Signs of life: tax

The blue lined letter dropped on the doormat around noon. There was no mistake about the sender. The blue meant one thing: it was sent by the tax-office.

The letter said, in more complex wordings; dear sir, according to our information you are in arrears concerning your taxes. You owe us the amount of twentythousand dollars for income gathered with work done in Rotterdam five years ago .

I was twenty-six, a student in history and had never been in Rotterdam, except for a one time visit to a tourist-attraction when I was fourteen.

How to deal with that monstrosity that is the tax office?If that creature thought you owed it anything and got it’s claws into you, it was not going to let go.. In other words: if they thought something existed, then you had to proof to them that it did not. How do you proof that something does not exist?

The first reaction was a reflex one. I bought myself a bottle of Glenfiddich and emptied it by half. It did not help at all with tax problem, but it cushioned the shock; first by making me roaring drunk and next by giving me a splitting headache.

So how does one get into a situation like this?

The first to call was the tax office. Why did they think that I had worked in Rotterdam and five years ago at that?

The man at the other end of the line was quick to answer. It was because this workagency had told them. It was located in Rotterdam and was an intermediate between companies looking for short time employees. Their speciality: plumbers.

The next logical step was to call the work agency and hope it had not disappeared in the meantime. I was lucky: it hadn’t.

It took two reconnections to get hold of the man in charge of the financial records. I  explained to the man that I was a student of history and was unlikely to qualify for the work, whatever kind it was. He agreed with me on that one and asked me to wait while he retrieved the relevant documents. After a few minutes of silence, he started to talk again. He said that he was sure it was very unlikely I had done the work, because the work involved required a skilled and experienced plumber.

It was even more interesting when the told me the name on the papers. It was my fathers name. Which would logical as my father was a skilled and experieced plumber. He had died the year before, however. His specter loomed over me. Was I going to need his signature to get this problem fixed?

The financial man asked me how I got confused with my father? Then he answered the question himself. Because of the social number. It was mine, not my fathers. This is how the tax-office linked it to me.

So was it easy to change it afterwards?

Well, said the man, that is no problem. I change the number to your fathers and resubmit it with the tax office.

Like that?

Yeah, won’t be any problem. Then the taxdebt would be reassigned to me dead father.

I was very happy that this guy could do it  that easily.

I asked him if he needed my fathers social number, but he said that he had already found it.

With that I took my leave.

A week later I got another blue letter confirming that I was no longer in arrears.

Question remains.

Did my father fill out this long social number deliberatly to avoid taxes and thus potentialy incriminate me? Or was it just a mistake? Considering it the social number consists of code made up out of twenty numbers and letters I think he did it deliberately, thus dragging me into his tax evasion scemes.

The second thing I found scare was how easily one could changed numbers and reassign debt. Apparently it just takes the right social number and you have just saddled a person with a debt. Of course it the truth would be found out easily, but imagine that the company who had send the information to the tax office had gone bankrupt in the meantime and without my father it would probably require a lot of effort to make the tax office change it mind.

There will never be a clear answers.

Signs of life: legacy

When my father died from a sudden brain bleeding I had my brother sign a paper together with me that rejected his inheritance.My brother was already diagnosed as a schizoid, so I had to tell him what to do. Not that he didn’t understand, but I had to tell him these things regardless for whether  he knew what was going on: he didn’t understand the consequences. .

Rejecting my fathers inheritance was no surprise to me, for I had already seen this one coming. The real surprise would be next year, when the tax office send me a letter telling me that I owed them taxes over sixty thousand. The reason for us to reject my father’s legacy was tied in with taxes however. Let me tell the tale.

“My father told me to get five thousand dollars as he was promised. ”

The young man behind the counter, I think he must be in his thirties, looked down on me. His face was set in a disapproving look. He was sitting next to two other people who sat behind the same grey counter handing out money the same way they were doing to me. The office was a shed that looked like a large sea container that was painted white overall on the inside and the outside, but was accentuated with grey at various points to break the monotony of white. Most of the paint had worn through.

I could have sworn he was about to spit, but he did not do so. Instead his hands disappeared under the counter and when they returned they placed an envelope on the counter. He took out a stack of bills and started to count them slowly. “One, two, three, four, five…”

All the while he did not look at the bills but at me. He ended at twenty-five.

