THE LESSER EVIL
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THE LESSER EVIL
“The evil of the world is made possible
by nothing but the sanction you give it.”
In the author’s first novel, SANCTION, the world was confronted with a massive plot to take control of that world by an extremely powerful, unknown group. In reference to the above statement by John Galt from Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, men did get involved in that situation and refused to sanction the threat.
In today’s world, we are not faced with an evil group, per se, but with the effects on the citizens of the world of evil actions and general lawlessness long allowed to fester and now almost completely uncontrolled. It has gotten to the point where “good men” are unable to have peace and security in which to live and raise their families, and the authorities and governments have become hamstrung in their attempts to control the criminal elements and terrorism.
Estimates by several organizations of the world crime statistics indicate more than 206,000 incidences of crime per 100,000 population, twice as many crimes annually as there are people.
According to statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there were an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes reported in the U.S. in 2006. There were an estimated 9.9 million property crimes, excluding arson, reported. Excluding arson, victims of property crimes in the United States collectively lost an estimated $17.6 billion.
In 2005, the United Nations estimated that there were more than 200 million illicit drug users worldwide. According to the UN’s annual drug report, the global drug trade is worth at least $320 billion annually, a figure larger than the gross domestic product of 90 percent of the nations of the world.
There are several countries that have successfully detonated nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia (successor state to the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Israel is also widely believed to have nuclear weapons, though it has refused to confirm or deny this. South Africa has the unique status of a nation that developed nuclear weapons but has since disassembled its arsenal. Iran is widely believed to have a strong program leading to the development of nuclear weapons, and is very close to actually possessing them. Countries that are either sharing or storing nuclear weapons for other countries include Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Canada and Greece. There is no idea how many nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union are not able to be accounted for since the fall of the country from power, especially “suitcase size” weapons.
Death tolls from the major wars and atrocities of the twentieth century, admittedly differing greatly depending on whose statistics are used, are believed to total more than 39 million. This does not include the deaths during the Holocaust of 6 million Jews, or 30 million Russians during their revolution. It is reported there have been more deaths caused by religious persecution in the twentieth century alone than in all the rest of history combined.
Starvation and preventable disease in the past fifty years alone have caused more deaths than all war, terrorism and political repression combined. Estimates indicate that 40,000 Third World children starve to death or die from simple preventable diseases each day, and 60 million people die of starvation each year.
How, in a civilized world, is this possible?
With advances in science giving us space travel and the ability to mine oceans for food, and healthcare that can actually eradicate diseases, how is it we have people dying from starvation and disease by the millions?
With the ability of instant communication between governments, law enforcement agencies and citizens world wide, how can we have uncontrolled crime, criminals feeding off innocent populations with impunity, and so-called leaders of the world being allowed to participate in those criminal activities?
With the ability to harness solar, wind, water and nuclear power, how is it people are living in poverty, dying from starvation, and killing each other to seize control of scarce resources?
In a world that has given birth to so many great minds and achievers in the past, why are we now being led down the garden path to destruction by supposed leaders without common sense, without decency or morals, and without any vision beyond their wallet and personal power?
Why today do we have housing markets crashing while millions are crying out for decent homes, businesses crashing while millions are frantically looking for good products, and economies crashing while millions are looking for decent lives and futures?
Because in a world that has more of everything than has ever been known since the beginning, we’ve lost our courage and our dreams. We have things, not visions. We allow doubts about what we don’t know to stop us, and we fear stepping out to make our own paths. We have criminals, from back alleys to statehouses, imposing their evil and violence on basically decent populations everywhere and forcing or leading the people into lives of fear and decadence. Where is this road taking us?
Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we might oft win
By fearing to attempt.
We’ve become so used to having others do for us that we’ve given up trying on our own because we just know our efforts will be futile. We’ve been led to believe that we have no power, even the right, to make our lives better, so we sit in anger and fear of what goes on around us and wish for others to make things better. We’ve given all power and control over to political, financial and moral representatives, and hope they don’t bother us by suggesting we do something ourselves.
What would it take for mankind to reclaim some semblance of peace and goodness? To do away with some of the evil that abounds in the world?
Suppose you could reach out and personally affect the evil—stamp out some of the evil influences and cause some goodness to return. Would you?
Suppose someone else could do it for you? Suppose someone had the power and resources to rein in the evil and to help you and the other good people of the world gain a sense of real peace—enable you to have the prosperity and comfort you’ve really wanted?
Twin Oaks, California
THE LESSER EVIL
Reggie Carter saw Hawk motion to him and sauntered out onto the front porch. Hawk had carefully checked the streets and the waiting limo before clearing Reggie to come out. Too many dudes gunning for him for deals gone south or for takeover attempts, so he was always cautious. Casually, of course. ‘Never show fear’ was a major rule in his business, both to the competition and his own ‘hood.
Reggie was heading to town. Town was only a few dozen blocks away, but from where he lived, it was forever. He had grown up in the dirt and had fought and killed to get into the good air, but town was still forever away. Town was hotels and clubs and real restaurants. It was respect from hard guys. It was women who couldn’t wait to be invited to join him for a night of promise and excitement. Town was a long way from home, but he was one of the rulers and players, and town was his playground. And tonight was playtime.
