Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chief Of Police Should Have Looked Behind The Fridge

Can't always hit long ball for center field fence. Sometimes have to hit ball on ground, bouncing. - Ernest Hemingway

An outlaw Grub Street journalist, The Legendary does not have the equal protection of the law.

What does that mean? It means that as an outlaw, I don't necessarily run around breaking the law; I just don't have the equal protection of the law. They blacklisted me 40 years ago, placed me "out-law," so to speak.

How did things happen to be that way?

That was simple enough, a small matter that escalated out of all proportion and completely beyond all reason.

The hassle turned around a small, but important issue.

The truth.

When it came time to man up and get the job done, everyone on the lot was looking at The Legendary to see what he would do. After all, The Legendary was the one who was taking that small salary to report news in that small Texas town, and it was a daily struggle dealing with people who completely refused to release any information whatsoever. The slighest smirk, idle remark or gesture could mean a trip to la casa de calaboose.

It was time to hit the ball and it was always a predictable brush-back inside curve that just barely caught the corner of the plate.

What's more, on the northeast corner of the Courthouse Square, there was an old and faded sign with a picture of a very tall steeple and a proper brick church that said, “See You In Church Sunday.”

So, where did the information come from? It came from the people who lived across the tracks, beyond the old railroad hotels and the cotton compress, the mill and the gin. You got the news where you found it, gathered it from the people who knew, the wrecker drivers, bootleggers, pimps, whores, burglars' fences, drunks, junkies, waitresses, jailbirds, bail bondsmen and anyone else who was willing to add marginalia to that heady gumbo, that all-important first edition of history, the news.

Brand X journalism, the kind the folks at the Chamber – the all-important Chamber – who worked in the cool lobbies and board rooms of the banks, the law offices, the establishment churches and the mercantile emporiums just don't appreciate because it's always so bad for bidness.

Law and order wore a huge cowboy hat, dogging heels on his boots, an enormous revolver hanging from a low-slung highly tooled belt and holster, drove a beefed-up, gas-guzzling car with a very funny paint job and had an attitude that could frost your butt at 40 paces.

Was there a Brand A news organization in town?

You bet your sweet – well, never mind.

They had a 1,000-watt AM radio station that went off the air at sundown, a twice-weekly sheet with free classified ads that ran enormous, 4-column pictures of kids' – rich kids' - birthday parties, and printed a jail and arrest report with no comment or explanation at all, at all, thank you very much.

At the time, there was no subscription fee. It was what publishers call “TMC,” or total market coverage, mailed bulk rate to box holders and occupants throughout the area as a loss leader designed to keep the competition moving on down the line, off the air and out of the mailboxes.

During Grand Jury terms, they printed laconic lists of names of people who had been indicted.

No other newsmen need apply. The matter was always “under investigation.” Besides, you could find it in the columns of the Brand A sheet - when they got around to printing it.

Naturally, they got all the ad lineage in town due to their big-time connections at “the chamber.” That's because they were so good for bidness. Well-barbered, wearing loud plaid double-knit slacks, cloned white patent leather Gucci loafer knockoffs, and all the accessories, they were the darlings of the supermarket managers, car dealers, real estate agents and agri-business merchants.

Aside from political advertising, the highest rate charged was in the columns adjacent to that all-important jail and arrest report and the lists of Grand Jury Indictments.

Of course, though they didn't print anything that “the chamber” thought might be bad for bidness, they did print notices of officially adjudicated items such as foreclosures, divorces, evictions and the like, at the highest rate the law would allow.

We got our ads from the liquor and beer stores at the County Line and the one wet community in sight. There was a hardware merchant in a nearby town who ran a cash and carry operation, kind of a rent-to-own program for people in the market for a washing machine or a stove, air conditioner – whatever.

As Sinclair Lewis once remarked of Century City – or was it Gophers Corners - “ was a dry, polite, cruel smile of a town.”

Then, one day, the phone rang and it was a little old man from out of town – not far out of town, but far enough – who had a little story for The Legendary, an ordinary story about the way things go.