“Twenty-five times hundred. That makes twenty-five hundred dollars. Twenty-five hundred, son. That is what is in this envelope.”

“My father said it was going to be five thousand. He said we need it for the holidays. They said they would pay that, because they owed him much more.”

He looked down on me for a long time. Then started to recount the stack ending at twenty five again. “Twenty-five hundred. That is what is in the envelope. That is all you get for now. He gets more in a few weeks.”

He handed the envelope to me, but just before I could take it, he snatched it away, “Count the amount and then sign here.” He pushed a paper forward. I had to count the money and then sign a paper.

A boy of fourteen.

I walked away, feeling his disdainful eyes following me.

My father was outside in the car. I told him the news. He did not say anything, instead stepped out of the car and walked into th eoffice. There was a lot of shouting as my father yelled at the guy behind the counter.. Eventually he left the office again. They had given him an additional five hundred dollars.

Without much words the incident was pushed aside into oblivion and we went on holiday, with two thousand less than was promised, but somehow it was enough.

“They never paid the full amount.” My mother told me later on.,

“It was all ‘black’ money. Unlisted money. To evade taxes. It was never in the books so there was never any proof what  they owed to anyone. It was how they conduct business. You can’t get any work, unless you do accept to work like that. Then they don’t pay you what they owe you. So they eventually owed my father tens of thousands of dollars, but then never paid the full amount.”  I got it. Like a drug. They gave you just enough to keep going, but never the full amount, because they knew you had no proof whatsoever. Eventually they owed you tens of thousands of money, perhaps hundred thousands as they never paid you the full amount. Always with the promise you get it next time, so you keep on going and the more they owe you the least likely you are going to stop.

“And then the taxmen came. They said: based on what you made previously or on you profile you ought to pay us this kind of money, but you never paid the taxes you owe us. And that times so many years.. It was a considerable amount. A huge amount.”

“Which you didn’t have as you never got it in full in the first place and what was spent was gone.”

“Then they declared you father bankrupt and there was this taxes due punishment for years hanging over his head..”

“Once you start to make money again, you have to pay taxes. And that is why we reject his legacy,” I said, “because any taxes my father has to pay has to be paid by his children after his death. That is how the taxes work. The sins of our fathers…”

And I signed the papers and had my brother sign them too. We both rejected his legacy, because there was nothing he had left us but a huge debt after his sudden death at fifty-three.

Signs of life 4: Fuzz

“No!”  Meena, the eldest of the two daughters said with an indignant expression on her face  when her parents proposed to go to the market fair.

Eve, the youngest, fell into an uncomfortable silence squeezing a plushie against her chest. She did not dare to go against her older sisters opinion, yet she feared her mother’s displeasure equally. She withdrew into the only direction she could: into herself.

“We never go to anything that we like. We always have to go to these boring things you like.” Meena continued waving her frail hand about,  ”I am not going and that is final!”

Harry, the father, tried to reason with her, but she was not going to listen: hormones and peer pressure were much more important for the budding teen than whatever considered arguments parents brought to bear.

Jane, the mother, then played the power card. “We all go and that is final!”

Meena grabbed her hand-held, stomped upstairs and closed the door of her room with such an audible bang that even the neighbors heard it. Everyone got that message. Then she started to whatsap all her friends that parents were the worst creatures in the universe by far and her parents were the vilest of the bunch.

Jane then shouted up the stairs that Meena should come down this instance or she would be facing a week of extra chores. Eve started to pout her lips and Harry began to tell Jane that maybe they should reconsider this fair business.

“See, even father doesn’t want to go!” Meena shouted, she triumphantly rubbed the words into her mothers face.

“I didn’t mean that!” Harry said, hearing how his words were being twisted into arguments for the defence.

“What then do you mean?”  Jane said. She felt slightly backstabbed by her husband but also knew that her eldest was twisting the knife on purpose. At the same time she saw her youngest discomfort and she grabbed Eve’s hand.
Harry smiled disarmingly at his wife. Meena had walked halfway down the stairs not wanting to give in to her mother, but also not wanting to face a week of extra chores. She looked down on the scene with her arms folded in front of her chest.

Purr the cat sat in front of the door that led to the garden. She mewed at it and glanced at them to see if they would notice. Purr was certain that door would open sooner or later, and if it didn’t  she would lie down on her cushion on the couch. From that vantage point  she would then stare at them with an expression that seemed to say: what on earth are you all doing?

