What do a Czechoslovakian smorgasbord, Rin Tin Tin, a Shetland Pony, a bear in the air, a graveyard and Mo’s Funk Machine have in common? Why the Fourth of July, 1976 of course. And beginning that night of our country’s Second Hundred Anniversary and over the course of seven hours into the pre-dawn hours of the following morning, I would experience all of them in a manner which only Harrison Ford‘s character could relate to. I refer not to Indiana Jones.
If you were alive, and old enough to remember, you know our country’s Bicentennial was a pretty big friggin’ “Star Spangled” deal. Gerald Ford was President, the original Rocky was picture of the year and Give Up The Funk, Play That Funky Music , Shake Your Booty and Disco Inferno topped the Billboard Hot Soul Singles or Hot 100 pop singles Charts. And I can say – with no hyperbole – John Travolta had nothin’ on me.
The night began with me stepping from the bedroom of my mother-in-law’s home in rural Indiana wearing cuffed, pale rouge bell bottoms and a long sleeved silver lycra shirt. The latter was embellished with figures dancing on a disco dance floor and the gap, created by its top three buttons strategically left undone, was filled with a massive amount of my, then, black chest hair and a gold plated chain from which hung a matching medallion consisting, quite simply of one word: “FUNK”. Beneath the cuffs of my bell bottoms were a pair of size twelve, two-tone blue and tan, three inch heel, Italian shoes only a chick could possibly walk in without stumbling. The splendor of this sartorial ensemble was surpassed only by what nature begat but I’m referring to what began above with almost auburn hair cascading down well over my ears. Bangs covered my forehead unfurrowed by worries which were something unknown to me. Descending along the side of my face, to a point at least an inch below my ear lobes, were equally thick side-burns which then took a ninety degree turn toward my mouth stopping another inch short. But the coup de grace of this shining, streaming, flaxen waxen spectacle was my pride and joy – my Fu Manchu moustache. This I had improved one better by centering between its two sides – descending to my jaw line – an inverted arrowhead, its tip ending on my chin. As I said, John Travolta and – I am quite confident – no member of the “Caucasian Persuasion” – had anything on me.
“Man, you are all that, brother!” said, Lance Yoder, the boyfriend of my wife, Jill’s, identical twin sister, Joy.
“You better be able to dance if you’re gonna dress like that!” said their sister, Julie. Julie was one year older than the twins, who were twenty at the time. I was twenty two, as was Lance. I would begin my junior year of college that fall and was spending the summer working in a factory while living alone in my mother’s second home in our hometown, Finns’ Landing.
“Oh, Kenton can dance all right! He hasn’t missed an episode of Soul Train since Saturday Night Fever came out!” said Jill. “I’ve caught him practicing in front of the bathroom mirror and he has moves that haven’t been invented yet!”
Obviously, we had decided to skip the fireworks in our hometown in lieu of a great soul band. so we headed out for the Czeck Smorgasboard in Kokomo, twenty-six miles from Finn’s Landing. Now a place with that name may have sounded dubious as a source for that kind of music but remember, there were mostly corn and pigs in our hood and, regardless, that night they were hosting, Detroit’s own Disco JamNation in their upstairs bar. Probably not the traditional way to spend the 4th, but we had just turned of drinking age, or thereabouts, and felt this would offer be a lot more than small town fireworks. That would prove to be an understatement.
Inside the front door, we were greeted by a young, thin man seated behind the counter who was charging admission. Standing next to him, was an older guy, probably in his late thirties. This man wasn’t that tall – probably about five feet eleven – but was burley. He was wearing all black and his t shirt was tight as if intentionally showing off his large muscles. It was obvious to all, he was the bouncer.
The younger fellow told us there was a five dollar cover and to took it from each of us. Julie and her boyfriend, Don passed behind the counter but, before the rest of us could, the bouncer stopped us with a hand in front of Lance’s chest.
“I want to see this young lady’s id,” he said, pointing at Joy who, as I said, was not quite 21.
“I didn’t bring one,” she answered.
“Then you can’t get in,” said the bouncer.
“Well, you can see she is the twin of this girl,” said Lance motioning to Jill, who he knew to have a fake id. “If she shows you her id, you should be able to let my girlfriend through, right.”
