Green Liberation Book 1
ECO-TERRORISM – MISSING CHILDREN – STRANGE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
Children have disappeared at an alarming rate that seems to be off everyone’s radar except for that of Jason Ruger.
Extreme environmental activism has increased and become the norm as Green radicals commit more atrocious acts of eco-terrorism.
Jason, a Criminal Investigation Division (CID) special agent with the IRS has been connecting dots, but suddenly his major case runs into problems. His family has an unsavory history, and he questions how his ex-wife might be involved in the situation he’s encountered. The political climate favors that which Jason opposes, namely extreme sympathies toward the environment, even while horrific acts are being committed.
As deaths and consequential connections mount, Jason faces internal and external opposition. He begins to realize that dark forces are at play and greater stakes than he could have imagined.
Can Jason put the pieces together before the clock runs out? Or, is the enemy too entrenched to make a difference? How will his slowly awakening understanding of God change the outcome?
Standing at the edge of the crowd, Jason Ruger caught fragments of conversation despite his best efforts not to hear.
“…cigarettes in New York…interstate transport…”
“…making a ton on Internet gambling…”
“…still money to be made running booze…”
Jason felt his most awkward at these family occasions. Knowing what he did about his relatives’ activities, and given his particular station in life, he could make one phone call and most of those at this Christmas party would end up in jail within the hour. No, that wasn’t quite true. His family was exceedingly careful outside these closed gatherings. They appeared to be normal, successful business people who ran restaurants, dry cleaners, vending machine companies, and liquor stores. Amazing as it seemed, their reputations were spotless. In one way or another, through the use of front companies to hide illegal activities, they’d avoided criminal records. Of course, this meant that many a policeman had been on the take over the years, but it had worked. That phone call, Jason knew, would result in lengthy investigations with no guaranteed outcome. Hardly worth it, especially given that they were family.
Jason’s discomfort wasn’t the worst aspect of these yearly rituals. Besides guilt at not doing the duty he’d sworn to uphold, namely to pursue and apprehend the very type of people his family represented, he knew that if his employers at the G ever learned of his blind eye, the freedom he enjoyed would be quickly stripped. At the very least, he’d lose his job, and more than likely be incarcerated. Jason was an accessory to the crimes the family committed, as much an enabler as any of their stooges. His knowledge and his sense of duty had conflicted him from day one, something he hadn’t anticipated when making his career choice.
“Mom, I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” Jason had lost the balance of the Southern twang he’d left home with. Now, most people had to listen hard for the slight burr of accent if they knew his roots and wanted to catch the inflection. He was over six feet tall with short dark hair and hardened from years of physical training.
His mother, pushing seventy, had lost none of her accent. “Son, I know it’s hard for you being in the midst of all of us. Must be like visiting the devil’s own whorehouse. You just got to be tolerant and grit your teeth. You’ll be leaving soon enough; then you won’t have to put up with it for another year.”
“I don’t like what I see or hear. They may be uncomfortable with me around, but they flaunt what they do anyway. I’ve let it go so long they think they’re immune. I’m a federal agent, Mom, and I feel like a traitor. I’m sworn to investigate and prosecute people like this.”
“Who would you be a traitor to if you arrested your brother or Uncle Charley or your pa?” Her hand swept the crowd in the room and jabbed toward each person she’d named. Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas jazz rendition of Little Drummer Boy swelled from the speakers. Its snappy beat and rising crescendo provided good cover for their conversation.
Jason turned away. The bitter truth, which he well knew, was that he’d be traitor to himself. “I’m going to get another drink. You want one, Mom?”
She shook her head and winked, a slight smile pulling her lips upward. “You go ahead. It’s okay to enjoy yourself. Don’t take this so hard—so personally.”
“Yeah, right.” He patted her arm, feeling the fragility under the sleeve of her blouse where once there’d been steel, and made his way through the clusters of animated merrymakers.
As a slight undercurrent to the babble of voices around him, he heard a familiar clicking sound.
“Hey, Jason.” The words were slurred. He felt beefy fingers dig into his bicep and squeeze flesh and muscle to the bone. With an effort, he resisted wincing and giving his brother the satisfaction of seeing the hurt. Instead, Jason came around and, with his unfettered hand, accidentally knocked the glass of gin that Rick was holding. The liquid sloshed over the edges and spilled onto his tormentor’s shirt and pants.
