Friday, September 16, 2016

Wanted Dead or Alive

I grew up in The Great Age of the TV Western. There were just too many to list, from those oriented just for kids (like Fury and Range Rider), to Warner Brothers staples (Maverick, Cheyenne), to the offbeat shows like Have Gun Will Travel, to the long-lasting shows like Bonanza and Gunsmoke. And then there were a couple of peculiar little shows, one of which was Wanted Dead or Alive, which introduced the world to Steve McQueen.

While there were exceptions – Maverick and Have Gun Will Travel – most of the leads in the cowboy shows were earnest, upstanding, boring, do-gooding fellows of tremendous rectitude who would not have been out of place at a Shriners Club meeting c. 1958. In fact, you could probably have rounded up all the regular characters on those shows(other than James Gardner in Maverick and Richard Boone in Have Gun Will Travel), and shipped them off to any pre-2016 Republican convention. I can definitely see Mitt Romney in a cowboy hat and string tie, shaking hands with Pa Cartwright.

One show that stood out from most of the other ‘aw, shucks,’ white-hat Westerns was Wanted Dead or Alive.

Josh Randall (Steve McQueen) was every bit as taciturn and white-hat as most of the fellows who populated cowboy shows, but he was also slouchy and sexy. (Not that I had a clue was sexy was when I was in my Western-watching prime. I always had some crush or another, but when I look back on those crushes, it’s with a big ‘huh?’) Josh Randall had a slurry way of speaking. Forget “Let’s go.” In Josh Randall argot, it was “Lez go,” muttered to the bad guy he’d just apprehended.

And that’s what Josh Randall did: apprehend bad guys as a bounty hunter.

I haven’t thought about Josh Randall in quite a while. Probably not since my husband died, as, whenever we saw Steve McQueen in some old movie like The Great Escape or Bullitt, Jim was sure to mutter the immortal words “lez go.”

But bounty hunters came to mind when I saw a recent article on the profession in The Economist. (There are no bounty hunters in England, from whence cometh The Economist, but they do so enjoy cocking an occasional snook at the quaint and violent practices of the former colonies.)

Almost every state – including Massachusetts, I take it – lets a private citizen work as a “fugitive recovery agent.” And, in many states, you don’t even need a license. (Surprisingly, Massachusetts is one of them.)

Bounty hunters are hired by bail bondsmen to go fetch those who have skipped out on bail, and are paid a percentage (10-20%) of the value of the bail bond they’ve skipped out on. While bounty hunters don’t earn a ton – in Massachusetts, I read that the average annual is $74K – if you’re hunting someone who’s out on a six-figure bond, you can get quite a payday when you catch a high-priced thief.

It is not work for the faint of heart—plenty of fugitives try to fight off n pursuers. So many bounty hunters lift weights and practice a martial art or wrestling, the better to snap on handcuffs and, on some fugitives, ankle cuffs, lest they try to kick out a backseat window on the drive to jail. Tools of the trade include ballistic vests, pepper spray, Tasers, handguns and, for some jobs, a shotgun loaded with a beanbag that “folds you up like a newspaper”, says Mike “Animal” Zook, an affable bounty-hunter in Spirit Lake, Idaho. Though built like a bear, he has been clubbed and, on four jobs, stabbed. (Source: The Economist)

Clubbed and stabbed? Think I’ll take a pass on this as a second career. I’m much more cut out to be the old maid schoolmarm in the one room schoolhouse on The Big Valley.

Not everyone’s happy with the state of the bounty hunting art, regulation wise. The National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents – which sounds like something founded after the Fugitive Slave Act went into law – is advocating for more rules and regulations, including – perhaps – a fatwa on any bounty hunter who has murdered someone.

But purist, old-school bounty hunters, especially those out west, where the buffalo and Josh Randall roamed…They want to be able to kick that door in and get their man. They maintain that a system with a 90% success rate at finding those who’ve skipped bail ain’t broke. So it don’t need no fixin.’

Unlike Josh Randall, modern bounty hunters rely on technology to help make their hunting happier.

Knowing that a certain fugitive had a weakness for 7-Eleven’s Slurpees, Mr Zook got access to security video recorded by the firm and used face-recognition software to learn when and at which outlet he was most likely to swing by. He caught the man as he emerged from an Idaho 7-Eleven with the frosty drink in hand.

Some bounty hunters resort to tricks, like pretending to deliver a package. (Me, I just can’t see Steve McQueen faking it up in a Fed Ex uniform…)

Anyway, it’s always interesting to read about an interesting profession – even one that’s violent and retro. (Lez go.)

No comments: