Longform

Young Fife: The Lost First Decade

Page 4 of 4

"Oh, hell, yes! Eddie? Little Eddie? He was a son of a gun! And I loved the little guy!" The voice is booming out into the desert, and it belongs to Mr. Billy Hudge, ex-Marine, excop, ex-husband. Hudge is a hard man to track down. He calls a blue-and-white trailer home; it sits in a remote, arid trailer park south of Buckeye with the unlikely name of Desert Shores. It seems like a lonely place, but Billy Hudge could not care less.

"What the hell," he bellows. "I need neighbors like I need a boil on the ass! I been around people all my life. Besides, I've got Pucker here to keep me company." Pucker is Billy's dog. When Billy says, "Pucker up!" the dog jumps into his arms. Billy gets quite a kick out of this, and, apparently, so does Pucker, who slobbers all over his master's bristly chin at each command.

When it comes to the Sleeth/Symington equation, Hudge is incredulous. "You're trying to tell me that Little Eddie was adopted by some millionaire, then he moved back here and became governor? Well, that sounds like a hell of a yarn, my friend. Listen--Eddie was a good, honest, sweet little tunk. Not the type that could ever grow up and be a politician, fer Chrissake!"

Hudge is a few years older than Sleeth/Symington, and explains that he always feltkind of like a protector, an older brother to his pale, frail childhood buddy.

"Yeah, Little Eddie was quite a character--he'd get me to do the damnedest things," says Hudge, beaming with pride as Pucker goes number one next to a plastic lawn chair. "I remember he used to have me act like a waiter when he was playin' chef. When we got older, I'd steal food for him so he could make these recipes from the paper. I always thought he'd go into the cooking business. In fact, the last time I saw him was on his tenth birthday back in '55. He was dead set on making this recipe--this tasty fish mousse, I think it was called--that the Republic had run that day. I didn't see him for a few days after that, and when I asked Mrs. Sleeth, well, she told me the state had forced her to give him up. That was the last I heard of Little Eddie.

"And now you're saying that he's Symington? That's a hell of an idea!"

And that's where the story ends. The Governor's Office is silent on the matter. There is no one else to talk to, no more memories to pick, no one whocan provide proof enough to make this account anything other than a monumental prank. As Esther Sleeth said, who's going to believe it, anyway? Could a right-thinking young boy from the wrong side of the tracks be corrupted by almost obscene amounts of wealth and power? You'd have to buy into the idea that our governor is not greedy or dishonest by nature, that he acquired these traits along the way.

Little Eddie, of course, had certain qualities: He could be trusted to hold the money at cockfights, he could coerce a loved one into eating a lip-numbing fruit, he had his best friend steal for him. Surely, these are just childhood quirks, and cannot in any way be viewed as precursors to a life of high-level corporate sleaze.

But there is one person who knows the truth--somebody who, just maybe, knew some people a few decades ago named Esther and Marcus and Father Felix. And his name is J. Fife Symington III. A man who has never publicly revealed that he has any culinary skills whatsoever.

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap