The silver 750iL BMW looked as much out of place driving among the dunes near Horseneck Beach as did the two men in it. They could hardly afford a bike between them, yet here they were in one of Germany’s finest. The car sloshed its way onward with the two nervous drivers bug-eyed and breaking a slight sweat from concern over all the slipping and sliding.
“That sand can’t be good for this paint job.” Tony was talking to Marty, his eyes fixed ahead.
No response from Marty.
“There’s the trees,” he said to Marty, relieved to be at the end of their wilderness trek. Now, get the job done and be gone.
No response from Marty.
They pulled close to the shrubbery and trees. This early on a Monday morning they looked as alone and isolated as Crusoe and Friday. Doors opened quickly and both men were at the trunk. To Marty and Tony, this job was part of paying their dues. There would be better days ahead, or so it seemed on this beautiful morning. A large green plastic bag was hoisted out, shapeless and bulky.
Tony grunted, “We should’a cut this up smaller. Separate bags.” Marty didn’t reply. They dragged the bag together into the shrubs to a standing of trees.
“I’ll keep watch, you go get the suitcases.” Tony barked. Marty cast a bewildering glance. Still no reply. “And bring the pick-ax and shovel too.”
Marty returned obediently for the last load - two large Samsonite “Voyager” suitcases and the tools.
Taking the pick-ax, Tony handed Marty the shovel and whacked at the ground a few then motioned for Marty to shovel.
“What if someone happens by?” Marty finally spoke.
“Pity the sucker does.”
Marty kept digging, completely ruining his new, best suit. Kiss that hundred dollars goodbye, he thought. Tony watched. Rested.
With the hole dug, they dragged the plastic bag to the edge and slid it in. They stuffed the two suitcases down the sides. The two-tone, beige suitcases with brass and leather trim detail were clean and without a scratch.
“What a waste,” Tony expressed, “look at them beauties of suitcases! Could’a used boxes. Anyway, we gotta cover it good, make it look normal and all.”
“Uh - we? You got anotha shovel?” Marty asked.
The hole got covered and Marty dragged some large branches over to cover it. Tony let him finish the job, brushing the marks away. The job looked done.
They returned to the BMW, slammed the tools into the trunk and took a slow pan around, checking again that no one had witnessed what just happened. They tried to catch their breath.
“Rosie’s for a beer?” Tony suggested.
“Some place closer, for a few?” Marty countered. It was decided, if there was a place that served beer this early, they'd find it.
The car pulled away with a fan spray of sand and gravel. Tony sensed the soft base under his wheels, gave it more pedal and overcame any notion the Beemer had about getting stuck. They fishtailed all the way out, spraying sand and debris along a wide swath, sandblasting a hummingbird’s nest clinging to a scrub pine just off their path. As distance was put between them and the site, the ecological balance of the dunes quickly returned to normal.
Two startled Ruby-Throated hummingbirds hovered around their house, unfamiliar with the form of disaster that had just shook their cottage by the beach. Hovering and turning, darting here and there, they spied the area sensing no further danger. The scene was serene as always, no predators or destructive storms apparent. Even their heightened senses couldn’t detect anything abnormal just a hundred and fifty feet east.
Richard Lewis remained still and hidden, not a single leaf shaking out of sync as he lay camouflaged in his hunter’s blind. He had fashioned the blind earlier in the spring and would often park a quarter mile away, quietly slipping into it at dawn. Lying prone in his hammock, even his six-foot plus frame was comfortable. He would spy for hours on the wildlife of the dunes through his 800mm Nikor lens and hardly have to budge. What he had just witnessed though, was something entirely unexpected.
With the car gone and the dust settled, Rich rolled out of his hammock and scooted out of the blind and up to the dig area, overcoming the soft sand of several dunes. He approached carefully. He took a three-foot long branch, broke off the small sidepieces, used it to break the ground apart, then used his hands. He worked harder and faster than either Tony or Marty, but with never a bead of sweat. You can always tell a jogger.
When he finally hit his target and scooped away enough dirt to peer in, a wave of anxiety rushed through him. The plastic bag loomed before him. Had he seen too many movies or didn’t this have to be a body? And the suitcases. Drugs? Loot? Body pieces? “Just calm down, it probably won’t be anything to get shook about.” But it was. A body.
Middle aged man. No smell, no blood that he could see. This was fresh, maybe a few hours. Like he was really experienced in these things. He shook, a wave of the woolies passing through him in a second. He’d have to report this. But the suitcases caught his attention.
Heavy as it was to drag out, Rich admired the style. The cases were new, or at least looked it. Had the appearance of something from the thirties, for the real traveler type of the time, steam boating all over the world, sometimes hopping an airplane, a Pan Am something or other. These cases would suit a savvy and experienced traveler. But they were copies, fairly new Samsonites, capturing the colorful mystique and flair of that bygone era. He noticed the brass emblem with a single word, “Voyager” embossed in it.
They were locked. Rich took out his Swiss Army and tried the awl. He popped the first lock, then the second. He took a breath anticipating body parts, or maybe clear plastic bags of coke. Or heroin. Or whatever drug was put into clear plastic bags. He’d seen it a hundred times on screen, but couldn’t keep up with which drugs are which. For an intelligent man, Rich could be very naïve in many ways.
He opened the case. Money. Lots.
Spread before him were thousand dollar bills! Stacks and stacks, nothing but thousands! Like a Grover Cleveland family reunion. In all different condition, no consecutive numbers, it had to be millions worth!
Rich closed the case, then dragged the other one out. It was a duplicate of the first, all in thousands. Questions flooded his mind as he tried desperately to grasp the full impact of this find. Who? Why? How? His mind raced considering the possibilities. It had to be illegal, there’s a body for crying out loud! Nothing could be legal about that. But why all thousands? How?
