Short Lines to Asia: A Story (Republished)

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Republished — for some reason it fell off the blog.

Prologue

My name is Heather Marshall. I am twenty-two years old. Some say with my long red hair, size 6 body, and green eyes, I am a beautiful hell cat. I don’t mind the label. It fits me. As you might guess, it gets me in trouble. What I mind is being on the outside, looking in at where I used to work–and live. I am not proud of what I have done. At the time, I did not see the problem that I was causing. In the process, I lost the man that mattered the most to me–Thomas Coke, Jr. I did what I did to help him or at least that’s what I told myself at the time.

Coke, as he is known, is one of four partners in a business called Emerging Security Services (ESS). Based in Elko, Nevada, a small town in the middle of the desert, ESS is a multinational company that specializes in locating and retrieving stolen works of art, gems, and antiquities. Recently, the company partnered with the federal government at President Randolph Early’s request.

It is March 19, 2014.

The president has requested ESS’ help in locating and returning to their rightful homes, seven ancient Asian drawings. All have been lifted from various museums in the U.S. The loot consists of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese drawings. Every country blames the other, thinks they are behind the thefts. This on top of the heightened tensions between China and Japan over some islands in the East China Sea and the off-on again war of words between the little big chief of North Korea, Kim Jong Un and the fiery tornado South Korean president, Park Geun-hye. It is a powder keg. It is a keg that President Early is sitting on, trying to keep from exploding.

Now you might ask why ESS has been brought to help. What about the FBI and state and local agencies? What is their role? That I don’t know. What I do know is that ESS has established relations with most of the Asian states. Theirs is a decently cordial one with Japan, an on-off again one with China (think of a marriage that has barely more good days than bad), and a tug-of-war between the Koreas with ESS in the middle.

As far as North Korea goes, the leaders of ESS has what Korea wants–wealth and the ability to get what it wants. In terms of China, well, let’s say it’s one that China understands is the path to the president. Japan is like that distant cousin you see on holidays and at family reunions. Nice while around them and then each goes back to their cubbyhole until the next time. South Korea is the fun place to be until you catch a bit of news. Then, it’s North Korea that, and North Korea this. I do feel for the youth. Some days, I want a giant to come in with some scissors and cut the two countries apart at the 38th Parallel.

Back to Elko, Nevada. ESS operates differently than most large companies. For one it is debt-free. For another all of fifteen thousand employees share in the profits and have considerable say as to the direction of the company. They also live on the property. ESS is a city unto itself. Unless you travel on business, you would never have to leave the complex. Everything from food and drink shelter, healthcare and entertainment is provided.

The partners, or executives, are called the leadership. Their floor is the leadership floor and on that floor works fifty of the most beautiful people you will ever lay eyes on. It is on that floor that my Coke works. At the start of this, I am an administrative assistant, admin for short. Coke is in a supporting role. The other forty-six, which includes myself, help Coke and the other three run ESS.

Who are these four you ask?

William “Billy” Bowman, III–heir to a fortune that dates back to a railroad magnate and financier). He is fraternal twin brother of Angeline Bowman. Brandon Brumby, III is the third member. He is the heir to a legacy inheritance that derives from Queen Anne Boleyn. Yes, she lost her head but that did not stop her daughter Queen Elizabeth from getting her rightful share and so it did not stop the Boleyns from attempting to get what they thought were entitled to. Billy, Angeline, and Brandon are related to each other. Their history is complicated. Coke’s grandfather worked for the leadership’s ancestors.

**************

Chapter One

The story opens in the White House…

Billy studied the eagle on the oval blue rug beneath his feet, as he listened to Brandon explain the timeline to implement President Early’s plan. In nine months, ESS would take over the Art and Gems Theft Division from the FBI.

“Mr. President, our staff will start tomorrow scanning all of the investigative files, concentrating active, then closed. Expected time: six months. No litigation files, except those specifically ordered by you or needed for an investigation.” Brandon paused, seeing the president hold up a blue report with the presidential seal emblazoned in the center of the cover.

“I will go over this tonight. It is as we discussed last month?” President Early asked, setting the report back down on the round cherry table.

“With adjustments to reflect the latest number of investigations, judicial action, and the like,” Brandon replied.

