"Be careful what you wish for."
|If you had a very powerful telescope, and
focused it on a particular window of the thirty-first floor of the
Kirkley Petroleum Building in downtown Los Angeles, you might focus on
a powerful looking man in a dark-gray suit. You’d soon figure
he was talking on a speakerphone. Judging by his gestures, you could
imagine he was discussing a very heavy deal involving mega-bucks. |
If you knew a little more about Kirkley Petroleum, you might imagine that this man was speaking to someone in charge of Kirkley's part of the new Tundra Pipeline under construction in Alaska. From the sweat forming on the man's face, you might figure that the conversation was vital to the future of that project.
But you would need a telephone decryption device to actually understand the conversation. You’d have found you’d been right: The conversation did involve Tundra Pipeline, and the protection against a threat to that investment - by immediate and extreme measures.
Alaska, a few lights still burned at a weathered portable
building. Though unmarked, it was the main on-site office of Tundra
Pipeline Service Company. Everyone had gone home, except the auditor
from the main office in LA, Phil Voss. Phil was working late, even for
an auditor — he was on the trail of something big. |
Phil was not the kind of guy you'd figure as an accountant, especially not an internal auditor. He was too good-looking and good-natured for that kind of work. His coworkers joked that he looked like a nerdy version of Robert Redford. But Phil didn't think about his looks much. To some, this made him seem all the more attractive.
|Phil felt uncomfortable in his suit. Though
"off the rack," it fit him
well. This kind of work was still new to him, and he'd much rather have
been wearing shorts and a light shirt, especially in this heat.
have thought it'd get this hot so near the Arctic Circle?|
Phil was sweating over more than just the heat; he was poring over a box of time slips, becoming more agitated each time he paused to look at one more closely.
He shook his head slowly: The evidence was right here -- someone was playing big games with equipment and payroll charges, and there seemed to be no effort to hide it!
Phil took a stack of time slips to the copy machine, arranged them carefully on the glass, then pressed the COPY button. It took him several passes to make copies of all the slips. He replaced the slips in their cartons, three-hole punched the copies, and placed those carefully into his binder. He paused to loosen his tie and wipe his forehead with the back of his hand. He took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves.
He had put off taking a serious look at these boxes until he was sure everyone had left. Even as a new auditor, he had sensed what huge rip-offs he might find. It was odd, but he hoped someone might have already shredded the incriminating papers. As he looked through the piles, he immediately saw that no one had done so. What idiots!
|Now, he'd HAVE to report
it all to Kirkley, and then what? His head
began to ache; how many people would lose their jobs? Phil
loud as he ran his finger down the columns. What dumb crooks! These
guys must be amateurs! Didn't they care about getting caught?
By midnight, he had made thirteen trips to the copy machine. His notes had grown to two volumes, and he had yet to add his summary narrative. He could wait and do that in his motel room. He was weary, even with all the adrenaline in his blood.
He packed his notes and papers into his briefcase. Two notebooks didn't fit, so he shoved them into his folded suit jacket, under his left arm.
He clumsily bumped out of the doorway into what passes for night in the arctic summer.
The humidity was terrible. This was worse than the Houston assignment. And these mosquitoes! Even in Houston they weren't so large and aggressive.
|Phil got into
his car; he smiled at the "hitching posts" in front of each
parking spot. When he first had gotten here, he'd thought they were
parking meters. On closer examination, he had seen they were electrical
outlets, provided for winter use with cars' engine heaters. In the
arctic cold, they kept the oil of parked cars from freezing.|
Phil bemusedly thought these little hitching posts were in keeping with the frontier look of the whole area. Alaska, the last frontier. He smiled again; it sure seemed as dusty as the Old West.
Through his amusement, Phil didn't notice that though it was summer, his car was now plugged into its hitching-post outlet.
As soon as Phil’s sweaty back touched the car seat, his head filled with a hot blue shock. He moaned as his body shook with spasms of electricity. Semi-conscious, he vaguely saw a figure walk over to the front of his car and peer in through the windshield. He tried to call out for help, but gurgled softly instead. Then, he lost consciousness.
|A gloved hand pulled the
plug from the socket, then yanked the cord
from the box on the post. Phil slumped over onto the passenger seat,
his body still slightly twitching. He started to hiccup. |
The woman with a southern accent spoke: "Is he dead?"
The man from Flatbush didn’t like wasting time with talk: "Nah. C'mon, we got work to do."
A four-wheel drive pickup with towing gear backed up to Phil's rented car. The two hooked up the towing gear to Phil's car.
"Hey, he's got some papers here. What do we do with them?" The woman's voice.
"We got no orders about papers. I don't like improvising. Leave 'em there 'n' let's go! That stuff’ll harden."
The two slid into the truck and drove off. The dust from the dirt parking lot hung in the air long after they left. The mosquitoes avoided it.
Phil’s brain was still buzzing. He had a vague sensation of motion. There was something he had to do. He had to warn someone. Something was just wrong about this. He tried but just couldn't remember: What had he had left undone?
became aware of a vibration; of machinery
sounds. Strong arms slowly lifted him out of the car, then he was
upright, his feet squished into some kind of muck. |
Phil's eyelids began to flutter. A clattering, splashing, then a warm wet feeling slid slowly up his body. It was actually kind of sexy. He hiccupped again weakly as his shoulders, then his chin felt the slowly swirling, bubbling goo. Soon, Phil's nose was blocked. He hiccupped again. Phil’s eyes were almost covered; a panicky rush of energy made him keep them open.
He saw two figures watching him, hard to distinguish. He saw them stare at him until he only saw grey, then, he surrendered to the blackness.
Phil stopped hiccupping.
The man spoke: "Well, turn off the pump."
The figures watched as concrete finished dripping into the footing hole from which Phil Voss' last bubbles rose. A kind of stillness seemed even to grip the mosquitoes.
The man and woman got into their truck. They drove away.
As darkness finally came, the frogs began to sing their summer song. It sounded melancholy, like a dirge.
"I still think we should've got those papers." The man said.
"Just forget it," said the woman. She sounded very tired.
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Updated January 07, 2009