I'm not really supposed to be so fascinated by people. Maybe the lack of innate understanding exacerbates it – but I talk to psychologists, and they don't seem to think I can join the ranks. My father recommended following in his footsteps.
"It's just less direct interaction with people, but you help the ill just as much!"
My father is the CEO of Gielson Pharmaceuticals Inc. He says it's supposed to be very pragmatic, and that I have business savvy in my blood. And I hear him on the phone to his employees. He oozes charisma and small talks like you wouldn't believe. He knows the names and ages of at least a dozen of his employee's children and he makes it sound so natural. I don't have issues with my memory, but I do have trouble asking after my classmate's siblings by name without sounding like I have erotomania.
Dad is in Cabo and he's pinned up a list of things I need to do on the fridge. Under the list of chores, he's underlined the amount of money I will be receiving upon his return: $150. I've started from the bottom, having already cleaned up the kitchen and the bathroom, I'm shredding printed emails in his private office. It's been a boring day, and I'm making that my excuse to peek at the contents of the emails...just during the split second my hand is moving them towards the shredder's slot. I did this sometimes when he was away. I've only found something interesting a few times, the one I can remember at the moment being a series of emails in which my dad volunteered to cover up for a senior manager's affair with a saleswoman. Today brings no exception to my father's standard of mundane correspondences. There are two new Steves. Linda's baby went to daycare, and she's back to work.
My eye catches an unusual input in the recipient field: ""
I yank it out of the shredder, ripping the bottom quarter of it off.
I have a guy I'd like you to meet after the Ponies game Saturday. He's the Chairman of Wellmainster Hospitals, a nice guy. We need some entertainment for after the negotiations. Bring your friends and tell him about how we help you with your job, and the comedowns from coke ;)
I reread the email. That is on a level of cryptics I've rarely seen my father use. Even when I was younger, he never simplified or used words or phrases I'd understand better when talking to me. He never left details I wouldn't understand out, especially when talking about his work. It wasn't a parenting technique as far as I know, and if it was I'm not sure it would be highly recommended by developmental psychologists.
I slip the rest of the piece of paper in the shredder and try to finish the first quarter of the pile by noon.
I feel uneasy about the email I read. I felt pressure in my body, welling over in my head. I was hypothesizing about what my dad was on about and what exactly it was that helped Gayle come down from coke.
A drug. That'd make sense. Maybe my dad gives them to her? But they're supposed to be prescription only.
No matter what I came up with, nothing seemed like a morally feasible explanation.
And it occurred to me maybe what's happening is not moral. Hell, it's probably not legal either.
I know enough about people to know when they're hiding their intentions, but I have to remind myself that's all I know. But is it? I think that's what makes intuition dangerous. It's the same feeling as anxiety, same properties, likely to influence you to do the same things - but the difference being if you're wrong, it's anxiety, and if you're right, it's intuition.
Eventually, my worries tick over to the point where I decide to ask for advice. Legal advice. The first thing I have known for sure today is who to contact, so I pull out the phonebooks and carry them to the kitchen table.
Beau-Johansson, Malene. She is a true delinquent - having been sentenced to juvenile detention thrice, she argued her way off each and every time. Her mother, Lisbet, spoke with a heavy Swedish accent.
"Hello? Who is this?"
"Hi, um, Mrs Johansson. My name is Ophelia Gielson, I go to school with Malene?"
"Ahaha, hi. I'll get her on the phone."
It takes about three seconds for Malene to pick up.
"Hey, Ophelia, what can I do for you?'
"Uh, I need some advice. Legal advice."
"Ophelia, you know I'm not a lawyer, right?"
"Ah, uh, I know."
Well, that was the wrong thing to say. I give my best forced chuckle and try to move on.
"Just because you do so well in Law Studies. And because you got yourself out of juvie. Three times."
Malene laughs. I've seen her in the library, discussing alcohol possession laws with a cheerleader. I know she enjoys this like nothing else.
"What's the issue?"
"There's something going on in my dad's company..."
"Ophelia, I don't do corporate law."
"I know! I just mean it's not my expertise area. It's yours and uh, I'm trying to figure out what's happening in this email I found. I think I need an interpreter."
