(Copyright Bill Bauer 2013 All Rights Reserved)
When I returned from the office that afternoon, I could see my father through the bay window in the breakfast nook sitting on the swing in the backyard.
It was a rustic swing made of logs. Carolyn found it in a garden catalogue for us and the children to relax together in, especially after supper. Dad enjoyed sitting there because the yard was secluded and quiet and he liked the flowers, bushes and trees, especially the lilacs, willows and tall oaks. Carolyn had also installed one of those cement, Victorian fountains with circular bowls that provided the sound of water continuously gurgling and splashing into the stone basins.
She genuinely had tried from the day of my father’s arrival to be accommodating to him and to me. In retrospect, she knew who buttered her bread and that she would want to have my help and compassion for the day when her widowed mother eventually suffered illness or dementia. Yet, it was clear to me, if no one else, that she was still quite angry that I had invited Dad to come live with us, if only until he could be permanently situated in an apartment or condo. I had invited him before consulting her and that accounted for much of her anger. Since his arrival, she treaded the house quietly in a tense silence that made me feel guilty as though I’d been caught in an adulterous act and she wasn’t prepared yet to deal with my infidelity. I found her strange in that way.
I suppose I still felt insecure in our marriage after many years together given the fact that she’d chosen me over a star athlete at the university we attended. I saw her as the beauty and me the baldish, bespectacled wallflower. Before the children arrived and I was just out of medical school and busy with internships I worried that she might be banging away on an undergrad while I was sweating under the operating room lights. She gave me no reason to suspect her of cheating but I knew that several of my colleagues had discovered their wives having affairs during the long hours they were away.
Carolyn had the ability to give me a sudden look of wrath, and my feelings would freeze and I’d go numb inside. That afternoon, I watched her mix her famous Asian slaw a bit too aggressively on the countertop and bang the barbeque tools here and there too loudly on the stove to let me know in her passive-aggressive way how she really felt. I assume my father had done something earlier in the day that particularly irked her. He was too far gone to know what minor infraction he might have committed in her eyes and she seemed to prefer steaming over whatever he might have done for me to have any inkling of why she was so overwrought. It may have only been the fact that she just didn’t want him in our house. It didn’t seem to matter either that my father was seriously grieving over the death of my mother only two months before. Diagnostically, he was still considered to be in the early stages of dementia, forgetful, occasionally confused and what not, not as gregarious and talkative as he had been before retirement from his medical practice. He continued to participate and enjoy having conversations with us over dinner and in the breakfast nook.
I tried to creep up behind Carolyn and hug her in her shorts, bulging somewhat out of them now — I assumed as a result of overeating as a form of self-medication. I tiptoed quietly into the kitchen to make small talk into her neck and kiss her behind the ear as she liked for arousal, but nothing I did seemed to interest her and she shrugged me off. She drew her mouth tightly over her teeth and looked off into the air, her face at least ten years older in her anger than when she smiled. She had a lovely smile and a fetching laugh when she wanted to show them to me.
I had been looking forward to this Labor Day weekend all summer since it would probably be an uninterrupted one, except for the extreme emergency. I was the founding partner of our clinic and it was my turn to have a long holiday. I had the utmost confidence in my associates. As neurosurgeons, we were always on call, day and night. There would be accidents and strokes but we were a good team and our schedule seemed to work well for all of us. I had my tools and on call nurse at my fingertips.
Some of my staff, and then other medical colleagues have suggested
to me after the break-in that I should have known better. I counter that my specialty is the physical anatomy of the brain, not its psychological or forensic components. Many of my colleagues would disagree, and I suppose we could debate the issue ad infinitum. However, since the patient in point is my own father, I didn’t have that cool, scientific perspective I otherwise might have had. The essence of science, they say, is skepticism and wonder. I would add, especially with that complex organ, the brain. For example, is there any consciousness beyond its physical boundaries? I tend to doubt it but I have left room to wonder. I also have concluded that rationality in human nature is the exception, not the norm. As many people age as determined by their genetic make up and lifetime experiences, as they lose brain cells and memory, I’ve found that they tend to revert to very primitive and unconscious early childhood fears, beliefs and biases. I have wondered if that was Dad’s condition when the break-in occurred.
Thinking back, I might have given more notice to the fact that Dad’s brain was deteriorating faster than expected. I wrote off the changes to his getting older and my mother’s unexpected death – his being cranky, sometimes short in conversation, occasionally forgetful, uncharacteristically opinionated. Then again, it’s one thing to observe a patient with whom you have no emotional ties and another to look at your father and admit he’s slowly descending into dementia or cracking up. We tend to want to protect the ones we love, don’t we? And I’ve always loved my father. And still do. We also tend to overlook certain things, particularly when one’s father has had a long career as an outstanding and distinguished physician, a respected internist who worked long hours, loved my mother, never seemed to skip a beat with his patients and the vocation he honored. Always on top of it. He seemed favored for that reason by business types and enjoyed many corporate referrals. I think his relationships went back to college days where he was well liked and hobnobbed with the sons and daughters of the country club set. Our family home was a good seven thousand square feet, a Tudor style in a forested neighborhood where each house had its own architecture and landscape design. I particularly liked the reading nooks, bay windows, the massive stone fireplace in the great room and smaller but antique fireplace in the den. It wasn’t a mansion like those of some of his classmates but a solid home on a full five acres with a circular drive and a number of leaded glass windows.
He sent me to a day school where many of the contacts for my practice originated. Of course, we brain surgeons do rather well. It was my father though whom the club crowd knew and stood up to acknowledge when we walked together into a room. I couldn’t go anywhere with Dad but that we weren’t greeted by the president of this or the CEO of that. He was quietly charming with a warm, solid handshake and a well-lit smile for all.
Again, in retrospect, there were signs.
When mother first told me that Dad had bought a gun, an army surplus Forty-Five, I was amazed. My father? Yes, he loved to fish; we drove to Colorado and Wyoming many summers, standing in our rubber leggings in the cold waters, tossing line after line with flies made on the spot to tangle with ruthless, brilliant trout, tossing them back just as fast after admiring them, their brio, their flash, Roman gladiators of the streams.
But buy a gun? For what? He had never hunted. No, not Dad. We had several dogs growing up and Dad treated each of them with fondness, wrestled with them, nursed them when they were sick or injured, mourned them when they died. One of the hardest things I think he ever did was agree to put down Ginger, the cocker spaniel, blind, dying of stomach cancer, unable to hold her urine. I watched the tears mark his cheeks. We cried together, Dad, mom, Louie, my older brother who was killed in an auto accident in his twenties, my sister, Elaine, and I. In fact, I called Elaine after getting off the phone with mother and she thought it odd too that he had, of all things, bought a gun. Mother pleaded with me not to try to talk to Dad about the gun unless he became preoccupied with it or became confused or out of touch with things. He seemed to be thrilled to know he had one tucked away in the house.
Dad was a tall, broad shouldered man with thick fingers, too thick he often said for surgery, hardened by chopping wood, with the feel of the crust of homemade bread just out of the oven. When he took the blood pressure of a patient with white coat hypertension, he held their hand in that warm rugged palm of his, and usually the blood pressure went down. He had patients shit all over him during scopes and stood patiently by them until help arrived to clean up the mess. One day he had to change his white coat three times. When I was younger, I remember him returning home late at night when I was still doing my homework, leaving his black leather office shoes outside because they had been soiled by a patient.
He bought the Forty-Five, according to my mother, after a break-in
at their condominium complex in Boca Ratan. Mother had nagged Dad
into retirement at the age of 69. He had always been wary of moving to Florida and decaying in the humidity. In fact, I suspect he hated it. All those pushy, problematic New Yorkers, he’d say, or having to hang out with the crotchety, wrinkled crowd, complaining about their ninety-nine cent breakfasts that were supposed to come with a large orange juice, not a small. Mom was tired of Ohio winters; gray, drab and boring, she always said. Dad was a hiker but mom just wanted to lay back, read, play bridge and do nine holes of golf now and then, throw a cocktail party. With his thick white hair, healthy tan and haut couture glasses, Dad was quite handsome. He confided to me once that he enjoyed being courted by all the ladies at the Boca Raton condominium complex parties, though he reassured me that his loyalty to mother had remained in tact and always would.
The break-in at their Florida condo complex occurred on the fourth floor. A widow there made the mistake of inviting the employee of a fine arts firm to view her gallery of Impressionist acquisitions, some of them purchased at auction at Sothebys and Christies during that absurd flurry of activity in the ‘80’s when the Japanese overpaid for just about everything. One night when she returned from dinner, she surprised the employee, an Hispanic kind of man she later told her friends and the police, and he beat her severely, leaving her for dead. But she survived. She suffered a broken nose and jaw, two cracked ribs and was in a coma for four days. I am sure that the image of this woman curled on her kitchen floor inspired similar images of mother in the same circumstances.
Dad and mother visited her in the hospital several times a week and, fortunately, she was able to bounce back, old as she was. Just after that break-in Dad, without any prior conversation with mother, went to one of those sleazy pawn shops and paid cash for the Forty-Five.
Mother didn’t seem particularly alarmed by it. For all his congeniality, Dad never liked being questioned or second-guessed. Possibly the only times he snapped at mother was when she did so. No, she told me how he brought it home, laid it on the kitchen table, took it apart, cleaned it with one of her worn tea towels and oiled it. She watched him load the magazines, one slug at a time. After that, they never discussed it. He put it in the drawer of the end table by his bed and seemingly forgot it.
Another disturbing item was his intense obsessive bitterness about all the changes in the medical profession. As a partner in a medical office that catered to successful businessmen and their families he acquired a sense of how the world really worked. The firm had a cardiologist, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist, Dad, the internist, even a proctologist. He used to joke that many of the firm’s patients were striving to become perfect assholes.
