Blizzard: A Sebastian Scott novel (excerpt)
The majority of the floors dedicated to Quasar Financial Services was darkened and quiet, as one would expect at after ten p.m. on a weeknight. Only the light and movement from Nigel Pierre’s cubicle dispelled the otherwise library-worthy conditions on his floor. He went back through the paperwork for the derivative loan swaps for both Cauldrice Properties and Landries Real Estate Group for the third time, and yet again he was confused. According to their financial profiles, each company had a loan on their respective office buildings: Cauldrice had a fixed-rate loan, while Landries opted for an adjustable rate mortgage, or ARM. These two entities agreed to do a loan swap for five years. This was normal in the world of corporate real estate, and one of the many financial services that Quasar provided its clients. However, the normal interest rate on a loan swap of this nature was 5.75%, especially since the current London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR, was .04214% for one year. Yet the interest rate listed on the paperwork for the Cauldrice-Landries swap was listed as 15%. Even though Nigel had little practical, real-world investment banking experience, having come to Quasar after a two-year stint at his family’s food business, he still didn’t understand why the interest rate was almost three times what it should be for a swap of this nature. He may not have been the brightest financial mind at the firm, but he knew when numbers were being padded.
Nigel shuffled the stack of papers until he found the signed contracts for services. From the very beginning, the inflated figures were pervasive throughout the paperwork, which meant that they were deliberate. Nigel even pulled up the electronic contracts to double-check, but they matched what was on the hard copies. That didn’t bother Nigel; he had a younger cousin who was very good with computers, and he’d always told Nigel that a computer will tell you what you want, as long as you input the necessary data to produce your desired result; and that electronic files were rather easy to manipulate. But why? Who would put Quasar at risk with such a fraudulent transaction? If the Securities Exchange Commission found out, Quasar would be shut down, its Dun and Bradstreet and Moody’s credit profiles would take a nosedive, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation would probably jump into the fray to investigate the possibility of fraudulent activity under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The Internal Revenue Service would get what was left.
Nigel thought hard as he typed up his suspicions, copied and pasted supporting evidence, and saved it all to his personal folder on his hard drive. He made photocopies of the contracts and other paperwork and stuffed them into his satchel. He was ready to present what he had to someone who could actually do something about it, if his suspicions were true. But who? The lead on the Cauldrice account was Jeffrey Nixon, one of the junior partners at the firm—who happened to be the best friend and fraternity brother of Nathaniel “Trey” Jacobson III. Trey was the lead on the Landries account, the other junior partner, and the son of the firm’s founder and Chief Executive Officer, Nathaniel “Nate” Jacobson, Jr. Nigel knew he had to tread lightly; accusing the son of the firm’s owner and CEO of wrongdoing would require airtight evidence. Right now, Nigel had just enough information to be dangerous, but nothing that couldn’t be explained away, if you knew what you were doing. And Trey Jacobson had a very keen financial mind, even if he was a bit lazy. One false move could mean the unemployment line for Nigel.
Maybe Nigel should wait for Malcolm Jennings to return. Malcolm was a senior partner at Quasar and Nigel’s assigned mentor at Quasar. He also had Nate Jacobson’s ear. Word on the curb was that Malcolm was more of Nate’s son, business-wise, than Trey would ever be; hence the friction between the two men. He nodded to himself; Malcolm would know what to do and since he and Trey were barely civil, Nigel wouldn’t have to worry about Malcolm stabbing him in the back. Unfortunately for Nigel, Malcolm was out of town working on a loan swap between a museum and a shopping complex in Miami, Florida, and wouldn’t be back in the office until the following week. He wouldn’t take too kindly to Nigel contacting him in Florida, either; Malcolm’s hair-trigger temper was legendary.
