A Fortunate Twist of Fate
By Tom Bostock
“Good morning all of my loyal listeners. It’s Adam Sheffield on WQYX, 99.9 FM with your morning wakeup call. You know what time it is? It’s time to get UP and Adam! It’s another rainy, cold, grey day in the metropolitan area. Ice on the interstate is making travel almost impossible. Streets are slicker than a greased pig. The bridges are iced over and, unless you are driving a dog sled, good luck getting to work on time. This would be a real good day to call in sick, if you know what I mean. And now a word to pry some of your hard-earned money out of your pockets from our avaricious sponsor, Marquis Department Store.”
John looked at the clock radio through bleary eyes and crawled out from under his nice warm covers. Putting his feet into his slippers, he staggered to the bathroom and the shower. He pulled back the shower curtain and turned on the water. Still half asleep, he didn’t realize that he had turned on the wrong faucet until he stepped into the shower.
“Good grief,” he screamed, jumping out of the shower and readjusting the scalding water temperature while banging his knee on the toilet bowl. Showering quickly, he reached for the bath towel that hung on a rack outside the shower. He dried and lathered his face to shave, looking at his tired reflection in the mirror, and thinking, for the thousandth time, why couldn’t I have been born rich! It was so unfair.
John was an ordinary man in so many ways. He wasn’t short or fat, handsome or ugly. He just was. In fact, there wasn’t anything memorable about him at all. He had missed his calling; in another lifetime, he would have made an excellent criminal. No one would have been able to describe anything remarkable about him. His nose was slightly off-center but hardly noticeable, a gift from a schoolyard bully when he was growing up. He had always been the brunt of jokes, all through school. His teeth were also slightly yellow but, again, not overly noticeable since he rarely spoke.
“I would say he was medium height and build, with kind of mousey brown hair. No, I didn’t see any distinguishing marks on him. No, he didn’t have a beard or moustache. He got into a grey sedan and drove off. No, I don’t know what kind of a car it was. It was just a small grey car.” That would be another successful robbery by the unstoppable super villain, John Smith thought, daydreaming.
Even his name, John Smith, was ordinary. He suffered through questioning looks when he registered at a hotel. He wore a rumpled grey suit and worked at his rumpled grey life as a junior accountant in the records department at Plexco Corporation, a major provider of … John had no idea. He had never bothered to ask. All he was interested in were the endless ledgers and figures.
Plexco was housed in a tall office building in the middle of the downtown business plaza. As junior accountant, he was given all of the work that no one else wanted to do. He was used to it and suffered in silence, his ‘in’ basket always overflowing.
There was one bright spot in John’s otherwise dreary life, his girlfriend, Mildred. She wasn’t ‘actually’ his girlfriend, but, rather a-friend-who-was-a-girl. They had known each other for more than ten years now and shared an occasional dinner to cry on each other’s shoulder about life in general and the unfairness of their situations. There was never anything physical. Perish the thought! They never thought of each other like that.
Mildred was dowdy-looking, slightly over-weight, with mousey brown hair that matched John’s. People often mistook her for his sister, that is, when they even noticed her at all. She often stopped by John’s office and dropped off a paper bag lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwich, his favorite) when he was too busy to make his own; she was thoughtful like that. Mildred would have made a great accomplice for John’s life of crime.
On this particular morning, John felt a little daring; he had three slices of cinnamon raisin toast instead of his usual melba. He even ordered a latte at the corner coffee shop instead of black with two sugars, before heading to the city. He looked at his gas gauge before entering the Interstate and noticed that it was almost on empty. He pulled up to gas station and pumped eight instead of his usual five dollars of gas, another departure from his previously rigid schedule. John didn’t trust the meter on the pump and always went into the store to pay for his gas and receive his change.
“Morning John,” the owner, Matt Davis called as John walked into the store.
“Morning to you too, Matt. I got eight dollars gas today.”
“Eight dollars? Wow, now my mother can have that operation she’s always needed,” he chided.
“Is this the day that you are going to buy one of these scratch-offs?” He asked. It was a running joke that Matt always asked, and John always declined.
“Okay, let me have one.”
“What, are you feeling well, John?”
Matt reached onto the display and removed a two-dollar scratch-off card, handing it to John.
“Good luck. I hope it’s a winner.”
“Thanks. See ya later.”
Matt watched John walk out of the market. Well, I’ll be jiggered, he thought. John finally bought a lottery scratch off! What’s going to happen next, a Martian invasion?
