Sunday, January 13, 2013

Always & Forever - Chapter Seven

Chase and Madison teamed up to see if they could get any more information about Mr. New Orleans.  Chase called in a few favors and was glued to the computer for most of the day.  Madison followed the tuition trail in hopes of finding names and addresses that way.
With a little assistance from Sawyer, they were able to get a list of companies that were targeted by Morgan's group.  There were two in New Orleans.  One was a small pharmaceutical company.  The other was an old factory.
Chase claimed to have ties in the medical field and jumped on the drug company.  He scurried off to his office and was working on it before Madison could counter him.  Not that she would have, but there was always the temptation to call him out on his connections.  She was yet to meet a single one.
It was almost too simple to get a list of the employees of the factory.  It was a family run, sheet metal fabricating shop.  They specialized in making lockers for schools and display shelving and racks for stores.  A total of forty-seven workers were left without employment.  Many had spent decades there.  And several were second and third generation workers.
Madison sat down at the table with her laptop and scanned the list of employees.  What were the chances of finding the one person out of forty-seven in less than twenty-four hours?  The phone numbers and addresses were up to date according to Sawyer.  Contacts were established when Morgan's case first began.  Each victim was given a chance to give a testimony, either in person or written.  Very few agreed to.  Most never knew they were victims to begin with.
The first twelve phone calls resulted in nothing.  They were answered, but either the person she was looking for was not available or had no idea what she was talking about.  She made a note to return the unavailable calls soon.
"My name is Madison.  I am calling on behalf of Mr. Skyler Andrew concerning your recent transaction with Atlas Corps.  Would you be able to answer a few questions?"
"Skyler who?  Atlas Corps went under six years ago.  I wouldn't exactly call that recent, lady."
While dialing the thirteenth number on the list, Madison made a search on-line for any information about the individual.  Not much came up.  But there was a link to view driver license photos.
Clicking on the link, she entered the name once more and hit enter.
A man's voice came over the line and caught her off guard.  "Hello." 
"Hi.  Hello.  How are you this evening?"
"Fine," he answered.  "May I help you?"
"Yes," she stammered.  "At least, I hope so.  My name is Madison Andrew.  I am calling for Mr. Timothy Sounders on behalf of Skyler Andrew."
"This is Tim."
The picture came up after his answer.  It was the man who brought papers to Skyler the day of their wedding, the balding man who acted so nervously.  Madison could hardly believe her eyes.  "Mr. Sounders?"
"But I'm sorry, I don't know a Skyler Andrew."
She feared he was about to hang up.  "Sir?  Sir!"
There was a moment of silence.  "Ma'am."
"Mr. Sounders, I don't mean to bother you, but you are exactly who I'm needing to speak with.  Please, I just need a few moments of your time."
"I don't know what you're talking about, ma'am."
"I know," she answered, "and I don't blame you.  But we really need your help right now.  Skyler needs your help."
Silence continued.
"You were at our wedding," she started slowly.  "You got the papers we needed.  Thank you."
"Mr. Sounders, I know you don't want to have anything to do with this, and I'm sorry to have to bring this to you, but Skyler is going on trial tomorrow for his part in the Atlas Corps scandal."
"Forgive me, ma'am," he said quietly, "but I believe everyone involved in that mess should be made to answer for it.  They wrecked lives.  Those people had families.  They were left with nothing.  There wasn't even a warning."
"I know," she returned, "and I'm sorry.  I know how hard that can be."
"Do you?"
She thought on her answer.  It was not completely honest.  "Only, I didn't have a family to care for at the time."
"Then you don't know what it's like."
"I do know."  Madison did not want to bring her personal situation into the discussion, but she felt it was already too late for that.  The entire scandal was personal.  Mr. Sounders was right, families suffered.  "I didn't then.  But I do now.  And I need your help to keep my family together."
