Dr. Jac Fitzenz
“Mimosa, the elixir of the gods”, I proclaim holding my glass up to the sun and letting my robe slide down my arm.
“It is good,” Joan replies with little enthusiasm.
“Honey, what’s the matter? All weekend you’ve been distant. There’s something wrong. I can see it in your eyes. Talk to me.”
“I’m sorry, Carol. I’m so mixed up, I can’t think straight.”
“What’s bothering you? You can tell me. I’m your best friend.”
“Of course you are. This isn’t about you or us. It’s about me and Dimitri”
“Dimitri? What’s the matter with him?”
“Oh nothing, except I think he’s planning on killing me.”
“What are you talking about? Are you crazy? Why would he do that?
“A couple of months ago he wanted to merge our company with another organization. They don’t have a great reputation for honest dealing, so I was against it. He was really mad at me for blocking the deal. He claimed they are a good firm and that the press and competitors are wrong. Dimitri said we would make millions on the deal and you know how much he loves money. I was still against it. We argued for a couple of weeks before he finally let it go. Ever since then he’s been very cold towards me. No talking, no hugs, kisses or even smiles. Certainly no sex, and he likes sex almost as much as money.”
“He’s just mad because you wouldn’t go along. He’ll get over it. They all do in the long run. Certainly it’s no reason to kill you.”
“Well, that’s not all. Dimitri’s got a girlfriend. He’s going to a lot of “meetings”, he never went to before. Says he’s joined a group of businessmen who get together often—no women allowed. But I’ve found little bits of evidence. Perfume on his handkerchief and in our car. His bitch is so stupid. I found a lip gloss between the seat cushions.” She starts to cry.
“I think we need to get out and go for a walk. There is a nice trail in the woods behind the spa. You look like you need some fresh air.
We change into shorts and tank tops, put on sneakers and head into the woods. It’s cool and the air is delicious. We can hear birds calling. So peaceful. I’m hoping it will clear Joan’s head.
“I understand about the girlfriend,” I tell her. “That’s probably a rebound from the failed dream. This might be his way of getting revenge for your not going along on the merger. That’s what men do when they’re losing. We go shopping. Men get drunk or laid. Still, all this is no reason to kill you. Divorce is certainly a less messy alternative if things are that bad.”
“Dimitri would never go for a divorce. He’d see it as a stain on his manhood. You know he comes from a Slavic family where the man is king. He’s very proud of the company we’ve built. But when people congratulate him on what we’ve accomplished, he downplays my part. Makes it sound like I’m some sort of a clerk.
“The fact is my family connections and support got us off the ground. We both worked 24/7 the first five years until we got a break that also came from a friend of my family. Dimitri had nothing, but an idea that needed a lot of work before it was marketable. Now, we’re sailing along. Our gross revenue last year was nearly eighty million and we’re very profitable.
“You know his dad was a real hustler with more than a bit of larceny in his soul. He was the kind of fellow who could get it for you wholesale, or less, if you know what I mean. Dimitri
inherited a good bit of that attitude. He doesn’t mind working on the edge. He has a few friends that you wouldn’t want to introduce to your sister.”
“Yes, I’ve seen that side of him in some of the things he says. But I really don’t think he would choose murder over divorce.”
* * *
Two weeks later Joan calls. “I’d like to go to The City tomorrow. There’s a new antique shop on Union Street that we should explore. Can you take a day off? Maybe we’ll stop for lunch at my uncle’s restaurant in Chinatown. He makes the best dim sum in The City. ”
“That’s great. I love dim sum. I knew you were Chinese, obviously. But were you born in China?”
“Yes, in Canton. When I was two we moved to Hong Kong and then a couple years later we emigrated. Several of my family came at the same time. I have three passports, U.S., Chinese and British. Hong Kong was a British Crown Colony when we lived there.”
“Okay, I’ll pick you up at nine o’clock in my SUV. That will give us plenty of space if we want to buy an antique bath tub,” I say laughing.
* * *
On the way to San Francisco I tease her. “I’m happy to see Dimitri hasn’t wasted you yet. You don’t still think he has that in mind do you?”
