Chapter 27 – Next Stop Arizona

Next Day, Journey from Washington, DC, to Phoenix, AZ

The morning came far too quickly, and I was secretly pleased and relieved that I had not succumbed to having another drink last night after leaving the girls. Maybe, just maybe, if it hadn’t been raining so hard, I would not have taken the cab back to the safehouse. I could have moved onto another bar and had a few more drinks, but I decided to be sensible and get a couple of hours shuteye even though the next day would be spent sitting on planes and waiting around trying to remain professional.

I did not get those two hours sleep, my adrenalin was boosting on overload and alert mode had kicked in big time. Strong tea would calm me down and help me think while I went through the file which remained untouched in the briefcase. The latest Jo Nesbo book “The Thirst” sat beside the briefcase with a bookmark on page 190. I had several books on the go, mainly from the selection left in one of the closets in the small back bedroom, others included:

  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler,
  • American Assassin by Vince Flynn,
  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, pseudonym J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter),
  • The Guilty by David Baldacci,
  • Buy*ology by Martin Lindstrom,
  • and Contagious by Jonah Berger

A mixed bag of murder, suspense, branding and marketing and not one of them had been finished. Not through boredom, no, not at all, they were in locations scattered all around the house and picked up whenever and put down sometime later, and all very good reads. The murder mysteries always had the classic loose cannon, with few close friends, too many vices, plenty of enemies and unorthodox but successful methods. The other two made me think about branding, information going viral and marketing, all subjects I knew almost nothing about, and I hoped to finish them all eventually.

I sat down at the desk, took a mouthful of hot strong tea, opened the briefcase and removed a rather ominous and bulging file codenamed Zodiac Program:

The file contained the report and a was a one page hand written message from the director which indicated that the agency had seriously regretted losing me before the due flight to Moscow to follow the Zodiac Conference and had been very much relieved that my body had been found by pure chance on the MSW landfill site outside Washington DC. Every available resource had been used during the most gruelling of recuperations periods the agency had ever witnessed. The agency had been impressed with my attitude and resilience together with the professionalism in the approach on collating all the information from the global resources and the preparation of the substantial documentation.

The file was extensive, a full dossier on me and detailed information on what was happening in Washington before my planned departure to Moscow. I was totally blown away as the file contained details from my early years in Maine, details about Smythe and Jones and all about Miss Tremblay – this information has been condensed into the Prologue parts 1-3 on the website. How the fxxx did they know all this, I had never confided the details to anybody, and the director indicated in quite explicit terms that no action was to be taken against Smythe and Jones, they were under investigation by several other agencies and those investigations were not to be jeopardized in any way shape or form, period!

The rest of the report contained information that was totally unexpected and absorbing that the next two hours flew past, I did not touch the remainder of the tea or hear the rolls of thunder approaching from the north. The last page was a short list of simple instructions, “Get Savannah back into the program, I do not care how you did it, but do it and do it damn fast”.

There were several compartments to the briefcase and each of them held an ingredient that would give me an advantage.

  • Several international passports and driving licences under assumed names
  • $50,000 in one hundred Dollar bills
  • $5,000 in small denomination bills
  • 5 iPhone 8 model 64GB
  • Security passes for the major USA airports
  • Several keys for secure locker storage units across USA

The director had thought of everything or so it seemed, everything except how to get Savannah back into the program. That was my part and I needed to start thinking, preparing, testing and doing an awful lot of stuff. Time was running out and I needed to start moving.

I needed to take a hot shower, to prepare a backpack suitable for hand luggage on flights and get to the airport for a pre-booked American Airlines flight to Phoenix, AZ.

The flight was booked for 10:30am from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and would take almost seven hours with only one stop in Charlotte Douglas International Airport and arrive 14:29pm local time.

Plans change as operational needs change, and the immediate result of those changes meant that I would not be taking that flight to Phoenix, which had been booked several days previously on behalf of the director. I urgently needed to connect with an old colleague before departing for Arizona. It was imperative that the connection was made because that old colleague would be providing my tickets for onward travel which would involve taking the 09:00am from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to Tuscon, AZ. That flight would take approximately six and a half hours stopping only the once at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and would arrive at 12:36pm local time.

The rendezvous had been arranged at the same airport an hour before the take-off time and would therefore allow more than enough time to meet, and then clear through the check-in facility before boarding the flight at the allocated gateway.

