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Title: How Mr. Hogan Robbed a Bank

Date of first publication: 1956

Author: John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

Date first posted: July 6, 2021

Date last updated: July 6, 2021

Faded Page eBook #20210710

This eBook was produced by: Alex White & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at https://www.pgdpcanada.net

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How Mr. Hogan Robbed a Bank


John Steinbeck


First printed The Atlantic Monthly, March 1956.

Text of this ebook from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, British Edition, April 1959.

On the Saturday before Labor Day, 1955, at 9:04½ a.m., Mr. Hogan robbed a bank. He was forty-two years old, married, and the father of a boy and a girl, named John and Joan, twelve and thirteen respectively. Mrs. Hogan’s name was Joan and Mr. Hogan’s was John, but since they called themselves Papa and Mama, that left their names free for the children, who were considered very smart for their ages, each having jumped a grade in school. The Hogans lived at 215 East Maple Street, in a brown-shingle house with white trim—there are two. 215 is the one across from the street light and it is the one with the big tree in the yard, either oak or elm—the biggest tree in the whole street, maybe in the whole town. That’s pretty big.

John and Joan were in bed at the time of the robbery, for it was Saturday. At 9:10 a.m., Mrs. Hogan was making the cup of tea she always had. Mr. Hogan went to work early. Mrs. Hogan drank her tea slowly, scalding hot, and read her fortune in the tea leaves. There was a cloud and a five-pointed star with two short points in the bottom of the cup, but that was at 9:12 and the robbery was all over by then.

The way Mr. Hogan went about robbing the bank was very interesting. He gave it a great deal of thought and had for a long time, but he did not discuss it with anyone. He just read his newspaper and kept his own counsel. But he worked it out to his own satisfaction that people went to too much trouble robbing banks and that got them in a mess. The simpler the better, he always thought. People went in for too much hullabaloo and hanky-panky. If you didn’t do that, if you left hanky-panky out, robbing a bank would be a relatively sound venture—barring accidents, of course, of an improbable kind, but then they could happen to a man crossing the street or anything. Since Mr. Hogan’s method worked fine, it proved that his thinking was sound. He often considered writing a little booklet on his technique when the how-to rage was running so high. He figured out the first sentence, which went: “To successfully rob a bank, forget all about hanky-panky.”

Mr. Hogan was not just a clerk at Fettucci’s grocery store. He was more like the manager. Mr. Hogan was in charge, even hired and fired the boy who delivered groceries after school. He even put in orders with the salesmen, sometimes when Mr. Fettucci was right in the store too, maybe talking to a customer. “You do it, John,” he would say and he would nod at the customer, “John knows the ropes. Been with me—how long you been with me, John?”

“Sixteen years.”

“Sixteen years. Knows the business as good as me. John, why he even banks the money.”

And so he did. Whenever he had a moment, Mr. Hogan went into the storeroom on the alley, took off his apron, put on his necktie and coat, and went back through the store to the cash register. The checks and bills would be ready for him inside the bankbook with a rubber band around it. Then he went next door and stood at the teller’s window and handed the checks and bankbook through to Mr. Cup and passed the time of day with him too. Then, when the bankbook was handed back, he checked the entry, put the rubber band around it, and walked next door to Fettucci’s grocery and put the bankbook in the cash register, continued on to the storeroom, removed his coat and tie, put on his apron, and went back into the store ready for business. If there was no line at the teller’s window, the whole thing didn’t take more than five minutes, even passing the time of day.

Mr. Hogan was a man who noticed things, and when it came to robbing the bank, this trait stood him in good stead. He had noticed, for instance, where the big bills were kept right in the drawer under the counter and he had noticed also what days there were likely to be more than on other days. Thursday was payday at the American Can Company’s local plant, for instance, so there would be more then. Some Fridays people drew more money to tide them over the weekend. But it was even Steven, maybe not a thousand dollars difference, between Thursdays and Fridays and Saturday mornings. Saturdays were not terribly good because people didn’t come to get money that early in the morning, and the bank closed at noon. But he thought it over and came to the conclusion that the Saturday before a long weekend in the summer would be the best of all. People going on trips, vacations, people with relatives visiting, and the bank closed Monday. He thought it out and looked, and sure enough the Saturday morning before Labor Day the cash drawer had twice as much money in it—he saw it when Mr. Cup pulled out the drawer.

