

another branch was gone.

     "Nice shot," Lane admitted, then jumped back with a shout

of surprise as Nadja rolled to her feet, and came up with the

rifle pointed at the center of his chest. She saw who it was and

lowered the weapon.

     "I did not hear you!" she frowned at him.

     "Should you have?" he smiled in return.

     "Yes, it is important, Mr. Lane."

     Lane leaned against a rock.

     "Call me Harvard."

     "That is an odd name for a person."
Sheldon/Thunder                                            103


        "It used to be Howard."

        She came over and sat down on the rock beside him, looking

across the river.

        "You went to that school?" she asked. "Harvard?"

        Lane shook his head. "Yale."

        "I do not understand."

        "I played football for Yale. Defensive end."

        Nadja began loading the rifle again.

        "What is that?"

        "A position... uhm... on the field..." Lane tried to

explain. "Harvard and Yale are both members of the Ivy League.

You've heard of that?"

        "Of course," she nodded emphatically. "Princeton, Smith,

too."

        "That's right. Well, Harvard and Yale have this football

rivalry. One year I missed a tackle. I was the only one between

the ball carrier and the goal line. I blew it, and Harvard

scored the winning touchdown. In appreciation they dubbed me

Harvard instead of Howard. Nobody at my school would let me live

it down. The name stuck."

        "Where?"

        "Where?" he echoed, trying to figure out if she was teasing

him. "Uhhh... hell, I don't know. I'm just trying to impress you
Sheldon/Thunder                                           104


with my athletic abilities. You're in pretty good shape

yourself."

     "Thank you. I was in the Olympics. 1988 in Seoul."

     Lane stared at her. "You sure get around. What event? How

did you do?"

     "Eight hundred meter run. I placed sixth only."

     "I'm still impressed. And where did you learn to shoot like

that?"

     Nadja shifted uneasily, pushing the hair back away from her

face. There was no harm she decided in telling him this.

     "In Israel. I was born there."

     "Oh, so that's your accent."

     "What accent?"

     Lane laughed. "Cooper doesn't sound like an Israeli name."

     "Why not? When Israel was created, Jews came from all over

the world. Jews named Rabinowitz, Gold, Santos, Orsini, even

Smith. My parents were both born in the United States. They

wanted me to be raised in Israel. We moved there in 1971. I was

less than a year old. They... they returned to Miami to live

three years ago..." Her voice trailed off.

     Lane watched her as she stood, raised the rifle to her

shoulder, and fired. On target again. She amazed and puzzled him

at the same time. At first he had planned to interrogate her to

see if he could find out what it was about this team that made
Sheldon/Thunder                                           105


him so uneasy. But he told himself he hadn't shaved off his

beard for that reason. And that bothered him.



     Ben led Campbell across the deserted lobby of the lodge to

the single telephone booth and left him there. Campbell went

into the booth, slid the door closed, and waited until Ben was

seated on a bench some distance away leafing through a magazine.

Then he picked up the phone.

     "Campbell here."

     "Nasty."

     "Trouble?"

     "Rest of the hardware'll be waitin' in Fairbanks," Nasty's

voice drawled. "Creighton Storage and Transfer."

     "Good..."

     Campbell knew there had to be more than that. He waited

while there was silence at the other end. He could almost

imagine the thin Texan looking furtively over his shoulder then

hunkering down closer to the phone.

     "Lew's been tryin' to get in touch with y'all."

     "Why?"

     "Don't know. You're to call him."

     The number Nasty gave him was not Lew's business phone.

That in itself suggested something was up. Campbell did

recognize a centrally located Manhattan exchange. He thanked
Sheldon/Thunder                                           106


Nasty and dialed the operator. Her voice was so faint she

sounded like she was on the far side of the moon. He gave her

the number and waited; the cold feeling in the pit of his

stomach he'd first noticed back in the Arcon boardroom had

returned.

     On a nightstand beneath a dim bedside lamp were a phone and

a copy of The Wall Street Journal. The phone rang and Lew's

scarred hand picked up the receiver.

     "Hello, Colonel," he rasped. "There is something I think

you ought to know..."



     Lane sighted along the rifle and fired. In the circle of

light across the river the tip of a branch flicked off.

     Nadja smiled. "So!"

     He handed the rifle back to her and she raised it to her

shoulder.

     "Why do you hate Campbell?" he asked suddenly.

     The rifle barked and the shot went wide. She put down the

rifle, but didn't turn around to face him.

     "I do not."

     "I'm not blind, Nadja. You never speak to him. You never

even look at him."

     Her dark eyes clouded with anger as she looked at him.
Sheldon/Thunder                                            107


       "You try to analyze me? You do this with all your

geologists?"

       "No, but this group might be interesting."

       She turned away from him and again aimed the rifle across

the river.

       "I do not have to talk to you about what is personal to me.

Now go, please. I must practice."

       He stood looking at her back, then started off down the

trail. She hadn't noticed he'd shaved.

       In the main room of Lane's cabin, Lebeau was now lying on

his sleeping bag apparently asleep. Campbell had just returned.

He poured two cups of coffee and seated himself at the rough

wood table where Eckstein was smoking and playing solitaire.

       Campbell put one of the cups in front of the burly man, but

he chose to ignore it. Something was on his mind, Campbell could

see.

       "I just had an interesting talk with Lew," he began. No

response.

       "We've run up against terrorists before, haven't we, Gus?"

       "Sure," Eckstein shot out. "Like Jamshid Amat."

       Campbell stared at him, caught completely off guard, his

coffee cup frozen in mid-air halfway to his lips.

       "Gus... shut up..." he said at last.
Sheldon/Thunder                                         108


     "Tell her!" Eckstein cried at him, his homely face twisted

in pain.

     "What's the matter with you?"

     "Nothin'! I just can't stand to see the two of you tear

each other apart!"

     "Nadja's feelings are perfectly understandable."

     "But she don't--"

     "Shut up!" Campbell said tightly.

     "Goddamn it, Colonel--"

     "It is none of your business, Gus. I don't know what

brought this on, but forget it."

     Eckstein started to open his mouth again.

     "Now, Gus..."

     Eckstein stopped himself and stared glumly at the steaming

black liquid in his cup. Campbell looked over at Lebeau. The

little man lay still, eyes closed, either asleep or very

prudently staying out of the conversation.

     Campbell took a deep breath and tried again.\"Terrorists,

Gus. After they strike, what do they do?"

     Eckstein shrugged. "They dance around waving their guns in

the air."

     "And the newspapers and the telly are all over the story

the next day, right?"

     "Sure," Eckstein agreed. "Terrorists need the press."
Sheldon/Thunder                                        109


     "So why has this Free Earth Liberation Army kept their

takeover of Pump Station E a secret between themselves and

Arcon?"

     Eckstein sat back, knitting his brow, his sullenness

vanishing as quickly as it had come.

     "That is a little strange..."

     "And how did they get up there in the first place?"

Campbell went on. "There are close to thirty men in that camp.

Did they simply sneak up on them out of nowhere?"

     "Nobody saw 'em along the way?"

     "I asked this chap Garvey that question at our afternoon

briefing. One road. A few company airstrips. But no one saw

them. How many terrorists are there? Quite a few, I'd imagine,

to take over and hold a camp that size. Yet no one saw them."

     "Parachutes?" Eckstein suggested..

     "In those mountains? During a storm? Bloody little chance

of success, if you ask me."

     Lebeau chimed in, not opening his eyes. "The attack must be

timed to the storm. Comprenez? For that they could not be far

away. And such a providential storm!"

     "Exactly," Campbell agreed. "Only one problem. There was no

place they could have been holed up for any length of time."

     "Say," Eckstein studied him. "What did Lew tell you?"

     "He knows now who is employing us, but not precisely why."
Sheldon/Thunder                                             110


       "He'll keep quiet," Eckstein observed. "What else?"

       "Well, it seems Arcon Oil stocks are falling. There's a

story going around that the pipeline might be shut down

indefinitely."

       "That makes sense. Even though the FELA's takeover is

supposed to be a big secret, too many people know about it."

       "Wait," Campbell urged him. "There's more. Because of these

rumors there has been quite a bit of panic selling on Wall

Street. Now I don't know how the Stock Exchange works, but Lew

says the stocks haven't fallen as far as the experts thought

they would."

       "Take it slow," Eckstein cautioned.

       "Right. Well, there is one brokerage house: Hill, Birney,

and Wedgeworth. While everybody else has been selling Arcon Oil,

this brokerage has been very slowly buying. And this

information, Lew insists, is not common knowledge. Far from it."

       Eckstein still didn't see what all the flack was about.

       "If there's a seller, there's gotta be a buyer," he pointed

out.

       Campbell nodded. "Apparently there are always some

speculators willing to buy a few shares. Hill, Birney, and

Wedgeworth has been buying more than would account for that, a

lot more, but slowly enough so that its effect on the market has

been marginal."
Sheldon/Thunder                                        111


     "Lew noticed!" Eckstein grinned.

     "And he says it might be in our best interests to know who

that brokerage is representing." Campbell shook his head. "This

thing never felt right to me, Gus."

     "What're ya gonna do?"

     "Marcel?"

     Lebeau opened his eyes.

     "You and I are going to make a little side trip," Campbell

told him.

     "When?"

     "Right now. That kid from the lodge is calling Adams, the

pilot that flew us in here. He'll have the plane at the Twin

Falls public pier in twenty minutes."

     Lebeau leaped up. "I will purchase tickets with my good

credit!"



     After he had left Nadja, Lane walked around aimlessly,

trying to figure out what it was about her that confused him so.

Her relationship with Campbell, or rather the utter lack of one,

was weird. Why did they work together if they hated each other

so much? No, come to think of it, he had seen no sign that

Campbell felt the same way she did. In fact, Lane remembered,

there had been moments when he'd caught Campbell looking at her

with an expression of immense sadness on his face. And those had
Sheldon/Thunder                                        112


been the only glimpses of emotion he had ever seen Campbell

display.

     All he could be sure of was that his own feelings were

getting way out of control, driving him to distraction. Some-

thing had to be done. Some resolution had to be found. He

couldn't go on like this.

     There was one way to find out what was up between Campbell

and Nadja. If she wouldn't tell him, maybe Campbell would.

     He trudged through the snow in the direction of the cabin.

As he neared the door he thought he heard the droning of a light

plane somewhere above the clouds. It was pretty late for Dave

Adams to be making a delivery, he thought. He opened the door

and went in.

     Eckstein sat alone at the table, playing solitaire. Lane

glanced around the cabin.

     "Where are Campbell and Lebeau?" he asked.

     "They had an errand to run."

     "What do you mean? Where did they go?"

     The door behind Lane opened and he turned, but it was

Nadja, her face flushed with the cold. He faced Eckstein, who

turned another card nonchalantly and found a place for it.

     "Where did they go?" Lane demanded, his anger increasing.

     "Some problem with the equipment. They hadda go back to New

York."
Sheldon/Thunder                                        113


     Nadja took off her coat and hat and shook out her hair,

listening. She went to the stove to pour herself a cup of

coffee.

     "New York!" Lane exploded. "Now?"

     "They'll catch up with us in Fairbanks."

     Lane paced back and forth in front of the table, steaming.

The plane he had heard, of course. There was no way of stopping

them now. He was helpless.

     "I'm supposed to be in charge of this team!" he raged at

Eckstein. "Am I in charge or not?"

     "You betcha!" Eckstein grinned. "Whadaya want me to do?"

     "Fuck yourself!" Lane yelled at him and stormed into the

bedroom, slamming the door. Eckstein's grin slowly faded and

became a frown.

     Nadja came over to him at the table and put a hand on his

shoulder. He patted it.

     "He shouldn't outta talk to folks like that, lovely. Who

does he think he is? Big wilderness man, shit. We showed him a

thing or two marchin' in that blizzard today. He ain't so hot.

Why doesn't he loosen up a little?"

     "He is confused, Gus. He does not understand," she smiled

down at him. "But it is okay. I will talk to him."

     "You like that son of a bitch, don'tcha?"
Sheldon/Thunder                                         114


      She hesitated. "Yes... Why did they go? Is there trouble?"

      "Let's say there's storm clouds on the horizon, lovely.

Maybe some hidden thunder the other side of the hill. Don't you

worry, though. The Colonel knows what he is doin'."

      "I hope that you are right."

      She turned toward the bedroom and he grabbed her hand.

      "Don't do nothin' foolish just cause you and Ian--"

      She wrenched her hand away and glared at him. He turned

back to his game.

