Show Her The Moneyñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Where there’s smoke…
“Fire!” somebody yelled, and as one, we all turned and fled.
My heart raced, and my palms broke out in a sweat. I took off for Mom’s office. She must have heard the commotion, because she met me at the doorway. “What the hell’s going on?”
“Mom, we’ve gotta get out of here! It’s—”
“A smoke bomb!” Tiffany yelled. I turned to see her emerge from the fog now creeping down the hall. Her eyes were watering, and she had a hand over her mouth while she coughed and gagged. “This is your fault!”
“My fault?” I asked, astonished anyone would think I’d stoop to something so juvenile and mean.
Thrusting a sheet of crinkled paper at me, she coughed and spluttered but managed to say, “Whoever opened the door and…threw the smoke bomb tossed this in first. Says right there, ‘Back off…Pink…or next time it’ll be a helluva lot worse than…smoke!’”
So much for my plan of keeping my stalker on the Q.T.
Show Her The Money
didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a CPA. She planned to be a park ranger so that she could live in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park, marry a good-looking guy who liked bears and spend her evenings by a cozy fire, writing novels. But a funny thing happened on the way to college. Instead of a forestry degree, she graduated with a BBA in accounting and became a CPA. Instead of marrying a mountain man, she married an oilman. And instead of living amongst mountains and pines and bears, she lives in the flatlands of West Texas, amongst mesquites and jackrabbits. That’s okay for Stephanie—she happens to love the mesquites and the jackrabbits. She especially loves her oilman. And she does spend her evenings writing novels, although instead of a cozy fire, she opts for an air conditioner. Stephanie would love for you to visit her Web site at www.stephaniefeagan.com.
This book is dedicated to the memory of
Edward Cotner. We miss you, Eddie.
My undying gratitude belongs to the following people: Jo George, CPA extraordinaire, aka Mom, for answers and inspiration. Callie and Leslea, for the gift of time. Kay Sirgo and Cheryl Cotner, for the first reads. Dan Fogelberg, for keeping me company in the wee hours, via headphones. Pam Payne, Nancy Kleinkopf and the Wet Noodle Posse, without whom this book never would have happened. Karen Solem, for believing in Pink. Natashya Wilson, every writer’s dream editor, for your patience, help and friendship. And most of all, my thanks to Mike, for the oil-field expertise, your love and support, and your unwavering faith in me.
Sitting in front of the senate finance committee was like sprinting down Dallas Central Expressway, naked.
If I didn’t get run over and killed, I was bound to become the butt of everyone’s joke first thing in the morning when the newspapers came out.
Either way, I’d rather get a root canal, have lunch with Aunt Dru, who could bore God into a premature Armageddon or remarry my lying, cheating mongrel of an ex-husband than face a row of senators bent on ferreting out the truth behind one of the worst accounting hoodwink jobs in history. Never mind that they got the first scent of blood from me. Less than a month ago, I thought I could set things straight, Marvel Energy would get their hand slapped and all would be well. How was I to know that what I discovered was only the tip of the iceberg?
I’d finished giving my prepared statement, and now it was time to run through the rack line with all those fun and happy senators who vaguely reminded me of a movie I once saw about the Salem witch trials.
“Ms. Pearl, I’d like some clarification on a few points.”
Eyeing Senator Santorelli, a romantic-looking Italian with perfect hair, I nodded.
“What was your position within the accounting firm before you were dismissed?”
“I was promoted to senior manager last December, with the understanding I was being groomed to make partner within three years. This was my first year to head the Marvel Energy audit. I reported directly to Lowell Jaworski, the partner in charge of the firm’s Dallas-based energy and petroleum clients.”
“When you initially discovered the irregularities in Marvel’s accounting methods, were you aware how deeply your own firm was involved?”
“I had no idea.” That all came later. It broke my heart to discover the firm where I’d worked for over eight years was rotten at the core. But I didn’t say that. I was pretty sure the finance committee could care less about my heart.
“What sort of discrepancies, in particular, did you find while working on the Marvel audit?”
Oh boy. This was the fun part. “Based on the dollar amount of oil reserves Marvel claims to hold, they own close to a sixteenth of the world’s supply of petroleum. Marvel is a large company, sir, but not that large. My staff was only able to track down a fraction of their claim. Marvel has less than sixty million dollars of debt on the balance sheet, but I believe they owe various banks upwards of four hundred million. All of this debt was carried off the books, within a maze of partnerships and offshore trusts. As I dug deeper, I found out the company overstated their quarterly income for the past five quarters by almost twenty million.”
