By Penelope Downs, AKA Doc
Disclaimer: The characters are mine and I own the copyright. Use without my permission is prohibited. Any resemblance to a person, dead or alive, is unintentional. If you under 18 years of age, are offended by same sex romances, or it's illegal to read about it where you live, stop now and read no further.
She looked in the mirror once last time before picking up her suit jacket and heading out the bedroom to descend down the stairs. She was running late and realized that she would barely be able to make it to her office before the scheduled meeting with the senior partner in the firm. Bumper-to-bumper gridlock would prevent her from making up time. "So much for having a cup of coffee and moment to organize my day when I get to my desk," she mused out loud as she reached down and patted each of her two dogs. "Bye boys, be good when Katie comes to play with you this afternoon," she said to the chocolate colored standard poodles who were dutifully seeing her off, like they did each morning.
She passed through the kitchen and utility room on the way to the garage, stopping in the kitchen long enough to give both dogs a biscuit. Once in the garage, she hit the switch that opened the garage door and walked toward the car, using her keyless remote to open the door. Leaning down, she moved the drivers seat of the silver Volvo coup forward to place her briefcase, purse and suit jacket in the back seat. She then moved the drivers seat back to its original position. Sliding in, she started the car and put it into reverse. Once she had cleared the garage, she used the remote that was clipped to the visor to close it and then pulled out of her driveway.
The drive from her Potomac townhouse toward Canal Road and the District of Columbia was scenic. However, that morning, Catherine Ellis didnt focus on her surroundings. All she could think about was the mysterious message that Robert MacEwen, the senior partner in her law firm, MacEwen, Clopper and Thornton, one of most prestigious in the nations capital, had left on her voice mail. She hadnt checked her messages until after her early morning run with the dogs along the C&O tow path. When she did retrieve them, it surprised her to hear him. His message was cryptiche needed to meet with her at 8:30 to discuss a matter that he wanted her to handle personally. What surprised her even more was that the message had been left at 4:30 that morning.
`Damn, she thought to herself as traffic slowed to a halt because detour signs routing traffic away from Canal Road, which should have been taken down for rush hour, were still in place, forcing everyone to maneuver already congested side streets. She cursed silently to herself for not having checked her messages earlier, which would have allowed her to get a head start by skipping her run. She slowly creeped toward her destination with the hundreds of other frustrated commuters sharing the experience of DCs rush hour.
She had finally made her way down M Street, reaching her Georgetown office building just 10 minutes before her scheduled meeting. As she pulled up to the entrance of the buildings underground parking garage, a kindly, silver-haired man appearing to be in his fifties stepped up and greeted her. "Morning Ms. Ellis, bet you had an awful time getting here, I heard about the construction workers faux pas. Figures that theyd do that again, its the second time this month that theyve failed to re-open the road for rush hour." She liked this man and normally would have spent a couple of minutes chatting with him, but she didnt have time for that this morning. She replied politely, but curtly, while gathering her things from the back seat of the car: "Morning Stan, yes the drive was a nightmare, especially since I have a meeting with Mr. MacEwen in a few minutes." She didnt bother to say anything else and just headed for the entrance of the building. Once inside, she moved quickly to the bank of elevators, catching one before anyone else entered, making a non-stop trip up to the 9th floor suite housing the law firm.
Upon entering the suite of offices, she headed strait for the large, corner one that belonged to the senior partner, not bothering to stop by her own office to drop off her purse and briefcase. She hadnt had a lot of personal contact with Robert MacEwen, but knew he was a stickler for punctuality. `Must stem from the fact that during his early career DC was still a quiet, backwater, southern city where you could get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time, she thought to herself. `You cant do that these days, its hard to even predict if youll reach your destination, given bridge jumpers, accidents, and god-knows-what-else that goes on in the streets of this city. When she reached the door to his office, she tapped lightly, even though it was partially opened. She heard a firm, but pleasant voice tell her to enter.
