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"I have to pick up Ian." Janice sighed, as she collected her bag. "His teacher called. Apparently, he's running a temperature."
Geoff watched her walk away, back held strong, waving at co-workers on her way out. In the three years that as her boss, he had watched her often. With a rising desperation each time.
He had alternately loved and hated Janice. He had fallen hard for her, on their first encounter in the elevator that took them up to their twenty-third floor office. She had laughed and joked with everyone there, making sullen Monday morning faces bloom. She had smiled at him easily, drawing him into her warm radiance and holding him captive.
He had hated her the day that she had made an effective presentation, the following month, proving that the sales strategy she had proposed was a better choice. Over his. Of course, none of it was intended that way. When she was divorced a year later, unexpectedly, the light in her had dimmed, and he had rejoiced. He barely admitted it to himself, but he needed her to fail. He wondered if his high pressure tactics on the team contributed to the collapse of her marriage. He had pressured her often into handling more than she needed to.
"She's a woman. Women always look for the easy way out, you know the story. Kids, in-laws, husbands. That's why my Sandy never worked. I put my foot down and ended that whole career aspiration thing with her. How far could she have gone anyway? Janice has to prove herself."
"But Geoff," began another manager, "she's done that. Many times over. She talks about her family, like all of us. But she's never expected a lighter load or easy routes. Even worked overtime on weekends because she took time off when Ian was a baby, and would fall sick."
Geoff had glared, challengingly. No one had said anything after that. But the other managers, all of whom happened to be male, were terribly uncomfortable.
Finally, today, she had left in the middle of the day. She always had a system in place to ensure that her little Ian was never put through discomfort, and that her job did not suffer. Geoff loved her more than he loved Sandy. Sandy who was a submissive wife. Sandy, who never contradicted him. Sandy, who could never imagine that he thought of Janice in their intimate moments.
He wanted to possess Janice and break her all at once.
His hands shook as he thought of the events of the morning. 'No', he told himself, 'no one will ever find out. She must never find out. And she must leave. I'll be there to pick up the pieces after. But she has to go.'
Janice took Ian to his pediatrician. "Ear infection," the doctor announced, frowning into the otoscope.
Janice sighed, in relief and mild worry. "How long does he need to stay home, doctor?"
"I'd say about a day. Start his antibiotics today. He'll be good to go the day after tomorrow."
After they were home, Ian sucking on his lime lollipop, Janice checked her work emails. She would have to let Geoff know that she wouldn't be able to make it tomorrow. Only the second time in two years that she'd taken time off.
She fought off the familiar sadness that threatened to take over. Ever since Michael had walked out, this happened to her at unexpected times. Thank goodness for her boss and colleagues. They were accepting and understanding of her emotional state. She'd never given them cause to doubt her commitment, and she saw Geoff watching her, with a sad look on his face. He must sense, she thought, her anguish at her broken family. He was a family man after all. So very supportive of Sandy. Who looked like she needed it, too.
Janice recalled meeting Sandy at a company get together. She was nervous, fidgety and could barely focus when people spoke. She seemed bird brained until you looked into her eyes. They looked strange. Sort of like a frantic animal, Janice thought.
She sent off an email to colleagues and shut her laptop. After administering Ian's meds, she took him into the master bedroom and tucked him in. She hated being by herself now. Ian's small, snoring body brought peace and warmth.
It was nearly seven am when Janice woke, the next day.
Now, at her laptop, she took a healthy bite of a sandwich and scrolled past the emails. Frowning, she clicked on one.
"You need to come in to the office today. It is a mandatory meeting."
Geoff had sent it. Surely he had seen her email of yesterday?! She wrote back, refusing attendance and sent the email. There was a response in barely a minute.
"Get here. That's all I have to say."
Janice decided to take a very cranky Ian to the meeting. Leaving him with her secretary, she went looking for Geoff. Walking into his office angrily, she saw an odd assortment of people. The managers from her division, including Geoff, a plainclothes officer, and a police man.
She was greeted with silence.
"Janice Evans?" the policeman asked, approaching her.
"Yes," she said, confused.
"You're under arrest for harassment and intimidation."
"What?!" she asked, stunned.
