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A sharp rap on the open door frame caused Vincent to look up from his desk. In front of him was a vision. Annabelle DeSoto, the legal secretary, wearing her usual pencil skirt and blouse, strode briskly to his desk, holding a stack of papers.
“Can you at least try to make it look like a human signed these this time?” she asked with a coy smile.
Vincent smiled right back at the joke. “I’m far too important a man to concern myself with how my signature looks, Ms. DeSoto.”
Anna flinched in an overly dramatic response. “God don’t call me that when we’re in the office, Vince.”
“Why not? It’s professional and cordial.”
“It makes me sound like you’re one of those douchebags on Mad Men and I’m your floozy secretary that you’re going to dismiss and stare at my ass as I walk away.”
Vincent leaned back in his chair, looking up at her tanned face and round, green eyes. “Did you not want me to do that?”
She scoffed. “No, don’t dismiss me, Vincent.”
After a beat, Vincent finally leaned back into his desk and scrawled his signature in the empty line on the top document. Annabelle rolled her eyes as she leaned in to grab the pile.
“But definitely do that other thing,” she whispered as she slowly stood back upright.
“Thank you, Ms. DeSoto,” Vincent said in a wry tone as Anna turned and made her way to the door. So that no one could see, Annabelle put her right fist behind her back and extended her middle finger right above her ass. He chuckled as he watched her hips sway, a birdie right in the middle.
But when she hit the door, Annabelle put that finger and its four companions back under the stack of papers and pushed the door open. It hung ajar for a second after she was gone before finally swinging closed, giving Vincent a chance to admire the block lettering on the outside of the glass door: “Vincent B. Wong — Senior Associate Counsel”
* * *
Paul Volek hadn’t had a single visitor since he was arrested. His wife, upon finding out that he had lost almost all of their money in shady business deals years earlier and needed to embezzle from his company to keep her them in their house, had served him divorce papers within that first week. He was honestly shocked; she had been fine with the running around with his secretaries, legal assistants, and interns for years, but the mere threat of a downgrade to her lifestyle was intolerable.
His two daughters had, of course, sided with their mother and were refusing to speak with him. Even his favorite–Nicole–had cut him off, calling him a “selfish bastard” during their final conversation. Volek didn’t expect they would understand. Even though they were grown-ups, neither of them knew what it was like to work in a meat grinder the way he had his whole life. Nicole worked at an art gallery and Samantha was still in school getting her doctorate. They may have thought they knew what work pressure was, but they couldn’t conceive of what he had to go through at his job every day.
They went to happy hours and drinks with boys they were crushing on, they joined those masses in their trendy button-down-and-vest combo complaining about their mean boss and demanding clients. They had that luxury.
While they complained and whined, people like their father sat in their offices well into the night. Their workday didn’t end with a punch-out at five to go home and eat dinner with their families. That was for the mooks in middle-management, content to make a five-figure salary and see every last one of their kid’s soccer games. You want to be a true hunter, at the top of the food chain? You get there by grinding hours, working every angle and every piece of leverage you can. You never clock out when you’re on top because you know there are twenty people below you clawing at your legs.
The scraping of the chair across the table from him made Volek look up for the first time since he’d arrived in the communal visiting area. It was nice to finally be able to talk to someone who wasn’t his lawyer.
Cara looked as beautiful as ever, her long, flowing blond hair cascading around her well-defined face. She wore a choker necklace that drew attention right to her cleavage, which was out in full display like she never had when they were in the office. He wasn’t sure if she was wearing that low cut dress to comfort him or tease him, but all he wanted to do was throw himself on top of her. Admittedly, that might also be due to the fact that he hadn’t seen a woman other than his lawyer in almost two months. And Barbara was a great litigator, but she was no looker.
“How are you, Mr. Volek?” Cara asked with a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
So the outfit is a tease, got it, honey, Volek thought. Didn’t matter, she could talk down to him all she wanted now that he was powerless to fire her. She was here because he told her that the $20,000 bonus she got earlier in the year might be in jeopardy because of his incarceration. That got the bimbo’s attention.
