Neil Edward Starr was smiling when he entered Lauren’s office, and he kept smiling while Lauren introduced Harry and me and he shook our hands. I wondered if everyone smiled who worked in a bank and why they would—was it really that much fun? Starr said, “What’s the emergency?” Although it faded somewhat while we explained the situation, the smile was still there when we finished.
“Well, gentlemen, Lauren was correct,” he said. “It’s doubtful that we have that much cash on-site, especially in the denominations you require. As for the Federal Reserve Bank, those guys are fanatics. Worse than fanatics. They’re bureaucrats who rely on technology. If we placed your order right now, you still wouldn’t receive delivery of the bills until late tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. There is simply no way to expedite it.”
“So you see,” Lauren said from the chair behind her desk, “there’s nothing we can do to help you.”
For the first and only time, Neil Edward Starr stopped smiling. He turned slowly and glared down at Lauren. His eyes were as hard as agates and so was his voice. “What did you say?” The color in Lauren’s face drained away until it resembled her cottonlike hair. “Do you have a daughter, Lauren?” Starr tapped his chest. “I have a daughter.” Starr turned away from his vice president and faced me. His smile returned to his face.
“We have a remote vault where we process our largest transactions with our most cash-intensive customers—casinos, grocery chains, check-cashing stores, other banks,” he said. “Our armored trucks will collect their cash deposits and begin rolling to the vault as early as two thirty this afternoon and continue through the evening. What we’ll do, we’ll camp out, and when the deposits start coming in we will retain the twenties and fifties that we require.”
I liked the way Starr kept saying “we.”
“I don’t know how long it will take to collect twenty-five thousand twenties and ten thousand fifties,” he said, “but the process will certainly be a lot quicker than waiting on the Federal Reserve. At any rate, it’s the best I can do for you.”
“Your best is pretty damn good,” I said and shook Starr’s hand.
“Yes, well.” Starr seemed embarrassed. “We have a reputation here for being very customer friendly. You are a customer, right?”
I assured him that I was.
“We’ll have to shuffle a lot of money around to make this work,” Lauren said.
“We’re bankers. That’s what we do,” Starr said. “All right, I have to take off for a second. McKenzie, give Lauren your account number. I’ll be right back.”
While Starr was absent, Lauren ran my account number on her desktop PC to make sure I actually had one million dollars in checking. She then called the bank’s wire transfer department to verify that the number was correct. A moment later, Starr returned.
“Are we good?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” Lauren said.
“Okay.” Starr was smiling when he handed me a small sheet of paper. “Here. Fill this out.”
“What is it?”
“Why, McKenzie, it’s a withdrawal slip.”
While I filled out the slip, Harry called Honsa on his cell phone. According to the surveillance teams, Scottie Thomforde had walked to the fast-food joint just a few doors down and ordered lunch. He bought a couple of burgers, fries, and a fountain drink and sat at a table next to the front window. He ate alone. The phone at the Dunston house did not ring.
Harry and I followed Starr to a small, unobtrusive business park located in a residential neighborhood not too far from the main branch where we found a large, white, windowless, one-story cinder-block building that reminded me of a ware house. There were no signs identifying it. To get inside, we had to pass through a series of rooms known as bandit traps—it was impossible to open a door to one room without first locking the door from the other. Digital cameras covered each of the traps. If a door was left open for more than twenty seconds, ear-splitting alarms would be activated.
Once inside, we were greeted by a security team that did an excellent job of searching us without actually searching us. Even Starr was put through the drill. No purses or briefcases were allowed. They even asked Harry to place his SIG Sauer into a locker. There was a number of security guards—it was hard to count them. They weren’t stationed in any one place, but rather moved seemingly at random through the vault so you couldn’t pin them down. None of the guards was smiling. Nor were any other employees, for that matter. It might have been fun and games at the bank; this was different.
The main processing room was huge. It contained about a dozen rows of five-foot-wide, twenty-foot-long tables. They had metal legs and smooth, easy-to-clean Formica tops and reminded me of fifties-style kitchen tables. Only about a third of them were active when we arrived. Three employees stood at each table busily stuffing currency into cassettes that would later be installed into ATMs.