"Hello, Raymond," I said. Mistake. Never acknowledge an idiot.
"I knew you would remember me," Raymond said, his hand closing around my elbow with way too much familiarity.
"I wish I had time to talk," I lied, "I have to get this fish into the fridge before it spoils. It's good to see you again though." I maneuvered my elbow out of his grasp. I tried to open the car door, but he was too close. "Excuse me," I smiled.
"Maybe you should let the fish spoil," Raymond said, his smile growing, "let me take you out to eat. We'll hit a club. If I remember, you owe me a dance." He moved closer. The strong scent of alcohol was on his breath.
"Please Raymond," I said, trying to keep it light, "I need to get home. I promised Oliver dinner." I figured that the mention of Oliver would end the discussion. I was wrong. "That stick in the mud," Raymond continued, "he doesn't know how to treat women." He moved closer, pushing me against my car. I held the wrapped fish between us. A horribly flimsy shield. "I'll make you queen for the night. Rock your world."
"No!" I said loudly. I pushed him back. He was stronger than he looked and barely moved in inch. He laughed as if it were a game. His eyes were tinged in a drunken red. "No always means yes," Raymond chuckled. "No means no," A deep voice said. Franks large hand closed on Raymond's shoulder and pulled him away. William immediately put himself between Raymond and me.
"Who the fuck are you two," Raymond demanded. It looked like he was considering a fight.
"Agents Chukwu and Bruno," William said with authority, flashing his badge and exposing his side arm, "SCID." I smiled at my heroes. "May I suggest a cab, Sir," Frank said, pulling Raymond farther away from me. I heard Raymond mumble something back as he allowed Frank to escort him down the street. I let out the breath I was holding.
"Thank you," I said to William. "Finally, some excitement," William laughed. Frank joined a moment later with a proud smile.
"Mr. Raymond has decided to call it a day and head home," Frank said, "I hope he didn't ruin yours."
"He tried," I said, "but not with Nigeria's finest on duty. I don't know how I can thank you."
"It was kind of nice stopping a crime before it was committed," Frank said, "maybe you could stir up some more trouble to give us something else to do."
"I'll see what I can do," I laughed. Frank and William smiled, said goodbye and headed to their car. I watched them go, thankful that they were there. I wasn't sure how I would have handled a drunk Raymond if they weren't. I smiled to myself. Frank and William slid from the acquaintance to the friend category. I held back a chuckle as I realized I liked them following me.
"That bastard," Olly said when I told him about Raymond. "He was drunk," I calmed him, "I don't think it would have gone too far. Besides, I think Frank and William scared him pretty good."
"Tom and Jerry still downstairs?" Oliver asked.
"They're on until 7:00, I think." Olly smiled and grabbed his phone. I laughed as he ordered the two large pizza and drinks. I had no idea how many rules we were breaking, but friends took care of friends. Damn the rules. My trial was a week away. I had almost fully moved in with Oliver and his parents now considered me family. His father, Daniel, was a workaholic, but took plenty of time out to make sure I was welcome. He, like his wife, had little concern how I had met Oliver. Oliver was happy and that's all that seemed to matter. Which was good, since that is all that mattered to me. I went home to gather more of my clothes. I have been moving them piecemeal into Oliver's condo. He had given me an entire closet and half the dresser drawers. There was no ring, no ceremony, no license, but we were married in the heart. We started and ended each day with a kiss and shared the bathroom like we had been together our whole lives. More importantly, we could make each other laugh. We didn't even need words anymore. Something would strike my eyes as funny and a quick look at Oliver would set him off as well. A wonderful connection I never wanted to see go away.
Jeremaine, unfortunately, was home. Her smile told me she would attempt to ruin my day. I tried to ignore it and moved quickly to my room, packing another box of clothes away. "There are some discrepancies in The Impact’s books," Jeremaine sang gleefully, "money is missing that is awfully close that the amounts the SCID was inquiring about." It felt as if a needle entered my heart. I continued packing while she leaned against the door frame obviously wanting to see my reaction. I did my best not to give her one. "Embezzling is an awful, awful crime," She continued, "I tried to make it clear to them that my daughter wouldn't have anything to do with that." There was a chuckle in her voice. I continued packing, praying she hadn't connected Arun to me.
"I told them that type of crime would get you fired," she added, "and as no longer an employee of The Impact, you would lose all rights to inherit the firm." I turned my head to her and cringed at her smile. "Those rights would fall to me as your father's next heir." I couldn't control my tongue.
"Bitch!" The company was my last tie to my father. It was his legacy and my duty to see that it remained strong. Why he ever put Jeremaine between me and that legacy was still lost on me.
"I'll take that as a guilty plea," she laughed. Damn my mouth. She would delve deeper. If she uncovered Arun's complicity everything would unravel. I sped up my packing. I had to preempt Jeremaine. It would cost a large chunk of my inheritance, but I had Oliver. He was worth more than a hundred companies. Sorry dad, I hope Jeremaine was worth it.
The weight of the defeat hit hard when I exited the house under Jeremaine's gleeful stare. I had wasted many years struggling to maintain my temper. Working impossible hours trying to outlast the bitch. It had been a waste. I tried to think of Oliver and all I had gained. I needed his arms to quell the pain. He was in meetings again, so I wouldn't seem him until much later. The tears came while I waited at a red light. I had failed my father. It was his fault, but I failed nonetheless.
