© 2016 by Michael Kroft

Off Herring Cove Road
The Problem Being Blue

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© 2015 by Michael Kroft

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© 2015 by Michael Kroft

CHAPTER 1

Fifty Thousand Dollars, Please

 

 

   Av Rosen stood blank-faced in line at a bank on Spring Garden Road, just two blocks up from what was once his main office for his once chain of drugstores.

   In his black suit, which he felt was appropriate for a situation such as this, and between the almost waist-high two-inch thick cords that guided its clients to the cashier’s counter, he stood almost half a head over most of those in front of him, staring straight ahead through his protective introverted shell that for the last few months he had had almost no use for except in a situation such as this.

   He sniffed the air and smelled nothing out of the ordinary. He hoped to grab a smell of the always fleeting scent of his wife’s perfume. The scent that might on occasions such as this relax him, comfort him, and make him believe that his wife was still looking out for him. Not smelling it, he thought that perhaps she and he had differing opinions regarding this situation.

   Alone in his world of anxiety, Av failed to notice the small senior directly in front of him release her frustration through a huff and then, with an impatient jitteriness, quickly look back to glance up at him. She looked forward again before spinning back and saying with some volume, “It’s almost as cold in here as it is out there, eh?”

   Av forced himself to look down at the woman, who appeared to be around his age, and ask in his monotone British voice that he seldom lowered and even more seldom raised, “I am sorry?”

   “I say, it’s as cold in here as it is out there. But then you’re a man; you don’t feel it like us fragile women, eh? My Dan was like that. He was hot when I was cold. We ended up sleeping in different rooms because of it, we did.” With a laugh, she tapped Av’s thin arm and added, “Oh, how people used to laugh at us when they visited, me snug in a heavy sweater and him sweating in a T-shirt.”

   Responding simply with, “Right,” Av resumed looking forward.

   From his desk on the other side of the counter and beside the vault’s opened and overbearing square door, the bank manager of such an average height, weight and look that he could have easily blended into the background surveyed the growing line of customers and decided he was needed at the counter. As he stood up and fixed his suit jacket, his eyes focused on an older man standing out among the rest. It took the manager several seconds to recognize one of his more important customers. Having not seen the unusually introverted customer in over a year and with his thick black mustache gone and his wife not confidently standing next to him while holding his hand securely as a mother would hold a child’s, he was almost unrecognizable.

   “We might be here for another half-hour, I think,” continued the woman.

   Av continued looking forward.

   She tapped his arm. “Talk, talk, talk, that’s all they can do! No one can do their banking without updating the teller on their life, eh?”

   Not paying attention to what the woman was saying, Av responded to the verbal question mark at the end her comment. “Right.”

   “No consideration for others!” she said raising her voice even more. “And those damn immigrants, those chinks in front over there, they’re the worst, the worst! They’re going to keep us here till next week! They take so long trying to say what they want that...that we might as well’ve brought a lunch with us, eh?”

   “Right,” Av responded again to the verbal question mark and then noticed that several Asians further ahead had turned around and were staring coldly up at him.

   Realizing what he had just agreed with and having only one place to escape to, Av decided to come back later that afternoon. He stiffly turned around to make his way shamefully through those between him and the exit.

   “Mr. Rosen? Avriel Rosen?”

   “Yes?” a startled and even more anxious Av answered as he turned toward the voice.

   “Hi. I’m Mr. Harrison, the...the manager here. We met several times before. It’s nice to see you again. Please, come with me.” The bank manager forced a smile as he unclipped the cord from its chrome pole, stepped aside to allow his client to pass through and said, “Mrs. Kirkland, we’re sorry for the delay. The wait shouldn’t be much longer.”

    With a huff from the old woman, Av stepped out of the line, accompanied Mr. Harrison through an opening in the cashier’s counter and then responding to the man’s gesture, sat on a padded metal chair in front of the man’s desk.

    Awkwardly sitting behind it, Mr. Harrison adjusted his tie with noticeably shaking hands. “Sorry for your wait. I...I almost didn’t recognize you without Ruth, without your wife...may she rest in peace.” Normally the man would have started some small talk, but his customer’s rigid presence forced him instead to say, “Please, next time you...you visit us, come and ask for me, or if you spot me...come right over.”

   “Right.”

   “It’s been awhile since you’ve been here. I see Mr. Walker here almost weekly,” said the manager, and then clearing his throat, he asked, “What...what’s the pleasure of your visit? What can I do for you today?”

   “I need to withdrawal fifty...”

   “Fifty dollars? That’s no problem. I can have that for you in a flash.” The manager stood up and forced another smile. “I’ll just need to step away for a sec to use one of those newfangled computers at the counter. I’ll be right back.”

   Av forced out, “I am sorry, but...but I will require fifty thousand dollars.”

