The Client – Chapters 3-4

Stella’s IndiscretionChapter 3

Most of the people in town had known each other since childhood and their families went back a long way into the history of the town. It had started as a gold rush town and as the easy gold was picked up from river and creeks around the district miners began to burrow into the earth and soon the developing shanty town was interlaced with subterranean tunnels. Agriculture began in the hinterlands to supply miners needs and the farming families stayed on to eke out a living when a massive flood filled the interlocking tunnels so that pumping them out and redoing strengthening timbers became a financial impossibility. The miners had fled to new gold discoveries in other parts of the world to try their luck there. For decades after sinkholes would suddenly appear to swallow up houses and businesses built on the surface and each time the mine tailings would be returned to the earth from whence, they’d been taken to fill those sink holes until finally settled and now a modern city was developing in embryo form to serve the needs of a fertile river valley. Most of the families had their roots there but the younger generation was beginning to leave for the big cities and a glamorous life there. But the population was growing steadily despite that, and traces of the same relaxed rural atmosphere remained. Families knew each other and worked and played together happily except on a Sunday when they divided into tribes and attended their own chosen churches for the day.

Tony and Stella had attended the same church and been involved in youth activities together there from childhood. They also attended Elementary and High School in the same schools. However, there was no specific interest in the opposite sex except as a curiosity and there was two years age difference between them. After finishing her pre-university course, she sought employment in Edwards Accounting and worked there as a clerk for the six years Tony was pursuing his academic and professional qualifications in the capital city. On Tony’s return. The father proudly changed the practice name to Edwards and Son Accounting there and in their far-flung rural branch offices. Tony recognized Stella from growing up church youth days and invited her to be his secretary she gladly accepted as it gave her a pay rise.

But over time Stella began to look on their interaction as a partnership and it worked smoothly. Tony would travel around the branch offices while his father managed the head office looking into their profitability and ways to increase their client base in those rural areas. Stella would keep him in the loop by phone and fax, then email as the technology unfolded and now, they were in the early stages of smart phones which they made good use of. It was an ideal office partnership. Tony would always bring back some small gifts for the support staff from his trips and they loved him for that. But Stella wished he’d bring her something more personal and not the same as the rest of the support staff. She’d go the second mile for him, and he showed his appreciation but there was no spark developing there. Stella was becoming frustrated but kept trying to get him to notice her in a different way to an office relationship.

While she’d been a loner in her growing up years, she was now twenty-two and beginning to see her friends going beyond relationships to marriage. She was being left behind and didn’t know how to get the attention of the only one she really cared for. She thought perhaps abandoning the usual office professional woman’s attire and exchanging it for something more noticeable Tony might see her as a woman to be desired and not just a secretary. Those clothes were sitting in her clothes closet waiting for her to summon the courage to wear them to the office. Other girls in the office were wearing casual now and she noticed how the men support staff swung their heads around when they passed by. A couple of them were dating office support men. But somehow it was not her way of presenting herself.

The morning after that foolish spy work at Mabel’s Kitchen Restaurant she was feeling drained and discouraged. She took out her new clothes and looked them over. This she’d done many times since purchasing them but had put them back on the hook again as she didn’t feel comfortable. She was a simple woman but thought she looked prettier than the girls dating those men at the office. This time she threw them on the bed and luxuriated in the shower to take the tiredness out of her body. Then had the usual breakfast and put on her new clothes and stood looking at herself in the mirror. She then went to the bathroom and carefully trained her hair to a more modern style spraying it carefully. She turned to look at herself in the mirror from different angles. Then left the house and arrived at the office a little earlier than usual sitting at her desk. She waited for Tony to turn up at his usual precise time. Staff were beginning to arrive and as her workstation was outside the first office in line, they couldn’t avoid seeing her. The women came to admire her choice of clothes and the young men who usually didn’t notice her stopped by to greet her. With each nod of appreciation her courage rose, and she felt good about the way she looked today. Tony came into view studying some papers in his hand and turned to nod his greetings as usual. He stopped in his tracks.

“That’s a beautiful outfit Stella, what’s the occasion? I know it’s not your birthday as I keep that in my diary.”

Stella was desperate and her heart was beating fast with the stress of what she was thinking. She got up and walked into Tony’s office. He followed in surprise and stood uncertainly trying to figure out what had gotten into his predictable secretary.

