Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 5 (Carrying Out the Deed — Early Stages)

The school day of February 11, 1964, at the “replacement” Cisco High School building with the flat roof seemed ordinary enough, but inside the heads of four particular individuals, that school day was far from ordinary. It was hard for us to focus and concentrate on the normal tasks and activities; good thing we had by this time in our own individual ways developed considerable “acting skills.” During the school day I recall a couple of omens, or, what we might have thought were omens “special” to us with a certain plan in our heads — one good and one bad. The good omen was that the day did not portend any threat of rain; in fact, it was a bright, partly cloudy day, and unusually warm. Had there been inclement weather imminent, we would have had to call the whole thing off and create a whole new set of alibis, as well as a new date, for, the last thing we wanted was the chair/desks atop the roof being weather-damaged. If we were found out as the cause of ruined school furniture, we visualized having to work for the school district the rest of our lives to pay for the damages. The bad omen came in Mrs. Evelyn Bailey’s Senior English class (The 1963 Cisco High School Homecoming Bonfire — No Sleep and Almost Torched into Martyrdom [August, 2013]) when something was said about vandals somewhere breaking into a school. When this was said, the four of us, all in the same classroom, dared not look at each other.

The final period of the day was sixth period, when Adling, Berry, and I had to report across town (Berry had not taken his car to school, so he “bummed a ride” with Adling to school, so they could efficiently “leave for Hamilton” after school “in Adling’s car.”) to the community gym for “athletics,” even though during this last semester of our high school years Adling had no more official “duties” as an athlete, and Berry and I had no more official “duties” as manager/trainers; we were out of school at the end of sixth period like everyone else not associated with athletics, like Cole. He was spending sixth period as a classroom assistant in Mr. Bint’s chemistry class back at the school building where we were all four planning on being “very busy” later on.

Cole was to wait just after school (for some reason he did not drive his car to school that day either) for the three of us to arrive back at school after sixth period, our returning to school to get “a book I had forgotten.” He would then hitch a ride with us (Maybe this is why he didn’t take his car to school.). But we three were late getting away from the gym in my car Liberty (’53 4-door light green Ford), and Cole thought it not wise to hang around the school for no apparent reason, so he took it upon himself to walk home, so as not to arouse suspicion (Just to remind the reader — this was before cell phones, so we had no way to communicate with each other via phone.). I tried in my “ode” to him (Ode to Robert W. Cole [May 2012]) to use this discretionary decision of his to illustrate yet again why he was the “perfect fourth;” even when the unexpected cropped up, he was always cool, calm, and rational; he never panicked nor made unwarranted assumptions. One of lesser metal than Cole might have assumed something more than just being late had gone wrong; it was just a “hiccup” in our plans early on.

Nor were the three of us arriving in my car, finally, to the school, upset when Cole was not there; we knew we were late and guessed Cole had done just as he had. Adling brought his schoolwork and books with him, as we stepped inside the building near the office to find few people in the main hall. We then went down the side hall by the office and the boys’ restroom to find the gymnasium/stage area empty (Recall that stage had been turned into Coach Bates’ classroom (Chapter 1).). Berry stood watch at one side hall entrance to the gym and I stood watch at the other side hall entrance. (The second side hall contained the teachers’ lounge and the girls’ restroom.) After giving Berry the keys to his car, Adling casually walked diagonally across the gym floor to the entrance down into the abandoned dressing room located beneath the stage floor, right underneath Coach Bates’ classroom; he disappeared through this entrance door without anyone seeing him.

Adling’s disappearing act was our “crossing the Rubicon;” there was no turning back now.

