The Last of the Breed cover

The Last of the Breed

By Robert Edward Eckels

Appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, December 1976

© 1976 by Robert Edward Eckels, reprinted by permission of the author

Andrews’ parole officer said, “They made a movie about him once.” Of course his name was changed, but it was Andrews all right–Andrews, perhaps the greatest con-man of his time.

The head of the Organization said, “But with Andrews involved you can bet there’s bound to be a payoff somewhere.” And a very clever payoff it turned out to be…

Andrews sat quietly at the desk while his parole officer went over his papers.

“Actually,” Cummings said, “you were due here yesterday. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Andrews said. He was a tall, almost painfully thin man with a long narrow face and sad spaniel eyes. His hands were long and narrow too and he used one now to gesture expressively. “It was unavoidable. It won’t happen again.”

“No,” Cummings said. He looked searchingly at the other man. “Well, we won’t make an issue of it. This time.” He turned back to his papers. “You have a place to stay?”

Andrews nodded and gave the address. It was a rooming house on the near north side. Cummings noted it down. “Under the circumstances,” he said, “we’ll dispense with a lot of the usual restrictions, but don’t move without letting me know first.”

“I won’t,” Andrews said. Cummings put his pencil down and leaned back in his chair. Suddenly he looked a lot less official.

“You have any family, Frank?” he said.

Andrews shrugged. “A daughter. In California.”

Cummings nodded slowly. “You know,” he said, “if you want, we can transfer your file. Let you spend your time out there.”

Andrews shrugged again. “What’s the point?” he said. “She has problems enough without having to cope with me. I have a small grandson,” he added. “I’ve never seen him. Neither did his father before he was killed in Vietnam.”

Cummings didn’t say anything. There was a framed photograph of two young children on his desk. Andrews rose to go.

“What do I do about reporting?”

“Just call in,” Cummings said. “You know the rules.” He watched Andrews leave, then got up to put the file back in its place in the cabinet.

Marcia Henderson who had the desk next to his came over to stand beside him. She was very young, barely into her twenties, and had just graduated from the state university with a degree in social work.

“Was that really Frank Andrews?” she said.

Cummings nodded. “Really and truly.:

“Gee. He looked old.”

“He is old.” Cummings sighed. “The last of the breed,” he said. “They made a movie about him once. I forget what they called it and they changed all of the names, of course, but it was about him all right.” He shoved the file drawer closed.

Marcia shook her head. “And just look at him now,” she said. “What do they give him? Six months?”

“Something like that.” Cummings looked thoughtfully at the doorway through which Andrews had just passed. “But before you get to feeling too sorry for him, remember this: Frank Andrews has spent most of his adult life conning people out of one thing or another. And he might just be conning us now.”

* * *

The city had changed considerably in the years Andrews had been away. But some things wouldn’t, he knew, and one of them was Shorty’s pool hall. It was still where it had always been and empty this early in the day except for Shorty himself, racking balls in anticipation of more activity later.

He looked up as Andrews came in, then hurried forward grinning. “Hey,” he said, “look who’s here.” He grasped Andrews’ hand and pumped it hard. “Same old Frank,” he said. “Looking good as ever.”

“That’s a lie,” Andrews said smiling. “But thanks for saying it anyway, Shorty.”

Shorty’s face reddened. Then he said quickly, “What brings you out this early in the morning anyway, Frank?”

“I need a stake.”

“Sure,” Shorty said. He reached for his wallet. “Just say how much.”

“Five thousand dollars,” Andrews said.

Shorty’s hand stopped. His face reddened in a different way. Andrews smiled faintly. “I’m good for it, Shorty,” he said.

“Aw, I know that, Frank,” Shorty said. He shrugged awkwardly. “But – well, the truth is times have changed. I don’t have that kind of money anymore and the only way I can get it is through the Organization. And, honest to God, Frank, those are guys you don’t want to get mixed up with. Not if you can help it.”

Andrews’ face didn’t change. “I won’t need it more than a couple of days, Shorty.”

