I updated the Department of Child Support’s data base with: Miscellaneous/Financial/Accounts: AFW (My initials), NCP (Non-Custodial Parent) deceased. Received faxed copy of death certificate. Imaged.
The phone call had come from Barry’s attorney’s office.
“Accounting . . . this is Alisha,” I answered.
“Ms. Wilkes?” The voice asked.
“Yes? This is Alisha Wilkes.”
“This is Gordon Powell, of the law firm of Powell, Madsen and Cray. We’re handling the estate of Barry Crestwood.
I had seen the headlines―Barry Crestwood Murdered in Palm Springs. I tried to control my shaking voice. “Are you calling about a child support case? Do you have a participant number?”
“Yes, 3, eight zeroes, 05296. Barry Crestwood was the non-custodial parent of Pamela Crestwood, his daughter. I need to find out what we need to do to settle and close this case.”
I took a deep breath; Barry had owed over $50,000 in child support arrears to his ex-wife Caroline Crestwood. I had tried to transfer the case out of my workload, but didn’t want anyone to know I knew Barry. I had plenty of reasons to claim a conflict of interest, yet none that I could disclose. I cleared my throat. “Just fax over the death certificate and contact me when the estate goes to probate.”
“Fine, but we’ll need a financial audit, right away. Mrs. Crestwood wants this settled as soon as possible.”
As I hung up the phone, I flashed back to the day I opened Barry’s case. It’s unusual, though not unheard of, that a non-custodial parent opens a case against himself to pay child support. Barry hated Caroline and wanted the Department of Child Support Services to process the payments―to be the intermediary.
* * * *
It was December when we took our first trip to the desert. Barry had come on to me that first day. I knew his name, I knew he was rich and now I knew he was divorced.Opportunityknocked.
After driving ten hours fromSonomaCounty, we roared up to La Quinta Palm Springs Resort in Barry’s bright red Porsche Carrera GT. The bell staff rushed to compete for the guest’s attention. Barry, famous for his generous tips, came regularly to play golf and do business. I was the latest in a string of women that accompanied him, but unlike my counterparts, I had a plan.
“Mr. Crestwood, welcome back to La Quinta,” said one young bellman, “Are you staying in your regular villa?”
“Hi Henry,” Barry said as he handed over a hundred dollar bill. “Yeah, and make sure we’re taken care of. We’ll be here two nights and I want Alisha properly attended to.”
The concierge met us at the lobby door. “Mr. Crestwood, glad to see you again. The rest of your party is already here. I’ve arranged cocktails forfour o’clockthis afternoon on the patio at the Adobe Grill.”
“Alisha, you go on ahead and follow the luggage up to the unit, I’ll catch up with you in a few minutes. I need to check on something.”
I knew not to question anything Barry said or did, but I kept my eyes and ears open for clues. I had Barry’s Income and Expense statement filed at the office with its impressive numbers, but it didn’t disclose enough assets to explain how he could afford all this―tipping hundred dollar bills at five star resorts.
Alone in the villa, I unlatched my suitcase, and mused at the contradictions it held. Barry, an avid hiker, had taken me shopping for top-of-the-line wilderness gear. Along side the hiking boots and several layers of high tech clothing, were purchases from our second shopping spree at Victoria’s Secret. “Not much to this stuff, for what he spent on it.” I giggled aloud.
I unzipped a garment bag that revealed two Donna Karan evening dresses. A black one, bare-shouldered, draped satin, and a red beaded jacquard halter―both short and tight. I was thinking that I could get used to Neiman Marcus, when the phone rang.
“Hi, this is Caroline.”
I jumped at the voice of Barry’s ex-wife. “Are you crazy calling here? Barry will be walking in any minute.”
Caroline remained calm through my panic. “I’ll be short. He’ll be checking to see who’s there, before he makes it upstairs. Now, I want you to open his briefcase while I’m on the phone. He carries his passwords and pins with him in his date book. You won’t know what to look for and you’ll need my help to find the right one.”
The bellman had unloaded the briefcase on the desk. I flipped the latches and pulled out a leather binder. “Okay, here it is . . . now what?”
“Look in the front flap, you’ll find a small pad.”
“Now read me the numbers and password under the word Griffin.”
“Nine, six, five, two and the word―Scythian.” I heard the card key in the door. “He’s here . . .bye.”
“Honey? You decent? I hope not.” Barry stuck his head through the entry door.
“I’m in here, unpacking.”
