The Last Thing He Told Me

1.4 Think What You Want

chapter
Chapter

“I still can’t believe this is happening,” Jules says.
We sit in the kitchen, at the small breakfast table in the sun nook, drinking
co􀏦ee spiked with bourbon. Jules is on her second mug, her oversize sweatshirt
concealing her small frame, her hair pulled back in two low pigtails. They make
her look like she is trying to get away with something, sneaking some more
bourbon into the mug. They make her look a little like her fourteen-year-old
self, the girl I met our 􀏯rst day of high school.
My grandfather had just moved us from Tennessee to Peekskill, New York—a
small town on the Hudson River. Jules’s family had moved there from New
York City. Her father was an investigative journalist for the New York Times—a
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist—not that Jules had any airs about her. We
met while applying for after-school jobs at Lucky’s, a local dog-walking service.
We were both hired. And we took to walking our assigned dogs together every
afternoon. We must have been a sight: two small girls, 􀏯fteen rowdy dogs
surrounding us at any given time.
I was a freshman at the public high school. Jules was at a prestigious private
school a few miles away. But those afternoons were just the two of us together.
I’m still not sure how we would have gotten through high school without each
other. We were so removed from each other’s actual lives that we told each other
everything. Jules once compared it to how you con􀏯de in a stranger you meet on
a plane. From the beginning, this is what we’ve been to each other: safe,
airborne. Complete with a thirty-thousand-foot perspective.
That hasn’t changed, now that we’re the grown-ups. Jules has followed in her
father’s footsteps and works for a newspaper. She’s a photo editor at the San
Francisco Chronicle, focusing primarily on sports. She eyes me, worried. But I’m
eyeing Bailey in the living room, snuggled into Bobby on the couch, the two of
them talking low. It seems harmless. And still, my thought is, I have no idea what
harmless looks like. This is the 􀏯rst time Bobby has been over when Owen hasn’t
been home. This is the 􀏯rst time when it’s been up to me alone.
I try to check on them while pretending not to check on them. But Bailey
must feel my gaze. She looks up at me, less than pleased. Then she stands up and
deliberately closes the glass living room door with a thud. I can still see her, so
it’s more of a ceremonial slamming. But it’s a slamming all the same.
“We were sixteen once too, you know,” Jules says.
“Not like that,” I say.
“We only wish,” she says. “Purple hair rocks.”
She makes a move to pour some more whisky into my co􀏦ee cup, but I cover
the mug with my hand.
“You sure? It’ll help,” she says.
I shake my head no. “I’m okay,” I say.
“Well, it’s helping me.”
She pours herself some more and moves my hand out of the way, topping me
o􀏦. I smile at her, even though I have barely taken a sip of what I already have.
I’m too stressed, too physically o􀏦—too close to standing up and busting into
the living room, pulling Bailey by the arm into the kitchen with me just to feel
like I’m accomplishing something.
“Have you heard from the police yet?” Jules says.
“No, not yet,” I say. “And why isn’t someone from The Shop banging down
the door? Telling me what to do when they show up?”
“Bigger 􀏯sh to fry,” she says. “Avett was their primary target and the police
just took him into custody.”
She circles the rim of her mug with her 􀏯ngers. And I take her in—her long
eyelashes and high cheekbones, the one wrinkle between her eyes in overdrive
today. She is nervous, the way she gets, the way we both get, before we have to
tell each other something that we know isn’t going to be fun for the other
person to hear—like the time she told me she saw my quasi-boyfriend Nash
Richards at the Rye Grill, kissing another girl. It was less that she thought I’d be
upset about Nash, who I wasn’t particularly into, and more that the Rye Grill
was Jules’s and my favorite place to eat french fries and cheeseburgers. And
when she threw her soda in Nash’s face, the manager told her we were
permanently banned.
“So are you going to tell me, or what?” I say.
She looks up. “Which part?” she says.
“How this is all your fault?”
She nods, readying herself, blowing out her cheeks. “When I got to the
Chronicle this morning, I knew there was something going on. Max was giddy,
which almost always means bad news. Murder, impeachment, Ponzi scheme.”
“He’s a peach, that Max,” I say.
“Yeah, well…”
Max is one of the few investigative journalists still at the Chronicle—
handsome, smarmy, brilliant. He is also crazy about Jules. And, despite her
assurances to the contrary, I kind of suspect Jules feels the same way about him.
“He was looking particularly smug, hovering around my desk. So I knew that
he knew something and wanted to gloat. He’s old fraternity brothers with
someone at the SEC who apparently had the scoop on what was going down
with The Shop. With the raid this afternoon.”
She looks at me, not wanting to continue.
“He told me that the FBI has been investigating the 􀏯rm for over a year.
Shortly after their stock went public, they got a tip that the market listing was
fraudulently overstated in connection with the IPO.”
“I don’t know what that means,” I say.
“It means The Shop thought the software would be ready earlier than it was.
So they went to market too soon. And then they were stuck, pretending they
had functional software when in reality they couldn’t sell it yet. So to
compensate, and keep the stock prices high, they began falsifying their 􀏯nancial
statements.”
“How did they do that?”
“So they have their other software, video, apps, their bread-and-butter
business. But their privacy software, the game changer Avett was touting, wasn’t
