Chapter 39, Fair Warning
Monday, June 23, 6 p.m.
Harms said nothing when Falconer finished telling him about Vancouver. After a moment, he got up and very slowly and deliberately collected the empties and went into the kitchen. Falconer heard the bottles clatter into the recycling bin, then silence. After a while he heard a toilet flush in the back of the house. The refrigerator opened and closed, bottle caps rattled into the recycling and Harms reappeared, carefully setting two bottles of Redhook between them on the picnic table.
“You are absolutely, totally fucking out-of-your-gourd stupid. It makes me embarrassed to be your friend.”
“I knew you’d like the story,” said Falconer.
“Don’t joke about it. You almost got yourself killed doing exactly what I warned you not to – which is mess around in police business. Can’t you just wait for us to bring in the perps and then write the story? Sometimes you do that and I don’t think your readers know the fucking difference.” Harms was close to yelling. Falconer just stared blankly back, waiting out the storm.
“Shit!” Harms stopped and took a deep breath. “For Christ sake, Eric, stop playing cop!”
“I don’t rush into it, Bobby.”
“How about just quitting.” Delivered in a growl. “How about just staying home at the keyboard?”
“Doesn’t work that way and you know it.”
“And you know it pisses me off. You’re out there interviewing people of interest, before or after us, doesn’t matter, still fucks with our investigation.”
“And you’re goddam arrogant.”
“I admit this time was different.”
“Yeah, you admitted you almost got killed.” Harms turned away and both men looked across the Sound at the Olympics, hazy in the late afternoon sun. An umbrella over the table on Harms’ deck shaded them. In a Seattle June most years, cloud cover would do the job.
“First time for everything.”
“Only one time for dying.”
“OK, I was stupid and dumb lucky to still be here so I can argue with you over beers. Let’s drop it and think about what we do next.”
“We. You do some things and I do some things.”
There was a long silence while Harms decided how to balance his fury at Falconer with concern for a friend.
“Look, Eric, to be honest I don’t think your Vancouver adventure changes anything for SPD, except, like I said, I get to think you’re stupid. It happened in a foreign country, short of Mogadishu that’s as out of our jurisdiction as it gets and you admit there’s a reasonable doubt the man you followed was not Victor Wallingford.”
“A tiny doubt. How many portly short round-faced guys were likely to walk out of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club pulling a wheeled suitcase an hour after Victor Wallingford’s absolutely unmistakable green-hulled classic fantail yacht docks there?”
“You’re not even sure he was on board.”
“I was told he would be. And what would be the point of the trip if he wasn’t? It was a party for some of his high-roller friends.”
“Far, far from proof.”
“You know, to remove your doubts I could probably figure out which rich guys might have been there and on some pretext call them until I had confirmation, one way or the other that Wallingford was or was not on the boat. But that would be playing cop and ‘fuck with your investigation’ and you’ve warned me off doing that, right? So Catch-22.”
Falconer paused, then pushed the sarcasm a step further. “But then you might remember last time I talked to a representative of the Seattle Police Department I was told SPD is not investigating Victor Wallingford as a person of interest in the case of Carl Barclay’s death boat, so what I do won’t matter to you guys, will it?”
“I think I can say that Mr. Wallingford’s relationship to Carl Barclay has proven close enough that it would matter to us if you mess around in the case, interview his friends, stuff like that.” Harms took a drink from his beer. “Take that as a warning, Eric.”
“Good start, Bobby. So if you’ve got them connected in the smuggling business, does that put Wallingford on your list of suspects for Barclay’s murder?”
“No comment, Eric. Just stay out of it.”
“Let me ask one more question, then. Kim and Danny are interested in this one, as you might imagine. Assuming I take your warning to heart, or not, what if Wallingford or some of the hornets from his nest come after me again, or come after my staff? Given your own assessment of what happened in Vancouver, wouldn’t you say it’s likely they’re already planning something?”
