The first thing Erin heard from the rest of the team, on Tuesday morning, was Ian's maniacal cackling.
Ian didn't cackle often, but when he did it was usually worth witnessing. She found him, having abandoned his desk completely, standing at the Creative pod with his arms resting on the edge of John's cubicle.
"I told you I'd find you!" he said, pointing at John with his good hand.
"You've found squat, you're bluffing," John replied.
Ian held up the paper. "These gritty fantasy nightmares show themselves predominantly in his appropriation of the genre for his own dark ends
," he read aloud. "The author is to genre fiction what Jack Kerouac or Chuck Palahniuk were for the literary novel: a force for super-realism, an explorer of guts and derider of glory.
"Explorer of guts!" Anna shrieked, laughing. "IT'S AN EXPEDITION."
"What's that from?" Erin asked, as Jess, Vicky, and the interns put their heads over the edge of their pod to listen.
"It's from a review," Ian told her gleefully, "of John's new anthology of short stories he doesn't want anyone to know about."
"Seriously?" Erin asked John, who blushed red. "You published an actual real book?"
"Self-published," John insisted.
"It's selling well though, isn't it?" Ian asked. "If you got a review in SciFi Quarterly."
"What are you doing reading SciFi Quarterly?" John retorted.
"Uh, science fiction fan
," Ian said, with far less reluctance than Erin expected. Geek Chic must really be catching on. "It's not like I have a subscription or anything -- "
"YOU TOTALLY HAVE A SUBSCRIPTION," Anna announced. "Shaaaaaame, Ian. Shame.
" -- but I was researching what kind of writing you might do -- " Ian doggedly continued.
"There's nothing shameful about being a SciFi fan," Zoe said. "I am. I'm out and proud about it."
"Ian has goblin ears!" Anna told Erin. She involuntarily glanced at Ian's ears before realizing Anna probably meant fake goblin ears. "He wears them to conventions!"
" -- and it seemed like a place to sta -- now you're just making shit up," Ian interrupted himself.
"Prove it," Anna replied.
"You can't prove a negative. Anyway, I'm buying a copy of your book, John," Ian said. "It looks awesome."
"Ian, what's the URL?" Roxy called.
"You're going to see a bump in sales!" Zoe said happily to John.
"Are we all finally on the same page about John's writing now?" Sarah asked, and Erin turned to her with a frown. "What, you think I didn't figure it out months ago?"
"You should have told us!" Erin said.
"I was saving it in case I needed blackmail ammo."
"See?" Anna said.
"I prefer horror, myself, but to each their own," Sarah added.
"Apparently John's stuff is pretty horrifying at times," Ian said. "Someone said there was an unnecessary amount of puke in it."
"What's the actual necessary amount of puke?" Anna asked.
"Puke in a fantasy anthology?" Erin said to John, raising an eyebrow.
"You heard him. I appropriate the genre," John said.
"For your own dark ends
," Erin teased.
"SWORDS, SANDALS, AND PUKE," Anna shouted.
"Hey, man, I read one of his stories," Rhinestones called. "It was cool, it was all about what happens to a dragon after you slay it. Like, putrefaction and shit."
"Sarah, what's the scariest horror thing you can think of?" Erin asked, trying to redirect the conversation from putrefaction, and only realizing as she said it that the redirection might be worse.
Sarah smiled at her. "We're
the people in charge of one of the most successful not-for-profit consulting organization in Chicago," she announced.
Silence fell. Erin felt a creeping sense of responsibility, coupled with a still-present twinge of guilt over her failure to woo Trent Byron into accepting their recommendations about re-branding.
"Jesus," Zoe said.
"I need more coffee," Anna muttered, changing the filter on her one-cup desk machine.
"There's only three consulting firms total," Ian pointed out, but he looked like his heart wasn't in it. "We're like...second of three."
"Erin, can you come take a look at something?" Roxy called.
"Okay, everyone back to work, no more loitering," Erin said sternly.
"Come on, it's Holiday Party Day," Ian told her. "Nobody's working today anyway."
