53.4 F
Seattle
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.”

Buy the Book

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 29 & 30: Bird Watching, and Hanran

Chapter 29, Bird Watching

Monday, June 16, 8 p.m.

              “That wasn’t cool, Eric, you being at Barclay’s this morning when our people arrived.”

Bobby Harms’ bright white smile was hidden behind tight lips. They were on the Starlight deck, the space between Falconer’s penthouse and his office, open beers on the food-stained wooden table between them, the evening sun still warm, but the mood was not genial.

“What’s the problem, Bobby? You’re the one who said I could interview her.”

“Yeah, you can interview any goddam citizen you want and I can’t stop you unless I lock them up. But messing with evidence is another thing.” Harms had his elbows on the table. He leaned aggressively toward Falconer, strands of his black hair dropping onto his forehead like a prep school kid’s. His tie was undone, blue blazer draped over the back of the chair next to him. He wore chinos and a blue-striped shirt with a spread collar.

“What evidence? What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Don’t play dumb on me, Eric.”

“Let me pose that question again: What the fuck evidence are you talking about?” Falconer, barefooted, wore khaki cargo shorts and a gray tee shirt. Until Bobby came by, he thought it had been a pleasant sunny afternoon and evening, weather that Seattle seemed to steal from San Diego for a couple months each summer.

“The books. Sally’s books. The Barclay Associates’ financial records. The ones we found you photocopying this morning. All that information is evidence and if we’d got there first you never would have seen it. Because it’s evidence.”

“Oh, and what are you looking for?”

“Asshole.”

In the brief stalemate they both drank. The northerly that keeps Ballard cooler than the rest of the city on summer days rattled the bamboo in Falconer’s planters. A half dozen seagulls flew by at eye level.

“In the evening like this most of them fly west out to the sound.”

“I didn’t come here to watch birds, Falconer. I’m serious. You could compromise this investigation. Suppose we have to use this stuff in court. The defense attorneys will make a big deal out of it that you, a private citizen, had access to the books before we did. Anything that raises questions in jurors’ minds works against us, you know that.”

“A nice lecture, Bobby, but farfetched. Sally can vouch for the authenticity of anything that ends up in court. Besides, you don’t have a suspect yet. Sorry for the phrase, but ‘you haven’t a clue.’”

Harms fumed but stayed quiet, drinking his beer and staring over the lower buildings across Ballard Avenue at the boats and boat sheds across Salmon bay. Finally, he said, “We’re looking at the clients in Barclay’s records.”

“You should’ve done that before he was killed.”

“We were planning to. Doing the paperwork to get the subpoenas but, as it turns out, just not in time. Of course, it might be a dead end. Sorry, no pun intended. I mean, might be nothing there. We’ll see. I’m supposed to get a report tomorrow afternoon.”

“Want a sneak preview?”

“You are such a shit.” Harms laughed. “What have you got?”

“Well, I can tell you who’s paid him the most over the past few years. Sally ran me some numbers before your troops arrived to confiscate my Xeroxes.

“Give.”

“Barclay’s main client, the one he spends most of his personal time on, is Wallingford Evergreen, the holding company run by Victor Wallingford, scion of the pioneer timber family. His personal rate for Wallingford is $425 per hour, more than $200 above what he charges any other client, and last year he billed $662,600 plus expenses. There are a lot of long days and travel time, apparently every minute Barclay’s on a plane gets included. On top of that, Barclay Associates was paid approximately $320,000 for services billed to Wallingford Evergreen subsidiaries and related companies by Barclay and other members of the firm. With the expenses, it just tops $1.2 million.”

Harms responded with a long whistle. “Sure makes me feel like I chose the wrong profession. You, too. What could anyone possibly   do that’d be worth $425 an hour?”

“Putting that in perspective. . .”

“I thought I just did.” Harms broadened his smile.

Falconer ignored him. “Putting that in perspective, the firm’s next-best client brings in only about $250,000, Sally says. And she admits that she and Carl both saw Wallingford Evergreen as a cash cow from which they could milk funds for retirement.”

