Six Months Earlier...It Begins
Buffy VanderRye coped well with difficult situations. She had spent the first six years of her life living in a car with her drug-addicted mother. In school, she arrived early and stayed well beyond the end of classes. Much of that time was in libraries, reading books. She learned how to fight. She played sports. Buffy became a tall, imposing figure of a woman. Attractive, she possessed unbreakable discipline. This included pushing away the boys and focusing on a life of accomplishing great things. She wanted to feel like she was alive, and not just another victim stumbling through life.
After High School, she joined the Army and was recognized for her innate tactical thinking. This included escape and evasion of unwanted male advancements. By the time she was 35 years of age, she held a Lieutenant Colonel rank and had experienced three different wars, and had a lover. Then a sniper’s bullet severed her spine, condemning her to a wheelchair. Neil, her lover, drifted away until he suffered a car accident which left him paralyzed. Now they were together again, but they agreed marriage was not their future.
A strange man, Barnett Lay, offered Buffy a job solving intractable problems. Mr. Lay’s company, GFT Solutions, was gaining fame after stopping a biological attack on the United States. He gave her a large salary, a cutting edge mobility device to replace the wheelchair, and a chance to make significant accomplishments. And, now she was in a covert meeting in the basement of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank.
“I need to know if you can do it,” the Secretary of the Treasury Monica Winslow stated as she tossed the file folder across the table.
Barnett Lay picked up the folder and read the contents. After a moment, he looked up and said, “Yes.”
“You have thirty days to find out if this is possible,” stated the Secretary.
“I said yes,” stated Barnett. “This can be done.”
This comment caught Monica Winslow off-guard. “How do you know that?” she asked.
“My company ran something similar as a training exercise last year,” Barnett responded. “There are enough flaws in the banking system to make this possible.”
Secretary Winslow stared at Barnett with doubts racing through her mind. “Can your team handle this assignment?”
“We have the right people,” Barnett replied. “Should require just me, Harrison, and the Colonel here.”
Buffy looked up from studying the folder. “The tactics will have to be worked out and tested in simulation,” she said.
Monica nodded and continued. “I will provide you with our expert on banking systems, for support. How long before you can execute?”
“Four or five months I would say, but,” Barnett paused for emphasis, “you should know that there will be dramatic repercussions.”
“I don’t care,” stated Secretary Winslow. “I want that cartel bankrupted.”
Buffy stated the obvious. “Secrecy will be impossible with more than one person working on this.”
“Fully contain the team. Only the President and I know about this plan,” said Monica. Then she provided Buffy and Barnett instructions on how to communicate with her.
Colonel Buffy VanderRye lay naked in her bed. Former Sargent Neil McMaster was next to her but asleep. Both had been discharged from the Army because of their paraplegic injuries. They had known each other for two dozen years. An officer sleeping with an NCO was dangerous for Buffy’s career. She thrived on the thought of it. Their relationship drifted over the years from serious to no contact for a long time. After discharge from the Army because of their injuries, they had drifted back together.
As a Lieutenant Colonel, Buffy had commanded battalion sized units. She had created the first all-robotic battle unit in the world. To put her signature on that project, she had staffed the unit with only women. Buffy had lead men into battle and cried with the wounded. On paper, she was the ultimate woman of power. Yet, something was missing. Buffy could feel it. Her friends suggested it was marriage. She rejected this idea. She knew she wasn’t the “get married and have kids” kind of woman from an early age. What was it she was aching for?
She and Neil were in love. He was now a very successful sales person of high-technology equipment for the disabled. Her career was still growing. But, there was little talk of marriage. Something was not quite right. It annoyed Buffy to not be able to tease out what was missing. She should be thrilled with this situation. Money, recognition for her talents, a lover, and a bright future. Why was she having this strange feeling?
Neil rolled over and put an arm around her. He pulled her closer.
Harris Harrison, self-proclaimed greatest mathematician in history and Barnett’s business partner, choked down a bite of pecan pie and sputtered, “You want us to do what!?”
“Bankrupt the Greenleaf Cartel,” repeated Barnett.
“Are you nuts!?” responded Harris. “If they even suspect us, we are all dead. Not just us, but anyone we have talked to in our lifetime.”
Harris Harrison was not a man to hold back in a conversation. Born to alcoholic parents, he had grown up on the street of Detroit. They recognized his brilliance in mathematics at an early age. However, his experience in college was a collection of publishing papers shooting down popular math theories and screaming matches with his professors.Harris was kicked out of college. Yet, his math held up. It provided a set of equations which unlocked the secrets of the universe. It gave Harris unimaginable powers. Without a college degree, he worked guarding the girls in a brothel in New Orleans. One night, a drunk Harris Harrison asked his mathematics to tell him his purpose in life. And, the mathematics answered. Harris looked at the answer, quit his job, and drove to Michigan, looking for his friend, Barnett Lay.
“Yes, it is dangerous,” said Barnett. “However, we have full government coverage.”
“Perfect!” Harris spouted. “That will get us killed for sure.”
“Calm down,” said Buffy. “We can cover our tracks.” She had already consumed her piece of the pie.
“Enough chatter,” commanded Barnett. “Let’s review the objectives.”
Barnett stepped up to the white board in the GFT Solutions conference room.
