Howard Larson held all the cards. He knew he was in control and that he had everything coming to him that he deserved. It was just like it was supposed to be.
“Have to say, I’m glad you asked to meet here. Makes this pretty convenient,” He took a step towards Anna, trusting the intimidation factor of the loaded gun in his hand to keep the old lady in line.
Anna eyed the weapon critically. It was a Smith and Wesson 500 Magnum, just the sort of ludicrously overblown piece of compensation hardware that she’d expected Larson to carry. She was fairly sure he’d never fired it before, given how he was holding it and the damage it would do to his wrist if he pulled the trigger. Of course, it would do noticeably more damage to her, so she chose to play along with his demands.
“You are throwing away a rather sizeable amount of money,” she said, meeting his gaze and letting a little of the Siberian frost of her motherland show in her expression. She’d seen death before, and lived with it for long enough that she regarded it more as an annoyance than something to be feared. It was the cat scratching at the door who you would have to let in eventually but could afford to wait a good while longer on because it would never really be satisfied wherever it was.
“I see a pretty sizeable amount of money in that trunk right there,” Larson said. “Now maybe you’ve got more, and maybe you don’t. The fact is, I don’t care. You made a mistake and I’m going to win, and sometimes that how things go.”
“And how will this be a victory for you?” Anna asked. “You will kill me I suppose?”
“Oh, not me,” Larson said, gesturing for Anna to walk forwards to where they would have a better view of the road. “That’s why I have people. To handle the messy stuff.”
“That’s still not going to go well for you,” Anna said. “If I disappear people will come looking for me.”
“Sure they will,” Larson said. “But no one’s going to come looking for me. I’m not here.”
“Then you are not holding a gun on me?” Anna said. “I guess I can leave whenever I want.”
“Don’t get cute,” Larson said. “I have people who will swear under oath that I was at dozen different places tonight.”
“And the forensic evidence?” Anna asked.
In the distance another call pulled onto the Green Bowl farm access road. The headlights suggested it was a large truck of some kind. Not the car Anna was waiting for, but one that she’d expected to see nonetheless.
“What evidence?” Larson said. “When they recover your body it’s going to be so charred there won’t be any evidence left.”
“Shot and then burned? The bonfire would be visible for miles here,” Anna said. “Unless…you’re also planning to burn down the farm as well?”
“Funny thing about acquiring the farmland,” Larson said. “People put up a lot less fuss when it’s no longer being used for agriculture.”
“And it’s even easier when the current owners can’t afford legal counsel to fight it out in courts?” Anna asked.
“You are a smart one,” Larson said. “It’s a shame we can’t be partners.”
“You haven’t pulled the trigger yet,” Anna said.
“Well you see the thing is, I already have some partners in this,” Larson said. “They’re not the kind of people who would be happy with global attention coming around here, so, you’re offer? It’s not really that interesting I’m afraid.”
“Curious,” Anna said. “Why put out a call for investments at all then?”
“A guy can always use some extra cash right?” Larson said.
“I see. So your partners want this development to happen, and they don’t need to know about the eleven million you’re going to pocket?”
“No reason why they should,” Larson said as the truck pulled up in behind his car.
“Who’s this?” a tall blonde haired guy asked.
He was all bulky muscles starting to run soft from lack of use. Probably in his early twenties and just out of school if Anna guessed correctly. A football player past his prime with his glory days fading behind and the promise of quick wealth luring him onwards to stupidity.
Behind him half a dozen other similar men exited the truck. They were all armed and all had the same focused, hungry look that came from anticipating a violent release of their less civilized fantasies.
“Someone who was trying to bail out the Perez woman,” Larson said. “A foreigner.”
The men all nodded knowingly. Their leader gave Anna a sharp look, gauging her from head to toe.
“Traitor.” He spit the word out and Anna smirked. He didn’t mean it in terms of betraying his country. If he believed Anna was truly a foreigner then “saboteur” or “infiltrator” might have been viable terms, even though neither actually applied. No, he meant ‘race traitor’, because she was a white woman working to protect the holdings of a woman of latin descent.
That Larson had corralled a group of white supremacists to do his dirty work came as no surprise. They weren’t exactly difficult to manipulate or goad to violence.
Anna smiled. She’d been concerned that Larson’s inevitable flunkies would be people in debt to him or whom he held unfair sway over and could force to do work they desperately didn’t want to. These men assembled before her weren’t beholden to Larson like that though. They followed his orders of their own free will and therefore deserved everything that was about to happen to them.
“What are we going to do with her?” the blonde guy asked.
“The same thing that should be done with all traitors like her. The fire will make sure they can’t even identify the body or pick it out of any of the rest of the people who were here,” Larson said. “For now though you need to go and rig up the monitoring systems like we talked about.”
The leader nodded and began directing the others to head for various points around the farm’s fields.
“The monitoring systems?” Anna asked. “You’re going to blame the farmlands burning on a glitch in the crop monitoring systems?”
“This place lived by its technology, so it’s going to die by its technology,” Larson said.
“And when the manufacturer initiates an investigation to clear themselves of liability?” Anna asked.
“Well that’s not something you’re going to need to worry about is it?” Larson asked.