I noticed in the last couple of years of his practice he often commented sarcastically about “Queen Hilary” this, “Queen Hilary” that, about HMO’s, about the prostitution of the medical profession by “corporate whores.” Dad was one of those people who rarely said anything negative about anything or anybody. “What can you say?” opening his hands into the air was what he usually said at the end of a difficult conversation. But he thought the corporate trend in medicine was bad for doctors and patients alike. His comments, by themselves, were certainly reasonable, and I agreed with most of them; it was the force and nastiness of how he expressed them later on that often surprised me.
I have been asked too why I didn’t require him to give it to me for safe keeping or just secretly confiscate it and pretend ignorance if he inquired about it or reported it missing. Actually, it never occurred to me. I was as distraught as he was about mother’s sudden stroke and death. A total shock and surprise. When I helped him pack their things and close the condo I had all but some of his clothes and personal items delivered to the storage unit they rented after they sold their home. I didn’t give the gun a second thought. I packed his two suitcases and carry-on bag item by item with him at my side and, if the gun had appeared, of course, I would have dealt with it then. I didn’t want a weapon in our house. If he had objected to selling it or giving it away, I would have sneaked it away when he wasn’t looking and either hidden it in the attic or the basement, given it away or sold it at a gun shop. Given his mental capacity, his confusion, I would have thought he might simply have forgotten about it. I had no idea.
The gun never entered my consciousness until he fired it in the hallway of my house. Guns were for other people to fool with. Certainly, they had nothing to do with me, nor I with them.
That afternoon, the afternoon of the break-in at our house, my two girls, Ginny and Helena, were Rollerblading with their neighborhood friends. I wanted a martini and I asked Carolyn if she would join me. T-bones were thawing in the frig, so we did those. The girls, ten and twelve, were happy with a frozen pizza. That’s what they had. Dad sipped some red wine and said he was tired. It was obvious he had lost much of his energy and zest. He typically went to bed early, usually around eight or nine o’clock. We put him up in the guest bedroom two doors down the hall from our room. The girls slept in another bedroom, a dormer, on the topmost floor up another short flight of steps just below the attic level. Our home had five bedrooms in all, including the dormer, a bit smaller but similar in size to the home where I grew up.
Carolyn and I and the girls sat on the patio that night until who knows when. The cicadas seesawed their instruments early, then the tree frogs sang. It was a calm, relaxing night, the breeze stirring the full leaves lit brightly by the moon.
After lights out, I again moved to put my arms around Carolyn but
she rolled away. I had hoped for a foray in the breeze with the windows open, though we typically made love in the morning when we were clean and fresh after having our showers and brushing our teeth and the girls were in school or off to a summer activity. Yet, I was aroused by the night and the prospect of three days of doing not much of anything. Laying there, I felt tormented by the memory of her breasts, the soft moistening patch of hair between her legs, of the opening of her thighs spontaneously to receive me. It was the aggravation over Dad, I was certain. A shame on such a romantic night. Too, I felt angry that she couldn’t give my father this brief period of time to adjust. Sure, it was inconvenient. He was, as she said, always there. Yet, he never really asked for much of anything. Usually, he made his own breakfast and cleaned his dishes, made his bed. She would come home from the club and find him vacuuming, weeding the flowers, raking the odd leaf. Yet, always there, she griped. She was used to having a housekeeper twice a week and before dinner parties, but she felt with Dad present, she just couldn’t be herself. Perhaps that’s how I felt when her mother — Susie Q. I call her — showed up for her unannounced visits and usually overstayed the five or six days beyond her scheduled departure. Took Carolyn from me, and gave Carolyn a chance to constantly be out of the house, off to a movie, shopping, visiting friends, leaving me in an empty den when I returned from rounds at the hospital or at the end of an office day.
I lay there restless that night, listening to the wind, inhaling its freshness. I began going over the women I worked with at the office, the nurses at the hospital, a woman doctor who admired me or, at least, admired my work. In the middle of those fantasies I thought I heard something snap in the backyard, a dry tree limb, leaves crackling underfoot. We had deer in the neighborhood. Often, opossums swung from limb to limb or a fox or raccoon passed through. I never worried about safety. Our development was on a large former estate protected by stone walls largely hidden by tall trees and foliage and was gated at the entrance with a guard in a small enclosure who monitored the comings and goings twenty-four hours a day.
I cocked my head to hear better. There were no sounds other than the night creatures and the leaves. I was eager to get back to my fantasies and thought of having an orgasm on my own. I could feel myself becoming erect at that thought and in the process of sliding my hand down my stomach I was shaken by a very loud explosion in the hall.
The first blast sounded like a bomb. Caroline lurched from her sleep and jumped upright beside me. I had carried a Forty-Five during my brief eighteen-month career as a draftee in the military at the very end of the Vietnam War and I knew its sound from the required practice rounds on the firing range at the Navy installation in Illinois where I was assigned just out of medical school. A Forty-Five fired at close range can almost take a man’s head off. My immediate thought was: Forty-Five.
