SOME EXIT STRATEGY: A CHARLIE BYRNE GRIND - KIERAN SHEA
“What do I do?”
I smoothed my chinos and took a tangy swallow from the mug of jasmine tea Leanne Bing brewed for me. She brewed the tea in a proper tea pot. Didn’t know many people who still did that anymore, going through the trouble of warming a pot and all. Everybody just zapped, zapped, zapped.
I leaned over and ejected a disc from my laptop. Gingerly, I plucked the disc from the slide then snapped it into a compact disc case. I had the foresight to pack up all my recording equipment and put it in the trunk of my car before showing her some select outtakes from seventy-six hours of recording. When you routinely smash people’s hearts for a living, you tend to practice exit strategies.
I passed Ms. Bing a red file folder and the disc. The file folder included a copy of my report, translator documentation, and a final invoice with itemized expenses. To be honest, the translator costs were what blew me to hell’s ledge and gone. Know any conversational Chinese or Korean? Make some bank, man.
“First things first,” I said, “your lawyer? Call him. I sent a brief via FedEx and the cover note said to expect a call from you by 2 o’clock today. Together both of you should decide your next course of action.”
“My next course of action?”
“Whether or not to go to the police.”
“That’s your decision. You watched the footage, but I’d recommend the cops.” I motioned to the CD case she turned in her hands. “That’s clear cut abuse. You could choose to handle her all on your own, just confront her and see what happens, but I wouldn’t recommend that, not after looking at that video. I think your lawyer will agree with me. Blowback on these things... harassment isn’t uncommon down the line.”
Ms. Bing was quiet for moment. I adjusted my chafe on the edge of the sofa.
“I checked with some law enforcement people up this way. The person you should contact is this woman here.” I handed her a business card I’d been given a few days earlier. “She’s solid enough, handled a couple of cases similar to yours actually. Well-connected with INS, judges, the whole deal. A bit dry and hardly chatty, but you don’t get to be in a position like hers by being a clown.”
I tendered a feeble smile, but Leanne Bing’s gaze glassed inward. I waited two minutes while she cried it out.
I drank some of the cooling jasmine tea and thought of how it was a bit insensitive of me, seeing that she was crying and all. I set the mug down on a coaster and set about putting my laptop away. The view from her living room offered a small sweep of a frozen tidal marsh on Barnegat Bay. It was a huge, waterfront house that clocked in around five and half or six mil, easy. Somewhere above us, a tubby military cargo jet whined on its long, gradual descent into McGuire-Dix Airforce Base, a little over twenty miles away.
“I feel so ashamed. How could I’ve let this happen to me? To him? To my son?”
“It’s hard,” I said rubbing my hands together slowly. “To be frank, feeling shame about something beyond your control, Ms. Bing? It doesn’t suit a successful business woman like you. You’re better than that. Yes, you own an impressive retail company and people think you’re savvy, but you’re a single mom. You’re overworked. You hired a woman in good faith to help you and she physically and mentally abused your adopted son. She’s to blame. The woman you hired presented herself as Korean, gave you references, showed you her materials, and spun a tale. But the translations here clearly indicate she’s Chinese. I don’t understand it myself, the whole Chinese bashing Koreans thing, but your son obviously had some trauma in his early childhood over there and this woman committed fraud. She exploited you and him. You’ve done the right thing here. You have evidence now and not just your suspicions. You can make his life better.”
She worked her jaw. “Will she be deported?”
I puffed out a breath. “Hard to say. Again, it depends on how you decide to play this out. Your lawyer should really advise you. I know this though, the sooner the legal process starts the sooner your bases are covered. She isn’t a citizen, so yeah...it’s possible she could get deported.
If her documentation is indeed bogus, which it probably is, she’s in major league hot water. Me, I’d avoid a direct confrontation though.”
“Couple of things. One, she could run and two, she could get ugly.”
“You make her sound so dangerous. She’s so tiny.”
