Short Straw

Paperback | May 1, 2007

byStuart Woods

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OUR FAVORITE LEGAL EAGLE RETURNS.

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR STUART WOODS CONTINUES WHAT HE STARTED IN SANTA FE RULES:

Stuart Woods delivers a compulsively readable novel of crosses and double-crosses, featuring a shrewd criminal lawyer and his shamelessly sexy wife-a true black widow.

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OUR FAVORITE LEGAL EAGLE RETURNS. NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR STUART WOODS CONTINUES WHAT HE STARTED IN SANTA FE RULES: Stuart Woods delivers a compulsively readable novel of crosses and double-crosses, featuring a shrewd criminal lawyer and his shamelessly sexy wife-a true black widow.

Stuart Woods is the author of more than sixty novels. He is a native of Georgia and began his writing career in the advertising industry. Chiefs, his debut in 1981, won the Edgar Award. An avid sailor and pilot, Woods lives in Florida, Maine, and New Mexico.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:400 pages, 7.46 × 4.25 × 1.06 inPublished:May 1, 2007Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0451220846

ISBN - 13:9780451220844

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OneED EAGLE DIDN’T WANT TO GET OUT OF BED. USUALLY HE woke at the stroke of seven, put his feet on the floor and was up and running, but not this morning. He drifted for a moment, then snapped back. He raised his head and looked at the large digital clock that rested on top of the huge, flat-screen TV on his bedroom wall: 10:03A.M. Impossible. Clock broken.He sat up and checked his wristwatch on the bedside table: 10:03. What the hell was going on? He had a hundred people coming to lunch at the grand opening of his new offices at noon, and there was much to do. Why hadn’t Barbara woken him? He stood up. “Barbara?” he yelled. Silence. He looked at the other side of the bed: still made up.He staggered into the bathroom and splashed water on his face, then he walked across the hall to his wife’s bathroom. Not there. On the marble shelf under the mirror was a small plastic bottle from the pharmacy, lid off. He picked it up and read the label. AMBIEN. Sleeping pill. He never took them. He looked inside: empty.He replayed the evening before: steaks for the two of them, grilled on the big Viking range, Caesar salad, bourbon before, bottle of red with. Half a bottle of red wine would not cause him to over-sleep. Not unless it contained an Ambien or two. He had an uncomfortable feeling in his gut.He walked downstairs in his bare feet and checked every room, then he went to the garage. Barbara’s Range Rover was gone. Could she have gone to the office without him to get ready for the gathering, letting him sleep late? She must have.Ed went back upstairs, shaved and stood in a shower until he felt human again, then he blew dry his longish black hair, dressed in a new shirt, recently arrived from his shirtmaker in London, then a new suit, recently arrived from his tailor in the same city. He pulled on a pair of black alligator western boots, which added a couple of inches to his six-feet, seven-inch height—or altitude, as he liked to think of it—chose a tie and a silk pocket square, grabbed his Stetson and headed for town.He parked in his reserved space in the basement garage of the newly constructed, five-story office building, just off Santa Fe’s Plaza, then took the private elevator to the penthouse. His new offices were swarming with people: painters touching up here and there, janitors cleaning up after the painters, secretaries, caterers, people hanging pictures. Most of these things should have been done by the day before, but everything always ran a little late. He grabbed a passing secretary.“Where’s Barbara?” he asked.“Haven’t seen her,” the woman replied, then continued on her way.He walked across the open flagstone area just inside the glass doors and into his new office, tossing his Stetson onto a bentwood hat rack. A painter was daubing at a place on the wall next to the windows. He picked up the phone and pressed the Page button.“Barbara?” he said, hearing his voice echo across the whole floor.His secretary picked up the phone. “Ed? Barbara’s not here yet. I thought she would come with you.”“She left the house before I did, Betty, and I overslept.”“I didn’t know you slept at all,” she replied drily.“Not after seven A.M., I don’t.”“Tie one on last night?”“I tied on two ounces of bourbon and half a bottle of wine, and that’s all.”