Cometh the hour...
Joe lead Draco back downstairs and out the lower door. As he stepped into the street another icy gust of wind blew across him that was so cold he shivered. It was going to be a cold day today after all! He pushed the fifty pound notes deep into the chest pocket of his jacket along with the cheque. He slipped the plastic coin box into a pocket on the other side and zipped the pocket tight shut. With a shrug he pulled his jacket tighter around him and clasped his arms to his chest, he wished he’d worn more now but with his finances the way they were currently what else did he have? At least with Lin’s money he could start looking at more and better clothing. “Stuff bloody Armani though…I’ll wear what I like and Paul can go piss up a tree!” He turned to face the near naked girl advert in the travel agent’s window, he could swear she was smiling at him and he almost heard her saying in a husky whisper, “Hi Joe!”
“I guess I might get to find out about those holidays after all as well…see you sweetheart!” He blew the advert a kiss and turned away walking up the high street.
As he and Draco walked towards the bank Joe passed the shops along the way, his brain buzzing with more than the clamour of the mana, he had a whole new sense of life. As a child he’d had a dream of being able to walk into any shop and just being able to buy what he wanted instead of having to think about what he’d have to scrimp on to have the money. Three hundred thousand pounds was at least a start…Joe hugged himself again and smiled. Life was finally starting to go his way!
After five hundred yards Joe arrived at the front of the bank. It was one of those nondescript buildings that wouldn’t have singled it out from any other. Not exactly old but then again not modern glass and steel either. The front wall was a dark brick, set to one side of the door were the ATM machines and a set of large glass windows. Joe had always wondered if the glass might be the armoured unbreakable type that a hand grenade wouldn’t even dent…it would make sense with a bank! But then again this was only a small branch, head office would probably roll out armed security and body scanners. In each window were adverts for the banks obvious services. Joe sneered it was all so cynical as to be almost funny.
“Come one, come all! Try our latest scam mortgage at only four percent interest…we’ll loan you a load of worthless toilet paper calling it credit, expect you to pay us back at interest levels that we then fix according to how much we think we can fleece you for. We’ll scam the maximum amount out of you and do our best to cheat you at every turn...and if anything goes wrong it’s all your fault! We only accept REAL money in repayment of course, because we’re laundering our counterfeit toilet paper in the process and toilet paper doesn’t buy all that much!…And then just when you think you’ve got the whole thing settled and are in the home stretch...we’ll turn the screws right the way down to break you. We’ll get millions because you default thanks to more scam deals we’ve done with our friends in the insurance companies AND of course we get to take your home! Now that’s business...But don’t think for a single instant about trying to get us arrested for the criminal dirt bag scum we are…because we are all just too big to jail! They are all conceited heartless bastards! Makes you sick Draco…”
“I don’t understand magus.”
“I’ll explain it to you at some point…in short bankers are not nice people! Your individual bank manager or teller could be OK. They used to be the most trusted person in town, after all they look after all your money. But somewhere that all changed and as a whole now they are decidedly not nice…you want to find organised crime look no further than an average bank! They’re into everything, drugs, guns, people trafficking and a few even supply terrorists…and I think the manager I have to deal with here is one of the worst examples! If God created the world in six days then bankers got created when Satan slipped into the workshop after hours!”
“Then why deal with him?”
“Necessary evil! Bankers believe they are required in this world and they have rigged practically everything so we can’t get shot of them…or least ways they think they are and that’s what makes them the way they are, arrogant!”
“Ah they are what is the word?”
“Self important? Arrogant? Pompous? Yeah this guy is ALL of that and more!” Just thinking about the conceited little man that was the branch manager here made Joe’s blood run cold in his veins.
Joe opened the glass door gritting his teeth as the metal base grated against the concrete. He let Draco in and closed the door as rapidly as he could to prevent the warm air leaving. As he turned from the door though he was promptly met by a short stocky security guard in a pristine white shirt. “Oh God!” Joe thought, “Geoff, another bloody jobs-worth! This one thinks he’s a police officer but he couldn’t pass the mental exam...” The guard stood in front of Joe blocking his entrance with his right hand raised palm out in a show of denial.
“Hold it! Sorry sir but your dog will have to wait outside, no dogs except guide dogs permitted in the bank! Thank you sir.”
“Would you like to tell him that?” Joe smiled to himself imagining the guard trying to tell a four hundred foot gold dragon he wasn’t welcome! “Have you been outside this morning Geoff? It is perishing cold out there! No, from the shirt I guess not, unless it’s got hidden heating elements installed. I swear to you as God is my witness I just saw two brass monkeys pass me looking for a convenient welders…”
“Very funny I’m sure sir.” The guards face didn’t even flicker in amusement.
