Halloween Surprise (pt. 27/30)

After sunset

Lila reached for the logbook at the same time as Joe. Their hands collided and they fought over the document.

Finally Ian reached between them and grabbed the thin book. “Let’s put it here on the counter where we call all have a look.”

“But you don’t even read Russian,” Lila said incredulously.

“Doesn’t matter,” Ian admonished. “Maybe I’ll see something you miss.”

Lila ran her hand across the cover, smoothing the wrinkled paper. “Let’s start with the front. This looks like some sort of code. I’m hoping for this.” She swept her hands to include the whole setup around them.

Joe picked up from where she left off. “It took Ian going through two locks to get to it, so obviously it’s important. Maybe it’s a disarming sequence.” He looked around for anywhere they could input the numbers. There were two keyboards, one on each side of the vehicle.

Joe quickly walked to one of the keyboards and Lila assumed the ready position by the other one.

“Joe,” Lila called out quietly, “do you see where it says alternate monitor on the screen area? Click into that area and open up an interface.” Joe rapidly did as she said. Lila mumbled to herself as she searched through the system for the right computer program.

Joe motioned toward them. “I’ve found it. Go in through the internal dialogue box where it says system functions.”

“I don’t see it,” Lila said in frustrated tones. “Oh, wait, I got it. Now what?”

“There’s a place on the left hand side to enter letters, and digits on the right. Do you see it?” Joe asked Lila. He glanced at his watch. “And I hope you see it really quickly as we have less than 15 minutes to get this done.” Lila grunted in frustration as she scrolled through screens and received error messages, but she finally managed to access the menu.

“I’m guessing we have to enter everything at the same time. Joe, do you see the little lock icon on the top right of the final square?”

“Yep,” Joe said calmly. “Wait for me at the end and we’ll press enter together.”

“I’ll read out the code,” Lila offered. Ian took up a position beside her and aimed the flashlight at the cover, holding it up in front of Lila. She began to read aloud the series of number and letters. “S, no С. Wait.” She rubbed her eyes briefly. “I’m mixing my languages. Maybe Joe should do this.”

“Steady,” Ian told her, “Take a breath and focus.”

Lila took a deep breath and began once again:

С Р Н П 2 Х З 8 7 Ц Ю 9 Ш Б 2 4.” 

With a coordinated tap on the keyboard, Joe and Lila entered the last digit simultaneously.

“Ready?” Lila asked Joe.

“Ready,” he replied softly. “On the count of one press enter. One!”

They hit enter at the same moment.

There was a pause in the countdown, but then they heard a beeping noise.

“Shit. Error.” Lila’s eyebrows drew together and she pulled the cover closer. “Ian shine the light right… there. Yes, that’s it.” She studied it for a moment. “Crap, it’s Щ not Ш.”

She wiped the moisture from her forehead, perspiring heavily in spite of the rapidly dropping nighttime temperatures.

“It says that we get one more chance,” Joe pointed to the blinking message line on the right side of the screen.

Halloween Surprise (pt. 25/30)

Shadows on the wall

It was dark and spooky beneath the tarp, with a deadened feel in the air. Lila crept over to the closest window and stood on tiptoes to peer inside the vehicle. Shining the red light from her flashlight through the glass, she had a feeling that at any moment she was about to see a horde of shambling zombies lunging toward her from inside the RV. Lila shivered.

“Creepy much,” she whispered.

Lila felt Ian slide in beside her to peer through the window.

“Wow.” He whistled almost silently.

The interior of the RV looked almost exactly like the control room of the Bilibino nuclear power plant that they had just toured, except everything was compacted into about a third of the space. The room was slightly illuminated by the flickering lights on the instrument panel. From what she could see of the space, there didn’t appear to be anyone currently in the vehicle.

Joe was acutely aware of how the canvas covering would move around them as they repositioned themselves. He pushed his hands against Ian’s and Lila’s shoulders, warning them to stay tightly pressed against the vehicle’s surface. “Slide,” he breathed into their ears.

One at a time, with Lila in the lead, they edged their way around the vehicle until they reached its door. Trying to find a joint or handhold, Lila ran her fingers carefully across the icy metal surface. She gave up in frustration after a couple of minutes and moved to the other side of the door to aim the flashlight at the door’s surface.

Ian moved in front of the door and identified what appeared to be a locking mechanism. He withdrew a fancy looking 3-in-1 tool from his pocket, from which he removed a finger-length piece of metal. He inserted the metal tip into the lock and pulled a clamp connected by a wire from the other side of the tool, which he fastened to the edge of the lock.

