Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Babylon on the Colorado 2.0


District Attorney Ronnie Earle had three favorite sayings in private discussions with the press. First was “Off the record,” whenever a reporter, sitting in a comfortable chair in Earle’s inner office, made a move to write anything down. Little matter that the district attorney usually claimed this exception—confidentiality—after the fact not before speaking. Ronnie Earle bonded with reporters who considered it a privilege and honor to share his busy day, if only for a half-hour.
Reporters and prosecutors are both hunters by trade and although lions and hyenas don’t often sit down to discuss zebras, occasionally an exchange of information is useful, even if it’s on terms favorable only to the big cat. As with any other public official you knew that if you screwed Ronnie, even with justification, like a late “off the record” or “no comment” after he had in fact commented at length and with considerable passion you would be dead with the D.A.'s Office for the rest of Ronnie's tenure and perhaps his successor’s as well. A particular gesture when Ronnie Earle said “Off the record” was that he raised the index finger of his right hand. Unlike the herd of Republican officials who walk the Capitol today, wearing obligatory hat and boots, who go home to “the ranch” on weekends, Ronnie—a life-long Democrat, a “yellow-dog Democrat” both as voter and candidate—really was a cowboy, in his youth, working on a ranch in the great populist wasteland west of Ft. Worth that produced other "men of the people" like his longtime nemesis, Texas’s last patron Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock. Ronnie was also an Eagle Scout, back in the day, although the less said about that the better.
Ronnie Earle’s most distinctive feature were his hands, rough and knotty like old wood, calloused as if he were still roping calves, when the truth was that his daily physical exertion in the Travis County Courthouse did not amount to much more than signing an indictment or two. As you can imagine those hands were capable of great strength. Before coming to the courthouse as D.A.—before his time as a state rep and before serving as judge—before law school at the University of Texas he did hard labor and it showed. That prior life influenced his policies in the courthouse as well. Earle was a defender of the workingman and those hands determined his outlook on public corruption, you might say, as public prosecutor in the capital city. He wanted to go after pigs with their snouts in the public trough and pull them out. When he raised that index finger it didn’t mean he would soon charge someone with a crime or that he wouldn’t. It just meant that you would hear about it the same time any other reporter did. “Off the record” was his nickname among members of the Fourth Estate, as in “Off-the-record-Ronnie”: but he will be described in these pages as “Ronnie Earle, the Cosmic D.A.”
“There's a difference between sin and crime,” was Ronnie's second favorite saying and that way of thinking was the origin of his second nickname, because of his wide philosophical reach.
           This expert opinion on the difference between sin and crime, which the D.A. would explain at length if asked, was usually detailed during a discussion of wrongdoing by one or more elected officials. Ronnie sometimes raised his right index finger for emphasis but usually the words themselves were enough. What he was saying was that there is a difference between whatever the unspecified act committed by the suspect public official might be in a Biblical sense—or as breaking with common custom—or as ordinary right-versus-wrong, but was still in sharp contrast to what is illegal according to criminal statutes. His main concern was the latter, getting a conviction, Earle invited reporters into his office in order for him to collect intelligence as well as to leak it, on or off the record, so that in many instances what the reporter said, even if not directly related to criminal behavior went into Ronnie’s mental files for possible future use. As Travis County D.A., Ronnie Earle was the top of the food chain, king of beasts—lion among jackals—but he was not above seeing what prey the pack was chasing and taking the kill for himself. “Fuck him if he can’t take a joke,” was Ronnie’s third favorite saying—and the one he used least frequently.
For that reason, during my apprenticeship in the capital city, back in the day, these eight were the words that most called for my attention. It might mean the D.A. was closing in. For example if State Representative A, regardless of his partyRonnie would say that he prosecuted Democrats and Republicans with equal energy which is not exactly true, but close enough for present purposes—if Rep. A was particularly conservative in accounting for contributions and particularly liberal listing expenses, or vice versa, or had not mentioned certain contributions at all and was informed that Ronnie’s office was taking a look and the state representative responded by questioning Ronnie Earle’s paternity, on or off the record, or his sister’s appearance, or even Earle’s grasp of criminal law—indeed his understanding of sin versus crime—and Ronnie was told about it later and asked for his own comment (reporters are often effective, but never creative) Ronnie would think for a second and say, “Fuck him if he can’t take a joke,” followed immediately by the raising of that index finger and an unmistakably clear, “Off the record.” Ronnie also liked to say, “Fuck you, very much,” usually to reporters, perhaps also to his team of lawyers and investigators, an ironic thank you when he was questioned too closely or was the object of a journalistic cheap shot or even legitimate criticism: “Fuck you very much,” followed by a deep laugh, signaling no animosity. Ronnie Earle was a politician first and foremost and few humorless people are chosen to public office, especially not in Texas. Screwing someone at the Capitol, which was Ronnie's favorite task, was usually reason enough for a good laugh.
In the same vein he liked to call prominent individuals, often the targets of his investigations, “pigfuckers”—the important verb in both these phrases being, as you can see, some variant of the common vulgar expression—a word which he spoke freely in certain circumstances and with certain audiences besides the Fourth Estate: including, probably, the executive committee of the Police Association (pigs themselves by the way, although that coincidence would not be commented upon during Ronnie’s charla with the cops) when he sought their political endorsement, but not the Travis County Democratic Ladies Club or the Hill Country Bluebonnet Society when he sought their's. This came to me firsthand. Ronnie actually said to me, “Fuck you very much,” on a couple of occasions. He also told me just plain, “Fuck you,” or, “Fuck you, Lucius,” if we were being intimate. Or perhaps “Fuck you, motherfucker,” if he was genuinely angry but that was rare if ever. We got along well enough. Probably Ronnie never called anybody a mofo in his life, or used the word as a meaningful verb or adjective, in my experience white guys are reluctant to mention mothers and coitus in the same breath, in contrast to black people who routinely use that particular combination in daily speech. We know that's how we all got here in the first place, mothers and coitus, or more accurately coitus and, later, motherhood. When we get down and dirty that's the first person a brother or sister is likely to mention, your momma. Besides, we got along well, Ronnie and me, as well as it's possible for me to get along with anyone carrying a badge. There was practically no animosity, and although we spent a lot of time talking our mothers never entered the conversation. We were theoretically "on the same side," and more than that, we needed each other, really.
In the same way that my work depended on access to the Office of the District Attorney, his job depended on me: Ronnie couldn’t afford to piss off the daily newspaper without good reason, even if the newspaper's representative was the potentially-felonious young Negro sitting in front of him asking questions about the performance of the pigs. My acquaintanceship with Ronnie Earle, Esq., District Attorney of Travis County actually began decades ago, at the time of my assignment as courthouse reporter for the capital daily, the American-Statesman. Earle himself was first elected D.A. a year or so before that and our working relationship started at the beginning of both of our introductions to new jobs. We were both different back then, younger obviously, more innocent, bigger balls: mine haven’t shrunk exactly but they do seem somehow, today, at the time of my morning check, usually in the shower, less full, you feel me? Ronnie’s—well, who knows, except Mrs. Earle, that would be Twila, Ronnie's wife and muse. But he’s in retirement now so presumably his are smaller too.
           We were so much less experienced then, that was a big difference and it showed. We both lost our way for a while professionally which is what this is partly about. Or is going to be about. But the biggest difference was actually the setting of our interactions, not just the courthouse where everyone in this town eventually meets, even the rich and powerful—handcuffs fit all wrists, after all, that's my observation as a police reporter. But the city itself, the World Capital of Live Music, ATX as it is now known, aka Hipster Nirvana. The city was younger then spiritually as well as chronologically, more innocent, and somehow truer to its ideals. Although even that isn’t really true either. Which is what this is about too.

Covering the courts also meant dealing with the alphabet agencies of the federal government, FBI, DEA, ATF, IRS as well as the Secret Service which had a big detail in town to cover President Johnson’s family and the LBJ Ranch where the former president rode off into the sunset, a few years before my arrival on the scene. While all of this may sound very impressive, cool and important for a young reporter, fact is that the city’s public debate at the time of my time in the Statesman newsroom concerned a single issue played out day after day in the newspaper’s pages, on radio and on TV, and which was not part of my beat. Growth versus no-growth, that is, whether a small Southern town with some charm and considerable natural resources would be allowed to become home to hundreds of thousands of new residents: Midwesterners escaping a newly-oxidized Rustbelt, Easterners and Californians tired of their own over-developed coasts and coming, too. The question before the public was whether ours would remain a sleepy Southern city with some quaint Old South racial practices and known only for a huge state university and live music. We now know how that debate turned out but at the time the issue was still in doubt. The best metaphor seems to me to be a young girl with her virginity still intact trying to decide whether to sleep with her boyfriend or not. She ends up liking sex so much she starts turning tricks. 
            For Austin the jump was from innocent to jaded with only a “For Sale” sign in between. The City Council went for the money—an inevitable decision, it would appear now, but which no one expected at the time. Back then when Ronnie Earle became my beat the town was still innocent, still cherry you might say, skirt pulled down over bony knees, blushing and pure. As with most small towns the power structure was well-defined and uncomplicated, most of the money was in the hands of a few old westside families, a few new land developers and a lot of young drug dealers, many of them living “out on the lake” and not much involved in civic affairs. Some of what are today considered old Austin businesses actually began with money from importation of marijuana, the names would surprise you, nothing wrong with that—the best minds of my generation were trafficking, the venture capital investment of the age. There was no high-tech, no real movie or film “industry” in Texas, no biotechnology at the time here or practically anywhere else. One of the most recent successful mayors had ridden to power on his political base as the primary Coca-Cola distributor and owner of the Ford dealership. Life was so much simpler then.
Some of President Johnson’s cronies were still in public office, people who had worked directly for the big man or had been second guys to his first-line aides. At the administrative end of the Travis County Courthouse, also part of my beat, there were five commissioners including the county judge and three of them were corrupt, including the county judge, and one was a redneck who represented the still rural eastern part of the county that bordered the pineywoods of East Texas. The western wealthy district, “West Austin,” which meant then what it still means today, privilege, was represented by Ann Richards.
           Future Governor Ann Willis Richards was not a “power,” not then—or if she was it was star power. The best political mind and best administrator in local government was female but working at City Hall—Her Honor the Mayor, Carole McClellan as she was known at the time and like everyone else in Texas she was a Democrat then too. McClellan was on the politically-incorrect side of the growth debate, by the way, opposing the liberal majority she argued unsuccessfully that growth was going to occur regardless of any City Council vote and that the best thing the city could do would be to prepare infrastructure to meet the expansion. She did manage to get the sidewalks on Congress Avenue widened, bless her right-wing heart. Mayor McClellan represented local power. On the state level there was mostly Ronnie and Bullock. It’s a bold statement but true. Genius very often involves not invention but instead seeing what someone else has placed right in front of your eyes and making something more of it. Ronnie Earle took a dusty legal authority to investigate wrongdoing in state government and turned his county office into a Texas-sized powerhouse. Unfortunately for the district attorney his nemesis Bob Bullock turned tax collection into an action movie that was ultimately more compelling.
Most of the struggle between Bullock and Ronnie took place not in the courthouse but in front of the press, which very often meant me. Knowing what Bob Bullock was doing, the district attorney learned, as he explained to me obliquely in our meetings, and catching Bullock doing it turned out to be two different things. The rest of state government was pushed into the shadows by the titanic struggle between those two men: including the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Billy Clayton, who was himself indicted by the feds for taking a bribe, and the other most powerful official in Texas, the lieutenant governor, at the time Bill Hobby, who had been busted in the wee hours of the morning for drunk driving a year or two before Speaker Clayton was handcuffed.
           But the only politicians anyone talked about in the Capitol were Ronnie and Bob, the hunter and the hunted, assigned roles reversing from time to time or even played simultaneously. That's the best metaphor. The two men hunted each other and neither got a kill. The setting of their encounter was more important than the actors. The city then, lo those many years ago, was what people moving here think they will find today, "accessible" in every sense of the word. My life and work almost never took me south of the Colorado River, no farther west than Deep Eddy Pool or east of Montopolis Damand only then to score a baggie. On the north side of this capital city my effective range was the university or an occasional interview with a minor drug dealer (fashion repeats itself and methamphetamine was also the rage at the time) or disgruntled graduate student, often one in the same, cooking crystal in the alphabet avenues beyond campus. Today people would call the area inscribed by these borders "downtown" but back in the day it was the whole town and you ran into important people all day on the streets downtown which were the few blocks between the south face of the Capitol and the Colorado River, not because you were important or somehow “in the know” as a journalist but because you lived in a small town. “Nice girls,” University of Texas co-eds for example, sweethearts of Kappa Phi, or whatever, didn’t drive east of the interstate back then. It just wasn’t done. But their boyfriends did—often to rent the charms of the legendary Titty Mama, a sister with an existential rack who, legend tells us, introduced a generation of white undergraduates to the wonders of coitus. Searching for pussy or weed you met a lot of frat boys, the races mingled, yeah, brought together by the most fundamental commerce, pleasure. 
Professionally, everything was also in reach and almost as welcoming. If the legislature was in session and you wanted to talk to Lt. Governor Hobby, for instance, to discuss the state of the State, he could be found every morning just before eight on the sidewalk walking to his office from his apartment in West Austin. He used his apartment in the State Capitol only for guests. Once, on my way to an interview at a building across the street from the Capitol—well, like, this building had a cool little parking garage, underground out of the heat, and there was an empty parking space that was more than adequate for my motorcycle. So, well, like, that’s where my bike ended up. And then the parking attendant came over with this expression on his face that you would probably see on the face of a Muslim if he caught you desecrating the Koran or a priest if he caught you hitting on a nun: not just disapproval, but the parking attendant's head turned painfully to the side, looking at me with an expression approaching disbelief, almost horror.
“That,” he informed me, “is Ladybird’s spot,” belonging to the president’s widow, who owned the building.
Well fuck me. Or, as Ronnie would have said, although not in the former First Lady's presence, fuck her—if she can’t take a joke.


There was a shooting at a lake house in the western edge of the county, outside the city limits. That meant drugs. It was a given, trouble on the west side of the county inevitably meant dealing, usually big quantities as cocaine became fashionable while the eastside usually meant using, and smaller quantities for sale. 
The sheriff caught the case and at the courthouse that night, sorting out who was who—someone pointed at a wiry good-looking white kid who was at the house when the shooting started. “That’s Billy Nelson,” my informant whispered to me, “Billy Nelson,” as in Willie Nelson’s son. As the days passed there was more whispering about Billy, that he was involved in an after-school activity other than band practice—but suddenly he dropped out of sight. A tipster told me that even if Billy was in hiding Willie Nelson himself, the “Redheaded Stranger” of outlaw country music fame, was accessible. This was the “old Austin” and what celebrities lived here did not hide. They couldn’t, not in a small town. In between making albums Willie was said to like golf and to be living next to a course south of the river. A co-worker was able to give me the name of the club but nothing more. 
The idea that began to take shape was getting to Billy through his dad, dirty work indeed, but the kind of task that suited my skill set. Still, you had to be careful. Willie Nelson was the city’s most prominent citizen, more important than the mayor and better-liked than the governor, and a certain sense of decorum was on my mind as a staff car carried me south of the river to an area of town that wasn't normally part of my hunting ground. The problem was that my source did not know which address on which street beside the golf course. My plan? Knock on every door. At the first house the man himself answered.
            Willie answered his own front door, no maid, no assistant, no manager or life coach, no gofers or groupies, not in sight, Willie in funny-looking shorts and golf shoes, if my memory is correct, and very gracious—the whole good host thing, he was cool to a complete stranger and apparently genuinely so because he was polite even before he saw my business card. But you could tell right away that he could tell right away what was prompting the visit. When their kids fuck up parents always seem to know and covering cops you end up talking to a lot of moms and dads who have the sense to fear what their children did not. You could tell Willie was steeling himself for a response to looming questions. But there was no need—because my nerve failed. The questions about his boy never got asked. Sympathy has not been a big factor in my work, either before or since that day at the golf course, Willie was just different. The circumstances were different. This wasn’t the lieutenant governor driving around drunk with a babe who was not his wife, it was not the Speaker of the House taking $5,000 in FBI-marked bills and putting it in his safe and forgetting about the money because, as he explained later to a federal jury—in a justification the jurors accepted—so many people gave him cash. It was Willie Nelson, superstar, and ultimately, a father concerned about his son. My interview with this particular dad would only be important as a counterpoint, because another prominent Texas father and errant child were coming my way, a politician and his daughter the next time for whom there would be less reason for favorable consideration. So, all that hard-ass crap you hear about lowlife newspaper reporters, how we’ll sell our own mothers for a story, is true or mostly true but not always
Back at the City Desk my editor looked at the card with Willie’s autograph on my business card, flipped it front to back as if he were looking for something more, notes of an actual conversation, some evidence of the promised interview—then looked at me in disappointment. Didn’t get the interview, no, but my instincts proved right. Billy Nelson got into a lot of shit through the following years, including booze and drugs, we all did, in this town the pussy alone could drive a man—or woman—to ruin, which is what it did eventually to Billy. He got out of Austin but too late. The boy killed himself, somewhere out east, Tennessee or the Carolinas, somewhere in there, after escaping River City. He got out of town but it was too too late for him by then, the city’s vibe had already taken a toll on his soul. They say the suicide broke Willie’s heart and began a long bad stretch for him too. Austin! That was practically all the coroner had to write on the autopsy report. We saw it all the time, back in the day, you started out so high, literally—good weather, good vibes—the lake, fine pussy and all, dick if that’s your thing, and after that it was just so easy to spiral down or spin completely out of control. If you have lived here and everyone has, at one time or another, you know it's true. My day chasing Willie was important only, still looking back, as my first introduction to the power of the press. Cornering a worried father—it wasn’t pretty but someone had to do it. Wasn’t Billy’s fault either, it was the city, Austex, that was my suspicion even at that time, somewhere at the back of my reptilian brain, nor was it the last time, frankly, the work made me queasy. Actually, it was the second to last time it made me uncomfortable to do what had to be done, while doing it anyway, you know? Which is why chasing public officials became my bread-and-butter, my meal ticket, like Ronnie’s. With politicians you don’t get so attached.
Wrongdoing in public life is a pretty good assignment in this town, as you can imagine. My beat was certainly never “black people” per se, but there were only two Negroes working the City Desk at the time, back in the day, and because we knew the culture and would do a better job than white reporters we did a lot of east side coverage as well. Sometimes it was just a form of translation, like, white people have a lot of curiosity even today about African-Americans and sometimes your job is merely to interpret the culture, to translate and especially to let white people know when they’re treading on dangerous ground. Like, no, you don't want to go there, or, that over there, that's quicksand, my friend.
            For me the work often meant writing about "firsts," first black this, first black that, as White Society tried to make us believe we were being integrated into the Chamber of Commerce culture of the town. The aftermaths of police shootings, certainly, then as now, listening to the dead brother’s mother ask why they had to shoot him six times, you know, if he was unarmed? It was always the same shit, basically the same story, just as it is today. Someone still has to write it. It was particularly frustrating covering the police because the local pigs were determined to make all the same mistakes dealing with the Black Man that every other southern police force had already made. The last cop in the city to be killed in the line of duty, a year or two before my arrival on the scene, was a Latino who was machine-gunned by a white drug dealer. But the one before that was a white guy who started hassling a Muslim selling Muhammad Speaks, in other words a soul brother, a strong black male like me. Couldn’t have helped the guy who got hit with AK-47 fire—when somebody empties an assault rifle into your chest it’s a karma moment, God is telling you to lie down. But having completed my newspaper internship in Atlanta, the so-called Black Mecca, and knowing a little bit about the Nation of Islam, if anybody had bothered to ask me prior to the fatal encounter my advice would have been don’t fuck with the Nation. Cop or no—magnum on your hip or venerable .38, you won't live long enough to use it. Those Muslim brothers don’t play around. If you mess with them or disrespect their religion, someone is going to end up on the ground, probably facedown and perhaps permanently. Oh well. The message got passed on to the police directly, just a little late to help the aforesaid officer.
So, there was like some racial polarization in the city, yes, you could say that. As well as geographic division. Despite the reputation as “progressive,” whatever that means, the city was like so many southern towns divided by a road, just as the train tracks were the racial divider before the highway. White people generally had to have a good reason to be on the east side of town, often to buy drugs or rent pussy or in the case of the cops to prevent same. So, you could talk about who was getting busted or which neighborhoods had the poorest infrastructure or why the kids in the black elementary school wore heavy coats in winter—the boiler was always out of service, but not at the white school across town where classrooms were warm and toasty in winter. The best explanation, the best detail describing the city racially at the time involved the criminal justice system, my beat—in other words, the pigpen, the pigs themselves, the police, the courts and district attorney. At night, if you listened to the police scanner, which you had to do if you were covering cops, even as weekend fill-in like me, one of the calls was an acronym, “B.I.W.A.” That’s all the cop would say, “B.I.W.A.”
Actually he would say he was pulling over a car, maybe give the license number and always the location. But the reason given for the stop was just that, “B.I.W.A.” and the dispatcher or sergeant listening knew exactly what he meant because B.I.W.A. stands for “Black in white area.”
That was the city. Some say it’s the city still. Which is what this is all about, yeah. It’s about BIWA.
 And Ronnie Earle.


