The river was cold, it was still dark in the hours before dawn, but there wasn’t a lot of activity on the Schuylkill River in 1731. Ben stood on the bank of the river, hidden from view, or so he thought. A large hooded form walked out from the woods, carrying the small rowboat. With little effort, he gently placed the boat in the water and held it steady. The hooded figure whispered,
“Come on, let’s go! You wanted to do this, let’s get it over with.”
Ben cautiously got into the boat. The figure slowly turned the boat around so it could hop in the stern and push off the bank at the same time. Quickly grabbing the oars that were secured with some kind of metal clip that Ben had not seen before, he’ll have to ask about those later. The figure started to row downstream. Ben cleared his throat,
“You know you’re going the wrong direction?”
The figure stopped rowing and slumped his shoulders in defeat. He responded,
“I don’t know what your fascination is with the Schuylkill! A Delaware River location is much better for us, better access to the ocean.”
“But too easily discovered. No one would think to look for us on the Schuylkill.” Ben quipped back.
“That’s because they can’t spell Schuylkill, much less find it on a map. I don’t know why we have to do all this in secret, you seem to understand us pretty well.” the figure growled.
Ben replied, “Not every human is as curious as I am. Most spend their lives in utter fright, and would just as well destroy something they don’t understand.”
With a grunt, the figure wheeled the boat around with only a couple of strokes, then started rowing upstream, but doing so in such a quiet manner that the water fowl barely noticed the small rowboat with two figures gliding by.
After a few minutes, they rounded a bend in the river. Scanning the hillside, Ben spotted a small cave opening. He asked the figure, “Would it be hard to excavate this area?”
Barely glancing up the hill, the figure replied, “Not a problem for our technology.” Pulling a small box from inside his hooded coat, he flipped a cover open over a lens pointed at the sky, and pressed a small button. After a series of clicks, he closed the cover and put the device away.
“This will do nicely!” Ben exclaimed. He started looking around, making notes in a small book of the landmarks in the area. When they returned he would have to do some investigating to find out who owned the land. Then he would have to make a deal to gain access to the land while keeping his purpose a secret. Not an easy task, but should be possible. Once they had the location sufficiently mapped out, they were about to return to their starting point when a ship suddenly loomed over them moving quickly. “Pirates!” Ben hissed in alarm.
“Hold your breath!” the figure whispered urgently, while grabbing Ben with one arm, and jumping over the side of the small rowboat while grabbing the other side to capsize it over them as they plunged into the icy cold water. In the small pocket of air in the underturned boat, they met face to face. The gorilla had released his grip on Ben so he could hold both sides of the boat, his weight pulling the boat a few inches under the water. Ben guessed they were effectively invisible from above the water in the moonless night.
They could hear the ship making its way past. After they couldn’t hear anything any more, and both were shivering cold with Ben’s teeth rattling, the Kongonaut told Ben to hold onto the boat, that he was going to let go and then right it once it reached the surface. Before Ben could nod, he shot up with the boat, and the gorilla had swung it right side up and tossed Ben into the boat.
“I wonder what they were up to? They shouldn’t have been this far up river.” Ben managed to say while they rowed back to where they started.
“Don’t know, but I expect we’ll find out soon enough.” replied the Kongonaut.
After landing and securing the boat, Ben and the figure quickly determined next steps for each of them and parted ways.
Over the next couple of weeks Ben delicately queried around town to find out who owned the land. His biggest fear was that the location would possibly be at the edge of one or more properties. Having to deal with one landowner is enough of a risk, but two or more would make the location impractical. Loose lips sink ships, is what Ben kept thinking to himself. Eventually Ben had enough roundabout conversations with many people, seemingly without raising suspicions, and found out there was a single owner of the property he had his eye on.
Luckily when Ben had been to London a few years ago, he had been introduced to a French cook that had made him a mushroom dish because he preferred vegetarian meals. They had a long conversation about mushroom cultivation, how long it took, was it expensive, and so on. It certainly seemed like growing mushrooms would be much less costly than livestock, you only needed an old log! You also needed a basement, or a cave.
Ben used the cave as the pretext for procuring access to the land. Since most people weren’t interested in mushrooms, it provided a nice uninteresting backstory to keep out prying eyes. It helped that the land owner, an elderly gentleman, did not like eating mushrooms and wasn’t interested in Ben’s science experiments. He was more than happy to receive the modest rent payments for the land. Ben would be providing all the materials needed to “enhance” access to the cave and any “improvements” he did. This provided the perfect cover story.