Unseen of the Crime
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A Short Story by William Armstrong
Like the answer to an old riddle, the door was ajar. Mickey poked his head into the room and called out, "Professor Vencelli?"
After a moment of silence a white-haired man wearing a not-so-white lab coat appeared at the far side of the room. The professor strained to focus his eyes on the younger man, "Yes?"
"Itís me, Mickey Dix. I rent the room out back."
"Oh, hello, Mickey. Please have a seat." Vencelli gestured toward an overstuffed chair that looked old but comfortable. Mickey shuffled into the room but didnít sit down.
"My rent is due today, but I was hoping youíd give me till the end of the week. I got a deal cominí in on Thursday."
Mickey thought for a moment, "Um, banking."
"I think that would be all right. Please sit down. Would you like a mickey drink?" The professor realized heíd said something wrong. He tried again, "Would you like a drink, Mickey?"
"Uh sure, you got beer?" Mickey lowered himself into the easy chair. A catís yowl split the air. Mickey sprang back up into a standing position. He felt and heard the cat scramble out of the chair after Mickeyís rude interruption of the cat nap. The weird thing was: there was no cat to be seen anywhere.
The professor apologized, "Iím sorry. Thatís Chester, my cat. Heís so hard to keep track of."
"I didnít see any cat."
"Well, of course not," Vencelli laughed. "Heís invisible."
"An invisible cat?"
"Chester is the test subject for a new invention of mine. Iím hoping to sell it to the Army. After all, the Air Force has stealth bombers. The Navy has submarines. I figured that the Army needs to catch up. Imagine a whole battalion of invisible soldiers. Where would the enemy aim?"
"You mean you can actually make people invisible?"
"Yes, but I need to work out some flaws. It only works on living things. It has to be ingested."
"You have to swallow a pill. Or, in Chesterís case, you grind it up and mix it into his tuna."
"So, whatís wrong with that?"
"It wonít work on tanks or weapons or even clothes. What good is an invisible army with no weapons and no clothes?"
"Oh, wow, I see what you mean. It seems like a great idea, though. What do the pills look like? Could I see them?"
"Of course." The old man rummaged in his lab coat pocket and produced a container of pills. He handed it to Mickey. "They look like any other pill."
Mickey opened the bottle and let a few pills fall into his hand. He examined them and returned all but two of the pills to the bottle. He palmed the two pills as he put the cap back on the bottle. "I thought maybe theyíd be invisible."
"No, thatís my problem. Donít you see? I canít make inanimate objects invisible."
Mickey handed the bottle back to Vencelli. "You certainly are a genius, Professor. There ought to be lots of good uses for that. Iíll let you know if I think of one." But would-be bank robber Mickey Dix had already thought of a way to use those invisibility pills. "Iíve really got to run. Thanks for the extension on my rent." Mickey returned to his room out back.
Mickey looked over his collection of ski masks and nylon hosiery - everything the well-dressed bank robber should have to disguise his appearance. No, not everything. Now he had a pill that could make him invisible. He couldnít wait to try it, but this would take some planning.
He would have to enter the bank buck-naked. That would feel very strange. He wouldnít need a gun. Heíd simply climb over that little door to the teller area and slip into the vault. Sweet! He could pick up all the loose cash and escape the same way heíd come in. No one would even suspect a robbery until they counted the cash at the end of the day.
Driving while heís invisible could be a problem. A car without a driver would have the town in an uproar, cops most of all. He decided not to take the pill until he got to the bank. He would pick a place in the back parking lot where he could get out of his clothes without drawing attention to himself. On the way home he could throw on an overcoat, some sunglasses and a big hat. That would be enough to avoid all but the closest scrutiny. Maybe a fake beard would be a nice touch, too.
Invisible criminals, especially naked ones, canít carry car keys. Heíd have to leave the car unlocked. What a disaster it would be if he got back to the car with the loot, only to find that the key was locked inside the car!
Taking the money out to the car would be another problem. He could drag it on the floor until he got out into the customer area, but the security guard (and everyone else, for that matter) would certainly notice a bag of money floating out the door. He decided to use a customer (preferably an obese lady) to shield his prize. It would be like another purse hanging at the womanís hip. Outside, he could stay with her as long as she was going in the right direction. Then he could just bolt for the car around back.
