First National Bank of Clayville
Jim Forde moved slowly, apparently aimlessly, down the short main street of the village of Clayville. At each step his feet seemed to move more sluggishly. His relaxed figure indicated complete lack of purpose. Yet not for an instant did his eyes waver from the front doors of the First National Bank of Clayville.
The bank was across the street, on the corner, and in exactly three minutes it would close. Jim Forde was timing his steps so that he could cross the street and enter the door just a few seconds before it was scheduled to close.
Forde, although almost a stranger in the village, knew a great deal about that bank and the young man, named Bert Orton, who managed it. It was a one-man bank. It never carried more than five thousand in cash. Five thousand was ample to care for the ordinary needs of the few business houses in the village. The bank shipped its excess cash to banks in nearby cities where it could be drawn upon when needed.
Forde’s eyes glittered a little as Sam Weisner, who owned and operated two of the local stores, emerged from the doors of the bank. An empty bag swung from Weisner’s wrist. He had just made his last deposit for the day. He hurried on up the opposite side of the street.
Forde reached the corner. He glanced at his watch and moved his left arm a bit to assure himself that his gun and holster hadn’t slipped out of place. Then he crossed the street, still walking deliberately. It was fifteen seconds to three o’clock when he pushed open the door of the bank and stepped inside.
As he closed the door he unobtrusively threw the inside bolt so that no one could enter behind him. A quick glance told him that Bert Orton was alone in the single cage that the bank boasted. Orton appeared not to notice that the bolt had been thrown, but he thrust his head through the opening in the grille and looked sharply at Forde.
The questioning look in his eyes was natural. Bert Orton had never seen Jim Forde before. But there was no threat in Forde’s pleasant features. He was smiling.
“What is it?” Orton asked quickly. “The bank is closing — right now.”
“I guessed as much.” Forde’s smile widened as he spoke. “I took the liberty of throwing the bolt as I entered. I wanted to make sure we wouldn’t be interrupted.”
Orton looked startled, took a step backward.
“You needn’t be alarmed,” Forde held up the-palms of his hands reassuringly. “It’s not a stickup. I only want to ask you a few questions. I closed the door so that a late customer couldn’t interrupt us. My name is Forde — Jim Forde. Here’s my calling card.”
He took a small leather case from his pocket as he advanced to the window, opened it, held it up for Orton’s inspection. Orton took a very deep breath as he looked at it, then expelled slowly.
“You — you,” Orton stammered and he lost a little color in his face, “you’re what the papers call a — a — “
“A G-man?” Forde chuckled. “Right. I’m from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
‘What — what business could you have here?” Orton asked weakly.
“I’ll explain that,” Forde replied, his tone a little brisk now. “But suppose I step into the space back there behind the counter where we can sit down and talk things over.”
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Forty Thousand Dollars In Deposits
Without waiting for Orton’s consent he moved past the cage toward the rear and swung open the gate in the railing. His eyes were very alert now. There were two other exits from this space. One led into the cage and the other was a door that obviously led into a room in the rear of the bank. There was also, of course, the door that led into the vault. The vault door was still open.
Forde had already taken a chair when Orton came slowly from the cage, swinging the grilled door shut behind him. Orton hesitated a moment, then sat down in the chair that faced Forde.
“The First National Bank of Clayville has been doing a very nice business lately, hasn’t it, Orton?” Forde began abruptly.
Orton’s tongue flicked out and dampened his dry lips. “Well, yes,” he admitted. ‘We’re not complaining any. But that isn’t remarkable. We always do a pretty good business at this season of the year.”
“Do your deposits always take a jump at this season of the year, too?” Forde demanded.
Orton’s right hand instinctively went to his collar band, loosened it. “Just–just what are you driving at?”
“I’m asking you about your deposits, Orton,” Forde said tersely. “I think you know exactly what I’m driving at, but I’ll be plainer. You have, within the last week, increased your deposits substantially, haven’t you?”
“Only — only a trifle,” Orton faltered. “Our deposits have gone up a little, but — “
“I’m not referring to the total amount of your deposits, Orton!” Forde interrupted, and his voice was harsh now. “I’m referring to special deposits made by special parties — in very unusual sums for a village of this size.”
Orton moved his head and neck uncomfortably. His lips parted, then closed again without speaking.
“I am reliably informed,” Forde went on, “that normally you carry around five thousand in cash in this bank to take care of the village business. When your cash gets beyond that amount you ship it to larger banks nearby where you can draw on it when you need it. Is that right?”
