Show Her The Money
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ďHmm, yeah, I did forget this is the land before time.Ē
ďJane, I understand sticking by family, but this has disaster written all over it.Ē
Mom looked disappointed and it dawned on me, she was going to go with Sam. She was going to make me do taxes! No way could I let that happen. ďSam, you can look at this like Iím bound to be ineffectual, or you can look at it like Iím a CPA with eight years of audit experience. The fact that I grew up here is a point in my favor. I know a lot of people, and I can open a lot of the same doors a guy could. At least give me a chance. Isnít that fair?Ē
ďIíd consider it a big favor,Ē Mom said, looking hopeful.
What was up with Mom? Sheís a barracuda when it comes to business and her pansy attitude was blowing my mind.
Sam stared at me for a long time, and I had the feeling he expected me to look away, or squirm, or otherwise cave under his direct eye contact. I therefore stared back. Finally, he said with a hint of a growl in his deep voice, ďAw hell, I know damn well Iím gonna regret it, but okay. One chance. Screw this up and youíre gone. Understand?Ē
I didnít like his patronizing tone, but I admired his honesty. I decided to overlook the tone. ďUnderstand.Ē
He glanced at my clothes and shook his head. ďDo you always dress like that?Ē
ďOnly when Iím moving out of my house, then driving for six hours in one-hundred-degree temperatures.Ē
His blue eyes crinkled at the edges when he smiled at me. ďYouíre a real smart-ass, arenít you?Ē
ďGood. Youíre gonna need a smart mouth.Ē He headed for the door. ďFollow me, and pay attention.Ē
I glanced at Mom and noticed she looked a little smug, as if she knew all along it would turn out this way. Knowing Mom, she probably did.
In Samís office, I watched his arm stretch when he spread some document copies across his desk, and noticed a tattoo of an anchor on his forearm, above his skin diver watch. ďNice tattoo,Ē I said. ďDid you get it in the Navy?Ē
ďWhen were you in the Navy?Ē
ďPink, I like to keep business and personal separated. Understand?Ē
He pointed to the documents lining the top edge of his desk. ďThese are bills of lading for Domino Pipe Company. Theyíre a primo pipe supplier and our client buys from them on a regular basis. His name is Ollie Shanks and his partner is his cousin, Bert. Ollie and Bert are each fifty percent partners in Shanks Resources, a small oil company they started back in the eighties. Ollie thinks Bert is switching the primo pipe for some crap pipe, selling the good stuff and pocketing the difference.Ē
ďWhy does he think that?Ē
ďBecause every well theyíve drilled and completed in the last six months has sprouted casing leaks and theyíre losing a lot of barrels back to the hole.Ē
Looking over the division order, I asked, ďIs Bert a moron? He has to pay half the cost of the new pipe, which he canít sell for what they paid for it if heís doing it on the sly.And heíd probably make twice the money off the oil heís losing to the hole.Ē
ďHeís dumb like a fox. He has to split the oil with Ollie, but by selling the pipe he only had to pay for half of, pocketing one hundred percent of the profit, and buying crap pipe on the cheap, he comes out ahead.Ē
ďSo what are we supposed to do?Ē
ďProve that Bert is switching the pipe. Ollie needs solid evidence that his cousin is cheating him because he wants Bert out of the company.Ē
ďBecause heís a crook?Ē
ďAmong other reasons.Ē Sam gathered up the documents and the bank statements and handed them to me. ďGo get íem, tiger.Ē
I walked toward his door. ďNo problem, but if you ever call me tiger again, Iíll hurt you. Understand?Ē
I spent some time getting acclimated to the Shanksesí information, but had barely begun to work out a plan before five oíclock came. Almost as though a silent alarm sounded, the bull pen became a hive of busy activity, the staff tidying up desks, closing files, gathering up purses and briefcases. I joined the frenzy, anxious to get to Momís and float in the pool, a cold Corona in hand.
Faster than a herd of crazed cattle, we all stampeded down the hall, but as we got closer to the reception area, I caught a whiff of something so vile, so nasty, I covered my nose and mouth to keep from gagging.
Then I saw the smoke.
