Now I’m no expert, and my blue jeans and tee shirt testify to that fact. (And it’s a toss-up whether I’m wearing the blue tee shirt that says, “Grandma, established 2022,” the red one that says, “I’m a mystery writer. I know 101 ways how to hide a body,” or the long-sleeved black one from “Canceling Christmas,” the musical that I was in last December.)
My characters in A TROLL FALLS, though, know a thing or two about the fashion of the late 1940s. After all, even though they were merely workers in the house, they were treated as part of the family by some very high-standing citizens of Dallas. I showed you the Dior dress that I chose for Ruby to wear on her date at the Adolphus hotel earlier. You can see that post HERE, and it is quite a dress!
Ruby has another date, though, on Elm Street that is shown in THIS POST. She attends a movie premiere of Red River, starring John Wayne, and the block party that the city of Dallas sponsored on that evening (August 26, 1948). At this date, she wore a beautiful sundress. Unfortunately, it wasn’t sunny.
Nope, not a bit. Just as the party was stirring up, a thunderstorm soaked everything and everyone from the haybales to the square dancers and the trick ropers.
And Ruby might have been soaked as well, except she wore one of those plastic raincoats – the kind that were translucent. At least, her dress was seen, right?
As I was researching for this book, I even picked out pajamas for my characters. They are rather prone to wander around and investigate in the middle of the night, so they had to have pajamas. I was surprised to find that the pajama top that I chose is actually a normal daytime top nowadays. Go figure. LOL!
But I have to admit, I wish that the housecoats of 1948 were still popular. These are not mere robes. These are thick and quilted dresses that ushered in the 1950s poofy skirts. I love the ones that I chose for my characters. I would guess the shoulder pads and hemline came straight out of the 1980s, right?
Which do you like best? Which would you wear?
There is something to be said for vintage clothing. I don’t have the figure or the guts to wear clothes from the 1940s, but it sure is pretty!
And in celebration of the release tomorrow, I’m doing a Facebook Takeover at THIS LINK. I’ll be there all day, giving away prizes and sharing more about my story and the Dallas history that sparked my imagination. I hope you will join me!
Oh, and when you purchase your book, don’t forget to send your receipt to ATROLLFALLS@gmail.com along with your US shipping address, and I’ll send you a special gift with your purchase!
Connie opened the door to her office and stepped aside to let Clint in. She started to shut it, and thought better of the action, leaving it halfway open.
“Where’s this plan you wanted to show me?” He eyed her mom’s bulletin board.
She gave it a once over. There was nothing there but thank you cards and a survey form from the grocery store. She snapped her finger at her side and smoothed her navy skirt. She pulled the survey from the board. “I thought a couple of my primary volunteers, the ones who establish our purchase orders, could make a list of items that are regularly purchased.”
“How is that supposed to help.” He didn’t bother to look at the form that she held out to him.
“Well, that way, you can either accept or reject the items on the list before anyone spends money on them. The purchaser can have a pretty good idea you will approve the purchase.” She sounded like an idiot, but at least she was keeping him out of his office.
Not that her brother would likely find anything on the computer in there. Not if what she’d just learned about the man was indeed true.
He clasped his hands together around the handle of his briefcase and eyed her with suspicion. “Exactly why am I here?”
She had a choice. She could continue with the charade and try to excuse herself from the situation by pretending to be a dunderhead, or she could challenge him with some of her own questions. “If the donors aren’t giving very well, then why is it you decided on extra expenditures to fly out to meet with my uncle?”
“Wouldn’t you agree that some donors need a more personal touch?”
He made a point. “But that shouldn’t require an expensive hotel and a first-class seat on the flight.” He couldn’t very well talk his way out of that.
He set his case beside him and folded his arms over his chest. “Are you investigating me?”
Yes, actually. “As I said, I wasn’t sure where you were.” She wouldn’t throw her niece under the bus.
“Why didn’t you ask Hodges?”
“She had no idea where you were.” That was all beside the point anyway. “And it doesn’t explain why you would spend so much when you know the donors are no longer giving as much as they had been?”
“Where did you hear that donors are no longer giving?”
What was with all his questions? As she thought through it, he hadn’t given her a straight answer since they’d arrived at her office. “Are you saying that it’s not true?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“So, it is true?” Somehow, she needed to get an actual answer out of this guy.
“I didn’t say that either.”
That was it. She’d had it. “Mr. Rutherford, if you can’t or won’t answer my questions, then I’m not sure you need to continue working for the foundation.”
“You don’t have the authority to fire me, Miss Wright. I don’t answer to you.”
Oh, this was infuriating. Whether this guy was guilty of something or not, she’d be talking to Dad. This type of attitude was not what she signed up for.
He picked up his case and moved to the door.
“Wait, why is it that we don’t have access to the bank accounts anymore?”
He turned and glared at her. “You have not been here. There has been no reason for you to have access to the accounts.”
“Well, I’m here now.”
“And you can take it up with your father.” He put his back to her again.
“He doesn’t have access to the accounts either.” Not something the man could so easily wiggle out of.
He didn’t turn around but pushed through the open door.
She stopped him in the hallway as Mrs. Hodges came trotting toward them. “Why doesn’t Dad have access to the accounts anymore.”
“Have you spoken to him?”
“I’m speaking to you.”
“And you should answer her.” Mrs. Hodges stepped close, blocking his way. Her normal smile was replaced by a pointed look that bordered on fierceness.
Once again, he set his briefcase down. His neck was flushed under the collar of his shirt. “Your father is in charge of his own accounts. If things are changed there, he did the changing. I was tasked with giving more security to the finances since there has been . . .” He paused, glanced at Mrs. Hodges, and took a deep breath. Then he looked back at Connie. “There have been some inconsistencies in the books. Some of the numbers aren’t adding up.”
Of course, that could simply be a difference of accounting or simple clerical errors if the numbers were low, but he seemed to insinuate otherwise. And if the 1.5 M did stand for money, then it was serious indeed.
Diana Carson rounded the corner and stopped short as the man continued.
“Because the issues have been happening for such a long time, I limited access to your father and mother and me. That way, I could be sure to at least stop the embezzlement even if I couldn’t find the person responsible.”
The word had finally been said aloud. It had such a dirty sound to it. Mrs. Hodges flinched when he said it. Surely, she couldn’t be involved.
“But I have a good idea who that person might be.” He turned to the older woman. “Right?”
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Don’t forget to preorder the first book of The Visitor Mystery Series THE VISITOR MAKES A RETREAT from Amazon and forward your receipt for a free gift with purchase. Send the receipt and your shipping address to TheVisitorBooks2023@gmail.com And please put the book title in the subject line.
Also, be sure to play our “Where is the Visitor Going Next” Contest. We’ll be giving away lots of prizes! You can find the first clue right here on January 16! Come see if you can figure out where The Visitor is going next!
THE VISITOR MAKES A RETREAT by Julie B Cosgrove| February 10
THE VISITOR MEETS OLD HAIRY by Fay Lamb March 10
THE VISITOR SEES A GHOST by Lill Kohler April 14
THE VISITOR PLAYS A GAME by Shawna Robison Young May 12
THE VISITOR KIDS AROUND by Dena Netherton June 9
THE VISITOR HAS A BALL by Betty Thomason Owens July 14
THE VISITOR CATCHES THE BOUQUET by Marji Laine August 11
Once the pizza had arrived, Connie and Mrs. Hodges split up the donor list and began calling.
An hour into the phone calls, Connie began to see a pattern. “Thank you, Mr. Hardy. And I’ll be sure to pass along your greeting to my dad.” Connie smiled at the receiver even though the dear man wouldn’t see her appreciation.
Mrs. Hodges hung up the reception phone just as Connie set her cell phone down. “Well, so far, all of the donors that I’ve called seemed to still be giving.”
The older woman tapped the tip of a ballpoint pen on a notepad. “I don’t understand it. Your father told Diana specifically that one of the donors I called was no longer giving at all. She said he was rather heartbroken about it because he and Eleanor knew the woman personally, and she had supported the foundation from day one.. But on the phone, the woman didn’t indicate that she’d stopped giving or even reduced her donations.” She gave Connie a quizzical look. “In fact, she said she’d just put in a payment using the new process as instructed.”
“What new process?” The hairs on the back of Connie’s neck stood up.
“Well, I didn’t ask her. I didn’t want to alarm her, but I haven’t heard of any new process. Do you suppose it’s going into a new account?”
A chill scampered across her shoulders. Was that what was going on? She snapped her fingers and pointed at the sky like Mrs. Hodges always did. “That’s it.”
“You know what’s happening.”
“It isn’t that the donors aren’t giving anymore. It’s that their donations are being transferred to someone else.” Connie’s cell phone vibrated on the counter, and she picked it up as the ring began. “This is Connie Wright.”
“Have you learned anything?”
“Well, we couldn’t decipher the letter string that you sent, but the numbers were a different story.” Her nephew-in-law began to explain some long process, but Connie’s brain wasn’t completely wrapping around it. She bit her tongue, hoping to hear something she could make heads or tails out of.
“So, with a little perseverance, and probably a bit of conniving, my assistant was able to identify a couple of bank accounts in the Bahamas. He was actually able to look at the funds there. He couldn’t touch any of it, of course, but he found a couple hundred dollars between the two.”
