Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 14

Chapter 14
The Living Dead

March 1988
As I mindlessly fed a stack of IBM punch cards into the school district's ancient mainframe computer, I asked myself yet again, What did that bastard mean? According to the scraps of information (or lies) that the anonymous caller had fed me during the past week, the FBI was supposedly conducting an investigation of Servercomp and/or its company officers. If that was really true, then what kind of crimes would prompt the FBI to investigate an Internet Service Provider? Copyright infringement? Big fuckin' deal.

The caller's reference to the alleged “sick perverts” who ran the company insinuated that it would have something to do with trafficking porn - presumably of the underage variety, because otherwise the FBI wouldn't bother investigating. (It was already apparent, to anyone who bothered to look, that digitized dirty pictures would soon become the online community's most popular “killer app”. In fact, each advance in media technology since the invention of the printing press has been a boon to a growing pornography industry.)

Nevertheless I steadfastly refused to believe the man's accusation. Was he implying that Joey, Herb and/or Rob were directly involved with distributing illegal porn? That's insane! But whether any of that was true or not, I had already made up my mind to start unloading my Servercomp stock as soon as it rose above three-dollars a share. Having been taught a hard lesson about greed-driven expectations, I was now perfectly satisfied to cash-out for a measly one-million dollars.

As time wore on, though, it became increasingly difficult to maintain my resolve in that regard, as the price of my stock kept going up by a few percent each week. In mid-April, right after the company's latest quarterly financial statement reported a modest profit, the stock price suddenly shot to over three dollars. When it reached $3.50 less than a week later, the greedy voice in my head grew louder, urging that I not to sell before it reached five bucks. But then the paranoid voice in my head would retort, “Fuck that! What if that guy was telling the truth? It would bankrupt the company overnight!”

Next day, Herb inadvertently helped me come to a decision: He called my home and offered me my old job back, albeit at a salary lower than what my temp job at the school district paid. After I politely turned it down, he politely insulted me with the truth: “We also have a few other technical positionth to fill, but they don't really match your talenth, I'm afraid.” My cheeks burned while I digested his last sentence. Awkwardly he added in conclusion, “Well, don't be a stranger, Denny. We'll alwayth have a plathe for you in the company.”

Doing what – sweeping the floors? “I appreciate that, Herb. Thanks - talk to you later.”

So, with the stock price moving up another 25 cents that day, I contacted my broker to begin the process of unloading all 240,000 shares, selling them in batches just small enough not to drive the price down. As my bank balances swelled over the next two weeks, I thought about the future and how I was going to spend all that money. Herb's implication that my job skills were obsolete rather shamed me. Thus I vowed to go back to college as soon as possible (and not dropout after one semester as I had done before). And I had plans to buy us a house and perhaps dabble in real estate investing.

While working at the school district offices a few days later, those plans and other possibilities bounced around in my head during another boring swing shift. Unfortunately my reverie was interrupted by another call from my anonymous “friend”. “...Oh Christ, not you again.”

“I was hoping you'd be a little more friendly, or even grateful. But at least you took my advice and started selling your company stock. Smart move.”

“You can drop the cock-and-bull story now. I planned on selling my stock long before these prank calls.”

“What I told you still goes, Denny. The FBI is going to shut that company down any day now, so you'd better hurry and sell the remainder of your holdings before the bottom drops out.”

“All right, let's pretend that I do believe that story. What was the point? And who do you represent, anyway, the government? Obviously.”

“My client strongly desires your services - as you may have guessed - which is why they went through the trouble of extricating you from that company, before you could get into any legal trouble.”

“Well I didn't need to be extricated, like I just told you.”

“Be that as it may, the fact remains that your services are required by the client, who, by the way, is offering you a very attractive salary and benefits package. Of course, I can't go into detail over the phone.”

“Since you seem to know so much about me, then you also know that I don't need the money.”

“I'm aware of that, Denny.” With a sigh, he said, “I sure wish that I had 689,222 dollars in assorted bank accounts right now, like you - my oldest kid is starting college in September.” I started to talk then, but he interrupted me with, “Just between you and me, you'll save both of us a lot of future hassle if you take the job.”

I remained adamant. “No thanks, I got better things to do than work for the government for the rest of my life.”

“You needn't be concerned about that. Your contract with the client would be renewed on a year-by-year basis.”

“Look, man, there's really nothing you can say to change my mind - “

“Tell you what, Denny. Think about it for a week - I'll contact you around this time next Monday. If you still decline the client's offer at that time, I promise that will be the end of it. If you accept, we'll set up a personal meeting where you'll receive a full briefing.” Just wanting to humor him and end the conversation, I agreed to consider the job offer. Over the next three days, I didn't give the matter much serious thought. By Thursday it was largely forgotten, as I was too busy trying to help Tina with a serious personal problem which had cropped-up.

That evening, Tina finally arrived home from work. She had recently been rehired at Rainier Plaza after a long layoff. She looked uncharacteristically worried and was almost in tears. I clasped her slim arms lightly and asked, “What's wrong?”

Pulling herself together, she replied with a wan chuckle. “Oh, nothing much. Do I look dead to you, Herc?”

“Dead? What are you talking about?”

“I just had a meetin' with the Human Resources Director at the hotel. He said that my bank wouldn't accept the direct deposit of my payroll check, because there was a block on my account. Then he called Social Security and found out that I was reported dead three days ago!”

“Now don't panic - I've heard of that happening once in awhile. There must be a hundred Tina Kincaids in the country, and one of them probably died this week and they mixed you up with her. First thing tomorrow morning, we're going down to the Social Security office and straighten this out.”

Next day, Tina brought her birth certificate and all of her other identification to the SS office, where she then spent an hour waiting and another hour filling-out forms. Afterward the clerk handling her case informed her that it could take 30 days or longer to rectify the error. Unfortunately, until the government resurrected her from the grave, she wouldn't be able to work or even collect unemployment benefits.

As we left the building, Tina groused, “What a pain in the ass – this'll end-up costin' me thousands!”

”Enjoy the vacation, Amazon.”

“Watchin' soap operas with Angie for the next month? Some fun.”

On the way home, I stopped at the bank to use the ATM. After I slid my debit card into the ATM, the machine took an inordinately long time to process my cash withdrawal. Finally a message blinked on the ATM's screen: MALFUNCTION - PLEASE SEE TELLER INSIDE LOBBY FOR SERVICE. On top of that, the ATM had eaten my card and refused to disgorge it.

After a few minutes of standing in line, I gave a teller my withdrawal slip and informed him that my card was stuck in the ATM. The teller tapped some numbers into his computer terminal. Then he said, “Hmm” to himself and tapped-in another string of numbers. A nameless dread now crept over me. “There seems to be a problem, Mister Smith. Hang-on, sir, I'll be right back.”

 By now, my stomach was doing flip-flops. What the fuck is going on? Could this be what I think it is? No way! A minute later the teller got off the phone and then directed me to the Accounts Manager's desk. My knees felt as weak as pastry dough as I walked across the lobby. The manager was looking intently at his computer screen as I approached his desk. “Have a seat, Mister Smith. Well, I haven't seen this happen in ages. According to our data base, your account is blocked, because you died three days ago.”

Copyright 2015 by K.D. Bishop

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