Two armed rapists broke into my newlywed townhouse in 1982. They grabbed my visiting sister-in-law as she was entering through the front door at midnight, rammed a gun to her head, and crashed in. I'd just gotten in bed with my wife, Shirley (five months pregnant) when I heard the commotion — shrieks, screams, bumps, whacks, "Shut-up! M*tha-F**ka!"
"Oh Please, No! — No! Please! "
Exciting stuff was going on downstairs this Friday night. I sprang for a shotgun. Four were on a gun-rack on the wall about twenty feet away from the bed. I grabbed the pump and started slipping in shells which I kept on top of the dresser...sha-wuck — sha-wuck...
"Don't shoot!" came Elaine's cry from the darkness downstairs. She could hear the loading. She knew me. "Don't shoot, Humberto! PLEASE!"
Geezuz, I thought. You rehearse these things all the time in your head — at least in high-crime cities like New Orleans. Now it's happening! And I'm sitting here in my underwear with a loaded shotgun, finally facing game that can shoot back. This might be fun.
I swear I wasn't scared at the time (that came later, and in spades). "Don't shoot! Humberto!" my terrified sister-in-law shrieked again.
The hell with that! I thought. I'm gonna shoot up a storm.. Not every day you get the jump on some scumbags, and a legal excuse to splatter their guts around. The saps had no idea they were walking into a goddam armory. Hah! Can't wait to see their eyes when they look down this barrel. I'll scatter their brains all over my den. Hell, we're insured.
The hallway was dark as I moved toward the stairway. The safety was off and my finger was tense on the trigger. "Under fire a man's powers of life heightened in proportion to the proximity of death." Says Phil Caputo in Rumor of War. " He feels an elation as extreme as his dread. His senses quicken."
Phil has a point. This was a far cry from combat. But there was some of that feeling here. I swear I wasn't scared (that came later). I got to the stairs, hit the lightswitch, and aimed.... ready to start blasting away. But that would have been very stupid.
At the foot of the stairs stood my sister-in-law, a grimy black hand covering her mouth, and two dreadlocked savages gripping her from each side. One held a revolver to her temple. The other pointed a 44 straight my face. He looked like Bob Marley. His partner like Coolio. Elaine's eyes looked like cue-balls....Hummmmm.
My little sweet sixteen pump was aimed at the Rasta-thug aiming at me. He was about thirty feet away. The bead covered his ugly, filthy head, everything but the dreadlocks, which came to his shoulders. "Put it down man!" He snarled. "Put the f**king gun down man!"
I didn't budge. The bead was steady. The safety was off. My finger was tensing. I swear I felt no fright, right then. "In combat he attains an acuity of consciousness at once pleasurable and excruciating — an elevated state of awareness." That's Phil Caputo again. And again he's right. I simply don't recall being scared at the moment. But I definitely felt that " acuity of consciousness."
And the same applied to them. They sure as hell didn't look scared either. Elaine? Well that's a different matter. Her eyeballs dwarfed Marty Feldman's. One of the savages was even starting to smile, displaying some fancy gold bridgework. This confused me. Geezuz, I thought. It's not supposed to go this way. What now?
Hell, in the movies criminals are always cowards. Now here's a guy who should be jailed just for his looks, he's got a shotgun pointed at him, and he's smiling — In fact he's walking up towards me!?
He took two steps and stopped. He adjusted the grip on his gun for a split second, waving his fingers around the grip just like Lee Marvin as Liberty Valence.
" I can't believe this sh*t," I'm thinking. "Just like in the movies." My bead was on his nose now, barely covering from his eyes to his mouth.....time for a decision.." I know what you're thinking"...But the Dirty-Harry dialogue was in my head, with myself. "This is your quail hunting shotgun, right, Humberto?...Which means it has the open choke, right? .Did you IN FACT switch barrels from the full to the improved like you'd planned last week?..Cause if you did, and you shoot, that pattern will be wide enough to pepper your sister-in-law too, and probably not tight enough to blast the scumbag's face into black-bean chili..And you can't take em both out with one shot. Either you or Elaine will get it. Elaine for sure...so you might ask yourself: do I feel lucky today? Well do....
