A Legal Trap - Chapter 1

Author retains all rights to this original work of fiction.

Thank You for reading my story! I especially enjoy hearing your thoughts,
criticism, and ideas. Rachel M. Moore

March 8th, 10:46 AM
I had my head buried in briefs all morning and totally spaced on the
time, so it wasn't much of a surprise to look up and see Lisa standing
outside my office. I mouthed 'Sorry...' to which she just gave me a look
like, 'Girl, get your ass out here!'

I smiled and so did she, opening the door and complaining, "We're late...
Gonna miss me some Bryant downstairs! Sheesh!"

I shook my head, "Not like you're ever going to ask him out..." I
instantly regretted saying that. I hoped she knew I was kidding.

"I'm working up to it. A marathon, not a sprint, told you that." She
laughed and I felt a little relief. We headed toward the elevators - any
faster and it would look like we were trying to escape a prison or
something.

March 8th, 10:58 AM
Bryant was the UW grad student who worked the morning shift at the
espresso stand in the lobby of our building. His shift ended at 11:00
and we were generally down there by 10:30 so Lisa could do the flirt
thing. He was a couple years younger than she was and played along like
a champ. It was fun to watch and he certainly added fuel to the fire
with his own flirting back. If they ever went out, they would probably
just sit around awkwardly wondering what to say to each other. Lisa was
bold in a crowd of friends, not so much alone.

We rode the elevator down from the 18th floor to the lobby, making faces
at each other, behind the backs of a couple guys in suits talking about
their upcoming weekend fishing trip at Ocean Shores. I had to stare at
my phone to keep from cracking up at her hilariousness behind their
backs...

I had met Lisa on my first day working for Brandt, Wentz, and Larson
during our HR indoctrination - we started on the same day. I'm sure that
day could have totally been awkward for her, having to listen to rules
for everything from conduct, office romances, to bathrooms use based on
gender identification. She might not have felt uncomfortable, but I
certainly was through the three-hour presentation. Lisa figured out what
was going on and in her book - a total non-issue. Surprisingly, or maybe
not surprisingly for left leaning liberal Seattle or a law firm, my
situation was pretty much a non-issue for everyone I have had the
opportunity to work with - so far. I felt lucky to finally have a
friend, even if our interactions were only during work hours. My first
break in over 6 years on my journey to being the real me...

In the lobby we wasted no time getting in line for coffee and as Bryant's
last customers of the day, he said he was going to make our drinks extra
special. Lisa whispered, "I know I'd like something extra and
special..." She had a devilish grin and a twinkle in her eye. I smiled
and turned away, trying to hold in the giggles. She was crazy and I
really did love her for how she treated me - I was just one of the girls.

The rest of their bantering, when Bryant had finished our drinks, was
relatively tame. They tried to drag me into their flirting routine, but
I declined. We all laughed and our mid-morning break ended on a high
note where Bryant was concerned - Lisa had gotten her fix.

We usually would find a standup table near the atrium to drink our coffee
so Lisa could stare at him, but she said she was working on something for
Janet, one of the partners in the firm, needed by lunch. The ride back
up to the 18th floor was all talk about what she would like Bryant to do
to her - not too graphic, but she sure laid it on thick. She complained
about this being the longest dry spell she'd had in a couple years. We
hadn't exchanged much in the way of my life long emotional desert - when
it came to men, friends, my family... I shrugged mentally - maybe one
day. I almost wish there had been others on the empty elevator, since I
had already heard her spiel a few times.

I wondered if she knew how much easier she had it than I did. I was sure
everyone at the firm knew my story by now. On the one hand, I should be
happy no one treated me with kid gloves or like I was fragile. Then
again, I wished they could grasp the extent of my struggles to be where I
was today - it had been crushing a lot of the time. I'd thought many
times of checking out of this world. Nothing about how I got to this
point in my life was easy... Augh! Get off the pity train. Why do I
fucking do this every time! I should be thankful for where I am today,
here, right now - thankful... What did my psychiatrist always say? "You
make your happiness, own it, be thankful..."

