The Money Masquerade

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Chapter 16


Sausalito, California

Early March 2020

JULIE

“Yes, I showed the text messages to the cops, Sean told me to!” I could hear nervous energy bounce off my voice. “Well, his hand squeezes told me to anyhow.”

“Has Sean talked to the cops since he awoke?” Caryssa asked.

“No, he’s barely talked to anyone, including me! He seemed to have a sense of blankness.” With shaking hands, I opened the valve on the propane tank, then used a wand lighter to start a fire. “He either can’t remember or is holding something back.”

The fact, I too, am holding back a tidbit of information from the girls was left unsaid. I’m still grappling with the reality of Sean implicating the President of the United States had something to do with his attempted murder. I’m afraid my friends will think my boyfriend is a conspiracy theory nutcase.

We sat outside on my rooftop garden. Border containers brimmed with lavender, rosemary and sage. Pink jasmine perfumed the air. The only thing missing was music in the still quiet of the early evening as the flames in my fire pit crackled to life.

I glanced into my compact mirror, thinking what a fright I must be with all the stress. I’m so pale that my freckles seemed to float off my skin, framed by tendrils of graying-red hair. My lips felt dry, so I applied a coat of moisturizing lipstick.

It no longer surprised me Sean got shot two months after my narrow escape of a mass shooting with my girlfriends. A product of our violent high-tech gun and war business-as-usual.

Caryssa bolted upright in her lounge chair, “Show us the text string—”

“What? Do you think I still have Sean’s phone? The minute I told the cops, they confiscated it as digital evidence.” It frustrated me; Caryssa’s moral idealism. As if law enforcement would care about preserving Sean’s privacy.

“Of course,” Caryssa said matter-of-factly.

“You seem preoccupied, Caryssa.” Anna reached into her gigantic Kate Spade canvas bag and retrieved a bottle of red wine and three glasses, placing them on the table. The ambiance of a roaring blaze embraced the atmosphere with warmth.

Caryssa popped off the decorative wine stopper and poured us each a glass. “I’m thinking if we don’t change our nation’s gun policies, this nightmare will never end,” she said.

“Thanks for being the hostess for my gathering, Anna.” I wondered if Caryssa will get the hint I don’t wish to bring politics into the discussion—yet. Too soon, too raw.

As if sensing my distraction, Anna says, “If you don’t want to talk about the shooting, let us know Jules. I’m happy to play hostess. You need to relax.” She pulled over a chair sporting a plush aqua cushion. “Put your feet up girl, I’ve got more surprises in my goody bag to share!”

“I brought something too,” Caryssa chimed in. She pulled dark chocolates and almonds out of her handbag, reminding me of the Wizard of Oz with his enchanting promises. Maybe I want to talk politics after all.

“You two are wonderful with your magic bags. Do you have a brain and a heart we can give to our leaders, so they think with human decency?” I joked.

Caryssa seemed to appreciate this. “Or some courage for the people to say no to the policies dished out by those in power.”

Anna laughed and grabbed her tote bag, peering inside, “No heart, brain or courage in here but no empty promises either. Let’s see, can we cook on your open fire, Jules?”

“I never cooked over it; I’m not brave enough. I don’t even own a grill or grate, so I don’t know,” I answered.

Anna produced three large roasting forks and food items to grill shish kebabs. “No grill necessary. Help me open these packages of chicken sausages and watch what I learned from Pierre.”

We speared the sausages with cherry tomatoes, chunks of pepper and corn-on-the cob onto the huge forks, and Anna laid them directly over the embers. “They’ll cook up nice, just make sure we watch it.”

“Wow, an entire meal fits on one of those forks,” I exclaimed. “You even husked the corn before coming!”

“I have garlic butter to spread on the corn, don’t let me forget!” Anna said. “And Julie’s baguette will be our starch for the night.”

“The girl from Paris thinks of everything. You’re amazing, Anna.” Caryssa sipped wine. “I remember this from the first time I met you eleven years ago. You had brought an entire basket of gourmet delights to a playdate with our kids—and your grandson—in the park!”

“So, how was the skiing a few weeks ago, girls?” I asked. Caryssa’s talk about past playdates always reminds me of the children I never had.

