The roar of the Zodiac’s engine lessened as the second dive team headed out to continue their dirty work. A check of supplies showed a box of thirty dive markers left, so the second two dive teams would only get in two dives between them. One hundred twenty-four LED markers now peppered the middle of the lake, and should the other thirty be attached, that would mean there were at least one hundred fifty-four bodies in the water. Add in Mr. Backmon, who rotted in the morgue tent, and Allen saw weeks on the lake recovering bodies, swarms of media types fishing for stories, and government entities fighting for lead.
He sighed and looked over at Clarke, who was turning pale. “Need to eat something, Brad.”
“And yet I’m just not hungry.” Clarke watched the second two teams navigate around the floating markers and take up position to the west. He set his binoculars on a table the pair had placed between them. “Tell me Seattle has a morgue team en route and a few hundred more bags.”
The two remained silent for a moment as the weight of the situation pulled them further into the quicksand of amazed depression and muted horror. The sun, hidden by thick gray clouds, was close to its zenith and had yet to brighten the day. The scene had turned into another Jonestown, another Waco, another Little Rock. And yet it was closer, more horrific because of the way these people had opted to meet the mothership or run away from government oppression or take a ride on the Jesus Express. Neither Allen nor Clarke were old enough to remember Jonestown, but they had read enough narratives, watched enough film and listened to enough tapes to catch both the similarities and the differences. Jim Jones was a leader who could talk up a storm and rally a crowd into doing what he wanted them to do. Yet there was dissention in the ranks on that day in 1978. The tapes were clear: many did not want to drink the poison, did not want to squirt the liquid into the mouths of their crying babies, did not want to die with Jones. Some left. Some were, arguably, murdered. The result was the same, however: over nine-hundred followers of Jones died in one night.
How was this different? From the tape recovered down river, there was something missing in the arguments of the fallen. There was no dissention, no arguments against the dictates of the mysterious leader. There were no cries, no shouting matches between those who ardently followed and those who did not quite understand.
They simply agreed to die.
Talbert had yet to find a cult online that referenced following “The One.” At least the Heaven’s Gate cult was kind enough to leave a digital trail of what they believed, the videotaped messages of Marshall Applewhite, and even suicide notes. Jonestown was already at the forefront of the news because of a visit by a congressman who was murdered in what might be called an act of creating a reason. The siege in Waco where David Koresh and seventy-six members of his Branch Davidian cult died was a live broadcast. Little Rock was set up as a reality television show by right-wing terrorists for social media. If there was a cult led by some mysterious “One” where people like Henry Backmon left their homes, loved ones and lives to join, there had to be something on the Internet that would lend a clue.
Yet Talbert could come up with nothing. What they knew, they had gathered from the transcript of the reel-to-reel tape and the letter found on Backmon’s body. What they knew, was little.
Stuart and Zachary had both changed and dried off when Allen motioned the two to come over. “Talk to me,” Allen said.
Stuart swallowed a bite of something that smelled like salmon jerky. “Attached one hundred twenty-four markers. Bodies are badly putrefied and will need to be bagged in the water before recovery. It’s like you said, Clarke: a forest of souls down there.”
Allen cringed. “Don’t let that phrase get out to the media when they show up, okay? Did you see anything else? The boat they had to take out there?”
“Nothing like that, but the visibility isn’t the best. From what I can tell, all the bodies had letters attached to them like the floater. Freezer bags clipped to shirts and pants.”
Allen looked over at Clarke and nodded. Clarke picked up his radio. “Recovery Two.”
The radio crackled back. “Base, Recovery Two. Go ahead.”
“When you’re down there, Aston, see if you can’t bring up a few of the bags attached to some of the bodies.”
There was a slight pause, then Aston spoke: “And you want this evidence—”
“Say they detached and were floating around in the water.”
Another pause, then: “Roger. Recovery Two, out.”
Stuart bit off another chunk of jerky and looked over the water. Zachary followed his gaze, then turned back to Allen. “Found a hatch, sir.”
Sir? Allen hated that term. “Found a what?”
“A hatch. Or something that looked like a hatch. On the fourth dive. My flipper hit the silt, and I saw what looked like a round metal hatch. A little rusted, but it had dogs and a what might have been a wheel.”
Allen scribbled something on his notepad. “How far out?”
“Grid thirty-two. Lakebed is forty-two feet.”
Stuart looked at Zachary and swallowed a wad of chewed salmon. “Didn’t get a great look at it, myself, but there was definitely something. Probably been down there for fifty years.”
Clarke raised the radio to his mouth, but Allen put his hand up to stop him. “Do me a favor,” Allen said. “When the second team gets back, head back out there and snap a picture. I doubt it has anything to do with the bodies, but what the hell.”
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