He came to that realization somewhat late in life, although people had been telling him he was lucky for as long as he could remember. It was not the amazing shiny bright kind of luck that brings lottery winnings and wealthy parents and inevitably ends in misery and suicide, but a more pedestrian kind of luck that tagged along like a friendly dog and made life easy and painless.
He was taller than most. In school, bullies didn’t pick on him. He was not the victim of snickering cliques of gossips. He came from a white, middle class family, had a decent education, a job that didn't require too much of him, and yet provided all the income he seemed to require, although his needs were not many.
He could not remember ever being unhappy, or afraid. He had been ill at times, but those times seemed to arrange themselves to get him out of some tiresome obligation, or give him extra time to study for a test at school.
But it was only after being told for the ten thousandth time that he was lucky that he began to really think about it, and the reality sank in. He was lucky. He had never actually thought about what that meant.
He began to test his luck.
He turned off his alarm clock. Sure enough, he still woke up at the same time. He bought 5 lottery tickets for a dollar each. Four of them were worthless. One earned him five dollars.
Maybe his kind of luck was not the kind that caused good things to happen. Maybe it just prevented bad things from happening.
On his way to work, he ignored the red light and crossed the street anyway. He did not get run over. He did not get a jaywalking ticket. Nothing bad happened. He woke up in the morning, took a long shower, read the entire morning newspaper, and arrived at work an hour late. Nothing bad happened. He took an extra danish at the morning staff meeting. Nothing bad happened.
He got bolder. At lunch, he told the pretty waitress she had a nice butt. She smiled and winked, and when she brought dessert, she whispered that she had added extra whipped cream. He over tipped generously, and hoped she hadn't seen him blush and ducked out of the shop when she wasn't looking.
As he walked out of the restaurant, he felt a carefree attitude he didn't recall feeling in years, perhaps since childhood. He stood taller, and breathed deeply, looking around him as if for the first time. He didn't often come this way -- his usual restaurant had been severely damaged when a drunk driver plowed into it just the day before, and so he had walked down the block in search of a restaurant that looked interesting. The trees here provided a nice shade; the park across the street was cheerful, with mothers watching young preschoolers play on the swings. If it had not been for the drunk driver, he would have missed all of this, he thought. And missed the cute waitress as well. He smiled.
He took his time walking back to work. After all, nothing bad would happen if he were late coming back from lunch. He walked past the park, under the trees, enjoying the early afternoon, feeling free, and just the slightest bit superior, as if he knew some special secret. It occurred to him that he might actually be strutting, and this made him self-conscious about his walk, to the point that he began to think he might be walking strangely to avoid strutting. He stopped. That was the old Lucas Barnes, he told himself. So what if he was strutting? So what if he was walking funny? Nothing bad will happen. He considered skipping all the way back to work, but started walking again instead, grinning.
He passed his usual restaurant. The broken glass had been swept up, and a new window had already been installed, but the broken tables and chairs were piled in the center of the room, and the wrecked counter and the large hole in the kitchen wall were still unrepaired. Debris had been swept into a pile, to be removed at some later time. Yellow caution tape fluttered in the light breeze. The menu was still attached to the bricks beside the window, and he knew it by heart, and none of it seemed as nice as the lunch he had just had. And the paunchy waiter did not have a cute butt. He smiled. This was turning out to be a great day.
His office was in a large single story building, set back from the sidewalk by a lush green lawn sloping down to the sidewalk. He took the four concrete steps two at a time, hopping from step to step, with his head up, smiling. He couldn't remember ever not taking each step one at a time. He opened the glass door, and strode past the receptionist's desk. "Hi, Rachel!" he called to her as he passed. She looked up from her computer, puzzled that he would notice her, or remember her name. "Hello, Mr. Barnes", she said to his already receding back. "Good afternoon" she completed, as he turned the corner.
The company was not large, but not all that small for a company not yet publicly traded, and one of Lucas' tasks as accountant was to make certain that files were properly backed up on the computers. Most of this was automatic, done by a program using the network, but one of the more enjoyable parts of the job was walking around from office to office looking for the removable drives such as those the field service people took out on calls, or those the sales people used for the big databases. This task got him out of the office, and gave him some personal contact, even if most of the people were on the phone constantly, or ignored him for some other reasons as he collected the drives.
He had backed up all of the drives in the morning before lunch, but as he passed the office of the CEO, (and CFO, and president), he noticed a drive on the desk he had missed. The door was closed, but clearly visible through the narrow glass window to the side of the door was a black removable drive, its cable lying on the desk, disconnected from a now absent laptop computer.
