TIME SPIKE – snippet 22:
After a long silence, Leo said: “Holy shit.”
Richard’s contribution was more sedate. “Unless there’s a hitherto unreported species of large reptile in the central United States, I’d say the answer is yes. This is indeed the evidence we’re looking for. And the odds of that being true—I speak here as a expert statistician, you understand—I estimate as being indistinguishable from zero. Seeing as how—”
He peered at the carcass on the table. “Did you weigh it?”
“Yup. Eighty-three pounds, four ounces. Measures six feet, three inches, from the snout to the tip of the tail.”
“As I said. The chances that a reptile not much smaller than a Komodo Dragon has been wandering around loose along the Mississippi river without ever being noticed is indistinguishable from zero.”
Malcolm—unusually, for him—played the devil’s advocate. “We shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Maybe it got mistaken for an alligator.”
“Wouldn’t matter,” said Tim. The policeman pointed to the patch on his shoulder. “State Police, remember? There have never been any sightings of alligators in Illinois. This isn’t Florida or Alabama. I can guarantee you that if anyone spotted what they thought was an alligator in these parts, we’d have heard about it.”
He leaned over. “Besides, it doesn’t look the least bit like an alligator, other than having a generally reptilian appearance. But I don’t think it’s even a reptile in the first place. My partner and I got a clear look at it before we shot it. This critter wasn’t running on all fours, the way a lizard or alligator will. Hell, look at those forelimbs. Those aren’t designed for weight-bearing. It was running on its two hind legs. Like a bird, except the body was level, with the heavy tail counter-balancing the head and chest. Which is to say—”
Margo finished the sentence for him. “Exactly the way paleontologists these days figure dinosaurs moved.”
“Yup.” Harshbarger poked the reddish skin with a long forefinger. “That’s what I think this thing is. A real, no-fooling dinosaur. Got no idea what kind, though. It’s not something I ever studied.”
So far as Margo knew, none of the scientists in the room had any real knowledge of paleontology either. She certainly didn’t.
“Where’s your partner?” Nick asked.
Tim grinned. “Knowing Bruce Boyle, he’s probably knocking down his fourth boilermaker at Jimmy’s, telling himself he was hallucinating. It was all I could do to get him to agree not to turn this over to the siblings, like we’re supposed to.”
“Excuse me?” asked Morgan-Ash.
The grin stayed on policeman’s face, but the humor in it vanished completely. “The siblings. Those clowns from FEMA. They’ve given orders—just as arrogantly as they do everything, speaking of assholes—that ‘anything unusual’ is to be turned over to them immediately and not to be discussed. Apparently, deep matters of national security are involved.”
“Huh?” asked Leo. He frowned at the carcass. “I mean, sure, it’s nasty-looking. But I really can’t see where even a thousand of these things running loose would be more than a local problem, for a while. Hell, it’s not even the size of a mountain lion, much less a bear.”
Tim barked a little laugh. “Oh, you’ll get the news tomorrow. It’ll be all over the country’s news channels. It seems—no, I’m not joking—that the disaster at Alexander wasn’t any sort of natural catastrophe. It turns out it was a terrorist attack.”
“Huh?” Leo repeated.
Obviously, Nick had already gotten the story from his friend. His own grin was sardonic. “Oh, sure. We knew Al Qaeda was crazy. Now we know it for sure. They strike at the Great Satan by blowing up thousands of our hardened criminals.”
“Good God,” said Morgan-Ash, his normal imperturbability shaken. “That’s… that’s… preposterous.”
“Yeah, it is.” Tim’s grin was finally replaced by the scowl it had so thinly covered. “I really, really hate being played for a damn fool. Even by people who are polite about it, which these shitheads certainly aren’t.” He poked the carcass again. “That’s why I brought this thing here, after Nick told me about you guys. I just held my peace until I was sure you weren’t fruitcakes.”
Margo smiled. “Don’t jump to conclusions. We’re Ph.D.’s, don’t forget. Probably a bigger concentration of fruitcakes in academia than anywhere else. Not to mention that we’ve spent most of the past few years living half a mile underground in an old iron mine. That’s got to be borderline fruitcakery, at least.”
The state police officer smiled back. “Yeah, I guess. But you’re pikers in the fruitcake department compared to the of-fi-cial clowns who are telling me that Moslem terrorists blew up a maximum security prison.” Again, he poked the carcass. “I wonder how they’d explain Nasty here? Probably claim it was a stem cell experiment gone bad.”
He leaned back and shook his head. “No, I think I’ll toss in with you folks. Nick and I spent quite a bit of time talking it over. So. Now what?”
The scientists stared at him. The tall, skinny policeman planted his hands on his hips.
“Looks, folks, you might as well understand something right from the start. I guess for you this whole thing is just a matter of scientific curiosity. Well, that’s fine. But for me—and there’ll be more than just me—it’s goddamit personal. These are small communities down here in southern Illinois. It ain’t Chicago. I knew a lot of the people who worked at Alexander. One of the guards was my high school girlfriend. And the lieutenant in charge of afternoon shift, Joe Schuler, was my best friend. I’ve known him since we were both six years old.”
He looked down at the carcass, glaring fiercely. “I want to know what happened to my best friend. I want to know what happened to my high school sweetheart. What really happened. Not some lying bullshit fed to me by federal agents covering up God knows what.”
He shifted the glare to them. “Do you understand? I’m not interested in spending years under a mountain somewhere studying more data. You’re scientists, I’m a cop. I think a crime’s being committed and I want to goddam fucking well know the truth. And I don’t much care what gets taken apart in the process.”
Margo couldn’t help it. She burst into giggles.
“What’s so funny?” asked Harshbarger.
She shook her head, weakly. “Sorry, Tim. I wasn’t laughing at you or your feelings. It’s just…”
She shook her head again. “I think you’ve just ended a debate that we’ve been having amongst ourselves for almost eight years now. Call it the Eggheads vs. the Dudley Do-Rights.”
She gave her companions a serene gaze. “I’ve always been one of the Dudley Do-Rights, myself. And I do believe we just won the debate.”
Morgan-Ash smiled, and stroked his beard. “So am I. Oddly enough, since I’m normally the most conservative of this lot of wild-eyed radicals. And, yes, I think we just won the debate.”
He gave Malcolm and Leo—who’d been charter members of the Egghead faction from the beginning—a gaze that was just as serene as Margo’s. “Wouldn’t you agree, gentlemen?”
O’Connell and Dingley were eyeing the state police officer. His hands were the size you’d expect from a man that tall. And they looked quite capable of taking many things apart, if he was in the mood. Which he so obviously was.
“Guess so,” said Leo.