COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
I'd never been to the law firm where Seth worked, or pretended to work. It took up four floors in one of those downtown skyscrapers, and it had all the trappings people want in a high-end law firm—mahogany paneling, expensive Aubusson carpets, modern art on giant canvases, lots of glass.
He got us an appointment first thing in the morning with his boss, a senior partner named Howard Shapiro who specialized in criminal defense work and used to be a U.S. Attorney. Shapiro was a short, chubby guy, balding, round black glasses, a high voice and rapid-fire delivery, frenetic energy. He kept interrupting me, prodding me to get my story over with, looking at his watch. He took notes on a yellow pad. Once in a while he gave me wary, puzzled looks, as if he was trying to figure something out, but for the most part he didn't react. Seth, who was on good behavior, mostly sat there watching.
"Who beat you up?" Shapiro said.
"His security guys."
He made a note. "When you told him you were pulling out?"
"Before. I stopped returning their calls and e-mails."
"Teach you a lesson, huh?"
"Let me ask you something. Give me an honest answer. Say you get Wyatt what he wants, the chip or whatever it is. You don't think he'll leave you alone?"
"I doubt it."
"You think they're going to keep pushing you?"
"You're not afraid this whole thing might blow up in your face and you'll be left holding the bag?"
"I've thought about it. I know the folks at Trion are mighty pissed off their acquisition fell through. There'll probably be some sort of an investigation, and who knows what'll happen."
"Well, I got more bad news for you, Adam. I hate to tell you, but you're a tool."
"I know that."
"It means you have to strike first, or you're hosed."
"Say this thing blows up and you're caught. Not unlikely. You throw yourself on the mercy of the court without cooperating, and you're going to go to jail, simple as that. Guarantee it."
I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. Seth winced.
"Then I'd cooperate."
"Too late. No one's going to cut you any slack. Also, the only proof against Wyatt is you—but there'll be lots of proof against you, I bet."
"So what do you suggest?"
"Either they find you, or you find them. I've got a buddy in the U.S. Attorney's office, guy I trust. Wyatt's a big fish. You can serve him up on a silver platter. They'll be very interested."
"How do I know they won't arrest me, throw me in jail too?"
"I'll make a proffer. Call him up, tell him I've got something I think he might be interested in. I'll say, I'm not going to give you any names. If you're not going to work out a deal with my guy, you're not going to see him. You want to deal, you give him a queen for a day."
"What's a 'queen for a day'?"
"We go in, sit down with the prosecutor and an agent. Anything that's said in that meeting cannot be directly used against you."
I looked at Seth, raised my eyebrows, and turned back to Shapiro. "Are you saying I could get off?"
Shapiro shook his head. "With that little prank you pulled at Wyatt, the loading-dock guy's retirement party, we'll have to fashion a guilty plea to something. You're a dirty witness, the prosecutor's going to have to show you didn't get off scot-free. You won't get a total pass."
"More than a misdemeanor?"
"Could be probation, to probation and a felony, to a felony and six months."
"Prison," I said.
"If they're willing to deal," I said.
"Correct. Look, you're in a shitstorm of trouble, let's speak frankly. The Economic Espionage Act of 1996 made the theft of trade secrets a federal criminal offense. You could get ten years in prison."
"What about Wyatt?"
"If they catch him? Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, a judge has to take into account the defendant's role in the offense. If you're a ringleader, the offense level is increased by two levels."
"So they'll hit him harder."
"Right. Also, you didn't personally benefit materially from the espionage, right?"
"Right," I said. "I mean, I did get paid."
"You just got your Trion salary, which was for the work you did for Trion."
I hesitated. "Well, Wyatt's people continued to pay me, into a secret bank account."
Shapiro stared at me.
"That's bad, right?" I said.
"That's bad," he said.
"No wonder they agreed to it so easily," I groaned, more to myself than to him.
"Yeah," Shapiro said. "You put the hook in yourself. So, you want me to make the call or no?"
I looked at Seth, who nodded. There didn't seem to be any other choice.