Episode: Pilot (Part 1)

       

Stillness descended on the sprawling communities of Seacliff as the hours grew later.  It was almost midnight so not many of the Southern California natives were awake to enjoy the warm, Mediterranean-like air, or the sound of the waves rolling gently onto the shore of the peninsula.

At the end of Alta Vista Drive in Seacliff Estates was the gleaming white house owned by the wealthy Wainwright family.  The beautiful Spanish-tile roof and trim of the three-story house was common in the exclusive neighborhood.  There was a three-car garage that housed expensive foreign sports cars.  To the side of the house the glimmering shadows of waves from the backyard swimming pool filtered through the window of Julian Wainwright’s home office.

Julian sat at the desk pouring over piles of paperwork.  He was six foot, had a rough, rugged edge about him, and looked every bit his age of fifty-five.  He was a powerful businessman in California and well-respected all over the country, and he’d worked hard his whole life to get it.  He was the owner of a multi-million dollar natural gas company that he built from the ground up on his own.  Wainwright Enterprises was his passion, and the most important thing in his life next to his family, in particular his prized wife, Emily.

They were still happily married today with two children.  Their twenty-eight year old son, Elliott, worked at Wainwright Enterprises with Julian and he hoped he would take over the company someday when Julian was gone.   Their daughter, Robin, was twenty years old and didn’t have much direction in life.  It was a constant source of conflict with him and Emily.

Deep into work-mode, he read through drilling reports and land management surveys, consumed with statistics and figures.  His concentration was broken when Elliott walked into the room holding a fax transmission.

“You’re not going to believe this,” he said to his father.  Elliott had a solid build with reddish brown hair and green eyes, taking after his father’s Irish roots.  He strode into the room with a grim look on his face.

“What is it, Elliott?” Julian asked with a frown as he took the fax from him.

“Sid Wilcox is in some kind of trouble again,” Elliott explained.  “Somebody just filed a civil lawsuit against him.  Somebody just sent over this advance copy of tomorrow’s paper.”

Julian read through the newspaper article from the Seacliff Times, shaking his head in disbelief at the controversy that constantly swirled around his old friend.  Sid Wilcox was the owner of a construction company that had built a series of swanky condominiums several months before.  The management of Oceancrest Condominiums began receiving complaints from tenants about illnesses.  One tenant died and several others became ill and it was discovered that they had large amounts of lead poisoning.  The condominiums were shut down and Sid and his company, Wilcox & Co, were being sued by the wife of the man who died.

“I wonder if this has anything to do with what he was talking to Kenny DeWitt about last night outside the party,” Julian said in deep concentration.  “He did get rather nervous afterwards.  I’m not surprised, either.  That contract he went into with Blackthorne-Reynolds may not have happened if this got out a day earlier.”

“This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, Dad,” Elliott said.  “I know he’s your friend, but I don’t see how we can go on doing business with him.  Think of the bad publicity it could bring to Wainwright Enterprises.”

Julian nodded in agreement.  As much as he hated to admit it, his associating with Wilcox & Co was hurting him.  Sid had a knack for attracting trouble and causing a lot of people to question his ethics.  James Blackthorne and Alex Reynolds were certain to fall in line with the scrutiny.

“I have a meeting scheduled with him tomorrow,” he finally said as he rubbed his face with his hands.  “I’ll tell him that I’m going with another company to do our drilling.”

Julian felt like he was stabbing Sid in the back but he couldn’t let his personal feelings take over.  He had a multi-billion dollar company to think about.  No amount of friendship was worth risking that.

* * * * *

The next morning, Julian Wainwright went to La Vincente, a luxury hotel nestled on the edge of the Seacliff peninsula, and waited for Sid in the bar.  They had a eight o’clock meeting to discuss a the Elk Landing pipeline project in northern California, and Julian was prepared to deliver the bad news that he had to find someone else to finish the job.   It wasn’t a pretty task, but he had to for the sake of his livelihood.  

While he waited, he watched a few minutes of the news and groaned with displeasure when a story about Alan Christensen came on.  He hated Alan Christensen with a passion.  He had for twenty-four years and he always would.  The fact that he had to sit and watch him on television in the lounge at La Vincente made him sick.

He looked at his watch and fished his cell phone out of his pocket.   Sid was already half an hour late and he couldn’t wait for him any more.   He dialed Sid’s office and spoke to the receptionist who told him Sid was going to have to reschedule for later that day.  

Angrily, he hurriedly finished his scotch, slammed the empty glass onto the table and got up and walked with large strides outside to the parking lot.   He handed the valet his ticket and waited by the curb for his Mercedes.

Before he knew it, Julian’s shiny silver car was waiting for him by the curb, the engine running and the valet opening the door for him.

Before Julian could get in, he heard a voice call from across the parking lot.  He turned and his eyes narrowed on a man waving and coming in his direction.

“Julian Wainwright, is that you?”

“Who’s asking?” was Julian’s rigid reply. 

The man, a fifty-year old Latin American with jet-black hair and dark piercing eyes extended his hand enthusiastically.  “Nick Ramirez,” he replied.  “We went to Berkeley together.”

Julian’s skeptical stare relaxed a little and he shook the man’s hand.  “Nick, it’s great to see you.”  He folded his arms and leaned against his car.

“It’s been a long time.”

Long time.”  Julian was surprised Nick recognized him.  After all, he was a different man than he was in college.  A lot older, dressed a lot better, and hadn’t been to a keg party in decades.  “How have you been?”

“Great,” Nick replied, eyeing Julian’s expensive Armani suit and flashy new car.  “I’m working for Stratotech now doing some work with mergers.”

Impressed, Julian raised an eyebrow.  Stratotech?” he asked.  “They’ve certainly got a bad rep lately.  Strong-arming weak companies into selling to them.  Kind of unscrupulous, don’t you think?”

Nick laughed.  “I don’t make the rules.  Just trying to keep up so I have a pension when I retire in fifteen years or so.”   He quickly changed the subject.  “How are you?”

“Oh, I can’t complain,” Julian replied with a shrug and a grin.

“Well listen, I know you’re just about to take off so I won’t keep you.  But I’d love to get together sometime and catch up,” Nick suggested eagerly.  “It’s been such a long time.”

Julian plucked a business card from his jacket pocket and handed it to Nick.  “Give me a call.  We’ll have lunch one day this week.”

Nick pocketed the card.  “Great.  I’m looking forward to it.”

“Good to see you, Nick.  I’ll talk to you soon.”  Julian got into his car and pulled away from La Vincente.  Seeing his old college friend had managed to get his mind off of Sid Wilcox for at least a while.  But sooner or later he’d have to get that meeting and deliver the bad news.

* * * * *

Alan Christensen was the owner of Image magazine, a world-renowned monthly publication that reported on well-known faces in the corporate and fashion worlds.  He had started the magazine in his late-twenties, and now at forty-six, he was the most respected name in news.

Sipping his morning coffee, he walked down a hallway on the top floor of his magazine headquarters in Seacliff.  He was forty-six, energetic, and immediatelycurious.  He had short brown hair mixed with an occasional patch of distinguished gray.  He was tall and lean, and in exceptional shape for his age.  A few laugh lines around the eyes and mouth gave him a sexy, intellectual quality.

“Is the February issue ready to go to press tonight?” he asked as he entered the office of his editor-in-chief.

“All set,” Goldie replied, dropping a stack of galleys into her out box.

“Good.  I hope you’ve got a good headline for the March issue,” he said.  “We’ve got to blow Feature out of the water next month.”

Goldie Hunt looked up from her desk and smiled immodestly.  “Good doesn’t begin to describe it,” she said, standing up and handing him the morning paper.   She was a spirited young woman of twenty-five, with long blond hair and a stout, petite figure.  Many of her peers in the news industry thought she was slightly ridiculous with her rather clichéd go-get-em attitude toward journalism.   

