Child of Darkness: A Novel in Serial Form
By Susan Berry
(Part Added January 2, 2023)
Malcolm Wainwright studied the line of kerosene coming out of the container as he walked around the inside perimeter of the church. Hindsight was commonly thought of as disruption, something better not to engage in, full of “might haves” “could ofs” and “should ofs”, the language of regret leading down the path of despair. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals cautioned that hindsight did not contribute to the betterment of the human condition. Hindsight was error because one could not change what had occurred by speculating on what should have happened. To Malcolm this was bunkum. Hindsight through a correction of the past was the map of his future–his new future to be precise, not the one he had envisioned ten years ago when he accepted the position of pastor of Nashport Congregation of Arisen Savior Teachings Church.
Still, his future was looking up. He hurled the empty red plastic can into an empty pew in the middle of the sanctuary that until lately had sat a hundred of his parishioners. Seconds later, the can smacked a pew and then fell off, hitting the wooden floor before coming to rest. Hindsight had shown Malcolm where he had gone wrong. Ever the dutiful student, Malcolm had studied and learned the lessons Hindsight had and continued to place before him.
The first lesson was to disabuse himself of those shown to be false to his ideas for Galatians 1:9 spoke of them being accursed. Upon his successful revival, Malcom would show them and those who sought his arrest that all were accursed for preaching any other gospel than which was given to him.
Malcolm looked forward to his new life as an itinerant preacher of Kierkegaard principles. Where he would begin, he knew not. It would not be in U.S. He would change the perception of failure, condemnation of his ministry and lead those who had doubted him, who had fallen away from the Word, back, to the realization that he was God’s messenger.
Hindsight was the key. It had taught him to check and recheck his presumptions lest they turn into fallacies or assumptions. This he did now. He checked his watch. He checked the time from his watch against his flip phone. They agreed. Thirty minutes remained before the janitor arrived to clean the church for tomorrow’s services. From an inside coat pocket, he brought out a short stub of a candle and two wooden fireplace matches. He took two large steps backwards until he felt the knob of the outer door at his back. Lighting the candle with one match, Malcolm threw the candle as far as he could, watching the arcing flame of restoration soar and land in a puddle of kerosene. The matches he threw a short distance into the last pew. As flames raced around the church, in and out of pews like children chasing each other, Malcom opened the door and stepped outside onto the front porch. With his set of keys to the church, he locked the door, throwing the keys into the bushes to his right.
Malcolm skipped down the three wooden steps and walked quickly to his car, hearing the crackling of the flames in a feeding frenzy on the white oak timbers and woodwork that covered ninety percent of the church. He smiled as he closed the door and started the engine. Silently Malcolm thanked Hindsight for the lesson in identity as he picked up the grocery bag containing the perming solution, scissors, instant tanning lotion, and hair dye kit. In the bag, he put his phone. Next, he removed the latex gloves he had been wearing. Bag and gloves in hand he threw them onto the wooden steps. Starting to feel the heat from the fire, Malcolm got in the car, shifted to drive and let the car coast down the graveled driveway until it arrived at a leveled-out spot. Here, he threw out a bundle containing Malcolm Wainwright’s identification and passport. Malcolm Wainwright no longer existed. In his place, sat Edgar Bowman, William J. Bowman’s younger brother.
Two Years Later
Billy Bowman gave Barb a peck on the cheek, pulling out her chair for her, as she took her seat at the table. “Congratulations, Mrs. Brumby. You’ve finally made a honest man out of Brandon.”
Barb and his second cousin, Brandon Brumby were newlyweds, married for all of thirty minutes. They had wanted their wedding and reception to be out of this world. So, they had been married in the High Heel Wedding Church located in the Taiwanese Budai Township. Instead of a traditional reception, they had arranged for a dinner and movie night, featuring the film, The Hunt For Red October.
Featuring Sean Connery as a commander of the newest Soviet submarines, gone rogue, seeking to defect to the United States, The Hunt For Red October was what Russia had recently styled as meaningless propaganda and perpetuation of evil. As a waiter began to serve dinner and a waitress refilled drinks, as the sun dipped below the horizon, Billy took a sip of his gin and coke looking around the blue glass structure that was shaped like a woman’s high heel pump. He did not notice the waitress with a long brown ponytail and narrow eyes staring at him unconcerned about the guests around her.
He had been surprised when the Taiwanese authorities had given authorization for the film to be shown, given the historical closeness in China to Russia which had increased as the war in Ukraine had consumed men and equipment and Russia had found itself a pariah state.
Billy though had not been surprised by Brandon’s selection of the movie. Brandon had joked that the title of movie instead should be The Hunt For Malcolm Wainwright, who overnight had vaulted onto the FBI’s Most Wanted List into position two. In making himself a public enemy, Malcolm Wainwright had caused MMS, a federal contractor, owned by Billy, Brandon, Thomas Coke, his best friend, and Renee, which inspected medical labs quality control procedures for the handling of infectious disease samples, to fully cooperate with the FBI after Malcolm had suggested that MMS was behind the spate of fentanyl-laced Motion R airsickness capsules discovered circulating in the Chicago O’Hare airport.
A preacher, Malcolm nursed a grudge against Billy because of Billy’s great-great grandfather’s marriage to Wainwright’s great-great grandfather fiancée. Ever since, there had been war between the two men that had lasted generations. Malcolm had followed Billy to Elko, Nevada, where MMS had relocated, relentless in his quest for destruction of MMS, and for Billy’s death, and if not, to see Billy homeless and penniless.
To Malcolm’s chagrin, the U.S. Attorney’s Office had refused to seek an indictment against the leadership. The FBI had gone onto release a statement that the investigation into MMS had been a red herring. The FBI had then turned their forces onto Malcolm. Two years later, with the FBI closing in, Wainwright had disappeared after setting fire to his house and his church, coming up for air a week ago off the coast of Florida near Amelia Island where he had been sighted on billionaire Arthur W. Binski’s yacht.