“Tony in all the years I’ve been working for you you’ve never really noticed me before. Thank you for noticing me this morning. I’m really feeling good about myself now, and I appreciate your noticing me so much that I just decided I want to thank you this way.” She strained up to cover the gap in height between them and kissed him on the lips. Then she turned and walked out of the office with her heart racing, closed his door and sat at her desk staring at the blank computer monitor. Then realizing what she’d just done so unprofessionally she put her head in her hands and shed silent tears. Then dried her eyes and turned on the computer. He’d most likely have her reassigned after that foolish move. What was she thinking?

Tony sat at his desk in a fog. He’d spent most of his life pursuing studies as he had goals in life that needed to be accomplished. There was a vague sense that someday he’d probably have a wife and family but how would that fit in with the busy program he had as his father slowly rested the prime responsibility for the growing practice on his son’s shoulders. Not much of a life for a wife and children if his life was lived at this pace. Perhaps he’d be more suited to being a bachelor. This was the first time he’d been kissed by a woman not his mother. His accountant mind had to process that experience. It certainly wasn’t an unpleasant experience and the smell of her lingered in the room as it hadn’t before. His predictable secretary had turned into someone different, and he didn’t know how to deal with that.

How could he have a normal relationship with her now? He tried to clear his mind to get on with the appointments of the day. They’d be coming in thick and fast in a half hour and he and his secretary worked as a team to manage them, and he’d move on to the next appointment leaving her to distribute tasks around the office or process them herself. He thought about her work and realized he didn’t know how she worked her magic, so everything worked out smoothly. Perhaps he hadn’t been appreciative enough of her hard work and had just accepted it as the norm. She’d been so excited he’d noticed her outfit that she’d done this unthinkable unprofessional thing. He had a half hour to sort this out, so everything worked out for the best in the office. She was valuable to him, and he hadn’t noticed that before. He pressed the intercom button on his phone. “Stella, can you come in for a minute.”

Stella again dried her eyes and came in with eyes lowered. “Tony, I apologize, that won’t happen again. I guess I got carried away when you showed appreciation for me and not the work I do. I can assure you I’ll act very professionally from now on.”

“No, it’s me who needs to apologize Stella. I didn’t realize how I’ve taken you for granted. You are my right hand and to hear from you that it meant so much to you I paid you a complement shows professionalism has its limits and sometimes we need to see people as people not cogs in a machine. I’m sorry! Please forgive me for my insensitivity, I value you highly.” Tony looked at his watch.

“I’m a little flustered after this morning and need to get my head together so give me a few minutes and then send in our first client for the day.”

Stella departed feeling on top of the world. He valued her as a person! Perhaps there was a chance for her after all. She needed to change her image to make herself noticeable and compete with this rich girl.

With the pressures of the day and both on the run no more was thought about of the morning’s unusual start. It was well after 5 pm when the support staff had departed Tony cleared his desk of the day’s activity and checked his appointments for the next day. He knew some of the associates would still be at work as business was increasing. They were paid well above the norm and clients of this firm paid more than accounting competitors to make that possible. These continuing to work late were interns who’d finished their academic work but were at different stages of completing their CPA requirements. Once qualified they usually looked for a way to better their career path by heading for the city to gain further experience with international accounting firms. So, office staffing turnover happened over the years and only a couple had decided to commit to spending their life in this rural city. Tony emerged to see Stella still hard at work.

“Stella, you need to be home getting some rest for tomorrow.”

Stella laughed. “Then when this work is not finished before the rat race starts tomorrow you may not be happy with me, and I won’t get any more complements.”

This bought the events of the morning back to Tony’s mind and he felt embarrassed. “I’m sorry Stella, you do carry a heavy load and need to take time out to recharge. I’ll have to see how I can load some of this work onto others and give you a chance to have a life. Don’t you go to dances or a movie to take away the stress of the day.”

Stella nodded her head in agreement. That’s a good idea Tony, and I think you need to think about doing the same. You do take time for sports on the weekend but during the week you think and play work so perhaps you could show me how this stress can be removed by recreation during the week.”

Tony laughed. “I walked into that one, didn’t I? Come on, time to quit for the day.”

Stella sighed and began to shut down her computer. “There’s a dance on tonight. Why don’t you demonstrate how this stress removal works by taking me? I promise to observe the process closely.”

Tony laughed. He felt comfortable with this woman. They’d grown up together. “Stella the last time I went to a dance was just before I went to the city to study. I think I’ve developed two left feet since that time, so I’ll give it a pass. However, I need to pay amends for upsetting you this morning so why don’t I take you out to dinner this evening to make amends for my insensitivity to you as a person and not a cog in the machine. Some tongues will wag as they see us together but that doesn’t matter. Nothing wrong with a boss rewarding his secretary for being on top of her game.”

