I remember as if it were yesterday, although it was twenty-nine years ago since that impressionable moment. However, as I now sit in the comfort of my home and look outside at the snow-covered evergreens, I can still visualize that mid-August day in 1978.
I was standing at the window of the local hang-out that the students of State Teachers College in Buffalo, NY referred to as “The Happy Pi”, I was holding a John Labatt 50-50 ale. It was three forty-five in the afternoon.
As the sun rays caressed my back with summer time warmth breaking through the glass pane that proudly exhibited the bar owner’s name (Capp’s) I was thinking of my soon to start semester on Ancient History and returning to Boston as a Teacher, when without notice, fate would replace intentions.
The sound of a quarter slipping into the steel slot of a fosse ball table had caused me to look up. Catching sight of a young lady with captivating eyes, not evil peering, but beautifully exotic. They were hazel or very light green; her hair was a soft shade of brown and her slightly parted lips exposed the well cared for teeth. In flashback memory of that young lady, and her curly shoulder length hair, still has me wonder why I had not spoken to her. Maybe it was her innocent appeal and natural beauty that soothed my inner beast, or, coward, my aggressive manner. Perhaps I was not to meet her by destiny, just as the future would have me remain in Buffalo, change my major from history to criminal law, and becoming a homicide detective rather than a teacher.
Four-men made their way into Capp’s in nearly unison fashion. Their shadows disrupted the sunrays that were so generously enhancing the beauty of the woman I never met. However, I do realize to this very day that she had an inner sense, one that had given her the decision to leave. There is no need in wondering why I didn’t, as fate is in everyone’s life, and just as that young lady placed her half drank drink onto the bar and left, my fate was being born.
“Give me a Schmitt’s.” Demanded the man who had led the way of the four who entered the run-down establishment of David Capp. His graveled voice gave witness to the words I would come to hear six months later, that would define observation, being explained by my law enforcement instructor.
The barmaid who sported a green vest over a sleeve less white tank top, spoke while removing a Schmitt’s from the cooler.
“What do your friends want?” She asked sounding as though she was a graduate of the school of hard knocks.
“The same.” The man replied flatly. The four men varied in size and shape, three were of nearly six feet tall, only the one who had ordered the beers was of five-feet-five or six inches tall. Just as I realize that I had observed their physical stature, I also found my-self thinking that it was strange that shortest of the group was in charge.
“So, you do know this isn’t your bar, don’t you?” The short man asked.
“I can go anywhere I damn well Please.” A man with blond hair replied without looking to the one who spoke to him.
His voice was clear and soft and only his choice of clothes showed that he was not one of etiquette.
“Now you Skully, being the asshole you are, you can only---“
“Who are you calling an asshole?!” The short man whom I now believed to be Skully said, as he began to make his way towards the blond at the end of the bar, and for the first time he looked towards Skully as he stood up.
The blond and the two men he had been sitting with were now facing Skully and two of the three he had entered with. All six were now facing one another in a stance described as confrontational.
The strawberry blond barmaid in the green vest hopped over the bar. She made her way rather quickly towards me. I was at the far end of Capp’s cider wood walls and hard wood floor tavern. In appearance it would not be farfetched to say Capp’s looked to belong in an old western movie.
“Stay here with me in the corner.” Sherry Abrams, the barperson I only knew as a customer, did not sound so school of hard knocks as she had, now she spoke with an anxious concern. Exactly who she was concerned for or about I didn’t know. What I did know was, she had made her way beside me and pulled me to the corner before I decided to stay or leave.
“Who do I think I’m talking to? “Well it must be you, you’re the only ass—
“I was going to be nice about this Van Trace, but now I’ll just kick your ass.” Skully stated then said, “Lock the front door Worm.” One of his companions, who looked more like an Oxen than a Worm, stepped to the front entrance, I didn’t see who locked the rear door, although I heard the door latch.
