Thursday, August 11, 2005

Foothill Aerie

Winston winced ever so slightly from the salt on his Margarita as his Buffalo steak seared itself to perfection on his 7th floor balcony barbeque. To his right, the city lights of Denver shown like a surreal light show. To his left, the sunset over the mountains as a moon tinged orange by the smoke from the forest fires hung overhead. Winston preferred not to look straight ahead into the string of dozens of condo towers along C-470 in the foothills, so he had put a fireproof tarp in a batique design over that view instead. He smiled at the woman two floors down making her own dinner and then took another sip from his drink.

When the 470 light rail loop initiative passed last fall, he’d been optimistic. When the general contractor he worked for asked for his bid in December, he’d worked twenty hour days until he was done. When his company won the subcontract to ship every single rail from the factory to the construction site came through this spring, he’d bought this place. Now, with the summer nearly over, the contract payments were coming in, the work was getting done on schedule, and the only item on the agenda was to find a partner and settle down. This job was scheduled to take twelve years, and there was enough profit in this deal for him to downsize in an orderly manner and retire when it was done.

Anyway, that was what Winston had thought this morning. Now, the picture had changed a little. First there was the call from his accountant, informing him that something didn’t seem quite right in the company books. By the afternoon, he was in his lawyer’s office. Before the day was over, he’d received a call from a specialist lawyer referred by his regular lawyer. Winston had made dinner anyway, but he was quivering with so much anger and fear he didn’t know if he’d be able to keep it down. Somebody was laundering money through his corporate accounts. And, superficially, it looked like him. Whatever was going on had international dimensions. But, Winston had no idea who it was. Most of the people at his main office had been there for at least four or five years. His last involvement with the drug trade had been a pot buy back in high school before it was legalized. His wasn’t part of any religious extremist group. Hell, he didn’t even go to church. He was patriotic. All of his trucks had American flags painted on them. He didn’t cheat on his taxes (well, not seriously anyway) or his bids. He wasn’t involved in gambling; he didn’t even know how to play anything but blackjack or the slots in a casino.

Coming home to a parcel in the mailroom downstairs looked like it would be his boost for the day. Opening the package on his kitchen table a few minutes later and finding a freshly severed cat paw, wrapped in plastic, in a U.S. Postal Service parcel box, postmarked from West Palm Beach, blew that theory. The picture of his cat, who had disappeared when he moved to his condo, sitting on Tuesdays Wall Street Journal, with a missing paw, sent a shiver down his spine.

The last time he was in Florida was for his commencement at Florida State University. He’d gone West and never looked back. The was years ago. His mom and dad were dead now, after they’d refused to evacuate their place on the Keys during Hurricane Herbert, and his sister lived in Boston.

After opening the parcel, he’d left everything where it was, had a long talk with his new specialist lawyer, locked the door, and shook it off in total hopelessness. He and the lawyer had agreed that going to the cops before he could find some evidence to clear himself of the money laundering that had been going on in his business accounts was walking into a trap. They’d agreed to hire a private investigator instead. He’d videotaped the evidence, called several trusted people to corroborate his story, and left everything in place without touching it until the P.I. arrived the next morning. Then, he’d made dinner as planned.

By the time Winston looked up from his reverie, he could smell something distinct from the haze. Damn, the Buffalo steak had burnt to a crisp. He turned off the gas to the BBQ, lifted the charred remains into a stainless steel waste bin placed there for the purpose, and went to grab a yogurt pack out of his fridge. Ten minutes late he’d collapsed on his bed, deep in sleep before nine o’clock.

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