Among The Thorns (Ch. 2, Sec. 2)

among-the-thorns

This is the second section of the second chapter of “Among The Thorns”, and if you haven’t read the first few sections you can start HERE, or see all the sections by clicking the “Among The Thorns” tab at the top of the screen. Enjoy:

Monday started another exciting work week. The routine that I had become so accustomed to felt like it was pulling me slowly and methodically toward retirement, even though I was barely in my mid-twenties. Every day I was able to save one more penny toward the happy days that I would eventually have, sometime in the distant future. During the work day, my eyes always flitted to the spot on the wall and back to my screen every time someone walked by.

The days stretched into weeks as my daily routine sank in even more. Zach kept pestering me about what he should do about Sarah, but every week they become more and more broken up. Every evening at the bar was filled with thoughts on how to get them back together, or should they get back together, or who else I knew that he could fake date in order to make her jealous. You know, the normal stuff. The work aspect of life continued to be as bland as a wet tissue. I woke up each morning longing to be outside in the sun, but my little office didn’t even have a window. The occasional lunch with Jacob or other coworkers let me out of my cage, and during one of these lunches in the middle of July is when I was reminded of reality.

“This place is always packed,” Jacob was always amazed at how many people needed to eat lunch. “So, next week are you going to help with the FINRA audit?”

“There’s an audit next week?” I blurted.

“Yeah, Nancy didn’t tell you about it?”

“No, not that I know of. Did she send an email or something?”

“Yeah, she just sent one yesterday. I went to her and asked if there was anything I could do to help. You know how she always keeps the other guys in the loop on these things so I tried to be preemptive.”

“Yeah.” All I could think about was the exemption I had given Michael. I didn’t even know what they were coming to audit, but my heart sank as I realized the consequences of my actions. I tried to reassure myself that there were so many other things that they needed to look at that they couldn’t possibly spot the one bad exception that I had made.

“I know I sound like a suck up when I do stuff like that, but I just hate when she goes to Brad and Helen just because they have been here for a couple more years, even though they don’t know any more than I do. So hopefully I’ll get some action during this audit.” Jacob was staring at the menu, trying figure out what he was going to order.

“Yeah,” I repeated. That afternoon I sat in my office staring into my computer screen at the approval I had given. I knew exactly where it was in our system and how to find it. It made me sick that it was that easy to get to and that there was no way to erase it. I contemplated whether I should tell Nancy or someone else what I had done before the audit, just in case it did come up. But then I realized that it had been too long for me to suddenly just bring it up. I had been hiding it from her and from my other bosses, whether it was intentional or not. I sat in the chair as my mind swiveled back and forth, trying to figure out what to do.

Every day that week I thought about what I should do. Nancy was just sitting a few doors down and all I had to do was go over and tell her what had happened. It would only take a small amount of effort to physically get up and walk over to her and to move my mouth so that noises would come out. The physical part of telling her was not the thing that was holding me back. It was the one percent of me that kept saying, “If you don’t tell her and the auditors don’t look at it, then no one will ever know.” It was this one percent that beat me into submission until I finally relented and stayed in my office. I didn’t take those few steps to tell anyone.

The next week the auditors came. I watched as Jacob threw himself head over heels trying to get in front of them and trying to appease every wish they presented. Nancy ate it up. I helped on a few spreadsheets that they had asked for, but mostly I just sat in my office and stayed alert. More alert than I had ever looked in my office at this job. Lloyd, one of the auditors walked past my office a couple times and peered in to see how I was doing and I would try and look busy on my computer. Lloyd had brought three other analysts to help with the audit. We put them all in the conference room at the end of the hall, so that they could be out of the way of everyone else that was trying to look as busy as possible.

I was present at the first meeting that most of the compliance team had with all the auditors. Lloyd took control of the room by saying, “Thank you all very much for having us here in the office,” I don’t think we had a choice. “I want to make this week go by as smoothly and as succinctly as possible for you all and my team. But I don’t want anything to be over looked, so I hope that your team understands, Nancy, that when we say we need something by the end of the day, we need it by the end of the day.” He looked over in the general direction of Nancy who was sitting at the other end of the table with her hands crossed.

“Yes, and thank you for your team’s understanding and patience as we work together this week. Please let us know if there is anything else we can get you guys to help speed things up.” Nancy didn’t stand up as Lloyd had.

“Alright, Collins, what is first on the agenda for today.” He looked over at Beth Collins, one of the auditors to get his cue for where to direct the meeting next.

“We just need to give them the list of documents for AML practices.” Beth looked up from her notebook once she had finished reading from her list of things to go over. She was one of the younger auditors in the group, and clearly was the one they leaned on the most to do the menial work. AML stood for Anti-Money-Laundering, and that was the area that I worked in. Of course that was the first thing they were going to be looking at. I looked at Beth with a startled gaze. The gaze that forgets there are other people in the room. The gaze that forgets there is a person at the other end of that gaze. I finally wrenched my eyes away from her.