Alan took the newspaper from her and read the story about Sid Wilcox’s unfortunate luck with Oceancrest Condominiums.   “Who is this woman?” Alan asked, reading about the lawsuit and the condemning of the condominiums.

“The wife of Larry Webster.  He was a resident of Oceancrest.  He was in the hospital for a week and he died two nights ago.”

“She doesn’t waste any time, does she?” Alan asked with a raised eyebrow.   “It amazes me how people think that suing someone is going to bring their loved ones back.”

Goldie leaned against her desk and folded her arms.  “Other people have gotten sick too,” she said.  “They’re saying the lead poisoning might come from something structural.  I think it deserves a look at.”

“You think you can get a whole story out of this?” Alan asked.

“Come on, Alan.  This isn’t the first time Sid Wilcox has been in some kind of trouble.  I think it’s high time we did some thorough investigating into his business practices.”

Alan shrugged and tossed the paper onto her desk.  “Go with it,” he said.  “I trust your instincts.”

Goldie smiled and picked up her coffee cup.  “Good.  Then I’m hoping you’ll also trust my instincts about something else.”

“What is it?”

“I hope I’m not overstepping, but I could really use a favor,” Goldie said.  “My brother, Dustin, just moved to L.A a few months ago.  He’s having trouble making ends meet and I was wondering if you could find it in your heart to give him a job here.”

Alan frowned.  “I thought your brother was a model?”

“He is.  It’s just that the modeling jobs are so few and far between.  He really needs a steady source of income.”

“What did you have in mind?”

Goldie shrugged.  “Something in research, maybe,” she said.  “It would help him out a lot, and it would be a huge favor to me.”

Alan smiled and put a hand on her shoulder.  “In that case, the answer is yes.  You know I’d do anything for my favorite editor.”

Goldie smiled and walked around to her chair and sat down.  “Thank you.  I’ll tell him to come in this afternoon.”

Making his way out into the hall, Alan turned back and shot her a look.  “Get busy on that story,” he said.  “I don’t want Feature magazine to scoop us this time.”

Goldie shot him a toothy grin and turned to her computer as Alan shut her door and made his way down the hallway to his office.

* * * * *

The United Airlines flight from Chicago landed at LAX and Skyla couldn’t wait to get off the crowded plane.  The long flight had her exhausted and all she could think about was checking into her hotel and taking a long, hot bath.

Skyla was an extraordinary looking young woman with a fine, voluptuous body, a combination of pure sex and unlost ingenuousness.  The perfect centerfold.  She was a twenty-six-year-old knockout with strawberry blond hair that fell to the middle of her back.           

Stepping from the boarding platform into the gate, Skyla looked around to get her bearings.  She looked for signs directing her to the baggage claim.  This was her first trip back to Seacliff since she and her mother moved to Chicago when she was two years old so it was like she was there for the first time.

She walked down the crowded corridor, her red Chanel bag tight over her shoulder.  A gift shop on her left caught her attention and she stopped to buy a copy of the Seacliff Times.  She handed the clerk a few coins and skimmed over the front-page headlines.  Her eyes narrowed on a picture of Alan Christensen and the caption beneath it.

Alan Christensen donates to local charity.”  Skyla read the words to herself and then stared blankly at his picture for a few seconds.  Her hands formed into fists, clutching the edges of the newspaper.  She closed her eyes briefly and tried to calm her anger.

Seeing the man’s picture in the newspaper fueled her anger and her quest for revenge.  The propelling grin on his face, the innocence in his eyes that she knew was a lie.  It was all evidence of everything she’d heard about him.

She’d come to Seacliff for one reason and one reason only.  To finally meet the legendary Alan Christensen and then make him pay.

* * * * *

Just down the hill from Seacliff Estates was a small inlet of land known as Malaga Cove, where several houses lined the shore adjacent to the ocean.  More modest in nature, the homes had a spectacular view of the Pacific and were situated only a matter of feet from the beach.   The corner house was owned by a young married couple who were busy getting ready for their day.