Shorty shrugged again. “Allr right,” he said. “As long as you know what you’re getting into.” He looked up out of the corners of his eyes. “You got something in mind, huh, Frank?”

Andrews nodded soberly. “Redeeming a misspent life,” he said.

* * *

For a moment after he left the pool hall Andrews’ face lost its usual air of calm assurance and looked drawn and haggard. They’d told him he’d tire more and more easily, but he hadn’t expected it to be this bad, and for the first time he began to be afraid. What if he couldn’t pull it off? But then the pain passed and with it the moments of self-doubt.

He picked up his stride again and went on as jauntily as before. Shorty, watching him from the pool hall window, shook his head slowly and went back to make his phone call.

* * *

“Who’s the money for, Shorty?” Minor said. He was a slender young man, dressed as usual in an impeccably tailored suit. No amount of tailoring, though, could change his eyes. They were cold and hard – hood’s eyes – and they made Shorty nervous.

“Frank Andrews,” Shorty said.

Minor exchanged glances with his companion, an older stocky man in a tight-fitting jacket who worried Shorty even more than Minor. The stocky man didn’t say anything. Minor looked down at his fingernails. “Andrews used to have a pretty fair reputation as a con artist,” he said quietly, speaking to Shorty.

Shorty shook his head. “You don’t have to worry about that,” he said. “I’ve known Frank a lot of years and one thing he’s never done is cheat a friend.”

“That was then,” Minor said. “This is now. Maybe he’s changed.”

“So what do I do?” Shorty said. He looked from one to the other. “Tell him no?” He almost hoped they’d say yes, but the stocky man shook his head.

“No,” he said, “you give him the money. And then you pray you’re right.”

* * *

Shorty counted the money out carefully, then slipped it back into its envelope. “It’ll cost you a hundred for the rest of the week,” he said. “After that the usual vigorish applies.”

“I understand,” Andrews said. He took the envelope and put it in his jacket pocket.

Shorty looked at him earnestly. “I wasn’t kidding about these guys either,” he said. “You watch yourself. Okay, Frank?”

“Sure, Shorty,” Andrews said. He smiled, clapped the other on the shoulder, and went out.

Outside, the rental car was parked where he had left it. So was the green coupe that had followed him from the rooming house. It followed again now as he pulled away from the curb, and for a moment Andrews thought it might be a plainclothes man. But a closer look through his rear-view mirror at a stop light convinced him it wasn’t. No detective ever dressed that expensively, not on duty anyway. But who else then? The most likely candidate was one of Shorty’s guys watching and protecting his investment.

Andrews smiled faintly to himself. It would be easy enough to lose him. But on the other hand it just might put the Organization’s doubts to rest if he let them see where he was going. And with that in mind he drove sedately down three more blocks, then turned into a parking lot.

The sign over the entrance read Madison Bank and Trust Company.

* * *

“Let me see if I understand this,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “You spent the whole day following him from one bank to another?”

“That’s right,” Minor said. It was hot in the booth and he was sweating slightly. “Ten in all. Fortunately, we have connections within a couple, so I was able to get a line on what he was doing. And you aren’t going to believe this. He was borrowing money.”

“From the banks?”

“Every one,” Minor said. “And this is the part you really aren’t going to believe. He didn’t make a penny on the deal.”

“You mean they all turned him down?”

“No. They didn’t all turn him down. In fact, none of them did. But then banks don’t lend money without some kind of security – not to people like Frank Andrews anyway. So at the first bank he went to he used our $5000 to open a savings account. That’s not unusual. Or so our banker tells me anyway. A lot of people borrow even when they have funds of their own. Some just want to protect the interest accruing on their accounts. Others –”

“Spare me the lecture,” the man on the other end said. “Just tell me about Andrews.”

“Yeah. Sure. Well, anyway, then at the second bank he used the five thousand he’d borrowed from the first bank to open a second savings account which he then put up as security on a second $5000 loan. And so on through all ten banks.”

“He didn’t pyramid or build up the amount as he went along?”

