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“Hidden in plain sight, an industrial-scale meth lab in a former biotech building in Seattle’s tech hub quietly pumps out millions of carefully hidden profits for the scion of one of the city’s old-line wealthy families. That is, until agents from an Afghan rebel group show up looking for a cut and bodies start washing up on Puget Sound beaches.

“It looks like smuggling – people or drugs – to the murder squad, but the cops can’t believe such a prominent citizen would be involved. It takes former journalist turned true-crime blogger Eric Falconer – narrowly escaping death himself in the heroin-sick alleys of Vancouver, B.C. – to connect the timber-family scion to the murders and a plot to destroy the re-election campaign of a popular governor.

“As the police finally close in, the head of the cartel disappears, murdered for revenge. Only Falconer will ever know the killer.”

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Dick Lilly is a former journalist whose career began with alternative weeklies and took him on to the Seattle Times where he spent 15 years coverning local government from City Hall to the school board. HIs career continued at Seattle Public Utilities as a public information officer and policy analyst working on waste prevention.

Chapters 8,9 & 10: WAC, Sixth Avenue, and the Nordstrom Grill

Chapter 8, WAC

Wednesday June 11, 1 p.m.

              Carl Barclay and Victor Wallingford met for lunch in a private dining room on the 15th floor of the Washington Athletic Club where Victor was immediate past president. The room was trimmed in dark wood. Above he wainscoting there were paintings of bird-hunting scenes.

              “Did he say why, who they were?”

              “No. He was as opaque as ever. ‘Some old business, finished now,’ in that accent of his. He apologized about the boat, though. Hit a vessel traffic mid-channel buoy ‘rather fast.’ I got the impression, but he never quite said, that he hit it on purpose. You can imagine that: a couple landlubbers standing around, maybe gunmen according to the papers; without warning they hit a ten-ton buoy at 30 knots. They’re slammed to the deck and our boy, braced in the helmsman’s chair, suddenly has the upper hand, element of surprise, et cetera. Dieter was a commando in at least one of his secret past lives. That would be my guess. He may think it’s ‘finished,’ whatever ‘it’ was,” sarcasm flowed from Wallingford, “but he has left us with some nasty loose ends.”

              “Would have been nice if you’d told me earlier.” It was as close to a rebuke as Barclay dared with Victor. “The cops were a nasty surprise. Scared the shit out of me. Really, I thought I was going downtown in handcuffs until everyone figured out if our boat was there, the heat was off.”

              “Carl, think about it,” Victor said, making his point as though Barclay were a slow pupil. “The surprise was essential. If you’d been expecting them, you’d have been acting. They would have sensed something phony and it would be worse.”

              Barclay looked down at his food to hide his anger at being manipulated.

              They ate grilled Copper River salmon, delicate green patty pan squash, fennel mashed potatoes. An astringent blackcurrant sauce was drizzled in artful arcs on the fish and white china.

              “More than loose ends, don’t you think,” said Barclay, obliquely conveying his worry to Wallingford. “We have the L.A. money to move and, depending on what they want up there – what 10, 20 kilos? – to get to B.C. and no boat. We’re sure as shit not driving it across the border.”

              “Of course, that’s a problem. But there are other things that are more bothersome, Carl. I think you’ll see that. These fellows, these killers, whoever they were, seem to have searched the world to find our Swiss fellow. The possibility exists, and here is the danger, that they also found us. Do you see the problem, Carl?”

              Victor could be amazingly patronizing with almost anybody. Carl figured it came with a name like Wallingford and money more than a century old piled up by his family as they cut down the rainforest. Four generations in Seattle took you back before the fire when Wallingford’s great-grandfather arrived – story had it with a tradesman’s last name – homesteaded somewhere in the neighborhood north of Lake Union that bears – or inspired – his name, and began buying and cutting timber.

Once the athletic ne’er-do-well in the family, Victor was well into his thirties by the time he finished playing in Sun Valley and came home to manage the money. Now 55, he had settled into his role as squire, his pin stripes grown to size 44, his speed diminished, a polite loser at handball and racquetball on the WAC courts downstairs where the members got business done.

              “I worry about a leak, Carl. Has our loquacious L.A. partner been indiscreet, bragged about his wonderful source, the purity of product? Who else down there knows? We need to find out. Of course, I’d hate to think our Adrian, pursuant to some scheme of his own, told them on purpose. I don’t rule it out, though. I’ve known him for years, several decades, really. He gets a certain intellectual satisfaction from his complex schemes.”

              “But he doesn’t know Dieter.”

              “Unfortunately, he does. You might say their paths have crossed.” 

It was always this way around Victor. There were always things Carl didn’t know, little facts omitted; what he was told like hints in a game of twenty questions, reminding him that he was only a peripheral player. Sometimes he thought, maybe victim. His stomach churned.

              “Plus, our useful Swiss is blown. He must assume he is; so must we. Somebody out there – where? L.A., London, Bogata, Kabul? – expected the dead guys back, or a report or something, a couple weeks ago. Somebody will come looking, won’t they, Carl? And even a good killer, especially a good, well-trained killer like ours, won’t wait around to be found. I suspect our employee is about to disappear and I don’t think he’ll be giving us two week’s notice.”