“When you asked about these discrepancies, what was Mr. Jaworski’s reaction?”
I cleared my throat and shot a glance at my hired gun attorney, Mr. Dryer. He nodded slightly, indicating I should go ahead. Returning my gaze to Santorelli, I caught an odd look on his face, one I couldn’t decipher. “Mr. Jaworski told me my chances of making partner would fall to zilch if I didn’t back off and leave it alone.”
Santorelli paged through the copies of documents I’d provided to the committee, then looked at me with that weird look again. He almost looked like he wanted to smile. There was a bit of a twinkle in his dark eyes. Or maybe it was just the awful fluorescent light in the hearing room. At any rate, I had the sense he found all of this amusing in some way, and that pissed me off. After becoming a CPA, landing a job at the most prestigious firm in the universe, then working ungodly hours, week after week, year after year, all so I could make it to the top, I was now on unemployment. And Santorelli thought this was funny? I couldn’t believe it. Maybe he just had that kind of face that always looks like it wants to smile.
“Ms. Pearl,” he began in a solemn voice that belied his expression, “I see workpapers and documents here, along with the preliminary findings of the Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, that go a long way toward backing up your claim that Marvel grossly understated debt and overstated assets, but nothing in here gives us any proof that the irregularities weren’t the result of error, or miscommunication, or negligence. You say the Marvel execs and the partners of your firm knowingly hoodwinked investors, that all the mis-statements were on purpose, but we can’t begin investigating anyone unless we have some sort of evidence. All we can do with these documents is allow the SEC to file suit against Marvel and the firm for what amounts to setting up a maze of companies so complicated, it would take Einstein a year to figure it out. It’s no wonder there are so many mistakes.”
The sole woman on the committee, Barbara Clemmons from New Hampshire, piped up then. “Isn’t it true that you approached the SEC after you were let go from your position at the firm?”
Again, I glanced at Mr. Dryer. He leaned over and whispered, “Tell the truth. They’re going to try and say you did all of this for revenge, and without the memos, it doesn’t look good. Just do the best you can.”
Do the best I could? Oh, Lord. Turning back to face the row of senators, I said, “Mr. Jaworski told me, if I was determined to take my suspicions to the SEC, he’d fire me. In light of what I found, I didn’t see I had any choice.”
“If you’re so certain this was a conspiracy, where’s the evidence?”
Time for some major ass-covering. I mentally slipped into my iron underwear. “The Marvel executives sold every share of Marvel stock they were legally allowed to sell the day I took my findings to the SEC, and at the same time, put a freeze on the employees and wouldn’t allow any of the retirement fund Marvel stock to be sold. Then they announced an adjustment to earnings and the stock price fell by fifty percent.”
“All that proves is the Marvel executives were running scared because they knew you were opening the company up for an SEC investigation. There’s no law against someone looking out for their own interests. Perhaps they froze the retirement fund to avoid a further drop in the price, which would protect the investors. As for the earnings adjustment, they no doubt wanted to set the record straight in their own way, rather than allow for the perception of wrongdoing among their shareholders.”
Un-freaking-believable. She was painting the execs at Marvel as the wounded party in all this. They’d lied, cheated and ripped off the investors by selling out before the stock price tanked. But Barbara Clemmons had the nerve to insinuate that I was Chicken Little, causing a panic when clearly, it was all just a big misunderstanding.
She said in a tone now almost hostile, “I was given to understand we would see evidence at today’s hearing. Instead, all you have are theories.” The other senators nodded agreement, looking annoyed. Except Santorelli.
He was frowning at Ms. Clemmons, but she didn’t appear to notice. Instead, she was frowning at me, as though I was the bad guy in all of this. Dammit! If only I had the freakin’ memos. Time to lay out The Big Confession. “Almost two weeks ago, I obtained copies of several memos between Lowell Jaworski and the CEO and CFO at Marvel. They prove the complicated partnership scheme was designed for the express purpose of hiding debt and losses that would affect Marvel’s bottom line, and therefore the price of their stock. The memos also prove that the firm agreed to look the other way in exchange for very lucrative consulting work.”
“The SEC informed us of the alleged memos,” she said, her middle-aged, jowly face set in stern disapproval, “but where are these memos? Why didn’t you turn what you had over to the SEC investigator?”
