Title: Linear Shift
Author: Paul B Kohler
Published: April 7th, 2015
Publisher: Global Endeavor Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
~ Synopsis ~
~ Excerpt ~
As Peter lay on the sofa bed, he looked around the darkened room, waiting. Slivers of bluish moonlight cascaded through the partially open drapes, saving Peter from utter obscurity. He listened intently toward the bedroom door. Silence. Julie was sure to be fast asleep.
Wondering if it was time to get moving, he glanced at the nightstand, but the moonlight wasn’t cooperating. He moved his wrist in front of his face, but he couldn’t see the hands on his new watch either. It has to be after one, he surmised.
He dropped his legs off the hide-a-bed mattress and into a new pair of trousers he had purchased a few days earlier. He stood, sliding his feet into a pair of Oxfords, which were the closest to casual tennis shoes he could find. Finally, he grabbed the tattered leather jacket acquired from a secondhand store and stepped into the hallway.
The lights were dim because of the late hour, but they were bright enough that he could see his watch. It was 1:46—later than he’d anticipated but still giving him plenty of time.
Peter took the back stairway, which dropped him in the alley behind their hotel. The guest parking lot was just across the street. Peter had purposefully parked the Packard in the back row to avoid waking anyone when the engine rumbled to life.
As he slalomed his way through the parking lot, he considered the leather jacket. The temperature was hovering around sixty degrees, but the humidity was high. He contemplated leaving it, but with only a white cotton T-shirt, it might be useful, if a bit uncomfortable. He slipped it on as he slid into the driver’s seat. He chuckled at the reflection in the rearview mirror. He looked like James Dean from Rebel Without a Cause. It was one of Minnie’s favorite movies. If she could only see me now, he mused. Of course, she wouldn’t be born for another thirty years.
Peter eased out of the lot and turned toward his midnight destination. In all practicality, he could have walked the mile and a half to the bay, but the thought of lugging his supply bag made him rethink his mode of travel.
At nearly two in the morning, the streets were deserted. Without traffic, he could make it the water’s edge and back with time to spare. The only unknown lay beneath the streets. His plan was simple. Tonight’s excursion was Peter’s “dry run” into the U.S. Mint.
Back in 2013, Peter had meticulously analyzed all potential entry points into the mint. Armed with Chet’s fortuitous information, Peter had discovered the only feasible, yet incredibly unsanitary, approach was through the city’s sewer system. According to the historical maps, there were several storm drain overflows that dumped directly into the bay. Because the sewer had recently gone through a major renovation, the outlets still remained uncovered. It wasn’t until 1953 that the vulnerability was discovered and barriers installed. Since that wouldn’t happen for another eleven years, Peter was free to enter the sewer at his leisure.
The ten-block drive was mundane, and within minutes Peter had parked along the pier. Considering whether or not to leave the car so close to his entry point, Peter opted for convenience. According to his schedule, he could make it to the mint and back within fifty minutes.
Peter opened the trunk and pulled out a large duffle bag. From its side pocket he slipped out a neatly folded packet. He slung the bag over his shoulder, stepped over the rope barrier, and climbed down the stone embankment. By the time he reached the water’s edge, he had unfolded his map and was studying it in the moonlight. Once he had his bearings, he walked another twenty paces until he came upon a large concrete tube. Stepping over two rows of heavy riprap, Peter stood up in the mouth of the opening. Flicking on his flashlight, he strode into the darkness.
He had expected the ceiling to descend, but after a dozen steps into the bowels of the city sewer, he was still able to stand fully upright. Adjusting his map, Peter plotted his route and continued onward.
The map—the proverbial key to the castle—had been something of a windfall. Chet, the coin shop owner, had spoken of a flaw in the original security. The original documents had been sealed shortly after the flaw was discovered. Luckily though, the sixty-year confidentiality had serendipitously expired only a few months before Peter’s trip through the time machine. He had examined every detail regarding the breach and had found an unaltered map of the city sewer system. Peter hadn’t been able to take the map out of the records room, so he’d had to memorize it. His map was something he was quite proud of; he had drawn it completely from memory upon arrival in 1942. With his architectural background and razor-sharp memory, he’d been able to sketch the map with superior precision, even without the benefit of the original.
After a few hundred feet, Peter stopped to review his map more closely. He had been navigating smoothly for no more than five minutes before he came upon his first variance.
Peter rotated the map as he made a slight right turn before continuing straight for another fifty feet. As his eyes adjusted to the murkiness of the sewer, Peter pointed the flashlight toward the ground and let the light float down the tunnel. In the distance he could see his first obstacle. He had to jump across the main diversion tank to make it into the main sewer line, which ran straight to the mint. Stepping to the edge of the tank, the crevasse was not as far as it appeared on his map. At the reduced scale of his drawing, he’d anticipated the gap to be in the neighborhood of nine feet across. Thankfully, whether by his error or inaccuracies in the original map, the distance was closer to six feet.
Stowing the map in his inside jacket pocket, Peter tossed his duffle across. It landed with a muffled thump before rolling to the side. He took half a dozen steps back, turned, and ran for the divide. A split second before leaping over the opening, he heard a loud howl echo throughout the concrete network. His nerves clenched instantly, but his focus and training prohibited a catastrophic error and potential injury.
