The White Room—4

by Helene Baron-Murdock

The storefront’s narrow glass doorway was papered over with flyers and announcements. Two large plate glass windows, one painted with a depiction of the globe and the initials EAF, and the other featuring a representation of the scales of justice circumscribed by a large peace symbol and the words Justice Means Peace had greeted him as he’d exited his sedan. Like EAF, JMP, or JuMP as they liked to style themselves, had come up in various briefings on local leftist radical groups prone to civil disobedience so he knew exactly whose den he had stepping into.

EAFAmong the array of framed protest placards and posters urging respect for Mother Earth or face the dire consequences, the one that caught Donovan’s eye proclaimed “Braless & Lawless” superimposed over an artfully distressed representation of three women giving the power salute. Another wall was painted sky blue bisected by the darker arc of an image of Earth seen from space against which stood a set of bookshelves lined with somber spines and a sign above it that read Earth Consciousness Library crudely carved into a wide weathered plank. A patchwork of worn and frayed Indian rugs covered a slab floor around which were deployed a variety of mismatched secondhand couches and armchairs and centered on a redwood burl table piled with slick conservationist magazines.

The young woman with the green and purple dyed hair at a small desk off to one corner of the large storefront space looked up from her laptop and smiled. Then her cop radar kicked in and she frowned. “Can I help you?” The tone wasn’t friendly.

“Hi, Jim Donovan with the Sheriff’s Office.” He held out his identification and the young woman peered at it like it was repulsive. “Are you in charge here?”

Her blue eyes behind stylish retro frames shifted left then right and back again as she considered how she would answer the question. “Uh, no, no, uh. . . .” Her voice sounded fearful, panicked. She licked her lips and glanced at the passageway leading to the back of the building. “Can. . .can I ask what this is about?”

“I’m inquiring about one of your members, Dwight Carey?”

She seemed relieved. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that name.”

“I am.” A woman in her late forties, dark graying hair cut short below the ears, stood at the entrance to the rear space calmly studying him. She held out her hand. “Ionna Gunn, I’m the director of Earth Action Fellowship.” She smiled and then motioned him to follow her. “Why don’t we talk in my office.” And then to the young woman, “It’s alright, Regina.”

Ionna Gunn’s office was a small cramped space lined with bookshelves and file cabinets. She removed a pile of papers and file folders from a sturdy chair with a dented seat cushion and cast around for a place to put them before deciding to stack them in front of one of the file cabinets. “Please, have a seat.”

She wasn’t what Donovan expected even though he had viewed her booking photos. She looked older, maybe more mature, less defiant. And her complexion was not as dark as in the photos. Dark eyes above high cheekbones considered him after he’d introduced himself again. On the wall behind her desk was a collage of photos featuring Ioanna and associates at protests, at speakers podiums, with bullhorns, and with garden implements in what appeared to be urban community gardens beneath a banner that read Earth Action Fellowship.

“Ike Carey,” she spoke shaking her head, “I read about his accident in the paper just yesterday. So sad.”

“What can you tell me about him? When was the last time you talked to him?”

“I don’t know, years? Maybe about five, maybe more. He was one of our original group when we started Earth Action Front. Always very enthusiastic. Then the beating at the hands of the Santa Lena PD put him in the hospital. He was the youngest of our group with the passion of youth.” She paused as if remembering. “He wasn’t the same after that. He’d always been happy go lucky, up for anything, a trickster of sorts. But after that time something rattled loose and. . . ,” she looked down at her hands, “Well, he never recovered that playful impish quality that we always loved about him.” She sighed then fixed him with a penetrating gaze. “You’re being here would lead me to believe that it might not have been an accident.”

Donovan read her short stature, broad shoulders, knit mauve vest over a gray t-shirt, and a man’s gold wristwatch that spoke of a certain assertiveness. Square northern features softened by equatorial curves, not noticeably made up, suggestive of a lack of pretention and her readiness to engage intelligently marked her as truthful so far.

“Purely routine. At this point just paperwork. I didn’t have a current address for him on file and I’d like to get an idea his movements before he ended up where he did.”

“The article in the paper seemed to imply a hang gliding accident. Isn’t that the case?”

“That’s what we believe. There seemed to be some kind of homemade glider involved.”

“Homemade glider? And at Acropolis Cove? That sounds dangerous.”

“The launch point was probably closer to Sparta Creek Overlook.”

She leaned her chin on a forefinger, considering. “That’s quite a distance.”

“You’re familiar with the area?”

“I had a boyfriend in high school who was a surfer.” She smiled at the memory. “According to him the waves at Sparta Creek Beach were gnarly.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Is there anyone you can steer me to that might have had contact with him recently, maybe friends in the radical conservationist network?”

