5/ "Double Jeopardy"
by D. J. Herda
A cockroach poked its head anxiously out from beneath
a bureau across the room. Several times it peeked out, paused,
sniffed the air like a golden retriever getting a fix, then scurried back to
"Yes, Mrs. Martinowicz," I said. "I mean, no."
The insect was proving to be welcomed diversion to the endless harangue
falling from the woman's ancient lips. For hours, she droned on,
pausing only long enough to ask a brief question, never long enough to hear
an answer. She'd enjoyed a happy childhood in Poland, selling flowers
to the peasantry in her grandmother's shop. She moved to America, met
and married her husband, lost him only a year ago. A yellow tear
formed in the corner of one eye, beading up to enormous proportions, then
scaling its way slowly down a complexion so parched and crinkled, you could
have read the Preamble in it.
"You know, excuse me, Mr. Joseph, sir, such a
beautiful, such an elegant name as that ... excuse me for saying the trouble
with this America people is all this, this ... fooling around that so many
people ... and the women ... do. It's a sin, excuse me, how these old
hags who could scare the Frankenstein how they smear all this makeup stuff
all over their faces and they put on these short dresses, these skirts, and
it's a sin how they chase after some men, now, isn't it? But, you
know, Mr. Joseph, sir, I feel sorry for them, because they're all empty
people inside ... with this sexy business and all. And I can't stand
empty people. I can't stand people who don't use the brains the good
God gave them. Excuse me for saying it, Mr. Joseph, sir, darling, but
I just can't stand no empty people.
"Mrs. Martinowicz ..." I pulled my legs under me
and boosted myself from the chair. "I'll take it."
Mrs. Martinowicz patted the ball of yellow hair tacked
to the back of her head. "Then you don't want it, no?"
"No. I mean, yes, I want it. I'll take the
"Oh, my God, can you believe it? Such an elegant
young gentleman like yourself, to want such an old apartment like this.
That is a gift from the God. Believe me, sir, a gift from the God."
"I have to go now, Mrs. Martinowicz. I'm on my
lunch hour from the bank. I don't have many things to move in here in
the way of furniture and all. Mostly clothes. A few boxes.
I could do it in a day, easy. Maybe this Saturday, if that works out
I watched very carefully the way Mrs. Martinowicz
signed her name, "Mrs. Josephine Martinowicz," on the receipt, which she
folded twice and handed to me. I'd had some training in handwriting
analysis and found it fascinating, analyzing people's natures and then
comparing that to what their handwriting revealed. It was
more than a pastime with me. It was a vice.
"Then, Mr. Joseph, sir, I see you Saturday, around
My mind raced as I hiked the stairs leading to the
outside walk. What a God-awful hole.
Who would have imagined? Me, a
rising, button-down-collar man at the First. But, then again, it
wouldn't be intolerable. Within a coupe of days, if all went well, I'd
be settled in. Within a couple of weeks, I'd be rich.
The last two people filed out of the department.
I opened my bottom desk drawer and pulled out a stack of mimeographed
sheets. Slowly, I ran my finger up and down the list, stopping finally
at Account Number 74775.
"Martinowicz," I whispered.
Quickly my fingers followed the line of print after her
name. Address? Four east Maple, 60606, 659-1111.
Credit Rating? AAA. Loans in Force? None.
Amount on Account? $373,244.
The voice startled me. "What?"
"I say, aren't you going to lunch?" Fred Cox
learned over my shoulder. I wanted to close the sheaf of papers before
me ... or set them print-side down on my desk. But neither one would
do. That would surely make him suspicious. No, I'd just have to
sit tight and hope for the best.
"Oh. No, no." I pointed to a wrapped
sandwich sitting next to my phone. "I thought I'd just eat in today.
You know, catch up on a little work. I want to use the 5660 to run
some figures I've been working on." I hoped he wouldn't notice the
sweat forming on my brow.
"Bernice?" Fred turned to the computer. "If
she can't do it, nobody can. Of course, you have to treat her right,
you understand. Just like any other woman. You can kick her
around a little and push her to the limit, get her all fired up as hell.
Then, just when you think the love affair is over, you give her a pat on her
processor, and she'll purr like a kitten." Fred winked.