   Noticeably taken aback, Mr. Harrison lost his smile and his eyes widened. He continued to stand behind his desk for a moment before awkwardly sitting back down.

   “Fifty? Fifty thousand? In cash?”

   “That is correct.”

   “We...we normally don’t keep that large an amount on hand. If you’d...if you could give us a week, we could have it for you.”

   “I require it today.”

   With his face reddening and his forehead beginning to shine, Mr. Harrison adjusted his tie. “Mr. Rosen, that’s quite a lot of...of money...of cash. I don’t mean to pry, to stick my nose where it may not be appreciated, but I have to ask if there’s something going on, something bigger I can help you with?”

   “Yes, you can help me withdraw fifty thousand dollars in cash, today,” Av said, his annoyance starting to drip through a crack in his introverted shell.

   For a few of seconds Mr. Harrison just stared at the old man sitting across from him.

   “Ok, right, I’ll have to make a few phone calls to some of our...our other branches and send someone over to pick up what they can spare...but I expect I may be able to round up fifty...fifty thousand dollars in a couple of hours. Do you have anywhere to go, anything to do until then?” With a shake of the head from the old man, he added, “Ok then, perhaps, while you’re waiting, I–we could pay for your lunch. If you would just bring us back the receipt, we’ll be happy to reimburse you.”

   “That is not necessary,” Av said, his expressionless face hiding his naive surprise with both the steps that would have to be taken and the offer of a free lunch.

   Mr. Harrison glanced at his watch and cleared his throat. “Ok, well it’s twelve forty now. Can we meet back here at...say three? We close at three thirty, but I’ll be happy to wait for you if you’re late getting back.”

   Av stood up. “Great. Thank you. At three then.”

   Under the watchful eye of Mrs. Kirkland, who was now two people closer to the cashiers, Mr. Harrison stood up and walked Av to the bank’s double glass doors. Av shook the man’s hand and failed to notice the sweaty palm –his were just as sweaty.

   “Sorry again for the delay, Mr. Rosen, but we should have it here by the time you get back.”

   “Right. Thank you.”

   As Av headed down Spring Garden Road in the direction of the Halifax Public Gardens, Mr. Harrison shook his head as he returned to his desk, sat down and began turning his Rolodex wheel of contacts.

   Where someone may have passed the time by shopping, Av would not, and where someone may have entered a restaurant for lunch, Av would not, but where someone may have entered the Halifax Public Gardens to feed the ducks, pigeons or squirrels, Av may have too, but only to curiously watch from a distance that someone feeding them.

   With the Public Gardens closed for the season he felt he needed to keep moving. He continued forward toward nowhere in particular.

   It was a chilly day but a bright one that required those passing him to wear sunglasses. After walking several blocks away from the downtown’s retail area, Av began to take an uncommon interest in the various styles of sunglasses. It struck him as interesting that they came in all colors, sometimes multiple colors, and there seemed to be two extreme ranges from small, metal framed ones to large, plastic framed ones. There seemed to be lenses in every shape, including simple geometric shapes and oddly shaped ones like water drops falling straight down or inwards toward the nose. After a while of rating the glasses, it occurred to the old man that a much less flashy pair might be the perfect accessory for his introverted shell; though, he did not think of it exactly in that way. He thought of it more as a mask he could easily and, perhaps, fashionably hide behind.

   After twenty minutes of considering which style of sunglasses would best suit him, Av was surprised to find he was entering the area of Dalhousie University, only a twenty-minute walk from his home. Making a right onto Robbie Street’s several blocks of older detached houses lacking any substantial front lawns, he headed toward the retail section of Quinpool Road with most of its stores built into what were once also older detached houses lacking any substantial front lawns.

 

   It had only taken him minutes to pick out the pair of black plastic-framed sunglasses with their overly large lenses somewhere between square and circular, and even with his habit of refusing help from a sales person, he was still somehow able to choose a pair that were popular that year.

   Comfortably hidden behind his new sunglasses, which even without his mustache still made him look somewhat like a hip Groucho Marx, Av entered the bank. He spotted Mr. Harrison at his desk talking with a heavyset, balding customer squeezed into a three-piece suit and then was surprised to recognize him. Av took a deep breath and asked himself what his small friend would do. Finding his answer, he made his way to the counter where he loudly faked clearing his throat. Both men looked his way and both grew grins when they noticed the eccentric looking man whose face, from his cheeks to his forehead, was covered by a pair of women’s sunglasses. Recognizing him, they mowed down their grins.

   Meeting Av at the counter, Mr. Harrison forced a smile and extended his hand. “Welcome back, Mr. Rosen. Mr. Walker just dropped in for business. I–I say it’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it?”

   Shaking the bank manager’s sweaty hand, Av said, “I do not hold much belief in coincidences,” and followed the man to his desk.

   There, Mr. Walker also forced a smile and shook the hand of the stone-faced old man. “Mr. Rosen, How are you doing today?”

