I was in finance. At least that’s what my mother always told people. “Alison’s in finance.”
But whenever somebody climbed onto a bar stool, bought me a drink, and asked what I did, I admitted to being a bank teller.
I stood on my feet eight hours a day, counted money that had been touched by hundreds if not thousands of strangers, and typed numbers into a terminal. I smiled and suggested people have a nice day. Day after day after day.
I didn’t know what people in finance actually did, but I imagined they could stomach their jobs.
I know. If I hated being a bank teller so much, why didn’t I get out and do something else?
Well, I recently did try another line of work, but discovered I missed the bank’s fulltime benefits too much to continue being a killer.
* * *
”Hey, Alison?” My brother slipped onto the stool next to me.
Eddie looked different somehow. The years had not been kind or unkind, just years. “You’re late.”
”First words out of your mouth.” Eddie shook his head. “Ten lousy minutes.”
”That might not seem like much to you, but I’m on the edge of bursting into sparkles here.”
”Oooh, sparkles. What are you talking about, Sis?”
”What do you want to drink?”
He licked his lips. “You buying?”
”That’s right.” I waved over the bartender.
”I’ll take a Bud.”
As soon as the bartender placed napkins in front of us, I ordered another red wine and Eddie’s Bud.
I lowered my voice. “Eddie, I need your help.”
My brother was in finance. At least that’s what my mother always told people. In reality, he worked at a pawnshop.
”I’m not kidding.” I thanked the bartender for the drinks and waited for him to walk away before I continued. “I have some items I think might possibly be worth an appreciable amount of money.”
I held up a hand. “Let me tell this my way.”
”As long as you’re paying.” Eddie sipped his beer.
”I work at a bank, and we just received a self-service change machine. Now, instead of the customers handing me cans, jars, and boxes filled with loose change, the customers simply pour the change into the machine, press the button, and bring me the slip with the total.”
”Fascinating.” Eddie took another sip of his Bud.
”Sometimes they argue with me. The slip says they turned in three thousand, four hundred, and twelve pennies, but they know they had more than that. So then I send them back to the machine to check the rejection tray.” I slowed myself with the wine. “People miss the rejection tray. And the red arrow pointing to the rejection tray. And the place in the laminated instructions where the rejection tray — and the red arrow — are mentioned.”
”So what’s this got to do with me? I mean, Sis, it’s good to see you, but I already know that people are morons.”
”Part of my job is dealing with the machine. I change the bags. I fix the jams. I empty the rejection tray of plastic game pieces, lint, arcade tokens, candy, metal slugs, crumbs, subway tokens, paper clips, staples, foreign coins. US coins that the machine doesn’t recognize for one reason or another.”
Eddie finished his beer and motioned at the mug until the bartender brought him another. Eddie drained half.
Speaking of. “You ever hear of a half dime?”
”The nickel? Yeah, people are morons, and a nickel is worth five cents. Great to see you, Sis.” Eddie put his hands on the bar as if preparing to push off.
”Wait.” I placed a hand on his arm. “I’m not talking nickels and dimes here, Eddie. The half dime was first minted in 1795 and then discontinued in 1873. The decision was political and not a bit unsavory. Half dimes? They’re worth a lot of money.”
“How much?” Now that I was talking his language, Eddie was willing to listen.
”The ones I found in the rejection tray today? A hundred thousand dollars.” I took a long sip of wine. “A piece. A hundred thousand dollars a piece.”
Eddie turned to face me. “You found some of these half dimes in the rejection tray at the bank?”
Not trusting my voice, I nodded.
”At first I thought they were foreign coins. I’ve built up quite a collection, emptying the rejection tray. But then I looked more closely and saw they weren’t. I checked them out online. I read their history. I calculated their value. These half dimes, they’re in near mint condition.”
”Did you tell anybody but me?”
”No. As soon I realized what I had, I called Mom and asked if she had a number for you. She was too excited by the idea of us being a family again to ask why.”
”Good. We need to keep this to ourselves.”
”I was afraid to take them to a dealer because I didn’t want to get ripped off. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Eddie nodded. “You did the right thing, the smart thing.”
”So what do we do?”
”First, we slow it down.” Eddie ordered another Bud. “No, make it an import.”
”Sounds right.” Eddie turned his smile on me. “Pawnshops pay cash for gold because gold can be melted down. You don’t have to worry about some crazy lady coming in with the police looking for her stolen necklace that was a gift from her late aunt. These half dimes, they’re going to be more difficult to move.”
”But you can move them, right?”
”Yeah. But coins, probably identifiable, certainly hot, they aren’t going to get top dollar. Going through me, you’re not going to get ripped off, but you aren’t going to see a hundred thousand a piece, either.”
”That makes sense. But why do you think they’re stolen?”
”How many of those half dimes were in the rejection tray?”
