I wrote this story about a year and a half ago, then forgot about it and it sat on my hard drive until recently when I pulled it out to try out Scrivener (had some trouble exporting, but that’s another topic). For a couple of different reasons I don’t expect to submit it anywhere and will probably just post it to my FA and SF accounts, but I thought I’d put it here first to see if anyone has any comments either about this story in particular or my writing style in general. One thing I’ll admit to up front is that although I’ve written it with anthro characters there’s really no reason they couldn’t be humans.
Gloria’s Strange Addiction
I’m really going to hate this conversation, thought Patrick as he padded through the front office of the church.
Tamara, one of the parish secretaries, glanced up briefly to smile at him. “Good morning, Father Pat.”
“Good morning, Tamara,” the assistant pastor replied, making himself smile back at the chinchilla before his gaze shifted to Gloria, who sat at the desk beyond. The groundhog had two daughters who had been in high school when she was hired six years ago; now her desk was graced with high school graduation pictures of both of them, and a college graduation picture of the eldest. Many who visited the office regularly said Gloria was a joy to talk to, and that made what he had to do next all the more difficult.
The pastor’s office door was open. The wolf closed it as he stepped inside. “Father Mike, we may have a problem with Gloria.”
The deer looked in the direction of Gloria’s desk, though there was a solid wall between them, then back at Patrick. “What sort of problem.”
Patrick took a seat and fidgeted for a long pause. “Gloria’s real nice and helpful and everything and I like her a lot, so this is really hard for me to say, but it has to be said.”
Father Mike snorted. “Well, out with it!” He paused and caught his breath. “I understand, it’s hard to say anything bad about Gloria, and I know you wouldn’t if you didn’t think it was important.”
Patrick sat forward. “I have reason to suspect she may be stealing money from the parish.”
Mike sat up and steepled his fingers. “What makes you think she’s stealing money?”
Patrick sighed. “One day, several months ago, I saw her taking a bundle of bills out of the safe. I don’t think she knew I was there.”
“Did you say anything to her?”
“No, I thought maybe she was helping Tamara with something, and I didn’t want to falsely accuse her of anything. I knew the money was counted and we’d know if any of it was missing when we deposited it at the bank.”
The deer nodded. “And was there?”
Patrick shook his head. “Nope, it was all there.” The wolf shrugged. “Twice since then I’ve seen her handling money from the safe when I didn’t know why she would need to be, but both times it was all there when we went the bank. But this morning we were short a hundred.”
Mike rubbed an antler and nodded. “I see what you mean. So let’s think about this. You count up the money from the collection, bundle the bills by denomination, and then you add up the bundles, the odd bills, and the checks, and the change…”
“We don’t count the loose change. The bank has machines that can do it a lot faster than we could do it by hand. But that’s right, we total the bills and the checks, two of us initial the adding machine tape, usually Tamara and I, and it goes in the safe where it’s supposed to stay until we take it to the bank.”
Mike nodded again. “So we’d know if the total was wrong. And that hasn’t happened yet, until this morning.”
The pastor tugged at his collar. “Okay, let’s think here. You’re right, we don’t want to accuse Gloria of stealing money if she hasn’t been. How else could we be off by a hundred? Is it possible you missed a bundle when you put the money in the pouch.”
“I don’t think so.”
Mike stood. “Let’s go check the safe just to be sure.”
Patrick exited the office first. Father Mike had long since mastered the art of passing through a doorway without getting his antlers caught on it. The safe sat on the floor of the supply closet at one end of the front office. Opening the closet, Patrick squatted to dial the combination on the safe. With the final number in place, he worked the lever and pulled the heavy door open. There in the bottom of the safe was a bundle of a hundred singles. He glanced backward toward Tamara and Gloria, and spoke to Mike in a very low tone. “This was not in here when I left for the bank.”
They both looked at Gloria, who was trying to pretend she was too busy to notice them, and failing badly at it. Patrick stood, holding the bundle of bills, and they walked over to her desk. She looked up at them. “Good morning, Father Mike and Father Pat.”