For a guy who never broke a law in his life, one speeding ticket that he didn’t deserve, a strange thought quickly took shape. If the money’s illegal, who would be hurt by taking it? Richard Lewis had never been in the trouble he was in lately and this money might just save him.
He locked the second case, grabbed the other and made for his Explorer parked three hundred yards away. He returned, first to his hunter’s blind to salvage his equipment then tore the blind apart, scattering the pieces. He took a fresh scrub-pine limb and used it to sweep away his tracks counting on the ocean breeze to erase the slight brush marks left behind. He made sure to get all of his tracks, right up to the burial site. He stopped short of the original foot prints made by the two goons. The police should find something to follow, otherwise they might start looking too close and find only his trail. Let them spend their resources tracing the BMW and the goons.
Awkwardly, Rich carried his equipment back to his Explorer while brushing his tracks clear. He threw the branch to the side, hopped in and headed home.
Cruising north on 88, then east on 195, Rich reached for his cell phone and punched 911. But he stopped - cell calls are too easy to trace. He remembered a gas-and-go type place off the next exit.
He punched the 911 again. Dartmouth Police Station picked up, a woman’s voice answered, warning that the call would be recorded, then asked how she may help. Rich disguised his voice, feeling silly about it.
“Just an honest citizen reporting that I saw a body being buried near Horseneck Beach, maybe two hundred yards east of Bridge Road, in the dunes. You’ll find tracks.” He hung up, then pulled away and headed home. Rich mused over his two new life’s experiences: He had just reported a major crime and he had just committed one.
Home for Rich was the second floor of a three-story tenement just off the highway, near downtown New Bedford. Captain Ahab would have thought the building old in his day. It was a far cry from the showplace he had recently built and lived in for all of one year. He tried to shake off the thought that she was enjoying all that now. As Rich pulled to the front he could see his landlady, Ellen, burdened with groceries heading from her car.
Gathering his photography equipment, Rich threw a blanket over the Samsonites. He nodded to Ellen, said his pleasantries, yes he did get some great shots, mostly birds but one deer, sure he’ll be glad to show her the pictures, bye and up the stairs. He was nervous. But he was also amazed, getting by her while avoiding any reference to the overdue rent.
He dare not even think of moving the suitcases. With Ellen’s three hyperactive kids and her nosy husband, he’d wait for lights out. He wondered how much money there might be. Three million? Five? But why speculate, he'd count later.
He needed to busy himself. He flipped on his computer, deciding to polish up some finish detail for the interior elements of his latest design. It was a sprawling tri-level, ocean front gem, with steep pitched roofs, multiple guest and servants quarters and featuring a real moat circling the outside porch and into the entryway. The arched bridge in the foyer leading to the main hallway was his piece-de-resistance, very chic and most worthy of the Wellington’s, one of Padanaram area’s most austere residents. Another ten or twenty hours and he could put this project to bed and collect his last installment.
For hours he toyed with scanned imagery of different wall covering patterns and tile selections. Rich couldn’t keep his mind from wandering. An incredible amount of money was sitting in the back seat of his car. While part of his mind raced with ideas of spending and buying, another part was working as logically as ever, his trademark persona. Probably the Russian in him. If he were to start spending, it would surely be noticed. Somebody would be watching. Any movement of large amounts of money would raise eyebrows, especially the eyebrows sitting on top of some mob czar’s beady little eyes.
Anything Rich wanted to do was possible now with all that money. But the money would stop him. Whoever would be looking would know how to track it, wouldn’t they? He imagined there were ways to monitor traveling, banking and investments. Weren’t there? He didn’t know and thought it best to just hide it for now.
He got up, looking for hiding places. Hardly room for him, let alone to hide two bulky suitcases. Scanning the room for some overlooked area, the flashing red light caught his eye. The machine showed two messages bringing him relief - Bell Atlantic hadn’t shut him off yet.
Rich pushed the “Play” button for his first message:
“Mr. Lewis, this is Bay State Gas Company calling. Please call our office at 508-555-5656 before noon time tomorrow. Thank you.”
He smiled. If they’ll break a thousand, he could pay them. Next message:
“Rich, Alan here. Look, they’ve filed a contempt charge. Not to worry, but give me a call and see if we can’t work this out without involving Santos. They’ve expedited the matter and we’ve got to appear in two days.”
Contempt! Debbie had been threatening a charge of contempt if he didn’t keep up with the mortgage payments, or rather, her attorney was. But Rich couldn’t believe they’d really do it. He was only behind a month or two. Or three. And go before Judge Santos! Santos thought Rich was the biggest hard-head ever to get a divorce in his court. An appearance before Santos had to be avoided if at all possible. He’d call Alan in the morning since he never stayed in his office this late. The fire had gone out of his career a long time ago. Knew his stuff, but Rich sometimes wondered if he should have hooked up with a younger, more aggressive horse. Maybe he wouldn’t be in the mess he was.
A Dartmouth Police car was on the scene mingled in with two Westport Police cars, an ambulance, four television news vans and the channel twelve helicopter.
It was Westport’s jurisdiction, but since the call had come into Dartmouth, a courtesy was extended and Dartmouth Captain Tony Hernandes took them up on it.
The body had been photographed eight different ways before being removed, the bag then carefully cut open length-wise. More photos.
The middle-aged male victim had not been beaten, hacked or maimed. No marks, no injuries, no messages, no weird chickens feet or bat’s teeth. But there was also no wallet, so Forensics would have to be called for identity. Could be natural causes, but then why bury the body in such a covert manner?
