Ashland might have been called a one horse town by some but, it was also a one cop town. In the late 1950's, Ashland was in desperate need of a new town cop so, a search was initiated and a man was finally hired who was from "away." The new town cop's name was Richard Casey and it didn't take too long before his nickname around town was "Dick" for reasons I shall elaborate on.
Now, as in most small towns everywhere, everyone either knows or is related to everyone else. People have a natural tendency to be wary of strangers and the inhabitants of Ashland were no exception. Everyone discussed the new addition to the police force and the population in general agreed that being a cop was a job akin to cleaning toilets, except that cleaning toilets was a much cleaner job.
Mr. Casey fit into the everyday life of Ashland like a horsefly on a horse's ass. The more he made himself known, the more he irritated and alienated himself. He stood about five feet-five in his stocking feet and he was as round as he was tall. He only had a fringe of light brown hair left on his otherwise baldhead but he had the balls of a brass monkey. Town folks put him down as being an effectual blowhard and incompetent to boot and pretty much left him alone. In other words, they didn't interact with him unless they absolutely had to.
He'd been in town for about fifteen months when things suddenly took a drastic turn. Ashland is no worse or better than any other small town when it comes to questions of morality. Husbands cheated on wives and vice versa. But, in a small town like ours, if one is going to cheat, one had better take the utmost care because everyone knows everyone else and usually, sooner or later, any secret is an "open" secret. Some of the well-known philanders around town began complainin to one another about their dislike of the new town cop. When pressed to be more specific about why they disliked Mr. Casey so much, they jist mumbled that they didn't like the "rotten son of a bitch!" and let it go at that.
This muttering amongst them continued for quite a while and then one night at a regular meetin of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, one of its members finally admitted why he hated the cop. He said that Mr. Casey had caught him in a "delicate" situation so to speak and from that night on, he'd had to pay the cop every week to keep his mouth shut.
It was like Pandora's Box, once one person talked, everyone talked. They began comparin stories and they found that they all had one thing in common besides cheatin and that was blackmail. Casey had his hooks into half of the male population of Ashland and tha surrounding towns for one thing or another. He set the rules and he was quite particular in regards to payment. The "payments" rendered were in the form of illegal moose meat, deer meat, lumber, fish, calves, chickens, pigs, liquor, camping trips and even plain old money.
It didn't take too long before word about the problem with the cop spread around town. The monthly meetings of the Knights of Columbus, the Odd Fellows and the Veterans of Foreign Wars were generally considered a "boys" night out in the county. The members usually spent their time watchin stag movies, playin poker, bitchin about their wives and gettin soused. Now, these meetins were spent in tryin to find the best way to rid the town of this terrible scourge.
There is an old Maine saying, "Nothing puts the fear of God into a man like being hit in the pocketbook or being rapped in the balls!" In this case, it certainly applied! Men, who stood six feet tall and weighed over two hundred pounds and feared no one, were suddenly reduced to sniveling rats. How could this fat, pompous little bastid dictate to them how they should live their lives? How dare he live so well? How dare he judge them? Who died and left him God? "I thought Hitler was dead," lamented another.
"Have you noticed how he struts around town like he owns the friggin place?" They asked each other. "We have to do somethin!" they moaned. They hated to admit it but, they were scared, deep down gut, wrenchin scared! If they didn't continue to meet their payments to that self appointed judge and jury, then they knew that it wouldn't be too long before Casey would see to it that their wives, girlfriends, bosses or whomever they had trespassed against, were quickly informed as to the date, time and person in question.
After much trial and tribulation, they hit upon the ideal way to rid themselves of him. Vigilantes are not only indicative of the old West, they can also be found in the North as well. The "injured" parties decided that if they presented themselves to the rotten little bastard en-mass, then he wouldn't have a leg to stand on. They sweated, schemed and planned and finally came up with a foolproof way out.
They invited Mr. Casey to attend a meetin of the Veteran's of Foreign Wars on the pretext that he was going to be gittin an award as "Cop of the Year," and on the specified night, old Dick was there with bells on. He'd gotten a haircut, shined his shoes and even had his best suit pressed. When he'd strutted thru the door, all of his blackmail victims were waitin for him.
When they presented their case to him, it didn't take Casey too long to catch on, what with a dozen or so angry men gathered around him makin threats and callin him names. He tendered his resignation to the town manager early the next morning and left town long before a replacement cop was found. It was thought that he'd moved to another small town someplace down around New Hampshire.
