Monday, April 30, 2012

The Doctor Gave Me Some Good Medicine

I spent the better part of Monday taking care of a long-time family friend who is in the hospital dying. He doesn’t know it yet, but he only has a few weeks to live.  That was the sad part. Other than the discomfort of being bed-ridden in a strange place with a host of strangers parading in and out of his room, he seems and sounds fine. (There is nothing more draining than the constant shuffle of doctors, nurses, technicians coming in at all hours poking, prodding and taking your blood, blood pressure and checking to make sure you’ve pissed enough or pissed too much or whatever the hell they are looking for.)  A hospital is no place to be sick.

But my story today is not about the patient, at least about the family friend. It is about a doctor who came to the door and who engaged me in conversation about a far sicker patient later in the day. Here’s how it happened.

I’ll call him Dr. Reese. He came by to check on our family friend and he did his share of poking and prodding as they are trained to do and as they are paid to do.  He wrote some notes in a chart housed in a metal jacket at the end of the bed and then talked into a small iPhone looking device.  He smiled at me and said every little at first.  Then he nodded toward the door for me to follow.

“Is he in pain?’ the doctor asked.

I assured him he was not.

“Is he staying awake most of the day?”

I assured him he was not.

“When he is awake, is his conversation succinct, does he know where he is and what is going on?”

I assured him he did.  Dr. Reese thanked me and told me that if any pain appeared to immediately let the nurses know and they would provide him a pain reliever. He also said that the patient didn’t sound like he needed a sedative since he was sleeping through the day. With that the White Lab Coat housing Dr. Reese whirled around and started down the hall. “What can we expect?”  I asked.

The Dr shrugged and said, “More of the same. “  And he left.  Modern science. Just wait it out. It is all we can do at this point.

Later that afternoon I was getting into my car, which is one of the few in Texas with an Obama sticker on the back. Dr. Reese happened to be walking through the same parking lot and saw me and approached me. “Your bumper sticker…”he said.  I feared a lecture from a North Dallas Right Wing Millionaire MD.  What I got was a surprise.  “I like your bumper sticker.”

“Thanks,” I replied, a bit blown away that this guy would pay such respect to a person supporting the “enemy.”  After all we have been hearing for months now how the medical practice and its associated field can’t stand Obama and his “socialized” medicine. Obamacare is the scourge of the Earth.  “I thought all doctors hated Obama.”

“Can’t say that I was too crazy for his healthcare plan when it came out. But you know what – it is working.” I caught my breath knowing there was a BUT coming.  “He promised a lot of good for a lot of people and it is starting to happen.  And it is not getting in my way in practicing medicine.  In fact, I have been relieved to know that patients I have had who have had previous illnesses – preexisting conditions – are going to be covered.  We can cure a lot of people from cancers these days, but to think they might not ever get coverage again because of one bout with it, well that was wrong.  He did a lot when he changed that one rule.  A whole hell of a lot. Our nation is like a sick patient. He has done a lot to make changes in our health care that will help many, many Americans who never had a chance before. And it will eventually lower all of our costs. It’s a good thing…If…” He paused. “If the Supreme Court doesn’t screw it up.”

“How so?” I asked.

“The only way the insurance companies are going to play fair, is that everybody has to be covered. If the court strikes that down, it is Katy bar the door.”


“You ever met an insurance company you like?  I haven’t.  And if they get their way, they will screw with this act and drive medicine and hospitals and patent care into the ground in America. It rests with those guys on the Supreme Court.”

“Did you support Obama last time?”

Reese shook his head sadly. “No.  I was a McCain fan.  Big mistake.  Obama is smart and at least he is trying.  And he is trying in a horrible economy. That takes balls. Everybody else wants to duck and cover, but he’s out there fighting the fight and I appreciate that.  I really do.”

“What about this time?” I asked.

He nodded.  “He’s got at least two votes this time.  You, and me it looks like.”  He shook my hand and walked off.

And suddenly, for the first time in a long time, I felt like Barack Obama might be re-electable.  As Dr. Reese got into his Cadillac SUV and rolled off I noticed he had an NRA sticker on the rear window.  Yeah, Obama might just squeak through this time.   

There is a chance.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Just One More Thing

Just One More Thing.


John Crawley

Susan packed her bags for the third time that month.  She had not told him of her plans, obviously, or he would have beaten her up again.  But Thursday night had been the worst. Sure, he was drunk. Sure she had set him off with something she said, she couldn’t remember what, but he tore into her with vengeance. Her right arm had just gotten out of cast for “falling down the basement steps.  I slipped.” That was the story she told the doctors, who called the social worker anyway, who finally broke through to Susan and said, “Look its you life – watch out. Get out. While you still can.” But even with a healing arm he flung her about the living room and pounced on her with fists flying.  She kicked at him and finally brought a lamp down on his head and knocked him unconscious.

That’s when she decided she really did need to run. She had had enough.

So the next morning, after his apologies, she packed her bags and placed them in a closet off the hall that lead to the guestroom and then she made her way to the bank and withdrew two thousand dollars. Robbie was in the sixth grade.  She called his school and told them a relative had passed and she needed to get him. When she came by to get him Robbie asked, “Are we leaving for good this time?” It shocked her that a sixth grader could be so perceptive.  “Mom don’t go back. Please.”

She stopped at the house, placed her bags in the back of the SUV while Robbie gathered his stuff quickly and silently.  He later had told her that he had been over and over this in his head while he lay in bed listening to them fight and listening to him beat her downstairs. He knew exactly what to pack and where to put it and how much to take. He was ready in no time.

She started the car in the driveway as Robbie closed the front door. He hurried to the SUV and got in. “Seat belt,” she reminded him and she began to back out of the driveway. 

“Turn on the radio, mom.” Robbie requested as he settled in. He wasn’t concerned about where they were going, just that they were finally going. She started down Ross Ave. heading toward the Target Super Center. She suddenly stopped.  “Just one more thing.” She turned the black SUV around and returned to their house.