Billy checked his watch. More than an hour remained of the time they had been allotted. For the anal-retentive and ocd president, this was a strange turn.

President Early rose from the white cushioned teak arm chair and walked to his desk. He picked up a one-inch thick red file and rejoined them. “How soon can wheels be up?”

Billy met Brandon’s gaze, seeing the red file in the president’s outstretched hands out of the corner of his eye. Red signaled that the investigation involved the nation’s railroads. He saw Brandon slowly blink his acknowledgment of what Billy already knew. The president’s question was not request but a directive. Turning back to the President, he replied, “Now.”

***************

An hour and fifty minutes later, Billy and Brandon entered ESS’ floor-length suite on the top floor of the Senatorial Hotel. Five minutes into his presentation, the president had made it clear why he needed ESS to step up tonight, instead of six months later. It was a job that would take an army to figure out. In the span of a week, a gang of thieves had stolen seven priceless Asian drawings from museums scattered all over the country. As suddenly as the thefts had occurred, they had stopped. Two days before the meeting, packaging material originating from three museums had been found in freight cars belonging to three railroad regional short lines. The next day, a crude copy of one of the stolen Chinese drawings had been found in car of another short line. Each of the four short lines were within ten miles of a museum.

When Brandon’s attention was diverted by a presidential assistant giving him two hulking brown accordion files, the President had stopped Billy. Early had wondered if this was to get at him, take away what he prized most. A lover of all things Asian, the President was also a fan of ESS. The company had been good to him, good in providing logistical support for all the campaign stops. They had been there every step of the way. Was this a way to get at him, destroy him, his vision? Get back for what some had called an illegal executive action? Critics within and without the administration as well as media pundits had called it what it privatizing one of the nation’s most valuable assets. In a way it was. If ESS was successful, they would permanently replace the FBI’s Art and Gems Thefts Division.

An admin walked over to Brandon, taking the files from him.

“Where’s Jackie?” Brandon asked, walking over and turning on the smart board that ran the length of the nearly-Olympic pool size living room. Jackie Denman was Billy’s executive administrative assistant. The other one, Carla Fortson, Brandon’s, was back in Elko.

“Briefing the rest on the latest developments, restructuring personnel,” the admin replied, opening the red file. Inside were two piles, each bound by a rubber band. She flicked on industrial scanner-copier that sat in a corner. “Scan all, including in the brown?”

“Yes. Red first. Brown files, starting label A,” Brandon said, as Jackie hurried in. He gave her an appraising glance as he handed her a sheaf of papers from the first accordion file. “Call out the end points of the lines.”

Jackie looked at the label on files. “Railroad short lines? All Alabama; Abbeville—Grimes—Dothan.” She watched as Brandon drew a red line an inch long down in the lower southeast quadrant of Alabama. She had not missed the look he gave her. Flattering, in that he, and the rest of the leadership were handsome, rich, and charming, she was enticed but not so much as to fall for what he was offering. It was one night or at the most several. She did not want to be a notch, one of his prizes. That would not get her anything. More than anything, she wanted to go up. Fucking Brandon would only cause Billy to lose respect for her and end any chance at promotion.

“Number of miles?” Brandon called, turning slightly picking up the remote. He took another opportunity to look at Jackie. Always a sharp dresser, her cropped blond hair was set off by a black fedora. The red mid-arm ruffled shirt accentuated her tiny waist. Open slightly three inches from her waist, he could just catch a glimpse of her ample bosom. Her tapered black silk pants ended at black and red stilettos. A large pink bow around her waist tied in with the smaller bows on the stilettos and the fedora.

He hit A on the remote as he turned back to the board. As an A with a red circle flashed on the line, he selected legend. Two seconds later, at the bottom of the board the A appeared with the cities noted and a spot for mileage.

Quickly doing the math, she called out, “32.7.”

He typed in the mileage. “Runs over CSX or Norfolk Southern?”

CSX.” She flipped the paper over as he typed in the carrier’s initials.

“Next.” He called over his shoulder to the admin. “Call Carla about the board.” The board was a duplicate, in Elko. Both were detailed atlases of the United States down to incorporated and unincorporated areas. “I will need calculations on locations of mid-points based on total line, not segments.”

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