Tuesday, February 7, 2012
The Private Bank Puzzle - Edwin Balmer & William Macharg
Theme for the Week: Queen’s Quorum Titles
Story: The Private Bank Puzzle
Author: Edwin Balmer & William Macharg
Source: The Achievements of Luther Trant (Queen’s Quorum #46)
Story Number: 38
Even though the story is from the 1910 collection, it hardly seems dated. This story was also picked by Vincent Starrett for his anthology Fourteen Great Detective Stories. There are many psychologist detectives but very few really use any psychological methods to unearth a murderer. Luther Trant, who considers himself a practical psychologist, uses pure psychological techniques in this story to expose a scheme to rob a private bank.
The experienced cashier Gordon feels that someone inside the bank is about to steal from the company vault. His reason for thinking so: somebody has been meddling with his things like the overcoat, scraps missing from the wastebasket, paper pads missing and finally an attempt to break into his old typewriter desk. He approaches the manager Howell and warns him about his feeling. Howell brings in Trant to figure out why his cashier is behaving so strangely for the past two months, after his son who was also an employer was expelled for his infraction. The incident which leads to his expulsion is explained by Howell as follows: the cashier puts 25 grand into a bag, locks it, seals it and hands it over to his son so that he can deliver it to a client. But when the bag is opened by the client, they find only fifteen thousand inside the bag. The son is expelled but the father pays the ten thousand to the bank and the event is kept under wraps.
Trant gets to know that the vault can be opened with a six lettered code word which is changed every week and is known only to the cashier and the manager. When Trant approaches the cashier, he tries to hide away a few scraps of paper which seem to have some sort of code. Trant conducts three tests to figure out whether the cashier is honest or not. Based on a few more questions he arrives at the conclusion that the son was innocent of the first robbery, it was done by another clerk and now, the bank is again under threat by a different clerk. He decides to conduct another test – a word association test for all the employees – with words carefully compiled and having 2 words which were used as the code-word to open the vault in the 2 previous weeks. He tabulates the results and arrives at the two culprits by propounding a scientific explanation as to how he achieved his results!