John pocketed the card and got back into his car. Seeing the congestion on the freeway, he opted to stay on secondary roads and arrived at work ten minutes early. John was nothing if not punctual. Crossing the covered parking lot, he noticed that his own assigned parking space was already occupied, as usual. It was apparently one of the perks of being part of the office ‘good ole boys club.’ This latest one was probably fresh out of college and just off the gridiron, good enough to make the team but not good enough to be first string. He would be another one those never-reached-their-prime athletes who would revel in his past glories at the daily break room conclave and take enjoyment in harassing the office whipping boy, John. He probably could have reported him to human resources but didn’t want to have to put up with the ‘good natured’ – or so he had been told by HR and his boss – retaliation that was sure to follow.
Parking in the auxiliary lot where new employees were supposed to park before receiving their assigned parking spot, John walked across the rain-spattered lot to the front entrance of the building where he worked. It was an imposing building with a pair of huge tempered glass doors, at least eight feet tall, decorated with brass hardware and an ostentatiously large name plate – ‘The Townsend Building, Tomorrow’s Workplace – Today! All twenty-seven stories of it.
Walking across the polished pink marble floor, John’s wet shoes squeaking and leaving small puddles as he walked, he stopped at the bank of elevators and pushed the button for the twenty-seventh floor and his home for the next eight hours or more, Plexco Corporation. The elevator hummed like a contented cat purring, John thought to himself. Reaching his destination, John exited the elevator and withdrew his magnetic access card from the third slot in his wallet. Sliding it across the electronic reader, the door opened soundlessly; there were many times in the past five years that John wished the card didn’t work at all.
Julie, the new receptionist, was at the horseshoe-shaped front desk, answering calls and making notes. She waved to John as he walked past her, down the corridor to his cubicle at the end of the hall. Other than the human resources department, John was the only other employee who had even bothered to introduce himself to her.
After five years, most of the accountants were assigned their own office and an assistant; John still languished in a crowded cubicle, his in-box piled high with the weekend’s correspondence and ledger balances, in his own precise handwriting, waiting to be transferred to the impersonal computer, sitting on his precisely organized desk; John disliked clutter.
“John, good, you’re here. I need to see you in my office,” his boss, Mr. Peterman said, sticking his head into John’s cubicle on the way to his own office. John placed the letter he had just opened in the center of the blotter on his desk, edges parallel to the computer and followed his boss down the hall and into his office. Sitting in a chair, facing Mr. Peterman’s desk, was a muscled young man, in his early 20’s, bronzed and obviously athletic. He was playing with a single, unruly lock of his blond, wavy hair.
“John, I would like you to meet Tab Hunter, like the singer. He’s going to be working in accounting and I would like you to show him the ropes. John held out his hand but, instead of taking it, Tab gave him a man hug. John stepped back after the hug and sized up the newest addition to the office. He immediately noticed that the fraternity ring on Tab’s finger matched a similar one on Mr. Peterman’s. Wonderful, he thought. Frat boys unite.
“Is that your red sports car in the fifth covered parking space in front of the building?” John asked.
“Yeah, that’s my baby. Can’t leave her out in the elements to get faded by the sun, you know. Dad gave her to me when we beat Harvard, you know.” And if you say, ‘you know,’ one more time, I’m going to take my pen out of my pocket and stab you in the middle of the forehead, John thought. He was especially intolerant of people who constantly said, ‘you know’ and ‘uhm.’
“Did you happen to notice the name on the parking curb stone where you parked, by any chance?
“Yeah, Smith, Jones, something like that.”
“And did you realize the significance of that?”
“Some bigshot’s reserved parking place. So, what. They’re probably never here anyway and I didn’t want to let a choice spot go to waste.”
“For your information, that is my reserved parking space and I would appreciate you not parking there in the future!”
“So, what’s the big deal about a parking space? Don’t make a federal case out of it. Don’t get your tightey whiteys in a knot. So, I made a mistake. I’m sorry,” Tab added, somewhat sarcastically. The big deal, John thought, is that this is one of the only things this company gave me, and I’ll be damned if I will share it with a little entitled snotnose like you.
Mr. Peterman had left the office while John and Tab spoke. He returned, a few minutes later, carrying two steaming mugs of coffee.
“I see the two of you are getting acquainted,” he said, handing one of the coffee cups to his newest employee and leaving John empty-handed as usual.
“Since all of the cubicles are filled, I am going to put Tab in the office across from your cubicle, John.” This just keeps getting better and better, John thought. First, he takes my space and then he gets an office! This is bull shit! ”That way, it will be convenient when you work together.”
John spent most of the morning reluctantly showing Tab the office procedures. After several hours, he told Tab to go to HR to fill out the papers for his company health insurance and get his access key and assigned parking space. An hour turned into several. John wondered what had happened to Tab. Maybe he quit, John thought hopefully but he was sure that it was no such luck.
Finally calling the front desk, John learned that Tab had gone to lunch with his boss, Mr. Peterman, at his private club where Tab was, by some strange coincidence, also a member. Peterman told Julie that they would probably be late and if anything came up, she should give it to John to handle. Fuming, John slammed down the receiver, making a mental note to apologize to Julie for his ungentlemanly behavior on his way out after work.
