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Every department has at least one officer who doesn’t quite beat the same drum as the others. His, or her, rhythm is slightly off. They can’t quite fit in no matter how hard they try. Sure, everyone likes this person, and they don’t really do anything that’s too weird, yet they always seem to do, well dumb stuff.

Enter my friend Franklin and his first experience with, well, this …

The honky-tonk nightclub was situated just outside the city limits. They were open for business on Saturday nights only and the place was so popular it didn’t take long for the gravel parking lot to fill to capacity with souped-up cars and dented and dusty pickup trucks with gun racks mounted in the rear windows.

Male patrons slicked their hair with Brylcreem or Butch Wax and they wore their best jeans, Stetson hats, dinner-plate-size belt buckles shaped like the state of Texas or a gun of some sort, and spit-shined cowboy boots made of cow, snake, or gator hide, or a combination of two or more. Sometimes the fancier snake hide adorned boots were reserved for Sunday attire along with a store-bought Sears and Roebuck striped suit and pearly-white socks. Many strapped hunting knives to their belts—their handles carved from deer antlers or hunks of wood cut from trees that once stood on family land.

Women curled and teased their hair until it reached heights only before seen by birds, power company linemen, and airline pilots, and then they loaded it with enough Aqua Net to keep it tightly in place for an entire evening of two-stepping and do-si-doing. They slipped into their finest square-dancing dresses and they waited on their front porches for one of those gussied-up farm trucks to pull into the driveway, and when it did … well, “Yipee ki-yay” the night had begun.

This club, the 95 Dance Hall, allowed brown-bagging (bring your own liquor), otherwise known as BYOB—bring your own bottle—because they didn’t have a license to sell alcohol. but they did supply ice and various mixers/chasers. The ice was freshly cracked from 50 lb blocks purchased that afternoon from the local ice and coal business.

Club workers filled galvanized washtubs with the ice and it was free for the taking, with the price of admission. In addition to counter-wiping and keeping a layer of freshly-scattered sawdust on the floor (the ground wood made for a nice “slicker’d-up dance surface, so I was told), the dancehall staff—the wife of the club owner, their kids, and the wives of the steel and banjo platers—refilled the large metal containers throughout the evening as the frozen chunks of water melted.

By 10 p.m, the 95 Dance Hall was flat-out jumpin’. The house band, the Virginia Barn Dance Boys, was in high gear—fiddling, steel-guitaring, banjo-pickin’, and yodelin’ to all get out. Fancy dresses twirled. Scuffed boot heels clicked and tapped against the wood flooring. Drinks disappeared. Bottles emptied. Vision blurred and speech slurred. Voices and laughter grew louder and louder. The music became more frantic. The drummer rat-a-tatted at machine gun pace … And then the inevitable happened.

Somebody winked at somebody’s best girl and as quick as a fresh green grass goes through a goose, the place erupted into a free-for-all. Fists. Chairs. More fists. More chairs. Then, a knife. And then some blood. And then a call to the sheriff’s office. “HELP!”

Now’s a good time to introduce you to our department’s “one guy.” Remember the description above … doesn’t quite beat the same drum, etc.?

Okay, this is Franklin (not his real name, of course), a thin black man who was was quiet and somewhat shy, especially around women. He rarely spoke unless spoken to. He wore thick glasses with black rims and his uniform, the brown over tan, was always, without fail, neatly pressed with creases sharp enough to peel an apple and shoes so shiny they reflected moonlight on a cloudy night.

Franklin did not like to get his clothes dirty. In fact, he freaked out if a speck of mud marred the surface of his shoes and stopped whatever he was doing to clean and polish them. He wore a tie even when it wasn’t required. And he did not, absolutely did not, would not, nor ever, exceeded the speed limit. Even when responding to the worst of the worst emergency calls. 55 meant 55 and by God 55 is where the needle stopped. Dead on the double nickels. Not one mile per hour more.

Franklin was my friend. A good friend too. But he was a bit quirky, to say the least.

I’d seen Franklin heading to murders-in-progress with red lights flashing and spinning and flickering, with siren wailing and screaming like a baby with a handful of thumbtacks in their diaper, but the posted speed limit was 45 mph so …

Franklin was an extremely cautious driver in other ways too. He utilized every safe driving tactic taught to him at the academy and he always drove with both hands on the wheel, one positioned at ten and the other at two. His seat was pulled nearly all the way forward and even then he leaned forward so close to the steering wheel that it nearly rubbed his chin at every curve and turn (he couldn’t see very well at night was his explanation for leaning close to the windshield). Blind as a bat is what we all thought.

