TTT Stories    The Bean Counter

The Bean Counter

Aurelia pulled off her thick black rimmed glasses, polished them on the hem of her navy silk shirt and squinted at the screen. That can’t be right, she thought and jammed them back on again, flicking her long wavy red hair back over the chair as she did so. But there it was in all its yellow highlighted conditional-­‐formatted glory on her spreadsheet, a seven count discrepancy between the physical count and the accounting records for the most important inventory Castle in the Sky Enterprises held: magic beans. Some would have argued the eggs were more important but Aurelia knew it was the beans.

She was scared. Not the kind of scared she’d lost her mobile phone, or scared she’d accidentally put full fat instead of skim in her Earl Grey tea but scared that she might be in big trouble with her boss. Although the proprietor Mr G was a giant of a man, he was unlikely to go all fee-­‐fi-­‐fo-­‐fum on her as he was almost an over-­‐friendly man, but fire her he could, and that would be a pity as she thought it really was a nice place to work.

It was so different to her first three years as an accountant in a chartered firm working with lots of other be-­‐spectacled and be-­‐suited co-­‐workers. Here she was encouraged to wear more casual clothing, as the corporate services team were located on site with all the Egg Gatherers, Goose Carers and Bean Stalk Growers who all tended to wear some form of overalls. So she wore denim jeans and structured shirts, with just a crop jacket and heels as a nod to her profession. She did have safety helmet and steel cap boots under her desk should she need to venture out into the Goose’s Garden.

Aurelia looked out her window, worrying at a nail and thinking about what to do about the beans. The garden was so beautiful, if a little oversized for her liking. The blades of grass were around four times the size of normal grass, and the clumps of tulips dotted around the garden were the size of large bushes, with each bloom the size of a teapot. She noticed the Egg Gatherers were standing in their waiting pose amongst the lush green clover, which could only mean a new egg was about to be laid. Sure enough, the large and creamy coloured Golden Goose had started her ritual squawking, proceeded to flatten out a section of clover with her oversized behind and then produced another big beautiful shiny gold specimen, spreading her wings and flapping as she completed the feat. Immediately, the Goose Carers were cooing around her, telling her what a lovely job she had done, distracting her with food while the Egg Gatherers gently loaded the glittery egg onto a custom made cart and wheeled it away to the Egg Store. A dangerous business, as the Goose had been known to get quite possessive about her eggs, but Aurelia had learned that was the way the eggs had to be taken for maximum value to be obtained, which was the important part of this enterprise after all.

What was Mr G going to say? He had only been singing Aurelia’s praises, somewhat loudly, to the rest of the team yesterday. It was the dashboard that had really impressed him. It was just a fancy spreadsheet really with pretty graphs that updated periodically, but the power of it was he could see on it quickly all the things that really mattered to him like gold prices, egg counts, staff numbers, and the all important bean count. Now the bean count was down seven and Aurelia was nervous to tell Mr G about it. Ensuring safe custody of the bean inventory was her first and most important task. Like everyone else who had read the job ad on Seek she had thought it was a joke: “Head Bean Counter, trustworthiness and accuracy required, spread-­‐sheeting skills desirable but not essential.” At the time she had just finished a particularly tricky set of audit engagements and was looking for a new challenge, and applying for a role that sounded completely different and a bit wacky was just what she needed. Now, with “Head Bean Counter” emblazoned on her office door, her business card and her e-­‐mail signature, it was officially a real job.

Yesterday, Mr G had even gotten quite effusive and smiley and used the words that he thought he “Might be just a little bit in love with my new Management Accountant”. He wasn’t really, there was nothing like that going on, but Mr G was extraordinarily pleased with the value Aurelia had added to the business in just six months, and had smiled wide and given her a big bear hug, his curly grey hair springing out wildly. The bear hug was a bit painful as Mr G was uncommonly large at six-­‐nine and about three axe-­‐handles across the shoulders. Aurelia a petite five-­‐five had cringed a little and thought she had better work-­‐out more often if this was going to happen with any regularity. To tell the truth she was tickled pink he had used the term “Management Accountant” instead of “Bean Counter”, perhaps he had listened when she had explained that most of her profession considered the term derogatory and although she realised in this workplace the title was held in great esteem, it was a bit hard to explain to her other accountant friends.