I listened as Caryssa and Anna described how grateful they were to catch some epic snow during an otherwise dry season. They mentioned the unsettling contrast of the amazing beauty and fresh air surrounding them with the dismay of seeing young soldiers training on the mountain.

“That shouldn’t surprise anyone since skiing was started by soldiers. Ski combat has been used around the world throughout history. My dad had friends that helped defeat the Nazi’s while on skis in the snowy mountains of Italy during WWII,” I said.

“Knowing my favorite sport has such a history wrapped in violence doesn’t give me a fuzzy feeling, Jules,” Caryssa answered before taking a sip of wine. “And now the USA has become a bit Nazi-like itself with white nationalism taking over.”

What to say to that? My boyfriend nearly got killed in affluent Los Altos Hills for refusing military money. I can’t argue with how the deep state is negatively impacting all Americans.

While sitting for a moment watching the fire and enjoying the spicy aroma of the food, I spoke up about what happened to Sean. “So, ladies, my reason for asking you over is I need to control my emotions. I could use your support.”

Caryssa got up and hugged me, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this, Jules. You know Sean and I had a social connection through work. I saw the good in him from the start, even as I urged him to get out of Pentagon contracts of which he stubbornly plunged deeper into.”

“Which nearly got him killed in the end,” I said.

I gingerly placed another log onto the fire, and we watched the orange flames and red glowing embers beneath the skewers. The satisfying sound of the log settling in as it consumed itself provided a moment of mindfulness. The power of the fire calmed my thoughts and brought tranquility into my life.

Anna moved the grilling forks up, down and around to adjust the heat the food was receiving. She looked at me and asked in a caring tone, “What’s the specific message on the texts?”

I shut my eyes and pictured the text string, including the fuzzy photo of the guy’s face. You’d think the cops could use facial recognition with one click onto the photo. Something wasn’t right. A cover-up?

I said, “Sean had texted, “Fucking bloody-jawed wolves! I won’t use my hard-earned startup for repression and killing. Then he mentioned he won’t be a war billionaire.”

“Well, at least you’re off the hook as a suspect since they have evidence of this guy who’s involved,” Caryssa suggested.

Silence.

“Jules?” Anna was on the edge of her seat.

Shaking my head, I blurted out, “One cop told me I’m still a ‘person of interest.’ They even seem to think I’m connected to this ‘C’ character on the text!”

“For Christ’s sake, as if you’d hand them evidence against yourself?” Caryssa snorted.

“It makes no sense,” Anna said. “You have a perfect alibi having been with me when it happened.”

“I don’t get the impression they think I was involved in shooting Sean so much as being connected to the guy that shot him.” I wrung my hands in frustration. As a distraction, I clicked my string lights on, letting the twinkling white radiance add a mystical touch to the evening.

A gentle breeze carried the scent of eucalyptus, sage, and lavender. Darkness enclosed the San Francisco Bay with an added flickering of lights that mesmerized my soul.

My open fire pit nestled between our lounge chairs, as Anna made one last change to the grilling food. “Dinner’s ready,” she announced, slipping the forks off and placing them onto napkins.

“Do you want me to go down the ladder to my apartment and get plates?” I asked.

“No, no, let’s simplify using these napkins I brought. Do nothing, Jules.” Anna handed each of us a shish kebab and we became absorbed in eating, savoring every bite.

“Oh, shit, I forgot something, hold on.” Anna took a small basting brush from her bag and patted the corn with the garlic butter she had placed near the fire to melt.

“You fit everything but your kitchen sink in that bag,” Carrysa said.

I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until I devoured the meal. Sensing that the girls wanted me to talk, I said, “Something’s not right at the hospital. I understand they can’t discharge Sean so soon after the coma, but the nurse seems to think he has ICU delirium.”

“It’s very common,” Caryssa said.

“That doesn’t make me feel any better, Caryss,” I snap and wince at my tone.

“What did Sean say to make them think he has ICU delirium?” Anna asked.

I started sobbing. “The hospital staff is being silenced. The emergency social worker mentioned the main reason they feel he’s hallucinating is he claimed our nation’s Commander-in-Chief ordered him killed—”

President Crown?”

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