For Mr. Good Boy
Trey R. Barker
I heard the
murmurs in the hallway, the half-uttered statements at the water cooler.
Eleven years ago,
I moved to north central Illinois and got a job at the local newspaper. The Sheriff’s resignation and guilty pleas
had ended just a few months earlier so tongues still wagged with the white-hot
intensity of a blow torch.
Because I grew up
in Texas, where we grow dirty sheriffs the size of skyscrapers, where corruption
is not just embedded in our DNA…it is
our DNA, where election fraud and retaliation ain’t nothing but another day.
That entire story
was yesterday’s headlines, baby. Yeah, The New Yorker had done stories and the
AP had been all over it; the Chicago
Tribune had had reporters trolling north central Illinois for months and
the Illinois Attorney General had investigated everyone that sheriff had ever
talked to, ever arrested, ever slept with, ever even breathed on for crap’s sake.
In that one, a
young officer had tried to serve an arrest warrant on a two-bit bully in a tiny
town just outside’a Nowheresville. The
officer ended up dead and the murderer killed another couple in front of their
young daughter before blasting it out with cops in a shoot-out that left the
murderer with a bullet in his face but somehow alive.
exception of trial, the mechanics of that story had played out, but I was
tracking down details. I had a friend
who’s fiancée was law enforcement. The
fiancée thought maybe, if I showed the right kind of interest, the cops
involved might talk to me. Not about the
shots and the deaths, but about the adrenaline, about the thoughts and pounding
hearts. About what it was like to taste
So while my
newspaper colleagues were talking about the local sheriff, my interest was
miles and miles away.
Up until the
water cooler talk shifted.
“…what about the
“…no way you can prove intent….”
matter…murder is murder….”
on. Murder is a whole different thang,
wasn’t the sheriff’s re-election campaign trying to raffle off a $12,000 Harley
Davidson but not selling enough tickets to pay for it so choosing a ‘winner’
who didn’t actually exist (and said winner’s name might have been…might have been…the name the dirty
sheriff used when he was undercover on the drug task force) before destroying
all the remaining tickets and most of the records. This wasn’t billing the county for more than
200 cell phone calls made from Illinois to his girlfriend in Texas (Lubbock, in
fact, where at the time the sheriff was calling her, I was attending Texas Tech
University…how is that for some fucked up synchronicity?). This wasn’t lying to a grand jury.
was murder; Cain and Abel stuff.
That caught my attention.
Estate of Sims v. County of Bureau (7th
1999 TMS suffered a fatal heart attack in her home in Tiskilwa, Illinois. The
only person present at the time was Bureau County Sheriff, whose alleged
campaign fraud was the subject of a story S was investigating for the local
the paper I worked for, but one in another county. And why was another county covering election
fraud rather than the local boys?
Because the local boys were scared of retaliation…from the sheriff.
again, so was she.
had expressed concern to others that [the sheriff] might retaliate against her
for writing the story.” (7th
the sheriff types up a letter and takes it to the post office for bulk mailing
to the reporter’s entire hometown. That
letter accused the reporter’s husband of “…past and current felonious criminal
conduct.” (7th Cir.)
never knew exactly what bullshit the letter was slinging, but there were
it was, it was harsh enough and horrible enough to give the reporter a heart
attack. She was a big woman with a
well-known heart condition and when the family sued, they said the sheriff knew
the letter would give her a fatal heart attack.
That part is bullshit. The
sheriff didn’t know what the reaction would be.
Yeah, the odds played in his favor, but he didn’t know for sure.
approximately 12:30 p.m., S did suffer a fatal heart attack. [The sheriff] radioed
for an ambulance at 12:47 p.m., but by the time the paramedics arrived at 12:54
p.m., S was not breathing and did not have a pulse.” (7th Cir.)
let’s take a look at that right there.
Heart attack at 12:30, he radioed for help at 12:47. Seventeen minutes, roughly, of watching her
gasp and wheeze and clutch her chest and arm.
Did she beg for help? Was she even
able to talk?
he radioed for help, he called the post office to ask about possible criminal
penalties for bulk-mailing defamatory letters and whether or not those letters
could be traced back to the person who mailed them.
was worried about the Feds sniffing around on his post office beef and while he
sorted that out, she lay at his feet fucking dying.
the inevitable investigation got rolling, when the questions came fast and
furious at this sheriff who suddenly found himself under siege, he told
everyone he’d wanted to save her by performing CPR…but his rubber gloves kept
that one broke and he didn’t have any others, but that they kept breaking. In other words, he replaced them and they
broke and he replaced them again and they broke…and again and again.
a quick aside, I now work in law enforcement and I’ve got an entire box of
latex gloves in my squad car. Probably
200 gloves in that box. The thing
is? I’ve never broken a single glove. I’ve searched houses and cars, people and
even animals wearing bandannas and sweaters.
Never broken a glove.)
this was the story, and not even all of the story, there are lots more
incidents that came to light during the investigation. But ultimately, in a deal with the Attorney
General’s office, the sheriff pleaded to felony campaign fraud.
Honestly, I’m not
sure causation could ever be proven between him and her fatal heart attack, but
circumstantially it was fairly straight up.
So the why a man
would – allegedly – go to these lengths to head off a story about low-rent campaign
fraud rolled around in my head for ten years.
I never really thought about doing anything with it literarily, but I
did study on it from time to time.
Then along came
Ron Earl. Sent me an email saying,
roughly, write me a story or I’ll blow your balls off with a really small gun
so that it doesn’t actually kill you but takes you a while to bleed to death.
How can I turn
down an invite like that?
So I started a
story. And it blew. And I started another. And it blew worse. For whatever reason, I couldn’t write squat.
In frustration, I
decided to tell Ron Earl to eat my shorts.
I couldn’t get anything working for him so he should move on. I put the project outta my head and kept
working on the new novel (Exit Blood,
available next March from Down and Out Books, if you can dig it!).
But while I
worked the novel, my brain percolated around the sheriff and the next damn
thing I knew, the story “A Good Son” was done.
Obviously some of the details are different, but I did follow out the
rumors of what I’d heard was in the letter.
Other than the
sheriff showing a letter to a large woman and standing by while she died,
nothing in my story happened.
As far as you
know, anyway. And I won’t tell you any
different unless you buy really good whiskey…
…and lots of it.