Acute Paranoia


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I should have known something was wrong from the signals Larry left whenever he used the stall in the men's room. Somehow he had become an expert at flushing the toilet in such a way that a little turd was always left floating behind. This was no accident; these were warnings that the organization was corrupt. A message that the Corporation was contaminated. I should have heeded my old friend's advice never to take a job with a company that required a background check and the filling out of great quantities of paperwork. But it was too late.

April 17, 2006

My troubles began with an aching tooth. At first it was a moderate ache which I more or less ignored. But eventually the pain increased to the point that it kept me up all night, and I knew I had to see a dentist. I hadn't actually been to a dentist in many years so I had to select one. I decided on the practice that just happened to be across the street from where I worked.

So one day I told the boss, Frank, that I had to leave for the afternoon to see the dentist. Frank was a short, intense guy with a quirky managerial style. Alternately he would lurk in his office ignoring everyone, or be out among the cubicles, on your case like a drill sergeant. He seemed to play favorites with the employees, giving some a harder time than others for no apparent reason. He had a particularly bad relationship with a guy named Lloyd.

"What dentist are you seeing?" Frank asked me.

I pointed out the window to the building across the street. "Them," I replied.

"Well, let me know how they are," he said.

Since I was a first time patient I had to fill out a pile of forms when I arrived at the dentist's office. Under medications I was taking I put down Topamax, an anti-convulsant. This was for a seizure I had had about a year and a half before.

In the examination chair they looked at all my teeth and gave me a hard time for neglecting my dental care. As for the trouble tooth - a bottom right molar - they shone their lights on it and looked it over and concluded that it had a crack in it. They could try to repair it but any effort to do so would probably fail eventually and the tooth would then have to come out. It made more sense for them to extract it now and save all that work. It was up to me.

The tooth hurt so damn much I decided to trust their word and have them remove it. They numbed me up and out came this heavy set of forceps. The doctor grabbed hold of my tooth and began pulling. I could feel the pressure in my jaw. He seemed to be having difficulty and finally stopped.

"Let me get the master, Dr. X," he said, and departed.

"Don't worry," the assistant assured me, "I've never seen a tooth fail to come out for Dr. X."

The new doctor arrived and took over the forceps duty. As he worked my tooth I could feel a weird crackling sensation suffuse my mandible. In time, the tooth was out. Swiftly and completely, my entire body felt relieved; I knew the source of the pain was gone for good.

Back at work, I showed the bloodied, extracted molar to Pete and Florence, who sat nearest to me.

"Check out what I just had done," I said.

April 2006

In those days I would come home from work, usually relax for a bit, then watch DVDs or browse the web. I shared a house with two roommates, Fred and George; we were renting it from the absent homeowners. It was a large house in a nice location, near the highway and not too far from the airport. George worked as a computer programmer, but Fred was unemployed and living off of disability.

As part of the deal we also shared the house with the homeowners' cats. I had agreed to be the cats' caretakers for a small rental discount, which was kind of a pain - there were three cats, with two litterboxes, which meant a lot of cleanup.

Work I found to be stressful, and it wore on me mentally. The culture of the Corporation was straight and conservative and I didn't fit in very well. The stress made me angry and I would find myself blaming my work colleagues for my upset state of mind. I was in a poor state of mental health - and the worse was yet to come.

May 2006

Where I worked, the Corporation had a contract with another company, based in Utah, which I'll call the Operator. The Operator in turn was contracted with the United States Postal Service; the work we did supported Postal Service operations. The staff at the Corporation was small, tucked away in one corner of the third floor of an office building. Oddly, the Corporation leased the rest of the floor, but it was empty.

Some of my colleagues had been on the project for years, and remembered when the staff had been much larger, before many rounds of lay-offs. Tanya would tell me nostalgically about the people who had once sat in the now empty part of the building, how many and in what positions. When the contact person at the Operator occasionally came to visit us, she would make fun of him behind his back, because he was a Mormon. Tanya's husband was a local cop who was friends with Frank, the boss. They would play golf together, sometimes on a weekday afternoon when we would be mercifully free of Frank's overbearing presence.

Pete would reminisce about the holiday parties and the pot-lucks. Pete was a born-again with a gentle personality. He had an unhappy pattern of coming in late because of getting into accidents or near-accidents on the highway on his commute into work.

