Monday, April 4, 2011

Friday Flash Fiction (Cycle 25) The Real Fool

Friday Flash Fiction Prompt: Someone is caught with their pants down
Genre: Any
Word Count: I don’t honestly know what 1500-1800 words looks like, so let’s say keep it to less than two 8×11′s.
Thursday, April 7, 2011 A.D., on or about 4:30ish.

****Massive rewrite as of April 6, 2011*****

The job offer seemed like a no-brainer, instead of reenlisting for another four years in the army I would exchange my BDU’s and more combat rotations in some desert wasteland for a suit and tie while sitting in the comfort of an air conditioned office. That the offer originated from my father-in-law bugged the hell out of me but the phone call from the corporate headhunter came while I was sitting on my small patio watching my three year-old son intensely examine a cricket traveling through our yard. There was simply no choice in the matter, I was in Afghanistan when he was born and my son was over a year old before I ever met him.

My in-laws never liked me, a couple of both power and money their daughter and I met in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina while she was on spring break. I was a lowly enlisted soldier on leave from Fort Bragg and as it is often written in storybooks, we fell in love pretty much on first sight. So much that when her parents cut her off financially Cindy willingly accepted the life my status and pay allowed.

Several years later both Cindy and I were growing weary of the army life but nothing in the civilian job world offered as much as what I was making as a Sergeant, until the birth of our son Caleb jarred my father-in-law into action.

“Mr. Jeffery Connor,” the human resources lady said on the phone, “after reviewing your interview with us and the highly valued recommendation we received about you, we have decided to offer you a position as an assistant security agent. Do you accept the offer?”

Sitting on the patio it did not take a sleuth to understand her wording, the recommendation she spoke of was my father-in-law. Even after years of marriage to his daughter at best he thought me a stupid fool and his “help” was certain to be an attempt to make me look bad in front of her. He figured that I would either fail at the job or turn it down. “I’ll take it,” I replied and after learning where and when to report I hung up the phone, picked my son up off the ground, and with a grim determination decided to prove my bastard of a dad-in-law wrong.

The corporation I found myself working for was one of those outsourcing businesses that did various mundane services like payroll and bookkeeping for other companies. It employed almost exclusively accountants and computer programmers with both positions overlapping greatly. After that were the high paid suits, a few janitors and those like me in security making up the company.

Far from being a simple rent-a-cop my job involved both physical security of the property and making sure the accountants and programming drones did not walk in the building or leave with any memory devices. After a few questions I was assured our department's duties were normal since many of our clients wanted to keep the nature of their own businesses confidential.

At first, the job was fantastic; my boss was ex-army himself and took me under his wing helping me to understand the business and how to keep the suits happy. After a year he started pushing me to take programming and other computer related classes at the local college so I could move up the corporate ladder. I did and when the position of computer security supervisor opened, I got the job. Right after that my old boss retired and it was then I became aware of the true nature of the corporate world.

My new position had me reviewing lines of programming code looking for “anomalies,” office terminology for program subroutines put there by hackers outside the business or by employees. I excelled at my new job quickly uncovering several ongoing hacking attempts. It got me slaps on the back by the grateful suits and more responsibilities, this time watching the actions of employees in day-to-day operations.

This went as far as reviewing arrival and departure times by the employees, their rate of workload efficiency, and even how long they spent at lunch and the bathroom. The weirder part was yet to come. I was eventually pulled aside by the VP of operations and was told to watch for something he described as “visible demeanor.”

“Get to know as many of the workers as possible and understand their habits and usual attitudes. Be suspicious of any change in their behavior whether they become suddenly cheerful or if they abruptly seem disgruntled.” The well-groomed senior company vice president said in his office. When our meeting was over, he handed me a report stamped “Top Secret” explaining my new duties and the tools available to accomplish those ends.

Back in my new office, I was stunned, my new security duties made me look like the Gestapo and the “tools” I had available were an Orwellian wet dream. They consisted of hidden cameras installed in places that stretched legal concerns to the breaking point. Still, I had a wife and child to provide for and while it was against my principles, I had no other choice but to work in the system.

Two years went quickly by with my reputation at work suffered. Whenever I ventured out among those working in the cubicles conversations immediately went silent and no one ever looked me in eye.

I came to understand my coworker’s apprehensions, from my Big Brother office, I began to view the cubicles the accountants and programmers labored not an open, inviting workplace but a well-lighted prison. The group supervisors were oppressive thugs and more than once I saw a worker crack from the stress and just walk out.

