They Did Not Shoot the Deputy
Editor’s note: Eighteen years ago, a young Crash Barry was a sternman on Matinicus, Maine’s most remote and lawless island. For a brief, overlapping period, a Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy lived and worked there, too. All names have been changed to protect the guilty.
The Deputy got run off Matinicus on a beautiful spring day, about a month-and-a-half after he pistol-whipped Alex. (See last month’s column on thebollard.com.) Ever since that incident, he’d been getting the cold shoulder from most of the islanders. No one waved at him on the road or acknowledged him at the post office or the store. His kids — a pair of goofy, bearded, home-schooled teenage boys — were cruelly mocked and taunted. The worst harassment, however, occurred under the cover of darkness. Someone poisoned his geese and threw a bucket of oil paint on his truck. Rumors circulated of shots being fired at his house, but no bullet holes were visible. Nobody took credit for the crimes.
Everyone knew the Deputy was leaving on the next ferry and that Knox County officials had decided not to replace him. The Deputy spent his last week on Matinicus packing boxes and nailing big sheets of plywood painted day-glo orange over his windows, turning his blue house into a tantalizing target for potential drive-bys. His wife and kids had already left, taking the mail plane to the mainland to find a new place to live.
Since the state ferry only made nine trips to Matinicus annually, each visit was a special occasion. This trip would be especially noteworthy, because when the boat left, the Deputy would be gone, and once again the island would be free of meddling lawmen.
By 10 a.m., a bunch of us had gathered for a going-away party at Benny and Paul’s fishhouse, which had a bird’s eye view of the Steamboat Wharf, a couple hundred feet away. The guest of honor was not invited due to the weed and booze involved. Plus, the Deputy was busy. When the ferry arrived, minutes before high tide, he jumped aboard and climbed into the cab of a large U-haul, first in line for disembarking. When the ramp came down, the truck raced off (his wife and kids were already crammed in front) and bounced and sped to the house in the center of the island.
“Better hurry, you sonofabitch, better hurry,” slurred Brenda, Alex’s 40-year-old mom, already three-quarters drunk on coffee brandy. “Less than an hour to pack that big friggin’ truck.” She laughed. “Tides and ferry don’t wait for nobody.”
“I almost hope the bastard misses the boat,” said Pierre, Alex’s stepdad. “Christ, imagine the friggin’ late fees if that truck stays on the island for an extra month.”
“I just want the motherfucker gone,” Brenda said, shaking her head. “Asshole.”
The party continued. We all drank and smoked and got high, watching the ferry, wondering if the Deputy was gonna return in time. He did, with a couple minutes to spare. The whole family climbed out of the truck and lined up against a gunwale for a final look at the island. Standing on Benny and Paul’s roof deck, I watched them through binoculars. I could see the relief on their faces.
Suddenly the party grew louder. There was raucous hooting and hollering as Brenda and Pierre unfurled a banner. (Remember, this was 1991, 20 miles off the coast of Maine. Pierre, in his role as a selectman, had the only computer on the island; the banner was made with a dot-matrix printer on an eight-foot-long piece of tractor-fed paper.)
It read: “Fuck you, Jerold Day!”
“Fuck you, Jerold Day!” the crowd screamed. “Jerold Day, FUCK YOU!” A song, almost.
I took another look at the Deputy and his family through the binocs. They looked puzzled. From their vantage point, the banner was too puny to read. They couldn’t see the many middle fingers, or the lone moon from a fat, drunk islander, either. And I’m sure the rumble of the ferry’s diesel engines muted our chant.
The ferry left and the party broke up soon after. Not even noon and everybody was hammered. But now that the Deputy was gone, the buzz seemed wasted. And while Matinicus was cleared of coppers, it wasn’t like all hell broke loose. Just no one gave a damn about herb or drunk driving or car registrations. In fact, the island was much calmer. The summer came, and went, without a bit of drama.
The police stayed away. Word was, they were scared.