Today's Reading

I was just a forty-something forensic accountant back then, with a good line in unwinding high-tech scams, and I was far from a rich man, but I'd flown private a few times—sometimes clients claim they can only fit in a meeting on their bizjet—but I didn't see the attraction, not then, when it just convinced me that I was working for someone with more dollars than sense, and not much later in life, when a big score set me up with enough money to fly private any time I want.

I keep waiting for the day when private fliers are subject to even one percent of the indignities of a TSA checkpoint, but every time I fly, it's the same. I could have brought a wheelie-bag full of C-4 and packing nails through that checkpoint and they wouldn't have known about it.

I sure hoped no one mentioned this to Osama bin Laden.

The helicopter was waiting for us, Scott's bag already aboard. We climbed in using the little running board, and the pilot—a grey-hair with the bearing of an ex-military pilot gone to fat—welcomed us aboard and showed us to our headphones, giant earmuffs with curly-cable umbilici that plugged into armrest one-quarter-inch jacks, reminding me of my old high-school hi-fi set. Once we snapped into our five-point harnesses and opened our complimentary mineral waters, Scott toggled some switches on an overhead panel and we were on a channel with the pilot.

"We're all ready, Captain," he said.

"Roger that," the pilot said in perfect air force monotone.

"Going private now, Captain," Scott said.

The pilot gave us a thumbs-up and kicked in the engines and my whole skeleton began to buzz with the chopper's roar. We lifted off and Scott let out a whoop! and drummed his thighs.

"Oh, buddy, I can't tell you how bad I needed this," he said. "And it's 'so' good to see you."

"It's good to see you too, Scott. How's life in the punctuation factory?" That's what we called Yahoo!, in tribute to that asinine exclamation point.

"Don't ask. Let's talk about this weekend instead. Normally I stay at a friend's place; there's about a half dozen people I know with summer places there and they've all got guest rooms, but I thought it might be awkward for you to crash with a stranger, so I booked us rooms at the Zane Grey Hotel."

"As in the author?" Zane Grey pretty much invented the cowboy novel. My old man had dozens of his books and would always circle the TV Guide listings for the movie adaptations—there were more than a hundred of them, and he loved every one, but insisted that none of them came close to the books.

"Yeah! It's his old house! He built a summer place there, old Pueblo style, and just kept adding on to it every time he got a fat check. It's a hotel now. Gorgeous. I got us the penthouse. Four balconies, a patio, harbor views."

Maybe I made a face. My business did just fine. The dot-com bubble had sucked in billions for every harebrained scheme you could imagine, and some of that money disappeared into creative spreadsheets. Hardly a month went by without my being called upon to find a couple of million that had been made to disappear through a black hole in one of those spreadsheet cells. My take was 25 percent of whatever I recovered, and I recovered a lot. But even so, I didn't have punctuation factory money. This Zane Grey place sounded pricey.

"It's on me," he said. "My invitation, my tab. I insist. I've wanted to stay at this place since I first laid eyes on it. Man, I can't wait."
 
We were high over the channel now. The deepest channel off any coast, anywhere. It's a crime scene. There's no crime in Avalon, but just offshore?

That channel is the final resting place of tens of thousands of barrels of DDT, dumped there by Montrose Chemical in steel that was thoroughly, utterly incapable of maintaining its integrity at the bottom of a three-thousand-foot saltwater channel.

Down in those depths, there's crimes whose perps belong in front of the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity.

The sun was just setting, right in our eyes, the Pacific-blue sky turning the color of fresh blood, then dried blood, and then—that flash of green, just as the sun dipped over the horizon.
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