The detective hit me across the face with a back hand and I knew I was in trouble. Blood formed on my lower lip. I let it flow, not taking my eyes from this man who gained my immediate attention with a force he evidently knew how to use on some wise-ass kid not being straight with him.
We were in the bathroom of a union hall where my best friend’s brother was celebrating his marriage earlier in the day. I was 13 or 14 and had just “hit” several cars in the parking lot, opening unlocked doors for spare change and cigarettes when I came across this large calibre handgun. Was sitting on the console of the car in plain sight.
Tucked it into my suit pants and I entered the hall, going straight to the bathroom. Started to show off my “find” to someone I knew and failed to look around the rest of the room, where one of Philadelphia’s finest — a detective in civilian clothes and one of the wedding guests –saw the gun and decided to investigate.
“Where did you get that?” this tall, muscular blonde man said to me, his steely eyes watching not only what I said but how I said it. “I found it,” I quipped, as I try to turn away from him.
Wham! He hit me and demanded I tell him the truth. Which I did. In a roundabout way without spilling the beans about my latest spree as a juvenile delinquent. Somehow I knew even then there were certain things not to divulge to a police officer without a lawyer present.
“It was lying in plain site and I just took it from a car,” I said in all sincerity, not mentioning the other petty thefts I attempted. Stealing a gun is a felony offense in Philadelphia, I later learned as a criminal defense lawyer. Using one in a crime calls for a mandatory sentence of five to 10 years in jail. Unless you’re a juvenile. Then the state gets to control your living arrangements up to age 21, in some cases.
I relinquished the gun, wishing I had never come to the wedding reception, let alone try to get away with possessing a firearm. I got scared. My future looked bleak. I fell back on the only thing I could think of to help.
I started praying. Praying so hard the vibrations might rival a Gabriel blowing his horn in the Old Testament. And, it worked. The officer spoke to Eddie Keller, the fellow who just got married who “vouched” for me, saying I was a good kid. “A little stupid, at times,” he said, smiling at me with the cop on one side and my best friend, Johnny Keller, on the other.
Don’t know what happened to the gun. Nobody pressed charges. I feel some Divine intervention had taken place keeping me out of more trouble or a loss of life at a possibly young age.
Corporal punishment has had its place in our society. Never forgot the lesson I learned. Guns are nothing to play with. Particularly in the hands of such a dumb kid as yours truly.