May 24, 1906
State Bank of Sterling
The last bank customer had left over an hour ago; Nicholas Van Sant’s private secretary was straightening his desk and packing his briefcase prior to leaving. Frank came over to his desk. Howard glanced at Nicholas Van Sant’s closed door, turned to Frank, and shook his head.
“Nick hasn’t come out of the office all day. He didn’t want anyone to disturb him; he wouldn’t even take a call from the Mrs. earlier,” Frank said.
“No,” Howard said. “I’ve checked on him now and then; took him some lunch, but he didn’t touch it. He said he wanted to go through correspondence, tie up some loose ends with a few outstanding contracts, but ever since he read that report you gave him a few hours ago, he’s been preoccupied. I think he’s just been going over and over your report. It’s still on the top of his desk.”
“Could be he’s also preoccupied with his family’s estate settlement too,” Frank said.
“There’s more to it than that,” Howard said. “Look. I’ve known Nick for a long time; worked for him for several years before he started the bank. Rarely have I seen him — well, disappointed — like this.”
Frank didn’t respond; he only sighed and looked down at his shoes.
Howard shook his head, as he put on his hat and picked up his briefcase. “I don’t know what’s going on, Frank. It’s none of my business. And you probably can’t talk about whatever it is, if you happen to know. But I’m worried about Nick.”
Frank nodded at Howard. “Good night.”
Howard sighed. “Lock up behind me, will you? Good night, Frank.”
Frank waited until Howard left, and the bank was completely empty. He went over and turned the deadbolt of the front door of the bank, and turned out the main lobby lights.
There was no answer as Frank tapped lightly on Nick Van Sant’s office door. He waited a few minutes, then quietly eased open the door.
Nick’s chair was turned around, with its back to the desk; he was looking out his office window onto a side street behind the bank. It was getting dark outside; the streetlights were just coming on.
The brass desk lamp was on; the yellow round light shone down on an open folder in the center of the green blotter on Nick’s desk — the audit report Frank had written — with the last page still open on the desk. Howard was right; Nick read the report completely, and likely, he didn’t do anything else the rest of the afternoon.
The chair turned slowly around. Nick was sitting with his hands folded across his stomach; a pensive look on his face.
“Frank. Please, have a seat,” he said, nodding at one of the leather easy chairs in front of the desk.
“Are you all right?”
Nick sighed, gave Frank a thin lipped smile. “You know something? After reading this report, I feel like I’ve been to another funerals of a family member.”
“I’m sorry,” Frank said.
“How well do you know Emmett, Frank?” Nick asked.
“I don’t,” Frank said. “I’ve not seen him but a few times on the streets, at a few social events. I don’t think he’s ever spoken to me other than to say hello, or to nod in passing on the street. Honestly, he seems to keep to himself and prefers it that way.”
“Yes,” Nick said. “He is mostly unknown, despite Ella’s and my efforts to introduce him around in social and political circles. The strange thing, Frank, is that I’ve known him several few years — studied with him, debated with him, worked with him — he appeared mature and more centered than many a man of his years. And certainly, a man of integrity. In fact, that was the first thing his friends said to me about Emmett when I met him in Deland: There is no one else who holds integrity higher than anything else than Emmett Wilson.”
“You’re obviously surprised,” Frank said, nodding at the report on the desk.
Nick leaned forward on his forearms, amazed, pondering the report.
“It is as if I completely misread Emmett. It makes me question my judgement of people. I’ve never been so wrong before.”
“Nick. You are an excellent judge of character. I would not shoulder the burden that you misread him completely; none of us reveal ourselves completely to one another. That would be foolhardy. Perhaps something happened after graduation that changed him. It is possible,” Frank said.
After a few moments, Nick nodded, and said, “Perhaps. On reflection, there were clues that something was different about Emmett almost from the beginning of his time here, but I didn’t know what it was. Ella saw it right away — so she said — which I chalked up to gossip. Don’t tell Ella I said this, but she does have a tendency to look for trouble when it doesn’t exist.”
Frank gave a small, tense smile. “What did Ella notice?”
Nick frowned. “It’s an odd story that I dismissed at the time — Ella mentioned it; said she got her information from Miss Delp.”
“Tell me,” Frank said.
“In April, a bottle of Scotch was delivered to the office during the day, while Emmett was in Rock Falls on business. Miss Delp was extremely agitated. Emmett was nowhere to be found; so, she called Ella. Ella went over to the office; told her she did the right thing. Ella put the bottle in the coat closet, in the back. Ella said that Miss Delp was fearful that a client — or anyone — would walk in, see it, and think it was hers.
“The next day, Miss Delp told Ella that when Emmett arrived to work the next day, she showed Emmett the bottle, hidden in the back of the closet.
