Saturday, January 29, 2011


Newland is the highest county seat east of the Rockies. In my twenties, it was exactly a half a mile in diameter with the courthouse precisely in the center. Newland had a police force of two officers and a chief who were also sworn deputy sheriffs. The chief had a small office and a desk in the town hall which was a prefab double-wide, set up on concrete blocks and skirted with sheet metal. We also had a 19-something former highway patrol car with over 400 cubic inches of American iron for an engine, a 4 barrel carburetor that sucked gallons of gasoline with each punch of the accelerator and moan of the engine. It boasted one of the first electronic sirens and a bubblegum machine blue light mounted on the roof with a county radio bolted under the dash. There was a 5 round riot shotgun mounted barrel up on the passenger side of the hump with a quick release. We wore dark blue uniforms with a Sheriff’s Campaign Hat and specially designed badges and shoulder patches. We were sharp. We also had a collection of town boys whose petty crimes and sense of competition with the local law could make things interesting for a bored cop in a tiny mountain town.

This new career of law enforcement was serious business for me. I could write a book of tickets a week in that little town (on midnight shift) and got the reputation of being willing to write my own mother a ticket. I probably would have done that if I’d had the chance just to say I did. One time, a group of irate citizens got up a petition to get rid of me. Luckily for me, the town leaders were of the Law and Order type and threw the petition in the trash.

Behind Greene’s Supermarket in Newland, NC, there was an empty field with a mound of dirt toward the back. It was an old pasture that looked like someone dumped a load of dirt for fill or something and stopped after one or two loads. The field was grown up with weeds about two thirds of the way to the mound and then it was just high grass. The town boys used to love to hang out at Green’s in the parking lot and raise hell half the night until the local residents complained. Then we’d run them off, arrest one or two for “Public Drunk” or just harass them into leaving by stopping them every time they moved a car.

One night Isaac Clark, the evening shift officer, called me and asked if I would come in early so we could work on something together. When I showed up, he met me at the Sheriff’s Office. I got in the car with him and we made a patrol around town and he explained the situation. The town boys had started going to the mound in the old field and he believed they were smoking pot. This was incredibly good news. Neither of us had ever made a drug bust before and this was our chance. The bad news was that the kids were smart in choosing their site for this heinous crime. No one could approach the mound without being seen from any direction. We had to figure out a way to get to them quickly enough to prevent them from ditching the stash. Having accomplished something similar one time in my short career as a cop, I was up for the adventure.

Sometime before that night, I noticed a group of boys gathered in a circle in front of a local gas station that was closed for the night. There was one orange glow moving slowly from hand to hand and I knew that it was pot. I made a couple of drive-bys and then eased the patrol car around the back streets and parked it a safe distance from the party. I slipped around the side of the service station stepping over the usual debris around the service stations of that era and when I got to the corner of the building, I peeked around. To my surprise, the circle had somehow drifted to within a couple of feet from my spot. I estimated the arrival of the roach to the kid right around the corner and stepped out at the right time, grabbed him by the arm, spun him around and said, “Hi, there. Wanna give me that and we’ll make a night of it?” The group scattered like sheep before a wolf. I heard discarded oil cans crunching and banging, people falling over old tires cursing and car doors slamming. Engines were firing all around and blue exhaust was left hanging where ratty old cars had been sitting. As quickly as I grabbed the ol’ boy’s arm he popped the roach into his mouth and swallowed it! I actually heard the ember sizzle as it hit the saliva in his mouth.

I couldn’t contain myself and my decorum as an officer of the law went out the window when I absorbed the whole scene. Before his tongue could cool and just about the time his eyes were about to pop out onto his cheeks, I cracked up. I clutched his arm more for support than to keep him in custody and laughed so hard that the tears fogged my eyes and my nose started to run. I let go of his arm and wiped my face with the sleeve of my pressed uniform and squeezed out between gales of laughter, “Go ahead, man. I got no evidence anyway.” He tentatively eased away from me toward his car looking back at me with his bulging eyes and gaping jaw until he disappeared into his wreck with rusted Tennessee plates and clattered off toward the state line.

Isaac was freshly returned from Viet Nam. Like most southern boys and especially the mountain bred kids, he was quickly made a point man for patrols. It was assumed that they knew how to handle guns and were well acquainted with moving through forests and thick underbrush. Most of those guys quickly died in the jungle because of the vulnerable positions they were assigned. Isaac told me that one of the reasons he lived was because he threw away the rifle he was issued and demanded a sawed off automatic shotgun. He said that he defoliated a lot of brush with that gun because he heard a bird flit through the limbs just ahead of him. He grinned and said, “’Course, a lot of times it weren’t no bird.”
Anyway, I determined as the senior officer, that Isaac should be point and decide how we would approach the band of weed smokers. According to his plan, we set off together, split up when we got near to being in sight of the mound and dropped to the ground. It was determined that one of us would go straight to the mound in case they split up and the other would go to the more likely direction of escape toward the road.

We slid on our bellies through the weeds and at the edge of the high grass; Isaac appeared running at top speed toward the mound. Half the town boys took off on my side of the field and without even thinking I took off after them. Amazingly, about half the crowd froze on the mound and long-legged Isaac simply ran up to them and caught them easily. I was racing with all the power a freight train trying to overtake a high speed rail transit and almost made it to the road. I was focused on making the leap up onto the shoulder of the road when I hit an old barbed wire fence about mid- thigh level and flipped over it like a tumbler. Rusty barbs ripped my uniform and gouged my legs and I went over completely on my back with my legs up toward the road and my head under the old pasture fence. I scrambled to right myself, snagging here and there on briars and barbs and struggled to the highway only to see – nothing. They were gone.

The street was empty. I stood breathing and catching my wind realizing that the only place the little thugs could go was across the road into the weeds on the other side. I eased myself down the shoulder of the other side. Having a freshly learned lesson under my belt, I examined every inch ahead of me before I stepped. I turned my flashlight off and stood listening with great discipline. I thought that I’d heard something to my right and slowly turned to listen again. I eased toward the sound, stopping to breathe quietly and test the air with all my senses. Then, I heard a snigger (mountain talk for snicker) just ahead of me. Those kids could hardly contain themselves in the game. I moved softly toward the sound, deeply focused and ready to leap to catch just one of them if I could. I took one cautious step after another until I stepped off into thin air.

I knew that the head waters of the North Toe River rose from springs in or near Newland but had never paid much attention to the marshy land in that area. I was unaware that I was in that area when I heard the kids hiding in the weeds just feet from me. As I stepped off into space, I plunged into one of those springs like a boulder in a quiet pond. The town boys couldn’t contain themselves. They burst into laughter and remained lying in the weeds on the other side of where I stood; waist deep in a little cove of spring water. They laughed until they were too weak to move and as embarrassed as I was, my determination to get them overcame my fallen pride and I struggled up the bank and nailed them as they lay in hysterics. “Nailed them” may be a bit strong here. Actually, I sort of waited out the hilarity, chagrined and dripping, then collected them for an impromptu march up Main Street to the Town Hall. I remember slogging up the middle of Main Street in Newland, my shoes full of water, my uniform soaked from the waist down leaving wet foot prints on the dry street. I think that they actually went with us because they were having so much fun that they could only anticipate more.

We seem to have come to a little truce after that. Isaac and I gave up trying to locate the stash after an unfruitful attempt at the art of interrogation and they moved future festivities elsewhere.


At Wednesday, 06 April, 2011 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a complete pos you are! Lol


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