He stomped down the hall to the break room. Opening the refrigerator, he saw that his lunch bag had been opened and both of his snacks were missing. Several employees from the Sales department sat talking conspiratorially at a table next to the refrigerator. One guiltily shoved the remainder of what he was eating into his mouth and quickly wiped his mouth with a paper towel.
“Hey John, what’s shaking?” The ringleader of the group asked? “Lose something?”
John just stared at him, wondering how it would feel to drop him off the top of the building.
“Cat got your tongue?”
“No. Someone’s been at my lunch again. All the snacks are gone. “
“That certainly is a shame. That’s what happens when you put your lunch in the community refrigerator. Someone in the community must have been hungrier than you are. He smiled a shit eating grin.
“Yeah, that’s probably it,” John agreed, noticing an empty snack wrapper in the garbage can where the sales team was sitting. No longer hungry, John threw the remainder of his lunch into the garbage can and returned to his cubicle. Around 3 PM, Tab and Mr. Peterman returned, arm-in-arm, reminiscing like old friends. They had apparently gone shopping after lunch; Tab held several bags under his arms.
“That’s probably enough for your first day,” Peterman said. “Why don’t you take the rest of the day and organize your office?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Tab said, walking into his office and closing the door.
John watched through Tab’s office window as he rearranged his desk and dumped the contents of the bags onto the desktop. After hanging his fraternity symbol and college pennant, Tab attached a small basketball net to his garbage can and spent the remainder of the workday shooting rolled-up pieces of paper into the wastepaper basket through the net. He was a good shot; he had apparently had plenty of practice. His in-box remained empty.
The day passed uneventfully and a 5:30, John turned off his computer after saving his work. What had started out as a ‘daring’ day, had turned into an unmitigated, first class disaster. Tomorrow has to be a better day, he thought resignedly…but he was so wrong.
Awakened the following morning by Adam Sheffield’s UP and ADAM refrain, he dressed as usual and decided to go to work early. Arriving at the parking lot, he was surprised to see Tab Hunter’s red sports car in his own reserved parking space again but there was something new, the name on the curbstone had been changed from his name to Tab Hunter!
Enraged, John threw open the heavy tempered doors of the main entrance, stomped across the vestibule floor and jammed his finger into the elevator call button. Without paying any attention to the waiting riders, as soon as the doors opened, he pushed his way into the elevator and punched the 27th floor. His fellow riders stepped back from him during the ride to the top floor, only too happy to exit the elevator at a lower floor.
Hurrying down the hall to his cubicle, John threw his briefcase on his desk and stormed towards the HR department.
“Good morning John,” Tab called from his office as John went flying past. Marge, the kindly, grey-haired Human Resources Director was sitting behind her desk when John burst in.
“How could you?” He screamed at the HR director. “How could you?”
Startled, she looked up, concerned with the hysterical employee screaming at her.
“Calm down John.” Sit down, take a deep breath and tell me what this is all about.”
“You gave my reserved parking space to that little twit, Tab! Why? What’s going on?” How could you do that to me?”
She pushed back her chair and rose to her full five foot six inches. “Now listen John. You’ll have to take that up with Mr. Peterman. He sent in the order yesterday when he got back from lunch.” John seethed on the couch.
“It’s not that bad, John. You still have a reserved, covered parking space. It’s just a little further from the front door, that’s all, space 106.”
“106? I have been in space 5 for the last two years,” he yelled again. Space 106, John knew was on the opposite side of the building where there was only an emergency exit door. He would have to walk completely around the building to get to the front entrance now.
Attracted by the noise coming from the human resources department, a mountain of a man, ex-Marine and current security guard, Cletus Duffy, stuck his head in the office door. Seeing only John and Marge, he excused himself for interrupting them and quietly closed the door behind him.
“Mrs. MacDonald had that space for years before she retired, and she never had any complaints,” Marge chided John.
“It’s not fair,” John said, somewhat mollified.
“I know John. I asked about it but he’s the boss.”
“I’m sorry about yelling at you before,” John said, his temper back under control.
It’s just that …” His voice trailed off.
“I’m sorry John. I can give you a form if you want to file a formal complaint.”
“No, that’s okay. It’s just another one for the good ole boys club.”
Marge shook her head as she watched a dejected John walking slowly back to his cubicle. John was right. It really wasn’t fair! He was right about the good ole boy club. And this new kid Tab was its latest entitled member. She felt sorry for John. His life was going to be even more miserable and there was nothing that she could do about it. She opened the file on the desk in front of her and began to read.
“Hey John, about that parking space,” Tab started to say, as he watched John start to sit down at his desk.
