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A Brave Mayor Takes on the Criminal Element
Part 1 of a four-part short story

By: Columnist Carl Langley
web posted November 19, 2007
GUEST COLUMN – The sun was an hour away from filtering through the large stand of pines along the side of the street as the mayor wheeled his ramshackle Vega around the curve leading to his home. The Vega, a piece of junk bought during the midst of a divorce, wheezed and gasped at every stroke of a piston.

As the mayor, who was returning from a football game in Jacksonville, Fla., rounded the curve he saw up ahead, in the dim light of his front yard, a glow like that of a lantern running low on fuel. He assumed it was the reflection from a street light glancing off the back window of his Cadillac.

The minute he drove into the yard he realized the mistake. The glow came from the dying embers of a blaze that had consumed his previously owned Cadillac. It was a smoking hulk, with only the chrome bumper, later salvaged and sold for $60 dollars, escaping the wrath of flames hot enough to melt the car’s alternator.

“Those no good rotten skunks,” the mayor screamed as he leaped from the Vega. True to form the Vega kept running for several minutes after the ignition key was removed. It finally died out five minutes later but the mayor didn’t notice. His dream car was gone.
The embattled mayor unlocked the back door of his house, ran to the telephone, dialed 911 and reported the crime. Fortunately, his night policeman, or night watchman as you have it, was awake at the time and sitting at city hall. He was waiting for daylight so he could go home and take his usual breakfast of biscuits and gravy.

“Get me a crime unit here,” the mayor shouted to the policeman, who, it later turned out had failed to patrol the neighborhood in which the mayor resided. He explained that he was so occupied with paperwork (presumably reading a fishing magazine and the morning newspapers) he was unable to complete a full patrol in the hours before dawn.
Two hours after the mayor pleaded for help the sheriff’s department dispatched a man who supposedly was an arson investigator and general forensics expert rolled into one. The investigator got out of his car and swaggered into the yard.

While the mayor and his night watchman stood by in the yard a few feet from the smoking Cadillac the investigator strolled around the car several times. The investigator kept bobbing his head up and down and saying “aha, aha” over and over.

“This car was deliberately set on fire,” the investigator remarked to the policeman, who nodded his head in agreement. He operated on the same intelligence level as the investigator. “Get him out of here before I kill him,” the mayor shouted to his policeman. The investigator fled to his car, yelling out as he drove away that a report would be filed about the outrage to the mayor’s car. That was just what the mayor needed, a promise of more paperwork.

The mayor’s night watchman suddenly remembered that he had to check on the local grade school, leaped in his car and drove away. Unknown to the mayor, the policeman had been using the patrol car to ferry his two kids and their friends to school each morning. He also used the patrol car to take his wife to the hairdresser and shopping. In short, he had turned the town police car into his second personal car.

As the policeman drove away, the mayor stormed back into the house, pulled open the door to a pantry below his sink, dragged out a bottle of Jim Beam and took a deep swig. He took another swig, then another swig. Between swigs he cursed, gazed into the ceiling and vowed revenge, even if it meant tracking to the ends of the earth the ones who had burned his car.

The burning of the car on the night of the Gator Bowl football game in 1980 was just the beginning of a local nightmare that was going national. The day after the car burning the incident made the local newspapers, then went out on the national wire service. Soon radio talk show hosts were calling the mayor, asking what was going on and what he intended to do about it.

“I intend to kill them all,” the mayor remarked at one point during the first day of the calls. He was talking to a radio talk show host in Tulsa, Okla., who really could care less about the mayor’s car but was glad to chat it up. Then the mayor got smart. He decided it was more prudent to clam up, while charting out a course of action and plotting his revenge. He refused to talk to the media and took refuge in his office.

Several weeks after the mayor’s car was burned the chief executive was driving down Main Street in his wheezing clunker one morning when he spotted a juvenile delinquent loitering at a street corner. The mayor pulled over, flashed a big smile and offered the lad a ride.

The wary, jittery juvenile declined the offer, realizing that it could be the last ride he ever took. The refusal prompted the mayor to pull over to the curb, get out of the Vega and approach the little skunk. The mayor had a message to deliver and he delivered it in the vernacular of the street. “You little bastard, you and your buddies burned my car,” the mayor said. “I am going to kill you, and then I am going to kill your buddies, one by one.”
The juvenile, with the mayor’s threats ringing in his ears, fled up the street and turned into a yard. He disappeared in some brush behind a house. The mayor got back in his car and drove to city hall. It was going to be a busy day because he had to complete his application for federal funding he needed to build a new town hall.

His request for $465,000 in federal aid was destined to be approved, but some slippery county school board members would steal most of that from him. The $330,000 they lifted right out of the mayor’s purse was supposed to go for improvements at the town’s elementary school but ended up at a high school at the county seat. The mayor later observed that some school board members make the Mafia look like choir boys.
The mayor’s municipal construction plans included building a jail, where he could keep the misfits close at hand and observe their actions. The jail also could be used to house stray dogs, who at the time were being caught by the dozens in a trapping program started by the mayor.

