Copyright © 2015-2020 Michael P. Loucks
First publication date: 2017-04-22
First revision publication date: 2020-02-06
You may contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“What the heck were you thinking?” I asked testily.
We were sitting in my study two days after it happened.
“I thought you’d be OK with it!” April protested. “Jennifer even let me spend the night with Jesse on Tuesday!”
“You’re thirty-four! He’s fourteen!”
“Steve, I’m sorry. I honestly thought you were OK with it! Your first was older than you! I can’t undo it.”
“No, you can’t undo it! And what I did in 1978 is totally irrelevant in 2000! You’re lucky I decided not to call the cops!”
“Oh my God! No!” she gasped.
I couldn’t control it any longer and burst out laughing.
“YOU BASTARD!” she screeched. “You had me thinking you were going to kill me, or worse!”
“I thought you knew me well enough to know it wasn’t an issue!” I laughed. “There is an issue, though. And it does give me a serious concern.”
“Yes. Your husband.”
“That’s between me and him. I’ll deal with it.”
“No. Now it’s between you, him, AND Jesse.”
“Why? I made it clear to Jesse that this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, never, ever to be repeated. It was sex, pure and simple. Great, glorious sex!” she giggled. “He was totally aware of the situation. The little brat quizzed me like you did back in the day!”
I chuckled, “What do you expect? He’s my kid!”
“I’ll say!” she smirked. “He met all three challenges just like his old man!”
“Jesus, April!” I laughed. “His first time?”
“It’s your fault, you know?”
“How is it MY fault?”
“He told me, when we were talking, that he wanted to do everything that he saw you do with me!”
“Oh hell,” I laughed. “You know I only found out later that he’d been spying.”
“Jennifer told me at some point years ago. She found it amusing.”
“I’m sure she did! But I had my revenge!”
“Oh?” April asked, arching an eyebrow.
“On Jen. But that’s between her and me.”
“Jesse was more than a little surprised about the third one. I guess from his perch on the stairs and being only three, he had no idea where you put it!”
“I think we’re treading heavily into ‘Too Much Information’ territory!” I chuckled.
“Then I’ll just add that he can give his old man a run for his money. And I taught him the same thing you told me your first taught you.”
“Now I KNOW we’re in ‘Too Much Information’ territory!” I said, but I was laughing hard.
But then I stopped. I had an important question to ask. A serious one.
“Tell me if it’s none of my business, but what about your husband? I’ve been pretty adamant with Jesse about girls who are taken.”
“Tell me, Steve, at age fourteen, would YOU have cared if your first had still been married? Answer truthfully now.”
I chuckled, “No, I don’t believe I would have. The sense of self-preservation came later. Much later!”
“Donny will never, ever know. I’ve wanted to do something like this for years, but obviously Jesse was too young. And I don’t mean I was thinking about HIM that way. I just wanted a virile teenage boy that could go as many times as I wanted and would do anything I wanted. The teaching was fun!”
That was very different from my experience with Jennie McGrath, now Jennie Sanders. There, it had been a combination of her needing intimate contact, and being attracted to me. There was an emotional connection, though she’d wisely broken things off before it got out of control. I was sure Jesse would come talk to me at some point. I knew what had happened because I’d seen April leave the next morning and had asked Jennifer about it. I had raised the issue of April’s husband and Jennifer had simply shrugged and said it wasn’t really our business.
“It still concerns me.”
“You obviously impressed on Jesse how important an issue that was. We talked for a good twenty minutes about that before he’d even kiss me! Talk about frustrating!”
I smiled. He really was following in my footsteps in that way. I’d been told I was frustrating by more sex partners than I could count!
“As long as he thought it through and made his own decision.”
“I didn’t push him, if that’s what you meant. I simply asked him if he would like a sexy kiss for his birthday!”
I laughed hard, “You asked him to have sex with you, you dope!”
“When Jesse was little, say from age two to age five, he equated kissing with sex. I guarantee you that connection came back because of who you are and what he had seen when he was three!”
“Oops!” she laughed. “I suppose I did. Well, it doesn’t appear to have done any lasting harm.”
“I’m sure that it didn’t.”
“I’ll make it up to you,” she smiled.
“You’re married, and that is a line I won’t cross, even for a woman as sexy and fun as you are.”
“Not me, silly. My girls. When the triplets turn fourteen in five years, I’ll tell them who to go to for their first lessons!”
I just shook my head. How DID I get into these predicaments?
My knees went weak and I sagged to the loveseat, but I didn’t feel faint.
“Is she alive?” I asked warily.
Jessica gasped and whispered, “Who?”
‘Katy’ I mouthed back.
“All I know right now is that the fire is out and the paramedics took her to Central Vermont Hospital in Berlin.”
“What about her guests?” I asked.
“My deputy reported she was the only one transported to the hospital.”
“And the building?” I asked.
“Frankly, I don’t know. Let me give you the number to the hospital and I’ll give you the number here at my office.”
He read off two numbers which I wrote down on the pad I kept next to the phone. And I made a decision.
“Sheriff, I’m not sure of my exact plans just yet, but I’ll most likely be there by the end of the day.”
“Call here anytime. They know how to get in touch with me. I’ll leave word. And if I hear anything, is this the best number to call?”
“Or my mobile phone,” I said.
I gave him the number, thanked him, and hung up.
“What happened?” Kara asked.
“A fire. I have no details other than Katy being taken to Central Vermont Hospital in Berlin, Vermont. I’m flying out as soon as I can arrange a flight.”
“Are you sure that’s the right thing to do, Tiger?” Jessica asked.
“First of all, it’s Katy, and she has nobody there. Second, we invested in the bed-and-breakfast and somebody is going to need to see to the guests, handle insurance, see to repairs, and whatever else is necessary. So yes, I’m going. Kara, would you pack me a bag? My weekender with four changes of underwear and three changes of clothes, please. I’m going to call the travel agency emergency number.”
“Did you feel faint?” she asked, switching to ‘Doctor Jessica’ mode, much like Pete used his ‘Law Enforcement’ voice.
“Weak in the knees,” I said. “But, no, I didn’t feel faint. I’m fine, Babe.”
“Let me check you out,” she ordered.
Kara giggled, “He’ll miss his flight!”
Jessica ignored her, now completely in ‘doctor’ mode. She got her bag, took out the stethoscope and blood-pressure cuff and quickly checked my heart, lungs, breathing, blood pressure, and pulse.
“OK,” she said, putting away her bag. “Make your call.”
Three hours later, my wives and I were at Midway Airport for my flight. I’d pick up a rental car in Boston, because the only connecting flight from Boston that could get me close to Montpelier was late in the afternoon and would need a forty-five-minute drive on the other end. I could drive there before that flight would arrive. We hadn’t been able to get any more information on Katy or the fire before I’d had to leave home.
“Call as soon as you land,” Jessica said. “I’ll see if I can get any information.”
We’d called the hospital, but they wouldn’t give out any information, despite me being listed as Katy’s emergency contact. In my bag, I had the ‘Power of Attorney’ papers for the bed-and-breakfast that we’d drawn up for just such a contingency, but I didn’t have any that would give me any specific powers with regard to Katy.
“I will,” I said.
“And remember how I told you to talk to the hospital,” she said. “If you go in as her fiancé, they probably won’t question it, especially with you being able to show your involvement with the business.”
“She’ll get a kick out of that. I wonder if they called her parents?”
“If you were listed as her emergency contact, I’d say the answer to that is ‘no’,” Jessica said. “The Sheriff called you.”
“We should let them know,” I said. “She wasn’t estranged from them.”
“Do you have their number?” Kara asked.
“No. And I suspect there are quite a few O’Connor’s in Boston,” I said. “Wait! In with the photo albums and memory books, is the invitation to her wedding. It’ll have her parents' address on the envelope. You can call information in Boston and get the number.”
“What if it’s unlisted?”
“Then call Sheriff Edson. He’ll be able to get it, I’m sure. I left his number and the hospital number on the pad next to the phone.”
My flight was called. I kissed my wives, hugged them, and then boarded the flight for Boston.
“I got in touch with her parents about 7:00am our time,” Jessica said. “They said they were leaving right away for the hospital.”
“But no word on Katy?”
“No. I even tried using doctor’s privileges, but they have some strict rules. The Sheriff asked that you call him. He wouldn’t give me any information, either.”
I sighed, “I’m all for privacy, but sometimes it’s annoying as hell! I’m going to sign for the rental and call from the shuttle bus. I don’t want to waste any time.”
We hung up and I hurried from the gate to the Hertz desk, where I showed my license and signed for the car that Barney had reserved for me. The answering service, at my insistence, had called him, rather than the on-call person. I knew he’d have everything set. He’d also found me a hotel room in Montpelier. As soon as I was on the shuttle bus, I placed the call.
