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Saturday, September 26, 2020

“Hidden in plain sight, an industrial-scale meth lab in a former biotech building in Seattle’s tech hub quietly pumps out millions of carefully hidden profits for the scion of one of the city’s old-line wealthy families. That is, until agents from an Afghan rebel group show up looking for a cut and bodies start washing up on Puget Sound beaches.

“It looks like smuggling – people or drugs – to the murder squad, but the cops can’t believe such a prominent citizen would be involved. It takes former journalist turned true-crime blogger Eric Falconer – narrowly escaping death himself in the heroin-sick alleys of Vancouver, B.C. – to connect the timber-family scion to the murders and a plot to destroy the re-election campaign of a popular governor.

“As the police finally close in, the head of the cartel disappears, murdered for revenge. Only Falconer will ever know the killer.”

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Dick Lilly is a former journalist whose career began with alternative weeklies and took him on to the Seattle Times where he spent 15 years coverning local government from City Hall to the school board. HIs career continued at Seattle Public Utilities as a public information officer and policy analyst working on waste prevention.

Chapters 43, 44, 45 & 46: Match, Town Car, Kidnapped, and Pizza

Chapter 43, Match

Thursday, June 26, 2 p.m.

              Not the phone this time. This was the real deal. No denials left. Falconer wanted to meet the governor away from her office, which he figured would be buzzing with curious and potentially indiscreet staffers and thoroughly wired to send every pin drop to a hard drive somewhere. He drove a couple hours over the pass to Yakima where she was attending a conference on irrigation and water rights. When she came out of the hotel, Falconer was standing by her car shooting the shit with the trooper behind the wheel.    “Walk with me a bit?”

              “OK. But I’m behind schedule.”

              “Nothing new there.”

              “You’ve got five minutes.”

              “It’s enough. She’s yours.”

              “What?”

              “Michelle Adams of San Diego, California, is your daughter. DNA match. You’ve got a 10-year-old grandson, too, named Manuel.”

              “Oh, shit.”

              “Not true?”

              Collins slumped onto an empty bus-stop bench, energy drained out of her. “No, it’s true. I knew this would happen someday. But please, please not in the middle of a campaign.”

              “I’m not your problem, Mo. We both know somebody else is trying to get this out, cripple you with scandal. Somebody who doesn’t want you re-elected.”

              “Yeah, lots of people. Sonny McCracken? My lovely fellow R’s?”

              “I have no idea. But we know Michelle gets money, quite a bit, from someone in Seattle who’s hired Todd Mundy. But we still haven’t been able to find out who the client is. Maybe the father? You tell me.”

              “No, not the father! He doesn’t know.” She was now in tears.

              “Do you know?”

              “No, not exactly. There were a couple, OK, several guys. It was the fucking 70s, for Christ’s sake.” She gave a huge sob. “This is so pathetic.”

              “Who are the possibles?”

              “None of your business, Falconer. And none of them live in Seattle. I do know that.” Falconer wondered if she was lying, pretending to promiscuity to hide the identity she did know.

“Rules out Victor Wallingford, then. We found him prominently pictured in your Whitman yearbooks.”

Collins stood up, pacing in anger. “Oh, Christ! That prick. Even back then he was as smarmy as they come. We all knew he just wanted to get into your pants. I think he thought a small-town country girl like me would be swept off her feet by his family money and city slicker sophistication. He kept trying to get a date but I wouldn’t go out with him. I must have turned him down a dozen times and he finally gave up. I can say with absolute certainty he’s not the father, thank heavens.”

Regaining composure, hiding worries behind her public face, Collins turned and headed back toward her car. “When can I meet her, Michelle, and the little boy? What’s she like? Is she married?”

              “Single mom, as you would have been.”

              “Don’t get self-righteous on me, Falconer.”

              “OK, OK. Sorry. I’ve never met her but Theresa has. Very nice, strong, self possessed, kid is polite, happy. Looks like you’ll get to meet them soon. They’re due in Seattle Tuesday night as guests of the mystery benefactor.”

              “Well, a campaign surprise then.”

Chapter 44 Town Car

Monday June 30, 8 a.m.

              Victor Wallingford loved his platinum Rolls Royce Phantom. Sure, it was big; it burned gas, but what the fuck? He loved driving it. He loved the stares he got: his big platinum cocoon.

              So it pissed him off this morning that a black Town Car was parked blocking his driveway. Worse, when he honked nothing happened. The driver was slumped over the wheel. Drunk? Drugged? Victor got out and walked over to shake the shit out of the son-of-a-bitch, started pounding on the driver’s window with the side of his fist.

              “Quiet down, Mr. Wallingford. We can work this out.”

              Victor turned to yell at the dark bearded man who’d come up behind him. “Get this piece of shit . . .” The deadly black gun in the man’s hand silenced him.

