Disaster is that on which good fortune depends. Good fortune is that in which disaster's concealed.
Who knows where it will end? Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching
October 1954 Detroit, Michigan
I am sitting in a dentist chair. It's big, very big. For a moment, I'm distracted by a small toy monkey hanging from a lamp hung on a small crane above my head. The monkey is looking at me. He has a little smile. I've got a pretty bad headache. The thing about Detroit in 1954, especially the summer of 1954, is the swimming pools. It's hot in Detroit in the summer, but this year the pools are empty. My mother is standing beside and slightly behind me. She is talking in soft tones to the dentist, a kindly man in his 50's with glasses and a mole on his right temple. He has grey hair above his ears. I remember the mole. And the monkey. I can't move my left arm. I can't hear what they are saying. But I hear the tone. It resonates serious. The dentist comes back and leans over me. He is wearing a surgical mask. I find this unusual and I think he is playing a game. But his eyes don't look happy above the mask. I can't move my left leg either. I am 5-years-old and living very much in the moment. The dentist turns back to my mother and says something about his friend at the hospital. 1
That friend later turns out to be Dr. Robert Long, Chief of Pediatric Medicine at Henry Ford Hospital. In the summer of 1954, nobody went to swimming pools because most people thought you could catch polio by swimming in public pools. It was an old wives' tale, but in that summer polio was taking a heavy toll. Nobody knew how it was transmitted. But they did know that polio occurred 35 times more frequently in August than in April. So dirty swimming pools were as good an explanation as any other. Everybody knew there was no cure. I get out of the chair and walk out of the office with my mother. She is holding my right hand. My left arm swings uselessly beside me. My left leg drags along behind, scrapping the inside sole of my left shoe on the sidewalk. My mother has been to 2 doctors. They both told her I had the "flu." Finally, a dentist was able to say what the others could not say and what my parents would not say: "Polio." It was like a death sentence...in October 1954.
We are walking down a long hall in the basement of Henry Ford Hospital on Grand Boulevard in Detroit. Like its name, Detroit's founding fathers retained quaint French expressions for places around the city. "Grand Boulevard" and "Charlevoix Avenue" and "Livernois" Street were a few examples. Twenty years into the future I will have a very different view of these names and places. But for now, I am holding my mother's hand and we are walking down a long and noisy corridor. There are exposed pipes in the ceiling. Lots of them. I have never seen this before. I hear crashing metal trays, loud talking and I smell hot food. My mother is trying to go slow, maneuver around the food carts and hold my 2
hand. I am slowing her down. My left leg is getting in the way of steady progress. My father is not around. We reach an elevator and we get in. The elevator is crowded and I can't see much. It's quiet though. I smell woolen coats. It's October and cool in Detroit. We reach our floor, get out and walk down yet another corridor. This one's different. There are doors with glass windows. The windows have funny pieces of chicken wire embedded in the glass. There is a guard. In 1954, guards were not something you saw every day. He wasn't a cop, just a guard. He was white, I remember that. All guys in uniforms in 1954 were white. Like my father, the policeman. We enter the polio quarantine ward. ---We are now in a large, bright room. The room is divided into small cubicles by curtains hung from the ceiling. The curtains can be moved back and forth. Dr. Robert Long comes in but he doesn't move the curtain. He comes through by parting the curtain, sort of like a comedian poking his head through a curtain on stage. Dr. Long is in his late 30's. He is balding, slim and energetic. He is also kindly. I am sitting on the edge of a gurney. He talks with my mother for a few minutes. He then turns to me. He smiles and I feel somehow okay. Better than with my mother, who is not exuding stability or reassurance at all. In fact, I think she might be a bit hesitant to get too close. Dr. Long grabs my left leg, holding it at the knee and ankle. His skin feels warm and I see that his hands are very clean. I like the feeling of his touch on my skin. I like it because everybody else has been slowly backing away from me.
Dr. Long says, "Lift your leg up." I try but nothing happens. He switches to my right leg. Hands on the knee and ankle. He says, "Okay, lift your leg up." I lift and he presses back. He says, "Again." I lift again and he presses down. He smiles at me. The kind of smile that cuts through a lot the fear that's been building around me. He rests his hand on my knee as he turns to my mother. He tells her something and she looks dumbstruck. I don't pay much attention. I like having the human contact, even for a few seconds. In 1953, people thought you could get polio by swimming in public pools. But nobody knew for sure. My guess is my mother didn't know for sure either. Lesson Number One was solitude. To be really good at anything, you have to start early in life. Tiger Woods' dad put a golf club in his crib. Mickey Mantle's dad put a baseball bat in his crib. Dr. Long put me into an isolation room on the polio quarantine ward.
The room is large, rectangular, dark and crowded. I'm in a bed at one end of the room, next to a door leading to a hall. There is another door at the far end of the room. The lights are dim and it's nighttime. At the other end of the room is a small alcove. There is a bed in the alcove. The bed is like mine: white metal with sides locked in the up position. There is a boy in the bed, about my age. I think his name is Robert. Robert is screaming in pain. His bed is shaking up and down. He is on the other side of the room but the noise is loud.
Robert is strapped down on his bed. Large leather straps. One fits across his chest just below the shoulders. The other is perpendicular across his legs. I know this because I am strapped down too. And I can see Robert through the slats in my bed. I am scared. I think I might die. The straps are there to keep us still and to prevent us from moving and injuring our muscles further. Polio or Poliomyelitis or Infantile Paralysis attacks the nerve fibers of muscles, which ultimately cause the muscle fibers to atrophy and shrink for lack of use. The added attraction of this disease is that pain neurons remain intact. So, you can't move buy you can feel. Across from me are 2-3 large, metal machines. They look like grain silos turned on their sides. They emit a loud, rhythmic and metallic chugging noise. Little heads poke out of the tops. There are people in these machines. The machines are called "iron lungs." Polio can attack muscles that move lungs. There are other beds in the room too. Mostly like mine. Little girls and boys, strapped onto mattresses. Or muzzle loaded into “iron lungs.” The room is crowded with polio patients. There is not much spare room in polio wards in 1954 in Detroit. I am starting to check out. Mentally check out. You know, sort of an I'm-nothere-and-this-is-not-happening state of mind. Facing this reality at 5-yearsold is too tall an order. The rational part of my mind is telling me that I am heading down Polio Grand Boulevard on my way to an “iron lung” and after that destination unknown. Robert dies in his bed and is taken away 3 days after I arrive. Other people in my room disappear as well. Lesson Number 2, just after solitude, was survival. Survival is a state of mind. Borne of it is an ability to accept uncertainty, stalwartly endure pain and begin to think, act as and be an independent entity. This is not the kind of healthy independence borne of great personal suffering and heroic action. No. This kind of independence begins with the death of an ability to feel certain emotions and the birth of a ruthlessness that will forever prevent meaningful and healthy human connection.
Twenty-seven years hence, an agency of the United States Government will detect this constellation of character traits and refine it to a new and superb level. Mom is checked out and going through the motions. Dad is not around. Later, they will both impart a healthy dose of revisionist history to me. They will say, "you were lucky, you only had a 'light case' " or " you were not really in pain, you only cared about getting out in time for Halloween." Yes, a two-week lark in the polio quarantine ward.