Pushing a button on the main body of the device, there was a brief surge of current and a spark emitted from the lock, after which Lila heard a smooth click. The door popped open so quickly it nearly brained Ian, and it was only Joe’s quick reflexes pulling him out of the way that kept him from being hurt.

They looked at each other apprehensively, and then Lila reached her foot up onto the first step and started climbing into the RV, taking hold of the railing alongside the short staircase to maintain her balance. She cautiously climbed the steps, keeping her flashlight trained on the area directly in front of her feet. As Lila reached the main level, she could see a closed and presumably locked door in front of her. She leaned down to wave Ian and Joe forward, waiting for them to reach the area next to her before continuing to the door.

Ian knelt down to study the door’s dead bolt before going through the same unlocking procedure with his device. He stretched out his hand, gently pulling downward on the European style handle. At that same moment they heard what sounded like a toilet flushing.

Lila blanched, her eyes huge. Scarcely daring to breathe, Ian released the door handle in slow increments and backed toward the bus entrance. Joe stopped Ian’s and Lila’s backward movement by the simple expedient of placing a hand on each of their backs. He gestured for them to stay in position, and they stood there for a few minutes until there was no further noise. At that point, Joe edged forward to once again open the door in front of them.

Halloween Surprise (pt. 24/30)

Watch the lights…

Joe steered through yet another long glide across the frozen earth as Lila clung to the door handle to keep from sliding across the seat. Looking out the window, her eyes viewed the rocky surface covered in snow.

“Not the best area in which to be driving,” she commented.

“Nope,” Joe said curtly.

“Wonder if they’ve got snow tires on here.”

“Yep,” Joe replied shortly.

“Kind of tense,” Lila said with a small grin.

Joe made a growling noise in his throat.

Ian, who had remained quiet up to this point, cleared his throat. “I think we’re getting close.”

“Why do you say that?” Lila asked skeptically.

“Because we’ve been on the road almost 40 minutes and since we’re going in the right direction, I figure we should be there any minute.” Ian checked his wrist watch GPS to confirm. “Yep, almost there.” He scanned the horizon.

Joe continued driving slowly along the dirt track, which paralleled a wide river. Ian shook his head in amazement at the difficult driving conditions. “I can see why they use ice roads here. This weather is no joke.”

“Yeah, driving on permafrost takes special skills,” Lila added.

The Lada inched its way into the mining town as it was getting dark in the early twilight of the far north.

Car headlights aglow, they drove directly toward the mine, Ian navigating with his GPS. “Straight ahead,” he muttered. “There! On the right.”

Joe pulled into a portion of the road where the snow had been cleared away. The three of them got out of the car quickly and hiked toward the mine entrance.

A slow trickle of workers made their way from the mine, walking slowly down the path. The trio felt conspicuous in their outdoor gear in comparison to the miners, who wore red and white helmets with mounted headlamps, and gray, blue and camouflage jackets, some with reflective strips circling their arms and chests.

Keeping their heads down, Ian, Lila and Joe trekked up toward the mine works, scanning for anything resembling a nuclear recreational vehicle.

“Nothing yet,” Lila mumbled. “Keep an eye out for a brown RV that looks like something your parents would be vacationing in if they were Russian nuclear scientists.”

“Ha ha,” Joe said sarcastically. “I can’t picture my parents having anything to do with an RV, even if they were nuclear scientists, which they definitely aren’t.”

“Well, how do you know what they would be like then? I mean, if they were interested in having their own mobile nuclear power plant, they’d be very forward thinking. After all, they’d never have to think about another power bill,” Lila said thoughtfully.

“Just a sudden meltdown or other hazards,” Joe pointed out in an offhanded manner.

“Well, there’s always a downside to everything,” Lila quipped.

“Some more serious than others,” Ian agreed.

They walked over a ridge and saw the entrance to the main mineshaft, which appeared to be supported by sections of corrugated steel.

“Fancy,” Lila remarked.

“Indeed,” Ian said wryly. “Decorated à la corrugation. Are you sure we actually have to go into the mine to find this thing? Is it supposed to be buried inside or sitting around waiting to be found outside?”

“I’m not sure,” Lila said meditatively. “Look over on that side,” she motioned to the side of the entrance, “and let’s see if anything looks out of place.”

They walked around the side and then crawled up to the top of the hill, keeping a close eye out for anything that looked large and nuclear.

