Chester squinted in the dim light of a bank’s basement trying to focus on the operator’s manual. His vision was failing and after another long day his eyes hurt and his head ached. He removed the round wire rimmed bifocals from his head and rubbed his eyes.
“Lord, help me,” he whispered. “Can’t they print these things bigger?” The unheard plea was a closest he would come to a complaint.
Replacing his glasses, he picked up a tool and gingerly inserted into the transistor board back into the IBM 803 proof machine. Then he replaced the sheet metal covering that protected its complex operating system.
“Well. Let’s see what we’ve got,” said Chester.
He connected the machine back to its power source and flipped the machine to the “On” position. He heard the power course through the machine and sat down, placing one check into the feeder. When he keyed the endorsement control the check shot through the machine and out the other side into one of the multiple slots that collected the endorsed safety paper deposit.
Mac Jenkins, the Proof Department Manager, for the Birmingham Trust National Bank smiled.
“Knew you could do it, Chester. Gotta leave this kind of thing to the professionals.”
“Thank you Mac. IBM appreciates your business. And I appreciate the coffee.”
“Long ride home tonight, right Chester? You’ll be late. Bess’ll be worried.”
It was almost 7:30 when Chester had completed his task and Mac was right. Bess always worried when he wasn’t home by 8:00 p.m. But it couldn’t be helped. Without a functioning proof machine the bank wouldn’t be able to run the daily work it received from customers and other banks. Like so many times before, Chester wouldn’t leave until things were perfect.
“Anything else you’re concerned about while I’m here, Mac?”
“No sir. Thank you again, Chester. You need to go home.”
“Well, you’re right about that,” said the man with the thinning red hair. “Any more problems and you let us know.”
“I will,” said the man in the black suit. His hand-starched white shirt had begun to wilt but the man’s attitude was a crisp as the crease in his wool slacks. “You be careful going home. Been raining all day. The roads will be a mess.”
Chester picked up his tools and walked slowly through the rain to his truck. His stomach was as empty as the street and his hands ached. He was grateful Bess always packed an extra biscuit or some other nourishment with his lunch for nights like this. And he was eager to dig into his lunch box to see what he had to nibble on during the hour-long drive home. He loaded his tools into the passenger seat of the ’52 Chevrolet Pick Up and then found an apple and piece of pound cake in remaining in black aluminum lunch box. As he cranked the truck he bit into the cake and let it melt in his mouth.
He flipped on the headlights savoring the sweet bite before depressing the clutch and easing the truck into first gear. As he found second gear Chester settled into the seat a little more and found comfort in the knowledge he would be home soon. Bess would be waiting with a plate of dinner over which he would recount his day and she hers. He wondered if she had heard from one of the boys. Benji was in Mobile, LB was in Birmingham, and Nat was in Montgomery now. On long days like today he missed them more than most times. The truck was now picking up speed rumbling down U.S. Highway 78 and the lights of Birmingham were fading behind him as was the ache in his hands. He let out a sigh and took another bite of the cake.