His pockets bulged with big bills. Who needed credit cards? Cash was Reggie’s entrance anywhere he wanted to go. And Reggie had plenty of cash. $100. $1,000. $10,000. It didn’t matter. Whatever it took. Pass out cash and don’t look back. Let the good times roll, and roll, and roll.
If you wanted drugs in this city, Reggie was the man. Of course, with a population of only a half-million, it wasn’t the biggest city in the country. Reggie would still have been a small fish in a big pond elsewhere. But here, he was king. He was the man. The controller of whatever needed controlling on the streets. He made more money by far than anyone in the city. Politicians, doctors, real estate giants—nobody was close to Reggie. While they all pretended that he wasn’t there, they all knew he was the man. No one dared to touch him. The police kept trying, and the DA pulled his hair out every time someone mentioned his name, but Reggie was simply impervious to the attacks. Too many layers. Too many people bought and sold. Too much protection. Reggie was the man.
As he stepped out onto the porch and thought of the excitement of the night ahead, he stretched his arms up to the sky and breathed deep. He felt the huge gold medallion bump against his chest—and that’s exactly where the .300 Winchester Magnum slug hit him. It sounded like a sledgehammer slapping into a side of beef, with the explosive blast following an instant behind. The slug itself was certainly big enough and would have done the job, but it pushed most of the huge medallion ahead of it as it entered his body and the damage was horrendous. Reggie was thrown back through the front door and landed in the middle of the huge foyer.
The sound of the shot exploded like a lightning bolt, and Hawk swung around just in time to see Reggie flying backward into the house. He spun in frantic circles for a moment as others ran out of the house with guns already drawn. They all furiously scanned the street and the dark trying to find the assassin, but there was nothing. No sounds of a vehicle racing off, or pounding feet. In fact, no sound at all except for their own shouts. After several moments of chaos they gradually stopped their clamor, and the night became quiet. Deathly quiet.
Gradually, night sounds came back, intensified with the sound of neighbors in the area starting to call out questions. Sirens began to scream in the distance. A voice from one of the men said, “I’m outa’ here,” and then the sound of several feet leaving. Cars starting up and moving away.
The man was gone, and no one was staying to pick up the pieces.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jeff Woolsey continued to watch the scene through his 10x42 Leupold Ultra scope for a few moments, then carefully slid back away from the roof edge and sat up. He was on the roof of the Dooley Hotel, about six blocks from Reggie’s front door. From nine floors up, though, the roof had an excellent view over the homes in between and right onto Reggie’s porch. With the M24 sniper rifle and the scope, the shot had been easy.
He carefully dismantled the rifle and put it back into the specially designed soft leather garment bag he had brought it in, then stood up and walked quietly to the roof door that would take him back to the street. No one had noticed anything odd about him going up; no one would notice him going back out. Just another hotel guest heading to the airport or something.
Nice, he thought. It only took one shot again. Save the rest for another crook, another time, another place. One more down. If the cops can’t get them, there’s always one of us with guts and training enough to do the job. One way or another, things will get better when we finally drive them all out.
"Baksher, ol’ boy. I din’ know you came to these shings any more. Wha’cha doin’ here, mingling with th’ minions?”
“Josh, I didn’t expect to see you. How in the world are you?” Henry Baxter was caught in a crowd of journalists trying to get into the main auditorium for the big event of the conference. He really didn’t like being at these events, but this was supposedly the big one of the year and he couldn’t resist. He had won enough awards for his reporting that he didn’t need this appearance at all, but he was hoping to find a couple of old friends and maybe pick up some tips directing him to his next big story. ‘Good old Josh’ Hayward he hadn’t really expected, or wanted, to see again. A major pain, he thought.
“I’m doin’ fine, Baksher boy, but wha’ ‘bout you? You here t’ scoop all us again?” It was obvious ‘good old Josh’ was well in his cups—again. He had always complained about reporters like Henry getting the best stories and scooping the rest of them over and over. However, his consumption of liquid joy usually ensured he wouldn’t be ready and available if a good story did come his way.
“I’ve got to get over to the phone room quickly, Josh, but it was good to see you. Keep in touch, okay?” He had to almost pry his hand out of the grip of his ‘old friend,’ but did so as gently as possible and moved away quickly. He really had received a call and needed to return it, but if it had been anyone but ‘good old Josh,’ he would have spent some time renewing acquaintances and perhaps probing for possible stories. Just one more reason, he thought, for staying out on my own and avoiding these bashes. They just aren’t profitable enough and generally produce too many bumps with the past. Next year, No!
He got to the room set apart for quiet phone conversations, listened again to the short message, returned the call and waited. He didn’t know where the area and prefix were from, but knew it was an international call. His cell phone was one of the best and had worldwide satellite reception, so he was never far from messages. His call was picked up on the third ring and the voice said, “Hello Mr. Baxter. Thank you for returning our call.”
With a little surprise at the immediate recognition, Henry responded, “May I ask who this is, please?”
The voice replied, respectfully, “I can’t tell you that, Mr. Baxter, but what I have to say will be worth your while. May I continue?”
Henry had no reason to not listen, so simply said, “Yes.”
“Thank you, Mr. Baxter. Do you know of the Hammershed Corporation? Actually known as ‘A. G. Hammershed & Sons, Ltd. Import and Export?’”
“I don’t know them personally, but, yes, I know of them. Import/Export? Seems to me I know them more as a food producer or meat packing operation, something like that.”
