The Great Credit Union Caper
Recently, I sat in Paramjit’s Kitchen for an evening meal and reflected upon an event which occurred in that space decades before. Back then, the corner restaurant was formerly the location of the Revelstoke Credit Union, where this story took place in 1969. Searching for an old classmate, I located Neville Millar in Santa Clarita Valley, California, from whence he emailed: “I believe all readers should give us full marks for creative scheming, diligent planning and courageous execution.” So with Nev’s endorsement, here is our true tale. Ahh, that we could only have been as successful as Ocean’s Eleven, and I wouldn’t be breaking rocks for a living today.
In my final year of high school, I was a member of the yearbook committee, and sole photographer for that same publication. Taking over a darkroom in the basement at RSS, I was rummaging through a box of neglected equipment when I came across an old passbook from the local Credit Union (passbooks are passé nowadays). It belonged to a school camera club which was no longer in existence. The columns within showed somewhere around $60 were still held in the account. Hmm . . . calculating the interest it would have earned over the intervening year or two, visions of lucre began to dance in my head. As I would be graduating in a couple of months, I wondered whether it might be possible to withdraw this small fortune and skip town before the ruse was discovered.
Needing ‘moral’ support and an accomplice for my scheme, I immediately conscripted my most innocent friend, Neville Millar, whose father was later to become a Provincial Court judge. Neville agreed to a 50/50 cut to the caper, which goes to prove that even the virtuous fall like Lucifer when the price is right!
We mentioned our plans to not a soul, but crept through daily activities with palpitating hearts. Friends and family were neglected as we met secretly after school and late into the night. All aspects of the plot were laid out in hushed tones in my attic bedroom or over the pool table in Millar’s basement. We fabricated lies, I mean lines, and alternative lines. We memorized our stories, discussed and discarded disguises, drew escape routes, and examined every circumstance whereby something might go awry. Finally, after days of preparation, everything seemed to have been covered.
It was agreed that I would pose as the newly-elected president of the camera club, and Neville as the secretary-treasurer. Acting on “behalf of the members” we would be making a complete withdrawal “toward purchase of new darkroom equipment.” My fictitious name was chosen as William Malkin, which was similar enough to my own middle name as to be easily remembered under duress. Neville never could remember his non de plume, so in frustration I christened him “Tom.” Simple, easy, yet distinguished, don’t you think?
Believing handwriting analysis might later trace my true identity, I practised a bold signature to place on the withdrawal slip. For after all, this was a bold venture…
As a further preventative measure, we decided to pull the con job on a Saturday, when the school office could not be contacted to confirm these two characters. For characters we had indeed become at that time, I kept a closet of old suits and other clothing suitable for costumes on demand. Such a strange pair we must have looked when we walked into the lobby, that dark, drizzling afternoon…
We both wore running shoes for a quick getaway by foot (neither of us owned a vehicle). Loose-fitting clothes had been chosen in event a fast break to freedom was necessary. In fact, Neville’s trousers were so loose they lacked a zipper. His fly was done up with a safety pin! His usual jacket was turned inside out, and minus his normal nerdy glasses, he had practically to be held by hand. I was little better off, for I wore a pair of wire-rim spectacles, probably leftovers from WW I. They put my whole world out of perspective. Each of us wore caps to hide our hair. In fact, I was so concerned about later recognizance that I planned to shave my proudly-grown, jaw-length sideburns, should we be successful.
Nev felt his way along the rear wall and stood quietly to maintain surveillance. I approached a wicket to do the talking. I blurted my request and pushed the passbook through the wicket. Then I began to wonder whether there might be a silent alarm, a situation which we hadn’t previously considered. But everything seemed cool — the young teller went to search through files for account confirmation. She took quite a while. I began to fret. I checked over my shoulder at my moral supporter, who squinted without comprehension at the blurs before him.
A senior male employee approached the counter. He asked further questions, but I had fewer answers. Was he stalling for time? Were the RCMP on their way? No, no — the duo disappeared into a vault in the rear corner. This was a good sign — they could be bringing out our cash. I seemed to stand for an eternity. The eyestrain was beginning to give me a headache. At last the man emerged.
“Your account, sir, has been closed for some time,” he stated. Much too levelly, to my mind. A pause and a curious look ensued.
“Are you fellows from the high school?” The air seemed suddenly stifling. This was it! Nev immediately forgot his name. I seized him by the elbow, and making hasty valedictions to the financial staff, directed him toward the only exit. How was he to run when he couldn’t see? I swung open the door and pushed him before me. But no one bothered give chase, so we breathed a sign of relief in the fresh air outside. The scrape of the closing door sounded startlingly like leg irons on a chain gang.
Digging through my trunk of memorabilia recently, I came up with a selection of stories which I’d written, some dated as far back as Grade 8. This one, from Grade 12, was based on a memory from about 1958/9 in Revelstoke. That winter’s total snowfall measured 191 inches (that’s 485 cm. for you kids). I’m not saying this story is a decent indicator of any latent talent, but it did get marked 9 out of 10.
Near death on a snowy sidewalk
I well remember a frightening winter day when my family lived on Connaught Avenue. Snowfall during the night had covered my little world, changing it to Heaven. I gingerly retraced my tracks between the vertical snowbanks along either side of the sidewalk. A roaring noise made me turn my head. A city snowblower was clearing the sidewalk. Great yellow blades chewed and spewed my footprints away. I plodded a little faster—our front gate wasn’t far. I glanced back. The machine had gained! I remembered a story about a dog which had gone through those blades.
The monster roared.
I began to run but couldn’t move fast enough— couldn’t make it home in time. The yellow teeth moved round and round. The banks were too steep to climb. My mouth was dry. Couldn’t the operator see me? It was going to swallow me whole!
Suddenly, an opening in the white hall of horrors; it was our neighbour, Mrs. Munro’s sidewalk. I ran in and twisted the door handle on her verandah. It was locked! It could still spit snow and bury me alive! I floundered, then crouched, awaiting sure death. The monster snorted up. It coughed and spat a stream of snow at me. My poor body was buried in a blizzard. Yet my heart pounded on. I arose, a white ghost from the land of the dead. The snowblower moved slowly on past Renyard’s house. I was alive!
We do not remember days, we remember moments. — Cesare Paverse (1908-1950), The Burning Brand
© Tom W. Parkin
Tom Parkin is widely-published author, photographer and Revelstoke Secondary School grad of ’69. He actually does break rocks for a living now — as a self-employed stonemason in Nanaimo, BC. Visit his website at www.ssmasonry.ca. You can contact Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org