Benford’s Visit

“This isn’t good,” the auditor mumbled as he stared at the mountain of expense reports from our division. I thought it was a comment on the size of the pile but Jerry recognized right away that the aside was directed at something inside the pile. We glanced at each other and waited to see who would break first. It was me.

“What did you find?” I asked, my voice squeaking. Any sound would have been discomforting after sitting mutely in the room for two hours while this guy silently moved papers back and forth. We had gone several years without a visit from corporate of any type and then, out of the blue, this guy showed up unannounced and wanted to see twelve months’ worth of originals. Jerry told him to take a hike, but it turned out that wasn’t an option and we had to set up a folding table in the middle of the office then sit near enough to him to answer questions.

“theznumbersnaughtreal” he incoherently muttered.


When Karl is Right

Karl and I were disagreeing about the possibility of catching the flu from an individually wrapped Little Debbie when I rear-ended the Crown Vic at a crossroads halfway between two nothing towns. I knew it was sitting at the four-way between the cornfields, but it never occurred to me that they weren’t going to roll through as we came up behind them.

The bump was at a low enough speed that the airbags didn’t go off, but you could hear pieces of my grill bounce on the loosely-packed country road like a burst of raindrops on a summer day. “I think it might be a cop,” Karl stammered even though the odds were strong in this county that it was more likely to be owned by a want-to-be than an actual one.

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” I uttered and checked the rearview to see if anyone else was coming up behind us: we were the only two cars in sight on an afternoon when the temperature was nearing one hundred. “Go see if he’s ok,” I ordered and popped the glove box to look for my registration half expecting the other driver to jump out with a tire iron in his hand the way I would if the roles were reversed.

“No one’s getting out,” Karl pointed out without giving any indication that he was going to get off his fat ass to go see. “Maybe they’ve had a stroke or something.”

“Why don’t you go check?”

“Because I didn’t hit them – you’re the one that needs to go up there.”

“I had more beers than you,” I pronounced as if that were the answer to any question that could ever be asked.

“So?”

“So I don’t want that to be the first thing they smell after an accident,” I explained. “You go talk to them while I find some gum or mints or something.”

“Why …” Karl began and then hesitated. “Why don’t we just drive away? Right now, before they get out. Do a U-turn and …”

“I can’t do that!”

“You’ve been drinking …” he confirmed, “…and the accident was definitely your fault. You know the cops will take away your license. You know your insurance will skyrocket …”

“Why do I need insurance if they take away my …”

“Just do it! Just turn around right now before anyone gets out. Just go back the way we came. You’ve only got a few seconds and you need to do it now. Do it! Turn us around! Get us out of here!” His voice was as shrill and annoying as anything I have ever heard.

With adrenaline rushing, I did something I should not have done and then I put the car in reverse and turned the wheel hard as I backed up with rubber squealing. After about fifty yards, I put it in drive without coming to a complete stop and the lurch would have led any normal person to believe that the transmission was going to fall out then and there. Instead, it stuttered and caught. I kept watching the other car and no one ever got out. I said a prayer that included a promise to never drink again so that it might be taken seriously.

That evening, the news on every channel was all about the sniper who had been hiding in the cornfield picking off motorists one by one when they stopped and got out to look at his empty car. Meticulously, that sniper pulled both bodies and vehicles into the field and reset the trap time and time again over a four hour period.

I was thankful that I had gotten out of there when I did and toasted my good fortune with a Little Debbie cupcake washed down with a cold one. I kept trying to call Karl, but he wouldn’t answer his phone. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have tossed him out of the car when I did.


No Hard Feelings

“No hard feelings,” Daniels said as the budget meeting ended and he offered his hand.

“Then try Cialis,” I told him as I headed for the door. Every dollar he wrangled for his research came at the expense of mine.

“Livingston! I’d like to speak with you,” I heard over my shoulder and recognized the voice of the new dean – something that had been quiet throughout the whole meeting.

“Do so during office hours,” I responded and kept on walking. Now was not a good time for junior to espouse something from his management book of the day. My throat was dry and I desired something other than what came from the fountains.

“I need something from you,” he continued as he came up behind me in the hallway and slowed my progression toward the dark night waiting just beyond the next set of doors. “I need you to do something.”

Intrigued, I stopped. He was six months into a job that only lasted two years, on average, and the only thing he had ever asked for before was paperwork; a request that I routinely ignored. The desperation in his voice didn’t sound like it was going to be a request of that sort.

“You’ve got sixty seconds,” I told him and he began to talk. To his credit, each time he started to ramble, I looked at my watch and he got back on topic. Long story short, he knew his wife was cheating on him and he wanted help finding out with whom. Since I taught computer science and had co-written a text on security, he thought I could find things on her tablet that others would miss. On that count, he was right. I could also easily imagine his wife cheating on him; when he brought her around at the beginning of the semester, both Daniels and I had agreed that she had settled way below her potential.

