Tony Edwards glanced at the flashing light on his desk phone and frowned at the annoying buzz that always accompanied that light when the intercom was being used. He removed the handset and spoke.
Stella In her receptionist cubicle outside his office spoke. “The Colthorp’s are here for their appointment Tony. I can bring an extra chair, or do you want me to direct them to the small interview office?”
Tony paused. Usually, old Jack Colthorp and his wife made the journey from their well-watered property twenty-one kilometers from town where they bred prize horses and cattle. He’d seen them occasionally shopping around town and his banking and business friends had told him the property was worth visiting to see how they’d organized it. Apparently, the Colthorp family had been around this valley for generations starting rough and slowly improving the property to pass it along to each new generation. The family had been visiting this tax practice once a year from the time his father had worked with the firm and eventually bought it out for himself. Tony had decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and after completing his MA and CPA requirements had been mentored into his current role by his father. He was now twenty-four and bursting with ambition. Farmer folks are not quick to accept someone new representing their personal interests, but his father had persisted in recommending his son and this was the second year they’d come to him for their tax lodgment review and submission.
So Tony was a little surprised there’d be a need for three chairs rather than the usual two for Jack and his wife Mary. He glanced at the office space and decided it could be a bit crowded.
“Stella, take them to the small interview room and see they have their choice of our usual client refreshments. You can leave their file on the table where I can get access to their data on the computer there if needed.”
Tony finished off work on this table quickly and headed for the interview room. Stella held the door open for him and then closed it as she headed back to her workstation. She enjoyed her work immensely and harbored a secret wish her boss would take more than a professional interest in her. She was twenty-two and had several young men vying for her attention but the only one she had an interest in was Tony and he seemed quite oblivious to her interest. Her suitors were dull by comparison.
Tony gave the customary greeting to Jack and Mary and looked inquiringly at the bronzed young woman with them. Jack spoke.
“This is my daughter Anita. She has completed four years at Agricultural College and has some business studies under her belt additional to that. From now on she will be handling the business side of our work and we will concentrate on animal breeding programs and supervising of day-to-day workings of the property with our son and workers. So next year you will not be seeing us as we find negotiating various parts of law and regulations less interesting.”
Tony nodded and turned to Anita. “Well, I’ll look forward to our annual visits Ms Colthorp.”
Jack cleared his throat and Tony turned to see what he wished to say. This was a habit he’d noticed from the time of their first introduction. When Jack had something to say he cleared his throat first.
“Mary and I have a lot of work to do around town so we will leave you two to deal with tax issues. We thought it best to introduce her ourselves.”
Tony hastened to the door to open it for his clients and wished them a successful day in town. Then he turned to Anita uncertainly. He studied her quickly as he headed back to his interview seat and was surprised to see she’d been appraising his carefully. He smiled and indicated the refreshments on the table, and she reached out and selected a chocolate.
“I’m happy to be at your service Ms. Colthorp. Usually, your parents drop off the information we need, and we put it into the format required for online lodgment. We do that on your behalf but indicate in the disclaimer we have not personally examined the accuracy of what is submitted. Those are your parent’s instructions. Do you wish that to continue, and do you have that information with you?”
“No, I don’t Mr. Edwards. This is just a getting to know the people who are representing us today. Dad told me he had an hour assigned for this purpose at your office and we are not going to be able to cover all my questions in that time before we get to the lodgment issue. I presume you have another appointment coming up in fifteen minutes and would not welcome the time I need to cover these issues now. While I know this is a bit unusual could I invite you and your wife to dinner this evening at Mabel’s Kitchen restaurant downtown so I can run a few ideas by you. Of course, you can bill us for the time if that’s the way it works. Incidentally, we rural folk use first names so please call me Anita.
Tony sat up quickly in surprise. Usually, he was the one to entertain important clients and this certainly was a role reversal he didn’t know how to respond to for a brief time nor were they considered important clients considering the little work done in just preparing the lodgment. The big clients his firm kept records for or audited and therefor payment for services was much more. He recovered quickly.
“Anita our clients all call me Tony. Your parents do that so let’s not be formal. You will call me Tony. I was going to work tonight and, in any case, do not have a wife to bring along. Can you give me a very brief fifteen-minute idea of what we would be talking about if I could manage an evening appointment?”
“Tony I’m in the process of installing a farm management computer system inspired by my time at the Agricultural College and wanted someone who can look over my shoulder as I bed that down. I presume you deal with systems though you may not have seen this one it would be valuable to have your input. My parents have agreed that as we are expanding rapidly, we need to have someone regularly audit our operations to lessen the chance of a tax audit where we may find we are not in sync with requirements and risk incurring a huge fine. My dad is an honest man and wants to do things properly, but our rapid expansion requires we have more professional oversight.”
