PARTNERS IN PRIME
WOLFMANJACK & DUKE
BY STEPHEN L.D. SMITH
I was transferred to Firestone Station from SEB in December of 1969. I had called the station to see what my assignment would be. I was told I was working a three-man car on PM’s, (4/10 schedule). I only knew a few people at Firestone and was definitely the new guy. I had over three years experience in patrol including most of eleven months at SEB. I had however worked this geographic area while with the Marshal’s office, was conversant in Ebonics and knew how to tell when a constituent was lying.
The afternoon I came to work after dressing in the locker room I went to the briefing room and checked the in service schedule posted on the wall. There I discovered I was now assigned to a car with a partner by the name of Rovarino. I had no idea who he was or what his background had been. When I met him he was a very young athletic man with extremely sharp uniform appearance. He seemed smart and very articulate in his speech. I would later discover that he was fluent in several languages.
After we got out of briefing and in the field he wanted to talk. I asked him if he knew why I wasn’t working the three-man car they assigned me to. He said he heard I was being transferred from SEB and figured there was a good chance that I knew what I was doing. He said he was just released from training and felt inadequate and had not learned enough. He indicated that he had gone into the scheduling Lieutenant’s office and asked if he could be assigned to work with me. This was because he was sincerely hoping to become the very best cop he could possibly be. He thought I might have enough knowledge and experience to help teach him some of the many things that he wanted to learn.
Gary and I got along very well and he had an incredible sense of humor. The first couple of weeks we worked together were really great he was very bright and absorbed information like a sponge. We bantered back and forth and kept the atmosphere very light at all times. He would ask me questions about things that he had not experienced or learned. In most cases I was able to find some example to teach him a lesson in that area forthwith.
One day we were driving south on Wilmington around 117th St. when he asked me if I would show him what a Hype looked like. I slammed on the brakes and skidded the radio car to an immediate halt. Gary looked around wildly and said why did you stop here? I giggled, looking out the driver’s side window and pointed to a black man standing at the east curb on the sidewalk. There’s one right now, I answered, indicating Hype. I knew full well from working SEB that a local Heroin dealer, Miles Washington, sold drugs on that corner whenever he happened to show up. We then turned around and talked with the young man. I had him essentially undress for Gary so he could see his tracks. We also checked all the alternative spots where addicts shoot up like between the toes and under his tongue. He was wearing three long sleeved flannel shirts a jacket and two pairs of pants. Both his jacket pockets were full of salt-water taffy, which he was eating on a continual basis as we talked. I had Gary search him looking for paraphernalia there was none on his person.
When I was in high school I was really into 1950’s Rock & Roll. I spent much of my time over those years listening to that music on the radio. Of course the Wolfman Jack was a popular disk jockey then. I served in the Marine Corps and learned how to use my command voice. I got in the habit of talking like the Wolfman Jack frequently and did so while working in patrol sometimes on the public address system. I guess I did this a couple of times around Gary and one day he looked at me with a big grin on his face and said, “You ain’t got a hair on your fanny if you don’t go around talking like the Wolfman all day”. My immediate response was, “They don’t call me Magilla Gorilla for nothing. I got hair all over my body not just on my fanny”.
The very next call we got was a neighbor’s dispute over some money. We responded to the location and looked up the driveway. There were six little clapboard cabins, three on each side of a common driveway. Each cabin had a raised porch most of which appeared to be over two feet high. Standing on the middle porch at the left side of the driveway was a little black man who appeared to be in his eighties. He was no more than five feet tall and couldn’t have weighed any more than a hundred pounds. He had an obviously hunched back and his neck came straight out of the top of his shoulders parallel with the ground. His head was in front of his body instead of on top of it.
I recalled what Gary said to me about hair on my fanny and hooked my thumbs into my Sam Browne. I looked straight into this old man’s eyes and said in my very best rendition of Wolf Man Jack, “Hi who called, what’s going on here?” The old man answered in a perfect mimic of my best rendition of Wolf Man saying, “I called why you talking like that?” I continued saying, “I always talk like this, I had something happen to my voice box and I’ve talked like this since I was very young.” The old man and I went inside his cabin and I looked around and couldn’t see Gary.
I excused my self and walked out to the radio car looking for him. When I reached the driver’s side of the car there was Gary with his torso through the window parallel with the floor of the car. He was laughing so hard he couldn’t seem to straighten up. Finally he withdrew himself from the interior of the car and accompanied me back inside the cabin. I continued my investigation speaking every word in my very best rendition of Wolf Man.
At this point the other person involved in this disturbance arrived and entered the cabin. He was a younger male neighbor from across the driveway and had what I usually referred to as a high pitched whiney tenor in his voice. He started by saying, “He say I come over and take his money off the dresser while he sleep”. I then responded in a likewise high-pitched whiney tenor asking, “You mean he say you come over and take his money off the dresser while he sleep?” The old man instantly whirled turning and axed me in his perfect rendition of Wolf Man, “Why you talking like that now?” I responded in the same whiney voice, “ Sometimes my voice just seems to slip and I sounds like this for a few minutes”. I then returned to my best rendition of Wolf Man Jack and continued questioning the victim. By that time I had completed the interview and we left the location. We both laughed the rest of the week about that contact. It was hard to believe but that old man talked like Wolf Man every breath of his life.
A few days later I came up from the locker room going toward the briefing room and saw a small deputy I didn’t even know came around the corner looking up at me, hooking his thumbs into his Sam Browne and saying in his best rendition of Wolf Man, “Hi, who called what’s going on here?” I cracked up, thinking to myself. “Boy things get around pretty fast at this place”.
Gary Rovarino went on to become one of the best, most competent and intuitive deputies I ever met. He was exemplary in everything he attempted and accomplished. After Firestone he worked Vice, the Academy Staff, ESD, then when he promoted he stayed at SEB. As far as I know he retired as a Sergeant from there a few years ago. I will always love and respect him as a man and a partner. We were very close for a few years and frequently went diving together. We also made trips down to Baja. I will always fondly remember and cherish my first few months at Firestone working with the,“Duke”. I am flattered and honored to have been even been an infinitesimal part of helping such a great example of what every deputy sheriff should strive to be like throughout their career.
I know that there were many dark as well as some moonlit nights throughout Firestone’s area. During these the friendly, gravelly voice of the Wolf Man Jack was undoubted heard by some of his fans in the local neighborhoods. I’m also convinced that from time to time Wolf Man did a little howling at the moon over the PA of 1968 Plymouth Fury.