Penthouse Retrospective

by Joe Sharkey Originally Published: June, 1991

Chuck Stuart | 30 Years Ago This Month

Downhill from the church, in a large pie-piece-shaped wedge between Tremont, Huntington, and the railroad right-of-way, the squat brick buildings of the Mission Hill housing project lay out of sight of the traffic on the main streets. At Terrace Street, a narrow, dark thoroughfare a block before the lights of the Roxbury Crossing station at Columbus, Chuck casually flipped on his turn signal and made a left.

This turn would definitely have gotten Carol’s attention. The projects loomed ahead, past a block of open fields and dark two-story warehouses.

At the deserted intersection where Terrace meets Station Street, Chuck made a right, then a quick left onto Mindoro Street. Now Carol would have been alarmed. This was obviously not the kind of area to venture into lightly at night.

Lights showed yellow and bright in windows of the three-story blocks of apartments within the project. Chuck stopped the car on the left side of Mindoro Street, where chain-link fences border the desolate parking lots on either side. He parked in a pool of darkness away from the street lamps and the glow of the parking-lot security lights. On the sidewalk, where weeds poked knee-high through the cracks, a soggy pile of junk — used tires, old mattresses chewed by rats, rusted mufflers, even a discarded refrigerator — attested to the seclusion. It was a spot that people had found convenient for covertly discarding the possessions that no longer had a place in their lives. Chuck rolled down the car window. Despite the season and the night’s chill, some city-tough crickets were still chirping in the stubby weeds. From the projects across the lots, a boom box thumped out a pile-driver rhythm — gangster rap — its pitch rising; then falling, and finally fading away with the stride of an unseen stroller. Chuck reached into his gym bag in the backseat and gazed for the last time into the wide brown eyes of his wife. Being that close to her face, he may have kissed her, perhaps for reassurance, maybe as a diversionary tactic. Slowly, he brought the gun up behind her head. From the project, muffled voices, a woman’s sharp laugh, the whump of a screen door banging shut on its creaky spring, drifted through the night, as if over a wide, dark lake.

Two quick gunshots echoed from the curbside on Mindoro Street.

The first, at point-blank range, hit Carol high on her jaw, on the left side of her face. She gasped as the force of the blast slammed her shoulders against the door. Then, with gunpowder searing his nostrils, Chuck carefully positioned the revolver over his right shoulder and deliberately fired a second shot into the roof just above the visor on the driver’s side.

Beside him Carol struggled frantically to suck air into her lungs. She clawed at him in desperation, her brain unable to grasp the horror her eyes had just seen. She struggled, lunging toward him. Furiously, he pushed her back. She was supposed to be dead, goddamn it!

“Chuck reached into his gym bag in the backseat and gazed for the last time into Carol’s wide brown eyes. Slowly, he brought the gun up behind her head.”

Carol tried to fight back to life, struggling to pound Chuck and force him to make it not be true. Sweating, he tried to hold her back, horrified at her hollow gasps. An extra bullet would have solved the problem, but there had only been three stored with the gun he had found in the back of the safe at work. And he needed the remaining bullet. Soon, however, the fight abated in his wife. Breathing shallowly, she slumped into her shoulder belt.

A boom box throbbed through the darkness. Chuck took a deep, shaky breath and gazed down at his wife, who was now still. He checked the time: 20 minutes to nine.

He exhaled, then breathed in deeply again, remembering that Carol’s keys were in the ignition. She was gasping faintly — she wasn’t dead, but he guessed that she wasn’t able to say anything, either. On the empty street, no one had been close enough to come and investigate the gunshots — not that anyone in this neighborhood would be idiotic enough to head toward the crack of a gun. He took Carol’s keys from the ignition and got out of the car, tossing them over the fence into the adjoining field. Then he dug his own keys out of his pocket and got back into the Toyota, where he reached over and took his wife’s hand. It was cold. He twisted off her rings, the marquise ruby with the cluster of tiny diamonds, then the one-and-one-quarter-carat-diamond engagement ring that he had given her on a barely remembered Christmas Eve. When he got them off her fingers, which were bloated from the late stages of pregnancy, he dropped the rings into the blue-and-tan Gucci handbag that lay partly open near the car phone on the console between them.

Though the day had been mild, the night was cold, in the low forties, but Chuck didn’t roll up his window. He needed the brace of the air. After glancing around again to make sure no one was loitering nearby, he steadied himself with a deep breath, then held the revolver gingerly for a second, summoning the courage.

Teeth clenched, barely hearing Carol’s attempts to breathe, he twisted his right hand awkwardly to position the barrel of the gun at his waist, a few inches above his right buttock where — he had made it a point to learn — a bullet, aimed straight out through the side of the belly, would exit without tearing through anything more vital than a layer of fat. It would be just nasty and painful enough, though. And it would take balls to do it.

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.