Excerpt from Pegasus Rising
Randolph Nixon French pressed the power button on his laptop. As he waited for it to warm up, he took a long sip from his strawberry milkshake and then chuckled. Having an office next to the company cafeteria definitely had benefits.
Why do strawberry milkshakes smell as good as they taste?
When the computer had fully warmed up, Nixon selected his e-mail inbox and clicked to open one special e-mail. The e-mail had been received while Nixon was the Chief of Police of Sanctuary City, Idaho. It contained a fifteen-picture slideshow. Nixon pressed start.
The first image, taken from a long distance away, showed an unknown person hanging in handcuffs from a rope thrown over a tree limb. Pictures two through seven zoomed in on the person until he could be recognized as Dennis West, the brother of Sandi West-French, Nixon’s former wife. Pictures eight through fourteen showed Dennis being lowered into a bubbling, steaming mud pot. Nixon could almost hear Dennis screaming. Picture fifteen showed a frayed rope dangling perhaps a foot above the mud pot.
Nixon’s ritual every morning for the past three years consisted of a strawberry milkshake and a slide show. He liked strawberry milkshakes but hated the slide show. He planned to repeat the slideshow until his former brother-in-law was confirmed dead, a difficult proposition if Dennis had actually been lowered into a mud pot. The only item remaining would be the stainless steel handcuffs. Moreover, the only location Nixon was aware had mud pots was Yellowstone National Park.
As soon as he had received the pictures, Nixon passed them on to Doug Farnsworth, the top Internet engineer for Pendergast Holdings. Doug inspected the pictures and the e-mail for any identifying information. Everything was clean except for one photo with an embedded date tag which corresponded to when Dennis had disappeared.
The picture of the mud pots had been sent to the Park Service at Yellowstone. After searching the park for several months, they thought they had found a similar mud pot. However, there was no indication that Dennis had been lowered into that particular mud pit and no tree limbs were discovered within two hundred yards of any mud pot. Trees simply do not grow next to mud pots.
OK, according to the fifteen minutes of Yellowstone history I remember, any mud pot in Yellowstone National Park would eliminate any evidence dropped into it.
Nixon frowned. His ninth grade U.S. Geography teacher had somehow gotten her hands on a black and white U.S. Park Service informational film from before World War II. In the film, a turkey leg on a steel wire was lowered into a Yellowstone mud pot. When the wire was removed ten minutes later, even the bone had disappeared. All of the girls in the class were horrified while the boys had a select group they were willing to sacrifice to the mud pots.
Nixon stared at his laptop for several minutes and then rotated his office chair to stare out of his office windows. His corner office overlooked the employee parking lot. Beyond the parking lot was a large field that seemed to extend forever. In the center of the field, perhaps a mile away, Nixon could see the tops of a grove of trees and the flicker of sunlight bouncing off the waves of a small lake. Nixon smiled. He had been spending every snow-free weekend at the lake since Pegasus-Northwoods Energy had hired him.
Pegasus-Northwoods Energy recruited Nixon French three months after Sandi took her life. Although she did not hold Nixon directly responsible for the loss of her brother Dennis, she could not deal with his death. She began to resent the fact that Nixon was a Police Chief but had not brought her brother’s killers to justice. As she lost touch with reality, she actually began to accuse Nixon of not wanting to find the killers. She even suggested that he knew who they were. Sandi’s final act was to connect a flexible hose to the exhaust pipe of her Mercedes and feed it in through a rear window. Nixon still had nightmares about the call he had received from one of his officers.
Nixon was hired to run the facility security department of PNE, a department with a less than stellar history of competence. He had totally reorganized security in five of the seven remote facilities for which he was responsible. The final two locations would be revamped later in the year.
Nixon spun in his chair to look at his laptop once more. He had come to two conclusions about the PNE facilities. First, they were remote. The nearest city with a population greater than twenty-five thousand inhabitants was two hundred miles away. The roads were mostly gravel and almost impassible for three weeks after the spring thaw or two weeks after the first winter snowfall. If a terrorist wanted to disrupt any of the facilities, he or she would require special travel arrangements. Second, the winter in northern Alberta consumed six months of the year. Was anyone willing to cross hundreds of miles of drifting snow and freezing temperatures to blow up an oil refinery? However, it was now early summer. Northern Alberta was thawing from the long, cold winter. Nixon was happy about the higher temperatures and the melting snow, but did not like the flies that were hatched by the warming weather.
Nixon frowned. He was over two thousand miles from his home. The highlight of his day was sitting on the beach of a small lake, trying to forget the photos on his laptop. Sandi had attempted to run away from her memories. Was he running away from his own? He was no closer to finding Dennis’s killers today than when he pulled out of his driveway more than thirty-six months ago.
