The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound – Chapter 4

The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound

Golden Gate Disappearing Greyhound Bus Caper

Steven Levi

Master of the Impossible Crime

Chapter 4


“What is our risk at this moment, Douglas?” The Regional Vice President for Pacific Rim Operations for English Petroleum, Robert Harrah, leaned forward on his elbows braced on his blotter. He was an ancient man; his features set in granite and soaked in pickle brine. “Let me reiterate what our arrangement with you is, Douglas. We pay you a considerable amount of money to make certain our cash transactions are discrete. We would have thought this would have been a fairly easy occupation. We deposit money in cash in a bank, you insure, and you protect us from undue scrutiny.”

“There is no risk here,” Hopkins said quietly. “At the moment, there is no risk. There are just some complications.”

“Complications?” Now we have what you lightly describe as complications. This is not acceptable, Mr. Hopkins.”

If the lights had been turned up to their proper brilliance, the Harrah’s office would have been stunning. Actually, stunning would hardly have been the word to describe the personal office of the highest placed individual outside the main office in Bristol. He was more than the embodiment of English Petroleum in the United States. He was English Petroleum in the United States. His was the face dominating every EP gasoline station across the United States, the pinched face of the British aristocrat stating he was so tight he squeaked and he always got his gas from EP because every penny counted. The second most well-known image EP presented to the United States was this man’s pocket purse, brimming with pennies while, in the background, was the man’s face pinched into a smile against the EP logo.

The private persona of the man was on the other side of the universe. His office occupied the westward-facing one-third of the 123rd floor of the recently built EP building in San Francisco, referred to as the ENPET building by those who worked there and the block privy by those who worked for Atlantic Richfield, Exxon and Hastings-Hanford. Almost twice the height of the Bank of America Tower, ENPET stood as a giant shaft piercing the sky while the rest of the city’s skyscrapers seemed nothing more than warts on the landscape below.

Harrah’s desk was set on a massive dish in the center of his office. It rotated along a 180-degree arc once every hour thus offering him a different view of San Francisco every time he looked up. His massive teak desk dominated one-third of the office. Behind the desk and recessed into the cedar wall was a wet bar with a conference room beyond. Souvenirs of his peripatetic career and fortune loaded the shelves and walls of the conference room. Grip-and-grins from Saudi Arabia to Singapore covered one wall and on the other were spirit masks, blowguns, Tiki shields, rusty bronze Buddhas, and what had once been a 75-pound king salmon from Kachemak Bay in Alaska.

But on occasions such as this, the twin doors to the conference room were closed. Blinds covered the windows and the overhead light was turned down until the room seemed more like a cave than a business office. Rather than allowing the deep, rich luster of the cedar paneling to warm the room, the darkness turned the wood an ominous black with deeper black veins barely visible in the gloom. It was Kafkaesque.

“Well, since we are being so candid, allow me to refresh your memory as to our relationship.” Hopkins took a drag on his cigarette and let the smoke waterfall out of his mouth. “You are paying me, and quite well I must add, to make certain your cash transactions are secure and covered with insurance. Upon occasion, nicely put, I am paid to make certain all the serial numbers of those actual bills are scrambled. I have not failed you.”

Harrah was unimpressed. “True. But the problem we have here, Douglas, is not just the $10 million of our money which is at risk. The actual cash, which was in the bank, places us at risk because we don’t have a list of those serial numbers. What should have been a sleight-of-hand transaction has turned into a full-blown disaster. There are now 10 hostages at risk threatening to turn what should have been a simple bank robbery into a national hurricane of concern. Captain Noonan of the Sandersonville Police, probably the highest profile crime fighter in America, is in San Francisco. Then there’s the question of the contents of the safety deposit boxes. What we have here, Douglas, is a full-fledged public relations and fiscal disaster about to explode like an atom bomb. We cannot afford any scrutiny, Mr. Hopkins, and neither can you.”

“True, Robert, but let me remind you it was on your instruction the money was to be placed in that particular bank for laundering . . .”

“Not laundering, Mr. Hopkins.”

“Whatever verb you use is fine with me, Mr. Harrah, but let’s be frank. The problem here is your money just happened to be in a bank which was hit. Your paperwork is good and your cash is insured. Whatever happens, you get $10 million back.”

“That’s not the point, Mr. Hopkins. The point is we do not want the scrutiny this robbery could be causing us. We want the money which was in the bank back.”

