Jake

Jake is a short story I wrote for my Forensic Accounting Class. Thought I’d share in case anyone was interested.

The Crime

Jake Eichmann sat at his desk at work, staring out the window. He was supposed to be working on the paperwork from the merger. The law firm he worked for had just merged with a smaller firm that had international experience that the partners wanted. On his computer screen was the fixed asset list from the other firm. He was supposed to be going through the assets and deciding what things needed to be sold and what things were worth keeping. But he was distracted.

The sky was a cheery blue, made even bluer by the polarized glass of the office window that allowed him a wide view of the cityscape in front of him. He saw cars driving up and down the streets below him, and people meandering on the sidewalk instead of huddling in the shade, letting him know that the brutal Phoenix summer was over and cooler weather was here at last. A few puffy white clouds hung in the sky, making it seem like an ideal day in downtown Phoenix where he worked.

But it was anything but an ideal day in mid-town Phoenix. Jake doubted that there would ever be an ideal anything ever again.

It had been four months, twenty days, fourteen hours and thirty-six minutes since his wife had died of a gunshot wound in a convenience store robbery. She had gone in to the store to get their twelve-year-old daughter, Katarina, a bottle of water because she had forgotten hers at home. Jake and Elena were going to drop Katarina off at her morning ballet classes and then go out for a quiet breakfast together.

Elena had shook her head in amusement. Katarina wasn’t normally forgetful, but she was excited about next week’s recital where she would have her very first solo en pointe. So, Jake had pulled into the convenience store parking lot, parking towards the back of the lot so it would be easier to get out when they were ready to leave.

Katarina chatted happily about dancing and singing as she sat in the back seat of their white Ford Taurus. She was a very talented girl, but Jake couldn’t take any of the credit for it; it was all her mother. Elena had been an accomplished opera singer before Katarina had been born, only giving it up because she felt motherhood was a higher calling than singing in front of an audience.

It saddened Jake that Elena had given it up, but he understood why and ultimately agreed with her decision. Katarina was a delight and both Jake and Elena enjoyed watching Kat, as they called her, step into her mother’s footsteps.

Jake loved sneaking home early on days when he wasn’t especially busy at work so he could hear Elena helping Katarina learning a new song without them knowing he was listening. Elena sang like an angel, and Katarina wasn’t far behind her. When they would finish, he would walk in from the garage, applauding like crazy. Kat’s cheeks would turn pink and then she would run up to him, wrapping her arms around his waist as he kissed his wife hello. It had become almost a tradition, during the not-as-busy-times at Jake’s job; he was an accountant at the mid-sized law firm.

He thought his life was perfect. And then came that fateful Saturday morning at the convenience store down the street from their house.

Jake was chuckling at Kat’s impression of one of her fellow dancers when he looked in the rearview mirror and saw something…not right. It looked like someone had put something in front of the glass doors of the store. He glanced at his watch. Elena had been in there for ten minutes. Not necessarily unusual if it was busy, but the parking lot was nearly empty.

His heart dropped into his stomach. Something was wrong. He knew it in his gut. He opened the door and stepped out, squinting in the sunlight at the glass doors. Then he heard it. The loud crack of what sounded like a firecracker and then a man pushed open the doors and ran out, holding a gun in his hands.

“No!” he yelled and sprinted into the store. He looked around. The woman behind the counter was pale and staring down the candy aisle. Jake’s heart pounded. No! Please, no!

He walked further into the store and looked down the candy aisle as well. His beloved Elena lay on the ground, curled in a ball, the floor streaked with blood below her upper body.

“Elena!” he cried, and fell to his knees beside her. He was relieved when she opened her eyes to look at him, but they were filled with pain. He moved her and saw she’d been shot in the stomach. He cradled her head in his lap and held her until the paramedics and police arrived.

She was taken to the local hospital and he stayed by her side, holding her hand for hours as she struggled between life and death. Towards the end, she looked at him, tears in her eyes. “Jake,” she rasped. “Promise me you’ll keep Kat singing and dancing. Don’t take it away from her. She’ll need it. You’ll need it.”

“Elena, no, you’re going to make it,” he said in a broken voice, knowing he was lying. The doctor had told him the wounds were too deep and they couldn’t stop the internal bleeding. Tears flowed freely down his cheeks as he gazed into the green eyes of the woman he had loved since he was sixteen years old.

“Promise me,” she rasped. “Remember me in her. Tell her to sing for me.”

“Elena…” he rasped.

“I love you, Jake…” Her eyes closed, her body relaxed, and she was gone.

 

 

Jake ran his hands through his thick, light-brown hair. His heart ached so much he wanted to pull it out of his chest and throw it out the window. He had only returned to work in the last two weeks. He was out of vacation, credit cards and FMLA and needed to keep food on the table and pointe shoes on his daughter’s feet.

Kat had taken her mother’s death as well as any pre-teen could. Jake often saw her sitting at the piano and singing mournful songs while tears ran down her cheeks. She was so much like her mother. She had Elena’s eyes and her thick brown hair hung in waves similar to the way Elena’s had when he had met her.

It hurt to look at her. She was too much like Elena. But he loved his daughter. It was all he had left of his beloved wife and he was determined to keep his promise to Elena and keep Kat in her lessons.

Elena had worked part-time so that they could afford what Kat needed. Only part-time, so she could be home when Kat was. Jake’s salary paid for the mortgage and the necessities of life. With Elena gone, he was struggling to pay the bills, especially since he’d been off work for four months. Ballet and singing lessons were not cheap, and Kat went through pointe shoes like other girls went through chocolate ice cream after their boyfriend broke up with them.

Jake’s buddy, Dave Buckner, had told him about a poker tournament this weekend. Jake was a good poker player; he’d won several tournaments the last few years. The game this weekend was one of those ‘back room’ games, but promised a big payday if he won. Enough to make up for Elena’s job.

Jake sighed and stood. He could do this. He could win the game. Then he and Kat would be ok. Yeah. He left his office and made his way through the dark-wood paneled hallways to Dave’s office.

Dave was a partner at the firm where Jake worked. He was an excellent lawyer and specialized in environmental law. They’d gone to college together and Dave frequently came to Jake about accounting questions that came up in the course of the case.

In fact, most of the lawyers in the firm used Jake as a sounding board when accounting issues came up in their cases. He’d even acted as an expert witness for one of the founding partners a few times.

Jake knocked on the wooden door. “Hey, Dave,” he said, leaning on the door jamb.

Dave looked up over his computer monitor, his blue eyes showing surprise at his friend’s appearance. “Hey, Jake. How’s it going?”

