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The Talon House

If By Chance


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If By Chance

Chapter Nine

By Nick

"It's starting," were the only two words I could muster over the phone to Donald Fasola as I sat in my car on my lunch hour. I took care to drive to a remote location, but I still couldn't shake the awful, almost paranoid feeling that I was being watched.

"Tell me what they're doing," he instructed me, and I had to take a deep breath before I went on.

The day before, when I locked my office and went home, I was given no indication that my security access would be so limited the next day. The electronic key that I used to access all areas of the facility no longer worked when I tried to pay a visit to the distribution center, which was located on site, but in a different wing of the building. I'd always taken it for granted that my access to any part of our facility was unlimited because that had been the case for so many years. As controller, I had a need to be able to go anywhere that we kept an active inventory. Sometimes I would count the inventory with the various department heads at the end of the month. Other times I would go out into the facility to talk with the managers, to make myself available to them in case they had any concerns to bring my way.

At first I was stunned, but then a very different feeling crept over me when I realized that I was being prevented from accessing those areas. It was a sinking, almost nauseous feeling in my stomach that came from the knowledge that I was now being pegged as a whistle blower. I swallowed hard, then I quietly turned on my heel and went back to my office. Once the door was closed, I picked up the phone and dialed Peter's extension to confirm what I already knew.

"You'll need to discuss that with Alana," he told me in a very cold tone, then he hung up.

As it turned out, Alana was unavailable all morning. When it became obvious that she was deliberately not taking my calls, I gave up on trying to reach her and got to work. Unfortunately, my access to the facility wasn't the only thing limited.

I signed onto the network so I could access time cards for the previous day, but was told that my password and username weren't recognized. I tried to access other files on our network drives, but was denied access to most of them. In fact, other than my email and a file that I used to store memo templates, I found myself completely locked out of the company files. With a frown, I dialed Robin's extension and asked her to please come to my office. When she arrived, I buzzed her in right away.

From the jump, I noticed that she had a very nervous demeanor about her. She seemed to be gauging my mood, trying to figure out how much I'd already discovered and what I had yet to stumble upon.

"I've tried calling Alana but I've been unable to get into contact with her," I said, sitting back in my chair and locking my hands with my fingers. "It seems that my access to the network and to the rest of the facility has been disabled. Is there something I should know?"

"Have you talked with Peter?" she asked, and I took a deep breath.

"Actually, yes," I said matter-of factly. "He said I should contact Alana."

"I see," she answered me, a look of uncertainty on her face. "Well I'm not sure what to tell you, Dennis."

"Well thank you for your time, Robin," I said, standing up and silently excusing her by nodding to the door. When she was gone, I shot an email off to Alana requesting more information about my lack of security clearance, flagging it with high importance.

I never got a reply.

"Don't go back," Donald told me. "Enough time has gone by that their attorneys know that you're cooperating with the Justice Department. You probably don't have a job anymore."

As soon as I heard those words, I felt like fainting. It was the most important thing I'd ever done in my life, and now it was over.

My job was gone.

"Dennis, are you there?" he asked after an extended moment of silence, and I very quietly answered him.

"I'm here."

"Good," he said. "I want you to drive straight home. Call me in about two hours and we'll talk about what's next."

"Ok," I said.

"Are you going to be alright?" he asked, and I nodded as if he were right in front of me before I answered.

"Yeah I'll be okay," I said confidently, but in reality, I was scared to death. "I'll call you in a couple hours."

As if by design, dark clouds had rolled into our region and cast a dark shadow over my entire neighborhood. I parked my car in the garage and got out, realizing that I had probably made the drive home from the office for the last time. When I went inside, I didn't bother to turn any lights on. Instead, I sat alone at the kitchen table and stared off into space, trying to reconcile in my mind what was happening.

Why did it happen? How was it even possible? What if I had just signed the quarterly statement instead of going back and finding the problem? Was I having a nightmare?

None of this made sense to me. In my mind, it was impossible that everything I'd worked for in my career was finished as far as my service to the corporation was concerned. Donald told me that this was probably going to happen, and that he'd be able to negotiate a handsome severance package for me, but I didn't want a damn severance package. I wanted to stay with the company. In the end, though, I knew it was impossible.

I won't say that the shock wore off, but the newness of the shock seemed to dissipate by the time I called Donald back. It was more of a numbness than anything. Discussing my service to the company in past terms with him was very uncomfortable, but he said that he was working diligently to get them to acknowledge that I had been in fact terminated so that he could discuss a severance package and my options concerning my health, dental and vision insurance.

The most troubling part of it all, though, hit me like a ton of bricks when Gerald came home at five. His expression was grim, unsure, even scared. I greeted him at the entrance to the kitchen with a smile and a kiss, and my heart melted when he wrapped his arms around me for a long hug.

"I love you babe," I told him.

"I love you too honey," he said, his voice cracking with emotion. "Are you going to be okay?"

"I'll be fine," I assured him in a soft voice. "We'll both be fine. What were they saying?"

"They said you got fired at lunch and that's why you didn't come back," he said. "That's what the bitches in Human Resources were saying."

"Don't believe anything those heffers say," I said with a grin, and he chuckled a little bit as he released the hug. "You know they do nothing but spread bullshit around the office. Robin too."

"So what now?" he asked, and I just shrugged and took his hand. We walked together into the living room, where we snuggled on the couch and talked about what our futures held.

"Gerald, I'm not going to try to sway you one way or the other," I told him. "But I don't think it's a good idea for you to stay there."

"I have to have a job," he countered, and I nodded in agreement.

