"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
Dick Lilly is a former Seattle Times reporter who covered local government from the neighborhoods to City Hall and Seattle Public Schools. He later served as a public information officer and planner for Seattle Public Utilities, with a stint in the mayor’s office as press secretary for Mayor Paul Schell. He has written on politics for Crosscut.com and the Seattle Times as well as Post Alley.

Chapters 31, 32 & 33: Sketch, Lucy Holcomb, and Ronson

Chapter 31, Sketch

Tuesday, June 17, noon

              “Thanks for meeting me on such short notice.” With a plastic fork Falconer stirred globs of blue cheese dressing into a sizeable pile of greens, tomato wedges, onions, bean sprouts, red beans, garbanzo beans and a few other things scooped from the salad bar. Lunch by the pound.

              “Thanks for coming downtown,” said Harms, who had spooned some kind of ravioli into a cardboard take-out container with “Compostable” embossed on the lid. They were hunkered on black plastic chairs at a corner window table in the cafeteria-style joint on the ground floor of the new federal courthouse. At Seventh and Stewart, it was a couple blocks from SPD’s West Precinct.

              “Comfortable place for cops,” said Falconer.

              “I suppose, if there were such places. But you didn’t come down here to rag on me about cops eating in a café in a courthouse.”

              “You picked the place so I figure we’re here to enjoy the sight of dishy young law clerks like that gaggle of pony-tail-tribe members over there.” Falconer waived his fork.

              “A feast for the eyes of middle-aged men, yes, but you were freaked out about a guy when you called.”

              “I’m letting all that go, the ‘middle-aged’ and the ‘freaked out’ so we can get down to business.”

              “Which in your case is eating that salad.” Harms grinned his 1,000 watt grin, loosened his tie, tucked it in his dress shirt – pale lavender, button down collar – and stabbed at the ravioli.

              “You need to know about this guy.” Falconer mumbled, his mouth full of lettuce and dressing. He chewed, paused for a gulp of tepid coffee and launched into the story.

“Calls himself Edmund Hanran and admits he or his colleagues were pressuring Carl Barclay to lead them to someone – smuggler or drug dealer, my take on it, as you know – somebody they figure Barclay was working for. The boat’s the connection because Hanran said flat out that the guys killed on the death boat worked for him, or his ‘company’ – Hanran’s euphemism for whatever criminal enterprise brought his buddies to Seattle.”

“What’d he want from you?”

“Names. Names of Barclay’s clients. Not just the company names from the Barclay Associates website. He’s got all that. The names of individuals Barclay worked for. Among them, Hanran thinks he’ll find the brains behind the dirty business Barclay was involved in. Great minds think alike. I have suggested the same thing to you already.”

Ad nauseum.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s right.”

“I know, you’ve said. It’s not enough to get SPD poking around corporate offices and specifically, as I recall, the corporate offices of ‘prominent citizens.’”

“Be as self-righteous as you like, Eric. I’m not getting any heartburn about dereliction of duty or any such crap.”

“I am not pissed off, Bobby, just existentially saddened.”

“You are such a shit.” They laughed loud enough to turn heads.

After a moment, Falconer leaned across the black tabletop. “Hanran firms it up, though, doesn’t he Bobby?”

“Yep. Neither of us is too dumb.”

“Sometimes hard to tell, though.” Another laugh.

“Thanks to your new friend, Mr. Hanran, we know somebody, probably right here in our fair city – allowing that Barclay was involved or he wouldn’t have been killed – is running a sizeable criminal operation. And I’ll grant you this, Eric: it’s almost certainly drugs.”

“Great to be vindicated.”

“Over the phone you said he threatened you.”

“Not in so many words. I said his tone was threatening. Theresa had the same reaction. He dropped by her office a couple days ago to tell her he’d ‘see me at breakfast.’ Apparently didn’t want to talk at my place so he’s been hanging around Vera’s for several days. And just so you’ll know, Ames, the marina guy, had a visit from a guy who fits Hanran’s description. Also found him a little scary.”

“What the fuck? Ames never told us that. Shit! How can we get anywhere with helpful assholes like that? And what about you? You got anything else you haven’t told me?” Harms paused. “No, forget that. You’re not going to answer, anyway.”

“Bobby, You’re cops. You didn’t hang around and have a few beers with the guy. And, hey, Ames is kinda off the grid. Probably a lot of stuff he doesn’t want, shall we say, ‘officialdom,’ to know.”

“Shit, I know that. Doesn’t help, though. Anyway, this guy Hanran’s surfaced – he’s pressuring you – and he’s clearly connected to the murders, some of them anyway, at least minimally, as an associate of the victims. So, OK, I’d like to grab this guy if he’s dumb enough to be walking around town, have a little talk, look at his papers. You say he has an accent?”