“Over there,” Lila said quietly, and motioned subtly toward what looked to be a large rectangular box covered by dark brown squares of canvas. They looked cautiously about, but no one seemed to be in this area.

The sun had almost completely set, and Ian pulled out a small red light LED flashlight. “Keep what vision we’ve got,” he explained softly.

They crept to the side of the tented object and the three of them lifted up the edge of the tarpaulin. Lila reached for Ian’s flashlight and ducked underneath.

Halloween Surprise, pt. 6/30

As the sun sets, the adventure begins.

“Sweet.” Ian said. He held out his hand for the Slinky-key as Lila had mentally dubbed it.

He examined both parts of the key and snapped off the key part from the bottom half of the Slinky. Inserting it into the entrance lock, Ian opened the door and they began walking up the hallway to the elevator.

After arriving at the third floor with a quiet ding from the elevator, Lila cautiously poked her head out and tugged Ian’s arm to get him to walk with her to the stairwell. “Remind me again why we’re walking up from the third floor instead of taking the elevator.”

She looked at Ian for clarification.

“Because it’s far easier for people to wait outside the elevator doors since they would expect us to come up that way instead of walking.”

“What people?” Lila asked in a frustrated tone of voice. “We still don’t know who’s behind this. If it were in the Soviet days, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see our comrade KGB friends waiting inside the door for us.”

They paused outside Room 432 and Ian once again snapped off a key-containing piece of plastic from the upper part of the Slinky. “Pretty handy, actually.” He murmured. “I’ll have to remember this if I ever have to hide a key in plain sight. Who‘d ‘a’ ‘thunk’ it.” He joked to break the tension.

Ian motioned for Lila to stand on the hinge side of the door and he bent low as he inserted the key into the lock and turned to knob. Pushing the door open slowly, he kept to the side. “Welcome.” They heard the voice and immediately recognized it was the box delivery person from the restaurant.

Lila and Ian looked at each other warily. “To quote you, WTF.” Lila said so only Ian could hear.

“Come inside,” The dark haired man – Charlie, as Lila had nicknamed him – motioned them to have a seat on the plush couch. They eyed him guardedly and took a seat next to each other, but not too close in case they needed to separately dive for the door.

“I’m sure you’re wondering why you’re here. By the way, good job on figuring out the key. I’d heard from some friends that you were skilled at your jobs, and now I know they were not lying.” He spoke with a slight Central or Eastern European accent. “You do not need to know who I am, but I certainly know who you are. Your exploits are well known in my field.”

“And that would be?” Ian lifted an eyebrow.

“That is for me to know…” The corner of the man’s mouth turned up in a small smile.

“And us to find out.” Lila finished for him. “You have us at a disadvantage. Perhaps you could fill us in.” She pointedly looked at her watch. “After all, as you say, we are such well known and busy people.”

“All in good time,” the man replied.

Lila barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. This whole evening was turning into a bad 1960’s spy flick.

“So what’s with the dosimeters,” she said crisply.

“What if I were to tell you that Fukushima is not the only radiation leak going on right now.”

Lila began to look interested. “I would say that I’m not surprised.”

“That is good because it is so.” Charlie paused, “I know Ian has worked with nuclear disarmament, and that you have a stellar record in the science world.” He addressed the last half of the sentence to Lila. She waited for the other shoe to drop.

“And?” She once again prompted him impatiently.

“As you know, the Los Angeles area has become quite a hub for the space industry. While this brings lucrative contracts, it also presents opportunities for those wishing to push the limits of science.”

Lila began to look interested. “Are you referring to El Segundo?”

“You are good,” Charlie praised. “Yes, there’s been quite a lot of research into the space time continuum.”

“You’re talking ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ stuff?” Ian asked mockingly.

Lila gave him a reproving look.

“What? We’ve already got the shirts.” Ian said innocently.

Charlie continued. “There’s been a mishap at one of the research facilities that has led to unintended consequences.”

“People died, you mean.” Ian said tightly.

‘Unfortunately, yes.” The man looked aggrieved. “Sergey and Anna were two of our best employees.”

“I’m really not interested in getting involved with Russian security services,” Ian stated flatly.

“This is a special case,” Charlie spread his hands beseechingly. “Your employers detailed you to us on special assignment.”

Ian looked skeptical. “And why wouldn’t they have communicated that to us directly? Why all the cloak and dagger stuff?”

“It’s a delicate situation, as I’m sure you understand.”

“Screw this.” Ian stood to leave.

