Read 65 Below Online

Authors: Basil Sands

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Espionage

65 Below (7 page)

BOOK: 65 Below
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As she pushed the car door shut, a figure appeared in the entry of the building. Bright light from inside silhouetted the shape in dark shadow. The man appeared
massive
and intimidating. As he stepped forward onto the landing, his features came into view . At first they were hard, tough looking but suddenly softened and Lonnie could see a smile come across the big man’s face as she approached. He was in his early forties, stood about six feet tall, and sported a military style crew cut and a very muscular physique. His arms bulged at the seams of the blue uniform shirt. The protective vest the security officer wore strained against his thick pectorals. Lonnie thought the guy must spend every spare minute of his time lifting weights.

“Well, now,” said the officer in a flirtatious voice, holding the door open for her, “if I’m going to be interrogated by a trooper, you are probably the one who will get all the information out of me.” He chuckled at his own words.

“Are you Bannock?” Trooper Wyatt asked.

“Officer Charlie Bannock, Doyon Security Services, at your service, ma’am,” he said with a flourish of his hand, ushering her into the lighted building. “And you are?”

“Trooper Wyatt,” she replied in a
flat
cold voice.

When Lonnie first started her career in the Troopers, she had been told that her looks might be a difficulty for her. Her instructors warned that she would be constantly flirted with and harassed. Initially it had bothered her, even intimidated her, when suspects and officers alike would hit on her. They often assumed her too pretty to be strong. She eventually learned that her appearance could also be a powerful asset.

By any standard of beauty in almost any country or society, Lonnie Wyatt was stunning. She learned to use her appearance to her advantage when necessary to coerce a suspect or informant to give every bit of information they had to her. With a simple angle of her eyes and tilt of the head, she could soften her expression to the point where most men were hypnotized by her gaze. Some men were stronger, and others were just jerks who didn’t take her seriously until she had to use physical force. Physical force was something at which she was also quite adept. Lonnie was a 4th degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and 3rd degree in Hap Ki Do.

Only two weeks earlier, a suspected meth dealer had tried to grab her gun during a warrant arrest. He quickly found his arm in a very unnatural position and could not explain to the medics how his face had been so badly bruised.

And, as with many Northeastern Asian women, she had the ability to make her face appear extremely cold, even cruel, just by going expressionless and staring into a person’s eyes. Lonnie had become quite adept at scaring the willies out of almost any person with a well-timed icy stare.

“I understand you met a couple of suspicious people earlier this evening at the TVEC substation?”

“Wow, you like to get right to business don’t you? My kinda girl.” He smiled.

“Look, Officer Bannock,” she started.

“You can call me Charlie.” A grin spread across his face that Lonnie thought seemed oddly uncomfortable to him.

She looked at him with cold, hard stare, accentuated by her stoic Korean features. “Fine, Charlie. I don’t have time to waste with flirting.” She put her hands on her hips and assumed an aggressive stance. Her voice was sharp. “You don’t have a chance with me. Let’s get to business so we can catch these guys.”

His face flushed red with a boyish look of embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I assume you’re talking about the two Albanian guys?”

“Yes, tell me everything you saw to the best of your recollection. I also have to let you know that this conversation is being recorded,” she said.

Bannock motioned to a rectangular folding table with a single metal chair on each side. He walked toward it, then sat down and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, spreading his hands and tapping the fingers of one against the fingers of the other.

As he gathered his thoughts, Lonnie took a quick look around the room. It was about fifteen by twenty feet, with plain white Sheetrocked walls. Behind the chair farthest from her was a window through which she could see outside to the guardhouse at the entrance. The guard who had let her in was sitting inside the small booth, smoking a cigarette and reading a paperback book.

Behind Bannock, along the long wall that stretched the whole length of the room, was a desk-height shelf covered in a series of computer printers, monitors, and CPUs. A short metal rack on the floor at one end contained a single device about the size of two pizza boxes stacked together. The IBM logo stood out on the front cover of the device, next to several two-inch-wide by four-inch-tall vertical rectangles that filled the rest of the front surface. It looked identical to a device in the computer network closet at the Public Safety building that was used to store video from the cruiser cameras at the end of each trooper’s shift. She remembered the IT guy calling it a NAS, which stood for something she couldn’t remember. Its real name was totally lost on the troopers in the office, who referred to it as the NASAL Server.

