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.
23 nautical miles east and of the continent of North America off the Atlantic shore of New Brunswick, Canada.
Captain Lennart Johansen awoke to a knock on his stateroom door. A yeoman hollered through the metal door, delivering an urgent message from the bridge. The first mate Mathias Solberg requested his presence at the helm. Captain Johansen dressed quickly and stepped out of his cabin into the foggy Atlantic night, displeasure at being roused from his sleep putting the man in a foul mood. The message from First mate Solberg was vague. Lennart shrugged deeper into his slicker warding off the chill air.
His cabin situated close to the main bridge of the medium sized Norwegian oil tanker, the Mette Kristensen Offshore so with long, determined steps Captain Johansen crossed the frosty, metal deck and slipped into the heated bridge slamming the door shut locking out the frigid air that followed him. Loosening his coat, Captain Johansen made his way straight for ships controls. First mate Solberg greeted the captain.
“Sorry to disturb you, sir,” Mathias Solberg apologized as he pointed to a blank ships console. “The board's power has been shorting out. At first, it was only flickering, but now I have lost all readings.” Solberg explained.
“Have engineering take a look at it. A power shortage is what you woke me up for!” the captain angrily replied.
Solberg shrunk at the man's words. Captain Johansen was one of the finest men ever to sail ocean rated cargo ships, but even more respected among the Norwegian crews who worked the ships was the bite of his temper.
“The ships communications have shut down, also.” Solberg volunteered. “I have sent a man down to engineering. I am still awaiting his return.”
“Pull back on the turbines, bring us to a full stop.” Johansen’s anger faded as he realized the trouble that awaited the crippled ship. “What were the last coordinates you were able to check?”
Solberg referred to a logbook sitting above the ship's console. As he read off the longitude and latitude of the crippled ship, the blood drained from Johansen’s face. Grabbing a maritime map the captain asked his first mate to read the coordinates again. With his finger, Johansen traced the map pinpointing the ships position. “How long have the instruments been acting up? What was the ship’s speed last you checked?”
“On and off for the past hour and a half, at least. Twenty-five knots.” Solberg replied.
Johansen did the math in his head. The 183-meter long oil tanker, carrying more than 700,000 barrels of Saudi crude at an average speed of around 20 odd knots and now drifting.
“Felberg.” Captain Johansen called to the closest crewmember. “ Get down to the engine room and tell the men to reverse the ships turbines. I need them to bring the ship to a full stop…immediately. There is no time to waste, hurry. Now,” Johansen urged.
First mate Solberg stared at the map where the Captain’s finger remained. Panic slowly began to build. This quadrant of the ocean was a minefield of towering metal leviathans. Turbines that were installed over the years to take advantage of the energy produced by the oceans waves and then coupled to the Eastern shores of North America with cables that ran across the ocean floor.
Keeping a cool head, Lennart Johansen turned to his first mate. ”How far behind us is our sister ship the N.S. Bjornstad.”
“The last radar reading put them approximately 3 kilometers back; their speed matched ours.”
Captain Johansen rubbed his bearded jaw. “Surely they will see that we are crippled and adjust their position,” he reasoned out loud. The thought of the other ship ramming the Mette Kristensen combined with the ship drifting aimlessly in the vicinity of the metal ocean turbines was disturbing. Captain Johansen breathed deep trying to calm his racing heart. Naw. He reassured his frantic mind. It was virtually impossible for both tankers to lose their guidance and steering systems. He had nothing to fear.
Two kilometers back of the crippled Matte Kristensen Offshore, the Captain of the N.S. Bjornstad did indeed notice the first boat power down. Raising the ship-to-ship radio, he called ahead to inquire. Static greeted him. Over and over he tried to communicate with the Captain of the forward Norwegian tanker. At a kilometer and a half, he switched to the N.S, Bjornstad’s communications and was about to relay the orders to slow his ship when a rumble emanated from the bowels of his ship. The mid-class oil tanker shuddered. The Captain’s coffee splashed over the sides of the cup burning his hand.
The N.S. Bjornstad Captain cursed under his breath and reached for a towel. Turning back to the mess of coffee on the ships instrument panel he caught the panels power flicker then go out. He reached for the ships coms line, the mike silent as he depressed the button. Under his feet, the captain felt the ship vibrate. His years of captaining a cargo ship, he instantly realizing the ship was gaining speed.
One hundred feet below the ship's bridge, men clad in black scaled the tankers side returning to the large rubber zodiac that bobbed, tethered to the larger cargo ship a brief hour earlier. Three more men clambered over the side and down nylon ropes to the small inflatable boat. When the five men were safely inside the boat was cast off and driven in the opposite direction the two oil tankers were traveling.
A kilometer away from the N.S. Bjornstad a second inflatable intersected the five men. The other rubber boat had left the Mette Kristensen after a similar successful mission. The two low-profile rubber boats with their 90 horsepower motors made for a heading due south of their current location.
Ten kilometers behind the crippled Norwegian tankers sat a much smaller ocean going vessel. A 70-foot ship dressed up to imitate the fleet used by the American coast guard. The crew aboard this ship sat anchored, waiting for the inflatables to return before heading back to shore along the Maine coastline.
“It's political suicide,” Saskatchewan Premier Gaylord Humphries exclaimed. “Sending that writ to the Prime Minister notifying his office of our intentions to become a sovereign region within the borders of Canada. I don’t know. If Emery calls our hand and sends the army to take control, what in the hell will we do?”
Sam Cavanaugh, the elected leader of the newly declared independent Western Canada Region, glared at Humphries. “We’ve rehashed this same question for months now. What can he do? The man has sold out our country already. This whole green energy policy he put forward has done nothing but squash the countries economy. Millions are out of work and this ridiculous idea of his to power the country with friggin windmills and Chinese-produced solar garbage, hell, why not give everyone a shovel and tell them to dig holes in the ground to live in!”
Cavanaugh’s face reddened. “What would you have us do? Continue to sit on our asses and watch as our friends and neighbors freeze in the dark while their families starve,” the leader of the newly independent nation replied. “Our region has a vast amount of resources and we,” Cavanaugh used his hand and in a sweeping circle pointed to every member of the newly stated independent alliance. “All of us at this table agreed to use those resources to support our republic and put people back to work. Let our residents work and if not prosper at least they will be able to help their families.”
Manitoba Premier Ralph Stanley stood to join Cavanaugh. “He’s right. We’ve had our debates on this issue, now is not the time to be getting cold feet. You of all people,” Stanley focused on the Saskatchewan Premier, “You were all for our split from the rest of Canada. What happened to make you suddenly change your mind?”
Humphries looked from one colleague to the other. “I…I don’t know, too many variables I suppose. Our population is small compared to the remaining provinces. I know we talked and planned this out.” He stopped and stared at his hands, his face a mixture of conflicting thoughts. “Can we do this? Can we honestly sit here and decide what’s best for the constituents of our provinces.”