This particular night there were four of us working the late shift—Franklin, two others, and me—and we were all dispatched to the “fight with weapons call.” Having been to a few of those calls at the nightclub over the years I knew we’d be outnumbered and I knew we’d have to fight, going toe-to-toe with practically every bumpkin in the county who used the opportunity as a free pass to punch a cop . Therefore, since I’ve never been all that fond of pain, or bleeding, I requested backup from the state police and from a nearby city.

By the time we arrived, the fight had spilled out into the parking lot. So we, three deputies and several backup officers from surrounding jurisdictions, began the task of breaking up the massive brawl, which quickly turned into a “them against us” battle.

We were well into the thick of it when we heard a squalling and yelping siren coming our way. A few seconds later a brown sheriff’s office patrol car rolled slowly into the parking lot with siren and lights still in full “I mean business” mode. It was, of course, Franklin, the fourth member of the night shift.

Seriously, you’ve got to picture this to appreciate it. Fifteen cops and forty or so cowboys going to it in the parking lot. Fists flying, books kicking, handcuffs clicking, batons swinging, clothing torn and dirty, heads bruised from contact with our lead-filled leather saps and wooden nightsticks, faces bruised and jaws stinging from fists covered with brass knuckles. And Franklin, calmly exiting his police car, then smoothing the wrinkles from his pants before slowly walking toward the massive battle.

Suddenly, it was like he, shiny-shoed Franklin, was sucked into a vacuum. In the blink of an eye, he was pulled into the fracas and was doing his best to restrain, arrest and, well, he was basically doing his best to stop people from hitting him.

We eventually gained control and arrested every fool we could lay our hands on and those troublemakers were hauled away to jail. Those of us who remained on the scene went inside the dance hall to speak with potential witnesses to a couple of pretty nasty stabbings. Franklin was one of the deputies who accompanied me inside.

We were a motley crew to say the least—clothing dirty, shoes scuffed, blood stains here and there, and cut and bruised and sufficiently battered.

Franklin looked as if he’d been dragged through a hog pen, beaten by club-wielding cave people, and then run through the hand-cranked wringer of his grandmother’s antique washing machine. His glasses sat slightly askew on the bridge of his nose. His upper lip was cut and the lower bruised and swollen.

When we stepped from the darkness into the festive interior of the 95 Dance Hall, the lead guitar player of the Virginia Barn Dance Boys was in the process of calling a square dance. Dancers on the floor dipped and swirled and twirled and ducked and hopped like their lives depended on their actions. They paid no attention to what had taken place outside.

The music, if one could call it that, was horrible. The fiddler was busy sawing away at the strings, producing screeches that would cause Poe to lose sleep. The drummer’s timing was off. Way off. First he was a half beat too fast, then his sticks tapped slightly slower than the rest of group’s caterwauling. His right foot pushed the pedal against the bass drum in total out-of-syncness with what his right foot and hands were trying to do. It was almost if that foot had a mind all it’s own.

The guy on the acoustic guitar apparently had never learned to properly tune his instrument. As a musician myself, the sound tap-danced on the raw ends of my nerves. But the crowd did not care. They were gettin’ it done like dancing was their nine-to-five job. Like the world would end if they didn’t go at it like politicians at a debate.

Franklin did not move into the club any further than five feet from the front double wooden doors. He simply stood there blinking his eyes as he looked at the spinning and blinking colored lights. At the dancers. The condensation-covered ice tubs that were now half full of water. Franklin looked like a kid at the circus for the first time.

When we finally wrapped up our investigation and were standing outside in the parking lot beside our respective patrol cars, I asked Franklin if he was okay. His battered lips split into a slightly crooked smile before he said, “I’m fine. It’s just that I’ve never seen so many white people at one time in their own environment. And they were Huck-a-Bucking their asses off. This (he pointed to the club) is just bizarre.”

Franklin shook his head from side to side and turned to walk away, but stopped to look back over his shoulder. He said, “You know I’m going to have nightmares over this, right?” Then he playfully two-stepped back to his car and just before climbing in he raised an arm over his head to give a thumbs-up. He let out a loud, “Yee-Haw!” as he slid into the driver’s seat.

We each stood in silence, and disbelief, that Franklin had displayed some sort of emotion and a bit of humor. It was way out of character for him.

We watched Franklin pull out onto the highway where he sped away, at no more than 45 mph, of course. He tooted his horn twice before rounding the curve that took him out of view.

To this day, whenever I see someone square-dancing on TV I immediately think of Franklin’s descriptive term for those specific gyrations and swirls and twirls.

