Authors: Matthew Storm
said Oliver, feeling a bit confused. What were the odds of this? After some
thought, he had to admit that the odds were pretty good, actually. San
Francisco didn’t have a huge number of tourist destinations and several of the
major ones were nearby. Union Square and the Ferry Building were within easy
walking distance. The cable cars ran through this area, and Fisherman’s Wharf
would only be a fifteen-minute ride away. The man in the Hawaiian shirt was
obviously a tourist, given his attire. He was probably just out seeing the
Mexican food,” the man told him.
Well, the burritos are good here,” said Oliver.
yeah? Thanks, buddy,” the man smiled.
left the restaurant with a shrimp burrito in a small plastic bag. San Francisco
had banned plastic bags from grocery stores some time ago, he remembered. Had
that applied to restaurants as well? He wasn’t sure.
hadn’t lifted and it was starting to get windy. Oliver wished he’d brought his
jacket along. It had been overcast all day and now the sky was threatening to
the man in the Hawaiian shirt said it was going to be hot, back on the train?
Oliver frowned. It hadn’t occurred to him at the time, but rain had been in the
forecast for several days. It hadn’t been hot in the city for weeks. What an
odd thing to have said. Oliver pondered it for a moment. So the man had been
wrong. Fair enough. He was a tourist and was probably unfamiliar with the
weather here. But what a silly thing to be wrong about, especially when he had
just been standing outside waiting for a train. Even once on board, all you had
to do to check the weather was look through the window.
his firm’s 47
floor lobby, Oliver noticed a visitor sitting in the
waiting area. The man wore a black suit with a fierce-looking red tie and had a
stern demeanor Oliver had seen in other men before. He was probably a process
server, or some kind of federal inspector. Everything about him said “official
business,” and probably unpleasant business at that. Someone at his firm was
about to have a very bad day. He felt sorry for whoever
the firm’s receptionist, was a cheerful redhead in her mid-forties. Oliver had
never seen her without a smile, but now she was biting her bottom lip
nervously. “Mr. Jones?” she asked, just as he was about to pass by.
frowned. Donna always called him by his first name. “What is it, Donna?”
looked toward the waiting area. “There’s someone here to see…”
Jones?” Oliver turned to see the man in the black suit had risen and was now
standing directly in front of him, close enough the Oliver could feel the man’s
cool breath on his face. He took a short step back as the man held up his
identification. “Hilary Teasdale. Securities and Exchange Commission.”
Oliver said. He extended his hand, which Mr. Teasdale shook pleasantly. The
other man’s skin was dry and smooth and felt oddly thin, like paper.
pleasure to meet you,” Mr. Teasdale said. “Do you have a moment to talk? I just
have a few questions for you.”
Oliver said, trying to hide his surprise. What could this be about? Oliver had
been with another firm several years ago when a group of SEC investigators had
come calling. That visit had ended with two senior bankers being led away in
handcuffs and the eventual collapse of that firm. But Oliver hadn’t done
anything wrong, or even questionable, in his entire career. Not that he knew
of, at least. His work may have been boring, but it was entirely honest. He
looked at Donna questioningly. “Is there a conference room free?”
she said. All the firm’s conference rooms were named after cities in
California. Sausalito was the smallest, tucked away in a corner. It was the
least showy and hence wasn’t used all that often.
private?” Mr. Teasdale asked. Oliver glanced at him, his brow wrinkling in
confusion. “That is, it would be best right now if nobody saw us talking,”
continued Mr. Teasdale. “It might raise suspicions. Ah, questions, that is.”
close the door,” Oliver said. “There aren’t any windows. Donna, I guess, hold
my calls?” Oliver had never told anyone to hold his calls in his life. Did
people still say that?
Mr. Jones.” She watched the men as they started down the hall. Oliver knew that
the moment they were out of earshot she’d be on the phone to one of the senior
partners. Or quite possibly
of the senior partners. Mr. Teasdale’s
questions weren’t the only ones he was going to be answering today
conference room was only a short walk away. Nobody gave Oliver or his visitor a
second look as they went down the hallway. It wasn’t unusual for Oliver to meet
representatives of the firms he was researching in his office for personal
interviews. “Do you work out of the San Francisco office?” Oliver asked Mr.
Teasdale, although he wasn’t sure whether the SEC had a field office in the
all over,” Mr. Teasdale replied.
you be here long?”
don’t think this will take very long at all.”
felt the knot in his stomach start to melt away. That was exactly what he had
hoped to hear. Serious SEC investigations tended to be exhaustive. There was no
such thing as a short meeting if criminal activity was suspected. This was
probably about some paperwork mix-up. An unsigned form or a box checked where
it shouldn’t have been. He might still have his job at the end of the day.
the other man made him uneasy. There was something just…
They reached the conference room and Oliver stole another glance at the man’s
face as he held open the door. There was the problem, he thought. The man’s
skin didn’t seem to fit quite right. It was almost as if he was wearing some
Hollywood-type mask to make himself look like someone else. A disguise. Oliver
recalled that there had been a string of bank robberies in Southern California
recently with that as the
. Some crafty thief had been
disguising himself as an old man to fool the police into looking for someone
that looked nothing like him. It was a clever idea, Oliver thought. Had they ever
caught that guy?
shut the conference room door behind them. They were alone now. Mr. Teasdale
looked around appraisingly. It was a simple room. There was a single rectangular
wooden table surrounded by six leather chairs. A speakerphone console sat in
the center of the table, and a rarely-used videoconferencing system had been
pushed into the corner of the room. Oliver couldn’t remember the last time
anyone had needed to use it. It had been purchased in the heady
days when everyone had been flush with cash, and had been gathering dust ever
good,” Mr. Teasdale said, looking carefully at the ceiling. “I notice no
security cameras in the room. None on the walls, and none in the ceiling. Is
that also your understanding, Mr. Jones?”
frowned. “No, not in the conference rooms.” He thought about it. “Ah…there are
some out front, in reception, and in the hallways. And on the trading floor, of
course, but not in here.” Was that a problem? Could that be why Teasdale was
here? “Do we need them?” Oliver asked. “I know the firm takes SEC regulations
very seriously, so if we’re violating some rule, I’m sure we’ll fix it right
that’s quite all right.” Mr. Teasdale sat his briefcase down on the table and
opened it. “I suppose you’re wondering what all this is about?” he asked.
course,” Oliver said.
