Excerpt #3 from my book. Marissa is questioned by federal officers about Michael.
|Two days later, I went out down to the garage, running a bit late for work, to find my left rear tire was flat. Great! After complaining to myself I reminded myself that I had triple A. I called them and they said it would be 20 minutes. I went back to the lobby and then out the front door to wait. It was a bit chilly this morning, and I thought it looked like it might rain this afternoon. As I was standing there a dark sedan pulled up to the curb and stopped. Two men in long coats (surely not trench coats?) got out and walked toward me. One of them looked to be in his early 30’s with blonde hair, the other a little older, Asian, shorter than his partner.
“Marissa Morgan?” the blonde asked.
“Yes?” I said, looking back and forth between then. They stood on either side of me, a bit too close for my comfort.
They both reached into their jackets and took out wallets. Badges, it turned out. They both held them up for me to see. “We’re federal agents. I’m agent Martin and this is agent Wong,” the blonde one said. “We’d like to talk to you regarding Michael Bell. Will you come with us?”
As if I had a choice! The Asian man had stepped to my left, right next to my arm. The blonde held out his hand to the car. This day was getting better and better. They helped me into the back seat. They got onto the freeway, going north on the 101. Feds. Probably going into the City. Terrific. I had started my period on Monday and today was a bad day. I was heavy and cramping. My irritability always went up on my bad days, and I was already irritated about the flat tire, missing work, missing the tow truck driver, (who would think I was a flake or something), and being hauled into the City to be questioned by federal officers. I crossed my arms and stared out the window, trying not to let my irritability get the best of me. Michael had warned me about this possibility just two days ago, and yet somehow I didn’t think it would happen.
Thirty-five minutes later we pulled into a garage and they parked. Asian man (I refused to think of him as Agent Wong) tried to take my elbow. I stopped walking and they immediately stopped, looking at me. “Is it necessary to take my elbow? I am cooperating.” He dropped his hand.
We went up to the 15th floor, and I was led down drab and dreary hallways until blondie stopped at a door and opened it. He gestured in. “Please, take a seat in here Ms. Morgan. You’ll have to leave your purse outside.”
The room looked just like an interrogation room on TV. Horrid green walls. A battered metal table with three old metal chairs. A metal ring was welded to the table top on one side of the table. I sat on the other side of the table from the ring, just to be contrary. I sat in the hard metal chair and waited. And waited. I waited an hour and a half. The door was locked, so I couldn’t even ask someone for a glass of water or to go to the bathroom. I didn’t need to go to the bathroom, I just wanted to know that I could. I was really thirsty, though. I always drink a lot of water when I get to work since I didn’t like to drive on a full bladder. My throat was getting parched. My cramps were making it uncomfortable to sit in the chair, so I got up and paced. After a while that started to fatigue my left leg, so I sat down again. By the time blondie and Asian returned, I was well and thoroughly thirsty, cramping, hungry, irritated, and angry. They came in without saying anything about leaving me in the room, alone, for an hour and a half. Asian pulled a chair to the other side of the table and they both sat down. He dropped a folder on the table in front of him. Blondie took out a tape recorder (I didn’t know people still used those!) and set it on the table in front of him. He pressed a button.
“Agents Martin and Wong, interviewing Marissa Morgan on October 28th at 10:11am. Ms. Morgan, can you tell us what your relationship is with Michael Bell, born Michael Salvatore Bellini?”
“May I have a glass of water, please?” I asked as politely as I could through clenched teeth.
“Yes, we’ll get you some water shortly. Can you tell us what your relationship is with Mr. Bell?”
“I’m really thirsty. It would be easier for me to talk if I could have a glass of water.”
“Yes. As I said, we’ll get you some water shortly. Can you answer the question?”
Oh, this guy was so irritating me! “Please define what you mean by ‘relationship’” I asked.
“Relationship. You know – how do you know him?”
“Well I’m sure you know that I saved Mr. Bell’s life on Saturday September 17th.”
“Where do you live Ms. Morgan?”
“I live at the 4th and Wall building in San Mateo.”
“Yes. And how much rent do you pay there?”
“I don’t pay rent.” Michael had told me not to volunteer any details. With the waves of irritation surging through me that was very easy to do.
“And why don’t you pay rent?” Blondie was doing all the talking. Asian was just looking at me.
“I don’t pay rent because Mr. Bell offered me an apartment in his building rent free.”
“That’s quite generous! Rents on the peninsula are high. Why do you think he did that?”
“I told you, I saved his life.”
“And what did Mr. Bell ask in return for free rent?” His leer, and the sneer on Asian’s face, left no doubt in my mind what they meant. They were trying to rattle me. The recorder wouldn’t pick up their facial expressions.
