Nixon French pressed the power button of his computer. As he waited for it to warm up, he took a long sip from his strawberry milkshake and chuckled. Having an office next to the company cafeteria definitely had benefits.
When the computer had fully warmed up, he selected his email inbox, and clicked to open one special email. The email, received while Nixon was the Police Chief of Sanctuary City, Idaho, contained a fifteen-picture slideshow. Nixon pressed start.
The first picture, from a long distance away, showed an unknown person in handcuffs hanging from a rope thrown over a tree limb. Pictures 2 through 7 zoomed in on the person until he was recognizable as Dennis West. Dennis West was the brother of Sandy West-French, Nixon’s former wife. Pictures 8 through 14 showed Dennis being lowered into a bubbling, steaming mud pot. The screams could almost be heard through the picture. Picture 15 showed a frayed rope dangling perhaps a foot above the mud pot.
Nixon’s ritual every morning for the past three years had been a strawberry milkshake and a slide show. He liked strawberry milkshakes but hated the slide show. He planned to repeat the slideshow until his brother-in-law was confirmed dead, a difficult proposition if Dennis had been lowered into a mud pot in YellowstoneNational Park. The only item remaining would be the stainless steel handcuffs.
As soon as he received the pictures, Nixon passed them on to Doug Farnsworth, the top Internet engineer for Pendergast Holdings. Doug had inspected the pictures and the email for any identifying information. Everything was clean except for one picture with an embedded date tag. The date tag corresponded to when Dennis had disappeared.
The picture of the mud pots was sent to the Park Service at Yellowstone. After searching the park for several months, they thought they had found one similar mud pot. However, there was no indication that Dennis had been lowered into that particular mud pot, and no tree limbs were discovered within two hundred yards of any mud pot. Trees simply did not grow next to mud pots.
Of course, they would not find anything in any of the mud pots. Almost all mud pots in Yellowstone are highly acidic. A test was performed by dropping a turkey leg into a mud pot. The turkey leg was gone in ten minutes. Including the bone. Aluminum soda cans are the only things not consumed by the mud pots.
Nixon stared at his laptop for several minutes and then rotated his office chair to stare out his office windows. He had a corner office that looked over the parking lot and a large field that seemed to extend forever. A mile from his office was a large grove of trees. Nixon smiled. Next to the grove of trees was a small lake. Nixon had been spending every snow-free weekend at the lake since Pegasus-Northwoods Energy had hired him.
Pegasus-Northwoods Energy had recruited Nixon French three months after Sandy had taken her life. Although she did not hold Nixon responsible for the loss of her brother, she could not deal with his death. She began to resent that Nixon was a Police Chief, but had not brought her brother’s killers to justice. As she lost touch with reality, she accused Nixon of not wanting to find the killers. She even suggested that he knew who they were. Sandy’s final act was to connect a flexible hose to her exhaust pipe, and feed it in through a rear window of her automobile. Nixon still had nightmares about the call he had gotten from one of his officers.
Nixon had been hired to run the security department of PNE. It was an organization with a long history of incompetence. Only the remoteness of the PNE facilities had prevented serious security breaches. No one was willing to cross hundreds of miles of snow to blow up an oil refinery. Nixon had reorganized the security teams in five of the seven facilities in northern Alberta. It was now spring. The final two facilities on his list would be reorganized by the end of summer. Nixon was happy about the higher temperatures, but did not like the flies.
Nixon completed his morning ritual and then began calling his security teams. For several weeks, he had been conducting security breach exercises. He wanted to make sure the security teams knew a breach was coming and would be able to react to the crisis. Nixon was convinced that terrorists would try to shut down his facilities. He just didn’t know when.
Pegasus-Northwoods Energy had seven high tech, and very expensive, oil sands recovery facilities, and a large technical facility. Four of the recovery facilities were in full production. Nixon’s biggest nightmare was a combined assault on all four of the producing facilities. The resulting destruction could cripple the production output, and the required cleanup could take several years.
Nixon had a test in place for the possibility of a large-scale assault. He had asked a good friend, Oliver Pendergast II, to help. Generally referred to as O2, he was a former SEAL and the assistant district commander of the Pendergast District of the Idaho State Police.
O2 had been the precinct commander of the Airport North Precinct of the Idaho State Police when Nixon lived in Sanctuary City. O2 had conducted several combined training exercises with the Sanctuary City PD in order to gauge the response of the local police organizations during terrorist activities. Besides becoming friends, O2 and Nixon had gained a good idea of how their people would respond.
Nixon heard buzzing coming from a box on his desk. He flipped the LCD monitor up, saw it was his secretary, and pressed the answer button.
“What can I do for you, Polly?”
Polly widened the camera field, which brought O2 into the display. O2 waved.
“You have a visitor, Mr. French.”
Nixon laughed, and told Polly to send him in.
When the facility was built, PNE had embraced technology. All facilities were Wi-Fi hotspots, and every office was connected by audio and video. And there were more Ethernet receptacles than Nixon could count in a year. Nixon smiled. Had Doug Farnsworth been here when this place was constructed?
O2 walked through the office door and placed several strips of red caution tape on Nixon’s desk.
Nixon looked up, and said, “I didn’t know you were visiting.”
O2 laughed. ‘I needed a new shot at that lake.”
He pointed at the strips. “I brought four of my people with me, and we got seven flags.”
The facility test was a modern version of the old game of Capture the Flag. Each flag was a two-foot long red plastic caution strip. Nixon would place two or three flags in different areas of a facility, and then call O2. O2 would not tell Nixon when he was coming to capture the flags. This set of flags had been placed at the two sites that were the furthest apart, over two hundred miles. Nixon had hoped that the distance would create problems. It apparently had not.
O2 sat down. “You made two of the flags a little harder than usual, but it only slowed my ream down a little. Nix, I think you still have a problem.”
This was the third test performed by O2 on the PNE facilities. So far, none of O2’s people had been discovered. The security teams for each facility had been doubled after the first test, and had been increased by 50% after the second perimeter breach.
Nixon thought for a moment, and then looked over at O2. “You have how many here with you right now?”
O2 held up five fingers.
Nixon chuckled. “How did they get in this time?”
O2 sat back in his chair. “We were a little more prepared this time with the added security. But, your company store is really insecure. We were able to walk right in and buy the security team coveralls without any questions asked. A strip of white tape with a blue marker created a nametag that was good beyond twenty feet. I brought Ramona with me this time. She fills a coverall very nicely. She was a very good distraction at the main gate.”
Nixon chuckled. Yes, Ramona did properly fill a coverall. He stared out the window overlooking the lake.
“If you have everyone parked in the cafeteria, let’s get them together, and go find a fish.”
Nixon stood, walked around his desk, and walked to the door.