The Money Masquerade

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Chapter 25


JULIE

From Sausalito to Los Altos Hills, California

June 2020

Where is he?” I shout to the air while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Music blasts on the radio and my hair spins in the breeze resembling a red swirl lollipop in the rearview mirror. Salty sea air rushes through the open window. Dozens of sleek sailboats glide over the bay.

I try to relax into the beauty—but all I can think of is, “Where the hell is Sean?

He had called me a few hours ago saying he finished the lecture at Stanford. But his next words alarmed me: “Something’s come up. I’m running late. Meet me at my house. I’ll be there at 7 p.m.”

Typically, the words “something’s come up,” are benign. But the man I love was shot and chased down by three men connected to President Crown. Evil runs deep in the American system. Too many secrets and lies.

Where the fuck is Sean?

It didn’t help calm my nerves hearing how our commander-in-chief is inflaming violence across the nation.

Raising my hand to my neck, I grip the delicate silver necklace, letting the large diamond twirl between my middle finger and thumb. His late mother’s necklace.

I force my mind to go blank. I cruise along the I-280 past sweeping views of hills and reservoirs to Los Altos Hills. My thoughts come alive as I cross through the picturesque valleys and lush knolls, up the steep incline to Sean’s house. His tree-lined street winds along the ridge shrouded in shadows.

Then I freeze. My heart beats fast as I park across from his Tucson-style home with its red tile rooftops and palm trees swaying in the breeze. The gravel crunches beneath my tires as I adjust my parallel parking. I’m afraid to move closer.

There are cop cars in his driveway. I’m reminded of the last time I was here. Flashbacks of blood… so much blood… in his hot tub, on the towels hanging on the bar stools. Then the cops handcuffing and bringing me to the station for questioning as a suspect in my beloved’s attempted murder.

I can’t even go near the house, I thought. I see the wrap-around deck with white string-lights, the sun-swept pool shimmering in soft radiance against the patio umbrellas. My eyes sweep over the poolside cabana and sparkling hot tub facing the afternoon sunset.

My phone rings and I jump. My heart racing, I check the tiny display screen. Sean! I want to be mad at him for not contacting me, but I feel a sense of relief so deep I drop my phone onto the floor of the car—anxiously feeling around to retrieve it before I swipe to answer.

“Oh my God! You’re alive,” I say.

“Sweetheart, Julie, I’m sorry. Things went so fast. Chris showed up at Stanford—”

What?”

“Long story short… Chris has turned himself in!” Sean finished.

I try to process this information, shocked to hear this turn of events. How emotional for Sean, seeing a man he entrusted for so long take shots at him, then have a crisis of conscience. A man he planned to ask to be his best man at his wedding.

Fumbling for words, I say, “Great… but I hope this doesn’t mean you forgive your ‘best friend’ for helping put you in a coma for a month!”

Not! But Jules, Chris also turned in the other two perps, Jeff Snead and Ahmad bin Talden.”

More shock. “Are we sure they won’t continue getting immunity for being Crown’s right and left-hand men to help carry out his superpower orders taking over humanity?”

Sean chuckled. I loved that he still appreciated sardonic humor through these strange times. “They won’t try to intimidate me after being implicated by a man holding as much money power as Chris,” he said. “Besides, I have the leverage of photos showing the viciousness carried out by an almost two-decades-long military intervention campaign.”

He’s referring to the secret mission he never would tell me about. But he doesn’t know I’ve heard him revealing it in his dreams. “Springnest!” He mumbled, tossing in his sleep, night after night.

Intimidate you?” I cried. “They tried to kill you!”

“No. I’ve thought about this… these guys are ex-army, Jules, like many tech-elites. They know how to shoot. If they wanted to kill me, they would have.”

“That doesn’t make them any less guilty—”

“I’m not saying it does—I’m just relieved I can breathe,” Sean said. “They came after me for my intellectual property; my software code for their covert missions. I can now expose their lack of moral code.”

I relaxed a little. “Where are you?”

“In Provost Farrow’s car on the way home. Where are you?”

“At your house… sitting in my car across the street. The police are here,” I mention in a cagey tone. I remembered his car is still at the bunker in Napa.

“Good, they’re to protect us, Jules. Don’t worry, you can go in. We’re close to my exit.”

“I’ll wait, and walk in with you,” I insist. It’s sad being scared to approach Sean’s home because of what happened here.

After we hang up, I sit and admire the blue pool and waterfall that seems to drop off a cliff at the ridge of the hills, and I burst into tears. The sheer beauty blends with the harsh reality of the systemic violence across America; the convergence of past and present taking its toll in blood.

It’s not long before I see a yellow Ferrari pull into the private side entrance to the house. Sean hobbles from the car and grins at me. The Provost behind the wheel of her Ferrari disappears with a honk.