“Russ thought it would be better to have a more representative vehicle where people would see it when they first entered the building. He said yours was old and nondescript. It didn’t convey the success that our company represents.”
Our company? Russ? He calls Mr. Peterman Russ! I’ve been here for five years and was never allowed to call him anything except Mr. Peterman. This has-been jock is here for one day and they are on a first name basis? There’s no justice, John thought.
“Forget about the damn space,” John said, handling Tab several folders. Each of these need trial balances and any necessary adjustments. Call me if you have any problems. Once you finish that I will show you where to input your data. “We have nothing else to say,” John added curtly. Dismissing Tab, John reached for one of the new files in his top box.
Tab bothered John, off and on, for the next several hours, asking questions that were probably covered in the Accounting 101 class that Tab had probably slept through. Mr. Peterman walked into Tad’s office, closing the door behind him, while John was getting some staples from the supply room. He returned, stopping unseen by the door, and listened to the conversation taking place in Tab’s office.
“How was he?” Russ asked, gesturing with his head towards John’s empty cubicle.
“No big deal. He’ll get over it,” Tab laughed.
“I told you he was a wimp.”
“He gave me all of this work to do,’ Tab complained, pointing to the three files on his desk. “I don’t even know what to do with them.”
“Wait till he gets back and put them on his desk, telling him the you and I have a luncheon appointment. He may complain but he won’t do anything about it,” Mr. Peterman confirmed.
“Cool. Wait till I tell Dad about it. He’ll get a real kick out of it, his son outsmarting an employee who had been here for five years. He always said I was meant for better things.” Mr. Peterman agreed.
John hurried back to his desk just as Mr. Peterman was coming out of Tab’s office. He gave John a thumbs-up and continued down the hall. John waited for Tab to play out his part of the charade. Right on time, his door opened, and he brought John back the files and the lame excuse that they had cooked up between them.
“I’ll see you when I see you,” Tab called over his shoulder. Mr. Peterman met Tab at the end of the hall and the two of them proceeded to the elevator. Goodbye to bad rubbish, John thought as he closed his file and walked down the hall to the break room.
The usual suspects were sitting in their regular seats as he opened the refrigerator and took out his once more rifled lunch bag. This time, the sandwich was missing. He smiled a wry smile as he sat down to eat the remainder of his lunch. He really hoped whoever took his sandwich enjoyed the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, mixed with hot chili sauce that he had prepared the previous night; he made sure that he bought the extra hot sauce for that extra kick; the gift that keeps on giving. Revenge, John thought, was a dish best served cold!
Passing the garbage can on his way out of the breakroom, John was surprised not to see some portion of his doctored sandwich in it; he felt sorry for whoever ate it. NOT!!
The day passed like all the previous ones. He didn’t even pay attention to the fact that his boss and Tab did not return; he wasn’t even slightly surprised to see his former parking spot vacant when he left the building. The drive home was equally uneventful. Climbing the eight flights of stairs to his apartment – the elevator was out of service more times than it worked – he entered his home, dropping his briefcase on the floor and putting his key ring on the keyholder in front of the door, centered of course.
Dinner was a choice of a tasteless microwave tv dinner or the lasagna his thoughtful, friend-who -was-a-girl-but-not-his-girlfriend had thoughtfully brought by. She was always doing nice things like that, John thought, smiling. I wonder why?
After two heaping helpings of the lasagna, John sat down on his worn leather recliner to watch his favorite shows on PBS for two hours, precisely. Routine was important to John. Anything that upset the status quo was simply not tolerated.
Turning off the tv at the appointed time, John undressed and prepared for bed. He took off his shirt and put it carefully on a hanger and prepared to do the same thing with his pants when he felt something in his pocket. Reaching into the pocket, he felt something stiff, like cardboard. It was the scratch-off that he had bought the other day when he was feeling ‘daring.’
John sat down at the dining room table and taking a quarter out of his pocket, he proceeded to scratch off each of the circles covered in silver, starting from right to left because it seemed more logical to him that way. The first circle revealed a 0 as did the next and the next until he reached the next to last covered one. It was a 6. Without really looking at what he had done, he thought to himself. Wow! I won a whole six dollars. Subtracting the two dollars I paid for the scratch-off, I made four dollars. Pretty great return on investment.
Then he realized that there was still one circle remaining. Sixteen or twenty-six dollars would be even better, he thought. It was a two! John was elated; he had won twenty-six dollars. He read the top of the ticket, Mega Scratch-off – $26,000,000 First Prize! Twenty-six dollars was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, he thought, but a far cry from $26,000,000.
“I can cash it in when I go to the gas station in the morning,” John said to the empty room. He’d never won anything in his life and was pleasantly surprised at his good luck.
