Under New York...

by

George T. Philibin




New York City. Below the traffic, the sidewalks, and the gas-pipes and electrical-conduits that feed the city, the city drainage and sewage tunnels lay, as they had for years. In this dark, damp, cavernous world of running and dripping water, the sound from one filthy rivulet (Bloik- Bloik- Bloik) echoed off the walls and reverberated until it met a sister sound and a concert of Bloiks resulted. The air, always moving, carried with it odors that shifted as actors do on a stage, but a rank, harsh odor always remained like a curtain, dangling in front of that stage.

Rats, large, many, and always searching, squeaking, filled the tunnels as if they were Wall Street stockbrokers anticipating a good day on the markets as they bustled along the sidewalks.

But now the rats scurried wildly, for another creature -- foreign to the tunnels, but now trapped by the tunnelís labyrinth -- slowly crept, closing the distance, silently, an inch here, two feet there, another inch here, then"Gotcha!"

The rats sensed the presence of the hunter and they ran from its smell, but not all escaped. Some fell and others slipped and tumbled in their attempts to evade it. Sometimes it torpedoed itself up from deep sump waters and snatched a rat or two, and other rats in the excitement fell and floundered in the water until a large mouth pushing water like the bow of a ship engulfed them on its way to other rats who swam faster and faster...but not fast enough!

The subterranean world built by man had to be maintained by man, and today two city workers were in one of those large tunnels, and they moved with flashlights and helmet lights on looking for a blockage hidden somewhere in this dank and stinking maze. Water had backed and bubbled up out of manholes along one of New Yorkís busiest intersection. And more rains were forecasted for that night.

As the two men made their way against a draft that struck their foreheads -- the largest patch of skin not covered by protective gear -- and sent a rank odor to their nostrils, they trudged in hip-boots with hardhats on through a stream of discolored water that discharged into a sump, a junction point where other tunnels converged and one giant tunnel took that water away.

"I should have stayed home today," Bert Amick said. His small build made him very suitable for tunnel work, and with his years on the job, he knew this network very well.

"Stay home!" Samuel Jefferson Morrison rasped. "You? You're the last to stay home when overtime comes! Shit, man, if you were in your coffin and the phone at the undertakers' rang and you heard 'overtime', why you would jump up, run out, grab that phone and say, ĎIíll be right out!"

"Sam, I donít ever remember you turning down any overtime, old buddy," Bert said.

"Like I always said, Iím here for the money and if they hand it out, Iíll take it!" Sam answered.

"You mean your wife will take it once you get home!" Bert said.

"Mariaíll get some," Sam volunteered.

"You mean -- Mariaíll get it all," Bert said. "You might be able to knock down ten men, but I know you met your match with Maria!"

Bert and Sam laughed together as they slowly lumbered towards the junction up ahead. As they walked, the sounds of falling water became louder, and their lights picked up trash, an old shoe, rags, and even a Frisbee still in good condition. And other sounds common to a big city reverberated though the tunnel and mixed with the slight (and more than slightly rancid) breeze, and together, they patrolled a working environment that most would not want to enter, even with good union pay. Millions lived in the world above, but out of those millions, only a few have ever entered into this dank underworld.

Finally at the junction, they looked down as the turbulent water from many tunnels, some small, other large enough to walk in, one big enough to drive a car through, poured into the large sump basin which was illuminated unevenly by overhead sealed lights, many of them out.

"Jesus, come to think of it, I hope we donít find some dead body like Bill did that time," Bert said.

"Donít be saying that now," Sam said. "You keep that up and the next time you and your wife come over for dinner, Iíll be the cook!"

"Oh, God -- no, not that!" Bert chuckled out.

As they studied the water pouring from the drainage tunnels into the sump, they noticed one that had only a small flow of water coming out.

Bert looked at the schematic, looked up at the tunnel again, then back to the schematic and said,,"That would be DE73, and it receives water from 45T, 44T, 41T, and the C tunnels. I bet one of the Tís is blocked. Theyíre the tunnels that drain from those flooded streets. We canít get to it from here. Letís go up and run a snake down," Bert said.