On several of the monitors, she could see color images being fed in from surveillance cameras around the compound. One of the cameras showed the entrance gate and part of the courtyard of the TVEC station.

“Right,” Bannock said. “Well, here is what I saw.” He explained everything in detail as he had with Eugene earlier in the evening.

“So, you were suspicious of them, based on a feeling you had?” she asked.

“Not just a feeling, ma’am. I spent twenty-two years in the Army, seventeen of those years in the Green Berets and the Delta Project. I hunted terrorists around the world or trained the armies of other countries how to hunt them down. After a while, you begin to have a sixth sense of sorts. It’s what keeps a guy alive in that crap.”

“As a cop, I can’t make an arrest on suspicions and feelings,” Lonnie replied. “I need facts, hard evidence of criminal behavior. Otherwise, we’re just wasting our time. It’s not a crime to speak Albanian.”

“Look, these guys were up to no good, whether they work for TVEC or not. I’m telling you, based on my experience, that they’re connected to terrorism. That’s it, plain and simple. Take it or leave it.”

“I understand your professional opinion, and you may be right. But it won’t hold up in court without hard evidence. And if it won’t hold up in court, I have nothing to take them in for…plain and simple,” she said. “If you don’t have anything substantial for me, then there’s not much I can do.” She glanced over to the network equipment and the bank of monitors. “Do you have any surveillance video of the substation?”

“No. This equipment is all new and hasn’t been fully installed yet. Besides, the substation isn’t our property. Eugene Wyatt from TVEC just gave me permission a couple of hours ago to install some cameras there. I should have them in place tonight.”

“If you see anything else suspicious, give us a call and we’ll follow up on it.”

“I’ll look through what videos I do have, and if there is anything worthwhile, I’ll contact you,” Bannock offered.

“Thanks.”

Lonnie stood from the chair. Its chrome feet scooted across the floor, causing the chair to vibrate with a sharp metallic clang. She turned toward the door to leave. Bannock called out to her before she got all the way across the room.

“Um, Trooper Wyatt. I… uh….” he paused nervously. “Please forgive me for the way I acted earlier. When Harry called up and said a hot-looking lady trooper was coming up to talk to me, I figured he was joking and it was some big, mean, butch woman. Seeing you kind of threw me off. I mean, you are a heck of a lot more attractive than any cop I’ve ever seen, and, uh…”

His face turned deep red. “Aw crap! There I go again. I’d better shut up before I put my foot all the way down my throat.”

He wiped the back of his hand across his forehead in exasperation and continued. “I’ve never been good at flirting. I’d always get too nervous and end up gabbing to the point where they just turn and leave. I think I need to get a different social life. Anyway, won’t happen again.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take it as a compliment.” Lonnie opened the door and started out. She turned back to him and added, “If it makes you feel any better, I’ll delete the flirty parts from my report. Good luck with your social life, Charlie.”

“Thanks,” replied the still-blushing Bannock.

She walked out the door, crossed the parking area, and got into her waiting cruiser. Three minutes later, Trooper Wyatt pulled up to the locked entrance of the TVEC substation a hundred yards south of the pump station. The low-frequency hum of the massive transformers vibrated softly through the night. Her body shivered involuntarily as she
rose
out of her cruiser. Even though she had been outside at the pump station, it seemed much colder here. The giant halogen lamps that lit the area near Bannock’s guard shack must have raised the temperature several degrees. Here in the shadowy darkness of the electrical substation, with only the single cold mercury lamp inside the compound, the atmosphere was icy. The inside of her nose felt frosty when she inhaled.

Lonnie scanned the area in front of the gate for clues. She pulled the long Maglite out of her utility belt, switched it on, and twisted the cap of the lens so the beam spread wide, brightly illuminating the gate area before her. The gate was set in an eight-foot-high fence rimmed with barbed wire that jutted out from the compound on angled metal posts. The wire was intended to keep vandals out. Someone had, it seemed, played a practical joke by throwing a pair of shoes tied together at the laces up onto the wire. The white-and-blue Nike basketball shoes hung motionless in the cold night air.

