The author of the Brand Coldstream novels "Going Silent and Silent Crusade"
The winds of September blew fiercely across the desert some two hundred kilometers east of the Saudi Arabian city of Hafar Al-Batin blending the ground and sky into one choking, brown swirling landscape, the fine sand particles blasting and tearing at everything in their path. Saudi Lieutenant-General Hamza Jahlan stood just inside the canvas walls of the tent listening to the wind howl on the other side of the thin fabric, a sour look on his face.
“Colonel Messai, I will not repeat myself. Act now and deploy scouts east and report back on the progress of the Kuwaiti army or step aside and I will find another to take your place. You know damn well our enemy is taking advantage of this storm to move further within our borders.”
“With all due respect Lieutenant-General. The sandstorm is still wreaking havoc with our communications. Sending more men will only add to the problem. We have had no contact with our platoons since the wind and dust moved in and I cannot justify risking the lives of more men. The companies stationed near the border will have to fend for themselves until the storm blows its self out.” The Saudi Colonel stood his ground.
Hundreds of kilometers to the north a similar scenario was playing out near the city of Rafha. The winds blowing north from the Persian Gulf had stirred up the miles of endless sand and seemed to follow the invading Iraqi forces as they closed in on the remote Saudi Arabian city. Calls of desperation began filling the lines of communications at the King Khalid Military City. A substantial amount of men would be needed to withstand the invasion of the once peaceful neighboring country to the north of the Saudi Kingdom.
King Saleh Khalaf paced in front of his military advisors while listening to their reports, occasionally interrupting to further grasp the inconceivable thought of the sudden surge of enemy forces. The seated Princes charged with the defense of the Saudi kingdom each, in turn, notified their king of the dire position the Saudi military now faced.
Prince Rizwan Mdalal avoided eye contact with the Saudi King as he told of the horrors the army encountered along the borders with the advancement of the Kuwaiti ground forces. Several thousand infantry troops were involved in heavy fighting north and east of the cities of Al Jubay and Ad Dammam. The Kuwait army had grouped and surged across the border splitting the troops of Saudi Arabia’s first line of defense. The Kuwaiti’s were moving closer to the eastern city of Hafar Al-Batin.
Next to report was Prince Nassar Rifai, the head of the Saudi air force. Prince Rifai added to the bad news. His men and planes remained grounded as a weeklong storm blew from the coast of the Persian Gulf. The once powerful and feared Saudi Arabian squadron was growing depleted, losing men and planes trying to back up the growing string of attacks on the once oil-rich nation.
“Prince Abboud. Do not add to the dark tone of this meeting. Surely your men are having more success than your fellow ministers,” the King implored.
Prince Omar Abboud, the minister in charge of the formidable Saudi military, shook his head. “No, your highness. We have the men spread too thin and moving troops away to reinforce Prince Mdalal’s forces could have crippling consequences for other regions.”
Last on the list was Prince Taha Majeed, Saudi Arabia’s naval commander. “Like my fellow Princes, I also have my hands full maintaining a clear passage through the Gulf for our oil tankers.”
King Khalaf’s pacing slowed as the military defense of his country started to bend to the many-sided attacks hammering at his door. “Saudi oil must flow without restrictions,” he reminded his naval commander. “A prolonged war will cost us billions of dollars that we will only get from the sale of oil. You take whatever resources you feel are needed and keep the passage free of obstructions.”
King Khalaf sat his weary body down. He looked out from under bushy eyebrows at his deflated and nervous team of military advisors. Never before in the history of the Saudi Kingdom had they faced an assault of this magnitude. For decades the Saudi Arabian military was the most feared in this corner of the world.
Now most of the neighboring countries were fighting for their very survival in a desperate play to capture the dwindling market share of oil revenues. A few other neighboring countries drifted to a different kind of religion and turned their backs on the long tradition of oil production once prominent in the Middle East. The threat of reprisal by the Saudi’s no longer struck fear into the heart of its enemies.
Kuwait, once a staunch ally of the Saudi people, was leading the charge. A new regime had risen to power in the country and backed by promises from Western sources switched from the coveted riches’ of oil to the self-invoked poverty of renewable energy. A mistake they were not willing to admit and now invoked a war against their fellow oil-rich neighbors.
To make matters worse, one-third of the Saudi population consisted of foreign workers who at one time begged for the opportunity to work in the oil fields and collect the riches. Now those very same migrants left the employ of the Saudi people enticed by the empty promises of the Climate Prophet and joined the eco-terrorists in the movement to oust the governing King and the Royal family.
Fighting alongside leagues of anti-oil armies, the Kuwaiti’s laid siege to the much larger country of Iraq leaving towering infernos of oil fires blazing across the Iraqi desert while recruiting displaced foreigners working in that country. The Iraqi people who fought against the invasion died or were forced to march alongside the Kuwait army ransacking their way toward the largest oil producing country in the world.