Captain Hernandes was speaking with two Westport officers and one of his own, Officer Humbolt. Desperate for some kind of clue or evidence, it wasn’t looking as though there would be much to go on. Even the tire tracks seemed useless.
“Too sandy to be of much use. But follow them out to Horseneck Road or wherever they go. Near the shoulder you should get a clear enough print.” One of the Westport officers on his two-way.
“Has to be new-boy mob,” Officer Humbolt, second year servant noted, “who else wouldn’t think to cover their tracks?”
“I’ve learned a long time ago to never speculate.” Hernandes could almost agree with Hombolt, but wanted to be sage-like.
“Anything else turn up in the area?” the Westport officer inquired.
Hernandes looked up, rubbing his neck in frustration. “No. Nothing yet. Some funny marks going north, probably the caller covering his tracks. Poor shmuck probably thinks he’d be blamed for a murder just because he stumbled across a body being buried. Why can’t people learn to trust us when they find things like this?”
Officer Humbolt let a few seconds pass, then corrected, “Or ‘her'.”
She earned a small grin from her captain. The voice had been disguised on the phone and who knew if it were a man or a woman making the call?
Tony and Marty were feeling like a couple of new men. Draining their fifth pitcher of Bud at The Harpoon Bar, they were regaling in the successful completion of their biggest assignment yet. With their careers launched less than a year ago, today’s action should earn them junior executive status. Marty would need the bonus that would likely be thrown their way. The beer spills mixed with the dirt marks on his new suit were staining the wool content of the blend. The polyester would probably clean up, but forget the wool. That’s the trouble with these expensive suits, Marty thought. Tony’s suit had equally as many new stains from the day’s activity, but wasn’t as noticeable. The odd shade of pinkish gray hid a lot.
They had idled away the day shooting pool, drinking beer and feeding on nachos and popcorn. Tony, the “take charge” guy, had been checking on their boss, due to meet them around six. He ended his call and put his cell phone back in his pocket.
“Carlo should be here any minute,” he drawled in his southern New Bedfordese to Marty. “He’s left his home twenty minutes ago and’s headed right over.”
He was just a little pie-eyed as he studied the mostly empty pitcher. “Whata’ya say we do one more and if he wants us to go, we guzzle it down.” He looked to Marty for approval.
“Guzzle it down if we stay, too.” The ever efficient Marty.
“Karla babe, one more and a couple more popcorns.” Tony caught her attention as she was reaching to change the station for the 6:00 news. He poured the last of the suds and held the pitcher high for her to see.
“Anyway, like I said,” Tony was returning to their earlier argument, “I seen a guy do it four out of five times down in Providence. He had a break like a hammer, always nailed the front ball on the right with left follow english, and so help me, that eight ball would drop just about all the time.”
“Not saying it can’t happen. But nobody does it regular.”
“I’m tellin ya. Five breaks, four wins. BANG. Pop, pop, pop, pop. Like a real artiste”
Marty looked unconvinced, shooting Tony a sideways glance through his slowly fading eyes.
“And how many pops’ve you had by then?” he asked sarcastically.
Tony started to retort, “Hey, I’ve been all around the state and ….” when in his subconscious, the words “body”, “buried” and “Horseneck Beach” all rang and echoed around in his head, not making any particular sense as they hung there. Not knowing where they were coming from, he noticed Marty turning his attention to the TV above the bar.
Natalie Jacobson, long standing Boston anchorperson, was reporting and looking as sharp and knowledgeable as ever with her Farrah Fawcett hair style still looking good, an ageless wonder in the competitive, local television market. As Tony picked up on her trailing words, the view switched to on-the-scene video. It was a scary sight for them. Familiar. The sand and shrubs, the scrub pines, the hole they had dug… A nightmarish scene was being played out before them as they sat motionless, speechless, their jaws slowly dropping to their chests.
An on the scene reporter went on, “…following an anonymous tip placed from a local gas station. When Westport police arrived, the grave was already partially dug out with the green body bag exposed and a small hole torn in the bag that would verify the worst of fears - it was in fact, a human body! No identification has been made yet, and there were no visible bruises or wounds. But police suspect foul play due to the bizarre manner in which the body was disposed of and hope to make identification shortly. The body is that of a white male, approximately thirty years old, with no visible identification marks. He was fully clothed. No witnesses are available now, but it is hoped that the anonymous tipster will come forward as they may have very valuable information.”
At the same speed, going down the same path of logic, Tony and Marty digested what they had just heard and began to puzzle out what they hadn’t heard. Nothing was said about the money. In a flash of about three seconds both Tony and Marty arrived at the same conclusion: Somebody took the money.
Tony stared at Marty staring back. As he began to form a few choice words, he suddenly froze, a chill shooting down into his two-tone, beige, Thom McAnns. Marty sensed his chill and turned in time to see Carlo making his entry with three associates in tow. Both Marty and Tony recognized the associates. Tony and Marty were aiming for their jobs.
A sick, nauseous feeling settled into both of them, deep into the pits of their stomachs. And that was to be the best they would feel for the rest of their lives. ________________
Rich managed each suitcase up the stairs separately. Closing all his blinds and shutting all lights out but the one in his bedroom, Rich placed each suitcase on the bed. He popped all four locks and flipped both cases open. Mirror images of each other.
His initial impression was confirmed. Nothing but $1,000.00 bills! He never knew they made $1,000.00 bills. The most he ever had were a few Garfields. Not that he was a poor man his whole life. His profession as an architect netted him a very good living, reporting over a quarter million in personal income several different years. That was one very good reason for his tax dilemma now. But his wife, ex-wife, did the books and handled all that. He’d get fifty a week for his wallet. So staring at all this cash laid out in front of him, well, it was truly inspiring.
