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Sunday, August 9, 2020

“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 11 & 12: 340 West Harrison and Harms’ Deck

Chapter 11, 340 West Harrison

Wednesday June 11, 6 p.m.

Carl’s office in the Tower Building at Seventh and Olive was just two blocks from Nordstrom. In less than five minutes he pushed through the aluminum-framed glass doors and rode the elevator alone to the 17th floor.

              “I’m here but no calls.” Taking a handful of pink message slips and wanting no questions, Carl conjured a business-like urgency to get past Rosalyn, his receptionist.

              “Your cell phone’s been off for hours.”

“Meeting.”

“That political reporter called.”

“Which one?”

“The Olympia one. Purdy. Wants you to comment on the governor’s kid’s drug bust.”

“He can wait.” Carl let the deep gray carpet carry him away from Rosalyn’s questions.

Carl Barclay Associates had the north side of the floor and between the new federal courthouse and the Metropolitan Plaza apartment tower, both built since he’d first leased the space, Carl could still see a wedge of Lake Union. It was one of his great pleasures in the afternoons when there were no client meetings to lean back in his chair, feet on the credenza that hid the steam radiators under the window, and watch the seaplanes take off for the San Juan Islands and Canada. It was a nice way to let work slip away and dream about fishing or sitting on his deck on South Pender watching the sunset over Vancouver Island. Maybe next time or the time after, the business with Victor would be over and he’d have that peace back again. They were rich, much better off than five years ago, but Sally deserved more of his time and care, like the old days. What had this been worth? What was all this really worth?

              Carl paced, flipping through the message slips to make sure the clients could wait until morning, lining them up in order of importance across the top of his desk blotter. At Nordstrom over his Macallans he’d figured out how he’d slip away from the cops. Seemed like it would work. Then confront the Swiss. Face to face with the laconic, blue-eyed son of a bitch. Play to your strengths, he told himself. It’s a sales job. Why wouldn’t Dieter leave? Of course he would.

              Even preoccupied, Carl caught sight of a De Havilland Beaver, the classic of float planes, Alaska workhorse, in a light southerly lifting off the lake to swing around the Space Needle and head north. This time, though, the reminder of the islands filled him with dread, called up his nightmares of the sister ship boarded by the Canadian Coast Guard, Dieter captured, the whole enterprise undone. How many chances had they taken? How much luck did they have left? Did Victor ever think of this?

              It was after six. Rosalyn was gone along with most of the others and Carl could leave without the “Have a nice evening” small talk. No excuse needed – “Late for drink with a client at Oliver’s” – for his agitation. In the elevator, he tried to breathe slowly. He could feel drops of sweat run from his armpits, wondered if the young woman who got on at 12 could smell it, the stink of fear.  

              Carl left the building and turned right, then right again at Olive, heading west. He wanted to make it look natural, shaking them accidental, an innocent man on the way to an appointment, maybe drinks with a client. Disappear into a bar. That’s where they’d expect him to go. The cops lose him, it’s their problem. Pissed him off, though, kind of Catch-22. If they let him get out of sight, lose him, all of a sudden he’s to blame. They take those little notebooks out of their breast pockets, write it up: suspicious behavior. “Appeared to know officers were following, escaped surveillance.” Guilty behavior. Carl Barclay, no longer an ordinary citizen, not a free man. Goddamn guilty. Had to ditch ’em, keep the cops from finding Dieter. This time, anyway. Later maybe it would be different. Fuck ’em. Fuck Victor for getting him into this.

              So: casual, just a guy checking out a couple bars for an after-work drink, maybe looking for a friend. He forced the worried urgency out of his stride, strolled hands in the pockets of his tan raincoat, looked up a few times as though to appreciate the patches of blue sky now visible between the buildings.

Carl entered Westlake Center through the doors at Fifth and Olive, dodged shoppers through the main floor and went into P. F Chang’s where he slid past the hostess with a quick “Meeting someone in the bar.” Reminding himself not to rush, he made a show of looking around at the tables – mostly tourists waiting to be called into the dining room – and the drinkers at the bar. No friends and no empty stools, plenty of reason to keep going.

The cops on his tail – they had to be there; he was sure – wouldn’t suspect yet. Through the crowded bar and out the Fourth Avenue door, Carl turned right and walked, still not in a hurry, the 200 feet north to the Mayflower Park Hotel. OK, he thought, the cops will be thinking bars. They’ll go into Oliver’s, the jammed martini bar at the hotel entrance. Carl didn’t. At a pace not quite fast enough to attract the desk clerk’s attention – and be remembered – he crossed the lobby and went down the stairs to Andaluca, the hotel restaurant, and straight out the restaurant door onto Olive again. From there, jaywalking through the row of buses jammed in traffic, Carl reached the Fifth and Stewart entrance to the Westin Hotel.

