Authors: Robert Grossbach
The bank was large, its interior tastefully ornate, its architecture marked by sweeping grace. Stepping carefully on the inlaid
marble floor, the three men made their way to a long desk on which were stacked rows of white deposit slips and pink-and-orange
withdrawal forms. A dozen barred tellers’ windows stretched along a counter parallel to one wall. On the opposite side of
the room, an elevated, red-carpeted platform set off the management and loan-approval desks.
“Boy,” said Joe. “This place is beautiful.”
“Looks like a church,” whispered Al.
Joe nodded. “Well, whaddaya think?”
“I dunno,” said Al.
“I agree,” said Willie. “It’s gorgeous.”
“I don’t mean about that,” said Joe. “You know what I mean.”
“What’re we looking for?” asked Al. “Don’t it depend on what we’re lookin’ for?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” said Joe. “I kinda like this one, though. It’s real quiet.”
“It’s so quiet it’s holy,” said Willie. “Be like stealin’ from the Vatican.”
“Al?” said Joe.
“I think it’d be all right,” said Al.
“You too, Willie?”
Willie shrugged. “It’s sure nicer than the one in our neighborhood.”
“Well,” said Joe. “It looks good to me.” He nodded toward a rear corner.
“What?” said Willie. Then he saw. One uniformed guard sitting in a chair, bored expression, heavy-lidded, perhaps in his late
“I think he’d nod off if you gave him half a chance,” said Al.
“We ain’t gonna do no better than this,” declared Joe. “It’s large, it’s empty—should we call this the one?”
Al and Willie didn’t answer.
“Yeah I guess,” said Al finally. “Might as well.”
“It’s just…” said Willie, “you think we oughtta look at some more?”
“What for?” said Joe. “You think you’ll find a bargain somewhere? ‘Help yourself’ signs over the tills? A bank’s a bank.”
Willie tightened his lips. “Then this is it.”
“Good,” said Joe. Out of the corner of his eye,
he saw a woman at one of the desks on the platform hang up a phone and start toward them. “Don’t say nothin’ stupid now,”
he said through clenched teeth.
“May I help you?” asked the woman. She was blonde, conservatively dressed. There was slight tone of condescension in her voice.
“Uh… not right now,” said Joe. “Thank you.”
“Are you interested in starting an account?”
“What kind you got?” said Al.
The woman flashed a set of perfect teeth. “Well, basically, there’s day-of-deposit, day-of-withdrawal regular savings accounts,
and then there are time deposits. If you’d like to step over to my desk, I’d be happy to explain them to you.”
Joe leaned forward to poke Al but Al had moved. Joe made believe he was exercising his arm.
“What’s the longest time deposit you got?” asked Al.
“Eight years,” said the woman.
“That’s the one I’m interested in,” said Al. “I believe in long-term stability.”
Joe rolled his eyes to the ceiling.
“Would you like to come with me and fill out some forms?” asked the woman.
Al looked at Joe, then turned back. “Tell you,” he said, “my friend’s on his lunch hour now, an’ he’s got a few things to
do. How’s about I stop in later, okay?”
“Fine,” said the woman. “I’ll look forward to it.” She returned to her desk.
Outside, Joe walked rapidly, shaking his head. “I believe in long-term stability,” he mimicked in a high voice. “She’ll give
you stability. She’ll send you right to jail.”
“Ah, I was just havin’ me a little fun,” said Al. “She was a good-lookin’ tomato, even if she was stuck-up… an’ I like to
“Just hope she don’t remember that when we make our withdrawal,” said Joe.
“Come on,” said Al. “Where’s your sense of humor?”
“I left it outside the bank,” said Joe.
At the corner of Bryant Park, they spotted a hot dog vendor and made their way over.
“I love those things,” said Al.
“They’re the worst food you could eat,” said Willie. “At least if you got them from a delicatessen, you’d know you ain’t bein’
“Yeah, but the taste ain’t the same,” said Al. “The main flavor comes from the grease they been layin’ in, an’ the sweat from
the guy’s filthy hands. You can’t get that at no deli.” Willie made a face as they reached the stand.
“Three to go,” said Joe to the vendor.
The man nodded. “Mustard?”
“What about them cameras they got there?” asked Al. “I noticed two of’em on the wall.”
“That’ll be no problem,” said Joe. He passed the first hot dog to Al.
“This got onions on it?” Al asked the vendor.
“Right,” said the man. “How ‘bout the other two? Both with onions?”
“Nah, not on mine,” said Willie. “I better not.”
“Come on,” said Joe. “Live a little. You watch Al. If he don’t die from his, then you can eat yours.”
“All right,” said Willie resignedly. “Onions.”
“Everything you got on mine,” said Joe to the
vendor. “Ketchup, mustard, axle grease—the works.” He saw Willie reach in his pocket and come out with a dollar. “Put that
away,” he ordered.
“Since when were you such a sport?” said Willie, gingerly nipping off a piece of bun.
Joe received his own hotdog on a paper plate and handed the vendor three bills. “Since today,” he said. “These are on me.”
Al wiped some mustard off his chin. “This is the best I ever ate,” he said.
“Ah, you say that about everything,” said Willie. “Last week it was the Alpo, now it’s this.”
“And next week,” Joe chimed in, “it’ll be the Chinese food, ‘cause that’s what we’ll be goin’ out for every single night.”
Willie bit into his hotdog. “You really think this is gonna work, don’t you?”
“Dum marr,” said Joe, his mouth full, onions hanging from his lips.
Joe swallowed. “I say, it don’t matter.” He held the frank aloft. “I feel like I’m forty again!”
In the park, the next day, they went over the plans. Joe licked a vanilla ice cream cone as he spoke. “We’ll take a gypsy
cab there and tell him to wait while we go inside.”