Tiny, huge—I really didn’t care. Everybody’s dangerous. Give them a reason, liquor them up, back them into a corner and threaten to take their world away. Bring me Mahatma Ghandi and use a blow torch on his children’s lips while he stands by? I’ll show you dangerous in spades.
“She neglected and beat your son.”
“My father spanked me.”
“With an electrical cord?”
I let that sit and felt like a total asshole. She looked as if I slapped her, but the cue took.
“Do I write you check, Charlie?”
Get me out of here. “Yes. A check would be great. Byrne Research, LLC.”
She stepped away for a moment and I stood feeling the tingle of blood rush in my legs. I wanted to get home to Ocean City, like, yesterday. Go for a run on the boardwalk until I puked bile then file this nasty bit of business away in a dark corner. I wanted to see my girlfriend and huddle up with anything she wanted to watch on cable, hoping for something funny because I really needed funny. Child abuse cases just sucked the core right out of me, made me want to do brutal things. I needed levity like oxygen. I needed to die laughing.
When Ms. Bing returned, I slipped the pale blue check she handed over to me into my coat pocket without unfolding it.
“This is just so horrible,” she said, hugging her elbows. “I just can’t believe she flat out lied to me like that. How could someone be so dreadful?”
Dreadful? Christ, lady, are we on The Young & The Restless here? She whipped your nine-year-old son’s feet...
I pinched the bridge of my nose and shouldered the strap of my laptop bag. “All this will be behind you before you know it. Listen, I hope you don’t mind but I took the liberty to pull together some reputable firms you may want to consider in the future after things settle down some. All checked out and above board certified. Good people. Their childcare workers are degreed and some even offer home schooling in English.”
“Thank you. I think, well, for now I think I’m going to take a break and spend some time with him. A leave of absence from the company.”
“You can do that?”
“Yes. I’m really just a showpiece now. My name is on the products, yes, and I do the T.V. thing every once in a while, but I do very little in the way of day to day operations. Big decisions mostly. Media bright facing with board of directors and all. A month off might be welcome break.”
There were vast, lush valleys I would never tread. Then it hit me. She wasn’t overworked, she was just lazy about her son. My shoulders clenched.
“Great. That’s great. Good for you.”
“No, it’s all in my report, I think,” I cleared my throat. ”Naturally get the locks changed, both here and up in Manhattan, as well as any of the vehicles she used. Alarms need to be reprogrammed, both residences. I pulled some numbers and bulleted them near the end of the report, locksmiths and local Mercedes dealers. Also, stay on top of your bills. If she had any access to your records or any of your account information at any point, that could be trouble. Anyway, I’ve written it all down.”
“Thank you so much.”
“You said you’re taking your son to Florida, yes?”
“Yes. He likes baseball. I’ve bought a package deal for Spring training. The Yankees for him, spas and massages for me. He’s a big Yankees fan. I try to share his interest, but I’m just happy to be with him when he’s smiling and not so closed off. It’s been hard.”
The telephone chirred from across the room. She crossed and picked up the receiver from a table. A glance down at the caller i.d. screen and she looked up. Paled.
I took a step and my shin caught the blunt edge of a marble coffee table. I winced at a small twang of pain. “Let your voicemail catch it, Ms. Bing.”
Her index finger hovered over the pick-up button on the telephone. “S-she’s calling. I can’t believe this, she’s actually calling the house right this second! This isn’t serendipitous, this has to be fate. Why that little fucking—”
“Ms. Bing, please. Let her call kick to voicemail.”
Leanne Bing scowled at me dismissing my insolence. I could see the cold, towering wave of rage marshaling up behind her eyes, ready to unleash its wrath. Shaking, her skin shadowed. I pleaded.
For the love of God, please don’t.
BIO: Kieran Shea’s south Jersey investigator, Charlie Byrne, is an evolving character. He has appeared here at A Twist of Noir and elsewhere, including the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and upcoming in the resurrected and Kindle-friendly Crimefactory. Kieran has no idea where Charlie is going, but he’s pretty sure it’s not going to end well. Kieran blogs at BLACK IRISH BLARNEY.