· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge: Cops in the Clubhouse ·
I’m Reno County Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge, and I’m pinned to the sheriff’s vest. It’s Friday, January 21, 1927, inside the sheriff’s office in the temporary courthouse at 5th and Washington, Hutchinson, Kansas. For just a moment, I got to see the sheriff’s office before Sheriff Fay F. Brown covered me with his suit coat. Soon after my peek, other officers arrived to work. Plain as day, I could hear the men talking.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge, “I got to look around the sheriff’s office as Sheriff Fay F. Brown examined the ‘wanted’ posters pinned to the wall. We’d arrived prior to everyone else, including Deputy Ed Woodson, who had a lot of titles, including pencil pusher, secretary, office clerk, and bookkeeper.
“The sheriff got to the office early because Cora sent enough freshly baked bread, raspberry preserves, and noodle juice, for all the officers to enjoy.
“On Tuesday, I got to listen in during a special lunch and tour at the sheriff’s living quarters. Sometimes Cora and Fay call it their residence and other times they call it home. They were so happy to have the county officials appreciate the importance of renovating their space. Everyone seemed to agree that a building erected in 1888 needed both tender love and care.
Earlier, as I looked around the sheriff’s office, before being covered by darkness, I observed the large room holding five desks with swivel chairs, rolltop desks, at least eight or nine wooden chairs for visitors, one small table that held Cora’s treats, and two walls full of maps and wanted posters. I was especially interested in the posters, as the criminals around the country have been busy robbing banks, escaping jail, and killing people.
Like clockwork, the Santa Fe’s westbound #9 Navajo train whistled off. It was 8 o’clock in the morning, and like a train loudly departing a station, the conversations in the sheriff’s office increased in volume.
Martin Jolliffe, process server, was reading the newspaper and drinking Cora’s tea. Without looking up, he reported, “Charlie Chaplin’s feeling terrible about his wife filing for divorce.”
“No, he’s feeling terrible about getting caught with his lead actress and about the alimony he’ll have to pay,” responded Ed Cunningham, undersheriff, who was cleaning his .38 caliber bean-shooter at his desk.
“Either way, he’s a genius,” concluded Jolliffe. In The Gold Rush, my favorite movie picture, Chaplin was the writer, lead actor, and its director.”
“Sheriff, congratulations, I heard your luncheon paid off,” said Cunningham.
“Turns out, breaking bread together was the perfect opportunity,” Sheriff Fay Brown replied.
“Speaking of bread,” said Cunningham, “please tell Cora how much we appreciate her refreshments. The bread tastes as good as it smells.”
“Yes, delicious,” echoed three other officers.
“How’s Cora liking her new surroundings?” asked Cunningham.
“It’s a lot a work,” said Brown. “She likes the variety in her day, moving around, and being able to participate in conversations, instead of repeatedly asking strangers, ‘Hello, what number please?’ But, she’s still adjusting to being on call twenty-four hours a day and cooking for so many people.
“Cora and I are sure pleased about the response from our visitors,” continued the sheriff. “We figured a tour of our living quarters at the Bastille and a first-hand look at the turnkey’s office and cells, might loosen the county commissioners’ purse strings. Jess is pleased as Punch, said a coat of paint will do wonders. He recalled how Harvey County ignored his requests when he and his family lived in their sheriff’s quarters.”
“Jess remembers every detail from the olden days,” said the undersheriff. “Now, if he can only remember where he put his keys this morning. Jess was telling me the other day that when he moved out of the county jail at Newton, it took him a good long while to be reimbursed for necessities he had purchased for the hoosegow, including a new lock for a cell.”
The sheriff, who understood about reimbursements, nodded. “I reminded the commissioners, county attorney, and judge that last year the Langford’s were all set to have their residence re-painted and re-papered until the courthouse started sinking again. To save money, everyone agreed to wait and see if it affected the jail. Well, we won’t have to wait much longer.”
