I am good at what I do. I am responsible for accounts payable in this company, so I review all the expense reports filed by any employee—including the vice president of this division. Regarding the paperwork in question, I was merely doing my job.
I was hired for my accounting skills, because of my proven track record at keeping companies toeing the bottom line, if you know what I mean. I was brought on to put this office back on track, back in line with the rest of the company in terms of expenditures. I was hired to tighten the reins, enforce the rules. I wasn't hired to make exceptions.
Every report, whether filed by the mail clerk or anyone on up the ladder, gets the same scrutiny. Take Mark Danielson, the division vice president—or his assistant, Gina Mosser—for example. One Wednesday in my expense report box—and while we're on the subject, let me just say that I find it astounding—astounding, I tell you—that some people have such trouble following simple instructions. I'm speaking about the sign on my desk that points—with an arrow even—to the box where I want the expense reports. Anyway, on that one Wednesday (I process expense reports on alternate Wednesdays, as they are due on alternate Fridays, because this gives me time to send them back with questions—and there are inevitably questions—and receive the corrections in time to make my filing date), that is to say, on that Wednesday I picked up a report dated three months prior. This, you understand, is so basic I shouldn't even have to say it: Expense reports are due at the end of each calendar month and absolutely must be filed by the end of each quarter. I cannot process an expense report from Q2 when we are two months into Q3. I have to send those to corporate. Why is that so difficult to understand? I've gone through this again and again in this office, because people here—I've never seen anything like it, frankly—cannot get their expense reports in on time. What's more, many of them have taken to bypassing me altogether and sending the reports to corporate, which is totally inefficient. When a report goes to corporate, those people are just going to sit on it until they feel like getting around to processing it, which, believe me, may well be never, because those clods wouldn't know how to keep to a schedule if it leapt out of their handheld electronic organizers and zapped them one on the forehead. They don't pay attention to detail. Not like I do, that's for sure.
Excuse me. I was saying that Gina Mosser had left me an outdated expense report. By the way I found it on my desk it looked like she had tossed it from ten feet away and was satisfied that it landed on a horizontal plane, but if I know that girl, I'd say she strolled by, with that sashay of hers—shifting her hips left and right as if trying to loosen her torso from her pelvis—and just as she was about to set it in the box, Manuel Cruz probably hung up his phone or made some other indication of his being alive in the cubicle across from mine, and as she turned to face him, arching her brows to give him the full effect of her "blue" eyes (contacts—trust me), she just unclamped her red claws from it and let the paper drop, as if it was the last thing she cared about in this world. It makes me sick the way the girls fawn and moon over him. And he'll have none of them, I don't know why they can't see that. I've asked to have my seat moved so I don't have to watch them parading through here with their push-up bras and tight skirts, but my supervisor said there's no other place to put me. You see, the current predicament is just one example of the depravity going on around here, I've learned that much in six months.
Now before you tell me to get to the point, just hold on. All this is important background information I think you should have to fully understand what I'm dealing with here. Now, on the surface it was a pretty straightforward piece of paperwork: five items, which she had allegedly purchased for a regional sales meeting. All the items appeared on the same receipt; she went to one of those superstore places that sell all kinds of things very cheap—at least she got that part right. So Gina picked up some markers, some vanilla-flavored non-dairy creamer—which I found frivolous and wasteful, but since it's not technically against corporate policy, I shrugged and ignored it. You see, while I agree that I am particular about enforcing the rules, I am not unreasonable; I know when the rules do and do not apply. She also bought two kinds of cookies and a bag of chips. How she keeps her figure tossing back all that junk, I will never know. One has to wonder what kind of eating disorders are running rampant in this office. But back to the matter at hand.
The problem was that the receipt and the expense report didn't match up. The numbers Gina wrote matched those on the receipt, but when I double-checked her addition, the total did not match the total on the receipt, which was the total Gina had copied to the expense report. When I asked her about it, she waved me off like a leper, she said, "Of course the total was off, because of tax." Which brings up another point: People think I'm incompetent. We use a spreadsheet program that does the calculations automatically, so this kind of mistake can't happen—unless the incorrect figures are entered in the form. Incidentally, we need to update that software. We're running an old, old version. This is something I plan to address in my review, which is next month. You can see what a valuable resource I am around here: I keep up with the latest trends. But as for Gina, I scoffed back at her and let her know that I am in the habit of calculating sales tax, because I know how to do my job, thank you very much. The figures were still off. The problem was that Gina had purchased one more item—an item that she didn't include on the expense report. She had bought a bottle of ibuprofen for herself and—rightly—did not charge it to the company, even though others might try to make the argument that it is still expensible because the headache occurred at work. The purchase was completely unnecessary, by the way, as there is a whole drugstore in the first aid kit in the employee lounge, but evidently she prefers the name-brand product. Anyway, that's why the expense report was off: she hadn't checked her math—but I did, because that's my job.
