The Art of Giving by Bill Capron
Your average crook is pretty dumb, but then, that’s an average. A lot of the brighter ones don’t get caught because no one even knows a crime’s been committed. Religious friends tell me there’s a fitting justice waiting for them, like God’s wrath, but me, I don’t believe it. It’s necessary to find justice on this earth, now, in this life. I work for Justice.
I could only infer the beginning from the end of the case, but it’s a pretty good supposition; it’s what I do for a living. I embellished it a bit and added some color through my black and white eyes, but let’s call it writer’s license. Anyway, I was kinder than real life.
Hy Allen bought Microsoft’s stock at it’s original offering, and he’d done well with Sun and Oracle, all in his SEP. Two years ago, when he died in the hospital, waiting for a kidney transplant, his executor immediately cashed out of the stock market to the tune of twenty million and parked it in T-bills and the like. The heirs howled their anger about exiting the NASDAQ, and when the questions arose about whose money was it, the accounts were frozen. Shortly thereafter the tech stocks crumbled and the executor looked real smart, like a genius, but the money was still up in the air, so to speak.
It seems Hy told the executor that he’d signed a beneficiary designation for the SEP, giving three-quarters of the money to a charity. The rest would be split by the terms of the will, half to the new wife, the rest evenly between the ex-wife and their two sons. Hy hadn’t done enough to keep the government away from the money, but he could be excused for expecting another twenty years. So, after taxes, the payout was going to be pretty paltry, at least by the heirs’ estimates.
The executor, like the good friend to the deceased that he was, undertook an extensive search for the document. Well, it dragged on, as these things can, and the court, in a fit of pique, gave the executor thirty days.
From there I’m guessing. The time was almost up when the phone call came.
Hy’s wife, Esther, took the call, “Hello.”
“Mrs. Allen, you don’t know me, but I’ve got something you want.”
She’d had a tough day. “You’re right, I don’t know you. Goodbye.” She slammed the phone.
It rang again. “What!”
The words were sharp, clipped, sending an unmistakable message, “You hang up again and it’ll cost you fifteen million dollars, bitch!”
Her tongue, for the first time in thirty years, was tied; her breathing rasped on the line.
The voice hardened, “Okay, so here’s the story, lady. I got a beneficiary designation form with your husband’s signature on it.”
“Seventy-five percent to the Health Care For All.”
Again, she couldn’t find words.
He didn’t need them, “For two million, I’ll burn it for you.”
“I don’t have two million.”
He chuckled, “So get it, sister. Get the other heirs together and get it.”
“You got three days, then it goes to the judge.”
She said, “I need more time.”
He cut it off, “Come on, lady, I’m not stupid. I was at that hearing. You got three days.”
It was Tuesday. Esther and Hy’s first wife, Rose, had never been on speaking terms; they were too much alike. Sons from the first marriage, John and David, didn’t like their mother, hated their father, but then, there wasn’t that much love between them either. Still, such is the power of money, big money; they all got together.
I think it was Rose who went on offense; “Okay, Esther, I know what went on.”
Esther put a stupid look on her face; “What do you mean?”
“Look, I know one copy of that assignment was in the envelope with the will. Hy showed it to me before he sealed the envelope. You threw it out.”
Indignation, “I did not!”
Rose poked a finger in Esther’s direction; “You did. Who knows, maybe you killed old Hy, thought you’d get half, eh?”
An undertone of fear, “You couldn’t prove that.”
“Let me tell you, I tell the police what I know and they’ll be all over you.”
Esther changed tack, “And?”
“You divide it evenly, four ways, and we’ll help you.”
Her two sons nodded.
Esther did a quick calculation and whined, “That’s gives me only twenty-five percent.”
Rose said, “That’s twice what you get by letting the paper go to the court.”
Esther let out a long sigh.
Rose smiled at her victory, then compromised, “Okay, you take one-third, we’ll split the rest between us.”
The words came hard, “All right.”
Rose took the driver’s seat, “So how do we get two million?”
Esther said, “I only have fifty thousand. I could sell the house, but there’s not enough time.”
The two boys had their net worth to offer. Not much, but befitting of how well they’d made their way in the world.
Rose said, “I can get a hundred, but …”
“What?” Esther asked.
Rose grabbed her two boys and turned them to the door. “It’s better you don’t know this.” They didn’t argue.
To Esther, “We need help. Who’s that detective who works for Ormand’s law firm?”
It was Esther’s turn to be offensive; “Oh, you mean the one who caught you with that beach boy?”
And that’s where they crossed my path, not a day they’d soon forget.
~ ~ ~
“What do you think of blackmail, Mr. Green?” Esther Allen asked. She was a thick-bodied, sixty-year-old Jewish woman with a thick New York accent. She wore all her weight up front, like a wrestler.
I didn’t know her well enough to answer that question. “Are you being blackmailed?”
“I …” she fumbled as she noted for the first time there was no color in my office. It might have occurred to her to ask why, but it wasn’t in her, the curiosity, that is. “Yes, but it’s a fraud.”
I shrugged my shoulders; “Then call them on it. Extortion is a crime.”
She shook her head; “No, that would open a whole can of worms I don’t need.”
I thought she was lying. “Then pay.”
Honesty, “I don’t have enough.”
“What do you want me to do?”