With his reappearance, a photograph Malcolm identifying him as Edgar Bowman, William J. Bowman’s younger brother appeared in the local happenings section of The Amelia Island Standard. An only child after his twin sister had died in infancy, Billy had taken the post as Malcolm as upping the ante. The rest of the leadership had agreed. They had an ad ran in the newspaper calling the movie a primer on catching Malcolm.
The FBI had also upped the ante conducting a midnight raid of the billionaire’s yacht two days after the photograph of Malcolm had appeared. The billionaire had fled, presumably for Venezuela, where he owned a home and extradition less likely to occur. The search yielded only Malcolm’s fingerprints (no surprise there) and a corner of a yellow scarf featured in the photograph around Malcolm’s neck. Still, the search had rattled the billionaire. Promises of lawsuits and calls for congressional inquiries spouted from the billionaire’s counsel—all of which the FBI ignored.
As the twelve-person jury and two alternates filed in and took their seats, the judge directed his attention to two tables in front of him where counsel sat. “The Court calls the case Medical Security Services, Inc. versus Arthur Wayne Binski to trial. Are the parties ready to proceed?”
Counsel stood. MMS counsel, Alex Capperton, buttoned his jacket, announcing “We are, your honor.” Binski’s counsel followed suit announcing the same.
The judge then gave the jury some instructions following this with a brief overview of the case. “Plaintiff MMS alleges that Defendant Arthur Binski funded a campaign by Malcolm Wainwright of a series of written and oral communications that caused the loss of $200,000 annually in contracts for quality control testing between MMS and hospitals and medical laboratories. Plaintiff contends that the communications asserting that MMS was behind the lacing of certain motion sickness pills with fentanyl, were false and made with the intent to cause termination of the contracts.”
There had been other consequences–none of which the jury would hear about. The one with the most impact was Chicago-Urbane University walking away from Project MISC. Standing for Multi-Intelligence Supercomputer, MISC was the brainchild of the university’s neurological computation department. Until Wainwright had started accusing MSS publicly, university professors and doctoral students had been members of a covert committee alongside MMS personnel, military leaders, and members of the various U.S. intelligence agencies.
“Defendant Arthur Binski denies these allegations.” Sitting beside Alex situated so he could see the back pew where his assistant sat, Billy saw a face that seemed vaguely familiar despite the thin rimmed glasses that obscured part of the cheeks. No one came to mind though. He let his thoughts wander to three years ago when he had opened the envelope that had led him here as the judge continued instructing the jury. “It is your duty as a member of the jury….”
Three Years Ago
Billy fished out the contents. On his way to his office, he had seen the envelope on top of a stack of mail in the middle of his assistant’s desk. One glance at the city, Bullards, Georgia, listed in the return address, had caused him to pick up the envelope. Bullards was the site of his, Coke, and Brandon’s ancestral home, Wateroaks. The three of them had been there five years ago to oversee the sale of Wateroaks to a hunting preserve. The sale had ended their involvement with the town and its inhabitants. His eyes widened at the sight of a quit claim deed passing ownership of the town’s only church to him from a Charles Milles Manson. Oh shit! As in Charles Manson, Helter Skelter? Picking up the envelope he checked the postmark date. It had been mailed three days ago and bore the postmark from Nashport, Ohio. Where in the hell is Nashport and what does it have to do with Bullards or California? He opened the search engine on his laptop and searched for Charles Manson and Helter Skelter. The killer’s middle name was Milles. It has to be a joke. Setting the deed aside, Billy read the enclosed letter. The author, an attorney, explained that he was the executor of Manson’s will, that Manson had died six months ago, and that Manson in his will had left the church to Billy. More research showed that all of the details about Manson in the letter were wrong. It is joke. Who in the hell from?Although nothing about the appearance of the letter itself, rather than the contents, stood out to him, he made a mental note to show all of it to Alex and see why he thought.
“Recognize the name Charles Milles Manson? He deeded me the church in Bullards,” Billy texted Brandon and Coke. He also texted. “It can’t be the Helter Skelter killer. Date of death and other details don’t match up with what I found on the web.
Minutes later, Coke texted, “Manson? The church was rebuilt? Why?”
Why the church had been rebuilt after it had burned down was a good question. Bullards was a wide unlucky spot seventy miles south of Macon. After the church had burned down, the next year the railroad depot had been swept away by a tornado and a year later Hurricane Opal had flooded the town.
Before he could reply to Coke’s text, Brandon answered, “It’s a blast from the past.”
“Hold on a sec,” Billy said. He handed the deed and cover letter to his assistant. “Send a copy to Alex. Tell him we can discuss it tomorrow night when we have dinner. Alert him to the postmark.” As the assistant nodded and left, Billy returned to the call. “It most certainly is.”
Brandon asked, “What about the postmark?”
“The letter was sent from Nashport … Ohio three days ago yet the sender is an attorney from Georgia. Seem odd?”
“As much as you getting a deed to a church that I thought was no longer in existence. What does Alex say?”
“Jackie’s sending it to him now but he’s in court. We’re going to discuss it tomorrow night at dinner. Are you still going to be in Vegas?”
“I am but I may able to do virtual. Back to that Manson. We would have heard if there was any connection to Manson and there was definitely no Manson family in Bullards.” A loud speaker announced that Brandon’s return flight to Elko, Nevada was ready for boarding.
Billy agreed with his cousin’s assessment. After all, who was from Bullards these days and why would they claim to be from a hole in the wall?
Brandon changed the subject, if only slightly. “By the way, did you talk to Alex earlier?”
