Read Snowman Online

Authors: Norman Bogner

Tags: #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction

Snowman (10 page)

BOOK: Snowman
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"We're going after the Yeti."

"Back to Everest?"

"No, he's been traced to Sierra."

"That's impossible," Pemba said. "
Foi ye!
How?"

"No one knows. Pemba, I want you to be my sirdar."

Pemba's eyes revealed shock and anxiety. It seemed to Bradford that during this ten-year hibernation both of them had dreaded this moment. They had been imprisoned by their experience, and now the two survivors were being forced to be tested again.

Chapter Ten

It was late in the evening when the five men returned to the reservation. The Indian agent had been out on a bender for two days, and they took over his house for a preliminary strategy meeting.

The final member Bradford had selected for his team was a six-foot-five-inch Indian whom he had taught to climb when he first came to the reservation. Jamie Dask now spent part of the year as a guide, leading gentlemen mountaineers up scenic routes to Mount Whitney. He was an easy-going twenty-four-year-old who had hoped to play pro basketball. Although he was a strong rebounder for his size, he simply wasn't fast enough for the NBA.

Monte and Cathy were waiting for them. Monte had brought with him the scaled topographical map of Sierra and the layout of the resort. It was spread out on a rough-hewn rectangular table which was supported by wooden horses. For a while Monte watched with a sense of despair as Bradford moved a ruler and red felt pen over it, making crosses and triangles at various elevations. His fate was in the hands of this motley antisocial crew of wasted men. At best the prospects were bleak. He would lose the company money that had been advanced to Bradford and he would be eased out of his position. Word would get around to other companies, and Monte would be unemployable.

"The good news is that each man's share is fifty thousand dollars. An equal split," Bradford said as he studied his team's reactions. "The bad news is terrible. None of us is going to have the time to get into the condition we should be in for a high-altitude climb. You're not being paid that kind of money because we're going on a picnic. Some of us may die," he added, pitching his voice low so that the possibility gained a heightened reality. "If anyone has second thoughts, now's the time to pull out. When we're on the ice you may regret your decision."

Cathy watched him, and the pen trembled in her hand as she waited to list the supplies and equipment that would be required. He was courting death, challenging the other men to join him. Could such a man be stable? It was one thing to fight to protect one's life, but to climb onto the upper slopes of uncharted territory in sub-zero temperatures for the express purpose of encountering such a creature?

The unknown took on a form of unparalleled numbing shock as Bradford passed out the folder with the photographs of Janice's remains. The men examined the pictures impassively, as though they didn't believe them. Only Pemba understood what they meant. Bradford added other photos revealing the sheer face of the glacier and the giant towers of ice; these were even more grotesque than the dead girl, for they possessed the definite substance of actuality.

"What kind of animal did this?" Packard asked. The question started a tense murmuring among the men. Unless Bradford quickly squelched the super-human suggestions that were made, he knew, he'd lose them at the outset.

"It's a Snowman."

"We tracked him in the Himalayas," Pemba volunteered.

"How big?" Spider asked, studying the photograph.

"Larger than a bear," Bradford replied.

"Is he covered with fur?" Jamie inquired.

"The skin texture is something like a rhino's but it's covered by some kind of boned horns which protect it." They seemed to accept his explanation, without revealing any sign of fear.

"How much weight do we carry?" Janmie asked.

"What did you go up Whitney with?" Bradford inquired.

"Seventy-five pounds."

"At what altitude?" Pemba asked, running his finger along the route Bradford had tranced.

"Thirteen thousand feet. We made a thousand feet an hour in snow."

"Well, we won't be able to come near that on an icefall," Bradford said with certainty. "I'd guess at base camp, which we'll pitch at about fifteen thousand feet, we might just manage fifty pounds a man. Cathy," he said, startling her, "you'll have to get in touch with Kelty's in L.A. and tell them I'll need the same kind of equipment they gave me before for a high-altitude climb on ice. We'll have to have snap-links, pitons, ice axes, Meade tents, sleeping bags, and primus stoves. We'll send them suit and boot sizes tomorrow, and I want them ready in a day. If they haven't got what we need, let them go to other retailers. All right, Monte?"

