CHAPTER TWENTY THREE- Miles away and years ago.
Miles to the west, in the next state, Ray Meadows was sitting at some one else's computer. Steve Vaan's computer. Maybe, at this point, we should say it was Steve's former computer. Or The Computer Formerly Known As Steve's. Whatever. Ray was there and Steve's computer was there. He had managed, earlier in the evening, to cobble together a dinner from what he had found in the kitchen. Another sandwich, some soup and the rest of the vegetables from the noon salad all went into a decent meal for the evening. Perfect for a summer night, which it was. Ray also settled on opening up all the windows, letting the night air in on the breeze. Very nice. The crickets- minus Buddy Holly, of course- provided the background music for an evening of hacking and downloading on the outskirts of a small town.
With his wife on the way, and his own departure from this apartment imminent, Ray wanted to pull up some of Steve's files and send them along to his own computer for later. You just never know what you're going to need. Better get it now. Besides, he had to do something to keep him off of those legs. He'd need them in the best possible shape for the drive back later that night. May as well sit and read until then. Dinner done and the dishes cleaned, Ray stood long enough to hobble around the apartment and pick up what few things of their own they had spread around the even fewer rooms they had to spread things in. The front room, the back room and a kitchen between the two. Add in a small bathroom and that was it. Easy enough to pick everything up. By the time the sun had set in Lyndon, Illinois (just a few minutes after it had set in Greenwood, Indiana), Ray Meadows was packed and ready. The bags were by the door, ready to go, just as soon as he heard Barbara pull the car up in that driveway. Until then, may as well surf.
Logged onto the Internet, Ray typed in the address by memory. He knew it was there. What he didn't know was where it was when it was there. The Arthur Crutchfield web site was no longer on the web. As before, when he typed in that address, the computer found it on the hard drive. With that part of the machinery stuffed under the desk, Ray never noticed. The file came up- the web site opened. Even if it was no longer a site on the web. For once- and quite possibly the last time- what he didn't know didn't hurt him. Ray wanted to go back and continue studying Arthur Crutchfield's history. He needed to know what happened at the war's end, and thereafter. Ray knew the basics: That Arthur had found some sort of work after the war. But he also knew that somewhere along the line, Arthur's attempted expose' of climbers got him in tremendous trouble. He was held against his will in a mental institution with no one admitting to believe his claim that there was something in the trees. The more he protested, the worse it would look for poor Arthur. Had anybody been there to help him? Was there anyone left to help Ray?
On the screen in front of him, a familiar menu scrolled down. Where to next in Net Land? He had read four, but not the first four, entries posted in front of him. For some unfathomable reason, the information had not been arranged in historic chronological order. Ray had no idea why. It made no sense to him, but he was only the reader. He didn't have to write the stuff. He looked over his options. Arthur's role in the war and life in London? Read it. First sightings and identifying? Read it. was that the last thing he had seen? What would be next? Back to number three? "A.S.C., publications and hospitalization"? He couldn't remember reading that one. Ray knew some of what happened to Arthur Crutchfield after the war, but not the details. That must be this file. And this must be next in order. What else was there? A.S.C., present day? Well, that certainly wasn't it, now was it? So it had to be number three. Time to pick and click. It was just after