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Saturday, September 26, 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 20 &21: Café Campagna, and Viewpoint

Chapter 20, Café Campagna

Saturday, June 14, 1 p.m.

              “He wasn’t there. Hadn’t shown up and that surprised them all. I sat next to a woman, Rosalyn something or other, from his office, receptionist-administrative assistant, majordomo, sounds like. Going to these fundraisers and rubbing shoulders with political types at the boss’s expense seems to be a perk of the job at Carl Barclay Associates. Rosalyn said she’d talked to him before lunch and he was planning to be there.”

              Over brunch – Seattle’s term for any meal before 3 p.m. Saturday or Sunday – Falconer and Theresa were rehashing their week in pursuit of Carl Barclay. They were at Café Campagna, a French-themed restaurant on Post Alley in the Market, in the room away from the bar where it was less crowded and they could manage a private conversation. The local sophisticates seemed to think a place with tables so packed you had to turn sideways to get to your chair, hoping your coat or your butt didn’t sweep your neighbor’s meal onto the floor, was cool and European. Theresa loved the place, flooded anytime day or night with the warm golden glow of polished wood. She ordered oeufs en meurette, which Falconer thought of as poached eggs on toast despite the menu’s listing of subtle ingredients, concluding with “red wine and foie gras sauce.” He ordered a lamb burger and when it came compared it unfavorably for size to the bacon cheeseburger at the King Cafe, his local joint across Ballard Avenue from the Starlight.

              “So, anyway, I never got to talk to the man himself. His minions and sycophants, however, were witty and pleasant and hospitable but they didn’t want to talk about business. It all seemed very compartmentalized. One guy lobbied for convenience stores, the woman next to him managed Barclay’s account with a tugboat company. Very pro environment, she fit the event perfectly, working for laws to increase the number of emergency tugs along the oil-shipping lanes to save the industry’s occasionally rudderless behemoths from running aground and spilling oil on the way to the terminals in Vancouver, B.C. and Anacortes. She loved it, but the convenience-store guy and a couple other people at the table had hardly a clue about what she did. They didn’t have much of an idea what Barclay does from day to day, either. ‘Down in Olympia for Wallingford Evergreen,’ said the woman with the tugboat account, Cheri, I think her name was, older than the others, in her fifties and a veteran with environmental groups. ‘I’m there a lot, too, of course, but our paths don’t cross; we never do joint visits with legislators. I’m green,’ she said, ‘and Carl’s trying to green up Victor Wallingford but in Olympia he’s playing hardball for Wallingford right down the line with the business groups. He doesn’t want to hurt my credibility with my group of clients by any association with Wallingford Evergreen.’”

              “That was her conclusion, said it kept her from being compromised. The majordomo, Rosalyn, had an entirely different take on big Carl . . . and this is more interesting.” Theresa lowered her voice and leaned across the table toward Falconer.

              “Ah, a kiss! I’m ready.” Falconer leaned toward her. Theresa laughed and shook her head. “You are so predictable.”

              “Because I am so romantic?”

              “No, because you always, sooner or later, do something or say something off the wall, or funny, that changes the mood.”

              “Can’t be serious all the time.”

              “Maybe some things . . .”

              “Should not be mocked?”

              “Maybe.” Theresa paused and looked away. For a moment, both retreated into their own thoughts. Theresa broke the silence. “Anyway, right now, give me a few more minutes on this so you get your money’s worth, then we can talk about anything you want.”

              “I like that, a dangerous, open-ended offer. But please continue with the scouting report on Team Barclay.”

              “Thank you,” a half note of sarcasm in return for flippancy. “This woman, Rosalyn, last name is Baker, I think, is not really on the field with the rest of the players – I am continuing your analogy here – she’s more the one in the locker room or on the bench who makes sure they have the Gatorade and they’re wearing the jerseys with the right numbers. She’s the equipment manager, the mother hen. Really a sweet thing, tiny, dark hair, natural color you could tell because it’s just starting to gray, long strands mixed in, even granny glasses, but very nice clothes, tailored suit with a knee-length skirt, Nordstrom, maybe Brooks Brothers, coral colored silk blouse. She’s been with Barclay for 20 years, joined him not long after he went out on his own, longest serving employee still with him other than his wife. In effect, she’s his administrative assistant, seeing to all the details, making sure he gets the background papers he needs, remembers his cell phone, stuff like that, but he’s got her stationed at the receptionist’s desk so I think she keeps an eye on the others for him. Talks like she does, too.”

