Tara reached over the sleeping form of her lover and glanced quickly at her bedside clock before picking up the phone.
"Hello, Tara. This is Kate Lockley."
"Detective Lockley, good morning."
"I'm sorry, did I wake you?"
"You weren't to know, it's 9 o'clock already."
"I'm sorry to call you on a Saturday, but I didn't want to call you at work. Do you have some free time today or tomorrow?"
Tara thought for an instant. This weekend was no different from any time she had free -- wake up with Willow, spend the day with Willow, make love with Willow all night.
"Yes, should be fine. Do you want to speak to me about something?"
"I'd rather wait till we see each other. How about this morning? 10-ish? You name the place."
"Let's make it 11. Willow is at reflexology, then we're meeting for lunch," Tara smiled. She had just outed herself to Detective Lockley, but instead of dread, she felt free. "Have you tried Vietnamese coffee? I'll meet you at Pho's -- Mott just south of Canal next to the Golden Orchid Restaurant."
She could hear Detective Lockley smiling even over the phone. "You sure know the way to a girl's heart, Tara. Coffee it is."
Tara told Willow about the meeting but neither could come up with a good reason, especially given the detective's secrecy. They didn't dwell on the matter though. After a leisurely breakfast they made their way to Union Square market for some cheese and bread, then Willow went to her reflexology appointment in Chinatown. Pho's cake and coffee shop was just across the street, it was where Tara usually waited, sipping the exquisite Vietnamese coffee and reading a newspaper. She smiled at how domestic that was and how easily they fit into a routine together.
Detective Lockley looked even more worn out than last time they met. Law enforcement didn't have the glamor it was portrayed on television.
She folded the New York Times carefully and placed it on the chair next to her. "Detective Lockley."
"It's Kate. Detective Lockley was my father," Kate said as she slipped into the seat and involuntarily stretched to relax her back.
"Oh. Your father is in the police too?" Tara repeated, and blushed at the obvious question.
Kate's breath caught for a moment. "Was. He was killed in the line of duty. LAPD."
"I'm so sorry." Tara hated saying words like these, they seemed so pointless and never fully conveyed how sad she felt.
"That was his wish. He didn't want to die in a hospital from liver disease or cancer. The old bastard wanted his last breath to be taken with badge in one hand and gun in the other. Not a bad way to go." There was no bitterness in Kate's voice, only sadness tinged with pride.
Tara desperately wanted to change the topic, but elected to be silent.
"So, Vietnamese coffee? I didn't even know the Vietnamese had coffee. Is that it? Looks mighty strange," Kate nodded at the glass cup in front of Tara. At the bottom was a thick creamy paste and balanced on top was a small metal cylinder with a lid. Droplets of dark liquid dripped from the bottom of the cylinder into the glass, settling on top of the cream but never disturbing it.
Tara waved to the waiter and stuck up one finger to make the order. "Watching the coffee drip through is a great test of patience, but the result is sublime."
Kate peered curiously at the ensemble. "What's that at the bottom?"
"Condensed milk. It's wicked sweet on its own, but the coffee is strong and bitter -- you can imagine the combined effect," Tara explained.
"I think I'm going to like this," Kate said, leaning back into her chair with an audible sigh.
The waiter brought her coffee and assorted paraphernalia. The glass was about one-fifth filled with thick condensed milk, and he rested the metal filter on top. Lifting the lid, he dramatically poured hot water from a worn metal kettle. The rest of the water went into a small jug placed at the side of the glass. It took a good thirty seconds before the coffee started dripping onto the milk.
Tara waited for Kate to start the real conversation but the detective seemed intent on watching her coffee make itself. Tara's coffee was done, and she sighed appreciatively as the first taste of the bitter brew permeated through the froth at the top, followed by the syrupy sweet aftertaste of the milk.
"How long have you been working for Richard Wilkins?" Kate asked abruptly.
Taken aback at the suddenness of the question, it took Tara a few seconds to react and answer. "Almost seven years."
"Would you say he is an upright citizen?" Kate continued, her gaze still on the coffee.
"It's not for me to judge, especially not my employer." Tara's diplomacy quickly returned. "Is there something wrong?"
"Over ninety percent of email traffic is spam, and child pornography is the fastest growing sector of internet crime," Kate muttered.
Tara was used to Willow's often disjointed babbling, but coming from someone other than her lover confused her. "Are you alright, Det--um Kate?"
"I'm a vice cop; I've seen human nature at its most despicable, most brutal. But the sheer magnitude and organization of internet crime is horrifying. And the astounding amount of easy profit ..." Kate trailed off, shaking her head.
"I'm sorry, I'm not making the connection."
"In the course of my current investigation, your employer's name came up," Kate said carefully.