Lonnie observed several sets of impressions left by truck tires that ran in and out of the fenced courtyard. The gate itself was closed, and she pulled on it to verify that the locking system worked. It did not budge at her tugging. She randomly pressed several buttons on the digital keypad and tried again. It did not react. Whoever had gotten in here earlier either had the combination to the lock, or had overridden the electronic device with technology. As far as she could tell, there were no signs of foul play or break-in at the gate or the surrounding fence. Other than those that led from where the various trucks had parked to the keypad, there were no footprints, either. At least, there were no human footprints. A single line of dog paw impressions trailed off through the snow into the woods.

Probably Penny.
Daddy takes that dog everywhere.

She picked up her cell phone and called the TVEC dispatcher on duty to request the number combination for the keypad to open the locked substation gate.

A male voice answered. “TVEC Dispatch, this is Franklin. How can I help you?”

“This is Trooper Wyatt from AST. I’m at the Salt Jacket substation. Could you or someone there supply me with the code for gate?”

“Good evening, ma’am. What is your badge number, please?”

“Four three oh seven,” she responded.

“Thank you,” he replied, “and what is your full name?”

“Lonnie Wyatt.”

“And, finally, one more question.” The dispatcher paused for a moment. “Who was your eleventh-grade English teacher?”

“What?” She exclaimed incredulously

“I am sorry, ma’am, but I need to know this information.” Franklin’s voice was serious, but Lonnie was certain she could detect a hint of a grin in its sound.

“Your mother! Mrs. Eckert,” she blurted out.

“That would be correct, ma’am.” Franklin replied. “She’ll be delighted you remembered.”

“Franklin, you’re enjoying this. I can tell. Now, how about the number?”

“No problem. Six, six, eight, pound, seven.”

“Thank you,” she said sarcastically. “Tell your mom I said hi, and you can also tell her that my writing skills have improved considerably. Hers was the only class where I ever got a B.”

“I’ll let her know. Have a good evening. Out here.” He hung up the phone.

She pressed the disconnect button on her cell phone and punched the code into the keypad located at the side of the large sliding gate. The buttons of the keypad were stiff to the touch. The cold in the metal sucked heat out through her leather-gloved fingertip, leaving a mild stinging sensation. The lock clicked open as the last digit was pressed, and the gate automatically slid along the grooved channel of steel track that ran parallel to the main fence until it was fully open. She walked into the inner area of the substation, leaving her cruiser parked in front, still running, the doors locked.

With the flashlight in her hand, Trooper Wyatt scanned the open ground around the large steel structures that hummed with the awesome pulse of millions of volts of electricity surging through the thick rolls of copper coil and heavy electromagnets. In the diffused beam of her Maglite, she could just make out the tall, gray metal towers on which the power cables hung, feeding the substation, which converted some to lower voltage for local use, and boosted some along to further journeys to even more remote locations.

The snow had been scraped to the sides of the area in front of the small utility hut by a snowplow several days earlier leaving bare icy dirt and gravel that provided virtually no clues as to how many vehicles or people may have been there. At the steps to the hut, where there were two or three inches of snow the plow couldn’t reach, were several sets of footprints.

One of the sets definitely belonged to her father. They had the peculiar shape and pattern of the custom-made White’s Alaska Boots he had worn since she was a little girl. He had bought the boots for more than two hundred dollars back in the late seventies and had them rebuilt every two years for about a quarter of the price of buying new ones. He claimed those boots had become more a part of his feet than his own toenails.

Another set of prints had the distinctive markings of Corcoran military issue jump boots. Those, Lonnie thought, must be Officer Bannock’s. One set of prints belonged to a pair of large, military surplus white bunny boots commonly worn by many Alaskans this time of year. Another that looked like sneakers of some sort. Each of these pairs of prints went into the building and around the various structures of the substation, where the technicians had been trying to diagnose the outage.

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