Manhunt by Alison Barnet
Wednesday Jun 1, 2011
The enormity of what happened to my 87-year-old landlady-beaten, robbed, jaw smashed-and what it might mean for me in the near future-didn’t hit me all at once. I sat on her couch staring at her unfinished game of Solitaire, trying to piece the story together with the help of some of the neighbors and Noah, the upstairs tenant. Maybe "William Williams" had come by again to ask about the apartment. Mary would have told him it was rented, and he might have taken it as a racist excuse. Or maybe he was never legitimately looking for an apartment in the first place. He’d probably gotten in the open front door while Dixie’s relatives were moving out the last of her things, run downstairs, and surprised Mary in the hall or in her apartment. When she resisted him, he hit her. Amazingly, she’d summoned the strength to stumble out of the house and hold on to the tree. Where was Sammy during all this? A fat lot of good he was!
I had put him in the backyard, where he barked non-stop, so I let him into the hall, but the next morning there were stinking piles in front of both my doors. Noah, generally unreliable, had cleaned it up.
In the morning, I called the police again-the station house, not 911-and complained about the way I was treated the night before. Two plain-clothes detectives appeared on the steps to apologize. They told me "one of our own" has been shot, miss, and all our men are in New Hampshire trying to apprehend the suspect. They were on the trail of "Lefty" Gilday and in a big hurry.
Newspaper headlines read:
Sought Ex-Convict Seen in Hampton Area
Massive N. H. Manhunt for Suspect
The next day:
Gilday Abducts 2, Shoots It Out
With Police in Mass.-N. H. Chase
It was folly to think they would walk around the corner to the building where "William Williams" supposedly worked or talk to neighbors who might have seen him sitting outside with Mary. Although they took the matchbook, they returned much too quickly, reporting no such person at no such address.
When she heard what happened to Mary, the woman who was supposed to move into Dixie’s apartment backed out, and the obnoxious Englishman got the place by default.
One of Mary’s relatives came down from New Hampshire to take care of things. His name was Blaise but he was known as Skiddy. Although probably only in his fifties, he had stark white hair and I thought he was an old man. One Saturday, he asked me if I’d like to go out for dinner. I don’t know why I agreed, since on a previous visit he’d pushed me down on my bed and it hadn’t been easy to push him off. I suggested the Red Fez, a local middle-eastern restaurant. Before we left, though, Erik, who taught electronics at OIC across the hall from the literacy class I taught, rang my bell. He said there’d been a fire in his apartment, he hadn’t slept for a couple of days, and he needed a place to crash. This seemed credible to me, and pretty soon he was flaked out on my big sleigh bed. When Skiddy arrived, he was horrified to see a black man in my bed and strongly advised me to wake him up and tell him to leave. Not only did I think it was fine to leave Erik there, I ate less at the Fez so I could bring home more. I was sure Erik must be hungry, and I was right. Skiddy was beyond dismay.
On the Monday after Mary was attacked, I started a new job as a welfare worker in East Boston. Of all the applications I’d made since being "fired" from an adult learning program, this was the only full-time job I was offered. I figured it was more or less in THE COMMUNITY, ignoring the less. My friend Carrie was a welfare worker in the Bronx, and I’d gone on home visits with her. It was the toughest, grittiest, most thankless job in the world, and it appealed to me.
No longer would I be tooling around the neighborhood on my bike during the day, looking up and smiling at old men on the corner who called out, "Don’t go past the speed limit now!" or pedaling angrily past young ones who wheedled, "Can I ride wid you?" or demanded, "Gimme that bike!" Why did I feel I had to have a full-time job, a career, when working part-time at SEPAC and OIC suited me perfectly?