Berry went back to my car parked on 11th Street outside the school, in its usual place of Senior parking privilege, while I went to Mr. Bint’s room to pick up my “forgotten” book (Rooms had to double as locker spaces.). Back in the main hall I met Mrs. Mulliner (Play Rehearsal Night, With a Side of Greased Flagpole [May, 2013]), who wanted to introduce me to someone (I’ve long since forgotten who that stranger was.). While I was trying to politely cut a conversation short in the main hall and underneath the stage Adling was trying to adjust to the darkness of his new environs, outside who should walk up to Berry waiting in my car but two junior cheerleaders, Sheri (Heyser) Malone and Cathy (Abbott) Strother. Naturally, Berry volunteered my car to give them a ride they were needing as soon as I came back with my book. As surprised as I was to see the two young ladies in my car with Berry, it was nothing compared to the surprise Berry and I got when Sheri asked what had happened to Adling! She apparently had seen the three of us together when we drove up! Without hesitation, we made up reasonable replies; we said we had both looked for him (I taking longer than Berry because of the book) but now we were pretty sure he had gotten a ride with someone else, dismissing the Adling absence with a “You know Adling!” This seemed to satisfy our impromptu passengers, and casual banter soon changed the subject, as I drove them to their destination in an atmosphere of chivalry.

By the time Berry and I drove as only two back to the community gym and Adling’s waiting car, it was about 4:00 PM. Berry used Adling’s keys and drove Adling’s brown and white ’56 Chevy, with me following in Liberty, on a obsure, indirect trek to a pre-determined place in the downtown area — a parking spot in front of West Texas Produce Co. on E 9th Street, about a block east (NE) of Avenue D (Conrad Hilton Ave.). This spot was used to Adling’s car, as he worked at West Texas Produce off and on as one of his many odd jobs. I then took Berry to his house (“to wait for the ‘delayed’ Adling to come pick him up so they could get off to Hamilton) and went quickly to my house (Neither of my parents had got off work yet.) and called Cole, who was by now getting anxious to hear from us. He was relieved to know “all systems were ‘go'” and to know he had made an admirable decision not to stay at the school. I gathered my things together in order to spend the night at Cole’s house, where we planned on doing homework and going bowling later on. (Note no quotes around bowling; we were actually going to bowl so that if we had to use our alibi, we would not be lying.). After arriving at his house about 4:30 PM, we talked openly in front of his mother about our bowling plans and proceeded to work an hour or so on a trig assignment due to Mr. James Hughes the next day.

(Today I consider my spending the night at Cole’s and our going bowling on a weeknight a weakness in our alibis, as we had never spent the night with each other on a weeknight before, nor had we ever gone bowling together! The sudden decision to do the prank because of the basketball road game, a grand, strong cover for Adling and Berry, forced a not-so-grand and not-so-strong cover for Cole and me, despite the fact we were actually going to go bowling at the lanes in neighboring Eastland. It is interesting, however, that parents at both my house and Cole’s house apparently saw nothing strange about the two of us doing on a school night things we had never done before. It was a testimony how things like war-gaming, noon-time “shenanigans” as described below, and Dad’s root beer had made our association with each other a strong and comfortable one in people’s minds.)

Meanwhile, back under the stage floor, Adling was working on his trig also, his adjusted eyes having barely enough light to do so. But it was hard for him to concentrate, as he wondered if the custodian, Mr. Mitchell (Play Rehearsal Night, With a Side of Greased Flagpole [May, 2013]), checked the abandoned dressing room before locking the building for the night. Thinking that unlikely, he nonetheless stayed as close to the completely dark hole leading underneath the gym floor as his “homework light” would allow, in case the door through which he “crossed the Rubicon” were to open. (Adling’s hideout had become a familiar place to us in this alleged high school, as during our lunch hour many of us, probably most notoriously Cole and I, would sneak down into the abandoned dressing room and up hollow “chimneys” on either side of the stage using 2 x 4 framing as ladder-like “rungs” and into the space above the tiles forming the ceiling of the gym. I remember vividly one noontime Cole and I barely making it out of this “crawl and climb” maze of darkness to appear in our class after lunch — civics taught by Coach Cromartie — disheveled and covered in dust. Sitting close to us and noting our unsightly appearance, Lanell (Stanford) Bond asked us what we had been doing. Just to “mess with her” [as we did with Jeanette Shirley {Cole’s ode} as sophomores back in the old “true” 3-story high school], we told her we had been in a fight with each other on the playground after lunch; she was horrified until we said that wasn’t true; she couldn’t again ask for the truth, as class had started.)