“Oh, Rick, I’m really sorry,” Jason said. “Why don’t you let go of me, and you can leave to clean that up?”
Rick—a name his brother hated because of the alliterative nature of first and surname, Rick Ruger—was several inches shorter than Jason, squat and running to fat, but he’d always been strong and powerful, even as a child. In spite of this, he’d envied Jason’s grace and athleticism, making Jason pay for that advantage in life in whatever ways he could.
Rick scowled as he wiped at the stain with his free hand, then stuck it in his jeans pocket to fiddle with the three cats-eye marbles he always carried. They clicked together in the nervous energy he expended on this persistent habit. “Listen you SOB, you think you’re so much better’n us. Goin’ ‘round with airs that jus’ ‘cuz you’re with the I-R-S you can forget your family and your roots. Screw you.”
Jason took a step back. Hatred and rage transformed the man’s face. It had always been this way. Three years older, his brother had fallen right into line with family ambitions, but he’d been resentful from the beginning of Jason’s independence. Rick had done more than all right for himself in whatever illicit activities he’d been involved with—Jason didn’t want to know what—but the enmity of an older brother who’d repeatedly bullied his younger sibling remained.
“Did you have something you wanted to say? If not, I was going to get a drink.” Jason started to move away.
Again, those strong fingers gripped him. Rick strained upward on his toes to bring his face an inch from Jason’s. The smell of juniper berries was overpowering, and Jason had never liked gin. “Yeah. I wanted you to know. You’re gonna get your comeuppance real soon.” One of his brother’s eyes closed in an exaggerated, obscene wink.
Jason pulled away. “Thanks for the tip, Rick. Why don’t you go find a bed and sleep it off? It’s already late for you.”
“Loser.” Rick staggered away, and with a sigh Jason continued in the direction of the bar.
The significance, let alone the scorn and notoriety often attributed to the Ruger surname that Jason and his family had been blessed with, wasn’t lost on him. Anti-gun zealots throughout his life had immediately sneered upon introduction, given their propensity to link any gun related name or item to mass murders and child killers. Some gun haters had gotten to the point in wanting to ban the word “gun” itself from school spelling tests. One Canadian parent tried with the rationale that, “The word gun is synonymous with death. I’m racking my brain trying to figure out why a seven-year-old would need to learn this word.” In Jason’s worldview, that sort of nonsense bordered on the ridiculous. The name-blame-game wasn’t one that Jason would ever win, nor did he wish to try.
His father claimed their family were distant relatives of the legendary firearm clan, and Jason wore the name with pride. In fact, he liked guns and believed they had their purpose and place in society. He’d read once, and thoroughly believed, that even if all firearms were completely destroyed, man would find a way to commit horrific crimes. Guns were simply a tool, one of many. The United Kingdom, of late, had been a proving ground for this. Guns were outlawed, so outlaws used knives. Recently, the suggestion had been made among Britain’s legislators that they should ban knives with sharp points.
Jason’s close identification with his name had, in the end, guided his ultimate career choice. While growing up in rural North Carolina, there was no doubt he would choose a profession in which he would actually carry his namesake. Which side of the law he’d land on was a major issue. His family had fought Prohibition in the 1920s by becoming moonshiners. Because of their continued involvement to this day in various illicit activities, they lobbied him hard for the dark side. When Jason swerved in the opposite direction, many of his relatives became distinctly uncomfortable. Family business is family business, after all, and participative loyalty is paramount.
Once Jason decided to enter law enforcement, his next choice disconcerted family members even more. The branch of government he went into really got them grumbling and looking over their shoulders. They had a long aversion to paying taxes, loved slipping through loopholes, and made a fine living doing so. It was a way of life fostered through many generations. The lifestyle had its challenges and its rewards. The royalties received through ill-gotten gain had filled the family coffers to the brim. Contending with agents of the federal bureaucracy certainly brought them no pleasure.
Nevertheless, at least his mother was proud of him when he graduated from the Internal Revenue Service academy, officially known as the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, into the Criminal Investigation Division. After all, he could have chosen the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Of additional consolation in Jason’s joining the IRS was the focus of his department. CID didn’t do audits, so the family’s tax returns were probably safe. It did, however, investigate and prosecute money launderers. This prospect caused a couple of distant cousins more than one bad night thinking about that.