“Our provinces have the resources to sustain the population. We grow an abundance of food. Cattle flourish and with our refineries, we have all the fuel we need to weather this storm,” the leader of the new country locked eyes with his contemporaries gathered around the table. “The Prime Minister has been informed. Until now he has failed to reply, which I suppose is understandable with the chaos that his government has spread across this country, so I say we continue to solidify our union and forge our way. Cliff, you have anything to add?”
Cliff Featherstone, the acting premier of the combined Northern Canadian Territories, set down the sheaf of paper he was reviewing. “Unless we want to return to the stone ages I say we move forward on the path we have chosen. My people are used to the rough life living at the top of this country but let me tell you, the Inuit people are not about to go back in time so that we can freeze and starve like our ancestors. My people have made great strides to catch up with the modern world, and we are planning plan to stay there.”
“Good. Then it's settled.” WCR leader Cavanaugh rapped the table with his hand. “I have had talks with counterparts of ours south of the border." Cavanaugh turned his attention back to the Manitoba Premier. "What are they calling themselves these days?" He searched his mind for the elusive name of the group of breakaway states below the forty-ninth parallel.
Premier Stanley interjected. "The Protected States of America."
"Yes. The Protected States of America. They have assured me that they will gladly accept oil and gas exports from us. As with The beef and lumber, I am certain we will be able to sell outside our new borders. Plus, we have the support of these rogue states. They will stand with us against any retribution from our federal governments. Bureaucrats that have failed our both our countries and the very people they claim to represent.”
Sam Cavanaugh rifled through reports he had commissioned in respect to the regions resources before changing the subject. “I imagine a lot of this hypothesis will depend on how our relationship with the rest of Canada pans out, though.”
“What will we do when the protesters start reappearing and hampering our oil production?” Manitoba Premier Stanley asked. The question was rhetorical but seeing as the men at the table wanted to rehash old business he wanted to clarify the council's decision. The other Premiers at the table, he included, had reasons to be nervous. Claiming sovereignty from the rest of Canada had its risks.
“We will stand with what we had initially decided. We show them the door. There is a vast world outside our borders that may tolerate their high selfish morals. We, gentlemen, will not. As agreed, the days of protests being used to delay or shut down any form of energy production will not be allowed within our borders.”
“Here, here,” the remaining members of the newly independent Western Canada Region cheered. Leader Cavanaugh addressed Stanley. “You have the hardest job, my old friend. What is the status on our new militia? If the Prime Minister does decide to involve the army, we are going to need to defend our borders. And even with the Prime Minister’s response, be it as it may, we will need to ensure the safe transport of our oil products south. Make damn certain we have armed escorts for the truck and train convoys as they leave the refineries. As far as I’m concerned we are in a perpetual state of war.”
The gray of dawn seeped over the country as Zhernakov and his crew turned into the yard of the abandoned farm. Weary from the long night of travel, the men entered the house. The mission complete, the men would spend the next couple of days hidden before seeking separate routes back to the more hospitable surroundings.
Zhernakov slept a few hours of troubled sleep. He joined some of the men in the kitchen and sat sullenly listening to their conversations over a cup of scolding coffee. The talk covered a range of topics, the work of the previous night not among them.
Throughout the day the men slept and ate, drank coffee and slept again. A meal of steaks, pierogies, and smuggled Russian beer rounded out the evening. As dark settled over the region, the men huddled in their sleeping bags, tired from a second restless day of boredom, the trips away from the deserted farm the only thing to occupy the Russian’s minds.
Zhernakov rolled awake, the house eerily quiet in the early morning hours. Lying motionless on his back with his eyes open he stared through the dark at the low ceiling listening to the creaking and groaning of the ancient farmhouse. He attributed his restlessness to the days of pent up tension from the planning and execution of the mission deep inside the Ukrainian country. Unable to fall back to sleep, Zhernakov slid the zipper of the bag open and fumbled in the dark for his work boots. Climbing from the warmth of his bedding he crept ghost-like across the rough floorboards and out the back door into the still night air.
Wandering away from the house, he used the dim moonlight to navigate through the trees occasional scraping against branches. A faint game trail opened. He followed it deeper into the overgrown bush. Zhernakov stopped beside a large old spruce to relieve himself before fishing out his packet of cigarettes. About to touch his lighter to the waiting cigarette his solitude was interrupted as a tsunami of super heated air tossed him face forward into a clump of smaller trees. A broken branch sliced across his chest ripping his coat and shirt exposing flesh.
The boom that accompanied the blast of air registered briefly on his traumatized brain. A minute passed. Then ten more minutes ticked by before Zhernakov raised his dazed head. Shaking away the remnants of a concussion he stood on wobbly legs and turned to face the farmhouse. Orange and yellow flames licked the sky where the house and the other men had rested only a short time earlier.
With a more violent shake of his head, the web of confusion lifted leaving his world silent but for a buzzing inside his skull. Propped against a tree, he began to push off when a silhouette appeared highlighted between the burning house and the edge of the bush. A moment passed. A second form walked into the scene. Two men stood with their backs to Zhernakov as they gazed at the flaming pile of rubble. A conversation ensued.
Zhernakov struggled to make out the words. At first, the noise in his head drowned out the voices. Then slowly words became clearer.
“Make damn certain that the trucks in the barn don’t burn completely,” the first man spoke before releasing a short, derisive laugh. “These stupid greedy Russians,” the man continued. “They are so motivated by power and money that they fail to see the strings directing them. “Call the Foundation. Tell them they can expect the war between the Ukraine and Russia move to the next stage.”
The man paused and looked around. His gaze swung past the tree where Zhernakov hid before pivoting his head back around to survey the damage. “The ensuing war should no doubt curtail the exporting of any oil and gas from these countries for a long time.” The man lightly patted the second man on the back. “Mission accomplished I’d say. Tell the men to hurry. Even in this remote area, someone is likely to have heard the explosion and see the fire.”
Zhernakov remained leaning against the tree. Not trusting his hearing he patted at his ears to rid the buzzing. Disoriented, he willed his brain to make sense of the last few minutes. What had just happened he wondered? The language the man spoke. It wasn’t Russian, or the vulgar Ukrainian…his mind stumbled…yet, he understood the words.
A bolt of understanding jarred his muddled thoughts. American. The man had spoken in American, a language every Russian Special Forces member worth his salt learned to comprehend. What the…. Rage pushed against the lingering effects of the explosion in Zhernakov’s head.
Instincts from years of training and service replaced the confusion. Zhernakov reacted like the soldier he was trained to be. His men were dead, and he wanted to find out by whose hand. Slipping behind a grove of trees, he plotted a course through the bush to the front of the property where he surmised that these men must be gathered.
Making a wide arc, he forged on. Sweat dripped down his chest. Pausing to wipe the sweat Zhernakov dried his hand in his pant leg. The sweat continued. He swiped again bringing his hand up close to his eyes. The hand was dripping red. Glancing down, he realized the moisture wasn’t from exertion but from the gaping cut that traveled diagonally across his exposed chest. Zhernakov clutched a handful of torn material and pressed the cloth tight. He staggered, his eyes rolled back into his head before he sank to the ground.
