Better than Candy
“Max Hopkirk!” squeaked the walkie-talkie that hung tight to the counselor’s waistband.
“Max you’re up! Time to go!” snipped the chubby counselor as she scanned the room and weaved between groups of noisy kids.
Her expression soured. “Max! Max!” she belted.
“Hey, guys, I’ve got to go,” said Max as he put away his DS. “Mom’s off early today and wants me to run errands with her.”
He sighed and rolled his eyes as he rose from the floor and gathered his belongings. Jake and J.J., his two best friends, did not notice as they continued to play their hand held games.
“Yeah, see ya tomorrow Max!” they responded in harmony, not once looking up.
Max dragged himself to the entrance of the large school cafeteria.
“Hi mom,” said Max unhappily.
Mrs. Hopkirk looked-up from the sign-out sheet and shot him a warm smile.
She gave him a bear hug, and then placed his head between her hands and planted a giant kiss right in the middle of his forehead. He heard a muffled giggle. His cheeks flushed and he turned to see none other than Mackenzie McCormick. She attempted to cover her wide smile with one hand and wave with the other.
Great, thought Max. I am really going to get served for this tomorrow!
He despised Mackenzie, most of the kids did. She was a tall, skinny girl, so pale the veins pressed through her paper like skin. Her long brown hair was thin and limp, giving her the appearance of premature balding. She wore a phony smile and spoke with the sweetest voice that only the adults construed as genuine. Mackenzie never missed an opportunity to torment another kid; it seemed to be her only form of entertainment.
Wanting to escape her evil glare, Max busted out the cafeteria into what felt like an oven. The sun shone bright that late August afternoon, waves of heat rippling up from the scorching asphalt. Max raced to the car, becoming sweaty and out of breath. He threw his heavy backpack on the back seat, and then slammed the door shut.
“Sorry Mom,” he said when he noticed her annoyed expression.
Once inside the car, Mrs. Hopkirk whipped her head around to meet Max’s gaze, grinning from ear to ear as she smoothed the hair away from her face.
“Ready to run some errands with your favorite mom?”
“Uh, you’re my only mom!”
She chuckled. “So how was school today?”
“It was okay, but I only got a B on the math test.”
“That’s not bad.”
“I’m used to getting A’s,” he said. “And uh, mom -”
“Can you please stop calling me sweetie?”
“Oh, sure honey. I am sorry I forgot.” Her smile stretched like a slowly pulled rubber band.
“It’s okay mom.” He hesitated. “And can you also not call me honey?”
“Oh, okay snooker, I won’t do that either.”
“Moooom! Stop it! I’m not two anymore!”
“Okay, okay,” she giggled.
They parked at the bank and entered. The lobby was drab and boring, but at least it was cool. Max plopped down into a plump chair next to a dark, unoccupied office. Max’s mom signed-in then joined him. As Mrs. Hopkirk flipped through a magazine, Max glanced around the bank, already feeling bored out of his mind. He took notice of a lit office, and behind the desk was a cheerful looking black man assisting a customer. The doorplate read: “Brach Manager – George Goldschmidt.” Max looked toward the center of the bank where the tellers worked and wondered if they had any candy stashed away for bored children running errands with their moms.
A woman appeared from the back, and assisted Mrs. Hopkirk in retrieving her safety deposit box. After which she took them to a dusky room that smelled like an antique. It housed several small wooden cubicles, each with its own opaque glass door.
Inside a flat wooden slab stretched from one end of the cubicle to the other, and there was one plain four-legged wooden chair. Max plopped down on the ground, stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles. He slouched and tilted his head opposite the desk, looking at some scribbled graffiti on the cubicle wall, probably from another bored child. He sighed loudly as his mom rummaged through the long metal box.
“I promise I’ll be quick,” said Mrs. Hopkirk.
Max lifted his index finger and started to trace the graffiti lines on the wall. He then turned to look at his mom and something caught his eye. Right there in the far right corner, in the back and under the desk was a flicker of light. Must be my imagination, he thought.
There was a knock on the door. “Excuse me, Mrs. Hopkirk I will need you to initial the card here.”
Max’s mom cracked the door and right at that moment another flicker of light. There was no mistaking there was something there, or maybe it was some light entering through the door. Couldn’t be, thought Max. I saw that flash when the door was closed.
He decided to explore it further while his mom was distracted. He scooted over to the desk, stretched his hand to the far end of the corner and there it was. It felt like a small, rough stone about the size of a marble. He grabbed it between his thumb and fore finger. Just then his mom closed the door and, in one quick motion, he pulled himself upright, and put his hand in his pants pocket.
He explored the stone between his fingers for several minutes. He wondered if it was an expensive jewel. Maybe he should tell a bank employee? Maybe he should tell his mom? Max considered himself an honest person, but decided to hold on to the precious stone until he could examine it later at home. He made a promise that he would return it to its rightful owner if it were something of value. Right now his curiosity overwhelmed him.
Max’s mom closed the lid on the metal box with the same care she took when closing her car doors.
“Max -” she said, startling him to his feet. She gave him an odd kind of glance. “Let’s get out of this moldy old bank!”
They waited in front of the vault for the clerk, who was nowhere to be seen. Several minutes passed when Mrs. Hopkirk handed Max the safety deposit box, the smile having left her face.
“This is ridiculous!” she quipped. “I am going out there to see what is going on.” She turned toward the door, and just as she began to reach for the knob, the door flew back and the clerk appeared, looming over them like a giant stork.
“I am so sorry. I have another customer who is causing a lot of trouble. Here let me take this.” She lifted the box from Max’s arms, all the while giving him a warm smile.
Mrs. Hopkirk followed the banker into the vault. Max stayed behind, peeking through the glass door that led into the main lobby. The boredom he felt percolated through every cell in his body.
“Ok let’s go,” said Max’s mom.
As they exited into the main lobby Max witnessed an argument ensuing between the branch manager and another strange looking man. What struck Max immediately was the man’s bright Hawaiian print button down shirt that made him appear the typical Florida tourist. The shirt was draped loosely over him, except around his bulging mid-section.
His pudgy arms stuck out from his sleeves like hairy tree stumps. His face was large and plump, with multiple chins. The scattered grayish-brown hair on top his head was thinning and the slightest bald spot existed right on top. His rosy cheeks were pimpled and jiggled as he argued with the banker.
His beady blue eyes seemed to get smaller the angrier he got. His hairy eyebrows furrowed inward, almost meeting. His voice was thunderous, and as he spoke his thin red lips parted, exposing rat-like teeth, his tongue flickering in the most bizarre way, as if he were a snake tasting the air. He teetered back and forth on his heels, appearing as though at any minute he would lose balance and topple over.
“Look I just want to go back there and look around!” he growled.
“I already told you sir that you are not permitted back there unless you can sign for a safety deposit box,” said the exasperated man.
“You know I just closed out the box this morning. All I want to do is look around in the room I was last in. Am I really being that unreasonable?” pleaded the man. He glimpsed Max and his mom as they passed by, giving them a look as if to say the trouble the bank employee was giving him was the most ridiculous thing.
“Ok sir,” sighed George Goldschmidt. “I will have an employee escort you back to the rooms to have a look around”
A devious smile spread across the fat man’s face.