“Not a crime. What’s your point?”

“Given the money and time Barclay had tied up in Wallingford Evergreen, I’d look at Victor Wallingford and other high ups in his companies for possible involvement in the smuggling operation, whatever the contraband, and Barclay’s murder.”

Harms smiled, but added a cynical curl at the corner of his mouth. “Nice package, Eric. Wrapped in ribbon, decorative bow, the whole bit. I can see we’re back to your white-collar smugglers. Just tell me how it connects with the dead Carl Barclay. Who in your scenario wants him offed?”

“Don’t be so fucking obtuse, Bobby. Dead he can’t talk to you, and someday he might have, so the big boss, whoever he is, would be happy to see him gone.”

The Harms smile came on at full wattage. “Generally, yes, you’re right. We’re going to look at the clients, talk to them, see if we can find a trail, shake some trees, see if anything falls out. But, no, until we have something to go on we’re not wearing out a lot of shoe leather on Victor Wallingford or anybody else. Sitting in stuffy rooms bleary-eyed in front of computers is more like it. Today’s cop routine.”

Into Harms’ restored geniality, Falconer probed. “Anything on the boats?”

“Nada. Prints, yes. But a lot of them. We’ll I.D. the ones we can, make a list. You know, see if it corresponds to anything. They found a few scattered prints on the dinghy. Nothing at all on the oars. I think by that point, if not before, our perp was wearing gloves. Microscopic bits of leather on the oar handles. I’m sure we’ll trace that to a breed of cattle raised only on Sardinia and for a century made into supple driving gloves by a family with a little shop on a back street near the Duomo in Milan where everybody with a new Maseratti always goes and last year they sold a pair to this guy from Seattle who paid with a credit card so we can track him down – just like on TV.” They laughed at this fantasy for quite a while and companionably drank beer.

“Changing the subject . . ,” said Falconer.

“I’m ready for that.”

“There’s probably a lot of talk around the department about Will Collins and those other bigwigs’ kids getting arrested for partying, so you know about that right?”

“It’s a source of great amusement among us protectors of the populace. A lot of guys lost cases in Roberts’ courtroom when he was starting in municipal and then superior court, before they put him on the federal bench. Seemed like the liberal bastard had a thousand reasons not to admit prosecution exhibits. Guys used to joke that we’d better call Judge Roberts to come bag the evidence for us so he’d have to admit it during the trial. We had the impression he didn’t like cops.”

“This might interest you then. Something you might want to pass along to the investigating officers and whoever’s prosecuting. The kids are telling the truth.”

“About what? Their names and addresses?”

“Ahh, the profound cynicism of the experienced cop.”

“Everybody lies. These gold-spoon kids no doubt coached by their families’ three-hundred-an-hour lawyers will all lie. The same lies, the same stories, carefully coached. It’ll be the cops’ word against theirs, and guess what? The judge or the jury – if this thing even goes to trial – will probably believe them.”

Harms had to take a breath. Falconer grabbed the opening. “Because, like I said, they’re telling the truth. Beers and a little grass, that’s all they brought to the party”

“And I hope, condoms.” Harms, who grew up poor in the south end of the county, had no sympathy for the children of privilege.

“Listen a minute, Bobby. Only beer and grass. Party crashers dumped all the rest of the stuff on them.”

“That’s what they say. No reason to believe it.”

“Yes, there is. That’s what I’m telling you.”

“I can’t see why you have such a hard on about it. Why give a shit?”

Falconer took a small notebook from one of the pockets in his shorts, tore out a page and handed it to Harms. “There’s your party crasher, drug dealer, arsonist for hire and God knows what else. Corey Wayne, aka Snake or ‘The Snake’ to his fucked up customers in the U-District, Capitol Hill and Belltown.”

“And you’re suggesting?”

“Pass that along to the narcs or whoever has the Roberts case. They can drive over and ask Corey Wayne all about the drugs and setting the boat on fire.”

