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The ceiling of my dismal apartment is the first thing I see. I breathe a deep sigh and force myself to my feet. I find clothes that I’ve worn many times before and I put a bagel in the toaster. I now have this routine. New York is supposed to be exciting. It had lost its sparkle.
The air that came off of the subway was warm. It screeches to a halt in front of me and I hold my breath a little as I climb on.
I arrive at my building and the smell of coffee was the only sharp sensation I feel this morning. My eyelids feel like they are dragging on the cheap carpet and my jaw is sore from yawning. I sit down, like every other day, and turn on my desktop. This is my daily routine working on Wall Street. Wall Street was supposed to be glamorous. It was supposed to be intense and fast-paced. Instead, it was a grey cubicle. It was quiet. It was slow. I was in a world where the biggest drama involved Joan from accounting giving dirty looks to John from data. I want so much more than this. I want to be on the trading floor. I want to walk down Broadway and feel a sense of significance. I want to be a respectable businessperson. That’s comical. “Respectable” isn’t within the vocabulary of Wall Street. Even though I innocently sit in a small space and do paperwork from nine to five, I have learned one thing. The people are dirty. They have to be.
There is one man though. He may not be respectable behind closed doors, but he is kind. He does not yell and he always asks me how I am when I, on occasion, ride in the elevator with him. His name was Mr. Alexander. He has grey hair encapsulating his head, but his face is young. He managed this floor.
Then there is Mr. Verner. He is the stereotypical terrible, office overseer. He is undeniably cynical.
As my computer booted up, Mr. Verner crept up behind me and whispered, “Hey, approve these.”
It startled me and the cup of coffee in my hand was now on my desk and trickling down my leg. In frustration, I turn and look up at him with fury in my eyes. He forces a folder in front of my face and drops it in my lap. He saunters away, with his traditional, greasy grin. I was always emailed my paperwork. I sit and wonder why he had given me this folder. I open it to find it jammed full of receipts. I look closely and realize that they were not receipts from a mere grocery shopping trip, but rather big-ticket items. The first item I saw was a speed boat and a monthly bill from a marina on the Hudson. I then see the last four digits of a credit card and a name.
“Mr. Alexander?” I whisper in dubiety.
I flipped through the items and there was property and planes and everything you could imagine. I could not believe that Mr. Alexander would spend his profits this way. I have my suspicions about this. I decide to log into the company’s financial database. I enter in that four-digit credit card sequence and what pops up is a running list of company cards. One of my responsibilities, in this miserable office, is issuing these cards to the upper management and bosses. I knew there was a $25,000 cap on these cards during the fiscal year. I estimated a rough $3 million when I flipped through this folder. I click on the card number in the database and it tells me recent activity. I look up at Mr. Alexander’s office door in disbelief. The card has been recharged several times by “J. Alexander.” When a card is recharged, it takes from the company’s private fund. This is a big no-no. In fact, a very illegal no-no.
He was taking company funds, but he wasn’t directly hurting anyone. I sit in my feeble, plastic chair and think about the situation. There is clear intention with those multiple recharges and it was company fraud. This is the typical weekly news story of Wall Street. I did not want this man to be at the top of the New York Times next week. He was kind. I didn’t want him to be dirty like so many of his colleagues.
I woke up today and my life was so normal, so plain. I want Joan from accounting and John from data back. I don’t want to be responsible for this information. I know I have to tell someone.
Wait. Why did Mr. Verner give this folder to me? Did he want me to catch Mr. Alexander?
I’m very suspicious of Mr. Verner. There is no way I’m talking to him about this. I remember what I learned as a grew up. You should always go to the root of the source if you are unsure about information. I got a new cup of coffee and read each receipt, my eyes getting bigger with the caffeine and the copious expenditures. After a few deep breaths, I get up and start walking on the cheap carpet. I approach Mr. Alexander’s door and my hand is shaky as I knock exactly three times. Another note about Mr. Alexander, he was very precise.
“Come in,” he grunts.
I walk in and he smiles.
“Oh hello, I was expecting Mr.Verner,” he says to me.
“I can come back,” I squeal.
“No nonsense, sit down,” he says with comfort in his voice.
My plan is to approach this situation calmly and with sensitivity. That is not what happens. I spew out the newfound information and my tone is complete disbelief. Well, I do sound a bit accusatory. He calms me down and starts reading through the receipts. I am watching his eyes intensely.
“This is quite the selection, why are you showing me this?” he asks.
“Mr. Alexander, look at the names on the receipts. I looked at the past card activity and there are many recharges. Why would you do this?” I ask timidly.
His eyes widen and air puffs out of his mouth.
“No! No! What? A boat? An apartment? A jet? I have never owned any of these, much less seen these receipts!” He yells.
“What? Who could it be then?” I ask with relief, but also plentiful confusion.
“Who gave these to you?” He asks frantically.
“Mr. Verner,” I respond.
“He borrowed my card for a business lunch with a client a few weeks ago. He must have copied the numbers,” he whispered, as if he was a detective.
“Are you saying he could have bought all of these things with your card?” I ask.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” he says.
“I have an idea! What is the address of the apartment?” I exclaim.
That night, Mr. Alexander, a few officers from the NYPD, and myself knocked on that lavish apartment door. The door swung open and the color from Mr. Verner’s face disappeared. I watched the officers arrest him and I thought about how he thought he would get away with this plan.
I figured the following: Mr. Verner hoped that I wouldn’t notice. He thought I would mindlessly approve the charges. In the off chance I paid attention, he had it all pinned on Mr. Alexander. In that moment, I realized that me working up the courage to ask Mr. Alexander about the receipts prevented him from facing further debt and fraud. I was also glad that I no longer had to see Mr. Verner’s traditional, greasy grin.