Page 21 of The Moneychangers

"I know about that," Edwina acknowledged. "I'm just surprised you could arrange all this so quickly."

The audit chief smiled a trifle smugly. "We have our methods and resources."

What he did not reveal was that a surprise audit of another FMA branch had been planned for this evening. Following Edwina's phone call three hours ago, the earlier plan was canceled, arrangements hastily revised, and additional staff called in for the present expedition.

Such cloak-and-dagger tactics were not unusual. An essential part of the audit function was to descend, irregularly and without warning, on any, of the bank's branches. Elaborate precautions were taken to preserve secrecy and any audit staff member who violated it was in serious trouble. Few did, even inadvertently.

For today's maneuver, the score of auditors involved had assembled an hour ago in a salon of a downtown hotel, though even that destination had not been revealed until the latest possible moment. There they were briefed, duties allocated, then inconspicuously, in twos and threes, they had walked toward the main downtown branch of FMA. Until the last few crucial minutes they loitered in lobbies of nearby buildings, strolled casually, or browsed store windows. Then, traditionally, the most junior member of the group had rapped on the bank door to demand admission. As soon as it was gained, the others, like an assembling regiment, fell in behind him.

Now, within the bank, audit team members were at every key position.

A convicted bank embezzler of the 1970s, who successfully concealed his massive defalcations for some twenty years, observed while eventually en route to prison, "The auditors used to come in and do nothing but shoot the breeze for forty minutes. Give me half of that time and I can cover up anything."

The audit department of First Mercantile American, and other large North American banks, took no such chance. Not even five minutes passed after the surprise of the auditors' arrival until they were all in pre-assigned positions, observing everything.

Resigned, regular staff members of the branch went on to complete their day's work, then to assist the auditors as needed.

Once started, the process would continue through the following week and part of the next. But the most critical portion of the examination would take place within the next few hours.

"Let's you and me get to work, Mrs. D'Orsey," Burnside said. "We'll start with the deposit accounts, both time and demand." He opened his briefcase on Edwina's desk.

By 8 P.M. the initial surprise attending the audit team's arrival had worn off, a notable amount of work had been accomplished, and ranks of the regular branch staff were thinning. All tellers had left; so had some of the accountants. Cash had been counted, inspection of other records was well advanced. The visitors had been courteous and, in some cases, helpful in pointing out mild errors, all of which was part of their job.

Among the senior management staff still remaining were Edwina, Tottenhoe, and Miles Eastin. The two men had been kept busy locating information and responding to queries. Now, however, Tottenhoe appeared tired. But young Eastin, who had responded helpfully and cheerfully to every demand so far, was as fresh and energetic as when the evening had begun. It was Miles Eastin who arranged for sandwiches and coffee to be sent in for auditors and staff.

Of the several audit task forces, a small group was concentrating on savings and checking accounts and, from time to time, one among their number would bring a written note to the Chief of Audit Service at Edwina's desk. In every case he glanced over the information, nodded, and added the note to other papers in his briefcase.

At ten minutes to nine he received what appeared to be a lengthier note with several other papers clipped to it. This Burnside studied carefully, then announced, "I think Mrs. D'Orsey and I will take a break. Well go out for our coffee and supper."

A few minutes later he escorted Edwina through the same street door by which the auditors had entered nearly three hours earlier.

Outside the building the audit chief apologized. "I'm sorry, but that was a small theatrical performance. I'm afraid our supper, if any, will have to wait." As Edwina looked puzzled he added, "You and I are on our way to a meeting, but I didn't want it known."

With Burnside leading, they turned right, walking half a block from the still brightly lighted bank, then used a pedestrian mall to double back to Rosselli Plaza and the FMA Headquarters Tower. The night was cold and Edwina pulled her coat tightly around her, reflecting that the tunnel route would have been both shorter and warmer. Why all the mystery?

Inside the bank headquarters building, Hal Burnside signed a night visitors book, after which a guard accompanied them in an elevator to the eleventh floor. A sign and arrow indicated SECURITY DEPARTMENT. Nolan Wainwright and the two FBI men who had dealt with the cash loss were waiting for them there.

Almost at once they were joined by another member of the audit team who clearly had followed Edwina and Burnside from the bank.

Introductions were accomplished quickly. The latest arrival was a youngish man named Gayne, with cool alert eyes behind heavy-rimmed glasses which made him look severe. It was Gayne who had delivered the several notes and documents to Burnside while the latter worked at Edwina's desk.

Now, at Nolan Wainwright's suggestion, they moved into a conference room and seated themselves around a circular table.

Hal Burnside told the FBI agents, "I hope what we've discovered will justify calling you gentlemen out at this time of night."

This meeting, Edwina realized, must have been planned several hours ago. She asked, "Then you have discovered something?"

"Unfortunately, a good deal more than anyone expected, Mrs. D'Orsey."

At a nod from Burnside, the audit assistant, Gayne, began to spread out papers.

"As the result of your suggestion," Burnside stated in a lecturer's tone, "an examination has been made of personal bank accounts savings and checking of all personnel employed at the main downtown branch. What we were seeking was some evidence of individual financial difficulty. Fairly conclusively, we found it."

He sounds like a pompous schoolmaster, Edwina thought. But she continued listening intently.

"I should perhaps explain," the audit chief told the two FBI men, "that most bank employees maintain their personal accounts at the branch where they work. One reason is that the accounts are 'free' that is, without service charges. Another reason the more important  is that employees recently a special low interest rate on loans, usually one percent below prime rate."

Innes, the senior FBI agent, nodded. "Yes, we knew that."

"You'll also realize, then, that an employee who has taken advantage of his or her special bank credit has borrowed to the limit, in fact and then borrows other sums from an outside source such as a finance company, where interest rates are notoriously high, has placed himself or herself in a tenuous financial position." Innes, with a trace of impatience, said, "Of course."

"It appears we have a bank employee to whom exactly that has happened." He motioned to the assistant, Gayne, who turned over several canceled checks which until now had been face down.

"As you'll observe, these checks are made out to three separate finance companies. Incidentally, we've already been in touch by telephone with two of the companies, and notwithstanding the payments that you see, both accounts are seriously delinquent. It's a reasonable guess that, in the morning, the third company will tell us the same story."

Gayne interjected, "And these checks are for the current month only. Tomorrow we'll look at microfilm records for several months back."

"One other fact is relevant," the audit chief proceeded. 'The individual concerned could not possibly have made these payments" he gestured toward the canceled checks "on the basis of a bank salary, the amount of which we know. Therefore during the past several hours we have searched for evidence of theft from the bank, and this has now been found."

Once again the assistant, Gayne, began placing papers on the conference table.

… evidence of theft from the bank

… this has now been found. Edwina, scarcely listening any more, had her eyes riveted - on the signature on each of the canceled checks a signature she saw each day, familiar to her, bold and clear. The sight of it, here and now, appalled and saddened her. ..

The signature was Eastin's young Miles whom she liked so well, who was so efficient as assistant operations officer, so helpful and tireless, even tonight, and whom only this week she had decided to promote when Tottenhoe retired.