The shower was refreshing, then the teeth cleaning ritual, I could not function properly without proper oral hygiene and then the most suitable selection of clothing that was both comfortable and unlikely to draw any unwarranted attention. A crisp white cotton shirt with simple silver cufflinks, and an olive-green business suit, that was both comfortable and well-tailored to enable a full range of accessories in the most appropriate places. It looked casual and professional without looking too well cut nor too expensive, the glasses complimented the suit and completed the impression of senior management. A final check on every detail, before remembering the paperback book by Jo Nesbo. Most people tend to leave you alone when reading or giving the appearance of reading and newspapers never looked right and drew attention if they were from a different location and out of date. Just blend in, act casual and don’t draw attention to yourself, always sound advice in most situations.

The taxi ride was un-eventful and my senses remained focussed for the entire journey which had been made almost impossible by the constant talking of the cabbie who enlightened me on how tough it was not only being female but a taxicab driver over the past thirty years. She had been chauffeuring everyone from congressmen to mothers on welfare and further informed me that D.C. has more taxi drivers per capita than anywhere else in the world, making it tough to earn a living as a driver.

I don’t know why I tipped her big time before she pulled away from the terminal building, maybe it was the feeling of sheer relief or just sympathy, either way I did give it anymore thought and headed for the check-in for American Airlines and then the Priority Pass Lounge which is located in Terminal C near gates 35-45. The American Tap Room is a full service, sit down restaurant offering a casual atmosphere with contemporary American food, liquor, beer and wine. The lounge does not accept reservations and is reserved for passengers with specific credentials elite status or premium tickets.

The lounge was almost empty which was a surprise, but it would fill up again very soon. A tall man wearing a blue polo-shirt and grey chinos was just vacating the corner table then left the lounge swiftly and without fuss. I headed for the table and sat down rather too abruptly before pushing the debris from the meal across the table and clearing a fresh space as the waitress arrived as if by magic and apologized for the mess and delay in clearing the table.

I remained friendly and calm, then told her not to worry about it as the previous customer had only just left the table and did not expect miracles. She thanked me as she continued to faff about (where did that English expression come from) but it seemed totally appropriate and she took my strong tea order and apologized again, said it was only her second shift and she was on probation, I smiled warmly before she left and then cluttered into the next table on her way back to the service area.

I needed a good meal but that could wait, I was wary that the food could very well end up on my person the way that the service was going. I looked forward to the tea with strong trepidation. There was no-one within ten feet or watching me with any interest, so I lifted up my backpack onto the table in-front of me, took out the paperback and accidently dropped it onto the floor and reached down to the right beside the wall to pick up both the book and the package.

The backpack shielded me while I opened the package and emptied the contents onto the table, a sheet of A4 paper, a 10gb computer stick, some keys and an envelope containing photographs. I spread them around the pockets in my suit and placed the backpack onto the seat next to me as the waitress returned with the tea, I was prepared for the inevitable. Luckily it did not happen, but the tea was absolutely terrible, why, oh! why, did I never learn that most American restaurants cannot serve English Tea properly, a mistake that I would probably make many times again in the future, but one could only hope!

I collected my things together, paid the tab and headed for the appropriate gate and the flight to Tuscon, AZ. I had needed a refreshing hot drink before the flight, because I never drank anything with hot water on an airplane, that was just suicidal, I had read the reports and vowed to live longer and better! The flight details for Tuscon came over the airport tannoy system in the usual incoherent manner and the usual puzzled faces were staring blankly at the speakers overhead. I headed for the allocated gate feeling apprehensive and diligently kept myself low profile while constantly checking my parameters for anything remotely suspicious.

The attendant checked my details and I boarded the plane which thankfully was only half full that day, but I had taken the added precaution of booking two adjacent seats in the second row from the back of the plane and had explained to the attendant that my colleague had been suffering from food poisoning and would not be joining me. I had a window seat, removed both the file and paperback from the backpack before placing it in the overhead storage compartment, a hostess was assisting an elderly passenger in the next row and smiled at me as the old lady fussed and delayed as old people do. I adjusted the seatbelt and made myself comfortable before checking out some of the other passengers around the cabin and then observed the activities on the airport docking bay below through the small window.

I had hoped that both seats to my right would remain vacant for the trip, but a passenger appeared after the final call and arrived in a state of flux. She was apologizing profusely to the cabin crew and passengers who were still standing in the aisle preparing themselves for the journey. There were a few minutes of mayhem before she sat down with smiling relief.

