“Bernadette, correct?” Agent Hyland flipped the pink Ruger over in his hand, briefly looked the attractive, non-TNA, not-in-cutoffs version of Bernie in the eye. “Your license checks.” He offered her the Ruger and the clip. “I’d appreciate it if you would stop shooting bad art to make your point.” He picked up the long, shiny revolver by the barrel. “You, on the other hand…” He stood over where Mick sat hunched down in one of Bobby’s rented-furnished kitchen table chairs. “What the hell is this? A handheld buffalo gun?”
“My father…” Mick dropped his head further, mumbled into his chest. “He bought it. His first shop was in a shit part of L.A. Where jagged Beaners would cut you for paint thinner. It’s been around since I was a kid.”
“We’re going to have to run it. If it’s clean you can have it back. If,” Hyland tapped Mick on the shoulder with the gun, made him look up. “If you sign up for a Concealed Carry class. You may have trouble proving to the L.A. County Sheriff you’re of upright moral character, but they give Concealed Carry licenses away in Texas when you buy a lottery ticket. Reason enough for you to take a little Lone Star vacation, get a grip on yourself.” He handed the cowboy special off to the black agent, who dropped it in a big, zip lock baggie.
“Now that the great standoff in Huntington Beach is out of the way…” Agent Hyland leaned on the briefcase with both hands, gave Bobby more of a fatherly look than an FBI glare. “Do you know what’s going on with your money?”
“Well, what I see varies some months. I figure it’s Junior or Carrie Louise needing something, or a bill for –”
“Your real money, Bobby. The fifteen million.”
“No. I…CL’s Aunt Liz handles that. Why?”
“You aren’t pulling money out and dumping it back in, raising and lowering the ceiling?” Hyland waited, caught Bobby’s blank, open eyed look. “I thought not.” He clicked the briefcase open, spun it around, lifted the lid.
Bobby whistled, just like he had at the butter soft leather in Creighton’s old Porsche.
Creighton checked the contents of the case, then Hyland. “Couple million, close to?”
“Good eye, DeHavilland. Two million on the –”
Mick started up his loud sob. Again. He reached out, turned the briefcase around, sobbed even harder and louder. “Godammit…” Bubbles formed and popped on his lips, tears streamed down his cheeks. “God…Dammit.” He looked around the table at all of them. “God…DAMMIT. That’s mine!”
“Mick,” Agent Hyland put a hand on Mick’s shoulder, “Bernadette and the boys have a plan for you that will put some money back in your pocket, make you whole again. If you’ll find a way to get your shit straight long enough to listen to them. But right now, old buddy, I need you to stop blubbering and go with agents Wilhead and Fryke. If you need to eat, let them know. Doubtful we’ll be able to save you any pizza.” The four of them watched the windbreaker and jeans agents escort a still sobbing, nose blowing Mick outside and off to parts unknown.
“So here’s the deal, team. Ms. Evrard, you can read over their shoulders.” Hyland handed Bobby and Creighton a sheet of paper across the pizza boxes, poured himself another chipped coffee cup of champagne. “We’ve already taken two million from Bobby under the guise of Mr. Dehavilland. The documents sent to Vernier stated it was investment money for Monterrey Mick’s burger joint.”
Creighton drew a line from one paragraph on the sheet to another. “You put that money in one of your trust accounts, because you don’t trust us?” He tapped the money with his pen. “Bobby takes this two-mill green back to Baton Rouge?”
“Uncle Sam trusts no one, Creighton. You get Bobby’s money back when this briefcase gets where it’s supposed to go.” Hyland talked through the end of his bite of pizza. “Bobby, you’ll take the cash to Vernier, tell her you changed your mind. You’re a principal in this burger joint deal and two million is a drop in the bucket, why waste it when you’ll get paid anyway.”
Bobby was lost. “Why me?”
“She’d expect you to pull some numb nuts stunt like hand her a briefcase full of money. And Liz Vernier is already using you several times a week to make money disappear. Mostly her own. She and some partners set up an investment like your burger joint, only it’s not real and never will be. They throw money at it for all kinds of research and feasibility studies that never get done. They shovel money back and forth, pay bills for nothing, send it back in cash and she dumps it in your accounts. After she’s made room for it taking money out and shelving it in a holding account. It’s a big circle jerk that makes money vanish. The write offs as business investment losses reduce her tax burden, the money is gone, but she still has it. Somewhere.”
Hyland wiped his hands on a paper napkin, dumped a packet of ground parmesan on another piece of pizza, checked them all to see if he was registering. “The government doesn’t want to arrest anyone or make a big stink, people. They just want their share of the money. The money in this briefcase is wired to tell a room full of tech geek accountants what Liz Vernier does with it.”
“What happens when they get it all back?”
“Who the fuck knows, Bobby.” Hyland took another bite of pizza, talked around it some more. “They put it in a blind account, turn it into cash and subsidize anarchists for all I know. Our job is to give Liz Vernier this briefcase full of cash so ‘they’ can follow it to the magic money rabbit hole. After that it’s no longer our game.”
Bernie had one hand each on the back of Bobby’s and Creighton’s chairs, leaned in between their heads. “And me?”
“Ms. Evrard, you were allowed to stay because you have a reputation for being smart and overly curious when it comes to money. And you can act a little, if need be. You also have a temper and tactical firearms certification. I don’t want you getting the wrong idea when you see us running money in and out of your burger joint project to catch money launderers, and end up killing these two boys right out from under me.”
Bernie stepped around to the table, looked at Bobby and Creighton out of the corner of her eye, collected all the paper and handed it to Hyland.
“I would shoot them for that.” She leaned over the table, checked the pizza boxes, pulled one her way and frowned. “And now look here, Mr. FBI, I don’t care who your uncle is. If you don’t leave me some of that pineapple pizza, you’ll be going on the short list of shot right along with them.”