When Amanda got to one, she was still facing a catastrophic news story and indictment, but she could breathe. Her BlackBerry buzzed with her office number flashing on the display.
“No, it’s Liz. What is going on? Roland Burrows just called me, something about indictments. Where are you?”
Liz was going to be her next call, but it would also be her toughest. Friends since college, Amanda recommended Liz for a job in the legal department. “I’m on my way in. Can we talk? I’m going to need some help.”
“You’re going to need some help? What the hell is going on Mandy?” Amanda winced at her friend’s use of her nickname. “I’m sorry. You’re on your own with this one. I have to comply with investigators. I can’t risk going to jail, especially now that I have Jackson to think about.” Amanda couldn’t fault Liz; the woman threw herself into motherhood the same way Amanda did her career. “I’ll give you the names of some good attorneys. I can do that for you, but nothing more. I can’t risk getting dragged into this,” Liz added, softening her voice as if sensing her friend’s defeat. Amanda heard someone speak rapidly to Liz in the background. “Crap. The story posted.”
“Dammit,” Amanda said, letting her body fall back against the side of the building once again. She wished the building wasn’t there, that instead it was just a gaping abyss that allowed her to fall into nothingness. “What is it I’m being accused of?”
“You manipulated the market through media announcements with false information. A lighter offense than Keith and Josh, but nonetheless, you’re in trouble.” Amanda heard the phone shuffle in Liz’s hand. Her voice was a whisper when she spoke again. “I shouldn’t ask you this, but I need to know. Did you know what you were doing?”
If bad judgment was an executable crime, I would be on death row, she thought. Amanda knew better than to get involved with her boss, but they made the archetypal power couple; both blonde, both wealthy and both successful. Three years earlier, when her former boss abruptly quit and Josh asked her to dinner to offer her the vice president job, she thought her life was on the fast-paced track she longed for. There she was, at the tender age of twenty-four, given the responsibility to head communications for her company. Initially, she thought Josh’s dinner request was simply a professional courtesy, but after his second invitation she realized it was much more.
It was only recently that Amanda suspected something was amiss with the investment firm’s business practices. She remembered innocently asking, “How is it the firm and our clients continue to turn a profit when our competitors are losing money?” She shuddered at the thought of his enraged reaction, “You should never question me, as my girlfriend or my employee. You got that?” he yelled. By the end of his outburst, she feared he would break up with her or fire her, or both.
“I trusted Josh.”
For the remaining ten minutes of her walk, Amanda tried to reach Josh on his cell phone, but each call went straight to voicemail. She deleted three half-written text messages. If he wasn’t answering his phone, he wouldn’t answer a text message.
Rather than board the elevator of her office building, she sank into one of the fashionably uncomfortable contemporary armchairs in the building’s spacious lobby. The weather outside was clear and bright, completely wrong for the way she felt. Even though she needed to go upstairs to her office, would they allow her to enter? Were police officers upstairs waiting to arrest her? She never saw anyone in uniform approach the building, but then again, maybe they use different law enforcement for white-collar criminals. Rather than the boys in blue, were well-dressed detectives in expensive suits waiting for her?
Her ringing cell phone alternated between displaying her office number and various media outlets. After sending the twentieth call to voicemail, she shut her phone off. In all of her careful planning, working ahead to create message points to address the plummeting stock market and general unease of the financial industry, she didn’t have any talking points prepared for partaking in a white collar crime.
Unable to sit there any longer, she boarded the elevator for her solitary ride to the forty-second floor. When the door opened, she saw a flurry of activity, but Amanda couldn’t become part of that. Not yet anyway. Her colleagues were accustomed to the unflappable Amanda Martin, the one that could handle the toughest question from the harshest reporter. Not the woman standing outside the office with mascara running down her face.
Inside the ladies room, Amanda stared at her reflection. Her normally pale skin was gray, her hazel eyes were bloodshot and her carefully applied makeup was gone. Before Roland’s call, she was an average ambitious businesswoman who was dating, or maybe just sleeping with, her CFO. She felt untouchable as one of the highest ranked executives at the firm. Now, she just saw a haggard-looking white-collar criminal. Her eyes fell to the brown roots peeking out of her long blond hair. No need to keep her hair appointment for that afternoon. Chances are there would be no salon services in the federal penitentiary.