   “As well as I can be,” Av forced out as he released the man’s hand.

   “Great. I was just talking to Charles here, and he was telling me about a major withdrawal you’d requested. You could’ve just called me. I’d have picked it up for you. After all, that’s part of what I’m paid for. Hey, it’s quite the substantial withdrawal isn’t it? Can I ask its reason?”

   Standing there feeling interrogated, Av’s frustration trumped his anxious state. “Mr. Walker, excuse my candidness but you of all people should understand that I am not a spontaneous individual and not prone to disclosing my reasons or reasoning except to those whom it may affect directly. And as I do not see it affecting you in any negative way, you will have to excuse me for keeping the reason to myself.”

   With all three continuing to stand while Mr. Harrison looked down at his desk as if he wished he was invisible, Mr. Walker said, “Right, uh...but Mr. Rosen, you must understand that I’m looking out for your best interests. With the buying and then the immediate reselling of Mrs. Dixon’s home and then your recent rewriting of your will, you must appreciate my concern that you may be being taken advantage of.”

   Not appreciating the right followed by the but that in Av’s view was double talk since the but automatically voided the right, Av stared coldly through his shades at his lawyer/money manager and said purposely slow so every word would be taken in, “I might appreciate your concern if it did not step in the way of my own, and I certainly do not appreciate your assumption regarding my naivety or the integrity of my friends’ characters. I also do not appreciate the interference with this transaction. Based on your ignorance in the matter, it demonstrates, in my opinion, a high level of arrogance. Your job is to manage my investments, not manage my spending, unless perhaps if it threatens to exceed the other, which I am certain it does not.” With Mr. Walker’s face blushing and his eyes scattering about as if looking for a way out of the situation, Av continued, “With that said, I am finding myself forced to rethink my relationship with you.” Av looked to the sweaty bank manager. “And with you also, Mr. Harrison, since I expect you must have called Mr. Walker here concerning my request.” With the two men’s discomfort exceeding his own, Av’s comfort level rose, giving him the courage to take control of the situation. “Now if we may return to the reason for my being here, have you acted as we had discussed, acted as you said you would, Mr. Harrison?”

   “Y–yes, sir,” said the bank manager, who had forced his eyes up from his desk to look at Av in shame before nervously sitting in his chair. Picking up a pen and shakily pointing it at a couple of forms on his desk, he said, “If you could sign these two forms here, just right here and here, w–we can finalize it.”

   With Mr. Walker standing opened-mouthed, Av sat down across from the banker, took the pen from the man’s shaking hand and quickly and messily signed his name on the two forms.

   Mr. Harrison burst the copies from their carbon paper and handed over a copy of each. Then he whispered, “And here’s the cash. Fifty thousand as requested,” as he opened his desk drawer and handed the old man a small but thick rectangular canvas pouch. “It slipped my mind to ask you how you wanted it, so I...I put it in hundreds. Please keep the pouch, compliments of the bank. Would you like to have it counted again?”

   To the banker’s obvious relief, Av stood up. “No. There is no need,” he said as he turned toward Mr. Walker. “Mr. Walker, since I expect you are charging me for your time here, I will need you to make better use of it by putting together for me a detailed and current breakdown of the value of all of my assets, including...” He looked to Mr. Harrison, “...an up-to-date balance of my account here and any other investments I hold with this bank. I will expect it in three days from now, Monday morning at ten.”

   “But, Mr. Rosen, that deadline’s almost impossible!” pleaded Mr. Walker.

   “Mr. Walker, you were able to take this time out of your day without any advance notice, and I am now giving you advanced notice...but allow me to make it easier for you. You can deliver it a week from this coming Monday, at ten, but I will need you to add to my request an argument as to why I should keep you as both my lawyer and money manager.”

   Comfortably protected behind his new sunglasses, Av left the two stunned gentlemen without any handshaking or goodbyes and made his way to his black Cadillac parked along South Park Street a few blocks up Spring Garden Road.

   He had never expected that his wife giving Mr. Walker both their legal and financial responsibilities was a good idea, but then when his wife had made a decision, she would have given it much thought before committing to it, and up until her death, she had never been proven wrong with any of her decisions. Av wondered if this was the exception.

   It was only when he had started the car that it dawned on him that the boys would be coming home almost at that moment, and it would be the first time he was not there to greet them. His initial concern, since Dwight usually forgot his house keys, was that they would have to wait outside the locked front door. Av relaxed when he remembered that Blue never forgot his. The boy had been in the habit of carrying his house keys for years. Then a second concern struck the old man. Since he would not be there to meet them as he had always done for over the last month since they started at the new school, they would certainly wonder and ask where he was. As they were family, it would be much more difficult not to explain himself to the them than it was with Mr. Walker.

   In the short drive home, Av would have to come up with a lie, one he felt was justified in a situation such as this.

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