The Alo Release
Within sixty minutes it was well on the way to becoming the most watched YouTube video in a single day.
Before the last ember was doused and the crime scene turned over to the Los Angeles Police Department’s anti-terrorism unit, edited highlights were leading news bulletins from New York to Beijing to London.
The footage had initially been uploaded to the Grassroots Intelligence blog from a stolen iPhone. It showed the audacious attack from the moment the Mazda Bongo pulled up outside the steel mesh fence to the simultaneous bursts of orange, yellow and white flames that reduced the controversial biotech lab in Pasadena to a heap of melted steel and ash. And fragments of bone.
In between were jerking images of the security guards being overwhelmed, the alarm and sprinkler systems disabled. Skylights ratcheted open to increase the oxygen content inside the building. Green plastic buckets of accelerant strategically placed throughout by the six perps disguised tip to toe in gorilla suits.
The fire was so intense it was difficult to tell if any of the bone fragments were human. Confirmation took three days. Professor Roman Tolminsky, creator of the revolutionary Alo seed coating, was dead.
By then investigators determined the accelerant was a mixture of ammonium perchlorate, aluminum, eutectic salts and diesel fuel. The same cocktail used in arson trials at a fire technology lab in Longview, Washington. A recipe freely downloadable from the net. The gorilla suits were purchased from Guise ‘N Gals party rentals in Santa Monica by someone dressed as a carrot. He or she paid cash. The Mazda had vanished.
Over the following months, despite assurances of justice from the Governor of California to the President of the United States, no arrests had been made.
As the first anniversary of the attack approached, the world’s attention was focused elsewhere.
The remote lock on the office door clicked and in that instant Henry Beck understood. It was as if the commander of a firing squad had given the order to take aim.
A screech and burst of light forced his eyes and every muscle in his face to clam till he realized it was the security alarm. Yelling was useless.
He snatched at the desk phone. Dead.
He swiveled to face the monitor of his PC but could tell without touching a key it was frozen. The stylized Vestco logo and the words Nourish, Sustain, Cherish that normally floated across the screen were lifeless.
The alarm shrieked on off on off on.
He erupted from the chair, sending it crashing into the wall unit as he stretched for his suit jacket. Fumbled in the pocket for the Blackberry. The LCD screen stared back. Paralyzed.
He lurched to the window, raising palms towards his reflection as his hands touched the cold glass. The floodlit boxes of downtown Los Angeles sprawled beneath him like a giant Lego model. Thirty-six floors below clusters of dots, drones on the early shift, flowed from the building and crossed the intersection of Fifth and Grand to form into orderly groups in Pershing Square. As per the drill manual.
They don’t know. No one knows.
He grabbed a ceramic vase and hurled it at the window. It shattered against the reinforced glass like a slow motion silent film as the alarm pierced on off on off in sync with the strobe. Laughing at him. Taunting.
Think Henry. Think.
He had come across the digital video clip by chance while deleting personal files of Professor Tolminsky. The late Professor Tolminsky. They’re nobody’s business but the professor’s, so let’s preserve his dignity. That’s what the corporation’s vice president, Chas Petersen, said. Henry was nearing the end of the deletion when the filename megiddo.mov attracted his curiosity. He’d spent three weeks as a volunteer on Kibbutz Megiddo during a college break in Israel. But the video had nothing to do with a kibbutz. It was unbelievable. He phoned Petersen to report the discovery, and the vice president said he was on his way down. Henry copied the file to a place he never thought he’d have to use, seconds before the screen froze and the lock on the door was activated from the central security suite.
Between bursts of alarm, a bell announced an elevator was stopping in the hall outside.
Desperate now, Henry scanned the office, drifting in and out of reality in the oscillating light. His eyes seized on his personal laptop recharging on the workstation. Reaching it in two steps, he hit the toggle and was staring at his wife. That lop-sided smile. Those dimples. Fingers splayed over her bulging pregnancy.
He wiped the moisture from his eyes and shook his head to refocus.
One keystroke and he was online.
Whoever was in the hall was unlocking the door from the keypad outside.
Henry opened Mail and typed m i l l b. The default address at millbrookfoundation.org appeared.
The doorknob began to turn.
Henry Beck was out of time.
His fingers taptaptaptaptapped over the keyboard, before toggling the cursor towards Send.
* * *
Jay Duggan strolled from the elevator into the lobby of the Millbrook Foundation for the last time in his life. The chatter of mockingbirds barely registered as he ambled towards the voices in the chief executive’s office. The others must have arrived on time.
Should he feel guilty?
Certainly not for being a few minutes late. Or for failing to make a difference. His years of trying to save the world were over. Time to look after number one. If there was a tinge of guilt it was for taking advantage of Millbrook in the same way he criticized America on and on for exploiting the rest of the world. For self-interest.
Mostly though Jay Duggan felt relief. Twenty-two months, seven days and four hours since Peru, it was all about to end and he could finally fulfill his promise to Aroha.
He reached into his T-shirt and lifted her greenstone pendant to his lips.
* * *
The .380-caliber slug from the Lorcin semiautomatic slammed into the side of Henry Beck’s head just above his left ear, rearranging the tissues of his brain and killing him instantly. The gunshot was drowned by the alarm.
Brad Kaufman closed the door, walked calmly past the workstation and placed the gun on the desk. It was acquired in the days following the riots in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Darren Wilson. Sterilized and untraceable.
The Vestco security chief put his briefcase beside the gun and punched in a five-digit code to unlock it. From one of the compartments in the lid, he chose a plastic bag, lifted the gun carefully by the end of the grip, dropped it into the bag and zipped the seal. He put the bag into the briefcase, which he closed and locked.
He looked across at the body of the young IT specialist. What was left of his head was flopped beside the laptop. Blood pooled over the workstation and dripped from the wall onto the polished wooden floor, reminding him of his daughter’s first attempt with watercolors.
Kaufman eased the laptop away from the head. The right side of the screen was smeared, but he could see an email was sent at 05.56.
He opened the message and stared at a string of letters and numbers. They meant nothing, but the name of the recipient’s workplace, the Millbrook Foundation, sent his pulse surging.
He took the Blackberry from his pocket and punched a series of numbers to silence the alarm, then removed his earplugs before hitting the letter P. A photo of vice president Petersen appeared on the screen as the phone dialed.
‘It is done. But we have an issue. Our boy sent a message to some clown at Millbrook. From his personal laptop. Hadn’t counted on that.’
Kaufman heard a sharp intake of breath.
‘Just a series of numbers and letters.’ Kaufman read off the screen: ‘500mlETV 1gICE’
‘Attachments? Did Beck send a file with the email?’
‘Just the message.’
‘Mean anything to you?’
‘Looks like a list of ingredients.’
‘Or some sort of password. Holy hell. We don’t need this. Nine days to go. You can’t take any chances with this Kaufman. Everything we’ve planned for. Right here. Right now. It’s like you’ve just been told those 9/11 terrorists are in jets heading for the World Trade Center. Except we’re talking millions and millions of lives this time. You’ve got to get to this guy at Millbrook. And that message, whatever it means, has to be eliminated.’
‘Consider it done.’
Kaufman looked at the message on the laptop. He chose New Message and typed:
Sorry about that gibberish.
Spilt my coffee on the keyboard.
What I meant to say was - can you come over?
Got something interesting to show you.
He picked up the briefcase, walked to the air-conditioning panel beside the door, turned the dial down to fifty degrees and stepped into the empty hall. He locked the door, removed his gloves and slipped them into the pocket of his jacket.
The Millbrook office was just a short walk across Pershing Square.