Once again, the cheatin husbands, the poachers and alcoholics around the county heaved a sigh of relief and immediately took up their sorry ways as though nothin had happened. At the next town council meetin it was unanimously agreed that the next candidate to be considered for town cop should be born and bred in the county. "That way," they reasoned, "he'll be used to us and our ways, if you get my drift," they said to each other with a wink, a nudge and a smile on their face.
The next man chosen to be town cop was indeed from the area. He'd been born and bred in Ashland and attended the local schools. He'd gone to serve in Vietnam but he didn't believe in killin so he served his whole tour of duty as a cook in Saigon. Upon his military retirement, he returned to town to settle down with his Asian wife and five children.
On the day he was hired, he had a preliminary meetin with the selection committee and they laid down the law about how he was to conduct himself and just what his specific duties were. He got the message loud and clear. "Just do your job and keep your mouth shut. Harass the kids a little to keep them in line. Ride through town once every hour or so to show folks you're on the job. Hand out a few speedin tickets to the friggin out-of-staters and the God-damned Canadian truck drivers and leave the rest of the populace tha hell alone!"
Skippo the "new" town cop stood about six feet tall and was quite thin and he took to being a cop like a duck takes to water. He was perfection plus! He took his standard issue cop's uniform over to Presque Isle and had it tailored to fit him perfectly. He was as spit-shined and polished as was humanly possible and to complete the picture, he wore a pair of dark sun glasses perched on his nose whether it was day or night and he always had an unlit pipe clamped firmly between his teeth. He soon perfected a slouch while sittin at the wheel of his cruiser that made people wonder if he was awake or asleep as he cruised slowly through town.
Skippo wasn't a "stupid" man by any means. He was what the folks from Aroostook County commonly called an "educated fool." Which loosely translated meant that he'd finished the tenth grade and didn't know what to do with all that learnin. When confronted with a "crisis," he could cite chapter and verse from the Police Regulation Guide on jist where the "law" stood on each and every matter. If the town in general had considered Casey an incompetent person in regards to the law, then they hadn't bettered themselves any in the hiring of Skippo. He had a "coward's" natural ability for avoiding trouble.
If an endangered citizen called him and told him that one of their pissed-off neighbors had fired a gun at them, Skippo would pause, take a long drag on his unlit pipe and mutter, "That's a violation of Code 217, Section 4." "What tha hell does that mean?" Demanded the irate caller. "Oh," replied Skippo importantly, "That means it's against the law to shoot a firearm within city limits." "Well," screamed the irate caller, "What tha hell are you going to do about it!" "According to the Police Regulation Guide," Skippo droned on, a "city" is defined as havin a population of twenty-five thousand and over and I'm afraid that Ashland doesn't qualify as a city." "I don't give a shit about whether or not we qualify as a city!" The pissed-off caller screamed. "Someone's shootin at me!" "If you feel that strongly about the matter Mr. Hafford, why don't you jist give the State Police a call down to the Houlton barracks. I'm sure they'll be more than happy to help you." And with that, Skippo hung up.
It is a general rule of thumb that kids are a good barometer in regards to people. They generally dislike figures of authority outright but they took an instant dislike to Skippo, especially after he'd stopped quite a few of them and ticketed them for ridin their bicycles too fast down Station Hill or for hangin out on the street corner in front of Chasse's Department Store too late on Saturday night. The kids weren't doin anything wrong but it was eight o'clock and Skippo wanted to get home to watch his favorite television show, Mayberry RFD.
Kids have a long memory and they did everything they could think of to aggravate the hell out of him. His house and automobiles were weekly targets for all kinds of pranks. They spray painted graffiti on his automobile, tied his dog to the bumper of a log truck that was headed for Moncton, Canada and changed his mailin address to Mapleton. It went on and on. Even kids who had never been accosted by Skippo joined in on the harassment of the cop.
The day that began Skippo's fall from grace, was as perfect a spring mornin as one could ever hope to have in the county. When his alarm clock rang at five am, he threw himself out of bed and hustled to the bathroom. He hummed a few bars of "Beautiful Dreamer" as he hastily lathered himself with soap, then he rinsed himself off and stepped out of the shower. He dressed, sprayed his dark red hair into place with hair spray until even a tornado couldn't move it. Then he quickly adjusted his custom-sewn uniform so that every detail was perfect and made his way out the door to his cruiser.
