Today we meet Lee Brandt, one of the characters from H. L. Wegley‘s suspense novel, On the Pineapple Express.
Janet: Welcome, Lee, and thanks for taking time to join us. I’m writing these questions before reading your story, so forgive me if I blunder over something that should be obvious. This way I can’t accidentally toss out a spoiler. Let’s start with the basics: tell us what you look like, and what you do for a living.
Lee: Here’s a picture of me. I’ve never been very good at descriptions. Jenn says my eyes usually have an intense look … except when I’m teasing her. That’s what tells her I’m not serious. But you asked about my work. I recently jumped ship from computer systems development back to Meteorology, my first career. I’m a partner in a weather consulting firm doing specialized weather forecasting for our clients.
Janet: I understand you’re engaged—and that you met your fiancée through a cyber investigation. Could you tell us a bit about that? And is it true she’s brilliant? How easy is that to live with?
Lee: Jennifer? Yeah, she’s brilliant. Has an IQ a few points above Einstein, so you don’t want to challenge her to a game of chess … or to a deadly game of wits. She’s an Internet forensics specialist. If you’re a bad dude collaborating on the net, she can find you, all your partners, and what you’re up to. Our mentor, Howie, uh, Dr. Martin, sent her to help me with a computer security problem and her probing into a cyber espionage plot nearly got us killed. That’s how I got to know her. And, as long as you’re completely honest with Jennifer, believe it or not she’s easy to live, even for someone like me, a man from the dregs of the genius barrel.
Janet: I also hear Jennifer is good with a gun. That’s not something I expect of a computer genius. How about you, Lee? What’s your comfort level with danger?
Lee: When you’re small, young looking, and beautiful, like Jenn, you sometimes attract men you’d rather not have around. One of those types stalked her and he had some really bad intentions. He’s behind bars now and walks with a permanent limp. She hits what she aims at. But danger … when I accept it on my terms, I can live with a little danger. However, when it comes at you unexpectedly, and threatens someone you love, I can get a little crazy if I don’t get on my knees first. Even after I do, I can still get a little crazy. Jenn can vouch for that.
Janet: On the Pineapple Express is the second time you and Jennifer have faced death together. Has it been easy working with such a strong-willed and perhaps impetuous woman?
Lee: Strong-willed. Yeah, that’s Jennifer if she knows she’s right. But she only seems impetuous. By the time my mind catches up to what she’s thinking, she’s already thought it through and made a decision, a carefully weighed decision. We both have strengths such that we complement each other. Together, we make an awesome team. At least I think so.
Janet: Is it true you’re also a man of prayer? How does that play out in your life?
Lee: Prayer, 10 years of it, brought me a soul mate after I had given up on finding anyone. God does things right, doesn’t He? He allowed me to introduce Jennifer to Himself. I’ve been privileged to do that with some other people too. I’m something of a self-taught apologist who enjoys answering questions like, if God exists, how can He be good when He allows so much evil in the world? That’s one agnostics like to throw at me. Or, how can you believe all those myths and legends about Jesus? Sorry. I got a little carried away. But, as you can see, I’m pretty good at apology. J
Janet: Your first story was Hide and Seek, but there’s even more at stake this time: the lives of those girls about to be sold into slavery. If I’ve got this right, Jennifer found out about this operation but the FBI say there’s not enough to go on—so you and she are going to take on a human trafficking ring by yourselves?
Lee: Take on the ring by ourselves. It sounds a little crazy when you word it like that, but taking on heavily armed traffickers wasn’t our intent. Jennifer believed that the holding location was an abandoned mill on the Olympic Peninsula, but the Peninsula is dotted with old mill sites. We did some research to locate sawmills and simply wanted to find a site with some squatters living on it, then sic the Feds on them. But the storm got in the way, isolating us. If the girls were going to be saved, our options for doing so were reduced to only one or two, and they didn’t include FBI support.
Janet: Where do you have to go to rescue them? And is it true there’s a major storm heading that way?
Lee: The old mill sites are strung out along the coastal road, Highway 101, on the outer Olympic Peninsula. A beautiful place when the sun is shining. Using satellite pictures, we found 5 candidate sites that we planned to visit … very cautiously. The Pineapple Express, the heavy rainstorm, presented some problems, mainly flooding. But the greatest danger came from a windstorm forming near the coastline. This storm didn’t move in. It developed in something called explosive cyclogenesis. It’s unusual in the Pacific Northwest and, by the time the computer models picked it up, we had barely 24-hours advance warning about the hurricane-strength winds.
Janet: How likely is it you’ll pull this off?
Lee: Twenty-four hours notice still gave us time to visit all 5 mill sites. The odds were in our favour. But then we encountered several delays, and the clock became a major factor in what had become a deadly game. Jennifer’s certainty about God wanting her to find the girls was the only thing that kept us in a game, a game where our odds of winning had become long.
Janet: What scares you more than anything?
Lee: What scares me to death is that Jennifer might try to sacrifice her life for mine in the hope that I would survive to contact the authorities so they could stop the sale of the girls. If I lost her after waiting 10 years for someone like her to come along … I can’t let my mind go there.
Janet: If you could say one thing to H. L. Wegley, what would it be?
Lee: Good old H. L… Janet, you did know that he and I have similar resumes, right? And the stuff I did in Hide and Seek, much of it he did years ago, but he swore me to secrecy on the details. What would I say to him? Probably this—H. L., I can never thank you enough for bringing me Jennifer. But if you put us in one more predicament like this, I’m going to pray that you get the worst case of writer’s block you’ve ever had—maybe a permanent case.
Janet: I hear you! If you and Jennifer survive this crisis, do you hope life settles down, or are you developing a taste for adventure?
Lee: Taste for adventure? You’ve got to be kidding! I want to marry Jenn and go on a long honeymoon in Maui where nothing bad ever happens. Walk barefoot in the sand on Keawakapu Beach, watching the Moon over Maalaea Bay.
Janet: Describe your idea of a perfect day.
Lee: I can see the perfect day now. Jenn and I pull our snorkelling gear on in the morning sun on Maui’s Ulua Beach and then plunge into 80-degree water, where brilliantly colored tropical fish swarm around us while we swim hand-in-hand above a coral reef in one of the most beautiful settings in all of creation.
Janet: Thanks for chatting, Lee. And I hope you and Jennifer can rescue those girls and save your own lives too—and enjoy a beautiful, safe time in Maalaea Bay, although I have a suspicion it won’t be as calm as you’d like.
For more about the author and the Pure Genius series, visit H.L. Wegley’s website.
H. L. Wegley has a related post, “Fear, Courage and Foolishness” at Inner Source, and you can read interviews with Jennifer Akihara at Ralene Burke’s site and Fay Lamb’s site. You can read my review of On the Pineapple Express here.
On the Pineapple Express, by H.L. Wegley
In one of the most beautiful places on earth the ugliest of crimes holds young, innocent lives in its evil grip. An intercepted cell-phone call from a remote area on the Olympic Peninsula tells beautiful, brilliant NSA researcher, Jennifer Akihara, a group of girls will soon be sold into slavery by human traffickers. She enlists her fiancé, Lee Brandt, to help find the holding location and convince the FBI to intervene. With the clock ticking off the last few hours before both the sale of the girls and the arrival of a deadly storm, and with international criminals pursuing them, can Jennifer and Lee save the girls, or will their wedding plans be cancelled … permanently?