St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
It was Ash Wednesday, March 15th, 1963. The students attended mass in the
gym and received ashes on their foreheads. It rained that day and was windy. The
students missed old St. Mary’s but it was nice being inside. During breakfast they
heard that Brother Raymond was leaving Friday afternoon for a weekend retreat at
Mount La Salle. It was rumored that Brother Raymond was going to visit an old friend
who was a Regent. The war with Brother Chicken Shit was growing. Everyone knew
what was happening but Brother Justin. The students could understand why Brother
Justin didn’t appreciating St. Nick’s traditions, but to cut back on education, science
labs, and sports wasn’t fair. Each October the student body had a fund-raising drive.
Every year each home room exceeded their goal. The students weren’t sure if the
problem was Brother Justin or if it was the Regents. Hopefully, Brother Raymond would
clarify the Regents’ position.
Jim stopped at Henry’s drugstore to buy some cold medication for a cold he had
been fighting for two days. He left the drugstore and walked across the street to visit Pete
at the smoke shop. He hadn’t seen Pete in a while, and wanted to say hello. He was
walking in when Jack Clark, Brown, and Balliet were walking out after buying cigarettes.
"Hey man, how ya’ doing?" asked Clark. Brown and Balliet were bodyguards and
never spoke, they would just nod.
"Okay. How’s things with you?" asked Jim.
"We’ve had a few run-ins with the Barts since we last met at the MD dance. We’re
going to rumble next Friday night and I need every man I can get. I’m not asking, I’m telling
ya to be there, the corner of Vicksburg and 23rd at eight o’clock. I got guys from 18th &
Collingwood, the Alley, the Yard, Upper Douglas and you guys from 23rd Street better
show, or I’m gonna come looking for you guys. You dig?" said Clark.
"Yeah, sure, I’ll be there, "said Jim. The reality of what he had agreed to was
starting to sink in--- a rumble next Friday night.
"Catch ya later, man," said Clark. He shook Jim’s hand to confirm his request.
They began to walk away almost in slow motion. Balliet and Brown followed Clark.
BANG-BANG-BANG. Three rifle shots went off in rapid fire, Clark was hit first, and
collapsed to a sitting position, then fell backward. He had been shot in the left side of his
head. The bullet exploded on impact, leaving a spray of blood that splattered Pete’s
display window. Balliet had turned when he heard the first shot. The second bullet hit him
with a thud in the forehead. He spun around and hit the sidewalk face first. His body
twitched in spasms. Balliet was on the street side and had shielded Brown. Brown and Jim
turned to run back inside Pete’s smoke shop when the third bullet was fired. It missed
Brown and hit the display window, exploding into tiny flying pieces of glass fragments that
sprayed Brown and Jim on their face and arms.
Brown and Jim heard the sound of burning rubber as the station wagon accelerated
in first and second gear. White smoke escaped from the open rear window of the getaway
car. The shooter had used a hunting rifle with a clip of six thirty-odd-six hollow point
bullets with magnum loads.
When Pete approached Brown and Jim they were covered with blood. They looked
bad, but only suffered small cuts. Henry saw everything from the drugstore across the
street, and called the police. He brought his first aid kit to help Brown and Jim. Jack Clark
and Mike Balliet lay in pools of blood, dead at seventeen. The police arrived quickly with
sirens on and flashing red lights. The Police sealed the area in front of Pete’s smoke
shop. An ambulance arrived and examined Brown and Jim. They were taken to St. Luke’s
Hospital. On the way Brown asked Jim what he had seen. “I thought he saw a gray
Chevrolet station wagon. The shots sounded like they came from a hunting rifle.”
Jim’s mother was preparing dinner when Henry arrived at their home. He told
Mary what had happened and that Jim was okay, but at St. Luke’s Hospital.
"How can he be okay, if he is at St. Luke’s?" Mary asked hysterically.
"I saw him. Trust me, he’s okay. He wasn’t shot. I’ll drive you there," said Henry.