It was probably a good thing that Connie hadn’t understood Addison’s process. She really didn’t want to know how his worker was able to ferret out that information. “There’s still nothing to say that Clint Rutherford has anything to do with it, though, is there?”
“I’m afraid not.”
She thanked Addison and hung up as Mrs. Hodges completed another call. “There’s another happy donor. Mr. Iverson is even planning to increase his giving next year.”
“Did he say anything about a new process?”
“I didn’t give him the chance. I told him that he might have heard about a new procedure for the gifts, but that we were sticking with the way we had been doing it all along. He was pleased that he didn’t have to change his direct payment.”
“Good.” She pointed at her phone. “Margaret’s son-in-law was looking into the data that I found on the notepad in Clint’s office. He connected the numbers with two different bank accounts in the Bahamas.”
Her eyes widened. “I bet that’s where the money went.”
No real proof of that, but Connie’s gut told her it was indeed a good bet.
Connie’s phone chimed, and she glanced at it. Gretchen. Connie pulled up the text.
CR – LT CHI RES. WKD @ DOBESON CPA.
Gretchen and her shorthand. Well, CR was likely Clint Rutherford. Light shy rez? CHI would be Chicago, Chi-town. And RES most likely meant resident. But LT?
Long-time! And Dobeson CPA had to have been the other freelancing job that he spoke of.
Wait a minute. The WKD bugged her. Works would be WKS in Gretchen text language. WKD is either weekend, which wouldn’t make any sense at all, not even in Gretchen-speak, or it would be worked. Past tense. But he’d talked about his other job as though it were current.
She opened her internet app and looked up the company, then clicked on the phone number to call it.
“Dobeson CPA. How may I help you?” The woman’s voice was on the perky side of professional.
“I’d like to speak with Clint Rutherford, please.” The man had been with her brother Frank, but maybe he’d returned.
“I’m sorry, but Mr. Rutherford no longer works here.”
Connie started to thank the woman, but a thought entered her mind. She put on an elderly voice. “Well, I don’t understand. Mr. Rutherford has been working on my accounts for some time now. Where has he gone?”
“If you’ll give me your name, ma’am.”
Connie couldn’t exactly give her that. “I was supposed to contact him when I was ready for him to go through a new audit. How can I reach him?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know.”
“Well, surely you have some way to reach the man.” Connie pressed. “He couldn’t have just fallen off the face of the earth.”
“We haven’t been able to reach him.”
“For how long?”
“If I can have your name, ma’am, I’ll have one of our other agents contact you—”
“No, no. I want to at least speak to the man before I decide to hand over my business to someone else. How long has he been out of communication with you?”
“Oh, it’s been at least a couple of months, ma’am. We really have no way to contact him. He had no family or even an emergency contact. But we do have some wonderful agents here who can help you.”
“Well, thank you. I’ll think about it and let you know.” Connie set her receiver back in its cradle. She stared at the desktop. Clint Rutherford hadn’t been working at his job for months. And he’d only been at the foundation for a few months. Did the times coincide?
Before she could contemplate that question, Clint Rutherford came in through the front door.
Connie glanced at Mrs. Hodges. “We need to keep him out of his office.” There was no telling what state the office was in. They needed to give Paul as much time as possible to complete his investigation.
“Mr. Rutherford.” Connie stepped into his path as he began to veer toward the volunteer wing.
“Clint, please.” He gave her smile right out of a Disney movie. “How are you settling in, Connie?”
She hadn’t invited him to use her first name, but that was an old-fashioned thought. “Well enough. Thank you.” She held out her hand toward the executive hallway. “I have a couple of things I’d like to ask you about.”
“Certainly, let me drop my case off.” He sidestepped toward his hallway, but she tucked her hand around his arm.
“It won’t take but a second. I have an idea about the reimbursement that I’d like to show you on my board.” Why had she said that? Her board was a smorgasbord of Mama’s notes and cards. Nothing business about it. She’d have to come up with something.
“Well, all right.” He curled his arm up and squeezed her hand against his side, drawing her much closer than she wanted to be.
“So, you have been traveling?” She gave him a sidelong glance and fell into step beside him.
“Yes, I went down to meet with Frank Wright. I guess that would be your brother. Seems strange since he’s so much older.”
Funny that he would be so candid. She halfway thought he’d try to hide where he’d been since he hadn’t bothered to tell anyone that he was leaving. “Mrs. Hodges was a little worried about you.”
He tilted his head. “That’s odd.”
“Mrs. Hodges knew where I was. And I was able to speak to a number of potential donors who are interested in investing in the Our Kids charity.”
He went into detail, but Connie hung on the revelation. Mrs. Hodges had known all along where he was? Why had she made it seem like she didn’t know?
The man paused, apparently concluding his monologue about the charity.
“That sounds very promising.” She held her breath. Hopefully, that would be a reasonable response.
“I thought so.”
Good. She reached her door and unlocked it. “How were you able to get off your job for so long.” That should be an innocent enough question.
“Tennyson & Carstairs are quite liberal in their time off.”
Wait a minute. Not Dobeson? That explained a lot. “How long have you worked for Tennyson & Carstairs?”
“Only a few months, surprisingly enough. They lured me away from my former company and have made good on every promise. Including my time off.”
That fit in with what she’d learned about him. Could she have been wrong about him?
Don’t miss the ending of our little mystery with all its twists and turns!
Introducing Paul from Book 4 by Shawna Robison Young
Paul Wright stepped out of his police cruiser and headed toward his front door where his wife and little girl waited. The rising, morning sun peeked through the trees and momentarily blinded him.
“Hey, guys. Why are you up so early?” He stepped onto the porch and leaned in to give his wife a kiss.
Maggie returned it. “You know the early bird gets the worm.” Smiling, she nodded toward their daughter who always rose before the sun no matter how late they put her to bed.
Little Teagan wrapped her arms around his legs. “Daddy, I just gotta see you every morning before you go to sleep. How was your beat? Did you serve and protect?”
“Always.” Paul lifted his daughter into his arms and tapped her nose. He loved it when she used police terminology. It reminded him how much she listened and watched him. “Were you a good girl last night? Did you help, mommy?”
Teagan nodded. “I washed the dishes.”
“Good girl.” He placed her on the ground and spun her around by her fingertips.
“Connie called last night.” Maggie’s voice and eyes held worry.
Paul let go of Teagan’s hand. “Is she okay?”
“Your sister fears that something fishy is going on at the foundation. They’re having some financial trouble, apparently. Her and your father’s account accesses are inactive, and passwords aren’t working either. It does all sound a little sketchy. Your parents are out of town. Your other siblings have all weighed in, but she’s beginning to wonder if there’s something criminal going on. I didn’t want to bother you at work, but I think something might be up. Connie reached out to your brothers and sisters. That, in itself, proves that she really believes something bad is going down.”
Maggie was right. Connie needed him, and he would be there for her. He had the next couple of days off. He looked down at his watch. A five-hour drive would get him to Chicago around noon. So what if he’d been up all night working a twelve-hour shift?
Nothing a little coffee wouldn’t fix. He’d get some shut-eye later after helping his baby sister.
“I already made you a breakfast sandwich and a thermos full of black coffee.” Maggie raised an eyebrow. “You are planning to go to her, right? Not just call?”
He kissed his wife’s cheek. “Ah, you know me so well.”
She squeezed his hand. “Best husband, dad, and brother on the planet. Connie is lucky to have you. We all are.”
He gave her another kiss. “I’m the lucky one.”
“You better head out soon. I’ll call Connie and tell her you are on the way.”
His sister had a wild imagination from time to time and tended to see a mystery when there was none to be found, but it wouldn’t hurt to do a little investigation work if it eased Connie’s mind. Besides, she had a good head on her shoulder. If she felt something was wrong, then she was more than likely right.
Five hours later, he pulled into the parking lot. The foundation building hadn’t changed much in five years since he’d visited last, and according to his parents even most of the volunteers remained the same too. It appeared nearly all of them were out to lunch now except for Mrs. Hodges who waved from her reception chair as he walked through the door.
Her smile spread across her wrinkled face. “Well, well, look what the cat dragged in.”
“Hello, Mrs. Hodges. Is Connie around?”
“She’s back in the volunteer accountant’s office. She’s been working herself to the bone trying to figure out why some of the donors are reportedly giving less than they pledged. It isn’t true of course, but I think she feels responsible for this situation. Thank goodness you’re here. You are her knight in shining armor.” She winked. “You know that, right.”
He nodded. He’d taken his role as big brother seriously since the day she’d been born.
“Sometimes I feel like the only one in the family who stands up for that girl.” He shook his head. “I don’t get it. She’s a gem and has worked so hard to achieve all she has at such a young age. I don’t know why they count her out.”
“Plight of being the baby of the family.” She gave him another wink and then answered the ringing phone.
Paul slipped into the volunteer wing of the building and quietly opened the door to the office. Connie sat in the chair, facing the bulletin board behind the desk, her back turned away from the door. He snuck in and wrapped his arms around her.
She swung around and smacked him. “Paul, don’t do that. You scared the bejabbers out of me.”
He patted the top of her head, the same way he always did. It was his affectionate and fun way of calling her short and him tall. “You were daydreaming about crimes and murders and such, I assume.” He raised an eyebrow at her. He loved teasing her.
She winked. “Not this time.” She tottered her head back and forth. “Well actually, maybe I was a little. I can’t shake the feeling that Clint—the new accountant . . . Have you met him?”
“No, but Dad raves about how amazing he is.”
Connie pointed toward him. “Exactly. I don’t think Dad is seeing the full picture. Our emails associated with our bank accounts and my foundation passwords aren’t working. And the donors are, reportedly, lowering their donations or stopping their payments altogether. According to Clint, but he’s out of town, lounging in a luxury hotel, so I can’t ask him any questions.”
She pulled the sticky note from her pocket that had been shaded to show several numbers and letters. “And why would Clint write 1.5 million? Is that how much he’s trying to steal from the foundation?”
“You really think the new accountant is taking money from the donors and the foundation?”
She continued talking, obviously unaware he’d asked her a question. “Of course, I guess anyone could have written that number down, but he’s the one most often working in here.”
Paul pointed to the note. “I see I’ve taught you well. You rubbed the imprint off onto this sticky note?”
“Yes, how else does one find evidence on a crook?” She flashed him a winning smile. “But seriously. I need something to prove Clint is up to something. I feel it in my bones. Something is off about him. Mama and Dad may not see it, but I do.”
Paul nodded. Once his sister had her suspicions she ran with it. That was for sure. “I believe you are on to something, but we need to look at all angles. Who else could possibly have both the access and ability to tap into the donors’ information? Or the know-how to change the passwords.” He pointed to the computer. “You mind if I take a look and see what I can dig up.”
She stood. “Please, do.”
He plopped into the chair. “Give me an hour or so.”
“Do you need anything from me?”
“How about a cup of coffee? Black.”
“And I’ll order us a Chicago-style deep-dish.”
He clapped his hands together once then pointed at her. “Best sister ever.”
Sometime later, Paul wiped pizza sauce off the side of his mouth with the back of his hand and then took another swig of his coffee. The scanning of the hard drive would have come faster if the volunteer computer wasn’t ancient and if he had access to the search programs at his station, but he was making some headway. Only a few files left on the drive.
A male voice along with Connie’s came from down the hall. Paul didn’t recognize the other voice. Perhaps the missing man had returned? He should go out and introduce himself.
He paused and straightened glancing up at the door. The voices seemed to get softer like they were moving away.
Good. He really wanted to finish this.
He clicked on a file labeled W.F.D.L.B. Inside the file, folder upon folder filled the screen. Twenty-seven untitled folders in total, twenty-six of them empty. He clicked on the last unnamed file.
Inside of it a blank folder labeled B.B.T. held a Word document of names underlined with hyperlinks. Connie. Dad. Clint Rutherford. Anna Hodges. Diana Carson, the rest of the volunteers, along with people and companies he knew to be long-standing donors to the foundation and several he didn’t recognize. He slid his finger down the list.
Bahama Bank and Trust? Had they partnered with the Wright Foundation? They did have donors from all over the world. The folder was labeled B.B.T. Did that stand for Bahama Bank and Trust? He clicked on the hyperlink. It went to their website. Was this the account where the donors were directed to send their money?
He should ask Connie, but that could wait.
He clicked through several of the other hyperlinks. Each one pulled up email addresses, phone numbers, and addresses for the donor, volunteer, or company.
He finally reached Clint Rutherford’s name. Same as all the rest of the links—a breakdown of his contact information. Nothing suspicious. Except . . . a second page? With another hyperlink for something called, “goalscrbbt1.5m.” He clicked it and it took him to a yahoo email account password box.
Hmm. I wonder.
He entered the letters from the post-it note that Connie gave him. The email account opened.
Paul clapped his hands together once and pointed to the screen. Bingo. Everything he needed to prove Connie’s suspicions were correct glared at him from the screen. Something shady was going down at the foundation.
“That-a-girl, baby sister. You are definitely, the right Wright for the job.”
What has Paul figured out? Come back tomorrow for some revelations!
And watch for the coming Where’s the Visitor Going Next Contest! Beginning right here on January 16!
Laura Chastain sat poolside, watching her daughter Mackenzie’s lesson. She completed a full length of the pool then turned and bobbed her head with a proud grin.
Laura gave her silent applause.
Her mother, in the lounge chair beside her, pointed at Mackenzie and tsked. “The child is looking more and more like my baby sister.”
Mother was right. The grin so resembled Connie’s it was almost frightening.
Not that Connie was scary herself. At twenty-four and more than ten years younger than Laura, the girl seemed little more than a child. And one for whom her mother, Connie’s oldest sister, had no patience or tolerance.
“I suppose she is affronted because we didn’t attend her graduation.” Mother sniffed.
Laura shrugged. Her mother needed Laura to be her confidant. It was why she and Addison had brought Little Mac and moved in with Mother. The beginning stages of dementia were early, but they were definitely there.
That didn’t mean Laura had to always agree with her opinions, though. “I haven’t heard from her, but with her new position in the foundation, she likely has little time right now to be worrying over affronts.”
Her mother blew out a puff between her lips. “Father should have his head examined to give such authority and responsibility to a mere child.”
“Mother, please.” Laura glanced around to be sure that Grandfather MacKenzie wasn’t nearby. “Connie has spent her entire life helping with the fundraising and the daily workings of the foundation.”
“As did we all. Peter, Frank, Polly, Eva Grace, Kimberly, Paul, and I helped Mother and Father. More, I dare say, than the baby. Everything was already established by the time she came into the picture.”
But Connie had stayed, whereas the others had found their own paths. However, she wouldn’t stir up that potion with Mother.
Her daughter’s lesson ended, and Laura stood as Grandmother Eleanor and Grandfather MacKenzie rounded the edge of the patio. “Was the meeting successful?” Laura had never had dealings with the foundation, but she enjoyed her grandparents’ visits when they came to support one of the local children’s charities.
“It was a nice party.” Grandmother nodded her head, but her smile didn’t reach her eyes. Maybe because she hadn’t been in charge for the first time.
“I know that look, Mother. What did Constance forget?”
“Oh, no. Connie didn’t have anything to do with this event. In fact, I deeply regret that I didn’t include her in the planning of it.”
“It turned out fine, Eleanor.” Grandfather took her hand in his own. “I think you’re right. Connie would have done a better job than the volunteer who had taken charge, but the donors still came through for us.”
“Then maybe Constance isn’t as needed as you believe.” Mother scowled up at her parents.
Laura hesitated. “You know, the breeze is lovely right now. Why don’t you take a walk?” Mother had put in a special footpath that circumnavigated the entire garden to the edge of the woods.
“That sounds like a treat.” Grandfather gave her a grin. “And you take Little Mac inside before she freezes. Her teeth are chattering.”
Laura picked up a thick towel as Mackenzie headed toward them.
Mother joined her parents on the edge of the patio. “Please have Wanda make up some light sandwiches.”
“I’ll do that.” Laura watched the trio make their way down the path. Mother looked more like a sister to Grandmother than her daughter. And from this vantage point, where her grandparents’ wrinkles didn’t show, Mother looked to be the older of the three. Of course, her solid white dye job didn’t help with that.
Laura ushered her daughter into the hallway and sent her up to her room.
“Sweetheart, can you come in here?” Her husband Addison stood in the doorway of his study and then stepped back inside, closing the door behind them both.
“She’s here, Connie.”
Laura lowered herself to the cushion of the leather sofa and shut her eyes for a moment. Here came the guilt.
“I have the speaker turned on so she can hear the conversation as well.” He sat behind his desk.
Laura sighed and tried to put on a pleasant expression. “Is something the matter, Connie?” She had never been able to bring herself to call the girl Aunt Connie.
“Are Mama or Dad around?” Connie sounded unnaturally nervous over the line.
“No, they’re in the gardens with Mother.” Why would she care about that?
“I’m simply not sure what to do. If I should take any action at all.” The sound of shuffling followed her sister’s voice with the squeak of the door. “I had hoped to speak to the man by now, but he’s been out of town. Oh, and please don’t tell Dad that I’m calling you.”
“No worries there.” Addison picked up a pen from a holder. “But you can’t keep this from your father if there really is something going on.”
What was going on? Clearly, she’d not come in at the beginning of the call.
“Oh, I plan to tell Dad all about it if there is, but he seems to really trust this man.”
“What man?” Laura finally spoke up.
“It’s a new accountant who is volunteering a couple of times a week. Dad has basically turned all the finances over to him.”
Addison stared toward the speaker on his desk. “I thought the foundation was pretty strong financially. I worked with MacKenzie myself a couple of years ago to be sure the investments were sound.”
“I don’t think there’s an issue with the investments,” Connie assured them. “The problem is with the regular accounts. Apparently, some of our donors aren’t giving like they have been, but the person who has that information is currently traveling.”
“So, since this man has been in charge of the finances, problems have developed?” Laura had trouble believing that. Grandfather was always so careful with the foundation. This didn’t sound like him at all.
