Playing with Fire

“I remember when everything burned. Everything was ablaze before my eyes, I watched as metal warped, plastic melted, and wood burned in a bright blaze. Everything was ablaze lighting the night…”

“Sweetie stop… Stop…. I know that you want this job, but  you are being a bit over-dramatic with this intro.”

Looking back at my fiancé Jane I cannot help but trust her. She may be on her second glass of wine, but tonight is her only night off. Most nights she is managing her brother's bar. During the day she is a preschool teacher. She has sacrificed everything for me, but if all goes well I may be able to pamper her for once. 

“I understand sweetie. I guess I could.”

“I guess you could put that down and enjoy the night,” Jane finishes my sentence for me. “You can come over here, sit down, and have a glass of wine with your fiancé on her only night off.”

Her offer, while inviting, does not move me. Along with being a little over-dramatic I am also a bit of a worry wart and with the most important meeting of my career a few weeks away I have no choice, but to get my ducks in a row. 

“Sweetie just give me another minute,” I offer her as I sit back down at my computer. “Give me just a minute and then we can…”

My thought trails off as I start typing again, trying to perfect my introduction. 

I hear Jane rise from the couch. She walks up behind me and starts massaging my neck. I start to relax and my mind wanders to how truly amazing Jane is. She has kept us afloat in D.C. these past few years and has not complained once. She has followed me around this country as I found my way. She has kept me sane, fed and clothed and does it all so I can fulfill a promise I made. A promise to make a difference in this world. 

“You type away. Do what you need. And when you are done I will be waiting in bed,”Jane whispers in my ear with a kiss.

Swiveling in my chair I get to watch her walk away. Sexy and seductive as ever I want to follow her, but can’t. I have to get this introduction written. In the morning I won’t have time as I have a few more files to go over.  A few more files to make sure all my ducks are in a row. 

.    .    .

“A little over the top, but I guess that is just you,” my friend Andy informs me at my desk the next morning.

“Andy I know you think it is a bit much, but...”

“But you want to show who you are and feel that the fire metaphor fits perfectly with your mission statement,” Andy finishes my thought for me. “Will believe me, I understand what you are going for. We grew up next door. I introduced you to Jane. I found you this job and your next interview. I know your entire history Will and the intro fits you perfectly  so relax and move on. Plus don’t you have some other files to quadruple check before lunch?” Andy finishes his speech with a sip of coffee from his mug. 

Checking my watch I can hardly believe the amount of time that has passed. With a quick goodbye I run off towards my own cubical inside this government farm. The cubicles are all the same, but the path is familiar. So familiar by now I could walk it in my sleep.

I arrive at my home away from home, the only thing demarcating it from the clones around it is a picture of Will, Jane, and I. Looking back at them I find it amazing that Andy and I ended up in the same place. 

We grew up next door to each other. We shared our toys our entire childhood and even as we got older we stayed friends. While not as inseparable as we once were we stayed close even though we were completely different people. 

Andy was an athlete, a jock, and popular. I never had any athletic prowess. I was too scrawny to play any sport and too slow to run track. Where Andy spent most of high school playing sports and attending parties, I spent it playing clarinet and computer games. 

Even with our differences Andy always looked out for me. Especially after the accident. He became my chauffeur- carting me between school, the hospital and home. He was my shrink and kept my head straight when it was falling apart. He was my mentor who worked with me every day to help achieve every goal I set after the accident. Simply put Andy was the brother I never had.

.    .    .

“I’m off to work sweetie,” Jane calls out from the other room.

“Okay…” I don’t even look up as I respond. 

“I will see you later,” Jane calls back. Closer this time, no longer a room away. 

“Mhmm,” I absentmindedly respond.  Possibly a little over-engrossed in my work. 

“I was also thinking about going home with the first guy who offered to buy me a drink tonight.”

“Have a nice time… Wait what was that?”

“Oh nothing sweetie. Just wanted to make sure that you were paying attention.”

Taking my eyes off my screen I swivel in my chair to let Jane sit in my lap. In a denim mini skirt and a sleek top Jane is dressed to kill.

“Sweetie everything okay?”

“Yah, it is fine. Just a little preoccupied.”

“You sure? You seem a little worried,” Jane pushes me along with a kiss on the cheek. 

