This high octane thriller has it all; murder, Mob revenge, political intrigue, a little romance, strong male & female characters with a storyline that could be tomorrow’s headline news. The O’Rourke team is called in to help solve a nationwide plot involving the assassinations of several US Senators.
Will they succeed?
O’ROURKE CRIME NOVELS VOL. 3
R.C. and J.P. CARTER
IN DEFENSE OF DRONES – The New Republic January 27, 2012 —
“…Ultimately, restraints upon war are more a matter of politics than of technology. If you are concerned about American aggression, it is not the drones you should fear, but the politicians who order them into battle.” — David Bell, Editor at The New Republic.
Chicago, Illinois suburbs….
A full August moon bathed the northern Illinois landscape in a soft ghostly light. The security guard, at the entrance to the exclusive collection of imposing homes, yawned as he monitored the video feed from numerous cameras. Tirelessly keeping watch on the sleeping residents, the electronic eyes maintained their vigilant task. The walled and gated community was surrounded by a county forest preserve and was designed to offer the utmost in privacy and security.
A Senator resided in one of the stately homes. On this evening the Senator’s wife had already fallen asleep as he finished the last chapter of his crime novel. He put his book on the shelf and poured himself a nightcap before making his way upstairs for the night. Glancing at the security panel he made sure everything was secure.
His normal routine, when he wasn’t in Washington, was to sit out on the massive balcony and enjoy a cigar with his Scotch before retiring for the night. This evening was no exception. He made his way out to his evening retreat to relax and clear his mind. Pleased with the way his novel had ended, he exhaled a large cloud of smoke that drifted slowly out over the railing and hung in the still night air. A few minutes later, as he thought about tomorrow’s busy schedule, he noticed the smoke begin to ripple from below the balcony rail.
Soon the smoke cleared away with a whisper of sound as a small black box with rotors on top appeared hovering in front of him. The Senator stood rubbing his eyes in disbelief. Suddenly a small panel retracted on the front of the box and two muffled shots hit him in the chest. He looked down as blood began pouring out and soaking his shirt. Grabbing his chest he turned and stumbled toward the bedroom door. Another muffled shot from behind dropped him in his tracks.
On the other side of the balcony railing the flying black box retreated silently into the darkness.
Dripping Springs, Texas….
About twenty five miles west of Austin, Texas is a small town with a population of less than two thousand named Dripping Springs. Northwest of the town is a secluded community called Rolling Brush, a six hundred acre exclusive compound that borders the Pedernales Falls State Park on one side and on the other hundreds of miles of privately owned ranch land. This remote community is perhaps the most secure residential environment in the Continental United States. A full time private security force, a helipad and a landing strip that could accommodate most mid-size corporate class jets are just a few features that make this neighborhood attractive to the prominent citizens that call Rolling Brush home. One such resident is US Senator O’Malley, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on domestic firearms. His subcommittee is responsible for a major piece of legislation that is drawing near completion that would adversely affect gun ownership and sales in the private sector.
The late summer evening was cool and breezy as the Senator enjoyed a leisurely horseback ride out to his favorite sunset viewing spot. He appreciated the alone time that he needed to wind down from the extreme pressure of his daily responsibilities. The trail ride ended in a clearing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the State Park and provided a breathtaking vantage point to take in the sunset. The stand of pine trees seemed to part ways as he neared the edge and the amazing vista expanded before him. The only sounds he could hear, other than his horse softly snuffling, were the insects in the trees and an occasional hawk screeching as it soared overhead.
O’Malley tied his horse to a nearby stump and walked over to the rock he always sat on to watch the daylight finale. Next week’s schedule was difficult to push out of his thoughts. He would be presenting landmark legislation that could change the face of the nation. It was an uphill battle all the way. He’d be happy when this particular piece of legislation was completed. The sun was now easing down gently on the horizon casting a brilliant red and orange painting on the high clouds.