March 8th, 1:24 PM
I had just entered another RCW (Revised Code of Washington) search and
was pouring through references when the phone rang. I could see it was
originating from the large conference room near the partners offices, not
one of the common use ones, "This is Elizabeth, how can I help you..." I
felt a little self-conscience about talking on the phone and this being
an internal call I knew I needed to sound professional in case there were
clients in the room. I hoped I wasn't on speakerphone. I found it best
to talk slower, focused on my pronunciations, my tone, and to keep my
sentences short, to the point - I think it annoyed some people. Probably
made them think I was overly calculated. Seriously - everything I had to
do was calculated, a risk...

"Elizabeth, do you have a couple minutes to come meet with us?"

I knew the voice, Janet Larson. I had no idea who the 'us' was or
whether I was on speakerphone. "Yes, Ms. Larson. I'll be right
there..." I hope I wasn't on speakerphone...

"Thank you..." and the line went dead.

I have battled extreme bouts of anxiety the last however many years, due
to the stresses of the path I chose, and have a prescription for Xanax -
which works incredibly fast for me when taken right away or when I know I
will be in stress-filled situations. It's not the only drug I've been
prescribed to control or balance my being, but it was a wonder drug I
could have used from the time I hit my teens. I could feel the tell-tale
tightening in my chest, fear roiling in my stomach... I reached for my
purse, grabbed the prescription bottle, tapping out a single .25 MG white
pill - downing it with a gulp of cold coffee. I stood, straightened my
skirt, and buttoned my sweater up. I caught my reflection in the glass
of my office door and thought I looked the part of legal secretary - now
to execute that role. Don't panic... I had my fully charged voice-
recorder, two pads of legal paper, three pens, two highlighters, and
enough confidence in myself to get through whatever was waiting for me in
the conference room. You can do this...

When I rounded the corner of the hallway leading to the partners
conference room, my heart skipped a beat. Each of the three partners
were in the room, no one else. My first thoughts were maybe I wasn't
past my ninety day probation period and this gathering was for my
termination. I walked at least ten steps without breathing. I could
hear my skirt brushing against the slip under my skirt, the slip whishing
against the pantyhose, my toes were cold... Could others hear these
sounds? I felt tunnel vision coming on and I tried to study the faces of
the partners, noticing they were not looking at me and looked to be in
deep discussion about something. Was one of them arguing to keep me on?
What was I going to do now? Would unemployment cover at least a portion
of my monthly bills? I owed my mom a couple thousand dollars. Where is
the HR representative? I can't be...

My hand reached for the door and I pushed it open, forcing a smile at the
serious faces that had just stopped talking as I walked in. I felt
unsteady and quickly went to the nearest chair, setting down my supplies,
and sliding heavily into the chair none too ladylike. Hands together on
the conference table in front of me, posture perfect - maybe a little too
rigid...

"Thank you for joining us Elizabeth."

"Happy to... assist you Mr. Wentz?" My nerves were getting the better of
me and I could hear it in my voice. When I felt like I was losing it I
would play the 'What do I know' game to focus my mind on something other
than how I was about to totally die, be riding in an ambulance...

Jacob Wentz, managing partner, 56 years old, married to Elisa; she was a
pediatrician at Seattle Lutheran Hospital, two children - Jacob Jr. was 8
years old, Mirabella was 10. Jacob lived on Mercer Island and was very
active in the community. He founded the firm 29 years ago and
interviewed me twice. I have a signed letter from Jacob offering me the
job as a legal secretary / paralegal investigator. Why was I being
called into the conference room? I started on January 3rd - I was past
my 90 probation period, this has to be something else... Right?

"We appreciate you coming down to talk with us. To set your mind at ease
we all think you are doing a wonderful job. Everyone says you are
incredibly organized, resourceful, and can think out of the box. We hope
you are enjoying your stay with us."