“Whoa, old buddy. Let’s take a step back here. How do you know this?” Harms’ smile took on a predatory twist. He was sure he’d caught Falconer stepping over the line. He wasn’t sure what he’d do about it.

 Falconer looked out at the bay, watched another dozen gulls go by, flying toward the twilight. He needed a good answer, something that would satisfy Harms without igniting his pyrotechnic anger.

“You know Danny Armster our computer whiz. He located four or five of the kids who were at the party. Their stories were the usual blind men describing an elephant but they all remembered one thing. One of the guys who crashed the party, the guy who seemed to be the leader, not as out-of-it stoned as the other two, had a snake’s head tattoo on the back of his hand. Left or right, they couldn’t always say, but they all mentioned the snake.”

“And?”

“He wasn’t hard to find.”

“And you’ve been playing detective again.” Harms sounded snide but cooler than Falconer expected.

He responded with understatement. “It adds to the story we’re going to put up on the blog tomorrow. You won’t want to miss it.”

“Thanks for telling me. For a change, it’s nice to know before you publish.”

“Part of our service to the community.”

“Just so you’ll know, I am livid with rage.” Harms grinned broadly. “But I can control myself because it’s Allan Ronson who’ll have to deal with this – and you, if he wants to.” He paused to drain his beer. “How many times do we have to tell you to stay out of the way, Eric?”

“Save your breath.”

“I should know that.”

“Your Capt. Ronson, or whoever, needs to round up and charge Corey Wayne. I’d be surprised if the governor and the other families haven’t hired a bunch of investigators and they’ll be out looking for him pretty hard. They find him, the kids get off for sure. Ronson might want to get there first, save face. If the kids are going to get off, it’d be good if the Seattle Police Department turned up the real perp, not investigators working for a few rich families.”

 “Thanks for the advice. Shows you take the interests of SPD to heart, warms my soul.” Harms voice was filled with sarcasm and he wasn’t smiling. “You called the governor, right?”

“She’s a friend, a longtime acquaintance.”

“A few more guys like you, Falconer, and we wouldn’t need a fucking police department.”

“Thanks for the complement.” The sun was almost down and the breeze was cooler. Falconer went inside, put on a worn cotton tennis sweater, white with blue and red striping on the collar and cuffs, which he pushed up to his elbows. He came back to the table with two more beers.

“Last one for me,” said Harms. He poured the pale beer into his glass and added another wedge of lime from the dish Falconer had put on the table.

“Here’s a detail that might interest you, though. The Snake has a patron, somebody who paid him to do it.”

“What do you mean ‘somebody’? Doesn’t he know who?”

“Actually, he says no. Said a guy called him up, told him what to do, right down to the details on how to set the boat on fire. Kindling and charcoal lighter was there waiting for him. He said the money was dropped off at a bar. Barman only remembers the guy wore a suit.”

“Like I said, couple more guys like you and we wouldn’t need real cops. You, of course, have a theory about all this.”

“Not hard to figure out. Somebody out there doesn’t like our governor. Getting her son arrested on drug charges just as she’s launching her re-election campaign does major damage.”

“Coincidence, more likely. Or maybe it’s somebody who doesn’t like Judge Roberts. Probably a lot of those.” Harms was nearly done with his beer and getting impatient.

“She doesn’t think so. You know the hostage incident at Walla Walla three weeks ago?”

“Yeah, what about it?” Still irritated, Harms lifted his empty glass and let one of the lime slices slide into his mouth and began sucking on it.

“Somebody – still unknown – outside the prison paid those three guys to grab the guard. Mo thinks the same people likely are behind the ‘drug frame-up’ — her words.”

“Now it’s ‘Mo,’ huh?”

“I’ve known her for 25 years, Bobby.” Falconer sounded exasperated.

“Well, you two can fantasize all you want. That’s your business,” said Harms. “I’ll pass your buddy Snake’s name and address on to Capt. Ronson. That much sounds credible, anyway. Thanks, really. And thanks for the beer.” The sky was darkening toward dusk. He started to get up.

“Speaking of Victor Wallingford . . .”

“I wasn’t.”

