Chapter 6: A Cautious Encounter
The next couple of days proved to be particularly trying for Lesly. Apparently, old man Graham was right when he warned her not to go after Judge Stevenson. Her decision to file a class-action lawsuit against the corrupt judge after months of preparation backfired and led to his filing a countersuit against the organization and demanding that an immediate investigation be carried in relation to its practices.
The judge claimed that the people in charge of the organization had a personal vendetta against him and that he was innocent of any involvement in the sex trafficking charges brought against him. Lesly expected him to retaliate and to try and dismiss the whole case, but not in the manner he pursued.
Stevenson resorted to filing charges of witness tampering against the organization and to pointing out that the animosity the retired judge Graham held against him was proof that the organization indeed was out to get him. He even managed somehow to get the plaintiffs to change their story and to turn against her. This was particularly troubling, not only because it would weaken her case, but also because it would bring the practices of the organization into question. It could destroy the image the organization spent years to build, lead them to lose people’s trust and consequently lose their funding sources.
The days that followed the countersuit always began the same way for Lesly. Graham would call and she would spend an hour or two trying to assure the old man that the problem will be taken care of and that it would blow over. At first she was confident that she would be able to handle the corrupt judge, but each day threw one more complication her way.
At first, her plaintiffs informed her that they were reluctant to take the matter to court. Then they gave out statements claiming that they were coerced and bribed by the organization into testifying against the corrupt judge. Shortly afterwards, two out of eleven women disappeared without a trace.
This was particularly troubling for Lesly because it could only mean one out of two things. Either they were forced to relocate which would mean that the abuse they suffered would continue, or that they were taken care of and silenced once and for all. Whatever the possible scenario was, it meant one thing for Lesly. She failed in keeping those women safe.
Stacey walked into Lesly’s office while she was still on the phone with Graham. She watched Lesly as she waited silently for the old man to vent and get everything out of his chest like he normally did for the last couple of days. Lesly took one glance at Stacey and immediately went back to examining something on her computer screen. She was nodding her head and muttering words of agreement with whatever the old man was saying while scrolling through some documents. The old man finally ended the call and Lesly immediately busied herself with the computer in an effort not to engage in another lengthy discussion with Stacey who was clearly anxious.
The young woman knew that Lesly was not in the mood for questions, but she was worried about Lesly and she needed assurance that her superior was going to be okay.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll think of something. I always do,” Lesly whispered in exasperation while keeping her gaze fixed on her computer screen.
“Lesly this could destroy you,” Stacey responded.
She knew that this was only the beginning and that Stevenson was not done yet. The way he handled the case and manipulated public opinion might not only cost Lesly her licence and damage her reputation, but also grant grounds for reopening every single case the organization handled.
“Stacey, I need to be alone now,” Lesly instructed as she leaned against her desk and began to rub her temples with her eyes shut.
Stacey left. Lesly could tell because she heard her footsteps echoing away after she shut the office door behind her, but soon afterwards, Lesly heard the office door creak open and the sound of footsteps marching back into her office. Apparently, Stacey was not done talking yet.
“Stacey I thought I asked you to leave me alone,” Lesly warned.
“It’s me,” a deep masculine voice announced.
Lesly looked up and found none other than Alec Reid standing in front of her.
“What are you doing here?” Lesly asked.
“I called him,” Stacey answered from behind him.
Lesly could not believe that Stacey would take such a step without consulting her first. She found her anger rising with every second and she could not help but glare at the young woman in silence and watch her wring her hands in nervousness.
Alec seemed to have noticed the distress in poor Stacey and decided to save the young woman from her superior’s wrath.
“Stacey, can you leave us alone for a minuet?”
“Sure,” Stacey answered in a quivering voice and attempted to flee the scene. She shut the glass door behind her and took one last look at Lesly who was still glaring at her.
Alec’s eyes were also following Stacey out of the office in order to make sure that he and Lesly were alone. When he looked over at Lesly, he found her still glaring at her poor assistant through the glass wall.
“What happened?” He asked.
Lesly’s glare was now directed at the man standing right in front of her. She sat down in her chair and answered as calmly as she could.
“I thought Stacey told you everything.”
“I want to hear it from you.”
Lesly looked at the prosecutor long and hard while contemplating whether it would be indeed wise to involve him. The story was already being tackled by different media outlets, and it would only be a matter of time before the details became available for everyone to view. Reid also seemed to have heard the story from Stacey already, so she might as well humour him and see what he was going to say.
“Judge Stevenson is denying the charges we brought against him.”
“But what’s not so typical was the way he forced the plaintiffs to recant their statements,” she explained.
“Walk me through it from the beginning, Collins,” Alec instructed before he took a seat in front of her.
Lesly waited for Alec to seat himself, and then proceeded to explain, “A couple of months ago I received an anonymous tip regarding the questionable activities of the judge. The informant gave me the name of a retired police officer who might be willing to talk. I tracked him down and managed to convince him to tell me everything he knew. According to this retired officer, Judge Stevenson is not only responsible for covering up the activities of certain traffickers, but is also one of the parties who are benefitting greatly from the trade. It’s not a simple matter of receiving bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye to the whole situation.”
“Is this former officer one of the witnesses?” The prosecutor asked.
“No, he refused to testify. That was his one condition to talking. He said he would only reveal the locations the judge preferred to frequent and that I should take it from there.”
“What happened next?”
