In Beban’s Coral, a bar in Chowchilla California, a guy offered me a thousand dollars to kill a lawyer, one he didn’t know. The lawyer was defending a kid who had helped kidnap a bunch of local children from a school bus. The kidnappers stashed the children in a buried truck body and frankly the kids probably would have died there except that they escaped. Anyway, at Beban’s Coral a bunch of the local boys had convinced themselves — not unreasonably, if you think about it — that crafty big city lawyers were going to get the kidnappers off and they didn’t like it. So I was a stranger and this murder for hire idea was justice, as far as the guy was concerned.
My friend Wayne King came outside the bar looking for me and I told him about the deal. Wayne worked for the New York paper and was there like me to attend the arraignment of the kidnapper (then still the alleged, but later the convicted and still imprisoned, so the murder was not really going to be necessary as it turned out). Wayne, being a Southerner, had a really different sensibility about all this than I. He figured that sooner or later somebody in Beban’s would get drunk or greedy enough to actually do the assassination and he, Wayne, wanted me to tip the police. This is just exactly how it happens, he said, it being the kind of horrific humN violence a reporter in the American South had seen way too much of. So Wayne insisted, in fact, kind of forced me and I did warn the Chowchilla Chief of Police. And nobody killed the lawyer, or to my knowledge even tried.
But once in a while I think about this, and leave a message for the lawyer that in a way he kind of owes me a thousand dollars. I don’t want the money so much as I hope it might occur to him that he has a reporter to thank for his life. Wayne, not me. Not that I’d have done any killing of course, but I didn’t really know much about small towns, and ole boys drinking Salty Dogs at ten in the morning, and rage. Wayne knew that stuff.