The suspect had a direct link to the Bible-thumping preacher. Divine Fury. Chapter 30

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Chapter 30

IT WAS THREE hours after Andrew Harper had finished his speech, shaken his last hand and rolled out of the dusty lot next to the Jefferson River when the river suddenly surged. In just a couple of minutes, the five-foot wide stream doubled in size and still was growing steadily.  Within 15 minutes, the previously dry parking lot at the bend in the old riverbed where Harper had addressed the television cameras was under three feet of cold, swirling water.

Harper and his staff were oblivious to the wet mishap.  When the flow peaked and then quickly receded, they were 40 miles away doing their best to turn a thousand cheering students at Humbolt State University into an army of campaign workers.

Both the university rally and the Jefferson River stop were part of a three-day swing through the far northwestern part of California.  There had been some scheduling confusion over the first day of the trip.

The Jefferson River event was planned for that day.  But when Harry Blount sent out a daily memo to the campaign staff he confused the events and listed the river press conference at 4 pm instead of noon.  He was on a chartered Lear flying to Eureka when he caught the error. He called an assistant in San Francisco to email out the correction.

Seventy years earlier, the Jefferson flowed unimpeded from the tall Trinity Alps in the center of the state and through the redwood forests on the damp coast before emptying into the Pacific.  During spawning season, the river had been filled with leaping salmon heading upstream.  After the construction of three dams built to restrain its floods and divert water to farms in the Central Valley, the flow in the lower Jefferson was reduced to a fraction of its historical volume.  In a good year, the returning salmon now numbered in the low hundreds.

Blount had picked the sandy parking lot in the old riverbed used mainly by day hikers for Harper to voice his support for the removal of the deteriorating dams on the Jefferson.  The setting was beautiful.  The steep slopes above the river held tall redwoods that pierced through layers of purple, orange and yellow wildflowers.

Ironically, it was an unplanned 20-minute release of water from the last of the three old dams – it would never be clear exactly who ordered it – that inundated the site of the earlier Harper event.  When it was over, the Jefferson once again became a modest stream flowing down a much larger riverbed that had been turned into a muddy mess.

*  *  *

Bud Walters’ farming operation north of Salinas held a small complex of warehouses and a packing plant surrounded by farm fields with a one-story building in front that housed the office staff.  There were no suits and ties in sight.  The entire operation had an informal, small-town feel except that it was clear that enormous amounts of green vegetables moved through the place.

The young receptionist at Earth’s Own Produce sent Lee straight back to Bud Walters’ secretary, a formidable middle-aged woman who didn’t look as if she’d be easily pushed around by anyone, including her boss.  She explained that Walters was attending a convention in Las Vegas that week.  When Lee manufactured some reason for wanting to talk to him, she merely raised an eyebrow and had no comment.

When he turned to leave, Lee noticed the vanity wall in the outer office that he’d ignored when he came in.  There were wood and metal plaques – evidence of Bud Walters’ many professional and civic achievements – and also photos of Walters with politicians, celebrities, sports figures, even a former president.  Several were taken at the Pebble Beach golf resort, probably at the annual pro-am tournament when Hollywood’s better golfers got to team up with the pros for a couple of days.

In the center of the display, right at eye level in a position of honor, was a photo of Walters sitting next to a taller, younger man.  They were by a swimming pool, wearing golf shirts.  They looked relaxed, sitting in two patio chairs with a small table between them.

Lee recognized the other man. He was a few years older now.  Lee had seen him a couple of days earlier gesturing earnestly with a Bible in his hand as he preached on a muted television.

Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

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