      "Sorry," he said quietly.

      Nadja finished her coffee and went to the bedroom door. She

knocked. When there was no answer she opened the door and went

in.

      Lane was sitting on the edge of the lower bunk rubbing his

chin and staring morosely at the floor. Nadja closed the door

and leaned against it.

      "You have shaved your beard," she said.

      "What beard?"

      "You are angry."

      "Every goddamn time I have to deal with--" he waved his

arm, "--the outside world, I guess you'd call it, something gets

screwed up. Why do I bother? I could walk out that door and

never see another human being again and be perfectly happy."

      She crossed the room and sat on the bunk beside him.
Sheldon/Thunder                                             115


     "I don't believe that," she said. "In my country all are

very close. We must be. We need each other."

     "Oh?   Right wing? Left wing?   How close are they?"

     "We are all Israelis.    Others overlook that.   We are bound

to one another.    To survive."

     "I can survive fine alone."

     "There are other reasons people need each other."

     Lane said nothing. They sat silently like that for awhile

before Nadja spoke again.

     "I want to apologize."

     "What for?"

     "I was teasing you before. It is true I have an accent, but

I understand English very well, I think. And I understand about

your football story. I have seen the Miami Dolphins play." She

smiled. "My father goes to every game and yells very loud.

     He looked at her, feeling the nearness of her body,

smelling the faint sweet scent of her hair.

     "Why pretend you didn't know what I was talking about?"

     "To put you off. Is that the phrase? There are not many

women up here, I don't think. I could see that in you. You

shaved your beard. For me. Yes?"

     "Pretty obvious, I guess. But you're right. Most of the

times I've been with women for, Christ, I don't know how long...
Sheldon/Thunder                                        116


I've paid for them. I don't mean emotionally. I mean I paid with

cash. It's easier that way. No ties. But--"

     "I, too, do not seek ties," she nodded. "In my pro-

fession..." she faltered, realizing she'd made a slip. "... a

geologist travels so much..."

     "Why did you come in here?"

     She nodded at a bottle of amber liquid on his dresser, her

face sad.

     "To apologize, and for the oil. My skin is cracking and

falling off in great hunks!"

     "Oh." He had thought for just a second there, but, no, it

was impossible. He'd confused fantasy with reality. He tried to

think of something clever to say, but failed, feeling like a

freshman again the first time he'd had a girl in his Yale

dormitory.

     He covered the lapse in conversation by standing and

crossing to the dresser. His heart felt like lead. She was

right. He was lonely, but so was she. He blurted out, "You with

all your people needing each other, and me, exactly where I want

to be; by myself. Why aren't we happy?"

     He picked up the oil and turned. Nadia sat on the bunk

biting her lip, fighting a losing battle with tears that began

to trickle down her cheeks.

     "I must not do this!" she stammered. "I... I am strong!"
Sheldon/Thunder                                        117


     Lane sat beside her, putting the oil on the floor by his

leg. Hesitantly he put his arm around her, and she gave up and

turned to sob quietly against his shoulder. They sat that way

for a long time, and at last Lane felt her body cease its shud-

dering. She began to sniffle.

     He went to the dresser and found in a top drawer a gigantic

red paisley handkerchief. He returned with it to sit down again.

     "Here, take this. I won't be robbing any banks this week."

     She thanked him and blew noisily into the handkerchief,

then used another corner of it to wipe at her eyes.

     Suddenly Lane realized that he was caressing her shoulder

through the work shirt, feeling its rough texture slide over the

flesh beneath. She moved slightly and he stopped, afraid that he

had done the wrong thing. But she had only moved to put the

handkerchief down. Then she raised her hand to her collar and

looked at him, her eyes red and moist. His breath caught in his

throat.

     Slowly she began to unbutton the shirt, her eyes locked

with his. When she had finished she shrugged his hand off her

shoulder and let the shirt slide down her bare back. She nodded

at the bottle of oil near his leg.

     "Would you?"

     Lane swallowed and picked up the bottle. He fumbled with

the cap. It went spinning away across the floor and he silently
Sheldon/Thunder                                           118


cursed his clumsiness. But she didn't seem to notice. She half

turned away from him, her arms folded over her breasts.

     Pouring a quantity of the thick, warm oil on one hand, he

carefully set the bottle on the floor. Thankfully it didn't tip

over. Then he rubbed his hands together to spread the oil and

reached out to touch her back. Slowly he began to massage the

oil into her skin, seeing it soften and begin to glow in the

lamplight.

     Lane worked the oil into her shoulder blades, then kneaded

her spine, making sure he covered every bump and hollow. Next he

massaged the small of her back. With each part of her body he

touched he felt the muscles gradually relax as the tension

drained out of her. Curiously his own body felt as taut as a

bowstring.

     Nadja sighed as his hands returned to her neck and lowered

her head, her long silky black hair settling in front of her

face and over her arms.

     Lane reached down for more oil and began to massage her

shoulders then down along each arm until they glistened. Oil

caught between his palms and her skin made wet sucking sounds.

His hands moved beneath her arms to the tightly stretched skin

over her ribcage. Then hesitantly rubbing in gentle circles his

hands went around on either side of her to touch the soft swell

of her breasts.
Sheldon/Thunder                                          119


     She lay back then in his lap, staring up at him, as he

brushed her hair aside and stroked her breasts, the oil letting

his hands slide easily over them. As he watched, her dark nip-

ples hardened and he squeezed them lightly between thumb and

forefinger.

     "The Eskimo women," he said softly, "cover their bodies

with grease from whales or seals to make themselves desirable.

Now I see why."

     She smiled at him, saying nothing, and took one of his

hands in one of hers, guiding it downward. He stroked the flat,

firm muscles of her stomach to the edge of her jeans. Now the

entire upper half of her body shone like golden honey.

     She released his hand and lay back, her eyes again closing,

her mouth parted. He reached for the metal button on her jeans.

His fingers were slippery, but he managed to twist it far enough

to one side and it came undone. Next he grasped the zipper and

pulled it down past the top of the white insulated long johns.

     He paused for just an instant, holding his breath, then his

hand moved in its circular motion lower and lower, beneath the

long johns, finding the fringes of her curling pubic hair. A

soft moan escaped from her parted lips and she began to thrust

against his probing fingers.

     He bent his head and kissed her on the mouth.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        120


     In the main room Eckstein lay on his sleeping bag, smoking

and staring at the closed door of the bedroom. Finally he

glanced at his new watch, put the cigarette out, rolled over,

and tried to go to sleep.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        121




                          CHAPTER EIGHT



     At Kennedy International Airport Campbell and Lebeau rented

a station wagon and drove to Nasty's warehouse. They had

chartered a private jet from a small company in Montreal the

previous night, and arrived in New York before eleven the next

morning. Before renting the car Campbell had called Nasty and

made their requirements known.

     Because of the shortness of the notice, the rather unusual

nature of some of the equipment required, and an additional

service to be undertaken by Nasty's son, Bob, that afternoon,

Nasty cheerfully charged them double, before offering them each

a shot of Chivas Regal.

     There was nothing they could do for several hours, so

Campbell checked them into a cheap uptown hotel where they could

catch up on their lost sleep. Before going to their rooms they

ate a huge breakfast and Campbell bought a copy of The New York

Times.

     It wasn't front page news yet, but there was a story on the

second page about the possibility the pipeline might need to be
Sheldon/Thunder                                           122


shut down for maintenance.    This happened periodically, usually

for no more than a few hours.    This shutdown, an unidentified

source suggested, might be much, much longer.    There was no

mention of Pump Station E, or where the shutdown would occur.

But the story did say that the continuing rumors had sent the

Arcon Oil stocks, and those of the seven other companies

invested in the pipeline, heading down at a slow, but steady

rate.

        Drowsily Campbell went over in his mind the details of the

night's plan of action, But as sleep finally took him, his last

thoughts were of Nadja.



        At five o'clock that evening Campbell and Lebeau were

caught up in the crush of workers hurrying home from the short

financial canyon called Wall Street. The building they were

looking for was situated at one end of Wall Street, near Broad.

It was somewhat smaller than those surrounding it, but the same

height as the building directly across the street, as Lew had

promised Campbell the night before.

        Checking the directory in the lobby, Campbell confirmed

that the offices of Hill, Birney, and Wedgeworth occupied the

entire top floor.

        While he was doing this Lebeau was in the building across

the street making certain preparations. On the top floor of that
Sheldon/Thunder                                          123


office building he found the door to the roof around a

convenient corner and out of sight of the last businessmen and

secretaries to leave the building. It was a simple job to slide

one of his credit cards between the door and the jamb, over the

latch and force it open. Then he quickly stuck a length of

electrician's tape over the latch to prevent the door from

locking automatically after it closed.

     Trotting lightly up a short staircase to another door,

Lebeau found this one locked, but only so that it could not be

opened from the roof side. Another strip of electrician's tape

solved the problem of their return.

     Lebeau next moved to the edge of the roof and looked across

Wall Street to the building opposite. That roof was actually

slightly higher, but this posed no real difficulty, and would

make the return trip, when speed might be most essential, all

the easier. Not once did he glance down at the street

twenty-five stories below.

     Lebeau retraced his steps to the top floor, but instead of

taking the elevator, he chose the long walk down the stairs,

taking this opportunity to stretch his leg muscles, still sore

from the previous day's cross-country trek. Pushing open a door

marked LOBBY he found himself in a narrow corridor connecting

the main lobby with a rear service entrance. This entrance had a

steel fire door bisected by the push bar that opened it.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        124


Anchored in the ceiling above his head was a TV camera pointed

at the door.

     Heading toward the lobby he passed a group of cleaning

women who stared at his bright sport jacket and scarf. He smiled

and bowed to them. They curtsied and laughed. His last duty was

a brief chat with the day security guard seated at a metal desk

in the lobby. Expressing an interest in applyingfor such a job,

Lebeau learned that it was not all sitting at a desk and

watching a bank of TV monitors. Though the two guys on night

duty, he was assured, had it a lot easier.

     Back on the street Lebeau met with Campbell and told him

the results of his reconnaissance. One guard sat at the front

desk while a second made rounds every hour. This continued for

four hours starting at six o'clock, then the two would switch

jobs. These were the only people in the building after the

cleaning ladies left around nine o'clock. There were alarms on

the two doors, and fire exits, plus TV cameras feeding the

monitors watched by the guard at the front desk.

     Why, Lebeau wanted to know, with all these security

precautions, were they breaking into this building first, then

crossing to the other?

     Campbell explained. "Last night Lew told me they'd hired

two extra security guards specifically for the Hill Birney, and

Wedgeworth offices at the brokerage's request. From where they
Sheldon/Thunder                                          125


sit on the twenty-fifth floor they can see both the elevators

and the stairs. So even if we made it past the guards on the

first floor we'd be seen by the ones on the twenty-fifth. And

our goose is cooked if anyone even suspects we tried to get in."

       Campbell steered Lebeau into a bar where Bob Aster was

waiting for them. Bob looked right at home among the brokers and

other businessmen gathered for a final drink or two before they

began their long commutes out of the city to their homes.

       He was a pudgier man than his father. Dressed in his vested

wool suit, he looked like a prosperous banker. Bob, Campbell

knew, had gone to St. Lukes, a private school outside of Boston,

and from there to Harvard. So there was no trace even of Nasty's

twang. Bob spoke in fluent Easternese.

       "All set?" Campbell asked as they joined Bob in his booth.

       "The two packages you ordered are waiting."

       "Properly gift wrapped?"

       "Oh, yes, indeed. And quality merchandise, if I may say

so."

       Campbell counted out enough money from his expense envelope

to pay for the "packages", plus Bob's fee.

       "Forgive me, Colonel," Lebeau said. "I see that we must

attempt another route. But what of the guards across the street?

The alarms, the cameras? With preparation, oui, I could do it,

of course, but tonight?"
Sheldon/Thunder                                        126


     "That's what Mr. Aster here has been working on for us,

Marcel."

     "They will need to know the precise time," Bob noted.

     Campbell had expected this. He explained that he and Lebeau

would station themselves first in the alley next to the Hill,

Birney and Wedgeworth Building, and study the guards' routine to

determine exactly at what point in every hour the one returned

to check in with the other at the front desk. Then they would

make their way to the alley in back of that building where Bob

would be waiting with their gear and the two young, expensively

decked out "packages" he had hired.

     "Les femmes!" protested Lebeau. "These are the

merchandises?" Then his eyes widened with delight. "Ah! I see!