Joe thought to himself “Did it hurt when they surgically extracted your humour, compassion and empathy? Oh well next stop robot guards...will anyone notice the difference, they might at least have some conversation.” instead he smiled sweetly and pointed to a corner just inside the doorway, “Have a heart eh Geoff. My pal is not good in the cold so can’t he just sit by the door? He’s a really good dog he won’t move and he won’t be any bother I swear.”
“I don’t care if he’s good, bad or indifferent sir…he’s not a guide dog so he can be so outside!”
Joe turned to Draco, he sighed audibly as if expressing his dismay, “Sorry mate, you heard the man.” Joe winked slyly, “Dog’s aren’t permitted!” He then half smiled and thought quietly, “Wonder how they feel about dragons?”
Draco looked up, was that a smile? “Dragons usually have no trouble magus we can go wherever we like. Do not worry about the cold with me though I have survived far lower temperatures without injury. Will you be long?”
“How long is a piece of string? I honestly don’t know, it should be a simple matter to pay in the money and Lin’s cheque and I’m done…But there’s that pompous ass of a manager to deal with. Look just stay put OK, if anything happens call me.” Joe tapped his temple with a finger of one hand before opening the door to let Draco out. Draco quietly padded back out the door and sat on the cold concrete of the ground. He panted like a normal dog and for a brief moment Joe thought he saw small licks of flame around his mouth, he turned back to the guard. “There satisfied Geoff? He’d better be there when I get back too! And if my dog is an ice statue when I’m done I’ll be suing this bank and suing you personally!” The guard acted as if such accusations were utterly normal and just stepped out of Joe’s path without another word.
Joe walked up to the small free-standing counter and pulled out a deposit slip from the rack, he separated off ten fifty pound notes and folded them into another pocket. Five hundred should give him some spending money, he did need supplies. He folded the others into a small bundle, added the cheque and filled out the slip accordingly. The rest of the money would boost his bank balance immediately so he had something while the cheque cleared...three days. That done he joined the end of the queue and patiently stood, silently praying that his presence in the bank would not spark any interest. With luck he could be in and out before the manager knew he had even visited! Joe desperately didn’t want to have to face Franklin Moffett Jolly any morning but a curious sense of impending doom filled him about this morning, he could almost guarantee he’d be called in. The queue moved slowly forwards as each person was served one at a time. Joe was amazed that with five possible tellers only two were on duty.
“Rest are having a coffee break I imagine!”
Finally, after what felt like an eternity it got to the lady in front of Joe. She was a rather nice old dear of a pensioner by the look of her, walking stick in one hand and one of those four wheeled shopping trolleys with tartan fabric gripped firmly in the other. Her hair was snow white under a head scarf and she smiled sweetly as she looked around seemingly oblivious of where she was. For a brief moment Joe thought he saw his mother in her but then shrugged and looked towards the tellers. The old lady spied Draco, now laying on the concrete.
“Oh how sweet! Is that your dog outside young man?” She asked.
For a moment Joe stopped and looked blank, “Dog?” thoughts of his impending visit with Jolly had quite made him forget about Draco. “Oh err sorry…yeah that’s my dog.”
“That’s a very shiny coat he has, you must be feeding him all the right things. I’ve never seen a golden retriever quite like that though…he is a retriever isn’t he?”
“Err yeah that’s right, but I think there’s some other blood mixed in.”
“Oh a mongrel…that would explain it of course. I remember my husband, God rest his soul…”
Joe inwardly sighed and with a smile pointed at the tellers, “I think you’re next love.”
“What…oh yes silly me. Where was I? Do you think your dog would like a biscuit, if he’s going to be out there for a while? I think I might have some somewhere. I’ll let him have one as I leave if you’re still tied up in here. Does he bite at all?”
“I’m sure he’d appreciate it…No he doesn’t bite, he’s really gentle and good natured to the right people, but don’t get him upset. Look love, don’t go to any trouble on his or my account though. You look like a nice lady and I’d imagine your pension doesn’t go far these days right? Keep your money and buy yourself something nice eh?”
“Oh yes, well that is true but I just thought it must be freezing out there…”
“Yeah tell me about it! It is cold, but something in that mongrel part of him seems to let him fight the cold. Maybe it’s part husky.” Joe smiled inwardly, or was it the fact he could breath fire hot enough to melt construction grade steel? He noticed the male teller on duty was trying to attract the lady’s attention. “Err looks like you’re next…”
The old lady turned back and saw the teller Joe was pointing at, “Oh yes, sorry dear, it’s my pension day you see. Now where is my account book?”
