I’m from the middle of nowhere—at least that’s what I tell folks. No trees grow here. No grass or flowers unless you plant them. There’s no water either – not for sixty-seven miles.
Yes it’s a desert, but not the kind those turquoise loving painters down in Santa Fe like. No, I’m talkin’ about a harsh, intensely barren land. I’m talkin’ about an extremely flat land with a huge, swollen sky.
The middle of nowhere is also called Chippewa City. And just where is Chippewa City? Well it’s in Texas. West Texas. Somewhere between Dallas and El Paso. It’s the absolute worst place in the country for hitchhiking, or so I am told.
With a name like Chippewa City you’d think we’d have some Indians living here. We don’t—just Mexicans. If there were any Indians that lived out this way (which I seriously doubt ‘cause of the water situation) they would have been Apache or possibly Comanche, not Chippewa.
You see a frontiersman by the name of James Butler and his Indian guide, Yellow Eyes, discovered or founded this area back in 1870 somethin’. Ole Yellow Eyes was half Chippewa and half somethin’ or the other. Anyway, it turned out that James Butler was a Yankee frontiersman from Rhode Island or Connecticut and around here folks like Indians a lot better than Yankees, so they named us Chippewa City instead of Butlersville.
As you can imagine, not a lot of people were chompin’ at the bit to settle this place. Oh there were a few settlers, mostly weirdoes and religious fanatics, who wanted to live out in the middle of nowhere so nobody could see what they were up to. The weirdoes dug some wells but when the water dried up so did they.
Then in the 1920s an Oklahoma wildcatter named Thaddeus Bush struck oil out here and that was all she wrote. A little spot in the desert became a town overnight.
For a while the roughnecks called their new home Tent City ‘cause everything was so makeshift and nobody had the inclination to build a house. They elected Thaddeus Bush mayor and it was Thaddeus himself who did the research and gave us the name Chippewa City.
I’ve always admired ole Thadd for that. By all rights, he could have called this place Bush City.
Well Thaddeus went from being a plain ole millionaire to being a multi-millionaire and then later to being a billionaire. Still he was a down to earth fella. Sure he had a mansion and all that, but he would have a drink and a smoke with anyone who was free, white, and twenty-one and not afraid of an eighteen hour workday.
Now the oilmen that came in from Houston, they were a different story. They came down here with their snotty wives and turned up their collective noses at Chippewa City. It was just too working class for their taste. So they went about twenty miles further west and started building their highrise offices and big houses there. These blue bloods had a peculiar habit of puttin’ these big picture windows in everything they built. So much so, the roughnecks started calling them ‘the big desk, big picture window people’.
Anyway, they’d throw these big parties in front of these big windows only when they’d look out all they would see was mesquite bushes and dirt, and mesquite bushes and dirt. Being the eternal optimist that most rich people can afford to be, they started talkin’ about how pretty the sunsets were, and about what a beautiful view they had, and before long they came up with the name Plainsview ‘the land of the big sky’ and that’s what they’ve been callin’ their patch of mesquite bushes and dirt ever since.
Now rich folks have traditionally felt the need to separate themselves from the rest of us and I can’t exactly fault them for that. After all they are different.
What gets me is that even though Chippewa City is a good bit larger than Plainsview, and even though it’s the birthplace of our commercialized area, your plane ticket is going to have Plainsview on it because the airport is in their county—along with the symphony and the community theatre. Our conciliation? We have the Rattlesnake Round Up.
Unfortunately we also have the biggest crime rate. And speaking of crime, that’s my business. I reported all the criminal goings on in the so-called twin cites for the Chippewa City Register. I did it for thirty-five years. There’s a slim chance you might have heard of me. I broke a big—well—a huge story a few years back. I’ve been on Larry King Live and 60 Minutes did a story on my story a couple of years ago. My name is Ella Glasgow.
Murder, Mayhem and Such...
Back in the boom days of 1980, Chippewa City had the highest murder rate per capita in the United States. It was truly the wild, wild west around here. Lots of knifings and of course a whole bunch of shootings. Mostly it was bar fights gone bad.
Then there were the Chicano drug wars on the south side. One family trying to take the black tar heroin market from another family. One clique shooting it out over a truckload of marijuana with another clique, the same stuff that goes on right now – just a whole lot more of it. That’s because there was a whole lot more people here in those days.
I remember the day that Dan Rather reported that there was zero unemployment in Chippewa City. People flooded this area. There were no rent houses available. Shoot there were no flophouses available. Folks slept in their cars. About that time bumper stickers with Yankee Go Home started showin’ up along side the Oilfield Trash and Proud of It stickers.
Dan Rather himself came down to report on the biggest oil boom since the 1920s. That was a big deal around here. He stayed at The Trails End West Hotel downtown. That was our swankiest accommodation. Elvis stayed there too when he came to town about four months before he keeled over. Now it’s all boarded up.
We had another famous visitor in 1980. Eric Ray Rodgers and his pal Hollis Poole blew through town. They allegedly tortured and murdered a seventeen-year-old high school student here. She was a beautiful girl. Nice family too. It haunts me still.
With every boom there’s an eventual bust. With an oil boom the bust is usually sooner than later. That’s okay ‘cause everybody knows another boom is, at most, five or six years around the corner.
Our bust was in ‘86. Only this one was different. We still haven’t really recovered.
Well, I say that. We’ve certainly stabilized, but back to the run and gun, Sally bar the door days of the late seventies and early eighties? Naw. Not by a long shot. Back during the bust we suffered a thirties style depression that lasted over seven years. You don’t see too many of those Yankee Go Home stickers anymore.
About the only good thing that came with the bust was a drop in the crime rate. Oh we still have murder, rape, you name it, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.