ďFire!Ē somebody yelled, and as one, we all turned and fled back to the bull pen.
My heart raced, my palms broke out in a sweat and my only thought was to get Mom. I took off for her office, but she must have heard the commotion because she met me at the doorway. ďWhat the hellís going on?Ē Her dark eyes were wide with worry.
ďMom, we gotta get out of here! ItísóĒ
ďA smoke bomb!Ē 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.
Sam came out of his office and immediately took control, which effectively calmed everyone down. The shrieks and shouts stopped in favor of Samís stern commanding voice. He barked an order for someone to call 9-1-1 and directed one of the seniors to take everyone down the exit stairs.
Turning to follow, anxious to get Mom out of there because she looked so frightened, it hadnít yet occurred to me to wonder why anyone would set off a smoke bomb in the office.
Not until Tiffany came up behind me and said in a choked voice, ďThis is your fault!Ē
The group stopped before passing through the stairway door and stared at me with giant question marks in their eyes.
ďMy fault?Ē I asked, astonished anyone would think Iíd stoop to something so juvenile and mean.
Thrusting a sheet of crinkled paper at me, she coughed and spluttered, but managed to say, ďWhoever opened the door andÖthrew the smoke bomb, tossed this in first. Says right there, ĎBack offÖPinkie, or next time itíll be a helluva lot worse thanÖsmoke!íĒ
My earliest memory is when I was three years old and my dad ran over the cat. Mom loved that cat. I wouldnít know that by observation because as I said, my first memory was when the cat went to the big litter box in the sky. I know Mom loved the cat because she talked about Blix for the next twenty-eight years of my life. Part of my hazy memory is Mom wigging out in the driveway, crying and accusing Dad of doing it on purpose, so maybe she just talked about the cat because it reinforced her opinion of my father. I donít think he did it on purpose because he has a real soft spot for animals. A mean son of a bitch to people, but no way heíd run over poor Blix on purpose, even to piss off Mom.
All the same, I donít think she ever forgave him. And I donít recall Mom ever wigging out like that again.
Until Tiffany read the note from the Dog Doo Stalker.
While me and Mom and the rest of the staff, except for Sam, who stayed behind to check out the smoke bomb, tromped down fifteen flights of stairs, she hysterically asked questions in a shrill voice that was beyond unnerving. I answered all of them as truthfully as possible, well aware the staff was listening to every word. So much for my plan of keeping the Dog Doo Stalker on the q.t. I was already persona non grata to most peopleóthe Dog Doo Stalker would reduce me to leper status.
Outside, in the late afternoon heat, we had to wait for the fire department and the Midland bomb squad to check the building. Being a captive audience, I had no choice but to take it while Mom hounded me for details, railed against me for keeping it from her, insisted I had to destroy the disk so ďthat maniacĒ would leave me alone.
I patiently listened and let her go off on me, until she said I had to destroy the disk. ďMom, you can ask me to do just about anything, but not that. As soon as I get the disk, Iím handing it over to the finance committee.Ē
Finally aware of our audience, Mom gave the staff the evil eye and they slowly moved away, although they couldnít go home because the fire department had the parking garage blocked off.
ďThe disk isnít that important!Ē she said in a stage whisper the firemen could probably hear on the fifteenth floor. ďThe SEC has enough for an investigation. Let them take care of it.Ē
ďThey can prove Marvel has a lousy accounting system, maybe even prove thereís some funny money involved, but it will all fall on the grunt people, the little guys who had to follow orders. Iím certain the Marvel execs and my firm have already destroyed any documents that could prove they set the whole thing up, that none of it was due to stupidity or carelessness. If I donít turn over the disk, not one of the lousy bastards at the top will pay for what theyíve done.Ē
ďPink, youíve always been so damn righteous! Is this whole Marvel mess worth getting yourself killed? Itís only money, for Godís sake!Ē
Anger threatened to overtake rational thought, but I managed to keep it under control. Iíd like to say itís because Iím calm, collected and handle myself with reasonable gracefulness, but the truth is, I knew I couldnít win an argument with Mom if I got too pissed. The woman is amazing. I took a deep breath, let it out slowly and explained why I wasnít going to mind her. ďTo you, itís only money. To thousands of investors, itís their life savings, their college funds, their retirement packages. Last year, the CEO at Marvel bought an island. An island, Mom! And the greedy crook bought it with other peopleís money. If I witnessed a guy robbing a bank, would you want me to say nothing and let the guy go free? Because this is no different.Ē
ďI might, if the bank robber was threatening to kill you!Ē
She looked ready to blow a gasket and I began to worry sheíd pass out from heat and fury.
