tagIncest/TabooBasic Shadow Ch. 09

Basic Shadow Ch. 09

byGrandTeton©

Pieter van Rijn had told her to call him. Dee Dee wondered what that was about. He was a member of the Iphigenia North America board, though he hadn't been there when she was fired. Actually, he represented the interests of Iphigenia S. A., which owned the vast majority of the shares of Iphigenia North America. One member of the board couldn't reverse a decision of the majority.

Perhaps he had another project in mind.

The phone rang. Dee Dee answered cautiously, wondering if thinking about him had prompted van Rijn to call.

No, it was Marilyn.

"Just wanted to thank you again for your work on the legislative expenses file, Dee Dee, and to let you know that Senator Daunton is said to be uttering threats against you and me. I don't take them too seriously, but the man's gone weird, so I thought I'd better let you know."

"I'll let George know, but I don't think he's about to come anywhere near Robin or Tommy."

"They're not with you. Just keep an eye out. That's all I'm planning to do. Oh, and I wanted to congratulate you on the birth of your son. You're investing in the future with that one."

"We'll probably up our investment in a year or two."

"Good for you. Gotta run. Take care."

"You too."

Well, that was nice of her, Dee Dee thought. Except for that bit about Senator Daunton. She decided she'd better pass the word on to Cassie, who probably hadn't any need to be careful, but one never knew.

After her call to Cassie, she thought she'd better see what Pieter van Rijn had wanted enough to write it on a birthing card. She dialed the complex number carefully, remembering how she'd once ended up in a nice conversation with a dear woman near Perth, Australia. She was still sure it had been a fault in the phone company's switching equipment, even though the bill had come in. It occurred to her that a proper audit of the phone company might uncover all kinds of thievery.

"Hello, van Rijn here."

"Mr. van Rijn, it's Dee Dee Foster. You suggested I call."

"Of course. So good to hear from you. I wanted to invite you and your husband, the baby, too, of course, to stay with me for a week at our place in Maine. I imagine it's a lot too soon after the birth of your son for you to travel, and Adele and I won't be in Maine for a while, either. Check with George and let me know if ten weeks from today would be good. If you can't come, you can't, but I think some vacation time would do you both good."

"That's very nice of you. Unless George has some major conflict that can't be rescheduled, I'd love to come, and that's about when I'd be prepared to start travelling with Jason - that's my son - and I think a little time off would be good for George, too."

"Give me a call to let me know what he thinks, and we can make arrangements."

"Fine. Goodbye."

"Doei."

***

Back in the office the next day, young Jason ensconced in a bassinette by her desk, Dee Dee just shook her head at the report Julia was giving her. Bobby had actually had "Space Auditors" published as a downloadable game, with what looked to be a generous royalty. He'd cut everyone on the New York audit team in on a half share, insisting that they'd been his inspiration. Even Dee Dee and George had a piece of the pie, over her firm objections, though she couldn't deny she and George had perhaps been part of his inspiration. There was that scene . . .

And now the fool thing was one of the best-selling games out there. It seems that the more X's in the rating the better a game sells. There was no way she could deny that the game deserved every X it had. There had been tentative bites from some publishers for game stations, too, and Dee Dee had made Bobby go down to Cassie to get legal advice on the proposed contracts. That had paid off quite well. So Bobby had done very well for himself and the rest of them had more than a bit of jam. A bonus to bring home from a busted contract.

Everybody in the firm was waiting for part 2, The Assault on Iphigenia. They practised a good bit, too, in their off hours. Mostly the X-rated bits, of course, but sometimes they simulated the actual audit. Wouldn't it be nice.

***

"All right, Julie," Dee Dee questioned her assistant, "what's this about slowing down?"

"Not me, you, boss. Tony thinks we've got a great bunch of new-hires and some top-notch talent, so it's time to consolidate. Stop hiring, stop expanding, stop taking on new business. We can keep the bills paid. It's time for team-building, and that's where I agree with him."

"Et tu, Julie," Dee Dee panned, throwing her hand to her forehead and flipping it at the wrist.

"La, honey," Julie kidded back, using the other limp-wristed gesture. They broke down laughing.