Aurelia tapped in the code to her desk drawer to release her Bean Safe keys and headed back to just check one more time. Aurelia was personally responsible for the Bean-­‐Safe and only she and Mr G had keys, which were kept in code-­‐locked drawers in their respective offices. This morning she had taken in Jenny with her and performed their weekly stock count together. Procedure required that Jenny count and Aurelia record the tally. Aurelia would then compare the physical count with the accounting records and ensure the two reconciled. On alternate weeks Mr G performed the count with the aid of a different assistant, a procedure Aurelia had put in place to ensure good separation of duties.

She quickly donned the gloves they were required to wear when touching the beans to protect the them from accidental damage. Each of the beans was a perfect kidney shape, deep blue and cold to the touch, glimmering with promise. The beans were so small and, despite their natural beauty, it was hard to believe their value was so high, but the enterprise depended on them for survival. But who would want them and why? Yes, they were indispensable here, but in other hands they could be dangerous and as Mr G had said it was vital they not be taken “down below”. Aurelia felt a sinking feeling in her tummy as she counted, and was not surprised that there were again only 110 beans. She wondered if her face had betrayed a problem to Jenny when they did the count. Aurelia hoped not.

Aurelia turned to leave and was still worrying about how to give the news to Mr G, who was out of the office for the morning, when she spied something on the floor she hadn’t noticed earlier. It was several curly blond hairs. Aurelia knew they weren’t hers or Jenny’s as Jenny had short cropped black hair, and although Mr G’s was curly it was definitely grey, not blond. The only other person who had approval to enter the egg safe was James and he did have blond hair, but his was short and straight.

So, Aurelia pondered to whom they might belong and came up with a couple of ideas but was at a quandary to explain how the person had infiltrated the safe. Did I leave my keys out on my desk? Did I leave the key-­‐drawer unlocked? There was a skylight in the roof of the safe room, but Mr G had assured her it was so small, so high and so well protected by his “security arrangements” that it was virtually impossible for someone to enter that way. She had wondered at the time why he had put a window in a safe-­‐room at all but she had soon realised that nearly all the rooms were lit by windows or sky lights and it really did save on power, something her cost-­‐saving loving self could appreciate.

Aurelia thought some more, and a kernel of an idea dawned. She made two quick calls, posted a Facebook update and then picked up her shiny yellow helmet and goggles. She called out to Jenny as she walked through the open office area, “Just heading down to the Farmers Market, do you want anything?”

“Oh yes, if you could grab me some of that nice handmade fudge from Martha’s that would be lovely,” replied Jenny, looking up from her computer where she was processing the fortnightly payroll.

“Okay, shall do,” said Aurelia, swinging her helmet on her way out the door, in better spirits now she had a plan. Aurelia made her way out of the front of the corporate services building to the parking lot where all manner of employee transports were parked, or tethered in the case of a few flying horses, and located her canary yellow scooter, jumped on and started it up.

The other thing about working at Castle in the Sky Enterprises, or The Castle as people called it, was that it really was up in the clouds. When Aurelia had told her family and friends that she was going to work in a cloud based business they had assumed that it was some information technology term that meant she was doing her work in a virtual manner. No, it was more straightforward than that, and a lot more fun too.

On her first day of work one of Mr G’s personal assistants had met her at her house and added certain buttons to the scooter’s dash that enabled flight. Aurelia didn’t ask too many questions about how it worked, and aside from finding the daily commute rather peaceful due to the complete lack of traffic in the sky between her sunny Hobart home and work, it was also a completely exhilarating way to travel. She did a few loop de-­‐loops on her way down as was her custom, wishing herself luck that her plan to get the beans back would work.