"We don't start the party for another three hours," Erin replied. "Answer those phones, peon!"
"I feel unmanned," Ian told John, but he wandered back to his desk, still snickering over the magazine review. Erin left the rest of them to hopefully keep out of trouble while she joined Roxy in her cubicle.
"So, I may have done something underhanded," Roxy said, as an opening.
"Underhanded?" Erin asked. "Like, legally?"
"No, just kind of sneaky. I sort of...linked Non Prophet to a webpage where I had an IP trace set up."
Erin gave her a blank look.
"IP addresses show a person's location -- where they're connecting to the internet from," Roxy said patiently.
"Okay...so now you know his IP address?"
"More than that," Roxy said. "We had that code bork yesterday and I was working on that so I couldn't check the tracker all day, but I remembered this morning and -- well, I posted at 2:15 and he replied by 2:19, and only three people hit the link in that time period."
"So it's one of these...numbers," Erin said, staring at them as if they would suddenly resolve themselves into something that made sense.
"Yup. This one," Roxy said, pointing to the first one, "is from the UK, so it's out, unless he's lying about living in Chicago, which I don't think he is. This second one is from Lombard, so I guess it's a possibility, but I think it's the big eco-farm they have out there, the one that does the tours."
"Oh! They make really good cheese," Erin said.
"Yes they do. And that leaves this one as our likely suspect," Roxy said, pointing to the third number. "Wanna guess what's so special about it?"
"Uh. No?" Erin ventured.
"It's the IP for this building's internet service," Roxy said. "Whoever he is, he's using our building's internet. Can't nail it down to which cluster range yet, but -- "
Erin stared at her, and for a split second she had a very cinematic moment before she burst out laughing.
"Oh my God!" she snickered. "The call is coming from inside the house!
Roxy scowled at her. "It's serious! That means Non Prophet works in our building, which means it might really be Sparks."
"IAN," Erin yelled down the hallway.
"HOW MANY PEOPLE WORK IN THIS BUILDING?"
"THIRTY-FIVE HUNDRED," Ian called, without missing a beat.
"So it's either Sparks, or one of thirty-five-hundred other people, I guess," Roxy sighed. "I suppose we could try looking at timestamps. Who's in the office when he posts. Maybe I can trap him again from his home internet."
"Well, don't do it on Christmas, that's just sad," Erin said, patting her shoulder. "Come on, don't you have a slideshow to put together for this afternoon's party?"
"I suppose," Roxy grumbled, looking annoyed. "Fine. I'll wait until the holidays are over. But I will find him!" she said, raising a clenched fist defiantly.
Erin nodded, backed away slowly, and fled to her office.
, on the northern border of the downtown loop, was an upscale Fusion restaurant with a French twist, and its relationship to SparkVISION was a strange one. Normally, the staff of SparkVISION would turn their noses up at Raison
's pretentious menu -- at least, those who could have afforded its prices -- and the restaurant itself would have had a few things to say about SparkVISION's dress code.
It had, however, proved to be the most capable and reliable caterer with the best room-rental prices, and they had a criminally good rate that Sparks had once charmed out of the manager and ruthlessly held them to ever since. It was close, just across the Michigan Avenue Bridge, and thus it got almost all of SparkVISION's event business. In gratitude, once a year, it let them hold their holiday party there free of charge as long as they brought their own eats.
Cee was just finishing laying out the food -- mostly deli trays and bags of chips, something of a relief after the complex catering that went on the rest of the year -- when Zeke, Ian's roommate, arrived with a large amp under each arm and a lightweight sound board slung on his back. Roxy rushed over to take one of the amps and help him set them down, then followed him back out to his truck, where the rest of the karaoke equipment was waiting to be unloaded. Ian walked in from the truck with a binder tucked under one arm and a tip jar in his good hand.
"Just saw Zoe's husband and kidlet pulling up," he said, depositing both on the table next to Zeke's sound board. "Lock down anything shiny near ground level. Also there's some ridiculously hot woman with Naomi."