Against his father’s wishes, his mother came down to Brunswick, Georgia to the converted naval base and stood tall when he’d walked to the podium for his certificate and handshake. She hadn’t commented, much to her credit, on the awful stench from the nearby shellac factory that permeated the air around the academy. On that day, there wasn’t anything that could have deflated the high which Jason experienced.
In the years since that fateful day, Jason continued to visit his parents back home for the Christmas holidays. As always, they held an extended family get-together. At these holiday extravaganzas, his older brother, cousins, aunts, and uncles gathered in good cheer to toast the furtherance of the family business and discuss plans for the upcoming year. Because Jason’s father swept the house thoroughly for listening devices, everyone attending knew any discussions bordering on the illegal were safe.
Generally stoic about it, Jason typically put his professional ethics on hold during these parties. He averted his eyes and pretended that what these people did was simply work-a-day routine. It wasn’t. They were thieves, tax evaders, and—Jason knew about those two cousins—money launderers. Finding an honest person in the bunch was a losing effort.
Once at the bar, he asked for a Jack and water, settling with his back against the polished wood as he took a sip. He felt the pulse in his temple throb as his breathing slowed from his encounter. Good thing he hadn’t joined the family business. It wouldn’t have been long before he and Rick would have been at each other’s throats night and day. What a disaster that would have been. He shook his head and tried to relax by reverting to observation mode; what he’d always done: disengage and let the world revolve around him.
His parents’ house was large and comfortable with ample space for the fifty or so people in the spacious recreation room. The residence combined Southern old money with conscious reminders of the family’s dirt-poor beginnings. Tony and tacky: polished mahogany flooring with Chinese silk rugs; knick-knacks scattered about, like a venting pipe on display from one of his grandfather’s stills. Money and poverty mixed together in an often volatile mess. There were some things one couldn’t escape in life—fingerprints of one’s past were hard to remove.
Jason scanned the familiar crowd, his gray eyes growing wintry as they always did when he had moments like this to himself. It might be better to break all ties. That at least would eliminate the internal conflict these occasions engendered, and the danger it posed to his career.
The other issue he inevitably pondered was the family name—Ruger. If it was true what his father claimed, it would have been reasonable to find one relation who showed up at these parties who, in fact, had a connection with the firearm branch of the family. Not once in Jason’s thirty-five years had that happened. Was that a lie, just as the family façade of respectability was a huge fabrication?
“Hey, Jason, you look unhappy. That’s not allowed.”
He started at the woman’s voice. “Sorry, I don’t…”
“Lizzy. Don’t you remember me?”
Frowning, he said, “Lizzy? Lizzy Morris? Second cousin? Tomboy? Always hanging from trees and getting lost in the woods?”
“Exactly.” Her laughter was a tonic to his heavy mood.
“You’ve grown.” And so poised, yet she looked younger than the eight-year difference between them, which had kept them from much interaction in the past.
“I’ve been away the last several years and didn’t make it to these annual bashes.”
“That explains it. I recall a scrawny little girl with scratches on her cheeks and scrapes on her knees.” That child was a far cry from the beautiful young woman standing before him.
“I’m still like that in some respects.” She rested her hand on his arm. “I’m glad you’re alone. Can we talk?”
Jason shrugged. “Sure, go ahead.”
Silky black hair momentarily obscured her tanned face when she shook her head. “Not here. Privately.”
Enough informants had approached Jason in the same way over the years that Lizzy’s request made his skin tingle. He dismissed the feeling. What could she possibly have to say in that vein?
“I need some air,” Jason said. “How about a drive?”
“Wonderful. My car? I have a convertible.”
“It’s thirty degrees.”
“I’ll turn on the heater.”
Stars radiated through the crisp mountain air of the night sky like lasers aimed from invading space ships. Jason loved the Blue Ridge Mountains, and riding through them in December in an open topped car was something he’d never done. His ears were freezing but the heated leather seats and cranked-up heater kept even his hands warm. What a rush!
“What do you think?” Lizzy asked above the noise of the wind.
“Beats the party.”
“I’ll bet, coming from where you do.”
He wasn’t sure what she meant by that but let it pass. She rounded a switchback and accelerated upward, ignoring the fact that they were into another hard curve immediately and should have taken it much slower in the dark. Jason held his breath as the Audi A6 careened toward the edge. A well of blackness loomed. If there’d been a guardrail, he could have easily touched it. Since there wasn’t one—well…
Jason tried to remember more about Lizzy, this precocious cousin that he hardly knew. Heck, he didn’t even know what a second cousin was.