“What’s in it for me?” I asked when he was done.

“I …” he stuttered. “I thought you might do it just to help me out.” The look on my face assured him that he was wrong on that count. “What do you want?”

“Get rid of Daniels,” I told him.

“I can’t do that!”

“Then I wish you the best,” and with that I was both done and I was gone.

A week later, I heard the rumors and the blood drained from my upper body so fast that my legs became rubbery. Daniels had been confronted about academic dishonesty and threatened with termination. Rather than face it like a man, he hung himself in his cubby of an office. A student found him when she went to explain how she had missed an exam because her grandmother had died yet again.

I hurried to my office in search of solitude. What I found was a Windows 8 tablet in a pink case sitting on my desk and a Post-it note stating that I had better start looking. The note wasn’t signed and there was nothing indicating who the tablet belonged to, but there was zero doubt.

After collecting myself, I started digging. There was nothing incriminating in email, in the Registry, or the deleted files. I brought up every saved restore point and looked for porn, for selfies, for letters and map directions, GPS coordinates, and everything imaginable. While the possibility existed that I was overlooking something, it was far more probable that she was innocent. I’ve been an expert witness many times and that is what I would have to testify to in this case. I restored everything to the way I had found it and headed downstairs.

“Well?” the dean asked when I closed his office door behind me and set the tablet on his desk. “Who is it?”

“You’re not going to believe this,” I started him and then noticed the rope burns on his hands. “It was Daniels.”


Curiosity and the Compliance Officer

Whenever Becki heard the faraway hum of the printer at N.V. Labs, she would bolt from her cubicle like a race horse leaving the gate. If anyone saw her, she’d feign looking for a particular print job even though she had not submitted one. She just liked skimming through the papers before their owners arrived and seeing what they consisted of. Sometimes, she would get lucky and find racy correspondence or completed complaint forms about fellow coworkers.

Tuesday, it was the watermark of “Private” that caught her attention first. She skipped to the body and started speed reading. While she didn’t understand all of it – and had to read it hastily lest the rightful owner show up at any second – it was clear that someone in the company wanted to fraudulently restate earnings so a handful could unload their stock. As the assistant to the assistant comptroller, there was no way she would allow such a scheme to transpire on her watch.

Hastily, she stuck the papers back on the printer and power-walked the maze to her cubicle fearful of being spotted by the wrongdoers. The moment she sat down, she started making a mental list of all the things she should have done. She should have made a copy. She should have taken the original to her boss. She should have done a lot more than just rush back to her seat.

“I have to do something,” she whispered to no one and high-tailed it back to the printer. When she arrived, though, the output tray was empty and not another soul was in sight. “Who…”, she murmured and was caught by surprise at the hum of the printer starting up. This close to it, the sound was greater than she remembered and she feared it might draw the attention of everyone else on the floor.

The gears whirred. The drum turned. The toner heated. Not a single sheet of paper came out even though Becki’s left hand now served as the output tray. “What the …,” she mouthed and looked to the electronic display for help: “13.20 Paper Jam Tray 3,” it read. With no idea of how the trays were numbered, she started hurriedly opening the drawers, inspecting them, and putting them back in – all the while imagining that she heard footsteps on the tiles drawing near.

Once opened, the bad tray was easily identified. The top sheet of paper had a substance looking like coffee grounds spilled all over it. Becki messily removed that sheet and about a dozen beneath it to take with her to the trash. It stained a few of the fingers on her right hand, but with her left hand she straightened the rest of the stack, reloaded the tray and inserted it into the machine. She knew she’d done well when the printer started up again and she was able to put her hand back in place in time to collect the single sheet that came out. Flipping it over, she saw that there were only six words on the whole page: “We’ll need to get around Becki”.

She stifled a gasp and touched each word on the page as if to read them with her stained fingers. She released the paper and it slowly floated to the floor like a lazy cloud. Turning to head to the boss’s office, she became cognizant of the printer starting again. Without fully recognizing she was doing it, she snatched the single page of this print job, turned it over, and saw there was only one word printed on this one: “How?”

Another printout, the rejoinder, had to be coming and so she froze in place and waited petulantly for it. After a long delay, the machine spit out the answer she coveted: “Poison tray three”.

Becki looked at her hands and the gunk that had now worked its way half way up her arm. The bluish-purple color of her skin made her realize that her obituary would make the paper the same day as the restated earnings.


Fathers of Otherwise Lost Sons

Usually, when my teenage son comes into my bedroom I think, “So this is how it is going to end,” and stretch for the box cutter taped beneath the headboard. Normally, he just wants to apologize for coming home late or murmur that he mistakenly thought it was his room. “Pa?” he half-whispered the night of January 11th and I knew this night would bring an exception to our acrimonious relationship.

