Writing Fiction posted August 14, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
...will the embezzler get caught?

Jose's Paycheck

by Mustangpatty1029

2528 words for the contest entry.  A bit longer than my usual fare.  A list of characters is included in the Author's Notes for reference.

Michael O'Rourke's heart was beating at an unusually rapid pace.  As he turned his key at the front door, he knew today would be unbearably long.  The auditors were coming for their semi-annual examination of the company books.  Doug's Four Ducks was a successful landscaping company that had been in business for over twenty-five years.  The bulk of their work force was seasonal, consisting of well-compensated laborers, mostly immigrants, paid once a week.
So far, he'd been able to cover his tracks, but maybe this audit would find a detail he'd missed.  As the Director of Payroll for six years, Mike had been embezzling funds through a somewhat complicated scheme.  Each payday, he collected two checks.  One was for him and his work, and the other was for a fictitious employee, working as a laborer out in the field.
Walking through the offices and turning on the lights, he ambled to the breakroom.  Many people in the company believed he was gay based on the way he walked and the prissy way he dressed.  There were also whispered conversations about his lack of a social life or any personal pictures on his desk.  People were always quick to make assumptions based on nothing. 

Deep in thought, he
subconsciously picked at the lint on his tie.  Always dressed in formal business attire, he maintained a certain style.  Careful not to buy too expensive of suits, he often wore cheap ties and dress shirts.  As he placed the filter in the basket and measured the coffee, he prepared the first morning's brew.
As Janet, one of his female co-workers walked in, she gently turned the edge of his frayed collar.  "How's ya doing Mikey?"
Inwardly groaning at her familiarity and use of the dreaded nickname, he forced a smile.  "I'm okay.  Dreading the auditors, but doing okay."
Janet chuckled.  "From where I sit in Accounts Payable, I'd say you'll do fine.  Your reports are all bound and nice and neat.  They're going to have a fit when they look through my files.  I'm lucky to get the check runs done, let alone get the backup paperwork filed.  I don't know how you do it.  You put out payroll for over three hundred employees weekly, and hardly break a sweat."
"Well, I don't know about that."
"I know that by coming in early every day, you get a lot done before the hustle and bustle starts at eight o'clock, but you must get your data entry done in record time.  If I could work at your pace, I'd be able to get all the checks out every week."
If you didn't spend so much time talking and gossiping with the other clerks, maybe you could get your work done in a timely manner.
Out loud, he said, "But you have more follow-up phone calls to make than I do.  Time sheets are pretty straight forward."
"Straight forward?  Each employee works on at least five jobs per week and since everything is expensed out by job, you have at least, what…twenty-five line items per employee?"
"Not all three hundred employees are hourly or working in more than one job code.  All of the administrative people are either salaried or assigned to one department.  I think your job is much harder," he said diplomatically.
Smiling, Janet added two packets of creamer and three sugars to her cup of coffee.  "You're the best for getting the coffee going before I get here.  Now, I'm off to my desk.  I'll be chained there until lunch."
Watching her walk away, Michael contemplated Janet's position in the company.  Wearing a wireless headset all day, she went about her work clumsily.  She inputted data full of errors, answered callers with the wrong information, and still managed to keep up with the office gossip.  Her cubicle was jammed with overflowing piles of unfiled invoices, and her desk was littered with half full coffee cups, junk food wrappers and bent paper clips. 
Pouring his own cup of black coffee, he headed for his small office.  One of the luxuries of needing some privacy to do his sensitive work, was the four walls he had to himself.  Protecting information like pay rates, social security numbers, and other personal data, he was also spared the noise of the rest of the floor.  Unlike his fellow workers in the accounting department, he could close his door and listen to the soft sounds of classical music.
Clearing his head, he concentrated on the details of the audit.  This year, the Comptroller, Bill, had decided to change accounting firms for the audit.  They were now working with the boutique firm, Michael, himself, had interned for during this last year of college.  He understood the methods they used, and he was sure he had taken care of any loose ends.