“You are correct. They’re well known for their food production, especially the packing of various meat products for worldwide distribution. Their published headquarters are in the United States, but their true headquarters are in The Netherlands, and their main function is the overall importing and exporting of almost anything.”
“Well, then, I guess I do know something of them, but certainly not as much as you apparently do.”
“Then, sir, I would like you to be the first to know of their impending demise.”
There was silence for a long moment before Henry said, “I’m sure you aren’t just trying to be funny, but what is this about? What do you mean their demise? And are you sure you can’t tell me who you are?”
“No, Mr. Baxter, I cannot. But, if I may, I would like to tell you a story. You are free to use it in any report you wish to file. In fact, that’s the reason I’ve called you. We’re considering using you as our conduit to the world on all future events such as this. And, I assure you, sir, there will be many more events. May I continue?”
“Sure,” Henry replied. “I have a recording device built into my phone and I’d like to record our conversation. Do you mind?”
“Thank you for asking, Mr. Baxter. And, no, I don’t mind. We won’t be discussing anything you would be able to use to identify us, and your device won’t be able to pick up my location or phone number.”
Henry noted quickly that his phone was showing a blank for the speaker’s number, then pushed the button to turn on his recorder and the voice continued. “Mr. Baxter, the Hammershed Corporation does business on basically all the continents and has built a huge import and export clientele. I wonder, though, if you know they are also, other than actual governments, the world’s largest supplier of military weapons in the small to medium size range? And that they sell to most of the small, poor and struggling nations of the world?
“Nations that can’t afford food for their people are able to buy all the weapons they desire from Hammershed. Nations that have destitute people with no jobs and no incomes can purchase weapons to threaten and plunder their neighbors. In addition, the weapons purchased are usually hidden under the guise and invoicing of shipments of food and medicine, so the countries look as if they’re receiving materials they really need. Might this surprise you, Mr. Baxter?”
Baxter thought for a moment before replying, “Yes, it does. I haven’t heard of anything like this before. As I said, I’m not very familiar with Hammershed, so I can’t really comment on what you’ve said. But, does anyone else know this? Any of the governments, for instance? Is any of this public knowledge, or is it able to be found in research work?”
“That requires a yes and a no answer. It is not public knowledge and no simple or cursory amount of research would unearth the specifics. There are, however, several governments, and several private companies that do know these details because they participate in the ventures with Hammershed in one way or another. Hammershed just sells the products and arranges deliveries. They don’t manufacture, for instance. They buy the products from several private and governmental sources. I won’t begin to name those sources at this time, but we do have full documentary proof of enough of the transactions that they couldn’t be denied. Internal shipping records, for instance, from a major weapons manufacturer cataloging a shipload of weapons to a storage depot, but with a final invoice to Hammershed from a third party for the materials—listed as medicines and clothing. The ship’s manifest carrying the materials is also available and it has a destination of one of the Hammershed plants. It’s an intricate flipping of documents, for sure, but it still allows a trace of the actual materials being shipped to be seen. We have many other documents like that.”
Again, Baxter sat silently, wondering where this was going. Finally, he asked, “Why have you called me?”
“Earlier I said that the Hammershed Corporation was going to die. I used the words their demise. We would like to have you be the witness of that death and be the recipient of all the documentation of both their deeds and their destruction. Would you care to be that witness and that recipient, Mr. Baxter?”
Henry knew he had dozens of questions about what he was hearing, and he was concerned about legalities and so on regarding any participation with this outfit, but at this point he simply said, “Yes.”
“Thank you, Mr. Baxter. This will end our call for this evening. Early tomorrow morning, about 7 a.m. in your present time zone, you’ll receive an e-mail message telling you where to be and at what time tomorrow night. You’ll witness the destruction of the main Hammershed factory located where you are—a factory almost no one knows of and which is their main weapons shipping center out of Europe. By the time you return to your hotel tomorrow night, you will have received a package containing all the written materials I mentioned just now. In addition, you will later receive a series of messages and documents cataloging the destruction of the personal fortunes of all the owners and senior executives—all of those who know what the company is doing. You are free to use these documents in any way you see fit.
“Mr. Baxter, this is a continuation of the events we started more than three years ago. We’ve been expanding our activities and there will be many more of the same. We now want the world’s citizens to know what we’re doing, so we may come back to you with offers of this type as more events take place. That will depend on how you handle the materials you are given in this event.”
Something in Baxter’s mind suddenly clicked, and he jumped in with, “Wait. I just thought of what you said—you’ve been doing this for a while now. Are you saying you’re the ones responsible for some of these unexplained terrorist activities over the past couple of years?”
“Yes, we are. We don’t happen to call them terrorist events, but we can discuss that later.”
“No, we need to discuss this now. You’re asking me to participate with you in this stuff, but you don’t think it’s worth talking about? And, if they’re not terrorist activities, then what are they? If we’re talking about the same things—government officials getting dumped, bank accounts getting emptied, businesses being shut down—they sure look like terrorist activities to me.”
“I understand how you feel, Mr. Baxter, but we are seeing things from a different perspective. What I would like you to do is go back and review every one of those so-called terrorist events and see what kind of background information you find. In fact, I will send you a list of all the events we’ve caused so you can review them. You’ll see that every event was conducted against individuals or businesses that had been under suspicion of wrongdoing for a considerable time. At no time was anyone brought under fire that was known to be an innocent party to events going on around them. We are definitely not terrorists, Mr. Baxter. We are simply concerned citizens from around the world who wish to put a stop to the evil confronting our societies, and we have a very definite plan and a definite list of targets. Perhaps when the people of the world see what can happen if they will take back the control of their legal systems and legislatures, they will see the wisdom in what we’ve chosen to do.”