Lucas stood overlooking the shipping docks at the San Francisco freight terminal. Large Oceangoing cargo ships from China lined the port. The ships laden with the containers of metal towers and solar panels made with the rare earth minerals found mainly in China. With the ever-growing demand for sustainable power, a subsidiary of the P.O.T.E. Foundation had approached the Chinese government and requested a substantial increase in production.
Rarely having the occasion to see just how the board members of the Foundation carried out the daily business of importing and transporting the products from China, Lucas found that a previous engagement on the west coast timed out well with the delivery of the green power stations. Out of curiosity, he begged off an appointment to wonder among the docks and get a first-hand account.
The importation and transport of the burgeoning green energy products were left up to the officers running the Foundations Sustainable Energy Division of which Lucas had little knowledge. Today, while attending a different meeting, he felt a desire to see the process in action and reveled in the chaos of the shipping terminal as he breathed in the salty sea air.
Jim Vanbaggin, the CEO of the Foundations S.E.D acted as his host and guide. While the two men stood high above the bustle of boats and trucks, Vanbaggin explained about the incoming shipment.
“This whole shipment is destined for the Midwest,” he stated. A convoy will travel the few thousand miles where we have teams actively clearing the land and reading the sites for these metal wonders.”
“What kind of timeline are we looking at?” Lucas interjected.
“From ship to standing and wired to the system is probably a solid six months,” Vanbaggin said, then as an afterthought added. “That’s thanks to you. If you hadn’t procured the diesel for the trucks, I don’t know how long the time frame would have stretched.”
Lucas nodded absentmindedly. “What happened to the supply of fuel we keep on reserve for our transportation and why are we not shipping these units by train? Explain that to me again."
The CEO turned from his guest and gazed out over the jammed port. “Rebels,” he answered in one word. “Train traffic east of the Rockies has become sporadic especially through the newly formed Protected States. The alliance ignores the feds in Washington and has begun confiscating any train or truck traffic of ours through their region. Our shipments are now routed either north of the border or through Mexico costing extra time and fuel.
Gas and diesel shipments are under constant attack these days. The Foundation’s refineries operate under heavy guard and to get the fuel to the coast we again have to run down and across Mexico and I am sure that I need not remind you that most of the refineries owned by the Foundation are now within the borders of the new Protected States. If word were to leak out about our ownership of the plants…”Vanbaggin let the sentence hang in the air before he resumed, “even our cargo ships are being attacked on the open ocean. I have requested more guards and stricter measures…” Vanbaggin locked eyes with the Climate Prophet. “People are desperate, Lucas. With the shortage of fuel of any form the average American can not afford to buy their own.”
“I don’t understand. Are we not providing ample power from our panels and turbines? Why don’t these people take advantage of the clean energy we are pouring into the systems? Why do they insist on the dirty fuel?”
“When was the last time you roamed the streets of our country?” Jim Vanbaggin retorted. “The typical working man can’t afford the luxury of driving an electric car; their homes are heated by gas furnaces and besides, the power grids that are supplying the cities are fickle at best.”
“Can China ramp up production? Speak to them. See what they can do. How about on our part, can we not speed up the time of installation once these products reach our shores?” Lucas probed. “We are giving the people of the world what they wanted, are we not. They protested and balked at the continued use of fossil fuels. Outcries about the warming of the planet echoed throughout the world had it not?” Lucas’ face reddened as his anger grew. “What the hell did they expect? Did they seriously think that the world could be weaned from the oil addiction, but nobody would have to suffer?”
Turning on his heels, Lucas walked away from his short reprieve gazing out at the ocean’s beauty. “Double, no, triple the guarding of your diesel supplies. Hire every man and women who are unemployed and speed up the installation process,” he shouted over his shoulder. “The Foundation has the money. Use it to complete our mission,” he said as he stormed out of the shipping office door.
The anger that had consumed him not fraught from the CEO’s bad news but driven by the nightmares of a world scorched to cinders by an out of control climate caused by the burning of the earth’s dirty energy. Faces and screams of the planets population clung to his mind ever since the terrible visions he had suffered all those years earlier as he lay in the hospital, thus the reason for his unbending stance on the replacement of the world’s energy supply.
Popular or not he had no inclinations of changing his path. He would save the world from a premature death whether his fellow man liked it or not.
Climbing into the last truck with Amelin and a driver, the Russian captain remained silent, his eyes looking out into the surrounding blackness as the trucks rolled down the highway toward the city of Ternopil. A trip he was told that would take until the following evening. At Ternopil, another pair of Russian sleeper agents would meet with the eight men now traveling the dark Ukrainian highways.
Lev Zhernakov’s thoughts raced ahead at the risky mission deep across the enemy country. The people joining his group from the Ukraine were Russian nationals who had been planted in the country many decades ago and bided their time waiting the day they were to of service to their home nation. Some of the men had never set foot in the Motherland. Born of Russian parents who had been transplanted to the Ukraine in the mid-twentieth century during the KGB’s far-reaching secret sleeper initiative, but all the men, he was assured, were as dedicated to Russia as he was.
The final piece of the puzzle joined the team of Russian patriots at an abandoned farm on the outreaches of Ternopil. Zhernakov’s convoy split at a small town 50 kilometers away from the Ukrainian city. Each truck ordered to travel the remaining distance over different routes.
Zhernakov and Amelin exited the major highway 30 kilometers south and east of the smaller Ukrainian city, the final leg driven over a dusty, neglected gravel lane that avoided the urban center. Several times the back roads crossed the meandering Seret River, the same river the city of Ternopil sat alongside.
“Stop here,” Zhernakov instructed the driver and pointed to a trail leading into the bush. By his calculations, the rendezvous was less than couple kilometers way from the turnoff. The Special Forces leader took nothing for granted. The men he now traveled with and depended on were unknown to him and for all he knew could be collaborating with the enemy to capture the foreign Russian interlopers.
Zhernakov asked the driver to extinguish the truck lights, including the interior light and waited while the Western Ukrainian dusk pushed the daylight farther west for the night. “Wait here until I return,” he commanded before adding. "Have the other trucks wait with you when they arrive.”
Easing the door open he quietly slid from the cab of the truck. Zhernakov walked the short distance back to the gravel road where he stood among the dense bush lining the ditch and lit a cigarette. His eyes traveled the length of the gravel lane in both directions.
Satisfied at the emptiness of the country road, Zhernakov walked the grassy ditch, his body tight to the overgrown trees and slowly marched the remaining distance to the farmhouse.
Approaching the opening from a stand of shrubs he studied the layout. A short distance from the abandoned house stood a leaning barn of mud and straw on a stone foundation. Through the darkened entrance to the dilapidated building, The Special Forces captain noticed a corner of a bumper and a sliver of red from a taillight. In the quiet of the evening, hushed voices filtered from inside the barn and drifted across the overgrown yard to the bush where he lingered.
