Laura T. Jensen, 1/14/2013
Current Occupation: (nearly) full-time writer.
Former Occupation: husband (Jack Hyer) and I ran a home-based boutique consulting firm specializing in executive searches and management interventions in non-profit organizations. When I became “hooked” on creative writing, our business concentration ebbed.
“Money Is the Root of All Evil”
The Bible, King James Version, 1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is the root of all evil” is commonly misquoted, is said to be the origin of the expression
Evil, simply defined, is a conscious and deliberate wrongdoing. Evil comes in all sizes and shapes and has been “performed” by individuals throughout history. For the sake of argument only, look back at Hitler (and others in his pack such as Eichmann), Mao Tse-tung, and Joseph Stalin. In more modern times we should consider O. J. Simpson, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the butchery of thousands in Africa at the hands of Idi Amin. None of these villains, doers of evil if you will, committed their acts for money — jealousy and power perhaps, but not for love of money.
Cynthia is medium in stature, mid 50’s in age, divorced, educated, and although not considered attractive, she is neat in overall appearance. She’s been in her job in human resources for six years. She reports to a CEO only months in his job. Everyone in this office is in the process of settling into a new boss, and different routines. Many, including Cynthia are waiting to see what changes this fresh young CEO will institute. So far things seem to be moving along well. What has been a anxiety-filled several weeks begins to show signs of relaxing. Anxious to run “his own show” and to ensure that all aspects of the organization are operating smoothly, he hires me. It is the spring of 1986.
I’m a consultant specializing in “interventions” in nonprofit organizations. Usually my charge is to analyze and assess, diagnose if you will, how the mission of an organization is carried out: Specifically, is the work being done by both employees and volunteers accomplishing what the organization must to fulfill its obligations under its charter? Depending on the size of an organization, I usually spend 2-3 days a week onsite and I’m in and out in less than three months. Besides all the paperwork involved, the process includes lots of face time with employees and volunteers at all levels. Over time I’ve developed a good ability to read people; body language and facial expressions reveal much that lies hidden. Because of her role in human resources, her title is Office & Personnel Manager, Cynthia and I spend many hours together. Now she sits across from me.
Her face belies the words her mouth so easily speaks, and she does not fool me for a minute. Of course I don’t know exactly what she is lying about I just know she is lying. Time to play detective, see if I can figure out what she’s hiding. Our conversation centers on the following:
Quite by accident last week, I discovered discarded envelopes in a trash basket near my office, envelopes that should not have been tossed. The current procedure is for George, the Mail Clerk, to slit open any incoming mail not marked Confidential and place the opened envelope in the trays marked with the name of each employee. If, however, the envelope contains a check or cash, the envelope and its contents are paper-clipped together and placed in a “secured” box. In addition, the procedures specify that at no time is mail to be opened with only one person present. Usually a member of the shipping department staff is assigned to the mailroom when incoming mail is being processed. Mail arrives twice a day. And, twice a day a mailroom staff person wheels around a cart delivering incoming mail and picking up outgoing items. The secured box is delivered to the fund raising department first, logged in and then cash and checks are sent to accounting. It is a process that has been in place long before my arrival. As far as I know there is no logical reason for any opened envelope to be in the trash.
The CEO asks me to speak to the employees involved and then to handle whatever occurs as it occurs. After playing detective for several days, I’ve pieced the story together minus one important segment. What role, if any, has Cynthia played? My job: Get her to admit she’s guilty of either helping the mail clerk or that she’s guilty of overlooking what been happening.
So here we sit, Cynthia and I. Right now she’s working hard to concoct a believable story in an attempt to conceal her knowledge. She thinks the truth will cause her to be terminated. She’s right; she will be fired. I have already spoken to the employee involved, and I have his side of the story. George’s lies were so obvious it was pathetic, as he bumbled his way through a story only fit for a fairytale. He’s been placed in a “holding pattern” in another office while I talk with Cynthia.
It’s my job to ferret out information however I can, so I ask questions, wait for the answer(s), and observe while I wait. Sometimes the waiting is the most interesting and informative part of the whole encounter. Over time, I’ve become quite adept at “reading” between the lines of what voices say and subtle movements defy. It’s time to see how Cynthia’s version matches or does not match the story George told me. As is often the case, so far the stories don’t match.
Will the tension of the moment, this encounter with me, cause her to cease defending
herself as she proclaims she knows nothing about George’s pilfering? Pilfering is definitely occurring with George the person with the most access to cash in the tossed envelopes. Already one day has passed since Cynthia was first told about the potential missing money, and she’s had one undoubtedly sleepless night to ponder. She’s also had time to “get with” George and concoct or agree on what they’ll say. Now, I’m waiting her out; waiting for her to reveal something. I can almost see the wheels turning in her head: What should I do? What should I do?
The looming question for those of us on the other side of this saga is why would this middle-aged reasonably intelligent woman in a responsible position jeopardize her job and reputation for a young man working in the mailroom? She’s been his supervisor for a little over two years with no difficulties, and no obvious connection except employee and supervisor. There are five people who report to Cynthia: George, two men who handle shipping and stockroom activities, the receptionist, and a “floating” secretary. Cynthia appears to have good working relationships with all of them. She exhibits an almost motherly or social worker attachment to “her” people. Perhaps that attitude explains the current situation. Is she protecting George like a mother would protect a child?