Jake shrugged and grimaced. “As well as can be expected.”

Dave shook his head sympathetically. “How’s Kat?”

“Alright. She’s doing well in her dancing. Gearing up for the Fall recital.”

“Let her know I’ll be there.”

Jake smiled. He could always count on Dave. “Thanks.”

“Did ya need something?” Dave asked, leaning back in his chair and lacing his fingers in his black hair on top of his head.

“You’d mentioned a poker game this weekend?”

Dave gave Jake a concerned look. “Are you really up for poker? This is a pretty serious game.”

Jake frowned. “I’m a good player.”

“Yeah, ya are. But…” Dave hesitated. “Are you in the right mindset? If you screw up…Jake, you know you don’t mess with the guy who runs it.”

Jake glared at his friend. “I can handle myself. I’ve played at Luca’s place before.”

“Yeah, but you’ve been really distracted lately. You do good when your wits are about you, but—”

“Don’t worry about me. What time’s it at?”

“Eight. Buy-in’s a thousand for the lower-stake games.”

“I know. I remember.”

 

 

Jake looked over the top of his cards at Renzo Politto, one of the best poker players in the city, trying to decide whether he was bluffing or not. Jake’s hand was good. Very good. He could win this thing and he and Kat would be set.

Renzo smiled and pushed his chips into the center of the table. “All in.”

Jake looked at his chips and then at Renzo’s larger stacks of higher-value chips. He couldn’t match Renzo, but he wanted to. Winning this hand would give Jake the money he needed to take care of Kat. Jake was wracking his brain, trying to figure out where to get the money to wager, when someone cleared their throat to one side of the table.

Jake looked up to see Luca Chiaretti watching him with contemplative dark eyes. “I’ll be happy to loan you the money to match his bet,” he said in a low voice.

“Don’t do it,” Dave whispered loudly behind him. “It’s not worth it.”

Jake studied Luca for a long minute. He’d be able to take care of his beloved Kat with the winnings from this single hand. Jake nodded at Luca with a grateful smile.

Luca nodded to Renzo and Renzo nodded back. “Call.”

Jake grinned and lay out his cards. A straight flush: 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack. All hearts. The crowd around them mumbled in approval. Dave blew out a breath he was holding for his friend’s sake.

“Good hand,” Renzo said, his appreciative voice holding the hint of an Italian accent.

Jake leaned back in his chair, triumphant.

“But, I’m afraid not good enough.” Renzo laid out his cards and Jake’s heart plummeted to his feet. A royal flush.

The room erupted in loud exclamations. Dave hissed behind him and Jake stared at the colorful cards, feeling his world come crashing down around his ears.

Jake buried his face in his hands. What was he going to do? This can’t be happening. God, no! Kat! He’d bet all the cash he had. Even the money he’d set aside from Elena’s life insurance. How would he provide for his daughter? How would he pay back Luca?

He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Luca staring down at him. “I honestly thought you could win, Jake. I’m truly sorry.”

Jake shook his head in amazement, his heart squeezing in his chest. “I don’t understand how that happened.”

Luca gave him a sympathetic smile. “Sometimes providence smiles; sometimes providence frowns.” He patted Jake’s shoulder. “Come see me in my office before you leave.”

Jake nodded, hopelessness filling his mouth with a bitter taste.

 

 

Alcohol dulled Jake’s guilt the next day, but Monday morning he had to face the facts: not only was he completely broke, he owed an Italian Capo ten thousand dollars. He had a week to come up with the money. It might as well be a million dollars.

Once again he was staring out his office window, staring at the clouds as they drifted by.

“You doing ok?” Dave walked in and plopped down in the chair on the opposite side Jake’s desk.

Jake shook his head, his eyes glazing over slightly. “I let her down,” he said in a broken voice. “I’ve let my baby girl down.”

“How much do you owe Luca?”

“Ten thousand.”

“Holy F—” Dave stopped himself before he finished the curse. “Damn, Jake. What were you thinking?”

“I’d barely lost all night. It was a freaking straight flush. Seriously, what were the odds he’d beat me?” Jake looked at his friend. “Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same thing.”

Dave gave him a mournful look and nodded. “It wasn’t unreasonable.” He was quiet for a moment. “What are you going to do?”

“I have no idea.”

 

 

Dave left a few minutes later and Jake sighed and turned back to his computer. Assets. Yeah, he could use some assets right now. If he owned half of this stuff, he could pay off Luca and make up for the money he’d lost this last weekend.

He shook his head. No wonder the other firm was so eager to come under the wing of Johnson & Associates. Their books were a mess. He’d been bugging the other CPA for a week for their original documents, but the guy was hemming and hawing about it and not moving. Jake wouldn’t have stood for that guy to work for him.

Jake was a good accountant. He was conservative. He was conscientious. He kept meticulous records of everything, scanning the originals into a computer program and then sending them into safe storage. Each document was accounted for and could be found in a moment’s notice.

He’d taken classes on internal controls and made sure they were as foolproof as possible. He was an honest, trusted employee who had worked for the firm for a long time. Sal, the founding partner, joked with Jake about how serious he took his controls, especially when he brought the checks for him to sign, but Jake always reminded him that anyone was capable of fraud. Anyone.

He printed out the asset list and headed to the downstairs storage unit where everything was being kept. He had no idea if the list was accurate and figured a walk around the room might distract him from his troubled mind.

Jake walked down the fire stairs, mulling over in his mind where he could come up with ten thousand dollars. More, actually, if he wanted to keep food on the table. Yeah, he owed Luca ten thousand. But he’d lost another twenty thousand that night.

How could this have happened? How could he have lost? Damn Renzo. Jake had played him before, back before Elena died. He was a good player and Jake knew better than to accuse him of cheating. Sometimes providence smiles; sometimes providence frowns. There sure had been a lot of frowning lately.

Jake unlocked the door and flipped on the light. He hadn’t taken a look at the stuff yet, aside from the list, and was expecting a room full of old, crappy computers and other office equipment. He knew there was at least one car included on the list as well, but it was obviously not in here. And the list only said ‘car.’

Freaking incompetent accountants.

He let out a low whistle when he started poking into the boxes. These weren’t old, crappy computers. “Someone had expensive taste,” he muttered to himself as he pulled a thirty-two inch HD monitor out of a box. “Why on earth does a lawyer need this?”

Jake laughed at himself. Because he’s a lawyer. Lawyers like pretty things. Well, not all of them. But they certainly enjoy the finer things in life. I went into the wrong profession.

There were multiple monitors, multiple high-powered computers, hardwood desks, fancy ergonomic chairs, and a host of other high-prices assets. He could only imagine what the car was.