“Wallingford is taking a bunch of his buddies to Vancouver, B.C. Friday on his boat. Barclay was scheduled to go along.”

“Sally tell you that?” Harms lowered himself onto the chair again.

“Yeah. She thought it was another example of how Wallingford was controlling his life, almost every minute of it lately, she said.”

“And you think it’s more than that.”

“You’ll think this is farfetched.”

“No worse than that baloney from the governor – ‘Mo,’ I mean.” The detective shook his head, indicating he thought Falconer was hopeless. “Sometimes I think you should write fiction. Sometimes I think you do write fiction.”

“Thanks again.”

“But what the heck, let’s hear it.”

“Suppose it’s another cover. They’re smuggling, say…”

“As you’ve said endlessly already.”

“They can’t use the Barclay boat sister ship because it’s wrecked. It seems they, or someone, may have lost some staff in the process. What if they planned this trip as a way to go north and pick up some contraband, using the men’s party for cover?”

“That’s not as farfetched as I expected.”

“You could have the Mounties watch them.”

“Now you’re joking. Wallingford’s not a suspect, not for drug dealing, not for Carl Barclay’s murder, though I admit, regrettably, that we don’t have anybody on that list yet. But I’m still not putting a tail on any local captains of industry, much less asking the RCMP to do it.” Harms lifted his blazer off the back of the chair and slung it over his shoulder, letting it dangle from his index finger. Heading for the elevator door, he called back, “Like I said, thanks for the beer.”

Falconer turned toward the bay and watched more gulls fly west across the aquamarine sky.

Chapter 29, Hanran

Tuesday, June 17, 7:30 a.m.

              As though he were an old and close friend, the man slid into Falconer’s booth at Vera’s. “Good morning, Mr. Falconer. I have been waiting for you. For three days now, really. But I knew you would come. And I was right, wasn’t I?” The manner, with a wet-lipped smile, was ingratiating. Falconer thought of a cab driver in some Middle Eastern city.

Complete with leather man-purse, the guy fit Ames’ description: early thirties, dark skin, black hair and a carefully trimmed black beard. He thrust his hand across the table to shake. “I am Edmund Hanran and I am hoping that we can do some business.” Falconer finished chewing a bite of sausage and egg and reluctantly shook Hanran’s hand. “I can see that in the interests of privacy I will have to vary my breakfast routine.”

              “You are a creature of habit, Mr. Falconer, as we all are, really, and that’s why I knew you would come. Habits save time don’t they? They enshrine decisions, don’t you think? But I’m sure there are pluses and minuses.”

              “Are you a plus or a minus, not counting the interruption of my breakfast?”

              “I am hoping a plus.”

              Kinsey arrived with a coffee pot and plunked down a brown ceramic mug in front of the stranger. Hanran turned to her with his wet smile. “Yes, please, with sugar.”

              “It’s on the table.” The reply was blunt, no wasted words, not the usual from Kinsey. Good looking guys usually did better. She swiveled, her shoes squeaking on the gray linoleum, and headed back toward the kitchen.

Grains of sugar scattered on the tabletop as Hanran tore open several packets, dumped them into his coffee, stirred it, then fastidiously set the spoon on the small pile of empty sugar packets. Falconer watched and waited, curious to see what the Middle Easterner’s pitch was going to be.

Hanran looked up from the swirling coffee and met Falconer’s gaze with eyes so dark they seemed black even in the morning sun pouring through the restaurant’s windows.

“Both of us want to know who killed the two men on Carl Barclay’s boat,” said Hanran.

Falconer said nothing.

“And I’m sure both of us want to know who killed Carl Barclay.”

“Sooner or later we’ll read it in the papers.”

“I’ve heard you are quite the wit, Mr. Falconer, but let’s not joke about this, or create diversions.”

Hanran had an accent but Falconer couldn’t place it. The impression remained of a Beirut taxi driver, well spoken, yes, but at core a hustler.

“The day he died, you met with Mr. Barclay at lunch. That seems to make you, unfortunately, the last person known to see him alive. I’m sure in your shoes I would find that troubling.”