Signs of Life 3: Breach

Day 7: 13:15

Too many, John Atkins, systems engineer for Pacific Shipping Incorporated thought while he browsed his logs. He was at first intrigued by the large amount of failed logins on one of his monitoring servers. It wasn’t easy to pinpoint the source of the alerts as the logs contained a lot of information, most of which were only relevant in a specific context and in this context was mostly clutter. After he had applied a series of filters, he was still left with a lot failed attempts, but what worried him the most were not the failed one’s: they were the one’s that had succeeded.

Day 7: 13:55

Peter Seeren walked in into their office. Peter and John shared the office. Each having two desks bordering one another and thus making a huge desk. Each contained three screens connected to two computers. Peter also had a laptop.
“You look like you need a coffee.” Peter said.
“I think we have problem.” John said.
“What is?”
“These attempts to log in on our monitoring servers.”
If this statement had come from any other than John, Peter might have said something like: “Are you sure?” Or, “Aren’t they from this or that.” Instead he sat down and said, “How big a problem?”
“A big one.”

Day 7: 14:15

“Yes?” William Balking picked up the phone.
“William. This is John Atkins.”
“John. How can I help you?” William asked.
“Can you run a virus scan on some systems?”
“When?”
“As soon as possible.”
“As soon as possible? During production times?”
“Yes?”
“That might impact the production, you know?”
“Yes, I know.”
William was silent for a moment,”We better have some high up people approving this, otherwise we got hell to pay if it blows up in our face.”
“Yes. I arrange you that approval.”
“I get to work then. Do you have a list of the systems.”
“It is in the mail.”
“William opened the mail. Forty five systems. Not that many..” William scanned the list, then whistled loudly. ”Those are not just any systems..”
“No….”

Day 7: 15:35

Security Officer Harry Townsend was a very thin, slender bald man in his late fifties. He sat down with the two system engineers: the short broad shouldered John, a silent serious man with short black hair and the taller younger Peter, with brown hair. All three were clean shaven.
The two men gave the security officer a summary of their findings.
“So what do you think is happening?” Harry asked.
“The infected systems are running programs that try and log in to other systems. And they are succeeding.” John said, “And it is not a virus. We checked those systems.”
“So what should be done about it?” Harry asked.
“We can disable the accounts.” Peter said, “but this might cause systems to fail.”
“Can we disable specific accounts?”
“We can, but they are the important accounts.” John said, “The one’s that make things run.”
“What can we do without actually disabling them?”
“We can change the passwords of the administrators. Those don’t directly involve the operations of the systems.”
“At least not on ours.” Peter said.
Harry nodded,”Ours. As in the central ones. Those we maintain ourselves.”
“Yes.”
“And the ones we don’t run directly?”
“We have not looked at yet. We can’t.” John said.
“Unless the chief security officer gives the command.”
“Or we inform the local staff?” Peter said.
“Have we any evidence they are affected?”
“No.” John shook his head.
“This can cause a panic. We should be sure.” Harry said, then continued,”We do the central ones and I will ask the chief security officer. I expect he will have a meeting with management about this.”

Day 8: 10:35

“I have been asked to do as much as possible without causing panic.” Harry said.
The two engineers John and Peter looked at each other briefly.
“I have been asked to ascertain the threat and as such I got the permission to hire an outside agency.”
“Maybe we can see about what we can do at the moment. Like disabling some accounts. We can hold a meeting with engineers team.”
“That is a good idea, but only with one or two. Arrange it with your manager.”
When the two administrators had left Harry picked up the phone and started to call that outside agency. He was calling the best even though the company would have to pay a hefty price for it.

