Sunday, January 19, 2014

Writers Write Prompt---Flowers for the Ex-wife

 (Author Note: This is serious late and extra long. But warning, it is highly seditious and full of disdain for corporations and American politics. As always, excuse the typos.)

You always hear life has a more leisurely, almost glacier pace in the tropics but most Americans simply are unable to grasp the truth of that cliché until they actually come to live in these hot and sticky environs. I've lived as an American expat on the Bahamian island of Spanish Wells for close to seven years now and I still find the disconnect that exists between the rest of the world and here mind boggling. Yeah, there are a few internet cafes on the island and I am sure the very reclusive rich living in their posh fortress estates have their own vampire-like access to the internet to watch the ever important business reports and stock market fluctuations. But for the vast majority of the locals and expats like me Spanish Wells might as well be on a different planet circling a far, distant star. As most people could guess about us expatriates though, is that you don't move to a place like Spanish Wells to stay the proverbial mover and shaker in the modern world.

Some like me live here because we tried to take on the world and were instead mauled to a bloody pulp and left for dead. This assault was especially bad for me since the person who perpetrated it was none other than my lovely ex-wife. Once the dust had settled on my betrayal I literally had nothing left to do but bandage my emotional and financial wounds and limp off like some abused dog. When I arrived here I welcomed the solitude and seemingly light years distance between me and the rest of civilization. I figured that even though the world had utterly beaten Jason Wright and sent me into exile the best revenge was live well in paradise. Funny thing though, from time to time the outside world still finds a way to remind me this splendid isolation is just an illusion.

That little statement was proved in spades yesterday when the Bahamian Postal Service delivered the latest information care package from my sister, Barbara, living in Charleston, South Carolina. It is a medium-sized box filled with several weeks of newspapers and magazines plus a few home-made DVD's of American television. For the first couple of years I wrote Barbara back telling her I didn't want the stuff but like any kid sister upset that I did not make an effort to return home for the holidays she continued with me just throwing the unopened boxes into the small closet here in my beach-side cottage. I wanted nothing to do with the world and I went as far as limiting myself to just listening to the BBC international radio broadcasts for a few minutes a week making a conscious effort to turning it off whenever some news report about the United States started.

However, curiosity often has a more corrosive effect that either time or loneliness for wearing away the rock of stubborn certainty. It was about the third year of my exile when on a whim I opened the latest box and began catching up on what was going on in the United States. I binged for two straight days on the collection of already out of date newspapers and magazines. After everything was read though I felt dirty and a little hypocritical.

The creepy, dirty feeling came from seeing how American culture could always find new ways to delve ever deeper into the self-righteous glorification and banal behavior, especially among the rich and powerful. The cloud of hypocrisy that formed over my head came from the knowledge that at one time I was well on my way to becoming part of that group and it was only my wife's betrayal which prevented that from happening. Such powerful and deep self introspection was too disturbing for me and I soon developed the habit of spending the following night in one of the island's bars and getting stone cold drunk to cleanse my soul. All things considered, the routine of catching up with the latest American cultural and political antics was an unhealthy and ultimately self-destructive habit but it was the latest box from my sister that upset that happy applecart.

The mail had come late the previous day and I didn't open the box until the following morning. So with the sun rising over the peaceful ocean I sat down at the small table on my porch with my first cup of coffee and with a small knife sliced the packing tape sealing the box. Right off the bat I am staring down at the cover of a Time magazine graced with the picture of my beautiful ex-wife, Anna, and her husband, my former best friend, and attorney, Mike Rayburn.


Truthfully it's hard to pick an actual point in time when this tragic, for me, comedy began. Anna, Mike, and I met during college but our mutual friendships were slow to begin. We were all majoring in different fields but shared a few classes together, hung out at the same bars and parties, and liked a spot on campus under an old weeping willow tree to study and relax.

It took about three months worth of study dates under that tree before Anna and I started approaching anything close to becoming a couple. Mike, and Sara, the woman who became his first wife, soon joined our little group. Those college years went by fast with Anna earning her degree in business and me in electrical engineering. Moving into that first ting apartment with her and starting our lives together was both the happiest and scariest time in my life. Marriage followed about a year later but in hindsight it seems now it was more a formality than any real conscious declaration of a lifelong commitment. Mike and Sara moved off to attend law school leaving us behind but as fate would have it our lives would soon converge again.

What changed our lives forever was my boss assigning me the project of writing some minor software code for a new line of industrial relay controllers. It only took a couple of days to realize I had a knack for programming. A week later I am coming up with a whole host of computer programs for industrial uses. After some careful planning with Anna a couple of years later she and I have a software business going to the point I decided to call in my best friend Mike to represent us. Not only had Mike gotten his law degree but had branched off to become a first-rate investment banker.

I can still remember the look of utter astonishment on Mikes face as he sat on the old and ugly couch in that tiny apartment looking over the quarterly earnings and the list of small and medium-sized business that had bought my software. “Dammit Jason!” he exclaimed, “these numbers can't be real. On paper Anna and you are worth a couple of million right now. Why are you still living in this small dump?”

