Blog of the Gray Geezer: A Truth Full of Lies
Randy Bechtel
A Truth Full of Lies

As Eddie Mars and I waited to be interviewed by police, it occurred to me that the hit-and-run death of Harry Wooley by a Desi’s Deliveries truck was first degree murder.

First, it was unlikely the driver had been Desi. No crazy man would be so stupid—or stupid man so crazy—as to speed recklessly through a business district and then flee in a truck advertising his name and telephone number. And even an employee of Desi would have to know that his guilt could be detected by police simply by calling the telephone number advertised on his truck. Which meant the truck had been stolen and that Harry Wooley had been killed by someone committing a felony. Having once been a police reporter, I knew that “felony murder,” as it is called, imputes the intent to kill to anyone who causes another’s death while committing a felony. In sum, this case was Murder 1.

I related this quietly to Eddie as we stood with other witnesses waiting on the Second Street sidewalk near Harry Wooley's squashed remains.

“Did you say Murder 1?” Eddie said loudly.

A middle-aged woman glared at Eddie and snarled: “You just took my picture! Why?”

Eddie shrugged his shoulders and looked innocent.

“He’s just a tourist,” I lied.

“From Ionia, Iowa,” Eddie said. “I take pictures of everything that isn’t a cornfield.”

“This is no time to be taking pictures!’ the woman barked. “My God, man!”

Taking the woman’s arm, a middle-aged man gently steered her in an about face. I did the same to Eddie less genteelly and said through clinched teeth:

“Will you please forget about making that damn reality show! The last thing we want now is to call attention to ourselves. If the police learn about my tape, they’ll want it for evidence and we could be here answering questions all day.“

“Oh shit! You’re right! We can't lose that tape. Our first episode is on it.”

“I don’t see how, Eddie. Our star’s head is a pancake.”

“You didn’t snap a shot of him, did you?” Eddie said. When I didn’t answer, he said: “Wooley getting deep-sixed is a setback, but we’ll think of something to salvage this episode. We have to!  We only have 18 days before taking our L.A. meeting!”

Seeing uniformed policemen approach, we agreed to say that we met with Wooley to discuss a documentary about Old Sacramento. The officer who interviewed me accepted this with few questions and focused on details of the hit-and-run. My limited observations were summed up by my first: “It happened so fast, Harry didn’t know what hit him. Nor did I until Harry reappeared from beneath a speeding truck 30 yards away.” A half hour later, Eddie and I walked back to our cars.

Back home I poured a Jack Daniels and planted myself in my recliner to await the 5 o’clock news. At 4:45 I received a sobering call from Sacramento police headquarters asking me to come there “as soon as conveniently possible” to make a formal statement. I said I would be there at 10 a.m. tomorrow. The woman calling said fine.

Someone, I thought, must have seen me tape recording Wooley and told the police. Which meant I could be charged with withholding evidence! Tomorrow morning, even before asked, I would give the tape to the police.

Wooley’s hit-and-run was the lead story on Channel 5’s news:

“Only hours ago, Old Sacramento was the scene of a hit-and-run that killed a popular volunteer at the California Railroad Museum. Harry Wooley, 75, was killed instantly by a speeding truck owned by Desi's Deliveries of West Sacramento. The truck was reported stolen to police approximately 15 minutes before it struck Wooley at 1:45 p.m. on Second Street. On the scene in Old Sacramento is Kaisha Crest.”

A shot of Kaisha with an ambulance in the background:

“Rodney, people here are shocked and appalled. What happened was something no one dreamed could happen here—and in broad daylight! What’s incredible is that no one but Mr. Wooley was hurt by a truck estimated to be traveling 60 or more  miles-per-hour.”

Cut to a pre-recorded interview with police Sergeant Brett Mulroney, the officer in charge, who gave an anticeptic account of the fatal moment.

I thought: Thank you Sergeant Mulroney! Every witness questioned by his team was in and out by the time police scanners alerted newsrooms to the hit-and-run, reporters and film crews were assigned to the story, and the first reporter and film crew arrived at the scene.