“Mom. Hurry.”

“Just one more thing. I promise. I’ll be right back.”  Susan entered the front door and ran upstairs to her closet.  A small jewelry box was on a shelf at eye level. She took it down and started out of the bedroom. On the floor next to their bed was a smallish brown box she had never seen before. She stopped and picked it up. Inspecting the outside it had a small latch, which opened freely at the insistence of her shaking fingers.  Inside was a handgun. She had never known him to have a handgun. And yet, there it was on his side of the bed peering out at the world – and she was the one who saw it. A shiver went up her spine. A handgun. He had never told her about the weapon and she had never suspected. They had both been anti-guns in college.  Didn’t want firearms in the house while Robbie was a child. Too man accidents.  Too many accidental deaths, they both had said. And yet, there it was. A small, innocent looking piece of metal and plastic: a handgun he had hidden away. Another box nearby held ammunition.

She put the box back under his side of the bed grabbed her jewelry box and hurried down stairs. Doris Wright was talking to Robbie through the SUV window.  She hoped Robbie had not told her what they were about to do.  Susan just hoped it was friendly banter between the neighborhood busybody and her son.

But it wasn’t. Robbie had said they were leaving. Doris was bright enough to know it wasn’t vacation time nor was it spring break. This was far more sinister. This action looked far more permanent that a weekend scouting excursion. This had family trouble written all over it. There had been rumors. Oh yes. Lots of rumors.  From the cuts and bruises and black eyes and then the cast.  The neighbors knew. The kids knew. And the kids had told their parents that Robbie’s dad was crazy and hit Robbie’s mom all the time. So Doris knew what was going on.  And she was making Robbie feel that it was okay and he would soon be safe.

Doris looked up at Susan approached. “You need to go and go fast. Don’t tell anyone, none of us where you are going. And don’t use your cell phone. Stop somewhere out of town and buy one of those temporary ones. Throw yours away. Don’t use credit cards and don’t call him. Don’t give him a chance to find you, Susan.”

Susan caught Robbie’s eye in the rear view mirror. “Look, we all know what was happening.  Here, I’ve got a hundred dollars on me. I was going to the store later. Take it.”

“No. I couldn’t, Doris.”

“Take it, for God’s sake. And go. Go. Get out of here before he gets home or before someone else sees you. Go now.”

And with that Susan backed the SUV out of driveway for the last time. She again guided the black vehicle down Ross to Coldwater Drive and then onto I 70. They would be out of Ohio by dark. Go west. That was what was in her mind. She wouldn’t even stop by her parents’ house, she would call them later. As she turned on I-70 she looked onto the front seat and noticed her purse was not there. “Is my purse back there, Robbie?”

He looked around. “No. You took it back into the house when you went in, I think. Are we going back?”

“Once more. The last time. I promise you. The last time.”

Joe got off work at four that day. A client had cancelled a call and he was heading home. There was a wreck on State 57 and traffic was back up a mile or more. To his left, Joe saw a small tavern. A quick cold one before heading home sounded like a deal. Yes that would be just the thing. Something to settle his nerves.  He needed desperately to talk to Susan. To hold her. To tell her how sorry he was for flying off the handle.  He knew he needed help. He would confess that to her as well. But first a beer. A cold beer or maybe a whiskey. He pulled off the congested highway onto the gravel parking lot, got out and went inside. He was there until midnight, when he had to be driven home in a taxi.

The house was dark and empty. Susan was not there nor was Robbie.  He became violent. He tore the place apart looking for clues. He yelled and screamed and threw a vase through the Samsung flat screen TV in the family room. By two in the morning he was exhausted and fell asleep across the bed. He slept until almost noon the next day. His boss called and awakened him. He feigned an illness and said he was too sick to come in that day. It was about the tenth day so far in the young year that he had missed work. Joe was on the ropes and he knew it. His boss told him so. “Joe you are on thin ice here. I’d pull myself together if I were you. I can’t keep covering for you, understand me?” Joe said he did and told his boss how appreciative he was of helping him out of this tight spot he was in: “Family problems” he called it.

Joe felt around under his side of the bed and found the small brown box. He opened it and discovered it was empty. He went into a rage. Not only had she taken his son, but now she had taken his way out of this torment.  Damn her. Damn her to hell.

He went downstairs and found that every liquor bottle in the bar was empty. She had made sure he was not going to get drunk and kill himself. He was so mad he nearly missed the note she had left when she went back inside the house to get her purse.

“Get help, Joe. Get very good help. Robbie and I love you and want to see you get better.  But you need help.”

It was the last time he ever heard from her or about her. And that was twenty-seven years ago. He’s sober now and has a new family and his eldest is graduating from Ohio State in the spring. Robbie must have graduated by now, he thought one day. then he let the thought past.

They were gone.  That part of his life was gone.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Drifter: A Short Story

The Drifter
John Crawley

Raymond Leech was the undertaker in our hometown.  Fine man. Had him a fine wife, Elsie, I think her name was. They had two children, Martin and Denise. Both went off to school in Oklahoma and I never did see them after that. Martin got himself a scholarship to OU in geology and Denise went to OSU and got a degree in secondary education. That’s about all I know about their kids.

Now what made Raymond Leech so interesting is that he had been in both World Wars. As a child, his family left Holland to escape the fighting and then when Hitler and the Nazis came along, he enlisted in Atlanta, Georgia and joined the army and was shipped out to the Pacific to fight the Empire of Mr. Hirohito.

He was hit by a sniper’s bullet on some far away island and was returned to Honolulu where he recuperated and while there, met Elsie, who was a nurse.  They got married about seven days after the big bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and about a year later, Martin was dropped.  Six years after that eventful day, Denise came kicking and screaming into the world. I hear she has never shut up since then.

Raymond Leech ran a very successful business.  He was a Rotarian. Sat on the school board and was a deacon in Elder Springs Baptist Church. He even sang in the choir up until the day he killed Mabel Forrester, the high school English teacher he had been having an affair with for eleven years.

