Svetlana didn't even glance up when the doorbell rang. Despite the fact that he left her alone all but three or four days out of the month, Karl liked the illusion that she was completely helpless and, without him around, would soon starve or go mad due to her inability to perform even the simplest of tasks, like opening doors or turning on the television, for herself. For the most part, Sveta was happy to humor him. After all, he let her stay in this fairly posh apartment and asked so little in return.
He stuck his close-cropped blonde head in the door of the room where she was reclining. Frowning fiercely, he said, "There's a young man here asking for you, Sveta. He says he is your attorney." His English was heavily accented with German.
Svetlana smiled, "Thank you, Karl." Her own English was heavily accented with Russian, "And, Karl. Could you run down and pick up more orange juice? We are all out."
Karl's frown deepened into a scowl, "You are sure you do not want me to stay? I have many dealings with lawyers."
Svetlana's smile didn't leave her face. But, she said, "It's all right, dear. I have to resolve a small matter that I left unfinished in New York. It will be no problem."
Karl's smile was obviously forced, "Very well. I will be back shortly."
Svetlana rose and kissed him. Karl's smile became more genuine, "Be careful with him."
She nodded, knowing that Karl's warning had nothing to do with lawyers. Macartin Laughlin was a devilishly handsome man who knew it and had made no bones about his desire for Svetlana. For her own part, Sveta didn't see any benefit either to sleeping with him or discouraging his pursuits. After all, Karl might get bored with her at which point she would need another place to stay.
"Sveta," he said, sweeping into the room. "I just received a delivery that I thought you would want brought to you immediately."
"Oh," asked Svetlana. "What is it?"
Placing his briefcase on the side table, Macartin dialed in a combination and clicked it open. With a flourish, he extracted a FedEx envelope. Sliding his hand inside, he extracted a smaller envelope.
"This arrived at noon, along with a sheaf of related documents," he said.
Svetlana knew Macartin's love of the dramatic and wondered what sort of grand gesture he was expecting from her. She considered batting her eyelashes, clutching her hands together and saying, "Do so tell me what it is." But, that would probably be too over-the-top even for Macartin, so she just waited patiently for him to get to the point.
Looking vaguely disappointed, he handed her the envelope. Svetlana opened the flap, sliding out a small, green piece of paper, approximately the size and shape of a check. Turning it over, Sveta looked at it, puzzled. She'd seen such gag checks before, even been fooled by them when she first came to America, thinking that Publisher's Clearinghouse was really sending her husband ten million dollars. It was not such a far-fetched conceit. Ivan had been worth many times that before his recent legal troubles.
Then, she blinked and realized that this was not a check to Ivan, but from Ivan. Her hand rose to her mouth in stunned silence. She turned the check back and forth in her hand, not believing that such a small thing could be so very important.
Now, Macartin was smiling broadly. Obviously, Sveta had inadvertently played into his fantasy of how this scene should go. She was too stunned to care one way or another.
"I thought you said this could take years," she said.
Macartin nodded, "Quite often, it does. But, apparently Ivan has decided to stop contesting the prenup. The documents that came with it made it pretty clear that this is an indicator of a cessation of all legal ties between you two, both litigious and matrimonial." Slipping out another envelope from his briefcase, he handed it to Svetlana, "He finally signed the divorce papers as well."
Sveta took the envelope, not opening it, "That's wonderful. Mr. Laughlin, could I impose upon you for a ride to the bank? I would like to get this deposited before they close for the weekend."
"Of course," said Macartin. "It would be an honor."
In the car, he said, "We should go out and celebrate. This is going to be a big turning point in your life. You're a rich, beautiful, single woman now. You should start enjoying it."
Sveta's smile was cautious. She was already calculating how to get the seven-figure contingency fee she'd agreed to for his services reduced and it wouldn't do to get entangled, "I am afraid that I cannot. Karl and I have plans this evening. I thank you for asking though."
He smiled back, "Another time, then."