The leader of the Saudi Kingdom withdrew into his thoughts. Fears that the war would be drawn out sat heavy on his mind. The sale of oil was the primary source of revenue supporting the countries economy. Tourism had declined to dreadful levels with the skyrocketing price of travel. How long now, he worried until the funds were eaten up fighting a multi-fronted war?
Visions of his great Arabic country being pulled backward into 19th-century conditions and the Saudi people roaming the vast desert once again as nomads amongst the ruined cities played behind his eyes.
Special Agent Charles Ryan sat in the confines of his cubicle on the main floor of the FBI Colorado Field Office. Trying to smother a yawn he leafed through a stack of witness statements, separating the papers and then coded them before he sent them off to their final destination. With the back of his hand, he rubbed his eyes before glancing at the clock across the room. 9:30 a.m.
Stifling a bored sigh, he swung out of his chair and headed to the coffee station for yet another cup of coffee. Sipping the hot liquid, Ryan glanced around the cubicle at the other agents bent over computers filing reports and taking phone calls. A cloud of depression settled over him as he thought back to how he became a glorified file clerk with the FBI.
He reminisced about the private office he had occupied only a short few months ago. Once his suspension was lifted, and he returned to the Bureau, documents awaited his signature relieving him of active field duties. Then a promissory contract with the FBI forbidding the pursuit of any of his old cases, the unnamed example was the eco-terrorism investigation he had previously led against the People Of The Earth Foundation. The penalties he faced for disobeying the order were harsh, banishment from the FBI and a minimum of five years in prison.
Ryan tasted his coffee and sorrowfully looked about the room. How many years had he chased the eco-terrorists across the globe? How many nights spent sleeping in hotel rooms instead of his bed? And for what, to end up sitting in a cubicle doing painfully boring research.
A sad smile played at the edge of his lips. Oh well, he conceded. At least he still had his job and company pension. That was a lot more than the average American was experiencing in this new world of clean energy. Any person who still had a decent job was lucky in today's plummeting job market. And his pay remained at the present level, although he had to admit, with the burgeoning energy prices rapidly driving up the cost of living, how much longer even he could stay above the poverty line was now becoming a concern.
Five minutes to five Ryan pushed away from his desk and pulled his suit jacket on timing his walk to the office door and then the elevator that would take him down to the lobby and outside to freedom. Passing through the warren of cubicles that made up the main floor of the FBI bureau office, he kept his head down ignoring the comments from the other agents. Dejected and lonesome he padded across the carpet, his mind focused on his escape route and the welcoming arms of O’Patrick’s bar, a hand full of blocks from his apartment.
Retrieving his cell phone from his pocket, he checked the time then sped up his exit so he would be walking out the building's main doors as the transit bus made its arrival. Another casualty of his demotion, the loss of privileges which included the use of the company car, even if the automobile was the electric model he had come to despise.
Transit pass in hand he burst from the building just in time to see the taillights of his ride disappear down the street. A stream of curses left his lips as he dejectedly walked to the bus bench and grumbled in acceptance of being forced to wait for the next bus.
The emergence of an early dusk mingled with the gloomy skies as Charles Ryan exited the sidewalk for the warmth and comfort of the O’Patrick’s bar. Climbing onto the familiar tall bar stool, he had motioned to the bartender for his usual supper when he glanced up at the mirror behind the shelves of liquor. He did a double take when he noticed the pubs doors open and the unexpected sight of a familiar face.
A solitary figure paused at the back door of the farmhouse and carefully scrutinized the forest only feet from the building. With ears tuned to the late evening sounds, the man cautiously stepped one foot in front of the other as he melded with the darker shadows of the surrounding trees moving wraith-like until several hundred meters had passed.
Satisfied that his trek went undetected, Ex-special forces captain Lev Zhernakov leaned against a stout tree trunk and fished his cigarette package from his shirt pocket. Drawing a deep breath of air mixed with smoke into his lungs the Russian soldier let his eyes and ears search the quiet bush for danger. The glow of the cigarette tip concealed in his cupped hand.
For the previous months, Zhernakov had moved about the Ukrainian countryside as he recuperated from the bombing of the safe house that had claimed the lives of his crew. Healthy and determined the Russian decided to quit tempting fate by remaining in the hostile country and devised a plan to aid in his return to Russia, not that a hero's welcome would be awaiting him when he crossed the border. His mission now was to find the people, who had betrayed him and his men, get answers and then move on. His resurgence in the motherland would not be welcomed by all, of that he had no doubt.
Charles Ryan walked into his office. The clock on the wall read 6 a.m. Ryan tossed his jacket on the back of a chair and wondered aimlessly, pausing every now and again to read one of the articles that lined the walls and windows of the cramped space. His mind was restless. He had just returned from dropping Agent Netanya at the Denver International.