“No. Not right. The lady has to have her own identification on her. She ain’t getting in.”
“Well, if she can’t get in, none of the rest of us are interested in staying, so please give us our money back,” I said to the young man who had taken the money from all six of us.
“No, were not going to do that. You all are going to have to leave,” said the bouncer, crossing his arms in front of his chest and flexing his biceps.
“Well sir, we haven’t seen a thing and we are going to be leaving so, please refund our money”, said Julie, as politely as she could.
“I said, no refunds. No outta here!” exclaimed the bouncer, who appeared very agitated as he moved toward the counter.
Now I don’t know if you realize it, but five dollars was a lot of money to college kids in 1979. I drew a breath and addressed him. “Sir”, I said in my most respectful tone. “Why do you have a policy of first taking money from your patrons and then, only upon receiving it, asking them for identification? Wouldn’t the proper procedure be to ask for identification and, once provided, then take their money?”
“Well who in the hell are you?” he said as he moved in front of me, placed his knuckles on the counter and leaned directly in my face. I pulled back and said, “Sir, I am not even asking for a refund at this point. I am merely asking for an explanation.”
With that, he came around the counter in a rush, spun Lance and I around by the shoulders, place a hand in the middle of each of our should blades. “Outta here!” he screamed as he ran us toward the heavy double doors leading outside. His force was immense as he leaned forward like a football lineman giving us no time to exit safely on our own. We were just about to hit the doors and I had just enough time to put my hands up to keep my face from impacting the door on my side when, almost instinctively, I threw my shoulder and right elbow back, knocking his hand off my me. Simultaneously, Lance and I pushed through the doors and into the parking lot. In a rage, the bouncer lunged after me and reached toward handcuffs on his belt as he yelled, “Get down on the ground and spread eagle!
I spun to face him and said, “I’m not getting down on the ground! I just bought these clothes and I’m not going to tear them up by getting on the ground!” I think I paid around $55 for those threads in 1976 dollars at the Markland Mall and I wasn’t getting on the ground for Godzilla himself!
“I said, get down on the ground you little shit!”
“I’m not getting on the ground, I didn’t do anything!” I pleaded.
“You assaulted a police officer! Now get on the ground!”
With that, he reached at his belt and produced a slap jack. A slap jack, for those of you who have never been assaulted by a thug, is a four or five inch length of lead encased in leather and separated from a strap, which ideally goes around the holder’s wrist, by a six inch steel spring. When the assailant wields the weapon properly, the lead can be flicked with the spring adding extra momentum or allowing the lead to wrap around a defending limb. In this case that would be my right arm. For, as he demanded once more I drop to the ground he and repeating, “I am a police officer!” he began to swing the slap jack at the right side of my head.
Immediately my karate training kicked in and a began to block his swings with my left hand and forearm. I moved only defensively, backing up in a circular motion ever trying simply to avoid being struck. The rest of my group watched in shock that all this was happening but Scott yelled at the bouncer, now supposedly a police officer, “If you’re a cop, show him your badge! If you’re a cop, show him your badge!”
The bouncer countered, “I can’t show him my badge, I’m fighting him!”
“I’m not fighting you! I we just want to get out of here!” I exclaimed.