Stella quickly grabbed her purse. “Where are we going? I have my car in the parking lot, and you have yours there too, so I guess I have to follow you.”

“No, you can drive us and drop me off at the office afterward. Where would you like to go?”

“This may sound strange Tony Edwards, but my preference would be to get takeaway and go and sit in the park by the river. I do that on weekends but would never do that by myself at night. It’s so nice there, and they tell me it’s well lit up now but unwise for a girl to go there at night without someone with her. Would that be OK with you. Restaurants are too expensive.”

Tony wondered how you could take your mind of business just sitting around somewhere but shrugged his shoulders. “We’ll give it a try Stella, but I can’t spend more than an hour before getting back to the office.”

So, they stopped at a drive through fast food franchise and ordered takeaway then went to find a bench overlooking the river. There were occasional family groups but mostly young men looking for fun. Tony could see why Stella wouldn’t go there by herself at night. They sat in silence eating their meal and Tony found himself getting sleepy watching reflections dance on the water and the sound of cicadas in the trees. It reminded him of his childhood when he’d go to sleep with cicadas drumming outside his bedroom window. Finally, Tony spoke. That was very relaxing Stella, but I must be getting back to work as there are things I need to do before tomorrow. I’ll be heading west early for a look at our Sunnyvale town branch. I’ll contact you as soon as I get there to see how things are going here. Keep an eye on Dad, I think he’s slowing down.”

They walked back to her car, and she dropped him off at the office and sped home. She was happy as she reviewed the events of the day. The indiscretion when she kissed her boss made her gasp at the thought. She could have been fired for that! She wouldn’t take those liberties again as she needed the job.

Inspection Chapter 4

On Saturday evening the phone rang in his apartment as he sat down to watch evening news. He picked it up.

“Tony this is Anita. I’m in town staying with Aunt Mabel. I don’t think you’ve visited our property before so could I pick you up in the morning and deliver you home in the evening. That would save you the trouble of trying to figure out our country road system. The roads are improving but the signage needs to be improved so you could end up on one of the dead-end roads.”

“That’s a lot of trouble for you Anita having to drop me back to town. Just give me directions and I’ll try to not get lost.”

“No trouble at all Tony. Could you be ready at 6.30 am as it will be a full-on day. Once you’ve done the trip you won’t get lost on subsequent visits.”

“OK 6.30 it is then.” Tony groaned inwardly. He usually slept in later than usual on weekends, but this was a potential windfall for the firm, and he needed to look to see its earning potential.

“He’d just finished a hasty breakfast Sunday morning when he spied the Porsche parking at the curb from his window and checked himself out quickly in the bathroom mirror before leaving the apartment. He looked at his watch as he moved down the walkway to the car clutching his briefcase. A cheerful Anita reached over and opened the door for him to get in. She was wearing shorts and a tank top and barefooted. She was bronzed from being in the outdoors. She looked him over in his jeans and smart casual shirt doubtfully.

“We are going to a farm Tony. Are you going to be comfortable in that? Those shoes could get spoiled.”

Tony eyed her doubtfully. “What will we be doing. I thought we were going to check out all your records. Do I need to change?”

“Well first I wanted to give you an oversight of the property. You’ve seen some photos but seeing it all with your eyes is important, then we tour the buildings where our business is conducted. I think you need that overview, and it will take probably two hours before we settle down to the administrative part.”

“I didn’t realize that was the plan, Anita. Give me fifteen minutes then. You did come earlier than 6.30.” He left his briefcase in the car and darted back into the apartment emerging five minutes later in shorts, t-shirt, and hiking shoes.

Anita smiled as he re-entered the car. “You look good for an accountant.”

Tony smiled at her directness, and she shut down the country and western song before taking off with wheels spinning. He looked at the speed indicator and gripped the hand bar above the window involuntarily. They sped silently over the roads passing exits that veered off to the right and left he could have been puzzled about had he attempted to travel in his own car. He memorized each exit quickly so he wouldn’t get lost in any possible revisit in future. Suddenly they rounded a corner and, in the distance, saw what looked like a small village ahead. As they approached closer, he could see it was nothing like the properties they’d passed on their twenty-one kilometres journey. This was a highly organized and immaculately maintained complex.  Anita spoke at last as she slowed down to enter the arched entrance gate that slid to the side slowly after she pressed a button on a device hanging from the eye shades on her side of the car.

