Operation: Austin – Chapter One Continued

As he got ready for bed, Gary’s mind kept wandering over what he did and did not know about the situation. Like most of their deals, it’s what you don’t know that ends up being the most important. You can plan for surprises though, and it seems in this case John’s way of handling this surprise was to call him.


So, Gary mused, John went in to extract a trafficked girl, perhaps hired by her parents. There were no surviving bad guys, John did not like looking over his shoulder to see who was coming after him for revenge. Gary understood that part. The unknown factor which complicated this mission was finding another girl. That created several issues, including the potential for her to lead other people back to the team. John would have known from experience how to deal with that, by calling his best friend.


Do you know the scene in the movies where the hero gives the bad guy a chance? You know the scene, the good guy, out of some sense of honor, throws his gun away and goes mano a mano with the bad guy? That is total Hollywood crap. A pro would shoot the perp twice in the center of the chest and not give it a second thought. If the perp were worth consideration, the job would not have been taken to begin with. They deal with those decisions BEFORE the operation. As much as possible, everything that goes down is planned that way. They are not there to teach lessons or make moral statements; they are there to do a job efficiently and deliberately. They are in and out with as little risk as possible to themselves, or the team. That was why they would have already planned on killing everybody on site except who they were there to rescue.


As Gary continued to run through the scenario in his mind, the other girl’s parents were most likely staged close by to receive her after the operation. The loose end was John was stuck with Paige. He would not have left her, that’s not what they did, and besides, fires happen. Recognizing her as a victim, he certainly would not have killed her, they are in the rescue business. Well, rescue-and-other-things business.


Gary would learn more from her, but he was still thinking there was something John was not telling him. The statement Paige was “beat up some” came out too casually. He trusted John. Even though he was not sure entirely what he was walking into, if it weren’t important, and if he weren’t the guy John needed, he would not have called. Gary mentally shifted into full mission mentality, working through each detail step by step. John would make certain she got on the plane before taking off for Mexico; then he would trust Gary to take it from there. Finally, with only a couple of hours before he had to leave, he slept, faintly aware of the dog snoring on the floor beside him.


With her flight information in his phone, Gary pulled out of his place in Ellensburg just after 4:00 a.m. He was going to have to make a few stops before picking Paige up at PDX arrivals. Ellensburg is a small college town over the mountains about two hours east of Seattle; hot in the summer, cold in the winter. It was close enough to everything if he needed something, yet far enough from anything to ensure some solitude. In their business, isolation had advantages.


It was a magical morning, with the light, colors, sounds, and smells blending into an amazing sensual symphony of orchards, farms, and irrigation. The Cadillac was running smoothly in the cool morning air. The July sun was starting to lighten the sky in the east, and the windows were down as he drove south on Hwy 82 towards Yakima. Although it was cool yet, the promise of heat was in the air; it was going to be a hot day.


One of the pleasures of driving a car with six hundred horsepower is it is so relaxing. The smoothness and power of the engine gave the sensation of being effortlessly pulled down the road. That feeling, combined with the morning sensations and the sounds of Eliane Elias’ Brazilian Jazz, encouraged him to relax, and his mind started to wander. It was going to be a nice three and a half-hour drive and he had a slight excitement of adventure, getting out of the house for a day on a mission of mercy. Drive-time was also good thinking time, and there had been a lot to think about lately. It had been a very rough year, and it was time to move past some of that and clear his head. Three or four hours on the road would help.


It started him thinking about a case he had just been contacted on. He and the client were just going through the early introductions. It was different with every job, a new mystery to unravel, the challenge of pitting his intelligence against the best villains in the world. Having been in the mundane corporate world for the start of his career, Gary loved cyber investigating, as well as the lifestyle of freedom it provided.


The term investigator brought an interesting image to most people’s minds. On TV, there would be a blonde with big boobs named Zelma sitting at a wood desk answering the phones for the Gumshoe Detective Agency. The detective, of course, would be some pretty guy who looked like Frank Sinatra. Having been fired from the police force for insubordination, the guy ended up with a PI license; but the police still love him.


That was the cliché. In today’s world the reality is not so theatrical. The internet, constantly available cell phones, and social media have turned the investigation part of their business into a much more subtle affair, and much more lucrative. It also allowed Gary to describe his business as security consulting, a much cooler description, and less restrictive. In truth, they did a lot more than just the investigations.


Often thought, his client introductions were mysterious. Yesterday, when an email dropped into his box from needsomehelp@adexec.com, the fact it was from a temporary account was no surprise, but it did pique his interest. It was not that unusual, it just meant they did not want other people knowing about the investigation. Once the initial contact was made, it started the process of discovery to find what the real issues were and how much it would cost the client to have the team fix it.


The message just said they had a mutual friend who recommended Gary to do some work. That’s simple enough. He answered back with these instructions. “Get a new cell phone with a different carrier, load the Signal messaging app, and make sure you have a VPN. Then send me a message, so we can talk securely. I will check later for your reply.”


Solving other people’s issues started years ago. After graduating from the UW with a degree in Construction Management and a master’s in computer sciences and technology, Gary took a job as a project engineer with a large defense technology company. Eighteen months into his first project, the project manager was fired for having issues with the schedule and quality control. Gary knew the most about the project’s current situation, so after an in-depth interview, their boss handed the management position to him. When the project finished on time and met the budget, the industry took notice.


Not long afterward, he was hired as a consultant to solve problems on a Defense Department project, and his reputation grew. That led him to be hired by a cybersecurity/anti-virus company, where he became a TOR/Dark Web expert, falling in love with the world of cyber investigation.