“Call 911,” I whispered on impulse and harshly into Caroline’s ear, thinking for some reason that Dad had placed the barrel in his mouth or against the side of his head. Who else would have fired a Forty-Five in our house? The girls wouldn’t have had a clue.
I hurriedly grabbed my robe from off the floor by the bed as I lurched
towards the door and cautiously cracked it open.
Dad stood at the top of the stairs, squinting in the dim light and peering over the railing. His bedroom light was on and partially lit the hallway. He was naked and barefoot and I watched his white limp buttocks stiffen as he fired again. I couldn’t understand at the moment what was happening so I stood there paralyzed, peeking to see what I could.
I heard a younger man’s voice shout:
“No! No! You don’t need to shoot me anymore, mister. I give up. Don’t shoot!”
Again Dad fired. I must have heard another four or five shots, then a
click. Dad fumbled with the handle of the gun to eject the magazine. He picked up another magazine from the hallway table, shoved it into the handle. A standard 1911 .45 magazine holds about seven rounds with another in the chamber. He loaded the first round, then quickly unloaded it down the stairway in rapid fire order. I could hear the bullets shattering the stairway spindles and ricocheting off objects below.
“Okay, you black cocksuckers,” I heard him say calmly. “That’ll teach you a thing or two.”
“Dad,” I shouted. He turned on me with the empty Forty-Five and stepped back, surprised, as if awakening from sleep. I had never heard of him sleepwalking. He seemed instead to be startled, shocked.
“Niggers,” he said matter-of-factly, coming back to the moment. “Came in through the kitchen door. I heard them sneaking up the stairs.”
Amid the smoke and strong smell of cordite I noticed that despite the pure white hair on his head that his pubic hair was still a deep black.
I decided to temper him.
“Dad,” I said. “You’ve forgotten your robe.”
“Oh, good lord,” he laughed. “I surely have.”
He turned and walked towards his bedroom, the Forty-Five at his side. I switched on the hallways lights from the outlet just to the right of our bedroom door. That was my initial glimpse of what had transpired. There were two young hatless black men sprawled sideways on the stairs, both obviously deceased. I knew this in an instant. Their brain matter was splattered on Caroline’s flowered wallpaper and on the Asian carpet runner up the stairway. The bodies were twisted in shapes I didn’t know the human body was capable of arranging for itself — contorted sculptures, two nudes descending the staircase in reverse, ascending. Already I could smell the raw open flesh and bloody scent, the telltale odor of urine and BM of the newly dead.
Simultaneously, the girls began shouting, “Daddy, daddy!” from upstairs and I shouted back that they should stay in their room and lock the door. But they yanked it open instead and rushed wide eyed onto the small landing outside the dormer then down three or four steps within viewing distance of the scene below them. For an instant they froze, hands over their mouths. I pushed out my door and rushed to them to block their line of sight as quickly as I could. Behind me I could hear Carolyn charging through the bedroom door in the same direction and screaming hoarsely, “Get them out of here! Get them out of here!” in a voice too painful and wounded for me at this writing to recall.
She shoved past me, clinching her teeth, spitting her words.
“Goddammit, son of a bitch…” she spat, grasping the girls by their necks, turning their heads, ushering them ahead of her up the steps and back into their bedroom, blocking the views with her body, slamming the door and locking it behind her. From my other side I heard Dad close and lock his door behind him with a soft click.
In my career as a brain surgeon I have learned to remain calm and steady in the midst of delicate procedures. I automatically inhaled/exhaled
into this mode. I had conditioned myself to gain and hold presence of mind. I had the taught myself to shut down anxiety in a split second. I did this and
began to survey the overall scene. Even then, I did notice my fingers tingling and shaking ever so slightly. I held my right hand in front of my
face until it became still and under my fully conscious control.
There was no way I could walk down the steps through or around the bodies. It occurred to me from what I had read of the forensics of such situations that the police would want the scene of a shooting to remain as undisturbed as possible. After a moment of reflection, calm now, and in
surgical mode, I awkwardly swung my body over the railing of the landing as if on parallel bars, fearing the whole contraption would collapse under my weight. Like Dad, I am a tall man of a good weight for my height, and I did this as slowly and deliberately as possible. I crouched on the narrow ledge and slowly slid my body downward, one leg at a time, holding on to the bottoms of two spindles until the full weight of my body was anchored,
the heels of my hands solid on the ledge. I took a breath and then let go,
falling several feet, landing flat on my bare feet, falling backwards, banging my left buttock and hip, bouncing, tumbling onto the foyer floor.
I stood a moment vigorously rubbing my hip and tailbone. As I massaged my injuries I spotted two police cars, one, two, just like that, arriving at angles from different directions at the curb of the circular drive,
sirens blaring, emergency lights spinning in the shadowed light of the tall
pole lanterns we had chosen after a long search to decorate the front of the house.
Three policemen hopped out of their cars. Two hung back to cover the lead officer with their revolvers held out in front of them, crouching behind and following him as he drew his own revolver and crept forward onto the stoop and rang the doorbell with the end of his long flashlight and banged against the door in rapid fire order with the elbow of the same arm.
