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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  September 2010


We can always count on Phillip "Pep" Parotti for a chuckle. In his occasional reminiscences in our pages about his Silver City boyhood, the events are — more or less, sort of, arguably — true. When our annual writing contest opens the door to his fiction, as in this yarn, he can really let his imagination run, er, wild. At least we hope this winning entry isn't true!

That Disturbance Last Saturday

What exactly was that thing that crawled out of the Big Ditch?

By Phillip Parotti

On Saturday when the call came in, I wasn't actually on duty. I'd worked a 12-hour shift on the night before, patrolling between Silver City and Arenas Valley, so I should have been at home asleep, but in fact, I'd slept only fitfully and decided around noon that I would go down to the dispatcher's office and wake up properly with a cup of Rusie's coffee. And that's what I was doing, sitting beside the dispatcher's radio, talking to Rusie, when Roberto took the call.

"Sheriff's Office," I remember hearing him say. And then he paused, and then I heard him say, "Yes, and I suppose there's a white rhino running up Silver Heights Boulevard. Thank you very much, but don't call again." And with that, he slammed down the phone.

"White rhino?" said Rusie.

"Prank call," Roberto fumed. "A guy trying to tell me that there is a seven-foot alligator swimming up the Big Ditch."

The Big Ditch, the deep arroyo that had washed out Silver City's Main Street down to bedrock in August 1902, ran straight through the middle of town. During the 1930s, to prevent additional erosion, the CCC had lined the lower sides of the Ditch with stone. Following the long droughts of the 1940s and 1950s, when the Ditch had remained bone dry for decades, the springs that had formerly fed a marsh below town had been slowly restored so that a good stream now ran south down the watercourse.

I laughed. I couldn't help myself. "You should have asked him whether it was an American alligator or a Chinese alligator," I said. "There are two species, you know."

"What I should have asked him was how many beers he's downed," Roberto said. "That's the problem with letting the bars and the package stores open before noon. By 12:15, some of these guys are already snockered, and that's when we start getting the prank phone calls. Some guy called last month and told us that a puma had climbed into the bed of his pickup. Turned out to be an orange house cat. Turned out that he had stopped off at the Snappy Mart and knocked off a six-pack before lunch. The magistrate fined him $300."

The phone rang again, and this time, Rusie answered it.

"Sheriff's Office," she said. "Yes Ma'am, ma'am, just try to calm down and speak distinctly, please. I'm right here. I'm not going to hang up. Yes, yes, ma'am, I'll take care of it. Yes, ma'am. Right away."

Rusie turned to Roberto. "There's a seven-foot alligator swimming up the Big Ditch," she said flatly. "That was a woman, not a man. The guys at The Buffalo are off the hook. That woman was not drunk; she was hysterical. She's a tourist, over here from Phoenix. She and her husband were down in the Ditch looking at the wildflowers when the alligator made a lunge for them. I think you'd better look into it, Bob. That was no prank call."

"Where, exactly?" Roberto asked, the expression on his face changing.

"Directly below the Big Ditch Park," Rusie said. "Not far from the stairs."

"Bert," Roberto said to me, "get down there fast and take a look. Call me the minute you see anything. I want to be damn sure this is the real McCoy before I start calling State Fish and Game. If I don't, we're going to look like perfect fools."

I wasn't in uniform. I didn't have any of my equipment, but I did have my cell phone, so in the next second, I was out on Bullard and moving fast toward the bridge that connected the foot of Market Street with Hudson, and by the time I rounded the corner at the Hester House, I could already see that a crowd was gathering. And then I came up onto the bridge and looked down, and sure enough, there was a seven-foot alligator down there, sunning itself on a rock. And then, the alligator began to move.

"Roberto," I said, after I'd speed-dialed the office. "No joke, there's an alligator down there on the rocks. You'd better call Fish and Game and see if they can catch it. We've got a crowd gathering, so you'd also better call in a couple of our patrol cars and notify the Police Department because we may wind up needing some crowd control down here. What do you mean, is it an American alligator or a Chinese alligator? How the hell should I know?"

After I hung up, from where I was standing on the top of the bridge, I watched the alligator, and that's when I began to suspect that we were going to have trouble. As I said, from where it had been sunning itself, it had started to move, and at about the same time, three or four boys, guys who looked to me like they might have been juniors or seniors in high school, started down into the Big Ditch Park and then headed for the stairs that led straight down into the Ditch proper. Foolishly, they were picking up rocks and throwing them at the alligator as they went toward it.

"You there," I called, showing my badge from the top of the bridge. "Don't go down there. Back off now, and give that thing plenty of room."

The boys backed off, but I could tell that they didn't like being told to do so, and the problem was that they had already hit the alligator with a couple of rocks. For whatever reason, the rocks had caused the reptile to direct its attention to the stairs, and in the next few seconds, I realized that the thing was at the foot of the stairs and starting to crawl up.

"Bob," I said into my cell phone, " I don't know how far you've managed to get with Fish and Game, but this alligator is right now crawling up the stairs into the Big Ditch Park, and if it gets up there — and it is going to, Bob — it won't be another 10 minutes before its up here onto the streets. Catch my drift? I think you'd better light a fire under Fish and Game, and do it fast."

"Don't be ridiculous," Roberto said. "Alligators don't climb stairs."

"This alligator must have mountaineering experience," I said.

"All right," Roberto said, "I'm dialing Fish and Game right now."

Five minutes later, the alligator was in the park, moving with determination toward the stairs that would bring it up onto Market Street. By that time, the crowd had gotten the idea and started to back off, and with the arrival of two patrol cars from the police department and another car from the sheriff's office containing several of my colleagues, my concerns about crowd control had been put to rest. The alligator, however, had nothing resembling rest on its pea-sized mind, and that's when I began to notice the length of its tail and the force with which it seemed to switch it back and forth.

"Bert," Roberto said over the phone a few minutes later, "where is it now?"

"About halfway up the stairs between the park and Market Street," I said, "and in three more minutes, I'd guess that it will be loose in town."

"Oh hell," Roberto said. "Fish and Game say that they can't be down there for at least an hour. Right now, they're over in Santa Clara, trying to trap a javelina that's gotten into someone's yard."

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