He carefully lifted a few stacks. It seemed uniform throughout: Three stacks of bundled bills laid out in four rows of twelve. One hundred and forty four wrapped stacks of $1,000.00 bills. As he flipped through the stacks, he halted at seeing a bill that looked different. It was a thousand dollar bill, but different. It didn’t have Cleveland on the front, it had Alexander Hamilton! He took it out and examined it more closely. The back was different too, sporting a bold eagle and boasting the thousand dollar figure even more proudly. Turning back to the front, he noticed the government seal was blue, not green. But it looked genuine and of United States issue.
Puzzled at this anomaly, Rich flipped through more stacks and found several more of these style bills. After comparing dates, he decided the Hamilton version was older.
Taking one stack out, Rich counted the bills. One hundred. One hundred thousand dollars! In each stack? He picked another random stack and counted. The same. Then another. And another. With eight counted from one case and three from the other, he knew it was all the same.
Final calculation: 144 stacks of $100,000.00 in each case equaling $28,800,000.00!
Rich was awash in the surrealism of this whole scene. His mind was going wild searching for an explanation that made sense of all this. The impact floored him, literally. He sat on the floor before his bed, two stacks of money in his hands. He reflected on his past two years: Debbie leaving him for their real estate man, cleaning the home out of most of their valuables, leaving Rich with only the furniture not yet paid for, then the court settlement awarding Debbie the house and demanding that he continue the mortgage payments, all because of a convoluted and distorted portrayal of their income situation. He thought of his fights to ward off depression and the impact it all had on his business, which was down the tubes and practically non-existent at this point. With no way out and no light at the end of the tunnel, his irresponsible decision this morning to take the day off, again, and grab some wildlife pictures has brought him unexpectedly to this point today
Maybe it was joy, maybe grief, maybe his reliving the sting of betrayal, but Rich gave in to his emotions. Sitting on the floor before this enormous wealth, he felt like a very small man. But he also felt like a new man. He curled up in a ball and fell fast asleep on the floor.
It was around 4:00 in the morning when Rich awoke. The faint glow of the morning illuminated the house just enough for him to set about his final task of the night. He slid a kitchen chair to the side, mounted it and pushed a ceiling tile up and over. About thirty trips and six ceiling tiles later, the money was safely hidden. He crawled into bed for a few more precious winks.
“Rich, how are you doing?”
Alan had a special concern for Rich, beyond a normal attorney-client relationship. His messing up at the divorce hearing and allowing his client to get walloped beyond belief had a lot to do with that. Rich’s patience in not firing him, or suing him for that matter, had a lot more to do with it.
“Did you say something about contempt?”
“Ahhhh,” Alan’s voice trailing slightly. “We were served notice of a Motion to Compel and a complaint for Contempt on your court ordered settlement. Evidently you’re what, a month or two behind on your mortgage?”
“Three. Okay, well what’s the bank saying? Are they threatening foreclosure?”
“The words came up a few times, but I think I have them at bay. I explained that I’m finishing up a project and my last installment check should be in this week.” Rich smiled to himself knowing that these problems were all behind him now. If he wanted to, he could buy the bank.
“Well, why don’t you go to your bank, get them to write you a letter as to their intent and the understanding that you have with them and we should be all right. But the hearing is scheduled for Thursday and like it or not, you are in contempt if the payments are behind.”
“Alan, I had no money come in for three months. What can they do?”
“Well, I’m more concerned about what you can do. Like, ninety days for starters.” Alan wanted to impress upon Rich the seriousness of his situation.
“How can they send someone to jail for not paying a bill that he has no way of paying? I thought debtor’s prison was abolished with the country’s independence!”
“Rich, you know Judge Santos. He already thinks you’re hiding money and trying to stiff Debbie. He sees you as a professional with proven credentials, perfectly capable of supporting your end of the order. If you show up Thursday with the house in danger of foreclosure, for sure he’ll send you up the river.”
“So you’re serious. Jail is a real possibility because I fall behind on a mortgage, and for property I don’t even own any longer? Who goes to jail for falling behind on a mortgage?”
“Evidently, Judge Santos’s guests.” Alan had seen Santos in action enough to know to warn Rich.
The point was made. “Let me come over and we’ll talk,” Rich implored of Alan, “I’ll come with my letter from the bank. And I’ve got to talk to you about another matter that’s come up.”
“Can we do lunch? Say at Freestone’s, 1:00?”
“You’ll have to pick up the tab. I haven’t been paid for the Wellington project yet.” It cut Rich to have to ask. He was always the one to pick up the tab. Always.
“That’s not a problem. You know I keep the receipt and add it to my expenses anyway. It'll show up on your bill.”
They hung up, both smiling to themselves about the lunch tab. Only attorneys can make a show of picking up the bill at dinner, tip heavily, and then turn right around and bill the client every penny of the meal, tip, consultation time, and the trip back and forth to their office, which would include car expenses and their time. The postage stamp on the envelope will be included along with a $ .09 charge for copying the receipt. And if you dare call to complain, you get whacked with their hourly rate as they listen to you complain. At $240 an hour, they can put up with a lot of complaining.
But Alan might be Rich’s only friend in the world right now.
First Federal Bank was directly on the way to Alan Levine’s law office. Rich popped in to talk with Michelle, his friendly mortgage representative.
“Michelle!” Rich was always happy to see her. Though she might be initiating the foreclosure of his home, or his former home, Michelle had a way of making you feel right at home while the rug was swiftly being removed from under you. Special person.
“Hi, Rich. Are we getting caught up today?” She looked quite professional today in her double-breasted, light gray suit.
