Innings, essay by Jim Parks

I came by it hon­est, this busi­ness of writ­ing up cour­t­house wars.

It was what was going on that sum­mer – forty sum­mers in the past — in the heat of cot­ton sea­son.

They had dis­barred the DA; the Sheriff's race was dirty, hate­ful; the Democ­rats were even­ly split between the Dirty Thir­ty fac­tion in the Leg­is­la­ture, Gov­er­nor Pre­ston Smith and his cronies in the insur­ance biz, and the con­ser­v­a­tive banker can­di­date for Gov­er­nor, Dolph Briscoe.

The boss was a booz­er from Chica­go, Kansas City — points mid and west – an old time Hearst man with ties to liquor, guns, women — and cars, flashy, fast, long, low-slung cars.

All the stuff no well-round­ed man of the world would think of leav­ing home with­out.

The war was car­ried out in the court­rooms, the coun­cil cham­bers, schools, hos­pi­tals and per­son­nel offices – all the places where small town prairie dwellers meet, greet, and then haul off and kick the shins of the com­pe­ti­tion in a good-natured exer­cise of the Amer­i­can dream.

Sec­ond place is first los­er, and the prize for that lack­lus­ter per­for­mance is a set of steak knives.

Ouch.

But the old Yan­kee knew a sto­ry when he saw one, and the idea was to sell news­pa­pers.

Any­body accus­es you of just try­ing to sell news­pa­pers, you agree with them most hearti­ly. Tell them 'Thank you, sir,' and urge them to write that down.”

He took a sip at that sour mash he drank, and added, “Offer to let them write it in your note­book.” Stashed the jug back in the bot­tom desk draw­er.

Black Irish­man grown old, the kind with two jet black eye­brows that looked like cater­pil­lars crawl­ing over thick, black horn­rims, a red pota­to nose, and a full head of fluffy white hair.

Like most who hail from the west side or the neigh­bor­hoods Back of the Yards, he said he was from “Chi-caw-go” — not She-cah-go – Chi-caw-go.

Dude knew how to write a sto­ry, too. He put it this way.

This is a sto­ry news­pa­per. Hey, nev­er let the facts get in the way of a good sto­ry, guy. It just isn't done that way around here.”

Around here.

Black land cov­ered with cot­ton that looked like some­one spilled an even coat of pop­corn across the land­scape. Gaudy sun­sets, moments some­what sub­lime on fog­gy morn­ings when you catch a mama fox and her pups nos­ing their way out of the woods along the creek bot­tom or a hawk cir­cling lazy and rap­tor-like in a sky so blue it hurts to look at it.

In the after­noons, the sun passed its merid­i­an with a vengeance and began to bake the brick veneer of the old build­ing; the only breath of air stir­ring was that of the old ceil­ing fans in their lack­adaisi­cal, slow turn­ing.

And then Mr. Bob came in the door and called my name where I sat beat­ing on a cast-iron man­u­al type­writer, try­ing in hun­dred-plus degree heat to make sub­ject, verb and mod­i­fi­er agree in tense and con­ju­ga­tion at a grimy old oak desk with the dust of near­ly a hun­dred sum­mers worked into its grain.

"Jim­bo!"

He knew me.

The High Sher­iff, he was, the one who made Ray­mond Hamil­ton give up in the woods near Jack's Branch when Bon­nie and Clyde came to break him out of his jail – back in the bad old days, when there was no mon­ey and peo­ple got a secret kick out of read­ing all about a bunch of badass­es raid­ing the cof­fers of the ones who fixed their wag­ons and dried up the mon­ey.

Wore a spot­less sil­ver bel­ly Stet­son square on his sil­ver head like a crown, its brim turned up all the way around like Mr. Sam, Tru­man or John­son – or Big John Con­nal­ly.

Wore a suit and nev­er car­ried a gun. Said he didn't need one. Made his “boys” wear suits and keep their hog legs inside their jack­ets.

Think of the news pic­tures of Capt. Will Fritz or Chief Jessie Cur­ry on Novem­ber 22, 1963.

He held out his check­book the way the old timers used to do it, said, “I need you to fill out my check for anoth­er year's sub­scrip­tion to the paper, Jim­bo.”

Wait­ed while I filled it out, then signed the check with a flour­ish while I wrote out a receipt.

I thanked him.

You didn't know Willie and I were next door neigh­bors for 40 years, did you?”

I knew that. Knew it well.

Willie. My grand­fa­ther — farmer, mechan­ic, mer­chant – drove a Lin­coln limo with a V-12 in it, chewed cig­ars, played dix­ieland blues on clar­inet. Squint­ed out of pho­tos with a well-chewed cig­ar and a news­pa­per fold­ed up and thrust into a side pock­et of his jumper.

Willie.

We nev­er had a harsh word, me and Willie,” he said. “I think he'd want me to tell you what I'm fix­in' to tell you, boy.”