I pulled over into a big box store parking lot. Leaning my head on the steering wheel, I tried to slow my heart and stem the tears. I had cried too much over all that had happened. This was just something I had to let go of. The gold digger would be out of my life. I should be happy with that consolation prize. I was startled by a soft knock on my window. William was there, his face full of concern. I had forgotten my tail. "I'm sorry, William," I said, after wiping my eyes. Frank was on the other side of the car, looking for some kind of threat I suspect, "I forgot you guys were there."
"You're not supposed to know," William chuckled. At least his humor made me feel better. I stepped out of the car when Frank came around.
"I just had some bad news is all," I said, talking to them like we were friends, "I screwed up a lot of things when I went to that dance."
"You seem happy enough with Mr. Peterson," Frank injected.
"Yes, I do have him and wouldn't trade it for anything," I smiled, "It's just some of the costs are higher than I wished. I think I just lost my father's business."
"How's that?" William asked. I explained to them what I could, leaving Arun out of it. The will, embezzling my own money, and the probable cost of being so foolish.
"Jeremaine sounds like a Bitch," William commented.
"That's what I called her. Probably not a good thing to say given the circumstances." Frank laughed at my words. At least sharing my pain made me feel a little better. Sometimes you just need to put a voice to it and let some of it burn off. I laughed with him.
"Are you going to be all right?" Frank asked.
"I think so," I replied, "this is the second time I'm grateful to you guys." I surprised Frank by giving him a hug. I followed with William who hugged me back. I am sure I just violated a whole bunch of SCID rules. They could just tack it onto my sentence. At least the guys were smiling when they headed to their car and I was done with my self-admonishment. No point in second guessing if I can't have a do-over.
I called Rotimi as soon as I got home. I hated leaving my lawyers in the dark, but I also didn't want them exposed to ethical dilemmas. I informed him where the money for the ball ticket, limo and hairdresser came from. He seemed to take it in stride, asking some probing questions to clarify issues. He was most interested in the dollar amounts and the provisions of the trust my father had saddled me with. I clarified what I could and he promised me everything would be alright. I was surprised when I found out that I wouldn't be taking the stand. "Some rights are best exercised," Brendan insisted. The Petersons trusted him, so did I.
Oliver and I had been slowly switching our internal clocks. Since I didn't have my night work, he began working during the day and spent evenings with me like non-vampires. His abundance of meetings made me feel guilty. I was sure I had greatly wounded his business and healing it was taking an enormous amount of time. He assured me I hadn't done anything he couldn't handle. Every night, he would erase my doubts with love. I always found them again when he left the next morning.
The night before my trial was especially tense. I had spent the day feeling I had lost control of my life. Rebecca had called to say that she and Daniel would be in court for support. I was glad of the diversion her call gave me. Too much time to think is not good for the condemned. Oliver had cleared his afternoon so he could spend it with me. He sensed my apprehension when he left that morning. I had to practically shove him out the door. I knew he had an important meeting first thing. I placated myself by playing a housewife. I cleaned and made a salad for lunch. I hated being a housewife.
I was busy cutting carrots when I felt a kiss on the back of my neck. Olly had snuck in and was rather pleased with his stealth. I turned into him and all the bad things in the world drained away. In each other's arms, we were unstoppable. "Whatever happens tomorrow, know that I love you," I whispered once my lips had tasted him. "And I you, no matter what happens tomorrow, or the next day, or the one after that," he added. "So, I am screwed next week," I joked. We could always turn silly words into laughter. Oliver lifted me off the floor with a deep hug, then reached past me to grab a piece of carrot.
"You were screwed the moment I met you," Oliver said, throwing the carrot in his mouth, "now you're stuck with me." I kissed him, not caring that he was munching on the carrot. He reached for another piece and I slapped his hand playfully.
"Wait," I said, "let me put some in the salad." He laughed, backed away and held up the piece I thought I had stopped him from taking. "Salad," I demanded, pointing at the bowl full of salad. His eyebrows bounced and tossed the carrot into his mouth. Men! I dropped the knife on the counter and tackled him.
Oliver let me win the brief wrestling match. I liked being on top, in control. Weeks of bowing to things out of my control and now I had the man I loved beneath me. He reached up slowly, some attempt to bring me closer. I took his wrist and pushed it back to his side. I lowered my head, my smile meeting his, and gave him my love. I felt his resistance fade, muscles relaxing. I broke the kiss and began unbuttoning his shirt.
"I am yours," Olly smiled. I tried not to laugh at the small speck of carrot in his teeth. I kissed the carrot away while I went to work on his buttons. He sensed my desire and allowed me to control our love making. My lips found his secrets as he had found mine. It was the first time he had given up everything. We had shared often, but this time it was me giving pleasure and expecting nothing in return except tacit obedience. For a short while, I was the most powerful person in the room. Olly had given me his strength and I needed it more than he knew. "I need to come home early more often," Olly whispered. I could feel his heart slowing as I lay on his chest. "I don't want to be just a housewife," I said. I wanted Oliver, but I also wanted something of my own. It was as good a time as any to clear things up, now that I had some strength back. I could feel Olly holding back a chuckle. I looked up, thinking he found my statement funny.
