Word count, start of day -- 13,671
"You familiar with M & A work?" Jon Harris asked. The managing partner of the office, one of the seven men who ran the office, had asked me to join him for an impromptu meeting. Joining me in the spacious corner office were two of the firm's dozen or so managers, Randy Flatow and Arnold Scotti. The former had the habit of cleaning his thick eyeglasses on his tie, and as I walked in, he had been doing just that.
The question about M & A work, mergers and acquisitions, caught me a bit off guard. Nonetheless, I answered it straight. "The live business case we did at grad school was a merger, and my thesis looked at M & A in manufacturing firms. With that background, I ended up on the team that handled the Colorco-CXT acquisition last year. I was also included in some of the early work for the IPO they were planning post-merger, but I came to Phares and Barnes before that got too far down the pipeline." This more information than they requested, but why not give them more? They probably did not have my resume right at their fingertips.
A look passed between the partners and managers. "How comfortable with you with the Canterbury work?"
"Fine. I get along with the staff, they treated me well."
Harris asked, "And you understand the flow of data through the system, all the way to the financials?"
I nodded, but this question sounded ominous. What screw-up had I not caught in their books? Were they bilking the old folks out of their Medicare. What was the John Cusack movie? The one with that Ione what's-her-name? And that song with the boombox scene. "Say Anything." That's it. The guy in that ran a retirement home and was skimming money off the top. Maybe I had missed something like that.
Scotti came to my defense. He was manager on the Canterbury account, and a new client like this could help his standing in the firm. "Brian did a fine job on the permanent file. The work in there is exemplary. According to the controller, one of the accountants has some of Brian's flowchart tacked up on the wall so she can follow the documents and procedures."
Flatow laughed. "Never heard of that one, I must admit."
I just nodded again. Thank you, Annie.
Harris pulled himself upright again. "Gentlemen, I have spoken to the Chairman of the Canterbury board. They are considering acquiring any number of struggling facilities in the area and state.
"And they want us handle it?" Scotti asked. I thought I saw dollar signs ringing in his eye sockets.
"They want us to," Harris confirmed, "if we can show our competence in M & A."
I asked if they were satisfied with the audit. Harris answered, "They just changed auditors this year, remember? They have not built up a reservoir of loyalty for us."
Scotti asked about their time frame. "Next year some time, after the audit is done. March, April, they want to begin the negotiations. They have filed options to purchase one three different properties so far."
"Keeping them off the market," I put in.
"For a time," Harris confirmed. But they are hot to trot on this. They want to buy rather than be bought. The Board is convinced that consolidations are the next big thing in the industry."
We talked over the details for a while longer. When the meeting broke up, I had been assigned the job of running the operational side of the purchase accounting, including putting together a presentation to the Board to show off our experience. Flatow was designated manager on the purchase, while Scotti was still manager on the audit. I sensed power struggle somewhere down the road, but it would occur way above my pay grade. Harris wanted regular reports from me on our progress, so he could properly schmooze with the Board. One of Harris' greatest assets, and the one skill that probably got him the corner office, was his ability to schmooze clients.
I stopped by the file room and signed out the entire Canterbury file. These babies would be my constant companions for quite some time. One good thing about this assignment was the opportunity to focus on just one task, one client. Most staff auditors never that luxury, but instead rotated constantly from one job to another, to another. It would be nice, just to focus on--
I noticed the red light flashing on my telephone. A message. I had never had one before here at the firm. I set the binders on the floor of the cubicle and dug through the bottom of the bottom drawer of the desk for the operating manual of our phone system. So easy that only a child could use it.
It took five minutes that seemed like fifty, but I finally retrieved the message.
"Hey, Brian, this is Annie. Annie Bainbridge. From Canterbury. Give me a call at the office, please. When you get a chance. I have a question for you." She left the number.
I listened to it twice. She spoke in a professional voice, but I got the feeling it may be a personal message. Or maybe I just hoped it was a personal message.
I popped my headed up over the four-foot wall of my cubicle. As usual, few if any other desks were occupied, and nobody at all was in the bullpen-style area that took up most of the large room. It was safe. In case this was more than a business call. You never knew.
"Annie Bainbridge in accounting," I told the receptionist. I heard the phone ring on the other end. Twice.
She answered. Professionally. As always, she was professional.
"Afternoon, Annie. Brian Norton."
"Hey, how are you?"
"Great. You called?"
She dropped her voice. "Yes, I did. Thanks again for getting back to me."
"Of course. What's up?"
"Well," she said haltingly, "I was wondering, you know you did our taxes."
"I was wondering if you helped people out with financial things, like planning, or budgeting, that sort of thing." She seemed embarrassed to be asking my help. It seemed like an odd request, because she and Dennis pulled in close to a hundred thou last year, and that was with her only working half of the year. They lived in a nice neighborhood and she drove a new car. What could the extent of their financial problems be?
"Well," I said, treading lightly, "It's sort of like your taxes."
"What do you mean?" It made sense to me, but she was not following.
"Well you know," I almost whispered, "the firm didn't do your taxes, and officially I didn't do them either."
"Ahh," she said," you can't officially do financial advice, like on the job, on the clock."
"Right, you understand. I'm sorry, but--"
"I owe you lunch," she said, interrupting.
"What?" I had my feet upright on the desk, and nearly fell over when she said that.
"From the taxes. I owe you lunch."
"Well, I'm busy, out at clients. I won't be out to Canterbury until--"
"Saturday or Sunday," she persevered. "Which is better?"
"I got all wheels of the chair safely on the floor. I peered over the cubicle walls again. The coast was still clear. "I guess that any Saturday would be fine."
We made plans to meet a burger joint over in Annie's part of town.
"Thanks, Brian," she said, "I appreciate you not treating this as a business thing. I think it's more of a friend thing."
"Glad to help. Anything I can do," I answered. It was an exceedingly kind thing to say. She thanked me again and disconnected. I sat for a few minutes, gazing at my front cube wall.
Before I forgot, not that I thought I would, I plucked my schedule book from the audit bag and flipped it open to Saturday.
Uh oh. Gwen had a hair and nail appointment at eleven. She would not be back until well after two, maybe even three. I would have Natalie for the day. Well, she would get a chance to play on the jungle gym and the ball tent. She would have no complaints about lunch. I doubt that I would, either.