              “And, of course, she knows everything about Barclay, who he talks to, where he goes, which she would never tell any of the others, but she confided in you.”

              “Well, yes. She said yesterday morning before Barclay went out to lunch she talked to him about this event. They went over who from the office was attending. He was planning to attend, named himself in the group, mentioned clients he’d be sitting with. Then he left for lunch with Victor Wallingford.”

              “But I found him alone.”

              “Supposed to be with Wallingford, though. Rosalyn went on about it, how much time he spent on the Wallingford Evergreen account. She was sure it was good money, but what she saw was it wearing him out. Gradually over the last couple years he seemed more and more tired. He seemed to be losing interest. That was her opinion, but you could see it, she said. That account was killing him, sucking up all his time and energy. She told him that, she said. Said he worried about his heart. Said she told him he should cut back, drop some of his workload, spend less time on Wallingford Evergreen. He didn’t listen. ‘They never do, you know,’ she said. Tut-tutted, shook her head like a wise old lady who’s seen it all and knows ‘Boys will be boys,’ lovable and marvelous but they’ll never listen.”

              “A view I suspect you share.”

              “Given present company, how could I not?” They laughed. “But the gem in there is her picture of Barclay as a guy losing interest in his work for whatever reason; nevertheless plowing on with it, troubled, tired. I asked her what she thought about it, she’d watched Barclay for so many years. ‘Lost his sense of humor, too, even before the last week and the business over the boat,’ she said. ‘I think it’s Victor Wallingford. He’s got some strange power over Carl.’ That was how she summed it up.”

              “Odd then that yesterday Barclay made a point of telling me he wasn’t close to Wallingford.”

              “Who would want to be. Guys I talked to last night pretty much described him as a rapacious bastard.”

              “That’s one version of his reputation. Other half makes him a beloved philanthropist, major supporter of Seattle arts organizations, museum, symphony, opera, the whole list.”

“Proves something about what money can buy.”

“Hard to disagree. Anyway, right now, based on admittedly sketchy information, give me your take on Carl Barclay.”

              “That’s not really hard. Guy’s at the peak of his career, widely known – necessary in his business – and respected. But he’s worried and overworked, not coasting along on his ‘dean of Seattle political consultants’ reputation, as he’s well entitled to do. Why? Two possible answers, one or the other, maybe both, now that I think of it. One, the whole boat thing has uncovered his apparent – possible – involvement in some criminal enterprise. This is what you think, isn’t it?” Falconer nodded. “So do I. We don’t know exactly what but you can figure it’s been going on for a while. When was the second boat bought, ’03, ’04?”

              “Probably up here by the middle of ’03.”

              “So as much as four years. Second, he’s got one client who sounds like a complete asshole, demanding all his time, making God knows what requests, probably half of them unethical, no doubt calls all hours of the day or night, driving him generally nuts. Take your pick.” Theresa paused, took a bite of egg.

              “Either one’s enough to explain what your new friend Rosalyn described. Unfortunately, we still don’t know what he’s involved with or why he can’t or won’t tell Victor Wallingford to piss up a rope . . .” Falconer paused and let his thought form. Theresa forked up the last of her eggs. “Unless Wallingford has something on Barclay and uses it to keep him on a leash. Doubt it, though. I don’t see the motive, do you? I mean, Wallingford can buy all the servility he wants. He doesn’t need blackmail. Hard to imagine he needs crime to make money. That’s probably not it, although the way things are going these days, you’d be tempted to say high finance capitalism is indistinguishable from crime. Provides a playing field for it, anyway.”

              When Falconer paused for a moment, drifting away on that thought, Theresa asked “What happened to the kids yesterday? You haven’t told me yet.”

              “Nothing unexpected. The lawyers had done their work, kept the whole thing in municipal court. All three pleaded not guilty to misdemeanors, minor in possession of alcohol, possession of marijuana. It looks like that’s where the plea negotiating ended up. The kids avoided felony drug possession charges over in superior court and the cops – or prosecutors – recognized they probably couldn’t prove buying or dealing anyway since every kid we’ve talked to agrees the party crashers brought the heavy stuff. Latest I heard, fire department says the boat fire was arson, can of fire starter left in the bushes. In their lawyers’ hands, that’s more support for the kids’ story about party crashers.”

              “Think they’ll get off?”

              “Not completely. System’s got to show rich kids and gang bangers get equal treatment, so misdemeanor convictions on alcohol and marijuana possession with community service and records wiped clean if no further violations before they’re 21. Something like that.”

