The payments to the non-existent security firm he'd been making to avoid labor problems were illegitimate. He didn't want the union in his shop and they were willing to look the other way for a consideration. He didn't know if it was against the law to pay the extortion, but it was certainly unlawful for the union rep to ask for it. Ryan had cooperated to the extent that he had never complained to the authorities. This was way beyond that minor...involvement...with something illegal.
Could he live with this?
"It's risky..." he said finally, "...awfully risky."
He sat on the opposite side of the sofa and leaned his head back and closed his eyes to think.
"But...not too risky...if we're smart," he said at length, "and if we don't get too greedy," he added. He thought a moment longer.
"How would we set up accounts to send wire transfers to?" he asked.
Consuela gulped and didn't answer for a moment. The comment, and the follow-up question, indicated Ryan had more than half accepted the premise of punishing the bank, Sean Michaels, and Carrie Gilchrist all at one time.
"My mother's Uncle Roberto lives in Mexico City," she said unsteadily. "He has an import and export company and he travels all over the Caribbean on business. He knows lots of people. Some of them have...contacts..."
Her voice trailed off. Neither commented on the implication her great-uncle knew people in both high and low places--people he could call on who knew how to keep their mouths shut...for a price of course.
"We know the passwords," he mused, "but no one knows we do. Actually, no one could reasonably expect there would be any way in the world we could know." He thought for a moment.
"Well, unless my video is shown somewhere," he remarked. He opened his eyes and looked at Consuela. "This had better be worth me losing my revenge on my wife," he told her quietly.
"Why?" she asked, confused at the comment. "You can still show the times when she was having sex with that man...it's just the kitchen that you couldn't show anyone."
She stopped. Ryan was shaking his head.
"Nope. We can't afford the possibility someone might wonder if I had spy cameras in one place, why wouldn't I have cameras somewhere else. See?"
She nodded. It made too much sense to be debated. Ryan closed his eyes again and tilted his head to rest on the back of the sofa.
"I paid cash for the cameras and everything else," he said reflectively. "That's all they would accept. The guy was moving, liquidating a lot of merchandise, and needed cash quick. There were no credit card receipts with Ryan's name on them...heck it was up in Dallas more than a year ago. There's no paper trail at all really. They gave me a cash receipt but I know where it is. I can burn it and then there is nothing. He probably has a cash register record of the purchase...but it's not linked to my name.
"Hell, he didn't ask my name and I didn't give it. He doesn't know me from Adam and couldn't identify me at this late date if the cops do find him and talk to him. There's no problem there..."
"We can destroy the VHS tapes, the DVDs, the tape recordings, the cameras, tape decks...everything. All the equipment is one place in my garage and all the evidence I got with it is with me, out in my pickup," he said. He was talking to the ceiling...think of all the details. "We can get rid of all of it some way...after wiping my prints off, of course."
"I didn't drill any holes in the wall to mount the cameras or anything," he mused. "They were all just laying around...hidden in places I knew Carrie wouldn't look." He snorted. "Suzy Homemaker she is not."
"Hmmmmm. What else? Am I missing anything?"
They talked for hours, finally winding down in the early hours of Saturday morning. Most of the discussion had involved how to dispose of all the gear and the mountain of evidence he had gathered on his wife. It was hard letting that go, but there could be no hint Ryan had any idea of what was going on, much less that he had done some personal investigating. If that was known, there might be questions about what he'd seen during those investigations. That was a long shot but there was no sense taking the chance.
Consuela had wondered how she would get access to Michaels' laptop, but Ryan knew the answer to that already. Michaels and Carrie were in a hurry when they came in the house for their trysts. The laptop was always parked quickly on the sofa while the two adulterers rushed upstairs. It rested there until the first time one of them came downstairs.
He also knew how he could get himself and Consuela to the Gilchrist's house without anyone upstairs knowing. There was a large swath of undeveloped land behind the house choked with scrub oak, some scruffy cedar, and lots of underbrush. Ryan had investigated it to some extent when they first moved into the new home. He knew how to work his way through from a street on the other side of the undeveloped land and right to their backyard. It was only a couple of hundred yards--five...maybe ten minutes, tops.
Once there, the chain-link fence around the back yard could be negotiated by anyone in reasonably good shape. He and Consuela were in excellent physical condition. It would be no problem for them to jump the fence.
At the house, the patio door rolled open and shut easily. It was silent for all practical purposes. He could leave it unlocked when he went to work. He'd make sure he left after Carrie...and he was willing to bet Carrie would never check it when she came home with her lover. The patio door opened into the dining room and it was only a few steps into the kitchen where the phone jack was. The sofa in the living room where the laptop would be sitting was just beyond the dining room through a doublewide doorway. Extricating themselves would be a simple matter of retracing their steps.
They didn't know how long Consuela would have on the laptop. They'd made a note to themselves to use a stopwatch on the VHS tapes to figure out how long the breaks were that Michaels and Carrie took between couplings. They'd been thinking the amount of transfers Consuela could make would be limited by the time they had on the day they pulled this off. It had finally occurred to them, they could do this several times. Admittedly, it would have to be over a short time frame, say...a week, but that should be more than enough to drain enough funds from the bank for it to hurt.
Ryan had a fair idea Carrie would jump at the chance to invite her lover over if she thought Ryan was out of town. As a matter of fact, she had probably been doing Sean every day this week while he was gone. He'd know when he went home tomorrow. There'd be more videotapes to review because he'd left the all cameras and recording equipment in place.
They broke for the night, too tired to make more plans. Before they parted, they agreed once they started this operation, they would never again make notes on paper or on a computer. The ones they had already taken to remind themselves of things they needed to investigate further, and other notes they'd make when there was no alternative, would be strictly controlled. When their use was over, they'd be burned and the ashes disposed of somewhere safe.
They'd never make phone calls from phone numbers that could be traced back to either of them. They could never speak to anyone else about this, and most importantly, there was no way they could ever be seen in public together until this was over.
The last agreement hurt the most. They'd become comfortable with each other even though they'd only known each other for five days. It hurt to realize they couldn't afford to attract attention by been seen together.
Ryan went back to his motel and Consuela went to bed after checking on Belinda. The little girl would be sad when she woke and saw Ryan was not there.
When he got home Saturday afternoon, Ryan found more proof of Carrie's infidelity waiting for him. He wouldn't have bothered watching it except he needed to time the gaps between the sexual bouts the two engaged in. He wasn't interested in an average or a maximum period he and Consuela would have. It was the minimum amount of time they would plan for.
His review of the tapes showed they'd have a little more than twenty-five minutes each time for Consuela to do her magic. The sexual interludes Carrie and Sean engaged in were never less than thirty minutes...and there was only one time it was that short. Ryan figured if he and Consuela were in the house only twenty-five minutes, there was no way they'd ever be caught. They had a five-minute margin.
In the garage, he dumped all the tapes into a cardboard box along with most of the cameras, recorders, the audiotapes, and recorders. The box went into the passenger side floorboard in his pickup. It had been a year and more since Carrie had been near the truck so it was a safe hiding place for virtually anything.
Sunday afternoon, he drove to Austin and purchased half a dozen prepaid cell phones. Ryan and Consuela would use them to contact each other while they were avoiding each other for public consumption. They were untraceable and he paid cash for them at six different convenience stores to ensure the purchases were also untraceable.
Before going inside the stores, he checked to make sure those neighborhood stores had no security cameras. He smiled gently or kept his face comfortably blank, and was appropriately courteous everywhere. No one would have any reason to remember the man dressed in nondescript clothing.
When she wasn't being cold and hostile, Carrie ignored him the entire weekend. That suited Ryan to a "T." He had no intention of spending any time with her he didn't have to, and sex was out of the question. It made him physically ill to think of making love to her.
She even slept most of the weekend. Ryan figured she was tired and he considerately left her alone so she could recuperate. He was beginning to relish the idea of what he and Consuela were going to do to Carrie and her Mr. Sean Michaels.
