Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Special Deputy: Sworn in and Sworn At

With Sheriff McIntee reelected, I continued at what seemed like a good program of pay supplementation, serving as a special deputy sheriff in Stearns county, in central Minnesota. The logical heir to McIntee was Peter A. Lahr (whose first campaign would, I determined, center around his initials: PAL). But first we had to re-possess a tractor from a farmer deadbeat who wasn’t making his payments. As we rode in the sheriff’s car (no lights on or horn blazing), I discovered that Lahr was not carrying a weapon (“no, it’s a very routine matter,” he said. “I’ve discovered that when you carry a gun as you re-possess a tractor, it promotes trouble.”).

We got to the most desolate farmhouse in the county that begged for paint; the animals looked skimpy; a mangy cat slunk around the corner; a flea infested dog was occupied scratching himself incessantly; the shingles were falling off the house; a stagnant pool of grayish water oozed from somewhere under the house; a large rat the size of a cat hunkered under a ruined automobile which was rusting in the sun. A few chickens had escaped from a pen and were striving to pick at some old seeds that had fallen from a dead tree in the front yard. We knocked on the front door and it swung open. Eventually a woman appeared, hair in a bun, dirty apron.

“Is Mr. Weigleitner at home?” asked Lahr politely.

“Who’s asking?”

“We’re from the sheriff’s office. We have orders to pick up the tractor. Here I’ll show you my credentials.”

He extended his wallet showing the star which she disdained.


“I guess Mr. Weigleitner’s fallen behind in the payments. We don’t know any more than that.”

“How’s he going to make a living if you take our tractor?”

“Uh, that’s a good point, ma’am. Maybe there’s a way to deal with International Harvester to postpone it but you see we don’t have a choice; we’re just here to--.”

“Just here to take our livelihood.”

“You’ll pardon me, ma’am but I really don’t have a say-so on this.”

“You’re just here to take our tractor away.”

“Yes`m. I know times are tough all around the county.”

“You carry a gun?”

“Uh, no ma’am.”

“But you’re the sheriff.”

“Not the sheriff but me and my partner here are from the sheriff’s office. You can look at my credentials if you want—here.”

“Not interested. Jim’s in the barn.”

She slammed the door and we went to the barn where Weigleitner was sitting cross-legged, welding. An ancient car stood at one side of the garage. It wasn’t a good idea to be welding next to the car. The new tractor stood next to it. He didn’t look up but knew we were there.’

“Pardon me, Mr. Weigleitner. Peter Lahr and Tom Roeser of the Stearns county sheriff’s office. Can I bother you for a minute?”

He stopped welding, looked away and listened.

“We’re come here to take the tractor. It seems you haven’t made all the payments to International Harvester. Now, maybe there’s a very good reason for that but that’s not our business. We just have an order to pick it up.”

He looked at us with a stubbled face frozen in anger, with hot eyes burning from the dark shadows of his face. Lahr continued.

“If there is a very good reason for your lack of payments, maybe you can work it out with them.”

Now the delinquent owner opened his mouth to speak and did so with a voice that struggled through a residue of asthmatic phlegm:

“Wal, I don’ have the money.”

“I know. Maybe the Harvester people in St. Cloud can work it out. They have policies like that. Why I have a neighbor who was in the same fix as you and they worked it out. Anyways, they haven’t heard from you in over six months; they wrote and we wrote. So we’re here…”

He got up and was slightly taller, rangier than Lahr—taller than me, too.

“Wal, you ain’t goin’ to take that tractor `cause I gotta make a livin’ with it, you hear me?”

Lahr started to repeat himself, his understanding that it was inconvenient, his sympathy that times were tough—but he was brushed aside. I was beginning to ponder at the wisdom of Lahr’s being unarmed.

“I said—you ain’t goin’ to take it.”

Lahr’s voice was level, unemotional. “And I said I have to.”

He stalked over, not to the tractor but to his car, flung open the door, leaned across the seat, stretched out and rooted around in the glove compartment.

Well, I thought, so this is how it’s going to end for Tommy Roeser. This guy is obviously rooting around in the glove compartment for a gun. Plugged in a barn at age 26. Cut down in the prime of life. Born in Chicago, went to college with high hopes for a good life but shot to death without a chance, like a cornered rat without a chance in a dingy barn four miles north of St. Cloud, Minnesota. My parents will say, “what happened to him?” Oh he was trying to re-possess a tractor. Repossess a tractor? My Chicago mother will say. Repossess a tractor? What in God’s name was he doing trying to re-possess a tractor? My baby never saw a tractor!

“On the other hand,” I said in voice that sounded strange to me, “maybe we can come back.” Lahr nudged me angrily in the ribs and said condemnatorily: “That’s not the way to go.”

Lahr said loudly as the guy was fiddling around in the glove compartment, “I want the keys. You hear me? I want the keys or do I have to take `em off you?”

Now why did he want to say this in that angry tone as the guy roots around in the compartment?

The guy found something in the compartment, slammed the compartment and slowly eased himself up out of the seat and whirled around.

Oh, my God I’m heartily sorry for having offended You, this guy and a few more besides...

He produced a checkbook which he had pulled out of the compartment.

“How much I owe?”

Lahr said, “Four hundred eighty-five dollars and 42 cents as a payment.”

As he wrote the check, I said Lord, hear me: this is the end of my career in law enforcement. Promise.

But Lahr was not easily reconciled. “I hope this check is good `cause if it ain’t, we’ll be back here, my partner and me.”

Not with me you won’t.

As we drove back, Lahr said, “I gotta feeling you’re better at a desk job.”

You got that right.


  1. Great stories. Try writing these remembrances in the third person.

  2. These stories are great! You have to get them in a book format for the grandkids. I know the Magnor 8 would love them! Keep them coming.