The Newton Enigma.  A novel by Linton Herbert.

Chapter 5a


Interstate 95 south of Ocala, northbound, October 21, 9 PM

Tracy drove smoothly with traffic up the six lane interstate approaching Ocala.  The flat countryside they passed was plunged in night.  She glanced in the rear view and frowned.


“Now what’s that going to be about?”


“What?” asked Jon starting to look back.


“Trooper behind us.”


The gold and black cruiser had put on its flasher.  Tracy pulled over and waited.  The trooper, oozing caution, came to the window as Tracy lowered it.  “Let me see your license and registration, ma’am.”  He had the accent of a local childhood.  Tracy handed over the documents, and the trooper went back to his cruiser.


“So where in Georgia are we going?” Tracy asked.  “I mean assuming we aren’t going to the Marion County jail?”


Jon spoke quietly, as if the trooper might be eavesdropping and as if the answer might have any sort of interest to anyone else.  “The message indicates that the place we start looking is a hundred and twenty degrees from Jerusalem.  I assume that’s the real Jerusalem and not one of the dozens of other places named after it.  The reason is that it is one hundred twenty generations since Adam.  That means that any two people are only separated by one hundred twenty degrees of kinship.”


“So I’ve been falling in love with cousins all these years.  That’s disgusting,” said Tracy. 


Jon went on.  “Well by that calculation anyway, nobody is more distantly related to you than one hundred twentieth cousins.  You know, anyone you share a grandfather with is a first cousin.  Anyone you share a great grandfather with is a second cousin and so forth.  So it might seem disgusting, but if you want to fall in love with anything more distant than one hundred twentieth cousin, you’re going to have to start chatting up chimpanzees.”


“I’ll stick with cousins, I think.”


“Of course science tells us we have been around a lot longer, but we’re still all cousins to one degree or another.”


“So how does this take us to Georgia?”


“Well Ivan’s friend and mine, Terra Lane, was killed in the New York skyscraper attack.”


“Damned terrorists.”


“The last thing Terra did was send the message I showed you.  We looked it up and found that, if you believe all the stories, our friend was exactly a hundred and twenty generations after Adam.”


“Was she pretty?”


“Terra was a man.  We checked the atlas, and if you go west from Jerusalem a hundred and twenty degrees you wind up in Cuthbert, Georgia.”


“It sounds far fetched.”


“It is, but Terra was from Cuthbert.”


“Well that works.  But when is the wedding?”


“No wedding.  The word “bride” probably means a church.  The church being the bride of Christ is an idiom that any Georgia boy would know.”


“Why not just say it?”


“For some reason he thought somebody would intercept it, and if they weren’t in the culture it might throw them off.  The ‘don’t go to the authorities’ bit is an unfortunate red flag.  Nothing gets the attention of authorities like thinking they’re being left out.”


“So you think the authorities are after us.”


“I’m afraid so.  The code wouldn’t even slow a professional down.  If they glanced at web traffic around the time of the attack they’d check that one out for sure.  So I guess that’s why we’re sitting here.”


“So the rest of the night we face bright lights and say we don’t know anything.”


“Yep.  And we look so innocent and sincere and our stories are so consistent that they think we must be really tough nuts to crack.  Sorry.”


“We could make up stories.”


“Probably not a good idea, seeing as how we have no idea what it’s all about.”


Presently the trooper returned.  His manner was more relaxed.


“Sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am.  Somebody reported this car as stolen.  But your paper work is all right.  You don’t know what this could be about, do you?”


“No, officer.  Probably some honest mistake somewhere.” 


Jon cut in.  “Officer, can you tell us the best way to get to the Ocala National Forest?”


“Sure.  Take the next exit but one.  Take the road all the way through town and after you’re through Ocala you’ll start to see signs.  There are motels along the way.  You be safe, now.”


The trooper went back and waited with his flasher going until Tracy had pulled back onto the road.


Ivan spoke from the rear seat.  “Why did you ask about the national forest?”


“Well I figure that if somebody called in that the car was stolen, somebody knows where we are.  So we make like a jackrabbit and do a couple of right angle turns.  We’ll go into Ocala and then take four forty-one north.  In Gainesville we’ll catch one twenty-one into Georgia.  Then we angle west.”


“If you want to lose somebody, the forest is not a bad place to do it.”


“All right.  We’ll stop there overnight and see how it looks in the morning.”


They followed the directions until they pulled up at a motel called Swamp Fox Inn right next the forest.  It was a cluster of little cabins of a kind that had once been much more popular.  But the movie “Psycho” had spooked a lot of people about such classic motels, which tended to remain only in places where time moved slowly. 


They got a room, found some country music on the television and cleaned up a bit. 


