Excerpt from Cessna Down

Becky slept late and awoke with another headache. She made strong coffee, swallowed a couple of aspirin, and dressed in pink shorts and a halter. When she started out the door, the phone rang. It was Sheriff Engles. He wanted to come by the house on Monday to talk about David. It had been several months since Becky had seen Tom, and she was puzzled by his sudden unexpected interest.

Becky sat on the patio to watch the sun rise. She inhaled the heady aroma of coffee made from the roasted beans David had sent from South America. She watched the waves swell as she reflected on her marriage. David loved planes since childhood, but it was only after they moved to Merrick that he vowed to buy a plane. 

During L.T.’s first term as a state congressman, he bought a plane, hired a pilot, and South Carolina state taxes built an airstrip behind the mansion his father, Victor, had willed to him. When his career peaked, he employed David to remodel the interior of the aging residence with the latest decorative material. While David was working for L.T., he met Sheffield’s pilot, took lessons from him, and began to save for his own plane.

When Sheffield’s house was finished, L.T. helped David get a job with GAC and he was soon promoted to superintendent. A few years later, when David’s employer sent him on a job outside the United States, David leased one of Sheffield’s hangers and bought a used Cessna to commute between his job and home.

The sun rose, and the raw scent of sea rolled in. Becky snatched a brief look at the sky and pictured David’s plane buzzing the apartment. A tear crept into the corner of her eye. She finished drinking her coffee and went inside. She opened her purse and peered at the checkbook. The balance was dwindling.

Before the plane crash, GAC wired David’s paycheck to Merrick Bank. A set amount went into his and Becky’s checking account, and the rest went into savings. GAC hired native Honduran construction workers to build the structures. David and several foremen were the only American employees working on the Honduran job. GAC paid David for transporting American employees between United States and Honduras, and David used his expense money to live on. Becky paid their household bills from their checking account. After David purchased his plane, he told Becky since he was making better wages they could now concentrate on saving money to build a brand new home in Merrick.

Of course all of that had now changed. Since David’s accident, Becky’s only income came from her parttime job at Johnson’s Grocery, so she had to use some of their savings. Several years ago, David told Becky if she ever needed help with their bank accounts to ask for Barbara Dillon, so when she couldn’t find the passbook or any statements, she made a trip to the bank.

“May I speak to Barbara Dillon?” Becky asked

“She’s no longer employed here, but any teller can help you.” The lady at the information desk pointed toward the cashier windows.

The teller turned out to be blond, curly haired Martha who had accompanied Larry Sheffield to Oasis. Martha checked Becky’s identification before excusing herself to search for a savings account. She returned with a blue microfiche card and bank statements.

“Sorry I took so long.” Martha twisted her index finger around a curl. “Your savings records were in the vault’s inactive file. You have an individual account listed under Rebecca Martin.”

Becky remembered signing a signature card that David had brought home, and felt certain he had placed the account in both names.

“I made you a new passbook.” Martha recorded the balance on a fresh new page and handed the book to Becky.

Becky mouthed the words. “Over fifty-thousand dollars?”

Martha nodded.

Becky’s stomach did a somersault. She returned the passbook to Martha. “Please transfer a thousand dollars into my checking account.”

Martha processed the transfer and returned the passbook along with savings statements for the previous quarter. Hold was stamped in the top left-hand corner of the balance sheets.

“What does this mean?” Becky pointed to the word.

“That’s the way the account is set up. We keep your statements until you come in. You can change that if you like.”

Becky ran her finger along the list of deposits.

“I’m sorry about your husband’s accident,” Martha said. “I suppose you’d like to go into your safe-deposit box or meet with the bank’s attorney.”

“What? Oh yes, thank you, Martha.” Becky had not thought about the box or getting an attorney, but not wanting to appear ignorant of such matters, she said, “I guess I could do that today.”

“Attorney Calhoun is semi-retired. He only works the first three days of the week. I could make an appointment,” Martha offered.

“I’ll see what’s in the safe-deposit box today and call Attorney Calhoun next week.” Becky gathered her papers together.

Martha placed a closed sign in front of her window. “I’ll meet you on the other side of the lobby.”

When Becky arrived at the vault, Jackson Cunningham, the bank president, stepped out of his office.

“I’d like to extend my condolences.” He placed his hand on Becky’s shoulder.

“All we know so far is that David is missing.” Becky stood with her back straight, determined not to let anyone assume her husband was dead when there was no actual proof. “Can you explain to me why my husband’s name is no longer on the savings account?”

“David’s name never appeared on the account.” A friendly smile creased the edges of his lips. “I know that for sure. I opened your account and handled each transaction myself.” He put his hands in his pants pockets. “David and I were close friends. He told me he was saving to build a house for you.”

“Oh!” Becky didn’t know quite what to say. “From now on, I’d like to have my statements sent to our home address.”

“Yes, Mrs. Martin.” Jackson nodded. “I’ll see that the change is made immediately. We appreciate your business and hope you’ll continue to use us as your personal bank.”

Like where does he think I would go? This is the only bank in town.

Once again he reached to shake her hand. “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.”

“Call me Becky.” She smiled and shook his hand.

Martha arrived and Becky signed her entry card.

Inside the vault, Martha whispered. “After the plane crash, a teller told everyone how much money was in your account. Mr. Cunningham fired him, but too late to help you.”

“Do you mean the whole town knows my financial status?”

Martha shrugged. “Probably not everyone. Don’t tell anyone I told you. I could be fired.”

“I won’t because I don’t want to cause you any trouble, but I’d like to give that nasty teller a piece of my mind. Does he live here in town?”

“I didn’t work here when it happened, but one of the tellers told me he didn’t like working here anyway. She said he was from Georgetown and thought it was too far to travel to work.” Martha took Becky’s keys, unlocked the box, and stepped toward the doorway that led to the private rooms.

“Wait,” Becky said. “I don’t need a private room. I’m not taking anything out.” The heavy container screeched against the frame. “My goodness, this is big.”

“Maybe that’s all we had available when you opened your account. Banks never seem to have enough small and medium sizes.” Martha stepped outside the vault to give Becky privacy.

Inside the box, documents lay in a neat stack. David’s dog-eared birth certificate rested on top. Becky looked, adjusted her glasses and looked again. Underneath, wedged close together, were packages of hundred-dollar bills.

She gasped. Heavens to Betsy! Where did all this money come from? She glanced at the vault entrance. Martha stood outside the gate applying bright pink color to her lips.

Maybe the FAA had reason to mention the DEA after all. Becky extracted David’s birth certificate, closed the lid, and slid the box back into place. “I’m finished.”

Martha smoothed her skirt and stepped inside the vault.

“All I took was David’s birth certificate.” Becky waved the small piece of paper in front of Martha and left the bank.

When she reached her car, Larry Sheffield hurried toward her. Still shaken from the bundled cash, she barely spoke.

He stooped to peer into the open car window. “I’m glad to see you. I wanted to tell you how sorry we all were to hear about David.”

She forced a smile. “Thank you.”

“Everyone in Merrick liked David, and his friends are worried about you. My father’s concerned and sends his regards.” He pulled a crumpled business card from his pocket. “Our home number is on the back. Call us if there’s anything we can do.” He sauntered into the bank.

Driving home, Becky remembered David once told her she would one day own a fine home in Merrick. She had laughed, but now she realized how hard he must have worked to save fifty-thousand dollars. However, she did not have an explanation for the cash in the safe-deposit box. The money could belong to the company. Cash to buy equipment in another country, or if he didn’t crash, he could have sold the plane. I’m sure David will have a logical answer when he returns.