Copyright© 2010 by Autumn Writer
It was Wednesday, and the field work on the McAllister audit had been completed the previous Friday. Tom spent his time in BM&H's downtown office putting together the pieces so that the client could issue financial statements. The bank required audited statements as a condition for renewing the credit facilities established for the Company. At most times, Tom would have the help of the young Staff Accountants that assisted in the field work. With Tax Season in full swing he released them to help the Tax Department, so he had a lot to keep himself busy.
It was good to be busy in those days. It helped him take his mind off the partnership question. He enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere of the office and his own private space in his cubicle in the "Bullpen". Only partners had private offices. He was reading the Audit Guide to bone up on the rules for Obsolete Inventory in preparation for writing the entry for the needed reserve. His eyes were getting bleary, so it was a good moment to get a coffee refill. Jerry Kelly was in the Coffee Room doing the same thing.
"Hi'ya Tom. How'd the McAllister job go this year?" Jerry asked.
Jerry was a Senior Accountant, about five years younger than Tom. The prior two years he had worked under Tom on the McAllister job. He had recently passed the CPA exam and was midway between the Staff position and Manager. He could take on more complex and demanding tasks or work alone on certain things. If Tom won the elevation to Partner, Jerry stood a good chance to move up the ladder to Tom's Manager position.
"A little rough," Tom answered. "The client had a tough year. I had Harding and Bianchi as Staff Accountants. They're still wet behind the ears."
"Take it easy on 'em," Jerry admonished with a laugh. "We were greenies once, ourselves."
"True enough," Tom admitted. "Don't tell them that. It doesn't hurt to bust their chops a little when they're starting out. Tough lessons are well-learned."
"Changing the subject," Jerry interjected, "how's Kathy and the new baby?"
"Fine, fine," Tom answered. "You know, never a dull moment."
"Peggy and I are trying," Jerry volunteered. "I think she hears her biological clock ticking."
"Get her some earplugs," Tom said with a laugh. "They've got to be cheaper than kids."
The two men were laughing as they returned to the salt mine. As they turned into the Bullpen Tom slapped Jerry on the back.
"I was just kidding, Jerry. I hope it works out for you."
As Tom sat down at his desk one of the accountants called over to him.
"Bentley's secretary was looking for you. She said that he wants to see you ASAP."
"Hey, c'mon in, Tom," Charles Bentley called out from behind his desk as Tom appeared at his office door. "Have a chair."
Tom sat in the chair across the desk from the Managing Partner. To Tom's surprise, Henry Morrison was in the office, too, and he pulled the door closed as Tom sat down. It gave him a funny feeling but he shrugged it off.
"Finishing up the McAllister audit?" Bentley asked.
In addition to being the Managing Partner, he was also in charge of the McAllister account. Morrison was the Tax Partner, so considering McAllister's problems it made perfect sense that he sit in on a discussion of the audit issues.
"Yes sir," Tom answered. "I should have it ready for first draft by lunch tomorrow."
"I know it was a tough job this year," Bentley said. "You had a couple of rookies with you, to boot. First rate work, Tom."
"Yes, I agree—first rate," Morrison chimed in.
"We're lucky to have you in our firm, Tom," Bentley continued. "We would never have this job covered if you weren't on it."
"Thank you, Mr. Bentley..."
"Charles," Bentley corrected, holding up his hand to make a point. It was the second time within a week that Tom had been told to use a man's first name. That queasy feeling returned.
"Thanks, Charles," Tom repeated. "I would have brought in the work papers if I had known you wanted to discuss the McAllister job. Of course there are some tax issues there. I'm wondering if Keith Masters briefed you." Tom noted Bentley and Morrison nodding in unison. "Shall I go out and get them? It would be easier to talk about it with the actual numbers."
"No, not right now," Bentley answered. He looked down at his clasped hands, and then at his partner. "I was looking through your Personnel File today. You've been with us for thirteen years."
"Thirteen good years, Charles," Tom added.
He felt something more important at hand than work papers.
"Yes, good years," Morrison repeated.
"Well, here's what we called you in to talk about. We've decided not to wait to announce the new partner to move up when Bill retires next month. We were going to wait, but everyone in the office is on pins and needles and we wanted to calm things down in the midst of Tax Season and all."
"Yes, sir; I agree," Tom said, and leaned forward in his chair.
"You've done all that has ever been asked of you," Bentley said. "You've done everything required to deserve a partnership."
"Of course, Keith Masters has been excellent, too," Morrison interjected.
"Yes, Henry, that's true. I think we need to recognize Tom's contributions right now."
"Yes, yes," Morrison agreed. "You're a valuable man, Tom."
"This is it. It's coming to me. It's mine! I felt it all along; I should never have doubted it. I just want to relax so that I can savor every word. Then, I'll call Kathy."
