Authors: Teresa Reasor
She couldn’t allow that to happen. Not after all her parents had sacrificed to see she got this opportunity. And she certainly didn’t want to ruin anything for the other students. Regan nodded. “I’ll try and tone it down and stay under Quinn Douglas’ radar from now on, all right?”
“Yeah.” His tone conveyed disbelief.
A high-pitched whistle sounded. Stephen Berthold, another student, waved to them from in front of the canteen halfway across the compound, his pale blond hair distinctive even from such a distance.
Henry waved back and cupping his hands around his mouth, shouted, “We’ll be there in a minute.” He motioned for Regan to follow him. “I hope our clothes are still where we left them.”
They exited a chain link fence that sealed the site from the public and continued up the hill. Avoiding the gravel walk, Regan picked her way across the grass to the back of the Field Director’s office to a storage garage. One of the nine by five foot metal doors stood open. Tools used for both construction and digging were stacked along the walls, hung on pegs, or stored on a long counter at the back of the shed. Drums of oil and gas to feed the generators and pumps, as well as other motor driven machines on site, lined one wall and gave off a distinctive odor. Regan dragged their backpacks and tennis shoes from behind one of the drums and tossed Henry’s size fourteens and his pack to him.
“You know they really should lock this place up at night. If someone had a truck they could make a good haul,” Regan observed.
“I don’t think petty crime is much of a problem in so isolated a place. Aside from the campers, I’d be surprised if the total population of the area around Loch Maree was more than a few thousand.” Henry reached deep into his backpack and withdrew a quarter. “I’ll flip you to see who gets to dress first.”
She shook her head. “I’ll stand outside and guard the door.”
As she waited for him, Regan noticed she could get a complete view of the site from this location. She scanned the area for Quinn again. He and Fraser still stood on top of the cofferdam, digging in the sand with something. Her breathing hitched. Playing in the sand while the darn thing could possibly crumble from beneath them wasn’t a good idea. They continued on to another spot then stopped again to dig. By the time they had reached the opposite side of the structure and climbed down, her muscles ached with tension. She shook her arms to relieve the cramp and drew a deep breath as she watched the two men walking toward one of the pumps.
Quinn had some nerve saying she was irresponsible and took unnecessary risks. Why was she getting so upset with him? Concerned for him—She barely knew the man. And he had certainly done nothing to endear himself to her.
Shaking her head, she shifted her attention to the site. It appeared to her that at one time there might have been a natural barrier of some kind, a hill or rise, which separated the monolithic circle from the loch, as the dam did now.
The steep slope on which she stood curved down to the shore on either side of the site like the sides of a bowl. The twelve-foot tall chain link fence followed the edge of the narrow main road. Across from it, where the steep slope of the mountain flowed upward, flat tiers had been carved into the hillside to accommodate wood framed buildings that housed offices, labs, storage facilities, and a canteen. Gravel paths undulated over the rolling terrain linking all the structures.
Familiarity with the tree-covered mountains of Kentucky hadn’t prepared her for the barren, steeply sloped crags of Loch Maree. The size and breadth of mountains was breathtaking. They sprawled against each other like sleeping behemoths just waiting to rise and shake themselves awake.
She turned back to the loch. Below, scattered groups of people clustered around the pumps. A long section of scaffolding suspended over the mud led out to the stones. Two people stood on the wooden platforms studying something on the face of one monolith.
Henry appeared at the door dressed in jeans and a tee shirt.
“Don’t you think it’s a little strange that Nicodemus is willing to part with so much money just to recover these particular stones? I’ve never seen a dig funded as extravagantly as this one. It’s a far cry from tent cities, water tanks, and porta potties.”
“I hear you.”
“There are already similar stone circles all over the British Isles.”
He shrugged. “If you have more money than God, you need a hell of a tax write-off. I imagine all this is being paid for through some kind of grant he funds.”
“I read somewhere he offered money to start this dig ten years ago and Historic Scotland turned him down. Wonder what happened?”