”So the owner is out over a million dollars. Somebody makes a mistake like that, they don’t wait for the bank to open the next day. On the other hand, some loser breaking into houses, scooping up change. He doesn’t know what he has. Doesn’t know what he’s missing.”
”Maybe there’s a reward.”
Eddie laughed. “Maybe the owner gives you a new hundred dollar bill. The bank gives you a certificate and a lollipop. So much for your once-in-lifetime opportunity.”
”So what do we do?”
”Like I said, we slow it down. I’ll make some calls. Explore the market. The half dimes, I assume they’re not sitting on your dresser.”
”They’re in my car. The ashtray. I was afraid to leave them at home, but I didn’t want to carry them in here in case somebody grabbed my purse.” I felt myself blush. “I know, I know. I’ve never seen a purse snatched in here, but I’ve never walked around with a million dollars in rare coins before either.”
”No, you did the right thing. Nobody is going to steal that Toyota you drive.”
”That car died. I’m driving a Ford now.” I smiled at Eddie. “It’s a cute little red car. Easy to park.”
”After I move these half dimes, you’ll be able to buy another six of them. One for each day of the week.”
”Actually, I want to do something nice for Mom.”
”She always wanted to take a cruise to Alaska.”
Eddie shrugged. “She always wanted me to be a doctor by day, major league pitcher by night. What Mom wants doesn’t matter for much.”
”She deserves to have at least one dream come true.”
”She deserves something all right.” Eddie sipped his beer. Wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I should hold the coins so I can produce them as soon as someone bites.”
”No.” I’d thought this through.
”It’s not that I don’t trust you, Eddie, but I need them closer than that. I need to be able to see them so I can convince myself that they’re real. I need that. Especially if we have to take this slowly.”
Eddie nodded. “I was just trying to speed things up a bit.”
”As soon as somebody bites, you call and I’ll be there.”
”Even on a work day?”
”Even on a work day. The kind of money we’re talking about, I can afford to irritate my boss.”
”Let’s order around round and celebrate.”
”I’ve had my limit.”
”Some food then. Appetizers. After we eat, if you get thirsty again, the offer still stands.” Eddie stopped the passing bartender for a menu. My brother talked as he skimmed the choices. “Meanwhile, we’ll catch up. I didn’t even know you had a new car.”
”It’s not so new any longer. I must have forty thousand on it. I’ve already done the rear brakes.”
”Still living with Mom?”
How many years had it been? “I have an apartment. My commute is only like fifteen minutes. Less if the lights are with me.”
I shrugged. “Guys don’t exactly trip over each other trying to date bank tellers. Maybe it will be different when I’m in rare coins.”
”That’s the spirit.” He flipped the menu over and back. “So how about some mozzarella sticks, some potato skins, and poppers?”
”Whatever you want, Eddie. I’m too tightly wound to eat.”
”I noticed that. You should have another glass of wine.” He pointed at my empty. “Help you relax.”
”I’m all set.”
”You got a lot to learn about celebrating.” Eddie grabbed the bartender and repeated his food order. “And some wings.”
”Plain, hot, or nuclear?”
”Nuclear.” Eddie paused. “That okay with you, Sis?”
”Make them nuclear. And I’ll take another beer.” Eddie drummed the bar with his thumbs.
”So what about you?”
He stopped drumming. Almost acted surprised I was still there. “What about me?”
”You married? Got a special someone? Kids?”
Eddie laughed. “Family slows you down. I like to keep things fluid.”
”Good. Not half-dime good, but good. The cops are a crimp, but as long as I keep my records general, there isn’t a lot they can prove. I give someone sixty bucks for jewelry. The cops ask to see what was brought in, and I show them some pieces of junk. They can’t arrest me for over-paying.”
”Isn’t lying to the police dangerous?”
”I’m a businessman.” Eddie sipped. “Besides, cops, they don’t really expect to recover anything stolen. I mention a name, someone to watch, and the cops come out ahead. They know that. I’m like their best friend.”
”Then why do thieves still bring you merchandise?”
”The cops only get enough small names to keep them happy. Meanwhile, I pay cash for gold. I pay cash for guns, no questions asked, and then turn around and sell them for cash, no questions asked.”
”You’re enabling criminals. Do you ever think about the people whose jewelry was stolen?”
”Ten minutes after the loss is discovered, the insurance company is notified. People call their insurance company before they call the cops. Don’t worry, Sis, everybody comes out ahead.”
”What about the person who owned the half dimes?”
”Depends on whether he came by them honestly and had them insured. If not, shame on him.”
”Maybe I will have another glass of wine.”
”Now you’re talking.” Eddie caught the bartender’s eye and motioned to my empty glass.
”This is going to be it for me.”
”No problem. We just need something to drink so we can toast the plan. Then you can nurse that glass the rest of the evening if you want.”
”I do have to go to work tomorrow.”
”And I don’t?” He acted as though I’d insulted him.
The bartender brought me my drink. “Appetizers should be up in a few minutes.”