"Yeah, that tunnel is too small to go in. Hell weíd have to go for maybe two blocks on our hands and knees and I ainít volunteering for that!" Sam said.

"The rules say that if we have to crawl, the tunnel must be isolated, drained, ventilated, and whoever goes in gets triple-time for the entire day. And there must be two guys, one at each end, taking air quality samples and air flow," Bert said.

"Hell, I barely fit in this tunnel! Thatís a job for you or the young pups. Not even triple-time is going to get me to volunteer. Besides, the snake usually works---even if it drags out a dead body," Sam chuckled.

"Hey, weíre still getting double time all day, and it looks like all weíre going to do is stand around on top. Hell, maybe weíll even get another shift out of this!" Bert said.

"Sometimes life can really be sweet," Sam said with a chuckle.

"I know they want the drains open. With all the rain we had, another storm will flood basements for two blocks, and you can bet the city doesnít want that bad publicity," Bert said.

"Oh, man, life is so sweet at times. When it rains, we make the money! I hope those golfers get wet all summer long!" Sam added and they both laughed heartily as they trudged back to the ladder leading up to an open manhole.

Bert called the outside men on his portable and told him what they found and that they would be up in a few minutes. No answer. Bert called again, still no answer.

"Maybe the batteryís dead?" Sam asked.

"I just put a new one in."

"The ladderís up ahead, weíll be out in a minute or two, anyhow," Sam added.

"What the hell are those guys doing up there?" Bert asked as they continued to trudge towards the ladder.

"Maybe theyíre looking at some fine chicks. Hell, you know Allen--heíd screw his mother!" Sam said.

"Johnís up there too, and you can always count on John being on the ball," Bert added.

"Yeah, thatís true," Sam answered.

As they approached the ladder, the sounds of gunfire entered the opening from the street above and grabbed their attention.

"What the hellís going on up there?" Sam yelled. "You hear that?"

They both stopped. Another round of gunfire reverberated into the tunnel; then silence for a few seconds until two figures dropped down the manhole without using the ladder. Each frantically looked around---one slipped and fell, but scrambled up again -- but when they saw the lights from Sam and Bert they ran towards them.

"Who the hell are those guys? They donít even have hip-boots on!" Sam screamed.

"I donít know. Maybe some inspectors --" Bert added, but stopped speaking when the first guy run up to him.

Bert had faced guns before in Vietnam, but when the business end of a large-caliber magnum stopped a foot from his forehead, fear washed over him like a shower, instantly.

Sam froze, not able to utter a word as another large caliber-magnum showed itself next to the first one. Only this one was shaking. And the guy holding it was spitting up and coughing as he tried to keep his eyes on Sam and Bert!

The brief seconds that passed in the standoff produced no relief to the guy coughing, and Sam and Bert could do nothing -- no meaningful thoughts entered their minds, only sweat mixed with the high humidly that formed beads on their foreheads, and the sting of salt in Bertís eye from the sweat that dripped into it, made his eyelid quiver.

Shouts from up the tunnel near the manhole found all their ears, and the shouts said,"Theyíre down there--both of them!" Bert recognized Johnís voice

The second guy started vomiting and between his purges, he mumbled, "We should have... it wasnít right..."

The first guy turned around and started hitting the second guy on the shoulder with his gun, and at the same time screamed, "Get it together, Dubs -- I donít have time for this shit!"

After two blows, the second guy seemed to recover somewhat. He said, "Mike, what the hell went wrong? Why didnít Butch see that cop? You shot him! You killed a cop!"

"Shut the fuck up, you idiot!" Mike screamed. His voice was big and full like a drill sergeant who is shouting over a parade field.

The second guy stood up, his eyes flashing back and forth, his head turning, and his body still shaking when he asked, "Mike, what the hell we gonna do?"

Mike hit him another one then screamed, "Just shut the fuck up!"

The sound of many sirens penetrated into the tunnel, and although they sounded distant; Bert and Sam knew that the sirens were overhead on the street.

Probably converging on the manhole, Bert thought.

Dubs, the guy that Mike had just hit again, didnít fall. He stood and started to cry.

But Mike turned his attention to Bert and Sam. He must have heard the sirens too, and it looked like he was considering their value as guides -- or hostages.

