In this 8th book Stan Turner struggles to keep his practice going in the wake of the tragic loss of his son and his rapidly disintegrating marriage. Mired in grief and debilitating depression, Stan is asked by the CIA to defend a woman accused of killing her husband and three small children. The CIA assures him she's innocent, but when one of the woman's children is found dead in an East Texas ravine, Stan wonders who's been lying to him. To further complicate matters, Stan must tread carefully to avoid revealing the CIA's top secret Tarizon Repopulation Project.
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Stan gets his first assignment from the CIA after being recruited to assist aliens secretly living on Earth.
Bart, Paula's husband, gets fired by the Collin County DA's office and ends up helping her defend a man accused of the arson-murder of a prominent scientist and his family. It is thought a long feud over a barking dog is the motive for the murders, but further investigation reveals a bitter battle over a lucrative defense contract may in actuality be the true motive for the murders.
In the midst of the two murder investigations Stan is provided with a legal assistant by the CIA. She looks human but when they get romantically involved Stan discovers she's quite different from the women he's used to. As the murder cases come to trial, the civil war that has started on Tarizon comes to Earth.
Chapter 1 - First Assignment
The long anticipated first assignment came in August, 1992. I was sitting in my law office thinking back to the day I was recruited by the CIA. "Just act normal,” Mo, my CIA contact, had told me. The only problem was there was nothing normal in my life anymore, not since my son Peter had been abducted by aliens from a planet called Tarizon. The abductors were human beings who traveled in huge spaceships the size of a football field. They traveled with their slaves, an amphibious life form that, I was told, could swim as fast as a dolphin and run as fast as a gazelle. These human aliens and their slaves had been living amongst us for decades—right under our noses and we hadn't realized it.
None of this was common knowledge, obviously. Only a handful of people knew about the Tarizonian Repopulation Project. Had the press got wind of it the American people would have been outraged. It was strictly off the radar and a great effort was made to keep it that way. When Peter supposedly died everyone believed he had drowned in a flash flood near Possum Kingdom Lake in central Texas, but the truth was he'd been taken hostage to make sure I did what the CIA and the aliens wanted.
It had been over a year since Peter's disappearance. They hadn't found the body, of course, since there wasn't one. I thought of going public with the whole sinister affair, but I couldn't prove anything, not really. The aliens had destroyed all the evidence and taken most of the witnesses back to Tarizon. The few witnesses who remained were not credible. Nobody had believed them in the past, nor would they believe me now, if I tried to expose them.
Even my partner, Paula Waters, didn't know that the aliens had taken Peter. She'd seen enough during Cheryl Windsor's murder trial to understand that there were aliens amongst us, but she'd chosen not to know any more. When Peter disappeared she didn't seem to make the connection. She apparently bought the flash flood story that Mo, my CIA contact, had conjured up to explain Peter's disappearance.
I thought about Jodie, our legal assistant. We hadn't talked about the aliens since the trial. She also knew the aliens existed as she had possessed one of their weapons for a brief period—a memory gun that could steal time from those within its range. I hadn't brought it up to her because I knew the aliens were monitoring my every word. If they found out that Jodie knew anything about their existence or their mission here on Earth, they'd abduct her as well and then there would be three that were gone because of me—Peter, Dr. Gerhardt, and Jodie—because I couldn't leave it alone. I just had to know the truth.
Since the day Mo revealed to me that Peter had been taken, depression came over me like a swarm of angry bees. It wasn't just the sadness and hopelessness you'd expect over the loss of a child, but fear and dread of the future. If I strayed the least bit from the narrow course set by the CIA and our so-called guests from Tarizon, what would be the consequence? Would another of my children suddenly disappear? Would they take my wife or would I wake up one day in a mental hospital unable to remember my name?
It was difficult to get up each morning and face such a bleak existence, but I still had Rebekah and our three other children to protect. Of course, I owed something to Paula too, as her law partner. She'd been supportive and patient these last few months, but I needed to start pulling my weight again in the partnership. Somehow I had to get myself together and get back to work.
I looked down at the living trust I was working on for a software engineer and his wife. He'd been one of the founders of a successful computer manufacturing company and wanted to be sure his growing estate was properly protected. I was having trouble concentrating on the task and was relieved when the telephone rang. It was a long time client and friend, Ben Stover.
"Stan. I'm so glad I caught you."
"Hey. Ben. How's it going?"
"Not so good, I'm afraid. I need you to come down here right away."
Ben lived in Waco, about a ninety minute drive from Dallas. He operated a small manufacturing business and had been quite successful. I didn't usually go to my clients’ offices, particularly if they were out of town. It was much more economical for them to come to me.
"We can't talk about it by telephone?" I asked.
"No. It's too complicated and we've got some tough decisions that must be made immediately."
