Posted on 02/05/2021 Walter Grant
One of America’s Enduring Patriot Authors
Author Masterminds Member
“A short memory may cleanse the soul but lies are indelible.” — DB Cooper
I provided for my family as best I could, always striving to keep moving upward to a bigger house in a better neighborhood, a newer car, an easier life for my wife, Sally Lee, a college education for our children, Tom Clymer Gifford junior (Tommy C) and Hazel Ann. Also, I wanted to make sure Sally and I would be financially secure in retirement. I’d worked hard toward those ends and, after ten years with a building supply chain, had moved up to a managerial position. Things were going well. My goals were within reach—or so I thought.
When I walked into my office on the second Monday of December and found the corporation president, Jack Sneed, with a man and woman I didn’t know, waiting for me in an adjacent conference room; I figured they were there to give me a “well done” slap on the back and a Christmas bonus. I was wrong.
“Close the door and have a seat, Mr. Gifford.”
His formal manner took me by surprise, he usually greeted me by my given name. He continued immediately after I complied.
“Mr. Gifford, have you been unhappy with the way we’ve treated you?”
“Have we not paid you well for your service?”
“You have paid me very well, sir.”
“How many bank accounts do you have?”
Something is wrong with this picture. What’s he leading up to?
“I have a checking account, a savings account, and an investment account, all in joint with my wife.”
“You have no other accounts of any kind?”
“If you answered my questions honestly, I find it difficult to understand why you would steal from us. Perhaps you care to explain?”
“Sir, I haven’t stolen one red cent from you or the company, and for what’s it’s worth, anyone in my entire life.”
“Mr. Gifford, for your sake I’m glad we are having an off-the-record conversation. If we were in court and you had been sworn to tell the truth you would have just committed perjury with your answers to at least two questions.”
“I don’t understand, sir”
“You correctly identified the joint accounts you have with your wife, but you failed to mention the money market account you have in your name only, the investment account you have with a prominent stock fund manager, or the safe-deposit box at a bank across town.”
Taken aback, I stammered during my attempt to tell the company president that I had no idea what he was taking about. I assured him there was no bank box nor did I have any knowledge of the accounts he’d cited.
“Perhaps you forgot about the accounts and bank box, just as you forgot to honestly answer the question, ‘Have you ever been charged with a felony?’ on your job application—you answered ‘no,’ when in fact you stole $800 from the cash register at Mr. Sam Clauston’s grocery store where you worked nights as a stock boy.”
“You’re right. I didn’t answer the question honestly, not because I forgot, but for the fact I didn’t take the money. The charges were dropped two hours after Fannie Chatten Johannsson, age sixteen, admitted to taking the money to buy cocaine. No one outside the police knew she was a user until she showed up at home completely stoned. Her parents called 911 and had an ambulance take her to the hospital where she recovered. Upon learning she would have died of an overdose had her parents not called for an ambulance, and when questioned by the police she rolled over on her supplier and admitted she took the money. She agreed to rehab if she could stay out of jail. She didn’t go to jail. Her parents paid back the money Fannie took from Mr. Clauston and all charges were dropped. I didn’t think it necessary to explain, so I answered ‘no’ to the question on the application.”
“Mr. Gifford, records show the charges were dropped, but there was nothing about the money being returned, nor was there an entry declaring your innocence.”
“I don’t know what the record shows, but Fannie went ‘cold turkey’ and steered clear of street pharmaceuticals from then on. Ask her, she’ll tell you what happened.”
“We intended to do just that, but residents in the municipal cemetery don’t have much to say.”
“What! Are you saying she’s dead?”
“That’s what I’m saying, Mr. Gifford. It appears she fell off the wagon and after purchasing ‘street pharmaceuticals’, your reference for illegal drugs, got high, went crazy and overdosed after killing her husband and her parents.”
“That can’t be; I saw and talked with her a week ago. She assured me she was still free of drugs.”
“May I suggest you not talk with anyone about seeing her a week ago. It falls within the timeframe she was found dead, in her car, along with syringes, needles, and other drug paraphernalia. It appears she injected more than enough high-grade heroin into a vein to kill herself.”
I was stunned. “I don’t believe it. Fannie is happily married, has a good job and is preparing to open her own business. She has no reason to fall back on dope or kill herself, Fannie is a kind and caring person. She would never hurt anyone, let alone her husband or parents.”
“Nevertheless. Mr. Gifford, she and her family are all dead.”
Mr. Sneed didn’t miss a beat and without hesitation went back to his questioning. “So, the two of you became friends after the grocery store incident?”
“We were friends before she took the money. She told me she didn’t expect Mr. Clauston to suspect me and have me arrested. Said our friendship was the reason she explained her actions to the police and the reason she tried to kill herself the night her parents called 911 and asked for an ambulance.”