              Readers talk about a vast rightwing effort to dumb down the left-leaning citizens of the city. They talk conspiracy, they talk cabal. But you’re closer to the truth if you think herb, cold beer, sun and the lake. Pussy. Dick. Warm weather for the two to meet. There are a lot better things to do in this town than dig through records in the courthouse or rewrite copy. The location attracts talented writers, that's part of the appeal of River City, but once people hit town the lifestyle goes to work in unexpected ways. You just stop wanting to work. Has nothing to do with being slackers, per se, it’s a purely rational decision. There’s better shit to do.
Ronnie once helped recruit a police chief for the city. This is a true story, or mostly true, Ronnie told me about it in one of our tete-a-tetes in his office one day as he was approaching retirement. The chief was from Small Town, California and took the job reluctantly, because he didn’t really approve of the Texas capital city, thought Austin was degenerate in some sense, and called the residents “hippies.” And then a year or two after coming hereRonnie saidthe chief bought a couple of acres in the Hill Country and was talking about retiring to the ranch to raise a few head. It was that way with reporters too. They might arrive fired-up with ambition but people get comfortable here, they start spending time on the water, learning how to jet ski, drinking on the patio at Scholz’s. Maybe they start sampling local produce—for whatever reason there’s always been good herb in this town and in a certain circle that’s important. There were moments of brilliance in the newsroom even during my tenure but no one could be bothered to put out a decent newspaper day after day, that would be too much like work. Good enough was usually good enough. The city was laidback and maybe that’s disappearing now but at the time relaxation was a religion. 
We weren’t journalists then, for the record, we were reporters, a category that was not entirely kosher, not like now that the job is fashionable and people are better-educated but inexperienced in the ways of the world, then it was the reverse: we were too experienced but not well-enough schooled to make sense of what we saw. Or know how to express it. A lot like the cops we covered: questionable formal education, a skill set acquired mostly on the job, our own bars and our own bulls or bitches, and a reputation for not being particularly good in polite society. A lot of drinking—a lot of drinking and a lot of fucking, actually, not that there's anything wrong with that—and a lot of divorces. If you had any sense you were looking for a way up, or out.
          In the Statesman newsroom the questionable influence actually started at the top. Editor Ray Mariotti's major reputation outside work was as a bar-fighter. Ray was best known as the guy you wanted to have your back if things got nasty when you went out at night, after putting the newspaper to bed. He fucked anything that moved which made him kind of a role model for young reporters, but his command of the five W’s or his understanding of the inverted pyramid writing style, although impeccable, was not teachable. He had learned his trade as city editor in Miami Beach, that was his day job while he spent most of his free time at the dog track. So, the thing about us being uneducated, maybe that was not entirely true. Sitting to my right a couple of desks over were two Stanford graduates, Glenn Garvin who did investigations and Linda Anthony, an incredibly hot little thing who did an expose on massage parlors by working as a masseuse. No lie. Linda studied Chinese at Stanford, so they told me—probably the only masseuse working in America who studied Mandarin at a top-tier private university. Truth be known, Linda kind of owned the newspaper, or a big part of it, the name she didn’t use was Cox, Linda Anthony Cox, or Linda Cox Anthony, the Cox part belonging to “Cox Enterprises,” or “Cox Media,” or “Cox Communications,” or “Cox Newspapers,” not sure what corporate logo they were using at the time but owners of the Austin and Waco newspapers, dailies in Palm Beach, and Dayton, Ohio where the founding Cox had been governor—and Atlanta Newspapers, where my journalism apprenticeship took place, as well as a couple of ad-filled throwaways in California that were probably more profitable than Austin and Atlanta combined. With certain notable exceptions like the rock n’ roll critic Ed Ward who arrived on the bus after me, and Bill Cryer who was Garvin’s partner and also first-rate, and Linda, who was a class act, we were mostly in the Mariotti mode. Can’t speak for everybody but if we weren’t working at a newspaper most of us would have been at the track with Ray. It wasn't just a class thing but you could explain it that way as well as any other. 
Because we weren’t entirely “acceptable” didn’t mean we didn’t have power or stand close to power. Just after my arrival the guy sitting at the desk in front of me was tapped as the new Republican governor's press secretary. Eventually, a few years down the road, Bill Cryer who supervised me, or tried to supervise me, became Governor Richard’s press secretary—and his ex-wife Ann, who was the Capitol correspondent for one of the wire services, was Governor White’s. No one asked me to be spokesman for an administration but that was cool, it wasn’t my scene, wouldn’t have looked good anyway: arrogant young nigger is more acceptable today than it was back then. Besides, my plan was grander than misleading the press, not that Bill or Ann did that or not that there’s anything wrong with it if they did. My idea, this may sound crazy, was to create a new kind of journalism. Call me a dreamer, call me an innovator—call me a thug. My idea was to tap that sweet spot between reporting and crime: getting the story by any means possible, which most everybody was already doing anyhow, including fucking sources if need be, sometimes even if it wasn’t necessary, that was the easy part at the Capitol, finding somebody to screw—but when necessary actually stepping over the proverbial line into prosecutable criminality. That was my goal. But not getting caught. Because only amateurs get caught, which is what prematurely ended my promising career as a burglar in California, before coming home to Texas. This new approach to journalism, if it worked, seemed to offer whole new vistas for “getting the story.”
For example my buddy Gimo who was one of the Statesman’s investigative types went to federal court to look at a file. So, he got the file mixed up with his own papers and left the courthouse with the federal papers lost among his own. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. So, Linda Anthony who was city editor by then, well, she kinda got a call from the presiding federal judge in Austin, appointed to the bench by President Reagan, who lived near Linda, the judge not Reagan, and apparently knew her, like, socially? So, it’s like a courtesy call, yeah, a courtesy let’s call it: the judge tells Linda, like, Gimo can bring the file back to the courthouse, “or I can send the marshals out to collect it,” words to that effect—the unspoken understanding being that if the United States Marshal Service has to be sent to the newsroom they will collect Gimo too while they're there retrieving the file. So, like, this was a mistake on my friend’s part. He simply forgot to return the file. But my idea and, in all modesty it’s pretty revolutionary: suppose you wanted to do shit like that on purpose? Instead of suppressing thug-like tendencies, suppose a nigger played to his strengths? That was my notion, call it prosecutable if you will. Anyone who is dishonest when honesty is easier is fucked up, that’s my view, but if you’re dishonest when it’s more difficult, maybe, and more rewarding, certainly, when the price is right so to speak—if you show a willingness to go where no thug has gone before—you’re a nigger to be reckoned with. That became my goal. To be good in a bad way, or just plain bad: Dishonesty as a rule, as a philosophy of life if you like, yielded some early results but success was, frankly, disappointing early on. We're being honest here.
Chasing the Billy Nelson story, trying to track down other witnesses, someone gave me the address of a couple who had been at the lake house when the shooting started. No one answered the door at their home, day after day, but there was a telephone bill one afternoon in the mailbox and it seemed to me like a good idea to, kind of, take it. So, there were these calls back and forth from the couple’s home to East Texas which is where, after a long drive, they were located for an interview. My tradecraft was good and my balls didn’t disappoint either: Saw an opportunity and took it. The problem was that the Greater Austin Organized Crime Unit had the couple’s house under surveillance because the pigs wanted to talk to them too and, sometime later, me getting ready to burn the boys in the Organized Crime Unit on another story, and calling for comment—those undercover pricks told me they had seen me take a letter out of the mailbox and isn't that, like, a federal crime? That’s what they asked me, like they didn’t know. A rhetorical inquiry, so to speak. How is that for unethical behavior? How is that for dishonesty? If you can’t trust the police whom can you trust? That’s why the work we do in the Fourth Estate is so important. Who else is going to protect the public and expose abuses by those in power?

That was the birth of this revolutionary idea, a concept that has changed journalism forever. Instead of waiting for someone to leak what you need or having to dig through tax records or campaign contributions, why not just wait until dark, go to the office in question and break in? You can even grow your game organically. The lazy man’s way to investigative journalism, so to speak, and potentially easier because, instead of breaking a window, isn’t it just as good if someone leaves a door unlocked? 
So, there was a chance to try my system out, sudden mayhem, a “good murder,” as we say in the trade: a killing in a trailer park up near Ft. Hood, the largest military base in the free world, or so they say. A teenaged kid, boy or girl, can’t remember which, must have been a boy, he was in love and the parents had forbidden him to see her whoever she was, or vice versa. So, these crazy mixed-up kids did what any red-blooded American teenagers would do and killed the entire family before running away. Got as far as Dallas, maybe. By the time the City Desk heard about it and sent me up to Ft. Hood—me the closest warm body when the assistant city editor looked up from the telephone which is how the best assignments are made, there’s no one else in the newsroom. The cops had already left the scene and the trailer was sealed.
            Not the trashcan though, which was actually outside the yellow tape of the crime scene. In the can was a letter that the pigs had missed despite their affection for trash from the kid to his/her squeeze about how he/she couldn’t take it anymore and they had to run away. Would have made a great story, a lot of teenaged angst—the layout people in the newsroom would have said the only missing ingredient were bloodstains.
           Something stopped me from writing the story though, even with the tacit okay of the United States Supreme Court that trash, once it’s set out for collection, is fair game. It was just somehow hard to get used to the idea that you could put the contents of someone’s garbage can in the morning newspaper even though some people might say that, in daily journalism, that's exactly what we do every day. For me, the blockage was purely psychological which is often true of would-be innovators. Most of life’s barriers are mental, that’s my view now, and this reluctance stayed with me for some time, truth be known. And even at the time it occurred to me there had to be a better way than dumpster-diving for leads. There was nothing to do but wait my chance. Eventually, some unwanted disclosure would come my way that wouldn’t require me to get my hands dirty. So, to fast forward to that life-changing experience, to the historical moment when journalism changed forever, the circumstances were these: we had to take turns covering pigs on the weekend and my plan was not nefarious at the start, let me be perfectly clear. That came later. Mine is a practical soul, living in a Southern state it’s always best to try to be a good nigger until it becomes time to be a bad one, in case there’s a trial later, because the jury, especially in this town, will be white. That day it just turned out that the transition from Good Negro to Bad Nigger was particularly swift. Police always say that crime is largely a matter of opportunity and, in my modest opinion, so is criminal journalism. You see something and you make a grab for it and run like hell.
At the City Desk there was a police scanner turned down low but still loud enough that the assistant city editor could listen with one ear while he was reading copy or taking a call from a crazy or chewing somebody’s ass. And he heard this call one morning: for the coroner’s wagon to go out to the State Hospital to pick up a body. Then as now some things never change, ASH, the Austin State Hospital officially, was a mess. Mysterious deaths, thefts of drugs, sexual assaults—the only people more dangerous than the patients were the staff itself. The director of nursing once told me she bought hemostats by the dozen but they disappeared in days because the nurses were using them for roach clips. That kind of place. So, the coroner's wagon was called out to pick up a body and the City Desk sent me to find out why. An editor smelled a story. That was the system. The weekend guy at the desk, it would have been Lee, was half-listening to the scanner, and something caught his interest. Not scientific but reasonably effective, yeah. 
Someone directed me to the administration building but the secretary there somehow mistook me, for whatever reason, for the Travis County medical examiner’s investigator. It was her mistake: not by word or deed was there ever any attempt to mislead her or anyone else. Not because of any ethical restraint on my part but because the thought hadn't occurred to me yet. That would come later. There was no attempt to correct the bitch, either. That wasn’t my responsibility, it was my view then and it’s my view now. It’s not like it helped anyway. The secretary told me to sit down over in an easy chair in a corner of her office, to wait for some people to come out of a meeting and the next person to actually come through the front door was this guy named Norm who was the medical examiner’s chief administrator. She told him to take a seat too “over there with your investigator” and Norm, who knew me pretty good, not like we were drinking buddies or anything, not like we had shared the sacred herb or done a trio with the same chick, not that well, but well enough to identify me as an employee of the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office, or not, told her "That’s not Dr. Bayardo’s investigator, that’s a reporter from the Statesman." Words to that effect. He said the name of the newspaper as if it were repugnant, an object of fear or dread. The atmosphere deteriorated pretty quickly from that point, certainly. There were some raised voices, yes, that may also be true.
They kicked me out of the building, actually. That’s true too. And a day or two later, over at the Medical Examiner’s Office across the street from the courthouse, me making the rounds, Norm was looking pretty smug, acting like he had me by the nuts, and he said, like, the medical examiner’s investigator is a licensed peace officer of the State of Texas and if you try anything like that again you’ll be arrested and charged with impersonation of a police officer, and my attitude was whatever, motherfucker, without actually voicing the “motherfucker” part—giving it right back to Norm because it was their mistake not mine and it was my feeling, like, this is completely do-able, being an arrogant Young Blood is called for, and justified, a high-minded Travis County jury would understand the difference even if this bitch standing in front of me did not. And, "If Dr. Bayardo wants to call Ray Mariotti or the City Desk to complain, here’s my card," the number is on the front let-me-dial-it-for-you-motherfucker without the let-me-dial-it-for-you-motherfucker part. It was my belief that the newspaper would have supported me, yeah, would have backed my play, one of the few times but yes. Not, like, for opening other people’s mail—no, probably not, because of the Postal Inspectors and all, although the newspaper might still have been liable for lawyer’s fees since my arrest would have been on the clock, that would have been my argument if it went to court, you had to consider every angle in judging Cox Media's support, you feel me?
            Or not even for dumpster-diving because that would be embarrassing to Cox Newspapers or the Cox Corporation or Linda Cox Anthony. But for allowing a public official to make a mistake that might have led to a scoop? Yeah, motherfucker. Because Ray Mariotti was a good newspaperman, or moderately good, and a better bar brawler and this would have come under the brawling heading: he would have told those bitches Norm and Dr. Bayardo to get fucked and then he would have taken me aside in a private meeting, you know, and like, bitch-slapped me. Not for my attempt which he would have respected but for getting caught. Because only amateurs get caught. That's the great life lesson that newspaper work reinforced for me that afternoon at the State Hospital: don't get caught. The whole episode taught me one other important thing, too. The City Desk was right. There was something about that death at the hospital that was making everybody nervous. People died there all the time. Malpractice was the only practice. What was so special about another floater in a sea of bad psychiatric care?
When you smell a story like that you start running your traps early on, the conventional ones first, specifically interviews at the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, the bureaucracy of state government that ASH was a part of at the time. Basically you always want to give a State of Texas official a chance to lie early which they usually jump at, so you have their version of events to work against and later you can add a few paragraphs about a cover-up that might get the story moved to Page One. That’s my standard operating procedure, basically unchanged through the decades. Always give an official a chance to cover his ass. Sometimes the cover-up actually has more dramatic value than whatever they are covering up, usually in fact. Next there were interviews with mental health advocates who didn’t really know anything specific but could provide background. A long painful interview with the family of the patient followed, in Houston. The kid was autistic, people understood the condition even less then than now and he was just old enough, like seventeen, to be placed on an adult ward. The family was affluent, with resources to care of him at home but they had been led to believe the state would provide the best treatment for their son. A big mistake, what can you say in hindsight except it was the kind of error people don’t make so much today. At the State Hospital they loaded the kid with Thorazine until he was chilled out, had a good buzz going or whatever, doing the Thorazine Shuffle or whatever they wanted, the doctors and nurses, a compliant patient population would be the best guess. But then they gave him too much and he choked on his own vomit. The Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation did an internal investigation under pressure from the press—and buried the report. 
Fast forward again. So, like, one morning about 7 a.m., just any morning in this capital city, like, probably twenty years before you were born if you're a hipster recently moved to the city as so many are. There, at the Mental Health and Mental Retardation’s headquarters on 45th Street, basically around the corner from the hospital: a state trooper arrived and unlocked the front door of the building. He didn’t notice me waiting across the street in an American-Statesman staff car that was unmarked but looked semi-official, a good thing if the trooper looked around which he didn’t. The pig’s departure was my cue to get moving. Security technology of the day was a big chain and a Master padlock. There were no closed-circuit cameras, no door code or password to get in. The trooper just opened the front door and left. No one had shown up yet for work. The office of the deputy commissioner whose name was on the report was one floor up on the left and this fact was already known to me because the motherfucker had given me an interview in which he said nothing but took an hour to say it, which was also my opportunity to scope out the building. His door was locked but his secretary’s desk and the filing cabinet were in an unenclosed area, kind of an alcove. Nobody was in the building. Except me. Offices still contained filing cabinets at the time and they were, not to get sentimental or anything, a beautiful sight. The report was filed under the kid’s last name. Duh. Took it, copied it at the newspaper and brought it back the next day at the same time. Waited for the trooper to do his duty again and leave.
My feet got a little cold, sure, on the return trip. Ethics aside—my sense of right and wrong is always foremost in mind, but it's my sense of right and wrong, not The Man's sense of right and wrong, nor your's—and returning something you’ve stolen wasn't, in my opinion, worth going to prison for. You don’t want to tempt fate or the Texas criminal justice system.  
So, can’t remember if there were noises in the building or someone showed up early, would like to think it was the latter, but my nerves got to me, one of the few times in my life, and instead of going upstairs and putting the file back in the cabinet where it belonged there was a desk closer to the front door that belonged to an assistant commissioner who also had given me an interview and that’s where the report somehow ended up. Ran like hell, frankly, after dropping the file on the poor bastard’s desk. Fuck him, the assistant commissioner, that was my feeling at the time—although he was actually a pretty good guy. Kenny was his name, Kenny Dudley, passed just a few years ago may he rest in peace. We ran into each other once, me and the guy who almost took the fall for the leaked report, and he said that he had been blamed because the file was found on his secretary’s desk and he barely managed to convince people it wasn’t him who gave it to the press. Only his innate good nature and the fact that his father was former campaign manager for Governor Smith saved him. He didn't say that, about his dad, but that was the background so you don't think of me as a complete jerk, a complete asswipeit's not like me setting up a housekeeper, right, or a lowly secretary, to take the fall. You leave it on the secretary's desk the secretary's boss not the secretary will get blamed, everybody knows that, that's how the system works. This guy Kenny had some resources to protect himself, don't lose any sleep, he was the kind of guy who would get out of trouble whether he did it or not, the kind of guy you want to blame if you just have to burn somebody, even accidentally. So, this is actually my feeling, and maybe he wouldn't have agreed, but leaving the file on his desk could even be viewed as a very moral decision on my part. So, like, aim high and miss high: Kenny hadn't done it, right, he was innocent and innocence can be a great source of strength, not to get spiritual or anything, people would look into his eyes and believe him when he said he didn't do it, that was my thinking at the time, sprinting for the door of the American-Statesman car and later sitting in the newspaper parking lot after firing up a fat one and taking a few deep hits. 
           Some months passed by the time we ran into each other and he asked me, like, who really leaked the report? Like, nobody, dude. My journalistic ethics prevented me from revealing that at the time. The secret is now out: nobody. And so it goes, every day fraught with danger, making decisions on right and wrong that could affect the course of history in the former Texas Republic. That was officially the birth of Gangster Journalismif you asked me to put a date on it. My preference is actually to say “Guerrilla Journalism” because it conveys more Che Guevara or Malcolm X than John Dillinger or Public Enemy, although Dillinger was a revolutionary too in his own way. Years from now when historians interested in the form ask about the origins of this New School of Reporting—my response will be that it was born that morning, in Austin, me running out of the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation headquarters with a file under my arm and my dick ten inches long. A paradigm shifted that morning, if you ask me, no fucking doubt. A search for sources would still be important. But even more important: leave no witnesses.

            When you’re going after a government agency at first no one wants to talk except to lie to you or give you the company line, like at Mental Health and Mental Retardation. If they talk to you at all it’s not like they’re going to break down and say anything important except the early lies which you still want to be sure and get down, on paper or on tape. Most of these motherfuckers can talk for hours and not say anything at all, especially the higher up you go, it’s like a prerequisite for the job. It’s a little like talking to a chick in a bar, to use that analogy again, sex, which is my favorite analogy actually. There can be a lot of long meaningful looks but most of the time you don’t get anything like what you were hoping for. The unwillingness to grant interviews actually increases in direct proportion to the importance of the story. And they, the bureaucrats, can sense that something is up if they’re any good, they know why you’re calling before you call, or they explicitly ask what it’s about and all you can do is lie which is okay with me personally, in my private life, but lying like a mofo is simply not a workable long term policy if you want to stay in this business and keep your credibility which is important to me. Even if you want to be a thug you want to be the kind of thug a bitch can trust if she’s thinking of giving up some pussy, to use that analogy again, sex. You don't want her to give it up to just any nigger, but if she got to lie down with an indiscriminate Negro it's better if it's you, you feel me? And the only way to get those benefits is to establish a sense of trust. That means not telling any lie that can be checked.
Part of the problem when you’re dealing with a deputy commissioner for example, or an assistant director of the department because the director or the top boss refuses to see you—you’re going to visit them at their office, right? You’re on his or her home field. That's where his defenses are strongest. If you could get him or her to come to the newsroom it would be completely different, he or she would be face to face with the power of the press: phones ringing, story meetings, foul language and a hung-over, belligerent staff. In the case of a newspaper like the Statesman a managing editor, for instance—this is completely hypothetical—who owes his bookie and doesn’t have the money, or an assistant managing editor who’s fucking the City Desk clerk who sells home-made meth to the staff at $10 a gram. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it doesn’t happen. The sex and the drugs sure but officials don’t come to you, you have to go see them. How to turn the tables? How do you get them nervous enough to make a mistake? My plan was pretty simple: do the interview at home. Not mine—his or her's.
So, the idea was actually pretty successful, yeah. Not to beat my own drum or anything. Much more successful than going through dumpsters, certainly, which can also be part of the Search for Truth, sometimes you do have to take a dive in the trash. Anyway, you’d hit ‘em in the evening when the shock value alone of a reporter showing up at the front door was worth a few blurted confessions. He or she had no aides, no assistants, no press guy or girl or assistant general counsel sitting in on the interview, and the great seal of the State of Texas was not on the wall at his or her back. No backup at all. Timing was critical. By arriving in the evening you were pretty sure they’d had their first couple of drinks, the only question was did you want to get to them before or after dinner? Is low blood sugar a good or a bad thing? Did one of the doctors from the State Hospital that way about 8 p.m. at his house in Tarrytown, that’s what gave me the idea in the first place. Showed up like the FBI with a warrant and it must have been a glucose imbalance because he spilled some important beans. Shock and awe, sure, but he also wanted to get rid of meand the best way to do that was to feed me something first. It was just an experiment but turned out well, he was in fact the one who first told me that the report on the kid’s death was buried because it was bad. Which was good. Very good, in this business. 
          Anyway, if you have artistic sensibilities or intellectual pretensions or even if you just need an extra move—you wanna add some juke to your jive—you want to see can you use a technique elsewhere, in another piece. Does this have wider applicability, in other words? Does it belong in your permanent bag of tricks? And after the mayhem at the State Hospital faded from the headlines, just the story came to mind for the enhanced interview techniques that dealing with the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation taught me. It was another psych case:
The patient's name was Bob Bullock.