"Oh ... yes, sir." I forced an awkward little
laugh. "Very good, sir. I'll have to remember that."
"Well, I'm taking off, now. Be back in an hour,
just in case anybody calls."
I followed the hollow sound of his hard-soled down the
corridor and across the hall.Pause. More sounds, and then the slam of
the elevator door as the fiberglass-and-steel cage whisked its occupant to
the 14th-floor cafeteria. My pulse suddenly dropped 20 points and I
took my first breath in 30 seconds. Sweat rolled down my temples.
Stupid, Joe. Very stupid. If I'm
going to do this thing, I have to do it right. No chance for slip-ups.
Absolutely none. Or I won't do it at all. I'm not going to spend
the next 30 years of my life in Joliet. No way!
I continued scanning the list, copying all the
information I needed, running the rest through the shredder in Fred's
office. Then I punched some figures into the computer and corrected
the master tape for Account Number 74775. After that, I went across
the hall to Internal Security. As I expected, the department was
vacant except for Marge.
"Hey. Hi, Megs."
"Joe. How you doin'? "
I shrugged. "Oh, you know. Busy, busy.
Like they say, no rest for the wick ... I mean the weary."
Some other time, I might have been tempted to stand
around while. You know, sling a little trash. Megs had the
smoothest curves and the sweetest smile I'd ever seen. And when she
walked, her firm, well-rounded rump swayed poetically--the kind of sway that
tells a man she's a woman of great knowledge ... all carnal.
And anxious to put it to use.
"Say, I've got to check out a signature on the scanner.
She threw her shoulders back and motioned with her
arms. "Let me know if you need any help."
I had to struggle suddenly to remember why I was there.
In fact, for a brief moment, I was tempted to feel her out on it--just
kidding around. Tell her I'd make her a partner, ask her along for the
ride. Something in the way she smiled told me she wasn't exactly above
it all. And she'd be good company along the way.
But it was too risky. I knew that. There
was too much at stake. Too much riding on everything going smoothly.
I needed a foolproof plan, 100 percent. And that meant no one else
could know what I was up to. After all, there were a million Margaret
Millers down in Mexico. Plenty to last me for the rest of my days.
And with the money I'd soon have, I'd be able to sample each and every one
I turned the scanner on, punched in Account Number
74775, and waited as the machine whirred into action. On a screen the
size of a portable TV, up popped the name, "Josephine Martinowicz."
Below it was her signature. Quickly, carefully, I revised the name and
traced the revised signature on a new scanner card. Now it read, "J.
I replaced the existing card with the new one and
copied the signature onto a dozen blank withdrawal slips, just as the
elevator bell rang and the security department personnel began funneling
back from lunch. I quickly turned the machine off, threw Megs one last
provocative wink, and headed out the door. It was all too simple.
It was perfect.
I sank into an old, tattered and torn chaise lounge
that had been making people feel uncomfortable since the war--the Civil
War--and switched on a lamp by my side. It was quarter to six, the
last rays of the sun slipping behind the brownstones lining the street
across from my apartment.
I grabbed my attaché case and opened it across
my lap. From one of the upper pockets I pulled the stack of withdrawal
slips I had brought home with me from the bank. In the open space
marked, "Amount Withdrawn," I carefully printed the figure, "$19,000."
It was not an arbitrary amount. I knew from experience that all
withdrawals for $20,000 or more required a Federal report before they could
be honored. Federal reports meant, of course, more paperwork, more
signatures, and witnesses--none of which I was particularly anxious
In the space marked "Address," just above the signature
line, I printed "13 Avenue del Tores, Acapulco, Mexico." I
checked the box marked "Bank Draft," slipped the paper into a a
pre-addressed and stamped envelope, and sealed it. Within a week, I
would be 19 thousand dollars richer. Within 12 weeks ... well, it was
easy enough to calculate. I probably could have gotten it all, but
then, again, I've never been what one would call "greedy."
When I had first gone to work at the bank as a computer
programmer, I was clearing $180 a week. Which, you understand, is not
horrible. But, with eight other full- and two part-time programmers on
the payroll, advances were sure to be slow ... if they came at all.
And I am too ambitious to stagnate.