              “We’d like to do business with you, Mr. Wallingford. Please get in the car so we can talk privately.” With a turn of his head, he motioned Victor to the Town Car’s back door. “Get in and slide over. Fasten the seat belt.” With the gun aimed at Victor’s head, the man slid in beside him and closed the door. “Just a minute and we’ll be on our way.”

              “Where the hell are you taking me?”

              “Patience Victor.” Condescending. “I’m going to call you Victor now. We’re going to be business partners. Good partners, I’m sure. You can call me Edmund. Pretend it’s my real name.”

The driver got out, walked to the Rolls, still running, and rolled it down the driveway into Wallingford’s garage. Back in the Town Car, he reached over the seat. “Here are your keys, Mr. Wallingford. I’m sure you’ll need them later.”

They pulled away, driving slowly along tree-shaded streets past some of Laurelhurst’s largest houses, headed toward the university and roads to anywhere.

“Now Victor, to make you even more comfortable and make this conversation one among equals, I’m going to put my gun away.” Hanran pulled a small leather handbag from under his arm and slipped the gun inside. “Better, right?”

“What do you want?”

Hanran smiled, his lips wet. “Oh, just what I said, a partnership. You make something quite valuable and we’re interested in obtaining it – and the means of production, if you follow me.”

Wallingford followed. More than that: it dawned on him that these were the guys who’d terrified Carl. The gun was a shock too difficult to process but now his guts slackened with fear and his sweat stank. He could smell it: fear, different from the sweat on the handball court. Probably Edmund could to. Maybe he could slow things down, play dumb.

“No, I don’t. I’m not following you.” His voice put air quotes around “following you.”

“Please, Victor, we’re all adults here. There’s no need for snarkiness. I think that’s the right word, isn’t it? Let me be perfectly clear. You have a lab and make crystal methamphetamine. We want it.”

“You want to buy it?” Maybe this was, after all, going to be the kind of transaction Victor understood. “There’s none for sale; it’s all spoken for, presold to our partners.” Victor bluffed.

“I am so disappointed in you, Victor. I thought you were a smart man.”

“Maybe there’s a price that would allow us to divert some for you, or increase production.” Victor figured that was an offer that would continue negotiations.

“Victor, my man, get your head out of the clouds. This isn’t a negotiation.” Hanran’s liquid smile faded for the first time. “We’re the new company. From the ground up, as you say. We’re the new staff, the new Swiss guy, the new delivery service.”

“No, I’ve got friends. They depend on me.”

“Adrian? Of course, Adrian.” Hanran answered his own question. “We know Adrian. Adrian is expecting us to deliver – and we will.”

“You’re buying me out?’

“No, we’re taking you out. But don’t worry, Victor. Not like American gangster movies. We’re not going to kill you. You’re – what’s the right word? – a ‘big shot’ in this city.” The smile, almost a grin, returned. “You’d be missed and the police would uncover all your criminal activities. That wouldn’t be good for us – or your family – would it?”

“Fucking Adrian. The son-of-a-bitch sold me out, didn’t he?” Victor needed anger, a kind of therapy for his ego to pull himself out of the sickening fear and pit of self pity that had overwhelmed him.

Hanran didn’t answer.

“That asshole.”

The town car crossed the near North End and turned south across the Ballard Bridge. Flanking Queen Anne Hill on 15th West and Elliott Avenue, the driver turned up Harrison and into the lot behind Wallingford’s sham biotech company. Victor was surprised to see an unmarked white passenger van with tinted windows backed up to the loading dock.

“We’ll go in together,” said Hanran. Four guys got out of the van. “Your job is to dismiss the Russians – or Chechnyans, whoever they are – nicely of course. They understand these things. No hard feelings. Our van will take them wherever they need to go, get them a rental car they can drive to Vancouver, whatever.

“Then we’ll all get back in the car and take you home so you can change your stinking clothes. And while you’re taking a hot shower, think of all the pluses. You’re no longer a drug-selling felon, just an innocent man who has no idea what the tenants are doing in the basement of your building. Best of all, you’re still alive and you’ll want to think hard about how to stay that way. You know the Swiss got our two guys on the ‘death boat,’ right, but you might just wonder who killed Carl Barclay.”

Chapter 45, Kidnapped

Monday June 30, 2 p.m.

              “OK, Eric, I’m sure I’ve made a mistake agreeing to see you guys on an hour’s notice but what the hell, it’s not like I have a caseload or anything. What brings you two bad pennies back this time?” Harms leaned back in his chair and put his feet on the desk. On the wall behind him were a half dozen framed certificates and awards, pictures of him with a former chief and two mayors.

              Falconer led off: “Danny is pretty sure he saw Victor Wallingford kidnapped this morning.”

              “I did. Two guys got him into a Town Car in front of his house. There was another man in a white van, too. I didn’t get a good look at him, though.”

              Harms raised his arms to say stop. “Danny, Danny, slow down!”

“OK. Sorry.”

“You know Wallingford showed up at his office this afternoon, a few hours late is all, right?”

              “Yeah, we do,” Falconer admitted, chagrinned. “We checked. And apparently SPD checked, too. What’s that all about?”

              “We tend to know where he is . . . in general,” Harms said, deliberately sounding as vague as he could.

              “‘In general?’ What’s that supposed to mean, Bobby?”

              “It means we do.”

              “Some of the time, anyway,” said Falconer. “Unless you’re doing what you said you weren’t doing last time we talked, surveillance on a prominent citizen.”

              “No comment,” said Harms.

              “See any cops around this morning, Danny?” Falconer asked.

              “No. Just Wallingford and those guys.”

              “And I suppose you’re always out there in Laurelhurst in the morning roller blading or skateboarding or whatever it is you do on the way from West Seattle where you live to your offices in Ballard,” Harms snapped.

              Falconer thought he’d rarely seen Harms do bad cop like this. He spoke before Danny could: “So now you can crap on us for ‘risking the integrity of a police investigation.’”

              Harms anger was visible. He leaned forward with his elbows on the desk, ready to lash out.

              “Actually, I ride my bike,” said Danny.

              Harms just laughed. “OK, you guys, let’s get to the point without bitching at each other. I apologize . . . somewhat.” He smiled, a little, showing a thin line of his famous very white teeth.

              “This is the point.” From his shirt pocket Falconer unfolded a copy of the sketch made of Hanran and set it on the desk facing the lieutenant.

              “That’s the guy I saw get in the car with Wallingford. He might have forced him in, I couldn’t tell. Then this guy’s driver drove Wallingford’s Rolls down the driveway, got back in the Town Car and they drove off.” Danny paused and then, grinning added, “On my skateboard I couldn’t keep up and lost them after a couple blocks.”

              There was general laughter. Harms smiled, turning on the full wattage of his whitened teeth. Falconer relaxed.

              “OK, we haven’t been covering Wallingford at his house every day. Staff demands, emergency responses. You know the drill. So, Danny, your identification of this Hanran guy accompanying – or kidnapping, as you said – Victor Wallingford is a real step forward, but we still don’t know what it means. I’ve got to meet with my boss before we decide what to do. You know the options: keep watching or bring Wallingford in. Maybe just try to question him in his office. He’ll have his lawyers there in any case. I don’t know what we’ll decide. So thanks.” Long pause. Harms smiled broadly. “But in the future don’t do anything that would ‘compromise an official police investigation.’ Please.”

              “Nothing worse than usual.”

              “Shit, Eric. Cut the agro. Keep me in the dark.” Harms shook his head in helpless frustration. It was like dealing with the kids. “One more thing. Danny, do you think you can help come up with a sketch of the driver you saw.”

              “Yes and no, sir. I could go through the motions, but the guy had the same beard as Hanran and I don’t think I could do anything but give you a clone of the drawing you’ve already got.”

              “Fair enough. Now get outta here, both of you.”

At the door, Falconer looked back:  “Be great to know where they went, wouldn’t it?”

“Thanks, oh master of understatement. Sometimes you make my day, sometimes you wreck it – all in the same 20 minutes. Get out.”

Chapter 46, Pizza

Wednesday, July 2, 2 p.m.

              “Michelle and the kid are having a good time, riding bikes on the waterfront trail in Myrtle Edwards Park and walking up to the Pike Place Market, being tourists, but Manuel is bored and Michelle is a little pissed. She took vacation days for this and says it’s no fun just sitting around waiting for whatever when they don’t even know why they’re here.” Theresa and Falconer were on the deck outside his office catching up over takeout pizza from one of the Ballard Avenue places.

              “Riding bikes?”

              “Yeah.”

“Lucky it’s not raining.”

“True. Right after they arrived yesterday a bike shop delivered two bikes for them, presumably from the benefactor. Arranged by Mundy, I’d guess.”

              “Do you think they’re being watched?”

              “Sorry, Eric. No way to tell.”

              “Let’s hope not. Assuming the bad guys are confident no one knows . . .” Falconer let his thought trail off.

              “I like Michelle and she trusts me. She finds me a great contrast to that secretive turd Mundy. Her words.”

              “But you haven’t told her who we’re bringing by tonight?”

              “No. I haven’t even told her anything’s happening. I didn’t want anything to slip out to Mundy in case he comes by, which he did once they’d arrived, yesterday after work. Didn’t stay long. This morning I followed her into the ladies after breakfast in the restaurant, gave her a bit of a pep talk. She needed it.”

