The Land of the Free

BOOK: The Land of the Free
9.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


TJ Tucker

Second Edition

Copyright © 2012 by TJ Tucker


All rights reserved.  No part of
this book may be used or reproduced without written permission.  Brief
quotations may be used in articles or other publications discussing this book
or related topics.  For further information, contact the author by email:  [email protected]

This is a work of fiction.  I have
created all the scenarios, characters and institutions portrayed here out of my
imagination, or have used them fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons
or institutions is purely coincidental, and should not be construed as
intentional.  All events and scenarios are likewise fictional or have been used

Any background information I have
chosen to footnote and link with a hyperlink is entirely for the reader’s
entertainment.  I cannot guarantee either the permanence of the links or the
accuracy of information they contain.  They may also expire over time and be
replaced by other content, and I cannot take responsibility for that


Chapter 1: 
Mid August

Chapter 2: 
A Meeting of Friends, June the Following Year

Chapter 3: 
On the Border

Chapter 4: 
President Jackson Torres

Chapter 5: 
Golfing with Stahl

Chapter 6: 
San Gustavo

Chapter 7: 
Visit from an Envoy

Chapter 8: 
The Scoop from Purchasing

Chapter 9: 
Analyzing the Motives

Chapter 10: 
A Close Call

Chapter 11: 
Formulating a Response

Chapter 12: 
A Leg Wound

Chapter 13: 

Chapter 14: 
Irregular Procedures

Chapter 15: 
Answers to Demands

Chapter 16: 
Fallout, the Day After the Response

Yellow Sea, Earlier That Day

South China Sea, USS Ronald Reagan

New York, Universal Investment Bank

Washington, DC, Federal Reserve

Beijing, the previous evening

Chapter 17: 
Reaching Out

Chapter 18: 
A Lucrative Deal

Chapter 19: 

Chapter 20: 
A Clean Slate

Chapter 21: 
Silver Lake

Chapter 22: 
Investigating Morningstar

Chapter 23: 
A Late Night Call

Chapter 24: 
Snyder Goes to Work

Chapter 25: 
To Chicago

Chapter 26: 
Reaching Limits

Chapter 27: 
Meeting a Stranger

Chapter 28: 
Delivering the Report

Chapter 29: 
An Unfinished Matter

Chapter 30: 
Assessing a Response

Chapter 31: 
Clearing a Scene

Chapter 32: 
To Albany

Chapter 33: 
Meeting Jess

Chapter 34: 
Lyle Ferguson

Chapter 35: 
A Resignation

Chapter 36: 
The Ferguson Estate

Chapter 37: 
A New Threat

Chapter 38: 
The Memo

Chapter 39: 
Meeting with Havenstein

Chapter 40: 
A Forger

Chapter 41: 
Digging for Information

Chapter 42: 

Chapter 43: 

Chapter 44: 
San Marcos

Chapter 45: 
Into the Desert

Chapter 46: 
The Limits of Power

Chapter 47: 
Jess’ Mission

Chapter 48: 
Ellis’ Place

Chapter 49: 
Lyle Investigates

Chapter 50: 

Chapter 51: 
Making Sense

Chapter 52: 
Unexpected Rescue

Chapter 53: 
Logistical Review

Chapter 54: 

Chapter 55: 
Returning Home

Chapter 56: 
Costa Rica

Chapter 57: 
With the Howes

Chapter 58: 
Dwight Crosby

Chapter 59: 

Chapter 60: 
At Laughlin

Chapter 61: 
Dropping the Pretense

Chapter 62: 
A Stunt

Chapter 63: 

Chapter 64: 
A Change of Plan

Chapter 65: 

Chapter 66: 
Access Difficult

Chapter 67: 
Burrows Speaks

Chapter 68: 
Stahl Cautions

Chapter 69: 
At Sea

Chapter 70: 
Operation Commences

Port of Newark

Laughlin AFB

Lindbergh Field, San Diego

Miramar Marine Air Base, San Diego

Amistad Dam, Texas

Quantico, Virginia

South China Sea


The Pentagon

Chapter 71: 
Torres Informed

Chapter 72: 
The Situation Room

Chapter 73: 
Executive Session

Chapter 74: 
Decision Time

Chapter 75: 
Hollow Victory

Chapter 76: 
Kurdi’s Farm

Chapter 77: 
To Del Rio

Chapter 78: 
Basel II

About the


1:  Mid August

Colm Rowley was in a hurry.  A
senior analyst with the CIA, he had spent the last two weeks on a high priority
report, and his family life was strained.  Now that he had finished, it was
time to make amends.  Having submitted the report and finished work, he needed
to gas up the car and get to that little league baseball game.  All the trouble
was going to be worth it.  His wife would have to understand.  This report
would get him noticed in the intelligence community.  There would surely be an
upside for the family. 

