Authors: Claire Gillian
“… great twists and turns that kept me guessing …”
“Claire brilliantly spins a tightly crafted suspense story with a delectable office romance that had me smiling and sighing (and gasping!) the whole way through.”
—Kelly Said, author, Tidal Whispers
“This whole story was kind of like being on a roller coaster. There were so many twists and turns, and it was just a fun different read.”
—My Guilty Obsession
“It’s a fun read, a quick read, and if you work in Corporate America … a must read.”
—Aimee Laine, author, Hide & Seek
“The best thing about this novel for me was the fact that the mystery was so well written. I didn’t know who the bad guy really was until the last chapter, despite “thinking” I knew far before that.”
—Bex Book Nook
J. Taylor Publishing
Published by J. Taylor Publishing
Copyright © 2012 Claire Gillian
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, events, locations, or any other element is entirely coincidental.
ISBN 978-1-937744-02-1 (Paperback)
ISBN 978-1-937744-03-8 (EPUB)
First Printing: April 2012
To my husband and kids
for the quiet time and take-out dinners.
To my father for reading all my stories and
my blog even when they weren’t all that good.
I shouldn’t have listened, but my curiosity beat out the entire feline population of Dallas. Who was I to fight it? It hadn’t killed me yet.
If the voices hadn’t been raised and full of discord, I might have resisted temptation. Perhaps … but probably not if I were being honest.
“You can’t possibly sign off, Bob. We found too many blatant errors and even more questionable treatments,” a woman’s voice said.
. The voice of reason—my mentor if I could impress her enough to take me on.
“Duly noted, but you’re overruled. It’s a done deal,” Bob said. I pulled away from the door and scanned my surroundings to double check that no one would catch me spying.
My heart pounded as I considered the implications of what I’d heard. Why would a partner, a leader in our accounting firm, do something so obviously wrong? Why would he put its reputation,
reputation, at risk?
“Aphrodite is showing missing cash, two luxury cars and a jet no one can seem to produce, to name a few things we’ve found. You can’t ignore this, Bob.”
I mouthed, ‘Don’t forget the overvalued inventories and past due payroll taxes,’ as if I might somehow prompt Marilyn through the door.
“What about the overvalued inventories?” Marilyn added.
I checked my watch, needing to get our lunches. Another few minutes wouldn’t hurt.
“That’s not an Aphrodite issue,” Bob said. “Gayle and Jon royally botched the counts.”
No friggin’ way!
Where’d he even get that idea from?
“We can’t hold Aphrodite’s audit hostage because of our own abysmal staff,” Bob said. “You should have replaced those two PUREs at the beginning of the project like I suggested.”
My heart sank to my feet. I waited for Marilyn to come to my defense.
“You said you had everything under control, Marilyn.” His tone took on a steely, accusatory edge. “The cost to redo the entire count is out of our budget. We’re just going to have to take the risk and sign off.”
I drew back as my stomach knotted.
Bob thought my work was abysmal? Jon’s too?
Partners never called staff Previously Undetected Recruiting Errors unless they were one step away from the unemployment office. I did a good job, and so did Jon. Marilyn had even complimented our work.
How could Bob be so glib in front of our client?
Private conversation or not, I needed to hear more. My hoop earring clanked against the door as I returned my ear to its station.
I froze. Should have worn studs. Hoops were so much less professional. Of course, eavesdropping was too.
Listening for signs I’d betrayed my presence and hearing none, I pressed closer.
“… a lawsuit waiting to happen.” Marilyn said. “Your costs’ll look like loose change in comparison. You can’t possibly sign your name to those financial statements, Kenneth. Consider the implications to this company, to your reputation, your
If Kenneth commented, he spoke so I couldn’t hear.
“You could go to jail. We could all go to jail,” Marilyn said.
Her statement hit me like a sucker punch to the gut. Visions of being called to the stand to testify in a massive class action lawsuit hijacked my attention. I didn’t do well under intense and contentious interrogation. I’d burst into tears before being asked to state my name.
“You’re out of line, Marilyn!” Bob’s bellowing repelled me from the door.
A couple strands of my hair snagged on the brass nameplate that said “Kenneth Petrovich, Chief Financial Officer, Aphrodite Cosmetics”. I plucked my silent witnesses free and dropped them to the floor.
“Let’s take this back to the Anderson-Blakely offices, Bob,” Marilyn said, her voice slower and softer pitched. She said something else, but I couldn’t make out her words.
“Let’s get lunch first,” Bob said.
I backed away from the door, barely seating myself on the edge of Nicky’s desk as she turned the corner with a book I’d requested. I scanned a random page, offered my profuse thanks, and rushed out of Aphrodite to pick up lunch for Jon and myself.
No matter what, someone was in a lot of trouble, and I’d seen the numbers to prove it.
• • •
The same guest parking spot I’d vacated lured me back with a tease of shade. Through October, the Dallas weather remained warmer than normal.
I gathered my purse and lunches and tottered toward the main entrance on my four-inch-high monuments to bad judgment. Glamorous and classy on the outside, my shoes almost brought my height to average. On the inside, however, malaise ruled—exactly like my client.
I glanced at the oversized pink “Aphrodite Cosmetics, Inc.” letters adorning the wall above the receptionist as I passed.
What a joke—like naming a honey badger “Cuddles”. Too bad, too, because the company made good products—or used to anyway.
