Harvey Fagan Breaks Bad
by Barry Yelton
Did I ever tell you about old Harvey Fagan and Officer Fesco Bass? Well, it’s a real knee slapper, and if you got time, I’ll relate the whole thing. It all happened on a Saturday, back in about 1954, as I recall. There was a bunch of us hangin’ out up town in Elm City, there near the Union Bank, where the town clock hangs.
We was standin’ around talkin’ about how much time President Eisenhower spends playin’ golf, and how purty that Marilyn Monroe is. Harvey had just got through pontificatin’ about how old Ike ought to be working on trying to figure out how to stop the Communists in China, instead of “knockin’ that little white ball around,” and had launched about the seventieth stream into the gutter, there in front of the ice cream store, when up walks Officer Fesco Bass.
Now it was well known all over Elm City that Officer Bass had no use for anyone who hung around uptown, blocking the sidewalks, and spittin’ tobacco juice into the gutters. He maintained that the tax paying businesses of Elm City deserved to have sidewalks free of loiterers and gutters free of tobacco spit. I’ll have to say, Officer Bass was the picture of rectitude and civic mindedness, not to mention he kept a clean uniform and the brightest, shiniest pair of patent leather shoes a man ever saw. Some say you could shave yourself in the reflection off those shoes and never miss a whisker!
It was also well known that Harvey had no use for Fesco, and quite frequently laughed at him behind his back. Now it wasn’t that Fesco was a bad man at all. It was just, well, that he was funny looking. You remember that fellow that played Barney in the Andy Griffith Show? Well Fesco looked a bit like that, except not as good looking, a little taller, and a might skinnier. It was worse that he had thick lips, not unlike those on a bass fish. Frequently, when officer Bass walked by, Harvey would suck in the sides of his mouth and make a sort of fish face as he went on by, much to the amusement of the other fellows hanging around.
Anyhow, up walks Officer Bass, twirling his baton. I figure he practiced that in a mirror at least four hours a day, because he was sure good at it. The baton was a solid blur as he spun it. He came up within about ten feet of where Harvey was standin when Harvey launches this stream toward the gutter. It was short, however, and landed at the edge of the curb and sort of puddled there. Officer Bass, stopped abruptly and glared at Harvey with a look that would wither fresh flowers.
He took a couple more slow steps toward Harvey, and, jutting out his lower jaw, pointed at the puddle on the curb with a long, bony finger. “Harvey, how many times have I told you that it is against the law to spit on the sidewalk? It’s bad enough that you have to fill the gutters up with that germy filth in your mouth, but it is a disgrace to this town for you to foul the sidewalks, and right smack in front of the ice cream store too!”
“Well, I’m right sorry, Officer Bass, but I was aimin’ at the curb and must not of taken the windage into account.”
“It’s Corporal Bass, now, Harvey. Chief Gudger done promoted me last week,” Fesco said, with his chin up, his baton tapping lightly at the corporal’s chevrons on his sleeve.
Harvey looked like he was going to choke on the chaw in his mouth. I could see him fighting mightily to get himself under control, but it was a struggle indeed. His big shoulders shook slightly as he fought down the laugh, and his face turned a bright red. But, I must say, he controlled himself quite well, under the circumstances, and simply said, “Well, congratulations...Corporal Bass.” I thought sure the ‘baccer juice was going to shoot out his nose.
The Corporal looked mildly aggravated, and, pointing again at the puddle on the sidewalk said, “I could give you a ticket for this, and it would cost you five dollars, but I’m gonna overlook it this once since you said you was aimin’ at the gutter. So help me, if this ever happens again, Harvey, the wrath of Elm City’s police force is goin’ to come down on your head, and it won’t be pretty! You got that?”
“Yes, sir,” said Harvey, with as much humility as he could muster. “I shore won’t do ‘er again, no sir.”
Fesco glared at Harvey briefly, and then walked casually away, twirling the baton. I desperately made signs at Harvey, tryin’ to get him not to do it, wavin’ my arms, makin’ the time out sign, and all, but he did it anyway. He made the fish face behind Fesco’s back. He sucked those fat cheeks in and made that silly little fish face, lips workin’ up and down, right at Fesco’s back. Tobacco juice rolled prodigiously out the sides of his mouth, but he didn’t pay it any mind. The other fellows standing around proceeded to hee-haw loud enough to wake the dead. Arthur Jones doubled over he laughed so hard.
