terry.liittschwager@gmail.com

[previous chapter]    [next chapter]

CHAPTER 9


LEABURG — Wednesday 07:30

Duncan awoke knowing that by now someone might be watching the house. Possibly they were observing him even as he lay in bed. The bedroom had a large picture window overlooking a deck. The window had pleated shades, but Duncan couldn't recall the last time they had been drawn. It was pointless; there were no neighbors.

Beyond the deck lay the forest. A man in camouflage motionless in the undergrowth would be impossible to see even for Duncan, who enjoyed an advantage in spotting camouflaged objects by virtue of his red-green color blindness. He thought of looking out the window and waving, or better yet giving possible observers the finger ... or mooning them, but he did nothing, and he didn't let down the blinds. For now he would give the impression of being unaware.

He wanted to get in a good run before tackling the unpleasant tasks that had to be done. Hard physical activity restored his perspective, but his running clothes and shoes were in the main bedroom, his and Ellie's bedroom. He knew exactly where they were. He could be in and out in two seconds, three at the most, but he decided not to hurry. It was time, past time, to confront his emotions.

Duncan walked the length of the house, climbed the stairs, and entered their bedroom. He eyes went unbidden to Ellie's side of the bed. Setting his jaw, he forced his attention to the open closet, found his running shorts and slipped them on. He sat on the bed to put on the shoes. When he straightened up from tying them, there were tears in his eyes. Standing, he went around the end of the bed to Ellie's side and sat down as though she were there, as he had done so many times, as she had been so many times. He put his right hand on her pillow, where his hand always came to rest after caressing her head. He knew she had always loved that.

“Damn it, Ellie, I've got to stop crying! I'm going to run now. When I get back, I will not do this again. I will not talk to a pillow. I will not cry. But I will, somehow, some way, bring a full measure of justice out of this. I will not allow your death to be without meaning.”


Duncan ran his regular four-mile route ... and then he ran it again. When his knees began to hurt, he smiled grimly. When his lungs began burning, he breathed more deeply and increased the pace ... and the pain. Get used to it, body, there's been a sea change.


EUGENE — Wednesday 14:00 local

Larry slept six hours. The hotel room's insulated walls had kept it quiet. Thick curtains overlapped the window edges to keep it dark. He had slept well.

After showering, he hooked his laptop computer into the phone system. Larry subscribed to four Internet Service Providers that provided both national and international access, used a number of different e-mail addresses, and bounced his e-mail off as many anonymous servers as he felt was necessary for whatever task was at hand. His software, some of it written by himself, kept all this straight, made the required calls automatically, and downloaded all waiting messages. As usual, there were several. He scanned the message headers, found the one he wanted and brought it up.

The screen displayed the gibberish of an encrypted file. Larry clicked the Decrypt icon. A small input window popped up, asking for a pass phrase. He keyed in the phrase. Plaintext replaced the gibberish.

This one was easy. You could have done it yourself. I feel guilty charging you. However, greedy individual that I am, I'll expect your remittance in the usual amount and manner.

Your man is Gregory Lewis Ballentine, white male Caucasian, unmarried (currently - he's got two ex's, and he has his secretary over a couple nights, all night, each week), 5'7“, 160, d.o.b. 3/8/37, balding gray hair, blue eyes. Lives in a townhouse in Georgetown, 792 Fifth. He's head of internal security for the DEA. His official title is Chief of the Office of Professional Responsibility. Came to the drug business in '72 when Nixon set up ODALE. Previously he was CIA and on a fast track to upper management until somebody exposed the Company's drug-running operation in Laos. They needed a scapegoat and he took the fall.

Larry stopped reading. He remembered. Ballentine had been in a different section than he, part of a blacker than black operation. But Duncan had worked with the man on that — saving his ass a couple times—but had finally blown the operation when the CIA started running heroin on the planes.


