• Sam Mitani

Red Mist, Chapter 5

Updated: Apr 9

Stockton Clay, the owner and editor-in-chief of Automobile Digest, strolled casually into the Argon conference room, giving everyone seated at the table a slight nod. He looked no more than thirty-years old, wearing a boyish grin on his milk-tea-colored face, while his slicked-back brown hair glistened under the florescent lights. His blue suit seemed one size too large, but what particularly caught Max Koga’s eye was Stockton’s faded green Asteroids T-shirt because it totally clashed with the suit.

“I’m Stockton. It’s nice to meet you,” he said as he shook Koga’s hand.

“Likewise,” Koga answered. “I’m a fan of your work.”

Koga knew Clay’s bio by heart. Seven years ago, the boy-wonder had taken the reins of Automobile Digest, immediately transforming it into the most-visited and widely read automotive website in the world, with more than seven million YouTube subscribers and a popular weekly television show to boot. While a printed version of Automobile Digest was still produced, the bulk of its viewership and revenue came by way of the internet, which consisted of several online magazines, a dozen social media sites and plenty of streaming content.

Verdy motioned Stockton to take a seat at the table. “Max, I take it that you know Stockton Clay here is the owner of Automobile Digest as well as its editor-in-chief. What you probably don’t know is that he’s a large stakeholder in Argon Securities, and he’s helping us by letting us use his magazine as a front for our current operation. He has full security clearance, so consider him one of us. Also, let me explain that only the CIA and the FBI are in the loop about our little setup here. Everything you see and do is classified. Are we clear on that?”

Nowhere else, not even in the Navy, Koga mused, would he be able to go undercover as an automotive journalist and hunt bad guys. It was better than hitting the Lotto jackpot.

“Are we clear on that, Max?” Verdy repeated.

“Yes, sir, very clear,” Koga responded. 

“Good,” Verdy said. “Last week, Stockton contacted me about a car company called Song Motors, saying something wasn’t right with them. Can you fill Max in from the beginning?”

Stockton swiveled his chair so it faced Koga. “At the Beijing Motor Show a few months back, Song Motors, a Chinese company we had never heard of before, displayed an electric SUV concept vehicle called the CruiseStar. The reported price tag for the production version of this vehicle was two million dollars. Our reporter covering the show asked for more information, but none was forthcoming. We really wanted to get the scoop on this thing, so I had our best investigative reporter, who also spoke fluent Mandarin, travel to China to see if we could get an exclusive on it. Three days after he left, he called in to say he was quitting his job.”

“Why?” Koga asked.

“He said that his life was threatened by gangsters. They roughed him up a bit and told him never to come back,” Clay replied. “They also told him that if he continued to look into Song Motors, they would come after him and his family. I, in turn, mentioned this incident to my contacts at the CIA, and they directed me to Paul.”

Verdy leaned forward in his chair. “HQ notified me a few minutes ago that a small cargo ship rented by Song Motors arrived at Port Hueneme earlier today.”

“I heard that they’re bringing another high-end concept car to the Los Angeles Auto Show, which takes place next week," Stockton commented. "Some companies use the smaller ports like Port Hueneme to bring in their top-secret products for more secrecy.”

Koga jumped in. “I know the Port Hueneme area fairly well; I’ve been to the naval base there a few times.”

Verdy shot Koga a hard stare. “It is my intention to keep you from high-stress situations, at least for the first couple of weeks.”

“I can handle it,” Koga maintained. “And besides, odds are that Song Motors is just another car company overzealously guarding its future products from leaking to the media.”

Stockton nodded. “I tend to agree, but the fact that they’ve refused to divulge their funding does raise a yellow flag.”

Verdy let out a deep sigh. “Okay, Max, but recon only. I made sure that whatever is inside that cargo ship will be held up in customs until at least until tomorrow morning. I don’t want to cause an international incident that can blow our cover, so no engagement whatsoever. The name of the ship is the Mucho Gusto, registered in Panama.”

“Which means pretty much nothing, as most private cargo companies register their vessels with a different country,” Rawlings noted. “I’d love to go with you, Max, but I need to be somewhere else in an hour.”

“I’m a big boy. I can handle it,” Koga said with a smile.

“Good. We meet at oh-six-hundred tomorrow. Everyone knows what they need to do. Is there anything else?” Verdy asked.

Koga replied in a clear voice. “Yes, sir. As a matter of fact, there is.”

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