A Current Deception

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“Opening up the cozy mystery A Current Deception is like slipping into your favorite pair of jeans. The writing is comfortable and fluid. The story is well-paced and intelligent. The characters are refreshingly normal and easy to relate to. But soon they are tossed into a mystery that is oh-so-not normal. This is one exciting, bizarre, and fun mystery.”  –JustKindleBooks

Another Review: A Current Deception.  “This novel is very intriguing, intense and suspenseful with intricate detailing that revolves around the plot. From the details of the cruise ship to the scenes unfolding in each chapter, this book was skillfully planned out. All of the characters played a defining role that is key to the success…or failure, of the mysterious ‘bad guy’. Great story with a great plot!” –EBReviews

“A Current Deception by Arleen Alleman is the fifth book in the Darcy Farthing Series. If you have never read anything by Alleman you are in for a thrilling and consuming adventure.  Enough back-story is provided to make this a wonderful stand-alone read.    If you have read other books in the series then you are going to absolutely love this one.  I didn’t think it was possible for the series to get any better… I was wrong. 

The story takes place aboard The Sea Star, World of Seas Cruise Ship.  The Australian cruise brings together a host of characters from previous novels: Darcy Farthing and Mick Clayton who have recently wed; Darcy’s daughter Rachael and granddaughter, Anna; Darcy’s best friend Sidney and fiancé (who happens to be Darcy’s ex-husband), Brooks; Darcy’s friends Don and Charlie and their daughter Penelope.    The Australian cruise is intended to be a honeymoon for Darcy and Mick, a wedding for Sidney and Brooks and a vacation adventure and much needed R & R for Rachael, Anna, Don, Charlie and Penelope.  Also aboard the cruise we find unwelcome passengers in the form of a highly invasive species of insects known as yellow crazy ants, Noah the handsome and intriguing single cruiser who takes a romantic interest in Rachael, a small group from Kansas celebrating their 20 year high school reunion, crew members of questionable character and a mysterious man with an exotic skin tone, dark hair and unique eyes. Continue reading.

If I haven’t said this before I’m saying it now… Arleen Alleman is a name to watch.  I predict big things will happen for this immensely talented author.” –G. Jackson

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Read Prologue and First Two Chapters

A Current Deception

Prologue

      Inmate 01267-031 made good use of the last few years of his sentence learning to brilliantly hack computers and Internet sites. He took correspondence courses in computer science whenever he could afford them. Fortunately, this happened with regularity thanks to money he received from an eccentric widowed aunt—the only person on the outside who communicated with him.

Aunt Gladys sent three hundred dollars for each college course, and he completed twenty-five—enough to earn a master’s degree. She backed his education because she did not accept that her handsome intelligent nephew could possibly commit the crime of which he was convicted. Rather, she blamed members of their close knit community for what she told everyone was a case of mistaken identification. Never mind that ample forensic evidence corroborated the testimonies of the victim and others.

    She acted in part due to a heavy burden of guilt about how his life turned out. Her sister, the inmate’s mother, ran off abandoning the two-year-old boy. Since she did not reveal his father’s name—if she even knew it—Gladys was all he had. At that time, however, Gladys failed to rescue him as later she realized she should have.

    She did not step in to help until after he bounced around the foster care system for years enduring one loveless relationship after another. By then, he endured years of abuse and neglect living with a series of “parents” more interested in the support money than his well being.

After Gladys finally took over, he lived in her home for four years while she tried to undo the damage already inflicted on his psyche. During the second year she began to see that beyond the emotional trauma, there was something wrong with his personality. He seemed to lack empathy for the suffering of others, and had little patience for normal human flaws. Even with this insight, she chose denial over any attempt to obtain professional help for him.

     Despite his flaws, the inmate was long on charisma, which always served him well in obtaining what he wanted, and Gladys was not immune to his charms. As well, over time he convinced the authorities to let him supplement his studies with visits to the electronic law library tucked away in the education department at the U.S. penitentiary in Florence, Colorado.

His goal—at least the one he was willing to reveal—was to become a computer expert with marketable skills. After all, following his twenty year confinement and full rehabilitation he would need a profession, and one thing hopefully leading to another his aptitude for manipulating technology would be his ticket to a normal life.

     Prison policy greatly restricted Internet access. However, during the last six months of his sentence, because he was a model prisoner well-liked by the guards and other inmates, the warden allowed some leeway for him to prepare for his new profession. Using his prisoner register number and a PIN, he periodically logged into a library workstation and spent long hours ostensibly reviewing computer technology manuals associated with his studies. To his advantage, the guards were marginally proficient with details of Internet access. Still, his project wasn’t simple since he could only investigate intermittently behind their backs.

     Ultimately, without anyone paying much attention he hacked into social media and Web sites at will, perusing the day-to-day activities of people he knew from his life before prison. The day he stumbled onto the pertinent information he could hardly contain his excitement. It began with a Facebook page, then another, and another, and before long he hacked his way into all the data he would need. Not only did the research results allow him to formulate his plan, he also believed it was valuable to someone else.