Two Weeks Later I am lying on a gurney and it's moving down a hallway. The walls are a bright, light blue. The ceiling is made of tiles. They look like white cardboard. They are square and have little holes. The holes are not the same size. The gurney is moving slowly, angling now and then to avoid stationary objects, other people and other gurneys. I can't move my head, so peripheral vision is feeding me limited data. I get the sense that other gurneys are in the hall, a lot of them. Most of them seem parked along the walls, like a long queue. I wonder why I am going past them, maybe to the front of the line. This thought gives added amperage to my new companion: chronic anxiety. Later, in college, I will learn that Winston Churchill described history as "one damned thing after another." That's exactly how I feel now. I think it's late morning. I hear metal trays sliding off carts. I smell hot food, like mashed potatoes, meat loaf and green beans. I've been here a while and I am learning the schedule. Even the menus. I don't have a headache anymore. I'm not hot all the time either. I am bored a lot. In 1954 they did not have TVs in hospital wards. I spend a lot of time alone, in my head. There are visiting hours and I know the nurses look happy during this time. I think they know something about visitors. 6
I get visitors, but not too many and not too often. Who wants to spend time in a polio ward? My gurney is slowing down and angling slightly left. It begins a wide right turn, sort of like a semi-tractor trailer truck that swings out left to make a right turn. I hear doors bang open near my feet, as the cart pushes forward. I think my mother visits sometimes, but I don't remember. Same for my father. I think their parents, my grandparents come too, but I am less sure. When I think of my father at that time, I see a tall man with black hair in a police uniform. He is smiling and has big hands. His uniform is dark and he has a hat with a badge on it. As the gurney enters the room, I hear the doors banging against the sides of the gurney. I hear a whooshing noise, like a shower running. I also feel warmth and humidity on my skin. I have not felt warm, humid air for a long time. My attendant, who I now see is a young man, blonde with a brush cut and bad acne, parks the gurney in the center of the room and comes around to my right side. A nurse appears on my left. "Good Morning, Arliss", she says in a cheery, musical voice. "We are going to take a bath today", she adds, with a tone that suggests I should be pleased at being given this opportunity. Of course, I am not pleased. She reaches over me and begins to peel off my blanket. She says, "My name is Hazel. Nurse Hazel. I will be helping you into the tank." I don't know what a tank is. Nurse Hazel and Acne Attendant take positions on either side of me. They lift me up, holding me under my arms and legs, trying to keep me in a lying position, parallel to the floor. I try to keep balanced. I can move my left arm a little. They take a few paces away from the gurney and place me on a wooden board. The board is lying on a different gurney near the one I just left. The wood is light yellow and shiny. It feels cool on my back, which is exposed
through the back of my hospital gown. I have been living in gowns, with the little cloth ties on the back that are supposed to keep the gown closed but never do. Nurse Hazel and Acne Attendant are now feeding green canvas straps through holes in the side of the board. The straps are thin, not like the dark leather mattress straps in the ward. The green straps have dark metal buckles with "alligator teeth" to cinch tight. With a growing sense of dread, I understand I am going to be strapped down. Again. I don't know why, but a profound feeling of helplessness and being small has returned. Feeling "small" is more that just having a small body in an adult world. "Small" means not noticed, not taken into account. Maybe not even there. They push the gurney across the room and the whooshing noise grows louder. I smell chlorine and hear water bubbling. I wonder about a bath, strapped to a wooden board. Up to now, baths have been warm, wet cloths at night before going to sleep. I hear and partially see the attendant snap a metal hook into an opening at the base of the board. The nurse snaps another into a hole just above my head. I hear a chain moving. The board jerks up unevenly from the gurney. I begin to slide forward and to the left. I struggle and this causes the board to sway, left to right. Nurse Hazel says, "Hold it, hold it!" She steadies the lower portion of the board with her left hand. She puts her right hand gently on my chest and says, "It's okay Arliss, it's okay. Calm down." But I am not calm, suspended at a steep downward angle, listing to the left. I do have, however, a good view of the room. There are no windows. And the floor is concrete, smooth concrete. There is a large tub in the far corner, off to my left. The tub is round, about 4 feet high and made of dark metal. There is steam or smoke rising from tub,
where water is boiling inside. At least I think it's boiling. It looks like a giant cooking pot. I now see the board I am listing on is attached to a large metal chain above me, which, with the green straps on the board, form a sort of teepee over me. Worse yet, the entire contraption seems affixed to the ceiling above the boiling cauldron. So, I figure I'm strapped in and headed for the cooking pot. Acne Attendant restarts the invisible gears and I traverse slowly back down to the gurney. Nurse Hazel and Attendant Acne tighten the green canvas straps, which had loosened under the strain of my struggle. With a thumbs-up from Nurse Hazel, Acne Attendant tries again, this time lifting the board and me on an even keel, before swinging me towards the tub. I am not struggling but I am terrified. Nurse Hazel said a "bath." I am moving sideways towards the tub and the board is slightly swaying side to - side. I catch glimpses of the water, which I see is bubbling. I can smell chlorine, the odor amplified by the heat rising from the water. They begin to lower me into the tank. My feet are slightly lower than my head. I see the water approaching but the noise and the smell are more frightening. The chain is feeding through gantry attached to the ceiling. More exposed pipes, I notice. Acne Attendant lowers me closer to the water. My feet hit first. And I go wild. The water is hot and I don't feel safe. I don't like the smell. I don't like the bubbles and, most of all, I don't like being strapped down. Once again, I feel out of control and on the brink. The chain continues to spin. I'm up to my knees, now my thighs. The hospital gown is floating below my waist. I'm struggling, pushing down on the board, which is now swinging more severely side-to-side.
Nurse Hazel yells something, but I can't hear it over the noise of the rushing water. Maybe she is talking to Acne Attendant. The board continues to drop. I struggle, even more terrified. I think I am screaming. The alligator clip holding the green strap across my chest loosens and then breaks free. My left arm swings out over the edge of the board, shifting my center of gravity off the hardened surface of the board and into thin air. I plunge into the tank face down. I notice immediately that it's quiet. I also cannot breath or move. I am swallowing great gulps of hot liquid. Nurse Hazel plucks me from the tank. She looks upset but is not saying anything. I am coughing and spitting in great spasms. She holds me to her breasts and gently pats my back between the shoulder blades. My left arm is swinging but I sense some feeling in it. The contact with Nurse Hazel feels very good. She is warm and firm. She does not feel tense holding me. I start to catch my breath. For once I do not feel like a Polio Leper.
December 1954 Henry Ford Hospital Detroit The room is large, cool and bright. It's cold outside. I can see ice on the single pane windows. But it's sunny. The sunshine streams in through the high windows. I know the sky is bright blue, even though I can't see it. I know how the cold air would feel on my skin. The sunlight reflects off two chrome railings popping out of the floor in the middle of the room. I am in a wheelchair. The railings begin and end nowhere. They are about 3 feet apart and run parallel. The floor is wooden, like a basketball court. There is a nurse in the corner on the other side of the room. She is wearing a 10
white dress and small white nurse's hat. In 1954, nurses still wore dresses and little white hats. Some hats had black stripes. She turns to me. A black man dressed in a white shirt is standing behind me and pushes my wheelchair towards the rails. The nurse smiles at me and says, "Hi Arliss, how are you today? My name is Miss McQueen." The chair is moving, near the rails now. The floor is shiny. "Okay", I say with little conviction. My need for new and more stimulation is on hold for the moment. "My friends call me Miss Queen. Do you want to be my friend?" I am a little more on guard now. Ever since arriving direct from the dentist's office to the quarantine ward and taking up residence behind the chicken wire glass with the guard out front, I don't trust grown-ups --especially grown-ups with big smiles and pretending to be nice. Like the fat nurse who smiled just before she strapped me to the mattress. I wonder if my wheelchair will fit between the rails. The black orderly pushes me into the starting gate and I see that the chair will fit. In fact, it's a perfect fit. Nurse Queen moves behind me. She reaches over the loose canvas back of my wheelchair, puts her hands in my armpits and lifts me up. The brace on my left leg clangs against the metal support beam of the rail attached to the floor. The orderly neatly turns the wheelchair away. These two have done this before. I see six, big, hexagonal bolts fastening the beam to the floor. There is dust on the bolts. My leg hurts in the brace. "C'mon honey", says Nurse Queen, "Let's try to take a few steps." I already hate this woman. She places each of my hands on the rails and I am suspended between them.
Nurse Queen is holding me up. My hands, small, are sliding off the chrome rails. My right leg is bending out to the side. Nurse Queen lifts me a second time, trying to gain elevation so my hands get a purchase on the rails. My leg is in exquisite pain. I hear the door of "I'm not here and this is not happening" sliding open and comfortably beckoning from the back of my mind. But only for a moment. I get a handle on the rails and Nurse Queen gives me an assist at the waist. I lean forward, head precariously balanced, perched for a swan dive, eyes on the runway between the rails. I see now there are rubber strips on the floor, parallel to the rails. I guess for traction. "Okay honey, just move your leg forward. Just easy, now", Nurse Queen says, her voice now an octave lower and gentle. I slide my left leg forward. The brace will not let me bend my knee. It moves about 3 inches and my right leg then skids forward trying to break the coming fall. Nurse Queen tries to grab me too. But all she gets is a handful of hospital gown as I hit the rubber strips with thump. There is no injury, though my left leg continues to sear with pain. I feel embarrassed. I have no clothes on under the gown and I don't like this woman seeing me naked. Privacy is checked at the door of the polio quarantine ward. Lesson Number Three is "weakness." That is, weakness is bad and not to be tolerated. In the future, my father will reinforce this Article of Parental Faith in spades. My father, the macho, athletic, autocratic and alcoholic policeman will ridicule my skinny frame, tell the world he can "count my ribs" and label my arms "chicken wings." Sometimes he will grab my arms, in front of others, laugh and flap them back and forth, branding them "chicken wings." Later, much later, I will come to understand what drove him to act like this. My father and mother did not warm to the idea of seeing the vestiges of a polio attack to remind them of a time when they might have acted less selfish
and fearful. In the 1950s one had to be a "good parent" and have a "good family." So, the Quinn family myth of "polio lite" was born. Dr. Long wasn't afraid to touch me. But there is another little boy. This boy is the other Arliss- Arliss 2. He was born in the polio quarantine ward. Midwifed by Robert The Howler in the alcove at the other end of the room, who took a permanent trip down Polio Grand Boulevard. I met this Arliss on my way back from my first visit to “I'm - not - here - and - this - is - not - happening" land. This Arliss takes care of business. He makes Arliss Job Number One. This Arliss does, thinks, acts, cares or not cares, believes or not believes whatever is necessary to keep Arliss alive. Regardless of the consequences to anybody else. Nurse Queen helps me up. We do this again. And again. For about an hour. Then again the next day, and the day after and the week after. And pretty soon I'm heading down the rails without a brace. Then without using the rails. I graduate to weight training.
