Part 2 - Chapter 14 - A Secret Operation

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From where I stood halfway up the ridge overlooking the Ben Hur  film set, I glanced at the buzz of activity below. Workers scrambled to douse the burning construction materials, and it appeared they would be successful in putting out the fire.

If it weren't for me interrupting the firebug, the destruction might have been much worse.

I glanced at the ridgetop and hesitated. I should go back down and find Denholm, but if I did that, the arsonist might get away. I climbed the rest of the way to the top and peered down the other side.

The horizon glowed. The sun would soon appear and blast us with heat. In the distance, I heard the sound of a motor. What looked like a four-wheeler sped away across the desert floor toward another distant ridge, headlights illuminating the ground. I watched for a while, dejected in the knowledge I would never catch her.

What else was out there? Why would she head in that direction away from civilization? As I pondered these questions, the glow of headlights vanished as if the ground had opened and swallowed the four-wheeler. I kept my eyes fixed on the location but detected no further movement.

Checking my cell phone, it still read: No Signal. If I followed, I figured it to be no more than two miles to the location where the four-wheeler disappeared. The sensible thing would be to return to the film set and report in. I had brought no gun or water. It would be stupid to continue.

I decided to be stupid. Descending the ridge, I reached the bottom and jogged in the general direction of the disappeared four-wheeler.

With the low light angle reflecting off the distant ridge, I made out narrow canyon-like openings. Those canyons could lead anywhere, and I wasn't able to tell which of them the vehicle had disappeared into.

The deep rumble of a heavy motor startled me. Dropping to the ground, I hid behind some low growing, desert foliage and watched. A large dump truck came into view and disappeared into one of the canyons.

Gotcha!

Getting to my feet, I approached the opening. Unable to detect any activity, I eased into the opening, keeping tight against a rock wall.

The canyon made a ninety-degree turn. Peeking around the corner, I found myself staring into a U-shaped valley maybe a hundred-yards wide and a quarter-mile deep. The rock wall cliffs were maybe a hundred-feet high. The cliff tops were covered with desert-camouflaged netting that allowed light to penetrate but rendered the area beneath invisible from above.

"What is this place?" I mumbled, astonished at what I saw.

I recognized the dump truck from earlier. It sat parked, bed-rising, dumping its load, adding it to a large pile. The load appeared to be some sort of dark rocks. A worker operating a power shovel lifted the rocks into a hopper sitting atop a large, rectangular steel container. The motor operating the hopper made a racket. I guessed it to be a crusher of some sort.

About thirty yards away, between me and the shovel operator, I spied a storage area filled with metal drums. I decided to sneak over and hide behind the drums.

Waiting until the operator rotated his shovel away from my direction, I made a break for the drums. Once safely hidden, I peered out over the top. The operator continued to work unalarmed. He hadn't seen me. The drums were filled with what looked like sulfur. Reaching in, I scooped a palm full of the contents and inspected the yellow substance.

I knew from having taken high school chemistry that sulfur stank. I held my hand close to my nose and sniffed. No odor. The substance was grainy and sticky. I had never seen gold dust. Could this be a secret gold mine?

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