Divorced Fathers; a white collar crime mystery-thriller short story by Grant Hall

Divorced Fathers is a short story fiction tale by Grant Hall.

Names, places and events are entirely fictional, and the story is intended for entertainment purposes only.

DIVORCED FATHERS

They were divorced, tired and broke. They didn’t care anymore.

Divorced dads, battered and burned, they longed to beat the system; the unfair child support collection agency-filled with agency henchwomen, whose job satisfaction came from cornering divorced dads and raping their finances; emasculating them, and turning them into neutered, whining, stray dogs. Revenge is a strong force.

Cott had not paid the child collection agency in four years. He had learned how to create a new identity, had banking privacy, traveled anonymously, and had work privacy in place-all learned from the big, red, white, and blue book.

His ex-wife had tried to haul him into court, but his identity protection plan, complete with fake i.d., a home rented in a new identity, and his work privacy plan, with a privately registered Limited Liability Company had been the best identity protection plan possible, and this privacy crisis plan had worked-at least for the last four years. He was now fifty-two.

His work was accomplished without public appearances for the most part, and most of his business appointments were phone conferences or handled with e-mail communication. On occasion, his job as a self-employed website developer/Search Engine Optimization expert required a face to face meeting, but these meetings occurred infrequently.

Cott’s buddy, Bartel had come on hard times and opted for privacy living, too. He owed child support and alimony, and had been in arrears for three years. Together, they had talked and talked about how to create a new identity. And learning how to get a new identity had not been easy, not until they came upon the big red, white, and blue, personal privacy book, that is.  They learned how creating a new identity had successfully been accomplished by others who faced their plight; financial imprisonment and “pauper hell,” until their ex’s unleashed the alimony collars and untied the kid ransom knots, and released them from the debtor prison cells in which they would always be confined-at least for the best and most productive years of their lives. Both had loudly proclaimed their freedom, and vowed to each other that they would beat the system-forever, and live as fugitives rather than be enslaved by the whores who donned the black robes, and the guards of whores who sought them now and who would hunt them forever. And they drank whisky and smoked to ease their pain.

Bonding

Bartel was unemployed and near-broke after twenty-five years as a high-level paper pusher for several fortune 500 companies. At six feet-two, he was the taller of the two, and he liked expensive cigars, rare steak, beautiful women, and rye whisky-all before noon when he could get them. An ex-footballer, he appeared gifted on several fronts; intelligence, a muscular physique, handsome features, and a  photographic memory.

His penchant for perfection was well known among colleagues, and he had graduated number six in his law school class-at Michigan. And though he never practiced law, he was often consulted during management meetings while rising up the corporate ladder, and his advice was well respected-both as a strategic manager and as an in-house lawyer-unofficially. He never stayed longer than three years at a position and claimed “boredom” as the reason for his departure on his resume. And he gambled.

Cott had taken Bartel into his home following a friendship built during divorced fathers’ support group meetings both had attended over a period of a year. And while both fit in with the group, it was a meeting each “outgrew,” while electing to chat over coffee and drinks themselves on meeting nights rather than attend the scheduled gatherings at the Methodist church.

On this day, Cott had little to do; the recession-turned depression was curbing managers’ taste for expensive SEO and many were trying to rank high in the search engines rankings by sprucing up their sites themselves or by hiring website designer flunkies who promised first page rankings at a cheap price in record time, and they never delivered. Garden variety website building work had slowed to a crawl, too. He had time on his hands, only three or four thousand saved, but he had a generous nature. He didn’t mind helping Bartel with room and board. He liked him.

“I wonder what percentage of guys are in arrears with the recession in full swing?” Bartel had asked the question to himself while thinking out loud as much as to Cott.

“Revenues have slowed. No doubt about that,” Cott answered.

“And to think that my ole lady is shacking up with a guy from my own outfit. Sonofabitch. Course there’s nothing I can do about her. My walking out completely burned her ass though. The boy and girl won’t go hungry or anything. Her folks own Crawford and Jiles.” Bartel’s words were clear and without emotion as the two men’s eyes met. He felt no guilt. Cott listened and thought.

Cott checked his e-mail and was unexpectedly surprised. The inquiry had been answered. His proposal, a bid to reconstruct and optimize the website of the state agency was being considered. He had bid competitively, but not too low. The LLC and his pseudo name were well known in certain state government circles as his work had been recommended by the trouble shooter-type manager for the governor-the right hand man to the ex-muscle man himself. He smiled to himself. The proposal being considered was for the reconstruction of the website for the state child support collection agency.

