Paranoia (005 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.

Part One: 3 (Cont'd)

Meacham's pasty face flushed. "You think it's funny, hacking into proprietary company databases to obtain confidential disbursement numbers? You think it's recreation, it's clever? It doesn't count?"

"No, sir—"

"You lying sack of shit, you prick, it's no better than stealing an old lady's purse on the fucking subway!"

I tried to look chastened, but I could see where this conversation was going and it seemed pointless.

"You stole seventy-eight thousand dollars from the Corporate Events account for a goddamned party for your buddies on the loading dock?"

I swallowed hard. Shit. Seventy-eight thousand dollars? I knew it was pretty high-end, but I had no idea how high-end.

"This guy in on it with you?"

"Who do you mean? I think maybe you're confused about—"

" 'Jonesie'? The old guy, the name on the cake?"

"Jonesie had nothing to do with it," I shot back.

Meacham leaned back, looking triumphant because he'd finally found a toehold.

"If you want to fire me, go ahead, but Jonesie was totally innocent."

"Fire you?" Meacham looked as if I'd said something in Serbo-Croatian. "You think I'm talking about firing you? You're a smart guy, you're good at computers and math, you can add, right? So maybe you can add up these numbers. Embezzling funds, that gets you five years of imprisonment and a two-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollar fine. Wire fraud and mail fraud, that's another five years in prison, but wait—if the fraud affects a financial institution—and lucky you, you fucked with our bank and the recipient bank, your lucky day, you little shit—that brings it up to thirty years in prison and a one-million-dollar fine. You tracking? What's that, thirty-five years in prison? And we haven't even got into forgery and computer crimes, gathering information in a protected computer to steal data, that'll get you anywhere from one year to twenty years in prison and more fines. So what have we got so far, forty, fifty, fifty-five years in prison? You're twenty-six now, you'll be, let's see, eighty-one when you get out."

Now I was sweating through my polo shirt, I felt cold and clammy. My legs were trembling. "But," I began, my voice hoarse, then cleared my throat. "Seventy-eight thousand dollars is a rounding error in a thirty-billion-dollar corporation."

"I suggest you shut your fucking mouth," Meacham said quietly. "We've consulted our lawyers, and they're confident they can get a charge of embezzlement in a court of law. Furthermore, you were clearly in a position to do more, and we believe that was just one installment in an ongoing scheme to defraud Wyatt Telecommunications, part of a pattern of multiple withdrawals and diversions. It's just the tip of the iceberg." For the first time he turned to the mousy woman taking notes. "We're off the record now." He turned back to me. "The U.S. Attorney was a college roommate of our house counsel, Mr. Cassidy, and we have every assurance he intends to throw the book at you. Plus, the district attorney's office, you may not have noticed, is on a white-collar crime campaign, and they're looking to make an example out of someone. They want a poster child, Cassidy."

I stared at him. My headache was back. I felt a trickle of sweat run down the inside of my shirt from my armpit to my waist.

"We've got both the state and the feds in our corner. We've got you, pure and simple. Now it's just a matter of how hard we're going to hit you, how much destruction we want to do. And don't imagine you're going to some country club, either. Cute young guy like you, you're going to be bent over the bunk someplace in Marion Federal Penitentiary. You're going to come out a toothless old man. And in case you're not current on our criminal justice system, there's no longer any parole at the federal level. Your life just changed as of this moment. You're fucked, pal." He looked at the woman with the notebook. "We're back on the record now. Let's hear what you have to say, and you'd better make it good."

I swallowed, but my saliva had stopped flowing. I saw flashes of white around the edges of my vision. He was dead serious.

In my high school and college years I got stopped fairly often for speeding, and I developed a reputation as a virtuoso at getting out of tickets. The trick is to make the cop feel your pain. It's psychological warfare. That's why they wear mirrored sunglasses, so you can't look into their eyes while you're pleading. They're human beings too, even cops. I used to keep a couple of law-enforcement textbooks on the front seat and tell them I was studying to be a police officer and I sure hoped this ticket wouldn't hurt my chances. Or I'd show them a prescription bottle and tell them I was in a rush because I needed to get Mom her epilepsy medication as quickly as possible. Basically I learned that if you're going to start, you have to go all the way; you have to totally put your heart into it.

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