Orton blinked, then nodded confirmation.
“During the early part of this week,” Forde went on relentlessly, “you forwarded forty thousand dollars in currency. You shipped twenty thousand to one bank, twenty thousand to another.”
“The money was deposited by customers of the bank,” Orton offered nervously. “The books will show that.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Forde said dryly. “I don’t doubt that your records are above reproach. I don’t doubt that the deposits were actually made in the same denominations, in the same currency, that you shipped on to the other banks. It was all in five, tens, and twenties. In the whole forty thousand there was not a single one-dollar bill, nor a fifty. Isn’t that a bit remarkable?”
“I don’t think so.”
Orton’s face was red now. He seemed to have lost some of his nervousness, and his eyes showed determination to keep control of himself.
“I hardly ever see a bill as large as a fifty in this bank. And the smaller bills are generally kept by the merchants to make change.”
Forde leaned forward a little.
“But your merchants never saw any of that currency that you shipped out this week, did they?” he asked softly. “That money wasn’t deposited by any of your regular customers, was it?”
“No. No, it wasn’t.”
Orton’s eyes showed a little defiance now. “But what difference does that make? A bank is more or less of a public institution. We try to extend our accommodations to all who ask for it.”
“Of course, of course,” Forde conceded. “And just who were the parties you accommodated in this case? Who was it that walked into this bank and planked down forty thousand dollars in currency? No citizen of Clayville, I’ll gamble.”
“No, the parties didn’t live in Clayville.”
“You mean that there was more than one person that deposited that money, Orton?”
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Bert Orton delayed his answer a fraction of a second. During that fraction of a second his eyes went in a fleeting glance to that door that led into the room at the rear of the bank. Then his eyes were meeting Forde’s again.
“There was more than one person,” he said flatly. “There were four persons. Each one deposited ten thousand dollars. The books show that.”
“I won’t dispute your books — for the time being,” Forde told him with a touch of sarcasm. “At the same time, I’ll admit I’m surprised to hear it. I was quite sure that I would find the money was all deposited by one person.”
“What — what would make you think that?”
“The fact that the forty thousand dollars came from a common fund, Orton–a fund that was presumably under the control of one man.”
“You mean,” Orton’s voice was hollow, “that you think there was something wrong with that money?”
“Wrong?” Forde snorted. “There was plenty wrong with it. It was mob money. It came from one of the dirtiest crimes ever committed in this country — the Wainright snatch. But,” his tone dropped until it was softly insinuating, “I wonder if it’s any news to you. I wonder if you didn’t have a pretty good idea where that jack came from when it was passed over the counter to you.”
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Orton denied steadily. “Perhaps it did occur to me that it was a bit unusual that four strangers should choose this bank for such deposits. But it was all in the ordinary course of business. I wouldn’t refuse to accept deposits unless I had a substantial basis to believe something was wrong.”
“I guessed that would be your story, Orton. We’ll see. Maybe you can give me a good description of the four persons who made the deposits. I’m waiting.”
Orton gulped and cleared his throat. Again his eyes went to the door of that rear room in a darting, apprehensive glance.
“They were men — all four of them. They came in together, said something about having just concluded a cash sale. Said they wanted to deposit here and check it out as they needed it. I’ve got the deposit slips and their signatures on file in the — “
“But the descriptions, Orton,” Ford© interrupted firmly. “Can you give me the descriptions of those four men?”
“It ain’t necessary, you lousy Fed!” a voice crackled from Forde’s left rear. “I’m all four of ‘em. Take a good look at me and you got your descriptions.”
Jim Forde slowly turned his head, saw first the threatening muzzles of the two leveled guns, then the taut, snarling face of the man who held the guns. The man was of medium height, thin-shouldered, black-haired and black-eyed. The lines of his face were sharp and cruel. Obviously he had made his entrance from the room at the rear.
“It’s your tough luck!” he snapped at Orton, whose face had gone white. “We were playin’ you for a sucker both ways, though, so it can’t make much diff to you. … So the Wainright money was tabbed, was it? Well, that was our play — to find out. How,” he demanded of Forde, “was it spotted?”
“Serial numbers,” Forde said calmly.
“The dirty rat!” the gunman exploded. “Old man Wainright crossed us. He swore by all that was holy that the money wasn’t tabbed in any way. He was so frantic about the kid that we thought he was on the level about it. Still, we wasn’t takin’ all the chances. We talked Orton here into shovin’ a bit of the jack for us to see if it was all right. So we’re out forty grand of it and the rest is so hot we won’t know what to do with it. It’s a laugh. I’ll bet you G-guys threw a duck fit when you found out forty grand of the Wainright dough had showed up?”