“Two or three days more. I had cash, but didn’t think your bank would know what to do with it, so I have to deposit it, wait for the cash to clear, then I can write you a check against the funds.” Bank rules were getting as distorted as Massachusetts probate laws. Anyway, Michelle appreciated the humor and was satisfied to know the payment was imminent.
“But I need a letter from you to keep out of jail.”
“What are we playing, Monopoly?” Michelle thought he was still joking.
“More like ‘Risk’. Debbie’s attorney got wind of my being behind on the mortgage and filed a contempt charge. My attorney says to either get a letter from the bank or bring a toothbrush.”
Michelle paused for a moment. “You mean for jail?”
Rich nodded affirmatively with a look of disbelief. Michelle obediently went to her keyboard and started typing.
“That home is so beautiful. You must miss it.” Michelle had seen it for inspection and closing and felt for Rich.
“Well, yeah. But to know that the two of them are so happy there makes it all worth it.” And he didn’t crack a smile.
“I’ve seen a lot of one-sided settlements, but yours …, I wouldn’t have dreamed it. Debbie and her husband have both called a few times asking about the status of the mortgage. Even her attorney, what’s his name?”
“LaFleur, that’s right. Anyway, he called a few weeks ago trying to get heavy. I told him he had no right to that confidential
information and if he were much of an attorney, he would know that. He backed right off.”
“He probably didn’t know. He couldn’t even tell Debbie when she was officially divorced and able to get married again. I had to go to the Clerk’s Office and get the document so she could prove to the guy that she was marriage material. Can you imagine a piece of work like that, a divorce attorney that couldn’t even tell his client when she was divorced? And I let a guy like that best me in court! Whatever I can say about his intelligence level, I’ve got to look in a mirror and say it twice to myself.”
Michelle smirked with him and added, “And your attorney. Don’t forget to blame him.”
“He’s not so bad. Let this one get away from him though.”
Rich took the letter, thanked Michelle and proceeded to Alan’s office, three blocks south.
Alan’s office was on the fourth floor. Not the commanding penthouse station that he once occupied in Providence, but more than satisfactory for the twenty hours or so that he liked to work now.
“Mr. Lewis. How are you doing today?” Marge, the receptionist, was her same polite self, impeccably dressed in a navy blue suit that took ten years off her real age. “I have you down for lunch with Mr. Levine at 1:00. Is that still on?”
“Absolutely. I wouldn’t miss giving Alan another billable hour for lunch. But I'm a little early.”
“I’ll let him know that you’re here.” Marge disappeared down the short hallway. She had been with Alan almost from the beginning and the two were like a well oiled machine by now. She was back in a flash and led Rich to Alan’s office.
“Rich, come in, come in.” Alan was a content sort of man. He’d done what he wanted, had a loving family and was ready to retire but just had no need to do so yet. So he worked a few hours weekly, probably half pro-bono. Rich wondered why he still charged for copies and postage.
“I didn’t think you’d mind me being a little early.”
Alan probably hadn’t gotten mad at anyone for fifteen or twenty years. You would think in a profession like his that he’d have a lot of controversy, but it was all just a job to him. Nothing personal. He could tear a witness up in court or berate an opposing attorney, chopping him up in little pieces for the courtroom rats to feast on at night, but if he bumped into him the same evening he’d buy the same witness or attorney two drinks and dinner. Far from being two-faced, Alan was a sincere professional and had a court record that Alan Dershorwitz would be envious of.
“First, here’s my note from the teacher.” Rich handed Alan the letter Michelle had typed.
Looking it over, Alan called Marge in to fax a copy to Debbie’s attorney, Mr. LaFleur, along with a cover letter to the effect that the contempt hearing would be moot as the mortgage would be up to date within days and the bank was happy. Out of a thousand lawyers, probably nine hundred and ninety five would quickly acquiesce and drop the charge under the circumstances. But with LaFleur, Alan would bet against it.
“You’re really serious about doing jail for this? Falling behind in my mortgage?”
“Rich, it’s not just a mortgage. It’s a court order. A settlement. It’s like not paying alimony or child support. By law, you’re obligated to maintain the payments on Debbie’s property until we can get the order modified.”
“So I’m like a ‘dead-beat dad’? Will my picture make a milk carton?”
“Well, maybe an evaporated milk can.”
“Alan, I can’t even pay a six hundred dollar rent. My phone and utilities might be shut off any day. I never even got cable, didn’t have a TV worth doo-doo anyway. But I’m obliged to pay a $1,500.00 a month mortgage for a wife who runs off with a real estate guy?”
Alan just looked at Rich. He had explained everything many times in the past, but Rich couldn’t accept it. In a no-fault divorce state, it doesn’t matter who did what to end the marriage. Someone wants out, they're out, and assets theoretically get split down the middle. But if one party was largely responsible for supporting the other, they're expected to continue support for a reasonable period of time. How simple these things sound in the halls of justice, where legislators dreamt up easy ways for the system to work after their two hour, three martini lunches, far away from the annoyances of real life.
Rich raised his hands in surrender. He’d been over this before and knew the problem had come from being unprepared at the divorce hearing. Alan had thought the case to be a slam-dunk, so never asked Rich to bring all the records needed. LaFleur blind-sided them by making allegations and misrepresentations he had never hinted at before. Alan admitted being bettered but explained that such tactics usually only happen in criminal cases. He had never seen such ruthlessness in probate. He never imagined LaFleur even had it in him.
“Let’s change the subject. I’m fried with the divorce until you work your magic with the modification. Enough said?”
Alan smiled, understanding the frustration. “Done. What else is on your mind?”
Rich settled back, a little uneasy now.
