I hadn’t wanted to discuss the gag with Cheryl just yet, so I had intentionally skipped Helen’s sit down in favor of Hardee’s for breakfast. It was pretty uneventful other than waves from old guy and gals I knew from before Helen’s place opened.
Sometimes things just roll around in the back of my mind, not making any noise at all for days. Then all of a sudden they are screaming at me. Such was the case with Gwen’s not being at the afternoon meeting. Something about it had been off, but not enough to cause me any alarm at the time. However, the next morning bells began sounding, while I walked at the mall. It was pretty early for a business call, but I didn’t give a crap, I called Lucas anyway. I thought he would know, more than anyone else, since he spent quality time with her after the morning meeting.
“I haven’t seen Gwen since yesterday in the morning. Have you?” I asked to open the conversation.
“I saw her at lunch, and again after the meeting ended, but not since,” he volunteered.
“I know she had to be upset, was she threatening to get even?” I asked.
“No, she said that she had a contract. She also said that it didn’t matter what Mike said, her contract was iron clad.” Lucas admitted.
“So you don’t think she was going to sabotage us?” I asked.
“No, I didn’t get that feeling at all. It was my feeling that she was going to visit the network, and try to work out some kind of deal with them. Just to keep it out of the courts.” he said.
“Well that does sound reasonable, but I want you to monitor Smiley’s bank accounts. If he gets wind of our game, the first thing he will do is try to hide his money.” I said.
“I can do that. I just need to install a trojan to alert me, when there is a transaction in any of his accounts,” he suggested.
“Good, but also do a manual check now and then,” I demanded. “And Lucas this is very important. Did you mention the blackmail plan to her at all?”
“No way, I learned my lesson with Cheryl and the envelope. I did not mention anything that happened after she left. As far as she knows, the plan is to set him up with a new girlfriend and teenage girl.”
“Good, make sure it stays that way. Has she gone back to Boston or to New York?” I asked.
“New York, She left last night. She plans to be at the network headquarters to fight Mike’s lock out. She wants back in. I don’t think she will alert Smiley, at least not unless it is definite that she is out.”
“Okay, thanks Lucas,” I replied.
Next I called Mike on his cell phone. The message should track him down, I thought. “Mike, it’s me Maxine. Call me, we have a problem.”
“You seem to be moving a lot better today,” Tiny Dancer said to me.
“I got cleared by my doctor to do anything that didn’t hurt. The chances of tearing a stitch are almost entirely gone,” I informed her.
“Well keep working at it and you will be ready for the stretching exercises any time now.” she said.
“Maybe next week,” I said in agreement. I watched her walk away her butt a total contradiction. It was a tight butt, even though she was a granny. I never thought that I would use tight butt and granny in the same sentence. Even so, she had the only tight granny butt, I had ever seen.
As I passed the food court, I noticed Earl sitting alone with a view of the route I used to walk around the interior of the mall. He had one of the big cameras with a zoom lens. With that thing, he could take several different shots of me walking from any location he chose. He would need to be in only two or three spots to cover it all . Earl was not all that ambitious it seemed. From his vantage point he most likely missed my exchange with Tiny Dancer. But to be honest, if the audio had sounded interesting, he could have taken a few steps and probably gotten a good telephoto shot of us. I supposed that it was possible that he had already done that.
Nothing much happened until a couple of hours later when the mag 7 theme began playing somewhere in my apartment. I had to hunt the phone down before I could answer it. “Hello,” I said on the fifth or sixth ring.
“What kind of trouble,” Mike asked.
“You dumped Gwen in front of everyone. She has to save face now, don’t let her do it at the expense of my people,” I demanded.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean, do something to keep her from giving James Smiley a heads up. If that prick burns my people, I am going to kick both of your asses. Starting with you pretty boy.”
“She wouldn’t do that,” he said. It was in his voice that he knew that she would indeed do it.
“You don’t believe that, and I don’t either. Get in touch with her and explain that, if she burns my people, I’m coming for her and it won’t be pretty. Then you make some kind of deal with her to save face.”
“Don’t tell me how to run my business,” he demanded. He was still galled about the new contract terms.
“Mike, if you get one of my people hurt, because you lack the balls to settle this like a man, I am not going to be happy. You have seen what happens to people who upset me. Please don’t be one of them.”
“Is that a threat,” he said.
“This time, you can take it anyway you like. Just get your ass on the phone, or in a cab and go fix this mess. Otherwise I will just take Smiley to civil court and do the best I can for the girls.” I figured by that time he had already told the Network to expect a show with the sting operation against a child molester. He would be the one to lose face, if I bailed on that one. He should know that I would not start the sting, if there was no longer a solid chance that it would work.