The man pulled out a small 9 mm pistol. “Please, stay for dessert.”

“Perhaps we’ll stay a bit longer.” Lila tugged at Ian’s sleeve and pulled him down beside her on the couch. She slid her arm underneath his jacket around his waist and placed her hand over the holster strapped to his back.

Halloween Surprise, pt. 3/30

One thing leads to another

“That’s what I see all those billboards for, right?” Ian pointed outside to Sunset Boulevard.

“Yes,” Lila replied. “I wanted to go last year, but you were out of the country — again.”

Ian flashed her a smile. “Occupational hazard.”

“I know, that’s why I was hoping this year,” she gestured toward the piece of paper, “we would be able to go together.”

“We still don’t know who sent this note, or what they really want.” Ian’s voice trailed off as he took a closer look at one of the photos. “I know this guy.” He pointed to the photo of a red haired man with a big grin. “I’m not sure where, but…” Ian paused. “Wait.”

He stood up and walked over to a box in the corner and began rifling through a bunch of papers. Picking up a dented Altoids box and flipping it open, Ian pulled out a stack of business cards. “I knew it!” he said triumphantly. He showed Lila a card with the man’s photo and company name on it. “We met last year at a disarmament meeting.” Ian looked puzzled. “So what does he want with a hayride?”

“A hayride?” Lila ventured to guess sarcastically.

“Hardey-har.” Ian joked. ”I mean besides that.”

“A visit to purgatory obviously. Here, check out this website.” Lila pulled up the Haunted Hayride website and showed it to Ian.

“Wow, ‘one of the most paranormally active sites in all of California,’” Ian recited from the website. “Sounds like our kind of place.” He gave a quick grin.

“I’ve been wanting to go for ages, but just under different circumstances.” Lila’s mouth twisted.

Pearson jumped onto her lap and settled in for a nap as Lila began sorting the photos and info pages into piles. “Did you see this one?” She showed Ian a picture of blond girl who looked to be about twelve. “Why would they — whoever they are — have photos of kids?”

Ian’s eyebrows rose. “I don’t know, but maybe,” he paused to rearrange the photos, “these go in families.” He nodded. “Yep, check it out. One set of parents per two to three kids.” He looked over at Lila’s laptop and nudged her shoulder. “Let me take a look.”

She picked up Pearson and moved to the chair beside him so she could watch the screen after he seated himself and began typing. “Russian families spying?” Lila read aloud his search query. She looked puzzled and then her face cleared. “Like in that Magnum episode when he meets up with the woman who was a plant. Her family had been stationed undercover in the U.S.”

Ian pointed to the screen. “Or a few years ago, those ten spies that got sent back to Russia. Eight of them had kids. What better cover than being a nice family?” Ian sat back in his chair. “When I saw this guy,” Ian touched the red haired man’s photo, “he looked much older than in this photo.” He turned to Lila. “What’s his name?”

“Sergey Ivanov.” Lila read, and then quickly began sorting the photos by name. “Good idea,” she muttered, “each of these is tied together by last name.” After she finished, they had four families and one individual.

“I’m hungry,” she announced, “and I think better with food.”

“Tacos?” Ian inquired.

“I’ll get ready.” Lila pushed back her chair, set down Pearson, and went to change out of her work clothes into something more casual.

As they left the building and walked up the street toward their favorite taco place, Ian had the feeling that someone was watching him. He took a casual look around as they were crossing the street, and murmured to Lila, “Don’t look now, but we’ve made some new friends.”

Lila’s eyes widened subtly and her breathing sped up. She pulled Ian to a stop in front of several shop windows, using the reflections to spot whoever might be following them. She took a quick breath as she saw a dark haired man who appeared to be studying an apartment building across from them.

Dark Light

Sometimes it takes the dark to highlight the light

Ian and Lila have been through some pretty tough times the past couple of years. It has been no picnic on some of their adventures and the ending was never certain. It still isn’t. Focusing on what they do have helps them overcome the obstacles they face.

Happy Friday, everyone! If you have to “MacGyver” it a little bit to get through today, that’s fine. Remember to use what you’ve got! Sometimes there’s a little bit more dark to frame the light, but the light is still there…

Ian & Lila @Home

Ian & Lila's Home

Lila strung the lights across the balcony area — Ian couldn’t care less, but he grudgingly agreed that it added a European flair to the patio. Lila pointed out that was exactly the point. As usual, the only thing they could agree on was a little tequila with some lime to cut through the taste of a long day at work.