“Sheriff Edson, please. This is Mr. Steve Adams calling. He’s expecting my call.”
“One moment, Mr. Adams. I’ll need to patch you through to his cruiser.”
It took the best part of two minutes before he came on the line, and I could tell his end of the call was going over radio. I immediately asked about Katy.
“She’s stable, but suffering from smoke inhalation. The fire wasn’t too bad, just smoky. My deputy says that it was in the chimney, but you’ll need to talk to the Fire Department for details. Are you in Vermont?”
“I’m at Logan Airport. I’ll be in my rental car shortly.”
“OK. I assume you’re going to the hospital first?”
“Call when you want to head over to the bed-and-breakfast. I can get you inside. The Fire Marshal has it locked down until he finishes his investigation.”
“Thanks, Sheriff. What about the guests?”
“They were able to get their things. We helped them all resettle in hotel rooms. When you get here, I’ll get you in touch with the manager of the hotel so you can make arrangements if you need to.”
“Thanks. I already have a room at The Inn on Main Street. As for the guests, I’ll need to speak to the insurance company and my attorney.”
“OK. Call when you want to meet me at Katy’s place. I’ll make sure the Fire Marshal is there as well.”
I hung up and was about to dial the house when the shuttle bus stopped in the lot. I grabbed my bag, and quickly made my way to the Pontiac Grand Am that Barney had reserved for me. I tossed my bag in the back seat, got in, plugged my cell phone into the cigarette lighter, and quickly got on my way. I dialed home at the first traffic light, and pressed the ‘speakerphone’ button.
“She’s in stable condition with smoke inhalation,” I said.
“No burns?” Jessica asked.
“The Sheriff didn’t mention any. He said the fire wasn’t bad, just smoky. Apparently it was in the chimney, but until I meet with someone from the Fire Department, I won’t know for sure. Did you get in touch with the emergency claims department at the insurance company?”
“Yes. They have your phone number. Someone will call you today. I also called Sensei Jim and your dad. Your dad wants you to call when you have a chance. I also talked to Elyse. She wanted to know how long you would be away.”
I sighed, “I don’t know. If anything comes up on the lawsuit, or anything else at work, she can call me. Did you get in touch with Jack Switzer?”
“Yes. He’ll reschedule your interview with the FBI. He did say they were likely to be quite upset.”
“Fuck 'em! It’s harassment. They have absolutely nothing because they can’t have anything! And if in some alternate universe they did, I’d either be under arrest or they would have made some clear threats.”
“Are there any other calls I need to make?”
“No, I think that’s it for now.”
“Are you doing OK?” Jessica asked.
“Other than being concerned about Katy, and about her business, I’m fine. You checked me before I left, remember?”
“Yes. You did miss your run this morning, and you’ll miss karate. That’s not good, Tiger.”
“One day won’t hurt. I promise I’ll find some time to exercise before bed.”
“And watch what you eat.”
I sighed, “I promise to look at every piece of food before I put it in my mouth!”
“Don’t be snarky! You’re under stress. The fire. The lawsuit. The FBI. All the other stuff from the past few weeks. You need to be extra careful! Do you hear me?”
“Yes, Doctor Jessica,” I said flatly.
“Don’t ‘Doctor Jessica’ me, Tiger! I’ll call Doctor Barton right now, if you like.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I just think you’re overreacting. I’m fine. Tell everyone I love them and I’ll call later.”
When she hung up, I snapped the mobile phone shut and tossed it on the passenger seat. She was right that I was under stress, but I was also annoyed by her constant harping on me about my diet and my exercise. I had been exercising regularly since Junior High, and except for a brief period after I moved to Chicago, or because of travel, I hadn’t slacked off in any way. It was the price of being married to a doctor. Kara was equally concerned, but more circumspect in how she handled it. The bottom line was, they both cared. I just wished Jessica would back off a bit.
I was happy that I’d grabbed the radar detector from the BMW when I’d parked at Midway and tossed it in my bag, as it allowed me to drive faster than I might otherwise have been willing to. I made good time, and pulled into the lot at the hospital in just over three-and-a-half hours. I parked and quickly walked inside.
“Hi. I’m Steve Adams. I’m Katy O’Connor’s fiancé. She was admitted last night for smoke inhalation after a fire at a bed-and-breakfast we own together.”
The woman at the desk accessed a computer terminal. As Jessica had predicted, she gave me a room number and I headed straight for the elevator and up to the third floor. I stopped at the nurses' station, and was directed to Katy’s room. I walked down the hallway, and found the door open. I recognized Katy’s parents and sister from the wedding.
“Hey,” I said.
I nodded to the others in the room, and walked over to Katy and took her left hand. The right one had IVs and a pulse-oximeter. I glanced up at the monitor and saw that her ‘sat’ was only 89%, which was low, especially given that she was receiving 5 liters of oxygen per minute by mask, according to the gauge on the wall. In addition, her respiration was faster than it should have been, and her heart rate was elevated. All of that added up to decreased lung function, based on things I’d learned from Al Barton and Jessica.
“Steve! What are you doing here?” Katy asked, her raspy voice muffled by the oxygen mask.
“The Sheriff called me and I got on the first flight to Boston. How are you?”
“My chest hurts, I’m coughing up black gunk, and I have a headache. Otherwise, OK.”
Mr. O’Connor shook my hand, “Thanks for having your wife track us down.”
“You’re welcome. What did the doctor say?”
“That she should be fine in a few days. There doesn’t appear to be any permanent damage. They need to run more tests.”
I nodded, “OK. Do we know anything more about the guests?”
“All OK, according to the Sheriff,” Mr. O’Connor said. “I guess they helped them all get hotels.”
“Katy,” I said, “I’m going to meet the Sheriff later and check out the building. I’m waiting for a call from the insurance company.”
She was about to answer when a doctor walked into the room.
“Doctor,” I looked at his name tag, “Markum? I’m Steve Adams, Katy’s fiancé. How is she?”
Katy’s sister’s eyes went wide, and her parents looked confused. Katy went wide-eyed and squeezed my hand. I hadn’t had time to explain, but I would afterwards.
“She’s doing OK. We’re monitoring her, and she should be released in a couple of days.”
“Her sat level is low,” I said. “I assume you’ve been doing regular blood gasses?”
“Yes, we have. Are you a physician, Mr. Adams?”
I was married to one, but there was no way I could say that now that I’d introduced myself as Katy’s fiancé!
“No. I have a close friend who is head of Emergency Medicine at University of Chicago Hospital and one of my housemates is a Resident there. And I have other close friends who are medical students or Residents.”
“Well, overall, given the smoke inhalation, everything is where it should be. We expect her PO2 to come up overnight as her lungs clear. Once she’s above 94% on room air, we’ll release her. I’d say Monday, most likely.”
“Thanks, Doctor Markum. Sorry to interrupt.”
He nodded and I moved so he could examine Katy. When he left, I got the expected question.
“Fiancé?” her sister Kaylee asked.
“A ruse my wife, the doctor, suggested. When we called here early this morning, they wouldn’t tell us anything because we weren’t family. So Jessica suggested I use a standard hospital ruse to get past them. It worked.”
“I was wondering,” Kaylee said. “You already have two women!”
“Kaylee, stop it,” Katy rasped.
There was more going on here and I had no idea what the dynamic was within the family. I moved back to take Katy’s hand again.
“I’m going to call the Sheriff. I’ll come see you later.”
She nodded. I was sure she had a million questions, but just the little talking she’d done seemed to wear her out. That didn’t surprise me, given her low blood oxygen levels. I stepped out of the room and Kaylee followed me.
“Where’s her girlfriend?” she asked.
That answered THAT question. Katy hadn’t said anything to her parents about her personal life. And I had to be careful what I revealed. I decided to play it purely as a business arrangement.
“Katy moved to Vermont and she doesn’t fill me in on her personal life,” I said. “Anything else you’ll have to ask her.”
“Did they break up?”
“Kaylee, I need to make some phone calls. You’ll have to ask Katy any questions about her personal life. I need to deal with the business. That’s why I’m here.”
She frowned and walked back into the room. I checked my cell phone and saw there was no service, so I continued down the hall to a small waiting area. I dropped a dime in the pay phone and dialed the number at the Sheriff’s office. We made arrangements to meet at the bed-and-breakfast in an hour, and he promised to have the Fire Marshal there. I went back to the room, let Katy know I’d be going to the bed-and-breakfast, and that I’d come back before I went to bed.
“Can I come along?” Kaylee asked.
I just knew that she’d spend the entire time pumping me for information, and I wasn’t interested in dealing with that.
“I don’t know that anyone but me will be allowed into the building, and I didn’t say anyone would be with me, so it’s probably not a good idea.”