Billy checked his call log, seeing a missed call and a waiting voice mail, dreading the bad news implicit in Brandon’s tone. “I’ve been with Renee at the doctor’s office.” Renee was his wife of five years. Before Brandon could ask about the latest attempt at artificial insemination, Billy gave him the bad news. “She’s not pregnant. He called…about what?”
“Malcolm Wainwright.” The name rendered Billy speechless. It had been a bad morning and now, worse was to come. He heard Brandon order a drink from the flight attendant before returning to the call. “He’s back. The U.S. attorney’s office requested a meeting with us. Alex set up the meeting for tomorrow afternoon.”
(Part Added January 8, 2023)
In his office, with his back to Ruby Mountain and Solider Peak, Billy finished the last of his coffee as MSS’ IT director flipped to the last slide in his presentation to the leadership about the development of the MISC project team and associated deadlines. MISC was scheduled to have its first meeting in less than sixty days and from everything Billy had heard so far, he expected the director to ask that the meeting be pushed back. MISC originated out of a $10 billion appropriation tacked onto Senate Bill 849 amending the Public Health Service Act. Under one roof industry professionals, educators and researchers, and government IT and intelligence specialists would come together to develop a cognitive map computer merging hundreds of thousands of disparate approaches in neurological robotics, systems biology, and computational virologic microbes to counter the organized efforts of China, Russia, and their third world counterparts to be the dominant driving force.
“As you can see, the DIA (defense intelligence agency for short) has not named their two members. I have received their outline for components they wish to be incorporated into the system.”
“Can you make sense of what the DIA is asking for without further involvement from them?” Brandon asked, as Renee returned to the room after taking an emergency call from the outside auditor who was reviewing MSS’ financials as part of the annual required federal audit.
Billy followed Coke’s gaze following Renee as she crossed the room and retook her seat. She was dressed in a form-fitting sleeveless dress that with her long straight velvety brown hair that was almost ebony in color made him think of Cleopatra with its broad black stripes segregating off sections of green and beige brocade. Coke’s staring and Renee’s ever so slight acknowledgment was not something that Billy was uncomfortable with – not given their arrangement. It was a marriage of convenience – and of protection — for her. He had always known how she felt about Coke.
The three of them had met at a local bar in Louisville, Kentucky seven years ago after Renee had traveled to Louisville from her family home in Delaware. She had heard talk about MSS, an up-and-coming health defense contractor that was backed by the President of the United States (POTUS) and whose top management were family friends with POTUS. With a degree in medical accounting and licensed as a CPA, she became MSS’ CFO. POTUS had gone against her family, the Hamills, in backing “Billy and crew” as her family hashtagged MSS. Marriage to Billy had been her ticket of freedom and part of the price tag, the other part the funding of MSS in perpetuity by the capital from her trust. Billy and Brandon’s inheritances funded the balance. It had been love at first sight for Coke. Then though Coke had legal troubles which was a roadblock to their getting together … until lately.
The IT director shook his head. “Not to any discernible degree. We need them…”
Billy interrupted the director. “I’ve got a call scheduled with Rankin this afternoon. I’ll bring up DIA’s foot dragging.” Rankin was Scott Rankin, POTUS’ chief of staff. He looked hard at the IT director. “Set up the meeting as planned.”
“Yes, sir,” the IT director said, swallowing. “As you can see,” pointing to the last item on the slide, “MIT has given the green light to the three math computational seniors finishing their studies through working on MISC. They should be here by the end of the week.”
Billy checked the time on his laptop as Alex popped his head in the door. “We need to finish.” He was about to turn his attention to Alex when Renee spoke up and sent a copy of an email she had just received to the screen as the previous slide was removed.
“As you can see, Zach replied that he has cleared his schedule for the meeting. It is three days, correct?” She looked first to the IT director then to Billy, holding his glance for a moment longer than necessary.
“Three days,” Billy confirmed, acknowledging Renee’s request for a private meeting with a nod of his head that looked like he was working out a kink in his neck.
Zach was short for Zachary Scott Hamill, one of many first cousins. He was a practicing neurologist and neurobiologist specializing in rooting out the causes of brain tumors. As part of his research, he was also a member of a consortium of physicians and computational researchers working with the Luxembourg Center for Neurobiology Research. The Center was developing a system to map genetic cancer mutations in the quest to determine how to stop metastasized cancer from spreading to the brain. Zach had preliminary committed a quarter of the capital from his trust to MISC, the other quarter committed to the Center. It was expected that he would formalize the arrangement with MISC at the meeting, the arrangement being that Zach’s neurobiology research would provide cover for the covert uses of MISC.
As Renee removed the email from the screen, Billy asked his assistant, “The US Attorney’s office here?”
“Parking as we speak.”
Billy leaned back against the outer window as Renee positioned herself against the wall in front of him. They were in the back corridor that led to their offices. “This about the doctor said?”
“Yeah. I wanted to see how you felt. Whether to try again or try sur…” She felt her face redden, unable to say “surrogacy.” It was not as if she and Billy intended to raise the child together as a family. She did not even want to have children. Billy needed an heir to stabilize his trust. An heir, whether female or male, would live off the interest with the capital remaining available to MSS. No, surrogacy meant failure on her part and as a Hamill, she had been raised that Hamills did not fail.
“Surrogacy,” Billy finished for her, not understanding why she was opposed to surrogacy. “What I want is not that important. What is important is that whatever future you have with Coke is not impacted.”
“Coke is fine.”
“Still.” Billy had to treat carefully. Although Coke was his best friend from childhood and he along with Brandon had agreed that Renee having Billy’s child through artificial insemination, or surrogacy if the former failed, no one had expected that after five times Renee still would not be pregnant. Time, and he suspected, Coke’s patience, was running out.
