The storm decreased somewhat, allowing Charlie to pick up the pace, but his good fortune didn’t hold. In less than 20 of the 80 miles that lay before him, he encountered a ground blizzard, wind-driven snow, creating a foot-deep cloud blowing across the highway. Distinguishing the edge of the highway was often impossible. He considered turning back, but with the storm quartering him from behind, that probably wouldn’t change anything, so he pressed on at a snail’s pace, rationing his coffee to the last swallow. In spite of his extended time on the road, dawn was still two hours away when he spotted the sign announcing Pomona. After locating his east-west road, he turned right and mentally added five miles to the sum already showing on his odometer. True to the map, he found no structures for several miles. Then, just past the seven mile mark a farmhouse and barn emerged on the south side of the highway. They seemed innocent enough. Could this place be the source of the signals he’d intercepted? Maybe he was wrong. Maybe his being here on this blustery, wintry night was nothing more than the product of an overactive imagination. Who would this person be talking with? Would he be making contact with a U-boat? How far away would one be – four hundred miles, submerged in the Mississippi? A thousand miles in the Gulf? What could this Kansas prairie dweller know that would be of interest? This whole scheme was crazy. He was crazy and tired. Beyond tired. He was exhausted. Common sense told him to forget this ghost-chasing escapade and go home. But he couldn’t.
The wind was still at gale force, even though the snowfall had decreased to a flurry. A half-mile past the farmhouse he found a pullout, a place where the state may have erected a temporary weigh station for trucks. Pulling off, he shifted the Dodge into neutral and laid his head back to rest his eyes, and to think this situation through.
When he opened his eyes he knew that he had too much time and effort invested in this challenge to not see it through to the end. He had to investigate this farm before dawn and he had to do it now.
Fortunately, he always carried cold weather gear with him. It was an important step for survival he’d learned while in Iceland. Stepping out of the car, he slipped into his insulated coveralls, pulled his winter cap down over his ears, and then donned his heavy leather mittens. After checking his flashlight one last time, he began the half-mile trek back to the farmhouse.
Snow squeaked beneath his boots. The sound worried him, but the wind direction was such that the sound of his approach might be carried away. It probably wouldn’t even rouse a watch dog. Dawn was a half hour closer by the time he entered the driveway. He paused for several minutes listening and watching. Nothing.
There was no logical way he could check the house, not without some planning. The snow reflected enough light he was able to distinguish a large door hanging from an overhead track on the barn. Within the door itself was a smaller entryway. He found it locked with a simple blade that fell into a groove. One of the hinges growled in protest, and he tensed, waiting to see if the sound alerted anyone. Minutes passed. At last, he stepped through and let the door close behind him.
The darkness was absolute. Holding his fingers loosely over the lens of his flashlight, allowed only a limited amount of light to escape. Along the south wall were five horse stalls. Four of them were open and vacant. The fifth was closed. Carefully, he slipped the latch. Inside were a several dozen bales of straw stacked chest high. At first glance that seemed the extent of it. However, on the right side he detected a faint orange glow. A closer investigation revealed a narrow space near the wall. Slipping through, he found himself in a narrow space between two rows of bales. Near the far wall, was a three-tube transmitter with all the ear marks of home-brew. The filaments of a 6L6 provided the glow he’d seen. Near by was a manual T/R switch wired to an end-fed vertical antenna, a length of insulated wire taped to a 4×4 that disappeared into the darkened loft. Hard against the wall was a BC-348 receiver in out-of-the-box condition. Charlie was moving closer in order to read the frequency on the dial when he heard the door hinge. Someone had entered the barn.
He was boxed. There was no place to hide. A lamp came on, illuminating the radio area. The row of straw bales against the back wall were stacked in a haphazard manner. As the sound of heavy boots approached, he squeezed between two bales and then wiggled into a small gap on the back side. With his knees pressed against his ears and his arms wrapped beneath his thighs, he was able to slip from sight. Without a doubt the person wearing the heavy boots suspected something was afoot, because Charlie heard the metallic sound of a firearm was cocked. He held his breath.
Seconds slowly ticked away in silence. Then he heard the person move closer. For an instant he could feel his presence, the heat from his breath. He waited. After a few long minutes the person moved away and the side tone began, and Charlie copied the familiar numbers. The transmission lasted less than a half-minute. Then came a response. In less than two minutes everything had fallen silent. He heard the stall door close and latch drop in place and then the sound of heavy boots moving away. The light went out. Without a doubt the outer door would be latched as well.
In spite of his urge to remove himself from the situation Charlie checked the receiver frequency and found it nine kilocycles above that of the transmitter.
Using the blade of his pocket knife, he flipped the latch on the stall door. Once he was out of the stall he quickly made his way to the exit and eased the door open. To his relief the heavy snowfall had returned. He crossed the barn lot and then headed for his car. He was chilled through by the time he reached the Dodge and cleared snow from the hood and windshield. He was at a loss as to whom he should report his discover, the FBI or the Army Signal Corps? He was still pondering that question as he began his journey to Butler.