His sword slashed through the lines holding the mainsail, which dropped on the cornered sailors of the Dutch galleon. So the pirate LaGrange ended the battle with one stroke. Chuck’s imagination had merged scenes from a movie on TV the previous night with fantasies about his pirate ancestor. Unfortunately, he was far more impressive in his mind than his body. Lost in his daydreams, he stumbled on the threshold going into the office building, adding another scuff to already well-scuffed shoes. Chuck’s imaginary heroics immediately switched to how he would wreak vengeance on this insane world that actually paid for consulting about mergers and acquisitions, or M&A. They shouldn’t exist at all on the one hand, but should pay him much better on the other hand.
In spite of his disconnected mental state, Chuck managed to get into the office at his usual time, which was six minutes late. Pulling his access badge out of his shirt, Chuck waved it in the direction of the guard, and ran it through the slot, which simultaneously opened the inner door and clocked him in to work. A few moments later, he arrived at the large, cube-filled area that was his professional home. He suddenly focused on the fact that someone was standing by his cube. That was just dandy. His team leader was the only person who would be there. Chuck tried to remember what assignment he had due. Then he focused on the fact that the person was a security guard. With that realization, he also became aware of a number of heads peeking over and around dividers. Some were looking at him, and others looking beside him. Chuck stopped, and started to back up, only to feel a large hand on his shoulder. Turning, he saw another security guard, and in reaction tried to duck out of the guard’s grasp, but couldn’t.
The guard didn’t say anything, but after physically turning Chuck, both pointed and pushed him toward Mr. Sherman’s office, whose door was closed. Since Mr. Sherman always had his door open, the situation became even more terrifying. At the door, the guard knocked twice.
Chuck didn’t recognize that voice. The guard opened the door and shoved Chuck into the office. He felt the door close behind him and sensed the guard did not come in with him. Chuck stood just inside the door, bent over as though he might have to fend off physical blows. Sitting at Mr. Sherman’s desk was a man Chuck had never seen before. Standing against the wall on Chuck’s left was Mr. Sherman, looming over him. The physical size of his supervisor never before occurred to Chuck, but it added to his current feeling of vulnerability.
The man at the desk glared at Chuck through bloodshot eyes, and introduced himself with a gruff voice as the head of personnel. Without preface, the man launched into a detailed description of every place Chuck had not been truthful on his résumé and application. It seemed those places comprised the bulk of both documents. The man said Mr. Sherman found some of it, and after being notified, the Personnel Division launched a full investigation. The application and résumé were both so wide of the truth that specialists tested whether his name and social security number were real, and if they actually belonged to Charles L.LaGrange. Several people were certain the name and social security number had been stolen or fabricated somehow. He concluded, “I, for one, don’t think there’s anything about you that is truthful. This is why I came to conduct this session personally, and as soon as possible after confirmation of the situation. We believe every hour you are here is detrimental to the company.”
He then growled, “Mr. LaGrange, or whoever you really are, you are terminated, effective immediately. As a probationary employee, you have no recourse or due process. Further, if you say or do anything that puts the company in a bad light, the company will immediately press charges of fraud. In addition, if you protest, we will send our information to the INS – that’s the Immigration and Naturalization Service, just in case you aren’t aware of it. I’m sure they would give you some proper treatment. We are also considering sending this to Homeland Security.”
The head of personnel then slid paperwork across the desk toward Chuck, requiring him to sign several documents. After Chuck signed, the man sorted through the papers, piling Chuck’s copies on the desk. Then, the personnel guy demanded his access badge. He studied it minutely, comparing the picture with the person, and the signature with the one on the paperwork. Finally, and with a great deal of reluctance, he added a paycheck to Chuck’s pile. “This pays you up to date, and through all of today, even though you haven’t earned it.”
After that, he seemed to soften and relax a very little bit. “Mr. Sherman has something to say to you before you leave. It isn’t related to the company, and I trust he’ll keep it short, considering Mr. Sherman is on company time.”