"You don't need my permission," Oliver said, "though...if I disagree...does that mean I have a chance of getting tackled again?" The little boy whimsy in his eyes made me laugh. I slapped his shoulder and he feigned pain making me laugh harder.
"I just wanted you to know. I'm not sure how you see our future."
"I want you," Olly said, rolling me to my side, "I can hire a maid."
"I don't want to disappoint you. I have no idea what you're expecting and..."
"You," Oliver repeated, his hand lovingly caressing my neck, "I am expecting you and no one else. I have the same worries, but every time I kiss you, they fade away. So I figured, I just need to keep kissing you." I loved when he was like this. Playful and meaningful at the same time. He was correct, kissing solved a lot of issues.
Walking into the courtroom was surreal. I had seen it on TV and been on a few tours in grade school. The one time I had been selected for jury duty, I was never called to serve. As a defendant, it was an imposing room. I walked in with my lawyers, hopefully presenting an imposing sight myself. I refused to look meek. If they were going to take me down, then it would be with a straight back and a proud face. Enough with the self-pity. I would take my lumps, solve the problem and continue the next chapter of my life. The chapter entitled 'Oliver.'
I was surprised to see Tim and Zac seated in one of the rows. The SCID must have been busy tracking down all my transgressions. Zac waved with a flirty look in his eyes. Tim smiled. I felt bad for them being dragged to my trial. The thought that their pay might be retracted as stolen funds sent a chill through me. That would have to be rectified. Another debt. My fears were confirmed when I saw Nikki and Trixie in another row. I tried to give them an apologetic expression. It probably came off as stupid mixed with insanity. They didn't shy away and gave me friendly smiles. Rebecca and Daniel were all smiles. They had an aura of confidence I didn't share. Ruth and Betty sat next to them. Ruth with a polite nod and Betty with a thumbs up. Right behind what I suspected was the prosecutor was Jeremaine. She was smiling ear to ear. It was the most unfriendly thing I had ever seen. I had a brief unhealthy desire to claw it off her face. Thankfully, I buried the thought with the idea that this might be the last time I ever see her. She would get what she wanted and I would have Oliver and a new life.
My lawyers and I sat at a large wooden table that mirrored the prosecutor's table on the other side of the room. I took a deep breath and straightened in my chair. Rotimi conferred quietly with Mary, another of my counsel, and she passed down a set of papers. Rotimi looked at them a moment then pushed them down the table to me.
"We took the liberty of handling your taxes this year," Rotimi whispered, "if you could sign these, it will help in your defence." I looked down at the stack a papers in front of me. I usually only had a couple of sheets when I did my taxes. This was at least twenty pages of FIRS forms. There were two sign-here stickers poking out the right side. Rotimi smiled and I felt his confidence. I shrugged my shoulders and signed. Mary stood, gathered the document and headed out to make copies. At least my taxes were done. One headache not to worry about. We stood when the judge arrived. Judge Alfred was black-gowned with a round face and gray beard that reminded me of a well-trimmed Santa Claus. He didn't smile like Santa when the charges were read. In fact, it looked like humor was foreign to him. I sat back down and listened to a slew of perfunctory statements on both sides. The trial began in earnest with the first witness. The first witness was Oliver. I cringed when his name was called. I should have expected it since it was his team that first recognized the breach. He smiled to me as he walked from behind me. I hadn't seen him walk in. I lost track of him when my lawyers briefed me on what to expect.
Oliver took the witness stand. He looked adorable. I scrunched my eyes, trying to separate the naked Oliver from the one in the chair. I couldn't, so I smiled at him. I received a loving smile in return. The prosecutor was staring at me with an expression that didn't contain any love. I guess I was compromising his witness. Oliver winked at me and then became serious, stating his name and promising to tell the truth.
"On the night of..." The prosecutor began, describing the events that were undisputed fact before he hit on a question. "Did you identify a breach of the Shark firewall?"
"Yes," Oliver said and didn't elaborate. I knew he wouldn't lie, but he had no intention of helping the man. I liked Oliver in his suit. When he wasn't smiling at me, he was the picture of authority and strength. His power weakened greatly when he smiled. He became approachable. I looked over to the jury. I had a flash of jealousy when I saw the eyes of the four women jurors. They were fixed on Oliver. My Oliver. I had to look away. They were supposed to be looking at him. I straightened my back and returned my mind to the proceedings.
"How did you identify the incursion?" The prosecutor's question was followed by a long list of technical procedures that would have bored Bill Gates. I could see the jurors eyes glaze over as Peter used acronyms and long-winded techno jargon with abandon. Twice the prosecutor tried to interrupt, but Peter wasn't having it. By the time he was done, we all realized that he was highly skilled and we had no idea how he identified the incursion.
"How would you categorize this assault?" the prosecutor asked.
"I'm not sure I understand the question," Oliver responded. He was so cute when he played dumb. Somehow he could change his eyes from intense to innocent in a heartbeat.
"Amateur, skilled, highly skilled?" the prosecutor clarified.
"It was the most sophisticated attack I have ever seen," Oliver said. He was looking near the prosecutor's table when he said it, almost as if he was answering the question for someone else. I turned my head and glanced toward the table. There was an older man in a blue air force uniform with a star on the color. General Rickers, I assumed.
