Among The Thorns (Ch. 1, Sec. 2)

among-the-thorns

Here is the second part of the first chapter of the novel I have been working on. If you haven’t read the first section I highly recommend reading it HERE, to understand what’s going on. Enjoy:

The next morning brought about a similar ritual, except around ten when Michael Varner, an advisor from downstairs, came to my office.

“Hey, Peter, you busy?” He poked his head into the door frame of my office. He probably could have seen for himself that I was working pretty hard at pretending to be busy.

“No, not really.”

“Okay, well I have a little situation. Do you remember Albert Brookman?” He brought the rest of his body around into the door frame as I turned from my screen to look at him.

“I think so. He’s the guy that buys and sells those paintings in Europe sometimes and needs money wired there?”

“Yeah, yeah. He loves the classics and he goes to Europe probably like two or three times a year. His family has been a client of ours for a couple decades now and they, as you may be able to tell, give us a lot of income. Anyways, he just called and asked if he could send over some more money from one of these paintings he just sold again. But he wants it to come in today, and I know if we do this it will be the third time this year that he has done this, and that means that we will have to fill out some paper work about being a suspicious person or something, but could we make this exception today. You and I know that he is not a suspicious person, but I really don’t want him to even think about our service as being bad or slow or anything.” As I watched Michael squirm his way into making sense, I noticed more and more about this balding man. I had not gotten the memo that the muffin top was back in style, but he was rocking it with pride. He used his hands about as much as his mouth moved, and I waited to understand exactly what he was asking.

“I mean, we can’t just start making exceptions for this one guy because he makes us a lot of money.” Our policy was that if we received three international wire transfers from one individual, we had to submit a suspicious activity report to FINRA, one of our regulators. The fact that this involved our regulators did not seem to matter to Michael.

“Peter,” I hated when he tried to get personal with me. “We’ve done something similar for him in the past. I don’t want to have to make some ripples in the pond.” Whatever that meant. “If you don’t feel comfortable doing it I’ll talk to Kim up stairs, but usually she is on the side of trying to please Albert. We don’t want to lose his accounts.” He looked down at me as I sat at my desk. Michael had come up to me before asking either for some advice or an exception to some rule. I’m pretty sure that most of the money that he made came from serving this Albert.

“I will see what I can do. Have you at least made sure that the wire info is correct?”

“Of course, I just talked to him on the phone, and everything looks good.”

“Okay, just let me know when you’ve entered it in, and I’ll let you know when it is approved.” This type of thing usually needed to be approved by my boss, and I would normally go to her, but she was not there at that time, probably in a meeting, and we had done something similar for Albert in the past. Once the wire instructions had been inputted and it came through to my report, all I had to do was approve it with a click of the mouse. All sorts of moral and ethical alarms were going off in my head, but I knew that Michael would only create more work and fluster more feathers if I put this up the flag pole for my supervisors to look at. I stared at the pixels that made up the picture that I needed to click before I finally clicked the button to approve.

Michael sent a quick email thanking me that afternoon, and I did not respond. I knew that he had the upper hand. He had more weight to throw around than I did, because he actually made the firm money, where as I could easily be replaced. It was not a good day to go on a rant about how the system was rigged against me, mainly because I did not feel like putting forth the effort to push the envelope. Nonetheless, my ethical funny bone had been dinged and I could feel it later in the day when I got off work.

I went to the bar waiting for Zach, and started milking a beer in his absence. I couldn’t wait to ask him about what he thought about the whole situation. I knew it was confidential information, but I wouldn’t share the clients name or how much they wanted to send. I was just curious to see how he would react to the whole situation.

“You look confused,” the voice behind the bar awoke me from the foggy visions of immorality.

“Sorry?”

“What are you thinking about? You’ve been staring at the same spot for about an hour now.” I knew it had not been that long, but I was not one to correct a hyperbole.

“Sorry, I’m just consumed with work.” Bill, I think his name was, was the bar tender most nights when Zach and I were sitting there, but he rarely broke into our conversations.

“Oh, it’s okay, just didn’t want you to burn a whole in that tequila bottle.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll try not to waste any tequila.” I blinked trying to dismantle my locked gaze to look over at Bill who was cleaning some glasses.

“Where is your buddy? Isn’t he usually here around now?”

“I don’t know.” I hadn’t noticed, but Zach was usually there before I got there.

“I’m here, I’m here, don’t worry.” Zach swung himself up on the stool next to me.

“Where were you? Get caught up at work? Who are you working for again?”

“Sorry, yeah I got carried away with work. I’m working for this start up right now. They need some serious help with their back end functionality. Did you get started without me?”

“He was too busy staring into the abys,” Bill blurted from the other end of the bar.

“What does the startup do?” I halfheartedly ignored Bill’s remark.

“They do online, peer to peer real estate loans. As if that idea hasn’t already been thought of. Why were you staring?” Zach waved to Bill to get a beer for himself.

“Let’s just say the ethical police are knocking on my door. This douche bag advisor wanted to get an exception for a wire transfer, and for some reason I went through with it.”

“Ooo, douche bag? Look at you. Peter, I’ve never heard such foul language escape your lips. Is he here to defend himself?” The feminine southern accent was actually on point.

“Anyways, I approved it and now I’m questioning whether I should have done it or not. It was stupid not to tell my boss either.” I let out a sigh before taking another sip of my luke warm beer.

Zach looked on as he waited for his beverage, and he squinted his eyes as if he were sizing me up. “Are you a pussy?” he said through his teeth.

“Okay, moving on then,” I couldn’t stand when Zach called me out as if we were in high school. Zach just laughed as Bill finally brought him his IPA. He clearly did not think I needed to dwell on it, so I moved on even though I could not stop thinking about it.

“So on to more important things. This festival – ” Zach took a giant slurp of the beer before wiping is mouth and continuing. “Sarah is going to be there.”

“Oh really. And you know this how?”

“We’ve been texting.”

“Sounds like a really serious break up.” Zach just pursed his lips and widened his eyes before looking down at his phone.

“It isn’t unprecedented. Anyways, I’m going on Saturday. And I really think you should come.”

I thought about what going to the festival would entail. The many beers that Zach would be drinking and the support that would have to be given to him to be able to walk or even stand sounded miserable. Not to mention the fact that it would be in the middle of a hot summer day. “I’ll think about it.” I already had.

When I got back to my apartment that night I still could not get the approval out of my mind. I tried to think of anything else, and distracted myself by looking at Facebook. The endless stream of photos and videos and long posts that did not concern me at all kept my mind temporarily off of the ethical Mexican standoff going on.

I eventually became bored with Facebook and snapchat, and decided to call my sister. She lived in Northern Virginia, unaffectionately known as NoVA, and I would sometimes catch up with her over dinner. She had taken a slightly different route after college than I had. She was married with three kids. Her husband was a lovely mustachioed hipster, who thought very little about how his pants were rolled up or how his suspenders looked with his button down shirt from the seventies. I loved trying to talk to my sister who seemed to be in a full sprint through life while I was on a leisurely stroll. She would hopefully have a more understanding tone than Zach had about the approval from earlier that day.

She answered with an exasperation, “Peter.”

“Hey, how’s it going?” I sat up from my hunched position on the couch as if allowing myself to get better reception for my cell phone.

“It’s going. Just got the kids to bed, and none of them have come out to ask for anything yet.”

“Hey, that’s good. Is Greg there tonight?”

“No, he’s out late again. Trying to close a deal. You know.” I didn’t.

“Oh, nice. Well I was just calling to catch up.”

“Oh no. Peter can I call you back, in like 5 minutes. James just opened his door and I can hear Owen screaming in there.” I could hear the cries she was talking about over the phone.

“Yeah, yeah. Of course.” She didn’t say anything before she hung up. Owen must have been in real danger, because she didn’t call back that night. Which left me to my thoughts again.

I continued to wrestle with why I had chosen to be so nonchalant with my job. I did not have the right to be handing out free exceptions to anyone who had enough gall to ask for it. And why had I chosen to listen to Michael. I wouldn’t have cared so much if the person I had made the exception for was a generous and compassionate person, but Michael was neither of those qualities and contained in one furrowed brow more disrespect and ego than anyone I knew.

It was only when I decided that I could put most of the blame on him if anything was to come of this exception that I could finally breathe a little easier. I slunked onto my bed and let my mind clear, listening to the traffic outside. The world was still spinning, and tomorrow I would go to work and still have a lovely job.

Thanks again for any input and for reading along. Be on the look out for more to come!

Update: Ch. 2 Sec. 1

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