Monday, March 6, 2017

Bread Crumbs by N. T. Franklin

A dominant Honduran drug cartel is betrayed by a man with nothing to lose; by N. T. Franklin.

A shadow moved across the curtain. Robert Gonzalez was in big trouble and didn't care. He was a dead man, well a dying man anyway. The slam of the door told him the shadow was a motel patron walking by his window.

The motel was one that took cash and didn't ask questions. After two days, the buzzing of the ancient neon sign became white noise; after two days, the Cachiros Cartel had still not found him. The worst of the worst of the Honduran drug cartels were using every available resource to find Robert Gonzalez, accountant extraordinaire. Their accountant, their thief.

Robert's thoughts drifted back to his youth. Poor kid Robert and rich kid Alan Silver were inseparable growing up. Robert and Alan did everything together, including going to college. They took a spring break trip to Mexico to Alan's parent's condo. It was on this trip Robert fell in love. Mercedes Rivera was a dark-eyed native beauty working at the resort. Alan flirted with her and even talked her into having drinks with him, but Robert was smitten. He could not persuade her to return with him. From a tiny Guatemalan village in the San Marcos District bordering Mexico, she made it clear she would not leave her country to be with him. Robert would never replace her as the one love of his life. Alan and Robert drifted apart after the spring break trip.



Robert graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a BA in accounting, Alan graduated with a BA in political science. Alan went to law school while Robert received an MBA, specializing in accounting. Robert had massive school debt, Alan did not. Robert found a way to get out of debt.

Robert was a good accountant, a very good accountant. In the next three decades, he laundered a billion dollars, setting up offshore accounts, shell corporations, and more, all in a half a dozen countries with liberal banking laws. He set up legitimate businesses in the US to aid in money laundering. Everything he touched made money.

Robert liked the pure simplicity of numbers and the challenge they could provide. He was like any other accountant who did tax returns and payroll withholding, except he dealt with millions of dollars of illegal drug money and very dangerous men, not mom and pop stores.

Before he stole from the Cartel, he was Don Manuel Cachiros' most trusted confidant. But now, all Robert wanted was peace. Robert would not find peace in this lifetime while Don Manuel Cachiros hunted him. No one does what Robert did to Don Cachiros and finds peace.

Children taken from poor Guatemalan villages along the Mexican border had triggered Robert's ire. Villages just like the one Mercedes Rivera was from. Villages that were poor, even by Central American standards. Farmers grew poppies for cash to feed their families. One of these families could be Mercedes Rivera's family. Cartel murders in Honduras were okay, Cartel atrocities in Guatemala that reminded him of Mercedes Rivera were not. Not by a long shot.

Local farmers no longer sold opium latex to anyone but the Cachiros Cartel. Missing children solved the "competition problem" with the Gulf Cartel from Mexico. The abducted children were never found. That's when Robert started skimming a hundred thousand here, a hundred thousand there.

He'd accumulated just over two million by the time his annual vacation to the Bahamas came around.

"Enjoy Bahamas, Robert," Don Cachiros said.

"Always," he replied.

The second day on vacation, Robert went to the National Bank of the Bahamans to confirm an account that was now set up with nearly two million dollars. Later that day, he flew to Milwaukee to visit Alan Silver, who, according to the internet, practiced law there.



"No, I don't have an appointment with Mr. Silver. Tell him Robert Gonzalez, an old friend, is here to see him." His secretary was protective of him.

"If you don't have an appointment, then you can't see him. I could make an appointment for you."

"Fine, when is his next opening?"

"Nine AM the third Wednesday of next month. Would you like me schedule you then?"

"I'll wait."

"Until next month?" She asked.

"No, I'll wait right here until he goes home for the day."

An hour and a half later Robert was ushered into a large office. "Robert Gonzalez, as I live and breathe. You fell off the face of the earth! Where have you been hiding?"

Five minutes into their discussion, Alan held up a finger and waited for Robert to stop speaking. He picked up his desk phone, "Helen, cancel the afternoon appointments and reschedule them with my apologies."

"Continue," he said after the phone was back in the cradle.

"I have about two million of the Cachiros Cartel's money in an account in the National Bank of the Bahamas. I embezzled it. It's time I do some good for a change. I need to set up a trust and I need an accountant."

"Jesus, Robert. They find out and you're a dead man. This is scary."

"I know, but even if they suspect, they won't find the money. I need to set up a trust. The trust can support an NGO working in the area of the villages where like Mercedes Rivera was from. Find an NGO that works in agriculture so they can make a living growing something other than opium poppies."

"If you are sure about this, I may have someone who can do it," Alan replied.

"My church has a missionary outreach effort in Guatemala. In the past ten years, they've built simple block buildings for churches, health clinics, that sort of thing."

"I'm interested in the area that borders on Mexico, where Mercedes Rivera was from," Robert said.

"Mercedes Rivera, huh? The church has been looking to expand to a new area so this may be right up their alley."

Robert put a briefcase on the desk.

"There is $100,000 in cash in here along with the banking information. Expect more to be deposited. I'm looking for discretion. Please make sure your time and that of the accountant is covered."

Alan didn't open the case.

"I don't think there is a reason for us to meet again. Ever," Robert said.

"My church thanks you."



Winter turned into spring. The newly formed Guatemalan Relief Organization had three million dollars in their coffers. An executive director had been hired and she was successfully fundraising nationally. The first project was underway to provide clean water to fifteen villages in the San Marcos Department of Guatemala. Previously used water sources were being converted to irrigation for fava bean. Marketing and engineering plans were in place for value-added use of fava bean as a brewed beverage. The hope was the ancient recipes for a hot drink as well as a fermented drink would bring jobs and income stability to the area.

Elaborate banking transfers through shell corporations left no trace of the transactions. Swiss banks had not been used, as they were Robert's backup plan.

Money was coming in at an unprecedented rate with the Gulf Cartel unable to access their main source of opium latex, so Robert upped the skimming. Regular withdrawals were made from the account at the National Bank of the Bahamas, always keeping the balance over one million dollars; this kept the bank happy.

"You look like crap, Robert," Don Cachiros said. "Go home and don't come back until you see a doctor."

Robert obeyed and saw a doctor the next day.

"Gotta run some tests," the doctor said. Insurance needs a second referral to cover them. I can send you to..."

"Don't worry. I have cash. Order the tests."

Before the end of the day, Robert was back in his doctor's office. He had his answer. Pancreatic cancer.

"You have four to six weeks to live. Best use the time to get your things in order."

Robert had no things to get in order. The Cachiros Cartel had been his life for decades. No family, no friends outside the Cartel. All he had was the Guatemalan Relief Organization.

"Thanks, Doctor. I think I'll do that."

The race was on to liquidate Cartel assets in the next four weeks.



"Fit as a fiddle, Don Cachiros. Just a little tired. Doc says to cut some work hours in the next month, that's all."

"Good. Just work mornings for the next month."

"Thank you Don Cachiros, that's kind of you. I'll take some bank appointments outside of the office in the afternoons, but that's all."

Robert was the face of the business to the Cartel's legitimate banks and businesses. In the next four weeks, he visited two dry cleaners, a convenience store, a hardware store, and a small trucking company. All the businesses were very profitable on the books.

"I'm seeking an investor to increase business. I've detailed the business plan here."

"Uh huh," the bored bank manager said.

"Since I own the property, I'm seeking to mortgage the entire amount with a balloon payment due in six weeks. Should I not find an investor, your bank has no risk as you get a balloon payment in six weeks."

The conversation was repeated five times, once at each of the banks.

Next came the homes, condos, and boats owned by the Cartel. All mortgaged to the hilt with balloon payments in six weeks.

Robert took to wearing layers under his suits to hide how much weight he was losing. He manufactured reasons to send Don Cachiros out of the office on many days. But the inevitable was gaining. At the end of four weeks, he could no longer do anything but rest each afternoon. Morphine, ordered by his doctor, was setup by a visiting nurse organization. By the end of four weeks, elaborate shell companies and transactions were established and ongoing. Robert's computer was the only computer with these records.

"Robert. You are not getting better. Take today off, rest. After the weekend, you see my doctor. He will fix you." Don Cachiros was insistent.



Robert dialed a number with his burner phone.

"Silver and partners," was the answer on the line.

"Mr. Silver please. Tell him it's a potential investor in the Guatemalan Relief Organization," Robert said.

"This is Alan Silvers."

"Don't say my name... I have pancreatic cancer."

"Christ, how long?"

"I have up to two weeks to live, according to actuarial tables. Financial transactions will occur Monday morning, 9 AM Eastern time."

"What are we talking here, Robert?" Alan asked.

"Over five hundred million."

After ten seconds of silence, he continued, "Not all at once, but over time. He'll figure it out. That's the entire assets of the Cartel. Effectively, they will be broke 9:01 AM Monday morning. In two weeks, they will no longer own property, businesses, even their homes. All accounts and future transfers are already set up and will continue to occur. I will destroy my computer today and all records and hope of tracking the money will be gone. There is just over one million dollars that the Cartel will chase for months to years. It is a dead end and never even crosses the same banks used for the Guatemalan Relief Organization."