Baxter was silent for several moments, and the voice on the phone spoke again.
“I’m sure you are right now trying to make some decisions as to your participation, and I assure you, your hesitation is acceptable. We’ve come to the point in our activities where we feel the public needs to be specifically aware of what we’re doing so they can judge the results and, hopefully, pick up the reins they have dropped and begin working these problems out themselves. Right now, all I’m asking is whether you wish to go ahead with what I’ve told you so far? We may or may not discuss future actions at a later date. What do you say, Mr. Baxter? Will you participate at this time?”
Again, Henry didn’t hesitate. He said simply, “Yes.”
“Thank you, Mr. Baxter. We’ll end the call now and I will contact you in the morning. I do wish you a pleasant evening.”
“Wait. You said the destruction would take place tomorrow night? Was that correct? What do you mean by destruction? And will it be here in Hamburg?”
“Yes, Mr. Baxter. Tomorrow night is correct, except the plant is located a little distance north of Hamburg. We’ll send full directions and instructions. As far as what we mean by “destruction,” you’ll have that answer tomorrow. You will be able to attend?”
“Yes, I will.”
“Very good. Until tomorrow, then. Good night.”
Baxter had been in Hamburg for several days, so he had broken the jet lag barrier for the most part. He was up by 5 a.m., had called for breakfast, showered and prepared himself for the day, and by 6:30 was on his computer reading his messages and sending some story material back to his office in D.C. At almost exactly 7 a.m., a message came on his screen headed Hammershed, and he opened it immediately.
Take Highway 23 out of Hamburg north to the Highway 431 exit. Go west on 431 and simply follow it through Elmshorn to Gluckstadt. Just before the circle entering Gluckstadt, turn to the left onto Am Rethovel. Then, just a short distance, turn left again onto Am Schwartzwasser. A short distance down that street, you will find it branches to the right and left. Stop at that intersection and park facing the direction of the road that continues to the left. As the road crosses the waterway ahead, you will see it turn to the right and then left again. If you can see those turns, you are parked in an appropriate place. Be at that location at nine o’clock tonight. Do NOT go any further down the street. The best view will be from exactly that position. There will likely be no other traffic on the street, but turn your car off and avoid being personally seen. Do not bother taking photos of the event; from that distance and in that light they will be of little value. We will, however, send you a complete set of photos in a package to follow. The event we have spoken of will take place at exactly 9:30 p.m. Following the event, simply return to your hotel. A package will be waiting for you when you arrive. You may tell anyone you wish about the event you have witnessed, and may share any of the materials in the package. As you have been chosen to be our publisher of this event, we do hope you will present to the world a careful analysis of the materials we have given you.
Henry pulled up several maps on his computer and looked up the directions he had been given. They looked right and were fairly easy to follow. His map didn’t give any names of the businesses in that area, so he had no idea which one might be Hammershed. He guessed it would likely be in view where the Am Schwartzwasser road crossed what looked like a small river or estuary. It looked like a possible shipping pathway to the North Sea. He pulled the phone book out of the desk but found no Hammershed listed. With another thought, he quickly jumped into a search site in the computer and looked them up. Hammershed was listed in fourteen cities in various countries, with the headquarters appearing to be in Omaha, Nebraska, but there was no listing for them in the Hamburg area at all. He did see a small listing for an office in Amsterdam, but nothing to indicate what kind of operation it was.
He took the time to go into their website and review the write-up. He saw that their name really was as his caller had noted—A. G. Hammershed & Sons, Ltd. Import and Export— but they were usually just noted as ‘Hammershed.’ Their main product was quite obviously a variety of meat products; mainly beef, pork and poultry in both carcasses and cut products for shipment to processors, and various meats already processed into sausages, specialty meats and so on. They also listed many other products of apparent lesser interest such as some packaged food products, clothing, jewelry, automotive parts, art works and home furnishings, all from different countries around the world. In addition, they stressed they had a large and very experienced export side of the business that could ship anything, anywhere.
Well, he thought, they appear to have almost everything covered. No weapons mentioned, though. I wonder how much of what I’ve been told is true? And, why in the world am I going out to a deserted part of a foreign country in the middle of the night because of a crazy story like this? However, then the words The Story rolled through his mind and answered his own question. In his life, it had always been The Story.
The Story was what had driven him since he had been eleven years old. His elementary school had decided to produce a small newsletter for the students and families, and he tried his hand at writing articles about school events. He was actually almost forced into joining the tiny staff because Janet had been there, but he quickly realized he liked doing the stories even more than he liked being around Janet. As the days went on, he started branching out on his own and writing little stories about some of the other kids, their lives and homes, and even stories about goings-on around town. He caused quite a stir when he got wind of a small scandal about missing library funds and wrote about it. That story, however, had been squelched. Even at that young age, The Story got into his blood and, from then on, had been a driving force in his life.
