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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 38 & 39: Planning, and Café Fiore

Chapter 38, Planning

Monday, June 23, 8 a.m.

              “Well, so, what do we know?” It was Monday morning. Sun poured through the penthouse office windows, burnishing the bamboo floors and varnished fir window and door frames. They were drinking coffee, Falconer, elbows on the small conference table, holding a large ceramic Starbucks mug imprinted in green with the Seattle skyline.

              “That you are lucky to be alive.” Danny, saying what each of them knew to be true. Strained silence, into which Danny finally added, “And no good in a fight.” Attempted levity to get them past what they didn’t want to talk about.

              “Yeah, right. I should have paid more attention when the Army tried to teach me hand-to-hand combat.”

              “You weren’t . . .?” This was news to Kim.

              “No, I wasn’t. But there are times when it wouldn’t hurt to have some moves more effective than what you get from practicing tai chi in the park.”

              “Long term . . .” Kim wanted to talk about HIV, hepatitis C, try and share her worry. What if it was a dirty needle? It would be a couple weeks before Falconer could even be tested.

              “We ignore the long term,” snapped Falconer, shutting Kim off. “What do we know today?”

              “That it’s highly probable Victor Wallingford had these guys try to kill you or at least scare you off,” said Danny. “Probably scare you. Let’s face it: We know they could have killed you easily with a bigger dose. Hell, they could have killed you with a harder blow to the head. Most likely the only reason they didn’t was the inconvenience of disposing of your body or the attention they might get if you were found murdered on their patch. And so far, we’ve done exactly what they wanted. We got you out of Vancouver and didn’t call the police.”

              “We don’t know if they knew who I was before I – I admit, stupidly – followed Wallingford into that alley. Anyway, I think it was Wallingford.”

              “Well, they know now,” said Kim. “They have your wallet. Must have. And so far no one’s tried to use your debit card or any of your credit cards. If any of the local druggies had found you, they’d have gone through your pockets while you were out and would have been using your cards two days ago. Anyway, muggers wouldn’t have shot you full of . . . whatever.”

              “Makes us a little more involved than usual, doesn’t it?” Wryly, from Falconer.

              “Which means it might be a good idea to think about what these guys are going to do next. They know Eric was following Victor Wallingford. No brainer. Why else was he in the alley? And they know Eric is alive. What they don’t know, really, is whether or not they scared the shit out of Mr. Falconer here. Is he just a harmless old journalist who got a little too curious? Or a P.I., or some kind of cop?” Kim paused and took a deep slow breath. “Eric, I think we have to believe they want to kill you.”

              All three were silent, mulling over the truth of this. Falconer spoke first. “Nice of them to botch it the first time, wasn’t it.”

              “Do we tell Bobby Harms and get you some protection?” asked Danny.

              “Maybe all of us some protection,” added Kim. “The perps won’t assume that Eric kept his suspicions all to himself.”

              “And they may assume we already went to the police,” said Danny. “So there’s something of a deterrent already. They have to allow for that.”

              “I’m sure the cops would appreciate your optimism, Danny, but I think we’d better assume the law is not a deterrent, or not much of one. There are three murders that all could be related to . . . whatever this is. Four, if you count Corey Wayne, but that’s probably different, maybe related to the harassment of Governor Collins or just another sad drug dealer story.”

Falconer refilled his coffee from Kim’s steel thermos. He walked over to the windows and stood, back to Kim and Danny, looking over the street trees to Salmon Bay. Several power boats, including a classic Grand Banks of 42 or 44 feet, made their way toward the Ballard Bridge after coming through the locks. It would be nice to just chuck it all in, go live on a boat, be northbound right now, headed for the islands, Canada, maybe Alaska. Stay up there, gunkholing, living off fish and crab and clams and whiskey. Well, someday, though he knew that was a fantasy that did not include Theresa.

              Danny broke the silence. “You gonna talk to Harms.”

