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The Bank Manager (The Brunch Chronicles Ch. 9)

Aug 25, 2020

A Story Written By Kevin Gallagher

We were struggling to keep our costs in line. Donna and I were still working brunch service and Mary Jane was working for free but it wasn’t having a huge impact on our labour costs. The economy was in recession and catering orders were down as many of our regular clients tightened up their spending. Our restaurant business was growing slowly, but not enough to offset the decrease in catering sales. If there was a silver lining to all of this, it was that Ted and Ivan had lots of time to spend working on decor, because the film industry was slow as well.

We had had a careful, distant relationship with our CIBC branch. At one point, when business was strong we had been given an unsecured twenty thousand dollar line of credit. Now, we were not only operating entirely in the overdraft but usually right at the limit. Part of my daily routine was to gather any catering cheques or cash from restaurant sales and deposit them to keep the account from going over the line. 

One afternoon, the manager, Mr. MacPherson, called me into his office.

“You know that the terms of your line of credit require you to have a positive balance in your account for at least ten days a month.” he began, in a lilting Belfast accent.

“I know but..” I began. He raised his hand, continuing, “and you have not been out of overdraft for more than three months. I have been instructed by the bank to call in the line. When do you think you can pay it off?” 

The Catholic in me felt a stab of resentment at this Protestant man singling me out but I knew that what he said was the truth. We were given the line to ease us through the lag between billing and payment of catering invoices that often stretched into many weeks. It seemed now we needed it more than ever.  I was reminded of Mark Twain’s comment, “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.”

There was nothing to be done but to acquiesce.

I muttered a vague promise about covering it by the end of next week, having no idea where the money would come from.

“And then there are these” he continued picking up a small pile of cheques from his desk, “even with the overdraft, these will have to be sent back.”

“I’ve just made a deposit.” I said

“For how much?” 

I stammered out a number.

Tilting his head back, he peered at the cheques through his bifocals,

“That will cover two of them, but the rest will have to go.”

“I could cover them tomorrow.”

Sliding the glasses down on his nose he asked, “Are you sure?”

I’m sure.” I said. I was not sure.

“Okay I’ll just keep them here until tomorrow.”

I thanked him and left, dazed. Briefly relieved, I tried not to think of where the money was going to come from, knowing too that there were more cheques that had been released and might arrive tomorrow. Years later when I saw the movie Big Night, what moved me most was not the fabulous dinner scene or the music but Secondo’s interview with the bank manager. 

The next afternoon was a repeat with minor variations. No mention was made of the line, but a couple of cheques had been added to the little pile. Which should be returned and which paid? I again made uncertain promises; he cited his responsibilities and again there was a little pile of cheques on the corner of his desk when I left.

My meetings with Mr. MacPherson became a regular part of my day for the next few weeks. Sometimes he would pause his shuffling of the cheques and ask, “When you were last in Ireland, where did ye go?” Had I been to Belfast? How was it looking?

He would like to go back for a holiday he said, but his wife refused. 

It occurred to me that he might be doing his best to give us the opportunity to succeed, stretching his authority on the line of credit, and I relaxed a bit. Then one afternoon he presented me with a directive from the federal government stating that since we were in arrears with our payroll remittances, any money in the account would have to be forwarded to Revenue Canada until it had been paid off. I was stunned and felt defeated. If we couldn’t pay our suppliers, we might as well just call it quits. 

McPherson looked at me, settling back in his chair,

“But there’s no money in your account to send them, is there? You’re still in overdraft. Have ye a deposit today?”

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