The cab rank at Fifth and Stewart was empty. Just a town car which he could pass, driver waiting for the doorman, probably his cousin, to get him a fare to the airport. Carl hurried across the lobby, down the escalator to the Westin’s drive-in entrance on Westlake, handed a five to the doorman and slid into the backseat of the Yellow Cab summoned from the line on Sixth.

              “Sorento Hotel.” Not the airport. You could get to the Sorento for $10. The cabbie gave him the look. Sad. Disappointed. Resigned. How are my kids going to eat? These guys all wanted a $40 run to SeaTac.

              “It’s not far, sir.”

              Carl dropped a twenty onto the front seat. “It’s as far as I want to go.” Slipping through the hotel worked just as planned. As the cab pulled out he could see a guy in a dark windbreaker rush past the doorman and wave at the line of cabs across the street. Most of the drivers were out of their cars, smoking. The lead car stayed put, waiting for the doorman’s signal. Perfect. And more luck. Carl’s driver caught a green light across Stewart and then another where Westlake merged into Fifth Avenue. Nobody was coming up Westlake behind them.

              Could be hidden in the traffic on Fifth, though. Carl imagined they’d have a backup car, maybe two, supporting the guy on foot. Hey, he was a big-time murder suspect, “person of interest,” anyway. Nervous laugh to himself. Not really an amusing thought.

              “What did you say, sir?”

              “Nothing. Go to Marion, then up Madison.”

              “Pike to Boren is faster, sir, I think.”

              “Too many lights on Pike.”

              “OK, sir, whatever you like. No problem.”

              At the crest of the hill they turned left off Madison onto Terry and then swung under the broad green awning that reached across the Sorento’s circular drive. Like someone late for an appointment, Carl hurried into the Hunt Club, scanned the bar patrons and went out the Terry Avenue door where more drinkers sat at tiny tables under awnings, medicating away the day’s hassles or hustling each other. Still in character, like a guy expecting someone, Carl took a moment to look carefully around: no one behind him coming through the bar, no one on the sidewalk coming from the main entrance where he’s just jumped out of the cab. Carl put on a disappointed look, shrugged, stepped from behind the low barrier separating the tables from the sidewalk and headed north, away from the hotel entrance. In less than half a block he slipped between two aid cars and automatic doors pulled back to welcome him to the Virginia Mason ER.

              For Carl’s purposes the beauty of the old hospital was its rat-warren, un-remodeled inefficiency. Past clots of visitors and staff in scrubs waiting for the stainless steel elevator doors to open, several turns of the hall and two flights down the stairs took him through the building to the main lobby facing Seneca Street. Outside, he took an old crusher golf hat from his raincoat pocket, put it on and headed north. The block behind him was still empty when he got to Horizon House and turned down the University Street pedestrian stairs toward Freeway Park.

              Entering the park through the dank passage under Eighth Avenue, Carl turned south away from the Convention Center and away from the streets near his office where the cops, absolutely truly pissed by now and probably covering all bases, would have a guy staked out, same for his condo. Be a big relief for them if he showed up at home in the next few minutes. Shaded by buildings, the trees in the park still dripped from the afternoon’s drizzle. A few guys by the fountain drank from paper bags. Carl, collar turned up, hat on and stooped over, little shuffle to his walk, would have been taken for an older man, just what he wanted. He left the park on Seneca and went downhill toward Third where he would be anonymous in the rush hour crowds waiting for buses. Several of the Third Avenue trolleys went to Queen Anne Hill, passing Seattle Center where he would get off.

              From the stop at Key Arena, Carl walked west on Harrison, still in character, hat on, head down. Take no chances. Just an older guy headed home to dinner alone in his apartment. It looked like he ditched the cops way back at the Westin. Carl allowed himself a smile, a moment’s pat on the back before he took on the Swiss.

It was 6:40 when he passed his key card in front of the reader at 340 West Harrison, a two-story, grayed marblecrete relic of 1950’s office development on Lower Queen Anne, a neighborhood lately risen to tonier times and rechristened Uptown by the restauranteurs and condo brokers. Some company of Victor’s, maybe the timber company in its real estate morph, was holding the building and the parking lot surrounding it for development. The name on the door was ATGC LLC, the letters designating the four base molecules in the DNA double helix, an appellation that said biotech to the core but not exactly what. A small screen asked him to enter his password on a keypad, followed by Dieter’s accented voice from the speaker. “What a surprise, Carl, please come in. It doesn’t appear you were followed.” Carl knew the building bristled with hidden cameras. He imagined, especially now, that the Swiss would have men constantly patrolling the neighborhood, too. There was a click as the lock released.