“Eric, this is exactly why Vancouver was a complete fuckup on your part. I know what you’re asking but you know we can’t protect you or Kim or Danny or Theresa from anything you just think might happen. It doesn’t work that way.”
“That’s what I told them.”
“Sorry, but more reason to take my advice. Lie low. Don’t give ’em any more reasons to think you’re a threat.”
“We’re getting somewhere, though. Even if you don’t admit it, I’m betting our little conversation here has strengthened SPD’s interest in Mr. Wallingford.”
“No comment. Now go home and mind your own business, I’ve got to get dinner ready for Betty and the kids.”
“Be easy to take that advice, if this wasn’t my business.”
Chapter 40, Post Alley
Tuesday, June 24, 8 a.m.
Downtown among the buildings the temperature didn’t drop much over night. Parked in a loading zone on Post Alley at 8 a.m. Falconer had the A4’s driver’s side window open, hoping for a little cool air. The P-I’s local section was propped open against the steering wheel and he read with a feeling of sadness. Hearst had announced the century-old paper would stop publication in less than a year, surviving only online.
“Good morning, Mr. Falconer.”
Falconer jumped – as much as one can from deep in a bucket seat – and banged a knee against the steering wheel.
“Of course I know who you are and I think I know why you’re here. How about coming up to my office for a cup of coffee?”
Falconer looked from the paper into Victor Wallingford’s cloud gray eyes, reading nothing there. The man was round-faced, balding a little with short, iron-gray hair and a lipless smile framed by a trim beard, dark but going gray.
“Yes, thank you. There are some things I’d like to ask you.” Falconer recovered.
“About Carl Barclay?”
“Yes, of course.” Falconer had no idea what Wallingford really wanted. Information? An assessment of the opposition? He wondered, but here in Seattle in the man’s office he couldn’t see a danger.
The alley had been in deep shade, but sunlight already streamed into the east windows of Wallingford’s office, reaching the building through gaps between the office towers uphill. A burnished glow from the varnished fir floors warmed the space. Falconer thought the room was eighty, maybe a hundred feet long. It spanned the whole floor from the sun-filled windows on the alley side to the windows behind Wallingford’s desk overlooking Western Avenue and Elliott Bay. At six stories, the building was high enough to provide a view of the Olympics, the bay and the ferries tracking out to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton on the peninsula. In the foreground, commuters’ cars sped northbound on the upper deck of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Turning back to the east, in front of the windows at the alley end was a conference table laminated of the same clear fir used for the floors. In between was a seating area: hunting-lodge leather couch, chairs surrounding a coffee table made from a crosscut slice of Douglas Fir three or four feet in diameter and, on the windowless north wall, with doors leading to the rest of Wallingford Evergreen’s offices, a bar.
A secretary brought coffee, fresh brewed by a fancy machine that did every cup to order. Wallingford dropped the name, mangling the syllables, Forzioni, or something like that. “Even Howard Schultz doesn’t have one of these.”
“Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.” Falconer, wondering what Wallingford thought seeing him alive, sat in one of two high-backed saddle-leather chairs in front of Wallingford’s ancient desk. The leather creaked. His coffee, in a large timber company mug – the letters WE wrapped around it – sat on a glass-topped stump between the chairs.
Behind his desk, Wallingford, coat off but still wearing a vest, seemed taller than his five foot six. Falconer almost laughed, realizing the man had raised his stature with a built-up chair.
Wallingford leaned forward, his small fingers clasped around his coffee mug. Eyes unfocused, he stared past Falconer into the mote-filled sunlight above the conference table. “My friend Carl Barclay. . .” He signed deeply and paused for a long time. Falconer waited.
“Over the past few years, we’ve been like brothers.” Wallingford paused again, choked up. “I miss him terribly and I’ll keep on missing him.” There were tears in his eyes.