Huck-A-Bucking, according to Franklin: a traditional dance where participants spin, twirl, stomp, duck, and bow to their partners while semi-following the instructions yelled out to them by a band leader who’s sometimes referred to as a caller. When mixed with alcoholic beverages, huck-a-bucking can quickly switch from fun to fighting. Although, fighting is sometimes considered fun by avid huck-a-buckers. 

Yee-Haw, y’all!

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You, Cap’n Rufus “Tater” Jenkins of the Cornsqueezins’ County Sheriff’s Office, had a long night answering call after call—he-saids, she-saids, chasing a Peeping Tom through back yards and alleys, a couple of drunks arguing over a near-empty bottle of Strawberry Hill, kids spray-painting stop signs, and the guy who insisted he was Jesus and attempted to prove it by damning you to hell a few dozen times after you refused to give him ten dollars for a hamburger he promised to repay on Tuesday.

Cap’n Rufus “Tater” Jenkins

Yep, a looonnnggg night and it was only half over when Jimmy Bob “Peanut” Lawson, Jr. decided to join forces with his good friend Jack Daniels to blacken both his wife’s eyes.

Well, Erlene, the wife, wasn’t about to stand for that nonsense so she poked ‘ol Peanut in the gut a couple of times with a dull kitchen knife. Didn’t break the skin, mind you, but the act was just enough to send Peanut off the deep end. Oh, he was plenty mad about it, a yellin’ and screamin’ and a stompin’ his Doc Martens across the linoleum, and kicking at Porkchop, the family’s adopted and long ago retired police dog. But Porkchop, having been to this freak show one too many times in the past, was a nervous wreck and knew to stay six or seven dog-dish-lengths away from his master’s size twelves.

Porkchop, having seen his better days, religiously adheres to the seven dog-dish rule of thumb.

After about ten minutes of plate, bowl, and pot-and-pan-throwing, one of the kids, a snot-nosed, freckle-faced boy, aptly named Junior Lawson, Jr., of around ten or so years of age, picked up the cordless and punched the speed dial button for 911.

That’s where you show up with lights and siren blazing and blaring to all get out. And Peanut, a Friday night regular, meets you in the dirt and weed-infested driveway, huffing and puffing like an old-time, coal-fired locomotive engine. In each hand, a backyard chicken he’d been choking in preparation of the Sunday noon meal.

Peanut is well-known in his town as a backyard chicken-choker.

Now here’s where things could get a little dicey. So it’s best to run down the checklist before diving right in. You know, size him up. Is Peanut armed this time? Is he really going to attack? Or, is all that chest-thumping and Tarzan-yelling just a show for the neighbors? Well, you’d better find out in a hurry because he’s starting to spin like the Tasmanian Devil.

So how can you tell if this guy means business, or not?  Well, there are a few telltale signs that could help you evaluate the situation since weapons and other items that are capable of puncturing your flesh, bones, and organs should be your first concern.

Here are some common indicators that Peanut, or the cousin visiting from the big city who’s standing off to the side of the trailer, is carrying a hidden gun or knife. Some are obvious, while others … not so much.

The first is a clear indicator.

Cousin Jimmy Buck from Swamp Holler, West Virginia

Signs the Suspect May Be Carrying a Weapon

1. It’s 97 degrees outside and Peanut, standing smack-dab in the center of the intersection at 9th and Main, is wearing his heavily-insulated, knee-length, blood-stained orange hunting coat. Yes, Einstein, he’s probably wearing it to hide a sawed-off shotgun, the one Daddy gave him for Christmas when he was three.

2. The tail of his flannel shirt is out, but one side is riding higher than the other. A great sign that he’s wearing a weapon on the “high side.”

3. Even wearing a shirt tail on the outside is a sign that he might be carrying a weapon. Unfortunately, it’s also a sign known to bad guys, which means they might recognize you as an undercover officer.

Signs that Peanut is about to attempt to stomp your butt into the mud

1. For some unknown reason, many offenders/would-be attackers seem to feel the need to rip off their shirts prior to delivering the first blow. So, when a drunk starts ripping cloth and zinging buttons across the Piggly Wiggly parking lot, well, that might be a good time to reach for the pepper spray because he’s subtly announced his intentions.

The standard shirt-ripping ritual is usually accompanied by lots of top-of-the-lung screaming and yelling, especially nasty comments about your wife and mother. Nasty comments about the family dog are optional.

They sometimes decide to rip off their shirts before engaging in battle. Other times, if the mood to fight strikes ’em just right, they’ll throw punches while wearing nothing but …

2. Another clue that Peanut is about “go for it” is when he starts glancing at a particular spot on your body, like your throat, stomach, or even a knee. Instantly, you should go on alert for a possible strike to that area because Peanut is announcing his intentions and he’s ready to pounce. Watch the eyes, for sure, but more importantly watch the hands.