Ashton Kelly was thirty-two, had boyish good looks and was a successful journalist writing for his own newsmagazine, Feature.  He’d been married to his wife, Hillary for four years.  Ashton was six feet two inches tall and had a lean, muscular build.  He had soft brown hair that fell lazily into his deep blue eyes.

It was eight-thirty in the morning and he was standing in front of the dressing mirror in his and Hillary’s bedroom, smoothing down the front of his half-wrinkled shirt.  He didn’t feel like ironing it over again, and he didn’t feel like wearing a tie, which was one of the benefits of owning your own business.

Hillary stepped out of the walk-in closet as she pushed a pair of earrings in.  “Sweetie, do you want to meet for dinner tonight?” she asked.

Ashton didn’t look at her but continued inspecting himself in the dressing mirror.  “Can’t,” he replied shortly.  “I’ve got a deadline and there’s a story I need to finish.”

“Well what time do you think you’ll be home?” Hillary asked, failing to hide the disappointment in her voice.  She was an attractive woman of twenty-seven with wavy, light brown hair, deep brown eyes and porcelain skin. 

Sighing, Ashton turned and walked to the dresser to pick up his wallet and keys.  “Late,” he answered, then added quickly in his compellingly minimalist fashion, “I’m sorry.”

“No problem, I just know we haven’t seen a lot of each other this week and thought it might be nice.”

 “I know. We’ve both been busy.”  He didn’t know what else to say to his wife.  It wasn’t a secret that they hadn’t been getting along.  The last six months had been very hard on their marriage.

Everything Hillary did or said irritated Ashton lately, and they disagreed on so many things.  Whenever they argued Ashton would storm out and go sailing on his boat.  It was his only release, aside from his work.

“What story are you working on?” Hillary asked, as if she didn’t already know.

“I’m doing a piece on Oceancrest Condominiums," Ashton announced, shoving his wallet in his back pocket.

Hillary appeared frustrated.  “Why do you insist on pursuing this story?” she asked.  “It’s bad enough the papers are ripping my father’s reputation to shreds.”

“It’s my job.”

“He’s my father!” Hillary exclaimed.  “Doesn’t that matter to you at all?  Or are you sointent on being hailed as this crusader for justice that you’ll overlook anything?”

Ashton was indifferent.  They’d gone over this so many times that it had become a routine conversation.  The truth was that Ashton couldn’t stand by and forget the shady ethics of Sid Wilcox.  He knew that Hillary, of course, was not very happy about this.  She'd worked for her father's company since she graduated from college.   Ashton wished she would get away from Wilcox & Co and her father's firm grasp he had on her.

“You know I can’t put aside my obligation to report the news based on the fact that Sid Wilcox is your father,” Ashton insisted, starting out of the bedroom.

Hillary was fast on his heels.  “Well how about reporting the truth?” she suggested, full of sarcasm as she followed him down the stairs to the kitchen.  “My father says he had the materials checked out before they began construction at that condo.”

Ashton shrugged and poured himself a cup of coffee.  “Well as soon as those reports become available, we’ll find out how much of that is true.”  He took a sip of coffee, his eyes transfixed on Hillary’s.

“You won’t even give him the benefit of the doubt!”

“I know your father’s track record.  He doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.”

Frustrated, Hillary grabbed her purse from the countertop in the kitchen and stomped down the hallway to the front door.   Ashton shrugged as she slammed the door on her way out.

Their constant bickering and the way she stuck up for her unscrupulous father made him dislike her more every day.   He knew he should ask her for a divorce, but he just kept putting it off.  As much as he wanted to end the marriage, it was going to be hard getting her to realize it was the best thing for them.

* * * * *

Fixated on her hellish predicament, Hillary went to her office at Wilcox & Co and found her father in the lobby.