He had made plans for the day and he wanted to get an early start. Today was the day that he was goin to make history! He was going to break all records! Yes sir! He was goin to write more traffic tickets than had ever been written by an officer before in the Town of Ashland!
He'd stayed up late the night before and had carefully laid out his plans. He was goin to drive down over Station Hill and park his cruiser about half way across the span of the Aroostook River Bridge that separated the Town of Ashland from Garfield Plantation. His plan was to set-up his road block there and catch all those friggin Canadian truckers as they drove their over loaded-rigs across the bridge on their way to Levesque's Mill in Masardis. He knew that the shortest way across the Aroostook River was across that bridge and he couldn't help but catch all of them. He realized that upon seeig the road block set up on the bridge, some of the overloaded truck would simply go around the back way though Garfield but that's was fine with him, he'd catch them later.
The blood-red sun was jist comin over the eastern horizon as Skippo rolled onto the bridge and he drove to the half-way point and pulled the cruiser into his pre-planned position. He parked it so that only one vehicle, going in either direction, could cross the bridge at any time. He got out of the car and walked to the end of the bridge that bordered the Portage Road and placed his road block sign about twenty feet from the end of the bridge. "Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!" he smirked to himself as he imitated Barney Fife, his favorite character. "Those suckers are going to get a surprise today!" He slid his cap onto the back of his head and he sauntered back to his cruiser.
The hot sun had risen enough so that it had a glare to it as it glanced off the Aroostook River and up into his eyes. Skippo adjusted his shades, gathered his log book and other items that he needed for this huge task and carried everything around and placed it on the trunk of the cruiser. Then he stood back to await his place in history.
It was a very slow morning traffic wise. A few locals in their pick-up trucks meandered by on their way to town and as they slowed down to rubber neck, Skippo, recognizing the drivers, irritably motioned for them to stop rubber neckin and drive on. One of the drivers, who had been harassed by Skippo before, drove slowly by and then yelled out the window, "Must be a friggin road block for a runaway dog and he'd be lucky to catch that!"
Suddenly, Skippo's spirits picked up as he heard the familiar grindin of gears as a fully loaded log truck downshifted in its approach to the opposite end of the bridge.
Skippo, cool as a cucumber, opened the cruiser door, slid into the driver's seat and flipped on the red and blue flashers on the top of his vehicle. As the overloaded truck started across the bridge, Skippo could just make out the driver in the cab, as he struggled to slow down. The huge dirt-encrusted Peterbilt finally lurched to a stop in the middle of the bridge just a couple of feet from where Skippo sat waitin in his cruiser.
Skippo eased himself out of the patrol car like a general about to address his troops. He wiped imaginary dust off the visor and carefully readjusted his hat on the back of his immaculately coifed red hair. Then he strolled over to the vehicle with slow deliberate steps and walked from one end of the log truck to the other before he approached the surly, sweatin driver.
Skippo thrust out his chin, adjusted his unlit pipe and said, "I need to see all your trucking documents tout sweet!" He smiled inwardly to himself thinking how brilliant it had been of him to throw in that little bit of French. Mumbling epithets aimed at Skippo in French, the driver pulled out his license and weight papers and thrust them into Skippo's out stretched hand. Skippo went over the documents with finite care, then he announced to no one in particular that he jist might run everything by the State Police Barracks in Houlton, jist to make sure that there were no outstandin arrests or warrants.
He strolled back to his cruiser and commenced to make the call to the Houlton Barracks. Skippo's needs down at the State Police Barracks had been given the priority rating of being somewhere between a headache and a hemorrhoid. The troopers all tried their best to ignore any incoming calls from the Ashland area because they were sick and tired of havin to run up to Ashland every other week or so to take care of Skippo's self-caused problems.
It took an extra long time for the information to come back that the Canadian driver was not wanted in any way, any where, for anything. Skippo finally strolled back to the seething, surly truck driver. Everything would have been fine except, Skippo decided to carry this "investigation" a little further. He instructed the driver to turn on his headlights, then his direction lights and then to step on his brakes. Everything checked out jist fine and old Skippo's dream of his first "big" ticket quickly dissipated.
By this time, not only was the driver hot, sweaty and very thirsty, he was royally pissed off at havin been detained for so long for nothin! He wrenched open the door and swung down from his truck just as Skippo made his fatal mistake of kicking the left front truck tire. In the next instant, Skippo felt a sensation like the sun goin behind a cloud and it was then that he realized that he was standin in a huge shadow.