As he sat wrestling with his thoughts he didn’t notice a small black box rise up from beyond the edge of the cliff in front of him. The box rose upward and hovered, almost silently, in front of him for a few seconds. The mechanical sound of a small door opening on the front of the box caught the Senator’s attention. As his mind tried to process the event unfolding before him, three muffled shots from the drone knocked O’Malley off the rock and onto the dusty ground coming to rest just a few feet from the edge of the cliff. He reached for his cell phone as he watched his blood pour out of his chest and make a surreal mixture of red mud on the ground by his side. His finger managed to swipe and unlock the screen saver as the last ounce of strength left his body. The rest was now up to the GPS locator sending out a hopeless beacon.
The beautiful sunset continued, unaffected by the horrific scene in the clearing as the door closed on the flying box and it disappeared, like the sun, from view. Two miles away in a remote area of the State Park, a late model plain white F150 van idled as the last rays of afternoon light slipped away. The side door slid open and moments later the drone made its approach and found the landing area inside the van. The door slid shut and the panel van with darkened windows made its way to the park exit and out onto the highway headed toward Austin.
This morning the usually busy office was refreshingly silent. In another hour the noise level would increase exponentially as our office would spring to life. Siobhan and I came in and the only noise we heard was the TV in the break room announcing breaking news. Bill, Beverly and Ski were all sitting nursing their morning coffee as they watched in disbelief. Yesterday morning Jason Wilkerson, the US Senator from Illinois was found dead under suspicious circumstances in his suburban Chicago home. Last night the US Senator from Texas was also found dead at his rural Texas compound. Both Senators were working on the same subcommittee that had landmark legislation almost ready to send to Congress that would adversely affect the private ownership of firearms in the United States.
We sat down slowly in disbelief as the story unfolded on the wall of the break room. Apparently the Texan had been enjoying a late afternoon horseback ride on his ranch. When he didn’t return home at his usual time his wife, becoming worried, notified the compound security team. Eventually law enforcement was able to find him using the GPS signal transmitting from his cell phone. After a few minutes the news broadcast went to a network break as we all sat staring at the screen. Ski muted the blaring commercial.
“That’s certainly disturbing,” Siobhan said breaking the uneasy silence.
“How could that happen?” I asked rhetorically.
“Earlier they said that both deaths happened in highly secure compounds equipped with state of the art technology,” Beverly said. “I don’t get it.”
“It looks like there’s a major player that’s not at all happy with what’s happening in Washington,” Siobhan said as she got up and poured some coffee for us. “You know me, I’m an avid proponent of the second amendment. However murdering the senators who were crafting the bill to limit the ownership of guns with a gun seems counterproductive to me”.
“Whoever it is also appears to be able to somehow trump the existing technology unless, of course, it’s an inside job,” I added and turned the sound back up. The news resumed its coverage and reran the part of the story that Siobhan and I had missed. We were incredulous that this could happen with all the security safeguards that were in place around these influential law makers twenty four hours a day. The network news yielded to the local news so I took the opportunity to silence the TV again.
“Well as distressing as this news is we still have an agency to run and lots of work to do. So back to business. This has all the makings of an extremely busy Friday,” I began. “Beverly and Ski, I see that you’ll be out of the office working with Frasier National all day. Siobhan has most of the day off for wedding related appointments with her sister.” At which point she curtsied and gave a little smile. This was met with chuckles from everyone. “Bill and I are going out to St James Hospital in Downers Grove. That leaves Brenda as the office manager today so everyone should coordinate with her before you leave. Bill, will you be ready to roll by eight?”
“Sure Ryan,” he responded as the team reluctantly filtered out of the break room each armed with a coffee mug. Hopefully, now that the sun was filtering in through the east windows, the contents of the mugs would energize everyone. They eerily resembled zombies as they quietly shuffled off to their desks.
This afternoon I have the final meeting with Brian Lancaster, the contractor who is handling our building addition, to iron out any last minute details. Business has grown to the point that we’re practically bursting at the seams. The new addition will double our workspace and add two more private offices and a large conference room. Work is scheduled to begin tomorrow and hopefully will be completed before the holidays. We scheduled most of the construction for after eight at night and over the weekends to have the least impact on our daily operations.
Siobhan and I went into my office and sat down on the couch in the think tank area. On the way there I grabbed my day planner and the construction folder which had become rather enormous over the last few weeks. We went over the pre-construction checklist as we finished our coffee.
