Fic­tion

The clumsy in­tern was just wast­ing his time, Gra­ham thought. But she did seem ea­ger

YOU (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY SUE CUN­NING­HAM IL­LUS­TRA­TION: JAMES PHIRI

MRS PARKER stood at the of­fice door and, al­though Gra­ham was busy, he knew bet­ter than to ig­nore her. She might be a bat­tleaxe but she was the most ef­fi­cient sec­re­tary he’d ever had.

He looked up with a pleas­ant smile. “What can I do for you, Mrs Parker?”

He al­ways ad­dressed her as Mrs Parker, never Joan. He’d tried it once and had in­stantly re­gret­ted it.

She ap­proached the desk. “Some let­ters for you to sign. And . . .” She gave a sniff of dis­ap­proval, “The work ex­pe­ri­ence in­tern is here.”

“But we don’t take in­terns,” Gra­ham said with a frown. “The boss doesn’t ap­prove. He al­ways says stu­dents are more trou­ble than they’re worth.”

Mrs Parker tossed her head. “Not this time. There’s been an email from head of­fice about this young lady. Ap­par­ently her fa­ther plays golf with the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor.”

Gra­ham sighed. “Then I sup­pose you’d bet­ter send her in.”

Mo­ments later Mrs Parker re­turned with a pretty girl in her early twen­ties. She was wear­ing a smart suit with a crisp white shirt, but the over­all ef­fect was ru­ined by a large cof­fee stain down her grey skirt.

“Sorry, I can’t be­lieve I’m so clumsy,” she said apolo­get­i­cally as Mrs Parker with­drew with a tight-lipped nod.

The girl turned to face Gra­ham. “Amanda West,” she said, hold­ing out her hand and sweep­ing a photo frame off the desk with her hand­bag. The frame clat­tered to the floor and they bumped heads as they both bent to re­trieve it.

Amanda’s blue eyes filled with tears. “I’m not mak­ing a very good start, am I?”

Gra­ham pro­duced a box of tis­sues. “There’s no harm done. Sit down and we’ll get you an­other cof­fee.” He nod­ded at the stain on her skirt. “Have you burnt your­self?”

She shook her blonde head. “No. I just feel like a com­plete id­iot as usual.”

“Mrs Parker tells me you’ve come from head of­fice?”

She nod­ded. “That’s right. I had a week in ac­counts then 10 days in per­sonal fi­nance. I was sup­posed to spend six weeks there but I think they’d had enough of me. They said I was tak­ing up too much of their

time.” She gave him a trem­bly smile.

Gra­ham tried not to show his dis­may. He knew when some­one was be­ing fobbed off on him.

“Well, we’re very busy here as well but we’ll try to make you feel wel­come,” he said. “I’m due to chair a meet­ing which starts in a few min­utes but my as­sis­tant, David, will show you the ropes, okay?”

SOME hours later David filled Gra­ham in over a lunchtime drink. “She’s clue­less,” he con­fided, rolling his eyes. “She reck­ons she’s done a year of busi­ness stud­ies but she could barely man­age to switch on the com­puter. Easy on the eye but noth­ing be­tween her ears.”

“Amanda’s fa­ther plays golf with Mr Muller,” Gra­ham ex­plained, tak­ing a sip of his beer. “That’s how she got her foot in the door at head of­fice and now they’ve foisted her on us.”

“Nice girl though,” said David. “And lovely look­ing. I won­der if she’s sin­gle.”

“You keep your hands to your­self,” Gra­ham warned. “We don’t want Harry Muller com­ing down here breath­ing fire. That’s his golf buddy’s pre­cious daugh­ter, re­mem­ber?” David shrugged. “You’re the boss.” Back at the of­fice, Amanda had al­ready in­curred the wrath of Mrs Parker.

“What did she do wrong this time?” asked Gra­ham, steer­ing his irate sec­re­tary away from a cow­er­ing Amanda. “Pressed delete in­stead of print,” Mrs Parker hissed. “If I hadn’t backed up my files she’d have lost me a whole morn­ing’s work.”

“It’s lucky you’re so ef­fi­cient,” soothed Gra­ham as David whisked Amanda away to spend the af­ter­noon ad­dress­ing en­velopes. Amanda’s week went from bad to worse and on Thurs­day she cor­nered Gra­ham just as he was leav­ing work.

“I re­ally need some ad­vice. Could you spare the time for a quick drink, Gra­ham?” Her blue eyes glis­tened with un­shed tears.

Gra­ham looked at his watch. He and his wife were sup­posed to be go­ing out for din­ner with some busi­ness col­leagues. He drew Amanda away from the watch­ful eye of Mrs Parker, who was tak­ing much longer than usual to but­ton her coat.

“Not to­day, Amanda,” he said. “I’m in a bit of a rush.”