“European or Middle Eastern somewhere. Not quite a native English speaker, despite claiming he was born in London.”

“OK. First step. You and I are off to see SPD’s artist. Right now. I want to get a sketch out for the next shift change and that gives us about three hours. And anytime from now on, if this Hanran calls, make an appointment. And when you finish with the artist, don’t leave. I want a written statement of your encounter with a this guy.”

“So you guys can swoop down and pick him up.”

“Give me a break, Eric, you wouldn’t write a line like that on Falconerblog.”

“Ames thought he had a gun. Carried it in a small leather man-purse. He had the purse with him this morning but I couldn’t tell. He kept it on the seat.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. First we have to find him.”

Chapter 32, Lucy Holcomb

Tuesday, June 17, 5 p.m.

              “I’m not at all surprised you’re here, Mr. Falconer, but I’d be very surprised if you thought I’d killed Carl Barclay.”       

Even at something over 75, Lucy Holcomb managed perfect posture. Legs crossed at the ankles, in a salmon pink silk blouse and muslin pants, she sat upright at one end of a pale ultra-suede sofa that nearly matched her coil of platinum hair. It was the newest thing in the room. Falconer guessed everything else dated to the 19th Century, maybe earlier. Crowded with furniture, the room looked plucked from Architectural Digest, a live-in antique shop, very posh, like David Weatherford’s or someplace like that, though there weren’t many places like that in Seattle, not that Falconer knew of, anyway. Holcomb laughed lightly at her own remark, waving a champagne flute of Prosecco with amazing nonchalance.

              “Never crossed my mind,” said Falconer, joining her little laugh. “Just digging into the past, Ms. Holcomb, looking for tracks that might lead to Carl’s killer.” He sat across from her in a low, deep armchair, probably Victorian, upholstered with a heavy fabric sprouting embroidered flowers. The coffee table between them was an ornate Asian woodcarving of some kind, hundreds of tiny figures, under a sheet of glass. “I came to ask you about his past, how Carl Barclay rose to the top in his world of political consultants, who he knew, who helped him, that sort of thing. I think it’s probably an interesting story.”

              “For your on-line fish-wrap, no doubt.”

              “Nothing but, complete with how you arranged his murder.” They both laughed again.

              “Really, I love it. I gave up newspapers a couple years ago and now I read everything on line, including, sometimes, Falconerblog. You’re an OK writer, you know.”

              “Thanks, Ms. Holcomb, I appreciate the compliment.” A little awkward from Falconer who was put off by compliments. So many were insincere.

              “Lucy is better.”

              “And you, Lucy, are a legend in this town.” Falconer could spread the butter himself. “That’s what I heard from everyone I asked who has anything to do with advertising, public relations, politics, public affairs, and in the past dozen years, philanthropy, particularly support for the arts. So there you were, the first woman at the top of a big ad agency, a career of firsts in PR and politics, strategist for a couple mayors, confidant of a much-revered senator, and while your career shot upward you probably glanced back a few times to see who was coming up behind you. Among them, half a generation back – what was it, about 15 years, a little more? – there was Carl Barclay on a steady, if not quite meteoric rise. Surely you noticed him, followed his career. Still a really small town back then, late 60’s, early 70’s, wasn’t it?

              Lucy Holcomb relaxed a little and turned to look out the window where scattered clouds swept by just above the city highrises. “There’s always been a lot of nostalgia for that Seattle, the one before the Boeing bust in ’72 and the famous billboard: ‘Last one to leave Seattle, please turn out the lights.’ Sure, there were always newcomers – western town, jumping off place for Alaska, all that. A huge wave of new folks, including my parents with pre-teen me in tow, came because of World War II. But you’re right. It was only around then, start of the 70’s maybe, surely by the end of that decade, that we lost the feeling that everything was homegrown, all ours and particularly, uniquely Seattle. Maybe we were more than a little provincial, but we didn’t admit that. We considered ourselves special, if we thought about it at all.

“So what changed all that?” Holcomb went on. “I’ve wondered about it over the years and I think this is it: The baby boomers were starting to graduate from college, wandering all over the place looking for their futures and quite a few of them found Seattle. For a while there, you’d discover they had informal affinity groups, maybe have lunch together once month: the Brown University contingent, Harvard, Yale, Michigan, other East Coast and Midwest campuses, the same thing. Young lawyers, some with political ambition, architects, city planners, those kinds – with some of Garrison Keillor’s sweet young English majors mixed in to marry the ambitious and have babies.

