Chapter 3

Soffit’s Deli sat halfway up Spoke Street from the harbor, snugly squeezed between DiRosa Savings and Loan and Granny Frappler’s Antiques.

Granny Frappler’s frizzy gray hair was, as usual, hastily braided into two frizzy gray braids and she was seated in her usual rocker by the front door as Ari passed, squinting intently at a glittering object while a man paced nervously on the sidewalk nearby.

“Granny Frappler,” said the pacing man, “I swear that George Washington himself used that doorknob, and on several occasions! You’ve got to give me at least five-hundred bucks for that baby!”

Granny Frappler raised one eyebrow at the pacing man, took another good look at the doorknob and spat decisively into the street. “I ain’t givin’ ya’ two nickels and a subway token for this piece of dog scat,” she said. “If George Washington’d used it, I’d recognize his fingerprints.”

The man stopped pacing, muttered something unintelligible but most likely rude, grabbed his doorknob and stomped down the street.

“Gotta watch them shysters, Ari,” said Granny Frappler. “They’d try to sell you a road apple and call it a dinosaur fossil.”

“I’ll watch out, Granny Frappler,” said Ari as he ran into the deli. At the moment, road apples were the least of his worries. Between narrowly missing a Flossie Beemis trap, and getting spotted by Wilton Daylatch, real life was dicey enough.

Uncle Ellery was standing behind the sales counter. He held up a blue zippered pouch.
“Ari,” he said, “would you mind? The bank closes in twenty minutes.”

“Ok,” said Ari. He didn’t mind at all. At least Uncle Ellery was talking. And smiling. Besides, taking cash to the bank was better than cleaning the coffee machine.

“Hi Ari,” said the mailman coming in the deli, with a jingle of the bells on the front door.

“Hi,” said Ari, on his way out.

“No-sirree,” said Granny Frappler, riffling through a box full of odds and ends, “I wouldn’t buy that dog scat if George Washington’s ghost himself tried ta’ sell it to me. You watch out for shysters and ghosts Ari.”

“Okay Granny Frappler, I’ll watch out,” called Ari.

The front door of DiRosa Savings and Loan opened with its usual whoosh, but beyond the door things were not usual at all. The tellers were usually chatty and friendly. Today, they were trying very hard to look busy, even if they weren’t. Ari could tell because of the way they straightened papers that were already straight and glanced around nervously. Mostly, they were glancing at the bank manager’s desk. Usually, a chubby man was sitting at that desk, with a small sign that said “Ed Cooley, manager.” Today, a tall, thin woman with a smirky smile was sitting there instead, and the small sign said “Dreama Daylatch, manager.”

But the strangest unusual thing–and the thing that made Ari’s stomach do a nervous flip–was on the wall. Usually there was a portrait of bank founder Caleb Calebsen in his gray suit, gray glasses, and gray hair. Now the portrait was of someone else–Wilton Daylatch with his black suit, spidery limbs, and reptile eyes.

“Next,” said the teller in a quieter than usual voice.

Ari handed her his blue zippered bag.

“Hi Ari,” whispered the teller.

“Why are you whispering?” whispered Ari.

“Mrs. Daylatch,” whispered the teller, pointing discreetely at the manager’s desk. “She likes it quiet.”

“What’s she doing here?” whispered Ari.

“Her husband,” whispered the teller with another discreet finger point, this time at the portrait of Wilton Daylatch. “They took over the bank.”

“Oh,” replied Ari as the teller handed him his blue zippered bag and a receipt for the deposit. “Oh.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Ari took one more look at the portrait of Wilton Daylatch on the wall, and left through the whooshing door. Something wasn’t good about this. He wasn’t quite sure why it wasn’t good–after all, a bank was a bank, no matter who owned it–but something about this was definitely not good.

“Ghosts and shysters,” said Granny Frappler, still in her rocker, and still riffling through her odds and ends. “I’d trust the ghost before I’d trust the shyster Ari,”

Ari nodded, and went back in the deli to find that Uncle Ellery had stopped smiling. And he was pounding bagel dough. More precisely, he was pummeling bagel dough harder than Ari had ever seen him pummel.

“What’s the matter?” asked Ari, hoping it had nothing to do with Finbar Fenker’s nose.

Uncle Ellery kept pummeling with his right hand, and with his left picked up an open letter and slammed it back down on the counter. He clearly meant for Ari to look at it.

Ari picked up the letter.
“Dear Mr. Soffit,” Ari read. “DiRosa Savings and Loan is now under the ownership of Hunker and Daylatch Incorporated. That means Wilton Daylatch, right?”

Uncle Ellery nodded, and began to hack violently at a cucumber.

Ari continued. “As allowed by line 64 in the 1914 tax code…”

“Keep reading, keep reading,” said Uncle Ellery.

“Ok. As allowed by the...blah blah blah…we are requiring full payment of your loan by the first of May…,” Ari read. Then he paused. “What does that mean? That would be a lot of money, wouldn’t it? Could you pay that much?”

“No,” said Uncle Ellery with a loud whack of his cleaver. “Can’t do it. I can always make the monthly loan payments, but I don’t have sixty-thousand dollars sitting in my pocket if they’re going to change the rules and make me pay off the whole loan now.”

“So the bank wants all its money back early,” said Ari as if explaining it to himself. “All the money our family borrowed to start the deli. What happens if they don’t get it?”

“Then,” said Uncle Ellery “it’s not Soffit’s Deli anymore. It’s Hunker and Daylatch Incorporated’s Deli.”

“But why would the bank…or Wilton Daylatch that is…want the deli?” wondered Ari aloud.

“I don’t know,” answered Uncle Ellery. “But I’m gonna find out.”

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