Cee snickered as Zeke looked up sharply. "You didn't tell me there would be ridiculously hot women here."
"I'm pretty sure your chances aren't good," Ian told him.
"That's Melinda, she's awesome," Roxy said. "Be nice to her, Sparks wants her company to hire us."
"I BRING BEER," boomed a new voice, and Mark walked into the room with two cubes of local microbrew, followed by Sarah.
"Show-off," Cee told him.
"Well, you know what they say about having and flaunting," Mark replied. Cee looked around hopefully for Sparks; Mark and Sparks in a room together was always hilarious. Instead, she caught sight of Jess and her interns through the window, carrying what looked suspiciously like boughs of holly. For halls, the decking of, perhaps. Naomi was behind them, walking hand in hand with the woman who must be Melinda.
Then Cee heard Erin shriek, and looked up to see her welcoming newcomers through the front door with hugs and a huge smile: the managing directors of Little Miracle Network and Back Alley Theater, the first two clients SparkVISION had ever landed. She used to worry that having clients at the company party would put people on edge, but Mr. Bolivar and his partner Mr. Clark never batted an eye at Sparks's antics, and Ms. Jackson-Smith and her husband had weathered eight years with SparkVISION and didn't seem likely to budge anytime soon.
"Naomi!" Cee called, waving at her through the back door. "Coming inside? You'll freeze out there."
"Coming," Naomi answered, shedding her jacket and helping her companion off with a large, warm-looking shawl. "Melinda, this is Cee, our boss's babysitter."
"A PA's life is a hard one," Melinda said gravely, shaking hands.
"This is my girlfriend Melinda, she's with Medicine Drop. Try to keep Sparks away from her until we've at least had something to drink?"
Cee grinned and nodded and was about to say something about him not having arrived yet, when she looked over Melinda's shoulder and gaped in horror. Sparks was near the doorway, behind his clients, and he was holding the gong.
And then he struck it.
Everyone in the room jumped; Jess, who'd been carrying a bag of plastic cups to the table, dropped the bag and cups went rolling in every direction. Then there was another burst of noise as Walking in a Winter Wonderland
fired up over the amps; apparently Sparks had worked this out with Zeke as a cue, beforehand. Cee clutched her chest and took deep breaths to calm her adrenaline-fueled pulse.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Sparks said, setting down the gong and opening a bottle of the beer that Mark had provided. "We have survived another year. Nobody died, nobody got arrested, and we only broke one bone."
"Three," Ian called. "Wrists are complicated!"
"You're a medical mystery," Sparks called back. "Anyway. I'd like to welcome everyone to the holiday party. We have all kinds of food fixings, karaoke starts in about half an hour, we're opening our Secret Politically Correct Not Santa gifts at two, and the restaurant kicks us out at four, so get your karaoke requests in early. Also, I need a partner for Baby It's Cold Outside.
I sing the Esther Williams part."
"John'll do it," Anna shouted. "He loves to sing!"
"You and me, John," Sparks said gravely, over the laughter.
The party was in full swing and Anna was in the middle of serenading everyone with Santa Baby
when Zoe saw Bolo come running across the floor. She and Charles both dove for him at the same time, but Charles was quicker; he got hold of their offspring's shoulders and held him at arm's length.
"You are shiny," he said. "Are you sticky?"
"Yes," Bolo laughed.
"And why are you sticky?"
"CANDY," Bolo hollered, in a very good imitation of most of SparkVISION's down-the-hall communication.
"Wash," Charles told him. "We're going to go wash now. Do not -- don't touch anything!" he called, chasing after Bolo as the kid squirmed free.
"Who gave him candy?" Zoe asked Charles as he ran past.
"Find them and kill them," Charles told her. Zoe laughed.
"Sometimes I want one," Roxy told Zoe, watching Charles pursue Bolo. Zoe smiled fondly after them. "Other times I remember it only takes three weeks to housetrain a dog."
"Kids shed less," Zoe replied.
"Two words: college tuition."