The junior member of the team, I was actually still contracted through a job agency at the time. I was waiting to be converted, as they called it, to a full timer, in suspense in case somehow it was decided I wasn't worthy. Recruiters would call me periodically to ask about my job situation and I would tell them I was on a contract that might or might not be ending soon and I would get back to them. There was one particular agency that seemed to pester me every week.

May 9, 2006

As I pulled into the driveway at the end of the workday and stepped out of my Jeep, an elderly man approached me from the neighboring house. He had apparently been knocking at the door and finding nobody home. He wanted to know if I knew what was up with our neighbors. He had heard that the wife was sick. Unfortunately, I had no information for him.

May 12, 2006

At last my period as a contractor ended and I became a full-time employee. My first day as a regular employee began like any other. I came in at my usual time of 8:00 and got right to work. I produced reports for the Operator, which had to be ready as soon as possible in the day. While working I kept to myself; I didn't interact with anyone except by e-mail. Meanwhile, other people would arrive at the office.

Usually the last to arrive was Lou, sometime between 9:30 and 10:00. Lou was overweight and alcoholic, but for some reason he enjoyed a special relationship with the boss. I always knew when he came in because he sat on the opposite side of the cubicle wall from me, and when he arrived he would set his satchel down with a heavy thump that shook my desk.

Lunch I took alone as usual. At 4:00 Florence left for the day, which irked me. She had a habit of leaving early. I stood up and complained, "Am I the only one around here who works eight hour days?" Lloyd overheard me and came up to sympathize. Lloyd was a real grind, probably the hardest working member of the team. He knew more about the Postal Service than anybody else there. He was in the National Guard and brought his military attitude to the office. He also had his house completely wired with web cams, which he could monitor from his computer at work.

Lloyd bitched for a bit about how Frank was always getting on his case about hours worked. He often had to prove he was taking meetings from home by pulling up his company cell phone records. He shared a bit of gossip: if ever I couldn't find Frank and Lou, I could bet they were down at the pub having a drink. I complained about Florence always arriving late and leaving early. "Well, let's look at her timesheet," Lloyd said.

He pulled up the Operator's timekeeping software on his computer. He had the ability to view anyone's timesheet because he was a project manager. He searched using Florence's last name, and up came a record. But it wasn't Florence; it was someone else. "Who's that?" Lloyd asked. I had no idea. I was spooked; something wasn't right. I walked back to my cubicle. Moments later, Lloyd came up to me. "She put in eight hours for the day," he said.

Late May 2006

Lloyd and I never talked again about that incident. But a seed of doubt had been planted in my mind. I already had my suspicions about the Corporation. What was the deal with the largely empty third floor where we worked? What had really happened to all the people who used to occupy that space? I remembered my old friend warning me not to take on a full time job at a large company - they would just collect information on you and set you up. I was beginning to form an inkling of how this might happen.

In those weeks, after coming home from work, I would relax for a bit as usual, and then my mind would race with thoughts about what was going on at the Corporation. It seemed that at one time there had been eighty people or so working on the contract that the Corporation had with the Operator. Now there were only a dozen. But what if, through some deceitful machination, the Corporation had maintained the contract at the original level? They would be collecting millions without paying out the corresponding salaries.

Florence had a role to play in this. She was ultimately responsible for everyone's hours in the Operator's timekeeping software. Supposing she also had the duty of entering hours for all the people who had been laid off, in order to keep the money flowing. To assure her cooperation in this act of fraud, she was allowed to have one relative on the payroll. The name that Lloyd and I had stumbled upon.

June 2006

I continued to worry about the scheme I thought I might have uncovered at work. It seemed far-fetched, but I couldn't shake the suspicion that I was on to something. It could have been a coincidence that someone with Florence's last name had an account with the Operator, except Florence had an unusual last name, one I had never seen before.

I could see how such a scheme could be made to work. The contact person at the Operator's end must be in on it, to cover it up from that side. But most Operator employees would have no idea all those people in the timekeeping system didn't really exist. Ultimately, though, it hardly mattered, since it was the Postal Service that was being defrauded. And I had never seen anyone from the Postal Service visit the site to check up on things.

Meanwhile, there was the question of what to do about my discovery. And what if Lloyd had come to a similar conclusion? What would his reaction be? I decided to consult my roommates.