About 5:30 PM Cole and I, in his ’59 blue and white 4-door Chevy, arrived at Berry’s house to pick him up as a favor for Adling, who had to “run some errands” before he could “get off to Hamilton with Berry to the basketball game.” We were “saving some time” for Adling so they could “get going on time.” Mrs. Berry was surprised when Cole and I told her we were not going to the game also, but, rather, were going to go bowling after we finished our homework. She also wondered why Adling was so “busy” at the estimated time of departure. Nonetheless, the three of us, back in Cole’s car, did not feel uneasy about Mrs. Berry’s questions. We drove down to Adling’s parked car at West Texas Produce, Berry (who had eaten before we picked him up at his house) again used Adling’s keys and drove off to begin a long time-consuming trek around the countryside of the county so that Adling’s car would not be seen and so the car would appear to be “driven to a basketball game.” Cole and I verified with Berry before he left we would rendezvous with him in just about two hours. During this time, while Berry was driving God-knows-where, Cole and I returned to his house to finish our homework and to have supper, and Adling, in his under-stage “hide-out,” determined it was getting dark enough he could safely exit the dressing room.

Adling crept around in the surreal setting of the locked school building (Remember, these were the days before security cameras and alarm systems in schools.), hearing cars driving up on the more-than-a-block area that was the year before the junior high playground and sports fields– cars doing “doughnuts” — going in tight circles with spinning, dirt-and-gravel spewing, and squealing tires. He hoped such activity would not attract the police to start keeping an eye on the school building anytime that evening! His mind began to wander back over the details of the plan so far and the plan to come, and he thought about the possibility of being left intentionally in the building by his “three compadres” as a super double-cross practical joke, the ultimate “counter-prank.” True to our friendships, instead of being worried, he laughed silently to himself at the thought.

Around 7:00 PM Cole and I, homework finished and stomachs filled, announced we were leaving to go bowling, but, of course, not right away, as we had to meet Berry returning in Adling’s car from his cross-country trek at his anticipated arrival time, about 7:15 PM. We, in Cole’s car, were to meet him at one of Cole’s favorite “birddogging places” used by parked couples — a small turn-off sheltered from view by mesquite trees (leafless now, of course) off the “old, old” highway to Abilene that used to skirt the perimeter of Oakwood Cemetery, the city cemetery, not far from the site of the bonfire back in November (The 1963 Cisco High School Homecoming Bonfire — No Sleep and Almost Torched into Martyrdom [August, 2013]); this rendezvous site was at the east (NE) end of the cemetery near an “east” entrance through the rock wall surrounding the city’s burial area and a little further from the corner rock arched entrance at the intersection of W 2nd Street and Avenue J. We decided to arrive a bit early in case Berry lived up to his fast-paced driving, and, sure enough, about 7:10, we saw Adling’s Chevy approaching us near the rendezvous site from an out-of-town direction, from around the far corner of the rock wall on the “old, old” Abilene highway. It was a perfectly timed connection!

Berry reported he had generously replaced some of Adling’s gas he had used, and he got a report from us that things seemed to be going well “from our end.” We made sure we were all encouraged and proceeded in the newly arrived darkness in a two-car caravan to W. W. Smith’s (He was Bobby Smith’s, one of our underclassmen confidant’s, dad.) service station at the corner of W 8th Street and Avenue M, approaching it from the back down the now-dark avenue. Berry parked Adling’s car in the back-alley shadow of the station and crawled into the back seat of Cole’s car. Next, we had to get something for Adling to eat. So, while Cole was driving across 8th Street to the Dairy Treat (To have gotten food at Woody’s would have almost assured we would have been noticed by some fellow classmates (Chapter 3), a scenario we wanted to avoid if we could.), Berry lay down in the back floorboard of Cole’s car so as not to be seen when we drove up to order some food; after all, he was supposed to be going to Hamilton. I ordered a hamburger, a milk shake, and three soft drinks to go. The first two items were for Adling, and the three drinks were for us in the car. We drove off toward the school by dark avenues and streets.