“Maybe they weren’t hard up enough for funding and thought they could study the site themselves without his contribution.”
“Sandra Shumaker, one of the artifacts analysts, took me around yesterday morning before our dive. The analysis and restoration labs are a dream.” Regan untied the sleeves of her dry suit from around her waist. “Sandra said all the buildings are going to be used by Historic Scotland as park facilities when the dig is complete and the stones are opened to the public.”
“So there you go. A donation of this size to the Scottish government is bound to influence someone. You’re the one who’s always saying that everything is about money, sex, or politics. If you follow the money trail you’re bound to find the end of it.” He frowned down at her. “You’re not planning to stick your nose into that too, are you?”
She smiled. “Are you saying I’m nosy, Henry?”
She laughed. “It isn’t hard to figure out. Nicodemus builds ships. It’s one of his biggest industries. Those ships run on oil and Scotland has a supply.”
“Sounds as though you’ve done some research.”
“A little.” A woman had to be cautious traveling to a strange country in the company of strange men to work for an even stranger, more powerful man. “Weren’t you curious about whom we’d be working for when we won this appointment?”
“Some. But not enough to look too closely. I needed the job too much.”
“I did too.” Regan slipped inside the garage. She stripped off her dry suit and thermal underwear. Feeling exposed, despite Henry standing guard at the door, or maybe because of it, she hurriedly dressed in jeans, a sweater, and tennis shoes. Folding her dry suit, she shoved it into her pack with her underwear and stuffed the glutted bag, with her weight belt, buoyancy vest, and flippers, back behind the drum. Scuba diving equipment was expensive and, low crime rate or not, she wasn’t taking any chances with hers.
As they walked from behind the Field Director’s office to the path, she remembered another snippet of information about Sebastian Nicodemus she had gleaned from the net. “He’s a collector,” she said continuing the conversation they had begun earlier.
“Yes. The last dig he funded was in Nigeria. The Nigerian government gifted him with some kind of artifact as payment.
Henry glanced down at the stones. “He’ll pay hell getting one of those in his wall safe.”
Quinn taped the schematic of the cofferdam up on a free standing white board so all the men could see it. Fergus’ office was little more than a twelve by ten section of the larger structure that housed the surveying team. The group of ten men and one woman was crammed into the small space.
He marked the four areas where lightning had struck and the stability of the dam might have been compromised. “Check these four areas in particular. Follow the plan and if there seems to be any damage, send up a marker buoy to designate the area and get the hell out of there. This thing is put together like a tongue and groove floor. If one section is weakened, it may remain stable because of the rock, sand, and gravel filling the inner core, as long as the water seeping in can be pumped out. Or it could come apart like the teeth in a zipper and empty into the loch.”
“That sounds like bloody fun,” Struthers MacIntyre, one of the divers commented. He murmured an apology to Adeline Fraser, the Foreman’s wife, standing next to him.
She shook her strawberry blond head and threw up a hand in a dismissive gesture. “During the construction of the dam the engineers put in metal supports to stabilize the structure, then filled the entire bottom of the dam with concrete to prevent leakage. The chances of it coming apart are very slim. It was constructed with the steel pilings so it could actually be used as a permanent structure. The interior of the core will eventually be filled with concrete and the sides reinforced by earth. It does have exterior supports set at intervals as well. It would take a direct blow to damage it, or an unusual occurrence.”
“Four lightning strikes in one night would be considered unusual and one that could compromise the dam since it hasn’t been completed,” Quinn argued.
“Four. Are you sure?” Adeline’s eyes rounded in surprise.
Quinn picked up an object from her husband’s desk. At first glance, it looked like a long bit of dried branch coral encrusted with barnacles. “We found four different fulgurites at four different locations inside the core.
“What is that, Quinn?” one of the divers asked, his bushy brows clumped together in a frown.
“It’s where the lightning strikes the sand and melts it into glass then sand adheres to the outside while it’s liquid.” Quinn offered it to him. “I’ve seen them before, but none as long as these. They’re very fragile and most break into pieces when you dig them.”
