Penthouse Retrospective

by Joe Sharkey Originally Published: June, 1991

Chuck Stuart | 30 Years Ago This Month

So at last Matt agreed to go along with Chuck’s plan. It was a little tricky, Chuck explained, and not without an element of danger: On the designated night, he would leave work, carrying what he implied would be the day’s cash receipts from the Back Bay fur store where he was general manager. Later, he would say he hadn’t had time to deposit the money right after work because he and Carol had to rush down to their birthing class at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Afterward, Chuck explained, he would report that he had been robbed in the car near the hospital. For his $10,000, Matt would have to meet Chuck secretly at the supposed robbery scene and drive away with the cash and Carol’s jewelry. The fur store was insured, Chuck said, aware that his brother had no way of knowing that he had never, in fact, handled the store’s cash receipts. Carol’s jewelry was insured. Everybody made out.

Chuck laughed off any misgivings over such potential glitches as how he would manage to keep this stunt from Carol. Matt couldn’t imagine Carol going along with anything like that. “I’ll explain it all to you later,” Chuck assured him with a dismissive wave. “Everything will be okay.”

After work on Monday night. Carol took the Mass Pike into the city, making good time against the outbound flow of rush-hour traffic. As she edged into the sluggish traffic of the Back Bay, Carol used the car phone to let Chuck know that she was running ten minutes early. Chuck didn’t like even minor deviations in their daily schedule; lately, he had been supervising it with the vigilance of a Swiss stationmaster.

“Stuart’s close friends heard him use a new term to describe his wife. “That fat wop,” he called her. And that summer, he swore out her death warrant.”

Chuck was waiting on the sidewalk under the green awning outside of Kakas Furs on Newbury Street when she pulled up to the curb at 5:50 P.M. He glanced at his watch, tossed a gym bag with his workout clothes into the backseat, and got in, slumping in the passenger’s seat beside his wife. He muttered a greeting, but didn’t lean over to kiss her, and he also didn’t offer to drive, even though it was more apparent each day that getting behind the wheel of a car was an uncomfortable proposition for Carol, who had already, at seven months, put on quite a bit more than the 40-pound overall limit set by her doctor. But she kept her annoyance to herself. Besides, Carol was happy enough to have Chuck on board with the birthing classes. While she was relieved that he seemed to be over his initial snit about her getting pregnant, she had worried that he would balk when she broached the subject of attending childbirth classes. Being part of a group of young, motivated prospective parents earnestly discussing cervical dilation and afterbirth was not Chuck’s idea of a great way to spend an evening. It certainly was not the way things were done in Chuck’s family, where the women tended to talk about such things among themselves while the men rolled their eyes and watched a ball game.

As they drove down Huntington Avenue toward the hospital, Carol looked out the window to where the gray brick sprawl of Northeastern University gave way to the drab tenements of Roxbury, a neighborhood whose population had changed in the decade that spanned World War II from 80 percent white to 80 percent black, just as if someone had flipped a switch. At the intersection where she would turn right to head for the underground parking garage at Brigham and Women’s, Carol could see the two tall steeples of the Mission Church against the twilight. Taking a ticket from the entrance gate machine and driving through to the parking garage, she had no idea that her husband had recently made it a point to acquaint himself with every street in Mission Hill, a neighborhood that most suburbanites, like Carol herself, scarcely knew existed.

That same day, in fact, Chuck and a man at work had been complaining about crime in Boston. Day after day, drugs, gangs, stabbings, drive-by shootings — things were getting out of control. Chuck had had on his desk a copy of the Saturday edition of The Boston Globe and he stabbed his index finger at the headline across the front page: “Police Cite Reign of Violence in Neighborhoods.” The article spoke of “an unprecedented reign of violence” in which “more than 100 people were shot in the inner-city neighborhoods of Boston during a 40-day period that began in early September.” At that rate, the newspaper pointed out with jarring mathematical precision, “ten persons are being shot every four days” in Area B, the Roxbury police district, which included the neighborhood where Chuck and Carol were now spending each Monday night at their birthing class.

“You’re nuts, going down there after dark with Carol,” a coworker told Chuck just before his wife picked him up that night.

“I know what I’m doing,” the father-to-be replied.

The birthing class ended a few minutes early. Walking hand-in-hand, Chuck and Carol took the elevator down to the lower level of the parking garage, where he borrowed her keys and drove up the ramp onto Francis Street. There he turned left, toward Brigham Circle. He could have gone right, toward Brookline Avenue — a more direct route out of the city — but Chuck, who hated getting lost even more than he hated being late, always made it a point to go home the way he came, so there was nothing very unusual in making the left onto Francis Street, nor was there anything extraordinary in his sailing right across Huntington, missing his turn. It was a tricky intersection, with cars converging from three directions. Carol, eager to get home but always trusting Chuck to make the right decision, might have been impatient, at worst, as they crossed onto Tremont Street, which climbs toward the church on the hill.

Sadly, the Chuck Stewart story has been going on for centuries and shows no signs of slowing going forward. Love can be a dangerous dance.