Silence again.  Madison held her breath.  There was no going back from the direction she had gone.  Either the man felt Skyler was the criminal that had a hand in taking away his family's provisions, or he saw Skyler as the man who supported his family after the loss of a career.
"I'm sorry, ma'am."
"You have two kids in college, am I wrong?"
"Yes, you're wrong."
It felt as if he knocked her legs right out from under her.  That as all she had.  Her hope was founded on his kids' higher educations.  It was something they would undoubtedly not have gotten on a factory worker's salary.
"My only daughter is in college.  She's studying to become a doctor."
A sliver of hoped remained.  She clung to it.  "I'm happy for you.  That is really good to hear."
"Thank you, ma'am," he said with a little more warmth in his tone.  "We're all proud of her."
Madison smiled.  But not just for the relief of knowing she found her witness.  She imagined the smile on his face as a father.  He was able to provide his daughter with what she needed.  She could hear it in his voice.  "That's wonderful.  Congratulations to you all."
"What about you?" Mr. Sounders asked.  "How is your family?"
Her breath eluded her.  She didn't know where to begin.  She didn't want to scare him away by sounding too desperate, but that was what she was.  "Trying to get started," she began, searching for the right words.  "We're trying to have a baby, Skyler and I.  We were working on the nursery."
"Oh, congratulations."
She had to swallow the lump in her throat and took a deep breath to change her approach.  "We're still hoping."
"That is good news," Mr. Sounders said, "but, Mrs. Andrew, I'm not sure I can give you what you are looking for.  I can't say that I like what you're asking of me."
Madison nodded.  "I understand."  She wanted to beg and plead for his help, but she knew that would accomplish nothing.  The man had his reasoning.  It was rational.  Again the right words eluded her.
Mr. Sounders seemed to be having the same difficulty.  He hesitated, puffing out a sigh into the phone.  "What exactly are you wanting from me, Mrs. Andrew?  Be specific."
"Um …” The stammering returned.  "Sir, I need for you to …” Should she give him every last detail she had?  Did he want to know about Skyler being abducted, or the rescheduled hearing, or to know that Skyler was not even planning to fight for his freedom, he already surrendered, and she was the one hunting for a defense?
"Yes.  I'm sorry.  I don't know exactly.  His sentencing hearing has been moved up to tomorrow.  Our attorney is trying to get a little more time, but I don't know how that works.
"I need to find someone who will testify on behalf of Skyler.  I need someone to prove that he does not deserve to be locked away."
"You do understand that he took part in closing down that company, right?  He helped put us all out in one night.  We were left with nothing."
She nodded slowly.  "I know.  And you're right.  But he did not leave you with nothing, sir.  Not really."
"As a whole," Mr. Sanders said in sharp tone.  "I was two years from retiring.  I had friends who were planning to retire the following year.  No one wants to hire a bunch of old men.  We were left with nothing."
Madison cringed.  This man was not going to help Skyler.  If anything, he would probably show up just to make sure he gets the harshest punishment allowed.  "I understand," she answered, "and I'm sorry to hear that.  I know Skyler never wanted anyone to be abandoned like that.  He would have helped everyone if he could."
"He could have.  He could have turned himself in back then.  He could have stopped it before it even happened."
Another blow.  She regretted calling him.  Now she understood why Skyler did not even bother to look for assistance.  No one would come.
"I did not meet Mr. Andrew until after the company was shut down.  I didn't know who he was.  He handed me a piece of paper with some numbers on it and told me to keep it to myself.  I had no idea what it was.  I threw it away.  If I knew what it meant or who he was from the start, I would have called the police.
"My father was the one who found out.  He came across the numbers after I threw them away and he tried to find what they went to.  He tracked it down.  He learned of the trust fund.
"I didn't believe him.  I knew someone was looking to make us take the fall for something.  Someone set us up.  Who leaves strangers with their life savings?  How can someone destroy your livelihood with one hand, and expect you to trust them with the other?"
