FICTION

SOLUTION: rob a bank

MICHAEL SHELDON September 1 1954
FICTION

SOLUTION: rob a bank

MICHAEL SHELDON September 1 1954

SOLUTION: rob a bank

FICTION

MICHAEL SHELDON

PHIL MASTERS’ decision to rob a bank was conceived on an evening ride back from work. The streetcar was so crowded he could not open his Star, which was not unusual, and he had to be content with hearing others discuss the news—two men seated in front of him.

A grey hat, still snow-speckled, said to its neighbor, a stained brown,

“A guy held up a bank again today.”

“Where?”

“Someplace in the east.”

“Was he caught?”

“Yep. The fool parked his car on the wrong side of the street and there was a cop waiting for him when he came out.”

They both laughed,

“That’s his picture,” said grey hat.

“Doesn’t look too bright,” said brown.

“They never do,” said grey. “It sure is queer how often they get away with it.”

Phil agreed; there seemed to be few easier quicker ways of making money. And this thought brought him back to his own acute problems; all he was able to do was spend money or lose it. First there were the family debts, born of living beyond their

income, not too far but continually. His wife Betsy knew about these and shared his worries. But far larger were the debts she did not know about, the result of sure-fire stocks behaving like damp squibs; his broker had said he must settle up this account in the very near future. In all he needed four thousand bucks to get out of trouble. The bank might lend him it—there was a slender chance—or it might not. But even if it did he would have loaded another fixed charge on his already inadequate income. Betsy and he were not prudent people and with that sort of setup they’d soon be in trouble again. Really, he told himself as the fuggy grey-windowed tram rattled through Westmount, it seemed much simpler to rob a bank than borrow from it.

The idea began to tease his imagination. If the stupid-looking uneducated creatures who did rob banks could get away with it so often, why shouldn’t he? He had nerve; his tank-commander war record stood proof of that. His job as a copywriter required a reasonably quick brain. Then, most important, he did not look like a bank robber; he had no sharp peaked face or glaring eyes. He was, indeed, the most ordinary-looking fellow in the world. People were always saying, “Phil, you’re the spit image of a guy I knew in Calgary” or “You must be related to Bob Blake, you look just like

him.” Yet it was an easy face to disguise; a blank sheet on which a few pencil lines could suggest a comical nose, buck teeth, a sinister beard. He used to play in a lot of amateur shows and usually did character parts.

By the time he reached his N.D.G. apartment, now too small for Betsy, himself and the two children, but containing the most delightful furniture, a superb record player and a 21-inch-screen TV set that was still to be paid for, the project was filling out. He had selected the bank, a branch of the Canadian Bank of Progress which he remembered being held up at least four times in the past few years. There was, he thought, an entrance on St. Catherine Street and another on St. Lawrence Blvd. It was good to have two ways of escape.

With the bank located in such a busy part of town it was easier for any holdup man to get lost in the shopping crowds. Also there would be plenty of cash on hand. He remembered a banker friend saying that the tellers had orders not to defy an armed man; banks preferred not to incite gunplay.

In his shabby disguise Phil pointed the pistol at the middle-aged teller.

The timing, he realized, should not upset the normal routine of his day. The period that Phil

Masters, copywriter,

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CONTINUED FROM PAGE 12

became X, the bank robber, had to be kept as short as possible. He was convinced that any danger would be over the moment he was again seated in his cubicle at the agency, working on the singing commercials for Krunchy Krakers. He must use his lunch hour.

The next thing he decided was to wear a disguise. Simple and easy to remove, it should associate him with the normal run of bandits. Say a pale pseudo-Texan hat, a pastel overcoat with wide tapering shoulders. Some kind of mustache would help, a feature on which to focus the teller’s recollection. He had just the thing left over from a seducing part he had played in an English whodunit.

He became quite elated at the prospect he had built up. He could see Betsy’s joy when he told her he was able to pay up their charge accounts, even the remaining payments on the TV set. He could see himself settling with his broker—and then laying off the damn market. But that brought him up short. Such sudden funds would have to be explained.

Betsy was easy. Confessing his market activities, he could say they had finally paid off. But George Jessop, his broker? It took a moment for the obvious answer to turn up—Uncle Arthur, his one wealthy relative. How often at home, when he and Betsy were deep in their money problems, she would say, “What a pity you quarrelled with your Uncle Arthur!”