“We’ve been passing our property line for a couple of miles now. Over the years we’ve bought out our neighbouring properties as they came up for sale from my grandfather’s time. Those are crop and grazing lands. The painted fenced area you noticed, or the original farm is where we keep the pedigreed animals when they are not protected in their barns and stables. Those were the days when it was affordable to do buy outs on low interest loans, but farms are going for an astronomical price these days and interest rates high. Our family has been very frugal and poured their earnings into acquisitions and improvements. Come leave your briefcase in the administrative centre where I work. There will be no office help here today as it’s Sunday. Do you ride by any chance?”

“Anita, I haven’t ridden a horse since leaving town to start my graduate education years ago. My parents who live on orchard property out of town had horses when we were growing up. I could give it a try but will probably have a sore seat tomorrow.”

Anita laughed. “I think I’m going to enjoy showing you around the property then. Maybe you could stuff your shorts with cotton wool as a precaution. She motioned to two trail push bikes. We’ll use these as I take you quickly through the production buildings and you can meet my brother who is hosting a friend from America he met on the last visit. He has his friend from government agricultural department here too today. They’ve known each other since school days so it looks like he won’t be joining us as I take you around.”

Tony took it all in with admiration. The building complexes were served by banks of solar panels with battery storage to serve day and night. He was amazed to see they collected all the manure and fed it into tanks constructed in such a way that methane gas was piped for use and the manure fed into tanks went through a digestive process to produce eventually a product used to fertilize fields growing feed crops. There was a large collection of farming equipment under cover and in house mechanical repair shop. A few regular workers were exercising the prize horses bred for sale and happy to do so for their overtime rates of pay on a weekend. Anita’s brother was courteous but anxious to get on with business being conducted with the visitors, so they left.

The biggest thrill was to see the horses and cattle used for their pedigree breeding program. No longer would these prime animals be loaned for breeding purposes though many would be sold. Anita’s brother delt with the artificial insemination program and Tony was amazed to learn the seed generated artificially was sent in preserve containers interstate and there was interest from overseas after her brother’s latest trip abroad. This was all high tech and screamed for some form of auditing process considering the huge turnover involved. He knew the quality aspect would be carefully monitored by the government through their agricultural department. He was amazed.

Anita had carefully observed him as Tony took it all in. “Now for a quick ride up the mountain so I can show you the full extent of this property then we will head for the office and take a look at how this has been accounted for in the past under my mother and what we are doing to make the recording process more user friendly and above board in case the tax man wants to take a look.”

Anita jumped on her steed expertly and Tony gingerly mounted. It had been a long time since he’d occupied a saddle and he was aware he was being watched closely so didn’t want to display his ignorance. Both horses prepared for a sprint up the mountain. but Anita deliberately held the bridle tight to keep pace slow and Tony’s horse followed the pace of the other horse. They made it to the top and Anita stopped and tied her horse to a tree taking a seat looking out over a vast area with the river close by but at a much lower level than the Colthorp property. Some of the property at a distance was closer to the river and subject to occasional flooding but it was grazing land there with crops higher to avoid any loss. Tony tied his horse to the tree and sat beside Anita. She appeared to be transfixed by the view.

“This is my most favourite spot on the property. I used to come here often as a child and just enjoy the beauty of it all. I don’t know why anyone would want to live in a city. I also liked to go to the river and skinny dip there with my brother. But my father caught us both there one day and gave us a good hiding for exposing ourselves. I told him the kangaroos and koalas and birds didn’t wear clothes so why couldn’t I. He gave me another hiding for that. He was very strict with us, but we know our parents would die for us and they love us. Now I’m a bit worried about this foreigner my brother is so enamoured with. He’s asking a lot of questions about us and even tried to get information about our finances from me in a roundabout way. I researched their company, and they have a habit of acquiring their competitors so he’s on my watch list.”

She turned to Tony and smiled. “I like you Tony and know you’re trustworthy. Let’s go back to the office and start working our way through the systems. Maybe at the end of the day you can give me a quote for regular audit and any corporate advice you may think would help us as we expand.”

She jumped up and untied her horse mounting while Tony slowly followed suit. The steep trail descent made him nervous at first, but he had soon recovered though rueful in advance for the result of that ride as he sat in his office on Monday.