His reasoning was sound.  "Yes, sir.  I understand."
"I'm not finished," he growled.  "I wanted to turn it all over.  There had to be a way to track him down through the money.  He had no idea who he was messing with.
"So I used some of it to hire a private investigator.  I had his name, phone number, date of birth, everything I needed within two days.  Two days!  He didn't even try to cover his tracks.
"I took all my information and evidence and confronted him.  I told him I was turning him in.  I already phoned the police.  They were on their way.   He was finished."
He paused in his telling.  Madison closed her eyes and held her breath knowing she just complicated things for Skyler.  She was looking for the one person who would stand up for him.  Instead, she found the one person who wanted him thrown in prison.
"Do you know what he said to me?"
Nervous, she bit her lip.  "No, sir."
Another sigh was puffed into the phone.  "He said to make sure we had what we needed from the account."  He paused as if awaiting her reaction.  Madison could think of nothing to say.  She was completely lost.  "What kind of guy hands out bank numbers, doesn't bother to hide it, and couldn't care less if he was locked up?"
He had it right.  That was exactly something Skyler would do.  He felt he was stuck working for Morgan, thus he could only hope for someone to step up and turn him in.  That was his only escape.
"I told him to go," Mr. Sounders went on.  "He took his time.  He explained that the account would probably be suspended for a little while, but then would eventually be up and running again.  He asked me to take it, to use it, no matter where he went."
"He still does," she said without thinking, and then wished she could take it back.
Silence took over.  Madison wanted to bring an end to the call, but was reluctant to speak another word.  Mr. Sounders offered nothing.  He just sat there on the line, letting her squirm in discomfort.
Then he finally spoke up.  "I don't think there is anything I can do for you, Mrs. Andrew.  I don't know what to tell you.  I'm sorry if you thought differently of me.  But his hand outs do not make up for his part in taking down our company."
"Yes, sir.  I understand."
"All right.  Well, congratulations on your family.  I hope things work out for you somehow."
"Yes, sir.  Thank you."
"Take care, Mrs. Andrew."
"Thank you.  You too, sir."
And that was it.  Mr. Sounders hung up and smashed the only plan she had to help Skyler.  It was done.  Over.  They lost.
The sound of Chase's door opening followed the endless silence.  She didn't turn to see if he had any news.  She found the one they were looking for.  Chase would not have had any luck.
"Oh," Chase grunted, "Hi.  I didn't hear you come in."
Madison spun around.  A tall man in a dark suit with a long black coat stood just inside the open doorway.  His buzz-cut, brown hair sparkled with tiny drops of melted snowflakes.  He nodded at Chase, and then shifted his dark brown eyes to Madison.  His expression was blank, giving no hint to his thoughts or intentions.
"You seem busy," he said from his place.  "I can come back another time."
Chase waved away his offer.  "You're here.  Come on in.  We're never too busy to chat with you, Detective Payne."
The detective flashed an appreciative grin.  It was then gone so quickly that Madison thought she might have imagined it.  "I won't be long."
Chase and Detective Payne joined Madison at the table as she straightened the file in her hands.  With a careful and quiet movement, she guided the laptop closed.
She had nothing to hide, but she still felt as if he was looking for something.  She had never spoken with the detective in the past.  All she knew of him was from his dealings with Skyler.  He didn't say anything negative about the detective, but neither did he put faith in him.  In the end, all Payne wanted was to see Morgan Bristow behind bars.
"Madison Addley, I presume."  He said her name as if he was trying to sell her something.  A painted smile tightened his lips.
"Andrew," she corrected.  "Detective Payne."
He bowed his head in greeting.  Light caught the glistening winter water that specked his hair and shoulders of his coat.  "Please, call me Brock."
Chase took the seat beside Madison.  "What can we do for you?"