Fesco wheeled around, and though Harvey tried to lose the fish face, Fesco was too quick and caught him in the act, lips workin’ up and down and all. The laughter stopped. It was like a cloud went over the sun. Harvey’s fish face froze in place; a couple of drops of tobacco juice rolled slowly down his Big Smith overalls. Fesco whipped out his baton from its holster like a cavalry sabre, and walked slowly back toward Harvey.
“Just what do you fellows think is so funny?” he asked, though the question answered itself. Harvey’s fish face gradually faded back into his regular round, fat-man’s face, and he sort of tilted his head and raised his eyebrows as if to say, “I don’t know.” But, he did know, and so did Fesco. Fesco wasn’t a genius, but he had graduated twenty-third in his high school class, and he figured out pretty quick what was going on.
He waived the baton at Harvey. “I’m changin’ my mind about that ticket,” he said, as he strode toward Harvey. “I’m writin’ that ticket and you’re gonna pay the town of Elm City the sum of five dollars or spend three nights in jail.” He pulled out his ticket book and began to write.
Harvey’s face grew redder by the minute. For one thing, Harvey couldn’t stand Fesco. For another, he was as tight a tightwad as ever lived, and for him to even think of parting with five greenbacks was just about more than the man could stand. Harvey stood there about eight feet from Fesco, workin’ his jaw. Over and over, he worked that jaw. All of a sudden, it came to me. I knew what Harvey was about to do. I almost had it out of my mouth to say “Harvey don’t do it” when Harvey went and did it.
Harvey had worked up a monumental slug of juice, and, rearing his head back, and then bringing it forward, he launched it toward Fesco. Now I have seen a lot of tobacco juice expelled over the years, especially on the street and in the barber shop in Elm City. Many tobacco chewers pride themselves on being able to hit a spittoon at ten or twelve feet. I have seen the best, but never have I seen such a stream as issued from Harvey Fagan’s mouth that Saturday in 1954.
Time seemed to slow down, like it does in the movies sometimes. The stream came from his mouth like a fountain and hung in the air, a blur of gleaming amber in the sunlight. It’s a crying shame that the moment couldn’t have been captured on film, because it was one for the ages. It sort of arced up, shone briefly in the sunlight, and then came right down and splattered the toe of the Corporal’s right shoe.
Everybody froze. Harvey worked his jaw once, and then a tight little smile crossed his face, as he stood there defiant as all get out. Fesco’s mouth dropped open, and then he slowly looked down at his shoe. I have to say, it was as sorry a sight as I ever saw, that shiny black shoe absolutely bathed in tobacco juice. It ran off the sides and made a sad little puddle on the sidewalk.
Fesco stood staring at the shoe for what seemed several minutes, though it surely couldn’t have been that long. Then, I thought maybe Fesco was havin’ a stroke or something, because he sort of sputtered and stammered some words that nobody could make out. Arthur pointed at the shoe and begin to laugh. Harvey lifted his chin up real proud like, and though he didn’t say it, he seemed to be sayin’, How’d ye like that ‘un, boys!”
Fesco finally found his voice. He waved the baton in Harvey’s face and yelled, “You done assaulted a officer of the law!”
Harvey worked up an outraged face and said, “With baccer spit?”
Fesco tapped Harvey on the chest with the baton. “It don’t matter. It was the intent that counts, accordin’ to the law.” Fesco’s face was getting’ real red. Now I was worried that he really would have a stroke. The baton trembled in his hand.
Harvey wasn’t smilin’ now; he knew he was in trouble. I could see it on his face, like a little cloud came over it, and where he was grinnin’ and all proud of the stream before; now he was sore worried he had gone a little too far. His eyes shifted around as if looking for a way out.
Fesco reached behind his back and pulled the handcuffs off his shiny black belt. “You’re goin’ to the pokey, mister,” he says, his teeth gritted real tight.