Larry took forty-five minutes to compose his report to Duncan. He appended the information on Ballentine, encrypted the file, and brought up a communications program. Retrieving the phone number for Duncan's computer, he entered it into the program's dialing directory and gave the command to call the number. Larry's modem speaker was on; he heard the dial tone, the dialing signals, and the single ring before Duncan's modem answered.

The two modems synchronized and negotiated line speed with their respective squeals, the speaker turned off, and the remote computer sent a menu that included pressing U for upload. He pressed the U key and was shown a file transfer protocol selection list from Duncan's machine. When he selected ZMODEM, the remote machine responded with a request to start the transfer. He entered the send command, supplying the name of the encrypted file. The software on each end verified the protocol match and the transmission began.

The line quality was good for forty words a second; transmission took twenty-five seconds.


A knock came at the door while Larry was stowing his computer. He glanced at his watch and knew it would be Richard, showing up at the appointed time.

“Who is it?” Larry asked through the unopened door, obeying habit patterns that had kept him out of trouble in the past.

“Richard, and I'm friendly.”

Had he omitted those last words, Larry would have answered the door with gun in hand.


LEABURG — Wednesday 15:30

Judy Batteman, his attorney's spouse, had volunteered to notify Duncan's friends of the gathering Sunday afternoon in memory of his wife and father. Duncan was at his PC editing a list of family friends for her when the telephone line to the machine's modem went off—hook. Earlier he had enabled the modem speaker, and he, too, heard the two modems negotiate. A short, boxed message appeared on the screen notifying him of incoming data. He dismissed the message and continued his editing.

Less than a minute later another boxed message notified him the sending computer had hung up. Nearly done with Judy's calling list, he cleared the message, finished his editing, and sent the list to the printer before displaying a log of the communications activity. The log had recorded the name of the incoming file as REPORT01.PGP. The last three characters of the name identified the type of encryption as that supplied to him by Larry and Richard. Exiting the communications software, he called up the encryption program and gave it the ciphertext filename and a pass phrase. Seconds later, a plaintext display of the message appeared on the screen. Duncan read the file and immediately called Bill Batteman. Batteman's secretary answered, putting Duncan through immediately.

“Bill, we need to meet.”

“I agree. I'm afraid I've got some more bad news. The DEA has seized your father's property under the civil forfeiture laws. I've started drawing up the papers to fight it, but it's going to be tough. Under civil forfeiture all the government has to show is the possibility the property was obtained with illegal funds or used in an illegal operation. The burden of proof to show otherwise lies with the owner, in this case your father's estate with you as executor. In other words, you're guilty until you prove your innocence, and if the court believes they found that cocaine there, we don't have a chance.”

“Bill, it's only property; it's insignificant compared to what's already been lost. But I don't think they'll pursue the seizure. I can prove there was a cover-up. The question is, is the evidence I have admissible, and will it prove a case in court.”


MCKENZIE BRIDGE — Wednesday 17:00

On the way to the hot springs, Larry and Richard stopped at the McKenzie Bridge General Store. They were the only customers, and the storekeeper watched them closely, eyeing their worn clothing and sockless, sandal clad feet. People who dressed like them and arriving in a van were usually hippies headed for the hot springs, and he had lost a lot of merchandise to the light fingers of those of that ilk.

As he watched them, he began to think they might be queer as well. But when they put several dollars worth of deli items on the counter, he began to feel better about them. Then, when the older one started looking at the store's overpriced fishing rods and solicited fishing advice from him, he was convinced they were all right. When they bought two fishing rods and other basic fishing equipment, he knew them to be fine people and willingly gave them directions to the hot springs, and, yes, there was a young fellow named Maynard that occasionally shopped in the store. He had heard Maynard camped out in the hot springs area.


On the map it was five miles along the main highway from McKenzie Bridge to a secondary road and then another six to the hot springs. A couple and their dog, the man middle-aged and the woman younger, were hitchhiking past the turn onto the secondary road. Larry told Richard to pull over and went to the back to move and cover equipment. He opened the van's side door as soon as the vehicle stopped.

