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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 13,14 & 15: Blogging, Bourbon & Brel, and Old Wood

Chapter 13, Blogging

Wednesday June 11, 9 p.m.

              Falconer had Kim’s Wrangler. His A4 was in the shop. The Jeep had vinyl sides. Enough to keep out the rain earlier, but noisy and none of her CDs appealed. Somehow Pearl Jam and Nirvana had passed him by. Dave Mathews? Not right now. He drove home on the two-level viaduct that walled the city away from the bay, always a love-hate experience: great views of the container docks and mountains, the office buildings reflecting the summer’s late-setting sun, but why from a speeding car? The 50-year-old dirty concrete viaduct between downtown and the city’s historic piers sent waves of noise crashing onto the streets below. Tourists walking among the fish and chips shops had to raise their voices to tell each other how quaint it all was.

              In Ballard, he parked in one of Falconerblog’s leased spaces in a fenced lot a block away from the Starlight. Bar patrons’ cars filled the street most nights and towards the weekends spilled in rows along Shilshole Avenue in front of the cement plant and warehouses. Tonight was no different. A year ago he gave up the fight for parking and rented. Kim and Danny thought it was a cool perk.

              “OK. Here’s what I got.” Danny in a tee shirt and board shorts and untied shoes was gaming when Falconer arrived. The kid – Falconer’s affectionate thought – put it on hold, switched screens, leaned back in his chair.

“I found two girls at Roosevelt who were at the party with their boyfriends. You could tell they were pissed that the party was broken up. Same story, though. According to them, neither they nor their boyfriends knew the guys with the drugs. They said for sure Lynne Roberts didn’t know them. They heard her say that, trying to get them to leave. But the crashers acted like they knew everybody else so they were always someone’s friends and most of the kids were too out of it to care so the Roberts kid couldn’t get them to leave.

“It was two guys and a girl. The girl was stoned, totally, walking comatose, the Roosevelt girls said. Really comatose,” Danny repeated for emphasis. “The guys drank beer but handed out drugs, mostly supposed to be Ecstasy. Like the paper said, police report says they also found meth, quite a lot, small bowls of it on the coffee table. Can you believe that? Not a recreational drug for that crowd. Grass the kids already had plenty of. Then about eleven the police and fire trucks came and my informants said it wasn’t until the flashing lights rousted them from the bedrooms that most of the kids noticed the bonfire down by the beach. On that part of East Laurelhurst Drive the houses are on a bluff above the water, so the beach and boathouses are down below and quite a ways away. When the cops came, as the P-I said, the party crashers were gone. Long gone. Apparently, no one ever saw their car. I got maybe one useful thing, though. The older guy – girls figured him for late twenties, maybe thirty, and they thought that was weird – had tattoos all over his forearms. Both of the girls remembered a snake’s head on the back of one of his hands. I didn’t put that info in the item, though. Cops may not have it yet. It’s not in any of the reports and I didn’t want to tip these creeps that we know anything that could identify them.”

              Falconer nodded his approval. Danny went on. “I called the two officers whose names were on the report. Reached one. He said they weren’t looking for the party crashers. No, they weren’t checking fingerprints on any beer bottles. That would not be a good use of police resources. He got kinda patronizing and explained like I was a dummy that a kids’ party, even a wild one, is not a big deal. I said what about prints from the little bowls of crystal meth that witnesses said were on the coffee table? Kids said there was a lot of meth there, quite a lot. Any interest in that? ‘That investigation is ongoing,’ he said, ‘There’s nothing we can tell you.’ Typical opaque response.”

              “Talk to anybody else?”

              “I got cell numbers for Lynne Roberts and Amanda Wallingford but neither has called me back. No surprise there. Their dads probably confiscated the phones, anyway, to make sure they shut up. Here’s what I think we ought to file. It’s short.” Falconer came over to Danny’s side of the desk and bent down to see the image on the screen. The story was nine or ten short paragraphs with an inset photo of the Roberts’s house. “I drove out there.”

