Saturday, July 07, 2012

Chicken Ranch report no. 22

I am happy to report that Chapter 11--the new Chapter 11, cobbled together from sections of Chapter 10 and what was Chapter 11 but is now Chapter 12, plus additional materials--is written and done. I know, I know, this gets confusing. The Wife gave it a read, and gave it a thumbs up, noting only a few minor typos to correct. No dull infodumps, no confusing or muddled passages, no tangential meanderings. In short, she found it an engrossing read (and this is a woman who has heard a lot about the Chicken Ranch over the past three years). This comes as a great relief to me, as this chapter brought together several different timelines and information critical to understanding the entire Chicken Ranch scandal as it happened back in 1973. Most of what's contained in this chapter has never seen print, and that which has been published is brought together and connected in a broader context. Through the Freedom of Information Requests I filed and the interviews with some of the behind-the-scenes players I tracked down, I feel like I am contributing something substantive and original to Texas history. I feel--and this is bordering on hubris, I know, because I am not and never will be a Woodward or Bernstein--for the first time in my somewhat lackluster career, that I've committed (unwittingly perhaps) genuine investigative journalism.

This whole story is taking on the feel of that fable from India about the five blind men and the elephant. There are many stories about the downfall of the Chicken Ranch floating around, some of them factual, some of them less so, and many are contradictory. That doesn't make them wrong--only incomplete. Nobody, and I mean nobody, from Governor Briscoe to Marvin Zindler to Edna Milton to Sheriff Flournoy, ever saw the whole picture. And even so, I know there are angles and incidents and circumstances that are escaping me now, even as I poke and prod and stick my nose in any little nook and cranny I can find. But I can say with confidence this is the best that I could do at this time. Here's a sample of the juicy stuff contained within Chapter 11, just to whet your appetite:

Hancock decided he needed witnesses to testify against the Wagon Wheel in court. When a bus from Houston pulled up to the brothel one night and disgorged 35 conventioneers, Hancock thought his case made. He’d simply wait for them to finish their revels, then pull the bus over as it left and take their names and statements. The bus drove around behind the Wagon Wheel to park, and Hancock waited all night for it to drive back out. It never did--instead, the bus sneaked away via a back road.

“I thought I was a pretty good investigator, and I lost a damn bus with 35 folks on it. I didn’t know where it went!” Hancock said, laughing at his own youthful ineptitude. “That’s the funniest thing that ever happened to me, because we were going to stop it and see who was on board. We were so naive as to believe they didn’t know what we were doing or why we were there.”

Now, I've got to get back to work. I'm at that awkward early stage in writing a chapter where organizing my information and reference materials is all-consuming, not to mention the fact that my memory is already betraying me by pointing me to the wrong sources for clearly-remembered quotes and events. This is an occurrence I've grown all too familiar with throughout the writing of this book. The good news is that there are only two more chapters left for my memory to continue playing tricks on me.

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