He stood there behind his mirrored shades surveying the crowd. We thought he was scanning the crowd for anything that could cause disruption or violence. That's why he was there. Little did we know he was remembering rice fields and armed guerilla types sneaking around under and through American troops.
Fred had retired from the US Army after 23 years. He spent his final eight years as an officer overseas. As casualties of war, he had earned a purple star, a promotion to Captain, an interesting facial scar, and a divorce. When the US Army had no further use for him, Fred had no further use for the Army. He was retired into public life in the American South.
Fred was a Savannah city cop when we first met, guess it was 1970 or so. I was helping to produce a series of high school bands at the YMCA. The Board of Education wanted to unify the schools with experiments in sports, local politics, and music. We budgeted the money for safety guards in the public interest. That's where Fred came along. He was a cop who liked kids and would work a couple of extra shifts per month at his regular SPD rate plus all normal benefits.
When we interviewed Fred he was forthcoming about his concern about how local police were hard on youth of every color. He was pretty much what we were looking for: an authority figure who would eliminate any threat or disturbance with a minimum of legal involvement.
I remember he elaborated: "If we have an instance of drunken behavior, the drunk will be relieved of their car keys until a sober family member comes forward to drive everyone home."
Violence never ensued while Fred was around. The stubborn army captain had become a teen-tolerant, user-friendly cop. There was a zero-tolerance policy on drugs of any kind. This rule was firm, Fred could confiscate and evict the users. And if he saw sales, he was allowed to arrest, at gunpoint. We had some minor instances like smoking pot among ten cigarette smokers close to an exhaust. Fred busted a couple and they didn't bother anymore, they finally figured it was easier and safer to go outside and smoke.
The music was minor league, one step away from garage band level. It was a YMCA dance. The bands were loud, there was lots of room to dance, and lots of time between dancing. The room was overheated by teenage girls and boys with music and time on their hands. Off the dance floor, they engaged in other activities. The room was so full of pheromones that I walked the floor between acts, just to breathe and smile.
It was after a planning meeting that Fred asked me what I thought of smoking pot in the privacy of your own home. I was surprised to be asked this by a cop so I said I didn't care and asked what he thought. He said that he thought it was okay. He said that if he had some pot he would share it with me. I just nodded and then he asked me to buy some for him. My alarm bells went off, and I told him I could not be entrapped in such a juvenile way.
It was around that time that I noticed Fred was driving a different car. It was a Ford Mustang, like an early year, maybe late 60's. He said he was going to restore it and turn it. He did a fine job on the restoration. He told me that he was overseas when the car was designed in '63, then developed and released in '64. He said he always wanted a mustang. According to him, he sold the car at double his original cost.
I looked at one, who didn't, but when I looked inside it was too small. One friend said, "Sure it's a chick magnet, it's a girl-sized car." It was a sports car low, nice lines, a big engine, and really looked best with the top down and full of girls.
The cars bothered me the most. He was divorced and claimed to be strapped for cash, yet there were the cars, He had three Mustangs in twelve months. And he drove a few more cars during that time. He said his new sideline of buying and selling or turning cars was profitable. He went to public auctions all over the state to buy cars that looked good. He also bought inconspicuous cars, for undercover work and resold them to the Savannah police department.
Later that spring my boss, Toni, asked me to a meeting at a local pub because we had some issues to discuss. A detective came to the meeting and informed Toni of Fred's sideline. He claimed Fred was into semi-legal car trading. He was being monitored with the intent of catching him in a stolen car. They asked us to observe and report every car we saw him drive. I was amazed at the gall and then thoughtful.
Toni asked my advice for maybe the second time in two years.
"What should we do?" I asked her and she told him we would watch. I suggested we watch from Freddie's place out on Tybee Island. Toni and I had a spontaneous affair we called, Going Out of Town, and we certainly tried to celebrate our freedom that night.
After a steamy night of beach life, moonlight swimming, and some investigation, we hit the Breakfast Club a little after dawn. Toni had work and I had the day off. She grabbed coffee to go and I took a booth. Bruce, a BC co-owner, came by and raised his eyebrows at me. I had been a regular customer since the early days when they opened.
I nodded affirmatively invoking my standard order. This simple act meant that a goat cheese omelet with spinach, green onions, and grits, a pecan waffle with syrup, toast with some jam, and a hot cup of coffee would soon appear in front of me. Bruce's brother, Jody, did the-BC proud by cooking the superior omelet and even adorned it with a spinach leaf on top. Bruce noticed and smiled as he served me.
