The Trail

  • The Trail
    by Natalia Prentice

     

    The Trail (written under a pseudonym) follows a young financial journalist who leaves Wall Street only to discover a mysterious document hidden deep within a secret Washington, D.C. network. As the body count escalates, she is trapped in a sinister world of off-shore embezzlement and on-shore power plays, where everyone is suspect, and death, dollars and danger fluctuate faster than the Dow.

    Check out the two excerpts below:

    Excerpt 1:

    Standing behind his cherry and walnut desk, Ivan Stark gazed out his floor-to-ceiling windows. From the 45th floor, the Empire City spread wide before him. Determined to keep up with trends, he had competed fiercely in the real estate game. He knew how important appearances were, and as the technology and communications companies grew like weeds around him, he joined them in the search for the sleekest offices, the most authoritative views. ITA headquarters was located smack in the middle of midtown Manhattan. Right where the old-style media and publishing houses once dominated. It had taken him years to reach this point in his career. He was king of the communications industry. A powerful force in world business. He had no intention of letting it all slip away.

    "Just DO something!" he bellowed on speakerphone to his PR team, his hand smoothing the top of his balding head.

    "We're doing everything we can, Ivan," said a male voice on the other end. "It might help if--if there weren't rumors that you were selling our stock, I mean your stock, sir."

    "Tim, I don't pay you for financial advice, I pay you to work the media--got it?"

    "Yes, sir. It's just that these rumors are saturating the press. That we're short on the cash necessary to make good on our bond payments--"

    "Thanks, Tim, I can read. What other rumors are circulating?"

    "Well, it seems that bondholders are dumping ITA bonds. Wall Street traders are smelling blood, sir. They're calling all their clients, telling them to sell ITA bonds before anymore bad news comes out."

    There was an intercom beep from Ivan's receptionist. "Hang on, Tim," said Ivan. "Yes?"

    "Sir--it's Ewan McPherson, in legal. We just received a Form B notice from the SEC about a pending investigation into our books. I thought you should know."

    Ivan had built an empire out of little but spin. His closest circle knew it. The rest of the investors were clueless. Ivan had grown from one man and a handful of speculative bankers into a global communications money machine. His own stake in the company had exploded from an initial $20 million to over $3 billion. Counting that stake, plus the real estate and his other investments, Ivan was worth over $4 billion.

    On paper.

    Excerpt 2: 

    (A young lawyer, Kevin Waters, from an elite department of the SEC is missing, after two of his colleagues have been found murdered, floating in the Potomac River in Washington. Simon Caldwell, Kevin's ambitious boss, comes across a document that points to Kevin's involvement in an inexplicable $1 billion transaction.)

    Simon printed out the contract between Silverman and ITA, then folded and stuffed it in the breast pocket of his suit. The stiff wool, mixed with his nervous perspiration, was causing a heat rash that Simon could feel spreading across his abdomen. Even in the height of summer, Washington's government employee dress code was formal; there could be no deviation from suits, ties and jackets. God forbid.

    His head wouldn't wrap around the contract's sum. A billion dollars. It went way beyond any fee ceiling he'd ever seen before. What kind of information was that important, that expensive? And why did Silverman have to pay ITA for it? Weren't they already one of the key bankers for all of ITA's clients anyway? Couldn't they get that financial information directly?

    Unless ... unless that money was a personal gift from Silverman to ITA, disguised as a business contract. Simon had seen that kind of thing many times before, but not for anywhere near that type of money. What kind of gift does a billion dollars buy? What was ITA going to do with that money, or the more apt question, what was ITA's CEO, Ivan Stark, going to do with that money?

    And why the hell didn't he know about any of this? And why did Kevin?

