Read The Last Thing He Told Me Online
Authors: Laura Dave
“I still can't believe this is happening,” Jules says.
We sit in the kitchen, at the small breakfast table in the sun nook, drinking coffee spiked with bourbon. Jules is on her second mug, her oversize sweatshirt concealing her small frame, her hair pulled back in two low pigtails. They make her look like she is trying to get away with something, sneaking some more bourbon into the mug. They make her look a little like her fourteen-year-old self, the girl I met our first day of high school.
My grandfather had just moved us from Tennessee to Peekskill, New Yorkâa small town on the Hudson River. Jules's family had moved there from New York City. Her father was an investigative journalist for the
New York Times
âa Pulitzer Prizeâwinning journalistânot that Jules had any airs about her. We met while applying for after-school jobs at Lucky's, a local dog-walking service. We were both hired. And we took to walking our assigned dogs together every afternoon. We must have been a sight: two small girls, fifteen rowdy dogs surrounding us at any given time.
I was a freshman at the public high school. Jules was at a prestigious private school a few miles away. But those afternoons were just the two of us together. I'm still not sure how we would have gotten through high school without each other. We were so removed from each other's actual lives that we told each other everything. Jules once compared it to how you confide in a stranger you meet on a
plane. From the beginning, this is what we've been to each other: safe, airborne. Complete with a thirty-thousand-foot perspective.
That hasn't changed, now that we're the grown-ups. Jules has followed in her father's footsteps and works for a newspaper. She's a photo editor at the
San Francisco Chronicle
, focusing primarily on sports. She eyes me, worried. But I'm eyeing Bailey in the living room, snuggled into Bobby on the couch, the two of them talking low. It seems harmless. And still, my thought is,
I have no idea what harmless looks like.
This is the first time Bobby has been over when Owen hasn't been home. This is the first time when it's been up to me alone.
I try to check on them while pretending not to check on them. But Bailey must feel my gaze. She looks up at me, less than pleased. Then she stands up and deliberately closes the glass living room door with a thud. I can still see her, so it's more of a ceremonial slamming. But it's a slamming all the same.
“We were sixteen once too, you know,” Jules says.
“Not like that,” I say.
“We only wish,” she says. “Purple hair rocks.”
She makes a move to pour some more whisky into my coffee cup, but I cover the mug with my hand.
“You sure? It'll help,” she says.
I shake my head no. “I'm okay,” I say.
“Well, it's helping me.”
She pours herself some more and moves my hand out of the way, topping me off. I smile at her, even though I have barely taken a sip of what I already have. I'm too stressed, too physically offâtoo close to standing up and busting into the living room, pulling Bailey by the arm into the kitchen with me just to feel like I'm accomplishing something.
“Have you heard from the police yet?” Jules says.
“No, not yet,” I say. “And why isn't someone from The Shop banging down the door? Telling me what to do when they show up?”
“Bigger fish to fry,” she says. “Avett was their primary target and the police just took him into custody.”
She circles the rim of her mug with her fingers. And I take her inâher long eyelashes and high cheekbones, the one wrinkle between her eyes in overdrive today. She is nervous, the way she gets, the way we both get, before we have to tell each other something that we know isn't going to be fun for the other person to hearâlike the time she told me she saw my quasi-boyfriend Nash Richards at the Rye Grill, kissing another girl. It was less that she thought I'd be upset about Nash, who I wasn't particularly into, and more that the Rye Grill was Jules's and my favorite place to eat french fries and cheeseburgers. And when she threw her soda in Nash's face, the manager told her we were permanently banned.
“So are you going to tell me, or what?” I say.
She looks up. “Which part?” she says.
“How this is all your fault?”
She nods, readying herself, blowing out her cheeks. “When I got to the
this morning, I knew there was something going on. Max was giddy, which almost always means bad news. Murder, impeachment, Ponzi scheme.”
“He's a peach, that Max,” I say.
Max is one of the few investigative journalists still at the
âhandsome, smarmy, brilliant. He is also crazy about Jules. And, despite her assurances to the contrary, I kind of suspect Jules feels the same way about him.
“He was looking particularly smug, hovering around my desk. So I knew that he knew something and wanted to gloat. He's old fraternity
brothers with someone at the SEC who apparently had the scoop on what was going down with The Shop. With the raid this afternoon.”
