By MATTHEW NESTEL, JAMIE SCHRAM and LUKAS I. ALPERT
COURAGE: Charles Augusto Jr., yesterday at his Harlem shop, made good on the warning above him. "They had a chance to leave," he said.
"I'd do it again if I had to."
Those were the first defiant words out of no-nonsense businessman Charles Augusto Jr.'s mouth yesterday as he came back to work less than 24 hours after opening fire with his trusty shotgun on four robbers -- killing two of them.
The four men had picked the wrong shop -- and the wrong man -- to mess with. And they would have known it had they read the prophetic words from Dante's "Divine Comedy" written in marker above the door: "Abandon all hope all ye who enter here."
The thugs entered a world of hurt when they barged into Augusto's Harlem restaurant-supply shop, Kaplan Bros. Blue Flame Corp., Thursday afternoon, pulling out a 9mm pistol and pistol-whipping an employee as they demanded cash.
"I told them there wasn't any money. 'Take your gun, put it in your pocket, and go home.' They had a chance to leave," Augusto said.
But they didn't listen.
So Augusto, 72 -- known to most as "Gus" -- channeled his inner Dirty Harry and pulled out the Remington shotgun he had hidden under his desk for 20 years. He opened fire three times, peppering all four men with buckshot.
"I did what I had to do," he said. "It wasn't my choice; it was their choice."
The wounded men tried to run but didn't make it far.
The man armed with the pistol, 29-year-old James Morgan -- who had a long rap sheet with nine prior arrests -- took the first shot directly to his face and made it only as far as the shop door before crumpling dead to the ground.
A second man, Raylin Footman, 21 -- who had a prior arrest for robbery and a relative who was a cop -- made it across 125th Street before collapsing. He'd died by the time he was taken to a hospital.
The other two, Bernard Witherspoon and Shamel McCloud, both 21, were picked up by police nearby and taken to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital. They are expected to survive. Both are to be arraigned today on robbery charges.
Sitting at his desk in the middle of his shop, marred by bloodstains and with bullet holes in the windows, Augusto said he felt bad about what happened. "I had to shoot them. It was a tough thing to do," he said. "I have to live with that. I'm sad that there are mothers and fathers who lost sons."
But Augusto's beaten employee -- who would only give his name as J.B. -- had little sympathy.
"S- - - went real bad for them, not for me," he said. "I'm breathing. They dead."
The 35-year-old had nothing but praise for his boss.
"I know Gus is a good dude. He's looked out for me since I was 19," he said. "He saved my life, man."
Augusto said: "I don't feel like a hero. I would have felt like a hero if I'd talked that kid down and into going home."
It wasn't the first time lowlifes had tried to rob Augusto. After a robbery 20 years ago, he bought the pump-action shotgun and stuck it under his desk. Until Thursday, he'd never had to use it.
"I hadn't touched it all this time. I didn't even know if it would work," he said. "I never fired it all this time."
But he left it loaded, just in case.
"If every single citizen were allowed to hold a gun, there would be less carjackings and robberies," he said.
Augusto's gun was properly registered with police, and he does not face any charges, authorities said.
The Coast Guard vet, who was born in Yonkers and lives with his wife of 48 years in Irvington, Westchester County, said he had been selling commercial kitchen equipment for nearly 50 years and had no intention of quitting.
"What's the worst they could do? Shoot me? I guess so. I'm not going to lay down and die. I'm just not going to," he said.
J.B. said his boss likes to do things "the old-fashioned way."
"Of course, he's going to keep open," he said.
Augusto and his employees tried to get back to business as usual yesterday, although it wasn't easy. When a woman came to place a candle outside the shop, J.B. angrily kicked it across the pavement.
"Who's this for?" he demanded of the startled woman. "For the guy who died? F- - - him!"
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Click to view image: '"J.B" saved by boss'
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