If you’re a certain kind of reporter you know in your heart of hearts there’s a shortcut to the front page.
          If you didn’t want to look at flight logs or Bullock’s expense accounts or try to turn his aides, which was impossible without a threat of jail—which was impossible even with a threat of jail, because that’s what Ronnie tried—there was another way that was faster, cheaper and sexier to get your byline on the front page of the daily newspaper. Not that that’s important—and maybe a blowjob later which is. Find the target of the investigation and try to sweat him. Or her. In other words give Mr. Bullock the third degree. It made so much sense to me at the time that it was a surprise nobody thought of it before. Too late it became clear why nobody else had tried. My science was good, certainly. The theory was excellent. The practice was just a tad dubious.
You know why cops are assholes, why they’re so obnoxious? Not because only assholes go into police work although that’s a good guess, but because the police want to piss you off intentionally when they’re talking to you. They want to see which way you jump—to see if you’ll make a mistake, to see if you “act guilty.” They do that by holding on to your driver’s license, or passport, a couple of minutes longer than necessary, or by acting like they don’t believe your answer whatever your answer may be, by pursuing a line of inquiry past a logical end, by being pricks in short. It's a kind of a job requirement, actually. It was my idea that a reporter can achieve the same results if he or she has a similar technique. It’s all about practice.
           My idea which seemed like a good idea at the time was to intimidate the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, i.e., the Taxman: Get Bullock alone, at his house, sweat him a little, make it sound like Ronnie’s investigation was coming to a head and see which way Bullock jumped. Not lie to him exactly because that would be unethical but somehow lead Mr. Bullock to believe the noose was tightening.
          Get him to comment on the indictment before any indictment was signed: It would give me a piece of the story, get me into a story where my presence was so far noticeably lacking even though it was a courthouse story, my beat, my backyard, my hunting ground. The key was Ronnie. The key question was, "Where does Bullock live?" He wasn’t in the white pages. You weren’t going to find him in the business directory under “State Officials” or “Corrupt State Officials” or “Targets of the Travis County Grand Jury.” The word on the street was that Bullock, who made paranoia look like a reasonable state of mind even when the D.A. wasn’t after him, moved around a lot. He was married to a real estate agent after all. Ronnie would know where they bedded down. Or Ronnie’s investigators would know. That was my theory. Ronnie’s people would've checked out the house for signs of ill-gotten gains, maybe even served a search warrant just to rattle the big man, which was my idea too, to frighten the motherfucker and see which way he jumped.
          The D.A.'s people weren’t going to tell me where Bullock lived but Ronnie might, if it was done right, with subtlety and style which are the hallmarks of this Black Journalist. My level of anxiety about running a trap on the Travis County District Attorney, you may ask? Zero. He had pulled my string often enough. Now it was time to make him dance.
          First and foremost however in order to keep his credibility the reporter has to show his independence from the "authorities"—that we’re not mere pawns of The Man. So, like, me and Ronnie were chatting about something entirely different and just, you know, real casual, you know, my question to him was, like—like it was something that just occurred to me, not the whole purpose for the fucking visit to his office in the first place—my question was something like, “Hey, by the way, where does Bullock live?” And Ronnie replied, equally casually, like he wasn’t paying attention, which he wasn’t, “Up on Cat Mountain.” Didn’t raise that index finger either.
Ronnie didn’t know the address—or wasn’t going to call his chief investigator to find out. There was nothing to do but go look for myself. Which was cool, a little legwork, you feel me, sometimes that’s the nature of the game, like tracking a gazelle on the savannah back in the day was for my ancestors, sometimes you have to track your prey. Although ambush is more fun. Still, not being that well-acquainted with the city and this being outside my usual sector of operations, which was mostly downtown, my first thought was that Cat Mountain must be a real mountain, at least a hill. But it was also a street, a dead end street, north, northwest, not exactly Butt Fucking Egypt but close enough, up there in the beginnings of the suburban wasteland, almost Williamson County, oh my God, a part of the White Homeland where only Caucasians ventured, BIWA, not at all the kind of place where a black man wanted to be when the sun went down. This story warranted an exception: Went to check it out myself. Driving the Statesman staff car into the unknown, the only comforting thought was that any prey encountered would be white and fair game.
And my luck held. There, in the fading light, parked in front of an inconspicuous house that did not signify wealth or power was a car that did both—a shiny white Cadillac with “State Official” license plates. Mrs. Bullock answered the door.
She was wife number one, or two, who later also did time as wife number three, something like that, Bullock got around, and actually married this lady, named Amelia, twice. She was a Realtor. Mrs. Bullock was a petite attractive woman with a cute haircut and impressive rack who looked at me, read my business card or whatever and gave me a final apprehensive glance before going to get her husband. In different circumstances we might have been friends—she didn’t warn me off explicitly although you could tell she wanted to say something. Left me standing in the doorway, actually, and in light of later events what she was doing could be interpreted as giving me a last chance to escape. In retrospect her apprehensive glance was a warning, a sign like “Trouble Ahead.” A minute later she returned to the door, Mr. Bullock behind her.
He was a little guy, trim, a build like a young Sinatra. The statue of him in the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum is a pretty good likeness in proportion if not in detail. He smelled of booze which was also true to reputation, it was late enough that he had his first few after coming home from running the State of Texas, that part of my plan was working, yeah, you always have to have a plan in situations like these so that later you have something to blame other than yourself. You didn’t fuck up personally, the plan was just no good, not appropriate to the circumstances, or the circumstances changed. Bullock's eyes were red, you couldn’t help but notice, on a scale of 1 to 10 of redness his were like an 11 or 12. We didn’t shake hands. There was nothing to do but introduce myself, give him my rap and start trying to pull his chain. Luckily—fucking with public officials comes to me pretty naturally. The higher up they are the more natural it feels. And this guy was white, they all were at the State of Texas at that time. The weird thing, this was what worried me most, Mr. Bullock didn’t look directly at me. Those red eyes were focused about shoulder-level and just to my left side. He interrupted me half-way through my rap about Ronnie and the Travis County Grand Jury's investigation.
“Lucius,” Mr. Bullock said, kind of slow, but without any slurring or impediments to clear speech, “if you ever come to my house again I’ll shoot you.”
What struck me most was that it was kind of an awkward moment socially. A death threat from your host stops so many conversations. There was no slurring of words, no drool, no hesitation, to his credit he didn’t shout or anything, Bullock just said “I'll shoot you” the same way he would have said, “No comment,” or “Pleased to meet you,” or the way Willie Nelson invited me into his house, something that circumstances called for.
The way Bullock still wasn’t looking me in the eye was pretty spooky, though, have to admit that. His eyes were red but, more important, they had that vacant look you see with somebody who has just killed a family of eight. My options at that point were limited. My balls got a little tight and may have moved up an inch or two closer to the top of my scrotum. So they wouldn’t be in the way, like, if it came to a sprint. That's only natural, when you have big balls like mine you always have to get them out of the way in case of emergency, clear for action, so to speak. Fear had nothing to do with it actually, at that time. It was more surprise. Did the second most powerful official of the State of Texas just threaten to kill me? Ronnie’s finger in the air suddenly seemed like part of a much more civilized interaction. There was my primal reaction which was still analytical. The math, the mental calculus, did not look good: Bullock was known to be a gun nut so if he wasn’t packing a piece under his shirt there was certainly one in the house. He was under the stress of a criminal investigation and he was also the single most important person in state government. He was famous for doing the unexpected. That was Bullock’s trademark in fact. He had just threatened to shoot a reporter who happened to be African-American, after warning the reporter to leave his home. The word at the Capitol was that Bullock himself did not hold any racial animus, at least no more than any other Texas cracker of his generation. At that time black people were still niggers in the original sense of the word but that was just a given not prejudice. If Bullock did shoot me he might be elected governor which is what he wanted most. So, like, a minute later the Statesman's car was rolling, at a pretty decent speed, down Cat Mountain.
Over the years the story of my Bullock encounter has actually gone through a few changes. Like, in bars, you have to jazz it up a little especially if you want to make it good enough for somebody to pay for the next round. Major alterations have been two additions to the narrative: The slow closing of my reporter’s notebook, unhurried—handing him my business card and telling him to give me a call if he wanted to talk. That was one. And saying, real cool-like, “Thank you, Mr. Bullock, for your time.” None of which actually happened. Nothing more was actually said. The next sounds were my heels on his driveway headed to the Statesman’s car and then the engine starting up. The better part of valor. But also the realization that the ploy hadn’t worked. Bob Bullock wasn’t the deputy commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. He wasn’t the assistant director at some fucked-up state agency. He ate those people for breakfast. Mr. Bullock knew more about pulling people’s strings than the entire newsroom staff. Even Ray Mariotti couldn’t have taken him in a barroom brawl. And something else: even thugs have a code of conduct. That's the takeaway lesson for the young reporter here. My plan was to go to Cat Mountain to push Bullock's buttons. 
           Instead he pushed mine.


The spot news photographer dragged me to a Fire Department call about a car in the water. It was a weekend, raining and almost dark.
            Every other Friday could be bad as a state government payday, and the other nights you had to watch were holidays and full moons. If there were the ingredients for terror the photographers were on alert, they were usually the first to know shit was happening. Sometimes the art was good enough to run on its own but most of the time the guy with the camera tried to get a reporter to come along for the ride, if there' was possible mayhem, because any kind of story guarantees better placement for the photograph and vice versa. 
             In this town during rainy season, which usually means spring, Onion Creek or Barton Creek are preferred locations for the drowned or soon-to-be drowned. That night Onion Creek was about to swallow somebody else, two people in fact, occupants of what the fire department dispatcher described over the radio as a "late model sedan," a man and his wife. She was already gone when we arrived, her body presumably hung up on bushes downstream while the husband was still with the car and about to die too. You could see him out on the car and he could see us. Onion Creek was the width of a river and fast, an awesome spot news opportunity, what else can you say? Remember in this line of work bad is good and worse is better. This had the potential to get a whole lot better.
Instead of ordering a firefighter to do something that he wouldn’t risk himself, the battalion captain, who was a young good-looking guythe story's lede already taking shape in my headtied a rope around his own waist and the other end around a tree and swam out to get the driver. The photographer got a great shot of the captain in the water that went on the front page with my story which was less inspiring because the art said it all. 
            Pretty late, by the time we put the baby to bed, but the reporters assigned to the pigpen at night, like me covering cops and fire, acts of man and acts of God, had a routine to follow before going home, or to a bar, and that required a last check at the police station to see if there had been any significant shootings or stabbings that would still need to be in the newspaper the next morning. We ran a kind of good-reporter, bad-reporter routine on the pigs not unlike the good cop/bad cop routine the police themselves use in interrogations. As a general rule, cops think reporters are lazy and reporters think cops are dumb and both assessments are pretty accurate, yeah, like 95% correct would be my estimate. So there’s not much respect and no love lost on either side. But both institutions still had to be able to talk to each other, at least occasionally, and that was done with the day police reporterthe main guy on the beat who actually got along with the pigs, went drinking with them or whatever, wrote about the chief’s speeches on "community outreach" as if somebody really gave a shit, reported who was getting promoted and who was retiring: never asked any difficult questions and the cops liked him or her because he or she never wrote anything bad. Bad shitgenuine rat-fucking evil that good reporters producewas done by the nightshift guys and gals or fill-ins like me, who worked three to eleven.
We never interacted with the upper police administrators except the night watch commander and we didn’t really care if the cops liked us or not. We were there to fuck them and as dumb as they may or may not have been they knew it. But the day guy, named Jim Berry or just plain Jimbo when he was drinking which was most of the time realized that there would be occasions at night when he wasn’t around that the cops would still want to talk—“communicate” is probably a better word, because talk implies two-way dialogue, back and forth, give and take, and that would be an exaggeration for the relationship between the newspaper and the pigs, at least the nights covered by me. It wasn’t like a detective was going to call and offer to be our bitch, you feel me, our snitch, our source even on mundane shit like a traffic accident. They simply didn’t want to be seen talking to any reporter except Jim Berry and sometimes not even him, so if shit still needed to get in the newspaper Berry established a protocol that was beautiful in its simplicity. 
            A good man and a good day-man, Jim Berry, a veteran news reporter who probably finished high school but had learned everything he needed to know in thirty years on the job. So, there was a press room at police headquarters that we had access to 24-7 and where the newspaper had a little desk, separate from the public affairs department where if it was open there was always a pig rooting around. The press room was generally unoccupied except during the day when Berry used it to hang out. Lieutenant Roundtree from public affairs sometimes stopped by and left a news release or whatever which we automatically threw away or used to wipe our asses except Jim Berry who might write a short to please the chief. For the night guy or girl the office was basically a place with a phone, to run traps, call for comment, ultimately a place to sit and smoke or drink a cup of coffee. If you were working with an intern from the Department of Journalism, yeah, you could bring her to this little office at P.D. to impress her, tell her “this is where real news stories break,” whatever that means, and ask her what color was her nightie. If she volunteered something more, like sometimes she didn’t wear a nightie at all, as a trained professional you knew to inquire further.
Jim Berry let it be known throughout the police department that if there was anything the cops wanted to tell us and they didn’t want to be seen talking to a reporter and didn’t want to call the City Desk they could drop a copy of the police report in the basket on top of our desk in the press room. There was nothing in the desk except old reporter’s notebooks and broken pencils, maybe a bottle, Jimbo liked the sauce whereas most of the night reporters were potheads like me, not that that’s relevant because we drank quite a bit too. Our unspoken professional promise to the pigs was that we would check the basket occasionally, and that night, after the flood on Onion Creek, it was still raining like a motherfucker and after the enormous spot news opportunity of the guy almost being swept away and waiting for the fire captain to drown too, which he didn’t, like, my last task before going home and lighting a fat one was to check with the watch commander to see if anything was cooking and specifically to check the drop in our little office. There was never anything in it, it was just a waste of time, at least that had been my experience. Until that night.
           So, like, most of the time you walked in and didn’t even need to look down because there was nothing ever in the basket. That night there was a copy of a traffic ticket that had been issued, like, the day before. Sweet. But really: A ticket, like, who cares? That may be your view. That was my feeling too, at first. Like, who cares? It wasn't even a police report. No felony—no shit—not even a Class A misdemeanor, a fucking traffic ticket, a citation, who gives a fuck? It was a copy of the whole ticket, front and back because it was minor, two pages and that's it, okay. Like, still, who cares? The name on the ticket made me catch my breath: Robert Douglas Bullock, also known as "Bob."
The driver was described as a state employee with an address on Cat Mountain. The car nailed it. A Cadillac or Continental, something big and American-made, which was the kind of ride Bullock liked, at least until he got the Mercedes paid for—the FBI would later report—with cash out of a paper bag, not that that's relevant here either. The driver this time, on this ticket, had been popped for speeding. “Oh yeah, baby!” was my response at the time, something literate and controlled like that.
And it wasn’t really, to tell the truth, like this was my chance to get back at Bullock. If that's what you're thinking. The Black Man is not vengeful by temperament, only Allah has the power to punish, we all know that's true. The Black Journalist is professional, high-minded like Barack and Nelson Mandela, spiritual like MLKdetermined like Che, and relentless like our late brother Malcolm X. By any means necessary, you feel me, as the great Malcolm said, but if you can be nice and still fuck the White Man that’s cool, too. 
          The traffic ticket was a possible article, yes, food for thought for the people of this burgeoning capital city not revenge for a jaded, burned-out reporter—although payback is nice, you have to admit that’s true. People don’t understand when they think the press protects some people and goes after others. We go after everybody. It’s all about the story. It could have been Mother Theresa’s name on the ticket or Jesus of Nazareth and it only would have been a better story. That night it was the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and sure my dick got hard but it got hard in a non-partisan, non-personal way. A professional hard-on, you could call it. Nothing more, nothing less, there was no passion involved. This was business. What you do in a situation like that is pull your dick out of your pants and slap it in your hand, get it ready to stick in, sure, but the point is you’d stick it in anybody, within reason. It’s your job. You feel me?
At the City Desk the night editor’s dick got hard too and he wanted me to contact Bullock to get a comment and be sure it was really him. Dream on. Even a speeding ticket for a statewide public official can be a big deal, as it turned out, as we learned later, and you have to give a mofo, even an elected official, a chance to respond, you know that—that's what the rules say, professionally that's what it's all about, the showdown with your prey, when your eyes meet as your jaws lock on his throat, you dig? That moment. But fuck that shit about contacting Bullock personally. That was my view at the time. Fuck that, totally.
            Like, there was something about the ticket that raised our suspicions anyway, although it’s hard to remember now what it was. Was the citation genuine? Of course it was. But, like, why did the anonymous pig drop it off at night instead of someone just giving it to Jim Berry the next morning or putting it in the basket when Jimbo was away drinking lunch? It would get in the newspaper eventually but it didn’t seem to me to be a big deal until the night city editor started to get all excited. He got kind of alert and happy at the same time, like a guy who sees pussy in his immediate future. He started acting like we already had Bullock by the nuts which we didn’t, at that point. Actually, the night editor was right. It was a very big deal, too big, too hot for a pig to be seen talking to Berry, even one of his friends on the force. That was unknown to us at the time. We just suspected something nefarious was going on. There was something more going on and neither me nor the night City Desk guy knew what it was. Something not completely clear: maybe there was a box—that’s it, that’s what it was, the fog is clearing now—a part of the ticket where the officer wrote that alcohol was a "contributing factor." Maybe that was it. There was a story, not a big one but okay for an inside page or the Metro section front, it seemed to me, it was just unclear exactly what it was. A few more details and there's be a good piece, full of innuendo because it was about Bullock, the most gossiped about man in the State of Texas. How to proceed? Like, go back to Bullock’s house? That would be a big NFW—No Fucking Way. That’s what the night desk guy suggested but my head was shaking no, "I don't think so." Please. 
We had the address on the ticket. “Oh gee,” was my response, something along those lines, “he lives on Cat Mountain. I don’t think I know where that is.” Something practical like that: Evasion, my best friend next to Miss Representation. 
The desk guy had a map. Why not call him? That was my suggestion. But we didn’t have a home number, there wasn’t one on the ticket. It seemed to me, quite naturally, that instead of going to his house, instead of me going to his house, we could take Bullock’s “no comment” for granted. Still, you couldn’t just run the ticket in the morning edition. We needed more information. That's what it means to be professionals, professionalism you could call it, in every good sense of the word. There was a certain level of expertise working at the City Desk that night, me and the night desk guy, neither of us more than journeymen, maybe five years experience between us total, but working together we were a formidable opponent to the most powerful man in the state, the taxman, who was showing us a vulnerable flank if we could figure out a way to get at it. Could teamwork defeat the Prince of Evil? Probably not, but we could at least spoil his morning coffee. Bullock’s whole fucking career was at stake but little did we know.
              There was one possibility to get to the bottom of whatever we were involved in. The cop who popped the Comptroller of Public Accounts. The night editor agreed, suddenly we were on the same wavelength, if we could talk to the pig who wrote the ticket we didn’t have to find Bullock. We could fuck Bullock that night and he could call a press conference in the morning to tell his side of it but by then it would be too late.
             That sounded pretty fair to me. The question was, like, was this really him? Was it really that Bob Bullock, the Texas patron, Prince of the Political Underworld? It was, we both knew it, me and the night editor, but you have to run traps nonetheless, that's what it means to be good reporters and even as journeymen we already understood that much. And for that, to run our traps, Jim Berry, the day guy, the day police reporter, came through again. Somehow, known only to Berry—his sources were amazing—he had gotten a copy of the home telephone list for the entire police force. Several sheets stapled together with “Confidential” or “Secret” stamped on the cover, we should have run the whole freaking list in the newspaper, that would've been my suggestion, print their addresses, vehicle descriptions and checking account numbers too. Routes to work if you could find out, at least for the chiefs. But nobody listened to me at that point, the junior guy working the City Desk. In fact Jim Berry drunk or just plain tipsy was doing a pretty credible job of befriending the police and still rat-fucking them when the time came, a sophisticated game that a young brother like me, still developing my own moves, learning how to fight dirty, did not entirely appreciate back in the day. The motherfucker had sources, you feel me? 
And even after Jimbo fucked the cops, between sips from the bottom drawer of his desk, they came back for more which is hard to do as a reporter, and all, unless your source is also your bitch and that’s especially hard to do at the police station, make a cop your bitch, because the pigs are so macho, you know? Even the chicks. They don’t want to be anybody’s bitch and especially not a reporter’s. But we digress. So, the telephone list was in Berry’s desk in the newsroom with his instructions that it was only to be used on important stories and without divulging that we had a copy or where the telephone number came from. That was cool with me. Like, all you can do is try. The officer who wrote the ticket was a chick, apparently a rookie, one of the few women on the force at the time. She was home. My luck was holding. A rookie, yeah, that could help too. Her first question was, like, how did you get my home number? “We have our sources, Officer.” No shit. Something like that—that was my message to her and it was calculated. Sucking up a little but making it sound threatening too which is hard to do but God gave some the gift. Acting like we knew more about her than we really did, when we really didn’t know shit except her name. She was just another bluesuit, completely expendable in newsprint or on the street, but she didn't know that. "We have our sources, Officer." Shit. We have sources, but the point was to impress her with the power of the press. When actually it was completely her call, you know? She just didn’t realize it.
And she was curious, ain’t that just like a ho?
           Especially curious about how we got her unlisted telephone number. She wanted to know how, first of all. Women are like that, the first thing they want to know is how you got the phone number even if you’re asking about a traffic stop not a date. But also curious, like, why is the newspaper calling at ten o’clock at night? She was even more curious about that. So, my question was, like, did she write a speeding ticket on the most powerful politician in the state and did she, like, know who he was when she stopped him?
            Oh, she said. That. Yes and yes, or, like, yes and kind of yes, she recognized the name on the license, the official license plates helped, but she said she didn’t know what exactly Bullock did for the State of Texas. That’s what they all say. That's cool, that's cool, “I recognized the name but not what he does,” she said, the lying little bitch. Bullshit. In Texas knowing Bullock’s name but not what he did was like having heard the name Lucifer but not knowing where he works. But that was cool, not a deal breaker for me at all, it’s all good when talking to the heat, pigs are very sensitive, in my experience, all things considered, you just have to watch your step because they're carrying a gun. Actually in person or long distance she could lie to me as much as she wanted, within reason. It's kind of like sex, you know? That's a good analogy. A woman tells you yeah you can come in for a drink—or a spliff, this is Austin, let's say a bluntshe just got a designer baggie in from Oaxaca or wherever, let’s share the sacred herb, up in her apartment on South Congress—but she says she has to get up early in the morning, so it'll just be for a minute. Next thing you know you're grinding hips on the living room floor. My best analogy would be sex, yeah. Same thing with this cop. She could lie to me as much as she wanted about little shit. So long as eventually she gave up something sweet. 
She was still on the line, right, we were about to close the deal. “I’m not even sure I should be talking to you,” she said. She had that right. The surprise was the conversation had lasted this long, like 50 seconds. In the morning the upper ranks of the police department were going to be lining up in the chief’s office to dry-hump her but she didn’t know that yet, she was still a rookie, she just suspected that talking to a reporter was not a wise career move. My guess was that, oh, in about ten more seconds common sense was going to kick in and she was going to hang up. Time to take a risk.
So, like, my next line was to recall a police department policy for her. From the manual, in fact. The policy was that it was always up to the individual officer whether he/she talks to reporters or not. That was the rule, may still be, back in the day whenever we asked Lt. Roundtree the public affairs guy if we could talk to Officer So-and-So or Detective This-or-That about a case, the lieutenant said, like, that’s up to the individual officer, “I’ll contact him and get back to you,” which the lieutenant always did, get back to us, and the answer was always no-go-fuck-yourself from the cop himself without the go-fuck-yourself part explicitly said. Those bitches never wanted to talk, never trusted us, no more than we trusted them. So, that was the policy, they could talk if they wanted to, but the practice was the cops wouldn’t give us the time of day, at least not anything sensitive and especially not anything involving a powerful political figure. And God knows not for attributionnot on the recordnot with the pig’s name in print. And oh-my-god-NO about a powerful dangerous vindictive son-of-a-bitch like Robert Douglas Bullock. It was said Bullock had people killed. 
            So, the bluesuit ho on the phone was cutting her own pretty little throat but, me thinking it over once or twice since then, reviewing life’s major moral and ethical decisions with a spliff between my lips, it wasn’t my job to take the knife out of her hand, was it? "Am I my sister's keeper?" No. Something about that, yeah, she must have heard about the policy—just not yet have been schooled on the practice. So she stayed on the line. The issue of alcohol came up. Don’t know if it was really on the ticket that Bullock was drinking when he was stopped but somehow the issue arose. With Bullock it was always the first question to ask: "Was he drinking?" May have been my prompting, okay, but it was the right question to ask with the little piglet too.
So, yeah, he had been drinking she said. How did she know that? She asked him, she said. Thank you thank you thank you sweet Jesus thank you, Bullock told her he had a few. Clinically-speaking, by this time the warm pee should have been running down my leg. But newspaper work is a profession of instincts and sometimes instincts take a while to develop. You may have very little time before you’re challenged as a reporter in this town, especially if it's during the legislative session when the hicks come in from the far reaches of the state, full of self-righteousness during the day but snorting and whoring at night, to say nothing of drinking and driving. And sometimes you don't even begin to understand the story until you see it in print. The night City Desk guy had instincts, he knew something was up which was why he pushed me, which is what a good desk man does, he pushes the reporter. The night editor smelled a story, it’s trite to say but true, after a while you can smell a byline or even smell a politician, know if they’re ripe or not, but at that time, as a young blood, back in the day, in River City, my sense of smell was not the greatest. My thing at the time, my reputation as a reporter, if you asked people, "What does that nigger do?" the answer would be he's kind of good as an attack dog but someone usually has to tell him who to bite.
             Which is what the night desk guy was trying to do about the ticket. He wanted to see blood. Bullock was always honest about his drinking, that was what other people told me later, you just didn’t think honesty meant telling the truth to a cop? That certainly wasn’t my definition of honesty, it’s something else, right, being honest excludes interactions with anyone carrying a badge or a gun.
  So, why didn’t she arrest him for drunk driving? That was my question for the rookie. Because he wasn’t impaired, she said.
               The statute stated, she repeated for my benefit, not that you couldn’t drink and drive but this is Texas you can’t drink to the point of impairment and drive. Bullock had been drinking yeah and he was driving fast, "Yes, that is correct," but he wasn’t impaired, he wasn’t swerving or running up on the sidewalk or anything. She wrote him a ticket for exceeding the speed limit and sent him on his way. So, the story ran front page, together with the latest body count from Onion Creek, a good night’s work and pretty much a last one too. Two years, that’s a long time to do anything, especially for someone with a kindergarten attention span like mine. Fact is my editors were already wondering if my presence was still necessary to daily journalism in Austin. 
             Never found out what happened to the rookie, kind of hope she survived the herd of animals at P.D., she had a nice voice, you know, like she might even have had talent? A babe or whatever, not that that’s important, it’s just the romantic in me. The thing was, Bullock was already on probation from a prior drunk driving arrest. That was the key knowledge we lacked that night chasing the ticket. If he got popped a second time for actual drunk driving or if he got in an accident with another car or if he hit Little Susie as she was skipping down the street on her way home from school there would have been consequences, as with anyone else. Drunk driving is the great equalizer at the Capitol and ends more than a few careers. What it did that night was embarrass Bullock. Yet again. And in a way with someone like Mr. Bullock that was worse. But not as revenge, and this is incredibly important, to show that it's not partisan, it's not about party affiliation, a chance to fuck with any major state official, Republican or Democrat, like, what reporter is going to say no? Not me.
             So, it’s not racial, it's not about skin color, it's not political or religious, it's not about creed or philosophical beliefs either. It’s about power. And hypocrisy which in this town always seems to go together with power.  But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.