I watched out of the front window as I ate. I saw Freddie drive by in two different Mustangs. The second car he was driving got stopped. Fred got out and flashed his badge. He spoke with the officer for Tybee Island Police and gestured to the BC. The officer took a look at his license, nodded, and allowed him to leave. Fred swung the Mustang into a parking space beside the BC. He got out, waved at the cop, and came in for coffee
He spied me, came over to say hello, and asked me what I was doing there so early. I told him that I was 'Out of Town' with Toni for the evening. He smiled, said he approved, and offered congratulations. I tried to remember if anyone had asked me not to inform Fred he was being watched. But he rubbed it in.
"You and Toni like going 'Out of Town,' every now and then?"
I replied, "I like watching tension build in any catalytic situation."
He glanced at me expectantly.
"Like being asked by SPD to observe and report every car you drive."
Freddie slowly looked at me over the brim of his coffee cup. As his head rose, the coffee cup was placed on the table. He suggested that I, "mind my own business" He dropped some money on the table, left the restaurant, and drove away. We worked together a few times after that, but it was years before we had a close relationship.
• • •
May 30, 1971, was the day I graduated high school. I was still 17 so had some time before my draft number for Vietnam was established. So, I went for a walkabout. I hitched to San Francisco and back. I hitchhiked up and down the east coast, to Connecticut and back. I got to see a couple of parts of the world I had always wanted to see. It did me no harm to travel.
I was back in Savannah when my draft number came up; number 37. So I enrolled in nursing school. Hopefully, if I got drafted I would have a skill that would land me in a hospital group, I instead of the infantry. I immediately dove into medical training by working as an orderly on ER and OR duty within the local hospitals.
I heard that Fred had been awarded a city contract as the main security provider for concerts and live music events. His company, AJAX Security, and his dozen or so employees also worked for the city providing stadium security for local football games.
My draft number was never called. Out of the 365 days in the year, even with the expectation which came along with the number 37, the draft ended that year at number 29. With a sigh of relief, I decided to travel for another year. I worked as an orderly, a cook, a ward nurse, and many other odd jobs along the way.
When I returned to Savannah the first thing I wanted to do was finish the RN degree I started in what seemed like a lifetime ago. Returning to finish was a breeze. I had learned the craft of practical nursing and finished the rest with honors. I already had an offer of_ ER job at a local hospital.
Also, I fell in love with a nubile minx named Carol Jean Cox. CeeJay was a semi-pro artist in both drawing and painting who had four kids. We met over her child's ER event and love happened. I moved them into my life by changing residences. We co-rented an eight-room bungalow on Central Ave in Isle of Hope. This was the original trolley path to Isle of Hope during horse cart days.
We had a vegetable barn beside the house. The barn was small and had racks inside. The entire property was overhung with trees. We had Black Walnut trees covering the drive entrance and front yard. We had Pecan trees covering the back and side yards. This involved a lot of leaf raking and nut picking. And as you may imagine, I hung kid swings in several places.
This happy domestic time was the next time I saw Fred. He had resigned from SPD just before he dodged the car sting. But, the fact that he had beaten SPD did not sit well.
So, they were watching Fred with scrutiny and beginning to investigate AJAX security in every nook and cranny.
He appeared on Isle of Hope during the full moon party. The island had a tradition of throwing a public party every full moon. The community had a nice leisure area within a generous space of massive Oak trees bearing Spanish moss. The park was outfitted for kids and adults. We had swing sets with slides, and swimming a pool close by. We had several large red brick cooking pits and plenty of room with picnic tables. Sometimes, more often than not, there was even live music.
It was also the time of organic hallucinogens. Psilocybin mushrooms grew with gusto in the marshlands. The 'shrooms had a round top with brown at the center peek and again out on the edge. The underside was fluted and colored in purple. They grew like crazy from organic compost when the weather was between 65 and 90 degrees, high humidity, and sparse direct sunlight.
Several coastal states never made mushrooms illegal. We could pick them wild and process them down for drinking or even freezing. The recipe was two pounds of mushrooms for one gallon of electric tea. It took one small cup to go on a short trip. Two big cups would send you flying. The juice comes on, and bang, you're trippin'. Then it was over and gone quick and dean, there was no after effect.
