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No Accounting for Taste

A Short Story by RM Krakoff

Sam kneels behind cases of Zingers, sweat rolling off his face, hiding from security guards and hears police sirens. He’s fearful of being caught but more concerned about having a heart attack and dying like this… hiding from cops in the Topeka Dolly Madison Warehouse.

Sam is not a criminal. He’s an accountant and a loyal employee. He’s placed himself in this unlikely situation and he can’t catch his breath.

Just a week ago, Sam had been satisfied with his life and would never have considered breaking into a business any more than he would think of jaywalking across Washburn Avenue. Sam is a model twelve year employee at the Accounting Center Inc.

As a CPA, his personal achievement is to balance at the end the day. There’s nothing else that seems to matter to him – just a balance sheet full of cells, data bars and equations.

The prominence of his 40th birthday has caused Sam to take a long, hard look at this life. He sat alone in his small, neat apartment, sipping red wine, trying to ascertain when and why his life became such a ritual of tedium.

Sam thought back to his school days, attempting to codify the events where his life turned into an arrangement of laws, rules and principles.

The cold hard truth struck Sam like a bolt of icy air - he had always been this way. Always quiet, soft-spoken …and dull. Since as far back as he could remember, he’s always been an accountant, more concerned with numbers than with people ― more concerned with a balance sheet than feelings.

How could he break out of this pitiful mold of dreariness?

Sam scrutinized his apartment as if for the first time….small yet comfortable, a stereo, two book cases. The dining table for four had never seated more than one.

In his closet there was a sea of monochromatic suits, slacks and shoes. Nary a casual shirt, short or sandal in the lot. In the bathroom, no cologne, no hair mouse, no teeth whiteners … but lots of deodorant, mouthwash and acne cream.

Sam felt doomed to depression. The reality he had heretofore ignored attacked like an invasion of locusts. Into the mirror he said, “Sam, you are a big, fat bore.”

The image Sam saw fed back the words as, “Sam—you—are—a—big—fat—bore.”

“Shit, when I speak it comes out as one—word—at—a—time.”

Sam had lain awake that night knowing he must do something with his life.

At work the next day, Sam walked into the office of a colleague, Brent Tucker, and asked if he could join him for lunch. Sam never asked anyone to lunch.

Tucker said, “Sure, why not?” and they set the time and place.

Sam singled Tucker out as the eligible bachelor type, a man who worked hard, but played harder. Sam had seen more than one female pick Tucker up after work. Never one for hallway gossip, Sam was aware of at least one office affair between Tucker and a  regional manager from the Kansas City office.

That morning, to begin altering his non-existence, Sam adorned his beige business suit with a red tie. Tucker noticed this as Sam entered Frances O'Dooley's Irish Pub & Grille and said, “What’s with the tie?”

“My new look, Tucker. What do you think?”

Tucker grunted something and buried his head back into the menu. “Did this place raise their prices again?” Tucker was a spendthrift and lived beyond his means. He chased women, the stock market and invariably failed them all. Sam wondered how two completely opposites could both become CPA’s.

Tucker finally looked up and asked, “What’s up, Parker?” Tucker seldom thought about his coworker. Sam was just another square dude in an office full of square dudes. Those nerds had always given Parker an edge with women in the workplace.

While Tucker was a pretty ordinary looking guy, the juxtaposition between the eggheads and himself was so pronounced that he seemed witty and debonair by comparison.

“The red tie is just the beginning, Tucker.”

“What beginning are you contemplating —hanging yourself?”

Sam laughed uncomfortably. “Look Tucker, I’ve been thinking about who I am and I’ve decided to make changes in my life.”

“Jeez Parker, I didn’t know you had a life.”

Tucker was cruel and Sam knew that he would have to take crap from him. He needed to toughen up and this was his baptism. “The problem, Tucker, is that I don’t like my life… and I’m coming to you for guidance, man. Are you going to help me, or should we just make small talk about work and eat lunch?”

“I’m not sure what you want from me, Parker, but if you want me to listen to your pathetic story, it’ll cost you lunch.”

Sam looked at the pricey menu and then back at Tucker, “Sure, whatever.”

Sam began to spill his heart out to Tucker, who remained silent while his eyes searched the restaurant looking for a pretty face. Following Sam’s confession, Tucker paused, looked directly at him and said, “I have three words of advice for you: Professional -Speed -Dating.”

“That stuff works?” asks Sam incredulously.

“ Listen dude, in our office Will Pultz met this babe at one of those  sessions. They get 20 guys and 20 girls in a room, they each spend three minutes one-on-one , and pick out who they want to date. It works.”

“Man, I’m not sure I’m up to all that pressure. I mean, I barely talk to women outside of the office.”

“Hey if you make a jerk of yourself, you’ll probably never see them again. It’s worth a try, and anyway, you need to end this hermit lifestyle fast. Parker, you have nothing to lose, man.”

