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WHISPERS IN GREAT FALLS Page 2 of 2


alternative in the south is to be deeply religious; otherwise, you're considered either a homosexual or a misfit). If you're a female, you can actually be a little wild yourself within the confines of your small 'inner' group, but you must be completely proper with everyone else. Sundays - from the waking hours on - are the obvious exception; a bit too loud with your own thoughts and you could find yourself thinking alone.

 

Reveal your true self and they will mutilate you.

Anonymous

 
What I need desperately on this story is not only a first source, but someone that knows the area well enough to tell me when I'm talking to the right people, when I'm yapping to the wrong people, and when to get out of town fast.

In short, I need a makeshift friend who knows the area, and - if possible - the people living here.

I didn't really have too long to wait.

It was my motorcycle that brought him over. A bright, and (if I can say) flawlessly kept cruiser - a Kawasaki Vulcan 800cc Classic. It looks a little like an old Harley, even more like an old Indian (a bike that was the big player in U.S. motorcycling until Harley took over in the '50s), and probably handles better than any other cruiser on the road. His eyes just peer out from under his wireframe glasses as I pull into the gas station about eight miles from Great Falls to fill up. I thought it would be an excellent idea to stake the place out first before I went down there on the job, searching frantically for the places I knew I'd have to go to - DJ's itself, the police station, the town hall - and find whomever would sit down to talk to me. His large feet flopped on the cement as he came over to me while I filled up.

"Hey", Jeremy says all at once, "that's a damn wild bike." He's a tall kid, about 6' 2" or so, with short-cropped, well-trimmed hair, an open and unassuming face, and wirerimmed glasses that sit just a little crooked on his small head.

"See, now I want to get me one of these - this is the shit. I tried to get Kawasaki to finance me, but they turned me down flat. Honda would take me easy though. But I don't know . . ."

"Well, how old are you?", I ask, now seeing my chance to nail a possible source as he oogles over my bike.

"Mmmm - just turned 21", he says sourly, as if he'd somehow just come up short of something.

"Well - is it possible you can get your dad to cosign for you? I mean, you make all the payments, blah blah . . . would he help you on that?"

"No, I don't - no", Jeremy says at once, shaking his small head quickly as if a bug were suddenly flying around. "I haven't seen him in years." He looks at my bike intently, hoping I won't pry. I don't.

"What about dear ol' mom?", I offer at once.

"Yeah . . . that's possible I guess . . . I talk about it now and again, that's how much I'd like to have this kind of thing. She says I should sell my bike instead - it's that one over there, that blue Ninja - looks pretty sweet itself don't it? I let my friends borrow it now and again, but they don't take care of shit . . . it's wild, but I'd love something like this."

He's there with his friend Lee, who's on a cool basic black cruiser and is also a nice guy - but possibly a little off his nut. After he waddles over to us (dear ol' Lee weighs "just over 300 pounds", he once mentioned to me in a small, depressed voice), he looks at the bike, says, "Hey, that's somethin' - look at that shine!", and bends down as best he can with his hand reaching out to touch the white-hot pipes.

Now I couldn't fucking believe this - I yell over to him to watch out, but he's by now already found out the problem for himself.

"Oooh, that's hot!" he exclaims (yes, he actually said that). Realizing what he's just done, he turns to us both as he looks around for a bit of the water they have at most gas stations for anyone enterprising enough to wash their own windows.

"Guess that wasn't the smartest thing to say was it?", was all Lee said or needed to say.





It's too hard to remain complete strangers after Lee's episode, and Jeremy asks me to ride with them.

"It's sometimes the hardest thing in the world around here to find someone cool to ride with", he says as he waits for what I'm going to say next.

I figure I can drive on down to Great Falls with them, and that they may even know the area. I agree; I'll ride. I decide to ask him where he lives.

"Ah, right around here - just a few miles from Lancaster and Great Falls."

I continue. "Hey, you know the area well? It'll be cool to ride with somebody who knows this part well enough if we ride this way."

"Oh, hell yeah", Lee suddenly kicks in. "He's lived here all his life - born and raised in Chester, about eighteen or so miles away - He knows the whole place like the back of his hand. Lives next to me now, behind my garage."

"Really?", I say, trying my best to keep the wonder of my luck from showing too much across my beaming face.

"Yeah, I know most of this area pretty damn well - I guess I should by now, eh?"

"Yeah, you damn well should."





The three of us hopped on our bikes and took out for a quick ride. We eventually rode down through Great Falls, then back to Chesterwhere we stopped and had a bite to eat. That's when I started telling them about what I'm doing down there; I didn't want them to get the impression that that was the only reason I was riding with them.

"No, it's alright - it's kind of cool, actually", says Jeremy. "Who are you with again?"

"3 A.M. Magazine."

He searches his mind to see if he recalls the name; I tell him, "It's on the Net - in other words, a Net magazine, y'know?"

