Sheriff Trubull's question, "Why do you presume you're now following them?" struck me dumb for a minute, and the same feeling of nauseous fear began to overtake me, but my growing experience with that sensation had begun to make me immune, or so it would seem. It faded.
"Did you break up that crew?"
"We did." He swiveled to face the monitor on the corner of his desk that until then I had mistaken for a dead plant or some enormous paperweight. With one sweep of his arm, he pushed several strata of papers onto the only clear area of the desk in what I presumed to be one part of a continual cycle. He shook the mouse to wake the computer and looked at it as if it might, at any moment, strike him. "Wouldn't trade this thing for the world, but I feel like a virgin on prom night every time I touch it."
He continued to type and navigate with the mouse as if he were performing open heart surgery. "Let me see what good stuff we've got in the computer for this outfit. I can dig through the beast if I can't find anything," he said, gesturing towards the mammoth metal file cabinet in one corner. "They were anarchists. Well, they were something. You may be familiar with our anarchist problem here in Eugene. There was an article in Rolling Stone calling us the Anarchist Capital of the World, with headquarters being at Spiderweb Cafe next to downtown. Nice place for the headquarters of a place that wants to take over your world. They make a quality cup of coffee if you're in the market."
"Yeah, here you go. The Distressed World Collective, the DWC. Drugs With Criminals, we called them. The leadership was hazy; they would tell you it was a true collective, even when admitting to crimes, but we found that hard to believe. I'm no psychologist, but almost every thug wants to either serve or be served, and joining into a democratic commune doesn't seem to accord with many of them, and we thought it was this guy named A."
"Just the initial?" I asked, thinking maybe I had misheard him.
"Or the alphabetic number one. But he was the mythical figure. When you pick up low-level operatives, there's always this mythical figure off in the background somewhere. That's the one they're ultimately afraid of. A could just be a ruse, I don't know; this outfit was pretty smart."
I noted that Trubull was using the past tense. "So they're through?"
"A handful got arrested, are back out on the street working for someone else. We disrupt, we don't destroy. A lot of the lieutenants, or Committee, as they apparently were called, ended up leaving town. I'd like to think we had something to do with that, but we didn't, I'm sure of that. It was good old fashioned gang rivalry."
Trubull could have been a teacher in a past life. He laid things out in paragraphs; he mentioned writing a few summaries of the group's activities for Homeland Security, which was one of the reasons he had met Frank at a conference years ago. Kay was apparently one of the lieutenants, although she didn't seem to hold much power. But she was canny and had ginned the authorities into believing that she was just a chance operative, having gotten involved romantically with someone higher up the food chain.
"I ended up feeling like a real sexist. I never would've believed if some fella sat there and said the same thing, but she turned on the waterworks and the anger towards him, and even though we were skeptical in the end we said she was telling the truth."
"I've had experience with her acting ability; she could have been a star."
"Maybe there's a place for rehabilitated con artists on the stage," Trubull said, scratching through his mustache with his forefingers. "Here you go." He punched a button the computer and then swiveled the screen so I could see it. It was Kay, a mug shot, but she looked years younger; decades, almost. I said so. "I figured the most turning around she'd ever do would be to become some rich asshole's wife and spend all day at the spa and country club or tending after her poodles. Which, in my opinion, is not much in the way of rehabilitation."
"So what spelled the end for the DWC?"
"Well, after the riots up in Seattle things got pretty heated for them, and the FBI came sniffing along with some local politicians whose sordid personal characteristics I won't bore you with. When the FBI comes with politicians in tow, sheriffs' departments put on their best spit-shined badge and try to look like they're working harder, no matter how hard they were working before. This was pretty low-hanging fruit, and the couple of other cartels I'm aware of took this as an opportunity to gobble up a little more of the market. The DWC was traditionally a pot outfit; we couldn't tie them to hard drug distribution, and we always half-suspected they just sold a little grass to grease the political skids or vice versa, but they seemed more off-the-grid types than a true cartel, but... But we may have been wrong." He tapped a few more keys on the computer but I could tell from his face he wasn't looking at anything. "The white drug people started going after them, and we didn't know why. I later realized it was because the DWC had a sophisticated meth operation with a marijuana smokescreen, if you'll forgive the bad pun."