"The emails that you've sent out have upended many lives. We have a lot of disturbed people this morning," he paused, for dramatic effect. "We believe that we have enough evidence to charge you."
"What are you talking about? I've never threatened anyone!" she said, voice rising, looking to Geoff for help.
He shook his head, and looked out the window. Janice panicked. What was this about? Something so serious out of the blue?! Why had no one ever mentioned that something was so terribly wrong. Not even when she checked her email this morning!
Before they could react, she sped out of the office, rapidly scanning the cubicles for friendly co-workers. A couple of them looked back at her, curious, yet somehow guarded. She gestured to them, requesting that she meet her in front of their work space. One or two shook their heads and went back to work. However, Max, her teammate and good friend, walked rapidly toward her.
Gesturing to the police men who came to take her away, he said, "Wait. Something's not right. I haven't been able to work all morning thinking of this. She has a young son and would never jeopardize him, right Geoff?" Geoff had stopped behind the officers. His eyes were wide. "I don't know Max." he said, never looking at Janice. "The evidence came from her computer. There was so much stuff that we couldn't ignore."
Janice took a deep breath and asked, "Back up now. I was here until noon yesterday. No one said anything about it then, or before. What happened between yesterday afternoon and this morning? How did emails suddenly get sent out? Did you check the date on the emails?"
The plainclothes officer approached her, "Apparently, they've been sent from your computer since a month now. "
"Who? Who have these emails gone to?" Janice asked.
Something of her disbelief and despair must have reached everyone. No one was working anymore. Lara, another coworker stepped forward.
"I had some. With details I haven't shared with anyone but you!" she said, hurt, but still hoping that it hadn't been Janice.
"I received some too," Max said. "You talked about some work related issues that only our team mates could have known."
Janice turned to Lara. "Which details are you talking about?"
Lara said, "About...about the case."
Janice said, "Lara, we never actually talked about that. You emailed it to me. Yesterday! We were supposed to catch up and talk this weekend!"
Lara looked taken aback. "That's true. But...what about the others? The ones that have been sent for over a month?"
Janice looked at the police officers. "Who received them? You can't arrest me without hearing what I need to say, or even questioning me about this! I deserve to know this much. Please show me the people who've received these dreadful emails."
"It doesn't matter, does it?" Geoff asked angrily, "You've done something terrible. I'll have to talk to management about firing you. No severance."
Janice shot back at him, appalled, "You go ahead and talk to anyone you want, Geoff. But I'm going to get to the bottom of this, without you!"
Geoff stood watching her for a few seconds, then approached her, dragging her by the elbow to a corner. "Janice," he began, his voice soft, "just let it go. It's been proven beyond doubt. I can't have you in the team or even at work anymore. But, but I promise I'll be there for Ian and you after. Just...trust me. I won't let you go through this alone." His voice began shaking from being so near to her. Her sadness nearly overwhelmed him but he fought for composure. She had to go. There was no other way for him to stay at the top. He would make it up to her, later.
"No." Janice said. "I don't need anyone. But I'll make sure the guilty one pays dearly."
She resolutely turned away. The plainclothes officer decided to go further with Janice. Sitting down, he pulled a folder. He motioned for Janice to join him and said, "I'm going to read out names, and you need to tell me if you know them."
"Okay," Janice said.
"Lara Tomkin?" he asked.
"My coworker, the one who was just talking to me." she answered.
"My ex-husband! Did he receive these too?!"
"Yes." the officer said. "He was livid, but couldn't quite believe it."
"Dolores Blanco?" he asked, writing something down against the names.
"Who's that?" Janice asked.
"Someone who was affected by the malicious emails. Okay, Redmond Sanders?" he continued.
"I don't know anyone by that name!"
He called out a few more, and Janice denied knowing every one of them.
The plainclothes officer considered her for a long time. "Sandy Wilson?" he asked, finally.
"Geoff's wife. I've met her a few times."
"She was the angriest of the lot of them. In fact, she wanted you behind bars anyway. She said that you were trying to wreck her home." The officer watched her face. He could only see utter confusion.
