“I hear we caught you just in time. Planning to escape the jurisdiction?” Kitterick’s grin made Rich feel dirty.
“Can it, Kitterick,” Rich bit off. “I’m just changing hotels. Why are you here?”
Sergeant McClean coughed and pushed past Kitterick. “That’s my cue.” She held out a folded paper. “Warrant for your arrest.” Metallic clang. “Your bracelets for the ball.” She pushed hard on his shoulder to flip him around and threw on the cuffs. A couple of uniformed guys came in while she read him his rights. “Bag that laptop,” she instructed and his stomach clenched as he thought of the strange data on it. “Look for any official documents. There’s the briefcase, bag it as is. We’ll catalog the stuff at the station.”
Rich shifted, his discomfort from having his possessions taken as much as from his hands cuffed at his back. “Aw, you don’t mind if I supervise this search, do you, Brandt?” McClean smirked. “Don’t worry, we’ll throw your jacket over the cuffs when we leave. Don’t want your shiny image tarnished.” She left him in the foyer while they searched the rest of the suite. He heard drawers casually yanked open and winced when something crashed to the ground. When they left the hotel, it was even more humiliating than he expected. The phrase “perp walk” echoed through his mind.
Standing before the judge, finally unbound but without “personal effects,” Rich rubbed the empty space where his Dartmouth ring should be. The taste he had of captivity today was more than enough. “Pritchard, you have to get me out of here,” he hissed to his new attorney.
The older man nodded as he reviewed a document. “I believe I can get bail set.” He paused and looked at Rich over his reading glasses. “Could be high given this new corporate espionage aspect. Can you come up with it?”
Rich opened his mouth and snapped it shut again. Arson and now corporate espionage? He didn’t know how, who or why, but someone’s screwing him royally. It was the first thing he was sure about since this fiasco began. “I think so,” he responded, trying to feel confident.
“Yes, your honor,” Rich said when prompted. He gladly surrendered his passport as part of the bail requirements. George would have to cash something in or whatever he did. All Rich cared about was getting out of the building.
“Dude, I don’t know what to tell you about that bail,” George held his hands out wide. “I’m going to have to do some serious juggling, man. Hang in there, okay?” Rich’s shoulders slumped as the reality of more time in prison seeped in.
Michelle appeared like a genie. In a stunning magic trick, she made the courthouse go away. “Sorry, boys,” she told Pritchard and George, “He’s mine, bought and paid for. Say goodbye, Rich.” He followed her down the marble stairs, not at all embarrassed at the giddy grin he felt plastered on.
She led him to a spiffy red BMW in the nearby parking garage. “This is yours?” he gawked.
“I have lots of fun toys, Rich.” She gave a slow smile. “Time for dinner.” She looked him over and shrugged. “You’ll do, I suppose. Smooth your hair and straighten your jacket.” They pulled up to an exclusive restaurant. He’d never gotten a table here. “The usual spot, please, Peter,” Michelle told the valet as she handed him the keys.
Rich felt jail clinging to him as the maitre d’ arched an eyebrow. “Your guest is seated at your window table, Mademoiselle Michelle,” the man smiled.
Molly’s flowery sundress and curly hair nearly disguised her. Michelle squeezed her hand, saying, “So good to see you. You look lovely!” Rich was taken aback as his normally taciturn lawyer blushed. There were no menus, but the ladies apparently knew their way. When Michelle ordered prime rib, Rich just said, “That sounds good. The same for me.”
“You look somewhat worse for wear, Rich,” Molly grinned.
“Poor boy, he’s been through the wringer,” Michelle agreed, talking as though he weren’t sitting right there.
“Well,” Molly traced a fingertip along the curve of her wineglass, “I wouldn’t say he’s even seen the wringer yet.” She turned a frosty look at Rich and continued. “Shall I bring you up to date on what they have in evidence?”
He nodded, not trusting his voice.
“Remember that medical group in New Mexico, the project that went south – or should I say southwest?” Molly grinned. “Well, they got a better offer from a company called Banda. Records on your laptop and on Sybil’s office computer, seized in a warrant your former employers were not very happy about, show that ‘Banda’ is actually ‘B and A’ or ‘Brandt and Associates.’ Sound familiar?” This time she giggled. “The LLC filing documents for Brandt and Associates, dba BandA, were also found on both hard drives.”
Michelle knocked lightly on the table as their food arrived. “The rest can wait. A meal in peace for the poor guy.”
Conversation was casual and did not include Rich. Over coffee, Molly told Michelle, “I didn’t realize how constrained I felt at that firm until I left it today. She’s sending me to Tahoe for a week to celebrate.”
Michelle flashed a glance at Rich. “I think we’ve said enough for now. You’re right, though. It’s time.” She pulled a business card from her little purse and held it out. “Rich, come to my home at eight tonight.” She winked at Molly and walked away.
Not caring how it looked, Rich stumbled after her. “Wait,” he called out as he read the address on the card. “You have a house? But you were living with me.”
“Of course I do, Rich. I’m a responsible adult who didn’t set fire to her own home. Be there at eight.” The valet held the door of her BMW open and she disappeared into it, leaving Rich confused and alone, belly trembling.