Meanwhile, Adling, getting bolder in his exploration of the building with the growing darkness, moved about to crouch below window levels, allowing him to peer just over several sills to “case” the school’s outside perimeter. Cars making “doughnuts” on the playground area had ceased, but he discovered there was an unexpected meeting in the band hall in a separate building at the west (SW) end of the main hall, a building paralleled by the lunch room building. Then, at the other end of the main hall, at the main entrance (a spot vitally figuring in my modus operandi  idea), he peered out to see, again unexpectedly, some kind of Tuesday night religious meeting going on in the little church at the corner of W 11th St. and Avenue H, right across this avenue from the school’s east (NE) entrance. There was a lot going on simultaneously that night at the school site!

When Cole, Berry, and I arrived in the blue and white ’59 Chevy, we “cased” the block as part of the plan, only to discover the same two surprises that Adling had from inside the school. Adling was supposed to let Berry in through the west (SW) entrance, but, because of the meeting in the band hall, that idea had to be “ditched” and a new entrance had to be determined, all the while hoping Adling would be thinking as we were (How our situation would have been made so much easier if we had had cell phones!). The three of us decided to proceed as planned, Berry thinking he could keep to the shadows and out of sight from the band hall area and well-knowing the original planned entrance needed a substitute; we were banking on Adling being as aware of the situation as we, and we trusted that Berry and Adling could adjust to the unexpected situation and come up with a new solution “as they went.” We in our planning sessions had talked about keeping “our cool” at all times, especially in surprise contingencies we could never have anticipated.

Cole drove casually and slowly onto the school block behind the building onto the area where a block-long section of W 12th St. had been partitioned off to link two full blocks for the school building and its play and sports areas. This was about the same place where the “doughnut” cars Adling heard earlier had done their stunts. It also simultaneously put the gym building between us and the church and placed us in an obscure line of sight with the band hall. As Cole slowed down even more, Berry, clutching the sack with hamburger and shake, sat near the right rear door (The building was on our right.). I crawled into the left rear seat to assist Berry with the right rear door. Cole had made sure the car’s interior lights would not come on when the rear doors were opened; Berry opened the right rear door of the moving car and slid out onto the ground running in a crouched position and clutching the sack; I shut the door as quickly and quietly as possible; the car never stopped moving. I got a brief glimpse of Berry ducking into the shadows of the school building near the outside wall of the stage area, near Adling’s “hideout.” Then I crawled back into the front passenger’s seat for Cole and I to begin our journey over to Eastland to go bowling. Had Cole and I checked the time, it would have been just about 7:30 PM.

While Cole and I were driving to the lanes in Eastland, a bit more than ten miles away, a “comedy of errors” ensued before Adling and Berry could rendezvous. From a crouched position peering over the windowsill of a classroom, Adling made out forms of a car and a passenger emerging from it on the school playground. As he said, he “instinctively knew” it was Berry. He wanted to let Berry in by a different door due to the meeting in the band hall, so he hurriedly went to the door on the side hall leading into the gym nearest to the girls’ restroom. Meanwhile, Berry thought of the same plan, but he thought Adling would be at the west door at the end of the main hall near the band hall, waiting for him as originally planned. So Berry went to the west door and while he was there Adling opened the side door, propped it safely open, and stepped out into the shadows between the main hall and the stage building, softly calling out Berry’s name. Not finding him, Adling went back into the building and down the main hall to the west door, just as Berry left the west door and went to the side door Adling just left! As I described this moment in my memoirs, things were a “tad out of phase!” Berry lingered just long enough near the side door to allow Adling to return to spot Berry and the food sack — at last. Berry was inside.