Nobody in our town knew it was going on. Nobody.  My dad ran a car lot and knew almost everyone in the small city. My mom was in the garden club.  They had never heard a word about the affair and not until Raymond was arrested, then arraigned for Miss Forrester’s murder, did any of us know that the nefarious act was going on right beneath our collective noses. Well, one person did.  And I’m getting to that.

Earl Battle, the school board president wanted to immediately hold a special election to find someone to take Raymond’s seat, but the school’s lawyer, Ted Watson, said that a man was innocent until proven guilty and the school might want to hold off before acting too hastily. The local newspaper headlines read : LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER KILLS ENGLISH TEACHER. For a lot of people, that was the trial. Right then and right there. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because at first we didn’t know Raymond was the culprit.

Her body, Miss Forrester’s – I’m talking about– was found in the weeds over by the high school baseball field. She had been stabbed seventeen times with a kitchen knife. The police said a kitchen knife, because the cuts were deep and had been made with a serrated, tooth edge, like a bread knife or steak knife. They never did find the weapon.  And for the longest time they didn’t have any leads on the murderer.
Then one afternoon, it was late in the spring semester, police cars came screaming up to the high school and officers came charging down the hall and took Randal Lee Hopkins away with his hands cuffed behind him just like in the movies.  We all strained to see what was going on in the parking lot.  I was in Miss Loomis’ Spanish class, and we had a student teacher that semester named Harold Weisnehoover. He was a Yankee from New York , who had gone to school over in Fort Worth at TCU and was doing his student teaching at our school.  He had little to no control over our class, so of course, we all raced to the windows which were wide open, because my hometown refused to pass a bond issue to air condition the public schools.  They weren’t air conditioned until well up into the 1980’s when over three hundred kids had left the city’s schools to go to a new private school, which had modern facilities, including a year-round, indoor swimming pool and air conditioning.  It even had an elevator for kids in wheel chairs and old folks. The school board decided to update our schools at that time and got behind a real bond election and passed it and raised the taxes of everybody just so they wouldn’t lose anymore kids from hot classes.  My granddad used to joke, that the “Niggers didn’t run nobody out of the schools, but the goddamn hot air sure as hell did.” I told him we didn’t call them that anymore – “We don’t use the N-word, PawPaw; but he snorted and said, ‘They knowd who they is.’”

Anyway, the police was putting this kid named Randal Lee Hopkins into the back of a squad car, red lights blazing on and off.  One officer grabbed the top of Randall Lee’s head as he ducked down to get in the back seat. The three police cars sped off and were gone as fast as they had arrived.  The buzz in the hallway after that sounded like a chainsaw eating away at a loblolly pine tree. Almost everyone thought that they had come and arrested Randal Lee for the murder of Miss Forrester. Myself included.

I couldn’t image taking anyone’s life with a kitchen knife – stabbing her seventeen times.  Over and over and over.  Jesus, that was gruesome. Cindy Mayfield was my girlfriend that year.  We were juniors.  She had dated Randal Lee the year before.  To say she was freaked out about it was an understatement.  “He could have killed me, Bennett,” she said with tears running down her freckled cheeks. “It could have been me out there at Pioneer Field.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t baby.  It wasn’t.  It was someone else, so pull yourself together.”

She slapped me. “Don’t you get it? It could have been me.  And you don’t care. I dated that killer and it could have been me he killed instead of Miss Forrester.  I knew there was something weird about him. You know what he did once? He came over to my house late on a Thursday night. He said he wanted to watch me undress in the window.”


She slapped me again. “You know damn well I’m not that kind of girl. At least I hope you know that.”
“So what’s your point?”

“He wanted to see me naked.” I had to admit I had wanted the same thing, but I had never thought to ask so blatantly as Randal Lee must have done. But if Cindy had a story, so too did every other person in high school. By the time the weekend was over and we were back at school, Randal Lee had killed at least ten people with his bare hands in front of unnamed friends of classmates of mine. He had shot young children and crippled their mothers and slit the throats of at least three missing fathers, although later we discovered that one of the father rumored to have died at his hands was actually working off shore in the Gulf on an oilrig. But the point is, we were sure Randal Lee Hopkins was the killer.

I mean all you had to do was look at the Hopkins clan.  They were dirty and poorly educated.  No one had ever made it out of high school. The old man was a drunk and something of a notorious gambler. He was away from their small shack of a home as much as he was there. And Randal Lee’s mother was believed to run a house of ill repute near the small town of Sabine, Texas, although my friends on the police department said that was a total fabrication. She did have a bar of sorts, but it was always run respectful of the law. But still, a family with that kind of notoriety in our small town and you could see why, with the police coming and barging in to our school in the middle of fourth period, that we just knew Randal Lee was the person who had cut Miss Forrester to pieces and left her in the weeds at Pioneer Field.

“Why’d you date that scum?” I asked Cindy, but she never did answer me. She just kind of pouted like it was none of my damn business.

Truth of the matter was, that Randall Lee had nothing whatsoever to do with killing Miss Forrester. But he did tell a teacher he thought he knew who did.

That teacher, I believe it was Mrs. Harmwell, called the principal, David Griffin, who used to be the football coach at the school. David’s teams won three state championships.  Three mind you. The man could have run for mayor or even governor and won. He walked on water in these parts, I swear to you he did.  He got offers from Longview and even from colleges in East Texas, but he wanted to stay at a local school and work with kids, so he took over the principal’s chair when old man Fields died one summer on a fishing trip to Arkansas.
Mrs. Harmwell, who actually lived, as did several of our teaching faculty, in Henderson, called the principal and told him that Randall Lee might know something of the death of Miss Forrester. Griffin wasted no time in calling the police and they were at the school in minutes. (Not that our town was big or anything and the police station was only a few blocks away, but still, they got to our campus in no time, handcuffed Randall Lee and drug his butt off.)  I thought that would be the last we ever saw of that scrawny ass sophomore.