When Mary and Henry arrived at St. Luke’s hospital, a doctor and a nurse were
attending to Jim. The nurse had washed his face. He looked better than before. He
had a few minor cuts on his face and arms. Brown had a few stitches on his face and
minor cuts on his arms. When Mary saw the towels with blood she began to cry. Jim
told her that he was fine. She asked what had happened. He explained that he was at
the wrong place at the wrong time. He told his mother that he wasn’t a member of the
Courts. Henry drove Jim and his mother home. They thanked Henry and he drove back
to the drugstore. Joe arrived at the same time and asked what had happened. Jim told the
same story to his dad that he had told his mother. He saw that his mother was getting
emotional again and he assured them that it was just bad timing. Jim knew that Lupe and
her mom watched the five o’clock news. It was a couple of minutes after five. He called her
and she was crying. He told her what happened. “I ‘m okay,” he said. Lupe said that when
she heard the story on television, she became scared. “I want to see you. I need you.”
Before Jim could answer her, she said, "I’ll be right over."
"No, I will come and see you. I am OK."
"Please hurry." said Lupe.
Mary was too shook up to finish cooking dinner. Jim said that he wasn’t hungry. He
wanted to see Lupe, and reassure her that all was well. Jim’s father called Toto’s Pizza
and ordered a large combination. Joe sat with Mary and tried to comfort her. Mary had a
prescription for tranquilizers and took one. Joe had a healthy shot of Old Crow whiskey.
Jim hugged and kissed his parents and said, "I’ll be back in a couple of hours."
Jim began walking up Sanchez Street hill and realized that he had kissed his
father. Jim knew that his father loved him, but they rarely showed affection to one
another. Typically they shook hands. Since Jim knew Lupe, he was more affectionate
to his parents. Jim started to think about what had happened. Jack Clark was dead. For
sure there will be a rumble Friday night. He thought, "Should I go? What would I tell
Lupe and my parents if something happened to me? If I don't go, I’ll be labeled as
chicken shit." The Barts had jumped him twice, and he wanted revenge. The Barts were
starting to move up to Dolores and Guerrero streets. Lupe lived on the border of Bart
turf on Liberty and Guerrero.
Jim knocked on Lupe’s door, and heard her run to answer the door. She opened
the door and began to cry when she saw him. "I’m okay," he said.
"What were you doing there?"
"I went to visit Pete at the smoke shop, and ran into Clark and the others. I am
not a member of their gang. They weren’t shooting at me."
"On the news they said two were dead, and two were seriously wounded. They
showed the two body bags. It was awful."
It upset Jim that his parents and Lupe were exposed to the tragedy. He
imagined what tomorrow would be like at school. Rosa approached Jim and held
the crucifix in her hand. She kissed it and said in Spanish, "Thank you Jesus."
"See. I told you the cross will protect you," said Lupe.
Jim didn’t want to argue with fate. He didn’t appreciate the notoriety that he had
received. He was trying to think how he could explain Friday night to Lupe. Any way that
he tried to explain it to her would upset her. If he didn’t explain it to her and if he got hurt,
how could he explain that to her and his parents? Part of him said, "Don’t go." A big part
of him said, "Go." If he didn’t go, how could he face Papas and the guys in the Alley or the
Yard? Jim figured that some day the Barts would challenge him. He and Lupe went to
Mission Street often. He wouldn’t want to be challenged with her present.
The next day at school everyone knew what had happened to Jim. He had to
report to Brother Justin, and explained that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
He wasn’t a gang member. Brother Justin seemed more concerned about the image of
St, Nick’s. Jim asked if Brother Justin wasn’t concerned about him, then why did he want
to see him?
"You see, James, next month is placement testing. Do you have any idea how
many students may not apply to St. Nick’s because of this incident? Do I make myself
Jim gave Brother Chicken Shit a cold stare, "I’m sorry about the bad timing, and I
am sure that the two dead gang members are also sorry. The next time they have a
shooting, I’ll make sure that I’m not there. May I go?"
"Why do you have such resentment of authority? Why are you so sarcastic?"
"Maybe it is who I am after eleven years of Catholic education."
"That’s enough. I will not tolerate your attitude. Maybe a week in jug might improve
Jim looked eye to eye with Brother Chicken Shit with no emotion. He wouldn’t give
him the satisfaction of fear and intimidation. There was a moment of silence, then Brother
Justin replied, " Do you hate me that much?"
