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A Matter Of Integrity!


Mario V. Farina

Copyright 2019 Mario V. Farina

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Mario V. Farina


Officer Jenkins had his gun pointed at me! "Mr. Morgan," he said, "I can't believe this!"

"It isn't what it looks like, Al," I responded. "I'm here on business."

"Sir," he responded, "how could this be business? You retired from the company effective today! They gave you a party! I was there. Now, I find you in the vault, putting packs of money into a satchel. You call this business?"

"It's hard to explain, Al," I said. "Why don't you let me take off now leaving the money, and just forget the whole thing?"

"I can't allow that, Mr. Morgan! he said. We've known each other a long time. You were here before I was hired as a guard, and that was many years ago! But my duty is clear, it's a matter of integrity. I need to call the Police Department. Walk ahead of me to the nearest phone."

"Al," I said. "Let's assume this is a passing incident! You're not part of the legal system. We're friends. I'll just walk out, and we'll both forget the whole thing! OK?"

"No! Mr. Morgan! I can't betray my responsibility to the company. This is nothing personal! I just have to do my job!"

"Despite what you're saying, Al, I'm just walking out!" I insisted. "If I'm asked about this, I'll deny everything!"

"This gun is loaded, Mr. Morgan!" he declared. "If you try to walk away, I'll shoot you!"

"No you won't, Al! I declared, quietly. You're too nice a guy. Everybody knows that. You wouldn't hurt a fly. I'm going to turn around right now, and walk away!"

"Don't do that, Mr. Morgan. Don't force me to kill you! I swear, I'll shoot!"

I didn't respond. Without hesitation, I did, what I said I would do, slowly turned my back to him, walked out of the vault, out of the office, and out of the building. I had called his bluff and been lucky! It was after midnight. I walked home since this is the way I had come back to the building after I left my job at quitting time. I didn't know what to expect since I didn't know what Officer Jenkins would do.

Nothing happened! I went to bed after about an hour feeling that the officer, reacting to our friendship, had done nothing. Perhaps, I thought, though the attempted robbery had been botched, nothing would come of it. I was 62, and had never before considered committing a crime, but I thought this one would be so easy, it would be a cakewalk. Even though I knew Officer Jenkins made his rounds, I felt the chances he would discover me in the office were slim. If it happened, I was ready to state there was some left-over cleaning-up I needed to take care of. Being caught red handed, so to speak, was not in any scenario of I had in my mind.

I slept fitfully until morning. It was a Wednesday, and I got up at the usual time. I lived alone, my wife of 40 years, had died the year before. Money was not going to be any problem; my pension was going to be adequate. But I knew the money for the payroll had been delivered to the office on the day before. All this was some years ago, and workers were paid in cash. There were several thousand dollars waiting in the vault, and I thought I deserved the money as a sort of severance pay! I had been with the company since graduating from high school, and had not gotten many raises. In my thoughts, I rationalized that this money would be the raises that I had actually deserved. Subconsciously, I realized this was flawed thinking, and immoral, even positively wrong, but it seemed so easy! Now, I even felt somewhat relieved that I had not gotten away with this!

After a small breakfast I made for myself, there was a phone call from Eric Johnson, a coworker. "Matt," he exclaimed. "I have some terrible news! Officer Jenkins was found in the office this morning, dead! He was lying just inside the vault, a satchel half-full of money at his side. It appeared he had had a heart attack while attempting a robbery!"

"Eric," I blurted, "could it be he had interrupted a burglary, and was still in the process of stopping it when he got the heart attack?"

"There was no sign of such a stopping attempt, Matt," he said. "He had a pistol with him, it was still in his shoulder holster, he could have prevented it. The money had not been taken. There's no thought of what you're suggesting. Everybody thinks he got the heart attack while in the act of a robbery!"

"He had been with the company a long time!" I insisted. "He wouldn't have done that! He was loyal!"

"Yes, everybody thought that, but maybe he had planned it for a quite a while, and his heart caught up with him at exactly the wrong time. Supposedly, he did not know the combination to the vault. He may have felt he would not be suspected because of this. The hospital people and the police were here. There's going to be an autopsy. Maybe That will tell us more."

"I'm shocked with the news you've given me, Eric," I stammered. "I still don't think he would ever do such a thing. There's no proof. Would you keep me posted on what happens?"

"I sure will, Matt," he said, and hung up.

I was not expecting this outcome. I had known Officer Jenkins probably more than anyone else in the office. I knew how honest he was! How loyal to the company! He had a nice wife and kids in college. Apparently, Eric believed the officer was guilty. How many others were there that felt the same way? The man's character was being assassinated without any reason!

The rest of the day was spent brooding over the turn of events. Would they listen to me if I came to Officer Jenkins defense? Everyone is innocent until proven guilty! Everybody knows that. Should I try to speak for him? No, that would only put me under suspicion.

Eric called me the next day. He told me arrangements were being made for the funeral. His kids were coming home from college. His family was standing by him. Many were not believing the rumors that he was attempting to steal from the company. But a good number were! The two newspapers in the city were having a field day. This was the biggest thing that had happened in a long time. And, it was all on TV! Even the political news was being drowned out!

I sat near the television set during most of the next day. I was grieved to see some agitators were charging this was all a plan to chastise the police for imagined wrongs. Officer Jennings had not been part of the police force in the city; he had been an employee of the company doing what he felt was part of his job. There was open suspicion that the hearing would find he had died while in an attempt to make a brazen robbery.

Years have passed since those terrible days. I'm 79 now, but it all comes back to me! A great many times it comes back. Almost every day! How foolish I had been! I don't know what I would have done in retirement, taken up a hobby perhaps, done some traveling, possibly started a business. What I had done spoiled it all.

It was the day before the funeral, Officer Jenkins' good name was being besmirched and trampled underfoot. Once, he had been thought of as a kindly, generous man. Now, all this had been dashed. His family was suffering, and were not having a great deal of success in defending him. All this had been caused by me! When the funeral was held, I didn't feel I could bear to go to the cemetery with the others. Even though, I didn't believe that my actions had caused his heart attack, I did feel guilt over figuratively seeing his reputation being dragged over the mud! If I was going to do anything to help remedy the situation, it had to be today.

The police station was only a few blocks from my home. I climbed the few steps leading to the door, opened it, and walked in. There was an officer sitting at a desk not far from the entrance. I walked and stood in front of him. He was busy over some papers. I waited patiently. He raised his head and looked at me. He spoke only one word, yes? His question so unnerved me, I almost lost my resolve to say the next few words.

"Officer," I said, "Jennings had nothing to do with the attempted theft. I am the guilty person!" The officer at the desk stared at me for a few seconds. "You're the guilty one?" he asked. "Just a moment, I'll get someone in to take your statement. Why are you doing this?"

"I thought about that same question, Officer," I said. "I guess I might say that it was a matter of integrity. I just couldn't see an innocent person believed guilty of something I had done."

Today is my first day of freedom from prison. I've had many years thinking about that decision to help make things right! I think it was the correct one under the circumstances.

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