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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

August 27, 2007 |  4:29 pm

Paul_coates Aug. 26, 1957

The first time Johnny contacted me was about a year ago.

He called to tell me that he and this other guy were about to have a showdown over a girl. "The other guy's got a roscoe but I don't care," he said.

The second call was a few months ago--in person. He'd been stamped in a fight and wasn't working. He didn't want a handout. Just some legal advice, which, naturally, I couldn't give him.

Time No. 3 was yesterday.

"Something's gotta be done fast," he told me. "We been trying everything with no go, or I wouldn't bother you."

As he talked, I remembered him as the kid (maybe 22, 23) who had told me he hitchhiked out from New York. He was a graduate of orphanages and institutions and the streets.

"It's not me that needs anything," he said. "It's Mrs. Ryan and Mrs. Cruz."

He stopped talking long enough for me to ask, "What about Mrs. Ryan and Mrs. Cruz?"

Then he started:

"Well, since I seen you last, I been eating. Got a job. Got hurt. Drawing $25 every two weeks. Took this apartment on Hoover, near the university.

"I did things, you know--to make it nice. Now I'm manager. Pay 19 bucks a month instead of 34. Get 15 knocked off for looking after things.

1957_0826 "So walking past the mission the other day, I seen these two women on the sidewalk. Crying. They was holding babies.

"Naturally, I asked them what was the problem. They said the mission was gonna throw them out.

"So I told them to wait.

"And I went and called the landlady. I had a couple open rooms.

"I guess the landlady thinks I'm crazy. In the first place, no women and kids are allowed here. Plus they don't have no money.

"But I talk and talk. I'm good at it. God gave me a mouth to talk. Sometimes it's been the only thing I've ever had. My mouth to talk.

"If I use my hands I get into too many fights.

"So finally I tell the landlady I'll pay the rent if she'll let the kids and women in. I do, too. I pay it.

"That was a couple of weeks ago and they try and get food from the city and county, but they won't give them none. Maybe just a little for a day. And the babies are hungry.

"Every day, Mrs. Cruz's husband looks for work, but he can't read and write and he doesn't talk too good. That makes it tough. I know.

"In the Army I used to write letters for the hillbillies and they used to do my shooting. I don't shoot too good.

"But anyway, I give them some food, and I collect some. Milk, bread, a few cans--things like that.

"But food keeps running out.

"Now rent's overdue again. Food'll be gone tomorrow and they barely got clothes.

"Could take my 20 bucks out of the bank. I suppose I will. But sure hate to. I been saving for quite a while.

I wanna get married and should have a little money. Even now she--my girl--thinks we should wait a while till I get a little better fixed.

"I guess she's right."

Johnny paused for his first breath. But he broke it fast.

"Hey," he said. "You KNOW the girl. Same one I was going to fight over a year ago. Never did fight the guy.

"But--you know what--she's still my girl!"