“Open the door! Open the door!” he kept shouting.
I limped towards the door, dressed only in the boxer shorts I had worn to bed, peeped through the eye hole, slid off the chain lock and cracked the door to get a closer look.
“Someone called 911 about a shooting,” he shouted excitedly, holding the lighted flashlight up and into my eyes. He was a tall, lean black cop with a trim mustache. He spoke with a slight accent, possibly Caribbean.
“Yes, there was a break-in. I believe there are two dead.”
“How would you know?”
“I am a physician.”
“Oh? Anyone currently in danger?”
“I don’t believe so, officer.”
He turned to one of policemen at his rear.
“Better check out the back. Need another ambulance. Chuck,
back me up.”
He turned again to me.
“Open the door slowly, very slowly, and walk backwards and to your left. We’re coming in.”
I did as he said, bumping into the small antique table that Carolyn had placed there topped by a rather flowery note pad and a tall pen decorated with a feather.
“Show me the victims,” he said, pushing his way in.
I hesitated. In my mind the victims were all upstairs locked in the dormer. I thought: One of the victims is looking you in the eye, officer,
goddammit. I pointed in the direction of the stairs. Even with the hall lights on, he moved the beam of the flashlight up the stairs across the bodies of the two young black men.
“Holy shit,” he said. “Who did this?”
“Where is he now?”
“Upstairs, in his bedroom.”
“Anyway up there ‘cept this stairway?”
“Yes. A stairway in the back of the kitchen. Leads to the other end of the hallway.”
“Luis,” he yelled to the third policeman, “check out in back. Take it slow. Chuck, call in for more back up. Anyone else in the house?” he asked me.
“Yes. My wife and two daughters. Locked in the dormer, top level, at the top of that small stairway.” I pointed to it.
“Are they injured?”
“Not visibly. Not that I know of.”
Officer Luis disappeared around the side of the house. He appeared to be Hispanic, much younger than the black cop. Chuck was an older white cop with a paunch . Their blue uniforms looked crisp, official, with large shining badges, brass buttons and other insignia.
“Ambulance and fire truck on the way,” Chuck reported from his walkie-talkie.
“Well, Luis,” the black cop sighed. “Here’s what we got. Looks like two fatalities. Check their pulses if you can tiptoe through this mess. I think we gotta get some lab people over here. There might be a guy downtown who could drive over here this time of night. Tell the paramedics they can come in but to hang loose a while. I want some photographs before they go carting these kids off. Uh, you, mister, uh doctor, I want you to stand right over there facing the wall, hands above your head and flat against
“Check him out, Chuck,” he said to the older cop. Luis returned from the other side of the house.
“Nothing back there I can see,” he said.
“Back door locked?” the black cop asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Luis, go through the kitchen and up the back stairs. Stay at the top for a minute. In the meantime, call for some more back up. There’s a guy up there with a weapon. I don’t know how many rounds, if he’s got any left.”
He grimaced to himself. He whispered something over his shoulder to the officer he called “Chuck.” I only heard the words, “cool as a cucumber,” and immediately wanted to slap his face as hard as I could.
I knew better than to argue with him, certain it was going to be a long night and was going to take a lot of time to sort through the details. My first thought was, There goes my long weekend. Not my finest moment but that passed through my brain.
I moved to the wall on the other side of the staircase and did what I was told.
“What happened here?” Chuck asked the back of my head as he patted the sides of my boxer shorts and slid his hands in the crevices between my thighs and my scrotum.
“A break-in,” I said.
“Yessir, that’s for certain. But what else?”
At that moment Dad stood again at the top of the stairs. Now he was wearing his faded blue pajamas. He could see I was being patted down.
“You leave him alone!” he shouted, his bottom lip quivering. “He’s my son. You keep your hands off him.”
“You…you…” the black cop shouted back at Dad. “You put your hands straight up and then flat on the top of your head.” He held his handgun with the barrel pointed at the ceiling.
“Go fuck yourself,” Dad said.
“You either do as I say or I’ll blow your ass right against that wall,”
the black officer said in a harsh voice that surprised me for all the anger I heard in it.
He began to slowly creep up the stairs, tiptoeing and trying to maintain his balance.
“Do it, Dad,” I demanded in the direction of the wall. “Just do it.”
“I don’t owe these bastards anything,” Dad roared.
“Dad, it doesn’t matter. Just do it, Dad. It’s the protocol. Just do as they say. You have to do as they say.”
“Motherfuckers,” Dad said, slowly lifting his hands. When the black officer reached the landing, he pushed Dad slowly but firmly against the wall.
“Now you turn around, put your hands flat against the wall and keep your mouth shut unless I ask you a question. Hear me?”
“What a mess,” Chuck said quietly to no one. “What a goddamn mess.”
I found myself agreeing with him. A horrifying mess. But, I thought,
Maybe not quite in the way you think.
Glancing sideways through the open door I saw a small fire truck enter my view of the street beyond our drive and heard it whoosh to a stop.
