Found Money

By Hy Conrad

Once a week, Sherman had lunch at the Baskerville, a delicatessen not far from his home. On this afternoon, a sunny Wednesday in June, he walked up to the counter and ordered his usual ham and Swiss sandwich. As he paid, he couldn’t help noticing that Irene, the cashier, seemed distracted.

“Something’s afoot,” he muttered, and wasn’t at all surprised two minutes later when Gunther Wilson strolled through the door. Sherman watched as the police sergeant spoke privately with Irene, their heads bent together over the cash register. Eventually Wilson turned, saw his old friend and rolled his eyes, a typical greeting that Sherman never took offense at.

“I shouldn’t be annoyed to find you at another crime scene.” Wilson sat down at Sherman’s table. “So? You want to make yourself useful?”

The pudgy detective saw the twenty-dollar bill in Wilson’s hand. “A counterfeiting case?”

“Wrong,” Wilson said with obvious pleasure. “Stolen money. I suppose it was stolen.”

“You suppose?”

“It happened Thursday.” Wilson leaned across and whispered. “An armored truck was making pick-ups at some branch banks. As they were loading the bags, one of the guards accidentally left a bag of bills on the rear bumper. They drove off and didn’t notice a thing until the next stop. They counted the bags in the truck and figured out what must have happened. Somewhere on York Boulevard, the bag must have fallen onto the road. They went back to look for it…”

“But it was gone,” Sherman interrupted. “Do you believe the guards’ story?”

“I do,” said Wilson. “These guys could lose their jobs and their pensions, which are worth more than a bag of money. I’m betting some average guy found it on the road and his greed overcame his civic responsibility.”

“That still makes it stealing.”

“I know. Luckily, the bills were numbered sequentially. We got a list out to local merchants. Irene here matched the number on this twenty and phoned it in. The person who passed the bill had to be one of her last three customers—not including you, of course.”

Sherman glanced at the three lone diners, each at a separate table. “Excuse me,” he told Wilson, then crossed to the nearest diner and, in his friendliest manner, engaged her in conversation.

I was just transferred to this area,” the young woman confided, glad to have someone to talk to. “I’m hunting for a house, but everything is so expensive.”

“There are some nice houses on York Boulevard,” Sherman said.

“I checked that neighborhood last week. I didn’t notice any ‘For Sale’ signs.”

Sherman gave the woman the name of an ace real estate agent, then moved on to the next table. A muscular young man in a sweat-stained tracksuit was finishing a tuna sandwich.

“I got a prize fight next week,” he bragged, “and I’m on a strict routine, every day without fail. One day the gym; next day sparring; the next road work, like today; then back to the gym.”

“Do you ever jog along York Boulevard?”

The boxer thought for a moment. “Yeah, I was running there last Wednesday. That was my birthday. A nice road, not much traffic.”

The last diner was dressed in cycling gear, with a helmet hooked over an empty chair back. “Sure, I ride on York Boulevard,” he told Sherman. “It’s part of my daily loop. Fifteen miles, then a veggie burger here, and five more miles around the reservoir. You should try a little exercise.”

“Exercise.” Sherman shuddered as he walked back to Wilson and his lunch. “I get all the exercise I need bringing in the bad guys.”

Whom does Sherman suspect?

What evidence points to the thief?

Sherman bit into his sandwich and chewed thoroughly before speaking. “If you’re going to bring someone in for questioning, I’d choose the guy in the sweaty tracksuit. But you’d better be careful. He’s a boxer.”

The boxer had finished lunch and was wiping his mouth. “All right,” Wilson whispered. “Tell me quickly.”

“Because today is Wednesday and he’s running.”

Wilson sighed. “All right, tell me slowly.”

“Our dimwitted athlete went to great lengths to explain his training schedule.” If anything, Sherman spoke even slower than normal. “A day in the gym, then a day sparring, then a day of road work. No days off. If you work backwards from today, that makes last Thursday a running day. He could have found the bag and picked it up.”

“Could have?” Wilson snorted. “Could have?”

“I know,” Sherman agreed. “Hardly conclusive. Except he lied. He told me he went jogging last Wednesday, not Thursday.”

“Maybe he got mixed up.”

“He remembered that Wednesday was his jogging day and his birthday. Either he’s confused about his birthday…”

“All right,” Wilson said and pushed himself to his feet. “But if he punches me, I’m punching you.”