- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Alice said: 'It's all right.'
'It's not. I love you.'
'We don't have to make love every time to prove we're in love. That just makes it screwing. Ugly.'
John Carver turned away, his back to her.
She said: 'It's not just this, is it?'
'This didn't help.'
'Do you want to talk about it?'
'It's business. Boring.'
'Business's never boring.' Alice Belling had graduated from Harvard Business School with a letter of introduction to a Boston stockbroking firm and the overly confident and quirky idea of turning her degree thesis on corporate avarice eroding American entrepreneurialism into an Op-Ed commentary for the Wall Street Journal. Unable to decide which to try first she wrote off to both at the same time. The Op-Ed piece, which prompted two more articles and two days of top-of-the-page correspondence, was published three days before Alice got an invitation to join the stockbrokers. Her choice was a freelance media career, specializing in analyses and commentary on global finance and corporate stock market movements and trends. In the past year she'd exposed insider dealing and profit inflation in two multinationals just prior to new bond issues.
'Business and family,' further qualified Carver.
'Turn around and talk to me properly,' insisted Alice. 'And hold me. I like it when you hold me.'
He turned back, reaching out for her, and she came easily, comfortably, into his arms. She said: 'You're wonderful.'
'So are you.'
'You know what I'd like?'
'To go up to the cabin again soon.'
'I've got the annual conference.'
'I didn't mean now. Just soon. It's been more than two months.' They'd taken a long time finding the perfect wood-built cabin in the Bearfort Mountains, alongside a small river feeding into one of the West Milford lakes. On the bedroom bureau Alice had a time-release photograph of herself and Carver there – she with her hand in front of her face because she hadn't been ready when the shutter clicked – and another in the living room. Carver was by himself in that shot, wearing a lumberjack shirt and hiking boots and proudly displaying the fish he'd caught, his first ever, on their initial visit.
'Let's get the conference out of the way. One or two other things. We'll make a long weekend out of it. And you can take the toy.' One of the rituals involved in the visits to the Catskills was their going in Alice's carefully preserved Volkswagen, her proudest souvenir of her college days.
'Thank you. And you can fish again.'
'I'm sorry that today ...'
'You know what I wish?'
'I don't want to go that route, either,' refused Alice. 'You can't, we both know it and I accept it. I'm happy the way things are with us. It's enough.' She clamped his leg between both of hers, bringing them tightly together, she slightly on top of him. 'How was George's birthday this weekend?'
George W. Northcote was Carver's father-in-law and founder of the Wall Street accountancy firm that bore his name and represented a forty-year symbol of propriety and rectitude. Carver said: 'He came over for dinner. Jane gave him some golf clubs which he looked at as if they'd come out of an Egyptian tomb.'
'How is he?' The affair between Carver and Alice had developed from their meeting when she had come to Wall Street to interview Northcote for a profile for Forbes magazine.
Northcote had a copy framed.
'Not so good. He even sometimes forgets the end of his sentences and gets mad when anyone tries to help.'
'He told me he was frightened of retiring. Of atrophying with nothing to do,' Alice remembered, from their interview.
'The problem is his still trying to do too much: he's refusing to let go of a few clients to give himself the reason to come into the city at least two days a week.'
'His firm, his name?' she anticipated.
'No one can ever be as good as he is, in George W. Northcote's opinion,' Carver agreed. Holding her like he was, naked, was enough for him today, too.
'What are the other partners saying?'
'So far there haven't been any major mistakes for them to discover but I am going to have to keep a check on what he does to make sure it stays that way: he hasn't yet realized I'm doing it but I feel like a goddamned spy going behind his back, conspiring against him.'
'You're talking the firm: his firm, with his name on it.'
'That's exactly what I'm talking about,' agreed Carver again. 'A firm he might be endangering!'
'You're just putting off confronting him: postponing it.' They never discussed it, secure as they were with each other, but Alice knew that despite self-confidence verging on arrogance Carver would always be intimidated by the overwhelming personality of George Northcote – the sheer physical presence, even, of someone 6'5" tall and weighing almost 200lbs.
'You imagine I haven't worked that out!'
They'd never before seriously argued – fallen out – and Alice, who had never felt intimidated by anyone, was unsettled by the unexpected vehemence in his voice. 'So when's it going to happen?'
'Maybe even today. He's in town. And there are things he needs to explain.'
'Then demand an explanation.'
'You talked to Jane about it?'
'Not like this.'
Alice felt a brief warmth of intimacy. 'Shouldn't you? She's his daughter.'
'She's been proposed for the charity secretaryship at the country club. He's agreed to help her with the accounts. That's what the golf clubs were for, to try to get him to spend more time at the club.'
'It'll get in the way of his other hobby.' One of the accompanying photographs in Alice's Forbes profile had portrayed Northcote in bib-and-brace overalls astride a tractor mower on which he frequently relaxed, supervising the gardeners at his weekend estate in upstate New York. The caption had given his Wall Street nickname of 'Farmer George.'