According to the story that unwound for the next several minutes, his worthless friend Pete was in trouble. “I just got off the phone with him and he needs me to go to the police station,” Tony said. Determined to come up with beer money, Pete was stealing things left outside of houses in one of the better neighborhoods on the other side of town. During this little adventure, he took a bag that had been sitting behind some sports writer’s house not knowing that it held ransom money for the return of the guy’s kid. Eventually, someone later recognized Pete from an image on a security camera mounted near the pool house. Before they were able to arrest him, however, he had hidden the bag of money.

The reason for the call was that Pete was now being suspected as the kidnapper. Simply having Tony retrieve the bag of money and bring it to the station, he reasoned, would clear him. “Can I do this,” Tony asked, “without getting in trouble or arrested myself?”

“Absolutely not,” I stammered and reached for my wrinkled flannel shirt off the floor. “Under no circumstances can you just walk into a police station with a bag of money and walk out free and clear. Somebody probably already knows that he called you and they’re doing their check of priors on you as we speak. Eventually they’ll send a car this way, but we need to get you out of this before then.”

Donning the pants I’d been meaning to wash for the past week, I reached over and flipped on the light. Everything in the room swam in and out of focus so I swallowed a handful of the morning’s BP pills and gritted my teeth. Since the police were still looking for the bag, that meant it didn’t have a tracking device with it. Pete would break down soon enough though and tell the cops where it was, so the window of opportunity was closing each and every minute. “Everything has to be on me and not you,” I told him with as much assurance as I could fake. Retrieving the bag was the only part I really planned on doing, but he didn’t need to know that. “Are you sure he told you the right hiding place?”

“This wasn’t something I wanted to get you into trouble for, dad,” he murmured and I could tell he was starting to suspect my motives a little.

“Everyone knows he called someone,” I quickly pointed out. “As soon as we get this taken care, we’ll talk about getting you some new friends. Calling you was probably the biggest mistake of your life so far, but now we need to fix it. Tell me where the money is and let’s get in gear before someone starts showing up.”

“Somewhere in the woods behind the ninth hole of the golf course,” he whispered and I could see the misgiving start to spread across his pockmarked face.

“Then go get some flashlights,” I commanded. “Out in the garage, there’s some winter gear we are going to need as well. No one else will be out there at this time of night and we’ll need be sure we have what we need if it takes us longer than it should.”

I opened the closet door as soon as he was gone from the room and reached for a belt. Gripping it in my left hand, I felt my wrist brush the cold metal of the extra large gun safe and I had to smile. “How about that, Derrick,” I whispered to the sports writer’s son crammed inside. “This might be your last night here after all.”


Fan Letters

People are supposed to read your sports blog and chuckle at your wit, I am sure. Up until recently, I was one of the rubes doing so along with all the others who start their morning checking scores. Then I realized that you weren’t making me laugh with you; you were having a laugh at my expense. Once I became conscious of that, then your maliciousness and spite became obvious.

Not content to just be sarcastic, you seem to specialize in being caustic. Every word out of your mouth, I am sure, is meant to do more harm than the words it follows. You strive to alienate, anger, and embarrass those you write about and those you write for. Even amateur games are picked apart by you as if you are the only one who understands the way they are supposed to be played and could play them better than anyone else.

As if justifying the cruelty you inflict, you mask those unpleasantries beneath a banner of popularity. Reasoning that you are the voice of the people or else they wouldn’t read what you say is ridiculous at best. So many of your readers are reading what you say just to make sure that they aren’t being skewered on any particular day. Success, in your business, may be measured in views, but success in theirs is now just staying below your radar.

Apparently those “views” translate into dollars quite nicely. Last year’s numbers, from what I hear, showed that you received a pretty substantial salary for writing that poor excuse for a blog. Adding in some portion of the advertising revenue from pay-per-clicks and speaking engagements and it’s clear you do pretty well for yourself. Rarely does anyone rise to the top of their profession as quickly as you have and I have no doubt you’re well aware of that.

You are probably wondering by now why I am taking the time to write/ramble to someone I loathe so.  Being less witty a writer than you, let me get to my three reasons in no particular order:

 

  1. Every athlete is someone’s child. Sometimes, they are their grown child, but nevertheless, they are someone’s child. I want you to think about that every time you turn poison into prose. Derrick, your own son, has a lot of growing up to do and one has to wonder how much you’d like to keep his name out of the blogs, particularly those a little more newsworthy.
  2. Every one in the community knows that you make a lot more money than you should. Two sports cars, a giant house, a boat, and a jet ski? Have you no shame?
  3. Everyone needs to be reminded that they’re human every so often and you just happen to need it now. People you think are your friends are anything but. Only those who have some business to conduct with you still want to be around you, and I fall into that category.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be this harsh, but time is of the essence. Look only at the first letter of each sentence if you ever want to see Derrick again.