Tuesday, September 8, 5:45AM
As time passed, Karl’s insomnia grew worse, and his quest for sleep led to trying every known remedy and wives’ tale. When Marty called early Tuesday morning Karl was still lying awake, staring at the ceiling above his bed while randomly pondering various aspects of his complicated life.
“Uh … Karl … Sorry to wake you up so early, but have you moved on that ‘security’ business we discussed?”
“I wasn’t sleeping, Marty, why do you ask?”
“Well… I’ve heard something on the wind, so to speak, and I was hoping you have yourself covered, security-wise.”
“What do you mean? Is there something I should know about?”
“Nothing I can comment on Karl, but–”
“What do you mean, you can’t comment?” Karl’s already short temper seemed to shrink appreciably. “Are we friends, or not?”
“Now, Karl, it’s not a matter of friendship or anything. I just can’t comment on what I’ve heard … you know–”
“I’m not sure that I do, Marty! Tell me what you heard!” Though Karl was not in the habit of raising is voice, he thought nothing of loudly trying to intimidate his friend.
“I’m sorry … I just can’t get specific, but it has something to do with Weber. Just consider yourself warned.” And the line went dead.
So there it was. Karl’s options had narrowed to none other than the insufferable woman whose telephone number he had kept.
The familiar, British-accented voice answered instantly, “Yehsurun.”
Karl was confused. “Yesh … What?”
“Yehsurun is my name, Mister Adams.”
“Ms Yehsurun,” Karl pronounced the name syllabically. “What kind of name is that?”
“Mister Adams, does it really matter what kind of name I have? But since you must know, my name is Jewish, and it means ‘the upright one.’ Now what other trivial information do you need?”
“Ah … My reason for calling is–”
“I’ll call you right back,” and the line went dead.
A few seconds later his secure mobile sounded, and Rachel spoke before he was able to say anything. “You were saying?”
“I wanted to find out if you were still available for a job.”
“That depends on what you’re willing to pay.”
“Ms … Yehsurun–”
“Please Mister Adams, call me Rachel.”
“Yes … Rachel, certain rumors have reached me … and I would like you to….”
“Are you speaking of exclusive, full-time security coverage?”
He thought about it for a moment, and his pride prevailed over reason. “Of course I want full-time coverage, but it’s got to be undercover and complete.”
“My base fee for that sort of security coverage is ten thousand a month, plus expenses. Of course, that doesn’t include hazard compensation, which I’ll assess based on degree and duration.”
“Is that … dollars?”
“Yes, Mister Adams, that is ten thousand dollars a month, and I achieve the desired results by legal means.
“That’s pretty steep for limited services, don’t you think? Would–”
“My fees are not negotiable. Remember, you get what you pay for, and I am really quite good at what I do, Mister Adams.”
Karl thought for a moment, but Rachel’s subtle, British accent interrupted, “Either you require my services, or you don’t. Considering your exposure and your resources, I think my demands are indeed reasonable.”
“What do you need to get started?”
“Wire six months’ advance salary to the following Swiss account number, and I’ll be in touch.” She recited her account number, and the name and phone number of the bank, and the line went dead. After pocketing his own phone, he sat down again on the side of his bed, conflicted between seconds thoughts about cost, and fear of whatever unknown hazard had prompted Marty’s cryptic call.
Friday, September 11, 9:15AM
Karl’s secure mobile silently vibrated his inside breast pocket. He turned away from the members of the Division Street District Foundation board, withdrew and opened his mobile, and held it to his ear. “Adams.”
Rachel’s familiar British voice was on the line. “One word, Mister Adams: ‘Witherspoon!’” And again, the line went dead.
Karl slowly returned the mobile to its place while he spied Roger Witherspoon’s emaciated visage. He and R. J. George, another of Karl’s confidential inner circle, were involved in a quiet discussion which seemed devoid of any sinister content. Karl stared at Roger with a knowing expression, “Roger, do you have something to tell me?”
Roger said nothing, but his eyes shifted about as if he were wondering whether there might be another Roger somewhere in the room.