"In your opinion, would the development of this attack take the resources of a government to design and execute?" The question was followed by a series of objections that were overruled by the judge who followed up with instructions to the jury that Oliver's response would be an opinion of an expert and not necessarily fact.
"No." Oliver's answer took the prosecutor by surprise. He looked down at this notes, then back at his table where his assistant shrugged his shoulder.
"We have depositions that state you have claimed that only a foreign government had the capability to develop such an attack."
"Yes," Oliver said calmly, "I know longer feel that is the case. I was rather...upset when I made those assumptions."
"So, you want this court to believe that an individual has developed, in your words, the most sophisticated attack you have ever seen?"
"As his honor has stated, it is only my opinion," Oliver said. Again, he was speaking to Rickers. The prosecutor walked back to his desk and conferred with his assistant for a moment. Rickers leaned into the conversation. Then a third joined, Agent Stiles. I felt my bladder contract. The judge called the prosecutor back to the questioning after a moment.
"What is your relationship with the defendant?" Oliver considered the question then looked directly at me.
"I intend to ask her to be my wife when this is over." I heard Rebecca audibly gasp at Oliver's response. My heart nearly burst.
"Yes," I answered the unasked question. I wasn't thinking about where I was when it came out. All I saw was Oliver looking at me. All I saw was love. The pounding of the gavel and the commotion of the courtroom was lost on us. The rest of the world could fall into a bottomless pit for all I cared.
"Order!" The judge yelled again. This time, I heard the gavel but ignored it. I smiled at my love and nearly melted when he smiled back. It took awhile to bring the courtroom under control as Oliver and I continued to absorb each other with our eyes.
"Mr. Peterson!" the prosecutor said for the second time. Oliver turned away from me and looked questionably at the prosecutor. I couldn't hide my smile and didn't really care who saw it.
"Has your testimony been comprised by your relationship with the defendant?"
"Comprised? No," Oliver responded, "though I am sure it has been tainted. Have you ever been in love?" The court broke out in laughter. More gavel pounding and the judge looking less and less like Santa all the time.
"Mr. Peterson," the judge instructed, "you are here to answer questions, not ask them."
"Yes, your honor."
"Could your assessment of the capability of the attacker of your firewall be tainted by your relationship with the defendant?"
"Absolutely not," Peter said, "My firewall, and, therefore, the armed force's networks, are completely exposed to the talents of a single individual." General Rickers stood quickly and leaned down to the assistant prosecutor who immediately waved the prosecutor over. The judge rolled his eyes and slammed his gavel down. "This court does not have tolerance for interference, even by the military," the judge decreed.
"Your honor, May I approach the bench?" the prosecutor asked.
"Lead counsel only." Rotimi joined the prosecutor at the bench. There was a bunch of whisperings that seemed more spirited than it should be. I looked over at Oliver. Our eyes met and I mouthed 'yes' again. His smile was so wonderful. I didn't need him on his knee. I just needed him.
"There will be a thirty-minute recess while counsel confers in chambers," the judge announced with a tone that sounded less than pleased. Lead counsel and the judge headed through a door behind the bench. The jury was led out by the sergeant at arms. A soft hand found my shoulder. I turned to see Rebecca, happy tears in her eyes, leaning over the waist high divider.
"Welcome to the family," Rebecca said. I rose and we hugged. I promised myself I wouldn't break down again. I failed.
"Sorry," Oliver said from behind me, "I didn't want to commit perjury." I was in his arms before his words were finished.
"Yes," I said again.
"I haven't asked yet."
"Yes," I repeated. I was sure there were rules about the defendant kissing the witness, but there was no one to tell me what they were. More importantly, there was no one stopping me. Whatever happened, Olly was in my arms. Nothing else mattered. I barely heard the clerk call General Rickers into chambers.
"I was planning something more romantic," Oliver whispered, "I hope you aren't disappointed."
"I only need you," I whispered back, "we make our own romance."
"Oliver Peterson!" the clerk called. Oliver smiled at me as if he knew the summons was coming.
"They will call you next," Oliver told me, "I am throwing a hail mary. Do you trust me?"
"Until I die," I answered. Olly's smile grew as he separated from me and headed to chambers. I waited for ten minutes. None of the other lawyers could guess what was going on. It was rare when non-lawyers were called into chambers.
"Ella Okoye." I followed the clerk into the chambers.
"She needs to be under oath," the prosecutor said as I enter the room.
"Cut the crap, James," the judge said, "we are way past formality now." He looked at me and waited for the door to close. "We have reached a point where national security tramples on civil proceedings. I have been informed that you know of an individual who has the capability to compromise the Shark firewall," the judge looked toward General Rickers, "and therefore, the nation's security networks." I looked at Peter and he gave me a small nod. Arun's family was wrapped in the answer I was about to give. I almost lied, but Oliver asked for trust.
"Yes," I said as I prayed inside. The judge nodded and then looked at Rickers.
"Given immunity, would this individual be willing to work for Mr. Peterson?" Rickers asked.
"Yes," I answered, "and he would only require one thing." My hands were shaking.
"What would that be?" Rickers asked. My next statement was a blind leap of faith. The request would practically paint a target on Arun. I looked at Oliver. He smiled and nodded.
