Debits And Credits
Scott awoke the next day having suffered an interrupted night’s sleep, with visions of talking chickens stealing his job, his girlfriend and his house, while innocent colleagues and neighbours watched in silence and shook their heads. This made him realise that although he had spent most of the day working alongside a bird, the one thing it hadn’t done was speak. But birds don’t speak, or for that matter work in accounts departments. Brian had said she spoke German and French, and only pigeon English (Ha Ha). He wondered what the day would bring.
His girlfriend was already out of bed, showering ready for the day ahead. She needed more time than he to get ready, so he always let her have the shower first – and the majority of the hot water. The bedroom was minimalist and chic, his girlfriend’s choice of colours and decor, she being an interior designer. The house always looked good, but then they did re-decorate frequently, as fashions changed. He approved of everything she had done so far, but reckoned if she wanted to paint the place black and pink he’d still tell her it was fabulous, even if he hated it.
Toni had beautiful dark hair and brown eyes, and at three years his junior he thought she still looked wonderfully young. She had two boys from a previous marriage that had only briefly given her extra weight, and she was probably even trimmer than the day she wed. Her two sons were at university, and visited rarely, preferring to spend time with their father when not studying. This suited Scott perfectly – though they were wonderful boys, and loved their mother – because it meant that he was able to monopolise Toni’s time when they weren’t working.
He shaved, showered, dressed and ate breakfast while Toni was still getting ready in the bedroom. These long preparations usually meant that she would be seeing a client or a contractor that day. She tended to take less time if she was going to spend the day working at home. Her job allowed her this flexibility. She had an office manned by an assistant, and generally only went in when there was a specific need.
He said goodbye to Toni, giving her a kiss and a cuddle before he left. The journey to work was trouble free. He pulled into the office car park, only about a quarter full, and found a space not far from the main entrance. Geoff had also just arrived, and they entered the building together. “Glad to see we didn’t put you off yesterday.”
“I’m just picking up my P45,” Scott replied smugly. For a moment there was a look of concern, and then he countered with “Yeah, right!”
Scott wasn’t surprised to see Francoise hard at work, pecking at the keyboard and scratching at the mouse. He went over and said “Good Morning.” She looked round and gave him a brief stare. There was a bank transfer form on her screen, the beneficiary’s name was Blue Farm Research Ltd, but before he could see any more Francoise had turned the screen off. He looked down at her and she returned his stare with unblinking eyes. “Bonjour,” he tried again. This had no better impact, she just looked at her screen, back at him and then back to her screen. She took a peck of some seed from her tray and waited for him to leave.
“Sod you,” he thought, and went to his own desk, turned on his p.c. and screen and then went off to get a drink. Geoff was already there, making a flask of fresh coffee.
“What do you think of Francoise?” Scott asked. Geoff gave him a long sideways look, and then carried on making the coffee. Had he touched a nerve? He decided to press on. “You must have heard about the trouble I caused yesterday, I was wondering how you felt?”
“Everybody’s different.” He paused, and Scott waited in the hope that he would continue. “I was a bit like you to start with, but I soon got used to it. To be honest, when we heard that she was coming over from Germany, I was quite excited. One of the accountants in Dusseldorf told me she was a really cute chick, little did I know! She was supposed to be here for six months, working on a project for Germany, but somehow she’s managed to drag it out.”
“Brian seems to be in favour of her.”
“Yeah!” He was warming to the discussion. “Brian wouldn’t argue with anything coming from Germany. He does what he’s asked, and then leaves us to sort out the mess. I reckon he’s past his best. He used to be a good accountant before we got taken over, but he just seems to be biding his time now. He’s got shares in the business, was one of the Gladwell shareholders before, and bought into the new company after the takeover. But, if you believe the rumours, he’s for the chop, going to be replaced by someone from Dusseldorf. My pal in Germany says that they’ve taken on a new finance manager who’s been going over our numbers and talking to some of the other directors over here.”
They walked back to their desks, passing HR and Sales Admin as they went. Scott moved his mouse, bringing his p.c. to life. He entered the password he had been given yesterday, and checked his e-mails.