A councilman with an IQ slightly higher than that of a cabbage wanted to put all the dogs in a small block building, then use the exhaust from a town truck to send them over the Rainbow Bridge. Declining the councilman’s recommendation, the mayor told the deranged one, “That’s all we need, gassing dogs and getting pet lovers in an uproar. We got people in this town who will shoot you for mistreating pets before they get riled up over mistreatment of their children or spouses.”

With the juvenile in deep hiding and an uneasy quiet settling over the town, the mayor went about his usual routine, which consisted mainly of trying to figure out where his on-duty police officer was hanging out in the afternoon and signing some paper work demanded by state and federal bureaucrats. He also had to answer the usual run of complaints you hear in a small town.

One complaint came from a resident whose house (a mobile home) was missed by the garbage collectors. The sanitation technicians, as bureaucrats call them, should have taken away the whole house, the mayor remarked. The mobile home later was taken away by the man’s wife while he was at work. Her boyfriend hitched it to a heavy-duty pickup truck and they headed north. Another protest came from a woman complaining about a barking dog. The mayor told the town clerk the dog should have filed a complaint about her. To his regret, the woman remained in town and became more belligerent about barking dogs.

Several days after the mayor’s run-in with the juvenile, a call came into city hall from the sheriff’s department. On the other end of the line was a detective (he had been working as a termite control inspector before the sheriff pronounced him as the coming of Sherlock Holmes). The detective wanted to speak to the mayor. The mayor took the telephone from the town clerk and announced himself. A voice on the other end of the line asked the mayor, in an officious, demanding tone, if he had uttered a threat against a young man named Tim. More specifically, the officer wanted to know if the mayor had threatened to kill Tim.

“I sure did threaten to kill him, and that’s what I intend to do,” the mayor blared into the phone as veins bulged in his neck. “What’s more, I am going to kill his worthless buddies.” The mayor then told the detective (who by now probably wished he had never made the call), “I will kill you, too, if you make any attempt to screw around with my own personal investigation.” The phone went silent at the sheriff‘s department end.

As it turned out, justice was a little slow in getting into town but a few days later it arrived. Another investigator called to inform the mayor that a young man named Tim had confessed to burning the mayor’s car and was going to plead guilty in the next session of criminal court. The mayor’s threat to terminate Tim had turned the trick.
While the mayor stayed busy planning his strategy to get the federal and state funds for the new city hall and plotting his revenge against Tim and his pals, the wheels of justice in the car burning case creaked along, moving like molasses on a freezing day at the county courthouse. But on a Monday morning six months later, he got word through the street network that Tim had gone before a judge with a tearful admission of his guilt but had refused to implicate his associates.

The judge, who was a former House member, bail hearing lawyer and full-time political hack who associates say was not potty trained until the age of 12, was pulled out of the judicial grab bag to take Tim’s guilty plea. After hearing accounts of how Tim and his worthless friends had packed the mayor’s car with newspapers and straw, then set it ablaze, the judge acted.

The robed Mongoloid proving daily that this state’s legislature rewards incompetence with regularity, gave Tim three years. But instead of a lengthy stay in the state penitentiary he ordered the little weasel to go past jail and spend two years on probation. He also ordered Tim to pay the mayor $1,800 for his car, with the payment to be made monthly at $50 a whack.

Needless to say, the mayor, who knew Tim never worked and never possessed $50 unless he stole it from someone else, was enraged. The mayor had deliberately stayed away from the courthouse for fear of losing control, leaping over the railing separating spectators from trial participants, grabbing Tim by the throat and choking the life out of the little bastard. The mayor gets high marks for his prudence, but the mayor gave the judge low marks for his stupidity.

With the judge’s “non-sentence” confirmed, the mayor rushed to city hall, called the city clerk away from more pressing duties (reading a gardening catalog and filling out a Sears order blank for some pillow cases and sheets) and told her to “take a letter.” A copy of the letter has long disappeared down whatever black hole government documents go, but it was a rousing chastisement, denunciation and denial of the judge.
“Look you idiot,” the mayor began, “he didn’t burn my damned car in installments, and I want full payment for my car, all at one whack.” It was the opening sentence after the customary salutation, in which the mayor forgot to address the judge as The Honorable, certainly an oversight in the haste of its preparation.

As expected, the mayor’s letter to the judge went unanswered. The clerk, in a mood that swung between full-blown panic and high anxiety, had grown to like the mayor and feared he would be jailed for contempt but nothing ever happened. The judge apparently didn’t want to call up the mayor and have his incompetence and stupidity laid bare before the world. The mayor had closed his letter to the judge by warning the robed one of the pitfalls of impertinence. The mayor’s failure to get justice in his case was a cruel harbinger of darker days to come - and there would be a lot of them before he was able to tame the town and bring its rowdies to justice.

(To be continued)

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