The Law of Unintended Consequences

JUNE 2004
    Allentown, Pennsylvania

“Taight, so help me, if you throw me out of my own company—”

“It’s my company now, Roger.”

“You put a gun to my head.”

Sebastian slowly rose to his full height from where he bent over the CEO’s desk—his, now—and stared at Roger Oth with a well-practiced stare. Satisfied when Roger squirmed, he said, “Yes, I did. Knox Hilliard makes for a particularly lethal weapon—especially since he was the one who figured it all out.” Oth’s color dropped only at the latter piece of information, which was exactly the reaction Sebastian had expected.

“He— Hilliard’s been through my books?”

“Yeah, that’s always the risk you run with me. Family ties and all that. Man’s a genius with paper trails.”

“Such a genius that even the FBI can’t find his illegal operations,” Oth sneered. “Unlike him, I didn’t do anything illegal and you know it.”

Sebastian inclined his head. “You’re right. Your only crime is being stupid, but either way, I don’t give a fat rat’s ass. Get out.” When Oth balked, Sebastian tilted his head and blinked. “Fraud is a felony, remember. Knox could very easily convince the DA here that you were the mastermind.”

“Fen Hilliard was right about you, Taight,” Oth snarled as he stalked toward the door of the massive office suite.

“If you’re such good friends with Fen,” Sebastian said blithely at his back, “why didn’t you ask him to help you? He could have found your problem as easily as Knox did.” Oth stopped abruptly. “Except . . . if you had taken this to Fen, he would’ve done exactly what I just did.” Oth sucked in a sharp breath, then continued toward the door, slamming it behind him.

Sebastian strode over to the window to watch Oth be escorted out of the building and off the property by two Lancaster County, Pennsylvania deputies. Sebastian sucked up a chestful of air. He dreaded what had to be done next. He’d done it too many times and it never failed to nauseate him.

As he left the office and clicked down the stairs, he called the next most important person in this entire fiasco. “Yo, Mitch. I’m getting ready to do the deed. How fast can you get your process rolling?” Sebastian sighed at the answer and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, I know I didn’t give you much time. It was unavoidable.” Another sigh. “All right. See you in . . . ” He checked his watch. “An hour? Your office?”

By the time he clapped his phone closed, he’d walked across the parking lot between the office building of Jep Industries and its factory. Three at a time, he took the metal stairs that led to the grated catwalk that overlooked the entire assembly floor, which was a hive of activity. None of the people on that floor had a clue that life as they knew it was over.

There, at the rail looking down: Knox Hilliard, the Chouteau County, Missouri, prosecutor. Morgan Ashworth, economist. Étienne LaMontagne and his brother-in-law, Emilio Bautista, together the holders of most of the patents of Jep Industries’ specialized products.

Two more Lancaster County deputies mingled around Sebastian’s four cousins and all six men looked to him as he approached, all of them grim.

“Morg. You ready to front this and quash all the rumors?” Sebastian murmured. “At least until Mitch gets it done?”

“Yes,” he said shortly. Morgan had his doubts about Sebastian’s sanity. “I hope this works.”

“It will,” Knox grunted. “You just have to be able to follow it.”

Sebastian and Morgan traded glances. Knox said that like it would be easy.

“Étienne. Are you satisfied now?”

Non!” Étienne burst out in a tirade at Sebastian—in French.

“You shit,” Knox muttered with a glare. “Thirty years and you still can’t be pissed off in English.”

Emilio laughed.

“Screw you, Knox. I said—”

“Don’t bother,” Sebastian snapped. “It’s not worth repeating. Étienne, shut the hell up and be grateful we got you out of those stupid licensing agreements. Don’t you ever sign so much as a check to your babysitter before you talk to us. You got it?”

Étienne glared at him.

“This is going to come back to bite you in the ass, Sebastian,” Morgan rumbled. “You and Mitch both.”

“Probably,” Sebastian returned, uneasy with the speed at which this takeover had gone down and why. He hated working blind. There would be consequences from this that he couldn’t see and wouldn’t be able to forestall—and probably years down the road. He could only hope Knox’s elaborate scheme worked, but then, Knox was a master at elaborate schemes that worked.

Every. Damn. Time.

Sebastian swallowed, his stomach roiling. “All right, gentlemen,” he muttered. “Time to put twelve hundred people out of their jobs.”

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