Inside on the right, there was a reception area done up in Pottery Barn leather, a stage set, impressive until you noticed the dust. No one ever entered. From behind double doors straight ahead, Carl could hear footsteps, then the rattle of keys. The Swiss swung the doors open and waved him into an empty hall. “And so, deeper into the realm of the Minotaur.”

Their footfalls echoed off the linoleum and bare walls. “You have your ball of string or was it a trail of bread crumbs? No, that was Hansel and Gretel. Forgive my silly dramas. You would call me ‘corny,’ yes?” Dangerous would be more like it, thought Carl. At the end of the hall they entered a waiting elevator. The Swiss turned a key, the door closed and with the rasp of metal scraping metal, they slowly descended to the basement. On the floors above, timers turned the lights out, an office building emptying for the night, saving energy, all a sham.

They sat in Dieter’s office, chairs on either side of an old Steelcase desk. The gray linoleum top was cratered with cigarette burns. Even separated from the lab by the airlock, Carl could smell the acrid, urine-like odor generated by the process. Inside, some of Dieter’s Russian’s worked all day in moon suits.

“Your friends are here, Dieter, looking for you.”

“Yes, we expected that, didn’t we, you and me and Victor.”

“Yes, yes. You told us.” Carl was nervous. He’d never been able to tell when he was getting through to the Swiss, afraid he talked too much, had to plunge in anyway. “It took them a while longer than you said but they’re here now. A guy came up to me on the street pretending to represent clients but real quick he’s talking about ‘shipping’ and maybe someone who got away from a recent sinking. Nothing specific, just letting me know that he knows. Says they’re going to call me in two days. They want me to tell them, Dieter.”

“Yes, and maybe they’ll kill you if you don’t. Maybe they’ll kill you if you do.”

“Shit, what am I supposed to do? Just disappear? The cops are watching me, not you, not Victor. These guys want you, Dieter, not me,” a crack in his voice, fear.

“Just being honest with you, Carl, not sugar-coating it. That’s the right phrase, isn’t it?”

“Fuck you. I didn’t come here to give you a goddamn English lesson.” A little toughness, mask the fear.

“But really, I don’t think they will . . . kill you, Carl. They are businessmen. They want product. They don’t want the police snooping around because you’re dead. They’d rather have their 20 or 30 kilos a month. Give them that and they will forget about me. I will be gone.”

Relief. “Thank you, Dieter. That’s what I wanted to hear. That’s what I came to say. You have to leave. I have to be able to tell them truthfully you are gone. They have to believe me. Victor doesn’t care as much when. He wants another batch, some for L.A., some for Vancouver. But I have only a couple days. You’ve got to be out of here. Soon. What would be your schedule, fast track? Anything I can do to help?”

“No problem, Carl. That is my plan, too, a couple days, like you say. The product Victor wants, as you report, is almost ready.”

“Have you talked to him about this?”

“Not yet. But I’m sure he understands me. He will know what I need.”

“So he said.” The acrid smell, even as faint as it was out here, stung his nostrils. Must kill cells. Stuff was probably cancerous, competing with the heart attack for his demise. He’d smell the memory for days.

“As you Americans say, Carl, ‘I’m outta here,’ not a problem for you, or for Victor. But you, Carl, you are a problem for Victor.”

“Why would I be?”

“You are finished with this business. You want to stop. I am right about this, yes?”

A denial could not be convincing. He nodded.

“Victor won’t like that, will he?”

“No, but I think he’s had enough, too. You leave, it’s time to shut down. He sees that.”

“And Adrian? Perhaps Adrian won’t see it that way.”

Carl had no answer for that.

Chapter 12, Harms’ Deck

Wednesday June 11, 7 p.m.

              A pulsating police siren interrupted their conversation. Bobby Harms found his Blackberry among the bottles on the picnic table between them and pushed the button to answer. The noise stopped. He raised the phone to his ear.

Falconer turned his attention to the view from Harms’ deck, Bainbridge and Vashon islands and the Olympics, the sun descending toward the mountains, finally liberated from the day’s rain clouds. Harms listened, his mood darkening, his brief replies staccato and profane. After a couple minutes, he switched the phone off.

              “Clever ring. You download that from some special cop website?”

              “Same place we do all our online shopping for Tasers and Mace and little American flag lapel pins.”

