Read Buying Time Online

Authors: Pamela Samuels Young

Buying Time (28 page)

“Well, it better sink in fast,” Jada said. “Because if he brings his behind over here, he’s gonna get a bullet in his ass.”

“I want you to stay with me until this blows over,” Dre said.

“No, I’m going to stay here. If Cornell thought I was living with you, that would really set him off.”

This time Dre went off. “I don’t give a shit about settin’ him off! You can’t let that dude run your life!”

Angela closed her eyes and pressed her palm to her forehead. “You guys have to let me do this my way. If Cornell’s friend can’t get him to back off, I promise I’ll go to the police. But I’m not taking that gun.”

CHAPTER 56
 

B
ecker raised his champagne glass high in the air. “Let me be the first to officially congratulate our esteemed chairman, Lawrence Adolphus Erickson, and wish him well. Give ’em hell in Washington, big guy!”

The conference room on the twenty-fifth floor of Jankowski, Parkins broke into loud applause. The belated going away party had been Becker’s idea. The place was packed with lawyers, law firm clients and a few local politicians. Everybody in the room was now anxious to rub shoulders with a man who was on a first-name basis with the President of the United States.

Becker stepped aside so Erickson could take center stage. “Alright, alright,” he said, gripping the microphone. “This is not a permanent good-bye. President Bancroft has just over three years left in his second term. So I’m only taking a short leave of absence. And mark my words, if I don’t get my corner office back, I’m suing everybody in here.”

The room vibrated with laughter.

“What my colleague here neglected to mention,” Erickson continued, “is that I corralled him to come along with me. I’m really a novice in the world of politics so, thank God, I’ll have Roland Becker watching my back. This is the most loyal guy I know. And the most ruthless. That’s precisely the combination I’ll need in Washington.”

Erickson threw an arm around Becker’s shoulders, which set off another long round of applause.

After Erickson thanked practically everyone in the firm, Becker found his way to the back of the room. He still had misgivings about the move to D.C. He wanted to run the firm, not be second-in-command at the Justice Department in a lame duck administration. But Erickson was right. When he returned from D.C., he’d be in an even better position to take over the firm because of his political connections.

Becker watched the long line of people waiting to personally congratulate Erickson. Since their arrival in Washington, it was much the same. All the attention was focused on Erickson. Being Deputy AG was almost like being an associate again. He was too old to be holding someone else’s briefcase. But he had already accepted the job, so there was no backing out now.

“Why the sad face?” Tom Franklin, one of his law partners, sidled up beside him and slapped him on the back. “You having regrets about leaving us?”

Becker grinned. “Not at all. I’m pretty excited about the venture,” he said, always willing to put on the right face.

“Man, who are you kidding?” Franklin raised his wineglass to his lips. “You aren’t going to see any real action. Erickson’s going to be front and center and you’re going to be stuck in the background doing his paperwork. I couldn’t believe you took the job. I heard you’ll barely be making two hundred grand. I wish I had friends as loyal as you.”

Becker didn’t respond because he wasn’t quite sure what to say. He mustered up a stiff smile and walked out of the room. He had just opened the door to the men’s room when he heard words that stopped him in his tracks.

“Becker has no idea that Erickson is royally screwing him over.” Becker knew the speaker’s voice well. It was Max Ito, a senior associate who regularly worked on Becker’s cases. “I heard that when the Management Committee met to discuss Erickson’s successor, they wanted Becker, but Erickson told ’em he needed him in Washington.”

“That’s really messed up,” the second man said. Becker did not recognize his voice. “Erickson acts like he can’t take a piss without having Becker around to unzip his pants.”

“Erickson actually told ’em to take Becker’s name off the list,” Ito continued. “Said he didn’t have what it takes. Becker’s spent the last twenty years kissing Erickson’s ass. You’d think he’d support him. Can you believe that shit?”

The second man chuckled. “I can believe it. The moral of
that
story is, don’t trust anybody around here with your career because everybody is out for themselves.”

