Penthouse Retrospective

by Joe Sharkey Originally Published: June, 1991

Chuck Stuart | 30 Years Ago This Month

Chuck closed his eyes and steadied his hand at the necessarily awkward angle. But just as he pulled the trigger, Carol lunged toward him, and the force of her body pushed his elbow forward, causing his hand to jerk out of place just as the gun fired. Instead of exiting neatly from back to front, the bullet tore through his intestines and lodged in his abdomen. Only the fact that the ammunition was so old prevented it from continuing on to sever his spinal cord.

Immediately, he knew that he had shot himself in the wrong place. Overwhelmed with pain, terrified that he was about to die, he realized that the blood pooling against his crotch was his own. Yet he was furious at his wife for causing him to screw it up. For a few excruciating seconds, he lay back with his mouth open, venting the pain, waiting for the cold darkness to smother him.

But he didn’t die. He opened his eyes and took inventory, groping at his belly with his right hand. Though the pain was terrible, he realized that he was not losing consciousness. Taking short, measured gulps, he reviewed his options. Should he just drive back to the hospital a few blocks away to save his own life? No, that would be stupid. She was still alive, after all — and with quite a story to tell if she pulled through. Chuck pulled himself together and started the car.

Slowly, stiff with pain, his eyes scanning the abandoned sidewalks, he drove down Mindoro Street and turned left where it dead-ends at Prentiss. From Prentiss, which borders an abandoned section of the housing project behind a high chain-link fence, Chuck made the first left onto a short, rubble-strewn block. At Station Street he made a right toward the lights of the project and drove slowly to the intersection of Parker Street, where the desolation at last gives way to the life that spills out from the project. At first he didn’t see Matthew’s car parked on the left side about two-thirds of the way up the block, facing oncoming traffic. Chuck was silently cursing his younger brother when his headlights caught Matt’s impassive face in their beam.

Relieved, Chuck slowed to a crawl. Grimacing, he managed to use his shoulder to force Carol as far down on her seat as possible. It was difficult because she was still gasping. Then he drove carefully toward Matthew’s car, as they had planned, drawing up beside the open rear window. Startled by the fear he saw frozen on his brother’s face, Matt was too frightened to do anything other than what he’d been told, which was to look straight ahead, then get away as fast as possible without attracting attention.

Chuck tossed something into the backseat of Matthew’s car. Matthew glanced over into the other car, and through the darkness thought he saw a bulky form, perhaps a suitcase or laundry sack, on the seat beside Chuck.

“Take this to Revere,” Chuck gasped through clenched teeth.

Matthew sensed that something had gone seriously wrong. But he did what Chuck had told him. Without a word, Matt slammed his car into gear and tore off down Station Street, tires squealing. The rendezvous had taken no more than 15 seconds.

Panting, Chuck watched the red tail-lights of Matthew’s car as it sped across the empty field and toward the bright lights of Tremont Street. Then Chuck continued up to the intersection and made a right before pulling over at Parker Street. A couple of hundred feet away, there were people around a bar and an all-night grocery, but the place where he had pulled over still had the cover of darkness. He snapped off the lights and the engine and tried to collect his thoughts. Carol’s breathing grew weaker. Then he started the car again and drove, very slowly, with his car lights out. This was when someone on the street finally noticed him. Yvonne Jenkins, on her way to the store to buy a box of Pampers and a lottery ticket, spotted the white man at the wheel of the Toyota, driving slowly with the lights out. Except for the pained expression she saw on his face, she didn’t think much of it. Just another white dude from the suburbs down in the projects looking for cocaine or a black girl. The only thing that made her remember him at all, besides his expression, was the fact that he was fumbling with a car phone as he drove by.

In 14 years as a civilian dispatcher with the Massachusetts State Police, it was the most harrowing call Gary McLaughlin had ever received. The 35-year-old McLaughlin was into the final hours of his shift at the windowless state-police dispatch center on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston when the call came in on the cellular-phone line.

“State Police, Boston,” McLaughlin said crisply into the phone. He stiffened at what he heard through a burst of static from the other end.

“My wife’s been shot! I’ve been shot!” McLaughlin grabbed a pen and started making notes, though he could see the tape was running. He motioned abruptly to a colleague, dispatcher Danny Grabowski, who picked up the phone at a nearby desk and, after silently monitoring the call, stabbed at a button to feed the conversation into a direct line at Boston City Police head-quarters.

“Where is this, sir?” McLaughlin was asking calmly, pen poised over the pad on his desk.

“I have no idea. I’ve been coming from Tremont… Brigham and Women’s Hospital.”

“Try to give me an indication of where you might be — a cross street or something, anything,” McLaughlin said.

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.