Chapter 8 — On the Lam
For example, while everyone knows what the phrase “on the lam” means, no one actually knows why it means that.
— Introduction to Etymological Analysis, 35th ed. Lowell University Press
I was in my apartment when the news story first broke. Actually, I was in somebody else’s apartment, but since I’d been living there for the past nine months, it might as well have been my apartment. I remember the event as if it was yesterday. One minute I’m watching Jeopardy, and the next this talking head fills the screen, babbling on about a break-in at some medical research facility in Quebec. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t care if the entire state of Quebec dropped into the sea. I wanted Alex Trebek to give me the location of General Patton’s death.
On the other hand, Fergie was more interested in current events, than the death of a World War Two general. “Nick that place is just down the road from here. If you climb to the roof you can probably see the complex.”
I realize that there are several omissions, which make the above narrative less than crystal clear. To start with, the aforementioned apartment is located in Quebec; or rather, was located in Quebec. But once again, I’m getting ahead of myself. I was in Quebec for my health, and a general desire to avoid contact with people, who might recognize me and then try to kill me. Fergie was a friend from my night school classes in criminal investigations. He was from Canada; so, when Chicago grew too hot to hold me, I figured I was better off skipping the country than going to ground in some flyspeck town like Elderon or Dace. I moved to Quebec and joined Fergie as an unofficial partner in the FBI: Fergusson Bosworth Investigations.
“Police responded to a distress call from Cambridge Bio-Wares yesterday evening.” The newscaster said. “On arrival, they found the guard unconscious. Sources indicate he had been tranquilized by a currently unknown assailant. Authorities report that some research material was stolen, but have, so far, refused to elaborate.”
Fergie brushed a hand through his curly red hair, a sure sign that he was nervous. “I heard a rumor that CBW was involved in some heavy government research; Top secret conspiracy theory sort of stuff.” I just nodded; I didn’t like the term: conspiracy theory. As of late, conspiracy theories had brought me nothing but trouble.
The news blip lasted well over the thirty seconds needed to answer a Final Jeopardy question. Wheel of Fortune was on when the special report ended. I turned off the TV. I will never watch Wheel of Fortune, unless maybe you put a gun to my head. Even then, I might trust my luck to a misfire and shut off the TV anyway.
I decided this warranted some research and grabbed my laptop off the couch. My first search was the location of Patton’s death which, incidentally, was in a military hospital in Heidelberg. I then tried to see what info was available on CBW, there wasn’t much. They had the requisite glamour shots of the faculty, but very little information about what went on behind their bio-secure doors. Kind of what I had come to expect from corporate websites.
About three hours later, someone leaked a copy of the CBW surveillance tapes to CNN. There was also a prepared statement by a group called the ARQ which the announcers spelled out was the Armée Républicain de Québec. The ARQ’s statement was in French, but there was a handy English translation scrolling across the bottom of the screen
“Citizens of Quebec, the oppressive reign of the bourgeoisie is at an end.” It reminded me of the tapes that the Baader-Meinhof Gang used to make, before the collapse of the Berlin wall and the realization that Marx’s communist ideal was a pipe dream, with about a much substance as, well, a pipe dream. “Yesterday evening, freedom fighters of the ARQ liberated a weapons lab owned by the Canadian government.” That got my attention.
“Weapons lab?” I asked Fergie.
“Quiet, I want to hear the rest of this.” He said staring intently at the TV.
“These weapons, intended to impose the tyrannical will of the few, on the peace-loving citizens of our fair province, are now in our hands. We are the voice of the people. If the government will not accede to our demands, we will be forced to use, against them, the very measures by which they intended to enslave us. We have in our possession the fruit of Project Chimera. Quebec must be freed! Or else Canada will suffer for the sins of its leaders.”
I was pretty confident that freedom of the press or not, heads were going to roll for this statement going out over the air. I opened my laptop and headed to a news site where both the terrorist’s ultimatum and the leaked security footage were prominently displayed. I clicked play and watched the soundless jerky black and white footage again. Take a look at this surveillance tape.” I said to Fergie after watching the clip a half dozen times. “The guys who attacked the lab are not professional operators.”
“They’re not wearing masks or anything. They want to be identified. Now operators don’t do that. Operators survive because they’re anonymous. When you see news footage of crazy fanatics firing assault rifles into the air, they’ve always got their faces covered. They hide their identities, because you’ll quickly find yourself on the wrong end of a gun barrel if, after pulling a stunt like that, you walk back into civilization pretending nothing’s happened.
“Our friends from last night aren’t worried. This means one of two things, either they are expecting to be legitimized very quickly with the past all forgiven. Or, they don’t care if they live or die; so, concealing their identity is irrelevant. Both of those alternatives bear some serious thought.”
“One guy was wearing a mask.” Fergie pointed out.
“Yeah, and that’s odd too. He was the one who seemed to do most of the talking. Therefore, he would be the boss; the one most interested in getting his face on TV, if their goal is indeed legitimization. However, he conceals his identity, suggesting that he cares what people will make of his actions, so he hides. He doesn’t fit the standard profile.”
“Is it possible that he’s a man of position, who can’t have it known that he consorts with terrorists?”
