For measurable seconds Alex weighed the question and all its implications.
He knew that not only the old couple was watching him intently, but many others, too.
The omnipresent TV cameras were still turning.
He caught a glimpse of Margot; she was equally intent, a quizzical expression on her face.
He thought of the people here, and of others elsewhere affected by this moment; of those relying on him Jerome Patterton, Tom Straughan, the board, Edwina, more; of what might happen if FMA failed, of the wide and damaging effect, not just at Tylersville but far beyond.
Despite ad this, doubt rose. He thrust it down, then answered crisply and confidently, "I give you my word. This bank is absolutely safe."
"Aw shucks, Freda" the old man told his wife.
"Looks like we been barkin' up a tree about nothing. Let's go put the damn money back."
In an the post-mortem studies and discussions over the following weeks, one fact stayed undisputed:
The bank run at Tylersville effectively ended when the old man and his wife turned back into the FMA branch and redeposited the money from their shopping bag.
People who had been waiting to withdraw their own money, and who witnessed the exchange between the old man and the bank executive either avoided each other's eyes or, if they didn't, grinned sheepishly and turned away.
Word passed speedily among the remainder of those outside and inside; almost at once the waiting lines began dispersing, as quickly and mysteriously as they had formed.
As someone said later: It was the herd instinct in reverse. When the few remaining people in the bank were dealt with, the branch closed only ten minutes later than was normal on a Friday night.
A few FMA people, at Tylersville and in Headquarters Tower, had worried about Monday.
Would the crowd return, the run begin again? In the event, it never did. Nor, on Monday, did a run develop anywhere else.
The reason most analysts agreed was an explicit, honest, moving scene involving an old couple and a good-looking, open, bank vice-president as it appeared on weekend television news.
The item, when cut and edited, was so successful that stations used the item several times. It came through as an example of the intimate, effective cinema verite technique which TV can do so well, but seldom does.
Many viewers were moved to tears.
During the weekend, Alex Vandervoort saw the TV item but reserved his comments.
A reason was that he alone knew what his thoughts had been at the vital, decisive moment when he was asked the question: Is our money… absolutely safe? Another was that Alex knew the pitfalls and problems which still lay ahead for FMA. Margot also said little about the incident on Friday night; nor did she mention it Sunday when she stayed at Alex's apartment. She had an important question she wanted to ask but wisely decided that now was not the time.
Among First Mercantile American executives who watched the telecast was Roscoe Heyward, though he didn't see it all.
Heyward turned on the TV after arriving home on Sunday night from a church vestry meeting but snapped it off in jealous anger part way through.
Heyward had serious enough problems of his own without wishing to be reminded of a Vandervoort success. And quite apart from the bank run, several matters were likely to surface during the coming week which made Heyward highly nervous.
One other postscript developed from that Friday evening in Tylersville. It concerned Juanita Nunez. Juanita had seen Margot Bracken arrive during the afternoon.
She had recently debated whether or not to seek out Margot and ask advice. Now she decided to. But for reasons of her own, Juanita preferred not to be observed by Nolan Wainwright. The opportunity Juanita had been waiting for occurred shortly after the bank run ended, while Wainwright was busy checking branch security arrangements for the weekend, and the day-long pressure on the staff had eased.
Juanita left the counter where she had been assisting a regular branch teller and crossed to the railed management area.
Margot was seated there alone, waiting until Mr. Vandervoort could leave. "Miss Bracken," Juanita said, speaking softly, "you once told me that if I had a problem I could come and talk to you."
"Of course, Juanita. Do you have one now?" Her small face creased in worry. "Yes, 1 think so."
"What kind of problem?" "If you don't mind, could we talk somewhere else?" Juanita was watching Wainwright, near the vault on the opposite side of the bank.
He seemed about to end a conversation. 'When come to my office," Margot said. ''When would you like to make it?" They agreed on Monday evening.
The reel of tape, retrieved from the DoubleSeven Health Club, had been lying there on the shelf above the test bench for six days.
Wizard Wong had looked at the tape several times, reluctant to wipe out what was on it, yet uneasy about passing on the information.
Nowadays, recording any telephone conversation was risky.
Even riskier was to play the recording back for someone else.
Yet Marino, Wizard was certain, would very much like to hear a portion of that tape, and would pay well for the privilege.
Whatever else Tony Bear Marino might be, he was generous about payment for good service, which was the one reason Wizard did work for him periodically.
Marino was a professional crook, he was aware. Wong himself was not. Wizard (his real first name was Wayne, though no one who knew him ever used it) was a young, clever, second-generation Chinese-American.
He was also an electronics audio expert, specializing in the detection of electronic surveillance.
His genius in the subject had earned him his name. For a long list of clients,
Wong provided guarantees that their business premises and homes were not bugged, their phones untapped, their privacy from surreptitious electronics inviolate.
With surprising frequency he did discover planted listening devices and when it happened his clients were impressed and grateful.
Despite official assurances to the contrary including some recent presidential ones bugging and wiretapping in the U.S. continued to be widespread and flourishing.
Heads of industrial companies retained Wong's services.
So did bankers, newspaper publishers, presidential candidates, some big-name lawyers, a foreign embassy or two, a handful of U.S. senators, three state governors, and a Supreme Court justice.
Then there were the other executives the Don of a Mafia family, his consiglieri, and various wheels at a slightly lower level, of whom Tony Marino was one.
To his criminal clients Wizard Wong made one thing plain: He wanted no part of their illicit activities; he was making an excellent living within the law. However, he saw no reason for them to be denied his services, since bugging was almost always illegal, and even criminals were entitled to protect themselves by lawful means.
This ground rule was accepted and worked well. Just the same, his organized crime clients intimated to Wizard from time to time that any usable information he acquired as a result of his work would be appreciated and rewarded. And occasionally he had passed on tidbits of knowledge in return for money, yielding to that oldest and simplest of all temptations greed.
He was being tempted by it now. A week and a half ago, Wizard Wong had made a routine anti-bug survey of Marino's haunts and telephones.
These included the Double-Seven Health Club where Marino had a financial interest. In course of the survey which showed everything to be clean Wizard amused himself by briefly bugging one of the club lines, a practice which he sometimes followed, rationalizing that he owed it to himself and his clients to maintain his own technical expertise. For the purpose he chose a pay phone on the health club's main floor. Through forty-eight hours Wizard left a tape recorder spliced across the pay-phone circuit, the recorder hidden in the basement of the Double-Seven.
It was a type which switched itself on and off each time the phone was used.
Though the action was illegal, Wizard reasoned that it didn't matter since no one but himself would hear the tape played back.
However, when he did play it, one conversation, especially, intrigued him.
Now, on Saturday afternoon, and alone in-his sound lab, he took the tape from the shelf above the test bench, put it on a machine and listened to that portion once again.
A coin was inserted, a number dialed. The sound of dialing was on the tape. A ringing tone. One ring only. A woman's voice (soft, with slight accent):
Hello. A male voice (whispering): You know who this is. But don't use names. The woman's voice: Yes. The first voice (still whispering):