"Okay. Text me the document."
Alright! But that means I have to scan it and text it to her? Email it? If this does end up being something I don't want an acquaintance to have the proof.
"Uh, maybe you can just come over?"
"Hm, where do you live? Oh that's right, Cody Crescent. Turn left at the kid with the mini Mercedes. Seeya"
Four hours later I am staring at the ceiling, writing words in the air above me with my finger.
Four letters. Speaking of things that don't concern my father;
As soon as I finish the S my phone buzzes.
Malene: im here.
I slowly walk to the window in the hall that overlooks the front yard. Sure enough, her butterface is peering through the gate. I walk down to let her in.
"This looks really serious, Ophie" she says as she furrows her unkempt brows.
Intuition it was. And Ophie?
"So what do you think's happening?" I say.
"I think it looks like a conflict of interests thing. Hard to tell without more correspondence proving it."
I race upstairs and get the emails I didn't shred. As soon as I thump them down on the counter she begins sorting into two piles. She does quickly, and I notice her tongue sticking out of her teeth.
"How are you going so quickly?" I wonder aloud.
"Looking for keywords." She doesn't slow down.
Soon she has one 400 page pile – the rejects. She carefully reads the remaining 76 pages.
Long after I've tuned out and starting watching a seagull fight out the window, she nudges me; "Here's what he sent to the guy in the first email."
Happy to be reviewing our contract again for the coming decade. We've got box seats at this weekends Ponies game and I have some lady friends to see you.
"So that tells us...not much more than we already knew. Apart from the fact the chariman is probably a willing part of this...scheme."
"The details of the contact aren't being discussed in the emails and instead of having a meeting with the rest of his board, they're doing it at a football game. What does that tell you about the negotiations they're undertaking?"
"It tells me they are trying to keep the negotiations under covers. So, yes, likely illegal."
Malene pauses for a second.
"I hope you don't mind I did some research on Gielson Pharmaceuticals before I came. They have registration of Zanlox, a popular prescription drug used for recreational purposes. That's probably what Gayle uses to come down from cocaine, whoever she is? Do you know?"
"Who she is."
"I met her once. She gave me fifty bucks to get me to go away, so she could talk to my dad."
Malene looks at me with some measure of confusion.
"I was five."
She laughs. "I bet we could punch up the name of her company on Google."
She pulls out her laptop and does just that.
"Blondes Have More Fun is an escort company, Ophelia. Your dad is bribing this man with prostitutes. Who knew pharmaceutical company CEOs could party like stockbrokers in the 80s?" she says.
I sleep peacefully that night, dreaming of an alternate universe where everything is the same, except I possess a wooden arm. This is a reoccurring dream of mine.
Here's something you'll never hear a girl say again: I am very pretty. I have long caramel coloured hair, big green doe eyes. I am dimpled, freckled, acne free. Not too tall and not too skinny, but neither fat nor short.
I don't know what it is, but if you are a pretty girl, people expect you to be socially skilled.
I am a unpleasant surprise for most people. A jumpscare. A ton of mould inside a Capri Sun. My packaging does not give any clues as to my interior.
But if I took one of my skinny little arms and replaced it with a retro looking wooden arm, made of oak? I think people might expect me to be a little clumsy. I think people would embrace me if I weren't always likened to a jack in the box.
Just before Malene left last night, she took the thinner pile of emails home. She vowed to come back the next day with her research done.
She calls early in the morning. In fact, she calls so early I miss her first call as I sit up and try to get enough sleep out of my eye to read the caller ID. I call her back.
"Good morning Ophie. Your father is running a kickbacks scheme." She sounds bright and chirpy.
"Good morning. Are you coming today?" I slur.
"Yeah, I'm outside your house."
She hangs her red coat at the door.
"So what's a kickbacks scheme?" I enquire.
"Look, in the context of what you dad's doing, it means he's giving people gifts and likely arranging compensation for doctors to prescribe his drugs."
We sit down on a sofa, thighs touching.
"Very much so."
She picks up the TV remote and flicks onto Nickelodeon.
"To answer the rest of your questions: your father can be charged, and somebody in the company is eventually going to whistleblow."
"Inevitably." she nods.