Nigel stretched and rose; he needed to use the bathroom before he got on the subway and headed home to the rented top floor of the Brooklyn brownstone where he and his family lived. As he headed down the hallway to the men’s room, he heard voices coming from an adjacent hallway. Nigel frowned; the cleaning crew didn’t arrive till around eleven o’clock, and they worked until three a.m. That particular long hallway housed the wing of offices for the Quasar executives, or E-Team, including Nate, Malcolm, Trey, Jeffrey, and Curtis Harris, the other senior partner. Nigel shrugged; it was none of his business. After relieving himself, Nigel was on his way back to his cubicle to gather his things when he heard the voices again, and the names “Landries” and “Cauldrice.”
Curious, Nigel crept down the hall, past the empty desk of the executive assistant whom Trey and Jeffrey shared. His shoes were relatively silent on the thick carpeting of the executive wing. The conversation came from Trey’s office, where light peeked through a crack in the door. Nigel got closer to listen.
“We good for tomorrow?” Trey’s deep voice boomed. “Cauldrice is coming at 2, and Landries at 3:30.”
“Why did you set the appointments for tomorrow?” Nigel recognized the quavery tenor as belonging to Jeffrey. “We won’t have all of the money in time.”
“Jesus.” Trey’s voice dripped with disapproval. “Jeff, you my boy, but I’mma need you to grow a pair.”
“It’s just…what if we get caught?”
“The point of using Quasar for this transaction is to avoid suspicion, correct? With a transaction of this nature, we never give all the money up front. We give them one payment tomorrow, and instructions on how to get the rest later. They’ll give us our payment at the same time. Simple, fast, easy.”
“What about Nigel Pierre?”
Nigel started at the mention of his name.
“The financial analyst on the account. Coming up on his second year at Quasar, used to work over in the Credit Risk Management department, under Nell George? Tallish, slim, quiet, grey eyes. Stares at Assata a lot.”
“Oh, him.” Trey dismissed Nigel in those two syllables. “Nervous Nigel. He jumps if anyone looks at him the wrong way. What about him?”
“He’s the analyst on the account. If we leave him out of the loop, it’ll look suspicious.”
“I buried him in paper and sent him on a research goose chase. He won’t bother us until the deals are done.”
“What if he tells Malcolm? He’s Malcolm’s assigned mentee, after all.”
“Tell Malcolm what? That a company executive gave him something to do while Malcolm is out of town? Nigel can whine about some kindergarten stuff like that if he wants to; he’s only at Quasar because of the IPO.”
“But if he figures out…”
“He won’t. He can barely figure out how to do a PowerPoint presentation.”
A jangling noise broke the ensuing silence. Nigel had heard that noise before; it happened when Jeffrey, who always kept his car keys in his pocket, jittered his leg in nervousness, which tended to be right before he had to give a presentation to Nate. “I don’t know about all this, Trey…”
“What’s there to know? You’re the lead on Cauldrice, I’m the lead on Landries. It’s quite normal, and even expected, for us to meet with our clients. As for the Blizzard, that’s why we’re doing things the way we’re doing them, so there’s no blowback on us.”
Blizzard? Nigel’s forehead creased in confusion. It’s October; we’re not due to get any snow for a while yet.
“I-I-I’m just saying that maybe we should do these deals another way,” Jeffrey stuttered. “I mean, using firm funds is way too risky. I-I don’t want to go to prison.”
“Fine.” Trey’s voice was frosty. “You are more than welcome to keep slaving away for less than $200,000 per year, in a firm that will never reach the heights that any of the top-ten—hell, even the top-twenty—firms will. So since you’re having an attack of your conscience all of a sudden, why don’t you just sit this one out? Meanwhile, you can return the over $5 million in inflated percentages that you’ve collected on previous deals. Better yet, why don’t you call the IRS and tell them the number to your account in the Caymans, where those funds are hiding?I’ll wait.”
Silence, then Jeff said, “Trey, man…we’re not just padding percentages to skim some extra off the top anymore. That, I didn’t sweat because the way the U.S. legal system is set up, the most we’d get if we got caught is probation and a fine, maybe make restitution. But this…this is major, man. This is Con Air territory.”