              The screen showed the blog’s “Updates” page headlined “Mystery party crashers brought the drugs, kids say. Arraignment Friday for governor’s son,” followed by Danny’s story:

                The hard drugs – allegedly crystal methamphetamine and Ecstasy – police found at a Laurelhurst house party attended by Governor Maureen Collins’ son, Will Collins, were brought by party crashers no one knew, according to interviews with some of the 17 high school students who were there.

                The students, all from Roosevelt and Lakeside high schools, also claim it was the mystery interlopers who started a large bonfire on the beach at the Laurelhurst waterfront home that led neighbors to call 9-1-1. When police arrived with the fire units they found the party in progress, including several kids “inebriated or high on drugs” watching firefighters from a deck overlooking the beach. A couple of the girls were wearing only bra and panties, according to the police report.

                The party was at the home of Superior Court Judge John Roberts and his wife, Carol Roberts, a prominent land-use attorney. They were away for an extended weekend. The Roberts’ daughter, Lynne, 18, gave officers permission to enter the home where they found small bowls of “a crystalline substance” on a coffee table along with “drug paraphernalia” and pills believed to be Ecstasy, the police report says.

                According to the students interviewed by Falconerblog and police, the serious drugs were brought by party crashers, two young men and a woman, whom none of the Roosevelt or Lakeside kids had seen before. The kids believe that after handing out the drugs, the crashers went down to the beach and lit the fire and then left before police arrived. The fire was set in an old wooden rowboat, according to a Fire Department spokeswoman.

                “The kids interviewed deny using the crystal – believed to be methamphetamine and which police have sent to a lab for testing – or Ecstasy found in the home. They told Falconerblog that they smoked marijuana – saying it was “no big deal” – and were drinking beer.

                Will Collins, Lynne Roberts and Amanda Wallingford, all 18, are schedule for arraignment Friday on drug possession charges. All the other teens at the party were under 18 and in keeping with journalistic practice Falconerblog does not name minors involved in crimes unless the circumstances are exceptional.

                The three 18-year-olds could also be charged with contributing to the delinquency of their younger classmates and with possession with intent to sell, depending on how the prosecuting attorney’s office decides to treat the case.

                Collins, Roberts and Wallingford are scheduled to graduate from high school in the next week. Roberts attends Roosevelt; Wallingford is a Lakeside classmate of Will Collins’. She is the daughter of Victor and Margaret Wallingford, who live on Webster Point a few houses from the Robertses. Victor Wallingford is a scion of the Wallingford timber family and CEO of Wallingford Evergreen Corp., a holding company for the family’s timber, real estate and investment businesses.

                Neither Lakeside nor Seattle Public Schools would comment when asked if the drug charges would prevent the students from graduating.”

              Finished reading, Falconer straightened up, glad to take the strain of bending off his back. “You know, Danny, sometimes I wonder if we’d have more readers if we weren’t so straight and reputable sounding. Maybe we should play around a bit, go for something like ‘Drug bust has rich kids with tits in wringer.’ Of course, that doesn’t apply to all of them. Maybe ‘tits and privates in a wringer’ would be more apt. Probably nobody’d get the joke, would they? I imagine you have to be over 60 to have seen or even heard of a wringer washing machine. My dad had these color slides, though, of buxom Marilyn Monroe types with their breasts rolled through wringers, big aureoles looking right at you. Every year he’d stick them in with the Mt. Rainier or Yellowstone Park vacation slides. Real eye-openers for us kids, scandalized tut-tutting from the moms. That was family life in the tract-house 60s. Now we have misogynistic music videos.”

              Falconer in the past again. If Kim had been there Danny would have shared an eye-roll.

              “Anyway, good job. Publish it. Stay on it tomorrow. Drop by a few of the bars where druggies hang out, maybe try a few street corner conversations in Belltown. You know the spots. Actually, you could start there tonight.  Needle in a haystack, I know, but maybe someone will know this guy by his tattoos. Let me know what you find and if you talk to any cops again see if you get any sense there are political guys or private investigators sniffing around for more on Will Collins, or if anybody else seems to be looking for Snake’s Head. I’m going to go the arraignment day after tomorrow and see if I can find an opportunity to talk to the governor.”

“Frame-up, isn’t it? You think this is a frame-up, these mystery party crashers showing up and laying real drugs on these high school kids, right?”

“Yep, Danny, I do. Motive? Embarrass the governor. Or the Roberts family – prominent judge – or Victor Wallngford could be the target but I doubt it. Who’s behind it? Who knows? Great story if we can find out. I should say great story if we can prove it, because with these things we may really know but be far short of the proof we’d need to publish names without risk of a libel suit. I’m hoping we at least get to the point where we can lay out the story, the motive, let the readers and the dailies and the politicos take it from there.”

“We’re the source, man. The source.”

              “Absolutely. Thanks for another good day.”

              “Kim left you a sandwich.”

              The last of the daylight was aquamarine above the Olympics as Falconer crossed the roof garden to his penthouse. The sandwich, under plastic wrap, was pork tenderloin leftover from grilling on the weekend, red pepper and avocado. Why’d she put in avocado? It was just going to squish out and fall in a mess on the plate.

Chapter 14, Bourbon and Brel

Thursday June 12, noon

              Falconer was on the deck at Ray’s waiting for his order, cod and chips because he hadn’t really had breakfast. A pint of Redhook rested on the varnished tabletop in a pool of condensation. He stared for a long time at the Olympics, soft in the summer haze and then at the number he had typed into his cell phone. Finally, he tapped the green dot and the screen said connecting.

“Theresa, I want to hire you for a little investigation.” That didn’t sound right. “Well, maybe a big one, really. It could get big.” And it could get dangerous. This was a bad idea. Falconer knew that. After uselessly agonizing, he’d called Theresa anyway.

              “Why me, Eric? Why now? You’ve never done this before, not anytime in the last five years when you could’ve. Are you patronizing me? Do you think I need the work?”

              This was not going well. “No, Theresa. I think you’re the best and most trustworthy P.I. I know, and this is no Peeping Tom job.”

              “Peeping Tom job! Is that what you think I do, fill my days stalking errant spouses with a 500 millimeter lens? You are so insulting.” Then she laughed, heartily. “I only do that one day a week.”

              It was one of those moments when Falconer wanted to tell her he loved her but as usual he didn’t. She’d told him enough times to cut the crap, they were just friends. It was best that way. Trainable, he kept his mouth shut. He’d listen to sad folk music, sip some bourbon, agonize about it later. That’s what he always did.

              “So what’s the deal?”

              “The case we talked about yesterday, our friend Carl Barclay the solid citizen. Connected to two murders by his boat but police can’t find anything else or what the twin boats thing really means. They’re working on it but, you know, not warp speed. The victims aren’t locals, no apparent connection to local crime and they really don’t think Barclay was the trigger man. Interest is limited. Right now, I even think Bobby would let the case go cold if he and Williams weren’t so pissed at Barclay for giving them the slip last night.”

              “He did? Cool!”

              “That’s what I like about you, Theresa. Suitable admiration for the skills of the perp.”

              “But you don’t want me to tail him.”

              “No, no. Everything else. We want friends, foes and especially a list of his clients going back as far as you can but at least the past five years. Other business and political connections beyond what’s in the Public Disclosure Commission files, campaigns where he’s been in the background, reported or rumored to be an informal advisor, not on the books, that kind of thing. His whole network.”

              “Because?”

              “Because as far as I can tell the cops aren’t doing it. They see murder and that means forensics, looking for connections with known criminals, watching the suspect’s movements, the usual. But look at Barclay. He’s a businessman who spends his days with corporate types and politicians. Great opportunities for bribery and influence peddling, and that’s just it. Barclay’s a white collar criminal if he’s a criminal at all. So what – or who – from that world connects with the murder of two goons on a sister ship to his boat? Who in Barclay’s world is a criminal you wouldn’t think is a criminal? What did he, or she, and maybe Barclay do that’s so important they’d kill to keep it hidden?”

              “Nice of you not to be sexist about killers.”

              “I try.”

              “You’re a nice man, Eric. A few faults maybe, but a nice man.”

              “Like I said, I try.”

              “Just one question. How come you didn’t ask me yesterday when we had coffee? We talked about Barclay for half an hour.”

