The Story of a Twenty-Dollar Bill

This bill, whose serial number ended in 77R, was printed, of course, at the Bureau in Washington. Its seal indicated it was to be sent to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City. From there it went to a small branch of Citibank in Manhattan, where…

…a tourist from England obtained it when withdrawing cash from an ATM.

He then went to a bar and bought himself a beer handing over the $20 bill…

…to Clevengia Slipperbottom, an armless exotic dancer known for her feats of origami.

 She starts her folding routine but is brought up short--the first half of the serial number is her childhood phone number, the second part is her Facebook password. Standing in stupor, one leg on the pole, one on the floor, a gawking tourist between, she.....

…doesn’t notice as it slips out of her suddenly nerveless fingers, to be caught by a gust of wind and out of the window into the street, where it is picked up by…

the generous doctor that had just sewn arms onto the armless exotic dancer only a moment ago. Being an honest man, he turned and handed the bill to to…

…his wife, who had seen the bill flutter out the door.

“Sweetie,” he said to her, “Could you see if you can find who this belongs to while I finish my call?” He had fielded the ball catch cleanly, with one hand - possibly a tribute to his lacrosse days as an undergraduate at Cornell - while holding his cell phone, since he absolutely refused to wear one of those science-fiction-looking Bluetooth headsets.

His wife let a brief flicker of exasperation cross her face, because although she thought of herself as basically honest as well, she was perfectly willing to accept the idea that if the wind blew a $20 bill practically into your face in midtown Manhattan, it was yours until specifically claimed by someone else.

Nonetheless, she took the proffered bill and stepped into the bar, missing Clevengia’s exit to the restroom by about eight seconds. “Does anyone…” she started to say, before realizing that holding up the bill was not the best way to proceed. She quickly folded it in her hands and continued, “Did anyone lose…”

She stopped, because the nature of the bar was just then beginning to sink in. Without another word, she turned and stepped back outside. “Hpmh,” she thought, “I heard that Mayor Guilani got rid of all those places.”

Her conscience didn’t so much as twitch, then, when her husband looked queringly at her and she nodded, conveying the message that the money was returned without actually, technically, lying. She slipped the bill into her purse, and there it stayed until the following Wednesday, when she went to lunch with Gladys, Leah, Susan, and that awful brash Gina who everyone tolerated because her husband was Ernest Havers of Havers and Hain. The $20 was passed to the front of the table as a tip for Jésus, who had the (mis)fortune of waiting on the ladies that day.

Jésus took the $20 to the cash register, where it

…ended up in the tip collection jar that all the servers shared. It was later disbursed to a young woman named Jill, an aspiring actress of the Manhattan mold, who took it to…

sat nestled with all the other twenties.

It was destined for a safe deposit box later that day.

Unfortunately, later that afternoon, Robbie the Slick entered the establishment and robbed the place. The twenty ended up in a sack with a big dollar sign on it. Robbie took the sack into a getaway car, which sped off to

Doh! Stupid simulpost.

Robbie and Jill are married. Take it from there.

… to the back of the building where he picked up Jill, who was in on the robbery…

Jill took it to Robbie, her husband. He was a no good sort. The sort that good girls like Jill are attracted to sometimes. Even they know it’s no good but they just can’t help themselves.

Robbie took the $20, growled little thanks to Jill, and continued drinking, his wallet on the table next to his dazed-with-alcohol head.

Jill stared at the $20. She stared and reached out…

… and took to $20 to add to the rent money that she was saving for the end of the month. “Robbie will never notice it’s missing,” she said to herself.

The following Friday morning she took the $20 bill, along with a pile of bills in other denominations, to the local Walmart to buy a money order to pass on to the landlord. Siraj (a recent immigrant from Bangladesh) counted the bills, put them in the till, and gave Jill the money order. …

Siraj, wanting to try a little experiment, wrote his name on the bill before putting it in the till. He wondered if he’d ever see it again.

Marjorie entered the WalMart, wondering if they still had those 59 cent 3-gallon jars of pickles.

“Eighth grade general science?”