Carefully, Volek began to put all those hours of reading sleight-of-hand magic books over the last month to work. He slipped his hand up into the sleeve of his jumpsuit, pulling out a stack of index cards. Angling his body just so he would block the view of the guard and the security camera, Paul Volek flipped over the first card in the stack.
THEY CAN HEAR BUT NOT SEE. BONUS WAS FROM CLIENT FUND, THEY WILL TAKE IT IF THEY FIND OUT. WILL KEEP QUIET IF YOU HELP. YOUR ANSWER TO MY SPOKEN QUESTIONS WILL BE THE ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS HERE. UNDERSTAND?
“So, Cara,” Volek began. “Have they cleaned all my things out of my old office yet?”
He stared at her, waiting for his secretary to answer. She seemed a bit puzzled at first, so Volek tapped the card lightly, hoping she’d take the hint.
“Oh, yes sir,” she answered. “Yes, they did. Would you like me to bring you anything from your office?”
“Yes as a matter of fact,” he answered as he subtly replaced the top card with the one underneath it.
DO YOU STILL HAVE THE FLASH DRIVE I GAVE YOU WHEN THE SEC CAME?
“I was just wondering if my ex-wife had taken any family photos. I would have loved to get that one photo of us and the girls on our trip to the Grand Canyon a few years back,” he continued before looking at her.
“Yeah, unfortunately,” she said, finally playing along. “She came in the day they started moving your stuff out.”
He flipped the next card.
DOES ANYONE ELSE KNOW?
“God that’s a shame. Who has taken over my office?”
“Right now, no one Mr. Volek. But I hear that may soon change.”
“I’d expect so,” Volek replied with a wry smile as he flipped over the last card.
MAIL IT, ANONYMOUSLY TO THIS ADDRESS
When he flipped the card over, Paul Volek saw Cara’s eyes widen when she read the name on the top of the address line.
“Just make sure whoever takes over my office treats you well, Cara.”
“Are you sure?” she asked breathlessly.
Volek leaned back in his chair. “Oh yes.”
* * *
“Alright,” Tom Larsen exclaimed with a booming clap. “That was a good meeting. If you guys have any questions, which I’m sure most of you will feel free to bother Vincent I’m too busy to deal with your trivialities.”
A round of laughter spread across the conference room as the group of seven young lawyers all stood up and began to gather their things. When Tom turned away briefly, he allowed himself to exhale once in frustration.
Were all new law school grads this dumb back when I was just getting started or is this actually just a particularly dumb group?
He tried to keep the kids from seeing the muted scowl as he went through the motions of packing papers into a folder. It wasn’t their fault that almost every senior member of the legal department had been implicated in Volek’s misappropriation of funds, and the ones who weren’t had skipped out to distance their careers from the ethical nightmare that was coming. When the dust had settled, it was only Larsen, Vincent, and Margaret Collins left standing. Of course, Larsen made her VP of Legal and promoted Vincent to senior associate counsel, with the understanding that in six months time he would be moving on up to AVP.
But they needed to restock their department, so in the last two months, the Meca legal department had its biggest hiring season ever for new law school grads. The seven hires they initially went with were hand-picked by Tom and Margaret, and he felt a swell of pride knowing that he was really able to make his stamp on this company now. The first step, of course, was untangling all of the mess that his predecessor had left him.
Although Vincent had given the SEC and Justice Department all of the information he had collected, including the forged documentation that had put Larsen in jail (and witness testimony that corroborated his innocence), there was still work to be done. The shell accounts were unfrozen, but there was still a lot of backtracking to find where the money had come from, as it had been washed so many times. Even now, months later, Meca still hadn’t recovered all the money that had been moved.