Several firemen jumped off the rig and one of them, hatless, carrying a black
medical bag quickly stepped towards the house. From the other direction another ambulance arrived from the opposite direction and stopped on the
other side of the fire truck, its emergency lights flashing in the background.
The paramedics from the first ambulance pushed a gurney over the stone of the walkway to the front door. I couldn’t see Dad’s face for the large frame of the black officer.
“Chuck,” he yelled over his shoulder. “stay down there with the other guy.”
Luis walked up next to the black officer.
“One more thing, Luis. I’m going to have the doctor stay down here and sit on the floor a minute with Chuck. You backtrack to the kitchen, see if anything else is there, and then join back up with me.”
“Got it,” Luis said.
Officer Chuck pulled me around and I sat on the floor as he directed me to do. The blood and splatter had not reached the wall.
Chuck followed the black officer’s tiptoe routine around and through the two bodies. I looked up and saw viscera oozing through the partially opened shirt of one of the bodies.
“Okay, now, mister who, mister what?” the black officer asked my father.
“I am Dr. Spencer Drake.”
“You a doctor too, huh?”
“That I am.”
“Lots of doctors here. Hey, you do this?” he asked, then waved his hand to erase what he’d said.
Officer Chuck now also stood next to him.
“Chuck, I want you to witness this. He motioned for my father to turn around and face him. Then, to my anger and surprise, he read my father his rights. It was my understanding that this was not done until a person was under suspicion or being placed under arrest.
“You understand all that?”
“Yes, I do,” my father whispered.
“Now, where is the weapon?”
“It’s there,” Dad pointed. “In the bedroom. On the lamp table by the bed.”
“Chuck, I want you to go in first. Now, doctor, you go next, hands on your head, and I’ll be right behind you.”
I learned later that Carolyn made the 911 call, locked herself with the two girls in the bedroom, then used her cell phone to call a friend. Carolyn pushing past me as she pulled the two girls behind her down the hall towards the back stairs was the last time I’ve seen her or the girls since that night. I have only talked to her twice. She tells me the girls are still in shock and are
seeing a therapist. He has advised Carolyn that they are not to speak to me or to Dad yet, especially over the phone. I guess I can understand that.
The two officers questioned Dad alone in his bedroom, allowed him to dress, then led him in cuffs down the back stairs once Carolyn and the girls were gone. I understand they were driven to police headquarters and then released. Our family friend, Christina DeCarlo, picked them up and took them to her home.
The black officer came back into the hallway trying to count the shell casings on the floor without touching them. I sat uncomfortably on the floor for more than an hour while two men from the crime lab gathered evidence and the two bodies were removed.
They covered the stairs and hallway with plastic sheets. The black officer had returned through the kitchen and now stood at the bottom of the stairs looking up.
“I ain’t never seen the likes. Complete overkill. Looks like a massacre.”
I pled my father’s case.
“What else would you expect, officer? Burglars in the house in the dark. A senior citizen still grieving the recent death of his wife. His whole world upside down? He has a right to…”
“…defend himself. I know all that. But this, this…mess. Looks like an execution, a slaughter.”
“I think it’s called fear,” I said. “It’s a natural response to danger.”
“Humm. Ain’t for me to decide,” the black officer smirked, rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“I didn’t know it was routine to take in a crime victim, handcuffed,”
I said quickly.
He snapped his head in my direction and looked directly into my eyes.
“This don’t look like no routine thing to me. Them boys didn’t have a weapon between them. No guns, no knives, no tools. Nothin’. It was like he was waitin’ to somethin’ like this to happen. An ambush.”
“Quite an assumption. That’s not my father.”
“Mister, uh, doctor, you must not know your father very well.”
He walked me up the back stairs to my room and ordered me to dress. Though my father had admitted to the shootings, he told me I might also be under suspicion, or at least, I needed to give a statement. I had blood on my body.
When I arrived at the station I was seated in a locked interrogation room for questioning and to give a statement. The officer was a young woman, pleasant enough and businesslike. She asked me to write a brief account. I was careful not to include what I had heard the boy shout to my father for fear it would be misinterpreted. I was already concerned that the shooting was being twisted into something it wasn’t. It was certain to be on the news and I’ve been told by several of my media friends that the details of such incidents are often leaked by busy-body cops who relish the celebrity of the moment.
I asked for a telephone and to my surprise she brought me one from the front desk and plugged it into to a jack by the table. I called a former
patient and friend, Joe Derwin. I saved his life several years before by removing a large brain tumor. A complete recovery. It was benign but located in a challenging area. I think of the surgery as one of my masterpieces. He had heard from his other surgeon friends that my work was impeccable and I’d never met anyone as appreciative. After rehab, he
invited me to his club and we became racket ball foes. A nice dinner at his
house two or three times a year. A football game in his paneled cherry
wood Victorian den.
I enjoy the perq of having other professionals as friends: doctors, lawyers, financial wizards, developers, the collegiality of those who took the
time in their lives to develop their talents, the gifted people of the world who get real things done. Joe is one of them.