Monday night, Consuela made a call from her Aunt's house to her Great-Uncle Roberto, asking her aunt to leave the room for a short time. Her aunt had a bit of unrepentant larceny in her soul and would have loved to know what Consuela was planning. She was moderately disappointed Consuela wouldn't share that information, but she understood. She figured she'd find out sooner or later.
Great-Uncle Roberto wouldn't normally have accepted calls from an unknown number but now he was primed to answer when any of six numbers showed up on his caller ID after Consuela spoke to him. She ended the call by "padding" it with domestic chat she would normally have had with him on any other occasion.
Ryan had made one trip to her house in the late afternoon, driving a car loaned to him by one of his workmen. The man had needed the big pickup to go back to San Antonio to pick up a load of building supplies Tuesday morning and had actually suggested the switch.
Ryan made a mental note for him and Consuela to use rentals on their trips to and from his house. He didn't quite know how he'd arrange for them without leaving a trail of credit card transactions, but he thought it could be done. Maybe he could reserve the car with a credit card and then pay the final charge in cash...or maybe he could make a large cash deposit for them. He'd see what turned up.
Belinda had been delighted when her mother left her at home with Ryan while she went to her Aunt's. Ryan enjoyed it too. When Consuela got home and entered quietly through the kitchen door, she found her small daughter cuddled in Ryan's arms while they both dozed in the big easy chair.
She watched them for a long time before waking them. It took that long for the unshed tears to dry up in her eyes.
Consuela spent every free moment the next week...not that there were many...speaking with her great-uncle. When he wasn't talking to her, he was busy calling in favors with contacts he had in Belize, the Cayman Islands, Barbados, Bermuda, Antigua, Curacao, Aruba, Jamaica and in other places Consuela had never heard of. In days, accounts were ready for use in offshore banks that had reputations for maintaining extremely tight security on behalf of their clients. Most of the accounts had been there for a long time, sitting idle and waiting for someone to activate them. A very few were brand new.
By the time the preliminaries were taken care of, Roberto had set up a path for money to flow through such places as a London bank, to the always friendly Swiss Credit Bank, and from there to the Bank of Nigeria, and then back around to a Caribbean destination. He set up several hundred separate accounts because he knew whatever his great-niece was doing had a half-life of only a few days. There would be no time for the funds to accumulate and no way for typical investment transactions to be processed.
A week and a half after Great-Uncle Roberto finished setting up the routing and accounts, a smiling young Hispanic boy knocked on Consuela's front door and handed her a rewriteable CD. Surprised, Consuela accepted the jewel case containing the CD. She looked up to find the boy had turned and left without saying a word.
The CD contained a spreadsheet Consuela and Ryan loaded on a second-hand laptop Ryan bought for cash. It was the only record they allowed themselves. There was no way to memorize all the accounts or they wouldn't have had even this one piece of incriminating evidence around. The CD was sanded smooth, broken into small pieces, and melted before being dumped into the San Antonio River.
The revengeful pair anticipated having to let the money lay in an account somewhere for a couple of years or so to give the inevitable investigations time to die down. This was no real burden. They expected to be able to file civil lawsuits just as they'd planned anyway. They figured they had a good chance of winning them too.
The lawsuits would hurt the bank directly and penalize it for not enforcing their own contract's morals clauses. Pilfering the accounts of super-rich bank customers was designed to create the appearance Sean Michaels and Carrie Gilchrist had conspired in bank fraud. The jail terms they would get were in lieu of being shot they way they would have been a hundred years earlier in this same city.
Ryan and Consuela reasoned the money looted from the rich bank account holders would be replaced by the bank. The bank couldn't afford to lose their business if all the rich customers threatened to take all their funds out and those people could be relied upon to make exactly that threat. The loss to the bank would be a further penalty they'd just have to absorb. Next time, they'd make sure one of their senior supervisors didn't sexually harass a single mother or help himself to another man's wife on company time.
Consuela's older second cousin, Richard, would store the laptop for them when she and Ryan finished the active phase of their plan. Richard was not computer literate and would have no interest in the laptop. He was also a recluse who had no friends. Actually, he associated with very few of the members of his own family.
He lived in a cabin with no conveniences back off behind a mesa and so far out in the sticks even the ranch's cowboys never came there. He'd built there with the owner's permission in compensation for a favor Richard had done him twenty years earlier. No one knew quite what it had been.
The only thing about Richard's living arrangements that interested Consuela and Ryan was that his home was extraordinarily remote and no one could get near the place without Richard seeing them coming for a long way. No one visited Richard without very carefully identifying themselves at the edge of the parcel of land he considered his. He'd been known to take a shot at interlopers to get them moving along. The laptop was safe with him; Consuela was sure of it and she'd easily convinced Ryan.
A month and a half after Ryan and Consuela first met, all of the groundwork had been laid. The accounts were ready. The first pair of non-traceable cell phones they'd used to communicate with each other so far had been smashed and the component parts scattered in a half-dozen San Antonio dumpsters. All the gear Ryan had purchased from the spy shop and the recordings he'd made with that equipment had all been destroyed, burned, and the remnants deposited a city dump a hundred miles away. All their written notes had been burned and the ashes dumped in the San Antonio River south of town.
The storage bin in the garage where he'd kept the books had already been emptied and the contents carefully disposed of. He hadn't wanted that area in the garage to stand out so he cleaned the whole thing thoroughly, using copious amounts of cleaning fluids and lots of elbow grease. They were as ready as they could make themselves.
Their plan called for Ryan to stay home for a week or two to interfere with the lovers' trysts. He took off from work, telling Carrie he needed the time to recharge and rest after several months of hard work. She could hardly object; there was no good reason to shove him out of the house. Ryan was exceptionally attentive all week long; showing up several times at the bank to take her to lunch or just dropping by in the middle of the afternoon to show her a purchase, ask her advice on something, or just to chat for a moment on her break.
On Friday evening, he and Carrie attended a dinner hosted by one of the bank vice-presidents at one of the posh hotels down on the Riverwalk. It was an excuse for a formal evening out in the early fall to fill in the gap after Labor Day and before the traditional holidays. Ryan hadn't gone to the one last year. He didn't like many of the people Carrie worked with and he surprised Carrie this year with his enthusiasm about attending. She tried once or twice to dissuade him but Ryan wouldn't hear of it.
He surprised her again when she saw the beautifully tailored tux he bought just for this event, along with the best accessories he could find. A visit to the barber that afternoon had corralled his unruly hair and he'd taken extraordinary care with his shave. She noticed his well-manicured nails and commented on them. In his line of work, keeping one's nails long enough to manicure was difficult.
At the dance, Ryan stayed near his wife, though she tried a few times to divert him to other groups of partygoers. He smiled inwardly when she introduced Sean Michaels to him again. Ryan already knew who he was, from previous meetings, if nothing else...but it was interesting to look down into the man's eyes and squeeze his pale hand when Carrie took him over to Sean and his cronies.
The slightly widened pupils and the distinct expression of pain when Ryan's grip began to tighten were well worth the price of the tuxedo. Ryan hadn't realized until now that his six feet, one inch frame was so much taller than Mr. Michaels. He could tell Michaels didn't like it...and Carrie didn't seem to appreciate the clear distinction between the two men either.
Ryan wandered away from Carrie's side not long after that but he wasn't alone for long. A number of women, unattached and otherwise, had noticed the byplay when Ryan shook Michaels' hand and wanted a closer look at the winner of the contest. He noticed a look of irritation on Carrie's face when she saw him across the room with three women vying for the attention of her tall, strong husband.
Carrie grew visibly more concerned when Ryan reintroduced himself to Sharon Michaels, Sean's wife. He'd met her earlier in the year at one of the regular functions, but hadn't seen her since.
The attractive blond spent a half hour chatting casually with Ryan. Near the end of their conversation, Sharon was distracted by something behind Ryan. He turned to see Carrie standing close to Sean and smiling up into his face. They were part of a crowd; there was nothing overtly suspicious about their postures or attitude, but Sharon was watching closely.
When he turned back to Sharon, a ghost of a frown was just fading from her face. There was a sadness in her eyes she couldn't hide. Ryan didn't know what to do. He didn't know her well enough to say anything about what he knew. He wasn't sure how she'd take it and now was not the right place or time to chance it.
All of the contrived interest in being with Carrie...Ryan thought of it as a smokescreen and bait for a trap...slowed in the second week. It had served its purpose. Carrie and Michaels were so spooked, they didn't even try to arrange a rendezvous for fear Ryan would show up somewhere unexpectedly. Ryan did come by the bank again a couple of times, as he'd done the week before, just to keep the adulterous twosome off balance but they were short visits he made to and from other destinations.
It worked. By the end of the second week, Carrie was clearly frustrated and anxious. It was assumed Sean was in the same state of sexual dissatisfaction. Ryan and Consuela congratulated themselves. The pump had been primed.
It was even easier than Ryan had estimated to get into the house on Carrie and Sean's first "date" on his first Monday back at work. Ryan had been able to orchestrate almost the exact time the time the pair of lovers would leave work for the afternoon by making a point of taking Carrie to an early lunch. He set it up on Sunday, telling Carrie he would come by to pick her up on his way out of town for a business appointment in Austin. She'd agreed--she could hardly say no the way Ryan put it to her--and suggested a Taco Bell near the downtown bank's location. Ryan knew the proposal of a "fast food" meal was made to get it over with quickly and get Ryan out of town speedily.
That was fine with him. His only goal in eating lunch with her had been to make sure she and Sean Michaels couldn't leave work in the morning. Ryan and Consuela wouldn't have to wait all day near the Gilchrist residence waiting for something to happen.
Instead of renting cars to travel back and forth, Ryan and Consuela borrowed nondescript vehicles from Consuela's family. They were in Consuela's cousin Alfredo's car today. The rest of the week they would have the loan of automobiles--a different one each day--from other individuals in Consuela's family and friends of the family.
The way it worked was that Consuela's Aunt had spoken with a number of people she trusted. She arranged for a gassed up, smooth-running vehicle to be sitting in an out-of-the-way parking lot with the keys under the mat each morning by 7:00AM. Consuela and Ryan, though Consuela's Aunt had no knowledge he was part of this, had full use of the vehicle all day. When it was returned to the parking lot, it was understood there would be an envelope under the mat with the keys containing a few hundred dollars in twenty-dollar bills. No questions would be asked, and none answered.
Ryan had told his senior foremen he was going to continue his time off and go out to the deer lease he'd had for years up near the little town of Marble Falls. It wasn't unusual, even though he'd already been away from the job for two weeks. Ryan always got some deer tags about this same time each year and took a little vacation time to drive north of San Antonio up to the cabin on the lease near Marble Falls. It wasn't remarkable enough to even comment on. The business hadn't been making enough money in prior years to permit the three-week vacation. Everyone wished him good luck in the hunt.
Consuela was sick. It was that crud going around, she told her boss...or maybe it was the flu. She really hoped it wasn't a new strain because she hadn't gotten a shot this year. Anyway, she was going to use some sick time. She hoped she'd be back in tomorrow or maybe the day after. The bank manager wished her the best and hoped she'd soon be feeling better.
Ryan and Consuela talked about anything that came to mind while they waited in the small BBQ restaurant's parking lot. It helped pass the time and they were slowly coming to realize they enjoyed just sitting and talking. Just being with each other for any reason was beginning to be important to them.
Ryan had left one bug in place, a sensitive listening device taped to the back of a small table in the foyer that would tell them when Carrie and her boss came in. Consuela had gone into the restaurant and brought out a bag of pulled pork sandwiches. She and Ryan had each eaten a couple--he was still hungry after his rushed lunch with Carrie--but the primary purpose of the purchase had been to establish a reason for the thoroughly unremarkable auto to be parked in the restaurant's parking lot.
"Well, it's about damn time," Ryan commented. He'd just glanced at his watch, thinking his wife and Michaels should have had enough time to set up their excuses after lunch and leave for a few hours of licentious pleasure. The key rattling in the front door lock was clearly audible coming from the speaker of the portable receiving unit resting on the dash. The excited voices that followed almost immediately made it a certainty. Carrie and her lover had arrived.
Consuela and Ryan got out of the big gray Ford quickly. They had no time to lose, but they were careful. Taking a slow look around to make sure no one was watching, Ryan led Consuela into the scrub oak and brush to the west of the restaurant. It was the same stand of stunted trees and heavy underbrush that ended just behind Ryan's home.
They'd talked about dressing in black and maybe drawing a mask over their faces or something, but they'd quickly discarded the idea. Going about dressed like ninja wannabe's would draw attention from everyone in sight. Instead, they settled for a wig to conceal Consuela's true hair color; plain, faded baseball caps; and dark sunglasses, and thoroughly unremarkable clothing.
The colors in their shirts and pants were muted greens, browns, and dark grays. Their footwear was unremarkable, and dark colored. The sizes on the shoes and boots they'd bought for this job were varied. On one day, they could put up with too tight shoes for the short time they would need to. Another day, they would wear multiple pairs of thick socks in shoes that were too big.
Everything they wore was clean, but well used, and had been obtained from Salvation Army and Goodwill stores in Austin, Dallas, and Houston. Nothing had been purchased locally. Each of the six sets...the five they thought they'd need plus a spare...of clothing and footwear would be burned at the end of the day in which they were used. The metal zippers, other bits of metal, buttons, sunglasses, etc., would be scattered in the deepest part of several regional lakes.
It took only ten minutes...maybe a little more...to negotiate the couple of hundred yards through the tangle of brush and undersized trees. They could have done it in less, but Ryan deliberately led Consuela on a roundabout route through places where they wouldn't leave tracks. Actually, it wasn't difficult to find stretches of hardpan soil, or stretches of bare rock where their shoes wouldn't leave any tracks. They would come back the same way and Ryan would use a branch to sweep across the sections where they did leave a trail. They would use this particular path only this once. Nothing they could control was being left to chance.
At the edge of the woods, they took disposable latex gloves from their pockets and pulled them on. They checked each other's appearance carefully to make certain their disguises, such as they were, remained intact. Ryan gave Consuela a thumbs up gesture and she returned it with a nervous smile. Without waiting any longer, the pair hopped the fence and walked purposefully to the patio door. They didn't run. They'd planned their walk to appear as natural as possible.
They kept their eyes moving behind their dark glasses. They saw no one at the windows of the house they would be entering and nothing alarming from the houses to either side. Three steps into the yard, tall shrubs on both sides of the Gilchrist house hid them very effectively from anyone who might have been at the windows in the neighbors' homes.
Ryan opened the patio door with the ease of long familiarity and slid it open in one sure movement. As he'd predicted, Carrie had not thought to make sure the house was secured when she came home in the middle of the day. Seconds later, the glass door was closed softly behind them. He and Consuela moved to the side, where they'd be out of sight from anyone outside and stood close together. They hardly dared to breath for a long moment.
Ryan looked at his watch and showed the face to Consuela. They'd decided they would be out of the house at the twenty-six minute mark no matter what they'd accomplished or left undone. The woman nodded her understanding. Ryan started the stopwatch function and let his arm drop to his side.
They spent a moment longer just listening. They were amateurs. Their hearts were in their throats and had been since they got out of the car. Their bodies had dumped quantities of adrenalin into their bloodstreams and their pulse rates were skyrocketing. They needed the moment just to focus on what they were about to do.
The moaning from upstairs told them the adulterers were already hard at it. The wet, smacking sounds of naked flesh slapping against flesh were clear.
"Oh, God, Sean," Carrie screamed, "do that...it's been so long, darling."