She frowned again but didn’t say anything. I headed out of the hospital, consulted my map, and drove to Katy’s place.
“Good evening, Sheriff,” I said.
“Mr. Adams?” Sheriff Edson queried and I nodded. “Pleased to meet you. I wish it had been under better circumstances. How is Katy?”
“According to the doctor, she’ll be fine. They think she’ll be released on Monday.”
“That’s great news! This is Evan Brainard, our Fire Marshal.”
“Hi, Mr. Adams,” he said, and handed me a hard hat. “Put this on, and we’ll go inside.”
A hard hat didn’t bode well. The Sheriff removed his ‘Smoky the Bear’ hat and put on a hard hat with a Sheriff’s star on it, and the three of us went into the building. The power was out, but both the Sheriff and Fire Marshal had powerful flashlights.
“The power company will turn the power back on in the next few hours,” the Marshal said. “The fire wasn’t electrical and no electrical lines were damaged. The fire was contained to the chimney, and the smoke damage to the third floor living space.”
“Any water damage?” I asked.
“Minimal. We extinguished the fire with a 1-inch line. Mostly you have sooty water in and around the fireplace in the great room, and on the third floor. There’s minor water damage elsewhere, and we did have to chop out some wood paneling on the third floor to make sure the fire was out. The chimney sustained the most actual damage. Follow me.”
He led us up the two flights of stairs to Katy’s living space. Two powerful motor-operated exhaust fans were venting the space, and I could see small puddles of water on the floor, and the five-by-five foot hole chopped in the paneling, revealing the brick chimney behind it. Several of the bricks were badly blackened, and there were a few missing. As the Fire Marshal moved his flashlight beacon, I could see smoke damage on the ceiling and upper walls, and of course there was a strong smell of smoke, even with the two exhaust fans.
“How did it start?” I asked.
“It was a chimney fire. I don’t think it was cleaned when she opened the place. I’m really surprised it didn’t happen earlier in the year.”
“It’s pretty nice out right now. Do you know why she had a fire burning?”
“It was in the upper 40s last night,” Fire Marshal Brainard said. “I guess she has a fire every night, according to the guests I talked to.”
I nodded, “I split enough wood back in March that I’m not really surprised!”
The Sheriff’s radio squawked.
“Sheriff, I got a caller looking for Mr. Adams. An insurance adjustor.”
“Is it someone we know?” the Sheriff said into his radio.
“Yes. It’s Mick Kinnoc. Want me to just have him meet you there?”
“Yes. Send him here.”
“Let’s go take a look outside,” the Fire Marshall said.
We walked back down the stairs and outside. We went around to the side of the house and he moved the flashlight beam to the top of the chimney.
“See where it’s blackened, and some bricks are missing? That’s the opposite side from where the damage is on the third floor.”
“What’s your assessment, Evan?” the Sheriff asked.
“I’ll certify the building structurally, but obviously no fires until the chimney is repaired. There are no citations because I found no code violations.”
That made me feel a lot better. We’d had all the inspections, including one from the Fire Department, for occupancy. They’d found nothing then, and I was glad nothing had developed since.
“Captain Brainard,” I said, noting his rank insignia, “How was this missed in the inspection?”
“I can’t really say. If there was a bird’s nest inside the uppermost part, that wouldn’t be easy to spot. Once repairs are made and you re-open, make sure to have that chimney cleaned on a regular basis. Once a season might be enough, but I’d say twice.”
“Got it,” I said.
A truck from the power company arrived, and after a brief conversation between the Fire Marshal and the lineman, they turned the power back on at the transformer at the end of the long driveway. I went back inside with the Sheriff and Fire Marshal, and had a good look around. As best I could tell, the only things on the first floor that were a ‘loss’ were the area rugs closest to the fireplace that had soaked up sooty water. The heavily varnished wood floors looked as if they would be fine.
We went to the basement and I saw some water had leaked through the floor. It had pooled on the cement floor, but didn’t look like it had caused any serious damage. I checked the freezers and refrigerator, and they were running. I guessed the power had been out roughly sixteen hours, so we’d have to check everything, but it was possible that the food had survived.
We continued touring the building and I was very pleased not to smell any serious smoke on the residence floor. We’d need to wash all the linens and have the draperies professionally cleaned, but other than one puddle of sooty water, I didn’t see any real damage. Katy’s things, on the other hand, were likely a complete loss, given how much smoke must have gathered in her room.
“Did the smoke alarms not go off?” I asked.
“They did. But they don’t detect carbon monoxide or other gasses. We’re pretty sure she was disoriented from the carbon monoxide. The rest of the guests got out quickly, and someone called the fire department. Our guys found her collapsed on the floor over there by the stairs. There was a lot of black smoke, but no flames.”
About thirty minutes later, Mick Kinnoc arrived, and after introductions, toured the building, taking copious notes. When he finished, we sat down at the kitchen table to talk.
“We can get a cleanup crew in here tomorrow,” he said. “We want to get that water and soot off the floors before it does further damage. On Monday, I’ll get a contractor here to look at the chimney, and a crew to begin working on the third floor. I have a check for you from the business continuity insurance that covers the next two weeks. We’ll evaluate in ten days whether anything further will be necessary. If any of the guests make any claims, please give them my contact information. Do you have a local attorney?”
I pulled out my notebook and gave him the information that Katy had provided back in March. I also gave him Jamie’s contact information.
“When do you think we’ll be able to reopen?” I asked.
“I’d say two weeks, unless Evan says differently.”
“There’s no reason to keep them closed,” the Fire Marshal said.
“Anything from you, Don?” the adjustor asked the Sheriff.
“No. Katy’s a great girl and she’s never had any issues with my office.”
I thanked everyone and we left. I locked up the building, and gave the adjustor my keys so he could get his team in without me having to come back. I confirmed that he knew where I was staying given that my mobile phone had no signal. After handshakes all around, I drove back to the hospital, stopping at a diner to grab a burger as I hadn’t eaten since before I left Chicago.
“Two weeks,” I said to Katy after kissing her cheek.
“That fast?” she asked.
“Mostly smoke damage, and mostly in your room. The chimney has to be repaired. I have a check to deposit on Monday from the insurance company. We’ll need to contact any guests who are supposed to arrive in the next two weeks. I grabbed your reservation book.”
She nodded, “Thanks. Can you?”
“Of course. I’ll start making calls now. Was anyone supposed to arrive tomorrow?”
She shook he head, “Monday. Two couples.”
“OK. Let me go make the calls, then I’ll come back.”
I went to the waiting area, and using my calling card, I placed twelve calls. I reached ten of the guests, including both the couples due to arrive on Monday. With one exception, everyone was sympathetic and accepted my offer of rebooking them at half-price later in the summer. The one exception was a Boston attorney who, if I were to believe his rant, felt that the world would end if he couldn’t keep his reservation. I let him rant and rave, threaten to sue, and otherwise act like a jackass. In the end, I gave him the name of our local attorney, and insisted he call him.
“Katy, some Boston attorney lost his mind when I told him,” I said.
She smirked, “He and his mistress come here for a weekend every month!”
I chuckled, “Nice. Well, he’s pissed.”
“He’ll get over it,” she said with a smile. “How long are you staying?”
“At least until you’re released. I want to supervise the work at the bed-and-breakfast.”
She nodded. I knew her family would stay with her, and I wasn’t about to start a fight about that. I kissed her cheek, said goodbye to everyone and headed to the hotel.
“I guess it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been,” Katy said.
She still sounded weak, but the doctors had cleared her release.
“Your guests are all fine, you’re out of the hospital, and there’s already a crew working on the chimney! And I deposited the check from the insurance company this morning.”
“What about all the food?”
“The stuff in the freezers is OK. I decided to toss everything in the fridges, especially given that it’ll be another ten days before you have any guests. I already spoke to Mr. Kinnoc and the insurance company will cover that loss. There’s a deductible, but we want to make sure everything is on the final claim.”
“Good. Did you get in touch with those last two guests?”
“Yes. No problems there. Seven of the twelve accepted rebooking later in the summer, and four more agreed to vouchers for next year.”
“And the lawyer?”
“I was surprised. He called and apologized. He’ll be here for his usual tryst next month!”
“If you saw his mistress, you would see why!” Katy giggled. “She’s a former Miss New Hampshire. Twenty-five, but looks like she’s sixteen. And built like a brick shithouse!”
I laughed, “I could see why he might have been upset to miss a weekend!”
“When are you flying home?”
“Tomorrow morning,” I said. “I have the first flight out of Logan. I’ll need to leave here by 3:00am.”
“Can we sleep here?” she asked.
“We could, but I think we should stay at the hotel. Even the small amount of smoke exposure won’t be good for you, so you should stay at the hotel for the rest of the week. I figured we would be in bed early because of your condition, so 3:00am isn’t too bad.”