Sam came out the front door of the building and headed toward us, a policeman in tow.
ďWeíll just ask Sam what he thinks,Ē Mom said. ďHe was with the FBI for almost fifteen years. Heíll tell you how dangerous this stalker person is.Ē
Lucky for me, Sam wasnít personally involved. Unlike Mom, who clucked after me all the years I was growing up, who was now roaring like a mother bear, Sam couldnít care less what happened to me. Well, thatís not really fair. Iím sure he cared, but obviously not like Mom does.
While the cop stood by and listened, nodding as though he agreed completely, Sam said to Mom, ďThis guy wants to scare Pink into giving up, but I donít think heíll cross the line and hurt her, or anyone in the office. Heís bluffing.Ē
ďHow do you know? Are you a mind reader?Ē Mom turned her anger and frustration toward Sam and I felt for him.
He shot a look at me, then focused on Momís very red face. ďBecause, Jane, if he wasnít bluffing, sheíd already be dead.Ē
After answering police questions for over an hour, I was finally able to leave. Mom said she had to pick up some tax information from a homebound client, so I had a brief reprieve from her nervous, worried looks and angry grumbles.
Relaxing a little, I drove to her house, anticipating a float in the pool. And the Corona. Maybe two. Or three.
It wasnít until I drove up to her house that I realized Iíd never gotten a key. Dammit. I parked in back, in the driveway, climbed through a window and hurried to shut off the security alarm before time ran out and the cops were called. But when I got to the control box, I realized the security alarm wasnít on. The hair on the back of my neck rose up when I heard someone whistling. Stepping close to the door so I could haul ass if it turned out to be a burglar, or the stalker, I called out, ďHello! Whoís there?Ē
A medium-built man with a small beer belly and thick, brown hair stepped into the living room and smiled at me. ďIím Harry, the air-conditioner guy.Ē
Breathing a sigh of relief, I smiled at him. ďHi, Harry. Mom having trouble with her air conditioner?Ē
ďJust needed a little Freon.Ē He narrowed his brown eyes. ďSo you must be Pink.Ē
ďHowíd you get a name like that?Ē
ďRemember Pink Pearl erasers?Ē
ďWell, theyíre erasers that are pink and theyíre Pink Pearl brand and lots of accountants used to use them. When I went to work as an accountant, I got the nickname because my last name is Pearl and it just sort of stuck.Ē
He still looked confused, but I wasnít going to discuss my stupid nickname any further.
ďYou donít look like your mother.Ē
I sighed and leaned against the column. ďNo.Ē
ďDoes your dad have blond hair and blue eyes?Ē
ďBecause your mother is dark, with dark hair and eyes. She almost looks Italian.Ē
I resisted being sarcastic and thanking him for telling me what my mother looked like. ďIndian.Ē
ďHer grandmother was Cherokee. Sheís dark because of the Indian thing.Ē I turned away and said as politely as possible, ďIf youíll excuse me, I think Iíll unload my car now.Ē
ďSure, sure. Do you need some help?Ē
ďIíve got it, thanks.Ē
Forty-five minutes later, Mom got home and came outside. ďWhitney Ann!Ē She walked to the edge of the pool and stared down at me with one of those Youíve Been A Naughty Girl looks.
ďIf you say one word, I swear to God, Iíll leave and never speak to you again. And I am not kidding.Ē I held my second Corona next to my face, loving the feel of the cold glass.
