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The Mayor of Malta

Malta, Ohio, is not a big place as places go. It had a population of about 900 when I lived there several years ago and it hasn’t grown a lick since. There was a mayor and a police force of one. My step-dad was the police force. He was locally known as Wyatt Earp. He was not a popular person, but he was well known. When I was a freshman in college, long before anyone had ever thought of zip codes, I sent letters home addressed simply “Wyatt Earp Malta, Ohio.” The letters always got to him.

Here’s the way the criminal justice system worked in Malta. Wyatt would arrest some law breaking, malfeasant jerk, likely a teenager who drove too fast or rolled through a stop sign, and haul him (it was almost never a her) before the mayor Big Jim Turner. The mayor would find the vicious criminal guilty, levy and collect a fine, which would be used to support the criminal justice system of Malta.

Just across the river from Malta was its larger twin city, McConnelsville with 1200 people, its own mayor, and its own policeman.

My brother Dick and I both ran afoul the law in the twin cities. We were avid fisherpersons. We fished frequently and hard. One day my brother Dick was in such a hurry to get to the river he left home without his wallet, which contained his drivers license and his fishing license. As luck would have it, the game warden picked this day to check for lawbreaking fisherpersons. My brother had never seen a game warden in all the years he had been fishing. When he saw this guy in a uniform, he thought it was a boy scout. But no. The game warden hauled Dick before the mayor of Malta, who found him guilty, fined him, and sent him on his way with the admonition to mend his evil ways.

My brush the law was the result of a testosterone-induced challenge from my friend Lurch Puckett. He had a Chrysler (it belonged to his dad) and I had a parentally owned Mercury. He said his car was faster. I obviously could not let the challenge pass untested. We selected a little traveled stretch of road just at the edge of town. No one was in sight. We agreed to go one mile. Whoever got to the mile marker first won. It was simple. When we topped the last little rise before the finish line, there sat Wyatt’s Earp’s twin brother, the chief of the McConnelsville police. We got lectured, fined, and released to go our way to sin no more.

As you might surmise from the story so far, law breaking was considered a serious business in Malta and McConnelsville. If the cop’s kids were shown no mercy, who would be.

A number of us teenagers felt that we had legitimate grievances with the criminal justice system that should be addressed but we were not inclined to do anything as wimpy as march in a protest parade. Some other avenue must be found. By chance we found it.

Coon hunting was a favorite sport of many of the locals including me. A group of us would assemble about an hour after dark and drive to the woods. This didn’t take long because most of Morgan County was woods. When we arrived at the designated spot we turned the dogs loose and sat back to wait for a “strike.” Soon we would hear the hounds singing their trail bark. We still waited until we heard their “treed” bark and lit out toward the sound of the dogs. On the particular night in question we found a large raccoon up a small tree, about a 4-inch sapling. We decided to shake the critter out of the tree which would signal the start of two games, one played by the dogs called “catch the coon” the other played by Mr. Coon called “kill the dogs.” The dogs won this time and managed to subdue the raccoon without much damage. We put the coon in a burlap bag and started home.

Someone suggested that perhaps mayor Turner would like to have the coon for a pet. We all agreed it would be a good idea. Lurch was selected to deliver the coon to the mayor. Since the mayor slept with his bedroom window open, the delivery was not a problem.

As you may know raccoons are a curious lot and this one was no exception. Mr. Coon checked out the bedroom very thoroughly. He checked out the mayor’s teeth in a glass of water on a stand by the bed and then climbed up on the dresser where the mayor kept his rather lavish hairpiece. The coon got his nose under the hairpiece and in the process of examining it became one with the wig. The coon could no longer see and got scared. He jumped from the dresser to the bed where mayor Turner and his wife were sleeping peacefully. Mrs. Turner woke with a start and in the dim light of the bedroom thought she saw the mayor’s flowing locks moving from her abdomen to her chest. Suspecting that her husband was having a rare amorous moment, she reached for his “ears” to provide whatever assistance she could.

Mr. Coon blinded by the wig and goosed by Mrs. Turner decided it was time to vacate the premises. He managed to free himself from the wig and land on the mayor. The mayor assuming he was being attacked by a bear or some other large fur bearing critter reached for the gun he kept in the nightstand by the bed. The gun held 6 bullets and the mayor discharged all 6 in rapid order, hitting nothing but random parts of his bedroom. The gunshots accompanied by Ms. Turner’s vigorous and unrelenting screams attracted Wyatt Earp, who lived just down the street. When he arrived at the mayor’s house the Turners had moved to the front porch where Mr. Turner was wildly waving his pistol and Mrs. Turner was equally wildly waving Mr. Turner’s hair. Both were shouting and Mr. Coon was nowhere to be found. An alert neighbor, also awakened by the commotion, photographed the scene on the porch.

Although Wyatt found no real reason to arrest anyone, the photograph made the front page of the Morgan County Herald the next Wednesday. The caption read “Mayor and Mrs. Turner Attacked by Vicious Hairpiece”. The teenagers of Morgan County somehow felt vindicated.