“Which one of us were you following, Hanran, me or Barclay?” Falconer forked up a mouthful of potatoes and egg, feigned nonchalance to mask his interest. This guy knew something and, except for the obsequious part, fit the description of Theresa’s Sunday visitor and the guy who came by Ames’ marina, a dangerous guy in Ames’ estimation but maybe a guy who could be ingratiating when he needed to.

“Why, Mr. Barclay, of course. The men on the boat were friends of mine. I can tell you they were here to offer a business proposition to a man who was probably a friend of Mr. Barclay’s, or at least known to him. Naturally, after the killings, we believed Mr. Barclay might lead us to this man, or someone else in the company he worked for.”

Falconer wondered how many people were included in Hanran’s “we,” or if the man was acting alone. “And when Barclay did lead you to someone, a killer or someone you could do business with, then you, maybe with a few more of your friends, would kill him. That would be my guess.”

“That is a disturbing ‘guess,’ as you put it, and quite insulting, Mr. Falconer.” Hanran spoke through tight lips. “We are businessmen. Such things can be put aside, left for the authorities as in all civilized countries. It is quite possible we can still do business with this firm.”

“Yes, taking the business view, sometimes life is cheap, isn’t it?”

“Mr. Falconer, you are a man who tries one’s patience. I have heard this and it seems to be true. But I can overlook these things because what you insinuate is not true. We don’t believe the gunman who killed my friends was acting on behalf of his company. He was a rogue, a renegade, a freelancer, as you say, acting alone.”

“A soldier of fortune.”

“That is a good guess, Mr. Falconer. He was that type of man. Dangerous, uncontrollable, and as you saw, lethal.”

Same as you, Falconer thought, the hunter a match for his prey. Falconer smiled. He set his silverware on the plate, pushed the plate to the end of the table for Kinsey to collect and leaned back, listening, but with body language that said he was not going to be drawn in by Hanran.

“We don’t hold any animosity toward the company he worked for. As I said, my friends came hoping to do business and we continue to see an opportunity there.”

“But you can’t find this mysterious company, can you, Ed? Because what you are buying or selling isn’t a product listed in the yellow pages, and now you don’t have Carl Barclay to lead you to whoever these people are, his bosses, some contact, right?”

“The product is very special, Mr. Falconer. The owners are understandably circumspect, that’s all I can say. We are still hoping to make contact.”

“Why didn’t you ask Barclay to introduce you?”

“We did…”

“And he wouldn’t.”

“Unfortunately, no. Just as reported in the newspapers, he denied any knowledge of the twin boat, the sister ship, as you say, and, of course, any knowledge of the killings or the killer.”

“You didn’t rough him up a little, break a few fingers? Drag him behind his own boat until he drowned?”

“Again, Mr. Falconer! You are indeed a trying man.” Hanran drank some coffee and made a face. Apparently, the sugar hadn’t worked any magic on Vera’s product. “We believe patience and persuasion are a much better strategy. Unfortunately, time ran out for Mr. Barclay.”

“And I’m next on your list? That’s not very flattering.”

“No, no, no. We were just curious to see if, perhaps, you could help us.”

“With what?”

“Names, just some names. You were pursuing – no, that’s not the right word – investigating Mr. Barclay for your publication. I’m sure he was a curiosity for you, a professional interest, a story, as you journalists say. It is likely, then, that you know who he associated with, people who might have been his business partners.”

“What will you do with these names – assuming I have names to give you and that I would share them?”

“Why, of course, we would make discreet calls on these people, introduce ourselves, and ask if they would be interested in doing business with us.”

“And when you do, you’ll say you know something about Barclay’s murder so maybe that scares them just a bit.”

“A person with a clear conscience would never be troubled.” The wet smile was back, this time with a cynical little curl, an acknowledgement of the unspoken understanding between them that this was bullshit.

“I’m sure you’re right,” said Falconer, playing along.