Day 10: 12:20

“A hacker.” Harry said and he placed his hands flat on the security incident rapport on his desk. It had big letters across it: confidential. He looked at the man in the Armani suit who had laid it before him that morning. His name was Richard Thompson. John and Peter had joined them, as had William had being the one responsible for anti-virus system and Mark Cramer, who was the main network engineer. They all had read their copies of the rapport.
“Yes. It’s a hacker.. he or she gained access to a computer using an email about ten days ago. It was disguised as a business mail. The receiver opened the mail, double clicked the attachment and that set up a connection to the hacker.” the young man with sleek neatly combed hair, wearing the Armani suit with silk tie said. He had a small briefcase with him and read the rapport the five security company engineers had made for him. They had descended on Pacific Shipping Incorporated like birds of prey and started to uproot everything..
“But…our mail has got checkers for that.” William said, “Our anti-virus programs check for harmful programs in the email.”
“Indeed.. but this was not done by internal mail. It was done via webmail from a third party.” Thompson said.
“The block against that was removed by order of Berling, former CEO. He kept in touch with people via third party mail. He was supported in that by the board.”
“You mean Berling, the one that now works for Sea Containers United?” Peter said.
“Yes and before us he worked for a few other big companies, switching jobs every few years as is normal for people at that level. It was unhandy for him to have his mail transferred from one company mail system to another when he switched jobs.” William said, “So he approved an order to have those blocks removed.”
“But how can that hacker gain access… we got firewalls?” Harry said.
“I read here that they only work from the outside in, but this program worked the other way around.” Thompson said, “It was made to setup a connection.
“Blocking internet traffic from the inside out was considered inconvenient. We never got the approval to do that. I think is was director of the business that thought it harmed the ease with which to do business.” Harry said.
“But the antivirus system…”, Peter said.
“It’s not an virus. Just a small program that makes a connection to the outside.”
“But the system that ran it. I mean when it is stopped and restarted, it would have killed the program.”
“Not necessarily. For one, it could have restarted itself. For another, the system was never restarted by the user.” Thompson said.
“Because of cost savings the company delayed replacing the computers and those old one’s became very slow to shutdown and startup. It could take like twenty or thirty minutes. People stopped doing that to save time.” Harry said.
“We know that.” the engineers nodded.
“So gentlemen. The situation Pacific Shipping Incorporated is in is dire. This hacker has hacked his way into crucial systems.” Thompson said.
The others took this news with a grim silence.
“And the only way out of this is to change all passwords at once, rebuilt those systems that have been compromised and implement lock down security and maintain it.” Thompson said.
“Were local systems infected too?” Peter asked.
“We don’t know.” Thompson said. “We did not check their systems.”
“There has not been any formal statement yet.” the security officer said. “So I have no leverage.”
“So.. We don’t know?” Peter said.
“No.”
The men sitting around the table looked at each other. The engineers, with the exception of Peter, had worked a long time in the company. They knew what was going to happen.
“We could of course give you an extensive advice of what can be done to implement the required security.” Thompson said with a vague smile.
Harry nodded at that,”It is one of the follow up actions. Learn from the lessons learned.”
Thompson eyed the security officer. The room was silent.
“Lessons learned.” Peter said. “And will we implement those?”
“That is for management to decide.” Harry said while he placed his hands together making the fingers touch the one one the other hand.
Peter looked at the faces. The smiling one of the external consultant. The unreadable one of the old security officer and those of his co-workers who looked at him with that knowing glint in their eyes.
“We could implement some changes in the new systems, so over time it gets implemented everywhere when systems are replaced.” John said.
“And how about implementing them with local systems?”
“They won’t let us touch them. We need higher management to give the go ahead. We need to convince everyone with this rapport..” Peter demanded.
“It is a confidential rapport.”, the security officer said. “I understand from the chief security officer that it will be reclassified as highly confidential.”
“What does that mean?” Peter wondered out loud..
“That only a selected group of people can read it.” Mark said, “Only for a special group of people.” He lifted both hands to symbolise the double marks.
“So we can’t use it to convince the local people.” William underscored.
“Not unless higher management allows use of this.” Mark added and held up the rapport.
“Which they won’t.” William said. “Since they would have to admit to some painful errors.”
“We can off course make a risk assessment rapport.” Thompson said. “One that exactly advises what errors to amend and how.”
“But wouldn’t people know about it, with the password changes, rebuilds and such?” Peter asked.
“Maybe they do, but the strangest things happen in companies, so everyone accepts it as another strange fluke of the nerds and after a while people forget. Or want to forget.” Thompson said.
“Make that rapport. We try and implement what we can.” The security officer said.