"Hello, Catherine, Im glad you made it on time. I know I gave you short notice in setting up this meeting, but I have a very serious matter that I believe only you can handle. Please close the door so we can have complete privacy." Robert MacEwen, a distinguished looking man in his 70s, who still prided himself on dressing dapperly, stood up from his desk and motioned toward the round conference table on the other side of his oak paneled office. Catherine moved toward the table and took a seat in the chair that he had graciously pulled out for her. `There are still true gentlemen, she commented silently. He took a seat next to her, offering to pour coffee from a silver plated carafe that had been deposited on the table by his secretary. She gladly accepted his offer, wondering what he had in store for her. Her mind raced over the possibilities. Given the fact that she was the firms senior tax law specialist, and that Robert MacEwen was the godfather to the Tad Duvall, founder and CEO of one of Silicon Valleys largest software companies, she thought it might have something to do with a rumors of a pending merger. She was totally startled by the senior partners frank comments.
"Catherine, I need your help, not as the firms senior tax specialist, but because you are intimately familiar with the Computer Abuse and Fraud Act since you worked in Senator Jarrs office when Congress passed it. The granddaughter of my oldest and best friend was taken in to custody by the FBI last night and her computer was confiscated. There is a strong possibility that she will be charged with violations of that act."
Catherine, who had been sipping her coffee, almost choked. She shakily put down the cup and cleared her throat. "Mr. MacEwen, I'm not a criminal lawyer and I believe this young woman would be better represented by Doug Owens. He's the firm's best criminal defense lawyer. He's ranked as on of the top ten defense lawyers in the nation. That poor girl wouldn't stand much of a chance with me representing her."
With a twinkle in his eyes, Robert MacEwen smiled and responded. "I disagree. Unlike Owens, you may actually be able to get the case dismissed before trial. Ill make sure you have adequate support. Ive already ordered Owens to assign some of his best people to assist you. Youll have the best litigation support team he can provide--two senior paralegals, one investigator, two junior associates, two secretaries and a LAN team member. Theyll report to you this morning."
Catherine stared at him, dumbfounded. It appeared that he wasnt willing to take no for an answer. She took a deep breath, prepared to make what she hoped would be the argument that would persuade him to change his mind and choose Doug Owens to represent this girl. "Mr. MacEwen, although I believe the most compelling argument against choosing me to represent this young woman is that I wouldnt be able to provide the best defense, I also believe the firm would suffer. Im in the middle of the Zepple restructuring and just beginning the work on the incorporation and stock offering of the two new Maryland biotech research firms. I dont want to sound cocky, but I dont believe there is anyone else in the firm who could step in and take over these matters without doing a disservice to our clients. Then there are my other clients who turn to me regularly for advice and counsel."
Her billable hours for the work on the three accounts she had mentioned would bring the firm a high six-digit number. Catherine routinely generated millions of dollars of billable hours for the firms coffers each year. She had been brought in as a full partner because she was believed to be a rainmaker. She had quickly proved that to be true and was so successful that she routinely received sweetheart offers each year. She had always turned them down, but was beginning to wonder if she should make a call to one of the firms that had courted her recently if MacEwen didnt change his mind.
Robert MacEwen listened politely as she spoke. When she was finished, he looked her in the eyes and said. "Im aware that you are one of the firms big money makers and a highly-respected specialist in your field of expertise. However, I believe we can cover your workload and adequately represent your clients. You may not be aware of the fact that I too have an LLM. Although I havent narrowly focused on tax work for many years, Ive kept abreast of all the amendments to the tax code. I plan to take over your workload while you handle this matter." Without giving her a chance to say anything else, he stood and added, "Now, let's go meet your new client."
They were silent as they rode down the private elevator to the subterranean parking garage. When the doors opened, they only had to step two feet to the waiting limousine. A uniformed driver was standing, holding the door open for them. Catherine entered the vehicle first, still deeply engrossed in thought. Her mental conversation was running full-speed. This isnt going to be fun. If theyre thinking of bringing charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1030, someones hacking a federal or bank computer system. Either way its bad. I know a little about computers and programming, but Im an amateur. Why cant he see that Im not the right person for this case? Catherine was roused from her musings when Robert MacEwen cleared his throat and began speaking.