Looking into her amber eyes I know she knows me too well. She saw right through my white lie and can tell that something is wrong. She is right- I am a little worried. I found a trail of information today that could ruin everything for me. 

“Yah I’m fine. The meeting is just on my mind,” I try to diffuse the tension with a kernel of truth.

“Fair enough, I got to go,” Jane responds after a tense moment of silence. “Get to bed early and if you are lucky maybe I can take your mind off that report when I get home.”

With a swift kiss Jane grabs her purse and bolts out our rickety door. 

My heart is racing as I reexamine the data. I know I overreact at times, but this data could ruin everything. The new job, a chance to make a change, mine and Jane’s happy future together. What I just found could derail it all and more.  

.    .    .

Click… click…. Click….

I have always hated that sound, but I hate it more now than ever.  It is barely eleven and I have been at my desk for seven hours going over every last bit of data one more time.

Click… Click… Click….

The numbers are the same. 

Click… Click… Click….

The report will not change. After months of work something small is going to change everything. It is going to trip me up. Looks like I didn’t learn from that damn fire. It looks like my life is about to go up in flames once again. 

“Andy. I need Andy,” I finally decide. It has been hours since I confirmed my mistake and now with the day spent I have to find him before he disappears for the day. 

“Andy… Andy…” 

I catch up with him right before he leaves for the night.

“Andy… Andy…”

I yell out hoping to get my friend to stop and turn around. 

“Whats up Will,” Andy responds as he turns towards me.

“Andy… I … Need.. The background reports for March through April and then the endgame report for our last project,” I emote through scattered breaths. 

“You need them because?”

“Because I need to check something. I found an error… that could cost me …everything. Not just the interview, but… everything… I have done.”

My breath caught from my little run I am now hyperventilating because of my own fear and panic. 

“Calm down Will. I’m sure it is not that bad.”

I hand Andy the file open to the problem page. Quickly glancing over it Andy finds my issue and comes back to me with a crooked smile.

“Will… It really is not that bad. An oversight maybe, but nothing that cannot be ironed over.”

“Andy you must understand that…”

“I understand what it is Will, but is not the end of the world. You are overreacting.”

I love that man like a brother, but I hate it when he belittles me. Thumbing through the papers once again he may be my boss, but we are friends, brothers, peers. We are the same age and we may have taken different paths to get here, we are here now as peers. 

 For Andy this was a fall back career. He had aspirations of going pro, but a freak knee injury ended that dream in its tracks. Instead Andy got his bachelors, grabbed a masters, and found a career. He always worked hard, but things just always seemed to fall his way. 

Things falling into place has not been my forte. After the accident, I made a promise to: “make a difference in this world” and have suffered to keep it since. 

I tried to enlist, but failed out of basic training twice. I tried to enter  the Police academy and had the same result. I was too weak to be a fireman and despite my degree in biology I didn’t have the stomach to be an EMT. After bouncing around the country I finally ended up with a few degrees and a job here. 

Is was never my dream to work in a government cubical farm or the private industry we work closely with. That was never my dream, but it is the only chance I have left to make the difference.

“Will if you just relax...”

“I’m not going to relax Andy,” I counter him before he can cut me off. “This is not some small issue. You know what it means, it can not be swept under the rug, and it will ruin me. What I will do if it is true? I don’t think I can try to join the military again. Teaching maybe, but that would be another degree and…”

“And if you don’t calm down you are going to pop. Will relax. I know you have worked hard for this, but nothing is going to change tonight. Go home and I will get the files to you first thing in the morning.”

Handing the file back to me I know when I am beat and nod in agreement. I can trust Andy, he has always looked out for me and without his help I will never get access to the files I need. 

“Good Will. Now go home and have dinner with Jane. She texted me earlier and is worried sick about you. Good night Will.”

Alone with a file I am reminded of how close we are. How close Andy, Jane, and I  are. He met Jane in college and introduced us right after I failed to join the Police academy. We were a match made in heaven and Andy knew that long before we ever met. Since the day he met her he has done his best to make sure that we were always happy together. Of course looking out for me is nothing new -Andy has been doing it since the accident.

Before the accident I wasn’t much of a worry wart, I was a wee bit over-dramatic, but other than that I was not much of anything. I was a shut-in and cared little for life or what happened. I had no real plans, few friends, and had everyone who cared about me worried. 

