Mary Isabella Eldridge lived down the street from me. Everyone called her Missy and she was older than me by a full year. Me, Jimmy Stokes, sad to say, was the homeliest kid there ever was. I was well aware because everyone teased me about the way I looked. I was short, had spiky-red hair and my ears stuck straight out from my head. Missy teased me, but she did it in a nice way. The best part, she wasn't mean to me like the other kids tended to be. I felt she always liked me. And ... she didn't tease me about my intelligence when others did.
I was a smarter than she was and she knew it. I was a grade behind her in school, but that didn't make any difference to me. If she had a problem with a school lesson, she would bring it to me and I would read the lesson leading up to the problem posed. Usually I could figure out the answer. She said if she ever graduated from school it was because I taught her all she knew.
When I was eleven, she asked me to help with a math problem. At this time she had moved up to middle school so we didn't have daily contact anymore. She was learning a lot about life and boys, while I wasn't even interested in life ... or girls. That changed with a math problem she gave me to look at. When I solved it, she threw her arms around me and kissed me. Looking back now, it couldn't have been much of a kiss, but it went straight to my heart, and stayed there forever.
The next year when I reached middle school, I saw Missy almost every day. Many days she didn't see me though, for she was turning into a beauty. Why would she even want to be seen talking to me ... the funny looking little kid? On Fridays though, when she needed some homework done over the week end, she would hunt me up. It was standard that I reserved an hour Sunday night with her to review the lesson I had done for her. I knew I was being used while she was out with her friends, but this gave me one more chance to see and be close to Missy.
The only benefit to me was working two grade levels at the same time and my brain was exercising and adding to my ability. The downside was seeing the girl I loved slip farther and farther away from me. She was growing up way too fast and I knew I would never catch up.
You could call Missy a popular girl. All the kids wanted to be with her because she was so much fun. The boys were always speculating on how far she would let them go. At the beginning of her junior year she seemed to settle down with one boy. Jeff was a senior and a very popular guy. She still needed my help because Missy's folks were putting pressure on her to get better grades, so I did see quite a bit of her. That year I was a sophomore, things changed during the Christmas vacation. I didn't usually see Missy at all over the holidays because she was out to all the parties.
Missy came to my door two days after Christmas. I think she knew Mom and Pop wouldn't be home. "Can I come in, Jimmy? I have to talk to you."
"Sure, I was just banging away at my computer. I'm trying to write a program and it isn't going well. Don't tell me you have some homework?"
"No homework." She had tears in her eyes when she said, "I've come to say goodbye. I also want to tell you I'm sorry for using you all these years. I've been such a fool. You see I let Jeff take my cherry and I'm pregnant. Mom and Dad are moving out west somewhere to hide me from the world until the baby is born. I don't know what's going to happen then. I'm not even seventeen and I'm going to have a baby to take care of." Missy started crying.
I didn't know what to do. I had never held a girl in my arms, but I ached to hold Missy. Before this, I was always too scared to touch a girl, much less hold one in my arms. That isn't to say I didn't think about it often enough. Missy solved that problem when she came and hugged me. All I could think of was how she felt against me ... and she smelled so nice too.
"You'll be all right, Missy. You're beautiful and you'll make out just fine. I bet you'll love your baby a whole lot too. I know I would, especially if you were the mother."
"Oh, Jimmy, I've known you love me and I've just always ignored you and used you. That is why I came to tell you today that I'm sorry for how I've treated you. You have been the only one I really trusted and could count on. Even when I was with Jeff, I had my doubts about what I was doing with him. For all my partying, he was the only one I went too far with.
"When I told him about being pregnant, he just laughed said he was a minor and I couldn't force him to be responsible for a baby. Then he told me to look at myself and the reputation I had managed to attract. Now my parents want to get me out of town before anyone else knows about my condition."
"Am I going to know where you move to? Are you going to write me?"
"I don't think so. I think you'd better forget me. You've been the only true friend I ever had and this must be God's way of getting even for me treating you so badly. I just want someone to think about me sometimes."
"I don't think you can blame God for this. Life is just a matter of choices. You made some wrong ones. Look to the future and plan ahead. You can have a good life, but you have to be smart about what you do. I've been reading a book on karma. Read something like that. Who knows, maybe this is someone else's retribution."
"Okay, I will. I brought you my school picture that I was going to give Jeff for Christmas. Instead, I want you to have it to remember me by. At least I know you will cherish it. Jimmy Stokes, I think you are the one person in the world I am going to miss. You have always been here for me. You have been my rock and I love you." Missy hugged me and I hugged her as tightly as I could. Taking my face in her hands, she kissed me deeply and then crying, she broke away and was gone from my life.
I was pissed at Jeff and wanted very much to get even for messing up Missy's life by denying he was in any way responsible. On New Year's Eve, Jeff floored the gas pedal and squealed the tires on his car as he often did when showing off. The rear wheel came off and he swerved into a tree, smashing his car and his leg.