The head of personnel followed that comment by glaring up at Mr. Sherman for a moment before gathering his portion of the paperwork along with the badge. He placed them carefully in a manila envelope, which went into a briefcase. The man slid off the chair, which was obviously not adjusted for his stocky, short-legged frame, and grabbing the briefcase, left the office. He seemed to make a point of forcing Chuck to move over as he brushed by him going out the door, closing it with more force than needed. Chuck was in shock. Mr. Sherman appeared to be slightly amused. Chuck could not imagine what could be funny about any of it.
* * *
Mr. Sherman reclaimed his desk, leaning back in his chair with his hands steepled under his chin. After a moment, he cocked his head and observed, “You know, Chuck, if you’re going to play fast and easy with the hiring system, you’ll do a lot better if you don’t come across as a complete idiot.”
Chuck didn’t know how to reply to that.
Mr. Sherman sighed. “There are a couple of things I’d tell you. First, you do have some analytical ability, and that will be needed anywhere you go, not just here in the Mergers & Acquisitions consulting business. Also, if you’re going to be the office mouth, it will work out better if you have some idea of what you’re talking about, and further if it makes some kind of sense with what you said the day before.”
Mr. Sherman paused and looked at Chuck like he was some kind of strange bug. “Okay, here’s a quiz. Tell me your little family story of an ancestor who was a pirate.”
If Chuck was in shock before, he was totally stunned now. Mr. Sherman must have been listening outside the break room yesterday. He stuttered a little, and finally got his dry mouth to function. “My ancestor, who was also a LaGrange, was the brother of the French mathematician. He became a privateer. He took a ship that turned out to be French, and the king declared him a pirate. He saw a Dutch galleon, and got their gold ahead of two British men-of-war, who tried to chase him down. My ancestor beat them to the Oregon coast. He hauled his gold inland, and buried it. He would periodically dig some of it up, melt it down and sell it, telling everyone that he had a gold mine.”
Mr. Sherman periodically glanced at a legal pad as the story was told, and finally nodded. “Okay, you’ve proven you can tell the same story twice,” he said. “Not bad. Now, when did this happen, and to whom?”
Chuck had to mentally reconstruct some of his family tree. “It was my Dad’s Grandfather’s Grandfather. I’ve tried to track him, but he just sort of appeared about 1870.”
“What makes you think this story of gold is true?”
“My Dad’s Grandfather told my Dad that he spent the last of it. He had three one-thousand dollar bills.”
“That’s pretty specific. Okay, we’ll say there really was gold, and that your … let’s see, that would be fourth great grandfather had bullion or coin from somewhere. If that’s the case, and he didn’t care to divulge how he got, it would make sense that he melted it down. Then he became a miner in order to sell it. How old was he at that point?”
“I’ve never been able to find out anything about him before he showed up in Oregon. He was young enough to get married and have two children. His wife then sued for divorce because of desertion.”
“Okay. Now, by 1870, your ancestor had to have been a pirate for at least 14 years, because privateers were outlawed internationally in 1856. The French must have known about it, because the treaty was signed in Paris.”
“Oh. I didn’t know about that.”
“There’s more. Privateers were, as you probably know, privately owned and operated ships, functioning as a civilian adjunct to a country’s navy. They were commerce raiders, essentially. What naval operations were the French involved in during the mid-nineteenth century? Well, quite a number, actually. Tahiti, Mexico, China, Indochina … but none of them with enough of a merchant marine to justify privateers or commerce raiders. In any case, Napoleon III, who ruled France around that time, was far more interested in building up the French navy than in subsidizing fishermen, which was the usual trade of a privateer between wars. By the way, the French and British were more or less allies at that point.”
“I didn’t know that. Maybe as a pirate on the west coast, he was after ships carrying gold from the gold rush.”
Mr. Sherman nodded. “Ships carrying gold would be a prime target of pirates. That’s one reason why the ships they used were the biggest and best. By the time of the Civil War, they were using steamships, although there were still a few clipper ships in service. Speaking of which, there was that bit about galleons and men-of-war. That type of ship started in the 1500’s and continued a long time … until the 1700’s. Good luck on a Dutch galleon full of gold wandering the Pacific Ocean in the mid-1800’s. By the way, nearly every French privateer and pirate was in the Caribbean.”
