· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge: More than a Bad Check Artist ·
It’s Tuesday, January 25, 1927 in Hutchinson, Kansas. Cora Brown, 32, matron and cook at the Reno County Jail, and prisoner Anna Lamberson, 24, are visiting, sewing, and hanging curtains in the sheriff’s living quarters.
“Anna, so far you’re the best dressed female prisoner who’s ever walked in our door,” said Cora Brown, matron at the Reno County Jail. “Despite your jailhouse clothing, you still look fashionable in your bobbed brunette hair and slim figure.”
“The officers didn’t even let me get my makeup before they brought me in,” complained Anna.
“You’ll have everything you were wearing returned to you as soon as you’re released or transferred, including your gorgeous one-piece dress with the pleats,” said Cora. “And, of course, your stunning red cloche hat,” she added.
“I don’t need my outfit here,” commented the county prisoner, “but I sure could use a smoke.”
“Now, I can help you with that request,” said Cora, as she stood up, left the room, and returned with a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes. “Anna, I really appreciate your seamstress work. The new curtains are already brightening up this room. It’s not every day that we have someone here with your skills.”
“I’m glad to help,” replied Anna as she again measured twice before cutting the fabric. “Being in your jailhouse home is a nice alternative to being locked up in an old smelly cage.
“Do you think I’ll be here long?”
“Oh, I can’t even guess,” said Cora. “In my few weeks living here, I’ve seen people confess to the sheriff and the county attorney, and the next day they’re whisked away to the reformatory or prison. And I’ve heard of criminal cases taking a couple of months before a trial even starts.”
“Someone was telling me this morning,” Anna said, “that a guy she knew was arrested for grand larceny, pled guilty, was sentenced to the reformatory, but was immediately paroled to former Sheriff Jess Langford. Is that true?”
“Yes, I believe that’s right,” agreed Cora.
“So, it’s not what you’ve done, it’s who you know?” challenged Anna.
“Before Judge Fairchild paroles anyone, he considers a person’s age, attitude, and if it’s the first time they’ve been in trouble,” explained Cora.
“Power corrupts justice,” said Anna. “My boyfriend gets out of jail on a $1,500 fraud charge, while I’m sitting in the hoosegow after writing a worthless check to the Standard Oil Company for $2.40. When he gets arrested for drunkenness, chasing me with a crank, throwing a brick at the lady’s car who stopped to help me, and beating me up, he’s referred to as an alleged offender, while I’m labeled a bad check artist.”
“I understand that you don’t have money for a bond or you would have taken care of the worthless check,” said Cora.
“I’m not going to lie,” said Anna as she exhaled her cigarette smoke. “We have some wild parties at Lawrence’s house.
“He’s a good person but when he drinks, he’s not himself,” explained Anna. “He’s a veteran who was wounded, and a member of the American Legion; he works, but he can get violent and hurt people.”
“People like you, Anna. You deserve better treatment,” said Cora.
“I should have never poured out his high-powered whisky,” said Anna. “That wasn’t smart. And now he’s teaching me a lesson by not bonding me out. He’ll get his way. He always does. I’m not going to pursue the battery charge. It’s not worth it. It would only make things worse.”
“Do you like to read novels or go to the picture movies?” asked Anna.”
“The sheriff and I go on a weekly date to the theater,” said Cora, her face lighting up with a smile. “We were considering The Great Gatsby but we’ve heard that it’s mostly one big drunken party with promiscuous sex, and that Gatsby, played by William Baxter, made his fortune from bootlegging. For us, that movie wouldn’t be relaxing because the sheriff doesn’t want people thinking he approves of any illegal activity.”
“From what I’ve read, the movie’s nothing like the novel and not worth your time,” advised Anna. “F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, his wife, walked out of the theater after watching the first half of it because it was so poorly done.”
“We prefer westerns,” said Cora, “especially Tom Mix; he’s our kind of star. But we also like a good comedy. The shorts with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are always worth the admission charge of twenty-five cents or less. As to reading a book, since starting this job I don’t have time to read a long newspaper article.”
“By the way,” asked Anna, “did you know that Buster Keaton was born in Piqua, Kansas? He’s a war veteran too.”
“I didn’t know that,” answered Cora.
“The Great Gatsby‘s a great book but it’s also a sad book,” said Anna. “It’s about how we strive for the American Dream, but it’s impossible to attain.”
“I thought Gatsby started off penniless and made his fortune by illegally selling liquor,” Cora commented.
“That’s right,” said Anna, “he was a bootlegger and gambler. He became immensely wealthy, but he wasn’t accepted by the people with old money, and he never got what he wanted, a life with Daisy, who was married.”
“Oh,” commented Cora.
“There are huge social inequities despite reformers,” continued Anna. “I don’t trust them to improve my life. They’re hypocrites. They want to ban tobacco, alcohol, and free love for everyone else so they can feel better, while at the same time they’re smoking cigarettes, drinking whisky, and having sexual affairs outside of their marriage. They use their power to decide what justice looks like for the rest of us.”
Anna inhaled deeply on the last of her cigarette, held her breath, then exhaled as she slowly ground the butt into her ashtray.
Then she recited the last sentence in The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.
The Kansas Authors Club www.kansasauthors.org is a statewide organization that encourages and supports great writing. It’s divided into seven districts. In Hutchinson, Reno County (part of District 6), we have monthly meetings at Hutchinson Community College. http://www.hutchcc.edu You’re invited. Questions? Contact Jim Potter, email@example.com