"I can get you another job," I told him, and I knew I could. Just as sure as I would be working again in no time flat, I could get Gerald a job making the same money the next day. I had a lot of connections in my circle of friends, and I'd networked with plenty of people and done enough favors that finding work wasn't a worry.

"I won't be working with you, will I?" he said sadly, and I looked him square in the eye and shook my head. He sighed nervously and looked down, so I gripped his hand tightly and gave him a confident smile.

"Listen to me," I started. "You're a damn good bookkeeper. You're going to do a good job working for anyone."

"I know," he muttered. "It won't be the same working without you."

"It's going to be that way no matter what we do," I told him. "I mean, we have no idea who's going to be controller now that I'm gone. You'll be working for someone else no matter what. It wouldn't be ethical for me to hire you anymore, Gerald."

"When should I do it?" he asked, and after giving it some serious thought, I gave him an affirmative nod and an answer.

"Turn in your two week notice tomorrow."

I'd always seen ads on the internet about a home based business, or working at home from a PC, but I always took those as scams. I'd say that about 95% of those ads are scams. But as it turns out, there are certain work at home opportunities that are not only legit, but pay well too.

Gerald wound up looking like the hen that hatched the golden egg. Not only was he making good money, but he was doing it right at home. I called an old associate of mine, who found Gerald a gig managing the books for an established trucking company that happened to not have an office.

Go figure.

It was a husband/wife endeavor. He drove and she served as dispatcher from their house. They owned ten trucks total, and employed eight drivers. As successful as they were, they had no idea how to keep their books straight. It took Gerald a few days, but he finally got everything to balance out, then he started to collect on bills and process payroll checks. Things seemed to fall into place for him right away after leaving the office, and I couldn't have been happier for him.

I hadn't exactly looked for anything myself, but I had a substantial amount of money in my savings account and wasn't too concerned about money. My house payment was small and I had no car payment, so my total living expenses totaled less than fifteen hundred dollars a month. I thought about applying for unemployment, but felt guilty for even entertaining the notion. I had no need for the money, and maybe by not taking it for myself, I could make it easier for someone else to get it.

I guess one of the best parts of being unemployed was the amount of time I actually got to spend with my boyfriend. One day he had to drive to Roanoke for business, so I went along with him. I realized that I loved having the time to spend with him and not having to worry about waking up early to get to the office.

I got a few phone calls from some of the people who worked for me, and they all told me the same thing; the office was in a chaotic state. Apparently, Pete and Alana were looking for a new controller, but things were getting out of control. Two people had managed to get themselves fired for not calling and not showing up, and others were having issues with punctuality.

I knew it was because I wasn't there to hold the reins anymore. Most of the people in bookkeeping, accounting and accounts receivable didn't know Alana well enough to respect her, and the ones who did hated Pete. Robin couldn't sway anybody in the office one way or another because every rumor that happened to be circulating throughout the office came straight out of her department and no one took her seriously.

The worst thing, though, was finding out that no one had done payroll in my absence, and it wasn't discovered that there were no Friday paychecks until 4PM Thursday. Pete wound up staying until 9PM getting them all processed, and from what I heard, he was furious the next morning when he confronted the payroll clerk, who simply handed him her resignation and walked out.

I suppose that there's a part of me that's supposed to have been celebrating the bad luck they were having, but I wasn't. In fact, if anything, I was worried. Worried about the people who almost didn't get their checks, and the ones who still had to work in that office. How much blame would they have to shoulder? What would become of their jobs?

I hate to admit it, but I was worried about Pete and Alana, too. I don't know why, but I was. They had given me nothing but grief, and I felt like they were getting their comeuppance, but I still wanted the best for them. For the company as a whole. Maybe that's why hearing about the trouble they were having made me feel a little sad.

"What do you think, babe?" Gerald asked, turning to show me his hind quarters and in the process, flex his butt cheeks so I could give him my honest opinion of the jeans he was trying on.

"Wow, you look hot in those," I said with a satisfied grin. With that, he smiled back at me, then he grabbed the white button up hanging right beside him and went back into the dressing room. When he re-emerged, he still had jeans and the shirt on. He did a bit of a strut over to a mirror before he turned my way, and all I could do was lick my lips.

Spending two thousand dollars on clothes when you're unemployed is definitely not a brilliant thing to do, but I decided to splurge anyway. I'd already been contacted by five companies, asking for my services. I set up interviews with two of them, but the others weren't offering near enough money to even pique my interest. In fact, as I spoke to a representative from one of the three I turned down, I felt almost insulted. Even with the stock options they were offering, it was a joke.

By the time Gerald and I bounded out to my car, we had enough bags to completely fill the trunk and the back seat. We'd both been freshly manicured, had pedicures and were given facials. I definitely felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle the world when I got in my car and started to drive home, and Gerald looked like a million bucks.

Of course, he always did.

Being that it was late in November, I'd have expected it to be freezing outside. Truth be told, though, the temperature was in the mid seventies and when I put my window down, the breeze felt good. Gerald put the visor down on his side and was inspecting his face for blemishes, and I knew he'd find nothing. Still, I couldn't help but smile at the sight of him making sure.

The entire drive home took about fifteen minutes. I usually didn't keep track of things like that, but for some reason, I did this time. When I looked down at the clock on my dash, I gave it a moment's thought, but mine and Gerald's attention was suddenly gripped by something else when I made the left turn onto my street.

I slowly pulled up to my house and pulled into my driveway, watching nervously as Gerald clutched my hand. I stopped at the foot of my garage and turned the car off as two sheriff's deputies stood on my front porch and looked expectantly at Gerald and I.

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