Carol was older than me, more worldly. She was always dressed well, had the latest hairstyle, knew what make up to wear, what handbag to carry. I looked up to her a bit. I wanted to be more like her. I was only 17 at the time, so I was very impressionable.
One day Carol found herself without a car, so every morning before work, I would go out of my way and drive the extra distance to her house to pick her up. Then in the afternoon, once we'd finished work, I'd drive her home. I didn't mind. She made me laugh, and we got to have a chat, wondering what was in store for us that day, or wrapping up the day in hilarious detail.
We spent many lunch times together. Shopping, eating, gossiping. Just what friends do.
Then one Thursday night, she complained about how annoying it was not to have a car. She wanted to go shopping in the city for a change. I offered to go with her, of course. And so, that night we hit the shops, buying various items of clothing, drinking milkshakes, laughing, chatting. We found ourselves shopping until closing time, and decided to have a bite to eat.
We grabbed some takeaway, and then, not wanting my Mum to worry where I was (I was still living at home) I pulled over at a phone box to give her a call (that's what we had to do back then - no one owned a mobile, unless you were, like, a billionaire or something)! Carol remained in the car. After calling Mum, I returned to the car and drove Carol home.
Not far from her place, she suddenly asked, "Oh! Jodie - where's your purse?!" Out of habit, I usually threw my purse on to the dashboard of the car, but for some reason, I'd thrown it in the glove box that night. "Don't worry," I replied, warmed by her concern, "I put it in the glove box." She seemed relieved. "I thought you had lost it," she explained.
The next day, I was at work and went in to my purse to get some money out and noticed my ATM card was missing. I went in to a panic. Where could it be? Did I leave it at one of the shops Carol and I had visited the night before? I quickly made a list of stores and gave them all a call. No one had my card. So then I called my Mum. Had she seen it lying around anywhere? (I thought this unlikely, but had to check). No. Nothing. I went down to my car, checking the floor, the seats, the glove box. Not there.
Unable to find it, I decided I should call the bank and cancel the card. Perhaps I had left it at a store, and someone had picked it up.
The bank teller was very helpful. "I'll put a hold on the card, but you'll have to come in and cancel it in person." I asked if she could check in the meantime if any money had gone missing. Something was now niggling at me in the back of my mind. "I can", she replied. After a few minutes she said, "Two hundred dollars was withdrawn this morning from your local branch. I can't tell you the time it was withdrawn yet, but will be able to get that information for you by the time you come in later if you like." "Yes, please," I replied absentmindedly. My daily limit...gone. My head was spinning by that time. I hung up the phone. I was shaking, breaking in to a cold sweat. I knew who it was. It had to be Carol.
On our numerous lunch time trips, Carol had been with me when I would withdraw money from the local ATM machine. In fact, I used to show off how quickly I could punch my PIN number in to the machine. Stupid, stupid girl, I thought to myself. What was I thinking?
I called a friend of mine and told her what had happened. She offered to go with me to the bank. "If the money was withdrawn between 9.30am and 10am, it had to be her," I whispered in to the phone. "She always goes out to collect the mail at that time".
In the meantime, Carol had caught on that something was wrong. She was very sympathetic. "You poor thing. How awful," she soothed. She hugged me, made me tea. She carried a look of concern on her face the whole time.
I was torn. I was partly disgusted, but because I hadn't confirmed my suspicion yet, I was hesitant to brand her a thief. I was also a little in denial. How on earth could Carol possibly do this to me?
My friend and I visited the bank. "The money was withdrawn at 9.46am", the bank teller advised. That was it. It had to be Carol.
On my return to work, I held a meeting with my employees. I told them the whole story. They were incredibly sympathetic, but they were not convinced Carol was to blame. She had been their employee for quite some time. They trusted her. I pointed out the issue we'd had with petty cash being down in recent months. They took that on board, but were still unconvinced. They were flying to Adelaide that day. "Don't do anything until we get back and we'll all work it out together. We'll talk it over". And so off they went on their business trip.
By the end of their flight, they had changed their mind. They called me to say they had discussed it in length on the plane journey, and now thought Carol had stolen the money. They asked me to hold tight until their return, and in the meantime, act as if nothing was wrong, as to not alert Carol, but perhaps drop some hints that I had an idea it was her.
So I did. We had a small, foam cup that we collected social club money in. One day, she sat at her desk, and I sat not far from her. I had the cup and she was throwing the coins to me, laughing as she did so. I said, "Wow Carol. You seem to have a lot of money to throw around." Her laughter changed in to an uncomfortable chuckle. She shifted in her chair, clearly embarrassed, but said nothing.
A few days later, my employees returned from their trip. "We've talked a lot about this situation. We think you need to go to the police, and we think you should go right now."
At the police station, I told the police officer my story. "Will you authorise us to issue a search warrant for her home?" he asked. I was shocked. That seemed extreme to me, but I granted it. He advised he would come to the office and question her. I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. What if I was wrong and I lost my friend? The policeman assured me he wouldn't make it look obvious. He'd question a couple of other people first to make it look as though it was just a general enquiry.
Later that day, sitting at my desk, I heard the voices of the police officers on their arrival. (It was a small office, with partitioning separating the "offices", so we could all hear each other.) I immediately wondered who they would call up first, but instead, they asked to see Carol. My stomach was twisting in knots. I felt ill. I wanted to shrink under my desk, put my hands over my ears and shut my eyes from the embarrassment. But I couldn't help but listen as they interrogated her.
I heard her voice rising in her defence, saying, "That's ridiculous. I didn't steal her card. She's crazy." It felt like a slap in the face. The person I had spent all that time with, the person I had picked up and dropped off on numerous occasions to and from work. My friend was calling me 'crazy'.
She continued denying the theft. Then I heard the police officer announce they had a search warrant and would go straight to her home now and search it. That was it. She had no choice to confess. She had kept my card in the top drawer of her bedside table.
They accompanied her out of the office. She was instantly dismissed from her job, and the $200 she had stolen from me was reimbursed to me from my employees out of the pay that was owing to her. Eventually, she was charged and went to court where she was given a warning and ordered to pay court costs.
I saw Carol one more time after that. I was shopping one lunch time at the local record store we frequented together, probably six months or so after the police had taken her from the office. As I approached the counter to pay for my chosen record, the guy behind the counter, who I would often chat with said, "Did you just see your friend?" I was confused. "What friend?" I asked. "You know, the girl that used to always come in here with you," he replied. Oh my God. "Carol?" "Yeah, that's the one." I was shaking at this point. Anger and annoyance welling up inside me. Shock even. "We're not friends anymore," I replied. "Funny," he said. "She seemed to see you, then left the store quick smart". I couldn't help myself, I searched the shopping centre for her. I wasn't going to approach her, but something made me want to see her. I found her in a clothes store not far from the record store. One we had frequented together during a number of lunch breaks in the past. She was looking around from side to side - fear on her face. She was looking for me. I left the shopping centre.
Still in shock at seeing her, I drove straight to the home on my employer, who was on maternity leave. She was very understanding and sympathetic. Complaining that I should have seen it coming when she stole my money, my employer said, "You know, it's not your fault, what happened with Carol. She was obviously a desperate girl. Don't blame yourself. You're a much better person than what she is."
It was difficult after that happened with Carol. I wondered who I could trust anymore? I scolded myself for not being a good judge of character. I analysed it over and over. And when I look back now, I realised that I was never really her "friend". She used me. Through and through.
But I was young, and I've learnt a lot since then. I've gotten over the disappointment I felt at the time in myself. It was her loss. Not mine.
Until next time...