Michael Halberstam, bleeding from two gunshot wounds, gripped the steering wheel, pressed down on the pedal and sped toward Sibley Hospital, while his wife, Elliott Jones, sat terrified beside him. Suddenly, the figure of a man shot across their headlights.
"That's the guy," Halberstam cried.
Those were his last words.
In a desperate attempt to stop his attacker, the man he knew had just shot him during a burglary attempt, Halberstam jerked the car sharply to the left, skidded up over the pavement and hit the crouched figure with a jarring thud.
Then Elliott Jones saw her husband's blood-soaked shirt.
"Let me drive, let me drive," she screamed. "Oh, baby, you're shot, let me drive."
The next few moments, she said, "seemed like a dream. I was shaking and I had my fist pressed down on the car horn. He was driving pretty strong."
Then the car missed a turn, and crashed into a tree. Jones jumped out of the car and flagged down a passerby. Halberstam, she said, was slumped over, "unconscious and babbling."
The stranger drove Jones up the steep hill to the hospital, where she ran into a hall screaming, "My husband's been shot. My husband is Dr. Halberstam.He's been shot."
By the time Jones got back to the car, an ambulance had arrived.
"I was told he wasn't hit in the heart. I was sitting there, in the hospital, planning his convalescence, how he'd probably be home for a few weeks. How it might be rather fun to have him around, to keep him in bed, to cook for him, to have people in."
Halberstam died a short while later on the operating table.
Elliott Jones cried softly yesterday in the living room of her Northwest Washington home. The ghost of her husband was everywhere: in his favorite rust-colored chair, in a pair of pants left hanging in the bathroom, in a forgotten sock found under the bed.
She cried tears of disbelief and anger, trying desperately to remember every detail of that night.
"I'm sure he knew how badly he was hurt," Jones said yesterday. "They said running into this guy might have killed him. But I'm glad he did it. He fought back."
Tears streaming down her angular face, Jones said, "I wanted to go and get him from the morgue. I didn't want him left alone for a minute. I had this crushing feeling of homesickness. I wanted him home. I wanted to put him in the bed and sleep with him that night, with the dogs around him. It sounds strange, but it wouldn't have been strange to me."
On Tuesday, after Halberstam's memorial service, Jones decided to have her husband's body cremated. "I just didn't want him to be in that cold, cold, ground," she said, humming snatches of a forgotten folk song:
"Cold, cold ground . . ."
"What the heck," she said, brightening a bit, "I may keep his ashes here, maybe on the television set. We used to like to have a drink together and watch the news when we came home."
The man accused of the shooting is 40-year-old escaped convict and alleged superthief Bernard Charles Welch. Police say Halberstam was shot after surprising an intruder during a burglary attempt.
"I want to look at [Welch]," Jones said angrily yesterday. "I want to know everything about him. I want to find out what elementary school he went to so I can write a note to his teachers, telling them what scum they raised. I want to write to his mother. I want to say he should have been strangled in his cradle."
Jones said she could "see Welch executed, easily. "I have no qualms about that," she said sadly.
Yesterday, Jones recalled the couple's last night together. "He was tired," she said. "We came home from a cocktail party. Michael wanted to go straight on the movies and eat popcorn for dinner. But I said, no, let's go home and feed the dogs and we can have a bowl of soup."
If only she had listened to him, she said. If only . . .
The couple pulled their car into the driveway of their home on Battery Place, and Jones went behind the house to let the two dogs, Jake and Iris, out of their outdoor pen. Halberstam went to the darkened front door and walked inside.
There, police said, Halberstam confronted the burglar who told him to "freeze." Jones was on the porch outside. There were five gunshots, police said. [Jones said police have asked her not to talk about the details.]
"I heard Michael curse. He said, 'Goddam.' I thought at first he had tripped over the dogs," she said.
When Jones came around to the front door, she found her husband staggering to the car. "It was an automatic thing. I jumped in beside him. I didn't really know what he was doing. It didn't make any sense. But Michael was a faster driver."
Jones has not come to grips with her husband's death. "When all this clears away," she said, "he'll be here. My reality is that he's alive." Still in shock, she says she can "hardly feel my own skin right now."
Yesterday, a steady stream of friends and family gathered at the house, as Halberstam's widow passionately talked about the need for stricter handgun control.
"The man who shot John Lennon was crazy. The man who shot Michael was not," she said. "It [stricter gun-control laws] would not have saved Michael's life, but it may save someone else's.
"I don't like to believe in fate. It's a fact that handguns have not other use than to kill people. It's not fate that you're going to get killed by one, it's fact."
Her husband of five years, she said, was gunned down "in cold blood. He was a brilliant man, the best man I have ever known." She paused. "He was also the messiest man I ever knew."
The two met each other in early 1972, when writer Elliott Jones went to cardiologist Michael J. Halberstam as a patient. "He fired me as a patient," she said. "He said I didn't need him."
Some time later the handsome, silver-haired doctor from New York and the tall southern girl with the chestnut brown eyes met again at a Washington cocktail party. Halberstam was already separated from his first wife. He and Jones began dating.
They lived together for one year at the Battery Place address before Halberstam asked Jones to marry him. She hesitated. "He said it was the grown-up thing to do," she recalled yesterday. "I had always sensed that I was in control, but somehow he got me to mind him."
In 1975, they were married. Jones, a former newspaper reporter and now writer for National Geographic, said Halberstam, who has two children from his first marriage, "loved kids. But I didn't really think I wanted to have any."
Jones is a strong woman, but not strong enough yet to go down to her husband's basement office, which is cluttered with old clothes, tennis shoes, books, papers, memorabilia, framed photographs and a rowing exercise machine on the floor.
On his desk is an old Royal typewriter with a page from a novel Halberstam was in the midst of writing.
The last words he typed: "I'll be goddammed."