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The Grand Master

An Excerpt From the Political Thriller by E.H. Ivans

Agent David Asti, rising star of the DEA, sat in his office conversing with the cute new female agent that had just reported to the San Diego office that week. “So, how are you enjoying it here in San Diego, Agent Baker?” he asked, maintaining formality but hoping she would invite him to use her first name.

“I’m loving it, Agent Asti, but please, call me Kelly,” she answered cheerfully.

“Then please, call me David.” He instantly liked this new colleague.

Baker, Asti immediately sensed, was practiced at only revealing those things about herself that she chose to. Athletic, sporty, and wearing no makeup but some minimal eye liner, she had thick eyebrows that she shaped but did not pluck, sandy brown hair laced with natural blonde streaks from being a regular swimmer and sunbather, and had one of those Caucasian complexions that tanned quickly to a golden brown but never burned.

She rarely wore dresses, never wore heels higher than an inch or two, and on the Great Male 1 to 10 scale, most scored her a consistent 8 with an occasional smitten and delusional male, as she was openly gay, rating her a 9 or 10.

Her demeanor 99 percent of the time was cheerful and cooperative, usually a team player, and very ambitious. Those close to her often used the adjective “cool” to describe her, not like an iceberg, hard and cold, but like a menthol cigarette, curiously refreshing yet potentially dangerous.

“May I ask, David, are you Italian? Asti is sort of an unusual name.” He paused for a moment before answering.

“Mexican, actually, both sides. I know the blond hair and blue eyes are misleading, but I am what is called in Mexico a Guero, meaning pure Spanish blood on both parents’ sides. My birth name is David Jesus Astiaceseran del Campi. That seemed a tad much after my parents emigrated to the US ten years before I was born, so after they became citizens they did the American thing and voila! Asti!” he laughed.

“I think it was a good decision,” Kelly smiled back.

Suddenly Agent Brownard, one of the others on David’s team, burst into his office. “David, new-girl agent who I don’t know yet, get out here and check what’s breaking on CNN!” Whatever had him excited had him out of breath.

They both exited the office and walked into the bullpen where junior agents had their spaces in cubicles. The San Diego office of the DEA was what might be called bureaucratically non-descript with recessed fluorescent lighting, a bland white acoustic tile suspended ceiling, and a bullpen ringed with small private offices like David’s for senior agents. A large flat screen hung on the wall directly outside his private office and they had just turned up the sound.

“It is now being reported from numerous governmental and private sources that the largest cyber-theft in history has seemingly taken place today. The 25 largest public corporations in the world, many but not all American, seem to have been systematically looted of, get this, $5 billion in cash reserves! This represents an average $200 million per company. Early reporting suggests that as of now the theft seems highly sophisticated and no obvious clues now exist as to who, or possibly what country, is behind the massive theft. All of the companies raided report that, though the losses are large, business will continue uninterrupted,” the anchor intoned.

“No shit it was sophisticated,” David said to nobody in particular.

“You think?” Kelly joined in sarcastically. “I just love it when the press states the obvious.”

“Well, there is some good news in this,” David replied. “Namely, it has nothing to do with the DEA!”

All around the room heads nodded in agreement. Voices speculated that it might be anyone from the North Koreans to the Mexican drug cartels. Everyone at the DEA laughed at the suggestion. The cartels were thugs, not computer geniuses. The theft was so huge that everyone felt that sooner or later the money would have to surface and the perpetrators caught. David disagreed.

“I don’t think anyone is going to be caught. I mean, anyone smart enough to hack the firewalls of the 25 largest corporations in the world has certainly thought this all the way through, don’t you think? I mean, we all know that the government’s systems are full of holes because no huge bureaucracy is ever efficient except in the movies. But private industry? They’re the absolute best and whomever this is beat all of them.

“No, we will never know who did this or find the money. I just hope it doesn’t end up funding some huge new 9/11!”

Nobody in the room could argue and the realization of the danger made them pale.

“Chief, I got a tip from one of my CIs that an enormous amount of G is going to be delivered to the HAs. He gave me time, place, and method. He also told me the shipment is Perfect G, that shit we are seeing everywhere in the country. I think it’s our first big break,” David Asti related to his boss, Carl Graham, in the Chief’s much larger but still Spartan office next to his. It was the space of a career cop, uncaring about image or impressing.

“How much Perfect G are we talking about here?” Carl asked.

“Brace yourself. A ton, literally, not to mention arresting a bunch of HAs. Maybe we can flip some of them and start figuring out where this shit is coming from.”

“Fuck me. What are we talking street value here?” Graham asked. He leaned back in his chair and lit a Marlboro; fuck the rules, he thought. After almost 30 years, I’ll smoke if I fuckin’ well feel like it.

“Rough guess, between $40-$50 million.”

“Jesus Christ! Motherfucker! Alright David! The San Diego office of the DEA is now all yours to use and deploy as you see fit. Make this bust and I guarantee you that you will be promoted like a motherfucking rocket ship. Just don’t fuck this up,” Graham said, but in fact he wasn’t worried. David Asti was by far his best agent and he was only six months from hanging it up. Asti didn’t know it, but already he was Graham’s chosen successor.

“Okay, Chief. I’d like to make Agent Baker my number two.”

“Good choice. You aren’t getting sweet on her are you, David?”

“Not a bit. Really Chief, she’s the best we have… well, besides me!” he laughed. The Chief hadn’t yet realized Baker was a lesbian.

“I didn’t think so. I was just asking. Last question before you get to it, when is this all going to happen?”

“In 10 days.”

“Jesus! Go!” Graham ordered.

Asti left the chief’s office and crossed the bullpen a few short steps to Kelly Baker’s cubicle located by this point in time close to his own private office. He had jumped her in line and the next private office that became available would be hers. As he approached her desk he was thinking that her new office might be his own if this all came together as he hoped. Chief Asti sounded good to him.

