The first book in the six part series, Saint Charles Street begins spinning a web of intrigue around the people of Ohlone Island.
Previously released as an audio podcast serial, the book series creates a thrilling atmosphere, delving deeper into the hidden histories of the main characters and the conspiracy surrounding the island.
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Nestled in the heart of the San Francisco Bay, Ohlone Island has a little something for everyone: beaches, bake shops, espionage, tennis courts, fraud, book clubs, murder…
Newcomer Lorna Tollison thought she had left behind the drama and aggravation of New York City. Little did she know that rescuing a local history museum would turn over one of the dirtiest rocks in town. When the police refuse to take her seriously, it is up to Lorna and her best friend, Annie, to get to the bottom of this mystery.
While the eight or so commuters waited for their public transit bus, they busied themselves with newspapers, mp3 players, coffee cups, or neck scarves. In turn, heads jerked up at the passing traffic. Just checking. Casually they shifted their weight before glancing down at their watches or cell phones for the time. The wet fog that encircled them began to dissipate. The dull grey sky awoke as yellow shafts of light passed between white billowing clouds that stretched and lulled along. A deep metallic hum announced the arrival of the O Line bus that would shuttle them from Ohlone Island into San Francisco via the Bay Bridge.
Michael Chan looked up from his newspaper in time to see the tall white rectangular bus sail triumphantly around the bend. He watched his fellow passengers jockey themselves into a haphazard boarding line. The bus halted with a jerk and the doors popped open. One by one each passenger placed a piece of plastic on top of the money taker, while the accompanying green light indicated acceptance. Or they would place dollar bills into the machine, which beeped as they shuffled deeper into the rectangle. Michael pulled out the three crisp dollar bills and fed the machine. He moved awkwardly around a passenger who stood in the aisle at the front of the bus, unwavering and unconcerned that they were obstructing his ingress.
At the next stop, a woman who sat below his strap hanging arm looked up at him. He maneuvered around to let her out and took her seat. He sat next to an older man with stringy long hair and a five o’clock shadow. The old man was dressed in a flannel tie-dyed shirt and khakis.
“You look like a geriatric hippy.” Michael said under his breath as he unfolded the newspaper.
“You look like an office coolie.” The older man retorted moving his lips imperceptibly.
The two men sat unmoving and unspeaking for the next three stops until they reached the Warner tunnel that would take them under the Oakland Estuary. When the tunnel spit them out in the heart of Oakland’s Chinatown, they had made the exchange. Michael folded his newspaper and got off at the next stop.
As he made his way through the crowded streets of Chinatown, he unfolded a small sheet of paper he had cupped in his hand. Slip 23 Cove Point Basin. He rolled up the paper between his fingers to toss it on the street but then stopped himself and slipped it into his pants pocket. He entered the Happy Lucky Café nodding at the staff and took a table against the wall.
As he pulled out a PDA, a waitress brought over hot tea and water. He took a thin memory card from his shirt pocket and inserted it into the side of the digital device. After his jok porridge was served, he settled down to read the downloaded classified documents and memos on his device.
The marina at Cove Point Basin is a desolate looking place. Aside from removal of the detritus that accumulates in former manufacturing areas, little care had been taken to make it attractive to the boat slip renters. There were no showers, no walking paths, and no security cameras. It was, in fact, a parking lot for boats. From the bus stop, Michael walked the half-mile or more to the marina where he came upon the walking bridge that led past a security gate to the boat slips. The security gate and number pad lock looked newer than the bridge. He looked closer at the number pad and remembered the sheet of paper he had wadded up in his pocket. He shook his head in frustration, pulled out the rolled-up wad from his pocket and carefully straightened it in the palm of his hand. Pressing his lips together he gathered spittle in his mouth and dripped it onto the paper. As he gently rubbed the spittle over the paper, a four-digit number appeared. He typed the number into the keypad and heard the door unlatch.
Slip 23 contained a shiny forty-foot fiberglass sloop. Michael wasn’t sure whether to knock on the hull or call out for permission to board. The smell of diesel fuel and salty sea air mingled with the scent of the fragrant wild fennel that grew along the shoreline. He looked down at his black-soled loafers and at the white fiberglass hull. He glanced around casually at the other boats before slipping off his loafers. The lumber was cold beneath his feet and he picked up his loafers before climbing across the small span to the boat’s deck. He knocked on the hatch and bent down to look through the small window on the side of the boat.
“Whadcha lookin’ fer?” The gravelly voice came from the dock. Michael lost his footing but caught himself on the small rail that ran along the boat’s edge. He looked up. Now, the older man from the bus was wearing a curly black wig with a black captain’s hat perched on top.
