One by one the men
around the circular green poker table stiffened. Each sat as silently and as
rigidly as his straight-backed chair. The one exception was a feisty little
aerospace executive named Larry, who was busy counting out a $50 bet. Sensing
the hush, and seeing that all his opponents' eyes were on something behind him,
he wheeled about and found himself looking down the barrel of a sawed-off
shotgun. The holdup man had taken his position behind a breakfast bar that
separated the poker nook from the rest of the kitchen. Even at this close
range, he had the whole table covered.
doesn't scare me worth a damn," Larry said, point-blank.
The man jerked
back a step. The safety catch clicked off.
Larry," said a seasoned gambler across the table, who had already been
robbed twice that year. "Don't pay any attention to him," he said,
apologetically, to the man with the gun. "He's been drinking too much
Larry had not had
a drop to drink.
The gunman glanced
over his left shoulder just in time to see his accomplice pistol-pointing the
host's wife and 3-year-old son into the kitchen. A cool pro, this one had
somehow rousted the woman and boy without a fuss. After directing them to stand
against the refrigerator and telling them to keep quiet, he calmly took charge
of the robbery.
First, he sacked
the pot and each player's table money. Next, he relieved two brothers-in-law
(the Gold Dust Twins, as he called them) of matching diamond-studded watches
and horseshoe rings. He revealed how well the game had been cased by not even
looking at the other jewelry around the table. Then he poked the pistol into
the host's back and made him lie belly flat on the kitchen floor. When he had
thus prostrated the rest of the men, he turned his attention to the boy, who in
the meanwhile had started howling in spite of his mother's jittery efforts to
quiet him. Apparently this heister had a way with kids, for he quickly pacified
the boy, not with "goochy-goochy-goo" stuff, but by letting him play
with the pistol for a minute.
Covered by his
sawyer-wielding partner, he tucked the pistol under his belt and started
frisking each man. First he took whatever money they had in their pockets. Then
he went through their wallets. In spite of signs of impatience from his jumpy
partner, he was thoughtful enough, and leisurely enough, to leave driver's
licenses and identification papers.
The last man to be
frisked happened to be a poker buddy of mine. On business in Rocket City,
U.S.A., as Huntsville, Ala. is called, he had telephoned me that afternoon to
find out how a stranger in town might spend an evening. I told him that I was
going to a hell of a good poker session, a private game made up mostly of
missile and rocket engineers, technical writers and people like that. He jumped
at the invitation to come along, although I warned him that these guys played a
tough game of poker and that the stakes were not exactly penny ante. He was a
good player himself and was holding his own when I quit the game at midnight.
But here he was being frisked. When the heister found his travel allowance in a
"secret" compartment of his wallet, my friend said, "Look, I'm from
out of town and I don't have enough gas in my car to get back home." The
heister gave him $5.
Not all robbers
are so generous. Indeed, poker players are lucky to come through a stickup with
their pants and their shirts. Last December, for example, the players in three
separate poker games around Huntsville were stripped of all clothing down to
their skivvy shorts. Into a gunnysack went pants, shirts, shoes, credit cards,
identification papers, car keys—everything.