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David Gilbert

Cold War

Gilbert Forbes dreaded a day of standing around while a journalist from the east coast, Lewis Goodman, interviewed "religious fanatics" who were in the process of digging up their backyards looking for Satan. Forbes wondered, will I have to help them dig?

The neighborhood was an hours drive out into the suburbs. Forbes parked near a chain coffee house where Lewis would be waiting. Suits were running from all directions to a rubric's cube of an office building as if a disaster were in progress.

Goodman had described himself as tall and bald -- no other details. Forbes found him hunched over a laptop pecking away with his outsized hands. With coffee to go, Forbes introduced himself. Goodman stood, but did not entirely unfold.

"Let me bring you up to speed," said Goodman. He glanced delicately at his laptop, made a final entry, his eyes friendly with their lids. "I've written several articles about ritualist abuse ... Satanic ... Sorry, I have trouble saying the word."

"No problem."

"We're going to an excavation. A community is looking for human remains in their backyards. The dig has stopped at a Mr. Stern's backyard. He has not given an interview. I will talk to all the principles today. I may need someone to investigate locally, the church, Seth Storm who is running the project. I've heard it's big."

"I read something about a child molester and digging in backyards," said Forbes as he moved around on his chair for comfort, but found none. "You want me to have a look at these people today -- is that it?"

"Right. Maybe some background checks." Goodman quickly put his laptop in a backpack. "This may be a good story Gilbert, but I have some apprehension about getting involved in yet another Satanic community."

"Completely understandable."

"There's been a threat."

Goodman produced an envelope and letter. The typed letter read, "Go home."

"That's a threat?"

"I found a dead cat in my hotel bed the on a previous assignment. I take this seriously, but I can't go to the police with such week threat. The letter was waiting for me in my room."

"I'll watch your back side."

"We should go."

Goodman followed Forbes to his car. Forbes's gait was awkward; he was more accustomed to waiting for the cheating husband to pull up his fly and step outside.

...

They turned into a tract of modest split-level houses. Large nut trees grew in most front yards. Many houses had basketball hoops above the garage doors or other signs of children. More than a few trucks were parked outside, even at ten on a work day.

"Slow down."

They parked. Goodman looked at his watch, a big gaudy thing that could survive a rocket blast.

"We're going to talk to Seth Storm. He's in charge of the project. You may be investigating him."

"OK, Lewis. I'll let you know what I think of Storm."

The yard was enclosed by a redwood fence. Storm was a roofing contractor; his new truck was parked in a double driveway. The gate was open. Storm was waiting at the door with a toddler in hand. He was surprisingly gracious.

"Let's sit at the dining room table."

Storm was wearing the kind of clothes he might wear while out making estimates, new work clothes. He was very fair, a bit of gel in his straight hair, light beard and ice blue eyes.

"Coffee?"

Forbes pointed to his coffee. Goodman declined and set his backpack on a long table hidden by a checkered vinyl covering that hung stiffly from the sides. He removed a tape recorder from his backpack and loaded a blank tape.

Storm returned with a steel thermos. The toddler, a boy, followed behind. Storm sat and poured himself a cup of coffee. His boy tugged at his hand.

"Mr. Storm, if you don't mind I'm going to tape the interview."

"Please. You do understand that I am going to give an interview, but a short one. I'll answer your questions, but our project is not for the media."

"I understand, but it will be hard to profile the people involved if I don't talk to them."

"OK. I guess I don't know what long and short are for a national magazine."

"We'll find out. Have you dug up the entire neighborhood looking for Satan?"

Storm roared with infectious laughter, more sonorous than might be expected. His boy ran over and climbed on his lap and tried to laugh like his father.

"When you'd like we can step out the back door and have a look."

"What are you looking for?"

Storm fussed with his son for a moment.

