You’ve heard of Shooting the Messenger? This is a tale that begins with a messenger – a whistle-blowing messenger – who wants to upend a multi-billion dollar, international scam that is dumping phony medicines and medical equipment into the stockpiles of governments and companies through the world. In this case, people don’t want to shoot the messenger, they want to delete her from record.
Disappearing the Messenger is a post-COVID-19 novel. Amanda Clegge claims that her former employer is running the world’s biggest healthcare scam – filling pandemic stockpiles around the world with counterfeit drugs and medical supplies. But those to whom she is blowing her whistle can’t find a record of her working at the company. Is it Amanda who is the fraud? Or is Amanda the messenger that others are trying desperately to ‘disappear’.
Can PI Mike Raleigh save her credibility – and her life?
Behind a thrilling yarn is a very real question. Can such a fraud happen in real life? Is such a fraud happening already? What’s in the stockpiles the world will depend on in the next pandemic?
DISAPPEARING THE MESSENGER
She was exhausted, worn down by a huge weight pressing on her soul. She would have a tall, trim body, like a competitive swimmer or marathoner except for the sag of her wide shoulders. Her walk was slow, close to shambling. Her face was, at distance, that of a strong, wilful woman in her mid-30s, but nearer, lined with eyes underscored with black circles and a mouth drooping at both sides. She was the very definition of defeated and how she made it to the doorway of my office baffled me.
She was not only eroded of spirit, she was bitter. I could see it as she squinted at me as though she was disgusted just by my existence. It was evident in her mouth, tightened into a thin line, as she stepped into my modest space. It was there in her hissing voice – gas seeping from a broken valve.
“Mr. Raleigh? I don’t have an appointment…” She made it sound like an accusation as though I was guilty of criminally imposing a sense of order.
“That’s alright, Miss?” I smiled and rose from my desk chair. The seat of the chair rose a couple of inches with a rattle reminding me, yet again, that its incomprehensible mechanisms needed adjustment.
“Clegge. My name is Amanda Clegge. And it’s Ms.” She pronounced ‘mizz’ through lips pursed even more as though describing Satanic acts while biting a lemon. “I have a problem and was told you might help.” She ran out of energy as her sentence went on. Or was she giving up her last hope as she studied me with her pale blue, bloodshot eyes.
What she was looking at was a dark-haired, six-foot-tall man with a craggy face and lean frame that some describe as gaunt, dressed in jeans, a blue Ralph Lauren shirt and dark blue sports jacket. I was standing behind my desk so she couldn’t see my black Nike track shoes or black sports socks but a full view probably wouldn’t have improved things. She made me share her depression with her expression and voice.
“You are a detective, aren’t you? A private detective?”
“Yes,” I answered. “Yes, I’m a P.I.” realizing I was matching her whisper. I raised my volume. “Would you like to sit?” I pointed to the chair in front of my desk.
Amanda Clegge eyed the elderly chair for a minute as though she was counting the microbes crawling across the leather seat and its wooden arms. I thought the chair was quite appropriate for clients; I often sat in it myself while taking a break from my mechanical bull, desk chair. After realizing I wasn’t going to have the offending chair deep-cleaned before she sat in it, she moved to it, dropped her Coach bag on the floor and lowered her body onto the seat. It was like watching a geriatric being lowered into a hot bath. I felt a twinge of pain just from the sight.
“Can I get you something to drink?” I was thinking of pure adrenaline.
She shook her head and even that small movement sapped much of her remaining energy.
“Are you sick?” I wasn’t being considerate. I was afraid the woman was going to drop dead of fatigue while sitting in my best chair just before I went for lunch.
“No. But I should be. Maybe that would solve all my problems….” She paused. I waited. “If I got sick, I could die.”
I waited again but there was nothing else.
“I’m sorry but I don’t have a clue why you’re here, Miss Clegge. I can’t help if you won’t tell me what you’re talking about.” I sat down and the seat of my chair sank to its former height. I was annoyed at the chair but Miss Clegge was running a close second.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Raleigh…”
“Michael. But Mike is fine.”
“Okay, Michael.” Her head bowed and I was afraid she was expiring. Her head rose again and I sighed in relief. “I really don’t want to talk about my problem.” She ended with a little chuckle.
