Fiction #45 Alison
On reflection, I didn’t really trust Alison from the very first time I met her. The circumstances were unusual, granted, but there was no need for her to dismiss me in that way.
‘I’ve changed my mind.’ She stared at me for a few moments. ‘I’m not really interested in what you have suggested. I have never been interested in that sort of thing, so go away.’ She slammed the door.
I stood there open mouthed. ‘Well—of all the cheek…’ There really was no point in saying anything because I knew instinctively that the door wasn’t going to answer me—nor was she about to fling open the door again and invite me in—out of pure and simple sympathy.
I slouched my way back to my car, parked some distance down the street. Why I had parked away from her house escapes me. I guess I had my reasons at the time but events since that morning have blurred those reasons into insignificance. I sat in the car for maybe fifteen minutes. I’m inclined to think too much about events, people, situations and such things.
‘This is a situation,’ I said to the steering wheel. ‘At least—I think it is a situation.’ She doesn’t want to be involved, that’s painfully clear, I thought. I really don’t understand why. After all, she had appeared very keen when she broached the subject at work only yesterday. She’d even given me her address. I flicked on the radio but the music was so mournful I switched it off after thirty seconds.
My mind slipped back to the day we first met. It was at work in the bank three months earlier. I’d been on teller duty that morning because our regular, reliable, trustworthy teller had decided to take a day off unexpectedly that day and no relief teller could be arranged at such short notice.
‘Good morning. How can I help you?’ Our stock query to all customers was met with narrowed eyes and a mumble.
‘Deposit this cash,’ was her terse reply. She shoved over a bulky calico bag. I emptied the bag on to the counter in front of me and gave a low, barely audible whistle.
‘Cut the music,’ she snapped. ‘Just count it.’
The pile of cash was mostly fifty and twenty dollar notes, some loose but most in bundles.
‘This will take a few minutes to count,’ I said, beginning to sort the notes into piles, ‘because the piles are uneven numbers of notes.’
I began sorting the notes, and then flicked through each pile in the expert manner most competent tellers are expected to display. Haven’t lost the old skills even though I don’t do much teller work these days.
‘Fifty thousand, five hundred and seventy dollars,’ I announced. ‘Sell something valuable?’
‘Ssssh! Not so loud.’
I raised my eyebrows – just a little – and placed the notes in the special safe under the counter. There was no need to keep that much cash in the tray at my hip. I took her card and entered the amount.
‘Thank you Alison, all done,’ I said as I glanced at the name on the card and handed it back, along with her receipt. ‘Will there be anything else?’
She turned away and marched out of the bank without a word. Ungrateful floozy. I turned to the next customer and dismissed any further thoughts of her for the rest of the day.
Our normal teller returned the next day and I was back at my usual position at the help desk. Things went well until an hour after opening time. I had just spent fifteen minutes struggling to understand a customer on the phone, trying to get through to him that he really needed to come into the branch and attend to the matter in person. Some customers just didn’t understand.
I looked up as the manager Adrian approached my desk.
‘Tony—I’d like you to meet Alison,’ he announced. ‘She’s your new assistant.’
I must have done a double take. I know my jaw dropped and as I picked it up again Alison spoke.
‘We’ve already met,’ she said sweetly.
‘How did you…?’
I stared at her like a monkey caught stealing bananas from the fruit shop.
‘Tony served me yesterday when I had a little cash to deposit,’ she said. She winked at me, but not so Adrian could see.
From that point on our working relationship had been hard work. For the next three months we worked at close quarters on most days. The help desk was a busy spot in the bank and while I was grateful for the extra assistance, our working relationship was, at best, strained. I had only once made a tentative query about the fifty grand, but either she didn’t hear me, or she was hiding something. She never answered me, and I decided never to broach the subject again. Still, I was mighty curious about how she had come by so much cash, and why she was being so secretive about it.
I was therefore quite surprised – perhaps even delighted – when our relationship took a turn for the better some two months after she started to work alongside of me. There was a gradual thawing and a much friendlier atmosphere, not that Alison was ever totally frosty towards me or any of the other workers. I must say that her treatment of every customer was faultless. She was ideally suited to the position of helping people; patient, understanding and efficient with just the right balance of casual friendliness and astute business acumen.
‘Hey, Tony?’ she asked suddenly as we were closing up for the day. ‘I didn’t realise that you were so into philately. Brian told me during lunch.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, a little sheepishly. ‘It’s not something I generally broadcast much. I used to be teased about it a bit as a teenager.’
‘So – do you attend the local stamp club?’
‘I go to most meetings. I’ve made a few friends there, but really – they are all just acquaintances – not what you’d call close friends.’
‘I’ve got a few albums too,’ she admitted, eyes sparkling as she smiled at me. ‘When’s the next meeting?’ She hesitated. ‘I think I’d like to go with you.’
‘Tomorrow.’ I looked at her. No, she wasn’t teasing me. I think she was quite genuine. ‘Always the last Friday of the month. Want me to pick you up?’ She nodded, and we made the arrangements.
I slowly drove off down the street, glancing across at her house as I went by. The door was still firmly shut and there was no sign of Alison having changed her mind. I drove to the Philately Club meeting with confused feelings. I was not sure what had just happened, and why the sudden change in her manner. She had seemed so keen to go to the meeting with me.
The meeting was a bit of a blur, but I managed to get through it without too much extra trauma. In fact, one interesting matter of business made me sit up and take extra notice. Several members had recently had break-ins in their homes with valuable collections being stolen. One was estimated to be valued at around forty to fifty grand. While this was of interest to me in so much as I realised that I was somewhat careless about my own security, I really gave it not much thought after that.
The rest of the weekend that followed was a flurry of activity for me. A family reunion kept me away for most of the time. It was only late on the Sunday evening that I finally retreated to my study to work on my stamp collection, thinking I needed a little peaceful activity before the stresses of the work week.
‘What the…?’ I realised at once that something was missing. The filing cabinet where I kept my stamp collections was open. All my albums were missing. I’d been robbed. The next hour or so was taken up with helping the police with their investigations. I went to bed later than usual before a work-day, and never really slept all that well. It felt like I had been robbed twice: my collection and my sleep.
Monday morning added to my confusion. Alison didn’t turn up for work. She sent no message and her mobile went unanswered when I called. I feared something must have happened to her, so Adrian, ever the concerned boss, suggested I cruise over to her house and check on her after work.
The afternoon was terribly draining, as I was kept busy without Alison’s help at the desk. I was also constantly feeling like curling up in a corner and having an afternoon nap. It took quite an effort not to yawn in customers’ faces, especially those who were rude, or didn’t really know what they wanted.
Eventually I made it over to Alison’s home. There was no answer to my knock on the door. I went around the back and knocked there. Still no answer. I peered in through several windows – the house was totally empty. Unoccupied. Devoid of furniture.
The next day was even more perplexing.
‘She’s emptied her account.’ Adrian showed me a print-out. ‘Nothing left in her account. She had over a quarter of million in it. All gone – transferred to an overseas bank.’ He stared at the paper, and then at me.
We never saw Alison again. I still have no idea where her fifty grand came from, but I have my suspicions. And I never saw my stamp collections again, either.
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Copyright 2015 Trevor W Hampel.
You can read more of my short stories here.