Things came to a head with the disappearance of Robert Carter, one of the company’s senior programmers. The high ranking suits in the upper offices busted a gut one morning after Carter’s supervisor called them saying he had missed three days straight without calling in sick. I was ordered to review all security video in his area and confiscate his work computer. By this time, I had a staff of two and I left them to do the drudgery, while I took a more active role checking out his apartment.

My training had me obtaining a private investigators license along with an education in more underhanded means of gaining information. After briefly interviewing his neighbors saying I was a long lost cousin just to make sure Robert was not home I picked the lock to the door of his apartment and went inside. It was clear the man lived a spartan life; his apartment was empty except for a couch, small bed, and a television. The only picture on his wall was that of him with a lady holding a child.

Robert was the quiet sort who I had never spoke with so he was a mystery to me. After a call to his supervisor, I learned that the lady and baby I saw in the picture were his wife and child mere months before they were killed in a car crash. Feeling the wheels turn in my head I placed a call with one of the company’s law enforcement contacts and learned that while Robert had recently renewed his passport, as of yet he had not left the country. After that all it took was finding out where his family was buried.

For a week, I waited close to the cemetery watching people go in and out. My two underlings were still reviewing the security video and computer while the senior staff was okay with me being out of the office as long as I found Robert. While I waited, one of the guys on my staff discovered Robert had secret company records on his computer, making him no longer just “missing” but officially “wanted.”

Robert showed up early one afternoon and I followed him to a couple of simple graves in the far corner of the cemetery. Despite my attempt to quietly approach what looked to be the epitome of the computer nerd he somehow knew I was behind him. “They were my whole world,” he said without turning around, “I wasn’t supposed to work late but the company demanded I have the new programming code up and running. My wife didn’t like driving at night but our son, David was sick and needed to go to the emergency room. The road was slick from rain, the other driver took the curve too fast, they collided and all three were dead by the time the ambulance arrived.”

“Robert why did you have secret company files on your computer?” I asked reaching for my pistol after noticing a bulge underneath his jacket.

“The company,” Robert began again, “didn’t give a damn about my family or me. They just needed code additions so they could start skimming money off certain clients, while hiding money for others from the IRS. They said it was a mutually beneficial situation, that it would insure the health of the company. That is when I started skimming money for myself, just pennies at first but more as I went along. The company had over five-hundred clients each with hundreds of employees. It surprised me how quickly the money accumulated. My plan was to build up enough cash to leave the country after turning over the documents implicating the management, but that was years ago.”

“Why didn’t you leave Robert?” I asked.

“I found I couldn’t abandon them,” Robert said motioning to the graves of his wife and child. Robert turned around and tossed me two flash drives. “Here,” he said, “one drive has the documents and the other the account numbers to the money I stole and authorization codes to access it.”

My mind was whirling at all I heard, so much that Robert caught me off guard as he pulled out his own pistol and put a bullet through his head.

No matter what I was not a “company man”, so it never turned over either of the flash drives to the corporate suits, but I was smart enough not to try to access either memory device at work or home. After the dust Robert stirred up cleared, it was obvious both of the guys on my staff were watching me and I had to figure my home was bugged. A year later, I felt safe enough to take the family on a Bahamian vacation, while in Nassau I bought a laptop there to review the files. Robert had the company, scores of clients, and curiously enough, my father-in-law caught in what amounted to hundreds of felony crimes.

I didn’t immediately turn over the files to the police, once the company knew for certain the stolen files actually existed their lawyers would have buried the information under a ton of legal mumbo-jumbo. Seeing Robert's body slumped over the graves of his family I knew what to do.

The first thing that happened were documents showing up anonymously at the offices of clients that were having payroll funds skimmed. After that, it was a bloody feeding frenzy with lawyers all around battling to the proverbial death. Deep down I knew the main answer to this predicament would never be the legal system, corporate interests were to well protected these days but I did know who could bring down all those with their expensive pants down around their ankles. Through an attorney I turned all the files over to the IRS, with them involved hundreds of executives, including my dad-in-law quickly ended up in federal prison.

What about the money Robert stole? That turned out to be over twenty-million dollars, all in overseas and untraceable accounts. With those funds, my family and I moved to Costa Rica and now live in a fine beach house. As I look out at the ocean watching the sunset I often find myself wondering who my father-in-law now thinks is the fool?

