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Vincent leaned back in his chair and groaned. The only sound hanging in the air was the whirring of his laptop’s drive as he stared at the screen. Next to him, a small stack of empty Red Bull cans clattered as his absent-minded movement caused the cans to shift. With one sweep of his arm, he cleared them all into the trashcan next to his desk. The stack of papers they had rested on now clear, he pulled the first sheet from the top of the pile and began to read it again.
It was a bank statement, graciously provided to him by Annabelle, showing the last time that Paul Volek had made a deposit into her account. It was a rather small transfer–only $4,000–compared to prior months when Annabelle could rake in as much as $10,000. It was a steep price for Annabelle’s…companionship. But as she had constantly explained, the money wasn’t for her to sleep with him, but rather for her discretion. Vincent got that, especially since Volek couldn’t raise eyebrows by giving Annabelle a sudden pay bump without doing the same for the other secretaries, and it made sense to make the transfers from the offshore accounts, rather than from his personal account where his wife or the other partners could see.
After a few moments of frustration, Vincent tossed the paper down onto his desk again. He must have read that statement, along with the other ten to twenty in the pile below it, a dozen times and he was still stuck at an impasse.
In the six days since he spoke to Annabelle about the mysterious payments that Volek alluded to in his text, Vincent had gone back through every transaction recorded on the Meca servers and every bank statement that he could find related to those accounts. Somewhere, somehow, he had to find a way to tie a transaction between the corporate account, the secret account, and Anna’s. It was like solving a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing, but he felt like he should know where those missing pieces were.
He picked up his phone and unlocked it, looking at the unsent text that he’d been debating sending to Annabelle for the past two hours:
Hey, it’s Vince. Thanks for the statements, and good to see you back in the office this morning. Just wondering if you wanted to sit down and talk about your first day back. Maybe drinks at The Tap?
After a moment of contemplation, he locked the phone again. Ever since Annabelle had given him her number, he’d spent considerable time debating what to send her. Initially, she had just said it was so he could get in contact with her if he needed any more information about what Volek was doing, but he already had her personal email for correspondence. And since he could find whatever other information he might need on his own, the offer–though nice–seemed unnecessary. Then, the night she got out of the hospital, she added him on Instagram. And Snapchat. It was odd because in the three days since she hadn’t communicated with him at all, but clearly, the timing meant something.
He hadn’t added her back, mostly out of confusion. He knew she was out of his league, and he’d seen messages she had sent to men on dating apps that she’d deleted months ago. She was not one to play coy. So, not knowing if there was any significance, he’d ignored the gesture and focused on getting to work.
Back on the screens, Vincent began to click through open account windows. Punctuated only by yawns, he opened one, then another, then another, for almost a half hour. At this point, he wasn’t even looking at the screens as they opened and closed, just performing the actions with his hands to feel as if he was accomplishing something. He’d seen all the information before, the accounts, the ledgers, the corporate filings, he had it all basically memorized at this point. Whatever the solution to this problem was, it was already in front of him, he just couldn’t figure it out.
As he debated the futility of it all and considered–for the third time that night–going to sleep, he saw something different at the bottom of the screen. A new line that hadn’t been there when he’d looked earlier. A new corporate transaction titled “Order of Dissolution of Subsidiary Enterprise ‘Tenga LLC.’”
His eyes widened as he clicked into the link, showing an order from the Board of Directors. He knew that company, Tenga; it was one of the shell companies that had been created to house the embezzled funds. As Vincent scrolled down the page, the picture became clear. Just to be sure, he clicked over to all of Tenga’s accounts and asset listings. Although their account previously had just over $1.2 million in it, the transaction log showed a sale of all their assets and a transfer of funds to Meca corporation. The sale, of course, was fraudulent, but the transfer of the funds to the Meca account was real, confirmed by the bank.
Confused as to why Volek and his partners would shut down their offshore account, considering the SEC still wasn’t onto them in any way, Vincent decided to check a different shell company’s transactions to see if they were moving some of the money. Perhaps consolidating it to keep it safe from the SEC. But it was the same story at that second shell company. And at the third he checked. And the fourth.
And when Vincent saw another dissolution order go up in the Meca corporate logs, for a “company” with almost $6 million in its accounts, the truth dawned on him.
My God, they’re winding up.
* * *
In corporate law, “winding up” is a term of art that refers to the process following the sale or dissolution of a company. All the corporate assets are transferred or sold, all creditors are paid, all outstanding transactions are resolved, and all remaining corporate assets like stocks or bonds are paid to the shareholders. To wind up, meant to end a business’s life cycle before it died or was absorbed by another.
In this case, Volek and his fellow cronies were winding up their criminal enterprise. Closing all the accounts, dissolving all the corporations, transferring what remaining assets were still outstanding, and covering their tracks. Already, Vincent could see that past corporate authorization documents were being changed. Tom Larsen was being added as a signatory or principal to all these corporate accounts. They were making up new accounts and adding them to the corporate ledgers, making it seem as if Tom had gotten into small, legitimate subsidiaries and used them to set up secret, dummy accounts for himself.
Once they wound up these shell companies, Volek and his friends could turn over all the fake documentation they had of the “legitimate” transactions of the companies and show that Tom Larsen was acting as a rogue. The documents were being back-dated, the accounts stripped of all money except for a few containing non-liquid assets. Vincent assumed that they would just change Tom to be the account holder of those since they couldn’t dump the funds back into the corporate accounts.
In any case, Volek would soon be able to go to the SEC and show them the subsidiaries Tom had used to conduct “his” schemes. And once all the other money was moved back into the client accounts, no one would be any wiser. The clients would never know the money was gone to these fake subsidiaries, the SEC would never know about the sham transactions to make it look like the money was only moved in the due course of business, and Larsen would be left holding the bag.
Judging by how quickly they were winding up, Vincent calculated that they would be done by midday. He was out of time. He needed to act in the next six hours or Volek was going to get away with everything.
* * *
It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.
Carl von Clausewitz was one of Vincent’s favorite war strategists, even though his father would often snort at the Prussian general’s favor of theorism over practicality. For his part, Vince had always been more drawn to the theoretics of battle, yet he’d lived his entire life contrary to one of Clausewitz’s most strongly held maxims.
He preferred to wait and survey the situation before acting. After all, an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure. Throughout this whole process, he and Larsen had been so diligent, attempting to make sure that the case they would bring to the SEC was airtight. But Volek had outsmarted them at every turn. He’d been nimbler, more adaptable, and he’d used those advantages to dictate the course of the battle. Now, he appeared ready to outmaneuver Vincent yet again.
Vincent didn’t know how he was going to connect the dots, fit the pieces of the puzzle together to go to the SEC, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to do it before Volek finished winding up. Act quickly and probably err was his only choice now.
The first thing he did was call Annabelle. She picked up on the second ring and immediately agreed to meet with him when he told her that Volek was going to get away with it all. Money, though it could buy her silence on the affair, could not forgive his murder attempt. At least, that was his read. Whether he was right or not was immaterial; he was acting. He needed help with this crudely constructed plan and she was the only one he could trust.
Once he hung up, Vincent pulled up a malware program that he’d built several weeks ago, back when he had figured out Volek’s game. He was sure it would do what he needed, but even now Wong wasn’t sure if that would help him at all. But the time for hesitation was over as he hit the “execute” button and the program began running, encrypting every single one of the remaining bank accounts tied to the shell companies that hadn’t been dissolved. .