The bars closed behind me and locked. They made a clanking sound that I'd never forget. They had made that same sound for the 25 years I had been locked up in here.
The guard said, "Goodbye Harry. I hope I don't see you back here again."
"Goodbye to you too, Captain. And don't worry I'll never be back."
I'd spent the last 25 years behind these bars for a crime I didn't commit. I was convicted of 2nd degree murder. But I hadn't killed anyone.
I was framed!
Oh, it was a good frame. I should have been sentenced to death, but they couldn't find the body. And without a body, they couldn't charge me of 1st degree murder. So I went down for 2nd degree and was sentenced to 25 years in a maximum security prison. The max!
They told me that after I had served ½ of my sentence, I would be eligible for parole. All I would need to do was admit my guilt and claim remorse. The prison system was very crowded and they need the room for new blood.
By then I was a hard ass. I knew I didn't kill anyone, so every time I came up for parole, I would not admit to killing anyone. I served every day of my 25 years. They were a hard 25 years.
I entered that hell hole at 30 years of age, looking proud and strong. I left at age 55, looking like I was at least 70, and physically broken. But I was free. I had no job, no money, no friends or family, but I was free and standing on the outside.
The tears started rolling down my cheeks.
I just stood there in the bright fall sun, and remembered my life.
I had met Sally while we were in college together. We had a couple of classes together. We slowly became friends. We met in the library to study, we met in the cafeteria and ate together, and we sometimes just hung out together.
It wasn't a boy friend —girl friend thing, just a couple of people who liked each other. There were a lot of things we liked to do together. We took long walks and just talked. She was from a small town in the Midwest. She had grown up on a farm. They were a prosperous, church going family. She was an only child.
I grew up in New England also in a small village. My father was the local family doctor, my mother, his nurse and receptionist. They made a comfortable living, just enough to pay the bills and raise my two brothers and me.
Sally wanted to live in a big city with all the bright lights and wonderful experiences. I wanted the small town life I had always known.
While we were different in our desires for a future, that did not keep us from becoming lovers for our last year in college. We shared an apartment together. We had a great year.
I fell head over heels in love with her and told her so. She on the other hand never mentioned the "L" word to me no matter how passionate out sessions were. She would not commit to any future with me. There was just too much she wanted to do and see.
It was after I returned from a rehearsal for graduation, that I finally realized how firmly she wanted her freedom. I returned to our apartment and found out that while I was attending rehearsal, she had moved out. All her clothing and personnel affects were gone.
She left me without even a note.
I packed my clothes and things. I left for home two days later, a week before graduation. The college mailed me my diploma. It would be five long years before I saw her again.
I took a job as a sales representative for a small manufacturing concern in my home town and started on with my life.
As I was waiting for the bus that would take me into town to finish the end of my life, a limo pulled up in front of me, the driver exited the car and asked, "Harry Miller?"
"Please get in, sir," He said as he opened the back door. He looked firmly at me. I had no reason not to get in.
I settled into the car, temporally blind in the dark, cool interior. A male voice said, "Hello Harry, It's time we met again. I'm J. Winston Douglas. But you know me better as William Smith, Your girlfriend Sally's husband."
"He was the man I was convicted of killing 25 years ago." I remembered.
Here I was sitting in a car with him and he was holding a gun, pointed at my head. He laughed a very evil laugh.
My mind flashed back to Sally and our second meeting so many years ago.
I was the top sales man at our little company when it was purchased by one of our competitors. It was a very large competitor with far reaching offices and very large customers. I couldn't figure out why they wanted to buy us out.
About one month went by when a fleet of limousines arrived at our Company Headquarters. Gentlemen in very expensive suits entered our building. They entered our largest conference room and started examining all our operations. Department heads along with their VP's entered those rooms.
Most of the meeting lasted a couple of hours. Our guys left their meetings looking very unhappy. They never talked to any of us yet to attend our "meetings", but some just walked out the door to go home or at least across the street to the bar.
And some went back to their offices to pack up their things. They never said goodbye to any of us still waiting for our meetings. As you can guess, those of us still waiting were very quiet and very apprehensive.
We were told that Sales would meet at 8:00 am tomorrow. The only difference was that out entire division was asked to attend, from the VP of Sales, to the receptionist who answered our phones and took messages for us.
Not many of us slept that night
The next morning we were all standing and/or sitting in the conference room. One of the suits introduced himself as Arnold Derik, VP of Corporate Sales. He began speaking, "In any large corporation, Sales is one of the most important functions. You are a part of that function. It is my job to determine which of you stay and which of you will be released to pursue other employment opportunities."
