December 2, 2012
I stood at the lectern and looked at the festive crowd. It was the law firm's annual Christmas party and typically the event where they announce the newest partners and senior partners. There must have been a couple hundred people in the ballroom of the Hyatt and they were all standing and applauding and whistling and clapping.
After twenty years with Douglas and Shutes I had made senior partner. I was overwhelmed by the response of the crowd. I had done my best to be a good manager and attorney and I spent a lot of time looking out for the little guy inside and outside the halls of the firm and the courtroom. This was a day I had dreamed about for most of those twenty years - making senior partner.
Looking out over the crowd I focused on my wife of twenty-five years who was standing with tears in her eyes at the table directly in front of me alongside the firm's most senior partner John Wiley and his wife Annabel. Now my task was to make a short amusing speech and remember to thank everyone who had been involved with my success. I guess I could begin with my wife who had started an affair with John about six months ago. I figured I deserved the senior partnership on my own, but certainly my wife spreading herself for him couldn't have hurt.
I raised my hands trying to tame the overwhelmingly inebriated crowd. I was possibly the only sober person in the room since the announcements were never made until after dinner and drinks - lots of wine and all the typical nonsense associated with a Christmas Party. The firm picked up the tab for the hotel rooms for the night or cab rides home since it would not be a good thing for one of the best litigation firms in town to have a few of its members spending the night in a Chicago jail.
After a few more minutes people began resuming their seats at the large round tables in the ballroom and the din abated enough that I could begin my speech. I noticed that John was now sitting closer to Keri and his right hand was under the tablecloth, probably stroking her nylon-covered leg. I had watched her dress in the hotel room and watched her roll those smoke-colored stockings up her gorgeous legs and attach them to a garter belt. She winked at me as she left off her panties, promising a passionate night after the festivities. I had smiled at her, barely managing to keep from throwing up. Just two days before this festive occasion a private investigator had sat in my office and laid it out for me, photos and all, but I had not been surprised.
In the hotel room I wondered why she was going to grace me with some hot sex since it had been months since we'd been intimate - did she realize that? Or was she so busy screwing John that she forgot to give me a little. Did she think I wouldn't notice the absence of sex and the other signs of infidelity along the way? We used to have a very active and imaginative sex life but that stopped about six months ago. Of course as a litigator I was working a lot and Keri as the toast of Chicago caterer to the rich and powerful and famous, she was busy too, but that never stopped us in the past.
She had just turned forty-five and was more beautiful than ever at five eight and maybe 110 pounds, all the curves in the right places and the most beautiful blonde hair. She was lots of men's dream girl and I had won her in college. Too bad I couldn't keep her. Sometimes tragedy and triumph follow close on each other. Maybe I could use that thought in my speech I mused.
But anyway I guess she was going to give me a mercy fuck or congratulations on making senior partner fuck, or maybe a goodbye fuck. Or maybe she was going for a quickie with John during the festivities and planned on giving me sloppy seconds. At least our lack of love-making over the months had spared me that. But who knew what she thought the night would bring - well in fact I did. I knew I wasn't going to be spending the night or any future night with her. She could screw the entire law firm for all I cared. Actually I cared deeply. But infidelity was something I could not or would not stomach - especially with that smug bastard John Wiley. He wasn't a very good lawyer but he was a good politician and knew where all the bodies, literally and figuratively were buried in Chicago and in Springfield, the state capitol. I could barely tolerate the guy and Keri knew it. Why did she have to take up with him, the smarmy bastard?
I had figured out she was having an affair early on but never let on, doing what a good litigator did, gathering the evidence and keeping my cards close to my vest and planning my exit. Actually since I then tended to avoid her I probably made the affair easier, but I could hardly stand to be in the same room with her for any length of time. I usually came home late and left early, my frustrations taken out on a punching bag at the gym. Under the supervision of a personal trainer I dropped that extra ten pounds I had carried around the last five years and then dropped another ten as I shaped up even more. I don't think Keri noticed. Certainly she never saw me naked. I replaced my suits with custom tailored ones and my new physical fitness seemed to give me more confidence in the courtroom - not that I needed it much. I had a reputation as a ruthless litigator, but the tone up and the obvious admiration from some ladies gave me what I thought was an extra edge. Plus with the hole where my heart had been I was unstoppable. Oh don't get me wrong, I wasn't some shark who represented the bad guys. I did some high profile cases to earn the big bucks but I also did pro bono work that made my reputation in certain sectors of Chicago as the champion of the little guy or gal. I was proud of my reputation and won some significant judgments against companies who let bad managers or sexual predators abuse their employees.
