Chapter Four: How To Be A Corporate Spy
Like many powerful people with questionable moral compasses, Sean Etin was a very paranoid man. Often, he spoke of crazy plots and conspiracy theories against him, whose authenticity I cannot aver to. I heard everything from catching a former employee wiretapping his house, to a daring act of corporate robbery, in which men in masks and business suits absconded with boxes of important legal documents. Of course, nothing so exciting happened while I was there.
Nevertheless, Sean Etin tried his best to guard against future acts of corporate terrorism. He had a systems expert, an African from the Congo (aka: Zaire) named Nabulla, who was often in the office, working on a security system of tiny cameras, located all around the outside of Mr. Etin’s house (and very possibly inside as well). Nabulla was a good guy, and we would often talk politics or about his home country.
“Being the son of a diplomat makes you very important in Zaire,” he once told me. “My friend, who was the son of a very important diplomat went to the airport with me, and demanded to be taken to some other city. So, the airport kicked everyone off a departing flight and flew us there immediately. We had a very nice time.”
He also once suggested I visit Libya. “People there treat you very kindly,” he said, not realizing I would probably be killed the second someone learned I was American. Or Jewish. Or (most likely) white.
Sean Etin also guarded against “revenge” plots from former employees (of which, I found out, there were many. In three years or so, they had about 100 employees, with no more than about 20 working at one time). Knowing how he treats people, I could only say that any safeguard was understandable. When I was first hired, I was asked to bring in my high school yearbook to prove I didn’t know three former employees that went to school there. “I had to fire them after I caught them snorting coke off the hoods of their car,” Mr. Etin told me. “Not that I necessarily have anything against drugs,” he added, in what I can only assume was an attempt to sound cool.
“It’s more likely they were fired for drinking coke inside their cars,” one of my office-mates, Perry once joked, knowing Mr. Etin’s propensity for (to put it kindly) bending the truth to fit his purpose. Not understanding how my yearbook could prove I knew these people (I didn’t), I nevertheless agreed to have my privacy invaded, instead of doing the smart thing by just saying that I didn’t own one.
My yearbook was promptly lost in the man’s giant pigsty of a house. “It got lost in the black hole,” Mr. Etin told me, motioning at the assorted boxes of crap littered around after I continued to press him on it. “I’m sure it’ll come up sometime.”
This was in stark contrast to whenever he couldn’t find anything for himself. “It’s GONE,” he would say loudly, and to no one in particular, whenever he couldn’t find what he was looking for immediately. “Yet ANOTHER object of my personal property SOMEHOW managed to walk out of my house.” He would then eye his employees as if we were filthy pickpockets from off the streets of Bangladesh. Of course, whatever it was he was looking for would eventually be found, as would my yearbook (months later).
The point, though, is that Sean Etin was paranoid, and no moment was more evident of this fact than the time I was thought to be a corporate spy …
It began during lunch. Everybody in the company was out to lunch, except for me and Perry, as we had brought our own. Perry, along with the other two members of the creative staff, worked in a secluded nook of a room at the end of the hallway that I worked out of. They had the best spot in the house, as they were often spared from the overall insanity of the office, and were, in fact, left alone sometimes for days at a time (besides my coming in multiple times a day to shoot the breeze with them). Oftentimes, I found them in there playing video games on their computers. Perry had recently broken his foot while saving ninjas from a burning car, and couldn’t really move around much. So, the two of us had our lunch in the back room, talking about video games and badmouthing the company. We were alone for perhaps a half an hour, and nothing out of the ordinary occurred, except for the fact that the Etin’s Rottweiler snuck into the ‘work side’ of the house for some desperately needed attention and petting. Seriously, I’ve never met a more needy creature in my life (and, yes, I include myself in that statement).
The dog eventually left, as Flo and the rest of the employees began trickling in from their lunches. The muted echoes of a commotion came in through the walls, but at this point in our employment, both Perry and I knew not to get involved in anything that didn’t directly involve us in some way. As we were finishing our lunch, Flo poked her head in the door. “Did either of you boys go into the Senior Staff area while we were gone?” she asked.
