Did he or didn’t he? A Time for True Confessions.

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I WAS ALWAYS in a quandary.

Guilt didn’t matter.

Neither did innocence.

My life at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was controlled by deadlines.

My final deadline each afternoon was two o’clock sharp.

It was there.

It was real.

Don’t miss it.

Here is the problem I had while working the police beat.

We could not use the name of any suspect unless one of two things happened.

The district attorney formally charged him with a crime.

Or he admitted to me in the presence of a police officer that he had indeed carried out the terrible deed.

Well, I could forget the first option as thought it didn’t exist. It didn’t.

Nobody was ever taken out of a jailhouse cell and hauled down to the courthouse to be appear before a judge and be officially charged until sometime after three o’clock.

My deadline was long gone by then.

So I spent my morning doing everything I could possibly do to convince some old drifter, drunk, or dapper Dan dandy to make a full-blown confession.

I walked across the street to the Piccadilly Cafeteria and brought them hot coffee.

I brought them breakfast.

Fried.

Scrambled.

Hard boiled.

Or poached.

Some preferred cigarettes for breakfast.

I brought them, too.

I prayed with them.

I prayed for them, their hand in mine.

I sang songs with them.

They may have been listening to a honky-tonk juke box the night before, but they all wanted to sing hymns when morning tore the cobwebs away from the ragged edges of their minds.

Just As I Am was always good to know.

So was Softly and Tenderly.

And Jesus Loves Me was as good as a prayer.

I’ll never forget Henry.

He was young.

He was built like a linebacker.

His hair was too long.

His hair was too greasy.

He smoked a lot, his fingers were yellow, and his teeth would scare a good dentist. They didn’t all go in the same direction. And most were the color of his fingers.

He was quiet.

He was calm.

His eyes were downcast.

He wanted his eggs raw and his coffee black.

Didn’t know any hymns, he said.

No use reading the bible, he said.

Too late for praying, he said.

A girl had been killed.

Someone had used an axe.

He cried when the police told him.

He cried most of the night.

“I loved her,” he told me.

“How long have you known her?” I asked.

“We met last night,” he said.

“That’s not long.”

“It was long enough.” He grinned amidst the tears. “She said she would marry me as soon as I got her a ring.”

“Hard to get one at night.”

“I found one,” he said.

“Where?”

“Pawn shop.”

“Was it open?”

“No.”

“Did you break in?”

“Just the glass.”

“Did she like the ring?”

“She never saw it.”

“What happened?”

“When I got back, she was dancing with somebody else.”

I had nothing to say.

Neither did he.

We stared at the walls for a couple of minutes, then he asked, “Will you call mama for me?”

I nodded that I would.

“I got some things I want you to tell her.”

I picked up my notebook and fished a pen out of my pocket. “Go ahead.”

“Tell her I love her.”

I wrote it down.

“Tell her I appreciate everything she’s done for me.”

I kept writing.

“Tell her I wouldn’t hurt her for anything in the world.”

I turned the page.

He paused.

“Anything else,” I asked.

“Tell her I didn’t mean to kill the bitch.”

He started crying again.

I walked out of the cell and went straight to the telephone.

I didn’t call mama.

I called my editor.

He was sitting on deadline.

I would talk to mama later.

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of Deadline News.

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