Page 63 of The Moneychangers

"I don't know. Tomorrow I'll start looking for a job." He took a deep breath and seemed about to say something else, but she motioned. him to wait. "Estelita, vamps, amorcito. Bedtimel"

Soon after, washed, her hair brushed, and wearing tiny pink pajamas, Estela came to say good night. Large liquid eyes regarded Miles gravely. "My daddy went away. Are you going away?" "Yes, very soon."

"That's what I thought." She put up her face to be kissed.

When she had tucked in Estela, Juanita came out of the apartment's single bedroom, closing the door behind her. She sat down facing Miles, hands folded in her lap. "So. You may talk."

He hesitated, moistening his lips. Now that the moment had arrived he seemed irresolute, bereft of words. Then he said, "All this time since I was… put away… I've been wanting to say I'm sorry. Sorry for everything I did, but mostly for what I did to you. I'm ashamed. In one way I don't know how it happened. In another I think I do..”,

Juanita shrugged. 'What happened is gone. Does it matter now?"

"It matters to me. Please, Juanita let me tell you the rest, the way it was."

Then, like a gusher uncapped, words flooded out. He spoke of his awakened conscience, and remorse, of last year's insanity of gambling and debts, and how they had possessed him like a fever which distorted moral values and perception. Looking back, he told Juanita, it seemed as if someone else had inhabited his mind and body. He proclaimed his guilt at stealing from the bank. But worst of all he avowed, was what he had done to her, or tried to. His shame about that, he declared emotionally, had haunted him through every day in prison and would never leave him.

When Miles began speaking, Juanita's strongest instinct was suspicion. As he continued, not all of it left her; life had fooled and shortchanged her too often to permit total belief in anything. Yet her judgment inclined her to accept what Miles had said as genuine, and a sense of pity overwhelmed her.

She found herself comparing Miles with Carlos, her absentee husband. Carlos had been weak; so had Miles. Yet, in a way, Miles's willingness to return and face her penitently argued a strength and manhood which Carlos never had.

Suddenly she saw the humor in it all: The men in her life for one reason or another were flawed and unimpressive. They were also losers, like herself. She almost laughed, Then decided not to because Miles would never understand.

He said earnestly "Juanita, I want to ask you something. Will you forgive met" She looked at him. "And if you do, will you say it to me?"

The silent laughter died; tears filled her eyes. That she could understand. She had been born a Catholic, and Though nowadays she rarely bothered with church, she knew the solace of confession and absolution. She rose to her feet. "Miles," Juanita said. "Stand up. Look at me."

He obeyed her, and she said gently, " Yes, I forgive you."

The muscles of his face twisted and worked. Then she held him as he wept.

When Miles had composed himself, and they were seated again, Juamta spoke practically. "Where will you spend the night?" "I'm not sure. I'll find somewhere."

She considered, then told him, "You may stay here if you wish." As she saw his surprise, she added quickly, "You can sleep in this room for tonight only. I will be in the bedroom with Estela. Our door will be locked." She wanted no misunderstandings.

"If you really don't mind," he said, "I'd like to do that. And you'll have nothing to worry about."

He did not tell her the real reason she had no cause to worry: That there were other problems within himself psychological and sexual which he had not yet faced. All that Miles knew, so far, was that because of repeated homosexual acts between himself and Karl, his protector in prison, his desire for women had evaporated He wondered if he would be a man in any sexual way again.

Shortly after, as tiredness overcame them both, Juanita went to join Estela.

In the morning, through the closed bedroom door; she heard Miles stirring early. A half hour later, when she emerged from the bedroom, he had left. A note was propped up on the living-room table. Juanita With all my heart, thank you, Miles

While she prepared breakfast for herself and Estela, she was surprised to find herself regretting he had gone.

2

In the four and a half months since approval of his savings and branch bank expansion plan by FMA's board of directors, Alex Vandervoort had moved swiftly. Planning and progress sessions between the bank's own staff and outside consultants and contractors had been held almost daily. Work continued during nights, weekends, and holidays, spurred on by Alex's insistence that the program be operating before the end of summer and in high gear by mid-fall

The savings reorganization was easiest to accomplish in the time. Most of what Alex wanted done including launching four new types of savings accounts, with increased interest rates and geared to varying needs had been the subject of earlier studies at his behest. It was merely necessary to translate these into reality. Some fresh ground to be covered involved a strong program of advertising to attract new depositors and this conflict of interest or not the Austin Agency produced with speed and competence. The theme of the savings campaign was:

WE'LL PAY YOU TO BE THRIFTY

AT FIRST MERCANTILE AMERICAN

Now, in early August, double-page spreads in newspapers proclaimed the virtues of savings a la FMA. They also showed locations of eighty bank branches in the state where gifts, coffee, and "friendly financial counseling" were available to anyone opening a new account. The value of a gift depended on the size of an initial deposit, along with agreement not to disturb it for a stated time. Spot announcements on TV and radio hammered home a parallel campaign.

As to the nine new branches "our money shops," as Alex called them two were opened in the last week of July, three more in the first few days of August, and the remaining four would be in business before September. Since all were in rented premises, which involved conversion rather than construction, speed had been possible here, too.

It was the money shops a name that caught on quickly which attracted most attention to begin with. They also produced far greater publicity than either Alex Vandervoort, the bank's PR department, or the Austin Advertising Agency had foreseen. And the spokesman for it all soaring to prominence like an ascending comet was Alex.

He had not intended it to be that way. It simply happened.

A reporter from the morning Times-Register, assigned to cover the new branch openings, dipped into that newspaper's morgue in search of background and discovered Alex's tenuous connection with the previous February's pro-Forum East "bank-in." Discussion with the features editor hatched the notion that Alex would make good copy for an expanded story. This proved true. When you think of modern bankers tthe reporter later wrote] don't think of solemn, cautious functionaries in traditional double-breasted, dark blue suits, pursing their lips and saying "no." Think, instead, of Alexander Vandervoort. Mr. Vandervoort, who's an executive veep at our own First Mercantile American Bank, to begin with doesn't look like a banker. His suits are from the fashion section of Esquire, his mannerisms a la Johnny Carson, and when it comes to loans, especially small loans, he's conditioned with rare exception to pronouncing "yes." But he also believes in thrift and says most of us aren't being as wise about money as our parents and grandparents.

Another thing about Alexander Vandervoort is that he's a leader in modern bank technology, some of which arrived in our city's suburbs just this week.

The new look in banking is embodied in branch banks not having the appearance of banks at all which seems appropriate because Mr. Vandervoort (who doesn't look like a banker, as we said) is the local driving force behind them.

This reporter went along with Alexander Vandervoort this week for a glimpse of what he calls "consumer banking of the future that's here right now."

The bank's public relations chief, Dick Prench, had set up the arrangements. The reporter was a middle-aged, floppy blonde called Jill Peacock, no Pulitzer journalist, but the story interested her and she was friendly.

Alex and Ms. Peacock stood together in one of the new branch banks, located in a suburban shopping plaza It was about equal in size to a neighborhood drugstore, brightly lighted, and pleasantly designed. The principal furnishings were two stainless-steel Docutel automatic tellers, which customers operated themselves, and a closed-circuit television console in a booth. The auto-tellers, Alex explained, were linked directly to computers at FMA Headquarters. "Nowadays," he went on, "the public is conditioned to expect service, which is why there's a demand for banks to stay open longer, and at more convenient hours. Money shops like this one will be open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week." "With staff here all that time?" Ms. Peacock asked.

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