Suddenly Tony visualized the possibility of building the Colthorp’s into one of their bigger clients. “What time would suit you for this dinner tonight Anita and of course this would be on our firm. It would be unthinkable for us to expect our valued clients to host us at a dinner.”
“It would suit me best if we could make it for 6.30 pm as I need to get home early enough to get a good night rest. We are all up and getting started for the day at 4.30 am. Shall I meet you at Mabel’s Kitchen at 6.30 pm or do you prefer another place?”
Tony looked at his watch and saw it was time for him to get back to his office for another interview. “6.30 pm at Mabel’s Kitchen then and the firm will be paying the tab.” He ushered her to the reception area and returned to his office noting Stella’s eyes on Anita. Stella did not appear to be happy, and he wondered why.
Tony paused before entering his office. Stella I won’t be at the office this evening as it looks like the Colthorp Family are going to move up to one of our larger clients. I’ll be listening to their proposal this evening.”
The Contest Begins
Being an accountant Tony was entering Mabel’s Kitchen at precisely 6.30 pm. He spied Anita talking with Mabel the proprietor. They seemed to know each other quite well as Mabel had her arm around Anita. She smiled as Tony approached.
Mabel spoke.” Welcome Tony, my husband Claude said he enjoyed competing with you at golf last Sunday and has been telling me he beat you. You two are always in competition over something. He’s a little late for his supper this evening. I guess being the Planning Officer for the Regional Brownsville Local Government Office he can’t always guarantee to be here for supper on time. I hope he gets a chance to see you before you leave tonight. Oh, and I believe you’ve already met my niece, Anita. She said you have a business dinner and has given me her selection. So, here’s a menu and you can look it over as you get settled in the private room we retain for special functions. You will not be disturbed by the evening crowd soon to descend on me.” Mabel led the way to the function room and closed the door behind them as they entered.
Anita settled and opened her briefcase while Tony studied the menu quickly handing it to Mabel. “I’ll have number 31 thanks Mabel.” She nodded and departed swiftly headed for the chef’s kitchen.
Anita smiled. “Thanks for coming Tony. I’m impressed with what I’ve discovered about you and your firm, and it looks like we could have a successful partnership if you have an interest in what I have to say tonight.”
Tony looked up in surprise. “And just what did you discover about me Anita?” He felt mildly irritated at her choosing to background check him.
Anita studied him momentarily and realized that may not have been a good approach. She sighed. “I’m sorry, that didn’t come out right, did it? The internet is a wonderful tool, and it contains more about people than they realize. There are firms that make money out of gathering this information and selling it. Everything I learned was positive and I realized my parents were on to a good thing when they chose your firm to represent them. I didn’t realize you have branch offices in some of the distant country towns until I picked that up on the internet and you come highly recommended. You have excellent academic credentials too it seems. Please forgive my candor but I like to know how much we can trust the people we deal with, and you passed the test with flying colors.
Mabel appeared behind the waiter who delivered their meals and fussed over the presentation. The waiter left and Mabel lingered momentarily to whisper. “The food is on us this evening Tony. It’s Anita’s birthday so hopefully you wont mind Claude and I joining you when the cake comes out later to celebrate with her. Jack and Mary are not into birthday celebrations.”
Anita was horrified. “Aunt this is a business dinner and Tony hardly knows me so please don’t put him into this embarrassing position. I can take the cake home.”
Mabel looked crestfallen. She’d always doted on her niece and nephew before they went away for further education and was overjoyed, they were now back making their contribution at the Colthorp property, and she relished the reconnection.
Tony looked from Anita’s embarrassment to Mabel’s disappointment and felt uncomfortable. “I think we need that cake Mabel this should be a happy occasion as well as a business interview.”
Mabel exited happy again and Tony and Anita turned their attention to the meal with occasional polite conversation. When they’d both finished a sober Anita spoke.
“Let’s move to another table where I can put my papers out to give you a little background to our business which is expanding rapidly. We were serving customers interstate but have had some interest from overseas potential customers since my brother James returned from his recent trip to the USA to study methods there at the cutting edge of horse and cattle pedigree management. The information about us you are already processing only touches the surface of our operations.”
For the next hour Anita gave an in-depth description of what they did and what their plans were for the future. She rapidly scrolled through pictures of their property and Tony involuntarily whistled in appreciation. Anita looked up pleased he’d been impressed.
“I knew you were handling a lot of cash and inventories but had no idea of the organizational structure to make that cash turnover possible. Your folk are very private people, so we just did the lodgment for you, and they were happy to answer tax questions if any arose. You are very lucky that with the size of your operation they haven’t been snooping around years ago to see if they can wring more tax out of you.”