October, 1956 Henry Ford Hospital Detroit I am back at Ford Hospital. I am much better, at least in terms of getting around. It's been two years since the Big Day, when I began my two - week stay in the quarantine ward, getting to know the in's and out's of polio. Since that time, I have been a regular visitor. About every 3 -4 weeks, I would come back to the hospital, where Dr. Long would look me over. This required putting on a hospital gown, which did not go over well with me. Dr. Long would have me walk back and forth, then away and back, to allow 13
him a parallax view of my legs in motion. First, I would walk on my toes, then I would walk on my heels. After, I would take a seat on a gurney. Then he would test my neck, legs and arms-- the old fashioned way. He would press down on my limbs and ask me to hold. Then we would switch roles, he holding my limbs and me attempting to press forward or up or down, as the case may be. Dr. Long didn't need fancy equipment to tell him how things were going. Like the first time, his hands were always clean and his skin dry and warm. Doctors didn't use latex gloves in 1956. Dr. Long has just finished the exam for this visit. He looks at me and say's "Okay Arliss, you can get dressed now." Dr. Long is perceptive. He is also invariably good-natured and somehow has the magical ability to put a 7-year-old at ease, without being condescending or lapsing into child-like talk. He never played down. He also senses I feel ill at ease in a hospital gown. He somehow knows that I am embarrassed to have polio-ravaged limbs on display. He knows I feel humiliated by having to walk back and forth on cue. But most of all, he understands that "blame" for contracting this disease, with it's awful emotional impact on my parent's rocky marriage, somehow got added to my bill. Yes, when disaster struck out of the clear, blue, Michigan sky, a scapegoat had to be found. Bad things just didn't happen to good people-- like my parents. Dr. Long pauses to look at me before turning to my mother. His brow furrows, almost imperceptibly, for just a moment. I wonder what he is thinking in this moment? I wonder if he has drawn some conclusion about the Quinn household? I wonder if he has noticed that my mother seems strangely passive during these encounters, though on the surface supportive in every way of my visits and therapy. I wonder if he wonders where my father is? I wonder if he wonders how a dose of shame got added to my treatment regimen? My mother is seated on a chair in the corner of the curtained area where the exam took place. Dr. Long, in his long white coat, turns to her, with his left
hand still on the gurney mattress and says, "Mrs. Quinn, Arliss is doing quite well. His left leg and arm seem to be growing at the same rate as the other limbs. There is some residual weakness, but the weight training is having a very positive effect." My mother is non-committal, though smiling and nodding to show Dr. Long that she understands. In the 1950's, doctors were semi-deities and most working class folks felt a bit awkward in their dazzling presence. Dr. Long continues, "There is still some significant weakness in the neck, however." Dr. Long talks more about my neck. I lose interest and begin putting on my clothes. When I am done, I see both Dr. Long and my mother looking at me. A silence has settled between us and I see they want to speak to me. Dr. Long pats the corner of the gurney and helps me back up onto the mattress. Dr. Long begins. "Arliss, you have a weak neck." I wait. He continues, "This means that you cannot act like other boys." I wonder about this and what he means. "It means you will have to be careful, very careful in some of the things you do." My mother is stage right and behind Dr. Long, nodding in agreement, wearing a look of concern with a drizzle of pity. Dr. Long waits a moment and says, "Arliss, you will not be able to play contact sports." I look puzzled. He explains, "You know, football, wrestling or any sports that involve strong physical contact." I let this sink in. My mother moves forward in the chair, leans in as if to say something, but stops short. Dr. Long says, "And..." He waits, letting the "and" hang in the air, feather - like, softly twirling towards the floor between us.
"And you will not be able to fight. You must absolutely avoid any fighting, punching or wrestling. A sudden jolt to your body could cause your neck to break." He finishes, "And you might die." My mother bows her head. Dr. Long looks directly at me, seeking to satisfy himself that I understand. The reappearance of "death" in a conversation about me... with a God-like doctor... who I like...and who has clean hands.... and who I trust...and who is not afraid to touch me ... and who does not blame me for catching polio, hits me hard. In fact, I cannot speak. Two years had passed since the Big Day and 1 year, 51 weeks had gone by since Robert took an express trip out of the polio ward for a one-way ride down Polio Grand Boulevard. Two years was almost 1/3 of my life and time had pushed the stark reality of death far away. Now, it was back.
November 1959 Saint Matthew Elementary School Whittier Boulevard Detroit It's a grey, cold day in Detroit, with Thanksgiving looming on the horizon. I am in Sister Mary Margaret's Home Room Class. There are little orange and brown paper turkeys strung along the blackboard at the front of the class. Sister Mary Margaret is standing at the blackboard, dressed in the blue and black robes of the IHM Order of nuns. They run St. Matthew's school with an iron fist. Unlike the other nuns, most of whom are scowling, parched crones bent on purging all traces of spontaneity and joy from their charges, Sister Mary Margaret is quite young. She is athletic too. I have seen her take the stairs two-at-a-time while holding up her robe to avoid tripping. She has a warm smile, which seems to convey a conspiratorial agreement between her and us that we should not take the dogma and corporal punishment dished out 16
around here too seriously. It's 10:30 in the morning, but I'm already hungry. I know my lunch is in a brown paper bag in the coatroom at the back of the class. I hope it contains my favorite fare: a bologna sandwich on Wonder Bread with plenty of yellow mustard; a package of Hostess Twinkies or cream filled chocolate cupcakes and maybe an apple. My mother always sticks in a pink, paper napkin, which I never use. Instead, the sleeve of my long-sleeve, light blue school uniform shirt will mop up spills and errant bits of food. She also writes my initials on my lunch bag, "A.Q.", I suppose so no one else grabs it. Later, I will add a half-pint of Twin Pines chocolate milk, purchased for a nickel from one of several large, blue milk machines along the cafeteria wall. My feet are tucked under my desk seat. I try to hide them. I am wearing black, lace-up shoes that have metatarsal bars glued to the soles. The bars give the shoes a strange, space-boot like appearance. They are there to help my feet grow in the right direction. Sister Mary Margaret is at the front of the class drawing numbers on the blackboard. We are not very interested. There are about 30 of us, strictly segregated by sex, aligned in opposite camps on either side of the room. We are in uniforms. The boys wear black pants, black clip-on ties and light blue shirts. The girls are in white blouses with blue plaid skirts. In fifth grade, we focus on what one does over what one says as the main vector along which to transmit present reality. Separation of girls and boys, both in space and by garb, imparts the idea that commingling with girls is somehow forbidden, if not just plain wrong. Grizzled nuns with parched loins steadfastly patrol the halls of St. Matthew's but have little chance against the inexorable, growing tide of hormones, pheromones and the heat and moisture of life's persistent call to reproduce. Kay Connors is writing notes to me. I am very excited. The notes are on small slips of paper, which my fellow students pass along when Sister Mary Margaret is not looking. The notes are folded closed. I open the latest one. It says, "I love you. Do you love me?" There is a little red heart sketched next to the question mark. Below this statement and question are two, small boxes. I am to check a box: either "yes" or "no." Ironically, I will face this yes-or-no, love conundrum throughout my life. Of course, I check "yes."
I like Kay Connors. She has budding breasts, a wide, flashing smile and the guts to pass notes under the nose of Sister Mary Margaret. I pass the note back, just as a loud bell rings in the hall. It's playtime. ---The parking lot at St. Matthew's doubles as a playground. We pour out of the building an onto the blacktop, where a large rectangular area has been cordoned off with pipes set in concrete, strung together with rope. The day is cloudy and cold. We can see our breath when we exhale. Joe Gambler and his crew are already at the far side of the play area. Joe is big for his age, standing a good foot taller than anyone else in our class. He has fat lips and a mouth too wide for his narrow face. His hair is jet black and greasy, slicked out in a ducktail extending over the collar of his blue uniform shirt. He wears a bulky winter jacket, unzipped. Joe is talking with Terry Greenhouse. Terry is the consigliore for Joe. Terry, by contrast, is shorter than most others in our class. He has red-blonde hair, waxed into a brush cut. He has an unusual vertical crease on the bridge of his nose between two, light green eyes. It makes him look eternally pensive. Terry is not book-smart but he is cunning. He also violent, looking for opportunities to prove that being short doesn't mean he has small dick. Joe and his gang are well below the median IQ score for our class, which is why they feel less challenged and more in control during recess. They need to prove they are just as good as anybody else. Maybe even better, they reckon. Joe, Terry and the boys use recess periods, and the brief times during which school lets out, to terrorize other members of the class, preferably in front of an audience. While Joe is merely menacing, Terry is truly dangerous. They are a composite class bully, each member playing a particular role in support of the whole. Joe, the loudmouth, will identify and taunt a victim, while Terry quietly moves in to enforce the gang's sentence. Other members will serve as an Everyman Chorus, whose whoops and insults will further humiliate the target and also help draw a crowd. While not adept at the three "R's", Joe and the gang have honed their ability to sniff out weakness and fear: primary requirements for assuring a positive outcome for an attack.
Joe looks my way. I can see this all the way across the parking lot, even though it's impossible to make out the features of his face, much less where his gaze has settled. I know it's on me. I have begun to develop a hypersensitivity to potential threats in my environment. The parking lot playground is one of the places where unpredictable things could happen. Dangerous things. "....and you might die" ....kind of things. Like a dog pack that smells fear, Joe and his crew sniff the odor of weakness, and it's coming from my end of the parking lot. While my environment scanning skills are developing nicely, I have not yet made much progress on strategies to avoid confrontation. I've tried to alter my countenance, even believing that I could become temporarily invisible, like some comic book hero. Sometimes, I pretend to look away, to be involved in something else or with someone else. This helps to avoid eye contact that could amp up an innocent situation into something more sinister. But today, these skills remain over my learning horizon. I turn to my friend, Bob Kanzler. He is standing next to me and we are both trying to locate Kay Connors. Bob is going to return my note, with the "yes" box checked. Still, my peripheral vision tells me that Joe Gambler et. al are headed my way. Even without this confirmation, I knew, from the moment Joe looked my way across the lot, that things would not be going my way today. My heart starts to pound. I look for an exit. There is none. I look for a Nun or a lay teacher. No luck. Joe and the boys are drawing closer. Bob Kanzler pushes his knit cap back on his head and a shock of brown hair falls across his forehead. He looks at me puzzled. His grey-green eyes implore, "What's the matter with you? Where are you now?" Joe arrives. The crew fans out in a semi-circle in front of Bob and me. Terry is hovering to my left, partially behind me.
Bob looks at Joe, but Joe is looking at me. The crew blocks my view of the lot. The school wall is behind me and Terry is stationed between the door and me; the door I just came out of moments ago, looking for Kay Connors. Joe says, "Hey fuckhead, why are you looking at me?" I say nothing. My heart is pounding harder. My vision has narrowed. Joe says, "Hey you little prick, I'm talking to you! What the fuck's wrong with you? Fucking lame-oh cripple. Are your ears fucked too?" Bob stands next to me, frozen in place. The Everyman Chorus chimes in with a few opening guffaws. Others begin to gather around. I feel like I am going to throw-up. Terri says, "Little egghead, thinks he's smart" and adds, "Great Books Club, huh?" I am beginning to shake. There are tears forming in the corners of my eyes. Joe leans in as if to push me but stops and says, "Little fucking sissy." My head begins to ache and jangle on my neck. "...you cannot act like other boys." Joe raises his hands, palms out, preparing to push me back and onto the blacktop. But Terri moves in, lightening quick from my left. He tackles me at the waist, bringing us both down hard onto the blacktop- him on top. My red wool had flies off my head and my right cheek scrapes along the blacktop. Bob jumps up and back a step to avoid contact. Joe moves in and cocks his right leg to deliver a blow. I close my eyes and stiffen in anticipation but it doesn't come. The Everyman Chorus is in full swing, cheering Terri's surprise attack and urging him on to more violence. More kids are gathering around, though I can only see their feet and legs. Terri rolls off me, kicks me in the stomach, gets up and grabs the lapels of my coat. He is trying to lift me up, but he is short and his leverage is limited.
