The morning began routinely in the small Alabama town of Arab. It was warm and raining,
typical weather for an early spring day in 1934. The Great Depression was raging and most
people were trying to scratch out a living by sharecropping or working their farms in and
around the rural community. The days were filled with hard work and little excitement.
About the only excitement going on in the tiny hamlet was fascinating newspaper accounts
of gangsters causing widespread panic across the U.S. That was as close as the folks cared
to get to that kind of excitement, however, they would rather read about the killers and
not come face-to-face with them. By early morning, all of that would change. Twenty-one year
old Cyrus Rice began his job at Peoples Drugstore at six a.m. That was the best time to sweep
out the store and outside walkway since no customers came in at that hour unless there was
an emergency. It was still raining, as it had been for several days, when he stepped outside
to sweep the walkway in front of the store.
The morning stillness was suddenly broken when two people in a sleek, black automobile came
roaring up South Main with its engine racing and exhaust backfiring. The driver stomped the
brake pedal when he spotted Cyrus and sprayed the front window of the store with mud and gravel.
Dr. Griffith, the owner of the drugstore, came running from his office next door upon hearing
the commotion. "What in the hell are they doing?" he snapped.
"We're fixing to find out because they're backing up," Cyrus replied. The Model-B Ford had
slid past its target, reversed itself, and backed up with the passenger door parallel to the
storefront. Apprehensive, Cyrus decided to seek refuge inside the drugstore. Before he could
reach the door, a short, blonde-haired lady burst from the passenger door and grabbed him by
the shoulder. "You ain't going nowhere," she barked. A cigar stub showed from the corner of
the blonde's mouth as she looked up and down the street.
"I want six Red Dot cigars and a pack of rubbers," she said, herding Cyrus and Dr. Griffith
into the store. Dr. Griffith sent Cyrus to get the cigars while he went to find the contraceptives.
Cyrus sensed that something was wrong and cautiously walked between the soda fountain and cigar
counter. "Strangers frequently come through Arab, but none so demanding as this lady," the young
man thought to himself. She was hyper, feet never at rest, and was continuously looking about.
Cyrus retrieved the 25-cent pack of cigars and handed them to her. She spit the cigar stub out
of her mouth and mashed it out with her foot on Cyrus's freshly swept floor.
"How about mixing up a coke for my friend in the car?" she said, more like a command than
a request. Cyrus watched her as he fixed the soda. She wore a red tam hat that allowed her
strawberry blonde hair to show slightly. A red skirt extended down her small frame to her
ankles. Something resembling an old purse was hidden underneath a white long-sleeved blouse.
She was also carrying a huge, light-colored handbag that reminded Cyrus of a sack used to pick
cotton. Gun-shaped bulges distended from the handbag. But what he noticed most was how dirty
she was, not in the normal sense, but filthy dirty. Her face and hands were unwashed and her
clothes were soiled. She had on a hint of red lipstick that matched the rouge on her cheeks.
She would have been pretty had she not been so dirty. Dr. Griffith appeared with the
contraceptives as Cyrus finished making the soda.
"How much do I owe ya?" the blonde asked. Dr. Griffith totaled up the bill and told her the
sum. She reached into her bag and paid cash for the items. "You got curb service?" she inquired.
"We do," Cyrus replied. He placed the soda on a tray and walked past her. She promptly shoved
him against the soda fountain with an elbow. "Wait a minute," she ordered, "I'll tell you when
you can go." She walked to the front of the store with Cyrus trailing behind her. Opening the
front door slightly, she peeked through and glanced up and down Main Street. Satisfied that
everything was okay, she stepped through the door.
"Come on out here," she directed. Cyrus followed her to the driver's side of the car and
attempted to hook the tray on the door. "Don't put anything on the car!" the blonde screamed,
giving Cyrus another shove. She grabbed the coke and handed it to the man sitting behind the
steering wheel of the idling automobile. He was racing the engine in a sporadic manner to keep
it from going dead. Apparently, the damp weather was hampering the car's performance. The driver
was as filthy as his companion was; his clothes unkempt. He slouched down, never looking up,
and didn't move his hands that were firmly clasped around the steering wheel. The man wore a
long-billed, brown hat that was pulled down over his eyes. He wore a tan coat and pants,
white shirt with an unbuttoned collar, and no tie.
"Son, is there any money in that old bank," the man asked while pointing toward the Bank of
Arab. While not prospering, the bank was surviving the Depression and had money in it. Sensing
that something was amiss, Cyrus laughed and replied, "No, that bank's been busted for years."
"I told you so," the blonde sneered at her partner. "What's the quickest way to Birmingham?"
the driver asked. "Well, you can go back the way you came or you can turn beside the bank
and go through Cullman," Cyrus answered.