Everette’s smooth French accent, which Thomas knew to be fake, was now raking him over the coals for allowing those people so close to his daughter.
“But what if they were terrorists? Do you realize how easy it is to kidnap a child in this place?”
Thomas was just nodding and shaking his head in accordance to the answers Everette wished to hear, but his temper was beginning to get the better of him. This final question was the literal straw on the camel’s back.
“You’re daughter bugged him first, laughing about the fact that he was in street clothes sitting by himself using an outdated laptop. He countered her perfectly. You are not making her any better by isolating her from reality,” Thomas said.
“Finally, you speak. This is the reason I hired you. You are observant. But sometimes I need the affirmation that you are doing what I’m paying you to do,” Everette took a sip from his water. “You need to talk to me. What does she need or want? you are closer to her and her mother than I am. I need someone on the inside.”
“Is something else wrong?” Thomas asked.
Everette allowed his breath to escape harshly, then drew his eye slowly back up to his employee. Three of my biggest investors were part of that European Bank scandal. My liquid assets in Europe have been seized as part of the investigation. I have no money for the interest payments this month because it is held in a bank that has locked it’s vault. Of course I didn’t find this out until my credit card was denied at the supply house for the boat. There was not enough money to supply the boat for more than a week.”
“It has never been a question of the money, sir.” Thomas searched his boss’ eyes for what he should say.
“And I do respect that. I may be able to sell my villa in Tuscany, but that only covers about thirty percent of my interest. This is a buyer’s market, not a seller’s. No, I’m truly asking your advice, my friend. I am about to be upended by something that was out of my control. Can my family handle being destitute?”
“How could you possibly become destitute, sir? Do you not have anything that is paid for in full?” Thomas’ voice was becoming weak.
“I’m afraid not. Everything has been mortgaged to afford my controlling interest here. Now all of that money that I just signed papers on two weeks ago is halted before it can get here and the Club owners are pulling the deal from the table. All of this hinged on me buying out nearly eighty individuals, and I won’t even be able to afford to take one of them to dinner.”
“Sir, you have fought against worse odds than this.” Thomas signalled the waiter.
“What are you doing?” Everette seemed shocked by his employee’s move to order food.
“Relax, Boss. This one’s on me,” Thomas said winking. “What have you done legally?”
“Calling lawyers, trying to set a boulder the size of Everest moving with a Carpenter Ant.”
Thomas touched his ear, “Bradey, pull up a number for Winslow Rold and dial him in for me.” He stayed with his com on and ordered his lunch. Everette eyed him with keen suspicion.
“Yes, Wilsow, old buddy. This is Thomas Earlin, used to be with the CIA Corporate Espionage Division. Yes, I was wondering what your take was on the involvement of a Mister Everette Pulace in the Stockney/Boam embezzlement and stock trading debacle?”
He listened for a moment and sipped a sweet tea that the waiter had brought.
“Yes sir, I’m aware of that. That is the situation. Mister Pulace is my current client. He is in the middle of an acquisition and needs his funds released immediately.” Again he listened but then acted as if he was interrupting the man on the phone. “No, sir. I’m sure you are aware of how much Mister Pulace has invested on the American soil. He has obtained dual citizenship here and his daughter is full American. If you cause him any distress in this matter I will see to it that your Committee is audited for the duration of your tenure. Am I clear?”
He listened with a furrowed brow, “Maybe I didn’t make myself clear. If Mister Pulace is not allowed to continue his business as usual by this afternoon, I have services in place to shut the entire investigation down. I have no plans in allowing the corruption of the banking system to continue, but you will not undermine this procedure. The future of Mister Pulace’s business depends on this transaction taking place. I expect a positive answer within the hour or I make further phone calls. Am I understood now?”
Only a brief pause and then, “No, you will not try to do your best. You will release the assets within the hour or you will be unemployed by this evening.” Then he touched off his earpiece.
The crowd around them stared in disbelief. Everette himself looked astonished that a mere bodyguard had the power to fix this billionaire’s problems.
Thomas touched his ear piece again. “Colonel Bradey, see what you can do about making Congressman Rold a believer. I’m thinking about an immediate IRS audit of his campaign funding, shall we?” and again he shut off his earpiece.
“Who are you really?” Everette now donned a face full of encredulity.
Thomas nodded then said, “As you might be suspecting, at first I hopped on to bring you down, but everything you do is on the level, so I stayed on. You’re a good man, Pulace.”
Everette raised his glass of water to toast with Thomas’ tea, “Here’s to hoping everyone else feels that way too.”
His laptop was too hot for his lap so he had it sitting on a book then a pillow across his legs. He heard a knock on the door of his room.
“Oh, now we’re being polite?” he asked.
Cicilia opened the door just wide enough to peek in. “Hey, I’m headed down to check in with Tamera, wanna come along?”
In shock, Ben cocked his head sideways at her and only stared.