Originally John and the other managing partners expressed some concern about my crusades considering the legal actions were often against their cronies, but the first time I brought in a multimillion dollar award I got their attention. I knew from the grapevine - my long-time assistant was wired in and got me a bootleg copy of the minutes of the meeting - that the managing partners, had debated hotly about the wisdom of giving me a senior partnership. It was John Wiley who pointed out that if they didn't give it to me I would probably jump to another firm and that was something none of them wanted.
I wondered about his motivation - was it because he thought he'd have less access to Keri if I jumped ship? Or was it the fact he was bedding Keri that swayed his decision. I guess I'd never know.
I knew our daughters would be shocked that I was splitting with Keri. We had twins, Megan and Jessica who were out on the coast at UCLA on track and field scholarships. They were tall and athletic and got their beauty from their mother and height from both of us. They were going to join us in a few of days for the Christmas holidays. Keri already had our big house in Lake Forest decorated for the holiday and our annual party guest list read like a Who's Who of Chicago royalty. Too bad I was going to miss it. Actually I was happy to miss it. I hated that party and many of the guests were the kind of sleaze-ball politicians that gave Illinois a bad name and kept our prisons full.
As things calmed I adjusted the microphone and said, "I'm sorry to interrupt the festivities, but I promise to be brief."
There were a few catcalls and laughs but the crowd settled finally and mostly gave me their attention. For some reason John's hand was back on the table and he looked a little peeved. Maybe Keri told him he wouldn't be getting any tonight. Of course she wouldn't be getting any from me this night so maybe John would get lucky later.
"I have been with this wonderful firm for my entire working life and when I made partner I thought that was the best day of my life. During all the years with the firm I have made many friends and it saddened me to see some of them go - not just because I had trained them so well, but I knew they were going to be using all my tricks against me!"
That got a quiet chuckle.
"It has been my privilege to work here and to work for people who understood my commitment to the underdogs of this city."
That comment elicited a nice round of applause. Keri again had tears in her eyes. From the adoring look on her face I could almost believe she cared.
"Now my work has been recognized with my selection as senior partner."
There was more applause including Keri who was smiling broadly.
"And I want to thank all who made this honor possible, including my loving wife Keri who spent lots of time alone while I was visiting some of Illinois' finest court houses and penal facilities!"
She smiled at that. I wondered if she thought about all the times I was alone while she was out screwing around.
"I also must thank my office wife Carolyn, who puts up with me when I'm not on my best behavior and who is always in my corner."
I pointed to Carolyn, a pretty brunette who had been with me the past ten years. She also had two daughters and was devoted to her husband. I envied the guy. She was seated near enough that I could see her blush. Then she gave me an odd look. From that look I realized that she knew about Keri and John Wiley - but she had not told me! How could she do that to me? It probably meant that the rest of the office knew that I was a miserable cuckold. The hole, where my heart should have been, just got a bit bigger. I kept the smile plastered on my face despite the pain I felt, as she was applauded.
"Years ago, when I was an associate, Mr. Shutes told be a little story about the slaves rowing a first century galley ... the overseer - that's the guy with the whip ... says to the slaves, I've got good news and bad news ... The good news is that the Captain has ordered double rations all around. This elicited a cheer from the men ... The bad news is that after lunch the Captain wants to go water skiing."
Lots of laughs, especially from the associates who knew full well, that they were the galley slaves.
"Now for the tough part of this speech ... I'm not going to get a chance to water ski."
There were lots of puzzled looks and it seemed I finally had everyone's attention.
"Recently something was confirmed that I had suspected for the last few months..."
Suddenly Keri's face showed concern. I knew she was thinking that maybe I had discovered her affair and she was rolling through all her responses or denials. Her face reddened as I paused.
"I have a heart condition..."
There was lots of buzz around the room, and comments like, "What did he say?"
"And if I don't take care of it immediately it could prove fatal."