Zhernakov remained patient, his eyes constantly roving the bush around the deserted farm. His instincts buzzed. After all these years of living in a foreign country could these men still be trusted or did their loyalty now lie with others? With every breath, he fought the expectation of finding armed Ukrainian military hiding among the buildings and in the forest that surrounded the farm. An ambush was not the way he wanted this mission to end.
Methodically he swung his gaze from the farmhouse to the barn and then slowly studied the shadows of the out buildings. The mission was too important for him not to be cautious. After a time of surveying the grounds he gingerly crept along the cover of the trees edging closer to the barn and the voices.
Crouching in the long grass alongside the crumbling stonewall, he rose up and peered through a broken window. Two men lounged against a small cargo van. The pair’s actions told of boredom and time spent waiting not the hyped nervousness of a deceitfully laid trap. Zhernakov listened to the conversation, the men joked and talked in Russian.
Blending in with the night sounds, Zhernakov crept away from the barn and circled the rest of the farm buildings checking for any signs of a deception. His fears of an ambush pushed aside, for the time being, he entered the barn through the hanging wooden door.
An hour passed before he phoned Dimitri Amelin and requested the trucks driven to the site.
Zhernakov let the men sleep as he quietly left the house and wondered in the frosty morning mist. Dew on the long grass beaded and soaked the legs of his pants and the canvas sides of his boots adding to the morning chill. Ducking into the old stone barn, Zhernakov opened the back van door and lifted a tarp covering the equipment for the last stage of the mission.
With a grunt of satisfaction Lev Zhernakov marveled at the trunks cargo. Fishing in his shirt pocket he retrieved a crumpled pack of cigarettes. The brand was as close to the Russian cigarettes he smoked but like all things about the hated Ukraine, the cigarettes left a bad taste in his mouth. This country had a way of making everything wrong he fumed as he struck a match and lit the end.
Puffing on the cigarette, he closed his eyes and felt the nicotine flood into his body. With the smoldering match in his hand, he backed away from the trunk load of explosives, lungs full of cigarette smoke easing his tension. Leaning against the rickety barn wall, he contemplated the cargo in the back of the van, enough explosives and detonating equipment to start a small war. The Russian laughed at his unintentional joke. Wasn’t that the plan after all? A war the Ukrainians will never see coming he thought.
Zhernakov marched back into the house. The men and supplies were all gathered at this forgotten farmhouse in Western Ukraine. Time to share the details of the last part of the plan. The target area started a half-day drive from the remote farm and spread out for 50 kilometers in a westerly direction. The target, the large Ukrainian natural gas terminal that acted as the central hub for the nation's gas fields. Gas supplies were shipped from across the country to the terminal and then, in turn, shipped onward in above ground pipelines to supply the insatiable European market.
The mission, Zhernakov realized, bordered on industrial espionage. With the Ukrainian terminal destroyed and the natural gas supply severely disrupted Europe would have little choice but to crawl back to Russia for fuel to heat their homes and run their power plants?
With the men divided up into three groups, the Russian captain sent the first truck heading west with specific instructions. Each small band left the farmhouse at staged intervals. Zhernakov wasn’t foolish or egotistical enough to try attack or even attempt to sabotage the main terminal. The Ukrainians guarded the sprawling industrial behemoth with more firepower than they sent to patrol the border between the two countries. No. The plan was much simpler. Zhernakov’s plan would use the overland gas pipelines to his advantage.
The men had kept busy through the early morning hours. The first part of the agenda required the cargo trucks transformed from the standard white to a colored striping and matching decals of the Ukrainian government service fleet. Meticulous details were studied and applied to matching the vehicles before license plates stolen from a government maintenance shop and then switched in place of the originals. As the time drew near the men donned the emblazoned uniforms of the government run Gas coop.
The first truck left the abandoned farm one hour ahead of the second team. Their trip was the longest and would take the men farther to the west, kilometers past the heart of the Ukrainian gas complex. The second team was prepped to leave at a designated time followed by Zhernakov and his crew. A day of long travel and tense nerves kept Zhernakov focused as the pieces of the most crucial part of the mission unrolled.
5 kilometers due east of the mega natural gas plant, Russian Special Forces captain Lev Zhernakov gave the word to the truck driver to pull off the road and into an empty field. Under the star-filled sky, he left the truck; his radio tuned to a unique frequency and stared at the stars waiting for progress reports from the other two crews.
A couple of hours after midnight Zhernakov relayed the final orders. The three teams of saboteurs used the cover of darkness as they drove the trucks across empty roads and through fields distributing the cargo from the backs of the trucks. Each team assigned predetermined destinations along the miles of exposed banks of pipelines using GPS coordinates to target the vulnerable sections of infrastructure.
After achieving their task, Zhernakov’s team drove back east from the target and parked at a chosen rendezvous, a flat mountain that looked west in the direction of Lviv and the large Donets Gas Cooperative. The first team to leave the farmhouse had already been in contact with Zhernakov their task accomplished. By four a.m. the second of the remaining crews returned, their jobs as well, complete.
Checking his watch, Special Forces captain Zhernakov dug three remote transmitters out from the inside of his coat and stuffed them in his front pocket. The time of truth was near. With a slight tremble to his fingers, the Russian fished a cigarette loose and stuck it between his lips. Cupping his hands to shield the flame he flared his lighter and drew on the slender white tube of tobacco until it glowed.
A drop of sweat ran the length of his face as his lungs filled with tobacco smoke. As an obedient soldier he had never questioned his orders, but then again his orders never gave him second thoughts as what he was about to accomplish. His training was for armed sorties into hostile environments, the rescue of his fellow countryman. This plan was sabotage plain and simple. And even with his naturally born hatred of the Ukrainian people, he would never wish what was about to take place upon any human in any country.
Zhernakov glanced at the hands on his watch again. Taking a long drag off the cigarette, he palmed the transmitter marked 1. The minute hand ticked to the top of the hour. Zhernakov applied pressure with his thumb on the remote's button. He held his thumb down until the button glowed green.
Off in the distance, a trace of light flared and then vanished, followed by a series of eruptions to the west of the gas plant. He passed the remote and dug out the second one. Repeating the procedure a second series of flare-ups filled the starless night sky. Now the waiting, time was required for the final part of the plan to set up. With the miles of gas lines spewing the flammable, toxic gas into the surrounding area, a required amount of time for the build-up of a vapor cloud. The weather over the region had cooperated, no wind to dissipate the accumulating gas.
Ten minutes passed, then fifteen. After twenty-nine minutes had marched by, Zhernakov readied the final remote. His thumb held poised over the small black plastic box. With his eyes glued to the minute hand of his watch, he sucked in a lung full of air, slowly letting the breath out as his thumb squeezed the red button. The button flashed green. Immediately he raised his eyes to the western horizon.
The men in his group joined his vigil. Seconds seemed like hours. A slight breeze rattled leaves. The peaceful night sky suddenly erupted in a bright white and orange explosion. From across the countryside, a roar rose from the ground in the west and rode the tops of the trees until it reverberated against the mountain walls. The sound followed closely by loud, volatile eruptions of miles of above ground steel gas pipelines.
