The Tunnel – chapter 1

Army Special Forces Major, Joe Wilks, has received a phone message. It is the first of three. This one doesn’t provide any clues about the other two. But he knows when Mr. Smith inquires about the family he and his team should prepare for a mission. Within an hour the phone rings again. It’s a vacation package offered by Willamette Ski Lodge. A canned voice gives a long-winded pitch about how they are offering a packaged vacation. Since he stayed with them two years ago they are offering him a special discount. If he wishes to know more he should press numeral one. Following his instructions he learns there will be a shuttle leaving the Eugene airport at 1000 hours sharp tomorrow.

After hanging up the telephone, Joe calls the Portland airport and books an 0700 flight to Eugene. Then he packs clothing suitable for skiing and calls a cab and makes arrangements to be picked up at 0600 hours tomorrow.

The shuttle is actually a chartered Greyhound. It’s packed, mostly college kids from the university, but Joe manages to find a vacant place in the rear. With his bag stowed in the overhead he produces a paperback novel from a jacket pocket in order to pass the slow eighty mile bus ride.

The weather is atrocious – great skiing weather, snowing on glare ice. Apparently the sand truck has not yet visited the highway leading to the summit. They are hardly forty miles from Eugene when the first sign appears: Chains Required. The driver uses the first turnout to install tire chains. Joe heaves an impatient sigh and checks his watch. But the driver is obviously experienced because in less than ten minutes they are once again underway. Traveling at a reduced speed another hour passes before the driver brings the bus to a halt at the front door, using a space reserved for shuttles. The sudden chill of the high mountain summit greets Joe with an icy jolt.

Joe’s been here several times, but he is awed each time by the massive facade, the large native stonework surrounding the entryway. It’s the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a remnant of the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal.

Mounting the two dozen steps, he enters the cavernous room. In the center, a gigantic, blazing  fireplace that is open on all four sides, provides more show than heat. Clutching his bag, he backs up to the flames hoping they will drive the chill away while he decides what his next move should be.

He doesn’t know who Mr. Smith will be this time.

 

 

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