On any other day, Lucas would have returned to his desk, and sent an email to Mr. Mailer, letting him know that he would come by to back up the drive at the CEO's convenience. But today, that reticent, hesitant Lucas Barnes was somewhere else, replaced by a man the gods had blessed with a secret, who knew that he could open that door, take the drive back to his office, back it up, and replace it on the desk, and nothing bad would ever come of it. In fact, he might even get a word of praise for being diligent and proactive, something that would never happen to the old Lucas Barnes.
He opened the door, walked calmly into the room, and picked up the drive. He walked back out, and closed the door behind him. Nothing bad happened.
Back in his office, he placed the drive on his desk and sat down in front of the computer. He logged in, and started up the backup program. He plugged in the removable drive, and began the backup. As it plodded along, the lights on the drives blinked and flashed randomly, and Lucas checked his email, read the two company memos there, and then brought up a browser to surf the web while he waited.
His favorite game to pass the time was to make up a name, and search for that name on the web. Then he would look for where that person lived, and search for information about that place. In this way, he could travel around the country without ever leaving the comfort and safety of his office. He would have mapping programs plot out the directions for getting there, and he would look up all the places along the way, imagining he was traveling there by bus or by train, sometimes renting a car or taking a taxi. He imagined all the people he would see, and all the wonderful things they would be doing.
The backup program beeped as he was somewhere east of Topeka in his mind, wondering if you could see cows from the bus, or just wheat or corn for miles on end. He clicked with the mouse to send a copy of the backup to the remote backup site, so the files would be safe if the concrete building burned down, or an earthquake toppled the tilt-up walls onto the server in the machine room, and at the same time managed to destroy all of the tapes in the fireproof safe. No one would ever be able to blame Lucas Barnes for losing all of the company data. It was a small part of the job, but Lucas was always very careful. When it was finished, he removed the network cable from the back of the computer and laid it on the desk. No one could break into the computer remotely if it was not on the network.
He stood up and stretched his legs, and walked out of the office on the way to the Coke machine, carefully locking the door behind him. You could never be too careful with the company books, even if the files were locked, the computer logged out, and the screen blank, it was always a good idea to lock the door. Someone might be able to break the passwords, or sneak in to install some keystroke-recording device in the computer, or hide a camera to watch him type his password. They had taught them all about those things at the monthly society meetings, and the importance of locking the door. As he walked down the hallway to the Coke machine, Lucas smiled. It would never happen to him, though, because nothing bad could ever happen to him. He could feel himself walking taller as he remembered this new revelation. He could do whatever he liked, and nothing bad would happen.
He didn't go directly back to his office. Instead, this time he walked back to the receptionist's desk, smiling and waving to her as she talked on the phone, looking back at him distractedly, and then returning her gaze to the computer screen. Lucas opened the door and walked outside, then sat down on the concrete steps and opened the can, taking a slow sip. It was OK not to be in his office, pretending to be hard at work when in actuality there was nothing more that needed to be done today. He didn't have to pretend, because nothing bad was going to happen. He set the drink down on the step and leaned back on his palms. What would he like to do? He could do whatever he liked. He decided to leave work early, maybe catch a movie.
He was halfway to the bus stop when he remembered the disk drive was still on his desk. He had a moment of panic, and was half turned around to rush back when he stopped and smiled. It could wait. Nothing bad will happen. He walked to the bus stop, wondering what movies might be playing. He hadn't been to a movie in years.
The next morning, Lucas awoke late. No alarm, just the sun coming in through the window, resting on his face warmly. The unusualness of this initially caused a vague feeling of unease, until he remembered. He no longer needed to worry about getting to work on time. He never needed to worry again.
Last night at the movie had been wonderful. He stood in the longest line, something he never did. He didn't like being around strangers who might talk to him. But last night he talked to everybody. There were so many interesting people, pretty people, and so many happy people. He had no idea which movie the line was for. It didn't matter. It turned out to be a comedy, a very funny one, and after the movie people were still laughing and talking and he was joking and talking with them. A small group decided to walk to a nearby coffee shop, and they invited him to join them. That had never happened to him. Ever. He walked with them, talked with them over coffee about the movie, and they discussed little things, things of no importance, just for the fun of talking. He talked about the places he wanted to go, which was just about anywhere, and they talked about the places they had been, which fascinated him. They closed down the coffee shop, and he took the late bus home, sitting up in front alone with the bus driver, talking about the places the driver had worked before getting this job.
Lucas got out of bed, took a long hot shower, dressed and walked to the pancake house by the bus stop and thought about taking a long breakfast but decided on his usual egg on a muffin, and ate it on the bus as usual. He arrived at work three hours late.
He had made a decision. He was going to take a vacation, and do some real traveling. Vacation hell. He was just going to quit.
Curtis Mailer was an impatient man.
