Johnny Donohue was my best friend when I was twelve-years old. During the summers and on Saturdays we would go fishing in the early hours of the morning. Because we would arise at 3:00 am, and meet shortly thereafter, we called it “Going fishing at three in the morning.”
This particular Saturday morning when I arrived at Johnny’s house (his house was closer to the lake), two of his three brothers were milling about outside. His brother Terry was a year younger and hung out with us quite a bit, so it was no surprise to see him. But, his youngest brother Matt, who was only six, was a different story. Before I could ask Johnny what was up with Matt, he, Matt, comes running up to me saying, “I want to go fishin’.”
Johnny approaches me and says, “If I try to leave him behind he’ll just follow us or make such a racket, he’ll wake up my parents.” So we bow to the inevitable, and let Matt follow us as we start for the lake. It wasn’t really a lake; it was what was called a rock pit. A rock pit being a place that was once dry land until a land company came in and started dredging the land for use in driving back the Everglades, so development can take place where once saw grass grew. What was left when they had taken as much gravel, dirt, and muck as possible was a small lake. We were lucky, there were two such lakes within blocks of where we lived. They were identical, about a quarter mile long and half as wide, and they were separated by a spit of land about a hundred yards wide.
Our 3:00 am fishing routine consisted of me, Johnny, sometimes Terry, our fishing poles, a frying pan, a can of baked beans, and a stick of butter. At sunrise we would stop fishing, clean our catch, build a fire, and cook the fish we had caught moments before. And of course, coming from good Irish (Boston) stock, we always had a side dish of Boston baked beans.
As a rule, we always fished the north lake. Why, I don’t know, probably because that’s the lake we swam in and we felt comfortable there. However, this morning we were fishing the south lake, and by the time the sun was fixing to come up, we had caught nothing. Matt may have helped our bad luck along by throwing rocks into the water right where our lines were. So, we decided to call it day, or a night, or whatever; it was still dark out when we reeled in our lines and started for home.
Johnny, Terry and I were walking north along the western shore of the south lake, Matthew was somewhere behind us. There was no need to fret about Matt, we were only blocks from his home, which he knew his way to as well as we did; and there were no “Bad Guys” to worry about, it was 1962 after all. But with what happened in the next few minutes, it just goes to show you how wrong a guy can be. At this point, it’s still pitch black out, but a gray sky is only minutes away.
As we neared the bit of land between the two lakes, we heard a sound, which immediately put us on guard. At the time our neighborhood was in the boondocks and we have never run into another living soul in all the years we went fishing at three o’clock in the morning. The sound was a scrapping sound, immediately followed by a sound that sounded like “plod.” “Scratch, plod, scratch, plod,” it had a kind of rhythm. By now the dawn had broken, it was light enough, barely, to see where the sound was coming from, and who was making it.
From fifty yards away, we could make out the silhouettes of two men and a car. The bigger of the two was leaning against the car, arms folded, watching the other digging a hole. That was the sound we had heard, the scrapping of the shovel as it was thrust into the sand, and the sand as it was heaved onto the slowly growing pile that lay in front of the man doing the digging. As we stood there watching this strange sight, it got stranger. The big guy went to the trunk, opened it, and dragged out a dead body, or what sure looked like a dead body in the semi-darkness.
At the first glimpse of the body, all three of us dropped as one and lay prone on the ground. After all, we were the first generation of children raised on television; we’ve seen enough to know that witnesses always get “rubbed out.” Dead men tell no tales.
Johnny and I were right next to each other, with Terry behind us. We lay in that position for about five minutes wondering what would be the best course of action to take that would not end up with all three of us with bullets in our backs. Johnny and I were for slowly crawling out so as not to be seen, and Terry was for jumping up and making a run for it. Well wouldn’t you know it, little Matthew decided which course of action we should take, and it was none of the above.
As we lay there conducting the great debate, we see Matt walking up to the two men from the opposite direction. He must have circumnavigated the lake, and was heading in the general direction of home; the only problem being two bad guys were between him and his home. Because he was so small, and the men so intent on what they were doing, Matt was able to walk right up the hole being dug and peer into it. Even from our vantage point, we could see the men react as all reasonable men would react when burying a corpse at six o’clock in the morning without a permit; they nearly jumped out of their skins.
After taking a moment to regroup, the bigger of the two, the one not shoveling, grabbed Matt by the arm, and forced marched him about ten feet before flinging him in the direction of the street. Of course, the little kid stumbled and fell. He sat there looking up at that big bully as the man pointed to the street. You didn’t need to read lips to know the guy was telling Matt to scram.
Now, if I may, I’d like to digress for a moment and tell you about Johnny, Terry, and myself. Johnny and I were good kids. We were altar boys, we never gave the nuns at school any trouble, we were the same in those days. We kept our noses clean. Of course, as we got older and joined the Boy Scouts, Johnny made Eagle Scout while I never made it out of Tenderfoot. Johnny went on to become an FBI agent, and I went on to break many, many laws with impunity. But, on that morning we thought alike. Now Terry on the other hand was a holy terror. Whenever he hung with us, we could expect to either be reprimanded by someone, or punished by our parents when we got home. All the Donohue boys, except Terry had red hair and freckles, Terry was different, he was a blond. Come to think of it, he was different in a lot of ways. I tell you these things so you will understand why things turned out as they did.
Back to the story: When we left off Matt was sitting on the ground with Mr. Big standing over him.
