Dead air, p.1

Dead Air, page 1


Dead Air

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Dead Air

























  June 1999

  The shadows were deepening as darkness rolled over and around the dense, still forest. The poplars and spruce stood silent and unmoving, the moonlight peeking through clouds, but only now and then.

  Black emerged from the meeting with his inner circle — the three people he trusted. One final meeting to tie up the last loose ends and make certain everything was in readiness for the departure. There could be no mistakes — not now when they’d come this far and been so successful. In every way.

  Black liked the darkness. It was why he had chosen the name. They’d all chosen colours, all four members of the organizing committee — it had been his suggestion, based on his favourite movie, Reservoir Dogs. And for him, Mr. Black was the perfect choice — black, the colour of coal, of outer space, of night … of death.

  The rest — the attendees (he disliked the term “delegates”) were numbers. Numbers, like colours — anonymous.

  The week couldn’t have gone better. He was absolutely certain of that. A magical time in a magical place. Not one complaint. As tough physically, mentally, and psychologically as this camp had been, the most demanding he’d ever been a part of, every single delegate was going away from here happy, energized, and full of hope for a brighter future than ever before.

  That was something else he’d insisted on. It was a camp — not a boot camp. Black felt the latter term had a negative ring. The left painted boot camps as intense, hate-inspired brainwashing sessions. But they weren’t that, not at all. This camp had been carefully designed to prepare attendees to fight long and hard, crush all opposition, and do whatever it took to win. You could only effect change by being in power. And camps like this one equipped delegates to help bring about the victory that had to happen.

  As the noise from the final night’s celebration filtered through the trees, he moved away from his companions to reflect, to smile, and to plan. And to do what had to be done.

  The time for reflection felt good. He thought back on all the months of planning — of arranging for this place, just a few miles from Buffalo, Wyoming, with all its Old West history and only several hundred yards from the site of the Wagon Box Fight, an important part of that history. The logistics had been flawless — from the food and drink, the supplies the instructors and guest speakers needed, everything right down to the porta-potties, every detail, including the intense secrecy that was the most important detail of all. And the most amazing part was knowing that a few hours after the camp was packed up and gone, there would be virtually no evidence to show that it had even taken place. Or, most importantly, who had been there.

  The presenters had been even better than Black had dared hope for — inspirational and zealous without coming off so extreme as to be characterized merely as crackpots. That was important given the number of new recruits at this gathering. And it was important, too, because that was something else the left had done and continued to do — focus its attention and its attacks on the few who were unable to contain their admitted intolerance and their over-the-top fervour. One of the Fox News commentators — Carlisle, the guy from Wichita, Kansas, who spoke on Thursday night — had said it perfectly. “The public will buy anything that is packaged and presented well — they’ll buy nothing that’s packaged and presented badly. We have to be better salesmen than the other side.”

  And Black knew Carlisle was right. Now the stage was set. There would never, could never be another Clinton. The second president in history to be impeached was still in place. Acquitted by a liberal-dominated court. But the slut president wouldn’t be there much longer; in less than two years he’d be gone. His replacement was ready and waiting. And best of all, Black knew that after this week, after this camp — his camp — conservative commentators and right-wing future candidates and incumbents were more prepared to go into battle than they’d ever been.

  Tomorrow they’d leave, go back to their homes and home bases, ready to take the fight to the next level. Black felt his gut tighten as the excitement of knowing what these six days had been and what had been accomplished took hold of him. He managed a rare smile.

  Black’s walk had taken him to the back of the camp, directly behind the RVs and tents that dotted the large clearing designated Bivouac C. His walk had been deliberate, designed to bring him to this area. One last detail to be taken care of. And he was the one who had to do it. He knew that.

  He almost laughed at the gall of the infiltrator. And the stupidity. The fool actually believed he could come in here, spy on them, steal their secrets, and walk away unscathed. And what then? Print them in some poorly crafted story the left-wing media would fall over themselves to present? How arrogant and stupid journalists could be.

  This one was arrogant, stupid, and wrong. Wrong to think he could pull it off. And just as wrong to agree to meet Black privately — there’s something I want to share with you. And the fool had bought it, further evidence of his idiocy.

  Black stopped just behind a low canopy of brush and larger pines. He slipped the backpack off and onto the ground in front of him, reached in and took out first the night goggles, then the knife. Everything he needed.

  He pushed the backpack under the brush. He’d retrieve it in the morning as they were preparing to leave. All of them. Except for the one who would not be leaving. He would remain here — forever.

  Black began moving slowly and silently through the deep, dark woods — to the place they had agreed to meet. And for the second time in as many minutes, Black was smiling.


  It was the top of the fifth inning and Kyla Sawley, three weeks shy of her ninth birthday, had just lashed a vicious liner to left.