Jake spent the next few hours going through the room, documenting what he could on the items and then went back up to his office. He went through the boxes and found the information on the car.

“Company car, my ass,” he muttered as he looked at the title. A BMW Roadster. How on earth did they get away with that on their taxes? No wonder they kept such poor records of everything.

 

 

Jake spent the next few days making meticulous lists and notes about the items in the storage room and going through the various boxes of paperwork. More than once, he shook his head, bewildered at the lack of record keeping by the other firm.

His phone rang Thursday afternoon. It was Luca. Crap.

“Just wanted to see how you were doing in settling your debt,” came the deep, slightly accented voice over the phone.

“I…” Jake ran his hands through his hair as he looked around his office. He had no idea what to tell him. “I don’t know,” he said after a long moment of silence.

“That is unfortunate, Jake. I always knew you to be a man of honor.”

Jake cringed. “I do my best, Luca.” He sat heavily in his chair. “Luca, I lost everything in that game. If you could give me more time, I could—”

“Your poor judgment is not my concern. What is my concern is the ten thousand dollars you owe me. Sell something. If I see you making a good-faith effort, I may be lenient. But all you’ve been doing this week is going to the office. I see little effort on your part.”

“You’ve been watching me?” Jake asked in surprise.

“Of course. I wouldn’t want you to leave town suddenly.”

“I wouldn’t do that. I couldn’t take Kat away from her friends.”

“Ah, yes. Your daughter. Pretty little thing, isn’t she?”

Jake’s hackles rose. Had Luca been watching Kat too? “Stay away from my daughter!”

“I have no need of your daughter, Jake. Although, she might come in useful if you’re unable to come up with the money.”

“Don’t you dare touch her!”

“Do what you need to do, Jake, and your daughter will be safe.”

His phone beeped, signifying the end of the call. The phone clattered onto the wooden desk as Jake buried his face in his hands. What the hell was he supposed to do now? Luca was threatening Kat. His heart twisted in his chest. He couldn’t lose Kat. He couldn’t let anything happen to his precious little girl.

Sell something. What did he have to sell? His house? Nothing was selling these days and they were upside down in the mortgage anyways. His ten-year-old car wasn’t worth much, either.

Jake’s eyes fell on the asset list of the acquired firm. Their ridiculous expenditures. If only… No! These were company assets and he wasn’t a thief. He had a good job. Losing it would only make certain he couldn’t provide for Kat.

No, there had to be another way.

 

 

Jake tossed and turned all night. He had to come up with the money. Fast. But where? What could he sell? It’s not as if he had a boat on Lake Pleasant. If he sold everything he had, he might come up with half of what he owed Luca, and then where would he be?

He went downstairs to breakfast the next morning with dark circles under his eyes. Kat cheerily talked about her previous evening’s rehearsal and Jake’s heart ached. The moments when she was happy were so precious to him. It gave him hope. If they lost everything…

He gave Kat a sad smile as he looked across the table at her. So much like Elena.

“I’ve gotta go.” Kat stood and walked around the table to hug her father. “I love you, Daddy,” she said, kissing him on the cheek and bounding out of the room.

“I love you too, Sweetheart,” he called after her. A horrible image of Luca touching her flooded his mind and he growled. Nothing will happen to Kat. Nothing.

 

 

Jake stood in the middle of the storage room with his list. Could he really do this? Could he lie to his boss, telling him that the equipment was worthless and that he’d just get rid of it? No one had been in here. No one knew the goldmine of equipment, save the employees from the other firm.

No one cared about the equipment. They cared about the lawyers. The equipment Johnson & Associates provided its employees wasn’t quite this top-of-the-line, but it was good stuff. He was the only one with a key to the room. He’d tried to give one to Sal, but he’d shaken his head.

“I don’t want to worry about that stuff, Jake. Do what needs to be done.”

Do what needs to be done. Yes, he would do what needs to be done to keep his daughter safe.

He pushed the button on the phone to dial Luca’s number, his heart pounding. He’d never stolen anything in his life. Not even a piece of gum from his mother’s purse.

“Jake, it’s good to hear from you.”

Jake swallowed and stared at the ceiling. “Do you have a way of disposing of assets of questionable origin?”

Luca laughed. “I have ways of disposing of everything.” The way he said ‘everything’ made Jake’s blood curdle. “You have something worth selling?”

Jake looked around the room. “I do.”

“I know a guy. I’ll have him get in touch with you. I appreciate the effort, Jake. I really do.”

Jake put his phone in his pocket and leaned back against the wall. “What am I doing?”

 

 

The man in the overalls handed Jake a long invoice with a smile. “I’ll be in touch when everything’s taken care of.”

Jake walked back to his office with a heavy heart. He’d talked to Sal yesterday morning, letting him know that the assets acquired in the merger weren’t worth holding onto and that he’d arranged for a responsible third party company to take care of selling the items, including the five-year-old car.

With the terrible record keeping of the other firm, he was able to doctor the documents, making it look like the equipment and furniture was lesser quality than it really was. He listed the car as a basic Lexus sedan. The value written on the invoice was around $15,000, not including the car. In truth, it was at least double that, possibly triple.

He stopped short in the doorway of his office. Dave was sitting in one of the chairs, playing with his phone and looked up at Jake. “Hey, you wanna go grab some lunch?”

Jake looked around the office, hoping there was nothing incriminating that his friend could see. In his head, he knew he’d covered his tracks, but he was beginning to feel dirty from the lies. “Yeah, sure.” He could have a private celebration. Luca had backed off since Jake had told him he had stuff to sell. Now that the stuff was in the hands of ‘his guy,’ Luca would know the value. Jake only needed the recorded resale value back to record in the books, and Luca could keep the difference to pay off his debt.

 

 

After lunch, Jake finished doctoring the records from the other firm. Since most were missing anyways, it was mostly a matter of adjusting the asset records. Then he performed his normal, meticulous documentation process on the adjusted documents.

 

 

A few weeks later Luca called, inviting him over to his office after work. Jake’s stomach churned as he parked his car in front of Luca’s ‘offices.’ What had happened? Had the guy not been able to sell the stuff? Had Luca changed his mind on waiting?

Luca greeted him at his office door and shook his hand. “Come in, Come in.”

Jake sat in the plush leather seat across from Luca’s massive wooden desk and fidgeted with his tie. Eddie, the guy who sold the stuff for him, was sitting comfortably on a nearby black leather couch.