The barmaid holding onto my left arm had drawn herself tightly to me. I looked down to her as she glanced up at me. She stands five-feet-three inches tall and her eyes are soft blue. They’re so clear they resembled pieces of cut crystal. Her grip was firm, as her breast felt to be as it poked into my side, while somehow, she managed to draw herself closer to my five-feet-ten-inch frame.
“I hate this shit.”
“Don’t worry, they don’t want either of us.” I said as I looked down to her and noticed that she was braless, and thought to myself (damn J.T., this isn’t a sexual moment) as my male instincts wished it was.
“The doors are locked Van Trace, there’s nowhere to run now.” Skully said, and my wondering thoughts were snapped back to the situation at hand.
“I didn’t come here to run Skully, I came here to even the score.” Van Trace said.
The man who had responded to the name Worm stepped towards Van Trace. That action caused one of the men with Van Trace to spring up like a mad lion. He struck Worm square in the mouth. The impact of the punch had caused Worm’s head to snap back.
My-self and Shelly witnessed two teeth drop to the floor before Worm laid flat on his back with blood rolling off his right cheek.
The one who had locked the back door came rushing into the front room of the three-room bar, that is located on the corners or Letch worth, and Hollie Streets in the section of Buffalo, NY, known as the Upper Westside.
As he made his way into the front room, he drew back on the pool cue stick and held it in baseball swing fashion. He was moving fast and with his sight dead locked on the guy who had hit Worm, he never saw the one who had moved alongside the bar and took hold of the steel framed barstool. He let out a loud moan as he plummeted to the floor while losing his grip on the pool cue.
Van Trace, and Skully, were engaged in battle. Punches were being thrown in flurries, while making body contact with precision placement so well, that any professional fighter would have been proud of the expedition of raw talent.
Van Trace stood approximately two inches taller than Skully but as the kicking, punching, biting, and the all-out scraping continued, I could clearly see they were both accustom to barroom brawling.
Skully had perfectly placed a judo style sweep kick at the ankle of Van Trace, which sent him crashing to the hardwood floor with a thud and a moan of pain. Van Trace’s movement was notably graceful, as he seemed to reach out take hold of the pool cue stick and swung upward catching Skully in between the legs. Although, he was dropping rapidly to his knees, Skully withdrew a .38 caliber hand gun from his back pocket.
There was a thud to the right of me and the barmaid, as we looked down, we saw that one of the men with Van Trace had been struck across the left side of his head with a weapon I have come to learn is a primer chain, and in definition, this is the drive chain of a Harley Davison motor cycle, and many motorcycle riders wear them as a belt. Their reason for doing so is as clear as the exposed brain matter of the friend to Van Trace.
Van Trace looked back to his fallen comrade for a moment, a moment that would be the deciding point of this territorial battle. As Van Trace, and his two remaining brothers of biker life style looked back at Skully and his own nearly defeated warriors, Skully took aim and fired one deadly shot. It entered the brain of Van Trace viva his right eye socket.
It has a slow-motion effect, or so it seemed, I did not understand it then. However, I have come understand this is a human reaction to a shocking violent life changing experience. It seems that the brain automatically slows down the horror reality of a violent action. God’s, or nature’s way, to prevent a mental breakdown of the witness. Or so I presume.
At that moment no words were spoken only shocked expressions were viewed. Everyone heard the gun powder exploding and saw the head of a twenty-five-year-old man quiver back and forth. His blond hair revealed the fact that the bullet had changed direction, as it made its way from eye ball tissue, to brain matter, while bouncing off the shell of a human skull. Evidence was given as the hair going from sandy blond, to almost black red, while the blood oozed out to freedom from the left side of the skull as the now lifeless Van Trace slumped to the floor.
Worm was pulled to his feet by the man who held the primary chain, and the guy from the back room was now standing beside Skully. Van Trace lay motionless on the floor. His two friends moved towards him with expressions of concern. The barmaid’s hand had easily released the death grip she had on my bicep without verbal mention of the scene before us. The unlocking of the front door broke the morbid silence of death by .38 caliber injection.
As Skully and his three friends fled Capp’s, in nothing less than a rapid way, the voice of Van Trace’s friend brought us back to reality.