Boing! Boing! I was bouncing around in the back of our pickup again, and it seemed good to be away from digging for a while. We were all in a holiday-like mood, headed to town. As we rolled along, I chucked rocks at randomly chosen targets.
We usually went to town near the beginning of the month for supplies. We were a few days early this time because of something strange that had happened.
Snipe and Hitler, the camp’s dogs, were the first to notice two men on the slopes north of our camp.
“Winston,” Uncle Jim called down to me one morning, “go get your dad—quick! We’ve got something strange going on.”
“Dad! Dad!” I shouted to him from my work area underground. “Uncle Jim says to come up right now. Something’s wrong across the canyon.”
Dad quickly scrambled up the ladder, asking questions I couldn’t answer. “What’s the matter? Is someone hurt? Is there a fire? Has there been an accident?”
We were silent as Uncle Jim pointed across the canyon and above our camp. Two men in clothes too good for hiking were struggling across rough, bushy ground. We could see them plainly and knew at a glance they weren’t used to the out-of-doors. They didn’t seem to notice us and may not have heard the dogs bark because of the stiff wind blowing.
“What in the world—?” Dad began.
Uncle Jim cut Dad off. “They’re carrying powerful binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens,” my uncle pointed out, peering through his own binoculars.
White Sands Proving Grounds was just over the ridges a couple miles east of our camp. It was a supersensitive government base where the first atomic bomb had been set off and where secret rockets were still being tested. I immediately thought, Those men are going up the canyon to spy and have lost the trail!
Dad said aloud what I was thinking. “I’ll bet they’re up to no good. Probably planning to spy on the base.”
Uncle Jim grunted in agreement.
So now, two hours later, we were headed to town to inform the FBI and get our monthly shopping done a bit earlier than usual.
Most towns the size of Las Cruces, New Mexico, are too small to have a resident FBI agent. But because of the town’s being so close to White Sands Proving Grounds, it has an FBI office. As it turned out, the office was closed when we arrived, but a friendly sheriff’s deputy listened to our story and promised to relay the report.
On our next trip into town we learned that the two men were picked up the next day, although we didn’t glean much more information than that. We did learn something else that caught us off guard: the FBI had a file on us and all ranchers, prospectors, and landowners who had any reason to be near the boundaries of the huge government base.
It was late the following day before we returned to camp. Everything seemed to be back to normal the next morning. We little suspected that within a few weeks spies of a different sort would begin building tensions destined to finally disrupt our operation. Our sponsor, Mike Johnson, had returned some time ago to his work in Arizona. But now he was back, just in time to get in on the “beginning of the end.”