“Listen, I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes . . . business . . . you would be bored. I set up a massage for you at the spa. They have an immediate opening with Tabatha. She’s the best. She’ll work out all your kinks from the long drive. I’ll meet you back here in a couple of hours. Put on some of those lacy things we bought and we’ll see how easily they come off. We’ll have plenty of time . . . I made dinner reservations for eight-thirty.”
* * * *
“I like you in that dress. . . boy I have good taste in women, wine and fashion.” Barry’s favorite corner booth allowed him to hug me in with a kiss.
I laughed. “You’re not too full of yourself.”
“So tomorrow, it’s up early and we’ll hike the old mining trail into the mountains north of Indio.”
“What’s up there?”
“Oh there’s an old gold mine, I want to check out. My friends say it’s an adventure. Who knows, we might even find some gold.”
“So when do I meet your friends? Or am I some sort of a secret?”
“Well, here they are now. Scoot over this way.”
“Hey, Barry . . . sorry we’re late. Who’s this beautiful lady?”
“Alisha this is Theron and his girlfriend Patty.”
I extended my hand to the man and nodded at the young blond shapely woman draped in gold jewelry. “Theron, that’s an interesting name.”
“It’s Greek . . . it means hunter.”
Dinner progressed with light conversation. I suspected Patty was on the clock, since she uttered only one-syllable words and never took her eyes off her date. Theron dominated the conversation with facts about commodities trading and the rising gold prices. I tried to appear interested but kept noticing a table by the window, with five men talking in low tones and intermittently glancing over our way. They had similar complexions as Theron and I kept wondering about the Greek influence in this place.
* * * *
The next morning we set out early on our hike. The area bordered the Joshua Tree wilderness area. We parked by a huge boulder, and followed a foot path over a small rock barrier and across a dry wash. Veering to the right towards the mountains we climbed over a steel cable and entered a narrow canyon.
“They told me the old gold mine is dug out of the canyon wall where the path dead ends.”
A few more yards and we saw the opening. The entrance supports were old railroad ties and an image—more like a crest—chiseled above.
“What’s that? A petroglyph?”
“AGriffin. In the seventh century B.C., the Greeks heard of these fierce gold-guarding creatures from Scythian nomads. They’re lions with the beak and wings of an eagle. Ancient treasure seekers combed theAltai MountainsinMongolia—theGobiDesert—for their nests.Griffinchicks liked to play with shiny objects and gold nuggets lined the caves. The Griffins didn’t guard the gold; they guarded their young with legendary ferocity.”
“You aren’t thinking of going in there? Are you?”
“You wait here . . . I’ll be right back.” Barry didn’t give me time to answer. He pulled a flashlight out of his daypack and disappeared into the darkness.
Not surprised at anything he did, I turned to sit on a boulder and stepped in a pile of fresh dung. Looking for a place to scrape it off, I saw an opening in the rocks. As I peered through to the other side, I heard voices—the language sounded Greek. Still hidden, I spied on the five men I saw in the restaurant loading heavy-looking saddlebags onto burros. One of the straps broke and out tumbled five gold bars embossed with the same image that appeared in the rocks—a Griffin.
The men scurried to gather up the bars, then led the livestock in the opposite direction—down a different path than the one, we had taken. Barry squinting into the sunlight emerged from the mine, looking disappointed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Oh . . . nothing. Nothing at all. Let’s go.” Barry turned deliberately and marched away in the direction we came. I grabbed my pack and ran to catch up. Deep in thought, he would have left me; hardly knew I was there. I thought about asking him about the Greeks, but the sight of all that gold, stopped me. Barry had expected the gold to be there. I needed to find out more and a way to get my hands on some of the wealth. I wonder what Caroline found out today?
* * * *
Barry’s house looked down onSanta Rosa. I used my key code to let myself in the front door. I could hear Barry upstairs in his office. Sensing an opportunity, I stealthily ascended the stairs. He was on the phone.
“Well, when I got there, the gold was gone. I know they were scheduled to move it, but I wanted to count it first. How do I know some of it won’t go missing? Ten million? You said fifteen. What? No, that wasn’t the deal. Look I’m coming down there and I expect to see fifteen million in the bank account by Friday.
“Ah . . . hum.” I cleared my throat to make my presence known.
Barry slammed the receiver down. “God damn it,” he grumbled.
“What’s wrong, honey?” I stepped up to rub Barry’s shoulders.
“Oh, I’ve got to go back down to the desert. Those idiots can’t do anything right.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” I was getting nervous about the plan.
