LAST TRAIN RUNNIN'
BY RD FOSTER

Chapter 2

Austin, Texas
Newspapers the next morning throughout the country reported the crowd of anti-war protesters as being around one thousand strong. The Austin Police Department said it was more like two hundred. But they were a vocal group, carrying signs and chanting slogans such as, "Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" and "Hell no! We wonít go!"

The police stood by and watched until the well-organized mob moved from the campus and into the streets where traffic was disrupted and they were now officially breaking the law. The police moved in wearing helmets and carrying nightsticks and attempted to herd the unruly mob back onto the campus where they could march and chant to their hearts content. However, the protest organizers saw a golden opportunity with all the news people and TV cameras trained on the event and ordered everyone to resist. Thatís when it all started.

The cameras missed recording the first bloodshed when a longhaired protester hit a policemanís horse with the pole on which he had a Viet Cong flag attached. Mounted officers donít take too kindly to people who abuse their animals, especially a mounted cop in Texas who happened to own the horse on which he was riding. The horse was also a champion barrel racer in rodeos and could turn on a dime. He did and the dime was in the protesterís pocket. The horseís rump slammed the guy so hard to the pavement, that it cracked his skull and then stepped on him leaving a well-defined horseshoe imprint on the protestor's left thigh.

It went downhill from there. It was like the smell of blood that evokes a shark feeding frenzy. Hippies were arrested left and right and the ones who did resist paid a painful price for their efforts. Cops were also injured by thrown rocks and bottles and even though the violence was incited by the protesters themselves, you never would have known it from the news reports.

The Austin Statesmanís front-page picture was of a young protester with long shaggy hair and full beard with blood all over his face. The sign he carried read 'KILL FOR PEACE?' The photoís underneath caption was from an interview with one of the groupís organizers and described how the young man, while practicing his constitutional right of free speech, had been beaten by an over zealous club-swinging cop and was claiming police brutality. He was one of the fifty-five or so arrested and charged with a variety of misdemeanors.

The lobby of the city jail was overcrowded with lawyers and friends of the arrested who were trying to arrange bail. Monty Hernandez waited in his Ď65 Mustang out in front. It wasnít long until the well-known high-priced lawyer, former State Senator Homer "Catfish" Hendrix, emerged with his young client, David Duncan Westerfield. They shook hands and parted on the jail steps. David slid into the passenger seat of the Mustang, dried blood still on his face, his tee shirt ripped, with a clean white bandage on his forehead.

"I want the strongest pain pill I can find, two or three of them, a cold beer and a hot shower," David announced as he pulled his long, brown hair back into a ponytail and collapsed in the bucket seat.

"How about a shower first. You smell like some kind of shit, amigo, like youíve been in jail all night or something," Monty quipped, reached behind him and rolled down the back window, lit a joint and handed it to David as he pulled away from the curb. "The Man wants to see you first thing tomorrow morning."

"Shit!" The younger man replied and took a long deep pull from the twisted-on-both-ends cigarette. "Whatís he want?" he asked while holding his breath.

"As if you didnít know. I sent you out there to cover the story, not to be the story. And guess whose picture is on the front page of the Statesman?" Monty said and took the joint from David. "I would advise you to bear the pain and write your story as soon as you get home. And it had better be a damn good one! The boss is really pissed, I donít mind telling you. I donít know if your old man can save your ass or not this time." Monty took a hit and passed the reefer. "Did anyone ever tell you that you can be a complete dumb ass at times?"

"Yep. My old man. Just about every day," came the reply. "Damn my head hurts. I need major pain relief Iím telling you."

Monty dropped David at his apartment just off the campus of the University of Texas, where he was a graduate student majoring in journalism.

"I want that story on my desk by seven in the morning. Thatís seven! Got it?" Monty said just before leaving.

The next morning David was there at seven, bruised and patched, looking like death warmed over, and handed his editor the typewritten story. Monty read through it quickly and finished with a look of disgust on his face.

"Westerfield! Get in here!" The voice boomed from the Manís office. "Bring your piece with you."