functional yet, right? They couldn’t start selling it. But it was far enough along
that they could do demos for potential large buyers. Tech 􀏯rms, law o􀏩ces, that
sort of thing. And then when those companies showed interest, they put it down
as a future sale. Max says it’s not dissimilar to what Enron did. They declared
they were making all kinds of money on future sales, to keep the stock price
rising.”
I’m starting to understand where she’s driving.
“And to buy themselves some more time to 􀏯x the problem?” I say.
“Exactly. Avett wagered that the contingent future sales would turn into
actual sales as soon as the software was functional. They were using the faux-
􀏯nancials as a stopgap to keep the stock nice and healthy, until the software was
􀏯xed,” she says. “Except they got caught before they got it there.”
“And there’s the fraud?” I say.
“And there’s the fraud,” she says. “Max says it’s massive. Stockholders will
lose half a billion dollars.”
Half a billion dollars. I try to wrap my head around that. It’s the least of it,
but we are large shareholders. Owen wanted to put his faith in the place he
worked, in the software he was working on. So when the company went public
he held on to all of his stock options. He even purchased more stock. How
much were we going to lose? Most of our savings? Why would he put us in the
position to lose so much if he knew anything bad was going on? Why would
Owen invest our savings, our future, in a faulty operation?
It gives me hope that he didn’t.
“So if Owen invested in The Shop, that must mean that he didn’t know,
right?”
“Maybe…” she says.
“That doesn’t sound like maybe.”
“Well there’s also the possibility he did what Avett did. That he bought the
stock to help in􀏲ate the value with the idea that he’d sell before anyone found
out.”
“Does that sound like Owen to you?” I say.
“None of this sounds like Owen to me,” she says.
Then she shrugs. And I hear the rest—what’s rattling around in her mind,
what’s rattling around in mine: Owen is the chief coder. How could he not
know that Avett was in􀏲ating the value of the software that he was working on,
the software that wasn’t yet working? If anyone would know, wouldn’t it have to
be him?
“Max did say that the FBI thinks most of the senior sta􀏦 were either in on it,
or complicit in looking the other way. Everyone thought they could 􀏯x the glitch
before anyone caught on. Apparently, they were close. If not for this one tip to
the SEC, they might have pulled it o􀏦.”
“Who tipped them o􀏦?”
“No idea. But that’s why the raid. They wanted to shut it all down before
Avett disappeared. With the two hundred and sixty million dollars’ worth of
stock he’s quietly been o􀏦-loading…” She pauses. “For months now.”
“Holy crap,” I say.
“Yep. Anyway, Max found out ahead of time. About the raid. So the FBI cut
a deal with him. If he agreed not to break the story before they went in, they’d
give him a two-hour lead on the raid. The Chronicle beat everyone. The Times.
CNN. NBC. Fox. He was so proud of himself that he had to tell me. And I
don’t know… My 􀏯rst instinct was to call Owen. Well, my 􀏯rst instinct was to
call you, but I couldn’t reach you. So then I called Owen.”
“To warn him?”
“Yes,” she says. “To warn him.”
“Why are you feeling badly about that? Because he ran?” I say.
It’s the 􀏯rst time I have said it out loud. The obvious truth. And yet saying it
out loud makes me feel better somehow. At least it’s honest. Owen ran. He is
running. He isn’t, just simply, gone.
Jules nods and I swallow hard, 􀏯ght back against the tears rising up.
“That’s not on you,” I say. “You could have lost your job warning him. You
were trying to help. How on earth would I be mad at you for that? I’m just mad
at Owen.” I pause, considering that. “I’m not even exactly mad at Owen. I’m
more numb. And just trying to 􀏯gure out what he’s possibly thinking. How he
thinks this isn’t bad for him, to take o􀏦 like this.”
“What have you come up with?” she asks.
“I don’t know. Maybe he is trying to exonerate himself? But why not do that
from here? Get a lawyer. Let the system clear you…” I say. “I just can’t shake the
feeling that I’m missing something, you know? I’m missing what kind of help he
is looking for.”
She squeezes my hand, tightly, gives me a smile. But she doesn’t look at all like
we are on the same page, which is when I realize she isn’t telling me whatever it is
that is beneath that look. She isn’t saying the worst of it.
“I know that look,” I say.
She shakes her head. “It’s nothing,” she says.
“Tell me, Jules.”
“The thing is, and I can’t believe it myself exactly, but he wasn’t surprised,”
she says. “He wasn’t surprised when I told him about the raid.”
“I’m not following you.”
“I learned this early on from my father. Sources can’t hide it when they know
something. They forget to ask the obvious questions they’d want to know, if
they were as in the dark as you were. Like, the questions you just asked me about
what exactly happened…”
I stare at her, waiting for the rest, as something starts shifting in my head. I
look through the glass at Bailey. She is lying against Bobby’s chest, her hand on
his stomach, her eyes closed.
Protect her.
“The thing is, if Owen didn’t know anything about the fraud, he would have
wanted more information from me. He would have needed a lot more
information about what was going on at The Shop. He’d have said something
like, Slow down, Jules. Who do they think is guilty? Does it look like Avett
spearheaded the fraud alone or is the corruption more widespread? What does it
look like happened, how much has been stolen? But he didn’t want to know more.
Not about any of it.”
“What did he want to know?” I say.
“How long he had to get out,” she says.


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