“Miss Delp said that Emmett denied that it was his. ‘The delivery boy obviously meant this for someone else. He makes deliveries all up and down East Third; it would be easy enough to make a mistake,’ he said.”
She said Emmett closed the door on the bottle in the closet and told her, ‘Dispose of this, if you will, Miss Delp.’ Then he went into his office, closed the door, and was in a terrible mood all day, according to the secretary.
“Of course, Miss Delp was not going to be seen handling a bottle of liquor at any time on the streets of Sterling. When Emmett stepped out of the office again for lunch, she immediately telephoned Ella, and told her what happened. She told Ella that it might get her fired for not following through on Emmett’s instructions, but she would not go anywhere near the bottle in the closet.
“Ella sent a houseboy over to the office, who disposed of the bottle at the end of the day, much to the relief of poor Miss Delp. I told Ella that we can’t be certain that it belonged to Emmett…”
“It probably did, Nick,” Frank said, quietly. “After John Ryan told me that his lunch room receipts had been adjusted, I asked around discretely about charge accounts set up by the law firm. I told the merchants I was just doing the regular audit; no one questioned why. One of the waitresses Dietz & Maxwell’s saloon across the street from the law firm told me that a porter delivers a hamper to the law firm once or twice a week, and that it isn’t a late dinner or lunch, but usually two fifths of Scotch.”
“Frank, Emmett has an alcohol problem,” Nick said, quietly. “He’s hiding it; probably been hiding it for a long time. We just haven’t seen it.”
“And you weren’t looking for it, Nick,” Frank said.
“You know what?” Nick added, “I didn’t want to look for it.”
“I know, Nick.”
Nick sighed. He sat forward, and folded his hands on top of the report on his desk.
“You know, I almost caught him once — back in March — it was late one night, and I had to stop by the office. I saw the light on from the street. I heard he’d been putting in at least 12-hour days, even on days when court wasn’t in session.
“I remember that I heard glass breaking as I opened the outer office door — it was one of the expensive water glasses that Ella picked out for the offices. Emmett had dropped it in the washroom — apparently, I’d startled him, he said. I didn’t think much of it then, but there was something strange about it. He seemed a little, I don’t know, disoriented. I had figured it was because he seemed to be burning a candle at both ends.”
“You didn’t see a bottle anywhere? No evidence of drinking?”
“I didn’t look for it, Frank. I just told him to go home at a decent hour, and take care of himself.”
“What about his landlady, Mrs. Anning? Did she notice anything unusual about Emmett?” Frank asked
Nick leaned back in his chair, and looked down at his folded hands. “Luella Anning has been talking regularly with Ella — I chalked it up to general gossip, but its been nothing else but her concerns about Emmett’s long hours. She told Ella that sometimes Emmett didn’t come home at all. Before we left for LeClaire this last time, she told Ella that Emmett had been witnessed leaving a whorehouse in Rock Falls by her son, Sydney.”
Frank frowned and sat forward. “What?”
Nick nodded. “Sydney saw Emmett in Rock Falls; given the time of day thought it was unusual. So, he followed Emmett over to a house in a neighborhood near the factory — the men at the factory know it well. According to Luella Anning, Sydney saw Emmett go in.”
Frank frowned. “That doesn’t mean anything. Perhaps there was a client at the house. There was nothing in the books that hinted at …”
Nick waved Frank’s words way. “Mrs. Anning is ready to remove Emmett from her house. She told Ella; and of course, Ella was quite beside herself about this — Ella insisted that I was ignoring things about Emmett, because I only wanted to see what I wanted to see with him.”
Nick paused. “He’s a fine young man. He’s, well, I look upon Emmett as the son I never had.”
“But he’s not your son.”
After a few minutes, Nick said: “I wish he was.”
Frank watched Nick carefully. “He has a problem that has gotten out of control, and he thinks no one sees that he’s struggling and unhappy, that no one cares. He’ll ask for help, if it is about work, but when it comes to himself personally…”
“…he feels like he’s all alone, and has been, all this time,” Nick finished.
“It is as if he is self-destructing,” Frank said, quietly.
Nick nodded. “And it has been going on for months.”
Frank frowned. “What about his father?”
“I don’t think he’s ever had this kind of conversation with his own father; Emmett’s father was never around for him, so I think Emmett internalized that in some way, as if he, personally, is not worth his time, or worth that kind of close examination — and,” Nick said, ruefully, “I have not been around for him very much over the past few months. But maybe it’s not too late for Emmett…”
“Do you think he’ll listen to you, Nick?”
“I’m going to insist on helping him; doing whatever it would take to help cure him of this alcohol habit before he self-destructs. Emmett doesn’t see it, but that’s what he’s doing,” Nick said, looking at Frank, anxiety in his expression. “Someone must help Emmett. He’s worth saving.”
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