Jeff was half drunk and complained that someone had loosened the lug nuts on the wheel. Too bad he'll never be able to use the scholarship in college or play ball again. At least he only hurt himself. I smiled, thinking, "There, Jeff, that's karma for you." Missy had already left town, and she might never know.
I was lost without Missy around. It took Mom two weeks before she realized Missy wasn't coming over on Sunday evenings. Then she found out that the Eldridges had moved out of town. She questioned me, but I didn't want to talk about Missy. She was gone, that's all I could tell her. I was so lonely without her though. Mom commiserated and then forgot all about our neighbors. Both in my heart and my mind, Missy was always held as a fond memory.
I looked in the mirror. I had grown tall and I let my hair grow to cover my ears. I was still odd looking, but people excused my looks when they needed some information about something. A voracious reader I knew a lot about some things and a little about everything else ... or knew where to look for it.
Missy had done one thing for me that last day. The hug and the kiss had removed my fear of girls. I wanted to have women's breasts pressed up against me and I loved the feeling. Girls had other points of interest that I admired and if I planned it right, I had the chance to make an examination. Okay, I wasn't looking for either beauty or brains. Sure, I got my first knowledge from books and magazines, but it didn't take long before I had a reputation of my own to live up to. That in turn took away some of my longing for my one-time friend, but I never forgot her.
I graduated from high school second in my class. I was second because I had found a friend who the kids dubbed the ugliest girl in school just like I was the ugliest boy. She just happened to have more brains than I did. In a light-hearted conversation with her I suggested we marry and have the smartest kids in the world. She came back with, "And the ugliest, too. Our kids would hate us." She was both smart and sensible.
I was twenty-two with a degree in computer science and a smart-ass attitude when I landed my first full time job. It was for a company that had been established for awhile and the company had collected several employees that were as intelligent as I was. One, Bill, took to mentoring me to get me up to speed in the company, and I was grateful for this. Many of the other employees didn't seem to have much use for him and I never stopped to ask myself why. I should have.
After I had been with the company about a year, Bill started talking about splitting off and starting our own company. He asked the question, why should we be working for someone when we could be reaping all of the profits? Think of the savings without having to have to plug in a whole lot of overhead. This sounded good to me. Bill was the one going after accounts (I swear he could talk the panties off a minister's wife). Using our savings ... most of them mine ... and a solid business plan, we financed our little start-up venture.
Two years into our business, I thought we were on easy street. We were making a substantial profit on every account we completed. Bill was the one who lined up the accounts, did the billing, handled all the income and paid all the bills. I saw to it all of the jobs were completed on time. This was difficult because we were understaffed and when I wanted to hire more people, Bill would say we were doing fine and we would talk about it at the end of the year. We did have four people working for us, which was in our original business plan.
Bill came by my office the first week in November. He said to give everybody Thanksgiving week off. We would have to work like hell when we returned, but thought everyone deserved the vacation. I couldn't fly out until Tuesday of vacation week to see my Mom and Pop, so I took the time to catch up some details.
Saturday morning I went into the office, and curious as to what out profits were going to be for the year, I started looking at our accounting figures. I soon broke into a sweat. The bank balance in our business checking account made me sick. Seventy-six dollars and nineteen cents ... cash on hand, twenty-one dollars and forty-three cents. What the hell?
Christ, we should have over ninety thousand in the two accounts. I was sick! Something was wrong. I opened up the account books looking at bills owed. I added up the total. I didn't doubt Bill's figures. I found we owed two hundred and nineteen thousand dollars. Federal and state taxes, our contributions to 401k, health insurance and suppliers also had not been paid this year. There were even totals for advances missing from the work in progress.
Bill must have planned on having at least a week before I found out about what he was embezzling. He had left me a personal note typed at the bottom of the total accounts owed.
"Sorry about this, Jimmy. You're just too damned naive and trusting for business. I've been waiting years for someone like you to come along. I honestly hope you don't go to jail. Poor Jimmy. Have a good day, Bill."
Maybe naive, but not all together trusting, I set to work. Bill forgot that while he was figuring on ways to screw me, I was busy writing programs and applications to prevent just these kinds of things from happening. I had always made sure they worked by applying them to our own business. I just never followed up when I should have. If Bill had used our business equipment in our own office, I had a chance to turn things around. It took me less than ten minutes to see how and when he had drained our accounts.
Bill had accumulated the money into a single account and then wired it on to an account in the Cayman Islands. I found his tracking number, and the instructions that went with the money to be acted on when it reached its destination in the Islands. I needed Bill's password to rewrite his instructions. This was going to be my biggest hurdle in retrieving the money. I searched his computer and didn't find it, not even in his hidden files. Where could he have hidden the password? There had to be somewhere.
I sat at my desk and started to make a list of all the things I had to do if and when I did get the money back. I have always been able to make my brain work on two different levels at the same time. I almost had the list of creditors that had to be paid completed. I remembered an old computer in the stockroom that was not used often and was off the network. I had one advantage that I hoped would help. I had noticed how Bill created his passwords. I don't think he knew this was a habit of his, what he did something unconsciously.