The Farmer’s Market was somewhere that Aurelia frequented and she hoped that the criminal she suspected had taken the beans was going to try and off load them somewhere amongst the organic produce available on Fridays. No one seemed to notice her flying yellow scooter land in the centre of the car park. Apparently one of the buttons the assistant had added muddied people’s perceptions of her as she flew. She stowed her helmet and goggles in the trunk compartment and ran her hands through her hair to smooth out the tangles from the wind. That’ll teach me to do fancy tricks in the air without remembering to plait it first.

She cast her eye around, marvelling at the number of people here on a Friday and the abundance of good fresh food, colour and conversation going on. Aurelia picked up a long black from “Pigs in Mud”, a Hobart landmark coffee business, now boasting franchises running from Hobart to New York, all small and market based but with verified best coffee in the known universe according to any poll you cared to search up.

Aurelia sat on the base of the statue feature in the square and sipped her long black. She relished her time out in the sun, stretching her legs out and taking in the rays warming her on the outside as the coffee warmed her tummy.

She spied the man she was looking at his regular spot, looking as adorable as ever. “Jack the Organic Milkman” was her very favourite market stall, and not just because the proprietor was a well built specimen with wavy black hair wearing a very fetching black and white cow costume. Actually, the cow costume was hilarious, and it never failed to raise a smile. His business name plastered over his truck had the words “Udderly fantastic” underneath and she knew from previous conversations that his dad-­‐jokes didn’t stop there, and she liked that too. He sensed she was looking over at him and smiled at her across the market. She raised her cup in reply and went back to sipping and watching.

Jack’s milk business was great. He sold direct from his farm to market, with a few café’s as well taking his milk, yoghurt and fresh cheese products. Sometimes, like today he brought one of the cows to market, not to sell but to spruik up his offer. Aurelia marvelled at how docile the lovely small brown cow was as she stood next to the van chewing up the pile of hay Jack had put out to keep her busy. She had a tag proclaiming her name was “Ginger” on a collar around her neck. An elderly couple came and picked up what looked like a standing milk order, bringing their own portable cooler to put the milk and cheese in to get it home safely. They chatted for a while with Jack and gave Ginger a pat. When the couple slowly walked away Aurelia nearly spilled the rest of her coffee down her jeans. Whoa! That was fast, she thought as she saw the woman she suspected was the thief had walked in front of Jack’s truck.

Mavis Maudlin was an alarming sight, something like Olivia Newton John in Grease in that final scene with all the skin tight black and the permed blonde hair but with the added features of a very wrinkled face and long nose, nearly black eyes and thin stick like limbs ending at her arms with claw like hands and at her feet she had long curl tipped shoes. She had been an employee of The Castle until just over six months ago, and Aurelia had been briefed when she started that Mavis had attempted bean theft then, been sent packing and that Aurelia’s role had been created to safeguard the vital asset.

Aurelia finished her coffee and moved around closer to Jack’s stall. She came in behind a vegan burrito bar for cover and peeked around the edge of the board proclaiming the burrito’s many virtues. Aurelia saw Mavis had engaged Jack in conversation, her long skinny hand slid into her tight back pocket and extracted a small pouch, which Aurelia was betting held the seven stolen beans. Aurelia made a dash for it across from the burrito stall to the dairy stand, wishing she had traded in the heels for her boots for this excursion. Mavis, perhaps sensing Aurelia’s movement, spun around and saw her coming across the market. She gathered herself, cartoon style and was off through the crowd.

“Damn!” yelled Aurelia. This was not what she had planned, and Aurelia liked her plans to work.

Aurelia scampered between the dairy stand and the dairy-­‐free, gluten-­‐free, sugar-­‐free chocolate booth next door and looked around for her target, who she spied hot footing it up the market lane amongst the organic fruit and handmade fudge. Jenny might not get any of that today, was Aurelia’s thought as she flew up the cobbled street. Jack was following too, although it seemed his tail hampered him somewhat.

