It looked like they were facing a ship full of loose cannons. Divine Fury. Chapter 38

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Chapter 38

HARRY BLOUNT AND Bobbie Connors were already in the Bunker when Enzo Lee arrived in the early afternoon.  After the pleasantries, Blount got Lee a Diet Coke and two Pellegrino waters for himself and Connors.  Then, he pulled out a sizable bowl of peanut M&Ms and put them on the conference table between them.

“It’s about the best I can do for dessert,” he said.

“Perfect!” said Connors, spooning a half dozen into her hand.

“Thank you both for coming,” said Blount.  “I know we’re all coming at this from different angles and our priorities and responsibilities are different.  But at the same time, I’m under the impression that perhaps we’re all hunting the same animal here and if we can put some things on the table, maybe we can figure out what it is.  If so, then I think we all win.”

Blount led off, recounting what he knew about the spyware on his computer.  His security experts were convinced the medical center’s robust firewall and malicious code filters would have detected the keystroke capture program passing through an Internet connection.  There was no evidence it had entered the system concealed by encryption, compression or other techniques commonly used to disguise such programs.

So, they had to assume it came into the network through some physical connection – a computer, a thumb drive or another type of device.  Once inside the network, the spyware had searched the network and installed itself inside every Thinkpad laptop, ignoring every other device.  It had only sent out captured data from Blount’s computer.

“I guess my proclivities are well known,” said Blount.  “I mean as far as computers go and…yeah, I guess I am pretty compulsive about keeping a record of everything.  So, they knew I’m a Thinkpad guy.  My email address is common knowledge.  So maybe they used that as the final identifier – just focus on the guy with a thousand emails with my address.

“And the best we can do in terms of timing – when the spyware first hit our system – puts it Sunday morning, just over five weeks ago,” he said.  “That’s April 18 to be exact.  That would be when the device carrying it was hooked up – presumably physically – with our network.”

“That’s also when Scott Truman was killed,” Connors interjected.  “More than a coincidence?  That would be my bet.”

“Right,” said Blount.  “From the campaign perspective, this explains a lot.  All the dirty tricks.  The Wainwright endorsement, or maybe I should say ‘non-endorsement.’  Some of these things like the media events were publicly known.  But the advanced knowledge and knowing the big picture of the campaign gave them time to prepare and pick the best spots to tie us in knots.  It worked.”

“Can your computer pros figure out who sent the spyware or received the information from your computer?” asked Lee.

Blount shook his head.

“There is nothing traceable,” he said.  “You know how these guys operate.  They take over computers and control them remotely so they can build in layer after layer of protection.  They erase all the obvious evidence.”

Connors next provided an update on the Truman murder investigation.  United Air Lines records showed that the San Jose programmer, Oscar Wilkins, had flown from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale two days after Truman’s death.  But the major carriers showed no other flights for the computer programmer after that.  Of course, South Florida had at least a dozen smaller carriers plus scores of individual airplane owners happy to fly passengers on short hops around the Caribbean.  Not all of them kept records and most wouldn’t bother to check the identification of passengers so long as their credit cards cleared or they paid in cash.

Connors was confident Wilkins would eventually surface, particularly with his family still in California, but she couldn’t say when.  Of course, the computer hacking scenario combined with Wilkins’ expertise as well as his past legal trouble involving his work for the gambling  operation just added to the already strong DNA evidence.  It made him a compelling suspect.

Lee recounted his meeting with the programmer’s wife, Nancy Wilkins, although he had given Connors the gist of it in a phone call soon after the meeting.

Nancy Wilkins’ reaction to what he had told her about the death of Truman at the USF hospital early that Sunday morning was telling, whether or not it would be helpful in court.  Lee was convinced of her husband’s involvement.  Nancy Wilkins had clammed up when he tried to get her to say where Oscar Wilkins had been that morning or what he was working on.  But she seemed resigned to the fact that her husband was in deep trouble.  It wasn’t clear really what she meant when she suggested her husband was helping Soldiers of Christ Ministry in some way but there was a connection there as well.

“But I’ve got to tell you,” Lee said.  “Nancy Wilkins makes some mean pork adobo.”

Connors laughed and shook her head.

“Well, at least you’re thinking with your stomach,” she said.  “Most men I know are totally controlled by another part of their anatomy.”

Blount and Lee exchanged eye rolls.

Lee then told the others what Buzz Shelton had told him about the crop-dusting incident near Salinas, omitting any reference to Shelton’s or his own probable blood alcohol levels at the time of their conversation.  He still hadn’t interviewed Bud Walters, the farm owner, about the incident but planned to make another trip to Salinas to do so.

He asked Connors and Blount what they knew about Soldiers of Christ Ministry since he seemed to keep running across the organization and its leader, Rev. Jimmy Burgess.  Lee had checked the campaign disclosures for George Chapman’s campaign and found that Burgess and another Soldiers of Christ executive, Brent Daggart, had given the maximum allowable donations to the Republican congressman three months earlier.  Another 34 people had made identical contributions on the same day.

“They’re well-known players in conservative politics,” said Blount.  “Maybe I should say ‘ultraconversative.’  Or, perhaps even ‘lunatic, right-wing, beyond-the-fringe’ politics.”

“I’d hate to think what they call your politics,” said Lee.  “Actually, I know.  I’ve looked at their websites.  But it’s really not fit language for mixed company.”

He glanced at Connors.  She sniffed and said in a quiet murmur, “Screw you, China boy.”  She and Lee both laughed.

“Okay. Okay,” said Blount.  “Back to business, kids.  You asked about Burgess.  He and his church are probably the most influential religious organization on the conservative side today.  They’ve got moderate Republicans terrified because one misstep will bring down a mountain of trouble.  They’ve got money, a huge audience base and a lot of other religious groups – particularly other televangelists – following their lead.  They’re like the quarterback of that whole set.

“The contributions you saw are probably a bundling deal,” continued Blount.  “Burgess gets a bunch of checks from his people – maybe from people who watch his show, puts them all in an envelope, and drops them off at Chapman’s headquarters.  It’s legal.  Everyone does it.  But it makes it crystal clear to Chapman and his people who really controls the donations.  Where the political debt is owed.”

“I guess I’m not surprised,” said Lee.  “But I get the feeling there is more going on than check writing.  If you listen to Burgess – and you should see this website that’s affiliated with them – it’s pretty scary.  I mean, talk about loose cannons.  It was like a ship full of them.”

Just then, a sharp pinging noise was emitted by Blount’s cell phone that was sitting on the table next to him.  He picked it up, pushed a button and stared at the small screen.

“Urgent,” he read.  “Watch channel three.”

There was a television on a small table to the side of the white board.  Blount turned it on.  The sound was muted and Blount had a hard time finding the right button on the remote to get the sound.

On the screen was a thin blond man in his 30s standing at a podium.  Lights were flashing as photographers snapped his photo.  Microphones were moving in and out of the picture.  He wore a dress shirt unbuttoned at the top.  Two men looking lawyerish and wearing dark suits were behind him.

The caption below the picture read:  “Carter alleges he was molested by Harper.”

Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

You can learn more about Divine Fury on Amazon.

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