Changing the subject, Ed Woodson, secretary, put down his pencil, looked up, and said, “Like you requested, Fay, I’m keeping the filing cards updated and in alphabetical order. Late yesterday we had another stolen car report. The owner filled out our new form. I’ll pass it around. Also, now that the Chevrolet coach sedan has been recovered from the 100 block of Avenue A, I’ve pulled it.”
“Ataboy, Ed,” said the sheriff, “I know you’ve always been able to find the records we need, but this will help the rest of us when you’re off the premises. I’m still trying to remember which jurisdiction told me they wanted Miller, the check forger, if and when we captured him.
“Sometimes it’s hard to keep things straight,” said the office clerk. “Yesterday we had an inquiry about Virgil Mathews being fined and sentenced on charges of drunkenness and the bone dry law. After going round and round we figured out he was booked at the P.D. His twenty day sentence is to be served in the city caboose, not county lockup.”
“My other idea, changing the way we handle stolen automobiles, has Chief Long all riled up,” said Brown. “When a car thief is arrested and the Reno County vehicle is recovered out-of-state, I still think it would save county money if we turned those cases over to the Feds. Sometimes we spend more time on the road to and from Topeka regarding extradition papers, and being out-of-state picking up prisoners, than doing our work right here in Reno County.”
“Fay, just a reminder, I’m willing to make some road trips whenever our tax notices slow down,” said Jim Springer, tax deputy. “When I was a traveling salesman, I enjoyed the long drives during nice weather.”
“I’ll remember the offer,” the sheriff agreed, “but I’m trying to recall what nice weather looks like. You know the county commissioners are happiest when we’re collecting taxes. For now, rain or shine, enjoy your cross-county trips to Turon and Sylvia.”
Looking up from his newspaper, Jolliffe reported, “Apparently, the state politicians are going to repeal the cigarette bill. I’ll have to agree with them, the government shouldn’t be interfering with adults being able to smoke whatever they please—pipes, cigars, or fags.”
“On the other hand,” countered Woodson, “the anti’s are saying the state should preserve the bill for the sake of the children.”
“It’s the same old argument,” said Brown. “How far does the state go to legislate personal behavior? Whatever the state decides, good or bad, we’ll always have laws to enforce. Once the government promises to tax the manufacturers and distributors of cigarettes, and punish sales to children, it’s bound to pass.”
“Remember during the War when it became a community’s patriotic duty to raise money to purchase cigarettes for soldiers on the front lines?” asked Cunningham.
“Yeah, even the Red Cross got involved with that,” said the sheriff. “The federal liquor laws could change someday too, although it’s still hard to imagine Topeka repealing our bone dry law.”
“The country’s going to the devil,” said Jolliffe. “People don’t care anymore, especially the young people. It makes our job tougher, that’s for sure.”
“Adults need to be responsible,” said the sheriff. “Our recent cases involving chicken thefts are an example of morals gone wrong. Those two young boys who confessed to stealing chickens in the Partridge area—they wouldn’t have kept stealing them if the small-time dealers here in town would have called us in the first place. I don’t just want the boys. I want the county attorney to prosecute the dealers who purchased the stolen property. Any dealer who buys chickens from strangers, boys as young as thirteen, has to know they’re stolen.”
“Next stop, reform school,” announced Jolliffe.
“Yes, and after that, if they don’t change their ways, they’ll be living at the reformatory when they turn eighteen,” cautioned the sheriff. “Like coffin nails, crime’s a tough habit to break. Cecil North was barely out on parole long enough to get hired and fired. Do you think he ever considered he’d be caught stealing money out of oil man Skaer’s room at the Bisonte? Some people don’t learn.
“This isn’t breaking news from a radio broadcast,” said Brown, “but most criminals have just enough luck at crime to start believing everyone is an easy mark, a pushover, as gullible as their first victim. Take our prisoner Miller, the longer we hold him on bad checks, the more obvious it is that they’re forged checks. How many two-dollar checks does he need to pass to make it worth the time he’s going spend in the Big House?”
“Fay, you know the answer,” said the undersheriff. “Crooks are wired differently than us. Whether you’re Cecil North stealing money out of an oil man’s pocketbook, or Miller forging checks, you only think about the easy money, not being collared, and doing time.”
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