She finally turned towards me and introduced herself as Charlotte or Charlie to her friends and gave a quick explanation as to why she had only just made the flight. The reasons as Charlotte explained further, were the result of office politics, traffic and other details that flew over my non-listening and too far-away head. She did come across as a genuine person, who was highly focussed and wrapped up tightly in her career, and that could have been be for many reasons, and I sincerely hoped that I would not have the pleasure of hearing them during the next few hours.

Appearances can be deceptive, but I thought that she was around late thirties, single and no kids. A great taste in clothes, her outfit was smart well cut with fashionable colors, she was pretty, with a well-shaped figure, so I instantly concluded that she must look after herself physically and she had the most beautiful long auburn hair, which gave her a most serious amount of sex appeal.

It was a typical cold and miserable day and the captain introduced himself and the crew before giving an update on the weather and anticipated timetable. He confidently announced that the flight would be leaving on time but there could be delays ahead because of a weather-front moving east from the Pacific and wished everybody a safe and pleasant flight. The other health and safety announcements were duly conducted, and I hardly noticed a word of them, passengers become immune to the preambles and just wanted to get moving.

The flight took off on time and I opened the file on Savannah Velasquez, it needed to be dissected and thoroughly understood, a plan was churning in my head and unfortunately the options would be considered by normal people to be totally shocking. The cabin crew reached the aisle with the drink and snacks trolley and I ordered an iced coke which was passed over Charlotte who ordered a black coffee and chocolate cookies. I drank the coke rather too quickly, because I had the urge for a sugar rush, but the fulfilment never came.

The file was incredible and totally absorbing and I was really getting into the details of Savannah’s relationship with the Zodiac Program, and it was opening my eyes to some of the real horror stories that were going on around the world. An hour was all I could constructively concentrate on the documents for, as my revulsion at what was going on almost got too much for me, and I had to stop and literally chill out for a while.

The cabin crew were doing the rounds again and were almost my row, Charlotte raised her arm and asked for a bourbon on ice then turned to me as I was closing the file and asked if I would like to join her, she needed a drink and I caved in against my better judgement and requested the same. The drinks arrived and we performed the cheers ritual and she started chatting. The next hour drifted past and I learnt a lot about Glendale approximately 14kms northwest of downtown Phoenix. Charlotte was a football fan and gave me the history of her hometown. I am not really into football, but I got the insight into the Arizona Cardinals.

I don’t recall most of the details but did remember the most important being that The Cardinals were founded as the Morgan Athletic Club in 1898, and are the oldest continuously run professional football team in the United States.[4] The Cardinals play their home games at State Farm Stadium, which opened in 2006 and is located in Glendale. She came across as a real passionate lady and I could not quite get why she did not speak of any close relationships in her life. It very much appeared that career and football were the two mainstays in her life, and with her happy disposition it looked to me that she was a contented person, but looks can be very deceptive, can’t they?

The stopover at Dallas was almost to schedule and as the plane landed Charlotte received a call on her cell phone, she turned facing the aisle to take the call. It was brief and she appeared a little ruffled by the call. She turned towards me and said that a colleague who had been flying from Chicago back to the West Coast had been delayed and had been redirected back to the regional offices in Phoenix and called on the off chance that Charlotte was on the same flight.

Charlotte asked if the seat was free between us, she did not need to know that I had paid for it to guarantee at least one space between me and the aisle. I stupidly answered that I did not know and that it was probably worth the risk and tell her colleague just to sit down as another passenger may not claim it and there were after all many other vacant seats. My journey was becoming a little too complicated I should have just been a little less diplomatic and told her that it was imperative that I finished my reading before Phoenix, but I did not and that was the start of a little detour to my scheduled plans

My original plan on arrival at Phoenix was to hire a truck and drive up to New River on route 17 to the north and next day go to Black Canyon retreat to the east. There was a two-day window before I could meet Savannah, but it looked very much that I would have to be flexible and adapt over the next 48 hours. Life was getting just a little too complicated, and I should have been a hell of a lot more professional but after the latest chapter in my life I was going to make the most of every opportunity that happened to come my way.

Her colleague appeared in the aisle and Charlotte rose up to greet her before sitting on the seat next to me. She was a tall slender lady who introduced herself as Tuesday and quickly said she would explain later as I must have given the expected look of disbelief. Charlotte seemed very pleased to see her and they quickly exchanged a short conversation on office politics and the assholes at the company headquarters in Chicago. The rest of the flight passed quickly and there was a lot of laughter and a few more drinks before the pilot announced the arrival at Phoenix. Charlotte asked where I was staying, to which I could only reply that I had not made plans but had to hire a vehicle and would be driving up to New River in the morning. She immediately suggested I should stay with her in Glendale and her immediate neighbour was an expert in vehicle rentals and would be more than happy to help me out and it would save a day of rental fees. How could I refuse such a generous offer?