Ryan's forehead was suddenly creased with deep lines. He stood stock still in the kitchen doorway. The fury he'd felt to a greater or lesser extent since he'd discovered Carrie's second infidelity had ebbed over the past couple of months while he and Consuela were working on this plan. The anger came flooding back as he listened to the pair of lovers up the stairway in front of him and down a short hall. This was too much.
He'd already shifted his weight to his left foot and was preparing to step off on his right to go up the steps when he felt the weight of Consuela's hand on his forearm. He looked around. Consuela's eyebrows were raised in question. They'd agreed they would not speak a word until they were safely back in the car. Her touch brought a measure of sanity back to him.
Suppressing the rage, Ryan gave her a strained smile and a weak smile. He took a shuddering breath. It wasn't easy, but he settled back squarely on his feet and set himself to listen only for signs his wife and Michaels were about to come downstairs.
He checked. He was not aroused. The sexual activity in which his wife was engaged upstairs was not keying the primitive response he'd learned about. He'd beaten it.
He grinned at his partner and gave her a firm nod. Reassured, Consuela looked around the living room, spotted the laptop on the sofa, and walked carefully across the living room carpet to retrieve it. Ryan had taught her to walk the way his grandfather had showed him. It was the way Comanche warriors walked when they were stalking game or enemies. After some practice at odd moments over the past two weeks, someone walking beside her couldn't hear her footsteps as she crossed a creaky hardwood floor. Ryan grinned wolfishly.
Consuela took the laptop into the kitchen and sat down at the table. In another minute, she was logging in to the bank's server and entering Michaels' password. They were mildly surprised when it worked. They knew the bank regulations called for all users on the institution's server to change their passwords no less than every sixty days. Sean Michaels thought himself above all that though. He hadn't bothered.
Flashing Ryan a smile, Consuela laid out the pages of a printed spreadsheet of account numbers set up by Great-Uncle Roberto on the table beside the laptop. The sheets of paper would be burned sometime tonight, along with the clothing they wore. They would rely on the digital version on the laptop cousin Richard was guarding and the backup Great-Uncle Roberto had. They had other printed spreadsheets, with other account numbers, hidden in Ryan's pickup for the raids they would conduct on the bank during the rest of the week's visits.
Consuela went to work locating the accounts of a number of very, very rich people who'd entrusted their wealth to Sean Michaels and Carrie Gilchrist. Soon she was typing commands into the system as fast as her fingers could move.
Back in the car, they couldn't restrain themselves. They laughed wildly at each other's comments, no matter how weak the humor was. Consuela kept reaching out to touch Ryan's hand and forearm. She couldn't help it. They'd conspired, and had now committed a serious crime. They needed the closeness to reassure each other. After a while, the adrenaline wore off and they were quiet. Her hand was still protected in his though. It was a comfort for both of them while the enormity of what they had done sank in. By the time they got to where they would exchange cars, holding hands just felt good, period.
They left the BBQ restaurant's parking lot immediately, making a point of driving well within the speed limit along a route they'd mapped out a week earlier. It had been difficult, but they'd found a path through the city that dodged around all the places they could see had security cameras pointed at the street, or places they would reasonably expect such devices but couldn't immediately find them.
With their dull, uninteresting car, their wigs, caps, dark sunglasses, and carefully unremarkable clothing, they didn't think they'd catch anyone's eye even if the tapes from every private home and business along that route were examined. They kept their caps pulled down and brought a hand up by their face whenever they could, just in case. There was always the incredibly remote chance someone either of them knew might see them as they drove by.
Back at the lot where Ryan and Consuela's cars were parked, they stripped down to their underwear and put everything they'd used this day into a big trash bag. The bag went into the back seat of Ryan's pickup.
They were mildly embarrassed at their partial nudity before each other. This was, after all, the first time they'd seen each other undressed. Neither noticed the other's discomfiture. Each thought the other was calm and businesslike. Neither thought the other was in the least self-conscious.
They dressed quickly and departed in different directions. Consuela left to pick up Belinda from daycare and Ryan raced to get to the hunting cabin he was using in the hill country near Marble Falls. Tonight, he would burn everything in the bag and the ashes sifted for metal parts, buttons, etc.
Sometime around sunrise, he would get in the flat-bottomed 16-foot fishing boat he kept up there and dump the ashes and metal parts in the deepest parts of the nearby lake. He might even catch a bass or two for breakfast, who knew? There would be no evidence of anything he and Consuela had done left behind, though, and that was the important thing.
By Friday, it was a well-settled routine for Ryan and Carrie. It was almost boring. They had to work hard at reminding each other to not relax on the tight security measures they were practicing. They parked at different locations each day, somewhere close to the BBQ restaurant because the only good place to enter the brush was just off the restaurant's parking lot. Their disguises, and carefully staged changes in their pace and posture, ensured no one would notice the same couple wandering around all week long.
Sean Michaels and Carrie Gilchrist found time to sneak off to the Gilchrist home every day that week. The times of their meeting varied, but they always made their rendezvous and it was always at the Gilchrist home. Ryan thought it was sad that Sean Michaels never sprang for a motel room, just for a change of scenery. The man was cheap; that's the best that could be said about him. Consuela thought that there was nothing better to be said about the man was particularly sad.
Changing to their disguises on Friday took Ryan and Consuela less than half the time it had Monday. Parking just down the street from the BBQ restaurant, they strolled slowly toward it arm in arm...and walked past without stopping. Ryan let the earpiece from the remote portable receiving unit slip off his ear and tucked it into his breast pocket.
The two Bexar county sheriff's patrol cars parked nose out in the parking lot were almost certainly there only because the officers were inside working their way through a big plate of ribs. There was no officious bustle of law enforcement officers coming and going...and no activity around the place that hinted of an ongoing investigation inside the restaurant or in the little patch of wilderness nearby. No one showed any interest as they passed by and no one pursued. None of that mattered in the least.
"Wave off?" Ryan said in a low voice a block away from the place. Consuela wasn't familiar with the term, but it's meaning was clear enough. She nodded imperceptibly beneath the floppy army surplus bush cap she wore today. At the corner, she turned back, seemingly to check the traffic before they crossed the street.
"No one coming," she murmured. "Still..."
"'Tis the better part of valor," Ryan remarked.
"It's an omen," Consuela said decisively.
Ryan didn't question her appraisal. Without appearing to hurry, they walked completely around the block and back to the borrowed car they had for today, got in, and left. They filled their last black trash bag with the clothing they'd just removed, added the sets they hadn't used, and put the bag in Ryan's pickup.
He put an envelope with three hundred dollars under the seat--there was no floor mat in this car--and got out of the area quickly, parting with a quick kiss both badly needed from the other. There was an urgency to their movements that hadn't been there before. They told themselves nothing had changed from yesterday's adventure, but the threat they felt from the inoffensive patrol vehicles gave the lie to their words. They were relieved this phase was over.
The next day, after "returning" from his supposedly unsuccessful hunt, Ryan removed the audio pickup near the front door. He crushed it under his heel on the concrete garage floor and carefully picked up all the pieces. They were placed temporarily into a trash bag and were dropped individually that night into a handful of dumpsters across the city.
That same Saturday evening, an hour after a late evening phone call from Consuela, Great-Uncle Roberto began spreading the word. The next Monday, at a myriad of banks all through the Caribbean, men and women with imminently forgettable faces and nondescript appearances began emptying accounts using passwords the banks "knew" only the true account owners could possibly know. They took the cashier's checks, sometimes cash, and made their way to other private banks where they made deposits according to their instructions.
Secondary accounts suddenly flush from cashier's check deposits were looted almost as quickly as computers could process the transactions. None of the accounts had a positive balance the next afternoon. From that point on, every deposit and withdrawal was in cash. Eventually, thousands of comparatively small amounts...generally in U.S. dollars...began to find their way to Roberto's special number accounts in private banking houses.
Three weeks passed without a cry being raised. Ryan was sure he'd see something in the paper or on the radio as quick as something hit the fan. It would be the most significant event to hit down there in the history of the bank. He knew that because when Consuela totaled everything up, they found they'd sent just short of nine million dollars out of the country into offshore accounts.
