Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality
One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!
Crime du Jour #14: Hate Crimes
THE GUY THAT HATED SEAFOOD
You are the CEO of a small, but successful, company in Fort Worth, Texas, one that deals with app development. Some entrepreneur has an idea, you have a team of software developers that can produce an app for it. Your offices are in a high rise in the downtown area. The bottom floor of your building has two Mexican restaurants that aren’t half-bad. And a decent sandwich shop. There’s also a seafood restaurant, but you haven’t bothered with it. Fort Worth has always had plenty of Mexicans, but it’s never had any sea. You like the way your building casts a shadow over the other buildings in the neighborhood. You feel like it’s a measure of success, that the place your business calls home functions like a sundial, telling time.
You spend most of your time running your company. However, you do work on design projects from time to time, both to keep in touch with the field (which you love) and to take on projects that are too risky to assign to your employees.
You’re working on one of the “risky” projects now, under a fictional employee name. The fictional employee collects a salary, goes on travel, pays taxes, and has a social security number. He has registered software patents under his name, for which he collects the royalties. He has an apartment. And a girlfriend. He is you, except he isn’t.
His name is Wilburn D. Wiser, Bill to his friends. He wears different clothes than you do: his Hawaiian and retro shirts and sloppy cargo shorts; your suits and starched, white button-up shirts. You wear glasses; he wears blue-green contact lenses. You have thinning hair which you don’t deign to conceal; he wears a silk wig, specially designed not to frizz up in humid weather, which in Fort Worth is a necessity. It’s not just appearance, but attitude. Bill Wiser puts on sunglasses and gets asked if he’s Matthew McConaughey. You put on sunglasses and get asked if you’re Michael Fassbender.
Bill’s the one with the charming smile. Your “charming smile” is self-conscious and strained.
It’s Monday just before lunch, and Lena, your VP of Accounting, wants to know if you’ll go to the seafood place with her. You turn her down. You’ve told the joke about the Mexicans and the ocean several times now. Can she not take a hint? Nobody from Adder Development goes to the seafood place now.
“We need to talk,” she says. Which is woman code for “you’re in deep shit.”
Lena’s idea of what does, or does not, constitute deep shit is generally within twenty percent of your own deep-shit threshold. You close up everything on your “risky” project, which involves tracking boat registration numbers and flagging them according to race and/or ethnicity, grab your briefcase, and follow her to the elevator.
She doesn’t say anything until you are seated at a table in the back corner. The maître-d’ gives you a look, as though he recognizes you and is wondering what made you break character: Aren’t you the guy from upstairs who hates seafood?
Then you see something slide across his eyes. Nah, couldn’t be.
Lena orders salmon with beurre blanc and a Caesar salad, and a glass of chardonnay. You order seafood gumbo and a filet mignon with hollandaise.
“What’s up?” you ask.
She has her purse with her. She takes out her phone, unlocks it, and slides it over the white tablecloth to you. It’s a picture of Bill. He looks like he’s been off-roading in an open-sided Jeep. Spattered with something, probably mud.
You squint at him. “Who’s this?”
“An employee of ours, Wilburn D. Wiser.”
You lift an eyebrow. “I’ve never heard of him.”
“Neither have I. And yet he’s on our payroll.”
“As a contractor?”
“As a full-time employee.”
“Who put him on the payroll?”
“As far as I can tell, you did.”
You curse under your breath. “So I’ve been hacked. How?”
“I don’t know how. Yet.”
You chew on the inside of your cheek, feeling intoxicated with adrenaline. “So where’s the money going?”
“Directly to this guy, as far as I can tell. He has a social security number and a home address.”
“Have you been able to track him down?”
She takes a breath and blows it between pressed lips, as if she were playing a clarinet. “Just this photo.”
“Where is this from? It’s like the guy’s been at a mud race or something.” The background shows Bill against the side of a boat, the kind of motorboat that you take out fishing on a lake. It’s a Stacer Outlaw 449, registered under Bill’s name. “Is that a boat?”
“This is from last weekend. He was at Eagle Mountain Lake.”
“He kind of looks like Matthew McConaughey.”
“Yeah,” she says.
“How’d you get the picture?”
“He’s got a warrant out for his arrest. Apparently he hit another boat out in the water, capsized the boat, injured the guy, I mean, almost removed the guy’s face, then motored off without providing assistance. The guy he hit just barely lived. He’s black and says he thought he heard the guy yell something derogatory just before he sped off, so the police are treating it as a hate crime for now.”
“You booted him off payroll, right? That’s step one.”
“We have to stay on top of this and protect the company. I want you to—”
Then the waiter arrives with your lunches, and gives you a double-take: Aren’t you the guy that—
Nah, couldn’t be.
The waiter leaves and Lena says, “You want me to…what?”
“Give me a minute,” you say.
And then, savoring the moment, you eat your steak.
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