Accounting for It All
R.R. Campbell © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Miami, Florida—April 2017
Thursdays are my favorite days at Pornucopia.
For starters, it’s payday, and second, it’s in-house filming day, which means after a whole week of waiting, I finally get to work as a talent consultant again.
But it’s the simplest of things that make Thursdays the best of days, and there isn’t anything more predictable than the Thursday morning safe-looting operation.
Before I make it to the safe, though, I stop in the doorway of Jerry’s office for our routine Thursday conversation. “Morning, Jer.”
“We’re still doing this, huh?” He says it with a grin, so between that and me being—in his words—“a prized former starlet,” I know he doesn’t mind my teasing.
“I’m betting we only have a few thousand in the safe this week. Still want me to—?”
Jerry throws his hands up, pretending to look all exasperated as his double chin wobbles around. “Always. Go. To. The. Bank. Every Thursday. No matter how much or how little is in there. Always. Go. To. The. Bank.”
I repeat “always go to the bank” with him as he says it for the second time. “Right. How could I forget?”
“I won’t,” I say. And I never have.
I keep moving my way down our skinny, second-floor hallway and enter my office through the last door on the left. After I plop to my knees at the base of the filing cabinet, I ease out the bottom drawer. It slides with a terrible squeak—Jerry still hasn’t lubed it up with WD40 like he promised—and I lift the half-rusted safe from it, my palms running along its cool steel.
I punch in the combination and the safe clicks open, revealing the fat stack of cash inside. If Jerry’s makeshift receipt can be believed, we’re a tick under sixty-two hundred bucks.
As I double-check Jerry’s count, the graininess of each bill wears on my thumb. It’s probably my least favorite part of the safe-looting scheme, what with how tedious it can be. Honestly, for as much as I love the Thursday morning charade, I’d much rather be back talent-consulting full time. Or heck, even acting.
It could be worse, I suppose. Really, Jerry’s not bad where supervisors are concerned. He may be a ham-sandwich-pounding son of a gun, but since he’s the only person actually doing any accounting around here—and because he’s the only one who knows he’s the only person doing any accounting around here—I’ve got no plans to betray his trust.
After all, getting paid for five days of work a week when I really only have one? That’s a pretty sweet deal, if I do say so myself.
I wrap up counting Jerry’s stack of bills—a bit under six thousand two hundred, just as his scratch-paper receipt says. No need to count again; they’ll do that at the bank anyway. I wad it all together with a rubber band and exit my office.
Out in the hallway, I figure I may as well tease Jerry one last time before slipping downstairs and out the door. “Hey, Jer?”
My eyebrows knit when I hear nothing from him. I could’ve sworn I heard him shuffling around hardly a minute ago.
“Hey, Jerry.” Again the only response I get is my own breathing and the soft pad of my ankle-cut Chuck Taylors on the tiled floor.
I step into his office. “Hey, Jer. Looks like we only have a few thousand—”
There, facedown on his desk, rests the motionless body of Jerry Chalmers.
I drop the chunk of cash and rush to his side. “Jerry. Hey.” I shake him. He doesn’t stir. My fingers fly to his neck, then to his wrists in search of a pulse. Nothing.
After dashing back to my office, I fumble through my purse for my phone and dial nine-one-one.
Thursdays are normally my favorite days at Pornucopia, but this Thursday might change all that.
The police come and go. The coroner, too, and the ambulance drives off empty. Jerry was deader than dirt by the time even I’d found him, apparently. I guess that’s what you get for a lifetime of ham sandwiches and spreadsheets.
We decide to cancel Thursday’s in-house shoot, and Cee puts us on optional attendance until after the burial. Family we are, all of us, and Jerry—well, he was never “in the business” like us ladies were—are—but he was family all the same.
Hm. Every time I walk past his office—even now, a whole Thursday later—I expect to see him sitting there, chowing away. I shake my head as I leave his office behind and head for mine.
After fetching the safe from the cabinet’s bottom drawer, my fingers fly across its front as I pop in the combination. The safe clicks open and I reach my hand inside. The bills are there, all right, but it isn’t until I yank my hand free that my blood near stops pumping.
Jerry was the one who always put the cash in here. The receipt in his handwriting suggested so, anyway. So where did this new set of bills come from?
Back up a minute—why did I even bother showing up in the first place? I guess the Thursday safe loot and bank run were deeper ingrained in me than I realized.
I turn the cash over in my one hand, fishing around in the safe with the other. Oh no. Oh, Lord God, no.