“She’ll turn up,” Betty said. “Excuse me, I’ve got things to do.” She hung up.Ed opened the French doors and walked out onto his newly planted, private terrace. He strolled over to the parapet and viewed the action in the plaza. Everything was as usual: the Indians selling their jewelry on the sidewalk in front of the Governor’s Palace, old folks taking the spring sun on the benches in the little park, shopkeepers sweeping their sidewalks. Santa Fe had been up for hours, but, like him, it was just waking. Ed went back inside and walked slowly around the offices, inspecting everything carefully. It was all finally coming together. He walked out onto the larger terrace. The caterers had set up a bar and a long lunch table, and they were hand-trucking in dishes, silverware and serving pieces.He went back to his office and sat down, not knowing what to do next. He was still fuzzy around the edges. Coffee, that’s what. He walked over to the built-in cabinets on one wall of his office and opened a pair of doors, revealing a little kitchenette. Betty had already made the coffee, and he poured himself a mug and took a Danish from the plate she had left there. Special occasion. He went back to his desk and stood by it, sipping his coffee.It was his fiftieth birthday. Moreover, with the opening of his new offices, this day was the culmination of everything he had worked for over the past twenty-five years. He had long been Santa Fe’s top trial attorney, but he had finally and firmly established himself as one of the half-dozen best trial lawyers west of the Mississippi, and that included Denver, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. When people were accused of bad things, they thought of Ed Eagle.One case had done more than any other to help him achieve that status: the Wolf Willett murders, a couple of years earlier. Wolf was a Hollywood producer, and three people had been murdered in his Santa Fe home: himself and his wife, Julia, among them, or so it had first seemed. Wolf had been astonished to learn of his own death when he had read about it, and he had come to Ed Eagle for help. Ed’s clearing of Wolf Willett had made headlines all over the country and had revealed the sordid background of Julia Willett. Ed was now married to Julia’s sister, and he believed he knew everything about her background.And where the hell was she? It was past eleven o’clock, and their guests were due at noon.Betty came into his office with a sheet of paper in her hand, closed the door behind her and leaned against it. “You’re going to want to sit down,” she said.“That sounds ominous,” he replied.“It was meant to. Sit down.”Ed obediently sat down.Betty took a deep breath, walked over to his desk and laid the sheet of paper on it. “I just found this in the fax machine,” she said. “I’m sorry I didn’t see it sooner, but I’ve been busy.”Ed picked up the sheet of paper, which was a letter from his bank. He read aloud: “This is to confirm the wire transfer of $930,000 from your firm account and $170,000 from your personal account to…” He stopped reading aloud. “To an account in the Cayman Islands? What the hell is this?”“It sounds very much like all the cash you have,” Betty said. “Unless you’ve got something in your sock.”Ed bared his teeth. “Look in my mouth,” he said to Betty. “Do I still have my eyeteeth?”“Figuratively speaking,” Betty replied, “no.”TwoEAGLE SET THE LETTER DOWN ON HIS DESK. HIS MIND, which had been slowed by the remnants of the sleeping pill, was suddenly operating under full steam. “Get me my broker,” he said to Betty.Betty picked up the phone on his desk, dialed the number and handed him the phone.“Jim?” Eagle said.“Morning, Ed. I expect you’re calling about the wire transfer.”“Yes, I am. Has it gone?”“I’ve just been handed the authorization. We liquidated your accounts yesterday, as per your fax. The wire will be gone in five minutes.”“Hold everything,” Eagle said.“What?”“Do not wire those funds.”“All right; what do you want me to do with all this cash? It’s just over four million dollars.”“Is it too late to cancel the sale of all those stocks?”“Well, yes; it was done yesterday. I know you wanted the funds wired before two P.M., but we couldn’t release that large a sum until we had confirmations.”“Jim, listen to me very carefully: the fax you got was not sent by me and did not reflect my wishes. Do you understand?”“It was signed by Barbara, Ed.”“I’m going to send you a letter confirming that the instructions were unauthorized, and I want you to call someone at the IRS immediately and inform them of that fact. Follow up with a letter, because otherwise, I’ll be faced with a hell of a tax bill for the capital gains on those sales.”“Of course, I will, Ed, and I want to apologize, but I thought….”“Don’t worry about it, Jim; we caught it in time, and I’m not going to hold your firm responsible for anything but the notification of the IRS. I’ll talk to you later. Oh, by the way, send me the paperwork immediately for removing Barbara’s name from all my accounts.”Eagle hung up and turned to Betty. “Call the credit card companies and cancel all Barbara’s credit cards, with immediate effect. I’ll talk to them, if necessary. Also, have them fax copies of all the charges in the last and current billing cycle.”