This time it was a chuckle, genuine in its incredulity that the question had been asked. “No, Detective Donovan, there is no radical conservationist network that I’m aware of. We’re Earth Action Fellowship now, no longer a Front. Letter writing, phone banking, community gardens, neighborhood beautification, and legitimate political action and education are what the Fellowship is all about. And no, there is no one I can refer you to.” The smile had left her face.

“Just thought I’d ask.” Donovan removed a business card from his identification case and wrote on the back of the card. “Here’s my card in case you remember something. That’s another number you can reach me at.”

Ionna accepted the card and glanced at it frowning. It wasn’t a phone number, just the letters U and R followed by a circle with what looked like multiple legs and a plus sign.

Donovan stood up at her questioning look angling his head toward a corner of the ceiling of the small office. “Thanks for your cooperation.” He checked his wrist. “That time of day already. Know a good place around here where I can grab a cup of coffee and maybe a bite to eat?”

“You might want to try Sole Sister Diner down at the end of the block.” She nodded knowingly. “I can guarantee the coffee.”

Donovan remembered when the place had been a paint store and even before that an auto parts store. Now converted into a hip diner, part of the gentrification of the old industrial west side of Santa Lena where they’d paved over the railroad right of way and featured art galleries, antique stores, and trendy boutiques. He’d picked a booth off to the side of the narrow service area by the door to the kitchen. The counter stools were crowded and the spindly two person tables always made him feel naked, unprotected. He sat facing the front of the building looking out the wide window to the street.

dinerThe waitress had a large gold stud through the top of one nostril. The way she was made up he could assume that she was on call to perform under the big top. She smiled and it was nice. “Coffee?” and handed him a printed menu with the Sole Sister logo across the top when he nodded yes.

He checked his phone messages, missed call from Helen in HR, otherwise routine random bullshit. He had to ask himself why was he even concerning himself with this investigation when it was going nowhere. Fingerprints having turned up nothing, his request for DNA analysis of the sweatband on the ball cap he was told was going to be slow tracked to the contract lab considering not enough of the boxes had been checked on the request form. The hair sample stuck to the inside of the crown of the cap came back as non-human. The tech had guessed when he’d called for clarification, “Yeah, goat, or an animal like that.”

The ballcap, he’d also learned, was a one of a kind, a gift to James Lidlaye from his friends, fellow hang gliders, who had given it to him after he had fractured his back on a particularly hard landing. The logo depicting wings signified the hang glider fraternity and the lower case i was a pun on his last name. He’d got that from Lorrain, Uncle Jimmie’s sister when on a hunch the hang glider connection became evident, and he’d claimed the hat as evidence. And evidence of what, a stolen hat, but also of a missing or misplaced person. He pictured a helicopter lifting off the helipad at Santa Lena General and not realizing their mistake, not that anyone would ever learn of it. Besides, Uncle Jimmie was an office nerd, no contact with a goat or animals of that type was likely.

The lab had also referred him to someone he remembered as a lecturer from his academy days, Duncan Betalle, professor of Forensic Archaeology at Weston County Community College aka Wheesies, or Dubya 300 to the hip crowd. He didn’t seem all that imposing twenty plus years later, his beard showing only streaks and patches of the original red color, but still hanging on, semi-retired, at the pleasure of the administration. He’d weighed the medallion in his hand, opened the evidence bag and stuck his nose in the opening, slipped the medallion onto a blank piece of paper on his desk and examined it with the magnifying app on his phone. He’d snapped a photo and sent it to an artifact recognition app as he explained, staring at the rapidly shifting shapes on the screen.

“There, I knew I’d seen it before.” He’d held up the phone for Donovan to see. “Pre-Hellenic, early Bronze age, unearthed, it says here, in the ruins of a temple to Penelope in Ithaca. Apotropaic uses, to bring good luck and ward off the evil eye, probably a replica.” He brought his nose close to the medallion and tapped it a few times with a metal letter opener. “You won’t miss a few atoms. My nose tells me I would like to examine this closer. If it is a copy, it’s a very old copy, a depiction of the Greek god, Pan.”

Evil eye. That’s what  Heron has claimed Dad Ailess had told her about the medallion, it would ward off the evil eye. His coffee appeared before him and he hadn’t even looked the menu over.

“Can’t make up your mind?” Ionna Gunn slid onto the red vinyl bench across from him. She held him with her dark eyes, hands crossed on the Formica tabletop. She had brought her own cup. Faint wisps of steam passed up in front of her face and suddenly she was as beautiful as a photograph. “What I’m wondering is why?”

