Alan MacArthy, the company accountant, dressed soberly (as an accountant should) in grey suit and black shoes. A slight hint at free-thinking might have been his pale blue shirt and mauve tie; but not the red socks with (hidden on the sole) 'sex bomb' written on them. They were a present from several Christmases ago and the only clean ones he had that morning. He still insisted on clean socks, things hadn't slipped that far. Average height for an accountant is 5ft 10.5 inches (1.79m) so the actuarial fact book said. Alan was 5ft 11in. He still had his hair, not as short as the official accountancy standard required, he sometimes seriously wondered if that was the cause of his stalled career. Perhaps there was a secret society of accountants who had weighed him and found him wanting. Perhaps it was that he had enough self-awareness to realise that accountancy was the last refuge for the boring; he had been to occasional conferences where accountants regaled each other with hilarious incidents concerning double-entry ledgers. Alan could see that these people were sad deluded souls and wished he was really a mountain climber; but he wasn't a risk taker, he was a careful weigher of the evidence; he was, in short, a good accountant.
He typed his note into the computer and hit SEND.
I wonder if you could spare me a minute sometime. I just need to go over a couple of things,
Alan MacArthy, Accountant
If you are not the intended recipient of this message, please delete it immediately"
That was all the email said, there was nothing to indicate the seismic shift that was about to take place.
Three Years Before
"Good morning Mr MacArthy"
"Oh, ah, good morning, umm, Elaine isn't it?"
"Yes, just so, Helen" They got into the lift together, the company accountant and an office secretary who had been with the firm for 4 months "Ah, yes, did you enjoy the Christmas Party on Friday Miss, umm Helen?" He was never too happy around women, he was married, supposedly contentedly, but it was clear that women made him a little uncomfortable. His wife, who had been to one company event in the 16 years he had been with Gross-Paxman Ltd, was not the social, gregarious, type. He'd found that out after marrying her; he always felt this was part of the reason he hadn't got on in the company. Joined as the accountant and stayed as the accountant as three CFOs came and went. She was rather, mousey. It pained him to admit it, but she was. She allowed him to make love to her once a week after the first year of marriage and now, in their second decade of marriage (he was 42, she was 39) she had scaled that back to once a month. As Thomas Hobbes described life so he thought she would describe their sexual activity, 'nasty, brutish, and (thankfully) short'. No children had been the result of their rather scant liaisons. Yes, for all that he did love her dearly, he allowed her to pick the holidays each year; one in Britain and one in Europe. They were always the times she seemed about to blossom as they walked round Genoa or Paris or Malvern. Always somewhere beautiful and artistic and cultured. He loved that she brought him, briefly, out of his numbers and audits. He loved her. That (he told himself) was why the lack of sex hadn't driven him away. Actually it was also because of his fear of change. He liked things ordered.
"Well? Mr. MacArthy?"
"Sorry? I was miles away, what did you say?"
"I asked if you enjoyed it, you seemed to" She smiled, a smile he wasn't quite sure he liked. Why? What was it?
"Yes, I suppose I did"
"Is Mrs MacArthy relaxed about office parties and what goes on in them?"
"Mrs MacArthy? Why, what do you mean?"
"Oh, sorry, least said, soonest mended my Mum says. It's just that..."
"What? Out with it. Oh, this is my floor" He made to step out.
"I just worry in case you, well, you know. I'm not on the pill you see"
He stepped back in. They travelled up to her floor, and he noticed a couple of the girls looking at him oddly. "Come into the canteen"
"I can't go for coffee yet, I've only just arrived. Mrs Blantire will get cross"
"I'll sort that, come on." They sat down and he looked at her "Now explain"
"Do you not remember? Truly? I find that almost more upsetting, that a man can sleep with a woman and then forget"
"What?! Are you saying that I..."
Well, not so much sleep, we went into an empty office and emerged half an hour later. We were seen, I'm sorry, Janet saw us, I wouldn't have said anything."