“Got it,” Betty said and left the office.Eagle got up and went into the shiny new bathroom off his shiny new office and vomited what was left of last night’s dinner into the shiny new toilet. He drank a glass of water, then went back to his desk and called Russell Norris. Norris was a retired top IRS agent who now worked as a consultant. He was very good at dealing with foreign banks. He explained the situation to Norris, who promised to get back to him quickly.Eagle took a deep breath and called the president of his bank. “Fred?”“Yes, Ed. I was just about to leave for your shindig.”“Great. Before you do, I received a fax from you this morning, addressed to Barbara, confirming a transaction. I expect you are familiar with that.”“Of course, Ed, I handled it myself, yesterday.”“Listen to me carefully, Fred: I did not authorize the transaction; the instructions are fraudulent.”There was a silence at the other end of the phone, and when the man spoke again, his voice was shaky. “Ed, tell me this is a joke.”“It is not a joke. The instructions were not mine, and the signature on the fax is not mine.”“I tried to call you to confirm it, but neither your old office or your new one answered. All I got was a message saying you were closed for moving.”“Fred, you need to report this to your board immediately.”“Of course.”“And I want those funds back in my account before the close of business today.”“Ed, I don’t know about that; I’ll have to talk to my board. Why did Barbara do this?”“I don’t know yet; I’m just beginning my investigation. I will follow up with written notification of the fraud, and I will expect you and your board to do the right thing. Come to think of it, you can hold your board meeting right here, since all the members are coming to our opening.”“Yes, I suppose we could, Ed. I’ll talk to you later.”“Good-bye, Fred.”Betty came into the office with several sheets of paper. “Looks like Barbara has been shopping for a lot of new clothes,” she said, laying them on the desk. “About thirty thousand dollars’ worth, and some new luggage, too. Oh, and there’s a little item on her American Express card for twenty-two thousand dollars for the charter of a jet from a company in Albuquerque. I called them: they picked up a Mrs. Eagle at seven A.M. this morning at the Santa Fe airport and flew her to Mexico City. She landed an hour ago.”“Good God,” Eagle said.“There’s no extradition from Mexico, is there?”“Not even for murder,” Eagle replied.“How much did she get away with?”“One million, one hundred thousand dollars,” Eagle replied. “Of the bank’s money.”“The bank’s money?”“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” Eagle said.“Sounds good to me,” Betty said. “Now, you’d better get on your feet and slap a smile on your face, because the governor just arrived, and the place is filling up fast.”Ed stood up. “When the party’s over, send somebody out to the airport to pick up Barbara’s Range Rover.” He unclipped the key from his ring and handed it to her. “Can you think of anything else I should do?”“Sure. Call the FBI.”“Good idea,” he said. “Remind me when all these people have gone.” He straightened his tie and, trying not to look pale, walked out of his office and onto the terrace, where his guests were gathering.ThreeEAGLE HEADED STRAIGHT FOR THE GOVERNOR AND RECEIVED him warmly. Since Eagle had been a steady contributor to the man’s campaigns’ first for congress, then for governor, the warmth was returned.When that duty had been accomplished, he worked the crowd, shaking every hand, accepting compliments on his new quarters, charming everyone wherever he went. The crowd drank, ate, then thinned, and after he had pumped the last hand, he returned to his office, where the bank president and the chairman of his board awaited on his sofa.“Fred, Arthur,” he said, sitting down opposite them.“I’ll come right to the point, Ed,” Fred said. “Arthur and I have canvassed every member of the board, we’ve talked to our attorneys, and we’ve consulted the state banking board. It’s like this: Barbara was a signator on both accounts, though not an owner of the accounts.”“I know that, Fred.”“Therefore, the bank is not liable for her actions. We received a lawful instruction from her, and we complied. Barbara has stolen not from the bank, but from you. You’re a lawyer; you should know that.”“I had forgotten Barbara was a signator on the firm account,” Eagle said. “A year and a half ago, she reorganized our billing and payables, and we put her signature on the account at that time. We never removed it.”“I’m sorry we can’t be of more help,” Fred said. “I know this puts you in a temporary bind. We can do a short-term loan to help your cash flow situation. How’s half a million?”Eagle did some quick calculations. He had to finish paying for the work on the offices, nearly half a million; the party had cost fifty grand, and he had other payables, too. Also, he had to repurchase stocks to avoid taxes. “I’ll need a million and a half, Fred,” he said.Fred and Arthur exchanged a glance. “That’s above my lending limit, Ed; Arthur’s, too. We’ll have to go to committee.”