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A Gun to My Head
There is nothing more unnerving than having a gun pressed firmly against your head while a fat fucking moron wearing some cheap skunk cologne sits at the other end of it, making jokes as his sausage-like finger massages the trigger. This was where I found myself on a cold and misty Wednesday night in November of 1987. On that day, with thousands withdrawn in hundred-dollar bills, I followed my standard routine of counting, banding, and bagging the money. Then I stuffed it into the glove compartment until later when I met up with the bookies. This regular routine went on unchecked by my employer, the auditors, and the bankers for many years… and for millions of dollars.
When I arrived in the parking lot, his Cadillac was idling, sending a steady stream of exhaust into the cool evening air. I parked parallel to his car, keeping four empty parking spaces between us. From this distance, I could barely make out his interior dome light through the fog-shrouded windows. I killed the engine, left the keys in the ignition, and rubbed my temples. I had made similar payments to five different bookies on five different days of the week over the last few years, but I never got used to it. I was never comfortable, always on edge. That night, like so many previous ones like it, I thought about reaching under the front seat for my Smith & Wesson. And, like so many previous nights, I dismissed the urge. I just wanted to pay the night’s debt and go home.
It was one of many bookie collection nights that took place in the church parking lot of Our Lady of the Assumption in Lynnfield, an affluent suburb north of Boston. Earlier in the day, I used my lunch hour to visit several Meridian banks: one in Seabrook and two in Hampton, New Hampshire. Each bank had grown accustomed to my weekly cash withdrawals. I handed the smiling tellers a check made out to me, drawn on my employer’s account, and cashed it. It was just too simple. I got into Fat Fuck’s Cadillac, as I had too many times before, with a bag of cash. That night’s collection payment was $15,000.
He was dressed in Puma sweatpants with a matching food-stained sweatshirt, decorated with a large cross on a thick gold chain. His greasy hair was combed straight back. He had uneven sideburns, a mustache, a goatee, and a copious growth of fur sprouting from each ear. With his gun to my head, I sat with the bag of cash in my lap, listening to him recite Michael Corleone’s lines from the restaurant scene in the first Godfather movie. From the corner of my eye, I saw strands of spittle spray across the dash.
“I gotta go to the bathroom, and then… boom! Sollozzo gets it right between the eyes,” he yelled, pressing the gun harder against my head. He acted as if he was auditioning for the part. My mind raced. What if he sneezes, belches, or farts, causing a momentary spasm and loss of control to his trigger finger?
“Boom-fucking-boom, and the pig goes down,” he continued.
With his two imaginary hits completed, all 300-plus pounds of him rocked the car as he pretended to run in place, escaping from the Italian restaurant. The steering wheel, embedded in his gut, restricted his movements. Throughout his play-acting, bad jokes, and repulsive jovial manner, I stared at the steady work of the intermittent wipers, as the cold muzzle remained pressed against my temple.
The day darkened, leaving only the hint of passing vehicles beyond the parking lot. I closed my eyes and pictured myself back in my truck, driving home to see my wife and two daughters, wishing I could escape this nightmare that had consumed me for years. The pressure of the metal against my head suddenly eased, and the gun slipped out of his hand and bounced on the front seat between us. Fat Fuck was still running in place, his legs pumping, his feet dancing off the pedals. He had feigned dropping the gun, like in the restaurant scene, and then pantomimed the rest of his escape. If I were not in such a perpetual state of anger at the world and myself, I would have laughed.
“Are you fucking done?” I asked.
He stopped running, but his Jell-O neck and stomach failed to get the memo. Coughing and wheezing, he lowered his window, reached deep within, and propelled a nasty collection of phlegm into the night. Satisfied that his deposit made a crack in the concrete, he raised the window and turned to me.
“How much, Sport?”
He called me Sport because that was the only game I bet. I never touched the numbers, horses, or dogs. My iniquities were focused solely on football, baseball, and basketball.
He reached for the bag. Several gold wrist chains dangled from his arm. “Just a dent,” he advised. It was more of an acknowledgement than a warning. A reminder that they had their greasy hooks in me until death do us part. To that particular bookie, I owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. The losing bets and vig (interest) over the years compounded to an amount in excess of $275,000. I knew I could never pay it off, yet each day I bet the full sports card, and each day they were happy to take my action. He opened the bag and removed several of the thousand-dollar bands. He smelled them, fanned them, and dropped them back in the bag. “Fuckin’ Monopoly money, huh? I don’t know where you get it or how the fuck you do it. Understand that I don’t give a rat’s ass. Just keep it rolling in, Sport.”
He reached for the gun on the seat between us and made one last ominous wave of the weapon in my direction, all with a smile on his face. I knew his words and actions were idle threats or feeble intimidations. Although he was a moron, he did understand that the bosses he reported to liked getting money. As long as I came up with cash each week, I felt untouchable. The growing problem was the unpredictability of the consequences if I ever stopped making payments. That night, for Fat Fuck’s entertainment, he’d held a gun against my head. I couldn’t help but wonder how far they could push me.
“Someday it won’t roll anymore,” I warned as I reached for the door handle. He let out a howl of laughter at my audacity.
