Mary hurried quickly from her car to the front porch of James’s house, shivering against the chill of the rain that somehow managed to be steady enough to annoy without being strong enough to warrant the use of an umbrella. She was grateful that it at least appeared to be letting up somewhat.
She rang the doorbell, needing only to wait a few seconds before James’s muted voice came drifting from the other side.
“Come on in; the door’s unlocked.”
She stepped carefully through the threshold, unsure if it was only a direct dose of sunlight that would send her seemingly only chance for employment up in smoke. It wasn’t a risk she was willing to take.
“What’s this about a big financial crisis? I mean, ‘daylight be damned,’ sounds pretty intense.”
“Yeah, about that… I’m starting to have second thoughts; it’s been ages since I’ve been up this early. Anyway, I’ve got everything set up for you in the kitchen.”
“That doesn’t surprise me; I never did picture you as an office-having type.”
“Oh, I have an office. It’s just, uh… everything’s already set up in here.”
Mary gave him a wary sideways glance, following him into the kitchen. She was greeted by skewered piles of paper covering almost the entire surface of the central island, with a few more on the counter a few feet away. An empty banker’s box sat on the floor.
“Well, your first problem seems to be organization.”
“I was in a panic; things got shuffled around.”
There was a pause as Mary began looking over the papers, attempting to sort them while she was at it.
“I’m surprised you could tell there was a problem at all,” she said after a few minutes. “These things are in absolutely no order that I can figure out.”
“I hired you to fix the problem, not criticise my bookkeeping,” James snapped.
James closed his eyes, taking a deep breath that he let out slowly.
“OK. Do whatever you have to do to fix it.”
“I fully intend to. Now, do you only have hardcopies of these, or do you have something a bit more 21st century for me to work with?”
“What do you mean, like a computer? I’ve got some of the most recent stuff on a laptop. Did you want me to bring it out?”
“Why would I have asked, otherwise?”
Mary turned back to the columns of numbers in front of her, further sorting them into chronological piles. She was amazed by how far back the financial information went; some of the papers were yellowed with age, with the numbers changing from modern laser printing to old fashioned typewriting. She was just getting to the near-faded copies of entries written by hand when James returned with a laptop, setting it down in one of newly created clear areas next to her.
“Sorry it took so long; it was buried under some DVDs.”
“How far back does your paperwork go?”
“Huh? Oh, I don’t really know. Turn of the century at least.”
“Are these the only copies?” she asked, trying not to get irritated by James’s obvious distraction.
“The only copies I have, yeah. Tristan and I actually keep the originals in a safe deposit box downtown, though honestly most of those copies are nearly as old.”
“Do you have the information in a spreadsheet at least?”
“Would that be helpful?”
Mary fixed James with a level stare before returning to sorting the paperwork, not bothering to dignify his question with an answer. She was only giving them a cursory glance, enough to tell where they belonged in her piles. Still, quite a few of the stocks managed to jump out at her.
“Damn, James! Just how much money do you and Tristan have?”
“Enough to be comfortable. Why?”
“It looks to me like you guys are set to be comfortable for the next two hundred years at the very least, and that’s just on the interest. I wish I’d had someone telling me to buy these stocks.”
“We had a good luck fairy a long time ago,” he shrugged. “Thing is, even after the tips ran out, we’d been doing just fine until recently.”
“Maybe next time you’ll pay closer attention when I tell you someone’s evil.”
“In my defense, Rowland wasn’t exactly advertising that he was working for Stone.”
“It’s probably safe to assume everyone in this town’s working for him. Except for me, of course. And Emily.” Mary paused, going over everyone she knew in the area. “Serge and Markus are probably safe, as well. Other than that? Whole town is suspect.”
“Is that professional accountant advice?”
“Yes. You owe me an additional fifty dollars now.”
James looked at Mary uncertainly. She was debating whether or not to tell him she was joking when he swayed slightly, closing his eyes and raising a hand to his head.
“That was… strange; I just got a little dizzy spell. It’s definitely way too early for me to be awake.”
“Well, I don’t really need you down here to do my job. Hell, after I get these papers in order, I can take everything back to my place. I’d much rather work in my jammiejams if it’s all the same to you.”
“No, it’s OK. I’m starting to feel a bit better, actually.”
“Whatever makes you happy. But if you pass out, I’m not dragging your ass upstairs.”
Once again Mary turned back to her work, quickly losing herself to the task of sorting through and organizing the chaos. She’d almost completely forgotten she was even in James’s house when she felt him nearly breathing down her neck. She spun around, sending him staggering backwards several steps.
“Hey! What’s the bright idea? Ever heard of personal space?”
“I don’t… wow. Are you using new shampoo, Mary Jo?”
“What? No! What the hell, James! I’m trying to work here.”
He didn’t reply, but instead stared intently at her, which only added to her growing irritation. Why couldn’t he just go away and let her do the job he was paying her to do? His continued silence and darkening expression began to raise an alarm she’d sworn never to ignore again. She quickly slid off the barstool, wincing as the pain in her joints momentarily flared to life.
This seemed to snap him out of whatever trance he’d fallen under, leaving him blinking and looking generally confused.
“You seem to be going a little loopy. I’m going to take all this stuff back home; I’ll call you in a few days and let you know what I’ve found.”
“Yes, it is probably best if you leave. It is not safe around me.”
“Yeah, I’m starting to get that impression.”
“Go! Get out of here! But, I cannot bear to be apart from you.”
Mary jumped slightly at James’s unexpected outburst.
“I’m trying to leave! You don’t have to ye— what?”
“I’d be out of here faster if you were making any sense.”
She leaned forward, grabbing the last stack of papers and dropping them haphazardly into the banker’s box. She turned just in time to see a sickened look on James’s face before he started choking. Between his gasps, he managed to glare at her before shoving past and bolting up the stairs.
She stared after him for a few seconds before gathering up the box and laptop and heading quickly out the front door.