              Theresa sponged up some of the remaining sauce with a piece of baguette. Strands of her hair had escaped from her clip and with the light behind her, formed a halo around her face.

              “Did you find a dress?” asked Falconer.

              “I didn’t go in jeans and a t-shirt.” A tight-lipped answer. “Yes, I found a dress.” Nothing more. Subject closed.

              “What’s it look like?”

              “Eric, don’t fool around with me. You don’t care what it looks like. You don’t pay any attention to women’s clothes except like other guys to notice how much they reveal. You can’t remember what I wear from one day to the next, probably not from one hour to the next. If I told you it was black and had spaghetti straps and was a nice soft cotton weave that bounced nicely when I walked and made my butt look good you wouldn’t remember that tomorrow.”

              Falconer’s phone was ringing. “I’d like to see you walk in it then.” He answered and listened for nearly a minute. “Tell me where again. OK. Yeah. Be there in 20 minutes, max.

              “That was Harms. Now we know why Barclay missed the fundraiser last night.” Suddenly wide-eyed, Theresa held her breath. “About an hour ago, they found the subject of our conversation dead. Tied to a line off the stern of his boat.”

              “Where?”

“On the Duwamish. Just a little south of the West Seattle Bridge, a little pocket park there. The boat was run aground in a creek mouth, Bobby said, body trailing behind on a rope. I’m going down there.”

              “Without me, thanks.”

              “Yeah, I know. Anyway, not the kind of place for heels and a little black dress. I’ll think of an occasion for it – other than Carl Barclay’s funeral – and surprise you.”

              Falconer was rising from his chair. “Eric, should I do any more work on Barclay? Would that help?” He sat down again.

“Theresa, I don’t know where this is going, but I think looking into Barclay’s affairs could draw the attention of his killer and I don’t want to put you in that place.” Somehow, he couldn’t just say “put you in danger.” Maybe too much truth in it, he thought. If she were harmed, he’d lose something of himself. “But since I’ve still got you on the clock, let’s take a flier. Literally.” A little nervously Falconer laughed at himself. “Get on a plane. Go to San Diego. See if you can trace the daughter Governor Collins is supposed to have given away for adoption.”

“I’m good at that and if I have any spare time I’ll buy a black bikini, spaghetti straps, and bill it to Falconerblog.”

Falconer sighed. He stared down at his plate, a few cold fries, a smear of ketchup. Life. “Sorry, I’m not very diplomatic. There must be a better way to ask. Would you be interested in going to San Diego, do a boring and probably fruitless search for an adoptee who may not even exist and if she does her birth mother most likely did everything possible to make herself untraceable?”

“Now that you put it that way, sure.”

“Thanks. I hate it when we hit those bumps, Theresa.”

“Sorry, I was just giving you a bad time. We’re not always on your wavelength, Eric. Me, Kim, Danny, sometimes it takes a little time to catch up.”

“Check with Kim before you go. She’s trying, without attracting attention, to assemble a list of Maureen Collins’ classmates at Whitman. Be easier if she just drove over to Walla Walla and went through the yearbooks in their library but we haven’t been able to spare her even for the day, or most of a day, it would take to fly over there and back. Maybe she’s found something. I haven’t talked to her since early yesterday.”

“Yeah, it’d be useful if we can to turn up some candidates for father. Might help prove it. You have any theories about why none of the blogs and neither of the dailies have this story? That woman who came to you must have talked to other reporters.”

“I imagine she has. But if they’re working on it, none of them have proved it yet. Lots of the bloggers aren’t afraid to publish rumors, though, so it seems like only a matter of time before somebody – either side of the political spectrum – puts it out there.”

“Nothing but the facts, boss, said Theresa.” They laughed. “I’ll call you from San Diego. And now off you go to the murder scene.” With a flick of her hand and a sly grin, she waived Falconer on his way, a rough moment smoothed over. Reflecting on it, she stayed another ten minutes in the restaurant, finishing her coffee and watching the prosperous couples, some with well-dressed and well-behaved children, enjoy their French-themed brunch.

Chapter 21, Viewpoint

Saturday, June 14, 3 p.m.

              Falconer worked his way onto West Marginal Way through the container trucks and off-ramp spaghetti under the West Seattle Freeway bridge. No problem finding the place. A quarter mile south of the bridge, a handful of cop cars and a couple TV trucks, their remote-broadcast antennas up, jammed a small parking lot hemmed in by thick vegetation.

