Solutions Incorporated
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2021 by Lazlo Zalezac

Karen flipped through the eight pages of the local newspaper without really seeing a word of what was written. Tears blinded her eyes and frustration fogged her mind. It was on the last page that something finally caught her attention. It was a simple two line advertisement that took up an inordinate amount of space on the page considering the brevity of the text. The first line read: Solutions, Incorporated. The second line was a phone number. She stared at the advertisement wondering why she had never noticed it before. Ads in the local newspaper didn’t change often.

If there was anything that Karen Osfeld needed at the moment it was a solution to any one of her numerous problems. Overwhelmed by life, she just wanted something to go right for a change. Nothing had gone right over the past few days. Grasping at straws, she carried the paper over to the kitchen phone. She dialed the number and, biting her lower lip in anxiety, waited for an answer. A deep male voice answered the call and softly said, “Solutions Incorporated.”

“I don’t know if you can help me,” Karen said realizing that she had no idea what kind of business she was calling.

“Do you have a problem?”

“Yes,” Karen answered.

“Then you’ve come to the right place. I can solve your problem.”

“You don’t know what my problem is,” Karen said. She was wondering if she had made a mistake in making the call.

“I have an opening at ten o’clock tomorrow morning, Karen Osfeld.”

Hearing her name, she froze. After a long pause, she asked, “How do you know my name?”

“Caller ID.”

“I know that caller ID gives Don Osfeld as the name,” Karen said. This conversation was kind of spooky.

“That is correct.”

“I didn’t tell you that my name is Karen.”

“That is true.”

“So how did you know my name?”

“I could explain, but that would take a lot of time. Let it suffice for me to say that being able to identify a solution to a problem requires having the facts. I’m very good at getting the facts.”

Karen was silent for fifteen long seconds. Finally, she asked, “Who are you?”

“I’m the owner of Solutions Incorporated. I’ll see you tomorrow in my office at ten o’clock in the morning.”

Not sure if she was going to go there, Karen asked, “Where is your office?”

“Check your e-mail.”

Before she had a chance to reply, the call was disconnected. Karen stared at the handset wondering if she had made a mistake in calling Solutions Incorporated. Lost in thought, she hung up the phone.

She looked over at the clock and realized that it was her normal time to head over to the library to check her e-mail for any messages from Don. It would have been nice to have a computer at home, but they didn’t have one. It was necessary to use one of the machines at the library. Every day she stopped by the library before picking up her daughter from school in the hope of getting some news from her husband.

Karen grabbed the keys to the truck and called out to her son, “I’ve got to go pick up your sister from school. Remember that you are grounded and are not allowed to leave the house.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“The Sheriff said that he would lock you up and throw away the key if he caught you outside the house,” Karen shouted.

“I know.”

It was a fifteen minute drive to the public library. Karen pulled into the parking lot of the small building. The only other car in the parking lot belonged to the librarian, Wanda Danzig. She entered the library and waved to Wanda before making her way to the computer terminals. Although Wanda was nearly fifteen years younger than her, circumstances had brought the two women close together. Their husbands served in the National Guard together.

It didn’t take long for Karen to get access to her e-mail account. Looking at the empty inbox, Karen stared at the computer screen feeling sick to her stomach. This was the third day in a row in which Don hadn’t sent an e-mail. She hoped that meant he was on a three day patrol and was okay. The alternative explanation was too dreadful to even consider.

She composed an e-mail telling him about her problems knowing that he couldn’t do anything to help her. He couldn’t discipline their son, pay the telephone bill, or comfort her in the middle of the night while serving his country in a foreign land. She really didn’t want to tell him that their son was facing time in juvenile hall and had dropped out of school. The timing was really bad; in two weeks Don wouldn’t even be able to call home.

Upon sending the message, she looked at her inbox just to double check that Don hadn’t sent an e-mail while she had been busy composing her message for him. There was one new message titled, “Appointment,” from magus@solutionsinc.net. Concerned about how he had gotten her e-mail address, she opened the e-mail. It contained a reminder of her appointment, the address of the place, and driving directions from her home to the office.

Karen looked around and gestured for Wanda to come over to her computer. When Wanda arrived, Karen asked, “Do you know anything about a company named Solutions Incorporated?”

“I can look it up,” Wanda answered confident in her ability to find anything on the internet. She sat down at the computer next to Karen and logged into the machine. It took a full minute before she was ready to work. She opened a browser and started typing in her favorite search engine. She frowned and tried some different search terms. “That’s strange.”

“What?”

“I can’t seem to find anything about it,” Wanda said.

“Try solutionsinc.net.”