"You always thought of the firm's interests, Tom. That's why you'll see clearly why we're appointing Keith Masters as our new partner."
Bentley's words filled Tom's senses with the toll of a bell loudly clanging in an untuned key. It occurred to him that it was his heart beating hard. He was stunned—couldn't speak. His mouth opened but he was unable to form the words.
"It was a hard decision, Tom. We knew, of course, that you wanted it. We're actually giving it to Keith for your own good."
Tom had recovered enough to utter some words, but he didn't answer; he waited for the rest of it.
"You know, with your new addition and all—and, by the way, how'd Little Hal—we're sure that you'd rather have time to spend with your kids and helping Kathy around the house. Keith can go out and socialize and make those contacts that bring in new clients. He and Stephie make quite a nice-looking couple."
"You mean that my family kept me..."
"You've been in this business long enough to know that a partner has to pull his weight in clients," Bentley said, "or it's not a business."
"I'm committed to that," Tom insisted.
"I'm sure you mean that," Bentley admitted. "Soon you'd start checking your watch at a certain hour, trying to parse out the break-even moment between family time and client time. Keith won't have to do that."
"But..." Tom couldn't help protesting.
"I know what I'm saying," Bentley insisted. "I've been there. I split that hair on the wrong side and ended up divorced. Believe me, Tom, this is for the best."
Tom rose and performed the obligatory handshakes with Bentley and Morrison. He wanted to make his way back to his desk in the Bullpen and sit by himself for a while. It was the only reasonable expectation that he had left.
"Close the door behind you on your way out, Tom," Bentley ordered as Tom started to leave the office. "Henry and I have a few things to discuss."
Tom took a slow walk past the Secretary and down the hallway of partners' offices and a temptation sprinted through his mind. He knew that it was a mistake to invite the torment, but ignored his inner voice. He stopped for a quick glance into Bill Howe's office to see what might have been. He knew that the retiring partner was out for the day.
That office should be mine!"
He only intended to glance in for a moment from the doorway.
When he arrived at the open door he saw Keith Masters already there. His back was to Tom, hands on hips surveying his new view. There was the river below and to his right. Several high rises lay across the street. The old cathedral, with its stained glass, was just down the street to the left. It was as though Keith was trying to decide if everything in the panorama suited him—or if, perhaps, he wanted something moved.
His wife, Stephie, was there with him looking about, no doubt in the initial stages of redecorating. As Tom was about to recede from the doorway he noticed Stephie see him from the corner of her eye.
"Keith, I want to congratulate you!" Tom announced as he stepped forward, extending his hand. Keith spun around with a startled look
"Hello, Stephie; it's nice to see you," Tom added as Keith took Tom's hand.
"Tom—thanks," Keith answered. He looked a little flustered as he spun around, almost embarrassed to be the winner of the prize. "I'm sorry that we both..."
"Forget that!" We both knew that there would be only one partnership. I'm glad you got it. I was afraid that they'd bring in someone from the outside."
"Diplomacy over honesty!"
"I just found out last night. I thought that Stephie could help me with the decorating."
Tom turned to Keith's wife, a soothing sight, as usual. He always allowed himself the secret indulgence of enjoying her company. In her mid thirties, she was a beautiful woman, in a soft kind of way. She wore her long, chestnut hair in waves and draped it on her shoulders. She was slender, especially in the navy slacks that she was wearing. Her graceful form lacked those little saddlebags that women sometimes acquired after having a few kids. Tom felt ashamed that he compared Stephie with Kathy. Stephie's figure was better and Tom had to remind himself that it didn't matter. She was pleasant and unassuming, which isn't always true of beautiful women.
"It's been too long, Tom. We always have such a nice time when you and Kathy come over," she said with grace. "We have to get together soon."
"Right, Tom," Keith said. "We'll have a barbecue when the weather gets warm."
"Yeah sure, Keith!" Tom scoffed to himself. "Maybe I can help you pick up a client or two while we're at it, so that Bentley won't lose any sleep over choosing you."
"I suppose that I should start calling you 'Mr. Masters' now," Tom said out loud, with just a slight touch of facetiousness to portray humor.
"Well, it's not official yet, Tom. You know..."
"Keith!" Stephie gasped.
"Just joking!" Keith recanted. "Tom, I'll always be 'Keith' to you."
"I'll let you two get back to work," Tom said. "Nice to see you, Stephie. I'll tell Kathy that I saw you."
Tom walked alone back to his cubicle in the Bullpen. He congratulated himself on his graciousness. He realized that those were the only congratulations that he would be receiving for a long time.
"Don't do me any favors, Mr. Big-Shot Partner. There are a few things I might call you besides 'Keith'. Stephie might think of a few more if she knew a few things."
Tom sat at his desk with his face buried in his hands. He straightened up, remembering the lack of privacy afforded by the seating arrangement.