“I can’t say that it’s happened since he took over, but it sure seems to be an issue now. That’s why I’m looking into it.”
Addison turned to his home office computer. “Tell you what, why don’t you send me the things you’ve learned.”
“I can’t very well send you the sticky note.” Connie explained what she’d found when she shaded the note. “I don’t have one of those fancy phones that can take photos.”
“Sounds like you’re up to your old tricks, Madame Detective.” Laura couldn’t resist a little tease. Every visit during Connie’s childhood would end up with her sneaking around corners and hiding in cabinets to spy on her siblings.
Connie had the grace to chuckle. “I’d be willing to spy on him if he was here, but he’s not. And I’m having trouble getting answers. Especially about these odd numbers and letters on his notepad.”
“Fax it.” Addison told her. “Or just type in what you can read from it.”
“I can do that.” The sound of typing keys came through the speaker.
“And Connie, I’d like to take a look at the donor files.”
The typing halted. “Oh, I don’t know about that.”
The donor files were top secret. Even Laura knew that with her limited knowledge of the business. “Did Grandfather give the new man access to the donor files?”
“I can’t tell, but my gut says yes. Clint’s been with Frank this week speaking to a number of financiers for one of the charities we expect to support soon.”
Addison tapped his fingertips lightly on his desk. “You have a reason for your concern. I think looking through the donor files is the next step if you can’t access the foundation’s accounts.”
“Wait, what? You can’t see the bank accounts, Connie?” This sure sounded fishier than she’d first thought.
“My password doesn’t work, and my email is no longer associated with the accounts. Neither is Dad’s.”
Addison leaned forward. “Going to the donors themselves seems the only option. I can have some of my people contact them as representatives of the foundation.”
“I can’t let you talk with them. If the donors get wind that there’s a potential problem, they might very well pull out altogether.”
Smart thinking. Laura had to at least credit Connie with that one. Then Laura had an idea. “What if you simply called them to ask about their pledges. You can let them know that it’s for planning purposes. Do they intend to maintain their commitment for next year?”
Addison bobbed his head. “Surely they will accept that.”
“That’s not a bad idea, Laura.”
Business wasn’t really her thing, but it sure stroked her confidence to have her aunt’s approval.
“Tell you what, Addison. You work on deciphering the numbers and letters on the sticky note. I’m sending them to you now. I’ll contact the donors. That way, we can maintain the confidentiality.”
“I can understand that. And I’m happy we can help. I’ll watch for your email. Oh, and Connie, you need to have your father set a halt on the accounts until you get this matter sorted out. I can talk to him about it tonight. They aren’t leaving until tomorrow.”
Connie paused for a second. “No. Please don’t mention any of this to him. I’ll take care of it in the morning.”
“Let us know if you have anything else you need. And I’ll get back with you soon about the code you found.”
“Thanks, guys. I so appreciate your wisdom in this.”
As the speaker went silent, Addison lifted an appreciative glance to his wife. “Pretty sharp cookie I married.” He came around the desk and kissed her temple.
She smiled up at him, but the situation Connie shared troubled her. “Do you think there’s really something wrong at the foundation?”
His brows furrowed. “I think your grandfather might have made the first mistake I’ve ever noticed. And it isn’t about bringing Connie into the family business.”
Laura gave him a squeeze around his waist. “Just don’t let Mother hear you say that.”
Connie hung up the phone on her desk. It was too late to do anything with the bank at this point, but she’d be sure to speak to someone tomorrow morning. She glanced up at the miniature of the family portrait that Mama kept on the shelf directly in front of her. She’d actually touched base with almost all of her siblings.
Well, except Margaret, but she had talked to her niece and Addison. That was close enough.
She still needed to touch base with Paul. Especially Paul, since his job as a policeman gave him a unique perspective over what she’d been able to piece together.
She dialed the number to the house and listened to the ringing several times before her sister-in-law’s greeting came over the phone.
“Hi Maggie, it’s Connie.”
“Well, hi, long-lost stranger. What’s it been a week? Ten days?”
“Ha ha.” The fact was, she and Paul spoke at least once a week, sometimes more often, so her sis-in-law’s ribbing had some foundation. “Is he there?”
“Nope, he’ll be home in the morning, though. Is something wrong?”
Connie gave her the lowdown on what she knew and the questions still unanswered. “If he can give me a call or something when he gets off, I’d really appreciate talking it through with him.”
“I’ll let him know.”
Connie hung up her phone and then packed up her laptop computer. Tomorrow, maybe she could untangle the matter enough to get some answers.
The next day offered a brief and uneventful trip to the bank. Connie’s name wasn’t on the accounts so she couldn’t see them, and she couldn’t put any sort of stoppage on them. Not without a court order.
Dad would have to do it if he could be persuaded. And that certainly wouldn’t happen with only her suspicions and suppositions to spur her imagination. But then the fact that Dad’s access to the accounts was also missing gave ample reason for her concern.
“Mrs. Hodges, would you assist me?” Connie pushed her desk chair across the tile floor to the reception desk.
“Well, of course, my dear. But if you need clerical work, Diana is due here this afternoon.”
“Not clerical work. I need to contact all of our donors.”
Her eyebrows ruffled. “Whatever for?”
“I’ve heard the story that some of the donors aren’t giving what they had pledged. The only way to really check that is to call and ask.”
Mrs. Hodges tilted her head. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea. Just to call and ask them? They might be insulted. Or worse, they might be afraid there is a problem here and decide to pull out altogether.”
“I know. So, I thought we’d call concerning planning purposes for next year. Asking if the pledge they made for this year would be roughly the same next year to help us plan our events and sponsored charities.”
“Oh.” She lifted her chin and let it drop in a slow nod. “Well, that’s different. It might not get all the information that you want, but it will give you a good idea of who’s continuing to give and perhaps insight into why a few have decreased their amounts.”
“Exactly what I thought. I have a few things to check, but I’ll meet you back here in an hour or so to start ringing up the donors if you’re game.”
And thankfully the dear woman was on board with her.
Come back tomorrow for Chapter Eleven!
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Skye Wright lounged in a chair on the patio of Our Kids foster care home. She breathed in the scented air and shaded her eyes to get another look at the lovely gardens surrounding her. It hadn’t taken Skye more than two days visiting the nearby town with her parents to decide that when she grew up, this beautiful town would be her forever home. What could be more exciting than a college town with lots of fun eateries, coffee houses that invited singers and guitarists to perform, and real-life college guys? Even the weather suited her with its clouds and the mists that shrouded the tall, tall trees overshadowing the town. It thrilled her romantic soul.
Too bad her parents had to spend so much time talking business with Jon and Elaine Carpenter, the current operators of the Our Kids foster care charity. Her mom and dad had the idea to make Our Kids another one of the charities that Grandpa Mac’s foundation could help support.
At first, Skye had thought, what a bore. Especially since that creepy accountant, Clint Rutherford, had insisted on coming along to help check out Our Kids financial statements on behalf of the Wright Foundation. Her dad seemed to think the world of him. But she had taken an instant dislike to the man. Maybe it was his eyes. Always checking around himself like he expected someone to draw a gun and start shooting. And anyway, she didn’t understand any of that financial stuff he did. But why was the guy so curious about a little charity like Our Kids? It’s not like the foster care home made tons of money.
Not that Clint Rutherford skimped on anything. He’d flown first class while they sat in economy. And he’d taken a room at a fancy hotel near the waterfront while she and Mom and Dad shared a room here at the home. But this place had as nice a view as any hotel. And she’d had a blast when they took the tour.
Maybe Mom and Dad would even let her go to college here. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
But first, she had to start high school this fall.
And do well in school.
Skye checked the time on her cell phone. Almost noon. She hauled herself out of the chaise lounge and headed for the back door of Our Kids. Mom had said they’d be eating lunch downtown, close to the University. Then maybe, they’d walk around and do some shopping for souvenirs.
As soon as she stepped inside, the phone on the kitchen wall rang. Mr. Carpenter and his wife were both out this morning, visiting a potential donor. Should she answer? Maybe Mom or Dad would pick up. But the phone continued to ring. On the fifth ring, she decided to answer.
Before she could identify herself, she heard her dad’s happy voice echoing through the line. “Hi, sis. Good to hear your voice.”
Aunt Connie! She hadn’t seen her aunt in months. Aunt Connie had been away at college and had just graduated. They’d missed her graduation ceremony. Skye had wanted to go, but Mom and Dad had to be out of town that weekend.
Aunt Connie’s upbeat tone sounded like she was in the next room. “Frank, how’s it going out there?”
Her father said something about the weather being “just fantastic” and blah, blah, blah. Skye was about to hang up, but then Aunt Connie’s voice took on a serious tone. “Frank, I’m not being nosy. Just curious, and it’s a long shot, but I wondered if you’ve spoken to Clint Rutherford recently.”
Skye held onto the receiver and covered her mouth so her dad wouldn’t be able to hear her breathing. Anything about the creepy Mr. Rutherford was worth hearing about.
“Why, he’s with us now. We’ve traveled to meet with a charity and some of the financiers of it,” her father said. “Initially we thought we’d come out all by ourselves to meet Jon and Elaine Carpenter. They’ve been running Our Kids foster care for about ten years now and I’ve heard such good things about the charity that I thought Calista and I should check it out.”