Wanda typed in the domain name in the search engine. All that came back was a single link to a webpage that gave information about domain registrations. That was really odd since the search engine always gave back thousands of results even if there wasn’t a good match. She had never seen a single result returned. She clicked on the link. After looking over the webpage, she said, “Magus is listed as the owner of the domain solutionsinc.net. That’s all I seem to be able to discover. There’s no last name or street address.”

“I was hoping for a little more information than that,” Karen said.

There was a familiar ding indicating that an instant message had arrived. Wanda said, “Hold on. Someone just sent me an instant message.”

“Okay,” Karen said. She stared at her e-mail wondering if she was getting into something that was over her head.

“This is weird,” Wanda said. Karen looked over at Wanda and noticed that the woman looked pale.

“What’s the matter?”

“I got message from Magus. It just said — naughty naughty.” Wanda looked around to see if anyone was playing games with them, but she and Karen were the only people in the library. There was a ding. Leaning forward to read the screen, Wanda said, “I just got another instant message. It says that I have an appointment with Magus at Solutions Incorporated tomorrow evening. I’m to get the directions from you.”

“Are you going?” Karen asked. Little chills were running up and down her spine.

“You bet,” Wanda said angrily. She wanted to find out how Magus could discover that she was searching for information about Solutions Inc, find her instant message account, and know that Karen was there. “No one plays around with me like that.”

“I’ve got an appointment tomorrow morning,” Karen said.

“Are you going to go?”

“I’m kind of afraid to go there. This is kind of scary.”

“Take someone with you.”

“I don’t have anyone who can go with me. The man on the phone said that he could solve my problem.”

“If you decide to go there, call me before you go and after you leave. Tell them that people know where you are,” Wanda said.

“Thanks.” Karen glanced at her watch. She sent the e-mail from Magus to the printer specifying two copies to be printed. She said, “I’ve got to pick up my daughter from school.”

“Did Stephen drop out of school?”

“Yes. He’s restricted to the house. They let him go without bail as a favor to Don.”

“I sure wish our men were home,” Wanda said.

“Me too,” Karen said.

Wanda said, “I hate that war.”

“Me too.”


Skittish as a newborn colt, Karen stepped through the door leading to the offices of Solutions Incorporated and glanced around at the reception area. There was a simple desk, but no one was seated at it. The desk was barren except for a telephone. There were three functional chairs for waiting clients. One potted plant broke up the stark interior.

A man’s voice said, “Come into the office on the left.”

Karen stepped over to the office door. She stopped before entering the room and stared at the man seated behind the desk. He was a chubby fellow in his mid-forties. He had a baby face topped with sandy brown hair exhibiting hair loss in the characteristic pattern that plagued millions of men. He looked harmless enough. Not trusting appearances, she said, “Wanda knows I’m here.”

“I’m sure that she does. I’m also sure that she’ll call the police if you don’t let her know that you are safely home at a reasonable time,” Magus answered.

“Right,” Karen said.

“Before we begin addressing the solution to your most serious problem, there is a little matter of money,” Magus said.

“How much?” Karen asked. She had been so caught up in her problems that she hadn’t even thought about payment.

“The first solution is ten dollars and you’ll owe me one favor. Each subsequent solution adds a zero to the price without requiring an additional favor,” Magus answered.

“What does that mean?”

“This solution is ten dollars and you’ll owe me a favor that I’ll collect at an appropriate time. The next time you come to me for a solution will cost you a hundred dollars. The one after that will be a thousand and so on,” Magus answered with a smile.

“How many solutions will I need?” Karen asked.

“One for now. Who knows what the future will bring,” Magus answered.

Karen asked, “What kind of favor will I owe you?”

“I don’t really know. Who knows what the future will bring? I can assure you that it will be something that only you can do. It will not entail anything you consider to be dangerous, immoral, or illegal,” Magus answered. “I can’t really enforce the favor, but I’ve never had anyone unwilling to act on my behalf.”

“You’re not going to ask me for sex or something like that?”

“No. I’m in the business of providing solutions; not creating problems.”

Karen asked, “Will you take a check?”

“Yes,” Magus answered. She was still standing at the door. He smiled at her and added, “You might want to come into my office and take a seat. It will be a whole lot easier for us to conclude our business that way.”

“Of course,” Karen said. She entered the room and took a chair as far from Magus as possible. She really had no idea why she was there. It was her hope that he could help her with her son’s problems with the law.

Magus waited patiently for Karen to write out a check. He was pretty sure that she wanted to be in a position to cancel it in case she decided this was some kind of scam. He accepted the check from her and then slid an envelope across the desk. He said, “Inside that envelope is an application to begin home schooling your son. Sign it. I’ve included an addressed stamped envelope to facilitate submission of the application. I’ll expect your son to attend classes here in my office Monday through Thursday from nine in the morning until five in the evening.”

“How did you know that I was here about him?” Karen asked in shock.

“Two days ago your son called in a bomb scare during his fourth period history class. Stephen was suspended for two weeks from school. He was led off in handcuffs threatening to terminate his education,” Magus answered. He smiled at Karen. “He’s too smart to be allowed to quit school. If the information that I have is correct, your son has an IQ of 152. The judge owed me a favor and agreed to give your son probation on the condition that your son came here for his schooling.”

“How do you know all that?” Karen asked.

Magus answered, “The police asked for my help in catching him. Your son is a very clever young man. It took me almost three minutes to find him. He had made the call using an ip phone and had the caller id indicate that it was coming from the Principal’s office. It was the third time he had done that. Needless to say, the police and the Principal were not amused.”

Karen rose from the chair and took a step back. That explained a lot including how he knew her name and the nature of her problem. She said, “Thank you. I’ll make sure that Stephen starts coming here tomorrow.”

“We’re not done,” Magus said.

Karen grabbed the back of the chair she had just vacated. She asked, “We’re not?”

“You have another problem,” Magus said.

“I can’t pay you a hundred dollars,” Karen said. She remembered the payment scale that Magus had described to her. Even though she had gotten a lot more for her ten dollars than she could possibly have expected, she just didn’t have more money.

“I know. You’re in luck. You see, I also have a problem. It turns out that a single solution solves both of our problems, so you get your problem solved gratis,” Magus said.

“What problem?” Karen asked. She wasn’t quite sure whose problem she was referring to in her question.

“I need some office work done. I will pay you fifteen dollars an hour if you come in Fridays from nine to two. If you start this Friday, you will earn enough to pay your telephone bill before the telephone company shuts off your service. I believe that you have ten days before that tragic event is to take place,” Magus answered.

Thinking that it was pretty creepy that he knew about her financial problems, Karen said, “That’s very generous of you, but I’ll have to think about it.”

“I will give you half an hour to consider my proposition. Please go into the office on the far end of the reception area to think it over,” Magus said. He smiled at her. It was a friendly smile, but that didn’t reassure Karen in the least bit.

“Maybe I ought to go,” Karen said edging towards the door.

“You have nothing to worry about, I promise you,” Magus said. “Please, go into the office at the far end of the reception area and think about my proposition. It is just light office work and it will give you the money you need to pay your telephone bill.”

Karen stood there for thirty seconds thinking about it. She was half tempted to run screaming from his office. The man knew too much about her and her situation. The problem was that she did need a job, but having children really limited the hours that she could work. The hours he proposed were perfect.

“Wanda knows you are here.”

It was reassuring to have the reminder that Wanda knew she was there. He couldn’t get away with murdering her.

She said, “Okay.”

“The office at the far end of the reception area.”

Very ill at ease with the situation, Karen made her way to the office wondering why Magus had insisted that she go there. She had just stepped into the room when a familiar voice said, “Karen!”

“Don?” Karen asked looking around wildly. She then noticed the computer monitor with Don’s image on it. It took a full five seconds for her to realize that it was a live video stream. “Don!”

“I got your e-mails. Are you okay?” Don asked.

“I don’t know,” Karen answered confused. “How? What? This...”

“What’s the matter, honey?” Don asked. He could see tears running down her face.

“I didn’t expect this,” Karen said. She was in shock.

“You didn’t?” Don asked with a puzzled expression on his face. “I understood that you had arranged this.”

“No. I came here to ... I don’t know why I came here,” Karen answered numbly. It seemed to her that the world had turned completely upside down over the past fifteen minutes. Feeling like her knees were about to give out on her, she sat down at a chair positioned in front of the monitor. Voice breaking, she said, “It is so good to see you.”

“It is great to see you,” Don said.

The conversation turned personal as each declared their love for each other in the manner of couples that are separated by a long distance for an extended period of time. The emotions of seeing each other overwhelmed any concerns they had. After ten minutes of heartfelt conversation in which the problems of the day were not addressed, Don said, “I was just told that we’re going to have to end the call now.”

“I love you,” Karen said biting back her tears.

“I love you,” Don said.

The image on the monitor disappeared. Karen sat back and stared at the screen. She started sobbing. She accepted a tissue without wondering how it arrived. It took her several minutes to regain control over her emotions.

“Do you feel better?” Magus said from the doorway.

Karen looked at him before she answered, “Much better.”

“Will you take the job?”

“Yes,” Karen said.

“Excellent. I thought a little conversation with Don would help convince you,” Magus said.

“Yes.”

“I’ll see your son tomorrow morning. I’ll see you Friday morning.”

Edited By TeNderLoin

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