Later, after an unsuccessful encounter with Cynthia, I walk away admitting defeat. She’s bested me. Although her story and the story told by George do not match, it’s become a he said, she said, scenario. Without proof, I’m stuck. Because the evidence, the envelopes specifically, and regardless of his explanation as to how they got into the trash, George is terminated. I ask him to leave the premises immediately. Because the situation and George appear a bit volatile, several of the men in the office are concerned for my safety and remain nearby while I explain things to George. We’d like to make sure he and Cynthia don’t see each other but, of course, we cannot monitor telephone calls or out-of-office contact.
Cynthia’s office is empty when I go to tell her what’s happened. I stand in her doorway for several minutes, but she does not return. I move to the other side of her desk in search of paper so I can leave a note asking her to call me. There in full view is a list, written in her hand, of the clothing, the outfits, I’ve worn over the last week. She’s listed my skirt, blouse, and jacket colors in order by Tuesday, Wednesday, and today. I’m freaked. Leaving her list behind, I run off without writing my note.
That night a ringing phone at midnight jars me awake. “Hello?” No one answers. Twenty minutes later, the phone rings again. Still no one responds to my hello. After the third time, I place a pillow over the phone and lower the ringer volume in the hopes it won’t disturb me again. My mind is spinning, and sleep does not come easily. For the next two nights, I experience the same series of phone calls and hang-ups.
The following Tuesday I return to this office; Cynthia has called in sick. A current employee refers a friend for the job in the mailroom and, in Cynthia’s absence, I interview him. If his references check out, we decide he might fit our needs. George comes to the office asking for his paycheck, and I tell him it will be mailed along with the money due him for unused vacation days. He is upset and says he needs the money NOW. Security escorts him from the building. As I leave the office, I’m uneasy and hope I don’t find George lurking. I don’t see him and walk uptown carefully observing everyone I pass.
Rudy, the doorman, is standing outside my building on this warm spring evening.
“Good evening, Miss Jolly, how’s everything?
“Hi, Rudy. Fine, thanks. Do you have any packages, mail, laundry for me?”
“As a matter of fact I do. A hand delivered package arrived earlier, I’ll get it.”
Rudy hurries into the package room just off the lobby and returns with a box, wrapped in brown paper. As he hands it to me I realize it’s almost weightless. My name is written in red crayon along with the word PERSONAL in large letters. Holding the package gingerly, I ask Rudy,
“Were you here when this was delivered? Did you see who brought it?”
“Yes, ma’m I did, it was a woman.”
“What did she look like? Think, please, Rudy, it’s important. What did she look like?”
My heart begins to beat wildly and I realize my knees are shaking.
“Well, let’s see.” (Pause) “You know, I do remember this woman. She had on a flowered coat of some sort, maybe a raincoat. It kinda made an impression. I think she was shortish, light hair. Not young but not old either. You know, sort of ordinary. Does that help? Do you know who she is?”
I sit down heavily on the lobby couch, the box gingerly resting on my lap.
“Thanks, Rudy. Yes, that helps. I’m positive I know who it is. The flowered raincoat clinched it. I appreciate your help.”
Another tenant calls out for Rudy, and he leaves me sitting there trying to figure out what to do. It’s not a bomb I say to myself, not heavy enough. But, what could Cynthia have left for me? She’s definitely the woman in the flowered raincoat. I sit for several minutes contemplating my options that do, I’ll admit, include calling the police.
I leave the lobby for my apartment where I place the box on the dining table.
Some time passes before I decide to open it.
As I undo the tape holding the brown paper in place, I try to imagine what is inside: everything, from the simple to the complex whirl in my head. This is no gift of that I am certain.
Under the brown paper is a box that previously contained file folders. Crushed white tissue paper greets me as I lift the lid. I tentatively pull aside the top piece of tissue. I yelp. There lies a small doll. What I assume to be lipstick, or nail polish, red like blood, is sculpted around the neck where the head has been torn off. The doll is dressed in an outfit just like mine right down to the blue and white stripped blouse and white blazer. A piece of paper is taped to the doll’s forehead. In red crayon are the words, “this could be you.”
My legs give out, and I collapse to the floor. My heart pounds so hard I can see my blouse move. I suck in air but it matters little; I literally cannot catch my breath. I stuff the tissue paper back into the box, covering the doll and the note. When I recover some of my equilibrium I call the CEO. He is outraged yet conciliatory. Although he expresses his fear for my safety, he begs me not to involve the police. I reluctantly agree. Then I present him with my conditions and he does not hesitate:
1) I will continue my work if Cynthia is fired; and,
2) I will not return to the office until she is gone.
The following afternoon the CEO calls and assures me Cynthia has cleaned out her desk and her office. Apparently, without a backward glance or comment, she walked out. Building security has been alerted not to permit her entrance. The three doormen at my building have also been asked to let me know if the woman in the flowered coat returns.
The office grapevine is soon buzzing. In the absence of facts, speculation abounds. Because of Cynthia’s tenure and very visible position, the CEO issues a memo that she’s left the organization; he provides no details.
To this day, the mystery remains. Was her evil the love of money? I doubt it. What was the connection between Cynthia and George?