I am lying on my left side, not resisting buy not helping Terri's attempt to get me up and on my feet. I am still trying to hide my shoes. Hide my infirmity and weakness from everyone around me. I am crying. Not hard, but the tears further cloud my vision. I feel humiliated, furious, embarrassed and scared. Scared to death, in fact. ".....and you must absolutely avoid fighting." Joe grabs my right arm and helps Terry drag me to my feet. On the way up, my coat begins to slip off my shoulders and my brown scarf gets tangled around my neck. They continue to pull up, jerking me to my feet. Halfway up I see Kay Connor's note slip from my inside coat pocket and flutter towards the ground. Joe Gambler sees it too. As soon as I reach my feet, Joe lets me go. Terri steps back and punches me fast and hard in the stomach. My diaphragm jolts upward and I cannot breath. I begin to fall backward, headed back down to the blacktop. Terri grabs my coat and breaks the fall. He is winding up for another hit, this time aiming for my face, I believe. But Joe Gambler is bending over, reaching for the note. He raises his right hand, palm out, to put Terri on hold. I am still gasping for air, but starting to recover. I want to kick Terri in the nuts. In fact, I want to kill him. I mean really kill him. There is another part of me that wakes up. It's the other Arliss. Arliss 2. He is calm and observant. He pays no attention to the crowd and barely seems aware of himself. He sees that Terri's nuts are exposed. He calculates the distance, force and speed required to land a crippling blow and send Terri back and down onto the pavement. Down. And face up. Face up because Arliss 2 has visualized phase 2 of his plan, to step on Terri's throat and crush his Adam's Apple. Arliss 2 has effortlessly and masterfully foreseen the attack, using a minimum amount of time, movement and force to get the job done.
Yes, Arliss 2, taking care of business. But I do nothing. For an instant, a very brief instant, we are all silent. Joe, Terri, the Everyman Chorus and the gathered onlookers. Joe has the note. He opens it and reads it. A smile breaks out across his fat lips and his eyes widen. He is almost drooling. Terri senses a break in the action and, although he is not moving, seems to slow down. He looks disappointed. The Everyman Chorus is confused. Joe begins to raise the note skyward, like an offering. Joe might not be too bright, but he is a practiced showman. Everyone is looking at the Joe and the note. Joe brings the note back down to chest level and begins to read. "Hi Arliss...", he intones, affecting a high-pitched voice, imitating a girl. My cheeks are burning with embarrassment. I feel violated. "I love you....do you love me?", he goes on, with a musical, lilting tone. The Everyman Chorus catches on and begins to whoop and holler, repeating back Joe's words after he pauses. They are all looking at me. Laughing. Even Terri, pointing and laughing. The weak, lame kid with funny shoes who reads "Great Books" dissected and on display for all to see and despise. The bell rings and Mr. Hazelton, a tall, graying and stooped man who is the fifth grade math teacher arrives to break up the fun. He does a quick appraisal but sees the action is over. Joe folds the note and puts into his pocket. He turns and looks at me before he leaves. It is a look of triumph. Not of violence, not of hatred, not of jealousy and not of fear. Just a small but important victory over the eggheads of the world before heading back into the building and to his life as an
underdog. Bob looks at me with grey - green eyes filled with shame. I see the shame, but it is only my own, reflected back from Bob.
December 1971 Detroit Police Academy Woodward Avenue Detroit "Wed-nes-day", says Officer Don Munck. Officer Don is holding spelling class. We have already given him a nickname - "Dancing Don." He got this handle because of his amazing spryness despite his 44-inch waist and drooping jowls. Dancing Don would not be leading us on our PT run before lunch. Don is dressed in an impeccably laundered and pressed uniform of a Detroit Police Officer. This includes a shiny black Sam Brown belt strung from his right shoulder to his left hip. He has in his holster, the standard issue .38 caliber, blue steel Smith and Wesson Police Special, six-shot, revolver. "Wed-nes-day", Don says again, pausing for effect on each syllable. He is trying to teach us to spell correctly the word Wednesday. He pronounces the middle syllable as "Ness." There are other spelling words too: felony, misdemeanor, warrant, citation, and so on, which make up the bulk of the limited professional vocabulary required by Detroit Police Officers. We are printing the words on white, lined paper as Don calls them out. Don says that we must print, not write, all of our reports. I look to my right at Jack Travis and roll my eyes. He looks back in acknowledgment, shrugs and puts pen to paper. I scrawl out Wednesday and then fade away into an opaque daydream. It's one year earlier. I hear a knock on the door of my off-campus apartment near Wayne State University. It's dinner time and I am fixing scrambled eggs with ground beef, a meal that is perfect any time, day or night. The smell of simmering beef and onions fills the small kitchen. My roommate, Stan Sherwood, is still out on a job interview. Stan will soon graduate with his BS in Business Administration. He wants to manage the Detroit Playboy Club.
Stan has his professional goals well mapped out. I do not. I open the door and I see my father. "Tues-day" announces Officer Don. He pronounces the first syllable as "two's." I don't know how much more of this I can take. I don't feel snobbish, but I left spelling class behind in fifth grade. I glance over at Jack again. Seeing me in his peripheral vision, he waves his head slightly up-and-down, as if to say, "Yeah, I know, I know." I write down "Two's- Deh" on my paper and switch on my classroom autopilot. "Dad!", I say with a mix of genuine surprise, fear and awkwardness. "Hey, sport" he says, "how ya doin?" I smile at this. "Sport" is what he called me as I was growing up. It was a catchall phrase and term of endearment. Dad knew I would never grow up to be the jock he was, but he still called me sport. He looks at my right hand, which is covered with an oven mitt. I laugh. "Come on in Dad. I'm just making something to eat." My Dad, Orson Quinn, is just over 6 feet tall. He is now in his early 50's and a bit paunchy but still not a person you want to mess with. He is wearing a checkered sport coat, black slacks, Johnston and Murphy wing tip shoes, white shirt and loud red tie. I smell alcohol as he passes me to step into the room. He looks around but doesn't say anything. This is the first time he has been here. In fact, he has never visited any of the places I have lived since moving out of our home at the age of 18, nearly four years ago. He walks across the room and before I can say anything, he begins to take off his sport coat. I see his snub-nose, .38 caliber revolver tucked into his pants at his left hip. He still has rubber bands around the grip, which is the signature holster for Detectives in the Detroit Police Department. None of this is new. I've grown up around my Dad and his friends, all
of who were cops that carried guns and swaggered. They were an incestuous bunch but a rare and honorable breed. Detective Sergeant Orson Quinn swings his coat over the back of an armchair, plops down on the sofa and smiles. I smile back. I am still standing by the open door, but I am really glad to see him. He looks left and right and says, "This place is a pit." I laugh, close the door, take off the oven mitt and toss it onto the kitchen counter. He takes a package of Viceroy cigarettes from his shirt pocket, taps one out and lights it with a flip-top, metal Zippo lighter with a Detroit Police Department crest on the side.
"Sigh-tay-SHUN". Officer Don has now moved into three-syllable territory, forcing us up to a new level in our police academy spelling bee. He is also walking up and down the aisles between our seats, spot-checking our progress. I quickly erase "Two's-deh", not wanting to anger the mercurial Officer Don. It is a police academy and the instructors spend a fair amount of time shouting at us. Also, I am a "college boy" and any sign of disrespect would come with the added weight of implied elitism, sure to evoke additional scorn. Jack Travis is looking down at his paper, pen poised for the next word. Officer Don dances by me, briefly stopping to look over my shoulder at my paper before moving on. I catch a whiff of Old Spice aftershave, sickly sweet. "So, what have you been up to?" he says, leaning back into the sofa and exhaling a cloud of blue smoke. We are still going through the preliminaries. Setting the stage. Dad has never paid a social call, much less unannounced. "Not much, getting ready to graduate. One more semester to go, mostly electives." I take a seat on an empty armchair across from him. The whisper of fear is still present, though we have long ago come to terms with our roles.
He wanted a son like himself or maybe a reflection of himself: a champion athlete in virtually every sport he took up; a decorated police officer fearful of no man, situation or challenge; a lover of Zane Grey westerns, where moral choices were framed in black and white and the good guys always won. "Do you know what you want to do?" I shake my head, "No, not yet. I mean a psychology degree is not that special.." I trail off, lower my head a notch. But what he got was a son crippled at five. Worse yet, this son was smart, too smart. Sister Mary Margaret called my parents in for a meeting at the beginning of the fifth grade school year. The school principal, Father John O'Connor, joined. My parents were prepared to hear that kids with mild physical handicaps could not be cared for at St. Matthew's. Instead, Sister Mary Margaret told them about Arliss Quinn's IQ test results. The priest used words like "top percentile" and "exceptionally gifted." These phrases were foreign to my parents. Proud, yes. They were proud. But they were also worried. They did not know what this meant and they feared it would mean spending additional time and money on one of three kids who already had taken up more than his fair share. "I've got an idea for you to think about", he said, after taking a long draw on his cigarette. I waited. He liked the pause. Orson Quinn had a flare for the dramatic. "Why don't you join the force?" "Dee-fend-DANT", says Officer Don from behind us, now at the back of the class. He stresses the final syllable. He knows that most students will misspell defendant, putting an "e" in the final syllable. I consider writing "Da Fan Dance" but decide against it. Jack, still taking this seriously, carefully prints out the word on his sheet. Officer Don raises the decibel level of his voice, signaling a change of environment from classroom instruction to para-military boot camp. "Class, pass your papers forward and fall out for PT", he shouts, emphasizing "PT."