Reaching the edge of the opening, Peter leaned forward as his legs shot his body over and across the gap. He landed with an easy tuck-and-roll, standing at the conclusion of his acrobatics. Without hesitation, Peter reslung the duffle over his shoulder and moved forward. Not even a minute had passed when the screeching echoed through the tunnel again. Peter stopped and flashed his light through the darkness as far as the rays would reach. All he saw was a trickle of water at the bottom of the brick-lined cylinder. With no desire to meet whatever had made the horrendous sound, Peter trudged on. Based on his progress, he still had another twenty-five hundred yards of pitch-black labyrinth to navigate before reaching his destination.
As the minutes passed, Peter focused on his footsteps. His new shoes were completely coated with the gelatinous slime that coated the bottom of the storm drain. He wondered how he’d clean them so Julie wouldn’t find out in the morning but decided to handle one obstacle at a time.
As he explored the dark underbelly of San Francisco, he wondered if he should have bought a gun first. But, he argued with himself, it’s a practice maneuver; why the hell would I need a gun? However, the noise—whatever it was—sounded like it was getting closer.
Turn by turn, Peter noted adjustments on his map. He was able to circumvent the various discrepancies and make it to the mint in a little more than thirty minutes. He would have made it much faster if he hadn’t brought everything and the kitchen sink with him. But he knew that preparation was the pivot point for the success or failure of his mission, so he had brought something for every foreseeable complication: extra batteries for the flashlight; dry clothes, in case the waste of the world decided to find him attractive; and a small arsenal of tools for any eventuality.
Finally he arrived at his destination—a large, open vault directly below the courtyard. From his estimation, it could hold several thousand gallons of water. As he surveyed the room, he quickly realized that there was only one exit—the way in which he had entered. He prayed the weather cooperated.
Peter opened his duffle, removed the tool pouch, and stashed the bag into a small niche in one of the walls five feet from the basin floor.
Two steel ladders were mounted on opposite walls, each leading up to cast iron grates at the top of the sewer vault. Peter recalled that the courtyard was situated so that in the event of fire or other catastrophe, the employees could escape into the center of the facility for safety. Because of the enormity, the courtyard required multiple storm drains.
Peter chose the ladder on his right for its proximity to the egress pipeline. Peter knew the height of the grate was seventy feet above the floor. He had never had an issue with heights before, but now his mind began to play tricks. The ceiling of the vault itself was only fifteen or twenty feet high, but the ladder continued up and split into two separate shafts. Each shaft led to grates on opposite sides of the courtyard.
“Here goes nothing,” Peter murmured as he grasped the highest wrung within reach. As he pulled himself up to the first crosspiece, his weight was too much for the rusted steel rung, and he dropped to the ground as a dull twang reverberated inside the vault.
Concerned but determined, Peter tried again. He reached up and grunted his way to the second step before gaining purchase with his feet. Step by step, he scaled the ladder to the waiting cover. He concentrated on not looking down.
He moved methodically, not placing too much weight on any one rung. As he reached the top, the shaft tapered in, and Peter was able to lean his back against the wall as he stood with both feet on a single step. It was chancy, exerting so much weight on one rung, but he had no choice. He needed his hands free.
Looking up at the storm cover, he found that the grate was bolted from below, just as the city blueprints had indicated during his research. He untied the tool pouch and fished out a pipe wrench. After making a few minor adjustments, he fit the wrench snugly around the bolt and applied pressure. At first it didn’t budge. Peter repositioned himself to get better leverage and tried again. On his second attempt, the rusty bolt budged slightly and then broke free. The wrench slammed into the concrete wall with a metallic clang.
Peter quickly returned the wrench to the pouch and rubbed his stinging fingers. He stood on the metal step, waiting. He heard nothing for several minutes. With a firm grip, Peter pushed up on the storm cover. The grate didn’t budge. He didn’t see any more bolts.
Peter stepped higher and leveraged his back against the grate before exerting pressure. After a strenuous moment, he felt movement. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the grate breaking free, but the rusted rung pulling away from the concrete.
As it dislodged from the wall, gravity took over, yanking Peter downward. In a panic, he lashed out with both hands, trying to grasp anything, but the steel rungs were spaced a foot apart and his hands scrabbled at smooth concrete more often than the rungs. Finally, a few feet above the vault floor, he grabbed a rung and held on. His body stopped violently, slapping against the concrete wall. He quickly grabbed another rung with his free hand and placed both feet on the crosspieces below.
Discouraged, he dropped down the ladder and crossed to the opposite wall. With determination, he climbed straight up the concrete shaft, stopping just below the second storm cover. He smiled internally, as his second attempt went much smoother than the first. After the second bolt came free in his hand, he stashed the tools and attempted to dislodge the grate. To his surprise, the grate lifted freely, without any resistance.
Peter briefly popped his head above the ground level of the courtyard, and all was clear. Security lights shone throughout the plaza. As he peered through the slivered opening, he glanced at his watch. It was 2:58 a.m., and he was out of time. He lowered the grate and deftly climbed back down the ladder. Deciding to leave the tools with his duffle, he quickly re-secured his bag and began his trip back to the sewer entrance.
The trip out took half the time as it did coming in. Having kept a hold of the map, he only had to look at it twice the entire journey. The only disturbing issue was the continued howl of whatever wild animal was wandering the tunnels with him. He made a mental note to acquire a pistol before his full run at the mint.
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