“And Skye? Is she with you?”
“Oh, she wanted to go visit with Mac while we came out here, but we insisted she sample some of the culture. I think she’s starting to enjoy herself.”
“And you said Mr. Rutherford did as well?”
Why was Aunt Connie so interested in finding out if the creepy guy had come along?
“He called me last week to let me know that the foundation was interested and he would be joining us. But he’s not with us right now. We’re staying at Our Kids for the week. Clint’s gotten himself a fancy room at the Inn and Spa down by the water.”
The sigh on the other end of the line told Skye that her dad’s answer was not satisfactory for Aunt Connie. But her brilliant aunt was not going to give up easily.
“Did Clint say why he wanted to join you guys? Seems like a waste of valuable time and money to fly out, and stay in some fancy hotels for a little charity like Our Kids.”
Her dad made a kind of grunt noise like he pondered Aunt Connie’s words. “He, uh, said it was always good to thoroughly check out the financial books of any charity the foundation was considering donating to.”
“I see,” was all her aunt said in reply.
“Connie, you sound kind of concerned. Is there anything you need to tell me? I mean, so far, I’m really impressed with Our Kids. They run a tight ship. I’ve met all the kids and you can tell they feel loved and secure. And I’ve talked with lots of people who live in the area. They all know about Our Kids and can’t say enough good things about it. And Jon and Elaine are super people.”
“That’s great to hear, Frank. No, I’m not concerned. Just dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s, so to speak.”
“Okay, sis.” He chuckled. “I’m sure you’re already putting that new degree to good use.”
Aunt Connie laughed good-naturedly. “You bet, Frank. Well, thanks for telling me about Our Kids. And please tell Skye to take pictures and write about her visit in her journal. I’ve a feeling she’s going to want to explore more of that area when she gets older.”
“Will do, Connie.”
Skye silently replaced the receiver. So, Aunt Connie wanted information on Clint Rutherford. Interesting. Did she feel the same dislike Skye felt for the man? Her aunt was only about ten years older than Skye. Almost like a big sister. When Skye got a rare chance to spend the weekend with Aunt Connie, they did fun things and spent hours just talking. Maybe next time they had a weekend together they could gossip about that creepy Clint Rutherford.
She left the kitchen and mounted the stairs to the bedroom she shared with her parents. Lunch in town close to the university was gonna be so much fun. And later, she could call Mac and tell her about all the cute college guys she saw downtown.
“Well, I found Clint Rutherford.” Connie sauntered back out to the reception desk.
“With your brother Frank?”
“I’m not sure why he felt the need to go out there and investigate the financial situation of Our Kids, but that’s what he did.” And staying at a fancy hotel to boot. No wonder there wasn’t enough for Connie to join Mama and Dad at the fundraising event.
Mrs. Hodges tilted her head as she regarded Connie. “Is something else bothering you, my dear?”
Connie sighed. “I probably overstepped my bounds, but Dad told me that the foundation is having some financial trouble.” Maybe she shouldn’t have shared that with the woman, but she needed a sympathetic ear.
“I have heard.”
“Dad told you?” That didn’t sound like her father.
“Oh no, no. Diana Carson told me about it. She said that the accounts were already under pressure because of some unexpected unbudgeted expenses this year. But then she only handled the fundraising expenses, you know.”
“What changed?” Besides the hot water heater and the roof. Of course, those problems couldn’t have been expected.
“Oh, you would need to speak to a far smarter person than I am to answer that question. Mr. Rutherford would be your best bet or someone else who has the sort of financial background that he has.” She frowned and then scurried around the counter in bright red high heels and reached out to envelope Connie in a brief hug. “Don’t worry, dear. God has proven time after time that He is working through the Wright Foundation. He will prove it again. You wait and see.”
Connie gave her another tight hug. “Thank you, Mrs. Hodges. You have always been such an inspiration to me.”
“Oh, fiddle. You, with that stellar smile, make an impact wherever you go. And God is using you, Little Bit.”
Her use of the childhood nickname made Connie rather wispy. “I don’t know.” She certainly hoped that she was stepping down the path that God had for her.
“Oh, yes, you do. He has put a passion in your heart for this and has led you all along. You don’t have to do things the way your mom always has. You’re the head of fundraising now. Put your own stamp on the position and everything involved.”
Mrs. Hodges was right. And it started with Connie unapologetically getting to the bottom of these financial problems. They affected her activities and her position since she wasn’t even able to attend this week’s fundraising event. So even if she wasn’t an accounting type, she had every right to stick her nose fully in.
She smiled at the older lady and touched her shoulders. “I’m gonna do that very thing.”
Did you know you can already preorder my book, THE VISITOR CATCHES THE BOUQUET? Click the title to preorder and don’t miss out on the free gift with purchase. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow!
Her phone rang and she glanced at the number. “Oh, Peter. You’re timing is perfect as usual.” She made her way back to her office and shut the door behind her.
“And how is my favorite baby sister?” The man’s fifty years and hard living in the dry environment near the Sahara left his voice crackling.
“Frustrated.” Peter didn’t really have much to do with the foundation, but being a widower, he’d taken as active a part in the family as possible, calling her every week without fail. “The foundation is having some financial trouble, apparently.”
“I can’t see the bank accounts to check them.” She told him about what Dad had said and about her failed efforts on the computer. “But he and Mama are at an event so I don’t want to bother them.”
“What about that new man?” Peter must have spoken to Mama or Dad about Clint.
“He only volunteers here. I don’t have any way to contact him, and I haven’t seen him for a few days.”
“Oh, that is frustrating. Things are still running like normal?” Of course, her big brother would focus on the facts.”
“I guess so.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “Yes. I’m just making snakes out of spaghetti, aren’t I?”
Her brother chuckled through the line. “Now I didn’t say that. If you are concerned then there’s reason to look into it. You’re doing the right thing. But I also know that mystery-conjuring mind of yours.”
He didn’t know the half of it. She’d only told him a few of her tales. “That was a long time ago, bro.”
“Once a sleuth . . . but seriously, you might consider talking to someone. Maybe someone there at the foundation or some accounting type.”
“Probably a good idea.” She would consider it anyway. “What’s the news?”
Her brother shared about an intricate operation that he was able to perform, a facial reconstruction that would allow a child to look as normal as all the others. “Children who have birth defects here are terribly mistreated.”
“I can’t imagine the type of bullying they must experience.”
“Beyond bullying. Children who are different are targeted, regularly beaten, and often killed. Like open season.”
“That’s horrible.” And shocking.
“So, you can imagine how important this surgery was to the little boy and his widowed mother.” Peter’s voice resonated with compassion.
It reminded her again of why she did what she did. It wasn’t the family. Not even her parents. She did what she did to help the children who benefitted from their many charities and learned that God loved them in a real and personal way.
When she got off the phone with her brother she decided to take his advice and continue to pursue this issue with the finances.
And the first issue was to find Clint. She hurried across the reception room to the opposite wing where most of the rooms were used by volunteers. Mrs. Hodges waved at her, absently, as she spoke on the phone with someone.
She made her way to the large office for those volunteers tasked with desk work, typing and such. Clint’s office was at one end of it. She tapped her knuckles just below his nameplate. “Clint?”
She’d not really expected an answer and bumped her hip lightly against the door. Sure enough, it opened. It hadn’t latched well since her brother, Paul, ran into it when they were playing chase a dozen years ago.
The space had been Connie’s when she served as an intern a few years back. She flicked on the switch, and the bare surfaces of the office showed before her just as she remembered them. The only homey effect in the entire office was a large Wright family portrait on the opposite wall. Connie had only been ten, sitting cross-legged on the ground with red bows in her dark hair and a matching sweater over her plaid dress.
So, she had worn red at one point. More like Mama had dressed her in the color. But maybe this weekend she’d shop a little. Maybe some red accessories, like a belt. Or shoes
She rounded the edge of the desk. The least she could do was leave Clint a sticky note requesting that he come see her. His computer’s screen saver danced around like some ancient video game that her brother, Paul, had taught her how to play.
A yellow pad perched on the edge of the desk. She picked it up and reached for a pen but caught the feel of deep indentions under her fingertips. She gave the surface of the pad a long look. Clint had probably used a pen that was low on ink so had pressed down hard.
She set the pad back down and picked up a pencil from the cup beside the monitor. Yeah, she was being a little on the nosy side, but her policeman brother Paul had shown her this technique once. Her curiosity drove her to see if it really worked.
At least, that’s what she told herself. She lightly ran the side of the pencil across the sticky notepad. The top of it had several letters, both caps and lowercase. Looked like a password for something, though there weren’t any numbers. But the line underneath it was all numbers and no letters, but a gap splitting the line.
She kept shading the rest of the page. Her eyes widened at the last notation, 1.5M. Something itched the back of her neck. Was that million? As in dollars? Surely it was something silly like meters? Or maybe it was 1.5 million people.