  Okay, that might be overstating things. It was actually a slow roller that the opposing shortstop, intensely focused on her gum and apparently unable to multi-task, had ignored as the ball passed by a metre to her right. It didn’t have enough momentum to reach the outfield but the left fielder had to run in and pick it up as the shortstop, the biggest girl on either team and apparently annoyed at the interruption, glared first at the ball, then at Kyla.

  Cobb sat down next to me at that exact moment. The once green, now splotchy green bleacher sat behind the first baseline and was populated by parents and siblings of the girls on Kyla’s team. The opposition families outnumbered us and pretty much filled the bleacher behind the third base line.

  “Awright,” Cobb said. “Looks like the game’s going well.”

  I shook my head. “Unfortunately the shortstop is the only player on that team who isn’t destined for a long and successful career in the majors.”

  “I wasn’t aware girls played in the big leagues.”

  “These girls could,” I said. “Anyway, this will be the last at bat. The ten-run rule will mercifully end the thing. But if Kyla scores, we’ll avert the shutout, a huge moral victory.”

  Cobb stood up, cupped his hands to his mouth. “Go —” He stopped in mid-yell, looked down at me. “What are they called?”

  “The Bobcats.”

  “Go Bobcats!” he shouted. And sat back down.

  Mike Cobb, ex-cop, now private detective and frie

  “Sorry I got here so late. I drove around town for a while. It’s looking pretty good.”

  The town was High River, devastated by flood a year before. In fact, the game was one of the first since the flood to be played in George Lane Park, which, like most of the town, had been victim to the watery nightmare of June 20, 2013.

  Cobb was right. High River’s residents, as well as volunteers from all over the province and beyond, had battled back after the water’s ravages and were rebuilding a community that had long been the one I’d most want to live in if I didn’t live in Calgary.

  The batter who followed Kyla drew a walk, and with two outs we had a runner in scoring position for the first time in the game.

  The third-base coach clapped her hands together and called encouragement to the Bobcats.

  “Come on, girls. Be ready on the bases. Okay, Jenny, just a base hit now.”

  The third-base coach and manager of the team was Jill Sawley, Kyla’s mom. She was also the woman I’d been seeing for about six months, going back to a time when Cobb and I had worked together on a couple of cases, one involving a runaway, drug-addicted kid and the other the search for a sociopath who had murdered my wife several years before.

  Cobb did not look like a baseball parent. Even in gym pants, New Balance sneakers, and a Minnesota Vikings ball cap, he did not have the look. In fact, at a couple of inches over six feet and damn little body fat on that frame, he looked like a cop about to bust an over-exuberant baseball parent or a dishonest umpire.

  We had met for lunch about once a month and a couple of times for a few beers since our association of the previous winter, but nothing that pertained to his line of work had arisen since that time. I was happy about that. Cobb had joked about us working together from time to time to thwart Calgary’s criminal element, but although I had written a number of pieces on crime in my work as a freelance journalist, I had decided that I was not cut out for butting heads with bad guys and had made that quite clear to Cobb.

  So when he called this morning, wondering what I was “up to on a fine Saturday,” I was suspicious. Then when he suggested he stop by the game and maybe we could have a quick chat afterward, I became doubly dubious.

  But first things first. The Bobcats catcher was the best hitter on the team and she was in the batter’s box tapping her cleats and taking deep breaths. She stepped out of the batter’s box and looked at Jill. I noticed Jill wasn’t flashing signs. Apparently, trailing by a couple of converted touchdowns, the Bobcats manager wasn’t thinking of having her cleanup hitter lay down a bunt.

  Eventually the batter took the hint and stepped back into the box. Two pitches later she swung at a one-and-one change-up and hit a long, towering fly ball to centre field that looked sure to be over the centre fielder’s head and good for a couple of face-saving runs. And, in fact, it would have been over most centre fielders’ heads.

  All except maybe Willie Mays … and the girl who played centre field for the High River Flyers. She ran for what seemed like a very long time and made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch, crashing into the fence and crumpling to the ground. Two, maybe three seconds later she bounced up, ball in hand and a big grin on her face. The 14–0 score would stand.

  “I see what you mean,” Cobb said. “Big leagues.”


  We stood up.

  “You got a few minutes?” Cobb looked at me.

  I shrugged. “If this conversation is going to result in people going out of their way to kill me, probably not.” Which is what had happened the last time Cobb and I had worked together.

  “Nope.” Cobb grinned. “Nothing dramatic this time. A little research, that’s all.”

  We stepped down from the bleacher as Jill arrived. She looked terrific, even in her blue-and-white Bobcats T-shirt and with the downcast expression of a manager whose team had just been shellacked. She hugged Cobb and took my hand. “I’m taking the girls to the Hitchin’ Post — one of the great burger-slash-ice-cream places in this part of the world. Milkshakes. You guys wanna come?”

  “How about we catch up with you later? Mike thinks he might need my expertise on something.”

  She looked at Cobb, a smile crinkling the corners of her eyes. “I don’t want my guy shot, knifed, poisoned, or in any way harmed.”