A voice, amplified by a megaphone, entered the tunnel from the manhole and bellowed out, "This is the police! We know the two of you are down there. Thereís no escape! We have units being sent to every manhole, intake, and even along the river. You canít escape!"

Even in other circumstances, Bert would have recognized the voice of a police officer -- a pissed-off police officer, out for blood.

Mike rammed his gun into Samís face and ordered, "You two are going to get us out of these tunnels. Move it!"

Sam started to say, "Thereís no --" but Mike pushed him so hard that Sam fell over.

"I said move it!" Mike screamed frantically. He pushed Bert and kicked Sam in the stomach then roared, "I just killed a motherfucking cop, donít fuck with me!"

Bert helped Sam back up, but Bert didnít see the fire in Samís eyes, Mike did!

With Bert and Sam in the lead, the four made their way back towards the junction, and once there, Mike shouted, "Which way out?"

The fire in Sam eyes became twin laser beams that locked onto Mike, took in Mikeís dimensions, his obvious strength, quickness and determination. This guyís a kingpin, he thought. A boss, used to getting his way, and killing anybody who crosses him. But somehow, it felt like Mike wasn't the biggest threat here, and that had Sam worried. What could be more dangerous than a cop-killing thug cornered in a tunnel?

"Thereís -- different tunnels that lead all over the city. Some uptown, others downtown -- that big one leads out to the river, but youíd have to swim because the water gets too high to walk," Bert said.

"Which one will get us outa here the fastest?" Mike snarled.

"Make them get us outa here, Mike. C'mon, please -- make them get us outa here," Dubs softly said between sobs.

Bert opened up his schematic and Mike seemed to know what Bert was looking at. Dubs kept pleading with Mike to do something, but Mike ignored him, trying to focus his full attention on Bert and the schematic.

But after a few seconds, Mike screamed out again, "Just shut the fuck up, or Iíll put a bullet in your fucking head!"

Bert studied the schematic for a minute then said, "That tunnel over there leads outa this district, and it's a big one. You wonít have to lean over and the waterís only about a foot high at the most."

"You sure itís the best one?" Mike asked.

"Well, itís a way out ... the other tunnels also lead out at different points, but thatís the best one -- that I can think of," Bert added.

"Bert knows these tunnels better than most, if he says itís the best way out, itís the best way out," Sam said.

Without warning, Mike smashed his gun on Samís hard hat and said, "I didnít fucking ask you, did I?"

Sam staggered a little but managed to remain on his feet. His hard hat had protected him from serious injury to his head. But his pride had been battered again, and his patience was wearing thin. As a kid -- he'd thought he was a man then, but had been wrong -- he'd won the light heavyweight Golden Gloves. Even now, twenty-five years later, he knew that he could easily take this punk if he got the chance.

Dubs was vomiting now. Bert realized that Dubs would hinder Mikeís attempts at escape, and Bert began to think about how to use Dubsís jumpiness to his own advantage.

However, Samís attention was fixed on Mike. He stared into the kingpin's eyes, unblinking, with no trace of fear on his rock-jawed face.

Mike had noticed Samís reactions and he growled, "Thinkin' of being a hero? I oughta put a bullet in your fucking head and save us both some trouble!"

"Itíll take both of us to get you outa here," Bert said. "Honest, Sam here is the only one that can push up the manhole covers without special tools. They weigh a couple hundred pounds." Actually, Bert had done it without help many times -- it was more a question of leverage and technique than muscle. But Bert knew that Mike would believe the lie -- the contrast between his and Sam's stature made it plausible.

Mike grunted in frustration. "Letís just get the fuck moving!"

The junction was circular with a catwalk bolted to the stone wall that led around the large sump. With the catwalk only two or three feet above the water, the metal gridwork was rusted in many spots, one handrail section was missing, and a little trash of some sort had collected halfway around. A rat, obviously shocked at the sight of these invaders, squeaked, then jumped up into a small drainage pipe and disappeared. The sound of water falling into the sump had no place to escape and the junction roared with falling water: One had to scream to be heard just only a few feet away once on the catwalk.