“I must say, Jake,” Luca said, leaning back in his chair and tenting his fingers in front of his mouth. “I’m very impressed with your resourcefulness. Your debt is more than taken care of.”

Jake let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding and slumped back in his chair.

Eddie walked over and handed him a stack of papers. “Here’s the information on the sales,” he said in a voice that made him sound like a New York gangster. “Let me know how you want the invoices written up.”

Luca handed him a check. “Here’s your share. I kept a little extra. Interest, you know.”

Jake cursed in surprise at the number on the check. “This is over fifty thousand dollars. How is that possible?”

Luca chuckled. “Those computers had some interesting information on them. The street value was more than you expected.”

Jake stared at the check. This more than made up for his losses from the night of poker. “Damn!” He had to figure out how to get the cash. He couldn’t just deposit it into his account. That would leave a paper trail. “Do you have access to prepaid Visa cards?”

Luca laughed. “Smart man. I like you. Sure, I can get those to you tomorrow. How many do you want it divided over?”

“As few as possible.”

Luca nodded. “I’ll send them over to your office tomorrow afternoon.” He motioned to Eddie. “You mentioned you needed to have the sales numbers on the invoices a certain way?”

Jake nodded and told him and Eddie about Benford’s Law and how numbers aren’t truly random in real life, but followed predictable patterns. Since the invoices were real, he didn’t need to worry about the invoice numbers looking real, just the amounts of the sold items. He told Eddie he’d give him the sale prices in a few days and that Eddie could send him the proper invoices after that.

Luca walked him to the door a while later. “You know a lot, Jake. I might come to you for advice in the future.”

Jake gave the Capo a nervous smile. “I’ll do my best to advise you as I can.”

“I know you will.”

 

 

 

Approximately One Year Later

“Jake, did you get ahold of Patrick yet?”

Jake ran his hands through his hair and shook his head. “No. I told you he was impossible to get in touch with.” And I’m so thankful for that now.

The auditor, Amanda Dalton, frowned at him, doubt apparent in her hazel eyes. He had a feeling she thought he was hiding something, and he was, but he wasn’t trying to keep her away from the acquired firm’s CPA. Patrick Barr really just was an incompetent accountant and impossible to track down.

He looked up at her. “Have you tried to call him?”

“Yeah. He won’t return my calls.”

“Welcome to my world.” Jake gave a bitter laugh. “I think I’ve managed to get ahold of him three times in the last year. I’m lucky I got the paperwork I did.”

Amanda sighed. “Alright. When can I expect those documents from storage?”

Jake hesitated. She wanted the originals that he got from the other firm. If she saw the originals, she’d know they’d been doctored. He’d scanned them in such a way that they could pass for messed up originals, but if she got ahold of the real ones… “I’ll call the storage company again this afternoon.” He glanced up as Dave walked up behind her. “When I get back from lunch.”

Amanda nodded and turned to walk away, almost hitting Dave in the process. He gave her a flirtatious grin and she shook her head and walked around him, back to the office she was using. Dave watched her walk away with a grin on his face.

“Damn…”

Jake growled. “Dave, if you keep flirting with her, we’re going to get in trouble. You don’t flirt with auditors.”

“But she’s hot!”

Jake rolled his eyes. The forever bachelor, Dave was never lacking for a date, but sometimes he was indiscreet.

It had been almost a year since he’d done the dirty deed of selling the acquired firms assets and pocketing the difference. He hated using the ‘E’ word, even though he knew it was true. Or was it misappropriation? He always had a hard time distinguishing between embezzlement and misappropriation. Regardless of its name, he felt dirty every day because of it. But Kat was safe and happy, and that’s what was important.

No one ever suspected what Jake had done. He was a valued, trusted employee. Dave had asked how he’d sorted things out, and Jake gave him a vague “I worked out things with Luca” answer, which was true. He had.

The Capo had even contacted him several times since their ‘transaction’, asking him for accounting advice. Who would have thought that Jake Eichmann would become a consulting accountant to the Italian Mafia? Dave knew that he had some sort of business arrangement with Luca, but Jake wouldn’t disclose anything, and Dave chalked it up to Jake’s integrity. Jake was thankful for his reputation.

But the walls were closing in. Amanda was a very good auditor, and he had a feeling she knew something was wrong.

 

***

 

Mandy sat back in her chair in the borrowed office, playing absently with her long, auburn hair. Her gut told her something was wrong and that Jake had something to do with it, but she couldn’t put a finger on it. He was a nice guy with a tragic story and she hated to think ill of him, but she had to figure out what happened during the merger and, hopefully, clear his name.

The man had lost his wife less than eighteen months ago and she could chalk a lot of his strange behavior up to grief. She’d walked past his office numerous times since she’d been working here and seen him staring sadly at the picture of his wife that he kept on his desk.

All this had started as a routine audit several weeks ago, but when she went to look over the books regarding the merger between the two law firms, something just felt…wrong. Jake was a meticulous CPA, and by all accounts, a valued, trusted employee. But he got a glint of guilt in his eyes every once in a while and she had to find out what it was about.

The financials were in excellent order. More than once, she was thankful for Jake’s recordkeeping and helpfulness. He knew exactly where everything was and had an excellent memory. Everything was in its place, and she meant everything. The man ran the small accounting department like a well-oiled machine. Except for this one area.

When she’d started looking into the merger, the lack of records was what tipped her off that something was wrong. Jake had been evasive in getting what she asked for, and that’s when the guilt showed up in his grey eyes. He had told her that the other CPA had been very difficult to get ahold of and that he’d had difficulties getting information from him.

She had been very skeptical. Until she tried getting ahold of Patrick and found that Jake had been truthful. Not only was Patrick unwilling to talk to her, the records that she did have from him were terrible. More than once, Jake had made a comment about Patrick being incompetent and she was beginning to agree with him.

Mandy shook her head and sighed. Well, at least she had Jake’s scans. She’d start with those.

 

 

“Yes, but is Mr. Barr in the office?” Mandy asked, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice. She had decided to stop by the CPA’s small office on her way home and the receptionist was giving her the run around.

“He is,” the receptionist said reluctantly. “But he asked me not to disturb him.”

Mandy frowned. “I understand that, but I’ve attempted to phone him several times and he hasn’t returned any of my calls. I’m beginning…” She trailed off as a man in his early fifties walked into the reception area. She had a feeling this was the evasive Mr. Barr. “Mr. Barr?”

The man gave her an oily smile and swept his eyes over her in a way that was highly unprofessional. He extended his hand. “I am Patrick Barr. And you are…?”

“Amanda Dalton.” She gave him a friendly smile. Honey catches more flies than vinegar. “I’m working at Johnson & Associates and was wondering if you could help me out with something.”