By now Adling was famished, and he “latched on” to the hamburger and milk shake. They went up into Coach Bates’ classroom and sat in a couple of chair/desks for Adling to finish his meal and for them to talk about how things had gone so far. They delighted in sharing each other’s perspective of the ongoing plan, and began talking about details of what they best should do before Cole and I joined them, discussing at length potential problems poised by the church meeting across Avenue H and the band hall meeting. They disposed of the hamburger wrapper and drink cup beneath the gym floor, using the dark entry hole which, the reader might recall, was in Adling’s late afternoon “hide-out.” Then they waited for the meetings to be over and for the return of their “bowling buddies” in the unlocked teachers’ lounge in the side hall close to the girls’ restroom, depositing jackets and Adling’s books there. Adling described the “camp-out” in the teachers’ lounge, a sort of “holy of holies” — off-limits and very taboo to all students — as “a really sort of odd, unplanned rebellious-type action.” Nothing drove home the reality that this was “really happening” than their conversation in the darkness of the teacher’s lounge!

Cole and I were in for a surprise when we arrived at the bowling alley. It was ladies’ night, so we could not get a lane! After voicing a few of our “patented” politically incorrect expletives borne of war-gaming, because we really did want to bowl to add reality to our alibi with scores, etc., we decided we would pass the time we had for bowling — the plan gave us only 30 to 45 minutes to bowl — just watching the ladies bowl. As we watched, we decided that we would just honestly describe the reason we did not get to bowl after all, should it ever come up in the future. About 8:15 PM, about the time we had to get going on our return trip, the manager said there was a lane open for us at last, but we had to decline, with our thanks to him anyway; we had no time for bowling now. So much for the bowling alibi!

We drove back to Cisco to leave his car in the mesquite-masked parking spot turn off near the cemetery near where we had rendezvoused with Berry in Adling’s car earlier. Now we had to make a trek on foot essentially across town to get to the school. We walked to W 2nd St. and Avenue J, the site of the cemetery entrance rock arch, then east (NE) on W 2nd one block to Avenue I, which would take us to the school on W 11th, nine blocks away. Ironically, we had to pass right in front of Cole’s house between W 5th and W 6th Streets on Ave. I, where the Coles’ house dog, Tiny, happened to be in the yard to do “nightly business” and gave us a hearty watchdog bark as we passed. There was not much traffic on the streets of Cisco on a school weeknight, even as we crossed Highway 80 (W 8th Street), so we made it to the school with no trouble dodging car lights. As we arrived at the intersection of Avenue I and W 11th St., we could see that the band hall meeting that had surprised us at the “depositing of Berry” was over, which meant we knew we would have no trouble getting into the building unseen.

Adling and Berry, before our arrival by foot, had wisely decided to “get things going” by getting “inconveniently placed” chair/desks, like those in Coach Bates’ classroom on the gym stage, in position near the site of my “lifting” idea, my modus operandi, the east (NE) main entrance at the end of the main hall near the office facing Avenue H. They carried each chair/desk from that classroom across the gym floor, and, as they came to the side hall by the boys’ restroom, they would set the chair/desk down at the window opening up on Avenue H and push the piece of furniture by squatting down and duck-walking behind it, placing it into position near the main entrance doors. The religious meeting across the avenue, unlike the band hall meeting, was still ongoing.

They were just about finished with this positioning of the first of the “chair/desks” to be “processed,” when Cole and I pecked at the side entrance door between the gym and the girls’ restroom, the same door into which Berry was admitted with Adling’s food in the “comedy of errors” earlier. I can’t remember which one, Adling or Berry, heard us and let us in, but in a moment’s time all four of us were standing just inside that side entrance door, bivouacked together in the school, as planned! We all four shook hands in congratulations and for reassurance.

Each pair of us briefed the other pair as to what had happened so far. It was exhilarating; even the unexpected was not a problem so far; things were going as planned. As Adling described his feeling in the teachers’ lounge earlier, “We’re inside the school, all is going well; there’s no reason why we can’t proceed as planned.” That is, unless my idea of getting the chair/desks on the roof did not work for some expected reason. After all, we could not have tested my idea before tonight; if it did not work, we had gone to a hell of a lot of trouble this one evening for nothing! Not to mention a lot of wasted planning!

It was time to see if my “brainchild,” my modus operandi, was going to work as we had envisioned.

RJH

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