As Mike noticed how rusty the cat-walk was, he screamed at Sam, "You go first!" Mike, knowing that Sam could be a threat, didnít want him close. Bert would be between them.

Sam walked out first and checked the catwalk. Once around to the other side and in front of the large tunnel that Bert had suggested they take, Sam signaled them to come.

Through the dim light Sam watched Bert, then Mike right behind him with the gun to Bertís head, and Dubs trailing behind Mike, step onto the catwalk and start walking around it. A mist of water hung above the turbulent whirlpool created by the falling water that dumped into the sump, and the dim lights, roaring sound of water falling, dampness which found the sweat beads on Samís forehead, gave him an eerie feeling that something else was deadly wrong in this place. The sixth sense or the shadows of nightmares from long ago that still echoed in the caverns of his mind warned him of an impeding danger, and it wasnít Mike!

Dubs was sick. Even in the dim light Sam could see Dubs walking bent forward with one hand holding his gun pointed down, and his other hand holding his stomach as he coughed. He didnít keep up with Mike, and after three more steps, he leaned over the handrail and started vomiting into the sump. Dubs vomited and vomited but couldnít be heard over the roar of the water, and Mike kept nudging Bert forward.

Sam watched motionless as Mike pushed Bert forward faster and faster without looking back toward Dubs. Dubsís head started hanging lower and lower over the handrail as he vomited more; Sam had one thought--I hope the motherfucker falls in! Hell, these two punks would have never make it back in my old neighborhood. But this wasnít Samís old neighborhood, and these two had the upper hand, at least for now.

Again, a deep uneasiness washed over Sam. Where it came from, he didnít know, but he felt sure it wasnít from these two punks. He felt only anger, not fear, when he looked at them.

Mike turned around, finally, and screamed something at Dubs, but Sam could only understand a word of two; Dubs continued vomiting but nothing came out, as far as Sam could see.

I really hope that motherfucker falls in! That thought kept playing over and over again in Samís mind as Dubs leaned over the handrail and vomited. But Samís eye caught something in the foaming water under Dubs. Something broke the surface for a second, but Sam couldnít see it clearly through the mist. Whatever it was it submerged again.

Then, as Sam watched, a long snout, open, torpedoed itself up and out of the water like a missile, and that open snout clamped itself around Dubsís head and started twisting and pulling Dubs down into the sump. Within a second, Dubs was underwater, the splash of his entry lost in the thunder of the turbulent water. If Dubs managed to scream, Sam couldn't hear him.

Sam backed up against the stone wall. He pressed his back and skull against it as he raised up his right arm, mechanically, and pointed with a shaking finger at the spot where Dubs had gone under. The sweat beads grew as large as grapes on his forehead, and they rolled down his nose, over his eyes, off his chin and some down the front of his neck where they bumped into other sweat beads and moved them like billiard balls. His head began to shake a little and he poked his arm forward, and then withdrew it for another poke in the direction that he had last seen Dubs. His mind, void of thoughts and impervious to the dismal conditions he was in, barely registered Bert and Mike coming towards him.

By the time Bert got next to Sam, Mike had looked back a couple of times for Dubs. He pushed Bert into Sam, pointed his gun at both of them and screamed, "Whereís Dubs?"

Mike continued to point with his finger at the spot where the shadow had clamped onto Dubs, and Mike looked back and forth between Sam and the spot that Sam was pointing to.

"What the fuck happened to Dubs? Did he fall in! Did he?" Mike screamed. He kept looking back and forth until Sam managed to croak, "Down there -- something grabbed him -- something down there..." Sam continued to point into the sump and mumble, but his face told Mike that something strange had happened to Dubs.

Dubs is gone, probably fell in -- got dizzy with all that vomiting and slipped in, Mike thought to himself. Unless something else happened!

Mike fired two shot into the tunnel they had just come from directly across the sump. He fired another shot, then screamed,"I got two hostages and Iíll put a bullet in their heads! You hear me, coppers?" But even if the police had been over across the sump, they probably couldnít hear Mike.