We called it Old Dixie because it made people get silly and laugh a lot, as we tend to do during pleasant times down south. Ol’ Dixie was an island treat at a cookout with precious people and a great sunset close to the water.
Freddie showed up looking kind of frantic. I think that's the right word, frantic, upset with a lot of negative energy, yeah, a bit frantic. He needed my attention and wanted to see me alone. I made my excuses to the others and complied with his request by walking him toward the pool while he spoke.
Fred's legal status was about to be regarded as 'wanted'. He had learned the warrant request was pending but delayed due to no judge being available to sign it over the weekend. He came to me for help. He said he needed a place to be invisible for a couple of days while some things blew over. He asked if he could use the barn. I was a little astounded and had to ask about AJAX.
"Gone. IRS took it. They said it was part of a treasury department investigation." So I asked about the used car business.
"Gone. Somebody left a kilo of pot in one of the cars. So they closed down the whole car lot. Locked it shut with a police seal. I think it was planted by the cops."
"Why do you think that?"
"Because it wasn't mine, I'm not that careless, and because what they showed my manager was still compressed. You can't sell it unless it's loose, you know that."
"So, are you guilty?" He put out a cigarette and swiped my cup of Old Dixie, downed it, and handed me the cup.
"Yeah, probably am guilty of some of it. Never thought I was doing any harm though."
"How long you need the barn?"
"Not long. Maybe two or three days, or like, through Monday at the latest."
I told him I couldn't tolerate any trouble because of CeeJay and the kids. He said nobody would know where he was. He arrived on foot, driving no car, with no one following. He extended his arms and twirled in a circle.
"Actually I feel pretty good, despite all the doom and gloom in my life."
"Yeah? That's good." We joined in song as we walked back toward the crowd. I sang, "Forget your troubles," and he joined in.
"Come on get happy, We're gonna chase all the blues away." I led him to CeeJay. She was working the drinks table with red and blue cups spread about.
"Well, here's Fred the Cop. How's it hanging Freddie, have some Ol’ Dixie." She hands him a red cup. He downs it. She hands him another as she winks at me.
I asked, "Freddie wants to use our barn for a few days, okay with you?"
"Fine by me, No contraband though, right Freddie? We got kids to protect."
"You'll hardly know I'm there. It's a quiet time, for now, no cars, no flash, just me."
"Well, if rumors are true, you'll be more than enough. A few days then; another Ol' Dixie?"
Fred was true to his word. We saw him down by the water on Isle of Hope marina as we left with the sitter and put the kids to bed. He was gone when we came back for a dance and a nightcap.
We did almost see him again late Sunday night. Someone knocked on the back door. When I got to the door there was no one there. There was a faint moving light in the veggie barn. As I stepped into the yard the barn light went out. Another larger light focused on me from the yard and a voice commanded me to stop. Instead of complying, I yelled, "Who the fuck is making all the noise out here? I'm calling the cops." It seemed they were all scrambling, some came into view.
"Shh .. Shh .. We are the cops you idiot, Quiet !" The flashlight turned and said, "The search is moving on from here. My apologies for our men disturbing you," and then they left.
As I went back inside I took another look at the barn and closed the door. In the middle of the door was a note curled up and extending through the viewing port. The note read, "I need to get out of town and need a driver. It's worth a grand a week. If you can help meet me tonight at Le Chateau." I read and thought, read again and shrugged, then went to wake up CeeJay so she could give me a ride. While I packed a knapsack and filled a canteen, she cleared kid care with the eldest, Kelly, and then drove me to the rendezvous. After kissing CeeJay I grabbed my kit and hopped out of the car in the side lot. I waved my beloved away, and then looked inside The Waffle House.
Freddie sat at the counter beside the cash register. He was slowly scanning the windows, so I waited until he scanned mine to push forward and be seen through the glass. He rose, took his go-cup, and exited to the back parking lot. I followed at a discrete distance and watched him go through a line of hedges.
When I emerged I found myself in a gas station parking area. Freddie was checking under the hood of a relatively new Cadillac. As I approached, he turned and said, "Good clean care babe." and let down the hood. I smelled light perfume and looked into the car. Freddie opened the passenger door for me to get in back and took his seat. She remained behind the wheel. She sensed me starring and asked if I had a question.