"In the 50's and 60's there was a Satanic cult in the neighborhood. The leader of the cult, a convicted child molester, owned Mr. Stern's house, the house directly behind mine." Storm turned to point through a room of big square furniture, but the drapes were drawn on the sliding doors. "The molester was murdered in prison. He left diaries that are full of Satanic pornography. We're simply cleaning out the backyards. Nothing more."

"Sounds reasonable," said Goodman. "Mr. Stern won't let you dig in his yard?"

"Not yet. Couldn't ask for a better neighbor, but the tractors had to stop at his fence. Nat is pretty stubborn. Unfortunately, the molester lived in his house from 1950 to 1971 when he went to prison. He bought it on the GI Bill."

"Were there other owners besides Mr. Stern?"

"Oh yes. Nat and I both moved into our houses in 85. Nat bought from an older couple who have since moved to Arizona."

Storm leaned forward and looked at Forbes, then Lewis.

"I haven't told anyone this, but I think my house may have been involved in the cult as well. The man who lived here, now a widower living in Modesto, was also accused at the time, but not charged. This much is public record."

"So there's a convicted molester and a neighbor who at the time was a suspect, but wasn't charged. We can assume that there was a chance that he was also a molester."

"More than a chance. A member of our church was a victim of both of the men when they coached little league."

"What have you found in the excavation?"

"You should talk to Dr. Hunter."

"Who is Dr. Hunter?"

"He's an archeologist. He'll be here soon. He can answer specific questions about the dig, but he speaks for himself."

"Let's go out back and talk," said Storm. "Follow me."

Carrying the toddler, Storm stepped through a door into the garage. It was a workman's garage with a table saw, bench and shelves. The heaped rubber boots could only be explained by the excavation. Storm passed around boots until everyone had a pair that fit.

"Bring your tape recorder. We'll keep on talking."

Goodman got his recorder. Storm his boys wiggling feet into small boots.

"Shall we?"

There was no back yard, just a dropping off into a trench of bright red clay and some standing water. Stern's house was obvious. The earth had been gouged out around it on all sides. The clay was reddest in a spot where it oozed through the escarp of the raised backyard.

As they stepped down a temporary staircase, the trench appeared as a devastation that had swept past, but spared the houses without explanation.

"What's the future of the trench?" asked Forbes. He hadn't been asked to participate, but he'd become restless.

Goodman had wandered over to look at Stern's yard.

"We have consecrated soil to put back when we've finished."

"Digging Stern's yard would finish the project?" asked Forbes as he waited for Goodman to resume the interview.

"Yes, unless other victims come forward."

"Looks like you're ready for victims," said Goodman turning. "Sorry, I was in Bosnia recently."

Storm was trying to be patient.

"We're trying to bring this to a close. Stern's going to sell. We're close to terms. I'm giving you an exclusive, Goodman. Better be fair."

"I'm fair, Seth, but I don't think Satan left debris in your backyards."

Storm led them west along the trench.

"Who's paying for the excavation?" asked Goodman.

"The church. One of our members, a contractor, has earth moving equipment. There's money in the church for this. There's money for Stern's house too."

"Are there other offers?"

Storm let his boy run around in the clay.

"Yes, unfortunately. Somebody doesn't want us to finish the excavation."

"Who's the somebody?"

"Ask Nat."

"Shadowy figures."

"Right."

"Like your money people?"

"You might say that. You're welcome to investigate. Ten per cent of some incomes is a lot of money, isn't it Lewis?"

"Not mine, but yes, you're right."

A cross street should have stopped the trench, but there was none.

"What about the swastika incident? Wasn't that on Stern's garage door?"

"Nothing to do with us. Local punks who've also vandalized our church. We helped Nat paint it out. We've asked him to stay, let us dig, fill in the yard again and that will be that."

A man was calling from a distance. He was standing by the stairs waving his arms overhead, helloing as if he were trying to save a lost party.

"Something wrong?" asked Goodman.

"Just Dr. Hunter. He's quite excitable. Let's go back. Can you believe that he's worked in one of Ramses tombs? He's a pro, but he's had too much heat in the Middle East."