“The major thing I want to make sure of today is that the final plans incorporate the latest change to the layout of the private offices,” Siobhan said. ”Other than that I’m good with everything else on the checklist.”
“I’ll make sure of that. It’s this plan revision 32b,” I said as I picked up the latest blueprint off the table and we looked it over. “This one has three skylights in each office and the recessed lighting. It also incorporates the French doors connecting our offices.”
“That’s the one! I think we have a winner there,” Siobhan said excitedly. “This is going to be so great! I can’t wait until we can move in.”
“Moving day will be here before you know it with everything else that’s going on. Speaking of which, Bill and I had better shove off for Downers Grove. What time are you meeting your sister?” I asked.
“I just have a few calls to make and then we’re going to meet at Claire’s Bridal. We have an appointment for ten o’clock,” Siobhan replied. “I’m hoping I can find just the right dress today” she smiled. “I also hope to figure out the bridesmaid’s dresses at the same time.”
My mind wandered as I envisioned her walking down the aisle in her bridal gown, her long red hair cascading down on her shoulders gently blowing in the breeze….she came and took my hand and spoke softly….
“Ryan……Ryan….what do you think?”
“Oh….sorry…what did you say?” I said apologetically.
“I asked if you think the girls dresses should be blue?” she said.
“I think that would look nice but I’m not exactly the one to ask about color schemes for our wedding,” I said. “Maybe you should pose that question to your sister.”
“Yeah, you’re right I guess. It’s your day too and I want you to be happy with everything.”
“I like blue and I trust your judgment. It’s going to be the best day ever, no matter what,” I said. We gently kissed and held each other for several minutes. The sound of someone clearing their throat in the doorway broke the spell.
“Ryan, um….we need to leave soon,” Bill said. “You said, and I quote ‘we can’t be late’. I’m just saying….”
“Yeah, you’re right. Go power up the Mercedes and I’ll be right there,” I said and tossed him the keys.
“Right boss,” he responded and left us alone.
“Well, I guess we’d better get on the road. I’ll miss you today,” I said. “Do you have your laptop if we need to Skype later when Brian is here?”
“Yes please call me if any problems pop up,” Siobhan said as she hugged me again and we said goodbye.
I headed off to St James Hospital with Bill. Siobhan finished up her calls and office work and then left to meet her sister to dive into the wedding preparations. Ski and Beverly packed up to leave for their Frasier National meeting and residential investigations that were bound to take the entire day. Brenda and the office assistants would be left alone to hold down the fort. I planned on being back at the office by noon in order to meet with the contractor. Bill would be going to St James Hospital in Evanston this afternoon to do his first solo security maintenance inspection.
Yes, we thought this Friday would be busy. It was busy alright, but not in a way that any of us expected.
The sun was setting on the western horizon. Tony and Rachel pulled up and parked down the street from Bouchard’s suburban home. The large home perched on the hillside off the aptly named Sunset Drive was ominously silent and dark as Rachel took a reconnaissance walk around the neighborhood.
“The house looks deserted, Tony,” she reported as she slipped back into the passenger seat. “There’s a ton of newspapers in the driveway, the lights are off and the mailbox is overflowing.”
“How about access?”
“It looks good,” she replied. “The whole front of the house is sheltered by landscaping with no houses in view. A sign in front indicates he has a Smithfield security system. Passing cars are our only other worry and they appear to be few and far between.”
“Non-existent would be preferable but we’ll take it,” Tony said. “If the sign is real I know where the main box will be. Smithfield is notorious for taking the cheapest route for their installations. Even if it’s an active system it’ll be an easy deactivation. We’ll wait until it gets dark and then take the self-guided tour. There has to be something in there to indicate where Bouchard is now.”
Soon the sun slipped from sight and the sky dimmed as the two investigators prepared for their search. An occasional car passed as commuters returned home from work. The street lamps flickered on one at a time and the stars filled the clear sky overhead.
“Are you ready?” Tony asked.
“Armed and dangerous,” Rachel replied smiling.
“Let’s do this,” Tony said as the two quietly exited the car and started their casual stroll toward the apparently empty house.