"Okay, okay - yeah I get what you mean, yeah. That's pretty cool. I'll have to check it out on Lee's computer." Lee asks for the web address and a pen to write it all down; we eventually find what he needs and they tell me they'll be happy to check it all out once they head on back to Lee's place.

"Hey listen", Jeremy starts in again, "if you use what I tell you, will I be in it (the story)?"

"Sure, if you don't mind being quoted."

"Well, do that - but just use my first name, alright?"

"I - sure; but I have to ask . . . what's wrong with using your whole name?"

"Mmmm, bad, bad", he says before tearing his teeth into his hamburger that's dripping mayonnaise all over the napkins on the table beneath him. "See, I'm down there a lot, so that would be a big mistake."

"Why? I mean, I hope you don't mind my asking - "

"No No, I understand", he says, then says to me slyly, "You really aren't from around here are you?"

Now he's intriguing me as much as he's bugging me. "Holy Jesus Christ", I suddenly blurt out, "just tell me what the fuck you're talking about . . .", which makes Lee laugh in that loud, raucous, hell-bending laugh that only fat boys seems to possess.

But Jeremy goes on. "You know that stereotype about the cops in the small town in the south - you know, the 'speed-trap', the ball-buster?"

"Yeah?"

"Well, that's the whole Great Falls Police thing in a nutshell; that's them to a tee. You say what - that there's some cases of beating, or hitting, or whatever? I don't know if it actually happened, you understand; but I wouldn't doubt it."

"Really? Why's that?"

"It's just - you know . . . that's just the way they are, the way it is. It's been that way around there as long as I can remember, forget who's in charge now. Beatings? You - you can never really tell, not with them, not in a town like that. I'd watch myself if I were you, that's the truth. Don't spend a second more than you have to in that town - especially if they find out you're looking around on 'em . . ."

Well now this is fucking wonderful news. Thoughts of trying to drive out of that town only to be pulled over on 'suspicion' and have them search my car to "find" whatever they bring with them now poison my head. I tell him that I'll have no choice but to talk to the chief, and to go down there and pick up the police reports.

He looks at me as if I've just told him that I fucked his mother. He shakes his head as he looks away toward the floor. "Well . . . just . . . just go the speed limit, and get the hell out of that town as soon as possible. That's all I can say . . ."

"Why? What's -"

"No - that's all I can say."

Thanks, friend. Done and done . . .





The next day I'm going down to Great Falls to jump onto the trail of all this and get a look at things for myself; I have my first contacts, my first real inside info, and have a fair idea what to watch out for. I figure as long as my car doesn't quit on me on my mad dashes out of town, I should be reasonably fine.

Now, the first thing I thought of was to try and sort out Police Chief John Brown. It seems the real story begins and ends with him. Could I fish him out? The trick would be to put the first questions to him in such a way that he'd have to respond to them, either with fear or with a firm insistence that what he did was right. It was time for a call.

I get information, and ask for the number of the police chief in Great Falls; the clerk at the front desk answers the phone, and I of course explain myself. She connects me to Chief Brown, and I begin.

"Hello, Chief Brown?"

"Yes?"

"Hi there - my name's Cliff Montgomery; I'm a reporter with 3 A.M. Magazine and contributing reporter to the Washington Spectator (I've recently sold an article to that respected newsletter, and thought it would be good to throw it in here for an extra punch - I find that anytime a reporter says they've worked for any news outfit out of D.C., it always helps those on the other end stand up and take special notice).

"The WHO?!!!" He's obviously completely shocked that anyone working outside 'these parts' is asking questions (a feeling I would learn to accept from many).

I tell him again that I'm a writer working for this magazine, and that I've recently written for the Spectator. Immediately, as if to say something - anything - he mumbles, "Yeah, Seattle and, ah . . . and D.C. . . . that's a nice place . . .", and drifts off over the phone line.

I thank him cordially, then ask him point-blank why he felt such force was necessary for what appeared to be a law-abiding gathering, since no formal charges had been brought against any there except those who resisted police search tactics after the raid had already begun . . .

"No, this . . . no, I have no comment," was all I heard, then a second or two of quick shuffling as he hung up on me.

Of course, that alone proves nothing; it would hardly stand up in any court in the land, nor should it. Still, I felt sure that if he knew he had entirely rock-solid reasons for being there on the 16th that he would have defended what he did. He may not be able to go into any details with the internal investigation starting, but it seems that he would surely have insisted his reasons were sound, and that he was certain the investigation would bear that out. Perhaps there really is something here . . .

The drive down route 21 is long, winding, and leaves a certain dull, hollow feeling inside. It's a phenomenon that often happens as one travels around the smallest townships of South Carolina, and Great Falls is no exception. A visitor always has the toughest time in dealing with the aching woundedness that is never far from revealing itself in the southerner; it's a general slackness that lies somewhere between repressed rage and a feeling of inferiority, and those living in the tiniest places - those furthest from the veneer of the 'new south' - tend to show it the most. An unknowing visitor can only take it to be a bizarre unpredictability that has scorched itself into the southern soul - and they're not far from the truth.