Brother Justin got up close to Jim and said, " If you don’t hate me, then why are
so sarcastic with your reply?"
“I thought that I was being honest.”
"I don’t like you Ciaffi. Your on my list. You may go."
Jim turned a opened the door to leave the office.
"One more thing Ciaffi, you should thank God that he spared you. Instead of a week
in jug, you will spend an hour a day for the rest of the week in the Brother’s chapel praying
for forgiveness. You will meet Brother Raymond here at 2:30. He will take you to the
chapel and return in one hour."
"Thank you, Brother Justin." Jim went to Algebra class.
While Jim walked back to class he thought, "How could a God of love allow
tragedies to happen all of the time. How could a benevolent father create mankind, and
at will create suffering and tragedy. Jim felt very uncomfortable saying thank you to God
for taking Clark and Balliet, and sparing him. The Brothers had too many flaws in their
logic. Jim listened to his conscience, and his beliefs . The love Jim received from Lupe was
true. The feeling he had when he followed his conscience was good. Was there really a
God or was Lupe’s love as good as it gets. He had more question with no answers.
Jim spent his one-hour of prayer for the week. Then he went to visit Lupe at home.
He said that he was sorry for not meeting her at Mission Dolores and explained that he
had to spend an hour in chapel. He asked her to walk with him to the park. He had
something that he had to tell her. As they walked to the park, Lupe’s became concerned
about what Jim had to say. They sat on a bench and Lupe couldn’t look at Jim. “Friday
night I’ll be going with Papas to the funeral for Clark.
Lupe raised her head, “I understand. I heard about a rumble Friday night on
Vicksburg Street. You’re going, aren’t you?" Her look of concern turned to tears.
"I could lie to you today and hope that you wouldn’t find out. I am being honest
with you. Yes, I’m going with Papas, and the guys from the Alley. It is a matter of honor."
Lupe was mad, and said in a loud voice "You're crazy," She wiped away her tears
with her hand.
"No I’m not. Do you remember how we met, a fight at MD? I have been hurt more
playing football than the times I was jumped by Barts. I have to do this. I love you very
much. You have to trust me. Remember, I have the crucifix. I will call you Friday night
from the mortuary."
It bothered Jim to see her cry, and said he was sorry. Lupe hugged him and
gradually stopped crying.
She rubbed her eyes and said, "I loved you very much. Some times I think I love
too much. I love you more than you love me. You are the sunshine in my day, (she paused
to wipe away a tear) the happiness in my life, and I thank God each day that I know you."
"I may not express my love to you as well as you do. I may not show my love to
you as much as you do. Believe this, I love you very much. You are my soul. Without
you, I am lost."
"You guys are going to fight, and then go to the funeral? I don’t understand."
“Right or wrong It has to be done. This is one of those times when it is neither.”
Friday during school Jim kept wondering if he was doing the right thing. On the
way home he saw Papas get on the J Church. They sat in the back of the bus. Papas
asked, "Are going tonight?"
"Stay close to me. We will watch each other’s back. They are going to come with
knives, chains, and baseball bats."
"They’re chicken shit assholes," said Jim, recalling the times he was jumped by
"Cool it, man. We’re not going there to crack skulls; just think of it as playing
football on defense."
They sat in silence the rest of the way. Before Papas got off the bus he said,
"Meet me at the Alley, seven-thirty."
"Okay. I’ll be there."
Jim knew that his parents would find out about the fight on Vicksburg Street.
There were no secrets in Noe Valley. Like Papas said, it would be like playing defense.
Jim told his parents that he was going to the wake for Clark and Balliet at Brennen’s
Mortuary on 19th and Dolores Streets. Later he would see Lupe, and get home about ten.
Jim was dressed for a funeral. He had a change of grub clothes in a brown paper
bag hid in the bushes by Mrs. Fox’s home. Papas and the guys from the Alley were there
when Jim arrived. He changed into his grub clothes and put the good clothes in the bag
alongside the other bags of clothes.