He straightened up, nonchalantly dusted off his hands and slowly turned around. He inhaled sharply and tried to step back but it was too late. The trucker's patience was gone. He had been messed with enough! He loved his truck and when he saw that little prick Skippo kick the tire, well, that did it! Before Skippo knew what was happenin, he was hangin by both feet, upside down, over the side of the bridge about fifty feet above the fast movin water of the Aroostook River.
It didn't take too long before a crowd had gathered and the incident was the topic of conversation for many months to come. Folks allowed that it was one hell- of-a-sight to see Skippo hangin by his feet over the side of the bridge. The first thing to go into the drink was his hat, then his pipe, his wallet, handcuffs, loose change and his gun. The burly Canadian jiggled him up and down like a limp puppet a few more times and finally succeeded in knocking off his Raybans. Every time the driver jerked Skippo up and down, he screamed a French epithet at him. Onlookers, who understood Canadian French, later related that it was too bad that Skippo didn't understand the language because that driver had had a few really choice names for him! The crowd held its breath as it waited to see what fate awaited Skippo. A few of the braver onlookers even shouted for the driver to "drop the little scumbag in the river."
Finally, the trucker reeled Skippo back in over the railin of the bridge and stood him on his feet. He grabbed the teeterin Skippo by his immaculate shirt and drug him over to his patrol car where he heaved him into the front seat and slammed the door with such force that it rocked the cruiser from side to side. He stood in the middle of the bridge and glared at Skippo through the car window for a few seconds longer then he strode off to his waitin truck. He shifted into gear, revved up the engine and slowly roared off in a cloud of dust and diesel fumes. As he passed Skippo, who was still slumped in his patrol car, he leaned out the window and gave him the royal "middle finger" salute that is totally recognized around the world and needs no further explanation.
Skippo slumped dejectedly in the front seat a few minutes longer, then aware that there was still a crowd of rubber neckers standing around to see what was going to happen next. He reached over and flipped on the p.a. system and announced in a shakin voice that anyone who wasn't off the bridge in five minutes would be arrested on a "Code 247A," "Obstructing a Public Roadway." Then he called the town office and requested an extra set of car keys. It was a much subdued Skippo who rolled through town that night and it took a while for some folks to even recognize him. His hat was gone, along with his pipe, sunglasses and his shitty, pious attitude.
Summer turned into fall and things pretty much remained the same around town in regards to Skippo but he didn't hand out too many tickets to truckers anymore. Though, he still stopped little old ladies and kids and harassed them every chance he got. The kids seethed and smarted and waited for the chance to "get even" and finally they came up with a "fool" proof plan.
The seasons change quickly in this northern county. On a crisp, autumn night when the wind was out of the north and had a slight chill to it and the clouds were scudding across a wan moon, the kids finally had their ultimate revenge.
It was the Saturday night just before Halloween when they broke into the Civil Defense Office and stole one of the dummies used by the Ashland Fire Department for C. P. R. training classes. The fire department had just purchased a new dummy and folks were startled every time they saw it because it was so realistic and life-like. The volunteer firefighters often sat the dummy in the passenger side of the fire truck and took it with them when they went out on calls. It used to give folks a real start when they'd stop to talk to the firefighter and discover it was a dummy that they'd been talking to for fifteen minutes.
The kids took the life-like figure down to Sheridan and hung it by the neck directly in the middle of the Bangor and Aroostook train trestle bridge that crossed over the Sheridan Road. They figured that the first person to see it hangin there would take it to be a "human" and rush off to call Skippo.
Mr. Poitraw, havin bent a few elbows at Michaud's Restaurant in Ashland the whole evenin, was very carefully making his way home. As he rounded the sharp one hundred-eighty degree turn, his headlights flashed on a gently swayin figure hangin by its neck from the trestle. Mr. Poitraw stifled a scream and hastily crossed himself as he careened down the Sheridan Road past the hanging figure towards home. He flew up his drive and with a scatterin of gravel and came to an abrupt stop jist inches from his garage doors. He crawled out of his car, stumbled up the stairs and scrabbled for the door handle. He had to dial the number three times before he was able to reach Skippo. "Skippo, you've got to come quick!" Mr. Poitraw moaned. "Skippo, some poor bastid has gone and hung himself from the Sheridan train trestle! "Are you certain you saw what you say you saw?" Skippo grilled him. "Yah bet your sweet ass I am!" Screamed Mr. Poitraw. "I fought in World War Two and I friggin know a dead man when I see one!" Skippo glanced at his watch and sighed when he noticed that it was nine forty-five. He was going to miss "Dallas" again this week.