“When did you start seeing her again?”
“We never stopped seeing each other. I was dating her best friend. She was Sally Lee’s bridesmaid when we married a year later. The three of us have remained close.”
“I’m sorry your friend is dead and although you say you don’t believe she overdosed, that’s how the coroner’s report reads.” He got back on subject and down to the nitty-gritty without commenting on what I’d said.
“I apologize for the line of questions, Mr. Gifford, but the head of our financial department has brought to our attention a disturbing bit of news. Someone has embezzled a considerable amount of money from this store. It grieves me to tell you that evidence collected by investigators working for our company’s legal team points a finger at you.”
He paused for a moment, perhaps expecting me to deny something I knew nothing about. All I managed was, “Wh, what?” before he continued.
“We obtained a search warrant and opened the safe-deposit box and checked the bank accounts. We found the cash in the safe-deposit box, combined with the amount on deposit in the bank account, along with the price you paid for stock in your professionally managed growth fund amounted, approximately, to the amount missing from the store’s gross proceeds. It appears you cooked the books for the entire year.”
He continued without giving me a chance to speak. “We don’t want to litigate—lawsuits are expensive. If you plead not guilty and we are forced to file charges against you, we will win, you will go to jail, and be required to pay our court costs, plus all expenses you acquire in your defense. So, we will make you an offer no sane person would turn down.
“You sign a statement stating your guilt, turn over the money and stock which you claim to know nothing about, to us and we will sign an agreement to not prosecute or make public anything we talked about in this room or in the agreement. Will that work for you?”
“Sir, even though I’m not guilty of a crime, I realize, if what you say is true, I will not be able to prove otherwise, and I would be a fool to not accept your offer.”
“Very well then, consider it done. One bit of unsolicited advice: do not list us on the resume you submit with your next job application.”
At dinner that evening, I lied to my wife and family for the first time in my life. I told myself I was saving them from the embarrassment of knowing I had been fired for stealing, when in reality, I was the one embarrassed. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to frame me, so, with no way of proving my innocence, I lied.
“This morning I handed my letter of resignation to the president of the company I’ve worked for these last twelve years, effective thirty-one December. Starting tomorrow, I’m taking the leave I’ve accumulated over the last couple of years, so we can celebrate Christmas as a family this year, and perhaps take the vacation to Hawaii we talked about last year.”
Excited at spending Christmas together, Tommy C and Hazel Ann cheered at the mention of Hawaii, but Sally Lee’s forehead knotted when she asked, “Why did you quit your job?”
“Another company offered me a better deal. I’ll explain later.”
I had no idea how I was going to tell her about being framed—there was no other explanation—when our phone saved me from further embarrassment and more lies. Figuring it was one of our parents or grandparents calling, old folks being the only ones using landlines these days, I walked into the kitchen, picked up the receiver and answered, “Hello.”
“My name is Huckleberry, Ernest Huckleberry. I received a call this afternoon from a woman in your office, identifying herself as Sammie; she volunteered a bit of interesting information.”
Sammie? I don’t know anyone named Sammie.
“She stated you had tendered your resignation without giving a reason and thought I might be interested in talking with you. After looking over your qualifications, she emailed them at my request, I became very interested. I am chairman of the board of a universal corporation and I would like to talk with you before you sign with another organization—due to a tragedy we find ourselves in need of a middle manager. I presume the reason you are resigning your present position is because you have been persuaded to sign with another company. I believe we can, not only match, but better their offer. If you are available this evening I would like to stop by and present our proposal.”
“Well, Mr. Huckleberry, I’d be pleased to listen to your spiel.” I didn’t want him to suspect I was desperate and would, in all likelihood, take him up on whatever he offered and chose words like ‘pleased’ and ‘spiel’ to indicate I wouldn’t likely be interested in what he had to say. “We’re just finishing with dinner, so, shall we say,” I paused for effect and added, “in an hour?”
“Thank you, Mr. Gifford, see you in an hour.”
This could work out beautifully. Mr. Ernest Huckleberry could be a godsend and my family might never know I’d lied.
Mr. Huckleberry arrived on the dot with two other men dressed as one would expect of successful executives. Ernest was easy to talk with, the other two didn’t speak. After the introductions, I asked, “Since this will affect my entire family, is it okay if they sit in on our conversation?”
“I prefer in that way, Mr. Gifford.”
After a few minutes of small talk, he went into his presentation. The managerial position he offered was similar to the one I’d had with the home builder chain, but on a larger scale and with far better working conditions. Except on rare occasions, I would work from home while relaying my decisions and instructions to my staff who would execute and report back.
