Like a Thief in the Night
By Jeff Baker
Note: For purposes of this story, imagine the guy in the picture wearing something a lot less modern and urban. —–j.s.baker
The business at the bank had the whole county talking. We even had a reporter show up from Neosho. But that was after it was all over. My Aunt Lettie said it was a case of wagging tongues, but even she came into town to see where it had happened.
I should mention that it was pretty unusual for my Great-Aunt Lettie to leave the old farmhouse she’d lived in since she was widowed about 1872 to go anywhere except church. But this was fifty-seven years later, the October I turned fourteen. And everybody went into downtown Gamaliel to stare at the bank. The First Bank of Gamaliel was the town’s pride and joy. It had a vault, three teller windows and an upstairs. I know, that makes Missouri sound awfully hick, but there wasn’t much of a downtown, just a few buildings and we were lucky one of them was the post office.
My folks had let me borrow the wagon to take Aunt Lettie into town, as her house wasn’t too far from ours outside of town. When we got there the what-had-happened was easy to spot: There was a small crowd by one side of the bank which was at the end of the street. There was a low roof just under the big window of the bank’s second floor, a window facing east. And the big window had been shattered. There was glass scattered on the street and strewn over the low hanging roof which was low enough for anyone to reach over and touch. Clearly somebody had jumped out from the inside.
“They’ll either find a thick blanket with glass in it or a bloody person cut up with glass,” Aunt Lettie said.
I followed her reasoning; somebody covered themselves in a blanket and then jumped through the window and then off the roof. And she didn’t have to ask many questions; from the snippets of conversation we heard from the townspeople it had all happened after midnight. That was when Mr. Bodenhamer had left his General Store after cleaning up and probably fixing himself a late dinner in the back room.
Aunt Lettie walked around the bank building until she was sure there were no signs of any other broken windows or a door pried open.
“Maybe he fell,” I said. “I mean, by accident. Through the window. He didn’t mean to make a lot of noise.”
“Oath Offutt,” she said fixing me with her steely blue eyes. “You remember when you were seven years old and you fell out of that tree in the orchard and you took the long way back to your folks’ house so you could walk past the Taylor farm and the Ebner house and the Bailey house, bawling like it was the end of the age and the Lord and Satan were both following you with a flaming sword and a pitchfork?”
“I remember,” I nodded. Seven years old felt like a century before.
“But when you got to your Ma you stopped your crying and screaming and your arm wasn’t broke at all,” Aunt Lettie said.
“I hadn’t fallen that far, the branch was just off the ground,” I said.
“That’s it. You wanted attention,” she said. “You know why it says that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night? To remind us to be watchful. A thief in the night isn’t looking for attention. Whoever jumped out that window wanted attention. Nobody broke into the bank, if they had they would have gone out the way they came, and done it quietly. Unless they hid in the bank when Mr. Satter closed up yesterday evening. Or unless they didn’t need to break into the bank in the first place.”
Mayor George McAdoo was the closest thing to a law officer the town had so Aunt Lettie went to talk to him. But Mr. Satter must have gotten wind of it because he cut out before McAdoo could go to his house and ask some pointed questions. And they found some of the money in a suitcase he must have been busy packing when he skedaddled.
We wondered why he’d gone to the trouble to rob his own bank until about a week later when the big market crash happened. Satter must have known things were pretty shaky and decided to line his own pockets. Aunt Lettie said he was about the only one in town with a lot of money to lose.