The Hammer of Eden
A man called Priest pulled his cowboy hat down at the front and peered across the flat, dusty desert of South Texas.
The low dull green bushes of thorny mesquite and sagebrush stretched in every direction as far as he could see. In front of him, a ridged and rutted track ten feet wide had been driven through the vegetation. These tracks were called senderos by the Hispanic bulldozer drivers who cut them in brutally straight lines. On one side, at precise fifty-yard intervals, bright pink plastic marker flags fluttered on short wire poles. A truck moved slowly along the sendero.
Priest had to steal the truck.
He had stolen his first vehicle at the age of eleven, a brand-new snow white 1961 Lincoln Continental parked, with the keys in the dash, outside the Roxy Theatre on South Broadway in Los Angeles. Priest, who was called Ricky in those days, could hardly see over the steering wheel. He had been so scared he almost wet himself, but he drove it ten blocks and handed the keys proudly to Jimmy "Pigface" Riley, who gave him five bucks, then took his girl for a drive and crashed the car on the Pacific Coast Highway. That was how Ricky became a member of the Pigface Gang.
But this truck was not just a vehicle.
As he watched, the powerful machinery behind the driver's cabin slowly lowered a massive steel plate, six feet square, to the ground. There was a pause, then he heard a low-pitched rumble. A cloud of dust rose around the truck as the plate began to pound the earth rhythmically. He felt the ground shake beneath his feet.
This was a seismic vibrator, a machine for sending shock waves through the earth's crust. Priest had never had much education, except in stealing cars, but he was the smartest person he had ever met, and he understood how the vibrator worked. It was similar to radar and sonar. The shock waves were reflected off features in the earth--such as rock or liquid--and they bounced back to the surface, where they were picked up by listening devices called geophones, or jugs.
Priest worked on the jug team. They had planted more than a thousand geophones at precisely measured intervals in a grid a mile square. Every time the vibrator shook, the reflections were picked up by the jugs and recorded by a supervisor working in a trailer known as the doghouse. All this data would later be fed into a supercomputer in Houston to produce a three-dimensional map of what was under the earth's surface. The map would be sold to an oil company.
The vibrations rose in pitch, making a noise like the mighty engines of an ocean liner gathering speed; then the sound stopped abruptly. Priest ran along the sendero to the truck, screwing up his eyes against the billowing dust. He opened the door and clambered up into the cabin. A stocky black-haired man of about thirty was at the wheel. "Hey, Mario," Priest said as he slid into the seat alongside the driver.
Richard Granger was the name on Priest's commercial driving license (class B). The license was forged, but the name was real.
He was carrying a carton of Marlboro cigarettes, the brand Mario smoked. He tossed the carton onto the dash. "Here, I brought you something."
"Hey, man, you don't need to buy me no cigarettes."
"I'm always bummin' your smokes." He picked up the open pack on the dash, shook one out, and put it in his mouth.
Mario smiled. "Why don't you just buy your own cigarettes?"
"Hell, no, I can't afford to smoke."
"You're crazy, man." Mario laughed.
Priest lit his cigarette. He had always had an easy ability to get on with people, make them like him. On the streets where he grew up, npeople beat you up if they didn't like you, and he had been a runty kid. So he had developed an intuitive feel for what people wanted from him--deference, affection, humor, whatever--and the habit of giving it to them quickly. In the oilfield, what held the men together was humor: usually mocking, sometimes clever, often obscene.
Excerpted from The Hammer of Eden by Ken Follett. Copyright© 1998 by Ken Follett. All rights reserved. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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