I once worked with a guy named Louie.
I can’t explain what it was about Louie that attracted me. (For some reason I find myself attracted to society’s misfits. My friends are all artists, musicians, general ner-do-wells. The kind of people you find in places like drumming circles or in the middle of the woods. You know, the sort of places where you are likely to find me.) Anyway, I liked Louie from the moment I saw him.
He was an older, frumpy sort of guy with a large, bushy mustache and a floppy-brimmed crusher hat and he drove a not-restored-but-still-running vintage VW beetle convertible. A lifer bureaucrat who got the job because of his sister, a sitting city councilwoman and scion of the black community. Not one who took favorably to being over-worked or being in too much of a hurry, Louie none-the-less got the job done and, in my view, earned his keep. He was a favorite lunch companion as we always shared good conversation and a laugh or two.
One day over lunch Louie announced that he knew Cool Hand Luke. And furthermore, that Luke had lived right here in Gatorville, that is, before he went to federal prison in Atlanta. Needless to say, he had my undivided attention.
It seems that about ten years earlier, he and Mrs. Louie had moved back to Gatorville from D.C. and were looking for a place to live. One Saturday, while out driving around, they passed a once elegant riverfront estate in a now somewhat rundown area of town. Out of curiosity, they stopped the car and looked through the open gate into the yard, just checking it out, when Louie noticed a large, garage apartment out-building. He and Mrs. Louie thought this would be a great place to live and wondered if it might possibly be for rent. They figured it was worthy of an inquiry.
At the end of the tree-lined drive they came abreast of the apartment and stopped to look it over. They were too busy gawking to notice that someone had walked into the driveway in front of them. When they looked up they were staring straight into the business end of a double-barreled shotgun. The gunman walked around to the driver’s side, the shotgun held inches from Louie’s face.
Louie described it well. "He was a long, lanky, grizzled old Cracker in a filthy jump suit unzipped to his navel," he said. "He had about five days growth of beard with tobacco stains running down the sides of his mouth and he wore unlaced brogans with the tongues hanging out and no socks." "And, he didn’t look any too friendly," he elaborated. "The guy said, "Whatta yew tew niggers want?"
I do not remember the details, don’t know that I ever heard them, but somehow Louie not only managed to talk the man into lowering the gun, but also into allowing them to take a look at the apartment! They learned that he was, indeed, the owner of the place and before it was over the old man had invited them in for a beer and agreed to rent the place to them.
I’ve got to hand it to Louie. I don’t know about you, but had it been me, I would have been pleading… gimme three steps, gimme me three steps mister and you won’t see me no more.
Louie said the man was a hermit. They never saw him. They had no idea how he got groceries except that about every month or so, he would appear at the garage completely transformed into a well-groomed businessman in a beautiful silk suit. Out of the garage he would drive a spotless, new Lincoln Continental. He would be gone for a few days and when he returned he would close the car up in the garage, go into the house, and that’s the last they saw of him until the next time.
This went on for about two years until one Sunday morning, as Louie and the missus were having breakfast, when half of the police vehicles in Gatorville came screaming down the driveway, sirens whaling, lights flashing, cops everywhere. "There must have been fifty police officers," Louie said. "And they were locked and loaded."
They watched as the police led the old man out of the house and into the paddy wagon. Louie said that he and the missus moved to the window in order to see better and that’s when the police first noticed them. Suddenly, they were the ones with fifty guns pointed at them. Next thing you know, several armed officers came crashing into the apartment, led by an FBI agent. Breakfast interruptus. When the dust had settled, Louie had a chance to ask the agent what the hell was going on.
He learned that the old man was a notorious bank robber who called himself Luke and that he had been on the FBI's most wanted list for over a decade. The FBI had nick-named him Cool Hand Luke because of how cool he was during the robberies. He would go into a small-town bank pretending to be a successful businessman, feigning to open a business account and make a deposit. The bank soon realized it was actually a withdrawal he had in mind.
Louie asked the agent if the old man was the same Cool Hand Luke that was in the movies and the officer replied, "Hell no. All that crap was just made up."