The Trade, Chapter 7

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“Hey! Nice shoes!” Ruth knew her bookkeeping buddy Deborah would notice her latest purchase as soon as she walked in the office.

“Aren’t they though? Saw ‘em on the way in to work yesterday and just had to have them. And for only 40 bucks they were a steal.” As soon as the word passed her lips Ruth felt that nervous knot in her gut and her eyes darted back and forth to see who else may have heard her.

“Oh, don’t look so guilty,” Deborah said with a chuckle. “A sale’s a sale. You did pay for them, right?”

“Of course I did.” Ruth walked quickly over to her desk, eager to slip back into relative obscurity and get to work. She knew she could control her nervousness better if she was busy. As she sat down she noticed that at the desk in front of hers, which had been unoccupied since Eric the intern had left, sat a man she did not recognize. Had the bureau hired another intern? He was a little old for that, she thought. She was curious, but not enough to ask any questions.

Ruth slipped her purse under her desk, as always, then took a few seconds to admire her new shoes. As she lifted her gaze she jumped back in her chair, visibly startled to see the new guy standing in front of her. “Good morning. My name is Andrew,” he said with a dour look on his face and his hand out to shake hers. “I’ll be doing the audit, and I might need your help.” For a second that felt like an hour Ruth just sat there with her mouth slightly agape and her eyes open wider than usual. But she quickly collected herself enough to shake Andrew’s hand and blame her odd reaction on his unexpected appearance at her desk. He nodded his head but said nothing else as he turned his back to her and sat down again.

The audit. Ruth’s mind began to race as the risk of being caught in her year-and-a-half-long embezzling, the fear of which she had managed to largely suppress, now appeared to be clearly no longer a risk but a reality. How much time would Andrew need to discover her theft? How much time did she have to figure out what to do? How could she disguise her appearance and where could she go? Would her father ever take in a wanted criminal?

Ruth feared even finishing out that day, wondering what questions Andrew might have and what suspicion might easily fall on her if she nervously gave unsatisfactory answers. For perhaps the longest eight hours of her young life, Ruth nervously worked, watched, and waited, and Andrew the auditor barely left his desk. He had no questions for her today, but surely they would come. When it was finally 5:00 she walked out of the office as nonchalantly as she could, but not before taking one last look around, ‘cause she wasn’t planning to be back.