Crime Time

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Flash Fiction

A side of beef in a suit opened one of the tall glass doors and waved Mickey into the conference room. As he walked through the reception area, a pair of young secretaries covered their mouths and giggled. Mickey wasn’t sure if they were laughing at his cheap brown blazer and wrinkled tie or the fact that he wasn’t much taller than the water cooler.

Probably both.

Mickey entered the conference room. The walls were covered with shiny black and silver tiles. The chairs were dark leather with steel armrests. Michaels sat at the head of a monolithic conference table of polished ebony marble.

The back wall of the conference room was a single piece of glass that framed a spectacular view of downtown and the harbor. Michaels was dressed in an impeccable gray Yves Saint Laurent suit with a slender metallic tie clip that perfectly matched his silver highlights.

Michaels stood as Mickey approached and held out his right hand. “Mickey, thanks for coming.”

Mickey ignored his outstretched hand and sat down. “It’s not like I had a choice. Your bio-engineered bodyguards kidnapped me. I don’t know why you want me here, Michaels. I’ve got nothing to say to you.”

“I am sorry about all of this but I needed to see you in person.”

“Well, say your piece so I can get out of here. My wife is making me cook and I have to get home and start the pot roast.”

“Mickey, I know you think I ruined your life when I bought your father’s company.”

“You’re not man enough to ruin my life. You’re just a heartless bastard.”

“Wilson Electronics was failing. You were not making ends meet.”

“We were struggling but we were surviving. You swooped in and stole the company out from under us.”

“You were going bankrupt. You would have lost everything.”

“Save it, Michaels. Why did you want to see me?”

“I have a business proposal.”

“Why would I want to do business with you? Business is about trust and you’re the most untrustworthy snake on the planet. Besides, I’m pretty sure you won’t be in business much longer.”

“What do you mean?”

“Six months ago, our head of security discovered that you were buying our stock through shell companies. He knew you were up to something, so he bugged your phones and hacked into your e-mail. I’ve got everything on file: the double-dealing and the backdated contracts you personally approved. You’re going down, Michaels. You’re going to do hard time. I sent copies of everything to my contact at the Times and the story is going to break tomorrow morning.”

“Your contact at The Times, would that be Edwin Scott?”

“Oh hell.”

“Mr. Scott has been a friend of Michaels Investments for many years. He called us when he received your package.”

“Figures. What a bastard. But it doesn’t matter, I also sent packages to The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times.”

“Yes, we know you distributed the information far and wide. We know the story will break tomorrow.”

“So why am I here?”

“You are here because of the business proposal I mentioned earlier.”

“What can you offer me? My dad’s company is gone and soon you will be too.”

“I can give you your life back.”

“What does that mean?”

“Financial security. Peace of mind for you and your family.”

“The only peace of mind I want will come from knowing you are rotting in prison.”

“Mickey, I know that your job at SmartTech does not bring in enough money to feed your family. Think about your dad. He is too old for the job market. Who is going to take care of him?”

“We’ll manage.”

“How? Your wife, Nancy, cannot find a job. How will you afford to keep Amber in private school? Brian is going to need braces soon and Blake wants to play varsity basketball.”

Mickey stood up and slammed his fists on the conference table. “You unholy ass! You’ve been spying on my family?”

“I know about your family because we did extensive research on top management before we bought your company. Now please sit down and let me explain my proposal.”

Michaels pressed a button underneath the table and the front wall of the conference room slid up to reveal a white screen as tall as the room. A panel in the ceiling opened and a mechanical arm lowered a digital projector. The room lights dimmed, and a red and green bar graph appeared on the screen.

“Given your current trajectory, you are not going to make it financially. This chart represents your projected income and expenses over the next five years. If you worked three full-time jobs, you still would not be able to cover your bills. You do not have wealthy friends or relatives and your credit score is terrible. You have already sold most of your valuable assets. You have nothing and things are only going to get worse.”

Michaels pressed another button and a new chart appeared that showed Mickey’s income as a downward-trending blue line surrounded by red dots. “According to our projections, there is an 89 percent chance your wife will leave you in the next year, and she will take the kids. Within two years, there is a 92 percent chance your father will have a heart attack and die, due to a lack of funds to pay for health care. And within three years, there is an 88 percent chance these events will drive you to attempt suicide.”

Mickey pounded his fist on the table. “This is bullshit. Bullshit! There’s no guarantee any of these things will happen.”

“That is true, but there is a way to dramatically improve your financial stability and make sure they don’t happen”

“What’s that?”

“Have you heard about Crime Time, Mickey?”

“No.”

“Crime Time is a new law, recently pushed through Congress with a little help from companies like ours. It is modeled after a Japanese law that allows low-income citizens to voluntarily serve prison sentences for white-collar workers who are convicted of committing crimes. Those who serve the sentences are paid handsomely and everyone walks away happy. The information you released to the papers will put me in jail and I don’t want that to happen. Instead, I want you to serve my sentence.”

Mickey fell back into his chair. “You’re insane.”

“Hear me out, Mickey. There are only two ways this can go: you either lose everything or you keep your family intact and walk away a rich man.”

“Why the hell would I want to serve a long prison sentence for you?”

“Our lawyers can make a deal for a sentence of seven to ten years. With good behavior, you will be out in six. We will make sure you serve your time in a comfortable facility in upstate New York, near your family. We will write you a check for $100,000 today, and while you are serving your sentence, we will put another $100,000 in your bank account for every year you spend in prison. Plus, if you agree to keep our arrangement secret, we will give you a $400,000 bonus.”

“Let me get this straight: you destroyed my family’s finances and now you’re saying that everything else in my life will go to hell if I don’t serve your prison sentence?”

“Mickey, if you accept my proposal, you help everyone. Your father will live a long and healthy life. You wife and kids will stay with you and you will turn this messy situation into the greatest payoff of your life. Take a minute to think about it.”

Mickey was quiet for a moment. He looked at the chart on the screen then stared into his lap for several minutes. Michaels sat in his chair and checked his watch.

Five minutes later, Mickey stood up. “I have an answer.”

“Do we have a deal?”

“Yes, on one condition.”

“What?”

“You take over my life.”

“What do you mean?”

“If I’m going to serve your prison sentence, I’m going to need you to personally take care of my family. That’s the only way I’m going to feel right about this. You have to move into my house. You have to live there and help raise my kids while I’m gone. You have to take care of my dad. I’ll only do this if we swap places completely.”

Michaels walked to the window. He stared at the ships in the harbor below. After a few minutes he said, “If I do this, if I swap lives with you, you will serve out my complete prison sentence?”

“Yes.”

“Agreed. I will have my lawyers draw up the contracts immediately.”

One hour later, Mickey left the conference room and took the elevator to the ground floor. He exited the building, pulled a cell phone from his jacket pocket and dialed a number.

“Mickey?”

“Hi baby.”

“How did it go?”

“He bought it!”

“I knew he would. He thought the legal advice I gave him at last night’s board meeting was stellar. What an egomaniac. He dumped me six months ago but still thinks I have his best interests at heart.”

“His loss, baby. Say, I’ve got a rather large check in my pocket. How about I tell Nancy I got stuck at the office and you and I go to dinner?”

“Where?”

“I hear the food is good in Italy.”

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