Much of it comes from the fact that they are the only segment of the American populace to have their region decimated & their livelihoodsforever destroyed by "outsiders"; the southerner loves to bring up this fact, but often fails to bring up the opposing fact that the entire edifice of the 'Glorious South' rested on the whipped backs of once-proud African "immigrants" . . . it was, truth to tell, orginally the King of England's idea to use slaves to harvest the crop of King Cotton in the one godforsaken region of the American colonies that very few white men bothered to 'settle' . . .

 

"There is a weather and a heat that purifies and invigorates; and then there is the heat of the South, a destroying ferocious heat that takes away your will to live."

Henry Miller

 
The king could find no one crazy enough to live in the marshes and steam cookers that we now know as the 'deep south', and yet he realized that the region would be an excellent source for cotton, which would surely make a very tidy profit in 17th century commerce. Finally his advisors came up with a wonderful solution - they would enslave the Indian (mostly Cherokee) population to pick and prepare the cotton for almost nothing; and, since they needed overseers who could at least comprehend the white man's ways & language and would stay in that horrid region to work for as long as the king demanded, they decided to open their jails and ship to the southern colonies those killers, petty thieves & other 'hardened criminals' whom they felt could & would handle the job no questions asked & simply do as they were told; they in return would naturally receive their freedom for services rendered to the crown. . .

"But the Indian slaves rarely worked out; it seemed that, during the night, the enslaved Indians' tribes would sneak in and free them; the next morning those now in charge would find their slave shacks empty, and acres of cotton left to be picked. So the king came up with another grand idea; he would work with African fiefdoms, maintaining good relations with this or that African king and - in exchange for English goods & currency (which even then was some of the most sound on the planet) - would be given warriors captured in battle to be shipped over to the colonies for the purpose of working in the English king's most gruesome planting fields. This time it worked; no one bothered to save the African warriors. The cotton was picked, the English jails were emptied of some of their worst, England was free of the 'refuse of their race', English coffers jumped up 60% in worth, and those once-hardened thieves & criminals were given a second chance at life all because of King Cotton . . . though, when the king & his advisors came up with the plan, the balm they used for their collective conscience was that slavery was a means of christianizing the 'savage', so it was the king's way of doing the 'Lord's work'; the myth of black people's inferiority really hit its stride under the watch of American - and particularly southern - 'Democracy' . . ."

That's a small overview of things, and as such it leaves out much it shouldn't, but it gives you a very good idea of what you're dealing with when you talk about the 'southern soul', especially if you're talking about a small southern town still tucked away from much of the outside world.

The main thing around here is a small hydro dam close to town that's run by Duke Power (the electric company for the area). It's the only real employer that can be said to be near the town. The tiny Duke Power station for the area is adjacent to the dam, and houses a small machine shop as well as providing "hydro maintenance". There was once, it seems, the beginnings of a small industrial park about a half-mile closer to town. 'William States Lee Industrial Park" is now anything but, and consists solely of one fat, abandoned square building sitting away from the road. Its only signs of life appear to be that it's recently been painted an odd, battleship grey and that someone has boarded all the windows and painted the boards jet-black. Jeremy's told me about the problems of living around here more than once, especially if you're young and aren't very well-connected:

"All the good jobs are already taken, out there at that damn plant. I mean, yeah, this whole area is sick with [auto] garages, and that's fine right now - I'd just like to . . . to do something more with my life . . . something, y'know? And the only real way to get a job at that plant is to know somebody who can talk for you. You have that, you're set; if not . . . there's just nothing to do over there." I talk now and again to others around here that are about Jeremy's age, and it's much the same thing.

As I pull into town, I see a sign on the left that proudly proclaims Great Falls as "Home of the Red Devils - State Champs 1986". The newest buildings here appear to be a Hardee's built a few years ago and the high school which Jeremy and I passed the day before; the Hardee's is the only fast-food joint in town. Other than that sole fast-food joint greeting a person as they roll into town, the buildings and businesses found on Dearborn Street - again, the only real street that bisects the entire town - could well pass for those around in the long-lost times of the 'dust bowl' '30s. Example: across from the police station is an old laundromat that sits abandoned with almost all its windows firmly busted out, as if someone went along and in one night made a vicious game of the whole thing. To the left of this long-ago failed business is a shack of a bar called Hambone's; almost no one goes in, and all its windows are firmly boarded. If it weren't for the neon 'open' sign shining out front, I'd think this place fell out at about the same time the laundromat went belly-up. But the tiny brick building to the right of the laundromat houses the town's only attorneys, in probably the only true office space to be found in this town. And so it goes . . .

I decide to stop into DJ's itself first. The police reports - and, it seems, DJ's itself in its yellow pages ad - refer to this place as a 'Bar & Grill'; but the sign out front mentions it as being a "Restaurant & Lounge".