“Kelly, come into my office please,” he intoned seriously, which was unlike the usually light-hearted Asti, so she popped up immediately and followed him in and instinctively shut the door behind her as David sat down. She watched him silently and sat in one of the two chairs facing his desk.

David filled her in on the tip, the magnitude, and offered her second-in-command of the operation, which she quickly accepted.

“David, this could be the biggest drug bust in history! How do you see us proceeding?” Her quick mind was already turning.

“I think we need to ignore the size and treat it like any other bust. I think the enormity of the dollars involved will only distract us. Really, this is just going to be a transfer from one truck to another in a warehouse run by our old friends the Hell’s Angels.

“I think we should keep it simple. We get the plans for the warehouse first. We make sure that we assemble an adequate force to cover all possible escape routes. We get there ahead of the transfer, and once the product begins moving from truck A to truck B, we move in hard, fast, and overwhelmingly in the hope that, given no possibility of escape, the HAs will give up without a fight. Most of all, I want nobody hurt.

“What do you think?”

“That is exactly what I think we should do. What would you like me to do?”

“I want you to get the plans and based upon logistics work up your recommendation of the force required as well as an action plan.”

“I’ll get on it right away. I’d like to get Randy Powers to assist me on the attack plan; he has much more experience than I do and I trust his judgment.”

“I agree,” David said, taking note at her unselfish attitude which made him relax that choosing her over more ambitious men had been a good decision. “I have to tell you Kelly, I’m only human and this one has me tingling. I’m trying hard to suppress my excitement. I think that keeping calm will be the biggest challenge for all of us.”

“Ditto, but it does make you think, doesn’t it?” she replied. Her facial expression went from excited to neutral in a blink.

“Think what?”

“Let’s just step back and noodle this a little. This is just one shipment. Can you even imagine the real scope of the drug problem? I mean, aren’t you kind of amazed that we even got this tip? Wouldn’t you think that the HAs would’ve been smarter than moving this much all at once? And even if they did, with $50 million at risk if I were in charge a lot of money would have been spent to, and forgive me for even saying this, buy law enforcement. We both know that with enough money it can be done. This is all just a little too easy, don’t you think?” Kelly conjectured.

“I see what you’re saying. But what could be the reason? I mean, who would want $50 million lost? I can’t see how that benefits HA.”

“Me neither, but I have, call it a feeling, that something is going on here that we just don’t see.”

For a few seconds, they looked at each other silently, then Kelly resumed.

“What if, and I’m just iffin’, you wanted to take HA out of the picture? What if you wanted to finish them as a rival? Maybe you would lure them in with the biggest deal ever and get all their top leadership there. All the G would be an almost irresistible lure. Then tip the DEA, goodbye HA, and whomever tipped us is King of Meth. What do you think?”

“I think that’s an interesting theory. It might even be true, but why do that?

“HA would likely play ball and as they already have national distribution, why take them out at all? Why not bring them into the fold and use them? It would cost a lot less in terms of lost G.”

Kelly pondered that for a moment and then said, “I get that, but two things come to mind. First, if this is a set-up, we are dealing with someone new here and someone who doesn’t care about losing $50 million to serve a larger purpose.

“We could never prove it in court, but the hidden player is the only thing that adds up here, at least to me. I really think the more it rolls around in my mind that we are being used as, for lack of a better term, players, or maybe better put, pieces, in a chess game. Right?”

“Yeah…” David muttered. He was not sure where she was going.

“And second, when you really look at the scope of this, whomever this is is so big and so well-funded, we are possibly totally fucked. I mean we have no idea what his end game is. Sorry for the language, sir.”

“Kelly, you have a mind for intrigue, but I think there is a flaw in your plan. The criminal conspiracy would be too large. We’d have gotten wind of it before now. It’s like the 9/11 Conspiracy bullshit. You’d have to believe that from the President to the guys loading the supposed mystical cruise missile that these nuts think hit the Pentagon, not to mention the demolition team that planted the imaginary explosives at the World Trade Center, we’re talking a lot of people, would all keep the secret, never tell a spouse, never get drunk in a bar, never be overwhelmed with guilt at the thousands of innocents killed, all kept the secret. It’s absurd.”

“I don’t think this is remotely the same thing. I think someone really clever, a genius possibly, could compartmentalize information so tightly that nobody in his or her organization would know that they are part of something much larger. Hell, give me enough seed capital and I could do it.” Kelly was excited now.

“Slow down, cowgirl. We would be talking some serious seed capital, like a billion. Hard to hide that.”

“No one has seen hide nor hair of that $5 billion stolen from the world’s largest corporations yet. I get the feeling that we are looking right at it,” she said, sitting back on her chair, arms crossed.

“Fuck me. It is possible. That said, we still have to take the bait even if all this guessing is true. We have no choice other than letting those drugs be sold by HA, and that is no choice at all. So go to it, agent.” He was clearly done with conjecture.

“Yeah, you’re right. Points to how stupid drug prohibition really is, though. God only knows who we’re aiding and abetting.”

Kelly stood and left David alone, lost in thought. Could she be right? 

The Grand Master is a gripping and controversial take of a shadowy man who changes everything. Playing a global and often violent game of chess using people in key positions as unwitting pieces, the Grand Master seeks to bring down the corrupt and power-hungry establishment. Though they try to counter, they can only react, in effect playing checkers, while he is already many moves ahead. Is he a force for good or evil? Will anyone know the answer before it's too late? The Grand Master is fast-paced, never politically correct, and will leave you talking and thinking about it long after you've finished. It's an important allegory for our time that will resonate with current events. It may even be prophetic.

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