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Floyd Wartherson looked very much like a hippo when he was angry. The sixty-seven-year-old founder and CEO of Wartherson’s department store–a dying enterprise that had smartly allowed itself to be acquired by Amazon and Meca before the era of malls went entirely extinct–had a round face accentuated by his large jowls, beady eyes set deep in his head, and stubby ears right below the crown of grey hair that led up to his bald head. When he got particularly animated, as he was now, his face would become a deep shade of red, like he was using every last bit of energy to not explode. Combined with the small, round glasses atop the bridge of his nose, Tom Larsen found it nearly impossible to hold in his laughter as the tubby old man pounded his fist on the desk for emphasis.
“Goddamnit, where is my money!?” Wartherson shouted to the room. Volek had called in all the senior partners to the conference room, ostensibly to help him make sense of this financial mix-up with Wartherson’s trust. In reality, Larsen knew, Volek just wanted a bunch of human shields around him to deflect blame onto.
“Mr. Wartherson, sir, I apologize for this mix-up–”
“Mix up? Mix up?? When I order my porterhouse medium-rare and it comes medium, that’s a mix-up. Losing five million dollars of my goddamn money that was supposed to be distributed to my greedy children so they can get their asshole shares in our corporate stock is not a mix-up. That’s a fuck up. So, I would like to know who in this room fucked up??”
Larsen could barely contain his glee. When he’d called Wartherson two days earlier to inform him that his children had finally agreed to dismiss the allegations that their uncle had misused the money in their trust, the old man sounded like someone just told him he could die in peace. The only bit of joy he expressed was talking about how he wouldn’t have to hear his “fatass oldest son whine about how he couldn’t get the money to piss away on gambling and hookers because Uncle Fred had stolen some of it.”
Of course, Uncle Fred was a sleazeball who had attempted to invest some of the money in the trust for those kids way back in the 90s when they were just toddlers. The grand investment was in his own tech start-up that had inevitably failed during the burst of the Dotcom bubble. It was, of course, highly shady and borderline a breach of his duties as trustee to misuse the trust’s funds for his own business, no matter how much he bemoaned that if “Encyclopedia Online” had worked the kids would have a twenty percent share in a company that “would be worth billions.” Larsen knew it was all horseshit, and a subscription-based, online encyclopedia would have failed the second a little thing called Wikipedia came around, but it was a legitimate business and the funds were invested. Plus, Uncle Fred eventually took a cushy position in his brother’s company, and now had more than enough cash to repay the “investment” and make the kids whole. The extra chunk of flesh they wanted from Uncle Fred was pure avarice on their part, but all attempts to talk them out of it had fallen on deaf ears. So, for almost two years those kids had bickered and squabbled, through Meca’s legal team, trying to drag an extra couple of million dollars out of old Uncle Fred. Until an astute legal mind like Tom Larsen convinced them that they would be losing money if they didn’t resolve this matter soon.
And so those four nimrods agreed that they would let their sleazeball uncle off the hook. Not fifteen minutes later, Larsen was on the phone with Wartherson, getting the old man’s approval to disburse the funds in the form of corporate stock. When, fourteen hours later at 9 AM, the bank that was holding the funds called to inform Larsen that the account in question had five million dollars less than he had ordered to be disbursed, Floyd Wartherson became, to put it mildly, infuriated.
Tom Larsen had been screamed at by clients before. At a certain point, every lawyer gets screamed at by a client. Lucky for him Wartherson didn’t say anything to Larsen that he hadn’t heard before, allowing the lawyer to tune him out and do actual work. Eventually, Wartherson hung up on Tom, likely out of frustration that the attorney was not able to pull the money out of his ass. Then he called Volek, presumably to assault his ears as the CLO tried to reassure Wartherson as he scrambled to replace the money he’d stolen.
After an hour, Larsen’s phone rang again. Wartherson again, saying he was chartering his private plane from Reno that evening and he would be in to meet with both Larsen and Volek at 9:30 AM the following day.
“Have my money, or have the head of the person responsible on a pike when I get there,” he said before hanging up.
* * *
The kid had gotten in early that day, well before Larsen strode in with his cup of Dunkin’ and a bear claw. His doctor had told him that he needed to lay off the saturated fats and sugar, but Larsen wasn’t one to listen. He was a former linebacker at Michigan State and had kept himself in peak physical shape thirty years after he hung up his cleats. If he wanted to enjoy a six hundred calorie pastry after his daily, five am, five-mile run, no one was going to stop him.
