Note #1: Strong language in English and Spanish. Brief mention of torture.
Note #2: This is best read in sequential order from The Copperfield of Tax Accountants, then Copperfield’s Descent into a Dark Dark Wood, then this.
Ninety cinderblocks made up the shortest wall of the federal prisoner’s cell and one hundred and eighty on the longest side. Twenty-seven cracks appeared in the beige paint covering those cinderblocks, and forty-two chips revealed the seven layers of the same paint underneath. Twelve shades of concrete colored the cell floor, and eighteen different roaches had crossed it in the last week. He could tell they were not the same because he had the time to analyze each. He was prisoner number 353990, and he had seventy more months to serve for money laundering, racketeering, and wire fraud. It was all thanks to that rat of a tax accountant, David Fields. But he was Arturo Gutierrez, North America’s most successful internet scam artist. He put those Russian hackers and Nigerian princes to shame with his cunning phishing emails and phone calls. He couldn’t wait to show David his newfound skills of observation and counting. He’d count every freckle he would peel from David’s flesh, how many pieces could be removed from David’s body before succumbing to the pain, and just how long he’d get to enjoy exacting his revenge.
“I don’t know which is worse, the fact that my wife left me or that she left me for a snitch. A tax accountant snitch,” the angry man slammed his shot glass on the sticky, overly shellacked counter. “Another,” he nodded to the bartender. “A fucking bean counter, I’m tellin’ ya!”
“Accounting is a decent profession,” answered the bartender as he refilled the glass with a generous pour of the cheapest whiskey they stocked. “See that guy over there playing pool?”
“The one with the face tattoo? Yeah, I spotted him when I first walked in. Intimidating fella.”
“Yeah, well, he’s my accountant, so I’d be real quiet on how you talk about that career choice if I were you.”
“Shit. Just my fucking luck, I’d get my ass handed to me by Count Mathula. There’s nothing I’d like better than to watch that stealing bastard have his head bashed in.”
“So, this guy stole your wife and someone’s money and got away with it?”
“Fuck you,” the customer swore before tossing back another shot. “Another.”
“Well, if you’re serious about getting some revenge, I know a guy. But by the looks of you, dude, your wife might be better off. You reek like old cheese and dog feet. When was the last time you showered?”
“I don’t remember. When she left, she wiped out all our accounts. Then I lost my job because I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and couldn’t think straight.”
“Wait. Do you have money to pay for your booze?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve got money,” The drunk yanked off a steel-toed work boot, and the room immediately filled with the sour smell of spoiled sauerkraut.
“You know what, dude? It’s on the house. But take your stinky ass someplace else. I’ve got a business to run, and it ain’t talk therapy.”
Stumbling out onto the wet sidewalk, Griffin Bell, ex-husband of FBI agent Beatrice Bell, held his face to the sky as a cold, sharp rain fell. “Wish I may, wish I might, on this first star I see tonight, may David Fields get what’s coming to him.”
“Psst. Mano. It’s raining. That wish won’t work,” someone called from the shadows of the alleyway.
Griffin looked around but didn’t see anyone. “Is that you, God?”
“No, you pendajo!” the voice swore as its owner emerged from the shadows.
Griffin jumped back. “Whoa! Don’t hurt me, man. I don’t have anything. Look at me.”
“I am. And you’re right. It would appear that you don’t have anything, including brains,” replied the man in accented English. “You’re Griffin Bell, right?”
“Yeah, who wants to know?”
“My boss, Arturo Gutierrez.”
“Who’s that? Oh, wait…I know. The guy who my wife put in prison. Wait!” Griffin held up his hands as if the man had ordered him to freeze. “I didn’t have anything to do with that. I’m just an OSHA Safety Supervisor. Don’t whack me, man! I’m innocent!” Griffin held his hands out in front of him as if he was suddenly blessed with the gift of The Force.
“Relax, mano. I’m not here to hurt you. I have a proposition for you.”
“How did you know where to find me?”
“I’ve been following you around for a couple of days. I needed to size you up. See if you were angry enough for the job.”
“What’s the job? Does it pay?”
“That depends. Are you willing to work no matter what Señor Gutierrez asks of you? Can you give him your complete loyalty?”
“I don’t know. The only thing I know about the guy is that he was guilty as hell of money laundering and tax evasion.”
“No. Señor Gutierrez always paid his taxes.”
“That must be how his accountant got off scot-free.”
“No. It was because that fiscal falcon could prove how Señor Gutierrez earned his money. He made a deal, sacrificing my boss, my hero, handing him over to the FBI on a silver platter. That cabrón walked away with millions of dollars siphoned from his client. Now Señor Gutierrez wants revenge, and he thinks you might be able to help with that. Maybe even be motivated to help with very little pressing.” The man lifted his hoodie to expose a handgun tucked into the waistband of his low-slung jeans.
“I don’t need any pressing. Just maybe a place to stay and get cleaned up, and some cash to get fresh clothes. I’m in! I’m loyal. Oh, and one more request. I get Beatrice for my own revenge.”