But on Tuesday he was back in class. Didn’t say a word to a soul. Not a good morning. Not a how are you? Not a ‘you got a cigarette or some grass or kiss my butt.’  Nothing. First period he just sat there in sociology and stayed real quiet.

Everybody was taking a peek at him and some of the girls even giggled. He didn’t pay them no mind. He was a Hopkins and he had been in and out of trouble before and killing an English teacher, from all the rumors we had been listening to since Friday, was no big thing for him.  I guarantee you, nobody walked by him in the hallway without looking around. And you didn’t want to find yourself in the restroom with him alone. You never knew if you might be next on his list.

But on Wednesday we all knew why he wasn’t behind bars.  The police had been directed to the Leach Funeral Home and Mortuary, where they found their man. You talk about a town that was in shock. Oh my God. Everyone was flabbergasted when they read the story in the Independent Voice, our local afternoon newspaper. In those days it came out every afternoon and on Sunday mornings. Today it publishes once a week and then not on holiday weeks.

The story broke that an unnamed source had seen the couple on several occasions and knew of the illicit love affair and had known of a fight the two had just two days before Miss Forrester disappeared. Some of us guessed that the unnamed source was Randall Lee. Cindy said he was probably sneaking around looking in Miss Forrester’s windows and saw her naked and kept going back and soon saw Mr. Leech lying there naked on top of her doing his thing with her. I told Cindy her imagination was running a bit wild with her and she should rein it in. She slapped me. “You never believe anything I tell you. He was squatted outside my window waiting for me to get naked, I don’t see why he couldn’t have done the same with Miss Forrester.”

But the newspaper said the unnamed source told police that Forrester and Leech had been having a fight about Mr. Leech not breaking the news to his wife.  Now remember this affair had apparently gone on for eleven years.  Not that anybody knew that at this time, that came out in the trial. But still, they had had words and even some physical shoving and pushing and Leech had told Miss Forrester that if she kept this up he was going to have to break off their tryst and return all of his affection back to his wife.  Her name was Eloise, now that I think about it. That’s right.

The police took Raymond Leech into custody and immediately moved him to Longview our county seat.  He was safer there in their modern jail. It was air conditioned, too.  Our jail, like the school at that time, wasn’t blessed with refrigerated air. A Federal Court ruling in about 1989 forced them to add AC to the jail.  Some inmate, probably one of my high school buddies in the drunk tank, sued the city for unusual punishment and won and the city had to get air conditioning for the jailhouse.

Raymond Leech’s trial was the sensation of the day.  Hundreds of people were called as potential jurors, but hell, everybody knew the Leeches and they were good folks. So the judge in Longview decided a change of venue was necessary for Raymond to get a fair trial from impartial jurors. They moved his trial to Beaumont, Texas. There in that Gulf-side port town, a jury of twelve citizens of the Lone Star State found Mr. Leech guilty of first degree murder and sentenced him to die in the electric chair in Huntsville.

All through the trial he made no excuses for the affair.  He never denied it. Not for one second.  He sat on that witness chair, tears flowing down his puffy cheeks and told the world that he was guilty of the sin of lust and fornicating with another woman outside the bonds of his marriage. He said he had craved her since the first time he laid eyes on her in Joe Holloway’s Piggly Wiggly store. And that he had fallen from grace by having an affair with Mable Ruth Forrester for eleven years. The newspaper said when he uttered the words ‘eleven years’ a murmur ran across the courtroom then a collected gasp that broke out into a full onslaught of noise. The judge had to bang the gavel down two or three times hard to quiet the crowd that had traveled the two hundred miles by chartered bus. Trailways said it was the biggest thing since taken the crowd of Pioneer fans to Austin for the state championship games.

Eleven years. Longer than a decade he had been going to her house and lying on top of her and having his way inside her and nobody in our town, except Randall Lee knew a thing of it.

They called Randall Lee to the stand, too.  Oh boy did they.  He was grilled for two days straight. Had trouble right at first because he was supposed to lay his hand on the Bible and swear that he was going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help him God. And Randall Lee said he couldn’t swear on a Bible ‘cause he was Pentecostal and all and that they didn’t believe in taking an oath in the name of God with their hands on the Good Book. The judge took the matter under advisement and after a quick recess, where he discussed it with the two sets of lawyers, he came back into court and told Randall Lee that he wanted him to tell the truth and to promise him, the judge, he would. And Randall Lee said, “Yes sir. I sure will.”  And so his two days in the hot seat began.

But his story was pretty straightforward.  We all knew by now that he was the unnamed source the police talked about in the Independent Voice. We all knew that he had spied on Miss Forrester and had for some time seen Mr. Leech having his way with her. He told the evening they had had their first fight. At least the first he had witnessed.  Then with each successive night he said the fights got worse and before you knew it, Mr. Leech and Miss Forrester were actually coming to blows.

Then a few days went by and nothing happened.  And then the police found Miss Forrester all cut up and naked over at the baseball field and, well now you got the whole story just like we did.

And the jury got it too and they sent Raymond Leech to Huntsville, to the Department of Corrections in the State of Texas to be electrocuted in old Sparky.  They still used the wooden electric chair in those days. The Federal busy bodies hadn’t gotten involved in making a death row final act something pleasant and peaceful, yet.  It was still the old fashion way.  They burned you from the inside out.

I’m told your organs fry inside your body and your blood boils and your eyes pop out of their sockets. It sounds rather gruesome.

On December 19th, 1992, they took Raymond Leech, who had tried every possible way to get his sentence overturned and his conviction reviewed – they took him and ran about a gazillion watts of electricity through his body and he died. He had been on death row for seventeen years.

He was returned to our hometown and irony of ironies, he was deposited at the old funeral home he used to own.  It was now owned by a family whose name was Guthrie and had moved there from Louisiana. They had run funeral homes all across the South, for several generations, but Mr. Guthrie said it was the first time he ever prepared and buried a convicted murderer who had died in the electric chair.  To say the least, it was a closed casket service.