“It created something of a sensation,” Forde admitted with a smile. “We were expecting some of it to be passed — but not in such large quantities.”
“That was Red’s bright idea!” the mobster snarled. “Red figured the jack was okay, so he decided we might as well shoot the works on a big scale and find out. He’ll blow up when he gets the news. Now, stand up — both of you. Hands high!”
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The Vault and the Gunman’s Escape
Forde remained motionless as the gunman cautiously tapped him and removed his weapon from its shoulder holster. The gunman stepped back.
“Into the vault — both of you!” He followed them, both guns again in his hands. “Get on back in!” he ordered as they hesitated, just inside the vault door.
He laughed loudly as they backed on into the far end of the vault.
“It ain’t so bad from our angle as you might guess it is, Orton,” he boasted. “I’m goin’ to take that five grand or so in currency that you keep in the cage. It ain’t no sudden thought, either. I been all set to play it that way if anything went wrong. It’ll kinda balance things up for the forty grand we tossed off. All right, Mister G-man. See if you’re smart enough to get out of here.”
He swung the vault door shut, pulled down the lever, and spun the dial. He showed his teeth in a grin as he holstered his guns.
He reached in his inside pocket and removed a round piece of paper that was red on one side. He licked the opposite side with his tongue, crossed to the window, and pressed the paper against the window glass, held it there for a moment until it stuck securely.
He turned and ran to the cage, slipped the grilled door back, went inside and stuffed the currency that he removed from the drawers into his pockets. He left the cage and went to a position near the door of the rear room. From there he could observe the street without being seen. He waited hardly more than two minutes. He grinned again as the black coupé came into view.
He ran into the rear room and unlatched the side door that opened on the street. He opened it, closed it behind him, stepped nimbly across the sidewalk and around the waiting coupé. He climbed in beside the white-faced girl who sat beneath the wheel.
“Step on it, kid!” he commanded.
“What happened?” she gasped.
“Plenty, Winnie. It’s the old blow-off. A G-guy showed up and started askin’ the boy scout some pointed questions. I stepped in, accordin’ to the plan we already had worked out. I locked ‘em both in the vault, grabbed the dough, and beat it. I think I got better than four grand. Not so bad, huh? About the softest bank job that was ever pulled.”
“Maybe and maybe not,” she commented coolly as the car left the village and shot at high speed into the open road. “The G-boys may be planted all over the landscape.”
“I don’t think so,” he told her. “That G just happened to be the first one on the job. He hustled over to Clayville to see what kind of a smart job was bein’ pulled. He’d never dream that one of the mob was actually on the job, in the bank.”
“I hope you’ve got it straight, Flint. Personally I’ll feel a lot better when we pull into Red’s hideout … .”
* * * * *
It was pitch dark and very stuffy inside the small bank vault. The two men stood in silence for a minute or two.
“You might as well give me some of the details, Orton,” Forde said. “How did the mob happen to pick on you to handle the Wainright money for them?”
“It was through a girl named Winnie Lang,” Orton replied quickly. “I knew her pretty well about three years ago. She was a hostess in a dime-dance place in Capital City where I worked then. About ten days ago she came into the bank. She was dressed like a million dollars and talked about easy money. I was curious and played up to her. She evidently got the impression that I’d play the game. Of course, I didn’t dream that she was tied up with a mob. I thought she was hinting at some kind of a confidence game.
“Four days later she came back with that gunman. His name is Flint Bovan.”
“I knew him — from his picture,” Forde admitted.
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The Thing Was Fixes
“Bovan evidently thought everything was fixed,” Orton continued. “He didn’t tell me where the money came from. He just told me how it was to be handled and told me what would happen to me if I crossed them. He laid the forty thousand down on my desk and told me to get busy. From that moment on he hardly let me out of his sight. He made me introduce him as my cousin to my housekeeper and other persons who might be suspicious. Every day he sat in that rear room. I wasn’t permitted to phone unless he was listening. When he wasn’t with me, Winnie Lang kept an eye on me. I don’t mind admitting that I was badly worried.”
“I can imagine,” Forde chuckled. “It’s lucky for you that Sam Weisner was as smart as you thought he was. He might have blurted something out, exposed you, the first time you started scratching the dope on his deposit slips. I have no doubt that Flint Bovan would have shot you down if he had suspected that you were crossing him.”