Tangentially, he sought out a fellow prisoner whom he was quite certain would find this information interesting and useful. He formulated a proposal he believed the man would find compelling. This older man who was beginning a life sentence was formidable and tended to keep to himself, except for his close associates. However, his story and history were well known among the prison population and the outside world. He purportedly had friends who still worked for him on the outside and he apparently retained at least a portion of his previous wealth.

 When he was ready, the inmate shared the information he mined from the Web and laid out a timeline and strategy that served both their needs. He was not greedy and asked for relatively modest compensation for his services. After all, his own agenda was the most important aspect of his project and now he would not have to pay for it himself. As he suspected, the man recognized that for a relatively nominal fee, he could achieve his goals in a distant venue far away from anyone who knew him.

 For most of his twenty years in prison, the inmate dreamed of becoming someone else. He longed for the day when he could shed his unfortunate persona. Then, with his freedom and thanks to his education he would never have to answer to anyone for his actions. He survived his incarceration by always viewing it as a job—difficult but survivable—and soon he would be ready for some much needed and exotic R and R.

Part One

 The Tiny Stowaway Problem

 

Chapter 1

Sydney, Australia

February 18, 2011

 

     We arrived on Friday morning after a fourteen hour flight from San Francisco on top of a five hour one from D.C. It was tough on all of us, but especially for Rachael. She could not relax the entire way because poor little Anna wouldn’t go to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time.

     We planned this trip over several months and tried to think of all the potential problems.      After much discussion, we were still on edge hoping that our worst fears would not materialize. That is, we worried about how Anna would handle the long hours on the plane. She was normally a calm baby, but who knew what would happen in that environment. We absolutely did not want to inconvenience or annoy other passengers on the long expensive flight. So my new husband Mick Clayton and I took turns holding our nine-month-old grandchild while Rachael tried unsuccessfully to get some sleep.

     Now that we’d arrived, we could all catch up on our rest and eventually overcome the jetlag. At the moment, though, despite our exhaustion Mick and I were still awake exploring the city. Mick’s hand tightened around mine. I looked at him wondering if there would come a time when his cute boyish face, too conservative government haircut, and deep-enough-to-swallow-me hazel eyes would cease to arouse me. I hoped not. We’d come a long way since meeting under terrible circumstances several years ago, and recently we took the traditional step to solidify our forever-relationship.

     But that isn’t what I ever thought would happen. I’m a humanist—an atheist you might say—and that colors my philosophy about societal issues, including marriage. I didn’t feel I needed the ritual, which originated in part from religious taboos and unreasonable requirements for human relationships at a time when the average life span was only a few decades. These rituals at their core were all about asserting male dominance over females and controlling their sexual behavior. We don’t have to look far in the world to see that ancient obsessions with sex and obedience prevail under the guise of God’s or Allah’s edicts—to the detriment of women.

     Of course, there are excellent social and financial reasons why marriage is important in our culture, but luckily I have sufficient resources and insurance of my own, thanks to my education, royalties from my writing, and years spent working as a mid-level manager at Schrinden Pharmaceuticals. Since we’re in our early forties having children is not on the table either, so the formality of marriage was unnecessary unless we needed to secure each other through a legal contract. We didn’t. Our love was enough.

     But, at some point during the traumatic past two years, I changed my mind about the whole marital proposition. In the end, there was nothing I wanted more than to be Mick’s wife. Although he was willing to forego marriage, I knew it was important to him and so it became for me.

     I visualize my life current and other people’s currents flowing along on parallel courses mostly unfelt, running deep below the surface—then suddenly colliding causing all manner of change and adjustment. When my current collided with Mick’s, as often happens, I took on some of his overspill and he mine. We grew together in the sense of both maturation and closeness.    

     I could not believe we were in the Port of Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, just strolling down the street only a couple of blocks inland from the Opera House. This is one of the most important ports in the South Pacific as well as one of the busiest financial centers in the Asia Pacific region. With four and a half million people, it’s also the oldest and largest city in the country. After only a half hour out on the streets, we could readily see that the city is a pleasing mix of new modern skyscrapers and colonial stone and brick buildings, many characterized by high arched brown stone entries.

     “Mick,” I said, “I’m already having a great time and I can’t wait to get to the restaurant, but I also can’t help feeling bad for Rachael.”

     “Sweetie.” He squeezed my hand a little tighter. “I understand, but she’s a grown-up and a mother. She has to take responsibility for her life, and unfortunately that means sometimes she has to suffer consequences from her decisions.” He peered at me over the top of his aviators. “Don’t you think she’s very fortunate to be on this trip considering her circumstances—even if she does have to stay at the hotel with her daughter this evening?”

     “Of course, you’re right.”

     Mick is the voice of reason when it comes to my insecurities with respect to my daughter. Actually, he is almost always reasonable and calm. As a manager with the Government Accountability Office specializing in state law enforcement issues, my husband is assertive and very rational. I admire his objectivity and his ability to adjust his thinking to become even more so when necessary.

