I DON'T KNOW anything about guns, but the one pointed at me was big.
I put my hands up, my car keys still in my left hand.
"The wallet. Give me the wallet." He stood about four feet from me, on a dark street in upper northwest Washington. I could not make out his features or the features of his accomplice, who stood behind and to the right of him. The gun I could see clearly. It was shiny metal -- it looked like chrome -- and was dirty. The weight of it seemed to bend his wrist. I imagined the damn thing going off by mistake.
With my right hand I reached into my back pocket and handed him my wallet. It had $10 and my uncashed paycheck in it. I was not scared, I was just concentrating very hard on not getting shot.
He stepped up and took the wallet, close enough for me to see his face. I'll always remember it.
"What's in the pockets?"
My mind refused to answer this question; it was too busy concentrating on not getting shot. I did not hear the cars passing nearby, or feel cold or warm, or see anything but them and the gun.
"You can have whatever's there," I said.
The gunman went through my pockets and took a cheap digital watch from the left pocket of my bomber jacket. His partner still stood in the darkness; I guess he was a lookout man. But I did not look much at his partner -- I looked at the man with the gun.
"Want the keys?" I asked. I would have given him anything but a kiss.
"No, I don't want the keys."
The gunman rejoined his partner in the darkness, and the two slipped down 42nd Street in a half jog. I stood with my hands up until the two of them made the 45-degree turn onto Wisconsin Avenue. Then I started to run towards the bar where I had planned to have a quick beer before bed. A white Volkswagen started up and pulled out of its parking space.
"Wait, wait!" I yelled as the car headed towards Wisconsin. It drove off.
"He must have seen the whole thing," I thought. "Screw him."
I ran across the triangle of green between 42nd Street and Wisconsin Avenue, across Wisconsin and into the bar. I am delighted they did not ask me for identification.
Somebody there showed me to a phone and I dialed 911. While I waited for an answer, somebody near me laughed. I assumed he was laughing at me and told him to go to hell.
I answered the dispatcher's questions: "About two minutes ago. Two of them. My wallet and my watch. Headed south. On foot." When she asked me how old they were, I figured close to my age. "Early 20s." She told me to wait at the bar.
I paced around for about a minute and nobody offered me a drink, so I decided to wait outside.
About five minutes later, a police car pulled up, and I got in and started answering the policeman's questions. I told him I couldn't describe the lookout man but gave him a thorough description of the gunman. And a thorough description of the gun. "It was some kind of revolver," I told him. "It looked the way grease looks on a chrome automobile part . . . . The barrel was about four inches long."
A short time later I was showing the policeman exactly where the robbery had taken place, when I heard my name on his radio.
"That's you, right?"
They had caught some guys with my wallet and a gun. It was about 20 minutes after the robbery. The cop asked me if I could go down to 21st and Q to identify them.
"Sure," I said. I wondered how they caught them so fast.
We ran red lights the whole way down, and went around Sheridan Circle the wrong way, but I was thinking instead of the gun. I thought of how big it had seemed and how its weight seemed to bend that SOB's wrist. I thought again of that big gun going off by mistake.
When we arrived at 21st and Q -- the east side of the bridge -- there were already three squad cars there and one unmarked police car. I was surrounded by police cars and officers. The cop who drove me down got out of the car and a bearded detective got in. They had three guys. One of them must have been their driver.
The police started parading the guys up for me to identify. One at a time they were brought about 10 feet from the car where they stood handcuffed and expressionless. The bearded detective shined a light on them.
I had never seen the first guy. The second guy I said fit the general description of the look-out, but I could not be sure. The detective seemed disappointed.
Then they brought the third guy up.
"He wasn't wearing the hat," I said.
"Tell him to take the hat off," the detective yelled.
The man shook his hat off, and it fell into the street. I looked hard at his blank face, and felt no pity for him.
"Definitely, that's the guy with the gun, absolutely."
"Excellent," a cop standing next to the car said.
I was then led across the street to where a group of police were standing on the curb. Another young man, a Georgetown University student who had also been robbed that night, stood with them. He was unable to identify any of the three, but they had his watch.
"How did you get them so fast?" I asked a tall detective with a pot belly.
"They robbed this other guy in Georgetown before they got you. I figured they'd be passing back through, so I waited for 'em at Wisconsin and Q, and sure enough, here they come like a bat outta hell."
They drove me down to robbery squad that night, and a bunch of them took turns asking me the same questions. I didn't care. I thought they were all geniuses.
I sat around for a few hours in a room with the student who had been robbed. He was pretty shaken up, and when they questioned him about the robbery he gave them lousy answers.
"I don't know . . . . I can't be sure," I kept hearing him say.
I was feeling some strange sort of elation. Adrenaline had been pumping since the gun was pulled on me. Suddenly it occurred to me I could relax. Three hours after the gun had been pointed at me, I realized I really wasn't going to get shot.
About 2 a.m. two detectives gave me a ride to my car, back at the scene of the robbery.
"I don't know anything about guns, but that thing looked pretty big," I said to them.
"Was big," one of them said. ".357 Magnum. Loaded, too."
"Oh God," I thought.