This could be more than a simple case of semantics. If this place really is primarily some kind of restaurant, it would make the idea of wild public drunkeness seem that much more absurd. When I go in, it immediately reminds me of what is referred to in the mid-atlantic states as a simple diner - a rarity in the south, so that may be the reason everyone here is all over the boards in trying to describe it. The large open hall - where much of the whole thing obviously went down - is to my right, and seems to be an add-on to the business (though you can't tell it from the front). There are two plump brunette girls sitting in the booth closest to the door as I go in; the only other people there are a much older couple in the booth nearest the open hall. I introduce myself and who I work for to the two girls, and they refer me to the couple in the back.

Donald Young, who owns the joint, is a thin, rake-like guy with hair dyed coal black and "the biggest white Chevy truck" he could find, parked out front. He is, as they say around here, 'good people'. It's a clear trait rarely seen in this day and age - which makes it a little surprising to hear him tell me, a rough edge stinging his voice, that he, too, "has no comment".

"I'm not gonna talk 'bout anything'", the ol' boy says flatly, and he clearly means it.

Alright, I'm taken back by this; he might have seen that in me. Softening now, he says to me in a much easier tone, "See, it's not . . . they're looking into everything here, there's a study going on . . . I wasn't even here . . . so I'm just waiting until their study is out, then I'll talk. But until then, I just . . . no comment."

I left my name, number and the fact that I was working for 3 A.M. Magazine. I have yet to hear a single word from Donald. I thought of calling him, but what's the point in bothering a man that's clearly scared shitless to talk?







I take a deep breath and slide on over to the policeGreat Falls Law Enforcement station, now suddenly worried again about being pulled over by my new friend the Chief only to have dope "found" in my car, or perhaps end up with a whack in the head by a flashlight of some kind. Thanks Jeremy, you fucking prick.

The clerk - a fairly nice-looking brunette - is there alone; the few cops that are there are all outside helping one of their own work on a patrol car. Myself, I really don't care what the fuck they do, as long as I get what I want.

She's playing solitaire on the computer; I hate to ruin her game, but I finally ask about DJ's. She, for her part, looks at me a full thirty seconds, as if to wait for all the synapses to process what's going on, and the whole thing essentially becomes a wonderful staring contest. I apparently win, which forces her to get the reports. She asks if I'd like copies; I naturally agree. She asks what paper I'm with, never letting go of that natural air of suspicion that only the police can really use effectively. I tell her what I've done, and who I'm doing this for now. She hands me the papers and I thank her.

This is important; she will be the only member of the entire police force that will treat me decently the entire time I'm there during my investigation.

I walk out into the sun, feeling like McQueen in 'Papillion' as he ran for freedom, only to suddenly see those cops outside now looking at the reports in my hand and just aching with suspicion as their eyes bore into me . . .

Yeah kid, that's it - play it nice and easy-like. Cops can smell fear, and they don't like the smell of it, especially in a small Southern town. Yeah, wave to 'em, that's a nice touch. Get in the car nice and easy-like; act like you know just what you're doing. Christ, don't wait for this bastard car to warm up, take off you stupid fuck - no, wait, easy . . . easy . . . that's it. Good. Make no sudden movements; cops hate sudden movement.

I take the shortest way out of town, wondering if the tail Jeremy spooked me with might show itself. None does.





All right, now it's serious. Christ, no one - I mean no one - will talk. Forget long conversations or explanations, and don't even think of getting people in this town to go on the record. Everything I hear is terse and dry, with the parch of fear clinging to the back of their throats and choking back the words.

No one's phone number is on any of the police reports. I call information, but all those arrested that night - all three of them - seem to either have no phone or have unlisted numbers. "Why the hell do these cocksuckers need unlisted numbers?", I find myself muttering out loud at the worst possible times. Also, they are all in their early twenties and will probably tend to live with their parents, which makes it all that much harder to track them down.

I'm probably not on Chief Brown's Christmas list, so that option's in the sewer. And it's about this time that my ISP has routing problems and I catch the worst cold I've had in about three years. I begin to face the raw possibility that I may end up with nothing more than a few police reports, some scared mutterings and weak innuendo.

I am, in a word, fucked.

Perhaps due to the fact that the cold - now almost a pneumonia, in July - has begun to play havoc with my common sense (I've begun to watch "Who wants to be a Millionaire?", for chrissake), I continue after the cold belts out its worst. I decide to try calling the town hall. I've been down there twice to talk to Mayor Starnes in person only to find that he 'wasn't in'. Christ, is he ducking me?

My voice at this point resembles Lucille Ball's on steroids (more or less) but I somehow find a source reasonably well-placed who tells me a bit about Mayor Starnes.

"It'll be a while before you'd ever hear from him - if you heard from him at all."

"Why - is it because of all this -"

He stopped me cold. "No no, the simple truth of the matter is that he's almost never in. If you've come down here already and tried to talk to him -"

"I have . . ."

