A violent day

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A violent day
by Alison Barnet
MySouthEnd.com Contributor
Wednesday May 18, 2011

The morning after Dixie’s relatives came to clean out her apartment, I opened my door to find a jar of stale Mexican pepitas holding down a dollar bill and a note in my landlady’s shaky handwriting. The snacks were to offer my guests on Saturday, my 25th birthday, the dollar for a bottle of wine. Later that day, a decorated Boston policeman was shot during a bank robbery in Brighton, and the Boston police were hot on the trail of a group of radical suspects that later turned out to include Susan Saxe and Katherine Ann Power.

Patrolman Walter Schroeder, 42, was approaching the back door of the bank in response to an alarm when he was felled...in a hail of bullets as two men and a woman of the holdup gang ran to a waiting car.-Boston Herald Traveler, September 24, 1970

I left my job at SEPAC at 5, accepting a ride home from Royal Cloyd’s secretary, Gale, and her husband Michael. It was 90 degrees, too hot to walk. As we drove down East Springfield Street, I saw my landlady’s dog Sammy roaming around on the wrong side of the street, and as we got closer I saw that the door under the steps was wide open but Mary wasn’t standing by the fence, as she often did. Recently she’d been out there talking to a young construction worker who was looking for an apartment and had written his name and address inside a matchbook. Gale and Michael were initially more concerned than I was, because they lived in the suburbs and thought the South End was a dangerous place. As we stood for a minute in front of the house wondering what was up, anxiety mounting, Josephine came toward us from her corner flower shop. She told us Mary had been beaten up, that Dixie’s relatives had found her clinging to the tree in front of the house, bleeding, and taken her to City Emergency. I ran down the street to the hospital, while Michael, who happened to be a locksmith, got to work on the locks, and Gale went to round up Sammy.

Although Josephine had said the incident happened early in the afternoon, Mary was still lying on a stretcher in the hall outside the emergency room, her face so battered and yellow I thought she was dead. Despite a shattered jaw, she managed to ask-first things first-if Sammy was okay. When I asked who had done this to her, she said it was the construction worker who wanted an apartment. She held up her left hand to show me the battered finger from which he’d wrenched her wedding and engagement rings.

I went up to the nurses’ station. They’d left her lying in the hall because "we didn’t know who she was." This meant they’d taken her for homeless or what was known as an "unattached person." "She’s 87," I said. They didn’t care. "One of the oldest living graduates of the Boston City Hospital Training School for Nurses." They didn’t grasp the irony. They wheeled her in for an x-ray only because I insisted.

City Hospital was at a low point, had been for years. Although still tops in the treatment of gunshot wounds and resuscitation of drunks, it had slipped in routine patient care. Tales of incompetent nurses, do-nothing civil service employees, and doctors stabbed by patients in the middle of the day, were widespread. The underground tunnels connecting buildings were notorious for crime and gruesome sights. The elevators, despite automation, were still manned by operators. One operator sold jewelry between floors, pressing for a sale before he’d open the door.

Adrenaline running high, I ran home to call 911 and look for the matchbook with the construction worker’s name and address inside. The apartment was ransacked, all the drawers pulled out, but the piece of cardboard with instructions in case of Mary’s death remained undisturbed under the phone. It wasn’t until I crawled under the card table and ran my hand in the dust under the radiator that I found "William Williams" and a local address scrawled on a torn matchbook. Could this be his real name?

When the police arrived, they yelled at me for calling 911. There was no emergency. They’d already made a report, and they weren’t interested in the matchbook. Wasn’t I aware that one of their own had been shot?

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