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I sat on the sand watching the breakers beat upon the beach. I found it hard to believe that I had been on Maura for five years. The early morning surf fishing finished, I gathered up my gear and ambled up to my villa on the hill. By my appearance, I could be taken for a native islander. The part of my body that was not covered by my sarong was brown as a coffee bean. My long, white hair partially covered by a red bandanna was tied in a knot.
On deciding to become a permanent resident on the island I had purchased a large tract of beach property and had a villa erected on the hill overlooking a lagoon on one side and the endless Pacific on the other. I had brought the blueprints of my new home with me, all part of my retirement plan. I imported the workers and material from Kyushu for its construction.
It cost a fortune, but as my father always said, "If you got it, spend it" and I did have it. It had all the comforts one would want and yet not ostentatious. I made sure it wasn't the San Simeon of Maura.
I had only been seated on my verandah for a moment when my beautiful native companion Gabriela approached with my morning libation, rye and vermouth. A drink named after another island that would never again feel my footfall.
We silently held hands for a moment as we shared the sea breeze. Gabriela was tall and graceful, with long black hair draped over her shapely mahogany form. I had never seen such perfect teeth; their whiteness brought out the stark black of her eyes. I never tired of admiring her beauty. She was my true treasure, my money only a tool.
Without speaking, she departed back into the villa. I sipped on my drink looking out at, and yet not seeing, my Pacific bulwark. I thought how marvelous it was that we should meet. Gabriela had become, as they say, the very beat of my heart. Her villa and mine were the only two on the hill.
What started out as being good neighbors grew into a powerful love relationship. Our strange encounter came about one evening while I stood on my verandah gazing at the moon reflecting off the ocean. I was suddenly captivated by the sound of a haunting violin drifting through the night air. It was Mendelssohn's Allegro Molto Appassionato, which had always held me spellbound. The music was emanating from the home of my only neighbor on the hill. I knew a woman occupied the villa, but I had never seen her. I followed the sound of the music as if in a daze. I found myself standing in her garden, entranced by her virtuosity.
After hearing the last note, I could not resist going to her door and introducing myself. The occupant came to the door with the instrument still in hand. Her beauty was only excelled by her music. I thanked her for the most ecstatic rendition of the Appassionato that I had ever heard. She smiled graciously accepting my compliments, saying that she thought it time we met. Had she been calling me?
It was the beginning of a relationship that I could only compare to the gift of Eve to Adam. The highlight of our time together was when this gorgeous woman joined me on my verandah each evening to play for me. With the haunting sound of a beguine filling the night air, the palms swaying beneath the moon, I would be caught up in a reverie of years long past.
The trinket about her neck sparkled in the bright moonlight - the Gates necklace shown at its best when worn by a beautiful woman, not to be hidden away in a vault. I had presented it to Gabriela with the understanding that she would never wear it off the hill. I told her I still hadn't had it insured and a thing of such beauty would only cause envy and jealousy among our beloved friends. She had no idea of its history or value.
Gabriela was a descendent of Captain Nathaniel Savory, a whaler from New Bedford, who had settled on Maura in 1830. She was educated in Japan and studied music in Australia, while there she became an accomplished violinist. During a musical tour in Australia, she met and married a physician and bore him two children. Her husband was killed during the war while serving in New Guinea. Never recovering from this loss, after raising her children, she returned to Maura alone. Though she was in great demand to tour the continent, she preferred seclusion on the island, a tragic loss to the music world.
We were extremely close, but I never revealed to Gabriela my past background or true identity. Bill Kias had ceased to exist. I had mailed my son a letter on the last day on the job, telling him how I would always treasure our past relationship and would never forget him. I knew my boy was involved with his own family and would stand the pain of my loss.
There was no doubt in my mind that the careful effort and length of time I had expended to be here had been a small price to pay for the rapture I now enjoyed.
"Mr. Shaw, sir. This is Jim Bates. I'm down in the vault. I'm the new Vault Manager."
"Yes, Jim, how can I help you?"
"Well sir, my very first customer, a Mrs. Ziner, tells me the box that I removed from her safe is not hers. She is mad as hell! Could you come down here? What do I do? I've got four customers waiting!"