“I guess so,” he would agree, “but you couldn’t expect a normal boy to take cricket seriously.” And that had

been the whole trouble. To Uncle Arthur, who never forgot his oldcountry youth, cricket was all but a religion. To Phil, who was a fleetfooted outfielder, it was not a game to be played in public where his friends might see him. Uncle Arthur, retired to Victoria fifteen years ago, had never written a word to his sole but disappointing nephew. Yet surely his heart might soften if that nephew’s situation were really desperate—at least as an explanation to George Jessop.

THF] project remained with him overnight, and next day at noon he excused himself from lunching with the boys at the greasy spoon. “I have to buy a shirt for little Mike. I’ll go to Eaton’s and then pick up a sandwich.” He walked rapidly eastward along St. Catherine’s, pausing only when he came to the aluminum and plate glass front of his chosen bank. As he had expected the office was L-shaped. There were five tellers’ positions with four now occupied but he was disturbed to find a line-up at each wicket. The less customers the better. It occurred to him that there should be fewer people around after the lunch hour. Also, the cash on hand would be greater. It was not quite twelve-thirty, he would look in another day about a quarter to two.

Changing his lunch hour would be the first firm step out of fantasy into actual planning. He thought this over as he ate his western sandwich in a large restaurant a couple of blocks down St. Catherine Street. He recalled past dishonesties, the petty backslidings since he had lifted his first dime out of his sister’s piggy bank—nothing a man need really be ashamed of. Certainly nothing he could go to jail for. But now he was facing a crisis, and whatever honest way he took out would cripple his standard of living for

POOR, INDEED!

He who steals my purse steals trash. Powder, lipstick, rouge — not cash.

What he has filched won’t help his case, But I’ve lost purse, and worse, lost face!

MARIE MYERS MILLER

two or three years at least. Not only his own, he assured himself, but Betsy’s and the kids! They had planned their first seashore vacation next summer. Besides he wasn’t going to make a career of it, just one successful coup. It came down to this: was he a man or a mouse?

He asked the boss if he could change his lunch hour; there were no questions. He had had another idea in the restaurant. This was the ideal place both for Phil Masters to become X and for X to be discarded. The details of the changeover began to fit together.

Next day he ate there again, taking care to be served by a different waitress. He had to check the location of the men’s room, of necessary coat hooks. Then he reconnoitred the bank, walking right through it. At twenty to two there were no line-ups. The teller at the wicket nearest the door was a thin black-haired girl with an easy smile. Watching her with a customer, he could not imagine her standing up to a determined man and a gun. That reminded him; he must clean the neat little Biretta he had brought back as a souvenir from Italy. He had no ammunition, but that didn’t matter, the gun was just a prop. Why, he recalled hearing of one guy who got away with pointing a cap pistol, another who made tough with his raincoat pocket. Still it should look workmanlike.

NOW HE was fascinated by the project. Whenever he had nothing to do, he brought it out of the back of his mind, turned it over and added a detail or two. Yet it did not interfere with his job; it seemed, in fact, to have sharpened his wits generally. The boss congratulated him on his latest ketchup ad.

He went to call on George Jessop to ask for another two weeks’ grace.

“I’ve decided to write to my Uncle Arthur in Victoria, George. My father’s elder brother, a great sportsman in his day. He’s a wealthy old boy and I’m sure he’ll come through.”

The broker accepted a last postponement.

He resented spending good money on the clothes for his part but they were essential. He found what he wanted in a secondhand store a good way east down Ontario Street. He went there the evening after payday, bought coat and hat for twelve bucks and checked them, in a cardboard box, at Central Station.

He cleaned his gun the evening that Betsy went to the church sewing guild. He prepared a note with capital letters cut from newspapers. DONNEZ MOI VOTRE ARGENT. VITE. PAS DE: BILLS PLUS QUE 20. Bills large enough to be traced must be avoided, even though that would reduce the take. The French might not be too good, but he was not supposed to be an educated bandit.

HE SELECTED a warm sunny day, one of those false promises of spring which bring the mass of Montrealers out on the sidewalks, hopping puddles and cursing drivers. He left

the office promptly at one, picked up his package and made for the restaurant he had chosen. He hung his coat and hat near the table and sat down to lunch. The package he placed out of sight under the table.

He ordered sandwich, coffee and pie, ate them at a reasonable pace, and asked the waitress for the check. Then he went with his box to the men’s room. He shut himself in a compartment, fixed the mustache, put on X’s coat and hat, made sure he had both note and revolver handy. He had brought a little potting soil in some tissue and he rubbed it into his lower cheeks and his chin. He slipped the empty box behind the receptacle for used paper towels and hurried out. There was a chance the girl at the cash desk might stop him and he would have to use his check, but luckily she was busy making change and he passed unnoticed.