This clearly took Hopkins by surprise. He stalled mid-stab with his cigarette hovering over the ashtray on Harrah’s desk. “You want the money that was in the bank back?” he said with incredulity. “You mean you want the exact dollars back? The same bills?”

“That’s right.”

Hopkins sat in stunned silence for a moment. “First of all, why? You’re covered for the $10 million.”

“Because we are very nervous about having the IRS find out we’ve been playing fast and loose with cash. It makes them nervous even though it is legal and because we don’t need any undue attention from the IRS.”

“What’s the problem? If any of the serial numbers of the original bills show up in circulation, you can say it was part of the robbery. They don’t have the replacement serial numbers so, as I asked before, what is the problem?”

Harrah stood up and slowly walked to the window where he crushed a button in the window frame as though it was a bug. Along the entire wall the blinds flipped up. Normally these blinds were operated by small motors which adjusted the amount of light allowed into the office. With the button he could override the system. When the blinds were raised entirely, he stood before the window and looked at his kingdom below. Without turning he continued to talk to Hopkins.

“Well, we at English Petroleum are concerned the new serial numbers on the bills will come back to haunt us. Someone might be able to get their hands on the original list of serial numbers which were recorded with the IRS and prove the bills which were stolen were not the same serial numbers. Then English Petroleum might be asked to pay a pretty penny to keep such information, shall we say, proprietary.”

“But only two or three people even know our little secret.”

“Precisely. We intend to keep it that way. So we’ll solve our little problem right now. We want the original $10 million back. Do I make myself clear?”

“How am I supposed to arrange that?”

“Bluntly stated, Mr. Hopkins, I don’t care. You clearly arranged the robbery so you should know where the money is located.”

“Look,” Hopkins was now breaking into a sweat, “I didn’t have anything to do with the bank robbery. It just happened. I don’t know who those thieves are. I don’t know where the money is. I don’t know how to reach them.”

“Oh, that is such a pity, Mr. Hopkins.” Harrah began raising the other blinds and looking down into the streets of San Francisco in the deep cement canyons below. From where Hopkins sat, the effect was to outline Harrah against the early morning light. “Mr. Hopkins, today is going to be a very difficult day. It is now 7:15 and in 45 minutes I’m going to have to go into a large, unfriendly meeting and tell some very influential men a critical component to a multi-trillion dollar negotiation is in jeopardy because you, Mr. Hopkins, failed to protect our assets and the integrity of our operating system, a task which you were well paid to perform.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault . . .”

“Fault is not the question here. Responsibility is. The gentlemen and lady with whom I will be meeting will be very displeased with the state of this matter. They do not view failure as an option. You have been paid well and you will be expected to maintain your end of the bargain.”

“But I don’t know where to find those dollars! I had nothing to do with the robbery!”

“Oh, I hope you are lying, Mr. Hopkins. I truly do. Because if the $10 million which disappeared, the same $10 million let me reiterate, is not within our possession by midnight tomorrow, you will not see the sun rise again. Do I make myself clear?” Harrah sat behind his massive desk deftly.

“You can’t just go around and make threats like . . .” Hopkins words came so close to the heels of Harrah’s they seemed like one run-on sentence.

“Yes I can. The mechanism is already in place and no one is going to let any individual stand in the way of a multi-trillion operation, not me and certainly not you.”

“But how are you going to get the exact $10 million if I’m out of the picture.”

“We may not. But if we cannot and any irregularities are found, we will leave the blame with you. Under the circumstances you won’t be able to dispute the charges, eh? It also solves the problem of having you return in a year for a readjustment of your commission rate with us, if you know what I mean.”

“You’re saying you think I’m going to blackmail you.”

“Blackmail is such a nasty word. I prefer the American vernacular, shakedown.”

“Even if you think that – which isn’t true – you can’t just go out and kill someone! This is the United States, for God’s sake.”

Harrah’s voice was smooth and contained, just as though he were ordering a kidney potpie or a stout. “Oh, yes we can. And we will. You have made a mess of the matter and at a critical moment. I would strongly suggest you do everything in your power to retrieve the original $10 million, particularly if Captain Noonan is on the case. I doubt he will be as foolish as you have been.”

“But I really don’t know who the thieves are!” Hopkins said plaintively but his voice was hollow of sincerity.

“Then you had better find out at once, don’t you think?”