"You're right, Tony's right," Dee Dee conceded. "Losing the Iphigenia contract is probably the best thing that has happened to us. Too many of our good people - all our people are good, so I meant our best people - tied up for too long on what was essentially a dead-end job. Sure, it brought in enough money for us to pay our bills, still is, some, but we weren't learning anything. So how do the two of you figure we're going to keep our heads above water once that money runs out."

"Let's go see Tony and talk."

"Okay, Tony," Dee Dee started, "I agree that we got off to too fast a start. Iphigenia was a mistake. If I never see them again, it will be too soon. Not true. I want to see them once more with full audit powers and I will make them squirm. That's not going to happen. So tell me what your image of this firm is. Where are the people you've been hiring - and you've done marvels, absolute marvels, so far - going to take us?"

"I've been partly guessing and partly following your lead and partly working on what I'd want to build up as a firm if I had your particular talents. You already know I've developed a top-end computer skills crew. You worked with a couple of them in New York, and one of them married my daughter. You've got a good relationship with Tommy Graves, who is probably one of the top manipulators around."

"I'm trying to get him paired with Cassie Matthews on a big job for us one day. They say that pair is unbeatable, completely unbeatable."

"You added a bit of extra hitting power when you hired Bella. That woman can open anything that's locked. She can see around alarms, booby traps and data deletion signals. Never heard of the like. But that means there's no way to keep us out.

"The next step is a healthy crew of young, idealistic accountants who believe an audit is what the dictionary says it is, and have high general competence and an interest in forensic work. I have almost all of those we need, leavened with a few older hands for internal teaching, balance and experience dealing with people.

"When I look at it, it seems to me that between us we've created a general practice accounting firm with an emphasis on auditing that ought to be able to provide a good level of basic accounting services for this community. We can provide audit services to companies or firms or businesses that need them. One of the subspecialties is tax planning and tax appeals. That sort of started with your own first client, and we've added to the resources. There's another subspecialty in business planning. That sort of parallels the tax planning side, but relies on George's business acumen as much as on your abilities.

"The big thing, the one that differentiates this firm from a thousand other accounting firms, is that we have a massively powerful forensic auditing unit, and if necessary the entire firm can be turned into a forensic team. The rest of what we do, in strictly mercenary terms, is to feed the forensic unit in its off hours.

"It's the chance to be part of that unit that makes us attractive to our new hires. It's the chance to actually do something, to fight the ungodly in some way, that makes this firm where people want to work, at least the kind of people we want to work here. Bringing those people in has given me a new lease on my profession, too. When I told Julie it was time to slow down, I was thinking first that we need to consolidate. We need to see who works best with who. All right, whom. We need to see whether there's a skillset missing. We need to explore our niche market. We need to establish an underlying client base."

"Fine," Dee Dee responded, "and you've done all this without discussing it with me?"

"You were never here! Always some high profile immensely competent job, great for the firm and its image, don't get me wrong, but not conducive to forward planning for a business enterprise."

"I suppose."

"What I did was to attempt to create what I thought you were aiming at, though I think it was more instinct than plan on your part. If I have it right, it's an exciting place to be with people I like to have working with me. I think it's either what you want or what you should want."

"So far, you've only given me good people, maybe great people. That's always a start. You can't do a thing without the people."

"Thank you. I think. And now it's time to stop growing before we get so big we can't see it all anymore. We have to settle in. If you want to hive off some subspecialty and make it grow, you can, but you'll have to assign it to someone. You can't grow it, too, as long as you're focussed on the main purpose of the firm."

"I always thought accounting could help people. I did it because I like numbers, I've got a feel for them, and too many people aren't comfortable with them. I can help those people."

"And so you are. The profession is, on the whole, pretty good at that. We do that. We also go beyond that, to stop people who can manipulate the numbers from taking advantage of those who can't. That's our specialty. It's why people like Tommy and Robin and Cassie want to help you."

"I'm not really on the side of the angels, Tony. I'm not that good. I just don't like to see the rules broken."

"Would you care if no one was hurt?"

"I suppose not, or at least not so much."

"Then that's what we do, and we are at least more on the side of the angels than on the other side, you have to give me that much."

"Are you telling me that you've built me into a vigilante?"