About two years ago I read a story in the Los Angeles Times about a prisoner in Texas who confessed to a series of gruesome killings. He was a drifter with a Mexican name.  Lopez or Gonzales or something. He would ride the rails and find unsuspecting women and torture them and kill them in their own homes with their own kitchen knives.

The police in my hometown didn’t want to reopen the story of Raymond Leech, but a public outcry forced the District Attorney to take a look and see; and sure enough, the Mexican drifter riding the rails had killed a school teacher in our town about the time Miss Forrester went missing.

They asked the man how he picked his victims and he said it varied, but in our town, he followed a high school kid to a house where he watched the kid as he squatted and performed a ritual with himself while watching the woman of the house get naked and have sex with an older gentleman. The drifter said he didn’t do anything about it that visit, but six weeks later he rode the KATY freight line back through town and hopped off and made his way to the woman’s house.  When he was sure no one was around, he went inside and took her life. “How?” Asked the D.A. 

“If she was the one I am remembering,” he said, “I stabbed her a bunch with her own kitchen knife. There were a lot of them. But that one I remember as being real hard to bring down. I had to stab her a lot.”

“What did you do with it – the knife? We’ve never been able to find a murder weapon?”

“You’d have to ask that kid.  I looked up and he was there in the window staring wide eyed at me.  So I went out and he was frozen in place. Scart like a rabbit.  Like a deer with its eyes caught in the headlights.  I handed him the knife and a twenty dollar bill and said, “You get rid of this and forget you ever saw me. You hear?’ He nodded, took the knife and ran off. I put the body in her own car, drove it out to some dark field, and pulled the pieces out of the trunk and left her there. I ain’t never been back to your town, till today.”

That drifter is still in prison from what I hear.  Still confessing to a bunch of unsolved murders up and down the southwest and along the railroad lines. He knew details about murders that only the police investigators knew, so they had a pretty good idea he was legit. I never knew what happened to Randall Lee Hopkins. But Cindy was probably right for slapping me for not taking him or her seriously.

Eloise got remarried about six years after her husband’s death. She always maintained he might have had an affair, but he could never kill anyone. But no one was listening.  

I left town and moved to California. I had forgotten all about all this until I saw Cindy’s picture on Facebook.  She is still as pretty as she ever was –  freckles and all. I got out my old yearbook and there was a picture of Cindy and me at the homecoming dance.  And a picture of Miss Forrester and on the administration page a picture of Mr. Leech with the rest of the school board. There was even an ad in the back from his funeral home. There wasn’t a picture of Randall Lee that year.  Just a blank square, which said, Student Absent.

I kinda don’t remember what he looks like. You forget after a long time.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Trash Pick Up.

When I was growing up we had Lady Bird Johnson watching over us reminding us not to litter on our nation’s highways and byways.  Then came the “Don’t Mess With Texas” campaign that made it a state pride issue to keep Texas roads clean of trash.

Today, there is something new going on.  Twice in the last week I have followed both state patrol cars and city police as people passed them in big trucks and pickups with all manner of trash and debris blowing out and onto our roads. 

What did they do? Nothing.

No citations. No tickets. No even turning on their lights and telling the offenders to put a lid on the pile of trash they were hauling to God knows where. Is littering okay once again?  Can we go around and make a mess of things and have no consequence for it?  If so, the news media needs to let us know.  I’ve got tons of stuff in my car and in my trunk I’d love to let loose on Texas streets and roads.

No. I think the problem is that law officers are lazy in pursuing trash offenders.  What is it, a petty misdemeanor? I mean how much time could they get?  And think of all the paperwork involved.  No, just let them go and turn your head. A little litter is no big deal.

That’s the same kind of attitude the SEC has toward Wall Street crime.  “Hey, it’s white collar stuff and nobody really got hurt.  I mean no arms were broken or legs and knees wacked – right?”  What about fortunes lost?  What about retirement nest eggs that just disappeared?”

You see, if it is against the law – it should be against the law.  Whether it is the trash coming from the back of a truck on I 20, or the white trash littering Wall Street’s investment banks.  It’s still trash and needs to be dealt with.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

10:45 Tuesday. A short Story

10:45 Tuesday Night
John Crawley

We played cards on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Bridge to be exact. We had started with hearts, progressed to spades and then on to full-fledged bridge. As soon as we had the pool and the dressing rooms hosed down, as soon as the chlorine had been added to the massive pumps which hummed their high-pitch squeal incessantly, we settled into the old wire-cage office up front and began an evening of bridge. The older guys–seniors in high school and guys from the junior college, who were also life guards–played 42 with dominoes on Mondays, but our T days were for bridge; although, we never told anyone that is what we were playing – most thought we had a poker run going.

We were four. Henry (Hank for short) Williamson, Dale Carlisle, Web Wilson and me. Hank and Web were juniors, I was a sophomore and Dale was a ninth grader, but had been held back a year when we were in like the 5th grade or something, so he was still our age. Dale had been held back a grade because he had undergone brain surgery that year to remove a tumor. It turned out benign, but the doctor touched something inside of his head that caused him to have to undergo therapy for months on end. You couldn’t tell it by high school days, but still he was behind us. He was the only one of us who smoked.

That Monday, the city manager showed up to the public pool and told our boss, Coach Radcliffe, that the city was going to be working on a water main Wednesday and Thursday and while that was going on the city was also going to do some updating up the women’s dressing rooms and all the diving boards. We would be shut down for two whole days. With pay. Praise be to the lifeguard gods.

So that Tuesday night we were in no hurry to clean up out back by the pool. The workers would just get it dirty anyway. Chad Mitchell, the head lifeguard and WSI for the city pool said we could come in early Friday morning and get the area ready.  The pool didn’t open until eleven for most swimmers.  Lessons were from nine till ten thirty, but they, too had been cancelled because of the construction.

Thanks to the construction, bridge started early Tuesday night. Dale and I needed to make up lost ground. It was just June and already we were deep in debt. Dale and I were losing to Hank and Web for the umpteenth time. Then our luck changed.  Just like that.