Nixon completed his morning ritual and then began calling his security teams. For several weeks, he had been conducting security breach exercises. Each of his security teams had been informed a breach was eminent, but they were never given a specific time or date. How could he tell his teams when terrorists might shut down one or more of the PNE facilities when he didn’t know when they might strike?
Pegasus-Northwoods Energy had seven high-tech and very expensive oil sands recovery facilities in addition to a large technical headquarters. Four of the recovery facilities were operating at full capacity. Nixon’s biggest nightmare was a combined assault on all four of the producing facilities. The resulting destruction would certainly cripple production. The required cleanup would take several years.
Each morning, Nixon awoke with a fervent hope he could prevent the possibility of a large-scale breach of the facilities because of the weaknesses of his security teams. He asked a good friend, Oliver Pendergast II, to help. Generally referred to as O2, he was a former SEAL and the assistant district commander of the Pendergast District of the Idaho State Police.
O2 enlisted in the U.S. Navy three days after he turned eighteen with a goal of transferring into the SEALs. After boot camp in San Diego, he hiked to the Naval Amphibious Base, in Coronado, California, and camped out at the main gate of the Naval Special Warfare Center until someone gave him an application for the SEALs. Three weeks later, he was enrolled in the Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal (BUD/S) classes. Twenty-four years later, he retired from the Navy as a Commander and returned to Seattle, where he joined the Washington State Patrol.
O2 had been the precinct commander of the Airport North Precinct of the Idaho State Police when Nixon lived in Sanctuary City. O2 and Nixon had conducted several combined training exercises to gauge the response of the local police organizations during terrorist threats. Besides becoming friends, O2 and Nixon had gained a good idea of how city and state police forces could work together. And, a good idea of what not to do. The things he had learned while working with O2 in Idaho had convinced Nixon that the probability of a security breach at one or more PNE facility was real. His single purpose was to make the changes needed to prevent his facilities going up in smoke.
Nixon heard buzzing, flipped up the LCD monitor on the office intercom, saw it was his secretary, and pressed the answer button. “What can I do for you, Polly?”
Polly widened the camera field, which brought O2 into the display. O2 waved.
“You have a visitor, Mr. French.”
Nixon laughed and told Polly to send in his visitor. While he waited for O2 to walk the fifty feet from Polly’s desk to his office, he counted the number of times he had told Polly not to call him Mister. Had it been twenty, or was it now thirty?
I guess it doesn’t really matter. I only see Polly when she calls me on the video intercom.
When the facility was built, PNE had embraced technology. All facilities were Wi-Fi hotspots, and every office was connected by audio and video. And there were more Ethernet receptacles than Nixon could count in a year. Nixon smiled. Even Doug Farnsworth might like this place.
O2 walked through the office door and placed several strips of red caution tape on Nixon’s desk.
Nixon looked up and said, “I didn’t know you were visiting.”
O2 laughed and looked toward the grove of trees. “I needed another shot at that lake.”
He turned back to Nixon and pointed at the caution tape. “We got seven flags.”
The security test devised by O2 and Nixon was their version of the game capture the flag. Each flag consisted of a two-foot long red plastic caution strip which Nixon placed in two or three different areas of a facility and then called O2. Nixon was never informed when O2 was coming to capture the flags. This set of flags had been placed at two sites that were over two hundred miles apart. They were also furthest from Nixon’s office. Nixon had hoped that the distance would create problems. Distance for O2 was not a factor.
O2 sat down. “You made two of the flags a little harder than usual, but it only slowed my team down a little. Nix, I think you still have a very large problem.”
This was the third test performed by O2 at the PNE facilities. So far, none of O2’s people had been discovered. The security teams for each facility had been doubled after the first test and had been increased by 50% after the second perimeter breach.
Nixon thought for a moment and then looked over at O2. “How many people did you bring with you?”
O2 held up five fingers.
Nixon grimaced and pursed his lips. “How did they get in this time?”
O2 sat back in his chair. “We were a little more prepared this time for the added security. But, your company store is really insecure. We were able to walk right in and buy the security team coveralls without any questions asked. A strip of white tape with a blue marker created a nametag that was good beyond twenty feet. I brought Ramona with me this time. She fills a coverall very nicely. She was a very good distraction at the main gate.”
Nixon smiled, gazed toward the lake, and then turned back to O2. “If you have everyone waiting in the cafeteria, let’s go find a fish.”
Nixon stood, walked around his desk, and walked to the door.