    Feelings of betrayal made Simon's blood boil. It was the same feeling his father had dumped on him growing up, of not being quite smart enough. Cutting corners. Letting others do his job. Kevin was the one guy in the entire world he ever let himself trust. Was that bastard undercutting him? After all he had done, after hooking him up with the enforcer job, making sure he got all the best perks, keeping him away from the life of a low-salaried public defendant that Kevin was about to settle on ... Hiding a billion dollars from him? And from his own wife? Janet didn't know where Kevin was. Or did she? That recovering alcoholic bitch. Was she in on something with Kevin?

    I'll kill him, thought Simon. I'll kill him myself.

    He bolted out of the enforcer offices, through the barren hallways and fluorescent lights. He headed for the parking lot. In the world where corporate America and Washington collided, there was no time to waste. He jumped into his BMW and headed for Georgetown.

    As he approached the Capitol Building, he ran into traffic. There was some midnight vigil or demonstration. Freaking radicals, thought Simon, clenching his fist as he sat in lines of traffic watching Washington riot police, dressed in full Robocop garb, attempt to break up the crowd. The protesters were marching about ending U.S. occupation in Iraq.

    Why couldn't these people just go find jobs like the rest of us? Let the government do its job. Simon laid on his horn, but it was useless. He could do nothing but watch and wait for the cops to evacuate the protesters.

    He switched on the radio and flipped through channels, settling on business news. The lead story was on ITA. He turned up the volume. The announcer was talking about the Wall Street Tribune piece and how ITA's stock had made an amazing rebound a day after dragging the markets down.

    It had recovered half of its lost value. As ITA's prime banker, Silverman's stock had taken a hit as well, but a more modest one, and was now on its way to full recovery.

     

    That's the kind of thing that happens, Simon thought, especially in the summer when trading volume is light. The slightest piece of bad or good news can make the markets go crazy. Exaggerating moves that would be less dramatic during a more active time of the year.

    Either way, their stock was still down. That had to hurt. On paper. Simon wondered if that little Silverman-ITA contract was struck in cash, not stock. If it involved stock, it was now worth 8% less than $1 billion. He extracted the contract from his breast pocket and studied. It was in stock.

    * * *

    When Simon pulled into Dumbarton Street, there were no available parking places. Perfect, he thought. He considered double parking, but was especially protective of this latest automobile purchase and didn't want to risk his Beamer getting towed. Nor did he want to spend the time tracking it down. D.C. was crawling with cops, many of whom disliked those who could afford the best cars. Hence, they were the cars that usually got towed first. He didn't feel like dealing with that tonight.

    Instead, he circled around for another 20 minutes before securing a spot four blocks away. He had called Janet several times from his car on the drive over, but got no answer. This only served to stroke his paranoia. Kevin was clearly not going to be in contact with him, and Janet wasn't answering his calls on her home or cell phone.

     Typical, he thought, she had no problem speaking to me this morning and throughout the day, when she was looking for her precious husband. She has a young daughter, for God sakes, where the hell could she be this late at night?

    He parked across the street from the Waters' home. After looking up and down the street, he crossed to their front door.

    Simon's entire body was clenched and dripping. He knew that the Silverman-ITA contract was the culmination of other prior negotiations that had to have a paper trail somewhere. He assumed the document had something to do with Kevin's disappearance. He just didn't know what. He found nothing else suspicious on Kevin's work computer. Now he'd check his home PC.

    He'd deal with Janet. Maybe convince her to take a walk or something, while he searched her husband's study. Or tell her that he heard from Kevin that morning, that he was hot on a corporation's tail. That he took the latest flight out last night to the West Coast and didn't have time to get in touch. He was sorry and had asked Simon to go over and check on her and hoped she'd understand. Or some such bull**t. He knew Janet wouldn't buy it, though. Hell, he wouldn't buy it either.

    He ascended the three steps to their front door and pressed the buzzer. And waited. There was no answer. As he buzzed again, he strained to hear inside noises. Peering through the living room window, he saw only the sky-blue curtains, completely shut.

    Now where the hell could she be? he wondered again.