“I haven’t let go of it yet. Three nights ago I was driving home from Marguerite Kellogg’s in Hillsborough. You know her. She has that gorgeous house high in the hills overlooking the Bay. Anyway, I’d joined her group for bridge and it was late when I left, about 10:30. As I was coming down 280, just south of the Half Moon Bay road, a large pickup truck came up behind and bumped into me. I thought at first he might be a bad driver or a drunk. But then he did it again—deliberately. Really scared me. My Mercedes is very powerful so I stepped on the gas and took off. He followed closely, trying to bump me and run me off the road. We must have been doing 90 when we caught up with some traffic and he had to back off. Finally, he turned off on Sand Hill Road. I got off on Woodside. When I got home Dimitri seemed surprised, like he wasn’t expecting me. I told him what happened and showed him the damage. He just blew it off. Said it must have been a drunk driver.
“That made me mad. His lack of concern was more than I could handle. I couldn’t sleep. I spent the night in the family room watching trashy movies. So, the other day when he left work early to see his so-called friends, probably his new sweetie, I went into his office. Everyone was gone so I could get on his computer. I know his password. He brags that no one will ever find it, because it’s the name and number of the street his father lived on as a young boy in Slovenia. But I know it. His dad showed me a picture of the house one time and the number was clearly visible.
“Once I was on the computer I started exploring his browser history. I saw he’s spending a lot of time on jewelry stores. Unfortunately, he hasn’t given me anything, so I can guess where the goodies are going. Coincidentally, the petty cash account has been hit a lot lately. Think there’s a correlation?”
“The bastard! Have you found anything else?”
“I think so. There were a number of calls on the phone bill that I hadn’t seen before. I review all expenditures and this number is new. So, I called it from the phone on his desk. Guess what?”
“A woman answered, but it could be a business number.”
“Monkey business. The woman said hello in a sweet voice thinking it was him. She probably has caller ID. I hung up and then realized she’ll tell him a call came from his phone. He’ll know it was me. Now, I’m scared. He’ll know I’m checking on him.”
“Oh my god! What are you going to do?”
“There’s more. He left in such a hurry, probably to see her; he forgot to lock his desk. I opened the middle drawer and found a thumb drive tucked under a folder in the back. You won’t believe what it was.”
“Don’t stop. Tell me,” I pleaded.
She went on. “I took it back to my computer and booted it up. It showed a spread sheet listing a number of fund transfers.”
“What do you mean,” I asked.
“There are lists of people’s names. None are our customers. There are amounts of money coming in and being deposited in offshore banks. It’s a record of what looks like money laundering. He’s got a side business that I didn’t know anything about.”
“Is he running the money through your company?”
“No. I would have seen that because I oversee the accounting and I make the deposits and sign the checks. Sometimes I sign his name if he’s traveling. But he always knows about that. He’s doing it outside through some other bank or brokerage firm.”
“This is getting serious, too serious. I don’t like it. Can you go to the police or the FBI?”
“Not yet. I’ve got to check out a couple more things. I don’t want to look like a nut case. I’ll keep you posted and catch up with you in a few days.”
* * *
It’s almost a week before I hear from Joan again. I’m really getting worried. When she calls she sounds very upset. She asks me to meet her for lunch on Thursday at Sundance in Palo Alto. When I arrive she’s in a dark leather booth wearing a black top and white capris. She has a drink in her hand. She’s shaking. Her face is ashen.
As soon as I sit she blurts out, “Carol, Dimitri wants to go fishing on Friday night. We usually take our boat out of Santa Cruz about four hours to a place where there are lots of albacore.”
“Why does that frighten you? I remember you telling me a couple times about going fishing with Dimitri. You always said you had fun.”
“Yes, we take customers out every couple of months. But this time it’s different. He says he wants us to go alone. He says it will give us time to hash out things between us. I’m afraid if I go out with him I might not come back.”
“Oh my god, honey, this doesn’t sound good. You’re not going to go are you?”
She takes a big swallow and reaches into her purse. A thick envelope comes out and she hands it to me.
“These are some of the things I told you about. One is a print out of the spread sheet showing the money transfers to a bank in Tonga,” she says in a voice so low I can hardly hear her. There is another spread sheet, an income statement. It’s not from our company. I don’t know what he’s doing with this. It shows monthly income and expenses for almost a year. I made a copy of the thumb drive and that’s in the envelope too.
