Authors: Steven J Patrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
"Ms. Greenway…" I began.
She held up her hand.
"Turn to the back page," she commanded. I flipped the calendar over to a spread with miscellaneous headings like "family dates," "celebrity birthdays," "fun facts," and "this date in history."
"Ask anything you want," she beamed.
"Umm…" I sputtered. "I…okay. State capitols. Capitol of South Dakota."
"Pierre," she shot back.
"Played bass for Buddy Holly and the Crickets," Jack blurted out.
"Waylon Jennings," Lucille shot back.
"Wrote the Tonight Show theme song."
"Played the corpse in 'The Big Chill.'"
"Huh," I smiled. "I wouldn't play Jeopardy with ya."
"Damn right you wouldn't," she grinned. "Also, your buddy here, whose last name you didn't volunteer, is Jack "Black Bart" Bartinelli, consensus all-American quarterback at Maryland until Cecil Tate blew out his knee, president and owner of Synsys, Inc., and partner in this shindig down by French Rocks."
"Damn," Jack smiled faintly. "You hire a detective or what?"
"I don't need no stinkin' detectives," she grinned, patting her Hitachi laptop fondly. "It's all right out there on the Internet."
"Ya think that woman forgot about voting?" I asked when we got back to the car.
"In your dreams," Jack snorted. "I doubt if she forgot how she voted in the '52 congressional elections."
"So we know somebody jiggered her ballot, at least," I mused. "That last thing she said, that Marcus Ramey would have voted for it, too, means it would have been unanimous, anyway. So why screw with the ballots?"
"Obviously," Jack replied, "whomever did it didn't think they'd sign up. The question is, how'd they get her signature on it?"
"Forged it, I imagine," I suggested. "Her handwriting looks just like those copybooks they give you in grade school."
"A good enough forgery that it fooled her?" Jack asked incredulously.
"I saw a guy in Saigon who copied my signature, in front of me, so perfectly it would have fooled the F.B.I.," I shrugged. "It's not that hard."
Jack was quiet for a moment as we eased down Lucille's stony drive and stopped at the asphalt.
"I'm confused," Jack growled, "and I hate being confused. If the tribe functions in some sort of defacto socialism, who stands to gain anything more by faking her consent? Somebody had to have just asked her how she'd vote."
"She seems like the type who'd play her cards pretty close to the vest," I answered. "Or…let's face it, Jack, lotsa money floatin' around in this thing. You and Anthony Three and the Wrights may be above raking off a spoonful of gravy here and there, but the average Joe will do a lot of twisted stuff to lay hands on what you'd shell out for a business luncheon."
Jack sighed and looked out the window.
"The wages of wealth," he said quietly. "Jesus, Tru, I've forgotten what it's like not to have money. I swore I'd never do that. You're right, of course. It might not take a whole lot to shake somebody's ethics. The question is who…and how… and let's not forget why."
"I'm a pragmatist," I chuckled dryly. "I'd settle for figuring out either of the first two. Neither of which is necessarily gonna tell us why P.P.V. has the lid on."
"Yeah," Jack sighed. "Just think when I started out here, I was really only concerned with that."
Marcus Ramey was a little scattered but both of us left, convinced that it wasn't the sort of diminished acuity that would let him forget important things. His was more preoccupation. That stage in the aging process at which an active mind begins to discard the bullshit and minutiae of daily life and ponders the larger questions of mortality and one's place in the universe. When recalling specific events, Ramey was as acute and lucid as Margaret Thatcher.
"So," I mused over lunch in a small bar/burger joint in Colville. "The question is about the tribe's procedures. How many people actually handle those ballots? If the number is small enough, we isolate everybody, push a little, and see who rings false."
"Let's define 'push a little,'" Jack said quietly. "Was Aaron Weber 'pushed a little.'"
"No," I mumbled around a mouthful of salad greens. "Aaron was swatted roughly. 'Push a little,' that's accusations and some minor verbal unpleasantness."
"And that'll get somebody to cave in and admit to doing something that'll get them sent to jail?" Jack asked.
"No," I replied. "I'm not after a confession. I want the one who seems the most uncomfortable, can't make eye contact, sweats too much. We press a little ungently and see what we find out."
"And if we don't find somebody like that?" Jack signed.
"Then we missed somebody," I replied. "Somebody falsified two ballots. It wasn't an act of god. Somebody's guilty and—unless they're the best I've ever seen—you push a guilty person and they'll act guilty."
"Okay," Jack said, nipping at his beer, "that's the problem with the tribe. What about the P.P.V. thing?"
"The fact that you're being told not to market it?" I smiled.
"Yeah, that part," Jack grumbled.