Mikeís scream echoed down the tunnel they were in as no answer came forth from the other tunnel across the sump. Just the roar of water. And the few seconds after Mike screamed were long, with Mike kneeling down and placing his other hand under his gun hand to steady it. He waited for a light or some movement, a shadow, anything from the other tunnel that might suggest the cops were in there. Nothing! Only the roar, a slight breeze, humidity, and sweat that now ran down his cheeks.

If the cops are over there, why donít they do something? Mike thought. Shout into a megaphone and order me to surrender. Or shoot me -- like maybe they shot Dubs.

Mike waited while Bert and Sam just huddled together and watched. Again Mike fired a shot into the other tunnel, the sound reverberated around the sump, dampened-down the roar of the water for a moment, and finally echoed itself out. Mike kept his eyes fixed on the other tunnel, waiting for any sign that the cops were over there. But nothing happened to suggest the presence of cops anywhere.

As Mike watched, Sam began to regain his senses, and he noticed that some of the working ceiling lights around the sump were flickering. Their flicker coupled with the rising and falling of the mist above the water, cast shadows that danced along the lower-sump wall near the water, shadow that moved, shadows that confused the eyes.

It was just a shadow, Sam told himself. Yes, Dubs fell in! Nothing grabbed him.

Mike pulled the trigger twice, but only one shot echoed off. His gun must have been empty, but Mike tried again and again. Nothing.

Now Sam had his chance!

Mike kept pulling the trigger until he saw Samís face only two feet away.

They locked their eyes together, and Sam smiled, big shiny teeth in a solid jaw supported by a muscular neck and massive shoulders. Mike knew instantly what that meant.

Mike was quick but not quick enough, for Sam had been ready for this moment. As Mike swung the empty gun in his hand towards Samís face, Sam easily blocked it with one forearm and stepped in. With all the might that anger fuels, Sam sent an uppercut into Mikeís stomach with his other fist that lifted Mike up off the catwalk at least three inches!

Bert grabbed the gun as it fell and skidded down the tunnel a few feet. Sam stood over Mike really to hit him again if needed, but Mike just groaned as he held his stomach, buckled in half and dropped onto the catwalk on his side.

Bert screamed,"Letís get outa here!" Thugs with guns and sumps that apparently swallowed them whole were not in his job description.

But Sam answered with more control, "Wait! Donít go across the sump!" He had just noticed something coming up to the surface of the turbulent water, then slipping under again -- and it was no shadow as Sam had thought a few minutes ago. No, this was not a shadow!

"I oughta bash his head in..." Bert started to yell but Sam waved Bert back as he stepped back away from the catwalk himself. Mike was on the catwalk with one foot only inches away from the toe-board next to the sump pit.

"Somethingís in the sump," Sam said to Bert. Mike groaned but tried to get up. He tried to crawl towards Bert and Sam, but he only got an inch or two. "Look!"

Bert looked; after a moment he screamed,"What the hell is it?"

Mike saw Sam and Bert looking over him at something behind him. Cops, Mike thought as he turned his head to see. But within an instant, a large, many-toothed jaw, open, rammed into the handrail with such force that it bent the handrail inward a little. Again it rammed into the handrail, but this time it found the opening between the toe-board and first rail, and it snaked its head toward Mikeís foot!

Sam grabbed Mike and pulled him, but the thing had already latched onto Mike foot.

"Ahhhhhhh...." Mike screamed. He started kicking it with his other foot, and the thing twisted around and snapped its head back and forth. Bert grabbed Mike by the other shoulder and together with Sam they yanked Mike free, but Mike still screamed a terrible scream and Bert saw why: The thing had torn off Mikeís shoe, and a bloody foot remained.

"Get it away from me, get it away from me!" Mike screamed as he kept kicking with his other leg."Please keep it away from me!"

Together, Sam and Bert dragged Mike farther into the tunnel, but after fifteen feet or so, they stopped, turned around and looked back to make sure nothing was stalking them. Nothing was, but as they watched, a large head snapping its jaws protruded over the catwalk, and Samís helmet light reflected itself off two red eyes set in a light pinkish head.

"Itís an alligator!" Sam howled. "A goddamn alligator! And they told us over and over again that no shit-eatiní gators live down here!"

"Christ, look at it!í Bert hissed. "Look at it! Look!"

