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Friday, December 11

No Pain, No Gain: Part 7 – The Wilderness Retreat Center

"Why don't we just JERICHO jet the hell out of the place?" asked Jim-Bean.

"Too risky," said Hammer. "This is a populated area near Samson's airspace. We're not sure that this is their headquarters yet."

By the time the agents reached the little town of Renuncion, they ascended into open pine forest. The air was s hazy with Samson's smog, blown far east. The day was hot and dry.

Renuncion barely qualified as even a village. There were about four dozen homes, most of which were strung along the town’s main street. The houses were exactly what one would expect to see in a tiny American town: small, unspectacular structures that under some circumstances might seem “cozy.” Here the townspeople carried out their daily affairs almost furtively. Suspicious eyes peeked out at strangers from behind curtained windows. Children played quietly, seldom laughing, shying away from those they didn't know. Dogs, cats, and other animals also avoided contact with outsiders and residents alike.

Hammer brought up a satellite image of the town. "We think this is their headquarters. The book has mention of an address, and that's it."

Set upon a ridge miles from the next house, the property backed up on a national forest. Localized volcanic activity about four thousand years ago left a jumble of black and red surface outcrops in the area. The Wilderness Retreat Center was the last of a handful along the dusty gravel road: the road ended abruptly at a locked Forest Service gate and cattle guard.

"So can't we just send a STREETSWEEPER team in…" began Jim-Bean.

Hammer shook his head. "We scanned the area. No heat signatures. Nobody's in the house."

"That doesn't make any sense," said Archive. "What kind of Retreat is this place?'

"One where everybody's dead." Hammer pulled the car up. "Or they've already abandoned it."

The house was a small, modem, two-story structure. The curtains were drawn closed, but a light was visible burning upstairs. A two-car garage stood across the road. There was no lawn or garden, though the brush and grass were cut back from around the house and garage to reduce the risk of fire.

The agents got out of the car.

"Check this out," said Archive.

The aluminum mailbox, labeled J.A. ARMBRUCE, had deep, regular scratches in it. The base of the mailbox was about forty inches above the ground.

"Something big made those scratches," said Archive, inspecting the scratches. "Judging by the separation of the teeth and the jaw wide required to bite down on both sides…this was made by one really big dog."

Jim-Bean drew his submachinegun. "Great." more


posted by Michael Tresca at 11:22 AM

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