He continued, "As your name is called, please take the envelope provided. It will contain your new job location and salary, or your severance package. You will have 24 hours to determine whether which of the offers you will accept. If you do not choose, you will be terminated with no severance."
The distribution began. No one was allowed to open their envelopes in that room. Four of us were asked to stay after all the rest left.
"You four are the top sales reps in this company. Each and every one of you constantly exceeds your sales quota. You are all highly ranked by your customers." He continued.
"Each of you will travel with one of our sales team to each of your customers for the next week. You will be evaluated on your performance this week. This will determine your placement within our organization. Thank you, you're excused, "He concluded.
I opened my envelope at my desk. It contained a detailed itinerary for the next five days. It contained the names of my evaluators, where and what time to pick them up, and which customers we would be visiting that day and what time. It also contained the keys to a rental car to use in our travels.
It did not contain a separation offer.
I spent the next two weeks traveling with various members of the management of the sales force of Smith Enterprises to all my major customers. They must have been impressed because I was asked to travel to Company Headquarters in Boston for further review. I looked both forward to possible advancement and also with dread because I remembered there was no separation offer. I either succeed or was terminated. There were no other offers on the table.
I had two weeks before my trip to worry about my future.
So like any ambitious 20 somethings, I spent the next two weeks in the library researching Smith Enterprises and their competitors. I was surprised with my findings. Smith Enterprises was a rapidly growing concern. They grew through acquiring other successful businesses. They had no history of innovation, only the swallowing of their completion. This concerned me.
I started looking up the owner, William Smith. There were many hits on him. Mostly trade journal entries, none were complementary. It seems that he was a fierce competitor, destroying anyone who stood in his way. There was one reporter, who appeared to really have it out for William Smith. The reporter dug deeply into Smith's history and turned up many facts that were very interesting about Smith. They were almost or at least nearly slanderous.
I was very interested in talking to that reporter, but as I research him, I found his obituary. He was killed by a hit and run driver.
I was young and stupid and let this warning slip by.
My two weeks passed and I found myself on a plane headed for Boston. I was impressed with myself until I found that I was booked Economy Class on a cheap airline. That brought me back to earth. I guess I wasn't that important to them after all.
I was met at the airport by the hotels car service. The driver was holding up a sign with my name on it. I introduced myself and we walked to the luggage carousel. I grabbed my bags, he didn't offer to help carry them. He took the sign, I lugged the luggage. We left the terminal and I soon found myself standing at the back of an older Ford Station Wagon. He was nice enough to open the back, and tell me to put my luggage in, but not nice enough to help. At that point, I decided, No Tip for this clown.
It took us about 30 minutes to reach the hotel, which was located in what appeared to be a seeder neighborhood. The driver double parked in front of the hotel and made no effort to get out of the car. I opened the door and walked around to the rear of the car and opened the back removing my luggage. When I had my bags, I started walking into the hotel.
I heard the driver say, "Hey Ass Hole, shut the back."
I flipped him the "Universal Symbol of Discontent", in other words, the "bird" and walked in the hotel.
It was some hotel! It was really a flop house. The desk clerk was hidden behind a bank style window containing a grid to speak through. The lobby was dirty. The whole building was in disrepair. I began to rethink this whole trip. But Smith Industries did not provide me with a return ticket, so I guessed I was stuck until my meeting with Smith Industries.
When I got to my "room" I was shocked, the room had not been cleaned or even made up. They expected me to sleep in a bed with dirty sheets. I lost it.
I had gone back down to the desk clerk with my luggage and told him that I wanted a car to the airport. I would not sleep in that room and I also wanted the hotel owner's name (so that I could report them to the Health Department.) He was so dumb he actually asked, "Why?"
Boy did I let him have it!
I was standing at the ticket counter at the airport trying to get a cheap seat back home when I heard my name being called. I turned and found myself facing a liveried chauffer. He had the hat, boot, gloves and the uniform. He very politely asked if he could take my luggage and escort me to his limo.
All I could think of saying was, "Why?"
"Mr. Smith would like to see you," was his answer.
When I expressed my concern, he replied, "Mr. Smith was impressed by your response to this test."
"Please don't mention that I told you, it would mean my job, but Mr. Smith tests his management employees in this fashion. I'll be taking you to his home, where you will spend the remainder of your time here as his guest," he continued.
I followed him to the limo and on to my new life.