“There’s also a key to a safe deposit box at the Bank of America branch on University in Palo Alto. I opened it. He doesn’t know about it. If I don’t come back, contact the FBI in San Francisco, give them the envelope and the key. This is too big for the police department. Besides, one of Dimitri’s friends is a detective there.”
I reach across the table and grab her wrist. “Don’t go. It’s too dangerous.”
“I can’t refuse. I don’t have an excuse for not going. He’s very insistent. But I am going to protect myself. We keep a gun at the office. I’ll take it in my bag. If he starts threatening me I’ll pull the gun and make him take the boat back to Santa Cruz. I know how to use the gun. When we bought it we went to the driving range down in Coyote to learn how to shoot. Also, Dimitri has a gun at home. He keeps it on the top shelf of his closet in the master bedroom. There is a note about it in the envelope.”
“I don’t like this. Not one bit. You should stop playing around and report this immediately.”
“Don’t worry Carol. I’ll keep in touch with you. If you don’t hear from me by Sunday night take this to the FBI,” she says and finishes her drink.
* * *
I’m a wreck for the next three days. By Sunday night she hasn’t called. I call her home and Dimitri answers. I ask for Joan. He says she went to visit relatives in The City. He doesn’t know how long she plans to stay. I call her cell phone, but there’s no answer. That’s it. Monday morning at nine I call the FBI in San Francisco. An agent named Norton comes on the line and I tell him my story. He sounds skeptical until I tell him about the envelope and key to the safe deposit box. We agree to meet at the bank at one o’clock.
I get there by 12:45. I’m dressed in a navy blue suit, white blouse, low pumps, and carrying a large crossover bag with the envelope Joan gave me. I’m so nervous I can’t stand still. At 1:00 sharp a husky man in a grey suit walks in the door. He doesn’t look like a typical Palo Alto businessman, cheap suit, too buttoned down. When he looks at me I nod and he walks directly to me.
“Mrs. Ward I presume? I’m special agent Norton. Here are my credentials.”
“Thank you for coming. This is the envelope I mentioned. The key is inside.”
“Good. Thank you.”
We go to a lobby counter. He opens the envelope and the key falls on the counter. He pulls out the spread sheet, looking very slowly and carefully at it. Without a comment he picks up the key and says, “Let’s talk to the manager. I’ll explain the situation and have him open the box for us. Then, we’ll see what’s in there.”
The box contains more papers and the thumb drive. He thanks the manager, cautions him not to say anything to anyone about this and then tells me he’ll go back to his office and boot the thumb drive. He ends by telling me not to speak of this until he talks to me again. Then, he turns and leaves. I feel like a dish rag. I need a drink.
* * *
Wednesday morning he calls and asks if I’ve heard from Joan. When I tell him she’s not answering her cell phone he tells me they’re going to talk to Dimitri about his wife’s whereabouts. Again, he tells me to say nothing. If Dimitri calls I’m to play dumb and just ask when he expects Joan to come home.
Wednesday afternoon Norton and another agent walk unannounced into Dimitri’s office. After introducing themselves they ask him to see Mrs. Kovac. Dimitri stumbles around trying to say he thinks she’s with relatives in The City, but doesn’t have their phone number or address.
“That’s rather unusual wouldn’t you say? What would you do if you needed to speak with her urgently?” Not waiting for an answer he presses ahead. “Surely you know her cell phone number. Please call her now.”
Dimitri tries unsuccessfully to stay calm and punches in Joan’s number. There’s no answer. They ask how long it’s been since he’s spoken with her. He says, “Friday was the last day.”
“Does she often go off for several days without contacting you to let you know she’s okay?”
“Well, yes, sometimes.”
Agent Norton stares at Dimitri. “I suggest you make your best effort to locate her, sir. In the meantime, could you enlighten us as to what this spreadsheet is describing?”
He passes the paper across the desk and Dimitri is clearly stunned to see it. “Where did you get this? This is confidential data.”
“That is not the point, Mr. Kovac. Please tell us what this represents. Thirty million dollars is a lot of money for a company of your size. Are these transactions for Kovac and Company? While you’re at it, here are several other documents referring to what appear to be records of sales. Are these transactions part of your company business or are they side ventures you haven’t reported?”
“No. No more. This is outrageous. I need to speak with my attorney before we go any further.” He stands up and points at the door. “Get the hell out of my office. I’ll contact you after I talk to my lawyer.”
“Mr. Kovac, this situation smells very badly. I suggest you get your attorney and your accountant ASAP. We will be back at nine a.m. tomorrow and we will need two things. One, you need to produce your wife, and two, you need to have a plausible explanation for what looks very suspiciously like illegal wire transfers of funds out of the United States. Furthermore, do not decide to leave the area. Is this clear?”
* * *
The next morning at nine Norton and his partner walk into Kovac and Company. They head straight for Dimitri’s office and find him, his lawyer and his CPA waiting.
After introductions the lawyer opens with, “I find this intrusion very heavy handed. There is no evidence that Mrs. Kovac is missing or in danger. As for the financials you produced, Mr. Kovac has no knowledge of these transactions. Those documents were fabricated by someone else. I have advised him to answer only questions that are not argumentative or threatening. As you know he has protection under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution to refuse to answer any questions that might incriminate him.”
Norton responds, “If that’s the way you want to play it here are search warrants for Kovac and Company, for his boat moored in Santa Cruz, and for his residence in Woodside. We have teams waiting in Santa Cruz and at his house for someone to open the door, that is, if Mrs. Kovac is still not home.
“Mr. Kovac, where were you last Friday evening from approximately eight p.m. until Saturday afternoon? We have evidence that you had planned to take Mrs. Kovac on a fishing trip late Friday.”
“We decided Thursday night not to go. On Friday sometime while I was at work my wife left a note saying she was going to San Francisco. I think she was mad at me for not going fishing.”
“That’s all, no note about where she would be in case you needed her; or when she expected to be back?”
“No, nothing. When she’s mad at me she clams up. Just said she was going to The City.”
“So, where were you Friday night? Did you decide to go fishing by yourself?
“No. I stayed home, watched television.”
“Can anyone vouch for you?”
“No. I was alone.”
“Mr. Kovac, we made a call to the Harbor Master in Santa Cruz and he claims you and a woman were seen boarding your boat and motoring out of the harbor Friday night. When you returned Saturday evening you were alone. How do you account for that?”
“Well, actually I did decide to take a friend out Friday night. When we returned I guess no one saw her with me.”
“Dimitri. This is not only a bald faced lie; it isn’t even a good one.”
During the search of the offices nothing appears to be unusual. However, at the house Dimitri’s gun is found in the closet as described in the safe deposit notes. There is evidence that it has been fired recently. Three bullets are missing from the clip. One is in the chamber and the safety is not on. Perhaps haste makes waste.
* * *
The IRS is called in to check Kovac’s tax returns. Their forensic accountant contacts the Bank of Tonga. The bank does not wish to do battle with the FBI and cooperates by verifying the account and its balance. Then, they inform the accountant that last Friday morning a deposit of USD5,000,000 was made in the account.
Norton confronts Dimitri.
He blurts out,” What are you talking about? I didn’t make any transfers last week.”
“Who else could have made it Dimitri, and why would you move five million from your corporate account to the bank in Tonga?”
“I didn’t and no one else could have done that. You’re trying to trap me.”
“No one, not even Mrs. Kovac?”
“No. Any amount over $50,000 has to have two signatures, hers and mine.”
“How about the reason for the transfer, were you trying to make a last deposit and then flee the country?”
“No. I tell you no. I don’t know anything about it.”
“We’ll check with your bank to learn who signed for the transfer.”
A call to the operations officer at the Bank of America reveals that both Kovacs’ signatures authorized the wire transfer.
“That’s not possible,” Dimitri shouts. Then, he slumps into his chair and buries his face in his hands.
“Mr. Kovac, we believe you disposed of your wife, transferred funds to Tonga and planned to flee the country. You are under arrest and charged with murdering your wife, embezzling funds from your company, illegally transferring funds out of the country, and not reporting income on your tax returns.”
When the FBI contacts the Tonga Bank the next day to recover the funds, they are informed that the account has been closed and all funds wired to Guangzhou Bank, in what used to be called Canton, China.
* * *
The Cathay Pacific A300 turns onto its final approach to Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong’s international airport. Rain is beating on the window as Joan Kovac, nee Liu Hualing, looks down at the turbulent grey green water of Hong Kong Harbor and smiles. In her hand she holds a confirmation from the Guangzhou Bank showing a deposit of USD36,576,000.