              “Oh, yeah, ‘Copco.’ How could I forget?”

              “Not funny. Neither is this. Williams said Barclay shook his tail, obviously deliberately and apparently with some skill. He knew we were watching him, no surprise there. Upside is it pretty much proves he’s involved in some way.”

“Or that your guys are inept.”

“Why do I ever tell you anything? Someday you should experiment with humble gratitude instead of insults.”

“I’ll take that under consideration. Theresa thinks I’m mellowing with age. Maybe I could graft humble gratitude onto that process. This just happen?”

“Yeah. He walked from his office to P. F. Chang’s, went through the bar and out onto Fourth, then into Oliver’s. So we thought. Luckily, the second guy spotted him coming out of Andaluca and followed him to the Westin where he caught a cab. Our car was still in the loading zone in front of the Mayflower so he was gone.”

“In a test of humble gratitude, I’m not repeating my earlier comment. I will also be grateful if you hand me the opener.” Falconer pried the cap off another Redhook. Both men drank and looked toward the islands. A couple of ferries carrying commuters home incised wedges westward across the deep blue water.

“So, Bobby, we’ve got a couple of guys killed out there, no clue who they are except they’re probably pros and probably not locals, no clue who the killer or killers are except a possible connection to Carl Barclay. That’s it, right? And the only lead you’ve got other than following Barclay is a needle-in-a-haystack search for wherever it was and whoever it was kept the twin to Barclay’s boat.”

“Jesus, Eric, that’s wholly not fair. We’re certain to find where they moored it. It may take time, but we’re certain to find it and then we’ll have the leads we need to move ahead. Give me a break.”

“Bobby, you don’t know what’s going on here. I don’t either. But somebody spent a lot of time and money setting it up and it looks like it was worth killing to keep it hidden. How smart are they? I don’t know, but maybe we let Carl Barclay’s fancy boathouse fool us. Those boats are big but maybe not too big to be hauled around on a trailer and launched at a ramp. If that’s what they were doing, there’s your needle in a haystack: every oversize garage and equipment shed in ten counties. I wish you luck.”

“Oh fuck.”

“Yeah, oh fuck. But you’ve still got Carl Barclay. I just don’t think you’ve been looking at him right. Upstanding citizen. Influential. And he’s involved. You’ve been right about that all along. Messy as the killings were, Barclay’s involvement says white collar crime to me.”

“These guys were almost certainly smuggling. I don’t see that as white collar.”

“Let me put it another way. I’m going to guess that whatever they were doing involved people we don’t think of as criminals, associates of Barclay’s, people he would ordinarily do business with for all his usual reasons. Among them is your man.” Falconer laughed at the phrase. “Or woman.”

“I won’t say bullshit.”

“Good. Good for you to practice humble gratitude.”

“I won’t say it.”

“OK. Think it. And while you do that I’m going to have someone start scouring Barclay’s client lists for who knows what.”

“And as always, I am going to warn you not to mess with a police investigation . . . but you better fucking well let me know if you find anything.”

“Favor for favor.”

“More than that. How long have we known each other, Eric?”

“Since the fraternity. And except for meeting you and a couple other guys, that was a crap experience I wouldn’t do again. Sometimes I wonder – funny we never talked about it back then – how you got in among the all-whites on Greek Row?”

“We did. You just forgot. It wasn’t as important to you.”

“Not like me.”

“You weren’t a reporter then. It was my grandfather, my white grandfather. He was a member back in the 30s so I was a legacy pledge and I had an Anglo name, so no red flags. And you remember pledge week: end of summer, all the white guys tan from time at the beach, out water skiing, that stuff. I fit right in, tan not black. I was just a white boy whose tan never faded. Plus the Civil Rights Act had softened them up and they wanted athletes and there I was. I got in.”

“And there we were, room mates.”

“Worst experience of my life. You were so fucking messy Falconer and you never washed your sheets until they turned yellow.

“And in all this time, we’ve almost never talked about race, just race.”

“What’s there to say, buddy? You are what you do. That’s all I can tell.” They bumped fists and drank.

Falconer’s phone rang. He fished it out of the pocket of his jeans. “I’m having a beer with Harms. Sure. We’re almost done. Mutual irritation has peaked. Twenty minutes if the viaduct’s still standing. Rush hour’s way over so it’ll be just the eaters and drinkers going into Belltown.”

Falconer started to gather the empties for recycling. “Six pack left, Bobby. We’re slowing down.”

 “More beer, right here at the Harms’ West Seattle aerie when you’ve got some suspicions to share.”

“As always.”

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