Alone and Accused

Charles’ red eyes glared up at the wall clock, and two am stared back at his bloodshot eyes. He could feel the black bags beneath his eyes resting against his cheeks. Charles had been up for two days and had yet to find an answer. His wife, Joan had understood when he told her he had to work late again. Their trust and love for one another had seen them through difficult times. Joan had even put a couch in his home office, so he had a place to nap on his late nights.

Unfortunately, his boss, Larry, was not so understanding. Although Charles had been working on another project, Larry placed the blame for the current system outage squarely on Charles’ shoulders. Charles did lead the effort to set up the online banking systems, but that was three years earlier.

In truth, it was the new team Larry had put in place that had caused the current headache. The total experience of the five new developers may have added to up three years. None of the men and women had ever worked on a critical system before, and yet Larry claimed they were up to the task. The three-day outage had proven they were not.

Larry knew he was in trouble, but he was a shrewd manager. Rather than admit he had made a mistake in hiring his new team, Larry directly placed the blame at Charles’s feet and claimed his original design had failed. However, Larry gave up on his new group of young hotshots after they were unable to resolve the problem in the first twenty-four hours. Instead, he went to the man he claimed had caused the issue to find the problem. Charles had been up for almost two nights deciphering the new team’s code that had crashed the system and cost the bank hundreds of customers.

Charles’ body demanded sleep and desperation filled his mind. He wanted to quit, or get up and go to bed. The black sky outside his office window looked as bleak as his current situation felt.

“So what if I’m fired,” Charles growled in the empty room, “Larry’s team still won’t have this fixed, and he’ll be out the door behind me.”

Charles pushed his chair back, and a picture caught his attention. His two sons sat laughing with their heads barely visible above a leaf pile. Charles’ head drooped. He knew he could not let his family down no matter how unfair or onerous his current predicament might appear. Still, he needed a break.

He got up to make his way from his home office to the kitchen. The balls of his feet were the only part of his body to touch the floor as he stealthily navigated through his house. Charles had lost count of the number of mugs of coffee he had gone through over the last two days. Balancing the full mug, he silently walked back to his office with his warm cup of much-needed caffeine.

Sitting down, Charles looked up and saw what he had searched for the last two days. A bug in the program that would send the banking system into an infinite loop, but only when there was a fraction that tried to divide by zero. Charles typed with newfound excitement. A short test and two hours later the system was running again.

Charles shot off an email to Larry to tell him everything was working. Four-thirty in the morning glared up at him from the computer screen. He stretched and smiled. At least he could finally get some rest. To Charles’ surprise, Larry responded immediately. He was expected to be in the office for a meeting with the senior managers at eight in the morning. Charles dropped his head between his legs and fought the scream that was urging its way out of his throat.

The boardroom was filled with managers of managers. By Charles’ count, there were at least ten senior and executive people in the room. Larry sat to the right of the head of the table. The only empty chair was next to him. The empty seat was not meant as a sign of leadership or deference, today it was a sign of accusal before a tribunal. Nobody seemed to notice, or care about the unkempt appearance of Charles.

His bottom had barely touched the black leather seat when Larry spoke up, “Please tell us what you found.”

“I know you all are busy,” Charles began, “So I will make this brief. There was a mathematical error that locked up the system.”

A stern looking woman leaned forward and stared harshly at Charles, “Why didn’t you catch this before? I would have thought the two years that you had to build this system would have been adequate time to test for this sort of issue.”

Charles worked to hide the knowing smirk he could feel growing inside him. He clasped his hands together on the top of the table and responded, “Indeed, I would have, if I had made the error. Unfortunately, it appears to be something the new team put in place after I moved off the project.”

Larry’s voice rose two octaves, “What do you mean? You didn’t tell me that in your email.”

Charles response was calm and even, “I didn’t know you were looking to assign blame. I was only telling you what caused the problem.”

Chairs began to groan, creak, and rattle as the managers squirmed in anticipation. The meeting was not going where they anticipated, and like school children forming a circle around two adversaries, they leaned in to watch the drama.

Larry’s fingers began to drum on the table, “I don’t understand, I was quite clear that I wanted to know what caused this issue.”

Charles allowed a faint smile to pass across his lips as he nodded. Then he replied, “You did, and what I described is what caused the problem.”

Larry crossed his arms, “Okay then, how do you know it wasn’t your code, or maybe it was John who helped you write the program?”

“Because Manju did an excellent job of commenting his code. His name, date, and change number are all in print next to the offending code. My comments are now under his.” Charles leaned back and let his arms relax on the chair.

The stern lady leaned back in and glared at Larry, “I thought you said Charles was the problem. How many other issues have you blamed on him that aren’t his?”

Charles looked over at Larry with his eyes stretched wide. “Other problems?”

Larry ignored Charles and looked back at the woman, “Lisa, I can promise you that if I had known.”

Lisa cut him off, “It sounds to me like you did know.” She turned her attention to Charles, “How many hours did you have to work on this?”

Charles’ eyelids felt heavy, but the joy and terror of the moment kept him focused, “I’ve been on this for two days and two nights. Since the problem was not something we had seen previously, I had to walk through all of the program line-by-line until I could find the issue.”

Lisa’s eyes softened, “You look exhausted. Take the rest of the week off.”

Charles dipped his head, and then responded, “What about my current project?”

Lisa gave Larry an icy stare and then softened her look as she turned back to Charles, “I’m sure Larry can take care of things the rest of the week. After all, he took you away from your project to fix this fiasco.”

Charles smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Lisa looked around the boardroom, the other men and women nodded in agreement with her. She turned back to Charles, “Why don’t you go home before you find yourself asleep in here.”

“Thank you, thank you all.”

Larry began to stand with Charles.

“Not you,” Lisa said in a harsh tone.

Larry’s butt hit his chair with a thud. Charles was a half a step from the doorway when Lisa said his name. He froze and turned his attention back to her.

“When you come back next week you’ll be reporting to me until I decide where I want to promote you.”

Charles did not try to hide his happiness at the news. He stood there transfixed, nodding his head. Lisa gave Charles a dismissive wave of her hand. At that command, Charles was out the door.

Joan gave Charles a kiss on his cheek as his head snuggled into his warm pillow. His nightmare was over. He closed his eyes and urgently sought the sweet dreams that awaited him.

Leave a Reply