              “You said he was there this morning. They’re still crankin’ the stuff out . . .”

              “Amusing pun, Carl. And I suspect that tells us Dieter thinks the product from this run is going into his suitcase to finance relocation to a remote Caribbean island – though I think I can counter that problem with a respectable cash offer.”

 “In which case it’ll be less than two weeks and we’ll have another 10 kilos for Adrian, another 10 and twice the money for B.C. And no boat, Victor, no goddamn boat!”

              “We have a boat.”

              “No!” Carl groaned, anguished at this glimpse of a future he did not want, another hopeless, maybe unavoidable step deeper in. God, he wished he’d never started, never met Victor. “Please, not my boat.”

              “We use it all the time.”

              “As a decoy, Victor, as a decoy. Sally goes with me. You know that. We don’t carry anything. I don’t carry anything. That’s the deal. The stuff goes with the Swiss and his two Russians.”

              “Carl, relax. Of course, it’ll be you and Sally. She’s a big plus. The customs guys at Sydney and Roche Harbor see you every month or two. Sally’s probably got them charmed. It’s all check-in by phone anyway except coming back and you’ll be clean then. You’re routine.” Carl had stopped eating. Victor reached over and speared the remaining salmon off his plate.

              “Victor, all due respect. This is a brilliant operation and it’s all yours. You are the mastermind, the business whiz that makes it all work. What have you made on this, ten, twenty million since the dot-com crash? And you’ve been generous with me. I’m really grateful for that. But right now you’ve got to think cops, you’ve got to think prison, you’ve got to think risk.” This was Carl Barclay, political consultant, full of professional persuasion, talking to a client. “Those detectives, Harms and Williams, they’re not dumb. They think there’s a connection between the two boats and they’re right, you know that. They just don’t know what it is, at least not exactly. But you can bet smuggling’s high on their list of possibilities. Dope. People. Whatever. Since the publicity about the “death boat” this is not routine. They are watching my every move to find out. I think they’re even tailing me in the city. Maybe that’s just paranoia, but if I move my boat, they’ll know it. They’ll follow it. They can have the Canadians search us just for the hell of it. Think about that. We can’t hide two carry-on bags full of meth and money on a 34-foot sport fishing boat.” Carl’s imagination skipped past the mustached customs inspector with his harmless clipboard who sometimes came down to the dock in Sidney and pictured the Canadian Coast Guard coming alongside, men on deck with machine guns.

              The waiter knocked, rolled in a wooden dessert cart, cleared and poured coffee. Carl got up stiffly and walked over to the window. The sky was a featureless bright gray. It was raining lightly. Across the room, Victor lit a cigar, offered cognac from the private bar. Numb with worry, Carl turned from the window, poured Courvoisier into his coffee, left the bottle on the table.

              “As you say, they’re still ‘crankin’ it out, so in ten days we’ll have a delivery for Adrian. I will go along unless I can plug the leak before then. Vancouver even sooner. You are very convincing, Carl, and your advice has paid off for me before, so maybe not on your boat. Maybe another way.”

              “For Chrissakes, take your own boat, Victor. For cover load it up with guys from the club off for a weekend of fishing and drinking and a night prowl looking for sweet young stoners in the marijuana bars on Granville Street. Amuse yourself. Do a dope deal under their noses at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. Then close the lab and quit.”

              “Maybe.”

              “I didn’t sign up for this, Victor.”

              “Don’t bullshit me, Carl. No one is just a little bit corruptible. It’s always just a question of price and as you said, I’ve been quite generous.”     

Chapter 9, Sixth Avenue

Wednesday June 11, 3 p.m.

              Imprisoned in his fear and walking head down against the summer drizzle, Carl Barclay was still on Sixth Avenue only a block from the WAC when the shadow he’d thought was paranoia appeared by his side.

              “Mr. Barclay, excuse me, let me walk with you a minute. I have some friends who would like to employ a public affairs consultant and I’d like to talk with you about that.”

              “It might be better to call my office and make an appointment, Mr. . . .?”

              “Oh, I am sorry. I know this is a bit unusual.” The stranger extended a hand from a pale gray raincoat. He looked mid-thirties, dark tan, black full beard carefully trimmed, hair expensively cut. His English was precise, a bit formal but barely accented, not enough to give Barclay any clue where he was from. Europe someplace, Barclay thought. “I am Edmund Hanran. The people I represent are in the logistics business and they plan to expand here on the West Coast, including the Port of Seattle.”

              “Walk along if you like, then, Mr. Hanran, or we can duck in around the corner for a coffee, get out of this bit of rain.” Always make the client comfortable, take some time, get to know each other. Listen, sympathize, understand their problems. Those were Barclay’s rules. Built his success on them, that and knowing nearly everybody in town.

              “Walking is fine, Mr. Barclay. There is a concern about confidentiality.”

              “Of course.”

              “Let me get right to business then.” Hanran took Barclay’s elbow, leaned toward him. “You may have clients in, shall we say, the shipping business – or perhaps you are an investor yourself. In any case, I’m sure you know of the boat that was recently lost, along with unfortunate loss of life.”

