« Fair Shares | Main | The Two Margarets »

Feather's Miscellany: The BankJobs

John Waddington-Feather tells a most satisfying tale which involves two unlikely bank robbers.

There’s a bit of rogue in all of us - more in some folk than others; and that bit of roguery only needs the right set of circumstances and the right temptation to come its way and before you know where you are you’re leading a life of crime. I’ve seen the most respected members of society fall from grace when temptation had found the chink in their armour.

Very often it’s bad upbringing which tempts under-crustian people to crime; more often with upper-crustians it’s greed; sometimes among all classes it’s the sheer excitement of ‘pulling a job.’ But in Peter Cummings’ case it was none of these; it was resentment, mounting resentment which grew over the years, as he became more and more mocked and trodden on, like the proverbial doormat right into middle age. Then one day something snapped inside him and the worm turned.

Peter loved art from the word go. He excelled at it in school and dearly wanted to go to art college to make it his career, but no, his dad stepped in and at fifteen Peter had to leave school and was put into the bank. A safer job than being an artist – and it had a pension at the end of it; but how he hated the bank! The daily grind of counting dirty banknotes and handling greasy coins, all the while yearning for an easel and palette rotted his soul away. As he sat behind a desk adding up columns of figures all day or checking accounts he dreamed of filling canvases with things of beauty. In the end his dreams faded and he became the butt of the bank, mocked and laughed at by everyone, from the bank manager to the twittering counter girls he worked alongside.

Peter was rather small, going bald but he had a very sensitive face, and his hazel eyes always had a faraway look in them, in a world beyond the bank, beyond Keighworth, in come make-believe place where he fulfilled himself a million miles away from the soul-rotting routine of bankdom, world in which he was another Lowry or Hockney.

Outside the bank he pained a bit, played a bit of cricket without ever reaching the dizzy heights of the first team, but because he kept himself fit, he had a strong wiry body and was rarely ill. He did his best to keep good-natured at the bank, but it was hard going with all the flak he had to take; and as they years went by resentment grew. He resented being put in the bank in the first place, then being for ever put down and laughed at. A succession of pushy and self-opinionated bank managers, all scrambling to the top, made him feel small, for Peter wasn’t the pushy sort. He was rather laid back and easy-going and he would have been very content with life, even in the bank, if the others had only left him alone.

In addition to cricket he enjoyed acting minor parts with the Keighworth Drama Group. He also played second violin in the Keighworth Orchestra, and he wrote scraps of verse which were sometimes published in provincial poetry magazines. So his life was full and would have been pleasant but for the constant hassle he had at work.

There was one manager in particular who made life miserable for him. Justin Maleby- Evans was a right little twit. He was always on at Peter to ‘get on’, telling him he had no go and that he should have moved on from a counter at the Keighworth branch years before. The bank didn’t want stagnant male employees. It was all right for women to stay put. Most, if not all of them, would get married and leave, but the bank employed men to generate business and make healthy profits; that meant moving about – in Maleby-Evans’ case moving up and up.

The girls he worked with were just as bad and poked fun at him constantly, pulling his lead about having no girl-friends till in the end he wed one of them, a middle-aged spinster in her early forties at her last grab. Once Elsie Gott had the ring on her finger she put Peter under it and made life miserable. She was a shrewish little woman, obsessed with keeping the house as neat and tidy as the bank counter she worked at. She nagged him constantly about leaving things around, about his dirty shoes, his shaving tackle cluttering the bathroom, walking on her newly washed floor with dirty boots. She was the sort who put newspapers on the floor on rainy days when she’d cleaned it – and woe betide Peter if he stepped out of line and left boot-marks on her newly washed floor. She even made him clean his slippers if he went outside in them in the garden to feed the birds.

Peter soon lost what few friends he had. He wasn’t allowed to go out drinking as had been his wont. His wife was a strict Baptist and frowned on any kind of alcohol inside the house or outside it, so Peter had to drink in secret, sneaking out to snatch a quick drink at the Cycling Club on his way from work, then sucking peppermints all the way home to hide the smell of booze on his breath. All of which fanned the flames of resentment burning fiercely inside him.