One thing that has remained constant is our drug trade. But even it has changed in complexion.
For years upon years Chippewa City’s drug traffic was controlled by a loosely organized group of cowboys or cholos that were loyal to five Mexican families on the south side. They were violent thugs, sure enough, but a little bit of honor here and a dash of religion there held them together.
Then in the mid 80s four brothers, who are also four of the sickest, most perverted killers that I have ever run across, formed the Ciudad Cartel along the El Paso /Juarez border. The Cruz brothers terrorized their competitors and the unfortunate but inevitable snitch with gruesome tortures and murders. They also expanded their territory, which—I am sorry to say—now includes our little patch of tumbleweeds and that of our stuck up sister, Plainsview.
Now I hate to admit this, but violent crime that’s associated with drug trafficking has actually dropped. That’s cause the five families rolled over and played dead quick when the Cruz brothers rode into town. Now there’s no competition and fewer killings. Still I’d take the five families any day over the Cruz brothers. Needless to say not everybody around here agrees with me.
Even so, I believe in giving credit where credit’s due. If it hadn’t been for the Cruz brothers I probably would have never wound up on 60 Minutes and I doubt very seriously that I would have got to meet Larry King (and he is a charmer).
If it hadn’t been for the Cruz brothers I’m pretty sure I would have never rode in a limo, ate a gourmet meal, or stayed in a presidential suite.
Yep, you might say the Cruz brothers were the beginning of my story—the jumping off place of my long, hard journey. They blazed a bloody trail leading me to all the predictable haunts and to the usual cast of unsavory characters. Then the trail took a turn for the worse.
In West Texas the roads are broad and straight as an arrow. You can see an approaching vehicle from miles and miles away. If there’s a storm brewin’ you can watch it develop. That way maybe, just maybe, you might be able to turn around and high tail it out’a there before you get swept away.
Lookin’ back, I guess I got too content traveling such roads. I kind of dozed off at the wheel so to speak. And then again, maybe I was just jaded—and lazy.
In my business doing favors is just as important as writing copy. You do favors so you can get favors. One hand washes the other so to speak.
I guess it’s like that just about anywhere, only, it’s worse (or better, depending on how you look at it) in my line of work. Anytime you have a position of power or influence everybody’s on high alert. Somebody’s always lookin’ for something even if it’s just a couple of free meal coupons from Dudes Bar-B-Q. And you’re always on the lookout too. That’s just the way it is.
Anyway, Tyler Curry owed me. Big time.
You see Tyler is what us old folks call a strange fella. The youngsters have names for him too—only I don’t make a habit out of usin’ that kind of language. Tyler used to work at the paper as a typesetter.
In the beginning I kind’a felt sorry for him. He was, and still is, a skinny little dude, with bushy eyebrows, wild Einstein like hair and skin that’s the color of Elmer’s glue.
He also had a terrible coffee habit. I don’t care if it was ten or a hundred and ten outside he’d be goin’ at it with the thermos. Made me nauseous.
Then there was the toe thing. He’d walk around asking all the girls what kind of toes they had. Were they skinny ones or chubby ones? That kind of thing.
Okay. So it’s gross. Everybody’s got his or her quirks. I smoke about a pack a day and wear too much eye shadow for my age. My husband, Smitty, combs over his bald spot. (It seems old age has done the impossible— made me crankier and more tolerant at the same time.) Where Tyler went wrong with me was with my computer.
Ten, fifteen years ago not everybody had a computer at their desk. I had one because of seniority. One night I dropped in the office after hours, for what I can’t remember, and there was Tyler—sittin’ at my desk with his pants down and foot fetish porno pictures on the computer. Naturally I went off. But I didn’t report him. I never told a soul about it—except for Smitty of course.
A few months later he got fired anyway. Asked the wrong gal the toe question one too many times. That’s okay cause he still needed me to keep quiet and I still needed him, especially when he went to work for Channel 7. He monitored the police scanner and engineered for the overnight film crew.
It was Tyler who called me about three o’clock that September morning and told me there was a knifing in Ranchito. An early cold front had come through and I wasn’t about to get out from under the electric blanket for a knifing in Ranchito. Shoot, that’s like sayin’ there was water in the Rio Grande.
“This one’s special”, I remember him saying.
“Oh yeah?” I growled. “What’s so special about it?”
Silence. And then...
“His throat’s cut.”
“So?” I hissed.
“Come on with it. His throat’s cut and?..."
Tyler let loose a long sigh. My ears perked up. That much emotion was unusual for him.
“His throat’s cut and...his tongue is hanging out the wound.”
My stomach did a summersault.
“You’re sure about this?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” He said dryly.
“Okay then. I’m comin’ out there.”
My hands were shaking when I hung up the phone. What Tyler had described is called a Columbian necktie. It’s also the signature torture method of El Matador— the Ciudad Cartel’s chief enforcer who is also known as Roscoe Cruz. Roscoe is the baby of the Cruz family.
I felt a stirring at my side. “Who was it hon?” Smitty gurgled.
“It’s just work,” I told him. “I’ve got to run out to Ranchito.”
He sat up abruptly. “You’re not goin’ out there alone at this hour,” he brayed.
I elbowed him in the ribs. “Oh stop it with the caveman routine. I’ve only been doin’ this for about a hundred years.”
I picked up the telephone and started dialing.
“Besides I’m callin’ Gilbert right now to pick me up. I’m gonna need a photographer.”
Smitty fluffed up his pillow like he had the habit of doin’ and curled up on his side, his butt pointing in my direction.
“You gonna’ pick up some breakfast on the way back?” He asked sleepily. I smacked him on his backside.
“Of course,” I said. “Just like I always do.”