She looks at me, not wanting to continue.
“He told me that the FBI has been investigating the firm for over a year. Shortly after their stock went public, they got a tip that the market listing was fraudulently overstated in connection with the IPO.”
“I don't know what that means,” I say.
“It means The Shop thought the software would be ready earlier than it was. So they went to market too soon. And then they were stuck, pretending they had functional software when in reality they couldn't sell it yet. So to compensate, and keep the stock prices high, they began falsifying their financial statements.”
“How did they do that?”
“So they have their other software, video, apps, their bread-and-butter business. But their privacy software, the game changer Avett was touting, wasn't functional yet, right? They couldn't start selling it. But it was far enough along that they could do demos for potential large buyers. Tech firms, law offices, that sort of thing. And then when those companies showed interest, they put it down as a future sale. Max says it's not dissimilar to what Enron did. They declared they were making all kinds of money on future sales, to keep the stock price rising.”
I'm starting to understand where she's driving.
“And to buy themselves some more time to fix the problem?” I say.
“Exactly. Avett wagered that the contingent future sales would turn into actual sales as soon as the software was functional. They were using the faux-financials as a stopgap to keep the stock nice and healthy, until the software was fixed,” she says. “Except they got caught before they got it there.”
“And there's the fraud?” I say.
“And there's the fraud,” she says. “Max says it's massive. Stockholders will lose half a billion dollars.”
dollars. I try to wrap my head around that. It's the least of it, but we are large shareholders. Owen wanted to put his faith in the place he worked, in the software he was working on. So when the company went public he held on to all of his stock options. He even purchased more stock. How much were we going to lose? Most of our savings? Why would he put us in the position to lose so much if he knew anything bad was going on? Why would Owen invest our savings, our future, in a faulty operation?
It gives me hope that he didn't.
“So if Owen invested in The Shop, that must mean that he didn't know, right?”
“Maybeâ¦” she says.
“That doesn't sound like maybe.”
“Well there's also the possibility he did what Avett did. That he bought the stock to help inflate the value with the idea that he'd sell before anyone found out.”
“Does that sound like Owen to you?” I say.
“None of this sounds like Owen to me,” she says.
Then she shrugs. And I hear the restâwhat's rattling around in her mind, what's rattling around in mine: Owen is the chief coder. How could he not know that Avett was inflating the value of the software that he was working on, the software that wasn't yet working? If anyone would know, wouldn't it have to be him?
“Max did say that the FBI thinks most of the senior staff were either in on it, or complicit in looking the other way. Everyone thought they could fix the glitch before anyone caught on. Apparently, they were close. If not for this one tip to the SEC, they might have pulled it off.”
“Who tipped them off?”
“No idea. But that's why the raid. They wanted to shut it all down before Avett disappeared. With the two hundred and sixty million dollars' worth of stock he's quietly been off-loadingâ¦” She pauses. “For months now.”
“Holy crap,” I say.
“Yep. Anyway, Max found out ahead of time. About the raid. So the FBI cut a deal with him. If he agreed not to break the story before they went in, they'd give him a two-hour lead on the raid. The
beat everyone. The
. CNN. NBC. Fox. He was so proud of himself that he had to tell me. And I don't knowâ¦ My first instinct was to call Owen. Well, my first instinct was to call you, but I couldn't reach you. So then I called Owen.”
“To warn him?”
“Yes,” she says. “To warn him.”
“Why are you feeling badly about that? Because he ran?” I say.
It's the first time I have said it out loud. The obvious truth. And yet saying it out loud makes me feel better somehow. At least it's honest. Owen ran. He is running. He isn't, just simply, gone.
Jules nods and I swallow hard, fight back against the tears rising up.
“That's not on you,” I say. “You could have lost your job warning him. You were trying to help. How on earth would I be mad at you for that? I'm just mad at Owen.” I pause, considering that. “I'm not even exactly mad at Owen. I'm more numb. And just trying to figure out what he's possibly thinking. How he thinks this isn't bad for him, to take off like this.”
“What have you come up with?” she asks.