"Then you know he's not at his desk - almost never is, to tell the truth. He's always runnin' 'round, doing God-knows-what . . . the town clerks are the real day-to-day people running most things around here. If you ever do get to Starnes, it'll have to be thru them."

"Well then", I ask all at once, "should I just talk to them about the whole thing? I mean, should I really deal with the Mayor at all?"

"Yeah yeah - I would; I mean, when things get in a pinch, he's there. Now what he does once he shows up I can't really say . . ."

He then gives me a phone number to contact the clerks which I quickly jot down.

I thank him and try my luck. The Mayor - surprise - isn't in; I decide to try my luck again with the clerks face-to-face some other time. At least then I'll see if I can actually shake something loose with a good, honest encounter.





My problem in finding a good direct source - from either side - is quickly flying down the tubes, and my chances of making sense of all this is rolling along with it. I ask many of those who would talk at all about that night (or at least about the Great Falls police) and they simply say that I should 'watch out'; two sound almost like a copy of Jeremy, telling me it's a town with a reputation. A woman I'd been working on finally blurted out many of the problems facing me one day:

"See, you have to understand something . . . the people around here can't just fly out of town whenever they're finished saying their piece; they've got to continue living here, working here - and what's gonna happen to them then? What if somethin' happens and they need the police? You think they're just gonna rush right out and help them right away? Whether the police here's guilty or innocent - all these people know is that they've gotta worry 'bout how they're gonna be seen down the road in another week, in another month . . .

"And besides, it's gotta be said . . . where did you say you're from - Maryland? You don't talk like they do, you don't 'move' like they do, so I can tell you some of them are also thinking, 'you don't live here, you don't shit here, and we ain't talkin' to you'. Sorry, I know you're just lookin' into all this, but that seems to be the way it is".

So there it is; even if they are interested in talking to some reporter about the whole thing - and that itself is hard enough to find - I have to deal with the hard-boiled southern concept of a 'damn yankee' trying to come in here to stir up a heap of trouble. Southerners, regardless of what you hear about the 'new south', aren't really too up on the idea of talking to someone who doesn't talk or look like them.

Drastic problems call for drastic measures. After talking to my remaining sources - and remembering what had brought Jeremy over to me in the first place - I decide it's time the reporter took a little hiatus and the biker with the shiny cruiser take a look around. Of course, if the biker were to ask a few simple, friendly questions about things, they'd probably answer right away, and as quickly as they can, too . . .

One of the strangest aspects of southerners - and I am again referring to those living in the 'deep south' - is their utter fascination with the combustible engine. This is, of course, the epicenter of 'Nascar' country; Charlotte to the north, Darlington & Rockingham to the east . . . the rule of thumb is that if it runs well and shines real pretty-like, it works on a hard-core southerner a bit like a devious hypnotism; they'll answer whatever you ask, truthfully and gladly whenever possible, as long as they can look at the pretty engine one minute longer . . .

They may not talk to a reporter, but they love talking to any man who could own such a fine motorcycle. To do otherwise would, after all, simply be inconsiderate for a boy or girl from Dixie.





I notice the difference the moment I pull into town. Those who barely looked up as I went by before now look and nod, or smile and wave. Now many have a story to tell, and they can't seem to tell it fast enough.

I stop at a tiny gas station just on the edge of town and notice it is the third or fourth business I've seen around here in which the windows are either barred or boarded up; not exactly the friendliest way to attract business. I get myself a 'Bit O'Honey', walk up to the cash register and, as we talk about my ride, bring up the strange affair with all these buttressed windows.

"I was wondering about all the bars and all on a lot of windows around here - are there gangs of arnery thugs around here that I should know about?"

The small lady at the cash register laughs. "No - it's just . . . well, around here about Saturday night kids will go around - I mean, there's just nothing to really do here - and throw things through windows. They almost never take anything, they just bust everything out is all (which pretty much explains a lot a places I've already mentioned around Great Falls). The boys get drunk -"

"Is it mostly boys?"

"Yeah, pretty much - anyway, they'll get drunk and around midnight or so they start lookin' for things to smash, just workin' out somethin' - frustration or whatever, since there's really nothing to do around here at all . . . so those bars there are pretty much the boss' solution, y'know? It keeps them from bein' able to break the glass real well, to make it shatter, and it's worked so far. But frankly, they're just bored."

Ah yes, boredom - a tiny town's best friend.

Jeremy agrees mostly, but feels it's closer to frustration and impotent rage than simple boredom. "Did you ever notice that most of the places hit around there are businesses and whatever? I've done things like that not far from there at all. My group might be a different group, but we're neighbors; they can't be too different from us. We would just be pissed off - I mean, our week was total fucking worthless shit, and next week will be nothing but the same damn thing, with nobody offering us anything to make it better; the week after that and the week after that will be the same thing again. You just - you wanna smash something now and again to remind yourself that you're fucking alive, y'know? I guess that's the wrong way to put it all", he says in his soft accent, "but that's the way it feels."

