James Carlyle and I were downtown, letting our tricycles graze outside the door of the First National Bank. James’s was light blue, a full two hands higher than my red one. I, however, wore a real buffalo-fur cowboy vest – bulletproof. In addition, I had on my genuine Mexican sombrero, which, if I turned the brim down all the way around, made a very workable tent. One of us – I think it was James, but it might have been me – said, “Let’s rob the bank!”
We were young in those days and when we made a decision, we acted. Most of the bank robberies I’d ever seen took place on Saturday afternoon – that’s when the cowboy movies came to the theater. The Tivoli it was called, and it always showed cowboy movies on Saturday.
This happened to be a Saturday morning, but perhaps it was just as well we decided to rob the bank then, because we might not have been able to get into the bank that afternoon. The bank was closed on Saturday afternoons – a pretty good idea, when you come to think of all the cowboy movies they show then.
After the bright morning sun, it was dark when we opened the door and looked around at the activity of Saturday morning financial traffic. I started to feel a bit uneasy about the whole affair. This was the first bank I had ever robbed. I don’t know about James.
The bank had a cool, musty smell like old, dried-up inkwells. There were so many caged windows that I couldn’t decide where to start first. It was a real relief to see a familiar face behind one of the windows. Of course, I had to bend up the brim of my sombrero to see him, but there he was: Mr. Simpson. He was a friend, because he played golf with my dad. I decided to rob him first.
Right off, though, I ran into trouble. I couldn’t think of the right dialogue.
Buck Jones, of course, was my ideal. But in his movies, you rarely found him in the role of a bank robber. Generally, his speeches consisted of immortal lines such as, “I’m all right, Tex. It’s just a flesh wound!” or “Come on! We’ll head ’em off at the pass!” or a crowd-pleaser such as, “OK, Ringo. Drop your guns. We’re goin’ to settle this man to man!” after which there would be a splendid bare-knuckled brawl that started with broken chairs and tables and ended up with the saloon in a shambles and Buck’s fancy shirt torn off. None of those ready-made conversation starters seemed very appropriate, however, and I wasn’t about to get my shirt torn off. Think what it would do to my buffalo-fur vest.
Meanwhile, James, who had been content to let me be the leader, whispered loudly, “Well? Say, ‘Hands up!’ ”
“Why don’t you?” I whispered back.
“Because you’re the one with the gun!” he said.
So I was. My favorite ivory-handled Colt with the special cylinder that revolved each time I pulled the trigger and – if I had put the circle of explosive caps on it the right way – fired a soul-satisfying round of six shots. “All right,” I said to James. But just as I started to draw my six-shooter...
“Hello, Bobby.” It was Mr. Simpson.
I rolled back the brim of my Mexican sombrero and looked up. “Hello, Mr. Simpson.”
“Are you waiting for your dad?”
“No, sir. We’re bank robbers.”
“Hands up!” hissed James behind me.
“Hands up, Mr. Simpson. We’re bank robbers.”
“Well, I’ll put my hands up if you want me to. But how can I give you the money if I have my hands up?”
That sounded like a sensible question.
“Not only that,” Mr. Simpson continued. “If you’re going to rob the bank, Bobby, do you want to take your dad’s money, too? And Mr. Carlyle’s money?
I looked over at James. That was a point we hadn’t considered.
“I tell you what.” Mr. Simpson came out from behind his window, walked over to one of the chairs in the lobby, and sat down. He held out his right hand, closed up. “What kind of a gun do you have there, Bobby?”
Mr. Simpson turned his hand and opened it up. There, spread out on his palm, were six shiny copper pennies. “There you are. One for each shot.” He gave three pennies to James and three pennies to me and we made our getaway.
At supper, I discovered that somebody – surely not Mr. Simpson – had told my parents about the great bank robbery. As I recall, some discipline was administered. However, lying on my stomach in bed that night, I reflected that it was worth it. I still had my three cents.