Teasdale removed a small device the size and shape of a smartphone from his
briefcase. He thumbed a switch on its side and Oliver could hear it begin to
that?” Oliver asked. “Did you want to record our conversation? I should
probably ask Legal to join us, then.”
going to record anything,” Mr. Teasdale said. “The whole point is not to. Hence
the question about the cameras.”
what is that thing?” Oliver gestured at the device, which was humming louder
Wait a minute
, he thought. What had Teasdale just said about not
know what a Taser is, I assume?” Mr. Teasdale asked.
course I know what a Taser is.”
bit like that,” Mr. Teasdale allowed. Then he pressed the end of the device
firmly against Oliver’s chest and pressed the trigger.
was thrown backward as if he had just been kicked by a horse. His skin burned.
He felt like his entire body had been dunked in gasoline and then set ablaze
all at once. Then, as quickly as it had come, the pain was gone. Oliver found
himself lying on the floor, numb. He was unable to move; his arms and legs felt
like they had the consistency of jelly.
Teasdale was standing over him. He looked down at Oliver with a gentle
expression. “I am sorry about that, Mr. Jones, but I do need you to be still
for the next part.”
Oliver said. His lips refused to form words and his tongue felt like it was the
size of a sweatsock.
suppose so,” nodded Mr. Teasdale. He went to the table and placed the Taser
device, or whatever it was, back in his briefcase, then removed a small
earth was going on? Oliver wanted to scream, to call out for security, or the
police, or anyone at all, but the wind had been knocked out of him and he could
barely make a sound.
Teasdale returned to where Oliver lay and knelt down carefully next to his legs.
He gently slipped off Oliver’s left shoe, followed by the sock. He glanced up
at Oliver’s questioning face. “Heart attack,” he said, holding up the syringe
so Oliver could see it. “Don’t worry, Mr. Jones. It won’t hurt.” Mr. Teasdale
frowned thoughtfully. “Well, that’s not exactly true. It will hurt quite a lot.
But it will be over very quickly.” He spread Oliver’s first and second toes apart
and aimed the syringe carefully at the web of skin between them.
felt his skin beginning to tingle. Sensation was returning to his arms and
legs, albeit slowly. He couldn’t move his fingers, but he was able to force his
mouth to form one word: “Why?”
Mr. Teasdale nodded. “Why.” He shrugged. “I honestly have no idea. It’s just a
job, Mr. Jones.”
desperately tried to kick his left leg away from the other man, but it was his
right leg that moved. Mr. Teasdale looked at him in surprise. “Impressive,” he
said. “I’ve never seen anyone recover from my stunner that quickly. It won’t be
quickly enough, of course.” He moved the needle to within a hair’s breadth of
the space between Oliver’s toes.
about to die, Oliver thought. What a stupid thing to have happen. But an
instant before Mr. Teasdale could give him the injection, the conference room
door flew open. Oliver tried to turn his head. Someone must have heard him
fall, he thought. He was saved! But it was the man in the Hawaiian shirt that
was standing there in the doorway. He held a small pistol aimed at Mr.
Teasdale’s head. “Drop it,” he said.
Teasdale regarded the newcomer with interest. “Curiouser and curiouser,” he
said. “What are
syringe down,” the man in the Hawaiian shirt said.
know that’s not going to kill me,” Mr. Teasdale said. “Leave now and I’ll…”
me!” cried Oliver, finally finding his voice.
in the Hawaiian shirt gritted his teeth, and then pulled the trigger. The
pistol made a noise no louder than a quiet sneeze and Mr. Teasdale was struck
in the head. The impact sounded like a watermelon being hit with a baseball
bat. Teasdale crumpled to the ground next to Oliver.
over. “Help me,” Oliver repeated, relieved.
in the Hawaiian shirt tucked his pistol into a belt holster that had been
concealed under his shirt, then moved to Oliver’s side. “Can you stand?” he
wasn’t sure. The tingling in his extremities had faded, and it seemed like his
body was starting to respond to him. With the other man’s help he managed to
roll over and climb to his feet, but his balance was off and his legs were
shaky. It was a little like being drunk, he thought. He hadn’t been drunk in
years, but he was pretty sure this was what it had been like.
in the Hawaiian shirt held Oliver by the arm. “Good job,” he said. “He hit you
pretty good, looks like. It’ll wear off in another couple of minutes.”
you?” Oliver asked.
Tyler,” the man in the Hawaiian shirt said. “Nice to meet you. Well, nice to
meet you again. Now come on. We have to get out of here.”
as Oliver wanted to be somewhere far away from here, he knew he couldn’t leave
the scene of his own attempted murder. “I can’t go,” he said. “I have to call
shook his head. “Look, I hate to rush you before you’re ready, but we don’t
have a lot of time here. He’s not going to be down long.”
stared at him in disbelief. The would-be killer had just been shot in the head!
But then out of the corner of his eye he saw the other man stir. Oliver took an
unsteady step closer and looked down at him. Had the movement been a reflex
act? He had read somewhere that bodies could keep moving on their own for a few
minutes after death. It was weird and unsettling to see, but entirely natural.