The Accidental Jurist

Leonard Peltier. Stephen Miles. Now the witness who might break the Ramsey case. Itís no wonder Lee Hill thinks he needs to pack a pistol.

In those days, Naropa was located upstairs in a building on the Pearl Street Mall. One day, Hill hurried up to the second floor, where he hung his coat on a rack before proceeding to the third floor for his class. When he reached the top of the stairs, he realized that he'd left his wallet in his coat. He hurried back down the stairs, noting that a distinguished older gentleman in a stylish fedora was reading a book on a bench across from the coat rack.

Hill reached into the pocket of his coat and retrieved his wallet, then went back upstairs. But he felt like a shoplifter with the eyes of a store manager on him. It was his wallet, but he wondered if the old gentleman thought that he was stealing it.

He ran back down the stairs. The old man was still sitting on the bench reading his book. "I just wanted to say that I wasn't stealing the wallet. It's mine," he stammered.

Lee Hill
Lee Hill
Action figures: Steven Seagal and Lee Hill are working on movie and television projects.
Action figures: Steven Seagal and Lee Hill are working on movie and television projects.

The old man just looked at him. "I like your fedora," Hill said lamely. He did like the man's hat, but was beginning to feel foolish. "Where'd you buy it?"

The old man seemed to accept his explanation and questions at face value. "Which way are you going?" he asked in a low, gravelly voice.

"What?" Hill replied, confused.

"Which way do you go home?" the man repeated.

Hill said he lived up on the Hill.

"Fine," said the old man. "I go that way myself. When you're ready to go, I'll show you where I bought the hat."

So Hill found himself walking beside the old man, who pointed out a conservative men's clothing store on a corner of the mall. The mannequin in the window was wearing an identical fedora.

The man said his name was William S. Burroughs -- which rang a bell with Hill, but he didn't know why. Perhaps his new friend was on the Naropa faculty.

The next day he was in the Boulder Book Store, and a book caught his eye. Kerouac was the title, but what grabbed his attention was the author, Ann Charters -- the stepmother of his old friend Sammy Charters.

Hill knew little about Jack Kerouac, other than that he had written a book called On the Road, that he had something to do with the Beatniks and there was a writing program at Naropa called the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. He was leafing through the pages of photographs when he stopped short -- there was a photograph, and then another and another, of the old man he'd just met.

Hill began looking for excerpts about Burroughs. The more he read, the more shocked he became. Burroughs was an author, one of the Beat writers along with Kerouac, and had written something called Naked Lunch. But that refined, cordial Southern gentleman, the scion of a wealthy St. Louis family, was also a notorious heroin addict and homosexual who had shot his wife between the eyes while on a drug bender in Mexico City.

Hill was a bit apprehensive the next time he met Burroughs, who was lecturing at Naropa that term, but he soon decided that his first impression had been the more accurate. He would always be thankful that he'd met Burroughs before reaching a conclusion based on what others said or wrote, which was a good lesson.

The man did have a great fondness for firearms and drink, often mixing the two. Even though it had been an accident that he'd shot his wife, that didn't make Hill feel much better when Burroughs was waving a gun around with one hand while clutching a martini in the other.

But no one got shot and Hill learned a lot, including how to properly cook a steak and mix a martini. And if the old man was a drug addict and alcoholic, he was a controlled one. He'd remain sober until five o'clock, then he'd pull out a steak -- more if he was entertaining -- slide a bottle of vodka out of the freezer and light up a bong. All of which he shared generously with his young friend.

Although Burroughs had supposedly kicked his heroin habit (and Hill never saw him inject a drug), the former medical student knew how to keep himself well-medicated. And anyone else, for that matter. Once in the summer of 1978, when Hill showed up at Burroughs's apartment with a "high-altitude cold," the kind with a splitting headache, Burroughs immediately set tea water to boiling and scooted off to his bathroom, returning with a prescription medicine bottle. He poured Hill a cup of tea and dumped in a tablespoon of whatever liquid was in the bottle.

"I'd like you to drink this," Burroughs told him.

He hesitated. "Well," he said, sniffling, "what's in it?"

"Methadone." His mentor smiled.

Hill drank the concoction, and it wasn't long before he pronounced his cold cured. At least until about four hours later, when the effects wore off and his cold returned worse than ever. Such was the price of drug addiction, Burroughs told him.

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