Anna finished at the microphone and put it up; Zeke got up and introduced "Our next set, Cee and John singing a holiday duet, and I think we're all hoping Cee will dominate."
Cee turned red, and John looked startled; if Zoe had to guess, she'd pinpoint Sarah as the one who turned in their names without telling them.
"This is really good beer," Erin announced, seating herself in a chair next to Roxy. "Hey, I have a question."
"Do you think we should set up John and Cee?" Erin asked. "I think he has a crush on her."
Roxy glanced at Zoe, obviously fighting a grin.
"Yes," Zoe said with a straight face. "Absolutely. I think we should."
Onstage, John and Cee were flustered but apparently determined to go forward; across the room, Zoe could see Ian slipping quietly into his coat and hat to ditch the party and meet the plant delivery that Sarah had set up for the Great Office Feng Shui Project. He gave a little wave to Zeke as he left, and Zeke nodded in return.
"Do you think Ian and his cute roommate are dating?" Jess asked, sliding onto a bench next to Vicky, near Zoe and Roxy's table.
"No," Vicky said, without looking up from where she was texting someone on her phone. "Ian says he's straight and also that Zeke gives women the crazy."
"What, like a disease?" Zoe asked.
"I think so. He says Zeke's last girlfriend looked totally normal when they met, but after he dumped her she moved to a commune in Montana."
"Well, Ian lives with him and he's not crazy," Roxy pointed out.
"Yeah, but he's not sleeping with him," Vicky said with a smile.
"I think I might brave it," Jess said.
"What, sleeping with Zeke?" Vicky asked, looking up in alarm. "Jess, I don't want you to move to a commune in Montana."
"I don't think it's a requirement," Jess said, eyeing Zeke speculatively. Vicky gave up and went to refill her plate with snacks; Naomi slid smoothly into her seat, hooking a chair around for Melinda as well.
"You all look like you're up to something, so I think this is the place to be," Naomi said, and Zoe laughed.
"Welcome to the SparkVISION gossip circle," she said to Melinda, who smiled. "So far we've speculated on three different possible couples and talked about kids. It's very girly."
"Well, we could talk about sports and cars if you want, but I don't find them very interesting," Melinda said. "Actually, I've been having some good conversations about your company. I know now's not the time you want to be selling your services, but between your clients and Sparks I think I have a good idea of how to pitch SparkVISION to my bosses. Plus, I hear their Financial Director is hot," she added, grinning at Naomi.
"Melinda!" Naomi said, blushing.
"If they can't handle that, they're not the people I thought they were," Melinda told her.
"Naomi! Seat thief!" Vicky called from the snack table.
"It's fine, Vicky, have my chair," Jess said, standing up. "I'm going to go flirt with the DJ," she added, as Vicky returned.
"Don't catch the crazy," Vicky warned her.
"I've had my cootie shots!" Jess called over her shoulder.
Zoe was about to say something about fighting over the DJ, but she was distracted by Roxy, who had jumped in surprise when her BlackBerry buzzed. Zoe watched as she pulled it out of her pocket and looked down at it in consternation.
"What's up?" Zoe asked.
"Oh, it's -- huh," Roxy said, frowning at her screen. "I emailed Non Prophet."
"Really?" Zoe asked.
"Yeah, and I sent him a link."
"Hear back?" Erin asked.
"Well..." Roxy glanced at her, then sighed. "Yeah. I sent him a link, I was hoping he'd check it from home. I'm trying to trap his IP," she added, to Naomi.
"Roxy's on the warpath to catch Non Prophet," Naomi said to Melinda.
"Oh! His blog's pretty funny," Melinda said. "Any reason you're looking for him?"
"Malicious curiosity?" Roxy said, smiling. "We think he might work in our building. But I guess it can't be one of us, if he just checked it."
"Unless he was checking it on a cellphone," Zoe pointed out. Roxy tapped a few keys, still frowning.
"Still makes it kind of unlikely," she said, after a minute. "Who's going to be using their phone to check their email at a Christmas party?"
"You did," Melinda said.