The principal types of drugs used around here, and thru most of the south, seem to be the more mild ones - pot is always used, but can't stand up to the much more popular - and legal - drug of alcohol, especially beer. Anything that slows down the ability to feel is good. Every now & again someone really gets the hunger to screw it on and goes a few extra steps; Jeremy has a good friend - more or less (and not Lee, by the way) - whose decided to go that extra mile:

"He does what?", I ask.

"Cat tranquilizers - he says it's the best thing in the world. When it starts to really kick in, he finishes it off with a bit of pot which he claims is the best 'chaser' in the world . . ."

"What do you think about it?"

"Fuck all that - I'll stick with a fuckin' cold good beer, man."

This guy apparently has a hard time keeping himself in good supply of tranquilizer; he's known to steal - sometimes, it's suspected, even from 'friends' (Jeremy thinks so anyway) - & is pretty well known to police, in and around Chester & farther up in York, SC.

"Yeah, the cops", Jeremy says quickly, "he's gotten so used to dealing with them now that it doesn't even phase him anymore to tell a cop to go fuck himself, y'know?"

That set me to thinking about George Spires, that guy who was nice enough to tell that one cop that he would drop in on him sometime . . .

Now Jeremy & his friend are 21; they're quite different, yet friends all the same. The three who were arrested were, like many who were at the party that night, also in their early '20s, and also include one who seems to be on a different association with the police then the others who were there that night. Is it possible that he is already known to police, and that a previous record, for whatever charge, helped bring on the police in the first place?

After some checks with a few of the better-placed sources I've been able to make in town, I discover that George Spires - the very same kid that the cops saw as they came through the door, right before they told everyone to line up against the wall according to the police accounts themselves - does indeed have a record. On the other side of things, some were saying that two months ago the police had a similar raid at the local pool hall - nothing like the business at DJ's, since there were no calls of brutality there - but it may begin to signal a pattern. I was told that town judge Peter Lindsey was "the man I'd have to get hold of" if I wished to find out anything else about these new charges.

So now I wonder if the police themselves have any knowledge of such things, and if there really is a file on Spires. I decided to try there first; and, if they had nothing, perhaps the magistrate in that same building would have something if the police didn't.

This would be a big mistake.





One source in particular warned me about this second visit obliquely; "Don't expect much help from any of them", my friend says. This particular source was one of many who was invited to DJ's that night, and considers it "lucky" that they weren't there to share in the fun. When I ask if any other such things have happened recently, it was they who tell me about some in town muttering that Chief Brown shut down the local pool hall about two months earlier. I'm happy to find that the source is a pretty good one, and talks all the while plainly and evenly, telling both sides of the story, and is the one who stated to me that the facts of the story "completely depend upon who is speaking", a view which I'm beginning to agree with after discovering the possibility of a Spires record. I then ask if I can quote them directly, to which the reply, "Dear God, NO!! I mean - hey, I wanna keep on living here, you know?" quickly hit my ears.

So much for seeing both sides of the situation . . .





I pull up to the small red brick box that is the police station and see two policemen walking in. One is about 50-55, and seems a bit older than the others I've seen around this place; figuring him to be Chief Brown, I walk in behind them.

I introduce myself again to the lady at the desk, and with three cops over her shoulder (including the two that just came in), I ask about the possibility of another recent raid at the local pool hall.

That's when all hell breaks loose.

The oldest cop shakes his head vigorously and replies in a low voice, "no, no . . . that - that never happened". he walks out toward me but is talking to the clerk who is getting more upset by the second. "Look", he says sideways to her, "give him the basic reports . . .", but the clerk blurts out cutting him off in a harried voice, "no, he's already got it, he's got them all!" He's shaken at this, but begins again, "Well - no, there's nothing like that (the pool room raid) . . . now", he continues again, at her, "you can give him the basic reports, but other than that (he now turns and yells at me) you can get the hell out!!", and gestures roughly towards to the door, waddling past me.

I'm frankly amazed at this sudden display, mostly because at this particular time I was beginning to think that perhaps Chief Brown may well have had a reason for his raid after all; the possibility of Spires' previous record and his reported comments to the cop Robinson all seemed to indicate that at least one of those there might indeed be trouble. And, since it was after the police saw Spires that they immediately told everyone to go up against the wall, one could suspect that there may have been a logic to the raid after all.

But that's out the window, and I realize after this outburst that I now have to verify that the old man speaking to me is in fact Chief Brown, so I ask point-blank who he his; the clerk, now worried beyond words, chokes out, "It's the chief! . . .".

My quick and simple response is to introduce myself as Cliff Montgomery from 3 A.M. Magazine and the Washington Spectator as I hold out my hand to him; he, now apparently regaining composure, has no choice but to shake my hand.