“Hi Dad,” she said, her mood suddenly changing to a more positive beat.  She kissed him on the cheek.  “I thought you were meeting with Julian Wainwright this morning.” 

“Some things came up,” Sid replied.  He was a solid, ruggedly handsome man of fifty-two with gray hair, tan weathered skin and callused hands from working in construction his whole life.  He was the type who would look more fitting in fishing gear than the stuffy business suits he wore.  He was extremely wealthy and a shrewd businessman, and owed it all to his cutthroat business ethics.  He owned a horse ranch a few miles away from the city and lived there year round, hating the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.

“Well I can’t argue with that,” Hillary said.  She put her arm through his and walked with him outside to the courtyard of the thirty-story building.  “Any more news on the lawsuit?”

Sid sighed and furrowed his brow.   “If the judge thinks there’s enough evidence to prove Wilcox & Co was responsible for the lead poisoning at Oceancrest, it’ll have to go to trial.”

Hillary closed her eyes in despair, folding her hands under her chin and shaking her head back and forth.  “This is crazy,” she said.  “Everyone is acting like you poisoned those people yourself.  It’s not your fault Larry Webster died and those others got sick.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Sid replied gruffly.  “I built the damn condo so I’m the one they’re going to hold responsible.  And now they’re subpoenaing the tenants to testify.”

“Dad, I’m worried,” Hillary admitted.  “This could be the end of Wilcox & Co.”

Sid gave her a reassuring smile.  “You worry too much,” he said.  “Just like your mother did.”

Hillary rolled her eyes.  She hated it when he compared her to her mother.  Not that she didn’t love her and hadn’t missed her every day since she died ten years ago, but she didn’t think they were anything alike.  She was much more like Sid, cunning and filled with conviction.

“Well what do you think these witnesses will be able to tell them?” she asked, squinting through the bright sun.  She wondered if there was something more to the construction at Oceancrest than her father was letting on.

“Nothing as far as I know,” Sid replied, a bold, mysterious tone to his voice.  “Don’t you worry about it, Pussycat.”

“I can’t help it,” Hillary confessed.  “If something you unintentionally did caused that man to get sick, it could ruin your reputation.”

She folded her arms, worried out of her mind about her father, and even more worried about how dismissive he was being about it.  She wondered if he did know something more about the problems at Oceancrest.

* * * * *

Tracie Savage stirred awake in her cluttered bedroom, feeling a warm ray of sunlight filtering through the sheer curtains covering the windows.  She rubbed her face and squinted through sleepy eyes at the alarm clock on her bedside table.  The glowing numbers blurred and she squinted harder until they came into view.

Suddenly she sat up with a start, realizing it was almost nine in the morning and she had a meeting with her boss, Ashton Kelly at ten.  Quickly she jumped out of bed and ran to the shower, leaving her boyfriend, Dustin Hunt sound asleep in bed.

She was thirty-two and had long, wavy dark brown hair.  Exotic brown eyes and a rosy complexion lent her ethereal quality.  She was intelligent and vital if somewhat disheveled.  An animated type, who used her hands as she spoke, pointing and gesturing.

Tracie lived in a small condo in Seacliff.  She was senior editor of Feature magazine and worked closely on a daily basis with Ashton Kelly.  She and Ashton had went to high school together and had been best friends ever since.  

Finishing her shower, she jumped out and started blow-drying her hair. Suddenly she felt a pair of arms close around her and she smiled, looking at Dustin’s reflection in the mirror.

"Well good morning,” Tracie purred, shivering at his sensual touch. 

Dustin hugged her tightly from behind, the muscles on his strong tan arms bulging as he squeezed her.  “You look beautiful,” he said, burying his face in her neck.

They had been dating for about six months and it was the most serious Tracie had ever been with any guy.  Dustin was great in every aspect.  Sweet, considerate, smart, funny, and not to mention drop dead gorgeous.  It was actually his job to be a devastatingly handsome hunk.  He was a model and looked every bit the part, with thick sandy blond hair, brilliant blue eyes, tan smooth skin, and perfect white teeth.  His chiseled, smooth body was enough to make Tracie wet with excitement. 