None of that money was anywhere near where it had been sent initially of course, and investigators were going to find the trail quickly went cold. It was going to be all but impossible to track the money beyond the first or second deposit account. All the anonymous men and women who had emptied one account only to put the money in another account had done their jobs and were gone. They'd already melted back into the faceless mob in a double dozen of Caribbean cities, putting away their best suits and dresses for the next time they would be required.
They could not testify who had given them their instructions, even if they could have been coerced into doing so, because the instructions had been given them by other, unnamed and unidentifiable people, who also faded away into the population. By the time the funds had been moved a third and fourth time, there was no way anyone could trace their destination. There were just too many cutouts.
The money disappeared into the enormous pool of wealth floating between the banks in the Caribbean without making the slightest of impressions on anyone. The banks in Cayman Islands alone boast assets of over $800 billion and similar amounts rested in the remainder of the offshore banks. Nine million dollars didn't even make a ripple as it was dropped in.
Each time the money was moved, of course, little nibbles were taken out. It didn't matter. Even after everyone took their slice and Great-Uncle Roberto took his, there was still more than seven million dollars left over. That was plenty for Ryan and Consuela. The bank was burned...bad. They were sure that much of a loss was going to hurt. The funds began to arrive in Mexico City buried in routine transactions on accounts Roberto controlled.
The amount was phenomenal, considering Consuela had had to stay under ten thousand dollars on each transaction. They hadn't wanted to start raising red flags by filing bogus Currency Transaction Reports, required for wire transfers of greater than ten thousand dollars.
Consuela had even managed to set up a vast number of automatic transfers that occurred after she went off line. Indeed, after the first day, this was how most of the work was done. It was all so simple. It was marvelous what one login name and a twelve-character password could do.
Oh, yes. When someone caught on, there was going to be a minor explosion down there inside the business district. It was only a matter of time. Ryan and Consuela continued living their lives as they always had. They had only to wait.
"Hi," came the tinny voice. The pre-paid cell phones didn't have the best of components.
"How ya doing?" Ryan replied. He knew Consuela's voice by now, even distorted as it was by the cheap phone. It was the time of day they'd set up to talk to each other, a thing they did nearly every evening now. They liked the contact, tenuous though it was.
"Good, real good...how 'bout you," she answered.
"Doing great...tired of waiting, but good otherwise," Ryan remarked.
That was as far as he would go. They would say nothing that anyone listening could interpret as being associated with the biggest bank robbery in Texas history, as they thought of it.
Today, he was in his pickup and driving on the southeast side of town, well away from his office and residence. Yesterday he'd called her from near his house. It wouldn't do for calls from these numbers to be carried by cellular relay towers in every section of the city except those close to home or office. They were careful to plan their normality down to the last detail.
"Me too," she said. There was a long pause and some muffled noise in the background.
"Hi, Mister Ryan." Ryan's features softened.
"Hi, Belinda. How are you?" he said gently.
"Fine," the little girl answered. "When are you gonna come to see me?" she asked plaintively. It had been a while since Ryan had found an excuse to leave the city to go to her mother's house.
"Oh, I think I'm going to be there on Sunday," Ryan answered. He had a couple of crews that were going to go to the small town again on Monday. Several businesses along the main street had negotiated a special price with him for remodeled storefronts, a group rate of sorts.
He'd already told his wife he was going to go out a day early to survey them. Carrie didn't mind. She was glad to be rid of him.
He talked to the four-year-old for a few minutes. He enjoyed conversations with her and she loved them because he didn't talk down to her. Both of them looked forward to his clandestine visit Sunday evening.
"Are you still there?" Consuela asked when she finally was able to pry the cell phone from her daughter's small hands.
Ryan chuckled. He'd heard the exchange that occurred while Consuela had been in the process of regaining possession. Belinda was not happy at having lost control of the phone.
"Uh-huh," he replied, "I think she needs to be taken out to Baskin Robbins for an ice cream cone or something like that Sunday." It was one of Belinda's favorite things to do.
"Baskin Robbins?" Consuela said a little louder than she needed to. That was for Belinda's benefit. "I don't know...do you think she's been a good enough girl for that?" The fussing in the background died away quickly. Ryan chuckled again. There was a small pause.
"I saw an interesting TV show last night," Consuela said casually.
"Oh?" Ryan responded.
"Yeah, on channel 16," she said, "at ten o'clock...it's on every weeknight at that same time."
"What's the name of it?" Ryan asked curiously. He and Consuela talked about anything that came to mind, but she wasn't usually so circumspect. He could sense something in her tone.
"It's called 'Busted' and I think it's a show taped up in Dallas...maybe Houston or somewhere like that," she said a little nervously.
"Oh? What's it about?" he asked.
"I'd rather you just take a look at it and tell me what you think," Consuela countered.
Clearly, she didn't want to discuss it on the phone. Ryan gave up trying to get anything from her and agreed to take a look at the show. They talked for another ten minutes and then ended the call when Ryan got into heavy traffic. They would see each other day after tomorrow. It would have to be soon enough.
He watched the television show in his study. With the door closed, it couldn't be heard upstairs and he'd recently moved a new Lazy Boy recliner in. He wasn't sure Carrie had even noticed. These days, she seldom visited any part of the house where he might reasonably be found.
Carrie had gone to bed early with yet another in an unending series of headaches. He could tell she was beginning to feel a little uneasy about Ryan's continued lack of interest in sex, but she wasn't alarmed enough to do anything about it yet. For now, she was content getting her needs for security taken care of by Ryan. Sean Michaels saw to her sexual and most of her emotional needs. She had her cake and was eating it too. There really was nothing about her life she wanted to change.
The TV program opened with information about a private investigation firm based in Houston. Ryan didn't know the name of the agency but that wasn't surprising. Anyway, this episode was taped in Austin and was about a young woman who'd become suspicious of her live-in boyfriend. They had a baby born only a few months ago. It seemed he was displaying a sudden irresponsibility and had grown distant with her. She thought he might be cheating on her and wanted "Busted" to investigate.
She was right. The boyfriend had found another girlfriend and was already sexually involved with the new woman. The host met with the girl one evening to show her video clips of her boyfriend kissing, hugging, and disappearing behind a motel door with the other woman. After a period of crying and obvious distress, the host took the girl and a film crew to the outdoor restaurant where the straying boyfriend and the woman were having dinner.
The boyfriend looked like a deer caught in the headlights when the camera crew's started taping. He never recovered and meekly took a considerable amount of verbal abuse from both his significant other and new girlfriend for some time. The host said they would reveal the outcome of the confrontation later.
The second episode concerned a man in Houston who thought his wife might be having an affair with a man she'd met at the gym. Except for the changed roles and slightly different specifics, this one was a virtual repeat of the first installment. The final credits said the investigatory service the PI firm offered was open to anyone and, if they used the participants' case on the TV show, it was free.
Ryan thought for ten minutes past the point where he was sure of what he was going to do, just to make sure it was the right decision. Then he picked up the phone to call the number shown on the screen.
Tomorrow morning he'd call an attorney and tell him, or her, he was sure his wife was cheating on him and what he'd done to expose the adultery. He knew what the TV show's detectives would find out. The long wait was nearly over.
The night was dark and there was lightning building up off to the northwest. A storm was gathering strength up in the hill country and it was about ready to lash out at the big city in its path. It was warm...Indian summer had held on particularly long this year...with unusually mild days and cool nights. Everyone was in a light jacket or shirtsleeves, with raincoats or ponchos close to hand.
The host motioned to the camerawoman and she assumed a strong stance, setting her feet wide apart and making sure her knees weren't locked. She'd seen a number of guys and gals working behind the camera fall flat on their faces when they passed out from decreased blood circulation. It was a revelation to her that people who faint invariably fall forward. She hadn't known that. She would have been amazed to learn military personnel were regularly counseled to not lock their knees while standing at attention in formation and it was for the same reason she avoided the practice.
