- Whittaker Chambers, Witness
It was a late summer afternoon in Minneapolis. The year was 1980. Business had been quiet at the Hiawatha Motel (not its real name). I was working the afternoon shift. Motel clerking was a good job for a student. The money wasn’t great, but it was only a short distance from my apartment, and I could sit at the desk and just read a book with a clear conscience. I’d have to do my end-of-shift report in a few minutes.
The door buzzer went off and a young man came in. He wore jeans and a tee-shirt, and a short jacket. I couldn’t see his eyes well because he was wearing a blue bucket hat pulled down, but the rest of his face was long. Kind of horsey.
He stepped up to the counter, pulled a semi-automatic pistol (about a .38, I thought), and said, “Open the door.”
This was where I nearly got myself killed. I thought he said, “Open the drawer,” meaning the cash drawer under the counter. I realized later, when it was all over, that he could have easily thought I was going for a gun, and plugged me right there. But when I pulled the drawer open, he repeated himself. “Open the door!” Then I heard his friend rattling the knob of the office door to my left.
I opened the door for him and stepped back, my hands up. Both young men came in, and the guy with the gun said, “We want money and drugs. Give us all you got.”
“There’s no drugs here,” I said. “The money’s there.” I pointed to the open cash drawer.
The sidekick went for the money, while the gunman repeated, “Where’s the drugs?”
“There’s no drugs here.”
At that point someone else stepped into the office. It was my relief, the guy on the next shift. Another student, somewhat younger than me. He raised his hands too, and the gunman gestured us back into the unoccupied manager’s apartment behind the office.
“Get down on your faces,” he said. We did, side by side on the carpet. The gunman told his sidekick to find something to tie us up with.
While waiting, the gunman said, “We just want money and drugs. Nobody needs to get hurt.”
I told him there weren’t any drugs, but otherwise didn’t argue.
His friend came back after a minute with a couple power cords from electrical devices. They tied our hands, and the guy with the gun held it to each of our heads in turn, asking one last time for drugs. I said once again that there weren’t any drugs there. “Let’s kill ‘em,” said the sidekick.
“Nah,” said the gunman. “They’ll be good. You guys’ll be good, won’t you?”
We said we’d be good.
They twisted my high school class ring off my finger, and took my relief guy’s watch. “You stay here for half an hour,” the gunman said. “We’ll be watching. If you get up before half an hour we’ll kill you.”
Then they left.
We lay there not saying much for a few minutes.
“I think we can get up now,” I said. “Can you help me get untied?”
“I’ve got some friends coming in a few minutes,” the relief guy said. “They’ll untie us.”
I got up and looked around in the office. The relief guy stayed where he was. I struggled with my bonds, but couldn’t get loose. Shortly the relief guy’s friends did show up, and they untied us and I called the police. And the owner.
After that, cops, and telling the story. Finally I went home. Didn’t sleep well. I was pretty shaken for a few weeks. Felt like a target. I loaded up my replica Civil War Navy Colt and wore it under a sport coat for a couple weeks when I went to work. I’m pretty sure that was illegal, but the wisdom of the saying, “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six” had taken on new meaning for me.
And never – never – for one split second did I waver in my support for the right of the people to keep and bear arms.