“Escheatment”, Book 1 in the Maltese Cat Book Series continues with new chapters. Enjoy:
Chapters 1 & 2, 3 & 4, 5 & 6, 7 & 8, 9 & 10, Chapter 11,
Chapters 12 & 13, 14-16, 17, 18, Chapters 19 & 20,
Chapter 21, 22 & 23, 24, 25, 26, Chapters 27-29
Chapter 30, 31-32, 33-34, chapters 35 & 36,
DA & DEA
The bust in the Mission District did not go well for Sheryl Fenner. It seemed like the entire San Francisco Police Department showed up. Unfortunately, the drug traffickers didn’t.
Poor intel? Perhaps a mole in the force? No way of telling. But the bust in the Mission was exactly that – a bust. Every time they seemed to have the criminals ensnared, they somehow slipped away. This was getting to be a habit, one that Sheryl was looking to kick.
Because of her efforts, the Drug Enforcement Administration had been called in. The DEA had a San Francisco field office, one of 21 nationwide. She had worked well with the DEA in the past, but this latest incident was an embarrassment which she took personally.
The problem in the San Francisco Bay Area was evident. Large shipments of cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy had moved in like wraiths of death, their origins unknown. In addition, various other pharmaceuticals were being found on the street. Legal medications were sold freely. Everything from Diazepam to Viagra was being peddled – of course, without prescriptions, and without medical advice. Then there were the illegal medications such as flunitrazepam, increasingly popular with the university crowd, and anabolic-androgenic steroids.
There was an epidemic in her town, and Sheryl was committed to fighting it. Her informants had told her that the kingpin was a man called simply Carlos. He was responsible for the majority of shipments arriving into San Francisco. It was alleged that Carlos was a phantom. People talked about him, yet nobody knew him or saw him personally. But his operation was substantive. Sheryl saw the evidence around her every day, in the streets, at parties and, unfortunately, in the news. The Mission District interdiction was supposed to capture one of Carlos’s main lieutenants. Mauricio Falcón was known to the SFPD as a drug trafficker. The only reason that he had not been arrested was the hope that he would lead the police to his superior. Now, he was probably in hiding. Back to square one for Sheryl. The next time she would be more certain of her prey.
In another part of town, Carlos went about his business with normalcy and precision. He was not the stereotypical drug lord seen in the movies. Carlos was not his real name and, although his papers stated that he was Mexican, he was really from Colombia. He had a wife and children there, who he loved. He was university educated. His local San Francisco house in the Lakeshore district was unassuming. To his neighbors, he was just another friendly person. Clean shaven, attired in upbeat, casual clothes, he blended in with his surroundings. He drove a five-year-old Toyota Camry, like so many in his neighborhood. The rumor was that he was an architect who did most of his work at home, over the internet. If someone were to inspect his house, they would indeed find a draftsman’s board with all the requisite tools of the trade. But his computer was used for a different kind of accounting. Encrypted to display architectural cost proposals, they were actually the manifests and accounting records of a highly complicated and complex drug trade. He set up his operation this way to keep his anonymity. Meetings with his lieutenants always took place somewhere else, and that was itself a rarity. The one thing he did have in common with the movie portrayals of drug kingpins was a ruthlessness for any member of his organization who made mistakes or was caught shortchanging him. The punishments were dire and swift. This ensured their loyalty. Fear was a great motivator.
Carlos was considering new developments in his business. Yes, sales were increasing, but so was the pressure being put on him and his organization by the local police. Now the feds were getting involved. Mauricio had informed him about a raid that occurred on one of their safe houses. The police had found nothing but it cost him another location. It was time to review his operation to find out if there was anything that could have fomented this raid. If there was a flaw, it would have to be eliminated.
Tommy Informs Cat about the Swiss Account
The Cat was at a house outside the small town of Guerneville, on the Russian River, located about an hour and a half north of San Francisco. He often rented cabins here at various times to get away from the stress in the City. Once, when questioned why he didn’t just buy a cabin, he commented that there were so many wonderful houses to rent, many right along the river. But all too often the river overran its banks and caused severe damage to the houses. Who needed that? Besides, he wouldn’t use a house often enough to make it worthwhile. And he enjoyed the variety. The Russian River used to be a summer family resort area for low-to-middle class San Franciscans who could not afford more expensive vacations. It was dotted with simple, wooden cabins until the 1970s. Slowly, the hippies started moving in, followed by those who started a gentrification of the area as they had already done in San Francisco. The simple cabins were converted into larger houses with all the modern amenities. The prices rose so that only the well-off could afford their vacations here. Some older retirees still had their real estate holdings from years back, but they were constantly under assailment from avaricious real estate brokers looking for their next killing. Still, the general atmosphere of the area was low-keyed and relaxing. This fitted the Cat’s purpose perfectly.
Tommy was talking to the Cat in the living room. He had driven up to the Russian River to meet with the Cat, not trusting the phones.
Tommy had just informed the Cat that there appeared to be a clear link between the Boys Club and a terrorist organization using a Swiss bank account.
“What you are saying is preposterous, Tommy. You know that?”
“I know it sounds crazy but we can’t ignore the facts,” said Tommy and then he continued.
“Fact: The boys are all complying with the law.
Fact: They are sending money to the government.
Fact: The same amount of money, although somewhat less, is being transferred to Switzerland.
