Anything is possible.
Uncle John's visit to us on a Saturday was out of the blue. He lives in the countryside maintaining his farm and stables. After spending a couple of hours with me and my mom, who was his sister, he left saying that he had some business to transact at the bank. He also said he might leave for his home straight from the bank.
By six in the evening he was back at our place. He looked pale and his face was a bit drawn. This was something unusual with Uncle John.
“Hello Uncle John! This is a nice surprise. Please stay the night and you can leave in the morning. Shall we go to the night club?”
“No, Jim, I’m not in mood. I have to tell you something, which has been bothering me for a while.”
I was a little taken aback to see him this dull.
“What is the matter Uncle John? Let me help you if I could,” I implored.
He raised his downcast eyes and said rather reluctantly,
“I meant to tell you this a long time back, but I thought things would fall in place in time. Perhaps I was wrong in concluding so,” he said contemplatively.
“What happened Uncle John?” I asked with more with concern than with curiosity.
Then he revealed the recent events. He did his bank work such as withdrawals or deposits or transfers to employees’ accounts, usually, on Mondays. He had seen that on Mondays, crowd was less at the bank and he could complete money transaction without waiting for too long.
Two weeks before he came visiting us, he went to the Union Bank to deposit a cheque he got from a wheat whole sale dealer. The teller, whose name on her badge said, Miss Cathy Shaw, was quite efficient. She completed updating his passbook with details and handed it over to John with a friendly smile through the small window separating tellers and the public. She seemed new around the bank, who might have come here on transfer from another branch of the same bank.
John took his book, ran his eyes down the page that recorded withdrawal and deposit details.
As he read through, he felt sweat springing on his forehead. He noticed large amounts were withdrawn from his account. John walked back to Miss. Cathy’s cubicle and said with alarm,
“Miss. Cathy, there seems a problem here.”
“What is it sir?” she asked with concern, rising from her seat behind the teller’s window.
“Just take a look at this Miss.” John showed the amounts which were withdrawn from his account a few days back.
Together, they poured over the page and saw that someone had taken money from his account. Then they looked at John’s cheque book and noticed some leaves were missing.
“I wonder why and how this happened. After all, banks are supposed to be safe places where customers feel secure about their money. I am confused as to how this had happened,” he said, puzzled.
“Unless the cheques have your signatures, which match with your specimen signature in our records, we don’t let withdrawals to be made. Let us check out the details of those particular days, when the said amount was withdrawn from your account,” she said with concern.
She then, went to the manager’s cabin to get his permission to let her examine the ledger and folio in which, John’s account details were recorded. Those withdrawals were confirmed.
John paled. Who it could be, he wondered. Cathy Shaw noticed his pallor; she could imagine his emotional distress.
“Don’t worry Mr. Mackenzie, we’ll find out the culprit.”
“John please. I need to know why and how it happened, something that I haven’t come across so far.”
“He’ll come back for more, remember he’s got one more to get his hands on.”
“I will ring you as soon as I have some news on the matter,” said Cathy, bidding him good bye for the day.
John came out of the bank that was slowly emptying as the hands in big clock crept to 5pm. Shadows lengthened and the west was awash in twilight colors. The traffic on the road outside thickened. The blare of horns, must be unwelcome to the residents living on either side of it, he reflected. He sighed with relief at the thought that he chose country life rather than the glamour of city lights.
His mind went back to the past in order to trace the events that led him to lose sight of his cheque book. He was lingering on the thought and he remembered having met a new face, a new friend of Oliver, his brother Rod’s only son. A couple of few weeks before, they visited his stable to look for a fine race horse. John remembered to have been introduced to him by Oliver.
“Uncle John, this is Jake, who goes to the same school as I”
“Hello sir. Thanks for letting me look at your horses. Oliver told me what a fine horseman you are. My dad’s friend wants to buy a race horse. Oliver suggested I visit your place first. I am glad to have come. I am sure I am going to get what I need with the help of your advice,” Jake said suavely.
“Glad to, “said John with his usual cheer and a hail-fellow-well-met spirit.
“You can take as much time as you want at the stables. The boys will help you with the horses. Oliver! You can bring Jake over to the house for lunch,” continued John.
They left the country side by evening after enjoying John’s hospitality. John drove the boys who were about to be twenty, in his van showing them various activities happening on the fields, orchards and farms.
Before leaving, Jake said he had looked at the horses and that he would bring over the buyer sometime during the next few weeks.