“You’re under arrest, get on the ground!” he said as he continued to pursue me, lunging, slashing and wailing at my head. Each time I managed to parry his strikes successfully until, finally, a blow was again blocked by my left forearm, just below the wrist, but this time a little too close. My arm served as a fulcrum and the spring wrapped around it and the lead struck me just below my cheekbone. Fortunately, I blocked most of its force , however, just enough got through that the slap jack got my attention in a big way. I realized that if that had hit me squarely, it would have shattered my cheekbone. That was a game changer. The switch flipped. Scott later said, my facial expression changed instantly. He said, “Your eyes changed to black ice and you had the look of a stone cold killer.” Still, my brain stem had not quite taken over entirely, though I went on the offensive. I threw a mawashi geri, or round house kick, with my right leg. I made a decision to pull it, which means to only hit him just hard enough to let him know what I could do in hopes he would back off. I kicked him exactly where I aimed – directly in his solar plexus. If I had not pulled it, I would have dropped him with that kick. Looking back, I am still amazed at how I managed to throw it standing in three inch heels. Regardless, while he paused momentarily, a slight look of surprise on his face, he was undeterred and sprang forward once more swinging the slap jack at my head. That is when the brain stem took over. If I didn’t protect myself, this guy might kill me! I stepped back and let the jack sail past in front of my face. With that, I jumped forward with my strong left leg and arm in what is known as a lunge punch. It is not a finesse but a pure power punch. If it connects, its target usually goes down. He slumped and, as he did, his face turned down and I stepped in and hit him smack in it with an combination upper-cut hook. He spun around his back to me and slumped onto the hood of a car behind him. I was in full finish mode and leaned my weight on top of him, pinning him to the car and preventing him sliding to the parking lot he had so wanted me to lie down on. I began hooking around his head with both left and rights, pummeling his face until Lance grabbed me from behind yelling, “That’s enough, that’s enough, Kenton. He’s out!” I snapped back to reality and stepped back, letting the bouncer slide to the ground unconscious.
“Run Kenton, run!” screamed all the girls.
“Run as fast and as far as you can!” screamed Julie.
That seemed like pretty good advice to me at the moment as I could already hear police sirens in the distance. I also heard, “Don’t worry, Ony! I’ll get him!” Apparently there had been another bouncer who had rushed into the parking lot at the last moment. I didn’t turn to look. Fight turned to flight and I sprinted toward a field which bordered the lot. Now, how I managed that kick and then to wind sprint in my “Super Fly” shoes, again, I’ll never know. But I do know that after going around with Ony in the parking lot, I was darn winded. Whoever the guy was behind me, I could hear him gaining on me. In the darkness, I had not seen it but, as I neared, I could see a ten foot high chain link fence blocking my escape. As I reached it, I knew he was right on top of me. I knew I’d never clear that fence if he pulled me down. Like a cornered wolverine, I spun on him and with fists in the air four or five feet from his face and snarled at him, “You touch me and I will kill you! … I didn’t do anything!”
He was another young man, probably three or four years older than me and slightly larger. His eyes got wide and he stepped back. He decided the better of it. “I’m not gonna touch you, buddy. But they got you cornered. Police are coming from everywhere! You injured a police officer and the call went out. You’ll never get away!”
“I’m telling you, I didn’t do anything and I’m not turning myself in!”
“If you didn’t do anything, you have nothing to worry about!” he reasoned with me.
“That guy is crazy, he tried to kill me!” I shouted as I spun to scale the fence. He was right. Two patrol cars were pulling up on the other side, about thirty feet away and separated from us by a long drainage ditch of some sort.
“See! See, there they are now! There’s no where you can go! They’ve got ya dude!”
“They ain’t got me yet!” I proclaimed and began to scale the fence. When I got to the top, I was too exhausted to climb down. The patrol cars focused their spot lights on me as I lay across the top of the fence momentarily trying to catch my breath.
“Give yourself up, man! They’re gonna shoot you if you run!” That was the last thing I heard him say before I rolled off the top of the fence onto the slope of the ditch below and began rolling downward through a tangle of brush, wire and garbage. At the bottom, I stood and untangled myself from wire that had wrapped itself around me. Dang! It had ripped a hole in my beautiful bell bottoms! I disappeared from the view of the officers momentarily and immediately ran to my left away from them. After about twenty yards or so I hit the ground and began to crawl up the other side of the ditch like a snake through the tall weeds. The search light would hit the blades above me and I lay motionless until it passed. Thank goodness they didn’t have a dog to put on me I thought as I neared the top side of the ditch. I peered out of the grass and could see the police had trained their flash lights in the opposite direction. I seized the moment and darted across the open road in front of me toward a block of houses a hundred or so yards away. “There he is, there he is!” I heard someone yell from back toward the parking lot. It was probably the kid who chased me. I should have killed him while I had a chance.