As instructed, he had delivered the
report to the Director in person about four hours ago.  By now he would have
had a chance to read it.  He kept replaying its conclusions in his head as he
got out of his car to pump gas.  The air in the DC area was thick and stifling,
and his breathing tightened as he took in the heat and humidity. 
I should
take better care of my health
he thought.  He was overweight, with high
blood pressure and signs of diabetes. 
What good would it do to be a star in
the intelligence community if I’m not around to enjoy it?

It had started with an assignment
to develop a dossier on Helsing-Tilbury, one of the world’s largest shipping
companies.  They had been acquired by a mysterious holding entity with no
public face, Smithfield-Warwick LLC.  The Chief was curious about who was now
behind Tilbury, so he assigned the Agency to look into it.  As he started
pumping gas, Rowley smiled as he considered the likely reason for the
President’s interest.  He probably wanted to know who to approach for his
political fund raising.  But what Rowley had found was deadly serious, and
political donations would not be the Chief’s principal concern when he saw the

Tracking Smithfield’s ownership had
been very tricky.  Intentionally so, he thought.  The Byzantine ownership
structure was layered so deep with front entities that only a stroke of luck,
combined with his considerable skill enabled him to identify the true owners. 
Once he had, he knew exactly why they had tried to hide their identities. 
will be explosive
he thought to himself. 
Heads will roll

The sudden, searing pain in his
chest literally took his breath away.  He clutched his chest, blood now
spreading rapidly across the front of his shirt. 
Was that a gunshot

He realized he was dying. 
isn’t fair
.  His family would never see the upside of what he’d done.  He
felt cold despite the summer heat, as his consciousness faded away.  He
collapsed and was dead within seconds.

The swarm of police converged on
this the scene of the latest in a series of seemingly random shootings in DC. 
It had become a regrettably familiar pattern since the shootings began.  First
came the swarm of police vehicles, followed shortly by ambulances and
television crews.  The police cordoned off the area around the pumps while the
paramedics retrieved the body.  The cameras were kept at a distance, and the
reporters filmed their segments against the backdrop of the crime scene.  The
chatter from the scrum of reporters blended into a single sound, like so many
chirping crickets, as the crews worked on the scene.  But this time, shortly
after the paramedics had loaded Rowley’s body on their gurney, a second
ambulance arrived along with four unmarked cars.  The door of one of the cars
opened and a man in a dark suit stepped out, walked to the local crew and
flashed his FBI badge.  “We’ll take this from here,” he said, at which the
local paramedics shrugged their shoulders while the local police grumbled among
themselves.  Rowley’s body was loaded into the FBI ambulance and whisked away. 
Meanwhile, the crime scene was cleared of anyone not with the FBI, and several
vans of investigators quickly converged on the scene.

The investigators worked into the
night collecting all possible evidence, including any fragments of the hollow
tipped bullet that killed Rowley.  By the following morning, all traces of the
crime scene had disappeared, as had any chance the public would see any
evidence turned up by the investigation of the murder of Colm Rowley.

Chapter 2:  A Meeting of Friends, June the Following Year

Halfway between New York City and
Albany is the old city of Kingston, a relaxing drive through the Hudson Valley
with expansive views of the Catskills.  John Corson made the trip to join his
longtime friend Robbie Linssman for the weekend.  Robbie’s daughter Jessica was
graduating from the University of Albany the following day, and their families
had once been very close.  The girls used to play together, before the
automobile accident that claimed the lives of John’s wife and daughter. 

John arrived at Robbie’s house
early Friday evening and the two men took a short walk, enjoying the smells of
late spring and the sights of old Kingston on the Hudson.  They settled into a
booth at the Riverside Cafe, a comfortable place with an out of the way feel.

“It’s really nice to see you and
again,” started John.  “And Jess graduating.  That touches me as deeply as if
she were my own daughter.”

“I know,” said Robbie.  “If it
weren’t for you, she might not even be here.”  John had once saved a
four-year-old Jess from drowning.  She had fallen into an icy river and John
jumped in to save her.  He managed to cling to her and to a tree branch until
rescuers could reach them.  After Jon’s loss, Jess filled the hole in John’s
heart like a biological daughter.

To change the subject, Robbie said,
“Helsing-Tilbury’s been bought out.  I told you about that last fall.”


“The buyer was this shell company
called Smithfield-Warwick, LLC.” 

“I remember you telling me this. 
Have there been any problems with them?”

“None.  You’d sort of expect to
have fresh MBA jerks wearing their fake smiles and loafers, crawling up your
ass looking to impress the boss by finding a few cents in efficiency.  I first
thought it was some equity fund that wanted to juice up our earnings and sell
us off, or take us public again.  But there’s been nothing like that.  No
visits from the bosses.  Not here or any of the big sites around the world.” 
Robbie lowered his eyes and frowned slightly.

“Well cheers to that,” said John as
he raised a glass.  “You don’t like those punks any more than I do, so what
else is there to make you look at me like that?”

“There’s a lot more, actually.” 