I know what you're thinking, and yes, that sounds like a little mistake, but such "little" mistakes add up—a bottle of aspirin here, a box of tissues there—and before you know it, the company is in the hole. This is exactly my point, this is what I've been trying to tell you: I am here to make sure that these kinds of "little" mistakes don't get made—or if they do, that they don't go unnoted. That's my job. And I'll tell you what: This company is lucky to have someone like me keeping track of the brass tacks—if you know what I mean.
Now, with that in mind, I'll move to the matter of Susan Anderson. Let me say first that I like her as much as anybody in this company, and I would hope she knows that this is in no way personal; I am not, as some people have insinuated, "out to get her." On the contrary: I am looking out for everyone's best interests, keeping the collective as a whole on track, so we all can feel good about what we do and secure in our jobs—because after all, if the company's in the red, no one's in the pink—you know what I'm saying?
Some people are saying I'm frustrated with my job and taking it out on her. Nonsense. Aside from the simple details I've just mentioned, I love my job. I don't expect everyone to get every digit and decimal right; that's why I'm here: to check and balance, to be a safeguard against normal human error. I'm not angry with Susan Anderson, and I hope she's not angry with me, but if she is, well, I just hope some day she will realize how misguided her feelings are. Maybe she's under a hormonal influence or something, I don't know, because I've never had children. Quite frankly, and I don't mean to get too personal, but the present state of things would lead me never to want to go in that direction. The short of it is, I didn't know at the time that Susan was pregnant—if she even is pregnant—one can't trust everything one hears around this place, please keep that in mind. But even if she was or is pregnant, I couldn't possibly have known by whom, though of course most people would rightly assume a woman to be pregnant by her husband. Or, nowadays, by her boyfriend or, significant other, I suppose I should say, but Susan and I didn't have those kinds of conversations, so I didn't even know she was married or whatever she is. She doesn't wear a ring.
All right, back to the facts of the matter as I know them. As I've already told you, people leave expense reports in all states of improper completion in every inappropriate place possible. Not only do they not put them in the right box, some people don't even get them to my desk. I have found expense reports left in the coffee lounge, on the floor, and even abandoned in the restroom. I usually try to verify that the person meant to file the report, because one time I processed a report when the person had more items to add, and, thinking the report lost, ended up filing a second one, which—oh, I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that the fiasco caused everyone concerned one big two-week headache.
But when I find paperwork on my desk, I assume it to have been placed there intentionally, if not correctly. Especially when the paperwork includes a receipt or receipts. As per usual, when I returned to work that Monday after a month caring for my terminally ill mother and seeing to the details of her wake (which, by the way, no one acknowledged or inquired about; yet another indication of the misdirected attentions in this office) I expected to find a mess on my desk. I expected the expense report box to be overflowing onto my desk and even spilling onto the floor, but it wasn't anything spectacular. Yes, there were reports to process, but not many more than my usual bi-weekly filing. Still, I thought I'd break with my established routine and work through them immediately, even though—as I've stated—I usually do all the reports on Wednesdays——alternate Wednesdays. Some of the reports had been sitting there since shortly after I left, so I wanted to make sure the people who filed them didn't have to wait any longer for their checks. You see: I do take other people's needs and concerns into consideration.
As is to be expected—as I believe I have established—there were incomplete filings. One, in particular—the paperwork in question—was memorable. Which brings me to the most important fact about that party: I had as much—if not more—to do with the quarterly earnings as anyone else—I probably saved this company more money in the last two quarters than some of those sales lackeys have made all year—you see where I'm going with this—so I think it would have been considerate of them to wait until I got back from my leave of absence—especially considering my reasons for being gone—to have the party. But of course, the party wasn't really about quarterly earnings, was it? Furthermore, you can bet that if I had been around, I would have pointed out the office's no alcohol policy, which, if you're not following my logic here, let me spell it out: Had I been there, this mess never would have happened. Now all I can do is try the best I can to clean up after these people, like I've been doing since the day I arrived.
So, there were four pieces of paper on my desk. One—the one on top—was a note to Shiree in Human Resources. I am ashamed to admit that I read the note, despite the obvious fact that it was misplaced on my desk. I suppose at first I thought it was a copy, that someone had wanted me to have a copy of this office correspondence. I acknowledge and admit I was wrong to do it, but I did it, and I can't change that fact—what's done is done. You know, I know people think I'm not very smart. I've overheard them saying as much. The men, they say, "You can't get anything past that old bag." Then they laugh, don't think I don't know they do. But I don't let it get to me. I even take a certain pride in it. Whether they admit it or not, they know deep down that I'm only doing what needs to be done, and I'm doing it well. The women though, they can be nasty—not that I take what they say to heart, either. I've walked into the restroom and heard voices echoing around, and high-pitched cackles.