Now the truth wasn't quite the same as her story. It's true they went into the room, it's certainly true he was quite drunk (and got drunker later, hence his amnesia concerning it). It is also true that after a clumsy snog and an attempt at a fumbling touching up he stopped and apologised. It wasn't, he explained, that she was unattractive; she was, very, and in other situations he would have willingly, but he was married and loved his wife. He then walked out with her (where he was NOT seen by Janet, who was told the embellished story on the Monday, and after hearing it a few times became convinced she may have seen something) and drowned his sorrows. So why had she been willing? Because she thought the accountant was a director, she thought he was the CFO, when she realised she'd had a close shave she decided to turn it to advantage anyway. Sly, that's probably a good word for her. No, a good eye for the main chance.
"I feel awful" She said "I feel I've betrayed your wife's trust in fellow women. I should apologise"
The penny dropped "Perhaps you should let it lie for a while, think it over" He watched her leave the canteen, her pelvic wiggle triggering a rush of testosterone that he had to admit he hadn't felt since seeing his wife that day many (many, many) years ago on the beach in her bikini. Others would just say 'lust', but he was always more detached, more dissecting in his descriptions.
And so they let it lie, or rather hang like a Sword of Damocles over his head, and she found ways to adjust her expenses up slightly when she travelled and he never queried the larger costs (slightly more costly hotel, slightly over the limit dinner receipt). After a year he realised that now to raise it he'd be saying he was incompetent. He was trapped in the web she'd spun. The firm could afford it though. It was the most successful at what it did in the UK. They had carved a niche and held it by skilfully adjusting costs and prices to be profitable but not too profitable (so investors stayed happy but competitors were never quite sure if the profits justified the risk of entering the new market).
That first year it had been easy to hide the expenses, they weren't excessive and he could just sign off on them. The second year required more invention (or myopia) as she started to become perhaps a little greedy. Others probably did not notice that she started to dress slightly smarter and look slightly better. Actually some others did notice her more, they just didn't know why; and (with his somewhat unwilling support) she began to accelerate up the greasy pole. When executives turn to watch her walk past then it becomes easier to recommend her as a replacement for a personal secretary. At the end of that second year she had made it to the role of PA to the CEO, that was quite a jump in a short time, but a short skirt, a perky bust and a normal man in his late forties (the CEO) were enough to give her a head start when the interviews took place. All Alan had really had to do was to get her name into the pile to be considered, she did the rest.
The expenses were sometimes more of a challenge and he had occasionally tried to raise it with her. She would put on that impassive, blank face and he knew he was defeated. He couldn't force her to rein in her expenses without running the risk of that one-night-stand (which he did on occasion doubt had occurred, but Janet still avoided being in a lift alone with him – he laughed to himself about that, could he ravish a woman between floors? Super-sex. Not a power that appears in Marvel comics). A receipt from Next. How could he process that? He added a note that 'waiter spilled gravy on dress, will claim from restaurant insurance', but of course never did. Someone taking a careful look would make a connection between the reviewer of expenses, the expensee (expensee?) and the justification. They would assume he was shagging her, and ... bugger! He would be condemned for something he wasn't doing!
She had him over a barrel (hmm, I'd like to have her, or Sally, or any woman, yes even Mrs Dwyer – would need to be a strong barrel for her – over a barrel). He had allowed this to happen and now he was trapped.
To understand the role better she went to a conference on driving the PA function.
She'd gone again this year and (like last year) had stayed in a hotel that would normally be outside the expense price range. This year she'd also booked to stay after the close of the conference, over the weekend. A little checking confirmed what he already suspected. She had registered for the opening session, but not attended any of the detailed sessions. She had just picked up the pamphlets at the start and then (he suspected) spent the rest of the time in the beauty salon and swimming pool in the hotel. "The lazy..." he mumbled when he realised. This was the smoking gun he had waited for for the last three months.
.... There is more of this story ...