Episode 17: Violence is Part of the Game
I have been asked in a number of interviews about my most violent experience in “the life.” Honestly, for the most part, my criminal exploits rarely involved violence. Occasionally, I had to rough a guy up for being a deadbeat who fell behind on his vig or shark payments. Sometimes I just liked to beat the hell out of some “tough guy” at a club. You know the kind—walks around in his tight shirt, steroided-out muscles flexed, chest always puffed up. The kind of guy who projects he’s a bad ass just because he is bigger than everyone. I always liked messing with those guys. I’m not really sure why. I guess I just hated the bully type. All my life I have been a bully’s bully. I found pleasure punking guys who bullied the weak. I was known for knocking them out in the local Detroit clubs. I’d purposefully bump into them, maybe make them spill their drink, just to get a reaction out of them. They would have one chance—if they politely said, “Sorry, my bad, man,” they would get a pass. But if they got tough, I’d just smash their jaw and put them to bed. It drove the bouncers crazy, but my boys got a kick out of it. I’m not saying what I did was right. I’m just explaining the type of guy I was. I had no problem flipping that switch and letting the monster out of the cage. I’m just lucky I never killed anyone. Or that anyone killed me!
But in that world, violence is always around the corner. And I did have a few near-death experiences. The first one really has no big story behind it. I liked this cute black girl who lived in a seedy ghetto of Mt. Clemens, a small city a few miles outside of Detroit. I drove there on my Ninja motorcycle to drop her off a bag of weed. Just as I was leaving, a gunfight erupted across the street. Wrong place at the wrong time. Two groups of 4-5 blacks just opened fire like it was the Wild West. I saw one guy get blown away at point blank range with a sawed-off shotgun. It was the first time I ever saw someone get it like that. An explosion of gore and blood just burst out his back. He then crumpled to the ground, half leaning against a car, dead as a door nail.
Seeing that, I turned and ran from the hailstorm of bullets. As I dashed around the corner, I thought I tripped on something. Maybe one of those hard-to-see cables that hold up telephone poles. I literally tripped, hit the ground, rolled, popped right up and kept running like I meant to do it. Must have been sort of funny for anyone watching. What I didn’t know was that a bullet had smashed into my shin, and THAT is what I tripped on.
The gunfight was over within seconds and everyone disappeared, dashing over fences and down allies. After maybe a minute, I slunk back around the corner and took off on my Ninja, not wanting to be around when the cops came. After a few minutes, my shin began to throb and ache bad, but I was still under the impression that I had just banged it on something when I was running. When I was almost home, maybe 10 minutes later, I came to a stop at a traffic light and looked down at my leg. I saw blood had soaked my sock so I pulled up my pant leg. I instantly realized that I had been shot. But I didn’t panic. I simply drove home, told my dad that I had been shot in the leg, and asked him to drive me to the hospital. He knew I was out hustling, and didn’t even bother to ask what happened. His first words were, “It’s not bad. You’ll live.” At the hospital, the doctor dug out of my leg a .25 caliber slug that had lodged against the bone. Had it been a quarter inch to the right, it would had shattered my tibia. I was sore for a few days but my dad was right. I lived. Ironically, ten years later, I would get shot in my other leg, in almost the same place. But I’ll save that story for another day.
The most violent memory I have is… well, very violent and nearly cost me my life. I had this cousin, a younger kid who lived in the suburbs. I’ll call him Johnny here to protect his identity. He was a real good-looking kid. And ambitious. But not that bright. One day he called me and asked me to help him rock some crack up. I thought to myself, “What the hell is this kid up to?” He had bought an ounce of powdered cocaine, and when he tried to rock it into crack, he messed up and couldn’t “bring it back.” Anyone who has made crack cocaine from powder knows what I mean. He didn’t use enough baking soda and ice.
Anyway, I went to help him out and was able to save most of the ounce. But when I asked him what the hell he was doing, he told me that he had several crackheads who were buying from him every day. This was shocking, because he was an 18-year-old kid who lived way out in a nice suburb. But what the hell, drugs don’t discriminate. Back then, crackheads were everywhere. Apparently, he was selling about an ounce a day, clearing roughly $400 in profit. Not bad. But when I asked him how much he was paying for ounces, I was shocked when he told me $1,200. Right away I saw dollar signs. I knew I could get good coke in the city for around $700 an ounce, so I told him I’d bring him an ounce a day for $1,100, and even help him stretch it by using the proper rocking technique. He happily agreed.
The guy I started getting the coke from was an older guy named Lorenzo. He and his boys really liked me. They thought I was batshit crazy. And for good reason. The first time I met them was at a little house party in a rough neighborhood. Someone had an old go-cart, and everyone was taking turns flying up and down the street. But when it came to my turn, I was really in rare form, doing donuts and driving crazy. Then I pulled out my new pistol, a huge .44 Desert Eagle, and just starting shooting. At first just in the air, for fun, but then I started blasting this giant hand cannon at the garbage cans that were lined up on the curb. People started scattering and running for their lives, but Lorenzo and his boys thought it was hilarious. After that, we started doing a little business. They sold coke and bought weed from me. But if and when I needed coke, they were my guys.