              “Theresa, you’re wonderful.” Falconer took a bite. Theresa waited for more. “Your relationship with Michelle has really made this work.”

              “Thanks.” Matter-of-fact. Not effusive. Thinking: “What about my relationship with you? Am I wonderful to you?” Sometimes she thought the way they’d started out back at the paper, as mentor and pupil – or maybe it was as devotee to the great man, the Pulitzer Prize winner – had locked them into roles that were hard to escape. And, she had to admit, Falconer was just not an emotive kind of guy, more 19th than 21st century.

              “OK, here’s how it’s supposed to work.”

“You’re talking with your mouth full.”

“Sorry. Anyway, the governor and Richard Collins are meeting me at seven for dinner at Shiro’s up on Second. At the latest, you need to be with Michelle and the boy in their room by 8:30, assuming it’s all clear. If Mundy or anyone else has shown up, we call it off and wait until he, she or it leaves. The Collinses are prepared to wait as long as it takes. This is maybe the biggest thing for them since the birth of their own kids.”

              “Yeah, maybe. I know it’s hard to overstate. But think about Michelle. She’s been aching for her real mom – and dad – for her whole adult life. Manuel has never known grandparents. They’re the ones whose hearts will burst.” There were tears in her eyes.

              “This is what makes you so wonderful, Theresa.” Falconer took her hand and after a moment let go. Theresa just looked at the remains of the pizza in the box. Eric looked at some gulls circling the bay. He broke the silence: “What’s the signal?”

              “I call her cell. If it’s all clear she answers. If she sends it to voice mail twice, the bad guys are there or expected. All clear later, then she calls me back, I go to her room wait with her.”

              “OK. I’m driving Mo and Richard to the Edgewater in the Audi so their arrival, we hope, won’t be noticed. They’re coming up to the room by themselves so I can stay in the lobby and watch for Mundy in case he surprises us. Thank you, Internet, for his picture so we know what he looks like. Danny will be wandering around, too.”

              “I’m frightened, Eric. It will be so emotional. What if it just goes wrong, Michelle turns resentful? What if they don’t hit it off? Richard says ‘Nice meeting you, maybe you can visit us in Olympia some time?’ The guy can be kind of cold.”

              “Yeah, that worries me too. But you’ll be there to help them through the rough spots, if any. I know you can do it.”

              “Well, it is me and not you holding their hands.”

              “I couldn’t do it, could I? Wouldn’t even be helpful, unable to say the right thing. I’d be in a corner with a drink in my hand.”

              “No, you’d be staring out the window looking at the seagulls.”

              “Yeah, OK, I would. Same thing. And I know you want more from me than that and I’m working on it.”

              “Ahh. Here we are talking about ourselves, though maybe a little obliquely, when it’s really other people, our clients, if you will, for whom everything is at stake.”

              “We’re helping, I think.”

              Theresa reached for her ringing cell phone. Falconer moved away to see if there was any warm coffee left from the morning. What there was he put in the microwave.

              “Yes!”

              Falconer turned around to see Theresa, fist in the air, grinning. “Yes! We’re good to go. Mundy just called Michelle and told her he’s taking them to lunch at the top of the Space Needle tomorrow and on Friday – the Fourth –they should dress for a picnic and be ready at 10. We’re clear for tonight!”

              “And on the Fourth,” added Falconer. “I think we know what picnic they’re talking about. They – and whoever they are I think we’re about to find out – they brought Michelle and Manuel up here to confront Governor Collins with the unwanted child of her unwed youth. Almost certainly they’re planning to do it at the Republican Party Fourth of July picnic on Vashon Island.”

              “Nice touch. On the spot that’ll kill off a few of the bigger conservative donors.”

              “That seems to be just what the governor’s enemies want. But unless Sonny McCracken’s behind it – and I really doubt that, I’ve known him since you and I were reporters and he’s not a dirty tricks kind of guy – I can’t make any political sense of this. I think it’s personal, a vendetta of some kind to ruin her career. Add the lowlifes dropping heavy drugs on a party her son’s at and the trouble at the prison. The guys who started it were paid to cause trouble. Paid! Paid to start a fight in prison! Or their relatives on the outside were paid. We know that. And two of the poor sons-a-bitches got themselves killed.”

“God, Eric, doesn’t that make whoever set than in motion some kind of accessory in their deaths, responsible in some way?”

“I don’t really know but that’s a question we can raise in Falconerblog. It looks like there are some really nasty parts to this story. For now, though, all these things make Governor Collins look bad and somebody’s gone to a lot of trouble to make it all happen.”

              “Same guy who hired Mundy?”

              “Be fun to prove it,” said Falconer. “But the druggie who played a leading role claimed he didn’t know who hired him. Besides, he’s dead. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”

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