Karl rested his elbows on his expansive teak desk, hands together as if in prayer, forefingers touching his lips. His stare seemed to make Roger even more nervous. A heavy weight hung over the meeting, with everyone looking expectantly from one of them to the other.
Roger smiled self-consciously. “What’s this all about?”
“Roger, my friend.” Karl’s voice carried an understated menace. “What on Earth have you been up to?”
Roger’s mouth opened but nothing came out, as if his words had caught in his throat.
“You seem nervous, my ‘friend.’ Could there be some reason for that?”
“Do you have something to tell me?” Karl’s stare bore painfully deeper.
“Well … as you know … ,” Roger assumed Karl knew, and hated him for playing this kind of sick, psychological game. “Alex Webber called me a couple of weeks ago and suggested we have lunch, and,” he swallowed hard, “you know I’m not actually an employee of yours … well, I didn’t see anything wrong with his buying me lunch.”
“Of course there’s nothing wrong with having lunch with Webber … as long as your business doesn’t undermine my business.” Karl flashed a mock smile. “But, there wouldn’t be any reason to meet secretly if your business were above board. Would there Roger?”
Why was he petrified? What could Karl do but exclude him from his business deals? And if that were to happen, he could always fall back on Webber.
Roger forced a calm demeanor. “Now Karl, there was no ‘secret’ meeting. Besides, we’re old friends. Why would I be working behind your back? I mean… not that I was, but–” He felt the nervous tick under his right eye that always betrayed his anxiety.
“Of course we’re friends Roger. I was just giving you a bad time, you know, making you squirm. Now off with you. I’m sure you have other business.”
Roger couldn’t help feeling conspicuous as he stood, smiled and nodded to everyone, then walked towards the lift with as much aplomb as he could manage. When he had opened the gate and was about to step onto the platform, Karl called after him, “You know Roger, you were squirming. Just like a trapped weasel.”
Karl’s parting remark distracted Roger, causing him to trip over the threshold, but he quickly corrected, pulling the gate closed behind himself. Feeling terribly awkward and embarrassed, he affected deep concentration on the lift buttons. Even after pressing the one for the ground-floor, he stared at the buttons to avoid looking back at the others and betraying the guilt, resentment, and rage heating his face.
With that little melodrama concluded, Karl dismissed the rest of his associates with strained laughter and hand shakes all about. Finally alone, he slouched into the deep padding of his black leather executive’s chair, wondering what to do about Roger Witherspoon. He absently reached again into his inner breast pocket, withdrew his secure mobile and pressed Rachel Yehsurun’s speed dial key.
“Ms … Rachel, may I ask how–”
“Mister Adams. By now you should realize that I do not discuss business at this telephone number. Please break off and I’ll ring you right back.”
The instant his mobile vibrated, Karl began, “How did you know about Witherspoon?”
“My sources and methods are my business, Mister Adams.” The flint edge of her gentle-sounding voice intrigued him.
“I love that British accent of yours, Rachel, and you’re obviously very capable.” He heard her exasperated sigh. “But I need to meet with you in person. You know I haven’t had a chance to interview you properly.” Since this was only a woman, Karl assumed he could charm her into whatever he wanted.
“That won’t be necessary, Mister Adams. My work speaks for itself.” The line went dead and Karl looked at the phone, not believing she had again broken off a call.
He mashed the REDIAL button on his phone more forcefully than necessary, not about to let a woman have the last word.
“Rachel! People do not hang up on me! If you wish to remain in my employ, you will never hang up on me again! I have an assignment for you, and I want to give it to you in person. Meet me at–”
“Mister Adams! Once again it seems I must remind you that I don’t discuss business at this telephone number. Besides, you’ve already given me your assignment, and that is to mind your security. You know, I watch your back by any legal means necessary. I hope that removes any confusion about my role in your service. Have a good day.”
“Rachel! R… Wait! I’m sorry. Please call me from your ‘other’ phone.” It galled Karl to play by her rules, but he’d do anything to get what he wanted.
With Rachel back on the line, he continued. “Rachel, would you please give me your secure phone number, just in case of an emergency?”
“If I gave you that, you’d use it for all sorts of trivial purposes, and I won’t have that!”