“The situation there was a bit different from the usual brothel like scenes we normally encounter. They were normal neighbourhoods. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary. Raids were out of the question because there were no suspicious activities, but after asking around I discovered that the process was carried in a more discrete manner given the high profile clients involved. The girls, some of whom were underage, were transported individually from those neighbourhoods to the clients who requested them. After a lot of convincing, I managed to get a few women to agree to filing a class-action lawsuit against the judge. Others joined later.”
“And now they’ve turned against you.”
“All except for two. It was claimed that we coerced and bribed those women into testifying against the judge. We’ve lost contact with the other two,” Lesly explained.
“What about the person who sent you the tip? Is there any way to track him or her? How did you receive this tip anyway?” Alec asked.
“I’ve been receiving emails from an anonymous informant for a while now. I don’t know who that informant is and I don’t know why he chose to contact me in particular. I tried to initiate contact with him more than once by replying to his emails. I never got a response and I doubt I’ll get one now.”
Lesly watched Alec go quite for a moment to process what she just told him. The identity of the informant and how he came to find out sensitive leads were mysteries she long wished to uncover. However, every measure she took to find some answers resulted in failure. It was difficult to trust those emails at first, especially since she did not know who was sending them, but after every lead that was sent to her turned out to be dead on target, she came to trust them completely.
Alec shifted in his seat and furrowed his brows as he tried to voice his thoughts, “The leads you usually send me…”
“Some of them came through this informant, yes,” Lesly confirmed.
They both went silent for a moment to think the matter of the informant through. Then Alec voiced the one question she did not wish to answer because she knew perfectly well where it might lead.
“How well do you trust this informant?”
Hearing him phrase his question like that almost led her to lose her temper which was already in the worst state possible due to the recent events.
Alec realized he struck a nerve by unintentionally making it seem like she was an amateur who did not know what she was doing and tried to clarify.
“You have no idea who that person is, no idea why he is contacting you and I bet that this not the first time you were dragged into a messy situation because of something he sent you.”
“Meaning?” Lesly asked, daring him to drag this conversation further into the prickly direction he was currently pursuing.
Silence hung between the two of them as they stared at one another, she with a challenging look, he with a serious one. It was not long before his expression softened and changed into amusement.
He broke the silence with a chuckle, “You really have a temper problem, Collins. You know that.”
“And you can act like one cocky bastard sometimes. I’m sure you know that,” she shot back with a straight face.
He should have been insulted, but he found her comment rather amusing. He fished his phone out of his pocket and started digging through it for something while announcing casually.
“Well I believe this cocky bastard might be able to help.”
“How on earth are you going to help?”
“You have your ways. I have mine,” he stated nonchalantly as he continued looking through his phone.
Truth be told, as much as she wanted the problem to go away, she did not want him to get involved. This case was different from the other cases she asked him to help with. It was far more sensitive and if the general impression of him as a straight-up guy proved wrong, his involvement could lead to drastic consequences for her and the organization.
She tried to discourage him without revealing her motives behind rejecting his help. “You’re not worried you might get dragged into this mess?”
His response was an arrogant smile that would have sent Stacey to the grave happily if she were around. He continued digging through his phone as he announced confidently. “You underestimate me, Collins.”
“I’m serious, Reid.”
“As am I,” he responded.
Seeing him bent on lending a helping hand despite her warning forced her to be blunt. She got up, walked over to where he was sitting, and leaned against the desk behind her while contemplating how to deliver her demand.
“I’d prefer it if you stayed out of it. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of this problem on my own,” she instructed as emphatically as she could.
He paused and looked at her for a moment with an expression she could not quite read. He leaned back in his seat and stared intently at her. She could not figure out what he was thinking, but then he spoke.
“You still don’t trust me, do you?”
“Not entirely to be frank,” she answered in a calm even tone.
“All the more reason why I should do it. If I’m just another cog in a dysfunctional system, that means you consider me part of the problem,” he responded. His composed demeanour matched hers.
“It’s too early to form any conclusions at this point, but maybe you’re right,” she answered.
When he did not say anything, she felt it necessary to clarify, “There’s always something to be gained one way or another.”
“Does this apply to you?”
“To be perfectly honest, I have my own selfish reasons for doing what I do,” she answered.
“Care to elaborate?”
“Not really, but you get my drift.”
Neither displayed any visible signs of antagonism and their interchange was not charged but rather delivered in a calm manner. Yet it was obvious that situation was getting more tense with every passing second.
“Say I have something to gain. What do you think that might be?” he asked.
“I don’t wish to find out.”
Silence hung between them once more. Neither broke the eye contact with the other. It bothered her a great deal that he was staring at her with those piercing blue eyes of his. It felt like he could read her like an open book when she could not figure out what he was thinking at that moment at all.
Finally, he looked away and sighed deeply. He stood up, stashed his phone back into his pocket and took a couple of steps towards her.
“Your opponent has built an image for himself that cannot be easily shaken. He does a lot of charity work and is a gifted public speaker. You know and I know that this is all an act to cover up his illegal engagements. Given his status, the image he built for himself, and his connections, there’s no way you can get him convicted using conventional methods.”
“I know that,” she whispered.
“He’s using the media against you. It would be wise to do the same,” he instructed.
“It’s risky. There are protective orders in place. I can’t leak anything.”
“You can’t, but somebody else can.”
Her eyes stared at his piercing blue ones for a moment to see whether he actually meant what she thought he meant, but before she could get an answer, he took a step back and walked out of her office.
As she watched him leave, she realized that she had crossed a line with the way she carried herself around him, but there was no other way to keep him from interfering.
Her eyes found her rash assistant next, and she was tempted to give the young woman a piece of her mind that instant. However, she decided to leave the matter for after she had calmed down. Enough damage was done for the day.