Luck was with them when they approached the driveway. They neither saw nor were seen by anyone. The only traffic they could see was far below on Arlington Ave as tired commuters made their daily trek home from Los Angeles. A synchronized turn up the driveway and out of view from the street was uneventful. The two walked silently up the driveway and into the backyard.
“I don’t see any security cameras,” Rachel whispered.
“I don’t either,” Tony said while they sized up the patio area. He pointed to a box on the wall outside of the French doors that led into the living room. A small steady flashing red LED light showed the alarm was set and ready to report intruders. Tony made sure the box said Smithfield Security and noted the model number. Setting down his back pack, he took out the security bypass module and quickly clipped it on either side of the wall unit. He scrolled through model numbers on his phone until he found the corresponding code and selected it. A green light lit up on the bypass module. The steady red light seemed unaffected so Tony gave Rachel a thumbs up. Rachel proceeded to carefully and skillfully get the locked French doors open.
Once inside they split up. Tony took the upstairs and Rachel stayed on the main floor. This modern, sparsely furnished home had floor to ceiling windows affording amazing views of the city below. A soft shadowy light filtered into the rooms which helped them find their way around in the darkness. Rachel could even see glimpses of Los Angeles in the distance between the hills. Shaking off this distraction, Rachel moved quickly and silently through the living room, kitchen, game room and finally into the office. In contrast to the rest of the immaculately kept house the desk was piled high with unopened mail and a few file folders.
She took out her small LED flashlight and started sorting through the pile. Most of the pile consisted of credit card solicitations, late payment notices and bills. Sports, electronics and gun magazine issues were also abundant. Several newsletters caught her eye. Apparently Bouchard had subscriptions to newsletters from three different militia groups. Two in Texas and one in Oklahoma.
A noise in the hallway outside the office door prompted Rachel to shut off her light and freeze. She slowly reached behind her and made sure her gun was still there. In the doorway a man’s shadow appeared and Rachel clicked on the flashlight beam aimed at the figure’s face while she pulled out her gun.
“Whoa Rach,” Tony whispered intensely as he shielded his eyes from the beam.
“Sorry Tony, I wasn’t sure it was you,” she whispered back apologetically. “Check these out.”
Tony rubbed his eyes and as they adjusted he saw the newsletter headings and gave her another thumbs up. The sound of a vehicle coming to a stop out by the mailbox caught their attention. The two looked at each other and Tony nodded towards the door. He tucked the newsletters in the backpack and they went out through the living room to the patio. Lights from the car flashed through the house as it pulled up the driveway after emptying the mailbox. Quickly and silently Rachel relocked the French doors behind them as Tony hit the codes on his phone to deactivate and remove the bypass. The front door opened and the house lights came on as the pair left the patio and passed a Range Rover on their way back to the street. As they went past the living room, Rachel glanced through the window and saw a blond woman who looked to be in her mid-forties carrying an armload of mail and newspapers into the office.
Back in the safety of their car, they watched as the lights inside the house went off and the SUV pulled out and disappeared back down the hill.
“That was way too close,” Tony said.
“It’s all in the timing,” Rachel replied, smiling. “So I’m betting this guy is either in Texas or Oklahoma. What do you think?”
“I concur Watson. Let’s check out the lady tomorrow. I’ve got the license number. In the meantime, let’s figure out which one of the militia groups is the most likely candidate,” Tony said.
“Sounds like a plan. If I remember correctly there were some phone calls that Bio-Laser traced back to a militia group in Texas. Hopefully we can use that to pin point his location.”
With that, Tony aimed the front of the BMW back toward Thousand Oaks. Rachel fell asleep quickly as they got out on the freeway. Quietly in the background, the news on the car radio reported the latest about the assassinations of two US Senators. Tony’s mind was busy going over everything they had so far so he didn’t hear anything the reporter had to say. It seemed almost impossible to figure out exactly what was going on with such sketchy information but he was determined to find the answer. He automatically switched the radio to a jazz station as he revisited the facts in his mind. Maybe the new leads they’d found tonight would shine a new light on the investigation. At any rate, a trip to the Longhorn State appeared to be in the very near future.