Thursday, March 15, 2007


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #13: Magazine Man--Year Two

(Part II)

To this day, I don't know whether Z truly intended to accuse me of embezzling 10,000 dollars from the publishing company where we both worked, or if he was just playing the ultimate headgame with me as revenge for finally quitting my job. The thing is, the 10 grand really was gone and I had no idea where it went. Over the years, friends who have heard this story have theorized that perhaps Z--who had really taken the money, of course--was in the process of setting me up to take the fall, but my unexpected resignation had thrown off his timetable, forcing him to just confront me with the fact that the money was gone.

Who knows? There may be some truth to that theory, because once I got over my initial panic, it was clear there were some things I could do right away to protect myself, things that Z should have--probably would have--considered and dealt with if I hadn't caught him off-guard by quitting.

For starters, as soon as he dropped the bomb-shell on me, I excused myself from his office. He yelled at me to come back, but I refused--hey, what was he going to do, fire me? I made a bee-line for the accounting department and there found the accounts manager. I asked her for an audit of my special projects account, something I had never done before. After all, even though the budget was in my name, Z had never allowed me to touch a cent of it without his approval. And he had evidently made plans to prevent me from checking up on the account's activity, for as soon as the manager pulled up the file, a notice popped up that she was not to release to anyone without Z's approval.

But here Z's reputation proved to be his undoing. Fact is, almost no one in the company could stand him, he was such an unpleasant and odious fellow. The manager said, "You know, Z put a block on this account, but I guess if I were to make a phone call right now, there would be nothing to stop anyone from looking over my shoulder," and so saying, she turned her back to me and picked up the phone. I whispered my thanks to her and used her computer to print the file and e-mail it to myself.

The activity of my project account was pretty straightforward. Over the past several weeks, 10 payments of a thousand dollars each were disbursed to one person. The same name--Maddy Terry--appeared 10 times on my balance sheet. There was no phone number or street address to go with the name, which suggested to me that the checks were cut and delivered internally. But when I went back to my desk and looked the name up in the employee directory, nothing was there.

By this time, word had gotten out that I had given my notice. My publisher Jack and our Midwest sales manager Steve both stopped by my office to shake my hand and to inquire about my new job. "Wow, Z must have taken it hard," Steve said. "We heard him yelling, and now his door is closed." Steve pointed over to the far wall, where we could see that Z's office door was indeed shut.

Now Tam poked her head over the cubicle wall as she heard the news. "Did Z freak?" she asked.

"I guess," I said. "He just accused me of stealing money from the company." I figured if Z truly did intend to get me in trouble, the best thing was to blow the secret wide open, to let everyone know. So I showed them the audit of my special projects account. "Anyone know who this Maddy person is?"

As soon as I said it, Jack looked stricken, like a man who had an answer that he didn't want to give.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I can't say. It's personal information and I wouldn't want it to reflect badly on Z," Jack said.

"Are you kidding me?" Steve said. "How could anything make the man look worse than he is?"

"Seriously," I said. "If I'm going to be accused of mishandling company funds, I need to know everything I can find out about the person this money went to. Z obviously gave the money to this Maddy person. Who is she?"

Jack harrumphed. "She's a he. And she--I mean he--uh, Madison, is, uh, mrrrmble mrrrmble."

Brendan had just come around the corner. "I didn't catch that, Jack. What'd you say?"

Jack looked bug-eyed, a cornered man. "Fine! You didn't hear it from me because it's the man's personal life, but Maddy is Z's, um, special friend."

"What?" Tam asked.

"His live-in lover," Jack clarified.

Well, it was a bit of a thunderbolt for us, not because any of us cared that Z was gay or that he had managed to attract a partner to share his life with him. It was just clear how little we knew about the man.

"Now you can't use that against him!" Jack said, pointing at me.

"Jack, Z's lifestyle is the last thing on my mind. I just needed to know where this money was--"

At that moment, the door to Z's office banged open and he leaned out. "MM! You get in here!" he bellowed. Jack gave me another warning look and I went over.

In the time since I'd left his office earlier, Z's attitude had completely changed. No doubt he'd called the accounting manager and found out I'd been over there and, if indeed he'd been planning to cover his tracks, he must have realized by now it was too late for that. So he turned on the charm instead.

"Come in!" he said, whacking me on the back. "Hyuhh-yuh-yuh! You fell for my joke, huh? I guess it wasn't very nice. But you should have seen the look on your face when I accused you of stealing from the company!" he slapped his knee and brayed some more as he closed the door behind us. "Now, you didn't really take me seriously, did you?"