He unlocked the glass door to his office, embossed with his name and title of “Senior Associate Counsel,” before turning on his lights and plopping into his swivel chair. Most of the other seniors didn’t bother to lock their doors at night, but Larsen had a reputation for being a bit paranoid. He didn’t mind. Paranoia only exists in a world without enemies, and a man without enemies can never be a great man.
When he sat down, he noticed something odd. A sticky note, attached to the corner of his computer monitor. Examining it closer, Larsen had no recollection of putting it there the night before and the handwriting wasn’t his. He didn’t remember anyone being there after he left and locked the door behind him, so initially, he was panicked that someone had broken in. His shoulders relaxed when he read the note: “Feds in Volek’s system. Took the bait, froze his accounts. Requested transfer too late. Prob fireworks today.”
Larsen took a huge bite of the bear claw and sat back, ready to enjoy the show.
* * *
When the SEC walked through the glass doors, they did so with a bit of ease and comfort they hadn’t displayed the last time. You wouldn’t really call it “swagger” since the SEC could kind of own any room they walked into, but they certainly were not intimidated as they entered the legal department of Meca Corp.
“Alright everyone,” Larsen heard, muted by the closed, glass conference room door. “You all know the drill, everyone step away from your workstations–”
He couldn’t hear the rest of what agent whoever was saying because Volek was now on his feet, sprinting forward towards the front of the room. Stupidly, that was where he had offered a seat to Wartherson, who now had a front-row ticket to the implosion of this company.
“So sorry, I have no idea what is going on out there let me just deal with this for a moment. Uh…uh…Tom,” Volek said, pointing at Larsen, “come with me so we can sort this out. Mr. Wartherson, please sit tight, Margaret here will be more than happy to walk you through our procedures and fail-safes to see if we can sort out what happened.”
He ushered Margaret Collins, another of the senior associates to the front of the room, planting her right next to Wartherson, while at the same time gesturing for Larsen to follow him. Dutifully, and not wanting to miss seeing his plan executed perfectly up close, Tom stood to follow Volek.
Remarkably, or perhaps not by accident, it was again Agent Trumaine who shook Larsen and Volek’s hands.
“I thought all this business with Woodcomb had been resolved?” Volek asked as he looked around at the other SEC agents, already hard at work.
“Well actually,” Trumaine said as he ran his hand over his smooth, bald head, “this might not be related to Woodcomb. We got an anonymous tip from someone in your IT department that there were some irregular transactions to and from client accounts.”
“Oh dear,” Volek replied.
“Yeah according to the tipster, some account statements were altered in the Meca company system, possibly covering up corporate losses and executive payouts. Obviously, since that wouldn’t reconcile with the public financial statement, that would be tantamount to securities fraud. The tipster gave us several account numbers that they claimed had altered or hidden transactions going into them and coming out.”
“Oh.” Volek was white a sheet now, doing everything he could to control his breathing as Trumaine spoke.
“In fact, one of those accounts just had a scheduled deposit put into it yesterday. So we’re just here to see whether the corporate transaction logs will match up with what the bank records and corporate financials already tell us.”
Volek had gone from white to almost visibly ill. He looked over at Larsen, who was doing all he could to keep a blank expression. After assuring Agent Trumaine that he would have Meca’s entire cooperation on this matter, he directed the rest of the agents down the hallway to where the server room was.
Larsen was almost giddy at this point, watching the gears in Paul Volek’s head turn as he tried to figure out a way to get out of this pickle. And then, that beautiful bastard did the one thing to make Tom Larsen actually let his smile crack through. He panicked.
“Well Agent Trumaine, I will leave your men to your work. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must return–”
“I’m sorry Mr. Volek,” Agent Trumaine held up his hand, “but I can’t allow you to leave the area until our search is complete.”
“Now wait just a second,” Volek bristled as he puffed out his chest. “I was meeting with a client before you lot came in here and interrupted. I notice you haven’t pulled them out of the conference room, so I would like to return to the discussion that you cut short.”
It was only then, as Agent Trumaine turned towards the conference room, that Volek realized what he had done.