Cut back to Kaisha live:

“As I said, people in Old Sacramento are shocked and appalled, and none more so than the victim’s many co-workers and friends at the California Railroad Museum.”

Cut to a pre-recorded interview with a man who seemed resurrected from the past with his Gable mustache and Goble flattop. He is introduced as Mervyn Tode, deputy director of the Railroad Museum:

“Harry was a star here at the museum because he was both a history buff and a retired accountant. Visitors taking his tour not only learned the history of our museum’s engines, railcars and amenities, but also how much they cost. Visitors never failed to praise Harry, including dignitaries and celebrities like the Mayor of Vacaville and Clu Gulager.”

Cut to Kaisha live:

“Rodney, I’ve just learned from police that the hit-and-run truck may have been found abandoned on a residential street in Natomas. Regarding Harry Wooley, I understand he was a widower living in Elk Grove and is survived by a brother residing in Fresno. Although he had no relatives in the Sacramento area, I’m told Mr. Wooley was much loved here by numerous people who considered him family.”

***

The room was just like those on TV. There was a rectangular table with pairs of armless chairs on either side. There was ceiling lighting and no windows. The room’s only extraordinary feature was a one-way mirror along one wall. Or I assumed the mirror was one-way—just like those on TV.

“Do you know why we asked you to come in?” asked Sergeant Stratton, a female police officer whose face projected the warmth and tenderness of Mount Rushmore.

“Because I was with Wooley when he was killed?” I said tentatively as I took my tape recorder with yesterday’s recording from my coat pocket.

“That and the fact that your name came up in our data base,” Stratton said. “It identified you as a known associate of Fritz Schicklgruber.”

“What? No!” I looked up to Heaven. “How many times must I say I never met Fritz Schicklgruber? He only played a character in a dinner theater mystery I wrote. I didn’t cast him. I never attended a rehearsal. I wasn’t even there the one time the damn thing was performed!”

A man entered the room whose face seemed familiar.

“I can take it from here, Sergeant,” he said to Stratton. “See the captain. Something important has come up.”

Hearing his voice, I realized he was the detective who had questioned me at my home hours after the police discovered that the magician “Fantastic Fritz” Schicklgruber was the kingpin of a criminal gang.

“Lieutenant Baker!” I said.

“Mmm-hmm,” Baker replied with an air of fatigue.

Stratton left as Baker plopped a folder on the table, opened it, read silently a moment, then sat down in the chair opposite mine.

“Lieutenant, I had nothing to do with Fritz Schicklgruber or with Harry Wooley’s death!” I protested.

“Mmm-hmm,” Baker said. He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. ”I still believe, as I may have mentioned after our first meeting, that there’s nothing about you that makes me think you could be a person of interest to anyone."

"Uh, you mean someone involved in a crime, right?"

"That too. But innocent though you may be, you need to understand something. Claiming to be an innocent bystander during separate incidents of criminal activities wears thin quickly.Sooner or later--unless you're Agatha Christie's Miss Marple--the finger will point at you.”

“Look, I met Wooley for the first time yesterday,” I said. “I met him to interview him. It’s all here on tape.” I slid my tape recorder to the center of the table. “All 20 minutes of it. You want me to play it?”

“Maybe you could give me a little background first,” Baker said.

“Right. Okay. My friend Eddie Mars and I were interviewing Wooley for an episode of a hybrid reality-docudrama TV series—I guess that’s how you’d describe it—that we hope to sell to Game Changer Productions.”

“Mmm-hmm. From dinner theater mysteries to reality TV. My, my.  And this series was to be about Harry Wooley?”

“No. About members of an association called the Order of Old Timers, formerly known as the Walter Brennan Institute. Harry Wooley was a member.”

“Where’s this association located?”

“Ionia, Iowa.”