Day 10: 12:55

“It is a pity. We could have used that rapport to proof we need to tighten security. Now we get a rapport suggesting the same thing, but there is no urgent reason to implement them.” Peter said to John when they had returned to their room.
John nodded.
“Maybe if production was seriously affected something would happen.”
“Perhaps..but we don’t want that to happen.” John said.
“It is like telling people we need a fire-brigade when you need a fire to convince them .”
“Something like that.”
“But now everything is hushed up. The rapport will never get out.”
“Perhaps.” John said. “But people talk. We don’t live on an island.”

Day 11: 17:15 Dave’s Pub

“Have one on me, John.” Charles Dorn smiled at Atkins and handed him a glass of beer, cold with small drops to the outside. The music played Jailhouse Rock loudly. The only other person was the bartender James, who was cleaning glasses.
“A beer..Wasn’t it all tea for you. And to go wild: coffee.”
“You know I don’t want to make a habit out of it.”
“So how are things with you people up in the Ivory Tower.” Charles said with a grin. ”Or does the beer speak for you?”
“You still see the others? Friday afternoon?”
“Of course. They all drop in at times. Every Friday afternoon. We have a drink and a chat.Nothing serious, really.”
“Well, Charles, we had this problem…” John Atkins whispered.

Signs of life 2

Despite the drizzle the red male cat had been outside in our garden the whole morning. He had been  making those weird howls males make when they are in heat. Somehow he had found out that we had a female cat even though she had only been with us for a few months and only outside for one.. Her name was Saar and she was a beautiful Maine Coon, with long grey and black hair, intense yellow eyes and a  bussy plume for a tail.

She was the third cat in out house for we had two castrated male cats as well. A small red one called Sam and a black grey one called Moos. The names were taken from two fictive characters invented by the Dutch humorist Max Tailleur, who had them talk to each other as part of his jokes.

Sam was the smallest of our two cats. He was a nervous, somewhat unpredictable cat who had a fear of men. Probably he had once had some kind of traumatic experience with a man and it took him a long time to get used to any man, like our neighbor who took care of our cats when we were on holiday. On the other side Sam was most social of the two and was the one who sometimes played with Saar.

Moos was almost the opposite of Sam. He seemed to be unaffected by anything going on around him. In fact, although he was aware of things around him, it looked like he did just did not seem to register them.  You couldn’t call him relaxed, so perhaps he was an autistic cat. He was a buddy of Sam, but he completely ignored Saar.

The drizzle had stopped at noon, but the red male had kept on howling. Saar had taken position on a blue plastic table at the other end of the garden. It felt like she was cautiously curious. Not quite sure about his intentions but curious about his behavior. The male saw Saar on that table and started to sneak towards her.

My eldest daughter, unaware of what was going outside opened the garden door to let Sam out. He had been sitting before the door casting looks at us that meant to say that he wanted to have that door opened.  Sam saw the red male crouching in the grass. Something clicked in his head and he charged. The red male was oblivious of the oncoming Sam, until he was on top of him.  He gave a surprised meow and fled.  Sam chased him, but my eldest called out to him and he stopped.

We  fantasized about the reason for the charge and came up with all kinds of explanations, but we all agreed that the one our eldest gave was the most fitting.

“Perhaps he was just fed up with the incessant howling.” she said.

Signs of life 1

With a long penetrating shriek the double decker train came to an abrupt halt inside the station.  The double doors unlocked with an audible low bang, hesitated for a moment, but then proceeded with opening very slowly.

A boy, in his late teens, ran up the stairs that led from the lower part of the train to the exit. He was fumbling with his backpack and focused on getting outside, so he did not notice the teenage boy sitting near the exit..

“Hey.” the sitting teen boy greeted.

“Hey.” the boy with the backpack said and he jumped onto the platform.

“Nice party last night.” the other said with a forced smile, “ A shame about the jacket though.”

“Yeah. Nice party.” the other boy said. He seemed calmer now, probably because he did not need to hurry now that he had gained the platform..

“I drank too much.. So.., well you know…” the sitting boy made a vague gesture with his hand, “I shouldn’t drink so much.”

“Yeah.“

“Nice party though. I will certainly be there next time.”

“And maybe drink less.” The boy on the platform said with a thin smile.

“Yeah.” The boy inside the train leaned backwards. His face was a bit white and his eyes reddish.

The doors of the train closed abruptly and the train waddled out of the station, picking up speed gradually.

The boy swallowed and his face became a shade whiter.