I grabbed a checking withdrawal slip from one of the cubbies out of the big waist-high table in the middle of the lobby. My mind had not yet stopped racing, and I started to get second thoughts. To get my focus back, I did what I always did when the stress becomes too much to bear.
I slowed down. I breathed – in and out – five times.
In a matter of seconds, my perception changed, and instead of just looking at everyone, I started to see them. Yes, there were a lot of people in the bank, and there was some whispering and pointing going on, but the more I took it in, the more I realized no one had noticed me. There was a manager behind the rail, but he was leaning up against a counter, talking to one of the older ladies. Most of the office doors off to the left were closed, and the open ones were vacant.
Things were going to be okay.
I filled out the withdrawal form just as Nate had said and signed his name like a champ. The one cheat we allowed was the account number, and I had it written on a sheet in my wallet. Made sense since no dude my age would have known his own bank account number anyway.
Now I had to choose the right teller. There was one elderly lady with her hair pulled back tight. She had probably been there since back in the days when a free toaster came standard with a new savings account. Translation: she was an old-fashioned rule follower. A pass for sure.
The next prospect was a complete opposite. College student, but not at USM. Probably William Carey. Remarkable in just how odd she was. It looked like she got her fashion guidance from the clothing section in a JC Penney catalog, but altogether skipped the pages offering grooming or hygiene implements. Add to the mix side-parted oily bangs and runaway teeth, and I knew she was a pass as well. I don’t do well with bad smells from girls, and she looked to be potentially off the charts.
The next two were housewife types, one a divorcee who was looking, and one still in the happy throes of a young marriage. I almost went to the more seasoned one, but they were so chatty, I was concerned the two would want to consult on the merits of my case. A teenager seeking to withdraw an amount that probably eclipsed their collective annual salaries was certainly fodder for discussion. No good either.
Then I found what I was looking for. The last lady in the line was a slightly overweight middle-aged black lady with a Tina Turner wig on. For some reason, I have always gotten along with black women, especially older ones. I’ve always been drawn to their kindness and the fact that they laugh at anything – really laugh. Most love to hug, and as a kid, I can recall being happily enveloped in many an ample bosom when I visited my mom during her shift at the hospital. She saw me and waved me over.
“Hey baby, what you got?”
“I, uh, need to make a withdrawal.”
“You got your slip all filled out I see.”
“Yes, yes I do, uh, . . . Yvette?” Her blouse was partially blocking her nametag.
“That’s me, honey. Give it over here, now.” She motioned at my hand and I slid the slip across the marble counter and watched her eyes. They flickered, but not for long. Her hands flew across the keyboard, unencumbered by her long fingernails.
“Dang, boy, you kind of young to be swinging this much gold, huh?”
“Old enough,” I said, watching her look at the account history. “My dad made some investments that turned out in my favor.”
“I would say so,” she said, “good for you.” She chuckled. “I wish I had a daddy like that.”
Oh the irony.
“Planning on buying a big gift today, huh?”
“Yes ma’am. Buying a car.”
“Yep. For my birthday.” She was starting to get a bit too comfortable with the situation, and I was ready to move on. “It was just a few days ago.”
She stopped typing and looked up at me with one eye squinted. “Whatever you do, don’t spend this kind of money on a girl, now, you hear? Unless it’s your mama.”
“My mom would love a gift, for sure.” Now there was some truth.
Someone got in line behind me and cleared his throat. Yvette put the back of her hand to her forehead like she had a fever, then stood up out of her chair to see over my shoulder. “We’re doing business here, aight? You see them other lines?” The man moved on.
“Some people,” she said, shooing him along. “You got any I.D., baby?”
This was it. The real test. Could I keep cool enough to not blow it? I slid the drivers’ license across the counter and then pretended like I was looking through the Dum-Dum jar. Actually, I kind of was really digging in there. I like the root beer flavored ones. Everything was fine until she said, “hold on” and walked away.
My legs turned to jelly, my hands started shaking, and I no longer wanted a sucker. I just wanted to get out. I looked over at the door. By my estimate, I was ten to fifteen paces away in case I had to sprint. Add to that another ten seconds or so, since I parked on the side and –
I turned back, and standing next to Yvette was a prematurely balding man in his thirties wearing a short sleeve dress shirt and a striped tie with a grease spot on it. The tie was seven years too old and three inches too high.
“Is everything okay?”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but he didn’t look mad, and he wasn’t motioning for security to come and haul me away, so I stood as firm as I could. I wonder if he could see my hand clamping on the countertop. If this was going to work, I had to pull it together, so I took a deep breath, stood straight up and looked him in the eye and tried to channel Abe Froman.
“Yessir. Is there a problem?”
“I certainly hope not,” he said and smiled, holding out his hand. “My name is Patrick Ladner. I’m the branch manager.”
I gave him a good grip in return. “Nate Mayes. Nice to meet you.”
“I haven’t seen you here before. You are . . . younger than I would have imagined.”
“Good genes, I guess.”
“Uh, yes. I just wanted to come follow up with you and make sure you are happy with the services Magnolia Federal has been providing. We sure hate to lose a good customer like you.”
“Any particular reason why you’ve taken such a large amount out today?”
This was the second time they got a little too personal with the questions. Yvette got a pass, because I don’t think she meant anything by it. This cat, however, was probing. I didn’t know much about banking etiquette, but even I knew he was crossing a line here by asking me why I was taking money out. Even if I looked like I was ten years old, he had no right to ask me about my intentions.
“Mr. Ladner, I don’t discuss my business publicly, and frankly, I don’t see how it is any of your business why I’m making a withdrawal. Now I would just like to get my money and go, please.”
He looked around to see if anyone was listening before he spoke. “I’m sorry, Mr. Mayes, I didn’t mean to imply that I was asking about what you were going to do with the money. Not at all.” He leaned in and whispered. “I just wanted to see if we had done something wrong that made you want to clear out your account. Between your call earlier for the wire transfer, and now this withdrawal, you are down to your last few hundred dollars.”
Wire transfer? I stared at him and he stared at me. I, of course, had no idea what he was talking about, but he didn’t know I had no idea what he was talking about. I got short with him again.
“Sure, there’s a reason I made that call, Mr. Ladner. But now is not the time or the place to discuss. Especially in front of all of these people.” I motioned grandly, but not too grandly. “Is your manager here? I don’t know what he would say about this inquiry you have begun.”
He straightened his tie. To my surprise, it was not a clip on. “Inquiry?”
“Yes, I feel like I’m being interrogated.”
“I am sorry. Again, that was not my intention –”
“Good.” I had probably pushed it as far as I needed to, and it seemed to have worked. All that was left was to move in for the close, get the money and get out.
Then he tested the waters.
“Just for security purposes, can you remind me of the number you called in from earlier today, Mr. Mayes? The one associated with the account?”
We had memorized Nate’s full name. We had memorized his social security number. We had even memorized both of Nate’s most recent addresses – Hattiesburg and Gulfport. And of course, we memorized his date of birth.
We barely even looked at the phone number.
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