"Anything you say."

Spider moved toward the fire and stood there warming his hands. He was joined by Packard, who had filled two glasses with Jack Daniel's.

"For explosives I'd like to work with plastic cord," Spider said, sipping his drink. "M-79 grenade launchers, two flame throwers. Okay, Pack?"

"Carlos should have that in stock. It'll mean a trip to San Diego. An AM-60 machine gun, which we can assemble and Jamie'll have to carry. If price is no problem, then I think each of us ought to have the Russian AK-47's."

"Carlos?" Monte interrupted.

"He arms all the mercenaries who come out of San Diego," Packard explained.

"Pity the 7.62 mini gun is too heavy. Fires seven thousand rounds a minute and nothing walks away from it," Spider said.

"It overheats," Packard said critically.

Spider lifted his glass to Bradford, but Bradford was shaking his head in disagreement. Packard asked, "What's the matter, Dan?"

"We can't use guns or explosives.

"I agree with Dan," Pemba said. "If you fire a pistol over a glacier we'll have an avalanche. There's no way you can risk firing!"

"Man, I was happy in jail. What the hell are you asking us to do, wear bedroom slippers and carry slingshots? Shit, I'm a demolitions expert, not a cat burglar," Spider said, downing his drink and furiously throwing the empty bottle against the cabin wall.

"Dan, for Christ's sake, we're going on trust with you. Don't we have a right to protect ourselves?" Packard asked.

"He's got a point"—Jamie was on his feet, ill at ease and worried—"you're asking us to go into this blind and bare. That girl was ripped apart."

"They've got to have weapons," Monte insisted.

None of the protests, however, had any affect on Bradford. He seemed to have withdrawn into some inner world where he was beyond the plane of the nervous people surrounding him. They were now quarreling among themselves, attempting to come to terms with the suicide mission Bradford was luring them on. His eyes moved over each of the faces, a stare so disconcerting it forced them to turn away.

"Pack set up a meeting with Carlos for tomorrow. I'll see you all in the morning."

Bradford left the cabin and walked into the sullen night. He was restless and concerned, grappling with a problem that had no logical solution. He strolled down to the stream and ran his hand in the cold, clear water. He lingered there for a few moments, listening to the rush of the stream as it thrust against the rocks, sending up cascades of fine spray. Nature has its music, and Bradford was attuned to it. He had deep regrets about leaving the reservation which had become his sanctuary.

Moving along the path was the lame figure of the Yaqui, an old man, bent and arthritic, leaning on a gnarled birch cane which one of the Indians had carved for him. The master and his disciple joined hands, but Bradford eventually withdrew his hand as though he had in some way betrayed the Yaqui.

"I don't think I'll be back," Bradford said.

"You can't know that."

"It's a feeling."

"Then don't go. Nothing is forcing you."

"The past is."

"There's no obligation to time.
La vida es sueño
. An illusion only, which innocent people try to define with clocks and calendars."

"The money I'm getting for this is going to the reservation for road equipment."

"Don't deceive yourself. It's not a question of helping the indians that's driving you, but something personal."

Not grace but revenge, Bradford thought, was what continued to pursue him in those dark periods between sleeping and waking. He returned to his tent and squeezed the juice out of the mushroom the Yaqui had given him and swallowed it. The
Amanita moscaria
instantly brought with it wild dilating shapes. The book beside his camp bed was transformed into a bleeding head that sprang into the air and circled him like a bird of prey. He was transported back over the ice to the cave of the lamas and heard the singsong monody of holy men chanting as he lay on his stomach, his eyes unfocused and roving over the clumsy paintings of the Yeti and the miniature depictions of Oriental figures at the feet of the Snowman, their primitive bows aimed at the colossus. In his vision the arrows fired from the bows appeared as black specks, a swarm of insects which clung to the Snowman's chest.

Pemba held Bradford's head in the crook of his arm and tilted a clipped wooden bowl to his mouth. The sour taste of
rakshi
, the spirit the Nepalese distilled from rice, burned his throat. The alcohol went directly to his head, and he was by turns giddy and raving as the blurred images of the lamas stalked toward him. The painted devil masks concealed their faces, the prayer wheels spun, the melancholy sounds of the long trumpets buffeted his ears, and he heard his voice echo through the cave.