So one evening in the living room I told Fred and George that I had uncovered corruption at the office. I told them about the Corporation laying people off while keeping their contracts. It was a scam worth millions.

George thought I should just lay low. If the organization was corrupt why shouldn't I benefit from being a part of it? They obviously had to keep some kind of a skeleton staff employed to sustain the operation, and if I could be on that staff then what was the harm of it? Fred seemed to agree.

In those early days of my encounter with the Conspiracy I was apprehensive but not yet completely frightened. I imagined I had discovered some kind of accounting fraud perpetrated by mid-level managers. Little did I know this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Mid-June 2006

More suspicious activity at the office became evident to me. Once Frank came over to Lou's desk. Since Lou sat on the other side of the wall from me, I could hear what they were discussing. It sounded like Frank was asking Lou to track somebody. That could be done from our systems because our contract gave us access to Postal Service data.

Meanwhile, Florence went off on a cruise. She couldn't stop talking about it, before or afterwards. I was jealous; I couldn't possibly afford such a thing. When I had had the seizure, I had accumulated significant medical bills that I was still paying off. Florence was apparently flush with cash. Kickbacks from her work covering up the fraud.

As the month passed it grew on me that it might be dangerous to know about shenanigans going on at the Corporation. Surely they must be doing something to watch their backs. It was pure chance that I had noticed something fishy in the timekeeping records, something the conspirators probably wished they had more control over. But they had no choice there; it was legacy software.

I began to worry that they were spying on me. Of course they knew where I lived, and could easily have bugged the house while no one was home. As for how they listened in on the devices, I realized now the significance of the absent neighbor with the sick wife. The Corporation was a vast organization with many resources. Surely they had the power to tweak someone's insurance, and send them off to a fancy hospital out of state, thus emptying their house. Then they could move in and set up monitoring equipment.

One day when I came home I even saw a van pulled into the neighbor's driveway. A man was at the door with a bouqet of flowers. I saw that the van was painted with the logo of a flower delivery service. It was probably a front. There could be anything in that van. I looked suspiciously at the man, and he glared back at me. But I couldn't just stand there and watch him. It would be too obvious. So I went inside the house.

I understood now that by speaking about my suspicions to my roommates I might have put them in danger. From now on I had better keep my mouth shut. I kept my eye on the neighbor's house to see if anyone was ever home. But it indeed seemed that the place was deserted.

I also began fantasizing about how I might use the knowledge I had to my advantage. Maybe I could confront the boss and threaten to blackmail the Corporation. In return, they would be forced to pay me off. Perhaps they would offer me a better paying position. I was sick of my work, and resented my low status at the office.

Late June 2006

My worries continued to worsen. I couldn't be sure of how far the Corporation was willing to go to protect its secrets. I became concerned for my life.

New ideas formed in my mind about the depths of the conspiracy I had uncovered. I tried to recall what my old friend had told me years ago. Something about how a company could take over your life once they had the goods on you. I saw how it worked: once you were full-time, once your paychecks were being direct-deposited into your bank account, you could be taken out of the picture and the money would still flow. What if all those people now missing from the third floor had not just been laid off. What if they had been bumped off?

This was a terrifying development. What had seemed like just another job opportunity had turned into a potential death trap. And there was no way out; even if I quit they would probably come after me. I couldn't move away - the Corporation had access to Postal Service databases and could follow a change of address.

Once, at the end of the work day, Frank had already left. His boss, Vince, obviously consternated, accompanied by an administrative assistant, unlocked Frank's office door and entered, mumbling angrily. What was going on? I couldn't be sure how far up the Conspiracy went. Was Vince suspicious of Frank? Was Frank backstabbing Vince somehow?

At this point I decided to call my father. I told him I thought I had uncovered corruption in my workplace. I told him the names of everyone above me, up to the highest level. I was just covering my back.

Then, one day as I drove home from work, a police cruiser peeled out of a parking lot and began following me. It followed me for a stretch of road before pulling away and taking a left turn where I was continuing straight through. I was intimidated. Was that Tanya's husband, Frank's friend? Sent after me as a warning? They knew I was on to them.

June 28, 2006

My father sent me an e-mail stating that it had been nice to hear from me. He said he couldn't find any information on my branch of the Corporation, at either the Corporation's or the Operator's web sites. This did nothing to allay my suspicions.


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