What Accounts For Accountability Around Here
When Quimby came to me describing the loss in the Parker Portfolio and his subsequent meeting with Mister Parker, I was disappointed of course, but it hardly seemed a reason for him to offer his resignation. We at Carver Financial Services are in the business of making people money, but that doesn’t mean a personal touch, an acknowledgment of our faults and a promise to improve isn’t worth just as much.
It was Thursday afternoon and we were in my office overlooking Jamison Avenue. Quimby had just walked in with that brisk, easy stride we’ve all come to associate here with his singular Quimby style, and the expression on his face got me to thinking maybe he had some good news to tell me. It was the face of a tired man, a man who’d been working long hours in sight of some tangible goal. His thin, handsome face was creased from the strain of late nights working under halogen lights, and the tight, slightly enigmatic smile suggested he finally had something to show me.
Nevertheless I was surprised to see him there in my office. I clearly remembered he’d taken a leave to go visit his sister in Cleveland who’d just delivered a child. A little girl, I believe he said. That had been on Tuesday, but on Thursday in he walked with that strange smile on his face and an envelope in his hand. He sat down in the chair across from me and slid the envelope across the desk.
“What’s that?” I asked, and Quimby sighed long and deep. “The Parker Portfolio’s a bust,” he said. “I just got back from Toronto where I went to call on Parker myself. As you can imagine, he’s none too pleased with my work, and I’ve come to the conclusion he’s damn right.” He nodded to the envelope. “In there is my letter of resignation.”
“Now just hold on!” I exclaimed. “Why don’t you explain everything from the start?”
He sank down into the chair across from me as if he owned the place. “Well like I said,” he began, “I went to Toronto to tell Mister Parker myself the hit he’d taken. It was the Vericom bonds I think, and then the Uniglobe merger—” He shook his head. “I didn’t see it coming. I lost it all. I found out a couple of days ago—when I came in to talk to you about getting a couple of days off.”
“To go visit your sister in Cleveland,” I said.
“That’s right,” Quimby nodded. “Well I went to Toronto instead. I called Parker from the airport and told him I had to see him immediately. I told him it was about his portfolio. He said he’d meet me there in the airport bar in thirty minutes.
“Now I won’t lie to you, Mister Carver. I was damned nervous. I’ve broken disappointing news to customers before, but I’ve never had to tell them they’ve lost everything they have. I suppose all things considered I should have refrained from drinking, but my hands were shaking, Mister Carver. I couldn’t control my voice. I had a drink and I felt a little better, and then I had another and I felt better still. By the time Mister Parker arrived, I admit I may have had too many, but I’d found my confidence again, Mister Carver, and I was ready to do whatever had to be done to regain his trust.”
Quimby leaned back, rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and stared out the window, and I found myself wondering if maybe he wasn’t drunk now. He still had that strange smile on his face, as if the story he was telling me and the story I was hearing were two entirely different tales. Just then I caught sight of the outline of a snake on the side of his arm. It was a tattoo, I realized, and while I can’t say why this sight distracted me so much, the truth was I didn’t even notice when Quimby began speaking again.
“—we see our clients as they really are,” he was saying. “They come to us in desperation, trying to make a good impression. They wear their best clothes and they give us the money they’ve earned and they ask us to turn it into their dreams. And while I was waiting there in that airport bar, Mister Carver, maybe it was the alcohol, but I couldn’t help thinking that even when we succeed we fail, because the only thing we can give them back is more money.
“When Parker finally showed up,” continued Quimby, “he wasn’t trying to make an impression. I remember he was wearing a raincoat, and that surprised me at first. I’d gone from here where it was warm and sunny to Toronto where it was raining, but I hadn’t been outside the airport. I hadn’t been near any windows. As far as I knew, the sun was still shining outside. I was staring at his raincoat, wondering what the hell he was wearing it for, when he said to me, ‘So here I am, Quimby. What’s this all about?’
“I don’t know what I was thinking. I offered him a drink. He said, ‘Why don’t you tell me what’s going on. I doubt you came all the way up here just to have a drink.’ Then I told him. I told him all his money was gone.”