"Look, officer," Janice began earnestly, "I don't believe any of this. Sandy and I never had a formal relationship. No emails, no nothing. She was there at company get togethers, and even then, we talked only a little."
The plainclothes officer said, "Stay here," and went to further discuss the issue.
"I never thought that this was as cut and dried as it seemed. It was all too perfect. Recipients lined up, the timing and just the two coworkers who happen to be on the same team as her, more people whom she doesn't know, that received emails. She doesn't look like the type. Okay...okay..." he said, raising his hands up, "I know one shouldn't go by appearances, but my gut instinct tells me that it isn't her."
"Then who do you think it is?" the policeman asked.
"That's what we're about to find out. Why did all of this come out yesterday and today, when she wasn't at work? Why not in the terrible month past?" he paused, then asked, "Why did the boss's wife get it? What's in that email? Could you get me the files on the content?"
As they pored through the content, something caught the officer's eye. "So the boss's wife is having an affair, according to this email. That could explain why she was so viciously mad. Only, Janice claims she doesn't know too much about the boss' wife. Another thing. The address that Janice sends her private emails from is different from her office email. All the emails were sent through her private address. Just a minute."
He ran to Lara, who immediately began to search for what he asked. "I sent my email to her company address."
"Why did you do that? "the officer asked.
"Well, I needed her to know about my custody battle's progress. And the private email server kept crashing. So I sent it through the office email. Not saying too much. Just enough. That's why we were to catch up and discuss it later!"
Max said something similar. "I sent it to her work address. Of course, we all talk everyday. So everyone knew of my troubles. I just couldn't quite believe her opinion of my troubles and me. I always had a soft corner for her, you know. I guess I acted like a fool about it. But nothing to warrant such an opinion. If that was indeed, her opinion."
Taking Janice along, they made a stop at Sandy Wilson's house. A tear stained, bedraggled Sandy answered the door, and upon seeing Janice, nearly toppled the policeman as she rushed outside, fists bunched.
"You ruined my life! There's not a soul who knows how miserable I am, but you ruined my life. Just because you could! You know nothing about me! What have I ever done to you?!" she screamed, as the two men held her back.
"Sandy, Sandy, listen," Janice sat down too, as Sandy's knees gave out. "I never said anything. I had no idea that you were having an affair. I didn't send those emails out. I really didn't. Whoever did, had something against me, not you!"
Sniffling, Sandy asked, "Why? And why should I believe you?"
"I don't know Sandy. Except that I don't have a thing against you. I don't even know you that well. Nothing about you at all for me to say anything terrible. I don't even know what the email says. They won't tell me!"
Sandy said, "You don't?! Well I'll tell you. It called me terrible names and names the man I'm having an affair with. I want to marry this guy. Geoff kills my spirit. I can't live with him anymore. The email says that you'd make a better wife for Geoff. That...I'm just a weakling. Who...who can't contribute anything to my family. When...when I take care of everything! Without help! I've never had help from anyone. Geoff wouldn't let me. He always said that since I didn't make the money, I shouldn't spend it either! So there's nothing that I don't do for my family. Including forgetting myself!"
Janice stared. "Wait. The email said that I'd be better for Geoff?!"
"Yes! I can't believe you when you say that you didn't write it. Who else would say this?"
Janice thought back to her conversation with Geoff that day. He had said to let it go. And that he would be there for her and Ian. Gosh! Could he have meant...? Janice shook her head. It was impossible. Geoff was a good friend. Her boss. Sure they butted heads now and again. But it was always a positive outcome in the end. They sold more than anyone else and had their pick of products.
"Also, it...it said, that Geoff was going to leave me. Soon. That, he wanted a woman with a mind of her own. Funny thing is, I thought I was like that. With a mind of my own. Then I met my husband and never left."
"I didn't leave mine, Sandy. He left me!" Janice said.
Sandy blinked. "Wasn't it because you had a terrible workload, and he cheated on you, because you couldn't spend time with him?"
Janice looked confused. "How did you reach that conclusion?"
"Geoff told me!" Sandy said.
"No. That's not why. He didn't want to be married and have a baby. He's still single. Doing his thing. Just changed his mind. Like that. It had nothing to do with my workload!"