Chuck felt his family legacy was nearly battered beyond recognition, and had to score somewhere. “He said he was French.”
It didn’t help. “You also said he was the brother of the French mathematician. By the way, that mathematician’s name was Joseph Louis LaGrange. Look him up. He was Italian of French descent, and only claimed to be French. I’d guess you get your Mediterranean complexion from the Italian side of your family, assuming a connection actually exists. As for your ancestor, there’s no way a guy young enough to get married and have kids in the 1870’s could have been the brother of a man who died in 1813 at an age of over seventy. You may be his relative, but you don’t even want me to review all the things I’ve heard you say you are.
“But let’s say I cut your ancestor some slack, and consider he had reasons for whatever tales he told. I think there might have been a connection to privateers or piracy. If that’s the case, he may have had a connection with one of my ancestors. I’m a descendant of Jean Lafitte, but I haven’t been able to get hard evidence of it. So, as a test of your analytical talent plus the chance that our families were connected, I’m going to offer you a deal.”
The paperwork and check were still on the desk, and Mr. Sherman glanced through them, finally pointing to a square with an ‘X’ in it, followed by a short line of print. “That provision allows me to rehire you if I see fit, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. The head of personnel was convinced I’d lost it when I had him include that provision after everything we’ve found. So I’ll tell you what I told him: There is one way, and only one way I would ever see fit to rehire you. That way is by bringing me convincing evidence of your ancestor being a pirate. What is convincing evidence? It’s evidence that would be acceptable to a professional genealogist — specifically this professional genealogist.”
With that, Mr. Sherman put a business card on top of the paperwork.
“If you’re looking for an easy hit, this isn’t it. After all, a pirate was a criminal, and how could we define a successful pirate or criminal of any variety? It’s someone who never got caught. Since he lived long enough, not only to talk about it, but to tell it to his children, he was evidently very successful. As far as you can tell, your ancestor was never caught, brought to trial, incarcerated, or hung. The main sources of documentation would be newspaper accounts, court records, and other such things which would have detailed how he failed. Still, if you can somehow come up with the required evidence, I will hire you back because you will have proven yourself to be a truly outstanding analyst. Further, if you find convincing evidence connecting your ancestor with Lafitte, and most especially, physical evidence connecting Lafitte to me, I’ll personally pay you a bonus. Just to make it more interesting, if you don’t find any evidence your ancestor was a pirate, you’ll owe me $100 for putting up with you. By the way, we have to specify a time constraint. I’d say two weeks, but in the spirit of giving you a sporting chance, I’ll extend that. You can have no more than four weeks. So, do we have a deal?”
Chuck was suddenly very self-conscious, looking toward the floor, but hyper-aware of his belly hanging over his old slacks. The slacks had no crease in them anymore, the result of cheap wool having made too many trips through washing machines at the Dirty Duds Laundromat, and too few trips to the dry cleaners. Still, what could he do or say?
“Okay, I’ll do it. I won’t let you down, sir.”
“Chuck, you’ve already let me down in more ways than I can count. You’re smart enough, but you just aren’t using it right. I hope you’re able to figure it out someday. Don’t forget your paperwork and check. Go clear your desk. The guards will make sure you don’t get lost. Leave the door open as you go. I need to get some fresh air in the place.”
It wasn’t clear to Chuck whether Mr. Sherman was talking about him personally, the situation in general, the head of personnel, or maybe all of it. With that, Mr. Sherman shooed Chuck out of his office. Everyone in the area made a visible effort to act like they were working hard and not looking. Chuck was now an un-person. It only took a few minutes to clear his cube of what few personal possessions were there. The guard who had been standing by his desk even had a plastic grocery bag for his stuff. Both guards watched closely, in case Chuck might try to take a computer password, sabotage something, or swipe a paperclip.
Outside the office was a taxi, but it wasn’t for him. The head of personnel was sitting in it, watching the door. When Chuck and the guards came out, he glanced at his watch, made a note and told the taxi to head for the airport. One of the guards stopped by the front door, while the other accompanied Chuck to his car. He was able to start it on only the second try. The two guards watched him as he drove down the street.