The hard plastic phone rings on the cluttered, oak desk. A middle-aged cop picks it up.
He clears his throat and then answers with a gruff tone, “Spokane Police Department, Can I help you.”
“Yeah, this is Detective Carl Whitlow, I’m with Rock Springs P-D. We’re located in Southern Wyoming. We got a circular from you on an armed robbery and I’ve got two youth offenders in our lock-up that match your description.”
“Okay, let me transfer you up to the Lieutenant.”
A minute later a different man comes on the line, sounding a little annoyed, he say’s, “Robbery, Did you get any names out of those little bastards.”
Whitlow replies, “I got a Joseph Bitz and a Willard Bershears. They can’t be more than 12 years old”
“That’s them… hold on to em, we’ll send a car out. It’ll be a couple of days.
Whitlow, hangs up the phone. Shaking his head he looks across his desk at the two boys, sitting quietly, handcuffed to the heavy bench, with a look of deep concern on their faces. They are both wearing dirty, white tee shirts, worn out jeans and work boots. A couple of scrawny little shits that look like they should be playing baseball or doing yard work, or… anything… anything else. It’s hard to think they’ve robbed a grocery store, and even harder the picture these two using a gun. Maybe it’s this damn depression. Times are hard. The whole country has gone bust.
Chuck, our old foreman, stops with his story for a minute and leans back to light a cigarette. We are a small group of ironworkers, sitting in a dusty, plywood job shack on a construction site, in south Phoenix. The air is thick with the smell of grease and stale cigarettes. It’s over 100 degrees in the shack. Too hot to eat, everyone is drinking as much Gatorade as they can get down in the 15-minute break. Dripping with sweat, at least we are out of the brutal Arizona sun. Chuck is dark and wrinkled from years of the heat’s damage. His hands are badly crippled, from being smashed so many times by the iron, but he can still get over two tons an hour, per man. In short he’s one tough old rodbuster.
He takes a deep drag and slowly blows out the smoke. As it billows across the room, he goes on, “That was back in 1935 or 36. In those days they would send a couple of older beat cops in a car across country to pick up lower level crooks they wanted.”
I break in and ask Chuck, “Did you know Willie back then?”
“He was older. We used to say there were 10 men for every job and there were no jobs. So everyone was always broke. But if Willie was around… well, things were different. I remember one time Willie was at my cousins house. We wanted to drive out to the lake and go swimming with our girlfriends. So we were all pooling our money. It just wasn’t enough to buy gas to get to the lake and back.
Willie said, “Everybody go get your swim suits, I’ll meet you back here in about an hour.”
An hour later Willie shows up. He’s got a case of beer, a bottle of whiskey, a ham, some bread and bunch of other shit for a picnic. Then he takes us to the gas station to fill up my cousin’s gas tank. I think it cost a few bucks. Willie had a twenty and a five. That was a lot of money back then. We all went to the lake and had great time.
The next day my old man’s reading the newspaper. There is a story about a local store being robbed. It seems the thieves got away with a case of beer, a bottle of whiskey, a ham, some bread and twenty-five dollars in cash.” Chuck starring at the floor like he could still see the scene shakes his head as he lets out a little snicker. Then he looks me in the eye and says, “Willie… he simply refused to go with out. He was going to be okay or he was going to be dead.”
“So what happened with the cops in Wyoming?” I ask.
Chuck takes us back into the story; “The way they got back to Spokane was, after the cops picked Joe and Willie up, they would drive all day. You need to remember there were no freeways in those days, so it was backcountry roads all the way. At night the cops would put the boys in some little small town jail and then go to a diner and sleep in a motel. In one of the jails, Willie had a few bucks hidden in his sock, that the cops hadn’t found when they searched him. He bought a knife.
The next day Willie and Joe are sitting in the back seat. And the cops are up front. They’re trying to make good time, maybe doing 60, which is quite fast in one of those old cars.
A beautiful spring day, sailing down the road in central Idaho. A ribbon of highway, gently rolling through a carpet of knee high, bright green potato plants as far as the eye can see. The cops are enjoying the trip. They’re relaxed, foolishly dropping their guard. To them Willie and Joe are no threat… just two scarred little kids. Remember no cage between the driver and the back seat. Out of the blue, Willie leans forward. He grabs the driver by the hair and quickly reaches around his neck, pressing the homemade blade to the tough, old cops throat.
Willie says, in his most menacing 12-year old voice, Okay motherfucker, pull the car over or you’re dead.
The two old cops are torn between the seriousness of the knife and the irony of this 80-pound child acting like Al Capone. The driver lets out a little snicker. The other Cop’s belly starts shaking, and then trying to hold back, he breaks into a low whine, which causes the driver to uncontrollably roar with laughter.
Without a second’s hesitation, Willie slices the driver’s throat wide open. A shower of blood sprays all over the driver’s window, the dashboard and the inside of the windshield. In the same instant the driver instinctively lets go of the wheel and grabs at his throat. The car lurches on to the dirt shoulder and then the front wheels suddenly catch the edge of the asphalt. In seeming slow motion, the car lifts into the air. After silently rolling over a few times, it explodes when the rear end hits the blacktop. Mangled metal and glass is flying everywhere as the smashed up squad car goes flipping down the highway. The car finally skids to a stop upside down, the roof totally crushed in. Everyone inside is drenched in the driver’s blood with multiple broken bones. Stuck in the smoking wreck, fading in and out of conciseness, it was hours before some local cops could cut them out. ”
Chuck stops and thinks for a second. He goes on ”The driver died. They charged them both with the murder. Because they were minors they were released on their 21st birthday. ”
Chuck with an odd little smile says, “After that… those boys weren’t real popular with the cops around Spokane.