Joe again inwardly sighed, he had always tried to be someone who kept things ready to hand, minimum fuss. He didn’t want to get old enough to end up confused like this old lady clearly was. A sudden vision of the last time he’d seen his mother came back to him, in her eighties she had been dying from an aggressive cancer, a cancer that was literally eating her alive…and as if that torture were not bad enough she had been suffering from advanced progressive dementia. Joe felt a physical pang of pain at the memory, she’d spent the last year of her life in a care home. He’d tried to visit as often as he could but the sight of her wasting away to nothing with the cancer had been almost too much to take! Joe had felt such heart rending sorrow on his last visit, to hear her cooing at her own birthday cards and then ask him who’s birthday it was. She hadn’t even recognised him straight off as her son and had thought him her brother…his uncle...deceased. “Why do people have to get old?” he asked himself in his mind.
“It is natural magus, you cannot fight it and would be a fool to try.”
“It was a rhetorical question Draco, I understand all that…But it still breaks my heart to watch it happening. Take the woman in front of me, I bet in her day, in her prime, she was a real fire cracker. I bet she had all the boys asking her to dance!…and now? Now she has to be reminded when to take her pills and asked if she’s used the toilet today or not! It is just so so sad!”
“I know magus, compared to dragons you humans are like brief candle flames. But as I say it is natural, nothing lasts forever! Even dragons must die.”
“Six thousand years old is positively ancient though! But you mean with all the magic in the world at my fingers I still can’t be immortal?”
“Only the Gods are immortal magus.”
“True…well then I hope that when I get to her age I don’t end up like that…” Joe almost felt like weeping, the woman tottered forwards to the teller’s window and greeted him with a wonderfully cheery smile. More memories of his mother crowded into his mind, he felt a tear starting to form on his cheek. Luckily for Joe his mother had died very soon after his last visit, to see her only a pale ghost of the vibrant woman she had been. He’d often said her mind was like a steel trap but at the end all that had been lost, his one consolation, if there were any, was at least her suffering had been only the briefest of times. A drawn out death would have torn him up! In his heart he thanked God that it had been quicker, much as he missed his mother. He sniffed and wiped his eyes before drawing in a deep shuddering breath. “Please God… don’t let me go like that!”
“Next please! Can I help you sir?” The other teller smiled at him, Joe snapped his attention back to reality. For the first time he looked at her and almost felt his jaw drop open. She was a highly attractive young brunette woman with a pair of beautiful sparkling eyes of what colour? For a moment Joe drew in a breath, she must be new here, he’d never seen her before. Joe noted from a name badge she was called Natalie.
“Err yes thanks, sorry miles away…err Natalie.” Joe smiled and Natalie beamed him a warm sunshine smile back. “I need to pay a cheque and some money into my account…”
“Very good sir if you’d like to put your card in the slot I can deal with it for you…” Natalie smiled at him again, a warm friendly smile showing a few of her teeth. Joe almost heard his heartstrings twang, things were definitely looking up if they were employing beauties like her. Joe slipped his debit card from his wallet and pushed it into the machine. He punched in the PIN number and prayed that on Natalie’s screen no messages flashed up. He felt he should be making small talk somehow as the silence started to feel oppressive.
“It is damn cold out there this morning.” He said, shivering slightly to show the chill.
“Yes sir, maybe we’ll see some more snow before too long.”
“Christ! Don’t say that I hate the cold...and the snow.”
“What’s not to like about snow? I love the way in tingles on the tip of your tongue when you catch a flake or two. My brother and I also made snow angels as children.”
“Well it’s OK I suppose in its way. But I feel the cold more keenly than you maybe and just prefer to be in bed nice and warm when it’s falling.”
Natalie smiled a cheeky smile, “That surely depends on who’s keeping the bed warm with you doesn’t it?” Joe almost choked in surprise, was Natalie coming onto him? She looked at her screen and her mouth formed an “Oh” shape.
“Shit!” Joe thought as his spirit plummeted, “wait for it…” Natalie looked straight at Joe. “Mr Winstanton? The branch manager, Mr Jolly, would like to talk to you if you have a moment.”