"Oh, gawd! What she needs is a good lay."
"We all need her to get a good lay."
"Well, we'd have to pay for that one—we should take up a collection."
"I'll contribute to that fund—as long as I don't have to watch!"
I know they're just frustrated because I've got something on them—something more valuable and rare than a nice little body—and they have to play by my rules—which are just the company rules, which should be their rules, too. With me, they can't have it their own way. They can't bat their eyelashes or lean over my desk, give me a little peek-a-boo to speed paperwork along or let a mistake slide. But I've got more than a few lines on them, these idiots, these clowns strutting around, telling their tales. Ha! You bet I do.
Now, back to the note. The note said—but don't quote me on this; I didn't memorize it—it said, basically, that Susan was going to be out of the office for three days and when she returned, they would have the party for the "quarterly earnings report." He said that Shiree should talk to Mark Danielson about it if she had any questions. OK, maybe I shouldn't have kept reading the note at that point, but I kept reading because it was a short note. I was done with it before I realized I shouldn't have read it. And, honestly, at the time, it didn't strike me as anything private, anything out of the ordinary, taking time off, nothing to keep a secret about. A week later, though, after I'd heard some things around the office, when Susan left me an expense report, a request for an immediate payout—in the box, this time—something wasn't computing.
Now, if I'm not going to believe gossip that I hear whispered about me, I can't very well trust what these flap-mouths say about one another. These girls, they're smiley to one another and sweet face-to-face, but turn around and one will stamp and claw all over the next to go after what she wants. Oh, how they punch and stab for a glance from Manuel or any of the other men in this office. But Susan, she was married—not that that stops some of the other ones—and she always struck me as a nice girl. From what I could see, she was quiet, came in on time, left at five (worked the occasional late night, especially these last two months), did her work and minded her business and no one else's. And if her expense reports were any indication, I would say Susan Anderson was an exemplary employee, followed the rules to the letter. She dotted her I's and crossed her T's, that one, minded her P's and Q's, if you know what I mean. If she said ten words to me, they were ten nice words, I'm sure of that. So I am as concerned as the next person to discover all this sad business about her.
But back to the party—the party where there shouldn't have been any alcohol in the first place. It made perfect sense to me that she'd need some time away. Bear in mind: I'd just lost my mother, so I understand grief. I don't begrudge her any time off, but still, there are limits to what one can ask. Namely, it's not right to ask people to break the rules. When I went off to care for my mother, did I ask the company to pay for it? No. A card would have been nice, flowers at the funeral or a charitable donation would have been appropriate, not to mention appreciated, but I didn't ask for these things—and certainly not for anything … extra.
I'm not judging her. Didn't I just say I thought she was above most of the other girls in this office? But facts are facts: She went too far. As I said before, people are human, they make mistakes; I'm here to correct those mistakes. So, when I saw that the expenses listed on the report were not for the party itself—which, as I've already said, occurred under questionable circumstances—when I saw that the expenses were incurred during the time I knew Susan to be out of the office, I realized there must have been some mistake. It is my job to correct mistakes. And, as should be painfully clear to you by now, I take my job very seriously. Now, while I do not give a second thought to the gossip contaminating the air in this place, the stories that linked Susan and Mark, that the baby was—I can't even believe such filth is coming from my own mouth, that I would even validate the smut by repeating it. Please excuse me. You see? A person gets dragged down in this depravity. My point being only that I did suspect something was wrong. Because, as I've said, Susan Anderson knows how to fill out an expense report. She knows how to follow the rules. So I tried to track her down so she could fix the paperwork, so she could get her money—over a thousand dollars she had coming to her—before the weekend. It's what I would have wanted someone in my position to do for me. I didn't know why she needed the money, but if she had it coming, she should get it. Understand this: I never questioned that she deserved the payout, I merely questioned the paperwork—which is my job to do. I simply wanted to get the facts right on paper, so her check would not be delayed. You see? I was looking out for her. That point would be obvious to most people. But I understand, she's under a lot of stress and emotional strain—for a variety of reasons—and probably more than most people—so I feel for her, I really do.
I have to tell you that this is where things start to get foggy. This is where I had a really hard time putting the pieces together, because people, usually uncooperative, simply refused to talk to me at all—wouldn't even look at me. Which, of course, convinced me that something was very much awry.
I couldn't find Susan that day. So I put the expense report aside. Then I couldn't find her the next day, either, or the day after that. This was a Thursday, I believe, and I was really pushing my deadline. I wanted to help her out. So, I went to Mark Danielson. From the note, I figured he must know what was up.
