If anybody was suffering because of Covid-19 in a non-medical kind of way it was Jake Milch. Some people hated being on the road, not Jake. He loved visiting customers and looking for potential new clients. He enjoyed eating at road side diners and he had an affinity for decent motels. Jake counted the number of days he was selling women’s garments to different stores and the number added up to two hundred and eighty two days. His car was his office.

Jake had a simple business model, he had a manufacturing plant that was in operation year round making knock offs of the most popular new fashion designs and releases. Jake had a philosophy, better to make the stuff you’re knocking off in the United States than depend on China.

He did venture into New York City for the Fashion Shows twice a year, but he never got a front row seat, organizers always tried to give him obstructed views. He didn’t mind, he had his people scattered around and as soon as the show was over, designs were being sent to his people at the plant.

Jake was happy. He was married to LC who was an amazing woman and who on occasion jumped in the car to keep him company. Some of his best road trips ever were with LC by his side. She was a wonderful wife and an amazing Mother to their three kids.

One of the things that made Jake’s life easy, was the fact that wherever he went, he would FaceTime at least twice a day with the kids. That was the rule and in a strange way it brought them all closer.

When Covid-19 first appeared, Jake figured it would be low numbers and it would vanish like the Swine Flu. Unfortunately he soon found out he was wrong and the idea of travel was over. The other problem was the virus was killing retail. He had started migrating his company LMM online, but getting buyers to find the site had been a challenge. He had hired an SEO expert, and was rewarded with a big bill and little visibility.

Jake was at home now and he and LC were working the phones together, trying to convince buyers that they would protect them. They wouldn’t have to pay for orders for sixty days. Unfortunately, the retailers said they couldn’t move existing merchandise and they didn’t know how long they could keep the doors open. Sales began to fall dramatically.

LC and Jake began to worry, and they thought the time had come to find out how much they had in terms of receivables coming in. Jake called Audrey their bookkeeper and she didn’t return his call. It was puzzling as she always was prompt when presenting numbers. Audrey had been his bookkeeper from almost day one. She was older but she took her job seriously. The only concern Jake and LC had about her was her insistence to do everything manually. She said she didn’t trust inputting numbers into an Excel file. She was sure she would screw things up.

The next morning Jake called again to arrange to get the books, and once again Audrey didn’t return his call. Jake said a silent prayer that Audrey hadn’t contracted Covid.

LC was able to track down Audrey’s daughter Melanie. She worked at an HR company and she was extremely friendly. She said her Mom had been spending a lot of time with the next door neighbours as they were in her bubble and had probably just missed the calls. Melanie promised to drop the books off on her way to work. She kept her promise.

Jake received a call from a person associated with the Federal Government. He thought that he was going to be in trouble for patent or copyright infringement but that wasn’t the case. The Government wanted to know if he could convert his factory into a place to manufacture masks and gowns for Medical professionals. Jake made a deal on the spot. The Government would send some experts to explain proper procedures and help reorganize the plant and Jake and his team would contribute to the effort to defeat the spread of Covid-19.

That night when he and LC were in bed, she put her hand on his shoulder. ‘’Honey when you sold all those black skirts with the pink flowers to JW in Austin, do you remember the size of the order?’’ Jake thought about it for a couple of minutes. He got out of bed naked and went to his desk. He pulled out a small notebook and leafed through it. ‘’Yup, it was the last big order before the pandemic. I sold him fifteen hundred skirts for eighteen dollars a piece. He gave me a check for twenty seven thousand. I miss dealing with JW, I have to give him a call to see how he’s doing.’’

LC turned over on her side. Jake couldn’t believe how sexy his wife was. He had made a good choice marrying her. ‘’What about Sam Hadid in Tyler, do you remember the order he placed?’’ It didn’t take Jake long to flip through his book. ‘’On October tenth I sold Sam, two hundred skirts, one hundred sweaters, and one hundred and forty four coats. He gave me a check for seventy five hundred.’’

LC sat up in bed. ‘’One last question, how much did you sell Peter Williams in Bristow?’’ Jake smiled ‘’He bought ten suits, fifty sweaters and one hundred skirts for a total of twenty three hundred.’’ There was no response from LC except a low ‘’oh’’ and ‘’I love you honey’’ as she fell asleep.

When Jake got up the next morning, LC was in the kitchen pouring over ledgers. Jake walked in and went behind his wife, put his arms around her waist and kissed her neck.

He sat down at the table and she looked up from the books ‘’How long has it been since the books were audited?’’ Jake thought for a minute and said Never. ‘’Our books are prepared by Audrey, she takes them to Fred Blaine, he goes over them, signs off and we pay our taxes.’’

LC poured him a cup of coffee and shook her head. ‘’I have bad news. I hate to tell you with the pandemic and the decline in our sales, but I think Audrey has been robbing us blind the last few years. I compared the sales numbers, and I know you did one point three million two years ago. I know it for a fact, but when I looked in the ledger, it reports that you only did a million in sales. I know we had four hundred thousand in expenses and after tax we cleared four hundred and fifty. The problem is the numbers are off, she only reported a million in sales, where’s the other three hundred thousand?’’

The rest of the morning was spent going over Jake’s sales orders and what was recorded in the books. There was money missing from every order.

Jake insisted in giving Audrey the benefit of the doubt. ‘’Honey, she’s been with me a long time, she wouldn’t steal. She goes to Church every Sunday. She lives a very humble life. I would’ve known if something was fishy.’’ In order to compromise on finding out if her husband had been ripped off by someone he trusted, LC called a major Forensic Accounting firm in Chicago, and provided them with Jake’s books recording sales.

Two days later LC received a call ‘’Since twenty ten it looks like the numbers have been manipulated not to record actual sales figures. It is our estimation that about three million dollars has been misappropriated since that time.’’

Both Jake and LC felt sick to their stomachs, how could Audrey have done that to them. She had been a part of their family. They decided they’d confront her and decide how they wanted to proceed once they heard her story.

Audrey continued to be elusive for a few days. She didn’t take calls and wouldn’t come to the door when they went to her house. Jake and LC knew she was home but she pretended not to be there. Even the affable Melanie had gotten snarky when they called her. ‘’Look, I’m not my Mother’s keeper. She is busy with a lot of things. I’m sure she’ll call you if she can find the time’’ and with that Melanie slammed down the phone.

At the end of the week, Jake was shopping at Winn Dixie with LC for some groceries when they spotted Audrey buying donuts. She looked very rough. Jake approached her from one side, LC was on the other. There was no way Audrey could escape.

Jake looked at her and began talking through his mask ‘’Audrey, we hired a Forensic Accountant to go over our books. Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of time to review things during this pandemic. It seems that we’re missing about three million dollars since twenty ten and you’re the only one who ever touched the books.’’

Audrey’s face went deep red. ‘’Okay, here’s the deal. Fred Blaine signed off on the books so I didn’t do anything wrong.’’ LC looked at her incredulously. ‘’Audrey, are you on Fucking drugs. You stole three million dollars from us, how do you figure you didn’t do anything wrong?’’

There was a pregnant pause and Audrey looked around the grocery store, like she was looking for an escape exit. ‘’I have enjoyed working for you, Jake you’re a good man, but you should’ve paid me more. I deserved the money. Here’s the thing, I’ve been playing at the Moolan Casino in Henderson and I go on different streaks. Since twenty ten my streaks haven’t been very good. I could probably get fifty thousand back to you. I never lost the money all at once, but I was steady in my losing. I know I’ve probably lost my job, but if we can work things out, I’d like to take you to the steak house at the Casino. They make a great Filet Mignon. Let’s be honest you don’t want to send an old lady with a gambling addiction to jail. Maybe I can work the money off or something like that. I know I shouldn’t have stolen it, but you were doing so much business I honestly believed you would never notice the difference and you didn’t until this damn virus.’’

Jake’s heart was breaking. He had trusted Audrey all the years and she had been ripping him off. It all seemed surreal.

When Audrey walked outside of the supermarket the Police were waiting for her. LC had called them as soon as Audrey confessed. Jake might have had reservations about having her arrested, LC didn’t feel the same way at all.

There was a backlog of criminal cases to be heard, and Audrey’s was pushed back to September, twenty twenty one. The Judge let her go home and placed her under house arrest which was fine for Audrey because she didn’t want to go anywhere during the pandemic.

When they went to bed, LC looked at her husband. ‘’You are a good man and I’m thankful everyday I married you. I know charging Audrey wasn’t easy, but she screwed us over and has to pay a price for it. The good news is I spoke to the plant this afternoon. The mask making is working out beautifully and they are starting a fifth line. Our revenue is projected to be one point six million by the end of the year. We will have increased our sales by three hundred thousand for the year and you didn’t have to be on the road. One of the guys who works for the Government mentioned that if we start manufacturing hand sanitizers, they’ll place an order for three million dollars worth of bottles. What this all means is that every dollar that was stolen will be back in our pockets. Can you believe it. This pandemic is horrible, but it has helped our bottom line.’’

Jake turned and looked at his wife, gave her a passionate kiss and smiled. He then said ‘’I’m grateful that things worked out regarding our sales, but I would be a liar if I didn’t say I missed the live interaction with our customers and those road side diners.’’

LC laughed and gave him a kiss. ‘’I promise, one day this will all be over and we’ll hit the road again. Until then, lets enjoy each other, the kids, and our business. I was thinking, maybe we could start a sixth line of masks and make them really fashionable.’’ Jake laughed ‘’I wonder what the mask season is looking like in New York, I’m going to have to make some calls tomorrow.’’

Alan Schwarz loves life. He is the founder of JAMS Productions, a television production company based in Toronto . His passion is writing.

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