This whole thing with my cousin lasted a few months. I was making about $400 a day in extra pocket cash. My little cousin started making about a $1,000 a day once he learned how to properly rock the coke. Things were going well until one day I ran into some trouble. I was heading down Lorenzo’s street when I saw him and his brother talking to some guys on the front lawn of a corner house. So, I just casually pulled over and got out. But one of the guys, a stocky dude who looked like a bull in the face, told me to get back in my car and keep it moving.
Lorenzo said, “It’s cool, bro. That’s my boy.”
But the dude didn’t care. He looked at me and said,
“I don’t give a fuck who he is. He better take his punk ass on and keep it moving.”
Now I felt my anger rising. “Hey bro, you don’t need to talk to me like that. You don’t even know me.”
The guy snatched a 40-ounce beer bottle off the porch and made a move for me, but Lorenzo, who was a big guy, stepped in front of him and said,
“I’m telling you, he ain’t the one. You go over there and I guarantee you end up in emergency.”
The guy didn’t care. He simply pushed pass Lorenzo and came at me. I inwardly grinned, knowing what was about to happen. He thought I was just some nobody punk. I was going to show him otherwise.
When he started circling me with the bottle, like he was going to hit me with it, I got in a fighting stance and said,
“All you gonna do with that is piss me off.”
He circled me for another couple seconds, waiting for his moment. When he thought he had me, he hurled the half-full bottle at my face. But I reacted quick and lunged out of its direct path. The bottle clanged off my collar bone but astonishingly didn’t shatter. In a flash, I lunged forward and smashed a left hook into his jaw. He went straight down like a bag of bricks.
One of his boys yelled, “Daaaaaaamn! He got knocked the fuck out!!”
In hindsight, I should have left it at that. He was knocked out and I had humiliated him in front of his boys.
But I was pretty pissed off, and wanted to send him a message. So, stupidly, I got on top of him and drove my fist into his face 4-5 times for good measure, smashing his eye socket and splattering his nose. Then I just stood up, told Lorenzo I’d be by later, and drove off.
Later that evening, I showed up at Lorenzo’s house while he was eating dinner, so I stood out in the street, leaning against my car with his buddy Pat, who was Lorenzo’s dope dealing partner. Pat was super cool, and would later die in a high-speed chase with the cops. I liked him and he liked me. Which is why on this night he told me,
“You shouldn’t have done what you did earlier. That fuckin’ guy and his boys are nuts. We don’t mess with him on any level.”
I looked at him and said, “What the hell was I supposed to do? He tried to punk me out. I’m no punk, bro. Now he knows it.”
Pat just sort of shook his head and then we changed the subject. That was about the time I felt something smash into the back of my head. Moving on pure instinct, I turned to see what it was and I saw the guy I had whupped earlier in the day. I saw the stitches in his face a split second before his second swing of the bat connected with my forehead. The impact had so much force that it spun me around and knocked me against my car, which was the only thing that kept me from going down. I’ll never forget what I saw as I shook off the blow. I actually heard it first. The sound of wood bouncing down the street. The guy had hit me so hard that the wood bat actually broke and went bouncing down the street.
In my mind, this was a situation of life and death. And I decided I was going to live. Barely a split second after the bat impacted my head, I spun around and launched at the dude, who was probably shocked I was still standing. Tackling him to the ground, I grabbed him by the throat, fully intent on killing him. My hands locked around his throat like the bite of a Pitbull. With all my strength, I squeezed and began smashing his head into the concrete. The whole time, I was yelling out, “You want to me?!” I’m not sure why I said that. It just came out. But in my mind, I was now going to kill him.
For a good twenty seconds, I crushed the guys throat and smashed his head off the cement. Blood was spurting from his nose and mouth, as I felt things in his neck crunching and popping. My blood was also leaking all over him, as the bat had split me to the bone.
Suddenly two or three of his boys come running out of a house a few doors down. Might have been an abandoned house. I can’t remember. But they ran up and started kicking me, punching me, yelling for me to let their boy go, who they could see was near death. I ignored them and continued choking and smashing the guy off the concrete. Suddenly, I felt a bottle explode off the side of my face. Still I wouldn’t let go. Again, they started punching and kicking me. At the time, I didn’t know that one of them had stabbed me twice in my lower chest. I didn’t care. I was determined to kill this guy.
The guy was covered in blood and essentially unconscious, when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that one of his boys running towards me with a 2×4 piece of wood. I knew that could do me in, so just as the guy came swinging it down towards my head, I lunged forward. The board impacted the back of my leg, tearing part of my hamstring right off the bone. When I saw one of them holding a gun, I just took off running, jumping over fences, dashing through backyards, where several times dogs nipped at me as I went. They chased me for a while, but then I lost them.
