Bank on It
The banker made an elaborate display of locking the main door and pulling the curtains tight before he deigned to open the vault. Dodger stepped into the strong room, all the way to the back, allowing his toe to come to rest against the rear wall. Casting a glance about, left then right, he took in as much detail as he could in the low light that filtered through the doorway, though there wasn’t much to take in. The place was bare. Even the shelves were gone. Dodger could just make out where the brackets were welded to the lead walls.
Dodger backed out of the vault and said, “Were the shelves gone too?”
“All of it was gone,” the banker said. “When I opened the vault this morning, that is exactly how I found it. Empty.”
Which was another mark for the odd column. What kind of bank robber stole shelves? Atop this oddity, another small matter niggled at Dodger’s mind. “Will you gentlemen excuse me for a moment?”
“Why?” Biddlesworth asked. “Would you like a moment alone with my vault so you can further defile her in privacy?”
Dodger did his best to repress a tacky smirk. “No, sir, I just want to check on something. I’ll be right back.”
Before either man could argue, Dodger made his way out the front door.
“Excuse me, sir?” a young woman asked. “Is there something wrong with the bank? We’ve tried to ask the sheriff, but he won’t tell us anything. Is there something wrong?”
“Yes,” Dodger said. “But we’re taking care of it. Don’t you worry.”
“Is our money safe?” a man asked.
“I’m not at liberty to answer that, sir, because I’m afraid I don’t work for the bank.”
“Then who do you work for?” another woman asked.
“Right now,” Dodger said with a tip of his hat, “I’m workin’ for you. So if you’ll allow me to get back to it, ladies and gentlemen.”
Leaving the crowd atwitter with excitement, Dodger slipped around the side of the building. There he walked, from one corner of the bank to the other, taking slow, deliberate steps as his mind catalogued the requisite details.
“I figured as much,” he said under his breath to no one in particular.
Feeling the pressure of eyes on him, Dodger whipped about to catch sight of a silver-haired man staring out through the barred window of the jailhouse next door. The fellow’s bloodshot eyes lay bordered by black circles from either lack of sleep or excessive worry, probably both. Dodger smiled and touched the brim of his hat. The stranger nodded and turned his sad eyes away without saying a word. Dodger suspected this was the deputy, but it could’ve just as well been the town drunk drying out in confinement. Of course, if what the banker had been spouting for the last ten minutes was to be believed, the town drunk and the deputy were one and the same.
Returning to the task at hand, Dodger joined the men inside the bank once more. There, he took the same walk, from front door to the back of the vault, just to be sure.
“Eleven,” Dodger announced. “Which leaves us two short.”
Biddlesworth grabbed the sheriff by the arm and said in a low voice, “That man has lost his mind.”
“No,” Dodger said. “You’ve lost some length. Or rather width. Your bank is thirteen paces from end to end outside, but inside it’s only eleven. Taking into account the width of the walls and whatnot, two paces is an awful wide space missing. Isn’t it?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Biddlesworth said. “This bank was made to my specifications.”
“And you’re saying you know the exact proportions of the thing?” Sheriff Stanley asked.
“Well, perhaps not the exact sizes, but I’m sure it’s just as big inside as it is outside.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because I supervised the construction. That’s why. And unlike you, I take my job seriously.”
While the banker jabbered on about his assured knowledge, Dodger ran his hands along the back of the vault. Yes, it was sturdy, firm under his wandering fingers … no … wait now, there was a soft space just at the bottom. A square that gave way just a bit under his hands.
“I think I would know if there was something amiss,” Biddlesworth said.
“Something like this?” Dodger asked, pressing against the square, which gave way with a soft click and swung open.
“What on earth …” was all the banker had to say to that.
“Can I get a light?” Dodger asked.
The sheriff scurried over with a lit oil lamp. Dodger pushed the lamp into the cubby, not sure what to expect to find, if anything at all. The lamp slid inside with ease, and Dodger knelt to follow. Just as he entered the hole, he hissed and pulled back. Dodger glanced down at his hands, to the small shard of glass jutting out of his right palm. He picked the thing free with a wince, and turned it over in his fingers. It sure looked like a piece of glass, but what was it doing here?
More cautious this time, Dodger re-entered the hole, sweeping his arm before him across the floor. And a good thing too, for he cleared away a thin layer of the sharp shards, all waiting to cut his palms to shreds like a crystalline booby trap. From what he could tell, the cubbyhole ran a healthy couple of feet across, a little more than that in height, and a few paces deep. It would’ve been more than big enough for a man to fit inside if it had been empty. Which it was most certainly not. Dodger twisted in the hole, half in and half out, to see what was taking up so much space.
A curious sight met his eyes. A curious sight indeed.
“Well?” the muffled voice of the banker asked.
“I’ll be a son of a gun,” Dodger whispered in awe.
“What do you see?” Sheriff Stanley asked.
“I don’t rightly know,” Dodger shouted to the opening. “But I know someone who will.”
“Sharge!” Ched shouted.
Dodger jumped in surprise and banged his head on the strange metal contraption looming in the darkness. Rubbing his now-tender noggin, Dodger backed out of the hole to find Ched barging into the bank with a stranger in tow. The same stranger from the jailhouse window.
“What is that man doing in here?” the banker asked.
“I let him in,” the stranger said.
Dodger could see now, from the brass star the man wore, that he was indeed the deputy. The man was three times the age of his sheriff, and if anything, the poor soul looked even more exhausted up close and personal. As though the man hadn’t seen a decent night’s sleep in weeks, maybe even years. Considering the recent events, Dodger could sympathize.
“Oh I see,” Biddlesworth said. “Sober enough now, are we?”
“That’s enough,” the sheriff warned.
The banker huffed and spun on his heel, shunning the four men with all the snobbery available to his upturned nose.
“I’m Deputy Tyler Duncan,” the man said, holding his hand out to Dodger. “Most folks just call me Duncan.”
“Rodger Dodger,” Dodger said. He gripped the deputy’s hand, noting the way it trembled, ever so slightly. Nerves? Dodger doubted it. “And I see you’ve met Ched.”
“Sure. I remember him from last time.” The older man wrinkled his nose a bit. “Who could forget him? Only he came with a different man then.”
“I hate to cut into your little dansh here, Sharge,” Ched said. “But your five minutesh were up ten minutesh ago. What’sh the verdict?”
“The verdict is … well, it’s complicated,” Dodger said. “Ched, would you do me a favor and go back to the line and ask the professor to join us here?”
“Join ush?” Ched snorted. “You know that man don’t like to make pershonal appearanshesh.”
“Why not?” Deputy Duncan asked.
“Becaush when the doc comesh into a town, folksh tend to run him out the shame day. Ushusally there are pitchforksh and torchesh involved. It’sh never pretty.”
“Tell him we need him,” Dodger said. “There is something here he is going to want to see.”
Ched remained unimpressed.
“Tell him there is science to be done,” Dodger added.
“Shiensh?” Ched asked, rubbing his chin. “Why didn’t you shay sho in the firsht plash? If there’sh anything that will shtoke a fire under that mansh behind fashter then an ash-high flame, itsh the idea that he can shtrut his shtuff.” Ched tipped his hat to the men. “Shee ya in a few.”
“Quick as you can,” Dodger said to Ched’s back. Turning to the lawmen, Dodger clapped his hands in a very Dittmeyer-like fashion. “Sheriff Stanley, Deputy Duncan, I’m going to need your help.”
“Help with what?” the sheriff asked.
“Help with hauling whatever contraption is hiding in the bank walls out here so we can all get a good look at it.”
And even that got the snobby banker’s attention.