“You look like a – ” he paused. Signals and countersigns slipped from his consciousness. There were no words to accurately or insultingly describe what stood before him. Aside from the wig and hat, the older man was now wearing a wrap-around skirt, something perhaps from the Polynesian Islands, and a rugby shirt over a fake pot belly that tilted unnaturally. With his mouth agape, Michael shook his head, “You just look mentally ill.”
“You look like a wife beater,” said the older man. “And you’re on the wrong boat.”
Michael stood up and looked over to the sign with the numbers 20-30 and counted down the row. “No I’m not.”
“Evens are on that side. Odds are on this side. You’re on slip number 26. You’re so off base I had to come and get you.”
Michael was infuriated but followed the man to the correct boat slip and boarded an older looking cruiser.
“You like boats?” He asked Michael.
He handed Michael what looked like two thin arm sweatbands and growled, “Put them on with the plastic on the inside. Like this.” He showed Michael his own wrists.
They clamored down the hatch of the sloop.
The old man removed his disguise revealing a bald head and a medium build under the fake potbelly.
“So it’s easier to dress older than younger.” Michael said trying to impress the older field agent with his keen observation skills.
“For me. But for you? With that bone structure you could go as a woman.” The vocal growl was gone and the old man spoke clearly for the first time.
Michael was disgusted. It was so easy for these old white guys to just start off by emasculating an Asian.
“I’m not emasculating you, son.” The old man caught Michael’s eye. “You don’t think I’d dress up as a woman if I could get away with it? Grow up.”
Michael said nothing but looked around the boat cabin as the old man closed the door to the hatch.
“You hungry?” He asked Michael.
“No, I had breakfast,” Michael said but added, “But I could use a coffee or something.”
“Good, me too. Fix us something.” The old man busied himself with removing a small panel from the wall. “This area is turning into a lawless hotbed and it’s going to get a lot worse. We’ve got a lot to go over.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Nobody has told me anything, just that bunch of files and memos from the fraud division you gave me this morning.” Michael said as he opened cabinets in the galley.
The old man unlatched a portal and aimed a remote at the boat next to his. Michael heard the muted music from the other boat turn on and looked up, the old man nodded at the other boat and grinned, “Always know your exits, son.”
“So,” Michael measured out the coffee grounds as he spoke, “what do you do here?”
“My job is to make sure information sold to the government stays inside the government.” The old man sat down at the galley booth and spread out folders on the table in front of him as Michael finished filling the small coffee maker and turned it on. Michael grabbed a couple of bottles of water, placed them on the table, and scooted into the opposite side of the rounded booth.
“The reason nobody has told you anything is because there are only four people who know what’s going on and we’re two of those people. You’re fairly new to this business - you don’t have much field background, no ties to other agents, no financial difficulties, and you’re a digital forensics expert - so you’re the perfect candidate. Who did your field training?”
“Ah, Big Cousin.”
“You know him?”
“Sure. He’s one of the best trainers we have. Hands down.” The old man smiled. “He’s still teaching Moscow Rules?”
Michael laughed. “Yeah.”
“Look, I’m going to tell you straight off, there are a lot of ways to make some extra cash with this operation. Don’t do it, ever. You will get burned.” The old man opened his bottle of water. “You are going to be the whole of this operation. You’re going to have to make your own contacts, informants, your own drops, everything.”
Michael was not happy with this news. “Wait a minute, hang on, I’m being transferred out of IT? I didn’t put in for a transfer.”
“No, this a promotion. It’s a career builder.”
“To what, the fraud division?” Michael had worked very hard to place himself exactly where he wanted to be and that wasn’t in the lower echelons of the fraud division of the FBI.
“You’ll be a GS-12 but Elliot will keep you comfortable. He’s got other accounts to pay you.”
“What about you? What are you doing here? I mean why not just meet me in the city, at headquarters? Why am I not meeting Elliot?”
“Pfft,” the old man snorted, “that gossip mill? It leaks like a sieve. No, if you want a secret known, tell one of your coworkers; if you want to keep a secret, tell no one. The files I gave you this morning are for your cover operation for the agency. It’s your red herring, see? That cover operation pays for everything we do here.”
Michael nodded his head, but he had no idea what the old man was talking about.
The old man drummed his fingers on a folder, “This is the real deal. But now with all this new technology, I’m falling behind.” He shrugged, “I can’t keep up. I’m from the analogue age.” The old man shook his head in frustration, “And I’ve been thwarting these assholes for 15 years. But it’s a whole new ballgame, new players with new toys. ”
“Fifteen years? And you haven’t caught them? No arrests?”
The old man looked at Michael in astonishment, but then grinned and nodded his head. He looked down at the papers, cleared his throat and said quietly, “There are no arrests, Michael. This is not a thing, a tort, that goes into a court of law.”
Michael watched the old man get up and patiently pour them cups of coffee, “Let me explain from the beginning.”