Mr. Hogan thought about it during all that year, not all the time, of course, but when he had some moments. It was a busy year too. That was the year John and Joan had the mumps and Mrs. Hogan got her teeth pulled and was fitted for a denture. That was the year when Mr. Hogan was Master of the Lodge, with all the time that takes. Larry Shield died that year—he was Mrs. Hogan’s brother and was buried from the Hogan house at 215 East Maple. Larry was a bachelor and had a room in the Pine Tree House and he played pool nearly every night. He worked at the Silver Diner but that closed at nine and so Larry would go to Louie’s and play pool for an hour. Therefore, it was a surprise when he left enough so that after funeral expenses there were twelve hundred dollars left. And even more surprising that he left a will in Mrs. Hogan’s favor, but his double-barreled twelve-gauge shotgun he left to John Hogan, Jr. Mr. Hogan was pleased, although he never hunted. He put the shotgun away in the back of the closet in the bathroom, where he kept his things, to keep it for young John. He didn’t want children handling guns and he never bought any shells. It was some of that twelve hundred that got Mrs. Hogan her dentures. Also, she bought a bicycle for John and a doll buggy and walking-talking doll for Joan—a doll with three changes of dresses and a little suitcase, complete with play make-up. Mr. Hogan thought it might spoil the children, but it didn’t seem to. They made just as good marks in school and John even got a job delivering papers. It was a very busy year. Both John and Joan wanted to enter the W. R. Hearst National I Love America Contest and Mr. Hogan thought it was almost too much, but they promised to do the work during their summer vacation, so he finally agreed.

During that year no one noticed any difference in Mr. Hogan. It was true, he was thinking about robbing the bank, but he only thought about it in the evening when there was neither a Lodge meeting nor a movie they wanted to go to, so it did not become an obsession and people noticed no change in him.

He had studied everything so carefully that the approach of Labor Day did not catch him unprepared or nervous. It was hot that summer and the hot spells were longer than usual. Saturday was the end of two weeks heat without a break and people were irritated with it and anxious to get out of town, although the country was just as hot. They didn’t think of that. The children were excited because the I Love America Essay Contest was due to be concluded and the winners announced, and the first prize was an all-expense-paid two days trip to Washington, D.C., with every fixing—hotel room, three meals a day, and side trips in a limousine—not only for the winner, but for an accompanying chaperone; visit to the White House—shake hands with the President—everything. Mr. Hogan thought they were getting their hopes too high and he said so.

“You’ve got to be prepared to lose,” he told his children. “There’re probably thousands and thousands entered. You get your hopes up and it might spoil the whole autumn. Now I don’t want any long faces in this house after the contest is over.”

“I was against it from the start,” he told Mrs. Hogan. That was the morning she saw the Washington Monument in her teacup, but she didn’t tell anybody about that except Ruth Tyler, Bob Tyler’s wife. Ruthie brought over her cards and read them in the Hogan kitchen, but she didn’t find a journey. She did tell Mrs. Hogan that the cards were often wrong. The cards had said Mrs. Winkle was going on a trip to Europe and the next week Mrs. Winkle got a fishbone in her throat and choked to death. Ruthie, just thinking out loud, wondered if there was any connection between the fishbone and the ocean voyage to Europe. “You’ve got to interpret them right.” Ruthie did say she saw money coming to the Hogans.

“Oh, I got that already from poor Larry,” Mrs. Hogan explained.

“I must have got the past and future cards mixed,” said Ruthie. “You’ve got to interpret them right.”

Saturday dawned a blaster. The early morning weather report on the radio said: “Continued hot and humid, light scattered rain Sunday night and Monday.”

Mrs. Hogan said, “Wouldn’t you know? Labor Day.”

Mr. Hogan said, “I’m sure glad we didn’t plan anything.” He finished his egg and mopped the plate with his toast.

Mrs. Hogan said, “Did I put coffee on the list?”

He took the paper from his handkerchief pocket and consulted it. “Yes, coffee, it’s here.”