The kids hidin in the tall grass near the bridge laughed as they heard Skippo's cruiser comin slowly down the Sheridan Road. "He's in a shittin hurry ain't he," one said to the others. "Yah," another kid replied. "Like ah herd of turtles headed south!" They fell over laughing in the tall grass as Skippo's headlights turned towards them.
Skippo drove up slowly with lights flashin, siren howlin and gun drawn. He didn't even get out of the cruiser. He saw all he needed to see from tha protection of the vehicle. He rolled down the cruiser window and shone his flashlight up in the "dead" man's direction. He adjusted his Raybans, flicked his radio on and proceeded to place a call to the Houlton State Police Barracks.
By now, most of the inhabitants of the small town of Sheridan had arrived to see what tha hell was goin on. They could see tha "poor" soul still hangin by his neck and Skippo sittin in his patrol car calmly fillin out his police report in triplicate.
Everyone gathered around and stared up at the gently swayin dummy. "Jaysus Skippo, why don't yah at least cut him down?" One of the onlookers asked. "Are you sure tha poor bastid is dead?" Asked another. "What are you goin to do about it?" Demanded someone else. Skippo didn't lift his eyes from the sheets he was slowly fillin out; he shifted his ever-present pipe from one side of his mouth to the other and mumbled to no one in particular; "It's covered under Section 221, Paragraph 6 of the Penal Code." Skippo replied smugly. "What tha Christ does that mean?" Asked one man. "It's out of my jurisdiction." Skippo replied. "Yah, we know, Skippo," They all replied in unison, "It's a matter for the State Police!" Skippo calmly rolled up the cruiser window, turned on his radio, leaned his head back against the head rest, closed his eyes and sucked on his unlit pipe.
About forty-five minutes later, the crowd heard the sound of sirens comin up the Sheridan Road at a pretty fast clip. The onlookers grew quiet as two state police cruisers rolled to a stop and the "real" cops stepped out. The officers didn't even glance in Skippo's direction as they proceeded to make their way over to the victim. They stood and gazed up at the swayin body for a couple of minutes and then Trooper Walker climbed up to the train trestle and withdrew his knife from his pocket. He yelled for everyone to stand back and then he proceeded to cut the body down. The "body" landed face down on the ground with a dull thud and Skippo, hearin the sound the dead body made, shuddered and turned his face away from the grisly scene.
Trooper Walker slid down the grassy embankment and walked over to the body, knelt down and gently turned it over. He shone his flashlight into the face and the unblinkin plastic blue eyes stared back at him. Uttering a strong swear word, he dropped the dummy back on the ground, stood up and walked quickly over to Skippo's patrol car. He reached down and opened the door so swiftly that Skippo nearly fell out. Trooper Walker grabbed Skippo by the arm, propelled him over to the body, shoved Skippo's head down to within an inch of the dummy's face and bellowed, "Tha next time you report a "dead" body, you'd better make God-damned sure that it's a dead body or the next dead body will be yours!" You got it!" With that, he dropped Skippo on top of the CPR dummy. Folks later said that it just goes to prove the point that one dummy can't even recognize another!
It wasn't too long before Skippo resigned as the Ashland town cop and accepted a position with the U.S. Postal Service. He became the new mailman for the Ashland area and it wasn't too long before the post office was receivin calls from irate rural route mail customers. Instead of their regular mail, they'd found an official postal form in their mailbox and they didn't understand what it meant. "What the hell does "Violation of Postal Code 791 mean?" One caller asked. Skippo slid his hands down over his newly altered postal uniform, shifted his unlit pipe to the other side of his mouth, adjusted his sunglasses and smugly replied, "You have just received official notification that your mailbox is four inches too close to the road." "What the hell difference does that make?" The incredulous caller asked. "That mailbox has been in the same spot for the last fifty years!" "It doesn't matter. Either move it back four inches immediately!" Skippo ordered. "Or we won't be deliverin any more mail to your address." He took a long pull on his unlit pipe, smirked to himself and hung up.
Martha Stevens-David Column Magic City
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The Waiting Room
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M. Stevens-David Book Review: "In the Mists of Time" by Richard D. Baldwin
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