Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Goddess of Spring, Page 2

P. C. Cast

Chapter 1

  Oklahoma, Present Day

  " No, it's not that I don't 'get it,' it's that I don't understand bow you could have let it happen. " Lina spoke slowly and distinctly through clenched teeth.

  "Ms. Santoro, I have already explained that we had no idea until the IRS contacted us yesterday that there had been any error at al . "

  "Did you not have any checks and balances? The reason I pay you to manage the taxes for my business is because I need an expert. " She glanced down at the obscene number typed in neat, nononsense black and white across the bottom of the government form. "I understand accidents and mistakes, but I don't understand how something this large could have escaped your notice. " Frank Rayburn cleared his throat before answering. Lina had always thought he looked a little like a gangster-wannabe. Today his black pinstriped suit and his slippery demeanor did nothing to dispel the image.

  "Your bakery did very wel last year, Ms. Santoro. Actu-al y, you more than doubled your income from the previous year. When we're talking about a major increase in figures, it is easy for mistakes to happen. I think that what would be more productive for us now is to focus on how you can pay what you owe the government instead of casting blame. " Before she could speak he hurried on, "I have drawn up several suggestions. " He pul ed out another sheet of paper fil ed with bulleted columns and numbers and handed it to her. "Suggestion number one is to borrow the money. Interest rates are very reasonable right now. "

  Lina felt her jaw clench. She hated the idea of borrowing money, especial y that much money. She knew it would make her feel exposed and vulnerable until the loan was repaid. If the loan could be repaid. Yes, she had been doing wel , but a bakery wasn't exactly a necessity to a community, and times were hard.

  "What are your other suggestions?"

  "Wel , you could introduce a newer, more glitzy line of foods. Maybe add a little something for the lunch crowd, more than those. . . " He hesitated, making little circles in the air with one thick forefinger. "Baby pizza things. "

  "Pizette Florentine. " She bit the words at him. "They are mini-pizzas that originated in Florence, and they are not meant to be a meal, they are meant to be a mid-afternoon snack served with cheese and wine. "

  He shrugged. "Whatever. Al I'm saying is that it doesn't draw you a very big lunch crowd. "

  "You mean like a fried chicken buffet would? Or maybe I could even crank up the gril and churn out some burgers and fries?"

  "Now there's an idea," he said, total y missing the sarcasm in her tone. "Suggestion number three would be to cut your staff. "

  Lina drummed her fingers on the top of the conference table. "Go on," she said, keeping her voice deceptively pleasant.

  "Number four would be to consider bankruptcy. " He held up a hand to stop her from speaking, even though she hadn't uttered a sound. "I know it sounds drastic, but after those expensive renovations you just completed, you real y don't have any reserves left to fal back on. "

  "I only commissioned those expensive renovations because you assured me that Pani Del Goddess could afford them. " Lina's hands twitched with the desire to wrap themselves around his neck.

  "Be that as it may, your reserves are gone. " He said condescendingly. "But bankruptcy is only one option, and not the one I would recommend. Actual y, I would recommend option number five -

  sel to that big chain that offered to buy you out a couple months ago. They just want your name and your location. Give it to 'em. You'l have enough money to pay your debt and start over with a new name and place. "

  "But I've spent twenty years building up the Pani Del Goddess name, and I have no desire to move. " If Frank Rayburn had been the least bit intuitive, he would have recognized the storm that brewed in Lina's expressive eyes, even though it had not yet reached her mouth. Frank Rayburn was not intuitive.

  "Wel , I just tel ya the options. " Frank leaned back in the plush chair and crossed his arms while he gave Lina what he liked to think of as his stern, fatherly look. "You're the boss. It's your job to decide from there. "

  "No, you're wrong. " Lina's voice was stil calm and soft, but it was edged with steel. "You see, I am not your boss anymore. You are fired. You have proven yourself to be as incompetent with my business as you are with your choice of attire. My lawyer wil be in contact with you. I'l make sure that she has several options drawn up for you to consider. Maybe one of them wil keep you out of court. Now, good day, Mr. Rayburn, and as my dear, sainted grandmother would say, Tu sei un pezzo di merda. Fongule e tuo capra!" Lina stood, smoothed her skirt and snapped shut her leather briefcase. "Oh, how rude of me. You don't speak Italian. Al ow me to translate my grandmother's sage words: 'You are a piece of shit. Fuck you and your goat!' Arrivederci. " Lina turned and strode through the professional y decorated office grinning wickedly at the wel rouged receptionist.