She saw Patrick’s eyes flicker with emotion. “Johnson & Associates? Ah, they acquired the Spencer firm, right?”

Mandy nodded. “I understand you kept their books and were trying to get the paperwork over to them, but there had been some miscommunication?”

Patrick gave her another oily smile and Mandy used every ounce of self-control to keep from shuddering. “Ah, yes. Jake’s the CPA over there, right? Yeah, he’s…difficult to get ahold of.”

She kept herself from frowning. If this guy was honest, she was the queen of England. She smiled again. “Do you maybe have that paperwork? I can take it to him. Save you the trouble?”

Patrick looked her up and down again. “I think I have it around here somewhere. Why don’t you come back to my office and I’ll take a look?”

Mandy debated the wisdom of his request. She glanced at her watch. “Ya know, I have somewhere to be. How about you find it and I’ll pick it up in the morning on my way back into the office?”

He looked disappointed, but nodded. “I’ll have it ready for you tomorrow.”

 

 

Mandy left the office a few minutes later, shaking her arms and shuddering, as if she could shake Patrick’s slimy personality off of her with the movements. What a disgusting person.

She drove back to her apartment, wondering if maybe her gut had been wrong about Jake. Maybe Patrick was at fault for the poor records. Jake didn’t seem the type to cover anything up and Patrick was certainly…ugh! Even thinking about that man made her shiver with disgust. She’d met all kinds in her profession, but the slimy guys were the worst. Their personalities oozed onto her skin and made her feel like she needed a shower.

Her phone rang as she unlocked her apartment door in North Scottsdale. It was her best friend, Kim.

“Hey Mandy, wanna grab some dinner?”

Mandy dropped her purse and satchel on the table near the front door. “Hey, Kim. I’d love to, but I’ve gotta do some work.”

“On the audit? I thought it was a cut and dry thing.”

“I thought so, too.” Mandy slipped her high-heels off and walked them to her closet, putting them in their place on the shelf. “I need to look into a couple of things before I go back in the morning.”

Kim sighed. “What is it?”

“Just a gut feeling.”

“You and your gut.” Kim laughed.

“My gut has found a lot of things.”

“I know, I know. But you’re no fun when you’re listening to it.” She paused. “Did that Dave guy ask you out yet?”

“Kim!” Mandy exclaimed. “You know I don’t date clients, and certainly not while I’m in the middle of an audit.” Dave had been flirting with her since she arrived and she tried, very politely, to let him know she wasn’t interested. He hadn’t asked her out, but still flirted, though he had become more subtle about it the past week. She’d heard Jake scolding him about it this afternoon. Dave was cute, but she had a job to do; she wouldn’t risk her career for a cute smile. Besides, Jake was more her type. She groaned. “See, now you’ve got me thinking about things I shouldn’t be thinking of.”

Kim laughed again. “How about tomorrow night?”

Tomorrow was Friday. “Yeah, sure. Why not?”

 

 

Mandy leaned back on the pillow on her bed as she stared at her laptop, looking at the scanned documents of the merger. As far as she could tell, everything was in order as far as the merger went. What she was finding unusual was that all of the acquired law firm’s equipment and furniture had been disposed of in a short period; it had all been sold within a few weeks, but after several months being in storage.

She looked over the invoices carefully and saw that they were all from one company. That wasn’t necessarily a red flag. It’s entirely possible that they had just had one company take care of everything. It wasn’t unheard of.

The amounts were logical amounts, according to the minimal information provided about the equipment. Jake had gone through the asset list and made his own notes as to what they were, since apparently Patrick Barr felt the only note needed about one of the partner’s cars was ‘car.’

Mandy rolled her eyes. After meeting Patrick, she wasn’t entirely surprised. There was something seriously wrong with that man. She’d be surprised if he actually had the papers as requested in the morning.

Jake had signed off on the invoices, as had Sal, and things seemed in order. Maybe the look in Jake’s eyes had nothing to do with the merger. Maybe it was just that he was still dealing with the death of his wife. He was so sad…

Still, she needed to be sure. She would hound Patrick until she got what she needed. She was a very persistent woman and never left anything unsolved.

 

 

“Argh!” Mandy put the phone down a little harder than she should have after ending the call with Patrick. “How can he not know where the papers went?”

Mandy had been at Patrick’s office every morning for the last week expecting the papers as promised by Patrick, but he never had them when she got there. Instead, he would flirt and cajole, trying to tell her that she didn’t need them. And then he would ask her out.

A chill ran through her body as she thought about him. “Ugh!”

She stood and stretched, and then walked out into the hallway to get some water from the break room.

Jake was clean. After the crap Patrick was putting her through, she realized that Jake had been honest with her about not being able to get paperwork from him and left it at that. The reason the equipment had been sold all at once was because he’d been on leave for his wife’s death and just called the company to take care of stuff. She’d even stopped bugging him for the originals. If anyone was doing something fishy, it was Patrick.

“…never told me where you came up with the money to pay off Luca.”

Mandy froze in the hallway near Jake’s office when she heard Dave’s comment.

“I told you, I made a deal with him.”

“Luca Chiaretti doesn’t make deals, Jake. And you’ve been doing stuff for him ever since. Why won’t you tell me?”

Jake sighed. “Please don’t ask, Dave.” Jake’s voice was low and despondent. “I did what I had to do to keep Kat safe. Let’s just leave it at that.”

“I’m worried about you. You’re not yourself lately.”

“Elena’s gone. How the hell am I supposed to be myself?”

“It’s been over a year, Jake. And you’re still…I dunno. How long are you going to mourn?”

“We were married for fifteen years. I loved her. I still do. Am I supposed to just forget about her and go on with my life?”

“I know you can never forget her, but you do need to at least think about moving on. If nothing else, for Kat’s sake.”

There was silence and then she heard a sniff.

“Jake. What happened?”

A pause. “It’s Kat…” Another sniff. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost her too.”

“What? Why would you lose her?”

There was a long pause. “Ever since I…dealt with Luca, he’s been threatening…” The door closed and all Mandy could hear was the low vibrations of Jake’s voice.

Who’s Luca Chiaretti?

Mandy hurried to the break room for a drink and then went back to her office and called Kim. Kim worked for the Mayor’s office and knew everyone.

“Do you know the name Luca Chiaretti?” Mandy asked, closing the office door.

Kim repeated the name softly to herself. “Oh, Mandy, stay away from him,” she said in a concerned tone. “Whatever it is, stay away.”

“Why? Who is he?”

