A complex government intelligence plot reaches ordinary people.
The Fitton Chronicles
Reporter Roy Garrison, and photographer, Sam Peters and his wife are swept into the same international cover-up. By mistake Sam has photographed high level operatives on a Florida bridge, and Garrison's pursuit of the story leads him into the heart of Green Haze, a covert and illegal intelligence operation, headed by a savvy intelligence deputy director, Craig Grafton. Only one brilliant move can save Garrison from certain death.
It was one of those wild investigative stories, cast in an isolated wilderness beyond the high desert, a hundred and sixty miles out of Los Angeles. Roy Garrison was suckered into this type of arrangement a hundred times before during his twenty-year span on The Dispatch. The Wednesday phone call was too crazy to even make it into his weekly column. He knew the scenario all to well. A man or woman calls up, and with intense emotion in his or her voice, hints something dreadful has taken place, and Garrison is the only one they can turn to. Why not call the authorities? The answer was quick and the same every time: Talk of a cover up and nobody trusted the authorities.
Garrison gazed out his car window. The chiseled mountain peaks were stark against the cold sunset skies and shadows crept across the talus. As night spilled over the chilled desert floor, every twisted mesquite branch, every rock strewn terrace and treeless slope only heightened the isolation. The town was dropped between saw toothed mountains and a range to the east. Incandescent bulbs popped on across the flat stretches like awakening fireflies pulsing on a summer’s eve. The asphalt split; west through the range toward San Francisco and skirted the smoother hills east to Las Vegas. Somewhere on that highway, according to his source, a van containing highly toxic organic compounds had flipped over just days before. One of the vials must have opened and some guy was dead from Viral Endoplasmic Disease, VED, a virus that ripped apart the DNA in cells. His calls to the Center for Disease Control went unanswered until yesterday when they said not to panic. It was an isolated case and the investigation was over. But the dumbest thing was their denying the van turned over outside of town. That, according to his source, was a fabrication.
TALL TALES WERE SPUN BY THOSE WITH POWER. TWENTY YEARS OF CRANKING OUT STORIES POUNDED THAT INTO YOUR HEAD. OFFICIAL LINES WERE GOSPEL. THE ELEMENT OF TRUTH DIDN'T MATTER. IT WAS HOW THE DAMNED THING PLAYED OUT AND THE ATTITUDE SPREAD ACROSS EVERY GOVERNMENT AGENCY, EVERY CORPORATION... ANYONE WITH POWER. THIS WAS THE NEW MILLENNIUM. POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WAS EVERYTHING.
Garrison shifted his old green MG at the traffic sign and slowed to twenty miles per hour. A rusted yellow sign indicated speeders would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. That meant spending a long night in a cinder block little jail cell staring at some little dictator who called himself the Chief of Police. Already he missed Los Angeles. Except staying at home was an invitation to telephone bouncers, hounding him about his max-out credit cards and his bookie might call and tell him he had pushed his tab to the limit.
A green neon sign flashed in the twilight, leaving a red blotch in his eyes as he gazed at the northern mountains.
The MG's little tires kicked up the parking lot dust as he pulled in and parked between two pickup trucks. Four hours on the road and his stomach tightened into a twisted hunger pit. He stepped into the cool air and stretched his tense frame. The light inside the silver metal diner glowed against the deepening blue sky. People were jammed at the counter and in the booths and a moving mass of gray cigarette haze hung across the place.
Garrison reached back in the MG, packed his microcasette, cigarettes, and wallet into his pants pocket. He put on his faded Angels hat and strutted across the gritty parking lot. This town was probably like any other town, full of gossip, unjustified rumors, and a cast of rowdy locals seeking notoriety. He stepped back as a family exited the diner and the father held the aluminum framed door open.
Garrison was comfortable in noisy joints like this. He lit a cigarette and sat at the end counter stool. Before he began asking questions, he ordered the meat loaf, gravy, mashed potatoes and carrots. He grabbed a folded, reread local newspaper on the scratched Formica and scrutinized every article for word of the overturned van. When the steamy plate arrived he had found no reference to the van.
MRS. LYNETTE CAMPBELL. THE LADY SOUNDED LIKE A DAMNED RELIABLE SOURCE ON THE PHONE. ALL THOSE COLLEGE DEGREES AND SAYING THAT SHE HAD SOMETHING ON HER COMPUTER CD. SHE EVEN WANTED MY ITINERARY, SAYING IT WAS CRITICAL I TALK WITH HER BEFORE I SAW RICHARD IN SAN LOUIS OBISPO. WELL, WHERE THE HELL IS THE VAN STORY, MRS. LYNETTE CAMPBELL?
" More coffee, sir?" The pink uniformed waitress held a glass pot of swishing dark coffee. Garrison nodded his head. She poured and looked at his hat before throwing a couple sealed cream containers on the counter. " Angels? You from L.A.?"
" I left town: Armed robbery."
She held the pot, but did not look sure if he was serious as she smiled and quickly backed away.
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE, ROY. NOW YOU'VE GOT TO START THE BULLSHIT WITH STRANGERS.
He went back to the paper, chewed up his food like a high speed grinding machine but found nothing until he came to the obit page. Then he sipped the bitter coffee, added another cream and sugar, and ran his finger over the death notice of a guy named Grover Moses.
DIED FROM A SUDDEN VIRAL ONSLAUGHT
Garrison tore around the write up and raised his brows before stuffing the paper in his shirt pocket. The waitress returned but kept her distance as she rattled off the desert selection. Garrison ordered the tapioca pudding with whipped cream and nuts. He nixed any thoughts about asking her for directions to the Campbell place.
" Excuse me, I'm looking for the Campbell place." The old man next to him, a few days beard growth now stubble on his pasty face, squinted. Then he just stared. " The Campbell place. I have an address of Rawley Road West."
The old man shook his head. " Yeah, cross town. Left at the 76 station. About a mile in."
Garrison held the coffee cup. " You hear anything about a van over turning out here the other night?"
" Nobody seen no van cept Grover."
NOBODY CEPT GROVER. ALL RIGHT, HERE YOU GO, ROY. THIS IS IT. THIS IS THE BIG STORY THAT'S GONNA BAIL YOU OUT. BIG BAD GROVER SAW THE VAN AND NOW BIG BAD GROVER HAS DIED OF SOME MYSTERIOUS, SUDDEN...
" Grover's dead."
" You tell me, Mister."
Garrison nodded as the waitress brought the green clear bowl full of tapioca and whipped cream. There was a single cherry on top, pierced with a toothpick. He pushed his cold spoon into the whipped cream and tasted the cherry sweetness first. " Grover Moses, right?"
" You gotta be a reporter. Yup. You gotta."
Garrison laughed again as he popped the cherry between his teeth. It was both sweet and bitter. " Yeah, yeah, it was Grover Moses. And he died of the plague, right?"
" Hey I ain't no scientist." He pushed his plate forward, pulled out a wrinkled five-dollar bill and placed it under the corner. Then he stood, looked down at Garrison and pointed. " This here is a mighty small town, mister. If a van tipped over, there damned well would have been somebody who saw it..."
Garrison finished the tapioca but watched the guy all the way out to his truck under the glowing neon sign. That old man just made the most valid point he had heard thus far. With all the open space and the tiny town population, why did only Grover Moses see that van? He wiped his faced with the paper napkin. Was this a fluke or was he onto something up in this little nowhere town?