ďI wish you wouldnít be soóĒ
ďMom, Iím warning you.Ē
ďFine,Ē she snapped in a voice that indicated it was anything but fine. She glanced at her watch. ďAlready past seven. You hungry?Ē
ďThen go get some clothes on. I brought fajitas home and weíre having company.Ē
ďAw, Mom, gimme a break! Iím so tired, Iíd have to wake up to die. And Iím half-looped. Whoís coming for dinner?Ē
ďA lawyer named Ed.Ē
ďA lawyer? Are you dating him?Ē
ďOf course not! You know I donít date. Besides, heís young enough to be my son and that would be weird.Ē
ďWell, I know you wouldnít be trying to fix me up, so whatís with Ed?Ē
ďHe refers a lot of his divorce clients to me for tax advice, and I send him my tax clients whoíre getting divorced. Now, he and Sam work together on our mutual clients. Heís a good attorney, I think, but besides that, he owes me a big favor.Ē Mom took a seat at the end of a teak chaise lounge and watched me float around with the beer. ďSince you got rid of that overpriced Washington attorney, you need another one, so I coaxed Ed into helping you for a discounted fee.Ē
ďHow much discounted?Ē
ďTwo grand, plus expenses.Ē
ďAnd heís a lawyer? You musta done one helluva favor for him. Whatíd you do? Spring him out of prison?Ē
ďEd won a very large case last year and failed to make his estimated payments to the IRS. I got all of his penalties abated.Ē
ďWhatís with this guy not paying his taxes? Is he a deadbeat?Ē
ďNo. Edís justÖwell, heís sort of a free spirit.Ē
ďWhich means heís a bum. Your only daughter, about to be crucified on the altar of the U.S. government, and you find me a bum of a lawyer.Ē
She stood and walked toward the back door. ďDonít be so dramatic. Youíll like Ed. Trust me.Ē
After dragging my exhausted, half-drunk ass out of the pool, I showered and dressed in a loose, cotton sundress, one of my better Target finds, and went to the kitchen to help Mom get supper on the table. She was just pulling the fajitas out of the oven, saying, ďI love Rosarioís fajitas, but I guess maybe theyíre better when you eat them there.Ē
A deep voice responded, ďTheyíll be okay.Ē
I moved farther into the kitchen and spotted a tall guy leaning against the opposite counter. In a faded red T-shirt, he was buff, with longish, dark hair that didnít look like he wore it long on purpose. It looked like he either forgot to go get a haircut, or blew it off. Glancing at the hole in his jeans, I voted for blew it off. Ed was not a guy who cared what he looked like.
He definitely looked like the type of guy Iíd love to have hot sex with, then send home right after. Not relationship material. Bad boy material. And I knew all about bad boys. I married one.
Mom spotted me and said, ďPink, this is Ed.Ē
I stuck my hand out to shake his and smiled politely. At least I think it was polite. Feeling his huge, warm hand wrap around mine was very stimulating. I may have leered at him, but Iím not sure. The hot sun and the Coronas and my complete lack of a love life over the past year and a half all added up to a few lightning-bolt zings in the vicinity of my hootus. So maybe I did leer at him and probably held his hand too long. He smiled back and mumbled something like, ďNice tí meet you.Ē
I finally let go of his hand and we stood there, eyeing each other like moose in mating season. Hmm. Nice body. Good teeth. Smells awesome. For a minute, I wished I was a moose. Then we could go get it on and no one would think anything about it.
But alas, I wasnít a moose. And Mom was right there, noticing all the animal attraction and clearing her throat, as if to say, Back off you two and save the drooling for later.
I turned to glance at her and noticed her eyes, those dark, flashing Mom eyes, said, See, I told you so.
Mom loves to say ďI told you so.Ē Most times, I donít care. It gives her a charge, so why not? Other times, it really ticks me. This was one of those times. I decided not to like Ed, just to show her she wasnít always right. Looking up at him, I asked casually, ďSo, Ed, whatís with you not paying your taxes?Ē I ignored Momís sharp breath.