As Matt hit the ground, Johnny jumped up and yelled, “My brother!” and starts running in the direction of all the excitement. Because he’s my pal, I’m two steps behind him and Terry is a step behind me. We reached the scene of the crime and inject ourselves between Mr. Big and Matthew. When he sees us, the big guy turns to the guy shoveling and says,” Hey Nicky, the cavalry to the rescue.”
When he sees us, Nicky drops the shovel and pulls out a gun he had tucked into his belt, and points it at us. At this turn of events, Mr. Big says to Nicky, “Put the fuckin’ gun away, pick up your fuckin’ shovel, and dig the goddamn hole.” I thought Nicky was going to shoot him. I would have if someone spoke to me like that. But Nicky only shrugged, slipped the gun back into his belt, and resumed his spadework.
“So kids what’s the problem,” says Mr. Big “Why don’t you be good little tikes and just run along home.” When we heard this, Jonny and I looked at one another, and spoke in that silent language only very close fiends speak; we both knew our troubles were over. All we had to do was walk away from there, go home, tell our parents, and they would take the appropriate steps to deal with the situation.
As Johnny takes Matt by the hand, and we turn to leave, we hear, “You guys gonna bury that dead body?” “Fuckin’ Terry” was my only thought at the moment. I don’t know what Johnny was thinking, but by the look on his face, he was thinking along similar lines. With that bit of oratory, Nicky again drops his shovel and pulls out his gun. Mr. Big just stares at him until Nicky meekly puts the gun back in his belt. But in an act of defiance, he does not resume his shoveling duties. So there we are; four kids, two bad guys and a corpse. “What next,” was probably the only thought going through everyone’s head, except for Matt and Terry. Matt was too young to comprehend the situation, and Terry was just getting warmed up.
As we stood there in this Mexican standoff, we hear a groan coming from the corpse. Then the corpse raises itself on one arm and shakes its head. Now I’ve got to hand it to Mr. Big, if nothing else, he was a fast thinker. I could tell he was just as surprised as the rest of us at the resurrection taking place, probably more so; but without missing a beat he turns to Terry and says, “You talkin’ about Marty, he’s no dead body; he just had too much to drink.” I’m thinking, “Saved by the bell, all we’ve got to do is play dumb and we can walk out here.”
And no sooner had I thought those encouraging thoughts, I hear, “Then why are you digging the hole?”
You guessed it, Fuckin’ Terry again. But no one pays any attention to him, Marty is slowly getting to his feet, and all eyes are upon this Lazarus like spectacle. The only one present who does anything is Nicky; he pulls out his gun again. Mr. Big walks over to him, slaps him on the back of the head, and says, “Not in front of the k-i-d-s.” How old did this guy think we were that we couldn’t spell kids? But that was cool, if he wanted us stupid, we could be the stupidest sons of bitches you ever saw. But unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to exhibit our acting talents. Just then, Marty says to no one in particular, “You fuckin’ assholes, you tried to kill me!”
“We ain’t done trying yet,” was Nicky’s retort. With that brilliant statement, in front of witnesses none the less, Mr. Big loses his cool. He turns to Nicky and screams, “Alright, just shoot the bastard once and for all. Kill him before I kill you, you sorry son of a bitch!”
With that, Nicky grins from one end of his face to the other. “Right boss,” is his reply, just before raising the gun and putting two right in Marty’s head. The rest of those assembled, with the exception of Mr. Big, jumped a foot in the air with the explosion of the first shot. Marty doesn’t take it so well, he’s flung back against the car and stares at Nicky for a moment before crumbling to the ground. Us kids, we’re frozen with fear to the piece of earth we each happened to be standing on at the moment the shots were fired. Even Terry couldn’t think of anything stupid to say.
As soon as Marty hits the ground, Mr. Big orders Nicky to pull the body away from the car. He, Mr. Big, gets behind the wheel and yells for Nicky to hurry up and get into the car. When Nicky decides that Marty is far enough removed from the car, he walks over to the passenger side window, sticks his head in and asks Mr. Big, “What about the kids?”
We kids were still rooted to our respective pieces of earth, so we were close enough to hear Mr. Big’s answer to Nicky’s query. “Nicky, fuck the goddamn kids, fuck Marty, fuck you and fuck this miserable town! Get you ass in here or so help me “I’ll blow your fuckin’ head off right where you stand.” With this, Mr. Big pulls out his own gun and points it at Nicky’s head. Having his boss point a gun at his head didn’t seem to phase Nicky though, before getting into the car he turns to Jonny and me and winks and says, “See ya kids.” He then got into the car and Mr. Big backed it out onto the street, turned the car around and drove out of our lives forever.
But wait, the story isn’t over quite yet. After our friends had left, we formed a circle around Marty. We stood there looking down at him. He was lying face down in the fine white sand, and his blood had discolored the sand a kind of reddish brown. Terry says, “Cool.” Johnny looks like he wants to throw up, I am just paralyzed, and Matt is building sand castles in the sand. After a few minutes Johnny says, “Let’s go home.”
The walk home was the least eventful part of the entire morning’s fishing expedition, at least until we got to Johnny’s house. When we got there he said, “You guys wait out here, I’ll go in and tell my parents.”
A few moments later we heard a scream, followed by the exclamation, “My babies!” Within seconds Mrs. Donohue wearing an old blue bathrobe, and with curlers in her hair, flies through the front door, stoops down, and like a mother hen, enfolds Matt and Terry into her arms. After a few moments and a few sniffles, she rises and shouts, while pointing to the door, “Get in there misters, before I beat you!” At that, there was nothing left for me to do but make my way to my own home. I was hungry; we hadn’t caught any fish that morning. And for some reason we were never again allowed to go fishing at three o’clock in the morning.