"No, I'm just saying that, in line with what I thought you wanted - still do, for that matter - I've pushed the firm in the direction of being able to make a difference through the detection of fraud and theft. Our abilities are superior to most, maybe all, of what's out there. It's what you did when you hired Bella, who has a talent I never thought of, but who is the perfect complement to the rest of our expertise. Now we're in a position to launch an audit assault squad, you might say."

"Put like that, Tony, it's close to my dream."

"I try, Dee Dee, I try."

"So, given an incredibly limited market for such a narrow specialty, how do we support it?"

"Oh, the market's larger than you think. I was surprised when I started checking it out. We could probably support ourselves at least half time working for the SEC, though I'd prefer to have a larger client base and not rely so much on a single client. Beyond that, to let us pick and choose our assignments, we've been expanding the client base. We have enough non-audit and standard audit work to keep the bills paid, or at least close to it."

"So, that's the way to go, is it?"

"Up to you. It's your firm. You get to decide. But I like it."

"I do, too. We stay small enough that we're no threat to the majors, except we have this heavy calibre forensic audit capability that people will call on when they really need somebody who knows what she's doing. That's the fun part for us, and it's what will really help other people. Even when we're helping some big company, there are pension funds and widows, though not too many orphans, who have shares in those companies. I can live with that. I think it's what I'd like to live with. You've done well, developing us into what I really wanted, even before I knew it. Thank you."

"It will mean giving up big companies like Iphigenia, you know," Tony warned.

"Yeah, well, I can live with that. Getting into that corporate world with all the back-biting and jockeying for position was not a fun experience. I like the idea of a smash and grab audit unit. The highwaymen of the accounting world, that's us!"

"More like Robin Hood, I'd say, Dee Dee," Julie remarked, coming into the conversation for the first time.

"Do you think so, Julie?" Dee Dee answered. "Do you think it's where we should be?"

"I'm not sure about us, but I'm sure about you, and the rest of us will follow you. You know that."

"Thank you both, then, for giving me what I really want out of life."

"Except for George, of course," Julie commented slyly.

"Well, I have him, and I'm going to keep him."

"I think we all know that," Tony laughed.

***

A few days later, Pieter van Rijn called back.

"Thank you for agreeing to join us," he told Dee Dee. "Adele, my wife, is looking forward to your visit. I'll have a plane pick you up two and a half months hence and fly you to Bangor. My wife and I will pick you up and drive you over to the shore to our place. Are any of you allergic to shellfish? Lobster? Mussels? Anything like that?"

Dee Dee assured him that none of them had any food allergies that they were aware of.

"Good. I've got the right kind of child carrier for a newborn. Adele tells me that her sister travels with a mountain of stuff, so I'll attach the trailer, just in case. There should be enough room for all of us. See you then."

***

The news went through the usual world disasters, ineffective peace talks and national non-news before veering around to what was happening around home. Robin only had half an eye on it since he was cuddling his twin daughters. Only six weeks old, but they still looked as alike as two peas in a pod. He glanced up. Momma-Evie sure had her work cut out for her. As did he. Wouldn't have it any other way, though. They were simply marvellous.

The half ear tuned into the program caught an item of minor interest.

"Tonight it's reported that ex-Senator Daunton, the politician charged with fraud, corruption, theft and breach of trust, as well as further and other unspecified charges, who has now been charged with failure to appear and is a fugitive from justice, was found outside a local bawdy house. The former state senator was naked except for a lipsticked message on his buttocks saying to please deliver to Bruno, State Prison, Cell Block 4-A. Daunton was bound and gagged and, er, impaled on a traffic cone. A big one. Quite a bit. No film to follow. In other news . . . "

Robin sat up abruptly. Silently, he handed one twin to Moira and one to Morag. He rushed out to his car. Fuming silently, he opened his trunk. No traffic cone.

"Not only did that S.O.B. get in ahead of me, he used my traffic cone. The nerve of some people." He stormed back into the house.

"Did you hear the bit about Senator Daunton, Robin," Cassie asked.

"What's a traffic cone?" Moira asked at the same time.

"It's the same as that big orange thing Daddy has in the trunk."

"Not anymore," Robin growled unhappily.

"Oh."

"You mean the thing Uncle Tommy borrowed yesterday?" Moira asked innocently, in that way some small girls have of implying wisdom from before the days of Cleopatra or Semiramis.