“No, you’ve made your point.” This insufferable woman was about to give him an ulcer. “I’ll respect your wishes. Please, I need to be able to reach you without doing this little dance. And your sources are your business, but I’d like to make sure you know what I need.”
“Alright, Mister Adams.” Rachel’s voice betrayed her grudging tolerance. “Against my better judgment, I’ll give you my secure number. And you mentioned that you needed something. What is it?”
“I want a little more cooperation, Rachel. You need to keep me in the loop. I pay you for information, so keep me informed… Hello?”
“Just waiting ‘til you’ve finished, Mister Adams.”
He didn’t know what to say, and hated feeling awkward. “I guess that’s all … Just keep in touch.”
Monday, September 14, 8:30AM
Karl wracked his brain for someone he could trust with his “special” assignments. He realized that if he could hire someone to do something illegal, he needed some other leverage to ensure loyalty. Otherwise that sort of person would be completely untrustworthy. It had to be someone he owned completely.
At once, he realized that Witherspoon himself might just prove useful when other, “conventional,” resources fell short of his needs. If the guy was going behind his back, he likely had skeletons from past misdeeds figuratively hidden somewhere in his cellar. It remained only to find and exploit them, so with great trepidation, he dialed the secure telephone number of Rachel Yeshurun.
“Yeshurun.” Rachel’s manner was terse, even to the point of abruptness.
“Rachel, please listen to me,” he said quickly, hoping to circumvent this difficult woman’s whining about protocol.
“Yes, Mister Adams, how may I help you?”
Karl was relieved to hear Rachel’s amiable reply, so he got to his business straightaway. “I’m afraid this Witherspoon business could get out of control and become a major security problem. I’d like you to take some, shall we say, ‘pro-active’ measure to insure that doesn’t happen.”
“Mister Adams!” Rachel’s tone became decidedly cooler. “If you value our association, I hope you will know better than to ask me to kill for you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Rachel. That’s not the way I do business.” Since he suspected such a drastic step might become necessary, he wasn’t telling the complete truth. “Our arrangement is fine on your terms. All I need you to do is check deeper into Witherspoon’s business. Find any dirt I could–”
“I’m sorry, Mister Adams, but you still don’t seem to understand the way I do business. Your reference to ‘dirt’ is offensive. ‘Dirt’ is not a commodity in which I deal.”
“Call it what you want to, but find something I can use as leverage so he won’t try anything behind my back again.”
She sighed deeply. “Alright, but it’s against my better judgment.” And the line went dead. Would he ever get used to having her hang up on him?
Thursday, October 1, 5:25PM
People usually didn’t notice Rachel Yehsurun. Until her mid-twenties, her hair had been a rich chestnut color. Now, in her early forties, she wore her long, salt-and-pepper hair in a bun. Behind her unneeded horn rim spectacles and deliberately bad makeup, her beautifully angular facial features were well defined. Her large, deep hazel eyes had perfectly formed dark brows, long lashes, and no bags. At a trim five feet tall and wearing unremarkable clothing, she blended even when there was no crowd. Such practiced anonymity served her well as she researched and observed people, an occupation at which she excelled.
As promised, Rachel got busy researching Roger Witherspoon’s past, which should have been an easy subject for a trained sleuth to uncover. His adult life seemed transparent–too transparent. His personal data, for what it was worth, was a matter of public record. There were no scrapes with the authorities, no deals-gone-bad, and his credit record was a study in responsible, Middle American spending.
Rachel’s curiosity as to why a man on record with such mundane behavior should seek the company of a mob-owned blighter like Alex Weber drove her to more specialized information sources. There she uncovered his hidden, juvenile record.
Like the prodigal son, this shady character had left home to enjoy the high living to which he believed he was entitled, only to get into trouble and have Daddy bail him out. In one day she discovered several facts of his background that could compromise his influence, such things as having been charged with child molestation, vandalism, and conspiracy to commit murder as a minor. His intended victim had been his own father.
The more Rachel delved into Roger Witherspoon’s rotten life, the more she enjoyed the prospect of exposing him. To that end, after three weeks of digging she assembled his dossier on her laptop computer, printed it, and placed a call to Karl’s secure mobile to arrange a meeting.