     He was right and I too felt very lucky to be here at the beginning of this sixteen-day vacation. My insecurities were understandable considering Rachael and I met through a chance encounter two years ago after being apart since she was a toddler.

     I still sometimes feel anxious about my early decisions and mistakes with respect to her. But she became pregnant and decided to keep Anna all on her own—except for Anna’s father, Gerald, of course. At twenty-one, Rachael was mature in the ways that matter. I wasn’t responsible for her actions and she was fortunate to be here with us.

Our stroll took us around Circular Quay, which follows the cove along the shore, a short walk from both our hotel and the opera house. Since we would only be in the city this evening and a few hours in the morning, we decided to walk to as many landmarks of interest as possible and rest later. We headed west along the coast to Dawes Point where the Sydney Harbor Bridge spans the bay connecting the Bradfield Highway with Kirribilli, an affluent suburb. Along the way, we met many people also out walking and it was easy to separate the locals from our fellow tourists. Most of the Sydneysiders smiled broadly at passersby and more often than not gave us a ta or g’day greeting.

We approached as close to the bridge as possible next to Hickson Road, which runs beneath its dark metal structure and gray brick towers—another example of mixing old and new architectural styles. I shaded my eyes and looked up at the top of the bridge high above, where members of a tour group dressed in gray and blue jumpsuits ascended the outer arch of the bridge using catwalks and ladders. I wanted to make this famous Sydney bridge climb up to the four-hundred-forty-foot summit and back, but it required three and a half hours, which we didn’t have given everything else we wanted to see.

Instead, we checked out Dawes Point Park with its trendy restaurants and condos, then headed back along the quay to the opera house. After climbing up and down the wide stone stairs at the entrance, we continued south past the Old Government house, constructed between 1837 and 1843. This official residence of the Governor of New South Wales resembles a medieval castle complete with turrets. The nearby Sydney Music Conservatorium continues the castle theme with white six-sided keeps and stylized battlements surrounding the main building. Finally, our meanderings took us into the surrounding Royal Botanic Garden on Macquarie Street.

If there is a botanical garden anywhere around, Mick and I are likely to visit. Due to my biology background, I especially love learning about the wide variety of plants and Mick enjoys watching me enjoy this pastime. The Sydney gardens were particularly spectacular and I wished we had more time to explore. After walking for a half hour we stopped to rest on a stone bench near a beautiful round fountain erected in the middle of a man-made lily pond. Gorgeous tropical flowers encircled the gray flagstone surround. I gazed up and realized that thousands of bats were hanging from the trees high overhead. A famous attraction, these large grey-headed flying foxes with a three foot wing span are a threatened species. They are crucial in the forest ecosystem for pollination and seed dispersal, and make the gardens their home. Nonetheless, I could readily see how their sharp claws were defoliating and probably destroying beautiful native heirloom trees and exotic species collected from places like Malaysia and New Guinea. A number of broken branches on the ground testified to the combined weight of the animals sleeping on the limbs during the day. The damage reminded me of a dilemma the government and public faced in Utah a decade ago. An endangered and thus protected prairie dog species became so abundant in a localized area that it destroyed farmers’ fields, horse paddocks, ball parks, and even cemeteries.

Suddenly, Mick put his arm around my shoulder and kissed my forehead. “Darcy, do you know how happy I am now?”

“You mean now that we’re married?”

“Well sure, but I mean just having found you and all the strangeness of the past couple of years . . . you know, is behind us. We’ve come through so much and we’re still here.”

“I know what you mean and I feel the same even if I’m still a little nervous about boarding the ship tomorrow.”

He kissed me again and brought his arm around to the front so he could pick up my hand. Looking into my eyes, he said, “It’s going to be great, you’ll see.” After a short pause he changed topic. “Okay, now let’s hear what you learned about this place. I know you must have done your homework.”

Mick was referring to my habit of studying the places we visit. I’m especially drawn to the early history of indigenous populations and their fates. I’ve written quite a lot about that subject. I laughed and snuggled closer. “At least someone is interested in it besides me. Well, let’s see. In this case, archaeological evidence suggests that the Cadigal people inhabited the Sydney Cove area for thirty thousand years. They organized into clans, each with their own territory, but of course urbanization destroyed most of the evidence of their lives.

 “In modern times—that is 1770—Captain James Cook made the first contact with indigenous residents then called the Gweagal peoples. A few years later when Captain Arthur Phillip arrived with a fleet of eleven ships to set up a convict settlement, he built the colony at Sydney Cove. I bet you can guess what happened. Within a year, up to a thousand Aboriginal people died possibly from smallpox. Understandably, this caused violent resistance to the settlers so that by 1820 there were few Aborigines left. Those who survived were forced to abandon their clans and accept Christianity.”

“It always means so much to me to hear from you! I love meeting new readers from all over the world and sharing their adventures~YOU MEAN the WORLD to me!!” –Arleen

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