If thou art rich, thou'rt poor; For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows, Thou bear'st thy heavy riches but a journey, And death unloads thee.
Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
Poul-cank'ring rust the hidden treasure frets, But gold that's put to use more gold begets.
Venus and Adonis
Long afterward, many would remember those two days in the first week of October with vividness and anguish.
It was on Tuesday of that week that old Ben Rosselli, president of First Mercantile American Bank and grandson of the bank's founder, made an announcement startling and somber which reverberated through every segment of the bank and far beyond. And the next day, Wednesday, the bank's 'flagship' downtown branch discovered the presence of a thief beginning a series of events which few could have foreseen, and ending in financial wreckage, human tragedy, and death.
The bank president's ann ouncement occurred without warni ng; remarkably, there were no advance leaks. Ben Rosselli had telephoned a few of his senior executives early in the morning, catching some at home at breakfast, others soon after their arrival at work. There were a few, too, who were not executives, simply longtime employees whom old Ben thought of as his friends.
To each, the message was the same: Please be in the Headquarters Tower boardroom at 11am
Now all except Ben were assembled in the boardroom, twenty or so, talking quietly in groups, waiting. All were standing; no one chose to be first to pull a chair back from the gleaming directors' table, longer than a squash court, which seated forty.
A voice cut sharply across the talk. 'Who authorized that?'
Heads turned. Roscoe Heyward, executive vice-president and comptroller, had addressed a white-coated waiter from the senior officers' dining room. The man had come in with decanters of sherry which he was pouring into glasses.
Heyward, austere, o lympian in FMA Bank, was a zealous teetotaler. He glanced pointedly at his watch in a gesture which said clearly: Not only drinking, but this early. Several who had been reaching out for the sherry withdrew their hands.
'Mr. Rosselli's instructions, sir,' the waiter stated. 'And he especially ordered the best sherry.'
A stocky figure, fashionably dressed in light gray, turned and said easily, 'Whatever time it is, no sense passing up the best.'
Alex Vandervoort, blue-eyed and fair-haired with a touch of gray at the temples, was also an executive vice - president. Genial and informal, his easygoing, 'with-it' ways belied the tough decisiveness beneath. The two men Heyward and Vandervoort represented the second management echelon immediately below the presidency and, while each was seasoned and capable of co-operation, they were, in many ways, rivals. Their rivalry, and differing viewpoints, permeated the bank, giving each a retinue of supporters at lower levels.
Now Alex took two glasses of sherry, passing one to Edwina D'Orsey, brunette and statuesque, FMA's ranking woman executive.
Edwina saw Heyward glance toward her, disapproving. Well, it made little difference, she thought. Roscoe knew she was a loyalist in the Vandervoort camp. 'Thank you, Alex,' she said, and took the glass.
There was a moment's tension, then others followed the example.
Roscoe Heyward's face tightened angrily. He appeared about to say something more, then changed his mind.
At the boardroom doorway the vice-president for Security, Nolan Wainwright, a towering, Othello-like figure and one of two black executives present, raised his voice. 'Mrs. D'Orsey and gentlemen Mr. Rosselli.' The hum of conversation stopped. Ben Rosselli stood there, smiling slightly, as his eyes
passed over the group. As always, his appearance seemed to strike a median point between a benevolent father figure and the strong solidity of one to whom thousands of fellow citizens entrusted money for safekeeping. He looked both parts, and dressed them: in statesman-banker black, with the inevitable vest, across its front a thin gold cha in and fob. And it was striking how closely this m an resembled the first Rosselli, Giovanni who had founded the bank in the basement of a grocery store a century ago. It was Giovanni 's patrician head, with flowing silver hair and full mustache, which the bank reproduced on passbooks and travelers checks as a symbol of probity, and whose bust adorned Rosselli Plaza down below.
The here-and-now Rosselli had the silver hair and mustache, almost as luxuriant. Fashion across a century had revolved full circle. But what no reproduction showed was the family drive which all Rossellis had possessed and which, with ingenuity and boundless energy, raised First Mercantile American to its present eminence. Today, though, in Ben Rosselli the usual li veliness seemed missing. He was walking with the aid of a cane; no one present had seen him do so before.
Now he reached out, as if to pull one of the heavy directors' chairs toward him. But Nolan Wainwright, who - was nearest, moved more quickly. The security chief swung the chair-around, its high back to the boardroom table. With a murmur of thanks the president settled into it.
Ben Rosselli waved a hand to t he others. 'this is in formal. Won't take long. If you like, pull chairs around. Ah, thank you.' The last-remark was to the waiter from whom he accepted a glass of sherry. The man went out, closing the boardroom doors behind him.
Someone moved a chair for Edwina D'Orsey, and a few others seated themselves, but most remained standing.
If was Alex Vandervoort who said, 'We're obviously here to celebrate.' He motioned with his sherry glass. 'The question is what?'
Ben Rosselli again smiled fleetingly. 'A wish this were a celebration, Alex. It's simply an occasion when I thought , a drink might help.' He paused, and suddenly a new tension permeated the room. It was evident to everyone now that this was no ordinary meeting. Faces mirrored uncertainty, concern.
'I'm dying,' Ben Rosselli said. 'My doctors tell me I don't have long. I thought all of you should know.' He raised his own glass, contemplated it, and took a sip of sherry.
Where the boardroom had been quiet before, now the silence was intense. No one moved or spoke. Exterior sounds intruded faintly; the muted tapping of a typewriter, an air-conditioning hum; somewhere outside a whining jet plane climbed above the city.
Old Ben leaned forward on his cane. 'Come now, let's not be embarrassed. We're all old friends; it's why I called you here. And, oh yes, to save anyone asking, what I've told you is definite; if I thought there was a chance it wasn't, I'd have waited longer. The other thing you may be wondering the trouble is lung cancer, well advanced I'm told. It's probable I won't see Christmas.' He paused and suddenly all the frailty and fatigue showed. More softly he added, 'So now that you know, and as and when you choose, you can pass the word to others.'
Edwina D'Orsey thought: there would be no choosing the time. The moment the boardroom emptied, what they had just heard would s pread through the bank, and be yond, like prairie fire. The news would affect many some emotionally, others more prosaically. But mostly she was dazed and sensed the reaction of others was the same.
'Mr. Ben,' one of the older men volunteered. Pop Mon roe was a senior clerk in the-trust department, and his voice was wavering. 'Mr. Ben, I guess you floored us good. I reckon nobody knows what the hell to say.'
There was a murmur, almost a groan, of assent and sympathy.
Above it, Roscoe Heyward injected smoothly, 'What we can say, and must' there was a hint of reproof in the comptroller's voice, as if others should have waited to allow him to speak first 'is that while this terrible news has shocked and saddened us, we pray there may be leeway and hope in the matter of time. Doctors' opinions, as most of us know, are seldom exact. And medical science can achieve a great deal in halting, even curing…'
'Roscoe, I said I'd been over all that,' Ben Rossell! said, betraying his first trace of testiness. 'And as to doctors, I've had the best. Wouldn't you expect me to?'