Chapter 1Portland, Oregon
By the time the plane landed and rolled to a stop on the tarmac it was dinnertime by David’s body clock, but only three in the afternoon Oregon time. To keep his travels simple, he kept his bag with him, thus avoiding the endless lines at the luggage claim counters. Now all he had to do was fall into the long line of passengers unloading onto the connecting platform and start his search for the limousine that was supposed to be awaiting his arrival.
The flashing message on his computer screen, the only instructions he had been given so far, told him only that a driver would pick him up at the airport. There were no phone calls to confirm the arrangements and no further messages. Just like his recent divorce and struggles as a weekend father, he once again found himself blindly facing a situation he knew nothing about. On the upside though, he was getting a free trip to a strange city. If his ride did not show, at least he could take a shoestring tour and take in a few landmarks. He would then catch a red eye flight home using his brother’s buddy pass and chalk the whole thing up as a free mini vacation.
The Portland Airport was much smaller than the gargantuan Cleveland International, where David had the pleasure of getting lost twice while he waited for two hours for a connection. He purchased a can of Coke from a drink machine, and then seated himself in a waiting area where he could see most of the airport—and most of the airport could see him.
The stream of weekend travelers and businessmen was never ending. Surprisingly, David found that watching other people scurry about tending to their daily lives was pretty relaxing; he had just dozed off when he heard a deep voice bellow his name.
David turned toward the voice and discovered a man standing a short distance away. His arms were folded behind his back and he stood board stiff. The dark blue suit and captain style hat identified him as a chauffeur.
“Mr. Plummer?” he asked. “I beg your pardon if I have it wrong.”
David stood and reached out to shake the man’s massive hand. “I’m David Plummer,” he said. “You the man I’m supposed to meet?”
His condescending smile was accompanied by a curt nod. “I’m only the driver,” the man muttered.
David’s brow creased with uncertainty. “Well, lead the way,” he finally said.
A black stretch limousine was waiting for them at the main entrance, along with the cabs and busses that sat in the cool Oregon air. The chauffer paused under the overhanging portico and opened the back door for David. “May I take your bag?”
David lifted his shoulders in a shrug. He lifted the bag, and the other man moved to place it in the trunk before taking his place in the driver’s seat.
The chauffer lowered the electric glass partition that separated them and turned to speak to his new passenger. “Make yourself at home. The bar and refrigerator are fully stocked. We have about an hour ride ahead of us.”
“Where are we going?”
“Gresham,” he answered as the window slowly closed.
David leaned forward to open the door of the little refrigerator. It contained a variety of imported beer, as well as soft drinks and bottled water. The bar that ran along one side of the car was equally stocked with at least a dozen different brands of alcohol. Thirst was the least of David’s problems at the moment, however, and he leaned into the plush leather cushion and simply enjoyed the quiet ride.
He turned to gaze out the window beside him and noticed for the first time how dark the glass was. The windows were more than just tinted; they looked like they had been painted black. It was still daylight outside, yet it appeared to be midnight, and he had to strain to make out the shapes of buildings and other cars on the road. David leaned forward again to knock on the glass partition, intending to ask what the windows were made of, but got no answer. He was being ignored.
“Well, this is strange,” he mumbled. “Trapped in a limo.”
Terry Kramer was hunched over in the back of an unmarked FBI surveillance van parked just north of the home of Philip Draper, the founder of TRIB International Finance. His elegant Gresham estate was under the eye of the government and squarely displayed on the black and white screen inside the van. Terry was a fifth year agent and had just been assigned to investigate the sudden overseas financial transactions of TRIB and an unlikely meeting with a known terrorist. Surprisingly, the last hour had been filled with a steady stream of limo drop offs. She was running tape on each person unloaded for an image scan search in the FBI database back at her office. Unfortunately she could not handle this on location.
This was not a part of her surveillance plan. Tonight a meeting with Vandersal was going to take place, or so she was informed.
The drive, as promised, took about an hour. The limo finally slowed to a stop and, again, David pressed his face to the window in an attempt to see beyond the dark glass. Wrought iron gates opened and the limo pulled onto a long driveway. Tall pine trees flanked the edge of the road, their branches stretching across to form an intricate tunnel.
