The Paymistress


This story was written for an exercise in Writing Club, the setup of which I don’t remember – but I like it, so I’m publishing it here.


The last one got ideas. A stack of coins here, a stack of notes there – who would notice? No one knew how much there was, so it seemed safe. But one fine day she was gone. Her body was found a month later, decomposing in the Indian sun.

Mrs Gupta thought about her elderly husband. Right now he would be scrounging something for his lunch. She would do the same, but not until this stack was counted and stowed in the safe.

Drugs, gambling, prostitution, protection rackets, and other operations put her employers at the top of the Chennai food chain. Mrs Gupta began counting the proceeds for the umpteenth time.

All this cash. Even a single thousand-rupee note could keep her husband in his tobacco for a week and more. What could a stack of them do? It was okay to fantasise. She wasn’t going to do it.

As the paymistress of an organisation she would swear – and had sworn – to the authorities did not exist, she could get away with it. Who would suspect a harmless little old lady?

She counted about twenty million that day. It was time to go home.

Later, at the corner shop she fumbled through her tatty little change purse for a few coins to pay for some chapatis. She did the same on the battered old bus, fearing for a moment that she didn’t have the fare.

She arrived home, walking into the house and dropping her shopping off in the kitchen.

“How was your day at the recycling centre?” Mr Gupta said, raising his voice from his tatty easy chair only a few feet away.

She moved over to him, putting her hand on his shoulder. “Oh fine,” she said.

Well, it was a kind of recycling, although more commonly know as laundering.

“You don’t make much money there, dear,” Mr Gupta said, with a twinkling eye. “I watched a documentary on the mafia today. Maybe we should go into organised crime.”

“No,” she said sharply. “I don’t want their dirty filthy money.”

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