04 September 2018

Like They Never Existed

Prompt:  Delete |  Word Count: 1244 | Genre:  Fiction

What if she hit the ‘delete’ key?  She knew those files were dangerous.  This idea came to her from out of the blue, almost as if this ‘delete’ key had suddenly, miraculously appeared.  

Inez leaned back in her swivel chair and rocked gently.  The trees outside the window were barren.  It would be another month at least before the green leaves emerged, filling in the negative space now occupied with grey sky.  The sky wasn’t grey in Barbados, that was for sure.

Her boss, Mr. Carmichael, didn’t know about the files on her hard drive.  She knew he’d already deleted the same ones from his hard drive and the cloud server.  Jimmy from IT had been involved in that, describing to Inez last Wednesday how he’d scrubbed out the shadows left behind.  Mr. LeGros didn’t seem involved in this business, or at least, not yet.

“Not a trace,” Jimmy had said.  “Like they never existed.”

She’d been so worried that he might suspect she had copies of those documents.  But Jimmy liked her, she’d realized, and suspected her of nothing.

It was clear that the investigation into Mr. Carmichael was deepening.  Inez, at least, would be interviewed.  But lately she was wondering, noticing more details that made her suspect Mr. Carmichael’s claims of innocence were false.  She loved the job – it was fast paced and the tasks and projects she was given as administrative assistant to two senior vice presidents illustrated their trust in her.  But she had misgivings about the ethical side of things.  Maybe it was insider trading, like she’d read about in the Weekly.  Regardless of whether these types of crimes were “victimless,” as Jimmy insisted, there was something about the whole scenario that didn’t sit well with her.

The pay was great, though, and her holiday bonus had included company stock options.  She owned stock!  Pretty good for an immigrant girl from Guanajuato.  And Mr. LeGros had invited her to Barbados next month. He was divorced, she knew, and lonely. She was lonely, too, although she had yet to give him an answer.  But she couldn’t help wonder how her life might change if she went.  Plus, the whole investigation was a bit exciting, she had to admit, like in the movies.

The phone rang, disrupting her thoughts.

“Offices of Mr. Carmichael and Mr. LeGros.”

“This is Agent Mulvaney from the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Is Inez Guerrero available?”

Inez swallowed. “Yes?”  Her voice was too high.

“Ms. Guerrero, your phone is tapped.  This conversation is being recorded.”

Her mind raced, wondering what she’d said to Mr. LeGros, recalling his invitation to Barbados over the phone.

“Ms. Guerrero, we’ve noted some irregularities in your visa paperwork.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been double checking some things for us.”

“What?”  She struggled to grasp the meaning.  “What seems to be the problem?”

“Some minor issues. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed. Can you meet my partner and me for lunch?  At Guapo’s? 12:30?”

Forty minutes later, Inez entered the restaurant.  It was one she went to regularly, although usually not dressed for work as she was today. Paco waved, lifting a tray as she walked by the hostess.  Mulvaney and his partner were easy to spot – the only two suits in the dive Mexican restaurant frequented by day laborers who likely didn’t have the papers for legal jobs.  Both men stood as she approached.  

“I’m Mulvaney,” the taller one said, extending his hand.  

Inez didn’t shake it. “I have nothing to hide,” she bluffed quietly.  “I’m certain my paperwork is in order.  What is this really about?”

Gesturing with his extended hand, Mulvaney indicated his partner.  “This is Wilkins.  Please sit, Ms. Guerrero.”  

Inez stood.

“Please.”  This time it was Wilkins who spoke, gesturing toward the bench seat.

Inez looked at her watch, then sat.  “You have fifteen minutes.”  

“You’re correct.  Your paperwork is fine.” Mulvaney spoke.

Inez felt something cold and hard in her stomach melt at this confirmation.

“It’s your boss. We’re investigating Carmichael.   He’s dug himself a deep hole.  He’s likely betting on your assistance to help him out of it.  You and James Robinson from IT.  James has been busy lately, deleting files like mad.”

Inez couldn’t help but gasp.

“In addition to the phones, we’re watching the entire network.  But what’s brought us here, to you, today?”  Here Mulvaney paused.  “You’ve got an interesting folder on your computer.”

Both men were staring now, seeming to watch her every inhalation.

“But if that folder were copied, say, onto this drive,”  he continued.

Here, another pause, and Wilkins slid a small manila envelope across the table.  “Your visa irregularities would go away.”

“But you just said that everything was in order.”  Inez hated how her accent became stronger with her frustration.

“Sometimes problems come up. We’d hate to hand you over to ICE. In fact, we’d hate for ICE to have to raid this entire establishment.”  Mulvaney looked over his shoulders.  “These people seem like hard-working folk.  It would be a shame.”

Struggling to keep her thoughts in order, Inez wasn’t going to be bullied.  “Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but you’re threatening me.  You’re threatening everyone here.  I don’t even know what folder you’re talking about.  How am I supposed to know what’s going on here?  If my boss is doing something wrong, then arrest him.  Why do I have to be involved?”

Mulvaney smiled as if she were a child.  “Inside the envelope are instructions.  Do as they say.  It’s all there, what files, how to copy them.  What to do once they’re on the drive.”

The three stood to leave just as Paco, the waiter, arrived.

“Hola Inez,” he smiled. “You are leaving?” Paco looked concerned.

“We already ate.” Wilkins laughed.

Back at the office, Inez felt shaky.  What if something was amiss with her visa?  What if this demand for information was only the beginning?  The envelope was in her satchel.  It was light, but the burden of it weighed on her as she clocked back in.

“Hey girl,” Jimmy smiled, leaning on her desk.  “Listen, I need to run some updates and check for some stuff on your computer.  You mind?”

He was already coming around to her side of the desk.  She noticed he had that same small piece of motherboard he’d had when she’d let him into Mr. Carmichael’s office for what he’d called the “cleaning.”

“Can you give me a moment?” She coughed.  “I’m in the middle of a merge.  Maybe an hour?”

“Sure thing,” he walked down the hall.  

Mr. Carmichael had taken the rest of the afternoon off, and Mr. LeGros was in a meeting with the bank, promising photos of the Barbados condo later.  This was probably the longest stretch of time she’d have without either of them interrupting.  She searched in her bag for the envelope, then slit it carefully with the letter file in her drawer.  

Inside the padded envelope was a tiny flash drive.  She’d never seen one so small.  Unfolding the paper inside, her hands were shaking so much she nearly dropped the flash drive.  She read the instructions, which were simple and clear.  Truly, she had no choice, even if all was well with her visa.  Or did she?  What if she went to Barbados and never came back?  What if Jimmy deleted it before she could copy it?  Trembling, she held the drive in both hands, like a prayer.  

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