Nigel knew that Con Air was the name of a movie about hard-core federal prisoners on a hijacked plane; he’d seen it before on cable TV, and enjoyed it. A bead of sweat trickled down his spine. Were Trey and Jeffrey involved in something even more illegal than rigging a loan swap? Was it this blizzard? Was it occurring in a cold, snowy location? Quasar had clients in Sweden, Norway, Japan, and Germany; maybe whatever was going on had origins in one of those countries.
“Look, Jeff, haven’t I looked out for you so far? This is what we were born to do, man,” Trey cajoled. “This is what we deserve.” His voice lowered with urgency. “I need you with me on this, man. I can’t do it by myself, and there isn’t anyone else I can trust with this.”
Nigel heard Jeff give a heartfelt sigh. “Alright, man. I’m still in.”
“That’s what I like to hear.”
The office door swung open suddenly, and Nigel stumbled backward up the hallway. The carpeting was so thick that Nigel hadn’t even heard Trey approach his office door. Trey walked out and stopped short at seeing Nigel there. “Nigel,” he greeted in a pleasant tone that belied the glower on his face.
“Uh, hi, Trey.” Nigel tried not to swallow, but the nervous lump in his throat made him want to gasp for air.
“You’re working late.”
“Uh, yeah, just working on that research you gave me.”
“You’re a diligent man. What are you doing over here in the E-wing? Your cube is on the other hallway.”
“I was using the restroom and I heard voices on my way back. I didn’t know anyone else was here, this time of night, and I wanted to make sure that no one was trying to steal anything, or needed help in some way.” Nigel knew he was babbling, but the look on Trey’s face made him need to go to the restroom again.
“A company man through and through.” Trey’s gaze was cold and dark.
Nigel’s stomach lurched. “I try to be.”
The soft, overhead hall lights cast Trey’s prominent eyebrow ridge in stark relief, making his eyes sink even farther in his face. The shadows lent an almost demonic quality to Trey’s face.“You have a wife and kids, right?”
“Uh, yeah. Two kids, a boy and a girl.”
“You should probably be at home with them. This is no place for a family man. I’m sure they’d miss you if something happened to you.” Trey crossed his arms across his chiseled chest, and his biceps bulged beneath the sleeves of his pale blue dress shirt. He was a dedicated gym rat who still retained most of his football physique from his college days at Florida A&M University.
Nigel recognized that Trey was giving an order, not a suggestion, and the implied threat was equally clear. “I was just on my way out.”
“Don’t let me keep you.”
“Right. Uh, good night.” Nigel hurried back up the hallway toward his cubicle. He looked over his shoulder once and was disconcerted to see Trey still standing there, watching his departure. He logged off his computer, gathered his things, and left the building as quickly as possible.
Trey went back into his office, a thoughtful look on his face.
“Who were you talking to?” Jeffrey asked.
“Nigel Pierre. Speak of the devil.”
“Nigel? What’s he still doing here, this time of night?”
“Better yet, why was he outside my door, listening?”
Jeffrey frowned. “You think he was eavesdropping on our conversation?”
“Yeah. He tried to play it off like he heard a noise and was making sure everything was okay.” Trey shook his head. “He’s a poor liar.”
Jeff’s leg jittered again, and the jangling sound of his keys filled the air once more. “What are we going to do?”
Trey sat down at his computer and punched keys on his keyboard. “He said he was working on the research I gave him. Let’s see if that’s true.”
Jeffrey came around the desk to look over Trey’s shoulder. “You’re hacking into his files? How? You don’t have his password.”
“I have everyone’s password, except those on the E-team.” Trey typed some more, then stared at his screen. “Hm. Looks like Nigel was working on a document that he saved about thirty minutes ago, on his personal folder on the company server.” Trey copied the document to his hard drive, so that the time stamp wouldn’t change on Nigel’s end, and opened it. What he saw made his stomach clench. “Well, well. Nigel has been a busy bee.”
