The Day of the Gun, Part V
As state and federal law enforcement officials pieced together what happened that afternoon in the Parkwood Cemetery, everyone agreed that Captain Paul Hewson, Chief of the Lakeland Police Department, fired the first shot. Hewson himself admitted it. The controversy arose over who triggered the furious barrage that desecrated many of the ancient tombstones in the historic cemetery. Someone advanced a theory that Dave Tremblor of WITSEC was the culprit, but Tremblor neither confirmed nor denied his role in the incident. By the time anyone thought to question the Davemeister, events had progressed far beyond the Parkwood shooting.
The ballistics investigation raised more questions than it answered. So many guns were fired that afternoon it was difficult to determine what happened, and in what sequence. Military analysts refer to the uncertainty of combat recollections as the “fog of war.” Once shooting starts and pulses race, reliable eyewitness accounts of who did what, when, and how are difficult to pinpoint with precision and accuracy.
The man posing as an undertaker was the first hit, judging by most accounts. It turned out his name was Louis P. Jones, and he was a drifter from the Midwest who had performed odd jobs for a local contractor named Michael J. Carlson. That fact in and of itself was hardly earthshaking until authorities realized that Michael J. Carlson had changed his surname — Carlucci — so it would not sound so Italian, so ethnic, a liability in some sectors of the housing and construction market. As it turned out, Michael J. Carlucci was the first cousin of Anthony H. Marciano — the infamous Tony the Knife, a resident of Sing Sing prison. For the Department of Justice, this was the key connection between the events of that day and the crime boss that Steven Harris, aka Kurt Martin, aka 8172483, helped to put behind bars.
The connections had yet to be made when Louis P. Jones’s head snapped back and he tumbled to the ground. The top of his skull was gone as though someone had inserted a hammer claw into a watermelon and pried a large piece from the top. He was dead before he came to rest in a patch of grass next to the Lenora family plot. As his eyes rolled up in their sockets, they resembled a window shade that had been yanked and released, only to spring to the top of the windowsill.
“Holy Mary, mother of God!” Captain Hewson gasped before he recovered his composure enough to drop where he stood. Lying on his not inconsiderable stomach, he shinnied behind the largest marker he could find. His back, already smarting from his collision with a drainpipe, cried out in protest. Panting, he shut his eyes and mouthed a silent prayer of deliverance. He gripped his service revolver so tightly it tore at the calluses of his palm. Opening his eyes after a moment, he could see nothing but the effects of machine gun bullets as they bit off golf ball-sized chunks from the marble and granite headstones around him.
Thunder rolled across the terrain in a never-ending storm of destruction, echoing far beyond the confines of the cemetery walls. Within seconds, sirens wailed as patrol cars sprang into action. Lakeland was a small community, but its inhabitants had grown accustomed to the sounds of bullets and police sirens.
Hewson waited for a gap in the firing to reach up and squeeze off a few shots of his own, but the gap did not come. He had never served his country in the armed forces, but the police chief thought he understood now, in the autumn of his years, what it meant to be pinned by enemy fire.
Reaching into his jacket pocket, he removed a small radio and held it to his face. “Lakeland 1 to Lakeland 7,” he said over the roar. “Repeat: Lakeland 1 to Lakeland 7.”
The radio crackled to life. “Go ahead, Lakeland 1.”
“Jesus, where are you guys?” the chief demanded. “I’m pinned here.”
He recognized Fazio’s voice. Normally so controlled and emotionless, the man sounded frightened and breathless. “We took a hit here, Lakeland 1. Christ, we took a hit.”
Hewson’s heart skipped a beat. “Say again, Lakeland 7. Say again.”
Fazio became unglued. “Oh, Christ, it was Marlowe, cap’n. He took a round in the head. It looks bad.”
“Oh my God,” Hewson said to himself.
As if anticipating the next question, Fazio continued. “An ambulance is on the way, but it looks too late. I’m pretty sure Marlowe’s dead.”
“Oh my God,” Hewson repeated, this time into the radio.
Fazio fought for control and a measure of professionalism. “Where are you, Lakeland 1? Are you hit?”
The chief sat upright when he heard the news about Marlowe. His bruised kidney screamed at him, but he refused to yield. At that moment, a bullet struck the headstone inches from his ear, sending a shower of granite splinters into the side of his face. “Damn,” he said as he slid lower to the ground.
“Say again, Lakeland 1. Say again.”