              Barclay’s chest tightened, pain hit him in the ribs. Not for the first time he wondered if this was the heart attack he expected sooner or later would kill him. He stopped for a moment, looked down at the pavement, imagined lying there looking up at strangers, unable to speak, thinking, “Call 9-1-1.”

The pain faded. They were still walking, Hanran smiling at him, almost sweetly, wet lips shining. “It is possible not everyone on board died, Mr. Barclay, and since the newspapers report that this boat was painted with numbers to look like yours, the people I represent wanted me to ask if you knew anyone else who was on board when the accident occurred.”

              “That’s a rather offensive suggestion. Insulting, and I resent it.” Barclay followed his script. “As I have told the police, the papers and everyone a hundred times, there is no connection between me or my boat and that other boat. None. Nada. Whatever they were up to served their purposes. I have no idea what or why. That’s it. And that’s enough.”

              “That’s what I told them you’d say. And you know what they said? They said, ‘Tell him to think about it for a couple of days.’ They said they’d call then and make you an offer for your information.”

              Barclay’s voice rose. A couple passers-by raised their umbrellas to look his way. “I don’t have any goddamn information. I don’t know anything I can tell anyone. Tell your friends to ask the goddamn cops.” Then, regaining control: “Enough, Mr. Hanran. Good bye!”

              Barclay pushed forward another half block, stopped on the corner of Sixth and Pine to get his breathing under control. This was downtown Seattle on a drizzly-bright typical June afternoon but dark fear gripped him. He needed another brandy and coffee, a combination not available at the Starbucks to his left. He crossed Pine and went into Nordstrom. Downstairs in the Grill he searched out a shadowed corner table and ordered a coffee nudge.

Chapter 10, Nordstrom Grill

Wednesday June 11, 4 p.m.

              By the time he ordered his second drink, a Macallans this time and a cup of decaf, Carl’s heart rate was back to normal. He felt pretty good, no chest pains. Still scared, sure, but not like he couldn’t handle it. Born in Seattle, this was his town, it’s robust soul captured in the dozens of framed historical photos on the walls above the booths in the Grill. Carl felt he belonged. It was his history. Logging and fishing. Sure, he was a city kid, but he fished Bristol Bay a couple summers when he was at the UW, thanks to the alums who made sure the football players had high-paying summer jobs. Those were tougher times. Nowadays it was dot-coms and biotech and venture capital, the world of Victor Wallingford. “Some people rob you with a fountain pen,” a line he remembered from some 60’s or 70’s song, like that now.

              Carl remembered his dad. Mustered out at Fort Lewis after two years in the Pacific, Bob Barclay took the bus up to Seattle and like a lot of guys after the war just settled in and did what came along, met Carl’s mom, Janine Lieber, married and had kids. Carl was born a couple of minutes before midnight as 1948 came to a close, a few minutes later and Janine might have won all those goodies stores gave to the first baby of the year. He grew up playing and then working around his dad’s garage. “Barclay’s Automobile Repair – All Makes and Models,” that’s what the sign said. In the early days, they had a gas pump, Richfield. Carl remembered his first job was washing the customer’s car windows. He carried a stool from one side of the cars to the other so he could reach across the windshields. For 40 years his old man’s place on 12th had been a Capitol Hill landmark. Union shop, too, a matter of pride Carl carried with him into Democratic politics. Got his start in politics at the garage, really. Seattle was a big union town through the Fifties and a lot of Democratic politicians brought their cars to Bob Barclay. By the time he was in high school at Franklin, Carl was working on campaigns, running errands and doing odd jobs down at the courthouse or City Hall during the summers.

              That was a long time ago when his life seemed like an unfolding story, each turn of the page a new adventure. Sorrow welled up from these reminisces, a sense of loss. Carl finished his second Macallans in a single, long, eye-watering swallow. This wasn’t the ending he deserved, Victor be damned. He needed to see Dieter and get this shit straightened out. Dieter was the guy they wanted. He had to disappear. When Hanran or his buddies called, Carl needed to tell them the Swiss was gone, closed up shop. Left Seattle. No, I don’t know where. Of course I don’t know. Why would he tell me. Asia? You could get really lost in Southeast Asia. When they called, it had to be true. Unassailable. Not a lie. Firm ground he could stand on. The Swiss would have to vanish. Carl had to convince him. Fucking Victor wouldn’t. He’d keep him around for another shipment, two if he could. Ed Hanran wasn’t shouldering up to Victor on the street.

              Carl paid, left the Grill, up the stairs, out onto Sixth Avenue. The cop in a business suit at the bar set down his coffee cup and followed him out. The rain had stopped. There were patches of blue. A nudge and couple Macallans and he felt better. Just talk to Dieter. That was it. With him gone, Victor would quit. Wouldn’t he? How many guys can you find to run an industrial scale meth lab? You can’t exactly advertise on craigslist. Was there anything else like it, anywhere? Probably not. More was starting to come from Mexico but meth was still mostly country guys with crude equipment in trailers out in the woods. Victor did the volume and made sure he never sold even a gram in his hometown.

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