By the time, I had been spotted it, I was almost to the houses. Whether both police pursued me in their cars, I do not know but I could see headlights fast approaching from behind as I disappeared into the block. Sirens now wailed all around me. I began to weave in and out of yards, instinctively moving laterally in a way as to avoid anyone being able to keep a spotlight on me. I could hear officers yelling to each other, “He’s in here. We know he’s on this block”! With that I came back to the alley, shot across it and ran again through yard after yard until I came to the street separating me from the next block. I peeked from behind a house and saw three patrol cars split the block I was on. One down the alley I had run and the other two around each side of the block. I took the break and sprinted across to the next. I was nearing my limits. My lungs were on fire, searing as never before in wrestling or football practice as I again coursed back and forth through yards. Then a defining moment, as I came round a garage and ran right into the ass of a Shetland Pony. As you might guess, this was not a country club neighborhood. I mean, I ran right up onto the ass of that pony. I was in much the same position I was in when I had the bouncer up against the car a such a short time ago and I might l have lain there awhile atop him to catch my breath but he was having nothing to do with it. He was tied by a rope to a clothesline pole and obviously was not accustomed to being accosted in the dark. With one quick buck, he bucked me onto my back and about ten feet behind him. I managed to pull myself to my feet and with my last bit of strength, stumbled and more fell than anything past him into a fence blocking my exit from the yard. There was no sign of a gate and I absolutely did not have the strength to climb over that little three and a half foot fence. I leaned against it and could hear the sirens sounding as though they had cleared the block behind me and followed me to this one. “This is it. They got me now,” I thought. I held myself up by the fence and made my way toward its corner. And cornered I was. There was a huge, dense bush just short of that, pushed right up against the fence. I fell to the ground and crawled under its thick branches toward its center. As I reached the stalk, which was more of a trunk, I found a hole that a dog had apparently dug and probably used as a retreat from the summer heat. I crawled into that hole and curled up, just as I knew that dog must have, trying to make my nose disappear under my tail. And I breathed. No – I wheezed and I wheezed. The air sucked in and it sucked out and it made such a loud, almost ripping, tearing sound I knew the occupants of the house and anyone on that block could hear me. As I tried unsuccessfully to stifle myself, only the sound of the sirens, barking dogs and Fourth of July fireworks from the city park and nearby shopping centers kept from that from happening.
I did not know it, but back at the Czech Smorgasbord, an ambulance had taken Ony to the Howard County Hospital and police flooded the parking lot. Officers set up a command post there and my friends watched in horror and amazement as all of the police expressed outrage that one of them had been assaulted and injured. Scott tried to explain to several of them, what had transpired and how I was only protecting myself, but to no avail. Cops with dogs on leashes were pacing the lot awaiting instructions.
One cop, Scott attempted to reason with said, “Son, your buddy attacked a police officer. Do you know what we’re gonna do when we catch him?”
“No, sir,” answered Scott.
“We’re gonna let the dogs chew on him awhile.”
Back under the bush, I was finally getting my breath under control to the point probably only the Shetland Pony could hear it. By now, he had probably gone back to eating grass or whatever it is ponies do in the hood after dark. I lay there and listened to cb radios in cars that slowly cruised around and around the block. I could clearly hear in the night air the voices which came over them announcing, “We know we have him cornered the 300 block of West Howard”; “Fugitive is believed to be dangerous, approach with extreme caution.” I did not know it, at the time, but every on duty and off duty cop and civil defense worker in Howard and neighboring counties had answered the call of 10 – 00, “Officer Down”, and was looking for me.