The Senior Staff area was the large room at the end of the hallway where the ‘important’ people in the office worked (besides myself, the creative team, and one other person, this consisted of everyone else). I had been told at different times that due to the sensitive nature of the information kept there, I should never go in that room unless I had explicit permission, only to later be scolded for my constant asking to enter if I needed to speak to someone or get something. “Just come in!” they would tell me in exasperation. It was my general policy to stay away from this room (and most of the people that worked there) if I could.
We had answered “no” to Flo’s question. “Did you see anyone go into the senior staff area?” We told her that we didn’t. “Did you see anyone or anything out of the ordinary while we were gone?” I told her about the dog.
There was a heavy silence in the air. Perry and I knew that in the natural order of conversation, one of us had to ask the question, but we dreaded doing so, afraid of being sucked into whatever insanity that was happening on the other side of the wall. The need to ask this question hung in the air like a noxious, soupy fog, stifling me. It had to be asked, and finally, I did. “Why?”
“Because someone broke into Jim Heff’s computer and pulled some information. If you can think of anything to help us figure this out, let me know.”
Jim Heff, SeaShel’s paralegal, was a portly fellow and (I thought at the time) a nice enough guy. He was about my height, but outweighed me by at least a hundred pounds, and his face was piggish, with watery eyes and an upturned nose. For some reason, Sean Etin came to call him ‘the Heffster’ and soon, everyone followed suit, even though we could tell he didn’t particularly like it. Cruelly, some of us referred to him as ‘the Heffer’ behind his back, or simply as ‘piggy.’ I almost never spoke to him beyond pleasantries, mainly in order to keep me away from whatever litigation news he might feel free to share. In theory, Mr. Heff was the busiest and most important employee at SeaShel, as lawsuits seemed to be the only thing they produced, and the fact that it was his computer that was ‘hacked’ into sent everyone there into a tizzy.
I myself was pretty excited. This was certainly the most interesting thing to happen there since I joined. I was curious to know what happened and how it was done. Who could have snuck in, during the half hour in which there was the least amount of employees on the premises, knew which computer belonged to the paralegal, found whatever information he or she needed to get, escape, and do it all while Perry and I were there? I spent the rest of the day trying to figure the mystery out in my head. It was like those murder mysteries I used to attempt to solve as a kid – “A man was found dead from a stab wound, but no weapons were found. Next to him is a puddle of water. Nobody entered his house and he could not have hid the weapon. Solve.” I thought about the computer case, and quickly realized that I was the prime suspect. Perry, with his broken leg, never left the back room, and I told them so. In fact, the only time I had left the room was to go to the kitchen and microwave his food. Certainly, with Perry incapacitated and no one else in the office, I could have easily gone to Mr. Heff’s computer and took what I needed. Furthermore, I was relatively new there and was, at least in their eyes, a rapist, among other unsavory things. Lastly, I went to the same high school as the three former employees who were allegedly fired for doing drugs. Surely, I could have been a mole, implanted by them, waiting for the moment to strike …
Or, on the other hand, maybe the dog did it …
I reveled in being their prime suspect. It made me feel cool, and it kind of made me wish I actually were a corporate spy. I got a kick out of their pussyfooting around their thoughts of my guilt. “Are you sure you don’t have anything to add that can help us figure this out?” Their eyes implied other questions, such as “how could you be such a little shit?” and “why don’t you just confess already?”
And I didn’t care. Watching them squirm and follow false leads was cathartic. The idea that someone might have gotten their hands on something that could bring the company down was delicious. Plus, they might just fire me. This was the best day I had at SeaShel Productions …
This all changed with the thunderous arrival of Sean Etin. He stampeded in at 5:00 – a full hour before he usually stampedes in. “What’s this I hear about there being a corporate spy in my house? Flo, get everyone together. Now.”
We gathered in the Senior Staff area. Those employees who had their desks in there sat. The rest of us (excluding the hobbled Perry) stood.
“Okay,” Sean Etin said, “tell me EXACTLY what happened here.”
So, Flo told the story. Sean Etin asked me the same questions I heard all day, and eyed me suspiciously. Not getting the answers he wanted, he moved on. “Do we know what they got? Do we know how they got it?”
“The only way the data could have been purloined was, ostensibly, through an in-house manner,” Marcus, the company’s vice-president said in his needlessly verbose way.
The company’s IT guy agreed. “It had to be done in person, on the computer.”
Sean Etin faced Mr. Heff. “Did you change anything on your computer since you got back, Heffster?”
