Friday, December 07, 2012

Fiction Friday: Terms & Conditions

6. Career Path

            Here’s a thought experiment: Take five intelligent, reasonably attractive twenty-somethings and put them in a vehicle together. Give them reasonably clear instructions and ridiculously broad parameters of acceptable damages. Tell them they’re under the best legal protection money can buy, tell them to get the job done at (almost) any cost, tell them to go ahead and enjoy themselves once in a while, and set them loose. If you don’t see chaos coming, you have a far more optimistic outlook than I do. In hindsight, I just thank God we were limited to one continent.
            Michael’s father gave his children two choices when it came time to take their place in the company. They could either a) get fitted for suits straight out of school and start working in a cushy office environment with every amenity; or they could b) start in the field and work their way up to the top from there. To hear Michael tell it, it wasn’t a hard choice; if he was to be co-executive someday, he wanted to understand what everyone under him would experience. Good leaders, he (somewhat drunkenly) explained to us once, are never too good to join their men in the trenches.
            To hear Rosemarie tell it, Michael wanted to put off wearing a tie to work for as long as humanly possible. His rebuttal: “Okay, yeah, that. But the other stuff too.”
            They both agreed that if they were going to do field work, they were going to go all out: Odd (really odd) jobs, obscure locations, difficult cargo, stuff that nobody else would do without overtime or hazard pay. (Occasionally that translated to spring vacations in Italian villas -- them’s the perks when you’re family – but not as often as any of us would have liked.) Building a team was Rosemarie’s idea, based on about a year’s worth of work with her brother. Michael could make plans all day long but tended to lose his head if something went sideways in the middle of an assignment. Rosemarie did fine on the fly, but she could (and once or twice did) get lost walking to the corner and back without step-by-step directions and a list of major landmarks.
            I never learned specifically who else they recruited that first go-around, but apparently I was one of four who passed both the overt (“oops, there goes the map”) and unspoken (“No need to mention this to the others”) tests. I was one of only two who called afterward. Despite the lack of a formal interview, I guess I made a good impression; Rosemarie in particular seemed pretty pleased it was me that got the job. I had to agree with her. It wasn’t what I’d planned to do after college, mostly because I didn’t have any plans at all. But it certainly beat sitting in a cubicle with a cup of burnt chain-store coffee, slowly developing carpal tunnel and wishing I’d gone for a STEM degree instead of a bachelor’s in English Lit.
            We did well, the three of us, but the arrival of Colin and Stephanie (and their respective skill sets) took us up a level. AGATE made sure we were fully stocked with new equipment, information and supplies. We started getting sealed instructions with labels like “eyes only” and “extreme discretion”. We had a comfortable budget and minimal oversight. We had those little two way radios that hide on your shirt collar or in your ear. We had code names, for God’s sake: Shotgun. Forward. Boomtown. Houston. Michael and Rosemarie’s personal project was now a full-fledged asset protection and recovery team. And when Michael announced our official title, our unanimous response was, “We’re a what now?”
            It shouldn’t have been too surprising. AGATE was a backronym for Asset Gain And Transport Experts. Rosemarie told me that her dad started the company as a kitchen and bathroom supply store -- fixtures, cabinets, things like that. The name came from the unusual stone he used for custom countertops. When he had extra space in the truck during delivery runs, he’d sell it to whoever needed something hauled across town, barely any questions asked. When he realize he was making more money shipping packages than he was selling fancy plumbing fixtures, he sold the storefront and switched over completely to discrete shipping for the discerning client.
            Our team’s new title came with a new scope of operations: Instead of just picking up items ready for transport, we were now authorized to do the fetching ourselves. If a client in Massachusetts needed a file from his vacation home in Malibu, we would enter the premises and get it for him. Easy enough: Show up with the work order, get the key from the landlord or ask the housekeeper if we could pretty please go into the den and root around until we found it. We got in, we got out, we handed the objective to a waiting rapid-transit team, and for the most part that was that. Easy peasy, livin’ greasy, unless ...
            ... the objective was stored by someone other than the client, and that someone didn’t want the client to have it. AGATE’s legal department required clients to establish legitimate ownership of the file/photos/object d’art/whatever (or else prove malicious intent on the part of the actual owner), so I had no problems there, ethically speaking. It got fuzzy when we learned retrieval meant waiting until dark and dressing all in black and scaling fences, or seducing an office manager and stealing his keys, or just plain lying our asses off until we got the access we needed. Colin and Rosemarie turned out to be particularly talented at the second and third options. Stephanie was disturbingly practiced at the first, especially when it came to dealing with dogs. We chose not to dig too deep into her records.
            One thing that didn’t change was that when a job was in motion, I sat in the back of the van with my charts and schedules and equipment, a different color pen behind each ear and two more holding up my hair, listening to the others on the radios and relaying instructions as needed. Sometimes Michael stayed in with me, depending on the job, which was nice. Two people on the mics means one of you can make a coffee run or slip away to the bathroom if you need it. It’s those little details, the ones you never see in movies, that make or break an assignment. Overlook those, and they can really cause you problems.
            I don’t watch that kind of movie anymore.

Part 7 

1 comment:

og said...

I'm wicha. Keep going.