The Day the Mules Went Crazy
by Jim Foreman

Chapter 20


            Every town produces at least one and occasionally, two really dim bulbs but it seems that Stinnett had a whole family of them. No one was sure whether it was due to a freak of nature or a thin gene pool, but the combined IQ of the Dawson family was about equal to an average toad.

            Slick Dawson was born Joe Ed Dawson but as long as I had known of him, he was called Slick. I don't know how Slick got his nickname because by even the most liberal standards, he was as dumb as a pile of rocks. The law was acquainted with Slick by the time he was six years old and anytime that a really stupid crime was committed around Stinnett, the sheriff knew exactly where to go for the culprit. Slick was around fourteen when he made his first trip down to the State Reform School and became a regular visitor there until he reached eighteen and old enough to be sent to the pen at Huntsville for his next stupid crime.

            Slick had barely turned eighteen and was involved in his first session of swamp reclamation down at Huntsville when Bubba came along. Bubba wasn't really Slick's younger brother as most everyone thought, but either his nephew or more likely his son. No one was ever sure who belonged to who in that family. Seems that Slick's younger sister, Roshana, had turned up a little bit pregnant just after she turned fourteen and was shipped off to live with relatives in Sallisaw, Oklahoma until the problem resolved itself. Strangely enough, the day Roshana returned home, her mother announced that she had just delivered an eight pound boy even though she had never looked any more pregnant than a fence post. Naturally, since that boy was the second son in the family, by normal Texas tradition, he was forever called Bubba.

            During the times when Slick wasn't busy making license plates down at the state pen, he and Bubba were as inseparable as two peas in a pod. Bubba always thought that Slick was the smartest person in the world, which should give you a good idea of his level of intelligence. After seven or eight years in school, Bubba had made it all the way to the fourth grade. When he didn't show up for the beginning of school one fall, all the teachers celebrated. Actually, the reason why he didn't show up that year was because he had graduated from public school to reform school.

            Bubba finally reached his eighteenth birthday and by law, he had to be released from his third trip to reform school. At about the same time, Slick convinced the parole board that he was a changed man and the let him out after serving one year out of a three year sentence for stealing hogs.

            Slick had a job washing dishes at the City Cafe while Bubba stood around the back door, scratching himself and trying to figure out some way to get into trouble. Buster Kent, who owned the cafe, wouldn't let Bubba inside after he stole a ham and two pies out of the walk-in cooler. Bubba had gone up north of Darrouzette to work for his Uncle Dan during harvest but the uncle had caught him stealing Aunt Lil's egg money and sent him packing three days after he got there.

            Then, like a flash, Bubba had an idea. He and Slick would rob the bank at Darrouzette. It would be easy pickings. The bank was next door to the blacksmith shop where there were all kinds of tools that they could use to break through the wall into the bank. Once in the bank, they could use the cutting torch in the blacksmith shop to cut through the vault door. What made it an even better idea was the fact that there was no sheriff in Darrouzette and no one lived close enough to hear them.

            It didn't take more than a few minutes for Bubba to convince Slick what a great idea he had. The mere fact that Slick thought that Bubba had a good idea was ample proof that Slick hadn't learned anything during his four trips down to Huntsville. It made perfect sense to them, banks had money and they needed money, so rob a bank and they would be in high cotton.

            Slick quit his job at the cafe, drew up his wages and they hopped on the northbound Trailways bus which came through just before noon. Slick barely had enough money for two one-way tickets but that would be no problem once they got hold of all that money in the bank. The only time that the bus when past Perryton was when there were passengers going further east. The bus driver grumbled about having to drive that extra 30 miles. It was getting along toward supper time when they got off the bus but they had no money for food. Slick, being the crafty person that he was, said he would get them something to eat.

            He walked into the cafe, asked for a job washing dishes and was hired on the spot. The guy who owned the place needed the help because he was having to do the cooking, wait tables and wash the dishes. Instead of Slick doing the smart thing, which was beyond his abilities anyway, and washing a few dishes before he asked for food, he waited until the owner turned his back, grabbed two steaks off the grill and ran out the back door. If the owner hadn't been so busy, he would have gone after him with a meat cleaver. Slick and Bubba ate their steaks and hid out in a vacant building until the cafe, which was the last place open on main street, closed at nine and the town became quiet.

            Getting into the blacksmith shop was simple even for them. They stuck a stick through the crack between the two back doors, lifted the bar and slid them open. Once in the blacksmith shop, they found all sorts of sledge hammers to pound a hole through the hollow tile wall with and were inside the bank within a few minutes. Standing in front of the huge steel vault door, they realized that getting into it was going to be somewhat more difficult.