Baker grimaced as if suffering brain freeze. “Let me guess. Your friend Eddie is the party I met at your house. The one who thought the FBI should concentrate its search for Fritz Schicklgruber in Ionia, Iowa because it’s the last place law enforcement would think Schicklgruber or anyone else would ever go.”

“Yes, well, what Eddie meant was—”

“How do we contact this association?”

“Eddie would know that. His cousins, Marvin and Larry Mars, and Marvin's wife Edna head it up. I can give you Eddie’s number.”

Baker looked down at the folder, then said, “I have it already.” With glazed eyes, he looked up and down the table. Finally he said: “Used to be ashtrays were on these tables. No more. Too bad. Suddenly I’d like to start smoking again.” He looked up. “Just who belongs to this association?”

“Men 65 and older. But to belong, the association must certify you as an Old Timer.That requires passing one of three tests. Wooley was certified after loitering in a barber shop every business hour for a week.”

“Mmm-hmm. Will any barbershop do, or does it have to be one with a quartet singing around a pickle barrel?” Baker deadpanned.

“Huh? No, any barbershop.”

“Right. So let me get this straight. You were interviewing Harry Wooley to do a TV show about his loitering a week in a barbershop?”

“Oh, no! The association has different grades of Old Timers. Our series would be about its highest grade—what they call Real Characters. To achieve that classification, you have to be dedicated to doing something truly unique. Harry Wooley was— It’s all here on my tape.  In Wooley’s own words.”

“Fine. Play it,” Baker said.

Baker listened with his head lowered and his hands folded beneath his chin as if in prayer. Not until after the thud did he look up. That instant a voice on the tape said:  “. . . his head was so ballooned by age and booze he belonged in a Mardi Gras parade.” Next came the sound of people laughing.

“What the hell’s that?” Baker said.

“A Rotary committee meeting I was taping over. I stopped recording after Wooley was hit. Just a reflex action—turn off the tape when the one you’re interviewing is done talking.”

“He was certainly that. And suddenly a block down the street. Why didn’t you give the tape to the officer who interviewed you yesterday?”

“Well, everything was so bizarre and happened so quickly that I forgot all about it. But it’s yours now.”

“Don’t want it.”

“Oh? But . . .  couldn’t it be evidence?”

“It might have been important had you turned it in yesterday. Not so much now. Now there can be plenty of doubt about its authenticity.”

“There are co-workers of Wooley, I’m sure, who’ll verify that’s his voice.”

“But they can’t say when it was recorded, can they? You could have done that a week ago and just added the thud at the end. Quite a coup for your little reality show to play a copy of that tape and say the original was confiscated by the police as evidence.”

***

After my visit to police headquarters, I left Eddie a voice message saying that I had signed a written statement that summarized why we were interviewing Wooley and what Wooley said about the Hopkins fortune. I added I still had the tape. Only later it occurred to me Baker probably didn't take the tape because it and I were videotaped during my interview.

The next morning Eddie called me.

“Just got off a call with Game Changer! They’re jazzed!” he said.

Jazzed, Eddie?” I said. “That’s a word I haven’t heard in a while. Not sure what it means anymore.”

“It means our show is practically greenlit . . . or greenlighted . . . whichever,” Eddie said.

“I don’t see why. All we have is a corpse on a tape recording.”

“What we have,” Eddie said, “is a solution to an historic treasure hunt divulged to us by a man who was murdered an instant later. Game Changer is so stoked they’re sending a film crew to Wooley’s funeral.”

“What? How do they know there’ll be one?”

“From an obit The Bee ran this morning. Both in their Sacramento and Fresno editions. I alerted Game Changer to it. Wooley lived in Fresno before he retired five years ago and will be buried there next to his wife. His brother Wally still lives there. The Railroad Museum has arranged for Southern Pacific to transport Wooley’s coffin this Saturday to Fresno, where there’ll be a memorial service at the train station. Now get this: Game Changer wants me to go with the film crew and interview Wally and the other mourners! I said I’d do it. I know, I wasn’t thinking. You’re the pro when it comes to interviewing—”

“No Eddie, you'd better do it,” I said earnestly. “This could involve more than asking questions. It probably will require someone who’s good on camera.”

