"The money doesn't matter much so i can't figure it . . . nothing heavy . . . just little talks where I make jokes and he threatens to put down $25,000 on some long shot if I don't shut up." -- The wife of a pro-football gambler.

The lawyer was in the study, the lawyer's wife in the living room, the standard pro-set for Sunday afternoons in the fall. A thunderclap quaked the wall of the study causing the Lautrec print to slide off the living room wall.

Gauging the magnitude of the blow, the lawyer's wife deduced that a heavy favorite has failed to cover the point spread. She put the Lautrec back up, only after he put the television back to sleep. She estimated that his bookie probably earned about $750 of her husband's earnings that weekend. He estimated she would be ready to talk about his gambling sometime that evening. She delayed the inevitable until 11:30 p.m.

"Honey, the Lautrec fell off the wall this afternoon," she began.

This is the story of a highly secussful Washington lawyer who turns infralegal on fall weekends. From the common continuum of Ivy League to Law Review to prestigious law firm, he's also a matriculated customer of his bookie, betting pro footbal games diligently each fall.

He knows what's good, but he loves what's bad.

"Look, I have a good life," he says convincingly. "I make a nice living, as does my wife, and I happen to enjoy betting on football games. It's all that makes them interesting to me. Why should I care about the Cincinnati Bengals-Oakland Raiders game? So I bet on it. I'm not fanatical . . . not usually . . . hardly ever. I mean, I get upset occasionally but it's not like I'm tied into the underworld."

No, in fact, he's inexorably anchored to the overworld. He's one of the most savory characters you'll ever see laying a grand on the Chargers' home field advantage. In Las Vegas, he'd be the most bourgeois bettor in town. He has no stories of sitting in hotel lobbies to see which players are limping, no tales of how he befriended an NFL trainer and no recollections of a pugnosed man putting the barrel of a .38 in his mouth threatening to pull the trigger on the next delinquent payment.

"I have my connections," he says readying the listener for some finely-placed information sources. "Like, every week I call up my old college roommate in Aspen to get a line on the Broncos. He's a big fan but very realistic. I've won about 80 percent of the Denver games I've bet on. Probably a profit of about $1,500. My friend's crazy . . . never bets."

The lawyer dictates a quick memo to himself. "I gotta call him and find out what the quarterback situation is in Denver."

The lawyer likes to stress how he's been a winner since he started gambling at the age 28 three years ago. "I've added to my income every year . . . let's just put it that way," he says.

The lawyer treats each game like a case. He closes himself in his study Friday nights and examines all the evidence, calling out of town newspapers, getting injury reports, clecking the scrimmage line match-ups, calling Aspen. Anything to get an edge on his bookie whom he compares to a prosecuting attorney. "You have to do as much as possible to make the most objective choice as possible."

"You have to avoid being a fan if you want to be a good bettor," he continues. "I've lived in Washington six years now and there's so much Redskin hype it's hard not to get caught up in it. I started getting to know all the players and their personal struggles, which naturally makes you sympathize with the team.My first year of betting consistently, I lost my shirt on the Skins. Now I never read any personality profiles about them, I just check out their staistics. Of course last year, I thought they would be miseralbe so I took a bath on them again."

The lawyer is tuned in to all his clients. Name a team and he'll tell you the profits and losses without batting an eyelash.

This year, he's been studying harder than ever. It may be the last hurrah.

"My wife and I may have a baby next year," he says. "We've been talking about it anyway. If we do, I think I'll cut out the betting. Bad influence, I guess, you know . . . "

She looks at her husband's "hobby" with detached amusement.

"Gambling would make sense to me if we were poor and there would be some overall effect on our standard of living if he won big . . . or lost big," she says. "But he's not a big money bettor. At least not compared to others I've heard about.

"Overall, I just don't pay attention to his gambling. I mean, it would be nice to have a date on Friday nights in the fall but he locks himself in the study. Although I must admit, he tries to make Friday nights special the rest of the year, so I never get mad. Except when he belts the wall and knocks over by Lautrec print. I love Lautrec. I don't want to have my Lautrec shattered because the Chicago Vikings(sic) can't score a field goal. l

Beaming, the gambler looks at his wife and says, Isn't she adorable?"