After the Fact

by Jill Johnson

At the sound of the alarm going off, Diane reached up and pressed snooze. It had been a long weekend; all she wanted was a couple extra minutes of shuteye. Rolling over she went back to sleep.

Childish giggling finally woke her. Eyes darted to the clock, Diane gasped and jumped out of bed. It wasn't like her to oversleep.

"Oh frag!" Moving with a purpose, she left the bed heading for the closet. Not paying close attention, she grabbed a blouse and started buttoning. "Girls!" She yelled, while sliding on a skirt. "Are you dressed?"

"Yes." They both called in unison.

"Of course you are." She muttered under her breath. A fast trip to the bathroom, Diane ran a comb through her hair. It wasn't the best, but it would do.

"Have you eaten? Are you ready for school?" She asked while applying make-up. More giggles accompanied their affirmative answer. On the trip to the kitchen for a quick bite to eat, Diane surveyed her daughters. Smartly dressed, they were sitting on the couch watching a cartoon on the trid.

"You could have woke me," Diane snapped, glaring at her children. The effects of Friday's night drinking still lingered.

"We tried Mom." Angie replied, not looking away.

Gales of giggles burst from them while Diane grabbed her coat. "Let's go ladies. We're late."

They trouped off groaning about having to shut off the trid, while they gathered their jackets and backpacks. Out the door everyone went to the car. After dropping the girls off at school, Diane sped her way to work. Half a mile from her destination, corporate security pulled her over and wrote her a speeding ticket.

There were more cars than normal at the lot, so the walk from the edge of the parking lot, gave her a chance to pep herself up. Okay, the rest of the day is going to be great. She thought pausing at the entrance. It just has to be.

"Hi Louise." Diane said, as she entered the lobby. "You won't believe my morning."

Louise smiled thinly. "Mr. Wick wants to see you in his office."

"What?" Concerned she paused before the receptionist. "I'm only 45 minutes late."

"I'm sorr-" Louise stopped as a corporate security guard came in the room.

"Ms. Davis?" His deep voice sent shivers down Diane's back. She nodded.

"Come with me please." He went through the door and waited for her to follow.

He took her back towards Mr. Wick's office. The office was unusually quiet the tapping on the keyboards was loud in Diane's ears. Diane could feel the eyes of her co-workers following her. When she looked at them, they pretended to be busy doing something else.

Something was wrong, but Diane had no idea what it was. All this couldn't be happening because she was late for work. The company shouldn't fire her over something so trivial, but then people can be terminated for anything. The speeding ticket she received this morning wouldn't have anything to do with her work performance. But in the future she would need to be more careful. It would come back to haunt her if she wanted to work at Ares, the parent company. They looked at everything. At her supervisor's door, the guard knocked then opened it for her. Diane straightened her shoulders and stepped into the room. Three men came to their feet. Mr. Wick and another man turned to look at her.

"There she is." He turned to the tall man behind his desk.

"Diane, this is Mr. Markson," Wick said, as he looked back at her. A weak smile was on his hawkish face, while sweat beaded on his forehead. "He is the head of security and has some questions for you."

Diane swallowed hard. She had never seen him so nervous, Mr. Wick was known for his poker face.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Markson." She was shaking, but tried to appear normal. Had she been closer she would have offered her hand.

"Mr. Wick would you please excuse us?" Mr. Markson looked pointedly at her boss.

Clearly unhappy, he left the office.

"Come, have a seat Ms. Davis." His white teeth gleamed as he smiled at her. Diane ran her tongue over her teeth, wishing she had brushed hers this morning. She sat in the second chair. After she had sat, they both took their seats. Nervously, she kept her eyes on the man before her. He was precise. The creases in his suit were crisp. Every strand of hair was neatly in its place. Diane had never felt so rumpled.

"Ms. Davis. Before we get started, I'd like to introduce to you Richard Monk." He gestured towards the man in the other chair.

Diane looked at Richard. He was dressed in a dark suit, not as pricey as Mr. Markson's, but more then she would be able to afford. He nodded towards her, but did not speak. Diane snapped back to Mr. Markson, when he started talking again.

"He's a security specialist. He's here to verify everything was done properly." He looked at Diane earnestly. "Do you understand?"

Numbly she nodded. All this trouble because she was late?

"If you're ready, I'd like to ask you some questions."

She nodded again, not trusting herself to speak.

"How long have you worked here?"

"I've..." She broke off and cleared her throat then started again. "I've been here three years." She paused. "Well, it will be three years in August."

"Do you have children?"

"Yes, two girls." Diane said quickly, her children were something she liked to talk about, regardless of how she acted this weekend.

"How old are you?" He fired at her.

"I'm 37." Diane was confused.

"Do you enjoy working here?"

Diane considered her answer. "There are times, it's frustrating. But for the most part, yes." She said tactfully.

