We jump further ahead now, getting more deeply into the story. This will be the last of the “look inside” chapters. We’ve run enough of them, I hope, to give you an idea of what to expect. In a way it is sad that it has taken this long for the JF story to be told, or at least a fictionalized version of his story. But fortunate for me in that it has given me the opportunity to pursue it first.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Is He Coming?
“They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven? Is he in hell? That damned, elusive, Pimpernel.”
I couldn’t get that rhyme out of my mind.
No charred body in the ashes of the store. No fleeing figure darting through the dark.
His escape is complete.
No one has seen him.
His whereabouts are unknown.
Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, John Fallis has vanished.
By mid-morning the search on Fort Hill is abandoned. The roadblocks are dismantled.
Stores have opened on time and people have gone to work like they always do. But the mood is apprehensive. No one knows what to expect. No wants to think of John Fallis on the loose. After all that happened last night he’s as likely to come back to town and shoot it up as he is to run for Mexico.
The Governor, at the urging of the city fathers, from his desk in the mansion on Capitol Hill, announces the posting of a reward for the capture of John Richard Fallis—a five-hundred-dollar reward to be paid from the state treasury. State money being put up for the capture of a local desperado, that’s how serious the concern is.
Of the casualties, Patrolman O’Nan’s and Patrolman Scott’s lives are said to be hanging in the balance. Scott, the first to fall, is shot through the liver and the arm. Several times during the day his life is despaired of. O’Nan, who took the shotgun blast on JF’s porch, is wounded in the chest, the calf, and the shoulder and is in great pain. The others have been treated and released.
Toward mid-afternoon the sightings start coming in.
JF is said to have been seen heading for Frankfort with two forty-fives dangling from his belt and a shotgun in his hand. He’s said to be coming from the direction of Stamping Ground, a small community about twelve miles away. Then he’s reported at a train station near Georgetown, further out, and has told the station manager he’s on his way to Frankfort. A little later a doctor named Stewart says he saw him leaving Woodlake, which is closer, headed for Frankfort still carrying those two forty-fives.
All the reports are from roughly the same area, the country east of town where Fallis, because of his business dealings with the farmers there, has friends.
The reports are enough to shake the city.
The Mayor authorizes the addition of six special police. They’re sworn in immediately. The Sheriff starts deputizing men again, sending them out to guard the approaches to town. Practically every physician is on alert and all off-duty nurses are being called in to help … in case.
Throughout the afternoon and evening the newspaper and the police station are swamped with calls. Is he coming? Are we safe? There is talk of reassembling the posse. Even of calling out the National Guard.
The sun goes down a little after nine that night. Thursday night.
And while the town waits and marinates in unease, every scandalous thing that has been said or thought of John Fallis gets repeated and embellished upon.
Gambler, brawler, bootlegger.
Gangster. Ward boss. Bully.
He doesn’t come.
Friday dawns clear. The sun is up by six-fifteen. Armed men still man the entrances to town.
That morning John Fallis, Jr., age fourteen, and a friend show up at the grocery on Wilkinson armed with shotguns and a rifle. Practically the entire contents of the house and the grocery have been destroyed by the fire. Why they are there isn’t clear but the police, who are still on the scene, disarm them and take them to the county workhouse. They’re questioned vigorously, but have no knowledge of JF’s plans or whereabouts and are released in the late afternoon. The police confiscate their weapons.
By nightfall Craw is packed. It seems everyone who can crowd in has done it. The regulars and the uptown upper-crust, thrill seekers from all around, are drawn by the excitement and the suspense. They all want to be there for whatever happens, because something has to happen and it sure as hell is gonna be stupendous.
There is a constant flow of people on the streets, drinks in hand, laughing, jostling—like Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras.
At the Blue Moon and the Tip Toe Inn the bets are going down. He’s coming back with two guns blazing to wipe out the rest of the police force!
No! He’s running like the coward he is and will keep on running.
Very few are putting their money on him running.
A few fights break out. Nothing serious. The cops don’t interfere. They usually don’t, and anyway, this night they have other concerns to deal with.
The party doesn’t wind down until almost daylight.
JF doesn’t make an appearance.
On Saturday morning one of JF’s sons drives a truck to a gasoline station on the edge of town, parks it, and leaves in another car. The truck is filled with clothes and food. The Sheriff follows the car, but loses it. Later that day the Sheriff announces that he’s had word from an emissary of the fugitive. He says he knows the hiding place and will go alone, to apprehend and return him to justice.
No one sees the Sheriff go…or return. Whatever he does, when night comes JF is still on the loose.
My father is still away. We’ve talked by phone. He’s seen the stories. There’s been almost daily reportage in all the area newspapers. He knows we’re all right.
“You saw the shooting?”
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, sir. No, sir. I don’t know. I think so.”
“He’s all worried about Mr. Fallis.”
“Help him if you can.”
I was afraid he’d tell me to stay away. He didn’t.
“I’ll be home Wednesday. We’ll talk then. Take care of your mother.” He pauses for just a moment.
“Don’t do anything dumb.”
(More to come November 5 when CONCERNING THE MATTER OF THE KING OF CRAW is formally released at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort.)