However, Billy knew he had to placate Renee because the one thing he knew about Renee was that her refusal to take no for an answer was as legendary as her family’s inability to cede to her control of her trust. If he insisted on surrogacy at this point, she could bring hell down on him, and MISC. He had been the guiding force behind MSS being the front runner of defense contractors.
As the CFO, Renee held veto power over the budget and the capital allocations of their trusts. MSS operated on a balanced budget premise and her tolerance for deviation from balance was five percent or less, no matter the reason for the overage or in the rare case, underage. Likewise, Renee made a miser look like a spendthrift when it came to use of the trust capital. Already there were signs that MISC would end up dipping into the capital. So, placating her was survival.
“I’ll talk with him later if that’ll make you happy,” Renee offered, hearing Alex and then a unknown voice in Billy’s office. Time was running out. Billy nodded. It was fine with him. “What do you want to do? You heard the doctor say that we still have one more chance before having to pursue…surrogacy.”
“But the baby will be born after you turn thirty,” Billy said. “The plan all along was me raising the child before you turned thirty and sued for removal of your uncles as trustee of your inheritance.” The terms of the trust document provided either that Renee could file suit in Delaware’s Chancery Court and request the trust be placed in her sole control when she turned thirty or wait until she was thirty-five when it would happen automatically. “Surrogacy prevents that.”
“Alex can handle whatever comes. He said there is a chance that the surrogate mother may not surrender the child,” Renee said, hearing and hating the whine in her tone.
Billy dropped his shoulders so as to appear more sympathetic though he was not. Renee’s argument was a non-starter. Alex had found the surrogate mother and he trusted Alex’s judgment. The mother was looking to go medical school without having to resort to taking out more loans. The surrogacy fee would allow her to do this and pay off her undergraduate loans. Still, he did not want to anger Renee, so he caved. He walked over to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “One more time.” Her smile returned.
(Part Added January 15, 2023)
“What business is MSS in?” Alex asked Billy, the first witness.
As he shifted in his seat so that he could face the jury, Billy saw the face from a few minutes before. The form fitting short black dress and shapely legs said the face belonged to a female. He answered Alex’s question as he watched her scoot by his assistant and gestured to the seat to Brandon’s left. “MSS is a contractor appointed by the Office of Health Human Services. We conduct quality control testing and quarterly audits of labs in hospitals and clinics as part of the department’s Medicare and Medicaid compliance program.”
After getting Billy to explain the management structure of MSS and define his role as one of three chief executive officers, Brandon and Coke being the other two, Alex moved to the elephant in the room. “Malcolm Wainwright is not sitting at the table with Arthur Binski, is he?”
Billy followed the jury’s gaze as Alex pointed to the table where Binski sat with his team of lawyers.
“He is not, though not by choice or fault of MSS,” Billy said.
“Why do you say that?”
“Mr. Wainwright was a defendant, like Mr. Binski is, before we were forced to drop him from the case.”
“And why is that?”
“Because MSS attempted to have Mr. Wainwright served twenty-five times at two places, all to no avail. With help….” Billy paused, taking time to direction his attention to the billionaire before continuing. “Each time he vanished minutes before the process server arrived.”
“Does this mean MSS is not pursuing its claims against Mr. Wainwright?”
“Most certainly not,” Billy spat, receiving a cautionary look from Alex not to let his temper get away from him.
“Where were the two l;ocations MSS attempted to serve Mr. Wainwright?”
“At a party on Mr. Binski’s yacht after it returned from Venezuela.”
“Objection, relevance,” Binski’s counsel yelled as he stood and buttoned his jacket.
Alex was about to respond when he saw the judge motioning counsel to the bench for a sidebar out of the jury’s hearing.
The judge covered his microphone with his hand. “Mr. Tread, we discussed this. I overruled objections that related to connections, if any, between your client and Mr. Wainwright, if counsel had a basis to inquire.”
“But your honor, there’s no evidence that my client hosted the party. It’s pure speculation on MSS’ part.”
Alex whispered, “The party was on the yacht owned by Mr. Binski.”
“The yacht is co-owned with his daughter,” Mr. Tread retorted, his voice carrying slightly.
“I have an additional basis and will link it up for the jury,” Alex replied. He went onto address what he figured was Binski’s next argument. “We only just obtained last night the information that links Binski to the party.”
“Your honor” was all Binski’s counsel was able to get out before the judge shut him down.
“Be sure you do, Mr. Capperton. Objection overruled. Step back,” the judge said, removing his hand from the microphone. When counsel had returned to their places, the judge said, “Continue.”
Binski’s counsel, red faced, took his seat.
“You were saying, Billy.” Alex concealed his smile as he glanced down at the legal pad on the lectern, as Billy resumed answering. Gloating would not earn him any points with the jury … or the judge, who was stern as they came. Still, the judge knew how to keep trials moving and this Alex counted on. Any delay would only result in Billy losing his temper and giving Binski’s counsel time to formulate new defensive tactics to replace the ones that the judge had ruled inadmissible.
“The other place was a tent where Mr. Wainwright was said to be preaching.”
Alex picked up a torn and dirty piece of paper and two copies from the table. He handed a copy to opposing counsel and after asking to approach walked up to the bench and handed the other copy to the judge. The original he laid on the bar before Billy. “Do you recognize this that?”
“Yes. It is a partial invitation listing Arthur Binski as the host. The invitation was received in the mail by MSS at its Elko facility two days ago and received by me here late last night by express mail.” After the judge admitted the invitation over the defendant’s timeliness objection, Alex handed the invitation to the jury.
“Billy, read the first sentence of the invitation.”