More honesty, “I want you to find the blackmailer and steal the item back from them.”
“Yes, a sheet of paper. It’s got a forgery of my husband’s signature on it.” She cut it off hard there.
“So who is it, the blackmailer?”
“I don’t know,” then she put on a I’m-just-so-bright-I-can’t-stand-myself smiles, “but I got his phone number. He must not know about caller-id.” She pushed the paper across my desk.
“You have any ideas on how I should get it?”
“No, that’s up to you, but it’s got to be by tomorrow.”
I focused on her eyes. “You’ve got a right to it?”
She looked over my shoulder. “It was signed by my dead husband,” like that was enough.
“It’s a forgery.”
So was matter-of-fact, “Well, you know how it is.”
“You have any identification?”
She proved she was herself. We worked out a fee, and she paid me a retainer in cash. I said, “I’ll call you tonight.”
“Make it after eleven. I’ll be at the Health Care For All banquet.” Showing off, she continued, “I’m being honored for my good works.”
I called Dennis Doyle with Homicide. He said he didn’t know anything about a Hy Allen.
I called Diane Simpson. She was on rotation and working Records that week. Diane likes me, not in any big way, but she likes me; we’re friends.
“So, who do you want to know about, CB?”
I told her and she said she’d call me back.
I dialed the phone number the woman gave me. I got a message, ‘You’ve reached the office of Hugo Cairn. I’m sorry I can’t take your call …’ I hung up.
Diane called back. Hy Allen died of a heart attack while he was in the hospital. She said he was waiting for a kidney transplant.
“Nothing suspicious, none requested, none done.”
“That’s not all.”
“His lawyer was Ormand, with that outfit you work for,Edmonds’ group.”
“Thanks. Maybe you could check on Hugo Cairn for me.”
“What do I look like, information?”
I held my tongue.
“I’ll be back to you.”
So I called Denise, the queen legal secretary for the lawyers of Whitman, Howard, Ormand, Masters and Edmonds, or, as we in the know affectionately call them, WHO-ME. I asked her to meet me for lunch. It didn’t take much prodding. Denise thinks I’m cool, for a guy who can’t see colors, and like Diane, she’s too young for me, but not as much. In real life, I go for adults though.
Denise is one prescient girl; she knew I wasn’t looking for her beautiful company. “So what do you need, CB?”
“What can you tell me about Hy Allen?”
“Hey, I can’t talk about clients.”
I heard the give in her voice; I left a vacuum between us.
I raised my shoulders.
“It’s got to be that new wife of his. What a bitch. She made Rose look like a saint.”
“They’d come in and she’d be carping at him so that it’d put a buzz on that hearing aid of his. Some days he turned it off. She didn’t like him much.”
“She wouldn’t have killed him, would she?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why don’t you ask Ormand?”
“Yeah, right, CB.”
“Tell me about Hugo Cairn?”
Wonder lit her face, like how do I end up crossing paths with all these people she knows. It’s got nothing to do with me though, because she knows virtually everyone. “Where do you know Hugo from?”
“Hey, I’m asking the questions.”
She swallowed her usual retort. “Hugo used to be a lawyer here. Retired. He has a little private practice. Still does some stuff for us, part time. Signs as a witness every so often.”
“Is he honest?”
“That’s not a fair question.”
“I wouldn’t trust him with my legal work. It was a forced retirement.”
There was a message waiting from Diane. “CB, checked on Hugo Cairn. Per the DA, he’s going to be disbarred in about three weeks. Hope that helps you.”
It was six o’clock when I picked the lock to Cairn’s door. The office was in a little business park in a re-developed part of the railway yards. Once inside I used my flashlight, a little dimmer than the overhead lights, but the same colorless world.
It took two hours, but, since he’d called from the office, I wasn’t going to give up until I found it. I scanned the document, thought about justice.
It took only one phone call to find the charity event was being held at the Hilton. I caught a cab.
I stood at the back of the room, the epitome of patience. They announced Esther Allen accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award for her dead husband.
As she strode to the microphone, I came in from stage right. Surprise dropped her jaw. I lifted the microphone from her hand. I turned to the crowd, “Hello, everyone.”
There was a murmur, like a summer susurrus.
Turning to Mrs. Allen, I held up the sheet of paper and continued, “Esther, here it is.”
I turned back to the crowd. “Esther couldn’t announce this until she had the paper in her hot little hands, so she could carry on the good works of her husband.” I waved the document again. “Esther and Hy Allen have donated, through his will, fifteen million dollars to the Health Care For All.” I held up the stunned woman’s hand. “Let’s give a round of applause to Esther Allen, a woman who can’t give enough.”
I was gone. I sent her retainer back in the morning. She never talked to me again.
Diane called, wanted to know what gave. I told her maybe another day after I’d sorted it out.
Denise called a week later to say I did good, and that poor Esther would be selling the house to pay for the unplanned tax bite. It made me feel bad, the government stealing all that money, like some sort of legitimate criminal activity. I got over it.
From my vantage point the world is pretty gray, a little good white mixed with bad black. I thought maybe Esther Allen wasn’t all bad, but I might be wrong about that. She had the look of a woman without nuance, so …
I don’t like screwing my clients, but my ultimate boss, her name is Justice, and, well, she understood.