After dropping them at the station, he returned home. He crossed over to the front hall and was about go upstairs to his bedroom when he noticed one of his check books lying on the side table. I must have forgotten to pick it up, he thought. He took it with him and dropped it in the shelf where he kept important papers and documents. Then he clean forgot about it.
He told me every single thing of the chain of events, which now seem to have reached a dead end.
I took him to the night club just to cheer him and lift his spirits. He was reluctant to go, but I could convince him of the need to divert his mind from being too worried. The club was busy with the Saturday crowd. Lovers and married people, friends and general public were all there. I chose corner seats facing the sea. Passing ships and their lights were an attractive sight from the shore. The waiter took our orders and we had a great meal. He stayed back with us for the night and left by the morning train to the village.
A few days later, as I walked in after a jogging on the high way, I heard the phone ringing.
I took the call in the living room. It was Uncle John.
“Hey Jim! How are you? I got a phone call from Cathy at the bank. She wants me to rush to the bank this afternoon.”
I felt excited. Surely, there must be a breakthrough, some kind of clue to the mysterious withdrawal of money from Uncle John’s bank account.
“That is an interesting bit of news Uncle John. My mom will be happy to know of your visit. Sorry, I won’t be able to receive you. But I will join you at the bank before four in the afternoon.” I told him about my own falling short of the schedule at work.
“No problem Jim. Go ahead with your schedule. I will go home, talk to my sister for a while, freshen up and then will go to the bank,” he replied in his own cheerful manner.
“OK Uncle John. I am sure things will work out fine for you.” I wished him luck and ended the call.
Being extremely busy, I came home a little late. Then I changed and rushed to the bank as I planned.
I found Uncle John sitting in the lobby of the bank. I noticed that Cathy was standing near the hall window watching the scene outside.
“Hi Jim,” she greeted me gracefully.
“We have some exciting news to tell you.”
“Well, let me tell you what transpired before I contacted your uncle,” started Cathy’s recount of that day at the bank.
At eleven in the morning, the bank usually got busy, with customers going in and out of it. Cathy was at her desk dispersing with people who either drew or deposited money into their bank accounts.
“May I have this cheque cashed please?” enquired a voice, which sounded faintly familiar to Cathy. She looked up from studying the ledger looked up and froze momentarily. She quickly recovered from the initial moment of shock and said,
“ Yes Sir, certainly,” so saying she took the cheque and saw the details. It had John’s signature clearly attested at the end of it. It was drawn in favor of self. So, on the flip side of the cheque, she found John’s signature again. Both signatures were meticulous, nothing to find fault with. She looked at the amount and let out a sigh.
Once again it was to the tune of 70k. With her mind in turmoil, Cathy got up from her seat and said to the stranger,
“OK Sir, this is a large sum. I will have to inquire with the manager if we have that much of cash left with us right now. Please be seated and I will be back in no time,” so saying Cathy quickly walked into the manager’s room.
She went in and interrupted the boss who was on phone. She made a signal that something urgent had cropped up and that the matter needed his immediate attention.
Mr. Anderson, the manager, nodded to her to come in.
“What is the matter Cathy?” he enquired.
“Sir, the person we wanted to catch red-handed is right there. He came with a forged cheque and wants cash. I told him I will check with you about cash. He is waiting outside,” said Cathy quite excited and tensed as well. Obviously, she did not want the culprit to escape this time round.
The manager crossed his fingers, rested his elbows on the table before him and thought for a while. Anderson came up with a plan five minutes later.
He said, “Cathy, you did the right thing in consulting with me. Now listen to me carefully. Go out and tell him that we don’t have enough money to encash his cheque. Ask him to come back at four in the evening. Above all you should act normal. He should not have an inkling of doubt that something is happening behind his back. Got it?”
“Yes Sir, got it,” replied Cathy walking to the front room.
She saw the tall guy pacing the veranda outside the bank. She pressed the buzzer and when the office boy brought him in, said to the dubious customer,
“Sir, I am sorry I made you wait. As I said before, the manager says he is just leaving to get cash from the treasury. It would be an inconvenience to you but you need to come back in the afternoon for the money,” Cathy replied in a composed voice.
The man asked, “At what time?”
“At four pm, sir,” replied Cathy.
He nodded saying he would be there by four. He was joined by another person just outside the door.
At that point, Cathy stopped talking and checked her watch. It was nearing four p.m.
“Ok Jim and John, go and sit in the manager’s room from where you can watch the proceedings.”