              “Today I’m pissed at Harms, that’s most of it. We’ve been friends since the fraternity at the U, but sometimes we’re oil and water, cop and journalist. Declare a truce later over a few beers. Anyway, I want to get this story ahead of everybody. Barclay’s involvement, if I’m right, makes it just huge. But Harms . . . I talked to him again this morning. There’s no sense of urgency. They’ve decided Barclay’s a smuggler and sooner or later they’ll get him. They’re probably right. I think Barclay’s a smuggler, too, although I suppose there’s an outside chance that somebody, knowing about Carl and Sally’s frequent weekend trips to South Pender, operated the smuggling boat shadowing their trips without Barclay’s knowledge. That sounds pretty farfetched, though, doesn’t it? Either way, this isn’t some foot soldier selling Mexican heroin slipped in from the Yakima Valley. He’s a big shot. Fills his time with major corporate clients, no one else, no drug dealers, nothing criminally connected at all that Bobby can find. He looks completely clean, so whatever’s going down has to go back to someone on his client list. It’s somebody he knows, probably has known for some time, my theory, anyway. And now, all of a sudden, it’s gotten real serious and it looks like Barclay’s into something where people get killed. I think there’s something big out there, or a Mr. or Ms. Big – not to be sexist, like you said – and I’d sure like to find out first. Makes a great story.”

              “The investigative reporter’s love of the hunt, then. Luckily, I have time to start tomorrow.” Conciliatory.

              “Perfect. And there’s an extra.” Ouch. That sounded clumsy.

              “And what would that be?” Sounding amused. Aha, here comes the punch line.

              “Buy yourself a new dress, print up some phony business cards, management consultant or something, and start attending those political events and fundraisers where the people in Barclay’s world hang out. The Coalition for Environmental Action fundraiser at the Westin tomorrow night would be a good place to start, and not likely sold out. The dress is on me. I mean on the company. Put it on your expenses.”

              “How gallant. What a charming offer. As I said Eric, you are a nice man with faults.”

              Falconer thought about sad songs and bourbon, maybe some Jacques Brel or Leonard Cohen, but it was only noon.

Chapter 15, Old Wood

Thursday June 12, 5 p.m.

              “I want you to bring the girl to Seattle.” The girl. Not Michelle.

              “I don’t think that’s a particularly good idea, Victor, and I say that as a friend, not just as your lawyer.”

              Victor Wallingford and Todd Mundy sat across from each other at the coffee table in Wallingford’s office on the top floor of a six-story brick building just north of Pioneer Square. Sitting off to one side, Adrian Topping thumbed through a magazine, apparently uninterested in the argument. Around them, the office walls were dark with pictures of heavy-browed men in waistcoats, the early architects of the Wallingford empire, their faces framed by bushy sideburns. Scattered among them were sepia-toned photos of logging crews posing seriously atop massive logs that dwarfed them, logs so huge a railroad car could carry only one.

A quick stroll around the room and you had a history of Northwest logging: eight-,ten-, twelve-foot diameter firs hundreds of years old felled to frame and finish Seattle’s 19th-Century mansions on Capitol Hill and First Hill, even more shipped to San Francisco and cities in the East. The less perfect finishing grades trimmed Seattle and Portland’s craftsman-style bungalows, nowadays the treasured possessions of the 21st Century’s professional class. In Wallingford’s office the same time-darkened fir circled the room as wainscoting and framed the windows and doors. On the floor, laid down when the family timber business built its headquarters on Western Avenue after the 1889 fire leveled Pioneer Square, clear, straight-grained Douglas fir, recently sanded and varnished, glowed richly golden in the late afternoon light. Surrounded by old photos and old woodwork, Victor nested, embraced by 150 years of family success and power.

              “Jesus, Mundy, that’s trite, ‘as a friend, not as your lawyer.’” Wallingford sat lengthwise on the same brown leather couch his father used, feet up, tie undone, staring at the smoke from his cigar as it rose into a shaft of sunlight. “So what would my lawyer say, this lawyer, anyway?”

              Topping looked over his magazine at the lawyer, nodding with the slightest smile, silently encouraging him.