“Mister Adams,” she said cheerfully, “I have some material for your reading pleasure.”
Karl, however, was anything but cheerful. “Rachel! I hope my assignment didn’t disturb your vacation!”
Rachel was taken aback … again. “Mister Adams, if you are going to go off like that whenever I don’t meet your ridiculous expectations, you may consider this my resignation. I don’t need the work, or the aggravation. If you do not wish to have my information about Roger Witherspoon, this conversation, and our association, is at an end.”
The line went dead, and Karl stood facing the vast windows in is office, mobile to his ear, eyes closed. He practiced, with marginal success, the breathing exercises his highly-paid guru had prescribed for stress reduction. About a minute later, he closed the mobile, reopened it, and with a forced calmness, pressed Rachel’s memory dialing button. “Rachel, I apologize … please understand … I’m under pressure, which doesn’t excuse my behavior.” He hated eating his words, and only did it when the price was high enough.
“Mister Adams, I certainly understand stress, and even losing one’s composure. But please, if we are to work together you must remember that I am a professional, and give me at least that much consideration.”
“I’ll try. So … if you don’t mind giving me another chance, what do you have for me?”
“This was one job I did not mind doing. Your Roger Witherspoon deserves any trouble you give him, but I must personally deliver his dossier, because of the sensitive nature of the information. I can’t risk compromising any of my sources by allowing it out of my sight before you have it in your hands.”
Karl was quite anxious to have it in his hands. “Bring the package right over–”
“Please, Mister Adams, not at your flat. Meet me in one hour at the newsagent located at Fifth and Eastshore Avenue. Do you know the place?”
“You mean that dumpy news stand? Sure, but why not–”
“I’ll be wearing a medium brown, calf-length suit skirt with a matching jacket, and old-fashioned spectacles, but pay attention, I’m easy to miss. When you ask for a copy of the Chronicle, I’ll give you the one I’ll be holding. Take it immediately, pay the proprietor, and return home. Your information will be in the envelope secured inside. And remember, this is proprietary information. I am depending upon … trusting … your complete discretion. If some of this should leak, I would certainly lose my sources … and possibly endanger our safety. And please note. I said, OUR safety.”
The line went dead and he returned the mobile to its home in his inner breast pocket as he sat at his desk and considered how long he would take getting there. He checked his watch and turned to gaze out the front window at the afternoon sunshine illuminating the buildings–his buildings–on the far side of the street. Twenty minutes later he checked his watch again, got up, and walked to the lift.
Rachel timed the delivery so the newsagent, whom she knew to be a sports fanatic, would be distracted by a baseball game on the Tele. She arrived at the booth a moment early, hoping Karl was as prompt as he was demanding. As she had anticipated, the proprietor was trying to watch the game on a miniature color Tele perched upon a rear shelf, while monitoring his merchandise. She asked for a paper, to the annoyance of the sports fan. After he handed it to her, she feigned interest until he turned his head to watch an exciting play. Stealthily, she slipped the envelope inside, removed the backing from the narrow strip of two-sided sticky tape already attached to the envelope, placed it into contact with an inner page, and gently squeezed the paper to secure the adhesive. Then she held it, browsing other papers and magazines until Karl arrived.
Curiosity about this Mata Hari whom he had never met consumed Karl, but he wasn’t terribly impressed with the mousy-looking woman he saw. He did notice, however, two trim ankles, despite her sensible shoes and shapeless calf-length skirt. He walked up to the newsagent and asked for a copy of the Chronicle, appearing to ignore Rachel.
Without smiling, she said in a deliberate American accent, “Here, take this one. I changed my mind.” She placed it on the counter without releasing her hold until Karl grasped it and took it from her.
He looked at it for a moment, then glanced up, but she was already gone. Then he reached into his trousers pocket and withdrew the seventy-five cents he had placed there moments before, bumped the distracted proprietor’s shoulder, handed the quarters to him, and returned home.
Reentering his flat, he quickly strode to his office, sat at his desk, and began leafing through the paper. At first he couldn’t find the envelope and nearly panicked, but then he noticed that it was secured to one of the inner pages. How the hell did she manage that? She’s good.
