For the first time in a long while, Michael Hammond felt a sense of purpose. From the moment Segarra had rapped on his apartment door, everything had surely led to this. He’d had an inkling of it when he first found the tapes and recognized what they were. But with no ability to play them, both he and the tapes were useless. The leather case sitting on the cave floor in front of him changed all of that. A B&H Reporter. He’d only seen one in a museum, and even then it was old and worn. This one looked brand-new. The leather case had protected it reasonably well, both in the musty lab and at the Althouses’ sandy encampment.
He should have figured they’d have scavenged the most valuable piece of electronic equipment on the island. He unfastened the latches and made himself pause. He should be careful. He was still breathing hard from the exertion of running the thing up here. If he broke it now out of eagerness, he’d never forgive himself. It was probably their only way to listen to whatever was on the audio reels.
A shadow passed across the mouth of the cave.
“What’s in the box?” Miller asked. She wasn’t even breathing hard.
“A piece of history, and if we’re lucky, it’s still working,” Hammond said.
“The yacht people had it?”
“Yeah, I just assumed the Russians took it.”
“Soviets,” she said.
He glanced up at her, not sure how to take the correction. Her face was emotionless. “Right. Soviets.”
There was an awkward pause, so he looked back at the recorder case.
“They’re not as bad as all of you think,” Miller said.
“I’ll take your word for it.” He held his breath and lifted the leather cover. “Thank God. Hello, gorgeous.” It was all there. The microphone, the recording heads, amplifier, everything. The control switch on the front had only three settings: Off, Playback, and Record.
Both of the recorder’s spindles were empty, so he rummaged through his pile of possessions and found one of the reels he’d salvaged from the lab. It fit on the playback spindle perfectly.
“I suppose it’s no accident you have a tape for this,” Miller said.
“We found a bunch in the lab. This has to be what recorded them.”
“Why would they use such outdated technology?”
“Hey! This is a beautiful piece of equipment. Gave birth to an industry, you know.”
She raised up her hands as if to say, Sorry I offended you.
“I don’t think it was outdated for them, anyway.” He wound the leading edge of the tape through the heads and looped it around the pickup reel. Then he turned the control dial to Playback.
Nothing happened. “Damn.”
“You forgot to plug it in, Hammond,” Miller said.
He shook his head. “It runs on batteries. That was one of the big selling points.”
If he remembered correctly, the battery compartment would be on the left side. He found the release on the bottom and pulled off the cover. Two metal objects tumbled out. He recognized the round flat one: It was a manual tape winder. Not essential, but nice to have. He stuck it on top of the reel from the lab, just in case he needed to rewind it.
The other piece was thin and angular, with a hexagonal bit at one end and a spinning piece at the other. “Yes! I was hoping this would be here.”
“What is that, a window crank?”
He laughed. “Why would a seventy-five-year-old radio need a window crank?”
She shrugged and looked away. She’d stationed herself at the mouth of the cave, not quite blocking the light, but where she’d have a good vantage point for anyone approaching from below. Old habits must die hard.
“You’re not far off, though. Most of these old recorders are windup, and this is the crank handle.” He found the keyhole on the front of the box. Well, keyhole was a misnomer. It was a hex-shaped port, and sure enough, the bit end of the crank slid right into it. He rotated it, gently at first, until he could feel the slight resistance that meant the gears inside were turning.
“If you wind it up, why did it come with batteries?” Miller asked.
“The battery is just for the amplifier. The reels are turned by a clockwork motor. A Garrad, I think.”
“Any chance it’ll still work after so long?”
“We’ll see,” he muttered, because he was counting revolutions. After ten, he stopped and moved the switch to Playback.
The reels quivered, but didn’t move. The metallic grating sound from beneath made him cringe. “Shit. I think I broke it.”
“Maybe it just needs a push,” Miller said.
It probably wouldn’t help anything, but he had the winder on his reel anyway. He gave it a little push in the clockwise direction. Like magic, both reels started to turn. “Yes!”
Miller smiled. “See? I told you.”
Her smile threw him. She didn't seem like the cheerful type. That head injury really screwed her up. But he found himself smiling back anyway. “How did you know?”
“Old machines always get jammed up around seawater. Half of our problems, we solve with a healthy dose of gear lubricant.”
“What about the other half?”
Her hand strayed to her hip, and she frowned when she found it empty. “You don’t want to know.”