Monty handed the pages back to him, shook his head and offered his best wishes. David walked in to the bossí office and put the story on his desk beside the morning edition of the Statesman with his picture on the front. The Man, William Edward Pickrell, was standing with his back to the door and looking out across the beautiful city of Austin from his seventeenth-floor picture window.

"Close the door," he said, sat down in his leather swivel chair, put on his glasses and started reading the piece. He didnít offer David a chair. The forty-five-year-old owner, publisher and managing editor of the well-respected Austin Weekly Review, sat stone faced until he had finished the three-page story, at which time he wadded it up and tossed it into his trash can.

"Mr. Westerfield, how in the hell can you have a four-year college degree in journalism and still not know the difference between a news story and an opinion editorial? If I recall correctly you are a reporter, are you not?" He didnít yell, his voice just naturally boomed.

"Yes, sir," David replied in a weak voice.

"And what do reporters do?" the sarcastic voice asked.

"Report the facts."

"What I just read from you was an opinion piece, not a reporting of facts."

"Iím sorry, I just have a strong opinion on the war and-"

The Man cut him off in mid sentence. "My readers donít want your opinion, Mr. Westerfield. My readers donít give a shit about your opinion one way or the other. I personally donít give a shit what your opinion is nor do I even want to know, but there it is, clearly stated in your story. My readers just want to know what happened out there, son. Facts! Who, what, when, where, why. And rule number one, donít become the story!"

David unconsciously rubbed his aching head and started to offer an explanation.

"Shut up!" the Man commanded. "Westerfield, if it wasnít for your father I would fire you on the spot. But out of respect for one of my dearest and oldest friends Iím giving you one last chance. And I warn you, mister, if you screw up this assignment, you are done. Go see Monty. Get out of my sight."

David came walking into Montyís office like a whipped dog with his tail tucked firmly between his legs and plopped down in one of the hardback chairs. "Man, Iíve never seen him so worked up before. Have you?" He asked and lit a cigarette.

"Well, that was a pretty worthless piece of shit story you turned in. Canít argue with him about that now can you?" Monty said as he read the note he had been given from the bossí secretary.

"Yeah, but it just seemed so personal this time. Jesus, my head is killing me," David complained.

"Personal? You donít think it might have something to do with the fact that his son just got orders for Vietnam, do you?"

"Rusty? I didnít know that," the younger man replied. "But, duh, he went to West Point. What the hell did he expect? Disneyland? But, hey, thatís his problem. If heíd asked for my advice I would have recommended Canada. I hear itís nice this time of year. But he doesnít want my opinion and I donít want his. Just give me my next assignment and let me get the fuck out of here."

"David, weíve been friends for a long time and sometimes you make it so hard. Know what I mean?"

David didnít answer. He just sat with his head tilted back blowing smoke rings at the ceiling.

"Do you remember the folk singer Everett Blalock? He was from Texas, maybe here in Austin, but I donít remember for sure. Never was much of a folkie myself. Had a little acoustic trio called Last Train Runnin', couple of marginal hits, touted to be the next big thing in folk music?" Monty asked.

"Sure I do. I did a piece on them when I wrote for the college rag. Why?"

"Thatís your next assignment." Monty said and handed him the lone sheet of paper.

"Why? Something happen to him?" David asked.

"Well guess what, Sherlock, thatís for you to find out and let the rest of us know. Something must have happened to him. This time last year he was opening for Bob Dylan. I havenít heard of him since. Have you? There are facts to be found. Facts. Get it?"

"Oh come on, Monty. Is this puff piece your idea?" David complained.

"Nope. I had nothing to do with it. Straight from the Man. So if I were you-"

Monty offered but was interrupted by David.

"Well youíre not me and I donít do record reviews either. Damn, my head hurts."

Monty shook his head in disgust. "You know, kid, you are one lucky son of a bitch. Anybody else here would have been fired for a hell of a lot less."

"Lucky?" David replied on his way out, "If I was lucky I wouldnít be working in this shitty place, now would I?"

 

BACK TO BOOKS AND MUSIC

BACK TO RDF HOMEPAGE