              “Maybe.” The Ballard Bridge was just going up to accommodate a sailboat coming west toward the locks. Falconer turned away from the window. “I haven’t decided. Depends on how badly I want to get reamed out by an apoplectic police detective and whether the result would be any ‘protection’” – Falconer made air quotes – “from the police or whether that would just result in Bobby detailing someone to keep us out of his way, out of trouble – for our own good, he would say. I suppose the other factor is whether or not our suspicions, about which we feel certain but Bobby won’t, would push him to look at Wallingford in connection with Carl Barclay’s murder. I somehow don’t think that’s going to happen. Bobby is not going to put a wealthy, old Seattle family venture capitalist on the murder suspect list just because I got mugged in a Vancouver, B.C., alley – in a heroine-infested part of their town to boot – following a limo I think carried Victor Wallingford because I caught a glimpse of the guy, or someone who looked kinda like him, coming out of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. Seen through Bobby’s lens, it looks pretty thin, doesn’t it?” There were nods of agreement.

              “What that all means – you guessed it – is we need to plan this as though we are on our own, which we are, really, even if I talk to Harms. We need a plan to draw Wallingford out, make the connection between him and Barclay – at least for drugs, maybe for murder – strong enough to goose Bobby into action.” Falconer reached for Kim’s thermos.

              “It’s empty. We always run out when we’re all here. Maybe we should make a bigger batch to start with.”

              “Yes, someone could do that.” A somewhat icy response from Kim.

              “Well, a Coke then.” Falconer went over to the small refrigerator under one of the counters, got a Coke, opened it, drank and continued pacing. “Let’s consider it a given that I will talk to Harms and he will ream me out but he won’t do anything to put pressure on Wallingford or let his suspicions be known – if he has any. He sure won’t go over there and say, ‘Mr. Falconer thinks you had him mugged in Vancouver, B.C., what do you have to say about that?’” They all laughed. “And at this point if Bobby has anyone looking into the relationship between Barclay and Wallingford, it’s nearly certain he won’t tell us. He already thought my interest in Wallingford was overwrought and he sure won’t want to do anything to encourage us.”

              “Can we watch Wallingford ourselves?” Danny’s voice fell at the end of the sentence. It wasn’t a question, just a suggestion he knew wouldn’t go anywhere.

It didn’t. “Not if we want to keep putting fresh material on the blog. We are reporters, a small staff of reporters, and it’s not our job to solve crimes, at least not usually.” Falconer was still pacing and there was uncertainty in his voice.

“Think about it this way,” said Kim. “Watching him probably won’t do much good. You know, trying to follow his movements around town, all that spy kinda stuff. That’s no good. There are just three of us, anyway. Four, counting Theresa. But letting him think we’re watching could do a lot of good. You know, spook him, put him on edge. Maybe he’ll make a mistake.”

“Hard to imagine what that would be. Might bring in the goons, though. That’s the risk.” Falconer stopped pacing and sat down. He poured the remains of the Coke into his empty Starbucks mug. There was a long silence.

              “I don’t think it would be too hard to really bug him,” said Kim, pushing the idea over her fear. She hit a few keys and looked into her computer. “Theresa didn’t get very far in her investigation before you sent her to San Diego but what’s here will really help. He’s got pretty regular habits. Arrives at work about 8:30 every morning after walking one block from the garage in the Norton Building where he has a reserved space for his Rolls – Theresa’s notes say ‘huge fucking car, pale gold color.’ Unlike modern buildings, there’s no garage in Wallingford Evergreen’s corporate headquarters, which was built almost 120 years ago right after the fire. Wallingford goes in through the Post Alley door, which is just across from the entrance to the Owl and Thistle, that Irish pub in the bottom of Colman Building. The other one, not Fado. That’s on First. You know the place. Danny definitely does.”

              “Oh yeah.” Agreement from Danny. “I admit to knowing both those places.”

              “So here’s what let’s do. Eric, between eight and eight-thirty you park there in the alley so he sees you before he goes in. He knows what you look like. If he didn’t before, he’s sure to have looked you up by now. You park there for a half-hour every day and we see what happens.”

              Falconer, nodding, made a thoughtful humming noise.