“Why a gypsy?” asked Willie.
“Because those guys don’t keep a record of where they go or what. We’ll give him a good deal and act dopey.”
“That won’t be hard,” said Al.
“He won’t figure three old guys’d be up to anything,” said Joe. “It won’t even dawn on him.”
Willie’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, but let’s say… suppose… this guy hears about a bank robbery on the radio. Or reads it in the
papers. Three men. Ain’t he gonna remember who he was carryin’ an’ where
he let us off? If he goes to the police, an’ they start questionin’ people in the neighborhood…”
“Okay,” said Joe. “Good point. To be safe, we take a bus to Corona an’ pick up the cab from there. That’ll make everything
harder to trace.”
Al and Willie glanced at each other, obviously impressed. “Boy,” said Al. “You must’ve done
stealing during the war. I thought
was a thief, but you seem to know all the angles.”
“Oh, I never took nothin’ big,” said Joe. “Only a few tanks.”
Al smiled. “And when we get in the bank, what then? Ain’t there all kinds of alarms and everything?”
“Yeah, there’s alarms,” said Al. “The tellers got foot buzzers, and hidden signals that go off when the last dollar bill comes
out of the till, and desk alarms, and probably half a dozen things I don’t even know about.”
“Well, how we gonna beat them?”
“Don’t have to,” said Joe. “All that stuff don’t mean spit. The cops still gotta come, an’ that takes time.” He swirled his
tongue along the side of the ice cream. “The secret is speed.”
“In and out.”
“Right. But to get speed, the people gotta take you serious. They gotta be scared, gotta figure: Hey, these guys just might
be crazy! A stick-up artist I used to know a long time ago told me the most important thing in any robbery is you gotta put
fear into everybody right away.”
“You put fear into me pretty quick,” said Willie.
“All you gotta remember,” said Joe, “is that once we get inside there, let me do all the talking. I’ll take care of the rest.”
An old woman from the neighborhood passed their bench. She moved with hunched, painful slowness. The skin on her face was
like a crushed paper bag.
“Hello, Mrs. Steinfelt,” said Joe.
“Hello,” said the old woman as she inched by.
“Hiya,” said Al.
“Hi,” said Willie.
When she was finally out of earshot, Al said, “I hear she used to be a ravin’ beauty.”
“That right?” said Joe. “Who told you that?”
“She did,” said Al. “I met her once at the laundry. She told me she had four husbands.”
“Maybe she’d like you for a fifth,” said Willie.
Al made a face. “I’ll take some twenty-year-old in one of them miniskirts, if you don’t mind.”
“An’ what would you do with her?” asked Willie.
“Why… the same thing I’d do with any other woman.” Al smiled.
“I don’t think girls that age are interested much in dominoes,” said Willie.
“All right, you two,” interrupted Joe. “Let’s get back to the plannin’ here. Let’s not get our minds wanderin’. Plenty of
time afterwards for wine, women, and song.”
“Seems to me,” said Al, “the only thing that’s left is the timin’. When you think we oughtta do this?”
think we can get the guns?” asked Joe.
“Could you get ‘em today, for instance?”
“I guess so,” said Al. “Sure,”
“Well, if that’s the case,” said Joe, “then we
might as well go back there tomorrow and make our withdrawal.” He stuffed the rest of the cone into his mouth.
“Best to get it over with,” agreed Willie. “No sense waitin’ till we grow older.”
“Al?” said Joe.
“Sounds good to me.”
“Okay,” said Joe. “Then it’s agreed. No more waiting around.”
The Woolworth store had several counters devoted to masks and disguises.
“The Frankenstein looks good,” said Al, trying on an all-rubber model. “It would certainly scare people.”
“You wanna scare people, you’d do best leavin’
the mask,” said Willie.
There were only a few shoppers in the store, mostly mothers and children stocking up on school supplies. Joe examined a gorilla
mask that fit over the entire head. “The trouble with all these here is that they’re too warm, and you probably can’t breathe
too good through ‘em.”
“Probably can’t see too good through ‘em either,” said Al.
Willie had moved around the counter.
“An’ look at the prices,” said Joe. “You’d have to rob the bank first just to be able to afford these things.”
Willie returned wearing a fake plastic nose and a big plastic mustache attached to a pair of eyeglasses. “I think these’d
be pretty good. They’d be easy to carry around, easy to take on and off.” He
puffed on an imaginary cigar. “Say the secret word, and you win a hundred dollars!”
“I think those’d be fine, Willie,” said Joe.
Willie removed the glasses. “Oh, you recognized me, huh?”
He led them to the display rack, where they removed two more pair of the comic glasses. Then they trooped up front to the
cash register. Joe placed the glasses before the cashier.
“Will that be all, sir?” she said. “Three Groucho disguises?” She flashed a warm smile to Willie, which he found unnerving.
“Boy,” he said to Al, “won’t the kids love these!”
Al looked puzzled for a second, then said, “Yeah! Oh, sure. Yeah, they will.”
“Thank you,” said the cashier, as Joe paid the bill. She watched them as they left.
“See?” said Willie.
“See what?” said Joe.
“She’s on to us.”
“Who? Not the cashier.”
“Yes. Her. Exactly,” said Willie. “You see her smile? Soon as the news hits the papers about three men in Groucho disguises
robbin’ a bank—bang! She tells the cops.”
“They must sell hundreds of them things every day,” said Joe. “And there are thousands of stores, and she don’t know us from
a hole in the wall. Don’t let your imagination run away with you, Willie.”
Willie frowned. “Well, we shoulda gone in separately,” he said. “Or, better yet, we shoulda each gone into a different store.”
Joe nodded. “All right, you got a point.”
“But it’s too late.”
“Yeah,” said Joe. “It’s too late. We’ll know better next time.”