How a man found truth by chasing a myth.
JOURNAL ENTRY 88 – Jackpot
I made the mistake of dating a professional activist in my early twenties. A few days before we broke up, I found myself at the front lines of a WTO protest in Seattle. It ended up breaking into a massive riot which provided an unwanted lesson in the police’s crowd control tactics. I had learned the hard way about tear gas, bean bag rounds and flashbangs.
That’s how I knew someone had tossed a stun grenade into the basement with us.
A bright, white blast had temporarily obliterated my vision and left my eardrums throbbing, making the surrounding screams sound as if they were underwater. A gunshot finally snapped me out of my stupor. I coughed violently, desperately waving away a cloud of scorching dust. I tried to stand but lacked the balance.
Someone dragged me into the main room and I was thrown into a pile with my compatriots. The ledgers leaning against the walls were on fire—perhaps from the explosion. I crawled over to Amanda and took her in my arms. “Are you okay?”
Amanda groaned. “I…I’m not sure.”
“Henry?” I called.
I heard Henry cough. “I’m here.”
Galina was gritting her teeth, fighting back a scream. She had been shot in the leg above her knee.
Three figures in black were standing over us with AK47s. Another man was behind them, making his way forward. His gray, tailored suit seemed severely inappropriate for exploring underground catacombs. A white smile beamed through the dust. Ryan Lumb.
“Goddamn, what a mess!” said Lumb, waving smoke away from his face. “Galina, why did you have to go and start kicking around? You got lucky against two guys back at the gulag, but three men with guns? You never had a chance.”
Galina was raging. “I’ll see you dead yet, you stinking piece of subhuman filth!”
Lumb flared his nostrils. “Phew! You’re one to talk, you smell like shit.”
The fire was getting larger but Lumb didn’t seem to care. “See what’s back there,” he ordered, directing his men toward the hidden room. Two of his cronies piled inside. They came back out with the pelts. The teeth. The bones. Everything.
Bat cringed at the sight. “No! Iruugai avaj nuruugai maijmar, ilgai avaj bogsoo archmar!”
Lumb snatched one of the pelts and twirled it lovingly in the air. “Jackpot!” He laughed like a little boy on a sugar-high. He was back in the candy store again. “Teeth and bones too? Son of a bitch! Amazing. Simply amazing.”
Bat redirected his attention to Galina. He tore a piece of his shirt off and tied it around her leg. It soaked through with bright red blood immediately, so he tied on another.
Lumb finally took his eyes away from his plunder and addressed us. “Poor Galina. I know you’re probably wondering ‘how could this happen twice!’ The truth is, I’m just better than you.”
Galina was too weak to respond.
“You’ve crossed the wrong woman, Lumb,” I warned.
“Two of them!” added Amanda.
Lumb coughed. “Well, I’d love to stay and gloat, but I’m afraid this fire is getting a little out of hand,” he said before quickly retreating to the tunnel. I saw one of the mercenaries stick something on the big iron door then back away with his pals.
“Everyone, get down!” I shouted. Amanda and I helped Bat pull Galina underneath the thick oak table. Henry pushed in beside us right before an ear-thrashing explosion filled the room. I heard chunks of debris and shrapnel embedding into the wood above us. The table settings flew away as if caught in a hurricane; plates shattering violently against the wall. The huge doors ripped off their hinges and clanged down the stairs.
As we huddled together in the smoke, Lumb and his crew rushed back inside. He addressed us from behind his gunmen. “Ah, the C4 worked. I just heard from my top-side associates there’s an abandoned factory above this basement. Boy, it would have saved me some time knowing that!” Lumb coughed again. He couldn’t help blathering, even when threatened by a rising, toxic cloud. “It’s a can-opener factory. How could they possibly get by just making can-openers? No wonder it was abandoned.”
I tried to ignore Lumb and assess the state of everyone under the table. Henry was unconscious, but alive. Amanda couldn’t stop coughing, but seemed alright otherwise. I was fine. Galina’s bleeding had slowed.
Lumb laughed. “Did you think I wouldn’t check in on my babysitters at the gulag? I may not care about you people, but I certainly don’t want to get ripped off! When I didn’t hear from them I assumed the worst.”
“This isn’t over. You’ll never get out of Russia in one piece,” moaned Henry. He was regaining his spark as Galina lost hers.
Lumb ignored Henry and turned to one of his hired guns. “I thought for sure this trove would be a few fathoms down. I suppose we could have extrapolated the location and just walked into this stupid basement using the stairs. Oh well, live and learn. Sorry about making you trudge through the sewers.”
The mercenary growled, seemingly displeased.
Lumb dumped his new trophies inside a huge aluminum case. The thick pelts strained against the hinges as he sat on top of the box, latching it closed. “Take it up,” he instructed, pointing to one of the grunts. A hulking figure grabbed the case and made his way up the stairs.
“We have to do something, before it’s too late,” I whispered to Amanda.
Amanda grabbed my wrist tightly. “No! he has a gun, you idiot,” she scolded.
I noticed the holster on Lumb’s hip as he pushed a massive, smoldering bookcase over in front of the tunnel entrance. The brick doorway instantly became engulfed in flames and fill the room with an orange glow. The walls were darkening with soot.
“Bastard!” I howled, standing up to face Lumb. He drew his pistol and sent a few shots into the tabletop, forcing me back down below.
“Is that all you got? I wonder how you even found this place,” said Lumb, lowering the gun. He hacked into a handkerchief as the smoke grew thicker. “Even with the map, we were all stumped. The boys had to blow a hole through the floor of some old urchin’s shack to get into the tunnels.” He hurried to the base of the stairs to avoid the heat. “I doubt the authorities will notice the smoke in time to save you. Your charred corpses will take the fall for my exploits…if there’s any part of you left to find. Farewell Galina.”
I ducked out of cover and rushed Lumb, hoping to buy us some time. A fresh bullet grazed my shoulder and I collapsed in pain. I heard Amanda screaming my name.
“Please, Vollus. I’d rather not kill you directly—that sort of thing keeps a man up at night.” Lumb dashed up the stairs through the hole in the floor. “You…take them out. I don’t want to take any chances,” I heard him say to an unseen man as soon as he reached the top.
“Fuck you, do it yourself.” It was the gruff-sounding mercenary again, and he seemed annoyed. “After making me wade through a fucking sewer for no reason you’re lucky I don’t kill you.” I heard his heavy footsteps walking away.
“Hey, come on, help me push this at least!” I heard Lumb cry.
I stood up and returned to my friends. “We have to get out of here…now! If we rush them, we might have a chance!”
To be continued:
Artwork by Skinner
Used with permission. © 2017 Skinner
Underneath its pulpy trappings, Siberian Waste is a story about conservation. Consider donating to one of the following Earth-friendly organizations:
Natural Resources Defense Council: www.nrdc.org
Environmental Working Goup: www.ewg.org
Friends of the Earth: www.foe.org