“…perfect, what’s your account number?” the voice in my cell phone sounds as calm as if ordering McDonald’s. Red flags flutter in the back of my mind, and a thousand lessons from childhood prod my brain.
My parents raised me to survive a dog eat dog world. While they filled my childhood with trust and love, they constantly taught skepticism as an unfortunate necessity. “Take everything with a grain of salt” became my father’s hallmark lecture. A bottom-line approach that saved money and time (he hated long lectures as much as I did).
His straight forward tactics got him a job at a big law firm, and helped him rise to partner. One day while we were running errands we stopped by his office so he could review a recording of a deposition. I perched myself at a desk with a bottle of cran-apple OceanSpray and watched with wide eyes as Dad’s figure on the screen destroyed some plaintiff who had made the mistake of lying in the court room.
“You see, Son,” he said as a point of fact, “lying is like putting a noose around your own neck. It gets tighter and tighter because you have to keep making up more lies. Eventually…” He didn’t have to finish.
I remember him shaking his head while talking to someone at dinner that night. “Gotta read the fine print,” he said. I asked Mom what he meant after our guest left, and she filled me in on the nefarious particulars. “Fine print” was a ploy created by financial predators lurking in the shadows of corporate America. They stalked unsuspecting fools and conned them into signing contracts.
It sounded profitable, so I drafted a contract for Dad (my friends didn’t have money). In my best, most legal sounding prose, I spelled out terms including my absolute obedience in performing all chores at all times of the day. No whining. No tardiness. My father’s dream contract. All terms were binding upon the parties signing, and any infringement on my part would be awarded with self-imposed groundings. At the bottom I put an addendum in size 0.04 font explaining that I actually didn’t owe dad any chores at all. Ever. In fact he owed me 400,000 candy bars.
I handed the contract to Dad, informing him of my newfound “resolution”, but he wouldn’t sign the document. I waited on pins and needles while he reread the contract a few times, one eyebrow raised, an uncapped pen in hand.
“What’s the catch?” he asked.
“Do you want me to do chores or not?”
“Well sure…” he squinted, and moved his glasses to compensate for the small print at the bottom. A smile cracked his business stone-face.
Dreams of unending chocolate withered in the hailstorm of Juris Doctorate scrutiny. Dad laughed till his eyes watered, then reread the sheet.
“Can I keep this?” he said as he wiped his eyes, “I’m gonna frame it.”
“Can’t move money without your bank number.” My sponsor’s voice is still smooth, unperturbed by my silence.
It seems wrong, but I’m in a bind with no other solutions. Whatever the catch is, I’m just going to have to live with it. I say my account number and we hang up. After thirty seconds I pull up Wells Fargo. My account shows a deposit for twice the discussed value. I dial his number and the voice on the other end casually says hello.
“I thought you were only giving me what I needed for school,” I say. It’s just a formality though, we both know he doesn’t recall funds.
“Correct. The rest is an early Christmas present.” Never mind that it’s July, or that he will “forget” and get me a Christmas present in December. He has justified the transfer in his mind, and that’s the end of that.
“I’m paying you back this time,” I say.
“That may prove…” he pauses, no doubt smiling in the old broken chair at his desk, “…difficult.”
“We had an agreement.”
“I have altered our agreement,” his voice rasps through the mechanized system, “Pray I don’t alter it further.”
My thumb mashes the END button and I throw the phone down. I feel half vindicated. I had seen behind the honeyed voice, I had known a plot was simmering. My finely-tuned canis lupus senses had smelled the trap, even if they had missed the absurd catch.
I vow higher levels of vigilance. This guy is tricky.