“Sure, sure. He asks you for nothing, in return for paying, what, $4,000 a month rent for you?”
“As I said.”
“What do you know about Mr. Bell’s business?”
“Almost nothing.” I felt something shift with them. Blondie and Asian (I still refused to call them by their names) knew I was not giving them everything, and they obviously caught on I wasn’t volunteering anything either.
“I’d advise you to cooperate with us, Ms. Morgan.”
“How am I not cooperating? Could I please have a glass of water?” Talk about cooperating, I’ll show them who wasn’t cooperating!
“Answer my question.”
“I know what Mr. Bell told me about his business. That he buys homes and properties. That he sometimes fixes them up and sells them, sometimes develops them and sells them, and sometimes he just sells them.”
“Have you met his business associates?”
I would not call Tiffany a business associate, and Guido and Lorenzo were his employees. “No.”
“You haven’t met his associates? Don’t you know Guido Caruso and Lorenzo Esposito?” Asian took two pictures out of the folder in front of him, laying them down in front of me. He had a sneer on his face. I schooled my features but couldn’t keep all the surprise from my face. The pictures were of me, Michael, Guido, and Lorenzo at Michael’s cabin. One of them showed us walking down to the boat, and one showed the four of us sitting on the deck, eating sub sandwiches for lunch. We looked relaxed and happy, smiling.
“I do know Guido and Lorenzo, yes. They are Mr. Bell’s employees.”
And so it went. I was not sure how long they tried first one way, then another to get me to talk. I answered each question put to me. Just answered. I didn’t volunteer anything. After a while we all had our arms crossed, sitting back in our chairs, glaring at each other. I was cramping, thirsty, hungry, had to pee, and I couldn’t even see irritated from where I was. It was at that moment that the door opened. We all looked up. A tall man came in. He had on a tailored suit. He was about 6’2” and looked to be 180 pounds. He had grey hair that may have been black at one point. He had a large nose but his face was handsome. He glanced at all three of us, making eye contact. I had never seen him before.
“I’m Stefano Romano, Ms. Morgan’s attorney. This interrogation is over.” Blondie and Asian made a show of gathering the photos, turning the tape recorder off, and slowly getting up.
“We’ll be seeing you again, Ms. Morgan,” Blondie threw at me, glaring, as he went out the door.
“Not without me,” Mr. Romano said. The door closed. I opened my mouth, and he held up his hand, then held a finger to his lips. “Come. I have a car waiting.”
I got up, thankful to see the end of that room. Someone, not blondie or Asian, handed me back my purse. I wonder if they had gone through it. I didn’t care. In silence we went down the elevators. In the lobby, Mr. Romano gently guided my elbow towards the doors.
“I need to use the bathroom.”
“Not now. Not here.”
“I have to go very badly.”
“Where are you taking me?” I asked, getting into the back of a black Lincoln Towncar. He got in beside me in the back seat and the car took off.
“To Mr. Bell’s office.”
“You want to tell me how you knew I was there?”
“Mr. Bell will explain everything.”
Man, this guy wasn’t giving anything away. “Do you have any water? I’m really thirsty.” He just turned his head and looked out the window. Oh, boy. Here was another man I was really irritated with. Mr. Bell was going to hear from me about this, before he started explaining anything!
The ride back to San Mateo took 40 minutes in traffic. I wondered about my car. I wondered about work. I wondered if Mr. Romano would like it if I peed all over the leather seats. My multiple needs were now urgent. The car pulled up to an office building. There was a street number on the front above the double doors, but nothing to indicate what was in the building. In silence, we rode the elevator up to the 2nd floor. The receptionist jumped to her feet when we came out of the elevator. Interesting.
“Mr. Bell is waiting for you Mr. Romano. Go right in.”
We turned left and went down a hall. Glass walled offices were on either side and our steps were muffled by the thick carpeting. We came to an open area at the end of the hall. A reception desk was there, and that woman also jumped to her feet.
“He’s expecting you – go right in.” I thought she threw me a glance of sympathy but I was too far gone to even look at her. Mr. Romano opened one side of the double wood doors and we stepped into the office. My vision had tunneled at this point. All I saw was Michael, behind a large wood desk. Mr. Romano said something I didn’t hear, then went to stand off to my left. I don’t know what Michael saw, but my arms were crossed (I was trying not to cross my legs, but I wanted to) and I was sure I had a frown on my face. He looked… he looked stricken. Then he looked apologetic. All I could think of was my bursting bladder and all the other needs my body was now screaming at me to fulfill.