Exhausted and leaking blood everywhere, I hid in an alley and tried to assess the severity of my wounds. I couldn’t tell how bad they were, because I was soaked from head to toe in blood. But I was having a hard time breathing. When I looked down, I saw a sucking wound with pink bubbly blood leaking out of a hole under my left nipple. Then another in my stomach. I knew this was bad. Really bad. A few weeks previously, a friend of mine had been beaten and killed at a party. I remembered being at his funeral, wondering what must have been going through his mind the moments before his death. Now I knew. I was in the same situation. But I refused to die easily. I told myself, “No, I’m going to live!” I honestly couldn’t bear the thought of my girlfriend getting that call, the one telling her I was found dead in some alley.
After I got away, I was just sort of wandering around, trying to figure my next move. It was a hot summer night, and I had no shirt on or shoes on, because I had literally run right out of the sandals I was wearing. At some point, I saw my car coming down the block—a tinted black Mustang—and I thought it was the guys coming for me, because like a dumb ass I had left my keys in the ignition of my car. I thought they had my car and were cruising the neighborhood looking for me, when in fact it was actually Lorenzo and his brother. After I’d taken off running, I heard some gunshots and assumed they were shooting at me. What I didn’t know till the next day was that Lorenzo came out and started shooting at the guys chasing me.
Shortly after I got away, the guys came back and busted the back window out of my car. They were going to pour gas in it and ignite it, but Lorenzo came back out with his pistol and ran them off with a couple more warning shots. He then drove around looking for me for a while, and eventually drove my car to his grandmother’s house a few miles away, so it would be safe.
I was so hot, tired, and thirsty. At some point, barely conscious, I walked up to the side of a house and tried to get some water from a hose spigot. Suddenly a large black woman came running over from across the street “Hey, what are you doing by my house???” she began yelling.
I just sort of mumbled my response, “Sorry, I was just trying to get some water. I’m so thirsty…”
When she got closer, her eyes went wide with shock. “Oh my god, honey, what happened?” she asked with genuine concern. “Were you in a car accident?”
“No, I just got jumped,” I answered.
She quickly helped me up onto her porch and sat me down. Then, in what seemed like only seconds, she handed me tall glass of ice water and a clean white towel to hold on the gaping wound on my forehead, which was still gushing. I drank down the water and asked for another glass, which she promptly delivered. This was about the point I blacked out. The next time I opened my eyes, two paramedics were trying to lift me from the chair. I told them I was fine, and that I could walk. They wanted to strap me to a stretcher, concerned because I had just sustained a “major traumatic head wound.” But I refused to let them strap me down. I guess I had some weird phobia about being strapped down. I ended up sitting all the way to St. John’s Hospital, which was on 7 Mile Road, a few miles away.
For the record, I believe that woman was an angel of some kind, because when I went back to thank her a few days later, I could NOT find her house no matter how hard I tried. For many years, I went back looking for her, trying to find her so I could thank her for saving my life. And it was like her house had vanished from the street. True story.
A couple of ER doctors stitched up my lung and head. After some nurses cleaned me up—I was drenched in blood—they told me I had to at least stay the night for observation. I told them to hell with that. My head was pounding, my leg was throbbing, and all I could think about was going home to take a bath.
When my girlfriend arrived to pick me up, she was hysterical because by law the hospital hadn’t been able to tell her my condition over the phone. All they told her was that I was alive and in the ER after an accident. So, when she got there, she literally went charging past security and ran back to the ER, a crowd of nurses and orderlies chasing after her, yelling that she was not allowed back there. She didn’t care. At 4’10” and 110 pounds, she was a little spitfire. But once she saw I was alive and in relative good condition, she quickly stopped crying and calmed down.
The thing that hurt worst was my torn hamstring. I’ve always had a hard head, and it healed quickly. But my leg was black-and-blue for a month. And extremely painful. I got the last laugh though.
A few weeks later, I was driving through that exact neighborhood when a Cadillac pulled up and blocked me in at a 4-way stop sign. The passenger was the guy who hit me with a bat. He looked healed up and mad. He said,
“What’s up, motherfucker? You think this is over?”
He was too stupid to realize I was already reaching for the little .380 pistol I always kept stashed under my dash. Before he could react, I was out of my car, racing towards him with the pistol aimed dead at him. He yelled to the driver, “GO GO GO!” But it was too late. I was already squeezing the trigger.
I literally ran after the Caddy while firing all 8 shots through the passenger window and door. I then casually got in my car, drove off, and never went back to that neighborhood. At least not for many years.
Did I get the guy? Maybe. I don’t want to know. But that was the life I lived. There are many other violent memories from my past, and perhaps someday I’ll share some of them. But this is the one that has always stuck with me. Every time I think of it, or share it with someone, it reminds me of how close I was to death that night, and how the kindness of a perfect stranger saved my life. Was it luck or divine intervention? I don’t know. I’m just grateful to be alive to share it with you.
If you would like to sample more of Gunner’s work, checkout his novels, “To Be A King,” and see for yourself why it is being called “the next Godfather…