"Get it away from me!"
Mike kept screaming.

The alligator slipped under and didnít surface again, but Sam and Bert didnít go look.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God..." Bert chanted as he and Sam and even Mike stared back towards the sump. "I never believed those stories... We better move it, there might be more of them."

"And they can move pretty fast on dry land -- or in a tunnel," Sam said. He slapped Mike lightly on the side of the head. "Come on, tough guy, or do you want to say here?

"No, no please get me outa here -- oh, jeez, my foot!" Mike screamed.

Together with Mikeís one arm around Sam and his other arm around Bert, the trio made their way down the tunnel. Mike kept screaming to keep the alligator away from him, and as Sam and Bert looked back to see if anything was following them, their lights picked up blood from Mikeís foot in the oily discolored water that flowed back to the sump.

Humidity mixed with the sweat on their faces, and the tunnel grew silent as they lumbered forward. Droplets of sweat often found their eyes, but they couldn't spare a hand to wipe the salty liquid away. The strain and discomfort grew harder to bear now with each step, and Sam felt his heart pump out each beat, like a base drum during a parade.

Each step was a victory that led only to another battle, it seemed to Bert and Sam, while Mikeís cries of pain and fear replaced all the arrogance that this criminal once had. But Sam kept looking back, often, and the dismal tunnel behind him tried to close around him -- at least Sam thought so -- and after each look, Sam would attempt to pick up the pace.

After what seemed like many agonizing hours for Mike, they spotted lights up ahead. A SWAT team with shoulder lights on and M-16 rifles pointed at them. A shout from a megaphone said, "Get your hands up and donít move!" as the team very slowly approached them with red laser-targeting dots of light dancing on Bertís and Samís and Mikeís chests.

Once the swat team had control, they handcuffed Mike and the lieutenant in charge asked, "Whereís the other one?"

Before Sam or Bert could answer, Mike yelled, "Get me outa here - -you hear me, get me outa here! Thereís an alligator after us!"

The lieutenant didnít seem stunned at the mention of an alligator; he turned around to the other members of the swat team and ordered, "You didnít hear that. You three help the suspect -- and get him outa here, pronto!"

The lieutenant waited until he was alone with Sam and Bert, then asked again, only this time he seemed to know the answer, "And the other one?"

"Heís dead -- back there -- an alligator got him!" Sam said.

"Youíre sure it was an alligator?" the lieutenant asked very calmly.

Too calmly, thought Sam.

"Weíre telling you, it was an alligator!" Sam yelled again. Bert signaled his agreement by nodding his head hard enough to make his hard hat wobble.

The lieutenant called on his radio and said, "We have an A1198TA here. Weíre coming up!"

The lieutenantís expression showed no change when Sam yelled again, "Did you hear me? It was one of those shit-eatiní alligators that ain't supposed to exist.!"

"All three of us saw it, and it was an alligator!" Bert confirmed.

"Weíll handle it from here," the lieutenant said. "Youíre employed with the city, so Iíll say this just once and once only. You two donít say a word about this, understand?"

"But Iím telling you, thereís alligators down here, you hear me?" Sam insisted. "Wait 'til the union hears about this --"

"You two have been under a lot of stress. Calm down! Just calm down and relax. Itís all over, youíre safe now. Take a deep breath and forget about what just happened. Relax! Just relax for a minute," the lieutenant commanded.

Sam rubbed his neck as he shook his head back and forth, and Bert sighed as he looked around, up the tunnel, then back down the tunnel, then at Sam, then at the lieutenant who had a stony expression on his face. And the lieutenant didnít move, didnít appear to sweat, and didnít appear concerned about an alligator that must be down here.

The lieutenant stuck his head forward a little, and he appeared to grow taller. In a commanding tone, deep, confident and very serious, he said, "It would be in your best interests to forget about any alligators. They donít exist, and they never have. There are no alligators in the sewers or drainage systems. Do you two understand what Iím telling you? Alligators donít exist down here. And Iíll say it again: It would be in your best interests to forget about the alligator!"

Bert and Sam, wide-eyed and starting to sweat again at what the lieutenant had just said, nodded their heads in agreement, but their expressions remained unchanged.