He started to put the card down on the table when it suddenly dawned on him. That wasn’t a period at the end of the three zeros following the two and the six, it was a comma, followed by three more zeros! He hadn’t won $26.00 but $26,000,000! He’d just won the mega jackpot! John’s legs failed him as he sank to the floor still holding the scratch-off card. He was a millionaire! No more prissy bosses or entitled co-workers; now, he could buy and sell the lot of them!
After the shock wore off, about an hour after his usual bedtime, John took out a blank ledger and began to plan his future. He knew the value of the company that he worked for to the penny. He was also aware that they needed a cash infusion to implement an expansion program that the board of directors had recently approved; John had seen the memo in Mr. Peterson’s office when he brought him a file to approve. It could be a wise investment.
Plaxco Inc. was a loosely held corporation without a major stockholder. The power rested entirely with the board. It would be easy enough, John decided, to purchase enough stock to have the controlling interest in the company. It was a sound strategy and zeros and decimal places floated in John’s mind as he drifted off to sleep that evening.
The following morning, after his usual ‘Up and Adam’ wakeup, John called the office and did something that he had never done before; he told the receptionist that he would be late and offered no explanation. The office was abuzz; John Smith, old Mr. Reliable, who was never late for anything was not only going to be late but offered no reason. When Julie offered to transfer him to Mr. Peterman, he politely refused and hung up. It was the office consensus that the fur would fly when he finally got in.
After hanging up the phone, John accessed his home computer to get the address of the lottery company. Living in the state capital had one perk; it was apparently the headquarters for the state-wide lottery. He copied the number and drove downtown. The office building was an aluminum and glass monstrosity with an attached multi-tiered parking garage.
A guard at the parking lot entrance stopped John and asked him what he wanted. Learning that John was a lottery winner, he asked him if he had won more than $500. For less than that amount, winners were supposed to redeem their tickets at their purchase source, John learned. He assured him that it was substantially more than that and was finally allowed to enter the security lot.
Locking his car, John crossed what looked like an enclosed glass catwalk to the main building. The interior looked like a bank, with people in several lines corresponding to the amount that they had won. He watched as the attendants at each window took the cards, verified their authenticity and handed each person a receipt to be taken to the cashier’s window for payout. It was a logical process and John liked that.
John was reasonably certain that he wouldn’t have to stand in line since he was the big winner. He approached one of the security guards for directions. After learning that John claimed to be a big winner, the guard turned his head and said something into the microphone attached to his shirt collar. John was then ushered into a private elevator, activated with a key. He was quickly whisked to the top of the building in what he thought was less than the blink of an eye.
The door slid open soundlessly. Three impeccably dressed executives stood waiting impatiently. “John? John Smith,” the oldest one asked, holding out his hand.
“I understand that you are one of our big lotto winners.”
“Yes. So, it would seem.”
“Come in. Come in. Please sit down. Would you like some coffee or water or anything?”
“No thank you.”
“Well, let me get right to it then. You realize that we will have to verify the validity of your card, don’t you?”
“May I see the card.”
John took the card from his pocket and started to hand it to the lottery official. Hesitating, he asked how the card would be verified. The official explained the process and John made an unusual request. “I want to be in the room while the card is being verified. I actually don’t want it to be out of my possession at all,” John said.
“That is highly unusual,” the official grumbled.
“I can always come back with my lawyer, if I need to.”
There was a short conference between the officials. The spokesman for the group returned.
“Which one of the lotteries did you say you had won?”
“The Mega Scratch-off.”
“In that case, once it is verified, we will have to arrange a press conference and the television reporters and …”
“No,” John said. “No press conference, no reporters.”
“No reporters? No press conference?”
“This is highly unusual.”
“You said that before,” John noted with a touch of irritation. I read your rules and there is nothing that requires me to have one,” he said with finality.
The men conferred again and then invited John into a smaller room where a man with a brightly lit magnifying light was inspecting a scratch-off card. Motioning one of the officials over to the light table, he pointed to the specimen that he had been examining.
“This one is as phony as a three-dollar bill. Look at the edges and the holograph. No question about it. I’ll notify the authorities.”
“Peter, I’d like you to meet John Smith, one of the officials said. He is potentially this week’s Mega Scratch-off winner.”
Peter shook John’s hand and accepted John’s card for examination. Placing the scratch-off under the light table, he began examining it for tell-tale signs that it had either been altered or was a counterfeit.
After a thorough examination, Peter looked up and motioned to John to view the results.
“John, if you will look at the edges of your card, you can see that they are all uniform and that holograph in the corner confirms it. Congratulations, you have won the Mega Scratch-off contest!”
Visibly relieved, the officials accompanied John to yet another room where one more official joined them.
“This is Mr. Grant. Mr. Grant, John Smith, the Mega Scratch-off winner.”
