S.W.A.T. Headquarters – Hondo’s office –
The feds had agreed to share their case files on Herman Lauder if Hondo agreed not to interfere in their case. Reluctantly, he agreed to hand over the flash drive that Buck had left for him. Hondo’s ego wanted nothing more than to bring Lauder down personally, but he had to keep telling himself that the most important thing was to shut Lauder down and bring his entire network to a halt, no matter who got the credit.
Hondo was both surprised and impressed at what the feds had on his nemesis. According to the file, Jessica had managed to plant herself deep into Lauder’s organization; after Maurice, she was his number two. She had proven to be a skilled money manager and had invested the man’s money in untraceable commodities and stocks and deposits in offshore accounts that only an accountant with a keen eye would ever be able to find. This was one of the rare times that Lauder had let his guard down and it had taken over a year for him to finally trust her. One false move and Jessica would be dead. Hondo knew that Lauder had been too careful to allow himself to be brought down by someone within his organization.
The more Hondo reviewed the case file against Lauder, the more he realized that Jessica had been sent on a suicide mission. This assignment had too many holes, too many ways that things could go wrong. He’d always been taught to trust his gut and his gut, twisted in a million knots, was telling him that Jessica had very little chance of getting out of this case alive.
Office of Herman Lauder –
“You sure about this chick, boss?” Maurice complained. “She just came out of nowhere and you’ve handed her the keys to the kingdom.”
“Relax my friend. I’ve given her just enough to hang herself. So far, she’s proven to be a valuable asset, but if she’s not on the up and up, it won’t be long before she gets comfortable…”
“…and then she’s mine!”
“Yes, and then she’s yours.”
Herman continued to review the file in front of him. It was the latest financial report that his new CFO had prepared. He liked what he saw, things were looking up and his portfolio had nearly doubled in the last few years especially with the beautiful Jessica Arrellano handling things. She’d set him up to make his next move on the city without being noticed. He assumed that the feds were looking for any irregularities so having her on board made things much easier.
“Relax, here look at the monthly report. She’s good, very good. We have the money we need to move ahead without tipping off the feds.” Herman bragged.
Reluctantly, Maurice took the file and plopped into the seat nearby. He had to admit that the woman was good; maybe too good. Herman was more than his boss he was his best friend and he made sure to always have his back. Maurice kept an eye out for things that could get past Herman, and anything wrapped in a tight ass and a smile often got past him.
“Yeah okay, I’ll admit it; she’s good. Just know I’m going to have your back. If I see anything that looks crazy from Ms. Jessica Arrellano, I’ll be sure to let you know.”
Herman smiled at his friend. The two were closer than brothers and if there was anyone Herman trusted completely it was Maurice.
“I’m sure you will; I’m sure you will.”
Federal Building – Office of SSA Bruce Hammerlind –
“Are you sure you have enough without it looking like we set him up?” Hammerlind asked.
“Yes, but if it’s going to work, we need to create a wedge between Lauder and his right-hand Maurice Jamison. The two are inseparable.” Jessica assured.
“We can’t afford to screw this up, Cortez. One mistake and our case is blown; we’ll never be able to go after him again.”
“I know and I get it. Trust me, if we can get Lauder to think that Jamison has been stealing from him, then his whole house of cards will come tumbling down.”
In spite of what his colleagues thought of him, Bruce Hammerlind believed in what he did for a living. He wanted Lauder to be brought down for the crimes that he and Jamison had committed against the city of Los Angeles. He too believed that he had orchestrated the death of Buck Spivey. He also knew that Jamison not Buck had been the one responsible for shooting Raymont Harris four years ago.
“Jessica, listen to me and listen good.”
Jessica saw the fear in the man’s eyes and for the first time she was afraid too.
“Be careful. Lauder is his father’s son which means he’s very, very dangerous. If he suspects you even in the slightest, you’re dead.”
“I got this…”
“No! I mean it, agent! Be careful!”
“I will, I promise.”
Jessica quickly left the office. She could feel the older man’s eyes on her back as she closed the door. That was the second promise she’d made to be careful; each time she had broken that promise. Two years ago, she’d promised Hondo that she would be careful, but she’d put herself in harm’s way…this time was no different. She knew that one false move with Lauder would mean her life, but she had to bring him down because she had her own reasons for wanting the man behind bars; reasons that she would most likely take to her grave.
Home of Nia Wells – Evening –
Nia pulled the tie from her hair and let her hair fall past her shoulders. She didn’t have time to blow it dry, so her unruly curls would be on their own tonight. Her entire wardrobe littered the floor as she stood dripping wet in the middle of the room still clueless as to what she was going to wear to meet Luca’s father and brother.
“What in the world were you thinking?” She mumbled to herself.
This was insanity; was she ready for this? Were they ready for this? Luca was a good man and with her track record she never expected to last long enough to be meeting his family. But here she was, nervous, clueless and unsure of what to expect.
Home of Dominic Luca –
Luca knew his father and he wondered if this evening was such a good idea. Still, he wanted his family to meet Nia not for their approval; he could care less about anyone’s approval. He wanted them to know that he was happy and that he had proven them and everyone else wrong. Law enforcement had ruined his parent’s marriage years before his mother’s death and his father had told him time and time again that men like them had to make the tough choices, SWAT or family. Most times, family came out on the losing end. He wanted to prove his father wrong about a lot of things and this was only one of them.
Just as Luca pulled the lasagna out of the oven, the doorbell rang. He knew who it was. His father had always told him that if you arrived on time then you were late. His father was never late. So, taking a deep breath he headed toward the front door to begin what would be an eventful evening.
Lauder Enterprises – Evening –
Jessica heard the heavy footsteps behind her just as she was packing to leave for the day. She’d put in a lot of hours over the last several weeks, but she was confident in her performance and Herman seemed pleased with the latest financial reports.
“You still here?”
She turned toward the tall dark-skinned man who had just stepped through the door.
“Yeah, I’m about to head out now.” She answered.
“You from around here?” Maurice asked.
“No, Seattle. My parents moved there from Florida before I started school.”
“I didn’t ask you all that. I just wanted to know if you were from around here.”
“Oh, uh…sorry. I was just making conversation.”
Maurice walked slowly around the office, she hadn’t done much to make it home; no pictures, no certificates or degrees hanging on the walls.
“You know, Arrellano, I don’t trust you.” Maurice began.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“There’s something that’s not quite right about you.”
Jessica turned to face the man who was twice her size.
“Look Maurice, I get it, Mr. Lauder is your friend but I’m just here to do a job and go home for the evening. You and I don’t have to be friends, we just have to make sure that Herman…Mr. Lauder’s business is taken care of, okay?”
Jessica picked up her things and moved passed Maurice. He watched her as she neared the door. Then, slowly he followed her out into the hallway and waited as she locked her office door.
“Is there anything else?” She asked.
“Not for now.” He smiled wickedly. “Let me walk you to your car, I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you…Mr. Lauder….Herman wouldn’t like that.”