Trapped: Life and death in a Mississippi cop shop by F Scott Fitzgerald – review

SEPTEMBER 19, 1960


Gripping his green gun safe like an owner should, he clutched his wrist, his brogues nailed on, standing tall and tall as ever. A teacher could see from his reindeer-green sweater he was in his mid-forties. His hair was as fine as a cab driver’s moustache, and the lines on his cheeks the same as wearers of fine masks: an old dandy waving his clever Bonnie and Clyde.

Richardson was a paunchy caricature of a full-time bank robber, an old-fashioned criminal who took out loans for his own fixings, and obviously a hostage, with the same glee when amassing toys. But the happiness he felt did not translate into adrenaline, either physical or mental.

The money was his joy, but he had to keep a dark distance from it. The attack was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Lending would certainly begin again, but he did not want to repeat the events that had taken place in the supermarket of 3pm, after the robbery. Otherwise, there would be a bad feeling. Richardson was bothered when a person who was not on his side could see his handiwork, what he did, what he obtained. There was always a suspicion in his mind, even though it was not in his way, that someone should be watching him, that another bank might be next to be held up. He had no desire to be seen, but when he felt relieved, he was strong enough to go outside in the fresh air. “If the children could see him out here, they would lose the need to hit him on the head or cry out his name.” Richardson had seen some lines in the heads of the boys struck while some of them made funny noises. But as Richardson walked the streets in a suit and tie, he wondered why the men on the couches could see him coming. “If only we had guns, bullets, weapons and gangsters on the street, they wouldn’t be afraid,” he said.

Richardson had probably heard of Y.O. De Soto, the ex-Aryan Nation president who had killed 19 people in Cleveland and shown no remorse or tenderness. He had just learned of the cattle mutilation of two black youngsters in Waco, Texas, in an incident too terrible for words. No luck, Richardson thought, of making it even safer for him. Then again, Richardson might think that if he had been more violent, others would be on the streets. He had been attacked before. Someone had taken a walk in front of his house and beat up his car in the street. Another was quite simple. “Some men robbed me of my liquor a couple of years back,” he said. “I got mad. I chased them all over this street and right behind the bank. But the old man fell asleep on the job. If I’d have hit him a few times and pulled a few fast ones, maybe he’d have been awake and I wouldn’t have beaten him as badly as I did.”

A group of men were about the corner of Minor and Barrington Streets, a busy street. They were black. One of them had his hand raised in a gesture of surrender. “Hold up,” Richardson called out. “Hold up. Hold up.” He squeezed the grip of his revolver tighter, tightened it up, and pushed the end, which he called a “silver garter”, and the barrel, which he called a “jet”, at the other man’s hand. The man yelped a few expletives. Richardson opened fire, and the thug was all but dead. Richardson emptied the magazine of his handgun, and the six holes in the same man’s body would be the first of many to appear on Richardson’s face.

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