The boy was covered in red clay, but happy for it.

When Dr. Hunter saw them returning, he stayed put at the bottom of the stairs. He was a lean man in crisp khakis and a hooded sweat shirt. He stood, knock-kneed, patient as someone who'd spent much of his life below ground.

"Dr. Hunter," said Storm, "this is Lewis Goodman and Gilbert Forbes. Lewis is a writer and Gilbert ... I'm afraid I don't know what you're doing here?"

"Research," said Goodman.

"I have to run an errand," said Storm. "I'll make myself available this afternoon if you have more questions."

"I'd appreciate that."

"Seth, may we use your lawn chairs?" asked Dr. Hunter.

"I'll hand them down."

"You do want to interview me, don't you?" asked Dr. Hunter. "I'm not a publicity freak."

"Yes, of course."

Dr. Hunter tromped about looking for firm clay.

Goodman took Forbes by the arm and pointed to Stern's hillside. The clay was almost violet.

"What are you looking at?" asked Hunter, making himself comfortable in a chair. "Yes, the very red clay. The things I've seen at digs. Don't worry. It may be something as trifling as bad plumbing. Some days his yard is dry as a bone."

Goodman eased down into his chair, rocked a few times until it settled.

"Doctor, what is your function here at the ... should I call it a dig?"

"Dig, yes," said Hunter with disgust. "They've certainly dug with fundamentalist excess. There are great mounds of dirt on a farm in the valley. I'm overseeing the sifting as the soil dries."

"Have you found anything that would substantiate the claim of Satanic rituals?"

Dr. Hunter laughed.

"Pardon me, Mr. Goodman. Your question was quite deadpan. There are some moments when I have to laugh at this project. There is the expectation -- hope is not too strong a word -- of finding the skeletons of mutilated children."

"You've had better jobs?"

"Of course, but none where the madness precedes the dig."

"Madness?"

The mention of madness prompted Forbes to turn his chair, closing the circle.

"The premise is mad." Hunter looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was standing above. There were few if any places to stand; the property lines had been gouged right up to the slabs and in some cases under the slabs making the houses look like they'd gone aground in a flood.

"Storm is a moderate, but the money behind this project thinks that the cold war was a Satanic fraud. A ruse."

Hunter's voice rose from cold war sotto voce to the loud mid-Atlantic expose of fraud. He stopped for a moment to catch his breath. His face was mobile, weathered and an improbable mix of sharp cuts and fleshy pads.

"That would be fraud on a large scale," said Goodman.

"We proceed from the idea that suburban America is morally polluted and then we find the evidence in backyards."

Dr. Hunter made a sweeping gesture.

"I assume that you don't subscribe to this theory?" asked Goodman.

"The tape recorder is running?"

"Yes."

"My views have gotten me in trouble."

"Which are?"

"I spent some time in the desert reading texts of various antiquities. I came to regard the world as evil, but often very entertaining. Digging up a suburban neighborhood looking for things Satanic is my calling. So far I've found rubber balls bounced in hell, dolls for pederast training and other ritualistic artifacts. It all excites the mind, especially the mind devolved to a few hundred hysterical neurotransmissions."

"So you're more shaman than scientist?"

"More fool than advisor."

"What do you make of Stern?"

"Come with me."

They walked over to Stern's yard. The redwood fence was exaggerated and misplaced above them.

"The clay has stopped bleeding," said Hunter, "It would be a miracle on the palm of the hand."

"I was fired for mishandling one of the texts. They are fragile. My God, everyone knows that. My drinking was blamed, but I was at the moment seized by the magnitude of evil, the fraudulence of the world. The text rent itself. I'm at home here, really. The scale and the absence of finesse are prefect."

Goodman could smell drink on Hunter.

"What's in Stern's yard?"

"His yard is magnificent as a defiant peninsula, don't you think?"

"Yes, if you say so."

"Poor Stern. His neighbors believe the bones are in his backyard. He should sue his realtor. Are you going to speak with him?"

