Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 43

To err is human

Milada dressed in her BYU sweatpants and nothing else. When Rachel stopped by after church, she donned a shirt for the sake of modesty. Rachel did a poor job of hiding her shock and concern. Milada’s once-white cheeks were the color and texture of worn shoe leather.

“It feels much better at this point,” Milada reassured her. “It only looks worse.”

“The damage isn’t permanent, is it?”

“The skin will shed soon enough, like a snake’s skin. Uncomfortable, but neither permanent nor life threatening.” She asked, “And you? How are you doing, Rachel?”

Rachel flashed a chagrined smile. “At any rate, the Relief Society’s taking good care of me.” She held up the brown paper back she was carrying and placed it on the kitchen counter. “Lasagna,” she explained. “Sister Millington made it. It’s quite good. When it comes to parceling out sympathy, your average Relief Society puts the welfare state to shame. At the current rate, I won’t be making a meal by myself for the next month.”

A small thing, it seemed, but not having to worry about dinner did take a great weight off her mind. If she were shameless enough, she could get out of doing most of her housework as well.

“How is Jennifer doing?”

“She isn’t doing any worse, which I count as doing better.” Rachel added, “You must come over for dinner sometime. Laura thinks you’re cool.”

I’m cool, Milada murmured to herself, but did not say one way or the other.

She spent the rest of the afternoon writing up Saturday’s meeting with Darren Wylde. She e-mailed Jane, Garrick, and Michael, and CCed Darren Wylde as well. The success of the venture depended on them staying on the same page, on Wylde believing that he’d sold her on his vision of the company’s future.

This was not a problem, because he had. She had not seriously considered it before the trip to Wallsburg. But the DEI keiretsu, she now argued, needed a biotech R&D center. It was the one remaining piece that would make everything fit.

The Wylde Medical Informatics acquisition would provide the necessary impetus for a more substantial reorganization of DEI. She envisioned three interlocking circles—finance, services, research—combining in a shared sphere of mutual concern. She did not include any of this in the memo. For the time being, Wylde must see his brainchild as the only jewel in the crown. But she liked the possibilities.

DMI would be Kammy’s company. For all her sister’s contrariness, Milada knew all along that Kammy would succumb to curiosity once she made the pitch. That and the opportunity to get away and be on her own. Yet not so far away and not so entirely on her own. Milada remained the lioness, wary of—jealous of, suspicious of—her sisters’ independence. When they wandered too far from her reach, she sought any way to bring them back within the pride.

Monday morning in the shower, Milada shed the skin from her face and shoulders. She promptly flushed the glob of flesh down the toilet. It was quite disgusting. Her freshly exposed dermis was tight and raw, as if she had just had a facial chemical peel.

She had hardly dried off when Jane rang her. “I was going to call you later,” Milada reminded her. “Have you had time to read my memo?”

“Something’s come up. I don’t know if it’s hit cable news yet, but I wanted to make sure you found out first. Didn’t want you to get blindsided.”

“If what is on cable news yet?” She found the remote and turned the television to CNN.

“Frank’s been arrested.”

“He’s been what?

“Arrested. Securities fraud.”

“Damn! That business scheme of his.”

“Yes, and that’s not even the half of it.”

“Alan Ridgeway too?”

“The Feds hauled in the both of them.”

“Muriel?”

“The last I heard, the marshals had taken her into protective custody. Milly, it’s much bigger than the three of them. Our contacts in the U.S. Attorney’s office say they’re handing down a dozen indictments, charging over a hundred people, including a number tied to organized crime.”

Milada swore again. “What has Frank gotten himself involved in? And why did none of us see this portentous of a downside?”

“You think Frank knew? Not to be mean, but the word patsy comes to mind.”

“The word is accurate in this instance. He may perchance plead sheer stupidity as he is wont to do.” She paused. “Hold on a second. Something just came on CNN.”

Jane said, “I see it too.”

Milada clicked up the volume. The reporter was doing a live remote from the U.S. District Courthouse in Manhattan. “Sources within the FBI confirm that members of four New York City organized crime families were involved in the stock market manipulations of three separate IPOs and eight publicly traded securities. Using traditional boiler-room and pump-and-dump schemes, micro-cap stocks were represented to investors as pursuing ‘cutting-edge, environmentally friendly breakthroughs’ with guaranteed federal funding, prosecutors said.”

Milada sucked in her breath. Jane said, “There go Frank’s green dreams.”

“And there goes the sheer stupidity defense. What about our exposure?”

“I’m thinking that with a hundred-plus defendants, including a bunch of high-profile wise guys, Frank’s going to pretty much get lost in the shuffle. And anybody who knows Frank and knows us knows he’s not involved with DEI.”