Though qualified to work as a Controller or Comptroller, after working temporary jobs at several different accounting firms after college, Michael decided he wanted to find a spot in a payroll department.  The downsizing trend in most companies' accounting departments had the Controllers performing more work for less pay.  It wasn't his intention to become a thief, but after one year at Four Ducks, he realized just how easy it could be to pull it off.  Bill was a very lazy comptroller.  He knew that Michael could be trusted to do the work he didn't want to do.  So, Michael happily balanced the ledgers and closed the books each month.  It gave him more freedom to concoct his plan. 
In an attempt to find illegal immigrants, the IRS and Social Security Departments had paired up to demand the reporting of all new employees from companies.  Their social security numbers were then checked to ensure they matched the name on file, and if discrepancies were found, the employer would be notified.  The INS would usually show up about a week later to investigate and probably start deportation for the employee.  Since Four Ducks employed mostly immigrants to do the labor of the company, and realized a great deal of them were illegal, Michael was told to forego this step in the hiring process.  Thus, the door was opened to create a fake employee.
Once this idea occurred to Michael, he had to think through the rest of the paper trail.  The time sheets for each employee were turned into him by the supervisors of each department.  Some supervisors had as many as fifty employees working for them in a given week.  Adding forty hours to any department would go unnoticed, especially since the supervisors felt it was the job of accounting to ensure they were on target for their budget.
Long acquainted with the banks and their processing of direct deposits, Michael knew the name on the payroll deposit didn't have to match the name on the account.  So, he surmised if he opened a separate account and deposited the fictitious employee's check there, he wouldn't be found out.  This was because he knew the auditing process only looked for repetitions in account numbers.  It would be far too cumbersome to contact the banks for matching names of each account.
Brilliant in his treachery, he first tried adding the extra hours into the departments' budgets on a rotating basis.  No one seemed to notice the change, so he worked on creating the profile of his new 'friend.'
'Jose Rodriguez' was the assigned name.  He filled out an application for employment, a tax withholding form, the W-4, and using Photo Shop, he created a copy of a driver's license and social security card for the file.  In a folder at home, he created the 'back story' of Jose, and he started to think of him as a real person.  After all, he was helping him fund his lavish home office.
An aspiring writer, Michael enjoyed buying himself a new computer every year, and the latest and greatest software.  As a member of several online writing sites, he didn't need to worry himself with reviewing the work of others to earn silly points or fake member dollars, he had enough income to promote his work with real money.  Posting several stories, a week, he was highly ranked and followed by many other writers.  He enjoyed his 'work' at home, much more than the black and white world of numbers.  Many of his stories featured a character named Jose, and he was always on some strange and wondrous adventure.
So, Jose's pay helped with the top-shelf scotch, dinners at five-star restaurants, and membership in a time-share, which allowed him vacations all over the world.  Of course, he couldn't discuss any of this with his co-workers, so he used his travels to enhance his writing and posted his beautiful pictures on the writing sites.
On so many levels, he felt fulfilled.  But, Michael lived with his inner demons.  Constantly worried about being caught, and his role as a social outcast, he felt defeated in life.  Always wondering if he'd ever live up to the expectations his parents had, he felt bereft. 
His parents had died before he started high school.  They were always so proud of his report cards and bragged to anyone who would listen that Mike was going to be a success.  The car crash that ended their lives also curtailed his coddled life.  The state turned him over to his paternal grandparents he'd never met.  They weren't impressed with him or his good grades.  They begrudgingly paid his college tuition from the life insurance money his parents left him, but they didn't show up for his graduation.  Instead, they sent him a check to 'start his new life.'
Socially awkward, he had rarely dated and ending up taking his second cousin to his senior prom.  The evening ended on a particularly bad note when she threw up all over his rented tuxedo.  Michael rarely found any woman appealing enough to spend more than a few minutes with, but he wasn't attracted to men either.  He found company in books and his computer.  He learned how to dress and deportment from the characters in his favorite books, and he modeled his speech on the news casters on the nightly news.