Tuesday was also told that she could not possibly stay at the hotel which had not yet been booked by personnel and would have no option but to join us. During the usual disembarkation chaos in the aisle she turned towards me after retrieving her baggage from the overhead locker saying that you would not believe the luxury that Charlotte lives in, I do not know why she continues with her career when she has no need to, if it was me I would be long gone. I did not think any further about that comment because my brain had returned to preservation mode!

A face had turned towards me in the aisle a dozen or so rows to the front of the plane, and recognition had been in the eyes which had tried but failed to look innocently away. The passengers were competing in the ritual disembarkation frenzy and I had purposely dropped my book a few minutes earlier, to create a diversionary tactic, just in case of any unexpected activity. That tactic was now operational, and I told Charlotte that I would catch them up at luggage collection. My past told me that wherever Smythe was, that bastard Jones was never far away. Only a handful of passengers from the first few rows had left the cabin and I held my cell discretely to film the rest of the passengers as quickly as possible before the cabin was empty, and the passengers dispersed into the belly of the terminal.

I made sure that I was the last person of the flight, just in-case anyone had hidden themselves in the bathroom areas or was just too slow for other reasons for which I would never know!

I met the guys at the luggage reclaim area as we had agreed and made my excuses about the dropped book and the need for bathroom facilities which was common practice for most travellers. They were both in very good spirits and we breezed through all the security channels and arrived at the taxi collection area. For their very own safety I made more excuses on having to do further errands and would meet them later in Greendale without fail, a quick exchange of hugs and kisses followed before they were consumed by a taxi and disappeared into the distance heading for who knows what experiences!

Phoenix is the capital and most populous city in Arizona, with 1,660,272 people (as of 2018). It is also the fifth most populous city in the United States, and the only state capital with a population of more than one million residents. Phoenix is the seat of Maricopa County and the largest city in the state at 517.9 square miles (1,341 km2), more than twice the size of Tucson and one of the largest cities in the United States.

I used another taxi to go the four miles to the Phoenix Convention Center where I used one of the many bathrooms in the extensive complex to change my appearance before taking another taxi to downtown Phoenix to lease a white cargo truck which would be my means of transportation for the next few days. I needed an overnight parking facility in the center of Glendale which would hide the truck while I did some local socializing which I had not done for some time and I was very much excited by the prospect!

Glendale is not one of the richest areas of Arizona but that was not something that ever bothered me too much. I changed taxi a few times on route to Charlotte’s residence and arrived around 20:00pm after phoning in advance and was greeted by both Charlotte and Tuesday in a frenzy like old time friends. It was charming, and I really appreciated their heart-warming hospitality. From all outward appearances they had drunk a little too much and were both very cheerful and happy and I had little time to be accustomed to their surroundings before a drink was pushed into my hand and my backpack taken and literally dumped like an old sack in the entrance hall before being lead into the enormous lounge area, which was simply beautiful and luxurious on a scale that I was not really accustomed to, yes absolutely delightful as an old friend would have said.

I was hungry and when they said do you fancy a Chinese, my face had said all they needed, as expected it would have to be delivery service as neither of them were capable or legal to drive and I thankfully had no idea about the local area, home delivery was perfect for me! Charlotte had a regular Chinese restaurant on W Greenway Rd and she just happened to have a few of their menu brochures. She said that the duck in pancakes was her absolute favorite, and I said that I loved it too as well as many of the other dishes on the menu. I was incredibly hungry, and offered to pay the bill, which involved further discussion, but I insisted, order the whole menu I don’t care, in a casual and fun way and I needed to relax big time!

We were all standing in the kitchen area as Charlotte phoned through the order which by now was enough for ten people as served more wine, a Californian Semillon which was delicious, and I should have made a note of the name for the future. Charlotte busied herself with preparing the dining room and Tuesday filled me in with information on the local area and how she and Charlotte had met and other casual gossip which I cannot remember.

An hour later a mountain of food arrived in several large bags and the delivery boy left smiling with an enormously generous tip. The evening was great fun and would not be forgotten for a long while. The rest of the night cannot be written down here and may well appear in the full version as I had no wish for anything else to be included in the report.