"Mumís the word on this," the lieutenant said again, "Understand?"

####

"Iím going to pay you two six months extra pay," Nick Salvatorio, the Superintendent of the City Sewer Department said. "That is, if you completely cooperate with us -- as Iím sure you will. You two have good work records and it looks like retirement is creeping up soon for the both of you. Yes, retirement just around the corner must be nice. I have quite a few years to go myself, but am making plans already."

Bert and Sam sat together in the police interrogation room. Each had a nice cup of coffee in front of him, donuts on the table, and friendly smiles shot at them even from the SWAT team lieutenant. A relaxed atmosphere presented itself, and the room was comfortable -- well, more comfortable than the sewers, with or without alligators. Fresh, cool air entered from the air-handling system.

"We know what happened," Detective Brady said. "Mike Esterven, Joe Dubton-- known as Dubs -- Ray Conner s -- known as Butch -- and William Harding Anderson robbed the Mercantile First Central Bank this morning around 9:30 A.M. Mike shot and killed a police officer patrolling the area immediately after the robbery. Other units came, trapped Mike and Dubs between them and another shootout took place.

"Mike and Dubs then jumped down an open-manhole, and, once down in the tunnels, they ran into you two guys. Mike threatened to kill you two if you two didnít help him, so the two of you led him through a tunnel to one that he thought that he could escape from.

"Sam, you felt that they were going to kill you, so when the first opportunity presented itself, you over-powered Mike, got his gun, killed Dubs -- after which he fell into a sump -- and shot Mike in the foot. Those two really made a mistake when they tangled with an ex-Golden Gloves boxer!"

Laughter filled the room from the lieutenant and some other city officials present. However, Sam and Bert didnĎt laugh.

"Upon the arrival of the swat team, Lieutenant Marklin stated that you had the suspect, Mike Esterven, under your control.

"Guys, you two are heroes, for without your interaction these two pieces of shit just might have escaped. This gangís wanted around the country and even in Canada. We suspect theyíve robbed over twenty banks and countless supermarkets. The city owes you two so much. And Iím sure youíll sign off on this report as complete and accurate."

Detective Brady got up off the desk, walked around as he held the report, then shot a question at both Bert and Sam, a question in which both Sam and Bert knew what the answer should be, for both had realized that the only answer the detective, Nick, and the others in the room wanted had been written down in the report already. It didnít take a genius to figure that out, and the question was why. It wasn't as if 'gators in the sewers would keep tourists from coming to see the Statue of Liberty or to take in a Broadway how...

"Is there anything else? Something left out -- anything?" The detective spread his hands, palm up, as if to welcome any suggestions.

"Naw, thatís all of it," Sam said. He didnít look at the detective but shook his head submissively and repeated, "Nope, nothing more."

"You got everything there," Bert said. He looked through the detective, because his eyes were blank, for his mind understood, completely.

"Please donít discuss this with anybody. You might have to testify at Esterven's arraignment," Detective Brady said.

Bert said, "Hell, Iíve forgotten it already."

Sam nodded, and that brought a large smile to Detective Brady and the others in the room!

####

The following Saturday evening, Samís eyes were glued to the television as he sipped a light beer at home. And what he heard the anchorman say almost made his heart stop:

"Alleged bank robber, Mike Esterven, says that an alligator attacked him in a drainage tunnel where moments before, he had been overpowered by two city workers who were inspecting the tunnel. Furthermore, Esterven claims that his accomplice, Joe Dubton, known as Dubs, was eaten by the same alligator only moments before the attack on him.

"Esterven has been committed the Bellevue psychiatric hospital for observations, and according to his attorney, Jack DiFasio, the doctors have confirmed that the injury to Estervenís foot could not have been made by a bullet, as the police say.

"District Attorney Hamilton claims that Attorney Jack DiFasio, is trying to set up an insanity defense, and that Joe Dubtonís body will be found once it is discharged into the river. But sewer engineers say it might be months until that happens, and with all the rains weíve had so far this summer, the tunnels are too dangerous an undertaking a search for a body. And the idea of alligators in the sewage or drainage systems is ludicrous, according to District Attorney Hamilton, the city sewage department and the mayorís office."

