My Dog Skip
A bounty hunter's tale
On any given day Paulita Cofever felt most people were worth more dead than alive. As a second-generation bounty hunter, this philosophy did not keep the cupboard stocked with her favorite Earl Grey tea. It was the constant deceit, the betrayal of humanity that she was commissioned to hunt that molded this belief. This job used to be easy - finding the missed court date, child support in arrears kind of people. Somewhere along the way the crimes escalated, the threat increased, but the pay stayed the same. If there was any pay. So often the hours of surveillance and stale truck stop coffee was all she got. Forty years in the people hunting business and all she had to show for decades of commitment were drooping eyelids and for the most part, ignored hypertension.
Paulita didn’t typically bother with appearances. Every day it was the same routine. She’d wrap her waist length brunette locks in a tight bun, search the hamper for the least dirty flannel shirt and blue jeans. A weekly bath was in order but if she was honest, she omitted the weekly part and bathed once someone reacted to her stench. Once dressed, she’d check her smartphone for bounty alerts and through the door she went.
Paulita flicked the cigarette butt out the window as she exhaled the toxic fume into the cab of the Ford pickup. She allowed herself to smoke when she was alone. The scenery was beginning to look familiar.
One telephone call two days ago and the appointment with Carmen Hall was set. Today Paulita had stayed in the motel shower until the water ran cold. She wore clean black pants, splurged at the Dollar General for a new blouse. Her leather loafers had been wiped clean and shined. Her long brown hair hung in a loose side braid to dry. The same way she used to wear her hair all those years ago.
Carmen was the only child of Paulita’s greatest bounty, Crawford Elias Hall, known as Bobby to his friends, co-workers and family.
Crawford ‘Bobby’ Hall had been the most beloved high school math teacher at Mena High School in Mena Arkansas. He was known for his quietness. His students loved his easy-going style and Mr. Hall took an interest in his students, too. He wanted to arm them to be successful at life. The guy the neighbors didn’t notice but everyone was his best friend. While Crawford Hall was not successful, he would become notorious.
Paulita never discovered what caused Bobby’s mental train to de-rail. One sunny Thursday morning on May 8th, 1986, he robbed Boonville Metro bank. He didn’t even wear the obligatory ski mask. He simply walked in the front door, waited in the queue until his turn, slid the teller a note demanding money. He left the same way he came, out the front door clutching a plastic bag of cash. He reported to school to teach his afternoon classes on schedule.
Back then there was no internet, no facial recognition software. There was no closed-circuit surveillance system in place, not in rural areas like this. People in this part of the world left their doors unlocked at night. This was small town life, where good people did their living and dying, and rarely anything else.
Detectives had to rely on witness accounts. Piecemeal the evidence. Memory was easily maneuvered, altered or fabricated. The accounts were unreliable. After the first robbery, the police didn’t have a good suspect description. If Bobby would have just quit then.
The ease of quick money in his blood, Bobby Hall did not stop. In three months, twelve banks were robbed in Arkansas and two more in Texas. Bobby was smart. He chose random places that made no logistical sense on a map. Each one no more two-hours by car ride from Mena. The math teacher had his own pension plan, much better than the paltry benefits of a county employee.
It was late summer when Bobby Hall made his fatal mistake. The robberies were front page news and led every six o’clock local news station west of the Mississippi River. It was the biggest emerging story in Arkansas.
The bank he entered that humid day in August was the exception, in bordering Mount Ida, only thirty minutes from his hometown. Bobby’s fortune was stolen, but his misfortune was that he hatched copycat crimes. He walked into another bank robbery in progress. Those robbers had a different modus operandi. A security guard was shot and later died. That investigation left no stone unturned, as it was led by a joint effort of Arkansas state police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As the Feds built their homicide case, the differences didn’t go unnoticed. It wasn’t hard to ferret out one of the witnesses to this robbery was a possible suspect in the other case .
Crawford Elias Hall was arrested On August 13th on charges of bank robbery. The Feds had a weak case. They needed motive. But they also didn’t want to give Bobby a chance to flee. His school confirmed his absence on the days of the robberies. He didn’t have an account at the Mount Ida bank. The evidence was accumulating.
Gossip spread like wildfire. The people of Mena were shocked, rallied for his innocence. The high school math teacher bonded out of jail with ease. Locals believed he was a victim of chance, at the wrong place at the wrong time. Then he jumped bond and missed a court date. That’s when the file came across young Paulita’s desk. Paulita Cofever and Bobby Hall were the same age. That fact bothered Paulita for years.
Out of time he took his go bag and his dog Skip. Every alphabet agency had him on their radar but the trail was cold.
One night a neighbor noticed him and called it in. Paulita was on stakeout in front of his house. She watched in awe as he walked into his garage as the police scanner announced the fugitive’s whereabouts. She had the jump.
