It was supposed to be a fairly standard accounting system installation: A few PCs, a LAN, a couple of copies of MS Office, and a tape backup. I was working for a VAR that specialized in just this sort of sale.
I had finished installing General Ledger, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Payroll, and the basic accounting applications most small businesses wanted. The custom income statement had been crafted. The patch for garnishments had been installed in the Payroll application. The bookkeeper had taken well to the training. All was going smoothly.
Something fishy is going on
But then at the end of what I thought might be the last training session, I got word via the bookkeeper that her boss, "Mr. Creep," wanted me to remove the sales tax line from the AR invoice. He wanted no mention of sales tax anywhere -- even no sales tax account in the General Ledger, despite what we had already set up.
This was a plumbing and electrical contractor that sold appliances. Surely if they sold a water heater to a homeowner, that would be taxable! I was certain there had been some misunderstanding and asked for the phone number for their accountant. After some fussing from the bookkeeper, I got it, gave him a call, but had to leave a message.
While I was on the phone I was trying to ignore a loud argument that seemed to be happening in Mr. Creep's office. I couldn't hear all of the words, but it seemed to have to do with some promise Mr. Creep had made to one of his employees, a plumber. After I hung up a I saw a burly guy in a company uniform storm out of Mr. Creep's office and run down the stairs.
The bookkeeper I was working with took a deep breath and didn't exhale. I stood still and did the same. "Keep quiet!" she whispered. And then, "Look busy, here he comes!"
I shuffled papers and boxes, cleaning up the office. Mr. Creep soon came in to check on us, obviously wanting to know what we had overheard but asking nothing directly.
I packed my briefcase and got out of there fast.
Back at our office, I found my boss, "Fred," and had a quick conversation about this unusual request. It seems he had received a call while I was out, from Mr. Creep, who had complained loudly about this "deficiency in our system" and demanded that it be corrected promptly and at no cost to him.
To me it seemed he wanted the accounting system modified in such a way that he could blame it for not correctly handling sales tax, and the change to the chart of accounts would mean he could argue there had been an omission in setting it up. Fred and I speculated that what we were being asked to do might land us in court someday, and he immediately put in calls to our CPA and attorney.
When I mentioned I’d tried to contact Mr. Creep’s accountant and mentioned the name, Fred knew of him -- apparently he had a bit of a reputation. "Wow, is he still practicing? That's amazing!" Fred exclaimed. Fred told me that this accountant had been solo ever since some scandal separated him from his partners several years ago.
The next day I was back at the client's business so I could install the software on Mr. Creep's computer. I had an appointment, but still had to wait a while to get access -- nothing was surprising me anymore. I loaded the disks, and then the patches, under Mr. Creep's watchful and suspicious eye.
Something more than the tax situation was making me nervous. Maybe it was Mr. Creep talking about his impending divorce. Listening to him trash talk his wife was not very entertaining. Maybe it was how overdressed Mr. Creep was -- I wasn't used to seeing thousand dollar suits in our small city. I still remembered the anger in his voice as he’d chewed on that plumber the other day. I didn't like his smile, which seemed pasted on his face so as to cover the real face, which was all about fangs and a pointed tongue.
He never showed me any anger, directly. Yet I was afraid to raise the sales tax topic. I got his custom menu done, a crude Executive Dashboard, and that completed the installation.
Then I went down the hall to talk with the bookkeeper and address any remaining training issues. While I was there, I heard back from their accountant, and the sales tax story got stranger still. He told me the company had a certificate exempting them from collection and remission of sales tax. I asked if we could have a copy of that certificate for our files, but was told that was impossibly difficult. I could swear I could hear him sweating over the phone.
Getting out in one piece
A couple of days later, my boss had heard back from our attorney and CPA firm. The sum of all the professional advice my boss received was simple: Run. Do whatever we were asked to do, but no more. Document everything, and disentangle ourselves from the client as fast as possible. Don't argue with the client and don't ask any more questions. Don't offer the usual annual maintenance agreement.
My boss outlined our exit plan. The first step was getting paid for our work. My boss struck a deal with Mr. Creep on the timing of the final check being cut, and delivery of the sales tax patch in Accounts Receivable was predicated on delivery of that check.
One last tense visit and the patch was installed, the check collected. As I stared at the check it occurred to me it might not clear. The creepy feeling in the pit of my stomach went away, but only after I got outside and was driving down the street.
The check did clear, and our dealings with Mr. Creep were over. But months later I read in the newspaper that child pornography had been found on Mr. Creep's office computer. He was locked up for a time but soon made bail. Who had turned him in? How did they know to search his computer? I was never able to find out.
They got Al Capone for tax evasion. Mr. Creep went to prison for something else. You never know how things will turn out.