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