She Was Guilty of *Something* (short story)

Abbey: “It’s a question of fairness.”
Pat: “Yes, that’s how I see it as well.”
This conversation was taking place in Abbey’s office.
A: “I’m glad you see it that way. All of us are going to have to do even more if Gist Center is not going to close our doors.”
P: “You’re right, I agree with you, any one can see that things are going very badly.”
A: “And in fairness, I’ve worked on every campaign we’ve had since I started here.”
P: “Well that’s interesting. You’re arguing for a promotion. Is that right?”
A: “No. I’m not expecting anything like a raise, given the circumstances…”
P: “That’s to your credit. Sarah and I have co-chaired outreach for five years now.”
A: “Are you kidding me? Have you been paying attention?”
Abbey knew she’d taken a step too far but now the velocity of her emotion was driving her harder than her self-control.
“You don’t know how hard I’ve been keeping the office together. You don’t know that I’ve had to talk to a dozen staffers from quitting before they’re fired. Oh the boxes of tissues I’ve used talking them out of leaving early. They stayed. They’re probably waiting right now to see how I look when I leave work early.”
Abbey knew it was all over and that she had nothing to lose at this point.
“And you! Your arrogant self-satisfied smirk rising above it all just makes it worse. Harder! You don’t understand and don’t care enough to understand. You you you. Never look never pay attention. Someone else has to take care of it – it’s important but you’re too busy doing more important to take care of that important thing like finances! Like donor relations!
“It’s important but I’m not interested. It’s important but YOU take care of it. You have the time1 I don’t need to pay attention because YOU have to. And then. You second guess everything I do! You would have done it different and perfectly. But you didn’t have time because because because you’re stuck! You’re egotistical! You’re blinded by your own narcissism. Yous stuck-on-yourself attitude has caused the whole of Gist Center to crash and burn. Do you hear me? Crash! And burn! Everything you spent ten years on is ruined because of you, Everything I’ve spent five years on is ruined because of you!”
Abbey was now exhausted, spent.
Pat: “So that is your paradigm. As I see it, you’re in a victim paradigm.”
A: “I can’t talk about it any more.”
P: “That’s just the time when we can make the most progress, a breakthrough.”
A:”Haven’t you been listening?”
P: “Oh, I have and you need a new paradigm. You’re stuck in your old paradigm.”
A: “What?”
P: “It’s in moments of crisis that we can make the most progress.”
A: “I have a headache. I can’t talk about it any more.”
P: “A new paradigm energizes people. Especially if you drop the victim paradigm.”
A: “You’re in my office, could you leave?”
P: “If you don’t take this opportunity you may not get another.”
A: “Is part of your paradigm to make threats to get what you want?”
P: “You may make progress yet.”
A: “Could you leave?”
P: “Don’t let being a victim deny you this opportunity.”

Abbey shoved past Pat and left the office. She pulled out her phone and summoned an Uber. As she was driven out of downtown Abbey took a handful of Ibuprofen. A few tears slowly dripped down her face. She was wrung out. She was tired from shaking with rage and felt cold and hot at the same time. She lay down on the seat and put her hands under her head. She had her phone out and Facebook on.
“You OK?” asked the driver.
“Yeah I just need a moment.”
“You look like you need a week on the beach in Thailand.”
“Ha. you’re a comic.”
“Good eye. I actually am.”
As she scrolled through Facebook posts she said “No way.”
“Yes way.”
“Tell me a joke.”
“Coupla guys drinking at a fancy bar up top of a skyscraper. They’re completely toasted – the barkeep won’t serve them any more. One says to the other ‘Little known fact: up this high there’s a huge updraft alongside these buildings. You can jump out and you don’t fall. Matter of fact you bounce like a trampoline.’ ‘No way’ says the other guy. ‘Yes way’ says the first and he proves it. He opens a window jumps out falls fifty floors and bounces just like he says back in the window. Second guy says ‘If you can…’ jumps out the window and pancakes a hundred floors down onto the sidewalk. ‘You’re a mean drunk Superman.’ says the barkeep.”
“That’s a terrible joke.”
“You didn’t pay the two drink minimum.”
Abbey could tell he was flirting with her as well as trying to cheer her up. She was flattered, but things were going well with JC and she didn’t have the energy to be any more than a little distracted from Kathy’s latest Facebook post.

“God, I am sick of Kathy.” she thought. No more Facebook.
When she was back in her apartment she turned out all the lights, pulled the curtains, got in bed and hugged her teddy bear.

Abbey had been distracted in the car to say the least. She had been flipping between social media sites, multitasking her emotional rollercoaster, reliving what she said to Pat as well as talking to the driver (who was pretty cute). At the end of the ride she had left her phone in the car.

A new rider, Frankie, had gotten in the car and immediately felt the phone on the seat. He had pocketed it but not before he powered it off.

After he had gotten out, Frankie went to his apartment. Frankie put the phone in a shielded box and then connected it to a computer. Soon he had broken the phone. He started a scan that searched for apps with passwords and this scan found the finance app for Gist Center. Un-huh “1234password” took less than a second to match. There was a command line for the database that Abbey had no idea existed and a link to the bank used by Gist. Frank got busy.

The next morning, first thing in the office, Pat opened up the finance website. Pat was surprised at the dialog box that displayed:

[[ Login denied. follow this link to unlock the database. ]]

The link led to a website whose name was made up only of numbers. The plain block of text on the page explained how to send bitcoin payment to keep the database
from being erased and allow access again.

Abey was awakened by a knock on her door. It was loud. She put on her robe and looked out the peephole. Coupla guys in suits.
“Can I help you?” she asked through the door.
“We’d like to ask you a few questions, Ma’am.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Could you open the door?”
She could. They had a warrant to take any and all electronic devices she owned. When she couldn’t find her phone in her purse she felt a sinking feeling like an elevator dropping a thousand floors. Like something had pushed her stomach down thru her pajamas and now it was sloshing about on the floor. She felt bile in her mouth.

A few hours later Abby sat in a stark gray room. The chairs were made of metal, the table was stained but scrupulously clean. Abby had a bottle of water in front of her and tears that had dried on her cheek. A detective came in again.

“It will take a few hours to subpoena the Uber records. Unfortunately we’re not going to be able to tell when the phone left the car. When we tried to contact the phone it appears to have been wiped clean and we can’t track it after you no longer had it. Can you tell us about your relationship with Henderson and the final conversation at Gist Center?”
“I’ve already told you everything. I can’t remember every single word. What more do you want?”
“Sometimes telling it again brings out more and possibly important facts.”
“I didn’t do it.”
Abby had said this so many times that there was no energy in the words this time. All the other times indignation had powered her statement forward. This time as she said it her voice was as blank and dead as if she was ordering a latte.

Abby and Chris went over her rant to Pat again. She was almost bored except that she was in police custody. As she talked, another detective came in and whispered a few words to Chris and handed over some papers. Chris flipped through them.

“Uber answered quicker than usual. There’s one rider – got in right after you – we can’t find a real track – seems like a fake ID and payment method…” Chris’s voice trailed off in thought.
“That’s it! I told you I was innocent!”
“We’ve got enough to let you go. Don’t leave town, change your phone number, or otherwise hide your identity.”
“Yes, yes let me go.”

Abby was out on the street and completely disoriented. Everything that seemed settled just yesterday noon – her job, her relationship with Pat, her purpose in life- all gone. She was still somewhat jacked on adrenaline from being in jail! Her! In jail! Being questioned! that she was simultaneously exhausted and wide awake as if her eyes were propped open with toothpicks.

When she got home her termination notice was at the top of her email queue. Her belongings were in boxes at the reception desk. No surprise there. Gist was about to close anyway. She’d seen the ransonware notice – Chris made sure she looked at it again and again as if Abby was going to confess after seeing it for the fifth time. She also knew there was no money to make a ransom payment and no assets to protect anyway. So there.

She looked at her bank account. She had enough money to last a month. Not much.

Later that week Abby was going to an interview. She was taking a regular taxi because: cheaper. The driver was one of the non communicators, just a grunt and then he was looking through the windshield the whole ride.
Abby settled back in the seat. As she did she felt her feet nudge something. It was a black vinyl bag that had been invisible through the tinted windows. She knew she shouldn’t but her curiosity impelled her to unzip it a little. There were wads of hundred dollar bills each bound by the proper paper wrapper. She zipped the bag back up. When she got out the bag got out with her.
She aced the interview – who wouldn’t with a king’s ransom in a nondescript gym bag by her side?
After a celebratory dinner and more than her usual amount of wine, Abby was back in her apartment, counting the money! Do you hear? Counting the money! When she heard a knock on the door, she was pretty woozy and exhilarated from the bottle of wine. What could go wrong?

At the door were Chris and another detective. Chris had enough experience to know that the weakest part of any perp’s story was the coincidences. Abby was ripe to make a slip up.
“Hi Abby, we’re here to update you on what we’ve found out so far on the ransonware attack. It’s not much but we thought you’d be interes…”
Chris and the other detective had both seen the pile of money on the table at the same time. Abby was still more than a little flush from the wine, but she caught their double take.
“Oh no, it’s not what you think. I found this money in a taxi.”

Years later Abby was sitting at her desk and was looking at a sad woman. Abby was going to have to tell her some hard truths, but also to present a plan to get her out of $10,000.00 in credit card debt. While Abby had been serving her sentence in a low security prison, she had taken an interest in financial counseling, not the least because she was by then flat broke. At the plea bargain meeting, everyone had been in agreement that Abby was guilty of something. Just what was harder to say. By then, even Abby had been convinced of her guilt. For something. A whole lot of questioning can do that to a person. She had pled to a lesser charge of racketeering. Racketeering because that covers a wide range of sins.
She would never have a smartphone again. She was sure the Lord Judge Coincidence had it in for her and that whenever a C. presented itself she would run away as fast as she could.

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