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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.
"That shotgun doesn't scare me worth a damn," Larry said, point-blank.
The man jerked back a step. The safety catch clicked off.
"Shut up, 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 tonight."
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.