"Uh, yeah," I chucked. "As we were reading the contracts, well, I couldn't help but notice that you have final authority on all marketing decisions."
"Well, yeah," Jack allowed. "I get to decide but I need the partners' consent to start."
"That's not what the contract says," I insisted.
"It doesn't spell that out, but it's understood, in any deal like this. The launch of the marketing campaign is like groundbreaking or grand opening—one of those red-letter days when we're all on the same page."
"So, it's not mandatory. Just customary," I nodded.
"Exactly," Jack smiled.
"So screw that," I said quietly. "Market it."
"Market it," I repeated. "You haven't gotten any clear answers out of P.P.V. You've probably got ads ready, sales materials, scale model, all that. Start running the ads. Somebody will freak out and that'll be your roadblock. Then you can deal with them."
"Actually," Jack said softly, mulling it over, "the press releases should go out first."
"Do it," I urged. "Do it today. It hits the papers and somebody at P.P.V. starts screaming, calls you on it. You can just demand an explanation. Then you'll know."
Jack's face had traveled through a series of expressions akin to the phases of the moon as I talked. At last he smiled broadly and pulled out his cell phone.
"Is this how you always work, this bull-in-a-china-shop theory?" Jack chuckled.
"It cuts through a lot of crap," I pointed out. "People watch those private eye shows on cable and think it's all about finesse and ingenuity. Hard to finesse a punch in the snoot."
"A whole new business paradigm," Jack laughed, punching his speed dial. “I should hire you as a consultant.”
“You couldn’t afford me,” I smiled.
Joe sorted through the files on his laptop, keeping it turned toward the bulkhead so the groggy businessman next to him wouldn’t jolt awake and see something he might remember.
He was using the Torgesen passport, his hair lightened with a temporary wash and a three-day growth of beard to blur his features.
He left Spokane as Bill Putnam, a brown-haired, green-eyed optical products salesman from Meridian, Mississippi. Putnam was even booked into a hotel in downtown Chicago, a reservation he would later cancel, explaining that a local colleague had agreed to put him up. Putnam actually took a cab to the hotel. The big switch to Torgesen took place in a public restroom in a sleepy office building next door.
Torgesen lived in Chicago and worked as a concert producer. He had used Torgesen in and out of Heathrow once before, so there was even a history with the airline. Torgesen was also the easiest to slip in and out of; an important plus when negotiating a change-over in a risky pubic john.
Katja had him booked into the Regent Park Lane, where Torgesen had stayed on the previous trip. As hotels went, it was about his favorite in Europe and he luxuriated in it unabashedly.
His subject lived in Watford, an easy drive from the Regent. Katja had given him three possible views, which he memorized before torching the map in the hotel’s fireplace.
His cell rang as he was unpacking.
“Go to the
Wall Street Journal
website,” she said hurriedly. “I’ll wait.”
He booted up the computer and was into the
in 30 seconds.
"What am I looking for?" he mumbled.
""Page 13, lower left," she replied.
"Press release," he said quietly. "Luxury resort, casino, shopping center…P.P.V., Ltd., majority partner…Jack Bartinelli…Dr. and Mrs. Clayton Wright of Spokane."
He was quiet for a moment.
"Doesn't change anything," he sighed. "The Doctor and Mrs. sound like show locals. They don't help me, anyway. Too close. You run Bartinelli's name?"
"Multi-billionaire, owns a diversified software company with a division that handles resort development, mostly marketing. All-American football player at the University of Maryland."
"Black Bart Bartinelli?" Joe whistled. "I saw him play. Quite an arm…until he got his knees messed up."
"Whatever," Katja signed. "Is he a problem?"
"Way down on the list, maybe," Joe admitted. "If this doesn't work, I'd like to avoid it, actually."
"Don't get sentimental," she said sternly.
"Whatever," Joe murmured.
Dale and his wife Andrea left us an elaborate fruit tray and a bottle of '94 Screaming Eagle Cabernet as thanks for having their burdens magically lifted.
Skinflint that I am, I had never owned a bottle of Screaming Eagle and had only tried it once, poring over about half an ounce at a tasting. I was thrilled to get an entire half-bottle with nine years' age on it. It was ambrosia and I lingered over it while we discussed strategy.
Jack just glanced at the bottle, grunted once, and knocked it back without ceremony.
"You know that stuff goes for about $1,200 a bottle at auction, right?" I noted.
"Really?" Jack said, surprised. "I didn't know that. My staff gives me a case of this every year, mainly because I once let it slip at a party that I like wine. What I forgot to mention is that I don't know anything about it. I buy good Barolos, Barbarescos, and Amarones because that's what my dad and uncles drank, but one of my uncles owns a wine import company in Baltimore and I buy everything from him. I don't even know what I pay for it."