Toronto. Tuesday, April 31.
Jeffrey Wheeler, dressed in his dark blue Fitzgerald Pinstripe Golden Fleece suit, marched into the magnificent lobby of the King Edward Hotel. He stopped several feet inside the revolving door and scanned the elegant three story atrium, surrounded by statues and doric columns, Canadian flags strategically hung beside Union Jacks. He saw numerous people, but no Kerri King. He lifted his left wrist and glanced at his Rolex. It was exactly noon. He looked up and saw what appeared to be a woman approaching. She was dressed in a grey track suit, white running shoes, and a Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap. Her eyes were hidden by huge dark round sunglasses. Her hair was hidden underneath the turned up collar of a dark brown leather jacket.
She smiled and extended her right hand. “Nice of you to join me, Jeffrey. Welcome to Toronto.”
Wheeler frowned but accepted Kerri’s hand. “I would never have recognized The Iacardi Santa Claus. Maybe I should just tell everyone here who you are.”
“You do that and this meeting is over.” She pointed to the door. “I’ll leave and start making calls to people you don’t want me to talk to.” She paused and smirked as Wheeler gestured a surrender with his hands. “Okay, then let’s have lunch and talk.” She led her guest to The Victorian Restaurant, the hotel’s five star restaurant. They were seated at a table for two by the maître d’.
A waiter materialized and took their drink orders: Wheeler a Molsons Export, and Kerri a glass of pinot grigio.
“What have you got?” Wheeler asked, his expression showing anger and more than a touch of concern. “I’ve wasted a lot of time and expense to be here, so get to the point. I need to know how to behave.”
Kerri, her sunglasses and Blue Jays cap still on, leaned forward and glared at the man she hated with a consuming passion. “You’ve been a bad boy, Jeffrey,” she said, taking a measure of delight in reversing his opening comment to her at The Plaza the previous December. “Your company has been breaking a lot of rules.”
Wheeler shifted uncomfortably in his chair, clearly annoyed. “Cut the bullshit! Just tell me what you’ve got,” he demanded.
“Okay. First I’m going to tell you what I know about Enerco’s special purpose entities. There are hundreds of them as you know. I’ll just talk about the five largest and most active. They are SP53, SP530, SP5303, SP53033, And SP530333. I have a ton of data on these entities, all of which adds up to irrefutable evidence that Enerco has been using them to hide losses from its shareholders. I believe you call them off balance sheet transactions. The material I have is very detailed, very accurate, and very incriminating. I’ll prove it if you want.”
Wheeler shook his head, expressionless, his mind processing a blizzard of implications.
“Next I’m going to tell you about mark to market accounting. Same story. Enerco, with the obvious and fraudulent complicity of Benjamin, Alexander & Gabriel, LLP, its esteemed accountants, has been gaming the system. It’s been using this accounting mechanism to book and report profits it hasn’t even realized. That’s against the law, and you know it.” She paused and glared at Wheeler, searching for a response.
Wheeler compressed his lips but remained silent for at least thirty seconds. “Where did you get your information?” he asked.
“You’ve already asked me that, and I told you it’s none of your business.”
“Does anyone, other than your source, know about this?”
“Not yet,” she lied.
“Then what do you want? I’m authorized to offer you anything you want, within reason. I can make you a very wealthy woman.”
Kerri closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t want money, particularly not from you or Enerco. I do, however, want you to do something for me.”
“Make a voluntary and public confession to the I.R.S., the F.B.I., and the S.E.C.”
Wheeler’s face turned white, as if deprived of its blood supply. “You can’t be serious...Why would I want to do that?”
“You probably wouldn’t, but if you don’t, I’m going to do it for you. You have one week, starting right now.” She smiled. “You still want lunch?”
Wheeler declined by shaking his head. He stood and left the building without a word. He took several paces outside the revolving door, then opened his cell phone and called Ken Layton. “We have a job for Mengalli. I’ll give you the details later. I’ll be in your office before five.”
Houston. Same day.
Wheeler, still fuming, barged into Layton’s office without knocking. He refused his boss’s offer of a chair and paced, first to the windows, then back to Layton’s desk. He steepled his fingers and fixed his reddened eyes on Layton. “It’s like I told you, Ken, only worse. We’re in big trouble,” he said, watching Layton’s rage building as he spoke. He proceeded to describe, chapter and verse, his Toronto meeting with Kerri King. “She’s given us one week to make a voluntary and public confession to the F.B.I, the I.R.S., and the S.E.C. If we don’t, she’s going to blow the whistle.”
Layton remained silent for what seemed like an eternity. His face was beet red, his eyes broadcasting a grim resolve. “That fucking woman!” he spat. “I thought we had her on ice. Now she’s got us by the balls...We need to change that, and fast. The alternative is unthinkable. We’re talking about Armageddon here. If that broad goes public with that information, this company unravels, and you and I get poor in a hurry. Probably worse. I don’t know about you, Jeffrey, but I’m not prepared to let that happen. This is my life. I’m not going to let that tree-hugging pussy take it away from me.”