“You headed to the hot springs?” Larry asked when the couple reached the van.

“Yeah, thanks for stopping,” the man replied.

“No problem. Climb in. No seats back here, and it'll be cramped but I guess it isn't far. We've never been there before. That's Peter up front; I'm Alan.” Larry used their standard aliases.

“I'm Ted, this is Julie.” Pleasantries exchanged, the couple and dog piled in. Larry's nose told him all three needed a bath.

“You come to the hot springs often?” Larry asked as Richard started the van moving.

“Every few days. We're camped off the highway. We go in to clean up.” The man did the talking.

“Seems like it would be easier to camp at the hot springs.”

“Not for us, Julie has a part time job in town. There's no bus service off this road, and you can't depend on getting a ride. Besides, if you get caught within two miles of the springs at night, it's a hundred dollar fine.”

“Why's that?”

“It's a Forest Service rule. Supposed to stop drug usage at the springs.”

“Does it ... stop it, I mean?”

“Are you kidding? But you have to be careful. There's people watching.”

“People watching?”

“Yeah, the Forest Service and the DEA watch the place, and sometimes the Sheriff's helicopter comes in close.”

“They're using a helicopter?”

“Yeah, a lot of the loggers grow pot in the woods. The Sheriff uses the helicopter to spot the pot, and then they call in the troops ... just like Nam except that now the other side has the choppers.” A forlorn look came over the man, giving the impression he was through speaking. The woman silently slid her hand onto his leg.

Larry let a mile go by before speaking again. He addressed himself to Richard, but loudly enough for his voice to carry to the back. “You know, come to think of it, the fellow that told us about these springs said something about watching out for a narco snitch.” Larry turned to the back. “Have you ever heard of a snitch up here?”

The man was lost in his thoughts. When he didn't answer the woman replied. “There's a young man who often watches the springs, especially in the evening. I believe him to be harmless, but many have said he speaks regularly with the drug enforcement authorities.” The woman's diction was excellent.

“Why would he watch if he's harmless?”

“I believe it to be a matter of sexual gratification. Most of the bathers are nude. He is a voyeur.”

“That doesn't bother you?”

“It harms no one.”

“It's an invasion of privacy.”

“Yes, for those unaware of his presence. But it appears his purpose does not include hurting anyone.”

“Unless he's a snitch.”

The woman replied with a consenting shrug. Larry let it rest for a moment before continuing.

“Is he likely to be there this evening?”

The woman smiled, apparently amused by what she was about to say. “You only know he is there when you see him, and he only comes near enough to be seen if he is compelled to closely observe what is happening.”

Larry spent the rest of the drive planning. The last three miles of the road snaked along the south side of Cougar Reservoir, the water to the left, a major ridge system to the right. The van arrived at the hot springs parking lot with two hours of daylight remaining, but, except for the extreme eastern portion of the lot, the high, steep terrain to the west already blocked direct sunlight. A group of counter-culture types sat there in the sun, one of them strumming a guitar. A dozen cars were in the lot.

Larry exited the van and opened the side door. Their riders got out, the dog first.

The man started talking again. “Thanks for the ride. Say, you fellows wouldn't happen to have any herbs, would you?”

Larry wondered if the use of the word herbs rather than pot or grass would keep the man out of jail if he asked the same question of a police officer. “No, sorry, we're not into that.”

“No problem. I can probably get some over there,” he said and moved uncertainly toward the gathering in the sun. The woman started to follow but was stopped by Larry's voice.

“Ma'am, may I speak to you for a moment?” She turned and faced him.

“It's not often I pick up a hitchhiker with the command of the English language that you enjoy.”

“I have a Master's in English.”

“I see ... life can be difficult. I'm wondering if you could help us. Monday night an old gentleman and a young woman were killed at McKenzie Bridge. We believe the hot springs voyeur can shed some light on what happened. It would help if he could be made to reveal his position, or better yet if he could be enticed down to the springs. If, as it gets dark and others have left, he could find the activity in the springs ... compelling.”