Martin Brandt had just spoken. He was a partner, 42 years old, lead
litigant on the firms highest profile cases, single - divorced Michelle
three years ago, one child - age 3, named Charlie. He lives in a high-
rise condominium in the down town core, likes to play hockey, and travels
to lecture at colleges around the country. What did he mean by 'stay
with us'? I was confused. Do I answer? The pause seemed uncomfortably
long... Say something! "Thank you Mr. Brandt. I really enjoy working
here and everyone has been so wonderful to me." I was hoping the weight
of the ten-thousand pound gorilla on my back would be shifting off me,
based on his compliment. OK, happy happy thoughts... Why did this room feel so
warm?

"Elizabeth, did you happen to catch the news today?"

Janet Larson - she was a senior partner, 41 years old, highest grossing
partner, partnered - Angela, no children. Why didn't I know what Angela
did for a living? Janet was dressed impeccably, so much so she could out
style many of the top models out there. It would be a lie to say I
didn't try to incorporate her design and style cues in my own Target and
Wal-Mart based wardrobe. We interviewed twice and whether it was on
purpose or a nod to my struggles - she mentioned being very involved with
the local LBGTQ community. It was a bright-spot from the interview - if
there was such a thing. She was the most thorough interviewer, going
over my Paralegal community college curriculum degree. Also, the only
one to ask what my future plans might be. She asked me to tell her what
the opportunity to work here would mean to me. Janet scared Lisa, but I
never felt anything but a mutual respect...

Did I catch the news today? I had. I knew the weather forecast - rain,
high today 46; low overnight was 39; winds should be light and out of the
east. More to the firms concern though would be the news that the mayor
was trying to limit the Port of Seattle's union bargaining power in
future negotiations with the city. Since we represented the union - this
is likely what we are going to be talking about, maybe I was going to
assist Martin somehow - a twinge of adrenaline hit. "I saw the report
about the mayor's new union bargaining stipulations and how she wanted to
get it before the City Council..." I stopped speaking when Martin looked
over to Jacob, who nodded ever so slightly.

"Yes," Martin began, "we've got that issue handled. What we were
wondering is whether you had heard about anything outside of Seattle,
specifically news from Phoenix and a connection to the firm?"

Phoenix? What does a case in Phoenix have to do with Brandt, Wentz, and
Larson? We didn't practice in Arizona. I guess we could if someone had
passed the Uniform Bar Exam. I think if any of our lawyers were
practicing on the Federal level, there was an opportunity to try a case
in another state. "No, I did not hear anything on the news about Brandt,
Wentz, and Larson in regards to Phoenix..." I'm sure the confusion on my
face was evident.

Jacob looked uncomfortable, picked up his pen and pointed to something on
the pad in front of him, Janet nodded. He looked at Martin, who also
nodded. I just watched the three of them, wondering what was going on.
Was I going to be fired? No something else is hap...

"My younger sister," Jacob began, "lives in Phoenix. She's happily
married, a stay at home mom, three great kids. Two years ago, after a
few rough years, her son came out as not wanting to identify as a male.
He was fifteen and it, it was a rough transitioning for everyone." his
voice was breaking.

I could feel the air being sucked from the room listening to Jacob speak
- from my lungs also... Was that possible? My feet were freezing, my
fingers were clenched tighter than I realized - knuckles white... I felt
an instant aching. I wasn't sure I could speak and managed a feeble nod
of my head.

Janet reached over to Jacob's hand, "Elizabeth, we won't pretend to know
how something like this effects a child brave enough to make this
decision or the family that tries to make its way through the new family
dynamic. In an effort to get past some of the awkwardness, we need to
remind you that as part of your employment agreement you signed a non-
disclosure agreement. You understand your obligation in regards to the
agreement, as it concerns this firm, correct?"

There was a buzzing in my ears, I looked from Janet to Jacob, "I
understand my obligations to Brandt, Wentz, and Larson under the
confidentiality agreement." I don't think I sounded very confident, but
it was the best I could do. I could feel the knot in my stomach
tightening. When was that Xanax going to kick in?

"Thank you. Last week Amber did not come home after school. She was
reported missing after her third period class at Collins high school.
Stephanie, Jacobs sister, was notified within an hour to see if Amber had
an appointment or permission to be absent - she did not. The police were
brought in immediately. That evening her computer was scanned and they
found a number of leads. Her phone was traced and eventually recovered.
The police have followed a couple of leads, but have little more than
unanswered questions. That was six days ago." Janet paused to see if I
had any questions.