Okay, this was it. The moment I’d dreaded since the instant I realized I no longer had my ace in the hole. “The memos were scanned and saved onto several disks, one of which I stored in a safe deposit box at my bank, some I hid in my home and one was earmarked to be taken to the SEC. Before I could get the disk to the SEC, it was stolen, along with all but one of the hidden copies. The disk in the lockbox was accidentally taken by my ex-husband.” Who still had a key because I was so busy working my ass off, I didn’t think to have it changed. Because the only things in the damn box were our marriage license—yeah, like I wanted to keep that safe—and my mother’s will. Because I forgot George even had a key. Huge mistake on my part. I was convinced someone had paid George big bucks to swipe the disk, but I wasn’t going to say that. I already looked like a fringe lunatic, paranoid and grasping at conspiracy theories. No way I wanted to get into it about George.
“Did you contact the police about the theft?”
“Yes, but they weren’t able to reach any conclusion as to who might have broken into my home.” So much for the boys in blue upholding the law. They’d acted as though they’d like to arrest me for being such a pain in their ass. Floppy disks didn’t register on their radar as any consequence. That the disks represented all that stood between me and very hot water never seemed to register. They’d taken a report and I hadn’t heard from them since. “I thought I’d be able to retrieve the memos before today’s hearing. Regrettably, I could not.”
“So,” she said a bit smugly, “there will never be any evidence to prove your claim. Is that right?”
“Respectfully, no, that is not right. There is one disk remaining, but I don’t have access to it.”
Santorelli spoke before Clemmons could ask another snarky question. “Where is it?”
I panicked, and Mr. Dryer leaned close. “You have to tell them.” He raised one graying brow, reminding me of my father. This wasn’t a good thing.
Taking a deep breath, I looked at Santorelli. “Inside a box that was taken by someone who misunderstood which box I intended to get rid of.”
“The solution seems simple, Ms. Pearl. Get the box back.”
“I can’t get the box back because it was sold.” In a garage sale, by my aunt Fred, who’s the Garage Sale Queen, always hunting for inventory. But no way I was telling the senator, or anyone else. Someone had taken five of my copies, and I was determined to hang on to the sixth. It held everything the justice department needed to charge the Marvel Energy executives and the partners of my ex-employer CPA firm with felony counts of fraud, gross negligence and perjury.
The only people who knew where the box was now located were me, Aunt Fred and my third grade teacher, who’d bought the box. Me and Aunt Fred weren’t talking, and Mrs. Bohannon was currently rolling across the Serengeti in the back of a Land Rover, shooting pictures of giraffes, completely unaware she had the key to my fate stored in one of her closets. “I can retrieve the disk within three weeks, as soon as the person who bought the box returns from out of the country.”
Santorelli glanced at his fellow senators, then leveled a look at me. “I assume no one purchased an empty box, Ms. Pearl. What was in the box?”
A sharp look at Mr. Dryer. He only nodded, and his already thin lips completely disappeared. We’d been all through the box issue. If I lied, if I said something was in the box, other than what really was in the box, it could harm my credibility if the investigation ended with criminal charges against Marvel Energy. It didn’t seem reasonable that anyone would ever be the wiser, but Mr. Dryer assured me they had ways of finding these things out. Not wanting to arm the Marvel defense team with any ammunition, I decided to tell the truth, even if it meant laying my pride at the feet of the senate finance committee—and the rest of the United States. At least, the ones who watched C-SPAN. I looked straight at the senator and said clearly, “Mister Bob.”
“A blow-up doll.”
The army of press congregated behind me, along with a smorgasbord of others, including the head honcho of the SEC, chuckled and guffawed. The senators all smiled. All except Barbara. I tried to save face. “It was a gag gift, given to me on my thirtieth birthday.”
Santorelli stopped grinning, barely, and said in a pseudo-forceful tone, “I believe we’ve covered everything, Ms. Pearl. Thank you again for coming forward and we’d like to reconvene this hearing when you have the memo copies in hand.”
“Yes, sir. I will be here.”
He leaned forward a bit, his dark eyes trained on mine as though he really wanted me to get what he was about to say. “Ms. Pearl, it takes a lot of courage for a person to do the right thing, then suffer the consequences as you have. However, I must advise you of the precarious position you’re in. Although this was the first year you were in charge of the Marvel audit, you were involved with the audit over the past five years, in a lesser managerial capacity, but still in a position of authority over the audit staff. If further investigation by the SEC reveals malfeasance or negligence on the part of your firm, you are now under the umbrella of immunity this committee has extended to you in return for your testimony. You will avoid prosecution, civil or criminal. But I remind you, immunity was granted based on your full cooperation.”
