They were waiting outside the bank when we opened the doors at 7. She was in her 70's, but stood up straight. She wore no make-up, except the lip liner tattooed around her mouth; it struck me that she had probably been quite pretty when she was younger. He was in his 40's. He wore his long, greasy, dyed-black hair slicked back, and the top two snaps of his Western shirt unbuttoned, like he had just stumbled off the set of a cheesy Las Vegas movie.
He seemed uneasy; she seemed confused. They both smiled a little too much.
They handed over the papers they wanted notarized, carefully typed by an old-fashioned typewriter that printed its letter "R's" slightly off-center.
I looked over the documents.
The first page described a property in Vail that the old woman was signing over to Mr. Hair Gel. The second gave him power of attorney over one of her bank accounts. The third signed over the title to her vintage Cadillac. Page after page described properties in California, Hawaii, and Colorado, bank accounts, and expensive assets, all being signed over by Ms. Confused to her "good friend Mr. Hair Gel."
"I'm not sure I am allowed to notarize this particular type of document without manager approval," I lied.
"No problem," Mr. Hair Gel answered. "Only, we're kind of in a hurry, so don't take too long."
I took the documents and both of their photo ID's to the back office.
A sleepy teller was verifying the cash in her drawer. "Hey, could you do me a huge favor and make copies of all this stuff?" I asked.
I grabbed the phone and started dialing. The branch manager was on vacation. The assistant manager was still asleep. I finally got a regional manager on the phone.
I explained the situation. "I feel like something fishy is going on, like maybe the old lady has dementia or something. I need your permission to tell them that I won't notarize their documents," I finished.
"I can't give you permission to deny a customer service based on your 'feelings,' Jane," he said. "Unless you have some kind of proof that something illegal is going on, you need to notarize the documents."
I hung up the phone. I wouldn't do it, I decided. No job was worth my morals.
The teller handed me the papers from the copier. "These are kinda weird," she said.
"Yeah," I muttered.
The other teller came back to the back. "Um, your customer is getting kind of loud..." she said. "He says he wants his papers back."
I took the documents back out to the front to Mr. Hair Gel.
"You had no right to take our documents away from us!" he said, no longer pleasant, no longer smiling. "Give them - give me my driver's license! You are incredibly slow. This is not difficult - I have never had such awful - if you're not going to notarize these now, we're leaving. We'll take our business somewhere else." He grabbed the papers out of my hand, and herded Ms. Confused out the front door.
"She's discriminating against you," he told her as they walked away.
A few days later, Ms. Confused came back, not confused at all. "My friend, my only friend, he left me because of YOU," she said, pure vitriol. "He moved away to another state and I will never see him again. You are a HORRIBLE person. I HATE you. I will get you fired, you wait and see."
For the next several days, Ms. Confused would come and stand near my desk, squinting at me angrily and wagging a long, pointy fingernail. When she wasn't staring me down, she was screaming at a long management chain that she wanted me fired, that I was a horrible, dishonest person. After a week or so, she finally gave up.
Dear Ms. Confused,
I am sorry that you blamed me for the loss of your friendship with Mr. Hair Gel. I am sorry you were so lonely.
The bank's fraud investigator told me that you had been a history professor before you retired, and that your assets represented a lifetime of careful saving. Mr. Hair Gel was a drifter, but did not have a serious criminal record. You met him through an ad that he posted in a seniors newsletter in Hawaii. Mr. Hair Gel was looking for "a place to stay, preferably where [he] could pay his way by serving as a caretaker/friend." He loved "chatting and listening to stories."
A few weeks after you responded to Mr. Hair Gel's ad, he moved in. A few weeks after that, he told you that you were being sued, and that you should move away from your last remaining family so that he could help protect you and your (sizable) assets. You could sign everything over to Mr. Hair Gel, and "the people suing you" wouldn't get one penny of your money. This brought you to Texas, to the little bank where I worked.
You were never served with a lawsuit.
Six months after I almost notarized away your life's savings, you came back to the bank. You had (apparently) forgotten who I was. You were lost, you said. Could you use the phone to call a taxi? You took a taxi home, and I never saw you again.
I don't know if what I did was right or wrong. I sure felt like I was indeed a horrible person when I saw how alone you were. Maybe Mr. Hair Gel would have taken your money; maybe, to a lonely old woman, it would have been a small price to pay for friendship.
I hope that you're being taken care of, wherever you are.