Chapter Eleven – Assistance from Sib #7

Chapter eleven introduces Connie’s closest brother, Paul. Maybe, finally, he can shed some light on Connie’s questions.

 

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 towards 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.”

Some time later, Paul wiped pizza sauce off the side of his mouth with the back of his hand 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 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!


If you’d like to read the rest of the novella, sign up for my newsletter right here:

Newsletter Signup

Chapter Ten – Possibilities from Niece #1

So, if you read my chapter yesterday,  you saw that young Skye Wright also had a less-than-positive impression  of Clint Rutherford. And Aunt Connie is determined to continue checking out all avenues to make sure Mr. Rutherford is an honest employee of the Wright Foundation.

In today’s chapter, Marji Laine introduces her main character, Laura, from The Visitor Catches a Bouquet. 

 

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 a 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 sisters 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 trouble 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

Chapter Nine – Revelation from Niece #2

Are you still reading along with us? The mystery of is he or is he not? sure has me wondering about Clint Rutherford.

However, in this chapter—written by me!— we find Skye Wright (the main character who will later star as an adult in my novella, The Visitor Kids Around) at the age of fourteen, taking a call from her Aunt Connie. She and Connie are BFF and Skye can’t wait to find out what Connie is discovering about that “creepy” Clint.

 

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.

And graduate.

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.”


 

Chapter Eight – Passion from Sib #3

Welcome to day eight of The Visitor Misses a Visit. In this installment, Connie noses around looking for dirt on the new guy.

But wait, are we sure there’s dirt to be found? Maybe this guy really is squeaky clean.

Marji Laine is the author of this pivotal chapter.

 

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.”

“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. Clints 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 showed 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 note pad. 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 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!

 

Chapter Seven – Avoidance from Sib # 5

Another of my favorite authors, Betty Thomason Owens wrote this seventh installment of The Visitor Misses a Visit.

This chapter introduces another of Connie’s siblings, Eva Grace. Gosh, Connie sure has lots of brothers and sisters. For Connie, it must be hard to be the youngest sibling. She’s missed out on so much that the older ones shared. And, even though she needs information from each of them, many, like Eva Grace seem reluctant to talk to her.

 

 

“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?”

“Embezzlement?”

“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 . . .

“Mama!”

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 mis-appropriated, 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 pant suit with a read 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.

Still wrong.

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 accidently 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.

Now what?

And where was Clint?


Where is Clint?

And why does Connie have such anxiety about him?

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode.

Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts

%d bloggers like this: