Welcome to the next chapter of “Code Red,” the first story in my Milk & Serial Saturday post series. I strongly encourage reading Chapter 1 first if you haven’t already, for the story to make sense and to avoid spoilers.
Greg Tarleton mashed the elevator call button again, even though it was already lit from the last five times he had pressed it. The stainless steel doors opened, letting him finally leave the administration floor of The People’s Bank headquarters. A surprise meeting with Human Resources was not his idea of time well spent.
Aggressive body language? Domineering behavior? I don’t know who the hell these politically correct HR pansies think they are … This is a business, dammit!
Back on the 12th floor, he stormed down the hall, glancing down at his yellow gold Rolex and nearly plowing over a skittish intern. Shaking his head at how much time the HR meeting had cost him, Tarleton rounded the corner heading towards his office.
Shit. It’s past time. I’ve got to check on that code. I ought to be hearing from — Dammit, Green!
Abigail Green was fiddling over her laptop, mopping iced coffee off the sizzling keyboard. Even though he was still a few feet away, Tarleton could tell the machine was a lost cause.
For a Harvard genius that girl is damn clumsy. Maybe George can add something to the procedure to help with that.
Tarleton strode up to her desk in half the steps it would have taken most people.
“Green, is there a problem?”
Don’t be so aggressive, Greg. Hold it in. You don’t want another warning from HR. The man sighed heavily to himself, hoping his frustration wasn’t too visible.
“I’m so sorry, sir. It was an accident. I’ll pay to replace the laptop,” said Abigail, plucking tissues out of her handbag to soak up the coffee.
Kleenex ain’t gonna fix that, kid.
Tarleton shook his head and said, “No need. Laptops are pocket change compared to the profits we’ll make off of the AIM product, when it launches — not if. That’s what I want you to understand, Green.”
“Understood, Mr. Tarleton.”
Miss Goody Two Shoes isn’t going to argue again about AIM? See, I told HR I’m an effective leader.
A ringing from his breast pocket demanded Greg Tarleton’s attention. He fished the buzzing device from his Brooks Brothers blazer and looked down. In an instant, the man’s clean shaven face flushed a pale white, weary eyes widening.
Jesus Christ. It can’t be. SHIT!
But there it was, plain as day. A message from his accountant flashed across the screen:
From Frank Costas, 16:01: Feds discovered the Swiss assets. I don’t have to tell you how bad this is. We have to talk. I’ll pick you up in five. Black town car.
Greg Tarleton read and reread the message, feeling his breath get shallower each time. A girly voice punctured his rumination.
“Sir, are you feeling alright? You look … unwell,” Abigail asked.
Why does it sound like she actually cares?
“Fine, uh … I’m fine. Sorry Green, I’ve gotta run. You can, uh, just go use the computer in my office for the rest of the day.”
With that, Greg Tarleton spun on the toes of his wing tip shoes and hurried away. He mashed the elevator call button even more vigorously than before. He would need to make a vital call before being picked up.
Tarleton took a right as he exited the lobby elevator, heading toward the loading dock rather than the front of the building. Glancing right and left, the man quietly stepped into a door labeled Stairwell C.
A cobweb stretched down the bars supporting the staircase handrail. Warm musty air, untouched by air conditioning, made the man wrinkle his face in disgust.
No one really does use this stairway, huh?
Greg Tarleton unlocked his mobile phone and hit one of the speed dial buttons. A ring, then a click as the voice on the other end answered.
“Thank God you answered. We’ve got a problem.”
A pause, the voice on the other end speaking.
“The assets. The Feds found them.”
“I know, Jim!” Tarleton said with frustration, forcing himself to keep his booming voice down to a harsh whisper. Even this desolate staircase may not be entirely safe. “That’s why we always had a backup plan. Look, Costas is picking me up now. I’ll be in touch again once I know the extent of the damage. Oh, and Jim? Don’t worry about Green. The plan is still on as scheduled. Even if the Swiss assets are fully compromised, we’ll have our biggest weapon soon enough.”
Cell phone cradled delicately between his ear and broad shoulder, the man glanced down at his watch.
16:06. Better go.
“Gotta run, Jim. You know what to do.” Greg Tarleton stabbed a pudgy finger at the red button to hang up.
Slowing his movements to avoid attracting attention exiting an unused stairwell, the man made his exit, smoothing his tie as he strode through the lobby.
Outside, rush hour traffic was beginning to clog the busy avenue. No sign yet of a black town car stopping near the building. Suddenly, a renewed panic flashed across the man’s face.
Oh my God, I told Green to use my computer! She can’t access the messages … can she?
The portly man popped an antacid in his mouth. He wasn’t sure if the beads of sweat gathering on his face were due more to stress or the unseasonably warm March sun.
No, no … she won’t be able to see them. She’ll have to log in using her own network ID. Surely those messages just go to my ID, not my machine… Calm down, Greg. Don’t give yourself a heart attack.
At that moment, a black Lincoln town car with tinted windows rolled to a stop directly in front of the building. Greg Tarleton lunged towards the vehicle, opening the back passenger side door and sliding his bulky figure in. Yet, the back seat was empty.
The man leaned forward, gripping his left hand on the front passenger seat headrest to get a view of the front. “Costas, you up there? What the hell — Where’s Costas?”
The town car’s driver leaned over his shoulder and winked at Tarleton, smiling handsomely and nodding his driver’s cap to the executive. Tarleton tugged vigorously on the door’s locked handle, to no avail.
“I may have told a little white lie to get you here. Oops.” The driver shrugged, grinning, his words quick yet nonchalant. He seemed so … playful. “But, that’s the price I’m willing to pay to save the global economy. You can thank me later.”
And with that, the town car sped off.