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By Ruth S. Jonassohn
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Ruth S. Jonassohn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAfter a brilliant sunshine during the day, the night became cloudy and humid, something to be expected in a city built near the shore.
As the night progressed, a lone figure walked around the shores of Wildwood Crest, New Jersey. He was so shabbily dressed, no one still at the shore paid any attention to him. As he left the shore, made the rounds of the wealthiest section in town, seeing the beautiful homes with large acreage behind them. A few still had lights on, while others were pitch dark. No dogs were seen or heard, especially at the darkened homes. Almost no one was on the street.
He investigated one house of special interest, then walked to the back to see if there was a rear entrance, if so, if it was lit. The house was completely dark. He checked for an alarm system without finding anything, not even spotlights.
With the front of the house in complete darkness and no streetlights shining on it, he moved to the back entrance. Once inside, he slowly walked to the front of the house to see what it contained. His flashlight was aimed at the floor, as he realized he stood in the foyer and still hadn't seen anything or heard anyone talking.
He slowly walked up the winding staircase, cautiously examining the rooms without finding anyone home. A vicious smile came to his lips.
Entering the master bedroom, he examined every corner and still didn't find an alarm. He moved to the closet, cautiously opened the door, and waited, but nothing happened. He stepped in to see what kind of closet these people had. To his surprise, it was huge.
Looking around, he saw two more doors and opened the nearest one. Behind it was a safe almost as large as the closet.
He returned to the main closet door, opened it slightly, and didn't detect any movement, so he locked it from the inside with a smile. He could work without interruption.
He opened the safe quickly. The beautiful jewelry took his breath away, but it didn't interest him. He needed cash to survive. He searched the safe until he found what he wanted, taking the bundle without counting it, then closed the safe and left the closet. No one would know anything was amiss, because the closet and safe looked undisturbed.
He went downstairs and walked through the rooms, his flashlight pointed at the floor, but he didn't see anything else of interest, so he returned to the kitchen and left the house. He walked into the nearby woods to lose himself until it was safe to return his home.
Removing his shabby clothes, he folded them into a neat package and buried them. The only items he kept were his gloves and overshoes, which left no footprints. Before leaving the woods, he made sure to distribute the dirt so it looked as if no one had walked along that stretch toward the highway even at night.
Ronald Hunter checked his watch and saw it was time to leave the beach, where he'd been watching laughing kids play games. Rita was probably worrying. He should've called her to invite her for a leisurely walk on the beach. She'd probably be angry for not being invited and being left alone.
As he approached his home, he saw all the lights were on. He walked into the spacious foyer and called, "Rita! I'm home."
"It's good to see you so late at night. Where have you been?"
He smiled at the woman he loved, then became serious. "I took a walk on the beach and watched some kids play ball. It was so relaxing, I forgot the time."
"I would've gone with you. Why didn't you call me?" I had nothing else to do but stare at the walls, wondering when you'd return."
"I'm very sorry, Rita. If you'd like to go for a stroll on the beach now, I'll gladly take you."
"It's too late now. Next time, come home sooner. I was worried sick and ready to call the cops."
He laughed, but he knew she meant it.
"How was business today?" she asked.
"Very busy. Paul was, too. We raised the interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point, to five-and-a-quarter. That's a lot better than the four-and-a-half percent on a CD."
"True. What time element is involved with the new rate? Is it for one year or two years? Less or more?"
"Neither. Its a thirteen months CD."
"That's a good return."
"The best. I hope the rates won't increase so quickly again."
"Has the Federal Reserve made any announcement to that effect?"
"Yes, they did. Why?"
"I haven't heard anything on radio or TV."
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you last night. I was too tired to talk about it."
"Ronald, you're only supervising things for me. Even though you're the CEO of the bank, that doesn't mean I shouldn't be informed of what goes on."
He looked at her with hate-filled eyes. She always let him know who the sole owner of the bank was. It was the same with their mansion and her other properties, including the many acres behind the house and the lake.
He was angry that she didn't have enough confidence in him and had to know everything that happened at the bank. "If you have so much mistrust in my managing the bank, perhaps we should trade positions."
"Ronald, you don't have to be sarcastic. I know what needs to be done whether I'm at the bank or not. You agreed, remember?"
"How can I forget? Your parents saw to it when I proposed marriage. Now that they're gone, nothing should've stopped you from making me an equal partner."
"I would, if I could. You didn't bring anything to our marriage besides good looks and the desire to work in the bank."
He turned, grabbed his coat, and marched from the den.
"Where are you going?" she called.