Shaw thought that old guy Kias must have taken care of two customers at the same time, which is a no-no. He returned the two boxes into the vault in one trip, placing them in the wrong safes. It was the only possible way he could place the tins in the wrong safes.
"Stay cool, Jim, I'm on my way. Take care of the other customers. Place Mrs. Ziner in one of your conference rooms."
As Shaw headed downstairs to the vault, he thought old Kias, who had retired Friday, should have gotten out much earlier. You can't spend twenty years in a vault without losing it.
He hadn't met Jim yet. He knew he was fresh out of Yale and had just started the Bank's Officers Training Program. He was going to work as a Vault Manager for a two-month stint; part of the course, and then move to back office and up the line.
Shaw found it hard to believe what Jim had reported about the switch. It just couldn't happen. Kias had written the Safe Deposit Manual. He taught classes at the training center covering every aspect of the security required for an efficient safe deposit facility.
It was an extremely controlled environment that called for a thorough yearly audit. Every facet of gaining access and locking a safe deposit box had been written in cement for at least a hundred years. In today's crime ridden society the safe deposit facility is the last bastion for the protection of an individual's valuables.
The bank assuming the responsibility for the customer's wealth takes every possible measure to safeguard it. The customer, when renting the box, is informed that he is receiving the only two keys to his safe. These keys are presented to him in a sealed envelope that has a serial number and a safe number. The customer signs the envelope verifying that the envelope was given to him sealed. The metal seal could not be broken. The only way to open the envelope was to cut it open with a scissors.
When a safe is surrendered, the keys are immediately placed in a slot of a safe to which the Vault Manager does not have access. The Lock Change Co. upon removing these keys from the safe randomly switches the locks from the surrendered safes. The keys then are placed in the sealed key envelopes and the safes re-rented.
The safe contains a tin box that the customer places his valuables into. At each access he is directed to a small room where he has access to his tin in private. He is told to always keep the tin in full view while it is being removed, carried and placed back in his safe.
Shaw laughed to himself, the kid certainly sounded shaken. I'll just call up the other customer and soft-soap him to come in with his key. That should do it. His name must be in the tin box. I just hope he isn't a bastard. Shaw felt beat; it's always a pain in the neck to come in after a three-day holiday.
As Shaw approached the vault gate, he saw a young man standing behind a desk, surrounded by four extremely irate customers. The guy behind the desk, with his mouth open, white as a sheet, had to be the new man.
As Jim approached the gate to give Shaw access, he whispered,
"God help us! I gave access to three more customers; they all maintain I have given them the wrong tin. What the hell happened? What am I supposed to say? What do I do with the tins? Mr. Shaw, are we permitted to give out addresses? A Mr. Ortez wants to know Mr. Kias's home address."
Shaw thought, "God, not Mr. Ortez." He was jokingly known as Mr. Coffee in the Branch. He was supposed to have a large "plantation" outside of Cali in Columbia, one tough hombre.
Kias, that son-of-a-bitch, had that bastard switched all the boxes? How the hell did he do it?
Shaw, ignoring the now berserk customers, walked past the desk into the conference room, where he found Mrs. Ziner sitting at a table with someone else's coffer. There was only one way to play it, absolute calm, without a sign of panic.
"We have a little problem here. Let's me just see who owns this box. I'll have him hop over here and you will soon have your box."
Opening it, he quickly managed to identify the owner, a John Cody. Thank God, Shaw knew him.
"John, this is Jack Shaw at the Bank. How are you doing? Great. Listen, could you come over to the Branch for a moment? Come down to the vault. We just want to correct a slight error, and remember to bring your key. Yes, as quickly as possible. Thanks, John."
They waited quietly; Shaw didn't dare go out to Jim's desk where there seemed to be a crowd gathering. Shaw overheard the word "kill" being repeated.
Cody finally showed. He was quite amenable and could understand how Kias, as an old timer in a hurry, could make that error. Cody was an all right guy, thank God. But even at midnight it can get darker. Opening Cody's box it was discovered that a third hand was being dealt. The tin in Cody's safe did not belong to Mrs. Ziner, but to the L.O.L. Abortion Clinic. Mrs. Ziner's box was still missing.