I knew I had to be invisible under the bush, hunkered down in my hole. If I couldn’t see out, surely they couldn’t see in. Thank goodness they didn’t have dogs I thought. And then I heard it. I distinctly heard what sounded like … I slowly pulled my head out from my fetal position and crawled to the edge of the bush and peered under it. “Aw … (you fill in the blank). It was a German Shepherd straining at its leash coming across the yard to the opposite end and side of the fence I was against under the cover of the bush. They did have dogs! Rin Tin Tin was on my ass! And, the way I was sweating and breathing, he would have me in no time. Even without Scott to tell me, I knew I would be lucky to make it to jail. I had no energy left to Kung Fu a canine! He would chew me up like a rawhide bone. I made like an armadillo again and waited for the worst. I could hear the dog snorting and pawing at the ground as it pulled the officer in my direction. Then it happened. That unsuspected twist of fate that should only happen in some epic Greek tale. That pony caught sight of that dog acting like a wolf on the hunt just on the other side of its fence and it started making like Trigger. It reared up on its hind feet and was pawing the night air, neighing and whinnying loud enough to drown out the sirens. If Rin Tin Tin wasn’t interested in him to begin with, he was certainly focused on him now. As I figured the jig was up anyway I pulled my head up and witnessed this along with the dog snarling and lunging toward the fence at the pony. I was only five or six feet down on the opposite side and could see the dogs teeth gleaming in the moonlight. With that, the back door of the house slammed open. I turned in my hole to see a very large man, well over six feet and pushing three hundred pounds step onto his back steps. “What the hell is going on back here?” he screamed at the cop with the dog.
“We’ve got a dangerous fugitive cornered on this block. We think he may be in your back yard!” explained the officer.
“There ain’t no damn fugitive in ma back yard! Your dog is gonna give my pony a heart attack! Now get him outta here or I’m gonna shoot him and sue your department.”
“Oh please, oh please shoot him before he gets me!” I thought. I held my breath and waited. When the dog would not take its eyes off the Shetland Pony and the pony threatened to strangle itself in its own rope and the clothesline, the officer finally retreated and exited into the alley. The big man came out, stroked and calmed Flicka down and I tried to breath like a mouse until he went back in his house. Please don’t let your own dog out to find me in his hole I thought. I could hear the sound of a helicopter’s blades overhead and saw the light from its spotlight enter the top portion of my bush but knew I was invisible through its dense branches. I lay there for what must have been an hour until that sound disappeared. Eventually, the squawking of police and civil defense radios and the sound of sirens ceased also. I had finally caught my breath completely and felt the time had come to make my break. I slowly crept out from under the bush, climbed over the fence, looked back at the pony, gave him a slight wave and was off at a slow trot. Where I was headed, I had no idea, put tried to head in what I hoped was the direction of Finn’s Landing. This left me with more than twenty miles to go, most of it through country. But first, I had to get out of town. In the meantime, I simply wanted to put as much distance between myself and the scene of the crime as possible. My pace slowed to a walk as I carefully crossed each street, again sticking to alleys and yards as I just kept moving forward. It would do me no good to try and call a cab. I had no cash. Jill, had my wallet in her purse and all I had in my pockets was one fifty cent piece. It would not even fit in a phone booth coin slot for the purpose of making a collect call to my mother-in-laws house. I would have to change it for two quarters but where to do that at this time of the night. And where to do it when you are a fugitive from the law. In this town of forty thousand everybody had already been told via radio or word of mouth to be on the lookout for me. I wandered forward through the night. Occasionally a fireworks display would light up the night sky and I would take cover and watch until it grew dark again, lest they give proof through the night that, I, Henry, fugitive from the law, was still out there. Finally, I came to a long stretch of road with no place to take cover along it. It was turn back or take it. I knew it must be past midnight by now. I had no intention of turning back, nothing to turn back to, and kept pressing forward. I had gone a mile or so when I saw lights approaching from behind. I knew not whether these were citizens or patrol cars but was taking no chances and moved about ten feet to the side of the road and ran at a good clip to a clump of woods in front of me. I had run straight into a cemetery. The car that had been approaching me slowed down and came to a stop on the road along side me. I jumped behind a large tombstone and lay down. Sure enough I had been spotted, as another spotlight started to scan the cemetery. Oh please, don’t let him have a dog, came the thought once more. I lay there still for ten minutes. Illuminated, in the road by the moonlight, I could see the officer but knew he could not see me. For this reason, there was no reason for me to move until that changed. After about ten minutes it did. That must have been the time it took for back up to arrive, as to additional squad cars pulled up in silence. I heard a car door open and the distinct sound of a canine’s whine. I started sliding on my belly as fast as I could away from them toward a stretch of woods at the back of the graveyard. The search lights went over me and the dog yelped occasionally but I slithered along unseen until I reached an open green space about thirty or forty feet across. I took my chances, stood up, ran and disappeared into the woods. Almost immediately, I was falling down a slope once more, through weeds and jumped to my feet at the edge of the Wildcat Creek. The Wildcat is more of a river than a creek and, in the spring when the water is high, can be quite formidable. On this night, it was about chest high and the current steady but not dangerous. Apparently the dogs and officers were not aware I had made my way out of the cemetery and were busy looking for me behind tombstones. I crept in to the water and began wading across the twenty feet to the other side. About halfway there, I hit a hole and disappeared under the water before sputtering to the surface and making it across. I came out and made my way up its bank, into another stretch of wood bordering this side of the creek and out onto some railroad tracks. At last, a path I could follow without fear of another patrol car pulling up beside me.