New Picture

3. Peanut constantly glances to a spot behind you, or to a place off to your right just out of your line of sight. Watch out, because his partner may be approaching for a rear ambush. And, his partner just might be Mrs. Peanut. Yes, even though her “loving husband” had just moments ago beat the ever-loving snot out of her she’ll often defend her man until the bitter end. Unfortunately, the end sometimes results in a funeral … hers.

These quick glances are also good indicators that Peanut has a hidden weapon nearby. For example, you’ve stopped Peanut for drunk driving and he’s constantly glancing toward the glove compartment. Well, there’s a good chance that a weapon or other illegal items are concealed there.

The Spud family

4. The Lights Are On But Nobody’s Home – You arrive on scene and you approach Peanut, who is standing still, staring off into space. His jaw is clenched and he’s sweating profusely, even though you’re both standing in two feet of freshly-fallen New England snow (New England snow, to me, is the coldest snow on the planet). He doesn’t respond to you in any way, but you see the anger rising. Face is growing redder by the second. Veins poking out on his forehead. Eyes bulging. Yeah, you get the idea. Believe me, it is time to take a step back and start pulling every tool you’ve got on your duty belt because this guy’s getting ready to blow. Silence is definitely not golden in this case.

5. Peanut might be a “I’m not going to look at you” kind of personality. This is another indicator that an assault may be on the way. If he’s staring at place on the ground, refusing to listen and obey your verbal commands, then be prepared for an attack. At the very least, be prepared for a battle when the time comes to snap on the cuffs.

I guess a good rule of thumb is to always assume the worst, hope for the best.

Sometimes “the worst” happens when Mrs. Peanut becomes fed up with her abusive husband. Next thing you know she’s living in Swamp Holler with Cousin Jimmy Buck in his new doublewide.

Saturday 2345 hours – It was not at all unusual for the sheriff to schedule his patrol deputies to work the graveyard shift alone, covering the entire county with our nearest backup—a state trooper or a police officer from a nearby city, or a deputy or two from the next county over—sometimes 30-45 minutes away, or more.

At first, the thought of covering such a vast amount of real estate was a bit daunting. But we did it without complaint. After all, to question the high sheriff, a man as rough and gruff as any typically stereotyped southern TV sheriff, was practically a death sentence. Or, at the very least, a guaranteed trip to the unemployment line.

The boss seemed to enjoy applying pressure, holding his employees held tightly beneath his thumb. Needless to say, at times conditions, were a bit stressful, to say the least.

So this particular Saturday night, after enjoying a nice, hot TV dinner (single dad with daughter away for the weekend), I did the usual routine of walking to my driveway where I took a seat behind the wheel of my milk-chocolate-brown patrol car. I checked the light bar and wig-wag headlights to be sure they were working properly, moved a pair of cheap sunglasses from the dashboard to the center console, and then used the radio to let dispatch know I was on duty.

10-41, the 10-code in our neck of the woods for “On-Duty”

A few minutes later I was deep in the county, making the rounds to the various businesses—hotels, restaurants, bars, convenience stores, nightclubs, etc.—to let the night shift employees and partiers see a police car cruising through the parking lots. Not that it was any real crime deterrent, but it made the lonely clerks feel better. Seeing another human let them know they weren’t alone in the world. Those of you who work the late-night shifts know the feeling.

I also drove through the lots of businesses that had closed hours earlier, shining my spotlight through storefront windows and into alleyways, checking doors, and calling in the license plates and VIN numbers of cars that shouldn’t be parked where they were (sometimes a quick check revealed a stolen car or one that was used while committing a crime).

0115 hours – A little over an hour into the shift and I’d already covered a lot of ground. Nothing major had occurred. I’d checked a vehicle I spotted a hundred yards down a dirt path—a couple of half-dressed teens who’d steamed up the windows in dear old dad’s station wagon—, stopped a car that  suddenly veered from one side of the road to the other (the guy, a sort of rough boy with a large scorpion tattoo on his neck, said he’d dropped a Twinkee onto the floorboard and was trying to retrieve it, causing him to jerk the steering wheel).

I was heading to the north side of the county to make my rounds there when dispatch called to report a disturbance at a south-side hotel next to the interstate. She said she’d heard yelling in the background and then what could’ve been gun shots. I was at least 20 minutes away.I made the trip in fifteen, driving like a bat out of hell with my foot jamming the accelerator to the floor.