I was so focused on there being a missing trans teenager I missed
everything Janet had said. Were the police involved yet? Did they try
to track her phone? Wait, she said something about a phone... Six days?
Oh my God...

"Stephanie called Jacob this past weekend asking for his help. He's set
a few things in motion - including hiring a computer forensics specialist
who has uncovered a few social network accounts the police had missed.
He thinks she also has a few other accounts, subscription type accounts,
and at least two crowd funding accounts. On a memory card from her
camera there were videos she made - these were probably live streamed.
There's more, but..."

Jacob looked uncomfortable and I couldn't help but interrupt Janet, "I'm
so sorry Mr. Wentz, if there's anything I can do, I... I would be..."

Janet nodded as if approving of my interruption, "Thank You Elizabeth.
The reason for this meeting was to see if you would be willing to join
the team Jacob has put together in Phoenix. We realize this is a highly
unusual request and appreciate that you might be willing to assist. We'd
like you to think about committing, take the rest of the day and let us
know tomorrow. Your decision will not affect your current position
should you decline."

What was there to think about? I was about to answer, when Jacob and
Martin slid their chairs back. Martin made his way to the door, but
Jacob stood and looked over something he'd had written. "I'll cover that
with Elizabeth, go ahead, you've got a plane to catch."

"Thank You Janet and Thank You Elizabeth for considering helping us find
Amber..."

I nodded and watched Jacob leave the conference room, catching up with
Martin who was obviously lingering in the hallway. I turned back to
Janet, "I can't imagine what his family is going through..."

"I think you might have more insight than most Elizabeth, at least on
some aspects of this situation. I would caution you to really think this
over; you might be pulling scabs off old wounds, and possibly creating a
few more. Amber may have been into some things you're going to find
disturbing. That's what Jacob was going to mention before leaving. His
forensics guy reports finding links to a number of porn sites where there
is content that includes her. The police informed Jacob it's possible
this will turn into a case for the National Center for Missing &
Exploited Children as a possible sex trafficking abduction. Jacob knows
the local director for the FBI in Phoenix, so there could be some assistance
given to us from them. I really want you to think this over though, as you can
imagine emotions are running high."

I exhaled slowly, "Thank You Ms. Larson, I... I'm struggling with a
number of emotions right now concerning Amber." My voice cracked, tears
were welling in my eyes, and I dropped my head as a tear began to slowly
course down my cheek. I felt her hand on my shoulder as I tried to
stifle a slow sob. How did she get on this side of the conference room
table so quickly? Was there a fan buzzing in the room?

"It's alright Elizabeth... Just relax. Let go... I'll tell Jacob
you're not up for this assignment."

"nah..." and I tried to look up at Janet, "No, I want to help... I'll,
go..." More tears fell...

Janet handed me a tissue and I feebly tried to dab at the tears. "Are
you sure?" she asked.

"Yes..." There was no way I sounded confident, but something about this
beckoned me to get involved. I couldn't explain it if I tried, but I
would do my best to help.

"All right then, I'll have Kendal make the necessary reservations. She
will call you as soon as she has your itinerary. I will have her issue
you a company credit card, but that will probably have to be delivered to
your hotel. She'll have a car pick you up tomorrow morning to get you to the
airport and from the airport in Phoenix to the hotel. I'll authorize a
$500 per diem for expenses and $1,000 dollar stipend - which will be
later classified as a bonus, so don't worry about accounting for that."
She was writing all this down as fast as she was speaking.

There was a long pause - had she asked me something? "I think it best
that you take the rest of the day - go home, pack, relax... I think
Jacob wanted you for the rest of this week, through Friday next. If it
goes longer, we can reevaluate. We'll clear your work, reassign as
necessary - any questions for me?"

I slowly shook my head.

"OK then..." She pulled a business card from her pocket and wrote on it,
"this card has my direct contact numbers. I can be reached at each of
these numbers and if unavailable for some reason I'll get back to you
within five minutes. Now, listen to me closely..." She paused to make
sure we were making eye contact, "You will call me daily and let me know
what is going on with the investigation, with Jacob, with everything.
Are we clear?"

