No Good Deed
Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy
The week went by, and I kept getting weird vibes off of Josh. Most of the time he seemed genuine, acting like the guy I made friends with the previous year. Every now and then though, that mask would slip, and I’d see a glimpse of something else. Josh had always been fairly blunt and straight forward, both when he was being friendly and when he was threatening me. This new scheming Josh had me concerned. I didn’t think he’d make this type of behavioral change on his own, especially since in no other part of his life had he seemed to make a major shift.
I didn’t ask him directly, but I kept my eyes open, and what I saw said this wasn’t a genuine change. His grades continued to suffer, and he’d been caught cheating again just recently. It was hard to say if he was still taking steroids since he’d always been huge and he wasn’t in any organized sports anymore.
I’d talked it over with the girls, and they confirmed that Amanda had been concerned about his behavior too. They did say she’d told them he’d gone back to being the ‘old Josh’ recently, but I was nearly certain that was another ploy, like the one he was trying on me. We all agreed that for now at least, we didn’t want to start pointing that out to Amanda. She’d already had a tough few months dealing with his darkening personality, and I didn’t want to start poking holes in her current good mood until we had something more than just my suspicions.
Yet again, Josh was something that would have to go on the back burner until something new happened to change the current status quo. Which was good; because even with my workload being lower while the company moved, we still had a lot going on.
By the weekend we were back down near Houston, we met at the new offices, catching up on what had happened the previous week; and with the girls over at the center, which after the grand opening had only gotten busier.
Thankfully, work was actually easing up a bit. While we had Ronald out in the field working out issues and getting the new desalination plant fully operational, and Douglass working with some consultants from MilTech on the new battery and solar panels, the move had still put a freeze on a lot of things.
About ten percent of the staff had decided to take the severance packages we’d offered, deciding they didn’t want to move. The rest were in the process of moving into the new offices. Most of them were doing what I was doing, but in reverse. They’d spend their weeks down at the new facilities staying in extended stay apartments and then commute back to Alice to be with their families on the weekends.
They were all planning on buying into the new houses or condos we were building, but until those were finished, they’d have to commute. A third group of employees were already making their moves. These were the people that decided to live in one of the suburbs that made up the outskirts of Houston, deciding that having a thirty to forty-five-minute commute to the office every day was offset by living closer to a built-up area with more amenities.
Of course, the office moving slower didn’t mean it had stopped moving. Within thirty minutes of getting to the office Saturday morning, Douglass and Ted came bursting into my new office.
“We’ve got good news my boy,” Ted said as Douglass threw himself into a chair facing my desk.
“Good news?” I asked.
Considering how things had gone over the last year, it was always fifty-fifty.
“You could say that,” Douglass said.
“Aaron must have been more impressed by the demonstration than it seemed, because he’s been pushing to get us in to do a ‘show and tell’ with the folks at NASA, and he’s been using some of his bigger contacts to make it happen.”
Considering the kind of contacts that MilTech, the company Aaron Baxter ran, had, that was saying something.
“He got us a presentation with them three weeks from this coming Monday,” Douglass said excitedly. “I just hope some of the people that called my ideas ‘a waste of resources’ will be there to see it.”
“Me too,” I said.
Douglass had been let go of his job with NASA when he pushed some of his ideas for more efficient batteries and solar panels. They’d felt that technology was stable, and NASA resources were better used in other areas.
“The question is,” I continued, “will we be ready? This could be big for us.”
“No doubt,” Ted said. “We’ve been going over everything this week, and so far, we look good. We plan on running the demonstration a few more times internally over the next few weeks to make sure we don’t have any surprises.”
“Trust me, I’m not going to ruin the chance to show those jerks what they missed,” Douglass added.
I’d never seen him worked up like this. Normally, he was one of the nicest if a bit scatterbrained, people I’d met. It was unusual to see a vindictive side come out. Of course, considering what had been done to him, and the fact that he’d been ready to kill himself over it when I found him, his attitude was understandable.
“I have no doubt. If you don’t mind, let’s go over how we present it a few times now. I’d like to see what our plan is and see if I can come up with any ideas to screw it up.”