On the way, my alternating headlights, the rotating overhead lights, and the strobes in the back window, all winked and blinked and flashed at once, but were totally out of sync with one another. To add to the confusing light show, Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog spewed from the car speakers. John Bonham’s syncopated drumming, already sort but not quite of out of time with Page’s lightning-fast guitar licks, added a Twilight-Zonish back-beat to a constantly revolving kaleidoscope that should have been quite distracting. I, however, paid it no mind. Tunnel vision is normally a cop’s nemesis. This time, however, it kept my focus on the roadway and not the ten ring circus that was going on in and outside of my patrol car.

As I approached the chain hotel’s parking lot I turned off my lights and the radio (Zeppelin had long since finished their time on the turntable and the Beatles were then in high gear). I keyed the mic and signed 10-23 (arrived at scene).

The lot was packed with cars of all types, but I saw no signs of a fight. I decided to drive around the hotel to hopefully get a feel for what was going on before speaking with the night manager (often, callers exaggerate situations).

When I rounded the first corner I quickly realized that this was no exaggeration. I needed backup, and plenty of it. There must have 200 people outside, with at least 75 engaged in a massive fight. There were another 15 or 20 going at it on the upper walkways.

I told the dispatcher to send everyone and everyone she could find. A second later I heard the dispatcher calling for troopers and any other available help from the nearest city. Shoot, they could’ve sent every cop on the payroll and that still wouldn’t have been enough to suit me. At that point, I’d have welcome a boy scout troop and a church choir as long as they didn’t mind possibly loosing a couple of teeth.

I even saw one woman in the midst of delivering a flurry of punches to the head of another woman. The recipient of the vicious pounding was overdressed for parking lot brawling, to say the least. I say this because each time she was struck, the pearl necklace she wore whirled around her neck like a cowboy’s lasso.

10-33, our 10-code for “Officer Down” or “Officer Needs Assistance”

Delivering the “Hot Sauce.”

I checked my arsenal of weapons. I had my Beretta 9mm, a PR-24 (side handle baton), a riot-size can of pepperspray, and a shotgun. I looked back to the crowd. Then back to my little 9mm and tiny PR-24. Both seemed to be shrinking in size as the seconds passed. The odds were not in my favor.

I sounded a blast from my siren, hoping the masses would realize that the police were on the scene and ready to start kicking butt and taking prisoners. Nothing. No reaction whatsoever. Time for plan B, to sit in my car and wait for the cavalry, meanwhile, hoping the crowd wouldn’t turn my car over on its roof with me inside.

But doing nothing was just not in my nature. Instead, and sort of foolishly, I got out of my car with my trusty side-handle baton in my left hand and the other on my still-holstered gun. Somebody, and I didn’t care who, was going to jail.

Luckily, the troops began to arrive just as I hitched up my pants and waded into the pile, spraying a mist of pepperspray as I went. The other officers entered the fracas at different points, and we began to separate the instigators from those who really didn’t want to fight, but were because everyone else was doing it. Still, this was an all out brawl, the kind where police defensive tactics are often abandoned in favor of the ever popular “do-watcha-gotta-do” tactics. In fact, I remember seeing one officer using a baseball bat to prevent a group of men from attacking him. Where he got the bat, I haven’t a clue.

Eventually, the group’s size diminished and we were able to gain control with very few bruises, scrapes, and torn uniforms. Each of us arrested as many people as we had handcuffs and other restraints, and we had them packed in police cars like sardines. I’d arrived there alone, but left leading a long caravan of assorted police cars from several jurisdictions.

Once each of the little darlin’s had been booked and tucked in for the night, I thanked everyone for their help and watched as they all drove away. It was nearly 0500 when I headed back to the county for a final pass of the night.

0520 hours – Dispatch called to report a fight at yet another south-side hotel. Yes, she’d said, there were weapons involved and shots had been fired. Ironically, ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man was playing on the radio at the time I received the call. I looked down at the spot where my badge used to be attached to my shirt. My shoes were scuffed and my pants had streaks of ground-in asphalt across the knees and along the side of one leg. The knuckles on my gun hand hurt and my lower lip was swollen. Sharply dressed, I was not.

ZZ Top Was My Backup. Yes, “That” ZZ Top

I switched on my emergency lights and siren and mashed the gas pedal to the floor. Then I turned up the volume on the radio and I and ZZ Top headed south like a bat out of hell.

“Clean shirt, new shoes, and I don’t know where I am goin’ to…”

Man, I loved that job.

But these days, well, I’m 10-42 … Off Duty

Have mercy
A haw, haw, haw, haw