"To cool off!"
"I now exactly where you're going-to meet your buddies and play poker or blackjack."
Chapter TwoRonald arrived at their usual hangout, a bar and grill, and smiled at his buddies.
"It's good to see you again," Landers said. "Where have you been?"
"It was a very busy day at the bank. With the new CD rates and the increase in borrowing money, it was pretty hectic, as you can imagine."
"Well, you're here now. How about a drink?"
"Are you playing tonight?" Emil asked.
"Of course. That's why I came."
"OK. Let's get started."
They walked into the private room reserved for them, where no one dared interrupt. The owner made sure of that. The players showed their appreciation by spending a lot of money at his business.
"What shall we play?" Landers asked. "Blackjack or poker?"
"It's a poker night. Next time, we'll play blackjack."
Once the game began, the men discussed their week at work. It hadn't been very good.
"What's the problem?" Ronald asked.
"Work is scarce, and pay increases aren't being offered anymore. Even our health insurance has been canceled, and the firm stopped contributing to our pensions. We've been employed there for more than twenty-five years, and suddenly, they see us as extra baggage. Meanwhile, the big shots get millions in compensation and regular raises."
"I know exactly what you mean."
"You? The CEO of the biggest bank in Wildwood Crest?"
"Yes. I asked Rita to make me an equal partner, but she says she can't, because that's how the trusts were set up by her parents. There can't be any changes to them. It's for life," he said bitterly.
"That's tough. You must make a good salary, don't you?"
"Of course, but nothing more."
"What will you do?"
"I don't know. I have no idea what to do. Something will come to mind someday. Then the entire establishment will be mine without any interference."
The room became very quiet. No one wanted to comment, though Landers thought Rita should be warned. Perhaps he could tell Dorothy, who could call or visit Rita, but why get involved? It was none of their business.
Ronald, who was a good poker player, hoped to win a few dollars. As Landers dealt, he asked, "How much are we opening the first round with?"
Hunter who was a high bidder, opened the door by placing $1,000 in the pot. The others had no choice but to follow.
Soon, the game grew so animated, people in the bar and grill heard the men shouting and laughing. The owner called on the intercom and asked them to quiet down. No one wanted trouble with the authorities. It became quiet, which was how Hunter liked it. He concentrated on winning the first round. Soon, the pot was worth almost ten grand, which would be better in his pocket than theirs.
He wanted to win big and wondered how to play the hand. He decided to let another man win first, then he could see if the money was worth fighting for.
Ronald held back as the bidding began. No one asked why he didn't bid higher than his opponents. He was one of the best poker players in the country.
The first game ended amicably. The winner took close to $80,000. He deserved the win, because he wasn't that lucky very often.
The second game started the same way. The players examined their hands, some shaking their heads and tossing the cards into the middle of the table to sit out. Hunter and several others remained in the game.
Play dragged on until some frustrated players threw in their cards. Rising from their chairs, they shook their heads and walked away. Those left behind still wanted to win. The pot was much bigger than the first game, possibly double.
It was a game of endurance. Ronald held a full house, with three aces and two kings. When no one spoke, the dealer asked if anyone wanted to change his cards. No one moved. All wanted to see what the other players had.
Finally, two more players quit, leaving the table while shaking their heads. It was down to four. Hunter wouldn't budge. The other three laid down their cards to end the game.
The others congratulated Ronald, slapping his back. He invited them to have a nightcap.
Soon, it was time to leave. The men wished each other good night, agreeing to meet for dinner at seven o'clock at the bar and grill the following evening. A table had already been reserved. Ronald, as was the winners' custom, to pay for the food and drinks.
He wasn't sure continuing to play cards with his buddies was the right thing to do. He still hadn't decided to tell them the following night's game would be his last. Nothing was certain. Anything could happen in games of chance.
He returned home and greeted Rita with a big smile as he entered the living room and saw her reading a book. Kissing her, he showed her his winnings. She wasn't that interested, but she took the money and counted $170,000. She was impressed.
"You can make a lot of money playing cards," she said with a smile.
"I agree. However, as CEO of your bank, I doubt that's the right thing to do. Tomorrow night, I'll tell the others that its my last game, and I'll wish them my best. They'll have to find a new partner."
"You might lose tomorrow. They might even set you up. If you lose more than what you just won, will it be worth it?"
He looked at her without comment. Instead, he went to the safe and added the $170,000 to the $600,000 he already had, which Rita didn't know about.
When he couldn't find the $600.000, he didn't know what to say. However, he had to face her, so he walked into the den and asked, "Were you snooping in the safe?"
