======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ==== ======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ====
Catch up on last week’s installment of the Corporate Ladder
“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
That one, he hadn’t heard from his dad over dinners as a teenaged boy. He’d read it during college, in his American Literature class. His dad never understood why Vincent had such a fascination with the great American novel, but that was unsurprising from a man who gave his son algebraic video games to play at age five. Vincent Wong had been destined for a life in mathematics, computers, and/or engineering from birth. Hell, his father had only approved of him going to law school because Vince managed to convince him that he “needed an intellectual challenge.”
But no challenge that he had faced at MIT or UNC Law had possibly prepared him for this.
Someone had tried to kill him. Someone had tried to kill Annabelle. Someone knew that they were behind the ransomware. Someone wanted them dead.
Vincent ran his fingers through his short, black hair, almost feeling the electrical charge of his synapses flowing through his scalp up to his hands. There was too much information to process, and his thoughts were constantly disrupted every time he became aware of the pool of blood spreading around him.
He leaned back again, feeling his head bang against the cold metal of the car behind him. In front of him, Annabelle was staring at the ground in shock. She looked like she was on the verge of tears, but she was silent as the grave.
The grave. Where this guy, whoever the hell he was, was going to be put. Maybe his wife or husband, brother or sister, son or daughter, friends, parents, whoever would cry as he was lowered into the ground. They would recount fond memories about him and rue why his life was taken so suddenly. By me.
He felt his chest tighten and his breathing became more shallow as panic set in. He’d killed a man. Someone was dead because of him. Sure, it was self-defense, but there could be charges filed. The police would ask questions that he and Anna didn’t want to answer. His arrest would be public record. Volek might find out. He might have to tell them about Meca and the SEC.
Two deep breaths, he thought. In through the nose, out through the mouth, in through the nose out through the mouth.
He opened his eyes. Anna was still in front of him. Sirens were close now, maybe a block away.
“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in.” Napoleon Bonaparte.
“You might not have much time to deliberate at times,” his father had told him when he made him memorize that quote. “It’s still important. Take every second. Make it count. Make it most efficient. Then act.”
Vincent’s eyes darted back and forth as he ran through the details. The police were going to be here. The explanation for what had happened to the guy was simple enough; tell the truth. But how would he explain the miscellaneous circumstances for them being together? Then he remembered.
They think you’re her boyfriend from the earlier “overdose.” She was over at your house. You walked her out. You saw a suspicious man, so you walked her to her car. He pulled a gun. I think he was trying to rob us. You wrestled him to the ground. The gun got free. He was choking her, you shot her. They can connect the rest of the dots.
He leaned forward and grabbed Annabelle’s hand. “Let me do the talking, okay? If they separate us, just say I’m your lawyer and you want us to be questioned together okay? Hey?”
She finally looked up at him. Her eyes were clear but still glassy and out of it.
“I’m with you in this. Completely.”
She grabbed him and kissed him. Their first kiss. It lasted until the responding officers pulled them apart.
* * *
Whenever Agent Carl Trumaine entered a room, people tended to sit up just a bit straighter. It wasn’t that he was mean or aggressive, but he was definitely not one to tolerate fuck-ups. So when you brought some information to his attention, other agents knew that it better be important and sourced thoroughly. As the junior agent stood outside Trumaine’s office, he frantically tried to go over each point of what he was going to say before the gruff voice bid her to enter.
“What do you have?” Trumaine asked before the young lady even touched the chair across from him.
“Sir,” she stated firmly, “we have received a tip from someone in the IT department at Meca, saying that there are additional players in the misappropriation of funds.”
“What’s the source?”
“We don’t know yet sir. The tipster said that he’s afraid that he’s being set up to take the fall along with Larsen, but he did give us another name.”
“Rob Benson sir,” she said, leafing through the folder of pulled emails she’d received. “The tipster sent us a couple dozen texts and transactions of big dollar amounts from Benson to a known drug dealer via Venmo. I was also able to independently find some cash purchases to him and his ex-girlfriend despite no major corresponding withdrawals.”