The woman contemplated Larry, sadly.

“I was thinking four hundred dollars,” Larry continued. “That'd still leave a couple hundred even if you get fined for being here after dark. You get the money now and you keep it even if he doesn't show.”

“You obviously have a great need to converse with this individual to risk that much money. May I ask by whom you are employed?”

“We're private investigators, ma'am. We work for the man whose wife and father were killed. I can show you identification if you like.”

“I don't need to see identification, just the color of your money. And it would help if you provided me with another one hundred dollars for expenses. He'll want to leave as the light fades.” She nodded her head toward her companion. “The enticement of another lid will keep him in place.”

Larry counted out five one hundred-dollar bills.


“You think this will work?” Richard said as they started up the trail to the springs.

“It's worth a try. It'll save time and give us a crack at something more than talking with him. If we can videotape him spying on a naked couple, hopefully fucking, Duncan will have another negotiating tool. Think of the reaction. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the trusted DEA informant whose accusation was considered grounds for killing a decorated World War II hero and a celebrated writer of children's books. Besides, we can use the threat of exposure to manipulate him.”

“I suppose this means I have to lug the batteries?” Richard referred to the battery packs necessary to run the infrared lights. The lights drew a lot of current; the packs were large and heavy.

“Of course.”

“You know, you're a real asshole.”

“Why, because I make you lug the batteries or because of what I want to do to this fellow?”

“Both.”


Larry and Richard surveyed the springs for ten minutes. They did not strip and enter the water. Those in the pools, if they bothered to think about it, assumed they were two more single men interested only in ogling the women.

When they returned to the van, the woman and her companion were still with the group listening to the guitar player. When Richard started the engine, the woman detached herself from the group and walked purposely toward Larry's side of the vehicle. He gave her a quizzical look, thinking she had either decided not to cooperate or wanted more money.

“When I bought the lid, the seller cautioned me that, in his words, the narco freak is up there today. I thought you might appreciate knowing.”

“Thank you ... your friend, will he be all right?” Larry's concern for the woman's companion was genuine.

“Yes, my husband will be fine.” She gracefully accepted the concern and stressed the word husband. “Will it be obvious at some point that you and your associate are at the springs?”

“No. Our intention once we locate our man is to follow him to wherever he stays. We'll talk to him there.”

“Following him in the dark will be difficult.”

“We have nightscopes, and we've had lots of practice. The forest floor is damp; that'll make for quiet walking. It won't be a problem.”

“So you'll be able to see us in the pool?” she said, breaking eye contact, turning her eyes downward.

“That's not where our attention will be.”

“No matter.” She lifted her eyes and again looked directly at Larry with the same amused smile he had seen earlier. “I'm something of an exhibitionist.”


Richard stopped the van one half mile beyond the parking lot. Both men quickly unloaded what they needed into the brush alongside the road. Richard reentered the van and drove on, leaving Larry to prepare equipment.

The first side road Richard encountered was a graveled logging road, but he was not yet two miles from the hot springs parking area. At three and one half miles he turned onto another graveled logging road and continued on for several hundred yards until he found an area where terrain and tree spacing would permit passage of the van without leaving undue evidence. Stopping, he shifted into four-wheel drive, left the road, and drove into the trees. When out of sight of the road, he turned the van around so that no backing would be required when he left.

He removed three items from the interior of the van, a mountain bike, the camouflage netting that best matched the environment, and a hand-held GPS receiver. Larry already had the other receiver. Richard locked the van, set its security system, and armed its locator beacon. Checking the GPS unit to ensure signal acquisition, he punched the memory button to store his present position. He would be able to return to this place in total darkness.

After draping the van with camouflage netting, he erased the tracks made when it left the road, picked up the bike and walked through the forest paralleling the roadway for three hundred yards. Only then did he set the bike down on the road and start for Larry's position.

terry.liittschwager@gmail.com

[previous chapter]    [next chapter]