Authors: Cylin Busby
“We’ve got a shooting injury to the head, neck, face,” someone was yelling. “It’s a police officer.” The last thing I heard was a man’s voice saying, “We’re losing him, let’s go!”
Then the pain stopped at once.
It’s dark and I hear this beautiful music playing. My eyes are closed, but there is light, like a calm blueness. More a sensation than a light. And the sensation is good; I want for nothing. It’s warm and calm and peaceful. All I can think is that I want to stay here. Everything is okay now. The worry and fear I’ve been feeling about my family—
Are they safe? Am I safe
?—the anger about being shot, it all melts away. I just want to stay here.
Then suddenly I’m whacked in the face. And I’m not in the hospital anymore.
I’m in the Hyde Park Police Station.
It’s 1961. I’m eighteen.
I’ve just been punched in the face by the station chief. We’d been brought in for questioning, but he came in swinging. It was my good fortune to be the closest to the door, and the first one hit. He smacked a couple of the other guys, too, but by now they were ready and blocking. He couldn’t punch for shit, it was just a surprise to get whacked in the face by this big cop.
I rub the side of my face, my jaw aches.
Why does it hurt so bad
The chief starts yelling, “How many points do I get? How
many?” This is not good—it means he knows all about the points system.
At my high school, we had a loosely associated gang, with a core of maybe twenty members. No name, no dues, no colors, just East Dedham guys—the neighborhood just south of Boston where I grew up. Dedham was then—and still is—a slum. I didn’t know it until years later, after I’d already moved away, when I read a
article about the East Dedham Square slums being torn down. Slums in the ghetto of Boston. News to me.
East Dedhams were white, Irish Catholic, and dirt poor. And we thought we were bad. Sharpened Garrison belt buckles and chain dog collars—you could swing these or wrap them around your fist for punching, also snap the chain quick on an opponent’s head. We’d fight with just about anybody who wasn’t from Dedham, and had set to with guys from Natick, Norwood (our archenemies), and Malden. The Malden fight happened during a hockey game and that was where I acquired the nickname “Strangler” for choking some loser. He passed out and we took off before he came to. I read the paper the next day, fearing I’d killed him, but there wasn’t anything about it—a great relief to me. We’d also invaded a house party in an upper-class section of town—we left the birthday cake spinning around on the phono and a couple of pretty college boys with lumps and abrasions.
Every time you got into a fight, you got a “point” for each guy you punched. It was strictly honor system because you were too busy defending yourself to observe anything else. Word of our
point system got around. Maybe it made other guys more afraid, or maybe it just made them hate us more. One night I was riding around with my car full of friends when we saw another friend, Mike, with his car full of guys and decided to trail them. Turns out they’re going to Sunnyside, a section of Hyde Park. The Sunnyside boys and the group from East Dedham didn’t get along. We’d ride through their turf yelling insults at them, and they’d return the favor.
Mike’s car stops and his guys pile out, grabbing three Sunnysider locals and laying some lumps on them. Before my crew can get into action, Mike’s running back to the car and we all leave the scene. We’re hanging out at Dave’s Sub Shop about an hour later when the Boston Police arrive in force, backed up by our local fuzz, and they grab us all. They search my car and find a huge butcher knife in the trunk that I’ve never seen before (it took me years to realize they’d dropped it on me). Possession of a deadly weapon. So we’re off to Hyde Park district station for questioning. It’s not my first time there.
After the chief gives us all a few knocks, he rants at us about the “point” system, assault and battery charges, the deadly weapon they found in my car. Turns out they don’t really care about the Sunnyside fight, they want to shake us for names of some guys in West Roxbury who may or may not have been involved in a more serious crime. We don’t even know the guys, and besides, we won’t talk. So it’s off to court we go.
We show up in suits and ties, the Sunnyside victims in
engineer boots, jeans, and muscle shirts showing off their tattoos. The prosecutor takes a look at his little lambs and gets a continuance—moving the court date to another day so that he can get his clients in order. Next date, everybody shows up in their Sunday Mass duds and the tragic facts are presented by their side. Mike and his guys hire an attorney who will later become the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. I hire a guy who’s done some real estate law for my parents. Cost fifty dollars—my life savings at the time. He puts me on the stand to defend myself. I’m sweating bullets but somehow get through it. Swear the knife isn’t mine, and I mean it.
The judge finds Mike and his friends guilty, me and my crew not guilty. But the judge has seen me in here twice before and has something to say to me personally before we’re led out of the courtroom. “Join the service, boy,” he says. “Your next appearance before me, you’re headed to Village Avenue”—the address of the local jail. I go home that night and think about what he said. It wasn’t really a choice. I went down to enlist in the Air Force the next day.
When I woke up, I didn’t know what day it was. I knew I was in a hospital. Polly was there. Then I remembered being shot. I looked at all the tubes, IVs, hoses, and machines attached to me. There were tubes going in and out of my stomach and chest for some reason too. Was I shot there? I couldn’t remember, couldn’t figure it out. Polly started talking to me.
“You’re okay. You were in surgery for twelve hours, now you’re in the ICU.” I remembered seeing parts of my face and my teeth in the passenger seat of the car. I remembered the doctors talking about me at Falmouth. I motioned for paper and wrote Polly a note: “Don’t let me live like this.”