The idea of running a grift on Mrs. Martinowicz came
after I'd told her where I worked. Why, that's where I bank,
she told me. On a hunch, I followed up on it. Now, that alone
wasn't enough to stir me to action. But when I found out the old lady
was a widow, with no family in the world that she knew of, I would have been
a fool to let it ride. After all, at 75 or 80, her days were numbered.
And who better to benefit from her fortune--her cat?
I put on my coat and hat and went outside to the
mailbox. I felt like kissing the envelope goodbye before dropping it
through the slot but instead slipped it into the hole like any normal
personal mailing a check to the telephone company or Sears.
In the morning, the bank would receive the withdrawal
slip and run it through the computer. The giant machine would shoot a
shower of sparks this way and that before determining that there were more
than enough funds to cover the withdrawal.
Next, the slip would be routed to Internal Security,
where someone--maybe even Megs--would run the paper through the scanner,
where it would be compared with the signature on file. The two "J.
Martinowicz" lines would be identical--I had made certain of that.
Finally, the slip would pass to Auditing, where a bank
draft for $19,000 would be issued to the account holder and mailed to the
villa I had rented in Mexico. Once there, I'd have no trouble at all
using the funds to open an account under the name of Joseph--or "J."--Martinowicz.
I'd over-ridden the computer's master tapes to skip two months of statements
for Account Number 74775. The previous month's statements had just
gone out in the mail. By drawing $19,000 a week for 12 weeks, I'd have
an account tipping $228,000 by the time Mrs. Martinowicz finally saw what
was going on. And Mexico, I was careful to find out in advance, had no
extradition treaties with the U.S. for any crimes short of murder.
So, I walked down the street, turning north on Rush,
where I let my eye feast on the girlie-shows and the strip bars and the
blues clubs and the buildings darkened on the outside and blazing on the
inside, where only God knew what went on, and only stopped once to chat
briefly with Fat Max, who worked for one of the nude dance clubs as a
"Hey, man. Doncha be walkin' on by like dat.
Don' you know what beautiful dings is wigglin' an' a-wrigglin' just inside
dees doe? Come on, my main man. Gib yoself a treat. No
cover, no 'mishon. Jes you an' duh li'l ladies, doin' what cum natchel,
I smiled and slipped him a buck, I don't know why, then
wandered on down toward State Street and a small hamburger joint I'd visited
once or twice before. It wasn't exactly what I had a taste for.
But with less than 12 bucks and a one-way ticket to Acapulco in my billfold,
it would have to do.
My stomach was rumbling. Probably the beef.
But I didn't care. I had less than two hours to finish stuffing my
suitcase with everything in the world that I owned and rush out to O'Hare to
catch my flight. Then, just four hours later, I'd be home free.
It was too good to be true.
Suddenly, as I stuffed my last shirt into the satchel
and struggled to close the clamps, I heard a knock at the door.
Who could that be?
My heart raced, my palms itched, my temples
pounded--pounded so hard I didn't just feel them, I heard them ...
actually heard them, for God's sake. I looked around. It
wouldn't do to have anything lying about that might give me away. But
everything looked normal, everything looked natural. I quickly shoved
my cased under the bed and paused.
I let out a deep breath. Had I been mistaken?
I must have been. I checked my watch. Nearly 10:30. No one
would come calling at 10:30 at night. Not on a Wednesday. Not on
a work night.
I listened some more. The only sounds in an
otherwise still sanctum were the steady klickety-klack of the roaches as
their little feet skittered across the Formica table in the kitchen.
I was just in the process of bending down to pull my
satchel out from under the bed when I heard it again. Louder, this
time, more insistent. I shot up, my eyes bulging. This time,
there was no mistaking it.
Fuck! I spat. I had slipped up.
I knew it. I had missed some tiny, nearly inconceivable detail
and would now have to pay for my carelessness.
But that was impossible. I'd followed my plan
down to the letter--even so far as giving my boss at the bank a note from my
doctor, ordering me to Arizona for three months of asthmatic R&R. He
was a friend, a guy I went to school with, not really a doctor but a
pharmacist--close enough. I slipped him a fifty and told him I
desperately needed a break for a few weeks. That was all it had taken.