Quimby shook his head. He wasn’t smiling anymore and suddenly I thought he was going to start crying. He said, “Mister Carver, it was absolutely the worst moment of my life. I watched all the spirit drain right out of the man’s face. He turned white and then just as sudden he turned normal again, and—Mister Carver, that was the worst part. He said to me, just as calm as could be, ‘Well get it back then.’ He said, ‘What are you doing wasting your time here? Does Mister Carver know about this?’ No, I said. I said I wanted to come to him first, and I did, sir. It was my mistake and I wanted to tell him first, but he said, ‘Go back and tell Mister Carver.’ He said, ‘Go and get me my money back.’”
Leaning forward, Quimby put his palms on my desk as if prostrating himself before me. He looked me right in the eyes and said, “Mister Carver, sir, I’m not proud of the way I behaved. I’ll tell you it wasn’t one of my finest moments, but I stood up in that airport bar and I told Mister Parker that I would get his money back.”
Quimby stood up, still with both his palms on my desk. “Mister Carver,” he said. “You don’t need to tell me what a fool I’ve made of myself. I know I’ve made a pretty sad mess of the whole situation, and as much I’d like to try to fix things, it seems every time I just manage to make everything worse. It’s not for lack of trying, sir, but I think now it’d be best for everyone if I just cut my losses and tried my hand at something new.”
“Quimby,” I shook my head. “You’re being too hard on yourself. I could tell you stories from when I was starting out that would stand your hair on end! Not only that, but I think the fact that you took the initiative to go up there yourself and face him, that you didn’t try to pass the buck but claimed all the responsibility, well Quimby, I think that showed real chutzpah.”
“Mister Carver,” he smiled bashfully, “I was just trying to do what seemed right—”
“But that’s just what I’m talking about!” I cried. “Accountability! Men like you are hard to find!”
He looked down. “Thank you for that, sir. That means an awful lot to me. More than you can imagine,” he said, and I felt a strong, almost paternal impulse to keep him near.
“Then are you going to stay?” I asked.
“No, sir, I’m going to go.”
“There’s nothing I can do to change your mind?”
He smiled and shook his head. “I think it’s time to be moving on.”
I stood up and reached over to shake his hand, and it was a firm grip he had, the grip of a salesman. I was sorry to see him go. To tell you the truth he was pretty far from the best man I had working for me, and with the kind of loss he’d just taken I would have considered letting him go myself, but like I’d said, he’d shown chutzpah doing what he did, and even more than that he’d shown integrity, and some things are just worth more than you can up with a calculator.
“Then I wish you the best wherever you decide to go from here,” I said.
“Thank you, sir,” he said, smiling again, but there was more of a wince now as I realized I was still holding on to his hand. I let it go and he walked out of my office, and I never saw or heard from him again.
After he was gone I found myself unable to concentrate. I had a lot of work to get done but I couldn’t get it all out of my head. The truth was his story had moved me, and in this business it’s not often you get moved like that. I picked up the phone and had my secretary ring up Bob Parker in Toronto, and while I waited, I reacquainted myself with the details of his case.
Quimby had been right; the Vericom bonds and too much invested in telecommunications had weakened the portfolio, and then the Uniglobe merger had finished it off. There hadn’t been enough diversity but it would have survived if it hadn’t been for the merger and the congestion of stocks in all the companies going east with the Asian windfall. It could have happened to any of us, I told myself. The phone beeped and Alice informed me I had Mister Parker on the other line. I picked up the phone.
“Parker here,” said a gruff voice. “What can I do for you?”
“Mister Parker, this is Joe Carver, Carver Financial Services. I understand you were contacted recently by Mister Quimby, a former employee of ours. I just wanted to let you know that we’re going to do all we can to get as much of your money back as possible, Mister Parker.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the voice. “I haven’t seen or talked to your man Quimby in over four months—” I pressed my ear tighter to the receiver; the voice sounded tinny and artificial: “I’ve been meaning to give him a call in the next couple of days as a matter of fact, find out what’s with all this shakeup I keep hearing about. What’s this you’re saying about getting my money back? Get what money back?”
“Mister Parker,” I said. “You didn’t meet Mister Quimby at the airport just a couple of days ago? He didn’t tell you about your portfolio?”
“No, damn it!” cried the voice. “Will you please tell me what’s going on? Tell me what about my portfolio?”
“Just a minute please, Mister Parker,” I said. I set down the phone and stared at the envelope Quimby had left on my desk. I took a deep breath, and then I picked up the phone again.
“Hello?” I said. “Mister Parker? Are you still there?”
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED