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PRIDE'S PUGET SOUND
A John Pride/Misty Jackson Novel
By Robert Alex Bell
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Robert Alexander Bell Phillips
All rights reserved.
"Of all the fire mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest."
Twelve hours is normally a short period of time and it is hard to believe that twelve hours can change one's life as much as mine had been changed. Just yesterday I had been relaxing on the deck with a new Jack Whyte novel, nursing a cold Rickard's Red beer, when my phone rang. I had spent a thoroughly enjoyable morning on my Hobie Cat sailboat trying some new maneuvers around the island and planning how to win the annual sailboat race, to be held in a few days. This was the end of July, normally the two-week period when I try to relax at my cottage. I turn off the phone and ignore work but I had been expecting a call from Misty. Over the years I had learned that when Misty wants to get you, you better be available.
It wasn't the love of my love. It wasn't even Misty.
"John, you are going to want to see this personally. I need you to fly into Seattle immediately and meet with Blake Kingsley. He will fill you in and take you to the lab." I recognized the voice as belonging to Francis Letourneau from the Seattle office of Computer Law Enforcement of Washington (CLEW). CLEW is a new organization, which includes the Washington State Attorney General's Office, U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI, Washington State Patrol, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
I had been doing some forensic accounting work on exciting and complicated fraud cases during the past four years. My expertise was investment fraud and I usually got involved long after the dust had settled and the perpetrators had fled. It was rare that I got to see the scene of the crime until someone complained they had lost their retirement nest egg or a financier turned out to be a low class swindler.
"I didn't know you had a lab in the Seattle area, Francis," I mentioned.
"You are going to be up at the University of Washington's laboratory. They have been doing some genetically modified organic research on soybeans and there has been an accident, or I should say terrorist action," said Francis. "We think your skills may be of benefit in investigating the cause and Blake needs you today."
"You have my attention, I will be there within the hour. Tell Blake to expect me."
Normally I receive a full dossier on upcoming projects with all the financial data and a complete rundown on the players. This call had my interest and without waiting I grabbed my computer, threw some clothes into my flight bag and headed down to the dock. Before leaving I had already checked Freedom's water and food dishes. He was used to staying on guard on the island for the day and if I was away for longer the neighbors on the other side of the island would drop by and look after him. It gave me some sense of security to know he would be on hand to greet all guests and discourage curious passersby. He's a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, sometimes called a toller, and had been with me since the accident. One of the few true Canadian breeds—he was an excellent water dog.
Two years since the accident. My mind drifted back to a time of turmoil and pain. What was I thinking? Oh yes, Freedom had been with me for the past two years. Since just after the time that had brought me pain and then more pain. Freedom was the one thing that brought me back into the workplace of international wire transfers, unbelievable investment returns and broken financial promises. It was hard to believe that an animal and other peoples' broken dreams could bring stability into one's life.
I did a quick walk around my yellow turbo Beaver floatplane checking all surfaces and testing the fuel for water, called for the weather and prepared for takeoff. Most people around here are weekend or summer residents who come over on the ferry, but I live here year round and when necessary have a quick mode of transport to get into Seattle or north to Vancouver. Everything was ready and within minutes I was in the air, high over the Puget Sound islands on the way to Seattle.
My Beaver floatplane was manufactured by de Havilland Canada and cruises at 157 mph with a range of six hundred miles. It gives me the ability to move quickly and has been of use to me on several cases when I had been able to fly into remote areas and see people who were difficult to arrange to meet in the city.
I could see the Cascade Mountains and was flying almost directly towards Mount Rainier with Mount Baker to the northeast. It was a bright sunny day, a relief from the past few weeks of rain and low lying fog. I imagined the orcas and salmon below and quickly thought about the coming weeks, which would be filled with sailing and fishing.
My home in the Puget Sound is part of what is known as the Island Region, which includes the islands of Whidbey, Fidalgo, Camano and the rest of the San Juan Islands. Its many islets are what I really call home. The ones away from the multitude of tourists who have started to change the charm of the islands. Now the visitors look for gift shops and quaint restaurants. You will find neither on Lumsden Island, one of those almost forgotten islets scattered across the Sound.
My mind was drifting. Soon, I would have to concentrate on the new business.