Well, I reckon Harvey didn’t take to goin’ to jail. He spent a night there two years before, when he was drunk and was singin’ “Old Folks at Home” real loud on the town square on a Saturday afternoon. He didn’t like it one little bit.
What happened next was absolutely amazing. I never knew a fat man could move that fast, and him almost fifty years old too. He spun on his heel and took off down Main Street at a dead run, his overalls floppin’ all around. Fesco stood for a minute with his mouth dropped open, again, and then he begun what they call a hot pursuit. Down Main Street goes Harvey and Fesco, their feet slappin’ the sidewalk and Fesco yellin’, “Halt, police!” You could hear it from one end of town to the other, people comin’ out of the stores to see what the excitement was.
The rest of us boys looked at each other, and then, as with one mind, we all took off after Harvey and Fesco, because we wanted to see how this would turn out. So here we go, Harvey in the lead, face red and sweat a rollin’; Fesco runnin’ behind him, his knees near up to his chest and bony arms pumpin’ hard. The three of us come runnin’ along behind. I sorta took the lead, because Arthur and Frank was bad out of shape, and lacked the motivation I had. I really wanted to see how this would turn out!
Folks on the street stopped what they was doin’ and watched this strange parade movin’ up main street. For some reason, Harvey decided to cross the street and run the other way; so Fesco follows, yelling, “Halt, police, stop!” and all that kind of thing. I could see Harvey was slowin’ down, and Fesco was catchin’ up. Harvey was a big man, to put it kindly. In fact, he probably tipped the scales at near three hundred pounds, and there wasn’t much muscle on him.
Anyhow, it seemed Harvey had him an idea. He crossed the street again at the square and went into the little park in the middle. Elm City had a real nice little park right in the middle of town, with some nice fir trees, and bushes, and a little fountain in the middle of a round pool, which was surrounded by a wrought iron fence. That was to keep the kids (or somebody like Harvey) from wading in it. Harvey ran around to the opposite side of the fountain from Fesco. When Fesco would start around one way, Harvey would run in the other direction. Every time Fesco changed direction, Harvey would too.
Back and forth it went, until Fesco had himself an idea. He was determined to get his hands on Harvey, so he takes a runnin go and jumps over the wrought iron fence, and into the fountain. Then he goes splashin’ across real fast. Harvey was sort of froze in place; he never figured on this! I must say I have never seen a more determined look than Fesco had on his narrow little face that day. Why he leaped over the fence on the other side, before you could say skat. Harvey come to himself and turned to run, but it was too late. Fesco leaped on Harvey’s back, meanin’ to take him to the ground. Unfortunately for Fesco, a one hundred and thirty pound man is always goin’ to have a hard time takin’ a three hundred pound man to the ground.
It looked for all the world like Harvey was takin’ Fesco for a piggy back ride! Fesco had Harvey around the neck with both arms. Harvey was spinnin’ and flailin’, tryin’ to get Fesco off. Fesco was shifting around tryin’ to take Harvey to the ground. A crowd began to gather. In fact, it was the biggest crowd I had seen in Elm City since the fire truck caught on fire several years before. Now that was a sight to be seen. But this one took the cake.
Well, Fesco figured this had gone on long enough, so he let loose with his right arm and swung the baton down on Harvey’s head, with a little whack. Now Harvey didn’t take much to pain, and he was wore out, so he sort of sat down on the ground. When he went down Fesco went with him, but Fesco’s shiny belt got caught on one of the wrought iron fence spikes. Then, somehow Harvey got his second wind. He got up and took off again! Fesco flailed and struggled, but couldn’t get loose and all he could do was watch Harvey run down the street, stoppin’ every now and then and grabbin’ his side, then runnin’ on about as fast as a fat man can run.
That was the last time we ever saw Harvey, him a runnin’ down Main Street in Elm City, overalls floppin’ and sweat flyin’. The sound of his brogans hittin’ the pavement faded away in the late afternoon air. It got so quiet around the fountain; you could have heard a pin drop.
Some say Harvey moved over to Frog Level. Some say he left the state. All I know is that Fesco gave any and all tobacco chewers a wide berth from that day on, and that’s the truth with my hand up.