It suddenly hit Shaw, that bastard not only switched the boxes but he did it randomly. How the hell did he do it right in front of their eyes? Kias is the only person who knows where the boxes are. He must have been in every box. What the hell is Head Office going to think of this? One thing for sure, my butt is going to be nailed to the vault door. Before this is over that door is going to be covered with butt. What did Kias know that we didn't? God help us. What will the newspapers do with this? Our credibility will be destroyed. We had signed contracts with our customers guaranteeing them the safety and confidentiality of the contents of their safes. There won't be an unemployed lawyer for the next ten years.
It was a common belief in the Branch that there was more cash in the customer's safe deposit boxes than we had in our own safes. It was the largest Branch in Gotham City. The customers, many of them on the Forbes 500 list, were spread all over the globe. The total value of the contents of the safes could only be guessed. It was sure to run into a multi-million figure.
Shaw thought of a horrible scenario. Harry the Tout opens Von Camp's tin in the private room and finds it stuffed with gold krugerrands. Harry gives the empty box back to Jim, signs the surrender and disappears a winner. A day later Von Camp opens what he thinks is his tin only to find a priceless collection of snuff bottles. All these boxes will have to be sealed and then inventoried. Here was a catastrophic dilemma. They could only be opened with the permission of the Lessee. How could a customer authorize the opening of a box that did not contain his tin? How would the absent customer feel about their boxes being in the bank's possession without their permission? How many boxes belonged to Pandora?
Shaw's mind boggled. Kias must have been planning this for years. There was only one question answered.
"Why do you keep turning down promotion?"
How much did he take? How did he get it out? Why did he randomly switch the boxes? Where in the world is Kias?
I was on Maura, in the Central Pacific with twenty million in cash, the culmination of my retirement plan.
You say how could he steal that amount?
Planning my boy, planning. Once the plan was conceived it was a piece of strawberry short cake.
The Gotham Safe Deposit Co., whose vaults were situated beneath the branches of the Gotham Bank, had always been a separate company in order to limit the bank's liability. The Gotham Bank changed its policy shortly after I was employed. They dissolved the Gotham Safe Deposit Co., making each branch responsible for it's own safe deposit facility.
I waited in vain for a new safe deposit administration to take form in order to oversee our vaults. It never happened. The Bank had not shot itself in the foot, it had cut its own throat. They say every man has his price but this was going to be one heck of an overpayment. My retirement plan first occurred to me when I realized that there was no longer anyone watching the store. The store being the largest safe deposit vault in Gotham City.
The millions in the vault were up for grabs. All that was needed was patience and the conception of a foolproof take-and-keep plan. I knew that Diogenes would be the only person not looking for me.
I first became aware of this strange situation when I realized that by attrition and experience I found myself to be known throughout the bank as the safe deposit authority. My odd situation occurred to me after receiving numerous telephone calls on questions concerning safe deposit policy, procedure and accounting practices. When I was stumped for an answer I realized there was nobody for me to call. I had become God by default.
We were a ship without a rudder sailing on the sea of Limbo. As far as procedure to be followed, there was no wrong way. The situation was incredible. Our very tight auditing department had ceased to be. The Safe Deposit Manager, being the only person in the branch who knew how to audit the department's keys and locks, became the safe deposit auditor, a very unbankish procedure. What hath the bank wrought?
My spouse had recently passed away. My boy Bill, an F.B.I. Agent had recently married and had settled on the coast. There was nothing stopping me from going for the gold ring. All the chess pieces were in place. There would be an opening, middle and an end game. Possibly I had spent too much time in the vault, but I could not turn down the challenge. I was finally answering that haunting call to return to Maura.
I was originally introduced to Maura at the close of the war while serving with a small Marine detachment in l945. Its beauty and isolation immediately struck me. There was no island comparable to it in the Pacific. It had the entire splendor and solitude of the mythical Bali Ha'i. While serving there, I disappeared from my outfit for a week, spending the time as Adam wandering through the Garden of Eden. I had seen enough of hell to know that this was where man was meant to live. My hiatus cost me five days in the brig on piss and punk, well worth it. For twenty years after leaving the island, I never gave up my dream of returning to Paradise.