Still, what seemed to be the impression of a dollar sign appeared in the space in front of the one. Her imagination might be running away with her, but either way, she wasn’t about to leave the evidence behind that she’d even been in this office. Pulling the top few sheets from the pad, she returned the pencil to the cup and exited the office, flicking off the switch as she went. She pulled the door almost closed again and scampered in her flats back to her own office. She stuck the pages onto the surface of her desk and jotted down a note on her own blue notepad.
Mr. Rutherford, Please come see me in my office. Connie Wright
She trotted back down the hallway and stuck the note on the doorframe of his office. Surely, he would see it if he’d missed the emails she’d sent.
Back in her office, Connie stared at the shaded page. She probably indulged in too many Perry Mason episodes, but her gut bothered her about this note.
With Mama and Dad at Margaret’s visiting her family, though, she really didn’t have anyone she could discuss it with. She slipped the pages into the pocket of her brown pants and strolled down to the reception desk.
“Well, there’s the beautiful girl.” Mrs. Hodges gave her a glowing grin. She was a picture of professionalism. Mama probably had her in this position for that exact reason. “What can I do for you, dear?”
“I wonder if you’ve seen Clint Rutherford this week?” If anyone had, it would be Mrs. Hodges.
She pursed her lips for a moment and her forehead wrinkled. “You know he works at another office.”
Connie had gotten that vibe when he mentioned his freelancing gigs.
Mrs. Hodges continued, ”He usually comes in on Mondays and Thursdays. But I don’t remember seeing him at all this week.”
“Is that normal for him?” Maybe he had a habit of working from home since her parents were out of town. “Have you heard from him?”
“No. It’s really rather strange. The only other time I remember him missing a day he had scheduled to work, he called because he had a doctor appointment. Very conscientious young man, there.”
Sounded like she thought well of him, too. “Was he scheduled for Monday and today?”
She opened the book on the counter behind her. “Yes for today.” She flipped back several pages. “Yes on Monday as well.”
“And you haven’t heard from him?”
“No.” She drew the word out and turned another page in the planner. “Oh, there’s a note here that he spoke to Frank last week.” She glanced up at Connie. “Could that by your brother?”
“I can certainly find out.”
Check back tomorrow for Part Nine of THE VISITOR MISSES A VISIT!
Introducing Eva Grace from Book 6 by Betty Thomason Owens
“Oh, good heavens.” Eva Grace clicked the off button on her cell phone as her husband entered the room.
Jim sat on the stool at the foot of the bed and untied his shoes. “Who’s calling so late?”
“Kimberly.” Eva Grace puffed out a sigh.
“Your sister?” Jim rose and stepped toward the closet. “I’m listening.”
“Connie called her, all upset about the foundation.”
Jim turned back and stood in the doorway a moment, looking at her. “Connie? Didn’t she just graduate from college?”
“She’s back home now and snooping around. She thinks something is off with the books.” Eva Grace rearranged the blankets. “As if Mama and Dad would ever let that happen.”
Jim disappeared again.
Running water told Eva Grace he had started his nightly routine. She picked up her abandoned novel and turned a page, but it didn’t hold her attention. “Kimberly said Connie doesn’t like the new accountant. She told Kimberly he was snooty. Or was it snotty?”
Jim shut off the water. “You don’t think she’s right about the books, then?”
“Of course not, and neither does Kimberly. I think she’s just being a brat again. She asked for something. The accountant refused. That rankled her.”
Jim flipped the light switch and headed for his side of the bed. “Well, it’ll all iron out. Could be a misunderstanding. But, if Connie has concerns, I’ll be happy to talk to her. Why don’t you call her in the morning—find out for yourself what’s going on.”
Eva Grace curled her lip in mock disgust. “Maybe I will.” After she talked to Mama and Dad. And maybe Polly.
Jim leaned in for a goodnight kiss. “You should. Now, let it go and get a good night’s sleep. Sweet dreams, hon.”
Eva Grace glowered at his sleeping form. How did he do that? After another failed attempt to concentrate on the novel, she closed it, laid the book on the bedside table, and then turned off the lamp. She settled in and stared at the ceiling. Ugh. Why did Kimberly have to call tonight? It wasn’t that important—it could have waited until morning.
Jim’s alarm beeped. Five-thirty. Eva Grace’s eyelids creaked open. She dragged her sluggish body out of bed, slipped her toes into her fluffy, pink mules, and shrugged into her housecoat. As she headed down the stairs, the coffee maker gave a final sputter. Thank you, Lord, for automatic coffeemakers.
By the time her husband joined her in the kitchen, Eva Grace had his breakfast ready and his newspaper waiting. Two eggs over easy, three links of maple-flavored sausage, and a slice of buttered toast. The usual.
He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Good morning, sweetheart. Thanks for breakfast.”
While he ate and read, she watered her houseplants and mentally planned her day. Call Mama and Dad. Or maybe she should call Polly first. She bent over an African violet, testing the soil. She straightened and glanced out the window. Maybe she wouldn’t call anyone.
That settled, she returned to the kitchen in time to wish Jim a good day before he left for work. On the way out the door, he paused. “Don’t forget to call Connie. Tell her I’ll be happy to talk to her if she needs advice.”
Right. She smiled and nodded. “Sure.” Now, she felt obligated. But Chicago was on the central time zone, so she had at least an hour or so before making the call. Happy thought. Throughout the morning, she procrastinated, pushing aside pangs of conscience as she struggled to get Samantha dressed and ready for her riding lesson. They were halfway to Briarbeck Farm when her phone buzzed.
Samantha raised her head from the book she’d been devouring for the last two days. “Mom, your phone’s ringing.”
“It will keep. I’m driving.”
She reached inside my purse. “Oh, hey, it’s Aunt Polly. Want me to answer it?”
“No, I don’t—” she sucked in a breath as her daughter grinned and punched the green button. “Samantha Jean Carr,” she hissed at her daughter.
“Hi, Aunt Polly. How are you?”
Dear Lord, give me strength. Biting back angry words, Eva Grace pulled into the drive at the horse farm and did her best not to floor it, scatter gravel, and frighten horses.
Samantha clicked her seatbelt open. “I’m fine. Having a horse-riding lesson. Here’s Mom.” Samantha held the phone out with a final grin before leaving the vehicle.
After a deep, cleansing breath, Eva Grace put the phone to her ear. “Good morning, Polly, dear.”
“Do I detect a note of sarcasm? Have I caught you before coffee?”
“Hahaha. Aren’t you funny. I suppose you’ve heard from Kimberly?”
Polly exhaled. “Yes, so I called Connie. Not that I don’t trust Kimberly, but you know how emotional she gets. Anyway, Connie thinks the new accountant, Clint Rutherford, has something shady going on. Can you believe that?”
“She didn’t actually use the word, but it had all the earmarks.”
Eva Grace shook her head. “I have difficulty believing anyone could put something over on Mama and Dad.” Both were astute in business. They had built the Wright Foundation from the ground up.
“Eva, you know how tired they are. It is possible something is going on.”
“Well, Jim said he’ll talk to Connie. Maybe he can help.” Her stomach cramped at the thought. She loved her baby sister, but Connie could be such a . . .
She looked up as Samantha jogged her way.
“Gotta go, Polly. Samantha needs me.”
A reprieve. Eva Grace did not want to think anymore about the Wright Foundation or what’s-his-name who may or may not have pilfered money.
Connie’s call came just after Jim walked in after work that evening. Eva Grace had expected the call but had half-hoped it wouldn’t happen. And she barely had time to exchange niceties with her sister when Jim joined her in the kitchen.
“Oh, Connie, here’s Jim. Why don’t you tell him what’s going on?”
Before her sister had a chance to respond, Eva Grace passed the phone to her husband.
He switched it to intercom. “Hello, Connie, you’re on speaker so we can keep your sister in the loop. What’s this I hear about funds missing?”
“Hello, Jim. Great to hear your voice. No missing funds, as far as I know. Clint Rutherford is being high-handed, like he owns the place.”
Eva Grace’s nerves twisted into a bunch. She walked into the Florida room and looked out the window as Connie’s voice droned on.
“I confess, Jim, I told Dad I would keep my nose out of it, but at the very least I can look at the accounts, right?”
Jim stepped through the doorway. “I would, starting with the bank accounts. Your dad is set up on that new online banking program, isn’t he?”
“Yes, I have a password for it myself.”
Jim smiled. “Then, that’s your next step. Do that, and if anything looks off with the bank accounts, find a good outside accounting firm to do the external audit. If you find funds missing or even misappropriated, you’ll need a forensic audit.”
“Oh, Jim, thank you so much.”
“Keep me posted, Connie. We’ll be praying—and hey—congratulations on your graduation.”
“Aww, thank you, and thanks so much for the prayers. You know I’ll need those. Give Samantha a big hug and kiss from me.”
“I’ll do that.” He ended the call and smiled at Eva Grace. “Well, let’s hope no money is missing. That would be the best-case scenario.” He held out his hand to Eva Grace. “I told her we’d pray. No time like the present.”
Why hadn’t Connie gotten on to the fancy website right away?
The next morning, as soon as she’d taken Mama and Dad to the airport for their flight to the event Mama had planned, she made a beeline back to the foundation. Maybe she could catch Clint in his office.
After greeting Mrs. Hodges, this time wearing a purple pantsuit with a red bolero belt, Connie made her way to her office and booted her computer.