              “I was a local, though, and pretty well established in the old Seattle when the new Seattle started to arrive. A decade earlier, the 1962 World’s Fair, the Century 21 Exposition, did it for me. A few years out of college and there I was promoting the fair and every goofy idea that went with it. I placed stories in East Coast papers about the Bubble-ator, a spherical glass elevator that went all of two floors, pushed up and lowered by a hydraulic piston, the same technology used to raise and lower cars in auto shops and no more modern. I helped create the persona for Gracie Hansen, the ‘madame,’” Holcomb made air quotes, “who ran the tame burlesque show on the grounds. I had lunch at the Space Needle with Elvis’s publicist. I was 25 and the whole fair was a huge kick and non-stop madness like a political campaign but what really made it for me was afterward. By the end, I knew them all, Eddie Carlson, Joe Gandy, Ewen Dingwall, Jay Rockey, even that black sheep Al Schweppe. They were the establishment, the movers and shakers – and they knew me. I went right from the fair to a window office at Blackstone Boyd Western, heading up their new PR division. And since you’ve been snooping around my equally superannuated friends, you know the rest.” She stopped, apparently tired of her own story, then like a conductor waving his baton in a final flourish, Holcomb swept the champagne flute to her lips, and head back downed the remaining liquid.

              “You’re sure you don’t want a drop, Falconer?”

              “I’m usually a beer guy, but happy to join you. Thanks.” Falconer got up and poured for Holcomb from the bottle she kept close on the coffee table.

              “Glasses are over there on the sideboard.” Another swing of the flute pointed the way. Nothing spilled.

              “And Carl Barclay? When did you first notice him?”

“Oh, mid 70s, I think, maybe a little earlier. He was a kid on the McGovern campaign, a Marine just back from Viet Nam so he gave the peaceniks some credibility. Had some political jobs before he enlisted, I think, his dad was an old ward heeler, to the extent we’ve ever had that kind of politics in Seattle, and young Barclay got noticed, so by ’75 or ’76 he worked for Senator Jackson when Scoop had presidential ambitions and after that begin working on state races. By the 80s, he was a regular fixture in the top democratic campaigns.

“Governor Collins – Maureen Finch before she went East and met Richard – was around then, too, but she was younger. Worked for me, for the agency I mean, a couple summers in the mid-seventies while she was in college. At the time I remember she struck me as timid, withdrawn, emotionally fragile, like a kid with something heavy on her mind. That’s just an impression, though. I wasn’t that close to her but there was one odd incident that stuck in my mind.”

She paused and Falconer waited for her to continue.

“One of our clients was some division of Wallingford Evergreen and we had a big planning meeting scheduled with their top executives, including old man Wallingford himself. That was exceptional and he brought along his son, Victor, now, as you know, one of our city’s leading lights.” Holcomb’s voice dripped with scorn and she stopped for a good hit of he Prosecco. “Seems Victor was there to learn the ropes but as soon as he entered the room, Maureen was on her feet, brushed past me with a whispered, ‘sorry, something urgent’ or words to that effect, and was out the other door. I mean, I could be wrong, but somehow I got the impression she was running from – anyway, avoiding – Victor Wallingford.”

“I’d have thought they knew each other; they were both at the same school, a year or two apart.”

“I never asked her about it. Wondered if it was personal. I always cut the summer kids a fair amount of slack and nothing else like that ever happened. And she was good. Quick. She wrote some good copy for a couple candidates’ direct mail. She always liked the politics and issues better than the product accounts. I was just the opposite, still am. I’d rather sell stuff than some of those phonies. But Maureen lit up, came out of her shell when we let her work on public affairs. I still remember an ad she did for an environmental group campaigning to keep oil tankers out of Puget Sound, picture of a couple with a kid making a sand castle at the water’s edge. Kid has a little bucket. Caption was ‘How would you like it if someone came along and kicked you off the beach?’ Meaning that’s what would happen if there were an oil spill. It really got to you.” Holcomb paused, withdrawing for a moment into some private reflection. After a while, she turned back to Falconer. “Like I said, she had a lot of talent, and when she came back for a visit after law school and from time to time later all that tentativeness was gone. Maureen Finch had become the Mo Collins we all know now.”

“I didn’t meet her until she ran for county council.” Falconer’s voice was thick and for a moment he, too, drifted into his own space, thinking of the sparks that flew despite her marriage when he first met Mo Collins. For a moment, he wondered what might have been if he’d met the young and vulnerable Maureen Finch. He raised his glass to hide behind and took a swallow of Prosecco before guiding Holcomb back to her recollections of the murdered man. “Carl Barclay? Where had he gotten to at the end of the 70s, early 80s?”

“Later than that, early 90s. That’s when Carl became the Carl Barclay we know today. That’s when he grew from political operative to public affairs consultant. That’s when he lost his party purity and started taking on business clients. Then pretty soon it was bigger business clients including a couple Fortune 500 companies. Everybody thought he was making a lot of money and he may have been. People say that for years he’s virtually subsidized the lobbying for a couple of his original environmental clients.