After returning to Denver from the recent road trip to Seattle, Netanya argued the fact that she could be of greater assistance back at the Shabak home office aiding in the task of combing through the vast amount of information collected on the POTE Foundation. The Israeli home base, she stated, was still the best and most secure location to carry out a strategic and thorough exploration of the foundation's workings.
With Netanya’s departure foremost on his mind, he found it difficult to reassert his thoughts into the eco-terrorism investigation. Slowly as the day wore on, his focus adjusted on the stack of files on his desk with only brief moments of longing.
Late in the afternoon, with sleeves, rolled up, Ryan leaned against his desk staring at one wall he had dedicated to a working storyboard of all the attacks attributed to the eco-terrorists. Lines ran from one investigation to another, tying all the acts of sabotage back to the top of the wall and a blown up picture of the Foundation, the culprit he deemed responsible.
The phone on his desk rang cutting into his thoughts. Reaching his hand behind his back, he grabbed the desk phone's receiver and absently answered.
“Ryan. Meet me in the boardroom in half an hour,” District Chief Tom Wilkerson demanded before severing the call. Ryan looked at the phone in his hand wondering what type of industrial accident had crossed the chief’s desk this time. Annoyed at the idea of interrupting his work he glanced back up at the storyboard, let a sigh of resignation leave his lips, walked around his desk and pulled on his suit jacket. The walk from his office to the boardroom passed the coffee station. The thought of a scalding cup of black coffee fleetingly lifted his spirits.
Minutes later found him sitting alone in the bureau's boardroom with his back to the door. Ryan glimpsed behind him as the sound of approaching footsteps entered the room. Chief Wilkerson strode into the room and nodded a greeting in Ryan's direction before taking a chair at the head of the table.
“Come, have a seat at the front,” Wilkerson said. Ryan noticed the absence of files in the chief’s hands.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Assistant Director Burkes will be joining us shortly via teleconference,” the District Chief replied as he turned in his chair and adjusted the TV that doubled as a computer screen on a stand to his side. Ryan shook his head. Whatever had happened must be pressing if the A.D. is involved, he reasoned.
Minutes passed in silence. The attempts Ryan made at holding a conversation with his boss were mostly ignored. In the tense quiet of the room, Ryan sipped his coffee and bided his time.
“Tom. What’s going on?” Ryan implored one final time.
The expression District Chief Wilkerson shot in his direction was answer enough. Shit had hit the fan and was about to spread. Ryan went back to toying with his coffee. At first, the cup was hot to the touch, then not as hot on its way to being cold.
Scenarios ran wild through Ryan’s mind. What could have possibly happened in the last couple of hours? If any major sabotage had transpired in the country the whole bureau would be hopping, so he could rule that situation out. So where…and what?
Sipping the last of his tepid coffee, a voice from beside the DC grabbed his attention. Lifting his head in the direction of his boss, Ryan noticed the framed shot of the FBI’s Assistant Director's face peering into the room from the screen.
“Sir,” District Chief Wilkerson greeted the FBI’s second in command.
“DC Wilkerson, good evening,” Assistant Director Burkes replied.
“Special Agent Ryan,” the AD acknowledged. “Gentlemen, let’s not waste time,” Burkes said, his eyes sought out Special Agent Ryan. “Explain your visit to the People Of The Earth Foundation that you made a couple of days ago. Was it official FBI business?" the A.D. asked rhetorically. "What other reason could you have for attending the summit in Seattle and very clearly explain to me why you felt you had to accost the chairman of the foundation and cause a scene that, as I understand is an embarrassment to the bureau?
Ryan froze, his eyes locked on the Assistant Director, his mind a bowl of confusion, totally unprepared for the line of questioning. The hastily called conference was not to deal with a world crisis as he had been contemplating but instead focused on him.
“I…I thought a visit to the Foundation and talking with Lucas Pensworth the 3rd may produce results in my ongoing investigations.” Ryan finally stammered.
“Your investigation.” The A.D. lifted a paper off his desk as if reading it. “The investigation into the eco-terrorism plaguing the oil industry. Is that the one?”
“Yes, sir.” Ryan more nodded then spoke. “I know that Lucas and his foundation are behind the acts of sabotage and bombings.”
“Whew. That’s a relief,” AD Burkes mocked as he glared from the 55-inch television screen. “I was led to believe that no tangible evidence has surfaced that tied the eco-terrorists to the POTE. Unmistakably, I was ill-advised.”
“Well. Not exactly sir,” Ryan began. “In actuality, I do not have any concrete evidence but the circumstances….” He paused. “My instincts are off the board on this one. It’s just a matter of time.”
“Oh, I see. You thought you could shake those evildoers up. You took it upon yourself let the foundation know that the FBI was breathing down their necks thus forcing them to make a mistake. Is that correct?”
“Yes, sir. Something like that,” Ryan said.
