The Trade, Chapter 6

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They’ll never catch it.  So much money goes out of this office each month, one more expense will never be noticed.

Three weeks had passed since she had talked to her father and as Ruth sat surveying the huge bookkeeping department where hers was one of dozens of desks, she reassured herself that what she was about to do was not as risky as it might be at a smaller enterprise. Or even at anyplace other than a poorly managed bureaucracy with little oversight which she had come to learn was where she worked. Still, as she picked up an invoice from the stack on her desk she felt her heart beating so hard she was sure if anyone was paying attention they’d surely see it.

With the invoice in her hand, Ruth bent down from her chair to retrieve the pen she had knocked onto the floor at the same time. When she sat back up the invoice was now hiding a second invoice, deftly retrieved from her large handbag stored beneath the desk. It was a maneuver she had practiced many times at home, but never in such a physically agitated state. Her eyes darted quickly left and right to see if anyone nearby was picking up on her nervousness, but she discerned no unwanted interest. Just the way she liked it, and hoped it would stay.

Ruth’s right leg was now shaking under her desk as she keyed in the first invoice and placed it on the “entered” stack and then picked up the one she had created at home with some pretty basic software. According to the bogus invoice, the state had ordered 100 reams of specialty paper, eight 10 packs of unspecified forms, and 2 boxes of personalized note pads from Promise Publishing Corporation. Ruth quickly entered the new vendor information, the address of which was a post office box not far from her apartment, the amount of the bill $2,014.25, and struggled for an air of nonchalance as she set the invoice on the stack with the others. She considered waiting a week or so before cutting the check but figured the sooner she could file the invoice the better. And she desperately needed that money.

Three days later she was waiting in line at her local bank branch with the check and a deposit slip in hand, hoping that her “nothin’ funny going on here” facade was convincing enough to mask the fear and nervousness she couldn’t quite shake.  When her turn came she slid them across the counter to the teller with a faint smile and a comment about the weather, and waited anxiously for the receipt.  Then she was back in her car and that was it.  It was so easy.

Once back at her apartment, Ruth sat down with a glass of iced tea and carefully considered her situation. She now had over $2,000.00 at her disposal that she did not earn, neither was it given to her. She had stolen it, and she knew it. “But I need it more than they do,” she said out loud to no one. And they’ll never miss it, she assured herself. So, really…what’s the harm?

Within a week she had begun paying her creditors online with the embezzled funds, working from her desk on her lunch break. just enough to get them off her back and avoid suspicion. And that’s as far as the $2000 went anyway. She would need another influx of funds before they started calling her again.

Over the next month Ruth conducted the bureau’s business quite responsibly, albeit a bit nervously. Every odd look or question from coworkers made her wonder if her theft had been discovered. But eventually the pathetic lack of oversight in her department gave her confidence and assurance that no funny business had been detected. She began producing and smuggling in a new invoice about once a month, alternating the coded expense accounts to minimize any noticeable uptick on the financial reports. Some went to office supplies, others to  marketing supplies, business promotion, or professional development.

In fact, Ruth’s scheme was running so smoothly that she began foregoing her careful maintenance to detect any unwanted scrutiny. If there were suspicious eyes examining her, she wouldn’t have noticed. Her monthly unlawful dip into the state’s financial deep had come to feel so natural and normal that she rarely considered the risks involved. And so when an email came down from the CFO of an external audit commencing the next morning, Ruth skimmed it as of no greater concern than the one inviting her to a retirement party for the janitor. It was 5:00 and her thoughts were on a pair of red leather heels she had seen in the store window that morning. “I’m comin’ for you, pretty shoes,” she said smiling as she shut down her PC, grabbed her purse, and left the office.