(Author's note: I kind of like this story, comments or reactions would be greatly appreciated.) 


Oso said...

I love to see the bad guys brought down. You chronicle his ascension to being a corporate man well, and the basic individualism that triumphs is also well expressed.

Ingrid Hardy said...

Wow. This is packed. The way you wrote it, it feels personal... Fantastic interpretation of the prompt... you got a buncha books in you...!

Pixel Peeper said...

So many observations ring so true! What are you gonna do if you need to feed a family, have bills, and need insurance... Still - Little guy: 1 - Big corporation: 0

I'm still trying to decide how I feel about the end, living off stolen money. Does that make him as bad a the big corporation? Or would a different ending, one where he would have returned the stolen money and lived off some reward, be just too boring?

Windsmoke. said...

Just goes to show how far greedy, corrupt corporations will go for money and power then in turn this infects their empolyees to the detriment of their families. I reckon this situation actually happens in real life and is hidden behind commerical confidentially :-).

Akelamalu said...

WOW that was fantastic! Shame Robert had to die but FIL got his comeuppance too didn't he?

Liberality said...

Great story! You are a natural writer being able to move the plot along and give character details with ease.

RegCPA5963 said...

I love a well spun tale, this story was entertaining and fast paced. Also, liked the way the main character grew during piece proving the father-in-law wrong all the way around

Beach Bum said...

Oso: One of the few things keeping me hopeful is the belief that the individual will ultimately win out. There is no doubt we leave in some sort of Second Gilded Age where corporation dominate the life but all ages have to end sometime.

Ingrid: For one at best I greatly distrust corporations but actively dislike to hate might be a better way to describe my feelings. Secondly, I feel the "common man and women" are getting royally screwed and I had to end this with Connor walking away the winner.

Pixel: Actually this story has a slight sliver of fact involved. Back in the mid-90's I was taking programming classes and one of my instructors told us a story.

Around the time businesses started using mainframe computers a programmer noticed his company was figuring out payroll down to the hundredth of one cent. Being a bright guy he started skimming off that small amount off all the employees in his large company and IF the story is true this went on unnoticed for years.

The only way he got caught was how he suddenly just stopped coming to work and essentially disappeared. His boss was actually worried something very bad had happened to him believeing he had been kidnapped or killed.

During the investigation his crime was discovered and since the idiot had not left the country was found relatively easy. Needless to say he went to jail.

Given my character's situation I would taken the money and ran. His company was nothing but a bunch of crooks and given how corporations seem to work at somepoint he would have been pulled into the criminal activity.

WindsmokeL I agree, I'm sure something similar has and is happening now.

Akelamalu: Like I mentioned to Pixel, I based Robert Carter on some sliver of the truth. As for dad-in-law, I will not say a word one way of the other on that one.

Liberality and Reg: Was a little worried about the story bogging down, needed to make Connor a decent guy put into a bad situation and that takes time. Naturally, I went over the word limit.

John McElveen said...

Awesome and totally agree. Great review from me. BYW- it was 1532 words!

Keep writing and I'll read the whole dang novel!!!

Good work Sir!


Randal Graves said...

Someone hates General Electric and Wachovia. Hmph.

Cloudia said...

Liked this, but your previous entry should be broadcast from the rooftops!

Rock on, friend

Warm Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral


allen said...

Interesting. I think you have a general plot idea that you keep coming back to i.e. good person/bad situation. It reminds me of your "old town police chief" idea from another story. You really should try to develop this in more detail.

Ranch Chimp said...

Good Evening Bum! (12:51am Dallas time ... so morning as well) Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh ... as I said before, I'm not really a fiction reader ... but really enjoyed this piece, it is really more up my alley I reckon ... business, scam's, skimming, hustling, etc But my compliment's guy ... almost sound's more like non- fiction. :)

Hey, short funny here inspired in the opening, as far as the yuppety type in- laws not liking the feller or whatever. When I was a teen (true story), I met some gal, really cute, blonde, etc, just at random in public accidentally, why she liked me?, I had no idea, I was a street kid and she obviuosly came from a well off background, however ... one day she asked me to come to her home to meet her parent's ... it was way the Hell up in Westchester (NYC metro area) a upper class area. The house was a sight for a kid living in Brooklyn at the time, believe me. I'll admit, I wasnt actually what one would call a pleasant site, I had long hair, wearing a pair of Dingo boot's, jean's, no shirt even, but one of them leather biker jacket's, I did put my hair in a pony tail though to try to look proper. But she introduced me to her dad, who was in one of them nice recliner's, reading and smoking a pipe (no, not pot either) he barely glanced at me, left the room, called her into the next room, I could hear him complaining to her ... and he asked her "What is that?!!" refering to me of course, well ... I wasnt thrilled over it, but blew it off, I really liked the chick, she knew I heard and asked me to forget him after I left.

