The Verdict -- Robert Gardner

When I was growing up, Tagg Atwood was my best friend. What was

remarkable about Tagg is that he was without fear. All sorts of things

that would make ordinary people like Bob Gardner head for the hills

wouldn't even make him blink. He never turned down a wave, and he never

turned away from a fight. This made for certain problems. Since he wasn't

afraid of anything, and since we did everything together, I ended up in

situations I never would have gotten into by myself.

For example, I hated to fight. I always ended up getting a bloody

nose, but Tagg loved to fight. The result: we were constantly in fights.

Tagg's favorite practice was to pull down a man's straw hat over his ears

as we passed through a group. The pullee struck out blindly, whoever he

hit struck back, and the next thing I knew, I'd be in the middle of the

biggest battle since Trafalgar.

Tagg got such a reputation that I think the law began to follow him

around at night because eventually, as soon as the fight started, a

deputy sheriff would appear. For some reason, he always seemed to grab me

and tell me I was under arrest, so while Tagg was down there on the floor

fighting a couple of dozen strangers, I reposed safely in the clutches of

a deputy sheriff, an arrangement of which I heartily approved.

Well, one night we were leaving Frank Sebastion's Cotton Club.

Actually, we were being thrown out because of something Tagg had done to

arouse the enmity of the management. This was to instigate a fight with

the house band consisting of 12 black men. Fortunately for me, the club

bouncer was a deputy sheriff, and I was in my usual custody. Tagg, as

usual, was down on the floor fighting the 12 men. Just then, a car drove

up, and from it exited three Texans. They looked down and one of them

said, "It don't seem quite fair. That one white boy fighting a dozen

blacks."

With a race riot looming in the not-too-distant future, the man who

had me under arrest pulled out a whistle, blew a mighty blast and

shouted, "Deputy sheriff, nobody move!" The Texans hopped back in their

car and took off. All the guys fighting Tagg quit, and Tagg stood there

with an expression of pure frustration on his face.

What happened to Tagg? Well, he died of cancer, but just before he

died, I visited him and asked a simple question, "Tagg, were you ever

scared?" He looked at me as if I'd asked the silliest question possible.

"No. Why should I be?" he said. He was just one of those people born

without fear.

* ROBERT GARDNER is a Corona del Mar resident and a former judge. His

column runs Tuesdays.

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