As I made my way down the tracks, I took an assessment of my condition with the aid of the moonlight. As I said earlier, my bell bottoms were torn, now, my shirt was also. My Italian platform shoes were covered in mud, and I was soaking wet. I ran my hand through my hair and pulled wet weeds from it. I stroked my Fu Manchu and felt creek water run from it down onto my chest. I touched pressed my chest to push the water off and felt it. I still had my funk. After all this running, I still had not lost my funk! I might live through this after all. If I could just get to a pay phone and call my wife.
I wandered around bend after bend in the tracks. I had no idea how much time had passed but I had just about given up on finding a phone booth along the tracks when I heard the most funkalicious music coming from around the curve. I think it was “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker”, otherwise known as “Give Up the Funk” by Parliament. Whoooeeee!!! This is where all my time watching Soul Train would come in handy! And I was dressed for the occasion. I rounded that curve and there it was. Right up against the tracks. At one time, it had been an Amoco Gas Station. I had seen enough to know. But now, its doors and windows had been boarded up with plywood painted white to match the exterior and make it impossible to see what was going down inside. Now it was Mo’s Funk Machine. I approached but remained across the street to do a little recon. I wasn’t stupid enough to know this was not my side of town. Of course, my side of town had treated me very well tonight itself so after observing nothing I could judge by I crossed to the door of this venerable establishment. If only there had been a pay phone outside but there was none. And where was I anyway. I would have had no idea where to tell any assistance to come to pick me up. And most importantly, I still needed change for that fifty cent piece. I grabbed the handle to the front door, opened it a a half foot and stared inside. I was looking directly at the bar across the room. About five or six men were leaning up against it, their backs to me. As I sized things up they turned to see who was at the door and turned to face me. It was more obvious than that this was an all black bar. Not that it was by law or ordinance. That time had passed. But by common sense. The only thing more obvious than that was that I was white. And I could tell by the expression on the faces of the gentlemen inside that detail did not escape them. They just stared and waited for me to enter. I shut the door.
“Hmmm …” I thought to myself. My luck has not been took good so far tonight. Do I really want to enter here and ask for more trouble. I looked down the street and saw a patrol car slowly crossing the tracks and across the street we were on. I opened the door and entered the Funk Machine.
Now I hoped the way I was dressed might help them accept me a little better. Not so much. They turned to look at me, sized me up and turned their backs to me again. Perhaps it was my disheveled appearance or the creek water still dripping from the cuffs of my formerly rouge colored bell bottoms. Perhaps it was the stray weed clinging to my hair. Surely they had to like my “Funk” medallion.
“Stay on point. Your mission is to simply get change for this fifty cent piece,” I said to myself as I retrieved it from my pocket. I approached the bar with the coin held high in my hand. They men lined up there from one end, shoulder to shoulder, to the other. And they weren’t parting the way to let some white dude in.
“Excuse me,” I said to the large lady bartender. She did not look at or acknowledge me in any way. “Excuse me,” I repeated. Still no response. I stood there for what seemed a lifetime. I could feel the tension building all around me. “Excuse me. Could I please get change for this fifty cent piece?” Still no response. She would not even make eye contact with me. Finally, after taking a deep breath, I stretched my arm, fifty cent piece in hand, over the shoulder of one of the men and said, “Excuse me. I can’t make a phone call and leave here until I get change for this fifty cent piece!” With that, the lady grabbed the coin from my hand, hit a button on the cash register which opened the drawer, dropped my coin in, and handed me two quarters from it.