“Mr. Arthur Binski invites you to a celebration aboard his yacht Wellsprings for a preview of a new life force, Hindsight Prophetic Teachings.” Alex glanced over at the jurors. Quite a few looked puzzled and many others seemed skeptical. He thought he saw one juror say under his breath, “New Age,” before handing it over to another juror who sat on his right. “What it means for the future of America and you.” The juror, Ms. Adams, divorced with two teenagers, passed the invitation on with barely a glance.
“What is Hindsight Prophetic Teachings?” Alex asked.
“Prophetic Teachings is a part of the name of the last church Malcolm Wainwright was a pastor before it burned down. Hindsight is Wainwright’s newest philosophy.” Newest Billy said with emphasis because for as long as he had known Malcolm, he had changed his preaching to fit the latest fad.
“And how do you know this?”
Billy sat up and waited until the invitation had made its way back to who he guessed would be the foreman, a civil engineer employed by the State of Delaware. “Brandon and I along with our families and their families have had a lot of dealings with Malcolm Wainwright and his family. Malcolm Wainwright’s father and grandfather and before him delved extensively into biblical prophecy in the churches they pastored.”
“So, the dealings have been going on for years?” The question was unnecessary, but it provided Billy with the opportunity to explain the one-sided nature of the “dealings.”
“From 1896 forward, because of love lost, Wainwright and his kin have been obsessed with us, me and my ancestors in particular.” Love lost was not a cliche. It was what had started a feud between Billy’s great grandfather and Wainwright’s. “MSS became a target. Through its destruction, he … Wainwright,” Billy clarified, recalling Alex’s admonition to avoid using pronouns in place of names. “Wainwright believed he could get to me. Seven years ago, we moved MSS from Lexington, Kentucky to Elko, Nevada to get away from Wainwright and his father and for a while we thought we had seen the last of him.”
“And this obsession is what brought Mr. Wainwright to your attention more recently?”
“Yes, by way of a visit from the Cincinnati, Ohio U.S. Attorney’s Office because of a fire at the Potter Stewart Federal Courthouse.”
Three Years Ago — Elko
“Thank you for meeting with me,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Marvin Williams said, opening up his portfolio and extracting a pen.
“As if we had a choice,” Billy said. “Get to it.” He may have to placate Renee but he did not have to do the same with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Alex placed a folder on the corner of Billy’s ornate oak desk that sported large music clefs for its legs. When Billy looked over, during a sweep of the room to gauge other’s reactions, Alex indicated that he would take over. “The leadership has been briefed about the man who set himself on fire below the window of Judge Benton’s chambers three weeks ago and the man praising Malcolm as he died. Other than that reference to Malcolm Wainwright and a shared past history with him and three of the leadership, it is unclear why MSS should be involved.”
“Ms. Hamill,” Williams replied, checking off an item on the list in front of him. Billy looked at Alex confused. “She’s not one of the three. And, while shared, it’s not past history.”
Brandon opened his mouth to protest but Alex held a hand up, stopping him. “MSS has had no contact with Wainwright for seven years … since moving to Elko.”
“And we want that to continue,” Billy said, notwithstanding Alex’s earlier request to be quiet.
“Well, Mr. Bowman,” Williams said as he looked around the room, “everyone, it appears that Malcolm Wainwright wants contact with you. In his praising of Malcolm, the man mentioned MSS. To what end is why I’m here.”
“Who was this man? What is his condition? Did he die from the fire?” Renee asked.
“He attended Nashport Congregation of Arisen Savior Teachings Church where Wainwright was pastor. He had no identification on him. Other parishioners only knew him as Ted. ”
“Nashport?” Renee asked.
“A town 2-1/2 hours outside of Cincinnati,” Alex said. Billy observed how subtly Alex had taken back control of the conversation so as not to offend Renee by appearing to preempt her. Like he, Alex understood how important Renee (and soon Zach’s) money were to getting MISC off the ground.“If what I read on the internet is correct, Ted did not die but was taken to a local hospital.”
“That’s correct. Doctors induced a medical coma in an effort to stabilize him, though the prognosis is grim.
“Two points. Ted’s reference to Malcolm doesn’t necessarily mean he was working for Malcolm. Ted may have just been parishioner who acted out of his own accord. Also, MSS could refer to many things. Not just other companies but also manuscripts, computers, medical students.”
“As to the first, while I acknowledge that it may prove true that Malcom and Ted were not working together on this, many of the parishioners have said that Malcolm and Ted were close, saw each other on a near daily basis. If one saw Malcolm, one saw Ted, who often as a go between for Malcolm and the parishioners.
Williams checked off another item off his list and was on the verge of responding to Alex’s second concern when Billy spoke up.
“MSS could refer to the Ministry of State Security,” Billy quipped as he put his tablet down where he had been searching the Internet. “It’s in China.” In case you didn’t know Billy wanted to add but did not figuring it would get him a text from Alex to stop being a smart ass. “Where’s the link to us?”
“MISC,” Williams said simply.
This brought Billy … and the rest up short. Alex however recovered first. “Do you have proof of clearance to speak about this?” His phrasing was meant to preclude Williams from automatically saying, “Yes of course I have clearance.”
Williams though was prepared. From under the legal pad containing his list, he pulled out a DOD authorization letter. He handed this to Alex. “From the DOD. I’ll need it back.”
Billy watched Alex review the letter, guessing that it was genuine from Alex’s minutest shrug as he handed the letter to Brandon and watched as it went around the room ending with Billy, who intercommed his assistant so she could scan the letter.
After she had returned with the letter and closed the door behind her, Williams continued. “Wainwright has been asking a lot of questions about a mapping supercomputer that CUU is spearheading. He’s known around the campus and been told not to not return to the campus. He doesn’t know the project’s name or who all is involved. Nor do I … at this point … and I’m hoping that will remain the case.”