Everyone tried to help me. I saw shrinks, took pills, but I just didn’t care. So to get me out of my funk Andy invited me to a party. To appease my loved ones I went. I was sixteen, stupid, and thought I knew everything.

I drank a lot that night and once I decided I met my required social time quota I left without a word to anyone. Five minutes away from my house I came upon an intersection and ran a red light. The same interaction my parents were turning into after taking in a show. 

I was going too fast, they never saw me, and even though time slowed down there was nothing I could do to stop the inevitable from happening.  I T-Boned them and they rolled across the intersection. My car was redirected into a street post and looking in my rear-view mirror I watched my parent's car go up in flames.

 Severely burned, with internal bleeding, I do not know how they survived that night. It was the worst day of my life, quickly followed by hell week as I watched my parents fight for their lives. 

Until that day I was emo and cared for nothing, however watching your parents die changes your perspective on things. I remember the last time I was allowed to see them. Hooked up to tubes, unable to breath on their own, fighting for every last breath and moment and all they cared about was me and how I was doing.

They were dying and all they wanted to know was if I was okay. They forgave me and then asked me to live and enjoy life. I remember crying my promise to them. A promise that I would not only live, but would make a difference in this world. That is what I told them as their monitors went flat and they took their final breaths. 

A judge took pity on me and after surrendering my license and doing more community service than once can count I was released to my godparents (Andy’s family) and started to try and make good on my promise. 

That is why despite what Andy tells me now I know I have to make this problem right. I have to, because I cannot change the world any other way. I am out of options and if this does not work out I will break the dying promise I made to my parents.  

.    .    .

“It will only take a day or two. I will be back before the interview, but I have to check these records.”

It is the Thursday morning before my big interview and I am a disheveled mess as I try to pack. 

Jane is frustrated with me. I have been a mess this entire week, but after getting Andy’s reports there was no doubt in my mind: I had made a horrible mistake. 

“Jane it will only take a few days. They cannot send me the files so I will fly to Atlanta, check the files, and be back in time for the interview.”

“Will, I get that, but you can do it after the interview. Andy is right Will. what you found was an oversight, but it can be ironed out later. If you are that worried about it mention it during the interview and tell them how you plan to address the issue.”

I hear Jane, I have heard everything her and Andy have said for the last week, but I cannot buy in. 

 I’ve barely bathed or slept since Andy got me those reports. I’ve gone over them again and again and I just don’t see what they see. This is not a small blip on the radar or some little math error. This goes down to the core and changes everything I have worked with, everything I have presented, everything I believe. 

“Jane I understand, but….”

“But sweetie breathe for a second. Take a step back. You are letting this one little thing blow it all up. It was a mistake, but you cannot let it damage everything you have worked for. No one is perfect and you are letting this thing destroy you. Please don’t let everything we have worked and dreamed for go up in flames over this.”

“Sweetie. I’ll be back Saturday. I promise,” I tell Jane, hoping she sees the sincerity in my eyes and heart. It may be too late to change the mistake now, but I at least have to understand it. 

.    .    .

“Final boarding. Final boarding Atlanta to Washington. Final Boarding Atlanta to Washington.”

For the first time in a long time I am going to break a promise. Ever since the accident I have been honest and truthful and now after staying true to my word for over twelve years I am going to break it. I am going to break it by boarding a plane to keep another promise.

“This is the last call for flight 506 Atlanta to Washington.”

I still cannot believe it sitting here listening to the announcements that I am about to break my word. 

People shuffle past, trying to get comfortable. Their luggage going everywhere and I sit here quietly with my thoughts watching them batten everything down and prepare for lift off.  Sitting at the window I watch as things begin to move around me. I watch the plane going to D.C. move away. 

“I’m sorry Jane.” I whisper to myself as I send the document that will seal my fate. “I hope you can forgive me.” 

.    .    .

In front of a fireplace in La  Paz I reflect on my day. Part of me is surprised I made it. After hitting send I thought every shake, every turn, ever little movement of the plane would lead to our descent so I could be detained. In reality though the flight was uneventful and I made it here without much issue. 

I cannot help but think about the promises I broke today. I broke about every promise I ever made to Jane today. The promise that I would come home, that we would  start a family, that I would relax and not over-react. 

I broke promises I made to Andy and promises he made to my parents to look after me. Hell I even broke a promise I made to my dying parents: to be happy and to live. I broke all of them to keep one promise:

To make a difference in this world.