Instead of answering, I waggled my audit at him. "So this Madison Terry person sure must have done a lot of work to have deserved every last cent of my special project budget, huh?"

Z stopped smiling and just stared hard at me, as if daring me to make some further remark. He'd obviously taken some pains to hide all personal details of his life from his coworkers and I think on some level he might have felt threatened that I had any information at all. I can't really say that for sure, though.

"Well, MM, I hope you're not suggesting I did anything inappropriate. As your manager, I have total control over the budget that you're responsible for. Mr. Terry has done quite a bit of freelance research and clerical work for me over the years. His work in this case was completely above-board." Then he gave me another hard look, as if daring me to challenge him.

"You know, Z, I really don't care," I said. "I just didn't think it was very funny to accuse me of stealing money from the company."

"You're right," he said, and admitting this fact threw me completely off-guard for a minute. "Listen," he said, changing tack suddenly, perhaps hoping I'd drop the whole unfortunate subject of the missing 10 grand. "I need some details about this new job before I can accept your resignation."

Oh brother, listen to this guy, I thought. "Okay," I said.

"You're going to another trade magazine?" he asked.

"Yep," I nodded.

"And your title will be?"

"Associate editor," I beamed. It would be nice to get a real title, something higher up the masthead than a lowly assistant, and something not as artificial as "special projects."

"And your salary will be?"

I didn't feel like telling Z that, even though they were giving me some money for moving, I was essentially taking a lateral move for this job. "You know, Z, I'm not sure that's information I care to discuss," I said, and Z made a face.

"Well," he huffed. "I only asked because I thought I would like to make a counter-offer, something that might entice you to stay."

I shook my head. "You know, you never came through with the money you promised me after my first six months on the job, so I think I'll pass on any kind of counter-offer, thanks."

Z's expression became a general glower. "You know, MM, you don't have to be so happy about this. I think it's lousy treatment of me, considering I could have fired you a few months ago for the mistakes you made. This is a fine way to treat someone who gave you your start and who's protected you and guided you during your two years with us."

I didn't trust myself to open my mouth and reply to this, so I said nothing.

Z waited to see if I would rise to the bait, but then, seeing that I was going to stay silent, he finally turned on me and went back to his "Command HQ," his desktop computer that contained so many secrets. "Okay, fine!" he shouted, his back to me. "I don't need your two weeks' notice, MM. You can pack up and be on your way by Friday!"

And so began my final 48 hours on the job. And during that time, Z was absolutely at his worst behavior, bugging me for all sorts of niggling little details about virtually every story I'd ever worked on, making me rewrite my final stories two and even three times, even though there was nothing wrong with them. But it scarcely bothered me. There's nothing like being a lame-duck to change your view of make-work.

It was common practice at the company to throw a going-away party for any outgoing editors, but one morning before I came to work those last couple of days, Z had gone around to my coworkers and told them in no uncertain terms that there would be no party for me. It bothered the friends I'd made during my two years there more than it bothered me, to be honest. So when my last day rolled around, there was little fanfare. I brought in a few boxes and emptied my office. Z left early that afternoon and he made a special point of not coming by my office to say goodbye. He did, however, send over a security guard, who insisted he was required by company policy to go through my boxes and make sure I wasn't trying to leave with any company assets, such as Rolodexes or proprietary company information. I'd seen several people leave in my 24 months as an ASS editor, and I never saw any of them get searched by the guard. It was just Z's way of sticking it to me one more time.

As the guard finished going through my boxes, he noticed a few items sitting on my desk. "What are those?" he asked.

I looked: There were two, small, nondescript boxes, a handful of pens bearing the company logo, and a small tray of cutlery and other items of tableware, including a glass tumbler and a flat, round coaster. Twice a year, Z would hold a little in-office picnic, treating his overworked staff to a pretty decent spread of sandwiches, salad, and a homemade pie (made perhaps by Maddy?). It was just one of those maddeningly, contradictorily nice things Z occasionally did just to throw us off-balance. As a result, I, like the rest of his staff, had accumulated a small stash of forks and knives, as well as a couple of dishes.

"Oh," I said, answering the guard. "These are just some going-away presents. The dishes and stuff are things I need to return to Z."