Once everyone was set, the host took Ryan by the elbow and tugged him close so they would both be in frame. He began to speak. He was sorry they'd had to ask Ryan to come back early from his business trip, he said. They had information on the case Ryan had brought to them. He was sorry, but tonight he had to tell Ryan his wife was indeed straying from her marriage vows.
Ryan was visibly dejected. He thought he did it very well but, on the chance it wasn't working, he turned and walked away from the host and the camera for a moment. There was only his broad back to watch for a long moment.
Not wanting to overdo it, Ryan cleared his throat and went back to the host. He nodded a slow yes to the host's question about seeing the video taped evidence he had with him. The tiny cameras the show's detectives had shown him how to install in his bedroom had been exceptionally high-quality devices. The scenes of his wife having sex with her lover were sharp and clear. They were at least a full magnitude better than the videos he'd made with his own spy cameras.
Showing distress while he watched the tiny digital camcorder's view screen, Ryan tugged on the beard he'd recently grown. The beard and a nice mustache were on his face to change his appearance. He'd grown them, and was wearing the Texas Rangers baseball cap, so the spy shop owner in Dallas wouldn't recognize him. It was one of the myriad of "just in case" things he and Consuela had done over the past few months in the interests of securing their secret from others.
The beard and mustache would also serve to disguise his face from the people in the little town fifty miles outside San Antonio. He and Consuela hadn't been together in the café or anywhere else in public, for that matter, for a couple of months but it didn't hurt to be just that little bit more careful.
The host had known already Ryan was open to seeing the video, of course. The producer who'd called Ryan in Memphis two days ago had been properly apologetic but they were hoping Ryan could meet them Friday evening when they could get a full film crew down to San Antonio.
Ryan had told the producer on the phone he would come and agreed to the show taping him viewing the graphic videotape. The conference he was attending in Memphis wasn't at all critical to Ryan. In fact, he'd only gone out of town to give Carrie a sense she was free to do whatever she wanted anyway. He quickly agreed to come home.
When the host asked the question he'd earlier told Ryan he would ask--the one about asking for an explanation from his wayward wife--Ryan had a sudden inspiration. He signaled frantically at the camera and the producer behind it.
"Wait...wait...I got an idea," he told them.
The annoyance on the faces of the host and producer faded as Ryan explained what he had in mind. They knew he'd recognized Sean Michaels in the videos. He'd said so on camera. They hadn't known Ryan was well enough acquainted with Michaels' wife to phone her. They smiled broadly at his suggestion they call her and invite her along for the "confrontation," as they called it. Someone handed Ryan a cell phone with the top already flipped open.
"Mrs. Michaels?" Ryan asked.
"Yes?" the feminine voice answered uncertainly.
"Sharon, this is Ryan Gilchrist," he said somberly.
"Oh...hello Ryan," she replied. There had been no pause. She'd remembered his name immediately, though it had been some time since their last meeting. Her voice didn't sound happy though. Ryan decided to get to the point without sugarcoating anything.
"Sharon, I'm just as sorry as I could be to tell you this but your husband and my wife have been having an affair," he said bluntly. There was the sound of a sharply inhaled breath but Sharon didn't offer an immediate comment.
"Sharon?" Ryan said finally.
"Yes...yes, I'm here," she said. There was a fatalistic note in her voice. "How long have you known?" she asked.
"I've suspected for months, but I saw proof of it this evening," Ryan answered. He'd expected some form of that question and had an appropriately ambiguous answer ready.
"I see," Sharon Michaels said uncomfortably. "Well, I can't say it's a big surprise," she said with a deep sigh. "Damn him," she added.
"Sharon...the thing is..."
Ryan didn't quite know how to raise the next point.
"Well...I'll just blurt it out," he told her. "Sharon, I'm with a film crew from a TV show out of Houston...and...uh...we're about to go surprise them on a date in a restaurant down on the Riverwalk." There was silence on the other end of the line for a long while.
"Oh...wow," Sharon breathed into the phone. Abruptly she giggled like a schoolgirl into the phone.
"You're going to do a number on my dumb ass husband, aren't you?" She laughed more heartily. "Serves him right, the jerk."
"Yeah...uh...Sharon, I don't know if I should say it this way, but I'm going to destroy him and my wife tonight," Ryan told her. "I can't imagine he'll be able to keep his job and I'm sorry for what that will do to you." There was a short silence.
"Nah...don't worry about it," Sharon replied. "He's got a big ol' golden parachute in his contract and he'll get a nice settlement even if they fire him tomorrow morning. I'll have all of that, and my pound of flesh too, before I'm through with him," she added.
"Hah!" Ryan said explosively into the phone. He was grinning broadly. "I don't blame you a bit, but...listen, Sharon, the last thing I have to say is...do you want to come with us and drop a double bombshell on these two...jerks?" Sharon was quiet for a moment longer.
"I...I hadn't thought about that. I'm not sure I want my face plastered all over...you know what? I think that's exactly what I need to get a little closure on this. Yeah, I'll go with you. Where are you?"
"Let me have the producer tell you all the specifics about where it's going happen and stuff like that," Ryan said.
When she said okay, he handed the cell phone to the producer and let him set things up. It didn't take long. When she got to where they were setting up, they would sign her to an agreement to use her voice and image on the TV production. Then they'd outfit her with a battery-powered lapel mic like the one Ryan had clipped on his shirt collar. The power pack was hooked on his belt in the small of his back. It had sharp corners; he had to be careful not to lean back against a solid surface.
There were four big cameras and it apparently took a crew of three to work each one. In addition to the man or woman operating the heavy video camera, there had to be someone to guide him or her around. Tugging on their clothing or guiding them with a hold around the waist, they made it unnecessary for the cameraman or woman to take their eyes from the viewfinder. The third individual carried a big boom mic he, and in one case, she could thrust close overhead to pick up everything the people in front of the camera were saying.
A group of guys and two women the producer identified as licensed private investigators accompanied the cameras and host. There were almost as many of them as there were people to record the event. The host kept referring to them as "security" and "detectives."
The producer had gone into the rowdy nightclub beforehand and buttonholed the manager to tell her what was happening. The manager had seen the show before and knew the excitement it was going to bring to the club. She had no problem with it. Excited people were happy people. They ordered lots of drinks and that's what she was in business for.
She told the bouncers what was happening and instructed them to stay out of the way and arranged for the camera crews to come in a side door. She turned off the automatic alarm opening that door would normally set off so they could get to the table near the dance floor that much quicker.
The host and Ryan walked swiftly from the door into the club's interior. The camera operators and their handlers were right on Ryan's heels, almost pushing him ahead in their eagerness to be ready to tape the action they knew was coming. As the club patrons recognized them, a raucous roar went up but the couple sitting at the side table didn't notice. Carrie had her back to the approaching group of men and women while Sean Michaels was twisted around in his seat talking to a waitress in a short skirt, apparently signing a receipt. Neither noticed anything unusual until the primary camera crew turned on the big floodlight.
Carrie jumped in her seat and swiveled around to see what was happening. She was momentarily blinded and couldn't see a thing.
"Hello, Carrie...what's up?" Ryan said loudly. He did his best to keep the maliciousness he felt out of his voice. It wasn't easy. This day had been a long time coming.
Carrie's jaw dropped. Her eyes opened wide. She was caught off-guard, startled worse than she had been when Ryan walked in on her and Marshall more than four and a half years earlier.
"Carrie, I'm Johnny Waterfield from the TV show 'Busted," the host told her. She looked at him disbelievingly, not apparently comprehending his words. She seemed barely aware he was there.
"What?" she said faintly. The boom mic picked it up clearly though.
"Would you like to explain to Ryan what you're doing here with this man?"
"I...we're just friends," she choked out.
"No, that's not true and you know it," Johnny retorted. "We have video tape of you and Mr. Michaels having sex in your own home on several occasions," he told her. "Do you have anything to say to that?"
