Thursday, August 11, 2005

17th Street

Winston paid the outrageous amount it took to park the company van in a downtown parking garage and walked down the 16th Street mall for his 9 o’clock appointment with James Phan, the criminal defense lawyer that his accountant had recommended. Mr. Phan was reputed to be one of the better white collar crime specialists in Denver. Usually, his conversations with lawyers were by videophone, but Mr. Phan had written him in a letter written on thick bond paper in a fountain pen, insisting that they meet in person, saying that an in person conversation was the only way to assure complete confidentiality, especially in business cases where insider participation was common.

Winston turned the corner, crossed 17th Street, and entered Mr. Phan’s building, one of the many anonymous high rises filled with lawyers downtown. He checked in with the front desk attendant to say he had an appointment with Mr. Phan, who then confirmed the appointment on his computer and authorized an elevator which Winston entered. It went directly to the 17th floor.

A short hallway led to Mr. Phan’s office. The waiting room featured a large fresh floral bouquet, a fountain, several mirrors and some traditional Vietnamese prints. A steaming tea pot with empty cups arrayed around it sat on an ebony table next to the small silk couch. The only reading materials in the waiting room were two thin, books of captioned pictures, one of mountain scenes, and the other of office scenes with ominous collections of bureaucrats posed in them. An elderly woman of Vietnamese descent sat behind the reception desk, actually just a table, apparently hand calculating some accounts on an abacus. A voice only phone was on the table, but it had no computer, video screen. It didn’t even have the obligatory in and out baskets.

“Are you ready to pay the retainer?”, the elderly woman asked.

Winston handed her a plastic holographic card, which the woman took, walking into another room, and then returned with a small paper receipt. The amount matched the very large number that had appeared in the handwritten letter to him.

“Mr. Phan will be with you shortly Winston.”, the elderly lady said.

“Thank you grandmother.”, Mr. Phan said as came out of one of the two doors that lead into the waiting room. He was about six feet tall, thin, and clearly of Vietnamese descent. He wore tiny round wire rimmed glasses, despite the fact that he could clearly afford eye surgery or permanent contacts, and looked to be about 40 years old. His long black hair was drawn back in a ponytail wrapped around a brilliantly purple iris. The deep scent of the flower reached Winston almost immediately. Mr. Phan was dressed in a deep blue silk shirt, with sapphire cufflinks, a fine light gray sports coat, and tailored black silk pants. His feet were bare in his black loafers, despite the fact that summer was swiftly passing. His watch was elegant, and looked like something out of a jewelry store.

“Come into my office, call me James.”, he said.

The wall to wall windows were obscured by ethereal white curtains that allowed light in, eliminating any need for artificial light, while obscuring any view in or out. The interior walls were lined with double doored, closed, white cabinets. This room also lacked the usual videophone, although there was a portable computer on one a wicker credenza against one wall next to Mr. Phan’s Colorado bar admission certificate in a small black wooden picture frame sitting on the credenza as well. A large circular table made of a single oversized slab a light gray granite streaked with long veins of black granite was surrounded by five large comfortable leather chairs dominated the room. In the outside corner, opposite the entry door, a large brass fat Buddha smiled at them. A thin paper file, a note pad, and a fountain pen rested in front of one of the seats at the table which James sat in. Winston pulled up another chair.

“I understand that you are being investigated for some accounting irregularities.”, James said.

“I think someone is using my construction business to launder money for terrorists or criminals or who knows who.”, Winston said.

“Do you have access to those accounts?”

“Yes, I’m a small business person and a keep my own books. I don’t recall having given the passwords to access them to anyone. I’ve never written them down.”

“Surely, you have some help.”

“I have staff that processes accounts payable, but no payments can be authorized without my say so, and I handle the deposits personally . . . my company works on large paving contracts, so its rare for me to get more than two or three deposits a month.”

“Have there been any irregularities in your personal accounts?”

“No. But, there have been some strange things going on in my personal life. Just when this broke, you know, I just moved to a new condo, someone mailed me my cat, who had gone missing when I moved, in pieces.”

“Do you suspect anyone?”

“I have no idea whose behind this. I’ve been in business for years, its competitive. I’m sure I have more enemies than I can count. But, I really have no idea.”

“Do you have any idea how much money was run through your accounts?”

“Multi-millions, I’m not sure of the exact amount.”

“Do you have the copy of your accounting records I requested?”

Winston handed him a black silicon chip about the size of his thumb.

“Here’s my card. Carry it with you at all times and present it to the police immediately and say nothing more about this case, if you are arrested. Your best defense appears to be that you have been very elegantly framed. Your problem is that you don’t seem know enough about what’s happened to be useful in defending yourself. This will be a difficult case, but I will take ever step possible under the law to protect you. My investigator will visit you at your home next week. Hopefully, we can uncover some leads before the authorities discover that a crime has been committed using your company.”

“You don’t think I’m guilty, do you?”, Winston asked.

“I’m not in the business of determining guilt or innocent. I am in the business of protecting you.”

“Thanks James.”, Winston said with a biting tone that Mr. Phan chose not to acknowledge.

The two men shook hands, and Winston returned, down the elevator, and through the downtown streets to his van, not particularly reassured.

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