"I might as well make constructive use of our drive time by filling you in on the facts that I know. Carolyn, the young woman in question, was picked up by the FBI at 7:30 last night. As I mentioned earlier, they also seized her personal computer. When she was allowed to make her phone call, she contacted me. I advised her not to say anything until I arrived, which was at approximately 9 p.m. Apparently, the FBI had been monitoring the Commonwealth Banks computers after the systems administrator observed hostile penetration attempts." (Catherine cringed when she heard the name of the bank. She had already noticed that the limousine had turned north on M Street and was heading toward Key Bridge and Virginia. The name of the bank that was hacked confirmed the awful suspicion she had that this was going to be handled in the Eastern District of Virginia, lovingly known as the "rocket docket" because of the speed with which cases were tried. Catherine focused back on MacEwens words.) "The Bureau laid back and waited for further attacks. That happened last week. In fact, the attempt to penetrate the system was successful and the hackers inserted a program. I dont think the Bureau has finished analyzing that to determine what its supposed to do. They traced the attack to Carolyns IP address. Apparently, she has one of the few Internet Service Providers who still uses static IP addresses."
He paused long enough to look at Catherine to observe her reactions. He then continued. "Carolyn is adamant that she was not involved in the attack and knows nothing about it. However, it doesnt look good because she has exclusive use of the computer and doesnt have any roommates who might have been in a position to know her password. The only person Carolyn can think of who has used her system, with her permission, is a young man from Spain whom she has been dating recently, named Edwardo Rivera."
At this point, Catherine spoke up. "Do you believe Carolyn? Have you met this Edwardo of hers?" MacEwen responded, "Yes I believe Carolyn. I know she isnt lying to me. The answer to your second question is no. Ive never met Edwardo. Im afraid it doesnt look good. Thats why I want you to handle this case." Catherine sighed, causing MacEwen to raise his hands defensively. "Please, lets not repeat the conversation we had in my office. I know that you disagree with me, but I know Im right and Im pulling rank on you."
The limousine made good time once it had crossed Key Bridge and merged on to the George Washington Parkway. It didnt take long to reach the federal courthouse on King Street in Alexandria, a nondescript brick building tucked into the heart of Old Towne. The FBI had moved Carolyn to the courthouse to meet with the prosecutor, once her attorneys had arrived. MacEwen quickly led Catherine in to the building after they emerged from the car. Once inside he led her through a maze of hallways until he reached a small room guarded by a burley man, whom Catherine presumed was an FBI agent. MacEwen nodded at the man and told him that they were Carolyn Bowers attorneys. The man pulled out a two-way radio and spoke to a faceless colleague on the other side of the door who gave the okay for the two lawyers to enter. The man then pulled the door open to allow them ingress.
The room was very small and brightly lit by florescent lamps. The walls were an eggshell color and the floors sported well-worn, tan colored tile. The furniture was nondescript, standard government-issued metal tables and folding chairs. There were at least four men sitting in the room and one very frightened young woman who appeared to be in her early twenties. The girl instinctively stood and walked toward Robert MacEwen with her arms outstretched, clearly in search of a hug and reassurance from the only familiar face in the room. She looked terrified, having that wide-eyed stare of a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. Catherine noted that she resembled many of her peers. She was tall, painfully thin and had long dark hair and very dark brown, almost black, eyes.
When MacEwen introduced Catherine, the girl timidly extended her hand to shake Catherines. Her grip and handshake were firm, which surprised Catherine. The girl looked so frail that Catherine expected her grip would be weak. The girl smiled, looked Catherine in the eyes and said, "Nice to meet you, even in these circumstances. As Uncle Bobs probably mentioned, my name is Carolyn. I understand youre one of the best attorneys in his law firm and that youll be able to prove Im not involved in this." Catherine drew a breath and replied. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. Im not certain that Im the best lawyer in the firm, but I will work to vigorously defend you, with your help, of course." The girl smiled at Catherine and then at MacEwen. She was noticeably more relaxed than when they first walked into the room. The three of them took chairs opposite the prosecutor.
MacEwen, Catherine and their young client emerged from the courthouse after spending three hours with the prosecutor and two of the FBI agents assigned to the case. Although the prosecutor advised them that it was very probable that Carolyn would be charged within the next 72 hours, she was allowed to leave in their custody. Robert MacEwen had accepted responsibility for her and planned to have her stay with him and his wife in their large, empty house in Northwest, D.C. MacEwen engaged the two women in amiable discussion of headline events and social gossip, intentionally avoiding any discussion of the case during the ride back to Georgetown, where they would deposit Catherine before heading on to his home. Carolyn had calmed down upon their arrival at the courthouse, but he still sensed that she was on edge and wanted to avoid causing even more stress by discussing the case on the ride back. There would be plenty of time for that, starting tomorrow. For now, he wanted her to try to calm down. Catherine found MacEwens demeanor around the young girl interesting. It was clearly different that that he displayed at the firm.