She shook her head. Her eyes were beginning to grow wild. She was a trapped animal. She wanted desperately to get away but she was hemmed in on every side by club customers and the camera crews. She could only stare in horror into the camera lens. She couldn't seem to look away.
"We're just friends," she protested again. "We're just having a few drinks and--"
"Is that right?" Ryan demanded loudly. "Just friends? How about talking to another of your friends?" he asked her and pointed beyond her off shoulder.
"Say hello to Sharon," he snarled.
Ryan had been worried about not being able to react naturally, but it wasn't necessary to fake anything now. He was genuinely enraged again at his wife's unfaithfulness. He'd lived with it for so long. It was good to let it out.
Sharon Michaels had quietly slipped behind the table and "borrowed" a full pitcher of beer from an adjoining table. When the camera shifted slightly to center her in frame, she dumped the beer on her husband. Enough of the cold liquid splashed on Carrie's gauzy white top to make the material nearly transparent. Her hard, erect nipples were suddenly poking a hole in the wet fabric. The view would be obscured by a blurred circle in the final cut but, at the time and place, Ryan and the club crowd could immediately, quiet clearly tell she was braless.
He took in her micro miniskirt and the high stiletto heels she wore and shook his head. A second camera crew had established themselves on the other side of the table and caught his disgusted expression perfectly.
"Have you even got panties on?" Ryan sneered.
Without waiting for an answer, he reached down to lift up his wife's skirt to find she did not, in fact, have any on. The crowd--that part of it that was close enough to see--roared. It was another shot that would have to be edited with a blurred circle, but viewers of the final product would be able to easily figure out what hadn't been there.
Carrie's hand swept down quickly to yank the skirt back into place. She struggled to move, tucking her legs under the table.
Across from her, Sean Michaels was still struggling to wipe the beer from his eyes. He had yet to utter a word. His eyes were huge circles in a pale face. He was dividing looks between the camera lens and his angry wife. That he hadn't yet said anything wasn't keeping Sharon from haranguing him viciously.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" she demanded in a loud voice. "Speak up, you son of a bitch. What are you doing here with this slut?"
The crowd loved it and the noise level rose again. The producer had a beatific expression on his face. There would have to be a lot of editing on this, but it would be the best episode he'd put together in the last year and a half.
Sharon reached out and caught her husband's earlobe between thumb and forefinger. She yanked him out of his seat and began dragging him toward the exit. It started a general exodus. Carrie lurched to her feet and struggled to push her way out of the club. She was in shock and wasn't very steady on her five-inch heels. The club's customers weren't cooperating either. They resisted her attempts to get out quickly and a number of men took the opportunity to cop a feel or two on her journey to the front door. She never noticed.
Outside, the camera crew dogged her steps as she desperately trotted down the sidewalk. She abruptly realized she was going in the wrong direction and had to turn back toward the parking lot where she'd parked her car. Going back past the club made the patrons still gathered outside all that much happier.
The rain was causing her top and skirt to cling tightly to her body now. Her mascara was running and her hair was plastered to her head. She dodged into an alley and trudged down it, finally finding a doorway into some building where she could shelter for a moment.
"I can't believe..." she breathed. The host was still with her, as was the main camera crew.
"What, Carrie?" Johnny asked interestedly. "Would you like to explain why you've been seeing another man behind your husband's back? I'm sure he'd like to know."
"I can't believe he'd humiliate me this way," Carrie wailed.
Johnny looked at her in disbelief for a moment, shocked out of his professional face. His line of patter failed him for a moment.
"Don't you think you've been the one doing the humiliating, Carrie?" he asked at length.
Carrie didn't answer. She might not even have heard him. She struggled to get past the host and continue down the alley.
When she got to her car, her shaking fingers wouldn't cooperate. She had a hard time retrieving her keys from her small clutch bag and fitting them into the lock. Johnny finally took them from her and opened the door for her. She had to try several times to get them out of his hands before he finally gave them up. She wouldn't respond to any of his questions. She just kept shaking her head no.
Ryan knocked on the window, letting his knuckles rap hard on the glass.
"Hey, sweetie," he said facetiously, "what's your hurry? The party's not over yet...look what I have for you."
His lawyer had been primed and ready since the morning after Ryan called the TV show's producers but the paperwork sat in Ryan's file, waiting for the right time to be brought forth. When Ryan heard from the producer two days ago, he called the attorney and set certain things in motion. The petition for divorce Ryan had already signed was taken to the courthouse and filed with the clerk of the court. There was a certain required formality Ryan had had to arrange and that was going to happen right now.
Ryan stepped back to allow the older man in a western suit and an expensive looking, cream-colored Stetson get closer to the door. The short, slender man showed Carrie his process server's badge and identification. He was only another private investigator Ryan had hired, but the badge looked very official. She stared in confusion for a long moment. Finally, at the man's gesture, she rolled down the window.
"Carrie Denise Gilchrist?" he asked formally. She nodded.
He slipped a sheaf of papers from his inside pocket and slapped them into her hand.
"You are served," he said succinctly and backed away.
He sniffed, certain he was going to catch a cold from all this. Opening an umbrella, he walked back out to the street where he'd parked his car. One of the cameras caught a view of his slow walk down the sidewalk, but it didn't make the final version of the incident.
Carrie was still holding the documents that had been thrust into her hands. She looked as if she'd lost the capacity to be anymore shocked. Her expression was lifeless, uncaring.
"Carrie!" Ryan said sharply. She turned to look at him.
"Don't bother going home," he growled. "The locks on all the doors were changed twenty minutes after you left the house this evening for your rendezvous with your "friend." I hired a bunch of movers to pack everything in your closet and the boxes will be delivered to your parent's place in an hour or two.
"I don't care where you go, Carrie. I loved you, but that love is dead. You killed it and it won't ever come back...never!
"Don't call me, don't write me, don't try to get hold of me in any way, shape, form, or fashion. Understand?" he said harshly. "I don't want to see you, I don't want to hear from you, I don't want to hear about you. You're trash and I should have kicked your ass out the first time you cheated on me. Just looking at you makes me want to throw up."
His mouth worked for a moment as if he might actually vomit. He struggled to find more words but none came to him. He turned and walked away, leaving his soon to be ex-wife sitting frozen in her seat. The camera crew hurried to catch up.
Somehow, the cameras had all lost track of Sean and his wife. It wasn't known until much later that they found out she'd whisked him into a cab she'd called for before entering the club and took him home. Neighbors heard Sharon berating the man until the wee hours of the morning.
When the producers came by a week later to inquire on the status of their relationship, she bullied Sean into signing a release so the show could use his image. There was a little suspicion on the part of the producers the man never knew what he was signing. He had only one chance and that was to do exactly what his wife wanted, every time she wanted it. When Sharon thrust a ballpoint at him, he signed where her finger pointed.
Ryan went home and shaved off both mustache and beard. They'd served their purpose.
The morning after the TV show was videotaped, another attorney Ryan had hired showed up at the bank and settled into one of the overstuffed easy chairs in the big, well-appointed suit where the most senior officers had their offices. When Jon Harrison...the bank president...walked in, he asked why Carlton J. London was sitting there with three of his law assistants in attendance.
Harrison knew exactly who the attorney was. They were both members of the same art groups and charitable organizations in San Antonio. London was also one of the finest civil law attorneys in the state. Slim and dapper, he was tough as shoe leather in the courtroom or in the saddle at the ranch he had out west of Abilene.
Mr. Harrison flinched and his face paled when he was told London was representing Mr. Ryan Gilchrist, husband of Mrs. Carrie, a senior manager in Sean Michaels' section. Mr. Gilchrist had filed suit against the bank for failing to enforce it's own morality clauses with a number of specifications.
Mr. Gilchrist was suing under the common-law tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress claiming the bank knew of his wife's affair with a junior vice-president, did nothing about it, and attempted to cover it up in spite of the morals' clauses in both their contracts. The suit claimed the institution had thus fostered a climate in which Mr. Gilchrist's marriage had been irreparably damaged.