Keri's face was a mix of emotions. First she seemed relieved I hadn't discovered or mentioned her affair, and then as my words sunk in she wore a look shock and surprise - shocked and surprised that I hadn't told her. Finally she looked furious because the first time she was hearing this supposedly dreadful news was in a very public place and the announcement to a room full of people. I was surprised when her anger was replaced by a look of sadness. Finally she just stared at me with a look of disbelief.
"I am so sorry that I won't be around to see this firm continue to prosper and to see the promising men and women seated here tonight become partners themselves. I'm egotistical enough to believe that I still have much to share with many of you."
I looked at John. His face was blank. Was he regretting my loss to the firm, or thinking about having Keri all to himself now. It no longer mattered.
"John, my resignation is on your desk and I have assigned my cases to others. It has been an honor to work in this firm and I appreciate the opportunities I've been given. I wish you all good luck. Thank you and goodbye."
There was a stunned silence as I turned away from the lectern and stepped through the curtained backdrop behind me. I then moved to the door concealed by the curtain - one of the doors that the serving staff used which accessed the hallways to the service kitchens on each ballroom floor.
Minutes later I was outside the hotel and walking through the falling snow as it added a new coat to the streets and sidewalks. I turned a corner and went down an alley to meet my ride. I had chosen that spot because there was no security camera there.
"Good evening, Mr. Ryan" said a hulking man with a heavy Russian accent. He wore a dark topcoat and held an umbrella as he stood at the open back door of a black Audi A8L. I brushed the snow from my tuxedo jacket and entered the unlighted but warm back seat.
"Good evening Dmitri."
In moments we were away, taking a southerly route out of the city that was known to have few if any cameras. The heavy snow also helped to obscure any images from the cameras. I was running away and I didn't want to be found at least until it was advantageous for me to reappear.
I pulled my laptop from the briefcase that was on the seat next to me and logged on, taking the time to closely review my list of things to do. I also made sure that money had been safely transferred to untraceable offshore accounts. I didn't leave Keri destitute, but even if I had, her income from her business would keep her very comfortable. I did not share my end of year bonus from the firm with her. This year she had deserved none of it since she had abrogated her duties as my wife for most of the year.
I sent a terse email to my divorce attorney, giving him the go-ahead. Joe Akers was a long-time friend and one of the best of the sharks in the divorce business in town. I doubted Keri would contest the divorce, but it never hurt to have the best hired gun in your corner. I had given him a power of attorney to act in my behalf in all things pertaining to my divorce since I didn't plan to be around.
I was going to take some time out of the country to take care of my "heart condition" that is my broken heart - the heart that had been given to a beautiful woman who had betrayed me. I also had decided that I needed some time off. I had to admit I was burned out. After twenty years I couldn't face another day in or out of a courtroom. The failure of my marriage had opened my eyes. I planned to call my daughters once Keri was served with notice of the divorce. I figured she would call them immediately and my call would be a follow up explaining why I wouldn't be home for Christmas. She should be served Monday. At least Keri would be able to have the girls with her at Christmas. If everything went as planned I would be alone having some quiet time several time zones away.
Thirty minutes later we pulled up on a dark street near some industrial looking buildings on the South Side. A figure in dark jeans and a hoodie appeared from an unlighted doorway, and joined me in the car. Dmitri moved to the doorway to have a cigarette and to keep watch. This was not the best neighborhood and even during a snow storm it paid to be vigilant.
The person who joined me was Brendon O'Connell, hacker extraordinaire and former client. He looked sixteen but was twenty three. I had gotten him out of some youthful misadventures and helped his family in some small ways so I called in a favor.
He didn't say anything until he had thrust a worn canvas messenger bag in my hands.
"Here's everything you'll need."
I could just barely make out his smile in the darkness.
I fumbled at the zipper to the bag in the dark and pulled out a cell phone a tablet computer and a laptop.
"Okay, here's how it works, the cell is a clone of your iPhone and the laptop, your MacBook. I made some changes though ... the locator moves each time you use the device. If you would make a call right now it would seem to be coming from Vancouver BC. So actually you should wait until at least tomorrow to call." He laughed. "The laptop will randomly send the signal for emails and such through several locations. You can even Skype if you want." I don't think anyone short of NSA could track you ... and maybe not even them." He said smugly.
"The iPad is just a bonus ... something I picked up, but same deal as the laptop for communications."
