Pedro Martinez had entered the United States illegally. There was no denying the fact. He was part of a group of 20 individuals brought over in the false back of an 18-wheeler from Mexico in early spring two years ago. To pay for the privilege, he made a cash contribution to his wife’s distant cousin, Jose Ortega, who was running a human smuggling operation on the American side of the border. Plus he was committed to handing over to Jose a certain proportion of his meagre wages from his new job every week. This was acceptable to Pedro.
He had been hired to do strenuous manual labor in the shipping department of a northeastern industrial concern. Pittsburgh Printing & Publishing Inc. (PPP) was happy with his work and Pedro was content enough with his lot in life, sending remittances home to Ciudad Juarez on a regular basis. Nevertheless, he had just been told to report to human resources. That’s where he was sitting now, alone and worried, but he was hopeful Jose would be able to help him, through his connections with the company. After all, Jose had always come through before.
But there was a problem. The authorities were increasingly cracking down on firms that used workers of dubious origin. It was a matter of the electorate becoming fed up with paying for the health care and other social welfare benefits of individuals who may or may not be forwarding taxes. Plus there was the popular rallying cry of saving American jobs for American workers. Never mind that those jobs were of the kind few American workers would ever consider as acceptable anymore. Jose knew his whole operation was in jeopardy. However, he was confident his benefactor within the company, Samuel Strongarm, would be able to protect him.
But there was a problem. Sam Strongarm was head salesman and VP of operations of PPP. He also had a significant influence over hiring decisions. Recently, Sam had been risking his good fortune. He’d been accepting “gifts” from clients in order to gain them advantageous printing deals. The largesse included front-row seats at Pirates, Penguins and Steelers games. He’d also been placing orders and accepting commissions for sales where the supposed purchaser wouldn’t acknowledge it had made any such commitment. Accounts receivable began to take notice. Sam had an ace up his sleeve. Not so coincidentally, the President of PPP, Fred Redink, was his brother-in-law. Sam was confident Fred would be able to cover up his indiscretions.
But there was a problem. That very day, the auditors of PPP had been questioning Fred about his company’s office cleaning contract. Compared with other such deals in the Pittsburgh area, PPP was paying way too much. This led to an examination of other outside supply agreements. A familiar pattern was emerging. The suspicion would not go away that there was a systematic awarding of work on a kickback basis. The auditors were refusing to sign off on the books. This was going to leave Fred in a very awkward position with shareholders. But he was hopeful that his lawyer, Kyle Lawless, would be able to pull a few strings and get him off the hook.
But there was a problem. Kyle had gotten in over his head in a real estate transaction. He had used money under his control through power of attorney authorization in a couple of fiduciary trust situations to make a down payment on a commercial property. He was speculating he would be able to quickly flip the piece of land for a profit and return the money. Then the market unexpectedly turned sour. Kyle was left with a shortfall of resources and his clients were stripped of their cash assets. They had been quite vocal in their denunciations of both him and his practice. The law society was coming after Kyle with a vengeance. The best he could hope for was disbarment. Jail time wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. His fondest hope was to call in a favor from his politically-connected former colleague, Congressman Lee Wrongturn.
But there was a problem. Lee Wrongturn had won his seat based on a campaign promise of restoring integrity to public office. He had pledged to clean up corruption. Unfortunately for him, however, FBI surveillance cameras proved to be immune to rhetoric. He was filmed as part of a sting operation in a downtown hotel accepting a cash bribe in return for guaranteeing a building contract. Now his career appeared to be in ruins. But, against all odds, politicians had been known to make comebacks from worse catastrophes. If only Lee could get the Governor, Elijah Doright, on his side, the situation might be saved. Elijah was known as an upright and religious man. If he stood behind you, that was a good enough endorsement for most people’s tastes.
But there was a problem. The week before, several neighbours of Mr. and Mrs. Doright, in one of the ritziest residential enclaves in the city, witnessed quite the spectacle on the couple’s front lawn. In the wee small hours of the morning, Mrs. Doright chased Mr. Doright in and out amongst the bushes in a wildly erratic pattern while swinging a baseball bat. All the while, she was screaming about his infidelities and womanizing ways. The tabloids got hold of the story and the feeding frenzy began. Pictures emerged of Elijah in the company of a notorious madam. He wasn’t giving her religious instruction. He’d been caught with his pants down. From being the poster boy for clean living, he’d fallen hard and fast. He needed to take steps to rehabilitate his image. Elijah decided to step outside the political arena and turn to the culture of celebrity. He was, after all, a mentor to point guard “Hands” Henderson of the Philadelphia 76ers.
But there was a problem. “Hands” had recently come under the microscope with respect to gambling on basketball games. He was a superstar athlete and earned an annual stipend which would have choked a python. But he’d gotten into financial trouble through his dealings with investment banker Myron Egypt. “Hands” had been turning over all of his money to Myron for several years and at first the payback was astonishing. A select group of clients raved about what Myron was earning them. This kept bringing in new investors. Financial watchdogs took a look. It became clear old investors were being paid with the money raised from new investors. The whole pyramid scheme came crashing down. To make back some of his lost fortune, “Hands” had fallen easy prey to a point-shaving scheme hatched by organized crime.
All of these remarkable circumstances combined to leave Pedro alone in the executive offices of PPP. He was now pretty much in charge of the company, with a few production line workers to lend him assistance. That didn’t bother Pedro. He was prepared for such a circumstance. He had what he was sure were some innovative and inspired ideas to drive the business. As a first step, he was going to the nearest variety store to buy a lottery ticket to raise investment funding.