Blake met me at the harbor pier and within minutes I was settled into his Jeep headed for the university campus, northbound on I-5. On the way he filled me in on what we were doing, but nothing would have prepared me for what I was to go through the next day. The lab would just be the start of my week.
"This is an unusual case, John. It has all the makings of one that will take us out of the country for answers to find the culprits. It appears to be more than a random case of terrorism by a small group against big corporations."
"What happened? All I know from Francis is that the university lab had an accident and people were injured and some killed," I questioned him.
"It was definitely not an accident."
"Francis mentioned something about a terrorist action. What kind of terrorist group targets a university in the Pacific Northwest? It is not as if there are any nuclear reactors being built here. The last time I remember any public demonstration was when the federal government considered removing the nuclear powered submarines. The navy has always been good for this region," I stated.
"You are right about the navy's image but this has to do with big business and in particular big corporate agriculture. The university has been involved with genetically modified organism research and it has attracted the attention of some nasty internationally-based characters," Blake explained.
"So, how do I fit in? It sounds like a job for your anti-terrorist squad, not a fancy accountant."
"Your job is to find them. We'll bring them to justice. Our preliminary check of the terrorist database in Arlington has drawn a blank, not even a shadow of who they might be. Although they appear to have a public image in Europe, we are not able to get a handle on the main players."
"I am still puzzled by my selection." I tried to get more information from Blake.
It was noon by the time we arrived and it was quiet–almost too quiet on the campus. I expected to see a scene out of a crime mystery book or the 11 o'clock news with yellow tape and police cars and sirens. It was quiet. It had an unreal feel to it. I had been told that there had been a big accident in the agricultural lab with several people killed and a few others injured. I expected my job would be restricted to reviewing and making copies of associated financial computer files.
We walked down a long sterile hallway with offices on either side. There were nameplates on all the offices but it reminded me of a prison. All the doors were closed tightly and it appeared as if they could be opened on sliding tracks. Each office had a small window from the hall but all were covered with notices or cartoons. I could not see into any of the offices and assumed because it was July many of the professors and lecturers would be away from the campus. We turned to the left and although I asked Blake several questions, he remained silent and just pointed ahead as if all would be answered as we moved forward.
Three more turns into corridors that got smaller and smaller until the last one was so narrow that it could have made me claustrophobic if I had to use it regularly. Here, breaking the silence were several people talking quietly as if to raise their voices would disturb whatever evils had already been loosed. Blake motioned to the two officers at the lab door and they moved aside looking as if they were relieved to see someone else in charge. One look in the lab was enough to make me happy I had not had a large lunch.
There would be no ambulances taking any of these workers away for medical assistance. Any help they needed had come and gone and it was left to the experts to explain what had happened. I could see that the coroner and photographer were busy in the far northeast area of the lab and we moved to the left.
"Why am I here?" I asked Blake. "You don't need me for this. I don't know who you need, but it isn't me."
"Actually, we think you might be the only one who can stop this from happening again," Blake replied. "You have a successful history of tracking down people through their computer trails and that is all we have to go on. This is only the start. We have a manifesto with demands and you may be able to help us stop them before they go to their next step. They have involved several banks and investment houses in their plan of terror and it appears as if your experience with the Internet Crime Section will be of bearing here."
It was hard to tell what color the walls had been. They now had an almost abstract splattering of human blood and brain material. Nothing can prepare one for the first time that you see the end of a human life and although I had been involved with crime fighting agencies for over ten years, this was the first crime scene I had visited with dead victims.
I think I always thought of dead people the way they are usually portrayed in novels, a white chalk line or a body, lifeless with some blood or perhaps a bullet hole. This was not at all like that.
It looked like the lab had been busy with people all over the room. It was a relatively large room with windows overlooking the ocean and new long lab tables with experimental equipment. At least I think they were new, it was hard to see because it looked like a cyclone had hit. Blake had explained the process—the experimental machine, which had been booked for use in the genetically modified organic (GMO) experiments, was tampered with and two things had happened. The first was the explosion, which ripped through the lab, had flung all the exposed technicians against the west wall. The second thing that happened was the technicians who were protected from the force of the initial explosion were then slashed to pieces by metal shards which tore though the wood and metal tables as easily as through human flesh and bones. One minute was all I needed to come to the conclusion that this case was going to move faster than the one I was presently working on with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
"There were twenty three people in the lab when the explosion occurred," Blake explained. "Of those, thirteen were killed outright with another two dying on the way to the university hospital. The remaining eight technicians were all injured; luckily only two of them appear to have serious injuries."
