Authors: Steven J Patrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
"Now, you have maybe the best group of computer hackers ever assembled tracking this guy through any and all—and I mean
databases he's ever shown up in."
"Hackers?" Aaron frowned. "Isn't that…illegal?"
"Yeah," Jack smiled, "but hackers are the people who understand data and hardware best. Most of my kids had at least a minor brush with trouble in the past, but stifling people like that…well, it's an incredible waste. Most of 'em never make any money, so I hire them, pay them waaay too much, and give them legal tasks that challenge their talents. What they do in their spare time, I can only influence, not control."
"But, sometimes, in an emergency, Maryland and D.C. law enforcement will call and ask me to turn them loose. So, we have an unofficial arrangement. I don't compromise national security, they don't look too hard at anything we might do in the grey areas. If I could just get them to quit trying to hire my staff, it'd be damned near perfect."
"Thanks," I muttered, feeling like a tin-plated jerk. "How 'bout calling Art and telling him I need to speak to Jane Wright."
"Just like that?" Aaron blinked. "You're not gonna dig around and gather info?"
"No time," I shrugged. "One rule I live by is, when nothing's happening, make something happen. Anything. I'm sure Janie Wright truly believes she's the stealth fighter of cheating wives but you knew about it. Bettijean Moorage knew, which means every businesswomen in the whole area knew. She thinks her boyfriend and her bank accounts are invisible. So let's find out what happens when we tell her they're not."
"What if she just tells you to get lost?" Jack asked.
"Just as good," I replied. "In that case, we watch until she goes out or someone comes in. She's gonna call somebody and that'll be a name we need."
"What about Joe?" Jack sputtered. "What if he's the sniper?"
"Then he's busy," I replied, "but trust me—this won't take that long."
Janie Wright let us in the door based on my saying I worked for Art D'Onofrio. She greeted Aaron as though he were a former houseboy and was visibly stunned when I introduced Jack. I was filing all of it but I was in a hurry.
"Mrs. Wright," I said evenly, "I was brought here to investigate the voting snafu with the Colville tribe and your project near Kettle Falls. That's what I was doing until someone started shooting board members of your and Jack's other partners, Pembroke Property Ventures. Now, I…"
"Shooting!" she gasped. If she was faking the distress, I couldn't tell. "My God, who…"
"Six members of the P.P.V. Board," I continued. "Two shot in London, one in France, one in Munich, two in Austria. Sniper shootings. Long range. It made the papers in London. You and your husband were mentioned."
"O, MiGod!" she yelped. "Mr. Bartinelli, are we…
"In danger?" Jack smiled ruefully. "Not if he's in Europe. Problem is, he's sent e-mails saying he wants the Colville project stopped. He could come here. We don't know."
"Dear God," she moaned, almost in tears. "What kind of lunatic would…"
"Mrs. Wright," I interrupted. "We've got a lot to do and not much time to do it. We need to find any possible connection between problems with the tribe, the development, and this shooter. I'm going to come right to the point. You've been seeing a boy from Colville. You've been there a lot, not just the one time you told Art. His great aunt is Lucille Greenway, whose vote was the one in question. Your Rolls was spotted behind the tribe courier who was delivering and retrieving the ballots. You got Aaron to ride the project borders with you and ignored your lodge site but spent a lot of time scoping out property belonging to some guy only known as Joe. Then we find out you've been padding out a bank account that now contains a bit over four million dollars. You'll possibly be offended at this invasion of your privacy. I understand. I just don't care. Something with you is fishy and I'm betting your husband and parents don't know a thing about any of it. So, you have two choices: explain all this to my satisfaction or I can keep digging."
right to…" she began.
"Yeah, he does," Jack said flatly. "All the partners underwent background checks except you. Uncle Art gave you a free pass because you're his daughter's best bud. It wasn't that hard to find out any of it."
"I think all three of you should leave," she snapped, her eyes flashing. "I'm going to call Art and have you fired."
"Can't fire me, Janie," Jack said mildly.
"Actually, you can't have Art fire me, either," I smiled.
"You want to bet?" she spat, but the fresh outrage contained a note of panic.
"Jack here pays my fee," I replied. "I work for him via Art."
She opened and closed her mouth a time or two and then remembered Aaron.
"You can just…" she started.
"I don't work for anybody," Aaron said quietly. "but I might just slap the shit out of you if you don't wise up."
She looked at Jack and me, open-mouthed and quivering.
"He might," I nodded. "He doesn't like you much.
She glared at all of us and then sat firmly in an armchair.
"I don't owe any of you any answers about anything," she sneered. "Now get out."
We stood. I smiled sadly and shook my head.
"Bad move," I chuckled. "Now I get more curious, dig harder, ask a lot of questions you probably don't want asked. I'll bet I can turn up something here the D.A. would find interesting. You really want to go that way?"
"Let's not forget that, if you and Clayton filed a false financial disclosure—yours didn't mention any fat, personal accounts—I'm going to sue you both until your gums bleed," Jack grinned ferally.
"I'm going to find out all this, anyway," I shrugged. "You're just delaying the inevitable."
