Bank on It
In which Dodger gathers clues
The community of Sunnyvale was typical of a new town. Just a few years old, the business fronts reeked of resin, and many homes still bore some signs of the late stages of construction. It would take a few more years of wear and tear for the town to gain that ‘lived-in’ look. If it lasted that long. There was a good chance that it would gain a ‘moved-out’ look first if Dodger couldn’t resolve this missing-money issue. And in order to do that, he had to inspect the bank.
Unlike the rest of the town, the bank was anything but typical. The building was enormous, much larger than the single-counter affair of a normal town. A counter that usually doubled as a post office or even tripled as a saloon. The interior of the bank was lushly furnished and decorated. The atmosphere was posh, but from what Dodger understood, the townsfolk were not. Now, what didn’t make a whole lot of sense to Dodger was why such a small town, such a typical town, such an out-of-the-way town, had such a very large and fancy bank.
Dodger wandered through the bank while the crowd peered through the closed glass doors in wonder.
“As you can see,” Biddlesworth proudly explained, “our bank has all the modern conveniences.” He paused, waiting for Dodger’s praise.
“It’s nice,” Dodger said.
“Nice?” The banker huffed and puffed. “It’s more than just nice, sir.”
Dodger didn’t know how to make it up to the man. “It’s very nice?”
The banker ignored Dodger and continued in his presentation. “The counters are cherry. The floors are oak. Most of the furniture came from Paris. As did the artwork. Paris is in a country called France, in case you were wondering, Mr. Dodger.”
“Thanks for the clarification.” Dodger smirked, more amused than offended by the banker’s condescending tone.
“We wanted gold filigree for the molding, but alas, expense prohibited such good taste. Living out here in the wilderness, we had to make due with silver instead.”
“Must’ve broken your heart.”
“You have no idea. Our walk-in vault at the back is made from an impenetrable lead casing. A half-inch thick on all sides. The only entrance or exit is this single door. We had the whole thing shipped in special from New York.”
Dodger nodded to the vault, the furniture and the cherry-wood countertops. “I see. I see. Yes, all very nice indeed. But what I don’t understand, and pardon me for asking this out of turn, but what I can’t seem to wrap my head around is … why?”
“Why? Why what?”
“Why such a large and impressive bank in the middle of nowhere?”
“Because our town founder wanted one,” the sheriff said. “And what Benjamin Wilson wants, Benjamin Wilson gets.”
“Because a bank brings prosperity to a town,” the banker said. “Mr. Wilson understands this. And the better the bank, the better the clientele. Like attracts like, as it were.”
Sheriff Stanley leaned low to whisper to Dodger, “That and Biddlesworth is Wilson’s nephew.”
Now that made all kinds of sense. Though it was hard to picture the pudgy banker as being related to anyone, much less the nephew of a doting uncle. A very rich doting uncle, from the looks of things.
Dodger crossed the bank floor, the click of his boots echoing across the vast room with each step. He stopped as his toe touched the edge of the vault. Crouching eye level with the lock, Dodger considered the barrier. Even from the outside, he could see the vault was more along the lines of a strong room, lead lined but not constructed in one piece as the banker suggested. Which of course left Dodger to wonder just what else the man thought he knew but in reality had no idea about.
The lock seemed normal enough: a simple combination affair that locked automatically when the door was closed. Dodger could’ve cracked the thing in less than ten minutes if so inclined. If Dodger were further inclined, he could lay a few charges of dynamite to punch the whole lock through the casing and just let himself inside. But neither of these tactics was employed here, for the lock was quite unmolested, showing no signs of attempted break-in or removal.
“Does the town know yet?” Dodger asked, motioning behind him to the faces pressed against the glass.
“Not quite,” Sheriff Stanley said. “They know something isn’t right, but they don’t know the money is gone.”
“You should tell them the truth. And I’d do it soon. I’ve seen that look on a mob before. It only gets uglier when they’re left to draw their own conclusions.”
“That vault held their entire lives. It took some convincing to assure them the bank was the safest bet for their money in the first place. Now it’s all gone. I just want to be sure of what happened before I try to explain it.”
“Then explain it to me, if you don’t mind,” Dodger said.
“Mr. Biddlesworth, tell him what you told me.”
The banker sighed, his patience with the stranger obviously wearing thin. “I left the bank at five o’clock last evening. When I came back this morning and opened at seven, the money was gone. Just gone.”
“Was there anyone else here when you left last night?” Dodger asked.
“Yes. My assistant.”
“And he left with you?”
“You left him here alone?”
“Yes, but I hardly think-”
“What time did he leave?” Dodger asked over the man.
Biddlesworth gave a thin smile. “I can’t say for certain, but I know William usually leaves an hour after me.”
“Why after? Why not together?”
“Because, as my assistant, William is in charge of cleaning up the place before we close every night. Those floors don’t wax themselves, you know.”
“And you’re positive he didn’t take the money?”
Biddlesworth’s thin smile had grown to comically compressed proportions. “Yes. I am.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I trust him.”
“Where is he now?”
“He’s not here.”
“I can see that, sir. Did you send him home?”
“No. He never came in.”
“You mean he’s gone?”
The banker nodded, then began chewing his lip.
Dodger wanted to roll his eyes and sigh and huff, but he didn’t. “Well, I hate to seem like a smart-ass, but doesn’t that seem awfully convenient? The money is gone ,and so is the lad you left alone here last night? There seems to be an obvious answer here.”
“William did not take that money,” Biddlesworth said.
“I know that’s what it looks like,” the sheriff said. “But I don’t think that’s what happened here. At least not as easy as all that. I think what happened is a bit more complicated than that, all things considered.”