Throughout his career he had watched as people much less intelligent than he was had made millions. Not by working harder. Not by being smarter. Not even by succeeding. They made millions by failing. One after another, he had worked for a string of failures. People who started companies, hired people like Curtis Mailer to do all the work, and got fired just before the company collapsed altogether. It was time Curtis Mailer got his own golden parachute. He deserved it more than any of them ever had. He was smarter than they were. He was smarter than all of them.
Curtis had been vice president of marketing at one failure, vice president of business development at another, vice president of finance at another. He knew how to fail. He had studied failure at close range.
Spectacular failures made the news. The heads of spectacular failures took all the blame, and collected buckets of cash to leave quietly and quickly. Vice presidents of marketing were never to blame, but could capitalize on the publicity of the spectacular failure as they looked for positions in companies not yet sliding down the wrong end of a steep curve.
Curtis had passed up several good positions at prestigious firms, looking for just the right position at a well-funded startup. He would not settle for vice president anymore. He was looking for the top job at a small company, but not too small. He was looking for a CEO position and a seat on the board, in return for all of his experience and industry contacts. Curtis was a good salesman. He found just the right place.
Almost. The problem was that after two years, the company refused to fail. He hired people with no drive or ambition and put them in key places. They plodded along efficiently doing just the right things, never taking risks. He leaked company secrets to the competition. The competition jumped in, built a big market for the product with huge advertising expenditures, and then never delivered a working product. Sales at Curtis’ company soared.
He studied the big failures, and copied them. He started up a web of offshore companies with contracts and secret kickbacks and off-the-books expenses and tangled them all up with such fiendishly devious trusts and agreements that no one could untangle them without his huge secret spreadsheet to guide them. But even with all of that money leaking away into foreign accounts, the company still plodded along, making money, albeit slowly.
He bought a company yacht for his own personal use. He lavished millions on spectacular company parties. The press loved it, the employees loved it, the stock kept going up, albeit slowly. But the big money was in failure, and Curtis hated the idea that he was failing at failure, when such idiots could make it look so easy.
Curtis Mailer’s week had started off badly.
Monday was bad enough. One of the Panamanian shell companies was being audited, and the front man was asking for more bribe money to smooth things over.
On Tuesday, he had been driving to work, listening to the morning business report on the radio, calling one of the shell companies in Nicaragua to set up another complicated four-company shell game, and checking his notes on the laptop computer on the passenger seat.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw some idiot jaywalking in the middle of the block. Way too late to slam on the brakes, he instinctively pulled the steering wheel hard over, and drove up onto the sidewalk at high speed. His foot slammed down, not on the brake, but on the accelerator, and he peeled away from the sidewalk, across the median, and plowed into a restaurant window.
The car came to a stop at a brick wall separating the dining room from the kitchen. Curtis was dazed, the air bag deflated in his lap, dust and chunks of wallboard coated the windshield. Half of the laptop computer was wedged under the broken windshield; the other half had bounced out the passenger window, which had been smashed open by the corner of a dining table. There was a loud explosion as the right front tire gave up trying to survive the abuse. Some ill-defined portion of the engine compartment was bulging into the passenger side of the car. The smell of gasoline and hot engine coolant filled the space between the broken windshield and the still intact back window.
Curtis tried to open the driver’s side door, and then tried to roll down the window. Finally, he unbuckled his seat belt, and squeezed by the stick shift, onto the passenger seat, and stuck his head out the broken window. The restaurant was a total mess, but that was the least of Curtis’ worries. His car was unsalvageable. He would have to walk the rest of the way to work.
A young man peeked around the damaged brick wall from the kitchen, fire extinguisher in hand, just in case. The smell of gasoline filled the room. “Are jou awright?” he asked Curtis, watching him squeeze himself into a sitting position in the passenger window. Curtis ignored him, trying to figure out how to get his feet out of the car and onto the ground. The seat of his slacks ripped noisily on the broken glass and he swore ineffectively, but finally managed to get his right foot on the ground, and ease his left leg out of the car.
“I gotta go turn the gas off,” the young man said. “I blew out them pilot lights on the stove when I smelled the gasoline.” He walked around the car to a janitorial closet, and struggled with the door before getting it open enough to squeeze in. He came out with a large pair of pliers, and walked out through the broken plate glass window and around to the back of the building.
Curtis looked around for his laptop. He found it under the now bare right front wheel rim, nearly cut in half. He could not remove it. He swore again. He walked around the car to the driver’s side, and tried to open the door. It still would not come unlatched. He could see the keys in the ignition, and not wanting to go around to the passenger window and reach in, he hit the shattered windshield with his hand, to make an opening to let him reach the keys. He swore again. After some pulling and a few cuts on his hand, he made a hole large enough to allow him to reach the keys.
Keys in hand, he walked back to the trunk and opened it. He retrieved his briefcase, took one last look at the useless car, and walked out through the broken front window and began walking the four blocks to his office. He ignored the shouts from the young man, which became mutterings in Spanish and gradually faded away behind him.
