By Chris Lane
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By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
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By Craig Malisow
"They no longer talk to me," Kruse explains.
It's not hard to understand why.
Plastered over Kruse's house and his old Chrysler New Yorker are handmade placards denouncing the Alief legislator and his assistant.
"Cowards, has history proven Heflin and Hicks to be failures?" reads one posted on the front of Kruse's Continental Drive home.
"Cowards, is the handwriting on the wall for your devil, Heflin and Hicks?" asks another on the garage door.
Kruse's aversion to the twosome grew out of Heflin and Hicks' affiliation with the Alief Historical Cemetery Association, which is no relation to Kruse's one-person Alief Cemetery Association. According to the historical marker in the graveyard, maintenance of the grounds has been the responsibility of the Alief Historical Cemetery Association. Hicks says the association was created after an arrangement for the Alief Chamber of Commerce to tend the site fell apart. He is the current head of the association; Heflin is a past president.
Kruse, of course, doesn't recognize their authority.
"It is no longer theirs to play with because they were just squatters," he declares, suddenly bursting into a laugh that can only be described as maniacal.
Then, just as suddenly, Kruse darts a look across the street to the car lot. Somebody's spying on him.
"It's one of Heflin's clowns," he explains, pointing at a figure that only he can see.
Kruse is convinced that Heflin and Hicks have ordered someone to follow him.
They, on the other hand, are trying to keep as much distance between themselves and Kruse as possible.
"We don't want to give him any publicity," says Hicks. "He's as loony as a bedbug, and we're trying to avoid priming his pump."
Hicks says that Kruse's claim of ownership of the cemetery is baseless, since the graveyard originally was deeded to the people of Dairy and it still belongs "to the people" (which a title search for the Press would seem to confirm). However, he acknowledges that Kruse is correct in asserting that the cemetery's eastern boundary actually stretches to Dairy Ashford, although extending the fence, Hicks says, would just create a traffic hazard.
Hicks also admits Kruse has done a good job keeping the property mowed, but the legislative aide adds that Kruse otherwise has "screwed it up" by affixing his "Semper Fi" decals to gravestones. He and Heflin have had an attorney send Kruse a letter demanding that he vacate the cemetery property and not return. "As soon as I can verify that he has received that letter, we're going to go out there and pull up everything he's stuck in the ground," Hicks says.
Beyond that, the Heflin aide is reluctant to say much more about Charles Kruse.
Kruse's neighbors aren't just reluctant to discuss the self-appointed caretaker. They're frightened. At first, they thought it mildly amusing when the signs about Hicks and Heflin started going up in Kruse's front yard. But when one neighbor spotted Kruse sleeping on top of his house with a shotgun, they stopped laughing.
"We all have a lot of concerns," explains another neighbor. "I'm afraid he's eventually going to hurt somebody."
Kruse acknowledges that for a time he was spending nights on his roof "for surveillance purposes," but says the shotgun was never loaded. He says he no longer has any firearms. His neighbors don't have anything to fear from him. But he suggests they look out for Heflin and Hicks.
"The people of the community have abandoned their cemetery into the hands of bad politicians, that's how it is," says Kruse.
As he speaks, Kruse admires his preservation handiwork on the gravestone of Alief Magee. Engraved above the "Semper Fi" stickers he's placed there is this inscription: "Before you lies the headstone of Alief Ozelda Magee, the namesake of the cemetery. She hath done what she could."
In his own strange way, so has Charles Kruse.