His heart was banging a little but he felt quite clearheaded. Yet he was glad his plan did not require him to speak.

He walked quickly to the bank, took the St. Lawrence entrance and passed the length of the L to the last teller’s position. He was shaken to find a solid, middle-aged woman in place of the expected nervous girl, but he could not, would not turn back now. There was a woman in front of him, just as there had been one or two people at each of the other wickets. She lingered in discussion of some detail of her passbook and a young fair man with glasses hovered behind the teller. He felt the strain. One hand went up to his mustache to make sure it was in position, the other grasped the butt of the Biretta.

But, as the customer left, the banker returned to his desk—without a glance at the man next in line. Phil stepped up against the wicket, slipped his note through and held the pistol low down, with barrel pointed at the teller’s wide bosom. She read the note, raised pale eyes, lids trembling at the edges. He stared into them, then nodded at the pointed barrel. With his left hand he made a gesture of impatience.

It could have been barely five seconds before she broke, scooping bundled bills out of the drawer in front of her and pushing them across to him. He stuffed them into his pockets, even laying down his gun to do it; the banker might stroll back at any moment and there was no one in line behind him. In thirty seconds he decided he had enough and pulled back his demand note. Finding no room now for the gun in his outer pockets, he slipped it inside his coat. Then, in his relief, he winked at the woman. It would he fun, he thought fieetingly, to he billed as the Winking Bandit.

Through the glass doors he plunged into the sun-slowed crowd. They closed round him like the waters of a swimming pool. He crossed St. Lawrence with a surge and was swept on to the entrance to his restaurant. He heard shouting behind him, but he neither panicked nor even looked back; he was proud of that.

In the men’s room he retrieved his

box, took off X’s coat and hat and stuffed them into it. He peeled off his mustache and washed his face. Then he returned to the restaurant, collected his own hat and coat, left a tip for the waitress who was only now clearing the table, and went out—remembering this time to pay his check. Not ten minutes had passed since X went the same way.

He caught the first streetcar west. There was a crowd at the bank entrance and two policemen. He could afford a smile of satisfaction.

The rest of the arrangements were simple enough, though he had to move quickly. In the men’s room at Windsor Station he made a rough count of the money—the better part of $5,000. He stuffed the bills and the gun into his own coat pocket and burnt the demand note. Then he checked the box containing the trappings that had been X. As soon as he was outside he crumpled and threw away the cloakroom chit.

He was back at his desk by ten past two.

THAT was all there was to it. His nerves were a bit strained during the afternoon but the confession to Betsy in the evening went over as easily as he could wish. She scolded him for gambling, then accepted his promise never to take such risks again. The new spring outfit, which he had said he could now afford, certainly helped.

The robbery was reported in next morning’s Gazette; there was even a picture of Mrs. Madeleine Archambaud, the teller who had been threatened by “the dark, fierce-looking bandit.” The police were working on a connection between this hold up and two previous ones in the north end; descriptions seemed to tally. Phil was glad now that his romantic gesture had not been appreciated; far better that the responsibility should be fixed on a known criminal than some winking newcomer.

After lunch he went to see George Jessop, handing over a wad of bills as full repayment for his losses.

“This is a surprise,” the broker said. “I don’t mind telling you I’ve been worried about your account. What’d you do, Phil—rob a bank?”

Startled, Phil was reassured by Jes! sop’s bland smile.

“I hope you don’t mind it in cash, George,” he said, as he had planned. “But my uncle Arthur came to town himself. He felt he had to give me a bawling out in person. Eccentric old boy but a great heart. He just drew the dough out of the bank like this.”

He faltered. Jessop was looking at him with odd and puzzled interest. Their eyes met in embarrassment before Jessop looked away.

Then, following the broker’s eyes, Phil’s glance dropped to a paper on the desk before him, the early edition of the Star spread open at the front page. There were headings about international conferences and trade problems. But Phil focused on another item in the middle of the page.

EX-MONTREALER LEAVES FORTUNE TO LOCAL KIDS

Victoria, April 15—(CP)—Arthur Masters, 74, former Montreal businessman who died here Monday, left his $100,000 fortune to the hoys of Montreal, according to his will made public today.

One of Canada’s most renowned cricketers, Mr. Masters willed the entire sum to Montreal youth centres in the form of a fund for the encouragement of cricket playing . . . The fat wad of bills lay on the desk between them, if