Gary Egan wasn't in a hurry to achieve success. While some people dream of becoming an overnight success, Gary knew that only through hard work and perseverance would he reach the top rung of the ladder. In June 1977, the third anniversary of his professional career as a ventriloquist, and every June thereafter, Gary would pull out a dog-earned but still readable three-by-five index card from inside his wallet, open it and read the note he had typed using a Royal Mercury Portable Typewriter.
“Don’t aim for success; rather, judge your accomplishments by the
failures you’ve overcome. Only then will success come knocking
on your door.”
In the ensuing years, many of the paths he had traversed taxed his fortitude and made him question whether he had made the right choice of being a full-time entertainer. Yet, he trudged on year after year. Gary knew there’d be many more paths to cross and new lessons to learn – all of which were dues to be paid.
In 2005, his dream was realized when he received the offer of a lifetime: a five-year contract to perform five days a week, two shows a day, at the Placid Hotel and Casino in Mount Hope City, New Jersey. Only after the contract was signed did he say to himself, I made it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Gary had just finished his second and last show of the day; it was 6:00 p.m., Friday the seventeenth of April 2009. As he carefully placed his wooden vent figure in its protective carrying case, there was a knock on his dressing room door.
“I’ll be right with you!” he shouted, as he closed and locked the case.
Standing outside the door was Mount Hope City Sheriff Robert Stroud, two deputies and Brad Stevens, the casino’s owner.
“Mr. Gary Egan?” the Sheriff asked after the door opened.
Sheriff Stroud was short and stocky with a thick neck that slightly spilled over his shirt collar. There was little wiggle room in his tan-colored uniform. His hands were similarly chunky, his thumb and fingers stubby, and when his hand was open flat, the knuckles were indistinguishable. To some, Sheriff Stroud, who was in his mid-fifties, would be a pushover in a street fight. Those who were tempted to test him – and a few tried – quickly learned that he held a 2nd Dan black belt in the Japanese martial art of Aikido. Looks are deceiving.
“Yes, sir,” Gary cheerfully replied. “Please come in,” he added, stepping aside.
Brad Stevens always wore handcrafted designer shoes and a custom-tailored three-piece suit and silk tie, regardless of the weather. As he entered the dressing room behind the sheriff, Gary saw that Brad was jacketless, his tie was loosely pulled down and his shirt was unbuttoned at the neck. Beads of perspiration were trickling down Brad’s face and the back of his neck, and he continually used his silk twill handkerchief to pat the moisture secreted through the pores of his skin. A deputy followed Brad into the room. When Gary realized that the other deputy would remain outside, he gently closed the door and turned to face everyone.
“Mr. Egan, you’re under arrest for criminal attempt, conspiracy, and accessory to burglary,” said Sheriff Stroud.
Brad shrugged his shoulders to mimic saying, I don’t know what the hell is going on. The sheriff saw the quizzical look on Gary’s face, but said nothing further. He then reached into his shirt pocket and withdrew a laminated baseball-card-sized document. Holding it in his left hand, he began to read the Miranda Rights. After he read each sentence, he asked Gary if he understood this “Right.” Gary responded affirmatively. When the sheriff finished, he pointed his left forefinger at Gary and motioned him to turn around.
“Place your hands behind your back, Mr. Egan,” Sheriff Stroud said.
As Gary turned around, the deputy removed the handcuffs from the holder affixed to his belt and snapped them around Gary’s wrists. A few moments later, the hallway clear of employees, the group headed for the hotel’s service elevator. Once everyone was inside, Brad pushed the third floor basement level button, the door closed, and the elevator made a rapid descent to the employee parking area, a 24/7 secure space accessible by an electronic permit badge or by entering the numerical code on the keypad.
“Gary, I know you’re not involved in whatever it is that’s going on; is there something I can do for you?” Brad asked as they walked to where the sheriff’s cruiser and van were parked.
“Please lock my dressing room and if anyone needs to go in, I’d appreciate it if you would be there, too.”
“You got it; anything else?”
“Nope,” Gary calmly replied.
After the deputies affixed the seat belt around Gary, they closed the van’s sliding door and climbed into the front seats in preparation for the drive to the municipal jail. Sheriff Stroud then headed for his car.
“I’d stake my life and livelihood on this guy,” Brad told the sheriff.
The van’s mirror-tinted windows precluded anyone from looking in, but its occupants could clearly see everything occurring outside. In the brightly lit basement, Gary watched Brad, arms in constant motion, walking alongside the sheriff. He suspected that Brad was raising a rumpus, but had no idea if the sheriff was responding because their backs were to the van. Had they stopped and turned around, Gary would have read their lips to learn what was being said. He was an expert in voiceless communications: Martha, his three-year-younger sister and only sibling, was born with 10 percent hearing capacity in both ears. He, Martha and their parents learned sign language so they could communicate, but Gary and Martha also learned lip reading. Although Martha’s hearing loss was a significant hindrance that she’d have for the rest of her life, the ability to lip read allowed her the joy of watching movies in a theatre. Television, however, posed a different problem especially during those times when the camera wasn’t focused on the speaker. It was a minor triviality as far as she was concerned.
“Did you hear what I said, sheriff?” Brad asked.
Sheriff Stroud nodded, but said nothing. Personally, he agreed with Brad Stevens’ comment, but couldn’t say that on the record or off the record. He had a job to do and right now his job was to arrest Gary Egan. All indications were that he was an integral member of a highly-organized and skillful posse who selectively burglarized hotel suites housing celebrity guests in Mount Hope City. Only those valuables that could be carried in clothing pockets or small handbags, and which could easily be disposed of in the thriving black market alleyways, were taken.
“You hear, but you’re still arresting him. It doesn’t make sense, sheriff. The man is innocent, I tell you. I-N-N-O-C-E-N-T.”
Sheriff Stroud opened his car door, removed his felt hat and tossed it onto the passenger seat. He slid into the driver’s seat, closed and locked the door, engaged his seatbelt, placed the key into the ignition and started the car, shifted the transmission gear to DRIVE and then slowly headed towards the exit ramp. The van followed a few feet behind.
Brad Stevens was dumbfounded.
“You ignored everything I said!” Brad hollered as the car and van ascended the spiral ramp. “He’s innocent. I swear…”
He suddenly stopped talking – he was alone in the basement.
“It doesn’t make sense damn it!” he hollered, his voice echoing through the vast open space. “This is so stupid.”
He turned and walked back to the elevator in disgust.