They were interrupted by a news
update on the television mounted in the corner of the cafe.  Another financial
crisis and scandal was brewing.  This one was related to the settling of
positions in the commodities markets.  China had evidently purchased gold
futures contracts on the COMEX, and when the settlement date came, asked for
gold bullion as was specified in the contract.  Most investors never invoke the
right to claim bullion, preferring to take cash instead.  As a result, many
suspected that there was not sufficient bullion to back the contracts that
changed hands.  In this case it looked as though somebody had indeed been
caught with their pants down, and had no bullion to settle the position.  If
this was not contained, it could bring down banks all over the world.  Many
banks had large short positions in gold, meaning that they had sold gold
without owning it and now owed gold rather than currency.  John had an
extensive financial background, so he made a note to himself to look into this
a little more deeply when there was time.

Robbie resumed.  “Tilbury ships
containers all over the world.  Mostly, we ship full containers from China to
the rest of the world, and then we scramble to fill them with anything we can
on their way back to China.  Even still, most go back empty.” 

“Sure, the trade imbalance is

Robbie continued.  “Most of what we
do here in Kingston is compliance work, making sure that the paperwork that
governments require is in place.  The US government is the big problem for us. 
The public story is that they’re protecting us from terrorists.  The actual
wording in C-TPAT is clear though.  It’s all about collecting duties.  Nothing
new there, and with my background, at least it’s a living.” 

They ate and drank a little and
John gave a knowing glance, which Robbie took as his cue to resume.  “The big
logistical bottlenecks for Tilbury as a whole are the branch points in
shipping.  Places like the Malacca Strait, the Suez and Panama canals. 
Panama’s the busiest for us, with so much US bound freight passing through.  The
exporters in China find it easiest to load the biggest ships as full as they
can, with freight bound for either the big ports on the west coast or for the
Panama Canal.  Some years ago, the Chinese bought ports at either end of the
Canal to serve as sorting stations.  They combine available ships bound for
individual ports in the Gulf, the Mississippi or the East Coast, with cargo
bound for those destinations.  Our office keeps track of what’s going where,
ensuring all the forms are filled in, and all the taxes are paid.” 

“Robbie, you’ve told me this story
in various forms”.

Robbie raised an index finger to
get John’s attention. “But Smithfield recently bought San Marcos Island.  It’s
an uninhabited member of the Pearl Island Archipelago off the coast of Panama,
with a natural harbor.  I don’t get it.  The ports are not at capacity today,
and the Chinese will never in any case allow their cargo to be diverted from
the ports they already own.  If they’re expecting an income stream, they’re
badly mistaken.  The investment could sink the company.”

That twist caught John’s
Irrational financial behavior from a large institution is
suspicious in and of itself
, he thought.  He had left the Navy after
training briefly to become a SEAL, becoming disillusioned with the ends for
which the military was used.  He joined the SEC with idealistic notions that he
could weed out corruption in the financial markets.  He quickly saw the
politics that went into deciding who was prosecuted and who was not.  Undaunted,
he had been breaking open a financial scandal in the face of substantial
pressure not to pursue the matter.  That was when the accident happened.  His
wife Joanne, and his young daughter Sarah, were driving down a hill that turned
abruptly at the bottom, next to a river.  The brakes failed, and John’s life
was never the same.  Needing a change in his life, he joined a large investment
bank and became independently wealthy by engineering the very transactions he
had so loathed while at the SEC.  John finally retired at age 47, now nine
years ago.  “What do you know about the ownership group?” he asked Robbie.

“Nothing.  Not even a memo
introducing themselves.  Nobody I’ve spoken with could tell me anything about
Smithfield, not even Magnuson, the CEO.  I briefly spoke with him this past
winter.  Think about that for a second.  The chief admits to a mid level
employee that he’s out of the loop.”

“Do you have any reason to worry?”
asked John.

Robbie shrugged.  “If they fail,
I’ll be out of work.  If they start smuggling drugs or weapons through the San
Marcos port, I might be linked to the paperwork and I’d have some explaining to
do.  But no, I’m not seriously spooked.”

“What about the Panamanians.  Do
they know who bought the Island?”

“They have no idea where the money
came from, if you believe what I’m hearing.  But you have to figure they were
bribed in any case.  I’ve made inquiries in a number of places, so maybe
something will come back with substantive info.”

“Sometimes Robbie, it’s best not to
dig too deeply into things like that.  Any one of the scenarios you described
could get you fired, or worse.”

“That doesn’t scare me anymore.”

Feeling that Robbie had exhausted
the topic, John felt comfortable changing the subject.  “Have you been up to
Silver Lake yet this year?  It must be getting beautiful by now.”  Robbie had a
small camp in the Adirondack Mountains, and they had spent many vacations there

Robbie shook his head.  “No, it
hasn’t worked out for me.  The place is ready but I’ve been tied up with all
this crap.  Besides, I like it best in August, when the bugs are gone and the
water’s still warm.  Would you like to come up later this summer?”

“You know you don’t have to ask
twice.  As soon as we have the date, I’ll clear everything else from my
schedule” replied John.

BOOK: The Land of the Free
9.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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