              “Next, Theresa’s file says that at least two or three times a week he eats lunch with buddies at the Harbor Club. It’s the one on the top floor of the Norton Building, two blocks up the hill on Second. There’s a public escalator from First to the building lobby on Second and he takes that. Usually he arrives about twelve-thirty. So from twelve-fifteen to twelve-thirty, Eric, you park in the alley again. Or you could sit in the Norton Building lobby where he’ll see you when he gets off the escalator.”

              “Yeah, I could do that.” Falconer sounded unconvinced.

              Kim went on. “After work, he’s much less predictable. Sometimes he goes up to the WAC to play handball, sometimes he goes for a drink, most often at the Metropolitan Grill or sometimes at the Brooklyn. Eric, you could walk through the bar at the Met around six most days and let him see you if he’s there. Or, and maybe we can do both, Danny you drop in and ask the hostess to point out Mr. Wallingford. Stroll through and leave. Do this a few days in a row and I guarantee the woman will tell Wallingford about the young man who has been looking for him. If we have any luck, she’ll describe you to him and that’s what we want because your other role is to be parked across the street from his house in the morning when he leaves for work and again in the evening when he gets back. He lives on East Laurelhurst Drive just on the north side of Webster Point. It’s one of those tree-lined streets of mansions on the lakefront in Laurelhurst. Actually, he’s only a couple houses south of Judge Roberts’ place and you’ve already been out there.” Kim finished, proud of her plan, though well aware that the details on which she built it came from Theresa.

              “Sounds like a plan.” Moderate enthusiasm from Danny.

              “What do you think we’ll get from it?” asked Falconer.

              “Aside from a restraining order after a week or so,” Kim giggled at this, “I really don’t know. But it so looks like Wallingford has something to do with the boats and Barclay, there’s gotta be a chance he’ll do something, call out the hounds, I suppose.” Unable to give a real answer, she looked bleak, a little deflated.

              “That worries me,” said Falconer, pacing again. “After Vancouver, we know Wallingford, or somebody, can really ‘call out the hounds,’ as you put it.”

              “Let’s not play it down, boss.” Danny chimed in. If we’re right, he knows killers, maybe he’s a killer himself, although looking at that plump little guy you wouldn’t think it.”

              At this, projected back to the somber mood shared earlier, they were all silent for a couple minutes. Falconer looked across the bay, now gleaming with fragments of sunlight dancing off the ripples. Danny picked up the Times sports section, Kim hit the weather icon on her home page, absently wondering how long the sunshine would last now they’d been more than a week without rain. It always rained in June, right up to the Fourth of July.

              “Let’s do it. Carefully,” said Falconer. “Unless I come back from seeing Harms this afternoon with a much different appraisal of where he’s coming from.”

              Kim clicked over to the blog’s master scheduling page. “Before that, you’re meeting with Theresa. Coffee at ten at Café Fiore on Queen Anne. You have a half hour.”

              “Thanks. You told me that yesterday, didn’t you?”

              “In the afternoon after your twelve-hour sleep. You were still groggy.”

              “Oh, yeah. Thanks for bringing the burger. I needed the food.”

              “I know you like those every so often.”

              Uncomfortable, Kim changed the subject. “Theresa needs to fill you in on Michelle Adams, the woman she found in San Diego. Oh, and I almost forgot. Sorry. The governor called after you went back to bed. Sounded pissed that I wouldn’t wake you. I told her you’d written all through Saturday night, a major piece. ‘Not about me, I hope,’ she said, and made me take down her message exactly and read it back to her.” Kim clicked to her phone messages. “‘Test is done. Send me the other person’s results. Then I’ll decide.’ She said you’d understand it.”

              “I do. It’s progress.”

Chapter 39, Café Fiore

Monday, June 23, 10 a.m.

              Theresa was musing, avoiding thoughts about the sharp edges sure to come later in the day, staring down at her untouched coffee. “It’s silly, but it always seems a shame to start drinking the lattes here. The flower pattern they draw in the foam is so perfect.”

“You working on a new career as a food writer?”