“Tucker, did you ever try speed dating?”

“No man, what do you think I am, a loser?”

Lunch concluded and Tucker, man of his word, left the check for Donald, who calculated that Tucker’s share came to about $10 per word of advice.

An internet search revealed the one and only Speed Dating service in Topeka. Sam logged in, filled in his personal  information, processed his credit card and set his session for next Wednesday night. He needed some time to retool his wardrobe and think about topics of conversation.

Following a trip to the mall, Sam showed up dressed in Dockers, a sweater and sport coat from Eddie Bauer. He assessed his appearance. Just a shade over six feet, he had all his hair. He was relatively thin due to a bachelor’s diet —mostly salads and pasta. He was 39 but in his new casual duds might pass for …well, maybe 38? He had money in the bank, his car was paid, no ex-wife or kids. He guessed he wasn’t the worst catch in the gene pool.

He entered the private room where the Speed Dating ritual was about to commence. Big timer clocks were set to buzz. Afterward, the Dating Coach explained, you can e-mail each other at the web site.

Sam met all sorts of women that night. Some were Hispanic, others were religious, several seemed really angry with men in general. One stood out.

Her name was Amanda. Her brunette hair swept down over one eye. She seemed both icy and inviting. Sam wrote her name, A-m-a-n-d-a, in his notebook and decided to contact her.

He waited until the next afternoon to email Amanda. Within an hour, Amanda replied. She couldn’t recall who he was and asked for a description. Donald, embolden by her quick response, suggested dinner. They set the time and place.

“I remember you now,” she says downing her first of several Tequila shots. “You’re the sad one.”

“Sad? What makes you think I’m sad?”

“You have sad eyes. I don’t think your mother ever hugged you. Whatever it is, there is something sad about you.”

Sam is mesmerized by Amanda’s green eyes and decides not to pursue her sadness observations. He is trying to recall if his mother ever hugged him.

He makes small talk though dinner trying to avoid boring her. He manages this because their entire conversation consists of Amanda talking about her favorite subject – Amanda.

Sam learns she’s the only child of a British Commonwealth Diplomat, raised in private girls schools, degrees in literature and international marketing, works as a government analyst for the National Security Agency… and all he can think is, what in the hell is she doing in Topeka?

His confidence is buoyed as she suggests they move the party to her place. Reality nudges him painfully in the side, and he begins to wonder what a woman like her sees in a man like him.

Amanda lives in a large house in West Topeka. She is one person; there are five bedrooms. She pours two glasses of red wine and excuses herself. Sam wanders around the living room which he notes is larger than his entire apartment.

Amanda reappears moments later wearing an oversized Kansas Jayhawks sweatshirt. Sam gawks at her long, tanned legs and wonders if she is wearing anything under her shirt.

Amanda glides into the chair across from the couch where Sam’s eyes are fixed upon her legs. She curls her legs over the arm of her chair, never revealing her rumored undergarments. Sam watches this scene feeling giddy. Nothing seems real.

Amanda asks him if there was one thing in his life he wanted most. Before he can answer, she raises her glass of white wine and toasts, “May all your dreams come true, my friend.” This movement hikes her sweatshirt up to the line of demarcation. Sam is all eyes and ears…but he can’t find his voice.

“I’m serious Sid, if you could have anything in your life what would that be? More money, more love, fame …to be revered? What really matters to you?”

“Love is only reported in my life. Money is elusive for a CPA. Fame and reverence are things one reads about. I guess I’d like to do something important … maybe help others. Give something back to the world – I don’t know.”

“Don’t you have to have something before you can give something back?”

“Suppose so.”

“How would you like to have it all, Sid?” She stands and walks over to the couch.

“Actually, it’s Sam, and I really don’t understand what you mean.”

“Sorry Sam, it’s only that I have it in my power to change your life, make you rich, famous and loved. Make it so people will remember your name.”

“Okay, I’ll bite, why me?”

“Why not you? If not you, who then?”

“Look, this evening, the wine … my head is spinning. Are you just playing with me?”

“No, dear boy, this is all very real.” Her voice is a deep whisper and the words very real turn his ears very red.

Amanda sits next to Sam, very near.

Her hair brushes the side of his face. It has been centuries since he last smelled a woman’s scent. He leans his face towards hers and their lips meet. Within a few seconds he finds out that all Amanda is wearing is the oversized sweatshirt.

For a moment, it crosses his mind that he is being played. Fortunately, his second brain is in full control and that thought is fleeting.

This scene is replayed over the next three nights. Dinner, drinks, small talk and sex. Sam doesn’t complain. He’s no longer certain what is reality. He’s afraid he will wake up a poor slob, lonely accountant again.

He ceases thinking about Amanda’s question, “what really matters to him and his life,” and only thinks about the next sexual session.