She giggled, “Still angling to get me into your bed? But I won’t be much use to you in this state.”
“Katy O’Connor! I have NO intentions of that sort!”
“Not even with your fiancée?” she giggled hoarsely.
“You know why I had to say that!” I chuckled. “I did not come here with ANY idea of going to bed with you. Not in that way, anyway!”
Katy laughed, “It’s still easy to wind you up! My sister is available, I’m sure! She was making goo-goo eyes at you!”
“No thanks! Just the way she acted yesterday was enough of a turn-off to have me not even consider it.”
“I think she figures a guy who has two wives and can get a lesbian to sleep with him has to be pretty damned good!”
“Well, THIS lesbian is just going to sleep tonight. And she knows it!”
“Yes, Dad!” she giggled.
I laughed, “Did I tell you about Birgit asking if she could marry me when she got older?”
“No!” Katy laughed. “She’s at that age, though. It’s cute, really. Now, if she were thirteen, I’d worry.”
“You and me both!” I said.
“How’s Katy?” Elyse asked when I came into the office on Tuesday afternoon.
She had Julia, Dave, and Cindi in her office.
“She’ll be fine. She’s still a bit weak, but she was cleared by the doctors. She’ll have a checkup tomorrow.”
“And the building?” Dave asked.
“Not a lot of damage; it was mostly smoke and some water. The chimney has to be rebuilt, but that’s already being done. The inside cleanup is the real issue. A company called Service Masters is working to eliminate all the smoke smells. Katy’s room is the worst, and the contractor is replacing most of the wood paneling and the wood ceiling because it absorbed so much smoke. She’ll be able to reopen on July 8th, or so it seems.”
“That quickly?” Dave asked. “Wow!”
“One of the values of taking out business continuity insurance. It makes damned sure the insurance company moves with alacrity to get the place open again!”
“Did you swallow a dictionary on your trip?” Julia laughed. “Alacrity?”
“Blame William F. Buckley!” I chuckled. “I ran out of reading material and picked up a copy of National Review.”
“I thought you gave up on that right-wing clap-trap years ago!” Cindi said.
“Yes, I prefer libertarian policies, but Buckley can write like nobody else.”
“Is there any risk to our investment?” Elyse asked.
“None at all,” I said. “We’ll have a bit of a loss from the deductible on the fire insurance, but it’s nothing compared to the lost revenue we’d have without the business continuity insurance.”
“None of the guests will sue?” Julia asked.
“For what? I made sure we paid their hotel bills, and offered them free stays in the future. For the ones we had to cancel, we offered half-price rebooking. And, before you ask, we can claim most of that on the insurance. Things here are set up similarly. And if something happens to me, NIKA collects on a nice life insurance policy as well.”
“Small consolation,” Dave said.
“True, but I won’t be in a position to care!” I grinned.
Elyse rolled her eyes.
“While we’re here, did we hear anything from that recruiter?” Dave asked.
“I talked to him yesterday from Vermont,” I said. “He said he’d have three or four names for me by the time I get back from Europe.”
“Are you still going? Even with the lawsuit and the other thing?” Elyse asked.
“What ‘other thing’?” Cindi asked.
I sighed, “The FBI wants to talk to me. Again. It’s nothing. Don’t sweat it. You know nothing came of it the previous three times.”
“Don’t those assholes have something, anything, better to do?” Cindi asked angrily.
“You would think, wouldn’t you?” I sighed.
I went to my office and spent a couple of hours catching up on phone calls and paperwork, before it was time to meet Jessica at the hospital. As usual, Kara met me at the office and we walked to the ER together.
“Hi, Tiger! Hi, Kara!” she said when she came out.
We hugged and kissed each other.
“How was your flight?”
“Not bad. Only about thirty minutes late. Kara and Birgit picked me up from Midway.”
“Is everything OK in Vermont?”
“Yes. Katy’s fine. The repairs are moving along. Other than being tired because I had to leave at 3:00am for the airport, I’m fine, too.”
“Did you talk to Jack Switzer?” Jessica asked.
“Yes. I was flying when they confirmed the meeting for tomorrow. He left word with Kara. I stopped at home and called him to let him know I’d be there before I went to the office.”
“I guess if you were up at 3:00am, it’s an early bedtime for you tonight! Elyse will be disappointed!”
I smiled, “Believe it or not, she’ll be happy just to cuddle.”
“Remember what I told you,” Jack said as we walked to the Dirksen Federal Building from his office.
“‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers where possible,” I replied. “The shortest possible answer to any other question. Do not volunteer anything. Wait for your signal before answering. And, if I’m unsure of what to say, I’ll ask for a break to confer with you.”
“Exactly,” Jack confirmed. “I’ll ask you once more, and please don’t get upset, but is there ANYTHING, and I mean ANYTHING, that you know that they might be interested in?”
Sure there was, but they had absolutely no way of knowing about it as far as I was concerned. They might tie me to Theo, but he was the liaison between NIKA and the union for our work there, and I could document that. The one niggling thing was the envelopes I’d passed to Alderman Bloom years before, but I didn’t think they knew about those, because if they did, I’d have been arrested. But that was a risk. I couldn’t tell Jack about it, because that would open a whole can of worms I didn’t want to open. And which would put me, and my family, in danger. If it came up, I’d have to deal with it.
“I honestly don’t think so,” I lied. “I reviewed my notes, my calendar, my e-mail, and our billing. There’s nothing. I didn’t bring any of that with me, though, as you instructed.”
“We don’t want them to get a free look at anything. Remember what I said about cooperation if I think they’re going to try for warrants that would let them seize your computers.”
I nodded, “Yes. We need to prevent that.”
There was also the matter of the two dozen diskettes, the three-inch stack of papers, and my gun. Those were out of the house, and in the hands of someone I knew would never, ever let on that they had them. And with very good reason. His involvement in Cincinnati, and my help in getting him out of trouble, ensured his silence. When I’d handed him the package and asked him to keep it safe, he had simply nodded and never asked any questions.
“Just keep your cool, no matter what,” Jack advised as we walked to the elevator in the Federal Building.
I suspected that instruction came by way of Jamie, and I was sure that it had come from a conversation with Jessica. She’d said almost the exact same words this morning, and the previous night before I turned in. Just another annoyance that I didn’t need. I knew she was looking out for me, but it was getting oppressive.
“I got it, Jack. Trust me. I’ve been through several of these already, as you well know.”
“I know. But you have a history of, well, volatility, when you get upset.”
Now I was sure it was Jessica, not Jamie. I sighed deeply but didn’t respond. I knew I had to keep my cool, and didn’t need everyone reminding me of it at every turn. That actually made the problem worse, as the continued warnings upset me as well. I took several deep breaths while we waited for the elevator, and then on the way up to the FBI offices. We were shown into a stark interview room, and the two FBI agents arrived a moment later. They introduced themselves as Agents Stone and O’Toole.
“Gentlemen,” Jack said. “Before we begin, I’m going to remind you that Mr. Adams is here voluntarily, and is under no obligation to answer any of your questions. In addition, we do not agree to any kind of recording of this interview.”
“Got it, counselor,” Agent O’Toole said, sounding annoyed.
“I have a question as well,” Jack said.
“And what is that?”
“Is my client a suspect, or person of interest, or target, of any investigation by the US government, or any local law enforcement agency?”
“I can only speak for the FBI, and the answer is that, at this time, he is not.”
“Then we can proceed. I will remind you as well that if at any point I feel that you are treating him as a suspect or person of interest, I’ll end this interview immediately.”
Jack and I had discussed this strategy, and debated it with both Jamie and Melanie as to whether we should be adversarial or purely cooperative. It had been Melanie that, in the end, carried the day, saying that we wanted to put the FBI on notice that we wouldn’t stand for any shenanigans, and that we’d counter anything they tried to do. Jack had been less sure, but I’d agreed with Melanie, and he’d acquiesced.
“Fine, counselor,” Agent Stone replied. “We got it. Mr. Adams, would you state your name, occupation, address, birth date, and place of birth, please.”
“Stephen Mark Adams. I’m the owner and CEO of NIKA Consulting, a computer software and consulting company. I own a home at 4937 S Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, where I live full time. I was born on April 22, 1963, in Lynwood, California.”
They knew all of that, and I had almost given a snarky response that they should just look on the first page of the file folders they had, but Elyse had cautioned me about any smart-ass comments. And I knew she was right. That was actually what I needed to keep in check - not keeping my cool, but ensuring I didn’t tell the FBI just how stupid I thought they were.
“What is your relationship with Alderman Fred Roti?”
“I had two business meetings with him,” I said, following Jack’s instructions to keep the answers short and only on point.
“Could you expand on that?” Agent O’Toole asked.
