shooting

Raised By a Dead Man, Chapter 2 – “The Call”

This week, I’m serializing the beginning of my completed, unpublished memoir, Raised by a Dead Man: A Coming-of-Age Story Between Two Shootings.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.

* * *

Chapter Two

The Call

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.

911No response. He shouted again. Nothing. He could either lay there and die or try to beat the clock and call 911.

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.

Dad: Please…

 

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?

Dad: Yes.

911 Op: Okay. Now, we’re gonna get officers there right away. Okay? Okay, now you rest. Is there anybody there with you?

Dad: No.

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?

Dad: No.

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?

Dad: Yes.

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.

Dad: Yeah?

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?

Dad: Yes.

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?

Dad: Yeah.

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?

Dad: Yes.

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—

Dad: Unh…

PD: –the blood, okay?

Dad: Aah… You’ve gotta hurry, mister.

PD: Okay, put your legs up. Put your legs up in the air.

Dad: Unh…

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.

Dad: Okay.

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?

Dad: Yeah.

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?

Dad: What?

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.

PD: Okay.

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: Listen…

PD: Yes?

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.

PD: Okay.

Dad: I don’t know if I’m gonna make it.

PD: Yes, you will.

Dad: Okay, okay, okay—

PD: Go ahead.

Dad: –okay.

PD: All right.

Dad: Tell my wife that I love her.

PD: 226?

Dad: Yes. 7036.

PD: Okay.

Dad: Tell my… my boys I love them too.

PD: All right.

Dad: [Heavy breathing.] And that… to be good.

PD: Okay.

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.

Next: “Bullets”

* * *

Raised by a Dead Man Archive:

Book Logline and Prologue – “Ready”

Chapter One – “The Shooting”

Update on the New Job (Plus, “The Shooting”)

Things have a been a little crazy lately.

Now that I’m all in at Tremendum, I’m seeing what it is to fully dedicate myself to those things I enjoy and I’m best at. And I love it.

Last week, we headed down to Hollywood for a small screening of The Gallows and to work on sound design. I was more in tagalong mode as I learn more about the process, but I was able to offer some input here and there. I’ve never been to a test screening and I found the entire process completely fascinating, especially the conversation afterwards with the focus group and the studio heads. There’s far, far more that goes into the creation of every single second of a movie than you could even guess at.

After the test screening. From L-R: 'Gallows' Writer-Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Sound Designer Brandon Jones, Production Associate Nate Healy, and me.

After the test screening. From L-R: ‘Gallows’ Writer-Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Sound Designer Brandon Jones, Production Associate Nate Healy, and me.

Most of my work at the moment for Tremendum is in developing and writing a post-Gallows project. More on that when I can share it, but I hit a real milestone this week by finishing a first draft. I didn’t expect to get it done as quickly as I have, but I guess I’ve got the fire in me right now.

In an odd way, moving so completely forward and quickly on a new project has caused me to reflect on old projects, particularly one I put away years ago.

Raised by a Dead Man: A Coming of Age Story Between Two Shootings is the first memoir I wrote and the one that allowed me to form a relationship with my literary agent, Bonnie Solow. For a variety of reasons, few having to do with the quality of the story or even the way I wrote it, it didn’t sell. But it’s still a book and a story I feel passionate about. I’ve already posted the prologue on this site, but, just for kicks, this week I’m going to serialize the first few chapters of RBDM.

I welcome your feedback. If response is good, maybe I’ll post more than a few chapters. In any case, I hope you enjoy it.

Here we go. The following is a true story:

* * *

Chapter One

Shooting

No one makes a living retailing junk food. Not one good enough to support a wife and four sons, anyway. The guns were what fed us. The bullets and the barrels sold right alongside the soda bottles and the Slim Jims put food on the table and gave us a home. Us, and Dad’s employees—both of whom had gone home early that night from the dirty little shop on the outskirts of Fresno. Bill’s Bait and Tackle closed at 5:00pm. Dad was alone for everything that happened afterwards.

A small business owner never clocks out. Not really. Once home, Dad could look forward to adding receipts and counting money long into the night. Might take even longer if his sons bristled once again at helping him or, even better, tempted him into a rubber band war. Closing time wasn’t particularly restful, but it didn’t require him to be a husband or a handy man or a father or a disciplinarian. All he had to do between the flipping of the “CLOSED” sign and the pulling of the car into his driveway—which probably needed to be cleared of bikes and toys—was to perform the routine.

Close out the register. Lock the freezer. Put away the inventory. Shut off the lights and secure the store with deadbolt and lock on the way out.

It took Dad a good fifteen minutes to pack up the dozens guns by himself. They were housed in two display cases doubling as the store’s front counters; Now and Laters and trucker hats making a pit stop on top of the .45’s and Thirty Ought Sixes on their way out the door. Dangling yellow tags attached to the guns on tiny, white strings shouted the sale price from behind the clean, always clear glass.

Dad removed the guns quickly, one by one, and placed them with great care into two long, black, clam shell cases for storage during the night. This was the puzzle to which only he had the picture. Without markers or leftover impressions on the foam pad lining the inside, he still knew the precise placement of each handgun and rifle inside their carriages. Once packed, he would transport the guns into the iron safe in the storage room just behind the freezers.

