Robert Patrick Wood grew up on the mean streets of Chicago, climbing over roofs to dodge junkies on his way to school. “One day, I got cornered, and then I learned how to fight back,” he said.
On Sunday morning, Wood put that street schooling to use.
When a man pointed a gun at him and his boss in an Upper 9th Ward warehouse, he swatted away the would-be armed robber with nothing more than his hands and his iron-willed voice.
The encounter lasted a matter of minutes, according to Wood’s boss, Jerry Schiffman, 61.
The two men were inside Fountain Services’ warehouse in the 1400 block of Montegut Street about 11 a.m. Sunday.
A gate in the back of the warehouse — which supplies dispensing machines for soft drinks, beer, wine and liquor — was open, and Schiffman said a young man wearing a white bandana over his face walked into the warehouse with a gun and told Wood, “Give me everything in your pockets.”
Wood, 62, wasn’t impressed.
“I told him, ‘Get the hell out of here. You ain’t getting nothing,’ ” Wood recalled.
Schiffman, who had been on the phone with another warehouse worker, then made his presence known.
“Get out of here. The police are on their way,” Schiffman told the stick-up man, who then turned the gun on him.
That was when Wood sprang into action, almost knocking the gun out of the would-be robber’s hand. Finally, the man gave up, fleeing from the warehouse. Both men inside quickly shut the gate and called police.
“We were able to run him off. Why he didn’t shoot us, we have no idea,” Schiffman said.
Then Schiffman and Wood waited.
Schiffman said it took 20 to 25 minutes for officers to arrive at the warehouse, which is in a secluded area underneath an elevated portion of North Robertson Street. When they did arrive, he said, they were polite and thorough.
Schiffman said he and his employees now have to worry about the possibility of a serial armed robber in the area.
On March 30, another business in the same cluster of warehouses on Montegut Street was held up at gunpoint. That same night, a group of filmmakers inside the nearby Indywood Cinema were robbed. On March 31, a business in the 1200 block of Montegut also was robbed in a similar manner.
Now, Schiffman said, his employees will always have to be aware of the threat of a robbery.
“It’s a shame, this one little dude,” he said. “Of course, we have to change the way we do things.”
Aaron Looney, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department, said investigators “have not ruled out the possibility” that the various robberies are related.
He said an officer was dispatched within two minutes of the first 911 call Sunday, but he was not sure when the first unit arrived on the scene.
Police described Sunday’s would-be robber as a black man about 5 feet, 9 inches tall with hazel eyes. He had a chrome automatic handgun. Schiffman said he appeared to be less than 20 years old.
Schiffman said this was the first time in 36 years working in the cluster of warehouses that he’s been the target of a robbery. Even after Hurricane Katrina, his business was unharmed — which he credits to Rocky, a shepherd-Labrador mix.
When a copper thief targeted a nearby business a year ago, Schiffman said, police told him to buy a gun and added, “Whatever you do, don’t get rid of that dog.”
Then Rocky died. Now Schiffman has only his .45-caliber Glock — which he’s keeping by his side inside the warehouse — and Wood.
“He’s going to get Employee of the Month,” Schiffman said. “He’s a little crazy, but he saved my life.”