"Why don't you and Alice come up here? It'll be expensive for me to come down to your place."
"We can't be away from the business that long. Don't worry about the money. We'll pay for every minute of your time."
"I'm not worried about getting paid. I was just trying to save you some money."
"Just come down, Stan. We've got a bad situation here."
I sighed. "Okay, but I need to know at least a little bit about your problem, so I can be thinking about it while I'm driving down."
"Oh God. I don't know where to start," Ben said dejectedly.
"Are you and Alice okay? It's not a medical problem, is it?"
"Not yet, but you know I have a bad heart. This isn't helping matters."
"Okay, just tell me a little about it."
"It's Ralph Herman, our bookkeeper. . . . I just can't believe he'd do something like this. He's been part of the family since he came to work for us nine years ago."
"Ralph Herman," I repeated. "I don't think I've met him."
"He married Peggy, Alice's daughter by her first marriage. They're divorced now, but Ralph has always been a good employee."
"So, what did he do?"
"He's been embezzling money for a long time and concealing it pretty well."
"Oh, jeez," I moaned.
This was a common problem for small business owners. The owner usually knew how to sell his product well enough but not necessarily how to run a business. He'd have to delegate bookkeeping, collections, and office management to others and trust them to be honest. Many times they weren't and this led to problems, usually serious ones.
"Yes, damn it! I can't believe it."
"God, I don't know; a lot. It'll take weeks to try to figure it out. We may never know the full extent of it."
I sighed. "How did he do it?"
"I don't know. I haven't been paying that much attention to the books. I can't do everything. I trusted him! Damn it!"
"Have you gone to the police yet? I asked.
"No. That's why I'm calling you. I’m not sure if I should."
"Okay, I'll clear my schedule tomorrow afternoon and drive on down. I can be there by one-thirty, okay?"
"Yeah. I'll be here—up to my elbows in shit."
I laughed. "Okay, just hang in there. We'll figure this out."
As I'd been talking to Ben, a wave of relief came over me. I wasn't sure why, but having a serious case to work on filled me with energy. Maybe it was an adrenalin rush, I didn’t know, but my mind seemed clear and focused for the first time in weeks. There was a client in trouble and I was eager to dig into the shit, as Ben put it, and do whatever was needed to make things right.
Maria, my secretary, walked in and I smiled at her. Her face lit up when she saw me. "Well, you're in a better mood, I see."
I shrugged. "Yeah, Ben Stover just called. He needs my help. You'll need to clear my calendar tomorrow afternoon. I've got to go see him."
"Sure, I'll take care of it."
She made no effort to leave but gazed out the window over North Dallas. Then I remembered she'd come in about something. "So," I said, "did you need something?"
She blinked and then smiled. "Oh, sorry. Ah. . . yes; Mo is on the phone."
My skin suddenly turned cold. The energy I'd felt drained out of me and was replaced with a feeling of great dread. Maria gave me a sympathetic look and then left. She didn't know much about Mo. He had come into my life long before she became my secretary, but she seemed to sense my fear of him. It hadn't always been that way. At first it was exciting—exciting to be involved with the CIA even if only on the fringe of their activities. But as time went on, one thing led to another and soon I was deep into their operations. It had almost cost me my life at one point, but all that was nothing in comparison to what faced me now.
"Mo. What's going on?" I said, trying to act normal as he had instructed me to do.
"How you holding up?" he asked sounding genuinely concerned.
Mo, himself, was a decent person. At least, I had thought so over the years. He had helped me many times with difficult cases and had asked little in return. He even saved my life on one occasion when an assassin was on my trail. I never suspected his generosity was calculated for a specific end. I guess I had been incredibly naive. But, I knew it was the CIA and the bureaucrats who were calling the shots, not Mo. He had tried to protect me as best he could, but I had let myself get recruited. It could have been avoided if I'd just said no thanks in the beginning.
"Better," I said.
"How about your wife?" he asked.
Rebekah. That was another story. She'd never be better. She had been more or less a zombie since the funeral. Luckily her mother lived nearby and had been able to stay with her and the children. I dreaded going home at night. There were no smiles, no small talk, just silence. Rebekah hadn't said it, but I knew she blamed me for Peter's death; and well she should. It was my fault. There was no doubt about that.
"The same," I said.
"So, what do you want?" I said bitterly.
Mo sighed. "We have a situation and we need your help."
"I'm listening, " I said, pressing the phone hard against my ear. I had been waiting for this call—wondering why the aliens would need someone like me on their payroll.
"We can't talk about it over the phone. I'm around back at the service entrance to your building in a blue BMW. Come on down."
"But—" I started to protest, then realized there was no point. "Okay, I'm coming down."