“WHAT IN THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?” Assistant Director Burkes yelled. “Lucas Pensworth the 3rd is a very well respected man among most every government on the planet. The man’s efforts have been instrumental in turning back the tide of fossil fuel consumption. And through his foundation has worked feverishly to bring sustainable clean energy to hundreds of millions of people. HIS efforts will very likely help stave off the climate upheaval our planet is now experiencing.”
“Holy shit!” Ryan said incredulously,” What kind of kool-aide are they forcing you to drink. This man. This foundation is undermining the economics of the world, and you have the balls to sit there and defend him.”
Charles Ryan paused absorbing the shock of the A.D.’s words. His face purple with pent up frustration. Glowering at the screen shot of A.D. Burkes, Ryan gulped a breath of air into his lungs, calmed, then continued. “With all due respect sir. The man is a charlatan. He sends his minions to disrupt and destroy any industry opposed to his plan and then profits by selling bogus wind and solar shit in its place…”
“YOU are out of line agent. This is not up for discussion. I did not call to hear you run down a man that history may one day call the savior of our planet and then sit quietly by and listen while you insult my intelligence with your half-baked conspiracy theories,” the A.D. interjected cutting off Ryan’s rant.
“Sir. I am very close to tying the eco bombings to the POTE Foundation; the evidence will prove what I am saying,” Ryan lied out of rage.
“Read my lips, Ryan. There is no longer an investigation!” Assistant Director Burkes announced. “Any and all files you have are to be turned over to District Chief Wilkerson. Post haste! Do you understand? You have wasted enough of the bureau’s time and resources traversing the globe chasing figments.” Then ignoring Ryan the Assistant Director addressed D.C. Wilkerson. “Tom, I want Special Agent Ryan suspended until further notice. Have him escorted from the building once you’ve taken possession of his files.” With the A.D.’s Burkes final words the screen on the T.V. went blank.
Ryan turned for support from the District Chief but was greeted instead with a noncommittal stare in return. “You heard the man. I suggest you save yourself any further trouble and do as he says.” As an after thought Chief Wilkerson added. “I will have Special Agent Mookes drive you home.”
The dinner hour found Special Agent Charles Ryan perched on a barstool having a liquid meal of barley sandwiches chased with shots of rye. The third set in, Ryan’s phone began chirping and vibrating, dancing across the sticky bar surface. Ryan stared down the phone until it fell silent.
Downing the latest pair of drinks, he raised his hand in the air to signal the bartender for another round when the phone began to ring again. Out of irritation he swung his hand around and grabbed the annoying plastic box. He glanced at the number on the screen. For once he almost hoped for the call to be from some annoying telemarketer. Someone he would happily share his anger with.
The number was slow to register in his alcohol soaked mind. An overseas number, one that seemed familiar but he struggled to place.
The ringer sounded again.
“Are you going to answer that damn thing or are you in love with the sound,” the bartender gruffly prodded as he set down a beer and a shot glass and with a towel wiped the wooden surface of the bar top.
Ryan connected the call and placed the phone to his ear. “Hello?” he muttered over the noise in the room.
“Charles?” Netanya Kalb asked. Shit, Ryan mumbled when he realized who was calling and held up a finger notifying the bartender he needed a second, slid off the barstool and headed for the door and privacy.
Standing outside in the cold Colorado mountain air Ryan collected himself. “Netanya. It's good to hear your voice.”
“Charles, the investigation is being shut down. I’m to be reassigned another caseload,” she blurted.
The duo of Ryan and Kalb sat at a roadside table enjoying burgers from the local burger house on the edge of Green River, Wyoming. The owner of the burger joint had the foresight to locate his business next to a 24-hour charging station. Ryan suddenly missed the old days of sticking the gas nozzle into the car's tank and minutes later resuming the trip.
The meter on the charging stand notified him that two hours would be required to reenergize the cars battery. Ten hours on the road and this was as far as they’d traveled. The new bureau car Ryan drove was part of the new fleet of electric sedans the FBI had purchased to replace the gas-powered automobiles. A popular model made by one of the big automakers from Detroit the car floated silently down the interstate with one distinct drawback Ryan decided, the short battery range. Warning bells on the cars dash lit up and flashed the last few miles as the pair coasted into the Wyoming city.
Charles Ryan swiped a napkin across his face then rubbed his hands before reaching for his cigarette pack. His displeasure growing as the couple wasted time while the car charged was given a reprieve by the ringing of Netanya Kalb’s cell phone. The call originated from the Shabak office in Tel Aviv. Malachy Abramin, the sub-director at the Israeli Security Agency personally contacted his agent with an array of information regarding the companies and directors contained in the email Netanya forwarded earlier that day.
With the company and director's names already provided, the Israeli security division had little problems surfing through the ocean of information regarding the transactions.
“I have got almost 15 gigabytes of data amassed with more downloading by the minute. So, how do you want me to send the files?” the sub-director asked.
“I don’t have any way to keep the data,” Netanya explained. “Can you send me the pertinent details first? The rest I can read off my email when I get a chance.”
