It was not very impressive. After all, it was only a couple of pieces of wood, a 6x6 plank with a crossbeam about a quarter of the way from the top.
There, amidst the silence, came a single voice, singing softly:
"Y'know, Doc, I just realized something," came Renny Renwick's familiar voice from behind. "I don't think I've ever heard you sing until just now. You're not half-bad." The big man approached his friend, who was sitting Indian-style before the cross, and held out a hand. Clark reached up and took it, and Renny pulled him to his feet. "Sorry to bust in, Doc, but Monk's here, and he looks as excited as a kid at Disneyland."
"Thank you, Renny," replied Clark, dusting off his pants and stretching.
"I tried to get you on the radio, but you'd switched it off. Sam said you were probably up here, so I thought I'd see if you were okay."
"Yes, I'm fine, thank you. Just spending a few minutes alone."
Clark took the lead down the path towards the construction site.
"Hey, Doc?" asked Renny as they walked. "I know you're a Christian and all, but I don't understand why you put this cross up here before anything else."
Clark stopped and turned back to look his close friend in the face. "There's a verse in the Bible that says, 'Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.' The last time we built something here, it was without God's blessing, and it failed tragically. It has to be different this time, or else we're doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Besides, this is a matter of giving honor to whom honor is due." He smiled. "Make sense?"
"Sorta. It's like dedicating it to God."
"Exactly." Clark smiled and the two men continued down the path into the clearing. "Where's Monk?"
"Admin Trailer Two."
As they walked through the construction site, Clark panned the scene and smiled. It was good to see something new, something good, being built there.
Johnny's archaeology crew hadn't found much: just some mementos and a few personal items. Over the years, the area had ironically become a dumping ground for drug paraphernalia and other garbage. Still, they were very thorough, taking a full month to examine the Crime College and surrounding area. Dot was there also, with her ever-present camcorder, documenting the survey. She also recorded the final act -- the demolition job that reduced the College to rubble, amidst the wild cheering at the end of an era.
Over the next week, the debris had been hauled away, sorted, and some recycled for landfill. Two groups out of California had tried bidding for the debris, with the intent to sell it as historical memorabilia, as had been done with ash produced by Mt. St. Helens' volcanic eruption in 1980. Monk personally responded to their morbid capitalism by promising to use some of the debris on their heads if they dared show their faces again.
He scratched his chin beneath his full beard. He had shaved last year when they found Johnny teaching in a small college in Vermont, but had grown it back since then. It was a subtle physical change, to say the least, but one that successfully disguised himself from others. He had to remind himself, the possibility of being revealed to the public as Doc Savage was a minor danger, but an ever-present one.
The work site was like a retreat to him. It was a place to contemplate on the work God had done in his life, and to use his talents toward creating something good for mankind from what had caused so much trouble to mankind. To that end, Clark tried to be as involved as possible in the construction of the Savage Institute, in everything from hauling debris to driving graders and bulldozers. It felt good to get dirty, he thought as he smiled to himself.
"Ivan?" called someone from their right. A man in foreman's coveralls and hard hat walked swiftly to intercept them. They stopped and let him close the gap.
"Yes, Samuel," replied Renny. "What is the matter?"
Samuel Connery, foreman in charge of operations, took a moment to remove his hard hat and run his hand through curly black hair slicked with sweat. "Sorry to bother ya, Boss, but I've got something over on section five that needs your approval."
Connery was a capable foreman, in high demand. But his expertise was in dealing with the public, and that made him perfect for the position, while Renny was the true overseer of the project. The native-born New Worker was very personable, and was well-respected among the workers. He and his wife, Marie, had three kids, and Connery had expressed a strong interest in being among the first few to register with the Savage Institute upon its completion. In fact, a portion of his pay went into a special account personally matched by Renny, which would guarantee tuition for Connery's children, a bonus for a job well done.
"Sure, Sam," replied Renny, placing a large hand on the man's shoulder. "Go ahead -- I'll be right behind you."
As Connery walked away, Renny turned to Clark and shrugged. "Can't say I didn't ask for it, Doc. You go on ahead ... give me a call if you need me." Then Renny's face broke into a grin, a detail that reminded Clark just how much his friend had changed over the decades, and he followed after Connery.
"Right." Clark nodded and continued to the cluster of administrative office trailers on the outskirts of the work site.
He stopped at the foot of the steps of Admin Trailer Two, and looked back at the viewpoint where the cross stood. Very soon after the College had been demolished, God had directed him to single-handedly establish the overlook as a place of solitude, as a place for prayer and meditation. And he was inspired to use wood from the debris of the College itself to form the cross. Now, to see that cross looking down on the site of the Savage Institute, Clark couldn't help stand in awe of what God had brought him -- all of them -- through to this point. Where there had been separation, now there was unity. Where there was no hope, now there was hope.
He had been given a second chance.
