Hannah’s feet screamed in her too-small heels by the time she arrived at the start of the line. Checking her watch, she winced at the fifteen remaining minutes before the end of her lunch hour.
At the wall of stalls a teller, whose sign named her Betty, counted dollar bills. Once finished with the last pile of ten, she bound them all with a rubber band, and tossed them into the drawer by her waist. “Next!”
Hannah cringed, and stepped to the barred window. “Good morning,” she said, working a smile onto her lips.
Betty peered through the bars. “How can I help you?”
“I’m looking to cash this check.” Hannah fumbled with the wrinkled rectangle, and pressed the folded edges flat before slipping the check through the tiny slot. Adding her bank card from the opposition across town, she seized her purse straps and held her breath.
Betty plucked the check by the edges, and played trombone until reaching the right distance from her gilded spectacles. Frowning, she puckered her lips as if a lemon had spontaneously stained her tongue. “I’m afraid we can’t honor this.”
“I know it looks terrible-.”
“The signature’s illegible.”
“You must have come across these before. If you look up the address you’ll find Ted Erickson. He was my grandfather, which explains the date.” Hannah pointed at the check’s top right corner but ran into the stall’s glass window with a thud. “The seal there is an old one for this bank.”
“I can see that,” said Betty, giving the check another glance. She let out a sigh, her displeasure audible. “I’m going to have to check with my manager.”
“Should I stay here?”
Betty gave her a curt nod before sliding a “Please Wait” sign in front of her window. Behind Hannah, those in line released a collective groan as the teller sauntered away.
Checking her watch again, Hannah closed her eyes, and inhaled a calming breath. When she opened them again, Betty’s sign glared back.
“I’m trying,” she whispered to the patient advice.
Glancing to the side, she noted the other teller’s steady progress through the waiting shop owner’s cash deposit, and then the toe-tapping irritation stretching through the pylons and leading to the front door. A few of those waiting peered at their watches, and more than one rolled their eyes and scowled. Hunching into herself, Hannah leaned onto the brief counter, and bowed her head.
Minutes later a pair of footsteps drew her chin from her chest. Betty, followed by a silver haired man with a faux-tan beneath his pin-striped suit, appeared around the corner. Betty swept her arm in an indicating gesture, and the suited man’s smile stretched.
“Mrs. Walters, I’m Vince Paul, the manager of this bank. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Um, thank you.”
“If you would join me at the end of the counter?” Vince motioned toward the right wall, where a glass barricade revealed hints of the bank’s vault.
“Sure,” said Hannah.
As Hannah wobbled to meet him, Betty flipped down her sign and bellowed again, causing the next person in line to leap to her window.
Hannah’s frown remained as Vince unlocked and held open the barricading door, allowing her passage inside. The minutes absent from work collected in her thoughts like autumn leaves. “So, can you cash my check?”
“Oh yes, most certainly.” Vince led her on, to where a second door gaped. “But there are actually some other matters with this account we need to discuss.”
“Why don’t you have a seat?”
Hannah nearly stumbled as they arrived at a mahogany-lined office with a fortress-sized desk strewn with manila folders and envelopes. Traversing the plush carpet, she perched on the edge of a leather chair facing the back of standing photographs and a computer monitor. After closing the door, Vince rounded the corner, settled onto the facing seat, leaned onto the evergreen blotter, and clasped his hands. His smile stretched. Hannah gulped.
“I’m curious, Mrs. Walters, as to how you found this check.”
“Well,” Hannah licked her lips and clasped her purse. “I inherited my Grandpa Ted’s library. I was sifting through the collection, trying to make sense of it, and this tumbled out. I know it’s not much, but,” she shrugged, “with how things are going these days, an extra hundred sure comes in handy.”
“Oh I completely understand,” said Vince, his diamond-studded pinky ring gleaming. “You spoke of an inheritance and well, our Erickson account has a stipulation attached to it, a similar last order if you will.”
Vince grinned widened to the point Hannah began growing concerned for his cheeks. “The wielder of this check, number 142, you see, is to have access to the funds associated with this account.”
Hannah wilted, and sensed her boss’s annoyance through the surrounding bookcases. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“The money in Mr. Erickson’s account, the account where this hundred dollars will be taken from and then given to you when we cash this check, is now yours in total. In essence, you have gained another bank account with those funds left by Mr. Erickson.”
“Like a checking account?”
“That’s very nice, I guess, but I can’t imagine there’s much in there.”
“With the compound interest over the past 80 years the total comes to two million dollars.”
Hannah stared at Vince, and waited for his smile to turn into a malicious grin, for his patronizing tone to shift to cold sarcasm, for the unexpected hospitality to transition into an escort from the premises. None occurred in the next heartbeat.
Instead, Hannah laughed into the tense silence whose coverage rivaled the floor-to-floor carpet beneath her feet. Joining in her chuckle to a lesser extent, Vince procured a lone folder at his elbow, and opened the cover. The top page, faded with age and mottled with the echoes of paperclips, faced her like a stop sign.
Every letter indented the surface from the typewriter’s pressure as each word, and sentence in the trio of paragraphs filled the page. Hannah skimmed the wide lines, and then backtracked, reread and read again. The situation Vince described lay articulated before her in older phrases and antiquated terms. The second paragraph provided details of her Grandfather’s desire to provide for his only grandchild, but only should she show the fastidiousness to attempt cashing the check. His flowing signature, along with the bank manager at the time, completed the order in blue ink and spotless penmanship.
“Congratulations, Mrs. Walters. You’ve just become a very wealthy woman.” Vince extended his hand across the table.
Shifting her wide gaze from the page, Hannah jerked her hand from the letter and shook.
“Now,” said Vince, “first things first. How about we cash that check?”