Becker took a step back, allowing the door to quietly close. He wobbled down the corridor, blinded by rage. He couldn’t believe Erickson would betray him. Not after everything he’d risked for him.

Becker looked up to see the slightly intoxicated Attorney General approaching from the opposite end of the floor.

“Ready for a fun ride, old buddy?” Erickson asked, clutching him in a fatherly embrace. “We’re going to make a great team in Washington.”

Anger swirled deep in Becker’s gut, but somehow he managed to summon up a phony smile. Erickson hugged him so close that Becker could almost taste the scotch on his breath.

“Yeah,” Becker said, finally pulling away, “we’re going to be quite a team.”

CHAPTER 57
 

W
averly finally made the decision to call his former attorney. Maybe Mancuso could use her contacts to find out exactly what might be in store for him. Did the two prosecutors have any real evidence that his clients had been murdered or were they just trying to scare him?

Waverly arrived at Mancuso’s swank office an hour after making the call. She sat there, statue-like in her pink sweater as Waverly recounted the details of what had led him into the viatical business. He even disclosed his forced business arrangement with Rico and Goldman Investments and the money laundering that followed. He left out the part about the bribe that got him his viatical license.

Mancuso actually whistled when he was done. “This sounds like something out of a movie.”

“Well, maybe when this is all over you can negotiate the movie deal for me. Right now I need more than just legal advice. You have a reputation for having behind-the-scenes connections. I need you to use your resources to find out what’s going on.”

Mancuso was a rich lawyer precisely because she was a smart lawyer. Her first question was the most obvious one. “You were disbarred. How’d you get a viatical license?”

Waverly looked down at his hands and fingered his wedding ring. “We paid a bribe to somebody at the Department of Insurance.”

Mancuso raised her eyes toward the ceiling. He thought she was about to start lecturing him and, if she did, he planned to get up and walk out.

“I’ll see what I can find out,” she said after a long silence. “But I’m not sure I can be of much help. You don’t have anything to bargain with. Any deal I might be able to make would require you to lead the police to this Rico character, but you’ve never even met the guy.”

Waverly began to wonder if reaching out to her had been a mistake. He didn’t need someone to tell him he was screwed. He already knew that. At least this conversation, unlike the ones with Vincent and the Live Now executives, was protected by the attorney-client privilege.

“If I were you,” Mancuso said, “I’d put a kibosh on brokering any more deals. The feds are probably watching you.”

Tell me something I don’t know.

“I’ll make some calls,” Mancuso said halfheartedly. “See what I can find out.”

“Thanks.” Waverly stood up.

“I’ll need a retainer,” she said.

Waverly sighed. “How much?”

“I’ll cut you some slack since you’re in a pinch. Thirty thousand should cover things for the time being.”

That’s what you call slack?
Waverly pulled out his checkbook, wrote in the amount and handed it to her. Too bad it was going to bounce.

He drove home to his big empty house and headed straight for the liquor cabinet. Out of brandy, he turned to vodka. In no time, he’d fallen asleep on the couch in the family room.

When he woke up early the next morning, he realized that the five-thousand dollar couch their interior designer had picked out was not intended for sleeping. His back felt like he’d been lugging around a slab of cement.

Waverly sat up and clicked on a lamp. When he tried to check the time on his watch, it took several seconds for his eyes to focus. It was much earlier than he’d expected. Just after four in the morning. He looked around for the vodka bottle. He found it underneath the couch. Empty.

After lying around for another hour or so, some internal force kicked in that told him this situation could not be handled like the rest his life. This time, he would have to be the one to make things right.

Despite what many people thought, for the most part, the legal system worked. Sure, there were those occasional
60 Minutes
stories about some innocent guy who served half his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. But those cases were the exception. Prisons were packed with people because they were guilty and that was exactly where they needed to be.

