Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Chapter 17 (part 1)

Robert and I had an impromptu meeting in his office to discuss the Cassie situation, as he called it.  He wasn’t insensitive.  He just didn’t know how to handle it.  I didn’t blame him.  If our positions had been reversed, I would have been the same way.  

He agreed to give it a week before calling a temp agency.  But he didn’t like the idea of not having Cassie there to help me.  He knew how vital she was to my work.  She kept things organized so I could work on the more complex issues that came up.  He wanted me to at least have someone to keep my schedule and screen my calls for me.  One week would be like Cassie going on vacation.  No big deal.

But it was a big deal.  Because Cassie wasn’t on vacation.  She was gone.  And it felt like I’d never get my friend back.  I drifted through the days on autopilot, doing what was necessary to keep the bank and my home running somewhat smoothly.  

I called Officer Brecky every morning and every evening.  It must have been annoying, but she was very considerate.  She had tracked down Cassie’s cousin in Tennessee, but he hand’t heard from her in a few months.  They weren’t very close.  More of the big holiday type family, but even that had faded since Cassie’s parents died.  She had no other family that could be found.

Luke Ritter was indeed the same Luke that we had met at the bar.  His record was clean, and even though the cops were watching him, his routine never changed.  He never gave any indication that he had anything to hide.  

When Officers Brecky and Carwahl called him in, he had given a statement of his account about Saturday night.  It pretty well matched my own.  And he claimed not to have followed us out to the parking lot, choosing to stay inside and dance some more.  The only problem with his story--and it was a minor one--was that no one could vouch for him.  He was alone that night, and nobody in the bar knew him.  Even the waitress who had been drooling over him could’t remember when he left because the place was packed.  

Dominic became a constant in my life, offering the support that Michael was unable to give.  He came by every night after Michael and Allison were in bed.  We would sit together on the porch and talk about random things.  He was just trying to keep my mind off of Cassie and the investigation.  It didn’t work.

Monday of the second week, Robert called a temp agency approved by the corporate office.  They sent three young women to be interviewed that day.  Robert and I interviewed them together to save time.  And, after each one was over, I locked myself in my office and cried.  

We both agreed that the second interviewee, a girl named Beth, was the best candidate.  She had experience, good references, and a pleasant personality.  She would start Wednesday.  That meant I had to spend some time at Cassie’s desk locking up her personal things and setting up her computer to take an additional user without allowing Beth access to anything she wouldn’t need.  After all, she was only a temp.  Cassie would be resuming her position very soon.

When Beth showed up Wednesday morning, she came baring coffee.  “I didn’t know what you like, so I grabbed a little of everything.”  Her voice rang like choir bells in a church a Christmas.  The melodic tone soothing my raw nerves.

“Thank you, Beth.  Please, come in my office.”  I followed her through the open door, closing it behind me.  “You can put the coffee on the desk.  You really didn’t have to go to the trouble.”

“Oh, it was no trouble, Mrs. Boothe,” she practically sang.  “I go right past the coffee shop on my way here.  I stop for myself, so I figured I’d get you one, too.”  I could tell that she felt sorry for me.  It wasn’t her tone or mannerisms, but the sad look in her eyes.

“Please, call me Ella,” I said, walking around to my big leather chair on the other side of the desk.  It was a relief to sit.  The tension my body had been carrying was exhausting.  “I’ll show you your desk, and we’ll go over your duties in a bit.  But first I want to discuss the reason you’re here right now.”

Beth sat a little straighter, feet and knees together, hands folded in her lap.  Every bit the picture of the proper young lady from any era.  “Mrs. Boothe.  I know the reason you need to fill the position.  And I understand the temporary status.  You don’t need to go into details.  It must be difficult.”

“Please call me Ella,” I repeated wearily.  “I realize you know the story.  Everyone in a hundred mile radius probably knows.  But, I need to emphasize to you that Cassie Wade is my friend.  I don’t want to hear gossip about what’s going on.  And I don’t want to hear anything about how you’re just a temp, and do I think you’ll be hired on permanently, and other such stuff.”

If it was possible, her rigid back went even straighter.  “Ella,” she said carefully, “I would never pester you or anyone else about my position.  That is unprofessional.  I also do not participate in office gossip or banter.

“You see,” she went on, “I prefer temp work for just that reason.  My skills are such that I’m never out of work very long, and my husband is a wealthy man.  I don’t have to work, but I like to keep busy.  I appreciate you giving me the chance to help you out.  You can count on me to keep a professional appearance and attitude.  And I will do my best to keep office talk out of your office.  That is, I’ll stop rumors before they can reach your ears.”

Maybe I had misjudged Beth’s age because she seemed wise beyond her years.  Besides that, she didn’t look old enough to have a wealthy husband.  Unless she was a gold digger who married some rich old man in the hopes that he would die soon.  I caught myself drifting away on that tangent and reeled my mind back to the current time and place.

I relaxed a little.  “Okay.  I appreciate that,” I told her.  I leaned forward and reached for the coffee cup.  “As for my coffee, I like two sugars and a splash of cream.”  I popped the lid off and added the desired amounts to the black liquid, stirring it with the long, thin straw.

“While this cools, let me show you the desk where you’ll be working.”  I stood, and Beth followed me to Cassie’s desk.  I showed her how to set her password and turned my back while she did.  Then we went into the schedule and other things that Cassie helped me with.  Beth took notes the whole way, but she was also doing it as I showed her, too.  And she proved to be very adept with the work.  

I did the phone last since we started with the computer.  Beth wrote down the greeting I asked her to use, and got her first chance to use it a few seconds later.

“First Bank of Summerville.  This is Beth. How may I assist you, today?”  The bell tone of her voice would soften even the angriest of patrons, though we didn’t have many.  I stood back and observed as she wrote on the pad designed for the purpose of noting phone calls.  “Okay, Mr. Sterling.  Please hold while I see if Mrs. Boothe is available.”  She punched the hold button and replaced the receiver, turning to me for approval.

I smiled.  “Very good, Beth.  I think you’ll do fine.  I’ll take the call in my office.”  

She nodded as she thanked me, turning back to her monitor and beginning to explore a bit more.

With a small breath of relief I returned to my office and closed the door.  As I sat down, Beth transferred the call to my phone.  It was a pleasant surprise to find that she seemed right at home with the equipment.  

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