Thomas Wictor

On corruption

On corruption

Those of you who’ve read Ghosts and Ballyhoo know that my brother Paul and I narrowly avoided being killed by an Irish Republican Army nail bomb in Regent’s Park on July 20, 1982. As a result of that experience, I’ve read everything I can about terrorism.

It turns out that the terrorists who attacked the Westgate Mall in Kenya were likely let into the country by corrupt border guards and then allowed to plant heavy machine guns in a store, with the collusion of either a sympathizer or another person simply paid off. Finally, the terrorists probably got their personal weapons from corrupt government officials.

The problem with moral corruption is that it gets easier each time you give into it. Corrupt people either don’t care, or they rationalize their choices.

“It’s not my responsibility what happens if I sell him a rifle. How was I supposed to know what he’d do?”

Well, he was Somali. Your troops are in Somalia, killing terrorists. You knew.

A few years ago, I found $250 in cash on the floor of a supermarket. I turned it into the manager.

“Why are you turning it in?” he asked. “Just take it. Who’ll know?”

I will,” I said.

He shrugged, the way he might’ve before he handed a pack of matches to a guy soaked in gasoline. Like, It’s your funeral, pal. Whatever. And he wrote out a receipt for the money. As I pocketed the receipt, the cashier said, “Why didn’t you just keep it?” I almost told her to shove her register up her giant ass. Instead, I continued shopping.

When I was checking out, the woman in front of me went into a panic as she searched though her purse. “Oh, no! Oh, no!” she muttered.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Are you missing $250?”

She gave me a look of suspicion bordering on fear. “Uh, yes.”

“Well, I found it and turned it in to the manager. He’s got it.”

She collapsed onto the counter and nearly burst into tears. After she got the money from the furiously disappointed manager, she offered me $20 as a reward, but I refused.

“Why didn’t you just take the money?” the woman asked. “Nobody would’ve known.”

So I came away from that experience thinking that every single person in the supermarket was corrupt, right down to their core. I felt like a stuffy Victorian time traveler, a ridiculous, top-hatted, spatted, waistcoated, lamb-chopped anachronism.

“I acknowledge the corn, by jingo! I’m the chickaleary cove!”

My father was the most suspicious man who ever lived. He assumed that every person he met would try to rip him off. Dad himself turned out to be leading a double life, complete with a second wife and son. Luckily I’m very close to my brother Eric now. It isn’t a big deal anymore. In fact, it was only a big deal for a few months. We were shocked and disappointed that Dad would behave so badly, but the end result was a great brother.

About two years before he died, Dad discovered that he’d been victimized financially. Because of this he asked Tim to be executor of his estate, and he asked Tim and me to have financial power of attorney over his assets if he were to become mentally incapable of handling them himself. Giving us this access to his money would discourage the predators. They’re afraid of Tim and me. As well they should be.

When we had the conversation with Dad, Tim and I felt it was necessary to promise him that we would never, under any circumstances, take advantage of him.

“I trust you implicitly,” he said. “It never even entered my mind to worry.”

He told us that he had his lawyer draw up the proper papers, which Dad duly signed. There was nothing for us to sign, he said.

After Dad died we discovered that he’d made a bank co-executor of his estate without telling Tim, and he did a lot of other stuff that doesn’t need to be revealed. All that’s necessary to say is that it turns out he didn’t trust us a bit. Not in the slightest. He sought us out, asked us to serve in certain capacities, and then never followed through. And he didn’t follow through because he couldn’t trust us. And he couldn’t trust us because he himself was untrustworthy.

I could give Scott Thunes all the passwords to my bank accounts and sleep soundly. The same with Joe Cady and Mark McCann. I know that they would never steal from me. Fairly soon I’m going to give Tim control over my investments and bank accounts. It’s simply easier than having him tell me how to be as successful in the stock market as he is. Instead, he’ll make the decisions while I devote myself to writing.

It’s a shame that Dad didn’t trust us. My feelings aren’t hurt, because we didn’t have the sort of relationship in which he was capable of causing me deep pain. But I feel bad that he projected his own untrustworthiness onto others. It must have been incredibly lonely to not have a single person in his life he could trust.

The thing is, even when people betray your trust, you don’t die—unless it’s something like Kenyan border guards letting in terrorists, and the Kenyan army renting them their rifles. I’ve been betrayed many times. In the course of having this Website created, I was fleeced a total of $11,500 by three different people. I recovered $6000 and put one fleecer out of business, but the other $5500 is gone forever.

I’ll live. Not only that, I didn’t sell my personal integrity for a measly $2500 in one case and $3000 in another.

Before Mom went into the hospital in April, we had long, nightly conversations about the world as it is today, compared to what it was when she was young. A lot of what she sees confuses her.

“Why would someone do that?” she’d ask.

“Because almost everyone has a price,” I’d answer.

“I never wanted to think that, but now I do,” she finally admitted.

Notice I said “almost.” That qualifier is what keeps me going. The Scott Thuneses, Joe Cadys, Mark McCanns and Tim Wictors. Maybe there aren’t a whole bunch of them, but there are enough. I wish everyone had the personal integrity of those four.

Like my father, the ones who lack that essential quality have trapped themselves in frightened, lonely lives.

I haven’t.

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