“Right, we’ll get you guys the list of documents we’ll need.” Lloyd repeated as he turned toward the group in his chair. The rest of the meeting was about how the rest of the week was going to look, but I could not stop thinking about what was going to be on the list Beth was going to hand to us. I knew that I was going to have to go in our files and get some documents, but I just didn’t know which ones. Was there going to be anything anywhere close to the exception I gave?

Once the meeting was over, I scurried back to my office trying to avoid eye contact with any of the auditors, especially Beth. I hurried back to my office to sit in my chair and began bouncing my eyes from the spot on the wall back to my computer screen. Beth walked into my office, though, and interrupted the bouncing.

“You’re Peter, right?”

“Yeah. I mean, yes. Yeah, I’m Peter.” I swung around in my chair so that I was facing her. “Why, is there something you need?”

“Yes, well Nancy told Lloyd that you were the person that I should give this list to. For the AML documents we need.” She pulled a piece of paper out from in between two notebooks.

“That would be me,” I said as she handed me the list.

“Let me know if you have any questions about anything on the list,” she said as she slowly started backing toward the door. “I think Nancy said that it was okay if we could have these by the end of today. So just bring them down whenever they’re ready.” She smiled as if pointing out the fact that I had stared at her earlier.

“Yeah, I don’t think it should be that hard. I’ll bring them over.” I paused not really knowing how to finish the conversation. “Thanks,” I said reluctantly.

“Oh, yeah. You’re welcome.” Beth left the door of my office, as I slowly looked down at the list she had just given me. At first glance I didn’t see any evidence of the report that would show my exception. After two or three times of looking over the list, I finally let out the steam that had been building up. It was going to be okay. They weren’t going to see my exception.

I found the documents and reports that were on the list on our shared drive and printed them off. Once they were all put together, I brought them in for Nancy to look over before I walked down the hall to the conference room. As I handed the stack of papers to Beth, I realized that I was not in the clear. This audit team from FINRA was going to be there all week and would have more requests to come. This was just the first round. As I walked back to my office, it again came to my mind to go into Nancy’s office to just tell her what happened so that it wouldn’t be a surprise to her if it came up at all.

I sat in my office waiting for the seconds to tick by, sometimes looking at the spot and sometimes looking around my computer screen to see if I could see Nancy walking by my office. She never did.

“Hey,” Beth startled me. “How’s it going?” she said without giving me any chance to respond. “We haven’t looked at the pile of stuff you just gave us, but I thought I could give you the next couple documents to pull so that we can stay on top of it.” She walked into my office and reached out with another piece of paper with a list on it.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’ll start pulling these too. Thanks.” I looked up from the paper to give a quick smile at Beth so as not to give away my continued nervousness.

“Thanks for pulling the other list so quick. Sometimes people don’t really get that if they speed things up for us, that means less time we have to spend on site,” she explained.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, you know just trying to stay on top of it for you guys.”

“Well, thanks,” she said as she scooted back towards the door of my office. “Hopefully this week won’t be too busy for you. I hate just dropping things on people.” She said as she leaned against the door frame.

“Oh, no its okay. I’m sorry you have to look at all this stuff.” I looked up at her body tilted toward my door. “You guys seem like you have to physically look through a lot of shit.”

She smiled, “Yeah. Just a part of this job. Ya know.” She shrugged as she looked down at her shoes and pulled herself off the door frame. “But thanks again, I’ll just be down there if you need me.”

“Yeah, I’ll let you know.” I said as Beth left, and then I looked back down at the paper she just handed me.

There it was.

The Suspicious Activity exception report that would show my exception in clear daylight. I had waited too long now to go to Nancy. My only hope was that they didn’t ask for why this exception was given and if there was any approval. Who was I joking, though? It was going to be very easy to see the SAR files that had been approved and the reasons for their exceptions. I sat glued to my chair. Hoping that someone would come by and say that it was all a huge prank. Maybe Michael would swing by and say, “Hey, I gotcha! You really thought you were going to have to show your exception to FINRA?” But the longer I waited the longer it become more evident that it was not a joke.

I knew that I didn’t need to give these documents to the audit team that day, so I went home at the end of the day still wondering what was going to happen. Once I went in the next morning I knew that it was going to mean that someone was going to look directly at the ethical dilemma that I didn’t want anyone to look at. I sat on my couch too dazed to even turn on the TV. I stared into the blankness of my TV; it felt familiar.

Thank you, again, for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the first two chapters. Again you can explore the other sections by clicking the “Among The Thorns” tab at the top. Be on the look out for more to come.

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