There were two on-going debates among reporters in the city although the same questions had been asked and answered many times before, everywhere newspaper people get together to drink and talk. The setting of the debates which is important was usually a bar after work and after one drink too many. Ronnie Earle was philosophical by nature but to get most reporters of my acquaintance to focus on anything other than deadline, pussy, dick, weed or alcohol required a little of the last two, cannabis and ETOH, to loosen tongues and channel inhibitions. Using both was twice as effective. Reporters are notoriously un-introspective. It’s as if every story occurs isolated from every other story until we’re intoxicated and then it’s somehow all connected. 
The question at hand was whether whatever evil we were presently seeing at the Capitol—whatever scandal or selling short of the public trust was being exposed at the moment—was the result of real evil, mere bad intentions, an actual effort to screw the people of Texas or just another innocent fuck-up in a system that no one knew how to control? That was the question on the bar stools around me. Certainly the cover-ups were intentional, everyone agreed on that, even the "public affairs specialists" or public relations/ad agency people who came to drink with us and had been reporters in earlier careers, before they went for the money. Government employees do nothing better than cover their own asses, that was the consensus at our end of the bar. The first sign of trouble or any hint of interest by the press or by a legislative committee, shovel fast and high was the administrative rule. If the first victim of war is truth the first victim of scandal is responsibility, no one wants to have the finger leveled at him or herself, least of all the people who gave the orders in the first place. But the original mistake, the original act or omission that required the cover-up was very often believed to be a mistake or human error. That was the opinion in “my circle.”
           The Republicans were right, it seemed, we told each other at the bar: Error is built into all government and the more government there is the bigger the error. And it is the most difficult problem in the world to fix. Those who have most at risk, the “stakeholders” in a given government office, a regulatory agency for example, are those who are specifically monitored by the agency and are barred from running it, as much as they would like to. There’s always a division of interests between the people affected by the actions of government and those who are actually tasked with making the public's decisions. Mistakes are designed into the system. It’s as if someone can control the movements of your car but if there’s a crash that person is unhurt while you’re injured or left holding the repair bill. There are a lot of errors, a lot of accidentsa lot of injuries but generally not to the people who have their hands on the steering wheel.
Most often the conspiracy that gets everyone upset doesn’t even begin until the cover-up starts. But what difference does that make? That was my question at the time, sipping a cold one at the bar or out on the patio at the lake. Suppose Bob Bullock—although it doesn’t have to be someone suspected of a crime—suppose Mr. Bullock ran over Little Susie while he was driving drunk the night he was ticketed for speeding. The fact that he didn’t intend to take out a little girl in pigtails—would that make any difference? Suppose he didn’t know that using a state airplane to make a campaign stop is illegal. Would Ronnie have cared? Not likely. So, at least in my opinion—call me hardcore—even if the error was accidental or because "no one is paying attention" or because “no one knows what’s really going on in Austin,” as they like to say in Midland and in Dallas, in Lubbock and in Longview—that doesn’t change anything. Whoever gets caught still needs to take the fall. Someone always needs to take the fall, that’s the American way, that’s what separates us from the Macedonians or the Serbo-Croatians or the Bolivians whose officials are not called to account. Especially in this town you need to have a fall guy: the good people of River City like everything in a nice pretty package, if there's black person standing nearby he can usually be relied upon to be found guilty but if not him, somebody has to step up. At the state Capitol someone always pays a high price even if it’s not the person responsible. Austin wasn’t built for tragedy, the town gets bigger but no deeper, you feel me, people make a big show, they try to sing the blues, they try to be deep and dark but the superficial keeps bubbling up to the surface, anywhere within a few miles of Town Lake. The wail of grief always comes out sounding like progressive country or watered-down rock, and even when people try to be genuinely bad—speaking as someone who has personally made the effort—the result is usually timid, unlike the genuine evil you might see in a real metropolis, Rome for example or New York City. That’s why a fall guy or girl has turned out to be so important here, someone who can take the community’s guilt on his or her shoulders and allow the good people of ATX to shrug away responsibility and go to the lake or to a bar and on Monday morning move forward in the sunny promise of life in the bucolic Hill Country. Not to be critical or anything. Not to be judgmental or anything. But that was always the way it was, before the crusading Black Man stepped forward and demanded accountability, by calling a ho a ho.
Adding support to this view, we all agreed, drinking our drinks and shooting the shit, scratching our balls or vulvas as the case may be, still bellied up to the bar, whatever the error was it was always much worse than what appeared in the newspaper the next morning. Months, sometimes years later you would hear the awful truth and whatever really happened was astonishing only because what we had heard or proven and reported was never the whole story. Not even close. Watergate, not to harp on that, not to beat President Nixon’s dead horse, has turned out through the years courtesy of later revelations to be much worse than anything the editors of the Post imagined at the time. It wasn’t a mere fuck-up that went viral and had to be covered up. It wasn’t mere conspiracy. There was real evil in the room—that happened to be the Oval Office, actually. You just didn’t know that at the time. Or you didn’t know how evil. This theory was impossible to prove impartially of course, even with alcohol on board. Even with Watergate still in our short-term memories, even after two or three long tokes in the alley beside the Chili Parlor or with a blowjob on the agenda or having just been given—at a time when you’d think a working reporter would be more susceptible to persuasion about life’s possibilities, good and bad. No sale. It doesn't end there, though. Because, well, call me a dreamer, but a better description? Call me a thug. Even in the realm of public affairs it takes a thug to spot a thug. Especially in the realm of public affairs. Sometimes, it takes a wrongdoer—to recognize wrongdoing. That look in Bullock’s eyes at his house on my visit to bust his balls? It was a reflection of the look in my own eyes, a piercing lack of moral focus, we had something in common after all, Bob and me, certainly much more than me and Ronnie the former Eagle Scout. Bob Bullock persuaded me to see the State of Texas, in other words the whole Capitol complex that represented the state, the legislative and administrative ends of Lone Star government, for what it really is, a large continuing criminal enterprise responsible for more wrongdoing than the Mexican Mafia and potentially much much more profitable.
Look for example at the Texas prison system, the Department of Criminal Justice as it is now known—the Texas Department of Corrections as it was more prosaically called back in the day: a hundred thousand inmates, the prisoners themselves allegedly the dregs of society (not my personal opinion but we won’t debate that here) only controlled by guns, water hoses, pepper spray and clubs. Hundreds of million of dollars spent annually on food, medicine and utilities—guards’ salaries—the prison commissaries selling over-priced shit to people who couldn’t shop anywhere else—illicit drugs and illicit sex between guards and inmates, not to mention executions of the guilty and innocent, enough going down on any given day to make certain that there were not only scandals but continuous scandals, even if only by mistake. And how does a bureaucracy deal with continuous scandals? By continuous cover-up. That was my theory. Bullock would have appreciated it, Ronnie the former Eagle Scout, no.
Instead of depressing me, this widespread and constant wrongdoing made me feel warm inside and helped wake me up in the morning with a smile, like getting a sunrise-brightening hummer from a willing girlfriend, or puffing on a break-of-dawn spliff. My opening question in most visits with officials, rather crass now, certainly, looking back from today’s PC world: “What’s the dirt?”

Called Ann Richards not long after she made the jump to the State Treasury—an artless position which the voters have since put out of misery, but considered at the time as a stepping stone to higher office, which is apparently how former Commissioner Richards viewed it as well. At the time of my call she was doing time at the State Treasury while they got the governor's mansion ready for her to move in. One of Ann’s now-numerous aides transferred me to speak to The Woman with the knowledge that she couldn’t refuse.
To describe Ann Richards then, it seems to me now, is to make use of analogy to another famous “liberal” politician: Barack Obama. Richards was like Obama not just in being a counterpoint to the generic white male leader of the time but because like Obama she was not going to let anything get in her way. There’s a singlemindedness you find with successful people, especially successful politicians and which, with politicians as with anyone else, involves making choices. For Richards that choice involved corruption. She didn’t want to know about it, she didn’t want to think about it, it was there in the room but didn’t involve her. Ann Richards wasn’t corrupt herself but she made no effort to combat it, either. That was Ronnie’s job, at the courthouse and at the Capitol. Ann Richards hadn't been elected to clean up the Travis County Courthouse, she was originally elected to represent the interests of West Austin. So, too, at the Treasury. She was there to count the state's money that Bullock collected and, basically, write checks, not slap hands reaching into the state till. Fair enough.
My visits to her county office had never been as well-received as at Ronnie’s. Part of the reason was Ann's aide, Jane. Ronnie’s secretary liked me because Ronnie liked me: we were in the same business, after all, hunting wrongdoing. But Ann’s assistant Jane was never comfortable with my visits and for the longest time nothing could explain the reason for her ill ease. She was completely immune to my considerable charm, the overpowering smell of my testosterone you might say, she always seemed to want me to leave the Precinct 3 Office sooner rather than later and preferably before Commissioner Richards would have time to see me. Even my overwhelming sex appeal did not make a dent in Jane's armor which should have been a clue, not only would there be no pussy—if it had been up to Jane there would be no access either, which was worse. Jane played for the other team, someone told me much later, something that makes sense now but somehow escaped my notice at the time. They said the same thing about Ann, by the way, those hen parties she threw later in the Governor’s Mansion led to a lot of clucking among men. The politically correct thing to say is that sexual orientation has no place in political discourse but the fact is that who’s fucking whom or who's eating whose pussy or sucking whose dick has had a pretty big role to play in history from, oh, cavemen forward—almost as important as the invention of money. Of course the legislature was majority Democratic then, back in the day when Ann was making her move, and Democrats are more susceptible to sins of flesh, at least that’s what the Republicans tell us, while Republicans are more likely to go for greed, or so the Democrats say, but Republican or Democratic, sin or passion, political contribution or bribe, everybody fucks and everybody talks about fucking, that's my view. In the case of Ann Richards the fact that Jane was a lesbian meant that she couldn’t be played, at least not by me, which was where it stood for the longest time. Only much much later did it occur to me that the real reason Jane was hostile was that Ann didn’t want to see me and it had nothing to do with sex. So, a wrong call on my part but a pertinent negative nonetheless. 
In retrospect, of all the politicians who passed through this town in recent decades Ann Richards was the one who was most a slave to convention. She was a Southern lady. There was a way to do things she had learned growing up in Waco, or wherever, whatever small-minded Texas town that produced her, like Bullock she was from the populist wasteland of the state, and foremost of what she had learned was courtesy. She could be rowdy and she could have a sharp tongue but that mostly came out with Republicans not reporters, or after she’d had a few, back when she was still drinking. She was like Bullock in that way, a boozer, but unlike Bullock the press loved her. She mostly loved the press. When she was told of my call to the State Treasury it was clear she would have to take it. She knew me, after all. We were on good speaking terms even if she didn’t want to speak to me.
Not sure now, decades later, whether my trademark question “What’s the dirt?” got out of my mouth or not but after the opening greetings, her response to my approach, whatever my approach was, still rings in my ears as if it was yesterday, full of condemnation and disapproval. It had taken a while to get there but after five years she had finally arrived at a judgment about me. “Lucius,” she told me on the phone, “I think you’re unfair.” She didn’t mean at that instant although the telephone call was presumably included. The call was just the trigger. She meant my approach to my job, my emphasis on the negative you might say, she said it so suddenly and with such force that it occurred to me at the time that she was being coached by one of her aides whispering in her ear or listening on another extension. Maybe even Jane—although Jane didn’t follow Ann to the state gig, if memory serves me. It was not a fortuitous response however Ann came to say it. Ann Richards’ career was beginning to take off and she was even less likely to be concerned with wrongdoing in other offices of the state than she had been with other precincts of Travis County. She wanted allies not enemies and whatever she had to say about someone she would say to his or her face not whisper to a reporter, which made her a rarity at the Texas Capitol, a straight-shooter. She was right about me of course, in a superficial way. But before accepting the see-no-evil take on state government look at it from my point of view as a suspicious Black Journalist.
        Ann’s predecessor as state treasurer left office in handcuffs, in the back seat of a patrol car driven by Ronnie Earle. That's how Ann got the jobher predecessor was arrested. Unknown to me at the time of the telephone call, Ann’s Republican successor as state treasurer, Kay Bailey Hutchison, aka “The Cheerleader” (because Kay held that position earlier in her life, at UT, as well as being a television journalist which is almost the same level of complexity) would also be indicted for her leadership of the State Treasury. Ronnie, again. The two last speakers of the Texas House of Representatives had been indicted by the time Ann Richards jumped my shit, one by the feds, although not convicted, one by Ronnie who pled to a misdemeanor for accepting a trip paid for by lobbyists. At least one of Ann’s fellow commissioners at Travis County also ended up posing for a mugshot. So, it seems to me in retrospect it was not only a fair question (“What’s the dirt?”) it was the only question. Ann didn’t think so and you had to respect her opinion. We didn’t speak again until our last meeting, completely by chance, decades later. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, again.
Richards’ comment wounded me at the time only because even if you’re fundamentally dishonest like me, you still have to be able to justify to yourself what you do to make a living. You have to be able to tell yourself as you walk into an interview that this person or that one deserves to be fucked because they themselves are fuckers or hopefully even, in Ronnie’s terms, “pig-fuckers” and therefore not worthy of compassion or respect. You have to be able to make this judgment fairly quickly and target people in state or local government if that’s how you make your living. It’s that simple. And it had been simple for me up until the Ann Richards telephone call. Working in Texas, justifying my methods had been pretty easy, it took about three minutes every morning, five minutes on Sunday instead of an hour going to Mass. The calculus was equally brief entering an interview room, a state official's inner office for example, deciding as you took your seat how you were going to treat the motherfucker and you treated him or her most often like a motherfucker. Ann’s comment put my whole game in doubt. It wasn’t so much the logic of her criticism which was flawed but who was saying it. Like your mother told you: always consider the source. The source was Dorothy Ann Willis Richards, former public school teacher, former West Austin civic leader—and the ultimate white liberal. 
To begin with she was honest which was bad enough. You can never trust honest people at the Capitol because in the back of your mind you're always wondering what they have to gain. As a reporter it’s especially hard to trust somebody honest because you don’t know, like, what they’re doing in Austin? Lost? Make a wrong turn leaving church or synagogue? Are you here to proselytize or to convert? Ann was also a white woman which in that day and age was unusually important to American Negro men, aka the Black Man. White women and black men were supposed to be kindred souls because we both wanted to put white guys on ice. We were allies you might say—especially if the white chick showed her solidarity by giving up a little. Not that that’s important. Not that there was any chance of that with Ann. She wasn’t my type and clearly, well, clearly she didn’t think much of me.
What she did though was sew doubt about my game—and sometimes that’s all a nigger’s got, his game. Even reporters can’t do their work without some kind of rules, some kind of ethics, some kind of belief in what we’re doing—unless you work for television news. Put it this way: How can you climb through the window of a state office building after-hours if you doubt yourself or your cause? Karma is everything in this town. You can’t inherit it, you can’t smoke it, you can’t find it on the organics aisle at Whole Foods, you have to grow your own. If your karma is compromised in the World Capital of Live Music or if you lose it altogether you’re sure to get caught no matter how infrequently state troopers are rounding. Luckily an assignment soon came my way that allowed me to dispel all doubt, to set aside the entire head trip, the white guilt in reverse that Ann laid on me—an assignment that actually allowed me to structure my approach to right and wrong into a kind of formula or protocol that could be applied in deciding whether to rat-fuck somebody or not. What gave me this equanimity was actually, of all things, an interview for a puff piece.

If you’ve never heard the name Barbara Jordan you’re not dumb just young. Barbara Jordan was Barack Obama back in the day, the difference being that the country was not ready for a sister in power or the righteousness of her rap. The former Congresswoman and star of the Watergate hearings was in quasi-retirement at the time of our encounter, living downtown and teaching at the LBJ School of Public Affairs on campus. The city magazine was doing an issue on all the people who made the city "special," whatever that meant, my assignment included three profiles, one of a former federal prosecutor who sent away a lot of local drug talent, a land developer who was in the process of buying the city council—and Barbara Jordan. She wasn’t from Austin but she was living here and hers was a large presence to ignore in such a small town. We didn’t have any black people in the issue either and that made her a natural. Journalism is a business and you have to think about those things, yeah, even diversity has a price tag, or appearing to be diverse, which can add value, what can you say? You have to welcome everyone into the shop, so to speak.
Professor Jordan’s office was surprisingly unimpressive for a woman who helped slay a giant. There were no heads on the walls even though, like Ronnie and me, she was a hunter, in her case not by profession but by circumstance. She'd been a member of the pack that brought down the rogue elephant Richard M. Nixon. The afternoon of our chat she sat in a padded chair behind a modest desk, overweight as always, looking as if her health was declining at a fast pace and she was using the time left, as many great people do, to pass on what she had learned to students. Ann Richards was not mentioned specifically but Ann’s comment was still ringing in my ears: unfair, the word no reporter wants to hear, worse even than “inaccurate,” and it seemed that Barbara Jordan, who had already forgotten more than most people will ever know about how the world works, was a perfect foil for my insecurity. As a way of exploring the Ann Richards’ worldview we approached a subject Professor Jordan knew better: President Johnson, the great Texan who had preceded Richard Nixon and made Jordan's career possible.
Lyndon Johnson spent his entire public life enriching himself illicitly and my question to the Professor was how that could be true—whether the two goals were reconcilable—doing good for yourself and doing good for the people you represent. Oh yes, she said. Everyone is in politics to do for themselves, she explained. If you don’t start out that way it kind of gets thrown at you, she told me. She made clear that she herself had profited from public life. The question, she said, was always one of degree: how much featherbedding, how much profiting from your position? If LBJ had done things to get power and done things for himself and his family after he gained power those “things” had to be measured against the good he did like helping black people get the vote. Only later, when he fucked up in Vietnam, was there reason to revisit the issue of sleaze, she said, without saying the fucked up or sleaze parts. This was excellent. For me, it was the wisdom of the ages coming from a black person with complete credibility. Fuck Ann Richards’ opinion, in other words. But not fuck Ann. She was just wrong. The young Black Warrior, after this discussion with a tribal elder, chose a different path from that dictated by the white woman. The young brother took up the spear againagainst the white man and white womanand felt good doing it.
The teachings of Professor Jordan helped me enter a Pollyanna-free zone as a black male where the opinions of white liberals, even white female liberals, had no more meaning than the opinion of anyone else. What Professor Jordan told me eventually allowed me to develop an organized system to evaluate potential targets, a kind of “Jordanometer” of corruption. It was no longer a question of someone being absolutely “good” or absolutely “bad” because if you went by those standards you had to rat-fuck everybody in public office. It wasn’t a black and white issue either with black being good. No one not even Barbara Jordan got to heaven if you were too literal-minded or if you looked at the reasons for doing good rather than just accepting the good. Instead, the question was, “How good?” Or more likely at the Capitol, “How bad?”
My calculation developed into something like this: So, like, the vast majority of average politicians are just that, average. They score around 50%, an equal mix of self-interest and doing good for the public. Anyone who reaches 60% positive—unless the unfortunate 40% involves touching a child inappropriately or practically anything caught on camera or on microphone—probably deserves re-election. Barbara Jordan herself would have scored about 70 or 75%, that was my estimate. She wasn't a saint. She had served in both the Texas Senate and the Congress which meant making certain ethical sacrifices from the very beginning but she also broke color barriers and helped to overthrow Richard Nixon. Toward the end of her life she was living modestly and practically the only thing of value she had to show for her time in office was the respect of the public and her professorship at UT. After her death, Jordan's FBI file was released and included her bank statements: she was not a rich woman. Governor Richards would have scored about a 55 or 60%, that was my back of the envelope estimate, 65% max. She was honest, sure, and had some good policies but Ann was heavily into self-promotion, the good ol’ girl routine that made her famous but for which her administration suffered. Among the men, Bullock would have scored—it seemed to me—75% at least. That’s my calculation. Certainly he had lied, cheated and stolen throughout his public life. He was a serial fornicator as well, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but he was also administratively competent and served as institutional memory for the State of Texas during some bleak, bleak times when the price of oil was down and the state was, basically, in really deep shit. Money he stole or state resources he misused were nothing compared to tax revenue he collected or that he helped generate. The people he threatened to kill, in the lexicon of Westerns, mostly needed killing, except me. 75% is pretty good. No one, not even Jesus of Nazareth scores above 90 percent. Barbara Jordan knew about the tradeoffs, knew corruption because she had seen it up close at the Watergate hearings, and she knew wrong had to be confronted. But she also knew about accommodation because it was the story of her life. My sweet spot, developed after time and considerable thought—after Barbara Jordan’s counsel in fact, listening to her and getting a feel for the righteousness of her rap—balancing pluses and minuses, trying to be a mean nigger but a fair one, not wanting to do to white people what they had long done to us, that is being “unfair”—but still wanting a little payback, sure, just to help even the score—anyone who came in with less than 50% was fair game. That became my rule. That’s cool, right? Fifty percent is the definition of fair. Less than fifty means you're ethically challenged. That’s reasonable too, don't you think? A score less than 25%, it seemed to me, required a trip to the courthouse. Single digits meant calling ahead to reserve a cell.
The take home lesson here, it seems now, is how the Black Man in America is misunderstood. That’s my belief after these many years covering public affairs in River City. We’re actually very sensitive. It’s just hard in a white city like this one to walk around feeling any sense of civic purpose when everyone is so critical of your methods. Talking to Professor Jordan gave me back the necessary grounding to fuck people up, gave me the sense that you don’t have to play by the white man’s rules. Or the white woman’s. That it don’t always matter what Miss Ann say. You don’t have to listen to a bitch even if she live in the Big House, you feel me? There's all kind of shit white people tell you that is self-serving, intended to maintain a system in which they hold power, a system from which they profit most, not to be radical or anything but fuck them all, you feel me? Not to go Malcolm X on you or anything: Professor Jordan had been told in her youth, for instance, that black people and especially black women were incapable of leadership. She heard that shit growing up in Houston or wherever and it was the conventional and accepted shit of the day. If she had listened she would've done both herself and society a disservice. That’s how they do niggers even today—or at least did, pre-Barry, probably post-Barry’s time in the White House too, they will try once again to make us think that our game isn’t tight or we aren’t playing by the rules. Sometimes, even today, they want the referee to throw us out of the game entirely which, in Texas, means a long stay in Huntsville. That's just the way it is in a small Southern town like ATX where white people feel so good about themselves. Motherfuckers around here don’t like to have their motives questioned—but you just got to keep the faith, my brother, that’s my advice, you just got to keep looking for the unrighteous to bend over and you’ll get back in the game, you can get back between these hos and their self-love. And so it was that, gradually, as my game got tight once more, the doubt evaporated, as my faith in Black Jesus took shape again and became everlasting faith, fucking with white public officials started to feel good and gave me back my sense of righteousness. 
This isn’t about me—it’s about the city—the small town we live in, Austin, Texas. But because of the inherent sensitivity of the Black Male, which is only now being recognized and appreciated—our heightened awareness of the suffering of others is finally now being given its due—this is going to be hard for me to admit because it’s so not me, at least not now, since God entered my life. But drugs occasionally became a refuge for me, back in the day, as is true for so many people who feel too much pain. Seeing so many wrongs in the world, much of it on Congress Avenue a few blocks north of the Colorado River, the pain more or less kept a doobie in my hand 24-7, for a period of time. Weed developed an inordinate role in my daily affairs just to deal with the hurt, you feel me? So much so that my efforts—besides trying to get to the bottom of corruption in the State of Texas, which was a fulltime motherfuckin' job, believe me—became directed at finding the source of my relief, of my joy, in Mexico: south, southward in search of El Valle de la Hierba, as it was called—only rumored to exist—a whole mountain valley of primo herb growing wild. To me those trips were my only solace, the only real refuge from my solitary struggle with The Man.
After one trip in search of the source the bus dropped me off back downtown, back home so to speak, on Congress Avenue, at the bus station in this heartless bitch of a small town. Looking up there was just a whisp of smoke rising from the east side of the statehouse. The flames were out but ashes still smoldering. That smoke would change my life forever. Those ashes taught me that some people’s scores were too low even to register on the Barbara Jordan scale. Also, it taught me the real difference between sin and crime, even if Ronnie never did, and that some shit you see in this town is both sin and crime, especially at the Capitol. You feel me?