I would feel no guilt. I had always thought of the bank as a heartless machine, not a person. The sleeping giant had no idea the game was afoot. The thing had malfunctioned; it could no longer protect its hoard. I would look at it as only a financial coup. The system would be held responsible. Jack Shaw was not chargeable for the system. He would escape with his hair.
My opening gambit was to gain control of the surrendered safe deposit keys. The fact that the lock-change mechanics switched the locks on surrendered safes, and resealed the keys was not a problem. I could duplicate the surrendered key and place a matching mark on the back of the lock before I placed the key out of my control. This was basically a simple operation. It would take time but each key could be worth a fortune.
It was easy enough to purchase a key making machine and a supply of key blanks. I was in no hurry. I had all the time in the world. Each night, at home, I duplicated the keys that were surrendered that day. I then placed the new keys on a concealed pegboard in my basement. The following day, returning to the job, I placed the customers' keys in the slotted safe belonging to the lock-change mechanics.
I glanced at my mark on the back of the lock when opening a box as a new rental. I noted the box number in my journal next to the corresponding key. In a fashion I was slowly moving the largest safe deposit vault in Gotham City into my home.
As the years passed I managed to hang a key on every peg. While the keys were accumulating I carefully planned my flight to Maura. During my leisure time I perused each box, keeping a record of the blocks of stored cash. Oh, the jewelry that people have, but I was only in search of cash. I must admit that my knees buckled when I gazed upon the famous Gates necklace. Forty of the most perfect diamonds in the world were on one strand. I had read it had been appraised at fifteen million. Should I? I had no intention of taking anything but cash. I would take it but of course I would never sell it.
I must say I did come across other interesting items such as narcotics, guns and a occasional bottle of whiskey that would add zest to the customer's lunch hour and help him finish his day. In one box I found an ax, covered with dry blood, along with a newspaper clipping mentioning a decapitated Mafia Don. I switched this box with that of a police lieutenant's.
I was quite sure the millions in cash that I had carefully selected from the safes were other people's ill-gotten gains. There was no reason for this large amount of cash being kept in the vault, not drawing interest. You might say I was going to separate the wheat from the chaff. I had always followed the bank's policy of explaining to the customers when they rented a box that the bank was not responsible for cash. Of course I knew that a lot of bad guys, along with Mr. Coffee's minions would never stop searching for me. It was obvious Mr. Coffee had a laundry problem. The contents of both his boxes were well over two million.
The Mayor's chauffeur, apparently his bagman, was the keeper of a stash of at least a million. He would be no problem. I doubted the chauffeur would ever honk his horn. That was going to be our little secret; I had become a confidant of the Mayor.
My conscience was fairly clear considering the magnitude of the crime; I had no doubt caused a great deal of confusion, but no lasting damage to any innocent parties. The random switching of the boxes was only a temporary insurance ploy, to be used as a trade-off if my plan had failed and I was forced to barter for a light sentence.
I left a letter in my desk stating, if I had successfully eluded my pursuers, in a month's time, I would provide the bank with my journal designating the true location of each tin. Everything going as planned; I lived up to my letter without revealing my whereabouts.
As far as the States were concerned, there was no evidence that Bill Kias had left the country. Bill Montesque's name and all his necessary papers, including his passport, had been provided by the F.B.I. My son had used the same documents years before while working undercover for the Bureau. Before the documents were returned, I had managed to duplicate the complete dossier on "The man who never was". I had breathed life into the FBI myth. It would never occur to them that Montesque was alive and a very rich man.
According to the FBI background cover, Montesque had been a design engineer for Lockheed, residing in CA. I moved his mailing address to a post office box in Gotham City. Subscribing to several Aerospace journals, using Montesques's post office box, he was continually receiving invitations to attend all sorts of aerospace roundtables and lectures in Washington. It seemed that the Bureau had made him a respected associate in his field. It is easier to kill a man then to get him off a mailing list. In fact, up to the time I retired, Montesque appeared to be growing in stature. His silence must have been his strong point. According to Montesque's last change of address, he was now retired and residing on the island of Maura in the Central Pacific. I had managed to hoist the Bureau on their own lie.