With a flick of his wrist, Trumaine gestured for another agent to bring the group from the conference room out. From the second the door opened, Larsen knew this was going to be the death knell to Paul Volek’s career.
“Criminals! The whole bunch of you!” Wartherson yelled as he exited the room.
It took about five seconds for Trumaine to slip over to the old man’s side and begin talking to him in hushed tones. Next to him, Larsen could see Volek’s mind still racing, still trying to come up with some way to get stop Trumaine from pulling Floyd Wartherson back into the conference room and ask him what had happened. But there was nothing he could do. Wartherson was all too happy to join the agent, leaving Volek and Larsen on the other side of the glass wall to try and read their lips and hear their muffled words.
* * *
Einstein’s theory of relativity: when you’re waiting for news ten minutes can feel like ten seconds or ten hours depending if the news you were waiting for would be good or bad. Larsen and Volek, though waiting the same amount of time before Agent Trumaine exited the conference room, probably felt like very different amounts of time passed.
“Mr. Larsen,” Trumaine beckoned to the attorney, “would you mind stepping in here for a moment?”
Silently, Larsen obliged. He’d seen investigations like this in the past and knew exactly how this was going to go. The SEC had the testimony of wrongdoing from a first-hand witness, now they were looking for the corroboration. And Larsen was happy to fill in the rest of the blanks.
Trumaine gestured for Larsen to sit across from him at the table, and Tom did so with a smile.
“Mr. Wartherson is very animated about this business with the trust Mr. Larsen,” Trumaine began. “So I just want to clarify a few issues. You are the attorney of record on his case?”
“Yes at present,” Larsen replied. “Previously the attorney of record was Paul Volek. I was moved onto the case a few months back.”
“Uh huh,” Trumaine jotted a few notes on a yellow pad in front of him. “So you did not establish the client trust account?”
“No,” Larsen confirmed. “It would have been established by Volek.”
“And were you named as the trustee of this trust?”
“Not individually named. Meca Corporate Holdings Limited, one of our financial securities divisions, would have been named the trustee.”
“And you are a part of that division?”
“I am. As are all the senior associates and our Chief Legal Officer.”
“Meaning you can be held liable for misuse of these funds?”
Trumaine jotted another note before continuing. “Mr. Larsen since you became the attorney of record have you ever been aware of any issues with Mr. Wartherson’s trust account?”
“Had you ever made any transactions, withdrawals or deposits, prior to or since you took this case on?”
“When you became the attorney of record, did you do any sort of accounting with regards to this trust?”
Larsen shook his head. “Agent Trumaine, Meca Corporate Holdings Limited is named as the trustee on perhaps a hundred client accounts. I personally work with ten clients at a time, maximum. To do a thorough accounting of every client trust that I am a party to would be a needless waste of my time. I trust my fellow senior associates and our CLO to have done their due diligence and acted in good faith with regards to every account in their purview.”
It was a good little speech, and Trumaine made a bunch of notes before looking up with a final question. “Mr. Larsen, who would have the ability to withdraw or deposit funds into this account?”
“Any of the trustees.”
“Myself, Paul Volek, Margaret Collins, Evelynn Marsh, and Dante Reynolds.”
Another SEC agent entered and began to whisper in Trumaine’s ear. He was a young kid, probably Wong’s age, and had a skin tone that would shock Dracula. The young man pointed to a tablet he held in one hand as he talked. After a second, Trumaine nodded and turned back to Tom.
“Thank you very much for your cooperation, Mr. Larsen.”
Tom stood to exit the room, but as he walked past the two men, he felt the kid grab his arms and pin them behind his back. Although Larsen probably had seventy pounds on the runt, he didn’t even attempt to use his strength as the steel cuffs clinked shut around his wrists.
“What the hell are you doing?” Larsen shouted.
“Mr. Wartherson told us that these financial mishaps only occurred once you were assigned to his case. Had a lot of conspiracy theories about you disrespecting and being curt to him, but, sure enough, our guys found that the only transactions relating to his account occurred after you took on this case.”
“That’s not dispositive,” Larsen screamed as the two men pushed him out of the conference room. “I’m being set up.”
Trumaine chuckled loud enough so that everyone who hadn’t noticed the commotion would turn and gawk. “Gonna be hard to prove that when the deposit to that account from yesterday has your name on it.” .