February 6, 1983: the Texas Capitol almost burned to the ground after fire broke out during the cooking of cocaine by a guest or guests in an apartment in the East Wing. The lieutenant governor’s youngest child, Katherine Hobby, aka Katie, was in the apartment with three friends from a riding school in New Caney, outside Houston, when the big burn began. Five a.m. in private quarters in the statehouse and there was only limited adult supervision.
That was the hardest part of the story. That was the story. Once you got past the idea of freebasing and Kate Hobby, daughter of the lite governor, the rest of the piece was easy. You have to have testicles to do this job, that's my best advice to young reporters. You got to have big ones that hang low like mine.
            If you’re a female you got to have intestinal fortitude and be prepared to be called a fucking bitch and even be a hard-hearted evil-doing motherfucking bitch—but still a lady!—when the time comes. Other reporters, male and female, no matter what they had heard or could prove could not get past the familial connection here, could not wrap their heads around the central idea, did not have the intestinal fortitude to belly up to the concept of the lieutenant governor of Texas, scion of one of the oldest and most important families in the state—and hundreds of millions of dollars in party-related damage, to a Lone Star landmark, the most important landmark in Texas next to the Alamo. The lieutenant governor’s family and—two dead. My approach was to see these facts as a civil rights issue. A black person would have been charged, tried and executed. Wealthy whites walked away from murder. We'll never know for sure exactly what happened, for a reason that will be made clear, but it probably wasn't hygienic and almost certainly involved a pipe. 
            Despite the mind-blowing nature of the accusation it’s become the accepted version of events. Drugs . . . fire . . . coverup . . . the Texas Capitol. Burn, baby, burn, yeah motherfucker! And it would be easy to take complete credit but the Black Man is not selfish—hardly "egotistical" at all, our unpaid time in the White Man's service has left us humble and modest. Standing on Congress Avenue, humble, looking up at the half-torched seat of state government and wondering why somebody couldn’t do the job right. Black men are best viewed as collaborators and team players and there’s also great inner strength to go along with the humility but, certainly, my willingness, alone and unaided, in this hipster-heavy self-righteous white bitch-filled Southern city, me alone standing toe to toe with powerful Caucasian Interests and slugging it out—courage did have something to do with getting to the truth, this is no time for false modesty, sometimes it takes a Negro to get a tough job done. But this particular story—truth be told—was crowd-sourced. Written and edited by word of mouth. All you had to do was write down what you heard on Congress anywhere north of the river, you could have printed the whispers and rumblings on the street and gotten pretty close, yeah, without breaking a sweat. Even as the Democratic establishment got its act together and chose a fall guy—Zenith Radio Corporation of America—there were rumors that the fix was in. Everybody knew or suspected something, even the homeless on the Drag would tell you, asking for a dollar, or two, rolling their eyes heavenward in search of a missing Savior, shocked and awed by the audacious lies of a system that was also denying them their rightful place in the sun, “Oh man, it was freebasin’. They was freebasing in the Capitol!” This version of events, the correct version as it turned out, was apparently first spread by firemen who were hampered by the Attorney General from finding out what started the flames but did anyway. The only pertinent question to ask now and at the time: Can you believe that shit?
Because, at first, it was all so surreal. They did what? You could not have convinced me. Even with the help of the sacred herb to put the facts in perspective, to give my imagination wings, it just seemed too fucking far-fetched. Certainly something was going on behind the scenes, a titanic struggle even—but it was unclear what that shit was all about. The Attorney General announced to the world that a Zenith television located in the lieutenant governor’s Capitol apartment short-circuited and almost burned down the heart of Texas. The calculus was devastating for the company win or lose, if Zenith were merely accused in a high-profile trial of making a product that nearly burned down the Texas capitol, true or not, it would fuck the company’s trademark and perhaps kill Zenith's electronics business nationwide. The whole process was real politik and real “bidness” at its worst, a lynching of the first order, a royal rat-fucking by the State of Texas and exactly the sort of thing the justice system normally does to black people but this time the victim was a major white-owned corporation. Enter the Black Man, sworn enemy of oppression no matter the color of the victim. There would be a reckoning. Somebody was going down.
             So, you know, there was still a doobie in my hand 24-7 but unlike the Hobbys my smoking materials were always safely extinguished. Again, let me repeat, who could believe that shit? The rumors were so frequent, so loud and so persistent that any cop reporter with any sense would think they weren’t true. Then an interview made me change direction, made me a believer in conspiracy so to speak, not that it takes much around this bitch, the State Capitol or anywhere else in River City. The interviewee was the best political mind at the Capitol, as good as Bullock, perhaps better, a woman, a white woman: one who did not claim to be a liberal like Miss Ann or wear her heart on her sleeve like a garden-variety Hill Country do-gooder. The woman in question busted balls as effectively as Bullock. Her name was, well, it depended on the decade, like Bullock she was married a few times. When we first met her married name was "McClellan,” Carole McClellan, and she was mayor of this capital city. In her later years she was better known as Carole Strayhorn, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Bullock’s old job, and she was principal nemesis to Governor Rick Perry. In between, back in the day she was a Rylander, like the supermarket chain, she married into the family and, professionally at least, her day job was as a member of the Texas Board of Insurance. That’s where we hooked up, during her gig at the Insurance Board and like spontaneous sex, it was good.
Carole Rylander and Ann Richards were friends but these two women were opposites in every political respect. Richards was administratively-challenged yet able to connect with people even in a television audience while Rylander’s administrative game was tight and she was good one-on-one but had poor media presence. Both had sources and knowledge about how the world really works, especially this corner of it, ATX, but Rylander had the edge on pedigree. Her late father was Page Keeton, longtime dean of the University of Texas law school, immortalized by a street name near campus. Carole Keeton/McClellan/Rylander/Strayhorn was friends with everyone in town, it seemed, through her dad or after her own three terms as mayor—as president of the school board before that. She knew everyone. She also knew everything that happened within Austin city limits. If you wanted to know what was going on in town, what policy was what, whose ox was being gored, or how the pieces fit together, she was the person you needed to talk to. By the time of our interview she was on the three-member board regulating the profitable insurance industry in the state, as the Democratic Party pulled out the stops to keep one of its most valuable players in the fold. It was said in later years when she was on the Railroad Commission, as a Republican, that Carole Rylander, by then Carole Strayhorn, had the most complete files of political intelligence at the Capitol. She'd been in the power structure for decades, both parties, born and raised in influence you could say, and when we met in her office in one of the state’s anonymous towers behind the Capitol, yeah, intelligence was on my mind, it was always on my mind. But not even in a wet dream could she have been a better source. 
In later years she came to be known as “Granny,” kind of her nickname, one that even she adopted, and also back in the day—that day, that afternoon at the Insurance Board when we met there was already something auntie-ish about her, not quite yet grandmotherly. She was like a jolly no-nonsense young woman who would later became a jolly no-nonsense old lady. The interview ended. It was still the legislative session, not long after the fire, the shock had worn off and people were busy dealing with the practicalities of having nowhere for the Senate to meet, the fire had pretty much gutted the entire East Wing. What the flames hadn't rendered useless the firehoses had damaged. Everything was a mess, there was the destruction by the flames and almost as bad the water damage, as if the Colorado River had overrun its banks. The fire actually took place with a new governor on board, Mark White, who had to hold all the pieces together while simultaneously enduring his first legislative session as leader of the state. Practically every conversation in Austin included mention of the fire. This one, the conversation between Commissioner Rylander and me was no different. We had our talk, which was confidential and she walked me to the door. So, like, leaving her office, my comment was something about the settlement of the suit against Zenith. About putting the fire behind us. And Rylander’s response was extraordinary.
           She didn’t say anything but she laughed spontaneously—not hee hee hee, something less than a guffaw, more like a chortle, and true to her later reputation for being Granny-like the way she laughed you expected her to follow through with an “Oh my goodness!” or “Fiddlesticks!” or something equally old-fashioned, a well-bred Southern woman of a certain age’s way of saying “bullshit.” But she didn’t say anything at all. Further questioning yielded no comment and her face went stony. Our chat was over. She had responded instinctively but would not follow through either on or off the record. Strayhorn’s chortle was important for only one reason, it was what you might call an informed chortle: The State Fire Marshal who investigated the fire's origins worked for the Insurance Board. He answered directly to Commissioner Rylander and her two fellow board members. Rylander’s earlier comments had been off the record but the laughter was fair game. Suddenly, the fire was on my list—was my list—a working vein of political shit, perhaps leading to the mother lode of impropriety, in the State of Texas, that we in the press knew existed because there were footprints everywhere: ripped and torn bodies, lying on the campaign trail, but few sightings of the thugs involved. Until now.

So, like, covering the police beat at the Statesman was never my idea of fun. The only good part was cruising the streets at night in a radio-equipped car, big antenna sticking out the back, a police scanner on the dashboard, looking for crashes and shootings or any other kind of mayhem—causing mayhem, yes, if it was a good night. When you pulled up to the curb in an American-Statesman staff car two-way radio antenna on the back, people thought you were a cop but the truth was, you could tell ‘em in complete honesty, “No ma'am. I’m here to fuck with the police.”
The worst part of the evening was going by the police station. You had to stick your head in and say hello to the watch commander at least once every evening, not to keep on good relations with the pigs but to keep the night commander honest because if there was something we were entitled to know, like the cops shooting someone, but that the police didn’t necessarily want in the newspaper the next day, or ever, you didn’t want the commander to have the excuse later that he hadn’t seen you to tell you about it. So, you had to make the rounds, to show the flag so to speak, keep the pigs honest. Most nights the watch commander was Captain Wilkes, an ugly old evil white man with a third-grade education who, technically, was Prince of River City at night.
           Captain Wilkes was from somewhere rural, you could see that straight off, maybe the pinewoods out east near the Louisiana state line, or a farm up in the Panhandle, someplace out in the country which to me as a city boy meant he was a pigfucker ,not in the metaphorical sense that Ronnie used the word but literally as in an unnaturally close relationship with four-legged animals. Captain Wilkes was about 110, 112 years old, to my young eyes, he wore these granny glasses like an accountant or a 19th century one-room schoolteacher, you could tell he didn’t have much use for me or the Negroid race in general and most nights, after peeking in, saying hello, asking if his people had killed anybody interesting, my efforts were directed at keeping away from the motherfucker until the next shift when the cycle repeated itself. Captain Wilkes' desk was near a show-up room and briefing area where the bluesuits began the evening and a lot of the nightshift troops when they weren’t on the Eastside beating black people's heads hung out around the captain's desk kissing his wrinkled ass—and trading stories. Cops are the only people who bullshit more than newspaper people, you know? So, like, one night Wilkes wasn’t at his desk, or hadn't scared me away yet, and that was the night someone gave me the critical information, provided me the critical knowledge base that helped crack the Capitol fire. This was actually before the fire, yeah, a couple of years at least, me still filling in, covering cops for the American-Stateswoman on weekends, mostly nights: from 7 pm until the last press run. So, like, that night Wilkes wasn’t there but the troops were. They were hanging out, talking shit, joking about the public in the insecure way the police do because they know the citizens hate them more than they hate the citizens. Although it’s close.
 That night Captain Wilkes stepped away to give himself an enema or whatever and a couple of the senior officers took me into the show-up room and my thought was this is it, they’re going to hang me from a light fixture, because up until that point my relations with P.D. were strained due to no fault of my own. Instead—these two cops, Officer Frick and Det. Frack—they tried to convince me what a good job the police really do! Like, dude, the discussion was doomed to go nowhere from the start, there was no more chance of them changing my views of the police force than my chance of changing their views of reporters or niggers. Like, dream on. But they gave it a good try and actually started off pretty well by dishing dirt on the FBI. They said, like, FBI agents aren’t real detectives. The FBI has the big rep and all, these two puercos told me, but if you leave an agent in a room with a dead body and come back twenty-four hours later he’ll be no closer to solving the crime than the day before because FBI agents aren’t detectives. Is that a good or a bad thing? That was my question at the time.
These two cops said that the FBI closes most of their cases by paying informants, rewards and "financial incentives," and actually that has turned out to be my opinion as well after sitting through trials and reading the files—the FBI does its best work with snitches, spending cash, getting people to flip, which is what these two pigs explained, getting people to betray each other, not that there’s anything wrong with that because that's kind of my job description too: getting people to turn on each other, not to be jaded or anything.
            So, me and these two cochinos started talking cases. And one of the two, must have been the detective not the uniform, went to the blackboard in the show-up room where the police begin their nightly grind and he started to write on the board with chalk. He said he was going to teach me all that most investigators ever need to know to solve a case and it amounted to one thing: timing. The hands of a clock, literally. He drew the clock and it was recognizable not as art or anything but you knew what it was, a way of keeping time. Whatever the version of events, whatever people are telling you about how that body got on the ground—or whatever you’re investigating—where the suspects were for example when whatever happened that you're looking into happened you should be able to account for the minutes. Whatever the scenario for how something went down the first test is: do the times line up with what people are saying? It’s the most basic question in detective work, this puerco white detective said, and when the minutes don’t add up you know someone is lying. That was his rap, and that was where the account told by Attorney General Jim Mattox about how the fire in the lieutenant governor’s apartment started actually fell apart. None of the times actually fit. Joel Quintinilla, the Capitol policeman who was the first to answer the alarm in the apartment, who died later from smoke inhalation, said he was called in from patrol just after five a.m. for a report of smoke. Like 5:05. Okay, let's begin there. Start the clock running.
The couple named Waterman who owned the “barn” where Miss Hobby rode and who were sleeping in a guest bedroom of the apartment said they were awakened by exploding light bulbs as the other guest, Mathew Hansen, Miss Hobby’s riding instructor, beat on the walls calling for help. The Watermans also said it was just after 5 a.m. and in their deposition they said they knew the time because of a watch with a luminous dial. But the fire department did not receive a call until 5:27 and only then did Miss Hobby step out from the apartment into the arms of her rescuers, telling them she had been asleep. But she was reported to be fully dressed and investigators found her bed, like Mathew Hansen’s, had not been slept in. Anyway, so, like, details like these. Made you suspicious, you feel me, and for good reason because someone was lying big time. And at the time, everybody in town was actually talking about the fire, with or without details—with one notable exception. Ronnie Earle never said a word in public or private, certainly not to me. We continued to talk during that time, Ronnie and me, discussing philosophy, the meaning of life, sin versus crime, everything you could imagine for two men-of-the-world but not the Capitol fire. He had nothing to say on the subject. He never called Attorney General Mattox a pig-fucker either, at least not in my presence, or not about the fire, which made me doubly suspicious, not that there’s anything wrong with that, pig-fucking, some of my best friends have had sex with four-legged animals, hooves and all,  believe what you will. But Jim Mattox? He wasn't just a pig-fucker—he invented pig-fucking. Ronnie was, like, totally silent on the subject. Ran the rest of my traps without the aid of the district attorney or his people.
             The actual interview to complete the story was scheduled with Governor White. He had no role in the fire but my plan was, frankly, to ambush him. Hit him up side the head with a big stick and go through his pockets, kind of.
            That is Gangster Journalism, you do what you gotta do and never mind if you take out a few innocent bystanders on the street, just collateral damage, in this case named Mark White. Got an appointment with the governor under the pretext of talking about his legislative initiatives, whatever those were. The only reason the governor was willing to give me an interview is because my old boss Bill Cryer's wife was Gov. White's press secretary, and that made me feel guilty, betraying a trust and all, but most of my life has been lived under a cloud of guilt, being an un-convicted felon and all, so this was nothing new. What follows is going to sound pretty tacky—just a warning ahead of time. It won't be pretty, just so you know. So, like, my idea was to sit Governor White down and hit him with his “knowledge” of the real cause of the fire and how he knew about the cover-up. Get indignant with the big guy, in other words. The goal was to have him deny helping deceive the People of Texas but admit the real cause of the fire, something that seemed do-able, you know, if you could catch him early, before that critical first cup of coffee. The key was to act as if everything was already uncovered and then hint at his part in the deception and hope he would roll over with his feet in the air like the armadillos you see on the side of the road going to San Antonio. Somebody like Bullock would have seen me coming a mile away but Mark White was honest, or reasonably honest, so there was a chance, you know—in fact there was a pretty good opportunity to drag in the entire Democratic leadership on the theory that if you threw mud on everybody it was going to stick to someone. Which is kind of Journalism 101, old school now, not the sophisticated reporting that has become the hallmark of this Black Journalist since those early, journeyman days. Even a “no comment” direct from the governor would be a great addition to the piece. He agreed to see me. His legislative program? Yeah.
A couple of days before my appointment one of Gov. White’s security people called to get my DOB, to run me through the system, make sure there were no outstanding warrants and no cause for concern one-to-one for the Big Guy—and that freaked me out, like, big time. Like, my sphincter held, but just barely. Luckily my sister was working in law enforcement in L.A. and she had managed a year or two earlier to get my record as a young offender expunged and my next arrest, in Austin, hadn’t happened yet, so with the help of a fat one, the best Oaxacan Gold, my breathing rate slowed down and the palpitations stopped, even though that was close, you know? 
Then something incredible happened. Kind of embarrassed now even to admit it's true. In retrospect, well—it’s never happened since, that's a promise. But, you know, kind of—in a way—my conscience kicked in.
             This is just so embarrassing to admit, started to feel bad about blindsiding Governor White. Met him once while working at the Stateswoman, when he was attorney general, on a story that pitted him against the then-governor, a Republican lowlife oilman from Dallas named Clements, may he roast in petroleum-burning Hell. Anyway, so, like, it didn’t seem right to repay Attorney General White's previous kindness granting me an interview by bending Governor White over on something he had nothing to do with. There's such a thing as bad karma in my work and my feeling was, fuck with state elected officials, sure, no problem, but not with Allah, you know? In an interview with the fire chief before my appointment with Governor White the chief told me that Mark White, awakened across the street at the Mansion by the sound of sirens, came over in his pajamas or bathrobe or whatever and helped drag hoses when the flames were still out of control. Seemed like a decent guy which isn’t the same as a good governor and doing him wrong just seemed wrong to me—like the visit to Willie Nelson’s house to grill him about his kid. Kind of similar, you know, at least that was my feeling at the time. In my ethical scoring system this was about a two or three out of ten on the righteousness scale, while my preference is to work in the four to five range—opening locked drawers, that kind of thing, but not genuine, certifiable damnable evil, unless it would provide material for a movie script or a book deal. So my good side kicked in, the better angels of my mercy, and all, what Abraham Lincoln talked about, which is never far below the surface in the Black Man, a certain righteousness. Called Governor White's press secretary to cancel the interview.
            Not expecting any moral points for that, or anything, by the way, no reward for doing the right thing, there's certainly a heavier weight on the other side of the scale, but there it is. Did the right thing.
            And got ready to do the wrong one, you dig?

You could still catch Bill Hobby in the morning, if you were of a mind to chat with the President of the Texas Senate, walking from his apartment in West Austin. He had given up his residence in the Capitol completely. As part of the renovation and repair of fire damage the living quarters that had been the lieutenant governor's apartment were converted into offices, a rich man’s mea culpa for the sins of his child. But the most important Hobby to talk to from my point of view, to solicit comment from, was not the lieutenant governor. It was Katie herself.
This was the nut of the story, for the nut paragraph, the hard part, getting comment from the people you're trying to screw when they know you're trying to screw them. Not to be Old School or anything. It's become common practice in recent years with everyone so media-conscious to talk to a lawyer or official spokesman or family friend to get a response, that is if they have no sense because the best response is still, “no comment.” Today you talk to the press guy. Or girl. But back in the day a series of city editors had taught me to look the motherfucker who was the subject of the story in the eye and ask him or her, face to face, whether what's going to be published is accurate: we're going to print this and this and this and do you have anything to say? My analogy would be it's like sex, it's kind of like fucking, you do it face to face most of the time although it's also nice when you get somebody to bend over. At least get 'em on the phone, you hear me, we didn't have email back then, getting to the rich and powerful was actually easier then than now. There were certain givens that narrowed down a search. The Hobbys back in the day were like the Bushes or Clintons are today, or the Kennedys were back back in the day, as a reporter you kind of knew where they were at all times even if you didn’t care. In this case the task was not just to know where Katie was but to get her alone and waterboard the little bitch if possible although we didn't really know what waterboarding was back then, either, we called it giving someone the third degree: hit her with the hard questions and see how she held up. So to speak.
Because this wasn't just any teenager. This wouldn't be like talking to Boopsie or Muffin or Brittany at the Mall. Katie Hobby was the child of privilege and power, a double threata member of the most important family in the state which meant that finding her and questioning her could both be problematic.
            But if you could catch her without Daddy and get her rattled, upset her patrician rhythm, so to speak, disturb her sense of privilege in which she could do no wrong or face no consequences, the result could be juicy. Couldn’t afford to go running around Houston either, believe me, not as a freelancer, just showing up at the gate of the Big House in River Oaks or wherever, not likely, no way, because that would involve an unwanted meeting with a state trooper or bodyguard. Houston is not Austin, in the Bayou City the VIPs have somebody armed between them and the common people, in Austin, back then, no. Besides, it was my bet Katie didn’t live there anymore. If my estimate was right she had just finished high school, that summer after the fire—me putting the story together a month or two after the fact. Like many college-bound kids she’d put a little distance between herself and Mom and Dad. My bet was Austin, a kind of return to the scene of the crime—or the Ivy League. If she was away at Harvard or wherever there was nothing to do. My budget wouldn't afford a bus ticket to Boston. But if she was at UT she could be found and sweated. Bamboo under her well-manicured fingernails or whatever else came to mind.
A friend of mine was Travis County constable who worked out of the courthouse and he had a microfilm list of all utility hookups which is what he used when he had to track down people who didn’t want to be found, to serve them with subpoenas or warrants. Utility hookups are a reliable tool for the young reporter in his or her search for the truth, by the way. In Kate’s case she might not be living with her parents but they would probably still be paying the rent and utilities. So that meant looking for a Hobby hook-up other than Daddy's townhouse in West Austin. An idea came to me to simplify the process even more. Feel pretty bad about this now but it seemed like a good idea at the time, to put my actions in context. Was feeling pretty low, personally, at that moment in time. Not that that’s important now. Not that that's an excuse for what you're about to hear. The Black Man was feeling down and blue—not that you should care. But, specifically, that attack of conscience about blindsiding the governor? It led to an attack of conscience about not blindsiding the governor. If you’re a gangster and you take your work seriously you feel it’s necessary to do something inappropriate on every story, especially the big ones. You want to keep your hand in, so to speak. So far, like, my game on the Capitol fire was entirely within bounds, which was pretty disappointing. No sharp elbows, no off sides, no jabs or anything below the belt. No red cards or even a yellow. So, right before the story ran, like, my friend Bad Nigger made his presence known and, you know, when that happens, when Bad Nigger comes to town there’s nothing to do but go with him, accept the-devil-made-me-do-it not just as an excuse but as raison d'être. Show your gang colors, so to speak. What does that mean, exactly, in White English? Bad Nigger not me made that call to Betty King, Secretary of the Texas Senate. Just so you know and don't think badly of the wrong person.