I then ask the chief, since he seems to wish to hold onto his own records, about the possibility of seeing the magistrate. Still somewhat hostile, he huffs that "Everybody here works part-time . . .", and that the good magistrate is there only on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 5-7:30. I thank him and tell him I'll be in touch, to which he walks off to his office irately without saying another word.

Can anyone guess what my thoughts about Chief Brown are now? If he can't control himself when one reporter asks a single pointed question, can any thinking person believe he's capable of doing so when he's fulfilling any other aspect of his job?





I decide that it might perhaps be a good idea to talk to someone a little less stressed, and call Judge Lindsey; his response is to immediately disassociate himself from the entire mess:

"Well - I really can have no comment on the matter. I mean, I worked on it for just a bit - not too long - but since I have an association with the business at DJ's, it wouldn't really be right for me to comment on the matter."

Since I never asked for a direct comment from the judge but was only looking for access to records his office would clearly have, I found his comment a little puzzling, but continued.

"All right, I see . . .", I said at once. "But I was wondering if I could use your records to simply check on a few things I've recently been told; for instance, if one of those arrested - George Spires - does indeed have a previous criminal record, and if so what for; also the lawsuits which I've been told several of those at the restaurant that night have filed . . ."

Judge Lindsey interjected at that point, saying "Well, see . . . there's really no reason for you to come all the way to my office; I'm sure that would just put you out . . . you could easily stop by the police station and talk to Police Chief John Brown about the whole matter . . . he works well with -" and then, as if to see a possible problem and to correct himself, he asserts, "I mean, he's usually accommodating to the press, and, since all these records are public records, it should be no real problem for you to get them . . . but as for me, I . . . I really have no comment to the press at this time."

Now I didn't bother to tell him about my joyous little 'conversation' with Chief Brown in which he barred me from any further access to what is really public information; besides, since Great Falls is made almost entirely of a single strip of land holding a mere 2,300 citizens, one really has to wonder just how much harder it would be to find Judge Lindsey's office than it would any other place in the town, including the police station. I saw no reason to comment further to a man who's so ready to delegate his authority to someone else, and thanked him for speaking to me.

Trying to see the mayor again was hardly any better. I of course find he's not in (is anyone surprised?). I leave my name and number with one of the clerks who sweetly tells me that she'll "pass the whole thing onto Mayor Starnes when he comes in". That was almost three weeks ago, and I have yet to hear a single peep from Mayor Starnes about the matter.







It is around this time that I discover that I'm at least not alone in looking into all this; the state law enforcement agency (SLED) has found things dicey enough in the little town to get involved as well. The person in charge of the investigation is Hugh Mann, one of those usually out in the field investigating the more problematic charges of police misdeeds, and is therefore rarely available for comment. I did get hold of a representative there; but, while she was very decent and professional, she had the same, 'no comment' as so many have had before to all of my questions, or "at least until our investigation is over." The rep had no idea when that glorious day would be, though.



If you've wondered why I haven't mentioned talking to those who were actually arrested, it's simply because it didn't work out quite as well as I'd hoped.



My little motorcycle excursions did put me back on track, eventually giving me the sources I needed to get in contact with a number of Michelle Hasting's closest friends who were there that night. They told me they were in fact victims of a vicious attack by police, and I met some of them with Michelle herself. While many are indeed pressing charges against the department, I wanted to talk to one of those actually arrested as well; were they planning any such retaliation?

The plum would have obviously been George Spires; but, while I had a number of reasonable leads, I simply could not secure an interview with him. Attempts to talk to Eubanks came to the same bitter end.

Shawn Wilson was, it seemed, another matter. It took about a week of searching to discover his unlisted number; I can only tell you that a county registry, in the right hands, works wonders. A friend of his picked up the phone after several unsuccessful attempts to reach Shawn and took enough pity on me to give me Shawn's cell phone number.

I call him up and finally get hold of him; it's about four in the afternoon, and he sounds either tired - as if I've just woke him up - or as if he's frankly had a little too much fun the evening before. But I tell him who I am, what magazine I'm working for, and if he'd be interested in an interview. He stumbles around at first, but agrees to meet me the next day at his father's septic tank business at 7 p.m. sharp.

A nice little comedy ensues; in short order, I can't find the place, no one in town that I can find right away seems to know where the business is (or to have even heard of it), and before I know it I'm 15 minutes late for a meeting I pushed for in the first place. I frantically stop at a pay phone and quickly call the business only to be told by his dad that his boy Shawn hadn't been there in hours. Even if I had found the place, it wouldn't have done me a fucking bit of good . . .

I can't get his cellular, but try again about 45 minutes later when I get home. This time he picks up and tells me he's forgotten about the whole deal and that he's now in the pool hall playing a game with his friends . . .

But he's the one to ask for a new meeting before I have a chance to ask if he's serious or not. Perhaps something - who knows what - did happen, and the kid really does want to talk after all. I agree to a second meeting at the Hardee's just inside the city limits. This time it's damn sure going to be in a place I can fucking find, for Chrissake.