He arrived an hour later, bouncy, bright, I thought for two in the morning. I read him my statement and given the situation he thought it was fine. I asked to see my father and was refused. He was being held at least until a hearing in the morning. At eight o’clock Joe made some phone calls and the same female officer who questioned me brought Joe and I from the
waiting area near the front desk back to the cell where my father was being
While Joe and I waited for the cell door to be opened, I felt myself tearing up. I was exhausted from lack of sleep, horrified by the killings
and mayhem and frustrated by the all night wait. Here was my father, the
most caring and responsible physician I have ever known, slumped on a cot
in a jail cell, elbows on his knees, head hung between them.
He looked up as we entered, gray and haggard. He had been weeping.
His eyeglasses lay upside down on the cot beside him.
“Son,” he nearly wailed, “there’s something wrong in the world,” then wept openly in his hands. So did Joe Derwin, who has probably handled more criminal cases than F. Lee Bailey.
Later that afternoon a judge sitting alone in a small courtroom with a clerk and a young blond female prosecuting attorney ordered Dad to undergo a three day psychiatric evaluation at the jail. The judge explained that there would be an investigation and if warranted a case presented to the Grand Jury. Charges might be filed. Did he understand? He nodded, head bowed, and left the courtroom led without cuffs by an officer out a side door.
Dad was released after the three day stay at the jail into my custody. And so we wait.
Carolyn is gone now, gone with the two girls to North Carolina where Susie Q. has a fancy condo on the beach. I can see them head wagging from shop to shop, gunching and jawboning and flipping through the racks of clothes. Both of them wear those long skirts to cover their hips and let their tits hang down without bras to let them swing free. With that much gravity they should be allowed to flop. I can just hear them plotting the intricacies of the divorce, custody, child support, who gets this and that. Follow the dollar, you get the dollar. She should have stuck with the quarterback but I guess she didn’t have the guts.
I really hadn’t realized until now how much I have come to dislike her. I can’t pinpoint the actual time and day when I noticed that my bright, cute sorority girl had suddenly emerged from a bedroom doorway dressed as a young old bag more interested in planning the next ballet ball over lunch with her friends than jumping with me into bed.
I miss the girls, I really do. I must admit, I don’t miss Carolyn. On the Q.T. I’ve been dating two pretty steamy surgical nurses I’ve known for years and always felt some affection for. I don’t know how attracted they are to me physically but it doesn’t really matter. Probably he doctor thing, my lucrative practice, all that. As long as my sex life is still active, it’s okay by me. I doubt that Carolyn and I will ever get together again. It’s as though
“the stairway incident” as Dad and I now call it has effiscerated something between us. Carolyn claims the two girls are too traumatized to talk to me.
I’ve got an attorney working on that.
Joe arranged a meeting with the DA. He’s a neat, nice looking young man who stood to greet me in his office with a handshake and a genuine smile from across his desk. He has a clear window view behind him of the
city from his tenth floor office. From his coloration I thought he might be Hispanic, Italian, Greek or Eastern European, slightly dark with thick black hair, a trim build, as trim as I would like to be if I had the time. Joe says he’ll no doubt be running for a higher office soon, maybe an appointment to state D.A., then for governor. I can’t see it. Not in this state.
“Please sit down,” he said. “My secretary may have told you I have an appointment in ten minutes. Joe talked with me about your father. It’s a
tragedy. Beyond that as you are aware I can say very little. I hope, however, I can answer some of your questions.”
As I started to speak, he held up his hand. “Before you begin, I am
completely familiar with your father’s case. We are still waiting for the investigation to be completed before deciding whether or not to bring it before the Grand Jury. Once we make the decision we can move the case rather quickly. A situation like this, all over the news, requires a swift
He spoke with a slight accent. I remembered him from his appearances on television during the campaign, an accent, very slight, but still there. I didn’t know much about him. I voted against him.
“I guess I am puzzled and confused,” I said. “It would seem to me on its face that, clearly, there is no case at all. I mean, here you have an older man who’s in the early stages of dementia, being awakened in the darkness from a deep sleep, confused, so confused in fact that he walks into the hall unclothed. He sees two dark figures apparently rushing up the stairs towards him. He fired as I would, by instinct, as a matter of self-preservation. You’re taught that if you feel threatened you shoot to kill. No hestitation,
no wing shots. Stop the attackers in their tracks. I can’t see that a crime has
been committed. Clearly, Dad shot in self-defense.”
He looked at me across the desk with a slight smile and the cold eyes of someone well trained in forensics, unlike most of the glad handers who dabble in being self-righteous and looking ahead for political gain. He breathed in and out slightly before speaking.