             Betty King’s job was to run the Senate administratively that Lieutenant Governor Hobby ran officially as President and presiding officer. Mrs. King arranged offices and meals and saw that legislation ended up where it needed to go and generally did a complex job of massaging egos and catering to 31 really demanding personalities as well as the lieutenant governor himself. Especially the lieutenant governor. So, like, Bad Nigger called her office one afternoon and told whoever answered, like, “I’m a friend of Katie’s”—which brought Secretary King to the phone pretty damn quick. Sounds really bad now, really unethical, what Bad Nigger did, but it felt pretty good at the time, per the Negro involved. And most important it worked. Yeah.
So, like, it’s hard for a brother to pass for a white guy in person but many people of color have the gift of imitating white speech and can sound convincingly pale. My voice is now a deeply masculine bass-baritone that you would naturally associate with a strong Black Male but at the time, in my relative youth, not all my testosterone was yet on board and my voice sometimes hit higher ranges, kind of like the Temptations you might say, or Michael Jackson.
            So, like, in the call to Ms. King, my name was Trey or Chance or Travis—or “Kyle,” that’s always been one of my favorite Texas white boy handles, something like that. A guy’s name no one would question out on the ranch. Cody. Cody’s pretty good but that evokes more, what, southern Colorado? Would you agree? Or Colt—that's a pretty common name now, never actually met one in the flesh, two or four legs, but my rap was nonetheless convincing: that me and Katie went to high school together, St. John’s in Houston, which was in her deposition, and like, being in Austin for a few days—we used to be pretty good friends, me and Katie, back at St. John’s—and, like, you know Miss King, is she around because, “I would kind of like to see her, we were close in school, you know?" Words to that effect. All bullshit but, and this is what was important, it sounded good. A good analogy is actually sex: You got to earn pussy, in other words, because none of these bitches is giving it away. You have to make a run at a ho to have any hope at all. And this should not have worked, truth be told. Try shit like that today and the call will be recorded and traced and the police kicking in your door by the time you hang up. Shiiiiit. But Miss King was absolutely unsuspicious. It was a different age, what can you say? 
Technologically-speaking there was no caller ID—people didn’t need it because nobody did wrong on the telephone except the occasional heavy-breathing. Bomb scares had gone in and out of fashion and there were practically never any bombs. Al Qaeda hadn't yet been invented. The Viet Cong were ten thousand miles away, while the Black Panthers were mostly in prison or in the ground. If you called the office of the Secretary of the Texas Senate and said you were a friend of the daughter of the presiding officer and your name was Travis or Kyle, or whatever, chances were you were what you said you were and not a semi-felonious Negro trying to bust the ovaries of the state’s First Daughter. The only problem was Katie was not in Austin, nor even in the Ivy League. She was on the East Coast, yes, but as a freshman at the University of Virginia. That was what Secretary of the Senate Betty King said.
“Can I give you her number?”
“You sure can. Thank you much, Miss King.” 
Some shit like that. Feel really bad about it now but my second great life's lesson, which had actually taken root some time before, lying works. Really well. It's the one technology that never goes out of date.
             Did some checking with East Coast friends: My question was why U of V? An acquaintance who was a graduate of Harvard and moved in well-funded circles told me that the University of Virginia and on the West Coast the University of California Berkeley were the two public universities where the rich and powerful sent their kids if the kid was going to attend a public college. So, it wasn’t exile or something like that? It wasn't like a super-grounding or punishment of some kind? Katie wasn't sent away to Charlottesville for four years for fucking up on Spring Break in Austin? It wasn’t like doing time? No? Too bad.
Called the number in Virginia that night. And Kate Hobby answered. My luck was still holding, yeah. Is the Negro's game tight or what? Had Allah taken an interest in my mission or what? Something told me before dialing the number that the little bitch would answer the phone and she did.
So, like, gave her my rap, the reason for the call, even my real name and she didn’t miss a beat. She didn’t even ask who gave me her number which was cool, like, because you don’t want to have to lie unless you have to lie. Although you’re always willing to tell a big one if needed, at the risk of repeating myself, because that's Guerrilla J or Gangster J or whatever game you're running. You have to forget the rules of the White Man's world, by the way, if you're a Black Man you only need to remain true to the Black Creed which unequivocally calls for fucking powerful white people any way you can any chance you get. Katie said that she wouldn’t mind talking about that terrible night, my words not hers, but it was her roommate’s birthday and she was getting everything ready for the party. That’s what she told me, no lie.
“Can you call back later?” she asked.
Really self-possessed. Didn’t sound so much like a kid at all. In her deposition in Texas vs. Zenith Radio Corporation she sounded the same way, sure of herself, self-possessed even though she was a teenager at the time. Now people might call it coaching. She lied through her teeth of course, nothing made sense, especially not the declaration about no drugs but it looked good in print, you know? Which should have put me on guard during our telephone conversation. Because she lied to me that night too. Called back three or four hours later, after the birthday party, and one of her roommates answered, a little hostile, yeah, like she’d been waiting for the call and the message was "Katie-doesn’t-want-to-talk-to-you and fuck-you-for-telephoning," without the fuck you part. She was reasonably cool about it but that was the message. Katie had faked me out completely. And me, a pro—having lied to some pretty big names myself, including most recently the Secretary of the Texas Senate—it was embarrassing, you know? Katie was only like 18 or 19, in there, still a kid, and instead of just hanging up and calling Daddy she played me. And sounded pretty good doing it. Probably could have given me lessons in deceiving people or running games on Negroes, you really had to admire her precocious grasp of technique. Must have learned from her father, that was my feeling at the time. 
So, my response to the roommate was, you know, “Kate promised, are you sure? Go ask her again to make sure this is not a mistake.” And my voice was calm and reasonable, like it was all a misunderstanding, still using my white voice, by the way, although willing to admit my connection to the Negro race if asked, if it would help which it would not. The roommate was suddenly unsure. Her tone softened and she stepped away and you heard voices in the background. She came back to the telephone.
“She doesn’t want to talk to you.”
Caucasians are always so dishonest, have you noticed?
That's what upset me most about the whole episode. Not to be racist or anything but those people can’t tell the truth if their lives depend on it. That’s actually what got under the Black Man’s skin. Why can’t white people be more like African-Americans, simple and uncalculating and with the fundamental goodness of children? Like Nigger Jim in Huckleberry Finn not Huck himself. That’s what white liberals always say, right, black people are fundamentally good at heart—and we really know how to handle a vacuum cleaner. Anyway, that was the Capitol fire. Required some legwork, certainly. Mostly it required the ability to think like a thug. Or like a rich powerful Texas patriarch trying to protect his family which in this case amounted to the same thing, thinking like a criminal. But, and this is critical, a criminal who doesn’t have to consider the risk of prison, which is what this is all about, yeah. The story was a bitch only because the Capitol is a bitch and it was do-able only because Austin is a small town. That’s my theory. It was my best story and got me as close to the mother lode, to the source of all evil in Texas—that the Koran tells us exists—as any Negro will ever come, short of a trip to Huntsville. That’s my take, believe what you will.
Covering official wrongdoing and all, it was a pretty good period for me professionally, not to brag or anything, inventing criminal journalism and all, although nobody gave me credit at the time only because they didn’t know my methods. Until now. Because, like, there were no witnesses.
            And how often do you get to fuck the most important family in the state, let me ask you that—although my preference, if you had given me a choice, would have been the Bushes not the Hobbys. Because the fire was an accident, sort of: Katie may have gotten away with murder but the Bushes got away with mass murder—genocide, and it was purely intentional.
           That's evil, what W did in Iraq, but you can’t have everything, you can't even have real justice, a paradigm had definitely shifted though, that’s my view. Most reporters try to think like cops or detectives or secret agents but you really want to think like a thug. Luckily that's easy for me. How to put this in terms the non-reporter can understand? Sex is a good analogy, actually. Suppose for example there’s a guy who thinks his wife is cheating. What does he do? He starts acting like a private detective who specializes in marital infidelity, if anyone even does that shit anymore. Following her, checking receipts for hotel rooms, maybe looking at her phone if it isn't locked. My concept was entirely different. Get in character.
           Act like a woman who’s cheating on her husband—and you’ll catch the bitch every time. See for example what clothes she's wearing when she's going out "for lunch with girlfriends." Does her outfit include panties and what do they look like? Give her a long look in the eyes at the dinner table, the way women do to their faithless husbands, and see who blinks first. Don't put a tracking device on her car, save yourself the trip to Radio Shack, don't go technological, go psychological and she'll give it up inside half an hour. She wants to tell you, she wants to confess just like a mark wants to be cheated. Look for example for tears at a non-teary moment, that's always a big clue with chicks, that’s my experience. But before you get started you need to ask yourself one question: Is infidelity actually the worst of your problems? Do you really want to know? Anyway, something happened that took the icing off the cake. That’s the way it always is, right, in some sense? It's karma. Stories change you—even the ones you don’t write. So, went up to Georgetown, next door in Williamson County. Had an encounter there in Georgetown that kind of bummed me out. With a black Baptist minister, of all people. After the fire.
So, this was like a little after the fire, probably right after, the Statesman was no longer my employer but it still might have been their car that got me to Georgetown. One night Bad Nigger, in need of a ride, simply entered the newspaper office and borrowed the keys to a staff car even though the Statesman’s name was no longer on his paycheck. The newsroom was always open but if you went in about 3 a.m. no one was there and the keys to the staff cars were kept in the City Desk clerk’s top right drawer. Is that too much information? Can’t recall how we ran into each other, me and the Baptist minister, churches are not my normal venue, it doesn’t matter now anyway. But it happened in Williamson County, the Lord’s Country, aka BFE. Somehow, Allah got me there for my comeuppance, modesty going before the fall.
The minister’s son had been sent down, like 25 years to do, a long trip to Huntsville, a sentence like that is basically the death penalty, on a charge of rape of a white woman. The father, the Baptist minister, said his son didn’t do the deed. The sex was consensual, that was his argument or there was no sex at all. So he asked me to help free his son for a crime he didn’t commit. And you know, this Baptist Negro, humble and all, a man of the cloth, near tears, what could you do but promise you would check it out?
And suppose you never did?
That's how they do a nigger in Willco, Williamson County, even today, they set your ass up. Suppose the white girl gave up some pussy to a brother, regretted it afterwards and shouted rape. That's one possible scenario to check out. Worse has happened and happens still. Maybe this chick even convinced herself that he forced himself on her even though her hips were moving at the time. You feel me? Georgetown was a lot like Austin in that respect, white juries sending down young black men, except that in Williamson County nobody tried to convince himself or herself they were really liberals, like they do here in the capital city. In Georgetown they are given white sheets at birth and wear them. 
So, you can make all kinds of excuses. Truth is it was just too hard to work in that environment: there was a better chance, in other words, the bear would get you than you'd get the bear. So, basically, you sold the kid out. Lied to the father, promised to look into it and never did. Like, not your best moment as a Black Journalist or a Black Man. And not even success at the Capitol chasing the Hobbys could make that right. And suppose you’ve kind of been trying to make up for it ever since? Not to get psychological or anything.


Roots as a reporter were planted during my undergraduate years, doing burglaries in suburban L.A.: Monday, Wednesday and Friday were lecture days when you would’ve seen me toting a heavy backpack full of books on campus, probably near Bunche Hall, home of the economics department. Tuesday and Thursday were off days when you hopefully wouldn’t have seen me at all practicing my new vocation. After a rocky start, good grades got me on the Dean’s List and kept me there—until LAPD ended a promising academic career. 
            It’s strange as you age what you remember most of the old days, before the fall, or falls as the case may be. What impressed me in college were not ivy-covered buildings, not the intellectual rigor nor the healthy environment for debate. Not my first attempts at problem-solving or the discipline of having to put my thoughts on paper instead of up in somebody’s face. Not seeing the tall lanky figures of UCLA's basketball stars walking between classes—or driving past the cool houses in Westwood to reach campus. Mostly it was the puddy. There were some really fine hos in attendance then as presumably now. Southern California may be “superficial,” that was the rap you heard for the difference between going to UCLA or USC instead of the Bay Area schools Berkeley and Stanford. Southern California was said to be home of the lightweights. Whatever their intellectual failings the SoCal schools had other assets: there was talent everywhere, shorts and halter tops the school uniform in those days, before AIDS, when some kind of moderately-infectious social bug was practically the only danger of sexual activity. The rumor was that chicks at Berkeley didn’t shave under their arms. At UCLA they shaved all the way down to their toenails. Where would you choose to study?
My epiphany did not take place on campus but instead in Bell Canyon, an exclusive housing development on the border of Ventura County about an hour west of UCLA. Bell Canyon was a “gated community” but no fence, no man-made barriers, the rough country surrounding the exclusive homes serving as walls and as barrier to entry.
            Studying economics was giving me some pretty decent problem-solving skills and my solution to getting inside the gate was to park a mile or so short of the guard post—and hike in through the hills. Choosing a target was also a rational exercise thanks to an undergraduate's sharp eye and California’s system of higher education.
            In economics classes we did some rudimentary gaming to model the choices made by consumers, SoCal being built like Texas on the edifice of the automobile my plan was to pick the first house that had no cars in the driveway on the assumption that in a mobile culture where even children have their own vehicles if there were no automobiles present that meant nobody was home: Not brilliant but workmanlike and the kind of thinking that put to use the education my family was paying for. You have to have a plan but it doesn't have to be exceptional, assigned readings taught me, only effective. What my professors beat into us was that the simplest solution is usually the best, over-intellectualizing is as dangerous as being rash, you tend to overestimate the risks of action, that’s what studying decision-making taught me, intellectual training is after all, it seems to me now, as much about balls as brains. You want to be just analytical enough to consider the risks—and dumb enough to do it anyhow.
             And once again, timing was in my favor: In that age before technology brought the home alarm system into practically every householder’s financial reach there were no circuits to short or electronic eyes to circumvent. No access code to obtain—no password to guess. In an exclusive community with a guard at the gate, duped into a sense of security not everyone locked their doors. Nice. So, like, the first house with no automobiles parked outside and an unlocked back door was my mark. An apology again at the start. Burglary is a trade not an art. My business plan was to expropriate, ideologically-speaking, to take back from The Man what he had taken from us if one considers the historical context. To answer the ethical question at the start—before we go inside, so to speak—how can you justify entering another person’s home uninvited? That’s what a Scandinavian friend once asked me.
         She was clueless about the societal imperatives that drive the Black Man, about growing up in the 'hood where every day can be a struggle just to survive. By the time you’re watching somebody’s house you’re already past the particular concerns my Norwegian friend found important, when you’re already checking the frequency of police patrols you really don’t care so much if you haven’t received a RSVP. Her question only confused me at the time because there didn’t seem to me to be anything wrong with breaking & entering, in my undergrad understanding of ethics, unless you got caught. My bad, call that a moral failing, a missing gene for honesty, but to answer her question completely let me use an analogy which isn't about sex. In recent years, working with many women, almost all of them mothers or want-to-be mothers, the question has arisen from time to time while talking of home life if any of these ladies would, like, read their daughter’s diary?
             Answers have varied—from mother to mother—but the consensus response to my question has been that while they would not break into their daughter’s desk drawer and take out the diary or hack into little Courtney or Jessica’s computer to read email, if Courtney leaves the diary out, on a bed for example, or on top of a chest of drawers, or Jess leaves her email account open on the screen, as one mother explained to me, “She must want me to read it.” That logic appeals to me now and appealed in fact long before it was ever explicitly explained to me. My feeling in Bell Canyon that day was that if someone left their house unlocked they must've wanted a nigger to enter. Which is what this one did. 
The house was split-level, modern, painted gray if memory serves me and would have cost about 250K, a lot of money back then. The unlocked back door led into the kitchen which was also modernistic, high-tech for the age—like the kitchens of homes you see in architectural magazines with everything impossibly, perfectly stacked or put away, a long butcher block table down the center of the floor and forever-unused shiny copper-bottomed pots hanging overhead. In my memory the home is more affluent, more opulent than it probably was, but these people were still loaded—to my eyes—and my feeling in those circumstances was, frankly, they needed to share, from a revolutionary perspective of course. The whole house was a modern museum: clean, orderly and amazing to me coming from a home where disorder was the only rule, everything in its place. The family must have had a maid and it must have been her day off: lucky for her, lucky for me. My modus operandi at the time was pretty simple: no jewelry, no artwork, no stereo systems, just cash. A lot of bad boys today head straight for the bathroom and the medicine cabinet—so they say—painkillers sell for five dollars a pill on the black market today, more if it’s anything with genuine addiction potential like Oxycontin. Decades ago we didn't think like that. It was another era, a different time, a Negro was taking his life in his hands just being in an exclusive neighborhood, much less looking in white people’s medicine cabinets which, in Southern California, tells you everything you need to know about most people, like, what medication they’re taking. Personally for me at least as an otherwise traditional member of the black underclass—booze and drugs were off limits, because of my wish to maintain a healthy lifestyle. My specific ethos was live right—macrobiotics and good karma—in tune with nature and California-friendly: No chemicals, no thank you—just cash.
Teenaged children lived upstairs in matching bedrooms on the split part of the split-level, a boy and a girl from the look of the clothing, and they yielded most of the cash, actually, accumulated allowances or whatever, Christmas gifts or birthday presents from Aunt Jen, an amount that was really pretty hefty for kids.
           They were thrifty children and you had to give the parents credit for teaching good values. But as would also be true in my later career the search was in some sense more rewarding than the results. Call me kinky—call me a freak—but there was something almost orgasmic about being in someone's home, going through personal papers and belongings unknown to the owners. Or known to them, for that matter, so long as they didn’t come home in time. It took a while, certainly. Insurance documents, photo albums, television warranties, correspondence—people still wrote letters and kept them in the envelopes they arrived in—anywhere a stash of cash might be hidden. In a search like that you want to be detailed and thorough, like an artist or a scientist, but it's also a practical endeavor, basically you're looking for the color green. For that purpose my mother had unknowingly given me a hint about how to proceed. "If you ever want to hide anything from a black man," she once said, "put it in a book. He'll never look there." Forewarned, my host family's library got a good going-over. Nothing. The search for money took me everywhere in the house but especially into drawers and cabinets and boxes of documents where a bank envelope might be hidden. Today, most everything in the modern home of the same socio-economic stratus would be computerized but back then people still had a lot of paper and containers to hold it. My timing, as it turned out, assisted but also hampered efforts to execute a successful robbery. Society was just moving to credit cards and this was the beginning of the era in which people were keeping less cash. Even economics training had not prepared me for the possibility that this family was wealthy but didn't keep it on them, so to speak. Oh well, we live and learn through trial and error—by breaking, and entering. The kids had their own passports, imagine!
      Did that mean they could leave this bitch?
           On their own?
           That was my dream, getting away from Amerika before the police arrived, so to speak. Like everything else in the household the kids' rooms were perfectly ordered, beds made and bedcovers smooth. No one is that neat, at least no child, even an adolescent, especially an adolescent, the maid must have come and gone already. Burglary is a very intimate crime, it seems to me now, much more so than most of the so-called “crimes against persons” that cops focus on, mugging, carjacking, even homicide, unless of course it’s a hit that’s up close and personal. How much emotion does it take to pull a trigger? You can call and get it done. Call me old-fashioned, call me a square, but my behavior in people's homes was as firmly rooted in societal norms as those of my big-tatty friend from Norway, only the societies differed. When you’re in someone’s house uninvited you’re really sharing their space, that’s my feeling—even if only for a few minutes. There are certain rules of comportment. Not to be old-fashioned or anything but you have to be respectful in the host’s absence. Don’t throw shit on the floor. And remember, you can bust a nut on curiosity as well as cash. That's what my visit to Bell Canyon taught me. Coincidence actually played a big part the day. There was a little metal box with a combination lock that the family used for important documents, instead of a safe. The locked box had a roll of three tumblers that you could set to any combination you liked and the coincidence was that my older brother, in a doomed effort to keep his personal life out of my reach, had bought one just like it. Score
While my big brother was away at college, great helpings of time and patience (which would serve me so well in the Fourth Estate) taught me how to hold one tumbler at a time stationary and roll though all the possible combinations in a matter of minutes. It worked in Bell Canyon too: the first hint of the felonious serendipity that marked the career of this Black Journalist years later in River City, Texas. The secretary is away from her desk, for example: the mere absence of someone from a desk has fueled my career on more than one occasion. The drawer is unlocked, that kind of thing, or the lock can be easily forced, although that's crude and noisy. There was no cash in the box in Bell Canyon but it was one of my first times taking a skill learned in one area and applying it in a totally different field, almost as gratifying as finding a stack of freshly-minted twenty-dollar bills would have been. A kind of crossover, if you will, the sort of “aha moment” my professors talked about, which made it doubly cool. Mostly, though, what got me off that day was the search. So, too, later as a reporter.
In journalism, it seems to me now, you have to choose your method. Basically you’re either an interview person or a documents guy or girl. Although interviews are necessary to good reporting, especially when wrapping up, my thing—going back to my apprenticeship in Bell Canyon—has always been getting my hands on the paperwork. Seeing it in ink. There’s something so undeniable about having somebody's signature on the bottom of the page.
    In this world a signature can be a thing of beauty, for instance when you’re trying to burn a state official, as intrinsically important in my system of values as primo weed or a girl who’s shown a willingness to go down. Why not both? Why not all three? To me interviews are too wishy-washy: If the subject has any sense whatsoever he’s watching what he’s saying, especially if the person is press-savvy like a public official or professionally wary like a prosecutor or pig. So, unless you’re doing a magazine interview or writing a book and there are multiple sessions and hours of tape to review later in a search for subtleties and nuance—or unless you’re a bitch and can show a little leg or boob to speed disclosure—it’s like Southern California, you know, it’s just so superficial. For me, documents have mostly been the way to go. Since Bell Canyon. There’s the intrinsic beauty of knowing somebody else’s business—of being in somebody else’s business. For me that has just always had a certain je ne sais quoi.
Spent a few weeks back in the day at the Center for American History, when W was governor, looking at Ann Richard’s official correspondence from her four prior years in the Governor’s Mansion. A complete waste of time from the standpoint of a story to write or a deadline to meet but there were three pieces of paper that fixed my attention and made worthwhile the time spent going through blue-ribbon proclamations and drafts of forgotten speeches worthwhile.
    One was a letter from the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, a Republican who had sworn Richards in after the last Democratic electoral sweep. In the letter, handwritten and angry, the chief justice accused Gov. Richards of having sent to his chambers her enforcer to persuade the judge to resign. It was a kind of hardball you wouldn’t have associated with the ladylike governor. The judge wrote to Ann to call her bluff. The correspondence was instructive for what it told about the governor more than the judge: Richards’ political instincts had taken her so far but no farther. Democrats not Republicans were the endangered species at the statehouse and she didn’t have a clue. The other correspondence was also vintage Richards in the form of two thank you notes. Ann’s father died just after her loss and there in the file, from like the month after W won, right before Richards ceded office, was a handwritten condolence from W and a copy of Ann’s thank you note in return. No mention of the election which had been dirty, not particularly dirty by Texas standards but dirty enough, and reading the exchange of letters taught me something that my parents should have but did not, that there are some things you can never let go of, courtesy and respect for family loss, even after a statewide pissing match like a general election. Ann Richards was always a lady even when she tried to play hardball. W, despite many faults, a war criminal for one, was a gentleman: a Nazi, ultimately, but a well-bred one.
Technology not politics nor good manners was for me the arbiter of this time of change. Computers, certainly. God created snoops but the Internet made us dangerous. Email was coming. (Oh my God! You actually wrote that? Score again!) Mostly for me it was about the tradecraft not the story, that's true. That’s what sent me out day after day. That and the principal that everybody was equal, black, white, brown and yellow, and anybody could take a fall. That’s what makes this country great. We all fall down, we all disappoint, the only difference is who’s there to put it in the newspaper. For a time it was me.
It was like that living room in Bell Canyon, with the State of Texas substituted for an anonymous white family that wasn’t home. The State mostly wasn’t home, either. And moi, a thuggish little nigger from nowhere, instead of doing time somewhere after a bust—because that would have been my future if not for the Fourth Estate—society gave me a chance to fuck with people who were way above my social level? Can you believe that shit? People who might otherwise be serving on my jury? Is there an Allah or what? Instead of them passing judgment on me, it was me judging them. That’s what it means to be equal, to be in a society where one can rise above humble origins. That’s what reporting gave me, not to get sentimental or anything.