Fact: James Van Houten is tracking ALL of this.
Fact: He even has access to the Swiss account.
Fact: The money disappears in Switzerland. It is always withdrawn.”
“Can you identify anything more specific about who these terrorists are?”
“Taliban,” Tommy answered quickly without hesitation.
“You are sure?”
“Definitely. Thought you would want to know so we checked. Found some info about bank accounts watched by the NSA. From there we were able to take it further. It appears that our Boys Club are on the Taliban’s payroll. Maybe even working against our own military.”
The Cat thought, This gets crazier and crazier.
“But this makes no sense at all. These boys are not idealists. They are hedonists. What good reason would they have getting mixed up with a terrorist organization such as this?”
“That I haven’t figured out yet.”
“You say this is definitely a Taliban account.”
“It has been on the NSA and Department of Homeland Security watch list for years.”
“Why?” asked the Cat.
“The Taliban used to be legitimate. From nineteen-ninety-four to nineteen-ninety-six they were Afghanistan’s militia. From nineteen-ninety-six to two-thousand-and-one they ran the government. Only since their overthrow by the Americans in two-thousand-and-one, and their re-emergence in two-thousand-and-four, have they been seen as an insurgency organization trying to topple the US backed Karzai government. When they themselves lost control of the country in two-thousand-and-one, or shortly afterwards, they stopped using this account. Until about two years ago. The NSA and the Department of Homeland Security still tracks this account, along with many others. Twerk was able to dig out this information from the Deep Web.”
“The Deep Web?”
Tommy took a breath and started to explain, as simply as he could, as if tutoring a pupil.
“The internet is composed of perhaps a billion websites with trillions of pages. If you search with a web browser, like Google, for an example, you can locate a lot of information. More than you really need. But Google can locate only a limited amount. It is like trawling with a net on the surface of the ocean. That’s why this area is called the ‘Surface Web’. However, below the surface, way down deep, is what is referred to as the ‘Deep Web’. An area that a normal search engine won’t be able to find. It is estimated that the Deep Web is some four-thousand to five-thousand times as large as the Surface Web, but that is just an estimate. No one knows for sure. And that doesn’t even cover the Dark Web.”
“Deep Web? Dark Web? Sounds more like some sinister video game.”
“And that is what you kids do? Or what Twerk does?”
Tommy laughed. “That’s what we are supposed to do. Why do you think we are so good?”
The Cat smiled. He should have known better.
“So what happens to the money in the Swiss bank account?”
“It is withdrawn.”
“The money doesn’t stay in the account?” asked the Cat.
“It never stays for more than a half hour.”
“Where does it go?”
“Don’t know. Can’t even confirm if it is automatically transferred or physically withdrawn from the bank.”
“What other evidence do you have to link the boys to this account?”
“Nothing, really. But how can we ignore the fact that James had this information in his computer?”
The Maltese Cat cogitated for several minutes in silence. Tommy knew better than to disturb him. He had seen the Cat work this way many times before. He knew that the Cat was playing out scenarios in his head, following them to their possible, logical conclusions.
Finally, the Cat spoke.
“We need to find out who is paying the Boys Club’s bills. Only then can we have a clearer picture of what is transpiring here.”
“We’re still working on it. Whoever set up James’s computer was pretty clever. Probably a computer specialist and not James. The information is hidden in unusual spots. We’re still digging.”
“Ok. Great,” said the Cat, “but this all makes no sense.”
“That’s the information the feds would also have.”
“Why haven’t the feds stopped them?”
“Must be part of their game plan. What I don’t understand is if someone is withdrawing the money right away, certainly the Swiss authorities could pick them up.”
The Cat explained, “You overestimate the feds influence in Switzerland. Sure, the IRS has been able to put pressure on the Swiss. But that’s why the Swiss haven’t allowed Americans to have Swiss accounts for over thirty years. Once the money arrives in Switzerland, it is hard to trace if there is no cooperation.”
“I thought after nine-eleven international transfer of funds became harder to conceal.”
“Harder, yes. But obviously there are ways. Otherwise, it would be difficult for terrorists and criminals to conduct business. I still think it makes no sense. My sources say that the thieves aren’t terrorists. They are just spoiled rich boys.”
“You know the saying, ‘Follow the Money.’ ”
“Why would rich kids work with terrorists?”
“Why do they do anything they do? Are you looking for a logical explanation?” Tommy quipped and formed his lips to enunciate, “Say ‘Patty Hearst.’ ”
After a moment the Cat asked, “How did you find this info? I thought we were just looking for unusual transactions in the company’s main computer.”
“That’s correct. But I programmed the transmitter to download everything on Mr. Van Houten’s computer, as well. Never can tell what you might need,” Tommy grinned.
“You’re getting to be too much like me,” the Maltese Cat retorted with a smile.
After Tommy left, The Maltese Cat stayed preoccupied with his thoughts, his mind wrestling with these new developments.
He had another thought and called Tommy.
He asked, “You said that this was definitely a Taliban account. Anything else?”
“Nothing, except this particular cell works in northern Pakistan.”
The Cat thought for a moment. “OK. I’ll get back to you.”
Pakistan? He had a friend in northern Pakistan. Perhaps it is time to bring him into the search. The Maltese Cat went to his computer and started to write an e-mail.
Can’t wait for the next installment? Go to: amazon.com/Escheatment-Maltese-Cat-1