Without giving it another thought, I whip open the door and run towards Sean. I wrap my arms around his waist and pull him closer, our lips meshing before we jump back. “Oops, we’re not supposed to kiss or hug,” I said.

Here we are, seeing each other for the first time in months and unable to express a human connection and protection from danger at his own home.

Sean buries his face in my hair as his body shudders with need. I’m careful how I hug him. His arm is bandaged from one of the bullet wounds and in a sling so his shoulder can heal from the dislocation. “Why did you park in the street?” he asks.

“I was having flashbacks of a blood-filled jacuzzi and cops arresting me,” I whisper into his ear.

Sean looks into my eyes. “It’s over, honey. We’ll be safe. I’ll pull your car into the garage after we go into the house and you make yourself comfortable inside.”

We walk toward the policeman guarding the front door, his earnest eyes visiting each of us briefly. “Thanks for watching over my house Officer Grady. As you know, one man who attacked me turned himself in, and he’s implicated the others. Things are winding down,” Sean says to the cop while escorting me inside.

Officer Grady runs a hand over the back of his neck like he’s relieving tension. “I have been ordered to remain on guard, Mr. Coleman until they confirm the other two suspects are in custody.”

“You’re a good young man, Officer Grady,” Sean complimented.

I’m happy to see this civilian police that doesn’t look menacing like the horse-mounted maniacs trampling over a woman and throwing grenades at peaceful teenagers promoting the Black Lives Matter movement.

While Sean brought my car around, I move into his kitchen, an ultra-modern mix of stainless steel and bright color looking straight out of a Homes and Gardens magazine. An enormous vase with fresh-cut flowers graces the elegant island. Sean’s housekeeper was here, she’s part of a team that also handles food delivery. I open a bag and remove bread, cheese, and wine. I twist the cap off the wine and slice the bread and cheese.

After pouring the wine, I carry the glasses out of the kitchen, wondering what’s keeping Sean when I hear the shower. I should help him with the sling, my mind ponders.

Standing at the master bedroom door, I see that Lilly, his housekeeper, has the DaVinci gas fireplace lit and classical music playing. It’s odd, that despite all the intimate moments we’ve shared in this cozy room, I feel I’d be imposing on his privacy now. He hasn’t been home for so long. He’s been through hell, I thought.

Rather than move toward the shower, I call softly, “Sean, are you okay with the sling, need any help?”

“I’m good!”

When I enter the living room with its white couches and bright Spanish paintings, I relax into the soft pillows and admire the view of the bay and valley through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Taking a sip of wine, I shut my eyes.

A soft kiss on my check announces Sean’s presence.

I glance into his crystal blue eyes, alight with passion and purpose. Sean wore a simple white shirt with dark blue jeans making him appear younger than his years. The bandana around his neck added to the rugged, energetic look. A fresh, earthy scent fills the space between us and there’s a sense of urgency in him I’ve never seen.

“You’ve shaved!” I say, wanting to say so much more. Like; I love you and miss you.

Sean stroked his chin, “It’s the least I could do after seeing how beautiful you look, Jules.”

I wore a teal blouse that intensified the green in my eyes and fiery red hair, features Sean always said he admires. I had tied a matching mask around my neck, ready-to-use if needed. With an appreciative smile, I say, “I sliced the bread and cheese.”

Taking a sip of wine, Sean answers, “Let’s take a little hike first.”

“Where?”

“My yard,” he said while limping away. “Darn, I feel like I have a rock in my sock!”

“Then stop and take it out!” I laugh, following him.

We wander along stone walkway past wrought-iron benches and lush flowers to my favorite spot; a patch of green nestled in a botanical garden. We’d made love at this private, Mediterranean oasis many times and I wondered if this is what Sean has in mind.

The evening sun lit up the Los Altos Hills, an expanse of landscape empty of human disruption. I stand at the ridge, my back to Sean loving how nobody could see us but we could see an expansive stretch of the world. “It’s so beautiful,” I murmur.

“Yes, and even more beautiful since I’ve removed this blessed rock from my sock,” Sean’s voice echoes from behind me.

I turn and see that he’s dropped to one knee. His Irish eyes are two liquid-blue pools of tears. His shaking hands hold an elegant box. It was open, and a gorgeous solitaire diamond gleamed against the black velvet lining. An incredible match to the necklace I’ve cherished with his love.

My jaw drops, “You’re not—”

“Asking you to marry me?”

“Yes! Yes, I’ll marry you, Sean Douglas Coleman, I love you!” I won’t be able to keep six feet from him tonight, I thought.

Sean slips the ring onto my finger, and I feel the shift in our relationship. It’s so utterly perfect, out here in the garden, next to the roses we planted together.

“It fits perfectly,” I say, admiring the sparkling diamond.

“Yes, there’s just one problem to solve.” Sean places a finger over his lips.

“What?”

“I must find a new best man.”

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