“Alan, as my attorney, can I tell you anything related to my life and know that it will remain confidential?”
“If I didn’t learn that in law school, I’d know it just from the law shows on television.”
Another TV addict, thought Rich.
“Because something happened, unrelated to the divorce but something that will certainly have an impact on my situation.”
There was a knowing nod from Alan, not suspecting what was about to come.
“Did you watch the news last night?”
“Never miss it. Get some of my best clients from those reports.”
“Well, one of your clients all but made the top story. You see the story about the body?”
Alan sat back. Rich definitely caught his interest.
“Around Horseneck Beach area. Certainly.”
“I was the caller. The tipster.”
Raised eyebrows. Alan would rather a good criminal case over probate any day.
“I was out shooting some pictures in the scrub pine and was hidden away the way I do. All of a sudden I see this car come barreling down in a cloud of dust and what looked like Mutt and Jeff get out, drag things out of the trunk and bury them. I went over to look after they cleared out and couldn’t resist taking a peek. I found the body.”
“Well, it was good of you to call it in. And so fast! The news report said they'd like to talk to you, and I can see why. Rich, if you’re worried that you’ll fall under suspicion or that you waited before coming forward, don’t worry at all. It’s been what, less than twenty four hours? And now you’re talking to your attorney before coming out? You’re protected under law. You have every right to consult with an attorney.”
Rich took a deep breath. He turned to see that the door was shut. He still had doubts as to whether he should do this, but who else could he turn to?
“Alan, I don’t think that day will ever come.”
“What? Telling the police?” Alan was still confident Rich would do the right thing.
Rich nodded affirmative.
“Rich, don’t be foolish. You have nothing to hide, but it’s a crime not to report a crime. And a man’s body for crying out loud! Report it and report it today. I'll be right by your side.”
Again Rich just stared. He took a deep breath and studied Alan’s expression carefully. Here’s the man that let a simple divorce settlement get away on him and now Rich was in the deepest financial crap of his life, yet he was about to trust the same man with his biggest secret.
“There was something else in the grave.”
The silence could be cut with a knife.
“Two suitcases. They dragged them out of the trunk after dragging out the body, then put them all in the pit and covered the whole thing over. When I went, I dug down and checked out the bag first, then the cases. Wouldn’t you?”
Alan shook off his bewilderment. Wouldn’t he? He wouldn’t ever have been there! Not in the sticks, not shooting pictures of birds and certainly not digging up graves.
“Anyway, there were two. I checked them both out. They were the same.”
Ten seconds of silence.
“And…?” Alan was about to go spastic.
“And I came into some money.”
“You came into… Meaning it was money? And you took it?”
“Little ol’ me.” Rich smiled innocently.
Alan shot up out of his chair and walked away shaking his head. Rich sat still watching him through the corners of his eyes.
“You’re a felon if you don’t report everything and turn every bit of the money in.”
“I may be. But I’m dead if I do.” He shot a cold stare at Alan.
“Dead. Don’t get carried away. It may be intimidating to have seen what you saw and then walk away with some money, but once you do the right thing, it will all take care of itself.”
“You mean even if it was like two or three million dollars that someone was out?”
“Two or three mil…,” Alan’s surprise was obvious. He regained his composure, then added, “Yes. Even two or three million dollars. Did you really get two or three million dollars?” There was no pause between the two sentences.
“Oh, I got two or three million all right.” Rich paused briefly. “In fumes.”
Alan stopped, startled.
“What do you mean, ‘in fumes’?”
“Alan, I’ve got twenty eight point eight million dollars hidden away. Never saw so much money. You wouldn’t believe what that looks like just lying in one place.”
Alan rushed to his chair to sit back down. He looked out the window a bit. Then he glanced at Rich. Then he stared at the wall hanging.
“Twenty eight eight?”
“In thousands. All thousands. Did you know they made thousand dollar bills?”
“Yes.” Alan was in disbelief. Then he added, “But not that many of them.”
“And they’re not counterfeit, near as I can tell. These are all different serial numbers and in different grades of condition. They’re real, I know they are.”
“But it’s not yours! You can’t keep it.”
“Alan, maybe I shouldn’t have taken it. But I did. Before I knew how much was there. Didn’t take the time to count it on account of I had to get out of there. There was a body giving me the woolies and I was gone.” Rich was trying to justify things but Alan was still looking doubtful.
Rich continued, “But now that I know how much money I took, how could I turn it in? You know it has to be serious mob or drug money. We’re not talking some huckster that picks pockets or breaks into homes at night. Whose ever it is, they’re big time. And I get the feeling they’d be pretty ticked-off to learn I had it. Don’t you think, maybe?”
Alan was more serious than Rich had ever seen him.
“Rich, as your attorney, I have to advise you to come forward, turn everything in and tell the authorities what you know. As your friend, and I hope that’s what we’ve become to each other, friends, as a friend I tell you…,” he paused, stuttering, then had to admit, “I don’t know what I tell you. I think you’re right. You’re in some real deep stuff here.”
“At two forty an hour, what did that brilliant piece of advice just cost me?”
That brought the mood back to normal.
“Richard, what do you care? You’re a twenty-eight-millionaire!”
“Yeah, well, I want to stay a twenty-eight-millionaire. Somehow when attorneys get involved there’s always a shifting in the tides of fortune.”
“No worry here. I can’t get involved. If you’re not going to come forward, and I can’t say that I blame you, I can’t be involved. What you told me is more than I need to know. Now if you want another attorney to handle this situation, I’d understand. I can still represent you in the divorce settlement, but I’m not touching this, this, this gangster thing. Not unless we’re calling the police this afternoon.”
