May 18, 1906
Sterling State Bank
At 11:45 a.m., Frank Heflebower was climbing the stairs of the Van Sant & Wilson law firm, a little out of breath as he labored under the heavy ledgers.
“Good morning, Mr. Heflebower. Thank you for being prompt,” said Miss Delp, who simultaneously stood, glanced at the small watch pinned to her right bosom, and reached for the ledgers.
“Thank you, Miss Delp. Mr. Van Sant also said he appreciates your discretion and assistance last week.”
“He is most welcome,” she replied stiffly, but pleased at the recognition.
As she replaced the ledgers in the cabinet behind her desk, Heflebower asked Miss Delp about expenditures.
“Mr. Wilson keeps them. He has never shown them to me, nor has he asked me to record any of the bills or the bookkeeping — although that is what I was told I’d be doing by Mr. Van Sant when he hired me.”
“Indeed,” Frank replied.
“I did start out keeping the books the first two weeks of January — if you noticed in the ledgers, the accounts in January are in my handwriting.”
“Yes,” Frank said. “But you were then relieved of the responsibility? Why is that?”
“I honestly don’t know. Not to boast, but I’m quite good. Mr. Van Sant checked my references thoroughly when he hired me,” Miss Delp said, with a defensive tone. “He told me he wanted to hire only the best assistant for Mr. Wilson, as big things were expected out of him and this practice.”
“But you didn’t handle any of the accounting books?”
“No. I thought it strange because it was back in January when Mr. Wilson said there was plenty of other work to do here, and that he was content to keep the accounts anyway — it was what he did back in Florida when he was his brother’s partner. In fact, he told me he was quite expert at it there. I asked him if he didn’t think he would be too busy to handle the everyday accounting, and he said it would be all right. In the end, I know that Mr. Van Sant told me my job was to support Mr. Wilson and do whatever he needed to be successful here, and so I did as Mr. Wilson asked.”
“He said he was the accountant at his law practice in Florida?”
“That’s what he said, Mr. Heflebower.”
Frank paused for a moment; then thanked Miss Delp. As he turned to leave, Miss Delp said:
“Excuse me, Mr. Heflebower…”
“Well,” she said, hesitatingly. “It was unusual for Mr. Van Sant to visit the offices —
“And of course, I assured Mr. Van Sant that I would keep his visit confidential, as he asked.”
“Sir,” she said, exasperated. “Something does not seem right here. I am concerned for my own situation. I help support my mother; I do not have a father or male relative to depend upon or to speak for me. If the office is in financial trouble, and cannot pay my salary, then I have a right to know about it.”
“Miss Delp, I cannot comment upon the work Mr. Van Sant asked me to do, of course, just as you agreed to keep his visit confidential. I can assure you that Mr. Van Sant takes pride in the law firm, and considers it a viable business. You, yourself, have nothing to worry about. Good day, Miss Delp.”
She nodded at Heflebower as he left.
Miss Delp paused a moment, then looked through the correspondence waiting on her desk. She then opened a drawer, took out a piece of Van Sant & Wilson stationery, rolled it into the typewriter, and began to type.
Upon returning to the bank, Frank asked Nick’s secretary if he’d heard anything yet from Nick.
“Not yet,” Howard replied.
Frank went to his desk and began to type up the report for Nick, documenting the discrepancies and errors.
Something nagged at Frank as he typed — he needed more information.
Frank hesitated making the expensive long distance phone call — Nick had very high regard for Emmett; and he knew that the relationship was more than professional. Nick thought the world of Emmett, thought of him as an heir apparent. Frank was not interested in character assassinations — but still, he had to get down to the bottom of the issue.
Frank went over and spoke privately to Howard, who didn’t ask questions, as he’d done this for Frank for other investigations.
Howard put in the call through the local operator to Marianna, Florida, to the Wilson law firm. It took about half an hour to go through.
When the operator rang back to the State Bank of Sterling, Howard waved at Frank, and indicating Frank to take the call in Nick’s office.
In Nick’s office, Frank listened for the secretary to hang up on the extension. Frank asked to speak with Mr. Wilson.
“I’m sorry, Cephas isn’t here; he’s in court in Vernon this week. How can I help you?”
Frank looked over at the calendar hanging on his wall — Berkshire Life Insurance of New Jersey, and identified himself as a salesman with Berkshire Accounting Services of New Jersey — and told the clerk he wanted to speak with the law firm accountant.
“I’m the accountant for this firm as well as the law clerk; I’m Godfrey Long. I can help you; I’ve been handling the firm’s books since 1900, when it used to be Kehoe and Wilson. What is it I can do for you?”
“Oh, well, I was under the impression that Mr. Emmett Wilson, was the accountant there. Is he there?”
Long laughed out loud; Frank held the earpiece away from his ear.
“Do we have a bad connection?” Frank asked politely.
“No, I’m sorry,” Long said. “It’s only that — well, Emmett was not voluntarily allowed near the accounts.”
“Oh — Emmett’s a lawyer, not a bookkeeper. He’s a good lawyer, but has almost zero accounting skills. It wasn’t that he was inept; he just practiced what his brother Ceph used to call creative bookkeeping — borrowing from one account to cover another sometimes.“
“Really,” Frank said, writing notes quickly as Long spoke.
“Yep. I remember Ceph yelling at Emmett, telling him that screwing up the accounting books could trigger an investigation damaging to the practice and their reputations. Even if it was innocent or accidental. And even after Emmett moved up North, it took me weeks to go through the books just to make sure the numbers were correct. Emmett’s in Illinois, by the way. Has been since last winter.”
“Maybe it was just accidental?”
“Hello?” Frank said. “You still there?”
“Look. Emmett’s a good person. But no one’s perfect…it’s possible it was accidental. Like I said, he wasn’t great with balancing the books. But it was also important to Emmett that things were neatly tied up; nothing out of place or awry. I think he just did the best he thought he could.”
Nick’s secretary opened the door, and pointed at his watch. Three minutes was up.
I excused myself for having to cut the conversation short, and thanked Mr. Long for his time.
“Goodbye, Mr. Long. Thank you.”
Nick’s secretary, who had hovered in the office door as Frank rang off, apologized for having to cut it short. “Nick would have a fit if the call went any longer, even for you, Frank.”
“It was enough, Howard,” Frank said. “Thank you.”
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