He never so much as blinked. ďI forgot.Ē
ďAnd the IRS bought that?Ē
ďNo. They bought that Iíve never made that much money before and didnít realize I needed to pay in quarterly.Ē
ďSo, how much did you make?Ē
ďWhitney Ann!Ē Mom said in a take-no-prisoners voice, ďStop asking such personal questions and behave yourself!Ē
Ed still didnít look away, or appear one bit concerned. ďA little over five million.Ē
ďMusta been a good case. Whoíd you sue?Ē
Just like that, he got me, right between the eyes. ďYou enjoyed that, didnít you?Ē
He smiled then. Grinned, actually. ďLoved it. Wanna go for round two?Ē
ďMaybe later. Iím starving.Ē
Mom looked ready to wring my neck, but she didnít say anything else, or call me Whitney Ann! again. We sat down in her elegant dining room and ate fajitas out of a foil pan and talked about the Midland school board and their latest attempts to pass a gigantic school bond. Ed wasnít as dumb as he was a slob. In fact, he seemed very intelligent.
By the end of supper, I knew I needed to steer clear of him. He was an accident waiting to happen, and I was doomed to be the sole casualty. My ex-husband, George, was just like Ed. Well, except that George was a mechanic and Ed was a lawyer. But other than thatÖAnd I suppose Ed did have better manners. George would never have asked if Mom and I would like more iced tea as he got up to pour himself another glass. George would have grunted, pointed his fork at his glass and waited for me to jump up and get it. He got away with that exactly once. After that, he waited so long, his ice melted.
Ed poured more tea into my glass, then Momís, and retook his chair. ďTell me about Marvel Energy and the senate finance committee.Ē
ďWhat? Donít you watch CNN? Iím the flavor of the week. Me and Senator Santorelli. Theyíve got me sleeping with him.Ē
ďWell, he is very attractive,Ē Mom said. ďAnd heís single now, since his wife passed away. You know the media loves him, and they really get off on pairing him up with single women.Ē
ďI donít even know the man. And I donít think heís the least bit attractive.Ē
ďWhy?Ē Mom frowned at me over her fajita stuffed tortilla.
ďGee, let me count the ways. Could it be because he made me tell the entire United States about Mister Bob?Ē
ďHe meant well. How could he have known about Mister Bob?Ē
She had a point, but I was not in the mood to be understanding. I refocused on Edís face. His very attractive, manly face, with a five-oíclock shadow and really nice brown eyes. ďWhat do you want to know that isnít already out there?Ē
He swallowed his drink of tea, set the glass down and said easily, ďI want to know how you knew about the memos and how you got them.Ē
Sitting back in my chair, I stared at him for a long time.
ďYouíre going to have to trust me,Ē Ed said.
I took a long drink of tea. Would he believe me? Or would he be like Mr. Dryer and Barbara Clemmons and assume I was as guilty as the partners at the firm? I supposed there was only one way to find out. ďWhen I discovered the enormous amount of debt Marvel carries off the books, and how close the company was to defaulting on those loans, I went to Lowell and told him. He said I should forget the loans, that I should just conduct the audit and make sure I had workpapers to back up clean financials.Ē
ďHe told you to lie?Ē
ďOnly a lot. Thatís when I knew heíd set me up. He promoted me and put me in charge of the audit so when the news broke that Marvel is basically bankrupt, Iíd be in the hot seat. Iíd get my license jerked for gross negligence while Lowell stood back and acted like he had no clue. The firm would stay in business and my career would be history. I was the sacrificial lamb.Ē
ďHe didnít count on you blowing the whistle.Ē
ďNot hardly. Or maybe he just thought I wasnít smart enough to figure it all out. The day I suggested we should go to the SEC with what Iíd found, he went ballistic. I told him I was gonna do it, and he fired me. The next day, I turned over copies of Marvelís debt instruments to the SEC, thinking theyíd investigate, fine the company and demand they clean up their act. Instead, they asked me a lot of questions about how weíd conducted the audit in the past, about how much debt Marvel had during those years and how we missed it. Thatís when it dawned on me, Marvel had been hiding debt at least three years before the current year, and Lowell must have known all along. Thatís when I knew we werenít just talking about losing a CPA license. We were talking about criminal charges against any of the management who worked on the Marvel audit during the past several years, including me. By blowing the whistle on Marvel, Iíd basically set myself up. No way anyone would believe I wasnít aware of the cover-up.Ē
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