Chapter Second Perfect Number
Scene Three: Unsettling Accounts
Sir Duval, his quiet man-at-arms, his somewhat offended squire, and a pair of army guards escorted Denario and his bags three miles to the nearest branch of the Ogglie and Anghrili Bank. The sun above had become a white, fuzzy patch of brightness in the bland, silvery-grey cloud cover. The shine brought heat. Denario sweated, removed his outer layer of clothes, re-donned his accounting vest, and sweated some more. His pony kicked up pebbles and gave him no trouble except once, when it decided a maple sapling looked tasty.
When they passed near the Solvetkin-Redumonde dock, Denario thought to look for signs of Clever Jack or of Boldor’s troop of dwarfs. Of course, it had been a full day. There was no sign of any of them, not even of the work crew that had been there. In the notch of land that made for the tie-down point, there was only a solitary boy fishing off of the embankment.
“We did well,” said Duval. He caught Denario’s glance. “At least I did. My army supplier business is begun. I’m sure I can make a home and pay back my loans.”
“You have loans?”
“From Sir Redumonde and from your bank.”
“Ah.” The bank had wizards to enforce its terms. Sir Redumonde apparently kept around thirty men at arms and he wasn’t beyond using violence to solve his disputes. The situation made Denario nervous for Duval but no, he had too many of his own problems to get involved.
At the bank, a pair of alert guards stepped out with spears. After a bit of negotiation, they agreed to let the soldiers carry Denario’s bags into the bank – that was part of the bank guard job so they were satisfied to hand it over to enlisted men – but the rest of the armed warriors were not to be admitted at the same time. The accountant and the knight shook hands, again to the knight’s amusement, and Duval’s squire took back the pony with a haughty flick of his reins.
Inside the bank, a handful of employees, soldiers, and a wizard held a hasty conference.
“Do you claim that you are Denario de Oggli, certified accountant?” A clerk in a black suit stepped forward. The upper left of his tunic bore the symbol of the banker’s guild, a coin with wings attached.
“Then you are still alive.”
Den glanced around. The staff watched him nervously except for the wizard, a thin, elderly man who seemed rather amused by this point.
The clerk cleared his throat. “Sorry. There was some question about it.”
“Unless it is a question of philosophy, I believe that yes, I am walking and talking enough to investigate my accounts here, make deposits, and so forth.”
“Yes, my apologies. Right this way, master accountant.”
They sat at a long table made from dark wood, probably black walnut, with chairs made to match. The seats weren’t particularly comfortable but, after a morning in the army camp, the accommodations all around seemed posh. A serving boy, perhaps ten years old, hair slicked down, brought them water. On his second trip over, he took the water glasses and set down hot tea and biscuits.
“Wonderful to see a second branch here in Oupenli,” Denario said.
“There was enough business to justify it.”
“Good for you. Well, I should to tap into my main business account. It's number 271828.”
“That's an unusually large one. Did you choose it yourself?” The clerk hunched over. He dug into his ledger and flipped pages.
“And your verification phrase?" He thumbed to the back of his book.
“It's another number: 161803.”
“Very well. That's valid.” He snapped back to the middle, then thumbed a couple pages more. He stopped at a page with a red mark at the bottom. “Oh, sorry, sir. That account is closed out. All the money was transferred by magician to an entirely different bank.”
“A different bank? But why?”
“I couldn't say.”
“But Curo, he ... my partner, he's the only one who could have done it. Could he have gotten in an argument with the bank manager in Oggli? Could he have gotten a better deal from the Mercantile Bank?"
“I've no idea. This is my first year with the company, myself. No one tells me anything about the branches in Oggli.”
“Yes, well, can you tell me when the account was closed?”
“The thirty-second of Offle. That was a Moon Day.”
“Only four days after I sent the payroll to him in a lump sum. He couldn't have used it up that quickly.”
“That would be most unusual.” The clerk raised an eyebrow beneath his well-trimmed mop of hair. “Business partners can be difficult. I take it you received no notice about a change in accounts?”
“None, but it would have cost him a silver to send it, wouldn't it? That's the minimum. He's a bit tight with funds, even more so with our apprentices eating us out of house and home.”
“Mmm. Well, I won't tell you your business. If you've got too many apprentices, I'd say that fobbing one off on another master is the right way to go about things. What industry did you say you were in?”
“Really? With five apprentices in a city that’s exporting your profession?”
“We inherited them from our senior, who passed away last year.”
“Ah.” The fellow nodded grimly. That explained it. Unfortunately, it did need some explaining.
The next account, the one dedicated to surveying work, opened normally. It held less funds than Denario would have liked but it hadn’t suffered any withdrawals for over a month, so that was good. His personal savings box, which he tried next, was in perfect shape. He’d spent quite a lot on gifts for Pecunia but that was what the money was for. He hadn’t made the acquaintances of such a beautiful lady when he started it, of course, but he’d known there would be a woman in his life eventually.
“For now, I would like to deposit my travel surplus into this account,” he said.
It was a healthy amount, to be sure. Beside them, for half an hour, another clerk and an a security officer had been taking coins, jewelry, and armor out of Denario’s packs with his permission. The security officer had been laying out items in rows along the table. The clerk had been keeping a running total.
“While the amounts are tallied, let’s go through my remaining bank records.”
So Denario spent the last hours of the day learning that it was a great inconvenience to have been rumored dead. He had to identify and re-open each account in turn. The clerks seemed to understand that there had been an error on their part, so they were patient. There was a bit of a puzzle, for all of them, to find so many records closed. With Curo alive, everything should have remained open.