John was getting tired of shaking hands, but he hoped he was finally in the home stretch.
“Hi John. You can call me Charlie.”
Dismissing the other officials, he moved behind a massive wooden desk, stacked high with papers and sat down, gesturing for John to do the same, on a leather couch across from his desk. John thought to himself that his in-box looked much like John’s own.
“When we are dealing with this much money,” Mr. Grant began, “we like to do lifetime payments in agreed upon increments for the value of your winnings. How does that sound to you? You probably want to consult an accountant and an attorney before making such a serious decision.”
“I am an accountant, “John said, “and I’ve already consulted an attorney.”
“I’ve decided on a lump-sum payout.”
“As an accountant, I’m sure you realize the tax implications of that.”
“Yes, but that is my choice, my final choice. What’s next? This is really getting tiring.”
Over the next hour, they discussed the payout process and John signed the required forms. On the agreed upon date, John would receive a cashier’s check for his winnings. Satisfied with the arrangements, John thanked Mr. Grant who vainly tried to get John to at least agree to some publicity pictures; he was unsuccessful. John crossed the glass enclosed bridge back to the parking lot. He even remembered to get his parking ticket validated. The devil was in the details, John thought.
Stopping at the lowered exit gate, John handed the guard his validated parking pass.
“So, how much did you win?” the guard asked.
“Only twenty-six million,” John said, smiling.
“Holy crap!” The awed guard raised the gate and watched as John’s car disappeared down the parking ramp.
By the time that John finished at the lottery office, most of the work day was already over. As he pulled into the office parking lot, he noticed that the company president’s parking place was open. Throwing caution to the winds, he pulled into his spot, directly next to the front door. What are they going to do, John thought, fire me?
The wait for the elevator was interminable. Stepping out at his floor, John could see Mr. Peterman standing at the receptionist desk, berating her for some minor issue like he usually did. Peterman wanted to be sure that everyone knew who was in charge. He was a bully who enjoyed belittling his underlings.
The day of reckoning is almost here, John thought, as he slid his key into the access lock.
“Smith! Where the hell have you been? Mr. Peterman bellowed loud enough for the entire floor to hear.”
“Out” was John’s noncommittal reply.
“And just what do you mean by calling in and not telling me what was happening?” He yelled even louder. Just what do you mean by ‘out?’
John walked quietly over to Mr. Peterman and looked him in the eye with a sort of steely resolution. Not used to being confronted by his employees, Peterman stepped back.
“I was out and now I need to speak with Marge in Human Resources.” With that, he turned on his heel and walked purposely down the corridor to the Human Resources office. Mr. Peterman yelled at his retreating back.
“This isn’t over, Smith.” He had noticed that something was different about John. He wasn’t used to him talking to him like that and didn’t like it one bit.” You just wait Smith, he promised himself. This isn’t over by a long shot.
Marge was in her usual place, buried in office files and resumes, when John walked in.
“Hi Marge. How are you today?
“John, have you lost your mind? Do you have any idea how bad that man is going to make your life after this stunt if he doesn’t just fire you outright?”
“Sure do,” John said. Now that you’ve finished chewing my butt, would you like a toothpick to pick your teeth?” John laughed. Marge just shook her head.
“Have you taken leave of your senses?”
“No, I’ve just come to them!”
John proceeded to explain what had happened and his plans for the company. Marge listened quietly, tears involuntarily forming in the corner of her eyes and running, unchecked, down her cheeks. With her help, they would transform the company into something they could both be proud of. John indicated the employee files to prepare for termination and swore Marge to secrecy. That was step one.
Whistling, John left Marge’s office and started down the hall to his workstation.
“Smith! In here now!” Mr. Peterman roared. Step two.
John opened the door and stepped boldly into the office.
“When I tell you something you better…” John interrupted him, his eyes boring into Mr. Peterman.
“Shut up! Everyone in this office is so tired of your crap! That’s right, I said crap!”
You could hear a pin drop in the outer office. Everyone was listening in amazement.
“You are a bully and a coward!”
Mr. Peterman listened, astonished at what was coming out of the mouth of someone he considered the office wimp. Even Tab had left his office and was standing in the hallway, listening to the harangue. Finally finished, eyes still flaming, John added, “You better get ready to do your own work from now on. Your pretty boy clone doesn’t have the sense that God gave a turnip! And by the way, I quit!”
John marched out of Peterman’s office, pushing the nosey Tab out of the way. Gathering the files and ledgers off his desk, and out of his overflowing inbox, he returned to Peterman’s office and dumped the entire stack on Peterman’s desk.
“Oh, and you better hurry. Those Tedex reconciliations are due by Friday and they’re not going to do themselves. I’m sure Tab will be a big help, he laughed.” He walked out of Peterman’s office, slamming the door behind him. Stopping at the receptionist desk, he consoled the sobbing receptionist before leaving the building.