As I walked into the audit room—a room dominated by a large conference table where our group worked side by side when on-site at Aphrodite—Jon stopped working and smiled at me. “There she is. The golden angel of gastro delights. What took you so long? You left an hour ago.”
“More like the demon courier of gastroenteritis.” I dumped my cargo on the table. “I got sidetracked. Sorry.”
“By who or what this time? Scully?”
“Didn’t see his little Siamese buckskin, or I would have. Did you let him in?”
“Me? He’s your charity case,” Jon said. “One of these days, the warehouse guys are going to catch you.”
“They need Scully to kill mice whether they realize it or not. It’s not outrageous to give the poor thing some water and air conditioning. It’s like a hundred degrees out there.”
Despite giving me a hard time, I’d spied Jon letting Scully in, too, when the temperature rose.
“So if not the cat, let me guess. Shelly in Shipping wanted to know who highlights your flaxen tresses?” Before I could even shake my head, he said, “No! Pablo in Payables insisted on showing off his new mechanical pencil.” He snapped his fingers. “Of course! Warehouse Wes offered you a ride on his forklift.” He wiggled his eyebrows at me. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
I rolled my eyes at his teasing. At least that’s what I thought he was doing. He’d sometimes speak as if he’d been having a conversation with me, only he’d forgotten my part had occurred in his head. Jon’s acumen with computers was almost paranormal, and like many highly intelligent, technical people, he leaned a smidgeon off center socially. I’d kind of figured out how his mind worked, so with a few external clues, I could usually decipher his meaning. Others weren’t so lucky, and I often intervened as translator.
Despite his foibles—which also included a need for privacy bordering on paranoia—we’d become good friends.
He snapped his fingers. “Gayle? Where were you for the past hour?”
I divvied up the order and took my seat. “Uh … I went upstairs to talk to your not-so-secret admirer, Nicky.” His coy eye roll over my Nicky observation didn’t fool me. Too bad I never dated co-workers, because Jon was my type with an extra ‘rawrrr’.
“Did she say anything about Bob and Marilyn’s meeting with Kenneth? Oh to have been a fly on that wall.”
He’d handed me the perfect lead-in. “Buzz, buzz.” I lowered my voice. “I can tell you exactly what went down.”
Jon lifted his thick dark brows.
“Bob said he was going to sign off. Marilyn had a hissy fit. Bob exploded. The end.” I took a giant bite of my apple and waited for his reaction as I chewed.
I deliberately relayed my intelligence like it was no more important than that night’s television lineup. Meltdown in three, two, one … .
“What? Did Nicky tell you that?” Jon asked in an excited but quiet voice. He rolled his chair closer to mine and leaned in like a co-conspirator. A cloud of Irish Spring scent floated my way.
“No, not Nicky.” I held up my finger for him to wait while I finished chewing. “I heard all that with my own ears. The meeting was still in progress when I swung by Nicky’s desk on my way out. While I was there, I asked if I could see the stock register book. When she left to get it, I walked to the door to listen in.”
“Why’d you need the book?”
“I didn’t. I just needed Nicky to leave her desk.”
He shook his head.
“I know, I know, I’m bad.” I took a big bite of my sandwich so I wouldn’t laugh.
Jon narrowed his brown eyes, no doubt shocked by my audacity—he always was. He had no idea how low I’d stoop to ferret out secrets, including his. My most recent example was nothing, but he didn’t need to know that.
“So? What’d you hear?” He whirled his hand in a ‘hurry up’ gesture.
While I finished the first half of my turkey club, I gave him a gloves-off synopsis, including the part about Bob calling us PUREs and his early suggestion to replace us.
“He said that about you and me? He wanted to kick us off the audit?” Jon’s expression hovered between pissed off and hurt. He jiggled his knee up and down, too.
I reached for my second half, but before I could, Jon moved it out of my reach.
“Tell me more about the conversation,” he said.
“Sucks, doesn’t it?” I knew I sounded flip, but the whole situation was so Twilight Zone. Marilyn had already failed to change Bob’s mind. Jon and I might have been the lowest on the totem pole, but if we did nothing, we’d share in the blame. I just had no idea how to begin to convince Bob to reconsider his position—not that he’d listen to me anyway.
“I can’t believe he said those things in front of Kenneth—in front of the client.” Jon shook his head, eyes wide.
“Same here. I guess Marilyn couldn’t either because she suggested they continue the discussion at our own offices, and he said, ‘No, we’re done discussing. It’s eating time, now! Who wants chicken-fried steak?’”
“Eating time?” Jon laughed. “Did he really say that?”
I snickered. “Nah. I took a few liberties. But I’m sure that’s what he was thinking. Speaking of which … gimme my sandwich back, please.”
Jon’s expression turned serious. He also retained custody of my sandwich. “What if someone had caught you listening in?”
I flipped my hand at him. “Don’t worry. They didn’t. And, they’re all at lunch now.” I hitched up my imaginary pants, and in a gruff Bob voice said, “Eating chicken-fried steak.”
I continued my charade to ease the growing tension. “This is super serious partner stuff you wouldn’t understand, Johnny boy. You must defer to my superior judgment because I’m gorgeous! Have you seen my latest picture, by the way?”
Bob had pictures of himself throughout his office, got his hair cut every week, and rarely ordered anything other than chicken-fried steak for lunch.
Jon’s laughter died, his gaze focused on the doorway.
As I spun around, I understood why.
To my horror, Bob Turner stood in the entryway, arms crossed, lips pressed together.
The restaurant must have run out of chicken-fried steak.