Day 5: I decided to tackle a modern problem. Embezzlement. I haven’t done it, but I’ve seen in play out in criminal investigations. Now, it’s playing out here on the blog. Enjoy!
* * *
Day 5: I Can Explain
Margaret had never had a close call before. Her meticulous notes and near-photographic memory ensured that she transferred funds before anyone discovered they were missing. As the financial director of Peck & Associates, the architecture firm where she’d risen through the ranks over, she had access to all of them. For five years straight years, she’d juggled the accounts so she’d have extra case to take an extra trip here (to Brussels to see her sister) or to buy something for her modest two-flat in Andersonville (a washer-dryer from Best Buy) or to get bunion surgery. She wasn’t a vain woman– she never took the money for liposuction or spa treatments. She took it to make her life a little sweeter. The money was the dollop of cream atop a hot fudge sundae.
She always paid it back. When all the juggling between expense reports and A/R accounts was settled, she’d returned every last copper penny.
The morning she got caught, Margaret went through her normal morning routine. English muffin with a half-teaspoon of butter (measured), twenty minutes of stretching (sun salutations and whatnot), and a cup of Earl Gray. On her walk to the train, she gave a dollar to the Streetwise salesman and gave up her seat to the elderly woman carrying a knitted satchel full of yarn.
Margaret was not a woman who ignored other people’s needs.
She spotted nothing amiss when she unlocked her office door and switched on the light. It wasn’t that unusual for the founder, Edward Peck, to already be pouring over his latest design before 7:00 AM. Even when her computer password failed, Margaret figured it was just a simple IT glitch. She left a message for Toby, the IT specialist, who was really just a kid who knew a lot about computers.
When Edward, accompanied by his stern-faced wife, Blythe (also an architect), and their business partner Tony Ambrose, Margaret greeted them with her unflappable professionalism.
“Good morning. What can I do for you?” She stood up from her chair, waving them into her office with a welcoming gesture.
No one moved. Edward cleared his throat and spoke first. “Margaret, we need to talk about the accounts. Over the weekend, we noticed that something was–”
“Off. Something’s definitely off,” Bythe said, her words clipped and angry like shredded paper. She’d come by her nickname “Ice Pick” honestly.
Margaret’s fingers worried the top button of her blouse and felt a shiver slither down her rigid spine. “Oh dear. What do you mean?”
“Why don’t you step down to the conference room with us,” Edward said.
“Sure,” she said, her tone still neutral, no hint of her rising panic. She refused to believe she was headed to jail. Or prison, heaven forbid. It was really just some juggling of accounts. It wasn’t like she cooked the books.
Margaret decided against grabbing the notebook filled with pages of tallies she knew looked bad.
She trailed behind Blythe down the hall to the conference room. The pen and paper she grabbed from her desk shook in her trembling hand.
Once everyone was seated, Margaret cleared her throat, but didn’t say a word.
“Well?” said Blythe.
“I can explain,” Margaret said.