When Bobby came outside the garage their eyes met. Paulita dangled a pair of handcuffs. His sure smile haunts her still. He jumped in his car and sped off. Paulita followed him, the shriek of the sheriff’s sirens not far behind. He led them to the outskirts of town, a small intersection where three churches stood on three corners. The fourth corner was deserted and led into a wooded area. Paulita’s headlights captured him running, the dog keeping pace. Bobby got to the edge of the woods, he turned towards her. “Skip, stay,” he commanded. And the dog obeyed. “Take care of my dog, would you?” he yelled as he disappeared into the woods. Legions of law enforcement arrived. The sheriff put up a valiant pursuit, with a helicopter search along with boots on the ground.
Bobby Hall escaped Mena and his entire life that night.
Paulita pulled into the driveway of Bobby’s old house. An adult Carmen was waiting on the porch. Paulita recognized her. The girl had done her share of interviews. Paulita noticed the For Sale sign in the yard. Carmen walked towards her, stopping at her car to get something from the trunk. Paulita climbed out of the pickup.
“Did you want to go inside?” Carmen asked, nodding towards the house. Paulita shook her head, focused on the wood box in Carmen’s hands.
“Very well then. The house sold,” Carmen said. “I was cleaning out and found this box. It’s for Skip.”
Paulita took the wood box from Carmen. “Your Dad made a box for Skip?”
“Yeah, I think to keep him in. You know. Once…” Carmen’s voice trailed off.
Paulita understood. “Of course. To keep his remains. Skip was a good dog. He’s been gone awhile though,” Paulita stated. She had kept Skip for years. People got a kick out of a bounty hunter having a dog named Skip.
“Yeah, sorry about that. Dad loved that dog. He made the box,” Carmen stated. Her voice was matter of fact, void of any emotion.
“Dad was declared dead. It took more than seven years. Every freak sighting delayed the process. I’m just glad it’s finally over,” Carmen said like she was late for another appointment.
Paulita considered Carmen’s life, living with the burnout of her father’s history. It had to be hard, not ever knowing what happened to him.
“Do you ever hear from your Dad?” Paulita couldn’t resist the question. “He was a good man, you know.”
Carmen sighed, “No, I haven’t ever heard from him. He’s dead. Court says so,” she reiterated, and Paulita couldn’t decide if Carmen believed it herself.
“Well, I’m sorry about that. You know I had a chance to arrest him. Maybe if I had, we could have got some answers.”
“Not to be,” Carmen stated and Paulita knew she wouldn’t get any information out of Carmen. She was very young when he left.
“Thank you for the box. I’ll make sure it’s used for the intent,” Paulita suggested, not knowing how to disengage.
Carmen thanked Paulita for coming and got in her car and drove away. Paulita was married to this case too. She was the last person to see Bobby run into the woods, and she inherited his dog. Paulita hoped for some affirmation of guilt, some resolution of innocence, answers to why Bobby ran, if he was really the one that did those robberies. The court of public opinion never convicted him. The evidence was there against him, but there was no closure.
As Paulita walked to her truck, she examined the box. It was exquisite in its craftsmanship, made of a rich mahogany wood. She opened the hinged lid. Inside the space seemed off, disproportioned. Inside the empty box it was much smaller than it seemed. She flipped the box upside down and saw a very small hole in the wood. Paulita carefully removed a bobby pin from her hair, unwound it so it was straight, stuck the metal inside the hole. A perfect fit. As she pushed the pin further in, she heard a ‘pop’ and a hidden compartment under the box opened.
She carefully pulled the drawer open. Inside was a small black notebook. Paulita blew the dust from the cover.
Dates, places. The bank names of the robberies with detailed notes written under each of them in ink. Jackpot! As Paulita skimmed the pages, her heart pounded in her chest. She had insight, the why behind the crime. And only she possessed it. Bobby had journaled, his thoughts, why he did what he did, everything. Paulita could not believe it.
On the last page of the little black book was a note, written in the same hand. ‘For the bounty hunter lady. I saw you in front of the house. I can’t go to jail. Dig by the big tree where I call to you, about three feet deep. I’ve left something there. I hope you let me get away….’
Paulita knew where she had to go. She started the truck and drove to that intersection with the three churches on the three corners. She had a shovel in the bed of the pickup. She found the tree where Bobby had called to her, landscapes didn’t change much in this sleepy part of the world. Her brow had sweat when the tip of the shovel made a pinging noise. She dropped to her knees and plied the earth out of the way. She found another box, the same design as the one in the passenger seat of the pickup. She opened the hinged lid. Beautiful green one-hundred-dollar bills, kept safe in the box. Paulita scurried back to her pickup, her heart still racing. Safe inside her trusty Ford, she counted the money. Twenty thousand dollars. Tax free.
Paulita smiled. Who says there’s no money in bounty hunting?
About the Creator
Soup lover proudly owned by fluffy little lap dogs. Likes: sunsets, chocolate, witty replies, and good hair days. Dislikes: Mean people and flan. Hit that subscribe button.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
My new love story is published. Hope you will appreciate it 😊