The Family — The Gin Mill

Ken Jones

Staff member
The Gin Mill

Bear and the boys who made up the “Army of the Hopeless” (so named by Martha who had finally quit trying to provide help and guidance) were in a dither out at the end of the pier.​

Local authorities had changed their routine and it was directed at people like the army, if not the army itself. Generally a couple of times each night a police patrol car would drive slowly out to the end of the pier where two deputies would emerge to check out the group assembled for the night. They didn’t say much but let the people know they wouldn’t tolerate any alcohol on the pier. Trouble was everyone could see them coming and if there was any booze present it was well hidden by the time the car arrived.

But the cops got sneaky! The police had decided to have a couple of their bicycle-equipped members take care of the pier and they were not as noticeable as those in the cars. Twice they had managed to surprise the group and both times they not only had given a warning but even worse, they had abrasively taken whatever booze the group possessed. Although the group did not know it, the beach officers had been quietly taken aside by a Captain and instructed to harass the lumpen mass, to make life a little more miserable in the hopes that some would leave and thus make the seaside attractions a little more agreeable to visitors.

Threats didn’t bother the group but loosing their liquid refreshments and personal version of dolce vita did. For them, drinking was a profession and hitting up the nervous tourists for money to buy their drinks was simply part of the job necessary to procure their paycheck, the liquid elixir that made life a little easier. They didn’t want to give up their home on the pier but they also didn’t want to give up their various assorted beverages of choice.

A powwow of sorts was held with Bear leading the acrimonious discussion but Martini, Penny and Luther jumped into the fray. Only Milo and Tuborg remained silent. To Bear’s way of thinking the choice was to change locations or figure out a way to keep the alcohol hidden at all times. Penny said, “It’s not fair that we have to move. We don’t bother too many people and we should be able to use the pier like anybody else.” The usually stoic Martini added tearfully, “It’s our home.” Luther said “those young cops suck, they got nothin’ better to do than bother us out here at the end of the pier. They should go solve some real crimes.” The erstwhile somnolent Milo tried to rise, belched out “Beelzebub” and collapsed back down onto the bench next to Tuborg. With that, Tuborg, who had seemed asleep, jumped up and began a dolorous tirade. “That’s the problem, there isn’t enough crime on the beach so they have way too much time to come out here and bother us. All we have to do is figure out a way to jack up the crime on the beach and then they’ll leave us alone.” He then began to chant “crime on the beach, crime on the beach, crime on the beach.” With his beady eyes, pointed nose, and nankeen dreadlocks he looked a little like a seagull on speed and only the ice-cold stare of Bear ended the adventitious chant. “How you going to do that?” said Bear, while a chagrined Penny looked at the group, stuck out the half-gone stubble of a cigarette in his lips, gave a wink, and said in an apodictic tone “Bro, weee gottt friends.”

Amazingly the usually raddled group was able to work in tandem and during the next few days a series of hush, hush meetings took place throughout the beach area, meetings designed to promote sedition against the authorities. Petty crime, a misnomer among those that suffer it, has always been prevalent at beach areas perhaps because they’re a place with crowds that seem to forget their normal inhibitions. As a result, the plucking’s easy. Smart people in swimsuits leave their outer clothing under lock and key in a locker, most people do not. In addition, those engrossed in the normal activities at the beach rarely pay strict attention to their bags even though their bags may contain their wallets, purses, money, cell phones and whatever other goodies are deemed necessary for daily life. It’s easy to make a living off of the foolishness of others if you so choose but luckily most of the thieves limited their theft to opportunity, few saw it as a job.

It was Penny’s idea to ask for some cooperation from their friends; he wanted them to spend some extra time at their craft and not to be content with the occasional theft. Ratchet the occurrences up until the police noticed the “crime wave.” They would then be forced to spend their time on the beach looking for the thieves instead of bothering the poor souls out on the pier.

There was, of course, some initial reluctance. Some of the more larcenous argued that they didn’t need the increased police surveillance or the harassment that everyone knew would result from the plan. But the idea of a sustained, purposeful crime wave with a mission, a crusade aimed at flim-flaming the police who were always bothering them, was hard to resist. Sure there was risk, but it sounded like fun to most—and an unprecedented confluence took place with the majority agreeing to join in. Ego and arrogance entered the equation and there were many who agreed simply to see just how far they would be able to go. The additional money that they might accrue from the crusade was hardly even mentioned.