"Yes, that one. But I don't think I want it back now."

"Uncle Tommy didn't seem to think you would."

***

Dee Dee was getting excited. She was looking forward to the short vacation Pieter van Rijn had arranged for them. A little time out of the madhouse she called an office would be a good thing for them both, a little time to devote to themselves rather than to business.

The last couple of months had shown decent growth in their client base until they were almost sustainable without the monthly retainer from Iphigenia. Then had come the public announcement that she and Iphigenia had parted company. She hadn't been given the courtesy of prior knowledge of the announcement or of its contents so she could prepare her reaction, which stung a bit even if it was no surprise. The cheque for the agreed bonus at least assuaged those emotions. They could hang on a bit longer.

When the media called for her reaction, she could only tell them that she apparently wasn't able to provide what they wanted. She would explain no further than that, citing client confidentiality. Iphigenia North America, to do it credit, would not go beyond the words of the announcement. There shouldn't have been any word on the street, but the stock price did dip slightly as a result of the announcement. Someone out there thought it was a bad thing.

As for D. D. Foster, three potential corporate clients withdrew their offers, two of which she hadn't planned to accept anyway, and she got an inquiry from the state securities commission as to whether her firm might be available to do some outside analysis of a prospectus or two. Not everything was bad. Her local clientele picked up a bit, too, partly as a show of support for a local business, and partly because it was less likely that their interests might be shoved aside in favour of a better-paying multinational.

What hurt, though, was the local bank cancelling the line of credit they'd offered on her first day on the job. Apparently, the loss of a major client created more risk than a start-up accountant with no clients. The fact that she'd never drawn on the line, and wouldn't have had to for some months even if business didn't get better, pointed to someone wanting to do at least a little business damage, perhaps enough to put her out of business if she'd actually needed the credit.

On the whole, she was happier out of a situation where one major client was the be-all and end-all of her business. Meredith seemed happier to be getting a wider range of experience. Francine was so in love she hadn't really noticed. Bobby was getting more and more involved with Bella.

Now that things had started to settle down again, she was really due that vacation.

***

Robin was puzzled when he got home at his usual time and was greeted by Moira - Cassie would likely be another hour or so, even if her office was just downstairs - with the news that he had a parcel. He hadn't ordered anything.

"May we open it, Daddy?" Morag asked.

"Is it marked 'Fragile'?"

"No."

"All right then, go to it."

The girls obediently unwrapped a fair-sized box. It was marked Acme something or other.

"Okay, you can open the box, too."

The girls attacked the box, cutting off the tape carefully, until they were able to produce a splendid traffic cone. It was clean, brand new in fact, no scuffs or other signs of use.

"It must be from Uncle Tommy," Moira surmised. "Wasn't it nice of him to replace the one he took. What are you going to do with it, Daddy?"

Thoughts crossed Robin's mind. He knew exactly what he should be doing with it. He was bigger and stronger than Tommy, and he was sure that, after a monumental struggle, he could put that traffic cone where it belonged. Cassie would be upset, though. Angie likely wouldn't mind. She understood what it was like to have plotted vengeance for a long time - three weeks was a long time in the vengeance business - only to have the plot and the vengeance both stolen by an interloper, and she'd have agreed on the appropriate punishment, as long as it didn't make Tommy incapable of satisfying her insatiable demands. Cassie wouldn't agree, though, so he couldn't carry through. He'd never figured out how it was that only Cassie could be unforgiving. Maybe that was why no one ever pre-empted her vengeance. So what to do with the traffic cone?

"Put it in the trunk until I get another chance to use it."

***

Dee Dee could hardly believe that little Jason was already three months old, and here they were off on a trip to the east coast. Pieter van Rijn either owned or had the use of a beach estate near Machias in Maine, and had invited the family - she, George and young Jason - to spend a week with him and his wife. He'd told her he had business to discuss, but that would come at the end, and before that they could enjoy time together. It would make his wife happy to have some company. Since her English was just passable, she was shy of the local women. Not that she should be, Dee Dee thought, since anyone from Maine she'd ever met tended to be quite friendly and outgoing. Maybe it was simply that the van Rijns were outsiders in a closely knit community. Maybe she was just shyer than she needed to be.

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