The telephone rang a number of times before Roger answered, “Witherspoon here.” He normally delayed answering, both to inspect the caller I.D., and to give the impression that he was busy.
“Roger my friend,” Karl said without sincerity, “how are you?”
Roger hesitated, not knowing what to expect from him, “Karl … I’m well, thank you. To what do I owe this call?”
Karl warmed to his little game as he began casually. “Why don’t you drop over tonight. I have some information you’ll find very interesting.”
“Honestly Karl, can’t it wait until the next board meeting? It’s–”
“No, it can’t!” Karl’s voice was edged with flint. “I’ll see you this evening at, say, nine.”
Karl’s street-level intercom buzzed at seventeen minutes past nine o’clock. He glanced at a monitor showing a wide angle view of his front door, including the familiar, gangly form of Roger Witherspoon. Karl pressed an intercom button. “Yes!”
“It’s Roger,” the intercom squawked. Karl pressed another button, knowing that downstairs a buzzer sounded and the door latch clicked. He watched Roger open the large, carved hardwood-surfaced steel door and disappear through it. A moment later he heard the lift begin its laborious ascent. Finally, the iron gate opened and an angry-looking Roger Witherspoon stamped over to Karl’s desk.
“What the deuce is this all about? I had to cancel an important appointment! This had better be good!”
Karl chuckled and gestured towards the chair on the opposite side of his desk. “Oh, it is.”
Roger took the seat and looked impatiently at his host for a moment. Finally he gave in to the suspense. “Well?”
Karl slid the stapled bundle of typed paper across the desk. “Look it over, Roger.” Then, after a significant pause he added, “Please, say it isn’t so.”
As Roger scanned the pages, the little color of his pasty complexion drained from his face and perspiration began beading on his forehead. “W…” His voice cracked, so he cleared his throat and tried again. “Where did you get this?”
Karl answered in a patronizing tone. “Now Roger, does that really matter?”
Roger’s normally small eyes looked more like saucers, unblinking, searching Karl’s face for some sign of the confrontation’s meaning.
“Oh, I hope you don’t think … ” Karl feigned sensitivity. “No, this won’t come between us. I’m not so narrow as to let a sordid history disrupt a good friendship. But it might … change–shall I say–the character of our relationship somewhat?” Karl struggled to keep his composure as he played the cat with this long, bony mouse.
A knowing look came upon Roger’s face as he crossed his arms and leaned back. “What do you want?” Then, affecting a more conciliatory tone, he added, “You know my circumstances haven’t been the best of late. Surely I can’t have anything you want–“
“Actually….” Karl pretended deep thought. “There is something you can help me with.”
Monday, October 5, 10:05AM
Roger Witherspoon concentrated on maintaining a casual demeanor as he met with Alex Webber in his personal lounge behind his casino. Even during the small talk phase of their meeting, Roger wanted to hide his face, convinced his true purpose was written all over it.
His assignment was to request a confidential meeting where Alex would dismiss his body guards. Then he would wait until his host was distracted by a pre-arranged telephone call from Karl, and slip a sedative into his drink while his back was turned. After the call, Roger would recommend that Alex have a drink to calm himself, encouraging him to drink it all. Roger was supposed to keep talking until he “bored him to sleep,” as Karl had indelicately put it. Once Alex was unconscious, Roger was to search his files for something they could use against him. After using a miniature camera to take pictures of anything he found, he would carefully restore the documents to their original positions and leave, telling the guards their boss must be on drugs because he fell asleep in the midst of their conversation.
Roger did his best to control his nervousness as Alex’s bodyguards continued loitering in the room. Would they never leave?
Eventually, however, Alex said to them in his B-movie hoodlum accent, “Get lost! Mister Witherspoon and myself, we got some important business to talk about.”
Alex went to the bar to mix their drinks, and finally got down to business, “So, you’re sure Adams don’t know about us get’n together?” Without waiting for Roger’s reply, he continued speaking to the cocktails he was preparing, “That jerk leads a charmed life. Tried to get something on him a couple’a years ago, but the guy’s squeaky clean. Just ain’t natural!”
