The majority were friendly, a few not, one or two antagonistic.
Almost everyone showed some degree of nervousness.
There was relief on the faces of those who received their money and left.
An elderly woman spoke to Alex on the way out.
She had no idea he was a-bank official.
"Thank heaven that's over! It's been the most anxious day I ever spent.
This is my savings all I have." She held up a dozen or so fifty dollar bills.
Others left with much larger or smaller sums. The impression Alex got from everyone he talked to was the same:
Maybe First Mercantile American Bank was sound; maybe it wasn't.
But no one wanted to take a chance and leave their money in an institution which might collapse.
The publicity linking FMA with Supranational had done its work.
Everyone knew that First Mercantile American was likely to lose a huge amount of money, because the bank admitted it. Details didn't matter
Nor did the few people to whom Alex mentioned Federal Deposit Insurance trust that system either.
The amount of federal insurance was limited, a few pointed out, and FDIC funds were believed to be inadequate in any major crunch.
And there was something else, Alex realized, perhaps even more profound:
People didn't believe any more what they were told; they had become too accustomed to being deceived and lied to. In the recent past they had been lied to by their President, other government officials, politicians, business, industry.
Lied to by employers, by unions. Lied-to in advertising. Lied to in financial transactions, including the status of stocks and bonds, stockholder reports and "audited" corporate statements. Lied to at times through bias or omission by communications media.
The list was endless. Deception had been piled on deception until lying or, at best, distortion and failure to make full disclosure had become a way of life. So why should anyone believe Alex when he assured them that FMA was not a sinking ship and their money if they left it there was safe?
As the hours slipped by and afternoon waned, it was clear that no one did. By late afternoon Alex had become resigned. What would: happen would happen; for individuals and institutions, he supposed, there came a point where the inevitable must be accepted.
It was about that time near 5:30, with dusk of the October evening closing in that Nolan Wainwright came to him reporting a new anxiety in the waiting crowd. 'They're worried," Wainwright said, "because our closing time is six o'clock.
They figure in the half hour that's left we can't deal with everybody." Alex wavered. It would be simple to close the Tylersville branch bank on schedule; it would also be legal, and no one could seriously object. He savored an impulse born of anger and frustration; a spiteful urge to say, in effect, to those still waiting: You've refused to trust me, so sweat till Monday, and the hell with your
But he hesitated, swayed by his own nature and a remark of Margot's about Ben Rosselli. What Alex was doing now, she had said, was "exactly what Ben would have done himself." What would Ben's decision have been about closing? Alex knew. "I'll make an announcement," he told Wainwright. First he sought out Edwina and gave her some instructions.
Moving to the doorway of the bank, Alex spoke from where he could be heard by those inside and others still waiting on the street.
He was conscious of TV cameras directed at him. The first TV crew had been joined by a second from another station, and an hour ago Alex made a statement for them both. The TV crews stayed on, one of their people confiding they were getting extra material for a weekend news feature since "a bank run doesn't happen every day."
"Ladies and gentlemen" Alex's voice was strong and dear; it carried easily.
"I am informed that some of you are concerned about the time of our closing tonight.
You need not be.
On behalf of the management of this bank l give you my word that we will remain open here in Tylersville until we have attended to you all."
There was a murmur of satisfaction and some spontaneous handclapping
"However, there is one thing I urge on all of you." Once more, voices quietened as attention returned to Alex. He went on, "I strongly advise that over the weekend you do not keep large sums of money on your person or in your homes.
It would be unsafe in many ways.
Therefore I urge you to select another bank and deposit there whatever you withdraw from this one. To help you in this, my colleague Mrs. D'Orsey is at present telephoning other banks in this area, asking them to remain open later than usual in order to accommodate you."
Again there was an appreciative hum. Nolan Wainwright came to Alex, whispered briefly and Alex announced,
"I am informed that two banks have already agreed to our request.
Others are still being contacted."
From among those waiting in the street a male voice called, "Can you recommend a good bank?" "Yes," Alex said. "My own choice would be First Mercantile American. It's the one I know best, the one I'm surest of, and its record has been long and honorable.
I only wish that all of you felt that way too." For the first time there was a hint of emotion in his voice.
A few people smiled or laughed half-heartedly, but most faces watching him were serious.
"Used to feel that way myself," a voice behind Alex volunteered.
He turned. The speaker was an elderly man, probably nearer eighty than seventy, wizened, whitehaired, stooped, and leaning on a cane. But the old man's eyes were clear and sharp, his voice firm.
Beside him was a woman an of about the same age.
Both were tidily dressed, though their clothing was old-fashioned and well worn. The woman held a shopping bag which, it could be seen, contained packages of currency.
They had just come from the bank counter.
"The wife and me, we've had an account at FMA for moretn thirty years," the old man said. "Feel Linda bad taking it away now."
"Then why do it?"
"Can't ignore all them rumors. Too much smoke for there not to be some truth somewhere." "There is some truth and we've admitted it," Alex said.
"Because of a loan to Supranational Corporation, our bank is likely to suffer a loss.
But the bank can withstand it, and it will."
The old man shook his head. "If I was younger and working, maybe I'd take a chance on what you say. But I ain't.
What's in there" he pointed to the shopping bag "is pretty well all we got left until we die.
Even that ain't much Them dollars don't go half as far as when we worked and earned 'em."
"That's for sure," Alex said. "Inflation hits good people like you hardest.
But, unfortunately, changing banks won't help you there."
"Let me ask you a question, young fellow. If you was me and this here was your money, wouldn't you be doing the same as I am now?" Alex was aware of others closing in and listening. He saw Margot a head or two away. Just behind her, TV camera lights were on.
Someone was leaning forward with a microphone.
"Yes," he admitted. 'I suppose I would." The old man seemed surprised.
"You're honest, anyways. Just now I heard that advice you gave about getting to another bank and I appreciate it. I guess we'll go to one and put our money in."
"Wait," Alex said. "Do you have a car?" "Nope. Live just a piece from here. We'll walk."
"Not with that money. You might be robbed. I’ll have someone drive you to another bank."
Alex beckoned Nolan Wainwright and explained the problem.
'This is our chief of security," he told the elderly couple. "No sweat," Wainwright said. "Be glad to drive you myself."
The old man didn't move. He stood looking from one face to the other.
"You'd do that for us? When we've just moved our money out of your bank?
When we've good as told you we don't trust you any more?"
"Let's say it's all in our service.
Besides," Alex said, "If you've been with us thirty years, we ought to part as friends."
Still the old man paused uncertainly.
"Maybe we don't have to. Let me ask you one more question, man to man."
The clear, sharp, honest eyes regarded Alex steadily.
"Go ahead." "You told me the truth once already, young fellow. Now tell me it again, remembering what I said about being old and knowing what them savings mean.
Is our money safe in your bank? Absolutely safe?"