"More than anything, he and his family want to be citizens of the United States," I replied. My heart was beating so hard, I was surprised no one else heard it.
"Is he that good?" Rickers asked Oliver.
"Ingenious. He thinks way out of the box," Oliver replied.
"A foreigner?" Rickers stated more than asked, "I wish I could be certain of his intentions." I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and leaped.
"The phone from that night has messages from him," I said quietly, hoping I hadn't just signed Arun's family's deportation order, "you can hear it in his voice and read it in his words. He had no intention of attacking America. He and his family love it as much as you and I."
"Where's the phone?" Ricker's asked.
"We were going to submit it as evidence," James answered, "It's on the table, but it's encrypted and NSA hasn't been able to break into it yet."
"I know the password," I admitted. There, I just hung Arun out completely. I was about to hand the prosecution everything.
"Can I see the phone?" Rickers asked. He looked at me and I saw some compassion in his eyes. He was beginning to see what it was costing me. Maybe this was just a dance. James looked desperately at the judge. He didn't want to give up a piece of physical evidence, especially when I just stated I knew the password.
"Produce the phone," the judge ruled. I could see he didn't like the interference nor the extra time this was taking. James left and shortly returned with the phone in a plastic bag. The judge nodded as Rickers removed the phone from the plastic.
"Password?" Rickers asked. My face went red.
"I can type it in," I said, moving forward.
"No," James jumped in, "if this isn't what you say, I don't want the phone tampered with."
"The password, Ms. Okoye," the judge said, agreeing with James. I looked at the five men in the room and thought I would die.
"Can I whisper it?" I begged Rickers. The curious looks I got made it all worse. Rickers looked to the judge.
"Yes," the judge said. I was blushing horrible when I leaned toward Rickers' ear.I couldn't believe I had to do this. I should have chosen a different password.
"Oliver likes my breasts," I whispered so only Rickers would hear it, "no spaces." Rickers eyes shot to Oliver and he struggled to keep the corner of his lips down. "It was from before," I defended the password, "the flat tire, before I knew Oliver was Oliver Peterson." Rickers lips were straining as he typed in the code. The phone let him in and he looked back at me. He knew then, before he even read the texts, it was only a dance.
We watched as Rickers scrolled through the texts. He fired off one of the voicemails and held it to his ear. The humor in his eyes grew as he listened to another. Arun confessing to missing the logs and begging my forgiveness, praying that his stupidity didn't get me in trouble.
"You say the NSA couldn't break this man's encryption?" Rickers asked Larkin. James shook his head no. Rickers smiled at me.
"It really was just a dance," Rickers stated. I nodded my head. "This phone and its encryption are also considered a national security issue." Rickers told the judge. The judge nodded.
"So, you'll get him and his family citizenship?" I asked desperately.
"Done," Rickers told me, "Peterson will handle the logistics. Nothing of this leaves this room." He directed the last statement to the prosecutor.
"The wire fraud still exists," James said. The judge looked at me.
"Legally, that is correct," the judge said to me, "if it is determined you are a participant of the fraud, you will not be able to bring up the aforementioned individual. You will stand alone." He looked at the prosecutor, "you will have to refrain from any mention of a third party."
"I agree," I said with a smile. Arun was out of it and his family was safe. Espionage was off the table.
"You don't have a choice," the judge said. I saw his lips curl for the briefest moment. Maybe he did have a little Santa in him. I left the chamber floating on a cloud. Though I wasn't wearing a ring, I was engaged to the only person in the world who I truly loved, Arun and his family were safe, and I was only on trial for wire fraud. What a wonderful turn of events. The trial began again with the judge instructing the court to ignore all references to the Shark firewall and the skill level of the person or persons who comprised the network or networks. I watched the jurors eyes glaze over again. Oliver was once again seated in the witness chair and the prosecutor continued his questioning.
"Were you responsible for the children's hospital charity ball website?"
"Were your systems the target of fraudulent activity prior to the dance?"
"No." Oliver held a straight face. The prosecutor's face was starting to look a little flush.
"No one compromised your system?" the prosecutor asked.
"I believe someone did find what you would call a backdoor into to the network." Oliver clarified.
"So, fraud was perpetrated," the prosecutor said exasperatedly.
"Either they broke in or they didn't, Which is it Mr. Peterson?"
"Someone definitely entered the network in an unexpected way," he answered with a straight face.
"You do not consider that fraud?"
"No. No data was taken, altered or deleted. A ticket was inserted into the database and the charity received the prescribed payment for that ticket." Oliver let a small chuckle, "I'm not sure why they just didn't use the standard web interface. The results would have been the same." he paused for a moment then added, "I saw no fraud, just an unorthodox transaction."
"What was the price of that ticket?"
"No more questions," the prosecutor spat as he returned to his table. A hushed conference between his assistant and the Agent Stiles.
"Cross-exam?" the judge asked.
"No questions at this time," Rotimi announced. Oliver was excused. We shared a smile as he moved to a seat directly behind me. I liked having him close. A representative for Coupon Crave was called next. He was unaware of any unauthorized intrusions to his company's network. He was most adamant that everyone in the courtroom knew that they take enormous care of their customer’s data. I had to smile at Arun's skill.
Tim and Trixie were called in turn. They were both adamant that they had received full payment from Coupon Crave and controlled no networks. They were both asked the price of their services to me. I smelled a trap in the dollar amounts. I conferred quietly with Brendan who just nodded and said it will be alright.
Jeremaine was called to the stand next. She didn't even try to hide her pleased smile.
"You heard the previous testimony of the purchases made and received by Ella Okoye?" the prosecutor asked.
"Yes I did," she answered. She looked at me as she answered. She was enjoying this.
"Are those dollar amounts familiar?" the prosecutor prodded.
"Yes, they are," she announced, "they are the exact amounts missing from a company account." The prosecutor walked over to his table and grabbed a set of papers.
"Here is the independently audited transaction log for the account mentioned. I would like to submit it as exhibit A." There were no objections, which surprised me, and it was placed in evidence.
"Did you authorize a disbursement of those amounts?"
"No, I did not."
"Did any other authorized person disburse those amounts?"
"No," she replied. Her grin was growing.
"What do you think happened to those funds?" the prosecutor asked. Rotimi stopped one of my other lawyers from objecting. He seemed comfortable with the line of questioning. I wasn't.
"I think it was stolen by Ella Okoye," she said. The words came from her mouth like music. Her happiness was apparent to everyone in the room. She was rattling my nerves.
"No more questions."
"Cross-exam?" the judge asked. Rotimi rose confidently and moved toward Jermaine.
"Mrs. Okoye, what is your relationship to Ella Okoye?"
"I am her stepmother."
"What is your legal relationship with Ella Okoye?"
"I am the executor of her father's will," Jeremaine said confidently, "the trustee of the assets until Ella is 37."
"What assets would those be?"
"The Impact Marketing, Inc, a few bank accounts, a house and some stock holdings," she said, her confidence wavering. Rotimi nodded.
"Did Ella Okoye mention the ball prior to the event?"
"I'm not sure?" she lied.
"We could call your daughters to the stand to help your memory," Rotimi said.
"Oh yes, I do remember having a discussion pertaining to the event."
"Did Ella Okoye express interest in going to the event?"
"I'm not sure I remember," she lied again. At least her smile had disappeared. I liked nervous Jermaine."Again, would your daughter's memory be more complete?"
"Yes, now I remember. She did express interest." I think I saw sweat on her forehead.
"What was your answer to that request?"
"I...I believe I didn't think it prudent," Jermaine stuttered. "Who from The Impact Marketing did go to the event?"
"If memory serves, Katie and Stella, and myself, "Agnus said slowly. "Who are they?"
"Sales representatives for The Impact Marketing."
"What is their relationship to Ella Okoye?"
"Stepsisters," she said after an uncomfortable pause. "So, to summarize, you disallowed Ella to use her own company's money to attend the event because you thought it not prudent." Rotimi paused for a moment, rubbing his chin as if he was trying to understand, "but you thought it prudent to use Ella's company money to send your daughters to the same event."
"It was a business decision," she justified, "my daughters were representing the firm."
"You sent two sales representatives instead of an owner?"
"Ella doesn't own The Impact Marketing until she is 37," she countered. "No, I believe the law would disagree with you. You are the trustee, not the temporary owner. You have a fiduciary responsibility to represent Ella Okoye as if she was 32."
"She can't just take money," she argued. "The amount is immaterial to the total worth of the company. More of a mistaken withdraw than a theft. She has declared it on her taxes as dispersed earnings."Rotimi walked over to our table and grabbed a copy of the tax form I had just signed. "A minor disbursement from her own company declared legally to the FIRS. I do believe the error lies with your fiduciary responsibility, not with such a small disbursement she is entitled to anyway." Jeremaine was visibly perturbed. "I would like to note that my own compensation had to be paid by a third party," Rotimi continued, "since Ella Okoye’s trustee refused to release funds for Ella's defence."
"I am failing to see a crime here," the judge said, "I am beginning to see a breach of trust that precipitated the events. James is there any evidence that the money in question was not ultimately Ella Okoye's? Are there any victims beside Ella Okoye." The prosecutor was in a conference with Agent Stiles and her assistant. "James?" the judge repeated himself.
"There may be," the prosecutor stated, "the funds in question resided in a Nigerian bank. Depending upon how those funds were accessed, it could very well represent a crime." The judge rolled his eyes.
"Jeremaine Okoye, you are excused," the judge said, "I would recommend you find legal counsel of your own. I doubt your decisions as executor will stand up to legal scrutiny."
"There will be a two-hour recess," the judge continued, "after which the prosecution will have to convince me there is a reason to continue this trial." The gavel came down and the judge left quickly. I turned to Oliver and found him gone. Rebecca shrugged her shoulders and pointed at the door. I walked out to the hall and didn't see him. I couldn't believe he left me. He just sort of asked me to marry him and he disappears. I wanted my sort-of fiancée. Oliver came up the stairs, a smile across his face. I jumped into his arms and tasted his wonderful lips.
"Where did you go?" I asked.
