Abram Bentley stared out the window as he pondered his next move. From the midtown apartment at 432 Park Avenue, he surveyed a commanding view. His was the second tallest building in Manhattan and the tallest residential building in the United States. He watched a helicopter fly by at eye level. He looked across the street – just a gap of space between two buildings at his height, and then down a few dozen floors, where a window cleaning crew methodologically moved from frame to frame. Further down still was a mosaic of yellow cabs, black sedans, trucks, pedestrians and pets. His favorite days were when it rained; the water running down his window often soothed high-intensity mental activity. And in the brief moments when the skies cleared on the kind of rainy days that produced rainbows, he could see an artistic presentation of color and motion as a sea of multicolored umbrellas floated up and down Park Avenue hundreds of feet below.
He could have used a rainy day today. His mind was racing. He knew it would be hours before he could find enough peace to sleep, and even then only after two, maybe three servings of Lagavulin single malt Scotch whisky. It was the one self-indulged comfort he allowed himself on a regular basis. But the Scotch would wait. He had to think through a long-term strategic plan to destroy the man who had just awoken a sleeping beast that he had only recently managed to tame.
On the screen, perched atop his stand-up desk, sat an article that Bentley had been reading and thinking about for the past several hours.
The author, a James F. Kimberly, was a nobody. Of that he was certain. Less clear was the man behind this enterprising reporter. Bentley knew the journalist was just a pawn, easily destroyed. The man behind the pawn, the man who had opened a new chess match with an aggressive move, was his primary concern.
The question was not why, but how. Not two months ago, he had finally put to bed a series of allegations and criminal charges of insider trading that threatened to tear down the empire that had taken him a lifetime to build. Between legal fees, additional cyber security and staff, Bentley had spent well over five million dollars protecting his assets, physical, digital, and intellectual.
All in all, he had dodged a bullet, emerging bloody and bruised from a 15-round match with the New York District Attorney’s office – a beehive of activity that routinely put men and women behind bars for years to life for having committed white collar crimes much less severe than what he had done.
Victorious in his legal battle, Bentley had proven that corruption was alive and well in New York City. With enough money and influence, he was truly untouchable. Until now. Returning his focus from the window back to the screen in front of him, the first move in his strategy was clear. To draw out his true adversary, he would begin by destroying James Kimberly.
His fingers rested lightly on the keyboard as Bentley considered a counter move. Whoever was behind this Kimberly must be coaxed out. He was obviously a professional and was likely not motivated by money. Anyone who had made such a strong move to smear his name could have been behind previous attempts. Or, it could be a new player. Either way, this person, or these people were capable, motivated, and smart. Their clever use of a proxy was a smart opening move — like a thoughtful, organized chess strategy their first move was offensive and defensive in the same stroke.
Months ago, he had installed what his young assistant had referred to as an ergonomic work station. Depending on his mood, he would either stand or sit. His desk was a perfect picture of control. Right now, the only item on a dark-stained teak table top was this laptop. No cables, no papers, nothing. When he was not using his laptop, it rested inside a biometric safe, along with other important documents. His home office was a forced expression of outer calm, devoid of distractions or clutter. Bentley had long ago realized that the interior of his mind was a study of functional chaos. Somehow his minimalist, clean surroundings helped balance the storm inside his head.
Today he was standing, and grateful for it. As his mental wheels turned, he needed to pace, to seamlessly move from the window to his chest high workstation and back. Though the teak wood of his desk didn’t perfectly match his chestnut and mahogany lined walls and book shelves in his home office, he did have to admit his assistant had a point. The ergonomic desk had improved his work station considerably, though he would never admit it to her. Damn millineals, he mused. I hope I’m dead before they take over.
Focusing on the task before him, Bentley closed and stored his laptop as he decided the best course. He needed to keep this game offline. He knew he was dealing with a sophisticated adversary, and previous experience had taught him well. Though he was often told and reassured again and again that his network was safe, the simple truth was that his digital world, his phone, his laptop, every machine, any machine was not 100% secure. It was like what had said about sex in the 50s. Abstinence was the only guarantee against teenage pregnancy. Remaining offline was the best way to avoid prying digital eyes.
So it would be paper, pencil, and burners. He kept a cyclical series of flip phone throwaways just for this purpose. One of the standing orders for his assistant was to keep a set of prepped flip phones in the office. Once a week, usually on Tuesdays after Bentley had left his home office for his lower Manhattan office space, she would quickly survey the room to make sure all of her boss’ needs were met, from sharpened pencils and throat drops to Scotch and the replacement flip phones. Judging by the number of flip phones her boss used on a monthly basis, she could get a read on his mood. His temper was phenomenal, but his paranoia was a quiet storm that only a few truly understood. It had taken her five years to work from intern to inner circle confidant. Being his niece helped, but only to get her foot in the door. She had earned every other step towards her current position and never missed a beat, even when his sometimes erratic mood swings led to random requests for information, research, or really just about anything Mr. Bentley needed.
After jotting down the initials of several people he needed to call, he checked his Moleskine diary to confirm the numbers of the three men he needed to call: a judge, a cop, and a thief. He would use one flip phone for all three calls then destroy it. Knowing his team had swept his office for bugs just two days prior, he felt reasonably comfortable making the call in his office. Turning to look out the window, he noticed with a smile that a cold front was blowing in from the Atlantic. Soon it would be raining. He looked down at the motion below, a mosaic of humanity, and exhaled as he lifted the phone to his ear to connect with his old friend from California. The judge was the first call; he knew it would be the quickest conversation.
“It’s me,” was all Bentley said when his old friend answered the phone. The Chief District Judge of the Northern District of California was short on time and shorter on attention.
“How can I help you my friend?”
“I’m calling to give you a heads up. I need you to facilitate a search warrant. A mutual friend will soon be in touch with the appropriate information. I just need you to sign.”
Bentley was as direct as he was confident that the judge would do exactly what he asked.