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.”
“The answer is right in front of you,” I said. “Sorry, I can't help you anymore than that.”
He left, sulking a little, I think. The truth is I could have told him. But this was a test. A very important test for new hires. The point being 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 the 'experts' 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.”
I sat down in the chair I had pulled right up to the edge of the bed.
“You know Patrick,” I said with a deep sigh, “I'm breaking my rule for you. I never get personally involved. But you see, I like your grandmother. And I don't like many people, so that means something.”
“Let me out of here, you bitch!”
“All in good time, Patrick. I need to be sure I have your undivided attention.”
I pulled a large hunting knife from my boot. I had no plans to use it but it was quite effective in keeping his focus on me. “Let's talk about your grandmother. She was widowed at twenty eight; left with four children and no money to support them. And what does she do? Sit around and feel sorry for herself? No. She builds a thriving business. All alone. A business that supports her entire family.”
“See, it's just that attitude that got you here. You're a spoiled, entitled, selfish prick, and if it wouldn't break your grandmothers heart, I would kill you now and be done with this. But, I've decided to give you one chance.”
“You're crazy,” he said.
I brought the knife close to his throat and leaned in close. “This is my fault. I didn't tell you to be quiet, did I?”
He cringed away from me and I could see the fear in his eyes. For all his bravado, he was just a kid.
I sat back down.
“Did you know your grandmother gives thirty percent of her profits to children's charities?”
He didn't answer.
“You're not real bright, are you? When I ask you a question, you answer.”
“What...what was the question?”
I sighed and twiddled the knife between my fingers. “Did you know she gives thirty percent of her profits to charity?”
“No, I didn't.”
“Did you know she fully funds that shelter she's always asking you to volunteer at?”
“No,” he said bitterly.
“Why are you making it so hard for me, Patrick? So hard to give you this chance. I can see what your thinking. I see it in your eyes. You're easier to read than the comics. You don't care about all the people that money helps. You can only think of how much more she must have than you thought. You don't care about anyone but yourself.”
“So,” I said, pointing at him with the knife, “here's what's going to happen. You are going to become a model citizen and doting grandson. No more stealing, no more damaging grandmas property, and you will volunteer one day a week at her shelter.”
“Why should I?” His words were so strong but I could hear the waver underneath. “You already said it would break her heart if anything happened to me.”
“Yes, but you're hurting her already. Every day you break her heart. So, if you continue, I will be forced to act. Yes, it will cause her pain, but it will be the ripping off the band-aid all at once kind of pain instead of the slow, one hair at a time kind, like you are doing now.”
“You won't kill me.”
“No, Patrick. I won't kill you. Not when someone else will do it for me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Are you really this stupid? You think that stuff I showed your grandma today is all I have? No, no, no, Patrick. I spared her the worst of it. I spared her a certain meeting with your greasy friend Zander. And everything that happened after.”
He paled considerably.
“I really don't even need to be here. Dealing drugs will get you dead pretty fast, and skimming from these people, even faster. I don't care about you, Patrick, but your future is written on the wall. You're going to get in over your head and then you'll drag your poor grandmother into this. And I just can't have that. So you do what I say and be a good boy.”
I cut the tape that was holding his legs. “I'll be watching Pat, and if I get the slightest hint you are causing her even the tiniest bit of worry, Zander finds out everything. Are we clear?”
I cut his hands free and pulled the chair back to the wall. When I turned he was charging me. God, he really was that stupid. It was an easy move I put on him, but very effective. Instead of blocking him, I stepped aside and pushed. When he hit the floor, I grabbed one arm and pulled it straight up behind him bending his wrist toward his inner arm.
“It's sad really how predictable you are. I know your every move so cut the bullshit.” I pressed harder on his hand which caused him a tremendous amount of pain. Or what he thought was a tremendous amount of pain. But he had no idea how much worse it could get. “There's nothing you can do I won't be ready for. There's nowhere I can't get to you. Try anything stupid and I will kill you myself. Are we clear?”
He didn't answer so I pushed my knee into his elbow, flexing it slightly in the wrong direction.
“I said, are we clear?”
“Yes, yes, please let go.”
“Good.” I released him and he sat up rubbing his elbow.
“Remember, Patrick,” I said bending down and looking into his eyes. “Anywhere, anytime. I. Will. Find. You.”
With all I had done, I think that was the moment he actually believed me. And he believed me because he could see the truth. And the truth was I would happily destroy him then go home and sleep like a baby. And that's not an enemy anyone wants.
A week later, Allen stopped me in the hall.
“Ms. Roberts called to let us know her grandson is like a new man. She said he must have just needed some time after our meeting. He even volunteers at her shelter. Can you believe that?” His question wasn't really a question and he was watching my reaction carefully. Allen wasn't stupid.
I smiled. “I guess some things just have a way of working themselves out.”