After a moment of polite silence, Falconer said, “I didn’t realize you two were so close. I’ve heard you were an important client which is why I’m grateful for a chance to talk to you, but then I guess friendship isn’t what we see in public.”
“Reality isn’t always what we see, is it, Eric? May I call you Eric?”
Falconer cringed. A guy his own age – younger, actually – was going to do the father-figure trip on him. “That’s fine, Mr. Wallingford.”
“Victor. Just Victor. Despite the family and our business history here . . .” A sweep of his arm took in the logging pictures that filled the walls. “I pride myself on being just a regular guy. You’ll find that’s my reputation around town.”
More like rapacious asshole, thought Falconer, now even more on his guard.
“But Carl. . .” Another dramatic pause. “At first it was just a provider-client relationship, Carl doing the lobbying we needed. But sometimes we’d get to talking about other things, politics, philosophy, the city. Carl loved this city, Eric, and he was drawn to my family’s role in, well, if not its creation, many aspects of its development. We became close. He was a special friend and just a great guy. I could always count on him.”
For services off the books, Falconer thought.
“His death is a great loss to this community.” Again, a long pause. “I have a hard time using the word murder. Maybe you don’t. That’s what you write about, isn’t it?” Wallingford’s eyes bored into Falconer, passing judgment.
“It was a horrible, demeaning death that takes away so much more of Carl. Do you understand what I mean? His gruesome death tears apart what I want to remember, how I want to remember my friend.”
“But it was a murder, wasn’t it? I know this is hard, Mr. Wallingford….”
“I know this is hard, Victor. But somewhere out there is someone who doesn’t share your feelings for Carl Barclay. A murderer. You knew Carl well. Who do you think could have killed him? Who were his enemies?”
“Well, you are blunt. I guess reporters have to be, don’t they, Eric?” Falconer decided he could hate Wallingford just for patronizing him, even if he didn’t think the man had tried to have him killed or scared off in Vancouver, B.C.
“But I have no idea at all and I hear even the police have no leads.”
“I can live with blunt, Victor. So let me ask this: Has it occurred to you that Carl’s murder might have something to do with the whole strange thing of his boat’s sister ship being the ‘death boat’ that got so much coverage a couple weeks ago?”
“I think that’s occurred to everyone. And I think everyone figures there might be a connection. It’s possible, but I don’t think anyone, myself included, has any real idea. The police couldn’t even connect Carl to the ‘death boat,’ as you media guys have called it, when he was alive.”
“Have any theories about what the boat was used for?”
“Same as everybody else, smuggling. What else?”
“Yes, what else?” Falconer let the thought hang for a moment and then pushed a little harder. “Real questions, though, aren’t there? Smuggling what? Why Carl Barclay’s boat, and why was he killed?”
“Eric, I would be very surprised and deeply, deeply saddened if it turned out Carl Barclay had any criminal connections. It just wasn’t in the man and that’s why I trusted him with my business.”
Falconer decided on a dive off the high board. “That’s just it, though, Victor. You did a lot of business with Carl Barclay. In the last couple years, you owned almost all his time, so I’m tempted to think you know something about this alleged smuggling, how Carl was involved and why he was killed.”
A moment passed in silence. Falconer could see Wallingford’s eyes narrow and his jaw tighten. Suddenly he slammed his fist on the desk, splattering coffee. Shaking with anger he stood up, sending his chair clattering into the credenza behind him. An accusatory finger took aim at Falconer.
“You can think what you fucking like, Falconer, but if a single word of that libelous shit shows up in print or I hear you’re saying anything like that around town, just saying it, I mean saying anything of the kind to anybody, even asking questions, I will sue you for slander and libel in a nanosecond and when I’m finished your fucking little website will be out of business and your much-vaunted reputation will be headed for the toilet.” Wallingford paused for a breath.
“You’ll never write another word. That’s what will happen to you if you mess with me but I don’t think you’re that stupid. So now, just get out of my office.”