“He didn’t suspect a thing,” Orton said with satisfaction. “Sam is always in the bank four or five times a day anyway. I tried to get all the important dope written on those slips. I didn’t want some constable or deputy sheriff to rush in here, not knowing that Flint was waiting with his guns in the back room.”
Muffled movements sounded on the other side of the vault door. “That will be Weisner now,” Forde said. “With Stillson, the president of your string of banks, with the combination to the vault door. In a minute we should be — “
They blinked as the vault door swung open.` Then they stepped uncertainly out into the light.
“You boys all right?” Sam Weisner asked anxiously.
“We’re all right,” Forde assured him. “No excitement outside, I hope.”
“None at all,” Weisner stated, “I watched the bank, and it all happened just about as you said it would. That girl drove the black coupé up to the rear door, and the black-haired man jumped in. They went away fast. It’s over my head. I don’t understand why you didn’t have the place surrounded and grab them.”
“Because Flint Bovan and Winnie Lang are only two members of the mob,” Forde explained with a smile. “There are four others, including Red Cordage, the brains of the mob and as desperate a criminal as there is in the country. We want Red. We want them all. Now there’s no need to let the rest of the townsfolk in on what has happened here this afternoon. They’ll get the whole story later if our plans work out according to schedule.
“I suggest, Mr. Stillson, that you have another man here in the morning to take charge of the bank temporarily. Then if a member of the Red Cordage mob should take the trouble to see what has happened, he will conclude that Orton has been quietly arrested and removed for questioning. And Red Cordage, knowing that Orton can’t give any information that will be of the slightest help to the cops, will figure that his mob is in the clear.”
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Big Red’s Hideout
Big Red Cordage gulped down his whiskey and deposited the empty glass on the table.
“Boy, this is the life!” he exclaimed boisterously. “We got all the comforts of home here, and we’ll take it easy till I can figure out another job. I used my head when I picked this joint for a hideout.”
His eyes wandered complacently over the large and comfortably furnished living room of the mountain cabin. The other members of his mob were scattered about the room, drinking and smoking. A radio blared dance music.
“You sure did use your head, Red,” Flint Bovan agreed noisily. “You was smart in havin’ us come in separately and rent three cabins on the same hillside. That way, nobody would suspect nothin’ and they’d think it was perfectly natural for us to get acquainted and start partyin’ together. And there’s no trail for the Feds to follow.”
“I’ll bet them Feds are madder as hell,” Red chortled. “When they found that Wainright jack floatin’ in the banks, they thought they had us. It never occurred to that dumb G that we’d have a man right in the bank checkin’ up. I’ll bet he choked when you walked in and shoved the gats in his face, Flint.”
“Yeah, he did,” Flint smirked. “He looked like he was goin’ to drop right through the floor. But Wainright is the guy that gives me a headache. We ought to go back and bump him for handin’ us that tabbed jack. If he’d kept his word and given us straight dough we’d be sittin’ pretty now instead of havin’ a measly four grand — and it goin’ fast.”
“Cripes, Flint!” Red growled. “Don’t bellyache about that four grand. It was a life saver. If it hadn’t been for that we’d be havin’ to take a chance and pass some of the rest of the Wainright dough. That would keep us hoppin’ around and would be plenty risky. Now we got that four grand of good bank dough to live on till I can figure out a quick play.”
Flint glanced at his watch and rose to his feet.
“Come on, Winnie,” he yawned. “It’s two A.M. and we might as well go back to our shack and hit the hay.”
The party broke up. Winnie strolled to the door of the living room, which opened on the front porch, and pulled it open. She stood there, staring out at the blackness of the mountainside, waiting for Flint to join her,
Flint reached the door, turned and said: “So long, gang.” He took a step out on to the porch and started to close the door behind him.
The sound that blasted the stillness of the night came from directly in front of him, and to Flint and the men in the room behind him, it was unmistakably the sound of a pistol shot. Flint caught Winnie by the arm, jerked her back into the living room and kicked the door shut. The other men had leaped to their feet.
“What the hell?” Flint rasped.
“Take it easy!” Red Cordage snapped, “just stay where you are for a minute and see what happens. Ten to one it was just a hill-billy on his way home, lit up and celebratin’.”
They waited in silence for perhaps two minutes. Then Red grinned and relaxed.
“That was it,” he said confidently. “One of these yokels, lit up on corn, cut loose with his rod to show his good spirits. All right, Flint. Try It again. You and Winnie walk right out the front door and go on to your cabin.”
