SAVANNAH CONROY was one of the sharpest rural loan managers the Department of Agriculture had: she slung attitude like paint on a canvas, wore sweaters like a Hollywood starlet, and managed an office like Steve Jobs. They’d built the Beaufort, South Carolina, office around her to harness that charisma, and then added two more counties to keep her busy.
Sitting in my soon-to-be-ex-apartment, I glared at the new permanent marker stain on my carpet as this Beaufort wonder now shrieked in my ear. My breakfast, a bowl of instant grits with no butter, sat like a rock in my gut. My empty twenty-two-foot rental truck sat outside my apartment, awaiting boxes I’d been packing for a week. Thunder rumbled. It started to rain.
Days didn’t come any more thrilling than this.
I pulled the phone further from my ear. “Savvy,” I said. “Chill. What’s wrong with you?”
“Monroe’s ransacking my files, Slade. He won’t answer my questions when I ask what he’s snooping for.” She exhaled hard. “He’s not listening to me.”
“Dammit,” I grumbled, sitting on the floor and dabbing at the marker stain with a paper towel. “Maybe you need to ask nice.”
“Bite me,” she replied.
The sky roiled with angry, gunmetal gray clouds. Trees arched. Wind whistled as it whipped around the building, warning me that Mother Nature ruled my moving day.
After our decade-old friendship, casual banter came easy between Savvy and me. We shared a camaraderie that never failed us, but when Savvy lost her cool, it was watch out world. “Aren’t you being a tad bitchier than normal?” I asked. “What’s Monroe there for anyway?”
“He says a routine audit.”
“Okay, so it’s an audit. You sail through those things. Plus, you drew Monroe, the nicest guy in the bunch.”
“With the sharpest eye,” she said. “That has to mean something.”
I quit worrying about the carpet stain and stood, hand on a hip. “Hey, are you all right?”
“No. Want me to show more bitchy to convince you things aren’t right?”
Monroe Prevatte was a loan director operating from an office down the hall from mine. He was one of headquarters’ gurus when it came to audits, and another dear friend. I’d been on leave for my move, or I would’ve known about his mission.
“I hate tight-lipped people,” Savvy said. “Hell, they audited me only six months ago.”
This wasn’t the Savvy I knew. Between loan season, my recent promotion, and the subsequent move to Columbia, we’d lost touch of late. Thanks to a calamity at my last duty station in Charleston, I’d demonstrated an ability to solve problems, to include nailing my boss, his boss, and a few scattered players in between. Thus, the promotion to headquarters. My frequent calls to Savvy had petered out over that time. Still, all it took was a regional meeting and we fell back in sync. Savvy, tall with her close-cropped curls and Cherokee cheekbones, and me, in my J.C. Penney coordinates. We’d reconnoitre at the nearest bar after some meeting let out to solve the world’s dilemmas. And we thought we were damn good at it.
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