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Bank Puzzle

IV

THE PRIVATE BANK PUZZLE


Originally published Hampton's Magazine, August 1909. Also appeared in Amazing Detective Tales, June 1930 and Great Detective, June 1933.


"Planning to rob us?"

"I am sure of it!"

"But I don't understand, Gordon! Who? How? What are they planning to rob?" the young acting-president of the bank demanded, sharply.

"The safe, Mr. Howell—the safe!" the old cashier repeated. "Some one inside the bank is planning to rob it!"

"How do you know?"

"I feel it; I know it. I am as certain of it as though I had overheard the plot being made! But I cannot tell you how I know. Put an extra man on guard here tonight," the old man appealed, anxiously, "for I am certain that some one in this office means to enter the safe!"

The acting-president swung his chair away from the anxious little man before him, and glanced quickly through the glass door of his private office at the dozen clerks and tellers busy in the big room who sufficed to carry on the affairs of the little bank.

It was just before noon on the last Wednesday in November, in the old-established private banking house of Henry Howell & Son, on La Salle Street; and it was the beginning of the sixth week that young Howell had been running the bank by himself. For the first two or three weeks, since his father's rheumatism suddenly sent him to Carlsbad, the business of the bank had seemed to go on as smoothly as usual. But for the last month, as young Howell himself could not deny, there had been a difference.

"A premonition, Gordon?" Howell's brown eyes scrutinized the cashier curiously. "I did not know your nerve had been so shaken!"

"Call it premonition if you wish," the old cashier answered, almost wildly. "But I have warned you! If anything happens now you cannot hold me to blame for it. I know the safe is going to be entered! Why else should they search my waste-basket? Why was my coat taken? Who took my pocketbook? Who just to-day tried to break into my old typewriter desk?"

"Gordon! Gordon!" The young man jumped to his feet with an expression of relief. "You need a vacation! I know better than anybody how much has happened in the last two months to shake and disturb you; but if you attach any meaning to those insignificant incidents you must be going crazy!"

The cashier tore himself from the other's grasp and left the office. Young Howell stood looking after him in perplexity an instant, then glanced at his watch and, taking up his overcoat, hastened out. He had a firm, well-built figure, a trifle stout; his expression, step, and all his bearing was usually quick, decisive, cheerful. But now as he passed into the street his step slowed and his head bent before the puzzle which his old cashier had just presented to him.

After walking a block his pace quickened, however, and he turned abruptly into a great office building towering sixteen stories from the street. Halting for an instant before the building directory, he took the express elevator to the twelfth floor and, at the end of the hall, halted again before an office door upon which was stenciled in clear letters:

"LUTHER TRANT, PRACTICAL PSYCHOLOGIST."

At the call to come in, he opened the door and found himself facing a red-haired, broad-shouldered young man with blue-gray eyes, who had looked up from a delicate instrument which he was adjusting upon his desk. The young banker noted, half unconsciously, the apparatus of various kinds—dials, measuring machines and clocks, electrical batteries with strange meters wired to them, and the dozen delicate machines that stood on two sides of the room, for his conscious interest was centered in the quiet but alert young man that rose to meet him.

"Mr. Luther Trant?" he questioned.

"Yes."

"I am Harry Howell, the 'son' of Howell & Son," the banker introduced himself. "I heard of you, Mr. Trant, in connection with the Bronson murder; but more recently Walter Eldredge told me something of the remarkable way in which you apply scientific psychology, which has so far been recognized only in the universities, to practical problems. He made no secret to me that you saved him from wrecking the whole happiness of his home. I have come to ask you to do, perhaps, as much for me."

The psychologist nodded.

"I do not mean, Mr. Trant," said the banker, dropping into the chair toward which Trant directed him, "that our home is in danger, as Eldredge's was. But our cashier —" The banker broke off. "Two months ago, Mr. Trant, our bank suffered its first default, under circumstances which affected the cashier very strongly. A few weeks later father had to go to Europe for his health, leaving me with old Gordon, the cashier, in charge of things. Almost immediately a series of disorders commenced, little annoyances and persecutions against the cashier. They have continued almost daily. They are so senseless, contemptible, and trivial that I have disregarded them, but they have shaken Gordon's nerve. Twenty minutes ago he came to me, trembling with anxiety, to tell me that they mean that one of the men in the office is trying to rob the safe. I feel confident that it is only Gordon's nervousness; but in the absence of my father I feel that I cannot let the matter go longer unexplained."

"What are these apparently trivial things which have been going on for the last month, Mr. Howell?" Trant asked.

"They are so insignificant that I am almost ashamed to tell you. The papers in Gordon's waste-basket have been disturbed. Some one takes his pads and blotters. His coat, which hangs on a hook in his office, disappeared and was brought back again. An old pocketbook that he keeps in his desk, which never contains anything of importance, has been taken away and brought back in the same manner. Everything disturbed has been completely valueless, the sole object being apparently to plague the man. But it has shaken Gordon amazingly, incomprehensibly. And this morning, when he found some one had been trying to break into an old typewriter desk in his office—though it was entirely empty, even the typewriter having been taken out of it two days ago—he went absolutely to pieces, and made the statement about robbing the safe which I have just repeated to you."

"That is very strange," said Trant, thoughtfully. "So these apparently senseless tricks terrorize your cashier! He was not keeping anything in the typewriter desk, was he?"

"He told me not," Howell answered. "Gordon might conceal something from me; but he would not lie."

"Tell me," Trant demanded, suddenly, "what was the defalcation in the bank, which, as you just mentioned, so greatly affected your cashier just before your father left for Europe?"

"Ten thousand dollars was taken; in plain words stolen outright by young Robert Gordon, the cashier's—William Gordon's—son."

"The cashier's son!" Trant replied with interest.

"His only son," Howell confirmed. "A boy about twenty. Gordon has a daughter older. The boy seemed a clean, straightforward fellow like his father, who has been with us forty years, twenty years our cashier; but something was different in him underneath, for the first time he had the chance he stole from the bank."

"And the particulars?" Trant requested quickly.

"There are no especial particulars; it was a perfectly clear case against Robert," the banker replied, reluctantly. "Our bank has a South Side branch on Cottage Grove Avenue, near Fifty-first Street, for the use of storekeepers and merchants in the neig...

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