Lawyer Tate and the Monkey

Lawyer Tate was not only the richest and most powerful man in town, he was also the fattest, meanest and grouchiest. He owned all the vacant lots in town and at least half of the business buildings along main street. What he didn't own outright, he held a mortgage on. Rumor had it that when old man Jasper Stinnett died, Lawyer Tate got the judge to appoint him as trustee of his estate and within a year, he had swiped all of it from the heirs. He was also the town mayor, tax collector and judge. He appointed his goofy son, Woodfin, town marshal, dog catcher and manager of the city water plant. Each of those jobs paid thirty dollars a month. The only thing that Woodfin had to do as town marshal was sit beside the ballot boxes on election day to see that no one did any electioneering within a hundred feet. No one gave a hoot about stray dogs and running the water department wasn't all that difficult since it consisted of one well and a water tower. When the water level got low, he turned the pump on till the tank was full again. In fact, he usually didn't even have to do that because when the water got low and the pressure dropped, someone would go turn the pump on for him. When the tank started running over, someone would go turn it off. They didn't even have water meters and everyone was charged a flat fee no matter how much or how little water they used.

Lawyer Tate used to own the town's only bank but it was robbed so many times during the depression that he finally closed it. He rented out rooms upstairs over the bank and the last time that the bank was robbed, the two guys who did it hid out in one of the front rooms where they could look right down on the sidewalk to see who was going in or out of the bank. In a couple weeks when the heat died down and then calmly walked out to leave.

It just so happened that the sheriff had come over to Stinnett to tell Lawyer Tate that they hadn't found any trace of the bank robbers when they came walking around the corner to leave. Lawyer Tate recognized them and the sheriff arrested them on the spot. They still had every cent of Lawyer Tate's money in a suitcase and even though he got it all back, he was so embarrassed that he had provided the robbers with a place to hide that he told everyone to take their money elsewhere. He closed the bank and rented the building to Mr. Black for a drug store.

If you got in trouble with the law, your neighbor or your wife, the first person you went to see was Lawyer Tate. He was not only the only lawyer in town who could defend you, he was also a bail bondsman and the only person around who could get you out of jail in less than a week. It's claimed that a man stopped by the pool hall one day and asked if there was a criminal lawyer in town. Ed Stinson, the town drunk, said, "Well, we all think that Lawyer Tate's one, but we ain't never been able to prove it."

Lawyer Tate stood only about five feet tall but he must have tipped the Toledos at well over three hundred pounds. He could have sent the big dial on the penny scales at the cafe all the way back around to zero but he was so tightfisted that he would never squander a penny just to see how much he weighed. Whenever he wanted to know how much he weighed, he stopped by the feed store and used their scales. His office was next door to the cafe and it wasn't unusual for him to eat two fried chickens and a whole pie for lunch. All the kids called him Mr. Five by Five.

Lawyer Tate was not only the biggest man in town, he had the biggest house, the biggest car and the biggest dog in town. He lived in a big old two-story house with a porch all the way around it. It looked like one of those haunted houses that they use in scary movies. Every Halloween, the kids would drag a couple outhouses to Lawyer Tate's house and put one on the front porch and one on the back. Then they would open the outhouse doors, slide them up against his front and back doors and nail them down to the porch. The next morning when Lawyer Tate stepped out of either door to leave, he found himself inside of an outhouse. The only way that he could get out of the house was to climb out a window which was quite a feat for someone as fat as he was. One time he was trying to climb out a window and got stuck. You could hear him cussing and yelling for help all the way to the depot.

He usually walked to his office, which was only a block from where he lived, and always brought a huge English Bulldog that he called Lord George with him. Lawyer Tate claimed that the Queen of England had given the dog to him as a present and that it was worth all kinds of money. We figured that the only way that he would be worth anything was if they rendered him down for his fat. Lord George was without a doubt the biggest, nastiest and ugliest dog that anyone in Stinnett had ever seen. His lower jaw stuck out about two inches past his nose and his tail had been cut off to where it was just a stub barely long enough to form a lid over his butt. He was snow white and had the worst case of bow legs that anyone had ever seen. As my dad put it, "That dog couldn't head off a pig in a ditch."

Lawyer Tate kept the dog on a leash about six feet long and as he walked to his office, the growling, snapping old dog would clear a path in front of him like a mine sweeper. No one ever got in their way because they knew that the dog would take a chunk out of their leg if they did. He was the only dog I ever saw that had green teeth.

One morning Lawyer Tate was walking to his office with Lord George clearing a path in front of him when they met a little Italian looking guy from the traveling side show which had set up in the vacant lot just north of the court house. The Italian guy was leading a monkey dressed in a red, white and blue suit with a top hat that looked like they had been made from an American flag. The monkey was beating on a little drum as they marched along.

Lord George spied the monkey and began to growl. The monkey saw Lord George and immediately climbed on the shoulders of the Italian guy and began to pound on the drum and screech in fear.

"Get the hell out of my way or I'll let my dog eat that damn hairy thing," said Lawyer Tate as he got hold of the leash with both hands to hold the dog back.

"This is a free country and I can walk anywhere I want to with my monkey," said the Italian as the monkey began to pound the drum even faster.

"This country is free for regular people but not for Wops like you and mangy little varmints like that," retorted Lawyer Tate. "Now get the hell out of the way before I turn my dog loose on both of you."

"If your dog is so mean, then how about a fight between him and my monkey," asked the little Italian. People had begun to gather around and apparently he felt a certain safety in numbers.

"Hell, there wouldn't be any fight," snorted Lawyer Tate. "Lord George would take one gulp and that monkey would be gone, drum and all."

"Perhaps you would like to make a little bet on a fight," said the Italian. "How about fifty dollars on the winner."

"You just lost yourself fifty dollars and a monkey, that is if you can come up with fifty dollars to bet," said Lawyer Tate as he hauled in the leash and unsnapped it from the collar. Lord George was struggling to get at the man with the monkey.

"Don't worry about me having the money," said the Italian as he pulled a big roll of bills out of his pocket and peeled off a ten and two twenties. "But since your dog has such big teeth, if you let my monkey keep one of his drum sticks to defend himself with, I'll make it a hundred."

"A hundred it is, and you can let him have a pitchfork if you want to," boasted Lawyer Tate as they handed their money to Shorty Braxton who had joined the crowd of interested spectators.

The Italian guy took the monkey off his shoulders and set him on the ground, then he took the drum and one drumstick from it. The monkey stood there, looking so frightened and forlorn as he faced the huge dog, which was now clawing the ground to get at him.

"We might as well get this over with," said the Italian. "Turn your dog lose whenever you are ready."

Lawyer Tate released his grip on the collar and Lord George bounded for the little monkey, gnashing his mismatched green teeth. At the last instant, the monkey leaped into the air and landed on Lord George's back. As the dog turned to get to the tormentor on his back, the monkey scampered along the dog's spine, lifted that lid of a tail and deftly inserted the drumstick where, as the old saying goes, the sun don't shine.

Lord George forgot all about his fight with the monkey and started spinning around in circles, trying to get a grip on that offending drumstick with his teeth. The monkey hopped off his back and scampered up a telephone pole where it sat screeching at everyone.

Lord George gave up on being able to get the drumstick out and took off for home in a dead run. Shorty handed the money to the Italian who was trying to coax the monkey down from the pole.

Someone in the crowd said, "Hey, Lawyer Tate, I'll bet Old Lord George is damn glad that monkey had a drumstick instead of a pitchfork."

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Copyright 2000 by Jim Foreman