“Yeah, like you’re gonna win it back, huh, Sport? You’re a fuckin’ loser. You’re a fuckin’ degenerate gambler. Nuff fuckin’ said. Now get the fuck out, loser. Losers don’t never win. Losers just pay.”
As if someone had supplied him with the punch line to a joke, he let out another howl. I turned back to him, shook my head in disgust, and opened the door. Nevertheless, he was absolutely right. It was true what he’d said. I’d become a loser, a degenerate gambler. I knew it. I just didn’t need to hear it from him. I slammed the door and walked back to my truck.
I glanced back at the Cadillac. Music pulsed from his car, and his vehicle swayed to the beat. My jaw clenched. He was living large and enjoying life while I was teetering on the edge of a precipice. I climbed behind the steering wheel, closed the door, and let out a guttural moan as my fists pounded the empty space. I hated what I had become, the loser he’d pegged me for. I blamed myself for the shit-storm I’d created, but I resented everyone around me for allowing me to sink so low in the first place: my employer for not catching me embezzling their money; Fat Fuck and the rest of the them—Joey the Snot, Vinnie Shakes, Johnny Two-Fingers—for the coercion and fear they used to control me. They were all a bunch of low-level bookies with their sleaze-bag associates hiding in the bowels of the VFW Hall or the Sons of Italy or the Knights of Columbus. Add to them all the Vegas touts who called me daily at home and at work, with their Lock-of–the Day, Lock-of-the-Week, Lock-of-the-Month, or bet-your-fucking-house-on-the-Lock-of-the- Year sports plays. I was walking a tightrope with no safety net, and it stretched from coast to coast.
Darkness understood this. It seeped into my car and paid a visit, just as it had on many prior occasions. End it here. The pain will cease. End it all. Your friends will be more than happy to oblige, it intoned. Your painkiller lies just beneath your seat.
My handgun was a Smith & Wesson, Model 459. I had drilled holes in the leather holster so I could secure it with plastic tie-wraps to the support bars beneath my front seat. A simple reach beyond the seat adjustment bar found the butt end hanging out. One 9mm sat at the ready in the chamber, while thirteen backups waited their turn in the clip.
Happiness is a warm gun.
Do I kill myself right here and end my misery, or do I exact revenge? I quickly realized I could not kill myself yet, even though the resistance to that thought had weakened over the years at a frightening pace. I took a deep breath and envisioned what options remained. I felt my anger creep over to the revenge side of the ledger. As I looked at the Cadillac, it became clear that it was time to make a statement. It was time to fuck somebody up and take them down with me. It was time to get even. The accountant in me needed to balance the books.
As stupid as this idea was, it suddenly had legs. I could get out of the truck, leaving my door slightly ajar. With the gun by my side, I could run over…no, I’d walk over nonchalantly, not drawing too much attention. Once I returned to the fog-enshrouded passenger window of the Cadillac, I would knuckle the glass to get his attention. Better the passenger side than the driver’s side, I thought, realizing a close range shot through the driver’s window would splatter back all over me. From the passenger side, I would avoid the blood spray. As he powered down his window, I would take one last survey of the area to make sure the loud blast I was about to set off would be absorbed by the black silence of the empty church parking lot. I hoped the heavy traffic on Route 1 southbound, just 100 yards east of my footprint, would help mask the explosion. With the window down, I would be able to see the annoyance on his face. He’d be mouthing something like “What?” at me. The music would be loud. I would raise my gun hand and lean in slightly through the opening.
How many bullets would it take? I wasn’t sure. I was a decent marksman, having once spent a good bit of time sport shooting at the Mystic Valley Gun Club in Malden. Capping the Fat One, though, would be a bit different than busting up paper targets. I settled on three shots: two quick hits to his broad right side to immobilize him, then close the deal with one to his head. Because of his positioning in the front seat, all the shots would be side entries. I questioned their capability to pierce the multiple layers of fat that protected this whale. It would take a steady hand to guide two shots into his ribs while avoiding a glancing blow to his arm. Shocked by my aggression, he would probably double over slightly toward the steering wheel, grasping at his wounds. That would leave me with a clear shot to his head.
I reviewed my mental checklist. Number one: Grab the money.
Several times, I reminded myself to grab the bag of money. Two: There were fingerprints. I needed something to wipe them clean. I panicked for a second, when I realized that my prints were on the moneybag and the door handles, both inside and out. I reached for a rag from my glove compartment and stuffed it into my pocket. Then, mentally primed by this scenario, I looked at my watch and realized only a few minutes had passed since I had climbed back into my truck.
Sweat beaded on my forehead, and electricity surged through my nerves. My stomach tightened. It was time to move.
I reached up to the dome light and switched it to the off position. I then powered down my window until I had his car in sight. Gripping the handle, I leaned against the door until it opened, soundlessly, just far enough to allow me to slip out of the truck and back into the night. I stood silent in the mist, gripping my gun. Tears welled in my eyes. Sanity tried to get the better of me, but Darkness repelled it. I closed my eyes and wished I had never been born. How did my life get so out of control?
I willed my shaking gun hand to steady, and started to walk toward the Cadillac.