My little chat with Hiromi ruined my night. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t refute what she said. Hiromi had dashed the truth into my face and now, like it or not, I was wide awake. Next question was, what would I do about it?
I could put my blinders back on and hope for the best or get busy formulating my escape plan. I had no desire to go to jail or to return to my old life in that cramped apartment. I didn’t exactly want Plum’s life either. The thought of all the machinations it must take to keep all of those businesses going made me tired.
I have never been the type of person who could inspire loyalty in others, so I knew that whatever I chose to do next needed to be something I could do on my own with minimal input from others. But what could I do that would make enough money for me to live comfortably?
If the federal investigation went south for me, I might have to hide out indefinitely. That night, Plum and I made the rounds to several parties. She would bring her briefcase and disappear with someone and then join me for a few dances and a drink or two.
My ability to act as though I were having the time of my life surprised me. I laughed with her and smiled at her. All the while, I marveled at how genuine she appeared to be and wondered how she really felt about me. I started wondering why we hadn’t heard anything from Mr. Canfield. Did he call with bad news that she’s keeping from me? I could be a sitting duck.
I stopped drinking, wanting a clear head so that I could reason things out. Plum must have concluded her business for the night because she stopped taking the briefcase into clubs with us and started drinking heavily. She took out her cell phone to make a phone call and left the phone on the bar.
When she got up to dance, I swiped the phone and went outside, hoping that she had his phone number in her contacts list. I found his cell phone number and made the call. Mr. Canfield answered on the fifth ring, sounding groggy.
“It’s me Mr. Canfield,”
“Who the hell is me?”
“It’s Patricia. I was wondering why I hadn’t heard from you.”
“What exactly are you waiting to hear from me?”
“I wanted to know how the investigation is going. Do I have anything to worry about?”
“That’s something you need to ask the authorities.”
“Come on Mr. Canfield. You owe me that much.”
“I don’t owe you a damn thing!”
“You set me up! Don’t act high and mighty with me.”
His chuckle was dry, “What can I say? You’re a lousy real estate broker. You couldn’t sell property if your life depended on it. I decided to get some use out of you. I may have set the trap but you willingly walked into it. Anybody with half a brain could tell that something didn’t smell right, but you still went along with all those transactions. That’s on you kid.”
“So, I guess they froze my bank account,” I said dully.
“Well let’s see, you suddenly go from living pitiful paycheck to pitiful paycheck to banking hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course, they froze your accounts.”
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars? What are you talking about? All my commissions combined never even came close to $50,000. You know that.”
“Yeah? Well there’s a bank account at Southside Bank with your name on it that says different.”
“B-but I never opened an account at that bank. I…”
“Look kid, lose my phone number. It’s not a good look for me to be chatting it up with a fugitive from justice.”
“What do you mean? You told me to go and stay with Plum. You said you would tell them that I’m on vacation.”
“You must be mistaken. I don’t recall saying anything like that. All I know is that a former employee of mine betrayed my trust by using my company to launder drug money. Then you went into hiding the day I called and told you that law enforcement was waiting to ask you a few questions.”
I nearly dropped the phone. My mind was reeling. That sonofabitch! How the hell had they set up a phony bank account? I thought about all the times I had hung out with Plum and left my purse laying in another room. It would be child’s play to get my driver’s license number, social security numbers and even credit card numbers. The depth of Plum’s treachery was astounding.
I was heartsick, but I can’t say that I was completely surprised. On some level, I had been waiting for Plum to let me down. Everyone always lets me down eventually, but I never thought that she would try to destroy me. Two could play that game. I fished Hiromi’s phone number out of my pocket and dialed. If she was surprised to hear from me so soon she didn’t let on.
“What did Plum take from you,” I asked without preamble.
“She took a picture from me.”
“You mean like a photograph?”
“No, it’s more like a drawing.”
“Well, what was it a drawing of?”
“Are you trying to tell me you had a picture of babbling? ‘Cause that’s what rigamarole means.”
“Huh? It’s a picture of a flower. A rigamarole is a Japanese iris. It’s purple.”
“Purple huh? No wonder Plum stole it.”
“That’s not why Plum took it. The picture is worth five million dollars.”
“Let me see if I’m understanding this. You’re telling me that Plum has a picture of a plant that’s worth five million dollars?”
“Yes, it’s worth money because it’s a chit.”
“What is a chit?”
“It’s a coded message that’s basically a collection receipt.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong but last time I checked, drawings weren’t being accepted at the bank.”
“That depends on which bank you take it to.”
“You’re losing me again Hiromi.”
“I am talking about underground banks that operate internationally. They can transfer large amounts of cash from one country to another in a matter of hours, no questions asked.”
“But where did the money come from?”
“Let’s just say it belongs to a friend,” she said cryptically.
Hiromi didn’t explain any further and I knew better than to ask. I didn’t think it mattered.
“How do you know Plum hasn’t already cashed in the chit?”
“I have friends strategically placed at all the locations in town where she could go.”
“How do you know where they all are? I’ve never seen an underground bank.”
“You have to know the right people. You’ve probably been in some of them without even realizing it.”
“Are you kidding me with this? What kind of places are we talking about?”
“Gold shops, check cashing places…basically any business that would normally deal with large sums of cash can serve as an underground bank.”
“Do you know how many hundreds of places there are like that in the city?”
“Yes, but most of them are legit. Besides, I only have to worry about the ones within our circle of contacts. Plum would only go to Chinese owned establishments.”
“Wait a minute, Kenji owns a gold shop,” I blurted.
“Now you know why he and Plum are such fast friends.”
“Kenji might have already discreetly cashed your chit.”
“He hasn’t done that yet. Believe me, I’ve been keeping my ear to the ground. None of the oversees banks have cashed a chit like mine.”
“What is she waiting for? If I had access to a cool five mil I’d get my hands on it at the first opportunity.”
“Plum isn’t exactly hurting financially. She’s got enough schemes going to keep her well fixed for a little while. As long as no one upsets the applecart, she’s sitting pretty for the foreseeable future.”
“Why do you think she’s holding onto it? Is she doing it to spite you?”
“No, that’s just icing on the cake. Plum is shrewd. If it was me, I’d use it to hedge my bets. Five million dollars will certainly come in handy, if Plum has to flee at a moment’s notice. Judging from the choppy waters she’s swimming in, danger is never very far away. Sooner or later, Plum will piss off the wrong person.”
“You mean to tell me that you could walk into one of those underground banks with a picture of a flower and walk out with duffel bags full of money?”
“Now that would be pretty stupid wouldn’t it? You try leaving a bank with duffel bags full of money and see how far you get before someone relieves you of your prizes. The money is actually electronically transferred to any bank account you specify.”
“If I agree to steal the chit back for you, what do I get?”
“What do you want to get?”
“What do you think I want?”
“Surely you’re not asking for some of my dirty money? I’m going to level with you Patricia. I need every dime of that money. I’ve got some debts to settle. I’m not saying that I won’t do anything for you. I’m willing to do just about anything else.”
“What’s to stop me from cashing in the chit by myself?”
“The underground bank is only for Chinese people.”
“Ah, there’s always a catch. I’m going to need time. It’s hard to look around without arousing suspicion. What if it’s in her wall safe?”
“Plum is far too clever for that. It’s the first place a thief would look or force her to go at gunpoint. No, she would hide it in plain view. It’s probably right under everyone’s nose. I’ll give you two weeks.”