They were called to lunch by Mary Colthorp on their return from the mountain and Tony struggled to get through the mound on his plate with all the side plates of good healthy food. Mary was a suburb cook. Then there was an intensive afternoon working as he leafed quickly through Mary’s work on the old hand ledgers and statements produced which he quickly cross checked against records provided him for lodgement with the tax men on his lap top computer and found everything defensible. Anita then quickly explained the management system she was installing, and he checked her commencing entries into the system from the old hand booking system. He delved into the system to make sure it was secure, and he understand its suitability for the kind of operation the Colthorp’s ran. He was impressed with the broad knowledge Anita possessed and particularly impressed with her ability to research on the internet anything she had questions about. Yes, she probably did need to keep an eye on this foreigner in case he was on a fishing expedition for an acquisition instead of an innocent business deal. It was getting late when they finished, and he realized she’d have to take him back into town. He was apologizing for keeping her so late when Mary Colthorp arrived to inform them supper had been prepared. He looked at Anita who smiled and pushed him out to follow her mother, Mary.

After supper Tony indicated they needed to be heading home but old Jack was on a roll with his visitors and told one story after another about how each of the building blocks had been put in place starting with his grandfather and how the farm had developed into an enterprise. The American would pump him up for more stories when it looked like the old man was winding down and with that encouragement Jack would wind up again with another story. Anita studied the stranger with narrowed eyes but eventually stood up and said they had to be getting Tony back to town. The parents apologized and saw them to the car.

On the way home Anita reduced speed watching carefully as she engaged the spotlights looking for kangaroos potentially crossing the road and did not turn them off until they were entering the suburbs. No conversation passed between them as Tony was familiar with kangaroo strikes that would do considerable damage and even make a car undrivable after a strike and didn’t want to disturb her concentration. When they reached his apartment, he got out and bent down to retrieve his briefcase and wish her a good night and thank her for the interesting day and was surprised to see her get out of the driver’s seat and come around.

“I’m coming in while you give me a written ballpark figure for auditing our operation and how much you charge for today’s work.”

“No charge for todays time Anita that was a free evaluation of what is involved in your business, besides the value of the meals your mother supplied would far exceed my humble bill.” He laughed a tired laugh.

She kept walking with him to the door. “It will only take you a while to give me your quote. I’ve researched what your professional body recommends as client charges for various types of work conducted and know your firm charges a little more than that so will not be very surprised. But we feel confident you give good advice and would really like to use your services.”

Tony turned in surprise as he paused at the front door and the sensor light turned on. “How did you get that information on recommended rates. That is usually privileged information within the professional body.”

“I paid for it online.”

Tony laughed out loud and opened the door. “OK, I suppose I’m just as impatient as you to get jobs done quickly so we are two of a kind there. Come on in and sit down while I do some calculations. I hope you locked your car when you followed me here.”

“I did!”

He settled down at his desk and worked on some figures. Then came up with a quote and reworked the figures as he usually did to check his calculations. Then he put it in writing on computer and put a letterhead accounting practice paper in the printer and sent the print job. The printer spat out the results and he rechecked it and went back to the lounge room. Anita was asleep in an odd position on the couch. He tried to wake her and eventually she opened her eyes and looked around puzzled.

“Where am I?”

I’m Tony do you remember? You drove me home and insisted on getting my quote to care for your audit and other corporate needs. I don’t think you’re in any shape to drive home shall I take you to Mabel’s for the night?”

“I don’t want to disturb Aunt Mabel. I’ll sleep here and go home early before you get up.” She closed her eyes and went back to sleep.

Tony looked at her incredulously. This was not proper. If anyone found out about this, he’d be the object of laughter among some of his friends and disgrace among others. He should carry her over to Mable’s place but even that wouldn’t look good to be seen taking a sleeping woman around the town carrying her in and out of houses. He was tired and anxious and irritated. He took out the camper cot he used to use in the days of his youth when he’d gone camping weekends and put it on the floor of his home office adding the mattress. Then he carried the limp woman into his bedroom and tucked her in grabbing his clothes for the next day and transferring them into the office. He felt like a shower but that was in the bedroom, and he wasn’t going to risk that.

He was too tired to think of the predicament further and sank into a grateful sleep on the cot. Next morning, he woke with a start and realized it was Monday and later than usual on a scheduled workday. He peeped into his bedroom and Anita was not there, he looked out the window and saw her car was not there. He gratefully went into the shower then shaved, had a quick breakfast, and sped to work after retrieving the quote for an audit of the Colthorp enterprise. Stella looked at her watch as she heard his footsteps approach. He was a half hour later than usual. Would wonders never cease.

To be continued

Copyright Notice

© Copyright 2021 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved

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