Not only had my boss bought it hook, line, and sinker, but he actually
expressed his deepest sympathies and concerns. He even put me on
medical sick leave from the bank, meaning I could continue drawing my
paycheck, which I conveniently instructed Accounting to send to a drop-box
in Tucson, where it would be forwarded to me in Mexico.
"You lucky son-of-a-gun," Fred announced when I'd told
him of my misfortunes. "While we're here, suffering through the snow
and freezing weather, you'll be basking in the sunshine by the pool and
flirting with all those pretty girls!" I smiled to myself.
Little did he know.
The knock sounded again, louder than the last. It
was Mrs. Martinowicz come to say goodbye. That was it. To
wish me luck ... maybe even refund me half my rent. That would be fine
with me. I could use a little extra traveling cash. It never
hurt, you know.
I let out another deep breath, straightened my tie, and
walked across the kitchen to the door. I lifted the latch, but Mrs.
Martinowicz was nowhere to be found.
"Mr. Singleton? Joseph Singleton?" the taller of
the two men asked. He wore a suit like a Maxwell Street bum and
smelled like an cheap undertaker. His eyes were cold, glossy, black.
His lips were dry and white. I couldn't tell whether or not he had any
color at all in his face.
"Yes," I said.
"Mr. Singleton, we have a warrant for your arrest."
I froze. Could I have heard right? Was he a
cop? I glanced at the second man, a uniform, and realized what was
I furrowed my brow. "What? There
must be ... some mistake."
The man shook his head. "No mistake."
"On what ... grounds?" I really didn't want to
know, but I figured it would look bad if I didn't at least feign
He squinted down at a piece of paper he'd been holding.
"Mr. Singleton, you are under arrest on suspicion of grand larceny, grand
theft, embezzlement, forgery, fraud, attempt to commit mail fraud, and
attempt to leave the scene of a crime. Will you turn around, please."
"What?" I said again. This time the
furrowed brow was real. "You're kidding."
I mean, attempted fraud, I could see. But I
hadn't done all that other stuff. Not yet, anyway. And how on
earth could they have known what I was planning on doing? I
hadn't exactly taken out an ad in the Chicago Tribune, for God's
sake. It was insane.
The man shook his head, again. "'Fraid not.
Mr. Singleton, you have the right to remain silent. Should you not
choose to remain silent, anything and everything you say may be held against
you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. Should
you not be able to afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you ..."
I never did hear the rest. I was too stunned.
He could have read me the Mexican National Anthem, for all I knew. For
all I cared. Somewhere along the line I had miscalculated.
It was the perfect crime--with one flaw. But what?
I gathered up my wallet and grabbed my watch, then
slung my coat across my back. The officer turned me around, and I felt
the sudden numbing coldness of the steel rings clamp closed across my
wrists. The next thing I knew, my feet were shuffling out the door.
"This is some mistake," I said. "Some big
"I don't think so," he said. "We've got you
nailed to the wall."
He led me up the stairwell and out into the night,
where we paused at the curb for his partner to walk around and unlock the
"Tell me," I said. I knew I shouldn't have.
I knew it was stupid, against all advice any attorney might have given me.
I knew it was wrong to say anything, but I had to find out. I
had to know!
He paused. "How what, sir?"
"How did you find out?"
"Oh, that. Mrs. Martinowicz tipped us off."
"Mrs. Martinowicz? How did she
"Well," he said. "It seems Mrs. Martinowicz has
two names on her bank account--her own and a fictitious co-signer,
Brenda Smith. When the bank received a withdrawal slip signed by only
one name, the computer spit it out as improperly endorsed. That sent
it to the bank's Internal Security department, and they notified us. It
took us awhile, but we finally traced it back to you. Mrs. Martinowicz
got a little suspicious when she noticed all those travel brochures from the
Mexican Tourist Council in your mail box. After all, who's interested
in Mexico when he's getting ready for a trip to Arizona? It wasn't
hard to tie you to the villa in Acapulco."
"Two signatures!" I sighed.
"Unbelievable." I lowered my head and slipped into the back seat of
"Yeah," the officer replied. "It's a little trick she picked up while
working in Europe--as a bank examiner ..."