“Well, I can’t be of much …” I prepared to stand up again, to usher the woman out of the office so I could grab a pastrami on rye with a sparkling water from the fast food place in the basement of the building.
“No,” she said quickly. “I will tell you, of course. But it’s very painful for me.”
I understood that part. She was the embodiment of pain; it radiated from every part of her and made me wince just to see her slumping in the visitor’s chair.
“I’m a whistle-blower.” Her statement came out in a different voice. Instead of her tremulous whisper, the sentence was delivered in a strong tone that challenged me to disagree.
I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. Here I was, only a couple of months after the vaccinated end of the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to recover from the worst year I’ve ever had and one of the first cases in my recovery period was a woman with a beef against her employer or someone else who bothered her. In my jaundiced mood, I classified it as a ‘he said, she said’ situation that hardly ever turned out well. As a client, Miss Clegge was about as ideal as someone fighting a ticket for jaywalking.
“I doubt that I can help you, Miss Clegge. My practice deals mostly with criminal matters – investigating for people accused of serious offences, stock market fraud, searches for hit-and-run drivers…”
She held up her hand. “Yes. I know what you do, Mike, and that’s why I came to you.” Her voice was reduced again to a whisper but there was a little more force to it. Maybe she wasn’t quite on her deathbed.
She took a deep breath. “I work… worked for a company that imports medicines from Asia. It is contracted to deliver these medicines to hospitals through the U.S. and health providers in Canada.”
“And that’s what you blew the whistle on?” I was listening but was becoming impatient. Among the subjects in which I have little interest, healthcare is high on the list. I’ve worked for clients in the field and found them to be heavy on impenetrable information and light on payment for my services. And I have to confess I know nothing about medications that isn’t printed on their labels.
Her story came out in an emotional rush. Her voice rose from the barely audible hiss to what I assumed was a normal range for Amanda Clegge. It was a much more pleasing, husky tone.
Ms. Clegge was a 36-year-old CA, a chartered accountant. She spent seven years of her career as an assistant to the treasurer of a chain of long-term care homes and another three years as controller of a pharmaceutical company that produced several highly specific medications.
Like me, she knew very little about the making of drugs; she didn’t have to. She counted beans, not containers of medicines. What she did know about was how products were ordered, bought, shipped and sold. She had to know the processes so she could watch the costs of each part of the process. And she knew the price of product inspection down to the last nickel.
She was hired away from the pharmaceutical company by Logica Biologica Inc., an import-expert firm specializing in bringing into North America lines of drugs and other healthcare supplies from Asia and delivering these products to end users. The money she was paid was half again as much as her last employer and the work involved foreign travel. For a CA bound to a desk in an office, the lure of travel abroad was too great to refuse. She worked at LBI for three years.
During the time at LBI, Amanda took three lengthy trips, to India, Pakistan and China. Each was not only a departure from routine, it was an eye-opening, life-changing adventure far more absorbing than anything else she had ever experienced. While she was able to spend much of the travel time on tourism, each trip included working visits to large factories. Each of these excursions made her wonder even more about what the hell she had gotten into.
At the end of this recitation, Amanda came to the point. “The people in all LBI areas were careless about security. They lied to me repeatedly but I’m not an idiot. With what I saw during my trips and here, at my workplace,” she told me in a voice that was growing weaker by the word, “I became convinced LBI is a gigantic scam raking in tens of millions of dollars by supplying drugs and other things that are not only useless but often highly dangerous.”
Once she completed her long sentence, she lapsed back to her bone-weary state. But I was now intrigued.
“Do you have a lawyer?” I wanted to get to my problems before I began to deal with hers. Lawyers were some of my best clients – at least in pre-COVID days – but they also could be my worst enemies. Lawyers are as territorial as hippopotami. They want to run the show in which they have any part. If Miss Clegge was already represented by one or more lawyers, there would be less room for me. At some point, a lawyer will not only suck up all the air in the room, he or she will take every last breath in the whole house.
“I have a lawyer who helped me buy a home but he says he can’t help us with this matter. Maybe you could recommend someone.” Her voice trailed off again.
“I could do that,” I said, but I wasn’t going to rush into sharing this case with anyone until I worked out my part in it. “But, I’m a private investigator, Miss Clegge. What do you think I can do for you?”
She raised her head to take a closer look at me but the effort almost drained her last resources. “I think I need a bodyguard,” she said before her head lowered again.