Volek and his co-conspirators had, of course, been jailed and held liable for the money they’d misappropriated, but there were still issues outstanding. Someone in IT had clearly been helping Volek and wiped a bunch of the financial drives before the SEC was able to do a full accounting, further convoluting the situation. There was still over $50 million outstanding to be accounted for after all the shell accounts were emptied. Meca was suing the conspirators to recover that money, but it was also possible that some of it was lost forever, squirreled away in some mistress’s Swiss bank account never to be seen again.
As Larsen turned back around, he saw the room was nearly empty save for his protege. Vincent Wong looked, dare he say, dapper. Whereas before he wore suits that looked like they came from a thrift store, now he wore a fancier Hugo Boss which accentuated his recent weight loss. The kid had a sharp new haircut befitting his elevated status. No longer would he be confused for some geeky engineer, he now looked like he could walk into any big-time corporation and go toe-to-toe with their CEO.
“Did you hear that Parthage pled out?” Vincent asked as they walked in tandem down the hall towards their offices. Larsen nodded.
“Makes sense, he has an affirmative defense for coercion. He’ll do no jail time, just long-term house arrest in exchange for rolling on the others.”
“How much you think Volek will get?”
Larsen smiled slightly. “Agent Trumaine said securities fraud can carry a sentence of up to 10 years. Plus, hiring that thug to go after you and Annabelle gets him murder 1. Paul Volek is going to die in prison kid, and it’s not gonna be one of those soft, country club prisons.”
“You really think they’ll get him on the murder charge?” Vincent asked. “The FBI still hasn’t been able to get any actual proof that Volek was the one who hired him other than circumstantial contacts. Volek’s not talking and the guy, he’s dead.”
Jesus, the kid still can’t say his name. Dennis Farrell, the guy who tried to kill you and Annabelle. The guy you killed. It’s okay, no one’s charging you, Wong, everyone knows it was self-defense.
As they reached the doorway to Wong’s office, the two men paused. Larsen swallowed, knowing he had to say this now before he truly started to feel like an ass.
“Look, Vincent, you got put in a shit situation after I got locked up. You had to deal with shit that I never thought was gonna get thrown at either of us when we first started this whole thing up. I just want to say…well I would still be rotting in that jail cell if it wasn’t for you. You’re a tougher guy than I ever gave you credit for. You’re a great goddamn attorney and I’m proud to have you at my side as we work to sort this whole thing out.”
Larsen extended his hand, and after a moment Vincent beamed and shook it. Strong grip, two pumps, and Larsen gave him a pat on the shoulder as he brushed by him.
They were going to be alright, the two of them. For now at least. There were still a few challenges they might have to deal with, but for now, they could enjoy the spoils of victory.
Tom entered his new, fancy office, with his name next to the “Chief Legal Officer” stenciling on the door, and sat behind the mahogany desk in his office. It was the same desk that Paul Volek had sat behind for years patronizing Tom Larsen. Above his head, there was still that picture of a bulldog, the only remaining symbol of Volek’s time there.
It was ironic that Paul had identified so much with bulldogs. All dog owners knew that bulldogs were among the stupidest of the dog breeds. Slow, lazy, not exceptional hunters although they were fantastic guard dogs. Paul had always fancied himself a hunter, but Larsen knew better. Just like a bulldog, he was too slow and lazy to see what was coming. He was a chess player that hadn’t realized the game was lost five moves earlier.
Ready to get back to work, Tom Larsen pulled up his e-mail and saw something in his inbox that jogged his memory. A reminder of a task that he had left outstanding, but hadn’t put to paper in his Outlook calendar. He pulled out his personal checkbook and began scribbling two checks. The first, to his personal lawyer that had helped him out in so many ways during his incarceration.
The second was made out to Ms. Nancy Farrell, the daughter of the recently deceased Dennis Farrell. It wouldn’t draw too much suspicion from her, after all, her mother and Larsen’s ex-wife had been very close, as were he and Dennis. She’d think it was nothing more than a kind gesture from an old family friend, and not payment for her father’s final job. .