I looked at my briefcase wondering if I'd need it, then decided I better take it. There may be some paperwork involved in the assignment or I might need to take notes. After stepping out of the elevator I turned right, took the back corridor through the mail room and passed the service elevator. As I exited out onto the loading dock, I saw the blue BMW, walked toward it, and got in.
Mo took off with a jerk and turned left toward LBJ freeway.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"To meet Kulchz," he replied evenly.
My skin turned cold again thinking of the alien commander who was in charge of the abduction of thousands of American children. What kind of a man was he? Was he really human? The aliens looked like us. Mo had said they were human, but how could that be?
"Can I ask questions, or do I have to just do as I'm told?" I asked.
Mo smiled. "Sure, what do you want to know?"
“You said the aliens were human. How can that be?"
"I don't know. I've been told that Earth and Tarizon are sister colonies having been settled about the same time. Apparently we have common ancestors."
"Yes, apparently millions of years ago there was a planet out there somewhere inhabited by humans. As technology advanced and life expectancy increased, the planet got overcrowded and couldn't sustain the population. Because of this, settlers started journeying out into space searching for alternative places to live. One of those groups of settlers found Tarizon and another, Earth."
I sat back and closed my eyes trying to fathom all of this. It was just too bizarre and impossible to believe. Yet I'd seen their spaceship, the memory gun, the frogmen, and they'd taken my son. How much proof did I need? "What about the frogmen? I asked."Tell me about them."
"They call them Seafolken," Mo said. "They're slaves who man the ships and do all the hard labor."
"I thought this society was advanced. How come they still have slavery?"
"I don't know. All I know is the Seafolken are strong, fast, and have psychic powers you wouldn't believe. You don't want to mess with them."
"If they are so fearsome, how do the humans keep them in line?"
Mo shrugged. "Hell, I don't know. You can ask Kulchz. Maybe he'll enlighten you."
We were on I30 now heading east. When we got to the Lake Tawakoni exit, Mo got onto the state highway and headed south.
"Why are we going to Lake Tawakoni?" I asked.
"That's where the aliens moved their headquarters after you screwed up their base of operations at Possum Kingdom Lake. They have to land near a lake so the Seafolken can feed."
I nodded. A few miles down the road, Mo took a right onto a county road that took us deep into a wooded area. He made several more turns and each time the road got narrower and was less maintained. Soon we were on a dirt road deep in the middle of nowhere. Finally, he stopped at a gate. He got out and unlocked it.
In the distance I could see the lake. Mo got in and drove us through the gate and then stopped to lock it behind us. Nobody would find the aliens out here, I thought. I doubted I could even find my way back to Dallas, if something happened to Mo. We drove another ten minutes and finally stopped by an old, dilapidated oil storage tank. As I got out of the car, I noticed a door had been cut into the side of the tank. Mo led us through it.
The dank interior was only illuminated by a single blue light above the door. I stopped to let my eyes adjust and asked, "Where are we going?"
"Kulchz has an office underground," Mo replied, pushing me forward. "Just up ahead you'll see a hatch that will lead us down to it."
I walked forward with caution, and as my eyes adjusted to the low light, I saw a metal railing protruding up from a hatch. Mo nudged me toward the railing, so I grabbed it and started down. At the bottom I found myself in a long corridor that went in both directions. It was stark white and well lit. I waited for Mo.
"Which way?" I asked.
"Follow me," he said. As best I could tell, he went south toward the lake. A few minutes later he stopped in front of a door, looked into an eye hole, and the locking mechanism clicked. He pushed the door open and walked in. I followed him with much trepidation.
Kulchz was a tall human with broad muscular shoulders and a rugged face. He looked at me intently as I entered the spacious office that appeared to be made of glass or crystal. There were thousands of lights, control panels, and monitors of every sort. He motioned for us to sit down. The room was furnished with several chairs and a sofa cushioned by a soft, white substance. When I sat down, the seat conformed itself to the shape of my body. As I sank into it, I felt like I was floating on air.
Kulchz sat in front of a large, glowing desk. With the faint blue glow came a steady humming noise that changed pitch from time to time. I looked at it curiously.
Kulchz nodded slightly. "Mr. Turner, at last we meet."
"Yes," I said. "I figured one day we would. This is quite a place you have here."
"Yes, it will do for our limited purposes."
My hands were shaking so I slipped them under my thighs to quiet them.
Kulchz smiled. "There's no reason to be nervous, Mr. Turner. We mean you no harm and your son is doing quite well on Tarizon."
Anger swelled in me as I thought of Peter being a captive of these intruders. As if he'd read my mind Kulchz said, "He's not a captive. He's been assigned temporary quarters and has been provided a guide to teach him the ways of Tarizon."
"Really? So, he got there okay? He's not sick or anything?"