Cott’s banking privacy was taken care of through the diligence of careful planning. He had been a stock broker for twenty years prior to his career change after the dot com bubble had burst, and he, like many others in the business had been forced out the door. He knew his way around the banking and brokerage industry, and his abilities had enabled him to transfer his skills for the purposes of his own financial privacy. And the big red, white, and blue book had taught him how to bank anonymously, and how to be invisible.  A real jewel, he thought.

He had learned how to disappear and never be found by reading. Both he and Bartel had discussed their options and conversed about their lifestyles of living under the radar. Finally, they had adjusted to living the fugitive lifestyle.

Monday brought more pleasant surprises as Cott met with the director in charge of hiring the website developer for the state job. For this personal appearance, he wore a wig, glasses not normally worn, and pulled his native Boston accent out of hibernation to disguise himself further.

The director of agency public operations for the state, Henry Boterzo was also from Boston. A second generation Italian, Berterzo had atttended Yankten College following his transferring from a community college in Oklahoma-the only school that he found that would admit him with his D-ridden high school transcript. But after seven years total of bouncing around the country, he had obtained a bachelor of arts degree in Sociology and went West to seek his fortune, landing with the department of corrections as an entry level manager first and then to a series of mid-level management type positions prior to his current appointment. His promotion was a fluke of sorts, brought about by his publicity campaign and popularity. He was cultured and considered himself an aristocrat of sorts. He knew the right people. Always.

 Round faced, balding, towering, and with a gift for conversation, everybody seemed to like Henry, and his career climbing abilities astonished his more qualified colleagues, but they too liked him. He confessed to being “lazy,” and cared more for pasta dishes, imported ice creams, and fine wines served in the best Italian restaurants and gab than his work, and he often left in the early afternoon to secure a seat at a favorite watering hole while beating the five o’clock rush hour traffic.

“Miss Ramone over at Child Support Collection got your name from Davis, the supervisor at Employment Development. He liked your work. So did Dal Kass over at Motor Vehicles. Are state government contracts your preference, Mr. Baily?”

“I have leaned toward state contracts as each assignment has led to the next due to referrals. And I like providing a service that benefits the people of the state in one way or another. I’m certain we caan make the agency site fully functional in view of your new requirments, ” Cott answered.

Henry glanced at his watch and thought about the files on his desk. And about his growling stomach.

“I’m prepared to hire you today. Contracts are the same in all departments. What say? Shall we wrap this up?”

They both signed the contract and Cott was given the authorization password to the central office computer network, and he promised to begin the reconstruction job of the agency website the following week.

Henry Berterzo slipped out the back door and drove his Lexus toward Zizcotto’s and day dreamed of their veal and lamb meatballs.

Thoughts of Plans

They laughed until tears came to their eyes over Cott’s new contract with the Child Support Collection agency-the very department that had them both listed on their “most delinquent” list-the list fathers feared most, the one with warrants and rewards beneath their names on posters in government offices, and the very same website Cott would be reconstructing within a few days.

When the beer ran out, they went to whisky shots. After a while, both began to speak of grandiose-like ideas, the kind that are not  fantasy entirley, but the talk that comes from real desires, and surfaces from thoughts to words only when liquor lossens inhibitions and begs a supportive ear-if for no other reason that to escape the temporary boredom of ordinary existence. Dreaming can be fun with a willing conversation partner.

“Say Cott, if I was in your shoes, I’d repair that state website alright. Ever think of monkeying with the data? How about diverting some of those monthly child support garnishments into your company account? Or better yet, mine. I think I have about three hundred bucks to my name. How’s that for an editor of the Michigan Law Review?”

He had thought about it. As a matter of fact, compulsively over the last number of hours.

“It’s temporary. You’ll come back. Any responses to the feelers.” Cott knew the answer to his own question as soon as he had blurted out the words.

“No.”

Both men were silent for a time. Bartel took a drag on the half smoked cigarette, inhaled deeply, slouched in the easy chair, then sat straight up. Their eyes met. Both were serious now.

“My undergrad work was computer science. PC’s were nothing compared to today. I’ve kept up though. Plus I go to the hacker forums all the time. With that central computer and network passcodes, the whole system could be changed to pay whatever bank accounts you choose-with a few days of hacking work, that is.” Bartel appeared to mean every word though he was clearly feeling the booze.