“Ask him if any of the material connects the Foundation to political parties, to any of the elected country leaders?” Ryan spoke from across the table. He listened to the one sided conversation as Netanya relayed the question.
“Nothing so far,” she mouthed, the phone still held against her ear. Several more minutes passed before Agent Kalb thanked the sub-director and set her phone on the table.
“Even with this information, Lucas and his foundation are not doing anything wrong. Maybe we should postpone this trip until we have a better grasp on what they are doing?”
“This trip isn’t official FBI business,” he winked at the Shabak Agent. “I want to meet the man face to face. Make him think that we know more than we do. Rattle a few cages and see what lurks out of the shadows.” Ryan flicked his cigarette butt onto the asphalt at his feet and reached for his milkshake. “This new information now gives me a lot more credibility when I confront him and his “foundation.”
Noon the following day the two agents pulled off the once busy freeway that runs the length of Seattle. Their first stop, a charging station to replenish the cars batteries. A flourish of thoughts crossed Ryan’s mind as he searched for an electric filling station. He was saddened by the plight the once proud city of Seattle suffered. A city, which a few short years earlier boasted a population of well over four million people, had dwindled down to slightly more than a million inhabitants.
The majority of Seattle’s population left the city behind in droves, trading the concrete and glass, freeways and coffee shops for the woods and mountains in the surrounding country. With fewer jobs and scarcity of fuels for heating or driving plus the added expenses of maintaining a fragile electricity grid, the struggling lower classes jammed the few essentials they could carry and just as their ancestors did a century and a half ago, they trekked into the forests to make a living off the land.
Charles M. Ryan leaned on the hood of his electric steed and studied the skyline of the once majestic jewel of the west. Another cigarette hung from his lips as he contemplated his meeting with the Climate Prophet. On the trip to the Pacific Northwest, Ryan found plenty of time to think about how to approach the man. Plenty of time borne from sitting at charging stations as he cursed the prolonged time wasted while waiting for the cars batteries to rejuvenate like he was doing now.
“See if your phone has any reception, maybe book us a room for the night?” he asked Netanya. “I don’t think finding lodging will be too hard,” he added as he gazed around at the boarded and deserted buildings that lined the concrete freeway. “Unless all of Seattle has gone out of business.”
The rain was pouring down as Ryan followed the I-5 to the southern edge of Seattle proper. Just south of the city a collage of 3 story buildings filled the horizon. Stainless steel structures separated the scores of large glass windows that greeted traffic from the freeway, a look that one could not help associating with the similar building styles of the numerous tech giants in the area.
A pair of towering brick columns supported a gleaming sign welcoming visitors at the entrance to the People Of The Earth Foundation. On six acres of prime real estate, the buildings sat a short distance from the open water on the lower end of Puget Sound. Sitting at the barricades blocking access to the compound, Ryan glimpsed ships cruise past the openings between buildings.
“Sir. Follow this lane to parking lot 4. The summit is taking place in Atrium B,” the guard politely pointed to the location on the colorful map of the compound before returning to the shelter of his booth.
Within seconds the barricade lifted exposing the rain soaked asphalt parking lot. Ryan steered the sedan deeper into the POTE Foundation grounds, an illuminated sign beckoning him toward the proper stalls. Rolling the car to a stop, Ryan ducked his head and stared out the rain-streaked windshield at the impressive array of metal and glass that confronted him.
“Atrium B is ahead and to our right,” Netanya pointed in the direction as she translated the map of the grounds. “I don’t imagine you have an umbrella or two stashed somewhere inside this car, do you?”
Ryan was slow to answer as he continued to peer through the front window and marvel at the buildings and compound of the foundation.
“We should apply for jobs here,” he joked before turning his attention to his passenger. Shaking his head he reached into the back seat and grabbed a coat. “This will have to do,” he said pulling the wrinkled jacket over the seat rests.
In the pouring rain, Ryan leaned inside the back car door and stuffed a sheath of papers under his suit jacket. Running around the car, he put a hand on Netanya’s arm, and together the two rushed across the lot toward the welcoming doors of the opulent atrium building. Splashing across the pooling rain that covered the asphalt parking lot, the pair raced toward the entrance, climbed the steps and waited for the main glass doors to open. The pair came to a halt out of the rain as the sliding doors hissed closed blocking out the chill, wet Seattle afternoon.
Signs announcing the day’s line-up for the summit beckoned the two down the hallway and into the packed room, the floor crowded with an eclectic gathering of journalists, politicians and environmentalists eagerly awaiting the appearance of the summit’s host.
Charles Ryan shot a handout and retrieved a glass of wine off a server’s tray and passed it to Netanya before snatching a second glass for himself; his other arm squeezed tight to his body pinning the file of papers beneath his coat. Staying close to an exterior wall he sipped the wine while letting his eyes roam the faces of guests mingling throughout the room.
