It had been a week since Mark last encountered Woodman. Mark didn’t believe that he lived on the corporate grounds, not full time. He thought back to the worn tent and the reused campfire pit. Woodman was spending some time there, more time than anyone else. But Mark wasn’t that interested in Woodman’s lodgings. What Mark wanted to know was whether Woodman really did have inside information regarding his project.
On Wednesday as the sun was setting, and car after car was coasting to the campus exit, Mark walked out of the building and onto the trail. If Woodman really was living out there, Mark would find him. And he did, at the same half-mile point on the circuit. Woodman wore blue jeans and a red flannel shirt, and he was sitting on a lawn chair, head down slowly flipping through a thick packet of white, eight-and-a-half by eleven inch sheets of paper. Mark could see black text printed on the pages.
“Hey there Woodman!”
Woodman jumped. He flipped the packed into his tent and stood up. “How’s it goin’ Mark? You’re out here late.”
“Well I thought I’d come out and check on you.” Mark joked lightly, “see if you needed anything.”
“No, no. I’m fine.” Woodman reached up to his cap, removed it, scratched his thinning hair, and replaced the cap.
Mark went right to his question. “Woodman, how do you know what’s going on with Project-X?”
“Mark, when you’re on the company grounds as much as I am, you start noticing things.
“See this small group of trees that my tent is inside of?”
“Do you know what kind of trees they are?”
Mark looked smug. “Well the white bark kind of gives it away. They’re birch trees.”
“Correct. But there are many species of birch tree. Do you know what specie they are?”
“Woodman, who cares? I want to know how you know about my project.”
Woodman placed his hand on the white trunk, and looked up at the leaves. “These are silver birches. They aren’t native to America.”
“Like I said, when you’re on the company grounds as much as I am, you start noticing things, understanding things.”
“But Woodman you’re outside.” Mark moved his head and looked at the trees surrounding them.
Woodman removed his eyeglasses, pulled a cloth from his pocket, and cleaned a lens. He then held the glasses out above his eyes, peered to make sure the smudge was gone, and put them back on. “You know Mark, I’ve learned more about this place being outside than I’d ever learned inside.
“Stuff from inside gets outside.”
Mark doubted it. “What stuff do you mean?”
“Well to start with, let me ask you. Before you leave work each day, do you put your discarded paperwork into the large locked bins? Like the ones at home that you roll to your curb, but the office ones are padlocked and have just a narrow slot for inserting paper.”
“I know the bins, Woodman.” Mark didn’t like where he was leading. “You’re taking discarded paperwork?”
Woodman shook his head. “No, I don’t get anything from the locked bins. The shredding service has the only key and each bin is unlocked only for a moment when it’s being emptied into the shredding truck.”
Mark couldn’t figure out what Woodman was getting at. He didn’t think that Woodman was a threat to him or his coworkers but he felt like he should respond. “Good to hear our paperwork is safe from you.”
“But it’s not.”
“Woodman, you just said you can’t get into the bins.”
“Right. Mark, do you know that on Milwaukee Avenue about ten miles toward the city, there’s a bar…”
“Woodman, what does that have to do with discarded paperwork? And there’s tons of bars on Milwaukee avenue. Look, I gotta go.”
Woodman called after Mark. “Sometimes at night I can’t sleep. I get bored of lying in my tent. So around midnight I take a drive. I go down Milwaukee and stop in at that bar.
Mark called back. “Later Woodman!”
Woodman called again. “Midnight’s about when the cleaning crew is done.”
Mark stopped and turned. “What?” And walked back toward Woodman.
“Those cleaning guys, and even some of the women, they go to that bar.”
Mark had tired of Woodman’s nonsense, but it now seemed that Woodman was nearing his point. “And?”
“I hang out with ‘em.” Woodman said as if anyone would do the same. “Only for one drink though. One drink for me that is.”
“You hang out with the people who clean the office?”
“I buy ‘em a round or two. Vodka. They like vodka.”
“And that gets you what? Guys patting you on the back, raising their shot glasses, sharing their stories from the motherland?”
“Mark. The company rule is for everyone to put their discarded paperwork into the locked bins before they leave each day.”
“Again with the locked bins? Woodman, I’m getting bored with your conspiracy theories. If you want me to listen, I’d rather you tell me what happens at the bar.”
Woodman continued to control the conversation. “Mark, do you put your discarded paperwork into the locked bins before you leave each day?”
“You’re obsessed! No!”
“How often do you empty your bin?”
“Oh I don’t know. When it gets full. Maybe once every few months.”
Woodman repeated Mark. “Once every few months. You’re like everybody else.”
Woodman stepped toward a low, large stump, the top of which had been evenly cut. He sat. “Mark, the cleaning service is taking documents out of the small bins at each desk, before employees dispose them in the large bins. They don’t take much at one time. No one is noticing.”
Mark responded with monotone sarcasm. “Fascinating. The cleaning people skim our trash. Can they even read it?”
“Hold on there Mark. That’s a cliché. Just because they’re cleaning people doesn’t mean…”
Mark stopped him and clarified. “Woodman, I’m not trying to insult them. I’m trying to insult the people I work with. Hell, I don’t understand half our communications, especially our systems analysts’ white papers. Anyway, what benefit does the cleaning crew get from stealing our paperwork?”
Woodman answered with a smile, “It gets them free nightcaps, and it gets me free reading material.”
“Come on Woodman! You want me to believe that you’ve learned about Project-X from the recycling? Only pieces of information can be pulled from the bins. You’re not getting the full correspondence which is via e-mail, and the project documentation which is on the network.”
Woodman’s playful smile turned mischievous. “Did you forget that I can find e-mails?”
“I remember. You could…” Mark emphasized the past tense, “back when you were an employee.” He could no longer hold his frustration. “Shoot Woodman. Now you’re just a squatter and a garbage collector. You make yourself out like you’re in the know. But you gotta be on the inside to be on the inside.”
Woodman looked at Mark with the warm smile of a parent teaching his child.
“Mark, do you ever work from home?”
“Yeah, on Fridays.”
“And when you’re there, can you get your work done just as if you were at the office?”
“And what do you have at your house?”
“Now wait a second Woodman.” Mark had tolerated Woodman’s questions about the office, but he was bothered by this attempt to expand their conversation.
“Mark, all I’m asking is what technology do you have at home that lets you do what you need to do?”
Woodman knew, but Mark answered anyway. Like a child responding to a teacher.
“An Internet connection, my work laptop, and a cell phone.”
Woodman nodded toward the slanting gray canvas within the trees and he lowered his voice. “The same stuff I have in there.”
“Didn’t they take away your laptop and deactivate your login when they let you go?”
“But you can still get into the network?”
“Yep. Justice set me up with a new laptop and a network ID.”
“Yeah! I’m a contractor now. But no one is to know.”
“Not to know? Come on Woodman. Your name will be in the e-mail address book. People will be able to see you on instant messenger.”
Woodman laughed. “Justice set me up as an offshore contractor.”
“I’m Betula Pendula.”
“Yeah.” Woodman’s face lit up with pride in his alternate identity. “Google it sometime. That’s why I’ll work for Justice, he puts thought into things.”
“This is your other job? You’re working for Justice?”
“Woodman, why are you even telling me this?”
“Because I need your help.”