“Please Gra­ham, I need your help,” Amanda pleaded, her bot­tom lip quiv­er­ing. “I think I’m mak­ing a ter­ri­ble mis­take.”

He sighed. “Go on. Just a quick one then.”

In the bar next door, Amanda snif­fled into her white wine.

“My fa­ther wants me to go into bank­ing but I’m not clever enough. I failed all my end-of-term ex­ams and I haven’t plucked up the courage to tell him.” A tear plopped into her drink. “I’ve made so many mis­takes this week. Ev­ery­one’s an­noyed with me and Mrs Parker thinks I’m hope­less . . .”

Gra­ham nod­ded, try­ing to con­ceal his im­pa­tience.

Amanda wiped her eyes. “What do you think I should do, Gra­ham? Should I make an ef­fort to try again, or should I just give up now?”

Gra­ham looked sym­pa­thetic but se­cretly he hoped she’d de­cide to pack it in.

“Maybe bank­ing isn’t for you, Amanda,” he ad­vised gen­tly. “But if you’re pre­pared to put some ef­fort in, we can make a fresh start. If not, don’t waste any more time; make ar­range­ments to try some­thing else. I’m sure your fa­ther will be proud of you what­ever ca­reer you choose. Have a think about it.” He pat­ted her hand.

“I must get home. See you to­mor­row.”

AMANDA ar­rived bright and early on Fri­day, red-eyed but look­ing op­ti­mistic. Gra­ham gave her some un­de­mand­ing jobs to do and, as she man­aged them with­out mak­ing any mis­takes, he de­cided to build her con­fi­dence by giv­ing her the task of in­putting the weekly fig­ures.

As the clock ticked to­wards 5.30pm, Amanda burst into Gra­ham’s of­fice.

“I was do­ing so well,” she sobbed, “but now it’s all gone wrong!” “What hap­pened this time?” he said. “I’ve locked up my com­puter by putting in the wrong pass­word. Three times.”

Gra­ham couldn’t hide his an­noy­ance. “Get the IT guys down to sort it out.”

“I tried but they’ve al­ready left for the day. Please Gra­ham, could I use your screen for 10 min­utes while I re­trieve the file?” Gra­ham reached for his jacket. “Sorry but I must leave on time to­day, Amanda. I’m go­ing away for the week­end.”

“I know you’re not sup­posed to leave your com­puter logged on but it won’t take long,” she said ea­gerly. “I saved every­thing in a folder just like you showed me. Please! I’d love to have the fig­ures on your desk ready for Mon­day morn­ing.”

Gra­ham re­lented. “Okay. But make sure you log off and tell se­cu­rity to lock up when you’ve fin­ished.”

Amanda smiled through her tears. “I prom­ise.”

As Gra­ham left, he made a point of switch­ing off his work cell­phone. Af­ter the stress of deal­ing with Amanda all week, he was look­ing for­ward to two whole days free of in­ter­rup­tion.

WHEN he ar­rived in the of­fice on Mon­day morn­ing, re­freshed from his week­end away, David was wait­ing, his face pale. “Gra­ham! Thank good­ness you’re here. I’ve been try­ing to call you all week­end. Mr Muller’s on his way down from head of­fice. We’ve got a real prob­lem.” “What sort of prob­lem?” “Some­one’s shifted a large sum of money into a pri­vate ac­count and we can’t trace it.” David swiv­elled the com­puter screen so they could both see.

“How much?” Gra­ham squinted over his col­league’s shoul­der.

David swal­lowed as he scrolled the cur­sor down and high­lighted an ac­count. “Sixty-eight mil­lion.”

“That’s im­pos­si­ble!” ob­jected Gra­ham. “You need the pass­words of three dif­fer­ent man­agers to ac­cess that amount of cash.”

“But that’s just it! They had them. Two of the guys from head of­fice and . . . and yours ac­tu­ally, Gra­ham.”

“There must be some mis­take!” Gra­ham pushed David to one side and seated him­self in front of the com­puter.

David shook his head. “Your au­tho­ri­sa­tion was recorded at 5.45pm on Fri­day evening. Yours was the last one.”

“5.45pm? But I’d al­ready left for the week­end . . .” Gra­ham protested, sweat be­gin­ning to trickle down his ribs.

He looked up as Mrs Parker swept into the room, bristling with in­dig­na­tion. “There’s a mes­sage for you from that lit­tle madam on work ex­pe­ri­ence,” she sniffed.

“What’s the mes­sage?” Gra­ham whis­pered.

Mrs Parker flipped over her memo pad and read aloud. “She says you were quite right, bank­ing isn’t for her and she’s made other ar­range­ments just as you sug­gested. But she wanted to say a very spe­cial thank-you for all your help.”

‘Nice girl though . . . and lovely look­ing. I won­der if she’s sin­gle’

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