We do not go in the back door! We go in the front!"

     Campbell grinned at him and nodded.



     When ten o'clock that night rolled around the two guards

switched jobs, and the one who had been doing the walking for

the past four hours collapsed in a chair with a look of relief

visible to Campbell and Lebeau in the alley across the street.

     By one o'clock in the morning, they had watched the second

guard return to the front desk (seen through the glass front

doors of the building), at fifty minutes past the hour three

times. His routine never varied. The two would sit there and
Sheldon/Thunder                                           127


talk for ten minutes before he started out again. When they'd

changed assignments, there had even been a couple of extra

minutes. More than enough time.

     Before the second guard returned from his last tour of

duty, they would be ready.



     The short guard's name was Coleman. The tall one was Bixby.

Other than their heights and names, there was no way to

distinguish between them. They both wore the same weary scowl.

They both thought the same way about politics: "Forget it,"

sports: "The Mets would always take the Yankees," and life: "One

hell of a bore." They had never had much to say to one another

anyway, but since they agreed on everything, their relationship

had subsided to the point where a terse statement like one of

the above followed by a series of grunts or sighs was enough

conversation to while away those few minutes when they were

together.

     The rest of the time Coleman spent reading books with

titles like Lesbian Lovers, Spic and Spanked, and Teaching

Teacher. Bixby, when his turn came at the desk, read nothing. He

just sat and stared out the glass doors at the empty street,

thinking of absolutely nothing, either.

     That is what he was doing and that is what he continued to

do when Coleman returned from his final rounds.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        128


     "Your turn, Bixby," the short man sighed.

     Bixby grunted at him and started to turn away from the

street, then he swung back around in the swivel chair and leaned

forward.

     "Hey, I thought somethin' moved across there in the alley."

     Coleman squinted out the door.

     "Just a rat," he decided, seeing nothing. Bixby grunted and

sighed.

     "Maybe..." he began, preparing to agree with his partner.

"No! Hell, look!"

     This was the first time Coleman had heard his voice raised

in anything resembling excitement. He turned sharply and

followed Bixby's pointing arm.

     Two women had emerged from the darkness of the alley

opposite and stood looking frantically up and down the street.

They were dressed in fur coats and evening gowns and appeared to

be in some distress.

     "Classy lookin', huh?" Bixby stared at them.

     "Naw, whores is all," Coleman said, his eyes falling to the

cover of Young and Randy, then flicking back up.

     This was a momentous moment for them. They'd disagreed

about something. But their attention was so riveted by the

women, obviously good looking whomever they were, that they

barely noticed.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           129


     "Wonder if anythin's wrong?" asked Bixby, hoping.

     One of the women seemed to see them beyond the glass doors,

and pointed in their direction. But her companion hesitated and

then proceeded to faint on the sidewalk. The first waved at

them, then ran across the street to pound on the glass.

     "Please!" she shouted, her eyes filled with tears. "Please!

A man is after us! Betty's fainted! Please help us!"

     "Damn!" yelled Bixby to the other guard. He knew class when

he saw it. But he wasn't sure they should get involved. A call

to the police would put things right. But if he did help, he

might get a reward. All sorts of rewards immediately flashed

through his mind.

     "Shit!" yelled Coleman back at him. Anyone could tell they

were whores. For that reason and because of the book he'd been

reading, he'd already skipped over the thought of calling the

police. And he knew exactly what reward he was going to ask for.

     They were not disagreeing about anything now. Their minds,

as they stared at each other, then back at the woman in the fur

coat, were fused solid.

     Together they raced to the door. Together they followed her

back across the street to where her attractive companion lay

sprawled on the sidewalk, a good deal of nylon exposed. Together

they missed Campbell and Lebeau leaning against the wall of the
Sheldon/Thunder                                           130


building they had just quitted, then trotting silently through

the unlocked glass doors, knapsacks on their backs.

     The two mercenaries, dressed in dark sweaters and pants and

black tennis shoes, swiftly climbed the staircase. Up, up, up.

The twenty-five floors were child's play compared to the rigors

Lane had been subjecting them to.

     The electrician's tape was still in place and soon they

stood on the roof facing into a slight breeze. The temperature

was around twenty-five, Campbell guessed. It was not, he was

pleased to note, particularly uncomfortable. He leaned over a

metal railing at the roof's edge to see how things were

proceeding below. Both women were on their feet now and at least

one of the guards was glancing nervously at the door they had

left unlocked.



     The guards' reward came to just twenty bucks and a thank

you and Bixby was already resigning himself to returning to

their duties. He'd been right, of course. These were real

ladies. He shouldn't have expected anything else.

     A cab stopped and the two women got in. As it pulled away

they waved goodbye to the guards, and then the two men went back

inside their building, securing the door after them. Neither of

them wondered at the fact that they had never seen a taxi cruise

Wall Street at that hour of the night.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           131




        When Campbell turned away from the edge of the roof he saw

Lebeau was locking the three-pronged steel grappling hook into

the barrel of the stubby rifle that fired it. Campbell nodded to

him and Lebeau squatted down on one knee beside the railing.

        There was a hollow thump as the gas cartridge in the rifle

exploded. The hook arced up and over to the roof across the

street, its prongs blossoming. It landed with a faint clank.

Lebeau then pulled on the thin, but very strong, nylon line

attached to it. The hook dragged across the cinders on the roof

and caught against the far side of the low, ornamental stone

abutment. He tugged on the line, making sure it was fast, then

nodded to Campbell. They drew it tight and attached this end to

a nearby standpipe. Campbell took two leather harnesses,

dangling like little swings from steel clips, from his knapsack.

He leaned over the railing and hooked the clips to the nylon

line.

        Lebeau put his knapsack back on, and seconds later the two

dark figures were framed against the overcast sky, pulling

themselves along the line hand over hand. The light breeze made

them sway only slightly. About half way across, they paused as

the headlights of a car came down the street below them. It was

a police car. They waited as it moved slowly along the street.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        132


But it never paused. Passing twenty-five stories beneath them,

it took a left onto Broad Street and was gone.

     They continued, pulling themselves up the swaying, gently

inclined rope until Campbell's feet touched the ornamental

stonework on the other roof. A griffin, or was it a gargoyle,

grimaced at Campbell. He slipped out of the harness, put one

foot on its nose and climbed over the edge.

     Lebeau followed right behind him, then secured the hook for

their return. Campbell took two smaller coils of nylon line from

his belt. One of these he handed to Lebeau, who looped it around

the prongs of the hook in such a way that a strong jerk on it

would wrench the prongs free. The other coil Campbell carried to

the side of the building facing the alley in which they had

crouched for so many hours earlier. He secured one end to a

standpipe as Lebeau shrugged off his knapsack.

     Lebeau wrapped the rope beneath him, forming a rappelling

"seat," and lowered himself down the sheer face of the building

in a series of short, quick hops. He came to rest, his feet on

the sill of a narrow top floor window.

     Suspended in space, holding himself there with his left

hand, he reached the other gloved hand inside his sweater and

came out with a credit card that had been tucked in the waist-

band of his pants. With his left hand he let a couple of inches

of rope slip beneath him. His legs bent beneath him, taking as
Sheldon/Thunder                                           133


much weight as possible on the sill, as he reached for the bot-

tom of the window. He inserted the credit card in the crack

between the window and the sill and worked it sideways. The

catch clicked aside and he noiselessly slid the window open.

        From the roof Campbell watched Lebeau push off from the

side of the building and swing feet first in through the open

window. Campbell touched the rope with his glove. There were two

quick tugs and he pulled the rope up. Forming his own rappelling

seat, he swung over the corner of the roof and moved swiftly

down the side of the building.

        Campbell swung in through the window and dropped lightly

beside the little French Canadian. They each removed their

gloves, clipping them to their belts. Lebeau took off the

knapsack and found two pencil beam flashlights and two small,

rectangular flat cases inside. He gave one of each to Campbell,

then flicked his flashlight on, letting it swing over the rows

of desks in the long, dark room.

        A movement caught the corner of Campbell's eye and he

hissed at Lebeau. The light disappeared. The shadow of a man

could be seen against the frosted glass of the main door, to

their left on the other side of the room. It stood there for a

moment, then seemed to shrink as its owner walked away from the

door.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        134


     The two men made their way down a row of desks to a wall

directly ahead of them lined with file cabinets. They opened the

flat cases. Identical sets of skeleton keys and lock picks

gleamed briefly in flashes from the tiny lights. They set to

work opening the file cabinets and examining their contents.

     Pausing only twice, once when the murmur of voices could be

heard beyond the main door, and once when the shadow of one of

the guards reappeared. They worked their way systematically from

one cabinet to the next, but Campbell could see that here at

least their search would be fruitless. These were more general

files concerning the day to day correspondence of the brokerage

with its clients. What they were looking for wouldn't be here

for anyone in the office to consult.

     Beyond the files near the front door Campbell could see a

short hallway partially illuminated by the light filtering

through the frosted glass from the hall outside. He motioned to

Lebeau and they headed in that direction.

     At the end of this hall was a steel grille. Behind that was

a massive safe. Lebeau took one look at it and shook his head.

If what they were after was in there, they were out of luck.

     But as Campbell had explained to him earlier, while the

actual files dealing with Arcon stock purchases would be

securely locked away, random notes or memos that had yet to find

their way to the shredders might yield valuable information, if
Sheldon/Thunder                                        135


they could be properly interpreted. The trick was to find out

which one of the partners was handling the arrangements.

     So Campbell risked a brief flash of light at one of the

four offices that lined the short hall. The name on the door was

Jerome Birney. He gestured to Lebeau to try the next door and

turned the knob on Birney's office door. It wasn't locked.

     Passing quickly through the outer secretary's office

Campbell opened another door and found himself in a sumptuous

office with a massive mahogany desk and thickly padded, com-

fortable looking furniture. Several original-looking oil

paintings adorned those walls not covered by imposing volumes on

stocks, bonds and the law. A ticker-tape machine and a paper

shredder stood side by side in a corner near the window.

     In many ways the office reminded Campbell of the boardroom

at Arcon. And he suspected that the offices at the oil company

would look very similar to this one. He could almost picture

Jerome Birney in his mind. Were the business circles of this

city (or the world for that matter) really peopled with such an

identical breed of men and women, he wondered. Those who dressed

and acted and even thought so much alike that they were as

indistinguishable in a crowd as workers in a Birmingham steel

mill? He thought of Janice Eaton's empty eyes and shuddered.

     He crossed to sit in the comfortable high-backed leather

chair behind the desk. He tried the drawers. None were locked.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        136


This didn't bode well. If there were anything of the slightest

value in them, in a place like this, they would have been

securely fastened.

     Discouraged, he leafed through a large appointment book

lying open on the blotter. An inspiration struck him. On what

date had PSE been taken over? That was easy. The first of the

year. Campbell turned the pages to the front of the book.

January 1st was blank. That was understandable. So was January

2nd, a Sunday. He turned another page to the 3rd.

     Here were several notations of appointments. Campbell ran

his finger down the list. At three thirty in that afternoon he

stopped. In what must be Birney's own careful printing were the

following letters: AOS - ARDC EDRAS. He flipped the pages and

found several similar notations each spaced several days apart.

A... 0... S... Arcon Oil Syndicate? He wondered.

     In the hall outside the offices of Hill, Birney and

Wedgeworth, one of the uniformed watchmen was staring at a

magazine on his desk. The pages were being rustled slightly by

an unseen breeze.

     "Larry?" he called quietly. The other, just coming down the

hall, walked over to him.

     "You leave a window open somewhere? We'll catch hell if it

snows on somebody's desk."

     "Not me," the second replied.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        137


     Just inside the frosted door Lebeau listened to the

exchange. He had just come out of Hill's office, and was sorely

disappointed with the results of his search.

     There was the squeak of a chair. The first guard must have

stood up, he thought.

     "Wonder where it's coming from."

     A shadow appeared on the frosted glass and Lebeau flattened

himself against the wall. Then the shadow seemed to get shorter

and there was a rustling at the bottom of the door. Merde,

Lebeau thought, one of the watchmen had gotten down on his hands

and knees and was brushing his hand along the space at the

bottom of the door.

     In Birney's office Campbell flipped through a Roladex card

file. He stopped at a card labeled: ALASKAN RESEARCH AND

DEVELOPMENT COMPANY. Below that was an address on Third Street

in Fairbanks, Alaska. He checked the notation in the appointment

book. The second group of letters, ARDC. He tapped the first

letter of each word in Alaskan Research and Development Company:

ARDC. Coincidence? Maybe, but it certainly fit. But he frowned

at the final group of letters in the appointment book. EDRAS.

