"No Place to Pull a Job"Half a year ago, I first met Albert Ebert.
He was a short and solid man whose 50-odd years had removed his hair, but none of his backbone.
By trade, Ebert was a storekeeper. Some 30 years ago, in his native South Germany, he had worked as a clerk.
But now, in the states, he had a store of his own. A liquor store. With a "reputation" among the small-time crooks in our town.
It was, according to the grapevine, no place to try and pull a job.
When I talked with Ebert six months ago, I asked him how long it had been since anyone had faced him with a gun.
None walked out with so much as a penny.
One, Ebert killed. Three others, he wounded.
"When you shoot at a man, do you shoot to kill him?" I asked him.
"I do," he said. "Absolutely."
There was a trace of a scowl on his face as he continued:
"Mr. Coates, I don't have an easy life. I work hard. I get up early. I work late. I earn my money.
Request Not Enough
"I am not going to hand it over to a dirty lazy rat just because he says he wants it."
No policeman would recommend that a store owner or clerk risk his life in defense of a few dollars, I pointed this out to Ebert.
"That's why we have police departments," I told him.
"If a man comes into my store with a gun, he's looking for trouble," he answered. "With me, it's the only way. If you give in like a meek sheep, the crooks will run the town."
"How do you feel about killing a man?"
"It is not pleasant."
"Then, to you, it's a matter of kill or be killed?"
"You've got to be smarter than they are."
"But usually they have the advantage of having the draw on you."
Brave Look Scares Them
"That's right. But if you stand up to them and look them in the eye, they get scared."
"Always, Mr. Ebert?" I asked.
"They are cowards."
"Has it ever occurred to you that some day you might be killed?"
"Mr. Coates, my time comes. Your time comes. When it comes, we go."
These are some of the notes I have from my old conversation with Albert Ebert. In our society, he was a strange kind of man. He worked hard for every dollar he earned. An he was willing to defend each cent of every dollar with his life.
A few days ago, the headlines told of a new attempt, by three gunmen, to rob the till of Ebert's cash register of $75.
Ebert was asleep when they entered the store. But his son-in-law was behind the counter.
Only One of Three Escapes
When the police arrived, two of the trio of would-be armed robbers were sprawled on the floor, one dead, another critically injured.
The pair weren't amateurs. They were pros -- dangerous, seasoned criminals.
I talked to Ebert about it the following day.
"Eberhardt -- that's my son-in-law -- and I have talked about how to handle those kind of men several times," he told me.
"Eberhardt was a brave boy," he added. "He was a smart boy. I'm proud of him."