The man took the vein-like sculpture and turned it in his hands to study, then passed it on to Adeline.
“There may be no damage to the dam,” Quinn continued. “But I want you all to go on the premise that there is, so you’ll be prepared should something unexpected happen. I’d use the ROV if it wouldn’t take several days to go over the structure in the time you six can do it in a few hours. If there’s damage, we’ll have to evacuate the site and get the engineers in here to repair it before work goes any further.”
Fergus Fraser cleared his throat drawing everyone’s attention. “Mr. Nicodemus will not be happy with any delays.” His unhurried manner of speech seemed irritatingly slow to Quinn.
“He’ll be more unhappy if the dam gives way and water covers the site again.”
Fraser inclined his head in agreement. “I’ll notify him of what’s happened and what you’re doing to correct the problems.”
“My crews will be carrying audio feeds. “’Twill take only a few minutes to set them up and go back to the ship to monitor them.”
“What about the pumps, Quinn?” Fergus asked.
Quinn held his tongue for a beat as his resentment spiked. The foreman’s worry over the pumps seemed petty when his brothers and the other four divers would possibly be risking their lives for the sake of a few bloody stones. “I’ve set some of the more mechanically inclined staff to checking the pumps. The two I looked at will have to be replaced. The motors were blown and the ground fault receptacle melted. They must have received a hell of a strike.
Fraser swore beneath his breath.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. That it happened to one is strange, but to happen to all four—” Quinn shook his head.
“There’s something else strange as well,” Rob said, gaining everyone’s attention. “I was checking my compass while on the dock. There’s something wrong with it. The needle goes around in an erratic manner and won’t give a true reading. We checked some of the others and they’re doing the same.”
“The only way that would happen is if they were exposed to a powerful magnetic field,” Fraser said, his pale eyes holding a light of interest.
“We have a few magnets aboard
but we don’t store them anywhere close to the diving equipment,” Quinn said.
“All things in nature have a magnetic field, Quinn The lightning may have done more than melt some sand. If there is any lodestone nearby it could have changed the magnetic field. But the chance of it affecting your team’s compasses is doubtful unless they were very close to it.”
“We were on the dock about forty feet from the cofferdam,” Rob offered.
Fraser shook his head. “From that distance the field would not be strong enough.”
Quinn studied the compass. He frowned at the needle’s erratic swivel. What the hell was wrong with it? “You say they’re all like this?”
Logan nodded. “Aye.”
Fuck. His people would have to dive without compasses. He’d call the dive off if he could. “I’ll move
here.” Quinn pointed to a position in the center of the cofferdam. I’ll point her bow toward Slioch and we’ll use cave diving reels tied beneath the deco station to fan out. Visibility is poor. If it’s too bad, we’ll wait a few hours and let the current carry more of the silt downstream before we dive.”
Regan stood at the waist high dump sifter and gently worked the dishwashing liquid into the goose’s feathers while Stephen Berthold held its beak closed and Henry held the bird’s body still. “I think that’s got it,” she said. She picked up the spray nozzle attached to the hose and began to rinse the soap from the bird, splattering her clothes in the process. The water ran through the sifter screen onto the ground and over her tennis shoes.
Stephen eyed her shirt. “Maybe you should have stayed in your dry suit.”
She glanced up at him. “Had I known I’d be giving a bird a bath, I would have.” She shrugged.
“It’s punishment for being where we had no business being.” Henry turned his face away from the spray.
Henry’s paranoia was growing tiresome. “Punishment would have been if you’d had to walk into that slime with waders on to get this poor thing.” She nodded toward Rick Rogers, busy hosing down the hip waders he’d used to retrieve the two trapped geese. “We’re students, i.e. we do the grunt work that no one else wants to do. How did Rick get that job?”
“We flipped to see which one of us would have to do it,” Stephen admitted, a grin lightening his usually serious expression. He spoke perfect English, but his German accent gave his words an attractive edge.
Regan flashed Henry a look. “You can stop being paranoid. It was my dive that was reported to the powers that be, not yours.”