"Oh and that other thing ... The complete file on Wiley is in a folder labeled "Tsunami"
"It was easy ... old John has been a real bad boy!"
"No surprise." I said.
Of course I had my suspicions, actually more than that. While investigating the affair the PI I hired had also reported that John had been meeting with some very unsavory characters. But I needed the electronic trail that Brendon had provided. Since John had started in with Keri I had been watching him closely, gathering evidence here and there. Were it not for screwing my wife I might never have tumbled onto him. But once I did it had become my mission to get him. I could provide a public service.
"Oh yeah, good old senior partner John Wiley had been involved in the transfer of over one-hundred million dollars of mob money through an interesting scheme that involved a number of shell companies which bought goods from Asia from legitimate firms and then sold those items in North America for nice clean money. During the past few years he's parked over five million in offshore accounts. I don't know if thats commission or if he's skimming."
"How'd you find this stuff?"
He laughed "Trade secrets!" Then he said,
"Well, Mr. Wiley, like most people, is a moron when it comes to computer security. I paid a visit to his house and took everything off his home computers, plus the two in his basement he never bothered to get wiped - very interesting stuff. What's also interesting is the stuff from his office computer. He was stupid to keep it there. Wiley is really dealing with some very bad people. If that five million is skimming and if they find out they won't be happy!"
I thought about it. I couldn't say I was really surprised. John was a weasel. My gut ached thinking about the photos of him with Keri, but having this information meant that I had his ass.
"Thanks I appreciate your great work." I said.
In the dark I could see his smile and Brendon was having trouble keeping from laughing as he said,
"The best part is I stole his ill-gotten gains ... I moved all the money and closed his accounts. Won't he be in for a surprise when he checks on his nest egg?" This time he did laugh.
"Thanks." It was my turn to smile. "Nice work."
"That's not the best part ... all the new account information is on your new computer. You can access it any time you want. It's yours man ... all yours!"
Brendon was really quite amused by this gambit. I found myself trying to keep from laughing. It was poetic justice. I had screwed John Wiley. He would suspect that since I disappeared the same time as his money I was responsible, he'd just never be able to figure it out. He had my wife but I had his money! I briefly wondered why he'd get involved with this at all. It wasn't like senior partners weren't paid an obscene amount. Maybe John had decided he might want to divorce Annabel and marry Keri - hard to imagine - and Annabel would take him to the cleaners. Of course I had heard that a great deal of their wealth was her family money, but still it hardly made sense unless you knew John. Yes, John would steal from the Mob just because he thought he could.
"I hope you took a finder's fee."
"Not a chance. Screwing over Wiley is reward enough ... So if you'll hand over phone and laptop, I'll be on my way."
"Okay, but I still think you deserve something." He shook his head as I gave him the phone and laptop.
He looked at me for a moment and said with seriousness in his voice,
"David, no thanks needed. For what you did for me ... and more importantly..." He seemed to choke up. "For my mother and sister ... I'll always owe you. Good luck man."
As he got out of the car and the snowflakes fell around him he turned and said, "I'll use your phone for parts and I'll get the laptop back where it belongs - it will magically appear in your office - completely wiped of course."
He smiled at me once more and then he was gone. The car moved south through the snow. I was lost in thought. It seemed that all the tethers to my old life were quickly being stripped away.
An hour later we pulled up in the back of a snow-covered shuttered strip mall in Geary Indiana. As Dmitri and I walked through the back door of a boarded up hair salon we were greeted by the smell of fresh coffee and a smile from Janet Jones, or "JJ". She owned a chain of upscale salons in and around Chicago. I had represented her in some actions against ruthless landlords and in a particularly nasty breakup of a partnership. She had unbeknownst to her become affiliated with the Chicago mob. I had some contacts and called in some favors so now she was a successful independent business woman. I had also held her hand through a messy divorce five years ago and had to arrange for some "muscle" to encourage her soon to be ex to honor the restraining order she had against him. After the divorce, which was handled by Joe Akers pro bono, her ex disappeared, never to be seen again. He just couldn't be convinced to stay away from her.
