Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | February 12, 2012

Sample from a Work-in-Progress, “Overload”

Chapter 18

The next morning, Saturday, I was sitting at my desk in my home office going over depositions Collier had brought.  The landline phone rang. Caller I.D. showed Frost’s number. Number, not name.
“Mike. Yost came through. We can interview Sheriff Richards tomorrow—at the New Orleans airport.”
“How the hell?”
“The sheriff has an interview with CNN, in Atlanta.  They want to tape it tomorrow evening.  Richards wants to do the interview and lay out some of the border problems on a national stage, but he’s a little pissed that he has to do it on a Sunday.  He’s told the TV people he wants to fly through New Orleans with a two-hour layover.  They agreed,” Frost said.
“So where do we meet him?”
“CNN worked out a deal with Delta Airlines.  The sheriff will meet us and take us through security to a Delta meeting room.  We’ll have nearly an hour with Richards,” Frost said.
“What do you want to ask him?”
“What does he suspect may have been happening near the border the day Smallwood was shot?”
“Do you have a suspicion?” I said.
“Yep. The illegals that were coming through were terrorists, not Mexican laborers.”
“Raises the stakes by several factors, doesn’t it?” I said.

********

We got to the airport,at about 10:30 at the gate where the sheriff had told us we would meet. A skinny female TSA agent saw us approach. We didn’t try to go through the gate, but she wanted to assert her authority.  We hadn’t presented any I.D. and hadn’t asked to be admitted.  She had longish graying hair that needed washing. Her complexion was mottled and appeared to have been obsessively clawed.
Her deodorant had failed.

“You can’t come through here without a boarding pass,” she said.
Frost silently stared at her.  She moved to be sure the desk was protecting her. I decided to release any pressure out of the situation. I gave her my 200-watt smile.
“Someone will be meeting us here and taking us inside,” I said.
“You can’t come through here without a boarding pass.”
I wondered if she knew any other neat statements. Probably had them on a 3X5 card in her shirt pocket. Plenty of room there…

Did TSA intentionally recruit clueless control freaks?
“He’ll be a member of the law enforcement community—on official business,” I said.
“You can’t come through here without a boarding pass.”
This time she nodded her head hard enough that her face got even redder. The blotches stood out even more.  I suppressed the impulse to make her say it again, but didn’t want to hear her screechy—dead tree limbs scraping a rusted tin roof—voice.
A heavyset gray-haired black man in a TSA uniform came from behind her and looked past her desk.
“Are you gentlemen Ferguson and Frost?” he said.
We said that we were and showed him our drivers’ licenses.
“Please come with me,”
“You can come on through,” the female agent said.
She tried to grin.  Didn’t work.
“I’m Earl Hanson.  Cindy is a little inexperienced.  Sheriff Richards asked me to bring you through security to a meeting. He’ll bring you back and tell Cindy that your business is completed.” he said.
He led us down the concourse to a wood-paneled door that had the Delta logo and steel letters that identified the Sky Club. I hadn’t known it was no longer called Crown Room. Things change.
As we walked in the club, a man I recognized from news broadcasts of action along the border came to meet us. He was dressed in a blue blazer and gray slacks.  The TV images didn’t tell the whole story: he was a few inches under six feet, slim-waisted and broad shouldered.  He could have been a college athlete, though more likely a swimmer than linebacker.  His blond hair was cut short and graying at the temples.  Green-gray eyes flashed intelligence and determination.
“Ken Richards,” he said.
He shook our hands with a dry palm and a grip that was controlled, but strong.  He waved us into a little conference room.
“You can have a drink if you want, it’s on the house,” Richards said.
We declined, although a Bloody Mary would have been nice.  Duty.
“Sergeant Major Billy Yost speaks highly of you two.  He’s one of my best buddies.  He’s a helluva shot with that .300 Winchester of his. He dropped an elk at more than five-hundred yards last fall, with one shot,” Richards said.
I glanced at Frost. No expression—as usual. He’d probably seen Yost drop smaller targets at longer distances. I’d not been with Yost in combat.
“The Sergeant Major said you men were running an investigation and that I might help.  I know how difficult it can be to get good info.  What can I do for you?” Richards said.
“Do you remember the day someone shot the leader of the ‘Foundation church’?” Frost said.
“Sure do.  It happened a bit north of my county, but there was so damned much TV-related traffic that we sent people to help out. The cemetery where the shooting took place is about thirty miles from us and we sent four deputies in two cars to help the State Troopers,”
 Frost had made the connection—again.
The Foundation bunch was diverting resources and attention.  They were causing so much media attention and traffic that the locals were overloaded.
Frost carried the interview.
“Sheriff, I’m a former Special Forces intelligence sergeant. Yost may have told you that. I know about rumors.  I actually liked rumors when I was an operator.  The stupid ones you can eliminate pretty quickly. Some, though, are dead true. Sorting them out is the game.”
For the first time, Richards looked a little uncomfortable. Frost held him with his gaze as surely as if he had his hands on the man’s shoulders.
“Yes. Some of the Mexicans we picked up around that time said that the Coyotes—people who smuggle illegals across the border—brought people across who were not Mexican or South American.  They didn’t speak Spanish or English.”
“Is there a way to get more specific information on these people?” Frost said.
“I asked for more, too.  Someone in Mexico had paid for silence and/or the threats were too powerful—maybe both.  The first part of the rumor was vague.  Even more flimsy was the story that seven of them were black,” he said.
“Just how ‘flimsy’ is that story?” I said.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think the story is flimsy, the source was a drug mule looking for some slack, so the source was—um—doubtful.  We’ve all—the border sheriffs—heard stories of Al Shabaab, from Somalia, sending people through. The Mexicans caught a woman selling visas to Middle-Easterners for $3,000 each. Once they get into Mexico, coming across our border is a piece of cake,” Richards said.
He shrugged and shook his head.

I had to agree.
“Could you give us a heads-up if you hear any more ‘rumors’ of non-Hispanics coming through?” Frost said.
“You guys onto something that I need to know about?” Richards said.
“We’ll call you immediately if we find anything that you can use. It’d help if we had a direct phone number and an email address.” Frost said.
We exchanged business cards.  Frost didn’t have one, so I gave Richards one of mine.  I scribbled my cell phone number on the back. The sheriff wrote a cell phone number and email address on the back of his.
“This must be some heavy-duty crap,” Richards said.
“It is, and could be more than any of us suspect,” Frost said.

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