My big break as a reporter

Folks ask me how I became successful in the field of newspaper reporting. Hard work, I answer. However, I did get one big break.

I was just starting out as a cub reporter on the Parings Journal in northern Mississippi. I was walking down Main Street one evening at dusk and I came to John Brown lounging outside Parings Drug Store, smoking a cigarette. John wasn’t no older than me, but he was already sheriff, because his daddy was mayor. I asked him if he had anything newsworthy to report.

“Just that I’m busting up a robbery,” he said, gesturing toward the darkened drug store.

“Who’s in there?”

“Lanny Smith. Stealing drugs.”

I pulled out my notepad.

“How come you’re out here then?” I said.

“I called WREB over in Leesville. They’re dispatching a crew with a camera. I’m going to be on the news tonight.”

“Who’s around back?”

“Billy, of course. We’ve got Lanny surrounded.”

Billy Brown was John’s little brother. He was a bigger hothead than John, but not half as smart.

“You think Billy will wait for the news crew?” I said. “What’s your plan when they get here?”

“Once they get all set up, I’m going to go in there and shoot Lanny.”

“His daddy won’t like that,” I said.

John gave that some thought. Lanny’s daddy was not a man to trifle with.

“I’ll shoot him in the foot,” John said. “I’ve got to shoot him somewhere.”

“Can I go in first and interview him?” I said.

“No, I don’t want you rocking the boat. Go around back and tell Billy to be patient. I don’t want the little piss ant messing things up.”

“I’ll go tell Billy, if I can get my interview.”

John nodded and I hurried around to the back of the store. Billy was just reaching for the handle of the screen door. He had his gun in his hand. He and John both carried those old long-barreled Colt Peacemakers.

“Hold on, Billy” I said. “John told me I could go in and get an interview. He says you should be patient.”

“He don’t always get his own way. Let him be patient if he wants.”

“I know, Billy, but you want to be wrote up in the newspaper, don’t you? I can’t do it if you shoot Lanny before I talk to him. Hold off and I’ll put your picture on the front page.”

Billy pulled open the screen door and held it for me. I opened the back door and stepped in.

“Lanny,” I said. “I’ve come to interview you for the Parings Journal.”

“Come on in, then,” he said from the gloom.

Billy and I went in and found Lanny sitting on a stool behind the register at the pharmacy counter. He was drinking a coke.

“What have you stole so far?” Billy said.

“Let me ask the questions, if you please,” I said.

“You little piss ant,” Billy said.

“That’s what your brother just called you,” I said.

I had to grab Billy then to keep him from stepping out front and shooting his brother on the spot.

“Calm down,” I told him. “You’re an officer of the law, Billy. Now Lanny, what have you stole?”

Lanny gestured back at the shelves full of pill bottles and lotion bottles and bottles of powders that lined the walls.

“Nobody told me they’d be so many,” he said. “How am I supposed to know what to steal?”

“What have you got there?” I said. He had a big brown bottle of capsules in front of him.

“They’re bright yellow,” Lanny said. “What do you think?”

“I think they’ll speed you up,” I said.

“Well, hell, I’ll take some of that,” Billy said.

He stuck his gun in his belt, opened the jar, and pulled out a handful of capsules, which he stuffed into his mouth and chewed and swallowed.

“If these work,” he said, “I’m going out there and punch Mr. Big Britches right in his damned eye.”

We did not have long to wait before Billy’s pupils shrank down to the point of invisability. His face hardened up in a peculiar way and he began to speak slowly and thoughtfully in a language that Lanny and I could not understand. He walked to the front door of the store, gun in hand. I heard the news van pull up outside.

“Go on home now,” I told Lanny. “I’ll leave your name out of my story. Mostly it won’t be about you, anyway.”