Zhernakov dipped his head. The thought of countless lives that he suspected would perish by his hand. Grimly he ordered his men back into the trucks.
Silent Crusade - YouTube the trailer for my latest Brand Coldstream book. Have a peek....
The ringing of Ryan’s cell phone interrupted his discussion with Netanya Kalb. Flashing on the screen was the number from the D.C. Bureau office.
“Excuse me a minute,” Ryan ventured away from Netanya and returned to the bedroom for privacy. “Hello. Special Agent Ryan,” he answered.
“Ryan, District Chief Tom Wilkerson. Are you wrapped up in Venezuela yet?”
“Yeah, Pretty much chief. I think I’ve sifted through all the details. I am waiting for a couple of reports from the Venezuelan Police, but I can have them sent to me. Why?”
“Grab your things; we’ve got trouble in the Ukraine. These damn terrorists seem to be methodically destroying the oil supply in every country. I received word that there was an explosion at the natural gas plant near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. The Donets Gas Cooperative is the hub of gas exports and supplies a quarter of the heating fuel used in Europe." The FBI District Chief paused. "If the estimates of damage are anywhere close to what I've read, the pipeline will take years for them to rebuild and have up and running, the Ukrainian economy will be on the verge of collapse."
Charles Ryan whistled in astonishment at the news, "That is undoubtedly going to play havoc with the short fuel supply Europe has already been facing." Ryan commented.
"Hang on a second.” Ryan heard the chief's muffled voice as the man covered the phone receiver. Ryan listened to a muffled conversation between Wilkerson and another FBI agent. The conversation ended followed by a few seconds of dead air before the FBI chief spoke again.
“Okay, thanks,” the words Tom Wilkerson spoke before he removed his hand from the receiver and resumed the conversation. “Jesus,” he muttered under his breath, “I’m not sure if this case is related now. An update just came across the wire. Ukrainian authorities have discovered the burnt remains of members from the Russian Special Forces within driving distance of the explosions. The remains of fake government vehicles were found in another torched building close to the bodies.” Wilkerson read the details of the report to Ryan.
“Still, I will have the coordinates and a copy of the initial report uploaded for you to read on the plane ride. I've included the name of a Ukrainian Spetsnaz officer who will meet you at the airport in Lviv.” Ryan again suffered the silence as the chief paused. “What the hell is going on?” the chief uttered. “Ryan, we need to get to the bottom of this. If the Ukrainians retaliate and go to war with their neighbors, the disruption to the oil supply will cause severe consequences, not just to Europe but to the entire world.” The District Chief Wilkerson fell silent once again then added as an afterthought. “Have you been in contact with any of the others agencies involved in this investigation? What are they saying? Have any of our fellow agencies caught a lead?”
Charles Ryan updated the FBI Chief, the lack of information or evidence pointing to any particular group still out of reach. Wilkerson stopped the agent once Ryan began flogging his often-repeated hypothesis.
“Evidence. Agent Ryan. We need evidence, not some crackpot conspiracy theory that you concoct to suit your needs.” Ryan’s boss scolded. “Find something in the Ukraine. Whoever is behind this can’t remain anonymous forever.”
“I’ll do my best Chief,” Ryan promised and cut the connection. He returned to hotel suites main room.
“Time for me to pack up, there’s a flight to the Ukraine with my name on it,” Ryan explained the phone call to Netanya Kalb. “I don’t get it,” Ryan said. “Here we are running around like a dog chasing his tale while the environmentalists are blowing every refinery and pipeline to kingdom com and yet everyone refuses to see them for what they are. How can that be possible?” Ryan fumed as he moved about the room collecting his spread out papers.
The sixth of April 2019, two weeks before Agents Ryan and Kalb’s meeting in Venezuela.
Captain Lev Zhernakov, the leader of a small band of Russian Special Forces, stood outside his car a quarter of a kilometer from the Ukrainian/ Russian border. Captain Zhernakov accepted a cigarette from one his men and waited for a light. Drawing heavily on the burning tobacco, he sat on the hood of the car and stared straight ahead at the dim lights of the guard station. Lost in thought, the Captain sat immobile until the cigarette he held pinched between his fingers consumed the thin paper down to the filter and burned his skin.
Flicking the butt to the ground, Zhernakov calmly slid off the hood of the car and stomped out the smoldering filter.
“Comrade.” Zhernakov addressed sergeant Konstantin Yeleshev. “Our contacts. You have apprised them of our arrival?”
“I have taken care of that, Captain,” Yeleshev replied. “We are to meet a day and a half from our destination near the western edge of the country. New transportation and the supplies you requested will be waiting.”
Captain Zhernakov nodded his approval. He lingered at the front of the late model Ukrainian made ZAZ Tavria; his mind still focused on the risky operation that would take him deep into the Ukrainian territory. If anything, Captain Zhernakov left little to fate. He had survived countless assignments for his country because of meticulous attention to detail.
The once rigid border leading into the Ukraine had disappeared a decade ago when Russia annexed the Western half of the country, but his team had to enter this part of annexed Russia as Ukrainian nationals, the façade they traveled under must be complete and beyond reproach once they crossed the Ukrainian border.
The first leg of the mission his unit faced was to move through the Russian-annexed part of the Ukraine not as countrymen but as Ukrainian nationals. This fact was vital if Zhernakov completed the task asked of him by the Russian government. Captain Lev Zhernakov was well aware of the hatred that burned between the two warring countries. Crossing through the often fought over territory had its hazards depending on what nationality a person represented.
Dressed in the civilian garb of the local Ukrainians, the border, now manned by Russian soldiers could prove to be a tense situation, setting the tone for the rest of the campaign.
The journey started that morning once Zhernakov and his two colleagues left the small Russian city of Shebekino shortly after breakfast. At the hotel, the men had changed into their disguises leaving all traces of their Russian culture behind. The risk of being identified as Russian military or even a citizen of the mother country could cause a backlash resulting in dangerous consequences for the faltering Russian hierarchy.
The timing of the drive from Shebekino, through the Belgorod Oblast and to the crossing planned for a mid-morning arrival, a time of day that the working people of this region would regularly use the passage while attending to the day's business.
The sun peeked thru the early morning mist pointing the direction west. Zhernakov requested the car be stopped short of the crossing to allow a few moments of mental rest before resuming the operation.
Kicking at the groundout cigarette butt, Zhernakov painstakingly reviewed with his men their part of the task. Satisfied with the responses he walked to the passenger door, kicking the hated Ukrainian car before settling into the cramped front seat.
Private Roman Kourov, the third man in the small crew knew the Kharkiv Oblast region better than his fellow Russian comrades. Kourov had grown up in the city of Izyum, south of the crossing when the region was still under Ukrainian rule. Born to Russian parents, Kourov suffered in the Ukrainian province until his late teens when he left his parents home and signed up to join the Russian military. Kourov’s command of the Ukrainian dialect was natural and without the Russian accent making him the best candidate for taking the car thru the Russian-controlled section.