“You’ll have to ask specific questions, Agent O’Toole,” Jack said. “This isn’t a fishing expedition. We’ll answer your specific questions, but nothing more.”
Agent O’Toole sighed, “Please describe these two meetings, including who attended, what was said, and anything that resulted from them, including any actions you took, or asked anyone to take.”
I suppressed a chuckle and answered in six short sentences, saying that I’d met with them, discussed business opportunities in their wards, asked for referrals, and finally, that I’d given Ed’s résumé to the Alderman to submit.
There were a dozen follow-up questions, none of which revealed anything more than what I’d summarized. Then they came to the question of Ed’s employment.
“What specifically did you ask the Alderman to do?”
“Ensure that Ed’s résumé was noticed. And, to my knowledge, that is all that was done. Ed went through the normal application process, had the normal set of interviews, and passed the background check.”
That had been the only dicey part, but when the prosecutor had dismissed the charges, they had apparently disappeared from view. There hadn’t been a background check for his job in Batavia, so we hadn’t been sure. But once he’d been hired by the City of Chicago, we knew there was no problem.
“Did the Alderman make any phone calls on his behalf, or intervene in any way?”
“To my knowledge, no. I never asked for him to do either of those things.”
“Did you offer the Alderman anything in return for this action?”
“Did you ever ask any other Alderman to intervene?”
“Did you hire anyone at the request of an Alderman?”
“NIKA has hired people recommended by Alderman Bloom.”
“And what was offered in exchange?”
I shook my head, “Nothing. There was no quid pro quo.”
“Why would you do that?”
“To maintain a good relationship. And despite my attorney’s admonition against doing so, I’ll volunteer that we only hired two of the three people Alderman Bloom recommended, and of those two, we fired one for violating company policy several years ago. That did not change my relationship with the Alderman.”
Jack frowned. But I wanted to get that on the record, and I wasn’t sure that the FBI would ask.
“Have you donated any money to, or served on, any campaign committees?”
“Were you asked to?”
“By Alderman Bloom. I refused because I don’t make political donations to anyone and I didn’t have time to serve on any political committees. I’ll point out that I also turned down a position on the IIT Alumni Board for similar reasons.”
Another frown from Jack, but again, information I felt helped me and would show that I was behaving consistently.
The questioning about the Aldermen went on for nearly three hours, with many of the same questions being asked in slightly different ways. It was obvious the agents were probing for any weaknesses in my answers, and trying to get me to say something that contradicted an earlier answer. That didn’t happen because I told the truth.
At 12:15pm, Agent Stone said, “We’re going to break for lunch. We’ll expect you back here at 1:15pm.”
Jack and I left the building, not speaking until we were outside, walking towards the Venice Café where we planned to eat lunch.
“You shouldn’t volunteer information,” he said.
“In those cases, what I volunteered confirmed what I was telling them. Did I say anything bad? Or wrong?”
“No, but remember, they want to get you talking. Most people like to hear themselves talk. They know that. That’s why attorneys remind their clients to keep their answers terse. It’s too easy to say something wrong if you just start talking.”
I nodded, “I understand. But I’m sure you’ve noticed after all these years that I’m super careful with my words.”
He nodded, “You do choose your words like an attorney. But stick to the plan, please. Plenty of really smart people have outsmarted themselves when trying to outsmart the government.”
“Any thoughts on their line of questioning?” I asked.
“I’d say the real target is Alderman Bloom. But as we’ve said, he has a squeaky clean reputation. I don’t think you’ve given them anything that would help a case against him, assuming they could make one. I’m guessing they’re looking at everyone who had any contact with Alderman Roti and Alderman Medrano. That means most likely every alderman is under some kind of scrutiny. Of course, that’s kind of par for the course for Chicago!”
I chuckled, “No kidding.”
We arrived at Venice Café and placed our orders at the counter. We were served immediately, and we took our trays to sit down. In the background, the theme to The Godfather was playing.
Jack laughed, “Is that why you chose this place?”
“No, but it kind of fits, doesn’t it? I’m guessing after lunch we get the union questions. And you and I, along with everyone else who has two brain cells, know they’re mobbed up. The Outfit runs the Chicago unions.”
“And knowing that, you do business with them?”
“We’ve worked at McCormick Place, which everyone knows is Outfit-connected. And so has just about everyone else in the city! If I avoided every construction company, union, or business that might have Outfit ties, I couldn’t run a company in Chicago! I saw plenty of shady characters when we used to have the software business with the construction companies and trucking companies.”
“That’s the one you sold a few years ago?”
“Yes. Seriously, if doing legitimate business with the unions is a problem, then the FBI is going to be busy for the rest of our lives talking to people who have nothing to do with the Outfit!”
“As long as you can show it’s all above-board, it’ll be fine.”
“Then why ask the question?”
“Because one of the agents will. I wanted to gauge your ‘off the cuff’ answer. What will you say to them?”
“That I do business with anyone who has a legitimate need and pays their bills. Law enforcement is their job, not mine.”
Jack nodded, “Usually, I would say just answer with the first sentence, but your personality says you need to give the second one as well. You’ve made your disdain for the FBI clear for years.”
“That I have, Comrade Ivan, uh, what’s your father’s name?”
“Peter,” he chuckled.
“Comrade Ivan Petrovich!”
“At some point, your travel may come up. If they find out you’re going to Russia, that may lead them to ask further questions.”
“To which I’ll answer, тво мать,” I grinned.
“I’m almost afraid to ask,” he said.
I chuckled, “That’s exactly what Pete, Melanie’s husband, said when I told him that phrase. Loosely, it’s the equivalent of ‘motherfucker’, though it’s an imperative. As in, go do it.”
“Ouch. What was the context?”
“You remember Tatyana? It was my estimation of her response if they accused her of being a ‘honey trap’ to her face. And now? Her husband is a Lieutenant Colonel in a Guards Tank Division stationed in Moscow. He might have a word or two to say about such an accusation as well.”
“Did your friend enter their foreign service?”
“Yes. And her father retired, and now he’s a member of the Russian parliament, representing St. Petersburg.”
I smiled, “Leningrad. I hang around with too many ‘Whites’ to use the Communist name for the city.”
“Whites? What does being white have to do with it?”
“Not a history major, Jack?”
“No. My undergrad degree was in criminal justice.”
“‘Whites’ is a term for the monarchists who supported the Tsar, as well as others who made common cause with them. ‘Whites’ as opposed to the ‘Reds’, the Communists.”
“Ah, OK. Now it makes some level of sense.”
We finished our lunch and headed back to the FBI office, and the second part of the interview began. As expected, it focused on unions.
“How did you become involved with the unions?” Agent Stone asked.
“Through membership management software that I wrote with some friends of mine. It was a spinoff of some software we wrote in High School to manage veterinary offices.”
“High School?” Agent O’Toole asked.
“Agent O’Toole,” Jack interrupted. “That isn’t relevant to your investigation of the unions. Mr. Adams didn’t attend High School in Illinois.”
“Federal jurisdiction does apply, counselor.”
“Be that as it may, we’re not answering any questions about things that may or may not have occurred when Mr. Adams was a minor. Period. Move on.”
“How did you get that business?”
“NIKA became involved through Alderman Bloom. He helped us find office space in the union hall, and then through my relationship with the union president, Mr. King, we ended up with four union contracts. We’ve expanded from there.”
That wasn’t the whole story, but it was accurate. It neatly avoided bringing Theo, Don Joseph, or the Outfit into the picture in any way. Of course, the next question was more difficult.
“And you had no dealings with them before NIKA?”
“I sold them the software, just as I said.”
“And how did you do that?”
“Through a guy named Theo Lipari. I ran into him in Hyde Park back when I first moved here in '81. We got to talking, I told him about my background, and he asked about working on computers for his union.”
“Did you know that Mr. Lipari is a member of the Chicago Outfit? The mob?”
“Along with just about everyone in the construction business in Chicago,” I said in a snarky way. “And the unions. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an Outfit-connected firm in Chicago! But you’ll find that I have complete documentation of everything I did for them, including my tax returns. The same goes for NIKA. If they have legitimate business needs, and pay their bills, that’s all that matters to me. Law enforcement is your problem, not mine.”
“So you are admitting you are an associate of a known member of the Chicago Outfit? Is that what you’re saying?”
“And that’s the end of the interview, gentlemen,” Jack said firmly. “Steve, we’re leaving. Do NOT say another word.”
“Don’t leave town, Mr. Adams,” Agent O’Toole said.
“Mr. Adams has a trip to Europe planned starting July 4th. It was booked months ago, long before whatever fishing expedition you have against him began. You have no power to prevent him from making that trip.”
“Counselor, he’s now officially a ‘Person of Interest’,” Agent Stone said.