On the fourth night, Amanda speaks. She tells him that he has only sampled the good life and that there is so much more awaiting him. She asks him to help her make him wealthy and famous.

The good life, good food and alcoholic beverages have mellowed Donald. The amazing sex has turned him into a lap dog.

She tells him that he needs to experience a truly life altering experience. She feels he would greatly benefit by doing something that is completely foreign to his upbringing, his character and even his scruples.

Donald, having enjoyed the most amazing sex in the last three days, couldn’t agree with her more.

Amanda continues explaining her thoughts. Without a truly new life-altering experience, he can never grow to be the man he wants and more importantly the man she wants. “I go to bed with men, not boys, Sam.”

At least she remembers my name. “What exactly do you want me to do?”

Amanda tells him of a huge payment being made this Friday from Wal-Mart to Dolly Madison Bakery in North Topeka. It will be a wired transaction and since the banks are closed until Monday morning, the money will sit in electronic limbo over the weekend.

Amanda wants Sam to break into the Dolly Madison offices, hack their financial systems, and transfer the funds to a Cayman Island account already open in his name. He is to transfer $27 million to that account of which $20 million is his to keep. Amanda will receive $7 million for her efforts in brokering the deal.

Blood drains from Sam’s face. He needs water. Amanda watches his reaction with concern. She is close to the deadline and finding a substitute at such a late date would be difficult. Not impossible, since Amanda has already earmarked Brent Tucker. Unfortunately, while he is a viable candidate due to his unseemly character, he’s a crappy accountant.

Amanda refuses any further sexual advances and later that evening he agrees to her plan. Besides, she’s right. I need to do something life-altering.

Amanda has obtained a security badge and the main door pass key and hands them to Sam with last instructions, “The guards eat their lunch at noon on Saturday and won’t be near the main door until after 1:00 pm. You have an hour to get in, hack the system, make the transfer and get out.”

Sam’s  sick to his stomach in fear and calls Amanda several times to end this insanity. He hangs up before her phone can ring. He is more fearful of her than the impending crime.

The Dolly Madison offices are low security. The first part of the plan goes well. Entry, hack and transfer. Most of the fear has dissipated by this time and Sam’s confidence is soaring. Amanda was right about shaking up his life.

Unfortunately, Sam has taken too long. He approaches the main door as the security team is making rounds. He manages to duck behind some potted palms. He turns toward the back door of the building in search of another exit. He uses his pass card to open the office to warehouse door. It works and he’s in.

Unfortunately, the card does not have unlimited access during non-business hours and a silent alarm is tripped to both local police and the guard station. Without knowledge of danger, Sam makes his way around the cases of Zingers, Donut Gems, and Pound Cakes.

He arrives at the back door and freezes as a bevy of guards bears down on the warehouse. He hides behind a nine foot stack of Zingers, where he sits holding his knees and begins to sob. The sound of police sirens snaps him out of his self-pity. Jail is all he can think of. He jumps and runs back toward the office door.

Fifteen feet before the door, he sees an open case of Dunkin Stix breakfast snacks on a conveyor belt. Without thinking he clears some of the contents out, climbs in and seals the carton as best he can from the inside.

For hours he sits in silence as security guards and police search the building. Determining that nothing has been taken or tampered, authorities assume the system malfunctioned and leave the building.

Later, Sam emerges from the case, heart racing, drenched in sweat, with the smell of sugar and cinnamon permeating his clothes. He still has the problem of not being able to open either door without triggering another alarm.

That night the guards make their rounds at the rear of the building. He waits for them to clear the area, opens the rear door and breaks for the darkened driveway.

He locates his car, parked blocks away, starts the engine, makes his way home and swears off seductive women forever…  women and Dunkin Stix snacks.

The next day, he drives at the Kansas City airport, boards a flight to La Guardia, takes a connection to Grand Cayman Islands. He arrives at Butterfield Bank in time to transfer the money to a bank specializing in foundations.

The money is earmarked for charity and Sam doesn’t use any. He dubs the account the Amanda Foundation, sits on the beach for two days, dines on seafood and returns to Topeka by Wednesday.

Back at work, he apologizes for his sudden illness – flu, he says, and is careful not to reveal his sunburned arms.

Amanda calls. “What happened? Why didn’t you call? Did you make the transfer?”

“Oh, so sorry Amanda, I’ve been terribly busy. I’m afraid there were a few hiccups. The money was fortunately —or unfortunately diverted —depending how one looks at it.”

Her anger is seething, “You make no sense. The money is either there or not. Have you cheated me from my share?”

“Amanda, thank you. I really needed a life-altering experience. You were right, and I’m a changed man.”

Before she could start berating him, Sam continued.

“I’m thinking you really need one yourself. Go experience something really foreign to you. You need to get back in touch with your roots…Did you know that charity begins at home?  Oh, and Amanda, money is, after all, the root of all evil!”

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