“Is Martin up to speed on all this?”

“Already called him. He assures me he has his legal eagles at the ready.”

“No deals, no cooperation, no talking until we figure out what exactly is going on.”

“Martin knows the drill. Do you still want to talk to Garrick?”

“No. Tomorrow. Some of the dust might have settled by then.”

“In time for the hail and brimstone to start falling.”

Milada smiled. “Please, Jane. No apocalyptic thoughts. Not yet.”

By Tuesday morning the flame in her cheeks had died down, leaving her with a skier’s sunburn. Milada sequestered herself in the conference room at Loveridge & Associates. She even dismissed Karen. She wanted to talk to Jane before bringing in Garrick.

“How raineth the hail and brimstone?” she asked when Jane picked up.

“I don’t think we need to worry about collateral damage, other than from the tabloids. Turns out Michael’s been cooperating with the Feds all along. That’s why we didn’t see it coming.”

“He’s been cooperating?

“They wanted to place undercover agents in some of our subsidiaries. Turns out it was part of the sting operation. Anyway, you know how Michael used to love the cloak-and-dagger scene. Probably the most fun he’s had in years. Didn’t Howard Hughes do something like this with the CIA and a Soviet sub salvaging operation back in the 1970s or something?”

“Who knows? Has Michael explained why he completely failed to inform us of this little operation?”

“To give us deniability. Whatever that means. This is Michael’s version of tough love. Zoë would definitely have warned Frank off.”

“How is Zoë taking it?”

“She’s stormed in and stormed out half a dozen times already. She claims Frank got set up, framed, had nothing to do with it. Et cetera and et cetera.”

“Zoë worries me more than Frank does. Even if she’s right. We should get her out of the picture. Out of town, if necessary.”

Jane said, “Here’s Garrick.”

The line clicked. “Morning, girls,” said Garrick. “Shall I guess what the topic of conversation is?”

“What do you know that we don’t?”

“Martin says he can’t get Frank to talk to him. Says Frank’s got his own counsel, Bobby Blaylock. At least that’s what Frank told Zoë and what Zoë told me.”

“Has anyone told him that it is less than a good idea being represented by a mob lawyer in this particular situation? Considering the company he’s been keeping?”

“Bobby is pretty good at what he does.”

“And there’s that whole guilt-by-association thing too.”

“Frank claims he’s ready to take responsibility for his own actions. Doesn’t want to have to rely on the family. Or so says Zoë.”

“A little late in the game for that. He could have come to that realization a century or two ago.”

“See here,” said Garrick. “However it falls out, the Feds aren’t going to tag Frank as a major player. And this whole thing is completely unrelated to DEI—in fact, vice versa, if what I’m hearing about Michael’s involvement is correct. So we get Michael to dial down the pressure a bit and Frank and Alan to cooperate with the authorities. The two of them ante up to the SEC for a few hundred grand in fines and walk away with a few slaps on the wrist.”

If the hole he’s digging himself into is not too deep,” Milada said. “Oh, and Jane, I care not one whit which lawyer Frank wishes to have represent him. Tell Martin to shadow the case anyway. We’ll need him when the reality of the whole thing finally hits Frank. As, this time, I am sure it will.”

Milada stopped and took a breath. Exhaled slowly. “All right. My thinking right now is, I’ll return to New York by week’s end. Who do you have ready to take over?”

Garrick said, “Kim Thesman. Should be there by tomorrow. I’ll e-mail you an itinerary.”

Milada nodded to herself. “Kim is a good choice. My driver will pick her up. Have you had time to read through my memo?”

“I like it. Gets me thinking that there’s more room to grow. Link all these research arms together.”

“My thoughts exactly. But keep the spotlight on Wylde. Speaking of which, Jane, poke around in accounting and see if you can find someone—a Mormon would be a plus—who knows the area, is familiar with the culture, and would not shrink from spending a fair amount of time in Salt Lake City. I need a liaison between Kammy and me and Mr. Wylde. He strikes me as the type who builds his deals upon personal relationships. We’re talking about an overgrown family business here. I expect there to be some serious hand-holding in the near future, and I cannot afford to be the hand holder.”

“To begin with, it’s hell on your skin,” Jane quipped.

“What’s that?” Garrick asked.

“Nothing,” Milada said. “Please ignore Jane’s asides.”

“Jane’s asides are usually the best part. What, did you get yourself sunburned?”

“Let’s not go there, okay?”

Milada knew Garrick was grinning when he said, “Aye, Milly, what won’t you do to seal the deal?”

What she wouldn’t do indeed.

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