Usual crowd was moving up and down the streets. The leafless trees in the city square, with a faith not given to human beings, remembered spring. But spring in Iowa comes and then it doesn't. One day it is warm and the next day it is cold. The trees pay no attention to this. The crowds get used to it. People walked around the square. A small crowd, a sort of overflow, came out of the cigar store across from the square and looked around for the loafer's sun. At one corner of the square was a public toilet and here an uneven stream of farmers and townsfolk came and went. A large stone marker and a monument commemorating something to do with the Civil War broke the vague greenness of grass in the square park.
Around the square were three hotels, the courthouse, which also housed the jail and was the headquarters for policemen, stores and the First National Bank. That is the way Iowa towns are arranged. In the cigar store the proprietor was joshing a customer. In the courthouse the police were discussing traffic ordinances. In the hotels a few guests were lounging in the lobbies. In the bank the president, the cashier and the clerks were getting ready for the three o'clock closing--or thinking of it anyhow.
At 2:45 P.M. seven men walked over to the bank and looked at their wrist watches. They were dressed like average citizens--they might have been average citizens, except that six looked like gentlemen and one like a tough. They were dressed as any young men on the street might dress. They looked like men with manners. At 2:4S P.M. they walked into the First National Bank and told the clerks and the customers that they were being robbed. The clerks and customers had to be told--for didn't these men look like any of the young men that worked in the town? The bank guard in his glass cage--it was bulletproof according to sales talk, except that it couldn't stand the constant hammering of bullets, it could resist one shell, perhaps, but not fifteen--the bank guard was ordered from his cage. He fired. But the robbers answered with a few shells. The bank guard turned as white as a sheet. He was scared to death. One robber went out and got a machine gun and made the guard come down.
Someone fired tear-gas guns. The president ran for his office, but the bandits fired on him and brought him out like a dog from his hole. The customers and clerks were all lined up with guns pointed at them. Some of the men carried a pistol in one hand and a machine gun in the other. The customers, the cashier, the clerks, the president and the guard--they didn't have a chance. But outside the show was going on. In two minutes five thousand people--no one counted them, but there must have been that many--stood on the corner and watched the bandits. No one raised his voice. No gun was fired. The customers in the bank were taken outside and lined up. They were told what would happen to them if they tried to get away. "Hey, there. Hank," they waved at friends. The crowd laughed and giggled. A shot was fired from the judge's office above the bank. Quick as thought a south-paw bandit drew his gun and fired over his shoulder. The judge hid below the window sill. A policeman came running across the square from the courthouse. A bandit saw him. He fired. The policeman settled down beneath the stone monument and waited till it was over. He never came out till the bandits were gone.
The taxi bell on the corner rang. A woman some blocks from the bank heard there was a robbery. She wanted to see it. Would the taxi driver come quick? He would and he charged her for it. He missed a good show. He left his passenger half a block from the bank and she complained because he didn't bring her closer.
Two of the bandits on the outside were gentlemen; one was a tough. He didn't smile at the audience. He scowled. He pushed the people aside with the point of his gun. He ordered cars away from the parking place in front of the bank. He knew a lot of words that went with swearing.
The other two smiled politely as they officiated. The tear gas finally drove the bandits out. They had taken only $52,000 when they might have got $200,000. When they got into their cars they forced customers and others to stand on the running board or hang on the back over the extra tire. They politely told their hostages what they were to do. The hostages knew what would happen if they didn't. But the bank robbers were polite.
The proprietor of the cigar store was compelled to hang on to the back of the car. The wind blew his coat-tails across the window and the bandits cursed him and told him not to obstruct the view. It must have been the tough bandit that cursed. But when the car drove along at a slow pace--five miles an hour--and a woman complained of being sick, the bandits very politely stopped the car and let her out. The police followed the cars into the country, but after one shot from the bandits they gave up and came home.
But the people had a good show. Some of them had never seen a bank robbery. Some of them liked the looks of the boys doing the robbing. They were young. Some were handsome. They had a lot of nerve. You had to give them credit. They had everything planned out and it worked slick. Everything went like clockwork. At 2:45 P. M. they looked at their wrist watches and at 3:00 the bank closed and they were gone. The crowd could watch from hotel windows, from places in the square--there were benches there--and the streets were filled. Five thousand people saw the robbery. They followed the cars out of town. The news went around quickly and they all came down to see it. It was a big show.