“Maybe I had questions to ask that I didn’t want overheard.”

“You don’t want your people to know what you’re asking me.” He eyes narrowed. “Is this some kind of harassment?”

“First, they are not my people, not the Sheriff’s Office, directly at least. Our intelligence operation is one guy who doesn’t shower which may be the reason he’s the only guy. He just makes sure to grease the skids for the guys who get the electronic surveillance court orders. In exchange they share any pertinent intelligence which is almost never.”

She had cocked an eyebrow. “And just who are ‘they’?”

Donovan took another sip after blowing across the scalding brew to cool it some. “I have a friend who knows how to do these things and I got her to trace the chain of authority on the court order. When you trace it high enough that you don’t want to know anymore, you say ‘it’s in the clouds’”

“It’s in the clouds.”

“And that makes me curious as to why someone that high up has their eye on you and how that fits in to my murder investigation.”

“Murder is it now?”

“Just a technical term. Ike Carey was a dead man one way or the other. I’d like to hear what you know about him and I have an idea that it’s more than you wanted to spill in your office.”

“It should come as no surprise that I’m not surprised that my phone is tapped. In more radical times,” and her body language said they were behind her, “we always operated under the assumption that we were being watched, that we had to be discreet about what we were saying. . . .”

“Did you talk in code?”

Ionna laughed as if remembering something. “We did for a while but people kept forgetting what the codes were so it just got to be that we didn’t say anything of any consequence over the telephone. Now that everything is digital I guess the same precautions and etiquette would apply, maybe even more so.” She held up her smart phone and showed him the blank screen indicating that it had been turned off. “Snitches I can understand, but a listening device seems a little much. What are they going to hear, my berating of inept, corrupt politicians, intimate conversations with friends, my indigestion?”

“I’m baffled as well. What does it have to do with Dwight Carey? And EAF. As far as I can make out you have yet to sprout into a national security threat. But I did come across something in your file. The protest that Ike was injured at was over the acquisition of property on Mount Oly by a government contractor. EAF and a number of other conservationist groups were opposed to it, demonstrated against it. I didn’t understand the reasoning, an obscure chunk of property out in the middle of nowhere?”

He eyes were focused with deep reflection as she stared at the cup in front of her. “You could possibly be right, and Ike may be the connection, but not in the way you think.”

Dwight Carey, known from the very first as Ike or Ikey, was the son of an old family friend, the nephew of one of the original founders of EAF. His father, who had disappeared around the time of Ike’s birth, was a legend among a small group of avant-garde intellectuals and artists, an older man, easily twenty years older than Ike’s mother, respected for the breadth of knowledge and creativity, his impish sense of humor and cleverness. Ike had been raised in a radical environment of talk should be accompanied by action. To show that they meant business as a community focused action group, EAF saw an opportunity to secure the long shuttered girl’s camp on Mount Oly and return it to its original purpose as a summer retreat, but for underprivileged and disadvantaged girls.

Ionna herself had attended Camp Minnoknosso, or as she called it, Camp Me-No-Know-So, as a young girl and into her late teens.. She became the driving force behind the project to obtain the property, writing grants to philanthropic foundations and conservationist trusts, consulting with a local contractor who was part of their group to assess the property and estimate the extent of repairs needed to bring the old property back into shape to house thirty six girls in three six week sessions across the breadth of the summer months. They had heard through back channels that their prospects of obtaining at least some of the funding were very good. The group rallied around the project, everyone on a positive high. Then the phone call ahead of the official letter of rejection and its oddly apologetic tone. The news was demoralizing. There was much recrimination within the group, power politics demanded that she resign.

“Yet years later, I am still here. To make matters worse we learned that the property had been transferred to a holding company, a shell corporation that no one had any information about, IQ Dynamics. They didn’t waste any time, they had heavy equipment razing the place in a matter of weeks. And the property was heavily guarded so without a satellite photo or a camera drone, which didn’t exist back then, there was no way of knowing what they were doing. We tried court orders, injunctions, all of which were denied. Years later I uncovered evidence that it was funded through proprietary companies working through the highest level of the Defense Department.”

“What was Ike’s father’s name? Did you ever meet him?”

The smiley faced rainbow waitress appeared ready to take his order.

“I recommend the sausage, eggs, and yam fries,” Ionna said pointing at the menu.

“Yam fries?” Donovan raised an eyebrow. “That may be too earthy for me.” He ordered two eggs over easy, bacon and English muffin

“I never met the father though I’d heard a lot about him from the old guard, some kind of natural genius, jack of all trades, and apparently a champion surfer.”