"Seen Sparks with his cellphone lately?" Erin grinned at Roxy. "Be careful. If it's one of us, you've just spilled the beans."
"Maybe if he knows, he'll just come out," Roxy said. "He has to know we can keep secrets."
"Have you met us?" Erin asked.
"She has a point," Melinda put in.
"But we could keep that secret," Roxy said meaningfully.
"Oh," Erin said. "Oh, yes, of course. WE DEFINITELY COULD," she said loudly. Sparks shushed her from another table, clearly enjoying John and Cee's duet thoroughly.
"It's not one of you guys, is it? You'd tell me, right?" Roxy asked. Zoe exchanged a look with Erin; Naomi shook her head, and Melinda did too, laughing.
"Definitely not me," Zoe said.
"Not me either!" Erin agreed. "It's not you, right?"
Roxy looked affronted. "This is a lot of fuss just to cover my tracks, if it is me."
"Okay, so, we've established it's not one of us," Zoe summarized.
"Unless it is," Erin said.
"Maybe we should have had this conversation pre-beer," Roxy mused. Onstage, John and Cee finished singing and took a bow to uproarious, slightly tipsy applause.
"All right!" Sparks said, taking the stage before Zeke could get up to introduce anyone else. "It's Secret Not Santa time!"
"Where's Ian?" John asked over the noise of people gathering around the gifts. "I got him a thing."
"He's back at the office, setting up Sparks' gift," Erin replied. "Which is from me, but Ian said he'd help out. He's got your present too, Jess."
"Oh, yay!" Jess beamed. "Okay, I got Naomi, can I give her -- what the hell?" she asked, picking up the gaily wrapped package marked FOR: Naomi
"What's wrong with it?" Sparks asked casually. Everyone immediately looked at him with deep suspicion.
"It has...sticks...stuck in the ribbon..." Jess frowned and fiddled with the ribbon. "Ohhh."
"SPARKLERS!" Sparks announced. "I put them on every present. Don't light them inside!"
Erin thought that the SparkVISION staff made a cheery little party as they marched back through the snow to their offices, sparklers glittering and popping in the light snowfall, crunching on fortune cookies from the gigantic bag of them that Cee had given to Anna (apparently a specific request; Anna must really like fortune cookies).
Cee, she noticed, was smiling every time she touched her pocket, packed full of scented candles Vicky had given her -- "How romantic! For...when I'm...reading...and that kind of thing!" -- or whenever she caught sight of John, proudly sporting his Team Jacob shirt from Roxy stretched tight over his coat. Naomi and Melinda were walking closely together, sharing the long hand-knitted scarf Jess had made for Naomi, and Zoe was swapping a sparkler back and forth with Vicky (Bolo had stolen hers, along with the set of little silver dragon miniatures Sarah had given her). Sparks was practically dancing with anticipation to find out what was waiting for him back at the office.
When they poured out of the elevators on the nineteenth floor, Ian was standing in front of the entry doors, holding a slim folder under one arm and cradling a plant in the other. He offered the folder to Erin, who cleared her throat.
"This certificate," she announced, "is a signed testimonial by Sarah that the office has officially been arranged for the best possible flow of positive Chi. We've added a few plants and moved one of the chairs in accordance with the ancient practice of feng shui to ensure success and positive energy in the new -- oh my God, he's crying."
Sparks wiped his eyes, scowling. "I am not! It's just...so sweet. Thank you! Nobody's ever given me positive Chi before."
"And this is for Jess," Ian added, presenting her with the plant. "It's a peace lily. For those days when you really want to kill someone."
"Which means this is for you," John said, tossing Ian a bundle. "I'm shit at wrapping things, sorry."
Ian unrolled the orange shirt, which had large black text reading TRUST ME, I'M A NINJA.
"Look, Ian and me match," Vicky announced, holding up the slightly less orange and much prettier blouse Naomi had given her. Ian's nose twitched.
"I smell coffee," he announced.
"Mine," Erin said defensively, clutching the small, expensive box of coffee to her chest.
