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Precious

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A bank. How long had it been since she was actually in a bank? Nobody went into banks any more, not even bloody thieves. Deposits, withdrawals, bill paying, embezzling… it was all done by computer now. She’d gone into one to set up her accounts when she first started working, but since then she’d had no reason to return. Bank interiors were just another reminder of the interminable queues she’d stood in as a child with her mum, catching dirty glances and rude remarks because they didn’t have the same color skin.

“May I help you?” The tone of voice used by the lady crossing the main hall held just a touch of the “you shouldn’t be here” that Maya used to hear when people spoke to her mum. Only a touch, mind you, because Maya still had on her suit from work and besides, this was 2008 and a heavily government-regulated institution like a bank would catch six different kinds of bureaucratic hell for discrimination. Or maybe the woman’s tone just came from working in a place where the “customers” were quite often more like “petitioners.” Maya admitted that perhaps her past was colouring her perception.

“DCI Maya Roy. Mr. Whittaker phoned me; something about a safety deposit box?”

The woman’s facial expression immediately changed to something far more pleasant. Maya couldn’t tell if it was her own title or the branch manager’s name that had caused the reaction.

It was something else entirely. “Ah, the mystery box!” the woman exclaimed, then hunched her shoulders a bit and looked around guiltily. “Sorry, I’m being indiscreet. Yes, ma’am, Mr. Whittaker is expecting you. This way, please.” She turned and led Maya to an office door at the far end of the hall, opened it, and announced her.

“DCI Roy, thank you for coming in,” said the man rising from behind his desk. “I’m John Whittaker, branch head here.” He might be over forty, but not by much she judged, gray only at the temples of his dark brown hair, only a few laugh lines at the corners of his brown eyes. He seemed a bit young for a branch head, but then Maya had come into her position quite young, as well. He was tall, lean but not thin. The “copper” part of her brain started estimating his height and weight until she stopped it.

Shaking the proffered hand she announced, “I hope we can clear this up quickly, Mr. Whittaker. As I explained on the phone, I don’t have a box here. I’m not even a customer of this bank.” Maya knew she sounded a bit impatient but honestly, she’d had a nasty day and she’d really rather be at home, in athletic clothing, with her yoga DVD and a nice bottle of red opened to breathe on the counter top.

Motioning to the chair in front of his desk, Mr. Whittaker sat back in his own. “Yes, ma’am, I know. You’re not the lessee of the box, just the person to whom we’ve been instructed to release the contents now that the lease term is completed. If I may see some I.D., please?” He opened a folder centered in front of him on the desk.

Maya automatically reached for her badge and warrant card in her jacket pocket, then stopped when she realized the man was asking for something a little more universal. Instead, she dug her wallet out of her handbag, opened it to her operator’s license, and passed it across the desk. “Who leased the box, then?” she asked, puzzled.

“One minute, please.” Whittaker compared her I.D. to some papers, ticked off a couple of boxes, and handed it back to her. “Thank you. Samuel Tyler.”