Then again some people only see what they want to see. Since there was nothing I could do about it, I forgot about it. I picked up the cell and speed dialed my old office which belonged to Lucas at that moment.
“Hey Lucas I want you to do me a favor. I want to get that Christine woman’s prison records. If nothing else, dates and places she was held. We need to do a background, so we can brief Cheryl.”
“Okay boss, but she wasn’t in long enough to make it to the state prison, where Cheryl was held.” he replied.
“Then find out, why Cheryl might have been stuck in the country jail for a few days. Then we can merge them. Do a deep background check on Christine as well. She would have told Cheryl some things about her past. Things that happened before she got caught up in the check fraud thing.”
“Can do Boss,” he said.
“I don’t need to tell you to keep all this just between you and me. No one else needs to know just yet.” I said sternly.
“Like I said about Gwen, I learned my lesson with Cheryl.” Lucas informed me.
“Good, that’s the way it should be.” I felt better about Lucas, but only time would remove the negative feelings, which still lurked in the back of my mind.
I spent the rest of the morning working on the things that could tip Smiley. I searched for anything that might let him know. we weren’t for real. Lucas’s background was clean. If Smiley checked he would find that Lucas was the man to ask for computer information. No one could ever prove that he obtained the information illegally, because nobody ever complained. So his part in the scam made perfect sense.
“Why did you suddenly decide to become a blackmailer?” Smiley might ask.
“Who said this is my first time?” Lucas should answer. “If you are good at it, and not greedy, then no one ever knows.” I could see that playing out to our advantage.
Cheryl was still the problem, but she also was going to be able to pull it off better than me. There was just no way that Smiley could be convinced that I was willing to sell him information.
Lindsay couldn’t be part of, or even know about, anything illegal. Neither could Cheryl for that matter. Lucas and I are going to have to carry the water on this one, I thought. I wasn’t sure that he was up to it, but he certainly seemed enthusiastic.
I would have loved to have Gunny, Martin, or even Ivan around to help with James Smiley. Of course either of them would just want to kill him themselves. That’s what made them all great lovers but lousy partners in crime. Bull in the china shop syndrome. Martin especially lacked finesse, but he made up for it in raw courage. He had another thing going for him, his determination to win at any cost. Come to think of it, Vlad was the same way, nothing got between either of them and the prize. It wasn’t just about winning, it was all about winning. There wasn’t room in their lives for anything else.
I thought about that and thought how sad that must be. Then I realized that I was exactly the same and I knew how sad it was. I also knew that we were helpless to change ourselves. Gunny died because he refused to call an ambulance. Instead he walked two miles to the hospital while in the middle of a massive heart attack.
Maybe, now that he had rediscovered himself, Alex would be like them. It would be interesting to see where those men were at the moment. Maybe when Smiley was history, I would take a trip to find them. Not likely since as Mr. Wolf said, ‘You can never go home again.” And I would like to add, even if you could, it would all be smaller.
Cheryl showed up at 3:15pm. exactly fifteen minutes after work. She must have gotten her coworker to drop her at home, since as far as I knew she still didn’t drive. I was in the middle of an on line TV show, but there was no chance that she was going to let me finish.
“Okay damn it, Lindsay called me at work. She said I could be part of your con, so what is it?” she demanded.
“Easy kid,” I said. “Are you sure that you want to do this. It could be dangerous. You could even go back inside, if it goes sideways and you react even the slightest bit out of plumb.”
“Don’t worry about me, I can take care of myself. Besides I have Lindsay looking out for me. So tell me what are we going to do to the pervert?” she demanded again.
“All you have to do is play yourself, just bigger than life. You have to be convincing that’s all.”
“What are we trying to make happen?” she asked again.
“We are trying to make Smiley incriminate himself. We might have enough with the girls statements, and maybe we can get the FBI to investigate his money dealings, but to get his ass dead, we need him to incriminate himself on tape.” I explained.
“So, am I like going to be his new girlfriend?” she asked.
“No, there is no way we could guarantee that he would fall for you. He is more about the kids than the moms. No dear, you are destined to be another bad guy in our little play. You and Lucas are going to blackmail James Smiley. When he pays you 50K to give him a list of the girls he screwed as teenagers, and admits to having done it on video, then he is screwed.”
“It doesn’t sound very exciting but okay. It’s got to be more fun than my day job.” she said.