Booting it up, I saw a file that needed a password. It was there right before me. Something of nine letters or numbers. It took me just a minute to remember that I had heard Bill refer to me as "Poor Jimmy" a couple of times in the last week. I had asked him about it and got blown off by him saying he thought of me that way because I didn't have a wife.
I was in with the password "Poor Jimmy." He used this in the note he left and I figured he wanted to put me down one more time. The file gave up all that I needed to change the instructions to the account where the money was located in the Caymans. I even knew where Bill was going to be at a certain time on Monday. He was going to be at the Cayman bank at two p.m. to make disposition of the money in the account.
Good luck Bill, with the ninety-seven dollars and fifty-six cents I left you. This was a total of what he had left in our business and cash accounts and I left him the same amount in his Cayman account. I hope he had other funds to get back from the Caymans.
I was positive I could retrieve above four hundred thousand dollars that Bill had planned on stealing from me and the business. Now all I had to do was, wait until Monday morning at my bank for the money to arrive from the Cayman bank as per new instructions. It would be deposited in my own account. I worked the rest of this morning on plans on how to proceed without my erstwhile partner. You know the one that was going to find less than a hundred dollars in his Cayman bank account.
I did what I could with making sure the money was in a safe account. Hey, this wasn't going to be a bad Thanksgiving Holiday after all.
I made a decision that afternoon, that although the profits were higher, I just didn't want to head up a business any longer. I would first sell the business, take a vacation and then find someone who appreciated my abilities and work for them. I was twenty-five, and I had never had a long-term commitment with anyone. That was something in the near future I was going to work on too.
Missy crossed my mind again. I thought she must be married by now and have more kids. She was beautiful and would soon have found somebody. I wondered if Mom had ever heard from our neighbors at all. I called and told Mom again that I would be home on Tuesday afternoon. In passing, I asked if she knew what happened to our previous neighbors, the Eldridges. She told me she received a Christmas card the first couple of years, but had never sent them one and didn't know where they lived. She just couldn't remember.
I tried Sherry and Henry Eldridge on the Internet, but didn't get any hits. I guess they and Missy were gone forever unless I could think of another way to track them down.
Things worked out just the way I hoped they would. I made out checks right at the bank for most of the bills when the money arrived that Monday. I was working with Bill's figures and they weren't entirely complete, but I had found some of the invoices and paid them. I would have to get an accountant to straighten out things with the government entities and make sure they matched. This was mostly to try to save some on the late dues and penalties. I did have a month before it became really critical.
Bill had swept everything he could get his hands on into the one account before wiring it out. I had to figure just how much was left when everything was cleaned up. I guess whatever was left, was mine and I knew he would never face me. I damn sure wasn't going to hunt Bill up and give him anything.
It took several months to sell the business, but it still was viable and I made money on the business sale too. With the sale and the cash reserves, I walked away with just under two hundred thousand dollars. I was twenty-six now, and still single with some money in the bank. I banged around the country for a while with no direction whatsoever.
One evening, I got into a conversation in a lounge with a person who had shared his table with me. Over the course of the evening it came out that he was a head hunter and felt I would be right for a job he was trying to fill. I applied and went back to work as a troubleshooter.
Three months later I met Kim Vickers, and five months after that, we were married. Women had always been turned off by my looks and I knew she wished I was better looking, but Kim and I were very happy. She was good in bed and I held up my end. Two years later when she was five months into her pregnancy, she asked me to do something for her. She asked if I would have cosmetic surgery to reshape my ears. I still had red hair, but it had darkened. I still wore it long and bushy to cover the way my ears stuck out. Hey, I was much in love with my wife and she was pregnant, so how could I refuse her?
Kim loved my new look. I kind of liked it too. I even tried a crew cut, but felt too naked up there and settled for a more normal cut. Three days before I was twenty-nine, Kim bore me a son and we settled down to being married with a child. Thankfully he had Kim's features. When Jimmy Jr. was two, the company merged and I was unemployed again. We had been thinking about starting another child, but with my employment being unstable, Kim continued on the pill.
I took the plunge and went back into business again, starting up a consulting firm. It wasn't the same. I was a consultant and went wherever some company needed their firewalls upgraded and installing new applications. I also advised on what would make a business better with what was out there in the market for improvements. I was on the road a lot. More than I wanted to be away from home. I never knew for sure where my next client was coming from, so I took whatever presented itself.
Kim said that little Jimmy was old enough to be left at the baby-sitter for short times, and she wanted to get out more. She went to work mornings in a candle store and the day inched up to six working hours a day before very long. Kim would leave Jimmy at the sitters, get on the interstate for two miles, get off and be at work. The trip direction reversed in the afternoon. One terrible afternoon I got a call on my cell from a hundred miles away. Minnesota blizzard ... jackknifed truck and trailer ... Kim did not survive.
I had two loves in my life, Kim, and my high school friend, Missy, whom I had never found. Kim had borne me a son and now he was all I had to hang onto. Missy, I never expected to hear of again.