Susan Fassero, Manager of Audit Staff One at Spice Childerhouse, Chartered Accountants, flipped over the weather-beaten, cold-stiffened, blue file cover marked ‘Calder Building Products, First Time Audit For The Year Ended December 31, 1996’. A memo greeted her on the first page instead of the normal set of working papers broken into asset, liability, and profit & loss sections. Her stomach somersaulted at the unfamiliar sight that suggested something very different from the routine. She gazed out of her twentieth floor office window at the bright lights of Winnipeg below in an attempt to calm her coffee-pumped nerves, swallowed hard, and read:
Memo To: File
From: Eldridge Warbeck, CA, Senior
John ‘Spongy’ Garrick, Staff Accountant
Re.: Calder Building Products Audit
Monday, January 20, 1997
Spongy and I arrived in Flin Flon, Manitoba, the morning of the twentieth. We were greeted at the airport by minus forty degree temperatures and a taxicab caught in the vortex of a 1960’s time warp.
After three breakdowns, and a ditch-side ‘heave ‘er’ break by the hungover cabbie, we finally arrived at Calder Building Products’ one-story office building, located at 1200 Rudy Raven Crescent on the outskirts of town. We met the company’s owner, Creighton Calder, and the rest of the management staff: Tommy Spencer, CA, Controller, Joey Olynyk, warehouse manager, and Jaarmo Jaarmopav, computer programmer. Tommy’s face, I noticed, sported some fresh bruises, like he had been roughed up, or taken a butt-end to the kisser during a game of shinny in the local industrial league. Also present was the owner’s daughter, Annie Calder, a beautiful and bountiful young girl of about twenty.
Calder BP is a small, privately-held company that acts as a wholesaler of building and construction-related products. Their main customer is the local mine, Big Bronze Mines, accounting for over seventy-five percent of their accounts receivable.
Tommy showed us into the cramped broom closet that would be our office for the anticipated three day audit. The company had recently taken out a loan with the Bank of Montreal, as a result of cash-flow problems, and the bank had insisted on audited financial statements. With a first-time audit you never knew what condition the books would be in. This apprehension, the obvious hostility of Mr. Calder towards our intrusion into what he considered his private domain, the intense nervousness of Tommy, and the isolation, all added up to a less than glorious beginning.
“Gentlemen, start your calculators,” Spongy intoned as he adjusted his soft bulk atop a three-legged stool. He blew a layer of dust off the table and plopped down five pads of ‘seven-column’. He shivered in the small, cold, bleak room. “Please, Mr. Scrooge, can I put more coal on the brazier?”
“Knock it off, Sponge-head. The sooner we get started, the sooner we get finished.”
“Ah yes, Eldy-phant, and I’ll give a hundred and ten percent. In fact, by golly, I’m pinning my ears back as I speak, I’m taking it one balance sheet account at a time, there’s no tomorrow – only the day after tomorrow!” “Funny,” I responded glumly. I didn’t have my game face on just yet.
I scanned the general ledger provided by Tommy as our starting point, to gauge the enormity of our work, and then began to unload my audit bag. It was crammed full of paper, calculators (desktop and portable), audit programs, financial statements, and pencils. As I snapped open my computer, and the ‘y’ and the ‘u’ popped out of the keypad and onto the floor (rough flight), I noticed that there was no plug-in in the tiny room.
Spongy settled in for the long haul. He loaded his mechanical pencil and attached a spool of paper to his calculator – a warrior going to war. John Garrick, Spongy as he’s known, because of his affinity for floor hockey and his ability to soak up beer, is a short, bespectacled CA wannabe of twenty-two, with a weed-whacker haircut and a stringy goatee. An intelligent, witty, young accounting student, he considers himself something of a Renaissance man, with a cultivated interest in fine books, fine art, fine wine, and women (anywhere he can fine ‘em).
“I say, Old Man and the Sea, can you pass the jug of Wite-Out, I have to correct one of your mis-”
His quip was cut short by an explosion in the next room! A gunshot!
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