Leaning against the bathroom wall, she heard the elevators on the other side whooshing past her. The mechanical whir of the motors and the hum of the cables put her in a trance only interrupted when a ding sounded on her floor. “That has to be Josh,” she whispered to herself as she hurried to catch him.
Amanda stepped through the heavy glass door of her office just as she heard a man ask for her. He wasn’t the well-dressed detective she thought would arrest her. He was an older gentleman, clad in khaki pants and a windbreaker. With a backpack slung over one shoulder and a baseball cap covering his white hair, he looked as though he should be heading to college instead of a retirement home. The receptionist motioned to Amanda’s office as she tried to answer the constantly ringing phones.
He thanked the receptionist, pulled a pistol from inside his backpack and shot her in the head. The phones continued ringing as though nothing happened. Some of the traders in the cubical area stood up at the sound of the gunshot and he emptied his magazine on them as though they were ducks in a videogame.
Amanda’s office door swung open and Liz froze in the threshold.
“Amanda Martin?” the man asked, casually reloading his gun.
Amanda could see the fear in Liz’s eyes ten feet away. Liz shook her head, “I have a son.” Her voice was soft and weak.
The man was unflinching. “I have a wife who is very sick. My retirement fund was going to make her better, until some greedy bastards stole it all. She’s going to die and so are you.”
“I’m Amanda Martin,” she shouted at the man’s back, but her voice vanished in the thunder of his gunshot. She watched Liz crumple to the floor. Amanda felt her own body go numb as she released the death grip on her purse and phone. She covered her mouth to stifle her scream.
The man reached into his backpack and pulled out a grenade.
“A few weeks ago, I called Williams about cashing out my retirement fund to pay for my wife’s cancer treatment. He gave me the runaround, forms, taxes, bullshit. I knew something was fishy and I was on my way down here to have a little chat with Mr. Williams when, guess what, my wife called to tell me he’s been indicted for stealing people’s money,” his commanding voice presided over the screams. “I’m not here to hurt everyone. I’m sure there are some good people in this office. I want Josh Williams and Keith Cooper, if you can point me in their direction I’ll finish what I came to do and leave.” While he said this, he tossed the grenade up and down in his hand, toying with it as though it was nothing more than a tennis ball.
Liz’s outstretched hand beckoned Amanda, but she would be shot if she moved in plain sight. She edged over to the receptionist desk and sought cover under the heavy brown wood.
The man quizzed her colleagues as to the whereabouts of her co-conspirators, but she couldn’t register what he said. With each blast from his gun, her ears rang louder, muffling his voice. She didn’t see him pace the office; instead she focused solely on the body of her friend.
“Please be alive, please be alive …” Amanda mouthed silently.
“It’s clear you are all in this together and all guilty. You have until the count of five to tell me where they are or we’re all going up together. I’ve got a bag full of grenades and I’m not afraid to use them all. Got that?” the man bellowed over the startling silence of the office.
Amanda got up on her haunches to make her way to Liz, but a rush of blood to her head made her dizzy. Her breath was coming quick and shallow. No matter how much Amanda commanded her body to take deeper, slower breaths, it wouldn’t comply. She steadied herself.
“Ten … nine … eight …,” she counted quietly, barely moving her lips.
The man began his count much louder. “One,” he boomed, the pin of the grenade clicked out of place. “Two … three …”
They reached ‘five’ at the same time. When the grenade went off, it knocked her backwards against the swinging glass office door. A second blast forced her against the door again and this time pushed her all the way through. When she opened her eyes, fire blazed through what used to be her office and a heavy breeze blew through the blown out windows of the forty-second floor. Papers floated like soft snow. The piercing screech of the fire alarm jolted her. Her hand automatically felt her body, acting purely on instinct to make sure she was still in one piece. When her right hand moved over the breast of her coat, the envelope inside gave a little jab signaling it was okay. Amanda decided to move.