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CHAPTER 16


EUGENE — Sunday 05:00

Greg Ballentine had set his alarm for five a.m., not wanting to disturb his superior in Washington before eight a.m. In a lengthy phone call, Greg gave the Director a detailed briefing and alerted him to Brian Killough's pending arrival with recordings of the internal investigation interviews. Greg then outlined his plan to enlist the aid of the CIA. That idea irritated the Director. He agreed only after Greg pointed out that the DEA would be seen not as asking for help but as aiding the intelligence agency in keeping its alleged drug connections from again being aired in public.

Greg felt good. He had gone to bed the previous night fatigued from a long, tedious day and with the nagging thought that Duncan would again frustrate him. But now he was rested and confident. The day's activities were to be a combination of business and pleasure. Guided by Baxter, he would visit the hot springs and then inspect Tom Harris's home ... and he would fish. Before climbing in the shower, he unpacked the fly rod he had put in his bag. It had been unused for over ten years. He was putting the rod together when there was a knock at the door. Greg wrapped a towel around himself and opened the door to the limit of its security chain.

“Mr. Ballentine, my name is Jim Castle. I understand you need some communications problems solved. Don French reached me last night in L. A. and asked me to come up.”

“I expected someone later in the day ... from Washington.”

“I chartered a plane. I'm a private contractor. It was felt that since this is a domestic operation ...” Castle trailed off, leaving the obvious unsaid. Neither man needed reminding that the CIA's charter prohibited operations within the United States.


LEABURG — Sunday 06:00

Changing the location of the gathering in memory of Elaine Harris and Tom Harris entailed a lot of effort, but those doing it were glad to do so. Duncan, after only a few hours sleep, crammed his van with food and furnishings and drove to his father's home, arriving as a deputy sheriff left. True to his word, Greg Ballentine had had the police line removed.

Duncan pulled up to the front of the house and parked alongside the Mercedes, Ellie's car, which had been parked there for a week. Duncan had a self-diagnosed peculiarity; he treated inanimate objects—especially machinery—as having a personality. They were worthy of respect and consideration if they did their job. He never talked to them, but he did think to them. Walking to the Mercedes, he laid a hand on the top, over the driver's door. It had waited patiently for its owner. Had anyone taken time to tell it she wouldn't be coming?

Duncan unloaded the contents of the van onto the front porch and drove to Dolores's home to tell her the day's gathering would be at his father's home. Though she remained somber, Duncan saw something akin to elation in her eyes.

The next stop, an hour and ten minutes drive downriver, was the funeral home. Unsure of his emotions, Duncan prepared himself as he drove. The physical remnants of human life, however battered, burnt, or blown up, had never bothered him, but he was about to pick up what remained of Ellie and of the man responsible for his own existence. This would be different.


At nine a.m. the funeral home's live-in custodian handed Duncan two small boxes, cubes eight inches on each side. Duncan assumed urns were inside, and carefully positioned the boxes side by side in the back of the van, such that they wouldn't slide around.

He started back upriver to his home. After a few miles, he became aware that he was driving as though he had two sleeping people in the back and didn't want to disturb them. He immediately pulled over. From childhood his father had taught him to beware of sentimentality, and he realized he had been allowing sentiment to affect him.

Duncan switched on the van's blinking hazard lights and went to the back. Each box was labeled with the deceased's name. He reached down and lifted the top off the box with his father's name ... and laughed.

“Dad, I don't know if you can hear me. You sure as hell aren't in this box; I know that. They put what's left of that aching body of yours in a plastic bag. Enough of this foolishness.”

Duncan lifted the clear plastic bag of ashes and small bone fragments out of the box and placed it on the front passenger seat. Next he popped the top off Ellie's box, and placed her remains alongside his father's. “Everybody rides up front ... so to speak.” Duncan continued the drive with a happy sadness. His father had been right, gods, ghosts and demons existed only in men's minds.


EUGENE — Sunday 09:45

Marshall Pressman parked outside the television station's offices and consulted his watch. It read nine forty-five. Pressman was early, and there were no other cars parked at the front of the building.

Still on Washington, D. C. time, he had awakened at his usual seven a.m. His mind told him it was Sunday, and Sunday was a golf day. Becoming fully conscious, he realized he was on the West Coast—there would be no golf today—and it was only four a.m. He tried to return to sleep without success.

Pressman was uncomfortable with the present state of affairs. Greg Ballentine was controlling him, and, worse, he had been degraded to the level of a field agent. Field agents were cowboys. Only with great effort could he conceal his dislike of them. Maybe the DEA should merge with the FBI. The cowboys would be gone; they didn't meet minimum FBI qualifications. The DEA would become a truly professional organization. His position was safe; few people knew more about U.S. drug law than he, especially as related to asset seizure.