“Good morning, Gloria. We need to ask you something,” said the pastor.
She shifted in her seat, glancing briefly at the bundle of bills. “Yes, Father?”
“Have you been taking money out of the safe?”
The groundhog glanced down and away from, her ears drooping as she breathed heavily for a long pause. Finally she looked back up at him. “I have not been taking money from the parish.”
Mike nodded. “I’m glad to hear that, Gloria, but that’s not what I asked. Have you been taking money out of the safe? For any reason.” Patrick ran his thumb over the end of the bundle of bills.
After another even longer pause, Gloria answered. “Yes, Father, I have. I always put it back!”
Mike looked over at Patrick, who was studying the bills. “Why?” he asked her.
As if he hadn’t heard them, Patrick spoke. “‘Track me at wheresgeorge.com’.”
Mike gave Patrick a puzzled glance. “What are you talking about?”
Patrick shrugged. “It’s just something stamped on this bill. Sometimes we see bills stamped with this or something similar…” He did a quick thumb through the bundle, then his eyes went wide and he looking at the first several one at a time. “Wait a minute, they’re all stamped like this! Here, see for yourself.” He handed the bundle to Mike.
“I’m sorry,” said Gloria. “I didn’t get them back into the safe before you left for the bank this morning.”
The deer looked up. “What is this wheresgeorge.com?”
Gloria bit her lip. “It’s a website for tracking dollar bills.”
“Did you stamp these yourself?”
When Gloria didn’t answer right away, Tamara, stood and pushed her way between the two clergymen, pulled open one of Gloria’s desk drawers, and produced a rubber stamp and an ink pad. Gloria looked on in shock. Tamara looked at Gloria, who hid her face. “I found this one day when I was looking in your desk for an oversized envelope.”
“How long have you been doing this?” Patrick asked the groundhog.
“Over a year,” Gloria answered quietly. “Usually a hundred one-dollar bills a week. I’ve entered over seven thousand.”
“You stamp these bills. What’s the point in that?”
Gloria squirmed again. “When I stamp them, I enter the serial numbers on the website. And then sometimes I get an email saying one of the bills I entered has been found by someone.” She slumped, and continued. “When I started, it took about a month before I got the first one. Now I get two or three a day. I can hardly wait to see where a bill I’ve handled has gotten to. Last week one showed up in Alaska.” She looked nervously at Father Mike. “Are you going to fire me?”
Father Mike looked down at her. “No, Gloria. You haven’t stolen anything so I’m not going to fire you.” Gloria let out a sigh of relief as the pastor stood up straighter. “But from now on, I don’t want anyone opening the safe or handling our money without good reason. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” the groundhog replied.
* * *
Patrick and Tamara were busy with the church’s payroll. Gloria had been her usual efficient and friendly self in the week and a half since the incident and had behaved herself, but he had seen her glance in the direction of the safe more than once. Patrick knew the look of temptation.
It was after 4 o’clock when they finished. He stepped over to Gloria to give her her week’s pay. “Thank you, Father Patrick,” she said as she took the check and looked at it. Her eyes went wide. “Father, is this the right amount? I think it’s a hundred dollars short.”
The wolf leaned over and pursed his lips as he looked at the check. “A hundred dollars short, hmm? That happened to me last week.”
“But Father, I have bills to pay…” she cried, looking up at him.
The corners of Patrick’s mouth turned up. “Yes, I know.” He reached into his pocket and produced a bundle of one dollar bills, dropping it on the desk in front of her. “Here’s your hundred.”
Gloria looked between him and the bundle of bills. “You mean… Is it okay if I…”
Patrick pretended to think a moment before giving a shrug. “It’s your money. You can do whatever you want with it.”
The groundhog’s face brightened up. “Oh, thank you Father!”
He returned to Tamara’s desk to put the accounting ledger away. Before departing, he looked back at Gloria. The band had been torn off the bills and the rubber stamp was out. Gloria was in her element as fingers flew across the keyboard while her other hand moved between the mouse, the stack of bills, and the rubber stamp.