Webber was the leader of the Courts now. He sent Vilatore to get the guys from
the Alley. Behind Vicksburg is an alley called Blanche. The Courts would be on one side
of Vicksburg Street and the Barts would lined up on the other side. The Barts hated the
Courts, so they brought another rival gang called the Shoes. They wore white shoes, and
were a combination of Puerto Rican and Filipino. Typically the Barts and Shoes weren’t
allies, but this wasn’t typical. There was about seventy-five Barts in black pants and Shoes
wearing white shoes, and about fifty Courts. Words were exchanged and Weber led the
charge. The Barts ran to the middle of the street to kick ass. Then forty more Courts came
from Blanche Street and circled the Barts and the Shoes. Some of the Barts had knives
and waved them challenging the Courts to fight. Webber and the first wave of guys kicked
ass and cut up some of the Barts. The Barts leader was slashed three times by Webber.
The Courts didn’t bring knives or chains. They took what the Barts and Shoes had.
Papas and Jim stood side by side. A Bart came after Papas with a baseball bat.
He missed and Papas wrestled the bat away from the Bart and bashed his right knee. The
Bart hit the ground in pain. Jim shoved off a couple of Barts. Then one guy came after Jim
with a chain. The Bart swung and missed. Jim tackled the Bart to the ground. He grabbed
the Barts hand and took the chain away. Jim swung the chain at the Barts' knees and
yanked it. The Bart fell to the ground in pain. He tried to get up, but couldn’t. Papas had
said, "Don’t to look into their eyes, they’re faceless punks." Jim saw the look of pain in
the Barts eyes.
The fight was a crowd of bodies getting bashed and clubbed, stepping on guys that
had fallen. The circle became smaller and the Barts and Shoes were dropping fast. Papas
and Jim did not pursue the crowd. They stood and watched the Courts maintain their
vicious reputation. Webber personally beat the shit out of their leader, and two others. The
fight lasted about ten minutes until a neighbor yelled, "I’ve called the cops."
The Courts left the Barts and Shoes lying on Vicksburg street. The police came and
called for ambulances. The Barts shouldn't have brought baseball bats. After the fight all
of the guys met at Edison schoolyard. Webber personally thanked each guy.
"All of you guys are Courts now. All of you guys will be respected and feared as
one of us. We’re no longer rival gangs. We’re one gang now. I know each of you. Thanks
for helping us tonight," said Weber.
Jim looked at Papas, and they wondered if this was reward or punishment. It would
be a while before the Barts would take on the Courts again.
"Now let’s go and pay our respects to Jack and Mike," said Webber.
Papas and Jim went back to the Alley and changed their clothes. Weber and the
others did not care that they looked like hell after the fight. When Jim arrived at the
mortuary, he called Lupe. "I’m not hurt. It did not last long. I will see you in half an
hour." Lupe did not say a word and hung up the phone. Papas and Jim followed the
Courts to the caskets. Clark’s and Balliet’s families were dressed in black. The men sat
stoically. The women cried. The caskets were closed. Webber leaned close to Jack’s
casket and whispered, "We kicked their asses, Jack. I got Valdez. We’ll catch ya later."
Papas and Jim gave their condolences to each family and left.
"We’re ya going?" asked Papas.
"I’m going to see Lupe.”
"She knows about tonight?"
"Yeah, she knows."
"You got a hell of a woman, Jim. See you later."
"Thanks. See you later."
Jim spent a few minutes with Lupe to assure her that he was okay. It was late and
he kissed her good night. Jim walked home.
The Saturday morning newspaper had a story on page one about a gang war.
Jim’s parents asked him about the story. Jim asked, "Did it say who the gangs were?"
"Yeah, the local gang here, and a gang from lower Mission. Were you there?"
"I was at the mortuary with Papas. If I had been in a fight my clothes would be
ripped and I would look beat-up," said Jim.
Jim’s father continued to read the newspaper, and Mary washed the breakfast
dishes. The subject was forgotten.
The week ended and so did Jim’s notoriety. He went to school Monday as just
one of the guys. Jim passed Brother Justin in the hall while going to History class. He
asked, "How was the attendance for registration for the placement test?" Brother Justin
ignored Jim. Jim wondered how Brother Raymond’s meeting went with his old friend.
More next week...