It became extraordinary, to say the least, but that took awhile.

Endurance is everything in a war, saith Mr. Hemingway, that is, when speaking in terms of fishing and how they are biting. Naturally, the old coot on the phone lived in a fishing shack near Lake Whitney, a retired gentleman on an unassailable pension, a World War Two veteran who wasn't afraid of man, beast or The Almighty Himself.

Unlike Archie Bunker, he didn't “go over to Ft. Dix for Nine-dee days to fight Hit-lah,” as Edith described Ah-Chee's experience in “the big one.”

This guy's big one started in North Africa and wound through Italy. Of course, he was shot full of holes and none of them were in his – ah – posterior regions.

His story:

A son showed up with a drinking buddy who wound up staying all night with them at the shack on the lake, then helped himself to a Model 94 lever action Winchester .30-30 and took out hitchhiking west down the state highway before the rest of the household had made it to their knees.

He made it as far as Meridian before a highway patrolman decided to investigate why this bird was standing on the side of the road with a .30-30. It was an alarming sight to behold, some people thought, though it was a common practice in those days to keep both a lever action rifle and a scatter gun in the rear window rack of every pickup truck - including the one the kid drove to high school.

You got to have a horse. You also got to have a saddle carbine. Just ask Pancho Villa and his running buddy, Emilio Zapata. They, too, preferred "los dos treintas." It was the assault weapon of the time, and a good one.

Since he couldn't come up with any plausible explanation, the trooper hauled him back to Hillsboro for further investigation and - guess what - that old saddle carbine just happened to have been stolen from this house at the lake. What's more, it was the property of the old boy The Legendary had on the phone.

Now, the hitchhiker wound up pleading guilty to burglary, went to the pen and did his time, and by then he was back out on the streets - looking for his next score, no doubt.

All along, the deputy who had handled the investigation held the old man off about returning his rifle.

It was “evidence,” of course, and the matter was part of an “ongoing investigation.”

End of story? No way. This old dog face had staying power. Endurance. Mojo. You didn't mess with his rifle and get away with it. He raised hell. The deputy wouldn't budge.

Finally, the Dog Face got a court order for the return of the weapon and the deputy could not produce it. Just couldn't find it, though he claimed he had looked high and low.

There were certain repercussions.

That's when the cop quituated from the Sheriff's Department and started in as Chief of Police of that fair city, Hillsboro.

Things rocked on – for awhile – until appliances started disappearing from new homes going up on the edge of town. Stoves. Refrigerators. Dishwashers.

They found them in a barn on a place leased by the cop where he was feeding cattle as a sideline occupation to his police duties.

“Now, what about all this?” the sheriff asked those boys who survived their canoe trip in Deliverance, that movie made from Poet Laureate James Dickey's novella that just scared the hell out of men all over America that year.

Our man in the cowboy hat and the tall-walking boots knew his lines so very well. He told them that it was “evidence,” that the matter was part of “an on-going investigation,” and that was that. Or was it?

No way. He got his, after all.

They arrested him after a Grand Jury investigation returned an indictment, placed him in custody over night at the County Jail, and the next day the same judge who court-ordered the return of the rifle accepted a plea of guilty for multiple counts of burglary, which netted the cop a sentence of unsupervised probation and one day in jail with credit for time served, all of which was vehemently reported by the Brand A sheet to all the people they were likely to see in Church on Sunday or at that grandbaby's birthday party.

When last heard from, that cop was the Housing Director in a medium-sized west Texas city smack dab in the middle of the oil patch, the manager of that burg's indigent housing projects. He lost his badge and the certification it takes to wear one.

Lawmen really don't like to see spit stains on another cop's badge, y'hear?

Oh, well, back in Hillsboro, the bank owned the appliances. In that west Texas oil town, the city owned all the appliances in the projects. All the wrecker drivers and whores and bootleggers and junkies understood that one perfectly well right up front, though it was no doubt bad for bidness that they got the information. Can't be too careful about that, now.

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