I still maintain to this day they had some secret signaling going on under or around that rickety card table we propped up with sawed off mop handles. But neither Dale nor I could break the code or catch them at actually communicating. But they were good.  It was as if they were in each other’s head when they were bidding.  Like one person holding both hands. I have never seen anything like it. To say they were good is an understatement. They played as a team all the way through college at the University of Texas at Austin. Then on to grad school at A&M.  Six years after high school they were still doing it to unsuspecting folks who thought of themselves as pretty fair bridge players. Williamson and Wilson were the best of the best.

Hank died at Christmas this past year. I worked in the building next to where his widow worked. Then suddenly two months later, Web, who had been ill with MS for a decade or longer passed away, too. His eldest son had called me at the office to tell me. He sounded relieved that his father was out of his misery, at last. It was almost as if the old bridge players couldn’t be away from each other. Like they had a tournament to get to.  They had to keep the team together. The partnership played on.

But that night, Dale and I were suddenly making up some ground.  I have often wondered if Hank and Web weren’t letting us win some, just to keep us around as playing partners.  There is a serious side of me that believes in conspiracy theories of all kinds.  Oswald didn’t act alone. The men on the moon were in a studio and no-hitters are arranged by Major League Baseball for the entertainment of their TV audiences. I have several that deal with the Pope and the Catholic Church, but I won’t bore you with them at this time. Suffice it to say, my mind played it over and over, that the duo across from us, might be letting Dale and me get close, just to keep the summer evenings interesting.

And on that night, we were getting more than close; we were getting the cards. We were actually kicking some booty.

I remember the first call that came in.  It was around nine.  Maybe even a minute or two before nine.  That’s what I recall telling the Chief of Police when he showed up. Dale took the call because he was the one sitting closest to the wall-mounted phone. “Sorry we’re all closed everybody’s gone.  We don’t open again until noon on Friday. Thanks.”

“Hey, you told them noon on Friday,” Web pointed out. “I thought it was eleven.”

“Noon. Eleven. Who cares?  It is Friday. So don’t come tomorrow or the next day. That’s my message.”

“You got classes Friday?” I asked the other three.

Only Hank did. “The Harris twins.  Goddamn those kids are filled with lead, I swear.  They couldn’t float with the Queen Mary strapped to them.”  We laughed.  The Harris kids had been students of just about every lifeguard at the city pool.  They each weighed about 300 pounds and weren’t yet fifteen. I had even had them in my classes at the country club the year before.  I know, you want to know why I would leave the country club with all the cure rich girls in their skimpy two pieces and come and work for the city pool.  Well, money. Not that the city paid that much better.  No way.  It’s just we had a system that ­ – well lets say in the free enterprise system we were to life guarding what Enron was to energy markets. (Of course in 1969 we had never heard of Enron.)

The city ran the pool with this system.  There were six lifeguards on duty at almost anytime.  Four at the pool and two at the wire-caged ticket booth office. Where everyone came to pay to go swimming. We alternated in and out during the stretch of a day. And every time someone would come to pay, we were supposed to take a ticket, tear it in half, put one half in the “keep” box, (which went to the city auditors on a weekly basis so that they could match sales to cash) and the other half of the ticket was to go to the customer. Mostly, they went into a trashcan in either the men’s or the women’s locker rooms. There was an exception. And this is where the money was made. Season Ticket holders.

Season Tickets could be purchased two ways.  Individuals could have a season ticket and families could as well. So when a big group of people came to the cage waving money around, we would take only a few tickets and tear them and give all the halves away.  Nothing went into the box – or very few. If we were ever challenged on the fact that there were two hundred people in and around the giant Olympic-size facility and only twenty tickets in the box, we would shrug and say “Season Ticket holders, boss.”  And we would pocket the cash.  As it worked out, the cash flow would be divided up nightly, the more senior guards taking sixty percent of the till and us younger studs getting forty percent.  Once you became a senior in high school, you got to dip into the resources at the higher rates. And those rates more than made up for missing the rich country club girls and their skimpy outfits.

Mike Andrews, one of the junior college guys stopped by and gave us our nightly cut of the cash proceeds.  It had been a particularly good Tuesday.  Each of us made like an extra thirty bucks that day. He reminded us of Friday cleanup and that we were supposed to hose down the pool walkways and patio at the food court before we left.  Hank told him for sure we would.  He left and not one us ever gave another thought of hosing down anything or even going back on the city clock for a minute.

Why would you?  We had our cash in hand, if we added time to our clock, we would actually be losing money. Or so the topic went around the table as the bridge battle heated up.

The second call came at nine forty-five: a little over three quarters of an hour after the first call.  The person on the other end sounded frantic. I could hear her from where I sat. Dale held the phone out for us all to hear her screeching voice. “I’m sorry ma’am. No one is here. The pool is closed. It won’t open again until Friday.  There’s going to be construction.” Dale paused. He looked at the phone and then said, “Let me let you talk to my supervisor.”  He handed the phone to Web. Who shook his head and wouldn’t talk. Finally Hank took the receiver and spoke to the lady.

“This is Hank Williamson.  May I help you?”

“Hank, this is Bridget Lawrence.”

“Yes, Mrs. Lawrence. I am a lifeguard here.  What can I do for you?”

“My son went to the pool today and has not come home.”

“Well, I’m sorry.  I do remember seeing him here.  Randy. That’s his name. Right?”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

“Well, Mrs. Lawrence, we are closed and like Dale said we won’t reopen until Friday about midday. Everyone is gone.” Hank’s voice was authoritative and soothing at the same time.  He would later earn an Eagle Scout and become a member of the Texas legislature.  He was an engineer – civil engineer. Until that day he just keeled over and died right at his desk. Two clients were sitting across from him talking about building a dam on their ranch and wanted Hank to engineer the project.  He just leaned forward and never came up for air. And two months later Web, who had been a pharmacist until MS made it impossible to do his job, joined him in the great Bridge Club in the sky.