There were only two items in the in-box. The first was an invitation to a meeting, set for 11:30 that day, and was to be hosted by Debbie. Francoise and Scott were the only two people invited. He immediately fired off an acceptance, without including any other message. It was best to get this over with, even if he didn’t expect to enjoy the event.
The other item was from Geoff, an e-mail detailing his concerns about one of the intercompany accounts, following up on what he had mentioned the day before. He had provided the nominal code and the supplier and customer account details that were used to keep track of the intercompany transactions for another subsidiary that presumably belonged to the German Parent. The company was called Blue Farm Research, which is the name Scott had seen on Francoise’s screen.
He looked over to Francoise, and then to Geoff, but both were working hard and didn’t notice. Was he being set up? It didn’t seem likely, but the coincidence with the name Blue Farm Research had roused his interest. Rather than saying anything to anyone at this stage, he decided to see what the system had to offer. He ran a report of the nominal detail for the account and dumped it all to a spreadsheet, where it would be easier to work with.
He considered himself to be a very proficient Excel user, so preferred working this way, but was a little surprised to see that the nominal balance at the end of each month was zero. He then dumped the sales ledger and bought ledger transactions for the customer and supplier accounts for Blue Farm Research and saved these records to separate tabs on the spreadsheet. (For the uninitiated, the sales ledger is where all the sales are recorded. Most accounting systems have a separate record for each customer. Similarly, the bought ledger is the record of all purchases and works in a similar way for each supplier to the company. The nominal ledger is the master ledger into which all the other ledgers feed.)
He went back to the first tab of his spreadsheet and sorted the nominal data by source, so that it had bought ledger transactions at the top, cash book second, nominal third and sales ledger transactions at the bottom. He created look-ups to the other tabs for both the bought ledger and sales ledger transactions. This proved that everything in the nominal account for sales and purchases had corresponding entries in the appropriate ledger.
He was very pleased to see that this first check had not revealed any differences. There were no nominal journal entries to this account, which must mean that either; the sales and purchases netted off each month, or there was a payment made to clear the outstanding balances. The cash book entries suggested the latter. The pattern showed that they bought stuff from Blue Farm Research every month, and invoiced them for something too. The purchases always out-weighed the sales by anything up to ten thousand pounds each month. The smallest payment he could see was a little over six thousand pounds and the largest was just under ten thousand pounds. There was nothing unusual here apart from the regular payments.
He decided to expand the search, but also get more information from Geoff. He fired off an e-mail despite the fact that he was only a few yards away. It had become a habit to communicate in this way. However, it’s also very good if you want to keep a track of what’s been said. He wanted to know if the company received any intercompany statements from Blue Farm, and if he could send over the latest one. He also thought he’d start looking at the individual transactions, and get some copies of the actual invoices.
He went over to see Jill. “Are the intercompany invoices filed with the normal purchase ledger invoices?”
“Good morning!” She reminded him of his manners, and then continued. “No, all intercompany invoices are kept in a separate file, but alongside the main bought ledger files. They should all be very easy to find, come I’ll show you.”
She led him to some shelves lined with colourful lever-arch files. “Bought-ledger are blue, sales ledger green and nominal journals are in black,” she informed him. “But, intercompany are the exception, bought ledger are in red, but sales ledger are in black. I think it’s because there aren’t enough colours. I would have put ALL the intercompany in red, but, there you go anyway!”
He pulled down the red file and carried it back to his desk.
Geoff had already replied to his e-mail. Apparently he sent them a statement every month, which showed that the intercompany balance was zero. An accountant at Blue Farm signed the statement to say that they agreed with the balance, and faxed back a copy. Geoff had all the copies in a folder if Scott wanted to see any. This was as much as he had expected. He fired off a quick reply to Geoff to say “Thanks.”