“On what basis?”
“You know we don’t have to tell you at this point.”
“What is he suspected of?”
“Again, we do not have to tell you. It’s an ongoing investigation.”
Jack put away his legal pad, closed his briefcase, and motioned for me to follow him. I did so, silently. I followed him out of the building. When we were outside, I started to say something. He held up his hand and beckoned me to follow him. We walked back to his office, and when we were finally inside, with the door shut, he spoke.
“Well, that didn’t go well. Did you know this Theo person was in the Mob?”
I chuckled, “Gee, a Sicilian who works for a union on the South Side of Chicago, and is involved in the construction business. No, Jack, I would never have guessed in a million years he might be connected to the Mob somehow! You and I talked about this!”
Jack nodded, “We did. I think they’re blowing smoke, but we can’t be sure. We have a serious problem now.”
“Can I go on my trip?”
“Can you? Sure. They’d have to arrest you to stop you from doing so, or get some kind of court order, though I seriously doubt they’d have grounds for a court order. You’ve been to Europe several times in the past, so this isn’t out of the ordinary for you. Not to mention strong ties to Chicago that would bring you back voluntarily.”
“What do you think?”
“It’s intimidation. If they really had something, we wouldn’t have been able to walk out of there. Well, they might let you if they thought somehow you might lead them to someone or something, but I don’t see how that’s possible based on what you’ve said and what I can surmise from their questioning.”
“What do we do?”
“That’s up to you. What would happen if they seized all of your computers and records?”
“We’d be out of business,” I said. “Even if they only held them for a few weeks.”
“Then we need to find a way to keep them from getting a warrant. That’s not an easy task. Usually those things are done ex parte and we won’t know until the warrants are served. How feasible is it for you to make backup copies of all your computers?”
“Let’s assume they seize everything. If you had backups, couldn’t you just buy new computers and load the software and be in business again?”
I laughed, “Yes, we could. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that! It would be expensive as hell, but we could do it.”
“Good. That’s some leverage. I’m expecting that they’ll make one more attempt to talk to you before they try that, so they can point out just how devastating it would be to your business. If I were you, I’d line up the replacement computers, but don’t have them delivered.”
“A reasonable idea. How serious is this, Jack?”
“Very. But if you’re really as clean as it appears, in the end, you’ll be fine.”
“Except for having my reputation tarnished and my company name dragged through the mud! Then where do I go to get my reputation back? I’m sure the FBI won’t issue an apology!”
“If that’s a reference to Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part II, I’d lay off those references.”
I sighed, “It was.”
“Make your preparations. Courier copies of ALL the backups to my office. I can hold them for you so they can’t be seized. And don’t delete anything at all from any of your computers.”
“How can you do that?”
“It’s part of me collecting the information I’ll need to defend you. So long as they aren’t the only copies, and they’re in my possession as your attorney, it would take ironclad proof of wrongdoing on my part to give the FBI any chance of seizing them.”
“Wonderful,” I sighed.
We shook hands and I left his office. If my stress level had been bad when I’d arrived for the interview, it was through the roof, now. And I suspected it was going to get worse in the morning when we had our conference call about the BLS lawsuit. I thought back to Doctor Green’s statement from eighteen months ago. It had just taken a year-and-a-half for things to go ‘straight to hell’.
As I drove towards the office, I wondered if I had any other options. I had no idea, but I knew someone I could call. Someone who had always given me excellent advice, and who had come up with some unique ideas. I hit the appropriate speed dial button on my mobile phone and was happy when the mobile phone on the other side was answered.
“Ben, Steve Adams.”
“Steve, how are you? And to what do I owe the pleasure of a call to my cell phone?”
“I’m OK, I suppose. As for the call, I have a problem. A big one. And I need some advice.”
“Shoot,” he said. “But remember, cell phones can be listened to.”
I sighed. Beautiful. He was right. I’d forgotten all about that. They were simple analog radios, and so long as you had a receiver on the correct frequency, you could listen in on the calls.
“I remember. I’ll make this brief, and I can call you from a land line in about forty minutes.”
I knew exactly where I could get one that certainly wouldn’t be wiretapped.
“Then give me the synopsis, if you can.”
I ran through the situation. With a couple of questions from Ben, it took about ten minutes. At that point, he insisted I call him on a land line, in his office. I told him he’d hear from me as soon as I arrived in Hyde Park. I hung up, and focused on navigating traffic on the Dan Ryan. Instead of taking my car home, I drove straight to the hospital parking garage. I parked and went inside, and went to Doctor Barton’s office.
“Al, I need to use your phone,” I said after his assistant showed me in.
“Use my phone? Why?”
“It’s complicated. I’ll explain after I call and speak to Ben Jackson in Los Angeles.”
“The lawyer who’s head of the NIKA User Group?”
“That’s him,” I said.
He pointed to his phone, so I picked up the handset and dialed. Ben’s assistant put me right through.
“Where are you calling from?”
“The desk of the head of Emergency Medicine at UofC. He’s on our Board.”
“Well, it’s unlikely they could get a tap on his phone. And because this is a privileged call at this point, they have to stop listening.”
“You’re full of good news,” I sighed.
“I’m paranoid because I’m paid to be. Step me through everything, carefully,” he prompted.
I did, and as I did that, Al Barton’s eyes grew wider and wider, and he shook his head. I’d have some ‘splainin’ to do as Jorge always liked to tease me when I ended up in one of these situations. This time, it took nearly thirty minutes before we finished going through everything.
“It sounds like they have nothing,” he said. “I agree that if they did, they’d have either arrested you, or obtained search warrants. I think your attorney is correct that they’ll try once more before they make any other moves. You agree that they have nothing?”
“As sure as anyone can be,” I said. “Obviously, my concern is for my company and myself, but taking this trip has now become a point of honor.”
Ben laughed, “That fits your personality. I’d say the same thing, by the way. When they try to intimidate, you want to rub their noses in just how powerless they really are in such an instance.”
“So what’s your advice?” I asked.
“Do what your attorney advised, but I want to talk to him and see if we can’t head this off. It would hurt us pretty badly to lose you. And I consider you a friend. Do you have a federal tax attorney?”
“Just my CPA, why?”
“That’s another route they could go. Using the IRS to harass you, even if everything is in order.”
“Just peachy,” I said, instead of swearing like I wanted to. “I do know someone who owes me a favor. Ned Jenkins at McCarthy/Jenkins in Pittsburgh. They’re a client. I took Ned to a Penguins playoff game. His specialty is federal tax law.”
“OK. I can get his number from the directory unless you have it handy.”
“Not on me,” I said.
I gave him Jack’s name and number.
“OK. Do what your attorney said, and let me make some calls.”
“Thanks, Ben,” I said.
We hung up and I turned to face a very concerned Al Barton.
“Start talking!” he ordered.
I filled him in on what had happened earlier and why I needed to use his phone.
“We don’t know that, but it’s possible. And cell phones can be easily listened to. They’re basically sophisticated radios, and radio conversations aren’t protected because anyone with a receiver can hear them.”
“Good to know, I guess. Look me in the eye and tell me you aren’t in any REAL trouble.”
I could do that - as long as he didn’t know about my talks with Fawn! If he did, then I’d be safer running to the Feds and singing like a canary! And immediately asking to be put into the Witness Relocation Program. In Stockholm or St. Petersburg!
“I’m not in any real trouble, Al. The FBI has done similar things to me before, but related to my Russian friends. In this case, I swear to you that NIKA is clean, and that I am not involved with the Outfit. But this time, because it’s a bunch of Chicago aldermen that we’ve done business with, there are some hints of smoke. But there’s no fire.”
That was true, right at that moment. I wasn’t involved. NIKA, as a company, had never been involved. And given the way things were going, I’d never be involved again. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me.
He nodded, “I’ll take you at your word. How much does Jessica know?”
“Just that I was being interviewed. I haven’t talked to her about the outcome of the interview. I came straight here to call another attorney.”
“It sounds like you’ll have three attorneys working on this.”
“Five, actually, because Jamie is involved, and so is Melanie Spencer. You’ve met her - the gorgeous dark-haired girl married to the NIS agent.”
Al laughed, “I’m glad you added that last bit. Every woman that you spend much time with is gorgeous, so that doesn’t narrow it down!”
We both laughed.
“Thanks for letting me use the phone,” I said. “I need to get back to the office. I’ll keep you posted.”
“You do that,” he said.
We shook hands and I left the building without going through the ER. I took the car home, then walked back to the NIKA office. I found Elyse, and asked her to take a walk with me. We left the building and walked to a coffee shop that I otherwise had never been to before and sat down. I explained what had happened.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Elyse gasped.
