the true stories
The banking world puts a man in touch with all kinds of thieves. If there is larceny lurking within the individual, it will likely surface in this environment. There are more temptations for a man in a small branch bank than there is for a hunting dog in a pet store. Lets face it, money makes the material world go around and now you are in the business of handling, loaning, counting, stacking, transferring, accepting, paying, exchanging and accounting for the stuff.
When I was a little boy my dad asked me what I thought was a huge amount of money. I told him a million dollars. He asked what I could do with it. I listed off a bunch of extravagant things and went on at some length. When I finished he asked me if all that fun would be worth spending a single day and night locked in a metal cage. I said no.
I remember being trained on the head teller position in the Lynn Valley Branch. On this post I had to do a monthly inventory of the vault. In this sanctum were some surprising treasures. Among these were some heavy canvas bags with drawstrings. I had to open each one, do a physical count of the contents and duly record my findings on a clipboard. I could barely lift the first one.
I met my first gold bar at this time. Rather, I would have to call it a brick. At that time, in the border of the Seventies and Eighties, each brick was worth over forty thousand dollars by weight and purity. A man could buy a house for that much where I lived at the time. There ran through my mind many thoughts. Some of those thoughts were in the news decades later and the perpetrators were precious metal traders. Tungsten and gold plate were the main ingredients.
The owner of the bricks was a Dutchman who ran a bakery in the mall. Like so many others, he had been through war and had a long memory of it. Every time he got enough to buy a brick, he did so and added it to the pile. Once every few weeks, he came in to count them himself. It was he that taught me that an ounce of gold can be exchanged for he same amount of bread through all time and trouble from before Jesus walked the earth and into the distant future, irregardless of the inflation of fiat paper currency.
Another bag contained eleven sets of Olympic coins from the Montreal Olympics back in the Sixties. Bunches had been sent to each branch for the public to purchase. They were in plastic cases with four denominations to a set. They were struck from .999% silver. Silver was no big deal and jobs were plentiful, so the shiny disks had languished in that bag for over ten years. I had a thought.
I asked my manager if I could purchase those sets of coins, forty-four pieces in all. He said by all means. I asked how much I would have to pay and he told me the face value of course as if I were daft. I separated them into an empty sack and withdrew the cash from my account. It was a unique feeling to walk up Mountain Highway after work to my basement suite with the heavy stuff jangling over my shoulder.
I watched the papers for days waiting for the slightest fluctuation upwards in price. Within a week I had it! One Saturday, I went into Vancouver and unloaded the whole shebang to a Chinese metal trader by weight and netted myself a nifty $300.00 profit. After that I tired of tracking the the daily fixes of metals. There are only two other people who could have engineered what I did. One was Samuel Clemens, aka. Mark Twain and the other one was Squanto.
Not two months after this coup, I was reading the paper and nearly spewed my instant Cappuccino across the lunchroom. It appeared that some rich brothers in Texas, name of Hunt, got a big idea to start buying up all the available physical silver on the planet. This understandably drove the price into the stratosphere where it peaked and then they sold out. I grabbed a napkin and did a quick calculation with the figures from the newspaper article. If I had waited a few weeks, I would have netted over $3000.00 or nearly a year's salary for me at that time.
Sometimes the larceny was from the customers. There was the time that a nice Scottish lady came in to cash a cheque drawn on the Bank of Scotland in Scottish Pounds. I was working my first teller position and just learning how to reconcile my cash drawer at the end of each shift. The cheque was from her father and the proceeds were intended for her two boys. She told me a wonderful story of how the old man was upset that the two grandsons couldn't be bothered to write to him in Glasgow. He sent them a letter and asked if they enjoyed the money that he had sent to them a few months ago. The boys immediately wrote to tell him the tragic news that the money had never arrived!
The lads kept writing letter after letter after that. When the old codger deemed an appropriate time of penance had elapsed he sent forth the hard earned gift into the mails. I had two little sheets of paper taped under my counter. One was the days currency fixes for buying and selling. There was nothing fair about it. The customer lost both ways. Hey, it's not personal, it's business.
The other paper was an internal code consisting of numbers and phrases. This was used by the employees to comment on various customers without their being aware of it. A banker would simply loudly say, “Code 9”, for example. Every employee would then glance at their own list and look knowingly at the customer currently standing at the wicket of the teller who had uttered the Code.
I had been given this code on day two. My favourite was Code Seven. The corresponding phrase with this Code was, “Play ball with us and we'll pound sand up your ass!” I digress. I was so entertained by the Scottish woman's story that I misread the exchange rate and gave the woman several times fore cash than she was entitled to. It was so far out that she instantly knew she had hit the jackpot. She smiled and probably went to a fancy restaurant that night. I recorded my first shortage that same night. The bank told me not to mention it to her.
