Never shy about demanding assistance, Janet rounded up three or four of her friends and had them canvas the crowd, extorting a few dollars from everyone. She did not mind being the host but things had gone beyond her more budget-minded plans. Within half an hour Janet had about one hundred and thirty dollars, a shopping list, and a serious look that meant someone had better get to the store before midnight. My friend Paul and I volunteered before she could draft us.
I stuffed the money in my back pocket and the two of us set off for the party store located about four blocks away. Four blocks in a relatively small college town in a well-lit, middle-class neighborhood is not just a quick walk, it's a safe one as well. I'd spent four years here and the rest of my life had been lived in a city like this one. I'd never been robbed, assaulted, threatened, or even much alarmed by anything I had ever seen on the streets. Caution had always mandated avoiding certain streets. Doors were locked, no one left the keys in a car, and door-to-door salesmen were not invited in. But the things that were shown on the news were just things that happened to someone else, somewhere else and the endangered parties had always been incautious, over-bold, or just plain foolish.
It never entered my mind or Paul's, therefore, that there was anything to fear in walking four blocks on a busy Saturday night. The man who walked toward us on the street simply looked like another Saturday-night reveler until, coming face to face with us, he stopped and demanded, in an urgent but low-pitched voice, "Give me your money. Now."
As he spoke he made a small jabbing movement with his left hand and a gun appeared, leveled at my midsection. I simply froze for a moment, turning cold and feeling a shiver sweep up my spine. But Paul immediately reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and thrust it toward the man. As the man reached for it they bo...
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