At the start of Banks’ third week of leave, Ginger came again. Banks had been sleeping soundly, comforted by Sammy’s warmth and unwavering acceptance. Then suddenly, he was yanked from his sleep to find Sammy whining and trembling beside him. The dog was looking at the door, but it was closed. Banks felt fear creep over him. His heart raced, but he could not move. The model airplanes swirled slowly on the ends of their strings. The floor creaked.
“I need your help, Banks.”
“Please. My Dad’s in trouble, and I don’t know who else to turn to.”
Banks was too terrified to answer. He could not deny what he was hearing. It was Ginger’s voice. It was right here in the room with him, and Sammy sensed him too. Furthermore, this time he was saying things that Banks could not have imagined.
Ginger continued. “He’s run up debts everywhere – the butcher, the chemist, the grocer, the builders’ supply shop … He’s so far in arrears, they’re threatening to cut off his electricity and water.”
Were those the papers he kept hiding in the wooden box?
Ginger spoke rapidly as he’d always done when agitated – like when he’d talked about Spitfires shooting down an unarmed German rescue plane or when the auxiliary pilots had made snide remarks about the Skipper behind his back. “M’Dad was never good with numbers. Bills confuse him, so he ignores them.”
“He was fixing the cottage up for me,” Banks thought guiltily.
“No, that’s not it.” Ginger answered his thoughts. “It’s that he forgets to bill people for the work he does. He’s uncomfortable about writing and he doesn’t like asking for money. If people don’t voluntarily pay him cash, he doesn’t get paid. This last job, he had to buy a lot of supplies, but the Dalbys haven’t paid him back, much less paid for his time. Do you think you could help? I don’t want you to pay his bills for him, Banks, just see that he collects what others owe him.”
“Yes,” Banks answered in his head. “I can do that.” He was still too frightened to speak aloud.
“Thank you, Banks. I knew I could count on you.” Ginger’s voice changed a little. He was audibly smiling. “And don’t be frightened, Sammy. I won’t hurt you.” Then he was gone.
Banks could not sleep for a long time afterwards. He could not pretend to himself it had been a dream or figment of his imagination. It had been Ginger. And as the terror of an encounter with the dead receded, Banks found himself a little elated. It was comforting to think that Ginger wasn’t completely gone – and that there was something he could do to help repay Mr Bowles for his kindness.
In the morning, he waited until Mr Bowles had left to do some errands, then he went into the sitting room and opened the mysterious box Mr Bowles had on his lap every morning when Banks came down for breakfast. Instead of bills, he found only Ginger’s letters, all neatly removed from their envelopes and arranged by date. The first one was from Upavon on being mustered with the RAF after the start of the war.
Banks put the box back on the table and started a systematic search of the cottage. At last, in one of the kitchen cupboards, he found a stack of utility bills. There were six of them altogether. Although the sum demanded was not large, it was long overdue, and in the last notice, they threatened to cut off the electricity by the fifteenth of the following month if no payment were made. Banks slipped the final warning into his wallet and went out to his Jaguar, Sammy eagerly at his heels.
Banks knew in England many bills could be paid in the post office, so he went there and inquired about paying utility bills. Although Ginger had said he was not to pay the bills himself, Banks did. He had money. A lot of money. He had almost no expenses, and in addition to his RAF salary, his father’s bank was still paying him for some reason. Furthermore, he still had almost all the money his mother had given him. He went to the grocer’s, the butcher’s and the other shops that Mr Bowles frequented and settled all the accounts. Altogether it came to well over forty pounds. That was a lot, but Banks didn’t have any other use for the money, and it was easier than trying to confront people he didn’t know about not paying Mr Bowles. Finally, he stopped at the pub for lunch and sat outside with Sammy in the May sunshine. Only now did he stop to think about what he should tell Mr Bowles. He decided not to say anything at all.
Three days later, his deeds caught up with him. The grocer cheerfully told Mr Bowles what a wonderful young man “that friend of Ginger” was, adding that he had paid all of Mr Bowles’ arrears. Mr Bowles was too shocked to say anything beyond mumbling agreement with the grocer, but he was hopping mad by the time he got home to the cottage.
He confronted Banks angrily. His bills weren’t any of Banks’ business, he said. He was an honest man. He paid his own way. He’d never taken charity from anybody, and he wasn’t going to start now. He wanted to know exactly what Banks had spent. He was going to pay him back down to the last farthing.
“I never doubted that for a moment, sir. As soon as you’ve collected what’s owed to you, you can pay me back, but we didn’t want the electricity cut off in the meantime,” Banks countered.
“Who told you I haven’t been paid?” Mr Bowles demanded angrily.
Dead silence. After a long pause in which his anger dissipated, Mr Bowles asked, “He came to tell you that?”
Mr Bowles sank down on the sofa so heavily that it creaked. He wasn’t looking at Banks anymore, just staring. After another long pause, he noted, “He must be worried about me.”
“Yes, he is. I’d like to help in any way I can. I have the money—”
“I don’t take charity!”
“It’s not charity, Mr Bowles. I’m helping a friend, who has helped me more than anyone could ever repay.”
“I’ll pay you back,” Mr Bowles insisted doggedly.
“I know you will,” Banks paused, “maybe you could start by asking the neighbours you’ve been working for these past few weeks at least to pay for the supplies you’ve bought on their behalf.”
Mr Bowles looked at him with a heavy frown and declared stubbornly, “I don’t like asking people for money!”
“But it’s money they owe you.”
Mr Bowles frowned more intensely. “It’s none of your business.”
“Ginger made it my business. He asked me to help.” Banks found himself wondering how many of Mr Bowles' neighbours had taken advantage of him over the years? How often had their contempt for his intelligence and disdain for his simplicity been based on the fact that he hadn’t noticed they were cheating him?
“I’ll handle this in my own way!” Mr Bowles growled, hauling himself to his feet and stomping out of the room.
Banks drew a deep breath, suspecting he would do nothing. Part of him wanted to champion Mr Bowles, to confront the people who had looked down on him and made Ginger so miserable growing up. But if he did face these people, wouldn’t they just say, “typical money-grubbing Jew?” With a sigh he accepted there was nothing more he could do.
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