Aurelia stayed on Mavis’ trail for a little while, passing various fruit and vegetable stalls but stumbled as she dashed past a hemp clothing stand, bringing down a pile of brightly coloured tunics. She tried to apologise and began picking them up then realised she couldn’t see Mavis any more.

“Have we lost her?” asked Jack finally catching up and scanning the crowd, breathing heavily as he now held the troublesome cow-­‐costume horns and ears in his hands. Aurelia pointed ahead where she could just make out the wiry black clad blonde-­‐permed figure of Mavis getting closer to the end of the market and the beginning of the park.

“No, she wouldn’t would she?” questioned Jack looking over at Aurelia as they both started running again along the stretch of the market leading to the park.

“Just don’t let her reach that dirt,” pleaded Aurelia, wondering now if she should have had a better “Plan B” than just to follow Mavis.

Ginger, the little cow, had then caught up with them as well and started trotting behind, obviously devoted to Jack. How the cow made it that far without getting tangled in another stall was not something either Jack or Aurelia had time to ponder as they struggled to overtake the surprisingly fit Mavis. Jack’s costume really weighed him down but he was still faster than Aurelia in her heels and he reached the park first.

Ginger now managed to blot her copy book and knocked over a whole raspberry produce stand. Aurelia called out a somewhat pathetic “Sorry” as she picked up the cows lead and hurried along to catch up to Jack. The cow happily munched on appropriated raspberries as she plodded. Aurelia looked behind the cow with dismay, wondering how she would explain the mayhem she had created to Mr G, as she had promised him in that phone call she had made before she put her plan in action that she would keep this discrete. Hurry, hurry, she told herself, Never mind the market, Mr G. might actually fire me if Mavis plants those beans. Oh why didn’t I listen to him and let him send some elves with me?

She rounded the corner into the park and saw Jack, almost ready to pounce on Mavis. He did look a sight in his furry costume and tail. Jack, who had still been carrying the cow costume head-­‐piece now threw it to the side and tackled Mavis to the ground. Aurelia groaned as she saw two uniform clad police witness the same event. It didn’t look good from this angle.

The police, Aurelia and Ginger all converged on the lawns where Jack had subdued a writhing Mavis by sitting on her back and holding her hands behind her. She yelled and screamed, but he had a vice-­‐like grip on her.

“Get off her and stand up,” said the smaller of the two police in a firm voice. She was a trim policewoman, with Constable Kate on a gold badge on her uniform. Meanwhile, the other policeman, Constable Stan, had been describing the scene to someone else on a radio, obviously he had called in a report of the incident and more police were potentially on their way.

“I don’t think you are going to want him to do that,” said Aurelia, and Constable Kate opened her eyes wide and took in Aurelia and the cow, and realised they were part of this strange scene somehow too.

“And why should we let this man, who seems to be dressed as some kind of furry animal…”

“A cow,” said Constable Stan as he looked over at the abandoned head, “Definitely a cow.”

“Okay, this man, dressed as a cow,” Constable Kate shot daggers at her partner, “Why should he get to continue to sit on this lady?”

“Well actually, before I explain, can you hold this cow’s lead, we don’t want her running amok any more through the market do we?” interjected Aurelia, and before either of the police knew what to do she handed Constable Stan the lead and squatted down next to Jack and Mavis. She uncurled the fingers Mavis had gripped tight around the pouch of beans and attempted to pry them from her hand. One of the beans had been forced to the end of the pouch, which was not quite closed properly. Hang on Aurelia, easy does it, she thought as she eased the pouch out of Mavis’s fingers, we don’t want any of those beans to end up on the ground. Finally, she released the pouch and caught the glittering blue escapee bean with her other hand, just as it threatened to fall.

Straightening up Aurelia said, “Okay, its safe to let her stand up now, we’ve avoided the main disaster.”

“Young lady, I think you’ve got some explaining to do,” said Constable Stan, clearly flummoxed by the whole situation. However, he didn’t come off as very stern, what with holding onto Ginger’s lead and all.