He had been on the news staff in college, then moved through several papers in Denver, Chicago and Minneapolis. He broke into the big time with stints in Los Angeles and New York, and finally came to rest in Washington, D.C. After a few years, he joined the Washington Times, but finally went out freelance and had been a pen-for-hire for eight years now. His investigative style of writing brought a streak of good stories and he had broken several large exposés in the political and business arenas. He was now followed by news organizations around the country, even the world, and his investigative skills and his ability with crafting his stories made him known to all. No Pulitzers yet, but close. He laughed sometimes, though, when he reminded himself that a Pulitzer was usually a one-time bang, while big stories every month regularly put big dollars in the bank. He decided dollars were more important, so kept his feelers out for lots of stories now rather than just The Big One.
Through the rest of the day, though, he kept wondering what this one was about. He had been in on many big, and secretive, stories. Many that had caused the downfall of politicians and business people. He had investigated national crime families, military coups, countrywide disasters and too many wars. But this was already sounding very different. An exposé on a business that was going to be brought down, purposely, by some outsider he had no knowledge of? More than brought down—destroyed? Followed by further action against the owners and managers? The word vigilante was not unknown to him, but this sounded bigger. Way more than just some lone gunslinger out to right some perceived wrongs. And again he wondered, Why me? Why not some national news organization; big names, guaranteed worldwide coverage? He knew he was good at what he did, and his circle of contacts was as good as anyone’s. And, people were standing in line for his stories. But, still, he wasn’t known for doing lurid exposés, and this one sounded as far out as anything he could imagine.
However, he knew his maxim was Never Turn Down The Story. His second guiding rule was Always Be Ready. Always have at least a mini-camera with you, plus a recording device (if nothing else, the one built into his phone), and a physical notebook for doing drawings and sketches and so forth. He immediately began inventorying his supplies, checked out his nighttime camera and extra film packs, and extra tapes for his regular recorder. By noon, he knew he wouldn’t get anything from the meetings going on downstairs, so he undressed and napped until his alarm went off at four. He showered again and got down to one of the quieter restaurants in the hotel for a simple meal, and was ready to head out by six-thirty.
It was beginning to get dark as he drove out of Hamburg and up Highway 23. Hamburg’s nightlife had started and the streets were sparkling. He saw the crowds of people as he drove through the entertainment district and wondered again what in the world he was getting into. But, this was The Story and it took precedence over nightlife, parties, sleep, relationships—it was simply first.
The location he had been given was several miles north of the city and then west toward the North Sea. As he got close to Gluckstadt, he could see the change into a manufacturing and warehousing area, and could occasionally hear the waterfront sounds. Boat whistles and foghorns sounded once in a while. He went past several large trucks, obviously bringing cargo from the ships in dock to places inland. The smells changed now, also. He caught the sharp tang of fresh lumber as he went past several factories that looked like furniture manufacturers. He could smell different food products—spices, several raw-meat smells. The sewers out here were not the clean, tourist-friendly ones as in Hamburg’s downtown and hotel areas. The buildings got older and older the further he drove.
He recognized that the traffic had thinned out. He had left all of the city activity many miles behind. Everything now seemed to be either deserted or shut down for the night. There were occasional lights in a building here and there, but there were basically no noticeable sounds, no vehicles and no human movements he could see. He wondered if this was actually a deserted area and questioned again, I wonder what I’m really doing here?
He finally came to his turn onto Am Rethovel Street, then Am Schwartzwasser, and noted that it did take him directly toward what looked like a small river. No ships were in view, and, like the last couple of miles, there was basically no activity of any kind. When he reached the intersection that had been described, he carefully pulled over to the side of the street. It was getting quite dark now and there were no other vehicles anywhere. He could see a large building a couple of blocks in front of him that ran left to right across the street, and he could see the street turning right in front of it, then apparently to the left around it. He thought for a moment of moving closer to the building, but then decided he didn’t know what was going to take place and that some distance from the building might be prudent. He rolled down his window and listened carefully, but couldn’t hear any sounds close. Far off, back where he had come from, he could hear a little vehicle traffic, but it was almost silent where he was.
Henry assumed from the messages he had received that the large building down the street was the Hammershed warehouse, but he couldn’t be sure. He stepped out of the car and tried for several pictures of the area with his night lens, but recognized the main building was quite a distance down the street and was very dark. He didn’t expect much from his shots. Everything around him was very nondescript. No addresses were posted, and none of the buildings had name signs. It really does look deserted, he thought, but if you were trying to run a secret operation, what better place could there be? The building did look as though it backed onto a second small waterway, so they probably had great transportation available. With the rest of the waterfront just down the road, and the truck traffic he had seen earlier, it looked as if it could be an ideal shipping location.
Henry got back in the car and poured himself a little coffee. He had arrived just a little before nine, so he checked his camera and recorder again and settled in for whatever was going to happen. He didn’t really know what to look for and hoped he wouldn’t miss anything. His mind pictured some giant police raid, or perhaps a hijacking by competitors with dozens of trucks showing up. Maybe a fire starting at a corner and gradually moving up the walls. He wondered if he should call something like that in to the emergency crews and supposed he should. There were a lot of other buildings in the area that could be affected by some catastrophe like that. He wondered, also, what his caller would think or do if he got involved in stopping whatever it was they had planned. One step at a time, he thought. The Story first.