Jeffrey’s panic increased with each word he read over Trey’s shoulder. “He was compiling evidence! I thought you said he wouldn’t figure anything out?”
“He only has part of the picture. Still, if he’s gotten this far, he could very well stumble across some things we’ve tried to keep hidden. I’m surprised he’s gotten as much as he has. Maybe I’ve underestimated him.” Trey leaned back his chair and stared at a replica of a 1970s lava lamp on the corner of this desk. Watching the green blobs slowly form and reform in the clear liquid calmed him down and helped him think. “We need to shut him down.”
“How? He hasn’t done anything that warrants disciplinary action, from a work performance perspective; besides, he’d fight it with Human Resources, which would bring more scrutiny upon us.”
Trey stared at the lamp a while longer, then smiled a cruel smile. “I know what to do. Leave it to me.”
Two days later, Nigel breathed easier as more time elapsed between his late-night encounter with Trey. Trey hadn’t said anything to him since, other than to thank him for the assigned research that Nigel had completed and turned in. Nigel passed Jeffrey downstairs in the building lobby, but the other man didn’t see him. Nigel was grateful for the lack of attention; being on Trey’s bad side was not a good place to be. In fact, any negative attention from the executive team was to be avoided.
Nigel eyed the clock on his computer with relief, as the minutes wound down toward quitting time and the start of the weekend. He was especially looking forward to this weekend, as his grandparents were visiting from Trinidad for the first time in over ten years, and his family was having a reunion of sorts. Aunts, uncles, and cousins were traveling from all parts of the United States, and even overseas, for the occasion. This would be the first time that his grandparents would meet Nigel’s children, their great-grandchildren, as well. As soon as Nigel finished the potential client profile he was working on, he’d go home, get his wife Priscilla and the kids, then head to his Aunt Janelle Pierre Scott’s house in Brooklyn, where his grandparents were staying.
Nigel had just shut down his computer when he heard distant yells and gasps. Heavy steps thundered down the passageway outside his cubicle. Nigel looked up into the barrel of a handgun.
“DEA! Get your hands up! Up! Show me your hands!”
Nigel raised his hands slowly as he was yanked from his chair. His face pressed against the textured fabric wall of his cubicle as the DEA agent pinned him there; the gun was still pointed at Nigel’s head. A second agent came in behind him and started rifling through Nigel’s desk and his horizontal file cabinet, pulling out drawers and letting the contents spill across the floor.
“What’s this about?” Nigel mumbled against the wall. “I didn’t do anything.”
“We got an anonymous tip that you were dealing drugs from your cubicle, Mr. Pierre.”
“I beg your pardon?” It was hard to muster shocked outrage when your face was mashed against a wall, but Nigel managed to do so.
The second agent was now feeling around the empty spaces where the drawers once resided. When he got to the metal vertical file cabinet in the corner, he pulled at the middle drawer, which seemed stuck. “This seems to be caught on something.” He managed to wedge his wrist between the narrow opening and felt around to find the source of the obstruction. He tugged until he felt something come loose, and the drawer popped open with ease. The Special Agent removed a brown paper-wrapped rectangular package, about the size of a fruit cake. He peeled back the paper to reveal iridescent whiteness. “Got it,” he crowed as he resumed his search with renewed vigor.
His partner nodded and holstered his gun. “Nigel Pierre, you’re under arrest for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. You have the right to remain silent.” The cool steel of handcuffs closed painfully around Nigel’s wrists. “Anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law.” He frog-marched Nigel into the passageway. “You have the right to an attorney, and to have one present during any questioning. If you do not have an attorney, one will be appointed to you free of charge.” By this time, they had arrived in the main lobby of Quasar. “Do you understand these rights as they have been recited to you?”