He turned towards Roger with two drinks in his hands, complete with miniature oriental umbrellas. He was a cliché of the pretentious thug, with his pastel green leisure suit and open collared yellow shirt tugging against the soft flesh over his chest and ample midriff. “Need somebody on the inside!” he continued, passing the drink to Roger, “Somebody which can get close enough to the heart of his operation to find out where it stinks. You can’t get that rich that fast without having something dirty goin’ on.”
Roger entertained Alex with some mis-information about Karl’s businesses until the telephone finally rang. Alex stood to answer it, and was soon shouting obscenities at the caller.
Roger had been proud of his own blue vocabulary, but even he was taken aback with the creativity Alex poured into his invectives. When one of his lackeys opened the door to investigate, Alex angrily waved him off and walked away for privacy. With Alex’s back turned, distracted by his shouting into the phone, a jittery Roger Witherspoon quickly set his own plan irreversibly into motion.
Karl sat listening to Roger’s account of his spy game, amused, until he heard of the spontaneous change in plans. “Everything went as planned until I realized that even with incriminating documentation in your hands, Alex could still be a thorn in your side.” Roger forced a smile. “So once Alex was asleep …,” He shifted in the chair and kept his nervous smile in place. “I took a sofa pillow and held it over his face until he quit trying to breathe. He never even knew what happened.”
Karl sat, dumbfounded, not fully comprehending what he had just heard. When Roger saw his reaction, his smile faded, and the nervous tick under his right eye demonstrated his genuine distress. When Karl finally realized the truth that his associate had taken a human life, he began thinking in terms of police rushing in, side arms drawn. Since he had helped stage the meeting, he could easily be implicated as a fellow conspirator with Roger. Larceny was one thing, but murder … Then he thought of Alex’s relationship with the Russian Mafia, and the police became the good guys in his mind.
Karl knew his life was forever changed, but he had no idea how much.
Rachel answered her secure mobile to find Karl speaking before she could even say her name. “Rachel, don’t start with me! I don’t have time to humor your quirks! Something’s happened and I need to speak with you, in person. Now.”
Rachel heard the desperation in his voice and hesitated for a moment, uncertain how to react. “This had better–”
“Rachel, please! It’s crucial that I see you.”
“If the circumstances warrant, I suppose that would be alright.” Then she added with more certainty, “I’ll meet you in ten minutes at the same newsagent where I gave you the information. He’ll be closed by now.”
Karl’s silver BMW was waiting at the curb when she arrived. When she got in she noticed his set jaw and white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, and he immediately drove off without so much as a glance towards her. Once safely on their way, he got right to the point. “Roger killed Alex Webber today.”
Rachel paused to digest his statement. Then, dispassionately, “Have you informed the police?”
“No.” He hesitated, continuing to look forward. “There’s a problem.”
They drove on for a long moment, then Rachel’s curiosity finally took over. “Right … and what is the problem?”
Karl’s voice bordered on panic. “I sent Roger over there. But not to murder anybody!”
“Oh … and–”
“It’s still under wraps, but I could be implicated!”
“Mister Adams, no matter how badly you might be implicated, it’s always better to avoid the appearance of a coverup. I suggest you go to the pol–”
“You don’t get it, do you? Alex was owned by the Russian mob, and if they connect me with that murder, I’ll be lucky if they kill me fast.”
“Are you being completely truthful with me?”
“I have nobody else to turn to. I mean, it’s all been a game up ‘til now … but this changes everything. I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
“Cut the crap, Rachel. I’m through playing authority games. I need a friend and you’re elected.”
Karl’s bluntness took Rachel aback, and she stared at his hawkish profile. She caught herself reacting more to his unattractive features–the large, curved nose and short chin–than to his authoritarian attitude. That contradiction of her emotionally detached, analytical mind shocked her. She couldn’t remember reacting that negatively, that quickly, to anyone else, and she resented his reducing her to that level.
Seizing the personal challenge, she barked, “Turn right at the next signal light.”
“Just do it! I know a couple who might help.” He shot her a resentful glare but followed her directions without further comment.