"Put the f**king gun DOWN, Man! — Last Time!" Then he took another step, as did the other one, shoving Elaine along. Up another step....Up another. Finally the first one was five feet in front of me-"put the f**kin gun : DOWN!!
And I did. I lowered it and he jerked it from my grasp. These guys were good. "On the floor!" He snarled...."You too!" He pointed at my wife in the bed behind me.
" Leave her alone!" I yelled, and walked towards her. "She's pregnant."The gun barrel was jammed into the base of my skull.
"Down!...DOWN on the Floor! ALL of YA!" — FACE DOWN!!
Shirley walked over and lay down on the carpet beside me. We clutched hands. Elaine was shoved down next to her. Yep, execution style, I thought. At least it'll be quick. I lifted my head for a last look around...
"KEEP Your f**kin head DOWN. I SAID!.... Or I'll BLOW it off!"
"Or?" I thought."Or?" The word caught in my mind. (Here's that "acuity" Caputo was talking about.) Hey, doesn't that imply that they're not gonna blow them off as a matter of routine? Right after they force me to watch them gang-rape and murder my five months pregnant wife?"
Hummmm, maybe we'll get out of this thing alive, after all, I thought. I swear, I was thinking that.
"Well lookit there!" One of them whooped.
Wonderful, I thought. Their mood's improving. He sounded genuinely thrilled, almost in a good mood. Then I saw his sneakers walking towards the gun rack. Now the other one walked over. They emptied it. And the sneakers walked back towards us. Then one bent down to grab Shirley's hand. I jerked my head up again — but this time he didn't threaten to blow it off.
"The ring," he said, pointing awkwardly with his 44 while cradling his armload of rifles and shotguns. He seemed almost to be asking for it, making no motion to jerk it off himself.
"Oh yes!" Shirley says while sitting up. "The ring!...Why of course!... Here!" And she starts tugging at it herself. "I'm pregnant!" She says, smiling sheepishly." Five months..SEE! and she pokes out her abdomen triumphantly. "So my fingers are swollen.... SEE!" She holds them up. "I can't.....just ca-n't " And she's tugging at her finger, while nodding sheepishly."
"That's okay, Miss," says the Rasta-thug (I swear he said that). "Don't worry bout it....now get your heads back down."
We heard them clumping down the stairs. Waited a few seconds. Then got up. The front door was open and they'd booked.
Five minutes later I was a trembling, stuttering wreck. And Elaine and Shirley were — I swear — laughing. The danger was over. The emotional damn had burst. "They were actually kinda nice." Shirley gushed. "To leave me my ring like that."
Then she started cackling crazily. "And there's Dirty Harry!" She laughed, pointing at me. "Mr gunslinger at the showdown with his pump shotgun!"
Christ, I though. She's flipped. Strain's too much for her. She was gasping now, red-faced.
"I could see your back through the hall, standing at the top of the stairs aiming down." Shirley cackled. She was convulsed, dripping drool from her lower lip, leaning on Elaine's shoulder.
"Take it easy honey." I moved over and put my arm around her shoulder. "Come on now...."
"And....and...and!.." She kept nodding, eyes shut, but couldn't get the words out of her contorted mouth. She collapsed in Elaine's arms. Both convulsed now. "And your underwear....your under — wear" She whooped...catching her breath now. "Your underwear.... was rolled — up your butt crack! "
This jump-started Elaine — looked like they were hooked to 200 volts, doubled over jerking, clutching each other, laughing and drooling. "Like a thong!...looked like a thong...Look!" Shirley tried to point with her jerking arm.
I felt behind me. Geezus, she was right. I'd slid rather than jumped out of bed. The sliding did the trick. Dirty Harry as male Gigolo.
"I know!" Elaine howled. "I was...I was...!.... I noticed when they shoved you on the floor!" They were rolling on the bed now...in tears..".Whoo-whoo," Elaine was mock grabbing. "
I pulled out the fabric and spread it over my goose-pimpled cheeks, then reached for my robe. Geezuz, leave it to women.
When the cops came we learned of a spate of similar armed robberies in the area — most accompanied by rapes. But I'm sure none was a "hate-crime."
Put that in your vegetarian pipe and smoke it.
February 5, 2000