© 2007 Rodney Cox
Bill Peterson was busy at work when he ran into a quandary both professional and moral. While going over invoices sent to a big customer he realized that they had seriously over paid. A decimal point had been moved to theh right, resulting in an overpayment of tens of thousands of dollars. Everything looked correct in his computer, but he had the original price quote.
Bill sat and thought for a bit. He had heard other guys in the office talk about similar situations. All you had to do was correct the information in the computer, siphon off the difference into a dummy account and then create an outgoing invoice and have the money sent to a bank account of his choosing. His company made thousands of transactions a day. It would go unnoticed.
This was the Holy Grail to his colleagues. Free money for the taking. He had heard whispered accounts of the lucky few who had found such an over payment. And now, here he was looking at one such mistake. It felt like winning the lottery.
Just then a co-worker, Doug, came into his cubicle to ask Bill something and noticed his blank stare.
“What’s the matter?” he asked stepping closer.
Without thinking, bill murmured, “I’ve found an overpayment.”
“What? Let me see!” The co-worker said looking at the screen. “That’s a nice one there.” His tone became softer and conspiratorial. “You’d better take care of that before someone else does.”
‘I don’t know if I should…” Bill began.
“What are you nuts? No one would ever know and that’s a huge amount of money. I could pay off my house with that.”
“What if the customer notices they paid more?”
“It will be too late by then. Their insurance would handle it. There would be no proof,” Doug asserted.
“But couldn’t they see where the money went?”
“Not if you deleted the extra transactions. As far as our company would know we were paid the correct amount. Even if they did realize that we were over paid, they wouldn’t know where the extra money had gone.”
“I guess you’re right.”
His co-worker slapped him on the shoulder as he left. “Easy money, man. What a lucky dog.”
Bill sat thinking some more. He was working out in his mind what he would need to do to make this work. It was possible and really not that hard to do. He could get away with it.
Wow, he thought, that money could be used to start a life together with Marla and Tanya. He could do a lot with that kind of money. It was a lot more than Bill made in a year. He warmed up to the idea and what he could buy for Marla and her daughter.
Bill was about to go ahead with it, but something stopped him. It was images of Marla and Tanya. he knew Marla wouldn’t approve and he tried to imagine telling her where the money came from. He winced at the thought. The more he thought about her, the less he liked his scheme.
But he didn’t have to tell her about the money. He could keep it hidden, maybe invest it for retirement or for Tanya. However, he would then be keeping something from the woman he loved. The secret would lay between them all their lives. He didn’t relish that. But it was a huge amount of money! Marla would understand. No, she wouldn’t, Bill realized. She was a remarkable woman and he couldn’t imagine doing anything to jeopardize their relationship.
While he was thinking this, coworkers would walk by and wink at him or give him a thumbs up. They all know. If he didn’t do it, he would be a laughing stock. It would be hard to live down the ridicule.
He sighed. Why did this have to be so hard? Why had this happened to him? It reminded him of Marla talking about the Gods testing us. Was this a test? Being familiar with the Norse sagas, he still didn’t know what to do. What would Odin do? he thought. Odin would take the money and use it to further his goals. Thor would probably take the money and use it to help people. Loki would... Well, that was a no-brainer really. Then Bill thought of Tyr. Tyr would give the money back because that was the right thing to do, not because it was what he necessarily wanted to do.
Bill really wanted to keep the money. It would be easy and he would gain the respect of his co-workers. But it would be wrong and he would lose the one thing that really mattered to him. He didn’t need that kind of respect from his fellow workers. Besides, there was always the chance of getting caught and losing his job or ever going to jail. That would be disastrous. But it was a lot of money, and it would be so easy to take. Maybe it was too easy.
The more Bill thought about it, the worse he felt. Bill realized that beyond the risks, losing Marla or going to jail, he would know what he had done and it would eat at him. He had always thought of himself as an honest person, but something of this magnitude would destroy that image. To get out of this intact, there was only one course of action.
Acting quickly and decisively, Bill corrected the invoice and submitted a repayment for the company, General Dynamo, who had over paid. He sat back after he was finished and realized he felt good. There was nothing to worry about now. Well, almost.
Doug stopped by later. “Well, how did it go?” he asked eagerly.
“I didn’t do it. I corrected the invoice and submitted a repayment.”
“What! Aw man, what a waste. You could have at least let me do it. Why did you chicken out?”
“It just didn’t feel right. If I had been caught the results would have been disastrous. Besides, it would have been wrong.”
“Wrong? That’s a relative term. The two companies involved are big enough to absorb this without blinking.”
“Like I said, it didn’t feel right. Anyway, it’s done and over with now.”
Doug looked at Bill in disbelief, then walked away. It wasn’t really over, Bill realized, but only beginning. All through the day, he had to endure the looks, the jokes behind his back. Even from Roger, who usually came to work hung over and didn’t care to interact with others. There was one bright point when his friend Stan stopped by.
“I heard about the over payment. Is it true?” he asked.
“Yeah. I corrected it and put in for repayment.”
Stan clapped him on the shoulder. “Well, I’m proud of you. That must have been tough. How much was it?”
Bill told him.
Stan whistled. “Wow, that’s a lot. And a big temptation.”
Bill nodded. “But you know what? I feel really good about it.”
Stan smiled. “Good man. Honesty has it’s own rewards even if it’s just sleeping well at night.”
“Don’t let the others bother you. It’ll blow over soon,” Stan told him.
“I hope so.”
“Hey, you seeing Marla tonight? If not we could go out for a beer after work if you like. My treat.”
“I’m seeing her. But thanks for the invite. We still on for dinner tomorrow?”
“Of course. Well, better get back. Later.”
Bill made it to the end of the day and was getting ready to go when a figure appeared at the entrance of his cubicle. It was Mr. Spalding, the president of the company. He was an older man with white hair and a face full of distinguished wrinkles. His eyes were bright and sharp, however. Bill found himself standing, feeling like he was called to the principal’s office.
“Yes, that’s me,” replied Bill. He noticed his hand going out. The older man shook it. His grip was firm.
“Do you have a moment? I can see you are leaving, but would like a brief word with you.”
“Sure, no problem.”
“The president of General Dynamo, a friend of mine, called me today to report that they had over paid and asked me to look into it. When I did I found that the invoices had been corrected and a reimbursement scheduled. I also overheard some younger employees discussing someone who had not taken advantage of an overpayment. Would this be you?”
“Yes, sir. I made the corrections.”
“Could you have made the over payment work in your favor?”
Bill looked a bit sheepish. “Oh yes. It would have been relatively easy to do. I could have covered my tracks pretty well.”
“But you didn’t?”
“No sir. It felt wrong. I needed to do the proper thing.”
Mr. Spalding looked at Bill for a moment. “I wanted to come here and thank you personally. You saved me from a real embarrassing situation with my friend. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” said Bill with a smile.
The older man turned to go, but paused. “You didn’t send the re-payment looking for some kind of reward did you?”
Bill looked puzzled. “What? No. I was just doing my job.”
Mr. Spalding looked pleased. “Very good. It’s been a pleasure meeting you.” And then he left.
A few weeks later Bill realized that his friend Stan was correct. Honesty did
have rewards. He had gotten a raise, a big one. No one said anything but Bill
knew where it had come from. Bill smiled, sending a silent prayer of thanks
to Tyr, happy he had done the right thing.
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