“No. When we get back, you need to call Dell and put in an order for forty computers and three servers. Make sure they know it’s a contingency, and they shouldn’t ship anything until you make a specific request. I’ll have Dave and Charlie make sure we have backups of all our files and we’ll courier everything to Jack in the morning. We can’t finish it before midnight because of the server backups.”
“What if they get the warrant this afternoon?”
“Then we’re screwed on any work done today. I plan to courier last night’s server backups right now. But Jack doesn’t think they’ll get warrants today.”
“Do you think Ben Jackson can help?”
“If anyone can, he can. He has lots of contacts, too. And I suspect Ned Jenkins does as well. And remember, Allen & Baker, where Jamie and Jack work, are no slouches. This is a time when all of our contacts in the legal profession might pay off handsomely.”
“I’ll have to move some money out of our reserve account,” Elyse said. “Dell will want a down payment, even on a contingent order. We’ll get it back if we cancel.”
“I understand. And you’re going to need to make some allowances for seriously increased legal bills for both this and the BLS lawsuit we’ll be discussing with Jamie tomorrow.”
Elyse laughed, “I’m surprised you haven’t put a hit contract out on Brandon Littleton at this point.”
“I’ve shown great restraint,” I grinned. “But my patience with that man has worn thin.”
“What’s the James Bond line?” she asked.
“From Goldfinger: ‘Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action.’”
“I’d say he’s in ‘enemy action’ territory.”
“Me too,” I agreed.
“Steve, this is Jamie. I have all the members of the Board on the line, as well as Mr. Eugene Levinson, counsel for Nelson, Reed, and Pulver, and Mr. Samuel Sheldon, of Sheldon/Fox in Boston.”
“Jamie, I have Elyse Clarke, our CFO, and Kimmy Bradford, our Office Manager, with me. Kimmy will be taking notes for us. Why don’t we get started?”
“We have three basic approaches to this. First, to challenge the adhesive nature of the contract. While that doesn’t help Nelson, Reed, and Pulver directly, it would simplify the case. Second, to challenge the venue. All three of the firms on this call believe the case belongs in Federal court. It would still hinge on Massachusetts contract law, but we’d be in a Federal, not a State, court, which would be to all of our advantages. Third, we attack the license as unconscionable, and use your license and contract terms as a counter-example.”
“Ray Adams, here,” my dad said. “What are the chances of success on those?”
“This is Mr. Levinson, Mr. Adams. We’re not likely to win the first point, at least prior to discovery. Generally speaking, it’s a challenge of the contract terms, so it would be resolved during a trial. The motion to remove the case to Federal District Court should succeed. We believe we have the grounds, and it’s a District Court judge who decides that, not the State court. And the third one is something we could only resolve at trial.”
“Joyce Tarrance. So in other words, this is going to trial?”
“If you’ll pardon my interruption,” Karl said. “Commander Karl Schumacher. Most likely, yes. I’ve reviewed everything and barring a settlement, I don’t think this can be won on motions. Now I’ll shut up again.”
“It’s OK, Commander,” Mr. Levinson said. “Just because you wear a uniform doesn’t mean you aren’t a admitted to practice in Federal court!”
“Thank you,” Karl said laughing. “But I’m not a business law or contracts expert. Unless Steve’s been charged under the UCMJ, I’ll leave this to you fine gentlemen!”
“That’ll be the day,” I heard Joyce say sotto voce.
“So what’s our course of action?” my dad asked.
“We’ll file the usual motions to dismiss, which probably won’t get us anywhere, but will establish our position,” Mr. Levinson said. “Then we’ll move to discovery. At that point, we’ll see if they are willing to deal or not.”
“Are you willing to deal?” Joyce asked.
“It’s really a matter of money,” Mr. Levinson said. “If they’ll take less than it’s going to cost all of us to defend the case, we’ll offer a settlement. If not, then we’ll go to trial. Most cases like this are settled. And for far less than the requested amount. This costs them money, too, and unless they’re sure they can win, they have to do the same calculations.”
“Jamie, did you fill them in on the Chicago firm?” I asked.
“Yes. None of us think that matters, though I know you take it as a personal affront. In the end, all they’ll do is conduct local discovery.”
I sighed, “Been there, done that.”
“And beat them, Steve,” Elyse said. “You made him look like an idiot in court.”
“And that’s what worries me,” I said.
“Hi Ben, it’s Steve and I have Jamie Ferguson and Jack Switzer with me. We’re in Jack’s office.”
“Good,” Ben said. “Jack, what did the FBI say when they called you yesterday afternoon.”
“That they wanted Steve to come in to talk about the unions, and they implied strongly that they’d escalate if he didn’t. They weren’t foolish enough to actually come out and say it. I promised an answer by noon today.”
“OK. That’s what, an hour from now? Here’s what I suggest. Call them and tell them he’ll come in on Tuesday. That will give us enough time to push back, hard.”
“What do you plan to do?” Jack asked.
“A friend of mine in Washington will go see someone at the DOJ today. And make it clear that it’s pure harassment and they have nothing. In addition, someone in Chicago will see the Chief Judge for the District and make it clear that we won’t stand for an ex parte warrant for a fishing expedition.”
“None of which will prevent it,” Jamie said.
“No, but it’ll put the government on notice that we’re not going to take this lying down. Look, if I thought for one second they actually had something, I wouldn’t do it this way. And, honestly, if they have something, even something flimsy, it’ll come out and we’ll know exactly where we stand. Ned Jenkins has already had a quiet word with someone at the IRS in Washington.”
“They can audit me from now until the end of time and not find anything,” I protested.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Ben said. “The IRS can ALWAYS find something. Give Ned a call and ask him. The tax code is so arcane that if you give all your documents to three different CPAs who are also tax attorneys, you’ll get back three different tax returns. Guaranteed.”
I sighed, “Now I know I was right to leave all that shit to Elyse and Bruce Grady.”
“On the plus side, given the way you handle your finances, the worst that would happen there is to pay the difference in taxes and whatever penalties apply, though Ned could probably get the penalties waived. And you might be one of the lucky few where they find a mistake in your favor. Of course, they’ll never tell you THAT! They’ll just close the audit.”
“Which is how you know!” Jamie laughed. “He’s right, Steve. You can’t beat the IRS. You of all people should know that!”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “This isn’t about my libertarian politics. So what about my trip?”
“Go,” Ben said. “Let them make their move if they want to. I’ll bet you a steak dinner that nothing happens.”
“Throw in two shots of Pappy van Winkle, and you’re on!” I chuckled.
Ben laughed, “Next time you’re in LA, we’ll settle up. Jamie or Jack, one of you should accompany Steve to the airport just in case.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“I’m sure nothing is going to happen, but if they’re going to arrest you, you want your lawyer there with you.”
“Wonderful. You know I’m taking Jesse with me, right?”
“Yes. I’m assuming one of your many women will be there to see you off and can take him in hand if it comes to that.”
“At least you didn’t call it a harem!” I chuckled.
“Only in private! I’ll give Jack a call once I hear back from everyone. I don’t have to remind you to keep your mouth shut about this, do I?”
“No, you don’t,” I confirmed.
We disconnected the call and I looked over at Jamie, “Well?”
“I’m not admitted to practice in Federal court, so I’ll defer to Jack and Ben. As for taxes, I’d say Ben is right. We’ve talked about that before.”
“Did you do everything we talked about?” Jack asked.
“You received the backup tapes and diskettes by courier, and Elyse put in a contingent order with Dell to replace all of our computers if necessary. Dell’s business continuity people were very helpful. What about Tuesday?”
“Let’s call them now and make the arrangements. Both Jamie and I will go with you.”
“Ben’s idea. We’re showing them that we aren’t messing around.”
“Doesn’t all of this make it look like I have something to hide?”
“The FBI will believe that you have something to hide no matter what you do. In your case, as an innocent man, you are availing yourself of every legal protection available to you.”
He picked up the phone and called the FBI office and scheduled the meeting for Tuesday morning at 10:00am. When he finished, we all shook hands and I headed back to Hyde Park.
“Thanks for seeing me on a Saturday, Doctor Bradford,” I said.
“Al would never forgive me if I turned down a request from you! You said you were dealing with a lot of stress?”
“How does the doctor-patient confidentiality thing work?” I asked.
“Short of you threatening to do someone harm, or telling me something that falls under the mandatory reporting laws, it’s sacrosanct. Nothing you tell me can ever be revealed. And the mandatory reporting items are all related to sex crimes or child abuse. And before I forget, I did finish my research and anything that might have happened in Ohio, while you were a minor, would be protected. But we’ll worry about that at our regular appointment when you come back from your trip. What’s up?”
Which only added to my stress level! But I couldn’t let him know that. I explained about Katy, the BLS lawsuit, and the FBI investigation. Doctor Bradford listened, but interrupted with questions quite a few times, since he didn’t have the background that other people did. He asked about other sources of stress, and I ran through everything I could think of, though I left out two things - Fawn, and my sister.