“What does your law degree tell you about the crime when you get caught, Cott replied?”

“Penalties would be stiff. We’d both die in prison.”

“We? The hell you say. Not me. I’d never go to their cages and become “Bubba’s” punk.”

After each had another drink, Cott strolled toward the stairway. He was tired. Lying in bed minutes later, he day dreamed when he could not get interested in the paper back novel at his bed side. He stayed up thinking about their conversation until the wee morning hours.

In the bedroom next door, Bartel slept like a baby.

The “Job” Description

Though he was unemployed, broke, and homeless, Bartel was the leader of the two. Over a period of a few days, he convinced Cott to think seriously about using his front contract job to pave the way for a real score, the state “job.”

As Cott’s conscience bothered him initially, Bartel appeared to have no reservations about stealing from the state. Perhaps he sought revenge. He had no criminal record-except his current child suppport arrearage, and the crime itself may have appealed to him because of the source of the funds to be robbed. Or maybe, criminal tendencies within him had remained latent, awaiting the proper spark to fuel his fire, whether for revenge or to feed an ego-self absorbed, starved, and awaiting the stimulation the heist could provide. The state “job” offered Bartel the opportunity to prove himself again-to himself.

He read compulsively, bought e-books on all aspects of code, programming, and hacking- everything he imagined would be necessary to know, in order to tap into the giant bank account he intended to highjack-with or without the man who provided him with a roof over his head. His compulsion continued as Cott readied himself to begin the state website project any day now-as soon as the loose ends were tied on two jobs near completion.

They spoke of the mass potential the theft offered each evening after dinner as they drank beer, whisky or brandy. And sometimes all three. Cott was coming around-at least when he had the liquor to help influence his thoughts and judgment.

Decisions

They were a compatible team. Cott had the inside track with a bonifide contract that could pave the way for the biggest bank heist in the history of the country-maybe the world. Bartel had the background in both education and business savvy to provide resources to keep the cash safe once the robbery was completed; Nevada Limited Partnerships owned by offshore trusts and privately registered without a trace to either of them. He had connections for administrative trustees, and nominees. He could form a company-anonymously that would serve as the general partner, and this entity would take the hit, not them when stolen money was traced to the partnership. The problem would be retrieving the funds, because the general partner, Limited Liability Company would have no assets, and would be a mere shell designed to deceive and deliver the privacy necessary to pull off such a caper. He planned everything and recruited front men as needed to sign on the dotted line on his business entities’ forms, and these businesses would soon hold bank accounts that would receive the wire transfers of the diverted funds, decoy accounts that would be used as temporary homes for the child support collection’s bank account that wiould be filled to the brim on the first of the month as divorced dads-willing and unwilling, would be forced to supply their funds to the state bank account, through garnishments and voluntary checks. But this time, a sneak attack would take these monies and divert the funds, not to mom’s everywhere, but into the accounts of two ruthless men who sought wealth and revenge against big bureaucrat, their enemy now and forever.

They thought and decided.

Though Cott had been a hold out and wanted more time to decide, the event that sealed the deal was a letter forwarded to him by his offshore mail nominee. The letter was a court order and within the document, a private investigative firm’s employee had sworn to have served “one Cott Baily” in person making the court order adjudicating more than three hundred dollars more each month his new obligation.

He swore for days, made threatening promises to kill the sonofabitch who had purgered himself in an attempt to bury him deeper in his hole of arrearage-debt he promised himself, and his friend that he would never pay-even if he had to dig himself a hole in the desert and live like a ground hog, by God, those devils would never see a nickel of his money. And he drank every night and became increasingly more angry.

“The thing that gets me is the way these arrogant private investigators prance around trying to push us around. That’s twice in two years they’ve claimed to have handed me a summons. Service has to be done in person. I could prove them wrong. With receipts documenting my location when they claimed to have served me. Bastards!”

Bartel empathized with his friend. Was this the ace in the hole needed to provide Cott with the motivation, the desire that had been lacking until this point? He believed so.

“Of course your testimony and documents, receipts, whatever , could be used to prove the whore for the fag in the black robe wrong,” Bartel said. Then he leaned back, crossed his feet at the ankles and studied Cott.

He’d never seen Cott so disturbed. He drank nightly, often becoming drunk-unusual behavior for his friend who was usually cool, matter of fact, business like, and emotionally stable. His normal “even keel” temperament now resembled the attitude and expressions of what had become familar to him. Cott’s behavior reminded him of his own.

To be continued.