I got in just before closing on a Friday afternoon. It was 5:53 and I was running behind. The security guard had already unlocked the entry door gate and was just waiting seven more minutes until he could shut and lock it.
I was the only customer in the bank. I had deposits to make for both bars and didn’t want to keep anybody from their weekend plans, least of all me.
I handed my first deposit to Corina, the middle aged Filipina teller who I’ve known for years. I always prepare my deposits the same way: two rubber bands around the cash, my deposit slip on top of the cash. I slid the bundle under the security window.
“How are you Alfredo?”
“Late. Sorry. But at least I don’t have that much change to buy today.” I also buy quarters, singles and fives from the bank for our till.
She counted the money and started to prep the change.
5:57, and still one more deposit to make after this one.
I could see that at the window next to Corina’s, Amy, a fairly new teller, had nothing to do.
“Hey, you look bored,” I joked and stuffed my second deposit under Amy’s window, then went back to finish up with Corina. Of course I don’t know either teller that well, but Corina has been around long enough for a little bit of a rapport to have developed between us. Amy and I don’t say much – it’s pretty much, “here’s my deposit, here’s the change I need, have a good day,” and that’s it.
As Corina was preparing to hand me my receipt for the first deposit, I heard Amy:
I darted back in front of Amy’s window.
“Five hundred dollars.”
She turned the jetscan cash counting machine to face me – indeed, the digital display showed the deposit was $500 less than what I had counted at the bar and written on the deposit slip.
In the fifteen years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never been more than $20 off, and usually I’ve already noted this to the teller when I get to the window – “Hey, I might be twenty off, I’m not sure.” When I catch this sort of thing back at the bar, I’m too lazy to recount it all, and instead rely on that fast machine to catch the error. Half the time, I’m right, and I’m twenty under or over. Half the time I’m wrong and haven’t made a mistake.
But five hundred dollars? No. Never. I’m a Virgo. It’s just not in our constitution to make that kind of a careless math mistake.
“You want me to count it again?”
She ran it through the jetscan again – and again, it was $500 off.
I frantically went through my backpack, wondering if part of my deposit had come loose and fallen out. No. Nothing was amiss there.
And, of course, my deposit with Corina was spot on.
Amy asked me, “Do you want to change and initial your deposit slip?”
It was 6:00. I was flustered. The missing $500 was nowhere to be found.
I changed the deposit slip and initialed it.
Before accusing anybody of anything, I went back to the bar, checked everywhere for the missing money, then completely emptied my backpack doing the same. Nothing.
I stewed about it over the weekend.
On Monday morning, I returned to the bank and asked to speak with the manager. I already knew that if they refused to credit me the money back, I would be switching banks. Fifteen years of loyalty without a mistake? They would need to honor that history to satisfy me.
“Something happened last Friday that really concerns me,” I told Loretta, the assistant manager, and went on to explain what happened. “I was standing in front of Corina’s window, and not really watching Amy, so I can’t say I saw her every move. Is there any way I can see the video of what happened?”
“Our protocol is that we review it first and send it to our internal loss department,” Loretta said. Over the weekend I had become fairly certain that Amy had managed to take it. In the thirty feet between her window and the counting machine, knowing that I was standing in front of Corina’s window and not paying attention to her, she could’ve dropped it in a wastebasket, in a drawer, into her purse, who knows, and retrieved it later. I know it’s cynical of me, but owning bars, I’m cynical in that department.
There’s an old joke: “What’s the difference between alligators and bartenders? Alligators don’t steal.”
“And I need to tell you, Loretta, that the only way to convince me that the mistake was mine would be to show me uninterrupted video footage of Amy carrying the deposit from her window to the machine. Anything else isn’t gonna cut it for me.”
I never outright said that I was accusing Amy of anything, but I’m sure Loretta understood my meaning.
A day later Loretta called me on my cell phone to assure me that the $500 would be credited to my account immediately. She said nothing about Amy.
A month or so after that, a man from “internal loss” called, asking me what details I could recall. I recalled just about all of them – unnerving incidents tend to stick in your mind. “I could see on the tape that it looks like you prepared the drops before you entered the bank – they were already bundled.”
“I always do,” I replied. He said that he would contact me if he had any further questions. He never did.
And six months later, Amy still works there. She is cold as ice to me – understandably – and I make a point of not avoiding her window and at least saying “Hi” and “How are you?” to show her that I mean no harm. But I don’t think it’s a relationship – however unimportant – that I can repair.
I am certain I didn’t make a mistake that day, and, directly or indirectly, I made it known to Amy’s superiors that I think she probably stole the money.
Could she have accidentally dropped the money and it accidentally bounced under a desk, where it was discovered later? Maybe. Unlikely, but maybe.
In any case, the bank did right by me, and I don’t have the guilt of Amy’s job loss hanging over me.
In a weird way, I hope she did it and got away with it, so that my intimations about her were not wrong. That’s a little easier for me to stomach than the idea that I put an innocent person through a difficult and embarrassing investigation.
Sometimes “the cost of doing business” can’t be measured in dollars.