Joe heaved a deep sigh, “Yes thank you, I know he does! But if I can get this deposit done first I’ll be happy to see him…By the way my name is Joe. Mr Winstanton was my dad.” Joe counted under his breath, he knew why the manager wanted to see him. If he could just get this deposit processed he’d happily wipe the smile of the old bastard’s face good and proper!
“Yes sir…I mean Joe,” Natalie looked back at her screen and then looked at Joe again out of the corner of her eye. “Of course…How much will you be depositing today?”
“Well there’s fifteen hundred in cash, all in fifties and a cheque.”
“Very good…” Natalie looked at him expectantly. Joe smiled and for a moment forgot what he was supposed to be doing. His one thought was hazel, that was the colour of her eyes, hazel! Natalie was probably the most attractive girl he’d ever seen and he was getting the distinct impression that just maybe she might actually like him. “The money…that is if you want me to pay it in for you Joe?”
Joe snapped out of his dream, “Oh sorry, I’d forget my own head if it wasn’t screwed on.” Joe handed over the bundle of fifty pound notes and Lin’s neatly folded cheque. As Natalie opened the cheque up and looked at the amount the cheque was made out for her eyebrows rose in surprise, “two hundred and ninety eight thousand pounds? Did you win the lottery Joe?”
“No, I sold an old coin to a collector friend of mine… it turned out to be worth more than I expected.”
“Three hundred grand? That must have been some coin!”
“He reckoned six thousand years old, solid gold and extremely rare! If not unique!”
“Wow seriously? Well I’ll just get these items deposited into your account for you then if you’d like to take a seat I’ll let Mr Jolly know you are here.”
Joe grimaced, “Yeah…wouldn’t want to keep the grasping old bastard waiting would we?” he thought. He smiled and said, “No rush Natalie, take your time I can afford to wait.”
“You don’t much like Mr Jolly do you?”
Joe looked a little sheepish, “Is it that obvious? To be brutally honest...I can think of thousands of places I’d like to be other than in a little room with Franklin Jolly, he’s not my favourite person!”
“Be glad you don’t have to work with him!” Natalie said conspiratorially, “I’m only doing this job so I can get enough to go back to college. I can’t stand him! He always acts so well…creepy you know? It may be just me but I keep imagining he’s trying to look down my top all the time he’s behind me, or eyeing up my ass!”
Joe knew what she meant, creepy was not the word he’d have chosen to use but it was close enough. He also had to admit as his gaze wandered downwards that from the rather suggestively sized bulges in the front of Natalie’s blouse that she was not a girl with sparrow’s kneecaps for breasts. Hastily Joe raised his eyes back to Natalie’s face self conscious of the fact he’d been staring, Natalie just smiled sweetly and winked…wait she actually winked at him! Joe could just hear Jolly now with no money in his account how was Joe going to meet his financial commitments? He grimaced again. He tapped his fingers on the counter top impatiently, it was bad enough having to deal with the bank under normal circumstances, he hated it with a passion. Although with Natalie on staff now it did seem to be developing some benefits…
After what felt like an eternity Natalie finally smiled at him, “There you go Joe all done, the cheque should process in about three working days.”
“Yeah, thanks I know that. Can you tell me does that include today? Only my friend is very eager for the coin, I kept it until his cheque cleared so he couldn’t cheat me.”
“Oh I see…no three days starting tomorrow so should be in your account on Thursday, yes Thursday morning nine o’clock sharp when we open for business. Could I…you know err…”
“What? Oh you mean see it?”
“Well I’ve never seen a coin that was worth three hundred grand.”
Joe smiled, “Sure just don’t take it out of the box or my friend will have a cow! He’ll kill me if it gets so much as a finger mark on it.”
Joe pulled the small plastic box from his inner pocket and pushed it across the desk to Natalie. She looked at it in obvious awe, turning the box first to one side and then the other. “That is worth all that money? It does feel very heavy but is it really worth three hundred grand?”
“Like I said, he reckons it is six thousand years old, extremely rare; I think he said he wasn’t even aware of any coins being minted at that time…and pure gold to boot.”
“My…you are one lucky man aren’t you? Wish I could find something like that…might get me away from this place.”
Joe smiled and broke into a spontaneous Humphrey Bogart impression, “Stick with me kid and you just might!” Joe felt he could have kicked himself. Natalie however smiled a wonderfully warm smile at him as she giggled and handed the coin back, she winked her right eye at him surreptitiously. Joe was so surprised he almost fumbled the coin as he put it back into his pocket “Thank you…Natalie, pleasure doing business with you.”
“Thank you Joe. If you’d like to take a seat I’m sure Mr Jolly will be right with you.”