            Slick had seen blacksmiths using their acetylene torches for cutting and welding but had never done so himself. He knew that working the lever on the side of the carbide generator had something to do with it so he pumped it several shots. He could hear bubbling inside the big tank and figured that it was ready to go. Turning on the oxygen tank and getting the proper flame needed for cutting steel was way past his abilities. However, with a bit of tinkering, he finally got a huge yellow plume of flame coming from the torch. It was also producing a cloud of black smoke and big blobs of soot which floated down and coated everything around. While Slick was working on the vault door with the torch, Bubba rummaged through the bank president's desk. He found about a dollar in change, a book of stamps and a box of cigars. He pocketed the change and stamps.

            Slick played the flame on the combination knob for a while and even though it was hot enough to burn the paint, it certainly wasn't hot enough to melt the steel. After about an hour, the acetylene tank ran out of carbide and the flame went out. All that they had to show for their efforts was a coating of black soot about a quarter inch thick on everything in the bank, including themselves.

            Having failed to get into the vault through the use of modern technology, they turned to a more direct approach. They decided to knock the knob off with a chisel and sledge hammer. Slick was holding the chisel and Bubba swung the sledge. It was never known whether it was the smoke, soot or just bad luck, but on Bubba's first swing with the sledge, he missed the chisel and hit Slick's arm just above the wrist.

            Slick didn't have to be a doctor or even an idiot to figure out that his arm was broken and he rapidly lost interest in any further efforts toward getting into the vault. Bubba found a coat hanging in a closet and made a sling for Slick's arm and they were about to leave through the hole in the wall when Bubba decided that they had to have something to show for their efforts. He raced back to the desk and grabbed the box of cigars.

            Slick's arm was throbbing like a robin's butt in a snowstorm as they stood in the middle of the deserted main street trying to figure out what to do next. Unfortunately, they never planned more than ten minutes ahead and it was now nearly midnight. Suddenly Bubba had another great idea. "Uncle Dan's place is only four miles north of here. We can walk out there and steal one of his trucks to drive home," he said.

            "Couldn't we just stay there with him for a while?" asked Slick.

            "I don't think so, "replied Bubba. "When I left, he said that he'd shoot my ass if I ever came back. We'd better just steal his truck and get out of there without getting caught."

            Uncle Dan and Aunt Lil were gone somewhere and the house was locked tight as a jug when they got there. The only vehicle on the place that would run was an old farm truck with no windshield or door glass. The right door was missing and the left one welded shut. It didn't need a key, just twist a couple wires together under the dash and it would start. Before they left, Bubba climbed through a back window to see if he could find anything worth stealing. The egg money jar was empty but he found a whole ham in the ice box. Since they were both hungry as wolves, he took that and they headed home.

            There was no muffler on the old truck and it would wake the dead as it bellowed along. If you got faster than about twenty miles an hour the front wheels would begin to shimmy so bad that you could hardly keep in on the road. It had only one headlight which pointed off to the right and up at an angle which lit up nothing but the tops of trees.

            The old truck was almost out of gas by the time they got to Perryton where the Town Marshall spotted them draining the hoses on the pumps at the Phillips station. Since he was simply a night watchman and didn't carry a gun, he watched as they siphoned some more gas from a truck at the elevator and then headed west out of town. He called the Sheriff 25 miles away at Spearman and told him that they were headed that way.

            The Sheriff and three deputies had armed themselves with shotguns and were waiting behind a roadblock they had set up across main street with their police cars when they came clattering into town. Bubba brought the old truck to a stop in the glare of four spotlights.

            "Get out real easy with your hands in the air," came a gruff voice of the Sheriff from behind the spotlights.

            Slick was having quite a sinking spell by this time and getting caught by the law seemed to be one of the better things that had happened to him since this whole thing had started. He started to slide out the right side of the truck with his good arm over his head when he felt the muzzle of a shotgun against the side of his head. "I said both hands in the air, Black Boy," said the voice with a nudge of the shotgun for emphasis.

            "I can't raise the other one, it's broke," moaned Slick.

            At their trials in Federal Court where they were charged with attempted bank robbery, taking a stolen vehicle across state lines and theft of postage stamps, the sheriff testified, "The first time I saw them in that rattle-trap old truck, I thought I had me a couple black boys. They wuz sittin' there black as tar, eatin' ham and smokin' cigars. They looked like a pair of owls that had been struck by lightnin'."

            If they ever got out of the Federal Pen, they never came back to Stinnett.

Index | Next Chapter