And why did Ballentine want Tom Harris's house returned? Even with the Supreme Court's recent decisions eroding the DEA's seizure authority, the Harris assets were easy game. An informant had said he had seen cocaine on the premises. Hell, the DEA could put a man in jail on the word of a snitch. [REF1601] Seizing property on an informant's say so was a cinch. Obviously, Ballentine was afraid of Duncan Harris; the OPR chief had admitted as much.


At five a.m. , Pressman had given up trying to sleep, and at eight a.m. , an hour earlier than he previously planned, he called Kevin Brestle to request an off the record meeting. Brestle had been cautious, but finally agreed, requesting that his news director be present and that the meeting be held at the station. Pressman had no objection; he wouldn't be proposing anything illegal, not even unethical by his standards.


At nine fifty-five a.m. , a single car parked two spaces down from Pressman. Two men got out and looked questioningly at him, and he rolled down his window. Introductions were made, and all three entered the building and proceeded to the news director's office. After a few amenities, the DEA attorney spoke.

“First, I'd like to thank you for giving up such a beautiful Sunday morning to meet with me. America's war on drugs often requires sacrifices, some small and some large. I had a nine a. m. tee time today back home in Virginia, and those are hard to get,” Pressman chuckled. Kevin Brestle and his news director smiled politely. “In any event, I'm here to ask your cooperation in our internal investigation into the allegations reported by Mr. Brestle. It would be most helpful if we could find and talk to the individual who furnished him with the information he has used in his broacasts.”

“Mr. Pressman, we have a standard policy of not revealing our sources,” the news Director said. “And in this case, we don't even know who the source was. As Kevin reported on the air, the material was left anonymously in his apartment.”

“Tom Harris had a son, Duncan Harris. Do either of you know him?” Pressman continued.

“Counselor, let's not pussyfoot around,” Brestle jumped in. “I talked with Duncan Harris on the phone about your decision not to seize his father's home and then you came on the phone and verified that, so obviously you already know I'm acquainted with Duncan Harris. Previous to that phone conversation, he came to the hospital to tell me about the seizure. The hospital, by the way, that your people put me in by shooting me in the leg. That was the first time I ever laid eyes on Duncan Harris. Do I think he put the stuff in my apartment? I don't know, and I didn't ask him. It was a very short meeting. The seizure was all we talked about. Everything, everything I know about this has been reported on the air.” Brestle concluded his speech with a non-blinking stare at Pressman, who smiled kindly.

“My apologies for the wound you received at the hot springs. My purpose in being here has nothing to do with that regrettable incident.” Pressman's voice dripped with concern. “I assure you that anything we may agree on this morning will in no way adversely influence your position should you decide to file a civil suit for compensation for the harm caused you. In fact, should you decide to offer your cooperation, I believe the agency would mount only a minimal defense to such a suit.”

“So what is it you really want?” the news director asked.

“We wish to borrow the materials left in Mr. Brestle's apartment. They'll be sent to Washington for analysis. As you probably know, every VCR, every diskette drive, every printer, they all leave their own unique signatures. Through those signatures, we hope to trace whoever entered Mr. Brestle's apartment. The diskette is of particular interest; it may contain other files which will help us.”

“The diskette has only one file. It's a listing of DEA abuses of power, raids in which no drugs were found but where people were killed or hurt. There's quite a number of them. I'm thinking of developing a special report around that theme,” Brestle said, challenge in his voice.

Pressman looked at the floor a few moments before answering. “Obviously, the DEA has a public relations concern that wouldn't be well served by such a report. We hope you will bear in mind that we are engaged in a war, and in war, regrettably, civilians are sometimes hurt ... getting back to the diskette, there may have been other files which have been deleted or erased. When a file is deleted, all that happens is that its entry is removed from the diskette's directory; the file is still intact until it is overwritten. Even then, we have the means to recover information two or three overwrites deep.” Pressman hoped he had correctly parroted what he had been told by the agency's computer experts.

“It seems to me that if we give you the means to locate whoever left that material, that's tantamount to not protecting our sources,” the news director said.

“That is, of course, your decision,” Pressman agreed. “However, we're not after the source to prosecute him. We only want to talk to him to help find out if what he says is true. If we have bad agents, the public good is served by exposing them.”

“Would they be exposed?” Brestle said.

“What?”

“Would they be exposed? Would you acknowledge publicly that the DEA had, in effect, murdered two innocent people? Would you prosecute the agents? According to the information on the diskette, every time something like this has happened the DEA stonewalls. You only admit to a problem when forced.”