For him, there was something addicting about the chase, like a lion stalking a gazelle. Creeping so slowly he could barely be seen moving, crouching where the prey could not see him; finally, with a rush he would pounce. It was usually over before his victim knew he was there.


That is what they did, John and him. They hunted, planned, and crept up on bad people, especially the ones the legal system either could not or would not touch. When they pounced, they destroyed their target, and took everything belonging to the criminal. When they were done, they left no evidence of their involvement. After paying themselves very well, they put the rest of the money they plundered into a fund to help the victims they rescued.


Generally, Gary did the stalking; John and the team did the pouncing, but lately, Gary had been taking greater participation in the fieldwork. He felt it helped him to plan missions if he understood better what they experienced, plus, he needed to be there to extract information and plunder the criminals.


Business had been good at Booker Security Consulting. He had made millions in fees. Also, through information gained from his clients, he had made some good investments along the way. Gary was wealthier than he ever dreamed of being. It was not inside trading, he just learned what technologies were emerging and he got in position ahead of the curve. Cryptocurrencies are one example; in 2010 he used a bonus from one of his projects and bought 100,000 Bitcoin at $0.08 each.


As it peaked in December 2017, he began to unload them starting at $17,600 per coin and had 90,000 coins liquidated by the time they hit the $19,000 range. He had kept 10,000 of his originals and bought back another 50,000 when the price dipped in December. That did not even consider those he had plundered during their operations. Now the price was coming back up and he felt it would go much further as blockchain technology matured.


He took advantage of other markets also. Tech stocks like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft had done very well in the past ten years, and he was currently buying positions in blockchain technology and in an emerging energy storage technology which promised to change the world.


Even though he no longer had a financial need to work, his name still kept getting passed around, and he had a steady stream of clients. Now, he and John got to choose projects based on their value, both financially and socially, which is why they did hostage rescue work. When they learned someone was captured, if they could find where he or she was being held, they put together a mission and brought the victim home. The money they reaped from notorious criminals allowed them almost unlimited resources to perform extraction missions. They liked knowing the horrible things they did to bad people had a socially redeemable value, not that they could ever tell anyone exactly what they did on those missions.


Usually, Gary’s duties were very tedious, but in the end, there was a prize. The moments of intense combat broke up the monotony of constantly training, and spending days on end, hacking into sites and accounts. It was always more rewarding when there was a damsel to rescue, or they could steal millions of dollars from the bad guys. It was especially rewarding to be able to do both.


That was how Gary met John, working for the internet security company. John had been hired to do some personal security for the CEO. The two men liked each other, and right after that, John ended up on a job needing some tech work, so he called Gary.


Having the right intel going in can make all of the difference in the success of an operation, and Gary was the best in the business at penetrating computer systems and getting information out. He had also proven to be particularly good at strategic planning. They had been together ever since, occasionally doing projects independent of each other but lately mostly working as a team.


Reminiscing about their past as he drove made the time pass quickly. The early Tuesday traffic in Eastern Washington consisted of a few semi-trucks, and the occasional pickup or car taking people to work early. Gary hit the Columbia River east of The Dalles at about 6:00 a.m. Right on time. The traffic going into Portland Metro was a bit heavier by then, but his GPS said he was still on track to meet the flight.


Making the run down the winding Columbia River in a smooth car is a fun experience. By now, the sun was up, and the views were inspiring. The highway going down Hwy 84 had a pretty good surface with enough curves to give Gary an appreciation of how well his aftermarket suspension system handled. Most men his age and income bracket drove European cars. He liked being different, unexpected, and most people were not thinking a Cadillac was packing six hundred and forty horsepower and could go two hundred miles per hour.


Around town or on the farms, he usually drove a ten-year-old Ford F250 4×4. It fit in with the agricultural theme of the Eastern Washington area. If he was there in the winter, which he tried not to be, it got him around in the snow on farm errands. It was also what he usually drove when the dog was with him. Jax wasn’t allowed in the sedan, and it wasn’t going on the road when the weather was cold, so he had the pickup and also an Escalade for the snow, especially to run up to Snoqualmie Pass skiing or to jump over the pass to visit his mom if she wasn’t with him at one of his other homes. He tried to stay south in the winter, especially since he considered The Villa at St Kitts to be his primary residence; he normally spent at least six months of the year there, unless he came back to Ellensburg to meet with the team for mission training.


He had several thousand acres in the area, made up of separate farms he had purchased over the past few years. It backed up to the hillside of the Yakima Military Training Center, a three hundred twenty-seven-thousand-acre Army facility. Working through a holding company, he had been quietly buying farms which bordered properties he already owned; the goal being to eventually control two miles between him and any neighbors.


The farm had thousands of fruit trees, mostly apples, pears, peaches, and a small grape vineyard. There was also a large garden by his house, about an acre in size. That, in addition to the chickens, kept him and his housekeeper in fresh organic food. Most of the farm was leased out to grow hay, alfalfa, and range some cattle, depending on what was irrigated and not.


His travels made it hard to keep it all up, so he had a farm manager to handle the farms, and a co-op arrangement with a young couple, Dave, and Maria, to work the garden. They had a place in town and helped with the garden in exchange for a split of the produce. It worked for both parties, Dave and Maria got the land and the use of the farming equipment. Gary got all of the food he needed except the occasional side of beef which was part of a deal with a local family who leased some of his land to run range-fed organic stock.