"Yes, today."

"We've become friends. I'm supposed to persuade him to let us dig. Hell, we sit and drink wine. Nat's a wine snob. Excuse me, I must use the telephone. May I check my quotes?"

"Sure," said Goodman. "Buy the magazine."

Dr. Hunter made his way up the stairs, stepped out of his boots at the garage door, then stepped inside.

"Gilbert, did you see the end of the trench?"

"No."

"We've got time, let's walk the other way. I'd like to know that the trench has at least one end before I begin writing."

Goodman shouldered his backpack and they began walking. The windows above and fronting the trench were exaggerated in number: bedroom windows, dormers, tacky add-on hothouses, glass sliding doors, opaque bathroom windows. Faces appeared at some windows, some dumb, others smiling and many suspicious.

In ten minutes they came to the end of the trench. Boys, red with clay, were jumping from a wooden fence -- the last backyard -- that was supported in several places by long timbers that ended in the trench.

The boys and a few girls climbed the fence from the street. The jumpers closed their eyes for a moment, looked upward, then jumped. The clay was pocked from the impact of small feet.

A boy approached Goodman.

"Do you think God will help us fly?"

"Is that what you want?"

"Wouldn't you like to fly?"

"Yes. How about you, Forbes?"

"I'm kind of fat for flying."

"Do you want to jump?"

"No," said Goodman, "go ahead."

The jumpers scampered up the bank, through the fence and reappeared one by one on the top of the fence ready to jump.

"I almost expect to see one of them fly," said Forbes.

"Let's get back before they do and complicate things. We're having lunch with Stern at his place."

The small boy landed hard on his rear end. He got up slowly and was about to cry when an older boy yelled for him to get out of the way.

"Can we get to that street through here?" Forbes asked the large boy who'd just landed.

"Want to see Stern?"

"Yes, Nat Stern."

"Come this way."

The boy climbed up through footholds that had been dug into the clay. Goodman and Forbes followed squeezing through the opening in the fence. The boy pointed to the street.

"Bring us back some bones."

The children took up the chant of "bones ... bones."

...

Stern did not show up at noon. While waiting Forbes remembered their shoes in Storm's garage. They took the opportunity to change back into their shoes.

At one Stern arrived in a great rush.

"Flat tire," he shouted out the window before he'd come to a stop. "Some bastard slashed my tire. Come on in."

The shades were drawn. Stern flipped on several lights, all reading lamps next to chairs, as if several readers were about to enter the room. Otherwise, the floor plan was the same as Storm's.

The heavy curtains over the glass doors opened loudly as Stern pulled the cords. The backyard was undisturbed and slightly overgrown. The grass was green, spiky and wet.

"I've never painted the place," said Stern apologizing for the peach interior. He put his hands on a crudely varnished table, palms down. His glasses hung near the end of his nose. His eyes were large and aghast one moment, reflexive and sleepy the next. "I just moved in after a divorce. Goodman, you look like you're dying to see the backyard."

"I am."

Stern opened the glass door and grabbed a step ladder already standing open. The wood was swollen from the winter's rain.

"Don't step on the bones. They're invaluable. I'll make lunch."

Forbes carried the ladder toward the back fence.

"Not too close," shouted Stern, "the yard's unstable."

At the top of the ladder -- Forbes holding -- Goodman saw Dr. Hunter standing in the trench with a camera. He pointed to the clay below Stern's fence. With a wildcatter's abandon, he yelled, "It's really bleeding now!"

"Have a look," said Goodman.

Forbes climbed the ladder. It rocked under his weight. He closed his eyes, then stepped down. It took a few moments for his head to stop spinning and the yard to feel stable.

"Lunch," said Stern from the door.

After clearing a pile of books from the table -- Stern managed a superstore (books) and was writing reviews for their web page -- he set the table.

Goodman changed tapes and put his recorder next to the meatloaf. He hadn't said much, as if he were waiting to surprise Stern with allegations or evidence. With everyone at the table Goodman began the interview.