As the seconds crept around to 9:30, he kept turning his head from side to side to be sure he didn’t miss anything. His equipment was in hand and ready. At first, precisely at 9:30, he saw a small flash in one of the lower left windows of the building. It was then that he realized there was no building on his street that sat in front of the warehouse at the end of the street. It was an open field and the openness allowed him to see all the way to the left end of the warehouse. It looked as though it stretched a long way off to the left, apparently a couple of blocks, maybe more. If it went as far to the right, the building was huge. Within a few more seconds following the first flash of light, another flash lit up windows moving to the right, and then more and more. Henry realized the flashes were first a blazing white, then were rapidly becoming a brilliant red. And it was at that moment that the first sounds of explosions reached him, and within another couple of seconds, the shock waves.
Explosions were taking place deep inside the building and were rapidly moving from left to right through the building. Some of the explosions were now bursting through the long, flat roof of the building, and flames were becoming obvious. As the explosions reached the apparent middle of the building, Henry started hearing a long string of smaller explosions, starting back at the left end of the building and again moving toward the middle. As they moved, he heard them becoming constant, like gunfire in an old war movie, and realized they were probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of rounds of ammunition going off. When he began to hear major explosions that he knew must be artillery rounds or packaged explosives, he began to worry whether he was safe where he was. But, the only thing that reached him was the noise of the explosions and the shock waves.
By now, the explosions had reached the far right of the building and he saw that the building was as long to the right as to the left, probably a total of half a dozen city blocks. It really was a huge building and with the light of the flames looked to be about half as deep as it was wide. The explosions were now coming through the roof all across the place, and the fires were raging from one end to the other. As he watched, Henry realized he hadn’t even begun to use his camera, but as he reached for it, he suddenly felt the earth begin to shake beneath him, as if from a large earthquake. His car began to rock and bounce and as he thought of starting the car and getting away from the site, he suddenly saw a massive fireball come through the roof of the building and leap into the night sky. My god, he thought. That looks like it’s several hundred feet high. They must have had some huge stockpile of explosives stored deep underground.
The massive fireball finally peaked and began to fall in on itself, and then Henry watched as the walls of the huge building started collapsing in to the center of the burning area. He watched in amazement as the walls seemed to fall flat and he saw that apparently the entire middle of the building had been destroyed. As the explosions started receding, and the walls kept falling, he realized that the entire building was going to end up being almost flat. Basically, nothing left standing. And he knew the fires would have destroyed virtually everything that had been inside.
The demise of a business, he thought. That. Is. For. Sure. This one has definitely been demised.
Henry sat for a few more minutes as the fires slowly settled, then heard the sirens coming from behind him. I better get myself out of here before they get here, he thought. I definitely don’t want to be answering questions about this right now. So he started the car, made a U-turn and slowly drove back the way he had come. As he turned back onto Highway 431 toward Hamburg, he saw a stream of fire vehicles coming toward the inferno. He looked at his watch and realized with a start that the whole thing had only taken about ten minutes from when the first explosion had gone off. Henry had seen his share of warfare and explosions, and knew that whoever set this event off really knew his stuff. With explosives set all through the building, and even underground, someone had to have been at this for a long time, or had to have a large crew doing the job very quickly. This was no simple arson fire in an old tenement set by some disgruntled landlord. This was a major demolition job, and extremely well done.
As he pulled back into the hotel valet parking area, he realized that he didn’t want to be in this city any longer. Someone was going to catch up to him and want him to explain why he had been at the scene, and he knew he didn’t have reasonable answers. He knew he would likely be held for questioning and that it would be a long time before he got back home. He told the valet service to just hold the car, that he would be right back. He went in to the desk and found that a package had indeed been delivered for him, then went up to his room and did a rush packing job. Back down to the lobby and he gave a sad, but simple story of an emergency back home, got back to his car and drove straight to the airport. He had to turn in his original ticket and pay full price for a last moment replacement, but was luckily in the air back to Washington within ninety minutes. As he settled into his seat and quickly tossed down a double whiskey for his nerves, he thought about The Story and started to wonder about what he really had. Then he dug out his laptop and began to write his notes.
After a few minutes, he thought of the package he had received and dug it out of his carry-on. He opened it and examined it carefully, being cautious to shield it from anyone close. He quickly scanned the notes in the package and saw invoices, descriptions of shipments, names, places and dates. He saw names of ruling families in countries that had only been suspected before. Names of shippers that he had never heard suspicions about. Names of government agents that had facilitated some of the shipments. There were transcriptions of meetings with names of high-level government executives speaking in the meetings, giving blessings and counting money. My god, he thought. This can’t be real, can it? But, he knew that unless the documents and incriminating pictures had been faked, he was looking at undeniable proof of massive illegal, and long on-going, weapons transactions that was going to blow the roof off many a statehouse and that would sink government leaders and business people around the world.
But, how in the world could this group have possibly gotten this much information—and then gotten in to plant the explosives? It would have taken resources I can’t even imagine. But, they did it—that’s what’s so unbelievable. It’s been done. No doubt about it.
Man, he thought, a tired smile beginning to cross his face, I sure hope this plane doesn’t go down. This really is The Story.
“This is Merv Sawyer with your OnTheStreet team, and I’ve got Mr. John Franklin with me. Mr. Franklin, at last count there have been at least twenty-five of these apparent terrorist incidents around the world, and maybe many more. What do you think about the mess with these vigilante people and what they’re doing?”