The next morning Mickey felt totally prepared, except for an excited stomach. It was stuffed so full of butterflies that he had to wean himself away from the bathroom in several steps. He drove to the bank. He parked in a secluded spot protected from view on three sides.
He took one last look at himself in the rearview mirror and then stared at the pill in his hand. At that moment he realized that he hadnít brought any water to wash down the marvelous pill. What to do? Taco Bell was only half a block away, but then someone might be able to place him near the scene of the crime. No, a real man would just swallow the pill dry. Mickey was not a mouse. He tossed the pill into the back of his mouth and began gagging almost at once.
He coughed the pill safely onto his tongue. Yuck! It tasted terrible. He had a new incentive to swallow it right away. After some effort he felt the pill traveling painfully down toward his stomach. He thought about getting a root beer and a taco to kill the aftertaste and ease the drug on its way, but he didnít want to start turning invisible in front of fast food patrons. So he sat and waited.
Every few minutes he checked his hands and studied the mirror. About 45 minutes later he could read the funny papers through his hands. After nearly an hour he had vanished completely. He made a mental note that next time heíd take the pill at home.
He disrobed as quickly as one could in the front seat of a Corolla. His watch and ring went into his pants pocket. He rolled the clothes neatly around his shoes and set them on the floor below the steering wheel. He fought the urge to lock the doors as he left the car and danced up to the bank entrance. Although the breeze felt chilly on his exposed skin, the parking lot asphalt burned at his bare feet.
A young mother carried her baby toward the bank entrance. A security guard inside the bank hustled to open the door for the woman and child. No one saw the naked man slip inside with the customers. However, Mickeyís body odor did cause the guard to say, "Excuse me, maíam, does the baby need changing?"
The mother smelled it too - coming from the guardís direction. She replied in a huff, "I think your bathing habits are what needs changing." She swept past the guard and took her place at the end of teller line.
Mickey surveyed the scene. He couldnít resist patting the shapely bottom of a pretty girl in the teller line. She whirled around to face the elderly man behind her. He smiled, and she slapped his face. Mickey didnít wait around to watch the confusion that followed. He was already climbing over the low door to the teller area and slinking toward the vault.
Mickey looked above the vault. There it was: the surveillance camera. He gave it a triumphant, transparent smile, a smile that no security officer would ever see. That thought invigorated him. He walked up to the door and turned the handle. The door opened effortlessly. This movement caught the eye of Mrs. Gina Albright, Assistant Manager. She got up and walked over to the vault. Mickey backed away to prevent her from bumping into him. Gina closed the door without giving it a second thought.
Mickey watched the woman return to her desk and wondered what to do. Surely she would notice the door opening again. He figured that the situation called for a diversion. (He couldnít remember the word "diversion", but thatís what it called for.) On the edge of her desk, on the side farthest from the vault, sat her "Employee of the Month" pencil holder. He tiptoed over and knocked it onto the floor. As Gina bent down to pick up her trophy and its contents, Mickey slipped into the vault and closed the door behind him. This was getting better and better.
He quickly inspected the tiny room. He grabbed a canvas courier bag and began to scoop up cash anywhere he could find it. He had enough loot for one visit. He opened the door and squeezed out, dragging the sack along the floor. As soon as he was out, he shut the door and looked over his shoulder (or was it through his shoulder?) toward the Assistant Managerís desk. Sure enough, Gina had seen the door move; she was walking over to investigate. Mickey let go of the bag and retreated to a neutral corner.
Gina just about tripped over the bag of swag. It puzzled her for a moment, but finally she shrugged, picked it up, and returned it to the vault. She went back to her desk and called the Maintenance Department to have them fix the vault door.
Mickey was contemplating a bigger diversion when he suddenly coughed. Horrified, he tried to stifle a second cough that fought its way out of his lungs. No one had noticed the noise yet, but Mickey felt another cough on its way. He ran to the first teller station in the hope that a cough would be ignored among all the bustle and humanity there. It worked. His third cough went unnoticed. Then, surrounded by tellers handling money, he made a rash decision.
Who knew how long the pill would last? Who knew if heíd have an incriminating fit of coughing or sneezing? Someone was standing directly in front of the vault door now. Mickey was starting to panic. Teller drawer #2 was wide open, and the legal tender therein was making illegal suggestions to the invisible man.
