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American

The comptroller at the Union's Plans office was raised Christian, had graduated from Maryland State, and had the faith of a child in all things American. His accounting expertise landed him a job in Ann Arundel county, across the water from Easton: his most favorite town on the Western shore. He was all set up to live a good life, and had begun to do so.

Accountability is the responsibility of accounting, but counting on accountants to be accountable bore upon him a contradiction in terms, both in law and fact. The union was required by law to employ him, and the union’s pension fund paid his salary; but he was not held accountable to the rank and file members. Instead, he had  power to inflict upon members the fear of the IRS.

On account of his faith and being so near Washington DC, he began to question internal polity. Began to donate money to the Cato Institute: a Libertarian think tank. Its quips and quotes provided him with percipience; but! Had he become part of  "a multitude of new offices, (with) swarms of officers to harass...people and eat out their substance"? Accountability was becoming a double edged sword.

It seemed to him that if three different tax experts were given the same tax avoidance scheme, which is legal, some would call it tax evasion, which is not. Then there was his own scare tactic to make union members cough up their guilt by sending them a letter; inside of which, was an opened envelope with a copy of a poorly copied copy of an IRS notice. 

Fear had been a great motivator. Union members accounted to his office their accounts, all on account of a letter with a dubious origin. 

On account of his guilt, he began to question his faith. And on account of his faith, his accounting practices lost accountability, but with a mortgage, kids and a new boat, accounting remained the means commensurate to the good life.

Years later... The Baltimore Sun has a developing story about a union’s missing money. How much does the president know? Are unions corrupt? Who is accountable? How much did the  vice president abscond with? The Sun’s reporter is one her first assignment. She’s from Iowa; has not been to the Eastern shore. She is young and beautiful and loves every minute that seems to be racing by in a fleeting moment of eternity. 

Now a helicopter is flying over a house: a mansion on four acres of prime real estate owned by the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association. The union's vice president has left the country, but the union's president remains inside the house. His name has been infamous among those who know but don’t tell. The union’s school is named after his predecessor.

According to all of its accounts, the union's monies are accounted for. It's just that the amount that was stolen has yet to be counted; and the comptroller is on vacation.

The short drive from Easton to St Michaels includes a stop at a wine bar then dinner at his daughter's favorite: The Crab Claw.

Aboard the “Sound of the Music” three family/crew are glued to the TV. The view from the helicopter includes union members standing in a parking lot. It looks like they might riot; police are standing by. Jerry says, “I’m not going to be a part of this marriage if your father is a player in this mess.”

“But mom, Dad said that you can’t always do the right thing.” Timmy is fourteen; wants to be a lawyer. 

“We’ll see what he says about this,” she says. Jerry is a country singer turned house-wife. She plays a guitar that’s always tuned, but lately, it has remained in its case. “Sometimes people do things that are not ethical, but stealing money goes beyond the pale.”

Rebecca looks confused. She thinks her sister has done something wrong again, and now she’s going to get the whole family into trouble. “Mommy, will we have to go to prison?”

“No sweetheart. This stuff has nothing to do with your sister. We are all safe from whatever daddy may have done.”

“There’s daddy now! Rebecca says. She climbs off the chart table and climbs up the ladder, poking her head out of the hatch. “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!

Susan grabs her baby sister.

“No! I want Daddy!!” He is standing in the parking lot with a cell phone pressed against his head.

“He’s busy! Rebecca. Come, let's go inside. I brought some leftover crab for you.”

As Timmy, Rebecca and Jerry pick-a-part their dinner, Susan is told to fuel up. “We will sail when the tide ebbs”. She is told.  

The fuel dock is just across the slip. The father and daughter work together to shift the boat; a bow line is stretched to a far cleat. As stern lines are let loose, the boat is winched towards the fueling station. Before Jerry finishes cleaning up, Timmy has shifted all the fenders to the port side. Rebecca is sitting atop the house, watching. 

“Good job!! Susan and Timmy look at their dad, and glow, proud to be so handy. 

“Let me!” Timmy hollers. He pulls at the fueling nozzle. Susan holds on to it. The fuel tank is empty. The nozzle develops a static charge. 

“Timmy! Let your sister do her task. I need you to go down below and stow away all of your toy soldiers and help mom with whatever she needs. Susan, make sure the vent is open before we start the pump.”

At the volunteer fire department, a call goes out. 

A black sedan enters the marina parking lot. The driver stops; watches the last of a small mushroom cloud disperse. He temporarily remains frozen, not knowing what to do, thinking that was far too close for comfort. Finally, follows behind local fire and rescue. The crowd grows along with the sound of sirens and the scene of flashing lights. 

The Baltimore Sun story finds an ending. “We will never know.”

July 08, 2021 23:23

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2 comments

Jaimie B
00:09 Jul 15, 2021

Hi! I'm from the critique circle. I really enjoyed this read, your writing is very engaging from the outset. I did lose focus in the middle, but the ending was also very engaging and tied everything together nicely. Overall, loved it. Keep it up!

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Andrea Kepple
01:13 Jul 18, 2021

I'm also from the critic circle. I agree with Jaimie B's assessment.

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