  Cobb laughed. “Funny, he just said the same thing. No worries, this one’s pretty benign. I won’t even keep him out late at night, promise.”

  Cobb and I adjourned to Colossi’s, a funky, independent coffee place in the heart of High River’s still-recovering downtown. I’d been worried, as I had with all of my favourite High River places, that this one might not reopen after the flood. Some hadn’t. Colossi’s did and I was glad.

  Cobb sipped a caramel macchiato. I had opted for a medium house blend.

  I looked at him over the rim of my cup. “Research,” I said.

  He nodded, drank some more coffee, set his cup down. “I’ve been hired by Buckley-Rand Larmer.”

  I whistled. “Mr. Right-Wing Radio?”

  Cobb nodded. “The same. Bodyguard work. Seems he’s been receiving threatening notes, emails, phone calls.”

  “Who would’ve thought that possible?”

  Cobb smiled a little. “He has upset a few people.”

  “No, ‘upset’ is what people get when the neighbour’s muffler needs replacing. What Larmer triggers is outrage. And the outraged number more than a few.”

  Cobb circled the rim of his cup with his index finger, licked off the caramel. “Some of his positions might seem pretty over the top but the guy’s a long way from an idiot.”

  “Not an idiot at all.” I shook my head. “Larmer’s the worst kind of extremist — intelligent, persuasive, eloquent … and dangerous.”

  “Your paths cross at all over the years?”

  I drank some coffee, dabbed a napkin to my mouth. “We’ve chatted a few times. We both spoke at the same event one time. A couple of years ago. I was still trying to get over Diane’s death so I didn’t want to do it. But they paid pretty well and I was getting short of money.

  “Of course I knew who Larmer was and had exchanged hellos a couple of times, but this was the first time I’d really come face to face with the guy for longer than a few minutes.”

  “And your first impression was?”

  “He’s a hater — French Canadians, First Nations, Muslims, environmentalists, gays, liberals — and for him it’s not about disagreeing or presenting alternatives; he wants to destroy all those who don’t share his views. And he’s pretty good at it. Buckley-Rand Larmer has carved up enough people on his RIGHT TALK 700 radio show that his enemy list should rival the Yellow Pages. So good luck.”

  “Sounds like the crossing of paths may have encountered a land mine or two.”

  “Not really. No fireworks at all. We were speaking to an audience of U of C students. The topic was ‘The Influence of the Media in the Twenty-First Century — Increasing or Declining?’”


  “And I spoke on the increasing influence of the media in the twenty-first century.”


  “Addressed the dangers of movements like ‘Idle No More.’ Referred to it as antics.”

  “And that related to the topic how?”

  “It didn’t. But he was by far the more interesting speaker that day. Pissed off a good number of the students but was certainly remembered. I imagine most had forgotten me and my presentation before they got to their next class.”

  Cobb sat back in his chair and looked at me. “He has a large following. Large and loyal.”

  “No question. There are lots of conservative thinkers who’d sooner stick pins in their eyes than miss one of his shows. Get their daily dose of Larmer hate-spew and they’re good to go.”

  Cobb grinned. “I’m se
nsing you don’t like the guy.”

  “Nothing gets by you.” I could feel myself becoming more intense than the conversation warranted and I knew it. My turn to sit back. I smiled at Cobb, couldn’t quite manage a grin. “I can get a little over the top myself thinking about guys like Buckley-Rand Larmer. They’re scary. I don’t care what side of the political spectrum they occupy.”

  Cobb nodded but didn’t say anything.

  “So what do you think?” I asked. “Anything to the threats?”

  Cobb shrugged. “He thinks so. No surprise, this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Says he’s always laughed it off before. But this time he’s spooked. Judging from his manner when I met with him, I’d say real spooked. Especially since Hamilton.”

  I thought a moment, then nodded, remembering. “Spring of 2012, wasn’t it? Conservative radio talk-show host in Hamilton, Ontario, shot in the parking lot after his show … and when that didn’t kill him, they came after him a second time a few months later. Finished the job. That was a weird one.”

  “Yeah, getting shot the first time made him an instant hero. In fact, that probably moved his various causes further and faster than ten thousand broadcasts. Overnight Facebook and Twitter rock star. And you’re right — the second time the shooter made no mistake.”

  “Was it the same shooter both times?”

  “Never caught the guy, so the cops don’t know for sure, but the word is they think so, yeah.”

  “Any similarities between what happened to the Hamilton guy and what’s going on with Larmer?”

  “Hard to say. Nothing on the surface, but with them both being in the same line of work, and both good at stirring up hornet’s nests …”

  “I can see why your guy would be nervous.”

  “My guy,” Cobb repeated softly, then shook his head. “Not my guy, Adam, my client.”

  I shrugged. “Cops?”

  “They’re looking into it. But Larmer isn’t convinced he’s safe in the meantime. That’s where I come in.”

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