His reverie was interrupted by his boss, the Comptroller.  "Are you ready for the auditors today?  They want to check out the payroll first.  It's always the biggest job."
Clearing his throat, "Sure, Bill.  I'm relatively certain I have everything they will need.  I'm familiar with the drill.  I've been through these three times now."
Walking behind him, Bill slapped him on the back.  "I'm sure you'll do fine.  It’s the rest of this department I'm worried about.  Those hens talk more of the day away, than they do work.  The filing is backed up and I haven't been able to close the accounts for last month yet.  Maybe it's time we made some changes.  If I shake things up a bit, can you step in and help train the new hires?"
Always leery of any new eyes on the accounts, Michael forced himself to smile.  "Of course, Bill.  You know you can always count on me."
Great.  Something else to worry about.  Suppose he hires someone smart enough to see through my ploy?  It would only take a little bit of digging to uncover the scheme.  All it takes is someone with a background in forensic accounting.  No worries, why would someone with that type of experience work here?  But the recent trend in downsizing accounting firms has left many good accountants looking for work – any type of work to pay the bills.
The audit took a total of three days.  They were done with payroll in six hours and the remaining time was spent trying to make sense of the mess of accounts payable and accounts receivable.  The girls spent the better part of the two and a half days looking for the documentation the auditors needed.  It was stressful for the rest of the department and everyone but Michael was behind when the auditors packed up their briefcases and left.
"I'm so tired.  I don't know how on earth I'm ever going to get caught up."
"I didn't even have time for lunch while they were here.  They were so demanding."
"Yeah, I ate my lunch al desko all three days.  Maybe we should go out to lunch today."
"Ooh.  That's a great idea!  Where should we go?"
"We haven't tried the new place on Elm Street.  Let's go there."
"It will take longer than an hour.  Should we?"
"Oh, Bill won't mind.  He's such a pussy cat."
Listening to the chatter for just a few minutes, Michael got up to close his door.  How can those cows even think of going out to lunch?  They're all so far behind.  Oh well.  Some of them have a surprise coming this afternoon at the department meeting.
"Okay everyone.  Settle down.  This isn't a social gathering.  This is a meeting and we've got some important issues to cover."  Bill was looking stern and professional.  He purposely wore his three-piece suit because his wife told him it made him look distinguished.
Frowning at his notes, he looked over to Michael. 
Sure that Bill was hoping for encouragement, Michael nodded and looked him squarely in the eye.  He wasn't happy about new personnel, but he certainly wouldn't miss the clucking of the hens.
"The auditors sent over their report earlier this afternoon.  We didn't do as well as we could have."
At those words, Michael's heart thumped.  Could that be what Bill had looked at him for?  Was this the end?
"I've decided to make some changes around here.  The accounts payable files were disastrous and so were accounts receivable.  The auditors had to bill us for an additional eight hours because they had to wait on files and sort through the mess of your records.
"I'm sorry to say this, but Janet and Cindy, you will need to leave immediately after this meeting.  We will pack up your personal things and have them messengered to your homes tomorrow."
Gasps were heard around the room, and Michael's heart returned to a normal rhythm.  The meeting was over, and the two women waited for someone to retrieve their handbags so they could leave.  Tearful hugs were given and received and the painful scene ended.
Michael and Bill left for the day.  Each heading for the local bar in their own cars, they agreed to meet, have one drink, and discuss the new hires Bill lined up for the open positions.
Seated at a booth in the back, both men took a long sip of their scotch on the rocks.  "Boy, that feels so good.  I am so glad that's over with.  Wait till you see the resumes of the two new clerks I have starting tomorrow.  The agency sure did a great job this time."
Glancing at the first resume, Michael's breath caught in his throat.  Listed under the skills section were the words, 'specializing in forensic accounting.'  The downward spiral of the economy was taking another bite of his soul.


Character contest entry


Cast of characters:

Michael O'Roarke: the protagonist or antagonist of the story; depending on how you feel about embezzlers

Jose Rodriguez: an employee created by Michael to collect an extra paycheck

Janet: the accounts payable clerk in the accounting department of Four Ducks Landscaping

Bill: the Comptroller of Four Ducks Landscaping

Cindy: the accounts receivable clerk of Four Ducks Landscaping
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by Contests at FanArtReview.com

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