The Trade, Chapter 8

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When Ruth’s co-worker Deborah arrived at the office at 9 the next morning Andrew was already at his desk in front of Ruth’s, who was not at hers. Seeing her come in, he waved her over. Though she had nothing to hide, his cold, no-nonsense demeanor had her anxious for him to finish his audit and leave.

“Do you keep packing slips with your paid invoices?” he asked without even a Hello.

“Well, that’s Ruth’s department, so I’m not exactly sure,” Deborah responded, “but I think so. I can show you where we file the paid payables.” Andrew stood up and stared at her until she realized he was waiting for her to do just that. No social skills whatsoever, she thought to herself as she led him over to the A/P file cabinets. The unsmiling auditor nodded in Deborah’s direction, which she interpreted as either “Thank you” or “I’ll take it from here,” or both. But probably just the latter. She left Andrew by the wall of cabinets and went to her desk, wondering as she passed by Ruth’s if she was sick today.

Throughout the morning Deborah attended to her own tasks, occasionally glancing over to where the unfriendly auditor sat, now with a few file folders on his desk and a wrinkled brow giving some expression to his robotic face, his squinted eyes moving quickly back and forth across his computer screen. Looks like he’s up to something, she thought. Or perhaps, like he’s discovered someone else has been up to something.

At lunchtime her curiosity took her a little closer to Andrew’s desk than she otherwise would have been as she made her way to the break room. Close enough to see the name on the A/P folder lying right next to his keyboard. Promise Publishing. I’ve never seen anything come in to the office from them, she thought to herself.

As she continued past him on her way to enjoying the turkey sandwich she hoped was still uneaten in the company fridge, Andrew turned almost mechanically in his chair and addressed her by name. “Deborah, do you know if Miss Smith will be in tomorrow?” Funny. He had never asked for her name, and she never gave it to him.

“You mean Ruth? No, I don’t know why she didn’t come in today and I haven’t talked with her since yesterday.” Andrew stared at her for a few seconds, waiting to see if she had anything more to add, then nodded as he turned back to his desk. I guess that one means “Carry on,” she surmised as she walked away.

Returning from lunch an hour later, Deborah noticed Andrew was not at his desk, and neither were his laptop and the folders he had been looking at. Is he done already? she wondered. “That would be awesome,” she mumbled to herself. But she knew it was unlikely. The constant preoccupation with politics by the higher-ups to the neglect of a much needed overhaul of poor management practices meant that the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation hadn’t been audited in the eight years she’d been there. Who knows what they’ll uncover, and how long good old Andrew will be gracing us with his presence, she thought as she sat down at her own desk and looked around the department.

That’s when she noticed that the socially-challenged auditor was still there and in the CFO’s office where through the glass she could see him talking with her boss, with a third man listening intently. Several of her co-workers were huddled around one of their desks and repeatedly glancing over to the executive’s office where the three men were standing and, judging by the men’s facial expressions and body language, apparently dealing with an urgent and serious matter.

Then suddenly Andrew turned and walked out of the office, with the mystery man following, and the two of them quickly left the building. As Deborah sat wondering what Andrew was up to and who the other fellow was, she overheard a co-worker returning from lunch ask the group around the desk about the man’s identity. And in hushed tones came the three-letter answer.