“Marissa, I’m so sorry this happened,” said Michael, coming around the desk and reaching out his hand to me. “Are you okay?”
“Okay?! OKAY?! You want to know if I’m okay after the morning I’ve had?!” I heard Mr. Romano suck in a breath, but my vision was focused on Michael.
“I know you must be very angry with me,” Michael said, dropping his arm and standing about 3 feet away.
“I’m not angry at you at all, you nitwit!” Another gasp from my left.
“But – then – you aren’t mad?” Michael was confused.
“Tired, irritated, frustrated, thirsty, hangry, and I have to pee so bad my molars are doing a backstroke, yes. Mad at you, no.”
Michael drew in a huge breath, staring at me. “Right. Right. Hangry. Bathroom. Here,” he said, and walked quickly to the windows to the right of his desk. He opened a panel that was part of the credenza under the windows, reached in, and brought out a water bottle. He put it on a corner of his desk then walked to the wall behind his desk. He went to the corner while I zeroed in on the water bottle. I took it and twisted off the cap and then was gulping the cold, oh so delicious water. My mouth and throat sent up a hallelujah. When I had chugged half the bottle I looked, and there was Michael holding out his arm to a hidden door in his paneling. A hidden door to his own bathroom. I pushed past him and slammed the door shut behind me. Oh, blessed, blessed relief! At last! My bladder joined the chorus going on in my body. I tried very hard not to groan in relief, afraid they would hear me. I changed my pad and took my time washing my hands, brushing out my hair, and rubbing some water on the back of my neck. I downed three Advil to help with the cramps. Okay. Okay. I was going to make it now. All I needed was some food and I could be me again. I drank the rest of the water in my bottle before going back out into the office.
Michael’s secretary was just bringing in a fresh water bottle and an oatmeal bar. She put them both on Michael’s desk and scurried out with a side glance to me. Michael was sitting behind his desk and Mr. Romano was sitting in the corner to the left of the door. I sat down in one of the chairs in front of Michael’s desk. I scarfed the oatmeal bar and drank half of the water. Then, I sat back in the chair, looking at Michael.
He smiled. “Better?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Why don’t we start again? I’ve sent for lunch, Marissa. It should be here in another 15 minutes or so. Stefano? I’d like you to meet Marissa Morgan.”
Mr. Romano was suddenly standing to the left of my chair, all 6’2” of him. He smiled down at me and reached out his hand. I didn’t get up. I took his hand in mine and we shook. “Ms. Morgan. Stefano Romano. I’m Michael’s attorney.”
“Mr. Romano. I’m Michael’s friend. And if a lady tells you that she has to use the bathroom, you should be a gentleman and let her use one.” I kept my voice level. I didn’t even talk through clenched teeth. But I gave him a glare. His smile faltered and he dropped my hand.
Michael coughed. “Uh, yes. That was my fault Marissa. I asked Stefano to bring you here as quickly as possible. I didn’t want you spending another minute talking to the feds. He, uh, took my instructions a little too literally.”
“My apologies for any discomfort I caused you, Ms. Morgan,” Mr. Romano said. I gave a slight bow of my head to him, not trusting myself to speak. He walked away, I presume to sit down again in the chair by the door. The water had done wonders, the Advil was just beginning to kick in, and the oatmeal bar had taken the edge off my hunger.
“Marissa,” Michael began. “Lorenzo was coming out of the exercise room this morning when he saw you standing out front of the building. He was walking toward you to ask if something was wrong, when he saw the car drive up and the feds take you away. I had already left for the day – I was visiting a site in Mountain View for a client. When I got his call I called Stefano right away, but he was in court. He called me back as soon as he got my message, but by then hours had passed. As soon as he got my details he went to get you. And brought you here.” He paused and smiled at me. Judging my mood, I was guessing. “Now, can you tell us what happened this morning?”
“I was a bit late leaving for work this morning, and wouldn’t you know I had a flat tire. I called AAA, then went out front to meet them and open the garage for them. I had only been standing there a minute when the feds pulled up. Blonde and Asian put me in the car and took me into San Francisco.”
“Blonde and Asian?” Mr. Romano asked behind me. I didn’t turn around. If he was going to talk to me or ask questions he could move to where I could see him.
“That’s what I called them. They said their names were Agents Martin and Wong, but I just kept calling them Blonde and Asian.” I continued my story. “They took me to the 15th floor and they put me in an interrogation room. They left me in there for an hour and a half. When they came in I asked for some water but they didn’t give me any. They put a tape recorder on the table and started asking me questions.”