There was a nice housewife who had been a teller for thirty years at one of the branches I worked at. She was a sweet normal mother and wife. She was loved by everyone at work and everyone went to her for problem solving on a daily basis. I was in that branch when the woman reached her last weeks before retirement. As it turned out she had been “borrowing” cash the entire time. It started well within her allowed shortage limit which can be increased or decreased by management based on seniority and job performance.
As with all addictions it increased over time and the entire sum was a tidy one. The bank was of course aware of it all along and allowed her to operate her scheme for thirty years. In her last week, they presented her their evidence and gave her a very limited set of choices to make. It broke her in two. I noticed a marked lack of sympathy in the other ladies and I wondered at the morality of the bank in allowing her to go on so they could crush her later, rather than correct her small indiscretion in the first instance.
When I was at the Main and Broadway branch a Latino guy came in one day. He waited in a long line and when an available teller came open, he remained. He repeated this three times until he was standing in front of me. I was the only male in the bank but I still didn't think this was the reason for his behaviour. Something was up. He was about five foot two and quite handsome and well dressed. He was easy on his feet and very friendly.
He handed me his VISA card and asked if I would kindly check the credit balance as he was a sloppy accountant and had been on a bit of a shopping spree with the good weather and all of late. I complied and went to a desk to make the call. When I read the number off the card many wheels went into motion. The man at the other end became hyper-excited.
“Is the man asking about the card still there?”
I looked at the fellow who whistled softly at the counter.
“Is he about five foot two, brown eyes and black hair.?”
The fellow started to tap his fingers on the counter as if he was a tiny bit impatient.
“Is the name on the card, **** *****.”
“That is not him. The card is stolen. This guy is an illegal alien, a felon, a coke dealer and has done time in the USA. He is currently being sought by both Canadian and US authorities. There is an arrest warrant out for him. He has an aggravated assault charge from the owner of the card. We have been looking for him three days. He is to be considered armed, dangerous and is a third Dan black belt in karate.”
I looked at the guy two feet away from where I stood. I looked at all the other tellers and customers who were oblivious to the turn of events.
“I see. And the balance?”
“Look kid, tell him that our computer is down. Tell him it will take a couple of minutes, that is all. KEEP HIM THERE! We are sending a team to the bank to take him down. You will see officers come in from the bank across the street into both doors of your bank and there will be two dogs. Officers will seal the doors. When the officer comes up to the counter you will have to identify the man. Got all that?”
I turned to the man and told him the computers were down. He looked a little bit more impatient. I went to lean on the desk out of his arm reach and peered through the windows out front as if bored with being on hold. I could see the police coming across the street from another bank and undoing their holsters. I saw the dog handlers.
Where I grew up people believed in minding one's own business. In my house a tattle-tale received equal or worse punishment than a wrong doer. No one likes a snitch. Everybody hates a rat-fink. All these thoughts churned through my mind in these seconds that seemed like hours. I couldn't see myself pointing a finger at a man whom I had never met and whom had never done me a personal wrong.
This was my biggest dilemma in the seconds that ensued. While the cops were still outside, the fellow asked in an irritated tone if it would be much longer. I saw my chance and said to him that I figured it could be some time and asked if he would he like to forget it. I reasoned that if he was clever he would ask for the card back and tell me he was in a hurry. I was sure of it.
The fool declined the card, accepted the extra wait and I saw again the fly in the ointment of the criminal mind. Greed and overconfidence. Just as any gambler has two motivations which lead them to ruin. One is the logic that if I lose enough, the law of averages dictates I must win someday. The other logic says, if I win now, it can happen again, I just proved it. Greed needs no explanation here. I gave no visual clues to the drama forming up outside and in an instant the widow of opportunity for the man slammed shut.
Both doors were sealed and guarded by dog handlers before the customers knew what was going on. Two other big cops stood at each door outside with shotguns ready. As soon as one of the tellers saw the uniforms she hit the deck and began to sob and yell. The other ladies followed suit as did about forty percent of the customers.
The thief stood nonchalant and went perfectly calm. He placed both hands on the counter and whistled softly. A tall policeman approached the front desk not a foot away from the man and asked in a very loud angry voice as to who in the hell had phoned the police. Another officer flanked on the other side.
I put down the phone. I was the only one who knew what was up.
I could not bring myself to point at the man. I took the card and sat it down gently on the counter in front of the guy and said, “Here's your VISA card, Sir.”
I waited in high anxiety to see the ensuing kung fu and/or gun play. It wasn't to be. As soon as the man took the card in his hand, he held both hands behind his back while they quickly slipped on the bracelets and marched him out. A detective took my information and said I would be getting a reward, which I did several months later from the other bank involved. I was told I would also have to appear at the trial and that my name, phone number and address would be on the court papers for all to see including the crook. Wonderful, I thought. Just bloody wonderful.
As it turned out, the fellow did see me in court after I was subpoenaed and he was just as casual as the first time we'd met. Long before I was to testify, he made a deal with the judge and that was that.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.