"Picking up some leverage," he answered cryptically. "I already said yes. What do you need leverage for?" I joked. "Not for you. For her," he said, pointing at agent Stiles. He split away from me and went directly to Stiles and directed her to the side, away from others. He pulled out his phone and showed her something that made her face lose its color. They had a brief heated conversation that never rose above a whisper though the faces said they were yelling. After a moment, Peter came back smiling. "Looks like it will end now," Oliver said. I wrapped him in my arms. "And why is that?"
"Someone, protected by immunity, happened to locate some security camera footage on SCID servers that was not supposed to exist," Oliver said. "Oh god," I said, "Arun didn't see it, did he?" Oliver pulled me close. "He loves you," Olly soothed, "not as much as me, but enough to forget."
"You saw it?"
"It's embarrassing," I admitted shyly. Oliver's hand caressed the side of my face, his eyes caressing my soul.
"Nothing is embarrassing between us," he said before he kissed me. It was still embarrassing, but I could ignore it.
Oliver's parents took us out to lunch. Rebecca scolded Oliver for announcing a pending proposal without the proper romantic setup, especially a ring. I assured her, I was more than willing to wait. I started that morning believing there was a good chance I would have to spend some time in prison. Now, it was looking like I might get away with a slap on the wrist and gain a husband to boot. Daniel rolled his eyes as Rebecca and I started preliminary talk on wedding arrangements. I had no desire for Jeremaine to participate, so that left me with only one woman to lean on. I knew Oliver would just nod his head and say yes to everything, Rebecca on the other hand, had the style and the desire to make it wonderful. I didn't want a big wedding, but I did want it wonderful.
"What do you think about a garden wedding, Oliver?" Rebecca asked. I had already agreed that it sounded wonderful.
"That sounds like a good idea," Oliver said, nodding his head. True to form. He turned back to the discussion he was having with his father.
"What about using The Meridiens, Oliver? Somewhere along the walking trail." Rebecca pushed. I smiled, expecting acquiescence followed by a nod. He seemed deeply entrenched into the conversation with his father. "Yes," Oliver agreed, turning to his mother, "but it has to be by that small fountain. The one with the little cement ducks." He returned to his father. "But there are better spots on the grounds," Rebecca countered, "like the corner with willow trees or the tiered flower beds." Oliver turned to me. "I believe we shared our first kiss by the ducks," Oliver said. I smiled at the look in his eyes. There was all the romance I needed right there.
"By the ducks," I agreed.
"Oh," Rebecca said, her smile mirroring ours, "then it must be by the ducks." Daniel chuckled at his wife's quick change of heart. "Why don't you wait until it's official, Rebecca," Daniel said, "the girl doesn't even have her ring yet." That comment was followed by a brief discussion on the idiocy of men. I half-heartedly sided with Rebecca. Oliver, of course, was the exception to the rule.
Judge Manfred looked less than pleased at the prosecutor. Agent Stiles and James were in a heated discussion. Another man in a suit, next to Stiles, seemed to be supporting her argument.
"You have had sufficient time, counselor," the judge growled, "I do not appreciate you wasting the court's time as well." James turned, his face poorly masking his anger. "At this time, your honor," James' words seemed to struggle out of his mouth, "we lack sufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution." Both Stiles and the man next to her sat down, staring straight ahead. Jeremaine, sitting behind them, looked pale. I was feeling much better. "I would like to make a motion to dismiss," Rotimi said quickly as he stood. My legs felt all jittery as the excitement began to creep up my spine.
"Does the prosecution take issue with that?" the Judge asked.
"No your honor," James said quietly.
"Case dismissed!" the judge announced and slammed his gavel down. A smile appeared on his face as he looked at me. I smiled back at Santa. "I am a Justice of the Peace," he continued, looking at me, "if you are ever in need." He winked and headed off to his chambers. Oliver wrapped me in his arms before I could turn around. The world disappeared as we kissed. I had to force him away so I could thank my lawyers. Each getting a hug and my gratitude. Oliver followed with handshakes and his gratitude. I was free.
Rebecca and Daniel joined us in the hall outside of the courtroom. More hugging and shared joy. I saw William and Frank coming toward me, smiles on their faces. "Olly, this is William and Frank," I said, "our Tom and Jerry." Frank laughed as Oliver shook his hand and then moved to William.
"Helping Ella with Raymond," Peter said, shaking his head, "I owe you guys for that."
"Forget it," William returned, "it broke up an otherwise dull day."
I mouthed 'I'll tell you later' to Rebecca who looked fairly confused over the conversation.
"So, you two are getting married?" Frank asked, his finger moving between Oliver and I.
"Yes," I replied happily, pulling Olly next to me, "It kind of made this all worthwhile." I saw Frank look past me. I followed his eyes and saw Jeremaine leaving the courtroom. Frank traded a look with William and nodded his head toward Jeremaine. William moved quickly. "We have an early wedding present for you," Frank smiled and quickly followed William. They approached Jeremaine with badges out.
"Jeremaine Okoye," William announced loudly, "you're under arrest for fraud and conspiracy to commit the same." I covered my mouth as Jeremaine made a move to run away. In heels, she was no match for Frank.
"What's going on?" Oliver asked me.
"I have no idea," I admitted. Jeremaine was handcuffed, her mouth spilling vulgarities at Frank and William. I had never heard her completely lose it before. She was never the image of purity, but now she sounded like a drunken street walker. Frank sat her down on a bench and began reading her her rights. She was shaking her head, demanding to be let go. William just smiled and walked back over to us.