On his captain’s command, Kourov shifted the car into gear, edged into the line of traffic and in turn rolled to a stop at the crossing barrier. Lowering the driver's window, Private Roman Kourov sat looking at the red and white striped barricade blocking the cars path as he waited for the Russian soldiers.
“What’s your business?” a bored guard questioned as he bent to survey the cars interior.
“Driving to Cherkasy. My friends and I are to work there,” Kourov replied accentuating his Ukrainian accent. Kourov handed the Russian soldier a packet containing false Ukrainian I.D.’s and forged work papers. The crossing guard’s bored expression changed when he heard Kourov’s accent. He mumbled a derogatory tirade about the arrivals to his partner than with disgust turned back toward the car and spit, the fluid dribbling down the side of the car.
The pair of guards eyed the cars occupants than the line of vehicles backing up at the gates. “Go before I change my mind. Do not come back this way. We do not need any more of you Ukrainian lichinki in our great country. Now, quickly before I step on you.” The guard growled tossing the packet into the car and motioned for the barrier to rise.
With his eyes glued to the road ahead, Kourov shifted the car into drive and rolled slowly forward. Once past the bar, he glanced at Captain Zhernakov. “This assignment will certainly test our patience.” Zhernakov nodded, he let out a breath and removed his fingers from the butt of his Ukrainian made fort-12 handgun, a firearm manufactured in the Ukraine for its militsya.
Inwardly he seethed, any other day he would have shot the soldier who called him and his men maggots. Zhernakov released another slow breath. For the mother country he reminded himself and for that, he would put up with the insults from the Russian occupied territory and, God have mercy, the time he was to spend with the appalling Ukrainians.
“Our next stop?” he asked Kourov, the man responsible for guiding the trio through the hostile no man’s land that separated the two countries and then for his knowledge of the country for their travels across the Ukraine proper and on to the far west border the country shares with Romania.
By the end of the first day, the trio stopped at the city of Cherkasy, close to the center of the Ukraine, one-third of the way to their destination. Accounting for strategic stops along the way the Captain Zhernakov expected to be across the country in three days, four at the most allowing for unscheduled setbacks.
Mid afternoon on the second day, Private Kourov steered the car into a small out of the way garage on the outskirts of Uman. A prearranged signal with the cars horn resulted with the opening of a large overhead door. The three men remained in the vehicle until the door sealed off the interior of the roadside garage from the outside world.
Roman Kourov climbed from behind the steering wheel and in Ukrainian talked with the lone visible occupant of the building, a mechanic clad in greasy overalls. Captain Zhernakov watched warily as the two men conversed before Kourov flashed the all-clear sign.
A short discussion and then a predetermined transaction took place. From the trunk of the Tavria, the Captain retrieved a worn black satchel. Inside the bag were bounded stacks of hryvnia, the Ukrainian national currency. The garage attendant took his time counting the money before tugging his cellphone from his overalls and relaying a coded message. When the call ended, the mechanic walked to an old fashioned fridge that stood alone in the corner of the cluttered garage bay and returned with four beers.
Surprising Zhernakov, the man handed him one of the beers and addressed him in Russian. “The others will arrive under the cover of darkness.”
Truck engines sounded through the cinder block walls of the garage on the edge of the Ukrainian city of Uman. Zhernakov glanced at his knockoff Timex watch. Eight forty-five the illuminated dial read. From his position inside the building he had watched the sun set, the last streaks of light had disappeared from outside the grimy windows an hour ago. The shop attendant stretched, emptied the last of his beer and lit yet another cigarette before he idly walked to the smaller man-door facing the gravel parking lot.
With an alert mind, Zhernakov tracked the vehicles as they turned off the main road, coasted toward the garage and then idled right out front of the building. He detected three engines, the quiet running diesels incorporated in the Electron EM. A Ukrainian manufactured multifunctional truck that was in wide use across the country by all facets’ of government departments from military to ambulances. For that reason, he had requested these particular trucks for this mission. Zhernakov banked on the trucks going unnoticed by the traveling public because of the widespread use these vehicles received throughout the Ukraine.
A muffled conversation leaked into the garage before the small door opened and several men followed the mechanic into the bay. Zhernakov’s hand rested close to his firearm, his eyes alert to any deception that may arise from the newcomers. Inside the door, the men stopped. The mechanic pointed toward the Russian Captain as he spoke to the group.
A grim faced leader of the second group left the others and crossed the floor toward Zhernakov.
“Dimitri Amelin,” the man introduced himself before asking the Russian Captain a question. The man spoke Ukrainian and laughed as Zhernakov returned the greeting with a puzzled look. Switching to Russian Amelin became serious. “We are in the Ukraine, are we not?” he said with a smile before continuing in Russian. Amelin outlined the part of the mission his team was to provide.
Zhernakov listened stone-faced to the Russian sleeper agent until the man finished his briefing. Mentally checking off each item as Amelin reported, Zhernakov nodded at the end of the update and turned to face the small band of men now gathered inside the garage.
“Mount up men,” he said as he split the group into three and assigned trucks. Zhernakov decided to ride with Dimitri Amelin. A large part of the plan remained on a need to know basis and he would tell his Russian counterpart the necessary details as the time unfolded.
The Ontario Premier rushed out of the limo and held the door for his guests. Lucas stretched as he peered at the front of the Canadian Parliament building. The building stood brightly illuminated in contrast to the flickering city lights of the surrounding area.
Joiner commented on the brightly lit parliament grounds. “Naturally, we can’t have the beacon of our country sitting in the dark. Parliament Hill has its source of power; generators run 24/7 these days to keep the head of our government powered.
Lucas shot a quick glance at the Premier; his mood still soured from the cheap ploy the Ontario Premier had pulled while driving from the airport. Putting his hand on Alice’s back, the two climbed the steps leading into the mainstay of the Canadian government leaving their host behind.
Hugh Joiner quickly swallowed his pride and rushed to join the couple. The errors of judgment by instructing his driver take that particular route to make a point with Lucas becoming plainly obvious. Joiner babbled as the three entered the building to draw Lucas’ mind away from the mistake the Premier had shown. A disturbing thought that he had severely pissed off the man responsible for his tenor as Premier now hung heavy on his mind. Joiner was beside himself in his efforts to erase his mistake.
As the three followed the Parliamentary aid down the large stone hallway to the Prime Ministers office at the back of the building, Lucas offered no signs of clemency toward the Premier, tuning out the man’s feeble attempts at conversation. When their escort stopped at the ornate doors leading into the P.M.’s office, Lucas turned to the Premier.
“I think you’ve helped us enough for tonight Hugh. I would like to speak the Prime Minister privately.” Lucas turned his back on the beleaguered politician. “We will find our way back to our plane. Don’t wait around for us,” he said as he took Alice's arm and walked with her to meet the Canadian head of state.
Carl Emery scrutinized the stack of documents on his desk. The reports his chief of staff had hand delivered to his office a few hours ago sat spread out over the breadth of his mahogany desk. The Canadian Prime Minister read and reread the couriered statements. How could this possibly happen? Again he lifted the last page of the officially stamped declaration. The countries economy was tanking and now this.