“I had a crazy idea I forgot to write it down,” said Mrs. Hogan. “Ruth and I are going to Altar Guild this afternoon. It’s at Mrs. Alfred Drake’s. You know, they just came to town. I can’t wait to see their furniture.”

“They trade with us,” said Mr. Hogan. “Opened an account last week. Are the milk bottles ready?”

“On the porch.”

Mr. Hogan looked at his watch just before he picked up the bottles and it was five minutes to eight. He was about to go down the stairs, when he turned and looked back through the opened door at Mrs. Hogan.

She said, “Want something, Papa?”

“No,” he said. “No,” and he walked down the steps.

He went down to the corner and turned right on Spooner, and Spooner runs into Main Street in two blocks, and right across from where it runs in, there is Fettucci’s and the bank around the corner and the alley beside the bank. Mr. Hogan picked up a handbill in front of Fettucci’s and unlocked the door. He went through to the storeroom, opened the door to the alley, and looked out. A cat tried to force its way in, but Mr. Hogan blocked it with his foot and leg and closed the door. He took off his coat and put on his long apron, tied the strings in a bowknot behind his back. Then he got the broom from behind the counter and swept out behind the counters and scooped the sweepings into a dustpan; and going through the storeroom he opened the door to the alley. The cat had gone away. He emptied the dustpan into the garbage can and tapped it smartly to dislodge a piece of lettuce leaf. Then he went back to the store and worked for a while on the order sheet. Mrs. Clooney came in for a half a pound of bacon. She said it was hot and Mr. Hogan agreed.

“Summers are getting hotter,” he said.

“I think so myself,” said Mrs. Clooney. “How’s Mrs. standing up?”

“Just fine,” said Mr. Hogan. “She’s going to Altar Guild.”

“So am I. I just can’t wait to see their furniture,” said Mrs. Clooney, and she went out.

Mr. Hogan put a five-pound hunk of bacon on the slicer and stripped off the pieces and laid them on wax paper and then he put the wax-paper-covered squares in the cooler cabinet. At ten minutes to nine Mr. Hogan went to a shelf. He pushed a spaghetti box aside and took down a cereal box, which he emptied in the little closet toilet. Then, with a banana knife, he cut out the Mickey Mouse mask that was on the back. The rest of the box he took to the toilet and tore up the cardboard and flushed it down. He went into the store and yanked a piece of string loose and tied the ends through the side holes of the mask and then he looked at his watch—a large silver Hamilton with black hands. It was two minutes to nine.

Perhaps the next four minutes were his only time of nervousness at all. At one minute to nine he took the broom and went out to sweep the sidewalk and he swept it very rapidly—was sweeping it, in fact, when Mr. Warner unlocked the bank door. He said good morning to Mr. Warner and a few seconds later the bank staff of four emerged from the coffee shop. Mr. Hogan saw them cross the street and he waved at them and they waved back. He finished the sidewalk and went back in the store. He laid his watch on the little step of the cash register. He sighed very deeply, more like a deep breath than a sigh. He knew that Mr. Warner would have the safe open now and he would be carrying the cash trays to the teller’s window. Mr. Hogan looked at the watch on the cash register step. Mr. Kentworthy paused in the store entrance, then shook his head vaguely and walked on and Mr. Hogan let out his breath gradually. His left hand went behind his back and pulled the bowknot on his apron, and then the black hand on his watch crept up on the four-minute mark and covered it.

Mr. Hogan opened the charge account drawer and took out the store pistol, a silver-colored Iver Johnson .38. He moved quickly to the storeroom, slipped off his apron, put on his coat, and stuck the revolver in his side pocket. The Mickey Mouse mask he shoved up under his coat where it didn’t show. He opened the alley door and looked up and down and stepped quickly out, leaving the door slightly ajar. It is sixty feet to where the alley enters Main Street, and there he paused and looked up and down and then he turned his head toward the center of the street as he passed the bank window. At the bank’s swinging door he took out the mask from under his coat and put it on. Mr. Warner was just entering his office and his back was to the door. The top of Will Cup’s head was visible through the teller’s grill.