She stared at the little circle going round and round and reflected on her favorite receptionist.
Maybe Connie needed to adjust her wardrobe a little. All of her business clothes were bland—browns and grays with a few dark blues thrown in. She didn’t own anything red, though she always liked the color.
In fact, she really liked that color. And Mrs. Hodges always made a statement with it.
She sat at her desk and opened the link to their bank, then clicked in the details of her username and password. The notice that she’d used an incorrect password appeared. “For pity’s sake.” She sighed and typed in the details again. This time one key at a time.
What was up with this? She checked her tab lock and then typed in the password again only to see the error message once more. Had Dad changed the passwords? Probably a good idea, but she needed access. Why wouldn’t he have told her?
Giving in, she put in her email address to request a password update. She’d be sure to let her mom and dad know that they had accidentally locked her out. And she would be thoughtful enough to share the new password with them.
Another error message popped up. Her email address wasn’t associated with an account? Since when?
Connie trotted into Dad’s office and opened her dad’s computer. She clicked through the protection and pulled up the bank website. As she expected, her dad’s username and password were already on the login page. She clicked the submit link and received the same error she’d gotten on her own machine.
Something was dreadfully wrong. She checked the password list on her dad’s computer. The password was exactly as she remembered it. But it still didn’t work. And when she tried to change the password, her father’s email address registered as unknown, too.
And where was Clint? Where is Clint? And why does Connie have such anxiety about him?
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Polly Reagan glanced at the caller ID on her house phone as she rushed by. A local politician, asking for donations. She didn’t have time. As it was, she needed to carve out a few moments to call her little sister.
Kimberly had mentioned in their conversation yesterday that Connie was insisting that something was not quite right with the new accountant her parents had hired for the foundation.
Polly pondered getting the story straight from the horse’s mouth as it were. Now, though, she needed to get busy. Saturdays were always busy. Her four-year-old son, Ethan, had a group tennis lesson in less than fifteen minutes. Tennis was important to her kid, and even though he was the youngest in the group, she made it a priority.
Even so, she had an apology to make to Connie. She’d let her sister down. After years of being out of the law office, she still hadn’t learned to schedule. She’d relied heavily upon her secretary to keep her free of conflicts. Her faux pas in agreeing to help with her nephew’s birthday party on the same day as Connie’s graduation had created not only a scheduling conflict but a very big personal conflict with Connie.
“Mama, we gotta go!” Ethan called from the door. “Dad’s gonna leave us.”
Polly laughed. Yes, Marc would do that. Being on time was an important lesson to teach their only son. “You have your racquets, water, your towel?”
“I got it all.”
Of course, he did. At four, he was better at preparation than she had ever been. “Have. You have it all.” She hurried behind him, closing and locking the door. The call to Connie would have to wait until Ethan settled into the lessons and stopped looking back at her.
A half-hour later, Polly gave Ethan a thumbs-up as the larger-than-usual red ball used for his age’s tennis lessons sailed over the net, showing off her son’s excellent backhand. At four, the kid showed promise.
She cast a glance to Marc. Her husband’s face showed his intent interest in the lesson.
Ethan stood in the line with his friends and chatted.
Now was her chance. Polly pulled out her mobile phone and dialed Connie.
“Hey,” Connie answered after the first ring. “I almost didn’t answer. Have you ever called me on your mobile phone?”
“Ha. Ha. I don’t like talking on these things.”
“You do know that people are getting rid of house phones, right? Who uses a house phone these days?”
“I do.” Polly smiled at her sister’s teasing. “Listen, I owe you an apology for not attending graduation. I had already agreed to help with our nephew Jimmy’s birthday party. He holds a special place in my husband’s heart. Not that you don’t . . .”
“You aren’t the only one who didn’t attend.” Connie’s words fell soft with a sense of disappointment.
“Connie, I’m sorry, and I don’t have an excuse.
“Kimberly called me.” Polly put the truth out there.
“Figured she would. Did she tell you what she thinks is going on or did she tell you what I said is going on?”
The kids on the court began a new game. Ethan took his place at the shortened service line. Polly held her breath, hoping he wouldn’t look to see she wasn’t being an attentive mom. “This is Kimberly we’re talking about.”
Polly somewhat agreed with Kimberly about giving Connie the responsibility of fundraising for the foundation, but Mama and Dad had the right to do just that. Besides, Polly felt that Connie had to be given room to prove herself—not something the entire family agreed upon. Especially Kim. “What’s going on?”
“I’m really uncomfortable with the accountant Dad hired.”
Kimberly had said as much. “What do you mean when you say uncomfortable?”
“Call it a spidey sense.”
“So, tell me what exactly raised your antenna?”
“My very first conversation with him was off. I don’t know how to explain it. All of a sudden, Dad says Clint has decided we don’t even have money to work a fundraiser for one of Aunt Fanny’s causes that I want to champion. Mama and Dad shut me down when I tried to tell them my concerns. Polly, what should I do?”
Mama and Dad had always been too trusting. So far, their trust had not been betrayed. Connie was wet behind the ears, but she wasn’t one to cast dispersion without reason. Even when she’d tattled on her older siblings, she’d always had truth on her side. Connie sounded truly worried. Polly sensed there might be some truth to her youngest sister’s reaction. “What do you mean they shut you down?”
“They don’t seem inclined to believe me. Kimberly dismissed my fears. Apparently, if a man dresses well, looks you in the eyes, and says all the right things, he’s to be believed. Though Phil took my side.”
Polly would have laughed with a description that fit Kimberly to a T, except Connie seemed sincere—and that caused worry to wedge into Polly’s heart.
Still, this was a learning opportunity. “First of all, you’re doing a great job.”
Connie’s exhale of breath did not go unnoticed. “You—you really think so. Kimberly disagreed with everything I said.”
“Kiddo, Kimberly cares about you, but she’s hurting. She wanted the folks to ask her to help. They chose you. Not your fault. I’m trusting you to do what needs to be done so far as your responsibilities for the foundation and the family.”
“That’s just it, Polly. I don’t know what to do.”
“Come on. You’ve already taken steps. You’re following your instincts, and you’ve reached out to others. Keep pressing forward.”
“And what about the foundation’s reputation? How do I protect it if what I suspect is true?”
Polly remained silent for a long moment, trying to think of the right words for her sister.
“You still there?” Connie’s voice softened.
“Yes. I was thinking of how to put this. Dad would never purposely let the foundation fail. Follow his lead, but continue to follow your instinct, and keep him apprised of things you learn even if he balks at you.”
“Okay . . .”
“And if Dad drops the ball despite your best efforts, it will be on him. He’s the head of not only the non-profit but also our family. That means the responsibility to protect the family and the foundation is his until he passes it on. Your only duty in that regard is to alert him of possible troubles. What he does with that information belongs to him.”
Connie whistled. “Thank you for that. I’ve been carrying this weight on me, but you’re right. And thank you for believing in me.”
The twacking of balls hitting the court reminded Polly that she was missing Ethan’s lesson. “Whatever you decide, I’m with you.”
“Thanks for that, too.”
“Unless you do something stupid. If you do something stupid to make Dad mad, I’m outta here.”
Connie laughed, a good sound to hear. “I don’t do stupid.”
“Yeah, you do. You just get away with it better than the rest of us.” And Connie, the baby, had often been the one who called her siblings’ stupidity to the attention of their parents. “Call me and let me know what you learn.”
“I will. Thanks, again, and I love you.”
“You’re welcome and back at you.” Polly hung up and stepped back to stand behind her husband.
Ethan, his fingers wrapped around the racquet’s handle, swung with all his might, hitting the large red ball over the net and past his older opponent. Her kid had a winning forehand to complement that excellent backhand.
Marc stood and stretched. “That’s our boy. He’s got the skill set to do well.”
Polly nodded. She prayed her little sister had her own skillsets to get through this difficult situation. The foundation, and her family’s reputation, were at stake.
It had felt good to chat with Polly. She and her sister didn’t always see eye to eye, but Connie respected her judgment.
And the fact that she thought Connie was in the right place and doing well warmed her heart.
Still, going behind Dad’s back was not something she was accustomed to doing. She picked up her purse and strolled toward Mrs. Hodge’s counter. “I think I’ll go for a sandwich. Would you like for me to bring you something?”
The woman wrinkled her nose and shook her head lightly, but then she smiled. “You’ve been mighty busy, my dear. And you look a little worried. Is there something I can help you with?”
Connie shrugged. “I’m a little confused with the changes that I’m seeing.”
“Ah, yes. There have been some changes indeed, but I think they will be good ones in the long run.”
“You think so?”
The woman nodded and got a serious look in her eyes. “Take the reimbursement process we’ve always had. Anyone involved with the foundation simply turned in a slip with an amount on it. It didn’t even have to be itemized. Diana would cut a check for them the next time she was in office—no questions asked.”
It certainly wasn’t a good business practice, but the volunteers here were like family. Or was that naïve of her to think so? “You don’t think anyone has taken advantage of that do you?”
“Not on purpose. But yes, I’ve heard of folks rounding up and giving about amounts. Your dad had wanted to require itemized receipts, but Eleanor talked him out of it. And in truth, the people that purchase for the events find things all over, from places where formal receipts just aren’t available, you know.”
Mama’s crew had a special talent for finding the most amazing and unique items. Hopefully, they would do that for Connie as well.
The door chimed and Diana Carson herself waddled in on her cane. Diana had been the volunteer at the foundation who took care of most of the administrative items. Including bookkeeping when it was needed. She’d been there almost as long as Mrs. Hodges had been working the front desk. “Is there any word about the murder yet?” She leaned over on the counter that was almost too tall for her. “I don’t mind telling you that it has me all a-shiver. Someone buying it like that. And right out there, not thirty yards away. There’s someone up to no good.”
“There’s very little information, even in the papers.” Mrs. Hodges lifted a folded newspaper to the counter. “You’re welcome to look, dear.”
“Thank you.” The woman picked up the day’s edition.
Connie hung onto the other subject, though. Not that the crime behind their building wasn’t intriguing, but the issues at hand tended to affect them even more. “We were discussing the reimbursement policy that Clint Rutherford has put together.”
The woman scowled. “I think it’s completely unfair of Mr. Rutherford to treat the volunteers like that.”
“So he is requiring receipts, then?”
She nodded, “More than that, he has some sort of list of what items will be reimbursed and what sorts of things won’t.”
Like the storage fees for Connie’s furniture.
“No one knows what an acceptable purchase is until they bring it to him. And if he says no.” She waved her thumb away from her as she blew a raspberry.
Mrs. Hodge’s mouth puckered as though she suppressed a laugh. And on most days, Diana Carson could make Connie chuckle with her direct manner and her no-nonsense style. But her concerns about Clint Rutherford weren’t a laughing matter. And while Connie had no evidence of anything out of sorts about him, she had a bad feeling about all of this.
Maybe her next call could give her an idea of the next step she should take.
Connie took Phil’s advice and contacted one of her former roommates right away.
Gretchen had majored in journalism, and she doggedly pursued a job as an investigative reporter. Though she only had an entry-level position, her job at the Tribune connected her with all types of information retrieval systems.
Thankfully, she wasn’t too busy to dig into Clint Rutherford’s past. “I’ll give it a shot. And I heard you had some excitement out there the other day.”
Her graduation hadn’t really been all that exciting. “It wasn’t that big a deal.”
“I think murder is a big deal.”
Oh, she was talking about the dead man. Wait. “Did you say murder?” She’d been right all along?
“Sure thing. The report I got said he was shot three times at fairly close range with a small caliber pistol.”
“I can’t imagine . . .” How come no one heard gunshots?
Gretchen scoffed. “That happens all the time in the city.”
“I was more deducing than asking. It must have happened at night or on a weekend when none of the volunteers were here. It’s close enough to the offices that, barring a hailstorm, anyone would have heard gunshots.”
“So, nobody heard anything?” Gretchen clearly pressed for a story, but Connie had nothing to offer.
“No one’s said anything. And I think, considering that the police were here for two solid days, they would have said something.” Especially Mrs. Hodges. And she’s at the foundation almost every day, right there by the front door.
“Well, I’ll let you know what I hear. Right now, they’re moving heaven and earth to try to identify the dead guy.”
Connie could certainly sink her teeth into the mystery like Gretchen seemed to be doing, but she’d already promised Dad that she wouldn’t do a Nancy Drew. “I want you to dig into the past of someone for me.”
Okay, maybe she would do a little Nancy Drewing, but clearly her promise had no bearing here since the issue dealt with matters within the foundation itself.
Her friend hummed into the receiver. “Well, I’m between gigs as it were, so I can probably swing it. Who are you investigating? New boyfriend?”
Why did everyone always go directly to that assumption? “New accountant here at the foundation.” She gave Gretchen his name. “I want all the deets.”
“Is there a problem?” Possibility rang in Gretchen’s tone.
“This is strictly off the record, Gretchen. There isn’t a problem. I just want to know a little more about him. That’s all.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can get the worms to wiggle.”
Connie half-scoffed a chuckle. Hopefully, her friend wouldn’t find a can of worms at the bottom of this.
The thought kept niggling at her. She had a terrible time avoiding the discussion with her dad that evening.
Thankfully, he was focused on their upcoming trip to support a charity near her oldest sister’s home, “I know it’s been a while since you’ve seen Margaret?”
Connie hadn’t seen her since she’d been in high school, though even then her sister rarely spoke with her. “I’m so looking forward to meeting your namesake, Dad. I’ve spoken on the phone with Little Mac, and she is just adorable.”
“She is.” He gave her a sidelong look. “And she looks exactly like you. But you won’t be coming along this time.”
“What do you mean I’m not going with you?” Connie sounded like a five-year-old in her own ears, but she’d been looking forward to visiting with her sister’s family, even if her oldest sister didn’t usually acknowledge her. Forcing herself to take a deep breath, she laid her napkin on her lap.
“The money isn’t there right now.”
Connie glanced at Mama.
She served herself some potatoes, clearly not wanting to be part of this conversation.
Something was going on. First Aunt Fanny’s charity, and now this fundraising trip. “Dad, you’re going to need to explain this to me. You ask me to be the new head of fundraising, but you don’t let me go to the first scheduled event? That doesn’t even make sense.”
He lifted his chin. “There’s no need for you there. The group has plenty of volunteers. We’re only making it officially part of the Wright Foundation by making an appearance. The rest of the trip is meeting with financiers. Not part of your area of expertise.”
“And spending time with Margaret’s family?”
“You hardly know your oldest sister.”
She shut her eyes and took another breath. “Does this have something to do with the pregnancy center we talked about?”
He shook his head and held out his hand. “One thing at a time, Constance.”
She swallowed her ire at hearing her formal first name. Dad had only ever used it when she was in trouble. Hearing it as an adult didn’t fly but calling him on it wouldn’t help anything.
Still, if her father was going to treat her like a child, this job might not be such a great fit after all. She lowered her tone. “It seems to me that this is all connected. Otherwise, why wouldn’t we take on the pregnancy center. It is exactly the type of charity we support. You know the people Aunt Fanny meets.”
“I just don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” All of her patience fled out the nearby window. After all, this was Aunt Fanny they were talking about. Not some idealistic group trying to do something they’d never heard of.
“Well to be honest.” Her father slathered some butter on a roll. “Clint’s been highly concerned about some of the extraneous expenses this year. A few of our best donors have drastically lowered their giving.”
What donors? And why was she only just hearing about this? “So, how will that affect the day-to-day business and our outreach?”
Her father locked eyes with her. “I’m afraid we might have to let some people down. I’m indebted to Clint for finding the problems. But I’m just not sure what to do about it all. It seems that this is going to end up being an extremely lean year even though we’re only just learning about it.”
Connie needed to talk to Clint Rutherford. “So, what unexpected expenditures have you had to deal with?” She took a bite of her mom’s roast beef and tried to focus on the analytical details that her father began discussing, but the emotion knotting the pit of her stomach made it hard to focus.
“We ended up buying essentials for six different shelters in the area instead of only the one we had pledged to support. I originally understood that we had the backing to cover all of that, but when Clint got here, he informed us that we did not indeed have that backing. Of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg.” Dad continued to explain other situations. Something to do with an unexpected roof replacement at one charity and a broken water heater at another.
The bottom line was, they were upside down in the financial department.
“Mind if I look into it a little?” Connie picked up her tea glass and gave her father an innocent look as she took a sip.
She needn’t have gone to the trouble of trying to look innocent. His eyes narrowed. “Now don’t go looking for mysteries and hooligans where there aren’t any.” His chiding voice was only a little on the gruff side.
She set her glass down and lifted her hands in surrender. “Only to get a better feel for what’s going on, so I know how I need to move ahead.”
“I’m sorry about the trip. I know you were looking forward to it.”
Shrugging, she took another bite of the roast. “I’ll miss finally meeting Mac, but I’d rather dig into this problem and see how I can help.”
More like uncover, learn, ferret out. It was all the same, but she couldn’t really use any of those terms around her dad.
“I’m sure Clint can guide you in that.”
“Guide me?” Didn’t the man work for her?
“He knows what he’s doing, dear. It would not be of help to anyone for you to come in and begin stirring up the muddy water that he’s been able to settle.” Her father picked up the last bite of his roll and ran it through his leftover gravy. “Besides, you have enough on your plate with the coming Louisville event. No sense wasting time duplicating someone else’s job.” His voice became crustier than normal.
“All right.” She said it, but instantly knew she couldn’t just turn around and pretend nothing was wrong.
He ate his final bite, pulled his napkin from his lap, and laid it on the table as he stood. “Things will work out. They always do.”
Dad had said that all her life. But he was wrong. Things didn’t work out. People worked on them and the Lord worked them out. But things didn’t just magically jump up and right themselves.
And she wasn’t about to sit by and watch to see if some shoemaker’s elves were planning to come solve their current problem.
Have you ever hoped for those magical elves to take care of overwhelming issues (or the dishes in the sink)? Come back tomorrow to see what Connie does next!
And be sure to watch for the first book of The Visitor Mystery Series,
THE VISITOR MAKES A RETREAT
releasing on February 10!
You can preorder the first book right now at THIS LINK!