"Have you been threatened, Mr. Stern?"

"Nat. Yes."

Goodman shifted, picked at the meat loaf. There was also a plate of potato salad, bread and glasses of soda.

"What kind of threats?"

"A few phone messages like 'you're going to hell, Jew bastard.' A swastika on the garage. My tire today. I suspect a group of mall skinheads that hangout around the store. The excavation is a curiosity. They've had a few beer busts in the trench, but Seth runs them out."

The meatloaf was popular. Stern encourage everyone to have seconds.

"As neighbors do you get along with Seth?"

"I get along good with Seth. He things that we're friends." Stern shrugged. "He's been especially friendly as the trench has moved toward my property."

"How have you felt as this dig-for-Satan has transpired around your house?"

"I was appalled when I learned that I'd bought a house that a convicted child molester had once owned and lived in. And for that matter, I don't necessarily disapprove of them digging up their yards. It is a kind of an ecological cleansing .." Stern caught himself and laughed. "I can't get worked up about the medieval aspects of the dig. I'm leaving. I'm selling. I've always hated this house. A store is opening in Berkeley and I'm moving."

Stern disappeared into the kitchen. Goodman looked at Forbes and shook his head.

"So much for the story," said Forbes.

After the distinct sound of a bottle decorked, Stern returned with wine. In a cabinet full of mismatched crystal, china, prescription drugs and generations of small photos in gilt frames, he found glasses. Goodman waited, as if expecting a toast, but there was none. He was losing interest in the interview, but set the tape rolling again.

"Dr. Hunter said that the philosophy of the dig is based on the cold war being a Satanic fraud ..."

"Dr. Hunter loves to embellish their conspiracy drivel."

"He's out there photographing the red spot."

"He's a piece of work. I don't know what he tells them to keep his job. He's an agitator. He'd lob a brick and leave when the rioting started."

"So you aren't being driven out by religious fanatics?"

"Let me show you the real reason I'm leaving."

Glass in hand, Stern led them down the hall to a small bedroom. The door was secured by a dead bolt. Stern turned the key and opened the door. The room had a thick avocado-green carpeting and mirrors on all the walls.

"This was the party room," said Stern. "What else could it be?" He pointed to the wall where a piece of sheet rock had been removed. The wall was stuffed with newspaper. "Sound deadening. The house makes me sick. I hope it's eventually torn down and the yard excavated. Who need's this perversity?"

"Can I photograph the room?"

"Sure."

The mirrored walls presented the problem of reflection. Goodman could not get himself out of the photo so he settled for a picture -- multiple images -- of himself with the camera, then of himself, Stern and Forbes together standing glumly in the room. A few timed shots were taken with the camera resting on a pile of books. Stern insisted that Goodman be very clear in writing his reasons for leaving: new job, never having been happy in the house -- the ghastly "party room" -- and the opportunity to sell.

"No moral tale," said Stern. "Sure they've ruined the neighborhood -- unless you're a crazy person."

"Which story, Nat?" asked Goodman. "They're crazy, even dangerous, or they should dig then replant their lawns."

"They're all correct. But the best story, Lewis, is that I'm leaving."

There was a knock at the door, then a hello. Dr. Hunter found them.

"Disgusting isn't it," he said leaning into the room.

"We've opened a bottle, Henry," said Stern.

"Nat, your fence just fell into the trench."

The fence lay in the trench in disjointed sections. Several of the fence posts had been cut.

On the far side of the trench Seth Storm was waving.

"I'll sell," shouted Stern. "Get the paperwork."

Seth gestured with a thumbs up, then made a call on his cell phone.

"Enough of the trench," said Stern. "It's making me sick."

Dr. Hunter knew where Stern kept his wine. He found a bottle of red, opened it and put it on the table.

"Who's deep pockets?" asked Goodman just after he'd started the tape recorder again.

"Ask Henry?"