“He didn’t do a thing,” Minor said. “The savings account balanced the loan every time. So no matter how you slice it, he started out with $5000 and ended up with $5000.”

“Plus a lot of bank accounts and loans in between,” the man on the other end said. He sounded thoughtful. “Any way he can get his hands on that money?”

Minor shook his head even though the other couldn’t see him. “Not a chance,” he said. “The loan officer kept his passbook every time. And without a passbook and with the bank records marked to show it’s a security for a loan, that money’s frozen tighter than if it was in ice.”

“Yeah,” the man on the other end said. “But with Andrews involved you can bet there’s bound to be a payoff somewhere. So keep an eye on him, and who knows? Maybe there’ll be something in it for us yet.”

“Yeah,” Minor said, grinning wolfishly.

* * *

Andrews returned the money plus the $100 vigorish to Shorty in the same envelope it had come in. “I told you I wouldn’t need it long,” he said.

“So you did,” Shorty said. He sounded relieved. “Everything worked out all right then.”

“Everything worked out just fine.” Andrews put out his hand. “It’s been good knowing you, Shorty,” he said.

“Aw, gee, Frank, we’ll be seeing each other again you know –”

Andrews shook his head. “No,” he said.

Shorty smiled wryly and took the outstretched hand. “I wish it was different, Frank.”

“So do I,” Andrews said and went out to his car. As he pulled away from the curb he noted the green coupe was still with him and smiled to himself again. This time he would really put their minds to rest.

* * *

Two hours later he was headed north on the highway out of town. It was full dark now, but his headlights picked up the bicyclist wobbling across the road in plenty of time. He hesitated just a fraction of a second, then closed his eyes, and without giving himself a chance to think further swung the wheel hard to the right.

The pain was unbelievable when he smashed into the abutment, but it only lasted a moment…

* * *

Marcia Henderson leaned over Cummings’ shoulder and read the clipping on his desk. It was early the following morning and the business of the day hadn’t really begun yet. “It just goes to show, doesn’t it?” she said. “You never know, do you?”

Cummings looked up at her curiously.

“What I mean is,” she said, “here’s this man everybody expects to die in six months. They even let him out of prison just so he can die in peace and dignity, and then he’s wiped out in an automobile accident. So you just never know.”

“No,” Cummings said, “I guess you don’t.” He put the clipping in with the rest of Andrew’s papers and filed them away. Case closed. Somehow, though, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that somewhere – wherever he was – Andrews was having one last laugh on them all.

He would have been sure of it if he’d known about the letter Andrews mailed off just before he drove out of town, but then, of course, he never did. The letter read:

Dear Mary,

By the time you receive this I will be dead. That’s a hell of a melodramatic way to start off, I know. But, unfortunately, it’s true. I have only a couple of months at the most and all the doctors can offer is to make me “comfortable” at the end. Somehow that holds little appeal and I hope you won’t blame me for choosing my own way out. It will be quick at least and for those who worry about such things convincingly accidental.

I doubt very much that very many will miss me. I was a poor husband to your mother and a worse father to you. It wasn’t that I didn’t love you. I did and I do, but I couldn’t change what I was. What I am, really, because even now I’m still working the same side of the street I always have. The only difference is that this time I won’t be around for the payoff. You will, though, and that’s the real reason I’m writing you.

What I’ve done, put quite simply, is borrow money from ten banks. I’ve also drawn up my will naming you my sole heir and beneficiary. I realize on the surface that appears as if all I have to leave you is a lot of unpaid debts. But there’s enough on deposit in each of the ten banks to cover the debt and I’m sure all of them will be quick to claim it once they learn of my death.

In any case, it’s to your benefit to be sure they do. Because there’s a kicker, and very simply again it’s that when banks lend you money these days they can also offer you insurance for the face value of the loan. They call it loan insurance, but it’s really good old-fashioned declining-balance term life insurance. It’s also the only life insurance you can buy at my age without a physical examination. So even after you pay off whatever interest charges there are on the loans, you’ll still have the better part of $50,000 left for you and the boy. Think of me when you spend it.


Your father