Show Her The Money
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“Hmm, yeah, I did forget this is the land before time.”
“Jane, I understand sticking by family, but this has disaster written all over it.”
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. “Sam, you can look at this like I’m bound to be ineffectual, or you can look at it like I’m 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. Isn’t that fair?”
“I’d consider it a big favor,” Mom said, looking hopeful.
What was up with Mom? She’s 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, “Aw hell, I know damn well I’m gonna regret it, but okay. One chance. Screw this up and you’re gone. Understand?”
I didn’t like his patronizing tone, but I admired his honesty. I decided to overlook the tone. “Understand.”
He glanced at my clothes and shook his head. “Do you always dress like that?”
“Only when I’m moving out of my house, then driving for six hours in one-hundred-degree temperatures.”
His blue eyes crinkled at the edges when he smiled at me. “You’re a real smart-ass, aren’t you?”
“Good. You’re gonna need a smart mouth.” He headed for the door. “Follow me, and pay attention.”
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 Sam’s 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. “Nice tattoo,” I said. “Did you get it in the Navy?”
“When were you in the Navy?”
“Pink, I like to keep business and personal separated. Understand?”
He pointed to the documents lining the top edge of his desk. “These are bills of lading for Domino Pipe Company. They’re 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.”
“Why does he think that?”
“Because every well they’ve drilled and completed in the last six months has sprouted casing leaks and they’re losing a lot of barrels back to the hole.”
Looking over the division order, I asked, “Is Bert a moron? He has to pay half the cost of the new pipe, which he can’t sell for what they paid for it if he’s doing it on the sly.And he’d probably make twice the money off the oil he’s losing to the hole.”
“He’s 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.”
“So what are we supposed to do?”
“Prove that Bert is switching the pipe. Ollie needs solid evidence that his cousin is cheating him because he wants Bert out of the company.”
“Because he’s a crook?”
“Among other reasons.” Sam gathered up the documents and the bank statements and handed them to me. “Go get ’em, tiger.”
I walked toward his door. “No problem, but if you ever call me tiger again, I’ll hurt you. Understand?”
I spent some time getting acclimated to the Shankses’ information, but had barely begun to work out a plan before five o’clock 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 Mom’s 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.
“Fire!” 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. “What the hell’s going on?” Her dark eyes were wide with worry.
“Mom, we 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.
Sam came out of his office and immediately took control, which effectively calmed everyone down. The shrieks and shouts stopped in favor of Sam’s 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 hadn’t 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, “This is your fault!”
The group stopped before passing through the stairway door and stared at me with giant question marks in their eyes.
“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…Pinkie, or next time it’ll be a helluva lot worse than…smoke!’”
My earliest memory is when I was three years old and my dad ran over the cat. Mom loved that cat. I wouldn’t 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 don’t 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 he’d run over poor Blix on purpose, even to piss off Mom.
All the same, I don’t think she ever forgave him. And I don’t 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 people—the 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 “that maniac” would leave me alone.
I patiently listened and let her go off on me, until she said I had to destroy the disk. “Mom, you can ask me to do just about anything, but not that. As soon as I get the disk, I’m handing it over to the finance committee.”
Finally aware of our audience, Mom gave the staff the evil eye and they slowly moved away, although they couldn’t go home because the fire department had the parking garage blocked off.
“The disk isn’t that important!” she said in a stage whisper the firemen could probably hear on the fifteenth floor. “The SEC has enough for an investigation. Let them take care of it.”
“They can prove Marvel has a lousy accounting system, maybe even prove there’s some funny money involved, but it will all fall on the grunt people, the little guys who had to follow orders. I’m 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 don’t turn over the disk, not one of the lousy bastards at the top will pay for what they’ve done.”
“Pink, you’ve always been so damn righteous! Is this whole Marvel mess worth getting yourself killed? It’s only money, for God’s sake!”
Anger threatened to overtake rational thought, but I managed to keep it under control. I’d like to say it’s because I’m calm, collected and handle myself with reasonable gracefulness, but the truth is, I knew I couldn’t 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 wasn’t going to mind her. “To you, it’s only money. To thousands of investors, it’s 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 people’s 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.”
“I might, if the bank robber was threatening to kill you!”
She looked ready to blow a gasket and I began to worry she’d pass out from heat and fury.
Sam came out the front door of the building and headed toward us, a policeman in tow.
“We’ll just ask Sam what he thinks,” Mom said. “He was with the FBI for almost fifteen years. He’ll tell you how dangerous this stalker person is.”
Lucky for me, Sam wasn’t personally involved. Unlike Mom, who clucked after me all the years I was growing up, who was now roaring like a mother bear, Sam couldn’t care less what happened to me. Well, that’s not really fair. I’m 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, “This guy wants to scare Pink into giving up, but I don’t think he’ll cross the line and hurt her, or anyone in the office. He’s bluffing.”
“How do you know? Are you a mind reader?” Mom turned her anger and frustration toward Sam and I felt for him.
He shot a look at me, then focused on Mom’s very red face. “Because, Jane, if he wasn’t bluffing, she’d already be dead.”
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 wasn’t until I drove up to her house that I realized I’d 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 wasn’t 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, “Hello! Who’s there?”
A medium-built man with a small beer belly and thick, brown hair stepped into the living room and smiled at me. “I’m Harry, the air-conditioner guy.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, I smiled at him. “Hi, Harry. Mom having trouble with her air conditioner?”
“Just needed a little Freon.” He narrowed his brown eyes. “So you must be Pink.”
“How’d you get a name like that?”
“Remember Pink Pearl erasers?”
