The Camel Conspiracy

A peek at Jim Moore’s newest novel

 

Chapter 1
July 2014
Boise, Idaho

The FedEx package is on top of her inbox when she walks into her office and it has a message: “Happy Birthday” printed on the FedEx paperwork. What is this, some kind of a joke? It is not her birthday, not even close. Her birthday is in January. She looks through the door to see if anyone is watching her open her “joke” box. No one watching.

She opens the package and finds a second wrapped box. The wrapping paper is a classy- looking blue foil with HAPPY BIRTHDAY embossed all over it. There is a card that reads: “To my best friend Cissy. May this be the best birthday ever.” There is no signature and no name of the sender.

Cissy only has one “best friend” and she knows that her best friend knows her birthday like her own.

She looks at the FedEx paperwork inside the clear plastic envelope adhering to the box. The package shows it was shipped the day before, from a Mail Boxes Etc. store in Platte City, Missouri. That’s strange. Her best friend lives in Washington D.C. So why was the package sent from Platte City, Missouri? Cissy knows that Platte City is about 5 miles north of the Kansas City airport.

She picks up the gift-wrapped box and looks at it closely. Then she listens to it, shakes it, and listens again. Then she smells it. Everything seems fine. Nothing unusual.

Cissy looks at the card again. She knows the handwriting. She has seen the same loopy style for more than 20 years. It is her best friend’s handwriting, which makes the Platte City shipping address seem stranger still. What is going on here? Why don’t you stop trying to guess what it is and open the gift.

Impatiently, she tears at the blue foil paper. The box inside is wrapped in plain brown paper and is securely taped with wide glossy clear tape..

Rather than tear the brown paper off the interior box, she grabs a pair of scissors, cuts a slit along one end, then down one side, and the box inside falls out on her desk. The box is taped the same as the outer box. The white box is about the size of the Kindle HD reader she bought last week.

She takes the scissors and cuts along the box seams until she can lift the top off the box. Inside is a purple velvet bag with a gold drawstring at the top, like the Crown Royal bag only smaller. She sees that the drawstring has a double bow and she knows that the double bow is a message from her best friend. They have used this plain sight cue ever since they were roommates at Stephens College. A rough equivalent to a double dare, the double bow means that what is inside is a sacred double secret.

Cissy quietly closes and locks the door to her office. She unties the first bow in the gold drawstring, then kisses the second bow. The kiss means she will never share the sacred double secret. A frivolous, adolescent gesture but it stills means something to Cissy. After performing the ritual double bow kiss, she very carefully unties the second bow. She reaches into the bag and finds a cell phone, one of those prepaid generic models. When she opens the clamshell to access the keypad there is a single Post-It note sheet attached to the screen that reads, “Press the power button.”

Cissy follows this directive and, almost immediately, the display shows “Text Message” then scrolls to the message itself. Cissy does not know what to think as she reads it for the first time, so she goes back and reads it a second time, much slower, making sure she understands each word and each sentence. The text message reads:

You are the only person I can trust. You must arrange for your newspaper to protect my daughters, my mother and me. You can show this message to your managing editor so he will give you the authority to hire a security team. Do not use this phone for any purpose other than to receive my calls. Do not under any circumstances try to contact me. When I do call, you must move quickly to pick up my daughters, my mother and me and travel with us to a secure location known only by you and the security team you hire. I will tell you everything when we get to the secure location. You must be prepared to do a video-taped interview of me. The story I will tell you will make history like no other story ever published with harsh and very real consequences both in the US and abroad. I believe that my life will be in danger after the interview is aired. I fear that my daughters and my mother will be kidnapped to force me to recant what I disclose in the interview. There are smart, wealthy, powerful and very ruthless people who will search everywhere on earth to find us. Tell your managing editor I will give his newspaper the only exclusive for this story. That should be enough for him to spend the money necessary to get us to a secure location. The luckiest day in my life was when I found a best friend at the library. You have been the only truly loyal person in my life and I am grateful for our friendship. Love, your double bow best friend.

 

Cissy cannot believe what she just read except that her best friend would never ask her to do something this risky unless there is eminent danger. But why no request to protect her husband? That makes her request bizarre. She would never leave her husband unless … unless … unless he was doing something so unspeakable, so despicable, so evil that there is no other choice but run and hide. Oh my God. Suddenly Cissy feels that awful fear thing grab her stomach. That instant sharp nausea stabbed her 10 years ago when Dan did not call from Iraq. She learned then she can’t ignore this kind of fear.

Cissy swivels her chair around so she can look out the window at the mountains just a few blocks from her office as she thinks about the text message, the double bow sacred secret, and the Platte City shipping address. All of them combined show her best friend must be extremely desperate and scared. Incredible, absolutely incredible.