Now what did that stand for?

     Suddenly Lebeau was there in the room beside him, drawing a

finger across his throat. Campbell killed his tiny light and
Sheldon/Thunder                                        138


followed him out into the short hall carefully closing the doors

behind him.

     They tiptoed past the frosted glass door. There was the

sound of brushing, then the jingling of keys. A key was inserted

in the lock and the door swung open as Campbell and Lebeau

ducked behind desks near the filing cabinets. The overhead

lights went on.

     "See anything?" the voice of one of the watchmen asked.

     "Some stupid son of a bitch left a window wide open!"

Campbell heard him cross toward it. The other watchman, he

judged, must still be standing in the doorway.

     "Musta been open all that time, and I never noticed it. I'm

really slipping!"

     Campbell peered beneath the desks and saw the first

watchman's scuffed shoes walk past. He looked around the corner.

The man was looking out the window at the face of the building

next door. Campbell knew the rope dangled a few scant inches to

one side and felt his palms grow sweaty. If the watchman were to

lean out a little to look down into the alley...

     But the man looked up at the sky, shivering, then pulled

the window shut and locked it.

     "Looks like we'll be getting some snow before morning,

too," he observed.
Sheldon/Thunder                                         139


     He turned and Campbell ducked back out of sight. He watched

as the shoes retraced their path toward the door and out of his

range of vision. But the light didn't go off. The door didn't

close. Had they seen something? Or were they just surveying the

room for a last time? He held his breath in the silence that

stretched for interminable seconds, and knew Lebeau was doing

the same.

     Finally one of the watchmen snorted. "I thought people in

this business were supposed to have brains."

     The light clicked off.

     "I wouldn't invest in stocks," the second one responded.

"Real estate's the safe bet."

     The door closed, then the handle rattled. One of them

checking to make sure the lock had caught. Their muffled voices

discussed the relative merits of real estate as an investment.

     Campbell took deep breaths, forcing his racing pulse to

slow down again.   As they stood up, Lebeau looked at him ques-

tioningly. Campbell grinned, gave him a thumbs up, and nodded at

the window. Precisely what he had found out he wasn't sure, but

there were more clues and possibly a few answers waiting for

them in Fairbanks.

     When Campbell had reached the roof, Lebeau again hung

outside the building and carefully slid the window closed. Then

he climbed quickly, hand over hand up the rope.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        140


     The ride back across was easy since it was slightly

downhill. They coasted. The tricky part came next. Lebeau had

attached the second line to the hook earlier so that it could be

retrieved after they were on the other roof. That was simple

enough, but once freed, the hook would swing down into space and

hit the building. If it hit stone, that was okay. The slight

clink would go unnoticed by anyone passing in the street far

below. But if it hit a window, not only would there be a loud

crash, but there would be evidence that something funny had been

going on. That broken window, coupled with the fact that they

were going to have to set off the alarm at the back door of this

building, plus the business with the open window at Hill, Birney

and Wedgeworth, just might be enough to make the wrong people

suspicious. Whomever the wrong people were, Campbell added as an

afterthought.

     Lebeau was looking at him. He nodded. It had to be risked.

They had a plane to catch in a very few hours for Fairbanks.

     The little man gave a tug and the hook flipped free. It

dropped rapidly and began its pendulum swing as Lebeau pulled

rapidly on the line. It clinked against the side of the building

a couple of floors below them. Lebeau gave a sigh of relief and

hauled it in.

     They repacked their knapsacks and Campbell checked his

watch. They waited to be sure the two guards would be together
Sheldon/Thunder                                          141


on the first floor before starting their descent. At ten minutes

of four they retrieved the electrician's tape from the doors,

and started down.

     At the bottom of the stairs Lebeau trotted quietly to the

end of the corridor and glanced across the lobby. Both guards

were standing in front of the desk. Neither could see the TV

monitors. He nodded at Campbell and they raced for the rear

service door. They hit the bar lock simultaneously and were

safely away into the darkness of the alley before Coleman and

Bixby, shocked out of their wits by the clanging alarm, could

recover enough to look at the monitor.

     By that time the door had closed again. When they

investigated and found the door locked with no signs of forced

entry they could only conclude that the alarm had shorted out.

Nothing very exciting, but they both agreed, as they did in all

things, that the night had been a little less boring than all

the others.
Sheldon/Thunder                                         142




                          CHAPTER NINE



     It was 3:30 in the afternoon of January 17th when the Pan

Am jet carrying Campbell and Lebeau approached Fairbanks

International Airport. It was pitch dark, night having fallen

almost an hour earlier. The city as seen for the first time when

the jet dropped below a heavy cloud cover was a small one. Where

its lighted city streets ended, the wilderness began.

     As he looked out the window Campbell remembered some of the

background data Garvey had given him. Straddling the meandering

Chena River, Fairbanks' entire metropolitan population was less

than thirty-five thousand hardy souls.

     It didn't look dangerous, Campbell reflected as the plane

began its final approach. In fact it looked almost peaceful. The

Chena River was frozen solid: a dark, winding corridor midst the

twinkling lights of the city. Everything was heavily blanketed

in snow. Why, he wondered, had Garvey paid so much attention to

Fairbanks in his briefing? They would be in and out of here in

less than twenty hours.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        143


     As Campbell and Lebeau stepped from the cold, but still

relatively comfortable terminal into the outside air, they

stopped dead as if struck by a physical blow. Even dressed in

their insulated jackets and stocking cap/ski masks they were

instantly chilled to the bone.

     "Christ!" muttered Campbell. "This place makes Labrador

seem almost tropical!"

     In front of them at the curb was a line of taxi cabs, all

running, their exhausts forming great clouds of noxious gas. The

front cabbie rolled down his window and grinned at the two men.

     "Taxi, gents?"

     They hurried forward. Lebeau reached out a bare hand to

touch the door handle.

     "Wait!" shouted the cabbie. He leaned over the back of the

seat and threw the door open.

     "Don't touch that door without gloves," he warned them.

"Metal will take the skin right off!"

     Campbell and Lebeau leaped in back. After determining they

had no baggage, the cabbie put the taxi in gear. It pulled away

from the curb and headed across the hard-packed snow of the

road, its chains humming.

     Campbell could see the low skyline of the city several

miles distant.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        144


     The cabbie grinned in the rear-view mirror at his pas-

sengers huddled in the back seat, putting on their gloves.

     "First time in Fairbanks, gents?"

     They nodded.

     "Now what made me suspect that?"

     "How cold is it?" Campbell asked.

     "Twenty-one below," the cabbie answered cheerfully.

     "It is so dark!" protested Lebeau.

     "Sunset was at 2:42 today."

     "When did it rise?" Campbell inquired.

     "Little before 9:30 this morning," replied the cabbie.

     "Five hours..." mused Campbell.

     Five hours of daylight. And the days would grow shorter as

they climbed above the Arctic Circle. This was something he had

been told, but he had not considered it until now. It meant good

cover if they could come upon the camp in darkness, but it meant

that much of their traveling would have to be done at night.

     Lane had said there was a considerable drop in temperature

after dark. What if it went past the sixty degree mark? Could he

convince Lane they should continue? Would they be physically

able to? And to cross that rugged terrain with its multitude of

hazards masked by darkness... He was at last beginning to see

what Lane had been talking about. To prepare himself mentally

for the ordeal to come Campbell had been speculating on the
Sheldon/Thunder                                           145


worst it could get. He realized now with a sinking feeling that

he had not even been close.

        The cab passed a series of huge signs pointing toward the

river. CAPTAIN JOE COOLEY'S STERNWHEEL RIVERBOATS, the signs

proclaimed. From Memorial day to Labor Day, four-hour excursions

on the Chena and Tanana rivers were available. This trip, the

signs promised, would include a stop at a real Indian trapper's

camp.

        A couple of miles further on and they turned off of the

road appropriately called Airport Way and on to Barnette Street.

Here began the city proper.

        The air was thick with fumes. And Campbell saw why. All the

cars were running. Every single one of them, even those parked

and empty. Once stopped in this cold, he supposed, they might

not start again until the spring thaw.

        He asked the cab driver if they were kept running all

night, and was told that if the cars were to be left for any

length of time at people's homes and so on, there were special

heaters that could be attached to the grilles to keep the

engines warm.

        Campbell looked at Lebeau. The little man had sunk into the

corner, his eyes closed, letting his mind drift away to warmer

climes.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           146


     At last the cab made a right-hand turn onto First Street,

just south of the river, passed a long row of one drinking

establishment after another and pulled up in front of the Chena

River Hotel. Paying the driver, the two men hurried inside.

     They crossed the lobby to the front desk, where an

immaculately dressed clerk with wet looking hair was making

notations in a ledger.

     Campbell looked around. The only people in sight besides

the clerk were two men dressed in worn suits and overcoats

sitting on a nearby sofa like they owned it.

     Built during the boom times of pipeline construction when

the city's population had swelled to over sixty thousand, the

hotel looked slightly shabby in its furnishings and,

surprisingly, considering its prices, in its clientele. It was

worn out, he decided, by the sheer numbers of human beings who

had in such a short space of time trod on its carpets, spilled

coffee on its cushions, or left cigarette butts smoldering on

the arms of its chairs.

     It occurred to Campbell that this might in fact be what had

happened to the Fairbanks whose quiet existence had one day been

shattered forever. It had raced ahead on the excitement of the

pipeline--the wealth of the pipeline-- as if the entire town

were speeding on amphetamines, its metabolism growing faster and
Sheldon/Thunder                                           147


faster. But now the pills were gone, the oil flow was slowing,

as was the city.

        He brought his thoughts back to the moment with the

realization that the clerk was staring at him. He registered

while Lebeau centered his attention on the clerk.

        "Does the Triple A approve this hotel?" he demanded to

know.

        "Three stars, sir."

        "You accept the American Express?"

        "Yes, sir."

        "You have movies in every room?"

        "On demand, sir. And internet access."

        "And heat?"

        "Yes, sir."

        Lane stepped out of the elevator. He saw the two men at the

desk and his face hardened.

        "Campbell!" he yelled.

        Campbell and Lebeau were given their keys and met him in

the center of the lobby.

        "Where the hell have you been?" Lane demanded.

        "New York." replied Campbell.

        "Equipment problems?" He didn't try to disguise the sneer

of disbelief in his voice.

        "Right."
Sheldon/Thunder                                           148


        "It was here when we arrived!"

        Lane noticed the two men on the couch staring at them. The

clerk was frowning with disapproval. He lowered his voice.

        "We'll talk in my room."

        While Lebeau went off to find Nadja and Eckstein, Campbell

followed Lane up in the elevator to the geologist's room. Once

inside Lane again confronted him.

        Lane had decided long ago that things were getting out of

hand. He was damned if he was going to let Campbell just take

over whenever he felt like it. Now was the time to lay it on the

line.

        "Eckstein said you got a phone call," he began.

        "That's right. It was one of our suppliers, Nathan Aster."

        He crossed the room. and lowered himself wearily into a

chair.

        "Never heard of him."

        "Oh, he's very good. But according to his records he was

out of stock on the low arctic tents."

        "We could've brought mine," Lane glared at him. "That's

what I mean. You just don't go off without first consulting with

me!"

        "There was no time to tell you," Campbell explained

patiently. "I thought it would be best if Marcel and I went
Sheldon/Thunder                                          149


ahead and took care of things. I knew you had enough on your

mind as it was."

     Lane paced back and forth in front of him.

     "It may come as a surprise to you, Campbell, but my mind is

capable of handling more than one thought at a time. Besides the

tents were here at the storage company on Third, along with

everything else. As ordered."

     "You checked it yourself?" Campbell asked warily.

     There were several boxes he'd just as soon Lane kept his

nose out of until it was too late.

     "No," Lane hesitated. "Nadja... Ms. Cooper checked for me.

Don't you trust her judgment?"

     "Of course." Campbell's voice was like ice. He'd caught

Lane's momentary pause. He had known the geologist was obviously

taken with Nadia even before he had shaved his beard. But what

had been her response? Instead of asking that, however, he tried

to calm things down.

     "I'm sorry. You're right. As it turned out the supplier's

records were incorrect. We made the trip for nothing."

     "And that's the only reason you left?" Lane asked

suspiciously.

