Heidi had been working hard all day, she had even skipped lunch, though in truth she felt too excited to eat. Now her long day was over and she sat at her workstation and ran a final check on the last non-correcting audit she had run. It was really just something to do while she waited for Derek Smith.
Apart from her the office was empty. Even the light in Mr Abercrombie’s office was off.
She smiled to herself as she remembered all the funny things Derek did and said, and how he argued with his talking hand. It was going to be fun to spend time with him. She could do with some fun.
She also needed to thank him and tell him about all the intriguing events that had happened as a result of his help. When she’d shown Abercrombie it had taken him a while to see it. When he did, he went very quiet and very pale. Paler than normal even for him, a man who seemed to have lived his entire life under office lighting.
Abercrombie cleared his throat. ‘Have you mentioned this to anyone?’
‘No.’ Heidi decided there was no need to mention Derek.
Abercrombie picked up her phone and dialled a number. ‘Mr Palmer, this is Abercrombie. I’m sorry to disturb you, sir. I’m with Ms Tollund. She’s discovered something I think you should see for yourself.’
Heidi had never met the Chief Financial Officer before. She’d only ever seen Palmer’s name on the organisation chart. Right at the top beside Markus Koponen.
Now she was really worried. Two weeks into a new job and her boss and her boss’s boss were coming to see her. This was not good at all.
Palmer and Abercrombie dressed like chalk and cheese. The younger Abercrombie kept his hair cropped short and wore narrow, black suits. He thought this gave him a sober, dynamic air, but actually made him look generic.
Palmer’s bold liquorice pinstripe contrasted with his lemon-yellow shirt and pink tie. His jet-black hair was collar length and his fringe tended to flop over his eyes.
In his youth Palmer played the same game as Abercrombie and discovered it got you nowhere. You had to learn to be yourself, a rule just as true for accountants as for anyone. One day Abercrombie would work it out and Palmer would promote him.
‘What seems to be the problem?’ Palmer said affably. To Heidi’s mind a slight overbite made his smile disconcertingly toothy.
Abercrombie leaned in close, whispering. His long, raw fingers stabbed at Heidi’s screen, sketching out columns and totals.
Palmer rested his chin on his thumb. ‘That’s really rather clever. Tell me, Ms Tollund, did you elucidate this yourself?’
‘Er, yes. Am I in trouble, Mr Palmer?’
‘Quite the opposite, I salute you. However, I will now formally ask you as Chief Financial Officer not to talk about this to anyone except me.’ Palmer beamed genially at Heidi, who found herself smiling back.
‘Yes, of course,’ Heidi said. ‘Can I ask who Vogler, Marchpane, and–’
‘You don’t need to know that,’ Abercrombie broke in.
‘It’s all right, Robert. I’m sure someone as bright as Ms Tollund could find out if she wanted. Vogler Marchpane and Vaughan are non-executive directors. You could think of them rather like Ministers Without Portfolio appointed by Mr Koponen himself. I’m sure he’d be interested in these, ah – inconsistencies.’ Palmer beamed at Heidi again. ‘But don’t forget – not a word. And jolly well done.’
Now it was dark outside and Heidi was wondered where Derek had got to. She also wondered which floor he worked on. He’d never said and she had just assumed he was new like her and in need of a friend. Maybe it would turn out that’s all they would be, just friends, someone to chat with and share a joke. That would be all right, though she thought this time, maybe…
She waited a while longer.
And a while more.
She felt a little sad and told herself it was just the emotional intensity of the day.
Heidi shut down her workstation, picked up her handbag, turned off the remaining lights and walked through to the lifts. As she passed the vending machines she half expected to see Smith there, on his knees and looking for change. She stood there, not really thinking about anything. Then she summoned the lift and went home, a journey brightened only by the chocolate counter at the late-night store.
To be continued…
 You can tell how badly things are going by the number of managers standing behind you at your desk. One is bad. Two is twice as bad as one, three are twice as bad as two, etc.