With a smile, he said softly, "Thank You."
Opening the door at the top of the metal stairs, a rush of refrigerated air slapped his skin simultaneously with the excited squeal of the simian chemist.
"Doc! Doc! It's about time you got here!" He looked past the bronze giant. "Where's Renny?"
"Sam called him away. He said to go ahead without him." Clark held up an index finger and chided softly, "And Monk, you've just got to stop calling me Doc, especially when we're in public. I'm supposed to be Clark Dent ... okay?"
Monk's hands flew up, touching the ceiling, then flopped down in frustration. "I'm sorry, Daawww-Clark," he caught himself. "I'm just used'ta callin' you Doc, Doc."
Clark smiled and let it slide. "Keep at it, old friend. What do you have?"
"Did you watch the news last night?"
He shook his head briefly. "No. Why?"
"Remember that news crew that came here a couple'a days ago? Well, our story hit the air last night. And somethin' else." He started moving into the next office. "C'mon!"
Entering another room deeper within the trailer, Monk closed the door behind them. The room was an audio-visual theater, equipped for watching videotapes or DVD, satellite broadcasts, or computer-generated presentations. Several chairs faced a large-screen high-definition tv.
Monk snatched up a remote control as the two men sat.
"Our story's the last one up, but I thought you might wanna see the headlines," he said ominously, aiming the remote and punching PLAY.
The professionally-dressed male newscaster read from the off-screen teleprompter. "In national news, two early morning blazes in California caused an estimated $150,000 in damages. For more on that we take you to Dawn Avery. Dawn?"
The image changed to the harsh view of a fire in progress. The caption at the bottom identified it as a popular very-high-class neighborhood in Los Angeles.
"They call themselves Apex, and they strike by night," narrated the female reporter. "The police are baffled, and are -- so far -- powerless to stop their advance in their self-proclaimed war against the exploitation of women. Two nights ago, they claimed responsibility for the devastation of this block in fashionable Beverly Hills, and this one -" The picture shifted to a second blaze in another location. "- in San Diego. Their methods are consistent: they strike without warning, randomly, causing massive destruction without loss of life."
"Police continue to refuse comment, but, in the last six months, Apex has claimed responsibility for no less than 73 separate attacks, causing estimated losses in the millions of dollars." She paused. "They target establishments which exploit women, including those in the adult entertainment industry, as well as those in the cosmetics and fashion industry." She paused again. "Speaking on behalf of the cosmetics industry, Patricia Inc. President Penelope Savage decried these attacks."
The picture switched to a scene of Pat, standing behind a row of microphones and looking naturally gorgeous. Clark's eyebrow raised in interest as she spoke. "These people are little more than terrorists and vandals -- common thugs and hoods, deceived into thinking they can intimidate us. Their efforts against us are no more than wasted effort. I, for one, will not give in to these tactics, and will do everything in my power to bring them to justice!"
Monk uttered a gagging sound by way of responding to her comment, and Clark shushed him.
After a few more statements along the same lines, the image cut back to a tall black girl. The caption below her identified her as the reporter Dawn Avery. "It should be noted that Patricia Inc.'s operations have suffered the most from Apex, with an estimated total damage in the millions, and that market analysts have shown a sharp downward trend in Patricia Inc. stock." She paused. "In Beverly Hills, this is Dawn Avery."
The anchorman smiled. "Thank you, Dawn." He paused, and continued with the news.
They waited for a moment, then Monk muted the sound with the remote. "Very interesting," commented Clark. "It appears that she, too, has her enemies."
"Uh huh. Sorry 'bout my comment earlier, but she's got a lotta nerve talkin' about justice!" He paused. "Gotta admit, though, what first came to mind when she was talkin' was that bit in Psalms about the rain fallin' on the just and unjust alike. Looks like Patty's in the middle of monsoon season."
Clark nodded without comment.
"Lemme push this thing ahead to our story." He manipulated the remote, and restored the sound.
"Earlier in our broadcast, we reported on the troubles experienced by Penelope Savage, daughter of cosmetics matriarch Patricia Savage. In a related story, the name of Clark Savage Jr. has once more come into the spotlight through an adventurous endeavor by one of his former associates. For more, we take you to Karleen Bush. Karleen?"
The picture changed to the reporter. Clark recognized her from her visit to the work site several days ago.
"I'm standing near a construction site in upstate New York. Behind me used to be the infamous Crime College, where numerous civil rights atrocities were committed during the 1930's and 1940's, by the so-called adventurer and inventor Clark Savage Jr., also known as 'Doc' Savage. The building had remained on this land for almost fifty years, undisturbed, visited only by gang members and drug users ... until three weeks ago."
The picture shifted to a distant image of a familiar building being demolished in a cascade of brick and mortar. Clark felt a moment of nostalgic sadness at the loss of the College.
"Dottie let us use her videotape," explained Monk aside.