"I want to kill the Yeti! I'll kill—"

He did not recognize the woman who took hold o[ his hand, moved by his agony.

"It'll be all right, Dan. You've got friends," Cathy said, staring into the tormented eyes of this man who had seen what was forbidden to other human beings.

Chapter Eleven

When Carlos Millan picked the port of San Diego as the site of his warehouse, he recognized that he would have access to one of the greatest natural harbors in the world and that the nature of the city would allow him to remain anonymous. The city had the perfect climate for conspiracy.

The warehouse was a two-story structure with nothing to distinguish it from others lining the harbor. Built of wood, warped by the salt air, and with loose roof shingles blown by the wind coming from the sea, it gave no indication that it was a mere shell housing a large bunker—a bunker fitted with two-foot-thick stainless-steel doors guarded by a laser-beam alarm system—and that its floor could be tilted by a single switch located on Carlos's ornate Country French desk and the entire contents of the bunker dumped into the harbor in thirty seconds.

In order to get into Carlos's bunker Packard and Bradford went through metal detectors and were searched by bodyguards. Packard's photograph and fingerprints were checked in a data bank. Bradford reluctantly posed for his picture, was fingerprinted, and waited while an index file was begun under his name. No federal agents were going to walk in and bag Carlos unless they brought a battalion of Marines with them.

Carlos did not like references describing him as "in the gun or arms business." He saw himself as an armorer, a trade which possessed precedents of historical respectability. Although he sold guns which one of his factories secretly manufactured in Baja California, his profession was considerably more sophisticated. Carlos responded to challenges which would force him to use his ingenuity. He was an inventor, a specialist.

The difficulty of the problem presented to him by Packard and Bradford was just the kind that he enjoyed.

Bradford peered at the small, sallow-skinned man, whose otherworldly expression was that of a scholar who had spent years in a library, removed from the pleasures and concerns of everyday life. At every section of the bunker weapons were on display, placed on their crates for a buyer to examine: AK-70's, .50 caliber anti-aircraft guns, M-90 bazookas, 90mm mortars, M-69 grenade launchers, eight-foot-long recoilless rifles, and a single 50mm howitzer. It was an arsenal with the finest modern weapons used bv the Army, and it would take just that kind of firepower to overpower Carlos and the thirty-odd men who worked for him.

"I don't see how I can help," Carlos said. He sipped a cup of yerba maté tea, then puffed on his cigar. "I'm fascinated, or perhaps 'tantalized' is the better word. How—
Madre de Dios
—do you propose to kill whatever it is you are after in the mountains without causing an explosion? Perhaps biological warfare or nerve gas?"

"No. Even if we could drop it over the area, we'd kill all the wildlife and innocent people."

Carlos turned to Packard. "Why don't the two of you work at something more reasonable? They could use you in Argentina or Rhodesia or any of the African nations who need mercenaries."

Bradford refrained from explaining the nature of his mission. How could he rationally describe tha Yeti, the awesome power of the creature, without arousing Carlos's contempt? He took out a sheet of paper on which he'd made a rough drawing. He laid it on the desk.

"A bow?" Carlos said. It was difficult to know if he was jeering or simply surprised. "It never would have occurred to me."

"A crossbow with a telescopic sight."

Packard was irate, and in his anger he began to tremble with frustration. "Dan, I don't know what's wrong with you, but this is suicidal."

"Be patient," Carlos counseled, moving to a drawing board and turning on a high-intensity light. "Go on . . ."

"l'd need something light, a compound. Aluminum alloy constructed with pulleys and levers and a stabilizer."

"You'd get greater velocity and much flatter trajectory than with a recurve bow," Carlos said as he gracefully moved a drawing pencil over a fine sheet of paper.

"I'd need that because of wind factor. A hundred-pound compound would be like shooting a hundred-and-forty-pound recurve."

"With the levers and pulleys you'd increase the speed," Carlos noted approvingly. "And that would enable you to overcome the problem of decreased speed with a conventional bow because of the arching flight."

BOOK: Snowman
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