He opened the red file and started looking through the invoices. There were several sections in the file, so he quickly flipped through to the section for Blue Farm. The Blue Farm logo was a drawing of a barn (in blue) with the words Blue Farm Research Ltd (in black) running through the middle. The footer was also in blue with the invoice information in crisp black text. The company address was somewhere in Norfolk, some small town that he did not recognise. Perhaps it really was a farm, somewhere in the Norfolk countryside. The contents of the invoices showed that they were being billed for work on research projects. All of the invoices were for four or five figure amounts. There were about half a dozen of these each month, all signed off by Brian, which was a little unusual. He put this down to circumstance, Brian was probably approved to sign these off in the absence of other managers or directors, but there was something else funny about these invoices that did not immediately click.
He looked through other sections of the file. Some of the other invoices were signed off by other people, but when he looked at the detail, the costs related to their departments. Invoices from the parent company in Germany were all faxed copies that had been used as originals to get signatures and to be processed through the system. These then had originals stapled to them, often with other documents attached. The originals had torn corners, folds through the middle where they had been put into envelopes or ripped from other attachments.
He flicked back to the Blue Farm invoices. These were all pristine, looked like originals, and had none of the scarring of the parent company invoices. This troubled him, but he wasn’t sure why. He closed the file. He needed to have a look at the sales ledger side, but was aware that the meeting with Debbie and Francoise was coming up, so wanted to get his mind right. He put the red file back on the shelf, grabbed his mug and went off to get another cup of tea.
The tea helped him to relax, whilst the trip up to the kitchen and back helped take his mind off the intercompany issue and enabled him to think about the up-coming meeting. He could not predict how the meeting was going to go, so tried to clear his mind and think positively.
So, they had a chicken working at the office, somewhat unusual, but everyone else had accepted the idea, and HE seemed to be the odd one out. He would approach this as if it were a test, and in order to pass he would have to be as nice and understanding as possible.
He went off to the meeting room early, found a seat that pleased him, and gave him a good view without having the sun in his eyes or a table leg to make his seating position uncomfortable. He felt good, and was sure this would all be OK. He took in the room with its bare walls of a soothing pale blue, no irritating pictures or bill-boards advertising either the company or its ethos. The carpets were a slightly darker blue, and the tables and chairs sat as an island in the middle of the room. The tables had a similar false wood effect to the desks in the offices, and the chairs were constructed of metal with blue cloth seats and backs that closely matched the colour of the carpet. The blinds hung from ceiling to floor and covered the windows that ran the full length of one wall, left open to allow views of the grass to the front and sides of the building.
Debbie came into the room. “Gosh you’re keen.” She was carrying a cup of tea and a folder, and was a little surprised to see him there already, being a few minutes early herself. “I guess you want to get this over with?”
Yes, but that’s not how he responded. “No, but I think it’s very important.” He was giving back some of the company line that she had given him the previous day. “I agree with the company ethos, and like the way that it has been adopted with such enthusiasm.” He hoped he was not laying it on too thick. “I was somewhat surprised when I first encountered Francoise, not having worked with anyone who is not actually human before, but I fully understand that if you are going to have such a policy, it might as well be all-encompassing.” He paused because she was looking somewhat surprised by his new approach.
“I happen to support what is being done here,” he continued, “and wish it could be done more, and that other companies would adopt similar policies. I believe that the world would be a much better place if we could all forget our prejudices and just get on with living together.”
She was looking at him, but not saying anything. Was she trying to read him to see if he meant it, or had he impressed her to the extent that she did not know what to say. Either way, she was giving him a very long look. Her face was very pleasant, and she had a natural smile that was very attractive. Her eyes, a warm walnut brown, were bright and seemed to radiate light and happiness. He found he was staring back at her and smiling too.
Eventually she spoke, and it was in much softer tones. “I’m impressed. It’s not often I meet someone who is quite so open and understanding.” She had lost the business-like approach of their previous meeting. “Have you encountered much prejudice before?”
“No, not against myself. But you read about it and see it on the telly, and I hate it. I can never understand why people have to be so unkind to each-other.” He was at least being honest, now.
“Yes I know.” She was sitting opposite. The cup of tea and the folder were on the table between them. She moved them apart so that she could lean forward without being obstructed (or spilling her tea), and continued. “People can be so unpleasant. There’s enough bad stuff going on without us making it worse.” She had one hand lying flat on the table while the other started to play with a lock of her blonde hair. She was certainly opening up in a way he had not expected. He had obviously been a bit too convincing, but there was no going back now.
“How about you?” He asked. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever had any problems.”
“Why not?” She was deliberately not answering the question, and he suspected she was looking for a compliment, so he duly responded.
“Being so young and attractive, how could anyone take exception to you?”
She smiled wider, but before she could say anything else, they were interrupted.
The door was pushed open and Francoise trotted in. She hopped onto a chair beside Debbie and looked first at Scott, and then turned to Debbie. She was ready.
Debbie began. “Well, I asked you both here because I was aware that there was some tension in the office. It’s important that we deal fairly and quickly with these matters so that they don’t become bigger problems.” She was talking to Scott, but now she turned to Francoise. “Francoise, I believe that Scott has apologised already, is that correct?” Francoise nodded, so Debbie continued. “And having spoken to Scott, I believe he genuinely regrets his mistake and won’t behave in this way again.” She turned back to Scott, and in a softer voice. “Is that right, Scott?”
She was looking rather dewy eyed, so he decided to become more business-like. “Yes, you’re quite right, Debbie.” He shot her a glance, and then addressed the next bit to Francoise. “I was completely taken off-guard when I started here, but soon appreciated that it takes all-sorts.” Francoise shot a look at Debbie before returning her stare to him. “What I mean is, we encounter new people and circumstances every day, and just because some people are different, or unusual, that’s no reason to think they aren’t just the same as us underneath.” He found this last bit difficult to believe in the case of Francoise, but only because he was looking at a rather scruffy chicken, in most other respects, this bird was behaving just like a human being. “So, no matter how people look or behave, you have to judge them on what they do and say.” He thought this an excellent opportunity to try speaking to Francoise once again. “Francoise, I hope we will be able to work together, and get on well. Do you accept my apology?”
Francoise nodded. She looked to Debbie and nodded again.
“Oh, that’s fabulous!” Debbie seemed a bit too pleased. “I’m so happy that we’ve managed to work this out.”
He didn’t want to let Francoise off the hook that easily. “I wondered if this might be a good opportunity to let Francoise say something.” He ventured. “Everyone has said how badly I behaved, but you have not said how you feel. Perhaps this is a good time?”
Francoise was looking straight at him, but did not say a word, or make a move.
“Obviously, you must be a bit stunned, and relieved.” Debbie was saving her from having to speak. “We understand if this is a bit much for you. Perhaps you’d like time to think about things, and then you can let us know if you think the matter is closed?”
Francoise gave a little nod, and then jumped down from the chair and scurried from the room.
“I was hoping to hear her speak.” Scott told Debbie. “I know her English is not good, but she seems to understand everything perfectly well, so I wondered how bad her accent was.”
“Oh, it’s ummm...” Debbie seemed unsure herself. “Well, I don’t actually remember hearing her talk. I’m sure I must have done, but I just can’t remember right now.” She was looking a little confused, so he decided to offer her a lifeline.
“I know what you mean. You think you know something, until someone asks you to describe it, and suddenly you realise how little you’ve been paying attention. It happens to me more times than I’d like to admit.”
“Thank you.” She got up, signalling that the meeting was over. Scott also got up and moved round the table towards the door. She grabbed his hand as he came by, and stopped him. “You’re really a lot nicer than people have been saying!” They stood there for a few seconds, she holding his hand, looking straight into each other’s eyes. He was unsure what to do, she was a very attractive woman, he much older and with a partner. He was being drawn in to her beautiful eyes, and did not understand why, or how she expected him to respond. He knew that this was not right, but did not know the right thing to say or do. Eventually he looked down at the floor, and broke the spell. She let his hand go. “See you later.”
He went back to the table in the middle of the room, and sat in the chair that Debbie had just been occupying. He was more than a little confused. This new job was proving something of a roller-coaster ride. For a middle-aged accountant this was some adventure. Everything is relative, but this was more than a little challenging, and was about to get even more so.