I spent my vacations on Maura, during my last years at the Bank posing as Bill Montesque. They were expensive trips but a necessary investment. During my brief stays I made it a point to establish my identity as a person who loved the Island and intended to retire there.
I was accepted as a man who had suffered a horrible tragedy back in the States. I never spoke about it. But rumor had it that my whole family had been killed in the crash of my private plane. I had managed to be the source of the rumor. One night, while pretending to be drunk and in a deep depression, I gave a friendly native woman, a brief capsule of the accident, without mentioning facts that could be verified. My cover story, which was accepted by all, went something like this: After leaving Lockheed, where I had worked as a design engineer, I had developed a hydrogen pump that I sold to the French government for a very large sum, that left me a wealthy man.
The island was so small that it did not appear on most maps, an ideal abode for Montesque. After five years I formed close friendships with the small group of families that were the residence of the island. Their blood was a mixture of American, Australian and Japanese. Oceanographers were attracted to the island each spring for a brief period, when the offshore waters became a whale playground. The rest of the year we were left happily alone.
There was much more cash then I expected. I actually felt a little agita when a customer went to one of my boxes that contained cash. On my completion of the journal of safe contents, and having a key for every safe, I announced that I would take an early retirement in two months.
While the keys were accumulating I had carefully laid out each step of my departure. The end game looked very promising. If everything went well Bill Kias would no longer exist. Bill Montesque rested in his coffin, awaiting the rising of the moon. When it was time Montesque would come forth, being replaced by Kias in the nether world.
I knew I could still cancel the operation and avoid the possibility of spending twenty or thirty years in a very uncomfortable retirement home, but the roar of the surf on Maura was constantly ringing in my ears, drowning out any doubt of my success.
Naturally, I would have to walk out of the bank with bags of cash over my shoulder. This had to be done without anyone casting a suspicious eye.
You say preposterous. Planning my boy, planning, study the board. I decided that four of those extra, extra-large heavy-duty bags the branch used to contain their garbage would suffice as my coffers. On Friday my last day, I quietly locked my self in the vault by closing the grill gate after the bank had been closed to the public. I could count on at least two undisturbed hours. Following my journal, I quickly removed the cash, stuffing it into the bags. I also moved tins randomly from one safe to another, keeping a record of each switch.
I had a brief interruption when a co-worker who could not make my retirement dinner which was being held that evening, came to the main gate to say good bye.
There were some boxes I did not move. I had become, over the years, aware of serious financial problems of some of my customers. I wasn't all-bad, like the Gotham Times I had also compiled a "Neediest Cases" list. Customers who were down on their luck and needed a boost. I only wished I could see their faces when they opened their boxes and found them stuffed with Mr. Coffee's green beans.
I then moved the cash bags to the garbage storage area, known as the rat room, located a few feet from the vault. Garbage was not to be removed from the branch till Tuesday. As planned, my last day fell on the Friday prior to a three-day holiday. The vault was closed on Saturday, but I would have no problem gaining access to the bank itself on the weekend. It was quite common that personnel occasionally entered the branch premises during that time to catch up on paper work. Its time locks and Burns Electric Protection safely sealed the vault till 9 o'clock Tuesday morning. The key to the door in the lobby would not be a problem. I had been given that key several years ago.
I proceeded Friday evening to my retirement dinner to bid a fond adieu to my co-workers. I was the Guest of Honor at a bizarre farewell party for a "bank robber". Considering the effort and success of my past endeavor, I did think a celebration was in order. It did add certain panache to the end game.
Remembering the busy day I faced on the morrow, I apologized for my early departure. My farewell speech was brief and a bit cryptic. "Who said you can't take it with you?" They knew, of course, I meant their love and affection. I was tempted to "amen" branch manager Jack Shaw's parting remark, "Bill, we will never forget you." They had given me a darn nice watch.