“Yeah that’s possible, but in that case what’s he doing at the location. Financiers of terrorism don’t get involved in front line conflict. They sit behind polished mahogany desks and reap the rewards of global destabilization.” I said, and then realized that this sounded an awful lot like something Adrian Telmar might have said. Six months gone, and the man’s paranoia was still rubbing off on me. I banished the troubling thought and continued speaking. “Also, note the fact that he’s only seen in the security footage and not involved in the broadcast where the terrorists announce that they have the fruit of Project Chimera.”
“What do you think that meant?”
“Well,” I said switching to a new tab in my web browser. “Chimera is a typical name for a biological hybrid; gene splicing that sort of stuff.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Google, and I think it came up in one of the Mission Impossible films, which is not important, because when we consider the fact that the place was involved in biological research, and according to our Marxist friends it was developing weapons; I think we can assume that this Project Chimera is some sort of hybrid virus.”
“This is going to be a PR disaster for the government.” Fergie said taking a swig from his bottle of Guinness.
“So, what will the government’s response be?” I asked
“Well I’m hardly a policy maker; and, it’s really dependent on what was going on in the CBW facility in the first place. If they were building bio-weapons, this will probably pan out like it did in the October Crisis of 1970… martial law, curfews, suppression of the press and everything else that goes along with it.”
“What do you know about this ARQ?” I asked opening a Guinness for myself.
“Before today, I honestly hadn’t heard of them. They sound sort of like the FLQ, the Quebec Liberation Front.” He added seeing my blank face. “Those were the guys responsible for the events that precipitated the October Crisis. They wanted Quebec to be its own independent French-speaking country.”
I started a new search as he was talking. Unsurprisingly, there were dozens of ARQ related hits from the last few hours, but before that… nothing. I searched for nearly half an hour before I found a single news article with information relevant to the background of the ARQ. It only deepened the mystery. Prior to the raid on the CBW facility, the only action for which the ARQ claimed responsibility was a graffiti campaign in Montreal. They appeared to me more like delinquent teenagers, albeit with handguns, than the brilliant strategists needed to pull off a heist at what was purported to be a weapons development facility.
I was still collating data when Fergie’s cellphone rang. “Yes, this is FBI, Fergusson speaking.” He said, there was a long pause as someone on the other end chattered away. “I see. Yeah, I guess we can meet today. There will be an extra fee since it’s the weekend.” Another pause. “Ok, I can see you at the office in thirty minutes, eh?”
“Who was that?” I asked
“Don’t know. He didn’t give his name, but he has a case for us.”
“Excellent.” I walked over to the liquor cabinet and pulled out my 1911 and shoulder holster.
“Niiiick?” There was a warning, or perhaps pleading, note in Fergie’s voice. In Canada, PIs were not allowed to carry handguns. Their job was to take pictures of people and call the police if they as much as spotted any suspected criminal activity. Sort of like a glorified neighborhood watch. Needless to say, that didn’t appeal to me. I was a veteran of the south side of Chicago, where if you didn’t carry a gun you would be robbed on sight. I decided that since I was in the country illegally anyway, I would pack heat wherever I went. After all, according to Telmar’s last missive, I had a secret society gunning for me.
“Don’t worry, I won’t shoot anyone.” I paused for a beat. “It creates unnecessary paperwork.”
“Shooting people may only create paperwork in Chicago; but here it will get you locked up for years!?” He said with a glassy eyed look of consternation.
“Ok I got it; I won’t shoot anyone who doesn’t deserve it.”
“Just keep the gun out of sight, eh?”
“What do you think the shoulder holster is for?” I said as I zippered my jacket. The gun was, for all practical purposes, invisible.
We drove down to the office. It wasn’t very far, and we arrived a good fifteen minutes before our client. Fergie wasn’t about to let me get the door. He said that a gun toting yahoo wasn’t the right person to introduce FBI to a prospective client. As a result, I was in the back room when our client entered. Since it was the only thing on any of the networks, I was watching yet another special on the previous night’s robbery. “How are you doing Mr.…?” Fergie paused and waited for a name.
“You can call me Herman.” Through long and dangerous experience, I have come to understand that clients who only give their first names are almost always criminals.
“Ok, Herman, have a seat.” There was the sound of scraping chairs then Fergie spoke again. “Now, what can I do to help?”
I wandered out of the back and got my first glimpse of our client. He looked very promising. If he was a criminal, he was in the Godfather level of criminality. He was wearing an immaculate white suit; a touch out of place perhaps, but certainly distinguished, and more importantly… expensive. He had perfectly conditioned black hair, combed straight back in the Al Capone look. I was willing to bet his fingernails were manicured; in all, a promising outlook. Then I got a glimpse of his eyes. They were not as promising. Their grey depths had a manic look to them, sort of like a shark that’s been grabbed by the tail and ripped from the sea; i.e. no longer king of all that he surveyed. He also looked strangely familiar.
“I have a serious problem.” Herman said. “Some of my business associates stole a very valuable item from me. It is imperative that I get it back.” Despite the calm tones of his voice there was an intensity to his words reinforced by the fire in his eyes. Even at his twitchiest my old associate Telmar had never looked this crazy.
“If this is a criminal matter, why don’t you take it to the police, eh?” Fergie was operating in his strictly by-the-books methodology.
“I believe that the police would have a hard time understanding the intricacies of my situation.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Fergie asked, being, I thought, a little obtuse.
I decided that it was time to enter the conversation. I stepped out of the darkened back room, in what I hoped was a dramatic gesture. “What it means is that Arminius Cherusci has dabbling in something very illegal.”