“Yes, Grandma. See, I’m just sure that if the kids start with–”

Kelly Hoverson had been handed the $20 bill in change for the $200 she passed over to the Walmart clerk after her purchases were rung up – the same clerk that had, moments ago, sold 18 gallons of pickles to a pale redhead named Marjorie.

“And this school can’t pay for their own supplies?” her grandmother interrupted sharply. “They make you buy your own, out of your money, do they?”

Kelly sighed. The fact was that teachers were given a pitifully small allowance and her lesson plans for her first year as a teacher involved much more than the school’s official budget would allow. After being met with reactions from humored tolerance to outright hostility from the administration when she shared her idea of what she needed for a supplies budget, she had decided to shell out her own cash, and, still finding herself short, and coaxed her grandmother into helping her out with the last few purchases. Her grandmother had agreed, but Kelly knew there was a price: rehashing the same discussion over and over. This was either the fifth or the sixth time Grandma had admonished her about her career choice since agreeing to lend her the money.

Kelly knew what Grandma and Grandpa (God rest his soul!) had wanted her to do with her life. But she also had a secret, one that would have torn the family apart if told, and that secret meant that she could never have made her grandparents happy by choosing to go along with their wishes, career-wise.

So Kelly pasted on a too-cheery smile, and said brightly, “No, Grandma, they really can’t.” She absently tucked the change back into her purse as she continued, "They …

A previous follow-the-money thread that might be of interest:

ETA: Simulpost with Bricker. D’oh!

“They have the same tight budgets as everyone else nowadays, Grandma. Everyone expects their kids to get a great education on a shoestring, and of course that’s impossible.”

The older woman harrumphed. “It’s not the money you spend, it’s the attention you give the kids that counts.”

“Well, of course,” Kelly said. “Parental involvement counts for a lot, too. But we’re a long way past one-room schoolhouses, and I want my kids to have a good classroom experience. That means supplementals, games and workbooks, and that means I’ve got to make up the difference between what the District provides and what my kids really need. So again, thank you!”

She felt her stomach rumble and realized she was hungry. “How about a late breakfast? My treat. McDonald’s OK?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned her battered old Subaru into the parking lot, and they went inside together…

…where Kelly ordered a Coke and fries. As she took the bill out of her wallet, she noticed the name written on it. I wonder who Siraj is, she thought, and why did he write his name here?
She payed for the food with a different bill. When she got home, she wrote down the serial number and submitted it to She stuck a wheresgeorge sticker on it (a friend had given a sheet to her a while back) and sat back, smiling…

…at the thought of being able to track this bill wherever it might journey, and briefly wondered who the mysterious Siraj was.

When the mail came a little later, there was another videotape, with the same brown envelope and block-printed addressing. It showed the same room as the first two, but it was clearly taped on a different day, and after she watched it thirty seconds of it, she threw up most of her McDonald’s lunch.

Just as she had with the last two.

The next morning, she called…

her gynecologist, to get the official pregnancy test over with.

She used the $20 to go see to take her mind off things.

On the way out…

…she checked her home answering machine on her cellphone. There was just one message, left by a man whose voice she didn’t think she had ever heard before. It sounded unusually deep, as if he was trying to disguise it. The man said, “You’ve seen the tapes. You know we’re aware of what you’ve been doing. You know what we want, and you know how to give it to us. Do so by five o’clock tomorrow, or someone else will see these tapes, someone you really don’t want to see them. This is not a joke.”

Click. Her palms began to sweat.

Within hours, the ticket-taker at the Palladium revival house which was showing Twenty Bucks counted up the day’s receipts. 77R was bagged with the other cash and taken by the assistant manager to the local branch of First Bank of New York at the end of the day. It was carefully counted, sorted and bundled with 99 other $20 bills and taken by truck, three days later, to the bank’s principal offices in Albany. There it sat in a vault for nearly a week before being added to an ATM’s cash-disbursement tray in a downtown FBNY branch not far from the ornate 1899 New York State Capitol building.

On his lunch hour, a young legislative aide named David L. Webster III withdrew $60 in three twenties, and sure enough, 77R was one of them. Webster’s first stop after leaving the bank was…