Good Cop? Bad Cop?

An off-duty policeman was lauded for killing a robber who wounded two vendors. That was before allegations that the officer was actually protecting a gambling joint.

Tiny starts out, explaining the game: "They had a carnival booth with all these stuffed animals just to draw your attention. And once you go up there, they give you a cup that holds five balls. You throw them on a board, and they land in these little pockets, which are numbered. Then they add up the numbers where the balls landed, real quick-like, and they look at this chart, like a bingo card, and whatever your numbers added up to, they tell you what it is -- might be an extra roll, might be double-your-money or may be, say, you rolled 25 points. You get to keep those points toward the 100 you needed to win the jackpot."

"They had black spots," Jonathan puts in ominously. "Your throw adds up to a certain number, that's a black spot. Your throw didn't count, you didn't get no points."

Four white men ran the operation. "They looked like hillbillies," says Tiny. "Three of them ran the games, while a younger guy, a kid about 18, walked around the service station, handing out cards for a free game." After the free game, which often won the player some small prize, the price of a throw began at $5. "They tell you if you start playing with $5 you can win $20," says Tiny. "Or if you play with $10 you can win $40, and $80 win you $1,600 -- that's if you hit 100. The whole time they working up to the scam. 'You don't lose until you quit,' that's what they keep saying. So as long as you had the money to keep playing, you could win. But the stakes keep going up. Like, you can run for $40, hit the double and win $80, but then the stakes go up. Now you have to bet $80 to play the game. I played from $5 for one roll to $20 to $40 to $80 to $160!"

Mel Harlston: "There was no question that my nephew was dead and no question that he was assaulting the vendors, but there were questions as to what this was actually about."
Mel Harlston: "There was no question that my nephew was dead and no question that he was assaulting the vendors, but there were questions as to what this was actually about."

This is no longer an orderly interview. Tiny has left his supine position and is now leaning forward, waxing more and more animated. The guys are talking over each other, competing in volume and herky-jerky gesticulations to explain the game.

"The game I witnessed," says Jonathan, "a guy walked up and asked how to play. The man said it was $5 a shot, but he let him have a first roll for $2. And he told him he had to get to 100 points to win the souvenir. Every time he'd roll, the man would stamp the points on this little card they give you. The guy won $20, and then the stakes went up, and that's when he started losing. I watched him run through all the money he had in his pockets in, like, five minutes, and he left looking for money to borrow. Everybody I talked to who played that game, they always left looking for money."

Was that the promise, that if you broke 100, you would double your money? "Either you could get a stuffed animal or money," answers Tiny, "and who's gonna take a toy over money? Even if you did break 100, I guarantee you by the time you count what you paid out your pocket, you haven't won much."

But getting to 100 wasn't easy. The closer players got to the mark, the lower the scores on each throw. In hindsight, the guys are certain that the operators had predetermined the outcome of the game by knowing what combinations of numbers were needed to get the players near the top but not over it. The operators, possibly skilled carny men who had worked sideshows, also employed sleight-of-hand.

"They count the balls real quick, and then they snatch 'em up before you have time to count them yourself," charges Tiny.

What if they had challenged the guy on the count? "We tried that," snorts Jonathan. "He say, 'It is what it is,' and he hurried and got them balls off the board."

"You on a $20 throw," says Tiny. "They say, 'Oh, 17, that's a bonus.' Now your stakes are up to $40, and then you hit a black spot. Or you might keep hittin' real good ... I got up to 95 points at $160 a throw, then I started getting all ones and twos. He had me lingering around 100 so long, so long, I said, 'I got to hit.' We had 98 points. How the hell can I not get 100 if I had 98 points? Thirty-two hundred, that's how much I would have won. Instead, I lost a G."

Big R found he couldn't even buy the wares outright. "They had a picture, like one of them velvet pictures of dogs playing poker. It was a big rottweiler and two little bitty rottweilers. So I walked up: 'How much for them animals?' I know they gonna charge me $150 or so, but I wanted them: 'Let me buy them.' 'No sir, you can't get 'em. You gotta play the game for these.' I ain't gonna spend money on no game! After that, me and my girlfriend walked around the block, and when we came back, they [Tiny and his friend] was losing. I seen him [Tiny] rolling balls and sweating. He started begging me for money: 'Oh, Big R, lend me $160. I'm at 90-some points.' I said, 'Man, listen. You know all this is a scheme. You know they gonna get you.' He said, 'Gimme the money anyway.' I gave him the money. That last throw, he was at 98 points. He threw the balls in there. We never did get to count the points. Whatever it came out to be, the man just said, 'You lose! Rack the balls up.'"

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