“I don't know. Maybe he is trying to exonerate himself? But why not do that from here? Get a lawyer. Let the system clear youâ¦” I say. “I just can't shake the feeling that I'm missing something, you know? I'm missing what kind of help he is looking for.”
She squeezes my hand, tightly, gives me a smile. But she doesn't look at all like we are on the same page, which is when I realize she isn't telling me whatever it is that is beneath that look. She isn't saying the worst of it.
“I know that look,” I say.
She shakes her head. “It's nothing,” she says.
“Tell me, Jules.”
“The thing is, and I can't believe it myself exactly, but he wasn't surprised,” she says. “He wasn't surprised when I told him about the raid.”
“I'm not following you.”
“I learned this early on from my father. Sources can't hide it when they know something. They forget to ask the obvious questions they'd want to know, if they were as in the dark as you were. Like, the questions you just asked me about what exactly happenedâ¦”
I stare at her, waiting for the rest, as something starts shifting in my head. I look through the glass at Bailey. She is lying against Bobby's chest, her hand on his stomach, her eyes closed.
“The thing is, if Owen didn't know anything about the fraud, he would have wanted more information from me. He would have needed a lot more information about what was going on at The Shop. He'd have said something like,
Slow down, Jules. Who do they think is guilty? Does it look like Avett spearheaded the fraud alone or is the corruption more widespread? What does it look like happened, how much has been stolen?
But he didn't want to know more. Not about any of it.”
“What did he want to know?” I say.
“How long he had to get out,” she says.
Owen and I sat on the dock, eating Thai food straight from the take-out containers. Drinking ice cold beer.
He was in a sweatshirt and jeans, bare feet. There was barely a sliver of moon, the Northern California night chilly and wet, but Owen wasn't cold at all. I, on the other hand, was wrapped in a blanket, two pairs of socks, puffy boots.
We were sharing a papaya salad and spicy lime curry. Owen was tearing up, the heat from the chilies going straight to his eyes.
I stifled a laugh. “If you can't hack it,” I said, “we can order the curry mild next time.”
“Oh, I can hack it,” he said. “If you can hack it, I can hack itâ¦”
He stuffed his mouth with another bite, his face turning red as he struggled to swallow. He reached for his beer and guzzled it down.
“See?” he said.
“I do,” I said.
Then I leaned in to kiss him.
After I pulled back, he smiled at me, touched my cheek.
“What do you think? Can I get under that blanket with you?” he asked.
I moved over, wrapping the blanket over his shoulders, feeling the heat of his body. His barefooted body, a good ten degrees warmer than mine.
“So tell me,” he said. “What was your favorite thing today?”
This was something we sometimes did on days we got home lateâon days we were too tired to get into the big stuff. We each picked one thing from the day to tell each other about. One good thing from our separate lives.
“I actually think I have a pretty cool idea for a little treat for Bailey,” I said. “I'm going to re-create the brown butter pasta for dinner tomorrow night. You know, the one we had on her birthday at Poggio? Don't you think she'll love that?”
He wrapped his arm more tightly around my waist, kept his voice low. “Are you asking me if she'll love that? Or if that will make her love you?”
“Hey. Not nice.”
“I'm trying to be nice,” he said. “Bailey's lucky to have you. And she's going to come around to that. Pasta experiment or not.”
“How do you know?”
He shrugged. “I know things.”
I didn't say anything, not exactly believing him. I wanted him to do more to bridge the gap between Bailey and me, even if I didn't know what that could possibly be. If he wasn't going to do that, I at least wanted him to tell me I was doing everything I could.
As if hearing my thoughts, he pushed my hair off my face. He kissed the side of my neck.
“She really loved that pasta though,” he said. “It's a sweet thing to do.”
“That's all I'm saying!”
He smiled. “I should be able to duck out of work early tomorrow. If you're in the market for a sous chef?”
“I am,” I said.
“Count me in then,” he said. “I'm yours.”
I put my head on his shoulder. “Thank you,” I said. “Okay. Now you.”
“Favorite part of my day?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “And don't cop out and say right now.”
He laughed. “Shows how well you know me,” he said. “I wasn't going to say right now.”
“Really,” he said.
“What were you going to say?”
“Sixty seconds ago,” he said. “It was cold outside the blanket.”