The Professional’s Mark


Thugs shoot each other all the time. Most typically, in my
experience, that is a messy, fairly imprecise undertaking.

When you work in an urban emergency room, it is easy to denigrate criminals as lazy, injudicious, or both. Most are. So much of the unfettered tragedy you see there is the result of poor impulse control or just rank stupidity. Now and then, however, you encounter evidence of a professional’s art, and you can’t help but be impressed. So it was with this poor, unfortunate lad.

Our hero was a young African American male. You see all those heartrending statistics about kids who are the victims of gun violence? A few of them are actually four-year-olds with the bad grace of being in the wrong place during a drive-by. That’s truly horrible. Most of them, however, were more like this guy. Muscular and covered in gang tats, this souped-up teenager was a thug — a professional gladiator whose number was up. I got to meet him because of some epically poor life choices.

Most street criminals don’t have access to truly top-end iron like this.

Chaos, Inc.

I have seen a lot of folks shot. Most thug-on-thug violence is ugly, gross and inelegant. Turning your favorite gat sideways for the kill shot looks cool in the movies, but that particular tactical technique does not lend itself much to precision. Most of the thugs I saw in the ER were just shot to pieces. Then, there was this guy.

This young man rolled into the emergency department like a hurricane. The paramedics in the truck swarmed over him like locusts. If I recall correctly, his vitals were stable-ish, but he wasn’t moving. Once we got acquainted, I came to realize why.

This kid had been shot twice with a handgun. In my experience, thugs will usually use the cheapest ammo they can steal. That typically means FMJ hardball. However, this felt different. A quick physical exam told the tactical story.

One round had centerpunched his left eye. That had put him on the ground. Then, his assailant had dropped back, judged his angles and popped him again in the top of his head along his long axis. In both cases, there were no exit wounds. It didn’t take a rocket surgeon to realize this poor guy was just done.

I have no idea the specifics of the weapon or the ammunition used. The imaging studies were fairly superfluous, it would turn out. Regardless of the particulars, the synergistic result was undeniably effective.

Movies would have us believe that the world is dirty with cool, stealthy assassins lurking about waiting to off their marks for money. Reality is something else entirely.


It is shocking how badly the human body wants to live. Despite such catastrophic destruction, this guy’s corpse kept breathing spontaneously for nearly half an hour after he got to the ER. I have observed this curious phenomenon myself on numerous occasions. Oftentimes, even when the mind is gone, it takes a while for what’s left to get the memo. We just set him aside and kept an eye on things while the social workers explored the idea of organ donation with what passed for family.

If this seems cold and dispassionate, that is because it is cold and dispassionate. Don’t judge. That world invariably leaves a mark on your soul. You can’t live and work in that space without leaving a little bit of your humanity at home. A fundamental inability to do just that is one of the reasons I eventually stopped working there myself.


Some people are just freaking evil. Most of us normal folk seldom encounter those sorts of people, so we can convince ourselves they don’t really exist. However, that’s not true. It never has been.

They are always out there, willing to take or kill or defile to get whatever it is they want. That’s the reason a free society needs cops, soldiers and guns. Do away with any of the three, then sit around for a few years and see what happens. The line between civilization and chaos is finer than you might think. You just have to go to the right places to see it.

As a nation, we have grown so deplorably soft. Talking heads pontificate about social justice and become verklempt over pronouns. Meanwhile, whoever shot this poor kid wanders around doing what he does. It’s like we live on totally different planets. Taken in context, the less-durable members of society can come across as pretty silly to the rest of us.

I have no idea the back story behind this particularly unfortunate guy. I only knew this dude for half an hour. However, amidst a sea of bad behavior and raw hormone-fueled violent ineptitude, every now and then, you happen across the stigmata of a professional.

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