This week, I’m serializing the beginning of my completed, unpublished memoir, Raised by a Dead Man: A Coming-of-Age Story Between Two Shootings. Links to previous chapters can be found at the bottom of this blog.
Previously: My father was shot in an armed robbery and left for dead.
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The Shop was the last stop going west off the highway. It was a tiny little thing on a dusty piece of land so far outside the city limits I was never very sure if it was even still in Fresno. As he lay barely breathing and bleeding out on the floor, Dad was truly alone. It was early evening. The only other business for miles, the bar next door, hadn’t even opened up for the night yet. He shouted for help anyway.
The phone may as well have been across the street. Mounting it high on the wall near eye level made sense when both taking calls and servicing customers were the chief concerns, but bullet-ridden legs had shifted priorities downward. It was difficult to tell the full extent of the damage done to his body, but, with the pain settling in, Dad knew movement was going to be a real chore, if not impossible. The newly crimson floor beneath him argued the value of giving too much air to impossibilities.
Relying mostly on his undamaged arms, Dad propped himself up from the floor to a stool to the wall to the phone. He grabbed at it, dialed what he thought was 911 on the keypad at the base, and laid himself back down on the floor with the corded receiver in hand.
411 Operator: Information, what city please?
Dad: I’ve been shot. My n-name is Bill Heasley, I’m at—
411 Op: Sir? I’m sorry sir, this is information, not emergency services.
Dad: This… ungh… this isn’t 911?
411 Op: No, sir.
Dad: Can you, unnh…connect me to 911?
411 Op: I’m sorry sir, I can’t do that. I am not able to do that from my station. Now, is there something else I can help you with? Is there another number you’re looking for?
Dad: You can’t connect me? I’ve been shot.
411 Op: Sir, I have no way to do that from my station. You’re going to have to hang up and try calling 911 again.
Dad: Please, ungh…
411 Op: Sir.
Dad: Do you—could you go somewhere where you can make a call for me?
411 Op: Sir, I’m sorry sir, but we’re not allowed to leave our stations. I could get into trouble with my supervisor. You’re going to need to redial.
With no small degree of added agony, Dad got back up off the floor to go to the stool and then to the wall again to hang up the phone on the 411 Employee of the Month. He picked the receiver up again and punched the numbers on the keypad one more time, being sure to now do it with accuracy. Finally, as the phone rang the correct number, he carefully laid himself back down onto the floor.
911 Operator: 911, what is the emergency?
Dad: I’ve been shot. This is Bill’s Bait and Tackle, my name is Bill Heasley I’m at 40—
911 Op: Ok, sir, wait, wait, wait. Shh shh shh. I know where you are, sir. Now, you’ve been shot by a robber or what?
Dad: Multiple times. Five or Six times.
911 Op: Okay. Now Bill, where are you hit?
Dad: In the lower… in… in the stomach and in the legs. Quickly.
911 Op: Okay, sir. We are going to get the ambulance and paramedics out there. We are sending them out there as I am talking to you. I need to know if you know of the suspects?
Dad: No, they wore masks. Hurry.
911 Op: Okay, how many of them were there?
Dad: Oh, I don’t know. Two, I think.
911 Op: Are you the only one that’s there, Bill?
911 Op: Okay. Now, we’re gonna get officers there right away. Okay? Okay, now you rest. Is there anybody there with you?
911 Op: Okay, Bill, now how are you feeling?
Dad: Bad. Wintery.
911 Op: O-okay. Now, we-we’ve got paramedics on the way also. Is there anybody you can get to be with you before we get there?
Dad: No, I’m all alone.
911 Op: Okay, Bill, we’re gonna get right there, okay? Go ahead and just set the phone down. Set the phone down, please.
Dad: [Heavy breathing.]
911 Op: Now, I’m gonna sit on the phone with you. You don’t have to talk if you don’t feel like it, okay?
Dad: [Heavy breathing.]
911 Op: Just try to take it real easy, okay?
Dad: I’m not gonna make it.
911 Op: Yes you are, sir. You are going to make it.
Dad: [Grunting.] I’ve been shot about 6 times.
911 Op: Okay.
Dad: One badly, I think my kidney’s bleedin’.
911 Op: Okay. Now, do you have anything around you? Do you have a blanket or coat you could stick on you?
911 Op: Okay.
Dad: Oh…[Heavy breathing.] In my stomach. It went clean through, I think.
911 Op: Okay, now that’s a good sign. That’s a good sign.
Dad: [Heavy sigh.]
911 Op: Now I’m just gonna transfer you to the paramedics as I’m talking to you, so hang on the line with me, sir.
Another phone rang on the line and another woman picked up the call. The 911 Operator and the woman shared a brief bit of confusion as at first neither one was sure the other one could hear them. Dad fell silent.
911 Op: This is the FSO, I’ve got a man who’s been shot. He’s been shot in his stomach and in several other places. I want you to talk to him.
Emergency Service: Okay. Sir? …Sir?
911 Op: Bill?
Emergency Service: Bill?
Emergency Service: Okay. I want you to stay on the line with me, okay? Okay, what I’m gonna do is switch you over to EMS, but I’m gonna stay on the line with you, okay?
There was a click and then static as the line switched once again, this time to a man in a busy sounding room full of whirring machinery.
Paramedic Dispatch: EMS Dispatch.
Emergency Service: Go ahead, sir.
Emergency Service: Bill, talk to him.
PD: Okay sir, you’re at forty twelve west Whitesbridge?
Emergency Service: Yeah, he’s the shooting victim. I’m sending medical right now.
PD: Okay, all right. And this is Bill’s Bait & Tackle?
Dad: I’m on—
Emergency Service: Yes. That’s him. You need to talk to him.
