I had just settled into my office when I saw the new hire, Jon, working his way toward me.
“Morning Gwen,” he said, leaning on the doorjamb.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Can’t I just be saying good morning?”
“No. What do you want?” The words were harsh but the tone was joking.
“You know I got my first case yesterday.”
“Yes Jon,” I said as I booted up my computer.
“Well, I thought you might find it interesting.”
“Did you?” I smiled.
“Yeah, a robbery at a jewelry store. Cops haven’t gotten anywhere so the store owner hired us. The police experts say the security tapes weren't tampered with. They're one hundred percent sure. But one minute the jewelry is there. Next minute it’s gone.”
I work for a company that investigates crimes companies don't want to report. Things that wouldn't look good if they went public. Once in a while, though, we were asked to figure out how a crime was committed when the police couldn't.
“Jon, if you need help just ask,” I said.
Jon blushed. “I’m just not sure what to do.”
“Alright. So the jewelry is there and then gone?”
“Then the answer is right in front of you.”
“Jon, do you believe in magic?”
“What?” he laughed. “No.”
“Then answer is right in front of you,” I said. “Sorry, I can't help you anymore.”
He left, sulking a little, I think. The truth was I could have told him. But this was a test. A very important test for new hires. The point was to see who could think for themselves. It should have taken about two seconds to dismiss what the 'experts' said and investigate the tapes himself. Obviously they had been tampered with. But Jon wasn't doing that. He was trying to make what they said fit the crime. He couldn't question authority.
It didn't look good for Jon's future at the company.
“Ms. Roberts is here,” my boss Allen informed me at ten.
“Be right there,” I said.
I had a feeling this meeting was not going to go well. Ms. Abigail Roberts had hired us to find out who was stealing from her storeroom. It was obvious she already knew or she would have called the police. But she didn't want her grandson going to jail, nor did she want her other employees to know he was stealing. She just wanted a little proof to make him stop.
But I had followed him, gotten to know him in his hidden moments, and this was not going to work. He wouldn't scare because he knew she would never turn him in. He knew and I knew. Ms. Roberts didn't know though. I'm sure she thought she could be strong enough to turn him in, but when it came right down to it, the picture of him behind bars would be too much and she'd cave.
They were all waiting in the conference room. Allen, Ms. Roberts, and her grandson Patrick, who looked bored.
“Good morning Ms. Roberts,” I said, ignoring Patrick.
“Good morning Gwen,” she smiled warmly. “How are you today?”
“I'm well Ms. Roberts. How are you?” I asked. Typically, I like to skip the pleasantries, but not with Ms. Roberts. There was something about her that just didn't allow it. And, though I hated to admit it, she made me feel happy. Which made this all the harder.
“Let's get right to it.”
I sat down and pressed play on the remote control.
The screen at the front of the room lit up. For three minutes we all sat in silence as images of Patrick stealing from his grandmother's store and her house filled the screen. There were also a few of him deliberately dinging her car as he walked by.
Ms. Roberts looked quite shaken but quickly composed herself. She was prepared for the store thefts, but not her house. And damaging her car must have felt like an especially personal attack.
“Patrick, how could you?”
Patrick looked at me, then at his grandmother. “How could I? How could you Gram? How could you hire them to spy on me?”
Outraged. What a surprise.
“Patrick, it was for your own good.”
“My own good! How is this for my own good? You made me do this. You won't give me the money for my business. It's just fifty thousand dollars. It's nothing to you.”
“I told you. You're not ready to run a business. You need to finish college, get some experience...”
“You just don't believe in me. You think I'm stupid and worthless. I can't believe you would do this to me.”
“Patrick, I'm trying to help...”
“Fine then,” he said getting up from his chair so quick it fell over. “Call the police. Turn in your own grandson. See what your friends think then.” He gave me a look of pure hatred and ran out of the room.
“Poor Patrick,” Ms. Roberts said. “He's had it so hard. You know his father passed when he was just fourteen. I should have known this was the wrong approach.” She stood and gathered her things. “Thank you Ms. Michaels, for your time, but I want you to destroy that tape and any copies. I won't be needing them.”
“Yes Ma’am,” I answered.
Once she left Allen looked at me. “That's it? Yes Ma’am? That's not like you Gwen.”
“I know, but anything else would be a waste of time. She'll never turn him in and he won't change.”
“But maybe you could have convinced her some time in jail would help him.”
“Sometimes you just have to let things go.”
He raised his eyebrows, surprised at this attitude from me. “Are you feeling alright?”
I laughed. “I'm fine. Trust me. There's nothing else we can do.”
“If you say so,” he said as we both left the conference room.
At five o’clock exactly, I shut down my computer and locked up my office. I said goodbye to some coworkers, ignoring their smiles. I always left at five, on the dot. Always. And I know they wondered why. The truth was, I was good at my job and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my life, not anymore. It's dangerous to be all consumed with work. I know.
Jack, my husband, and I had some Chinese take out and watched Star Trek on Netflix Watch Now. We went to bed at ten and Jack was asleep by ten fifteen.
Lucky for me he's the world's heaviest sleeper.
“Wake up sunshine,” I whispered, my lips close to Patrick's face.
“What?” he said, trying to roll over. His eyes popped open when he realized he couldn't move his arms or legs.
“What the hell?” he said twisting hard.
I cleared my throat and he turned his head toward me, startled. “You? How'd you get in here?”
“Little boy, I can get in anywhere, anytime. It's really important for you to remember that.”