I was drawn to a sight, which was to stay with me for many months, and in fact woke me up several times in the coming week. In the middle of the lab there was a circular table with one technician sitting in what used to be a chair. I was told later that this was the senior technician who had been responsible for running the experiments. He had been hit from two directions – directly from the explosion and from what appeared to be a more localized explosion under the desk. It was the under the desk explosion which caused the most damage to him. Some sort of timed explosion had gone off and what looked like more than a thousand pens had been propelled upward. The pens passed though and some simply pierced the technician, and his body was now riddled with over a hundred pens.
I reached down and picked up one of the pens, which hadn't hit the technician. It was a low quality pen, the type you might see any day with a cheaply engraved corporate name. Humans for Untouched and Unmodified Foods – Milan.
"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."
Henry David Thoreau "Walden" 1854
"An ecosystem, you can always intervene and change something in it, but there's no way of knowing what all the downstream effects will be or how it might affect the environment. We have such a miserably poor understanding of how the organism develops from its DNA that I would be surprised if we don't get one rude shock after another."
Professor Richard Lewontin Professor of Genetics, Harvard University
Two very different sets of victims and two very different types of cases. Occasionally I lecture at the University of Washington and recently I have been doing an interdisciplinary spring class at the University of British Columbia for their law and accounting faculties. This year several Vancouver RCMP officers attended the class as part of a Canada-wide effort to stop white-collar crime before it attracted any more Internet interest. As a direct result I became involved in an ongoing sting operation to shut down corrupt Internet Websites promoting online personal ads.
The case involved a shell company, which started advertising cheap travel holidays for singles with a promise of meeting other interesting and interested singles. I didn't get involved until over $15 million had been swindled. It looked as if most of the money had already been spent and the victims would receive little if anything in compensation. We were still trying to track down the principals involved and stop the fraud.
But the terrorist bombing would clearly have the higher priority.
"We need to get some initial answers within hours," Blake said. "If it is alright with you I would like you to take a look at some of the material we have compiled in the last few hours."
We walked next door to what I assumed was the administrative office for the lab.
Seated in a leather chair behind a large wooden desk was a man who appeared to have lost hope. He was staring at an empty computer screen and it was obvious that he was distraught. Seated at a chair over to the right was another federal agent.
"John, I would like you to work with Dr. Frank Hillier," said Blake. "Frank is the Executive Director of the GMO Research Project and can give you the background on our situation."
No one made any move to introduce the second man. He made no motion to get up or introduce himself.
I waited for Frank to make some sign of recognition or movement towards the two of us, but he remained seated and focused on his thoughts. Finally he made eye contact and said, "This is all my fault. If I had just paid attention to their threats none of this would have happened."
"Please tell me what you know and I'll try to help you," I offered.
Blake added, "John is a special consultant whom the government calls upon when we get highly technical computer links to crimes. Please tell him what you told me earlier."
"I have been working on GMO research for over ten years and am just at the point where we are garnering significant financial interest from several large multinational agricultural companies," Frank started. "We have been able to attract several well known researchers from the University of Missouri and the University of California. Not only have we been able to develop several weed resistant grain varieties but we are also on the threshold of announcing a breakthrough in drought resistant corn. Two months ago one of our researchers, Geoff Dodson, was approached in Milan at an Agricultural Conference. This was after a paper he had presented on the benefits of GMO foods and how third world countries could increase crop yields by embracing the new technology. It appears this individual was a member of a little known group called Humans for Untouched and Unmodified Foods."
"Geoff spent several minutes trying to explain to him that the history of humans has also been the history of food production. How with new techniques of cultivating and handling grain and other foodstuffs, man was able to move from an agricultural society to a technological society. How with new varieties of grains we are able to produce more and how we are winning the ongoing battle against disease and insect infestations with improved strains," continued Frank.
Excerpted from PRIDE'S PUGET SOUND by Robert Alex Bell. Copyright © 2013 Robert Alexander Bell Phillips. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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