“Or its purposes?” Brandon asked. Williams nodded, choosing to not say anything, observing Brandon and Alex exchanging glances and Alex nodding, barely, for Brandon to continue. “Are we … is MSS the point person so to speak? We tell…” Brandon stopped, as Williams narrowed his eyes slightly. “MSS suggests avenues of investigation as well as avenues not for investigation.”
Williams nodded again. “In exchange for close door testimony in any hearing or trial.”
“No testimony,” Alex countered. “And, no discovery directly pointing to MSS.”
“The second is possible, but testimony will be required. Otherwise, there will be discovery … limited … very limited but either way MSS will not be a silent partner.”
“Alex, it—” Billy said.
“Testimony in a FISA court,” Williams said, interrupting Billy. He looked over at Alex, who sat back in his chair. “Now, can I tell you what I know?”
That Night — Billy’s Condo
In the dining area, Billy cut and dished the pizza as Alex served the salad. It was just the two of them, Renee in a dinner meeting with the auditor, Coke out on a long run preparing for a marathon the next month and Brandon in Las Vegas meeting with city and county officials over the renewal of the contract for services to be provided by MSS to the various clinics and hospitals. A ding indicated that Billy’s laptop had connected to the mounted screen in the living room. He walked over and entered his password in the blank provided and hit enter. The screen went black, coming back a minute later with the virtual meeting ready to be opened. He selected the option to begin in ten minutes when Brandon was expected to take a dinner break and went back into the small dining area.
The condo was like most others, though a bit larger, in the MSS facility which was live-work-play for employees and permanent vendors, all of whom lived on site. All of the property was owned by MSS and those that resided leased the condos at a greatly reduced rate from what could be found nearby. It was the same with other services. MSS subsidized the balance through capital contributions from the leadership. Among the many services, MSS sported a variety of laundry and dry cleaners, stores, restaurants, and bars, two gyms, three churches, one nightclub, an event arena, two libraries, a K-12 academy, child care, medical, dental, vision, and psychiatry services. MSS even had been given its own zip code and provided mail and express delivery services at no cost.
The meeting with the U.S. attorney’s office had ended before Williams was able to tell them what he knew. The meeting would resume tomorrow morning, sans Coke who had left ill, with Brandon attending virtually. Three things occurred simultaneously that ended the meeting.
While Williams was listening, Billy’s phone had rung with an incoming call from Rankin, POTUS’ outraged chief of staff venting his rage at the U.S. Attorney’s Office bypassing POTUS, which Billy interpreted as bypassing Rankin, in securing Williams’ MISC clearance. POTUS had reluctantly not reversed the NSA’s decision though he dressed down the national security director for his unilateral approval. The director had walked out of POTUS office non-plussed, something else that had upset Rankin. There however had been one piece of good news. DARPA officials had subsumed DIA’s MISC’s responsibilities into their own and named those who would be attending the meeting.
The first was that an agent monitoring Ted’s room had called to report Ted’s death thirty minutes prior. His death had not been uneventful as his doctor had predicted. The agent had exited the room when a nurse had arrived to change Ted’s catheter. The agent had sat down outside the room when a commotion erupted inside. In a state similar to what sleepwalkers experience, Ted had sat up. He had grabbed the nurse by the throat with his left hand and yanked an iv drip out of his arm with his other hand. The nurse had yelled and flailed, struggling to remove the comatose hand from her throat knocking the drip bag stand into the machine monitoring Ted’s breathing in the process.
During all of this, Coke stood up abruptly announcing that he was going to be sick. He was leaving the room when he vomited his lunch of shrimp scampi into Williams’ lap. The doctor in the clinic had diagnosed it as food poisoning and had sent Coke home for twenty-four hours in case Coke developed a fever which would mean he had a stomach virus. The doctor had also taken blood for lab tests, not expecting any results that would show anything more serious. Although Billy felt for Coke, having last year eaten some mushrooms that had been filled with some bad stuffing, he had struggled not to laugh at Williams and his puke-filled lap.
For a few minutes, the two ate, finishing off their salads. Alex got up and retrieved the bottle of Chianti and topped off their glasses as the virtual meeting started and Billy admitted Brandon.
Alex started the meeting. “The attorney, Mark Waddell, is located in Bullards. He’s one of two. He’s however a criminal defense attorney and does nothing else and never knew of a Manson family in Bullards or nearby.” He paused to take a sip of wine. “The letterhead is not his.” He pulled out a faxed piece of paper from the briefcase sitting on the floor next to him. He held it up where Brandon and Billy could see it. “This is Waddell’s.”
“Completely different. So the deed is forged and if the attorney didn’t write the letter, who did?” Billy asked, though guessing what the answer would be. “Malcolm or someone on his behalf?”
“Has to be,” Brandon said, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “The letter and deed were sent from Nashport where Malcolm’s church is. Is the attorney from Bullards? I don’t recall the name.”
Alex shook his head. “He moved there from Statesboro six years ago.”
“Why?” Coke asked.
“Don’t know, didn’t ask,” Alex said. Billy wondered also. Waddell could go broke and there was nothing to do outside work hours.
“Likely,” Alex said in the somewhat non-committal way attorneys tended to answer when they were not certain. ” With Malcolm putting Manson into the mix, Williams needs to see this.”
“MSS will then be committed to helping with the investigation. We can’t very well give him this,” Billy held up the letter in one hand while holding his wine glass in his other, “and then say ‘Oh but don’t count on us to help you.'” He looked at each in turn. “If we help, then we might open the can that causes access to the Hamill trusts to evaporate.” He finished the last of his wine, setting the glass on a coaster on the teak and gold coffee table. “MISC is not being built in Elko but Lexington. The contract requires us to be headquartered where MISC is.” He turned to Alex. “Am I correct in believing that Renee’s trust can be stripped from her at any time before she turns 35 for criminal or quasi-criminal activities on her or our part?”