     "Of course. I apologize."
Sheldon/Thunder                                          150


       He stood up, hoping that the discussion was at an end. Lane

shook his head as if to say Campbell wasn't out of the woods

yet.

       "You know what you're trouble is, Campbell? You're too

plausible. You've got an answer for everything. The words may be

right, but you're hiding something. And believe me, if you're in

somebody else's pocket. If you're going to try and jump this

claim for some other oil company, I'm going to tear you limb

from limb and dance on the pieces."

       Campbell looked at him for a long moment. He had to tread

very carefully here.

       "Have you shared your suspicions with Arcon?" he asked

casually.

       "I considered it."

       "Why didn't you?"

       "There's no love lost between that company and me."

       "As far as I can tell," Campbell smiled, "there's no love

lost between you and anybody."

       "Maybe not. But you know as well as I do that I can't

afford to lose this project."

       "Neither can I."

       Lane snorted. "Should I believe that?"

       "I wish you would."
Sheldon/Thunder                                        151


     "For the moment I don't seem to have any choice. If they

knew I was having problems, they might just yank me and send in

the second string. But I'm in charge from here on. You don't

shit without my okay. Because I swear I'll blow the whole deal

if you try any more funny business."

     "You said you knew what would happen to you and your

career."

     "Fuck it, Campbell. I mean it. I can only be pushed so far.

You got that?"

     Campbell nodded. He did.



     The entire team (could that word any longer apply, Campbell

wondered?) met for dinner that evening and the meal was an

uneasy affair to say the least. There were strong undercurrents.

Some Campbell caught and understood. Others worried him more

than he cared to admit.

     The riff between Eckstein and Lane had grown noticeably

since Campbell had last seen them together. He could tell some-

thing had happened while he and Lebeau were in New York, but not

what. Eckstein in particular was morose and uncommunicative,

smoking one cigarette after another and guzzling bourbon after

bourbon as if the drinks were iced tea.

     When they had sat down at the table, Lane had moved to sit

beside Nadja, but she'd slipped quickly between Eckstein and
Sheldon/Thunder                                           152


Lebeau. This should have told Campbell that nothing was doing on

between her and Lane. But if that were so, why avoid him so

pointedly? Lane had acted hurt and surprised when she'd moved.

        Damn, Campbell thought to himself. He'd told himself when

he'd finally agreed for Lew to call Nadja that whatever her

feelings against him, or his for her, he could concentrate on

the job. She was the best at what she did. There should not have

been any problem. They were professionals after all. Yet as he

looked at her across the table and saw her sad eyes and shining

hair, memories stirred within him that he could not smother.

Brief moments alone beneath bright desert stars. He'd bared his

soul to her. He'd almost been trapped once more into caring too

much.

        But then the PLO agent had contacted him and made the

proposition. Jamshid Amat, himself, wanted Campbell to work with

them. Campbell had remained noncommittal for awhile, trying to

make some sense out of his relationship with Nadja. He had

finally decided that it would be much better for her if he went

away. People close to him tended to have bloody bad luck staying

alive.

        He had made a phone call to an unlisted number in Tel Aviv

that he had remembered from his brief stint with MI6. Luckily it

was still operative. He agreed that Amat's proposition was a

chance he could not pass up. One week later he had contacted the
Sheldon/Thunder                                          153


Palestinian agent. That night when Nadja came to his room, she

found it empty. Campbell had vanished as completely as if the

desert sand had swallowed him up.

     Campbell wrenched his thoughts back to the present and

stared at Lebeau. The French Canadian was complaining loudly

about the food. Even the normally unflappable Lebeau was tense

and nervous. Campbell steadied himself, sipping at his wine. The

wrong word now and the mission could collapse like a house of

cards. For the remainder of the evening he did his utmost to

lighten the atmosphere.

     At eight o'clock the party broke up. Campbell watched as

Lane took Nadja aside, grabbing her by the elbow, and spoke

quietly to her. She shook her head a couple of times, then

finally nodded. Lane hurried out, talking to no one else.

Campbell told each of the others to meet him in his room in ten

minutes.

     The last to arrive was Eckstein, clutching an unopened

bottle of bourbon by the neck, and puffing on a cigarette. He

slumped into a chair, held up the bottle, and grinned.

     "Anti-freeze!"

     Attention then focused on Campbell, and he related what he

and Lebeau had discovered in New York. After he had finished,

there was silence as Eckstein and Nadja digested this new

information. Then Nadja spoke up.
Sheldon/Thunder                                             154


       "You have an address for this Alaskan Research and

Development Company?" she asked Campbell.

       He nodded. "On Third. A few blocks over."

       "Our supplies are at a storage company on Third," she

added.

       "The extra boxes arrive safely?"

       She nodded and gestured at a paper sack by her chair.

       "The hand guns I removed."

       "Good. You can distribute them in a few minutes."

       Eckstein took a swig from the bottle and wiped his mouth on

his sleeve. "This Alaskan Research Company definitely deserves a

little visit."

       "Right," Campbell agreed. "And it must be tonight. The

Arcon plane leaves for Wiseman at first light."

       "Happily this first light is not so early!" piped in Le-

beau, his humor somewhat restored.

       "Yeah, but how do we keep our fearless leader on ice?"

Eckstein asked.

       "What's been happening with you two, Gus?" Campbell asked

him.

       Eckstein avoided his eyes, pretending to find the label of

his bottle of bourbon fascinating reading.

       "Nothin', Colonel. He rubs me the wrong way is all."

       "Well, keep your temper under control. Fe need him."
Sheldon/Thunder                                          155


     "Will do." He drank deeply.

     "And put that bottle away. I need you alert tonight."

     Eckstein gave him a mock salute, but put the bottle down.

     "I... I'm having a drink with Lane at nine tonight," Nadja

broke in. "This early your movements would not be noticed

perhaps. Later the streets become deserted..."

     She could feel Campbell's eyes boring into her, but she

refused to return his look.

     Finally Campbell gave up and nodded.

     "Okay, Nadja. That's a good idea."

     There was no response. Instead she reached for the paper

bag and extracted from it three hand guns. She lined them up

neatly on the coffee table beside boxes of cartridges.

     There were two .45 caliber automatics for Campbell and

Eckstein. Lebeau, who hated guns with a Gallic passion, and who

had to be threatened with bodily harm if he didn't carry one,

picked up the tiny .22 caliber pistol. It was so small it could

fit under his glove and snuggle against his palm.



     When Nadja arrived in the cocktail lounge Lane was waiting

for her at a table near the window. She sat opposite him and

they ordered from the waitress.

     "You look beautiful," he said.
Sheldon/Thunder                                          156


     "Thank you."

     "Where are the others?"

     "Resting."

     There was an awkward silence as their drinks arrived. Lane

sipped at his before he began again.

     "Nadja, you can tell me it's none of my business, but I've

got a job to do. You don't know what it's like up in those

mountains in the winter. This team has to work as a single unit

or we could all get killed. This thing between you and

Campbell--"

     "Please!" she interrupted him. "There is nothing between

us!" She looked into his eyes. "Is this really why you wish to

know? For the job?"

     "No, not entirely."

     She took a swallow of her drink and gazed out the window,

saying nothing.

     "Damn it, look at me!" She turned. "I'm not used to talking

with anybody, let alone a woman; let alone a woman that I... oh,

hell..." his voice trailed off.

     "You have had a very lonely life in Labrador."

     "No! I grew up in New York City. There I was lonely. Too

many people there... the crowds... I don't like people, I

guess," he concluded simply.

     He caught her look.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        157


     "As a species," he quickly added. "Some individuals I can

tolerate."

     "But no close ties. This is what you said that night."

     "Yeah, I did say that, didn't I? I'm not being very fair,

am I? It was a hell of a lot easier to say before I met you. Now

I don't know."

     She started to say something, but he didn't give her the

chance.

     "Nadja, I can't stand that look in your eyes. I want to

help you if I can. I want to hear you laugh. And anybody can

tell that Campbell has something to do with your... despair is

the word that comes to mind. Please. Tell me why you hate him."

     He waited for her reaction and was surprised to see her

smile.

     "The more you talk, Harvard Lane, the better you talk. Do

you notice this? You have been out of practice, I think."

     He sighed. "Fat lot of good it does me."

     "I will tell you... something," she relented. "Perhaps you

are right. It will help to tell someone. Ian--" As she said it

the name sounded foreign on her lips. "Ian and I worked on a...

a project together in the Middle East."

     "You were in love?"

     She started to shake her head, then shrugged.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        158


     "We were lovers for a time. I thought I knew him. But then

he... he betrayed the... team."

     She faltered, her lips quivering, then took a deep breath

and tried again.

     "He went to work for another company, a company that was

determined we should not have what is rightfully ours. He cares

for the money only! He must!"

     Lane stiffened. "You think he's doing that now? Working for

another company?"

     "Gus gave me his word. I trust him."

     Lane thought about this, still not satisfied. He knew he

wasn't hearing the whole story. He wanted to believe her, but

she was obviously holding a lot back, both about Campbell and

about herself. He tried a different approach, hating himself.

But he had to know the truth.

     "Was that after you were in the army?"

     "Why do you ask that?"

     "You learned to shoot in the army, didn't you?"

     "Of course. Everyone in Israel is in the army. We are all

the army. This is how we survive."

     She looked at him questioningly.

     "I was just curious about when you had time to study

geology. You're not very old."

     But she wouldn't be drawn out.
Sheldon/Thunder                                          159


     "You asked me of Campbell. He cannot be trusted," was all

she said.

     He had a sudden, horrible thought.

     "You've never studied geology in your life, have you?"

     She visibly flinched. He started to press home the attack,

but stopped suddenly. He casually raised his glass to his lips

and peered over the top of it out the window. Nadja was shaken,

her head bowed. She couldn't see where he was looking.

     Campbell, Lebeau and Eckstein were all talking on the other

side of the street. Eckstein lit a cigarette and they walked off

toward Barnette Street.

     Lane lowered the glass and regarded Nadja calmly.

     "Oh, I believe Campbell can't be trusted. But what about

you?" he asked quietly.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        160




                           CHAPTER TEN



     The temperature hovered around twenty below as the three

mercenaries made their way carefully along the icy sidewalk.

They were dressed as lightly as possible for the greatest

maneuverability: light windbreakers with sweaters beneath,

boots, gloves (not mittens), and the stocking caps that could be

pulled down over their faces like ski masks.

     They passed several bars along what once must have been a

pretty lively stretch of First Street. Several, Campbell

noticed, were boarded up now, but the others were still loud and

boisterous. They turned south on Barnette Street.

     There were still quite a few people on the streets for 9:30

on a sub-zero weekday night. As he had noted earlier, all cars,

whether in motion, stopped, or parked, were running; their

exhaust fumes making the chill night air hazy.

     Campbell shook his head in dismay. "It's like some great

scientific experiment," he observed. "See how much carbon

monoxide a city can take before the people start dropping."
Sheldon/Thunder                                        161


     "I don't smell anything," Eckstein said, puffing on a

cigarette.

     They turned east on Third Street and stopped at last

opposite their destination. The address Campbell had obtained

from the Hill, Birney and Wedgeworth offices was a four story

building. The bottom floor was a branch of the Alaskan National

Bank. It was brightly illuminated, but closed. They could see

cleaning people moving about inside and a watchman leaning

against a long counter.

     The three stepped aside to let a group of loudly arguing

men in work clothes pass by.

     "Crowded, ain't it?" remarked Eckstein.

     Campbell scanned the roofs of the buildings on either side

but they were both much taller. He caught Lebeau's eye. The

little man shook his head.

     "Impossible."

     Campbell found himself stomping his feet to keep them warm

and noticed the other two doing the same. When they were

stationary, the cold seemed to be able to squeeze the heat right

out of their bodies.

     "The suite number was 405," he said. "In your country that

puts Alaskan Research on the top floor."

     "Fire escape?" Eckstein asked.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        162


     "I will look," replied Lebeau.

     He waited for a car to rattle past, then crossed the wide

street, heading for the alley on the west side of the building.

     At the corner of Third and Barnette a tall figure in a

heavy parka with a ski mask pulled down over his face stood

watching Lebeau cross the street. When the French Canadian

stopped at the mouth of the alley to see if his actions were

arousing any undue interest, the figure had already ducked back

out of sight in a store doorway.

     Lebeau saw several parked cars and here and there a few

pedestrians, but no one seemed to be paying him the slightest

attention. Satisfied, he walked nimbly over the ice-covered

surface of the alley, past a cluster of garbage cans, until he

was standing beneath a fire escape. A good leap from his tall

Colonel would bring down the ladder separating it from the

ground. He smiled.