Hewson wiped blood from his cheek. When he saw it was not serious, merely a flesh wound, and a few splinters at that, he depressed the radio button. “I’m okay, Lakeland 7, but I’m trapped in the middle of the cemetery near the amphitheater. Can you see the shooters?”
“Negative, Lakeland 1. They appear to be in the northwest corner, prob’ly in the trees. Some plainclothes are firing in that direction, but they’re pinned, too.”
“Any uniforms on the scene?”
“They’re returning fire, too, Lakeland 1,” Fazio said. “Christ, everyone’s firing! It’s a madhouse.”
The noise was so deafening that Hewson found it a strain to hear. “Roger that, Lakeland 7. Send back-up when you can.”
“Will do, Lakeland 1. Out.”
After he signed off the radio, Hewson vainly searched the surrounding area for signs of Kurt Martin. The suspect was not visible from the captain’s position. Had he been hit by gunfire or wisely taken refuge behind another grave? Hewson had no way to tell.
“Martin, you okay?” he shouted over the roar of incoming rounds.
Steve heard the policeman’s voice, but he could not make out the words. The fellow sounded scared, but not hurt, leading Harris to deduce that he and Hewson were in the same boat. They were trapped by gunfire, frightened, but essentially uninjured.
Harris, too, had thrown himself behind a gravestone when the shooting began. Instinctively, he rolled into a ball to protect his head as pieces of granite rained down on him. In the heat of the moment, he was at a loss to know how many shots had been fired, but he knew multiple shooters were involved. The rounds flew from several directions at once, a sure indication he was caught in crossfire.
He did not have a firearm. The AK-47 was still lying beneath the body of his former captor, but the man was too far away to reach without considerable risk to life and limb. For the moment, Steve had to lie low and wait for whatever might happen. He heard the officer shouting, but he did not respond.
The only thing he knew for certain was he could not withstand the enfilade for long. If he hunkered behind the grave indefinitely, they would get him. The stones would crack and crumble under the fierce assault until a stray bullet found its mark. Or perhaps a skilled marksman would shift position in a flanking maneuver that would afford him a more advantageous angle. When he found his range, he would easily put a bullet through his target.
Now is the time, a voice in his head screamed. If he stayed put, his options were limited. He had little choice but to run for it. Kurt, the indecisive, cowering suburbanite, gave way to Steve, the courageous, resourceful ex-Marine. His old self rose up in him, whispering in his ear that he had a job to do, and he must do it.
“Semper fi,” he whispered. It was the Marine Corps motto — Semper fi, short for Semper Fidelis — always faithful.
Crouching low, he picked a gravestone on the horizon, mentally mapped a course behind other gravestones, sucked in a deep breath, and assumed a competitive runner’s stance. When the barrage relaxed for a moment, he was off. Gunfire followed him as he scurried behind one marker and danced to the next. He was a crafty fellow. He zigzagged his way along a path that was anything but linear, cutting left and right in an apparently random series of movements that would have impressed even a seasoned NFL running back. They might have been exceptional marksmen, but the shooters were not mind readers.
He came to rest behind a large Civil War-era obelisk. As he caught his breath, he scanned the field for a convenient exit. He saw a line of cars parked along the roadway and, much to his surprise, he spied Fran Gilleland’s maroon Ford Taurus. At least it resembled her Taurus. He couldn’t be sure from this distance, but it was something to aim for in his mad dash across the cemetery.
Emboldened by his success, Steve threw himself away from the relative safety of the obelisk and danced through the field. He was prepared to sprint the final distance when he stepped onto a slippery patch of ground and, to his chagrin, felt his feet slide out from under him. Before he knew what had happened, he sat down hard on the side of a small marker hardly taller than a doorstop. A pain unlike anything he had experienced in a long while shot through his lower back. He moaned aloud.
So this is what happens when you get old.
As if his fall were not enough suspense in an already suspenseful day, he looked up as a uniformed police officer, his gun drawn, appeared seemingly out of thin air. He leaned forward and pressed his pasty white, sweaty face close to Steve. “Are you okay?” he asked in a high voice, almost a falsetto. “Are you hit?”
Wincing at the pain, Steve shook his head, no. “I slipped,” he managed to gasp while he rubbed his sore back. “But I’m not hit.”
“Can you tell where the shooting’s coming from?” the young patrolman asked as he stood up and gazed around the cemetery.
“Get down you damn fool,” Steve barked, but he was a second too late.
The beat cop — a young fellow who could not have been on the Lakeland force for more than a few months — suddenly flew backward and slammed into an old historic marker. The marker informed curious passersby that the cemetery was older than the town, and many of middle Georgia’s famous citizens of the nineteenth century lay at rest under the nearby lawn. The young policeman was hardly a renowned member of the community but he, too, lay on the grounds of that historic field.