I remember Anna and I just looking at each other and shrugging. I certainly hadn't thought about anything other than work and being with her. I then looked around and realized that the apartment was so small I could sit on the couch and easily carry on a conversation with someone sitting on the bed or the toilet. Anna and I almost immediately jumped to four-thousand square foot house along with going on a general spending spree that never really stopped. Life seemed perfect, Anna ran the company, Mike plied his legal skills as well as talked with investors, and I was writing some seriously cutting edge code and had begun recruiting a team of programmers to expand the business.


The magazine cover had them sitting on the steps of the new company headquarters outside San Francisco. The building looked like an ugly cross between something from Star Trek and the United States Capitol Building. Just to show how devoted Anna was to Mike her head lovely rested on his strong shoulders. However, it appears there was some sort of trouble brewing in their software paradise because the building had been photo shopped to look like it was on fire while the caption underneath the loving couple asked if they might have accidentally killed the billion dollar Golden Goose.

I have to admit it made my day to read how a series of bad decisions and failed risky ventures by them had placed the company in financial jeopardy with rumors flying that some major Wall Street vultures were greedily eying the wounded animal, eager to kill it off and pick its bones clean. Since Time magazine had long since realized that the average attention span of most Americans was a great deal shorter that a few decades ago the article offered few details about their mismanagement but to me something just didn't sound right. I had to log onto the internet and and surf several financial web pages to learn the numbers. When I was done I knew full well Mike and Anna were trying to scam the shareholders because they had done me the same way.


Once the company I had named “Swiftrider Software” was formally organized with Anna as Chief Executive Officer and Mike playing full time Chief Financial Officer, I became the Chief Operations Officer overseeing the creation of new software and the maintenance of our existing products. That was all well and good, and easily ran through a series of intelligent underlings I had hired but my true passion lay with a department doing experimental research into artificial intelligence. It was a cozy situation and stayed this way until a particular Tuesday four years later when both of them unexpectedly came into my office for a private conversation.

“Listen Jason,” Mike said in a formal tone, “the numbers in your experimental department don't add up, truthfully it looks like you and your team were literally flushing money down the toilet. Were going for an initial public offering next year but with this amount of money essentially missing most investors will run away from us as fast as they can.”

“Honey,” Anna said, “both Mike and I have talked about this, maybe, for the sake of the company, you should take a leave of absence at least until after the IPO. Then you can come back and work on The AI stuff again.”

At that time I did not catch any whiff of the big fat dead rat the two were trying to thrust upon me. I would have trusted both with my life at that moment and truth be told I was feeling a little burned out. The AI stuff was indeed not producing any useful fruit and since by any reasonable definition I was flirting with the status of being ultra rich I decided to spend a year traveling to places I had always wanted to go. I even thought that the time away might allow me some insight on producing a true AI operating system.

Six months later while hiking the South Island of New Zealand I log onto the internet only to read a banner headline proclaiming that I was under investigation for squandering company funds. And I was shocked to read that my lovely bride and my newly divorced best friend had thrown me under a large, fast moving bus. I returned home immediately to defend myself and in doing so quickly learned that the two had been having an affair for some time and were madly in love with each other.

Standing in Anna's office she made an obviously fake gesture of concern forcing me to sit down on her couch and then grabbing my hands. “Listen Jason, after some investigations we discovered your pet project is in the red for close to fifty-million dollars. Now I don't know what you did with the money but Mike and I have covered it up with certain friends in the federal government willing to let this all disappear as long as you do the same.”

“What the hell are you talking about Anna? We never played with that kind of funds, it's insane.” She then produced a printout showing that in fact the AI department did have that kind of budget authorized by me. I was dumbfounded to say the least and only then beginning to understand what it all meant.

“I see this report was produced by Sara before she divorced Mike and left the company. I'd very much like to talk with her and that bastard.” I could tell, from the look on her face, Anna was playing a game of chess with me.

“The divorce was difficult for Sara and she has moved out of the country.” Anna said in her totally business tone of voice. “You'd have to speak with her attorney to arrange something and from what I'm told she has standing orders to be left alone. More to the point Jason, the feds will tear you apart if you don't leave the company. Do you want to go to jail.?”

I had been the worst fool in human history when it came to Anna and Mike but I was not stupid. I agreed to go quietly and they generously put fifteen-million in a bank for me to have a comfortable exile. The last time I saw Anna was the day we signed our divorce papers.

“I'm sorry things ended up this way Jason.” She said after asking for one last private conversation in the attorney's conference room. “I really did love you but we drifted apart. I really wish you would say something to Mike before you go, he'd like to say goodbye.”

“If I ever see that bastard again he'll be dead a few minutes later.” I responded with Anna knowing I meant every word to the deepest part of my soul. She made a sad face and incredibly, gave me a hug.

“This will pass,” she said, “in fact I predict that one day you will bring me flowers again.” After that we parted with me unable to figure out if she actually believed her last statement or was just mouthing words she had rehearsed.