Falconer took a sip of his coffee, set the cup down and stood up slowly. “In such cases, the truth is an unassailable defense, Victor. Maybe that should worry you.”
Wallingford looked across the room at an antique grandfather clock that must have been nine feet high. “Get the fuck out, Falconer. I have another appointment.”
Back in the car, Falconer called Kim. “You have a plan B?”
“What happened to plan A?”
“It’s a wrap. We’re at the finish line already. Wallingford walked right up to the car as soon as he saw me, invited me up to his office for coffee and a sad talk about his friend Carl Barclay. I just spent 30 minutes talking to a stonewall.”
“Yep. Threatened with a lawsuit if we write or even privately say anything that states or implies a connection between Victor Wallingford and any alleged criminal activities of Carl Barclay’s.”
“Could be.” Falconer was never sure he understood all the uses of that word, or maybe Kim had a greater sense for irony than he realized. “I’d say we just baited the hook.”
“With you again,” said Kim.
Chapter 41, Jason Coffee
Wednesday, June 25, 8 p.m.
As Jason Coffee, the man who phoned Sally Barclay yesterday saying he was a friend of Carl’s from Los Angeles in town for a couple of days, Adrian Topping called from Cristalla’s entrance phone. Sally Barclay tapped the door code on her cell and buzzed him into the elevator lobby. Minutes later, ornate bouquet in hand, he knocked on her door.
“It’s nice of you to drop by Mr. Coffee. Carl never talked much about his meetings in Los Angeles. I don’t think he ever even mentioned your name.”
“It’s the least I could do, Mrs. Barclay. I always enjoyed talking Seattle politics with Carl on his trips south, though our meetings were necessarily brief. I’m only sorry you and I are meeting in such sad circumstances. Please accept my condolences and deepest sympathy.”
“Thank you Mr. Coffee.” For a moment, Sally closed her eyes to hold back tears.
“These are lovely flowers…Jason. Just give me a minute to put them in water.” Sally turned away toward the kitchen. Even after more than a week, she came close to tears at any small reminder of Carl. Maybe the crying helped. She didn’t know.
Behind her in the living room, like all her visitors, Coffee was drawn to the windows. Another summer sunset: with the Olympics in dark silhouette, striations of gold and copper fading to aquamarine and then deeper blues above.
“That would be very kind. Thank you. Scotch if you have it.”
“Carl liked Macallans.” Surprised she could say this without a welling of tears. “I think there’s some left.”
“On the rocks, then.”
In control of herself getting out the bottles, glasses, ice from the dispenser on the fridge for Coffee’s Scotch – white wine for herself, definitely not gin since Falconer got her sloshed – Sally wondered if her guest could tell her what Carl was doing in L.A., why Victor flew him down there every month. Fucking Victor would never tell her, flat out refused on the phone a couple days ago, the secretive bastard. “I paid for his time according to our contract, Mrs. Barclay.” That was it. End of call.
Sally carried the drinks over to the marble coffee table set in front of the window with easy chairs on either side. “Make yourself comfortable, Jason.”
“Mrs. Barclay … Sally. I can call you Sally?”
“Sure, that’s OK. Even though I don’t really know who you are and how you knew my husband.”
“Rest assured, I’ll get to all that. It’s why I came.”
Who was this guy? Slightly formal speech and a faint accent, impeccably dressed in gray slacks and blue blazer, Sally figured he was some kind corporate executive and maybe a foreigner. She waited for Coffee to continue.
“So, Sally, how much do you know about your husband’s business with Victor Wallingford?”