"No, he's perfectly healthy and actually enjoying himself, I believe."
A monitor clicked on and there was an image of Peter being led down a crystal hallway by a woman dressed in a white gown. As she stopped in front of a room she looked toward the camera. She was young and quite pretty. She said something and Peter laughed. He seemed quite taken with her and looked as happy as I’d ever seen him. Tears of joy welled in my eyes and I could scarcely keep from crying. Peter was alive! He was okay!
The monitor went blank and Kulchz smiled. "So, worry not about Peter. He'll be fine as long as you do your job."
"My job?" I said. "What is my job?"
Kulchz sighed. "There's been, what would you call it, a . . . ah . . . botched, I believe is the term . . . a botched extraction."
"Really? What went wrong?"
"Nothing with the extraction itself. Everything seemed to go as planned. It was staged as a parental abduction as it often is, but there is a police detective who won't accept this explanation. He thinks the wife is involved in the disappearance somehow and is out to prove it."
"Who's the detective?"
"Kramer. Will Kramer," Mo replied.
“Hmm. I don’t know him. Does he have any evidence?”
"We don't know. All we know is that this detective must be stopped, and you've got to do it."
"So, you want me to represent this woman?"
"Yes, defend her and prove she's innocent. You must stop the detective too. If he keeps digging, he might discover the truth and then we . . . well you know what we'd have to do."
I knew only too well what they'd do. The two options that had been explained to me were having my memory erased or being exiled to Tarizon. The problem with memory erasing was that it was imprecise and unpredictable. It was quite possible that months or years might be erased unnecessarily. There was even the possibility of brain damage. Living on a strange planet away from family and friends didn’t offer much appeal either.
"Yes, I guess I do. . . . So, why don't you just abduct the woman and save us all a lot of trouble? Take her to Tarizon to be with her family?"
"We can't do that. Our treaty with the U.S. government doesn't allow it nor do we want the Earth mothers on Tarizon where they might try to interfere with the home family."
"What about Peter and Dr. Gerhardt?" I asked. Did the treaty allow you to take them?"
"If the program’s invisibility is in jeopardy, then it can be done as a matter of national security, but that is not the case with this woman. We have to try very hard to resolve these kinds of problems without resort to violence or abduction."
It occurred to me that many of the alien husbands would probably have fallen in love with their Earth wives and would have insisted that they be protected post extraction. I wondered if an alien husband had ever refused to be extracted. Surely it must be difficult to live with a woman four or five years, have children with her, and then up and leave without even a word of explanation.
I nodded. "All right. What is this lady's name? Where can I find her?"
"Her name is Charlotte Wenzel. She's being questioned at the Plano Police Station right now. Sooner or later they'll indict her. You should contact her immediately."
My heart sank. What were the odds I'd have a conflict on the first case they wanted to assign me?
"I can't handle that case," I said.
"Why not?" Mo asked.
"Bart Williams, my partner's husband, works for the Collin County District Attorney's office. I overheard him say he was prosecuting that case. It would be a conflict of interest."
"You have to do it," Kulchz said. "You're the only one we have to represent her."
"They have other prosecutors," Mo pointed out. "If you take the case, they'll just assign another prosecutor."
"True. But I couldn't do that to Paula. This is a big case for Bart. He's been waiting a long ti—"
"Do I have to remind you we've got Peter?" Kulchz said angrily.
A cold chill swept over me. I glared at Kulchz. What a bastard he was. "Okay. Okay. So, if they do indict her, where do I get the money to post the bond?" I asked.
"How much do you think you'll need?"
"Well, if she's charged with murder, it could easily be two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars."
Kulchz nodded. "We'll provide you whatever it takes to get Mrs. Wenzel off. Just let Mo know what you need."
Mo stood up. "I'll take you back to your office so you can get started."
I got up and said, "What about Peter? Can I talk to him?"
Kulchz stood up abruptly. "No, just do as you’re told and he'll be fine. When Ms. Wenzel is cleared and the investigation is over, you can come back here and see some more video of him."
"That's it?" I said angrily.
Mo took my arm and guided me to the door. I looked back, but Kulchz had already turned his attention to other matters. On the way back to Dallas I thought of Peter. He did look well. Was that really him or just some computer image? I wanted to believe it was him. I had to believe it. The alternative was unbearable. When Mo dropped me off a block away from my office building, he gave me a briefcase and said the contents should tide me over for a while.
When I got back to my office, I closed the door and opened the briefcase. It was stuffed with money—hundred dollar bills in nice neat packages. It didn't take long to count three-hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The expected bond money plus a hundred grand as a retainer, I figured. Paula would be proud and shocked that I'd gotten a decent retainer from a client. Not bad, had the circumstances been different. I was eager to tell her the news but when I checked her office, she wasn't there.