“Yes,” I said, “I am a member of Joseph DeLucca’s immediate family.”
“And exactly how are you related?”
“He’s my brother.”
“Why is it, then, that you have a different last name?”
“We’re half- brothers.”
“I’m skeptical,” the hospital Nazi said.
“And why would that be?”
“Because I recognize you. You’re that reporter from the Dispatch.”
“Reporters can have brothers,” I said.
“I imagine so,” she said. “But this is the fifth time this year you have tried to get into a shooting victim’s room by claiming to be a relative.”
“The fifth that you know of,” I said.
“You mean there were more?”
“Would you believe my family is having a run of bad luck?”
“Give me a break,” I said. “He’s a friend, and I really need to talk to him.”
“Get out of here before I call security.”
“By security do you mean the geriatric rent- a-cop with a limp who waved to me in the lobby, or are you talking about the fat retired beat cop who’s munching a cruller in the coffee shop?”
She reached for the phone. I shrugged and headed for the door.
It took a couple of hours, but I managed to piece together the story of what happened to Joseph by reading between the lines of the police report and chatting up three off- duty cops, two hookers, and a bartender. Of the sixty or so people who were in the Tongue and Groove when the shooting started, they were the only ones willing to talk to a reporter with a note pad. Logan Bedford, the asshole from Channel 10, had better luck. A few dozen witnesses had queued up for the opportunity to talk into his microphone. Anything to get on TV.
From what I gathered, it went down this way:
By the Budweiser clock on the wall, it was a little after nine P.M. when Jamal, King Felix’s nervous triggerman, entered the club, pimp-walked up to the bar, and asked where he could find Joseph DeLucca. Jamal’s full name, it turned out, was Jamal Jackson; and he was a little younger than I’d thought—just fourteen. The boy’s father wasn’t in the picture. His mother worked the day shift as an orderly at Rhode Island Hospital. Nights, she made beds at the Biltmore. No, she told police, she didn’t know Jamal hadn’t been to school all year.
Jamal made the bartender nervous. He didn’t like the tic in the kid’s left eye, and he especially didn’t like the fact that he was a kid.
“Far as I know, there’s no state law against a kid buying a blow job,” the bartender told me later, “but he’s not permitted to be in an establishment that serves alcohol. If the a.g. ever found out he was in here, the bitch would have another excuse to scream bloody murder.”
I didn’t like his choice of words for my friend, but I needed to hear the rest of the story, so I didn’t make an issue of it.
He told Jamal to get out, the bartender went on. His exact words, if he remembered them right, were, “Get lost and come back when you’re eighteen.”
“Ain’t leaving till I see DeLucca,” Jamal said, the twitch in his left eye growing more violent.
What the hell, the bartender figured. Joseph was the bouncer. He asked Chloe, the plump waitress with the green hair, to fetch Joseph from the all- nude room so he could throw the kid out. Two minutes later, Joseph walked up to the bar and said,
“Somebody lookin’ for me?”
“You DeLucca?” Jamal asked.
“Yeah,” Joseph said. “Who the fuck are you?”
Jamal didn’t answer. He just reached into his waistband and pulled out his little silver pistol.
He had not picked the best evening for this.
There were twenty- two hookers and roughly forty customers in the club. Eighteen of the customers were there for Mike Scanlon’s bachelor party. The festivities had just gotten under way, so the celebrants hadn’t drunk themselves into a stupor yet. They’d had one beer apiece, and the first round of tequila shots had just arrived at their tables. Most of the guys had strippers on their laps. The girl who called herself Sacha, a couple of the celebrants told me later, was on her knees in front of the groom- to- be, her head bobbing up and down.
“Can you keep that part out of the paper?” Scanlon asked me. “My fiancée would fuckin’ kill me.”
“Sure thing,” I said, “as long as you fill me in on what happened next.”
When Sacha’s work was done, Scanlon expelled a sigh of satisfaction, opened his eyes, and saw the glint of bar light on nickel as Jamal’s pistol emerged from his waistband. Scanlon shoved the hooker aside and reached for the revolver in his ankle holster. His pals weren’t sure what was happening at first, but instinctively they went for their guns, too.
Scanlon was a Providence cop. So were his buddies.
In the next fifteen seconds, approximately a hundred rounds were fired, according to the official police estimate. One slug grazed Joseph’s thigh. Another ricocheted off a metal post and tore a ragged hole through the impressive rump of a stripper named Jezebelle. Dozens more slammed into the mahogany bar and the club’s black- painted walls.
And some hit what the room full of sharpshooters were aiming at.
An assistant medical examiner was still counting the holes in Jamal’s body. Every time he counted, he told me, he came up with a different number. The cop who recovered Jamal’s gun at the scene told me the kid never got off a shot.
Bruce DeSilva worked as a journalist for 40 years before retiring to write crime novels full time. At the Associated Press, he was the writing coach, responsible for training the wire service’s reporters and editors worldwide. Previously he directed an elite AP department devoted to investigative reporting and other special projects. Earlier in his career, he worked as an investigative reporter and an editor at The Hartford Courant and The Providence Journal. Stories edited by DeSilva have won virtually every major journalism prize including the Polk Award (twice), the Livingston (twice), the ASNE, and the Batten Medal. He also edited two Pulitzer finalists and helped edit a Pulitzer winner. His first novel, Rogue Island, was a Publishers Weekly selection as one of the best debut novels of 2010 and won both the Edgar and the MaCavity Awards. The sequel, Cliff Walk will be published in May of 2012.
Adapted from Cliff Walk, by Bruce DeSilva. Copyright © 2012 by Bruce DeSilva. With the permission of the publisher, Forge Books.