* * * * *

Robin Wainwright made her way through the maze of studio lots in Hollywood, practically jumping out of her skin with excitement at the sight of so many movie stars.  It must be the most exciting job in the world, she thought to herself as she found the entrance to Sunset Studios and proceeded toward the suite of offices. 

“Surprise,” she said with an enormous grin when she poked her head inside Stormy Blackthorne’s office. 

Stormy looked up and gawked with surprise.  “Robin, uh…what brings you up this way?” he asked, having hoped the party the other night would be the last he saw of her.   He was a twenty-five year old studio executive and had spiky, dark brown hair and tattoos covering much of his arms and back.

Robin flushed to the point where her pale skin almost matched her fiery red hair.  She was a twenty year old woman with full, pouty lips and cat-like green eyes.   The first time she laid eyes on Stormy Blackthorne two days ago she knew it was destiny.  She had to have him, and she nearly did – in a hotel room at La Vincente – until he got cold feet and ran out on her.   A temporary setback, she decided.

“I just wanted to come say hi,” she said, oblivious to her unconvincing charade.  “I thought maybe we could hang out or something.”

Stormy sighed, realizing it was quite possible that Robin had more than a crush on him.  It was blatantly obvious the other night at the party, but her coming to his office was a definite sign that he needed to level with her.

“Sit down, Robin,” he said with a smile and walked out from behind his desk.  “I had a great time getting to know you the other night.  I really did.  You’re a very sweet young girl.”

Robin rolled her eyes and slouched down in the chair, her seductive stance suddenly vanishing.   “Oh great.  Not the you’re a very sweet girl speech.  Why is it that every time I meet a guy that I like he isn’t interested?” 

“I had a lot of things to prove the other night,” Stormy claimed, leaning against his desk and letting his hands hang between his knees.   “That’s the only reason things went as far as they did.  But Robin, any guy would be lucky to have you as a girlfriend.  That guy just isn’t me.  I’m sorry.”

She threw her hands up in resignation and stood up from the chair.  “Did you even mean those things you said that night?  About me being beautiful and easy to talk to?”

“Did I say that?” he asked in bewilderment.  “Well, you are beautiful.  And you’re a lot of fun.  I enjoyed hanging out with you.  My head and my heart are just somewhere else, that’s all.”

Robin sunk her head low, annoyed that she had come all the way into Hollywood for nothing.  She barely even got the chance to deliver her come and get me lines she’d rehearsed all night lying awake in bed. 

Before she could leave, Stormy pulled her back and offered a friendly smile.   “You know what?  One of these days you’re going to meet the man of your dreams and he’s going to fall head over heels in love with you.  It could happen any time.  You could get a flat tire on the freeway and he could be the one who stops and helps you.  It’ll happen, Robin.  Believe me.”

She looked at him and sighed.  “I doubt it,” she said sullenly.  “But thanks anyway, Stormy.”  She turned and left the office, realizing that her destiny was to be alone.  Not with Stormy Blackthorne.

* * * * *

When Sid got up to his office at Wilcox & Co, he was immediately aware that he had company, and they were not happy.

“I don’t care if Sid Wilcox has a full schedule!  I want to speak to him now!” shrieked Renee DeWitt, draped in a floor length fur and dripping in diamonds.  She was a beautiful black woman in her early forties with long curly hair and loads of class. 

To her right was James Blackthorne, the forty-five year old Hollywood film producer who had recently gone into the natural gas business with Renee and his ex-wife, Alex Reynolds.  He spotted Sid entering the outer office and quickly charged forward.

“Sid, you have some explaining to do!” James shouted, waving the morning paper menacingly at him.  “When were you going to tell us about this?”

“Yes, when?” Renee demanded, her hands planted firmly on her hips.  “I have invested a lot of money into this project, Mr. Wilcox.  I don’t appreciate being handled.”