Inside the bank, Svetlana waited on line nervously. It being Friday, a lot of people were there at the last minute, trying to deposit or cash paychecks. Never having been in a bank at closing time, she didn't know what would happen if she were still on line, then.
As it turned out, at closing time, the guards merely locked the front doors, letting no one else in, but leaving the current line of customers inside. Sveta smiled. That was a very American way of doing things.
When she handed the check to the teller, the woman looked her over. Then, without trying to be too obvious, she pressed a button under her desk. A few seconds later, a manager appeared. He asked Svetlana to produce identification. Even after she did, he eyed her suspiciously.
Svetlana couldn't blame him. Karl had been so enamored of her youth that she had started dressing the part for him. Currently, she was wearing blue jeans and a gray t-shirt with the logo for Boston College. And, she had just deposited a check fifteen million dollars.
Finally, the manager said, "We're going to need to verify this. The funds won't be available until next Friday."
Svetlana nodded, "Of course." She was anxious to confirm that the money was in her account, but careful not to show that anxiety. Before she left, the manager was trying to sell her the bank's investment services. Somehow, his attempt to grab a chunk of the money made it more real.
Svetlana saw no reason not to spend the weekend with Karl. He was a competent lover, not creative enough to be cruel. For a man in his early fifties, he kept himself trim and in decent shape. Best of all, he assumed Svetlana was an empty-headed girl with no concerns beyond how he would amuse her today. It was an impression that Svetlana cultivated carefully and one which gave her plenty of time to think about things that didn't concern Karl at all.
Once Karl flew back to Germany and his wife, Svetlana found herself feeling nostalgic towards the apartment. It had never really been home, but it felt that way anyhow. On Tuesday, the bank called to confirm that the check had indeed cleared and to again try to sell her the bank's investment services.
Karl wouldn't be back for at least another two weeks. Svetlana split her time between studying up on her investment options and looking for a place of her own. As Karl's return drew closer, she'd made very little progress on the former and was still up in the air on the latter, but the more she realized she didn't know about... well, everything... the more she was drawn towards a particular course of action.
Two days before Karl would have returned, Svetlana braced herself and made a phone call.
"Hello," said Tryne when she picked up the phone.
"Tryne, it is your stepmother."
She could hear the pause before Tryne answered, "Not anymore, Svetlana. Now, you're my father's ex-wife. The divorce is final. What are you calling me for?"
Svetlana smiled. Tryne had only been in charge of the Mannsborough branch of the family for a few months. But, she was already all business. Despite the fact that Tryne actively disliked her, Svetlana found herself hoping things turned out well for her. Under different circumstances, they might have been friends, particularly since they were the same age.
"I need a favor," Svetlana said point blank.
"I ordered my father to send you a check for fifteen million dollars," said Tryne. "How many more favors are you going to ask for?"
"Ordered?" Svetlana let the word hang in the air.
She could hear Tryne sigh over the phone, "In a manner of speaking. I told him that he would have to settle your prenup if he wanted me to throw the weight of the family's legal team behind him in his recent... unpleasantness. Apparently, he hates the idea of paying you off slightly less than he does that of going to jail."
"Is he going to jail?" Svetlana asked.
"Almost certainly," said Tryne. "Did you call me to ask after my father's well being?"
"No," said Svetlana. "As I said, I need a favor."
"Why would I want to do you a favor?"
Svetlana smiled, "Because this favor will keep me busy and out of Vandevoort family politics."
"You're already out of Vandevoort family politics."
Svetlana laughed, "Am I? Do you think I spent all those years in your father's house and attended all of those family events and never formed alliances of my own? You have many relatives both here and in Amsterdam who would love to see you replaced as head of the Vandevoort Foundation with someone more to their liking."
"I don't doubt that I do," said Tryne.
"Hear my request," said Svetlana. "You may find it amusing."
"All right," said Tryne. "I have a lot of things to take care of today."
Svetlana told her what she wanted. On the other end of the line, Tryne laughed explosively. Svetlana waited patiently for the laughter to subside.
"You'll fail," said Tryne.
.... There is more of this story ...