“He’s allegedly part of the Italian Mafia. The AG’s office has been trying to get him nailed on something for years, but he keeps his nose clean.” Kim paused. “Why?”

“We have a Mafia in Phoenix?” Mandy giggled at the thought. Black-hatted cowboys, maybe. But the mafia?

“Yeah. My mom told me about a car bombing years ago that was suspected to be associated with them. A reporter or something like that, digging their nose in where it shouldn’t have been.”

Mandy sighed. Why would Jake be involved with the Italian Mafia? “I heard his name in the office today,” she answered vaguely. Jake was as straight-laced as anyone she’d ever met. How on earth would he know Luca Chiaretti? “What’s he accused of?”

Kim laughed. “What hasn’t he been accused of? He runs legitimate businesses. His family members run legitimate businesses. There are rumors that he runs underground poker games, too. It’s the Mafia. They do everything.”

Mandy thought for a minute. Jake owed the mafia money. He came up with money to pay them back, and now does stuff for them. Her gut told her she needed to follow this trail. “Do you know where I could get a list of his businesses?”

 

 

“Here,” Kim said, handing Mandy a piece of paper. She sat down on the couch in the Starbucks down the street from the Mayor’s office. “I wrote down as many businesses as I could find that have been associated with Chiaretti and any family members.”

Mandy skimmed the list quickly until her eye fell on one name: “Sale Away.” That was the name on the invoices from the equipment sales at the law firm. Well, there’s a place to start. “Thanks, Kim.” She leaned back in her seat and blew out a breath.

Jake and Dave were good friends; anyone in the office knew that. Dave knew Jake made some deal with Chiaretti. Here was a paper trail connecting the two. So, what did it mean?

 

 

Mandy put her car in park and stared at the secondhand store in the strip mall. It was kind of a dump.

The neighborhood was not one that she’d want to drive through at night, although she admitted that growing up in the nicer areas of Phoenix might have made her a bit of a snob when it came to the lower-class areas of the city.

The asphalt was old and cracked and the parking lines could barely be seen. The red ‘Y’ in the store name had been broken and she could see the fluorescent light bulb through the serrated opening. The windows were tinted and dirty, and a pink neon ‘open’ sign flickered next to the door.

This is the company Straight-Man-Jake trusted to dispose of the equipment? She frowned at the thought. Something fishy was going on.

The car beeped as she hit the alarm button on her keychain and walked up to the store entrance. She glanced once more at the surrounding neighborhood and then walked inside.

Inside was musty-smelling, and the white linoleum didn’t look especially clean. There was a haze in the air, although she didn’t smell cigarette smoke, as she would have expected to. Maybe it was just dust.

“Not the day to wear a white suit,” Mandy muttered to herself as she looked around at the circumference of shelves filled with everything from pasta rollers to Lincoln Log sets to baby blankets.

A man with clipped dark-brown hair, electric-blue eyes and a mega-watt smile emerged from a doorway in the middle of the back wall. He briefly sized her up and walked over to her. “Good afternoon. Is there anything I can help you with?”

The other firm’s stuff must have been real junk to end up here. It was hard to believe that a law firm that specialized in international law would have junk. Their office had been downtown in a decent building. But stranger things had been known to happen.

She gave the man a bright smile. “Hi, I was just looking around. I had a friend who worked in a law firm and their old equipment was scrapped a few months back. I was told that this store took care of the disposal. I remember she had a really interesting desk and wondered if you still had it.”

The man’s expression didn’t change, although she saw a hint of suspicion in his eyes. “Law firm equipment?” he asked slowly.

Mandy nodded. “I know it wasn’t worth much, but it had a really interesting design.”

“Let me check the records. What’s the name of the firm?”

“The firm that sold the equipment was Johnson & Associates.”

The man nodded and wandered back through the doorway from which he’d emerged.

Mandy wandered around the store while she waited. There certainly was an eclectic mix of items for sale. She giggled when she saw a Cabbage Patch Doll very similar to one she’d had as a little girl. The price tag said $15. Tempting. Very Tempting. She’d loved that doll.

When the man returned about ten minutes later, he was shaking his head. “I don’t have any record of doing business with that company. We don’t get much high-end stuff here.” He shrugged and motioned vaguely around the store. “Just odds and ends from around the neighborhood.”

Mandy was careful to keep her face impassive. Something was seriously wrong. Either this guy was lying, or Jake was. Crap. She was hoping to have this audit wrapped up next week. She needed a vacation.

“Ok. I guess I misheard the name. Have to call my friend back.” Mandy glanced back at the doll and smiled. Oh, what the heck. “I will, however, take that doll.”

 

 

Bobbi, as Mandy decided to call the doll, sat on the dresser in her bedroom later that night. Mandy stared at her, trying to figure out what the heck was going on with the audit. Who was lying? Jake or the store clerk? Why would the store clerk lie? Why would Jake lie? Who had more to gain?

Questions circled in Mandy’s head and she was no closer to figuring out the answers to her questions now than she had been when she first left the store.

“I hope Jake’s clean, Bobbi,” Mandy said as she went to turn out the light. “I’d hate to think I misjudged him.” But she would remain objective. That was her job: to objectively discover the truth. And she was good at her job.

 

 

Mandy ran the information on the invoices through a computer program to figure out if there were any outliers or abnormalities that would indicate that the invoices were fake. She even disguised her voice and called “Sale Away” to verify that the invoices were correct and authentic. They were.

What the heck was going on? Why did the clerk lie?

She made an appointment to speak with Sal, the founding partner of the firm, to ask him about the equipment disposal.

“The other firm’s equipment?” Sal said, squinting his eyes in thought. “No, I let Jake take care of it. I was finishing up a big case and things were really crazy. Jake is the most honest person I’ve ever met. He tried to give me a key to the storage room, but I didn’t want to bother to go look at the stuff.” He grinned. “I was surprised that the stuff was junk, though. Bill had expensive taste.” Bill was a partner from the acquired law firm. “Maybe he kept the good stuff to himself.” Sal laughed. “Shh. Don’t tell him I said that.”

Mandy smiled. There was a possibility that she hadn’t considered before. Again, pointing back to Slimy-Patrick. She kept herself from shuddering at the thought of the CPA.

“Jake’s a good employee?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“The best,” Sal said sincerely. “I felt so bad for him when Elena died. She was the love of his life.” He chuckled. “I wish I’d been half as happy in either of my marriages.”

“Are you aware of any outside stresses in his life, aside from his wife’s death?”

Sal shook his head. “He had a difficult time when he first came back to work, but he was back in the swing of things after a few months.” He narrowed his eyes. “Why?”