“I suppose that is true,” Anna said. “Tell me though, are you planning to actually build something here? Or is this just another ploy to reap a quick fortune from unwary investors?”
“Oh, my partners are quite serious about redeveloping this area,” Larson said.
“And do these partners have a name?” Anna asked.
“Not one you need to know,” Larson said.
A crack of gunfire came from the wheat fields.
“I wonder who that could be?” Anna asked.
More gunfire followed, abruptly cutting off after a few shots in all but one case. Larson hadn’t been expecting any resistance and pulled out his cell phone to call the leader of his minions. He dialed the number and then frowned.
“No service?” Anna asked. “You should switch to my provider.”
She held up her cell phone which had a screen which showed an active call going. To the police.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Larson thrust the gun at her, as though being a few inches closer would increase the danger it represented.
“Waiting for them to show up,” Anna said, gesturing behind Larson to where three police cruisers with their lights whirling were pulling onto the access road.
“What are they doing here?” Larson asked.
“Looking for you,” Anna said.
The lead police car skidded to a halt and the officer inside threw the door open and exited behind it with his sidearm drawn and pointed directly at Larson.
“Put the weapon down and put your hands on your head,” the officer said.
“Doug? It’s me! Howard. Why are you here?” Larson asked as he put his gun on the ground and his hands behind his head.
“Howard Larson, I am placing you under arrest for the burglarly of the First Security bank,” Officer Doug said. “Get on your knees.”
“What? I didn’t rob First Security! That’s my bank!” Larson said.
“His trunk is full of cash,” one of the other officers said from the back of the black Mercedes.
“That’s not my car!” Larson said. “It’s hers! That’s her cash!”
“But my car is over there,” Anna said. She pointed to a red Ford Mustang that was parked farther down the road. “It’s a rental. I don’t think they rent black Mercedes here do they?”
There was a rustling from the wheat field and as quick the officers could re-aim their weapons a man with a battered face stumbled out and collapsed to his knees.
“Put your hands over your head,” Officer Doug called out.
“I can’t,” the blonde minion leader said holding out his arms to show that they were both bending in places arms weren’t meant to bend.
“But I don’t understand what happened?” Daniela said when they were once again gathered in Green Bowl’s command center.
“Howard Larson robbed the First Security bank of 11.2 million dollars,” Tam said. “Or at least someone wearing a disguise which looked exactly like him, down to fingerprints and DNA residue.”
“Thanks to some very special makeup,” Val said, smiling at Anna who looked impossibly innocent somehow.
“The reality is, he did rob the bank of that money,” Anna said. “We just made sure that it happened on camera and with evidence left behind to prove it.”
“Then we made sure the police caught him red handed with the money still in his car,” Val said.
“How did you managed that though? I thought you drove there separately?” Daniela asked.
“We did, but it’s not that hard to make a car disappear if you know what you’re doing,” Tam said.
“Also, Larson drove there in our car,” Val said. “It was his car was parked outside the bank when all the money was loaded into it.”
“Is that going to save Green Bowl though?” Daniela asked.
“Well the guys who tried to burn the place down aren’t going to be coming back,” Val said, a satisfied smile on her face.
“Once they’re fit to travel, they’ll all be standing trial for an impressive list of outstanding changes,” Tam said. “Most of which are even real.”
“More importantly though, when First Security does a review of its records, it’s going to find evidence of the embezzlement that Larson’s been doing for years now,” Anna said.
“And in this case all of that is real,” Tam said. “Apart from a few breadcrumbs I left to make sure they found the backups with the real financials.”
“So they’ll see that we’ve been paying all this time?” Daniela asked.
“Yeah,” Tam said. “Larson kept a set of real transaction records it turned out. He needed to be able to make sure he was properly covering up the money that he was siphoning off.”
“You’re accounts will be squared up as soon as their internal audit is done,” Val said. “And until then, the bank will be putting a hold on all fees and premiums assessed against you.”
“So we don’t have to pay any interest until they’re done?” Daniela asked.
“The audit will probably take about six months,” Anna said. “You can keep paying as usual and all of the funds will go towards your principal, or you can reduce your payments by the interest amount and you won’t fall behind.”
“That will definitely make things easier around here,” Daniela said. “But what about the foreclosure?”
“It never happened,” Val said.
“It was a fiction that Larson put together,” Tam said. “I confirmed it with the official court records. First Security never received a judgement against you. The one they had on file was a complete fabrication.”
“But how would that have ever stood up?” Daniela asked.
“It wouldn’t have,” Anna said. “Unless there was no one around to challenge it.”
“That’s why Howard brought those men here?” Daniela asked. “He was going to kill me?”
“And we have him on record admitting it,” Val said. “Howard Larson is going to be sent to a deep and lonely cell where he is going to have a long time to reconsider the choices he’s made.”
“That was well done,” Charlene said over the conference line when the team reassembled at the Second Chance Club. “Green Bowl farm is safe, there’s a bountiful harvest due in soon, a ruthless swindler is behind bars, and a dangerous cell of extremists will be serving time as well.”
“One thing about this still bothers me though,” Anna said.
“You’re wondering who Larson’s partners were aren’t you?” Val asked.
“I’m going to start looking into that,” Tam said. “Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of them.”