Betrayal in the 21st Century
“Fool that I am,” said he,“that I did not tear out my heart the day I resolved to revenge myself”.
― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo
I never thought Alec and Emil would betray me, but they did. It was 2011 and we were planning a business based on someone else’s model. In fact, we worked for that very same man, Jay. The business, a subcontracting company that sold drug screening tests on behalf of Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp clinics all across the country, wasn’t sexy but it was profitable. Jay was raking in 100k a month using his genius idea to list his business as the testing location for all of the LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics clinics around the country on search engines, like Google and Bing. So, whether you were in Idaho or New York you could purchase a drug screen online or call us to schedule a drug test for $75. Things have changed since 2011, so these businesses are no longer able to get away with this misleading practice. Something felt immoral about advertising a business purporting to be located somewhere we simply weren’t. A lot of clients felt duped when they reached the strip malls and clinics all across the country looking for our facility, only to realize that they were sold an appointment at a crowded and inhospitable Quest or LabCorp facility.
Betrayal can only beget betrayal and karma is real in this story. I often wonder why I felt the need to challenge Jay and encourage my co-workers to form a rival company using his model? Competition is a good thing for business and I’ll always encourage it, but Alec had signed non-compete and non-disclosure agreements when he agreed to work for Jay. In order to circumvent this issue, Alec used a dimwitted receptionist and made her shred the documents while Jay was away from the office. The business planning moved forward at a local McDonald’s where we would order hamburgers and plan the takedown of Jay’s company while he was signing our paychecks. Somehow Jay found out that Alec was forming his own company, and since the industry is small, I assume someone must have tipped Jay off about Alec’s activities in creating his own subcontracting deals. Jay immediately fired Alec. Subsequently, Emil quit, which left Jay with only two staff members working the phones for him. Two weeks later I left the company as well. I’m not sure what happened at that office when the three of us left but I can only imagine the madness that must have transpired as hundreds of calls poured in everyday and only two people were on staff. I’m perpetually regretful about this.
Before I started working for Alec’s company I took a week to clear my head in Florida and prepare for the straining web development work that would need to be done. We were manually preparing the company website to have keywords detected by search engine spiders in order to increase webpage traffic. This was way before SEO evolved into the behemoth that it is today. I enjoyed a few days at the beach, worked on my tan, and contemplated the new endeavor I would be participating in as soon as my return flight landed in ice cold New York City. But, the day before I was scheduled to return to New York I saw something that has never left me, a black cat perched inconspicuously on a garbage can by the side of my father’s mobile home. The animal was staring directly at me when I detected him and in a flash he jumped off the garbage can and scampered underneath the mobile home. It’s cliché, but it happened, and the eeriness in the animal’s face sent a chill through me. I wondered if it was a warning of something to come.
After I returned to NYC I requested what Alec had promised me: legal documentation stating my 5% ownership of the business. At the time I was young and naïve and Alec was a seasoned businessman who needed grunts to help start up his operation. I was denied any ownership and one morning when I woke to check my company email I realized my account had been deleted. Alec was unreachable by phone. I had no documentation proving that I was owed anything by Alec, I had no money saved up for my bills and rent, and I was out a job. Worst of all, I had signed a non-disclosure agreement for Alec that legally directed me to remain silent about my situation.
I was forced to move back home with my mother where I lamented about how I had been screwed by Alec, but what hurt most was thinking about how my best friend, Emil, betrayed me. I felt like Edmond Dantes in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, a man who is betrayed by his best friend, sentenced to imprisonment in the solitary Château d’If, and taken away from his betrothed. I tried to look out for Emil as if he were my own brother, finding him not one job, but two, and always offering to buy him lunch whenever he couldn’t afford to buy his own meals. After my email account was deleted I found out that Emil had received pay and ownership documentation from Alec while knowing that I didn’t even have enough money to pay my rent, but none of that mattered and I was simply cut out of the deal.
After five years of lamenting and kicking myself for being taken advantage of I had an instinctual urge to see Jay. What we did to him felt wrong and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t apologize to him face to face, like a man. So I visited his office and surprisingly he welcomed me. He wasn’t fully aware of what had transpired while creating the business that unsuccessfully tried to compete with him (Jay’s still operating while the imitators have shut down their operation). So I came clean with Jay and told him about Alec’s NDA, the sleuth meetings we held at McDonald’s, and my role in the sin. I’m not sure if he forgave me but he had certainly put it behind him. Ever the businessman, Jay simply said “I have to take a call Herb” and walked away into another part of his office. And that was the last I saw of Jay.
I’ve put that part of my life behind me too and I don’t harbor ill will towards anyone involved with those companies. It was a great life lesson that allowed me to learn about the deeper meanings of friendship and business, and that the two rarely mix well. One afternoon Jay suspected that I was leaving his company to join Alec as we looked out the dual arching office windows and took in the morning glint of the sun’s rays upon the trucks, buildings, and steel structures of the South Bronx. Jay glanced at me and said “Herb, I know he’s filling your mind with a lot of nice sounding things, but he’s a liar and a thief. That’s not who you are.” I was naïve about the whole situation, but every tale of betrayal must feature an Edmond who is banished to his own personal Château d’If.