     In a room on the sixth floor of the building across the

alley from the bank, a stubby man was drinking a cup of soup

from a thermos and looking down into the alley through a night

scope. To him the dark alley was ablaze with an eerie green

light. He watched the little mouse of a man smile and chuckled

to himself. The mouse didn't realize he had just stuck his nose

into a nasty big trap.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        163


     He looked over his shoulder at his partner, a gangly bean

pole of an old so-and-so with a grizzled beard. He was speaking

into a telephone.

     "Yeah," he said. "This is March at ARDC. We got some

activity over here."

     Campbell and Eckstein saw Lebeau give them a sign from the

mouth of the alley. They crossed the street to join him.

     The ski-masked figure in the store doorway waited until

they entered the alley before walking briskly up the street

toward the bank building.



     In the cocktail lounge at the Chena River Hotel Nadja sat

alone at the table. She glanced impatiently at her watch. Lane

had been gone over fifteen minutes. She waved at a passing

waitress.

     "My friend has been a long time in the men's room," she

said to the waitress. "Will you have someone check that he is

not ill?"

     The waitress smiled and nodded.

     "Certainly, miss."

     Nadja watched her speak to the bartender. He headed for the

men's room.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        164


     Campbell leaped and caught the bottom rung of the ladder

with his gloved hands. There was a metallic screech as he

dragged it to the ground. They looked around, listened, but

apparently no one had heard.

     The stubby man watched through the night scope as the three

men started to climb the fire escape, then he lowered the scope

and turned to his companion.

     "Fourth floor."

     The second man, March, spoke into the phone.

     "Fourth floor, all right. Three of 'em. Tell Mr. Hailey

looks like we got ourselves that bonus!" He listened for a few

seconds. "Gotcha!"

     He hung up the phone. "This is it, Gordy!" he chortled. "A

squad's on the way!"

     He grabbed a pump shotgun lying on the desk and began

loading it. Gordy put down the night scope and lifted a rifle.

He caressed its barrel lovingly.



     Lebeau worked his credit card magic on the fourth floor

window and the three mercenaries slipped inside. They started

down the hall past a grouping of vinyl furniture outside two

restrooms.

     Campbell smiled to himself. Whatever the furniture was

actually used for, he could clearly picture an accumulation of
Sheldon/Thunder                                          165


very nervous people sitting there waiting for the plumbing to

unfreeze. What's got into you, Campbell?, he thought. He was

feeling remarkably at ease, eager to penetrate Alaskan

Research's secrets.

     Lebeau motioned for the other two to wait. He retraced his

steps and closed the window, grinning at Campbell.

     Campbell nodded. No sense in repeating their mistakes. With

any luck if all went right they would be in and out in a few

minutes.

     They stopped outside of Suite 405. On the door were the

words: ALASKAN RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, JOHN EDRAS,

PRESIDENT.

     Edras. The last letters on the appointment book in Birney's

office. Now to find out what sort of game this Mr. Edras was

playing at.



     Gordy and March came out of a door into the alley and

locked it behind them. They held their guns ready as they headed

for the side door beneath the fire escape.

     At that moment the tall figure in the heavy parka and ski

mask that had been shadowing Campbell and the others reached the

alley. He saw the two men with guns before they noticed him, and

flattened himself on the ice behind the cluster of garbage cans.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        166


     "Shouldn't we wait for the others?" the one called Gordy

asked anxiously.

     "We'll just take a looksee," responded March.

     He drew a ring of keys from his pocket, selected one and

unlocked the door. They glided quietly inside.



     After picking the lock on the office, Lebeau had remained

on guard in the hall. Campbell and Eckstein passed through a

good-sized reception room into an inner office. There they took

off their gloves and started to work.

     While Eckstein held a flashlight, Campbell opened a file

and began flipping pages. He stopped at a list covering half a

page. Eckstein scratched his crewcut with his free hand.

     "What're all those other companies?" he asked.

     "It appears as if Alaskan Research is a holding company,

Gus," Campbell explained. "It owns these others."

     His finger skimmed down the list:



                  ARCTIC MINERALOGICAL SERVICES

                  ALASKAN LABOR ASSOCIATES

                  SEATTLE SHIPPING



     There were quite a few more, but Campbell couldn't see how

they might be connected with the matter at hand. What he needed
Sheldon/Thunder                                           167


was some proof that Edras was the man buying Arcon Oil stock. He

continued to search other files.

     "Where does that get us?" Eckstein wanted to know.

     "I'm not sure. The president of Alaskan Research just might

be the lad who's buying up all that Arcon Oil stock on the sly.

This Mr. Edras must be a very rich man, Gus. We're talking about

thousands of shares. Unless..."

     "Unless what?"

     Before Campbell could answer Lebeau trotted to the door of

the office, his tiny gun clutched in his fist.

     "Watchman?" Campbell asked him.

     Lebeau shook his head, obviously puzzled.

     "Two men. Shotgun and rifle.°"

     Campbell stared at him. "Coming up here?"

     "On the inside stairs."

     Could spies of the FELA somehow have tracked them here?

That didn't make any sense. But Campbell had no time to ponder

the possibilities. They killed the light and moved fast through

the reception room into the hall.

     The fire escape window was open. Lebeau stopped dead and

pointed at it, searching behind the vinyl furniture in the hall

with his eyes.

     "Merde!" he hissed. "There was another somewhere!"

     Campbell and Eckstein pulled out their guns.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        168


     "Who?" asked Eckstein, getting confused.

     At that moment the door to the inside stairs began to edge

open. All three reacted instantly, diving for the open window.

Eckstein crouched behind a chair to give the other two covering

fire if necessary. And it was.

     March peeked around the corner of the door in time to see

Campbell and Lebeau climbing out of the window. He jumped into

the center of the hall, not seeing Eckstein, and bellowed:

     "Okay, assholes! Freeze!"

     Eckstein's bullets etched a careful pattern in the wall

behind his head. March hit the floor with a jarring thud that

knocked the breath out of him, and the shotgun spun out of his

hands. Eckstein was out the window before Gordy's first rifle

bullet cracked through the glass above his head.

     "Aw, shit, March! They're gettin' away!" Gordy cried.

     "The hell they are!"

     March retrieved his shotgun and they raced to the window.

The door of the Ladies' Room opened softly behind them and

Harvard Lane peered out, his ski mask now pulled up.

     As he watched the two men fire out the window he tried to

figure out what in hell he had gotten himself into. When he had

seen the three men Nadja had said were resting go off up the

street, he had postponed his questions and excused himself. And

here he was hiding in another restroom! When he had seen where
Sheldon/Thunder                                           169


they were headed, he had decided that Campbell and company were

nothing more than robbers using his team as a cover, as

farfetched as that sounded. Now he wasn't so sure. Who were

these two maniacs shooting at them anyway?

     Campbell and Lebeau were already on the ground when

Eckstein landed behind them and executed a sloppy tuck and roll.

Bullets and buckshot from the window spattered the brick wall

beyond him. Lebeau opened up on the window.

     March and Gordy ducked down. Lane saw them shaking with

what looked like equal parts fright and bluster. Their backs

were to him as they tried to peek over the window sill, so Lane

slipped into the hall, eased the restroom door closed behind

him, and cat-footed it down the hall away from them. He opened

the door to the inside stairs and risked one more glance in

their direction. They hadn't noticed him. He started down the

stairs.

     Campbell and Lebeau reached the mouth of the alley. Lebeau

fired again at the window and there was the tinkle of broken

glass. Campbell checked the street, feeling the cold already

beginning to numb the bare hand that gripped the gun. The other

hand he stuffed into his pocket.

     Several bystanders, having heard the shooting, were

cautiously approaching the alley, trying to get a look at what

was going on. But when they saw Campbell they scattered and ran
Sheldon/Thunder                                           170


for cover. He scanned the street. It looked deserted. He was

about to turn and tell the others that the coast was clear when

he heard the rumble of heavy engines and two big trucks came

sliding around the corners: one at Barnette Street, the other

three or four blocks down Third in the other direction.

     They pulled across both lanes, blocking traffic, and

effectively sealing off that portion of the street. Then

Campbell watched incredulously as dozens of men, armed with a

wide range of weapons from shotguns to sledgehammers piled out

of the backs of the trucks.

     Campbell pressed back against the brick wall out of sight

of the trucks, his mind racing, as the new arrivals began moving

warily toward the bank building from both ends of the street.

     "What the bloody hell's going on?'° Campbell muttered.

     Eckstein leaped behind the trash cans as the two gunmen on

the fourth floor risked another fusillade of shots.

     "Colonel? Let's get hoppin'!"

     But Campbell shook his head.

     "We're trapped. It looks like an army of them!"

     Some of the men in the street began firing randomly into

the alley. Encouraged by the sound of reinforcements Gordy

leaned out of the fourth floor window and drew a bead on the

little guy. Lebeau shot him neatly in the shoulder.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           171


     "Stupid amateurs!" he fumed, launching into a stream of

French invectives.

     Gordy fell back into March's arms howling in pain.



     Beyond the truck blocking Third Street at Barnette a crowd

was gathering. On the fringe of this crowd was Nadja. As she

watched, a police car screeched up and two uniformed officers

jumped out. Before they could get a word in, rifles were leveled

at them from all sides.

     "Sorry, boys," one gunman told them as they were quickly

disarmed. The crowd of onlookers gasped in wonder.

     "Are you Hailey's men?" one of the policemen asked him

angrily.

     "That's right, so just relax."

     "You'll never get away with this!"

     "We gotta protect ourselves! We got that right!" the gunman

yelled back at him. "And we got three a them A-rab terrorists

cornered in there and we're gonna take care of them, too!"

     "Arab terrorists?" the officer turned to his partner.

     "First I heard of it," was the baffled reply..

     But on the edge of the crowd Nadja stood, stunned by what

she had just heard. She looked at the gunmen, and at the

officers, then past the truck to where the blaze of gunfire
Sheldon/Thunder                                           172


echoed down the street. She turned to a big man in a heavy coat

and ear muffs standing next to her.

     "Excuse me, please. Who is this Mr. Hailey?"

     The man turned and saw the nice-looking lady standing

beside him. A little dark maybe, for his tastes, but not bad.

     "He's a right fine man, lady," he told her. "He's the

president of the local Drivers' union. Or I suppose you could

say he's almost the president of Alaska!" he chuckled.

     "These men with the guns are workers?"

     "Yep, I got my card, too, though there ain't too much

drivin' left to do..." He looked her over carefully. Say, he

thought, she had   kind of a funny accent, and was kind of

foreign-looking to boot.

     "You're an A-rab, too, aren't you!" he accused her

suddenly.

     She stared at him, taken completely by surprise. He grabbed

her arm and looked toward the gunmen, opening his mouth to yell.

She realized his intention at once and lashed out. A quick flat

punch to the stomach and the yell was only a weak gurgle of

pain. An elbow to the chin as it lowered in reaction to the

first blow put the big man on the ice before he knew what had

happened. He sat there, shaking his head groggily as the dark

lady slipped quietly away.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        173


     Campbell and Eckstein crouched behind a flimsy barricade

they had erected from the trash cans. Since the contents of the

cans was frozen solid they should have afforded adequate

protection. Unfortunately the pavement of the alley, like

everything else in the general vicinity was coated with a thick

layer of ice.

     And they soon discovered that as a can was struck by a

bullet, it had a tendency to skim across the ice either into one

of the men hiding behind it or, what was worse, the can could go

careening away as if it were a pin hit by a bowling ball,

exposing one of the mercenaries, who then had to scramble for

cover.

     Lebeau had his back to them, crouched behind his own can.

He concentrated on the fourth floor window from which he could

hear moans of pain.

     Campbell quickly assessed their situation. It was decidedly

unpromising. Since the alley ended in a cul-de-sac they didn't

need to worry about attack from that direction, but there were

plenty of windows that looked down on them. And as soon as their

attackers realized that, their position would be indefensible.

The alley being a dead end also meant that it they didn't come

up with something pretty fast, they were pinned down for the

duration of the battle.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        174


     Lane reached the bottom of the stairs and found himself in

a hallway running from east to west the entire width of the

building. Beyond a partly open door at the west end of the hall

the sound of firing reached him. At the other end of the hall

was an identical door, closed tight. Ahead of him were double

glass doors leading into the bank proper. He charged through

them into the light.