I never thought it would take the form that it did, but after all my failed attempts I guess it makes sense that a mistake is how it would come to light. That a simple error would leave me alone in La Paz with only my thoughts and new life to guide me.

Taking out my computer I look over the message I sent earlier today with the knowledge that I have to write one more. I have to write a message to Jane explaining what I have done. 

Jane,

My dear my love. I wish I was sending this under better circumstances, circumstances that by now I am sure you are aware of. I have done something many will consider wrong, some may even consider it treason, but I could not live with myself it I let the mistake go uncorrected.  I know I set our dreams ablaze, but you must understand that if I had not done what has been done I would not be the man you loved and would never be the person I needed to be.

I hope you can forgive me Jane. And hope that you can spare me another minute of your time to explain my actions before you let me go forever.  

As you know a little over a week ago I found a duplicate data set. A data set about chemical levels in rivers and drinking water in the Richmond, D.C., and Newark areas. You also know what I thought was a duplicate data set was actually an identical data set taken from two different studies done three years apart. 

As you know these reports showed that a small chemical leak or dumping was being done by a local chemical company. When the initial report was filed a fine and a regiment for more rigorous upkeep and testing were ordered by our government. The fine was paid, however the upkeep and testing never happened.

I could live with this as an oversight, but after seeing the endgame report I was appalled and feared this oversight was evidence of corruption that ran much deeper. The documents Andy provided me confirmed my fear. The second test yielded the exact same results and the same punishment. In reality what the second report showed was that nothing was actually being done to rectify the problem at hand. 

I had to understand why. I had to understand if there was more to this little oversight so I flew to Atlanta and using my credentials accessed the files housed at the CDC. What I found was not a simple oversight, but was appalling.

What I found is what we all know and fear, that private industry and the government agencies that regulate them are in bed with one another. It has been well documented that there is a revolving door between the key regulatory agencies and the corporations that “Keep America running.” I was hoping to utilize this relationship to move up and start our family. However once I discovered the horrors this relationship harbored I had to take action. 

I always thought and had taken solace in the fact that chemical companies and our government would not do anything to intentionally harm us. It may have been a naive thought, but Jane it kept me going. After years of failure my belief that the government would not do anything to intentionally harm us kept me going. It propelled me to get my degrees and propelled me down the only path I thought I had left to make a meaningful change. 

In Atlanta though as I dug deeper into the oversight, this dream was shattered and reality dawned on me. What Andy and you thought was as a simple oversight, an anomaly, is intact standard business practice.  

The people had a right to know the truth Jane.  Before they write off the next oil spill or chemical disaster off as an accident they have the right to know that safety is not the top priority of our regulations or corporate culture. They had a right to know that it is cheaper to refill and pay a fine on a leaking storage tank than it is to address the real issue at hand.

Our own governing body has created a culture where standard practice is to pay a fine and deal with consequences that never come. Consequences that if they do come are less cumbersome than changing a harmful practice.

In my brief stint in Atlanta I found numerous reports and projects supporting this claim across a wide variety of industries and businesses. Jane you know I love you, but you also know I could not stand for this.

I always knew there would be a few bad apples who would put profit above all else, however I never thought that the entire bushel would be rotten. I do not know if a few spoiled the bunch or if they were bad when they were picked, but I know what the result is now and what had to happen.

That is why I sent my findings to every news network I could find. That is why I blew the lid on this and hope that you can forgive me.  

Know that I am safe Jane. Know that I cashed out everything and left most of it with your sister in Atlanta to give to you. I want you to move on, to be safe, and to be loved. You deserve that and nothing less. 

 Do not shed a tear over me and do not wait for me. I can never come back and you deserve better than that. You have given everything so I could fulfill my promise and I want you to know that I finally have. 

With love 

Will

Looking back at the dying fire I do not know what waits for me, however watching the flames I know that I have finally made my parents proud.

All I can do now is hope that it all comes to something. I have to hope that corporations and governing bodies change their ways and see that health and safety should come before a whimsical profit or a fleeting desire. All I hope is that the corrupt do not let this warning pass and see it for what it is. A second chance to correct a lesson not learned.

 

Thank you for visiting the New D.C. Reed.org. Don't forget to check out my first book: Moral war which is coming soon.