"Jesus."

"All I need to do is lay low for two weeks, and I may not need all of it. I'm not really feeling well."



Monday morning Robert did not show up at work. A man was sent by Don Cachiros to check on him.

"Not there, Don Cachiros," was the report.

By midmorning, everyone knew why Robert had not showed up.

"All of the accounts? screamed Don Cachiros.

"Looks that way," came the answer no one wanted to give.

"Track the money, then track Gonzalez." His eyes bulged when he spoke. This was as calm as Don Cachiros would be for days.



"Switzerland! The money went to Switzerland," one of the money tracers blurted out. It was Friday. The money chase was on.

With a finger pointed at a high-ranking Cartel member, Don Cachiros said, "You. Get a hold of our man in the Swiss bank. Get some answers."

Robert had anticipated this. He made some amateur transfers in and out of a Swiss bank account actually set up in the name of Don Cachiros. Bread crumbs to follow. Each crumb led to a rabbit warren of shell companies and Middle Eastern banks. All dead ends that could take months and months to follow. The cycle always led back to the same two Swiss bank account numbers. The same money was constantly on the move with automated transfers. The transfers appeared to be very large sums but were just over one million dollars. There was a small chance these funds could be recovered, but it would take over a year.

No information surfaced on Robert leaving the area by bus, train, or airplane so the Cartel figured he was still in the area. Even with every snitch on the street looking for Robert, he had not been found.



Robert's rental car was parked outside the cheap motel. The car and the room had been rented a month ago as part of the plan. His only use for the car was to transfer the medical bed and supplies from his apartment to the hotel room under cover of darkness. He would die alone in the motel room. But he would do so without giving Don Cachiros the pleasure of participating.

Robert's two weeks merged into three. He knew by now the banks would be calling for the balloon payments. Very shortly, the Cachiros Cartel's noncash assets would be entering receivership. While this little touch would never replace the loss of an innocent child, it added pain to Don Cachiros and that pleased Richard. He really wished he could watch the accountants chase the bread crumbs.

Toward the end of his week of "borrowed time," Robert knew he would not see another. The hotel cleaning staff could have the canned food, water, and microwave that would be left in his room.

BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! Gunfire came from the adjacent unit. Crap, this will draw police.

Sure enough, a patrol car came screaming into the parking lot with lights and sirens. Robert heard shoes approaching and saw shadows across his drawn curtains. The obligatory rap at the door of the next unit accompanied by, "Police. Open the door."

Just then, the doorframe that joined Robert's room with the next room splintered.

Crap, he's coming in here

Then his conjoined door was kicked down.

"What the..." a large man with a gun said, looking at Robert in the hospital bed.

His moment of hesitation cost him. "Freeze. Police." The man did so and was handcuffed, still looking at Robert.

The older of the two cops looked at the medical equipment. "Billy, this ain't right. Get the motel manager up here."

"No, sir. I don't know nothing about this," said the motel manager. "This man paid for two months with strict instructions no one was to enter his room. There is an envelope he showed me with one thousand dollars in it left in the room for me if no one entered. You cops just cost me one thousand dollars."

"Billy, call an ambulance."

"No, don't do that. I'm dying. Let me be," Robert managed to mutter.

"Then you need to die in a hospital," the older cop said. "Billy! Where's that ambulance. You know the paperwork I have to fill out if he doesn't get to a hospital."

"No..." was all the weak protest Robert could offer.

The ambulance crew arrived and carted Robert out. A hooker watched from the edge of the parking lot. She ambled over to the paramedics loading Robert.

"Hiya, Sugar, looking for a date?" she asked.

"Scram. We're working here," the older cop said.

She did, right to the payphone at the convenience store across the street.

"We found Gonzalez, Don Cachiros. Flea bag motel on West Fifth. Headed to the hospital in county ambulance."

"Go. Bring him to me."

Robert did not make the hospital. There would be no revenge for Don Cachiros.

The Guatemalan Relief Organization would be funded in perpetuity. That would be welcome news to the person that headed up the organization, Alan's lovely wife, Mercedes Rivera Silver. Robert's secret was safe with Alan. Alan's secret was safe from Robert.

7 comments:

  1. Great well-placed writing - an intriguing story about rough justice and emotionally engaging. Thank you,
    Ceinwen

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  2. good old thriller with a nice twist at the end. man with a `conscience` also got his just deserts.

    Mike McC

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  3. The reader is well escorted through the story. Nicely done. Thank you.

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  4. Implicit is that the users are the ultimate bad guys. Is Robert bad for going along for years? Questions abound.

    ReplyDelete