Read CHAPTER X - Plumb Loco of Two Thousand Miles Below , free online book, by Charles Willard Diffin, on ReadCentral.com.

The sheriff of Cocos County was reacting exactly as Rawson had anticipated. Smithy stood before him, a disheveled Smithy, grimy of face and hands. He had made his way to the highway and caught a ride to the nearest town, and now that he had found Jack Downer, sheriff, that gentleman leaned back in his old chair behind the battered desk and regarded the younger man with amused tolerance.

“Now, that’s right interesting, what you say,” he admitted. “Tonah Basin, and the old crater, and red devils settin’ fire to everything. I’ve heard some wild ones since this Prohibition went into effect and some of the boys started makin’ their own, but yours sure beats ’em all. Guess likely I’ll have to take a run up Tonah way and see what kind of cactus liquor they’re makin’.”

“Meaning I’m drunk or a liar.” Smithy’s voice was hot with sudden anger, but the sheriff regarded him imperturbably.

“Well, I’d let you off on one count, son. You do look sort of sober.”

Smithy disregarded the plain implication and fought down the anger that possessed him.

“May I use your phone, Mr. Downer?” he asked.

He called the office of Erickson and his associates in Los Angeles and told, as well as he could for the constant interruptions from his listener, the story of what had occurred. And Mr. Erickson at the other end of the line, although he used different words, gave somewhat the same reply as had the sheriff.

“I refuse to listen to any more such wild talk,” he said. “If our property has been destroyed, as you say, there will be an accounting, you may be sure of that. And now, Mr. Smith, get this straight, you tell Rawson, wherever he is hiding, to come and see me at once.”

“But I tell you he has been captured,” said Smithy desperately. “He’s gone.”

“I rather think we will find him,” was the reply. “He had better come of his own accord. His connection with us will be severed and all drilling operations in Tonah Basin will be discontinued, but Mr. Rawson will find that his responsibility is not so easily evaded.”

The sheriff could not have failed to realize the unsatisfactory nature of the conversation; he must have wondered at the satisfied grin that spread across Smithy’s tired face.

“Do you mean you’re through?” he demanded. “You’re abandoning Rawson’s work?”

“Exactly,” was Mr. Erickson’s crisp response.

Smithy, as the telephone clicked in his ear, turned again to the sheriff. “That unties my hands,” he said cryptically. “One more call, if you please.”

Then to the operator: “Get me the offices of the Mountain Power and Lighting Corporation in San Francisco. I will talk with the president.”

The sheriff of Cocos County chuckled audibly. “You’ll talk to the president’s sixteenth assistant secretary, son,” he told Smithy. “And I take back what I said before now I know you’re plumb loco. By the way, son, it costs money for telephone calls like that. I hope you ain’t, by any chance, overlookin’ ”

But Smithy was speaking into the telephone unmindful of the sheriff’s remarks.

“Is Mr. Smith in his office?” he was inquiring. “Yes, President Smith.... Would you connect me with him at once, please? This is Gordon Smith talking.”

“Hello, Dad,” he said a moment later. “Yes, that’s right. It’s the prodigal himself. Now, listen, Dad, here’s something important. Can you meet me in Sacramento and arrange for us to see the Governor get his private, confidential ear? I’ll beat it for Los Angeles charter the fastest plane they’ve got....”

There was more to the conversation, much more, although Smithy refrained from giving details over the phone. An operator was breaking in on the conversation as he was about to hang up.

“Emergency call,” the young woman’s voice was saying. “We must have the line at once.”

Smithy handed the telephone to the sheriff. “Someone’s anxious to talk to you,” he said. He searched his pockets hurriedly, found a ten-dollar bill which he laid on the sheriff’s desk. “That will cover it,” he said with a new note in his voice. “Perhaps you’re not just the man for this job, sheriff. It’s going to be a whole lot too hot for you to handle.”

He had turned quickly toward the door, but something in the sheriff’s excited voice checked him. “Burned? Wiped out, you say?”

Halfway across the room Smithy could hear another hoarse voice in the telephone. The sheriff repeated the words. “Red devils! They wasn’t Injuns? The whole town of Seven Palms destroyed!”

“I thought,” said Smithy softly to himself, “that we’d have to go down there to find them, and instead they’re out looking for us. Yes, I think this will be decidedly too hot for you to handle, sheriff.” He turned and bolted out the door.

An attentive audience was awaiting Gordon Smith on his arrival in Sacramento. Smithy’s father was not one to be kept waiting even by the Governor of the state. Also, Smithy was coming from the Tonah Basin region, and the news of the destruction of the desert town of Seven Palms had preceded him. Even the swift planes of the Coastal Service could not match the speed of the radio news.

There were only two men in the room when Smithy entered. One of them, tall, heavily built, as square-shouldered as Smithy, came forward and put his two hands on the young man’s shoulders. Their greetings were brief.

“Well, son?” asked the older man, and packed a world of questioning into the interrogation.

“O. K., Dad,” said Smithy simply.

His father nodded silently and turned to the other man. “Governor, my son, Gordon. He got tired of being known as the ’Old Man’s son’ started out on his own not looking for adventure exactly, but I judge he has found it. He’s got something to tell us.”

And again Smithy told his wild, unbelievable tale. But it was not so incredible now, for, even while Smithy was talking, the Governor was glancing at the report on his desk which told of the destruction of the little town of Seven Palms.

“I can’t tell you what it means,” Smithy concluded. He paused before venturing a prediction which was to prove remarkably accurate. “But I saw them I saw them come up out of the earth, and I’m betting there are plenty more where they came from. And now that they’ve found their way out, we’ve got a scrap on our hands. And don’t think they’re not fighters, either. They’re armed those flame-throwers are nothing we can laugh off, and what else they’ve got, we don’t know.”

He leaned forward earnestly across the Governor’s desk. “But that’s your job,” he said. “Mine is to find Dean Rawson. He’s alive, or he was. He sent up his ring as proof of it. I’ve got to find him I’ve got to go down in that pit and I want your help.”