Ernest Webster was one of the few friends who remained loyal. They’d known each other for years because Ernest was a master locksmith and worked for a safe-making firm in Leeds. What he didn’t know about bank safes wasn’t worth knowing. He’d never married but made up for it with a succession of lady friends. He spent freely and lived well; and as a result he’d developed quite a paunch and was going bald. Yet the ladies loved him and he loved them well in return, lavishing expensive gifts on them and taking them on holidays abroad in the sun. In Keighworth, he spent much of his time in the Cycling Club and other drinking holes, but, alas, he also spent much time in Happy Jack’s Casino in Bradford and the betting shop beneath the Cycling Club. In time, his wild wagers caught up on him one day as you’re about to hear.

Master of his trade, Ernest went all over the country installing bank vaults and safes so he’d all the qualifications for being a master peterman, a safe-breaker, which in time he became. It was bound to happen. His lifestyle brought him to the brink of ruin and head over heels in debt. Money-lenders hammered at his door day and night, garages wanted his flashy cars back, his rent became overdue by some months and it was only a question of time before he lost his job. Then just when he was at his wits’ end Peter Cummings stepped in and made a proposition – and so began their life of crime together.

Both Ernest and Peter had access to various bank vaults and as chief cashier, Peter knew when they were full. One of his jobs was to sign in the money each day which the security company brought, but a job of a very different sort was pulled when he virtually emptied his own bank’s vault.

By the time he made his first venture into crime, Peter Cummings was well and truly soured, disillusioned with life at work and at home, where he was scoffed at by his colleagues at work and nagged and nagged by his shrewish wife at home. He craved revenge and he took it. He master-minded robbery after robbery at banks all around Keighworth and beyond.

None of your hit and run stuff, masked raiders threatening terrified bank clerks with sawn-off shotguns. Oh, no! That wasn’t his style at all. Peter Cummings was a fiscal Moriarty, planning each robbery meticulously to the last detail. Using Ernest’s safe-breaking skills they helped themselves the first time to a cool hundred thousand pounds from his own bank – and got away with it!

Try as they might, forensics couldn’t find out how the bank’s vault had been broken into and its contents taken. There were no fingerprints, nothing broken, no locks forced – nothing. The money simply disappeared overnight.

Of course, neither Peter nor Ernest could bank it. That would have given the game away at once. They just stacked the cash in an old wardrobe in Ernest’s spare bedroom and divided it between them: fifty grand each.

Three months went by before they pulled their next job at a large bank in Leeds. There they scooped a million, and with his share added to the first job they pulled, Peter quietly opened a no-questions-asked account for himself in a Swiss bank, where he deposited his loot. Ernie kept his share in the wardrobe which he dipped into as he needed it.

They collared another million or two from more jobs; then their luck ran out. It was bound to the way Ernest threw his money around. He got drunk one night in the Cycling Club and started buying drinks all round. Chief Superintendent Wilkinson, a long-standing member and a very observant policeman, happened to be there at the time, and being a good copper quietly watched Ernest paying his way with £50 pound notes. Before he left, he asked for a couple from the steward, signed a receipt for them, then when he went to work the next day checked them out against police files. Sure enough their numbers tallied with a list of stolen money from the recent bank robberies.

Peter and Ernest were arrested, stood trial and were both sent down for ten years. They served only seven and came out wiser and leaner men, but their time inside wasn’t over hard. In fact, it was a deal easier than on the out for both men – except Ernest missed his wine and women. Both served the latter part of their sentences in open prisons, which had facilities for them to plan their futures when they were released, which looked rosy by the time they came out.

` Peter’s wife, Elsie, divorced him while he was in prison. How could she live with a convicted criminal who’d robbed the very bank she’d worked in? She couldn’t face the shame in Keighworth and with the money Peter settled on her left the town to set up shop in a bed and breakfast in Bridlington on the east coast, where she lived with her spinster sister happily ever after.

Ernest went to Monaco – with his wardrobe – and played the tables in the casinos there. He lost most of it but won for himself a rich widow whom he charmed and married and he lived happily ever after, too.

Peter emigrated to the West Indies and bought himself a luxurious house with its own stretch of beach and lived on his Swiss bank account, enjoying life to the full with a bunch of ex-pats who’d also made their homes there. In time he, too, married a merry widow who looked after him the rest of his happy days on his Caribbean island.

Oh, and I ought to mention Justin Maleby-Evans, the obnoxious manager who’d made Peter’s life so miserable in the past. He also lived happily ever after on a pension of a million pounds a year and a bonus of another couple of millions per year for the last five years of his working life.

It was the only bit of news which saddened Peter Cummings when he heard of it; when he considered that if he’d only applied himself a bit more and gone into management, he could have milked the bank just as easily and unscrupulously without ever going to prison.

John Waddington-Feather ©


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.