Mrs. Lawrence hung up the phone and we returned to our bidding and card counting.

“You know that kid is into drugs.” I think it was Web who informed us of that.

I protested saying he was too young. “It was his older brother, Harry David who had gotten hooked on the needle.”

“Harry David shoots up?” asked Dale who was always late on gathering any news about town.

“Hell, Dale, Harry David has his own pharmacy for God’s sake. He shoots up as often as Jannie Rose spreads her legs.”

“Okay now,” said Web. “Does anyone here at this table actually know a single person who has ever gotten it on with Jannie?  I mean her reputation is that of a class A slut, but really?”

“O’Mera has.”  I said with a great deal of self assuredness, mostly I was making it up, but Howell O’Mera had told me he had been to third base with her at the Star, our local theater.  “They did it in the theater during Gold Finger.”

“How can you screw at the Star?  And better yet – how can you screw during a James Bond flick?” Web was skeptical.

“I’m just saying.” And so it went.  We discussed the attributes and scale of likelihood of many girls that evening while the cards were laid down and picked up.  But by the time we got to Susan Hancock, the prettiest girl in high school, who didn’t date anybody but boys from the junior college, we were sure that pretty much every girl in our school, at one time or another, had experienced sex with a guy we knew. (This of course was a list that eliminated most of the girls from First Baptist and from Christ the Savior Catholic church, although Margret Crane, who was a good Catholic girl, was known to give a great hand job in the back of Otis Lea’s Thunderbird on homecoming night. That had been testified to by at least half the football team.)
The phone rang again.  It was officer Wayne Hildebrandt. Wayne had played on the district championship football team in 1961 (the closest the all-white school ever came to a big season before we integrated in 1970 – then we won three state titles. We also won two state basketball titles after ’70 as well, but those trophies joined two other state trophies earned before integration.)           

“Officer Hilly,” Dale said. As soon as he said Hilly, we knew who he was talking to.  If you were going to get in trouble in our town, you wanted the officer after you to be Hilly.  He was one of us.  Hell, he had all but invented the money scam at the city-owned swimming pool when he was a lifeguard. Hilly was cool.  He got it.  A little alcohol on your breath, he would look the other way and tell you drive real safe.  Or a joint found on your possession, he would remove it and tell you to roll tobacco next time. (And this was during the time Henry Wade in Dallas Country was giving kids life in prison for an ounce of grass.) Yeah, Hilly was a good cop.

“Nope. She’s called here twice. Place is all dark and closed up and we’re not due to open again until Friday.  City’s got some construction going on for a couple of days. Right.  You take care, too. Drop by and we’ll buy you a Coke.”

Dale hung up the phone.  “That Lawrence woman is making a fuss about little Randy.  I bet he and his no-good brother are either shooting up somewhere or got them some dirt legs.”

“Dale! The kid is what eleven, twelve?’ Give me a break.” Hank was tired and the game wasn’t going his way.  He pushed away from the Samsonite table we had propped up against the wire cage and walked toward the men’s room. “I gotta take a Dale.”

“Hey watch it, ass hole.” Dale was up and heading for the bathroom, too. The game was on hold.

“You think we ought to take a look around out back?” asked Web who was always a bit of a nervous worrier.

“Yeah. Why not,” I said.  “Won’t hurt anything.  Besides, I left my whistle and towel out by the deep-end chair.”

Web and I slowly made our way up the concrete ramp to the entrance to the pool.  We entered the turnstile gate and I went to the electrical box and threw a lever that turned all the lights on metal poles around the pool and the courtyard.  The black hole which was the water itself, was simmering with the smell of fresh chlorine from the pumps that were housed in the brick building to the north of the pool. The pump house was off limits to everyone except the lifeguards and the city engineers. I went to the lifeguard chair and got my whistle and towel. The place was deserted. Web walked to the pump house and went inside. He turned on some lights and went to a power box panel and began turning on the lights in the pool. Blue shaded lights came to life under the slowly rolling surface of the pool.

From nowhere I heard Hank’s voice. “Jesus Christ, he’s in the deep end.”

I remember looking at the wall clock that was situated above the entrance to the men’s and women’s dressing rooms.  It read 10:45.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An ode to a guide

I have ridden the waves with the orcas
I have climbed the mountains of the bald eagle.
I have slept in the forest of the grizzly
and fished the icy rivers of the king salmon.

They are all my people.

I have walked the Earth beneath the great sun
and wondered at the sky at night,
a million stars shining down upon me.
I have breathed in the air of the Great Spirit,
And now it is time to return.

The dirt is my home.

I shall return to that earthen soil from
which I came.
My ashes spread across this land to feed
generations that follow.
I will go slowly back to the Spirit who sent me
and report on how you all are doing.

For you are my people, as well.

I have lived among you.
For that I am grateful.
I shall leave you now.
I am returning to my rightful place in the universe.

I learned today that my good friend and Nootka fishing guide Chief Richard Raincloud of Vancouver Island, British Columbia has died and been cremated.  (If you read my book The House Next Door, he is captured in the character of Robin Raintree.) He was as fine a man as I have ever met.  And he was truly the best fishing guide ever to lead me through the wilderness.

He showed me to the understanding of the Great Balance. We are on a journey along the Great Way – it is less about the destination and more about the journey, he taught.

He will be missed.  A man of peace and a man of great knowledge. He dispensed his wisdom in quiet sentences at the edge of campfires along the Pacific Northwest.  I swear he could talk to the steelhead trout as if they were his cousins.

I will miss him.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Modest Proposal

With apologies to Jonathan Swift, I was going to make a modest proposal for today’s blog. My suggestion was going to be that should someone come along an eliminate the Kardashians from public consumption of all kinds, especially on the Web and on TV, I would cast my vote for Mitt Romney – that is how desperate I am to be rid of these obnoxious, untalented and otherwise useless sisters. What have they done to be so famous other than have huge butts, huge teeth and equally huge appendages from their front view, as well? They have no talent.  They have contributed nothing to society, and yet, we worship them on evening television as if they had been elected in total the queens of the church worldwide.