“What are your plans?” Netanya spoke over the raised lip of her wine glass.
Ryan shrugged. “I’m not entirely sure,” he replied. No previous thoughts wasted on just what he planned to do once they were inside the building. A mischievous smile pulled at the edges of his mouth followed by a shrug of his shoulders. “Have to play this one by ear.” He said. A murmur passed through the audience causing him to glance toward a stage set at the front of the room. Standing on tiptoes, he looked across the sea of heads. A small group entered the auditorium from a far door, a robed figure leading the way.
Charles M. Ryan fidgeted in his chair as speaker after speaker droned on about the good deeds accomplished by Lucas and the POTE Foundation. Astounding results in regards to the forests of wind turbines and acres of solar panels the organization had installed in countries covering the planet.
Ryan’s fingers played with the edge of the folder stashed under his jacket biding time, waiting for a moment of inspiration to guide his moves. His thoughts intermittently disturbed as each speaker received an enthusiastic round of applause while standing behind the microphone and lauded the new era of clean energy, and as a result, the saving of the earth from the harmful human blight that for centuries pillaged the natural resources turning the planet's bounty into a climate catastrophe.
Several times Netanya nudged him for the offensive words he mumbled in response to the self-congratulatory cheerleading and back patting that filled the room. No thoughts to the newly impoverished masses suffering the consequences of the POTE’s actions.
The afternoon crawled on; speech followed speech until finally, the room quieted and then as one the audience stood in welcome as the guest speaker moved behind the microphone.
From the chair in the back, Ryan struggled to gain a look at the robed figure of Lucas Pensworth the 3rd. Lucas began talking quietly, the murmurs in the room fell hush. As minutes passed, Lucas’ tenor grew with the conviction of his speech.
By the time Lucas was well into a spiel about his cause winning out over the tried and true centuries of fossil fuel consumption, Charles Ryan stood.
Lucas’s voice echoed off the walls and the ceiling. “With the help of crusaders like us, the tide has turned. We are breaking the human addiction to fossil fuels. No longer is there a chain binding our lives to the big energy companies.” The atrium erupted in cheering. Charles Ryan remained standing as the crowd sat back down, the room growing silent while Lucas continued.
Each word, every phrase from Lucas’ mouth evoking pictures of the carnage created by the Prophet and his minions as they forged ahead with their ideology of a green planet. Each cheer brought forward a crippling memory of the destruction Ryan had visited in his investigation.
Without realizing the moment for action had arrived, Ryan started his slow walk to the front of the auditorium, the thinly veiled charade carried out by this foundation simply too much for him to sit by and listen further.
Grabbing the file from under his coat, he raised the papers above his head and as he walked forward he clapped his hands loudly together. “Well, you certainly are entertaining Lucas. What about all the people you have pushed to poverty? The families who are freezing or starving or both, is this part of your wondrous plan too?” He spoke over the Prophets words. “The men and women killed as your members torched and blasted their way through refineries and corporations. Some god damned plan or is that clearly good business practice?”
A man stood to confront him. Ryan elbowed the man aside as he continued down the aisle. Two more from the audience jumped from their seats. With his hand, he pulled the tail of his coat to the side revealing the polished badge pinned to his belt. “FBI.” Ryan snarled.
Stepping up to the dais, Ryan tossed the file in front of Lucas, pictures, and fact sheets spilling out.
“Do I know you, friend?” Lucas stared into Ryan’s eyes.
“Our paths have crossed,” Ryan replied, “and drop the friend shit.”
The two men, with the wooden table, separating them, studied each other. Lucas blinked first as he picked up the folder and began thumbing through the pages. “And this is…?” he asked.
“A little collage I have been collecting of your foundation's handy-work.”
“I am not sure that I understand?” Lucas’ face furrowed showing his bewilderment.
“Take your time. I think the story will become clear. The pictures are of terrorist acts I’ve had the displeasure of attending." Ryan's felt his rage bubble to the surface. Lucas sat calmly receiving the bombast from the FBI agent, his raised eyebrow the only revealing indication.
Ryan bent close to Lucas' face, his finger jabbing at the array of documents. "Don’t tell me you can’t recognize the good work your foundation has accomplished.” Ryan’s voice laced with sarcasm while he pushed pictures aside until finding the smoking gun. "Recognize this gentleman?" Ryan lifted the picture of the dead professor Enders.
Lucas ignored the FBI agents taunts as he studied the papers laid out on the dais surface. “And you think that I or someone from the POTE is behind these.”
“The proof is all in the file you sanctimonious son of a bitch. The foundation's fingerprints are all over these tragedies. Records of transactions, political posturing, you name it, your group of eco followers is involved.”
“Do you mind if I keep this file?” Lucas gazed up at Ryan.
“Yeah. I’ve got more copies. Knock yourself out.”