Thankfully, they laughed at my self-depreciation, not that I was completely joking. If I stopped to think about it, sometimes I still had problems adapting to where my life had gone, and the idea I was here giving input and suggestions on things like this.
Those thoughts were quickly pushed aside as we began going over the presentation, spending the rest of the day making small refinements.
By the time the girls called and said they were ready to knock off for the day, my mind had been wrung out. While the repetition of going through a major presentation is a good idea, it can become draining after a while.
They had the SUV we’d driven down in, dropping Emily, Jawarski, and I off at the offices earlier that morning, so we had to wait as they got waved through the security gate and pulled up to the office building to pick us up.
“I want to go by the new house before we head home,” I said when they pulled up.
“Why? It’s barely started,” Vicki said.
“I know, I just want to see it.”
She shrugged and got out of the driver’s seat so Jawarski could take over. She’d declared some time back that she wasn’t going to trust her life to any punk teenagers, no matter how superhuman they may be, and that she’d drive whenever we went anywhere.
Emily and I piled into the back with Zoe and Vicki, with Tami up front. It was a modest size SUV, but it was still just a five-seater, making the back seat cozy. Not that I minded much, considering who the other occupants were.
Vicki hadn’t been wrong. The house was only in the beginning stages, and couldn’t even be called a house yet. Rather, it was a giant hole in the ground, with concrete going down as they built out the underground portions of the house, which were more accurately called a bunker.
Still, seeing what was essentially the footprint of the house in person, was much different than just looking at the blueprints. While it was clear the house would be fairly massive in size, seeing the giant hole in the ground brought home how big this thing would be.
I had a moment of embarrassment, if only internally, as I considered how absurd it was that my new house was going to be so huge. But it was only a moment, since I also realized just how many people would be living there every day, and that didn’t count the security people who would be around all the time. Jawarski had already started interviewing new staff, specifically to guard the house.
We didn’t spend long looking it over since everyone was tired, but I was glad we’d stopped at seeing it.
“Now that that’s done, we had an idea we wanted to float past you,” Zoe said once we were all back in the car and headed home.
“You don’t have to float anything by me, you know. Next Step is your baby, I’m just the money.”
“Yeah, but after talking to some of the people at the center, we’ve started to realize a big area we’ve ignored.”
“Legal help,” Vicki said. “You’d be surprised how much something as simple as a speeding ticket or a ticket for out of date registration can destroy a family living hand to mouth. And once they get into the cycle of trying to clear up the first ticket which has started getting added fines and fees. It can quickly become a massive problem. That doesn’t count people who’re family members make poor choices, usually drugs, and end up bankrupting the whole family in the process. We also met a man who’d taken out everything he had to buy a new car from a guy but was pulled over in a not so great neighborhood, and the money was taken from him in a civil forfeiture.”
“I’ve seen some of that on the news before, but how does that intersect with the center?”
“Because some of these people are really being affected by it, and they can’t afford any kind of legal help. Landlord disputes where people don’t have hot water or electricity, people who were scammed out of money, all these things require lawyers, and they can’t afford them. Sometimes it pushes people out on the street.”
“I can see how it’s something we could use. If not actually legal help, maybe some form of counseling, but you should probably talk to Jonathan about that.”
“I actually called him. He said he’d talk to us about the idea, but also suggested you talk to the Judge of yours. The one from the CPS investigation you changed. He said that guy was probably looking for a way to make restitution, and also there was a good chance he was bored in the apartment you stashed him in. Besides all that, he’ll have a very different view of what people do or don’t need than Jonathan said he did and would be a good judge of what we should be looking at doing.”
“That’s not a bad idea. I needed to go by there sometime this week and follow up on some of the stuff we’d copied from the stuff Damion got for us. I’ll go by tomorrow and talk to him.”
Something between a grunt and a snarl came from the front seat, drawing my attention.
“You made your opinion very clear,” I said to Jawarski, who glanced at me through the rearview mirror. “I know you think it’s a bad idea from safety. I can even see why that’s probably true, but if we don’t find a way to take these guys down, we’ll spend the rest of our lives dealing with safety concerns. I can’t do that bundled up inside a house.”