Janet's tone wasn't bitchy, but it left no doubt who I was expected to
answer to. "I understand Ms. Larson..."

"Write your cell phone number here for me, Please...", she slid her
tablet in front of me.

I did as requested. She looked at the number, nodded, thanked me for
agreeing to help, and exited when it was obvious I had nothing to add or
questions. I felt very alone in the silence of the empty conference
room. I wasn't cold anymore, but was sure my makeup was shot. I
gathered my supplies and made my way back to my office; packed my
backpack, grabbed my coat and purse, and headed to catch an early bus
home.

March 8th, 6:11 PM
It took only two hours to make it to my apartment in Kent. The bus
routes mid-day were much quicker than during the rush-hour commute. I
was home by 4:45 PM rather than the usual 7:00 PM mark. My daily commute
averaged three hours and two bus changes, plus a short walk on both ends.
If I could afford a car, insurance, and the monthly parking fee I would
probably be able to cut my commute time in half. Seattle traffic sucked!

Kendal called while I was still on the bus to give me the details of the
trip. I was flying first class on Alaska Airlines direct to Phoenix,
leaving at 6:44 AM - a car would be at my apartment at 4:30 AM to take me
to the airport. This would be the second time I had flown in my life,
first time in first class. I hadn't flown since I was 10 years old when
my family went to Disneyland. I remember my brother Alex was consumed
with the Pirates of the Caribbean, Matterhorn, and pretty much everything
in the California Adventure side of the park. I remember I just wanted
to see the princesses, to be one of them... I haven't talked to him in
almost a year. Good news - I could check-in online any time for the flight Kendal
told me. I didn't want to think about my family right now. Give me more details
so I won't think about the past...

Kendall said I would be staying at the Canyon Suites in Scottsdale, which
was only a few miles from Jacob's sister home. They were prepared for me
to check-in early and there would be a driver at the airport waiting for
me. "Look for the placard with your name on it", she said. She said
payroll had processed the stipend and the money would be available for
withdraw tomorrow morning. She mentioned that American Express would be
delivering my corporate card to the hotel by noon tomorrow. I needed to
keep all receipts and fill an expense report when I got back. Lastly,
she said all this would be detailed in an email - I stopped trying to
memorize the details and stared out the window at the gray and rain. I
wonder what the weather in Phoenix was like, what my brother was doing...

March 8th, 6:39 PM
I had been thinking about the trip while staring at a pathetic selection
of clothes hanging in my closet and felt panicked that I wouldn't have
enough of the right types of clothes to last the nine days I was
scheduled to be in Phoenix. I picked out the dirty clothes from the
hamper I'd worn Monday and Tuesday. If I got them in the washers
downstairs now - I calculated they would be done by 9:00 PM at the
latest. I rushed to get that moving. What was I going to do if I ran
out of clothes to wear? If I had more time I could try to get some new
outfits from the Goodwill store. Most of my better pieces were designer
wear that had been previously enjoyed. Sure, some were dated, but it was
my style - at least that's what I told myself. For what I could afford
shopping there was a Godsend. Augh! Wouldn't matter, I only have about
$53 dollars in the bank and $6 in my wallet - pointless. Do what you can
with what you have... Get the clothes in the washer! Why was I being
such a space cadet?!!

March 8th, 9:39 PM
I zipped the tattered suitcase shut and fired up my Android table to do
the online check-in. I declared a single bag - two were included as a
first class flyer - and had the boarding pass sent to my phone. How did
I rate flying first class? I returned to my closet and tried to figure
out if there was anything else I could piece together for another outfit
and just gave up. I needed to get to bed before I started doubting my
decision. I had too many unanswered questions and a few unchecked
emotions that were sure to fuck me up before this was over. I set my
alarm and a second on my phone. I remember laying in the dark, stillness
slipping around me, drowning me... I'm awake, right? Amber...

::: --- :::

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Bronwen Welsh in proofreading
and giving me insightful advice. She is an accomplished author in her own right
and I appreciate her time more than I can say...



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