"I'm paid by the New World Foundation. I'm slightly embarrassed to take their money, but I'm doing a book of my own."

"About the trench?" asked Goodman.

"Memoirs."

Dr. Hunter found new glasses for the wine.

"Nat, did they approach you before the excavation began?"

"They started digging with shovels. It didn't take them long to discover who'd lived in this house. He coached little league which put him in many of the houses in the neighborhood. Seth approached me early, before the bulldozers. I didn't say no."

"But you eventually did."

"I've never said no."

"They're waiting?" said Goodman with obvious exasperation.

"Yes, Lewis, I've kept them waiting and enjoyed every minute of it. Now I'm ready to sell."

Stern was annoyed with Goodman.

"I'm sorry if you're having problems with your story, Lewis, but I am telling you what happened from my lot. I'm not having any trouble with the story. In fact, it's about to have a nice ending."

"It's time, Nat," said Dr. Hunter.

Forbes had been watching Goodman's hand as it caressed the stop button on the tape recorder. Goodman smiled from time to time, but was not enjoying himself. The cell phone rang in his backpack. He excused himself and slipped out into the backyard.

"Old Goodman's a prosecutor, isn't he," said Dr. Hunter. "Know him?"

"No," said Forbes.

"I think he'd be happier if I stayed," said Stern. "He'd be really happy if I were found dead in the party room. Then he'd have his story."

"God, Nat, you can be morbid," said Dr. Hunter. "I cut the rope on a dead colleague. It's not pretty. If I'd known we were going dark, I wouldn't have opened such a nice bottle of wine."

"Sorry, Henry," said Stern. "I guess I'm more upset than I realize."

In the backyard Goodman was pacing with his free hand out as if he wanted something. He turned once and looked at the three men at the table, then turned away.

The sky had clouded over and the air had gotten chilly. Stern closed the door behind Goodman.

"Are we still interviewing?"

"Yes," said Goodman. "I just learned that there is another excavation in a town called Clovis."

"It's in the Valley," said Forbes.

"Do you know anything about this Dr. Hunter?"

"No, if it's the foundation they've studied how I handle material and will do it themselves. They're very impatient. They just want Satan, screw method."

Storm knocked at the door, then entered. He had his boy in one hand and a folder in the other. Storm put the boy down and he ran off through the house. The sound of diesel engines could be heard outside in the distance.

"Ready to sign?" asked Storm waiving the folders.

"Why not" said Stern. "Now I can go house hunting."

Stern removed the plates from the table. Forbes helped. Stern, about to sit at the table with Storm, excused himself for a moment. As he feared, he found the boy in the party room staring at himself in the mirror. Stern picked him up, locked the door and returned to the dining room. The boy ran off into the kitchen.

"Lewis, you might want to get a photo of the signing."

Storm looked uncomfortable.

"What signing?" asked Goodman taking his camera. He quickly changed rolls without looking.

"I've had a standing offer to sell," said Stern.

"I'd have brought a photographer if I'd known about all the photo ops," said Goodman looking like a photographer at a wedding.

"Are there bulldozers in the trench?" asked Forbes.

"Yes," said Storm.

Stern was amused, exasperated, but amused.

"You people just can't wait can you?"

Storm smiled.

"Not everyone in the neighborhood is happy with the trench."

"Can't imagine why," said Forbes.

"Nat, last chance," said Storm placing his hand over the document. "We'll dig it up and fill it in. One month with compensation."

"I'm gone, where's the pen."

"May I ask for some of the particulars of the deal?" said Goodman.

The house was vibrating, slightly, but noticeably.

"You can talk to my lawyer about the contract," said Stern. "I have a cashiers check, nonrefundable, that will get me into another house in the East Bay. Is the recorder running?"

"Let me flip the cassette," said Goodman.

Stern, with pen in hand, smiled in Goodman's direction.

"I'm happily selling my house. I'm signing." Stern signed. "I think the trench is crazy, but the sequence of events is, I've wanted to move for five years, but the real estate market has been terrible. The opportunity to sell came about because ... Goodman, can I say something off the record?"