The door to his parliamentary office opened. Angrily he raised his head. He had made his instructions to his staff quite clear. He was not to be bothered while he decided how best to deal with the situation at hand. About to snap at the intrusion, his overburdened mind quickly recognized the robed figure and his lady friend cross the threshold. Emery checked his tongue.
With a brief glance down at the papers covering his desk, Emery pushed his chair back and rushed to meet the guests. “Lucas, Alice. My deepest apologies for not personally meeting you at the airport,” The Prime Minister explained shaking Lucas’ hand. “I presume that Premier Joiner explained about the sudden emergency?” Lucas nodded his understanding the P.M. became visibly relieved. “Where’s my manners,” Emery led the two toward his desk. “Please have a seat. Can I offer either of you a drink?”
Seated back behind his desk, the Canadian Prime Minister gushed on about the strides the country had gained moving into a much smaller footprint of fossil fuel use. Carl Emery explained a few of the harsh changes he had implemented toward that goal since the last meeting between the two.
Emery took a breath, his friendly façade slipped. With a tremble in his voice, he cut to what he thought was the reason Lucas had paid this visit. “Before you ask, yes. The tanker traffic coming into our Eastern ports has increased.” The P.M. swallowed nervously. “Let me explain before you remind me of the deal we made.”
“Our country is suffering a recession like none before. Our GDP has retracted to alarming rates. Manufacturing, exports are falling off month by month almost becoming non-existent. Our cities are emptying as people leave in droves looking for work and affordable shelter of any sort. Hell, we’re even having difficulties keeping the lights on, not only here but also all our essential services are now suffering, hospitals, government offices, all the critical services.” Prime Minister Emery leaned back in his chair. “You need to understand. I have no choice. The need to increase the oil supplies from the Middle East is imperative if this country is to avoid insolvency.”
“What about the aid your country receives to mollify the adjustment to renewable energy sources, the turbines and solar panels that arrive on your shores daily from China. Do the people of this country not get paid to install these energy substitutes?” Lucas questioned. “I would think that a vast amount of jobs are being created to replace the downturn in the workforce from the old hay days of your oil based past? Certainly not you or anyone else of average intelligence could have thought that this transition would be smooth and without sacrifices.”
Emery averted his gaze to the top of his desk avoiding further eye contact with Lucas. With a shrug of his shoulders the Prime Minister realized his excuses held no merit with the man seated across from him. Despondent, his mind struggled for a suitable reply. He had signed a deal with the devil when he accepted the P.O.T.E. Foundations backing to win the last federal election. Now like it or not, he would go down in history as the Prime Minister who had sold out his nation.
“The agreement was for you to assume the office of Prime Minister and to lead this great country down the road toward a greener future. You have plenty of resources in the western half of this country that we agreed to allow you to use to aid in the process. I was under the assumption that the majority of Canadians backed the changes. Have they not spent countless years protesting and campaigning against the, correct me if I am wrong, the killing of our planet by the continued use of dirty oil from…the tar sands, isn’t that what they call the area?”
“If it was only that easy,” the P.M. mumbled. A flicker of hope returned as his eyes rested on the last page of the documents sitting on his desk. Lifting his head he slid the page at Marcus without a further word. Marcus picked the paper and raised it to his face. Expressionless he read the few paragraphs contained on the official paper then reread the top section a second time.
“In agreement with the three Prairie Provinces and the Territories of Yukon and the Northwest, we, the sitting premiers, at this moment withdraw our bordered land from the confederation of the Country of Canada. As with, the region west of the Ontario border and east of the Rocky Mountains, above the 49th parallel, will now be considered the sovereign territory and from hereon be known as the Western Republic of Canada.”
Lucas slid the paper back onto the Prime Minsters desk. The emergency the Canadian leader had been alluding to no doubt, he thought. Lucas regarded the meaning of the official document signed by the new Western Canadian contingent. In a rare display of emotion, Lucas smiled at the Prime Minister. “Carl, the People Of The Earth Foundation is not the mafia or a drug cartel. We don’t rely on threats or make people disappear for not living up to our agreements.
An arrangement that I know I need not remind you, that was signed by one of your predecessors at the Paris Climate Accord in 2016. Our Foundation is here to support the leaders of the world so they may accomplish the goal of reversing climate change and improve the state of the environment in each country so the earth will remain inhabitable far into the future. If you feel a need to import a small amount of oil to allow your government to keep control of the country, then so be it.”
“I am confident you will find a way to deal with the rogue provinces in a way beneficial to your nation's well-being, and soon,” Lucas added. “The days of tankers ferrying oil across the open oceans is coming to an end. What kind of impression will this have on the rest of the world if every time a crisis evolves we resort back to carbon-based solutions?” Lucas tapped the documents and rose to leave.
Alice sat motionless at the side of the desk. The only signs she displayed were the slight movement of her head as she watched the volley of words between the two men, her face passive, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with any of the banter.
Prime Minister Emery escorted his visitors to the main Parliament building doors where he bid them farewell. Walking down the stairs to a waiting car, Lucas excused himself. In the brightly lit parking lot, unobserved fingers typed a quick text message then hit send. The continued supply of oil from across the ocean was unacceptable, and an altogether stop was becoming imminent. The planning would involve months of preparation but now was as good of time as any to put things in motion.
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"So this guy was the spokesman for the People Of The Earth Foundation and then while attempting to bomb this refinery in Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, he gets shot?”
“Close, but not exactly,” Ryan corrected the Shabak agent. “The late Professor Ender’s was the original mouthpiece for a much smaller environmental upstart. Lucas Pensworth 3rd, A.K.A. the “Climate Prophet”, the man who now runs the multi-billion-dollar P.O.T.E. foundation, replaced the unlucky professor.”
“So…the professor gets downshifted in rank and takes to traveling the world leading eco-terrorist groups?”
Ryan looked up at the pacing Israeli agent. The two had minutes earlier returned to his hotel room from a late dinner. He refused to talk business while they ate using the excuse that they had plenty of time ahead of them to worry about the tribulations of the world’s energy supplies.
“Have a seat and I will try to brief you on the complexities of this growing irritation that is slowly shutting down the world’s supply of oil.”
Shabak agent Netanya Kalb slowly turned a 360-degree circle from where she was standing. Everywhere she looked she saw piles of papers spread out. Manila folders, newspaper clippings and pages of notes filled the small hotel room.
“Where should I sit,” she asked using her hands to gesture at the stacks of clutter. “Does the bedroom resemble this room?”
“Is that an invitation?” Ryan joked. “I can check to make sure it’s clean.”
“Maybe some other time.” Netanya teased with a smile. Ryan watched the agent’s eyes. The smile on her face betrayed by the icy tone of her reply. Ryan quickly dropped the smart guy routine and grew serious.