"Come on, one pot," Ian said. "Shot-glass coffee tasting."
"No! Mine, to take home and hoard. Sarah doesn't have to share her beer!"
"Sarah got beer?" Ian asked interestedly.
"And you didn't, so I'm taking it home," Sarah said.
"I'm going to go hang my Tintin poster up in my cube," Roxy announced.
"And then go back to the Hunt For Red Non Prophet!" Erin laughed. Roxy elbowed her. "What?"
"Ixnay on the eekretsay."
"Is that Commie charities?" John asked.
"Technically, most charities are communist in aim if not ideal..." Ian remarked, struggling to get his cast through the arm-hole of the shirt.
"Roxy's trying to trap Non Prophet," Sarah said. Roxy glared at her. "What? The secret was out, kiddo. If he's one of us, he knows by now."
Sparks rolled his eyes. "If he's one of us, I'm clearly not giving him enough work to do. Okay, kids, I'm going to water my new plants, soak up some Chi, and then I'm going home. I suggest you all do the same. We're in tomorrow morning to wrap up, but expect to leave work by noon," he called from his doorway. "Everybody clear?"
"Yes, boss," they chorused. Erin was pleased at how many were smiling.
"HOLY CRAP!" Sparks yelled, inside his office now. "YOU GOT ME FENG SHUI GOLDFISH!"
"You put goldfish in his office?" Cee asked.
"Sorry," Sarah said. "They were on sale."
Erin jumped and moved aside as the elevator dinged, and people began to file into the office to make room for the newcomer, a young woman with a visitor's pass and a bike-messenger's bag slung on her back.
"Can I help you?" Erin asked, ready to sign for whatever it was and pass it off to Ian.
"I'm looking for Bocephus Sparks," the woman replied.
"That's me," Sparks said, emerging from his office with a goldfish bowl under one arm. Erin resisted the urge to cover her face with her hands. "Courier delivery? Our receptionist can handle that..."
"Sorry, sir, I'm supposed to deliver it to you personally, and wait for a reply."
Personal courier deliveries weren't unheard-of, though they weren't really common. Erin lingered in the lobby while the others dispersed, watching as Sparks took the envelope, rested it on top of the goldfish bowl, and balanced it in one hand while he signed the courier's clipboard with the other.
"Sit down and warm up, I'll look this over," he said to her. "You want a coffee? Ian -- "
"Got it," Ian said, hurrying down the hall to the kitchen. Sparks took the envelope off the goldfish bowl, carefully not jostling the fish inside, and studied it. His frown deepened.
"Does that look like an omen of doom to you?" Erin asked Cee, as Sparks disappeared into his office and shut the door.
"It's probably proofs or something," Cee said, but Erin could tell she was uneasy too. There was a thud from inside Sparks's office. Ian, coming around the corner with a cup of coffee for the courier, looked up sharply, then caught Erin's eye and put on a deliberately smooth, serene expression.
"Here you go," he said to the courier, who smiled at him and sipped. "Sorry it's not fresh, we're all heading out soon."
"Hey, it's free," she said. "How's the arm?"
"Enh," Ian waggled his good hand. Erin frowned. "You get that road burn looked at?"
"Yeah, they gave me some antibiotics at the clinic on Michigan."
"Told you that place was good," Ian said.
"Do you two know each other?" Erin asked.
"You get to know the regulars," Ian explained, shrugging as he settled in at his desk. "She couriers for that design place Anna uses for printing, so we see each other a lot. And Union Arms," he added thoughtfully.
"He did have a goldfish with him just now, I wasn't imagining that, right?" the courier asked.
"Christmas gift," Erin said absently, as Sparks emerged from his office.
"Thanks for your time," he said to the courier, looking like he was consciously trying not to shoot the messenger. "Please tell them we send no immediate reply, but our legal team will be in touch."
"Thanks," the courier said, and nodded at Ian as she hurried out. Erin watched her fiddling with the zipper of her fleece vest as she waited for the elevator.
"Boss?" Erin said gently.