John passed an angry company president as he crossed the lobby to the parking lot. There was an equally angry note on his windshield, threatening all kinds of retaliation when the president found out whose car was in his parking space. He’s right about that. There’ll be some reckoning all right, John thought. And soon!
Step three. John called his friend-who-was-a-girl-but-not-his-girlfriend and asked her to meet him at a restaurant about a mile from his apartment. He explained what had happened to him. By the end of the meal, he told his now girlfriend what he had in mind. Their conversation was interrupted, mid-sentence, by shouting coming from a large table in the middle of the restaurant. Another Peterman-like loud mouth was yelling at one of what appeared to be one of his younger associates about the risks that he was taking with other people’s money by investing in bitcoins and cryptocurrency. Intrigued, John excused himself from his girl friend and walked over to the table.
“Excuse me,” John said. “I couldn’t help overhearing your somewhat heated conversation.”
Turning to the object of the discussion, John asked, “How do you know about cryptocurrencies?”
The somewhat chagrined associate responded, “I have been studying them for years.”
“And wasting other peoples’ money on them,” the still angry, more traditional senior associate sneered.
John turned to the chastised associate. “If you have a few minutes, please join me at my table. I think it will prove to be worth your while.”
Happy to escape the continued criticism, the younger associate willingly followed John back to his table. After introducing him to John’s girlfriend, a conversation ensued that lasted long after his other former tablemates had finished and left the restaurant. Louis Turnbull, a recent honors college graduate, and internet guru, became John’s first new employee, Vice President of Ventures, Mergers and Acquisitions. The following day, Louis entered a single order into his computer for the controlling shares of Plexco Inc. and handed in his resignation. He could not be dissuaded. There was something about John that inspired confidence and Louis wanted to be a part of the new company John envisioned. Step four.
The office was buzzing, and the rumor mill was working overtime. Word was that some big investor was taking over the company and things would be changing. A memo indicated that the new controlling investor would be visiting the company later that week, after the annual stockholders’ meeting. With the CEO retiring, the board reasoned that it would be the ideal time to make a change in management. Besides, the new investor could block or approve any changes with his majority stock position; the board was rendered powerless.
The meeting began with the approval of the minutes of the previous meeting. John sat quietly in the back of the room, biding his time. The mundane issues of running the company were addressed, questions resolved, and issues voted on or tabled for future meetings.
When the question of new business came up, John stood up from his chair and walked to a microphone previously set up on a small podium for stockholders’ remarks.
“Good morning gentlemen,” John said, addressing the board. Some of you may remember me. My name is John Smith and I was a junior accountant in your records department. Mr. President, you certainly should remember me. I’m the one who took your parking space the day that I quit. Oh, and thanks for the lovely message you left on my windshield that afternoon. I still have it.
The board shifted uneasily. One of the senior members, tired of listening to John, called out.
“What does that have to do with this stockholders meeting? He demanded.
“Everything,” John responded. “I now own 51% of your voting stock. Essentially, I own you!”
An astonished board stared at John with new respect. It was now their jobs that were on the line. The little former accountant with whitened teeth and a straightened nose held their future in his hands.
“Why don’t you join us on the stage, Mr. Smith,” the president suggested.
Climbing the steps to the stage, John was offered a seat next to the president. Instead, he chose the one occupied by the CEO. By meetings end, Marge had been promoted to Vice President of Human Resources and Louis was installed as Vice President of Ventures, Mergers and Acquisitions, a previously non-existent position. John explained that Louis would control his proxy vote in matters related to his expertise, answerable only to him; the president became, essentially, a figurehead.
Before they adjourned for the day, John officially became CEO with kangaroo court-like precision. He was now in charge. Before leaving, John chastised the board about the direction the company was going in and promised radical changes in the future. Board members refused to meet each other’s eyes. An uneasy pall settled over the final minutes of the meeting. Only one member stayed behind after the meeting, the president.
More than satisfied with the outcome, John, accompanied by the president, walked into his old office. When his former receptionist saw John, she smiled quizzically. John leaned over and whispered in her ear. A broad smile lit up her entire face; she had just been promoted to John’s personal secretary. John walked into the main conference room and sat down at the head of the table in one of the large executive chairs. He picked up the phone in front of him and called Marge.
Several minutes later, Marge, now Vice President Marge, entered the room carrying a large expandable folder containing selected employee files. One employee had noticed John when he walked into the conference room. He told everyone that a guy who looked like he could have been John’s twin brother was holding court in the conference room. Nobody believed him. The blinds in the room were lowered and Black Friday began.
The Sales Department was the first to be decimated. The Guilty Five expressed uncertain surprise when they saw John. “Stolen any good snacks lately,” he asked solicitously, handing each of them a minimal severance package and ordering the security guard to escort them off the premises.