“People did compliment me after I was besieged by the TV media as the principal of Del Rey Middle School. Remember that business about the female pedophile janitor?”

“Who could forget?”

“Did I ever tell you I was in a Burger King commercial when I was 16?”

“Yes. What I wonder is:  How many of Wooley’s Sacramento friends will make the trek to Fresno? That’s who you want to interview. Fresno people probably won’t know much if anything about Wooley’s last five years.”

“Not true. Wooley stayed close to many of them.”

“How do you know that?”

“Sal at Game Changer talked to The Bee. The Bee said its obit in Fresno, unlike Sacramento, drew a flood of calls from Harry’s close friends. Most wanted the brother’s number to make some kind of donation. The obit was very brief and omitted anything about donations. Of course, The Bee couldn’t give out Wally’s number, but suggested they go to the memorial and ask there.”

I shrugged inwardly. “Maybe these people will know something about Wooley’s treasure hunt," I said. "They may even know—although I doubt it—what Wooley told us—that the treasure is in Hopkins’ tomb. But as Wooley said, the where doesn’t mean much if you don’t know the how and the why. I doubt any of these people will know that. Not even the brother unless he found the proof in Wooley’s effects. That’s what we need to look for. As for the Fresno people—what’s the point of questioning them? I wouldn’t even know what to ask.”

“Sal told me the reality show method is: ‘Don’t rely on questions to come up with theories. Rely on theories to come up with questions.’ Isn’t that like the scientific method—form a hypothesis and see if the facts fit? What if Wooley was killed because, by revealing the secret of the treasure, he would be betraying Skull & Bones? That was Sal’s example.”

“Did you say Skull & Bones? You mean that secret Yale society the Bushes belonged to? Just how do you connect Wooley to that?”

“Remember how much Wooley talked about Stanford University? What if, Sal said, Skull & Bones created a chapter at Stanford? Yale, Stanford—two simpatico universities. Who better to be the guardian of the Hopkins secret than Skull & Bones?”

“Except Wooley went to Fresno State. You think there’s a Skull & Bones at Fresno State?”

“Sal was just giving me an example. It’s up to us to come up with the theories.”

“So how do you accurately theorize about the how and why of the lost treasure—something Wooley was convinced was beyond us to do?”

“You don’t. I’m thinking Sal was on the right track. You theorize that there are others who know what Wooley knew and killed him before he could reveal it. Identify them and you can get to the whole truth. Which means I’ll ask questions that will lead to the killers, such as, ‘Was Wooley a Freemason?’ Or—holy moly! —was he a member of the Elks Club? Wouldn’t that be sweet? Especially if Wooley had a nickname like Dizzy or Buzzy, prima facie evidence that he was part of the Elks Club conspiracy to rule the world.”

“Evidence according to Old Timer Red Mooney. No one else.”

“Don’t discount Mooney’s theories before all the facts are in. Oh! Here’s another possibility: Wooley’s murdering co-conspirators were Job’s Daughters.”

“Were what?”

“Job’s Daughters. An international club for girls whose fathers are Freemasons. How like homicidal schoolgirls to fly under the police radar.”

***

If fiction is a lie full of truths, then reality TV is a truth full of lies. The latter would certainly apply to any reality program about Red Mooney and his claims about the The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elk. True there is an Elks Club. False there is a secret inner circle of Elks with double-Z nicknames conspiring to become the world’s ruling class. Interviewing Mooney on the phone, I concluded all of the above after only the third sentence out of Mooney’s mouth. “Few people know that the Elks Club had its roots in the Knights Templar,” Mooney said.

I finished this colossal waste of time late Saturday afternoon. Not heard from was Eddie, who hours before had supposedly attended the Harry Wooley memorial service in Fresno. I decided to call.

“Yeah?”

“Where are you?”

“Coming home.”

“How did it go?”

“It went.”

“Went where?”

“South. First, the brother Wally never showed.”