"No big deal," Sparks told her, managing to sweep Cee and Ian in as well. "I'll tell you tomorrow. Okay!" he said, clapping his hands and shouting down the hall. "Everyone go home! Enjoy your presents and hug your families. Everyone in bright and early tomorrow, I have some announcements to make."
There was a sort of mass exodus past the front desk, while Ian struggled into his coat and put his hat on. Sarah, carrying her coat in one hand, stopped Naomi as she and Melinda were leaving, leaning in close to say something Erin couldn't hear. When it became obvious Sparks wasn't going to say anything about what was going on, she went to get her coat, and followed the others out into the snow.
"So," Naomi said, settling into the coffee shop's deep chair with a hot drink and a shortbread cookie, courtesy of Sarah, who wanted to talk after the party, "What's going on?"
Sarah glanced at Melinda, who was blowing on he tea to cool it. Melinda looked back, raising an eyebrow.
"Okay, I'm going to say this, because I trust you and you trust her, but I need to know that this doesn't go beyond us," she said. Melinda set her tea down.
"I can go, if you want," she offered.
"No, you might be able to help."
Melinda looked intrigued. Naomi frowned at Sarah. "What is it?"
"I'm almost positive SparkVISION was just served with a lawsuit by Union Arms," Sarah said. Naomi choked on her coffee.
"How do you know?" Melinda asked.
"She has sources," Naomi murmured. "How sure are you?"
"Sworn word of a legal secretary who could lose his job for telling me," Sarah said.
"That's pretty good," Naomi replied, impressed. She considered it for a moment. "Why wouldn't Sparks tell us, though?"
"You know Sparks, he probably didn't want to ruin the mood," Sarah sighed. "He'll probably tell us tomorrow, if he doesn't put it off until after the new year. I doubt he can, though, it'll make the papers somehow. These things always do."
"So what do we do?" Naomi asked. "I mean, obviously you can get in touch with our legal people, but I can't bookkeep them to death."
"No, but you are in
bookkeeping, and I know you get around in the industry. Either of you know anyone who works for Union Arms?"
"I know some of their PR people, that's about it," Melinda said. Sarah looked at Naomi.
"Yeah, I went to college with a guy who used to work there, I can see if he still does," she said. "I don't know how that's going to help, though. I mean, we all know they owe us ten grand, that'll come out anyway, won't it? Especially if they're suing us to get the other ten grand back."
"I want to play some dirty pool," Sarah said. "You remember when he screamed at Sparks? He was really fixed on the money."
"So? Twenty grand's a lot of cash," Melinda said.
"Not to Union Arms. Unless they're not doing as well as they should be," Sarah said. "Trent Byron spends a lot of money."
Naomi thought of the Hermés pashmina, and the eighty-dollar steaks Anna liked so well.
"I just want you to talk to your guy on the inside and see if he can turn up any funny business with the books," Sarah continued.
"Is that ethical?" Naomi asked.
"It's not illegal," Sarah said. "If we can hit them privately with the fact that we could make any of their shabby accounting public, they might back down. Maybe not before this makes news, but quick enough that it won't hurt us too badly. What?" she asked, because Melinda was staring at her.
"Sorry -- I just don't know too many people who would seriously do what you're doing for their company," she said. Sarah relaxed a little.
"Well, Naomi's doing all the work," she pointed out. "You will, right? I mean at least call the guy?"
Naomi was helpless in the face of both Sarah and Melinda's looks.
"Okay," she said, feeling like a hero. "I'll make the call. I can't promise anything," she added, when Sarah looked pleased.
"That's okay, I'll put a few other irons in the fire and see what smells," Sarah told her. She checked her watch. "And...Mark should be done running his errands, so I'm going to go meet him for a movie. Thanks, Naomi," she added, pulling her coat on.
"If we all get arrested, I'm shanking you in the dinner line," Naomi told her.
"Don't worry, I'd bail you out," Melinda sad, patting her hand. "Eat your cookie, sweetheart." Chapter Twelve