The greatest cattle rustler of our time led police on a high-speed chase across north Texas in a stolen SUV, then spun out and crashed into a ditch.
Soon the SUV was surrounded by cops, including members of a SWAT team wearing bathing suits because they were doing scuba training when they got the call. Still wet, the SWAT guys put on bulletproof vests. They shot beanbag rounds at the SUV, breaking its windows, then fired in tear gas. They also set the grass around the SUV on fire. Then they started taunting the greatest cattle rustler of our time, whose name is Bob Harold Leach.
"Hey, c'mon out, Bob! I got a cold drink for you!"
"Your car is on fire, Bob!"
After a couple hours of this, the cops stormed the SUV and found that Bob had disappeared, leaving behind only an empty whiskey bottle.
And that's just the beginning of "High Plains Grifter," a darkly comic true-crime saga in the August issue of GQ. Deftly told by Jay Kirk, the story of Bob Harold Leach and his Keystone Kop pursuers would make a perfect vehicle for a Coen brothers movie -- a film that would fit right in with their other crime sagas, "Raising Arizona" and "Fargo."
This is a story that includes plenty of the classic elements of the old-fashioned western -- cattle rustling, Texas Rangers, a jailbreak and a shootout. But it also has some nifty contemporary touches, like dope smoking, rough sex, hostage negotiation, Home Depot and the TV Guide crossword puzzle.
It's educational, too, revealing what a modern Texas Ranger does when he's tired and frustrated and he can't find the escaped desperadoes he's trying to catch: He eats a plate of fried okra, then reclines on the couch to watch "Gunsmoke" reruns.
If the Coen brothers do film this story -- and I sure hope they will -- there's a great role for their favorite actress, Frances McDormand, who won an Oscar for her role as the pregnant sheriff in "Fargo." She could play Irma Forrester, who was taken hostage by Leach and his dim-bulb fellow jailbreaker, Gerald Lynn Gantt.
Irma is a delightfully feisty old lady who doesn't suffer these fools gladly. She got mad when Gantt crushed out his cigarettes on her good, clean linoleum, and she demanded that Leach let her dog out to go do what dogs do outside. When Leach refused, she told him that he'd be the one who'd have to clean up the dog's mess. So Leach relented and let the pooch out.
By then, cops had surrounded Irma's farmhouse. But they came from two different police departments and they couldn't agree on which department should be in charge, so they set up two rival command posts and kept surprising each other as they wandered around in the dark.
Inside the farmhouse, Leach got on the phone and started negotiating with Texas Ranger Tracy Murphree. The rustler talked Murphree's ear off, yakking for hours and making strange requests: He wanted permission to shoot Gantt, whom he really didn't like very much, and he wanted to make a deal that ensured that he'd be sent to a federal prison, not a Texas prison, because you're not allowed to smoke in Texas prisons.
On and on it goes, getting weirder and weirder. I won't spoil the ending, but I will say this: Don't wait for the movie. Read the GQ story.
A Tale From the Deep
Swimming in the biggest underwater cave in the world, deeper than nearly any diver had ever gone, Dave Shaw spotted a human body. It was floating on its back, a diving mask still in place over its eerie, skinless skull.
Shaw, one of the world's greatest deep-water divers, knew who the dead man was: Dean Dreyer, a diver who'd drowned in that cave 10 years earlier. Shaw secured Dreyer's body with a rope so he could come back and bring it to the surface.
A few months later, in January of this year, Shaw returned to the cave -- Bushman's Hole in South Africa -- with a team of divers, hoping to retrieve Dreyer's corpse. This extremely dangerous mission is the subject of "Raising the Dead," an exciting, expertly told adventure by Tim Zimmermann in the August issue of Outside.
This is another true story that could -- and should -- be made into a movie. Unlike "High Plains Grifter," it's no comedy. It's a pure white-knuckle thriller, a tale of courage that ends in heartbreaking tragedy. And then, just when you think it's over, you're hit with another macabre twist.
If you take this story to the beach, be sure to slather yourself with sunscreen. It's a long tale and you won't want to stop reading till it's over.
Gee Whiz, It's Good
It's tough to get good drinking water in space.
Astronauts get thirsty and their water has to be launched into space the same way they are -- on the shuttle. Water is heavy and it's expensive to lug it up to the International Space Station. Over the last five years, NASA has spent $60 million taking water to the space station, which works out to about $40,000 a gallon. (For that price, you'd think they'd take Dom Perignon and par-tay.)
Seeking to save your tax money, NASA has come up with a water purification system that can collect an astronaut's urine and sweat, mix it with space station drain water and filter it into something you can chug and guzzle.
At least that's what they say. But the folks at Wired magazine wanted some proof, so they sent intrepid reporter Tom McNichol out to test this stuff.
McNichol didn't go into space. He went to Reno, Nev., home of Water Security, the company that developed the system. He produced a urine sample and dumped it into a yellow bucket that already contained some contaminated water. The Water Security folks ran it through their magical gizmo and about 30 seconds later, it dribbled into a plastic cup.
McNichol raised the cup, took a big gulp and paused to savor the flavor. Then rendered his verdict:
"The water tastes pretty good -- it's definitely no Evian, but it is better than most city tap," he writes. "Certainly more palatable than many light beers I've had, and not at all, uh, urinous. Move over, Tang: There's a new space drink in town!"