Polly just gave me this look and didn’t say a word. I knew she couldn’t pull the plug. Later I learned that when Rick Smith got to the house the previous evening to bring her to the Falmouth ER, he’d told her I’d been shot but not badly. He was trying to ease her into it. When she arrived at the hospital, she thought I would be wearing an eye patch or something. She couldn’t believe that my chin was hanging down onto my chest. The bones on both sides of the lower jaw had been discontinued—not broken or fractured; they were gone. Most of my teeth were gone, or broken off at the root. My tongue was nearly severed. I had metal fragments from the lead and from the car and glass fragments from the side and front windows in my face and eyes.
I’d been lucky to be hit where I was. Had the bullets passed an inch higher or an inch farther back, I would have bled to death or died from brain damage. It seemed the idiots who tried to kill me were pretty amateurish. First of all, it’s almost impossible to aim accurately from a moving vehicle, and this becomes a lot harder when you’re shooting at another moving vehicle. Second, they got too close. They used a shotgun loaded with double-O buckshot. Inside the casing for each shot are nine 32-caliber copper-plated lead pellets. The object of double-O buckshot is that, once fired,
the nine pellets will spread out into an ever-widening pattern. If they’d been six feet away, the bullets would have spread sufficiently enough to literally blow my head apart. Instead, they pushed the gun almost to the window of my car and the nine bullets followed a two-inch-wide path through my face.
Had those rounds been an inch lower, I would have suffered from little more than a singed beard and a busted-up car. But then I guess the second blast that came through the top of the door and the roof might have hit me since I wouldn’t have been knocked over into the passenger seat. I could have gone around and around with these kinds of thoughts, but it wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere. I was still faced with the simple facts: Someone shot me. They wanted to kill me. And here I was, still alive.
FROM our hiding spot in the attic, we couldn’t hear anything going on downstairs, but we waited like Kelly had told us to do. The insulation pricked my skin, and I was careful to balance my bare feet on a wooden rafter so it wouldn’t touch me. After a few minutes I was tired of hiding and wanted to know what was going on. My feet were numb and tingly from crouching down and not moving too much. But I knew Eric and Shawn would kill me if I made a sound, so I stayed quiet.
Finally Kelly called up to us. “You can come down, it’s okay,” she said. We climbed down the ladder and stood in the kitchen, watching her face. “He’s a cop,” she explained. “He’s going to wait outside the house all night, so you don’t have to be afraid.”
Something wasn’t right. Who was this guy who had come to our house in the middle of the night? And if he was really a cop,
like Dad, where was his uniform? How come we’d never seen him before? And why was he going to be outside all night?
“Okay, you guys have to go to bed now,” Kelly said. She seemed scared, and it was making me nervous. Eric and Shawn looked at each other, then back at Kelly. She couldn’t tell us what to do, not unless Mom said it was okay. “Tomorrow morning, we’re going to the beach early. Your mom wants us to be in public so nobody can mess with us.”
I didn’t understand what she was talking about. “When’s Dad coming home?” Shawn asked.
“I don’t know,” Kelly told him. She sat at the kitchen table and put her hands down on the wooden top. She moved her palms over the table, as if cleaning off imaginary crumbs. “Your uncle Joe will meet us at the beach tomorrow, and then we’ll go see your mom and dad, okay?” She looked like she was going to cry. “You all need to go back to bed, this guy is going to be here all night, and we’ll leave for the beach early.” It sounded more like she was talking to herself.
“What if Mom comes home and he accidentally shoots her?” Eric asked. “Does he know that Mom is coming home?”
“He’s not going to shoot her!” Kelly snapped. “She’s not coming home tonight, so don’t worry about it.”
Eric and Shawn went back up to their bedroom and I went into mine without asking any more questions. During her stay with us, Kelly had been sleeping in my room on the bottom bunk
of my bunk bed. I climbed up the little wooden ladder and lay down on the top bunk, pulling the covers up tight under my chin. I listened to Kelly in the living room, walking around, and watched as car lights came and went down the street. How did she know Mom wasn’t coming home? I hadn’t heard the phone ring.
It was after one in the morning. I was never allowed to be up this late unless I was really sick. Something about that was thrilling, but I also felt bad. I knew it was important to try to go to sleep quickly. If my mom came home now, I would have to pretend to be asleep or Kelly would get in trouble. As I drifted off, I thought about what Kelly had said about going to the beach early the next day. So no one could mess with us.
The next morning, I heard people talking. It was early. As I climbed down from the top bunk, I noticed that Kelly’s bed was still made. I could smell cigarette smoke. In the kitchen, my uncle Joe was sitting at the table. He was a big guy, with sandy auburn hair and eyes so light blue, it seemed there was no way that he and my dark-eyed, dark-haired mom could possibly be brother and sister.
“Hey, kiddo,” he said, exhaling smoke from his cigarette. Eric and Shawn were already sitting there, eating cereal, and Kelly was there too, still wearing the clothes she had on the night before. I looked out the window and saw the hot rod car was still there, and one police car, too.
“Is that Dad?” I asked.
“What?” Kelly said, looking out the window. “No, that’s someone else.”
“Whose car is that?” I pointed to a new light brown two-door car parked in our driveway.
“That’s mine,” Uncle Joe said. He was drinking coffee and looked tired.
Kelly poured me a bowl of cereal and put in too much milk. I didn’t like it that way, and milk made my stomach hurt, but I sat down anyhow. “Where are Lauren and Cassie?” Shawn asked about our two cousins.