On his knees, Steve crawled over to the prostrate form and examined his chest. At least three entry wounds were visible, but it was hard to tell. Blood was spurting everywhere, obstructing his view. The young man, his eyes wide with fear, looked up at Steve beseechingly. He seemed to be opening and closing his mouth, but he found no words. His body jerked and bucked like a fish flapping around on a pier, desperate to return to the ocean depths.
“Easy, easy,” Steve said as he unbuttoned and removed his own shirt. Using the garment to mop up the blood, he searched for the mouth of the wound. He was no medic, but he had seen enough bloodshed in his time to know that an arterial spray had to be stopped immediately or the patient would die.
“Got it,” Steve announced as he stuck his hand inside the wounded fellow’s shirt and felt the crater where the chest cavity should have been. The hole was the size of a softball, and the blood spewed in an unending torrent. It did not bode well for the victim.
“It’ll be okay,” Steve lied as he stared down in the patrolman’s face. “Shit.”
The eyes were no longer wide. They were glassy and unfocused. The body had ceased its convulsions. No question about it: The young man was dead. He had died at Steve’s feet just as Michael, Steve’s son, had died on that long-ago boardwalk.
Before Steve could stroll down memory lane and wallow in thoughts of what might have been, he was interrupted by sporadic gunfire erupting near his feet. Without hesitation, he left the dead policeman and duck-walked behind another grave. Once he was safely out of range, he glanced at his clothes.
He was drenched in blood. His formerly white T-shirt was bright red, like a target for the bulls of Pamplona. His Oxford-cloth dress shirt was drenched as he mopped up the blood. He balled it up and tossed it behind a large headstone adorned with a cherub. Looking down, he saw that his dress slacks were soaked. So much for his dreams of anonymity. He would stand out in any crowd save for a convention of butchers.
Eyes on the prize, he told himself. Eyes on the prize. He glanced back at what he took to be Frannie’s Taurus and again plotted the best course. Rubbing his back, he commanded his body to perform as the precision machine it could be upon occasion.
He was on his feet, crouched low, and dodging through the cemetery again. Bullets slapped at the ground and markers around him, but he knew he was passing out of range, and that realization spurred him to pour on the speed. For the first time since he had felt the cold steel of a gun barrel pressed against his temple, he thought he might yet emerge from the cemetery free and alive.
He reached a small, wrought-iron fence, a knee-high impediment designed not so much as a barrier to entry or exit as a graveyard decoration. Without breaking stride, he leapt the obstacle and ducked behind the Taurus. From the rear he noticed the license plate. It was Frannie’s car; he recognized the numbers. Talk about serendipity!
Luck be a lady tonight.
He pulled at the door handle but, not surprisingly, it was locked. Damn! He probably could gain entry, but that would take time, and time was in short supply. The shooting had stopped, which meant his assailants might be in motion.
Frantically, he looked around at nearby cars. He could not afford to wait. He must get out of there at once. Reluctantly, he reached an unassailable conclusion: He would have to run along the roadway and try each door until he found an unlocked car.
As it turned out, he did not break into Frannie’s car or find a replacement. Behind him, he heard a commotion. Turning, he saw a glut of people fleeing down the road. The gunfire had caused a stampede, and the thundering herd was heading for the safety of the vehicles.
Steve slid between two cars and watched as the first wave of humanity swept past him. Their cries and exhortations filled his ears. He was so intent on discerning individual voices he almost missed the sound he needed to hear: The door lock on the Taurus was activated.
He stood as a blonde woman slid into the driver’s seat. When she started the engine, he would have only seconds before the door was locked again, so he could not afford to hesitate. In one swift movement, Steve yanked the rear door handle, opened the car, and threw himself into the backseat, where he landed mostly on the floorboard.
“What?” the woman exclaimed as she turned to see who had followed her into the Taurus.
Reaching up with his right arm, he hooked it around the woman’s throat. She was instantly smeared with blood. Pain seared through his back, but he ignored it for the moment.
“It’s okay, Frannie,” he stage-whispered into her ear. “Don’t scream; don’t scream.”
Despite his admonition, she did scream. The woman was not Frannie Gilelland, and she had not expected a man covered in blood to slide up behind her.
“What the hell?” Steve was almost as surprised as she was. He had grabbed the wrong woman on a day when almost everything had gone wrong.
She screamed and screamed and screamed.