It was something Dad did night after night with little incident—with the exception of that night. On that night, he never made it to the safe.

Neither did the guns.

The two men kicked in the front door with a shout.

“YOU’RE DEAD, SUCKER!”

Their semi-automatics lit up only fifteen feet away from the fat man behind the counter, ejecting bullet after bullet directly at him. The first bullet rocketed towards Dad’s chest, but missed. The next went straight into his stomach, forcing him to double over from the impact. Not from the pain. That hadn’t registered yet.

Dad made a grab for his own gun stuck between the waistband of his pants and his hip. He got the weapon up and out, but didn’t have enough time to do anything productive with it as more bullets tore with great speed through his muscle and flesh, his body jerking with the impact of each one as it burst into him. His gun fell to the floor as he did, with a thud behind the open, sliding wooden doors of the display cases still filled with all the firearms he hadn’t had a chance to pack up yet.

The glass on the front of the cases exploded into twinkling, falling stars as the two men fired into them. Quickly, one of them collected the store’s most valuable merchandise into a bag while the other shooter fired even more bullets, this time at point-blank range, up and down my father’s body as he lay on the floor. Satisfied the store’s owner could not survive such a barrage, the men worked together to gather up the rest of their spoils as quickly as possible. When they were done, the only thing left on the carpeted shelves lining the now-broken cases was broken glass.

Dad, his pants and shirt already soaked red, had just enough of his wits remaining to grab his gun up off the floor to fight back. On his back and without much mobility, his mind ignored the swell of intense pain in his lower body while his hand searched, doing its best to find his metal piece before the shooters saw what he was doing. Frantic and fading, he grabbed one of the display guns that had fallen out of the cases instead. The yellow tag dangled.

click.

Display guns are never loaded.

The shooters gave Dad’s body one last sweep of bullets. His body jerked up and down on the hard, uncaring floor of the store. More blood exited from fresh wounds to make room for their hot new guests. Some bullets exited just as quickly as they entered. Others dug into Dad’s flesh and took residence.

Finally, the shooting stopped. Dad went still.

The two men, with bags full of black treasures, turned around and left in a hurry, slamming the door behind them.

* * *

Next: “The Call”

15 Years Ago Today

A still from the segment on "Rescue 911" that featured Dad's story

Today marks the 15th Anniversary of my father’s death. This is insane because I was 19-years-old when he died. (I’ll wait while you do the math.) I’m fast approaching a time when it will be longer since he’s been gone than the time I had with him. And yet, in a lot of ways, it feels like his death was just last week.

Coincidentally, I wrapped up my latest revision of the manuscript for my memoir today. (I’m not yet ready to talk about WHY I did another revision, but suffice it to say that this is a significant day for more than one reason.) The one passage I think I’ve struggled with the most over the course of my many, many rewrites hasbeen the one where I describe my thoughts and feelings immediately after finding out Dad had been killed.

For those of you that remain unaware (and, as often as I freely talk about it, that’s almost hard to believe), my father was killed in an armed robbery at his store 8 years after surviving a previous armed robbery. At the same store. Sometimes, lightning does strike twice. (Especially if you sell guns.)

Getting down on paper the various odd, monumental, despairing, uplifting, cynical, hateful, joyful and, ultimately, peaceful things that went through my head that night has just been an absolutely huge challenge. How do you take people on that journey with you? What words could possibly communicate those feelings? It helps that my memory of that night is about as clear as any memory I have, but still… it’s been a challenge.

I was in a unique situation when it happened. I hadn’t actually seen him in the flesh for 10 months.  I was serving as a missionary in Arizona, off in my own little world of cacti, no grass and a big, hot sun. When the call came in, I had just gotten home from a long day of knocking on doors and riding my bike and looking ridiculous with my helmet and tie ensemble. I couldn’t have been more shocked by the news–nor less surprised.

Dad always said he was going to die relatively young. He insisted he wouldn’t get to see all of his sons reach maturity. I’m the oldest of my four brothers and the youngest of us when he died was 9. (Hi, Tyler.) Everybody thinks bad things happen to other people. I grew up thinking we were the other people. It was kinda true. That’s a lot of what the book is about–what Dad knew and how that changed the way I saw the world and how much of a gift it was when he was finally taken from us. A bad thing does not always equal “a bad thing.”

There’s a hope and a responsibility that comes with knowing, and I’m glad Dad had the wisdom to tell us what was coming. My life hasn’t been the same since, but I can’t honestly say it’s been for the worse. Dad’s death marked a moment in my life when I stopped being who I was and became someone else entirely. We don’t get many moments like that, but when they come–however they come–they are an opportunity, I think. To grow, to change, to reassess, to gain empathy and understanding and experience. I hope I’ve taken advantage of that opportunity fully. I think that’s pretty much the point to life in general.

I’ll go visit his gravesite later today. I know he’s not there, but that’s as good a place as any to reflect and remember. And to be grateful.