“If it was my decision, I’d get Mengalli to whack her, immediately. Then she’s out of our way, forever.”
Layton raised his hands and pointed his palms at Wheeler. “That’s an option, but it’s a last resort. Killing The Iacardi Santa Claus is a very dangerous thing to do. Instead we to need to find and apply some equal and opposite leverage. We need to identify her vulnerabilities and squeeze them. We have a week to do it... Where did she get her information? Did you ask her?”
“Twice. She refused to tell me both times.”
“Obviously we have a mole, likely in the company. It could be in Benjamin, Alexander & Gabriel, but I doubt it. Too few of their people know what we’re doing, and I trust all of them. So ask yourself who, inside Enerco, has access to the detailed information Kerri King has. That should narrow your search parameters. I think you know it’s in this building, and exactly what section of this building.” He paused and pointed in the direction of Clarence Soloman’s office. “I don’t care what you have to do, Jeffrey, find it and kill it.”
“I’ll do it, but it strikes me as an exercise in futility, like shutting the barn door after the horses are gone.”
“By itself, yes, but it’s only part of the plan. As soon as I got your call from Toronto, I spent some serious money. I hired the best private investigator in Toronto to put a full court press on Kerri King. I asked him to give me the complete book on her, what she does, where she lives, even the color of her panties. I told him I wanted it fast, and paid the price for speed. His information, together with what you’re about to do, is not an exercise in futility. I expect the combination to give us the leverage we need.”
Wheeler’s expression transformed from desperation to evil. “I’m already on it,” he said, then hurried to his office. He passed his secretary on the way. “Call Soloman and get his ass in here,” he ordered without stopping. He closed his door and paced impatiently.
Soloman arrived to find his boss still pacing. “You wanted to see me,” he said, expecting nothing more than a normal high pressure question and answer session.
Wheeler, omitting any formalities, pointed an accusing finger at Soloman. “We have a serious leak of sensitive financial information, Clarence. It’s somewhere inside your group, and I need you to identify it, fast.”
Soloman’s heart rate quickened. He knew immediately that Wheeler was referring to Sandra Schafer. He struggled to avoid showing any hint of worry or concern, aware that he was complicit in Schafer’s leak to Kerri King. If he identified Schafer, it was quite likely that Wheeler could discover his connection. He could lose his job and the full pension for which he had dedicated his entire career. “How do you know?” he asked, feigning ignorance.
“Have you ever heard of Kerri King?”
“Sure. She’s The Iacardi Santa Claus, the former president of Iacardi & Sons. Isn’t she supposed to come to Houston and work for you?”
Wheeler nodded. “I had a meeting with her in Toronto earlier today. In that meeting, she told me a lot about the confidential financial machinations of this company, enough to make me believe she was already working for me.” He paused and glared suspiciously at Soloman. “She had too much information, Clarence. I’ve concluded that there can be only one source: your group.”
Wheeler’s conclusion struck like a knife through Soloman’s heart. His boss was closing in and it was obvious that he was not going to stop until he found the perpetrator. Wheeler’s reputation in Enerco was legendary. Wholesale firings were all too frequently his answers to disappointment. To him, employees were necessary, but totally expendable. He spit them out like unwanted bones. Soloman had to find a way out, a way to deflect suspicion, a way to save his job and pension. He could continue to profess ignorance, or he could identify Schafer. He could be a hero if he did the latter. If she tried to implicate him, he could simply deny. It would be her word against his. It would be no contest. “I think it’s Schafer,” he said.
“Yes. She approached me some time ago and told me her conscience was bothering her. She told me a number of things the company’s doing that, in her opinion, were breaking the law... Her list was very long... Anyway, she told me she wanted to blow the whistle, but was afraid she’d lose her job if she did. She wanted me to get involved.”
“How did you respond?”
“I refused. I told her that irrespective of how the company conducts its business, my loyalties are, and will remain with it. I also instructed her to behave in the same fashion.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this when it happened?”
“I never thought she’d go through with it. I just put it out of my mind... I suppose I should have told you.”
“You’re damn right you should have! I should fire your ass right now!” Wheeler exploded.
Soloman was terrified. He had never confronted his boss on any subject. Even when he disagreed, which was often, he had always chosen to acquiesce, to save his precious job. This situation was different. He had no choice. “You shouldn’t do that... If you did fire me, I would be forced to dispense with my loyalties.”
Wheeler displayed a conciliatory smile. “You’re right. I shouldn’t. Thanks for your time.” He gave Soloman a dismissive wave, then stopped him before he reached the door. “You said you ‘think’ it’s Schafer. I’ll expect you to confirm that, real soon.” The smile was replaced by a threatening scowl. “If Schafer or Kerri King manage to get one word of this information into the wrong hands, you will be terminated, with extreme prejudice.”