--We are lined up in formation outside of the academy instruction building. We are wearing grey sweat pants and sweatshirts. Student Police Officer Thomas Budzinski is holding our Class Flag. The flag is blue and has "72-E" emblazoned on the cloth. There are 50 of us in Class 72-E and we have about three weeks to go until graduation. Officer William "Don't Mess With Bill" Reed calls us to attention. He is a tall, black man with a serious countenance and quick, cat-like moves. He is particularly fond of ordering extra rounds of push-ups for infractions of academy rules and protocols. Today, because it's cold, he is wearing a dark blue windbreaker with "Detroit Police" written across the back in white letters. We come to attention, place our right hands on our right hips to format our spacing and them come to parade rest. Budzinski trots up to the front of the formation and Officer Bill leads us out of the lot. We begin with an easy pace. Officer Bill calls out cadence, undoubtedly picked up from his tour in Viet Nam. "See - 141 rollin' down the airstrip...." When I first heard this, I thought Bill was talking about seeing an airplane on an airstrip. Later, Jack Travis, a decorated Viet Nam vet straightened me out. Patiently, he told be that Bill was referring to C-141 transport planes, commonly used to haul troops around Viet Nam. We turn right out of the parking lot, cross Five Mile Road and enter the park. We are in formation, shouting cadences and drawing attention from people walking dogs and driving by. I like the runs. After a few minutes, our joints are warm and loose and our breath regular and strong. The cold air feels clean on my face. I am momentarily stunned. Dad sees this and smiles. He has a sparkle in his eyes. He flicks an ash from his cigarette into a cheap tin ashtray on the coffee table in front of him, leans back into the sofa and waits. I feel a conflict. Old feelings of wanting nothing more than to please him, be respected by him, be included by him, surface with surprising speed and force.
But a "cop", I think. This is why I went to college? Surprisingly, Arliss 2 makes an appearance. Non-committal, but observant. "Dad...Dad...I don't know that..if.." "Arliss, just think about it. You don't have to stay for life.. like me." This is an amazing admission from my father. I had never heard him hint, much less say, that he had second thoughts about his life. There is a moment of silence between us. We look at each other standing on opposite sides of life's Bell Curve, one looking for a compass heading, the other a legacy. For a moment, he is more "Dad" than "Detective Sergeant Orson Quinn", gun in his belt with rubber bands on the grip. He is a man talking to his son, talking from his heart. He says, "Look, it's just something now to pay the bills. It will also set you up for Law School. You know, learn from the ground up." When I was in high school, my father's favorite career advice was summed up in re-telling how lawyers would appear at police line-ups, say nothing and "just look for 5 minutes and collect two-hundred bucks!" His story was really about advancing the Quinn gene pool up the social ladder, one generation to the next. Ditch digger to policeman to attorney. "OK Dad, I'll think it over." Dad lights another Viceroy. Stands up, puts it between his lips, lifts his checkered sport coat from the sofa and puts it on. He steps toward me, takes the cigarette out his mouth with his left hand and lightly grabs my elbow with his right hand. He closes strong. Flair for the dramatic. "Sport, don't worry about that polio stuff. It's over and you can handle this." He wasn't talking about my muscles. "Your lee..ff..tt, your lee..ff..tt, your left-right-left", calls out Officer Bill. We are breathing hard. Class 72-E turns into the parking lot, from where he had started 45 minutes earlier.
We trot to a halt, still in formation. "Ten-hut", barks Bill. We come to attention. Bill is barely sweating, not out of breath. "Tomorrow is Friday", declares Officer William "Don't Mess With Bill" Reed. Involuntarily I hear Dancin' Don call out in my head, "Fry...Day." "You hopeless rookies will be riding with TMU this week. Don't embarrass us."
Thursday, December 23, 1971 Macambo Bar Eight Mile Road and Dequindre Detroit "Sick dogs. They're sick dogs, I tell you." Jack Travis and I are in a booth at the back of the Macambo, our favorite postclass watering hole. Jack sits with his back to the wall, arms resting on the cheap Formica table top, holding a Stroh's longneck. I'm to his left, sitting at the end of the table in the "U"-shaped booth. I'm nursing a Pabst stubby. "Sick dog" is one of Jack's favorite pejorative terms. We are both looking at fat, middle - aged businessmen and auto execs feeding one-dollar bills to biker chicks sliding up and down chrome poles on a stage. "I know you wanna leave me..." The Temptations kick in from huge speakers on either side of the stage. "But I refuse to let you go.." There are about a dozen guys seated on cheap stools in front of a ledge bar along three sides of the stage. They wear shirts with loosened ties. They are eye level with the girl's knees, but this perspective gets more interesting when the girls slide down to crawl and hang tits-out over the ledge. 29
It's 5:30 PM and most of these guys just got off work at Chrysler's Mound Road Truck Plant, about 2 miles away. It's where they make tanks. Macambo and Chrysler do a brisk business in this town. Supply and demand. The businessmen go wild when the music starts. They each hold a little wooden stick with a solid wooden ball glued to the tip, which they pound insanely on the bar top. "If I have to beg you please for your sympathy..." There are six girls on the small, rectangular stage, three front and three back. They are not choreographed, but the three girls in front take care of the men along the front of the stage, while the three girls in back split duty with the guys on either side. The girls are cute, in their mid-to-late 20's and all have big tits. They are wearing skimpy bikinis. It's a good song and they are getting into it, wildly rubbing their crotches on the poles, some doing the splits on the way down. "I don't mind cause you mean that much to me..." The execs respond in kind. The music and the energy from the stage amp them up to a new level. Some are standing, others are listing off stools. Many look slack-jawed, half drunk and burned out from another day at the office. They pound mercilessly on the bar top. They remind me of the orangutan cage at the Detroit Zoo, whooping, bouncing up and down and pounding on the cage at feeding time. Except the orangutans seem more self-controlled. "Ain't too proud to beg...(cause you know it)...please don't leave me girl.." "C'mon Jack, we're no better. We like to look at their tits too." Jack flashes a confessional smile and nods in agreement. Jack Travis and I met on induction day at the academy, 16 weeks ago. He was standing in line in front of me as we waited to get our brown, student police officer uniforms. Jack stood just over 6 feet tall. He had light brown hair, brown/black eyes and a boyish smile that belied a lifetime of experience racked up in a few short years. He wasn't muscular but exuded a wiry toughness and moved with remarkable fluidity. His posture was erect and his bearing formal if not military.
He had dropped a duffle bag on the floor and a copy of Ayn Rand's Fountainhead slid out of an unzipped side pocket. This, I found interesting. I bent over and picked up the book and handed it to him. "You read this stuff?" Jack looked at the book then at me. He smiled, took the book and zipped it back into his bag. "Yeah," he said, "I need a daily dose of cynicism to get me through." We were both smiling at that point. Without a word, a bond had formed. Two young men, both matriculating into the Detroit Polilce Academy, getting ready for spelling lessons. I knew why I was at the academy but who was this guy that read Ayn Rand and why would he want to be a Detroit cop? "Great Books Club, huh?" said Terry Greenhouse, as an image of that day in St. Matthew's parking lot arced across my consciousness." From that time, Jack and I had begun to form a friendship - halting but the genuine article. "Ain't too proud to pleee-ad baby, baby..." One of the girls on stage kicks a fat, balding exec in the chest and he reels backwards, momentarily stunned. Dollar bills are falling from his right hand as he opens his fist to break his fall. He hits the deck hard, ass first, then shoulders just before the back of his head bounces off the floor. The guy that was sitting next to him starts laughing and moves over to help. The other men gathered around the stage continue to pound their mallets in time with the music. They pay no attention to the guy spawled on the floor. It's like it happens all the time. "Please don't leave me girl.....(Don't you go..)" "Would you look at that?" says Jack. "I mean, the guy has no pride...no self-respect." I say, "C'mon, cut him some slack. He gets his ass kicked by his boss every day in some crummy office with no windows then goes home where the wife won't give him any.."
Jack laughs, tips the Strohs back and finishes the bottle with a long draw. "Let's get out of here." "I agree" I say and I call for the check. We grab our black gym bags and head for the door. Brown pants and shiny black shoes poking out beneath our windbreakers. "Com-pa-ny..always on the run..." Bad Company gathers momentum from the stage speakers. It slows the girls gyrations and momentarily confuses the businessman percussion section. I slow down a step. I like this song. "Des-ti-ny...in the risin sun...." Jack looks over his shoulder, almost at the door. Shoots a look that say's "Come on..." "I was born....six-gun in my hand..." --We hit the door and feel the cold, night air wash over us. The parking lot is half - full and rush hour traffic on 8 Mile Road is winding down. Jack opens the door of his car and thows his gym bag across the to the passenger seat. It hits with a loud thud then hangs precariously over the front edge of the bench seat. I look incredulous but before I can say anything, Jack says, "Don't worry, it's not loaded." We are student cops. We carry guns to and from our homes but we can't carry them off duty. Tomorrow night, at TMU, we will carry them. Jack unzips his windbreaker, leans against the open car door. Looks out at the traffic on Dequindre. "T...M...U...", he says, stressing each letter with false dramatics. I smile. "Yeah, TMU...Tactical Mobile Unit. I hear they piss off the precinct boys every time they roll in." Dancin' Don told us that TMU was the elite of the uniform patrol world. Only
the best cops, with only the best arrest records got a shot at getting in. Don said they formed the unit after the awful 1967 riots. The mayor figured that maintaining a 24 - car strike force, 24-hours-per-day, might be enough to stop the next riot before it got going. Pretty embarrassing to have the 82d Airborne patrolling your streets. Jack's tough-guy diction could not hide his excitement at having a night on the town with TMU, even if he saw it from the back seat, even if he had to wear a brown student police officer uniform, even if the street hoods, pimps, hookers and drunks would laugh at his spit-shined rookie ass. Jack says, "Yeah, but they do the job. They clean up the streets. Rate stats drop across the board when they deploy." "They take care of business...", he adds after a moment. Arliss 2 shifts in hibernation. "Jack", I say, "they upset a delicate balance. They rile everybody up, then leave the precinct boys to clean up the mess." Jack gives me a look of scorn. He is already hardcore. In fact, he arrived pre-packaged, factory-installed, hardcore. Jack Travis, at 19, served in the US Army's 5th Special Forces Group, (Airborne) for two consecutive tours in Vietnam, January 1968 - September 1970. He was a sniper. Project Delta. "Balance? Whaddya mean balance?" Jack asks. He adds, with a smile, "If you do something wrong, you get locked up. That's it." We've had this conversation before. Each of us exaggerating our position, enjoying the intellectual reach. The early version of the Arliss Quinn-Jack Travis "Good Cop- Bad Cop" production. The Macambo bar door bangs open and a small group of businessmen spill out into the lot. For a moment, we can hear the music inside.... "I met - ah gin-soaked bar room queen in Memphis.."