“Sir, I’ve told you everything I know, provided all the documents and evidence needed to proceed with the investigation.”
“Ms. Pearl, your immunity can be revoked in the absence of all requested information. You said you had the memos. Now you say you don’t. Without them, it looks as though you blew the whistle to cover yourself in the event Marvel’s house of cards caved in. It comes down to a you-say–they-say situation. From the look of what you have provided, Marvel is very close to defaulting on a large amount of their debt. That may force them into bankruptcy, which would cause a lot of questions to be asked, perhaps putting you in the line of fire.”
I leaned toward Mr. Dryer. “Can they revoke immunity?”
He nodded. “I think they only offered it because they want those memos. Without them, he’s right and it looks like you sang just to cover yourself.”
“Does the fact I knew nothing about any of it have no impact at all?”
Mr. Dryer shot me a look that said he wasn’t buying any of it, either. Even my own attorney didn’t believe me. For eight hundred bucks an hour, the least he could have done was fake it. “Like the man said, it’s your word against theirs. I suggest you do all you can to get your hands on that disk.”
A mental picture of Mrs. Bohannon popped into my head. She was a ditzy old girl when I was in third grade. Dear Lord, please, please let her still have the box, and the disk I’d stuck in the bottom of it.
“Ms. Pearl, do you understand what I’m saying to you?” Santorelli asked in an even voice.
“Yes, sir. I will get the memos.” Or die trying.
As soon as we were dismissed, I wasted no time firing Mr. Dryer. Why give him eight hundred bucks an hour for getting me immunity that wouldn’t hold up? I could get the same service with a back-alley attorney who charged a hundred bucks an hour. Just what I’d do about an attorney, I wasn’t sure, but I’d think of something. I supposed I had to have one. Muddling through the process of hearings and handing over sensitive documents wasn’t in my repertoire. Digging for facts is more my calling. Legal-eagle stuff blows my mind. Without an attorney, I was bound to say and do all the wrong things and wind up in prison, or at the very least, owe a ginormous amount of dough after I was sued by the SEC.
When I got back to my hotel room, I had a surprise waiting for me. Another note, threatening a slice-and-dice job on my private body parts, along with a lovely gift of dog doo.
Somebody had it in for me, and the threats were arriving more frequently. The notion that someone was following me and watching every move I made was creepy enough, but the dog doo took my anxiety to a higher level. I figured, anyone who took the time to find dog poop, scoop it up, preserve it, transport it and artfully arrange it in some strategic spot where I’d be sure to find it, whether with my eyes, my nose or the heel of my foot, was severely twisted. The notes I could almost understand. Someone had a major problem with me ratting out the firm and Marvel Energy. Maybe that someone was in danger of losing their job, or even facing possible indictment.
But the poop took it to a new level. A very scary one.
Still, I wasn’t going to back off. Not that I’m a modern day superhero, or Joan of Arc, or anything. I just don’t like getting shoved around, and I really have a problem with fat cats taking investors for a ride, then swiping their cash. Dog doo or no, I wasn’t backing off.
While me and the housekeeping lady worked at cleaning up the mess, I sent a silent prayer, asking God to forgive me for having murderous thoughts. That’s the great thing about God. He’s so forgiving. Man, I wished I could do that.
But I couldn’t. I despised the Dog Doo Stalker for terrorizing me with poodle bombs and sick notes. I hated Senator Santorelli and Barbara Clemmons for forcing me to humiliate myself in front of the entire nation. And I especially despised my ex-boss, Lowell, for firing me.
The next morning, I caught the early flight out of D.C. and arrived in Dallas before lunch. Not that it mattered. My days of power lunches at places like Beau Nash and The Mansion were over. I could still afford a plate of food that cost more than a new tire, but I had way too much pride to waltz into a fancy-schmancy restaurant and eat lunch alone.
Which is how I felt. Very alone. Being a whistle-blower might earn a girl a place in heaven, but it’s hell on a social life.
I spent an hour wandering around my ransacked loft, half-heartedly picking things up and putting them in their places. Lord, but I loved the loft. It was two-thousand square feet of upscale, modern architecture. I had splurged and bought beautiful Cantoni furniture and the result looked like something out of Architectural Digest. I’d never actually wanted a home that more closely resembled a Starbucks than a cozy place to live, but it grew on me. From the bathroom’s black ceramic bowl and brushed steel faucet that poked out of the granite wall, to the kitchen’s stark wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances, to the narrow balcony that looked out over Central Expressway, the loft screamed success. And I was successful. Very. Was being the operative word.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî