NOTE ON DOTHAN STABLITS
Gouldville, in northern Indiana, is the sort of city reached by driving over railroad grade crossings. Dothan Stablits has been chief of police there since 1974, in charge of a department of about eighty-five persons, including civilian employees. In his dozen or more years of service, Chief Stablits has given the citizens of Gouldville no actionable reason to feel dissatisfied with his department, and he has been circumspect with and trustworthy to the other municipal authorities.
Stablits is a rawboned, awkwardly constituted, very large middle-aged man with a jutting jaw, slate-blue eyes, and sparse black hair. He has a tendency to stay on his feet and grip things with his gnarled hands – the back of a chair, by preference – as he speaks to visitors asking questions in his small, orderly office. He stands behind his chair, in constant incomplete motion, as if trying to find exactly the proper location to push the chair into but not sure it’s not already in the right place.
He chooses his words with the same sort of effect:
I was never – I never thought I’d get into enforcement work. Law enforcement. I come from Mennonite people, you know, from around Millersburg and Honeyville. Farmers; always been farmers. There’s Stablitses living on their farms yet in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. There, we’re platdeutsch – what they call Pennsylvania Dutch. We don’t believe in engine-powered machinery, would you believe it, and the best job I had before I went on the cops was driving a gasoline tanker truck for Standard Oil of Indiana.
I was – I don’t know, I was never the kind of person who sits down and says here I am, here’s where I want to be, this is what I’ll do. I’ve moved around a lot. I’m not the kind of person who says I don’t understand it so I won’t look at it, I’ll never do it. A lot of us – there’s just so much land, you know, and there’s always a lot of brothers and sisters – there’s no room on the place to feed us, a lot of us had to get jobs, and in the way it worked out, later, most of your RVs – your travel trailers and pickup truck camper inserts, your motor homes; your recreational vehicles – was Mennonite-built in factories all over this part of the state. The women would sew the curtains and make the cushions, and the men would be the cabinetmakers and body builders. And every once in a while, when the elders weren’t looking, some of the younger men would run a forklift in the lumber shed or actually go out on the road with a unit for a test run. Well, you know, you do that kind of thing when you’re young. Then you get older. I think maybe most of the elders know all about that. They see but they don’t say, because they know everybody gets older.
I was – well, I was taken with this one girl. And she went to Chicago; her aunt there died, and her uncle needed somebody to cook and clean, he was old. I went and looked for work up there so I could live and call on her. Well, the uncle died and it came out at the wake she was expecting. Then she had – she got the idea to be a barmaid. There are people who will get into that because they can sleep while the kid is in the day-care and work while the kid is sleeping. And there are then people who will like that kind of life, and I have never seen one of those change away from it until they got too crippled up for the action. So I went on the Chicago PD with a fellow I met delivering gasoline in the middle of the night. But that was no work for me, it was in the Summerdale District, maybe you heard about that, and I quit there before that burglar testified and it all blew up. I went to Shoreview, the next town, because they were making a lot of sergeants up there fast and I liked the work, basically. I still like it. It’s good.
I, well, I was getting along, and this guy went down on the CTA tracks. I have to tell you, I worried about that. But I couldn’t handle – I couldn’t get a handle on it. There was – well, look, it’s not like Sherlock Holmes. I have never seen a case solved yet by adding up all the clues and dividing by logic. You don’t say ‘solved.’ You say ‘cleared.’ You don’t say ‘clue.’ You say ‘lead’ – you get a lead to somebody who saw something, or heard something, and you get that person to tell you what they saw or heard in such a way that it gives you the next lead. And I couldn’t get any. But – but I knew – I know to this day – there’re leads out there somewhere.
Are you trying to tell me the man fell? Then he fell when there were still people around who had been on the train with him. If they were within a hundred yards, they must have seen something; I mean, there’s a flash, and there’s noise. Where are they? Or else he waited until they were a ways off.
Do you want me to think he was a jumper? What the dickens did he go all the way up to Borrow Street to jump for? Was he trying to leave a message for somebody lived around there – see what you made me do? Then where is that person?
Was he pushed? Then that person knows what happened. He remembers. He could tell me. Or he could tell somebody. You don’t forget a thing like that; it lives in you. It makes you move in ways different from the way you’d move if it had never happened. Little ways, maybe, at first. But they add up, and someday you put your feet entirely different from how you would have if you hadn’t pushed him. And that will be a lead. Anybody knows me, knows I can wait a long time for a lead.
At this point, Chief Stablits shrugs and looks around his office as if discovering it was some other room; his arms rise and fall, his hands slap his thighs.
But there’s just so long you can keep a file active when your commander says it was just some guy on the tracks, it wasn’t dope or bets or the Mafia; it’s not something the city manager’s going to feel heat, the town’s going to the dogs, do something. And there’s just so much time in a day, and sometimes these things can take years … well, a lot of them never come to anything, really – you can’t be sure, they could just as lief pop open on you, I have to admit that. But you can’t hang your hat on it. And one day there’s a letter from here, from Gouldville, it’s the town council, they say they’re looking for a new chief and I’ve been recommended. Well, there’s the pay, and there’s the being the commander, and, tell you the truth, there’s the getting away from the man on the tracks and all the other open files. So I came here and talked to them, and I got hired.
Do I wonder how they got my name, in particular? You mean, why would they write to a sergeant in Shoreview, in particular? No, there’s nothing to wonder about that. They had a list made up by this company, and I was on it, that’s all. Yeah, it took me off that case; it took me off a lot of cases.
He pushes the chair to a new place and shortly thereafter the interview is over.
Stablits’s name did, indeed, appear on a list prepared by an employment search agency specializing in municipal positions. A similar list was furnished to a number of other communities within reasonable distance of Shoreview. The list was accompanied by brief dossiers on the subject individuals. It was sent to every community with a high-rank opening in its police department, and Stablits’s is the best dossier in every instance. It is also the only one common to all the lists, which contained no other duplications. I have been able to establish this much by examination of records stored by those municipalities.
The lists were volunteered. The firm had not been contacted, but apparently had some means of compiling a roster of openings. The firm was not one of the leading agencies specializing in this sort of work, and has long since gone out of business without a trace. And therefore there is no way to tie it back to whoever is behind the National Register of Pathological Anomalies.