This go-round I thought I'd plug in a short story I wrote some years back about a fictional small-town sheriff on a traffic stop. Sheriff Clanton is well-meaning, if not a bit misguided, and he reminds me of a range master during my academy days. That guy had us qualify in a cow pasture east of Austin, and the cows were so used to the gunfire from officers coming to practice and qualify that some of the herd always came to watch.
Anyway, this traffic stop is typical enough that patrol officers everywhere will recognize it as something they deal with on a daily basis. Alas, rude people happen, so let's see how our erstwhile sheriff handles himself. Enjoy and be safe...just not TOO safe.
A short story
David L. Williams
On Saturday nights Sheriff Errol Clanton picked a county road and waited for drunks to leave bars. Highway patrol was his favorite among those few duties his desolate jurisdiction demanded. Some nights there would be a domestic disturbance or a cow loose, but most of the small towns had their own police department that handled that sort of thing. That left Sheriff Clanton to patrol in search of drunk drivers and drug runners.
“It’s not the race of a fellow I’m hunting,” he’d told his deputy cadre of four during a mandated training class earlier that day. The federal government had decreed that all law enforcement officers throughout the land would be instructed on the pitfalls and problems associated with racial profiling. Being told to do anything by the federal government chafed Sheriff Clanton.
“Bags of syphilis come in all kinds of colors, so don’t let yourself get fooled by picking and choosing based just on how brown or yellow or pink they are.”
He meant it, too, although he also had a “scientific” system of identifying what any particular race of driver might be hauling.
“You see, your Blacks will most likely be carrying your crack cocaine and your marijuana, whereas your Latin’s will be bringing in your meth and your marijuana,” he informed the deputies.
“Your white guys, especially your college kids, now they’re gonna have your pills…your ecstasy and your Xanax and your Valium and such. And they’ll also have your powder cocaine, your crystal meth and your marijuana. Your Indians, they’ll have your peyote and your mushrooms, ‘cause that’s just the way they was raised I suppose, and some’ll have your homemade corn mash, which traces back to their ancestors, and they’ll have your marijuana.”
“So pretty much everybody has marijuana?” asked a particularly new deputy.
“Pretty much, but your illegals will have your plants grown down in Mexico and such; your black fellows get theirs from big indoor greenhouses in Chicago and New Jersey; your white folks, especially soldiers and fraternity guys will get theirs from Hawaii and Afghanistan; and your Indians just grow it in their back yard.”
“Sheriff, is there anything to know about Asians?” asked the same deputy.
“Sure, sure. You got your Tongs and your Yakuzees that control all the opium in the world, and so that’s what I’d be looking for if I stopped a carload of Orientals and such. I’d be looking for your opium poppies and your Chinese Tong members and what-not, along with your marijuana, of course. Any other questions? Okay, well, let’s get out there. Remember; don’t get your ass in a crack over racial profiling and such. Everybody of every color and religion will be hauling every kind of drug in the world. It’s just a matter of knowing what to look for.”
Two hours later Sheriff Clanton spied a late-model Lincoln on the outskirts of Salted Springs. It was not going more than two miles over the speed limit. Its registration plate matched the make and model of the car, all of its lights were in working order, and Sheriff Clanton observed no driving infractions. Nonetheless, the driver just look “shady” to the old sheriff, though even he would have been hard pressed to explain why. Something simply had to be wrong, and he was determined to find out what that was.
His opportunity came within a quarter mile when he saw the car swerve dramatically to avoid flattening a suicidal jackrabbit. Two seconds later he flipped on his emergency lights and told Joyce, the dispatcher, that he was pulling one over.
Sheriff Clanton had once weighed in excess of three-hundred pounds, but he’d dropped nearly one-third of that after giving up carbs and taking up walking two years earlier. The county hadn’t given him an allowance for uniforms, so his “fat clothes” had been hemmed and taken in monthly since. Tan swatches large enough to be used later to fashion jackets for dachshunds (his wife’s hobby) had been snipped out. New seams had been sewn back not quite straight giving him a zig-zaggy appearance. He’d punched seven new holes in his gun belt, but his badge was as shiny as when he’d first been elected, and his Stetson fit just over his eyebrows as it always had.