Michael gave a little snort of derision. I looked at him. “They sound like the two who interviewed Guido and Lorenzo last week.” At my raised eyebrow he continued, “They picked up Guido on Tuesday evening when he was walking to the deli, and Lorenzo the next day when he was walking to the store. Now, this is important, Marissa,” Michael said. “What did they ask you?”
“They asked me how I knew you. They wanted to know why I lived in your building rent free. They asked me what I knew of your business.”
“And what did you tell them?” Mr. Romano asked.
I kept my eyes on Michael. “You told me the other day to answer without adding anything. So, I answered their questions. They didn’t like my answers, but I answered all their questions. I really know almost nothing about your business and they could not get me to tell them any details beyond a straight answer. They wanted to know if I knew any of your business associates. I told them no, and then they,” I paused.
“They what?” Michael asked, leaning forward.
“What did they ask?” from Mr. Romano.
“They had pictures of us at the cabin, Michael. One of the four of us walking down to the boat, and one of us eating lunch on the deck.” Michael’s face darkened and I thought I was seeing what he looked like when he was really angry. He slapped a hand on his desk.
“Were the pictures clear? Could you tell from what height they were taken from?” Mr. Romano asked.
“Yes, they were clear. Both pictures were taken from slightly above, either from a tree by the waterline or from across the lake, I’m guessing.”
Michael looked up at Mr. Romano. “Guido is not going to like this. Hell – I don’t like it!”
Just then his secretary entered with the food. We all got up, and it was then I noticed a round table to the right of the door with four chairs. She put the containers on the table, and then returned with a pitcher of iced tea. We sat down and I opened my container. It was a hot sandwich from the deli Michael had ordered from for my first lunch in my new apartment. I glanced at him quickly, smiling, and he returned a slight smile. Mr. Romano poured us all iced tea and then glanced at Michael. Michael bowed his head and said a blessing and I was a bit surprised to see Mr. Romano bow his head and say “Amen”. We didn’t say anything for a few minutes. My sandwich was hot roast beef on toasted sourdough bread. I also had a small salad. I had no idea what Michael or Mr. Romano had – I was totally focused on getting all that hot goodness into my mouth and belly. I actually finished before both men, which embarrassed me a bit. I hope I didn’t make too much of a pig of myself. The secretary came back in with a plate of cookies. Cookies! Yum!
“From the bakery down the street. I thought you’d like them,” she said at Michael’s raised eyebrows.
“Excellent. Mrs. Thompson, can you please call Guido and ask him to take care of the flat tire on Ms. Morgan’s car? It’s the silver Kia in the garage at 4th and Wall.
“Thank you Mrs. Thompson.”
“Thank you so much Mrs. Thompson,” I called to her just as she was going out the door.
Both men were finished. Mr. Romano stood up and gathered all the containers and put them back into the bags. We all grabbed a cookie (I took two) and sat back in our chairs.
“Marissa – first of all, how are you feeling?” Michael asked.
“I’m fine. Much better now that I’ve taken care of my bodily needs. Thank you very much for the water and for lunch.”
He smiled. “Good. Could you please go over it again for us? I’m sorry to put you through this, but it is very important we know what they asked and what you told them.”
I did. I went over everything again. Mr. Romano had taken notes the first time I talked, and he added a few more. When I was done Michael was rubbing his chin, looking thoughtful. Mr. Romano put his pen down and looked at me.
“Ms. Morgan, you did very well under pressure. You didn’t give in to their intimidation tactics and you didn’t tell them anything useful. I know they said you would be seeing them again, but I don’t think so. You blocked them effectively, I think. I don’t think you’ll be hearing any more from them,” he said the last to Michael.
“Let us hope not,” said Michael. “Do you have any travel plans in the next few weeks Stefano?”
“No, Michael. I’ll be available if you need me again.” He fished a business card out of his pocket and handed it to me. “Ms. Morgan, if you should need my services, please don’t hesitate to call. Or drop my name. Any charges will be taken care of by Michael. Michael said I was to trust you, and I see that his own trust is not misplaced in you. Please accept my apology, again, for not stopping to allow you to use the bathroom or provide you with water.”
“Thank you, Mr. Romano. I accept your second apology, as I accepted your first.”
He got up and Michael stood and shook his hand. “I’ll be in touch,” Mr. Romano said, and then he let himself out. Michael sat back down at the table and took another cookie.
“Stefano is a good friend. He’s been my attorney for years. He’s been to the cabin and knows my family. I had no idea he would take me so literally this morning. I was very worried when I heard the feds had picked you up, and then got more worried when I couldn’t get a hold of Stefano. I knew he could get you out of there safely. He’s saved me on more than one occasion. He really is a very fine lawyer.” It sounded to me as if Michael was defending and excusing his friend.