The suspicious contents of Box 38
“If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass?” – Emerson
Another day, like any day. Around 9:30, Fred finished Box 37, emailed the pertinent reports to their client, filled out the form to return the box to storage and hauled it out to the office manager. Alice was on the phone, merely nodding her acknowledgement.
Back in the conference room, the door pulled snug behind him, Fred hoisted Box 38 onto the table beside him. Inside it were two stacks of loose documents, not the usual file folders arrayed as if still in a drawer. A variation on an annoying long-winded theme. He was intrigued.
By 10:30, it was clear that these were mainly Colin Radnor’s personal notes from partner and client meetings, planning sessions, along with huge stacks of mailers, annual reports and board meetings for the numerous charities to which he seemed a very generous benefactor. Everything was doodled on—tablets, agendas, handouts—he drew very well, a hand both lively and elegant—though he seldom took notes. All of the handouts matched a list Numb4 had been provided. Fred chuckled as the pattern emerged; he had the distinct feeling Radnor never paid attention in these meetings. Midway through the second stack, Fred lifted another report, this one with sketches of a cut crystal glass and scrawled notes in every available space. Fred mechanically slid his finger down the battered list, twice; this item quite definitely was not there.
Fred examined the pages again with more care. Notes and calculations in an abominable hand; it was amazing to think that one who drew with such precision couldn’t write worth a damn. Three pages were covered with these notes. As he began, from the context of the printed report, deciphering the words, his stomach took a sudden drop. This was it. Fred held the pages carefully with his fingertips, re-read the document from start to finish. Placing it carefully under his elbow, he began making some of his own calculations on the adding machine. When he was done, he tore off the tape, laid it neatly atop the document which he placed squarely in front of him. Staring into space, he slowly drank the rest of his coffee.
Taking a deep breath, he pushed back his chair and stood. He presented the pages and the tape to Rolland, his supervisor.
“Sir,” he said. “I believe you should look at this. It is from Box 38. My tape will clarify the implications of the note at the bottom of the second page.”
Rolland scanned the tape, then the scrawled notes, concentrating on the underlined phrase that Fred had indicated. His eyes slid up to Fred, then back at the page. “It’s probably nothing.”
“Is this not, conceivably, at the root of the computations and readjustments we are being asked to make here?”
“Maybe. But it is our job to detect inaccuracies, present them, and help to rectify the situation. It is not our place to delve into matters beyond our feduciary jurisdiction.”
“It was among our documents. Are you asking me to obstruct justice?”
Rolland was surprised by his own outburst, but glaring back at the faces that had turned to him from their tallies, he continued in a whisper. “No, of course not. But you are neither a lawyer, an FBI agent nor an investigator for the IRS.”
“I’m not saying I am—”
“Stick with what you know.”
“You know what this is. It is so hot the smoke is still whispering from the barrel. Mr. Krasnoski should see it.”
“Perhaps. It is not our job to do that. I am telling you, Fred: Put it back in the box it came from, and resume your work.”
Fred frowned deeply, and though he did sit down to resume his study of the contents of the files he’d extracted from Box 38, he did not return the offending three page report. When asked later to make copies of reports for Rolland, Fred did so, including the handwritten pages, two copies, one which he placed in a folder with a note that he placed on Krasnoski’s chair, and one which he kept. That way, when his supervisor asked, with sweetly veiled suspicion, if Fred had returned the “paper,” Fred was able to point to it, safely tucked back into Box 38.
As far as Rolland was concerned, the matter was settled.
Krasnoski returned from a trip to the camera repair store on Market Square in high spirits, laughing derisively at the stupidity of some workmen he watched there. After regaling Alice, hanging up his coat, and refilling his coffee, he returned to his desk.
The matter had just begun.
Just before lunch, Fred made a foray for coffee. It was the last thing he needed, his nerves were already too much on edge, but his restlessness forced him to move and he had no better excuse. Krasnoski was not at his desk when Fred passed. A design meeting was in progress in the lunch room—Ray, Gordon, a woman he did not know, Ike, and Amanda. Back in town, apparently. Odd. She was rarely in Pittsburgh more than twice a month. Amanda frowned at him.
“What if we simply pull the wall in like this—“ Ike said, glancing up at Gordon, as he made a few quick strokes on the torn piece of tracing paper overlaying the gym floor plan. “It makes a sweeping curve that echoes the library across the quad, and might resolve our issue with the setbacks.”
“I like that,” Ray said, and in a moment Gordon was adding a few more lines to what Ike had started.
“Do you see?” he said, addressing Amanda. “It’s a very clean line.”
“Well,” Amanda drawled. “I think an economy of line is always elegant. How will this affect the elevation?”
“I thought about that…“ Ike began.
Fred smiled. He had a sense of what he had just done, what the impact might be for all of them, but at least Ike was having a moment in the sun.
Back in the conference room, Fred lingered until he saw Ike and company head out for lunch. Grabbing his coat, Fred hurriedly joined them.
Ike lifted an eyebrow in surprise. “You didn’t bring lunch today?”
Fred shrugged. “I saw that earlier… Amanda seemed to like your idea. Will they use it?” Fred asked.
Ike allowed a little smile. The elevator doors opened and the five of them piled in.
“Hard to say—I hope so.” Yet Ike recognized the shadow of some sorrow in Fred’s face. “You OK?”
“What? Oh, fine. Nothing that I can—fine.”
Which only made Ike more cautious. That evening he planned to be on the 5:50 bus, no excuses.
For his part, Fred had thought things through and decided it was high time to celebrate, to turn the tides of destruction, to make it a game.
That was before 5:00, when the entire staff was called down to a meeting on the 9th floor, and it looked to be something significant because even the office manager attended—and Alice begged off everything she could get away with.
She stopped in the elevator lobby, looking idly at the feduciaries busily clicking away on their adding machines. She turned away, hesitated, then hurried to the glass door and flung it open.
“Come on. Better be you guys, too.”
Fred dropped what he was doing and stood, following Rolland in a trance. How could this gathering have anything to do with Numb4?
Fred had never been in the 9th floor conference room, which doubled as a materials library, a helter-skelter space that looked like a high school classroom turned junk shop.
Ed Krasnoski stood up front with Amanda beside him. Her face was an utter blank, though Fred had to admit her Chanel ensemble suited her. There was an uneasy undercurrent in the low voices whispering as the staff shuffled into the folding chairs lined up for them. Ike lifted his hand to Fred, who stood with his colleagues around the door.
“I think everyone’s here now,” Krasnoski said, glancing at Alice, who nodded confirmation. “Well, folks, I’m going to make it short and sweet. As of Friday, October 17th, the Newark branch office will be closing.”
There was an abrupt uproar and then Amanda and Ed fielded questions.
Want to read how it all began? You can find chapters 1-13 here.