“Right, well this is Mavis Maudlin, one-­‐time employee of Castle in the Sky Enterprises where I, Aurelia Anderson, work as Head Bean Counter. This pouch I have in my hand contains the seven beans that Mavis stole from the Bean-­‐Safe yesterday, I’m not sure how.”

“Cauh..ef..eepin..eer..da…my…ight,” mumbled Mavis from her place in the dirt. “I think she said she ‘Caught an elf sleeping near the sky-­‐light’”, interpreted Jack.

“Ah that explains it,” said Aurelia almost to herself, silently relieved she had not slipped up with her own keys.

Constable Kate realised that Jack still had Mavis restrained, “Well, while all of that sounds very entertaining I still have no idea what is going on. Get off her, and given her seeming confession to this crime, whatever it may really be, I will cuff her while we hear an explanation. Mind you it had better be good or you are both going into cuffs as well.” The policewoman reached down and clamped cuffs onto Mavis’ wrists and picked her up to her feet.

Railing against the cuffs, Mavis snorted, “Damn you Aurelia, I was going to make a packet out of those beans, selling them to Jack here”.

“Wouldn’t have worked anyway,” said Jack.

“And who pray-­‐tell are you?” asked Constable Kate.

“I’m Jack the Organic Milkman,” said a smiling Jack putting out his hand to shake the constable’s, “Pleased to meet you.”

“And he’s my boyfriend,” said Aurelia.

“Your boyfriend!” exclaimed both Mavis and Constable Kate. Constable Stan was not moved by this information.

“We met at uni, both doing accounting. Aurelia took the more traditional route and I’m an entrepreneur. She’s rather cute too,” he said and put his arm around Aurelia.

“As is he, even in a cow suit, and together we have just stopped a major catastrophe,” chimed in Aurelia, putting her arm around Jack as well and landing a kiss on his cheek.

“I should have known that you two were in on it together. I wasn’t going to plant them you know, only out of spite at the end because I couldn’t sell them to Jack and you guys were going to catch up with me,” sniffled Mavis, “So that Facebook post was a ruse was it?”

“Sorry, you are going to have to go back to the beginning, none of this makes any sense to me,” interrupted Constable Stan shaking his head.

Aurelia parted from Jack, stood up straight and assumed a more ‘professional’ kind of posture to explain, “Right, well Mavis Maudlin is a former employee of Castles in the Sky Enterprises, where the Golden Goose lays the golden eggs. What people don’t know is that the reason the said Golden Goose keeps laying golden eggs is that she gets exceedingly amazing proteins from the beautiful blue magic beans and only needs one every day mixed in with her other food to keep her eggs as good as gold, pun completely intended. If we had lost these seven beans, there would be seven days lost egg production in the coming year.”

“Ah, so Mavis you were going to sell the beans to Jack so his cow could produce golden milk?” questioned Constable Kate, who was obviously completely up to speed now.

“Well I figured it might work, someone would buy them and give it a go. Who wouldn’t want their animal to produce gold? Right, well I would have sold them to anyone really, but I saw on Jack’s business Facebook page this morning that he had won a grant to improve milk yield on his organic farm and knew he would have funds flush to go and buy up big,” explained Mavis.

“Don’t believe everything you see on Facebook Mavis,” grinned Jack, “Aurelia put up that post just for you.”

“I know that now you cow-­‐costume wearing moron,” spat out Mavis stamping her foot. “Easy on,” said Constable Kate tightening her grip on Mavis’ arm.

“Yes, you may offend Ginger,” laughed Jack. Ginger however, was oblivious to any irreverence towards her bovine self, as she munched the municipal grass and tugged at the lead to get to better pickings.

“I did think it was all legit until I recognised Miss Redhead here from the cloud when I was sneaking in. Should have bided my time and waited for a sure thing.”

“But what is all this fuss about the beans hitting the dirt?” inquired Constable Stan still wrinkling up his nose as he tried to make it compute.

