Who knew that rivalries between diaper companies could be so cut throat?
Chapter Description: Meet Matthew before he gets in too deep.
There comes a time in every person’s life when their code of ethics collides against temptation. When the dust settles either the code or the temptation is knocked on its ass; it’s opposite standing victorious.
Ethical codes may vary widely. For some it’s the deeply held tenets of a religion, or a philosophy that has been honed over long study and personal experience. For Matthew McKinley, it was as simple as the Golden Rule and not wanting to be arrested.
Conversely, the temptations of the world are varied, but can often be sorted into a few broad categories such as money, relief from boredom, and sex. How telling it was that often temptation came in the form of meeting basic physiological and psychological needs; almost like some crazy man in the sky set the rules and the needs in direct opposition to each other.
Worse yet, Matthew was faced with all three of his big temptations: money, entertainment, and even a hint of sex.
“You want me to do what?” Matthew asked. “Seriously?” He blinked again, as if that might clear up the babbling brook of nonsense that he’d just been pitched. “You know that’s illegal, right?”
The older woman sitting across the desk from Matthew folded her hands on the table. “Only if you get caught, Mattie.”
Mattie. No one had called him that since he was in diapers. The woman on the other end of the desk had known him that long. Probably changed a couple, too. Definitely had made some. Matthew’s family and hers went way back, from before Mrs. Northeaster hit it big in the business world and moved out of the suburbs.
History wasn’t the only factor keeping him from walking out the door. The corporate headquarters for Northeaster Care was a very fancy, very expensive looking, very tall building. A lot of money was going through this building these days. Mrs. Northeaster had been very good with her husband’s money. Better than he’d been. This was her office.
“You’re asking me to do something illegal,” Matthew repeated.
Mrs. Northeaster, her hair now completely silvered with over two decades of corporate experience (a word here which means constant stress), didn’t react except to say, “Not really, Mattie. This sort of thing happens all the time.”
The young man, not quite thirty, felt gobsmacked by the sheer brazenness. “What do you mean it happens all the time?”
“Pepsi spies on Coke. Honda knows where Ford is up to. Starbucks got where it is because it outmaneuvered Dunkin’.” The barest hint of a smile did not reach the woman’s eyes. “It’s just business, Mattie.”
“Isn’t that what, like, trade shows and expos are for?” Matthew replied.
“That’s for the consumer,” Mrs. Northeaster said. “Big business reacts in real time. I can’t outmaneuver my competition if I don’t know what moves they’re planning.”
Matthew rubbed his temples. “So let me get this straight,” he said. “You want me to try and get a job at PharmaCor -”
“Something entry level. Like the mailroom,” Mrs. Northeaster interrupted. “Nothing to draw too much attention to yourself. Nothing where you’ll be missed if you don’t show up to work.”
“Right,” Matthew said, “and then you want me to hack their computers from the inside, so that you can steal their company secrets?”
“Not steal,” Mrs. Northeaster said, sounding almost offended. “Just look at. ‘Steal’ implies that we’re going to delete their files or try and copy them for ourselves. It’s so...vulgar.”
“Then what are you planning to do?”
The third person in the meeting spoke up. “Just take a little peek and try and predict PharmaCorp’s next move.” Candice Northeaster was seated beside Matthew. She placed her hand gently on his arm. “Make sure nothing they’re cooking up is too similar to what we’re cooking up.”
Candice Northeaster was Matthew’s age. They’d been friends since they were babies; taken baths together. Candice had grown up in this company, and in lieu of baby pictures she had posters and box covers from when she was Northeaster Care’s literal poster baby. One of those posters was right behind her mother, with her two year old self giggling in nothing but a pink t-shirt and a Bun-Bums diaper on.
They’d both long since outgrown diapers though. And Matthew couldn’t remember the last time he’d taken a bath with her. Looking at her now, with her dark hair and big, perky boobs,he might like to make a new memory. The temptation of money was the thing keeping Matthew’s ears open, but it had been the implied promise of sex that had gotten him first through the door.
“What are you even looking for?” Matthew wanted a reason, an irrefutable one, as to why he should walk out of the office building and go back to fucking with customer support scammers. “It’s not like there’s a whole lot going on with diapers, anyways.”
“You’re right,” Candice said. “It’s pretty much just fashion, these days. Wetness indicator or no? What decoration goes on the front? How flexible is the waistband? That kind of thing. What bells or whistles can you attach to it to make Mom and Dad want to buy it for their little one.”
“Okay…” Matthew said. “And?”
“It’s no different,” Mrs. Northeaster said, “than peeking at someone else’s hand in a game of poker.”
“That’s still cheating.”
Mrs. Northeaster stood up. He’d forgotten how tall she was. How imposing. “If Proctor & Gamble are the McDonald’s of the diaper business, and Kimberly Clark is Burger King, then Northeaster Care is close to becoming Wendy’s. Right now we’re Whataburger. We’re good, but we’re still very regional. The thing standing in our way is PharmaCorp. ”
Matthew felt intrigued. “How?” He leaned forward a bit.
“We think PharmaCorp is negotiating to get Bluey on their next line of diapers,” The C.E.O. explained. “It might be why Bluey’s people aren’t returning our calls. Bluey’s very popular right now. That kind of endorsement could put us over the moon.”
“With a cartoon character?”
Candice’s hand moved up to his shoulder. “You’d be surprised what branding can do, hun. It’s why Huggies has Disney characters and Pampers and Luvs do stuff with PBS.”
“What are you gonna do if that’s the case with Bluey?”
“Make Bluey’s people a better offer,” Mrs. Northeaster said.
Alarm bells rang in Matthew's brain. “Wouldn’t that be the same as stea-?”
“When you helped take down that scam call center in India, the people helping you were breaking the law by trespassing and spying.”
“Yeah,” Matthew said. “But those people were stealing from the elderly.” What he didn’t say was how he’d stayed behind a computer screen for the entirety of that takedown. There’d been no real risk to him.
“And these people have done the same to us,” Mrs. Northeaster slammed her fists on the desk. “We had the idea of bringing back gendered diapers two years ago, but PharmaCorp’s people stole it from us first. We just want to steal something back for once!”
Matthew sat up a little straighter. “So this is revenge?”
“No!” Mrs. Northeaster started. “It’s-”
“Yes,” Candice interrupted. “We’re trying to get them back and we need your help to do it.”
“Because you’re like family, Mattie” Those big puppy dog eyes stared into her. “We can’t trust anybody else. Every other private investigator we’ve hired has been just as likely to turn on us as hide our own secrets.”
Mrs. Northeaster walked around the desk. “Every pro in the tristate area is known to our competitors. They won’t see you coming. You’ll give us the element of surprise that we need, Mattie. You’d be helping us and you’d be well compensated.”
“Hmmm….” New hardware and reverse hacking software didn’t come cheap. He could do a lot of good with the money the Northeaster’s were offering.
“We’d be very grateful,” Candice added in a whisper. “Very...very grateful.”
A chance to help old friends get some payback, the possibility that he could be rewarded in more than just money? The temptation was too much.
“Okay,” Matthew said. “I’m in.”
By the end of the week, Mattie would be in more than just a bit of corporate espionage.