            Sooner or later as much as you resist being categorized you develop a theme, a signature subject. Mine is race, the American Negro in all his or her glory. Didn’t start that way. in the early days the stories about race had to be done just because you were the Negro in the newsroom, not because of any desire, not because those pieces were fulfilling in any sense because they were not. There was never any closure, never any end in sight, never any sense that things would change or get better. You wrote because you had to, not because you thought you were doing any good. The only plus—if there was any up side at all—was fucking with the police. If you could make a blue suit's life hell or embarrass a public official that was good in itself. But is that civil rights progress? No.
Liberals in this town think that issues of race end at the city limits. Music and good vibes and the artistic temperament of the city keep Billy Bob at bay. So they say. Some of us beg to differ, for some of us it’s not Billy Bob we fear. And, like, even though you might try to escape the unpleasantness of racial prejudice, and some people think you can do that in this town, the words “racism” and “bias”—calling people names, using labels, like “nigger” for example or “white bitch”—pejoratives are still heard here, sad to say, even in bucolic River City, even in the Live Music Capital of the World.  Or “honky,” or “white motherfucker.” Or “white honky motherfucker”—even, God forbid, “dick-sucking white honky motherfucker,” not that there’s anything wrong with that, sucking dick and all, if that’s what you like. This is Austin, nobody cares. Sometimes though you get lucky. Sometimes you can bust a nut getting the story and that’s an added plus, like fucking with the cops used to be. Year or so ago one of those stories came my way, the added-plus kind. Landed in my lap around Christmastime just like a gift from Black Santa.
There’s a pretty wide selection of corrupt officials in this town, many to choose from—many shapes and sizes, all colors although the predominant hue is off-white. Everyone wants to target the governor but he’s never been on my list of evil because he’s mostly righteous on equal opportunity for women and for minorities and that’s my measure—my standard, in Texas, you  know? He wants everyone to be a Republican but he doesn't care if you're a black Republican or a female. Alternatively you could go after members of the Legislature, honorable members of the Texas Senate or the House of Representatives but life is too short, you know how many of these guys and girls were elected in their home districts precisely because of what they are—horse traders—pig-fuckers, as Ronnie Earle might have called them? For these folks the crucial element of hypocrisy that’s so important in my definition of racism is missing. The hicks were born that way and they admit they're hicks but they’re not hypocrites as well, at least not about the Negro, aka the Black Man, yours truly. So too, some would say, about corruption and those who are described by the press as being corrupt: Is it actually possible to represent a district of the House of Representatives and be honest? This question has been much debated in the press. Learned studies are now being conducted at the University of Texas at Austin. The evidence is still out but doesn’t look good. Legislators are mostly doing what the job requires and at the Capitol that’s not pretty. So be it: if it is the will of Allah, so it shall be. That's my view, as merely His servant, ignorant except for the will of God.
Local offices at the Travis County Courthouse offered a possibility, yeah, especially in the early days: you always like to scrutinize county commissioners because the local courthouse is so often backward and/or incestuous, especially in a Southern state like this one. But in this town it’s actually the City Council that has been most ethically-challenged, for years now, as the members of the council have tried to achieve the political equivalent of squaring the circle—impossible, they told us back in math class: opening the city to rash development and talking about preserving the “old Austin,” whatever that means, the “old town,” shiiiiiit, whatever that might have been.
           So, the original story, from back in the day, growth vs no growth lived on and the city grew like a fungus. Still, you may say, the city council—like, those bitches—who cares? So they get a pass. They got a walk, a get-out-of-jail-free card. Only the mayor—the incumbent—is different. Every time there’s been a debate about the behavior of the pigs His Honor has been on the side of more shooting of black people—and the reason is clear. It’s in his best interests politically. The most powerful lobby in the city has been the Police Association and the mayor wants to stay on the good side of the union. So, it’s not even like hypocrisy, or ignorance on his part, it’s pure self-interest that’s somehow worse. And he became a subject, yeah. Of mine, actually. That’s how the feds do it too by the way. They watch for a while, read the newspaper, most of the FBI files are actually media clippings—until they’ve read enough and heard enough and one day they decide, in judicial terms, this motherfucker is sleazy, fundamentally dishonest, and they start to try to make a case. That was my protocol as well. If it’s good enough for the Department of Justice it’s good enough for me. Our methods may be different but the ends are the same, civic improvement, the perfection of American democracy you could call it, in my case giving back to the community, too. So, Mayor Leffingwell became the bullseye at City Hall. 

Resident Evil at the Texas Capitol, on the other hand, at least after the Hobby family went back to Houston, and after W left for D.C., seemed to be a guy named Jerry Patterson, a former state senator from some south Texas shithole, near the Gulf of Mexico, not that there's anything wrong with that, who became the state land commissioner in the early years of the century. Patterson was the old-fashioned kind of corruption, chasing the money: no drugs, like the Hobbys, no Third World wars, like the Bushes, just contributions please.
               The commissioner made clear from the day he entered statewide office that he was hungry, he wanted more, he wanted to run for governor and that takes a lot of bread but what do you do if you’re a fundamentally unexciting guy with no resources or family connections or charm to call your own, which is a pretty accurate description of Jerry P? So, like, he started this dog-and-pony show, carrying a piece in his boot and being a gun nut like Bullock although he probably liked firearms anyway, the way Bullock did, realizing as Bullock did before him that the press, you know, can’t get enough, he's a real Texan, a killer of men. It’s all Hollywood because usually the only person with a gun in his boot you need to worry about is the guy who doesn’t tell you it’s there. But Patterson needed to develop a persona in order to stimulate press interest and he looked to the Klan for inspiration. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Never met either man socially, to tell the truth. Mayor Leffingwell—we rode in an elevator once together at City Hall, not sure it was him, if it was he looked pretty good for an old ugly white man, like in his seventies, old Austin, a motherfucker by any name. Patterson—actually interviewed him back when he first got elected and the thought occurred to me at the time that this cat is bad news. But, know him? No. Recognize him for what he is, yeah, that’s different. Actually the reason for the interview was real estate, land yet again, in this town most civic intrigue begins with real estate transactions. Growth vs. no growth again, you might say. After he got into office Patterson began an aggressive program of swapping and selling public property, of which there’s quite a bit in Austin and in Texas, generally—trying to make a profit “for the schoolchildren of Texas,” as he selflessly explained to me during our chat. Transactions like these have gotten politicians in trouble before, so it seemed to me that the Commissioner was worth a good sniff. Smelled pretty ripe, to tell the truth. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either.
 During the interview, with his flak sitting there in the room, Jerry P wanted to talk about gun owner’s rights and his ancestors who fought for the Confederacy which is not a favorite subject of the black male, by the way. Motherfucker was clueless about etiquette when dealing with the Black Man. Patterson also wanted to talk about his successes “for the schoolchildren of Texas,” anything except what interested me most which was who's sucking so hard on the public titty? Jesus, Jerry, don't be so selfish. That was my thought at the time. Leave some for the rest of us. Which is always true. Someone always profits by big transactions made by government, transactions that usually don’t leave anything for ordinary niggers, not that there’s anything uncommon about that, you just wanted the commissioner to be a little honest, you know, kind of cut the crap, Jerry. Like, you don't have to admit to the whole panoply of corruption in state government because there’s not enough time in the day but just say something mildly not self-serving. If he had admitted some tiny indiscretion like he was doing his secretary or even fucking his press guy, which is cool, this is Austin and nobody cares—it didn't even have to be something that got published, just tell me you like to go to cooking oil parties and you bring the oil—something real and not self-serving that would have been the end of the interview, thank you very much, Commissioner. Maybe he’s not honest but he’s as honest as they get at the Capitol. But Patterson just kept shoveling and there was doubt after questions were asked whether we’d be able to reach the door when it was time to leave. Which makes you suspicious, you know? Because it takes one to know one, that was my feeling at the time. 
Commissioner Patterson reminded me more than anything else, that day during our chat, of a guy running a three-card monte game on a street corner. He keeps talking shit about something else, anything else, the schoolchildren of Texas for example, which has nothing to do with the real game, which is real estate—because he wants to keep you from noticing what his hands are doing with the cards. In other words, a thug. Both him and Mayor Leffingwell, for different reasons, fit that profile.
          You may ask, how can you know that? How can you say that? Where is the documentary evidence? Where's the proof? And these are legitimate questions. The evidence was hardly conclusive, nothing more than dubious judgment on the part of His Honor and questionable rhetoric on the part of the land commissioner, or vice-versa, but you know, and this is my best explanation and it strikes me as pretty convincing still today: it takes one to know one. There’s a certain expertise at work here. You have to trust in my dishonesty. That’s why Anonymous has such an important role to play hacking politicos’ email, because secretive people have a way of finding out secrets. That's why you subpoena the mafia to testify about the mafia. Sometimes, you need people who can recognize a player when they see one because they’re players themselves. It takes a con to figure out a con, it takes a thief to catch a thief, it takes a pimp to spot a ho, both these guys were hos, Leffingwell and Patterson, that was my feeling at the time, believe what you will. What would be interesting, what would prove my hypothesis, would be to see the interplay between the two men, the mayor and the land commissioner, and the best way to do that would be to see their email in the lead-up to a vote on a development project which is, like, Ground Zero around here for most public sector double-dealing, land transactions, probably that's true everywhere. And because, in addition, both these guys actually had something in common besides dishonesty. Or race. Or racism. First glance, you wouldn’t think so but they did and do.
One is a Republican and one is a Democrat, sure. That’s not it. One’s an Aggie and one’s a Longhorn, that’s a fact but doesn’t matter here. One was born in Austin and the other comes from some shithole around Houston, no doubt. Both are hos not that there’s anything wrong with that, we live in an era of personal choice—there’s another similarity between these two men, these two conservative men, beside dishonesty. They’re both former military aviators. Patterson flew for the Marines and Leffingwell flew for the Navy. That’s the most important similarity of all, that’s what they have in common. They were both trained as military pilots. Men like these, Top Guns, even former military pilots, ex-Top Guns, are like surgeons—or ship captains. They’re just one or two rungs down from rock stars or astronauts and, often in their own minds, only another one or two rungs down from the Big Guy himself or Big Girl herself. They believe they're different from the rest of humanity.
           My personal experience is mostly with surgeons but the literature is pretty clear that some pilots and an unhealthy number of physicians don’t believe the rules apply to them. They are somehow special and are better judges of how the world really works or should work than the rest of us because their present or former callings involved life and death decisions. There can be a complacency and superiority at work simultaneously with these guys and girls long after whatever led to those feelings of superiority is past. So, like, it was my plan to get a look at the email between the two, Mayor Leffingwell and Commissioner Patterson not because it would point to any particular decision about development, but because of general interest, the same interest that led me to the Center for American History, for Ann Richards, to see her papers from the Governor’s Office, and to the LBJ Presidential Library on UT's campus for Lyndon: human interest and human feelings. Human failings, too. In the forlorn but not-always frustrated hope that somebody would say something really dumb, in print, which even bright people sometimes do, or say something about an unrelated subject that would give me the opportunity to bend over a powerful member of the White Master Race. Not that there was any personal animus involved, no. Because, speaking as a thug and a reporter—both of these guys were bad news. And that's coming from somebody who is bad news himself. And that instinct had been proven right previously, not to brag or anything. Couldn’t spot an angel even if she was on my lap giving me a BJ. But could write a book about the evil side of life in Austin at the end of the 20th Century. Which is what you’re reading now. Small “e,” but evil nonetheless.
Not because either of these two guys were the most corrupt politicians in the capital city, no way, there’s a lot of competition for that honor. But because they were willing to play their games in totally cynical ways. In this town minorities have been on the receiving end before, of acts by people in power who lack ethics, oh, a few occasions in the last couple of decades, more or less my time in the saddle. Looking at these two motherfuckers' email would be like listening to LBJ’s tapes, over at the Great Man’s tomb on campus. Because sometimes you see shit or hear shit and it’s supposed to be mundane but is oh-so informative. Sometimes, shit happens and it tells you how the world really works. As a reporter you run your traps and take your chances.
So, like, the drill was to request email from both Mayor Leffingwell and Commissioner Patterson. See what they were talking about in the context of a real estate project but hope for something more. Maybe they’d get into their cockpit mode, ready to drop a bomb, and they'd betray a belief that those little dots on the ground below were ants not people. You could only hope. Maybe, on the other hand, my preconceptions, call it what it is, my biases about these two men would be completely wrong: maybe in the midst of their deliberations they’d be chatting about their contributions to the NAACP or their favorite hip-hop moves or what they thought about a Beyonce’s latest hairdo. It was possible. Anything was possible. Anything is possible, until reality sets in. Until you get the disclosure you’ve asked for.
           Or until you don't get it, as the case may be. The mayor’s office responded that His Honor's email with Commissioner Patterson would only be released upon payment of $350 for “staff time.” That kind of blew my mind. That’s like 15 baggies at the old prices, my way of judging expenses today, in constant purchasing power. The City Attorney—a sister by the way, just to show that not all black people are righteous, some Negroes can still be bought and sold long after slavery and this ho was one of them—wrote to me, “The City receives thousands of request for information each year. As such, we must have a uniform manner to handle the requests, and it is fiscally prudent for the City to attempt to recoup some portion of the costs associated with fulfilling the requests.” Sounded good, but no one including the legal sister could explain why you had to take out a loan if you wanted to see the mayor’s correspondence. At first it was just an empty feeling in my stomach—uncomfortable, "troubling" as they say, "disquieting" in the extreme. The city attorney was lying, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but then the county prosecutor said he would have “discussions” with Mayor Leffingwell and the city council regarding "openness." This is more or less when all my faith in government was lost. Which led to the reluctant conclusion that the system is fixed, even if the Capitol fire didn’t teach me that twenty years earlier, which it should have. Lesser members of society are simply charged with crimes or not charged—it's not discussed over lunch, it's not a polite experience, they don't get the law explained to them one-on-one by a lawyer employed by the county. You feel me?
Made you wonder, after decades, a little late, yeah, but better than never—who really goes to jail? Made me want to ask the follow up question that you always forget to ask when you're friends with the official you're interviewing. That's what they're depending on, by the way, that's what they're hoping for, you won't ask the next question, which is why politicians are friends with reporters in the first place, not because they like us as much as that they fear us. It was finally time for me to ask that next question. So, like, motherfucker, who are you prosecuting? The answer came back from the ether, from a trip to the Travis County Jail: Negroes and Mexicans.
It took a long time to get there, to come around full circle, but when you did get back where you started you found Ronnie Earle still sitting behind his desk.

The rap on Ronnie from the Republicans was that he prosecuted R’s in preference to D’s and maybe that’s true or kind of true but the best take is that Ronnie is that he was very careful about going after the powerful, whatever party they belonged to. He'd made that mistake with Bullock, hadn’t he, and Bullock kicked a little ass. Ronnie said that he prosecuted more Democrats than Republicans but that's actually answering the wrong question. The real question is how many Democrats did he not charge at all? That may be the greatest power a prosecutor possesses. Not to prosecute, as much as to prosecute. Whose high crimes and misdemeanors, in other words, to ignore.
Mostly Ronnie went after people who couldn’t defend themselves or who he thought couldn’t defend themselves. The usual suspects. The Travis County Courthouse is like a machine, not a very sophisticated one, hardly high tech at all, this machine has to be fed raw materials, usually the poor and/or niggers and Mexicans, the powerless whatever their race, who provide the fines and imprisonments and occasional executions that make the public at large happy. In this county the public is white.
           Ronnie controlled a mechanism, you could call it. He ran a machine for three decades. He wasn’t there to enforce a system of laws but to enforce a system and that's what's so fucked up. He let the Hobbys walk away from the biggest crime in the history of the Capitol, which is saying a lot, while on the black side of town he was a couple of orders of magnitude tougher. Ronnie spent three years, for example, pursuing murder charges against an eleven-year-old black girl for a crime she did not commit, even though it was clear the cops’ case was tainted from the start. This was in contrast, lo those many years ago, to the son of one of LBJ’s former aides whose thirteen-year-old son walked into his school classroom and shot dead his teacher. Ronnie allowed the kid to go to a facility for “troubled youth.” The little fuckhead eventually returned to complete his classes and became a practicing lawyer. How fair is that? Not that there was any racial preference shown, no. It was more about money and power. 
Funny, still, how often it’s a black or Hispanic defendant when the D.A. needs "to make an example." The prosecutor will even say that in the newspaper, "An example must be made," some self-serving shit like that, or that will be what the D.A. tells the jury, to make an example of the defendant. Oh well, the mistake is ever believing in a system. It would have been apparent sooner, who gets busted and who doesn’t in Travis County, but the press has been distracted. It’s like that three-card monte game favored by Commissioner Patterson. The D.A. keeps reporters occupied, watching corruption cases against politicians, like Ronnie vs Bullock, the big public scandals, such as they are, with everybody trying to guess what the D.A. will do. But the real action is what the prosecutors are doing to everybody else. The real action at the Travis County Courthouse is farther down the food chain. Austin, the liberal mecca, sends a higher percentage of blacks and Hispanics to state prison than either Dallas or Houston which both have higher minority populations than Travis County does. That's why, around here, there's barely any Negroes left. The black population has fallen by half in just my time in town. Part of the reason is the D.A. has put so many brothers on the bus to Huntsville. It’s fucked up, that’s my view, believe what you will.