Pressman realized Brestle was interviewing him, gathering material. He responded with a non sequitur. “Our legal system is an adversarial system; that has advantages and disadvantages. However, recognizing the value to journalism of exclusive information, we are prepared to make the following offer. If you give us what we want, we will ensure that you will be the first to know of any drug busts in your broadcast area for the next several months. Also, understand that we can subpoena the materials if need be.”

“If you subpoena, I can guarantee you we will fight it,” the news director said.

“That's why we're making this offer.”

“How many months?” Brestle asked.

“For the next six months.”

“A year would be better.”

“I am authorized to say six months, but I believe I can safely commit to eight months. I cannot commit to a year.”

“Alright, eight months. I'll get the material.” Brestle rose from his chair.

“Kevin ...” objected the news director.

“Hey, the area is being flooded with Mexican chiva.” Brestle used the Spanish word for heroin. “There's going to be some significant busts here in the next few months. I want to be in on them. This could be network quality stuff. And don't forget, I'm the one who got shot.”


LEABURG — Sunday 11:00

Duncan stopped by his home and loaded his van with the last of the furnishings needed for the afternoon gathering upriver. Before walking out the door, he spent several minutes working at his computer.


The DEA surveillant on the hill dutifully recorded in his log that Duncan had entered his vehicle at 1130 and driven off. The watcher then called his companion in their car at the county park to tell him Duncan should pass him shortly. The agent at the park reported back a few minutes later that Duncan had gone by his position. They agreed they would wait until noon before leaving.

The two agents considered their instructions to be unusual. Explaining that Duncan would be at a memorial gathering for the dead members of his family, Greg Ballentine had ordered them to discontinue surveillance of his house after he left. To them, the oddity was that if there was a drug operation going on, a pickup could have been planned for when Duncan was not there, but orders were orders, and at noon the agent in the car drove down the gravel road and picked up his partner.


As the DEA agents drove away, Jim Castle, the private CIA contractor, entered in his log the time of their departure under the entry he had made when the home's occupant had left. He then moved closer to the house and again noted the time. He would wait one half hour before leaving the cover of the trees.

Ballentine had requested a tap on all phones and sample output from the printer and diskette drives of the computer in the house. Castle had apprised his CIA controller of Ballentine's requests and had been told to do more. The intelligence agency wanted a copy of everything given to Ballentine, a copy of everything in the computer, and a plan for bugging the house. The DEA man was not to be told of the added activity.

Castle made one complete circuit of the house, locating where the telephone line came out of the ground and into the interface box. He opened the box, noted two lines and their numbers, and traced each line to where it entered the house. Going to the front door and finding it unlocked, he entered.

Castle took his time. Ballentine had told him that once Duncan left for the afternoon, he wouldn't return for several hours. As always, the wire tapper formed an opinion of the home's occupant as he worked. Using a 35-mm. SLR, he made a photographic inventory of the interior while deciding where to place the bugs.

The house had a number of bookcases, enough for a far larger home, and each shelf was full. The titles showed their owner to be technically minded, but also interested in philosophy and history, and there was a large section of children's works. The books had been read; it was not a library for show. Each of the half dozen volumes that Castle pulled had passages highlighted and occasional notes in the margins.

The file cabinets revealed more. The contents were well indexed, neat, and up to date. Castle found nothing incriminating, but he photographed copies of the past eight year's tax returns, a large number of investment transactions, and copious notes on financial matters.

After the files, he turned to the computer, a standard brand, state-of-the-art, IBM compatible system. It had provision for a key to physically lock the system in a power-off state but had been left in the unlocked position. There was no guard against it being turned on. Castle checked the cabling. Each unit's power switch had been left on, but all power cables went to a surge protector that had a switch. Pressing that switch would power up all units, and he was tempted to operate the machine as it sat, but decided that was too risky. The simplest security precautions on the part of the owner would reveal that the machine had been turned on in his absence.

Castle took a Polaroid picture of the computer, cleared the area around it of papers and paraphernalia, and opened the machine's innards. He disconnected the printer, the hard drive, and both diskette drives and reconnected them to a portable machine he had brought. Powering the portable, he drove the printer and the diskette drives to get sample output and then copied the contents of the hard disk to the portable's tape drive. Restoring the original connections, he closed up the compromised machine and used the Polaroid photo to assure himself he had restored all objects to their previous locations.

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REFERENCE MATERIAL


[REF1601] He made me wonder about a legal system that could put someone in jail on just the word of an informant.” Michael Levine, Deep Cover, p. 271.

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