“Then came the dot-com bust. I’m surprised you haven’t heard this, Falconer. Carl Barclay had startup fever. He invested in all kinds of little companies hoping to be in on the ground floor when the company went public or Microsoft or somebody like that came along with a billion dollar buy-out. But he was too late and got hammered when the industry tanked. The way I hear it, by 2003 when the dust settled, Carl Barclay was damn near broke. He was in his mid fifties and he literally had to start over.

“Some of his clients had gone under, too. High tech was really hurting so he went looking for new ones, different industries, folks with money in the bank.”

“That fits,” said Falconer. “Sally Barclay said the last few years he’s been driving himself to build up a retirement fund, has one client, happens to be Wallingford Evergreen, he can bill more than $400 an hour. She says they think of Victor Wallingford as their retirement fund.”

“Until he turns on you.” Lucy Holcomb’s eyes contained a flaming anger. “The stories you hear are pretty much true. Victor Wallingford has screwed a lot of people in this town and – interesting in light of that incident with Mo I mentioned a few minutes ago – his implacable hatred for Maureen Collins is well known. Despite the fact they’re both nominally Republicans, she’s been on his shit list since she was attorney general, kept after his companies for environmental violations. Much needed, I thought. But here in town those really big donations to the arts keep his peers in line. No attacking Victor.” The hatred welling up with her words twisted her lips.

“You don’t like him.”

“Points for being observant, Mr. Falconer.”

“And Barclay worked for him. A lot. He’s by far the biggest client. Sally says most of his billable hours were to Wallingford Evergreen.”

“Too late to warn him off then, isn’t it?”

Chapter 33, Ronson

Wednesday, June 18, 2 p.m.

              Falconer was daydreaming at his desk, looking across Salmon Bay at the trawlers moored on the outer pier at Fishermen’s Terminal. The ringing phone was an interruption.

“Thanks for the tip, Falconer.” There was acid sarcasm in every syllable of Capt. Allan Ronson’s blunt greeting. “But your guy Snake isn’t talking to us – and he never will. The sonofabitch is dead.”

              “Overdose?” Falconer dodged the obvious, the likely reason for Ronson’s call.

              “Don’t be so cute, Falconer. Somebody shot him and I suspect that doesn’t surprise you.”

              “Guy was a drug dealer. So, no, it doesn’t surprise me. Where and when?”

              “You know, I’d just tell you to go fuck yourself if they weren’t already writing a news release. Monday night, 10, maybe 11, before midnight, anyway, in his apartment. No forced entry so it was somebody he knew well enough to let in.”

              “And shot how?”

              “Sorry, that’s all you get, buddy,” Ronson said, taunting Falconer.

              “How about saving me a call to the media office.”

              “Won’t do you any good. They don’t get to know, either.”

              “And that’s because…?”

              “Keeps the killer off guard if he – or she – doesn’t know exactly how much we know. What’d he forget? What little piece of evidence did he leave behind? You’ve been around, Falconer, you know the drill.”

              “Who found him?”

              “We did. This morning. A couple of my officers went by there. And that’s what pisses me off, Falconer. You knew about this guy, sounds like for days before you passed his name along to Harms.”

              “Capt. Ronson,” Falconer spoke slowly, pushing back at the cop’s anger. “Every kid on the street in the District, Belltown and Capitol Hill knew this guy. You and your people knew this guy. He was a regular out there, somebody you narcs have probably busted more than once already. And the kids at the Roberts’ party gave you a description, including the snake tattoo, and still that wasn’t enough for you to pick him up for questioning about the drugs and the arson there. But no, SPD decided the rich kids were lying and this was a chance to show that no one was above the law. That’s what happened, isn’t it? Because all my office did was interview some of the kids and discover that their stories pointed to this one guy, the guy with the snake tattoo. How many of those are there?

“It’s in Falconerblog’s item on the party bust – you could’ve read it there days ago. It’s actually all in your officers’ reports – and when I saw SPD ignoring this I told Harms he should point out to you how stupid and even incompetent SPD would look if some private dick working for the governor or Roberts or Wallingford convinced a judge this snake tattooed guy was real, sewing the doubt that would get the charges against the kids dismissed. That’s it.”

              There was a long silence at Ronson’s end of the line, then he said, “I think you know why he was killed.”

              “No more than you do, Capt. Ronson. Your officers probably have a decent list of his known associates. It’s a place to start.” Surprising himself, Falconer managed to say this without sounding snide.

              “You’re as much of a son of a bitch as Harms says you are, Falconer.”

              “Sounds like he was holding back.”

              “We’ll be in touch,” said Ronson.


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