I felt as though I had just won the lottery. I looked about for a phone and saw one suspended from a square pole about ten feet off to the side of the bar on the edge of the dance floor. I walked as calmly and nonchalantly as I could to it, picked up the receiver dropped a quarter in, heard the dial tone and called the operator and asked to make a collect call to my mother-in-law. The call was placed and much to my relief, my wife answered. After telling her in brief how I escaped and needed a ride, she explained that someone at the bar, not with our group, who knew me and had a grudge – gave the police my identity and told them where I lived. They already had my house under surveillance and were patrolling the highway between Kokomo and my home for me. It was only a matter of time until they apprehended me. She said I should turn myself in and I should call Scott, who was sleeping on his parent’s sofa, in Kokomo, awaiting my phone call. I got off and used my remaining quarter to do so.
Scott’s mother awakened took the call and put Scott on the phone. He could not believe I had evaded the police but said I could not go in alone. He had managed to befriend a State Trooper at the scene who was finally willing to listen to the entire story objectively. The trooper said all that was well and good, but, “You’d better find him before these local guys do or they’re going to work him over real good.” The trooper was getting off duty but gave Scott his card and told him, if he found me, to call him no matter the time, and he would take me in to see that I was not harmed.
Scott asked where I was and so he could pick me up. As best I could, I explained this to him. There was a long period of silence. Then, finally, he said, “No ……. way! No way am I going down there to pick you up!” I explained he had to, as there was no way I was going back on the streets. After he finally agreed, I asked him to please hurry because the welcoming committee wasn’t making me comfortable. He said he would and I got off the phone and pulled a chair up keeping the post between myself and the bar and tried my best to be invisible. As I waited, an occasional soul song would come on the juke box and I would tap my foot and mouth my words thinking if I showed I knew the words, they might accept me a little better. It was kinda like whistling in the dark as you walk by a graveyard. Apparently they were not impressed for watching out the corner of my eye, I could see three men on my end of the bar who had been drinking with their backs to me, turning more frequently toward me and staring longer when they did. I, of course, avoided eye contact and pretended not to notice. Unfortunately, my peripheral vision was quite good and I saw that eventually all three had turned and, leaning against the bar, were staring directly at me. I am certain they thought I would leave as soon as I made the call but, of course, they did not realize nor, I am sure, did they care one bit. I simply stared straight ahead and prayed Scott would walk through that door any moment.
I could see these three guys were sizing me up and deciding how to dispense with me. It was only a question of which one was going to get the party started. Well, every lion pride has its leader and this group was no exception. They were talking among themselves and laughing occasionally. Finally, the one in the middle pulled himself upright off the bar and started slowly strutting my way. I thought, here we go again, and pulled myself up also, but only in my seat at first, not wanting to escalate things unnecessarily. He was just a few feet to my left when I thought, perhaps I don’t want to be caught sitting down. I mean, even Custer died standing, I am told. So I started to rise slowly from my seat. That is when the door opened. At last it was Scott to get me out of there. But then my heart sank for clearly this was not Scott for Scott’s face would have looked like a full moon coming through that door and this man was as dark everyone but me. But wait! “Sensei!” I yelled. “Sensei Bethea!” Sensei means teacher or, in this case, instructor and Ed Bethea was my karate instructor at nearby Grissom Air Force Base and had been for the last year and a half. Not only was he an ranking officer in the United States Air Force but a third or fourth degree black belt in Isshin-Ryu karate. He was well known and respected throughout the community and particularly in this part of it. He squinted his eyes as they adjusted to the light and he walked toward me to see who had called his name. Finally he stood over me with a look of amazement on his face and he said, “Henry! John Henry! What the hell are you doing in here man!”
I said, “Sensei, you are not going to believe it!” as we stood and gave each other a hug.
He looked me up from head to toe and said, “Oh, I’ll believe it!”
