The expansion of a song into a short story – by the end, one will have little to do with the other – continues with its penultimate part.
As clueless as he had felt at any time in his life, Jerry Lowndes knocked on the door of Room 227 of the Nocono Lodge, where he had been arrested. A voice from inside said, “Use your key.”
Amazingly, he still had it. It worked.
“Sit down,” said the deputy who had delivered Jerry from incarceration early that morning. “I’m Ronnie Shingler. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”
Lowndes certainly suspected as much. He’d wracked his brain all day. Was he getting some kind of informal sentence of community service? Of course not. What was the need for setting him up, which was obviously what had happened? He was grateful for not being ruined, but what was the need of holding that ruination over his head? He’d called Laurie Bigelow, but it had not been a lengthy exchange.
Jerry: “You set me up.”
Laurie: “You had it coming.”
Now it was time to find out what the hell was going on. He sat down.
“This is going to take a while,” Shingler said, “but I want you to know what you’re getting into.”
Shingler made no mention of there being any option.
“The county administrator is a fellow named Bob Siderowf,” Shingler said. “A few years ago, Bob got together with me and the sheriff, and he talked about the need to raise some money. Every government entity has run into the same thing over the past decade. We’ve had this rise of doctrinaire conservatives who have taken this solemn oath not to raise any tax for any reason, so we’ve started running our law-enforcement operations for profit. We send our cars out on the interstate to horn in on the Highway Patrol’s business. We run speed traps just over the top of every hill. When some kid gets arrested for anything, we tack on mandatory collect calls and service charges and court costs, and we say folks got to pay for the cost of services like fire and ambulances, which might be fair if it weren’t for the fact that all those salaries get paid whether the personnel is hauling ass out to some house or not. So the people who got money don’t have to spend more of it, we stick it to the people who ain’t got none. Me and some of the boys got together and figured out a new way to bring some money in. It works real well, but it’s got to be a secret ‘cause it just happens to be illegal.”
“Well, shit, sounds like I’m poster boy for who you trying to help,” Lowndes cracked.
“Well, Jerry, you are ideal, I’ll give you that.
“What we still do is try to keep the county free of drugs. Where the money comes in is when we take the pot we confiscate and spread it around to other places. We use some of it for the purposes of law enforcement. For instance, some of that marijuana was used to nab you.”
“Deputy Shingler …”
“Please call me Ronnie.”
“Ronnie, I don’t even smoke pot as a general rule. If Laurie hadn’t pulled some out …”
“And if you hadn’t been interested in getting in her pants …”
“Obviously, we had factored all that in, Jerry.”
“Be that as it may, let me finish what I got to say. You travel a lot, and you don’t just cover one sport. You go to the races at Charlotte and Martinsville and Richmond. You’re at the ballgames in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham, Winston-Salem, sometimes even Boone and Greenville. We just need somebody to make deliveries, and it can’t be just anybody ‘cause it’s got to be safe. Having you transport it is as safe as we can get.”
“Look, there’s nothing to it. Everything is set up. We can cover you here in the county, but we need someone who is smart, reliable, relaxed, and professional. It’s easy. Maybe you walk into a hotel lobby to check in. You carry a briefcase. You set it on the floor, talk to the clerk, get your room key. Then you turn around, leave the briefcase and pick up the one sitting on the floor that the fellow behind you brought with him. He takes yours. Same way at a restaurant. Maybe it’s a little backpack. Dude meets you for dinner. He doesn’t look suspicious, either. You leave. He takes yours. You take his. There’s a variety of methods, all of them safe and all of them foolproof as long as we ain’t got fools doing them. We ain’t never had one yet, and we’re not going to.”
“How do you do it? You know, don’t youhave to account for everything you confiscate?”
“Yes, but it’s all a matter of getting the right people in the right places. One of the things that makes it tough to be a cop is it don’t pay much. If a cop ain’t on the take, he can’t support a family. It ain’t getting no better and ain’t gon’ get no better ‘cause the money’s not there.”
“So, you’re saying that the county’s selling drugs so that school kids can get their books,” Lowndes said.
“That’s not the case directly,” Shingler said, “but that’s the basic idea.
“Not only do you not need the expense of being busted for marijuana, but you’re like a cop, Jerry. You need the money, too.”
“Damned if that ain’t true.”
“Five hundred bucks a week, minimum. More if, you know, it’s more than once in, say, a week. I’m generous.”
“At some point, doesn’t there have to be some … certification of what happens to the pot?”
“Let’s just say something gets incinerated,” Shingler said. “It may be shredded paper. It may be grass clippings or pine needles. It’s just a matter of having the right people in charge. We’ve got a good bit of control over how people are slotted, and believe it or not, there really aren’t all that many people who know what’s going on.”
“And I don’t have any choice.”
“You don’t have any choice.” Shingler pulled out a newspaper clipping. “This is a column of yours, Jerry. Let me read to you what you wrote.”
One of the great myths of journalism is that a reporter can’t keep a secret. Oh, he can keep a secret. You tell him it’s a secret, that it’s off the record, and he won’t even tell his mama. The trouble is, if you don’t tell him it’s a secret, it’s his job to tell the whole world.
“I’m really hoping, Jerry, you weren’t just whistling ‘Dixie.’”
“I was writing about the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Ronnie.”
“You were writing about this job, Jerry. You just didn’t know it.”
TO BE CONTINUED