Saturday morning at 9 o'clock I parked my van just around the corner of the branch. I wore a Gotham Bank sweatshirt for the occasion, plus a Gotham Bank baseball hat. As usual, there were people in the lobby using our cash machines. I opened the door, placing myself in the branch proper. I brought up two bags of garbage from the rat room, to alleviate any suspicion. I opened them slightly to provide the proper aroma, and placed them in plain view by the door leading out of the branch. The next four bags I placed directly into my van, which was out of sight of the cash machines. One of the customers was kind enough to hold the door open for me. I then returned to place the genuine garbage in front of the building.
I immediately drove to the garage that I had been renting for the past three months in my own name. Once in the garage, I placed the money in three crates addressed to Bill Montesque, Villa Montesque, Maura Jima, Bonin Islands, via Tokyo. The crates were labeled books. I dropped the crates off at the shipping agency, using a second van, rented in the name of Montesque. Returning the van, the now disguised Montesque proceeded to Kennedy where he commenced a series of hedge hopping flights to the West Coast. After spending a week in San Francisco, Montesque caught a flight to Tokyo; here he boarded the Ogasawa Maru, the bi-monthly supply ship for Maura.
My last trip to Maura was the summer prior to my retirement. While there I made the arrangements for the arrival and storage of the crates.
It was a beautiful morning when I made my final and joyous landfall. My friends greeted me at dockside and that night we had one hell of a party celebrating Montesque putting down his roots. I couldn't contain my exhilaration. Gad, the plan had worked without a hitch.
Pacing myself carefully I used my wealth as a tool to maintain our paradise. I, of course, had to be careful that generosity shown to my neighbors did not draw attention to our island.
I contributed a sizable amount to the building fund for our new church and medical facilities without flaunting my fortune. My beneficence caused a movement among the small populous that I be appointed the Administrator. I quickly quenched this idea by feigning poor health. Any picture of me appearing anywhere would only bring tears to my eyes and Mr. Coffee to my beach.
I have never actually counted my booty; it was just too much. I think I overdid it. It was sizable and always growing. Occasionally I would leave the island for a trip to Tokyo, from there I would fly to my bank in Hong Kong, where large cash transactions were not questioned. Still my financial adviser was always shocked when I would show up with large amounts of cash. He would often suggest that I make use of their safe deposit accommodations. I, of course, like all scalawags, trusted no one. I kept my main stash buried in an old cave, high up in the mountains.
My exhilaration was replaced by a strange let down. A flame deep inside of me was being quenched. I realized my great adventure was over. Kias had run with the tiger and now he was no more. It would take a while before Montesque adjusted to this new lifestyle. Surprisingly, he had no problem. Eden is Eden.
I always felt a twinge of guilt whenever Gabriela played for me. Surely, the whole world deserved to share in the pleasure of listening to an artist of such rare talent. How could one justify keeping the "Mona Lisa" in a closet? She had been constantly deluged with requests to tour the United States. She finally permitted me to convince her to accept an invitation to participate in the celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Metropolitan, in Gotham City.
From the moment her ship disappeared over the horizon I was in a depressed state. I did not realize how much of me I had given her. I now knew the pain of love. I lived for the moment I could witness her performance via television. I had a satellite dish installed on the roof of the villa for just that occasion.
The grand moment finally arrived. The announcer said that over 500-million people would be able to view the concert. The stage darkened, a dim spotlight focused only on the outline of a woman playing a violin. The sound of Mendelssohn's Concerto in E Minor for violin penetrated the blackness of the stage. Slowly, as she played, the spotlight grew in intensity, the ravishing figure of Gabriela dressed in a stunning black-lace gown appeared, with her violin pressed to her chin. The three-movement work was being played with barely a pause between them. It was without doubt her finest performance. She never looked more exquisite, a feast for both the ear and the eye.
The audience, at the close of her performance, rose as one to give a crashing ovation. The cries of "Bravissimo" rang throughout the house. The stage was covered with bouquets. Violin in one hand and bow in the other, she bowed gracefully exposing the Gates necklace to 500-million viewers. I had stolen my own noose.
"LIGHTS OUT LIGHTS OUT IN THERE!"
I can still hear the loud surf on Maura beating in my ears.
Bill Kias #P0897698 San Quentin Prison, CA.
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