The Fiddle

A Short Story

© 2020 by Larry F. Sommers

Read Time: 13 minutes.

Below is the first draft of a story. You can help make it better by commenting on what you liked or what you didn’t. Feel free to make suggestions. How could the story be better?

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THE FIDDLE WAS SWEET, because it was subtle.

Rounding errors, applied in not-quite-random fashion to millions of accounts. Half a cent here, nine tenths of a cent there. Billions of times. 

“Two Cents” by opensourceway is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Chuck himself would never have stumbled upon it, if he hadn’t known where to look.

The rabbi dumped earth on Morton’s wood coffin. Who knew the company’s chief information officer was Jewish? He hadn’t looked Jewish. But it was a bit of great luck. Jews had to go into the ground within twenty-four hours. Chuck would have preferred cremation for Morton, but it hardly mattered. 

At this point, delay was victory.

As mourners dispersed, Grayson stood by his huge black SUV. He  lifted an eyebrow. Chuck drew in a breath and headed that way, the plain, useful Stephanie just behind him. Grayson’s driver stood watchful at the left front door. A second young stalwart, equally watchful, hovered at the right rear fender.

“Get in,” said Grayson. He dived into his steel cocoon wihout a backward look.

Chuck climbed in, the driver closing the door behind him. Stephanie stood outside. 

Grayson had already perched in the right-hand seat as Chuck settled himself on the left. The blunt-faced CEO pierced him with an accusing stare. Standard operating procedure. Annoying, but it apparently served him well. As the underling, Chuck would have to speak first.

This was his first visit to Grayson’s mobile command center. It was plush. Folded into the door was a small work table, which he doubted Grayson ever used. The windows did not look thick enough to deflect machine gun bullets, but Witherspoon swore they would do just that. Witherspoon ought to know. As CFO, he had paid for it. 

Chuck met Grayson’s eyes. “Roomy.”

“It’ll do.” Grayson frowned. “Is that all you’ve got to say?” 

“Sad about Morton. I thought he was healthy.”

“Yes. What about this Jamaican alert?”

Chuck sighed, spread his hands. “Nothing’s been compromised, I can assure you of that. All our accounts are clean as a hound’s tooth.”

“Don’t give me hounds’ teeth. External hacking is not the issue. They’re alleging fraud on our part.”

Chuck held up a finger. He opened his door.

His drab assistant stood just where she had been left.

“Stephanie, anything further on Jamaica?” 

She glanced at her tablet, fingered it, narrowed her eyes. “Our correspondent finds two of the Jamaican bank’s partners have underworld interests. He thinks local regulators are bearing down on them, so their claim on us is a smokescreen for irregularities of their own.” She opened her eyes wide, threw her shoulders back, and stood at attention to await further orders. 

Chuck closed the door, shot an inquiring look at Grayson. The man raised his eyebrows. “Your Miss Pinsky seems on top of things.”

“She’s the best there is. My secret weapon.” 

Grayson rubbed his chin. “Don’t let this get lost in the shuffle. Our good name is involved.”

“Of course.”

“Meanwhile, there is a hole in the org chart.” Grayson stared at him.

Chuck sat mute and stared back. Two could play that game. 

After an eternity, Grayson smiled. “You’ve done a good job, Chuck. I know your background is in cybersecurity, but I’m giving you the whole information slice. You’ll be CIO.” 

Now was Chuck’s time to speak. “Thank you.” 

“I won’t say you’re welcome. More like, don’t let me down.”

Chuck nodded.

Grayson reached for his copy of the Journal. “It pays half a mil. Get with HR Monday and work it out. I’ll sign whatever.”

The driver, alert to some obscure signal, pulled the door open, and Chuck stepped out. He and Stephanie walked to where his Jaguar was parked.

Chuck accelerated smoothly away from the graveyard. “He’s going to make me CIO.” 

Stephanie guffawed.

“What’s so funny?” he asked. 

“Oh, the irony.” Tears of mirth rolled down her face. She arched an eyebrow. “If you don’t know about irony, I’ll be happy to explain it to you later . . . in private.” She fingered her cell phone.

Chuck’s blood raced whenever she talked about private things. But back to business. “He’s likely to retract the offer before the weekend’s out.”

She met his eyes and laughed merrily.

They left the Jag in a city lot two miles from the cemetery.

A gypsy cab pulled into the lot. Stephanie gave the driver a thumbs-up. “Right on time. Gus is famed for his poor memory.” 

The driver, Gus, got out and stowed their two backpacks in the trunk. “Where to?” 

“The airport’ll do,” said Chuck.

#

The Hotel Carrasco dining room was the most elegant place in Montevideo, but it was Stephanie who made it sparkle. Nothing about the real Stephanie was drab or unexciting.

Chuck raised his glass in a toast. “To us and our . . . how much was it, again?”

She smiled. “Fifty million, give or take.” 

“One third in Credit Suisse, one third in the Cayman Islands account—”

“And seven hundred pounds of gold bars, at this moment flouting the waves in the hold of a tramp steamer.” 

“Hope she makes port. I didn’t pack SCUBA gear.” 

Stephanie giggled. She raised her glass of cabernet. “Fifty million keys to a better life.” Her gaze told Chuck he was the only man in the room. Maybe on the planet.

Stephanie was the only woman who had that gift, as far as Chuck knew. His rapid climb from nowhere had bypassed girls entirely. They had been outside his focus.

About when the firm hired him to guard its data, Stephanie had come into his life. They met at the chess club. Chuck was a sharp amateur player. Stephanie, on the other hand,  could have been a grand master. She beat him routinely with no word of apology. She just smiled that secret smile that melted his heart. 

He hired her as his assistant. Over long dinners she started to share herself. Like Chuck, she came from a hazy past and coveted success. Her tastes were unrestrained by cost. 