“Our business: Carl Barclay Associates.” Sally found herself irritated by the way Coffee phrased it, the implication she was just “the little woman” and there were things she didn’t know. “I knew – know – everything: details of the master contract with Wallingford Evergreen, contracts with Wallingford Evergreen subsidiaries, what we’re supposed to deliver in each case, who’s working on which parts of the accounts, the time Carl put in on Victor’s behalf – too damn much, if you ask me – how much we’re spending and every dollar we bring in. I’m not the bookkeeper but I supervise her and I sign the checks. Carl cut the deals and I kept track of the details. That was the way it worked from the day we started the company, together.” She reached for her glass, raised it, capturing for a moment before she drank the color of the sunset in the wine.
“Wallingford Evergreen was our biggest client for the last three years, our biggest years ever for revenue and net revenue. Frankly, our earnings from Victor’s companies were padding our nest egg. We planned to retire in less than two years…or at least slow down… ” Sally sobbed. “It doesn’t matter now, does it? With the investments and life insurance, I’ll have more money than I’ll ever need. That’s good, isn’t it, but kind of a cruel joke.” She laughed with a harsh rasp. “I hate it. I’ll be alone.” Her tears came, but quietly this time. After a while, she dried them with a cocktail napkin from the coffee table and took a large drink of wine.
Topping looked away, out the window toward the darkening sunset. The ice in his Macallans clinked softly as he drank. After a while, he faced Sally again.
“Sally, I don’t mean any criticism of you in what I’m going to tell you, or any criticism of Carl. I’m sure his motive was always to create a better life for you, for the two of you together. Unfortunately, that gave Victor Wallingford some power over him. I think that was the key Victor used to control Carl. They must have talked about it so Victor knew your husband would be interested in making a lot of money fast, more than he’d bill as a political strategist. Do you follow me so far?”
“No, not really. What do you mean? I know we grossed a little more than a million from all the Wallingford Evergreen companies, taken together. We billed Victor and the holding company at a much higher rate than any other clients.”
“Yes, that’s true. Victor knew that and it didn’t bother him. He and I have talked about it. There was even more money, quite a bit more, though, and it sounds as though you haven’t seen it except what you could hide in Carl’s high billable rate. Overpaying Carl was part of the deal.”
“Now I’m lost. What are you talking about, Mr. Coffee?”
“Victor used Carl…”
“Don’t I know it! The last year or so that asshole was leading him around by the nose.”
“More than that, Sally. I’m sorry. Victor used Carl to deliver dope – crystal methamphetamine – to dealers in L.A. and a Chinese syndicate in Vancouver, B.C.”
“No!” The single word became a wail, descending into sobs. “Not Carl. No, not Carl.” Coffee stood up, retrieved the wine bottle from the kitchen and poured Sally another glass. After a while, with no more tears to give, she spoke in a phlegmy whisper: “How do you know this?”
“It was delivered to people I know.”
“Carl wouldn’t…Why should I believe you?”
Comforting, wanting to make sure she felt he was on her side, Topping said, “You’re right, Sally. Carl wouldn’t. But Victor Wallingford would. I think you can believe that. And he used Carl, knew Carl wanted more money for retirement and probably convinced your husband to do it, you know, ‘just once,’ and then, well, had him hooked. That’s just me speculating, of course, but…”
“Victor’s a shit but he’s rich shit. He’s not a drug dealer. He doesn’t need the money.”
“Some people always need more. Victor lost a lot in the dot-com bust and more on biotech. That left him with an empty lab and all the equipment he needed. He manufactures meth, hundreds of pounds of meth in the last three years. Not him personally. He pays some small-time gangsters, immigrants from Eastern Europe, to mix the chemicals.”
“Fuck.” On the way to believing, it was all Sally could say.
“I should say ‘manufactured,’ past tense. Since your husband was killed, Victor has been covering his tracks. He’s planning to close the lab, get the two guys working there to sterilize the place and black bag everything for the landfill. They’re dead if Victor can’t quietly get them on a plane to Donetsk.”
“Is that why Carl was killed, to cover up for Victor Wallingford?”
“Maybe,” said Topping, meaning yes. Outside, it was dark.
“But who . . .? Oh, I see.”