Waverly wasn’t guilty of anything except wanting to protect his family. He certainly had nothing to do with the deaths of Claire Erickson or Jerry Billington or anybody else. He would go to the police and tell them that. Justice would prevail. Why was he even worrying? So what if he laundered a little money. He did it under duress. He would tell the police everything he knew about Rico and cut a deal that would keep him out of prison.

Waverly hobbled over to his kitchen drawer, found a notepad and pen, then shuffled back to the couch. He would analyze his situation like the real lawyer that he used to be. Screw Mancuso and her thirty-thousand-dollar retainer.

He drew a line down the middle of the page and wrote
pro
at the top of one column and
con
at the top of the other.

He started his analysis with the prosecution angle. It was always best to know where your opponent was coming from. In the worst case scenario, what were his crimes? Money laundering was the one crime that Waverly couldn’t deny. He would have duress as a defense which might buy him some sympathy with a jury. No, there would be no jury. He could not, would not, put his life in the hands of twelve incompetent strangers with their own agendas and motivations. If he couldn’t cut a deal, he’d waive his right to a jury and take his chances with a judge.

Maybe he could keep himself out of prison by turning state’s evidence against Rico and whoever else was involved. The most serious crime he might face would be accessory to murder if Rico had indeed killed Jerry Billington or anyone else. Another investor had purchased Claire Erickson’s policy, so those prosecutors would not be able to connect Rico to her murder. If she even
was
murdered. A competent prosecutor, however, could easily use circumstantial evidence to make it appear that Rico and Waverly had been working together.

Waverly stared at the notepad, then tossed it onto the coffee table. This was a useless exercise. He wished he had something to drink. He would wait to hear what Mancuso found out, provided she wasn’t too pissed off about his check bouncing. He just hoped she could help him cut a deal. They always wanted the big fish, not the little guy.

But Waverly also knew that prosecutors liked making examples out of lawyers. A lawyer gone bad deserved exactly what he got. The
L.A. Times
article proved that. They would make him the poster child for corrupt attorneys.

Waverly closed his eyes and tried to think. The ringing of his BlackBerry startled him. He pressed ignore and it stopped ringing. He did not want to hear another threat from Rico. Whether he produced the money or not, he was probably next on Rico’s hit list.

In the meantime, he had to protect his family. He would call Quincy and tell him to disappear until all of this was over. First he needed to let Deidra know that her life was also in danger.

When Waverly dialed her cell phone, she picked up in a half-slumber.

“Deidra?” The cowardice in his voice was embarrassing even to him. He should just demand that she come home. She had taken an oath to stick with him for better or worse, richer or poorer. She owed him loyalty more than anything else. He’d done all of this, mistakes and all, for her.

“Deidra, are you there?”

“What do you want?”

Waverly did not sense the same bitterness he’d felt when she walked out, which gave him hope. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Deidra, I—”

“I don’t want to talk to you and I’m not coming home. So don’t ask.”

“I’m not asking you to come home,” Waverly said. “I’m calling to tell you that you’re not safe. Your parents either.”

Deidra started to whimper. “I’m not going into hiding because of something you did.”

“Listen to me. This is serious. Whoever is killing my clients might come after you and your parents to get back at me. Do you understand me? You can’t stay in town.”

Waverly heard a soft cry of alarm.

“I want all of you, including Rachel, to take a long vacation. Just for a few weeks until I can figure something out.”

CHAPTER 58
 

A
ngela called in sick for three days after Cornell assaulted her. It took that long for her bruises to fade enough to conceal them with foundation.

Her second day back at work, Cornell sent three dozen long-stemmed roses to her office. When Angela read his note, it only enraged her.

 

There’s no excuse for my behavior. I guess I just lost it. I’m Sorry. If you can forgive me, I’ll find a way to forgive your betrayal. Let’s just put this all behind us. Call me.

Yours, Cornell.

 

All day long, her coworkers kept coming into her office, admiring the flowers and asking if she and Cornell were getting back together. Tired of the inquiries, Angela finally dumped the flowers in a trash bin outside the cafeteria. When her assistant asked about them, she lied and said she put them in her car.

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