The detective looked to him and acknowledged his asking.  He shrugged the coat off his broad shoulders and draped it over the chair across from Chase, then slowly sat in the one next to it.  "I heard you were in town," he said to Madison.  "I just thought I'd drop by and see if there was anything I could do for you?"
She shook her head once and forced a kind smile.  "Thank you, sir, but I understand you have done all you can.  Still, I appreciate your coming."
He glanced at Chase, and then returned his gaze to Madison.  "Have you been in town long, Mrs. Andrew?"
"Only a few days, sir."
"May I ask how long you plan to stay here?"
She nodded, and then bit her lip.  "I don't know how long, to be honest, sir.  However long it takes to bring Skyler home."
Payne shifted his attention to Chase.  "I understand you found a lawyer to replace Jones.  I have to say I'm glad to hear it."
Chase shrugged.  "I did what I could.  I'd like to think it would help."
"Sawyer comes well recommended.  I'd say it couldn't hurt.  But, why now?  Why not at the start of Mr. Andrew's trial?"
"We didn't get the chance," Chase answered in a firm tone.  "This all kind of blind sided us.  His trial was scheduled and carried out before we were ready."
"Didn't I tell you about the warrant last week?"
"Yes, you did.  But a week wasn't much time to get everything together.  The prosecution seemed to get the memo a little earlier than we did."
"I understand," Payne conceded.  "I have to agree with you there.  They definitely had a head start."
"Why is that?" Madison spoke up.  "How come we only recently learned about this while the courts apparently knew it was coming?"
His brows arched.  "That, Mrs. Andrew, is what happens when you take on someone like Morgan Bristow.  I don't know exactly how far his reach is, but he is still a major contender in this."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
He steepled his fingers and leaned forward.  His voice lowered as if he was struggling to give her an answer.  "Mr. Bristow has more connections than we originally thought."
"Do you think he has someone inside the courts?"
His eyes narrowed and he clenched his teeth, slower to make a reply.  "I'm not sure.  But I would not rule it out."
That would complicate things.  Madison leaned back in her chair.  She traced the cracks in the laptop casing with her fingertips.  "Can I ask what is being done about that?"
Payne shook his head.  "It is only a theory.  I can't say anything for sure, but I am looking into it."
"What could be done about it … if it turns out that he does?"
"Sawyer could always move for a mistrial."
"I don't think Skyler would go for that," Chase said quietly.  "He plead no contest the first time around.  He wouldn't change it even if he was given the chance."
Madison bowed her head knowing everything he said was true.  It felt as if everything they did to benefit Skyler was met with two setbacks.  How much more could go wrong?
"Then I suggest you do what you can with the situation you have," Payne said.  "You have a very talented attorney on your side and a dedicated group of supporters," he said with a nod at Madison.  "I would say you should go ahead with whatever it is you two were doing.  If Sawyer manages to gain you some time, then you will have that much more going for you."
Madison looked to Chase out the corner of her eye.  "I found Timothy Sounders."
Chase perked up.  "You did?  Did you talk to him?  What did he say?"
She nodded.  "I spoke with him, but he won't help us."  She lowered her eyes.  "He said he believes Skyler should have done more to stop it, that he is just as responsible as the others who were involved."
"That's it?"  Chase tilted his head.  "He won't even help us a little bit?"
She shook her head.
"Now what?"
She shook her head again.  "That was all I had."
"What about the others?  There are two more."
"Two more what?" Payne asked.  His dark eyes shifted from Chase to Madison and back again.
Chase jabbed his fingers through his hair.  "Three people took hefty amounts from that account Skyler set up for some of Bristow's victims.  One was Mr. Sounders.  His was the most recent."
"You were able to trace it to him?"  Payne sounded surprised.
"Yes, sir," Madison answered as she raised her head.  "I guess we'll have to find one of the others now."
"It wasn't that hard," Chase said with a smirk.  "A few bank statements, match it up with locations of companies Bristow stomped on, and run through the payroll list.  Sooner or later, you get a witness."