The car eased to a halt and the quiet purr of the engine ceased. Suddenly the door opened, and David stepped out onto the asphalt driveway at the foot of a long flight of concrete steps that lead to the entrance of a huge, Gothic-style mansion. A brass hand railing bordered the huge concrete steps on the far side. The surrounding landscape was so manicured that it looked artificial.
The driver touched him on the elbow and said, “Go on up. You’re expected.”
David nodded and picked up his bag. He started up the steps and his cell phone gurgled. UNKNOWN was the caller ID just as before in the airport. He pressed END to simply erase the call and continued on up.The temperature of the pine-scented air had dropped during the ride, but the sky remained clear. Being that Oregon was so geographically close to Washington, which was just next door to Canada, he half expected the weather to be dreary and cold.
David reached the landing at the top of the concrete steps and, immediately, the large double doors swung wide and a uniformed woman charged out to greet him. She smiled pleasantly and reached for his bag. He was quickly escorted to a living room then, where a handful of people were already seated.
A graying, trim looking man stood and offered his hand. “I’m Richard White,” he said in an authoritative voice. “I run the Atlanta office, although—” he glanced around the room “—I doubt that makes a whole hell of a lot of difference here.”
“I’m David Plummer,” he said, more to the others in the room than to the man he shook hands with. “Nice to meet you. I was from the Richmond office, but thanks to downsizing I am no more.”
“I’m Robin Gwen,” a bright-eyed young woman spoke up. She was seated at attention with her legs crossed and a briefcase close to her side. “We’ve had some time already to introduce ourselves. Just been waiting.”
David nodded and shook her slender hand.
“I heard about the Richmond office,” Richard confessed.
“I’m Susan Nelson, by the way,” the other woman in the room added. She was seated at the end of a long coffee table in a winged-back leather chair. Less business-like than Robin, she looked irritated and anxious. She clutched her purse with her right arm like a football and looked down at her watch. “So far, I’m not impressed. I was picked up at the airport and dumped off here with no explanation or anything. Just dumped like the trash.”
“That’s exactly how it was for me,” a younger looking man remarked. “We just kill time and see what happens, I guess.” He shook his head and leaned against the wide pillar that framed the doorway.
“Where are you from?” asked David.
“The LA office,” the young man answered. “I’m Ben Spears. I head up the Asian investments.”
Robin asked, “How’d you get your ticket?”
“Email,” David said, “but that’s the extent of what I know about all of this. So far, I got a free weekend trip, if nothing else.”
Ben grunted. “We‘re talking about the CEO of TRIB here. This is something big.”
Richard returned to his seat at the end of a black leather couch with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’ll give it a few more minutes,” he mumbled.
David joined Richard on the sofa, and the conversation faded into silence. They all simply looked at one another, the questions running across their faces like tickertape.
“All of you work for TRIB?” David asked.
“I run the Houston office,” Robin Gwen spoke up. “Executive manager.”
“Orlando,” Susan added.
Again, awkward silence prevailed. Somewhere deep within the house a clock chimed six times. The sound echoed through the foyer and resonated in the room long after the last chime ended.
Ben glanced around the room. “Wonder if that means anything?”
A few minutes passed before footsteps approached down an unseen hallway and through the foyer. A lean, chisel-faced man in his mid-forties paused in the doorway to where they gathered. A white piece of paper was pinched between his thumb and forefinger.
“Glad you all made it. I must say hello and welcome. I’m Winslow, and I’m sure you all have dozens of questions, as you should, and we’ll get to them soon.” His deep-set blue eyes scanned those seated in the room.
David also got the distinct feeling that, though the man welcomed questions, he was not prepared to answer any.
“Plummer, Nelson, Gwen, Spears, and not to forget White,” he rattled off from the sheet of paper. “If that’s everyone the first leg of your trip is complete, I invite you to the second. If you would please follow me to the east wing of the house, I’m sure you will be delighted at what we have expertly prepared in anticipation of your arrival.”
“This must be one hell of a staff meeting,” Richard remarked.
Terry noticed one final arrival. She glanced up at the GPC monitor to make sure it was running and recording. This arrival drove up the long drive in an old Toyota. The car circled around slowly and came to a stop. After nearly five minutes a man appeared from the vehicle. He was stocky and bearded. She was unable to get a convincing look at the man’s hair color because he wore a skullcap hat, but it was not necessary. The FBI agent knew exactly who this last stranger was.