A smirk on Rich’s face. “Well, we’re not calling the police this afternoon. We’re going to go have lunch at Freestone’s. But I’m glad I got that off my chest.”
“And on to mine. Rich, I think you should think this through more.”
Rich wanted advice and had dumped it all on Alan because he respected his opinion. But he’d been thinking it through and regardless of how honest or legal he’d like to keep things, if he spoke up, he’d be a gonner.
Alan turned to Rich and in a quieter voice said, “You know they’re not making them any longer?”
Rich shook his head slightly, not understanding. “What?”
“Thousand dollar bills. Clevelands. They’re calling them all in, taking them out of circulation.” With that said, Alan wanted no further part of any discussion about the ill begotten booty. He signaled a note of finality to Rich.
“Let’s go eat, Alan.”
“Certainly. And now that I know you can afford it, it’s on you.”
“Sure, if they can break a thousand.”
Alan cringed, putting his hands up as a shield. He didn’t want to hear any of it.
Dartmouth Police Station is an aging, red and tan brick building as if someone couldn’t make up their mind on the color to use. Captain Hernandes was sitting at his desk in a rare moment of solitude. It’s not that Dartmouth was all that busy with crime or incidents, but with all the summer activity, largely an overflow from surrounding town beaches and attractions, they never pumped up their staff that much, so it was a busy time of year. And though the body was found in Westport, his brief, token involvement with the case had piqued his interest.
Tony Hernandes was studying the photographs that had just been sent over from Westport as a favor to him. At first glance they didn’t seem too promising as nothing unusual jumped out at him. But after a while, when he was finally trying to ignore them, one of them caught his eye. A particular photo taken of the original scene before anything was touched, bore an image of an interesting mark in the gravel at the side of the body. Hernandes looked closer and could discern a gap between the side of the body and the gravel where the mark seemed to originate. He could imagine the marking as a track. He could imagine the gap as a place where something else had been.
The four block walk to Freestone’s was purposely devoid of any further mention of the money or crime scene. Alan seemed serious about not getting involved. Who could blame him? Disbarment and jail after such a successful career would be a real bummer. And if Rich didn’t play his cards just right, he’d be tomorrow’s lead news story.
Inside the restaurant, Rich asked for a private table and they were led to the back section. Though it was much quieter, it was less private because everyone could hear. He apologized and asked for a table in the thick of the noisy crowd and sure enough, they had all the privacy they could ask for. They could hardly hear each other, no chance of anyone else hearing them. One of life’s little oxymora.
The martinis arrived without them even ordering. Gail saw them come in and was chilling their glasses before they were seated, shaking the Bombay before their waitress ever arrived. They nodded their appreciation and Gail shot them a big friendly smile. A former model smile. Beautiful woman still, jet dark hair, bright shiny, toothy smile, with dimples! Great figure. With two years of divorce behind him, that was all Rich needed to completely melt. He felt his arm go weak and forced himself to divert back to Alan.
“You know, Rich, the court notice of contempt wasn’t the only matter I had to handle yesterday for you. It just seemed the most urgent.”
“What else happened? They asking for lethal injection?”
“No, I.R.S. and Mass DOR problems. Both, within an hour of each other. They don’t usually work together, but in your case, they’ve teamed up.”
“So they need money. Can they break a thousand?”
“From the figures they’re talking, it wouldn’t matter. You’d probably just have them keep the change.”
Rich took a long, slow sip of his Bombay Sapphire. If it was any colder he’d be re-enacting the Dumb and Dumber movie scene on the ski-lift with the frozen tongue.
“It gets bigger by the day. The tax bill, that is.”
“Well, they called me because they’re getting serious. If you had property, it would have been gone a long time ago. Maybe it’s good that Debbie got the house, at least one of you keeps it.”
Rich looked up slowly from his drink. Anyone else and them would be fighting words.
“The fact that you’re genuinely broke now,” Alan was sticking to his story that he knew nothing about any recent ‘find’, “might allow us to negotiate some sort of settlement. We could never do that if you owned property.” He would leave it there until he could make more headway with the tax representatives. “How did you ever let your tax liability get so far out of hand? You’re a professional!”
“It’s so simple to explain, but hard to understand. The last few years together, Debbie must have been taking a lot out of the business because my reported income was just incredible! We paid most of those taxes, but the year we built the house, we put off in excess of $100,000.00 in taxes to get the house finished. Debbie agreed it was worth paying the fines and interest the next year and promised to get more involved in the business. We could have cleared it up easily. But with the house built, she met this real estate guy and you know the rest.” Time for another sip. Two.
“But they’re looking for almost twice that. And it’s from your returns in later years, not your last joint return.” Alan had never pressed Rich for any explanations on tax issues since he had enough to catch up on regarding Rich’s business and finances.
“Well, the next year I was forced to file individually, but paid off most of the taxes for our last joint year. $175,000.00 in one check! Biggest check I’ve ever written in my life, and it still didn’t cover the whole thing, but close.” The thought of it brought up the stem glass again. Bottoms up! “Anyway, taxes aren’t deductible, so that went down as income to me. Add the forty or fifty thou I legitimately earned and I had to report almost a quarter mil in income. Filing single, no deductions, you know what the new taxes are? Almost a hundred thou! So I’m back up way over my neck again. Plus the fines and interest on the unpaid balance. Next year, same thing. And the next. After three years I’ve paid more taxes than the combined national debts of most free world governments. And it all looks like income on my returns, thus my wonderful divorce settlement which Judge Santos based on my apparent income.”