     Cleaning people, who had been crouching in terror behind

the desks and counters, thought they were now being attacked

from the rear and scattered, screaming. But at the end of one

counter a watchman stood, gun drawn.

     "Hold it right there, mister," he warned.

     Gunfire continued to rattle in the street and both he and

Lane, their feet bolted to the floor, cautiously crouched down

behind the counter, neither one taking his eyes off the other.

     "Let me try to explain..." Lane began.

     The watchman waited.

     Lane thought for a moment, then shook his head and smiled

wanly.

     "I can't..."

     The watchman waved the gun and Lane slowly raised his

hands.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           175


     In the distance police sirens were wailing as the army of

gunmen was now spread out, inching from car to car, doorway to

doorway, converging on the besieged alley.

     Eckstein fired as Campbell reloaded. The stocky man shook

his head.

     "This is too much like Muanda, fellas. Who are these guys

anyway?"

     "Whoever they are, they seem to own the city. So they're

definitely not the FELA," Campbell replied and fired again.

     Lebeau watched the fourth floor window for any sign of

movement.

     "At least one does not feel the cold when he is so

occupied!" he noted, shivering in spite of his words.

     "We're almost out of ammunition," said Campbell, then he

remembered something. "Third Street. Our hardware's around here

someplace, isn't it?"

     Eckstein's face lit up. "Four or five buildings east on the

other side of the street, Colonel! Just before the end of the

block! Shit!" he added, grabbing for the trash can that was

spinning away from him.

     "That is a long distance on this street," Lebeau sighed.

     Campbell turned and looked at the wall at the end of the

alley. No escape route had magically materialized since he had

last looked. Then his eyes fell on the door beneath the fire
Sheldon/Thunder                                         176


escape. It was slightly ajar. The gunmen on the fourth floor had

given them a way out. Perhaps.

     "Let's head back through the bank building and out into the

alley on the other side," he proposed, letting off a couple

shots that sent bodies flying for cover.

     Eckstein frowned. "I don't remember that there is an alley

on the other side."

     "Let's try it. We can't stop here much longer."

     Eckstein and Lebeau both nodded. March fired at them from

the window. Eckstein snapped off two rounds, driving him back

inside. They fired a few more shots into the street to keep the

unknown army honest, then dashed for the door, and dove through.

     The three mercenaries raced down the hall toward the door

at the far end, but at the glass double doors Campbell skidded

to a halt.

     Through them he could see Harvard Lane, hands above his

head, crouching awkwardly behind a counter, covered by the

watchman. Campbell stared at him.   Where the hell had he come

from? Campbell wondered.

     "Eckstein and Lebeau stopped by the door at the other end

of the hall.

     "Colonel!" whispered Eckstein frantically. "Come on!"

     But Campbell held up his hand, motioning them to wait

there. As much as he might want to, he couldn't leave Lane
Sheldon/Thunder                                        177


behind now. If they ever got out of this, he was still the only

man who could guide them.

     A line of jagged gunfire stitched its way across the front

window of the bank, and the glass collapsed with a shattering

roar. A cleaning woman screamed. Lane saw her clutch at her side

where a flower of red was rapidly blooming. Then she fell,

knocking over a pail of soapy water. Her blood mixed with the

white water as it spread across the floor.

     Lane felt helpless rage rise within him. Campbell was

responsible for this. He made a move to help the woman, but the

watchman made a warning sound deep in his throat and Lane froze.

     Suddenly bullets thudded into the counter behind which they

were huddled. Both Lane and the watchman dove for cover,

distracted from their confrontation. When Lane looked up again

he saw Campbell beckoning to him through the interior glass

doors. He glanced at the watchman. The man was no longer looking

at him. In fact he had his eyes squeezed shut, and the gun was

nowhere to be seen.

     All right, Campbell, he thought. Here I come. He hit the

glass doors in three strides and launched himself at the

startled mercenary.

     Campbell ducked, but he was off balance and Lane's fist

connected with a jarring crack, slamming him back against the
Sheldon/Thunder                                        178


wall. Another fist landed on his head before he could push Lane

away and level the gun at him.

     "That way," he gestured. "Now."

     He herded Lane down the hall to join the other two waiting

by the door.



     Part of the army had reached the garbage can barricade.

Shoving the cans out of their way they went charging down the

alley, firing indiscriminately, and yelling war cries at the top

of their lungs.

     March leaned out of the window and yelled down at them.

"Inside! They went inside!"

     But with all the shouting and confusion, his wild, bearded

face sure looked like an A-rab terrorist. They opened fire.

     March ducked down as bullets shattered what remained of the

window.

     "Jesus!" He turned to his partner.

     "You okay, Gordy?"

     "I'm dyin'!" Gordy wailed.

     March pulled his hand away to examine the wound through the

torn and bloody shirt.

     "It's just your shoulder, Gordy. I gotta go after them

terrorists!"

     He ran down the hall to the stairs.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        179


     "I'm dyin'!" Gordy shouted after him, but March was gone,

and he was alone.
Sheldon/Thunder                                        180




                          CHAPTER ELEVEN



     The door to the bank building burst open. Eckstein and

Lebeau came out into the second alley fast, guns ready, but the

alley was deserted, a cul-de-sac duplicate of the first with one

tiny difference that Eckstein noticed right away.

     "No more doors," he remarked sadly.

     It was true. Not even a fire escape. They faced a solid

brick wall. Campbell and Lane followed them into the alley and

Campbell swung the heavy fire door shut behind them.

     Lebeau looked at Lane, impressed. "You came through the

window. So quiet."

     Lane said nothing.

     "Looks as if it's the street," Campbell said.

     "I'm surrendering," Lane decided. "I'm not involved in any

of this."

     "Oh, you're not," Campbell nodded. "I see. And to whom do

you plan to surrender? Those clowns out there aren't the police.

     "Who are they?"
Sheldon/Thunder                                         181


     "I don't know," Campbell admitted. "But I do know they'll

shoot you right out from under a white flag."

     Suddenly the door flew open and March, off balance,

stumbled into their midst. Lebeau wrenched the shotgun out of

his hands, and Eckstein pinned his arms to his sides.

     "We takin' prisoners, Colonel?" he asked seriously.

     March looked from Eckstein to Campbell, fear clouding his

eyes. Things weren't going at all as he had planned.

     "Yes," Campbell decided. Lane was giving him a funny look

and for a moment he thought the geologist was going to take

another swing at him.

     But Lane was only trying to figure out why Eckstein had

addressed Campbell as "Colonel."

     Campbell led the group to the end of the alley and looked

out into the street. In part they were lucky. Most of the army

had congregated in or near the alley on the western side of the

building. The immediate area looked clear. But the two big

trucks were still manned at either end of the block.

     Down the street in the direction of Barnette a late model

station wagon was burning, sending a black, oily cloud skyward.

This reminded Campbell of something. Sure enough, parked at the

curb less than thirty feet away was an SUV, its motor running,

and its owner nowhere to be seen.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           182


     Campbell blessed the cold and turned back to the

others.

     "Marcel, you keep an eye on our prisoners." When he

said that last word he looked Lane straight in the eye to

make sure he understood. Then he went on.

     "Gus, thirty feet east of here an SUV is parked at the

curb."

     "Transport!" Eckstein grinned, and ran into the

street, keeping low.

     The army was now starting to filter back out into the

street. There was a shout as someone saw Eckstein, and they

opened fire. Two blocks to the east, men guarding the

second truck opened up as well. Campbell couldn't believe

his eyes. Properly handled it might have been a murderous

crossfire, but the two groups were actually on a line with

each other. There were screams of outrage and agony as men

went down, shot by their own comrades.

     Eckstein smashed the window on the passenger side of

the SUV with the butt of his .45, then he reached in and

unlocked the door. He jumped in and slid across the seat.

     "Now!" Campbell yelled, as the car reversed, tires

spinning on the ice. It ploughed backward and lurched to a

halt directly in front of the alley.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           183


     Lebeau leaped in the back and Campbell roughly shoved

March and Lane in after him. Then he jumped into the

passenger seat and slammed the door.

     Eckstein shifted gears and the car fishtailed away

from the curb. Bullets punched into the metal work and

starred the windshield. The others ducked, but Eckstein did

not wince, keeping his eyes locked on the road.

     "Hang on!" he yelled.

     The car made a swerving left turn, crossed the street,

and jumped the other curb, racing right at a huge wooden

garage door with the words, CREIGHTON STORAGE AND TRANSFER

CO. painted on it. The car hit the door solidly and the

wood splintered, but the door held.

     Cursing, Eckstein jerked the transmission into reverse

and tore the smashed bumper free as steam began to pour

from under the hood.

     The back wheels bounced down into the street as a

literal hail of bullets began pelting into the car.

Eckstein jammed the Chevy back into first gear. The back

wheels spun futilely in the gutter.

     "Come on, ya goddamn pile a tin!" he roared. The tires

finally caught hold and the car lurched up over the curb

again, crashing into and this time through the garage door.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           184


     Inside the warehouse everybody piled out of the

demolished car. Eckstein gestured at several crates stacked

to one side and Campbell headed for them. Then Eckstein

covered March and Lane.

     Lebeau, armed with March's shotgun, besides his tiny

pistol, hurried to the smashed door and began firing into

the street.

     Lane leaned against the car and shook his head

dizzily.

     When Campbell reached the crates he found that one of

them was already open. It had at one time contained two

Schutz and Larson high-powered hunting rifles which fired

the small six millimeter shells that Nadja preferred. One

of the rifles and its twelve-power Leopold scope were

missing.

     Campbell attacked a square crate with a crowbar and

ripped the lid off. Packed carefully in Styrofoam pellets

were two-dozen hand grenades.



     Gunmen stationed at the truck near Barnette Street

were now engaged in a pitched battle with newly arrived

forces of the law, crouching behind four police cars. The

crowd of onlookers had miraculously vanished. The ranking
Sheldon/Thunder                                           185


police officer on the scene put in a call to Ft. Wainright

for National Guard reinforcements.

     The rest of the gunmen were cautiously moving from car

to car toward the warehouse with the smashed door.

     Lane watched, astounded, as Campbell opened a third

crate and lifted two AK-47 automatic assault rifles from

their grease-lined cloth. He then loaded curving magazines

from another box into both.

     Campbell jogged over to the door and held one out to

Lebeau. The little man shrugged philosophically.

     "If one must resort to such crudity," he beamed, "he

must at least have a weapon worthy of the name!" He tossed

the shotgun aside and pocketed the .22, holding out his

arms for the assault rifle.

     Lane shifted his weight and Eckstein growled at him.

     "Try something, please!" he begged.

     Campbell left Lebeau in the door and walked over to

Eckstein with the second AK-47.

     "At first I thought you were just a spy for another

oil company," Lane told him. "Then at the bank I thought

you were robbers, now... you're Mafia, right?"

     March sneered. "Naw, they're A-rabs."

     Campbell stared at the bearded man. Behind him Lebeau

was firing quick bursts into the street.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           186


     "Arabs?" Campbell repeated blankly.

     "Do I look like an Arab, ya silly bastard!" Eckstein

yelled at March.

     "I ain't sayin' nothin'."

     "Gus, help Marcel," Campbell ordered, handing him the

second weapon. "There are extra clips in the crate."

     Eckstein grabbed the rifle and trotted over to the

crates, scooping up an armload of loaded magazines. Then he

joined Lebeau at the door, still keeping one ear cocked on

the conversation.

     Campbell turned to March.

     "Who are you?"

     Lane was startled. If Campbell didn't know who the guy

with the beard was and the guy with the beard didn't know

who ampbell was, why was everybody shooting at everybody

else? What was going on here?

     "Who are you?" Campbell repeated.

     "March, Max. 764... 29... 661."

     "God," muttered Lane. "He's in the army!"

     Eckstein fired a burst into the street and yelled over

his shoulder.

     "That ain't no army serial number! I was a goddamn

demolitions sergeant, for Chrissake!"
Sheldon/Thunder                                            187


       "It's my union card number," March admitted sullenly.

"But that's all I got to say."

       Campbell stared at him uncomprehendingly, but Lane was

at last starting to make some sense out of what March was

saying.

       "You're one of... what did I hear they called it?

Hailey's militia?    It really exists?" he asked.

       But March just pressed his lips tightly together like

a little boy who doesn't want to take his medicine.

       Campbell looked at Lane. "You mind letting me in on

it?"

       "It's supposed to be a sort of private vigilante army

formed to protect union workers and company property. I

thought it was just a story made up to scare off

troublemakers."