Thanx Guy ....

Beach Bum said...

John: Thanks! My writing isn't professional grade but its something I enjoy doing.

Randal: Absolutely, I figure they will eventually round people like me up since the corporate types are the real power in Amerika.

Cloudia: Thanks! Another seditious rant sure to put me on a number of enemy lists.

Allen: Will have to dig that one up and try it again.

Ranch: LOL!!!!

That very situation happened when I started dating my wife. It was even worse for her parents since they have not as of yet been able to get rid of me.

Infidel753 said...

Great piece of work. It didn't bother me that the protagonist ended up living off the stolen money. The whole story made it clear that he wasn't meant to be a moral paragon, but an ordinary imperfect person who was pushed into action by seeing others being pushed too far.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

As a long suffering (now ex) son in law myself, I was totally rooting for you/pleased as punch by your triumph.

Angie said...

I agree with what someone said earlier in the comments--this is a great start to a story that would be brilliant once it's fully fleshed out. I was so thrown by the suicide halfway through! The writing was compelling; I couldn't stop until I knew exactly what happened. I was waiting to see if the dad-in-law would be caught big-time.

Doc said...

Make no mistake about it Beach ol' buddy. This is a very good story and top shelf in every right, but I think one more edit would turn this into a great story. The voice of the main character rings true and really gifts this piece with something special, as if it could have been culled from the headlines or the evening news. Good job!


Barbara Bruederlin said...

This is a really compelling story! I agree with many of the other commenters who say that they would like to see your story fleshed out into short story or novella length. You certainly have the structure for it.

Beach Bum said...

Infidel: Given the situation I constructed I don't believe my character would have any other choice but to take the money and run. In my head I saw Connor getting angry at how his duties were forcing him to go against his principles. In this setting feeding your family comes first, exposing white collar crimes comes second and only if you have the chance.

Will: There is some basis in reality for that particular facet of the story.

Angie: I apologize in way for the story moving a little too much into my political beliefs. Like I mentioned earlier, I do not trust any corporation, while there maybe "good corporate citizens" somewhere out there I have no evidence of such creatures.

Robert's suicide was crucial to the story since I wanted to give a strong sense of someone being pushed too far. It is a situation that I believe is common in many forms right now and will only get worse.

Doc: Absolutely, like I mentioned to Angie it became a little too overtly political, this is even after my April 6th rewrite. I left a lot out of the final segment explaining how Connor and his family ended up. If I have time I may go back and rework this story again.

Barbara: The scary thing I have not mentioned is that my past employers had similar traits as the corporation Connor worked for and that company gave every indication of moving further in that direction.

ERR said...

Excellent story. Inspires me to write something around my own career in "application development."

Anonymous said...


Yep, fell into this after the first couple of sentences. The tone and the style rang extremely true to the content and it moved well.

Nice work!


Joyce said...

What a hero! This story made me feel so good. Oh what a tangled web we weave... Having spent most of my life working in the corporate sector, I understand the uncaring and robotic approach to employees and their families. I was never involved in anything like you described, but even on a small scale, they're pretty vile at all levels.

Robert's suicide was the only real tragedy here. His father-in-law and the rest all deserved what they got and his turning them in, taking the cash and moving on to bigger and better things? Brava!

I love the truth of it all too--the fact that the corporate lawyers and courts probably wouldn't have made a dent, but the IRS? They can, and will, take anybody down. How fitting! Love this one.

lime said...

i like it. and as much as i have a major axe to grind against the IRS you're right, they'll bring down folks the legal system won't.

just enough twists to keep it interesting. :)

Beach Bum said...

ERR: Would like to read it, I have a few stories I could write about myself but for several reasons better not.

Rayyanek: Thanks!

Joyce: My wife is a tax attorney, about the only person other attorneys fear is her type.

Lime: the whole system has been scammed and rigged to the point its going to take something along the lines of what went on in Egypt before anything changes.