“It would just be a shortcut for us, of course. We have studied Barclay Associates’ client list on line but the principals are not listed. It would be time consuming for us to find out in each case who to talk to. We might talk to the wrong people. Word of our interest might get around – there are always competitors – and we wouldn’t like that. So you see how it would be a shortcut, a time saver, if you have some names. Which, of course, you do, since you are an investigator of a kind, aren’t you? Investigation – that’s something journalists fancy themselves good at, isn’t it? Something you’re good at, I’m sure.”

Falconer thought an edge of threat clung to the last few sentences but he said nothing. Hanran raised his coffee cup, then put it down on the Formica without drinking.

“You should drink that before it gets cold. It’s really quite good, even with sugar. And here you are in the coffee capital of America. Something to write home about.”

“Thank you. I shall send a postcard.” Hanran curled his lips but otherwise concealed his anger at being toyed with.

“Where are you from, by the way?” Falconer asked in a chatty, really-couldn’t-care tone.

“That’s not important. But I’m sure you’ve indentified my accent as European.”

“Yep. Sounds a little British to my ear.”

“This time your guess is on the mark. I was born there. In London.”

“Where do you live now? Where is your company based?”

“London, of course.”

Falconer took this to be a lie, along with the man’s claim he was born in London. He knew he wasn’t going to get any straight answers. The questions were just for the record and because Hanran would expect them. “What’s your company’s name?”

“You won’t find us on the Internet,” said Hanran, his grin returning.

“Not a surprise,” said Falconer.

Kinsey came by and poured fresh coffee into Falconer’s cup. Steam rose into the sunlight coming through the café window. Hanran put his hand over his cup.

“We shouldn’t let small business secrets prevent us from reaching an agreement,” said Hanran. “All companies do everything they can to protect proprietary information.”

Falconer laughed and shook his head. “You are a piece of work, Hanran. And I think we’ve already established that your ‘company’ is a criminal enterprise.”

“As I have said before, Mr. Falconer, you live up to your reputation as a man who tries one’s patience.” But Hanran didn’t walk out and Falconer knew the man he pegged for a Middle Easterner was ready to make him a serious offer for the names he could supply, the names of people that Hanran might scare into the open, names of people the cops weren’t looking at, the names of people who might get killed.

“Let’s look at this another way, Mr. Falconer. Your help could be quite valuable, as you can imagine. What would you want from us?”

“The story.”

“The story?”

“Yes, what you find out. Who killed your friends, who killed Carl Barclay, especially who killed Carl Barclay, why they did it, how they did it, how they trapped him, everything like that. The story. That’s what I do. I write crime stories and put them up on my web pages. You get this, right?”

“Oh, yes. I quite understand. And I’m sure we can accommodate your request, though I see one possible difficulty.”

“And that is. . .?”

“It remains possible we would want to do business with someone connected to the killing of Carl Barclay. In that case, I imagine you would not hear from us.”

“As previously noted, in your business it seems that sometimes life is cheap.”

“Can you accept that condition?”

“No. Not a chance. It leaves you free to do what you want with nothing certain for me. It’s a one-sided deal, Ed. I am not a fool. Foolish perhaps sometimes, but not a fool. And there is another ‘difficulty’ as you put it. Perhaps I don’t want to help your enterprise succeed. I may write about crime but I don’t like it when people get killed.”

“I am disappointed, Mr. Falconer, truly disappointed.” The threat was back in Hanran’s voice. “I urge you to reconsider. I’m sure you’ll realize there are benefits to helping us, definitely financial benefits, and no downsides you might otherwise encounter. I’ll call you soon, tomorrow, maybe later. I’m sure we can make a deal.”

Hanran pushed his coffee cup aside and slid out of the booth. Looking down at Falconer still seated he said, “Think it over, Mr. Falconer.” Then in a moment he was gone.

Kinsey walked over and set down the check. “You don’t like that guy, do you?” said Falconer.

“He’s was in here Friday, as it turns out, waiting for you. Yesterday he was back, put his hand on my butt. Twice. So, no, I don’t like him. I’d be happy if he never came back.”

“I don’t think he will. Not here, anyway.”

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.