He saved Mr. Peterman and Tab for last. Summoned to the conference room, Mr. Peterman had been on his best behavior all day, knowing that there was a ‘new sheriff in town.’ The smile evaporated from his face when he saw John sitting at the head of the conference table in the ‘power seat.’
“What’s he doing here? He almost sneered at Marge.
“He’s the new owner of the company. He’s now your boss.”
Anger turned to fear as both he and Tab looked, astonished, at John.
“I don’t understand.”
“It not rocket-science,” John said. “I won twenty-six million dollars and bought the company.”
Both men looked at each other and then back and John.
“Marge was wrong about one thing. I’m not your boss because you’re both fired. Now get your things and get out of here! Again, he motioned to the security guard, ordering him to escort them off the property as well.
“You can’t do that, they complained in unison.
“Sure, I can. I just did!”
They finally gave up and left the room accompanied by the guard.
“That went well, John said, turning to Marge. Marge just smiled.
Over the ensuing years, John molded the company into his vision. As the old guard on the board of directors retired or were forced out, they were replaced with young dynamic leaders. Plaxco outgrew its name and became Smith International with offices in every state and sixteen foreign countries. John’s face appeared on Fortune Five Hundred and a host of other business magazines. He was deluged with requests for keynote speeches, a role he gladly surrendered to his right-hand man and now senior vice president, Louis, who was as eloquent as he was intelligent.
Louis had taken full advantage of his opportunity. His division of the company, nicknamed ‘The Think Tank,’ was characterized by its spectacular failures and equally spectacular successes. His fortuitous investment in an emerging Asian cryptocurrency brought a mind-numbing 1,400% return on investment in less than two years, a record that still stands today! Business schools around the world began teaching some form of the Smith International business model. Graduates from prestigious business schools clamored for the chance to be associated with the Smith brand.
Smith International outgrew its headquarters in the mid-2000s and moved to its current location on 15,000 acres in the suburbs. It was a huge, single story building in a pastoral setting. Closed offices were replaced with a campus-like setting. There was free childcare and low-cost housing available for all employees. Profit sharing allowed its employees to enjoy an enviable lifestyle. It’s university, Smith University, became synonymous with innovative, creative thinking, worldwide.
John, accompanied by his ever-faithful senior vice president, Louis, spent years scouring the world for new opportunities to diversify and strengthen his company’s position on the world stage. His private jet was a fixture at executive airports around the world.
If Louis was the brains of the corporation, John became its heart. He loved to travel, unannounced to each of his offices, not only around the country but around the world as well, offering unsolicited but surprisingly germane suggestions and even a well-deserved pat on the back for a job especially well done. He could be seen in the fields, on assembly lines and even at his namesake, Smith University, teaching his favorite subject, accounting, as a visiting professor.
After returning from one especially long, tiring trip, John retired to the Executive Retreat, overlooking the sprawling corporate campus to rest and recharge. Putting his sandal-clad feet up on the polished mahogany conference table – in keeping with his own company policy, he had no actual office – he settled back into his custom-fitted Corinthian leather executive lounger and recalled how it all began. Since their ignominious dismissal on Black Friday, neither Accounting Manager, Russ Peterman or his witless clone, Tab Hunter, had ever been heard from again. They had filed one unsuccessful discrimination suit that had been summarily dismissed as without merit. I wonder who they are bullying these days, John wondered.
John and his ‘finally’ wife settled down to raise a family. He loved each of his three children equally but his youngest son, John Jr. held a special place in his heart. He was a ‘chip off the old block.’ The day that he tiptoed into the nursery and saw his son arranging his crayons according to size and color, John knew that his company would be in good hands in the future.
The sounds of the pick axe echoed through the intersecting shafts of the dusty old mine, like gun shots in the night. Deep in the bowels of Dead Man’s Mine, Russ Peterman continued to pound his pick into the unyielding rock.
“It’s here. I know it’s here. We are so close that I can almost taste it,” He ranted while Tab held the lantern that revealed the wall, encrusted with nuggets of fool’s gold. Tab was beginning to fear for his boss’s sanity. Hearing a sudden sound, apparently coming from the entrance to the mine, he turned his head in the direction of the noise. He listened carefully, hoping that it was only some of the old support timbers settling again but reached for the high-powered rifle that leaned against one of the beams, just in case.
The sound grew closer, like the rhythmic steps of unseen, padded feet. Peering into the darkness, he thought, regretfully, about the opportunities that he had wasted. Hiring someone to take his accounting class in college didn’t seem so smart now … and the ammunitions was running low. It was karma, Tab thought. The little shit of an accountant that they had conspired to replace, had become the owner of the company and replaced them instead. Fate, he concluded, had a strange sense of humor.