Mick Jagger, warming up. The door slams shut behind them and they stop a minute to confer among themselves. They look wobbly and in no shape to drive. But this is the Motor City. We all turn to look at an EMS ambulance weaving through traffic, eastbound on 8 Mile. The businessmen saddle up into separate cars and tear ass out of the lot. I turn back to Jack Travis: - US Army, Fifth Special Forces (Airborne), Sergeant First Class Jack Travis. -- One Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and one Distinguished Service Cross. -- Cum laude graduate of the University of Detroit, where the Jesuits awarded him a Divinity degree but could not fix the broken and missing pieces. -- a fan of Ayn Rand and founding member of his own Great Books Club. Now, Student Police Officer Jack Travis- the best shot in class 72-E. The best shot by far. "Okay, Jack. It's late and I gotta go. See you at TMU." "Yeah, okay Arliss, be there."
Friday, December 24, 1974 2170 Selden Street Apartment G-4 4:40 PM Cyrus Wolfe grunts and pulls his right forearm from under his neck. He is lying face - up on a tattered red sofa. He has off-white, semi-viscous slime stuck to his upper lip. He stretches his right arm out, trying to restore circulation. A fly is buzzing near his nostrils. He pushes his right leg off the sofa and it bangs into a coffee table, causing a 34
half-empty quart bottle of Budweiser beer to vibrate in decreasing concentric circles before the liquid and bottle reach a new gravitational stasis at the table's edge. The sound of the glass spinning on wood slowly fades. There is an open newspaper on the center of the coffee table. A cooking spoon, needle, rubber tourniquet and a piece of aluminum scarred by ashes are scattered across the paper's Sport's Section. Al Kaline has won another Golden Glove. Cyrus shifts again, opens one eye, then another. He sighs and tries to clear the fog from his vision. He tries to get up but makes it only partway, stopping to rest on his elbows. He looks around the dingy apartment. He can tell by the light that it's late afternoon. He doesn't know the time and he is not particularly interested. Cyrus' lifestyle is not exactly 9-to-5. He reaches for the Bud, grabs the bottle by the neck and lifts it to his lips. He drinks the remaining liquid and tosses the empty bottle on the floor near the base of the sofa, where it ricochets with a loud bang before tumbling off to the center of the room. He puts his right index finger and thumb into his mouth and pulls out a drenched cigarette butt that had been in the bottle. He does not look particularly surprised or bothered. He flicks the butt across the room. Cyrus reaches into his rumpled shirt pocket but cannot locate his cigarettes. He raises himself up to a sitting position and checks each of his pants pockets, but finds nothing. He begins to dig in between the sofa cushions with a slightly elevated level of intensity. Among his many addictions ("cross addictions", as his parole officer calls them), tobacco ranks near the top. He finds a crumpled red-colored pack of Pall Malls, digs out one, puts it in his mouth with trembling hands and reaches for a book of matches on the coffee table, next to the cooking spoon. He lights the cigarette, takes a deep draw and blows the smoke out through his nostrils. Cyrus swings his other leg off the sofa, pushes the coffee table away and rises up to his full 6' 3" frame. He pauses for a moment, looks down and frowns at a wet stain near the crotch of his dark green pants. He shuffles across the room, kicking aside sheets of newspapers, a can or two and the empty Bud bottle and bangs open the bathroom door. He stands before the toilet and starts to urinate, but he is unsteady and the stream
begins to run onto his feet. It takes him a moment to process this. He grunts a few obscenities, "Fuck! Fucker!" and then jumps back, causing an even larger swath of errant spray to form. A dog begins to bark nearby, then another, and another. A dog chorus. There is also a distant siren. Cyrus shuffles up to the sink. His penis is still sticking out of his pants and it hits the cold porcelain, surprising Cyrus, who staggers back, mutters a few more obscenities and zips up his fly. He looks in the mirror. His hazel eyes are a patchwork of bloody veins and capillaries. He sees the white slime and wipes it off with the back of his right hand, while propping himself on the sink with his left. He brushes back his thick brown hair with his hand and looks into the mirror again, straining to focus. He is wavering and unsteady on his feet. He begins to vomit into the sink but tries to move towards the toilet. Too late. Vomit hits the left edge of the sink. Cyrus moves to the toilet and the second retch creates a trail behind him on his two-step journey over and down to the toilet bowl. He retches a few more times then gets up. He feels better. He walks across a short hall; kicks open a door to a bedroom. He pushes his pants down, kicks them under the bed and grabs a pair of blue jeans lying on a chair. He pulls off his shirt. His scar history is impressive: a two inch diagonal cut running from his left ear across the side of his throat, several entry wound scars to his right shoulder, back and upper right bicep. Cyrus pulls on a light grey sweatshirt with an bright orange Detroit Tigers logo on the chest. Next he pulls a blue sock cap over his head and grabs a dark blue windbreaker that is lying on the bed. He starts to leave the room but stops, turns around a pulls open a small drawer on the nightstand next to the bed. He takes out a small .22 caliber handgun and zips it into his jacket pocket. Cyrus walks back to the living room, picking up his pace. He grabs the newspaper on the coffee table and throws it on the floor. He gets down on one knee and looks under the sofa. Gets up, says, " Fuck, Mo-ther Fu-cker." Cyrus stands still for a moment, his favorite thinking position.
He turns abruptly, opens the apartment door and leaves.
Beaubien and Macomb Streets Headquarters- Tactical Mobile Unit Detroit Police Department 6:30 PM We are standing at attention in the roll call room at TMU's headquarters in downtown Detroit. The TMU night shift is coming on duty. I am with half of my academy class. We are at the back of the room, out of the way. The TMU officers look good. Their blue uniforms are pressed, their leathers are shined and no pot bellies to be seen. I feel a sense of esprit de corps, though they are ignoring we SPO pledges, standing nervously in our brown uniforms at the back of the room. A TMU sergeant calls us to attention and Lieutenant Gus Trudeau walks quickly into the room and takes a position behind a podium. He is in his early 40's, tall, with a thick, curly mane of salt and pepper hair. He puts on reading glasses and gets right down to business. "8-1- Focarelli, Hein." Lt. Trudeau is calling out assignments for the shift. Most of these guys work together each night. They are "partners", which in the police world is a bedrock relationship formed slowly over time and through adversity. "8-2 - Casper, Bernacki." "8-3 - Baker, DiGiovanni." The digit "8" signifies the radio call sign for TMU. There is no eighth precinct in Detroit. Normally, the precinct number would be the first digit or digits in a patrol car's identity. But TMU works citywide, so their ID call sign is "8." The second digit is the specific number for a car and officers. "Dyson - Benson- 8-12." Lt. Trudeau continues through the assignment of 12 TMU cars. Twelve or one-half of TMU will be assigned to the 4th precinct on Detroit's near west side.
Lt. Trudeau then reads aloud a series of department announcements, personnel actions and the schedule of upcoming retirement parties. "Making it" to retirement is the end game in the Detroit Police Department. Finally, Lt. Trudeau announces, with a grin, that we SPO's will be assigned to ride with TMU on this Friday night. A loud, collective groan goes up from the assembled throng. We are pledging. Lt. Trudeau then quickly goes through a list of SPO assignments: "Barster- 81, Collingham- 8-2, Quinn- 8-3." He finally calls out, "Travis- 8-12", and then closes out roll call. The TMU officers leave the room and head out to the garage, leaving us behind and unacknowledged. We look at each other then lamely follow them to the cars. The garage area is packed with 24 TMU cars. They have all been washed. Like the officers, TMU cars must be well groomed at all times. The officers are already at the vehicles. There is a cacophony of noise. Some officers are checking shotguns to make sure there are no chambered rounds. Each car has a shotgun locked in a rack in the front seat. Other officers are doing radio checks. Still others are briefly checking sirens and flashing lights. Although it appears confused, it is not and the whole scene reminds me of pilots and copilots running through preflight. "8-7, 8-7, radio check", says a boyish looking officer with red blonde hair as I walk by. I hear the dispatch officer patiently answer, "8-7, clear." The officers are beginning to get into the patrol cars. Each one looks like a standard Detroit Police marked car, except they have "TMU" emblazoned on the right and left rear quarter panels in bright blue letters. I see Jack across the garage, slowly walking among the patrol cars looking for 8-12. I see 8-3 along the far edge of the pack and begin to make my way over, snaking between the cars and officers. When I arrive at 8-3, I see Baker and DiGiovanni finishing the equipment checks. They look up but don't say anything. Baker is a non-descript, 6-foot tall, athletic looking officer with close-cropped light brown hair. DiGiovanni is an inch shorter and about 10 inches wider at
the waist. He moves easily though and has a warm smile beneath a shaggy, regulation trimmed mustache. I say, "Hi, I'm Quinn, I'm supposed to ride with you tonight." I say, "supposed to", because it invokes the derivative authority of Lt. Trudeau, who assigned me to this car. I would never presume to say, "I am riding" or "I will be riding" with you tonight. Baker nods an acknowledgement throws his hat on the dashboard and gets into the passenger side of the car. DiGiovanni comes around to the rear of the car and extends his right hand. "Hi, I'm DiGiovanni but everybody calls me 'Deej.' " His nickname reminds me of the slang abbreviation "DJ" for Disc Jockey. I shake his hand. "Hi Deej, Arliss." He motions for me to get in the back seat, which I do. I notice that my gun, now in a holster on my right hip, gets in the way when I try to sit down. I swivel the holster up, but it feels unnatural. Deej takes the wheel, starts the car and gets in line behind the other vehicles leaving the garage. We leave en masse, tearing out of the garage at a pretty good clip. It already feels like a unit. Deej turns south onto Beaubien, then west on East Lafayette Street before turning north onto Randolph. Baker is arranging his cop paraphernalia in the front seat: black-jack stuck between the seat cushions, adjacent to the wooden stock of the shotgun; metal clip board on the dashboard; prep radio and flashlight lying on the seat between him and Deej. Finally, he afixes a large map pasted on wooden board to the dashboard. It is a map of the fourth precinct. We are making our way to the fourth, which is about 10 minutes away.