Cissy shifts gears and focuses on how best to approach her managing editor. Something this big will have him hemming and hawing in overdrive. In the end, he will give her what she wants but he will put on a real asshole act until he actually says yes. Glad she won that Pulitzer two years ago. That is her trump card. She swivels back so she can pick up the phone. She punches in five numbers, then ringing at the other end and a voice says, “This had better be good because I am getting ready to leave for the weekend.”

“Chase,” said Cissy carefully, “I need to talk with you in private and it needs to be now.”

“I knew it. I knew it this morning. Something would screw up my weekend plans and wouldn’t you know it, it is my favorite pain-in-the-ass who NEEDS to talk to me and it has to be NOW.” Chase fumes with more than a bit of sarcasm in his voice. “Okay, but this better be quick.”

“Chase, why don’t you say yes over the phone and save yourself the grief of listening to what I need?” Cissy tosses back, “You can leave for your weekend as soon as you say yes.”

“Get down to my office in the next ten seconds or I will leave for my weekend without talking with you,” says Chase with a commanding voice.

Cissy walks quickly to Chase’s corner office that is about 5 times bigger than hers. Cissy suspects that Chase’s salary is at least 5 times bigger than hers, also. She walks in, closes and locks the door, then walks to his desk, holding the FedEx box with the shipping manifest, the blue foil embossed Happy Birthday wrapping paper, the brown wrapping paper, the white box, the purple velvet bag and, of course, the cellular phone.

Chase watches each move Cissy makes and eyes the pile of junk she is carrying with her. This had better be very good or I’m going to lower the boom on her.

“We’re not supposed to be doing this,” Chase says sternly. “You know the policy about managers being in locked rooms with subordinates. The board has zero tolerance for this.”

“I know. I know but this is different. I must keep my source confidential.” Cissy looks around Chase’s office for leaks or spies or anything that can compromise the double sacred secret. Settle down and get control of yourself. Your paranoia will not help right now but that does not mean you can tell Chase about the hidden cues included with the package. TMI. Too Much Information and with TMI Chase will never stop asking questions. Best approach is to give him the facts without TMI and let him read the text message.

“I received this FedEx box (she holds it up then places it on his desk) this afternoon and I found this cell phone, securely buried in paper and tape. The cell phone had this Post-It Note with, ‘Press the power button’ handwritten on it so I pressed the power button. The message displayed on the screen is the reason I needed to have a private meeting with you.”

Before Chase could say anything, Cissy handed him the cell phone. “Read the text message, then we’ll talk.”

Chase slides his glasses down to his nose and reads the text message once. He looks up at Cissy and as Cissy did earlier, he reads it again only slower.

“I don’t suppose you can tell me who sent the package.” Says Chase with resignation already in his voice.

Cissy’s reply was a very simple, “No. And please do not ask again.”

Chase looks out the windows to the same mountains Cissy looked at a few minutes before this meeting. He continues to look at the mountains and sees a small herd of deer halfway up the slopes as they bound up the mountain at an amazing speed. He always marvels at the show that Idaho’s wildlife gives him but a flash of light off a vehicle’s windshield way up the mountain brings him back to reality.

Chase is not in the habit of giving out blank checks but based on the text message’s request he is being ask to do just that.

“Well, what do YOU think?” asked Chase as he turns back toward Cissy; searching for more information.

Cissy takes a deep breath before she answers but as soon as she knows Chase is looking directly in her eyes, she says, “The last time we had this talk, you ended up giving me what I needed for the story and we won a Pulitzer Prize., I am absolutely sure that the person writing is telling the truth when stating that, ‘the story will make history like no other story every published.’ With this person’s story, at the very least, the paper will get its money back and most likely become a much sought after global resource for investigative journalism. That is something that will please the board I would think.”

Chase quickly understands that he can talk for the next 2 hours but never top what Cissy just said. So, rather than debate the issue any further, he turns to his computer and firmly says, “I am giving you a $100,000 limit on your corporate credit card. No, I change my mind; a $250,000 limit on your card. I do not want to go through the anguish of listening to why you need more than $100,000. If you need more than $250,000 we can discuss additional amounts and it had better be good because I will be breathing fire by that time.

“I want a signed, exclusive agreement when you get back with the interview video. I want to see everything and I mean EVERYTHING before you file or send any story, draft story, story idea, anything. Got it?”

“Yes sir,” says Cissy respectfully as she gathers her materials and makes her way across Chase’s office. She unlocks the door and leaves before Chase says anything else. A quick, quiet exit is always best when you get everything you went into Chase’s office to get.

As she walks back down the hall to her office, she thinks about possible secure locations and the first place to come to mind is Stonebraker. Perfect! Now how do I get the folks who own and run Stonebraker to let me use it under a no questions asked policy?