“Can I tell him?” asked Jack eager to impart knowledge. Aurelia nodded and Jack launched into the story, “Well you see Constable Stan, when they plant the beans in the meadow in the sky the beanstalks grow at a normal size, well normal for anything that grows in the Castle’s meadows anyway, which by earth standards isn’t that normal, but you get my drift, and anyways, they produce the beans at a normal rate. However, down here on earth if those magic beans are planted they don’t just grow normal beans or bean stalks, they grow giant ones, because the beans have a symbiotic relationship with the Golden Goose and want to get back up there to feed her.”

“In English?” said a now slightly exasperated Constable Stan who had been scratching away at his notepad, whilst he still held resolutely to the cow’s lead. The little cow had meanwhile deposited a round of fertiliser onto the council lawn.

“What he means is, that the beanstalk would grow up into the sky, right up to Castle in the Clouds and disrupt this entire park,” explained Aurelia.

“Be a hell of a job cutting it down too, might smash the whole CBD,” added a new voice. It is Mr G, just arrived on the scene, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Hi Mr G,” said Aurelia, “We got the beans back.”

“And you’ve got Mavis under lock and key I see too. Well done, you are definitely more than just a bean counter Aurelia,” he said and gripped her and Jack in a big bear hug.

“Yowsers Mr G, you have got a strong grip there,” said Jack shaking his shoulders loose.

“When you called me and told me what had happened and what your plan was, I wasn’t sure it would work, but here we are, raspberries not withstanding,” Mr G said, glancing back at the carnage in the market behind.

“Sorry about that Mr G,” apologised Aurelia.

“Nothing a golden egg won’t fix,” he chuckled, and the two constables looked at each other as the ground around them seemed to tremble, just a little, with Mr G’s laughter.

“Apparently, Mavis here came in via the skylight when she caught one of the security elves sleeping,” disclosed Aurelia to Mr G.

“Oh dear, and there you were worried you had left your bean-­‐key out on the desk or your drawer unlocked, and all the time it was a much more basic problem. I am sorry my dear that you were so worried you had done something wrong. We shall have to reinforce security on the roof, maybe some bars on the window as well as glass perhaps? Happy to take your advice as I believe you wanted me to when you started work with us.”

Constable Stan busily noted down the story and said, “Sounds good to me, we are all for people protecting their own assets. So what is it that Castle in the Sky Enterprises does with all those golden eggs anyway?”

“Well its really a philanthropic organisation now, but we have to be careful not to flood the gold market and drive prices down, so that we can derive maximum benefit for the organisations that we wish to help,” explained Aurelia, while Mr G nodded his confirmation.

“Yeah, they give the gold away. Ridiculous,” snorted Mavis, “That’s just criminal.”

“Actually, I believe you are the criminal here Mavis,” said Constable Kate, “You are coming with us.”

* * *

“…one-­‐hundred and fifteen, one-­‐hundred and sixteen, one-­‐hundred and seventeen. Yah, all beans present and accounted for!” exclaimed Jenny as she and Aurelia completed a fresh count.

“Sorry, I forgot all about your fudge though,” lamented Aurelia.

“Don’t apologise, your lovely Jack has brought up enough cheese for us to stay very well fed for the afternoon. What is he talking to Mr G about in there anyway?” she said motioning

with her head towards the closed door to Mr G’s office where he and Jack had been in deep conversation for some time now.

“Oh, he’s got a new business idea that he wants Mr G to consider,” explained Aurelia, “It involves planting a single bean out on his farm and running a climbing and abseiling adventure business on it, with the added bonus that Mr G will still be able to harvest the beans at the top.”

“Fantastic, that could be great for tourism and for us too.” “Yeah, and he’s already got a name for the new business.” “Oh?” inquired Jenny.

“Jack and the Beanstalk,” replied Aurelia rolling her eyes. “Hmm, I like that. Catchy.”

By Andrea Mounter from Australia