Mark was cordial, at first, and when I explained the situation, he told me Susan was going to be out of the office for a while, so I should just submit the report as it was, not worry about the discrepancy. Don't worry about it—that's exactly what he said. So I explained that the paperwork had to be accurate, correct, because I could not submit paperwork I knew to be false. He got angry with me. "Just this once," he said, staring at me in a very condescending way, "Look, it doesn't matter that the dates are off. The expenses are approved. It's basically a payroll advance, but I sent it through you because I thought it would get done sooner. Please, just send the goddamn paperwork through."
Well. Not only do I not like cursing, I don't like that kind of cursing, right to my face, as if he's condemning me. Maybe to him it doesn't matter that the dates are off, but it matters to me. It's my job to account for these details. And I don't know who he thinks he is, trying to sugarcoat his flimflammery with flattery. If he had wanted me to process a payroll advance—even though that's not usually my job—I would have done it. Like I keep saying, I am not unreasonable. But let me tell you, when people get so wound up over a simple request for clarification, I have to wonder why. Like my mother—may she rest in peace—used to say, Where there's smoke, there's fire.
What I'm working up to here is that the invoice was trumped up. I don't know who these people think they're working with here, but I wasn't born yesterday. I called the number on the receipt to see about those dates and … it was bogus. Now this I really didn't expect. I was flabbergasted. I didn't know what to think—as I told you, I always thought Susan was a nice girl, but then we all have our weak moments; we all make mistakes. Of course extortion is one of the more serious mistakes a person can make, in my book—I'm not judging, mind you, I'm just making an observation. You can call it jumping to conclusions if you want, but we'll just see, when all is said and done, whose story rings truer.
At this point, I started thinking that maybe those girls in the restroom were on to something after all. So I made a big show of going out to lunch and slipped into the third floor restroom on my way out. It happened that no one was in there, lucky for me. I reached in my bag for the "Out of Order" sign I'd made on my computer—not as snazzy as that fake invoice, but much more believable—and I taped it on the door of the handicapped stall. The commode, you see, is situated so that I could put the lid down and sit on it and not be seen unless someone bent over and really made an effort to look—which I know none of these girls has the brains to do. Besides, they'd teeter off those ridiculous clodhopper heels they wear. I pulled out a book and waited. It was lunchtime, remember, when traffic through the lavatory is heaviest. I didn't have to wait long.
First I heard one person come in, then when she was exiting the stall, another entered.
"Whew! Did you see Mark this morning? He was peeved."
"No! What's up?"
"Well, evidently Susan miscarried, and—as you can imagine—she's absolutely devastated. Her husband, you remember, was laid off the day after the shower, so it's great that he can be home with her, but she's practically incapacitated. I don't know all the details, but evidently they needed a little cash, so Mark OK'ed an advance for her, to help out."
"You know, I overheard him talking to Miss Stick-Up-Her-Ass about an expense report. It was some stupidity with the dates not matching or something. I wonder if that was connected."
"I wouldn't be surprised. That old witch! Of all the times to insist on procedure. What a pathetic fool. Well, if it is connected, she's in trouble. I mean, come on! She lost her baby, her husband lost his job, she needs a little help—and hello? Even if she did just start a few months ago, she's doing a great job."
"And she's the sweetest person, too."
I'd been sitting cross-legged so my feet wouldn't show, and I'd been there long enough to start to lose some circulation in my feet. I tried to slide slowly to the edge of the seat, but the book slid off my lap and fell to the floor. I knew I had to do something, so I flushed the toilet and walked out like nothing was unusual. The two of them were at the sink. Marjorie and Camella, from sales.
I don't know what made me do it, what made me think I could set those wicked gossips straight. I should have known they wouldn't take my side, but I never would expect my remark to come flying back in my face, especially considering I was just laying out the facts when I said, "If it was a payroll advance, someone should have just filed for a payroll advance. Would have been a lot easier than trumping up the paperwork."
"What do you mean?"
"The receipt I have is from a company that doesn't exist. I happen to have all the paperwork right here."
Camella grabbed the report and the attached receipt out of my hand—I did not give her those papers. She gave Marjorie a smile that made me sick to my stomach. And while I'm thinking about it, let it be known that I didn't start all those nasty rumors, those loose-lipped, swivel-hipped girls did. Why can't anybody see that? I was just trying to do my job, I was just trying to make everything add up, to see that everything was in its place. I didn't mean any harm—on the contrary, I was trying to help. How was I to know all that was going on, if people don't tell me and if they don't document it? How can I help if I don't know what's going on? Why are people blaming me? Why is her misfortune my fault? Did I blame you when my mother died? If she had just told me in the first place, if somebody had told me what was going on, we could have worked out a solution—in keeping with company policy. I don't know, she could have stayed with me, she could have borrowed money from me, and—once again—all this trouble would have been avoided all together. But nobody told me what was going on. Nobody asked for my input.
For the last time: Regarding the paperwork in question, I was just doing my job. I review all the expense reports in this company—even those filed by the division president. I am responsible for accounts payable. I am good at what I do.