Ochberg Fellows in NYC
Submission Deadline: 2015 Dart Awards
Doyle and Dando pull into Shenanigan's, an exotic dance club in Pontiac.
They need money again.
He walks into the bar wearing blue jeans, a dark Carhartt jacket and tan boots. He moves to the middle of the bar and looks around, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness.
It is around noon, a time when the bar is usually packed with customers, including off-duty police and sheriff's officers. The dancers love when the police are around because it makes them feel safe. Shenanigan's features adult entertainment but no nudity. The dancers prance around in skimpy bikinis, on stage or between the tables, but no touching is allowed.
There are seven or eight dancers working this shift, but no bouncers are on duty. It's a light crowd, maybe 10 customers. No cops.
Nicki is onstage, wearing a white tiger outfit.
Montana, a redhead, sits at the bar in her usual chair facing the door, drinking coffee and waiting for her regulars. Montana has been dancing for nine years and knows how to play the game, how to be safe. There are mirrors on every wall and she uses them to watch her back.
Doyle looks around. The video security system is off because it needs to be rewired.
Manager Tracy Allin is on the phone, talking to her friend.
"What's going on?" she is asked.
"Nothing," Allin says. "We're dead here."
Thirty seconds later, Doyle returns wearing a camouflage face mask and carrying the shotgun. As soon as he walks through the door, Montana sees the gun and rushes into a back room.
Jennifer Sanchez, a 28-year-old waitress, is behind the bar, filling drink orders. She sets a root beer on the bar and starts to make another drink.
Doyle stands at the bar, pointing the gun at Allin and Sanchez.
Allin drops the phone and runs to the kitchen, then out the side door.
Doyle swings the gun and knocks over the root beer, splashing it on Sanchez.
She is staring down the shotgun barrel 2 or 3 inches from her face.
"This is a robbery," Doyle says calmly, standing next to the register. "Give me all of your money."
"I don't have any," Sanchez tells him. "I don't have any way to get into anything. I don't have a key to get into the register. I don't have a key to get into the box. I don't have any money on me. I just started."
She looks into his eyes, cold blue eyes that look odd -- like he is stoned, like he is dazing in and out in slow motion.
She thinks she is about to die. Thoughts flash through her mind. She sees her children, all three of them, standing over her grave.
Nicki, a 21-year-old who cuts grass during the summer and tried plowing snow in the winter but hated it and took up dancing, is the featured performer on stage, dancing to the Black Crowes, one of her favorite sets. Suddenly, she notices that nobody is paying attention to her.
And that never happens.
She watches Allin run to the kitchen and she sees Doyle pointing the gun at Sanchez.
She keeps dancing, afraid if she stops, it will cause an even bigger commotion.
Montana hides with three other dancers in a small dressing room, 5-by-15-feet, with a big mirror at one end for the dancers to do their makeup and hair. The door can barely open without scrapping the lockers on the other side.
"You guys, stay in here and shut up," Montana says, and explains they are being robbed.
"Are you for real?"
Somebody moves and her high heels click against the floor.
"Take your shoes off," Montana says.
She gets a cell phone out of her locker and calls the cops and the club's owner.
I wish I had my gun, she thinks, but her 22-caliber pistol is hidden in her truck. Several of the dancers carry guns for protection, but they got in trouble from management a few weeks ago for bringing the guns into the club.
One of the dancers wants to hide in the cabinet under the mirror, but they decide it wouldn't be fair to let one person hide and have the other three out in the open.
Instead, they try to arm themselves.
The iron has been on for hours and one dancer holds it in the air, ready to slam it against the bad guy's face.
Montana is armed with the cell phone.
The other two are holding their shoes, heels pointed out, ready to use them like spikes. "That will mess him up," Montana says.
After several minutes, the dancers are still hiding. The music is still playing.
They watch the door, afraid it's going to open.
When the music stops, they push a chair under the doorknob. "OK," Montana says. "There are four of us. Two of us are going to knock him down, the other ones are going to fry him with the hot iron."
Nicki is still dancing. She sees Doyle spin around and rush out, empty-handed.
The cops surround the building, but Doyle and Dando are gone.
"What's he look like?" the cops ask.
"He's a white trash punk on dope," Montana says. "He ain't big at all, and he looks skinny because he's been on crack so long. I mean, I could take him down. He's so small framed."
The cops continue to take reports and search for clues. After a few minutes, there is a report of another robbery less than a mile down the road, at Figa Brothers Market.
When the cops leave, the dancers stand around the bar, doing shots of hard alcohol.
A day later, it will take Sanchez an hour to write her statement because her hand is shaking so badly. She asks the police officer if he knows how long the nightmares will last.
Your contributions help the Dart Center nurture informed, innovative and ethical news reporting on violence, conflict and tragedy worldwide.
The Dart Center is a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.