All things considered? Dodger wondered what things he didn’t have access to considering. And if he was going to get it or not. “I didn’t say that’s what happened. I just said it was the obvious answer. I often find the most likely conclusion is the least likely truth. But the fact remains, the kid was the last one here, and now he’s gone, and so is the money.”
Biddlesworth balled his fists and shouted, “I don’t know why we keep dragging my poor assistant into this. None of this would have happened in the first place if our town deputy wasn’t a drunken sod!”
“Mr. Biddlesworth!” the sheriff shouted. “I have asked you more than once to leave Duncan out of this. He had nothing to do with what happened here. He isn’t in charge here. I am. So if you have a problem with my work, then take it up with me. Understand?”
“How can you say that? He has everything to do with this. If he wasn’t drunk out of his gourd, the bank would’ve been guarded properly. Not left alone for the wolves of the night to have their way!”
“Gentlemen,” Dodger said. “Please. Let’s try to focus on what happened here. Who is Duncan?”
“My deputy,” the sheriff said. “He’s a bit of a night owl.”
“He’s a bit of a drunk,” Biddlesworth snorted just under the sheriff’s words.
Sheriff Stanley shot the banker a dirty look. “Duncan usually checks on the bank and the other businesses during the night, while I maintain the peace during the day. It works out well, since we get so little trouble and all.”
“And he was watching the bank last night?” Dodger asked.
“Well, yes, but …” The sheriff began to fidget at the question. “He ran his usual routes, made his usual check-ins and all. But … well … he claims-”
“He claims he didn’t see anything!” the banker shouted. “Thirty thousand dollars in money and valuables just gets up and walks away in the middle of the night, and he doesn’t see a damned thing.”
Dodger raised a brow at the sheriff, who shrugged but didn’t argue.
Biddlesworth wasn’t quite done yet. “And just how did he miss out on all of the action? Because he was drunk as a skunk. That’s why!”
“I’ve had just about enough of your mouth!” the sheriff shouted. “One more word about him and so help me, I’ll slap you in a cell faster than you can complain to your stupid uncle!”
“You would do well to remember that if it wasn’t for my stupid uncle, there would be no Sunnyvale!”
“Maybe that would’ve been a good thing! Then at least these fine folks would still have their money!”
“Gentlemen!” Dodger shouted over their arguing. This was going nowhere. Too many suspects. Not enough evidence. “Can we please try to keep our heads? Sheriff, tell me what Duncan saw.”
“That’s the problem,” Sheriff Stanley said. “He says he didn’t see a thing. I went home around six and left Duncan on watch. He claims he did his usual rounds, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Did he see the assistant leave?”
“I’m not sure. You can ask him if you like.”
“Has anyone searched the assistance’s place? Maybe he left behind a clue as to where he took off to?”
“Truth is, I haven’t had much of a chance. We’d just discovered the robbery when you arrived.”
“Look here, Mr. Dodger or whoever you are,” Biddlesworth said. “My William didn’t take that money. He’s a fine, upstanding young lad.”
“How long has William worked here?” Dodger asked.
“Sheriff Stanley,” Biddlesworth said in a huff. “This is too much. I will not stand here and allow this total stranger to-”
“Just answer the question,” the sheriff said.
Biddlesworth huffed again. “As long as we’ve had the new safe.”
“New safe?” Dodger asked. He looked to the vault again. “You mean this was recently installed?”
“What was wrong with the old safe?
“We didn’t have an old safe. We employed a caged lockbox system for the first few years, but it proved … unreliable. The vault became a necessity. I employed William to help me maintain it.”
“And how long has that been, exactly?”
“Six months now.”
“I see. And how long did you know him before that?”
Biddlesworth made a noncommittal noise.
“What was that?” Dodger asked. “I’m afraid I’m a bit deaf in this ear. If you don’t mind speaking up?”
“I didn’t,” Biddlesworth snapped. “I didn’t know him before then.”
Dodger wasn’t surprised. “Didn’t anyone here know him? Can anyone vouch for him?”
Sheriff Stanley shook his head. “He moved to town around the time we got the vault. He seemed like a good kid. Quiet, but pleasant.”
“If you didn’t know him,” Dodger said, “then how did you trust him enough to hire him, much less leave him alone with the keys to the castle every night?”
“Because he was sent to me by someone I trust,” Biddlesworth said with an air of smugness.
“From a friend of mine.” The room grew ever smugger.
Leaps of logic abounded as Dodger’s synapses fired at will. Or rather, fired at William. “In other words, he was sent to you by the same friend who made the vault.”
It wasn’t a question. It was an accusation. And from the way Biddlesworth’s eyes went wide, the way the man wiggled and squirmed, Dodger had to assume the accusation was spot on.
“Jesse?” the sheriff asked. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
“Because I knew what it would look like,” Biddlesworth said. With each word, the man lost his previous smugness, growing more and more hysterical. “But it’s not like that. I swear I didn’t know this was going to happen. You must believe me. I had nothing to do with this!”
“Calm down, sir,” Dodger said. “I’m not saying anything has happened. Or that anyone did anything. I’m just pointing out the obvious again. That’s all. Now, will you please open the vault for me?”
“Do you plan on making a deposit?”
“No. I want to have a look about. See what I can see.”
Biddlesworth reeled away in horror, appalled by the idea. “I will do no such thing! I won’t have you fiddling about in my vault like it’s some kind of common romper room.”
“Come on, Jesse,” the sheriff said. “Open the fool thing for him so he can take a look around. You should consider yourself lucky I don’t arrest you on suspicion.”
“Why I never,” Biddlesworth said but shuffled about to do as asked.
(Click forward to continue.)