Amanda Martin didn’t believe in casual Fridays. She didn’t believe in anything casual. Why waste time with casual dating when, despite a cold and unfulfilling relationship, she and Josh made the perfect power couple? Why bother with the empty calories of casual dining when the hottest restaurants in Chicago whisked her into a window-front table? Business casual was not an option when she could be summoned to meet with media or investors at a moment’s notice. She certainly didn’t appreciate the casual tone the banking industry had taken with the tellers all sporting chinos and matching golf shirts. The lackadaisical dress affected the workers’ efficiency, causing her to stand alongside those with less in their checking account than she spent on her favorite pair of heels.
With frustration radiating from every pore, she endured the long line for a teller. The lonely ATM lured her, but knowing a teller handled the hefty cash deposit won over the cold anonymity of the machine. Amanda shifted in her place, sighing as she unbuttoned her ivory coat.
“Ma’am, would you like some coffee while you wait?” a just-out-of-college branch manager approached her. Once upon a time, branch managers wore three-piece suits, but this kid was dressed identical to the tellers.
“Coffee? Am I really going to stand here long enough to drink a cup of coffee?”
“I’m sorry about that. The tellers are working as quickly as they can. Could you use the ATM to complete your transaction?”
She hoped a roll of her eyes and the huff of another sigh expressed her frustration. If it wasn’t for the thumping headache from polishing off a bottle of wine alone she would have thrown one of her infamous tantrums. “Fine, if you must feel useful. I’ll take a cup, cream, no sugar.” Looking back to her BlackBerry signaled his dismissal.
The line curved back on itself twice and each of the three tellers had four customers before it would be her turn at the window. The envelope of money poked at her collarbone from its haven in the interior pocket of her coat. No matter how she tried to maneuver it to a more comfortable position, the corner of the envelope continued to jab her.
She sighed as she thought, it’s probably a sign. Quarterly bonuses were standard for her at the mid-sized investment firm where she worked, but they were usually checks, and not in the middle of a quarter. But, this was different. Instead of a bonus it felt more like a payout.
After days of being avoided by Josh in every sense of the word – text messages unanswered, emails neglected, voicemails unreturned and even his admin ran interference for him – Amanda strode into his office the previous evening ready to end their relationship. As CFO, Josh kept their office relationship professional, but Amanda found it difficult keeping his behavior from one role from bleeding into the other.
“Who is she?” Amanda didn’t bother knocking; she wanted the element of surprise to catch him with his pants down, literally or figuratively. Instead of finding Josh, with or without a junior trader, Amanda found his office devoid of the stacks of files that reminded her of a childhood fort. The top of the heavy wood desk sat empty except for a single manila folder that looked strangely out of place without its brethren, like a lost sheep left alone for the wolves.
Amanda was just able to read that it was a boarding pass for a flight to El Paso before she heard Josh’s voice outside his door. She snapped the folder shut and marched to the door just as Josh hurried into his office.
“Eh, Amanda, what are you doing here? How long have you been waiting?” He pushed past her to his desk and put the folder in his briefcase.
“I just got here. So, what’s in –” Her question about El Paso was smothered by a sudden kiss.
“I owe you an apology,” he said. Amanda glanced behind her shoulder to see if his door was open, but he gently turned her face back to him. “Don’t you think everyone here already knows about us? Anyway, I’ve been distracted with a problem client and haven’t been attentive. Why don’t you pick up some wine and take-out and I’ll be over in a couple of hours?”
Amanda nodded. I’m just being paranoid, she thought. He wasn’t avoiding me, he was just dealing with a client.
“Oh and one more thing before you go,” Josh said, going back to his briefcase. “I almost forgot to give you this. Go buy some shoes and lose the receipts.” He handed her a bulky envelope. She knew without looking that it was filled with cash, lots of it.
“What?” She couldn’t get her question out before his phone rang.
“I’ll explain later. Oh and Amanda, please close the door behind you. Thanks, babe.”
After midnight and a bottle of wine, Amanda went to bed with no word from Josh despite the numerous calls to his cell and office. She woke up hung-over and ready to give him her iciest treatment.
Her BlackBerry buzzed as she progressed in line. With her throat cleared, she put on her best professional voice.
“Amanda Martin,” she answered.
“Hello, love, Roland Burrows here with Financial News.”
The smooth British accent of her favorite reporter put her at ease. Her shoulders drooped as she dropped her act. The envelope jabbed into her collarbone.
“How are you darling? We need to meet up for martinis soon,” her animated voice echoed in the cavernous bank lobby.
“Listen, Amanda,” he started, but she was distracted. She loved the way he pronounced her name ending in an ‘er’ rather than an ‘a’ and launched into a catnap of a daydream imagining herself with a British boyfriend after Josh. Her trance soon ended, catching only his last sentence. “So that’s why I was calling, to see if you had any comment.”
Her heart thumped against the envelope when she realized this was a serious business call and not their usual banter.
“I’m sorry Roland, can you say that again? I’m getting horrible reception in here,” she lied.
“Right. I just got off the phone with a source at the SEC and they are pursuing indictments against several executives at Jefferson Williams Investments: chief legal counsel Keith Cooper, CFO Josh Williams and you, Amanda.” He paused. “I’m breaking this story in a few minutes and wanted to see if I could get a statement.”
Amanda tried to breathe, but she felt as if her lungs inhaled air through the thin red straw floating in her coffee. An elderly lady behind her tugged the sleeve of Amanda’s coat. Amanda waved her off. The woman tugged again and she shook herself out of her shock to realize she was next in line.
“Roland, I’m going to have to call you back.”
Amanda didn’t wait for a response. She ended the call and dashed out of the line for the front door.
The late March freeze accosted her with a burst of cold air as she pushed through the door. BlackBerry still in hand she dialed Josh’s number while navigating the busy sidewalk. The line didn’t ring – it went straight to voicemail. She tried it again. Same result. Third time was no different. Amanda didn’t leave a message. She dialed her office number.
“Diane, it’s Amanda. Transfer me to Josh,” Amanda said, cutting off the receptionist during her greeting.
As soon as the receptionist transferred the call, Josh’s voicemail picked up. Amanda looked at her watch. It was past nine in the morning; Josh was always in early to get a start on the day.
“Dammit,” Amanda screamed at her phone, punching the end button with such force it lodged in the down position for a few seconds before popping back into place.
She moved out of the flowing traffic of pedestrians and leaned against the side of an office building. The smooth granite chilled her through her cashmere coat.
“Think, think,” she whispered. “Ten … nine … eight …” she started counting backwards, a trick her anesthesiologist father taught her as a child when thunderstorms scared her in the middle of the night.