I am upstairs in this new place we have down by the river, upstairs earlier today when the morning is almost the afternoon. We are at home for about two hours after the eight o’clock Mass where we provide the musical entertainment, and after that, we stop off at the house of Tom Bolton, a retired state trooper, who lives a few doors down from us with his wife Dee, and their two dogs, Lillian who is a well mannered Chocolate Lab approaching a dignified age, and Garda Siochana, a youngster who is learning her manners, slowly, very slowly. She just goes by the name of Garda, though. Tom’s son, who is also Tom Bolton, named her. It is probably because he is a Sergeant on the Nashua P.D., a pretty sharp cop who teaches at a local college and up at the State Police Academy. That, and the fact that they are Irish. Garda Siochana is the official Irish name of their national police force.
We bring them communion after Mass every Sunday because Tom has a motorcycle accident about ten years ago which almost kills him and leaves him not able to ride a motorcycle any more in addition to not being able to do much of anything else, including pee standing up. Motorcycles will do that to a person. It is a fact that my sister, Stephanie, does not come to my wedding in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Sheila Marie Teresa Welby back on a nice summer day in July in New York City, at 11:00 sharp in the morning, because she is in the surgical ward at Bellevue Hospital. This is because she gets the big toe on her right foot cut off in the drive chain of the motorcycle owned by a friend of mine as they are about to come home from an evening celebrating that she will get the exclusive use of the bedroom that her brothers have now left.
We get the phone call near midnight, and my parents rush down to the hospital in a cab. I stay at home and keep vigil with my friend Tom Sheridan, and fill a garbage can with empty beer cans. Next day, after the ceremony and the reception, we begin our honeymoon with a visit to my sister in the hospital where Sheila delivers a piece of wedding cake and gives her the bouquet. And, as a direct result of that, I like to think, Stephanie marries Frank Morse a few years later who is a policeman in New York City, but is not attached to the motorcycle squad.
My friend Billy Chase, who we call Charming Billy, because he was just that, and has two blue eyes that don’t hurt the impression; two blue eyes like a soft summer sky, or a robin’s egg, and a voice like the feel of a cool silk pillow case on your cheek, was a cop for a few years in Watertown, which is a town next to Boston. It has an arsenal that becomes a mall; an updated example of swords becoming plowshares. One afternoon we are sitting in a car watching something that is supposed to happen not happen, and telling each other stories. This is a thing to do to pass the time, after you have discussed everything else. He tells me that when he is a rookie cop in Watertown he is riding with an older guy one night when a call comes in about a motorcycle which loses a fight with a telephone pole, and would they like to go over and make sure the pole is all right because nothing else is. And, when they get there they see that the motorcycle is scrap, and so is the guy who was riding it. Only the motorcycle has all of its parts, but the guy is missing one of his. The part missing is his head! And, every thing for a few yards all around is covered in the guy’s blood like a fire hydrant blew its top.
“Go find the head,” the old cop says to my friend. “I’ll stay here for the fire department, ambulance and the wrecker.” So Billy says he gets out of the car and goes off looking for the head which he does not find where he thought it would be. It is not anywhere in front of the headless guy for a few dozen yards, or on either side for a few yards this way or that way. He walks past his partner who throws him a questioning, “What’s up?” look from his seat in the car where he is sipping his coffee. Is a head that hard to find? And he starts looking down the street on both sides for the missing head.
Which head he finally locates about a hundred feet away on the other side of the street. Off the road. Under some guy’s boxwood hedge. Still wearing the helmet. “I found it” he yells. His partner motions him back to the motorcycle. When he gets there they talk, and wait. One guy sitting in the car drinking coffee. Billy leaning against it outside the car. The head is where it landed. The engine arrives and they leave, soon. No fire, no need. The ambulance comes next and two guys get out.
“Most of him is there,” Billy says pointing to the mess partly on the bike and partly not, staining the street and sidewalk. They walk a couple of feet. Make a few remarks. Then one of them says, “Where’s the head?” Billy,says, while he points down the block, “Back there about fifty feet under the hedge.”
The guy says, “Fly ball?” Billy looks at him. “Was it a fly ball or did it take a hop? Any brains or blood on the road along the way?” Billy says no. The guy’s partner says, “He fouled out, then.” The four guys laugh. The sanitation guys show up shortly and hose down the street after the dead guy and his head are bagged and taken to the ME for a medical ruling of death by fouling out.
Billy tells me this story again at least twenty years ago while we are drinking in a bar one night during some bullshit conference in Newport, which like most conferences is really an excuse to get drunk with your friends in a place where you are close enough to walk to a comfortable place to sleep. Only this time he has added the detail about the cause of death. Stories have a life of their own, I think.
When I am upstairs after bringing communion to Tom Bolton who, I swear to God, had his head sown back on his shoulders. I’ve seen the scar, and the tattoo he had put on his neck, a zipper. I think of the story again.
I get the book I went up to get and come back down here to read it. “Damon Runyon: A Life” by Jimmy Breslin. I always like a story by either of these guys. They were like farmers with the facts.
I never asked what happened to the helmet.