|Texas highway 70 to site of Darling on Canadian River in the distance, looking north|
No sooner had he returned to Darling, than the chamber of commerce president and a few others had began pressuring Greg to support what they called "The Prison Project." His dad an been lukewarm about it, and they wanted the Index to support a local bond issue for it.
Looking enviously at Oklahoma, where several private prisons had been built, they thought it would be a quick cure for the town's economic ills.
"Caldwell, it's the key to our survival. It'll bring jobs, more business and more advertising for your little paper too," said Jim Bob Brantley, an attorney with a big belt buckle and ego, who was also a deacon in the Baptist Church. Greg said he'd talk to his dad, but the longer he was there, the more people kept pestering him.
After questioning his dad about his reservations, Greg had dug deeper. He couldn't help being skeptical of what sounded like a too-good-to-be-true private prison project. The more he tried to get information, the harder it got, and the more something smelled. It looked like a get-rich-quick deal for a few, at the expense of the regular people. His reporter's instinct, honed by covering the corrupt and hustling Houston politics several years ago, made him suspicious.
Stumpy added to his suspicions with a few vague remarks during their Sunday morning breakfasts, though he wouldn't be specific. Greg got the feeling he was afraid to say too much. He could also see the irony, a town he viewed as a prison wanting to build a prison.
He had more legwork to do, more digging, but he was almost sure something that looked so good had to be crooked. The more people pushed, the more the prison began to stick in his craw, like a piece of gristle on what looked to others like a lean, juicy cut of sirloin.
Brantley cornered him after a Friday Rotary meeting where he'd railroaded a motion though for unanimous support for calling a bond issue, as Greg sat there and didn't vote,
"It's a win-win deal, Brantley said, "You need to get on board for the good of Darling, and the good of your paper, cowboy," he said."
"Anytime someone says it's a win-win deal, somebody's going to lose," Greg sarcastically shot back, and Brantley turned on his cowboy boot heels and walked off, muttering, "Be careful."
That threat did it and Greg went back to the office and knocked out an editorial for next week's paper. He stewed over the weekend, changed a few lines, and dreaded the reaction. Jeanne urged him not to run it. His dad seemed to hesitate, but Greg reminded him of the advice of putting out the paper for the little people.
When he told Stumpy he was going to editorialize against the prison, Stumpy arched an eyebrow, almost smirked, and then grimly said, "Now the shit's gonna hit the fan."
A cold front Monday turned the skies gray, matching Greg's mood as the presses rolled the new edition of the Panhandle Index.
His stomach churning, he rehashed the harsh words he'd used in the sarcastic editorial as he delivered the paper to the newsstands. "Instead of unlocking Darling's economic future, there's no evidence the project will do anything but imprison it, while freeing taxpayers from their money for the benefit of a few. The prison would be a crime," he'd concluded, signing the editorial formally: "Gregory L. Caldwell."
The reaction was swift.