This begins a series of articles I’ve long wanted to write. Nominally, I practiced a career of systems software design and international computer consulting, but I sometimes came upon a more shadowy world, that of computer crime. I didn’t seek fraud but sometimes stumbled upon it, picking up undetected clues others missed.
This first story doesn’t deal with crime, per se, but it came to my attention through consulting for banks, this one deep in the Shenandoah Valley. My landlord for part of the stay was an eccentric but colorful codger who told about a neighbor who rented farm land from him but failed to pay his rent. I’d like to claim he pulled on his jug of corn whiskey as he talked, but all he did was lean back in his recliner, sip beer and smoke while Molly, a lass a third his age, clattered in the kitchen. I jotted down his story long before I became a writer, so kindly forgive error and stylistic issues as I strove to capture his dialogue.
Damn Ernie. I hounded that man all summer long for the rent. Finally last fall, I hooked up my corn picker and started up the corn rows. Now a corn picker ain’t a quiet machine, and lo and behold, neighbor Ernie come dashin’ out of his farmhouse yellin’ and cursin’ that I’m stealing his corn.
I said to him that I couldn’t possibly be stealing corn off my own land, unrented land at that. He steamed and stormed and said the seed and planting labor had been his, and anyway he was just a little late with the rent, three or four months, maybe four or five weren’t nuthin.
I told him that I was just going to keep picking corn for myself until someone showed up with rent money. He dashed off like banshees themselves chased him. Pretty soon he comes back waving his checkbook.
I said, “Ernie, are you sure there’s money in that account?” Oh yes. He told me twice there was, so I said there’d better be, and he said he wanted the corn I’d picked. I told him to consider the already picked corn interest and collection fees. Fact is, I finished the rest of that row which he just hated.
So the skinflint S.O.B. hustled off to hitch up his wagon and combine, and I find myself a few bushels better off than I was before. I cleaned up and headed in town to the bank, right past Ernie who’s racing his machinery through the fields.
Anyway, I get up to her teller window, and she says the account’s a bit short to cover the check. I asked her exactly how short, and she said she wasn’t allowed to tell me that.
So darlin’, I cajoled, is this check completely worthless, or did Ernie at least come close? Looking at her computer, she said he was purty close.
Well, I says to her kind of reflectively, I want to tell my neighbor Ernie how much he needs to cover my check. Like would he have to deposit only $10? No, she says, ten dollars wouldn’t cover it.
Well, says I, would $20 or $30 suffice? No, she smiled at me, not quite enough.
Hmm, says I, I wonder if $40 or $50 would cover it? Umm, she said to me, that first number ought to cover it.
Thank you, I says, I’ll tell that rascal he needs to put $40 in the bank. By the way, sweet thing, can I have a deposit slip? And you think maybe I can call you up? For, uh, you know, maybe dinner Saturday?
So I walked out of there with a deposit slip and her phone number. I was feelin’ purty good. What I did was get in my car and circle around through the bsnk’s drive-thru. I already had Ernie’s account number on the check, so I just filled out the slip and shot it through the tube with two $20 bills. Sure enough, the receipt came back showing $1002.39. Good on Molly.
But wait, I say, I almost forgot to cash a check. This time I send over Ernie’s $1000 check and this time I get back a thousand dollars.
Fair enough. I probably had $40 in shelled corn and a lesson I ain’t gonna rent to Ernie no more.
Earnie got stupid, though, and instead of being grateful I didn’t bounce his worthless ass along with his worthless check and turn it over to the sheriff for collection, he raised holy hell at the bank that someone manipulated his account.
I took Molly to the horse show that Saturday. Now I tell you personal like, you want to get a lady in a receptive mood, bein’ around horses will do it. Something about women and horseflesh– just a word to the wise.
Anyway, Molly, she confided the bank said it was apparent someone had taken liberties, but they couldn’t blame the teller who took the deposit and they couldn’t blame the one girl cashed the check. They just gave everybody a stern reminder warning.
Molly said Ernie wanted to call the authorities, but the branch manager explained Ernie’d be the one getting in trouble for writing bad checks. He didn’t explain Molly could have gotten in trouble too if they’d figured out her role.
Molly also said she knew I’d used her and and asked if I’d asked her out from obligation or guilt. I said I didn’t want to sully a relationship thinking I used her. She needed a lot of reassurance about that, and so Friday nights and Saturday nights we just get romantic and I give her plenty of reassuring. Been about a year now. Figure we can go on with this for a long, long time.
And he winked at the woman in the kitchen doorway.