“Yes. I have no doubt you do.” Lucas replied. Glancing past Ryan, he noticed agent Kalb. “What else can I help you with?” With no answer forthcoming, Lucas rose from his chair and leaned in close to Ryan. In a quiet, non-threatening voice, he spoke. “If this is all you came for, consider your mission complete. Now either sit-down and shut up or get the hell out.” Lucas motioned toward the doors at the rear of the auditorium to stress his point.
The wheels of the plane touching the tarmac at the Denver Airport snapped Ryan out of his musing. Netanya Kalb sat glancing sideways at him, a puzzled look on her face, as he turned toward her from the plane window.
“You were talking to yourself. I thought I might have to call for assistance to calm you down,” Netanya joked while unbuckling her seatbelt before standing to join the other departing passengers.
Ryan and Agent Kalb walked down the ramp into the arrival area at the Denver International Airport. The terminal looked even more desolate than it did a couple of months ago when he had flown out of the country. The recent years of oil cutbacks and increasing unemployment had catastrophic effects on luxury items like air travel.
Ryan looked around as he walked thru the quiet terminal toward the baggage carousel. Ticket counters that once bustled now boarded tight kiosks closed and several restaurants shut down. With Agent Kalb at his side, he crossed the long wing of the airport from where they deplaned, in silence. Astonishment struck the FBI agent at the quickly decaying plight of air travel. Obviously, with the growing gas shortage and the escalating fare prices, travel by plane was now only affordable by the wealthy. The distraction was short. His mind swung back to focus on how the death of the once prominent member of the People Of The Earth Foundation would advance his investigation.
For the past several weeks Ryan had mulled over the ramifications concerning the one time Professor. At first, he was certain that the body of the late environmentalist at the refinery site in Venezuela was proof that the P.O.T.E. Foundation was behind the worldwide sabotage of the oil and gas industry. But with the exchange of numerous e-mails and several long distance conference calls back to the States he now found himself full of doubts.
Reviewing the facts in his head, he started with what he knew and what was speculation. Anthony Ender was an environmental crusader, a man who had made a lucrative living traveling the world, spouting the destruction of the earth’s climate by fossil fuels. Ender was the man responsible for finding Lucas Pensworth the 3rd and bringing him into the fold. Lucas’ popularity soon outgrew the Professor and the small green movement that Ender began.
Lucas’ rise in popularity brought forth the alliance of the myriad of loosely scattered independent environmental societies into a much bigger, better-organized People Of The Earth Foundation. As the P.O.T.E. Foundation grew so too did the escalation of industrial sabotage aimed at the energy industry.
Until the explosion and shooting of the eco-terrorists at the Lake Maracaibo refinery, the saboteurs had gone about their actions without leaving a single clue behind. At Maracaibo, the professor’s body lay among the men who had infiltrated and were thought responsible for the refinery explosion. Upon the discovery of Ender, Ryan was positive he now had an inside into the terrorists.
Here within lay the problem. After all his research, Ryan had little to no evidence that the professor was still affiliated with the P.O.T.E. Resources back in America swore that the Anthony Ender had parted company with Lucas and his Foundation months before the attack in Venezuela. The evidence was conclusive to Ender leaving the Foundation, but Ryan’s instincts balked at the idea.
On the flight back to the States he had convinced himself that the only way to be certain was to drive from Colorado to Seattle where the P.O.T.E. Foundation headquarters sat and confront the man behind it all, Lucas Pensworth. And as long as he was entertaining conspiracy theory, maybe inquire about the act of war supposedly initiated by the Russian government.
The discovery of the dead Russian soldiers in the Ukraine appeared too convenient. Russian Special Forces sneak into enemy territory and after blowing up the largest gas distributor that side of the Ocean the highly trained operatives perish in a freak fire at their hideout.
Tinfoil hat or not, SA Charles Ryan found so many aspects of that scenario flawed.
Retrieving the luggage, the agents left in search of a bar or restaurant that offered Internet service. Ryan had little trust for the marvels of the twenty-first century but had found it helpful in the research for this investigation. Netanya pointed to a sign advertising free Wi-Fi and tugged his arm leading him inside a sports bar. The pair had little trouble finding a seat. Only one other table sat occupied. A bartender with a haggard beard and his short hair pulled in a bun stepped from behind the counter and carried menus over to their table.
“Does the Wi-Fi work?” Netanya inquired.
The bartender glanced down at her. “It may. The feed has been getting more and more sporadic. Something to drink?” the man asked in a bored voice.
Netanya pulled her tablet out of her carry bag and set it on the table. Typing in the bars Internet password, she sighed as the feed crawled across the tiny computer. The bartender returned with drinks on a bar tray, fished a pair of paper coasters out of his apron, and placed them on the table before taking their food order.
Netanya sipped her drink; her eyes glued to the slow moving bar at the top of her tablet mentally trying to speed the connection.
