Page 4 of The Moneychangers


"For sure, without him it would have stayed an idea, and not much more."


Forum East was an ambitious local urban development, its obj ective to rehabilitate the city’ s core. Ben Rosselli had committed First Mercantile American financially to the project and Alex Vandervoort was directly in charge of the bank's involvement. The big main downtown branch, run by Edwina, handled construction loans and mortgage details.

"I was thinking," Edwina said, "about changes which will happen here." S he was going to add, after Ben i s dead…

"There'll be changes, of course perhaps big ones. I hope none will affect Forum East." She sighed. "It isn't an hour since Ben told us…"

"And we're discussing future bank business before his grave is dug. Well, we have to, Edwina. Ben would expect it. Some important decisions must be made soon." "Including wh o's to succeed as president." 'T hat's one."

"A good many of us in the bank have been hoping it would be you." "Frankly, so was I."

What both left unsaid was that Alex Vandervoort had been viewed, until today, as Ben Rosselli's chosen heir. But not this soon. Alex had been at First Mercantile American only two years. Before that he was an officer of the Federal Reserve and Ben Rosselli had personally persuaded him to move over, holding out-the prospect of eventual advancement to the top.

"Five years or so from now," old Ben had told Alex at the time, "I want to hand over to someone who can cope efficiently with big numbers, and show a profitable bottom line, because that's the only way a banker deals from strength. But he must be more than just a top technician. The kind of man I want to run this bank won't ever forget that small depositors , individuals have always been our strong foundation. The trouble with bankers nowadays is that they get too remote." He was making no firm promise, Ben Rosselli made clear, but added, "My impression, Alex, is you are the kind of man we need. Let’ s work together for a while and see."

So Alex moved in, bringing his experience and a flair for new technology, and with both had quickly made his mark. As to philosophy, he found he shared many of Ben's views.

Long before, Alex had also gained insights into banking from his father a Dutch immigrant who became a Minnesota farmer.

Pieter Vandervoort, Sr. had burdened himself with a bank loan and, to pay interest on it, labored from predawn until after darkness, usually seven days a week. In the end he died of overwork, impoverished, after which the bank sold his land, recovering not only arrears of interest but its original investment. His father's experience showed Alex through his grief that the other side of a bank counter was the place to be.

Eventually the route to banking for young Alex was a Harvard scholarship and an honors degree in economics.

"Everything may still wo rk out," Edwina D'Orsey said. 'I presume the board will make the choice of president."

"Yes," Alex answered almost absently. He had been thinking of Ben Rosselli and his father; his memories of the two were strangely intertwined. "Length of service isn't everything." "It counts."

Mentally, Alex weighed the probabilities. He knew he had the talent and experience to head First Mercantile American but chances were, the directors would favor someone who had been around here longer. Roscoe Heyward, for example, had worked for the bank for almost twenty years and despite his occasional lack of rapport with Ben Rosselli, Heyward had a significant following on the board.

Yesterday the odds favored Alex. Today, they had been switched.

He stood up and knocked out his pipe. "I must get back to work." "Me, too."

But Alex, when he was alone, sat silent, thoughtful.

Edwina took an express elevator from the directors' floor to the main floor foyer of FMA Headquarters Tower an architectural mix of Lincoln Center and the Sistine Chapel. The foyer surged with people hurrying bank staff, messengers, visitors, sightseers. She acknowledged a security guard's friendly salute.

Through the curving glass front Edwina could see Rosselli Plaza outside with its trees, benches, a sculpture court, and gushing fountain. In summer the plaza was a meeting place and downtown office workers ate their lunches there, but now it appeared bleak and inhospitable. A raw fall wind swirled leaves and dust in small tornadoes and sent pedestrians scurrying for indoor warmth.

It was the time of year, Edwina thought, she liked least of all. It spoke of melancholy, winter soon to come, and death. involuntarily she shuddered, then headed for the "tunnel," carpeted and softly lighted, which connected the bank's headquarters with the main downtown branch a palatial, single-story structure. This was her domain.

4

Wednesday, at the main downtown branch, began routinely.

Edwina D'Orsey was branch duty officer for the week and arrived promptly at 8: 30, a half hour before the bank's ponderous bronze doors would swing open to the public. As manager of FMA's flagship branch, as well as a corporate vice-president, she really didn't have to do the duty officer chore. But Edwina preferred to take her turn. Also it demonstrated that she expected no special privileges because of being a woman something she had always been careful about during her fifteen years at First Mercantile American. Besides, the duty only came around once in ten weeks.

At the building's side door she fumbled in her brown Gucci handbag for her key; she found it beneath an assortment of lipstick, wallet, credit cards, compact, comb, a shopping list, and other items her handbag was always uncharacteristically disorganized. Then, before using the key, she checked for a "no ambush" signal. The signal was where it should be a small yellow card, placed inconspicuously in a window. The card would have been put there, minutes earlier, by a porter whose job was to be first in the big branch each day. If all was in order inside, he placed the signal where arriving staff would see it. But if robbers had broken in during the night and wer e waiting to seize hostages, no signal would be placed, so its absence became a warning. Then, later arriving staff not only would not enter, but instantly would summon aid.

Because of increasing robberies of all types, most banks used a "no ambush" signal nowadays, its type and location changing frequently.

On entering, Edwina went immediately to a hinged panel in the wall and swung it open. In sight was a bell push which she pressed in code two long, three short, one long. The Central Security operations room over in Headquarters Tower now knew that the door alarm, which Edwina's entry had triggered a moment ago, wou ld be ignored and that an authorized officer was in the bank. The porter, also on entering, would have tapped out his own code.

The ops room, receiving similar signals from other FMA branch banks, would s witch the building's alarm sys tem from "alert" to "stand by."

Had either Edwina, as duty officer, or the porter failed to t ap out their correct code, the o ps room would have alerted police. Minutes later the branch bank would have been surrounded. As with other systems, codes were changed often.

Banks everywhere were finding security in positive signals when all was well, an absence of signals if trouble erupted. That way, a bank employee held hostage could convey a warning by merely doing nothing.

By now other officers and staff were comi ng in, checked by the uniformed porter who had taken command at the side door.

"Good morning, Mrs. D'Orsey." A white-haired bank veteran named Tottenhoe joined Edwina. He was operations officer, in charge of staff and routine running of the branch, and his long, lugubrious face made him seem like an ancient kangaroo. His normal moodiness and pessimism had increased as compulsory retirement neared; he resented his age and seemed to blame others for it. Edwina and Tottenhoe walked together across the bank's main floor, then down a wide, carpeted stairway to the vault. Supervising the vault's opening and closing was the duty officer's responsibility.

While they waited by the vault door for the time lock to switch off, Tottenhoe said gloomily, "There's a rumor that Mr. Rosselli's dying. Is it true?"

"I'm afraid it is." She told him briefly of the meeting yesterday.

Last night at home Edwina had thought of little else, but this morning she was determined to concentrate on bank business. Ben would expect it.

Tottenhoe mumbled something dismal which she didn't catch.

Edwina checked her watch. 8:40. Seconds later, a faint click within the massive chrome steel door announced that the overnight time lock, set before the bank closed the night before, had switched itself off. Now the vault combination locks could be actuated. Until this moment they could not.

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