What a deal. I’ll sign without hearing the rest of his proposal.
Except for relocating, the more I heard the better I liked his offer. I was concerned our children would not want to change schools and leave their friends behind, but since we would be moving into a house three times the size of the one we were living in, no one seemed to have a problem with transferring to new schools. We would relocate to a 6,750 square foot home featuring five bedrooms, six and a half baths, four-car garage, office, theater, and game room. I would be provided a new Mercedes each year, Sally Lee would get a new Lexus every two years, and the kids would receive free cars when they were old enough to obtain a driver’s license. If this wasn’t enough, my salary would be one and a half what I’d been making.
This sounds too good to be true. Is there something he hasn’t told us?
The wife and kids could hardly contain their emotions. Although pretending to be only mildly interested, I waited with bated breath for him to formally present the contract. To move Ernest to that end, I asked the family what they thought of the deal. When Sally Lee asked about lawn maintenance, household and kitchen help, she was informed it all came with the deal.
“Well, Mr. Huckleberry, you are very persuasive, my family seems to like your proposal, when should I expect to see your offer in writing?”
“Tom! May I call you Tom?”
“After looking over your qualifications, I arranged for a videoconference with the board. It was agreed we should offer you the job that recently became available due to an unexpected death.” He pointed to one of the men with him. “I asked Mr. Stnobly, one of our company attorneys, to draw up a contract laying out the conditions I just quoted you.” Stnobly nodded.
Ernest, pointing to the second man, said, “Mr. Neumor is a lawyer from a well-respected firm, not affiliated with us. He’s here to look out for your best interests.”
Huckleberry continued, “Alford, would you be so kind as to present the contract to Mr. Gifford?
“Tom please feel free to consult with Mr. Neumor at any time.”
Within an hour the contract had been signed and sealed with a handshake.
“Mr. Gifford, I will have someone contact you tomorrow to arrange for packing and moving your personal and household properties. As stated in our contract, we will pay for everything.
“Now, I suggest we toast to our success. For the children, I have cream soda, for the adults, a nice bottle of Remy Martin XO Excellence Special Reserve.”
Sally Lee brought snifters from the china closet, Ernest poured the libations, and we all drank deeply and presented our glasses for seconds.
Sally Lee, the kids, and I awoke without realizing we were emerging from a deep cryonic sleep with no ill effect or signs of aging, and totally unaware several years had passed since we drank the toast to a better life. We gathered at the breakfast bar, where kitchen help served our individually preordered morning meals, prepared only minutes earlier by the chef employed by the company I now worked for. Our first day in a new house with luxuries we had never known, or even suspected existed, was too exciting to not gush about.
Sentences all had similar beginnings:
“You should see . . .”
“I just love my . . .”
“You won’t believe . . .”
And the like.
After breakfast I toured my office, the library, theater, dining room, living room, game room, and other common areas. I looked outside and spotting two new cars in the driveway, a smile voluntarily spread across my face. I had never owned anything to compare with the Mercedes parked beside Sally Lee’s Lexus. Upon seeing the twenty-foot wrought-iron fence for the first time, I walked outside for a closer inspection.
Why such a heavy security fence? Are we living in a dangerous neighborhood? Surely not.
I walked the perimeter of our yard, inspecting the fence and grounds. In back I found the servant’s quarters.
Very nice, nicer than the first couple of homes Sally Lee and I lived in after we were married.
My inspection of the fence turned up something a bit disturbing—the gates were locked with a device resembling something out of Star Wars. When I turned back toward the front door and spotting a sign on the lawn with words written in a language I did not recognize, a chill ran up my spine as fear flashed a warning.
Something is very wrong, but what?
Appearing as a light etched into a metal unlike anything I had ever seen, were meaningless words carried a message. To who? To what?
As I approached the sign, words I had been unable to read changed, as though by magic, to English. I didn’t know and wouldn’t have understood the technology had I known of its existence. I assumed a futuristically designed scanner presently unknown to the general public, detected the origin of whoever or whatever stood in front of the sign and displayed information in their native language. It read, Humans In Their Environment. A smaller, no doubt temporary sign read, Exhibit Scheduled to Open This Weekend.
It had yet to fully sink in, even when I heard voices from inside the house carried outside by a system of loudspeakers, but while looking at the house it became crystal clear. Unlike the inside, where walls appeared normal, from outside the walls were transparent. I could see everyone inside the house and what they were doing.
Realizing what it all meant, I fell to my knees and wept.
What have I done? How am I going to tell my family we are an exhibit in a galactic zoo?
“One never knows where, or to what end, a lie will lead.” —DB Cooper
The Zoo was first published with Readers and Writers Book Club: https://readersandwritersbookclub.com.