“Well, they’re erasers that are pink and they’re 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.”
He still looked confused, but I wasn’t going to discuss my stupid nickname any further.
“You don’t look like your mother.”
I sighed and leaned against the column. “No.”
“Does your dad have blond hair and blue eyes?”
“Because your mother is dark, with dark hair and eyes. She almost looks Italian.”
I resisted being sarcastic and thanking him for telling me what my mother looked like. “Indian.”
“Her grandmother was Cherokee. She’s dark because of the Indian thing.” I turned away and said as politely as possible, “If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll unload my car now.”
“Sure, sure. Do you need some help?”
“I’ve got it, thanks.”
Forty-five minutes later, Mom got home and came outside. “Whitney Ann!” She walked to the edge of the pool and stared down at me with one of those You’ve Been A Naughty Girl looks.
“If you say one word, I swear to God, I’ll leave and never speak to you again. And I am not kidding.” I held my second Corona next to my face, loving the feel of the cold glass.
“I wish you wouldn’t be so—”
“Mom, I’m warning you.”
“Fine,” she snapped in a voice that indicated it was anything but fine. She glanced at her watch. “Already past seven. You hungry?”
“Then go get some clothes on. I brought fajitas home and we’re having company.”
“Aw, Mom, gimme a break! I’m so tired, I’d have to wake up to die. And I’m half-looped. Who’s coming for dinner?”
“A lawyer named Ed.”
“A lawyer? Are you dating him?”
“Of course not! You know I don’t date. Besides, he’s young enough to be my son and that would be weird.”
“Well, I know you wouldn’t be trying to fix me up, so what’s with Ed?”
“He refers a lot of his divorce clients to me for tax advice, and I send him my tax clients who’re getting divorced. Now, he and Sam work together on our mutual clients. He’s a good attorney, I think, but besides that, he owes me a big favor.” Mom took a seat at the end of a teak chaise lounge and watched me float around with the beer. “Since you got rid of that overpriced Washington attorney, you need another one, so I coaxed Ed into helping you for a discounted fee.”
“How much discounted?”
“Two grand, plus expenses.”
“And he’s a lawyer? You musta done one helluva favor for him. What’d you do? Spring him out of prison?”
“Ed won a very large case last year and failed to make his estimated payments to the IRS. I got all of his penalties abated.”
“What’s with this guy not paying his taxes? Is he a deadbeat?”
“No. Ed’s just…well, he’s sort of a free spirit.”
“Which means he’s 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.”
She stood and walked toward the back door. “Don’t be so dramatic. You’ll like Ed. Trust me.”
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, “I love Rosario’s fajitas, but I guess maybe they’re better when you eat them there.”
A deep voice responded, “They’ll be okay.”
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 didn’t 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 I’d 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, “Pink, this is Ed.”
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 I’m 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, “Nice t’ meet you.”
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 wasn’t 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 “I told you so.” Most times, I don’t 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 wasn’t always right. Looking up at him, I asked casually, “So, Ed, what’s with you not paying your taxes?” I ignored Mom’s sharp breath.
He never so much as blinked. “I forgot.”
“And the IRS bought that?”
“No. They bought that I’ve never made that much money before and didn’t realize I needed to pay in quarterly.”
“So, how much did you make?”
“Whitney Ann!” Mom said in a take-no-prisoners voice, “Stop asking such personal questions and behave yourself!”
Ed still didn’t look away, or appear one bit concerned. “A little over five million.”
“Musta been a good case. Who’d you sue?”
Just like that, he got me, right between the eyes. “You enjoyed that, didn’t you?”
He smiled then. Grinned, actually. “Loved it. Wanna go for round two?”
“Maybe later. I’m starving.”
Mom looked ready to wring my neck, but she didn’t 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 wasn’t 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 that…And 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 Mom’s, and retook his chair. “Tell me about Marvel Energy and the senate finance committee.”
“What? Don’t you watch CNN? I’m the flavor of the week. Me and Senator Santorelli. They’ve got me sleeping with him.”
“Well, he is very attractive,” Mom said. “And he’s 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.”
“I don’t even know the man. And I don’t think he’s the least bit attractive.”
“Why?” Mom frowned at me over her fajita stuffed tortilla.
“Gee, let me count the ways. Could it be because he made me tell the entire United States about Mister Bob?”
“He meant well. How could he have known about Mister Bob?”
She had a point, but I was not in the mood to be understanding. I refocused on Ed’s face. His very attractive, manly face, with a five-o’clock shadow and really nice brown eyes. “What do you want to know that isn’t already out there?”
He swallowed his drink of tea, set the glass down and said easily, “I want to know how you knew about the memos and how you got them.”
Sitting back in my chair, I stared at him for a long time.
“You’re going to have to trust me,” 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. “When 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.”
“He told you to lie?”
“Only a lot. That’s when I knew he’d set me up. He promoted me and put me in charge of the audit so when the news broke that Marvel is basically bankrupt, I’d be in the hot seat. I’d 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.”
“He didn’t count on you blowing the whistle.”
“Not hardly. Or maybe he just thought I wasn’t smart enough to figure it all out. The day I suggested we should go to the SEC with what I’d found, he went ballistic. I told him I was gonna do it, and he fired me. The next day, I turned over copies of Marvel’s debt instruments to the SEC, thinking they’d investigate, fine the company and demand they clean up their act. Instead, they asked me a lot of questions about how we’d conducted the audit in the past, about how much debt Marvel had during those years and how we missed it. That’s 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. That’s when I knew we weren’t 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, I’d basically set myself up. No way anyone would believe I wasn’t aware of the cover-up.”
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