Last week’s haul. It’s still in here. With all the hullabaloo around Jerry’s buying of the farm, I put those bills back in there and never took ’em to the bank. Mr. Ham Sandwich isn’t even buried yet, but if he were, he’d be rolling. “Always. Go. To. The. Bank,” I hear him say. My back tenses. I shoot up from my crouch, long locks of blonde hair swooping into the corners of my vision. I toss them aside as I plop the two sets of cash onto my desk and get to checking ’em out.
One wad has a receipt—Jerry’s original from last Thursday. The other has no receipt. None at all. I fire through the new set of bills to get a count. Eight thousand, more or less.
My phone tells me I still have time to make it to the bank before meeting up with Joss and Cee at the burial, but part of me wonders if I shouldn’t put this whole operation on hold until I can clear things up with Cee. Last thing I want to do as Pornucopia’s acting accounting manager—not that I have any clue what I’m doing—is put whoever we eventually hire in a bad way by botching the books.
I make to rubber band the fresh set of bills and toss it back in the safe, but a thought stops me. Jerry’s mantra. His damnable mantra. “Every Thursday,” Jerry’s voice says in my head. “No matter how much or how little is in there.”
Right. Stick to the normal routine, Robin: deposit the full value of the safe’s contents. Immediately withdraw ten percent. Leave that cash in the safe back at office. Write check for ninety percent of original deposit. Mail check to ENDOV SERVICES, P.O. Box 918. Lather, rinse, and repeat next week.
I tie up the new bills and tuck ’em into the bank bag with last week’s haul. I’m not gonna bungle these books, no. Jerry hasn’t led me wrong before. The best I can do is pretend nothing’s changed and sort out where the cash comes from later. Heck, the books probably have that information in there somewhere. If I force myself to learn to read them a bit, I’m sure I can find the answer on my own.
I unclench my fists and drop the bank bag into my purse.
The engine revs as I lay into the gas pedal of Babygirl, my ’05 Aztek. In light of her recent coughs and sputters, I shouldn’t ride her so hard, but there’s no way I’d ever give up on her. For now, she can take it—not that it’s right for Babygirl to have to pay for me being late for the burial, but here we are. I mean, really it’s kind of Jerry’s fault I’m running behind since I visited the bank as a tribute to him in the first place. So yeah. Thanks, Jerry. Or something.
I say a quick “rest in peace” under my breath as to not speak ill of the dead, just in case. I don’t need that on me.
My phone buzzes. I read but don’t respond to the prodding text from Cee before tossing my phone onto the passenger seat. It bounces at a bad angle, plopping on the floor with a smack. I cringe, but the sucker’s taken harder falls in its day. It’ll be all right.
With both hands back in control of Babygirl, I push it all aside. Today’s about Jerry and his family, not whether I’m late for something again.
My phone starts vibrating against the floor, crying out like I can only imagine a howling duck would sound. For a hot second, I shift my weight to reach over and take the call, but the phone’s slid into the passenger-side door. Way too far. Anyway, Cee or Joss can buzz right off. I’ll be there in a minute.
Fine. Ten more minutes.
When I pull up, the pallbearers are only just unloading Jerry’s casket from the hearse beneath the overhang some thirty yards away. I throw Babygirl into park before clicking my seat belt off and reaching across my center console for my phone. Gotta remember to put it on silent before hustling up there—well, no, I’ll take my time to prove a point. A nice, leisurely—
My heart finds my throat. I scrunch my eyes up and try to blink away the confusion once, twice, three times. But it’s still there. Every time I look, the voicemail is still there.
It’s not even the voicemail that’s got me struck dumb as a box of socks, though, not really. It’s who it’s from.
I look through the windshield toward the overhang. They’re only hauling in the casket now. I’ve got time.
My thumb finds the “play” button and I press my phone to my ear.
“Hey, Robin.” Her voice is still sweet—so sweet—but there’s something sad to it too. “It’s Sarah. Um, I know it’s been a while—a long while—but I wanted to let you know,” she says, suddenly getting giddier, “I’m moving down your way in the next couple of weeks.”
My heart blows up in my throat, pieces of it choking me as I struggle for air.
“So, I guess… If you’re still in the Miami area, I’ll only be a quick jaunt up the highway from you. Anyway, I thought I’d call to say hi. It’d be nice to see you again if you’re, you know, up for it. But yeah, I hope all is well. Talk soon.”
Quick as it came, her voice disappears. Gone again.
My phone tumbles into my purse. I wipe the sweat from my palms on the flare of my black dress before I exit Babygirl and speed walk toward the overhang.
No matter how fast I hustle, thoughts of Sarah catch up: the tender familiarity of her voice, how she’ll be as close as she’s been in eight years.