“No . . . don’t worry your pretty little head about it. It’s more business. I’m leaving this afternoon; be back by the weekend. Then we’ll do something fun.”
I watched as Barry drove away, then pulled out my cell phone. Caroline picked up right away. She had been anticipating the call.
“It’s all set. I have the bank lien in place on the Griffin bank account. FTB liens process bythree o’clockon Fridays. I’ll switch the direct deposit in the database attwo forty-five. As soon as I see it posted, I’ll switch it back. I overheard Barry say something about ten million dollars.”
“I thought it was fifteen million.”
“Well, there seems to be some problem with the amount, which is why Barry’s gone back toPalm Springs. But, this is our only opportunity, so we better grab it. In two days we’ll both be rich. Half of ten is better than none.”
* * * *
The next day as I passed the news box outside the health club, I saw the headline. Barry’s murder made the front page. I took a deep breath and kept on going. Don’t panic, I told myself, it’ll be Monday before the bank freezes the account. By then the money will be gone.
When Caroline’s attorney called that morning, I wondered what Barry’s ex-wife was up to. Why would she bring attention now? Couldn’t she wait until Monday? Did she suspect something? Was she pulling a double-cross? Getting greedy? Didn’t we have a deal? Maybe I need to re-think this, move on my own.
I feigned a migraine― not a complete lie―and asked for the afternoon off. Better to be missing for now―maybe use the same excuse in the morning. I’ll come in to make the bank account switch in the system, then disappear for good. I won’t need this crummy job anymore; I’ll have ten million dollars in the Grand Caymans.
The next day, I came in late. No new messages on my phone―good. I hit the switch on the power strip and booted the computer. I prayed for an empty e-mail in-box. Instead a message from Caroline Crestwood―heart in throat, I opened it.
I was afraid to leave you a voice mail, but have concerns. What’s going on?
Well at least she was smart enough to keep it short. I deleted the message then pulled it from the recycle bin and deleted again. I pulled out my cell phone and went out in the hallway. I dialed her number.
“Caroline, it’s me. Why did you call your attorney? Are you nuts . . . we’re so close.”
“They froze Barry’s bank accounts. It’s too late. We can’t get at the money. My attorney’s working on it. We’ll have to wait.”
I inhaled, then sighed. “Okay . . . I’ll be in touch,” I mumbled, then hit end call. I had to move faster, FTB wouldn’t be able to pull back funds that quickly. Thank God for government’s snail pace. Back at my desk, I logged into the database and pulled up the third direct deposit account―my emergency account, the safety net. Next I clicked into Barry’s Participant Detail Page on the dual screen and hit the Lien Hyperlink. Fifteen million dollars, sat there staring back at me with all those zeroes. Fifteen? He did it. He got all the money; my heart stopped as I made the transfer.
The next twenty minutes felt like hours while I shuffled every paper on my desk. Finally the Refresh key gave me the expected result, Transmitted. I shut everything down, grabbed my purse, wrote “Gone for the day,” on my white board and nonchalantly inched my way out of the building. Today’s Friday and no one would question my whereabouts until Monday. It was set. I would chance it all, betting on the money transfer to theBahamas.
* * * *
The tropical heat hit me as I got off the plane on Saturday morning. My carry-on bag contained all that I had in the world. Perspiration ran down my face. Once outside, I hailed a cab.
“RedBay, please . . . drop me in front of the bank. Oh, and turn the air-conditioning up.”
The short drive, felt like an eternity. I finally entered the bank lobby and approached the new account window.
“Good Morning,” I said to the bank clerk―a large black man in a tan business suit.
“Good Morning . . . madam . . . what can I do for you?”
“I need to check on my bank balance. A transfer was made late yesterday, from a California Franchise Tax Board Lien.”
The clerk didn’t flinch. TheGrand Cayman’s are the Swiss of theCaribbeanand large cash transfers from any of source―normal―no questions asked. Regardless, I held my breath.
“Oh, here it is . . . yes . . . you barely made the cut–off . . . fifteen million dollars, deposited at4:30Eastern Standard time.
I stared for a second. All this money and me, my knees went weak. I managed to arrange for a debit card and some cash, then stumbled out to the curb to the cab stand. “The Grand Hyatt.”
“Do you have any bags to bring up?” The desk clerk wasn’t surprised when I shook my head, no. He was used to travelers with no luggage.
I slid the card key in the door of my suite, dropped my bag and threw open the French doors. On the balcony I gazed out over the ocean. A voice came up behind me. I turned to the sound of Barry’s voice.