It didn't matter either way. After waiting 45 minutes or so for his ass to show up I had no choice but to realize I'd been played a second time. Did Wilson really care about speaking out? Who can say. In talking to his father as well as Shawn himself I got the sneaking feeling that he really did want to spill it all, but just choked up at the last second. Or maybe he was just bonehead drunk and really did forget the whole damn thing. Who can tell in a place like Great Falls?





If we could only get what we want when we think we need it life would present no problem, no mystery, and no meaning.

Buddhist Saying

 
A motorcycle is a wonderful instrument - regardless of the type used, it's a perfect vehicle for the wanderers, freaks, and assorted nutjobs who are at least smart enough to find a very cool way to get away from it all. I jump onto my Vulcan and take off on a crisp, cool September night - almost 600 pounds of fire and steel are flailing beneath me, the huge single headlight shouting out what's only a few hundred feet in front of me as the wind snakes past and full into me, drowning me into the night . . .

I've been looking into the events of that tiny town for almost two months and I am completely sick to death with the whole thing; even the mention of Great Falls is enough to give me the shakes. Most who know anything about the events of July 16th do not talk, clearly out of fear - of what, or precisely what they'd expect if they did talk is never breached. Those few who will say something are almost all, to a person, afraid to go onto any record officially stating what they know. As for the leaders of the town, those officials who do seem to know something avoid any talk with any member of the press like the plague, and insist that Police Chief John Brown be the only person I should really talk to - and his idea of dealing with the press is a little strange to say the least. Disregarding the question of whether or not Chief Brown knowingly insisted upon a clear violation of the freedom of the press by personally barring me from what are, for the most part, public documents, we can only suppose that said documents may bring up more questions than answers . . .

The best times to ride a motorcycle are at the crack of dawn and deep into the night, with the night giving a cycle rider the added perverse pleasure of feeling completely alone in the world as he or she barrels down a long, winding road at a godless hour and at a horrendously godless speed. After all, the typical motorcycle rider is nothing if not a master of perverse pleasures. Flying now at 60, 70 . . . leaning hard into the crunch of the turn, the little chill of fear that the wrong car could be coming around that corner at just the wrong time only adds to the thrill. One wrong move and it's over. Kaput. Here and nothing. You straighten out now and glide up into the mountains. The feeling is electric . . .

Like everything else in this travesty, there are no easy answers in this case - no 'smoking gun', or someone with a 'Rodney King'-like video for all the world to see. As a reporter who is by definition forced to at least make a stab at objectivity, I must say that the evidence (or at least the evidence I was allowed to collect) is inconclusive. But my gut - the one that is now finding a bit of release from all this shit by throwing it all on the line in a marriage with metal, danger, piston & power - as well as a wisp of simple common sense - tells me there's something more here. The fears, tantrums, and whispers of Great Falls speak louder than any words. The state law's investigation of the Great Falls police force and its chief is still on almost two months after the fact, which means they've found the case both hard enough - and interesting enough - to keep groping around for answers, and there are still calls in newspapers around the area to find out what really went down in that little town the morning of July 16th. The only certain thing appears to be that everyone in the town is scared to death of the outcome of all this, and each for their own reasons.

It is a problem that has all too often become a normal state of affairs in a small American town - which is probably the scariest thing of all. Until that 'code of silence', that blanket of shame that destroys our faith in those who have sworn to protect us is finally torn away and those who know the truth - those both in and out of uniform - feel free to speak, and until we deal with those who try in one way or another to stop anyone outside the force from looking in, there will only be more Rodney Kings and 41 more shots sooner or later, even in tiny, tired southern towns like Great Falls . . .

I'm pushing 80 m.p.h. now, and it can still climb if I want it to - cops are always notoriously absent in the middle of the night, especially on the smaller route numbers. Only a goddamn fool or an idiot would ever tackle an interstate highway for any length of time on a motorcycle. There's too much tension and anger on the interstate, and who the fuck needs all that?

I slow down a bit now to around 60 and slide past Great Falls. I look up at those stars that are shining down light from eons past and am thankful that the whole sorry episode of this town is finally over - at least for me.


Copyright © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED




Cliff Montgomery is a reasonably young man (about 28 or thereabouts) who - due to being born in a small upstate Maryland town called Cumberland, about a hard hour's drive from DC - took a very early interest in politics and political issues. Finding very few of his 2nd grade peers interested in his already tired Nixon and Kissinger jokes (they were funny to him, at any rate), Mr. Montgomery had to wait a while to be accepted by those around him. He has been, in turn, a writer and computer engineer for a small computer firm in Charlotte, NC (which he despised), a writer - briefly - for the NC chapter of the Sierra Club (which, being the only man employed with several attractive young ladies between the ages of 15-22, he rather enjoyed), a musician and a freelance writer. He now lives just outside of Charlotte, NC, and is foolish enough to believe he can make "real money" writing, and now experienced enough to know otherwise.


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