August 20, 2011

The Literature Corner: I Ain't No Crim'nul...

For this edition of the Literature Corner, I present a tale shamelessly modeled on Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." This particular true story took place during the years that I worked as a division commander in charge of just about everything no one else wanted to do, including evidence, vehicle maintenance, animal control, radio maintenance, a variety of other tasks, and also managed a small jail used primarily for short term incarceration. One night, a very drunk, very lonesome all hat and no cattle cowboy was a guest in my establishment…

I Ain't No Crim'nul…

“No!” The rodeo clown cried. “Don’t do it Billy Bob! The Crusher killed the last 20 cowboys tried to ride him! You’re doomed, doomed I tell yuh! Get off ‘fore it’s too late!”

Billy Bob snarled in defiance and swung his leg over the enormous back of the black bull. He could feel the incredible, animal power rumbling beneath the coarse hide as the Crusher snorted and fiercely pawed the loosely packed Earth. He wrapped the leather strap tightly around his right hand, locking himself in place. “Get out of the way, you fool!” he snapped.

“I’m tellin’ yuh, don’t do it. Ain’t nobody kin ride the Crusher!”

“I can,” Billy Bob spat, a confident smile playing across his weathered, yet ruggedly handsome face as he glanced toward the stands and saw Sally Mae Roughrider, the Rodeo Queen, bouncing up and down in nervous anticipation, concern furrowing her pretty brow, her wavy, long blonde hair shining in the high noon sun. Billy Bob touched the tips of the fingers of his left hand to the brim of his hat in a jaunty, fearless salute. She nearly dissolved, so taken was she by his attentions, by the slight gesture of recognition.

“Billy Bob! No...”

The buzzer blared and the gate exploded outward...

“ more cowboy. You’ve had enough. Why don’t you head on home?”

The bartender stood, wiping a glass, looking down into the puffy, reddened face of the young oil field roughneck in a complete cowboy outfit: Shiny boots, freshly pressed, skin tight boot cut jeans--razor sharp creases down the legs, a belt with his name on the back complete with a buckle big enough to serve as a dinner plate. A neatly pressed western shirt and a black Stetson completed his ensemble. He looked the part.

“’Nuff? Nuff? I ain’t started yet!” The cowboy waved his arms wildly and looked around, his eyes unfocused and empty. “I ain’t...started...” his voice trailed off and his head slowly sagged onto the top of the bar.

“I ain’t started yet,” the sheriff said coldly to the cowardly Mayor of the little cow town.

“But Sheriff,” the Mayor whined, “you’ve already arrested every outlaw in the territory, and killed twenty more just last week. Nobody will think the less of you if you don’t face down Johnny Dingo and his gang!”

“Like I said: I ain’t started yet.”

“Sheriff, it’s five ‘till high noon. There’s still time. You can just ride out. The train won’t be here for five more minutes. Save yourself!”

The sheriff spun the cylinder of his Colt .45 revolver, listening to the metallic clicking. Six cartridges; six outlaws. He snapped the loading gate shut and twirled the glistening handgun expertly into its low slung holster. “There’s some things a man’s gotta do, Mayor,” the Sheriff drawled. He plucked the silver star from his chest and polished it, rubbing it on his shirt. As he pinned it back into place, the door burst open.

“Oh Bart, Bart, don’t do it!” It was Betsy Sue, the young and beautiful owner of the saloon. She rushed, weeping, into the Sheriff’s manly arms. “I don’t know what I’d do without you! You can’t win Bart; you can’t win!” She dissolved into a torrent of tears, staining her pale, white cheeks.

“A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” the Sheriff muttered quietly. He picked Betsy Sue up and placed her gently in the chair behind his desk as she wept convulsively and clutched at him. In the distance, he heard the shrill wail of the rapidly approaching train whistle.

The door burst open again. It was little Billy, the orphaned shoeshine boy. “Bart, don’t go Bart! What will I do without you?” Billy wrapped his scrawny arms around Bart’s leg.

“Some day you’ll understand, Billy,” Bart drawled. The Mayor pulled Billy from Bart and held him as he struggled to grasp the stalwart lawman, tears running down his narrow face.