“Number one...no one talks. Harris, you cannot tell your assistant Alisha anything about this.”
“Check,” responded a dejected Harrison.
“Number two...we need to map all of the bank accounts and steal all the funds held by the Greenleaf Cartel. The actual theft will have to be done in milliseconds to avoid them detecting the hack and shutting down accounts.”
“Check,” replied Buffy.
“Number three...we have to cover the electronic trail so that neither us or the government can be associated with the crime.”
“How much money are we talking about?” asked Buffy.
Barnett pointed to Harris.
“My first blush scan estimates around 140 billion dollars.”
“That would make this the largest bank robbery in history,” said Buffy. “There are going to be a lot of upset people.”
“And, we risk some large unintended consequences,” agreed Barnett.
“Stop psyching me up,” stated Harris.
“Why us?” asked Buffy. “Why us and why only attack one cartel?”
“Good point,” said Barnett. “Buffy, I need you to very, very quietly ask around about what is so special about Greenleaf. The government has to have a motivation.”
“You realize these guys will have gold, jewels, and other valuables stashed away?” asked Harris. “How do we deal with that problem?”
“We get to figure out a plan,” said Barnett.
Buffy rolled her eyes. Harris was the most annoying man she had ever worked with. He was having a torrid affair with his assistant Alisha. He was always telling her about his great mental powers. And, he lacked any form of professionalism, choosing instead an attitude of hostility toward authority.
“Don’t worry. Sugar and I can figure it out,” said Harris.
“Don’t call me Sugar,” snorted Buffy.
“You two play nice on this one,” commanded Barnett. “This will only take a few months.”
Barnett looked at his two partners staring at each other in disdain. Later, he can consul Harris on how to behave with Buffy, and then compliment Buffy on her restraint. Meanwhile, there was a job to be performed.
“Harris. Start the mapping of accounts. See if you can find a trail to any valuables they are holding outside the banking system.”
Harris nodded and went off to his office.
“Buffy. We are going to need a tactical plan for how and when to execute this job.”
“You got it,” she replied before wheeling herself off to her office.
Barnett watch her roll away and wondered if this job would make a team or destroy the company. “Oh, well,” he concluded. “Just another day at the office.”
Monica Winslow looked out of the window of the Learjet whisking her back to Washington, D.C. The coal fields of Pennsylvania lay 30,000 feet below. She had a lot on her mind. “How do I make sure Barnett’s team can keep the project secret? What if something goes wrong? Worse still, what if it all goes well?”
She closed her eyes and tried to think of something else. Her husband was the next obsessive thought to enter her mind. Monica had met him in college and married soon after. He was working at the State Department as an Under-Secretary. It destroyed the promise of his rise to prominence when his team botched stopping a revolution in Africa. His name appeared in the papers and on television. Although no one was punished, or even reprimanded, his career arc was over. No more promotions would come his way.
“I guess it’s all up to me,” thought Monica. “If this project works, my fame is assured. The party will support me in a run for the Senate, or even the White House.”
Monica wasn’t religious, but she said a quiet prayer.
In the early evening, Barnett walked from the office to Natasha's penthouse condominium. A small summer thunderstorm had formed just West of town. He let himself with a key-card she had provided. The key-card only allowed entry between 5pm and 11pm each night. Natasha had very strict rules.
Barnett found her propped up on a large pillow on top of her bed. She was wearing bluejeans and a t-shirt top. She was reading a book on the Battle of Jutland for no particular reason. Barnett kissed the top of her head and then headed for the kitchen for an iced tea. On the way, he heard distant thunder. Deviating from his plans he shut the living room windows.
He then went back to shut the bedroom window. The rain was just pelting the glass. Just as he was exiting the room, he had a strange sensation. He paused and walked backwards a few steps. Natasha was propped up, the book was still in her hands, but now she was wearing a satin corset. The bluejeans and t-shirt had vanished.
Barnett walked over to the bed and placed a hand on her side to feel the cool smoothness of the material. Natasha kept reading. Barnett wanted badly to marry this woman, who had mended his soul, saved his life, and changed him forever. But, Natasha would not hear of it. She did not believe in the normal conventions of society. She was now twelve years into not speaking.
Barnett removed his clothes and climbed onto the bed next to Natasha. For several minutes, he slowly moved his hand up and down the corset. Natasha read about Admiral Beatty encountering Admiral Hipper off the Danish peninsula. Admiral Hipper drew the British battlecruisers South, running away from the Royal Navy guns. Still engrossed in the book, Natasha coaxed Barnett closer.
As if disarming a bomb, Barnett slowly and carefully pealed back the corset. He greeted each part of Natasha being exposed to daylight with a kiss. Soft and slow, as the clashing fleets made their run to the south, Barnett also moved south. Natasha continued to read, but her mouth was now parted as her body requested more oxygen. Barnett could hear her breathing getting louder.
When he reached a point where he could pleasure her best, Natasha's hand latched onto the back of his head to provide exact instructions. Her other hand still held the book, her glasses undisturbed and her eyes still open reading about Beatty coming out of a rain squall just in time to confront the entire German fleet. Heavy caliber shells fell and exploded everywhere. Natasha's body tensed up and shook for several seconds. The book was still in hand.
Natasha stared at the book for a few seconds before laying it down, removing her glasses, and permitting Barnett to come up to enjoy himself.