“I don’t think the professor was here of his free will. Over the course of this investigation I have met the man several times, and unless I was reading him wrong, he was not the type to traipse across the globe blowing up pipelines and refineries.” He paused deep in thought. “No,” he said shaking his head to emphasize his convictions.
Netanya Kalb wondered from one stack of paper to another, lifting up single pages and newspaper clippings, briefly perusing them then moving on. “Are you always this fixated when you take on a case?” She paused to glance through another stack of papers. “You do know that they have this thing called a computer, right. A little portable machine that you can download all this…” she motioned around at the stacks of clutter, “all these documents.”
Ryan blushed as the Shabak agent stared at him, a couple of files in her hand. “Yeah…well, I guess I’m old fashioned,” he countered sheepishly, “besides computers crash or get hacked." Ryan produced a notebook from his inside coat pocket. "My system is more reliable.”
Netanya Kalb cleared a handful of files off a dinette chair and sat down. “So. Tell me what your gut is telling you. You said you don’t believe that Professor Enders was the type to participate in the spate of eco-terrorism that has plagued the energy industry.” Netanya drummed her fingers on the table surface. “Could the incidents not be random, a coincidental rash of flair-ups undertaken by entirely different environmental groups, each one acting separately, with one copycatting the other?”
Charles Ryan considered the question, thinking of how to prove to the fellow agent the reason for his view. “Come with me into the bedroom.” He lifted up from the couch pointing to the room at the back of the suite.
“Really!” Netanya’s voice dripped with annoyance.
“No…it’s, come on,” he urged and led the way to the back room turning on the lights as he entered. Netanya halted at the doorway and peered into the small hotel bedroom. The bed acted as a storyboard. A series of newspaper clippings were meticulously laid out. A string led from one article to the next, some crisscrossing and all leading upward to a single enlarged photo lying on the pillows. In the picture were three people. The late professor, a woman and the third person clad in a robe.
“You’re not one of those whackos who wear tinfoil hats and see conspiracies around every corner, are you?” Netanya ribbed. “Where do you sleep?”
“Where ever,” he explained walking close to the pillows and with his hand pointed to the pictures and articles to illustrate his thesis.
“Years ago all the smaller mom and pop protest groups began amalgamating under the one umbrella. What is now the People Of The Earth Foundation? Individually these groups had consistent funding and a scattering of followers while they occupied their time with nuisance shit like blocking roads or chaining themselves to equipment or oil leases.” He glanced at Netanya. “The acts of eco-terrorism were small or non-existent.”
Fast-forward a few of years and the protests had grown in both size and ferocity. Thousands of protestors were suddenly shutting down arteries into many cities and major transportation hubs, train shipments, and even airports, basically leaving governments no choice but to bargain with this mega movement.
Now we have organized sabotage occurring worldwide and whoever is running these ops is professional. Until now we have had no clues, no sightings, nothing.” Ryan was now standing close to the wall. His hand shot up and rested against the picture at the top of the pyramid, his fingers tapping the glossy photo.
“That is a whole lot of speculation. Nothing you have told me answers my question. Why can’t these groups still be unattached, moving forward with their an agenda all their own? One separate faction blows up a pipeline and then the next ups the ante and torches a refinery. Coincidences happen all the time, why not now? What makes you so convinced that all of these small assemblies have now joined forces?”
“He’s why.” Ryan stabbed the robed figure in the picture. “From what I have learned from talking to individual and shall we say disgruntled protestors, the smaller factions were given little choice. Join with the P.O.T.E. or have the funding dry up and be, here’s the horror, declassified as a charity. The latter is the lifeline of all environmental groups. Oh, and did I mention the Professor worked for the foundation.
SA Charles Ryan left the bedroom stopping in front of a stack of files on the kitchen counter. He raised a handful of manila folders in the air. “When the seemingly random attacks started escalating I went looking for a different angle. At that time I wondered about the possibility of such an alignment of environmental foundations.”
“Here, have a look at these.” He handed the files to Netanya, walked to the room’s mini bar and removed two small bottles. “Drink?” he asked holding up the bottles.
“Oh. The good stuff, you certainly show a girl a good time, files and vodka.” She nodded and returned to reading. “What exactly am I looking for?”
“You will know when you see it,” Ryan said over his shoulder as he stood by the counter preparing the drinks.
Netanya flipped through the files, quickly at first and then she slowed down studying the pages closer. The first folder contained the lists of directors for a different number of charitable green foundations. Names highlighted in yellow appeared on every sheet she thumbed past. When she looked up SA Ryan was standing by her shoulder, her drink in his hand.
“I am going to guess that all these highlighted names are somehow connected?”
“I have tracked and backtracked most. Other names I had gotten second hands from some informants. I haven’t qualified all the names yet. Too busy flying around the world investigating acts of sabotage.” Stepping to the side he set his drink on a nearby table before lifting yet another file and passed it to Netanya. “Have a look at this file.”
Netanya thumbed the pages. “What are these?” She curiously glanced at hand written pages. Pages full of notes scrawled in pen and containing names of oil corporations. Names of companies on the list she had never heard of before.
“Someone has been busy buying out energy firms,” Ryan smiled over his glass. “And before you ask, no I don’t have any solid proof. All the corporations in that report purchased by ghost companies based outside the U.S, all the strings lead back to one offshore account.”
Ryan drained his glass. “The names of the businesses that were acquired seem to be exempt from the horrors of eco-terror. My tinfoil hat may be a little too tight but what are the odds that only select energy companies are suffering the wrath of environmentalists.”
“If this account is offshore…how did you get this information?”
Ryan shrugged. “I could tell you but…”
“This is serious shit!” Netanya exclaimed.
“Yeah. Tell me about it. If a company doesn’t want to sell, they get paid a visit. Quite the bargaining chip.”
“But to what end. Why would a foundation like the P.O.T.E. be interested in owning any oil producing industries?”
“Do you know who the biggest clean energy company in the world is these days? One guess. From what I can unravel this far, The People Of The Earth Foundation is making a vast fortune off their green energy sales, and they have the majority of the population blindly supporting them. You know, save the environment…ra…ra.”
“So you’re thinking, what…P.O.T.E. buys up and shutters energy companies that use fossil fuels and…okay, now I know you are certifiably crazy…” Netanya stared wide-eyed at Ryan.
“I told you that my hat is too tight. Yes. I think they are removing one type of energy from the market and replacing it with another.” The room fell silent.
“But, if you’re right, who is to stop them from controlling world markets.”
“It may be worse than that. I’ve got a few more folders for you to see.” Charles M. Ryan scooted across the room digging amongst the stacks spread throughout the hotel room. “What do you know about political contributors? A lot of elections have been held all over the globe recently.”
Netanya Kalb raised her head from the file she was reading and locked eyes with SA Ryan. “Have you spoken to anyone about your theories, like, maybe you’re boss for instance?”
Ryan shook his head. “Without substantial evidence, who is going to take the word of a conspiracy theorist over a powerful foundation of Earth saviors?”
“You do have a point,” the Shabak agent agreed. “You had better give me one of your spare tinfoil hats. I think you are going to need help.”
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.