“Woof! Woof!” barked Bart’s faithful dog Lightning, his tail wagging nervously.

Bart pulled open the door, a steely glint in his pale blue eyes, his gun hand rock steady...

“Bart!” Billy cried, “ Come back Bart, come back...”

“Yeah, he’s comin’ back now,” the bartender said, pointing toward the cowboy whose left cheek was covered with beer from the puddle on the bar top.

“OK, we got him,” the police officers said.

“Thanks for comin’ so quickly.”

“No problem. We were only a few blocks away when we got the call. Do you know this guy’s name?”

“Nah. I’ve seen him in here once before I think, but I don’t know him.”

“OK. Hey fella, Police Department. Police officers.” The officers each took an arm and stood him up. He struggled back to full consciousness, his eyes heavy lidded, beer dripping off his face onto his new western shirt.

“Police? I ain’t no crim’nul; turrrrrrrrrrrn me loose!” he muttered, slurring badly as he stumbled and nearly fell.

The officers caught his falling, urban-cowboyed bulk and pulled him back to his feet. “I know, but you’re drunk. You’re comin’ with us. We’re going to take you somewhere where you can sleep it off. C’mon.” The officers led him toward the door. Falling asleep, he stumbled and tripped, but just before he passed out completely, he mumbled, “I ain’t no crim’nul...”

“I know Tex. I wish I could turn you loose… “ The Warden stood with the Preacher at the door of the cell at the end of death row, “…but it’s time.”

“The Governor?” Tex asked.

“I’m sorry Tex. No word,” the Warden whispered, brushing a tear from his eye.

Tex nodded and rose from the cot. He squared his shoulders and cleared his throat. He walked purposefully out of the cell and began his final walk down that long hallway. Nobody would ever say that he, Tex McCorkle, cowboy, didn’t face his fate with courage and grit. Why, Tex McCorkle laughed in the face of death!

“It’s time to make your peace, Tex,” the preacher said.

“Too late for that, preacher,” Tex said defiantly. “I’ll see you in Hell!”

“Do you have any last words, Tex?” the Warden asked.

“I didn’t do it. I ain’t no crim’nul,” Tex said simply, without sorrow or regret.

“I know it, Tex. I know it,” the warden said, shaking his head sadly. “The trial was a farce. You wuz railroaded. But I’m bound by law to carry out my duty.”

“Ain’t yer fault Warden,” Tex said. Beyond the door at the end of the hall, the crack of the trap door flapping open and the sandbag snapping the rope taut as it fell through echoed in the narrow hallway. “I ain’t no crim’nul...”

“Has he been doing that all night?” The morning shift Sergeant asked as he put his briefcase down on the desktop.

“...turrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrn me loose!”

The midnight shift Sergeant chuckled. “Yeah, all night, about every 30 seconds like clockwork. Kind of mournful, isn’t it?”

“I’d say so. It’s a wonder anybody else in the jail got any sleep.”

“We lucked out there. Midnight shift snagged two more, but they bonded out shortly after they were processed. He’s been by himself for the last five hours.”

“OK then.” The morning Sergeant glanced at the booking sheet. “He’s in just for being drunk. He’s a roughneck for Halliburton, huh? Anything else I should know about?”

“Nah. It was pretty quiet last night. If you’re ready, I think I’ll head home.”

“No sweat. You Sir, are relieved.”

“Thanks. See you tomorrow.”

“Sounds good.”

And as the night shift supervisor pushed open the door, down that long hallway, from the depths of death row, came Tex McCorkle, cowboy’s, lonely, plaintive moan: “I ain’t no crim’nul; turrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrn me loose!”

Posted by MikeM at August 20, 2011 12:59 AM

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Posted by: Alan Kellogg at August 20, 2011 11:07 AM

Dear Alan:

We've had a server issue today. I'm reposting; that should fix the problem.

Posted by: Mike Mc at August 20, 2011 06:30 PM

Now that I've read it, I have to say I found it amusing. I expect he was real puzzled to find himself in jail when he woke up.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at August 20, 2011 06:49 PM

Alright! Fiction, I love it. . .

Posted by: NavyOne at August 21, 2011 10:22 AM