"Are these outfits usually separate?" I asked, wishing I could take notes to supplement my increasingly spotty memory.
"When you're confronted with some white guy with dreadlocks playing the bongos at 2 a.m. while stoned it's a nuisance; the tweaker putting his hand through a plate-glass window because he can't contain the energy inside himself... from a public safety perspective I try to keep my eyes on the big picture. If you walked down the streets of Eugene whipping out cuffs every time you caught a whiff of pot, you'd wear yourself out. That being said, these operations are not entirely independent, and choking off marijuana is by and large easier than for powders. But there are large operations of marijuana in this county, and the machines guns they are guarded with will kill an officer as quickly as one outside of a meth shack. The peddlers are interested in profit."
"So did you get anything against Kay to stick?"
"She ran to Texas the minute we released her, despite our friendly admonition not to leave the county. But she just never seemed like enough of a player until we pieced together later that she was a little higher up than we thought; maybe a lot, it's tough to say. She mentioned having family there, so it made sense."
"But Kay got busted for possession down there, and the de facto warrant we had must have popped up in their computer, so they were ready to make a stink. But... she must have charmed some district attorney down there in Texas--I'm putting that word 'charmed' in quotes by the way--because she gave them a small-time dealer down there and rolled over on two low-level operatives up here that I'd already known were supplying university kids, and were not even connected with the DWC. There's really nothing more annoying than when some junior DA from the city gives you a call, thinking you're going to start playing your banjo in joy when he drops this piece of useless fucking information on you. I told him that when I have the manpower to break up dorm parties with a half-ounce of pot, I would ask the voters to stop giving my department so much money. I thought about telling this guy I hoped she gave a good blowjob because that's about all the use she was."
"Why hold back? You're elected."
"Yes. I was being nice. It's a problem. My ex-wives would all say, Denton's just too damn nice." He grinned again, causing the mustache to flare outwards like the wings of a moth.
"Has Kay been clean since?"
"Let's find out." He tapped a few keys. His eyes disappeared into the screen for a moment, and I looked out the window into the parking lot. I was supposed to meet Gwen later at work. I hadn't gotten much information from her about Kay, and now I felt better able to ask questions. All I had gotten from her had been her body, which she had surrendered rather willingly. At the end of the night, I had had enough secret bumps in the bathroom to outshine the other hopefuls who lined the bar, hoping for a chance to earn her favor. She had read my gritted teeth and lively eyes and asked if I knew where the good parties were that night. I had hoped to have a good long conversation about Kay and the circumstances surrounding her departure, but her demurring was too brief and her lips too inviting. What I had been able to gather--
"Clean. She's been a good girl, as far as the law is concerned."
"Because I haven't pressed charges," I said, a surprising amount of anger and self-pitying resentment from being robbed welling up in me again.
"If it weren't for the letter, you'd have no reason to think it wasn't simply a matter of your being a standard mark. They got a fair amount off you, but enough to hightail it? And this business of the letter from your old man... I'll be honest, if it weren't for Frank, I'd have you out of here by now."
"I respect that."
He looked at me critically for a moment, then reached over with one hand and typed in a sequence of keys. The computer beeped back at him and across his features flashed the look of a man long nagged by that sound. "Goddamnit!" He turned his full attention to the screen and typed in another sequence. The printer behind him began to whir as it came to life and sheet after sheet began to shuttle into a tray.
"I'll give you a handful of records here that should give you a pretty good background on what we know about all the players in this operation. If you're smart, and you seem to be reasonably so, you'll figure out your next step from where, but I'll give you a hint: during the WTO riots that gave all the Eugene anarchists such fame, no one connected with the DWC was seen or arrested at those riots. They sponsored a couple of buses up there, but not a single person with connection to that group was apprehended, and in hundreds of file photographs we can find people who were on those buses, but not the people directly associated with the DWC Committee. So the question is, what were they doing in Seattle?" He returned to scratching his mustache and looking at me.
"Well, this has been very helpful, Sheriff. I appreciate it."
He nodded hesitantly. "I'm glad you don't seem to harbor any romantic illusions about your old man, because I'll tell you, Edmund, I have the feeling someone is baiting a trap."
"And I'm the prey?"
He shrugged. "Or the bait."