The swarm of microphones pushed up into Mr. Oxley’s face get shoved back at the camera lens with a stern “No comment” as his bodyguards whisk him away from the courthouse steps and into a waiting limousine. Several dozen news crews from all over the world rush by trying to get a final shot of the accused environmental criminal as his vehicle lifts off and flies away. The vanity registration markings fill the scene: “GR8T F8T”.

Amanda’s face moves into the frame as a crowd of cameras and microphones scurry back up the stone steps to assault their next target.

“After 2 weeks of closed negotiations, there is still no statement from the Oxley Corporation on the state, the nature, or even on whom the charges are being laid. The only information we have at this point is that the Columbus mining operation is still on hold and the workers are still being detained at the site.”

“Stop.” Amanda takes a sip of her coffee and leans into the monitor. She point at an individual across the street in the background talking on a cell phone and looking towards the courthouse. “Can we crop that out?”

Lorenzo marks out the area and rewinds the footage to find the point at which the unpaid extra appears. “That’s a lot of frames. It’ll be expensive.” He winks.

Amanda kisses Lorenzo on the neck and nibbles his earlobe. “Oh I think I can afford it.” She giggles as her boyfriend grabs her by the waist, straddles her onto his lap and spins her around in his chair.

“That’ll be half now, half later Ms. Amato.”

The couple have a little playful smooch fest until they notice Robert, the camera man, filming them from the doorway. Amanda throws a stress ball at him and misses. He keeps filming. She throws him another one and he ducks just in time.

“Hey! Don’t kill the camera man.”

“Hand it over,” Amanda lunges for the camera but Robert throws it over to Lorenzo. He motions to him to keep the camera rolling.

Robert then pulls a small red box wrapped up in a white ribbon from his front pant pocket and holds it out in front of him. There is a card taped onto the box with the initials “W.O.” that draws Amanda in.

Amanda turns to look at Lorenzo and shrugs to the camera then takes the box and heads for the couch. She places it very delicately on the coffee table. Robert joins her and they both stare at it.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” Lorenzo pipes in from behind the camera.

“What do you suppose is inside?” Amanda pokes the box a few times very carefully then melts back into the cushions, contemplating what to do next.

A snicker breaks the silence. “It’s not a bomb, Amanda. I’ve been carrying it in my pocket for 2 hours already and I’m not a eunuch yet.” He grabs the box and starts shaking it vigorously. “See?” He shakes it harder than puts it back on the table. “Not a peep. I think it’s just empty.”

Lorenzo stands up and hovers over the coffee table, zooming in on the mystery gift. His right hand flips over the card to reveal “Amanda Amato” written on the flip side.

“Where did you get this?” He pulls back and focuses the lens on a jittery Robert.

“It was on my desk at work when I got back from the staff meeting.” There is an awkward pause. Robert stares into space and continues: “The building is secure, so I don’t know how…” his words hang in the air a moment then vanish. He pulls out a pair of gloves and a mask from his backpack and hands them to Amanda. “Just in case,” he adds. He then gets up and backs away towards the exit signalling Lorenzo to back up as well.

Rumors started two weeks ago about possible troubles at the Columbus mine when a handful of the company’s directors started exercising their stock options. This sparked a flurry of activity from minor stockholders who followed suit with sales of their own which later caught the attention of Robert’s mother, Angela, a securities fraud investigator.

The Securities Commission has learned to tread lightly when Mr. Oxley is involved due to his enormous financial influence over many countries, so after a week of steady higher than average trading volumes, Angela began tracing the transactions using a fake account id.

Robert’s day job is as a chemist for NutriTestStandard, one of the many independent food analysis companies the FDA uses in their random quality checks, a practice which was implemented in the early 20s after a public outcry concerning undue agro-industry influence inside the FDA. In his capacity at NutriTestStandard he analyses samples randomly taken from foods served in industrial campuses to ensure that workers get the proper nutrition to maintain optimal health. Depending on the kinds of chemicals the workforce is exposed to on daily basis, Robert also tests that the government mandated levels of chelation agents are present in the foods as well. This is especially important for mining operations such as the Oxley Corporation’s Columbus project.

Amanda slips on the protective accessories and waits for Lorenzo’s cue.

“Rolling and speeding.” Lorenzo pulls focus to Amanda’s nervous fingers.

She releases the white ribbon with a quick pull and squeals as she jerks her body back. The top of the box brushes past her nose and crashes to the ceiling.

…to be continued in The Oxley Invitation.