So, that’s the story, that's my version of events. It’s not pretty and some of that is my fault although my intentions were good early on, back in the day, as a young blood just doing his thing. The Black Man is fundamentally an idealist, in his soul of souls so to speak, he is pure, but White Society has forced him to pay a heavy price for his high standards and idealism. Probably you've already sensed that in me. Anyway, there's some filler here certainly, it could probably use a red pencil but the core of what happened so long ago at the Texas Capitol is evident in these pages. It was a tug of war, good versus evil, me pulling on both ends.
My hormones have been running pretty high, oh, these last few years. My tolerance for bullshit is running low, call a bitch a bitch—that's my view now, let the chips fall where they may. It just hurts so bad because this town was, at one time, so cool: Good herb, fine pussy, low rents and all, or comparatively low compared to now that everyone has moved here, the growth is mind-boggling, even if the selection of puddy has improved from good to excellent. Swimming at Barton Springs, drinking at Scholz’s, sitting in front of the Capitol in the twilight of a spring day, a doobie in my hand, that was the old Austin. State troopers were too intimidated to say anything, they didn't want to seem provincial. My reputation hadn't made me unemployable yet and not everyone you met on the street claimed to be a journalist so my skills were still in demand. Knowing how to go out with a notebook in your back pocket and get a story, not necessarily the story, still meant something, not to be sentimental or anything, not to moan about the old days and how good they were. For me the memory of that time is actually audio not in print. Today every time the radio plays "Give Me the Night" or practically anything by George Benson reminds me of covering cops for the daily on weekends. If it's Grace Jones' "Nightclubbing" that means, for me, a very short stay at Texas Monthly. The de riguer L.P. for many of these years was Rumors, just couldn't seem to get Fleetwood Mac out of my head, "Rhiannon" or "Landslide" can still make me cry, even today. Some of the memories are visual but most of those came after getting high and technically don't count, not to be a puritan or anything.
One memory—one visual that sticks with me—don't remember what was said, if anything, it was running into Ronnie one day, he was parked in a pickup on the curb of Woolridge Park, next to the Travis County Courthouse, the old sandstone building that fronts Guadalupe Street: me stoned, him pleasantly tight, it was four o'clock more or less on a Friday afternoon, the courthouse was already deserted, you were lucky to find anybody in an office after lunch on a Friday except the peons. Ronnie wasn't driving, his wife Twila was behind the wheel, she always seemed to have her shit together even if he didn't. Somebody at the newspaper told me once that Ronnie even took a toke at a party one time, at a reporter's house south of the river. That was my Austin.
          That was the old Austin: the battalion commander tying a rope around his waist and wading into Onion Creek because he wouldn’t order anyone else to do it. Captain Wilkes going in the back room of the pig pen to milk his prostate and coming back out to lie to me about what his people were doing, or me shoplifting dinner at the Safeway on 12th Street. If it was the legislative session, watching Bill Hobby walk to work—that kind of thing, you lived in a small town full of powerful people, interesting people even if many of them were pigfuckers. Mostly though the memory of that time is audio: in Mexico, during time off, going south to meet the harvest. The sound was "Dancing Queen" playing on a transistor radio, me camped out on the floor of Buenavista Station waiting to catch the early train to Oaxaca, or coming back north across Tamaulipas ranch land to Nuevo Laredo. practically the only thing in my backpack was rolling papers and a blanket. Those were the happiest times of my life. Saw four live acts during those years in Austin, that should give you an idea of what it was like: Dough Sahm on the Drag, at The Hole in the Wall, Springsteen and the Beach Boys, both at the Frank Erwin Center, and Junior Walker singing "Shotgun" at Antone's. Later, in Africa on my pilgrimage to see the motherland the music was "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty. The last few years? It's Simply Red, "Holding Back the Years." You feel me?
Looking back now at whatever this is, memoir or confession, it's mostly about the sudden lack of intimacy. Austin stayed a small town in the wrong way and lost it in the good way. Sex is a good analogy, actually, the city lost its cherry, not that there’s anything wrong with that, it became a ho—which is cool too, we're not being judgmental as long as prices are reasonable. Problem is these bitches don’t give anything away no more. Just a few years ago reporting was still an intimate experience in this town. Interviews were still one-on-one, you knew the people you were fucking or about to fuck, you looked them in the eye when you gave that last shove. Now, look around—even the legendary Titty Momma is gone. That woman could love a nigger up and down, from one end of his body to the other—it was hard even to stand up after all that loving, and when the frat boys came over to the east side, in exchange for professional fees she practiced various acts of an sexual nature that, although her actions might have seemed extreme and depraved at the time, in the dispassionate view of history actually increased understanding between the races. That was my Austin. That was the “old Austin,” at least for me. The town just isn't the same anymore.
            Let me ask you a question, this may seem incongruous: You ever ride the Number 1?
            If you want to get a quick and dirty view of what River City has become you need to take the Number 1 bus. The route starts south somewhere in Hays County they say and comes up Congress Avenue past new and trendy shops, restaurants, saloons, across the river, past the Capitol, past the Governor’s Mansion, past the courthouse, the university, the State Hospital—the bus rolls by the headquarters of the Texas Rangers, look for a building with antennae like a crawling bug. The route covers many of the social services stops in town, if you're unemployed or “at risk” or just out of your mind which is a significant demographic in ATX. The head-jobs and druggies mostly come out at night but my most formative experience on the Number 1 actually took place during the day and south of the river where there’s, usually, less chance of mischief: it was a Saturday, late morning, me coming back from Stacy Pool, on the southern edge of Travis Heights. So, you walk up the hill from the pool to South Congress Avenue and there’s this little park on the corner, across from what was an X-rated theater, now a tech startup, remember what it was like back in the day? On the opposite side of the street from that nursing home, you know the location now, you can smell the pee as you walk by? So, like, homeless have always used the park as a place to hang out during the day, especially when it’s hot, which is like most of the year. Cops are usually not too far away, waiting for a chance to bust some balls. If memory serves me this was like right around where that state senator, Nixon was his name (same party but no relation to the former president) got busted as a John back in the day. Now you remember? He picked up what he thought was a working girl but she was actually carrying a badge in her panties. That may have been before your time if like so many of us you’re new to River City. So, like, a lot of hookers work or worked the area after the east side was gentrified and become just another part of Hipsterland.
So, this was the turn of the century, turn of the millennium, 2000, or just before, and on the bus my preference is always to sit up front: like to watch the road, sometimes chat with the driver, like, if he’s got anything to say? Some of the drivers just sit there, it’s all they can do to handle the traffic these days, but others got a decent rap you have to talk to the motherfucker to find out, there's no other way. And sitting up front with me that day was this couple, looked like small town folks, Ma and Pa Peckerwood from Giddings or Milam or some East Texas shithole like Bastrop before Bastrop became suburbia with fern bars and cafes replacing the feed stores and Western wear shops. So, like, there were a couple of black guys in the park, up the hill from Stacy Pool, two niggers just chillin', minding their own black business which the Constitution says we have a right to do, maybe getting high which is cool too, each to his own herb, indulge or not, that's the mantra of this town. So, the bus was stopped at that corner on the street next to the park, waiting for a red light to turn green. The guy from Bastrop looks out the window at the brothers in the park and he says to his old lady, straight up like they're still in Bumfuck, East Texas, or wherever, not like he’s in Trendyville, the Third Coast, where he actually is: “There’s two kinds of coon," he says. His wife looks at him expectantly. "Them that walk on four legs and”—Bubba points out the window, indicating the two brothers chilling in the park—“them that walk on two.” His wife chuckles. He slaps his thigh. Has a good laugh and smiles big. With both teeth.
And then he looks my way, me sitting on the other side of the bus aisle but still pretty close and he realizes that he spoke loud enough for one of the ones that walk on two legs to hear. And he stops smiling.
So, like, if this was Chicago or even L.A. the motherfucker would have been dead right there, boom boom boom, at least two in the chest, nine mil or parabellum, no further comment required, no questions asked. But this is River City, the old Austin where we’ve always tried to be friendly, where we try to be understanding even of rednecks—our challenged white brothers and sisters. And actually it didn’t really bother me, you know? Because he was up front about it. You knew what you were dealing with until relatively recently, you knew Billy Bob because you knew what he looked like, like this motherfucker sitting at the front of the bus with his old lady. He looked like PWT, poor white trash, or just plain trash irrespective of color. Nowadays, the dentition is better but the sentiments can be pretty much the same. Hipsters replaced hillbillies. They just don’t say shit in the seat next to you, at least not without looking around first, they don’t usually ride the bus much either, they're on bicycles or driving hybrids. That was one of the last times the city felt “real” to me, to tell the truth, that morning on the bus with Ma and Pa from Milam County, it wasn’t the last day or anything, wasn’t the beginning of the end like Winston Churchill talked about but it was the end of the beginning like the great man also said. In the beginning for me Austin was fucked up but it was largely a holistic experience. Weed was cheap. Pussy was free or reasonably-priced. A Black Man could still run his game with enough intimidation and white guilt to get away with it. Almost. That was the old Austin, it was kind of beautiful back in the day, RIP, motherfucker, because it's dead and gone now. If you asked me to put a date on when the world changed for the worse that would be kind of hard to say but it was an era—a political era, a "social climate"—basically when George W. Bush was in the governor's office, yeah. At first, it was still go-with-the-flow even after the Bushes hit town. You could see the parties on the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion as you walked by on the sidewalk, the fencing didn't include barbed wire and machine guns yet and you didn't feel like snipers were tracking your movements, like now, waiting for you to step too close. When Ann Richards lived there and you passed by at night you could swear you heard women's laughter and you probably did. At the Bush parties, during those long summer afternoons, the women were wearing big sun hats and holding icy drinks—even if W himself was on the wagon, which he was, born again and all, turned out he only drank blood. 
             Sometimes, also in the late afternoon, if you visited Central Library down the street from the Mansion which was one of my favorite haunts you might see the Bush twins allegedly studying upstairs. That was part of my Austin, too. If it was a weekday you could stand on Congress Avenue and look up at the front of the Capitol and if it was anytime, say, after 10 a.m. but before four in the afternoon there was a silver Continental parked out front like the owner was home, W's car. He was in. Or if he was already running for president you would see him walking south on Congress, headed in the direction of the Elephant Room, my bar, not for the booze, he had found Christ, but because his campaign headquarters was next door to the club. If it was early in the campaign before the Secret Service was all over him he might be walking alone, or so it seemed, because probably there was a plainclothes guy or girl following in a car or on foot. If you watched him go into the campaign headquarters and kept watching the door, so it is said—this is a great anecdote even if it's not true—it is true, apparentlya few minutes later you would see a familiar figure follow W into the building. Michael Dell. Yeah, that Michael Dell, the computer guy, of Dell Computers. He was an early backer, the principal money guy, so they say or said and that's true too. Today all you'd need to do is see the police surveillance tape to know. There are more cameras covering Congress Avenue now than in Hollywood: another change the Black Man is not entirely comfortable with, but that's progress, n'est-ce pas?
A friend of mine knew Dell’s brother, who is a M.D., by the way, here in town—knew the family pretty well and the word was that Michael Dell is a troglodyte politically, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The actual word used was “Neanderthal,” as in “he’s a Neanderthal politically,” Michael Dell is, like, two steps to the right of Ronald Reagan’s dead grandmother. But repeating the story here my preference is to use “troglodyte” because it’s more evocative, more descriptive than Neanderthal, you know? This is a pretty highbrow town but it's still Texas and a lot of people don't know what a Neanderthal is even if they're one themselves. But everybody in Austin knows a trog, or two, and what’s the difference between a trog and a Neanderthal, really, like is either one going to complain? Point is that you knew shit, even deep shit, without having to work hard, back in the day. The lazy man’s way to investigative journalism, so to speak. You just had to be in ATX. At the time you were still seeing people downtown or you knew people who were seeing people downtown. My boss came into the office one day during those years, the Bush years, and said, like, he just saw former Governor White at a wine store on West 6th Street, which blew his mind: “Mark White buys bad wine just like me!” or words to that effect. That's what he said. A small town, yeah. 
So, ran into Ronnie another day, about this same time, on the steps leading to the second floor of the Capitol. He was showing his father around the big city and showing his dad where he worked meant taking him to the legislature not the courthouse, that’s what he was doing. Probably took him both places, the House and the courthouse, that would be my guess now. Saw Ronnie again a year or two later, the last time we met, actually, outside Whole Foods which was pretty much the center of my social existence at the time—no longer hanging out at my dealer’s apartment up near the Drag, which had been Ground Zero for me back in the day, not the Central Library anymore either, library management doesn't like too many Negroes in the downtown location, they kind of made their feelings known, security breathing down the back of a Black Man's neck while he browsed the stacks, hands in open view at his sides. Suddenly, my principal hang-out was W.F.: not the current Whole Foods, not the present mothership but the prior one, next to Book People, just across the street from the current locale. Don’t know if Ronnie was coming out of Whole Foods or going into Book People but we stopped and had a chat.
So, like, Whole Foods has these awesome muffins, outrageously over-priced like everything else on the aisles, not that there’s anything wrong with that, and like only one good deal, one reasonably-priced item in the whole fucking store, you could buy cold mineral water allegedly from Italy in a big glass bottle for like a buck and carry it around in your backpack and survive downtown in summer when even a strong African-American like me, whose ancestors ran barefoot on the savannah, hunting Simba the lion—or whose ancestors worked in East Texas cotton fields, hoeing a tough row—starts to sweat. You feel me? So, like, at the time Whole Foods used state troopers for security. The store had a Texas Department of Public Safety guy at the door in uniform, as people left, probably more for appearances than anything else.
          Never saw a trooper wrestle anybody to the ground but it was a good choice using DPS instead of local police because you’d have to worry more about merchandise losses with A.P.D. than from the damn customers. Personally, it was never my plan to rip off Whole Foods. Not that the thought didn't occur to me. It's one of the great mysteries of my life, having spent so much time walking the aisles and all, can’t really explain why nothing ended up in my pocket except it seems like a risky environment for a Negro, not worth it, not for a fucking aubergine or organic beet. Done a lot of grazing, sure. Like to eat my way from one end of the store to the other but that’s just human nature, right, not a crime, grazing makes up for the high prices on the days you actually make a purchase, because it’s all such an outrageous rip-off? Stop me if you've heard this before.
Back to the old store with the state trooper at the door and Ronnie. So, this one day, around the time me and the district attorney ran into each other—this time, you know, like—the trooper on duty signaled me to stop at the exit to the parking lot. He didn't really stop me but he was about to, so my preemptive move was to approach him, save the pig the trouble. He didn’t draw his gun or pull out the cuffs or anything if that’s what you’re wondering.
       That’s not where this is going. He was cooler about his suspicions which the state troopers usually are, they're really polite, it’s a performance measure for the state, they can be fired for being rude unlike the local cops for whom rudeness is a job requirement.
       So, before the trooper signals me to stop, he’s looking at my bag of goodies—but doing it in a discreet way because this is an expensive store where wealthy white people shop and security doesn’t want to make a big scene or put a liberal off enjoying his or her foie gras or Perrier by clubbing a nigger during store hours. In the parking late at night after lights out, all right, but not while customers are still enjoying the Whole Foods shopping experience.
       So, the trooper’s instincts that afternoon were right on but his luck was bad because there was a receipt in my pocket. Maybe not my receipt but a receipt nonetheless and it’s not like he was going to go item by item through my bag to be sure. And instead of going off on the this particular pig and asking what are you stopping me for—the only person of color leaving the store—why don’t you look in that little white-bitch blond soccer mom’s bag over there, the one pushing the baby carriage, she could be walking out with a pound of truffles or new potatoes. Literally. Which she could have. Literally. But the pig picked a nigger to roust instead, that's nothing new, at least the state troopers are usually nice even if they’re profiling, which this one was, but he was Hispanic which gave him points, like, me sharing his pain as member of a minority group in Texas although, unlike me, he could shoot white people if the opportunity arose. Suffice it to say he got me on a good day. My medication was working.
So, you know, after his professional curiosity had been satisfied we got to talking and somehow the conversation turned to W who by then was President Bush and it turned out this state pig wasn’t an ordinary trooper, not Highway Patrol, or a mere driver’s license examiner, not one of the guys who stops overloaded trucks leaking oil on the highway. He was Capitol Police, working store security as an extra gig. He said that on Election Day 2000 he was actually on duty at the Governor’s Mansion and W was home. Yeah, that's right. That's what he said. And that's where it got interesting. So, W came out early that morning, onto the front lawn, in his robe and slippers or whatever, to collect his morning newspaper, trying to act like an ordinary guy in case the media was watching which they were. There were like a zillion news vans and reporters camped out. So, my question to the DPS guy was, like, stop right there. Stop right there. Stop! This is completely professional: what newspaper? What did W subscribe to? 
And the trooper said W actually subscribed to two newspapers that were delivered every morning to the front door of the Mansion, the Wall Street Journal and the Houston Chronicle. So, like, not the American-Statesman which meant Bush was actually smarter than he looked. That’s a joke, actually. So, the trooper continued, we’re still standing in the doorway at Whole Foods, just far enough outside not to trigger the electronic sensor that opens the door, he’s still checking out the people leaving, discreetly, but no niggers or Mexicans coming or going so no one with probable cause to stop. He continued with his rap. And he said him and the other officer on duty that morning, on the lawn of the Mansion, said to W, that day, that morning, Election Day 2000, Y2K, the Millennium, “Hey Governor, how’s it going?” and Bush, who was always nice to the help, pretty cool one-on-one—so they say—rolled his eyes and smiled that good-old-boy aw-shucks peckerwood smile and replied, half-joking, like, “It’s going to be one of those days,” which it was. It was actually "one of those days" for like the next month or so until the Supreme Court ruled that those votes in Florida didn't count. Or, like, for the next few years, actually. Through Katrina, certainly. Until the surge started working, that would be my guess, personally. That's my view. And that, like, fit with all the available evidence. Never met the big guy in person but everybody told me, both D’s and R’s, that W was very charming, very personable up close. They also said he was always the smartest guy in the room, at least in Austin, which seems dubious now in light of later events in D.C. and abroad, like Baghdad, but that’s what people told me who met him when he was governor. The smartest guy in the room, no shit.
And this one chick, a hot little Chilean “abnormal psychologist” specialist ho who briefly became the subject of my non-professional interest—this is a true story—she asked me once about W, we were staying at a hostel in Antofagasta on the Pacific coast of S.A. and, knowing that Austin is my home, what is he really like, she asked. Who? Bush, she said, and my response was he’s very personable one-on-one, because that's what everybody had told me, and she looked at me and answered, completely serious, this is absolutely true, “They said the same thing about Hitler.”
So, after that—since then—when people ask me about W, as a trained observer, as a professional journalist with well-developed analytical skills, my response is to skip straight to the chase and say he’s a fucking Nazi. No lie.


My last Whole Foods encounter was among the beautiful people and high-priced goods but not on the bulk aisle. In express checkout one afternoon there was this striking older lady one or two customers ahead of me and somehow she looked familiar. Don’t know what she was buying although being in Whole Foods it was too expensive whatever it was. She looked like she could afford it though, not Michael Dell-rich, not like she could buy the whole store, just whatever she wanted in it. What struck me were her clothes. Her apparel. She was rich enough to be understated which in Texas means wealthy indeed. Fashionably broken-in jeans, almost chic, like someone had worn them for her to soften them up, and a sheer very expensive maybe even silk blouse and a thin gold bracelet on her wrist not like the ingots ordinary Texas rich women wear. This wasn’t oil money, or cattle wealth, it was political gold which means respectability as well as cash. Her hair, kind of golden too, actually, was perfect, a helmet but perfect. She looked well-cared for. It was Ann Richards. We chatted for a second. It had been twenty years, longer, since we’d last seen each other, she was still a county commissioner then. We talked on the telephone later but that conversation was a long time ago in an Austin that no longer exists. 
Ann’s rap after she got beat for reelection as governor was that she never looked back. That’s what she told interviewers if she was asked, what happened happened, she said, she lost, W won—that was that and she moved on with her life. Which meant going to New York or wherever and working as a political consultant, a commentator or strategist or whatever. That’s what she said. That's what she did, there's documentary evidence to prove it. By the time we ran into each other the last time, at Whole Foods, that version of history was no longer holding up so well. What happened in the meantime was 9-11 and Iraq, W had four years in D.C. at that point when we met in the express checkout—this was like September or October at the end of his first term in the White House and a lot of people were dead who otherwise would not be. Iraq was ashes, kind of like the Capitol after the Hobbys left town. The metrics, the numbers described it all, particularly the body count. And you could kind of see that on Ann’s face. She had fucked up and she knew it. She didn't say anything, she was too smart for that, too experienced especially after four years in the Governor's Mansion and she certainly wasn't going to say anything to a reporter, not this reporter whom she didn't trust. She kept her mouth closed but her features were harder to control. Nothing was said but nothing needed to be said, it was all written on her face. You might think she was ill but the cancer hadn’t been diagnosed yet. This was something different, regret. It’s kind of like an illness but the symptoms can be harder to diagnose or can mimic other conditions. Not being a psychologist or anything, not like my Chilean friend who called W a Nazi—my bet was that Ann felt responsible. She felt guilty for unleashing W on an unsuspecting world. The election hadn’t just been about her, contrary to what she believed at the time. Contrary to what she told the press. As the pundits like to say elections have consequences, mostly for people other than the candidates which the pundits don't often say. 
    The trouble is, and this may have been Ann’s thinking, when you bring in somebody to go dumpster-diving you can’t always be sure whose dumpster it’s going to be. Maybe that was what she feared. She tried at the end of the campaign when she finally recognized the danger W represented, to ratchet up the executions, to appeal to the white mob, Ann tried to be a pistol-packing mama and all for the press but by then it was too late. Always amazes me that people who never knew Ann Richards talk about what a saint she was. If she was a saint, it seems to me, the Governor’s Mansion was the wrong place for her to be. And even though she didn't like “What’s the dirt?” as a question it still seems like a pretty fair question today, long after she left the scene. Fair at least in Texas. Somehow it seems to get fairer and more pertinent as a question every day. Who a leader nurtures—who a leader praises—is important and Ann did a good job of that, encouraging women to join the process and all, being a mentor you would call it, a role model, but just as important as whose career you start is whose career you end. 
           Anyway, she went her way. She was living around the corner in some condos whose other principal resident was one of President Johnson's daughters, can’t remember if it was Lynda Bird or Luci Bird, whichever one lives here in town, and watching Ann walk away, no security, no assistant, nothing except the purchases in her hand, in this town that's what it comes down to, no matter how important you are, one day you end up carrying your own groceries out of Whole Foods. It’s still a lonely walk to the parking lot. Anyway, that day, went back inside and collected my shit—and the receipt—and said to the checker, like, “Do you know who that was? That was Ann Richards.”
The guy was a hipster, probably a glass-blower or mixed-media artist just working the cash register to pay for the herb that gave him inspiration. He was completely unimpressed.
“I just saw,” he told me, “Sandra Bullock in produce.”

When W was still in town and the twins were still at Austin High the local pigs made a traffic stop one evening on Lavaca Street, past the Governor’s Mansion, up near the university. Just down the block, actually, from my crib.
So, the car had some kids in it and one of them was a Bush boopsy, or both of them—Jenna, if only by reputation, because Barbara was the more studious one. Maybe Barbara was at home hitting the books while Jenna was hitting the booze or the boys, not that there's anything wrong with that. They were just kids. Good kids, all in all, but the word on the street, specifically on Sixth Street, was they both liked a frozen margarita or two. Again, just average kids.
So, like, anyway, at that police stop, weed was present. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either. Somebody told me about it after the fact. My source was good, another reporter who got it straight from someone high up in APD. So, for once the pigs were going to do their duty without fear or favor and issue citations or take people to jail. The governor was a Republican and the city council was Democratic so conditions were ripe for an arrest. But suddenly, per the story that reached my ears, a chase car with state troopers pulled up and there was an argument because the girls’ bodyguards said to the local cops, fuck you, you’re not taking her/them in, words to that effect. And there were some repercussions down the line, at the pig pen, and for the reporter who tried to do the story. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Because the Bush girls had a right to be kids and do whatever kids do and get popped for it, or not, just like any other teenager, even if dad was running the company. There was a difference between that and the fire, though, that is my point. Two dead and a couple hundred million in damages is something else, wouldn’t you say? You don't get to drive away from something like that, except in this town, Babylon on the Colorado. Truth is you could torch that bitch again tomorrow and it wouldn’t make any difference to me. Because of what the building stands for. Not for the grandeur of the state—fuck the grandeur of the state, fuck the Capitol, actually, it’s just another symbol of a system of laws that doesn't apply to everyone. If a nigger had been freebasing or smoking crack—and caused the death of two people including a state trooper, Ronnie would have gone for the death penalty. There would have been a bill to re-institute slavery. That means it’s still B.I.W.A., it seems to me, we’re still black in a white area. Maybe even more than before.
So, that’s it, the end of this ex-slave narrative. You aren't going to believe this: Used to wake up in the morning and my dick was hard as damn titanium. If there wasn’t a chick around, which was most of the time, a good substitute was to go out and bend over a public official, which felt almost as good as real pussy. Nowadays, seems like my only satisfaction is going for a walk in the park and feeding birdshot to the pigeons. You can't fight hormones when they come or when they go. The Black Man is slowing down, mission accomplished—kind of—mostly there’s just no point getting upset about shit you can’t change. Austin could have a population of five million and it would still be a small fucking Southern town. Right and wrong only apply to the wrong people. The way they do a Black Man that’s the way you end up. Crazy. Still, it’s nice to keep your hand in, it's kind of cool to keep searching for the root of all evil, the reporter's motherlode, that thick vein of official misconduct that you know exists and is located somewhere in Travis County.  So, like, just a while ago, did a request for the file on the Capitol fire. Never saw it back in the day and since firefighters “knocked down the flames,” as firemen like to describe the action, and the city fire marshal did most of the heavy lifting in the investigation—as part of my quest for human understanding it seemed like a good idea to take a look at the paperwork, right? Like looking at Ann’s official correspondence after the fact or listening to LBJ’s secret tapes, up at his tomb on campus. Just to understand what went down, even long after the fact.
Guess what? The file had been destroyed. No lie. Everything was gone. Run reports from the engine companies that responded to “smoke in the Capitol,” transcripts of interviews, investigator’s notes—everything. Which makes you wonder, you know? Because, besides the deaths and “suspicions” about the fire's origin, this was history. Wouldn’t you want to keep the notes on the fire that nearly burned down the whole fucking State Capitol? The average Negro would think so, yes. And city officialdom couldn’t explain how that happened, couldn’t explain how the mistake got made, how the file got shredded or burned, taken for a ride, weighted down with lead and dropped off the Congress Avenue Bridge. Couldn’t say when it happened either. Still, what to think? What are you supposed to think about shit like that? That’s the question: "What you think about that, motherfucker?" 
 Not what to write because that flows smoothly from the more basic question, what to think. Who to blame for an unrighteous turn of events, in other words.
        So, going back to my original training, those early lessons, from patient city editors—often learned at the bar after work—and what we decided back then before pairing off as the night got later, to go somewhere and fornicate or do drugs or, in my case, climb through an open window. And my first instinct was, like, dude, get real. Relax, it’s the fire department not P.D. If it was the cops you would know someone had been paid off, the file was destroyed intentionally, pigs know the value of the record and what happens if you lose it. You have no case. 
          But the Fire Department—they’re the good guys, right? They save your life as opposed to the police who may want to end it. Still, as a minority journalist lost in a major league heavyweight white hipster scene you have to know what to make of facts like these. You have to provide a storyline even if it’s only for your own purposes, even if it’s only to arrange your notes, even if it’s not true, whatever that means. If only to get to bed, in this context to fall asleep. There are rules that police reporters and guerrilla journalists are both bound by: the primary rule, the prime directive is that it doesn’t really matter why it happened or how it happened, those are just ancillary details to the fact it happened. You're not interested in the truth, only the facts. The primary fact is that it happened.
So, too, Gangsta J. 
Whatever his or her excuse, whoever the perpetrator may be, rich and high-born or a mere street thug, he or she still gets his or her personal shit in the newspaper in the morning, just like any other nigger. People still get to see the mugshot over their morning coffee and read how he or she fucked up. Or me or you fucked up, for that matter. That's equality, a concept this town is still struggling with. 
So, it really is just like what we decided back in the day, you know? When you finally find out the details it’s always worse than you thought.
You feel me?


© 2013
Edited By: Jake Schloss

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