Quasar employees had poured out of their offices at the arrival of the DEA agents. Nigel’s fellow cubicle denizens popped up and down, prairie-dog style, as they tried to peek over the cubicle walls to see what was happening. They whispered and stared at the spectacle of Nigel being hauled off in handcuffs. Other DEA agents darted in and out of Nigel’s cubicle, leaving with his computer hard drive, boxes of documents, and books they’d taken from his file cabinets, drawers and tiny bookshelf. Yellow crime scene tape was draped across the opening to Nigel’s cubicle after an agent left with one last box. Documentation declaring the cubicle as an official federal crime scene, under the authority of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and barring illegal entry, was affixed to the tape. Nigel searched the crowd for a friendly face but could find none. He noticed Trey standing in the rear of the crowd, his hands in his pockets and a self-satisfied smirk on his face.
“Do you understand these rights as they have been recited to you?” The DEA agent shook Nigel’s arm as the phrase was repeated. Nigel nodded as he struggled not to cry. He was shuttled past the shocked, tear-streaked face of Assata, the firm’s receptionist, and out of the office.
“I don’t understand,” Papa Pierre said. “Nigel does not have this in him. There must have been a mistake.” Some nodded in agreement.
“Nigel is a good boy,” Joseph said. His pipe smoldered in a nearby ashtray. “He’s never touched drugs, not once in his life. And he’s never stolen anything.”
“He stole my Optimus Prime figurine when we were younger, but I won’t mention that,” Dante murmured in a voice that only those nearest him could here.
“Let it go, Tay,” Tia advised as she tried to hold back a snicker.
“Well, they must have had sufficient evidence to arrest him,” Victoria commented. “They didn’t just pick him up on a whim. Don’t these drug raids take time to coordinate?”
Sebastian kept his mouth shut. He knew all too well that the American jails were full of people who were incarcerated with no solid proof.
Footsteps echoed in the foyer, then a stocky man with close-cropped hair appeared. “What’s up, good people?” Alexander Townsend said in his gravelly baritone. He clapped Jonathan and Dante on the shoulders and gave Tia a one-armed hug while kissing her cheek. He picked up on the somber vibe in the room. “What’s going on? Something happen?”
“Alex!” Janelle walked over and hugged the man who was a second son to her and Stephen. Alex, a native of the Bronx, had frequently spent his Christmas and summer vacations with the Scotts during his college days, when he and Sebastian were roommates. “I am glad you’re here.”
“Glad to see you too, Mama Scott.” Alex gently extricated himself from the death grip his surrogate mother had around his ribs. “Hey, Pops.” He waved at Stephen, then looked back down at Janelle. “Now, what’s going on?”
Janelle sighed. “Sebastian’s cousin Nigel is in jail for possession of cocaine.”
“Excuse me?” Alex blinked, as if he hadn’t heard her correctly. “Nigel is in jail? For cocaine?” He’d had the misfortune to encounter Nigel on occasion, over the years, and he understood why Sebastian didn’t like him. The man was whiny and weak, and loved to play the victim. Still, this was out of character for what Alex knew of Nigel.
“Yes. And he needs an attorney.”
“Whoa, Mama Scott,” Alex protested. He held up his hands in a “stop” gesture. “I practice family law, not criminal. Divorces, not drugs.”
“But you passed the bar in New York, correct? And you’ve kept your license current?”
“Yeah,” Alex said slowly. He had always figured he might end up back in New York someday, so he sat for the bar exam there as well as California. “But I don’t have very much experience with criminal cases, especially of this magnitude.” Alex hadn’t so much as thought about a criminal case since he clerked for the United States Magistrate Judge at the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, after graduating from UC Berkeley law school. In Los Angeles, divorces were plentiful and allowed him to live the lifestyle to which he had happily become accustomed.
“You clerked for the federal court in Washington, did you not?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t really matter for a local case. You just need a local criminal attorney who can handle this.”
“Nigel got arrested by the DEA,” Sebastian said.
“What?” Alex whipped around to stare at Sebastian. “Federal charges?”
“Yes,” Janelle confirmed. “Can you sit in as Nigel’s attorney until we find one that deals with this sort of thing?”