The limousine made good time traveling to the Key Bridge. Typical for the city, the pace crawled to a halt when they began crossing the bridge. By the time they reached the law firms building, MacEwen had been forced to discuss sports. As the car pulled up to the building Catherine grabbed her brief case and purse. Stepping out of the car she leaned down and told Carolyn that she would meet with her in the morning and hoped that she got a good nights rest. Catherine then proceeded into the building to meet her litigation team, which had been told to assemble after MacEwens driver had alerted his secretary that the limousine was about the arrive.
Once she had received word that Catherine was about to arrive, Marie Cunningham, Robert MacEwens secretary of 25 years, contacted Neil Derwood, the senior investigator at the firm. Although he wasnt an attorney, she felt that he would be the de facto leader of the litigation support team. Besides the fact that he would be the oldest member of the team, having taken this job out of sheer boredom after retiring from the FBI, he had an easy going disposition and natural charm that enabled him to get people with diverse skills to work well together. Neil assured Marie that he would have the team assembled and waiting at Catherines office when she arrived.
Neil, a tall but portly man in his mid-fifties, headed out of his closet-sized office and down the narrow hall toward the domain of the paralegals to gather Sue Moore and Ellie Johnston, the two paralegals assigned to assist Catherine. He knew that they would both be upset that Marie had called him, rather than one of them. Both had worked at the firm long enough to have shepherded many junior attorneys through the trials and tribulations of assosciateship. Some of those attorneys were now full partners. He knew that the two women would not be willing to take directions from him. He thought about what strategy he would take to minimize their hostility. He came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was to play up the idea that he was the de facto flunky and general errand boy. He would convince the women that Marie had tasked him to gather people because they were both too busy with important matters to perform such menial chores. With that decision made, he increased the length of his step.
Neils strategy had worked and he had collected both paralegals without much of a fuss. The three then headed toward the "stables" that housed the junior associates to pick up the two attorneys assigned to the team. The associates in the firm were placed in cramped offices near the law library. You could tell from the quarters that they were provided that they were the "slave labor" for the firm. Contrary to public imagination, junior attorneys did not lead glamorous lives. They basically ate, slept and lived for billable hours with the hope that they would be offered a partnership at the end of their five-year observation period. If they didnt make the cut, they would be forced to move to another firm and begin the long, demeaning process over again. Neil shook his head and wondered why anyone would put themselves in this meat market as he looked at the bleary-eyed, often unhappy faces of the men and women who were not allowed to have lives outside these confines. Most worked 6 ½ days a week, not much time left for a personal life. He was glad that none of his children had chosen to follow this profession.
The troupe passed three offices before they reached that of the first associate they needed to grab. Thomas Newton was a tall, well built, young man of 26 who had wavy brown hair, blue eyes and dimples. Ever the perennial juvenile, he smiled when he looked up from his law books and saw Neil in his doorway, and in a loud voice that was almost a yell said, "Hey partner, I understand Im going to one of the people riding shotgun with you on this new case. You know, us guys need to stick together. I hear the Ice Queens a real bitch to work with." Neil cringed when he heard Thomas use the nickname that Catherine had been given by the males in the firm. The last thing he wanted to do was start off on the wrong foot. He also had heard the indignant snorts from Sue and Ellie, who were standing behind him. They clearly didnt approve of Thomas choice of words. Neil crossed the threshold and went to Thomas desk. Leaning down, he said in a low voice, "If you want to stay on this team, dont start off by using an offensive nickname for the boss. I would suggest that you not call her that again. Now lets go, were to meet with Ms. Ellis in less than 10 minutes."