Maria Morrison laughed. "Here we go again: Alligators swimming around and biting people when they go to the john! How many times have I heard that? If I had a penny for every time someone asked me if you ever saw an alligator down there, why Iíd make that Bill Gates look like heís on welfare!" she said.

The anchorman continued, "We here at WJACRW-TV have dug-up some interesting information about alligators that have been seen in the cityís sewage system for years. Many people think it is just an urban legend, but alligators in our sewers have some basis in fact."

Maria had had enough. She threw her hands up, walked into the kitchen and started making some green tea, which House, Home and Health magazine said was good for you in at least four or five ways.

Sam continued to watch the TV report. His big, scarred hands clutched the armrests of his chair hard enough to make the worn leather creak.

"In The World Beneath the City, a book by Robert R. Daley, sewer workers in the mid-1930s began turning in reports of alligators seen in the sewers. New York City Sewer Superintendent, Teddy May -- an interesting character in his own right -- organized an extermination campaign of the alligators, and over the next months, his men shot, poisoned, or drowned every alligator they could find!

"In 1935, Salvatore Condulucci, 16 years old, of 419 East 123d Street, helped drag an alligator out of a manhole. The alligator snapped at him and his friends, so they beat it to death with a snow shovel, then dragged it over to a local repair shop. The alligator weighed in at 125 pounds and was seven and a half feet long! The police -- who saw the dead alligator -- could offer little help as the whole neighborhood discussed where the alligator came from, and the question was never settled.

"And through the years, other reports of alligator-like creature have surfaced, but it has never been confirmed by science and always denied by the city that alligators live beneath us!"

The news switched to the Middle East, but Sam didnít hear it. No, Sam's thoughts were roaming in the tunnels that he had worked in for the last thirty years. Actually, over the last twenty years he didnít have to go into them much, and he didnít miss that. Only on overtime, which was all volunteer work, did he enter into the world beneath the city, as he thought of it. The extra money was great, and the work -- usually easy because of his seniority -- not bad.

Samís mind played back every memory, every story he had heard over the years. It all made sense now.

The bosses said that some tunnels were purged with nitrogen in order to kill rats. Rats, my ass, Sam thought. You didn't need a second man on a one-man job to defend yourself from rats. But some of the regulations were bizarre when it came to underground tunnel work, especially as applied to the older sewer tunnels. Some of those had been built over a hundred years ago, and the city wasnít sure how and where many of them interconnected, or if the sewer system was encapsulated like it was supposed to be. It might still be connected to the drainage system -- who knew? Sewage was often reported in the river and even along the coast down from the city.

The more Sam thought about all the tunnels that weren't on any of the schematics, the more he realized that the city covered up much more that just their gross mismanagement of the sewage department. The wrong pumps were purchased, then mysteriously disappeared. Tunnels were started then stopped after a few months work because they were in the wrong location, and there was even one district manager who got four paychecks, all in his name for doing four different jobs -- four full-time jobs, that is.

What else is down there? Sam wondered. If they're hiding man-eating gators, what else are they covering up? Could be a whole 'nother city, with all the money and equipment that goes missing ...

Maria came back into the room carrying two steaming cups of tea. When she saw Sam's face, she set them down on the battered coffee table and bent down to look into his eyes.

"What is it, Sam? Why did that story upset you so much? I know, it must have been frightening, dealing with those thugs, but -- Tell me, Sam. What really happened down there?"

Sam shook his head. "You don't want to know, baby. Hell, I don't want to know."

THE END



© 2006 by George T. Philibin

Bio: George T. Philibin says "Iíve been writing for two years, and enjoy every strike on my keyboard. Iím not sure why I write -- it's fun, IĎm sure about that -- and I intend to continue and learn. I work at a generating station in Western Pennsylvania, and served in Viet-Nam, attended the University of Pittsubrugh for Mechanical Engineering, worked in a coal mine, steel mill, and a dairy once. My favorite authors are Charles Dickens, Theodore Dreiser, and Kurt Vonnegut." This is George's 4th appearance in Aphelion; his most recent appearance was Albino Alligator, February 2006.

E-mail: George T. Philibin

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