Now it was time for Alan to hoist the glass. He knew this part of the story. Rich’s tax returns were honest and straightforward, but in the divorce hearings all that was coming through was the incredible income Rich reported. Alan had been called in late, failed to do his homework and simply wasn’t prepared for the attacks from Debbie and Attorney LaFleur that Rich was raking in profits. Judge Santos could only see dollar signs and in ten minutes it was all over: Rich got the failing business, failing because all the funds had to be drained for the taxes and bills left behind, and Debbie got the home that the tax money bought. Rich had to continue with the mortgage because it seemed reasonable to the judge under the circumstances. Alan blew it and he knew it.
They placed their orders including a second round of martinis.
Alan started. “If they can’t get the full value out of you, they’re prepared to press for prison time.”
“Let's hope Bubba never asks what I'm in for. Could prove embarrassing.” Rich still couldn’t believe they were seriously talking about jail.
“Well, it’s a real problem.” Alan only had to visit three of his clients in jail in his thirty-seven years of practice, none as innocent or well meaning as Rich. He’d hate to come to the end of his career and not be able to help Rich, but these were serious situations.
“Obviously this isn’t going to be a problem now, considering my little windfall.”
Alan dropped his chin, put up both hands as a guard, and rolled his eyeballs. “No, No, No. I don’t want to hear the ‘windfall’ part. I’m no part of that.”
“All right, then let me just say that I think I could handle the tax problem. Give me a month or so. If jail becomes imminent, give me two hours.” Rich would move a few ceiling tiles around if it meant avoiding jail.
The second round was delivered and more waves to Gail. Another photographic smile from her, dimples even deeper, and Rich went even weaker. This time he didn’t turn away so fast.
“Will your check from the Wellingtons cover a good portion?” Alan asked.
“It should cover all current bills and a little for taxes, but no, nothing substantial.” Rich had only this check to look forward to before yesterday and it clearly wasn’t going to be enough.
“Well,” Alan said with finality, ”As long as you know how serious all this is. You’re a good man, Charlie Brown. Hate to see the system do you in.” And that would be the final word. The rest of the meal they talked about the Red Sox and their series chances and going tuna fishing. Neither would likely happen, but over a two-martini lunch, hope springs eternal.
As Alan settled the check, Rich checked his tip. Twenty five percent, the usual for an attorney reimbursed meal that would be charged back to his client.
“Let me just leave a thousand for Gail,” Rich quipped. “Unless you have something smaller.”
“I’d stay away from Gail in your condition,” Alan offered, quietly.
“What condition, two martinis?”
“No,” Alan smirked, “Two years,” referring to single life.
Rich agreed and they smiled politely as they waved goodbye to Gail, making their exit. She smiled back. Dimples. Rich’s knees began to buckle.
They walked along the cobblestone street, Alan deep in thought about something. Rich was absorbed in his own thoughts about his incredible situation. Threats of jail, bankruptcy and possibly even mob killing, but enough money in his possession to buy his way out of anything. Should he be happy or scared?
“Rich.” He paused. “Rich. If you were to come into some money for any reason, you know, unexpectedly?” Alan was not incriminating himself. “You’d want to be careful. Your ex has shown herself to be a bitter, vengeful adversary. She’d love to see you put away. The I.R.S. and Mass DOR? They’re not the most compassionate of adversaries either. If they sensed, or worse, if they could prove that you had money, they’d claim you had hidden it, and they’d go for the throat. You know that, don’t you?”
“Oh, I’ll be careful. If I were to come into something, unexpected, I’d be very careful about my spending habits.”
“Especially in your case, not having had anything for the past few years. Any spending now would be obvious.” Alan reflected on his years of experience with very well-to-do clients, and some not so. “You know, it’s easy to hide money once you have money. After a million or two, who notices? Who can tell if your suit is a two thousand dollar tailored piece or only a thousand? Who knows if your European trip cost you fifty thousand dollars or twenty? But until you get up in that bracket, coming into big money is usually quite obvious.”
“After a million or two, who notices?’ Can I quote you on that?” Rich smiled at Alan’s homespun logic.
“Sure. Quote me all you like. But I’m concerned Rich. This group will go for your throat. Every one of them.”
The throat. That’s where they all had him and now he desperately needed to find a way out. Alan was right in observing that by hiding the money, getting caught with it could be the worst scenario possible. There would be no way to prove where it came from. Debbie, LaFleur, the IRS, the DOR, some mobster or drug lord and even Judge Santos, they would all nail him for their particular “evasion du jour”, whatever charge each would try to make at the time. There would be no way to prove that all this money just fell in his lap by accident. And even that was illegal, so there would also be the police to deal with, both the State and the Feds, on a rainbow array of felonious matters. The trick was in not ever getting caught.
“Alan, I know that. But you know what?”
Alan was listening.
“All of these adversaries, they all went for the throat. Everyone is ready to press me to the limit. They’ve left me with nothing. Literally nothing. And you know why that’s not too smart?”
Alan raised his eyebrows in a “No, why?” sort of a way.
“Because they left me with nothing to lose. And no one is as powerful as when they have nothing to lose.”
Rich returned home around four o’clock and set about printing out his final design proposals for the Wellingtons. Then he called them to confirm his appointment the next morning. A check would be waiting, and it was money he could show.
He grabbed a beer and turned on the six o’clock report, wondering if any new information was available on the Horseneck beach body.
Natalie led off referring to last night’s lead story, but adding that today, yet another mystery was unraveling as fishermen reported bringing up body parts in their nets. As an on-the-scene report came on, the camera zoomed in on two or three body parts caught in the net. One captured Rich’s attention. It was a man’s calf and foot, a leg severed from the knee down. But the clothing was still wrapped around the leg; a cheap grayish, pinkish pant leg and a two-tone beige shoe on the foot.
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