With Thomas in tow, the ever-expanding group continued on toward the office of the other associate assigned to the team. Rounding a jog in the hallway that led to the office closest to the library, the quartet ran into Torrey Coates, the person they were looking for, as she was stepping out of her office. Torrey, a petite blonde with bright, light-blue eyes who stood 5 4" in stocking feet, looked fragile in her street clothes, but Neil knew from having seen her running that she was muscular and well-toned. He also knew she had the stamina to withstand the stress of working on difficult cases. She had worked at the firm for two years and was considered by everyone to be prime material for partnership. It didnt hurt, either, that she reminded him of his oldest granddaughter. Although Torrey was 27, she looked to be much younger and was persistently carded the few times she went to clubs in Georgetown. She smiled sweetly when she saw Neil and said, "I bet I know why youre here. Were being summoned to meet with Ms. Ellis, right?" Before Neil could say anything, Thomas replied. "You got it, lets go. Im anxious to see if the new boss will live up to her reputation." Neil frowned at Thomas and wondered if the young man had a death wish. He certainly wouldnt be doing his career any good if he offended Catherine Ellis since she was handling this case at the request of the senior partner in the firm. Neil looked at Torrey and said, "Yes, youre correct. Ms. Ellis is about to arrive and weve been asked to go to her office. Please join us, Torrey." The young woman replied. "I will, just let me put this file back on my desk." She disappeared in her office briefly and then re-emerged carrying a legal pad and pen. "Okay, lets go." She said.
The quintet now made their way through the library, their path taking them past the three remaining team members who needed to be collectedthe two secretaries and the LAN administrator. Once those three had joined the group, the full team continued their journey to Catherines office. They arrived just before Catherine stepped off the elevator.
Catherines secretary, Kelly Ralston, a middle-aged, mother of two who was divorced and, therefore, highly motivated to keep her well-paying job working for Catherine, smiled at Neil. "Good timing." She then turned as Catherine approached and said to her, "Your litigation support team is here. Do you want me to send for coffee or cokes before we start the meeting?" Catherine looked at the small assembly of people and stated, "Has everyone eaten, if not, well make this a working lunch. Kelly can have the deli downstairs deliver something." The eight acknowledged that they hadnt eaten so Kelly efficiently made note of their orders as each inspected her copy of the delis take-out menu. She kept such items at hand because her boss rarely ate out, except for business lunches. Once Kelly had placed the orders, Catherine had quietly asked that everyone take a seat at the conference table in her office.
Catherine looked at the various people assembled around the oval table. She had never worked with any of them in the past, although she had heard of Neil and Torreys reputations. She was relieved that they had both been assigned to work with her and hoped that the others would prove to be as hardworking. She was surprised to find herself staring at the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen when Torrey turned toward her. For a few awkward moments, she wasnt sure what to do, as she gazed into Torreys eyes. `This young woman is quite pretty. Catherine thought to herself. She then collected her wits and began a discussion of the case with her team.
It didnt take long for Catherine to recount the few facts, as she knew them. She was clearly concerned that, depending on what the Bureau found in the program that had been planted at the Commonwealth Bank, more serious federal charges might be included in the indictment that would be filed against Carolyn Bowers. She turned to Neil. "Would you be able to discreetly make inquiries of your contacts at the FBI to find out just how big this is. I got the distinct impression from the Jack Matthers, the AUSA, who will be prosecuting, that the Bureau has just barely touched the tip of the iceberg. I have a feeling that the feds believe that the hacking at Commonwealth is part of a much bigger plot. In fact, I suspect that it may take some time for them to wrap up their investigation and I dont think Carolyn will be charged as quickly as Jack indicated. It would be helpful, Neil, if you could find out if Im right." Neil sighed, unconsciously rubbing the back of his balding head as he pondered his response. "Well, Ms. Ellis, I can make some inquiries, but if this is as big as you think it may be, I fairly certain no one will give me any information, knowing where I work." Catherine nodded, replying. "I appreciate the fact that everyone will probably be circumspect with you, but you never know, they may give out a little bit of information that will confirm my suspicions. Its worth a try." Turning toward the two paralegals, she ran down a check list of research material that she wanted them to compile, including the legislative histories of the wire fraud statute, the Electronic Communications Act and, last but not least, the Computer Abuse and Fraud Act, which she knew had been amended at least once since it was first enacted. She then directed her attention to the two associate attorneys. "I would like a synopsis of recent federal case law concerning computer penetrations prepared by morning. I also would like your paper to discuss the options the prosecutor has with respect to charges that might be brought in Carolyns indictment. Sorry for the short deadline, but if Im wrong about the scope of the ongoing investigation, Jack might actually file an indictment within 3 days." Torrey nodded as she made notes. Thomas simply stared silently, curing himself for getting this assignment since his hopes of actually getting out early enough to play softball with friends were now out the window. Satisfied that everyone knew what they were to do, Catherine ended the meeting, asking everyone to reconvene at 9 the next morning.
continue to chapter 4
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