Alex cursed to himself. He really did not want to handle a criminal case, especially a federal criminal case, and particularly a federal criminal case with Nigel as a client. He also knew better than to cross Mama Scott, not that he wanted to. He loved her dearly; she was the mother he never had and he would gladly take a bullet for her. “I’ll see what I can do,” he hedged. He silently promised himself to call some folks he knew, and the American Bar Association, to find someone else who can take this case.
“Good,” Janelle said as she stood with her hands on her hips. “Now that that’s sorted, Alex, you can work with Sebastian after he visits the DEA and finds out what happened.”
Sebastian stared at his mother. “I beg your pardon?”
“You are going down to the DEA tomorrow and find out what is the meaning of these charges against Nigel.” Her tone indicated that there was to be no further discussion in this matter.
Sebastian was expecting something like this. “First of all, Mom, I’m on vacation. Second of all, I work in San Francisco, not New York.”
“But you’re a federal law enforcement agent,” Trackie piped up around a mouthful of roti. His metabolism was so fast that he ate around the clock. “It doesn’t matter where you are based. You have jurisdiction anywhere in the United States and its territories.”
“Did I ask you?” Sebastian glared at Trackie. Trackie smiled back and resumed eating. Sebastian looked back at his mother. “Thirdly, Mom, I can’t just go over to the local field division office and ask about Nigel’s case.”
“Because it isn’t done, Mom. It’d be like sending a message that I don’t think they know what they are doing, so I’m going to stick my nose in and help them do it. It’s considered rude and poor form, professionally. From a law enforcement perspective, for all intents and purposes, it’s none of my business. Especially since Nigel is a relative.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Lisa Pierre, Nigel’s mother, argued. “What about professional courtesy?”
“Aunt Lisa, how does the DEA know that I won’t tell Nigel, or anyone else, about his case? About evidence, strategy, or whatever I could to help him beat these charges?”
“Because you won’t. You’re just trying to help Nigel.”
Sebastian shook his head in frustration. His family did not understand the way that federal law enforcement worked. “I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
Lisa slumped with dejection in her chair, while Joseph put an arm around her to comfort her. Conversations buzzed around the room in low tones.
Alex walked over to Sebastian and they exchanged a complicated handshake. “Good to see you, man,” Sebastian said. “As you can see, I could use some backup.”
“Man, what did I just walk into?” Alex whistled beneath his breath. “I’m still tripping that Nigel caught a federal charge. How much did they find on him?”
“I don’t know, but Priscilla said they got him on distribution and trafficking.”
“Trafficking too? That’s crazy. Nigel couldn’t distribute a newspaper, let alone coke.”
“Well, the feds think he could, and did, which is why he’s sitting in the county jail right now. He’s got a magistrate hearing in the morning.”
Priscilla Pierre, Nigel’s wife, overheard Sebastian’s latter comment, since it came during a lull in the room’s conversations. “In the morning?” she shrieked. “Nigel said that he was being arraigned tomorrow! I thought it would be later in the day.”
Sebastian shook his head. “This is a federal case, which means a preliminary hearing in the Magistrate Court. The magistrate judge tends to hold bail hearings in the morning. Court starts at nine a.m.” He shot a pointed look at Alex.
Alex pinched the bridge of his nose. “Looks like I’ll be making phone calls sooner than I expected.” He pulled out his cell phone and started scrolling through his contacts.
Sebastian exhaled loudly at the evaporation of what he thought would be a pleasant, family-oriented vacation. The family orientation would still be there, but not quite in the way he’d anticipated. He really didn’t like Nigel.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tee Emdee is the pen name of a cult-favorite fiction author, under which she writes thriller/suspense novels. A graduate of Georgetown University, she resides in Georgia with a room full of books, a steadily increasing collection of culinary gadgets, and a polydactyl (Hemingway) grey tabby. You can find Tee Emdee hanging out at online workshops such as NaNoWriMo and Clarion, when she isn’t paying homage to her past career as a chef by whipping up homemade goodies.
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