Isle Of Second Chances – Episode 25

The huge 1960s concrete multi-storey office block looked intimidating. Inside, the drab corridors and waiting area seemed designed to bring penitents to their knees.

Nicola was on the last lap now. The Highland Council legal eagle had huffed and puffed, but gradually had allowed his feathers to be smoothed. At a cost.

However, this next interview was the big one; without this, the rest would collapse like a house of cards.

Nicola curbed her impatience. Lose focus now and she could be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Besides, this one, though tougher, was also paradoxically easier because she was back on the familiar ground of figures.

Schooling herself to patience, she listened to the clicking of computers and sound of voices murmuring in the open-plan office. No need for her to check any figures now, past or future: all the data was engraved in her mind.

“Nicola Stephenson? Please come with me. Mr Coughrin will see you now.”

Nicola followed the trim secretary down another short corridor and waited until the tap on the door brought a brisk, “Come in.”

Opening the door, the secretary stepped back and Nicola entered a large, functional grey office.

No books. The Spanish Inquisition had seen no need for books – neither did Her Majesty’s Tax Inspectors.

Mr Coughrin was a tall, spare man, younger than she expected. He rose, shook hands and glanced down at the business card she had given to his secretary that morning.

“Ms Stephenson,” he said mildly. “These are pretty strong credentials. Your aunt may have been lucky in her choice of advocate. However, she is going to need all the luck you can find for her. Sit down, please.”

Nicola sat in the chair across the desk from him while he leaned back into his own, more comfortable office chair.

He smiled quizzically.

“Shall you start, or will I?”

Nicola forced a smile.

“Guilty as charged,” she said. “But there are reasons for this, and other circumstances which you will not be aware of, but which you might want to factor into your decision.”

“A good word – factor,” he said. “Carry on.”


*  *  *  *

Thirty minutes later he looked up from the papers on his desk.

“And these represent, to the best of your knowledge, trading accounts for the last three years of your aunt’s business. How accurate are these figures?”

“Surprisingly accurate,” Nicola said. “Where we could check them against the accounts of her mainland suppliers, they were perfect. Likewise, the council tax and electricity charges which were made.”

She shrugged.

“They are as close a record to what was happening as we are likely to have. The centre never has been run as a business. It’s simply a title under which an unworldly lady helped others.

“My aunt’s never been self-employed in the strict definition of the term. She’s taken nothing from the centre – indeed, as you see from the copies of the bank statements, she has emptied her own resources to keep the centre running.

Mr Coughrin nodded, his eyes still fixed on the figures, as she went on.

“The loss it shows for each year’s work is genuine. You can check that with her bank. So there is no tax due. She has never claimed any of the business grants or allowances to which she was entitled.

“There’s been no tax evasion. Her only current source of income is her state pension – no interest from savings, no dividends from shares. These have all been used up covering the running costs.”

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!