Mandy shook her head nonchalantly. “Just curious about him.”

Sal chuckled. “He’s a good guy, Miss Dalton. One of the best I’ve ever known.”

 

 

She spoke with some other employees that worked with Jake in the accounting department. They all said the same thing: great guy, honest, had a hard time getting back to work after his wife’s desth but got there eventually.

No one mentioned anything about a debt with Luca Chiaretti. It seemed that the only people that knew about Jake owing money were Jake and Dave.

Dave came by at least once a day to check on Jake. Mandy thought she heard Jake snap at him a few times, saying he was turning into a mother hen. Was Dave’s concern for his friend evidence of something else going on?

 

 

Mandy looked over the invoices for the umpteenth time. Her gut was nagging her like crazy. What was wrong that she wasn’t seeing?

According to the phone call she’d made to the store that disposed of the equipment, the invoices were legit. But the guy she’d spoken to at the store said there were no records of business with Johnson & Associates. Sal had indicated that the other firm had expensive taste, but all the stuff was junked.

She’d checked on the dates of the disposal and they coincided with Jake’s return to work after the leave of absence after his wife’s death. That all the equipment had sat in storage until then was understandable. It was entirely possible that Jake just didn’t want to deal with going through everything in the storage room and just decided to get rid of it in one fell swoop. Not a very business-savvy move, but not illegal.

Patrick was a slime-ball and hadn’t provided her or Jake with decent records of the other firm’s assets. Maybe he had worked with the partners at the other firm to keep the ‘good stuff’ like Sal had intimated.

Jake had some sort of debt that he owed Luca, and somehow came up with the money to pay it off. She’d looked into Jake’s financials and he made a decent salary and lived in a nice home in North Phoenix. His daughter was apparently a very talented ballet dancer and singer; Mandy had seen a couple of newspaper articles about her. Kat.

Jake used a company to dispose of the assets that had some sort of connection to Luca Chiaretti: owned by a cousin or something. The store really didn’t seem like the type to deal with high-end equipment. So, either the equipment really was crap or there was something else in the deal.

Sal had said he hadn’t bothered to look at the stuff in the storage room, so the only person who saw it was Jake. And the lawyers from the other firm.

Next step: find out more information about the equipment.

 

 

The microwave beeped, indicating that the fettuccine alfredo frozen meal was finished cooking, but Mandy barely acknowledged the sound.

She had spoken to a few of the ‘acquired’ lawyers that afternoon. According to them, Bill always provided top-of-the-line equipment for them to use. HD monitors, high-end printers, high-end computers, high-end liquor for their parties. He even zoomed around in a BMW roadster, claiming it was a company car.

That was definitely not what she saw on those invoices from Sale Away. After doing some research, the equipment that the lawyers claimed to have used would have had much higher resale amounts than was shown on the invoices. And there was no BMW listed anywhere on the list; just a five-year-old Lexus.

Crap.

So, somewhere between being at the other firm’s office and being sold to Sale Away, either the equipment was changed into the crappy stuff that was sold, or someone was lying. Well, technically, either way someone was lying. But who?

She needed the original documents. That was all there was to it.

 

***

 

“Jake, I really need to see the original documents from the merger.” Mandy’s face was inscrutable as she spoke.

He looked at her for a long moment, emotions flickering across his face, and then finally nodded. She knew. She knew something was up. He wouldn’t be able to hide it any longer. “I’ll have it for you this afternoon.” He’d been avoiding getting them to her, and she’d backed off for a while. But she was back.

She frowned slightly, studying him, and then nodded and walked away.

Jake buried his face in his hands. It was over. Once she saw those documents, she would know he’d fudged with them. He wasn’t a counterfeiter. Maybe I should have had Luca recommend someone. But, no. It had been too long. He felt dirty every time he walked into the office. It was time to come clean.

He didn’t regret saving his daughter. Luca had hinted several times that he was interested in her and Jake swore he would do everything in his power to keep her safe. So he worked with Luca. He gave him accounting advice. He showed ‘his guys’ loopholes in the law where they could technically get away with the things they wanted to get away with.

But maybe if he got fired, Luca would leave him alone. Or he could move. Leave town. It would kill Kat, but she would be safe…hopefully. Luca couldn’t lord the theft over his head anymore, though, if he was discovered.

But what if I go to jail? Who will take care of Kat?

Oh, this was such a mess! He was in a corner. There was no escaping. One way or the other, his dirty deed would be exposed and then what? What would happen to his beloved daughter?

He had most of the money that Luca had given him. Safely away from prying eyes on several pre-paid Visa cards. He was aware that most people spent the money they embezzled right away, but the only reason he’d done it was to pay off the debt to Luca. He had no desire for fancy cars, or expensive toys. He wanted Elena back. He wanted Kat safe and happy. He kept Kat safe and happy by providing for her, but Elena was never coming back.

He needed some air. He called the storage facility and asked them to pull the box of records that Mandy had requested and that he would be there in a few hours to pick it up. They balked at the hurried request, but after several minutes of negotiations, agreed to have it available in two hours.

Jake sat back in his chair looking around the office. He’d worked here for seventeen years. Seventeen years he’d been an honest employee. And now he wasn’t. Shame filled his heart as he realized that soon everyone would know it.

He dreaded the look on Kat’s face when he told her he’d lost his job. She’d be so disappointed. He’d have to break his promise to Elena. There was no way he’d get another decent paying job after this. He wouldn’t be able to keep Kat in the performing arts without a decent paying job. He could barely do it with a decent paying job.

He rubbed his face, took in a shaky breath, and then pulled out a sheet of paper: to write down his confession so that it would be ready when his dirty deed was discovered.

He wrote the whole sordid story: how he’d lost at the poker game and owed Luca the money; how he’d come to the decision to sell the equipment that didn’t belong to him; who he’d sold it to; how he covered it up.

He opened his bottom desk drawer and pulled out a folder from underneath a bunch of other files. His original list from the storage room with all his notations on them. It even had the VIN number from the BMW.

The stapler clicked loudly as he attached the list to the signed confession and then put it in the folder. After hiding the folder back in the bottom drawer, he stood and sighed. He had to go get the box. The box that would change his and Kat’s lives from now on. Would she ever forgive him?

 

***

 

Mandy looked up as Jake walked into her office holding a white cardboard file box. His face was pale and his eyes were dull and sad. She felt her breath hitch in her throat as she translated the expression into emotion. What happened to make him look so forlorn?

“You ok, Jake?” she asked softly.

He shrugged as he set the box on the chair along the wall.

