Book: Precipice

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We stood there and watched the Russian patrol check two more buildings on the same side of the street as the sporting goods store, then they moved out of range of Titus’ cameras.  He stepped forward and leaned over a keyboard and hit a series of keys.  On the monitors the view changed as he put the system into scan mode.  A few minutes later he set it back to stationary when we didn’t see any other movement.

“Quite the setup,” I commented.

“My dad dug the hole in 1962 when the fucking commies were trying to put missiles in Cuba.  Weren’t nothing much here then but the air base and a bunch of dirt poor farmers.  Well, the crisis with the Russkies was over quick, but the cold war was in full swing so he decided to expand it and finish it. 

“We lived a few miles away in town, but he owned all this land and his father had owned the land the government took to build the base.  Mom, well she was the smart one.  Her dad was with a big, fancy law firm in Sacramento and she got him to look at the paperwork.  Turns out them government fellas screwed up, so he sued on their behalf.  Wound up getting millions out of Uncle Sam as compensation for the land they took.

“That took years, and it was the mid 70s by the time the money showed up.  He sunk a bunch of it into finishing this shelter off, then started putting up commercial buildings on top of it.  Pretty soon businesses were leasing his buildings and this part of town just grew up.

“Mom passed away in ’85 and dad moved down here.  Went kind of off the deep end without her.  He went in ’87.  After that I didn’t even think about this place for years, then 9/11 happens and after talking to my daughter and son-in-law my missus says it’s time for us to make sure we got a hidey hole.  I spent a bunch of Dad’s money cleaning the place up and making it modern, and damned if we didn’t need it after all.”

Titus had pulled another beer out of the fridge, drinking while he told me the story.  Can empty he went back to the fridge and cursed to find all the beer was gone.  Opening another of the doors he disappeared through it and I could hear him cursing and rummaging around.  Stepping to the doorway I just stood there amazed.

The room was a pantry and it was massive.  Floor to ceiling shelves stretched to the back wall which was easily fifty feet away from where I stood, and the room was probably thirty feet wide.  The shelves were stocked full of canned and freeze dried food.  Probably enough to have fed Titus and his family for years to come.

He emerged from a row towards the back, a six pack of Bud swinging from each hand. 

“Get the lights and door, would ya?”  He asked as I stepped aside to let him exit the room.

“Where’s your power coming from?”  I asked as I turned the light switch off and pulled the door closed.

“Solar panels on the roof of all the stores above us and a big bank of batteries down another tunnel.”  He clanked the two six packs into the fridge, pulling a beer out for himself even though it was warm.  “Want another?”

I shook my head.

“So what you going to do, son?”  He asked as he lowered himself back into his recliner and lit another cigarette.  “You going to Seattle?”

“Yes sir, I am,” I answered, not at all sure just exactly how I was going to accomplish that.  “But I’ve got to figure out how to get past these Russians, first.”

“That ain’t no big deal,” he said and I noticed he was starting to slur his words.

“What do you mean?”

“Funnels.  I mean tunnels.  Lots of ‘em for storms.  I’ll show you tomorrow,” he said and promptly passed out.

His head fell forward, chin resting on his chest.  His cigarette was still burning, held between the index and middle fingers of his right hand.  After a moment I stepped over and took the smoke and crushed it out in the ashtray.  Titus was already snoring and I suspected this was how he went to sleep every night.  Hell, after what he’d been through it was probably the only way he would ever sleep again.

Still too keyed up to think about sleeping I began poking around and opening doors.  I found Titus’ bedroom, the bed unmade and there was something about the feel of the room that confirmed for me he was drinking himself to sleep in his chair every night.

The next door I opened must have been his daughter’s room.  Blood was everywhere and it stank of death and decomposition.  Neither the woman’s nor the child’s bodies were in the room and I imagined the heartbreak he must have endured while disposing of them.  I closed the door in a hurry and moved on.

I found a large bathroom, complete with walk-in shower.  Set in the back wall of the pantry was another of the enormous vault doors and I wondered if this led to the storm tunnels he had mentioned.  Then a small room that was an armory.  Half a dozen rifles, pistols and a good supply of ammo were neatly stacked.  Several large cabinets were bolted to the back wall, securely locked.  I wondered what was in them, but wasn’t curious enough to invade my host’s privacy any more than I already was.

The final room housed the equipment that recirculated and filtered the air and treated the water.  I nosed around, surprised to find that the water supply was actually a well.  The pump was apparently powered by the solar panels he’d mentioned earlier. 

A large tank rested in the back of the room that held water that had been pumped to the surface and treated.  A booster pump supplied water pressure and another pipe disappeared into the floor, marked as “septic”.  Shaking my head at the elaborate shelter, I shut off the lights and headed for the bathroom.

Twenty minutes later, freshly showered, and bandages changed, I stretched out on the sofa and closed my eyes.  I’d checked the monitors before lying down, seeing a Hummer full of Russian soldiers drive by.  The town above must have been crawling with them.  Pistol resting on my stomach I struggled to sleep, imaging I was hearing the screams of Titus’ family after they turned.

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