“Yes and keeping this from Williams could constitute obstruction, a crime, Billy.”
“But the can delves into crimes, too.”
“By our ancestors,” Brandon said, seeing and understanding both sides but sensing the real fear in Alex if it came to light that MSS had held something back that might lead him to Malcolm. “Why not, we also give Coke a few days to investigate?” Brandon asked. Coke, besides being MSS’ human resources director, was a licensed private investigator with substantial back door access into a variety of law enforcement and intelligence databases.
“And the negative attention to us when the media gets winds of MSS’ participation in the investigation, and the media will, leads Roger Hamill to activate the provision,” Billy said, whining, hating that he had not shredded the letter and the deed and not told anyone about it. Roger Hamill was the de facto head of the Hamill family and the current trustee of Renee’s trust.
“He has no basis,” Brandon said.
“When has that ever stopped him?” Billy asked, trying to control his rising anger … and angst. “Someone gets cold feet and we will lose MISC. Bad publicity is all it will take.” He knew the next thing would have Alex crying foul and Brandon shaking his head though neither one would be surprised at the suggestion. “Shred the letter and the deed. It disappears.” Sure enough, both reacted as he had expected.
“That won’t work for one reason–Malcolm sent this as provocation, to let us know he’s around. The inclusion of Manson is the proof. If there’s not some acknowledgment … that we control,” Alex said this last with emphasis, “Malcolm will control the next, possibly another letter and deed … to Williams.” He offered more wine. Billy shook his head. “Coke conducts a parallel investigation and we give what we find to Williams. That is my idea.”
Billy frowned. “Will Williams agree to that? I mean what agency tolerates an investigation in addition to their own?”
“I have to agree with Billy on that,” Brandon said, speaking for the first time in minutes. He sighed. “We still could get charged with obstruction, if Williams doesn’t like the results or how we get them. It’s control … power … for him, too”
Alex emptied the bottle, pouring the rest into his glass and leaned back. “He won’t have any choice. We know Bullards and Malcolm better than the FBI or his office will ever. We know how to get in there quietly and quickly. A bunch of suits will only cause people to clam up or be untruthful. Bullards is too small of a community for outsiders to come poking around.” He saw the sly smile exchange between his childhood friends given how he himself was dressed–in a suit minus the jacket. “Also, Malcolm is seeking us out. We engage bring him out, land him in Williams’ net. That’s why Williams came to MSS in the first place.
“And if Williams doesn’t agree to our plan?” Brandon asked.
“MSS doesn’t cooperate,” Alex saw the concern on his friends’ faces rise so he added quickly, “but Williams will. We have access to a hell of a lot of information. It will need to be reviewed carefully and analyzed based on what is known about Malcolm, most of which again is in shared but private family histories and not in some database or dusty file at their disposal.”
The next morning
Billy waved everybody in as he finished up his call. “Thanks Coke. When you see the termination paperwork submission, text me.” His assistant readied the laptop so that Brandon could participate virtually. She used the remote to turn the screen on that had been built into the oak floor-to-ceiling bookcases that lined the wall behind where Williams, Alex and Renee sat in burgundy deep plush wingback chairs. Billy hung up and faced the group. “Coke is still sick.” As if on cue, everyone looked to where Williams had been sitting and to the slate gray and silver with burgundy streaks rug beneath their feet. Amazingly enough the rug had been returned to a pristine state. “Brandon is in Vegas and will be with us on screen.”
After Brandon appeared on screen, the assistant split the screen and brought up a copy of an aerial photo of the empty grass and weed strewn lot where the church had been and passed around copies of the deed, letter and envelope to everyone. Billy opened the meeting. “Jackie is passing out a copy of what I received two days ago. Alex will address this in a minute but as you can see,” he gestured to the screen above their heads, “the church burned years ago and was never rebuilt. Alex?”
“The deed at first glance appears to be real … that is until you read who the grantor is…”
“Charles Milles Manson,” Williams said. “The attorney.” Williams looked down to find the name of the attorney.
“Mark Waddell was not the sender,” Alex replied. As he recounted to Williams and Renee what he had told Billy and Brandon the night before, Williams pulled up a file and opened it. “It is my belief that Wainwright is seeking MSS’ attention … after a pause of seven years. The specific meaning of the deed or his reason for sending it and why now is unclear though MSS believes that Wainwright’s ultimate goal is as it has always been to destroy MSS and ruin Billy.”
Williams nodded. “I tend to agree, given the Nashport postmark and of the inclusion of Manson.” He glanced at Billy. “Can you put this up on the screen, if I send it to you? It might help clear up some of the mystery behind Manson.”
A few minutes later, the screen split into three sections. In the first, was the deed while in the second was pictured a February 1959 grand jury indictment. “Charles Manson was indicted on check forgery in February 1959 in California.”
“The indictment has Miller for Manson’s middle name. The deed is Milles,” Renee said, picking up the laser pointer from the bookcase and using it to highlight the middle names.
“Manson went by both,” Williams said. “Check forgery … deed forgery. This is similar to what early investigation has yielded on Malcolm. He’s a copycat of infamy. The Ted burning is similar to Norman Morrison who on February 2, 1965 set himself on fire below the window of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s Pentagon office. Ted’s three year old daughter was present. Morrison set himself ablaze in front of his one year old daughter.”
“1965? Vietnam war protest?” Billy asked. “Malcolm’s agenda is not political…at least not when it comes to MSS and me. It’s a personal vendetta rooted in lost love. Malcolm has kept alive his great grandfather’s quest to avenge the loss of his fiancée left him and returned to Wateroaks where my great grandfather and Coke and Brandon’s ancestors used to work and live so she could be with him. So I don’t get the connection.”