He realized the company would never pay him the amount needed to give Stephanie a life that would satisfy her desires. But he began to see a way. Bit by bit he worked out his special algorithm, the one that skimmed fractions of cents from billions of transactions in such a clever way that no one noticed. Of course it couldn’t last forever, and it had not. But here they were, fifty million richer. Grayson, eat your heart out. You can keep your fucking half million a year.

With Chuck absorbed in the programming details—refreshing the fiddle often to keep obvious patterns from emerging—Stephanie was mistress of all logistics, from the practical to the romantic to the downright steamy. Seven years had flown by in a delightful way.

She was staring at him. “Penny for your thoughts.”

He smiled, “Grayson may already have tumbled. But he’ll lose our trail in Sao Paulo.”

“I told you those backpacks would come in handy.”

“I’m still winded from hiking around the border stations,” he confessed. “And when does our ship depart Uruguay, exactly?”

“Eight a.m. tomorrow. We’ll have just enough time for a little . . . irony. Followed by a good night’s sleep. You’re not as young as you used to be, you know.”

Chuck stared at her with admiration. “You’re like a Swiss train conductor. Everything comes along exactly when needed.” 

“Easy-peasy. It’s a slow freighter with a skipper willing to bend his schedule for us.”

“Yes? What kind of skipper is that?”

“He’s—you remember Gus, our taxi driver?”

“Yes.”

“Well, good, because he doesn’t remember you. The captain of the vessel is like that.”

#

Stephanie pulled the Russian fur closer about her shoulders. Nights near Sochi carried a chill, never mind the palm trees and Black Sea breezes. But that was the very reason why those cute little black sables scampered through the Siberian woods: To be slain so that Stephanie could stay warm on cool nights.

Chuck came around and opened the Lamborghini’s passenger door. “Who was that gorilla ogling you at Victor’s party?” 

“Gorilla?” She levered her Manolo Blahnik alligator boots out of the car, then stood up.

“You know, the hairy guy in the cheap suit.”

“You are wrong about him, my dear. That was a very expensive suit. Italian.”

They climbed the steps of their dacha. Chuck, with a nod, tossed the car keys to Sergei, the silent majordomo. “So who was he, this well-heeled Italianate fashion idol?”

“Arkady Maximovich Greshkin.” 

“The billionaire?” he asked as they entered the front room.

She slipped off her boots. “Multi billionaire, if you must know.”

“Funny. When he was drooling over you, he looked like some stevedore from the Jersey docks.” He loosened his tie, undid the collar button, and sighed as imprisoned neck flesh sagged out. 

Stephanie pouted. “I can’t help the effect I have on men.”

 “Speaking of which . . .” He rounded on her, wrapped her in his arms. As always, she swayed into his embrace and prepared to play the little tongue games that so easily stoked his libido.

She could have become bored with his endless demands for sex, if it weren’t for her workmanlike approach to it. But she was spared the bother, as the door crashed open and four gorillas in genuinely cheap suits grabbed Chuck. 

“What the hell—” 

One of the goons smacked his head with a short club, and Chuck sagged unconscious. Each taking one arm or leg, the four hauled him out the door. 

The swiftness of the action left her breathless. 

Arkady’s men, of course. 

She followed them, peeked out the window by the front door. They were bundling Chuck into a battered ZiL sedan. 

You had to see it as predestined. Chuck and Stephanie were already down to their last twenty million. Soon the only thing between Stephanie and starvation would be the seven hundred pounds of gold locked in the cellar vault. Before long, she would have had to do something. 

It was thoughtful of Arkady to take care of this for her. She would not have to arrange anything special for Chuck, as she had for the late Morton, whose only fault had been curiosity.

And then, of course, there was the fact that Arkady would prize her more, having seized her as a trophy from another man, than if she were merely a sexy millionairess on the loose.

One of the gorillas came away from the ZiL carrying a sledge hammer, which he used to smash the parked Lamborghini’s windows, doors, and fenders. I wonder if Arkady’s commanded them to piss on the upholstery. But no. The automotive symbol of Chuck’s manhood now fully depreciated, they got in the black sedan and drove away. 

Poor Chuck. 

The butler Sergei, among other duties, oversaw the security men who invisibly guarded Chuck and Stephanie in their lovely dacha, kept the riffraff away. Sergei’s obvious lapse in loyalty to Chuck would of course not apply to the bereaved Stephania Mikhailovna Pinsky. But just in case, she would give him one of the little gold bars.

Meanwhile, she had better freshen herself up. There was always the possibility the oil and gas tycoon would show up unannounced to claim his prize.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mister Billionaire-ski.

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6 thoughts on “The Fiddle

  1. A great beginning for a tale with a moral about the hazards of selfishness.

    • Thanks for the comment, Doug. I aim for everything I write to be edifying in some way, hopefully inspirational. But this one is more of a cautionary tale. Merry Christmas.

  2. Very very well written. I do have to say I guessed the ending. But I can’t quite say why. The first sentence was a little off-putting, until I realized it was being played at the funeral, right? I would have maybe mentioned that once more, perhaps an almost ominous song to set a tone, so to speak. But very very well written.

    • Thanks, Monette, for the comments. I can see that I caused a bit of needless confusion. The “fiddle” being referenced is not in this case a musical instrument but just a slang term for a con game or embezzlement scheme. But you will not be the only reader I’ve led astray by that. I’ll have to reconsider my terminology. I do appreciate all constructive feedback.

  3. I wrote a reply but don’t know where it went.

    • Your comment did not appear immediately because I have set WordPress to hold comments from first-time responders until I get a gander at them. This is a (thus-far needless) precaution against internet trolls. Any future comments you make should become visible immediately.

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