Aziraphale had been asked, no less than forty-seven times, what, precisely, the “G” stood for in Gabriel, Michael, Uriel & G.
“It’s an accounting firm,” he’d say. “The G’s always been there.”
“Well, yes,” said Mrs. Hopkins of Hopkins Meats and Fine Processed Cheeses. “But it must stand for something.”
“Unfortunately I am the wrong man to ask,” Aziraphale said, giving her a smile and taking his calculator from her. “Now, I believe that’s all for us for the month. You are welcome to pay your fee here, or—”
“Mail it in, I know, Aziraphale.” She sighed and reached for her purse to pull out her checkbook.
“Or pay online,” he said cheerfully. Mrs. Hopkins gave him A Look. “I know,” he said, and waited until she was finished. “I hope you have a very productive quarter, Mrs. Hopkins.”
“I hope the same for you, dearie. You sure I can’t send you home with a ham?”
“Come on, love.” She went behind the counter and started getting out some paper and string. “You work hard. Le’me tempt ya.”
Aziraphale sighed. “Yes, alright.” He did adore ham. And he wasn’t going back to the office after this, so there was no reason it’d go bad. He waited eagerly as she finished tying the knots, then put the ham into a large, brown paper bag.
“There you are,” she said, and smiled. “Have a good rest of the week, love.”
“And you, Mrs. Hopkins.” Aziraphale took the bag, picked up his briefcase, and gave the woman a cheerful nod goodbye.
The Gabriel, Michael, and Uriel parts of Gabriel, Michael, Uriel, and G were Aziraphale’s least favorites. Uriel had a very dry sense of humor, but didn’t seem to like the jokes of others. Michael was incredibly intrusive, and often appeared just over Aziraphale’s shoulder when he wasn’t expecting it.
And Gabriel — lord above, how did one describe Gabriel?
Gabriel was not the original founder of the accounting firm. Aziraphale had been told that’s what the “G” was for, but also told not to ask too many questions about the “G.” Wasn’t very becoming, apparently. Gabriel was chiseled and handsome, an American who’d been hired on by the firm some years ago to whip things into shape. He’d stayed on, and been making Aziraphale’s life extremely difficult ever since.
Case in point: Gabriel had come into Aziraphale’s office, uninvited, and take a large stack of folders off the chair in front of his desk, set them on the floor, and sat across from him.
“Busy?” he’d asked.
“Got a job for you.”
Aziraphale sighed. “I am already doing a job, Gabriel. Reverend Dale’s personal taxes from the last year are a mess, and he hasn’t kept his receipts in proper order. It will take days to sort through this—”
“I need you to go downstairs and toss the old accounts. Find the ones that are still active, paying that automatic fee, and see what their status is before the move.”
“...I don’t understand.”
Gabriel sighed. He often did this when he felt like Aziraphale was behaving like a child. He was not. He was behaving like an accountant who’d been given a task that seemed like the job for Maria, their new secretary, or Peter, their extremely eager intern. Aziraphale was some years older than Gabriel, and had been working at the firm longer than he’d been there. He did not like being given a task that was better suited to an hourly wage worker. He was an accountant.
However, going downstairs into their ancient brick building would mean he’d be left alone for some time. And, if he found anything good, it’d be much easier to keep the cases for himself, rather than sharing with anyone else. He’d be needed the distraction, once they’d moved into their nice, glass building that, somehow, came with several cramped, windowless offices — one of which Aziraphale would be sharing with three other accountants.
“Yes, alright,” he said, before Gabriel could patronize him. “I’ll get to it.”
“Great! Way to be a team player.”
Gabriel had all sorts of strange, American expressions that Aziraphale detested. Way to be a team player was one of them, largely because it did not mean what his cursory Google search brought up, that being:
Participating alongside a large group (or team) and doing work
that furthers the goals of the group as a whole, and not the individual.
All the work Aziraphale was not praised for doing — clearing up some of the tougher accounts, securing new clients, and keeping the peace with old clients — absolutely furthered the goals of the firm as a whole.
Going downstairs and sifting through old boxes of records really just accomplished the task of cleaning out the basement, which could have been a group effort and a benefit to the firm as a whole, but instead was just a way to get Aziraphale out from underfoot, punish him for being friendly, and overcharge old clients who’d forgotten their accounts with the firm, well after their businesses were closed.
No. When Gabriel said, way to be a team player, what he meant was, “Thank you for agreeing to whatever I said, arguing with you is a one-way ticket to an aneurysm I don’t want to have at such an early age.”
Aziraphale could not often read between the lines. Gabriel, however, was more of an open book than he’d have everyone believe.
There were, approximately, thirty-one files in the basement. It was not an arduous task, clearing it out — yet another reason why Aziraphale partially resented being given the task. They could have all easily done this in ten minutes. However, if Gabriel wanted Aziraphale to disappear, then he would. He took a very long lunch perched on a stack of files that had long since expired. Only three accounts seemed to have any hope of being transferred to their new, more expensive, system.
The first two were, unfortunately, deceased. The families of Mrs. Nutter and Mr. Pulsifer were not thrilled to learn they’d been charged a very small fee leftover from the 1970’s each month. Aziraphale tried to explain that it’d been automatically removed on the second of each month ever since the original contract had been signed, but that it was so insignificant by now it was very understandable that they’d missed it. Aziraphale terminated their contracts due to the fact that the original signers were very much deceased and decided he’d take whatever punishment Gabriel would dole out.
The third account belonged to an Anthony J. Crowley. He and Aziraphale were roughly the same age, which would have made his passing rather sad if it’d happened. However, a quick search told him that Mr. Crowley owned a reputable plant nursery not too far from their office, and that he, like the Nutter and Pulsifer estates, had had a small feel taken from his accounts on the second of each month with no argument. This, he thought, might be worth something.
Aziraphale tucked the Crowley file into his briefcase, tidied up the basement, set the old files out for shredding, and turned out the lights.
Upstairs, Gabriel was locking his office door as Aziraphale approached. “I’ve finished,” he said.
Gabriel made a face. “You’re dusty.”
“I was in the basement,” Aziraphale said, trying to maintain his composure.
“Whatever. Did you find anything worth keeping?”
“Perhaps. I’d like permission to follow up on it. With,” he added, “a commission.”
Gabriel raised a brow. “...Alright. But only if you can get whoever it is to sign or cancel before we move next month. Any longer than that and you get nothing.”
Aziraphale nodded. “Seems fair enough.”
“Great!” Gabriel put a hand on his shoulder. “I really appreciate you doing that. The team appreciate you doing that.”
Aziraphale forced a smile and watched Gabriel head down the stairs.
Aziraphale had wanted to sell books, when he was younger. That’s why he’d started collecting them. After several years, his collection had grown rather large, and he’d had to rent a small, climate-controlled unit not too far from his flat. Former army sergeant Shadwell operated the unit with military precision, strictness, and protocol. Aziraphale was more than happy to comply — he liked Shadwell, and helped with his taxes for free each year.
“Here to inspect the troops?” Shadwell asked, after the third part of the sign-in process had been completed.
“Of course,” Aziraphale said. He went to the unit once a week to make sure everything was alright, to sit in the chair he kept there, and be surrounded by his books. Sometimes he even read one.
“You’d make a nice, fat sum if you sold some of those, I bet.”
“Maybe someday, sergeant.”
“Ay, sir. I understand.”
Aziraphale smiled and took the key to his unit. It was very nice inside, he thought. Shadwell did an excellent job of keeping the spaces in good shape, and so Aziraphale couldn’t really find anything to complain about. Except for the fact that he had to visit his books like they were children he’d lost in a very tense divorce.
Someday, he thought. I’ll be done with all that other nonsense. I’ll have enough put away to open my shop. All he’d need to do is sell a few nice copies a year, probably. Some of what he owned was worth quite a lot. He’d had several volumes discreetly valued.
As he sat in his chair, he took out the Crowley file once more. It wasn’t very thick, and didn’t specify what kind of business the owner of the account had run. Simply that his income would be submitted each month, taxed and dealt with accordingly. Nothing had been down with the account in eleven years, however, and the firm had no record of Crowley’s plant nursery anywhere in their accounts. Aziraphale had to assume, therefore, that whatever business Crowley had before was no longer active, and that his nursery either dealt with its money in-house, or with another firm.
Gabriel wouldn’t like that at all.
He would like it if Aziraphale could convince him to either transfer his business with them, or pay the rather hefty severance fee to have his contract officially voided. Either way, Gabriel would be pleased. He would not be pleased if this Crowley fellow managed to slip away from them, and they continued to take out a very paltry eighty-one pounds from his account each month.
The severance fee was...much higher.
Aziraphale sighed. He spent another hour reading a newly acquired volume of Elizabeth Barrett Browning poems, drinking tea from his thermos, and planning out the following day.
It had been quite some time since he’d gone plant shopping.