Tara was instantly alert. "Is this off the record?" she asked uneasily. "Are you trying to tip him off through me?"
"No. You got the wrong end of the stick. You seem like a decent person, Tara. No offense but working vice for as long as I have, I get cynical. I hope you're nothing like him," Kate said.
"What are you implying?"
"Wait, wait. I'm sorry, I'm really unbalanced. This case is killing me. My bosses are laying into me. It's a big fucking mess. I'm asking you, yes off the record, to keep a lookout on what's going on," Kate said.
"You want me to spy on my boss?"
"May be it's him, may be it's someone or a group."
"And what am I supposed to be watching out for?" Tara stiffened.
Kate ran her fingers through her hair. "That's the problem. I don't know."
"So you tell me my boss is being investigated for presumably illegal activities, which you can't tell me about. Then you turn around and tell me that actually, you have no basis for your allegations? Still, you want me to snoop on him? Just for the hell of it?" Tara bristled. It was a bad idea to meet Kate at this café. Willow was supposed to meet her here; if she walked out on the detective, which was all she wanted to do at the moment, she would still have to remain in the vicinity. Defeated the purpose of storming out.
"I'm telling you, someone in your organization has their hands in dirty business. You may want to think harder about where your loyalties lie; and whatever you do, watch your back," Kate sounded like she was trying to apologize or warn her.
"I think you should leave now," Tara said curtly.
Kate made an exasperated sound. "I -- look, you have my number if you need to contact me."
"Don't count on it."
Kate took a last look at her still-dripping coffee as she stood up. "What a shame, I would have liked to try this coffee."
Tara watched her walk out without looking back, and hated her for ruining her peaceful day. She tried to make sense of Kate's cryptic words, but was left wanting.
Although Tara told her about the strange conversation with Kate Lockley, Willow didn't immediately associate the detective's allegations about Richard Wilkins with the goings-on in his account.
Over the next few weeks there was little activity in his account. Her other accounts were doing spectacularly and as the first quarter closed, her name was at its usual spot at the top of the Top 5 board.
She was in the middle of planning a research trip to London when Wilkins called to make a personal appointment to meet in her office next morning. She debated whether to involve Patrick, but her professional ego decided that she could resolve whatever issues herself.
It was when he produced a check for two million dollars for deposit into his account that alarm bells started ringing off the hook. The warning notes rose to a noisy cacophony when he asked for several smaller amounts totaling almost the same amount to be wired to various destinations, including Albania, as soon as the funds cleared. She explained, once again, that Albania was on a watchlist of high risk countries and such transactions needed to be reported.
"To whom?" he asked.
"Our Compliance department and FinCEN, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network," she replied.
His eyebrows shot up. "Crimes enforcement?"
"More like prevention. Their concern is money laundering and use for terrorism purposes," she explained.
"I'm not a terrorist!" he huffed indignantly, "how dare you?" at the tip of his tongue.
"No, but they want to be in a position to spot these activities. I'm sorry, Mr Wilkins, I am bound by Treasury rules to file a report," she said with as much finality as she could muster.
"But it's just a mass of form filling isn't it?" he pointed out. "If, let's pick a worst case scenario ... if my company gets audited will these reports come under extra scrutiny?"
"Well, if the audit is for your company, it doesn't really related to you. The authorities are more likely to look carefully at the company's finances. But I'm not an expert on this area, I recommend that you talk to a legal advisor or a forensic accountant," she said.
He told her to go ahead, and was willing to pay any extra fees. She reiterated that it wasn't the fees that was bothering her, it was the procedure and making sure they were compliant.
His reaction was at first dismissive, but as she asked him more questions on the wires, he grew agitated. Would she preferred that he took his business elsewhere? Or spoke with her superiors directly? Their conversation remained just one side of affable throughout, but when he started to allude to his disappointment at her incompetence and wondering aloud as to how stuffy bankers would react to one of their own being involved with someone who worked in a club, her cordial façade cracked.
"Actually the notoriety will bolster my reputation, Mr Wilkins. We bankers work hard and play hard, otherwise establishments like yours will probably not do as well," she said thinly.
He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Well, we are always thinking of new ways of generating publicity." He paused and made a show of having an idea. "Say, Willow, can I give you top billing in the next 'Impossible is Nothing' video, starring you and Tara demonstrating various forms of, ahem, embrace?"
Her hands slammed sharply on the yellow writing pad in front of her. She clenched and unclenched her fists and answered as evenly as she could, "I hardly think it's riveting viewing."
He fixed a still, long look at her. "Do you really want to risk it?"
Her eyes were dark. "Leave her out of this."
He grinned smugly at her.
Her shaking didn't subside until the end of the day, and only after she buried herself in pounding out an extensive research document that would normally take three days to complete.
When she finally packed up to go home, she still had no idea what to tell Tara.