Off the beaten path in the Duwamish industrial area, most days the only visitors to the riverside park were retired guys and the urban poor who came to fish despite the health department signs warning of the dangers of eating much of anything they might catch. Falconer squeezed the A4 between a black Crown Victoria, probably a deputy chief, and a patrol car. Ducking under the yellow crime-scene tape, he nodded a half-salute to a couple of uniforms standing by and followed the blacktop through the muggy air toward the river.

              On his left a row of scruffy cedars and an eight-foot chain link fence topped with razor wire separated the driveway from Terminal 105, a Port of Seattle property occupied by a gravel business. On his right, behind a low wooden railing and clumps of wild fennel, a narrow backwater, almost dry at the half tide and choked with marsh grasses stretched toward the river. On the far side of the ditch behind another chain-link fence, a warehouse and industrial equipment yard pushed back against the greenery. A hundred yards ahead, near the river where the man-made channel widened, Falconer could see Barclay’s boat, the white hull seemingly nestled in the reeds.

Farther on, Falconer came to a second crowded parking area where he recognized Harms’ dusty minivan among the official vehicles, one a matt-gray van – he supposed this was meant to minimize notice – with the words “Medical Examiner, For Official Use Only,” stenciled in small black letters on the front doors. He stepped aside as the van started and rolled toward him, carrying the political consultant’s body to Harborview for autopsy.

Without the scrum of vehicles and a dozen or so cops and official types milling around, Falconer thought the place would be really nice, one of the city’s undiscovered hideaways. Through the trees, Falconer could see a picnic shelter and beyond that a fishing platform perched above the water, its current occupants the on-air talent from a couple of the TV stations facing cameras on tripods. Beyond them, on the far side of the river, the port’s Duwamish Marina gave way quickly to the silos and conveyors of a cement plant. A featureless sky of thin white cloud filtered the sun, making the day hot, a muggy 80 or so, but colorless, hazy, without bright edges to anything, which Falconer thought was a pretty good trope for the city itself. Above the plant, a private jet coasted gradually downward from the north, wheels ready for the Boeing Field runway. If you liked industrial scenery, this was a good spot. Around him, Japanese maples and evergreens, small pines mostly, along with a designer grassy knoll for picnics made up the landscaping. With the industrial yards on either side closed for the weekend, the place was, even with the bustle of cops and reporters, contemplatively quiet. Which, Falconer thought, is probably why Barclay’s killer chose to run the consultant’s boat aground here.

              Harms came through the trees from Falconer’s right, a place where a path had been trampled in the tall grass. He was wearing his standard issue polo shirt, sleeves tight over muscular arms; jeans and beat up – and at the moment muddy – running shoes. In deference to the officiousness that always bloated a crime scene, he’d slipped on the department-issued day-glow yellow vest complete with reflective tape and the word POLICE in block capitals across the back. Drying mud caked one of his pant legs. “Guys out by the street said you were on your way so here we are, Seattle’s finest at your service.”

              “Thanks for the call.”

              “You’re welcome, but actually we’re overwhelmed by fucking media and I wouldn’t want to discriminate against bloggers, the media of the future and all that.”

              “Cheery as usual, aren’t you?”

              Harms smiled with such insincerity his bleached teeth stayed hidden. “Fuck, nothing to be cheery about. I’ve got a real prominent dead guy. Everybody wants answers five minutes ago. The mayor was on the phone as soon as I got here. One of his golden boys, Deputy Chief Ricky Bander is here looking over my shoulder. Worse, Barclay was Bander’s brother-in-law. I expect you knew that.”

              “Yep. Didn’t help him, though, did it?”

              “No, and this is the worst fucking thing. Barclay’s our work. We’re still watching him and he gives us the slip – for the second time in a week – and goes and gets himself killed. Bander is pissed royal. I gather the families were close, says he’s been out on the boat with Barclay a lot. ‘This boat!’ He pats the hull, he’s almost crying. Then next moment he’s red-faced apoplectic with rage. Shit. I need results fast or it’s back to patrol.

              “But so much for my innermost thoughts,” said Harms. Ironic, amused at himself and with a wide open smile. “You probably want to see Murder Boat II.”

              “We’re not TV so some vivid descriptive writing always helps.”

              “Oh, is there someone on your staff who does that?”

              “Like I said, cheerful, not to mention always a supportive friend.”