“You’re the boss, do whatever the hell you want to do. What do I know about protecting people anyways,” she said in a voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Don’t be like that. I’ve been trying to listen to you more about this stuff, but you know I’m right.”
“I know you’re something alright,” she muttered under her breath.
Over the last several months I’d figured out how to read Jawarski’s responses, since everything was being filtered through her genetic annoyance at me. I was happy that thanks to the shots Mom and Alex had devised, it had thankfully dropped from genetic hatred to genetic annoyance at least. But that annoyance was still very strong, and I’d been forced to learn to interpret it.
Even without being a genetic negative, Jawarski was as stubborn as a mule. I’d already had to intercede between her, Carter and Levi. It hadn’t happened a lot, but sometimes she would dig in and refuse to compromise, despite the arguments being made. So, adding that to the genetic response to me specifically, she couldn’t seem to ever just agree to something I’d said, or even let me get the last word. I’d figured out by now that generally, if she started muttering insults at me, it meant she’d accepted my argument and was prepared to go with it, even if she wouldn’t say that out loud.
The next day found us heading towards where Jawarski had stashed Davis and his wife. While they weren’t that far from our house, only a mile or so outside of Alice, it took us almost forty-five minutes to get there, as Jawarski doubled and tripled back, checking the mirrors for a tail.
Eventually, she must have accepted that her maneuvers had been successful since we pulled up to a row of townhouses she’d rented through some third party cutout. I’d asked for more information on how that worked, but she told me to let her do her job, and that I should keep my mind on what I needed to do. She also added in the normal descriptions of my various flaws, but that was just punctuation at this point.
Davis opened the door and let us in, a surprised look on his face.
“Caspian,” he said as he shut the door. “I thought we’d only be seeing your intermediaries until this business was resolved.”
“That was the plan, but something came up I wanted to talk to you about.”
“More problems?” he said as we sat down on one of the couches in their front room.
“No, it’s totally separate issue. First, let’s talk about what you found in that information we dropped off?”
“Like I said, I wasn’t actually involved with the organization...”
I held up a hand stopping him and said, “I know. I just wanted your insight.”
“I wrote all my notes here,” he said, handing over a small notebook. “Some of the company names I saw mentioned in the ledgers you had, I recognized. They’d had me fix a few cases before I moved over to family court when I was still assigned to civil cases. Those companies were the ones involved. Usually, the cases had to do with accusations of fraud or inconsistencies with their books. I wrote down everything I could remember from those cases. A few of the names also seemed familiar, again from the same cases. People who were listed as principals of the companies under review.”
Jawarski took the notebook from him, “That will actually help. We’ve been trying to figure out how the syndicate is organized. It’s pretty clear they aren’t into traditional criminal venues, at least not in any major way. Everything we can find, is made up of smaller companies gaming the system, or completely twisting the system, to make money; and it looks like a lot of money.”
“Does that mean you’re ready to do something about them?” Davis said, sounding hopeful.
“Not yet. We know more about their operation, but we’re not even sure we can do anything about them. We’re still working on options.”
“Ohh,” he said, deflated.
“We’re getting there though,” I interjected, seeing his reaction. “We’re closer now, thanks to your help.”
He gave a wan smile, knowing I was offering more in the way of platitudes than actual hope.
“Well, that’s all I had on that. What else did you need?”
“This is completely separate to our dealings with the syndicate. Some of my family have been working on a large charity project, trying to help people who’ve fallen off society’s radar.”
“I remember seeing mentions of some kind of charity work in the papers Mrs. Bell submitted. Considering I’d been ordered to torpedo your case, I honestly didn’t take a look at them though.”
I frowned at the memory of the load the whole event had put mom under, but I knew he wasn’t ultimately the one to blame. And considering he’d had to basically walk away from a career he’d worked on his whole adult life, he’d paid for his mistakes.
“Well, we’ve opened a new center near Houston, offering things like free medical checkups, job training and placement assistance, and stuff like that. But it was brought up that another thing we could do, is to offer some sort of legal help for people who can’t afford a decent lawyer.”
“Whoever told you that is right.”
“I was hoping I could pick your brain a bit on what’s needed. I’m not sure I understand what the problem we’re trying to solve is.”