"Do I know you? You look so familiar. Uh, is this car legal?"
"You do know me, I should look familiar, and yes it happens to be my very own car, and legal. Hi, Gabriella Alvarado, SPD?"
She extended a hand for shaking and started the car. We headed toward the bridge with all the other traffic crossing into Carolina. As we crested the bridge I took a look while the other two took a breath and slowly exhaled. I watched and smiled at them and said, "Well, Georgia is behind, so there's a load off you two. Now if you don't mind, what's up?"
They laughed, "We're just happy to be gone from there. Thanks for the help, I am relocating. Ohio."
"Then I take it we are meeting additional transportation." I sat forward. "How long a trip are we talking?"
She said, ''About a week. Maybe two at the most."
'Tm paying meals and expenses, a thousand in cash, and a flight home."
I confirmed, "One K for each week plus all expenses, every week from now till you're set. Then the flight home, deal?"
We joined hands and became as close as anyone can in a car.
We rode with a common purpose. I wondered out loud. "How far is it to the trucks?"
"Not far, first truck stop."
"Is the truck as comfy as this car?"
Only Fred answered, "You Wish."
"How far is this place in Ohio?"
"Two to three days."
"Who drives what?"
"Uh, let's see, you and me, trucks?"
"Do we rotate?"
"You think I'm paying you to drive a Cadillac?"
"Is the truck as comfy as this car?"
Only Gabriella answered. You Wish."
As we stood beside the 26-foot box trucks, I noticed that each truck had a different state license. When we mounted up, I found that my truck had a CB radio, a marine band handheld VHF radio, and keys in the ignition. There were AAA maps marked with routes to Ohio. Nice preparation, probably her effort.
I drove one truck, Freddie drove the other, and Gabriella followed at some distance. The truck was new, the communications all worked, and we escaped. The first night we headed northwest as far as Charlotte and then tucked in for the day. The next night we went through North Carolina and Kentucky and stopped. We slept all day and that night we quietly passed through farm country all the way to Lima, Ohio.
Fred and Gabby had rented a house among some buildings on a farm lot. It was the kind of place no one remembers or even realizes is there, the perfect hideout. We unloaded the trucks that night until we found they had brought too much stuff. The new house wasn't big enough. We could return one truck but still needed the other one.
So, he donated the extra furniture to the Ohio state home where Freddie had interviewed for the job. The job was managing a halfway house. 'The Center' was a halfway house for indigents, drunks, castoffs, and runaways. The home was partially occupied and separated by sex. The state needed somebody to manage the budget and to run the place.
Plus they needed an authority figure to keep the pandemonium and chaos at a controlled level rather than running amok as with the previous manager.
Fred had arranged a meeting to further entertain the offer. He started the meeting with his prospective employers with a walk-through of the facility. He pointed out things they did not want to see or think about. Freddie said he would accept a three-year contract to turn the place around, IF, and a big IF, if three more positions were funded. The powers that be agreed.
The first day at work he had a staff meeting for the same purpose of walking the staff through the place, forcing them to look at conditions. Then he led them to the truck and had them remove the contents. He asked them to 'fill in' some empty spaces at the Center, and to create some new spaces for the guests.
At the end of that day, my work in Ohio was done. We Shrooms' suitable for cooking, frying, and sauteing. They were deliciously edible and totally legal.
I bought a four-pound box which was large enough to require a carrying handle. My Shrooms were inspected at the Dayton Regional Airport but I was allowed to keep them. The box was inspected again at the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky airport for the flight to Atlanta. This time they were commandeered by the chief pilot and required to ride in the cockpit where I had no access to the dangerous mushrooms during the flight.
In Atlanta, I found a good gift shop for kids. The shop was selling small stuffed black bears, each with a collar leash that read Atlanta Zoo. I bought one for each of the four kids, thus adding another parcel for the flight to Savannah.
I found myself detained down to my underwear and rescheduled for a later flight so a city team could ask me questions, inspect my mushrooms, and probe my bears. Once I got home the bear puns didn't stop for weeks. It was unbearable. I could barely.....never mind.
I saw Freddie for the last time when he appeared out of nowhere with my empty canteen. It was early, almost six a.m. on a Monday. I heard a tap tap tapping on our bedroom window. He later apologized for using the bedroom window but explained that no one had answered the front or rear doors.