“I’m sure that can all be arranged. Come with me. The first part of your requirements has already been taken care of. I’m Javier, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Javier. I’m looking forward to us working together.”
The next evening Griffin found himself in the backroom of an autobody repair shop, standing in the center of a ring of metal folding chairs. His stomach churned as he surveyed each face, and his palms tingled and twitched. Even though he had showered, he caught the faint scent of his musk as he folded and unfolded his arms in front of his chest.
“This is Griffin Bell,” Javier began, speaking from behind the circle of chairs. “He’s going to help us locate our target, and he’ll be the one to take care of the girl.”
“Where do we even begin our search, Griffin?” one of the men asked. “Where does one disappear when one doesn’t want to be found?
“Alaska!” he slapped his right hand on a world map. “It’s the most desolate place next to Siberia and Antarctica. It’s still in the United States, so you can get away with basic identification that is easily falsified, and you don’t need to worry about exchange rates.”
“Are you sure about this puto, Javier?” one of the gang members asked. “He’s loco if he thinks anyone would hide out in Alaska. Especially a tax accountant with millions of dollars at his disposal.”
“Griffin. Is there any place your wife loved to vacation? Is there some small town she was from or liked to visit? An area small enough to have privacy but large enough to hide in plain sight?”
“Nothing comes to mind, Javier, but now that I think about it, she wouldn’t agree to go to Alaska. She hates the cold. She has eczema that gets worse with exposure. She’d want a nice temperate climate all year round.”
“What about her social media? Has there been any activity on her accounts since she left?”
“No. Beatrice wouldn’t be that dumb. She’s an FBI agent. They certainly have new identities, and all that stuff would have been scrubbed from the Internet. In fact, there’s probably someone assigned to monitor any activity on those accounts just to keep her safe.”
“Do you know who that might be from her co-workers?”
“The FBI doesn’t handle that stuff. A special unit of the Department of Justice does. The only way I can think of to trace her is that she would probably want to keep her first name. Do you guys have a way of searching for people by first name, maybe with the same last initial?”
“Unless she and David got married. Then her last name could be different. Come on, mano. You were married to her for twelve years. Think!”
“I don’t know! We hardly ever went on vacation. When we did, it was upstate. Her family had a horse farm near a large freshwater lake in the Adirondacks. I doubt she’d stay in the state, though.”
“Why is that?”
“She hated it. The taxes are high, her family is crazy, and the politics are too divided. Everything north of Manhattan is Republican. Everything north of Albany is Conservative.”
“Boss,” someone called from the front of the shop. “We’ve got company!”
The sound of screeching tires, doors slamming, and shouts could be heard immediately following the warning. The rat-ta-tat-tat of automatic weapons and screams followed. Javier grabbed Griffin and dragged him into a small storage closet. With the closeness, Javier could smell Griffin’s fear.
“I thought you took a shower, you cerdo!” Javier spat.
“Shh. I hear something,” Griffin whispered.
The brrrr, brrrr, brrrr sound of a cellphone vibrating echoed in the small quiet closet.
“Shit. Sorry, man. My bad,” Griffin swore as he fumbled in his front jeans pocket for his phone.
The screen lit up as soon as he had it in front of him. A picture was visible from a text message. It was the picture of a dead man in a prison uniform. Griffin held it in a way that Javier couldn’t miss it.
“Is that?” was all he managed to squeak out before a muffled gunshot cut off his words.
“Yeah, it was. My bad, pendajo,” Griffin spat as Javier’s limp body slid to the floor.
Dialing a number preprogrammed into the phone, the other end didn’t even ring before a familiar voice answered on the other end.
“Darling? Is it done?”
It was Beatrice.
“Yes, sweetheart,” Griffin teased. “I need to make visual confirmation, but I believe the whole team here has been eliminated. Javier is deceased, and Arturo is as well. Mission complete.”
“Fantastic news. I’ll let our asset know that he has been cleared of the danger.”
“Does this mean I’m no longer Mr. Griffin Bell, jilted ex-husband?”
“I’m sorry. You played your role perfectly. You should get a promotion to Bureau Chief with the lengths you went to pull that character off. I hear your stench is permanently engrained in more than a few places,” Beatrice laughed.
“Who are you talking to, Bea?” David asked, his voice filled with a half-sleepy drawl.
“Griffin. Great news! Arturo Gutierrez is no longer a threat, and his assassin team has been eliminated. Looks like you are free, David!”
“Yay,” murmured David.
“Don’t look so happy,” Beatrice snapped. “We spent a lot of manpower on this.”
“Yeah, so you could get me to come work for you! That’s not really free, now is it?”
“Well, we are letting you live. That’s got to count for something?”
“What about letting me keep that $3 million I showed you the other day?”
“That was just to make sure you could walk the walk. It was never real money,” Beatrice revealed.
David turned to hide the wide smile he couldn’t keep from his face. “That’s what you think,” he muttered under his breath.