She greeted me with a fierce hug, her rather firm and abundant breasts poking into my chest. Janet was a raven-haired knockout in her middle thirties, tall with magnificent legs and dark eyes which sparkled every time she saw me. She had cut my hair for a long time and after helping her out, I was no longer allowed to pay, although I did her other favors over the years. She had made no secret that she wanted more than friendship from our relationship, but I was an old fashioned guy in love with his wife - more the pity.
"I'm so sorry David. If you were my man ... well you know how I feel. Keri's an idiot!
I just nodded feeling her warmth through the sexy, figure-hugging red wool dress.
In her heels she was damn near as tall as my six one.
"Damn, David, never seen you in a Tux before. I think you'd better let me go before we embarrass Dmitri." She laughed. I hadn't realized I was holding her so tight or for so long. She felt so good and smelled like heaven. If we had been alone? I could see it in her eyes, she felt the same. Reluctantly I let her go. She smiled having felt the bulge in the front of my pants.
Janet poured coffee for me and Dmitri and had me sit in the only remaining barber chair in the place. Its brown leather was cracked with age.
She put her face close to mine as she loosened and removed my silk bow tie and unbuttoned my collar. It felt like she was undressing me for bed. This did nothing for the straining bulge in my pants.
For the next hour she worked on my hair, while Dmitri sat on an old chair in the corner and smoked and read the paper and drank coffee. Christmas music played in the background from a small radio on the shelf.
Janet's fingers gave me a sensual message as she cut and trimmed and colored. I realized that I had really missed sex. In my tough mental state the last few months I had repressed the urges, but now as the pressures of work and a crappy home life melted away, I concentrated on the feelings I was experiencing.
Finally, she spun me around to face the old mirror.
I couldn't believe the change. My hair was much shorter than I usually wore it and it was dark, almost black. I liked the style but was not crazy about the color, although I knew it was temporary.
"Janet. I'm amazed. I hardly recognize myself!"
"That's the idea, isn't it?" She smiled at her accomplishment but her eyes were sad.
"She touched my hand and said,
You don't have to go ... I'd be glad to hide you out at my place up in Wisconsin..."
I took her hand.
"I really do need to go ... but I'll be back. You know I don't allow anyone else to cut my hair!"
She smiled as a tear streaked her cheek.
Dmitri brought in a suitcase and I used the tiny cold bathroom to change into well-worn flannel shirt, khaki cargo pants and battered work boots. JJ called me "chicken" for not changing in front of her in the shop. I just laughed.
Over the pants and shirt I wore a camouflage pattern field jacket. An old baseball cap completed the outfit. It wasn't that I couldn't be recognized by someone I knew well, it was just that no one would pay attention. Now I was just another working guy.
After a passionate kiss JJ tearfully let me go and I was on my way again, this time an additional 200 plus miles south to a remote bus station outside St. Louis, Missouri. I shook Dmitri's hand as he let me off on a windy December day a couple of blocks from the station just in the off chance they had security cameras there. From there I caught the big gray dog 1000 miles south to El Paso. My well-traveled passport said I was James Tyler. It was a real passport and I looked enough like him to pass but the most serious scrutiny.
It was two days to El Paso. It had been years since I had traveled by any kind of bus and now I remembered why. I walked across the border into Ciudad Juarez with hardly a glance at my documents by a bored Mexican official. From there I caught a cab to a small airfield on the outskirts of town. It used to be for business jets when Juarez was a booming manufacturing town before it became the murder capital of Mexico. I had been there a few times myself. There I met my pilot and the battered 172 he flew. No names were exchanged and his fees had been taken care of previously. A few hours later we were several hundred miles south of Juarez outside Mexico City. The pilot handed me a FedEx envelope and I took out my new passport, travel documents, credit card and a ticket to Madrid. He handed me a hold-all with a change of clothes. I placed James Tyler's passport in the envelope and left it on the seat of the Cessna.
A few hours later I was in the first class cabin of a triple seven heading across the Atlantic to Madrid, final destination Dublin. This time I was carrying a Canadian passport and my name was David Parkes. After cleaning up in a small airport hotel my hair was many shades lighter and I was dressed in jeans, white oxford shirt and a well-used silk blend blazer, a perfect uniform for an academic on sabbatical from University of BC.
It was Wednesday morning in Dublin by the time I landed there and my next stop was a train station for a trip 178 miles south to the coastal town of Kinsale which I had selected merely by chance to be my home for the next several months.