The reporter voice-overed the pictures. "In a spectacular display, the Crime College was demolished to make way for a project called The Savage Institute."
The image shifted to a press conference. Monk was making his way to the row of microphones. In the trailer, the simian chemist shifted in his chair and looked away from the screen. "That was so embarrassing. You know I'm not a public speaker. If Ham wuz alive, he'd never let me live it down."
"You looked fine," placated Clark.
"Heading the project is Andrew Mayfair," continued the reporter. "Mayfair was one of Savage's closest associates prior to the expose of Savage's infamous deeds. Known as 'Monk,' he is now one of the only two survivors of Savage's team. In a press briefing, he outlined the work he was undertaking."
Monk spoke from the makeshift podium. "Look, I wanna get this out in the open so's you can't say we're up to no good, okay? The Crime College is ancient history. We're puttin' up a new school here, to teach kids the right things, the right way. To help the world, like we used to do. You guys all got the handouts? Good! Anyhow, since Doc ain't around anymore, we're namin' it in his memory. Like I said, we got nuthin' to hide here. And that's all I gotta say." He grinned like a drunken baboon. "Now shove off, ya mugs -- I got work t'do!"
In the trailer, Monk simply grunted disapprovingly.
On the television, as Monk turned and walked away, the reporter continued her narrative. "This ambitious project is expected to cost over fifty million dollars, and be completed by mid-2002. It's being funded through private as well as public sources, and will be open to students as soon as the beginning of the 2002 academic year." She addressed the anchorman, and the story ended.
"And right now, we've got over a hundred letters from families wantin' to be the first ones in the door," beamed Monk. "Ain't it great?"
"That it is, brother," replied Clark as the news story returned to the anchorman. "That it is."
Monk jabbed the STOP button, and the screen went dark.
"I'm pleased that they treated it so positively."
"Yeah," replied Monk, leaning back in his chair. "Karleen's a good kid, and she doesn't buy all the crap they laid on us back then. I like her."
Clark stood. "Perhaps now others will dismiss the College as old news."
Their attention was suddenly directed to the sound of someone coming up the stairs and entering the trailer. A few moments later, they heard Renny yelling, "Clark, Monk ... guys, you in here?"
"Back here, Renny!" called Clark.
The door opened. "Monk, your son just radioed the helipad. He's about five minutes from landing, and he wanted to know if you'd be ready."
"What's the rush?" asked Monk.
Renny's face broke into an ear-to-ear grin. "Your wife doesn't want you late for dinner!"
Monk rolled his eyes up into his head. Then he looked at the bearded engineer and countered, "Lissen, smart guy. Lea tells me she's gettin' a TTY so she can talk to Amanda, so I'd watch myself."
Renny gave his old friend a sour look, then the two of them broke into simultaneous laughter. Off to the side, Clark watched the display and reflected that onreyness never grew old.
The three men went outside and walked to the helipad. Because of the remoteness of the location, it seemed more practical to bring some supplies in by cargo helicopter than by truck. Although still in its infancy, the concrete slab and trailer that served as control shack and maintenance shed met their needs. They watched as a Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor airplane appeared overhead. Smoothly changing from horizontal to vertical flight, it descended gracefully and landed easily on the pad. After shutting down the engines, the side door opened, and a man stepped down to the ground. He wore jeans and a worn brown leather bomber jacket. A cowboy hat the same hue as the jacket rested casually on his head. He sauntered over to them.
"Afternoon, guys," he greeted with a grin. "Dad, you ready?"
"Sure, son," replied Monk. "What's so blasted important that you gotta tell everyone about dinner."
Clark 'Gumball' Mayfair replied with a single word: "Lasagne."
With a look of culinary lust in his eyes, Monk turned to the other two and quickly said, "Well, guys, gotta go!" And started ambling swiftly towards the Osprey.
Gumball turned to Clark. "Doc, I really want to thank you again for this," he said, meeting the bronze man's eyes. "I'd been wanting to start a executive charter service once my tour of duty was over, but I never thought I'd have an Osprey to work with."
Clark shrugged off the thanks. "Actually, much of the idea was your dad's. I'd wanted to get you something to show my thanks for helping us out last year, and it was your dad who told me about your plans for the charter business. I hope it works well for you."
The pilot held out a hand. "Well, if you every need me ... for anything ... I'm yours."
As the two men shook hands, Monk stuck his head out of the doorway. "Shake a leg, son! Dinner's waiting!"
With another grin, the younger Mayfair said, "See you later. Renny?"
The engineer nodded and held out a hand. "Take it easy, kid."
Clark and Renny watched from a safe distance, as Gumball returned to the aircraft and prepared for takeoff. They waved back at Monk, in the co-pilot's seat, and soon the Osprey was smoothly lifting up into the air. It cleared the trees, shifting to horizontal flight, banking easily and flying out of sight. Clark and Renny walked back to the construction site.