'Jane's not happy at his doing that any more, either. Thinks it's dangerous at his age.'
'You don't think golf's going to be the alternative?'
'He hasn't played regularly for years.' He hesitated. 'Charity secretary will mean Jane staying up in the country more.'
Alice didn't say anything.
'I could stay over sometimes.'
'I'd like that.'
'You know I would. When will she know?'
'Soon. Certainly by the fifteenth.'
'Let's hope she gets it.'
'It's pretty guaranteed.'
'Can you make Friday?'
He shook his head. 'All the overseas executives are starting to arrive from Wednesday onwards for the conference.'
'I've got another Forbes commission I can work on.'
'You're soon going to need your own accountant!'
'I thought I had one.'
'Call me. Let me know what we can fix.'
'Of course. And it's a promise about the cabin.'
She shifted slightly, looking beyond him to the bedside table. 'It's gone three already.'
'These business lunches get longer and longer.'
'You should be going. And I should be working.'
'I'm sorry ... I ...'
'I've got a feeling that there's a serious problem,' he suddenly blurted.
Alice pulled away from him. 'What?'
'I want to be sure first.'
'You're not making sense.'
'That's the problem: it doesn't make sense.'
She separated from him entirely, going up on one elbow. The sheet fell away from her but she didn't try to cover herself. 'Has George made a bad mistake?' She'd eulogized him in the profile, put her own judgement on the line.
'He could have done.'
'Then you've got to talk to him today.'
He had chosen to talk it through with her, decided Alice, feeling a warm intimacy again. 'Can you put it right?'
'I don't know, not yet.'
'It might help if you told me about it and we tried to think of a way together.'
'I can't involve you.'
'Darling! What is it?'
He shook his head, not speaking.
'So it's bad?'
'It could be.'
'Could you be in serious trouble?'
'It depends what I do.'
'You know the answer to that – you've got to do the right thing. That's all you can do.'
'It might not be that simple.'
'Please let me help!'
'I won't involve you any more than I already have,' he refused again. He twisted abruptly out of the bed but stayed sitting on its edge, his back towards her again. 'I shouldn't have said anything.'
'But you did. Now it's stupid to stop.'
'I've got to speak to George.'
'Then will you speak to me?'
'I don't know. It depends.'
'Too many things that even I don't know about, not yet.'
'You've frightened me.' That wasn't true. She was irritated at his refusal.
'I'm sorry. I didn't mean ... oh shit!'
'We are going to talk about it,' Alice insisted. 'If not now then soon. Talk about it and fix it.'
'I'd like to think we could: that I could.'
'I have to go.'
'Talk to him this afternoon.'
'Call me later, if you can?'
'If I can.'
Alice remained in bed, watching him dress, loving him. As he moved to leave she said: 'Whatever it is, it can't be the end of the world.'
Carver kissed her, holding her tightly against him for several moments, but left without replying.
With the concentration upon the annual conference it was easier than usual for Carver to plan his days to include Alice, leaving himself with only two, easily satisfied clients and the morning's dictated letters to sign.
When he called his father-in-law, George Northcote said: 'You just caught me. Got a meeting here in town tonight: staying over.'
'We need to talk, George.'
'Tomorrow. My meeting's at six, so we'll talk tomorrow. Lunch maybe?'
'Now, George!' insisted Carver. 'It's important.'
'What the hell are you talking about?'
'You. Me. The firm. Everything. That's what I think I'm talking about. Everything.'CHAPTER 2
'There'd better be a hell of a good reason for this!' greeted Northcote. The voice was big, like everything about the man. He remained seated at the antique desk, hunched over it, bull-shouldered beneath a mane of white hair. It was a familiar, confrontational pose Carver had seen the other man adopt dozens of times with IRS inspectors and company tax lawyers and opposition, challenging accountants.
'I think there is,' said Carver. Or was he over-interpreting, imagining an aggressive defensiveness about the older man? Maybe. Or maybe not. There was enough for him to question this man who had always been unquestionable. Again the qualification came. The problem was that there wasn't enough. There was a huge, gaping black hole that had to be filled with something he could understand.
Carver lowered himself into a facing, button-backed chair. 'I happened upon some current working figures for three of our oldest clients ... your oldest clients ... Companies that for years have made up the bedrock of our business ...' He hesitated at the moment of commitment. 'Mulder Incorporated ... Encomp ... Innsflow International ...'
A flush began to suffuse Northcote's face, accentuated by the pure whiteness of his hair, but when he spoke the loudness had gone from his voice. 'None of your business ... How ...?'
'In the vaults. Your safe was open. And it is my business, because I'm taking over this business, which I intend to do as a memorial to you.'
'Spy!' accused the other man.