He grabbed a stack of twenties in the drawer just as the teller, Julie, tried to slam the drawer shut. Everyone in the bank heard Mickeyís cry of pain. Julie was no stranger to having menís hands in her drawers, but this was a new experience for her. The attractive young teller watched as her drawer recoiled into a fully open position. She stepped back. Then the really strange things began.
Money started flying out of the drawer and floating in the air. The Assistant Manager, alerted by Mickeyís yelp, approached Julieís station purposefully. She remained calm as the currency from each of the drawerís compartments jumped to join a growing stack hovering in midair. She grabbed at the money. Now two people (one visible, one invisible) clutched the money that Julie was supposed to reconcile at the end of her shift.
Everyone watched Gina doing a bizarre cabbage patch dance as she struggled with the robber. Mickey started to cough again; he was allergic to Ginaís excessive and pungent perfume.
Julie asked, "What is it?
Gina managed to offer, "It must be an invisible man! Canít you smell him?"
Brian (Teller #3) stepped over next to Julie. "Did he touch you? Iíll bet heís in the buff."
Julie responded, "What? Why?"
"Oh, honey, donít you watch the SciFi Channel? Invisible men are always nude. They can never find invisible clothes. Now thereís a concept: invisible clothes." On that note, Brian retreated into his own reverie.
Julie said, "Wow! Itís enough to make you believe old Professor Vencelli. Maybe he really does have an invisible cat. I thought he was just trying to get me to waive the 15-day hold on his check."
Things were not going as planned. Mickey had one last chance to make this work. This commotion would have to be his big diversion. He let go of the cash and ran for the vault. He pushed his way past Miss Caruthers (teller station #1) who was appalled as her hand brushed Mickey below the belt (so to speak). He was in and out of the vault in an instant.
Everyone (except perhaps Miss Caruthers) was huddled around teller station #2. The security guard didnít see a canvas bag exit the building and run to a Corolla around back.
Mickey jumped into the car. Although the day was chilly, the vinyl upholstery had soaked up enough solar energy to singe his bare backside. But what really burned Mickeyís bottom was that his clothes were missing! He had rolled them up in a neat little bundle and put them on the floor in the front seat. Now, in place of his clothes, there was an empty muscatel bottle in a crumpled paper bag.
"Some wino stole my clothes," he shouted in a voice much too loud for a felon trying to avoid detection. The clothes were gone, and with them, his car keys and wallet. Mickey cursed the state of affairs where personal belongings werenít even safe in a bank parking lot, but cursing would do no good. He had to think fast. No keys, no wallet and no clothes meant no driving. He couldnít even call the Auto Club. That doggone homeless bum had taken everything except the phony beard.
There was only one thing to do. He would have to hoof it home. He would have to trot nearly two miles back to the room behind Professor Vencelliís house. In a flash of brilliance, Mickey stuffed the ill-gotten bank money into the winoís paper bag. He tossed it out of the car and began kicking it toward the sidewalk. He kicked it all the way home. It looked like a bit of street litter caught in the wind. No one gave it a second thought.
Luckily Mickey made it home before the effects of the pill wore off. He had to force his way in through a window. He shivered as he pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweater. He gently rubbed his blistered, invisible feet. He picked up the telephone and dialed the Professorís number.
"Vencelli here," came the answer.
"Hey, Professor, Iíve got the rent money."
"Oh, Mickey. Well, good. Drop it off anytime."
"Yeah, sure. Say, I got a question about that invisibility pill. How long does that stuff last?"
The professor grunted, "Thatís another downside of those pills. As far as I know, the effects are permanent."
Now you might think, as Mickey did, that the police would have a terrible time trying to track down an invisible thief. Not so! Four-legged officers from division K-9 followed his distinctive scent first to the car and then to his room. The dogs were distracted at one point by an invisible cat with treacherous claws, but they managed to lead police to Mickey.
And you might think, as Mickey did, that convicting an invisible man would be next to impossible. It wasnít that hard. Some eyewitnesses became "nose witnesses". Tellers and bank customers who saw the police line-up said, "Thatís the guy, the invisible one! Heís the one who did it! Iíd recognize him anywhere." The assistant manager said, "Ask Number Two to cough. Yeah, thatís it. Thatís the right cough." Miss Caruthers even agreed to bump into the defendant again, if it were needed for a positive identification. Thankfully, it wasnít necessary.
But the evidence that really nailed him was finding the stolen money in Mickeyís room and finding his fingerprints in the vault. Mickey was locked up and never seen again.