I skipped the usual bar crawl that night and laid in the hammock outside my cottage go over my past and what I had read about the current state of the company I had created. I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea that Mike and Anna were essentially pulling another scam, even worse for what reason? As a couple they were worth half a billion dollars. I knew both loved the idea of being rich, I had tasted the same delusional waters, but how many damn yachts, mansions, private jets, and land could a person have a desire to own. What did it take for such people to ever be satisfied.

It was a sickness and from my vantage point it looked like everyone in a position of power in the United States suffered from some insidious strain of it. Technically it was a nifty and desirable disease to endure but it sucked for the vast majority of people who just wanted a decent life and to see their kids grow up without want. They were the ones who paid the ultimate cost to support such a small privileged group. That night I slept under the stars disgusted with them and myself. The next morning though I knew what had to be done.

Much had changed since I left Swiftrider Software but after looking over their websites I found out they still used in house software to run the day to day operations. More to the point, after some careful snooping I happily discovered my secret backdoor access into the company mainframe was still there. Back at the start of my programming days I had included it as way to do quick fixes. As the lines of codes in later software grew almost exponentially it became lost in the background. It was there that I had to stop, o delve any deeper would probably alert Swiftrider's network security but I had a plan to get around that.

The American expat community is a multifaceted bunch with many different reasons for living outside the land of the free and the home of the brave. Like Jimmy Buffett likes to sing, some are running from lovers, some are in the drug trade, and some are pure criminals hiding from an Uncle Sam whose arms seem to grow longer everyday. One of these guys, who went by the alias Lewis Carter, was a first-rate computer hacker living off a huge chunk of change he stole from an American political action committee. It was nearly the perfect crime because like the mafia, American PAC's are semi-secret organizations that try to hide their members, funds, and actions from the general public.

The one huge advantage American PAC's have over the mafia though is that they are legal and protected institutions and don't have to worry about the law coming after them. On the other hand if, like my friend, you can hack into their bank accounts and steal their money they generally don't openly squeal to the police because it's bad publicity to let the unwashed and happily numb masses get any idea how much they truly control the American political system.

To keep any possible private investigators or bounty hunters confused Lewis moved around a lot but he and I kept in contact. His latest haunt was a house deep in the El Salvador rain forest and after some clandestine communications he liked my idea of pulling a job on the American corporate establishment, from there everything accelerated to warp speed.

With my help Lewis hacked into the Swiftrider mainframe and went straight to the highly-encrypted financial records. Sure enough, Mike had two sets of financial records, one faked to make the company look weak and the real one showing everything was fine. After further cracking the email server Lewis and I found confirmation that Mike and Anna along with a few others planned on wrecking the company, sell off the pieces, then declare bankruptcy with the shareholders taking a bath.

There was a problem though, Lewis and I had obtained both the faked and real financial records and the smoking gun emails illegally but I had long since thought a way around that. The one way to destroy a monster is to involve another, even meaner monster. In other words I employed a high-powered New York law firm to anonymously give the hacked records to several of the big Swiftrider shareholders. Once the figurative blood had hit the waters of the financial markets the feeding frenzy began before the end of the day. And as I thought if the big Master of the Universe investors get any sort of hint their money might be threatened their lackeys in the federal government act fast.

Just a month later Mike and Anna were arrested, and since they had tried to play the big Wall Street power brokers they got none of the special consideration white collar criminals normally received. If revenge is a dish best served cold it was near absolute zero in the court room as I watched Mike sentenced to forty-five years in prison for fraud and several other crimes. See once the two love birds were busted they both began singing to the feds about the other. I loved the look of utter despair on Mike's face once his lawyer informed him that he was going to a real federal prison filled to the brim with big and tough street wise guys that loved to develop long and lasting relationships with white collar types. I even made sure Mike saw me as he was lead out of the court room to begin his sentence.

Because she had sung like a Nightingale, Anna received a somewhat lighter sentence of only thirty years in a medium security prison. A year after she started her time I flew back to the States to go visit her. “You look marvelous in prison orange.” I said to Anna as she sat on the other side of a large table from me.

“I suppose you had something to do with Mike and me going to jail?” Was all she could say in response.

I had played the fool too many times for her so I didn't take the bait. “Nope Sweeetie,” I said, “ I have no idea what you are talking about. I was down in the tropics living the nice and easy life when this all exploded.”

She just sat there in hateful silence. Sitting across from a clearly destroyed person I suddenly didn't have any taste for revenge and decided to cut to the chase. “You once predicted I would bring you a flowers and here they are.” With that I dropped the bunch of roses on the table and walked out without looking back.


Pixel Peeper said...

I sure hope the roses were a bunch of dead and rotting flowers, just like she deserved!

Judith said...

Great story!

goatman said...

Speaking for myself, and anyone near myself that I can speak for, we normally do not like the prompt instructive -- too much like high school.
But I do enjoy reading them and it keeps us off the streets!

Nice job, you are good at this.