She ignored Falconer. It was one of his typical distracting interjections. “I suppose because the pattern is so transitory, meant to disappear with the first sip, you could make it a symbol for life: ‘This, too, must pass away.’ Isn’t that what philosophers think is the only true statement?”

“And now we’re into the Zen of food writing.”

Theresa leaned back and shook her head, signaling exasperation. “You are incorrigible, a bomb thrower, blowing up serious and possibly romantic discourse.”

“A successful one, too.”

“Best we just get down to business then.” This time her sigh was the deep breath of someone whose patience was near its end. She took a sip from her latte. Some of the foam remained on her upper lip and she wiped it off with a small, square napkin imprinted with Café Fiore’s flower. Falconer watched, thinking that everything she did, even the simplest, smallest, most prosaic action was breathtakingly beautiful. But he didn’t say that. He just smiled and hid behind his own coffee cup until the moment passed.

“You were almost killed.” Matter-of-fact, no emotion showing. “Maybe those guys meant to kill you and screwed up. Probably, you’re lucky to be alive, Eric. Your team – I count myself among them, you know – got pretty knotted up thinking you might’ve been dead. Tears were shed.” This was still matter-of-fact. Falconer remained silent. He didn’t want to ask, who. Well, maybe he didn’t need to.

“We’re worried.” Theresa paused for a long time. “And I think a little afraid for ourselves, too.”

“I’m having a beer with Harms’ after work. Despite the embarrassment I’ll feel for doing something stupidly risky and despite the reaming out I’m going to get for messing with a police investigation, or whatever he’ll call it, I’m going to tell him the whole story, everything that happened in Vancouver.”

“Do you think that’ll help?” Theresa brightened a little.

“You mean, do you think he’ll take us under his wing in case somebody tries something here in Seattle?”

“Yes.”

“No, I don’t. He’ll take us under his wing after somebody tries something here.”

“That’s not reassuring.” Theresa was staring down at the now stormy mix of coffee and milk foam on her latte.

“Wasn’t meant to be,” said Falconer. “I think we’re on our own and we have no clear idea how what happened to me in Vancouver relates to anything going on here except, more or less, we think Victor Wallingford is involved.”

“Got a plan, big guy?” Theresa reached across the tiny square table and punched Falconer playfully on the shoulder. It was a jab at boosting her spirits, and maybe Falconer’s.

“Beyond laying it all out for Harms? No, not really. Our options are pretty limited. We can be good journalists and go back to the office, make a few calls, drink coffee, pound down some bourbon for the sake of the stereotype and wait for SPD news releases or Harms to call with some results we can write up for the blog. And that could be a long wait.”

“I sense you have something else in mind.”

“Or, since we’ve ruled out calling Wallingford up and asking him about the death boat, if he’s involved in drug dealing and smuggling and what does he know about the murder of Carl Barclay, we follow Kim’s plan and stake him out so obviously he knows he’s being watched and hope he does something – we have no idea what – that gives us a clue. Long shot, I know.”

“Why isn’t that just as stupid and risky as what you did in Vancouver?”

“It’s not risk free but we’re here. We know the city. There’re several of us around for backup and if anything happens, Harms will step in.”

“Of course he will.” Theresa’s doubts were rekindled, expressed with sarcasm. “One of the things that could happen is one of us gets killed. That’d fit nicely. Since he’s in charge of the murder squad, Lt. Harms would, as you put it, ‘step in.’”

“OK, I said it’s not without some risk. But this guy’s involved in some really big shit that I think got Carl Barclay killed and someone’s got to expose him. Besides, Theresa, it’s a helluva story, isn’t it: scion of one of the old Seattle families, practically one of the founding families, involved with smuggling, maybe human trafficking and murder?”

Theresa took a drink from her cooling latte. “It is if you’re right and if you’re alive to publish it.”

Falconer offered the required meaningless reassurance: “We’ll be careful.”

“And I’ll be keeping an eye on you. Backup, as you said.”

Both fell silent. Falconer drank. Theresa looked into the bottom of her cup.

“The San Diego woman…” said Falconer.

“Michelle Adams.”

“What do we do about her?”

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