"You didn't even try," said Madison quietly, "did you?"
Payne looked even more surprised.  "Mrs. Andrew, I assure you, we did everything we could to find a way to help your husband.  He would not give us the names of the people making withdrawals from that account.  I told him we would not interfere with it, but he just wouldn't cooperate."
"So you let him be prosecuted like another one of Bristow's men?"
"No, ma'am," he answered quickly.  "I did all I could.  I told him what we needed.  He worked with us to a point."
"What point would that be?"
He clenched his teeth again.  Payne's eyes darted to Chase, then back to Madison.  "I told him we needed to question you and the victims he had contact with after each job.  He gave us neither."
"So that's it.  He's no different from the rest of the goon squad?"  She didn't mean to sound hateful, but that's how it came out.
Payne's look was just shy of a glare.  "I told him what would happen.  I gave him every chance I could.  It was out of my hands."
"And if I agree to the questioning and give you the names of those accessing the account?"
He blinked and immediately softened.  "I don't know.  It's beyond me.  We can always try."
Madison shifted forward, leaning on the table to meet Payne's gaze.  "Could you tell me what you think?  Do you believe he's a criminal?"
Chase took a deep breath beside her.  He seemed to hold it in as Payne thought over his answer.  Madison bit her lip.  It was beginning to feel raw from the habit.
Payne finally shook his head.  "He took part in criminal activity.  That cannot be ignored.  But I don't think that's who Mr. Andrew is.  So, no ma'am, I don't believe your husband is a criminal."
Though she knew the detective's opinion would not add much weight to Skyler's case, she was glad to hear him say the words.  She knew Skyler, his heart and soul.  She loved him for all she was worth.  Perhaps she was not objective enough.  But for Payne to agree with her, that let her hold onto a twinge of hope, no matter how small it was.
"With that said," Payne went on, "I also believe you might be facing the same predicament.  Your name has come up on both sides of our investigation.  Skyler did a good job keeping you from us, but he is out of the picture now.  You need to be careful.  The fewer people who know you are here, the better."
Chase cleared his throat.  "Are you saying Madison could be in trouble, too?"
Payne nodded.  "I don't need to remind you of the Meredith Turner adventure, do I?"
Madison looked to Chase and shook her head.  "No, sir.  I understand."
"There isn't much I can do there, either."
She continued to nod.  "I understand."
"Are you planning on going to the hearing in the morning?"
"Yes, sir."
Payne looked to Chase, who nodded.  "Could I make a suggestion?"
They both agreed with another nod.
"It might be best for you to keep to the back of the room.  Don't do anything to draw attention to yourself.  And I know Skyler is not a fan of you being here, so give him some space.  It might be best for him to think you've gone back to Caicos.  He needs to be himself tomorrow to get on the judge's good side.  If he's being his overly-protective-guardian-of-Madison version, he won't be gaining anyone’s approval.  We need the business Skyler in that courtroom tomorrow."
"That's a few suggestions," Chase said with a chuckle.
Payne pointed at him.  "And make sure to get her out of there as soon as it is over.  I don't want you two hanging around outside this apartment much more than what's absolutely necessary.  Bristow still has his ties.  He knows too many people even now."
Chase raised his hand.  "Yeah, about that.  Are you more worried about this Bristow character or the law looking for Madison?"
It was a good question, but Madison turned to him wide eyed.  She gaped at him for a moment, and then snapped her mouth shut.  She didn't know if she wanted to know the answer.  Neither sounded like anything she wanted to tangle with.
Payne took a deep breath and leaned forward resting his elbows on the table.  He looked down at the smooth top, his eyes following the bends and waves of the wood grain.  "I can't answer that.  Both could be trouble.  Just stay out of sight.  Don't rule out going home."
Madison exchanged nervous glances with Chase.  It still was not an answer she liked.  Why was it so difficult for her and Skyler to disappear?

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