Dad: I can’t hardly talk.
PD: Sir? Sir, what is your name?
Dad: Bill Heasley.
PD: Ok, Bill. You’re from Bill’s Bait & Tackle?
PD: You’re the one—where is your gunshot wound at?
Dad: In the… in the stomach.
PD: In the stomach?
Dad: Lower right side. About five or six times in the legs.
PD: Okay, are you laying down right now?
PD: Is anybody there with you?
Dad: Nobody came in. I called for help.
PD: Okay, that’s right. You need to—you need to lay down. Lay down and you need to calm down. We’ve got ambulances that are just a few minutes out, all right? So you’re shot in the abdomen, in the stomach area?
Dad: Yeah, and a bunch of times in the legs.
PD: Okay. How many shots are—do you have?
Dad: Probably six times, I don’t know. [Heavy breathing.]
PD: I just want you to rest, try to slow your breathing down. I’ll stay on the phone with you, all right?
Dad: You have to hurry.
PD: Okay, we’re on our way. Are you laying down?
PD: Okay, flat on your back.
Dad: No, on the side.
PD: I want you to lay flat on your back.
Dad: Oh… unh….
PD: It’ll help with the—
PD: –the blood, okay?
Dad: Aah… You’ve gotta hurry, mister.
PD: Okay, put your legs up. Put your legs up in the air.
PD: Put something under your legs.
Dad: Aah… the left leg I can hardly move, that’s the one that’s shot.
PD: Okay, put something under your legs.
Dad: I can’t.
PD: Okay. We’re on our way so—
Dad: It’s hard for me to breathe on my back.
PD: Okay, then, get comfortable on your side.
PD: Okay, no one’s there, right? That guy left, with the gun? Did the guy leave with the gun?
Dad: There was a couple…
PD: Okay, they’re gone, right?
PD (to someone else in the room): They’re gone. The scene’s secure. I’m talkin’ to the guy on the phone. (Back to Dad:) All right, they’re right outside your door. They’re coming in. All right, sir?
PD: They’re right outside the door. They’re on their way in.
Dad: Who is?
PD: The paramedics.
Dad: [Heavy sigh.] Aah, man. My legs hurt. [Long Heavy Breathing] I’m starting to feel cold.
Dad: [Long, heavy breathing.]
PD (to someone else in the room): I am talking to the gentleman on the phone. The scene is secure. Call North Central and tell them to stick it up their butt. (Back to Dad:) Sir, they’re right outside the door. They’re coming in, all right?
Dad: [Heavy Breathing]
PD: Bill, can you hear me?
Dad: Yeah, I can hear you.
Dad’s breathing continued to get louder and heavier, almost overwhelming what the tiny speakers on his phone could handle.
PD: Slow your breathing down a little bit.
Dad: I can’t.
The heavy breathing got faster. The call started with Dad sounding like an out-of-shape thirtysomething who’d just run a few laps, but now an eighty-year-old emphysema patient took his place. His breaths were desperate, never quite giving his lungs all the air they needed.
Dad: My home phone is 226-7036.
PD: Okay, they’ll get hold of—the sheriff’s office will get hold of them right away, cuz they’re right outside too.
Dad: Okay, listen to me.
Dad: I don’t know if I’m gonna make it.
PD: Yes, you will.
Dad: Okay, okay, okay—
PD: Go ahead.
PD: All right.
Dad: Tell my wife that I love her.
Dad: Yes. 7036.
Dad: Tell my… my boys I love them too.
PD: All right.
Dad: [Heavy breathing.] And that… to be good.
Dad: [Heavy breathing.] Oh…
PD: Okay, Bill, just take it easy. Keep your breathing down a little bit.
Dad: [Heavy breathing.]
PD: Okay, we’re—they’re right outside your door. They should be comin’. I’ll stay on the phone with you, okay?
Dad: Also…call my wife.
PD: Uh huh?
Dad: Tell her to get the El–
And the line went dead.
With the pain getting worse, there was no way Dad was going to get back up and call again. The message had been delivered and help would be there soon. Any minute now. His job was to not pass out from the blood loss and the shock before it got there. Any fall into the dark that would almost certainly be fatal.
A big soda drinker, Dad always kept one of the flat boxes they came in on the floor underneath the phone to toss the empty cans into for recycling later. To keep his mind off the pain and to keep himself awake, he grabbed the cans and crushed them in his hands, letting the cold metal dig into his palm to cause sensation somewhere, anywhere else on his body. He had gone through a fair amount of the cans by the time a police officer finally came through the door, gun drawn.
After making sure the shooters had indeed taken off and that Dad was in fact still alive, the cop waved the paramedics over and they entered the building. With Dad alive but barely breathing, their job was to get him in good enough shape to make the trip to the hospital.
They started by cutting off his clothes to access the wounds. Dad’s pants and shirt were shredded, along with his undergarments. To the more dramatic wounds the paramedics applied a staple gun to close them up fast. The rest they bandaged. Anything to stop the blood from running out.
In a matter of minutes Dad was on the stretcher and into the ambulance. Certain of his fate that night, he had only one thing on his mind as they made the fifteen minute trip to Valley Medical Center. He pleaded with one of the paramedics to call my mom and tell her he loved her. He was dead already, but she had to know. He said it over and over and over again, like a mantra: “Tell my wife that I love her. Please, tell her. Tell my wife I love her.”
Finally, the paramedic agreed. Dad knew all the efforts to save him were pointless. They were welcome to try, but it wasn’t going to happen. Not with the amount of blood he’d lost and at his age. Not on that night. With the message safely delivered, he was okay with that. He calmed down and stayed that way, willing to let what needed to happen, happen.
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