“Merv, I think it’s the best thing since we pushed through the shorter work weeks. If these guys can get rid of some of those terrorists and criminals, then I say more power to them. We’ve got politicians and those legal groups acting so high and mighty, but not doing anything but making money for themselves. And half of them are in bed with the bad guys. I say get rid of them all. We’ve got bunches of people in certain areas of our own city here—you know, real criminals, drug dealers and stuff—and I think more folks should start…”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“So, what’s for lunch today, Henri?”
“Same as about every day,” he replied tiredly. “More sandwiches with cheap meat. Can’t afford anything better these days. But, how do you keep having those little special dishes? What do we have here today? Looks like some truffles, and…”
“No, no. Hands off. You just need to be sweeter to your lady and she’ll…”
“No. No good. The prices are just too high. No wonder you keep signing up for double shifts—to pay for all those goodies.”
Georgi chuckled, but then replied in a more sober tone, “I agree. The prices are getting out of sight. I think it’s so much of this criminal stuff going on and no one able to put any controls on it. So much of our money is being spent on it that everything else is going crazy. Me, I’d like to get my hands on some of those idiots in the government and shut them down, instead of always hearing them tell us how much they’re doing for us poor souls.”
“Ah, yes. Our streets are so much safer with all they’re doing. Right! I wish that group that’s knocking things about would take on some of the government idiots. Services are falling apart; traffic is impossible. Have you tried to get anywhere near the Monte Mart lately? You can’t get through there with a bicycle. I don’t know if you could walk down there even. We need so much cleaning up of things.”
“Did you see that news broadcast about the vigilante stuff from near Hamburg? At least, I hear the vigilantes are being held to it. Some newsman from America is writing stories and seems to have an in. Knows a lot. Pretty scary, isn’t it?”
“I say ring them up and tell them to come have some words with our government folks. I might even chip in some tax money to hire them. Things can’t get much worse than…”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“I hear you had quite an incident down your street yesterday, Meg. You’re okay, I gather? Anyone hurt that you knew?”
“No. It was one of those posh gambling palaces. We’ve been once or twice, but it was a little risqué for us. The food wasn’t so good, either. But, the place was always packed. Too many people simply wanting to lose their wages, I say.”
“Did it burn all the way?”
“It didn’t look like a complete loss when I went by this morning. Of course, who knows what the insurance folks will say, but it looked like the back was gone and most of one side. The other side and the front were badly scorched, but still standing. So, I don’t really know.”
“So, a little more than just the gambling, eh?”
“Well, I don’t know for sure, but the rumors I heard were that about anything goes—or went—at the place. We protested when it went in, but it didn’t do any good. They had too much support in the Parliament, I suppose. We didn’t mind the gambling. Everyone deserves a little fun once and again. But, we knew there would be every kind of vice coming with it, and it was just too close to home and the schools. Good riddance, I say.”
“I saw on the telly this morning that they’re saying it was done by that group that’s going around. Have you heard?”
“That’s what I read this morning. But, Cindy, I just don’t care. You should have seen the traffic the place caused. And prices of food and supplies seemed to go up right after it came in. We’ve had a couple of the local school kids accosted on their way home by some of the patrons. It was blown up to be such a beautiful and fun place, but it really was too seedy.”
“Do you think you’ll feel safer, or more comfortable, with it gone, Meg?”
“Oh, I do hope so. As far as I’m concerned, that group thing can stay around my area and do away with all the trash. The authorities can’t seem to get hold of anything and scare out the trash. I say let these people do it, if they can.”
“I think I’d agree with you, Meg, as long as no one gets hurt. My boyfriend says…”
At the same time that Henry’s plane was crossing over Iceland in the North Atlantic, three trains that had departed Omaha, Nebraska the day before, each heading to distant cities, derailed in deserted parts of the United States.
One was just heading into the Rockies through Denver and to the West Coast. One was rolling across the northern desert area of New Mexico. One was just approaching the Mississippi heading northeast to the markets of New York. More than $24-million of prime, specialty meat was on the shipments. Each of the engines had crossed fixed points before explosions had derailed the rest of the cars. The derailments had been carefully orchestrated and none of the train crewmen had been hurt. The cars had been torn open as they had gone off the tracks, and within hours most of the meat was beginning to rot. Train and government inspectors wouldn’t have allowed the exposed meat to be recovered in any case, so the three trains of meat were complete losses. All the train cars and meat products had belonged to and come from the Hammershed packing plants located in Omaha.
As the derailments were being reported to management in the plants in Omaha, government inspectors were, at the same time, receiving notices that massive amounts of meat in the various Hammershed plants was e-coli infected. As Hammershed was one of the largest meat producers in the United States, inspectors were on their way to the plants within hours and orders had gone out to stop any and all production until any health risks could be discerned. No amount of pleading, begging or threatening from the Hammershed management could get the orders rescinded, and the plants ground to a halt. That meant that meat already in process inside the plants quickly became unusable and had to be destroyed, live animals waiting outside for slaughter and movement to the production lines had to be fed and cared for, and thousands of employees had to be sent home and held off the jobs—all at a cost of millions of dollars daily. The Hammershed shutdowns quickly started opening arteries of red ink on the books. Within the next couple of days, stockholders started bailing out, and bankers started turning gray at the thought of billions of dollars of investments turning to dust.