The plainclothes officer sat down by the two women. "So Lara's email says that she wasn't a good mother. That the custody battle was going against her. And that the system she's working on, to quicken client's payment times, was full of crap."
Janice said, "But...but...she stopped working on that. Yesterday. I took over and was supposed to work from home on it. We were going to present our report on Monday."
The officer suddenly sat up. "Wait. Who knew about Lara's role in this?"
"Me. Geoff and the team." Janice said.
"No one else?"
"How does this person know that her report was full of crap? Do you discuss your progress everyday?" the officer asked.
"No. We meet once a week. We each have parts to put together. We don't really have the time to go over stuff when we're busy with clients. We show it to Geoff as and when needed."
Lara confirmed over the phone, that she had shown Geoff her work the previous morning.
Sandy suddenly spoke up. "Did you ever talk to Geoff about your marriage?"
"No!" Janice said.
"So did you have a huge workload when your husband left?" Sandy asked.
"I wasn't in town when he left. He left Ian with my mother, along with divorce papers. He was gone when I got back. I was promoting stuff in LA. Also, all those other people you asked me about, officer, are there more connections?"
The officer showed Sandy some names and she pointed to neighbors homes.
The officer took Sandy indoors and said, "Stay in. I don't think that Janice had anything to do with this."
Sandy stared at him, and stayed quiet as they left. The officer went ahead to meet some of the people on the list, and upon his return to the car, refused to tell Janice anything. They drove on in silence.
Back at the office, Geoff was hurriedly dismantling his own computer, when the officer walked in. He had dropped Janice and Ian home, and had spoken to a few of the managers.
"So, was it you or Sandy?" the officer asked.
"What are you talking about?" Geoff asked.
"The emails. Either one or both of you did this."
"That's nonsense! Why would we do such a thing?"
"To let Sandy go, as she's wanted to, and pull Janice down, so she takes her place. Of course, using Lara and Max was a bad idea." The officer couldn't be sure. But it was worth a try.
"What about the others?" Geoff asked, surprising the officer, and giving him further confirmation of his suspicions.
"The others were Sandy's handiwork. You both got into Janice's computer. Sandy started it off as emails to those guys. The guys Janice doesn't even know. I found that you have trouble with all of those people. They've complained about your lack of participation in the housing society. Which given Sandy's workload at home, and your obsession with work, is not surprising. Sandy, being Sandy, began targeting them, after retrieving the admin passwords from you. You sent her the email, didn't you? Based on your suspicions?"
Geoff sat quietly at first. Then, he said, "I wanted her to leave. Actually, I've wanted to leave her forever now. Then one of those bozos told me that the residents were concerned about a strange pick-up truck that arrived everyday, half an hour after I left. I found out about the other guy soon enough. And saw a way out for all of us. After Sandy sent those emails, I told her that Janice usually left her computer on. And so she just got up and left."
"Why did you pick on Janice?"
"Because she's going to soar one day! Leave me behind in the dust! I've never seen a woman do that. It would be so wonderful if she stayed in her place. As a woman. At home. But...that's the wonderful thing about her. She's so captivating. I can't stand it. I was going to offer her my help after. And take care of her son as my own. But she wouldn't let go. Like always!"
The officer waited.
Geoff continued, "Sandy doesn't know that I sent the other emails out. The last one was to her. She didn't know that I knew about her affair. So she really believed that it was Janice who had found out."
Later that evening, Janice was beside herself when she heard the whole story. The managers breached protocol, when all of them, with their spouses showed up in her little home. She stood in her pink track pants, as they let her know that she was absolved of all charges and that she would lead the team from now on.
Geoff and Sandy were imprisoned and upon release, sought a mutual divorce. While Sandy's man waited for her eagerly, Geoff had nowhere to be in particular. He was last seen by the bay bridge, a week after his divorce.
Janice rocked as the manager for her team, and Ian began to look forward to Max's visits to their home. It gave him the male influence that he so desperately needed.
Lara and Janice patched up, and Janice was present for Lara's daughter's fifth birthday.
"Girls rule!" said the pink banner outside Lara's house. Thank goodness Ian didn't know how to read yet, Janice thought, smiling.