Bear and the boys tried to join in the fun but they, for the most part, were just a little too unstable and willy-nilly in their approach to be successful thieves. Nevertheless, the cabal seemed to work and crime saw a measurable increase along the beach. Soon, more and more tourists began to file reports and though it took a while, eventually the police themselves recognized that the reports of crimes were filling their blotters. Still, it was pretty much all petty, fairly victimless crime where no one was hurt. As such, the reports made it to where all such reports wind up, at the bottom of the stack.

However, a local crime reporter noted the increase in crime. And though the story was squelched, it resulted in a visit to the next City Council meeting by newspaper columnist Victoria Peters, a colorful, stormy petrel of local matters. Ms. Peters, in her usual flamboyant and excessive manner stood up and demanded that, “the council do something to reduce the skyrocketing crime rate along the beach.” Skyrocketing crime rate, what skyrocketing crime rate? If its one thing tourist towns do not need it is news of crime, especially news that might actually make it into the newspapers and scare away the tourists.

The Police Chief was called in for consultations and though he stressed priorities, the Council stressed action. The Police Chief left shaking his head but soon a new task force was formed to combat the crime along the beach (as though it wasn’t a problem at inland areas). Additional personnel were assigned to the beach, patrol routes were changed, and the normal suspects were questioned and threatened. Amazingly, Penny’s plan was not revealed even though most of the local thieves, like thieves everywhere, were normally untrustworthy as far as “keeping silent.” This time, many gained renewed enthusiasm for the plan simply as a way to thumb their noses at the police.

Thus as the police revved up their numbers so did their adversaries. Crime continued to grow even as a greater number of people were questioned and arrested. And, as the word spread, some of the more distant inland thieves and roustabouts moved down to the beach just to partake of the Sturm und Drang; the “crime wave” had become a game and a challenge.

Finally the Police Chief called for a meeting of citizens along with some of the “known” leaders of local crime. The “Chief” (under pressure from the Council) asked for input as to the causes of the crime spree as well as suggestions on how best to stop it. A “trained” moderator led the discussion before the inevitable breaking up into groups and the posting of “ideas.” No one specifically mentioned Bear and his gang but among the various ideas that made it to the paper hanging on the walls was one that seemed out of place to some—less hassling of street people and innocent civilians (like a certain group of local alcoholics). Supposedly a more-nurturing relationship could be established that would improve police-community relations. A thankful public would naturally respond by helping out the police wherever possible.

It was a little noticed suggestion, and one quickly attributed by the police to the normal touchy-feely, out-of-touch, crazy “Frisco-style” liberals who always seemed to show up at such meetings. But it was also one that could be easily accepted by the Chief who had no idea of what had precipitated the recent increase in the crime rate.

Following the meeting, results were written up in the local paper, discussions were held with the various police units, and a big picture of a smiling “Chief” shaking hands with so-called street leaders was distributed to the news channels. Soon after, the visits to the pier were reduced, car patrols were reinstituted, and crime seemed to make a retrograde march back to normalcy.

Unbeknown to the police, Bear and his cohorts held a party of sorts to thank those who had been part of the campaign. For once their side had won not just a battle but perhaps a war and a sapid variety of liquors flowed smoothly long into the night. Tuborg, who had made the original suggestion that morphed into a plan, was given special honor. And, as to be expected, he was willing to accept every drink offered his way. He was soon asleep and snoring just a little bit too loudly. But, by and large, Tuborg was ignored, everyone was having way too much fun to worry about a drunk that sounded like a cross between a sea lion and a toot toot whistle. The party lasted most of the night and by the time the doch-an-dorrach had taken place there were many more revelers who had entered the Realm of Morpheus; it might have been interesting to view their dreams.

Bear and his group were careful never to reveal the plot to the police for to do so would have been an extreme embarrassment that would have required retribution. Still, the war and its success would be a part of their discussions many a night.

Within a short time life was back to normal for the brown bag brigade, if life for the group and its hugger-mugger spot out near the end of the pier could ever be considered normal. The locals had learned to largely ignore the motley collection of carts, Salvation Army clothes, occasionally working appliances, and patched-together old tent that the group considered their home. Also ignored was a bizarre collection of trinkets and gimcracks that sometimes would be offered up for sale to the passing tourists.

As a rule, visitors to the pier tried to avoid them. But while the visitors would mutter unintelligible distrust of the group under their breath, the “Army of the Hopeless” would grin their toothless smiles, maybe wink a time or two, and perhaps even approach them for a loan. “Could you loan a Vet a dollar sir?” Enough money would be collected to allow the group to make a “quick run to the store” where the appropriate purchases would be made in order to continue their Bacchanalian life on the pier. Life was good to the group and only time would tell what the next crisis would be.

Everybody’s got to believe in something.
I believe I’ll have another beer. —W. C. Fields​