I proceeded to explain to him what had happened but all he and everyone else heard was, I beat up a Kokomo cop and I was running from the law. With that he high fived me and turned to face his three friends who had been fast approaching me but stopped in their tracks when I called his name. He said to them, “Hey this is John Henry (that was my fighting name)! He is one of my top pupils and he just beat up a Kokomo cop!” With that, they all moved in and shook my hand, high fived me and slapped my back as I gave them all a blow by blow description of how I brought “the man” down and evaded capture. Somebody brought me a Colt 45 and then another and we were all laughing when the front door open, just a crack, once more. This time it was a face as round and white as the moon. I knew instantly it was Scott and motioned for him to come in. He didn’t say anything but just moved his head left to right in a negatory fashion. He was not budging and finally I had to go and grab him, pulling him and explaining these all my new friends and how they were cool. By the time someone handed him a beer he calmed down and before I knew it, he was explaining his side of the story and how he now, with the aid of a State Trooper had to turn me in. We finished our beers, everyone wished us luck, the lady bartender told me I was cute and asked me to come back anytime and we got out of there. Once in Scott’s car, we laughed but only briefly. We had to meet the trooper in the K Mart shopping center and I would get in his patrol car and Scott would follow me to the police station.
We did this, arriving at the station at approximately three in the morning. We were greeted by Ony and one other officer on the night shift. His full name was Onis Cromwell. He left the hospital with his head wrapped in gauze and had about ten stitches over his eye, a few across his nose and in his slip. There was already a tremendous amount of swelling in each of these places and Scott, who followed in behind us, could barely contain his laughter. The trooper, who stood about six feet five in his knee high leather boots, turned around and glared at Scott whose laughter suddenly turned to a cough and an attempt to clear his throat. Officer Cromwell took me into the booking room; informed me I was being arrested for disorderly conduct, assaulting a police officer and fleeing police. He then read me my rights; finger printed me and proceeded to take a statement from me. The other local officer on duty stood next to him as he took the statement, staring down at me as though about to pounce at any moment. His look was one which clearly suggested he wished to do me great harm. But every so often he would look up, and I mean up, at the trooper who stayed ever at my side and you could see him attempt to control his shaking. Cromwell took my statement pushed it across the desk to me and asked me to sign it.
I read it and could not believe my eyes. After reciting as carefully and honestly as I could what transpired at the Czech Smorgasbord, I read, “I became belligerent and aggressive when a girl that was with me was asked for id and attacked Officer Cromwell injuring him. I resisted arrest and fled the scene evading police.”
I was incredulous and proclaimed, “I’m not signing that! That’s not what I said!” as I pushed it back to him. He again told me to sign it and pushed it in front of me. I picked it up and handed it to the trooper and asked him to read it. He did and placed it back on the desk and said I wouldn’t be signing it and that my friend, Mr. Scott Holley would be posting my bail. Scott was brought in, bail was posted and the trooper escorted us outside. He told us to get in Scott’s car and he would follow us to Scott’s mother’s home to make certain we made it safely. And, after we thanked him effusively, that’s exactly what took place.
The next day, my mother listened carefully to Scott’s and my account of what happened that holiday in 1976. She was skeptical listening to me but when Scott said, “Mrs. Henry, you have to believe me – for once Kenton is innocent!” she became convinced.
“That being the case, I will retain the best defense lawyer in the area and we will see that justice is done in this case. No boy of mine will be convicted of something he didn’t do.”
Always true to her word, she did. He was attorney Joel Noel. He was certainly the best defense attorney in Howard County and many say among the best in the State of Indiana. And when he succeeded in convincing a jury to find me innocent on all charges almost a year later, he, along with a Shetland Pony, a karate instructor in Mo’s Funk Machine and that all state trooper became my heroes.
Years later, my brother, Preston, became a noted defense lawyer in his own right. Often he would meet Joel in court over one case or another and afterward it would always end with the conversation turning to my case with Ony Cromwell and the incident at the Czech Smorgasbord.
“Damn,” would say Joel every time, “that could have been the biggest civil rights case of my career but your mother just wouldn’t let me bring suit over it!”
Preston always explained it to him this way, “I tried to talk her into it too, but she just said, ‘my boy was innocent and that’s what the court found. That’s all I wanted from it and Henry’s aren’t going to profit from it!'”
Take it from me people. You may want the funk . . . but sometimes you jus gotta run from it!