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The instant the bank manager hung up, Liz Moretti slammed down the phone and turned on the answering service before anyone else could call and complain about things that were not her fault.
Leaning back in her chair, she stifled a yawn and rubbed her sore, sleep-deprived eyes. Until now, she'd been one hundred per cent loyal and kept her mouth firmly shut about her business partner's lousy work habits. She'd listened patiently to his clients gripe about their overdue financial statements he'd failed to prepare and tax returns he'd forgotten to file until she was ready to scream. She'd even invented excuses for him and spent her evenings at the office in what she knew was a losing battle, trying to keep up with the promises he'd made to his clients.
But not any more. Finding out he'd allowed the company's overdraft to go way beyond the agreed limit without saying one single word to her was the absolute last straw. Now she was ready to tell the truth about Tony Almington to anyone who would listen.
If he would just quit chasing each and every intriguing little problem that caught his imagination and concentrate on work for a change, the clients would be happy and so would the bank. However, as Liz had discovered the hard way, when it came to doing the daily grind of regular work–the kind of work that paid the bills–Tony had the attention span of a gnat.
During the fifteen months since she'd exchanged Las Vegas for England and become half owner of Almington's Accounting & Secretarial Services, Tony had involved himself in more far-out causes and harebrained schemes than she could count. So many in fact, shehad a feeling she probably only knew about half of them. To her certain knowledge, he'd gone to bat for whales, pigeons, ancient trees, seaside donkeys, and endangered species of every kind.
Trying to make the world a better place was fine, but deciding one of his clients was up to something dark and nasty, and playing private detective to prove it was pure craziness in Liz's opinion. Especially when he also had a bad habit of jumping into things without regard for his own or anyone else's safety. Although on the positive side, if past experience was anything to go by, Tony's current suspicions would soon prove to be nothing more than another highly colored product of his over active imagination.
And the sooner Tony figured that out the better because she'd had enough of his childish games. Five minutes ago, the bank manager had made it crystal clear he wasn't prepared to wait indefinitely for his money, and she could not continue to run the business alone. Neither could she afford to continue pouring in more and more money in the hope she could keep it afloat. Either Tony started pulling his weight, or the bank would have them declared bankrupt and everything she'd worked for would be down the drain. Maybe Tony could find the energy to start over. She definitely could not.
But until she could find time to locate Tony and make him understand their precarious position, she needed short term help. Someone who could take over the accounting side of the business temporarily and, hopefully, help generate enough revenue to keep it going. Picking up the phone, she called Sylvie Pratt. Sylvie was an old friend of Tony's. An accountant who gave up her partnership in one of the big firms when she married, but was usually willing to help out if the need arose.
To Liz's relief, Sylvie's husband was away on an extended business trip, so Sylvie agreed to come straight over.
The moment she arrived, Liz took her into Tony's office and pointed to the stacks of files that covered the desk and overflowed on to the floor. "If you'll take a look through those and figure out which are the most urgent, then we can decide how to deal with them."
"What happened to your new receptionist?" Sylvie asked. "I didn't see her when I came in."
"She needed to leave early for an appointment, so she worked through her lunch."
Liz rolled her eyes. "Guess."
The tall, brown-eyed, dark-haired accountant, who had the same athletic build and hairstyle as Liz and could possibly pass as Liz's twin sister in a bad light, smiled wryly. "Obviously off on one of his capers again. How do you put up with it?"
"I'm beginning to wonder that myself." Liz sighed as she moved toward the door. "I love Tony dearly. But–" She shook her head, wondering, not for the first time, if she would be doing both herself and Tony a big favor by simply cutting her losses and going back to Vegas. "I'll be in my office when you're ready to talk."
A short time later, Sylvie appeared in Liz's doorway with an armful of files. "This is the really urgent stuff. Things that have to be attended to by the end of this week if you expect to keep these people as clients. The rest I've left in Tony's office."
"Today's Wednesday already." Liz tapped her pencil impatiently against the edge of the desk. "Any idea what you'll need time wise? A day? A week?"
"At least a couple of days. Depending, of course, on any problems I encounter."
"It's after five now. How late can you stay today?"
Copyright © 2004 by Chris Grover