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First Arrest
About the Author: Jim Doherty's first novel, AN OBSCURE GRAVE, featuring his series character Dan Sullivan, was a CWA Dagger finalist. Dan has appeared in many short stories, some of which were collected in THE BIG GAME, which included "Cap Device."

Everyone knows that Gus Hachette was, arguably, the finest American peace officer ever to pin on a badge. He almost single-handedly tamed rowdy, crime-ridden oil boom towns. He fought border bandits along the Rio Grande. He clashed with virtually every species of lawbreaker, from serial killers to Chicago mobsters to conductors of fraudulent elections.

He’d serve at every single level of the American police service, municipal, county, state, Federal, and “special jurisdiction.” He was, arguably, America’s first cold case detective. He was in over fifty shootouts, sustaining wounds, often life-threatening wounds, in seventeen of them.

And in his most famous case, he tracked down Bart and Annie McCoy, the Depression era’s “Slaughterin’ Spouses,” who left a trail of dead bodies, including a dozen police officers, in their wake during a multi-state rampage of armed robbery.

Considering all that, it seems odd to think that he ever considered any other profession besides law enforcement.

But the fact of the matter is that, earlier in his life, he believed he had a very different calling.

Indeed, he fell into police work almost by accident.

This is the story of that serendipitous turn on the trail.

This is the story of Gus Hachette’s first arrest.

Sharecropping was, Gus Hachette was deciding, a God-awful way to earn a little extra money. Back-breaking labor under a hot sun, hoping to coax some profitable crops out of an uncooperative piece of ground. And when those crops were harvested, half the profits would go to the owner of this stretch of ground, Donald McSweeney.

But there weren’t that many paying options available to a 16-year-old, with no employment experience beyond helping out at his pa’s blacksmith shop, and no education beyond the sixth grade. Pa made enough at his blacksmith shop to keep a roof over the family’s heads and food on the table, but there was little left over for extras.

Gus had, over the last few years, started to think he might have a special vocation.

He had it in mind to become a minister, preaching the Word, and saving sinners. But Divinity School cost money, and, with nine mouths to feed, there was nothing extra to pay for the schooling Gus would need to follow his calling.

Sharecropping seemed like a way to make some extra money, but it was hard, back-breaking labor.

Well, the Lord Himself had done His share of back-breaking labor before He began His public ministry. So had His apostles. Gus supposed that he should be thankful there was an opportunity for him to make some of the money he’d need to follow his dream.

His younger brother, Harold, called Hal, was partnered with Gus in this enterprise. Gus dearly loved all seven of his brothers and sisters, but he and Hal, junior to Gus by three years, had always had a special bond. Hal knew what Gus’s goal was, and offered to help out for a third of the profits.

“A third? If we’re working together, we should split even,” Gus had said.

“I know what you need the money for, Gus. And you’re the one made the arrangements with ol’ McSweeney. You’ll be running things day to day. You take two thirds, and I’ll take the rest.”

Hal was good-hearted, and generous. In some respects, Gus thought, he might make a better preacher than Gus would. But it was Gus who thought he had the calling. Hal hadn’t thought that far ahead, had no notion yet of what he wanted to do with his life.

At that, though, he really wouldn’t be getting two thirds. Once Mr. McSweeney got his half right off the top, all Gus would get would be two thirds of what was left over, which is to say, one third. Didn’t really sit right with Gus, but McSweeney’d stood firm when he and Hal had negotiated for the use of his ground. Half of anything they made or no deal. Well, Gus had finally agreed, and he’d stick to the bargain he’d made.

McSweeney, who’d arrived in San Saba County, Texas, some four years back, and bought himself a spread for cash, already swung a lot of weight in the area. The sheriff, two of the County Commissioners, and the mayor of the City of San Saba, the county seat, all owed their jobs to McSweeney, who’d generously donated to all of their campaigns. Criminy, with that much money to spend on politics, you’d think he’d’ve been willing to let Gus and Hal sharecrop for just a third of the profits, instead of standing firm on half. It wasn’t like he was using the ground for anything else.

This story appears in our APR 2024 Issue
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