What if nothing happens? What if it does?

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IT WAS A NON-STORY, and we knew it.

The call had come in on the police radio about four in the morning, that slow time of the morning when the last rebels and rabble rousers of the night had finally gotten drunk, and the drunks had finally fallen asleep, and the only shadows on Fort Worth’s streets were being left by stray dogs or some drifter on his way toward Dallas where the big-money panhandlers were already staking out their street corners.

There was a burglar in a building.

That’s what the police radio said.

It was a non-story, and we knew it.

Nevertheless, I looked at Wayne Brown, TV cameraman and reporter for Channel 5 News. “You think it’s worth our going out there?” I asked.

“Never can tell he said. “

“It’s probably nothing,” I said.

“Maybe he’ll shoot somebody.”

“Or get shot,” I said.

He shrugged.

I shrugged.

He grabbed his high-dollar camera. I stuck a nineteen-cent ballpoint pen in my shirt pocket. And we wandered out to the parking lot. I still had an hour left before the Bulldog edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram hit the streets. It was plenty of time for nothing to happen and plenty of time if something did.

We would have skipped a regular old common-place burglary or even an armed robbery, provided there wasn’t anybody on his way to John Peter Smith Hospital. But a burglar in a building? He might do something foolish, and doing something foolish often made front-page news.

Wayne Brown was right.

We might as well go.

You never can tell.

We rolled down Rosedale Street. It wasn’t the silk stocking row of Fort Worth. It had not been a good side of town that happened to go bad. It was bad from the beginning and, more or less, proud of its reputation. It had seen more criminals than Alcatraz and witnessed more fights than Madison Square Garden.

The police had surrounded a little old barbecue joint. It smelled of barbecue smoke even when the fire was off, and it was. The cramped wooden building was dark inside. Not a creature was stirring. Two ladies who lived in a little bungalow across the street said they had seen a man go inside.

“It was about fifteen minutes ago,” the old one said.

“Ain’t nobody come out,” said the gray haired one.

“They go in all the time, day or night,’ the old one said.

“They robbin’ him blind,” said the gray haired one.

Wayne brown shrugged.

I shrugged.

Sergeant Hawkins shrugged.

He yelled into his bullhorn,” We know you’re in there.”

Pause.

“You might as well come on out.”

Pause.

“You don’t, and we’re coming in to get you.”

Pause.

“Don’t want no trouble.”

His was a voice in the darkness.

The silence was foreboding. It was not the place anyone wanted to be at four-fifteen in the morning. The night was black. The barbecue joint was dark. The man inside had too many places to hide. If a policeman walked inside, he would be a vulnerable target.

Can’t see him.

He can see you.

A man could die before he heard the shot.

“We have you surrounded,” Sergeant Hawkins bellowed. “Come on out.”

The sergeant looked around and nodded at Bob Denton who quietly unloaded his German Shepherd police dog from the car. Big and gentle. Kind and obedient. Put the collar on him, and he was a killer. Denton had the collar.

Cosmo was ready. His eyes were burning, embers in the night He bared his teeth. He growled softly as Denton placed one end of a fifty-foot rope around his neck.

Man and dog eased to the front door, and Denton opened it. The officer knelt, let the rope slip through his hands, and unholstered his pistol.

Cosmo went in alone.

Cosmo didn’t need any help.

He checked one room, then another.

On the far side of the counter, back behind stacked boxes of soft drinks, the dog saw a man’s elbow.

He didn’t see a lot.

He saw enough.

With one leap, Cosmo was across the room. He grabbed the man’s arm, jerked him to his knees, and dragged him kicking and fighting across the sawdust floor, through the door, and out into the parking lot.

The man was screaming.

Cosmo had bitten through the jacket, torn the shirt, and his teeth had chewed their way to the bone.

The pain was overwhelming, but not nearly as much as the fear.

The burglar lay on the ground.

He was trembling.

The arm was bleeding.

Sergeant Hawkins knelt beside him, “We told you to come out,” he said.

The man looked up.

His eyes were white and as large as porcelain saucers.

He stared at the sergeant for a moment, then glanced back at Cosmo. “Yes sir,” he said, “I heard you. But you didn’t explain it like that dog did.”

It was a non-story.

And then Cosmo came along.

Cosmo put it on the front page.

You never know.

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  • Roger Summers

    Cosmo the Front Page Wonder Dog. He did have a way of explaining things. Good memory of Wayne Brown. Sometimes called him Teevee Wayne-o. Covered many a story accompanied by the whirring of his camera.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      In those days, Roger, the TV man did it all. Wayne Brown would shoot the footage, then get on the phone and dictate the story to some tape recorder. Not once, to my knowledge, was he ever on camera, nor did he want to me.

      • Roger Summers

        Yes, Caleb. Some of the TV cameramen — and they were men — would wait until the newspaper came out, clip the newspaper story and put it in the can with their film and send it to the TV station. We often would hear our newspaper story words read on the TV evening news. Interesting times.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    I covered a lot of crimes during my days as police reporter for the Star-Telegram. I’ve forgotten most. I’ll never forget Cosmo.

  • Very nice – I can SEE it happening. Nice doggy.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Alicia, Cosmo was the officer’s family pet. Lived inside. The kids played him. The kids wrestled him. He was a sweetheart. But the second Cosmo was placed in the police unit, his demeanor changed immediately. He was ready to go to work and take down the bad guys.

      • Also, very SMART doggy. Even humans sometimes have trouble separating work from home life.

  • Don Newbury

    My late grandfather spent several years in later life arriving at Underwood’s BBQ place in Brownwood to get the fires going….

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I thought the fires were always burning at Underwoods. Best BBQ ever.

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