(Continuing the narrative which began here.)

Chapter 8: In Which I Do Not Open an Account at the Steamfitters & Phrenologists Federal Savings Bank, Lysle Boulevard Branch.


THE STEAMFITTERS & Phrenologists Federal Savings Bank has two offices in the Tube City. The main office, on Fifth at Walnut, has hardly changed since it was built in 1887; it’s famous locally for the stone griffins that guard the entrance. The branch office, a block away on Lysle Boulevard, was built in 1965. That was where Midas Geldman had told me $35,462,817.98 had been deposited three days before, so that was where I headed.

The building was perfectly round, with narrow aluminum vertical supports holding up plate-glass windows all around, so that the whole thing looked almost exactly like a giant snare drum.

Inside, I don’t think the place had changed at all since it was built. As I walked in, the first thing that caught my eye was a freestanding frame with a sign advertising a free transistor radio when you opened a new deposit account with $50 or more. Suspended on wires from the metal beam at the top of the far window was a portrait of President Kennedy, draped in black crepe; below it was a smaller portrait of President Johnson, with the trailing ends of the crepe forming an X over his face. Along the front of the counter, below the tellers’ windows, were large letters spelling out the slogan “A Penny Saved Is $0.010125 Earned.” The whole building was filled with the sound of electric adding machines stamping numbers on endless rolls of paper.

I had decided to wear the suit I’d got at Mr. Brummel’s shop, so I was actually better dressed than most of the people who worked in the bank. It had got me some looks on the bus, but now I was sure it had been worth it. I made my way with big, important steps straight to a vice-president’s office and announced myself with all the ease and confidence I could muster.

“Excuse me—I’m interested in opening an account.”

The suit was obviously doing its work. At once the vice president leaped out of his chair and came around to my side of his desk.

“Certainly, sir. Opening accounts is one of the things we do best here at S & P. Did you notice our transistor-radio offer?”

“I shall not be requiring a transistor radio,” I said with what I hoped would be the proper combination of authority and disdain.

“Certainly not, sir,” the vice-president agreed, shifting gears instantly with Fluid Drive. “A mere token, designed to entice the custom of the smaller depositors, and certainly not of concern to a gentleman of means such as yourself. If I may inquire, sir, what sort of account were you thinking of opening?”

“Oh, a checking account, I think,” I answered, trying my best to sound like the sort of man who had far too much money to care much about money.

“Very good, sir.”

“And not one of those cut-rate, lower-class checking accounts,” I added quickly. “I shall require a checking account with—” (by this point in the sentence I had realized that I knew nothing about the varieties of checking accounts, and I struggled to complete the sentence in a suitably impressive way) “—with—um—with all the trimmings.” (Mission accomplished.)

“Of course, sir. Certainly, sir. We have a number of different account products that vary according to the size of the deposit and the minimum balance. About how much were you interested in depositing?”

“Roughly $35,462,817.98, in round numbers.”

“My goodness! What an extraordinary coincidence!” the vice-president remarked.

“Really? How so? Pray tell.”

“Well, you’re the second gentleman this week to deposit exactly that sum. What are the odds? It’s really quite an amusing coincidence.”

“Is that so?” I’m sure it must have been one of my friends. We multimillionaires all know each other, you know. I’ll bet it was my old friend Harding.”

“A miss there, sir, I’m afraid. His name was Higgins, not Harding.”

“Oh, of course—he uses that name when… Well, at any rate, was this Mr. Higgins of Pride Street?”

“No, sir, this Mr. Higgins lives at No. 400 Breckenridge. I remember the address very well, as I always do when a large sum is deposited.”

“Oh, I see, that Mr. Higgins. Well, if he comes by to make a withdrawal, you might tell him that the Countess is looking for him. He should know what that means. And now I think I’ll be going.”

He suddenly went all sputtery. “But the account?—the thirty-five million?”

“My dear sir,” I replied in a cold and condescending tone, “you’ve just revealed the most intimate personal information about one of your largest depositors. I can’t imagine that my money would be safe here.”

I turned and walked briskly out, ignoring the vice-president as he sputtered after me: “But wait! Come back! The thirty-five million! Mr. Steamfitters will have my head!”

I began to walk back toward the bus stop around the corner, but I had only got about a quarter of the very short way there when I was suddenly accosted by another extraordinarily well-dressed man.

“Mr. Higgins, isn’t it?” he said cheerfully, with a cheerful slap on my shoulder. “How do you do? I saw you the other day at the club, though I’m not sure you saw me. Nevertheless, I think you ought to be accompanying me.”

“Is that a threat, Mr.—”

“Higgins in the club, of course. But if you’d prefer to be using my real name, I’ll let you take three guesses. ’Tis a grand old Irish name, it is.”

“Oh, really?” I said, though I had a feeling I was being set up.

“Astonishing! Absolutely right the first try. How ever did you guess? Seamus O’Really at your service, sir, and I should be deeply honored if you would accompany me in my car.”

“And why should I do that?”

“Well, you might do it for the charming company and sparkling conversation,” he suggested. “Or”—and here he leaned very close, so I could smell the strong odor of peppermint on his breath, and spoke in an exaggeratedly confidential undertone—“you might do it because I happen to be headed for No. 400 Breckenridge Avenue.”


Proceed to Chapter 9.