“That’s a hell of a two-week period,” he said.
“Tell me about it!” I agreed.
“Let’s discuss your responses. First, the phone call in the middle of the night. Describe exactly what happened to the best of your recollection.”
I did, including Jessica’s quick exam afterwards.
“No dizziness? No nausea? Just weak in the knees?”
“Yes. I guess I’d say I felt the adrenaline effect, but it wasn’t as pronounced as it has been in the past.”
“With no nausea, I’d agree with you. You said you clenched the phone tightly?”
“Yes. I’m sure my knuckles went white, and I know my hand was shaking.”
“But you remained calm? All you did was sit down on the couch?”
“Sagged is probably a better term, but yes.”
“Then you dropped everything and flew to Boston?”
“Yes. Katy is a very close friend, and I have a half-ownership in the business. Either of those things would call for personal attention. Together, they meant flying out.”
“Very close? As in a lover?”
I nodded, “Yes, but she’s also more interested in girls than boys. Far more interested.”
“Ah, OK. You’ve had those kinds of impulses before. Dropping everything in a crisis.”
“Yes. And, lately, fought them off. In this case, I wasn’t manic. You can check with Jessica, if you like. I’m happy to sign whatever permission you need. It was coldly logical and calculated.”
Doctor Bradford smiled, “Which can also be a problem.”
I chuckled, “Yes, yes. We’re all crazy in our own ways. But this wasn’t me being devoid of emotion or anything. I’d say it was more like Jessica’s response to a trauma coming into the ER. Businesslike.”
“When did it really hit you?”
“When I got into bed alone in the hotel in Montpelier that first night. It was like all the energy just drained from my body. I slept eleven hours. I NEVER do that.”
“You do remember that lack of sleep exacerbates the condition you have, right?”
“Well, that extra sleep probably helped you stay on an even keel. Did you get depressed while you were away?”
“No, not at all,” I said.
“And did you engage in your usual manic behavior?”
I chuckled, “No. I didn’t have sex with Katy, or anyone else, for that matter!”
“Good. Now about the legal troubles. You said you were,” he consulted his notes, “I’m quoting here, ‘bummed’, about them. How so?”
“I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders and the world was treating me unfairly.”
Doctor Bradford laughed hard, “Did you just use your ‘F’ word?”
I laughed with him, “I guess I did.”
“Interesting. Let’s explore that. For you to say that word, it must really be affecting you deep down. Have you done anything that I should know about because of those feelings?”
I smiled, “No. Other than my usual Tuesday night with Elyse, I’ve only been with my wives. I missed the Sunday night with Abbie because I was in Vermont. And I slept alone there except the last night.”
“With Katy, but as you said, nothing happened.”
“Other than cuddling, nothing. It’s like my relationship with Bethany at this point.”
“Your friend whose husband was murdered. I remember. So no wild mood swings?”
“No. I’ve been up and down, but not like before.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Truthfully? Because every single one of my friends, lovers, and members of my family are on my case constantly about keeping my moods in check.”
“And that’s annoying you?”
“Yes,” I admitted. “Especially Jessica. She’s the worst.”
“Do you resent her behavior?”
“I suppose that’s as good a word as any.”
“We’ve discussed the importance of your family and friends helping you stay on an even keel. Why do you resent it?”
“I guess it feels like a straitjacket,” I said. “Almost constant harping. I’d say it’s caused my moods to swing MORE, rather than help at this point. It certainly adds to the stress.”
“Have you talked to her about it?”
“I’ve tried. She won’t back off.”
“When’s your next appointment with Doctor Green?”
“After I come back from Europe,” I said.
Doctor Bradford shook his head, “I don’t want you going away for two weeks with this resentment hanging over you. You’ll brood and it’s likely to cause you to misbehave. Call his service today and find some time to see him before you leave. That’s Thursday afternoon, correct?”
“The three of you need to see him and you need to tell him about this.”
“I’ll make the call,” I said.
“Good. I think overall you’re doing OK. Keep to your exercise regimen while you’re in Europe, as best you can. Eat right and make sure you relax on this vacation. It’ll help you reduce the stress levels. Do you need to check in with your office while you’re gone?”
“Yes, but I do a pretty good job of not obsessing about it. I have good people running things.”
“Tell them to ONLY bother you with something critical. The rest should wait until you return.”
“That’s how we normally operate,” I said.
“Good. I’ll see you when you get back. If you have trouble making an appointment with Doctor Green, call me or Al Barton. I’m sure that will resolve the issue.”
“Thanks, Doc,” I said.
We shook hands and I headed home. I went to my study and called to set up the appointment with Doctor Green. I checked the house calendar and saw that neither Jessica nor Kara had anything scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday evening, and managed to get a late appointment on Wednesday that would work with Jessica’s ER rotation. I went to tell them about it.
“Why?” Kara asked.
“Doctor Bradford strongly recommended it because he wants to make sure I have a stress-free vacation!”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Jessica said. “What are we doing before Guys' and Girls' Nights?”
“Just relaxing,” I said.
I did have something important I had to do that evening, and that was talk to Fawn. I hadn’t talked to her in two weeks, and I knew she wasn’t going to be happy about that, but I was sure she’d heard about my emergency trip to Vermont one way or another, and I hoped that would mollify her. I hung out with my wives until dinner. We ate, then got the house ready for our guests. When they started arriving, there was a bit of unexpected drama.
“Jesse, Francesca is here!” I called when Carol, Stan, Frankie, and Francesca arrived.
I was met by silence. Usually he came running. I called him again. Nothing.
Abbie came into the foyer and touched my arm, beckoning me to follow her to the kitchen.
“Steve, they had a bit of a falling out yesterday,” she said.
“Oh? What happened?”
“He hugged Amber and Francesca told him not to.”
“You mean he kissed Amber?” I asked. “Jesse and I talked about that.”
“No, just a hug. Then Francesca told Amber not to hug her boyfriend. Jesse was very upset and told Francesca she wasn’t his girlfriend!”
“Trouble in paradise,” I chuckled. “She doesn’t seem upset.”
“I don’t think she believed him. But he told me today he wasn’t going to be her boyfriend if he wasn’t allowed to hug his friends.”
I nodded, “Good for him. He’s not bummed or anything?”
Abbie smirked, “Are you kidding? Kristin was right there to assume what she thinks is her rightful place! And Amber never left his side. It’s Francesca we should worry about.”
“She looked fine,” I said.
“I’m not sure she understood the implications. She’s going to find out for sure tonight. She may find herself alone, because you know all the kids will back Jesse.”
“Shit. I need to talk to Birgit,” I said.
“Let me do that. I’ll make sure she, Stephie, and Alexa are with Francesca. All I need to do is tell your Pumpkin that you want her to do that!”
I chuckled, “OK. Let me know if I need to intervene, and I’ll let Fawn know that Jesse isn’t to be mean to Francesca.”
“I think he’ll just ignore her, if yesterday was any indication.”
“You know what? I think I’ll talk to him, anyway.”
I went to find my son and had him come with me to my study. I sat in one of the wingback chairs and put him on my lap.
“Did you and Francesca have a fight?” I asked.
“She was being mean! She told me not to hug my friends!”
“So what did you do?”
“Told her she’s not my girlfriend!”
“And that’s what you want? Are you sure?”
“I want to hug my friends!” Jesse said firmly. “I didn’t kiss Amber! I just hugged her! Promise!”
“I believe you,” I said. “I’m just making sure you understand. You can’t be mean to Francesca even if you aren’t happy with her.”
“She was mean to me! And Amber! And Kristin!”
“Yes, I know. But you still need to be nice, please.”
“I don’t want to hug her! Or kiss her!”
“That’s fine. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. But treat her nicely, please. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Dad!” he sighed, sounding just like a teenager, despite only being five.
“OK. Let’s go find your brothers and sisters and get you to Fawn and Keisha.”
We went to find his siblings and I saw Abbie talking to Stephie, so I rounded up the rest of them and took them with me to the coach house. Fawn saw me and frowned, which didn’t surprise me. Fortunately, I had a good excuse to talk to her.
“Fawn, I need a word about Jesse and Francesca,” I said.
She followed me to the kitchen where I told her what had happened.
“Wow. They seemed permanent!”
“She pushed him too far,” I said. “Just keep an eye on them, please.”
“I will,” she said, then she glanced around furtively, “Were you avoiding me?”
“No. I’ve been really, really busy with just about every crazy thing you can think of. Did your dad mention that I went to Vermont because there was a fire at Katy’s place?”
“Yes! She was always sweet to me! He said she’s OK. And the damage wasn’t too bad.”
“That’s right. I’m sor