“Is Kat ok?” Had something happened to his daughter? Oh, God! Had Luca done something?

“Yeah,” he said in a hoarse voice. He glanced at the box and then gave her a grim look. “I’ll be in my office.” He turned and walked away, head hanging down.

Mandy looked at the box, heart squeezing in her chest for Jake. Was the source of his despair in there?

 

***

 

An hour later, Mandy stared at the papers on her desk in shock. They were the originals from the merger. Not all of them, but the ones that Jake had scanned into the computer. She doubted he was hiding any others. There was no reason to.

“No wonder he didn’t want me to see them,” she mumbled to herself.

Jake was not a good counterfeiter. A good trait in an honest guy. These papers had clearly been tampered with. She was able to scrape off some of the correction tape and see that the Lexus was indeed a BMW roadster and the other equipment appeared to be the higher-quality items she’d expected.

Normally she was full of glee when she uncovered a fraudster, but her heart twisted with grief for this particular man. What had happened to make him do all this?

The opportunity was obvious. The records were still crap, but what had driven Straight-Laced-Jake to do something like this?

She shook her head and rested her chin in her hand as she flipped through the records. What did Luca have on him to make him do this?

She reluctantly stood to go to Jake’s office. The source of his anguish was obvious now. She paused in the doorway.

Jake was sitting back in his chair, staring out the window. The computer monitor was black and the low hum of a running CPU was missing. His desk was empty, save a single file folder in the middle. She spotted a brown cardboard box on the floor near his feet and was pretty sure she saw the corner of a picture frame sticking out of it.

“Jake?” she asked softly.

He turned and studied her face, and then sighed. “What do you need?” he asked in a monotone voice.

She didn’t take the question as arrogant. It was simple resignation. He knew that she knew. He wasn’t going to deny it.

“May I sit?” she asked, motioning to the chair across from him.

He gave a small nod and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he looked at her expectantly.

“Why?” she whispered, shaking her head. The hopelessness in his grey eyes stabbed at her heart.

“I had to save my baby girl,” he answered in a soft voice. He pushed the folder over to her. “Let me know what else I need to do.”

She blinked and opened her mouth to ask him what he meant, and then decided it would be better to see what was in the folder first. She exhaled sharply when she saw his handwritten, signed confession of what he’d done. She shook her head, and gave a soft laugh at his admission that he’d claimed the money on his taxes. Honest to the bone.

He was staring out the window again when she finished.

“What did Luca make you do?”

He grimaced. “I gave him accounting advice for a couple of his companies. How to use the loopholes in the laws and GAAP to do a few things.” He chuckled. “I suppose I could put ‘accounting consultant to the Italian Mafia’ on my resume now.”

She giggled softly and then sobered. “Sal needs to know.” He nodded. “Do you want me to tell him?”

He shook his head. “No, he deserves to hear it from me.” Jake motioned to the folder. “There’s a photocopy of it in there. If you hand it to me, I’ll take it to him now.”

Mandy found the copy and handed it to Jake. He stood and gave her a sad smile before walking out of the office. “Thanks.”

 

 

Epilogue

Mandy walked sadly to her office to write up her report. Poor Jake. There was no satisfaction in catching this fraudster.

She stared at her laptop for a long time before beginning to type. Before long, the click-clack of nails against keyboard drowned out the sadness as she pushed aside the emotion for objective professionalism.

“Mandy?”

Mandy looked up to see a distraught Sal in her doorway. She gave him a sad smile. “You talked to Jake?”

He nodded and ran his hands through his hair. “I never in a million years…” He shook his head and then laughed softly. “Jake always warned me that anyone could commit fraud.”

“He’s right,” she agreed sadly. “Pressure and opportunity come together, and anyone is susceptible. Then they rationalize it.” Ah, the fraud triangle. She’d never seen it laid out so clearly.

“It’s so unlike him,” Sal lamented and then looked at her. “I have to press charges, don’t I?”

Mandy shook her head. “It’s up to you. Victims can press civil charges or pursue criminal charges, although the normal types of charges, like tax evasion, aren’t available in this situation. Or you can do nothing. ”

“What kind of guy puts his embezzled funds on his taxes as income?”

“Someone who knows he’ll get caught eventually, I guess.”

“I really don’t have to press charges?”

“No, although you should talk to the other partners about it.”

“Do I have to fire him?”

“It doesn’t look good if a perpetrator isn’t punished, but no, you don’t have to. You don’t have to do anything.”

Sal looked thoughtful as he stood. “Thanks.”

“I’ll have the report ready for you in a few days.”

Sal left and Mandy returned to her report. She wondered if Jake would still have to work with Luca after all this. Would Luca want Jake working with him if he’d gotten fired? Maybe Luca would want his expertise even more.

Mandy gasped. Jake knew about Luca’s businesses. She didn’t know how much but would guess it was more than the average bear. She pulled out her phone and called Kim. “Kim, how would the AG like to have some first-hand knowledge on Luca Chiaretti’s businesses?”

 

One Week Later

Jake sat in his recliner at home with a beer in his hand. Sal said the partners were discussing whether or not he’d retain his position at the firm. In the meantime, he had a week off. He’d been prepared to be fired, but when it didn’t come right away, it gave him hope. He was expecting a call today.

There was a knock at the front door. Was Sal bringing his belongings to him?

Two men in dark suits stood outside. They looked…serious.

“Can I help you?” Was he going to jail?

“You are Jake Eichmann, correct?” asked one of the men.

Jake nodded nervously.

The men held up badges. FBI. “I’m Special Agent Hardison. This is Special Agent Parker. We’d like to discuss your dealings with Luca Chiaretti.”

 

Two Years Later

Jake settled into the seat of the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco to watch his daughter in the ballet school’s fall performance. Jake was thankful the Federal Marshalls had put him somewhere where she could continue dancing.

It amazed Jake how resilient she was, though he didn’t take it for granted. He took advantage of the counselors available for those in Witness Protection. Both for himself and Kat. They had settled in as best as could be expected.

It turned out that the work that Jake had been doing for Luca was in the area that the FBI had been researching. Jake had information that would allow them to finally get Luca in jail. So, the Marshalls erased he and Kat and resettled them in San Francisco. A new life.

He had a good job as an accountant with city government. They had a nice place to live, and Kat was able to sing and dance as much as she wanted to.

Things couldn’t have worked out much better after his dirty-deed. Sal didn’t press charges, and he would have been able to keep his job, but Luca was still hammering him to do work for him and for Kat’s sake, Jake was glad to leave town.

His only regret was that he never got to ask Mandy out. She was more his type than Dave’s.

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