Diane got the feeling he was leading up to something, but couldn't figure out what. These questions could be easily answered if he read her personnel file. All employees who worked at this site signed waivers stating Ares could have full access to their files. Ultimately, they were the ones paying her. Why was he bothering to ask her?

He laughed. "Nice answer." Mr. Markson paused in his questioning to look at Richard. Whatever he saw there, he must have liked because he leaned slightly forward.

"You do understand this is on the record? Just be honest and you'll be fine."

He held her prisoner with his green eyes. Diane's stomach filled with butterflies. This had nothing to do with her being late today, but everything to do with a couple of weeks ago.

"I'm sorry Mr. Markson, it was just two e-mails. I didn't think it would cause this much trouble." Diane babbled. Her palms were slick with sweat. Unable to keep her hands still she rubbed them on the arms of the chair, dulling the high polish.

"Relax, this has nothing to do with a couple of love letters."

Diane's face flushed with embarrassment. It had been two explicate letters to a man she had met at a party.

"Where were you Friday night?" He asked softly.

"Friday night?" Diane repeated stupidly. That night was a bit fuzzy.

"After the soccer playoffs, the girls and I celebrated with a pizza. I dropped the girls off at Pauline's house where they stayed the night. Then some girlfriends and I went out to a bar."

"Who went with you?"

"Linda, Eva and Joy. Other soccer moms like me," she said. The butterflies where starting to work their way up her chest.

He nodded. "Then what happened?"

Diane sat thinking. "I had a couple of drinks, danced a few times then went home," she said uncertainly. Flashes of hands rubbing up seductively against a black leather chest kept coming back to haunt her. When she tried to remember a face to match, nothing jumped into view.

"What time did you get home?" He asked.

"I don't remember. I musta drank more then I intended." Diane's eyes slid away from his. She didn't want him to think that's all she did on the weekends.

"What did you do on Saturday?" He prompted.

"I woke up with a nasty hangover after two," she shrugged. It had really been closer to three. "Went and picked up the kids." Then spent rest of the weekend trying not to bite their heads off, was added mentally. Their weekend had been as rough as hers.

"How is your head now?"

"A bit fuzzy." He was leading somewhere, but Diane couldn't follow his train of thought.

"How long do your hangovers normally last?" Mr. Markson inquired.

"A day, sometimes two if I really over did it." Diane paused, "I think Friday qualified."

"Or you were drugged." The words hung in the air while he waited for her to react.

"What?" Hysteria made her voice tight. "Why would someone want to drug me?" Diane asked. Thoughts of date rape danced in her head. How would she even know if someone had taken advantage of her while she was out?

"To steal your keycard. The logs show you stopped by work at . . ." He paused. "11:05 pm."

Shocked, all Diane could do is stare at the man across the desk.

"This morning, several important datafiles appear to have been stolen." He watched as the meaning of what he said sank in.

Diane collapsed back, shaking her head. "No." She denied. "That can't be."

Fear seized her. If she lost this job, then they would be out on the streets. She would never be able to work for another corporation again. They would say "thank you for filling out the application" but no one would ever call for an interview. The girls would have to leave the school they were in currently to go to public school. They would lose whatever future they had, along with her. She couldn't do that to her children. Leaning forward she grabbed her purse.

"Mr. Markson that can't be, I have it right here." Diane said while dumping its contents on the desk before her. She frantically searched through her stuff: credsticks, lipstick, keys, bits paper, a personal secretary unit, a comb until she found her keycard.

Triumphantly she held it out to him. "See I still have it."

"Ms. Davis think about it," he explained patiently. "Of course you would still have it. Who ever took it went to a lot of trouble to make sure the theft wasn't noticed until it was to late. That's where the dilemma is." Her breath started coming in short jerky hitches. She stared at him. All Diane could think was she was going to be fired. "No, no." She cried. "My life is nothing but work, doing stuff with my kids and a night out with the girls from time to time. Please you have to believe me!" Tears started forming, fogging her vision.

Mr. Markson looked to Richard next to her. Diane suddenly realized it hasn't Markson who held her life in his hands, but the man next to her. Richard's eyes were closed and he appeared to be sleeping. He opened his eyes, stretched then nodded to Mr. Markson.

"I believe you, Ms. Davis." Mr. Markson stated calmly. "I have all the proof I need." He finished nodding towards Richard.

"Proof? I didn't do anything." She protested.

"Didn't you?" Mr. Markson raised an eyebrow.

Her keycard had been used in a theft. Whether it had been consent or force, she would be held responsible for the actions of others after the fact. She could be fired at the very least, prosecuted at worst.

"How do you have the proof?" Diane gasped, her world started closing in.

"Richard is a adept at finding out the truth. He's indicated that you've been honest, that's all I need," Mr. Markson smiled. "If I was you, I'd be very careful in the future."

Diane nodded, unable to speak. Tears of relief streamed down her cheeks. Careful wouldn't even come close to how she would behave in the future. Paranoid would be more like it. Diane never wanted to have to go through something like this again.