There was silence in the room for a long moment as Harrah went back to his office chair. Hopkins was in a leather chair almost quivering while Harrah looked down on the insurance agent as if he were a rabbit skittering along an open meadow with a bald eagle dropping out of the sky.

“Now, Douglas. Look at me, Douglas.”

Hopkins shifted his gaze until he was looking into the coldest eyes he had ever seen. It was clear from the expression on his face there was not a doubt in his mind the president of English Petroleum would be true to his word.

“Good. Now, Douglas. Let me tell you what I think. I think you planned this entire operation. You and your cohorts got the $10 million and your company covers the loss. Very clever if I do say so myself – and I do – but I don’t think you were stupid enough to tell your associates the bills were untraceable. If you had we wouldn’t be talking right now. You and your friends would be gone. No, there is something else holding you in town.”

“Well . . .” Hopkins started to speak but Harrah cut him with an imperial wave of his hand. “I’m going to make your job incredibly easy for you, Douglas. Through your connections, whatever they are, I expect you to find the men who pulled off this job and let them know you want the original $10 million back in our hands by midnight tomorrow. You’ll have to make your own arrangements but I want those bills back in my possession by midnight tomorrow. And you may also pass along to the thieves if even a single $100 bill makes it into circulation I will make certain everyone associated with this robbery is hunted down and disposed of with.”

“You, you can’t do that!”

“Douglas, English Petroleum is not a sovereign nation. It is a company with vast holdings and connections all over the world. In many countries we deal with very unsavory individuals who are more than willing to perform, shall we say, unusual tasks. No matter where those men go, we will find them and we will eliminate them. Now,” Harrah leaned back comfortably in his office chair. “There’s no reason for this matter to have an unpleasant ending. You just find the thieves, deliver my message clearly and I’m sure we can reach an accommodation.”

Harrah rose indicating the conversation was at an end. Hopkins, almost blubbering, rose slowly.

“Once again, let me make myself crystal clear,” Harrah walked ahead of Hopkins leading him toward the elevator. “If the original $10 million from the bank is not replaced before midnight tomorrow then you will not see the morning sun. And your associates will not be far behind. Melodramatic this may sound but true it is.” The last was said with finality and Harrah, with an outstretched hand toward his private elevator, indicated the meeting was over. Hopkins tried to say something but Harrah just looked at him and said a single word, “Midnight.”

There was a moment of silence before the elevator clicked shut and Hopkins was shot down to the street level. Only after he had been gone a full 30 seconds did the door to the conference room open and two men emerge from the semi-darkness.

The two men were as similar as a python and a hedgehog. The taller was a cadaverous, six-foot specimen who would have appeared more at home in a black oak coffin than a business office. His suit hung on him rather than fit and his nose was sharp enough to cut cheese.

The other man was built like the Tasmanian Devil of Walt Disney fame. His corpulent body stretched his suit whenever he moved yet, at the same time, his legs were so spindly his trouser legs appeared empty. Despite his body’s proportions, he moved with agility, like a dancer on stage.

“You heard?” Harrah didn’t offer either man a chair but they sat, nonetheless.

“All of it,” the taller man said laconically.

“What a piker,” said the fat man as he put the heel of his right palm on the desk for support as he sat. “He thinks $10 million is a fortune. He’s lying,”

“I believe so, yes.” Harrah leaned back against the dark wall next to the elevator. “And I believe even if he succeeds we cannot count on his loyalty.”

“Or his silence.” The taller man looked to the fat man for confirmation. The fat man was silent.

There was a long moment of silence which was only broken when Harrah pushed himself away from the wall. “Give him until about 11 p.m. If it doesn’t look like he’s going to find the money, take him out. If he’s close, let him be.”

“And if he succeeds?” The fat man asked the question as if it were rhetorical.

“We have seven trillion dollars riding on an insurance agent who got greedy. First time failure is last time risk. Take him out.”

“And his associates?” The fat man smiled and patted the front of his suit at the waistline.

“Not here. Not now. But things could change.”

There was a moment of silence. Both men rose and walked to the elevator. The fat man pushed the button. When the door popped open, the two men stepped aboard and the elevator closed. Harrah, alone, walked back to the window to look down on San Francisco. It was going to be a very long day, he thought. A very long day.

Steven C. Levi is a sixty-something freelance historian and commercial writer who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, his home for past 40 years. He has a BA in European History and MA in American history from the University of California Davis and San Jose State. He has more than 80 books in print or on Kindle.