(Continuing the narrative which began here.)
Chapter 11: In Which I Count a Lot of Cash.
WE FORTIFIED OURSELVES with one each of O’Really’s exceptionally strong peppermints. Then I took another one, because I didn’t feel quite fortified enough yet. After that, I was ready to see what was in those cases I’d been sitting on.
It was hard to make out any detail in the overwhelming burgundiness of the place, but by feeling around the top of the first case I finally figured out that it opened with a zipper. Finding the zipper-puller thing was even more of a challenge, but at last I found it and unzipped the case, almost holding my breath.
“What’s in it?” O’Really asked with as much patience as he could muster.
“Money,” I answered. I pulled out a bundle of $10,000 bills, helpfully marked “$1,000,000 (100 × $10,000).”
“How much?” O’Really asked again, a little less patiently this time. He was right behind me, looking over my shoulder and breathing noisily.
I shuffled around in the bag, carefully arranging the bundles into stacks of five. “There are thirty-five of these,” I told him, waving the bundle of $10,000 bills, “along with a $400,000 bill, two $30,000 bills, two $1,000 bills, eight $100 bills, one $17 bill, four dimes, eleven nickels, and three pennies.”
“$35,462,817.98!” O’Really exclaimed. “What’s in the next one?”
Well, the next one opened with a snap instead of a zipper, but you’ve probably guessed that it contained $35,462,817.98 too. So did the one after that, which was closed with a brass clasp, and the one after that, which was tied shut with a piece of string.
It took a while, but we opened all twelve cases and counted the money inside. In each case we found $35,462,817.98. It appeared that our mystery was solved.
“’Twould appear that we have both found what we were looking for,” O’Really said. “You have your client’s money, and I have the proof that I was blameless.”
“It looks that way,” I agreed.
“And after those two things—our two goals, you might say, the twin ends of our separate endeavors—have been accounted for, there remain ten cases.”
The fact had not escaped me. “Ten cases,” I repeated.
“Ten cases,” O’Really continued, “containing a total of $354,628,179.80.”
“That’s what I come up with, too.”
“To put it in perspective,” O’Really said, “if you divided the amount in half, and (hypothetically, let us say, for the purposes of illustration) each half went to one of two different people, then each (hypothetical) person would have $177,314,089.90.”
“Hypothetically, that’s true.”
“Which is still a large amount of money.”
“It is,” I agreed.
“Not enough, of course, to place a man in the foremost rank of society, but with a certain amount of wisdom and judicious frugality one could contrive to live very comfortably on $177,314,089.90.”
We sat on the floor in silence for a while, surrounded by $425,553,815.76 in cash. I imagined what, hypothetically, a man might do with $177,314,089.90. Hypothetically, for example, I might buy Lawrenceville. I’d always wanted to buy Lawrenceville. I could tell that O’Really was thinking broadly similar thoughts. I hoped he didn’t want to buy Lawrenceville, too. Higher demand would drive the price out of my range.
“The first thing to do,” O’Really said at last, “is to call the police. ’Tis not quite apparent to me how we should explain our being here without mentioning the words ‘breaking and entering,’ but without the police to verify our discovery no one will ever know that I was innocent.”
“I suppose I should call the Countess, too,” I added.
“Certainly. You will call the Countess, and I shall call the police. Each of us will report the finding of the missing $35,462,817.98.” He paused. “Which still leaves us with the question of the remaining $354,628,179.80.”
“It does. And $354,628,179.80, as you said, is a lot of money. I suppose everyone is out looking for it.”
“Ah, well, there’s the peculiar thing,” O’Really said. “With the exception of my former employer and the Countess Tatiana, every one of Mr. Harding’s victims has died since the crimes were committed. All of natural causes: nothing suspicious. They all died childless, with no direct heirs. I’ve been following the story, you see. You ought to have read more of my clippings.”
I thought about that information for a while. Then suddenly something occurred to me.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You said Harding had stolen twelve times.”
“Yes, exactly twelve. He was, as you may recall, obsessed with the idea of accumulating $425,553,815.76.”
“And we’ve found $425,553,815.76 in twelve different cases.”
“Exactly,” O’Really agreed. “Mystery solved; case closed.”
“But Harding put $35,462,817.98 in the bank just the other day.”
O’Really thought about that for a moment. “But that must mean he had—”
“$461,016,633.74,” I said, finishing his sentence for him.
“Impossible,” O’Really declared. “I have all the clippings. There were twelve robberies.”
“It doesn’t add up,” I agreed. “I thought we had it all figured out, but it doesn’t add up.”
Proceed to Chapter 12.