I nod­ded, looked him right straight in the eye.

"You don't put your feet on high­er ground – son – you're going to the pen…"

Held up his hand and arched his brows to stave off any remark – the one I would in no case have dared to make – and con­tin­ued.

Right or wrong, son. That's just the way it's done. You shook these peo­ple up, and they will have their innings.”

Innings.

The expres­sion brought back the crack of the bat, the moan of the crowd fol­low­ing the fly ball through the sky, the chat­ter of the infield, the hus­tle and pop of the ball sock­ing into the pock­et of a well-oiled glove.

Innings.

Then he told me the strangest tale. The most elec­tri­fy­ing and impromp­tu inter­view I have ever been giv­en.

You can't out­do the law, hoss. Just can't be done.”

Said he didn't want any of this print­ed until he was long gone and for­got­ten, but he want­ed me to remem­ber what he was going to say.

This bird named Bar­row? They caught him a'stealing cars in Waco when he was about 14. He wasn't big as a minute – nev­er weighed much more than 135–40 pounds. Shoot, he wasn't much big­ger than his girl, Bon­nie.”

As the sto­ry devel­oped, it became very appar­ent what the old time law­man was talk­ing about. He was explain­ing what clas­si­fi­ca­tion of pris­on­ers in jails is all about, and how it is used as a weapon – for good or evil.

Like the clas­sic Jim Thomp­son char­ac­ter in “The Get­away,” “It does some­thing to you – in there – It does some­thing to you,” said Carter “Doc” McCoy.

They put him in a high pow­er tank down there at Waco – on one of the floors where every­body had been in the pen before…It was hard times, Jim­bo. Mighty hard times.” He let that sink in. “And he wasn't but 14 years old. Get it?”

So Clyde Bar­row went back to Cement City and the West Dal­las world of Sin­gle­ton Avenue wreck­ing yards with a new moniker. They called him School Boy – from then on – in the under­world of cops and rob­bers.

You know what those old boys did to him in that jail house, Jim­bo. He nev­er was right – after that. The girl was just for show, you hear me? They always trav­eled with anoth­er young man.”

Anoth­er mean­ing­ful silence.

>When they killed Lloyd Buch­er, I said I was fed up. I said he was going to have a seat in that elec­tric chair, and I was going to be a wit­ness.”

Then he told the sto­ry about the rob­bery and killing of the pawn bro­ker, jew­el­er, and sus­pect­ed fence who had a shop out in the coun­try on the old Ft. Worth high­way – Lloyd Buch­er.

The Bar­row gang always trav­eled as if they were string band­ing, play­ing at dances in hous­es and halls and blind pig beer joints. They had gui­tars and fid­dles – Clyde had a sax­o­phone.

They came in the mid­dle of the night and told Mr. Buch­er they need­ed gui­tar strings. He didn't believe them, but final­ly they per­suad­ed him to let them in, accord­ing to his wife.

Some­thing went wrong, once he got the safe open. Crouched down, going through the mon­ey and valu­ables stashed there, he may have strug­gled, or he may have gone for a hide­out gun he kept in the safe.

It was the Bar­row gang's first killing, before the deputy at Ato­ka, before the two high­way patrol motor­cy­cle offi­cers near Grapevine – the first one, before any of the rest.

Mr. Bob Wilk­er­son, then Chief Deputy, had thrown down the gaunt­let. Clyde Bar­row and Ray­mond Hamil­ton would face exe­cu­tion.

He passed the word.

When School Boy heard it, he said there was no way he was going to just haul off and take a seat in Sparky. He would fight to the fin­ish.

It was on.

By the time they were fin­ished, it was Bon­nie and Clyde 13 – nine of their vic­tims were police offi­cers – and The State of Texas 2.

Ex-Ranger Frank Hamer and a posse of Dal­las deputies of Sher­iff Smoot Schmid, the Harley-David­son deal­er in Big D, gunned them down with Brown­ing Auto­mat­ic Rifles at Arca­dia, Louisiana, for the killing of the rid­ing boss at East­ham Prison Farm the day they broke Hamil­ton out of that joint.

Mr. Bob fin­ished his sto­ry this way.

"The night they exe­cut­ed old Hamil­ton, I had a word with him. I said, 'Son, have you got any­thing you want to tell me before it's too late?'"

He said, 'The one who done this killing isn't here tonight.' That was all he would ever say. I asked him for that name, but he wouldn't give it up.”

Bob Wilk­er­son turned on his heel, put one well-pol­ished wingtip ahead of the oth­er, and walked away.

It was the last time we ever spoke to one anoth­er.

Jim Parks is a news­man, deck­hand, farm hand,  ram­blin' man and truck dri­vin' man. Keep him away from the fire­wa­ter and  don't mess with his food or his woman.

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