Page 41 of The Moneychangers


Initially, for Wednesday morning, it had been essential there should be a large attendance at the bank to create a strong impression. But some of the attendees must be relieved periodically. Others who had not yet appeared were to be held in reserve for later that day, or other days.


To accomplish all this, a patchwork communications system had been set up with heavy use of local pay phones, monitored by more helpers stationed on the streets. Already, allowing for weaknesses in a short notice, improvised scheme, communication was functioning well.

All these and other reports were being funneled to Margot in the back seat of her Volkswagen. Her information included the number of people in line, the length of time it was taking the bank to open each account, and the number of new account desks in operation. She had heard, too, about the jam-packed scene inside the bank; also the exchanges between Seth Orinda and bank officials.

Margot made a calculation, then instructed the latest messenger, a gangling youth now waiting in the car's front passenger seat, "Tell Deacon not to call any more volunteers for the time being; it looks as if we've enough for the rest of today. Let some of those standing outside be relieved for a while, though not more than fifty at a time, and warn them to be back to collect their lunches. And about the lunches, caution everyone again there's to be no litter on Rosselli Plaza, and no food or drinks taken into the bank."

The talk of lunch reminded Margot of money which, earlier in the week, had been a problem.

On Monday, reports filtering in through Deacon Euphrates made it clear that many of the willing volunteers lacked a spare five dollars the minimum required to open an account at FMA. The Forum East Tenants Association had virtually no money. For a while it looked as if their scheme would founder.

Then Margot made a telephone call. It was to the union the American Federation of Clerks, Cashiers & Office Workers which now represented the airport janitors and cleaners whom she had aided a year ago.

Would the union help by lending money enough to provide a five-dollar stake for each volunteer who could not afford it? Union leaders summoned a hasty meeting. The union said yes.

On Tuesday, employees from union headquarters helped Deacon Euphrates and Seth Orinda distribute the cash. All concerned knew that part of it would never be repaid and some of the five-dollar floats would be spent by Tuesday night, their original purpose forgotten or ignored. But most of the money, they believed, would be used as intended. Judging by this morning's showing, they were right.

It was the union which had offered to supply and pay for lunches. The offer was accepted. Margot suspected a self-interest angle somewhere on the union's part but concluded it would not affect the Forum East objective, so was none of her business.

She continued to instruct the latest messenger. "We must maintain a lineup until the bank closes at three o'clock."

It was possible, she thought, that the news media might do some closing time photography so a show of strength for the remainder of today was important.

Tomorrow's plans could be co-ordinated late tonight. Mostly, they would be a repetition of today's.

Fortunately the weather a spell of mildness with mainly clear skies was helping, and forecasts for the next few days seemed good.

"Keep on emphasizing," Margot told another messenger a half hour later, "that everyone must stay friendly, friendly, friendly. Even if the bank people get tough or impatient, the thing to do is smile back."

At 11:45 A.M. Seth reported personally to Margot. He was grinning broadly and held out an early edition of the city's afternoon newspaper. "Wow!" Margot spread the front page wide.

The activity at the bank commanded most of the available space. It was more, far more, attention than she had dared to hope for. The main headline read:

BIG BANK IMMOBILIZED

BY FORUM EASTERS

And below:

First Mercantile American In Trouble?

Many Come To "Help" With Small Deposits Pictures and a two-column by-line story followed.

"Oh brother!" Maryot breathed. "How FMA will hate that!" They did.

Shortly after midday a hastily called conference took place on the 36th floor of First Mercantile American Headquarters Tower in the presidential suite.

Jerome Patterton and Roscoe Heyward were there, grim faced. Alex Vandervoort joined them. He, too, was serious, though as discussion progressed Alex seemed less involved than the others, his expression mostly thoughtful, with once or twice a flicker of amusement. The fourth attendee was Tom Straughan, the bank's young and studious chief economist; the fifth, Dick French, vice-president of public relations.

French, burly and scowling, strode in chewing an unlightod cigar and carrying a bundle of afternoon newspapers which he slapped down one by one in front of the others.

Jerome Patterton, seated behind his desk, spread out paper. When he read the words, "First Mercantile American In Trouble?" he spluttered, 'That's a filthy lie! That paper should be sued."

'There's nothing to sue about," French said with his customary bluntness. "The newspaper hasn't stated it as face. It's put as a question and in any case is quoting someone else. And the original statement was not malicious." He stood with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, hands behind his back, cigar projecting like an accusatory torpedo. Patterton flushed with anger.

"Of course it's malicious," Roscoe Heyward snapped. He had been standing, aloof, by a window and swung back toward the other four. 'The entire exercise is malicious. Any fool can see that."

French sighed. "All right, I'll spell it out. Whoever is behind this is good at law and public relations. The exercise, as you call it, is cleverly set up to be friendly and helpful to this bank. Okay, we know it's neither. But you'll never prove that and I suggest we stop wasting time with talk about trying to."

He picked up one of the newspapers and spread the front page open. "One reason I earn my princely salary is because I'm an expert about news and media Right now my expertise tells me that this same story which is written and presented fairly, like it or not is spewing out through every news wire service in the country and will be used. Why? Because it's a David and Goliath piece which reeks of human interest."

Tom Straughan, seated beside Vandervoort, said quietly, "I can confirm part of that. It has been on the Dow Jones news service and right afterward our stock dropped one more point."

"Another thing," Dick French went on as though he had not been interrupted, "we may as well brace ourselves now for the TV news tonight. There'll be plenty on local stations for sure, and my educated guess is we'll be on network, all three majors. Also, if any paper can resist that 'bank in trouble' phrase I'll swallow my picture tube." Heyward asked coldly, "Have you finished?"

"Not quite. I'd just like to say that if I'd blown this entire year's PR budget on one thing, just one thing, to try to make this bank look bad, I couldn't have improved on the damage you guys have done unaided."

Dick French had a personal theory. It was that a good public relations man should go to work each day prepared to put his job on the line. If knowledge and experience required him to tell his superiors unpleasant facts they would prefer not to hear, and to be brutally frank while doing so, so be it. The frankness was part of PR too a ploy to gain attention. To do less, or to court favor through silence or pussyfooting, would be to fail in his responsibilities.

Some days required more bluntness than usual. This was one.

Scowling, Roscoe Heyward asked, "Do we know yet who the organizers are?" "Not specifically," French said. "I spoke with Nolan who says he's working on that. Not that it makes much difference."

"And if you're interested in the latest from the downtown branch," Tom Straughan contributed, "I went in through the tunnel just before coming here. The place is still packed with demonstrators. Almost no one can get in to do regular banking business."

"They're not demonstrators," Dick Prench corrected him. "Let's get that clear, too, while we're about it. There's not a placard or a slogan among the lot, except maybe 'Act of Hope.' They're customers, and that's our problem."

"All right," Jerome Patterton said, "since you know so much about it, what do you suggest?"

The PR vice-president shrugged. "You guys pulled the rug from under Forum East. You're the ones who could put it back." Roscoe Heyward's features tightened. Patterton turned to Vandervoort. "Alex?"

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