“There was no rumor of my partner’s death?”
“No record of it, sir. I suppose there could have been one but no one thought to tell us.”
He squinted through a window.
“What is it?” said the clerk. He rose to his feet to see the general store across the street.
“Nothing much.” There was nothing happening to see, at least. The sun was setting. That was as eventful as it was going to get, most likely. “I was just wondering about the stupidest things that my partner could have done if he heard the rumors of my passing.”
“You think that he closed an account due to that?”
“If he had closed the three main accounts, I would be certain that he believed in my death. He did get offers from the Mercantile bank. Regularly.”
The young man stiffened. “I'm sure they could not give him much better terms.”
“No, not likely, but the accountants and clerks of the Oggli and Angrhili Bank loved my master. They seemed to like me an awful lot, too. And it's nice to be liked. I wonder if Curo would have turned over some money to the care of Mercantile in order to benefit from the attention of a young lady there.”
“Oh dear. Did the Mercantile employ a woman clerk?”
“Yes, she was there. Still is, I assume. Curo liked her. She was not much of a social creature ...”
“I can imagine.”
“Hmm. But I was going to say that she was bright and she smiled at him sometimes. He used to look down at her, frankly, and also at other working women because they had no money. They were not suitable for him. Still, I wonder.”
“If that's the worst he's done,” said the clerk with an air of resignation for the lost money. “You can soon enough set things right.”
“Yes, there isn’t anything else too bad that can happen. The worst possibility is for the landlord of our counting house to demand that we move elsewhere. But that wouldn’t be my partner's fault. He wouldn’t panic about it. We’d made plans.”
“Would it explain the money transfer?”
Denario laughed, nodding. “If that was the price for the house, it was a smart move by Curo. Even if the amount was a third of the price, it would be a good explanation. It would be a step in the right direction for our partnership.”
“What's the wrong direction?”
“Well, you know how it is with all of the competition in the city. The worst thing Curo could do when desperate would be to sell off one of our accounting contracts. Before I left, I had to talk him out of that.”
“A move of that sort would damage your reputation, I would think.”
“Yes, but moreover it is not a way to survive in the long term. Selling contracts announces an attempt to end the firm, essentially, albeit with a sort of grace. It would support our apprentices. But the method would damage their futures.”
The next-to-stupidest thing possible would be to break Winkel‘s commitment to an apprentice. Curo had already raised that issue when he announced that Mark did not show good potential. Returning Mark to his parents at a young age might not be a bad move strategically, although Denario had privately ruled it out. Winkel had made a promise. It was up to Curo and Den to keep it.
There were a few other, less important stupid things that Curo could have tried. After all, anyone could sell expensive equipment too cheaply. Anyone could underbid on difficult work. But those were mistakes that Curo would not make. He tended to overvalue everything, particularly his own material goods. He wanted to sell them often but he never closed deals because he always felt that he was getting cheated. Hence he kept closets of old clothes, broken tools, clumpy ink, nubs of chalk, and broken clocks, each of which he ordered the apprentices to wear, fix, or use. He even kept a drawer of old writing quills as if they might grow back into a goose. When frantic for a writing implement, Kroner would raid the drawer in search of a trashy quill that could be whittled into a nib for another half-page.
No, his partner’s worst trait was his feeling of powerlessness. Curo’s terrible self-esteem kept him from making decisions except when he was forced by circumstance. It meant that he never much improved anything. But it also kept him from going too far wrong. Denario could depend on it.
While they were finishing up the deposit, the wizard approached the table. He presented Denario with a letter box full of ash.
“What’s this?” Denario leaned away from it.
“It is the correspondence for your transferred account.” The elderly fellow seemed quite severe about it. “Apparently, the bank manager burned it.”
“Then I wish to speak to your manager!” Denario stood.
“So do I,” said the wizard. “However, when he saw me stop by the letter boxes, he put on his cap and rushed out the front door. He’s gone for the day, I’m afraid.”
“Is there anything to be done?”
“Of course there is,” said the wizard. “It’s just a matter of price.”
Denario didn’t feel he should have to pay extra for someone else’s mistake. Wizardry rates were outrageous, too. His thoughts must have showed on his face because the clerk shrunk back a bit.
“In the defense of my manager,” said the clerk. “It is normal to burn correspondence records when closing confidential cipher accounts or when given an order of secrecy.”
“I’ve already sent another staff member to reserve a room for you at the inn on the corner.” The wizard waved off the fact that Denario had not paid extra for a ciphered account, nor had he left any instructions to burn correspondence or anything like that. “We can talk with the manager in the morning. He’s usually better after he’s had time to think.”
“After he’s had time.” Denario rubbed the sides of his face. He felt as if he needed a break. He’d spent weeks sleeping on a blanket laid over a wooden board and eating mostly from stewpots. A chance at a straw mattress and a full meal at an inn sounded good.
“Yes, yes.” The wizard and the clerk spoke together.
“Do you remember who my message was from?” He raised his head. “What color was the paper?”
“It held several messages, I think, all on regular paper.” The wizard gave him a puzzled frown. “I don't know who they were from. I did see one of them come in, rather recently. All I remember about it was neat penmanship. Curly, but neat.”
“Was it long?”
“Filled most of a page.”
That could have been either Carinde or Curo. He would really have loved to hear from Curo. Sadly, it probably wasn’t from his former fiance. Pecunia hated to write at any length.
“Very well,” he said, mostly to himself. “Supper for now. More messages and banking in the morning.”