But, as I sat to write this, the morning newspaper caught my attention and I saw Mr. Romney’s budget proposal. And as much as I dislike and utterly despise the Kardashians, this budget was enough to make me sick to my stomach and I have decided to do everything within my power to see that this man is not elected to our nation’s highest office. 

Let’s review.

Mitt would increase military spending.

Mitt would cut funding for national parks, school head-start programs,
assistance to unwed mothers and food stamps.

Romney would increase military spending.

He would cut back on funding for elderly in the forms of decreasing Medicare, Medicade and place caps on social security investments (unless they were privatized of course.)

He would increase military spending.

Roads and infrastructure would suffer under his new budget mentality, as would schools, hospitals, and funding for corporations to bring jobs back to America’s shore from overseas.

Yet, he would increase military spending.

Research in agriculture, medicine, education, population, clean water and clean air would be cut drastically. And forget about research into clean fuels and energy for our future. Spending on secondary education and on college and university degrees, as well as student aid would have a rather large knife taken to them.

And still, Mitt old boy would increase our military spending.

The arts, presumably Public TV and Public radio – too bad.  Public transportation, you too will see your funds dry up.  Mass transportation – forgetaboutit.

But new helicopters, jets, gunships, ships, subs, guns and bullets.  You betcha. And lots of them.  All we can buy.

As for paying for all of this.  He wants to cut the taxes.  Cut them deep.  But not for all  people.

A report last month by the Tax Policy Center found that his tax plan would increase after-tax income for millionaires by 14.5 percent while increasing the after-tax income of those making less than $20,000 by less than 1 percent and of those making between $30,000 and $40,000 by less than 3 percent. (Hey, yachts are expensive…come on!)

Mitt is going to take care of his friends.  The ones on Wall Street and the ones at the Pentagon and all of their contractor buddies, like GE, who hasn’t paid income tax for years (but they complain about high taxes on Fox News.  Can you say hypocrite?) . But my God they make good war stuff.

So there you have it.  Mitt Romney’s idea of a fair and balanced budget. Choke to death the things Americans hold dear. Stamp out our national parks our highways and our schools.  Cripple Medicare and Social Security. Get rid of school lunch programs and crop research, food safety inspection, housing and home heating subsidies for the poor, as well as funds for the FBI and Homeland Security and subsidies for farmers. But for the sake of God Almighty, let’s leave the firggin’ military alone.  In fact, let’s give them some more money to go fight more wars around the globe. Hell, we’ve never invaded Australia. What are we waiting on?

Yeee Haw…We got us another cowboy headed for the White House. Saddle up boys.

The Dallas Morning News said even the most conservative in Congress might have a hard time supporting this heavy-handed action. But he is the darling of the military contractors and the oil and gas lobby. Because in addition to spending on the  military he wants Big Oil to keep its precious tax shelters. No need paying, Mitt is getting rid of everything else.

There is a huge difference between the two candidates for President. Romney who wants to cut everything, but his rich friends’ taxes and Obama who has taken a more “conservative” approach and said it will take a decade to bring the deficit down, but you don’t do it in a recession and you don’t do it by cutting essential services to the bone. You slowly and methodically take your foot off the gas.

Let me make an honest alternative offer right here and now.  I say we elect the Kardashians.  They are a lot smarter and closer to the people than Romney. And right now, I think they can beat Obama.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Who's in the White House?

It’s 1983 and Ronald Reagan is President and under a lot of fire about Irangate and Contragate and the not-so-truth doctors come out and spin the issue that Americans should have a whole lot more respect for the office of President than they are showing. Shame on us, those who would question the most powerful leader in the free world– even when he was blatantly wrong, shame on us.

Then in 2006-08 George Bush was in the White House and again people were pointing the finger at him saying where are the WMD you said were in Iraq?  Where are the missiles, the bombs, the chemical and nuclear weapons?  And Karl Rove and the spin-doctors again said, shame on you for attacking the office of the President of the United States.  Shame on you for even questioning his decisions based on totally faulty data.  Mr. Bush is The President. He holds that office. Show some dignity and support. If he sends American kids to war because of WMD, then there must be WMD.  Don’t question him. It is un-American. Just ask the Dixie Chicks.

Oh but now, we have a black President in the White House.  And a left of true center President at that.  And a man who inherited the worst economic calamity since FDR came to office after two Republican Presidents nearly drove our country into the grave of the Great Depression. We were nearly in the Second Great Depression.  And some mouth like Ted Nugent, who was at best a two bit rock and roll persona can all but say he is going to kill the President if he is re-elected, and what happens? He and the Secret Service meet and exchange pleasantries. It was treasonable.  Just as are the loud mouth Rush and Hannity and almost everyone on Fox news.  So where is the respect for the office of the President now?

When it is not a right wing Republican in the White House, you don’t get respect.  You get vile hatred flung about as if it were the gospel truth. Carter got some of this and Clinton, too. But not to the level that Obama is receiving it.  And that’s because he had the audacity to be born black.  And in many people’s heart of hearts in this country, a black man should not be our leader. 

I will say it now and say it again, I do not approve of everything this President has done or stands for.  He has really pissed me off at times. But he has done a very good job in leading us out of a very bleak period in our nation’s history.  And he has done it with a House of Representatives kicking and screaming all the way. (And the Senate hasn’t been much better.) Obama is our President.  He deserves our respect and the dignity that Karl Rove wanted for President Bush while he was in the office. And he should get it.

If, heaven forbid, Mitt Romney wins the highest office, I will give him that honor.  It comes with the office.  It comes with the title. And it comes with the responsibility.  And until you vote Obama out of the White House, you must, if you are a fair-minded American, give him his just dues, as well. Otherwise, don’t expect there ever to be any civility in Washington or anywhere else in this land.

The President of the United States of America is everybody’s President.  Whites. Blacks. Asians. Hispanics and even small-minded, stupid people.