“Food,” said Jon.  “Let me get on the phone and order us a pizza.”


“Telephones. Really, Jon,” said Tracy, “You’re so twentieth century.  I’ll be right back.” 


Tracy returned with a laptop, which she plugged into the phone jack.  “Now if you guys know what you want, it’ll be here in a few minutes.”  She transmitted their orders.


They had cleaned up and Jon was looking for news on the TV while Ivan stood at the open door listening to frogs piping in the wilderness not many yards distant.


Tracy fretted, “It’s been an hour.  They aren’t ever supposed to take this long.” 


Ivan said, “It’s a little over an hour from Tampa.  Let’s wait outside.”


He made the others lie down under a big steel tank on an iron frame.  “Don’t move and the scorpions will ignore you,” he said cheerfully.


They didn’t have long to wait.  Two SUV’s slipped up and men with submachine guns emerged.  They checked out Tracy’s car, and then one of them knocked on the door calling, “Delivery.” 


Ivan whispered in Jon’s ear, “Follow me.  Pick your feet up very high as you run.”


As the men started to batter the door the three got up and sprinted for the woods.


Jon concentrated on Ivan’s back.  Tracy was bringing up the rear.  After a couple hundred yards Ivan brought it down to a walk and began to backtrack and cover.  The dark was almost palpable.


In an hour they must have covered a mile.  Ivan found slightly higher ground under some hardwoods.  He rustled around a bit and then there was the sound of him fishing in his pockets.  Presently there was a click and a few sparks.  Then there was a rasp and a flare as Tracy flicked a cigarette lighter.  A little pile of tinder was kindling.  Ivan grunted and put a flake of chert and a clasp knife back in his pocket. 


“Won’t they see the fire?” Jon asked. 


“If we keep it small and stay close it should be all right.”  Ivan started to sniff the air.  “Wait a bit.”


Ivan melted into the night.  He sniffed cautiously.  The warm moist air carried the unmistakable smell of a snake.  It was the same as the smell of a dying man, the smell of a large amount of fresh spilt blood.  He searched the forest floor for the trademark undulating shape.  After a time there was the unmistakable sound of a predator striking.  A few minutes later he emerged into the firelight carrying the skinned serpent.  He hung the skin on a bush to dry and prepared a green stick for cooking.


After supper Tracy said, “Delicious.  I noticed those gun rats hadn’t actually brought any food at all.”


Jon said, “Ivan.  You know these woods well.”


Ivan grunted.  “It is shame to tiptoe in your own stamping ground.  But sometimes one must.  We will have to sleep on the ground.  Making a sleeping platform would make too much noise.  We sleep in turns.  Someone has to keep the fire going to keep the bugs and snakes away.”


They didn’t awaken Jon.  Tracy and Ivan sat up a long time whispering by the fire.  Then they swapped three hour watches.  Jon was awakened at dawn by the sound of Ivan burying the fire.


That morning they continued to follow Ivan as he picked his was in baffling loops and doubles through the forest.  Great oaks and cypress grew overhead, hung with festoons of grey Spanish moss.  Occasionally Ivan would point at a track or a pile of dung and whisper, “Raccoon,” or “‘Possum,” or “Bobcat.”  The heat of the day was building.  At last they reached higher ground.  It was open land with pasturage turning brown in the autumn.  Palmettos advertised that it was not swampy.  Some lush vegetation was visible in the distance.  It looked cultivated.


A jeep rattled up.  A forest ranger hailed them.


“You folks shouldn’t wander around where you don’t know where you’re going.  They raise marijuana around here.  Some of their bushes can bring a thousand bucks on the street, and they’d just as soon shoot you as wonder if you are going to land ‘em in jail.”


Ivan said, “A thousand bucks a bush.  That must beat moonshining.” 


“Now you three just follow on out.  There ain’t no law against your being here, and that’s the good news.  The bad news is there ain’t no law at all.”


“Sir, can I talk with you a moment?” Ivan inquired.


The two men, ranger and Ivan, strolled off a few yards.  From where the others stood watching, there was a subtle sense of a change in rank that occurred over the next few minutes.  The ranger was smiling a little less, looking a little less relaxed and no longer looking straight at Ivan.  He didn’t actually squirm.  At the end of the conversation he squared his shoulders proudly, grinned, bounded into his jeep and sped away. 


Ivan said to the others, “Lets get some fresh water.  There’s a spring near here.”  Sure enough, within a mile the dry flat ground dropped away into a tiny glen.  A clear stream bubbled out of the earth and then wandered irresolutely away in the general direction of swampy land beyond.  They drank, washed their faces and drank again.  The water was cold and delicious.  Splashed on the skin it was the best ointment there was for the scratches and bites of the past day.  Then they were making forced march again.


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