No one knew how much I’d squirreled away; small amounts, withdrawn from the company’s “slush fund” over the months, years and decades had created a tidy sum of more than $3.5 million at last count. It was stashed in closets around the house, in the garage freezer, and in several lockers at the bus station, never in banks or investment funds: Too easy to trace. And offshore accounts are for spy novels, not for a 62-year-old divorced guy who wants to retire comfortably in Gulf Shores to watch the sunsets and fish for King Mackerel off the Perdido Pass Pier. No one knew that my true intention was a one-way drive down to Mazatlán, Mexico. I hated fishing.
I did my job well as a controller for the Kitchen and Cabinet Company of Columbus. It was steady work, even during the downturn of ‘08. But it paid scratch compared to my friends who steadily climbed the corporate ladder to CEOs and CFOs of their companies. I wasn’t jealous because I didn’t have to work nearly as hard, and with my small withdrawals from the company’s profits, I was bringing in just as much cash as those suckers. And mine was all tax-free.
I was confident I was going to walk out of KCCC free and clear. No one suspected a thing. At least I prayed they didn’t. The butterflies in my stomach were doing aerial acrobatics, night and day. The company asked me to train a new kid to take my place. He was a sharp college grad who thought he knew everything. And the more time I spent with him, the more I was convinced he did. What if he noticed the discrepancy? What if he caught on to my scam? “Only five days left, and you’re home free.” I repeated the mantra over and over.
On my last day in the office, I drove my beat-up Ford Taurus into the lot and parked in my usual space – back row, 3rd spot from the end. I needed the exercise if I was going to lounge on the beach without a shirt and not repulse every other retiree. As I got out of my car, I noticed movement at the periphery of my vision, and turning to realize, ‘This changes everything!’” My butterflies suddenly flew to Mexico, where I would soon follow.
A banner above the employee entrance proclaimed, “HAPPY RETIREMENT!!” Many of the employees I’d worked with (and bilked) over the years, were there to see me off. Balloons were tied to the door and as I walked toward the crowd, the head of the company walked toward me. He extended his right hand, and I shook it heartily. In his left hand he held out a key fob and gestured to a bright blue, brand new Toyota. “For all your years of dedication and loyalty, Jim!” It was only the first of many kind words and meaningful gestures that day.
I drove the new car out of the lot that evening, my last day on the job. I hated to sell the car the next day, but I loved that Taurus. It had so much trunk space for my baggage.