Carlos Webster was fifteen the day he witnessed the robbery and
killing at Deering's drugstore. This was in the fall of 1921 in Okmulgee,
He told Bud Maddox, the Okmulgee chief of police, he had driven a load of cows up to the yard at Tulsa and by the time he got back it was dark. He said he left the truck and stock trailer across the street from Deering's and went inside to get an ice cream cone. When he identified one of the robbers as Emmett Long, Bud Maddox said, "Son, Emmett Long robs banks, he don't bother with drugstores no more."
Carlos had been raised on hard work and respect for his elders. He said, "I could be wrong," knowing he wasn't.
They brought him over to police headquarters in the courthouse to look at photos. He pointed to Emmett Long staring at him from a $500 wanted bulletin and picked the other one, Jim Ray Monks, from mug shots. Bud Maddox said, "You're positive, huh?" and asked Carlos which one was it shot the Indian. Meaning Junior Harjo with the tribal police, who'd walked in not knowing the store was being robbed.
"Was Emmett Long shot him," Carlos said, "with a forty-five Colt."
"You sure it was a Colt?"
"Navy issue, like my dad's."
"I'm teasing," Bud Maddox said. He and Carlos' dad, Virgil Webster, were buddies, both having fought in the Spanish-American War and for a number of years were the local heroes. But now doughboys were back from France telling about the Great War over there.
"If you like to know what I think happened," Carlos said, "Emmett Long only came in for a pack of smokes."
Bud Maddox stopped him. "Tell it from the time you got there."
Okay, well, the reason was to get an ice cream cone. "Mr. Deering was in back doing prescriptionshe looked out of that little window and told me to help myself. So I went over to the soda fountain and scooped up a double dip of peach on a sugar cone and went to the cigar counter and left a nickel by the cash register. That's where I was when I see these two men come in wearing suits and hats I thought at first were salesmen. Mr. Deering calls to me to wait on them as I know the store pretty well. Emmett Long comes up to the counter"
"You knew right away who he was?"
"Once he was close, yes sir, from pictures of him in the paper. He said to give him a deck of Luckies. I did and he picks up the nickel I'd left by the register. Hands it to me and says, 'This ought to cover it.'"
"You tell him it was yours?"
"Or a pack of Luckies cost fifteen cents?"
"I didn't say a word to him. But see, I think that's when he got the idea of robbing the store, the cash register sitting there, nobody around but me holding my ice cream cone. Mr. Deering never came out from the back. The other one, Jim Ray Monks, wanted a tube of Unguentine, he said for a heat rash was bothering him, under his arms. I got it for him and he didn't pay either. Then Emmett Long says, 'Let's see what you have in the register.' I told him I didn't know how to open it as I didn't work there. He leans over the counter and points to a keythe man knows his cash registersand says, 'That one right there. Hit it and she'll open for you.' I press the keyMr. Deering must've heard it ring open, he calls from the back of the store, 'Carlos, you able to help them out?' Emmett Long raised his voice saying, 'Carlos is doing fine,' using my name. He told me then to take out the scrip but leave the change."
The foregoing is excerpted from The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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