Eddie raised his beer. “To the mint.”
”To the mint.” I tapped his glass.
We both drank.
My hand was a bit unsteady as I lowered the glass. So was my bladder. “I’ll be back.”
”Appetizers arrive while you’re gone, I’m going to start without you.”
I slipped off the stool and headed for the bathroom.
Eddie, he wasn’t half as bad as I remembered him. Of course back then I was still living under Mom’s roof, listening to Mom’s take on him, Mom’s version.
I blinked at the bathroom’s bright lights.
What did Mom say about me now that I was no longer living at home? Perhaps I was no longer in finance. Perhaps I was just another disappointment.
Maybe Eddie was right. Maybe I was throwing away my money sending Mom on a trip to Alaska. So what? The money was mine to throw away.
Sometimes you had to let the past be bygones.
I spun the roll of toilet paper until I found the edge.
Look what comes around.
Leaving the bathroom, I paused to let my eyes adjust to the darkness of the bar.
Really, they should do something about that. A person could get hurt. Especially if the person had too much to drink.
I wandered my way to my seat to find that both stools were empty. No Eddie. No surprise, the way he was putting down those beers. Must have a bladder the size of my head to wait as long as he did.
Taking my time, I managed to get on top of my stool.
Good thing I’d left the coins in the car as I’d left my purse here on the bar.
I watched steam rise off the appetizers. Reaching for a potato skin, I burned my fingers. Eddie ate half a mozzarella stick. I could eat a potato skin.
The roof of my mouth screamed.
I finished my wine. Eddie’s beer.
That potato skin was covered with lava.
Eddie was smart to begin with a mozzarella stick.
No, they were hot, too.
Maybe Eddie spent a few years working at the circus swallowing fire. That would explain why I never heard from him. How he could have eaten half a mozzarella stick.
The bartender asked if I wanted another drink. He was kind of cute.
”Ice water. Please.”
The bartender chuckled. “I told your friend to be careful, they were just out of the oven. Guess he was in too much of a rush to wait.”
I flashed a smile meant to disarm. “Maybe he thought I’d eat them all while he was in the bathroom.”
The bartender frowned. “I hate to break this to you, but he didn’t go to the bathroom. Your friend left.”
”I brought out the food while you were lurching towards the bathroom. Your friend grabbed a bite of mozzarella, waved at his open mouth, and left.”
I turned to look at the front door. “You mean he left?”
”I heard you say you were buying.” The bartender shrugged. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s free to go.”
”Yeah.” I handed the bartender my charge card. “He didn’t say he’d be back?”
”Didn’t say a word.”
* * *
Outside, I had discovered that Eddie had broken my car window.
He’d taken the half dimes.
He’d taken the quarters I kept in the ashtray for when I needed to vacuum my car.
He’d taken off.
Apparently Mom was right about Eddie.
Nobody at the bank the next day mentioned any missing dimes.
Twice-a-week calls to Mom never prompted mention of my missing brother.
I haunted the pawnshop, not knowing where he lived, but he never showed at work again after the night we met.
The night I called him.
After doing what needed to be done, I did what needed to be done. I brought my gold to the pawnshop, handed the money back over the counter, and purchased an unlicensed gun.
I hadn’t crossed a line.
I’d been pushed over it.
I practiced at the range until I no longer jumped at the bang, until I could group my shots on the same target, until my bitter rage solidified into resolve.
Then I set out to hunt him down, tracking Eddie by half dimes that appeared on the market, by whispers in chatrooms, by self-congratulatory boastings of treasures gained.
I waited until the purchase was near enough that I could go talk to the new owner without missing any work. I told him I wasn’t interested in the coin, only in the man who had sold him the item.
Eddie had been careless. He’d made the guy come to him, meeting at a dinner across the street from a motel.
In the end, I found Eddie in Room 114 with three half dimes and almost two hundred thousand dollars.
I left him with three bullet holes and a used gun wiped clean.
The half dimes now sat in a safety deposit box here at the bank. After all that happened, I was no less afraid of being ripped off.
It wasn’t like they were going to lose value.
Unlike the two hundred thousand, but there was no way I could put that to work for me without explaining where the cash came from. Besides, the interest we were offering, the money might as well sit there and collect dust.
Someday I’d tap into what I’d salted away. Once I figured out how without alerting the IRS.
Mom, I told her that Eddie had left me some money, and eventually persuaded her to take the cruise to Alaska rather than let the ticket go to waste.
She probably told her fellow passengers that I was in the travel industry.
In a way, she was right. She just couldn’t begin to understand how far I’d gone, how far I’d come.
Only to end up where I started.
”Is there anything else I can do for you? No? Well thank you for your business, and have a nice day.”
I smiled at the next person in line. “I can help you over here.”
Stephen D. Rogers is the author of “Shot to Death” and more than 900 shorter works. His website, www.StephenDRogers.com, includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.