As the days moved on, Hammershed plants around the world began reporting the same kind of accidents, destructive events and financial failures. A ship belonging to the company sank about six hundred miles off the western coast of Europe carrying a full load of expensive European automobiles and furniture destined for the American markets. The ship had apparently burst several sections of the hull without warning and the leaks were so drastic the ship could not even begin to be saved. Radio broadcasts had given the crew plenty of time to be ready to abandon ship and they were picked up by rescue vessels throughout the next twelve to twenty hours.
In Africa, a huge processing and shipping plant for precious gems was virtually leveled when a massive gas leak touched off explosions throughout the plant. It was determined that the gas had likely begun leaking on Friday soon after the workers were sent home and continued throughout the weekend before the explosion Sunday night. The weekend had been planned as the beginning of a major maintenance and renovation move to be completed through the next two weeks, and the only employees on hand at the time of the explosions were the guards at the perimeter fences and patrolling the grounds. They had received about an hour advance warning and no one was injured, but the buildings and the contents, including millions of dollars of raw and fine jewels, were destroyed. Strangely, the gas lines had been turned off as the last of the Friday workers left the plant, but were discovered fully on when the investigations began.
In the United States, documents arrived at Baxter’s office that gave details of a massive scheme using illegal aliens in Hammershed’s U.S. plants to supplement the union laborers. Copies of false Social Security documents with copies of the actual birth certificates of the holders were brought to light. Transcripts of dozens of meetings between Hammershed executives discussing the schemes were included along with copies of hiring papers attested to by the same executives. While the company had been investigated before for claims of the same actions, they had skated out from under the charges with the help of certain well-placed politicians. This time, the proof was too blatant and the company was immediately embroiled in major government investigations. Documentation was included in the materials Henry received showing many of the same politicians with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar—pictures, copies of checks, printouts of bank deposits and so forth.
Within a week after Henry’s plane landed in New York and he shuttled back down to D.C., he heard news broadcasts of certain Hammershed executives and major owner/investors reporting unexplained losses in their personal banking and investment accounts. The CEO of the Hammershed Corporation was reported to have sold all his investment holdings and closed his bank accounts after hours on a holiday Friday, although he was protesting loudly that he had not sent in the closing orders. His various accounts were all being reported with zero balances, though, and it was being acknowledged that all closing orders had come through secure computer systems, with proper identification and pass codes. Final transfer orders directed the funds to several secure banks in the Bahamas. From there they were transferred again and again and were quickly lost in the electronic ether.
It was also being reported that a major bank had already sent demand notices on the mortgages against the CEO’s home in Omaha and his townhouse in New York. The last payments had apparently bounced just a few days before and the bank had then heard about the company disasters and the reports of the CEO’s losses. The CEO’s two personal luxury cars, and those of his children, were quietly repossessed in the middle of the night. Calls to the CEO’s home by news organizations were not going through because the lines had apparently been disconnected.
At least seventeen of the senior owner/investors of Hammershed living in luxury homes around the world were reporting similar problems and losses and before the week was over had been reduced from millionaires to stunned paupers.
When Henry arrived in D.C. he had fallen into his bed until mid-morning, then hurriedly dressed and headed to his office. A large package had been waiting on his desk when he arrived and, as he began to review the materials, he saw name after name of the Hammershed executives and investors with details of the illegal activities they had been involved in. Names, dates, places and dollar amounts, including signatures on illegal contracts and delivery receipts, copies of e-mail communications, and tape recordings of phone conversations. He was amazed at seeing pictures of the whole event he had witnessed, from the first explosions to the final fireball that had collapsed the whole building. They appeared to have been taken from just behind and above the very spot he had been parked. And they were good pictures, obviously taken with excellent equipment.
By the end of the day, Henry had already filed stories with fourteen major news organizations around the world reporting the suspicions gleaned from the materials received. He sent copies of the documents detailing the activities and simply wrote about what was shown in the documents, so nothing libelous or slanderous could be claimed. Henry included his own story and pictures of the destruction of the Hammershed munitions warehouse. More detailed and very highly researched reports would come later, but the initial stories immediately caused green rivers to begin flowing toward his bank accounts.
One document that was included with each of the stories was an analysis of the Hammershed activities covering the past twenty years. It included a summary of all the activities at each of the Hammershed plants around the world, and of the men and women who had been involved. There were enough materials included detailing specific activities of the various plants, and by the specific individuals, that investigations were immediately launched and charges filed against many of the people by their governments and law enforcement agencies.
As Henry filed more and more stories, more documents kept being delivered to his office that named dozens of government officials that had also been involved, and accusations bounced back and forth like tennis balls. The government officials were quick to deny any wrongdoings, and tried to stay out of sight as investigations were rushed through against the Hammershed executives and owners. However, as the days wore on, more and more of the officials began to be caught like deer in headlights. Politics ran rampant, of course, and political parties around the world tried using the various investigations and lawsuits to feather their own nests—until people in their own parties starting appearing on news radar screens.
Interestingly, the summary document Henry included with his reports was not written by him. It had been included in the materials sent to him and needed no editing of its own. Henry simply included backup documents that gave proof of the claimed events. At least enough proof to get the investigations rolling. At first, many of the people named as conspirators tried to disclaim the accusations. They claimed fraud, misrepresentation, politics, and just plain old lies. But, as more investigators dug into the documents Henry filed, the proof of the accusations became stronger. It wasn’t long before the loud outcries and vehement denials were silenced, and early retirements and resignations became the talk of the town around the world.
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