“Bingo,” she announced when the connection finished. “I am going to log into the Foundations website. They should have an itinerary for your mysterious robed friend,” she winked at Ryan. Her fingers picked at the tablet keys. Ryan nursed his drink watching the Israeli agent. He smiled inwardly. At least his lack of success investigating the eco-terrorism had one small bright spot. If he had solved the case earlier, he never would have met the head turning Shabak agent Netanya Kalb.
His mood soured as he thought back to the years he had wasted chasing the terrorists. How much longer would the bureau allow him to spend money and resources before they tired of the lack of progress? He supposed it all depended on how they viewed the results or lack thereof, not any other agency involved had shown any signs of flushing out the culprits.
Netanya spun the tablet around; her finger pointed at a schedule from the P.O.T.E. homepage. A bold headline announced an upcoming summit at the Foundation building on the shores of Puget Sound in Seattle. The main attraction was none other than the Climate Prophet.
“Seems like we have a few days to unwind before we’re back on the case,” Ryan said raising his glass. “Have you ever been to Seattle?”
Three days before the Puget Sound Summit, FBI agent Charles Ryan, and Netanya Kalb were packing for an unofficial trip north of Denver to the Pacific coast state of Seattle. Ryan’s phone pinged. He paused while quickly glancing at the phone's screen. The e-mail icon was highlighted announcing a new message. Debating whether to stop and read the message or continue getting ready for the road trip, Ryan let his curiosity win as he swiped open his phone to retrieve the communication. A few words in, Ryan wandered over to his sagging couch and sat down to read and reread the message.
“Holy shit,” he mumbled drawing Netanya’s attention.
“What’s up?” she questioned. Ryan remained focused on the small screen before handing off the phone for Netanya to read. He watched the Israeli agent as she perched on the couch’s arm and studied the email.
“This is incredible,” she remarked. “Do you know the person who sent this information?”
“No. All the header reads is an Internet pen name, one unfamiliar to meh. ” Ryan springs off the couch pacing back and forth around the luggage and furniture. “Let me fire up the printer and print off the attached file. We will need to verify the information.” He said as he reclaimed his phone. “Give me one second.” Leaving the living room with his phone, Ryan slips into the spare bedroom. The silence in the apartment soon interrupted by the whirring sound of the remote printer running through its start-up process.
Fraught with curiosity, Netanya wanders over to the room and leans against the doorjamb, Charles Ryan's back is to her as he waits hunched over the remote printer. Sheets of paper began to slide onto the protruding tray on the front of the small black machine. She watches as Ryan snatches one of the sheets.
Straightening up, he quickly scanned the printed surface. A soft whistle passes his lips. “That son of a bitch,” Ryan commented. “This hypocrite stands in front of the world all high and mighty preaching of impending doom from the continued use of fossil fuels and behind everyone’s back his foundation secretly buys up struggling oil companies. I’ll be damned.” He shakes his head in wonder and passes on the paper.
Netanya read the names and numbers printed on the sheet. “So, as it stands, we don't know if any of this message is true? Someone could be setting you up?”
His enthusiasm curbed momentarily; a grin crept back onto Ryan's face. “But…what if it is true. This information would mean that our beloved Climate Prophet is using this whole “the earth is dying” scam to devalue the energy industry and scoop up corporations for pennies on the dollar.” Ryan fell silent, his brain leaping to conclusions before continuing. “Jeez. I wonder how many unsuspecting companies worldwide the Foundation could have been purchased in these conditions? Our friend Lucas has been busy playing both ends of the energy game, clean energy, and fossil fuels.”
"If the information is correct." Netanya reminded.
Ryan turned back to the printer. The staccato beat of the machine shakes the small table underneath it. More names of secretly acquired energy companies along with dates of acquisitions and the names of board members rolled out in black ink. Several sheets later, another startling discovery, the names of the foundation's subsidiaries and dollar amounts spent on political campaigns from a score of different countries involving politicians of all levels of government.
“How in the hell was he able to keep this secret. The man has influenced the elections in countless countries, ours included. How?”
“Your friend, the Climate Prophet has unquestionably become very powerful,” Netanya admitted. “Maybe too powerful.”
“But how was this possible?" Ryan said as he waved a handful of freshly printed papers in the air. "Why hasn’t any of this come out before?”
“I suppose by misdirection,” she mused. “Lucas convinces the world he is out to save us, and while people are busy applauding his efforts, the Foundation moves in the shadows and builds an empire.” Netanya took a breath. “Don’t you think we are getting ahead of ourselves? This information could be completely bogus.”
“How about your associate's at Shabak? They should be far enough removed from this situation to allow for some discreet digging.” Ryan asked. The printer stopped. Instinctively, he rebooted the email attachment deciding to print a second set of copies. Grabbing a couple of vanilla envelopes he carefully divided the pile of papers into separate packets. One he passed to Netanya. The second bundle he took and rushing out of his apartment explained he would return shortly.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.