“It’s the use of the infamous…the motive may not be the same…in fact they are likely not.” Williams uncrossed his legs and stretched them. “The Ted act, as it is now called, is somehow connected to MSS and you, Billy. How and why is why I am here.” He sat up. “Is it possible to come up with a list of the contacts from sevcn years ago and backwards? Who is he contacting? MSS or you, Billy?”
Billy sighed while Brandon rubbed a hand through his blond hair. Alex not wishing to witness his friends’ palpable discomfort turned slightly to face one of two framed paintings in the office. Annunciation hung in a burnished 33×46 custom gold frame on the wall across from where Alex sat and in between a black and red oak inlaid with caramel-colored marble entertainment system and an oval conference room table. The painting depicting the Virgin Mary being visited by Archangel Gabriel Ahmad been created in 1486 by fifteenth century Venetian Carlo Crivelli. The painting had been acquired by Billy’s father overseas while he was serving as a an Army Airforce pilot in WWII. After a minute, Billy answered. “He always addressed whatever he sent to one person. Sometimes me, sometimes Brandon, and occasionally Coke. I most of the time.”
“Never you?” Williams asked Renee.
“No. Billy and I met in college. There’s no connection between our families.”
“It’s doable … to a point,” Brandon interjected, straightening his navy blue tie. “But these “contacts” as you’re calling them were uneven. Sometimes infrequent…”
“How infrequent? And what do you mean to a point?”
“A day and then two weeks later, then not again for months,” Brandon said as Billy opened up a file. Seconds later the printer beneath his desk whirred to life. “Then it would be regular, once a week for months. Then infrequent again.”
Billy reached across his desk and set the log of contact where Williams could reach it. “To answer your last question, Malcolm started contacting us directly when I turned eighteen. Before that he went through my father, who didn’t say anything until he was on his deathbed.”
“I suppose it’s too much to hope your father kept any record of these contacts?”
“He did but the notebook was destroyed when the grill on the porch outside his study caught fire when I was seventeen. His study and the hallway were totally destroyed. He told me that the contracts stopped after that.”
Everyone glanced up at the screen at the sound of an audible notification. Brandon muted the phone. “Sorry about that.” He read the incoming text, frowning.
He was about speak when Renee’s phone rang. She rose and started towards the door between her and Billy’s office. “It’s the auditor tasting he’s done.”
As she answered the call and left the office, Brandon said, “The Vegas meeting has been moved up an hour.” He checked his watch. “I’ve got to leave go in ten minutes.”
Williams spoke up. “During the earlier period, did Malcolm contact just you through your father or did…”
“As far as we know contact was limited to me,” Billy said, looking for and receiving an acknowledging nod from both Brandon and Alex.”
Williams nodded and quickly added seeing Brandon checking his watch again. “There’s likely a pattern in his contacting and a reason that keeps Malcolm out of touch.” He picked up the list from the desk. “And this should help.”
Shortly afterwards, the meeting had broken up. Alex had left to grab a quick lunch and then head to court while Billy and Williams remained behind. Each had returned and placed phone calls while waiting on Billy’s assistant to get them lunch of chicken cobb salads from the cafeteria on level one. POTUS’ chief of staff Rankin had brought Billy up to date on attendees of the upcoming MISC meeting and the ever changing wish lists for MISC. Billy had updated Rankin as to the status of the construction at MSS’ Lexington farm known as B&B Operations. At present, it was home of the Brumby-Carr-Hamill (BCH) Horse Rehabilitation Center and one of two ancestral homes for Brandon, Coke, Billy, and Waylon Carr II who along with Brandon and Renee had founded the horse rehabilitation center. Twelve acres had been set aside for MISC and MSS operations with the rest of 75 acres to continue to be used by BCH. The twelve acres had been cleared and excavation of the giant pit that would house the MISC super computer had begun. Once MISC was installed, buildings containing a facility set up like the Elko facility would be built over the top and Elko operations relocated.
They had also discussed whether for Billy to alert Williams about how he had come to have the security clearance for MISC. Ultimately they had decided to leave it alone with Billy telling Rankin, “Williams might not be such a bad guy.” The attorney had surprised Billy when he had agreed with Alex’s suggestion before the break for MSS to conduct a parallel investigation so long as one of them kept Williams up to speed. He had further surprised them when he said he would run interference when the expected hue and cry came from Washington that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, like the FBI and other agencies, did not countenance, much less participate in parallel investigations. Then also Williams had not made a fuss about the puke incident or demanded that MSS pay his dry cleaning bill.
At lunch, Williams had continued to surprise Billy with his knowledge of Carlo Crivelli and Crivelli’s Annunciation painting. It turned out that Williams had wanted to enter a Catholic seminary, not to become a priest, but as a scholar and teacher. His father had jettisoned that idea, refusing to pay for college or anything past it unless his son pursued law school. Billy and Williams had agreed that after the Wainwright business was over, they should get together for more extensive discussions about Annunciation and Billy to examine the materials Williams had collected on the painter, Annunciation, and other similar paintings. Billy might have suggested meeting up sooner if he had known that it would be more than three years. All in all, Williams was a hard man to hate and in fact, Billy was starting to like the man.
Now with lunch over, Billy stood with Williams, who was examining the other painting in the office, that of the Lime Rock Railroad, a 1926 watercolor by American artist Edward Hopper. As Billy was starting to go down a rabbit hole on his other favorite subject, railroads, Williams’ phone rang. Glancing down at the screen, Williams sighed. “I have to take this. Can I get a raincheck on this?” He gestured to the painting. Billy nodded and stepped to the door to ask Jackie to see Williams out and to have the table cleared and then he went to his desk. If he had not been stopped, Billy would have gone on forever, all the way to China Brandon would say about Billy’s passion for trains.
In an email Billy attached the simplified Wainwright-Rockster family tree which was scant on details