Mr. Hogan moved quickly and quietly around the end of the counter and into the teller’s cage. He had the revolver in his right hand now. When Will Cup turned his head and saw the revolver, he froze. Mr. Hogan slipped his toe under the trigger of the floor alarm and he motioned Will Cup to the floor with the revolver and Will went down quick. Then Mr. Hogan opened the cash drawer and with two quick movements he piled the large bills from the tray together. He made a whipping motion to Will on the floor, to indicate that he should turn over and face the wall, and Will did. Then Mr. Hogan stepped back around the counter. At the door of the bank he took off the mask, and as he passed the window he turned his head toward the middle of the street. He moved into the alley, walked quickly to the storeroom, and entered. The cat had got in. It watched him from a pile of canned goods cartons. Mr. Hogan went to the toilet closet and tore up the mask and flushed it. He took off his coat and put on his apron. He looked out into the store and then moved to the cash register. The revolver went back into the charge account drawer. He punched No Sale and, lifting the top drawer, distributed the stolen money underneath the top tray and then pulled the tray forward and closed the register. Only then did he look at his watch and it was 9:07½.

He was trying to get the cat out of the storeroom when the commotion boiled out of the bank. He took his broom and went out on the sidewalk. He heard all about it and offered his opinion when it was asked for. He said he didn’t think the fellow could get away—where could he get to? Still, with the holiday coming up—

It was an exciting day. Mr. Fettucci was as proud as though it were his bank. The sirens sounded around town for hours. Hundreds of holiday travelers had to stop at the roadblocks set up all around the edge of town and several sneaky-looking men had their cars searched.

Mrs. Hogan heard about it over the phone and she dressed earlier than she would have ordinarily and came to the store on her way to Altar Guild. She hoped Mr. Hogan would have seen or heard something new, but he hadn’t. “I don’t see how the fellow can get away,” he said.

Mrs. Hogan was so excited, she forgot her own news. She only remembered when she got to Mrs. Drake’s house, but she asked permission and phoned the store the first moment she could. “I forgot to tell you. John’s won honorable mention.”


“In the I Love America Contest.”

“What did he win?”

“Honorable mention.”

“Fine. Fine—Anything come with it?”

“Why, he’ll get his picture and his name all over the country. Radio too. Maybe even television. They’ve already asked for a photograph of him.”

“Fine,” said Mr. Hogan. “I hope it don’t spoil him.” He put up the receiver and said to Mr. Fettucci, “I guess we’ve got a celebrity in the family.”

Fettucci stayed open until nine on Saturdays. Mr. Hogan ate a few snacks from cold cuts, but not much, because Mrs. Hogan always kept his supper warming.

It was 9:05, or :06, or :07, when he got back to the brown-shingle house at 215 East Maple. He went in through the front door and out to the kitchen where the family was waiting for him.

“Got to wash up,” he said, and went up to the bathroom. He turned the key in the bathroom door and then he flushed the toilet and turned on the water in the basin and tub while he counted the money. $8320. From the top shelf of the storage closet in the bathroom he took down the big leather case that held his Knight Templar’s uniform. The plumed hat lay there on its form. The white ostrich feather was a little yellow and needed changing. Mr. Hogan lifted out the hat and pried the form up from the bottom of the case. He put the money in the form and then he thought again and removed two bills and shoved them in his side pocket. Then he put the form back over the money and laid the hat on top and closed the case and shoved it back on the top shelf. Finally he washed his hands and turned off the water in the tub and the basin.

In the kitchen Mrs. Hogan and the children faced him, beaming. “Guess what some young man’s going on?”

“What?” asked Mr. Hogan.

“Radio,” said John. “Monday night. Eight o’clock.”

“I guess we got a celebrity in the family,” said Mr. Hogan.

Mrs. Hogan said, “I just hope some young lady hasn’t got her nose out of joint.”

Mr. Hogan pulled up to the table and stretched his legs. “Mama, I guess I got a fine family,” he said. He reached in his pocket and took out two five-dollar bills. He handed one to John. “That’s for winning,” he said. He poked the other bill at Joan. “And that’s for being a good sport. One celebrity and one good sport. What a fine family!” He rubbed his hands together and lifted the lid of the covered dish. “Kidneys,” he said. “Fine.”

And that’s how Mr. Hogan did it.



[The end of How Mr. Hogan Robbed a Bank by John Steinbeck]