by Stephen D. Rogers
.....From the very beginning, I wanted to know why the hell my client was paying me to conduct a deep background check on a guy who wanted to be a janitor.
.....It wasn't the money - I knew she was good for it. As the Director of Human Resources for Javelin Networks, Andrea Cleig had an ample budget for screening applicants but she'd never called me in for anything less than a Senior Manager position before.
....."If you're that leery, just don't hire him. Janitors aren't exactly impossible to find. It's not as if you're asking for a Master's and three decade's experience."
.....Andrea gave me a half smile. "Would you rather I bring in a different investigator?"
....."That's not what I'm saying. I just don't understand why you're spending the money to check out--" I glanced at the folder in my hand. "John Beamer."
....."It's the end of fiscal year. Anything I turn back will be cut the next budget review."
.....I pretended to believe her. If Andrea wanted me to deep research this guy, well, that's the kind of work I did, after all. I saluted and took the folder with me.
.....His application showed a high school diploma and one semester at Onset College. According to the dates provided, he left school to become a shipping clerk.
.....Two years later John posted out to the assembly line in the manufacturing division. Five years after that, he became a janitor at the local hospital. Apparently the job left something to be desired because he was applying at Javelin Networks after only nine months on the job.
.....I laid the folder on my passenger seat and stared out the windshield at the visitor's parking sign.
.....The assignment didn't make sense. If an ex-janitor had compromised Javelin Networks in some way, Andrea wouldn't have kept the fact a secret from me. Her budget excuse didn't hold water but perhaps she hadn't expected me to question her.
.....Maybe she said the first thing that came to mind.
.....Maybe she just had the hots for the guy and wanted me to assess whether he was a good relationship risk.
.....Starting the engine of my car, the monthly payments for which were covered by background checks for Javelin, I decided that Andrea was the best judge of how she should spend her budget and my time.
.....She wanted me to investigate John Beamer? Fine, I'd investigate John Beamer. Except in matters of my hourly rate and what qualified as legitimate reimbursable expenses, the client was always right.
.....After two days on the case, however, I wasn't sure what I believed.
.....A cursory investigation confirmed the facts John Beamer entered on his application. As to what he didn't enter, no one volunteered dark secrets without any prompting, nor were they expected to. For one thing, most applications forms didn't leave enough room. For another thing, most of our past mistakes weren't anybody's business.
.....Then I got lucky. The secretary I phoned at Onset College had been in some classes with John Beamer.
....."He was a wonderful guy," she said. "Great grades, too, until--"
.....She paused. It would take a lot of work to backpedal from what she'd already said. Forging ahead would be easier. I waited as she came to the same conclusion.
.....She lowered her voice. "There was a dorm party that got out of hand."
....."Was John involved?"
....."Him and two other guys. And Stacy of course."
....."Did they rape her?"
....."Oh no, nothing like that. The four of them were blitzed and one thing lead to another. You know."
....."Did Stacy consent?"
....."No but it wasn't like they hurt her."
....."Were charges pressed?"
....."I doubt it. You're making more of this than what it was."
....."What did happen then?"
.....Her voice turned cold. "Nothing like what you're suggesting."
....."I'm just trying to understand John's side of the story."
....."He was really disturbed by what happened. He dropped out of school a few weeks later."
....."What about Stacy?"
....."I think she lasted the semester."
....."Do you remember her last name?"
....."Can you look it up?"
.....There was a pause, which was better than a "No."
....."It's important," I said.
.....After a moment, the tapping of keys. Then: "Cleig. Stacy Claig.".....
.....I placed a call to Andrea at Javelin. "Who's Stacy?"
....."She was my niece." Andrea hung up.
.....Her use of past tense sent me down another path.
.....According to the stories that appeared in the papers, Stacy overdosed on heroin six months ago after a long bout of alcohol and drug abuse. The death was ruled an accident, but suicide wasn't out of the question. She'd been was alone at the time.
.....What was Andrea trying to pull?
.....I drove to the hospital where John Beamer worked.
.....John was up in Pediatrics, buffing the floor with a machine which appeared to float. I told him I represented Javelin Networks, and he agreed to go with me to the cafeteria on his next break.
.....We sat at a table in the corner away from the rest of the crowd, both of us with styrofoam cups of coffee.
....."I just have a few questions about your application."
....."Sure." He was in his mid-twenties, neat and handsome.
....."Have you told the hospital you're looking?"
.....John glanced down. "No. I mean, I plan to give them my two weeks but I haven't said anything yet."
....."Some bosses turn nasty when they know you're thinking of quitting. Then, if you don't get the job, you're doubly screwed."
....."Are you unhappy here?"
.....He shrugged. "It's okay."
....."What made you consider switching jobs?" I sipped my coffee, watched him over the rim.
....."Actually, the HR person at Javelin called me."
....."You don't say."
....."I guess she was in here for some procedure, saw my work." John laughed. "Whatever. All I know is that no one gets rich working at a hospital except the doctors."
....."You were a good student. You could go back to college."
.....The slightest tremor crossed his face. "I don't think so."
....."I'm not much of a book learner myself. Fiction, stories of the human condition, I can't seem to get enough. You ever read Crime And Punishment?"
....."No, not for a long time."
.....My bald statement confused him. "Stacy?"
....."Stacy Cleig. She OD'ed."
.....John glanced away. "Stacy."
....."Is she the reason you left school, why you're buffing floors for a living?"
....."Hey, I don't blame her. I'm the guilty one." John leaned forward and spoke as if English was my second language. "Rape's an ugly word but so's what we did. It's so ugly that the school hushed the whole thing up rather than take the bad press."
....."You could have turned yourself in to the police."
....."I thought about it. I did. But then I'd picture myself in prison and find some reason to wait. Days went by, months, years."
....."And now here you are."
....."Yeah, here I am."
.....I finished my coffee. It tasted bitter. "Read Dostoyevsky's novel again."
.....The receipt for the two coffees was my one business expense and it was clipped to the bill which I handed to Andrea along with my report.
.....She laid the materials on her desk. "Were there any inaccuracies in his application?"
....."So many people lie about the most trivial things."
....."I know. It pays my bills." I took a deep breath. "What were you hoping to accomplish?"
.....Andrea stood and walked over to the window behind her desk. She wouldn't look me in the eye. "The event that destroyed her was swept under the rug as if it never happened. She even tried to hide it from herself with her addictions."
....."The D.A. will never touch this case."
.....Andrea's voice dropped to a near whisper. "I was in the delivery room when Stacy was born; I was at the cemetery when she was laid to rest."
.....There was nothing for me there. "What happens next?"
....."Next? I'm not considering revenge if that's what you're asking."
....."Do you plan to hire John Beamer?"
.....Andrea turned to face me. "That's the supervisor's call. I merely gather the necessary paperwork."
....."In this instance you also doubled as headhunter."
....."I recognized John from photographs that Stacy showed me in happier times." A small smile touched her lips. "Then I played private investigator and called the hospital HR department to confirm his identity. And then I called you to play yourself."
..... "Andrea returned to the window. "Nothing will bring Stacy back, replace what was stolen from her, everything that was stolen from her. The school turned a blind eye to what happened. So did her family, my sister. If no one acknowledged what occurred--" She sighed. "I needed someone to know what I knew...to validate it...for Stacy. Someone to share the burden."
....."You mean somebody who didn't have any choice."
.....I let myself out and jabbed the elevator call button.
Copyright © 2005 by Stephen D. Rogers.
Over three hundred of Stephen's stories and poems have been selected to appear in more than a hundred publications. His website, www.stephendrogers.com, includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.
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