"Take your time, Ms. Davis." Mr. Markson said handing her his handkerchief.

Gratefully she took it and then dabbed her eyes. "So, what happens now?" She asked.

"We search for the runners who broke into the place," he said with a shrug. "And you go back to work."

"Thank you." Diane breathed as the band that had been tightening around her chest instantly loosened. She gathered up the contents of her purse and held out the used handkerchief to Mr. Markson.

"Keep it." He stood as Diane got to her feet. "Have a nice day Ms. Davis."

Diane tucked the kerchief into her purse while she headed for the door. She turned back men behind her. "I will." Now, she added under her breath. When she opened the door, Mr. Wick came moved towards the open door. His face was wrinkled and covered with sweat.

"When I'm done, I want you in my office!" He spat out brushing by her, slamming the door shut.

She kept her shoulders straight and marched through the office to the ladies rest room. After shutting the door behind her, Diane sagged. "This day isn't over yet, keep it together," she said out loud. She took several deep breaths then stood up straight. "Let's do this."

Going to the counter, she put her purse down. Ran some cool water and washed her face. She took out her comb and pulled it through her hair. Re-applied some lipstick then smiled at the mirror. It looked forced, but no one would care. With more bravado then she felt, Diane left the safety of the bathroom and headed for her desk.

The trip to her workstation was as bad as the trip to Mr. Wick's office. Her co-workers refused to acknowledge her. They didn't want to be seen fraternizing with someone who had sold out the company. Until Mr. Wick or someone else in power cleared her, she would be an outcast.

Logging into the corporate matrix, Diane wasn't surprised to find she had several e-mails waiting for her. First one was from Lorena wanting to know what was going on. Diane e-mailed back saying she'll call her tonight. It bounced back to her. Not good.

Second one was from Sarah, the production manager. Until future notice all of her accounts would be taken over by someone else. "Office work is confidential. Anyone who maybe involved in questionable activities can not be allowed to handle sensitive information about our clients."

Without bothering to read any of the rest, she logged out. "Why not just say I'm fired and get it over with?" Diane muttered, slamming the data jack against the cubical wall. She didn't know whom she was angrier with. Herself for getting mixed up in something she had no control over. The shadow runners who couldn't hack the door lock like any normal break in. Or the corporation who was going to dump her.

She grabbed her trashcan and dumped the contents onto the floor where it used to rest. Diane started packing up her area, just in case. Holocubes of her children, soy-kaf mugs, and personal data chips all went into the can. Diane took her plant and started to head off to Lorena's section. What would they do? Fire her? It was going to happen anyway. Before she made it four steps away from her cube the phone rang. The others in the area watched openly as she debated whether to answer it. Slowly she went over and picked it up.

"My office now!" Mr. Wick's voice was shrill. He disconnected before she could reply.

Diane set the phone back down. She may have cleared by Ares, but this is where she worked. The chat with Markson was nothing compared to the fireworks Mr. Wick was going to throw at her. With a sigh she headed back to her boss' office. He was waiting for her at the door and slammed it behind her.

"Do you know what you've done?" Mr. Wick snarled at her.

She sat in the same place waiting for Mr. Wick. He stomped to his chair and threw himself into it. Diane stifled a smile. He reminded her of Trish throwing a tantrum over having to do chores.

"Ares is going to be all over us. We're going to lose clients." If the weather changed then clients would be lost, she was used to hearing that one. "Mr. Wick-" she paused. "I'm sorry. It will never happen again."

"You're right, it will never happen again!" He shouted. "You're fired!"

Stunned Diane stared at him. "Why?" She whispered.

"Why?" He snorted. "You've ruined our reputation. Because of your actions someone could be killed. Do I need to go on?"

"No." Diane shook her head. Her shoulders slumped in defeat. Even though she knew it was coming, it still hurt. Tears threatened to spill down her cheeks again.

"Security will escort you out." He dismissed her.

A guard was waiting for her at the door. Diane walked woodenly to her desk picked up the trashcan and handed it to the man following her. Without waiting for him to follow she picked up her purse and headed to the exit. Seconds later he caught up and held the lobby door open for her. If anyone spoke to her, Diane couldn't remember when she reached her car. Taking the trashcan from the guard, she could see the pity in his eyes. He nodded a good-bye then walked back to the building.

Diane threw the items into the passenger seat, hung her head and started to cry. The day hadn't improved like she had hoped and the future looked very bleak. Blurry eyed she reached into the glove compartment for a tissue. Not finding one, she rifled through her purse until she found the handkerchief that had been given earlier.

After using it, she stared thoughtfully at it. Possibly Mr. Markson would be willing to help her. He had seemed very sympathetic. When she got home Diane would wash the kerchief and then give him a call.

It was a small hope, but something to cling to. Maybe the day wasn't as bad as she thought. With that in mind, she drove towards home.

©1999, Jill Johnson - used with permission