Marty was at the hospital tonight, like every night. What was different was, instead of being in his wife’s room holding her hand, he stood outside the hospital, and outside the ring of entrance lights and lamp poles. He wore scrubs with a hoodie over them, for warmth and disguise. He shouldn't have bothered; no one looked twice at him. The scrubs made him invisible. He nervously lit up a cigarette. He was far enough away from the hospital for it to be legal, but judging from the disgusted looks he got, it was still morally outrageous. He finished the cigarette, stubbed out the butt with the tip of his shoe, continued waiting.
Eventually a skinny, suit-wearing, pencil-pushing guy came out of the hospital, stood out front, lazily looking around. He noted Marty skulking in the shadows, walked toward him. When he arrived, he spoke only two words: “fifty grand.”
Marty nodded, pulled a thick envelope out of his pocket, stuffed with $100 bills, and handed it to the guy in the suit. “Judy Dylan, oncology.” Marty’s voice was husky as he spoke.
The man in the suit nodded, turned, and walked away without another word.
Carl worked for a large corporation, the same place Marty worked at. Carl managed the database management department, and had been there since the beginning, helping to build the initial databases. He was the ultimate authority on information for the business. In the entire company, he was the only one who could carry off the perfect crime — but he was too honest to do it. The first part, setting up the skim, was easy. The hard part — the impossible part, in fact — was to hide what they were doing from Carl. When he saw someone else trying the same scam, he looked into it.
Carl was shocked — it was his friend, Marty, who had been doing the stealing. Before taking any action, Carl confronted Marty, cornering him in his office. He slammed the office door closed behind him, hard enough for a picture to fall off the wall.
“Marty, what in the name of God are you doing?” Carl’s face was turning red, and his ears positively glowed.
Marty bowed his head. He had half-expected this, but now it had happened, he was at a loss what to do… except tell the truth.
“Carl, Judy has been fighting cancer, for two years now. The bills have destroyed our credit, eaten up all our equity, and put us in debt for the rest of our lives. And it’s worse off now than ever — our health insurance has maxed out. We have to pay all those bills ourselves. She’s cancer-free, but we’re going to live in poverty for the rest of our lives.”
“So, I started thinking some terrible thoughts. This medical system is the biggest scam of all time. In all the first-world countries, America is the only one who does not provide universal access to health care. America believes in one god only: Money.”
“And the insurance. We paid our premiums all these years, then when we really need them, they pay a drop in the bucket, then tell us we’re on the hook for the rest of it. What is insurance for, if not to insure you are protected when you most need help?”
“I remember you telling me about the perfect scam one time. I started hanging around the hospital even more, and eventually I met one of the main database administrators. Bluntly, I bribed him to erase her debt from the system. It cost me $50,000 I didn’t have. That’s why I set up the scam here. I was going to stop it after this, but I haven’t seen his results yet. Until I get a bill showing a $0 balance, I have to keep it going, because I may need more money for bribes.”
Marty ducked his head, unable to look his longtime friend, and boss, in the eye. “Look, Carl, the only way I know how to come up with that kind of money for the bribe is to pull the fake invoice scam at work. I still don’t regret it, although I knew it was stealing. Well, they stole everything me and Judy had.”
“I think I knew you would catch me, eventually. At least I hoped it would be you. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll let it go. You know I’m a God-fearing man, but God ain’t paying those medical bills.”
Carl was torn. He was scrupulously honest, but this was one of his closest friends as well as coworkers. It was his wife Judy who had cancer, not some anonymous name on a spreadsheet. And he knew a company this size would never even miss the money. It was less than a rounding error. Carl felt responsible in part, because he had told Marty about the scheme, not thinking he would ever use it, let alone at work.
Carl looked at Marty. “What would you do, in my situation, knowing my moral compass? I have an obligation to this company, and a more important one, to tell the truth.”
Marty finally lifted his head and looked Carl in the eye. “I hope you would know the difference between being correct and doing the right thing, and make the right choice.” Then he coughed. “I have to get back to the line, Carl, we’re behind right now.” With that, he left his own office, Carl standing in it, perplexed.
After the weekend, Carl had come to a solution he could live with. The question was, could Marty? Monday was always hectic, full of meetings, and it was nearly 3:00pm before he could summon Marty to his office.
“Well, Marty, I can’t say it’s been a restful weekend. I spent a lot of time thinking on it, even went to church and prayed about it. You’re right that God’s not helping. But the reverend who gave the sermon, he said something like, “God helps those who help themselves.”
Carl grinned, a big toothy smile. “That may not have been what the reverend meant, but I asked God, and that was the only answer I got. But there’s still the bit about paying Caesar his due. The question is, where would that money do the most good? You’re right that the company won’t miss it; it’s less than a rounding error on their books. But you stole the money, and you need to pay it back.”
“What seems the most just to me is you paying it back, over a ten-year period, to help other cancer patients and their families. How you do that is up to you, I just want to see the invoices. What do you say, Marty? Are you in a position to make that choice?”
Marty pulled out a sheaf of papers, set them down on the desk in front of Carl. It was a stack of medical bills, all marked “Paid In Full.” As Carl thumbed through them, it was Marty’s turn to grin, teeth white against the black of his beard.
“I think the good Lord would agree on that bargain. I do, too. Thank you, Carl, for being merciful. And I like your solution; I felt so bad about the stealing, it was making me feel sick all the time.”
The two men shook hands. A gentlemen’s agreement, but one they would both abide by. It was in their moral code.