Flint warily opened the door and thrust his head out. He blinked at the darkness. There was no sound or movement out there. He threw the door open.
“Come on, Winnie. Red was right. It was a false — “
He leaped backward as orange jets of flame spurted from the blackness in front of him. The roar of a sub-machine gun echoed deafeningly up the mountainside. Two short bursts that splintered the lattice work beneath the porch. Then silence again.
“Douse the lights!” Big Red yelled as Flint leaped back inside. “Get the guns! Make for the back door! We got to fight our way out!”
The mobsters grabbed their guns and piled through the short hall that led to the kitchen and the rear porch. But they had hardly reached the kitchen when a second sub-machine gun chattered from the woods beyond the clearing at the rear of the house.
The cabin was suddenly illuminated by wavering white lights that seeped in at the windows and cast ghastly shadows in the rooms. The mobsters rushed back into the living room and shrank against the inner wall.
Flares! Blazing white light burning from the ground on each side of the cabin made the clearing an oasis of brilliance in the blackness.
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You Tipped Us Yourselves
There was absolute silence again in the timber beyond the clearing.
“You can all have one guess!” Red Cordage snarled. “We’re in a spot. If we walk out of any door or try to make it from a window, they’ll knock us off before we get started. I think I get the idea. They’re gonna hold us here like this till daylight, then make us give up or gun us. So what are we gonna do?”
“We can make a run for it — go out shootin’,” Flint suggested.
“Yeah, we can do that,” Red agreed. “We all boasted that we’d never be taken alive. But when a guy says that he’ll never be taken alive he means that he’ll shoot it out with the cops if he’s got so much as a long chance. Here — we ain’t got a chance. All of you that want to commit suicide, march right on out and try to run those flares. Personally, I’m goin’ to wait for daylight and see what happens.”
Big Red guessed right. No more flares came from the timber when it was light enough to see.
Jim Forde bellowed his ultimatum through a megaphone. He gave the mob ten minutes to think it over. They walked out in two minutes, Big Red leading the procession with his hands high above his head. The G-men closed in, searched them and cuffed them together.
“Who tipped you that we was holed up here?” Red asked.
“You tipped us yourselves,” Forde chuckled.
“The way you handled the money. You see, Red, Bert Orton wasn’t quite the sucker that you thought he was. He tipped off the situation in the bank by writing notes on the deposit slips of the bank’s best customer, Sam Weisner. Sam called us. When I walked into the bank just before closing time I knew the setup, knew from the description that Orton gave and the fact that forty grand was being floated, that it was Flint Bovan who was parked in the back office, that it was your mob behind the play. I could easily have grabbed Flint and Winnie right there, but I wanted the whole mob — you in particular.”
“I don’t get it,” Red growled. “You didn’t manage to tail Flint and Winnie to this hideout?”
“No, I didn’t. But I guessed just what would happen if I walked in the bank and started asking Orton questions. I guessed that Flint, if he was sure that I was alone, would grab the cash in the till and beat it. That’s what he did.”
Red stared, a large question in his eyes.
“So just before closing time I had Sam Weisner go into the bank and pretend to make a deposit. Instead of making a deposit, he made a trade with Orton. Orton slipped him the currency that was in the drawer. Weisner slipped Orton a little over four thousand in currency-currency that was marked in a manner that any banker could detect at a glance. Before that trade was made, the necessary information was on the way to every bank in this section of the country. When some of that money showed up at the bank at Green Falls, just eight miles from here, we got busy in short order. You spent that bank dough freely, never suspecting that it could be traced. You bought groceries, a radio, tires — “
“I get it,” Red grimaced. “It was a cinch for you to ask the yokels questions and spot us here. It’s our tough luck. We were hooked all around on tabbed jack. I’d like to get my hands on that two-timin’ Wainright. He crossed us after we handed him back his kid just like we promised we’d — “
“That’s another little mistake you made, Red,” Forde grinned. “Wainright didn’t cross you. You could have passed that money anywhere in the country without the slightest risk. The money was not marked. The numbers weren’t taken. But it was a cinch to figure out that it was the Wainright money that you were putting through. Even without Orton’s description of Flint, we would have known it. We’ve pretty well cleaned up the snatch mobs. The Wainright job was the only unsolved case that involved as much as forty grand.”
Voodoo On The Riviera
A Dixon Hawke Mystery
(50 min read)
Dixon Hawke Library | May 31, 1941 | No. 561
Up against the fearsome forces of Caribean voodoo, can Hawke and his assistant Tommy Burke defeat the forces of dark magic?
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