“I haven’t touched it since I got back from lunch,” he replied proudly, probably not realizing that his statement also meant that he hasn’t done any work since then either.
We all took a look at his computer, and I was immediately crestfallen. Jim Heff’s computer screen was totally blank, with no open programs except for the search bar on the upper right side. In the search bar, Mr. Heff’s cell phone number was typed in. What was once a cool mystery became incredibly lame.
“Why would anybody search for Mr. Heff’s phone number?” I found myself asking, which was strange since I no longer cared.
“Whoever it was may have thought it was the fastest way to search for important documents or emails.” It sounded like they were trying to convince themselves that this weak excuse for an explanation made sense, but quickly moved on to a different subject before anyone could think about it too hard.
“Whomever hacked onto this computer was no neophyte. Knowing how to use this advanced search function proves that we were infiltrated by a professional.”
“Of course we were,” Sean Etin spat. “<Company name deleted> knows that I’m the only person that can bring their evil company down. They know how close I am, and they’ll stop at nothing to stop me.”
It became obvious to me then that I was not the only one who used this event as an escape from the drudgery/usual insanity of work. The mystery. The intrigue. The feeling of self-importance. These things obfuscated any clear judgment. The idea that this was a prank, or a computer glitch, or that Mr. Heff accidentally pasted his number on the search bar was as impossible to them as it was for me to get excited about it anymore. Still, I tried. I don’t know if it was the disappointment of the supposed ‘mystery’ or if it was simply one of those moments where I felt the need to make an ass out of myself. Whatever the reason, I interrupted one of Mr. Etin’s spittle-flecked diatribes.
“I have something to announce,” I said, placing my fists on my hips dramatically. “I am the man you’re looking for. I am the corporate spy!”
Nobody expected this development. Sean Etin’s eyes bugged out as if I had just blown up a balloon inside his head, and his fatty face turned an even deeper shade of red. His natural inclination, to snap my head off my neck, was tempered with shock.
I continued, “Yes, I was hired by <Company name deleted> to infiltrate your organization after my three friends from school failed their mission. It was a simple matter of arranging to have Perry’s leg broken and waiting for everyone to go to lunch to strike. I knew that all I needed was Mr. Heff’s cell phone number to get everything I needed for me REAL employees! Bwa ha ha ha!”
I looked around the room. Most everyone was rolling their eyes or shaking their heads at my little display. Perry flashed me a look that said, “you are the stupidest person I know.”
Sean Etin’s expression did not change, however, besides his face now being tinged with a shade of purple. “You … you admit it?!?” he sputtered.
It took me a moment to soak the fact that he was still taking me seriously. “Sean, I was just kidding. I’m pretty sure real corporate spies don’t ‘bwa ha ha.”
His expression changed from shock to anger. “Well,” he snapped, “if you didn’t do it, maybe you can help us figure out who did. If this were a spy movie, how would you think this happened?”
“Sean, I’ll be honest with you. If I saw this happen in a spy movie, I would have walked out of the theatre and ask for my money back.”
“Well,” Mr. Etin blustered, “surely SOMEONE has something useful to say! We’re not going to leave here until we have this figured out!”
Though he wasn’t exactly true to his word, he did still keep us there until 8:30, trying to figure out in what way his enemies had gotten to him without outright accusing any of his employees of betrayal. I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the meeting. I had thought about making the suggestion to check the security cameras Nabulla had set up, but I remembered something from earlier in the day. For the first and only time, my dad drove to where I worked in order to take my car for an oil change. It was right before lunch. I pictured the grainy, gray footage from the security tape, showing me exchanging something small (my car keys) with a strange man, and decided to keep my mouth shut. By the end of the meeting, those of us who were standing were swaying in place, trying not to fall over. Sean Etin announced that anyone who didn’t lock the door after themselves would be fired on the spot. This meant, as the person closest to the door, I spent much of my remaining days there going up and down the thin, spiral staircase, opening the door for whoever needed to be let in.
Months and months later, Perry called me to his computer. He had me sit down at his desk. “Press ‘control/spacebar’,” he told me. I did. The search feature came up. “Now press ‘control/V’.” I did and a set of numbers appeared in the search bar. “Now, imagine having tiny, chubby fingers that might actually press the ‘V’ and the ‘space-bar’ at the same time.”
I gave a little smile. “Case closed.”