I leaned down close to her and spoke softly.
"See, people like you offend me, Janie," I smiled. "You think you're slick. You think that only being seen by people below you on the social ladder is like being invisible. You think you're entitled to your advantages. You think that whatever you do is automatically okay because you chose to do it."
I waited until she looked up at me.
"You think you're always right," I whispered. "But this time, you're not."
"This has nothing to do with any shootings!" she said firmly. "Any of it. We have 25 million dollars invested in the resort. If it's stopped, we risk losing all or part of it. You think that's what we want?"
"No," I shrugged, "but, like I said, your husband—whom I'll be talking to very soon—probably doesn't know what you're up to. Does he know about the 4-mil, Jane? Does he know about Adam Fletcher?"
Her eyes went wide with surprise and filled instantly with tears. Good acting, possibly, but I was betting I had hit a nerve.
"What do you think will happen when it comes out that Adam was helping you obstruct an election, Jane? To hell with the affair. That's just sleazy, not illegal. Election tampering is a felony; a pretty serious one. Feds become involved. Adam goes to jail. Lucille Greenway goes to jail.
go to jail," I sighed. "Whatever this scam's about, I'm betting two things: one, it has jack squat to do with the election, the resort, or Clayton Wright; and two, it has something to do with that piece of property you're so damned interested in."
"I want my attorney, now, please," she said tightly.
"You incredible idiot!" Jack snapped. "We're not the fucking police and this isn't some T.V. movie that's going to have a miraculous happy ending for the beautiful heiress and her country boy toy. Piss on your $25 mil. I spend that on R & D for one piece of software. I have $100 mil in this and you best believe that if it comes down to protecting my investment or being accommodating to your hanky-panky, I'll gift wrap you for the Feds, sue you into oblivion, ruin you socially, and let Aaron beat the hell out of you to boot. You think Tru's offended? I'm ten times as offended and I'm a fucking billionaire. You do the math."
"All right!" Jane shouted. "I'm trying to get enough cash together to buy that land. I didn't even know it could be sold and two fucking people have bought it, already."
"Plausible," Jack nodded, "but it only answers one question. Where'd the 4 mil come from? What about the connection to Lucille? Why all the lying about going out there?"
"Clay suspected I was seeing somebody," she murmured, hugging herself as though the temperature had dropped 20 degrees, which I suppose it had, for her, "So I lied about going out there. The money, indirectly, came from my parents. They invested it in my name over 30 years ago. I've been moving it out of the trust in chunks, trying to avoid taxes. I don't want it eaten up because I want to make a pre-emptive offer. The thing with Lucille is a coincidence. I didn't know she was related to Adam until we were already involved. We're friends but I can't figure the voting thing, either."
Jack and Aaron and I exchanged glances.
"She still thinks she's smarter than you," Aaron observed.
"Luckily, we know better," I shrugged.
"Wait a minute!" Jane sputtered. "I'm telling you the truth!"
"Jane," I sighed, "why do you want that land?"
"It's…it's personal," she said softly. "It's…sentimental."
"Jesus," Aaron snorted, "can't I just beat her ass a little bit?"
"Jane," I chuckled, "I don't actually know you but I've heard a lot and I know your type. I believe you might actually want that land—every good lie is anchored by a kernel of truth—but if your reasons have anything to do with sentiment, I'll eat my dog. And I love my dog."
"I've seen this ploy, Jane," I continued. "Construct a plausible lie that puts you into a bit of a bad light, but not too serious so you turn off the listener. Then you offer a few additional tidbits, so they think they've pried you open like a bad clam. See Jane, this is what I do for a living. I listen to people lie. I listen and nod and smile and then I go find out what they're really up to. Then I gift-wrap 'em for my buddy, the D.A. and he puts them in jail, with the other people who think they're smarter than anyone else."
"You don't know anything," she sniffed. "You don't know me at all. All you see is your preconceptions. Daughter of a rich family, married to an L.A. surgeon. You're just like everybody else. People always think they know me. They think I married Clay because I'm some shallow gold-digger who…"
Lady," Aaron snorted, "you're listed in the encyclopedia under gold-digger. What do you think it means? It's a woman who marries a man, spends his money, shares his home, and doesn't really care about him. Someone who sleeps around on him. Or was that stuff about ol' Brad what's-his-face, out there in L.A., all just media distortions?"
She seemed to shrink two sizes within her clothes.
"What would you know about it, you dumb hick?" she murmured. "You're just some thug who beats people up in bars…only I hear your luck ran out, didn't it, Aaron? I hear some old guy put you in Spokane General."
"Old guy?" I sputtered.
"Some old tourist," Jane leered. "Looked like somebody's grandpa, was what I heard. 'Samatter, Aaron? Over the hill at 20?"
I shot a poisonous glance at Jack and Aaron, both of whom were nearly quivering with suppressed laughter. Jack managed to recover a bit but Aaron finally lost it and started to giggle.
"That would be my grandpa, right there," he chuckled, pointing to me.
"I could do it again, y'know," I growled.
beat him up?" Jane asked, mouth agape. "So…and now you two are…working together?"