"I beg your pardon? Who do you think you're talking to? I'm not one of the servants." She walked from the den.
He followed, shaking his head. She always had to have the last word. It was his own fault. He took the wrong tone with her. It was her safe, not his. "Rita, please tell me what to do. Shall I call the police?"
She didn't reply, so he asked again.
"What do you think is the right thing to do?" she asked.
He hated having the authorities in the house, especially to inspect the safe, but he had little choice. Perhaps some of her jewelry was missing, too.
Before he called the cops, he said quietly, "Sweetheart, please check your jewelry to see if everything is in order."
She set aside her book and went to the safe. To her surprise, she found Ronald had left the door wide open for anyone to see. Shaking her head, she entered and looked for her jewelry. Taking out the box, she opened it and counted quickly. Everything was accounted for. She didn't like the fact that he knew where she left her jewelry and decided to find a better place.
She carried the box from the safe and kept it beside her chair when she sat down. When Ronald left in the morning, she'd hide it somewhere else.
Ronald called the police and spoke to the captain of the small force in Wildwood Crest. The captain didn't know what to expect. The Hunters had never called before.
He arrived at the address, and Ronald and Rita greeted him cordially. When he heard the reason for the call, he couldn't believe someone broke into such a well-built home.
He immediately summoned his forensics fingerprint expert to look for footprints, fingerprints, or any other clues. The man arrived quickly and began removing his equipment.
"Where do you want me to start?" he asked.
"I'll show you," Ronald said.
Once the man saw the safe, he didn't know what to think. "Please open it, so I can take prints from inside as well as out."
Once that was done, the man accompanied Ronald back to the front door and examined it carefully. He found nothing, so he checked the back door next, he still found nothing.
"I suggest we take footprints and fingerprints from everyone who is in the house to make sure we can eliminate those," he said.
Rita was the first to offer hers. Ronald reluctantly followed, then the employees were also fingerprinted and foot printed.
Once all those prints were compared, and nothing but those showed in the house, the forensics man checked every inch of the mansion without finding anything.
The Hunters were shocked that no clues were found. Where had the money gone? None of the employees knew the safe's location in the master bedroom.
Ronald looked at his wife in desperation. "Do you know how much money was taken?"
"How could I? You never told me how much you hid in there. Besides, you changed the code every day and sometimes forget to tell me."
She was right, but he still harbored doubts. He just didn't trust her.
The captain came in from outside and apologized, adding they still hadn't found anything. He promised to check further.
"Your property adjoins a patch of woods," he said. "We'll continue our search tomorrow morning. It's too dark to continue right now. Is that all right?"
"Of course. You have our permission to search the property, which ends at the fence near the highway.
"Thank you, Madam, Sir. Until tomorrow."
Chapter ThreeThe night stalker was prowling again. He passed the mansion and saw it lit, with many people moving inside. It seemed he'd have to look elsewhere. It wasn't a good idea to hit the same house twice anyway.
As he walked the streets, he didn't find one empty house. He turned a corner and saw no homes at all, just a parking lot and the town's only bank. No one else was out, not even walking a pet. To his surprise, no cops patrolled the area, either. He searched for hidden security guards but found none, which seemed odd. He checked for wiring to an alarm system. There wasn't any, nor where there cameras at the corners of the buildings or any spotlights.
Shaking his head, he pulled down the fire-escape ladder from the roof. It was so dark, he was able to climb to the roof without anyone seeing him. He searched the roof for an opening without finding it. Taking out some tools, including a Geiger counter, he sought an escape door on the roof and finally located it near the ladder.
He opened the small trap door, fastened a rope to his waist, and lowered himself into the bank's main entrance. Once inside, he didn't see anyone, nor a night watchman. He shook his head and muttered, "How trusting is this place?"
Finding the heavy safe door, he opened it quickly, then opened the inner gate and walked in to look around. He raided the bank for cash, hoping to find many different denominations. When he found money piled in bundles, he always took some from the middle, not the top or bottom.
He raided all the stacks without any trouble. Working fast, he quickly amassed enough cash to fill a hidden section of his tool bag. He checked to see if he missed anything. Then walked back to the steel gate, locked it, then locked the heavy outer door.
It took a lot of willpower and sweat to close the heavy doors. He wore special overshoes and gloves, so he didn't need to worry about prints. Before he left, he wiped everything clean just in case.
Excerpted from The Schemer by Ruth S. Jonassohn Copyright © 2010 by Ruth S. Jonassohn. Excerpted by permission.
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