“You think he’s laundering the money?”
The young agent shrugged. “Possibly. He’s a junior executive, he could easily be kept in the dark and have an incentive to make a senior member of the board or division happy.”
Trumaine leaned back in his chair, clearly pleased with this information. “Anything else?”
“Yes sir,” she said, flipping again through the folder. “The tipster said he intercepted a text from Benson saying there was going to be a meeting between himself and another senior partner regarding some outstanding transfers.”
“Meaning there are other accounts that have been wiped clean?”
“Seems to be the case, sir. And it looks like they’re wrapping those up now.”
Trumaine stood up and crossed to the other side of his desk, buttoning his Jos. A Banks suit jacket as he did.
“Good work Agent Kundakar. Let’s get this to a federal judge ASAP for a surveillance warrant. Get me the location and time of that meeting.”
* * *
Volek slammed the door behind him and tugged at his necktie. Idiot kid. Useless. Useless idiot. Why am I even paying him?
Behind him, he could still hear that prick IT kid stammering his apologies and gasping for air. Volek gave no mind to it. The kid would recover. Probably.
He opened up the e-mail again on his phone. It was from an encrypted account, no signature, and only a few lines long.
The price to unlock your offshore accounts is $2 million. The price for my silence is significantly higher. Find out on the 27th, Reading Terminal Market at three PM. You’ll get further instructions day of. If the price is too steep, I’m sure the SEC will pay it.
Below that, there was a long string of numbers and letters. The IT guy had immediately realized that it was a decryption key for one of the locked accounts, and within an hour Volek had access to the account again.
“It’s a sign of good faith,” the IT guy said. “That he can deliver what you want.”
Or that he’s not bluffing, Volek thought with a grimace.
Unfortunately, that was about all that sniveling little punk could tell him. Even after two days with the phone, the kid had no clue where the message came from or who sent it. All he could say for sure was that the message originated in Bangkok, which Volek didn’t believe for a moment.
He swiped up, dismissing the e-mail app, and redialed the most recent number in his call log again. This was the fourth time today and still no answer.
Dennis you moron, where are you?
Volek wanted to text Dennis, ask why he hadn’t heard from him in days, but the former cop was always paranoid to not leave a trail of messages. “Always call, don’t text,” he had said. Unfortunately, Dennis tended to have one too many Colt .45s and pass out in his recliner when Volek needed him. And right now, one day before he was supposed to meet this mystery hacker, whoever he was, Volek wanted some muscle with him.
Shaking his head, he redialed again.
* * *
Vincent and Annabelle sat in a small, bare office room. Nothing but a plastic table, chairs, and a sole video camera decorated their surrounding, and the beige walls were completely bare. Not even that “two-way mirror” that every police interview room seemed to have in the movies.
“Interview room.” Such a crock of shit. It was a PC term for interrogation room, which is exactly what they were. Maybe cops did research and found that criminals were more likely to confess if they thought they were being interviewed rather than interrogated.
Do they tell them Diane Sawyer is going to be doing the questioning? Vincent thought.
As if on cue, the door opened and in walked the police sergeant. She was a buff, older woman in her forties, but she certainly looked like she meant business. Her tone when she spoke confirmed that.
“You’ve both been read your rights and waive your right to counsel?” she asked without even introducing herself.
“We have,” Vincent said, “but I am her counsel and I will be representing myself.”
“Okay, are you prepared to make a statement?”
“I am,” Vincent replied slowly, “but not just yet.”
He leaned forward, still questioning whether this was the smart play or not. There was a better-than-not chance that by doing this he was going to expose him and give Volek all the information he needed to foil this whole plan. But he had taken all the time he could to deliberate. Now was the time for action.
“I need to speak with Agent Carl Trumaine at the local bureau of the SEC.” .