With the preliminaries over, Mr. London announced he would be pleased to see Mr. Sean Michaels' personal records. Locating the supervisor of the Human Resources department, the attorney presented him with the first in a stack of subpoenas signed just this morning by a friendly judge.
The president called his senior managers together to find out just how deep in the excrement they were wading. The HR director was pulled out of the meeting twenty minutes into the meeting. He came back in a few minutes later pale and trembling. With the whole bank hierarchy in the meeting, a junior in his department had come by and noticed the subpoena lying on his supervisor's desk.
Not knowing the legal department had not yet seen the writ, the junior employee had produced the requested records and two of Mr. London's assistants had used the high-speed copier in the junior's own office to make a duplicate of every document in the file. Another of Mr. London's assistants had departed the building immediately with the duplicates in hand while Mr. London was scrutinizing the originals in the small conference room.
Did anyone know if the Human Resources director could get some of the security guards together and forcibly remove the file from Mr. London's hands. Just because he had a subpoena, was that the final word? What could they do about the copies that were already out of the building and beyond their control? No one in the room would look at the HR manager, or the bank president.
Before anything could be done, the phone in the corner rang and the most junior of the executives answered. After listening for a long moment, he told the president Mr. London had let loose a string of four-letter words while going through Mr. Michaels' personnel record and hadn't stopped mouthing them for a long while.
Now Mr. London now asking for the records of all sexual harassment complaints in the bank for the past two years. He was saying something about getting a subpeona duces tecum, whatever that was, to make that happen. The junior executive wanted to know if this was important.
Three levels of management had a simultaneously urge to throw up their breakfasts.
Ryan and Consuela had discussed the TV show as a way of replacing the confrontation Ryan would have had with Carrie in family court using his own video recordings. Then, based on what she knew of the banking industry, they'd quickly realized not only would the episode of 'Busted' accomplish that aim, it would almost certainly spark an audit of Michaels' entire stewardship of the personal wealth division. It did.
A week after Ryan's attorney filed the suit against the bank, Consuela got a late evening call from an excited friend still working at the bank. The building had gone into a virtual lockdown just before lunch. Apparently, it was all coming from what was discussed in a panicked meeting upstairs that had begun shortly after the big bosses came in. Ever since noon, an army of men and women in expensive suits and carrying voluminous briefcases had come into the bank and disappeared into the express elevators to the top floor.
Just at closing time, a second, smaller, army of people in cheaper suits had arrived. This group glanced about with hard eyes and one of the tellers had seen two of them show FBI credentials to the guard before he would let them in. Other people with different looking badges had come in right behind them. No one...no one...looked happy.
Someone was even saying the senior vice president in overall charge of the investment and personal wealth divisions had had to be restrained when he tried to open a window on the twenty-second floor. That was probably just a rumor, but wow! Could Consuela believe all this, her friend asked.
Consuela thanked her girlfriend and begged off, saying she needed to get Belinda to bed. Seconds after hanging up, she used the disposable cell phone to call Ryan's throwaway with the news.
They discussed destroying the pre-paid cell phones but decided not to until one or the other got some indication they were even suspected of being in contact. They couldn't bear to lose the one way of communicating with each other they had left. The sound of each other's voice was becoming increasingly important to them.
They would limit the use of the cell phones though. It was the smart thing to do.
"Yes?" Ryan answered absentmindedly. His attention was on the quarterly inventory he was studying and not on the two men who had wandered in his office's open door.
"Special Agent Thomas, Special Agent Williams, Federal Bureau of Investigation. May we speak with you?" the taller agent asked.
"You're in now, I reckon you might as well," Ryan answered, glancing up at last to show them an irritated scowl.
He was truly annoyed with the two agents, though not for the reason they suspected. Instead of being unhappy they were there, he was upset they hadn't come by several weeks earlier. Waiting had never been his strong suit.
He motioned with his free hand. The agents shoved their badges closer so he could see them.
"Nah, I don't want to see your badges," Ryan growled. "I can buy ones that look just like that in the toy section at Walmart. Show me your ID cards, gents."
The agents looked at each other, faintly surprised. Very few citizens asked for the hard-to-reproduce identification but the agents were obligated to produce them upon request. They did.
Ryan examined them for a moment, and then picked up the office phone. Looking in a phonebook, he had a number for the local FBI office in seconds, called them and had a short conversation with the Special Agent In Charge of the San Antonio office. He admitted they did have two agents fitting the description Ryan gave and with those ID card numbers. Ryan grunted, thanked the agent in charge, and hung up.
"Okay," he said, "you're real...what can I do for you." His eyes and forehead had cleared and his voice was friendlier.
"You have had occasion to doubt the validity of a federal officer, Mr. Gilchrist?" asked the older agent. Ryan nodded.
"Two...maybe two years and three months ago, some jerk came around wanting to talk to all of my workers about some "anti-racketeering" complaints or something like that. He flashed a badge around and had my boys wandering around wondering who 'Rico' was." Ryan grinned at the agents.
"Turned out he was a union organizer come down from New York, New Jersey or somewhere. He thought he'd do a little bit of intimidation...figuring if I was scared enough, I'd let the shop go union and so on and so forth. He's still in a federal prison somewhere, I think. I had to testify at his trial."
The agents glanced at each other, a habit that was slowly beginning to get on Ryan's nerves. He wondered if they were even aware of it.
Actually, both were thinking there had been an entry in Gilchrist's file to the effect that he had indeed cooperated in a sting operation some years ago. The special agent who'd been in charge of that had made a number of glowing comments about Gilchrist.
"So...who's doing some racketeering now?" Ryan asked, trying to get things moving.
"No, no," Special Agent Thomas said. "We're part of a joint task force organized under the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury. We're investigating allegations of money laundering at the bank where your wife works...formerly worked."
"Hah!" Ryan snorted explosively.
"Have you boys done your ground work? Don't look at each other dammit! One of you just answer," he ordered them peremptorily.
Startled, the two agents threw another fleeting look at each other before facing back to the man they were supposed to be interviewing. They both flushed slightly. Ryan shook his head and sighed loudly.
"If you have investigated anything about me," he said in a disillusioned tone, "you already know I won't have a wife when the judge lifts the continuance my so-called wife's lawyer asked for," Ryan added.
"We do know that, Mr. Gilchrist. We know other things too. We're aware the divorce is held up pending the outcome of the criminal investigation...and maybe the trial...but we think you might have information that might assist in the investigation. Is there anything you'd like to tell us?"
That was from Agent Thomas. It was accompanied by a glowering look intended to frighten the guilty into spontaneous confessions.
Ryan was unimpressed. His only reaction was to show them a confused frown.
"Gents, I can spell bank, and on a good day, I can write both "money" and "laundry" down on paper without hurting myself too bad, but that's about it. How the dickens can I help you with what's going on down there. Shoot, I don't hear anything from there, now that me and the wife are on the outs," he said forcefully.
Ryan sighed when the agents shot another look at each other before either spoke. He wasn't all that impressed with his first visit from law enforcement about the bank fraud.
The FBI agents accepted a cup of scalding hot, almost bitter, coffee from the urn in the corner and continued questioning Ryan for another fifteen minutes without the agents learning anything of interest. They tried every angle they could think of but neither got any signals from the guy that he had anything at all to contribute.
"What do you think?" Agent Thomas asked his pardner as they drove away.
"I didn't get anything," Williams replied.
"Me either," Thomas replied, "the guy's a little bit of a rube, don't you think? I don't think he's got the smarts to be mixed up in this."
"Nope. I don't think that at all," Williams shot back. Stan Williams had been in the Bureau for twenty-two years and had seen a lot more people come and go than his junior pardner.
"Gilchrist is plenty smart. Watch his eyes if we talk to him again and you'll see what I mean. He's sharp, but he doesn't mind folks underestimating him. Gives him an edge," Williams commented.