6:50 PM Selden and Gibson Streets 39
Near West Side Detroit Cyrus walks out of the apartment then west down Selden Street. It's a cool night with a light drizzle. He zips up the windbreaker and plunges his hands deep into the jeans pockets. It's dark, damp and cold, so not many people are on the street. A few houses are decorated with Christmas lights, strung around the window and door frames. The decorations stand in bleak contrast to the rest of the neighborhood, which is largely comprised of abandoned and boarded houses built in the 1940's to accomodate the waves of immigrants that flowed into the Motor City to work in factories during the war. Cyrus crosses diagonally to the south side of Selden, weaving between two late model cars. He notices that one, a Cadillac El Dorado, already has a punched trunk lock and a slice of the canvas convertible roof missing above the driver's door. Cyrus shivers in the cold damp air even though is palms are sweaty in his pockets. This paradox is caused by the diminishing blood level of Schedule I narcotic controlled substances, currently being filtered out of his system by his increasingly inefficient and enlarged liver. At Gibson Street, he turns left and heads south towards Brainard. But he is not going to Brainard. Instead, Cyrus walks down the block till he reaches a dilapidated, two-storey, frame house, remodeld in the crack-house motif, now popular in many areas of Motown. The house has no signs of life. There are thick, grilled encasements on all windows of the house, including those on the second storey. There is an even larger, more sturdy metal bolted to the brick front and covering the front door. There is no grass on the lot and all plant life has long ceased to exist. The front window next to the door, presumably looking out from the dining room, is boarded up. Cyrus turns left to walk up the short, though stylishly curved, concrete walk leading to the front door. A large and ominous sounding dog begins to bark from inside the home. Cyrus glances quickly left and right before climbing the two, concrete steps leading to the small front porch. Cyrus feels nervous and exposed. He spots two young women walking north from Brainard down Gibson, about 100 meters away. His instincts tell him they are coming here. It's that time of day.
Cyrus presses on the doorbell but hears nothing. He twists his hand through the metal grill and raps sharply on the door. The dog barking notches up a key or two. Nothing moving. Cyrus knocks again, this time more insistently. He hears the locking hardware turning on the other side of the large, black metal door. It takes several moments. There are multiple locks and even bolts being thrown along the lower and upper edges of the door frame. Finally, the door swings open about two inches. "Yo- Rus, what's happenin?", says a deep masculine voice from within the darkened area beyond the open door. "You know, man... what it is", says Cyrus, adding "You holdin?" No comment from behind the door. Cyrus looks over his left shoulder and notices the two young girls are now about 50 meters down the street. They are looking at him, or the house, or both, but still moving. "C'mon man, got-ta go", Cyrus says. "Show me", says the voice from inside, this time with a formal tone. "Aw man, c'mon, you know, I'm light right now. Cut me a 10 and I'll be right back, mother fucker", says Cyrus, with a slightly pleading tone. The drizzle picks up a bit and is now a light rain. The girls are 25 meters out, but slowing down. Trying to pace their arrival with Cyrus' depature. The door begins to close, as Cyrus pulls his hands out of his jean pockets in a suppliant gesture, palms up. "Hey, man, hey...what the fuck...you know me, man, you know me", Cyrus says, to no avail. The door clicks shut, but the locks do not turn. Cyrus turns and sees the two girls slowing to turn up the short, curved sidewalk, giving Cyrus a wary look. He jumps over the two concrete steps and walks with fury down the curved
sidewalk. He glares at the girls, who give him plenty of room. One of the girls, about 17, with large breasts pushing up over a tight purple spandex tank top, involuntarily grabs the arm of her friend, a slightly older and taller woman with dark brown skin wearing a long black raincoat. The dog in the house begins to bark, but with a tone that says it is losing interest. Cyrus reaches the sidewalk, turns left and begins to walk south on Gibson to Brainard. The girls are on the front porch. Cyrus hears them giggle. Cyrus walks fast down Gibson but slows his pace as he approaches Brainard. Hands jammed deep into his pocket, hunched over in the cold, wet rain, he stops to look around, but sees nothing of interest. So, he turns right and starts walking west to Grand River Avenue.
6:55 PM Fourteenth Street and Forest Avenue, West Fourth Precinct Deej eases the car into the left lane of 14th street slowing to turn east on to Forest. Neither Deej nor Baker said much on the 15 minute ride from TMU headquarters. The police radio blares a non-stop litany of calls. It is for the most part a mantra of unitelligible gibberish to my uneducated ear. " 4-2, 4-2... 2160 Calumet, family trouble..." "4-2 - by.." "4-4, 4-4....Buchannan and 17th, shots fired in the alley..." "4-4 - by..." " 4-5, 4-5.....Poplar and 16th, we're getting man with a gun... Could be related to shots fired, Buchannan and 17th, 4-4 on the way..." "4-5 - by" The officers sound surprisingly calm over the radio, setting out to potentially 42
lethal encounters. "8-1, 8-1 dispatch, will assist Buchannan and 17th, shots fired..." West side dispatch answers, "4-4, 4-5, 8-1 enroute to Buchannan and 17th, shots fired." Deej cocks his head right as he turns the car right on to Forest. "Do you get this?...Do you understand what's going on?" These are the first words spoken to me since we left the garage. I answer, "No, not really", trying to maintain my cool. Baker says nothing. Deej says, "Two precinct cars, 4-4 and 4-5 are going to a shots fired/man with a gun call. TMU 8-1, Focarelli and Hein, are in the area and will also respond." "Probably nothing", he adds laconically. But he turns the car right and heads south down Averly, towards the area of Buchannan and 17th. "4-7, 4-7.....3240 Tillman, stolen car report...." "4-7 - by" "4-9, 4-9..... Alexandrine and Grand River, Big Boy Party Store, RA in progress..." Deej presses down on the accelator and looks at Baker, who reaches for the radio microphone on the dash. Baker says, "8-3, 8-3...dispatch...Forest and Avery...will make the RA, Alexandrine and Grand River....." Dispatch answers, "4-9....8-3 enroute to RA, Alexandrine and Grand River." Deej is powering through the congested streets. No lights, no siren. He still has time to shout to me over his left shoulder. He says" We're close, maybe a block or two. RA in progress. When we get there, stay behind us." I'm having trouble listening over the roar of the oversized police package engine in our Chrysler sedan.