       Campbell couldn't believe what he was hearing. He

gritted his teeth.

       "Do you mean you are playing at soldiers?"

       Eckstein trotted back to the crates for fresh maga-

zines and a supply of hand grenades. March saw the grenades

and nearly choked.

       "Those are my buddies out there!" he wailed.

       Eckstein turned and grinned at him. "If ya don't know

how to swim, stay outta the water."
Sheldon/Thunder                                           188


     He lobbed a grenade into the street and a car

exploded, going up in a roar of flames. A half-dozen men

hiding behind it went racing for other cover, slipping and

sliding in the icy street. The first one fell and the

others stumbled into him. The whole bunch collapsed in a

pile of twisted limbs and shouted oaths.

     Inside the warehouse Lane casually checked the damage

to the car as Campbell continued questioning March. Steam

rose from the crumpled radiator in thick clouds and a

sluggish lake of oil was spreading out from underneath.

     "What about the police and the National Guard? Hell,

there are U.S. Army troops up here!" Campbell raged.

     March snorted and spat on the floor.

     "This is the frontier, Campbell," Lane explained. "The

Guard and the Army have no civilian jurisdiction unless

expressly ordered during a civil emergency."

     "That's right!" March agreed. "And there ain't enough

police in the whole damn state! What're we supposed to do?"

     Lane continued. "Right or wrong Hailey felt there

wasn't enough law and order. The story was he'd gotten the

oil companies' under-the-table approval to equip an extra

security force. Arcon probably financed it and slipped him

a little besides."
Sheldon/Thunder                                           189


     "That's a damn lie!" March sputtered. "Mr. Hailey

don't take no payoffs from nobody!"

     "You call this disorganized band of hooligans a

security force?" Campbell wanted to know.

     Lane shrugged. "They seem to have gotten a little

carried away..."

     Campbell turned back to March. "But why were you

watching that bank? What does that have to do with

protecting union property?"

     "Not the bank," the bearded man whined. "ARDC."

     Campbell froze.

     In the street the army was moving closer. One gunman

peeked over the top of a car. There was the crack of a

single shot and he was thrown fifteen feet backward through

a glass window.

     On the roof of the Creighton Storage warehouse Nadja

lay in the prone position, scanning the street through the

telescopic sight.

     After hitting the big ape who had grabbed her, she'd

made her way along Third, knowing that the others were

going to need additional fire power to get out of there

alive. Since the union army's attention was centered on the

bank building and the alley to the west of it, she had been
Sheldon/Thunder                                           190


able to kick in a small door to the office of Creighton

Storage and slip inside unnoticed.

        There she'd commandeered one of her prized Schutz and

Larsons and filled her pockets with ammunition as the

battle stormed in the street outside. At the back of the

warehouse she had found a ladder leading to a trap door in

the roof. She'd slung the rifle over her shoulder and

climbed.

        On the roof she had a clear view of the situation, but

by that time the mercenaries were no longer in the alley

behind the trash cans, so she waited to see what developed.

        When they'd commandeered the car, she noted unhappily

that somehow Harvard had stumbled into the thick of things.

There was also a bearded man with them that she didn't

know.

        She was sure they would try to break through one of

the barricades. There was room for a car on the sidewalks.

But when they had headed for the building beneath her

instead, she understood. Ian wouldn't leave the supplies

behind. Their carefully laid plans might be crumbling, but

for Ian the mission would come first. He was improvising

now and despite herself, she approved.

        Nadja fired and another soldier was picked up by the

high velocity bullet and tossed aside like a toy.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           191


     Eckstein saw the man go down and glanced at Lebeau.

     "You hit him?"

     Lebeau shook his head. There was the crack of another

shot and Eckstein identified its source. From the accuracy

of the shooting he knew who was up there, too.

     "Nadja's on the roof!" he yelled at Campbell.

     "Nadja?" Lane whispered the name. In the excitement he

had assumed she was still back at the hotel. How much time

had passed since they'd been sitting there together? But

now he realized his assumption was foolish. Whatever these

people were up to, she was a part of it. Her job had been

to keep him occupied. When he'd slipped out to follow the

three men he'd seen through the window, she'd waited a

short time, guessed what had happened and come after him.

And now she was up there on the roof shooting men as calmly

as she had shot the rabbit.

     Campbell looked over the car, but Lane saw him and

shook his head.

     "Totaled."

     Campbell searched the warehouse and spotted a heavy

truck parked against the back wall. He yelled to Eckstein.

     "Gus! Get Nadja down here and load the supplies in the

back of that truck! Move!"
Sheldon/Thunder                                           192


     Eckstein ran toward a ladder that rose above the

crates and boxes at the back of the warehouse.

     Campbell turned to March.

     "Okay, why ARDC?"

     "Don't you know?" March asked, surprised.

     Campbell's patience was at an end.

     "Tell me."

     "They own Alaskan Labor Associates, of course!

Everybody knows that!"

     "I'm new around here. What is Alaskan Labor

Associates?"



     "It's like an interstate employment agency. You know,

it places workers on the pipeline. Or did, anyway. And we

protect our own! It's one of the places we guard, that's

all, from Commies and A-rabs and stuff wantin' to shut down

the pipeline. Hell, there are terrorists everywhere these

days. Ya can't be too careful!"

     He realized that he had been talking too much.

     "I ain't sayin' nothin' else!" he added defiantly.

     But Campbell was busy digesting the information he had

just learned. ARDC was becoming quite a Pandora's Box.

     Eckstein had reached the top of the ladder. He stuck

his head through the trap door in the roof and shouted at
Sheldon/Thunder                                           193


Nadja. She followed him back down the ladder, as he

explained what she was to do.

     She raced across the warehouse to the crates and

replaced her rifle. Eckstein jumped in the cab of the

truck, found the keys on the floor beneath the driver's

seat, and turned the engine over. Nothing happened. He

tried again, taking care not to flood it. After a few

seconds the engine caught and shook itself awake. Eckstein

grinned.

     At the smashed door Lebeau, now without Nadja's

assistance, was fighting a losing battle, overwhelmed by

the sheer numbers of those against him, not their

expertise. He ducked down as a barrage of bullets barely

missed him, smacking into the boxes and crates that filled

the warehouse.

     "I cannot hold them much longer, Colonel!" he cried.

     Lane stared at Campbell. There was that word "Colonel"

again.

     "Which army do you belong to?"

     Campbell smiles at him grimly. "My own," he said.

     Eckstein drove the big truck forward until its nose

lightly touched what was left of the SUV's grille. Leaving

its motor running, he jumped down.    Nadja unhooked the back
Sheldon/Thunder                                           194


doors, and threw them open.   They began to load the

supplies.

     Lane watched her as she worked swiftly, moving boxes

to the back of the truck where Eckstein hoisted them

aboard.

     "Nadja?" he called.

     She looked at him briefly, her sad eyes liquid, but

she was silent. She hurried to get another box. He turned

to find Campbell staring at him, a frown on his face. The

man's jealous, Lane thought. God, what a mess.

     "Will you help us?" Campbell asked him.

     "Who are you?"

     "Those idiots outside are not the law. They will not

be asking any questions."

     "I'm sure if they were, you'd have the answers," Lane

glared back at him.

     "You're coming one way or the other."

     Campbell raised his .45.

     Lane exploded. "I'm getting so goddamn tired of people

pointing guns at me!"

     "I'm trying to save your life!" Campbell bellowed.

     Lane gestured at March. "What about him?"

     "He stays here. Unharmed."
Sheldon/Thunder                                           195


     Lane kicked at the tire of the battered automobile. "I

don't seem to have much choice... again..." He turned to

Nadja, who was struggling with one end of the grenade

crate. Eckstein had the other.

     "Nadja?" Lane asked her. "Do I trust him now? Should I

be one of Mr. Campbell's puppets?"

     Eckstein looked for a moment like he would throw the

whole crate of grenades at Lane and be done with it once

and for all. Instead he grinned.

     "If you don't, geologist, you're dead."

     Lane waited, but Nadja remained silent. He turned back

to Campbell as she and Eckstein moved around to the back of

the truck.

     "Colonel!" Lebeau yelled. "Two minutes more and they

are on us!"

     He was crouched behind a crate, raising the AK-47 over

his head and blindly spraying the street beyond the hole as

the door itself fell in chunks, shot away by the blistering

assault now leveled on it.

     "In the morning we go to the authorities and get this

straightened out," Lane said to Campbell. "Agreed?"

     "Agreed."

     There was a loud thud and then another from the rear

of the warehouse. Eckstein turned as he shoved the last
Sheldon/Thunder                                           196


crate on the truck. Another thud, and he could see the back

door buckle and begin to split. He handed his assault rifle

to Nadja and she leaped agilely into the back. Eckstein

headed for the cab.

     "All aboard!" he shouted.

     March turned toward the truck and Campbell clipped him

solidly on the back of the head with his gun. The man

crumpled at his feet.

     "You sadistic son of a bitch!" Lane hollered at him.

     "It's for his own good," Campbell shouted back, unable

to hear himself above the increasing din in the warehouse.

"Now he won't be running around when they come busting in

here shooting!"

     From the back of the truck Nadja sprayed the rear door

with bullets and the battering ceased, but there were

shouts from the office area, where the gunmen had found the

door she'd kicked in.

     Still seething, Lane climbed into the cab next to

Eckstein. Campbell slid in beside him.

     "Marcel!" he yelled.

     Somehow the little man heard him. "Ready!" he

responded, slamming a new magazine into place.

     Eckstein put the truck in gear and slowly pushed the

car back through the shattered door into the street. As the
Sheldon/Thunder                                            197


truck crashed through, enlarging the opening, Lebeau leaped

to one side and Nadja pulled him up into the back.   The

open doors flapped back and forth.

     She could see figures moving behind the crates stacked

near the office and she opened up on them. The crates

disintegrated under the onslaught, pieces flying into the

air. She heard someone scream.

     The SUV rolled for a few feet, thumped off the curb

and smashed into a car parked directly across the street.

That car was burning out of control. Almost immediately the

SUV caught and went up in a whoosh of flames.

     Eckstein spun the wheel and the truck slid sideways,

threatening to add itself to the conflagration, then its

tires gained purchase. Tires screeching and smoking, it

finally began picking up speed, heading in the direction of

Barnette Street.

     Gunmen scattered in all directions, firing wildly and

shouting. A couple of stray bullets smacked through the

front windshield and embedded themselves in the back of the

cab inches from Campbell's head.

     He pulled the pin on a grenade and tossed it out the

window at another parked car. There was a tremendous

concussion as the car became a shooting pyre of flames.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           198


     At the end of the street, the men there saw the truck

gather speed and head right for them. They left off

shooting at the police. Caught between the proverbial rock

and a hard place, they did the only sane thing they could.

They screamed and ran for their lives.

     The truck leaped the curb and barreled along the

sidewalk. Its left wheels slipped back into the gutter, and

Nadja and Lebeau scrambled away from the shifting crates in

the back. Lane thought they were going to tip over.

     But Eckstein turned into the street. For a moment they

wobbled on two wheels, then it slammed back down on all

four. It struck the union truck a glancing blow near the

front, slewing it around in a circle on the ice like a top.

     Now it was the policemen's turn to run for safety as

the truck crashed through a narrow gap between the two

center cars. These crumpled up like tinfoil and ricocheted

off the outer two, creating a heap of twisted, smoking

metal.

     Bullets whistling after him, Eckstein sent the truck

racing down Barnette in what was little more than a semi-

controlled skid. Soon the truck's thundering engine grew

faint to the policemen's ears and then it was lost

entirely.
Sheldon/Thunder                                           199


     One look at their cars told the police that pursuit

was useless for the time being, so they turned to the task

of rounding up the thoroughly disorganized union militia.

After a short while they were finally joined by a convoy of

National Guard from Ft. Wainwright and the situation was

gradually brought under control.

     Isolated fires still blazed here and there along the

street. But the fire department, battling water that froze

almost as soon as it left the nozzles of the hoses, managed

at last to subdue them. Rubble and wreckage still dotted

the ruined street. Scattered bodies were attended to

wherever they could be found.

     The Battle of Fairbanks, as the newspapers were later

to call it, was over. Casualties were high: ten dead and

twenty-three wounded. Gordy and March both survived to

spend time in prison. Among the dead were eight members of

the union extra security force (three of them killed by

their fellow vigilantes), one policeman, and a cleaning

woman employed by the Alaskan National Bank of Fairbanks.

				
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