Bellamore’s Triple Theft
(El triple robo de Bellamore)
by Horacio Quiroga
Some days ago the courts sentenced Juan Carlos Bellamore to five years in prison, for robbing several banks. I have some relationship with Bellamore: he is a thin and serious young man, carefully dressed in black. I believe him quite incapable of these deeds, of any deed whatsoever that requires keen nerves. He knew that he was an eternal bank employee; I heard him say so many times, and he even added sadly that his future was a dead end; there would never be anything else. I also know that if there is an employee who is punctual and discreet, it would certainly be Bellamore. Without being his friend, I held him in esteem, regretting his misfortune. Yesterday afternoon I discussed the case with a group of acquaintances.
“Yes,” one of them told me, “they have given him five years. I knew him a little; he was quite reserved. How did it not occur to me that it should be him? The accusation was prompt.”
“What?” I asked, surprised.
“The accusation; he was denounced.”
“Lately,” someone else added, “he had lost a great deal of weight.” And he concluded gravely: “Me, I no longer trust anyone.”
I quickly changed the subject. I asked if the accuser was known.
“It was made known yesterday. It’s Zaninski”
I very much wanted to hear the story from Zaninski’s lips. First, the peculiarity of the denunciation, with absolutely no personal interest; second, the means that he used for the discovery. How had he known it was Bellamore?
This Zaninski is Russian, though he left his homeland while still a child. He speaks slowly and perfectly in Spanish, almost too perfectly, with a light Northern accent. He has kindly blue eyes that he tends to fix on you with a sweet and mortifying smile. They say he’s strange. It’s a pity that in these days of simple stupidity we no longer know what to believe when we’re told that a man is strange.
That night I found him in a gathering around a table in a café. I sat down a little ways away, preferring to listen prudently from afar.
They conversed listlessly. I waited for my story, which must inevitably come up. Sure enough, someone, examining the poor state of a paper with which something was paid, made recriminations about the bank, and poor crucified Bellamore came to everyone’s mind. Zaninski was there, he had to tell the story. Finally he came to a decision; I brought my chair a little nearer.
“When the robbery was committed at the French Bank,” Zaninski commented, “I was returning from Montevideo. Like everyone, I was intrigued by the audacity of the proceeding; a tunnel of such length has alway been a risky thing. All the investigations were fruitless. Bellamore, as the teller in charge of the cash box, was particularly interrogated; but nothing came out against him or anyone else. Time passed, and everyone forgot.
“But in April of last year I incidentally heard something that reminded me of the successful robbery in 1900 of The Bank of London in Montevideo. They mentioned some names of compromised employees, and among them, Bellamore. The name surprised me; I asked and learned that it was Juan Carlos Bellamore. At that time I didn’t absolutely suspect him; but this first coincidence opened the path of my thoughts, and I discovered the following:
“In 1898 a robbery was committed at the German Bank in San Pablo, in such circumstances that only an employee familiar with the cash box could have done it. Bellamore was one of the tellers.
“From that moment I didn’t doubt Bellamore’s guilt for an instant.
“I scrupulously examined the known references to the triple robbery and fixed all my attention on these three dates.
“1 – The afternoon before the San Pablo robbery, coinciding with a large entry in the cash box, Bellamore had a dispute with the head cashier; a highly noteworthy fact, considering the friendship that united them, and above all, Bellamore’s placid character.
“2 – Also on the afternoon before the Montevideo robbery, Bellamore said that only by robbery could one make a fortune these days, and added laughingly that his victim would be the bank of which he was part.
“3 – The night before the robbery at the French Bank of Buenos Aires, Bellamore, against all his usual habits, passed the evening in different cafés, very happy.
“Now then, these three datums were for me three pieces of evidence in reverse, developed as follows.
“In the first case, only a person who had passed the night with the head cashier could have taken the key from him. Bellamore had been casually upset with the cashier that afternoon.
“In the second case, what person preparing for a robbery talks about it the day before they do it? It would be simply stupid.
“In the third case, Bellamore did everything possible to be seen, showing himself, in short, so that everyone would clearly recall that he, Bellamore, was the least likely person to be tunneling underground that eventful night.
“These three features were for me absolute: perhaps daring subtlety in a thief of lower order, but perfectly logical in the refined Bellamore.
“Outside of this, there are some private details, of more regular weight than the previous ones.
“So, then, the fatal triple coincidence, the three subtle features of a cultured young man who is going to steal, and the well-known circumstances led me to the complete conviction that Juan Carlos Bellamore, Argentinian, twenty-eight years of age, was the author of the triple robbery commited against the German Bank of San Pablo, the Bank of London and Río del la Plata of Montevideo, and the French Bank of Buenos Aires. The next day I sent in my accusation.”
Zaninski finished. After much discussion the group broke up; Zaninski and I proceeded together down the same street. We didn’t speak. On saying goodbye I suddenly said to him, unburdening myself:
“But do you believe that Bellamore was convicted by the evidence in your accusation?
Zaninski stared at me with his kindly eyes.
“I don’t know; it’s possible.”
“But those weren’t proofs! This is insane!” I added hotly. “That’s not enough to convict a man!”
He didn’t answer, whistling in the air. After a time he murmured:
“It must be so… five years is enough…” Suddenly he burst out, “I can tell you everything: I am completely convinced of Bellamore’s innocence.”
I turned to him suddenly, looking in his eyes.
“It was too much of a coincidence,” he concluded with a weary gesture.
From the collection El crimen del otro (The Other’s Crime), 1904.
Translated by Nina Zumel.