But I get the drift. RA, I later learn, means Armed Robbery. Deej swerves around a van stopped at a red light, looks breifly both ways and accelerates through the intersection. He slows the car slightly as we approach Alexandrine Street. He angles to the left and makes a impossibly fast right turn onto Alexandrine. Grand River and the Big Boy Party Store are a half block away. My palms are wet and I am holding onto the back of the front bench seat as Deej slams the car through the turn. I can feel my heart pounding and the andrenline dumping into my bloodstream. I have an incredible urge to move. I am already addicted. Deej stops the car a short distance before reaching the Big Boy. He and Baker, in one fluid motion, quickly but quietly get out of the car and draw their guns. Baker has a .357 nickel plated, Smith and Wesson revolver with combat grips. Deej has a Smith and Wesson Model 39, semi-auto 9mm. I am out the door behind them, fumbling at my holster, trying to draw my .38 Smith and Wesson Police Special, department issued. I wonder, for a moment, why these guys don't have department guns. I mean they're free, right? Deej and Baker walk quietly up the street towards the store, weapons held down at their sides. As they reach the area in front of the store, Baker continues up the street and crouches down behind a parked car in front of the store. Deej slips between two parked cars to the sidewalk and quickly walks to the front of a run-down Laundromat next to the Big Boy Party Store. I close the gap, but stop a short distance behind Deej. My gun is out, but pointed towards the ground. There are two young boys riding bikes down the sidewalk, coming from Grand River. There is an old lady across the street from the Big Boy Party Store. She has stopped and is watching us. She does not seem surprised. She is holding a brown bag, with celery stalks protruding from the top. Deej, rotund but supremely balanced, rises up on his toes and peeks around a concrete abutment through the party store window. A middle aged black woman comes out of the landromat, holding a basket of folded clothes, with a large box of Cheer laundry detergent precariously
blanced on top. She sees Deej, then his gun, then me, then my gun. She stops abrubtly and the box tumbles onto the sidewalk, spilling white detergent powder with little blue specks onto the wet sidewalk and curb. Deej breifly looks back but then turns his attention to the party store. I hear the squeal of tires and an engine winding up. It's 4-9, the precinct car, tearing down Alexandrine from Grand River. Baker is holding fast, covered behind the car, staring straight ahead. Deej seems to unwind by a degree. There is no identifiable change in his posture, just a slightly differennt demeanor at the store front window. 4-9 is now parked up the street from the party store, a mirror image of our formation on the opposite side of the store. A black man in his late 50's, holding a shotgun and wearing a white butcher's apron is standing at the entrance of the store, looking out at the street. My breathing picks up and I raise my gun. But Deej is holstering his Model 39 and Baker is beginning to stand up. I'm confused, but I jam my revolver back into my holster. Two officers from 49 are now walking calmly towards the party store. Deej approaches the black man in the doorway, who is breathing hard. He lowers his gun and looks at Deej with a bewildered stare, eyes wide. He licks his lips. Deej puts both hands out, palms down, in a gesture to induce calm in the man. Baker is now at the entrance as well. The man looks at both, smiles weakly, lowers the gun and turns back into the store. I exhale and feel the andrenline afterburn. My hands are shaky and I feel lighteaded. Deej is speaking to the man, who is the owner of the Big Boy Party Store. He is getting a description. Baker is on the hand held prep radio: "Dispatch, 8-3." Dispatch answers, "8-3....." Baker: "RA in progress, Grand River and Alexandrine, all over." "Responding
units, stand down", he adds. Dispatch: "Units responding RA in progress, Grand River and Alexandrine, Big Boy Party Store, 8-3 on scene." I see another TMU car turning left off southbound Grand River onto Alexandrine. They cruise by the store and smile. I can't make out who the SPO is on the back seat. I go inside the store and see Deej talking to the store owner. He has a description. Baker hands him the radio. Deej leans against the checkout counter and briefly jostles a display of hanging Junior Salami Sticks. Deej patiently feeds dispatch a description of two, young black men, who just held-up the party store. Both men are tall, slim and in their mid-20's, wearing dark jackets and pants. Short cropped hair. One armed with a large, semiautomatic handgun. This generic description of the suspects will fit half the young men on the streets of the fourth precinct that night. Deej begins to fill out a PCR- preliminary complaint record. I feel useless and I don't know what to do. I am oddly out of place, as the other officers go about their business with an air of authority and confidence. They seem to belong here. I go back outside. The old lady with the celery is now walking away. The two kids on bikes are gone. The lady from the laundromat is loading her clothes basket into the back seat of her car; the car Baker was crouching behind, weapon drawn, just moments ago. She slams the car door shut after jamming the basket inside. She turns around looks at me and smiles. She steps over a puddle of laundry detergent on the wet sidewalk, now the consistency of putty. Her smile is not warm. It's more of a derisive smirk. I stand there feeling foolish. I'm supposed to be a cop. But the brown pants, polished leathers, department issued gun and this lady's smile are sending a slightly different message. I can act like a cop, strut like a cop, but right now I feel a long way from being a cop.
7:50 PM Magnolia and 12th Streets Fourth Precinct Cyrus walks down Brainard to Grand River, crosses the street mid-block, dodging several cars that slow or swerve to avoid hitting him. He turns right and walks up Grand River to Magnolia, where the turns left towards 12th Street. He doesn't feel like being on main streets. There is a ringing noise in his ears. The rain has stopped but there is a light drizzle intermittenly falling. He can see it in the light cast from the street lights and feel it on his face. Cyus is feeling bad. His palms itch and and he feels hot, even though he occassionaly shivers. His mouth is dry. He licks his lips but his tongue is slightly swollen and coated. He has an acrid mettalic taste in his mouth. He feels like vomiting. He sees a police car turn right onto Magnolia from Grand River and stiffens, remembering the piece in his jacket pocket, but keeps walking at an even pace. The car slows and the cop driving gives him a brief look of dismissive appraisal before moving on. Cyrus has no plan. Time, in its haunting forms of past and future, do not hamper Cyrus. His concerns are solely in the present and, at this precise moment, he badly needs a hit. Cocaine hydrochloride, that's what Cyrus wants. Take it home, cook it up, shoot it up, then call it a day. Chemists call it "freebasing", which means burning off the hydrochloride, leaving a purified, highly addictive form of cocaine known as "crack." By the time he was 16, Cyrus had been weaned on a steady diet of weed, beer and an occassional nose full of glue. Anything to get over. Later, progessing on his addict career track, he tried “chipping” heroin, which quickly led to mainlining and a $125/day habit. His first felony arrest was for B&E, after breaking into his neigbor's apartment to steal her TV. He copped a suspended sentence, contingent upon enrollment in a county detox program, at which he never appeared. Cyrus picks up his pace. He feels tired and agitated. Angry too. Free form anger, bubbling up from his guts like brown foam. At 12th street, Cyrus ses them. There are two women getting into a late
model, dark blue Ford Escort. The car is parked on the other side of 12th street, a short distance north of Magnolia, left wheels to curb. Cyrus watches the younger woman helping the older woman get into the passenger side of the car. The older woman is shifting her weight from her four pronged aluminum cane in her left hand to the open car door in her right hand. The younger woman is trying to help with the transition, but can do little other than put a reassuring hand on the elbow of the the older woman, as she struggles to take her seat. Both women are wearing long, black winter coats. The younger woman has a white woollen cap stylishing askew her thick black hair, offset by a bright red scarf. It's Christmas time. The older woman half-falls into the passenger seat, causing the Escort to rock slightly side-to-side. The younger woman takes the cane, closes the door and begins to walk around the front of the car. She does not see Cyrus coming. Cyrus begins his move still not quite sure of exactly what he is going to do. This is normal for live-in-the-moment Cyrus, as well as for most other crackheads on the edge. Cyrus times his arrival to conincide with the younger woman opening the driver's door of the Escort. He slows his pace slightly as he nears the car, givng the woman time to get into position. He unzips his right jacket pocket and puts his hand around the grip of the gun. He takes a quick, final approach look around but it's dark and wet and traffic is light. The younger woman has the car keys in her hand, as she reachs for the driver's door. The keys are dangling on a large brass ring, from which hangs a small, similing snowman wearing a black stovepipe hat. As the young woman bends slightly forward to put the key into the door lock, she hears or perhaps senses Cyrus' approach. She turns her head slightly but her vision explodes into a white rush of tiny sparkling stars as Cyrus viciously lands a kick upward into her stomach. The force of the kick lifts her slightly off her feet and tosses her forward and down onto the curb, where she lands on her side, desperately gasping for air. The aluminum cane clangs onto the sidewalk. Cryus grabs the driver's door of the Escort and violently jerks it open. The older woman begins to scream, her outcry partially muffled from inside the car.
Cyrus props his right hand on the driver's door for support, before stomping on the prostrate woman several times. The car rocks as Cyrus delivers the blows. The kicks land in short staccato bursts, peppering the young woman's face and neck. The young woman's white cap has fallen away from her head and is partially covering her face. Bloodstains start to bloom through the white wool. A piece of skin has torn away from her right cheek. Cyrus stomps on her face her one additional time, hearing the brittle crack of her nose. The young woman, still gasping for air and now teetering on shock, can only whimper, unable to cry out. The older lady continues screaming from inside the car but with less intensity, as she struggles for breath. Cyrus reachs down to grab the purse of the younger woman. The purse's large leather handles have tangled around the woman's left arm, which is now pinned under her body. Cyrus struggles to free the purse and, on the edge of crack - induced paranoia, assumes the woman is resisting his effort. Crazed with anger, Cyrus kneels down next to the young woman. Her head is dangling over the curb, near the front wheel of the car. Cyrus takes the gun out of his pocket with his right hand and grabs the woman's hair with his left. He jerks her head upright and presses the short barrel of the cheap, smudged handgun into her right nostril, twisting it up into her broken nose. Blood pours from the open wound in the woman's cheek, some of it seeping onto the barrel of the gun. The woman has high cheekbones and large brown eyes. Tears stream down her cheeks. Cyrus bangs her head on the curb twice. The woman moans, making gurgling sounds deep in her throat. Cyrus is falling over the edge, losing it. He pulls the gun barrel out of the young girl's nostril and forces it into her mouth. The girl's eyes widen and she begins to thrash about, twisting her body back and forth. Cyrus pulls the trigger. The small caliber .22 makes a funny popping sound, not much louder than a champagne bottle cork launched out of its resting place to celebrate a holiday.
It's Christmas time. The cheap, low velocity bullet takes its time meandering through the soft tissue of the woman's right eye socket, sinus cavity and frontal cortex, before ricocheting 90 degrees off the inside of her skull, coming to rest near her left ear drum. Her legs jerk spasmodically for a moment, then she lays still. Cyrus quickly removes the gun barrel from the woman's mouth and wipes it on her coat. He has a look of mild surprise on his face. Not regret. Not shock. Just surprise. A "Wow, did you see that?" kind of look. Cyrus stands up, kicks the inert corpse of the young woman aside and grabs her purse. He turns around to walk back to the open car door but stops short, surprised to see a tall teenage boy standing wide-eyed on the sidewalk. The boy is dressed in a bulky winter coat and is standing next to a bicycle. The bicycle has a white canvas bag strung across the handlebars. The words "Detroit News" are printed in bright red letters on the bag. Newspapers folded into batons poke out of the bag. The boy looks at the gun and then at Cyrus. Cyrus stands still for a moment. He moves a half-step towards the boy and says, with a quiet though furious tone, "What the fuck you lookin at nigger? Get the fuck outta here..." The boy is frozen in wide-eyed fear. Cyrus kicks the aluminum cane up the street, where it bangs into a parking meter pole. He turns around, picks up the Snowman key ring and gets into the Ford Escort. The older woman begins to scream with renewed vigor. Cyrus slaps her across the face. He then turns partially to his right and punches her in the throat and the side of her head. Her head bounces off the door window. Cyrus slams the door, turns the key in the ignition and pulls away. He is heading north on 12th street.