              “This exasperated lawyer would say that there’s a significant personal and financial risk to you and your family, to your personal reputation and to your family name which you value very, very highly, and that this risk remains low and manageable as long as Michelle Adams remains in San Diego. At this point she knows only me, the agent of her unknown benefactor for the past three years, a mystery man.” He chuckled at the thought, the image so distant from the reality: a dough-faced balding man in pin stripes and a bow tie. “A mystery man whose checks are automatically deposited every month and who has established a college fund for her 10-year-old son. I think you should keep it that way. Stay invisible, an impersonal, unknown source of money. Put the boy through college and take some satisfaction from doing a good thing.”

              Topping broadened his smile, got up and took a cigar from the ivory-inlaid box on Wallingford’s desk. Mundy went on, pushing to make his case.

              “The risk increases exponentially if I do what you want and bring her to Seattle to meet you and do whatever else it is you plan. There’s a financial risk, of course. I don’t know what your real relationship is to her. In your secretive way you’ve managed – I find this hard to believe even though it’s you – to keep me in the dark the whole time. Nevertheless, I can guess at one or two intriguing possibilities, in neither of which are you particularly heroic. Bottom line, though, is that you’ve already established a financial relationship. That opens the door. What are the odds she could become a gold digger, seeking publicity and noisily suing you for more support? You don’t need that. Peggy and Amanda don’t need that.”

“Then there’s the other thing you’ve got to consider. Even if Michelle Adams turns out to be a demure, polite, grateful guest who doesn’t sue you because she’s eternally happy with her thousand a month and her kid’s college fund, she’s a door to your past. And that would be hard for Peggy, or any wife, not to open, whatever the truth is. I don’t see any of the options here increasing trust and openness between husband and wife, father and daughter. My advice is keep hidden what you’ve hidden so far, Victor.”

              Wallingford put his feet on the floor and picked up one of the brandy snifters from the coffee table. Holding it under his nose, eyes closed, he inhaled the sweet cognac vapors. Topping lit his cigar. Mundy waited.

              “Yes, Mundy, you’re a middleman, agent for a mystery benefactor. And I’m a middleman, too, protecting the identity and interests of someone else. Nothing I could have told you about it. Can’t tell you now. Under the circumstances, I am grateful for the role you’ve played, and for your discretion – as my lawyer.” Wallingford laughed, inhaled again from the snifter. “Now this person, the real secret benefactor, wants the woman brought to Seattle for his or her own reasons. I assume for a meeting.” A drag on the cigar, slow release of smoke, which joined the cloud above them. “At last, it would seem.”

Victor walked over to the windows behind his desk and looked out at the bay over the tops of the cars rushing northward on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. “I have the same suspicions about the past and possible relationships among these people that you have projected on me – wrongly, I should say, though I can, I think, forgive the insult since at that moment you were speaking ‘as my lawyer.’” Wallingford turned toward Mundy and made quotation marks in the air, almost comically, snifter in one hand, cigar in the other. He laughed again. Topping joined in, amused at Wallingford’s conjuring of a mythical benefactor.

 “But it’s none of our business, is it?” said Victor. Head back, he blew smoke upward.

              “What if she won’t come?”

              “Offer her a ‘bonus.’ Threaten to cut off her stipend. Take away the boy’s college fund. Figure it out. You’re close to her. I wouldn’t be surprised if you get a little on those trips to San Diego.”

              “You’re an insulting and cold-blooded bastard, Victor. There are people for whom money doesn’t sing as sweetly as it does for you. And for you, sometimes I think it’s the only voice you hear.”

              “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. You’ve left out power. Don’t forget about power.” Both men laughed, joined by Topping, unwinding the tension between them.

              “Where and when, then?”

              “Fourth of July weekend. Bring ’em up a few days early, put them in the Olympic . . . No, the Edgewater. That’ll put ’em practically right under the fireworks, be a thrill for the kid.”

              “You want the kid, too?”

              “I’m sure that’s what our mystery patron would want. Hire a nanny or somebody like that who can double as a tour guide, or do it yourself. Give her a few hundred for shopping . . . And buy the kid a bike. He can ride up and down the trail at Myrtle Edwards Park. It’s only a couple blocks from the hotel. Buy her one, too. They can ride together.”

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