The Art of Covering Your Tracks
Accountancy is not an exciting job. That’s obvious enough, right?
Well, maybe not. My name is Carl Jennings, and my job is anything but ordinary. 7am. The sunlight stings, and the space next to me is empty once again.
Immediately brushing that aside, I shower, get dressed, grab my briefcase and get to walking.
New York has its pitfalls, but for those who crave anonymity it’s heaven. No one thinks to wave at you as they pass, and no one pays attention any aspect of your life unless they have to.
In my case, that’s definitely for the best.
Soon enough, I’m at Howards Bank. The façade is redbrick, towering, overly pompous, but I can’t complain.
It makes us appear as if we’re above board.
The doors open with a suitably grand sound. I stroll in, enjoying the nods that greet me as I walk through the different departments.
What can I say? Admiration beats any brand of coffee.
I settle at my desk, logging in to my computer and pulling up today’s first piece of work. A Taiwanese CEO has a controversial taste in women, and I’m tasked with making it disappear.
I’ve been doing this for a good few years now, but the state doesn’t slack when it comes to closing all the little loopholes.
Sure it’s infuriating, but no one’s on your side when you have a hand in tax evasion. With that in mind, I get to work manoeuvring through the firewalls and password protections.
Within a few minutes, I’m inside the vault – all it’ll take is a few clicks, and then I’ll have rewritten history, for want of a better term.
Despite the roadblocks, the sequence of numbers and letters comes naturally. There’s a brief twinge of anxiety before I tap the enter key, and then it’s all over – for now.
The first exhalation of the day comes out louder than I want it to be – an action that brings unfortunate consequences.
“Should I assume that went well?”
I jump, before responding in the affirmative. It’s the voice of my boss, Jonathan Pitcher – a man legendary in his dubiety.
He gives a curt nod, blue eyes narrowing slightly as he stalks towards me. “Not that I expect any less.”
I force myself to inhale again. “Of course not, Sir.”
His lips curl upwards as he drums his fingers on the side of my desk. “I have to hand it to you, Mr Jennings…you really do know why we’re here.”
I nod, pride slipping through the cracks. “We’re a social enterprise. We help people.”
Pitcher falls silent. He does this a lot, with everyone in the building, and whether you’ve made a connection is anyone’s guess.
Suddenly, he raises his eyebrows.
“With that in mind,” he then says, his voice quiet as if no one else knows what we’re doing, “there’s a drug dealer in Kent who went on a bit of a weapons spending spree a few days ago and needs it erased.”
I nod in agreement, turning to my computer, but soon swing back as a question pops into my head.
“Where the heck is Kent?”
Pitcher is already halfway down the hall. “Hell if I know!” he shouts, without turning around.
Sighing, I get back to work.
It might as well be midnight when I finish. The cityscape I see as I walk out the door seems to think it is, every high-rise glistening through the darkness.
It’s actually 7pm. Sometimes I catch myself, wondering why an office job like mine isn’t the usual 9 to 5 affair, but then I remember that I don’t have anything all that exciting to hurry back to my apartment for.
And that’s the reason I choose to indulge myself in the Bank’s nightly festivities.
It’s a short and uneventful walk to the bar, dimly lit and fittingly smoky. Talk bubbles up from everywhere, and I settle onto a stool, handing over money for my usual beer.
From then on, it’s a matter of waiting.
One thing this bar is also crawling with is strangers. Jonathan likes to think this is an exclusive place, but that’s not how it works in New York.
Every one of them has a story to tell, but I’ve had my share of tall tales for today. What I’m looking for is relaxation.
As it turns out, relaxation has flaming hair and wears a tight red dress.
I beckon her over, and the smile stretches across her face. Her hand slips around my waist, and our lips lock. She’s done this before.
“Who’re you here to forget?” she purrs. “No one.” I lie.
She sees through it immediately, but kisses me again, regardless.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Jonathan. He tips an invisible hat to me; well done, the gesture says.
In truth, these nights serve a far more sophisticated purpose than just after-work drinks. The bar may not be exclusive to us, but arguably the pecking order is decided more here than in the bank itself. Not that anyone acknowledges that.
The post of Jonathan’s right-hand man is never available – he works alone. What we’re all aiming for is to get as close to him as possible.
That ambition is somewhat hampered when my phone vibrates. “Can you give me a second?”
She nods, sliding off my lap. I only just manage to avoid meeting Jonathan’s eyes on the way out, but even then I can tell he’s judging me.
The change in temperature hits me as I exit, and I curse as I see the caller ID.
I pick up. “Hey, honey…”
“Hey,” my wife responds, her voice already grating. “How was your day?” I barely keep the disdain out of my voice. “Uneventful.”
“You out for drinks?”
“What else would I be doing?”
She laughs. “I miss you. Why are all the good accounting jobs in New York, huh?”
I force a chuckle, ignoring how whiny she sounds. “I don’t know, Miranda. I’ll see you soon enough, though -“
“Of course, I’m just worrying too much. I love you, Carl.”
I take a breath. On my other hand, a small silver ring catches the light. “Love you too.”
At that, the line goes dead. I slowly exhale, feeling more than a little dizzy.
There’s a moment of silence, before the sound of applause from behind makes me jump.
I turn, seeing the inimitable smirk of Jonathan Pitcher. “Still keeping up the charade?”
He fiddles with his cuffs as he approaches me, and I can soon smell the whiskey on his breath. He always was a heavy drinker.
He turns his eyes skyward before speaking again. “Let me ask you something, Carl…”
First name terms. He’s definitely drunk. “…do you have a passion for manipulation?”
The question catches me off guard. “I don’t know…I guess so.”
“You certainly seem to enjoy it, if that phone conversation was anything to go by.” He smiles, proud of his own eavesdropping.
I smirk in spite of myself. “What are you getting at, exactly?”
He looks straight at me. “Do you remember what I told you about our jobs earlier on today?”
I nod, the words still clear in my head. Social enterprise. Helping people.
“Well, I’ve been thinking, and I’d like to add something to that. We’re artisans. Creators.”
I tilt my head. “Excuse me?”
All of a sudden, he moves, a hand lazily on my shoulder. “We…we make things, Carl. We move and change elements of the world we live in on a whim, just because we can. Isn’t that amazing?”
I nod in agreement, if still confused.
“We are masters in the art of covering our tracks.”
I nod, the metaphor becoming clear now. Funny how it takes the boss to remind me that this is a job with power.
“You don’t need your wife. You don’t need anybody.”
His tongue flicks around his lips, and he flashes me a knowing look. “Anybody but the bank, of course.”
I laugh loudly; Pitcher’s razor-sharp wit has me bleeding for the umpteenth night.
“Come inside,” he says, his hand leaving my shoulder to beckon me. “I think a certain young lady is sorely in need of your presence.”
He goes on ahead, and I cast my eyes to the starry sky above me.
It’s true what people say. Accountancy is not an exciting job – not in itself. But the perks? Oh, they’re worth more than money can buy.
By Tia Owen from the United Kingdom