"White collar crime is our beat," William said proudly.
"What just happened?" I asked.
"After what you told us about Jeremaine, Frank did a little investigating," William reported, pointing at Frank, "we are quite familiar with her lawyer." William put air quotes around the word 'lawyer.' "A little bit of questioning, some deal making and he sang like a bird."
"What did she do?" Oliver asked.
"Why, altered your father's will to suit her needs," William said, looking at me. My father didn't screw me. That bitch did.
"Oh, my!" Rebecca said. Oliver pulled me close, allowing me to borrow his strength. Wonderful thoughts of my father not intentionally leaving me to that woman began to be replaced by an anger. The things I began to think were awful and the handcuffs on Jeremaine made them seem doable. I looked up at Peter and he squeezed me in his arms. The anger dissipated and a smile formed. I took Oliver by the hand and marched over to Jeremaine. Frank, thinking the worst, stepped in front of Jeremaine to protect his prisoner. I smiled at him and he relaxed. "Thank you, Jeremaine," I said sweetly, as if I was talking to someone I cared about, "without you, I would have never found Oliverr." I watched her fume on the bench, looking everywhere but at me.
"Whiney bitch," she whispered to the wall.
"By the way," I said clearly, "you're fired." It was my company now and I didn't have to wait seven more years. "I don't think we should invite her to the wedding," Oliver said. I laughed.
"Frank, I hope you and William will come," I added. "We wouldn't miss it," Frank replied, "you think you'll have more of that calamari there?" Oliver laughed.
The wedding was a beautiful thing. Rebecca had pulled out all the stops. Everyone I loved was there, including three new US citizens. Anita was my maid of honor and Arya beside her. George stood for Oliver, which had surprised me. I didn't know they were such good friends, though the idea of seeing George in the future pleased me. He had such a wonderful happiness about him. Arunstood in for my father and walked me down the aisle, or a walking path in our case. Judge Alfred was true to his word and presided happily.
Rebecca cried throughout the whole ceremony. I, for once, did not. I knew what I wanted and it was called Oliver. There was nothing standing in the way anymore. When I said 'I do' it was clear and I made sure everyone heard it. Oliver didn't stop smiling through the whole proceeding, almost as if he had a secret. I found it delightfully charming. The Meridien was decked out for the reception. Food was in abundance, including a tray filled with calamari. Daniel contributed by locating the SCID logo and affixing to the side of the tray. The smiles it brought to Frank and William was worth Rebecca's scorn for having something out of place. "So, I understand The Impact Marketing was officially transferred to you yesterday," George mentioned as we gathered at the head table. I took Oliver's hand in mine. I really liked being married. Walking into the special board meeting, yesterday, seemed like a dream. The board members congratulating me, then looking shocked when I began to list the changes that were to occur. I shifted funds to the east coast where sales had been dropping off, enacted bonus adjustments that reflect actual profit gains, not status quo, and informed them of the need to replace Arun. They expected a girl and found a strong woman instead. It was exhilarating.
"Signed and sealed," I replied, "exactly how my dad wanted it." I looked at Oliver, "he really would have liked you." Oliver leaned in for a kiss. One of many that day. I saw George jerk suddenly and sit up straighter.
"Ahem...how will you balance work with a family?" George asked. It sounded foreign coming out of his mouth. Rebecca was sitting next to him, looking away with feigned indifference. I smiled knowing that George was Rebecca's patsy. It was Oliver who answered.
"We've decided against children," Oliver said as serious as possible, "they cry too much and there aren't enough qualified babysitters." I kicked him under the table for teasing his mother.
"I could babysit," Rebecca said in a panic before she realized that Oliver was teasing her. The idea of a grandchild was plastered all over her face. I rose and walked over while Peter laughed.
"We think two is a good number," I whispered in Rebecca's ear. Oliver and I had already had the conversation.
"Oh!" Rebecca said, her smile spanning the room. It was for her ears only and she kept it there. I sat back down, sharing a few more smiles with my mother in-law. She was now as happy as I was. Oliver gave me another kiss, which I returned more passionately than it should in public.
After dinner, the band started warming up. Rebecca had mentioned that she wanted to see Oliver dance again, and for once, he would be required. I didn't care that he lacked agility and grace. It would be our first dance as a married couple. His awkwardness would probably make it our last dance together, which was something I could live with. At least I would have tonight. Oliver rose when they called us out. He took my hand confidently with a smile and led me to the floor. I knew how difficult that was for him. That he went willing, spoke well of his love. I followed him, mirroring his smile. Preparing to compensate for his lack of skill. I suspected I would have to lead.
"I have a confession to make," Olly whispered, once we were on the floor.
"Those meetings I have had to attend lately weren't really meetings," he sighed, "I have been secretly seeing a lot of George lately and we've gotten pretty close." Stupid thoughts ran through my head as Oliver took my lead hand in his and placed his other on around my waist.
"What?" I asked, trying to understand. I tried to shake off the stupid thoughts. Oliver smiled.
"He's taught me to dance, my love," Oliver said, humor and love in his eyes. The music started and he stepped off, leading me with a grace I didn't know he possessed. He danced like a prince….My Prince.