He claimed that he was cleaning out the refrigerator and found the half-full canteen. Gabriella was working the weekend and he had the time off too, so he took a straight slash. 36 hours later he found himself in the marsh wandering the old Isle of Hope trolley tracks in search of our house. I welcomed him and presented to the kids as Uncle Freddy, whose eyes always pinwheeled that way.
The kids couldn't have cared less and after breakfast went outside to play. CeeJay and I exchanged glances at Fred and waited for him to start. Once he did start we could hardly get in a question. He wandered about in his rambling monologue.
"I have made a decision. I want Gabby to marry me. I had to think about it before I asked, so I went for a road trip to clear my head, or at least re-focus my efforts on more basic necessities, which one does when hitching hundreds of miles and tripping for two days and nights. I mean long days and nights, but fun and funny. 20 rides, too many people, faces, smiles requests to, 'do me a favor.. and the miles rolled by, and I am here!"
"Yes," I replied, "Here you are, back in Savannah, back in the land of being wanted. Fred, what are you doing here?" "I needed to talk to someone and I trust you two. You have always been kind and understanding, even when you weren't given enough details to make adequate plans, standing up for me in your own home ...I thank you."
CeeJay got involved. "You said you have decided to marry Gabby. Have you asked her?"
"No not yet, I'm too much of a flake, I know that. I can't see any reason she would want to marry me. I'm afraid she'll say no."
"First things first. Did you let her know where you were going?"
"Yes, yes, I did, I left her a note for when she got back, she gets back Sunday night."
"That would be, got back, as in last night. She got home from work last night."
"Yep, last night, It's morning now but-"
"Wo, that entire trip was two nights?"
CJ said, "Look Fred, no, never mind. First, call her so she won't worry. No, wait, I still have the number. I'll start the call. I'll be right back." and she left.
I thoughtfully looked at Fred and waited for him to speak. "Today is Monday? Wo, dude, that was a good trip. It started in Ohio on Saturday."
"And you needed to talk to me. I am flattered, but why didn't you call?"
"I can't be with you on the phone. I need to feel your presence and wisdom."
"Too early for that. You are way into tripping wisdom right now. Tell me, Freddie, when was your last cup of Dixie?"
"I finished the last two cups in Macon, that was right before the night, yesterday?"
"Last night, okay you should be down soon. Are you tired? Can you sleep?"
"Okay." He said, then sank back against the sofa and began to snore.
CeeJay came in with the phone. "Gabby?" I asked, "She okay?"
"She's better, now. He looks like he's out, you wanna talk?", and hands me the phone.
"Gabriella? Hi babe, Fred's here, but he's passed out. He's been on the road for two days." I listened. "Yeah he looks good, Gabby, listen, he said he wanted some advice and had to talk to CeeJay and I. But he was still trippin' pretty hard from that last batch of Dixie." After that I just listened. "You're right, of course...yes, of course you're right. But listen, the reason he is so twisted up is that he, well, he wants to marry you...And he's afraid to ask." I listened again.
"Yes, he is, all of that, yes all of that and more listen, I'll have him call, okay, bye."
I handed CeeJay the phone and looked at Freddie. "I have to go to work. Are you okay with him here? When he wakes up, if he's still tripping, call me and bring him down to the ER. I'll have a doctor look after him."
I didn't get a call all morning so I called home. No one answered. I called again. No one answered. I called again in the afternoon, and CeeJay answered. She said that Fred had left as soon as he woke up. She was in the yard playing with the two youngest kids when she saw him leave.
I spent the rest of my shift expecting to be called to the phone or to the desk. I signed out and began to leave only to be intercepted by a note under the car's wiper.
This is the best word for you. You fit the description better than anyone I have ever known. You have been there for me more times than I can count, including now.
I have once again raided the Ol' Dixie freezer locker in the barn to fill my own supplies and get my ass back home to marry
Gabby. That's right, I asked and she said Yes. So I'm off and going home.
For now, I owe you a canteen of pure Dixie sipping elixir. Tell CeeJay nobody brews it better than her Also, I am borrowing a gallon of pure frozen extract, so I guess I'll need a car to get me home. I'm pretty sure I have an 83 Cobra stashed in an auto shop close to here.
Gabriella sends her love, and I leave mine to you, CeeJay, and the kids.
T.K. Wallace passed away in January of 2021. We publish his essay in tribute.