Opening of Chapter 1, Above Temptation by Karin Kallmaker
“Here’s the last of the files, Barrett.” The clerk hardly paused as he shoehorned two more boxes into her cubicle. “What a waste of paper.”
“Wait—take these back. I’m done with them.” Kip Barrett wearily lifted four file boxes into the clerk’s waiting hands. It was progress, at least. She was finally giving back more than she was getting and it wasn’t too often that she felt that way.
She staged the new boxes in the precarious Jenga-like stack crowding her cubicle. She was still trying to figure out how doing her job really well-meant she was assigned the mind-shredding task of numbering exhibits. “It has to be right so I want you to do it” from her boss didn’t seem like a compliment now, especially when the files in question were actual hard copy, relics of a case from the pre-digital era. A wasteland of manila folders mounded across her desk. The only spots of color were the coded file tags and the printed lettering across each file: CONFIDENTIAL PROPERTY OF STERLING FRAUD INVESTIGATIONS.
It’s important work, she told herself. After all, this stack of paper held one critical fact supported with multiple verified source documents. When added to the next fact, and the next, and hundreds of others it meant a failed appeal and Joseph Wyndham III could go on writing his memoir in his minimum security cell.
She swapped her pencil for an indelible fine point marker and wrote numbers on the sheets of paper in the long-used company script. This piece of paper, this fact: $19,929.17 from the account of prosecution witness 4,866, via unauthorized bank transfer initiated in Oregon moving funds through Federal Reserve District 12 from California to a bank domiciled in Zurich.
One mistake, erasures, corrections, anything imperfect, and the defense’s contention that his innocent, God-fearing, pillar-of-the-community client had been mistakenly prosecuted is bolstered by “shoddy, inconsistent” work by the firm of Sterling Fraud Investigations. There—4,866 files checked. Only 623 to go.
She tried to whip up her flagging energy with the thought of her weekend plans, but that strategy had stopped working two days ago. Just a few more hours, she told herself.
“You want to shut off that alarm?” Her cube neighbor’s raspy voice floated over the barrier. “I got plenty of alarms of my own to worry about.”
It took her a minute to realize the comment was meant for her. Her tired brain had shut out the persistent tone of an urgent internal e-mail. Ignoring everything around her was a survival skill when confronted with this much to do. Her equally punchy neighbors had been playing a candy bar jingle most of the morning. Someone would rhythmically start it, and it would travel bit by bit along all the cubicles until it was done. It was not nearly so annoying as “Wassup!” and “Who let the dogs out?”, the two previous cubicle noise games.
She silenced the email alarm. It was probably from Emilio Woo, her boss. Please, she thought, any other day I’m happy to do whatever. But not today.
It wasn’t from Emilio. She stared at the sender’s name and then took a deep breath. What did Tamara Sterling, the woman who stared impassively at her from the covers of SFI annual reports, want with her? Maybe it was a mistake.
It wasn’t. The message was brief and to the point: Come to my office at precisely half past four. Please do not mention this appointment to anyone.
Her computer put her on hold while her brief confirmation was sent and she allowed herself to wonder what the appointment was about. She’d officially met with Sterling only once since joining the banking specialists staff, though they’d said a casual word or two at meetings, receptions and office functions. A promotion? No, Emilio or his boss would have talked to her about that. There were no openings that she knew about. And from what Kip knew of Tamara Sterling, she didn’t need any help finding or balancing her accounts.
Speculation wouldn’t get any work done and she needed to finish at least fifty more files before she left for the weekend. She caught her heavy sigh before it escaped from her lungs. She tried to tell herself she hadn’t turned into a desk jockey. Field investigations were a lot more interesting, but nobody got to do just the fun stuff. Tracing live digital signals, watching a magician programmer open trap doors for high-tech thieves to fall through, right into their waiting virtual hands—that was so very fun. And all too rare.
Paperwork was killing her, though. After this, she had two trials coming up where she was the lead investigator and end of the month was the report deadline for the last three cases she’d worked on. She was up to her ears in schedules and exhibits with paralegals and lawyers breathing down her neck.
She set her computer alarm to remind her of the appointment and turned back to the manila folders. Time for number 4,867.
(To read the full excerpt, 19 pages, click to open PDF here.)