"Sure, I'll do that if you'll tell the truth."

The glass doors were rattling. Forbes stood.

"Are you going outside?" asked Stern.

"Yes, I might."

"Tell them to go ahead. Should we watch, Henry?"

"We have to watch," said Dr. Hunter. "At least I do. Then we'll go to the bank."

"The bank. Thank God you reminded me."

Storm gathered the papers and handed Stern an envelope.

"Were you going to say something off the record?" asked Goodman.

"Yes. It's nice to have Satan for a realtor."

Storm smiled but looked insulted.

"Not you Seth."

"I understand," said Storm looking for his boy.

"It's a joke!"

A large tractor hit the backyard from the side. The scoop burst up through the clay. Everyone moved to the backyard. Storm waved for the tractor to stop, then climbed deftly down the escarp. He talked for a moment with someone from a crew that was beginning to gather. Soon he appeared in the window of his dining room waving.

A backhoe arrived and began to cut the yard with downward action. The tractor dumped the clay in the trench. The crew -- neighbors, according to Stern -- jabbed at the red clods with shovels. Others knelt to look for artifacts. As each new scoop was dumped, more men and women in work clothes arrived, many anxiously awaiting additional clay. A surprising number of people were walking along the trench toward Stern's backyard.

"Did you expect this?" asked Goodman.

"They're crazy. See why I'm leaving."

Stern left. Goodman worked the camera. Some of the crew waved and posed with shovels.

"I can't watch this," said Dr. Hunter.

"Henry," said Stern, "I thought you liked this kind of thing."

"I would if it didn't remind me of a village I saw bulldozed for harboring a terrorist."

Dr. Hunter returned to the house. Lewis and Forbes were right behind.

"Would you care to join us?" asked Stern. "After a couple glasses of wine, there's no shutting me up."

"Where?" asked Goodman.

"Henry has me going to a wine bar. I'll leave directions on the table."

There were so many men and women waiting to get to the clay that the tractor and backhoe could not work at full speed, but the yard was quickly diminishing despite the delays.

Goodman stepped forward each time the tractor backed away from the yard.

"I want a shot from the trench," said Goodman, "then we'll leave."

With an exposed root for support, Goodman stepped down into the trench, but slipped and landed hard on his back. His camera tumbled off into the gathering crowd. They helped him stand. He was covered in clay. Forbes climbed down more carefully. Someone yelled for the tractor to stop. The faces around them were at first concerned, then impatient with the interruption, frenzied. They seemed to know that Goodman was an unfriendly journalist.

"Here's what's left of your camera," said a petite woman in an L.L.Bean outfit. "And your film."

The camera had found its way into a puddle. The roll of film had been removed and the camera had been packed with clay.

"Are you OK?" asked Forbes.

"Yeah. My back is tightening. Let's go."

At the end of the trench a group of delinquent youths, perhaps the skinheads, had gathered with beer. They were sullen, mocking the dig and ready for anything as they paced shirtless with quarts of beer.

Forbes climbed through the fence, then gave Goodman an arm to help him up.

"Do you have a story?"

"Yes. I'll pay you for today and we'll talk tonight after I've talked to my editor."

Fortunately, Stern had left the front door unlocked. A loud cheer went up from the backyard. The tractor made a pass by the shattered doors. The driver stopped, bucking on his seat and yelled into the dining room.

"We'll take care of the door tomorrow. Sorry."

Forbes stepped carefully on the broken glass to look into the trench. Halogen work lights surrounded neat mounds of clay. The strange red spot had been smeared about the trench. A fire had been started using Stern's fence boards.

"The film is gone," shouted Goodman with his arm in his backpack. "Bastards."

Goodman went quickly at the door, but stopped abruptly at the drop. The trench was deep behind the house.

"Should we call Seth?" asked Forbes knowing it was pointless.

"Screw it. I'm going to take a shower, then we'll go find Stern."

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