Statuesque Tea Bags
It's Spring, and the senior boys are on the prowl.
Harold is a very real person, and was honored with a real name appearance because he was scheduled for surgery as the story was being written. His role in the story is fiction, but I suspect the character is close enough.
I know it may be hard for some of you to believe, but down here we're moving right on toward Spring. Of course, the first ones in line for it were the senior boys at the High School. They can see graduation coming, and feel a need to make the most of their current situation.
Mr. Ladd's boy Matt was the ringleader for last week's prank. He knew that Mr. Bowman had, in the basement of his store, an almost life size plastic statue of Elvis Presley. Now, Mr. Bowman has never come up with a credible story as to how he got the thing in the first place, much less a productive use for it. So when Matt and a few of his friends asked if they could borrow it, he gave in pretty easily.
He obviously didn't know what Matt had in mind. Last Tuesday night, Matt slipped into the empty school through that window in the band room that never seems to lock right. Then he shut down the power at the main breaker box and quietly opened the front door so his friends could bring the statue in and put it in the middle of the main lobby. After they finished, the accomplices hid in one of the classrooms. Matt closed the front door, propped open the side door to the parking lot, moved the hall light switches to "ON" and then retired to the utility room.
While this was going on, Matt's girlfriend Jessica was calling the Sheriff's office from the pay phone in front of the Mayflower, reporting a prowler at the High School. Jessica has a voice that would bring out a protective impulse in even the most hard boiled of public servants, so the dispatcher quickly put out the call.
Naturally, Deputy Jimmy was sent to take care of things. He covers just about everything in our little corner of the county. He's been here all his life, and not much gets past him. When Deputy Jimmy pulls you over, he doesn't ask for ID, 'cause he already knows who you are. He's much more likely to ask you (1) how your Mother is feeling these days and (2) how she would feel if she knew the foolishness he thinks you're about to get into. Of course, I only know about that from other people, not my own experience.
Deputy Jimmy actually has a pretty low arrest rate, but then we have a pretty low crime rate, and I don't think that's a coincidence.
His usual routine for a "prowler at the High School" call is to arrive conspicuously but deliberately, taking his time so that the culprits can finish papering the trees or repainting the big hunk of granite on the front lawn before he slowly gets out of his car and doesn't catch them.
I guess I need to explain the big rock. It's called the "Hanging Rock", but that's just to sound ominous and spooky. It was originally set up to honor Harold Hanig, a local boy who went off to World War II and became a pilot, and stayed in service afterwards. He was a pretty good story of local boy makes good, and the folks in town wanted to honor him. They put up that big old rock with a plaque on it in the front of the High School.
Of course, Harold was off in all parts of the world, and didn't make it back to town until he came for a visit the year I was a senior. He came by the High School and made a little speech in his uniform, and went out to see his monument.
Now, Harold's speech, as I remember it, was pretty standard recruiting and inspirational patriotic talk, and I don't think he wrote it himself. He didn't seem to be the type for flowery phrases.
We got a better glimpse of his personality when he walked out front and saw the rock with his plaque on it.
"It looks like a Goddam tombstone! I ain't ready for that yet!"
Well, this didn't go over too well with the Principal and the ladies from the PTA, but the senior boys loved it. That night several of us, I mean several of the boys went out and painted it bright Air Force Blue with Silver Stripes. I heard later he liked it a lot better that way.
Anyway, over the years, "Hanig's Rock" turned into "Hanging Rock", and it got painted a lot, in all sorts of colors, particularly in the Spring. So this was not the first time Jimmy had been dispatched to the school.
But this time was different.
He didn't see any new decorative features, but he did see the open side door. As he came up to the door, he reached for his flashlight, but changed his mind, thinking it would make him too conspicuous. He eased himself in and started moving slowly down the side of the hall. He thought he heard footsteps down the hall, but he wasn't sure.
As he moved to the other side of the hall to get a better angle, Jimmy saw the threatening figure in the shadows of the lobby. Without a conscious thought, he instantly pulled his pistol and drew down on Elvis.
Elvis actually did that pretty well.
"PUT YOUR HANDS UP! NOW!"
Elvis' cooperation level dropped with this command, and Jimmy got more nervous. If "up" didn't work, he'd try "down".
"ON THE FLOOR! NOW! MOVE IT!"
Elvis refused to drop. Just then, a gust of wind hit the trees in front of the school, and the whirling shadows of the street lights made it look like Elvis was on the attack.
"OH, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON'T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU!"
That was enough for Matt. He hit the main breaker, and bright light and laughing teenagers filled the halls. Jimmy immediately realized he'd been had. He very carefully reholstered his pistol, checking it for safety. Three times.
"OK, boys, very funny. You got me, fair and square." He then went over and made a big show of reading Elvis his rights, carefully emphasizing his right to remain silent.
I drove by about this time, coming back from a beer and ice cream run. I saw the lights and all the commotion, and pulled in next to Jimmy's car. I got several versions of the story as the kids left, proud of their little joke.
Mr. Henry also showed up about then because, well, Mr. Henry somehow always shows up when something interesting is going on.
Jimmy stayed jovial and cheerful as he shooed the boys out and secured the building, but as he walked back to his car he just seemed to deflate, like a Valentine's balloon that had stayed around 'til March.
He wouldn't even look at us, he just slumped against the door and started talking.
"I can't believe it! The closest I've ever come to firing my gun for real, and it's a damn plastic statue. I try to do everything right, and I wind up looking like a fool. But I don't mind telling you, I was scared! I was flat scared for sure, and I almost pulled the trigger. And what's more, I don't know if I was more afraid of him getting' me, or me shootin' him..."
There was a long silence. I tried to think of something to say, but came up empty. I looked over at Mr. Henry, hoping for a little help, some of his convoluted philosophical ramblings.
But Mr. Henry was brief. "You're a good man, Jimmy."
That didn't deem too eloquent to me, but it seemed to have the desired effect. I guess Jimmy considered the source and took it as high praise.
Deputy Jimmy was still upset, but he seemed to stand up a bit taller. Then he nodded at us, got in his car and drove away.
I halfway expected more discussion from Mr. Henry, but the issue seemed closed. He did go over and look at the rock for a few minutes, and when he came back to the truck he said, "Any more word from your son?".
"Well," I said, "I got some bad news and some good news."
There was just a flicker of concern on Mr. Henry's face, before he realized the bad news couldn't be real bad, or he would have known already.
"OK," he said, "What's the bad news?"
"His big ol' truck broke down." I tried to keep a straight face.
"And the good news?" said Mr. Henry, playing along.
"It broke down in Kuwait, not Iraq! So he's going to stay there the last few weeks until he comes home."
Mr. Henry looked pleased. "So he's done with the war?"
"That's right," I said. "For him at least, Elvis has left the building."