“I know Tony and that worried me when I took over business records from Mom. They should have had you looking over what they were doing long ago, and I hope its not too late. First, we need to have a commencing audit as Mum handled it all with hand bookkeeping systems though I know she’s meticulous. Dad is strictly honest in his business dealings but sometimes we can miss things out of ignorance and get into trouble. I’ve talked them into paying for regular audits and corporate advice. My brother studied veterancy practice and had some experience with vets in another city before returning home to take over management of the pedigree programs. We have a lot of employees now. So, there are two things I want to explore with you. Will you come spend a day at our property, check on any business legal and financial exposures we have, look at the system I’m installing and give me a quote outlining what you would do on a regular basis and how much you think that service would cost?”
Tony’s head was spinning at the size of the operation the Colthorp’s were running and its complexity. In his mind he’d moved them from a small client to a potential big client. But now he could see this could be potentially much bigger than most of the big ones he was now handling. He did an inventory of his associates and staff in his mind and wondered if they could cope with the business this could bring in at the current level in addition to their constant expansion. Branch offices were moderately profitable and worth keeping and the head office his father still controlled but delegated much authority to Tony and this could be overstretched using current staffing. Perhaps this would require an additional employee with long experience in the profession. His father was not in the best of health now but refused to slow down. He’d need to make a visit to confirm everything Anita had told him.
“Anita I can see why you are concerned considering what you’ve told me tonight and I couldn’t even give you a ballpark figure on how a regular audit and oversight of corporate legal matters in addition to tax lodgment would cost you. It would need for me to spend time at your business looking things over. That would cost you nothing if I did it on a Sunday as our office is technically closed then though some of us must do catch up work behind closed doors at times.”
Anita brightened. “Can you make it this Sunday. Mom and Dad spend the morning at church, but my brother and I will be there, and we can do a lightening tour then get into the business side. I’m sure my brother will give that part a pass as he is only interested in his animals and the science side, and we have a visitor from the US he’s showing around.”
Tony took out his cell phone and studied assignments and appointments for a while. “I suppose I could delegate some tasks to one of our office accountants and do more night work, so I better get back to the office as soon as that cake celebration is over.”
He’d no sooner finished his response than the waiter appeared with cake and candles followed by Mabel and Claude. The waiter left and Mabel took over as Claude settled in beside Tony. He spoke.
“Do you want to be beaten at golf again this Sunday by an old man Tony?”
Tony laughed. Claude was his father’s friend, and they were always competing at the golf course until his father injured his shoulder. Now the old man had taken up the challenge against his friend’s son as often as he could.
“Claude I was feeling sorry for you that day so let you win. My dad misses his contests with you.” Both laughed and Anita smiled.
“I was unaware of the connection Uncle Claude.”
Mabel called Anita to the lighted cake. “Now blow them all out in one breath and make a wish.”
Anita blew hard and the candles faltered then sprang to life again. She blew again and the same thing happened. Then she laughed. “Aunt Mable you’re up to your old tricks again. I remember you doing that to me when I was a kid.”
“Well did you make a wish? What was it?”
“I wished you hadn’t embarrassed me this evening Aunt Mabel.”
Mable laughed happily and snuffed the candles out with a cloth. Then she cut four large slices and served them on a plate. Tony finished his slice and put up his hands in surrender when Mable tried to urge him to have another.
He turned to Claude. “Sorry I won’t be able to show you who’s the better golfer this Sunday as I decided to visit the Colthorp property. Maybe I’ll buy it.”
Claude looked at his niece startled. “Old Jack selling his property? That’s hard to believe.”
Anita giggled. “That will never happen Mr. Edwards, but I may be interested in buying your accounting practice. Are you selling?”
Tony laughed. “I like your style Ms. Colthorp. Perhaps we can do business together. Let’s see after the Sunday visit. I presume you have your car or are you stopping with your aunt overnight and having someone pick you up tomorrow?”
“My Porsche car is in the parking lot, and I’ll be returning home now. Do you need a lift home by any chance?” Tony chuckled; this woman was quick on the draw.
Both went out the back entrance to the parking lot thanking Mabel profusely and Tony paused to admire Anita’s car. “So, you specialize in pedigree stock. Is this one of them?”
In the shadows at the far corner of the parking lot Stella sat in her car and observed them as they emerged. She’d expected them to emerge from the front entrance and suddenly caught them in her peripheral vision as they stood in the twilight to inspect the Porsche. She’d noticed the car and admired it when she parked but now, she knew it was this new client’s car. She’d looked in on the crowded restaurant knowing her boss was there but couldn’t see them in that crowd, but Tony’s car was in the parking lot, so she waited patiently. They hadn’t been in the restaurant, yet they emerged through the back door. What was going on? She waited until both vehicles had gone then left for home jealous and distressed to a sleepless night. She’d have to up her game or lose him to this rich woman who had the advantage of money over her.
To be continued.
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