On occasion, everyone that has ever been a Marco Beach Boy or Girl has felt the need to get away from the summer heat on the largest of our Ten Thousand Islands. Many believe August is the hottest month, some join in the argument that July is the most oppressive, but no matter the month, any time in summer is always a good time for a road trip as long as firearms, hostages, and bullet holes are not on the itinerary.
No one likes to travel alone, so when my friend Burger offered to travel to Tennessee with me, I accepted the offer. It was the first week in August and although Burger was not a Marco Beach Boy, he was a Naples native and when he came up with the idea of traveling at night, I had no idea the following story would unfold the way it did.
“Traveling at night is so much better,” Burger insisted. “The traffic is light, it’s cooler at night, and most of the big trucks are off the highway. It’s also better if we go up the center of the state to avoid the freeway.”
I agreed, and off we went. Burger offered to drive the first leg of our journey and everything was going fine, until somewhere in the dark on a two-lane road, he reached into his travel case beside him and pulled out a revolver.
“What in the heck are you going to do with that?” I asked with great concern, as he rolled down his window.
“I just thought we might need some protection.” Burger explained as he hefted the pistol in his right hand. “After all,” he continued in the near dark interior of the car, “we are traveling up to the Hillbilly Mountains in East Tennessee.”
“Hey, take it easy,” I told him. “I’m one of those hillbillies and I don’t think you should…”
I never finished that sentence because Burger, while driving at around 70 miles-an–hour, decided he was going to test–fire the gun. As it turned out, the gun was his brothers, he had never fired it before, and when he cocked the hammer and pointed out the window to an empty field, he changed his mind at the last moment and instead brought the weapon back inside the car to rest it on the lower portion of the steering wheel.
When the hair-trigger cocked revolver was set down on the wheel, however, it went off and the sound of the gunshot from inside the car was deafening. With all ears ringing, and both of us checking ourselves to make sure we were not shot, it was soon very apparent as to what happened to the discharged bullet. When the pistol touched the steering wheel and fired, the bullet traveled upward, between Burger’s wrist, the top of the wheel and dashboard, and made an exit through the windshield as were still traveling at around 70 miles an hour.
To his credit, Burger never swerved in his driving, but after looking at the crack in the windshield that now traveled from the bullet hole by the driver’s side all the way to the edge of the passenger side window, he did now have time for an unpredictable reaction.
“Damn it!” he swore as he threw the pistol and what he thought was the gun’s leather holster out the window and into the dark countryside that was still traveling by at a good rate of speed.
After realizing, with ears still ringing, that neither of us were hurt, I now began to consider how I was going to explain to my dad when we arrived in Tennessee that I had a bullet hole in the windshield of the almost new Ford Sedan he had given me earlier in the year.
This thought was contemplated all the way up through Georgia as the slipstream of the wind through the bullet hole tried to defeat the air-conditioning all the way to my parents’ home in Crossville, Tennessee.
Before I arrived home, I dropped Burger with mutual friends and we agreed to have pizza together in about an hour. When I pulled in the driveway, it was thankfully dark, my dad’s car was not in the drive, and mom explained he was away for a couple of days on business. Just as I was considering the timing perfect for dad being away, I heard the doorbell ring, and then my mom scream, just after I climbed out of the shower. Quickly, I grabbed the towel, clutching it around my middle, and ran out to the living room and the front door because I had never before heard my mom scream.
It took only seconds to realize why she screamed and what was happening. Now standing inside the house were two men with guns and now they were pointing the revolvers at us. Both men looked rough, tough, and like something out of most wanted. They were wiry, greasy looking, and when they came close enough, we could see the bullets pointing at us from the open sides of their revolvers. We could also smell an abundance of cheap whiskey.
“Who else is in the house,” the Ringleader spat out the words.
Mom answered at once. “It’s just us,” she insisted. “We are the only ones here. My husband is way one business.”
At once, it was obvious there was a smart and wily crook, and it was also apparent there was a dumb sidekick to this home invasion. The Ringleader then pointed at me clutching the towel around my waist. “Bring us all the money, jewelry, and guns in the house.” The Ringleader looked to this partner as he ordered, “Go with him and keep him covered.”
After about twenty minutes of clutching the towel while gathering everything from mom’s jewel box, to dad’s hunting rifles, and all the cash we had on hand, and placing at the loot in a pile by the front door, we were hoping the nightmare to be over. We were thinking that surely when they get all the valuables, they would leave us alone safe and go away.
This was when the home invasion went sideways as my mom and I freaked.
“You,” the Ringleader pointed the pistol at my mom. “Go get whatever you need for a couple of days. And get some clothes for him.” The drunker of the two then pointed his pistol at my face. “You two are going with us in that car parked in the driveway. You should be home after we get some ransom.”
At this point, my mom started crying. And then she remembered my little sister.” My daughter!” she cried, “My daughter must be outside playing in the back yard. We can’t leave without her!”
“How old is she?” the Ringleader snapped. “I thought you said we were here alone?
Mom was thinking a lot better than I was at this point. “Why she is only 8 years old,” Mom explained through tears. “She must be playing just out back.”
Of course, it was dark out, and my sister playing out in the backyard in the darkness was absurd, but unbeknownst to the gunmen, my little sister Tami was 13, not 8, and as soon as she heard mom scream she saw the desperate scene at the door she ran to the neighbors to call the police.
“Okay,” said the Ringleader and looked to his partner in crime. “You cover them and I’ll go out back and find the little girl.”
The drunker of the two nodded and pointed his pistol back at my face. Once again, I was looking down the gun and seeing the bullet tips pointing out at me from either side of the short barrel.
Only a few minutes had passed, with the Ringleader looking for the little girl that was not there, when the front door burst open and five deputy sheriffs came in with shotguns leveled. They had no fear and they were the most welcome sight in my entire life. Anyone who wants to defund the police has never had an experience like this.
The drunker gunman dropped his revolver to the carpeting and said, “Tell them I’m your friend.”
The cops of course heard this and rapidly had him in handcuffs. We then explained the Ringleader was in the backyard. Radios squawked to life, cop cars with red and blue lights filled the driveway as the deputies told us the Ringleader was in fact a wanted and very dangerous fugitive.
With rescue apparently in hand, my mom was laughing once again when the cops brought in my little sister. I decided to go out to the driveway and have a look around. The cops were everywhere and searching for their fugitive. After no more than a minute, gunfire started popping as all the cops and I ducked. After a few minutes and the all–clear was sounded, I managed to walk over to a young cop who was standing by the Ford we had just driven up from Marco.
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “Look here! One of the stray bullets must have hit the car.”
The young cop’s Maglite moved over the shot-out windshield. “You’re right!” he said. “That’s a bullet hole alright. No doubt about it. I’ve seen plenty.”
No one thought to look for a bullet inside the car. The cops were too busy looking for the Ringleader who did getaway but was apprehended later. When the cops were wrapping up but still on guard, the phone rang. It was Burger.
“Hey man,” he said with a pout. “I thought you were coming over to take us for pizza?”
When I told him we were off the hook for the bullet hole because of the home invasion, he shook his head and said, “Man, you’ve got to write that down. What a story! That’s unbelievable!”
This is a true story with one more fact: I had to buy the pizza because Burger, when he shot out the windshield and threw out the pistol and what he thought was the leather holster out the window, turned out to be his leather wallet with all his money for the week.
Tom Williams is a Marco Islander. He is the author of two books: “Lost and Found” and “Surrounded by Thunder—the story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men.” Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.