Reluctantly, Sid ushered them into his office and instructed the secretary to hold his calls.   “James, Renee, I understand your concern, but I just found out about the lawsuit.”

“You just found out about it?” Renee asked skeptically.  “You found out about it the other night at the party.  Isn’t that what that rather cryptic meeting with Kenny was about?”

Sid held his hand up in an effort to calm them down.  “I promise you this lawsuit is not going to affect our business relationship,” he insisted.  Wilcox & Co is still going to build your pipeline in Colorado just as planned.  There won’t be any complications.  You have my word.”

“There better not be,” James warned, his dapper presence seemingly out of place in Sid’s rustically decorated office.   “Or I promise you, Sid, I will find a way to get out of our contract.  I won’t have our project jeopardized because of your negligence.  I want no slip-ups during the construction.  Is that understood?”

“You just leave the pipeline to me,” Sid insisted, and gave him a nonchalant wink. 

Renee rolled her eyes, fully aware that Sid Wilcox was trying to patronize them.

“Incidentally, I did want to talk to you about something else, Renee,” Sid said and looked up briefly at James.

“I’ll wait outside, Renee,” James said and ducked out into the reception area.

After he’d gone, Renee looked at Sid in frustration.  “What is it?”

Sid smiled patronizingly, sitting down on the edge of his desk and folding his hands in his lap.  “I understand that you had Kenny taken off of the California Land Commission.”

“That’s right,” Renee said triumphantly.  “I got him on it and I took him off of it.”

Sid nodded his head and chose his words carefully. “I would consider it a personal favor if you would reconsider.”

“Why?  Why on earth would I reconsider?”  She paused, then gasped as realization dawned.  “Oh yes, you need Kenny to remain on the land commission because he has the power to cut through reams of red tape for you.  Isn’t that right?”

Sid laughed.  “It’s not quite as sinister as all that, but yes, that has much to do with it.”

Renee considered his request, then realized that just maybe she would be able to keep a better eye on Sid and the progress of the pipeline if she did allow Kenny to remain on the commission. 

“Very well then,” she said.  “I’ll make a phone call.  But let me warn you, Sid, if I hear of any funny business going on, and I find out that Kenny had anything to do with it, you will be very sorry.”

With that, she turned and stormed back out of the office where James was waiting.

* * * * *

Later that afternoon when Julian arrived for lunch at La Vincente, the Maitre d’ immediately informed him that his wife, Emily had called to cancel.  He wondered why she hadn’t called him on his cell phone to tell him before he drove all the way out there.  The whole situation was questionable.  First Emily’s secretary called him to say Emily wanted to meet him for lunch at the club, then he arrives and there’s a message that she can’t make it.  He knew Emily had a lot going on at work.  She was the District Attorney of Seacliff and the surrounding areas.  But this wasn’t like her.

Sighing, he turned and started to leave the club when he bumped into Nick Ramirez.  “Nick, what are you doing here?” he asked, his eyes narrowing on the man.

Nick looked at Julian with surprise.  “Julian, this is a coincidence.  This is the second time today we’ve bumped into each other.”

Julian eyed him skeptically.  “Yes, it is a coincidence.”  He wondered if that were true.  He got the strange feeling that Nick wanted something from him.  “What are you doing here?” he repeated.

“Oh, I was meeting a colleague for lunch but he had to cancel at the last minute.”

“My wife cancelled too.  Must be something in the water.”

Nick laughed.  “Yeah, I guess so,” he agreed, then added almost too quickly.  “But hey, since we’re both here and free why don’t we sit down and catch up over a quick bite?”

Hesitantly, Julian gestured toward the restaurant.  “Why not?” he said.  If Nick did want something from him, he would know soon enough.  Julian didn’t like putting things off.

They checked in with the Maitre d’ and arrived at their table on the sunlit patio.  Majestic palms and a perfect view of the Pacific surrounded them.

“So Nick, how long have you been with Stratotech?” Julian asked immediately. 