So it was with the pride of his profession, the confidence of an expert pistol marksman, and the swagger of a man who had just wrangled a big fish that Sheriff Clanton approached the man in the Cadillac.
“Good afternoon, sir. I’m Sheriff Clanton. May I see your driver’s license and proof of insurance please?”
The driver wore a desert fatigues shirt un-tucked over jeans and aviator sunglasses. He was grim, with an iguana-like smile. The man made Sheriff Clanton a little nervous and curious as hell.
“Nice uniform,” said the driver with clear disdain. “Is that something the lovely wife made out of an old tent for you?”
Sheriff Clanton was an old hand at drivers with an entitlement problem trying to bait him. “What brings you to our county this afternoon?” he asked in his most authoritatively cordial tone.
“I have business here,” replied the driver. “Is there some reason why you’re harassing me?” as he handed the documents out of the window. The sheriff glanced at his license but kept his eyes on the man’s eyes and hands.
“I’m not harassing you, Mr.….Featherpaw,” replied the sheriff. “Where you coming from?” He noted cigarette butts from a dozen packs on the floorboards front and back, spilling out of the ashtray, and even on the seat. Crumpled sacks from every major fast food outlet across America littered the floorboards, and the car had a decided aroma of body odor.
“I’m coming most recently from Springfield,” said the speaker. “Profiling is a serious offense, Sheriff.”
“Ah, Missouri. Pretty country. Been hunting there,” said the Sheriff. “Do you have business in Salted Springs, sir?”
“Sheriff, I’m a very busy person, and I take the violation of my rights quite seriously,” said the driver, turning to face him for the first time. “I know people who can deal with small-town cops trying to shake down a stranger.”
“Listen, sir,” replied Sheriff Clanton, who’d finally had enough. “You nearly got yourself killed back there over a ratty jack rabbit, and I have a duty to make sure you’re not drunk or high or just plain too idiotic to be driving a vehicle. From the tone of your voice, I’m guessing it’s the idiot option, so let’s decide right here and now that you and I aren’t going to like each other.”
“Oh, we can agree on that,” said Featherpaw.
Sheriff Clanton glanced at the man’s license, and a distant memory surfaced.
“Temple?” he said.
“Yes,” replied the passenger.
“It’s Temple Featherpaw now.”
“It’s been a long time. How’s your mother?”
“She’s just swell.”
“Does she know she raised a rude little suckling pig?”
“I’ll have your badge for that, Sheriff.”
“You can’t handle my badge, boy, and I’ll remind you that I didn’t start this fight. I’ll ask you again to state your business. You here to see your father?”
“My business here has nothing to do with my father,” Featherpaw replied curtly.
“Your father has done quite well for himself,” replied the sheriff. “Quite well.”
“It would be difficult for me to care less about my father’s fortune, his health, or how much you two must adore each other.”
Sheriff Clanton’s hand drifted onto the butt of his baton; he sorely wanted to pull the man out of the car and beat him in the leg a few times. A hot breeze had been ruffling Featherpaw’s bangs, but this suddenly stopped and the air became as cloying as a corn maze; a rodent squeaked in death a few yards away as a red tailed hawk swooped down and grabbed it off the Earth. The two men stared, each wanting the other to do something truly stupid.
“Sheriff, you about done?” squawked Joyce the dispatcher who wanted to know if he could go pick up her dinner
“Yes, Sheriff, are you about done?” asked Featherpaw.
“It’s been delightful to see you again,” Sheriff Clanton said to Featherpaw. “Have a pleasant visit in Salted Springs. You might want to visit the amusement park while you’re here, and maybe one of the cars will fall off the Ferris wheel and you’ll plummet to your death. Have a nice day.”
“I wasn’t joking about having your badge, Sheriff. I’m coming for it once I finish my business—which is none of your business,” said Featherpaw before he roared away.
Sheriff Clanton waited for Featherpaw to drive out of sight before pulling his chrome-plated revolver and shooting the hell out of an old fence post with all six rounds in the cylinder.