'I went to close it properly. Which you hadn't done.'
'My personal clients ...' The unaccustomedly subdued voice trailed away.
'Yes, George,' picked up Carver. 'Always your personal clients. And still your personal clients, whom no one else had anything to do with.'
'Retained with the full agreement of the partners. Yourself, my successor as senior partner, included. In signed minutes.'
Why, wondered Carver, had Northcote felt it necessary to remind him of his succession to the chairmanship upon his father-in-law's semi-retirement? Or of the minutes acknowledging Northcote's continued handling of the three accounts being officially signed and recorded? 'They never went through general audit: haven't done for years. Always your personal audit and you always personally signed them off.'
'There is no regulation – Security Exchange Commission or otherwise – requiring that they should go through general audit. Everything was perfectly legal.'
Carver decided that Northcote wasn't sufficiently outraged – offended – at his having gone into a safe to which he officially had no right: wasn't even asking the proper questions. 'All three are offshore.'
'Which is declared. There is no contravention of any regulation.'
'They've all grown, since their formation all those years ago.'
'Well-run – well-audited and well-accounted companies – all grow and return profits.'
'Mulder Inc. has a seven hundred and fifty million dollar entertainment investment, worldwide. Encomp has five hundred and fifty million dollars of utilities supply portfolios, again worldwide. Innsflow International is diversified into publishing, hotels and entertainment in Europe, the Far East and even Russia.'
'You've spent a lot of time checking on me.' There was still no outrage.
'I did check, George. In-house. Called them up, on the computer. They're on the client list. But that's all, just listed as names and holdings. There aren't any details, apart from that.'
'They're offshore. There don't need to be computer records – any records – on file for offshore countries.'
Carver sighed heavily, feeling like an irritating fly bouncing from impenetrable window to impenetrable window. 'You're a legend on Wall Street, George. I want it to stay that way. You deserve for it to stay that way.'
'I'm still waiting for you to make your point.'
'The figures don't add up, not the ones you left in your open safe. They do, on what's been submitted by their accountants for independent audit by you. And which you've signed off. But they don't if they're audited properly. You've legally attested their accuracy. And by doing so exposed this firm, your firm, to criminal investigation! You've sanctioned a massive profit-inflating operation. On a scale that I haven't been able yet to calculate: am frightened to calculate. They're being floated, right? Blown up to suck in the punters: open at ten, finish the week at two hundred, insider traders getting out with enough to buy the villa in the Caribbean or South of France before the bubble pops.'
Northcote snorted a laugh. 'You want my advice, on that assessment don't try to calculate anything.'
'It's not advice I want. It's explanation. I told you we were talking about you, me and the firm. About everything. And that's precisely it. If this ever became public: if ...' Carver actually just stopped himself from saying that if it ever became an innuendo in the sort of financial commentary Alice Belling was so adept at compiling. 'The house – this house, all our houses – would come tumbling down.'
'You think ...' started Northcote, lost his way and then managed: '... believe I haven't worked all that out!'
'I'd like to know exactly – very exactly – what you have worked out. And where you – where we all – are going from here?'
'Nowhere,' declared Northcote. 'That's precisely and exactly where we're going. Nowhere. At the annual meeting I am going to announce the reluctant severing with this firm of Mulder Incorporated, Encomp and Innsflow International. Their choosing alternative, independent auditing accountants will be based upon their long-standing personal relationship with me, which the partners already know about and recognize. And which is being brought to an end by my finally – and fully – retiring ...' Northcote smiled at last. 'Which is what I am going to do. Live in the country, cut my grass, help Jane with her charity fundraising and start playing with my new golf clubs.'
'Just like that!' said Carver, snapping his fingers.
'Just like that,' echoed Northcote, mocking the finger snap with one of his own.
'What's it all about, George?'
'You don't need to know that.'
'I do, if I am going to protect this firm: keep it safe.'
'I'm protecting the firm.'
'Who are they?'
'You don't need to know that, either.'
'They know what you're going to do?'
'That's why I stayed on, for the extra year. To tidy things up and to bring it all to an end. You think I ...' There was another familiar hesitation. 'It's all going to be resolved.'
'Going to be,' seized Carver, at once. 'Hasn't it been, yet?'
'It's my problem. I'm sorting it out.'
Carver gazed around Northcote's mahogany-panelled, leather-Chesterfielded office with its corner-window glimpse of Battery Park City and the intervening pillared monuments to wealth and power and corporate cunning, for once – for the first time – not feeling the comfort, and the pride, of being part of it. He said: 'I'm aware of a possible criminal activity. There are regulations governing that. Quite a lot, in fact.'
Northcote looked blankly at him. Then indignantly – close to being big-voiced again – he said: 'Don't be ridiculous!'
Excerpted from Two Women by Brian Freemantle. Copyright © 2003 Brian Freemantle. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.