At about five minutes to four, we saw a blue car sliding into the parking lot and two guys got out. The screen on the window did not allow us to get a clear glimpse of the persons. So we waited with bated breath for them to enter the bank and get a clear picture of the thieves. The cc cameras arranged on the corners of walls in the main room showed them even more clearly.
All of us were taken aback as the scene unfolded.
Of all the people, they were Oliver and Jake! Both were looking around the room warily, perhaps terrified of being caught. Oliver hung behind as though he didn’t want to partake in the shady proceedings. Yet, he was there, why so, we had no idea. Who or what caused him to be there? Was there something that forced him to be an accomplice much against his will? Jake looked like a pretty aggressive fellow. Obviously, he seemed the brain behind the murky affair. These were my impressions, which might or might not be true.
We saw Cathy once again crossing over to the manager’s room and coming directly to us, crowded around the big table. Poor lady, it must have been a tough challenge for her to keep the thieves unsuspecting for as long as she didn’t receive orders from Mr. Anderson, the manager.
“Sir, what is going to be the next step?” she asked anxiously.
“Let me think about it Cathy. Surely there must be a way to delay them till the police arrive. I have just rung up the officer in charge of the police station near to our bank. He said he would be here soon.”
I said promptly, “Mr. Anderson, please tell them not to come in police uniform. They should hide their identity behind civilian clothes.”
“Jim is right. We should not let these thieves run away this time round. They should be arrested and tried. This will teach them not to tamper with others’ money,” Uncle John said with emotion.
The manager couldn’t agree more. He had sent Cathy back and to make Oliver and Jake stay a while longer, till the police arrived on the scene and took charge of the mischief makers.
He went back to talking to the police and conveyed our suggestions. It looked as though the police officer on the other side of the phone call agreed to his suggestion.
We could see Cathy talking to Jake quietly and the serious expression on her face must have conveyed to them that she meant business. We saw the duo nodding and walking back to the seats they were occupying.
Shadows started lengthening and the business hours slowly drawing to an end.
A few minutes later, we saw a jeep dropping two tough looking guys dressed informally in tee-shirts and jeans entering the premises of the bank. Now I could feel excitement mounting and anticipation growing.
The twist in the tale came quite suddenly. The manager was about to send word to them to come to his chamber. The two guys got up and were walking to the manager’s room when a third person approached them and told them something. Immediately, they began to walk out of the bank. But the police were quicker and surrounded them in a flash. They were handcuffed and were taken into custody. Both guys paled and put their heads down and without much ado, got into the police van stationed by the road side. The by-standers, who watched the drama, started telling about it to those who began to gather around place.
We returned to our place with our hearts rather heavy with grief, grief that someone in the family tried to cheat and betray an older member of the family.
The incident at the bank was reported in the evening gazette. It was made out to be more sensational than it actually was. Of course, it cannot be denied that what happened at the bank that morning was quite dramatic and out of the ordinary. People did not get to see the way the thieves were nabbed and put behind bars, every other day.
Uncle Rod and his wife came rushing to our house after they heard the news.
Rod looked sad and serious. He never expected his son would entangle himself in something as infamous as robbery.
“John, I am sorry this had happened with you. You know how Oliver is. He is not capable of something as heinous as this. How he came to be in this mess is as mysterious to me as it is to you all,” Rod uttered.
Uncle John remained silent.
I could see Rod’s wife in tears as my mother tried to console her. I realize how difficult it would be for parents when their children turn to bad ways and find themselves in dire straits. Often, people would blame it on fate. It might be an easy way out. But that’s not all. What about a man’s mind and will?
We went to meet Oliver and Jake in the central prison where they were to stay till the trial began.
The warder at the entrance checked our identity and let us in. We were taken to a cell which appeared to measure 9x9 square feet. Oliver and Jake were sitting on the floor looking vacantly through the bars of the cell. On seeing us, they got up and Oliver started crying. It was awful to see them in such a sorry state. Oliver was five years younger to me. That made him twenty. He had everything in life he ever wanted. He went to a private school unlike me. He was lucky enough to go to the best college in our state and his education was of high caliber. He being the only child was pampered and was given things that he wanted. Why did he do it? That was question.
“Uncle John, please forgive me. I didn’t do it for my sake. It was for Jake,” sobbed Oliver.
“A sin is still a sin even though you did it for someone else,” replied Uncle John.
He appeared as though he was not moved by Oliver’s tears.
Oliver started his story of how and why he and Jake plotted to manipulate and steal Uncle John’s money.