He arrived at the office, pushed open the door, and walked past the receptionist. “Rachel – get me a new pair of slacks, underwear, and get Davis on the phone in my office in ten minutes.”
Taken aback, she asked “What size?” as his tattered rear receded down the hallway. “All that crap is in the file.” He called out, and entered the restroom.
He came back out in nine minutes, blood washed from his hands and briefcase, small bandages on his hand and arm, Italian wool threads waving in his wake as he made his way to his office.
“Mr. Davis is on line two,” the receptionist said, peeking her head in. “And a courier is on the way to pick up your clothes and get them here, but he says it will take him at least an hour and a half at this time of day.”
“Get the BMW dealer on Mayflower and tell ‘em I’ll need a loaner and a tow.” He said, making hand motions to her to leave and close the door as he picked up the phone and pressed the second button. “Davis!” he snapped. “My beemer ended up in some jerk’s restaurant window a few minutes ago. I need you to take care of that. Just down the street, that Mexican place. Nah, I’m in the office. Hit ‘n run hell, I talked to some jerk kid, he’ll probly be long gone before the cops show up. Get out, that’s what I got you for. I gotta company to run. Take care of it.”
He hung up the phone, and reached in his pocket for his cell phone. “Shit!” He checked his other pockets before rising to open the door. “Rachel!” he called down the hallway. “Tell Davis to look for my cell phone while he’s there!” He returned to his chair and sat down, trying to remember the phone numbers on his cell phone directory. He had no cell phone, no computer, and no way to finish the phone call to straighten out the audit situation. “Rachel!” he shouted, loud enough for her to hear down the hall with the door closed. He got up, and stuck his head out the door. “What’s the country code for Panama?” There was a long pause. “Well?” he asked. “Just a minute…” she called back, then “five oh seven”.
He realized it would have been faster to call the operator, then realized that she must have done just that. He sat down to think. Then he picked up the phone and dialed information, and asked to be connected to the audit firm in Panama.
He mangled the pronunciation, but was able to spell it, and waited to be connected. They would have the number of his front man – they were doing the audit, after all.
“Get me someone who speaks English” he said when he got a connection. “I speak English, sir” the voice replied. He instructed the voice to find the number for Sangria Export Consortium. “I’m sorry sir, we can’t give out client information”, came the reply. He said several rude things, then told the voice to call Sangria and have them call him at his office number. “I can do that sir. Have a nice day sir,” said the voice, and he hung up.
Davis called. “The police need you to come to the scene and make a statement.”
He said. “And no one here has been able to find your phone, and the police won’t let us search any more. They’re quite insistent that you come right away.”
Curtis said more rude things, then stood up and opened the door. “Rachel!” he called out. “Get your keys, you’re taking me down the street.”
A flatbed tow truck was pulling his car up onto the bed as they arrived. The police had marked off the area with yellow tape, and three cruisers were flashing lights in the driveway and on the curb. A uniformed officer was directing traffic and waving away onlookers. Another one was taking notes on an electronic pad.
A third officer met Curtis as he got out of the car, and Rachel drove back to the office.
“You the owner of the vehicle?” the officer said as Davis came quickly up and began answering the questions for Mailer. Curtis ignored the two of them, looking all around for his phone. The officer kept directing his questions to Curtis, and Davis kept answering. The questions quickly turned to those that only Curtis could answer. “What made you leave the roadway, sir?” Curtis explained about the jaywalker in colorful language, and the officer kept taking notes and asking questions, determined to remain unperturbed and professional, thinking all the time about how he would describe the scene in a courtroom, trying to be more observant than the lawyer.
Curtis demanded Davis’ cell phone, and called Rachel to see if any calls had come in. He did this five times over the next hour as the car was taken away, and the officers asked questions, measured tire marks, took photos, and talked at length to the young man from the kitchen, who by now had been joined by the owner of the restaurant, and most of the staff.
Eventually the police were done with Curtis, and Davis drove him back to the office. “Some guy called, wouldn’t say what he wanted, but left his number.”
Rachel informed him as he walked through the door. “It starts with five oh seven” she said, conspiratorially, guessing that Curtis might want to keep particulars from Davis’ ear. She had been warned on several occasions to say as little as possible around the lawyer.
Davis didn’t enter, and stood outside until the door shut itself, and then went back to his car, and back to his own office. Curtis took the pink memo slip from Rachel and strode back to his office, still trailing black wool threads in his wake.
It took several phone calls to arrange matters in Panama, made more difficult by the inability to move funds between the banks that were only recorded on the ruined laptop. He had to use his personal funds, and transfer them through an agent he used for special operations, which greatly increased the costs. He would have to recoup that money later, and figure out some way to hide the movement of those funds.