Nick took a sip of his water.  “About twenty-five years.”

“So I guess you’re not the fly by night kind of guy you used to be, eh?”

Laughing, Nick appeared to change the subject rather quickly.  “So I’ve read about you quite a bit over the years,” he began.  “You’ve got a nice family, children, a successful business that you started on your own.”

“Yes, I’ve been busy.”  Julian chuckled and waived the waiter on when he came to take their order.  “Have you been here in L.A. since college?”

“Most of the time, yes.  I spent a few years in Washington, and a few in Central America, but I always consider California my home.  By the way, I saw that house of yours in that piece on you in Image Magazine.  Very nice digs.”

Julian smiled.  “Well I can’t take all the credit for that,” he said modestly.  “Emily’s the one with the taste in the family.”

“Emily, your wife,” Nick remarked.  “She’s a beautiful woman, and very respected as the D.A”

“She’s a prize.  What about you?” Julian asked.  “Any family?”

Nick shook his head with a sheepish grin.  “No, I just haven’t had the opportunity.  I was married once a number of years ago, but we divorced, and never had any children.”

Julian sat forward, folding his arms on the table in front of him.  “So what were you doing in Central America?” he asked, intrigued by the vagueness of Nick’s career. 

”Just some work with Stratotech,” he replied.  “Plus I have family there.”

Julian studied his face, trying to read into it and see if there was something Nick wasn’t saying.  He didn’t know why but he had an odd feeling about him.

“So what are you thoughts on Sid Wilcox’s predicament?”  Nick asked.  “I know you have used his company in your pipeline projects for years.”

“It’s an unfortunate turn of events.”

“I don’t want to beat around the bush,” Nick began.  Stratotech has certain interests in Sid Wilcox, and we think it would be beneficial if you didn’t call off the Elk Landing pipeline contract with Wilcox & Co.”

Julian pulled back with a start.  He was starting to get more and more suspicious of he and Nick’s meeting.  “How did you know I was planning on canceling that contract?” he demanded.  “It hasn’t been made public to anyone.”

Nick stared at Julian with steady eyes.  “Let’s just say we have our sources.”

Angered by the man’s smug expressions and enigmatic statements, Julian stood up from the table in a rage.  “That’s it, I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but-“

“Sit down, Julian,” Nick ordered.  “You’re making a scene, and I don’t think that’s in your best interests.”

Looking around the patio, Julian steadied his breath and sat back down at the table.  He smoothed his tie down and leaned forward, speaking in a whisper from across the table.  “What do you want with me?”

“We’re keeping tabs on you,” was Nick’s instant reply.  “And on Sid Wilcox.  And we think it would be in your best interests to continue to do business with him.  Business as usual.”

Julian’s mind was racing in a hundred different directions.  He didn’t understand why Nick was going on about this, and how he conveniently kept showing up.  “You set this up didn’t you?” he asked, realizing finally dawning.  “My wife’s secretary never called me to go to lunch.  And you weren’t meeting anyone here.  You set this little meeting up.  And yesterday-“

“I had to talk to you and this was the most direct way I knew how to do it,” Nick explained.  “Now relax, Julian.  I’m asking you for a favor.  To stay in business with Sid Wilcox."

“And what if I say forget it and walk out of here like nothing ever happened?” Julian asked.  He knew Nick didn’t have anything on him, so it wasn’t a matter of blackmail.  The truth was he didn’t have to listen to a thing Nick Ramirez said to him.  “What if I don’t want to do this?”

“Julian, just go back to your office, finish your day, and go home to your lovely family,” he said.  “Did I tell you how lucky you are to have such a nice family?”

Julian’s eyes widened a little as he watched Nick get up and leave the patio.   He sat back in his chair, running his fingers through his hair and repeating Nick’s last statement over and over in his mind. 

Nick had chosen his words very carefully, but to Julian it sounded exactly like a threat.  The ominous, strong-armed reputation of Stratotech was suddenly too close to home for him.