“You said you’ve been away,” Jason said. “Were you at school?”
“Partly.” She maneuvered through another severe turn continuing their upward climb. “I attended Vanderbilt for a couple years after graduating early from high school, joined Greenpeace and worked with them for another two, then came back and finished my undergrad. Once I got that under my belt, I decided to attend law school. Did that and now I’m in private practice.”
“You must be older than I remember.”
“Twenty-seven.” The car strained in third gear. She down-shifted into second where it zoomed forward with new life.
She must be smart to have accomplished what she had at this age. “Helping the family with their legal strategies, are you?” He was hoping she wouldn’t answer.
“That, and…” She hesitated, as though pondering whether to tell him something. Apparently making up her mind, she added, “I’ve also been doing pro bono work.”
“I might not be talking to you if it was only them.”
“What do you mean?”
Lizzy shook her head and concentrated on her driving. Jason leaned back and watched the trees, boulders, and occasional lighted house flash by. Snow lay on the ground, snatches of white in a windstorm of motion. There didn’t seem to be ice on the road; the crews did a good job of salting around here, but you never knew… The tires squealed as the car rounded each bend. With each fresh incline, the car slipped on road oil, grabbed purchase, and moved forward with new resolve.
The outside air grew even colder as they climbed higher, and Jason tasted the crispness of it. In a moment Lizzy slithered the car over loose gravel onto a poorly marked side road, pulled into a clearing, and killed the engine.
The red Audi ticked in the sudden stillness. Darkness encompassed them. Its depth would have been complete, except for the sight directly before them.
Rising from atop the adjacent mountain as an icon of man’s worst instincts, the HoneyCrest Luxury Condominium and Ski Resort complex towered fifteen stories above Honey Mountain in all its splendor and glory. Catering to the privileged, HoneyCrest sat like a blight upon the region, visible from all directions night and day, a beacon of bad taste hovering over neighboring mountains and the valleys below. Since the project’s inception, Jason had marveled that zoning for such a monstrosity could be approved. Once that had occurred, he still couldn’t believe the developers would proceed with their plans. Wouldn’t the local community rise up in rebellion and prevent the structure from being built? There was plenty of hue and cry, primarily from environmental groups, and all useless.
Jason always believed that an under-the-table payoff had assured the venture would proceed. He would have loved investigating that one, but it was out of his district and would have been difficult. Besides, it was tough enough passing IRS background checks given his family’s inclinations. Their immunity to prosecution—the veneer of respectability in the community, always a source of wonder—had shielded him. That was one time he’d been thankful for their pretense and the bribes they’d showered upon local law enforcement. After that, he’d never wanted to call more attention to his hometown than necessary. Who knew where that would lead? Plus, there was always the possibility—if not the probability—that his family was at the bottom of any illicit activity paving the way for HoneyCrest’s approval.
“Lovely,” was all his sarcasm could manage. It was a shock to realize how much he hated HoneyCrest.
“It would be,” Lizzy said. “What a monstrosity.”
Jason nodded in agreement, then gave her an edited recital of his suspicions.
Her cheek twitched. “Be great to make HoneyCrest disappear, wouldn’t it?”
“Just like that, huh?” Jason laughed. “Yeah, no great loss.”
“That’s what I first thought.”
“What do you mean?”
Lizzy shivered. She restarted the engine. Heat blasted into the small open space where they sat.
“I don’t know how to say this. It’s like I’m betraying my best friends.”
Jason stayed silent, letting her talk, not at all sure where the conversation was headed.
“It’s about putting your money where your mouth is. You know the Nike saying: Just do it. I love that phrase.” She placed both hands on the steering wheel and hunched forward while staring at the distant tower. Its windows twinkled with hundreds of lights.
“No,” Lizzy said, more to herself than to Jason, then repeated more forcefully, “No.” She shook her head and bit her lower lip. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought you here. Never mind.”
She kicked the car into reverse, spewing gravel as she turned. Jason had no idea what she’d convinced herself of. He opened his mouth to tell her it didn’t matter when he saw the first flash from the corner of his eye.
“Wait!” he yelled, pointing toward the opposite mountain. “What in the world?”
Lizzy stomped on the brake and both watched as explosions rocked HoneyCrest.
But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
– 2 Corinthians 3:14