A one-hour drama series based on the untold story
of the Bookmen: associates of the Southern Mafia in
the 1960’s, who worked as door-to-door salesmen
while carrying out “The Company’s” bidding. The
series follows Charlie, a young West Texas man who
kicks the small-town life to become a Bookmen.
The smiling salesman in the living room has a
bookie in the trunk. The sharp dressed man peddling
the good book has a Bible and a gun. The hole in the wall
at the back of the local bar earns more money
than the entire block. The vanished neighbor, a
federal witness. His bewildered family is soon to
follow. The fed’s ask questions. A storefront
burns, with the owner inside. It’s 1971, Amarillo
This could be anywhere. And it’s everywhere the
Project Type:Television Script, Treatment, Other
Number of Pages:60
Country of Origin:United States
Raised by a preacher in Texas I grew up believing all things are possible. The Good Book was real to me. So why not Tolkien, Frank Herbert and later in life Cormac McCarthy and John Irving. Rilke and Bukowski as tandem prophets. While my beliefs in scripture have dissipated, the power of the written word still resounds.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in photography from UTA I have spent the last 20 years in the creative field as a photographer and director.
My uncle, the bookman.
By Matthew Cooper
It was late afternoon on a Tuesday. Pollen dusted oak trees swayed in the summer breeze as sunlight dappled my childhood street in Ft Worth, TX. I was eight years old, playing with June bugs and other crawlies when the sound of Uncle Charlie’s motor bike turned the corner just before he did. I was excited to see my favorite uncle make a visit. He rode up in a mess of smiles and hair. Let loose a cackle from his one good lung like a cartoon thief as he came to a halt. I was on the back of the bike before I knew it and he sped us away leaving my parents to lurch from the house chasing after us. In that moment, there was only the road, the wind and my uncle with the world in pursuit.
Perhaps Charlie should have told my parents about the new motor bike and the visit before he shuffled me off for a ride. But that wasn’t Charlie’s way. And to me he was not a killer, thief or leg breaker. Just my Uncle Charlie. Many things were kept from us. Why he was in prison. What happened in Mexico? How did he become a part of a group of men who worked as road agents for one of the most notorious crime families of the century?
As a young boy, I would hear rumblings of things I did not understand. Stories of axe handles, broken legs, stolen cars, acid burns and butcher knives. Charlie would take a drag from his cigarette and laugh off the tales with his one good lung; he had lost the other to a blade in prison. Some days we would sit on the porch and crack jokes about squirrels and parachutes. I remember his chipped tooth smile well. Later in my life, I would recall a coldness that would appear in his eyes at times. It seemed laughable when he instructed us how to handle ourselves if in danger. How to head butt to rip ears, gouge an eye with a thumb but no matter what always call him before anyone else. A conversation with Uncle Charlie was never dull.
But it was a revelation in his final days that caught all by surprise. He had a son we had never met, nor did he intend us too. He explained that we were all kept safe from his sins by a little book still hidden away in Chicago. His life of crime remedied by its secrets. Someone had broken the one rule on the road. Never write anything down.
I felt betrayed. I wanted to call him a liar. But as time passed, I realized he wasn’t.
What was left behind was two distinct versions of the man I had known. The exciting Uncle who had swept me away on adventures and the man who had walked the streets as a door-to-door salesman through civil rights riots, had drinks with Jack Ruby, stole an armor car as a prank and tossed a man to his death in prison.
He said they were called bookmen. They sold encyclopedias, manuals and bibles door to door from New Orleans through Salt Lake City. But along the way they kept tabs on ledgers, bookies and any other criminals that were handled throughout the south in a web of criminal activity. They were the men on the other line getting things done. Given cars, apartments, and just enough money for a comfortable lifestyle. But were never enough to get out of debt to “the Company”.
Charlie had been telling us his story in bits and pieces. Winks and nods, laughs and silence. He left behind a trail for me to follow. A mystery to solve as a final gift. I was raised a good Christian boy and did not have the foggiest notion of real violence or corruption. It was in my uncle’s eyes that I realized I had seen my first glimpse of darkness.
Charlie was visiting our family breakfast. I was fortunate enough to have grown up with animals on a suburban street and had just been given a dozen chickens. I loved to put on an old leopard mascot costume and chase my feathered friends around the yard to give them hugs. I can only thank my parents for their patience. About half way through breakfast a sinking feeling drove me from the table and I ran to check on my little red hen house.
I was greeted with a spectacle of blood and feathers. A rabid dog had gotten into the shed and massacred all the chickens. It was a horrific sight. I stood dumb struck as the blood-stained dog frothed pink teeth at me. I ran.
Charlie and my father wrangled the animal and chained it to a pole while they attempted to contact animal control. It was Sunday and no one could be reached. As I waited, my sadness turned to compassion and I made my way to the animal on the chain. I tried to pet the dog. It lunged at my face. I was sent back to the porch.
They argued until my dad went inside to attempt calling the city again. My Uncle took a long look at me. His eyes changed. Charlie put out his cigarette and went to the garage and return with rope and hammer. I stood on the back porch and cried fresh tears as I watched. An innocence was lost to me. And part of Charlie revealed. Me and my uncle buried the dog among the many graves of my beloved pets large and small. He had done what was ugly and necessary. He did it without remorse. He did it without words. He did it because he loved me and protected me.
Many times, I have visited that porch in my memory, to reconcile the man with the hammer. I have a ledger of sorts for him. A story of the two of us. In discovering his journey as a bookman, I have found one of my own. My journey to understand his misdeeds and loss have allowed a glimpse into a life I will never experience. I am still chronicling that story.
My father was 16 years old and supporting himself in high school when Charlie showed up after disappearing for over a year. He was dressed in a well-tailored suit and drove a new car. My father laughed at his sock suspenders but when Charlie popped the hood of his unsuspecting sedan, my father was in for a surprise. A supercharged engine and a push button nitro booster added. My father asked why he had that engine put in such a boring car.
“Well Donnie, sometimes you just have to be faster than the guys chasing you.” Charlie told him with a laugh before they took it out on the road to break some speed laws.
I cannot admonish the actions and deeds of my uncle any more than I can erase the love he had for me. He was a killer, a thief and a criminal. He was also my favorite Uncle. Often, I am still the kid on the back of his motorcycle. I remember the hot asphalt, Uncle Charlie’s cackle and the exhilaration of a world in pursuit.
I would very much like to share the story of my uncle the Bookmen with you.