“How long?”“We meet every Wednesday. I can do the half-million immediately, if that helps.”Eagle nodded. He hated borrowing money. “Send me the note this afternoon.” He stood up. “Thanks for your help, Fred, Arthur. I needn’t tell you this has to be kept highly confidential, even from your board, if that’s possible.”“They already know, Ed, from our discussions earlier today. I’ll impress upon each of them the necessity of confidentiality.”“Thank you.”“I didn’t get to tell you earlier,” Fred said, “but the offices are magnificent, a credit to the community.”“Thank you, Fred.” They shook hands and left.Betty came in as soon as they were gone. “Russell Norris is on the phone.”Eagle picked it up and pressed the button. “Russell?”“Ed, I’m afraid we’re too late. If we’d known yesterday, I might have been able to intercept the funds.”“Oh.”“She bounced the money to Mexico City, just like her sister did a couple of years ago. It went to the Banco Internacional this morning; I might be able to do something there, depending on how fast she moves. It’s Friday; I could be there when the bank opens on Monday morning.”“Barbara flew to Mexico City this morning, so she got there before the banks closed. She might have had time to move the money again.”“Does she know the details of the Willett business, what her sister did?”“A rough outline. She knows we stopped the funds in the Cay-mans before they could go to Mexico. She might think they’re safe in Mexico and not move fast.”“Then it’s worth the trip,” Norris said. “You want me to go?”“Yes, please. Let me know something on Monday.”“I’m on it,” Norris said, then hung up.Eagle buzzed Betty. “Get me Cupie Dalton.” Cupie was an ex-LAPD detective, now a P.I. who gained his nickname on the force because of his resemblance to the Cupie Doll: plump and pink.“Hey, Ed, what’s up?”“I’ll make it quick, Cupie. My wife ran off with a lot of my money; she landed in Mexico City this morning. She sent the money to the Banco Internacional there, so she may still be in town. I want you to find her. How’s your Spanish?”“My mother was half Mexican,” Cupie said. “I get along. What do you want me to do when I find her?”Eagle liked it that Cupie said “when,” not “if.” “Follow her wherever she goes, and call me. Does your cell phone work down there?”“Yep. I’ll need five grand up front; you got the account number?”“I do; it’ll be there in an hour.”“Then I’ll be in Mexico City by bedtime.”“Call me.” Eagle hung up and buzzed Betty. “Wire Cupie Dalton five thousand.”“Have we got five thousand?”Eagle winced. “Fred’s putting half a million in the account this afternoon; somebody’ll be here with a note soon.”“There’s a kid with an envelope in reception now. Hang on.”A moment later, Betty came in with the note; Eagle signed it, wincing again at the interest rate, and she stuffed it back in the envelope and returned it to the messenger.There was a rap on the office door. “Come in!” Eagle yelled.Wolf Willett opened the door and came in. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get here earlier,” Wolf said. “I was held up in a meeting at Centurion Studios.” He looked around. “The place is gorgeous.”“Thanks, Wolf. Sit down.”“You look beat. Big crowd?”“Big crowd, but that’s not why I’m beat.”“What’s going on?”“Your former sister-in-law left town this morning after wiring a little more than a million dollars of my money to an offshore bank. She’s in Mexico City, I think.”“Oh, my God, Ed.”“Yeah.”“The good news is, I stopped another four million from being wired from my brokerage account before she got her hands on it.”“It’s like Julia all over again, isn’t it?”“It is.”“I feel responsible; you’d never even have met Barbara if…”“None of that, pal; we’re both victims, that’s all.”“Ed, I turned in the negative of my new movie this morning and got a big check. If you’re short…”“The bank will come through with some short-term money, I think. But thanks.”“If they don’t, or if the terms are unacceptable, I’m good for a million or two.”Eagle grinned. “With a friend like you, who needs friends?”“I mean it. I can actually write you a check on my brokerage account right now.” Wolf patted his jacket pocket.“Thanks anyway, but I’m okay. Can I buy you dinner tonight?”“No, but I’ll buy you dinner. Are Jane and Sara here?”“No, Jane had some work to do this weekend. They’re staying in L.A.”“It’s just you and me, then.”“You and me.”“Santa Café at eight?”“Sure, I’ll book. I’ve got one more call to make, now; have a look around, and pardon all the dirty glasses.”“See you later.” Wolf left, closing the door behind him.Eagle picked up the phone and called the FBI.Four