Excerpt from: Crazy Busy

Arnold had always been the busiest guy he knew. He was busier than his hard-working parents, busier than his brother the cardiac surgeon, busier than any single mom he had ever dated. Although he realized that his job as a middle manager at a toy company was not terribly important in the grand scheme of things, Arnold believed in giving it his all. If that meant showing up at 5 a.m. and staying until the cleaning ladies came around at night, so be it. That was what Arnold was going to do.

Arnold had tried the whole work-life balance approach a few years ago after a company directive was sent around the office ordering employees to take better care of themselves and use their vacation time, or else. He had hired a personal trainer, changed his diet, and bought a bottle of multivitamins. But, by that time, Arnold was in his late 40s, and, admittedly, things on that front were rather far gone. He was overweight and had high cholesterol, and his joints were, according to his trainer, as inflexible as a 90-year-old grandfather’s.

“I don’t have time for this,” finally Arnold said, after yet another frustration-filled session with his trainer. “I’m way too busy!”

Although you might have imagined that Arnold could find some levity at his toy company job, the process of selling toys was a terribly competitive business. The displays of funny-faced, squeaky, and soft-and-fuzzy products they had in their lobby didn’t distract Arnold from the serious mission at hand. Because even though all modern consumers could be counted on to be fickle and quixotic, children were the most unreliable and faddish of all. You could invest hundreds of thousands of dollars marketing what you thought was a sure-fire hit, only to watch it languish on the shelves. On the other hand, if you were lucky enough to come across the one toy kids had to have, it was like owning the proverbial license to print money.

Arnold was not high enough on the corporate ladder to realize that his company, and, in fact, all major conglomerates, were engaged in acts of corporate espionage. Not that they would have called it that. But, naturally, in a company of that size, there were many kinds of consultants, and some were hired for their special knowledge of the competition. 

In fact, he only learned about this shady side of the business after he had been arrested for his so-called involvement in the “FluffyCloud” scandal.

Although he had never seen any part of the FluffyCloud franchise before the scandal broke, he had heard about it at a toy development conference many months before. Although nobody was willing to talk about it openly, there were sly hints and rumors about this amazing new FluffyCloud toy series that was testing fabulously well with the preschool demographic. Rumor had it there was to be a FluffyCloud TV show, a FluffyCloud interactive website, and a bunch of new FluffyCloud toys that had the entire industry abuzz. 

At the time, Arnold did not overly concern himself with the FluffyCloud gossip. After all, every year there was some new iteration of FluffyCloud—the so-called toast of the industry, that may, or just as likely, may not pan out. In the meantime, he was busier than ever with reports and projections and numbers that needed to be crunched. With the economy the way it was, people who had jobs were working harder than ever. Which, of course, suited Arnold just fine.

Naturally Arnold heard about the FluffyCloud scandal when it broke—anyone with a pulse could not help but be inundated with the details. The sexy and well-known head of marketing at the competing firm, Wendy Fortune, had been found dead, surrounded by a pile of mutilated stuffed FluffyCloud prototypes in what was characterized as a sick and deranged crime. 

Wendy was famous even before she became involved in the toy industry for her reality TV show, where she played herself as a narcissistic, fame-obsessed, gold-digging corporate executive. After the show was cancelled, she married the head of the toy company, Randall John, and became his fifth wife. Then, only a year after their fairytale wedding, she was the victim of this brutal murder.

Who killed Wendy Fortune? Well, as it turned out, there were plenty of possible candidates. She had apparently made enemies of the majority of her family, almost all the people who worked on her reality show, most of her co-workers at the toy company, and even her new husband had reportedly been seen talking to a divorce lawyer the week before she was found dead. 

The real-life salacious details of her story saved the tabloids the trouble of making them up, and the whole sordid tale took on a life of its own in print. Week after week readers wanted to know: Who killed former toy queen Wendy Fortune?

Arnold didn’t have time to read tabloids, and didn’t really care all that much about the tragedy of Wendy Fortune. The whole FluffyCloud franchise seemed to be put on the back burner for the moment, and that was probably a good thing as far as his company was concerned. Other than that, he had other things to worry about, like overseas sales projections and copyright infringements.

After six months had passed and still nobody was arrested for the murder of Wendy Fortune, and the whole story was getting stale, the tabloid media decided that instead of framing the narrative as an exercise in police incompetence, like they had so many times before, perhaps her death had instead been the work of a criminal mastermind! The reason it had been so impenetrable was that they were up against the mind of an evil genius, who had executed the murder so cleverly that it was all but impossible to solve!

Who was this genius killer, the tabloids screamed in huge black headlines. Who could have been so devious, so wily, to have escaped the notice of law enforcement and the entire international entertainment media so utterly and completely?

Well, this was a difficult question. But at least it gave investigators the incentive to broaden the scope of their formerly narrow investigation.

The police had, by that time, discovered that Wendy Fortune had been involved, at least on some level, in corporate espionage. There were messages in her e-mail account that seem to have been sent to someone inside Arnold’s company. It was all very vague and confusing, to be sure, and the messages were incoherent and illiterate. But, as far as anybody could tell, Wendy Fortune had threatened to divulge the secrets of FluffyCloud to an insider at Arnold’s firm, only to be later blackmailed by that same insider who said he would leak some sort of sex tape.

Who could the corporate spy/killer/genius be? Naturally the investigators focused their attention exclusively inside Arnold’s company, which was its only real competitor. Because they had no specific insight on who the suspect could be, they cast a broad net over all employees, looking for odd or unusual behavior.

It wasn’t long before Arnold appeared on their radar. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t ignore him, because he was always at the office.

“What is that guy doing there all hours of the day?” said one of the police officers to the other while glancing at Arnold through binoculars, as he was seated, as always, at his cubicle. 

They both assumed that whatever it was, it couldn’t be good.

Although the company was very cooperative as far as the investigation was concerned, and the investigators were able to see what Arnold was working on at on his computer, and who he was talking to on his phone, they could never find anything incriminating. He was like a machine that just worked and worked and worked on the most mind-numbing information imaginable. As they watched him work, they developed a level of respect for him that eventually turned into an uneasy feeling of suspicion.

“Something just doesn’t add up here,” said one of the cops assigned to watch him for weeks on end. The other officer nodded in agreement. There was definitely something wrong with this picture.

Although they didn’t have any specific evidence linking him to FluffyCloud or Wendy Fortune, the officers decided to approach Arnold to see if he would voluntarily agree to answer questions. By that time most of the officers had been creeped out by a presentation given by an expert criminal profiler, who characterized the murderer as someone who was quiet, kept to himself, likely a man, of course, probably not too young, not too old, someone without many friends, who paid attention to detail, who was highly motivated and terribly single-minded, and who had some kind of sick ulterior motive they could only really understand if they were sick themselves. 

“This isn’t an average killer we’re talking about,” said the profiler grimly as he paced back and forth. “This is a twisted, highly intelligent, evil genius. Think of how he mutilated FluffyCloud!”

Although they didn’t have direct evidence linking him to Wendy Fortune in any way, it was inevitable that the officers became more and more suspicious of Arnold. He was the only guy in the entire corporation who seemed to remotely resemble the criminal profile. And they also had a queasy feeling as they watched him work hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

“Can I ask you a few questions?” asked one of the officers who approached Arnold in the parking lot, trying to appear as casual as possible. She would not have admitted to anyone that she had had nightmares about Arnold the night before, where he had worn her down by chasing her around in circles. 

“What about?” he asked, not really looking up, walking towards his car.

“About Wendy Fortune,” she said.

“I’m just too busy for that,” he said, dismissively. “Crazy busy!”

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