Thursday, June 24, 2010

Family Business

First of all, I’m one of those characters with a huge, dark, dreadful secret that keeps me up at night, which I don’t mind telling you, since you don’t know me, and never will. I’m not even dramatic enough to draw it out or create a sense of suspense. I’m not a storyteller, after all.

I’m a blackmailer.

And it’s worse than that. I’ve only got one target, and that’s my dad. Seven years ago, while employed as a low-level peon at one of his factories over my summer break, I stumbled across incontrovertible proof that he was skimming off the top, which is crazy, because my dad’s already filthy rich. Even my stepmom can’t spend it as fast as he makes it.

So, probably the right thing to do would have been to go to my uncle, who’s on the board, but instead, I marched up to Dad’s office, slid some incriminating documents off his desk, and demanded my cut.

“Or else what?” my dad sneered.

“Or else I tell Grandpa. And Grandma. And Uncle Geoff. And Jenny.” Jenny’s my big sister, and she’s been angling to get rid of Dad for years, since the divorce, maybe even before.

For pretty much the first time in my life, I saw my dad sweat. “What if I stop?”

“What if?” I said. “These are just Xeroxes. The originals aren’t going away. Not like I’m asking for much. Financially, you’re better off dealing me in than walking away. Unless you want to retire and let Jenny take over.”

So he wrote me a check then and there, and he even fixed it so everything appears to be on the up-and-up. I even pay taxes on the money; on the books, I’m his personal assistant.

It’s kind of my dad’s fault. Before all this, moral rectitude had been a point of pride for me. I never took a drink before my twenty-first birthday; if a cashier gave me too much change, I pointed out the error and gave the extra back. I didn’t even drive over the speed limit. But it was my dad. He turned me to the dark side and now it’s impossible to give up. You don’t just stop blackmailing someone, especially when it’s all you know and you could never get another job that paid half so well with your skill set, and you’re newly married, with a baby on the way, and a wife who thinks you’ve got a nice, secure position in the family business.

But here’s what really keeps me up at night—not my own sinful path, but my sister’s straight and narrow one. Because Dad is getting older, and Jenny’s always been ambitious. Someday, she’ll get her wish. He’ll step down, or die, or she’ll find some other way to get rid of him and take his place. Jenny’s always been frugal, too. She’ll cut me off. And she’s sharp. She may well figure out why Dad was paying me off. And then I don’t know what.

So that’s why I can’t sleep at night, and why Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas morning, for me, promise about as much joy as a scheduled double root canal.

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