“I know. I get it. But Cheyenne seems to like you. And I was thinking maybe we could go out, and kinda chaparrone you two. An unofficial date?”
“Why the sudden interest?”
Her hidden meaning became evident in her pause. Gary wasn’t going to let her go shopping with out Ben tagging along. Only a moment passed between them and they both knew she was just going to use him to get what she wanted.
“Okay. I’ll go along with it, but you owe me one,” he said with a smirk.
“You aren’t going like that are you?” Her gaze settled in a downward stroke, taking in his baggy shorts, wife beater, and unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt.
“This way I won’t look like a tourist,” he scoffed, remembering an old commercial he saw on a video sharing site once from many years before he was born. He even tried to use the same goofy accent. But it went over her head and she simply glowered at him. He shrugged and started removing his shirts. “Ya mind?” he said, waving her away.
His door shut quietly and he continued with some upscale casual attire then met her in the condo’s hallway.
“You do clean up decent, nerdboy,” she said.
“You don’t get out much do you?” he laughed under his breath.
They stepped on the elevator and in moments they were being ushered into Tamera’s limousine by Thomas.
Chey was arrayed in a simple blue sundress that, while she was seated, came to about mid-thigh. The cornrows were gone and her hair flowed freely down her nearly bare back.
“You look pretty good in clothes,” Ben said with a smile.
“It’s nice to see you in something besides beggar’s shorts.” Chey turned up her nose at him and tugged at the hem of her dress.
“Nothing to write home about though.” Cicilia threw in her two cents. Both adolescents cringed.
“She’s not very good at this is she?” Chey twisted her face as if in pain.
“No, she usually better than this. Not sure what her deal is,” Ben smiled back.
Cicilia only snarled her lip then started talking to Tamera about some new fabric on the European fashion circuit this season. Ben whispered something to Chey about a feeding frenzy and they both snickered.
“So where are we headed?” Ben asked.
“One of three places, Coco Walk, South Beach or Miracle Mile.” Cicilia said.
The two Pulace’s said in unison, “Coco.”
“So I’m really stuck shopping with three diva’s?” Ben said in disgust.
“There are worse things,” Chey smiled.
“Like not going shopping with three drop dead gorgeous diva’s,” she winked.
He just rolled his eyes.
“What?” Cicilia said with a grunt, “You don’t agree with her?”
“Changed my mind. Maybe two diva’s and I leave it at that,” he said.
Thomas hollered from the front seat, “Do I need to sit between you?”
“Says the male diva,” Ben grinned.
They all laughed when Thomas turned with a raised eye brow.
“He does a pretty good impression of the Rock,” Ben continued.
Gary dialed her number again and again the machine with Ben’s voice picked up. This time he left a message, “Annie, come on answer the phone. Ben was trying to call you all day yesterday. I know he’s worried about you. He’s driving us nuts, and I’m afraid whatever problem is between him and Cici isn’t going to work itself out. She hates him and he hates her. And for most of the stuff he’s the one that’s right. I’m having second thoughts about the wedding. I don’t know why I’m even telling you this; I know you can’t stand me either.”
There was a click and a breathy, familiar voice said, “I love you Gary. You left me remember?”
“God, Annie what have I done?”
“You don’t hate her do you?”
“No. We seem to be good for each other, but I want Ben to be a part of that and, well, she doesn’t want him around. She’s done everything but call him a bastard, and I’m not sure she hasn’t done that when I’m not around.”
“Is Bennie there?”
“No, I sent them shopping with some old friends of Cici’s. Some real estate guy that has millions. I think Ben’s kinda sweet on their girl, she’s a little younger than him, but who knows what kids like, ya know?”
“Yeah. I married one.”
“Okay, I deserved that one.” Gary leaned back in the chair.
“Why did you really call Gary?”
“I’m confused. I don’t know what I want any more. It was so easy when I thought that Ben and Cici would get along. And then you thought I was going to take Ben away. I never wanted that. Ben needs you Annie.”
“And he needs you. But he needs you to be strong.”
“I don’t know what that is anymore.”
“If you want the truth Gary, you never did.”
“I know that now. I’ve screwed things up so bad and Ben’s right in the middle.”
“We can’t turn back the clock. Things wouldn’t be the same if you came home. We can’t go back to what we were. The trust would never be there.”
He sighed painfully, “I know.”
After a long and uncomfortable pause she said, “Gary? Don’t send him home. I won’t be here when he comes back.”
“I mean it Gary. Things have changed. I can’t explain it to you, but he can’t come back.”
“I won’t say never, but you or he will not find me in a week. I’ve sold the house and am packing to go west.”
The lump crawled up his throat. “Ann?”
“What? I can’t meet someone else too?”
“He was expecting it. That’s why I haven’t answered his phone calls. In his heart he knows I’m already gone.”
“But Annie?” He pleaded to the face in his memory.
“Bye Gary.” The phone went dead.
How was he going to tell Ben? He could hear Cici’s negativity now. He wasn’t going to abandon his son again. Never again.