"Can I ask for some advice?" I look her in the eye. It hurts a little bit, like I'm staring into the sun.
"More legal advice?" she smiles
"No, actual advice."
She stretches out her lips and crinkles her forehead. She has one dimple on her left cheek, which in contrast to the rest of her face, is a spot of clear skin.
"I might be less qualified to give that than I am to give cooperate law advice." she grins, but her eyes look tired.
I leave the question for a bit. I might need some time to prepare for the answer.
She talks to me all day. She never gets tired and there's no type of conversation that bores her. I watch her tie her hair back when she eats warmed-over spaghetti when the clock hits six. Afterwards she takes me on a walk to the park.
"Look how the sunset shines off the garbage can. God, how come it's so shiny?" she says.
It is beautiful. The sky contorts around the metal and it's low resolution, unfocused.
"It looks like a photo taken on an iPod touch." Malene crouches down to get a better look at it and her face floats into the foreground. What a sight.
We hang out on the swings, where I ask for advice again. She grins fully this time.
"Is it boy trouble?"
No, no, no. The things you don't know, Malene...
"No. Uh, do you think I should turn my dad in?"
She turns away from me for a second. Then she turns back around, and looks me straight in the eye. I almost wince.
"Look at it this way. These drugs are not being prescribed because they're what's best for the patients. They're being prescribed because the CEO got a couple million bucks and chlamydia from a prostitute, both on your dad's dime."
"And this is the business I'm going into?" I sigh.
"Is it now?"
"My dad says I should. It's more analytical, better for people with autism. I'd rather be a psychologist."
She sighs, picking dirt out from under her fingernails.
"Your dad is a drug pusher, working in plain sight. I say you should turn him in."
I look her in dead in the eye. It doesn't hurt this time around.
"You think so?"
"I know it'll be hard. But if you don't do it, someone else will."
"I mean stuff like this only goes undetected for so long. You, a thirteen-year-old girl picked up on it. It's obviously boiling just below the surface."
I sleep in spurts that night, tossing and turning in my father's king size bed. At approximately 3am I begin ruminating.
People don't do cocaine because they think it's good for them. People administer cocaine to themselves with the idea that it's quite the opposite in mind. But when you take a prescription drug given to you by a doctor, you need to be able to trust that it's good for you. If the doctors are being bribed with money and experiences, they can't do that...But it's my dad. If I turn him in, will he ever forgive me?
"Huh?" Two brown eyes peek out from under the duvet. I shake. I've speaking out loud, because I thought was alone.
"Malene, what's the time?" I say as coolly as I can, noticing a slight tremor in my voice.
She checks her watch "4:37am."
I feel like I've been indecently exposed. I'm embarrassed, but I don't want to ask her to leave.
"How much of that did you hear?"
"A bit of it."
I crinkle my forehead and switch off the lamp.
"Wake me up in the morning, because I won't get up on my own" she yawns.
Malene convinces me to at least type up a letter to an ethics in medicine committee – we choose a small, state based one. She gives me the legal lingo to express my ethical concerns, and after we're finished she says to me; "We make a great team. Wanna custom paint a van and go solve more mysteries?"
"No, but would you let me take you to the movies Saturday?"
I let out one, big exhale after that, as if I'd been holding something in.
I hope she knows I meant a date.
How do I clarify that?
"Sure. Is this your way of thanking me for my time?"
I chuckle "If that's what the kids are calling it."
"Okay. Hey, I should go now." She picks up her coat and puts on her boots. How affectionately should I say goodbye?
"Bye bye, Ophie."
She tilts forward on the top of her boots and kisses me, long and hard. With that she walks on into the snow.
I print out the letter and stick it in an envelope. Looking for stamps I am struck by some sense of compassion for my father.
He is running a business that perhaps has lost understanding of their industry and their consumers. I would hope my father really believes in some way, he is helping people, even if that desire has drifted into his subconscious. Maybe if instead of hearing it from a disciplinary board, he heard it from his daughter, who he wants so badly to take over Gielson Pharmaceuticals. I want to believe that would recapture his ideals.
I take one thumbtack out of the perfectly arranged pinboard and stick up the letter up, on a slant, so by contrast it stands out from the straight alignment of everything else.