“Good God! Did anyone?”

“Oh, lots of people! I interviewed nine. Nine out of nine said they came because Harry Wooley owed them money. No—wait—I take that back. One from Mendota claimed Wooley borrowed his 1972 Ford Pinto God-knows-when and never returned it. The brother was smart not to show up. He’s the executor of the estate or, as it were, the lack of one. Everyone in the crowd was there to corner him. Well, except for that stiff from the Railroad Museum named Mervyn Tode. He delivered a two-minute eulogy, which was booed.”

“I take it people weren’t too receptive to your probing questions.”

“Most responses stuck to a common theme. A nun glared straight into the camera and hissed, ‘Harry Wooley was a two-faced thieving skunk!’”

***

Eddie called me Sunday morning and said: “Google the name ‘Wooley,’ then click ‘News.’ I’ll hold.”

I googled the name on my laptop. The first headline introduced a story posted one hour earlier by Channel 12 in Fresno. It read:

“Wally Wooley Wanted.”

“Wally Wooley wanted?” I muttered.

“Yes, Wally Wooley is wanted,” Eddie said.

I saw that several stories about the Wooley hit-and-run investigation had been posted by various news outlets during the last 14 hours. From the oldest post to that of Channel 12’s, they progressed from a Fox News headline: “Stockton Man Arrested in Wooley Hit-And-Run,” to a two-hour-old Associated Press headline: “Gangster Contract Killer Implicates Murder Victim’s Brother.”

“Contract killer?” I said.

“See, I was right!” Eddie said.

“I don’t know about what,” I said. “Wally Wooley is hardly the Freemasons or Job’s Daughters.”

“Yeah, but he was part of a conspiracy. You need to read the AP story.”

I clicked to the Associated Press story. It began:

“Sacramento police arrested a Stockton man Saturday on suspicion of murdering amateur historian Harry Wooley, 75, of Sacramento over hidden treasure.  According to police, the suspect, Trey Caleb Bolt, 28, of Stockton, claimed he was hired to kill Wooley by the victim’s brother, Wally Wooley, 68, of Fresno, to prevent the older brother from publicly disclosing the century-old hiding place of legendary lost millions.

Harry Wooley died instantly Tuesday afternoon when a stolen furniture truck driven by Bolt struck Wooley on Second Street in Old Sacramento, police said. Bolt, who is a known associate of the notorious gangster ‘Fantastic Fritz’ Schicklgruber—” 

“No! Not Fantastic Fritz—again!” I bellowed. “What’s with these cops?  Do they think Schicklgruber is behind every damn crime in California?”

“The Schicklgruber gang makes sense,” Eddie said. “My theory is there had to be more gang members than Bolt to execute Wooley’s murder. At least one other person had to follow Wooley to report his movements. And what about this driver for Desi’s Deliveries who conveniently allowed his truck to be stolen. Money, I betcha, changed hands.”

“Eddie, I don’t care! Enough is enough!” I yelled, then paused to take a breath. “You can tell the Old Timers for me: ‘No mas! Adios muchachos!’ This reality show is a bust!”

“I’m afraid that ship has sailed,” Eddie said calmly.

“Huh?”

‘This morning I got a call from Edna.”

“I thought Edna refused to speak to you.”

“You might say she spoke to me less than she spit in my face. Seems Marvin, Larry and Edna are now being investigated by the IRS. They’ve never paid one cent of tax earned from the Walter Brennan Institute. In fact, the institute never was legally created.”

“What did they tell people was the source of their income?”

“Oh, they’ve always had the pig farm. They paid income taxes on that. Now it looks like back taxes on institute income will take away their pigs.”

“My heart bleeds.”

“Run into Edna and more than that will bleed. Edna told me the FBI yesterday ran a dragnet in Ionia looking for the hideout of Fritz Schicklgruber.”

“Why would Fritz Schicklgruber want to go to Ionia, Iowa?”

“Why would anyone?”

Copyright © 2021 by Randy Bechtel

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