“Clearly?” he asked and sighed. “This case presents several issues that are under discussion by many diverse groups. For one, there is the ferocity of the shooting. There are seven rounds in a .45 clip and
as I recall he fired all of them from, not just one, but from two clips into just about every part of the two bodies. Several in the face and head. One of them, was shot twice directly, if you’ll excuse me, in the balls. Was he right to defend himself? Did he need to, as some have written in the press, mutilate the bodies? Have you seen what a .45 round will do to someone’s head at close range? I’m not judging. I’m repeating the questions. Is this something I can decide or is this something a jury should decide? Along with the issue of competence. I have no answers yet. We are studying the law. I don’t have the answers yet. These were pretty young kids. One of them was only fifteen. Does this make a difference? To some. They invaded your home. Your father reported that they were ‘charging’ up the stairs at him in a threatening way. Many things to consider. Your father has never been charged or convicted of a crime. From all appearances he has led a pristine life. He has received many honors in his profession. He is revered among his patients and so on. There is some evidence to indicate a cognitive disturbance. We’ll do our best here to take all of these factors in account. That’s all we can do.”
With that, he stood again and reached over his desk to shake my hand.
I rose slowly recognizing I was being dismissed. As far as I was concerned he had committed to nothing. A waste of time.
Within a week he had submitted the case to the Grand Jury. I suspected he would have, no doubt under political pressure from minority groups and the ACLU. I didn’t tell Dad about the meeting at the time. He seemed too fragile to discuss much of anything. To my surprise the Grand Jury did not return an indictment. They found the shootings to be justified and Dad not to be responsible for his actions. He was as unhappy about the latter finding as was the black community. There have been ongoing protests at the courthouse. Complaints of excessive force. Racism. Letting rich people off the hook. Dad’s stopped reading the papers or watching the news. A civil case filed by the two young men’s families is going forward.
At the time of the shooting Dad was not legally in violation of any concealed weapons laws nor did any of us know, and we still do not know, if he would have been judged to be mentally defective. Dad certainly does not think so.
The issue is whether or not he committed a crime and he has never been charged with committing one. He was the one who was attacked. The grand jury agreed and in effect exonerated him. Because of that and all that he and my family have been through, I have asked Joe Derwin to file a formal complaint against the black officer with the Police Commission and to look into a lawsuit for false arrest against the city and the D.A.
It’s spring here in Ohio. I have taken a sabbatical until I can sort through my family matters and the civil case. Dad and I walk together in the evenings, usually after dark, mostly discussing my patients and the surgeries I have performed over the years. I carry a .38 now, just in case.
Dad’s friends have been sympathetic though a bit more distant than I expected. Some say they’d have done the same thing. Others say nothing or simply nod their heads in agreement at whatever he says though he rarely discusses that night in any detail except when we meet with his lawyers. Usually, he is sullen and quiet, impatient to be done with the meetings. He sits out on the swing when the weather is nice. I’m not sure he is always with me. I don’t know where his thoughts are. He’ll make what I think are irrelevant comments about the topic of a conversation or wander off onto tangents about mop heads and kikes and I need to bring him back into the present. Sometimes he cracks me up. The other day, out of nowhere, he asked:
The cardiologist in Dad’s practice.
“Sure, with all the show dogs.”
“The man is an absolute idiot,” he said. “Can’t find his ass from a hole in the ground.”
The house has been thoroughly cleaned by one of those companies that specializes in cleaning and sanitizing homes after fires, floods, homicides and suicides. We have reclaimed it, Dad and I. New carpeting and wallpaper. I still sleep in the master bedroom, and why shouldn’t I? It’s my home. Dad’s in the guest bedroom where he slept the night of the stairway incident. I am going to try my best to keep the house. I have Dad’s power of attorney in all matters and I think I can use some of his money to buy out whatever interest Carolyn might have in the property.
We go now and then to the movies or out to dinner. Dad’s taken quite a liking to Northern Italian cuisine. He enjoys the pasta, the greasier the better. Used to be mostly vegetarian, except for the occasional salmon filet or piece of chicken.
I must admit I have developed a somewhat different perception of the brain in relation to human thought. I find it surprising and troubling that after talk therapy with a trusted colleague and experimenting with a number of psychotropic medications I have been unable to rid myself of reoccurring dreams of the two dead bodies. In my dreams, the two intruders have the bodies of very small boys, perhaps as little as seven or eight years old. They are standing nude in their black bodies on my blue grass lawn, their penises large and swollen, though not erect, hanging close to their ankles. Similarly, their testicles appear as large as grapefruits. They keep waving at me to stop, stop, don’t take any more pictures. But the camera flashes and they explode piece by piece from inside, first the forehead, eyeballs splattering, then the scrotum, the heart, the intestines. As I lay awake after the dream, sweating, my heart pounding, beating rapidly, I find myself counting the rounds Dad fired: boom, one; boom, two, and so on. After the first dream of the break-in and counting the number of explosions, I double checked the civil lawsuit and found that I count the exact number of rounds Dad fired.
And I have begun to stutter again, something I have not done since I was four years old.
The other afternoon sitting with Dad on the swing going over our strategy for the next day’s testimony I finally told him about the conversation I had with the D.A. He asked me to describe him and I provided a brief imitation of his accent.
“A wetback,” Dad said.