Under the guard's watchful gaze, I gave one box to Brendan and one to Tam--those were indeed gifts from me: framed photos of the three of us during a corporate retreat up to Wisconsin. As the guard tagged along, I returned all the pens to our editorial assistant. Then, last of all, I trotted over to Z's office to return his cutlery and dishware. Because we were forever dropping stories off in his office, Z, never locked it. So I let myself in and set the tray of cutlery and dishes on his desk next to his computer. There was very little room left on the desk, so I set the glass and the coaster on top of the flat, squat desktop computer in Z's office, then went back to my cube, gathered up my boxes and headed for the elevators, all with the guard shadowing me. At the exit, the guard relieved me of my ID and stood in the doorway until I had loaded up my car and driven from the lot.

I bear the guy no ill will. I now knew all too well the lot in life that security guards had. They were often the button men for managers like Z, forced to do the kind of uncomfortable work this guard had had to do, babysitting me all afternoon, even though it must have been clear that I was going to leave peacefully and without incident.

Well, almost without incident.

Funny thing is, the guard was standing right in the doorway to Z's office when I dropped off the dishware, the cutlery, and the glass and coaster. And when I set the glass and coaster on top of Z's computer, I really thought the guard would hear the unusually loud "KA-KLUNK!" as the coaster landed on top of Z's workstation.

Because, see, it wasn't a coaster.

It was an industrial magnet.

By the time Z arrived in his office Monday AM, that magnet--purchased at some expense at a local scientific equipment house--had totally screwed his Command HQ, not just wiping the hard drive that contained all manner of data that Z prized, but irrevocably ruining the computer. And according to Tam and Brendan, who were around for the squawking that ensued, once the magnet was discovered (and boy, did it take some prying to remove it), Z was so preoccupied with his lost data that he never thought to link it to me.

But from that time onward, I heard, Z kept his office locked.

I guess he learned the hard way just how vital good security was in today's workplace.

Of course, being a veteran ASS man, I could have told him that.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Long time lurker... first time blah, blah, blah...

That has to be the best piece of revenge I've heard about. To the best of your knowledge, did Z ever figure out who dunnit?
Nice getting even farewell idea, MM! And very well executed. I'll have to share the tale of my last boss sometime on my blog...but I felt like I got my revenge by getting my current job at a much larger company and leaving him behind. :)
Oh my GOD! You are AWESOME!!!

I was thinking the way you kept mentioning Z's secret files that something was going to come of that, but I had no idea he would get what was coming to him! That was fabulous!

Too many exclamation points! But I'm not going to change them!
Thank you for not making us wait for the climax.

And, I love the conclusion! Wouldn't we all love to leave a parting gift like that for the Z's in our lives.
You know, I remember hearing about this when it was happening. And out of curiosity, just yesterday I Googled Mr. Z.

He's still where he was—same magazine, same job, same mustache—a good fifteen years later. He wasn't a youngster when you met him, and he's only older now, and deeper in his rut.

You had your revenge on him long before you bought that magnet—simply by being someone with a future.
Cheering and hooting!

Nice work with the magnet. Very nice!
A forensic accountant could put this guy away for a very long time. What a miserable prick. I agree with Jack. Z's karma has kept him exactly where he is.
So now we know:

Your *real* name is Magnet Man.
Ive been reading your blog for a long time and I just wanted to pop in and say that you are awesome. Keep up the great stories!
Very good! As a man who has done time as a security guard, I very much appreciate the fact that you knew the guard who escorted you would rather have been somewhere else, doing just about anything else.

Any follow-up concerning the disposition of funds to Maddy?
best. comeback. ever.

I salute you.
Wow, I can't believe this actually happened to you. but that was definitely excellent revenge! I hope that there was some legal follow up on Z's embezzlement..?
You are my hero, MM.
The adventures at this job are just priceless. And that revenge plot was great. I bow down, sir.
Always knew you had a magnetic personality!
About 6 years ago I was a temp for a few months and my co-workers really rubbed me the wrong way. Constantly on the phone with personal calls and too busy to do their work. So I would get to do it even though I wasn't "allowed" to. Anyway, I was very happy to leave even though I didn't have a new job lined up. Unemployment is sometimes better then employment in a "polluted" environment.

Then, a few months later I heard that one of the gals I didn't get on with, who incidentally had a similar set up as Z, found that her computer didn't work. It wouldn't start at all. The tech guy came around and opened up the computer to find it's innards completely smashed to bits. Apparently I wasn't the only one that didn't care for her.

Way to go MM! I especially love this as everything that he should have would still be on the network so no serious harm done!
Yours is a special evil that I will treasure all my days.

Great story.

Nicole (Inverted Crescent)
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