Chapter 26

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Two Years Ago – Part 1

Vince Henson played it straight his entire life. He never cheated on his taxes, never demanded more than what he was owed, and never even stole the pens supplied at work for his own personal use. He was a man of order who craved living in a world of order.

Very few people lived the way he did, and it grated on him how people felt entitled to take advantage of others. In the university cafeteria, his colleagues would take extra food, "for later," they would say without a second thought as to how their actions affected the food service provider's bottom line.

The university cafeteria was where Natalya had made such an impression on him. She had been hired as an associate professor in his department, and he had noticed her good looks and how intelligent she was. They often sat together at the same lunch table but never discussed their personal lives in depth.

The incident that made him want to pursue her happened when she plopped down next to him at the table. Having paid for her lunch, she laid her change on her tray, not wanting to fumble around in her purse to put away the change. When she finished eating, Natalya noticed the cashier had shortchanged herself by giving her an extra dime. Instead of just keeping the dime, she returned it to the cashier.

Vince knew he would've done the same, but who else would other than he and Natalya?

Sitting at his desk in the construction trailer, Vince picked up the framed photo he always carried with him from job site to job site. Joey sitting on a swing with Natalya pushing. The two of them didn't realize he had snapped their picture. Candid shots always turned out best, people acting natural, not self-conscious. Natalya wore a Mona Lisa smile while pushing their son, the boy's hair streaming behind him from the force of the push.

"I'm a lucky man," he mumbled. Missing from the photo was his step-daughter, Anya. He cared for her too, despite her sometimes being a pain-in-the-ass.

Classes had ended for the summer. This was the fourth season he had moonlighted for LODO as a consultant. The gig paid well, almost as good as his salary as an economics professor. He enjoyed the challenge of working in the real world for a real company as opposed to the confines of academia where everything was theoretical and paper-based. There was something honest about real work.

Or so he thought.

His current assignment brought him to a fracking site in Ohio. He was pulling double duty, reviewing previous projections for this project and also starting the review of a new corporate project in the Bakken reserve of North Dakota.

Reviewing the current project was where he discovered the problem and quite by accident. He studied the spreadsheet on the computer screen once again. He must've gone over the figures a dozen times, each time drawing the same conclusion, and each time the words of Pablo Escobar, the infamous Columbian narcoterrorist, rattled around in his mind: Everyone has a price.

Vince had never considered compromising his values, but damn it, just about everyone else had. Over the years, the relationship between him and Carlos Santos had grown from being consultant and client to one of friendship. They respected each other. How was he supposed to play what he had discovered?

He and Natalya were well off. They had a nice home in a well-to-do neighborhood. They didn't want for anything. Except their little boy, Joey, would have special needs his entire life, special daycare so he and Natalya could continue working, and expensive healthcare. When he grew into an adult, no doubt the boy would end up in a group home, also at great cost. He also considered how after he and Natalya were gone, Joey would need a trustee to take care of his finances. It seemed wise to plan now for a secondary income stream to cover Joey's needs.

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