“No name?”

“Peter.”

“Peter Carey?”

“No, not Carey, that’s the mother, Inanna’s name. Ike took her family name. I think his last name began with an N. . .Newton? Something like that. Everyone referred to him as ‘the goat’ though?”

“Goat?”

“Yeah, like ‘Greatest Of All Times’?” Ionna leaned her back against the back of the booth. “Does this have anything to do with the father?”

Donovan shook his head. “Maybe, but I don’t know why. There was someone named Dad that Ike hung around with at the trailer park and the overlook. Could that his father?”

“Oh, the crazy old guy?”

“You know him?

“Know of him. I have friends who were part of the movement and who still surf out there and live in the trailer park. In my last years at Camp Me-no-know-so, I and a few of the older girls would sneak out at night to hook up with some surfers we met at the beach or the trailer camp. Some of those guys never left.”

“The trail from the camp to the trailer park, is that the one the hang gliders use to get to their highest launch point?”

“No, that one’s too steep and dangerous, especially in the dark. There’s another trail, a secret trail that only few of us knew about. Further down by the old waterfall. You would never find it if you didn’t know where to look.”

Donovan nodded as something clicked into place. In the interviews someone had mentioned the old waterfall in association the man they called Dad.

“Anyway, Ike’s name comes up once in a while, mainly his antics and acting out. It’s like time stopped for him. He was still locked into the old Front ways. He could get very. . .vehement at times. I’d heard was that he was hanging out with this crazy old homeless guy who lived in the woods up the creek, someone they all called ‘Dad’ and that Ike actually believed that he was his father.”

Donovan looked up surprised as the waitress placed the plate in front of him. “That was fast.”

The waitress grinned, “The cook’s a psychic, she had you pegged as a bacon and eggs man.” She laid the guest check at the edge of the table and smiled at Ionna.

He cut into an egg and watched the yolk spill out. “How many people know about this secret trail out of the camp?”

“At first it was only a few of us older girls, but someone blabbed, and soon everyone knew about it including the Camp Director and they had the passageway blocked.”

“Passageway, you mean like a tunnel?”

“More of like a long trough that had been eroded by the waterfall into the hillside, and then when they diverted water into the swimming pond for the camp, that part of the channel dried up and was overgrown with brush and brambles. They filled the trough with rubble and large boulders and it was no longer passable.”

“I don’t imagine a mere pile of rocks would keep some girls from the lure of a good party.” He looked up to catch the gleam in her eye and pull of cheek into a smirk.

“A lot of the rubble was washed down the sluice after a couple of years of heavy winter storms. The big rocks stayed in place and created vents and spaces that the adventurous might find challenging but not daunting.” Ionna laid a hand on the table next to her cup and engaged his eyes. “So I’ve been told.”

Donovan stared at the bacon on his plate and wondered how he could get it all in his mouth without appearing like a ravenous wolf. He also wondered about the trail by the old waterfall. How had perimeter security missed that. Just plain sloppy? Or sloppy on purpose? “Do you know if the camp property is still accessible up through the secret trail?”

Ionna leveled him with a long look, gauging his trustworthiness before she spoke. “About nine, maybe ten years ago, when the construction of the facility was going on up on Mounty Oly I snuck in to take a look at what they were doing. Since we couldn’t get any answers from the county planning department of what exactly was going on up there, a few of us decided to find out for ourselves. We crawled up the ravine to the site of the construction, Ike was among the group. It wasn’t completed yet, but it looked like row upon row of container vessels and a large landing area for helicopters.”

Donovan solved the problem by making a bacon sandwich with the English muffin.. “Would you be willing to show me the access to the secret trail?”

He eyes narrowed. “Are you asking me to break any laws? Like trespassing?”

He shook his head and swallowed another bite. “You won’t be breaking any laws. I just want to determine if access to the Mount Oly compound can be made through this trail you’re talking about. I have a hunch that it’s been used or in use since the last time you went up there, possibly by Ike Carey.”

She nodded her head thoughtfully. “Yes, that seems likely. Ike was particularly affected when we lost the bid for the property. He’d wanted to sabotage the construction while it was underway. He wasn’t the only one,” she added with a smile. “But I have to warn you, it’s a maze, and some spots might be a tight fit for someone your size.”

Donovan looked down at where some of the egg yolk had dribbled down onto the napkin tucked under his chin and then back up at Ionna. He didn’t want to admit he was wearing his Kevlar. “It’s just the jacket, it makes me look bulky.”

“If you say so.”


Next Time in The White Room: On Top Of Mount Oly

1 thought on “The White Room—4

Comments are closed.