              “This way.” Harms ducked into the brush. “Port of Seattle built this mostly on a city street right-of-way, public property but never paved, probably did it to compensate for someplace else where they were screwing up salmon habitat with a container pier or something. There’s a bunch of these habitat restoration sites. Much needed, really, if I, a humble cop, can offer an opinion about the environment. Not that the port was the original culprit around here. Harbor Island and the whole industrial area along the river used to be mud flat. You know, great habitat for birds and fish. Our forefathers, well, mostly your forefathers, paved it.”

              “Yeah, us blue-eyed types, so in a minute you’re going to ask me for a contribution to support People for Puget Sound.”

              Harms ploughed ahead. Falconer ducked the branches whipping back as Harms’ passed. “Fuck you. There’s a point. I’m getting to it. When the port restored this property they built a side channel from the river almost all the way back to the road for salmon habitat. You saw it on the way in. River fills it a high tide. There was a high tide about eleven last night and that’s probably when the killer drove Barclay’s boat in as far as he could. He was towing our friend’s body – dead – tied to a rope at the stern. Here we are.”

              They were suddenly in the open at the edge of the slough, ahead of them salt grasses and reeds sloped down to the mud, shining black in the sunlight. The bow of Barclay’s boat was wedged into the oily-looking ooze. Reeds brushed against the topsides.

              “Must have come in fast,” said Faconer. “That would have kept the bow up and planing on the muck. That stuff is slippery as shit.”

              “Yeah, tell me about it.” Harms gestured at his muddy pants. “I thought you were a sailboat guy.”

              “Right, you could never get a sailboat in here.”

              “You are such a wise ass, Falconer.”

              They ducked under a second line of crime-scene tape strung from bush to tree to bush to make a perimeter about 20 feet away from the boat. “First call was ‘abandoned boat’ about 9 a.m. A nuisance-abatement call really, with about the priority of illegal dumping: back burner, way back. The Elliott Bay patrol boat comes when it can, no hurry.

“That wasn’t from the first person to find it, though. Sometime earlier, the first person or persons looted it. Radios are gone. Some other instruments are missing, we have no idea what, holes in the panel, wires cut. Liquor cabinet empty. We’ve asked his wife what was usually on board, not that it matters.”

“They weren’t scared off by the body?”

“Pretty certain they didn’t see it. Our boat came by about 11 a.m. Tide was pretty high then and the officers thought they could just put a line on it and pull it back into the river. They ran the registration number but no answer at Barclay’s house so they went ahead, figuring they’d prevent further looting by getting the boat out of here.”

Falconer and Harms stood on the bank, hands in pockets, looking at the boat. Around them, the grass was trampled and muddy. Falconer could see the tracks of the gurney that had carried the body away. Deep wheel marks, a heavy man. On the boat, a police photographer clung to the ladder on the marlin tower, taking shots of the cockpit from various angles.

Noticing him, Harms said, “The photos probably won’t help. Unfortunately, most of the footprints on board are ours. The officers went aboard to look around and attach a towrope. That’s when one of the guys pulled in a line hanging over the stern. It was a tough pull so he thought it was an anchor until Barclay’s body came with it. Noose around the neck, body covered with black mud, he said it looked like a corpse pulled from an oil spill.

“We think he was dragged behind the boat, probably quite a ways. The killer stuck several big downrigger weights, maybe 20 pounds worth of lead, part of the boat’s salmon gear, into the pockets of a light jacket Barclay was wearing, we think to keep the body underwater while he towed it. The guys from the M.E.’s who picked him up said it looked like his head had started to tear away from the body.”

“A lovely detail you can be sure will appear in the Falconerblog account. Thank you, Bobby.”

“You owe me so much.”

“You still owe me a six-pack.”

“He was heavy, mid 200’s probably, had a gut so I guess that’s not surprising – the spine separating.” Harms was silent, musing for a moment about the indignities of violent death, pants full of shit from fear, face contorted by what, strangulation, drowning? And cops ask the relatives to come identify them. Jesus spare us, he thought.

“Yeah, but how did they kill him? You don’t just put a noose around someone’s neck and ask them to jump.”

“How the fuck should I know, Eric? At gun point? Maybe. Coulda been knocked out, drunk, drugged. We don’t know. Maybe the autopsy will tell. Give us some time here, buddy.”

“Sure Bobby,” Falconer temporized. “Meantime, we can talk about who did it.”

“Not a fucking clue, Eric.”

A wind came up, rippling the river. Falconer hoped it would blow away the haze, give the city some clarity.

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