By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
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By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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To a traveler passing by on the highway, Brookside Village, a tiny, blue-collar community 30 minutes southeast of Houston, seems the picture of bucolic tranquillity. If, that is, you happen to notice it: for anyone driving along FM 518, the main drag of Pearland, the green sign quietly noting that Brookside lies to the east is easy to miss. And Brookside itself -- two square miles and a population of around 1,500 -- is scarcely more arresting than its signage. In truth, though it boasts the unlikely designation of Pearland suburb, the tame, green Brookside landscape scarcely is even identifiable as a place.
Instead, both from the modest, respectable ranch houses on the west side, and the dingy trailers and wood houses on the east, one gets the sense that this little community is more of an accident, a bend in the road where day trippers from Houston, Mexican laborers leaving Houston and Pearland natives who found land or a sweetheart that caught their fancy paused and then, without really planning to, stayed. Today, 36 years after it was incorporated, the little town with its widely spaced houses, two bars and one grocery store still feels somehow unfinished, still country.
Especially to someone tired of the pressures of urban existence, Brookside Village might appear to be an oasis, a place where neighbors go out of their way to be neighborly, and the only conversation over the back fence is about how nicely someone's vegetable garden is doing.
But if you thought that, you'd be wrong.
Instead, within this town's spotless kitchens and behind its tractor- trimmed lawns swirl rumors, allegations and whispered suggestions of local malfeasance. Attendance at City Council meetings, once countable on two hands, has in the past year climbed to close to 100.
And most curious of all -- though almost everyone has concerns they're eager to share, and complaints are not at all hard to find -- it's clear that for many Brookside residents all this political intrigue is, well, appealing.
In this sleepy community where there's little to do and even less money to spend on it, what elsewhere might be simple disputes have come to consume residents with something like mystical fervor. It's almost as if, in finding intrigue, the people of Brookside have found purpose. And they have also found a suggestion of malevolent powers. Like Keyser Soze, the enigmatic enforcer in the film The Usual Suspects, someone, many Brookside residents will tell you, is controlling their town behind the scenes.
Just who that person -- or group of persons -- manipulating Brookside Village is said to be depends a lot on whom your informant happens to support in local politics. But while the police, the mayor and a nine-month-old group calling itself Informed Brookside Village Citizens are all singled out as possible behind-the-scenes string pullers, the one name heard most often is that of Councilman Bobby Moore, a quiet, slow-speaking man who often spends Brookside's town meetings staring down at the table.
Though Moore is easily the most taciturn member of Brookside City Council, a great deal of energy is spent talking about him, alluding to him, consulting with him and occasionally insulting him directly. "I have no idea how he does it," says one Brookside woman, in the kind of commentary many in the town like to offer as long as they're not quoted by name. "All I know is Moore's got the police chief and all the police with him. They are using police and Council budget for their own personal gain."
Meanwhile, leaning back in perhaps the most immaculate of Brookside Village's many clean kitchens, the individual reputed by some to run his community smokes a cigarette. A man of medium height, he gives the impression of being heavyset, though he actually isn't. Two of his front teeth are gone, a faded and primitive outline of a heart is tattooed on his forearm and he wheezes a bit when he talks.
Once, when Moore steps out of the kitchen, his wife Susan, who is Brookside Village's jailer, opens their medicine cabinet to show the 26 medications her husband takes since a car accident four years ago ended his career as a truck driver. It was after that, Susan Moore says, that her husband entered local politics. After winning a bitter race for his City Council seat, Moore now devotes himself full-time to local government -- and in particular to helping Brookside's police force.
Moore, says his wife, simply loves the police, perhaps because his three brothers work for the Brazoria County sheriff's office. And while in another town Moore's legal passion might be lauded, in Brookside Village it raises all kinds of eyebrows. That's because Brookside is one of the most thoroughly policed towns in Texas. Nationally, the average for police coverage is about 2.3 officers per thousand residents. With three full-time officers, and three police cars, for its 1,500 people, Brookside may not at first seem unusually well covered. But throw in at least 15 non-paid reserve officers, and the city's reputation for extremely vigilant law enforcement becomes more understandable. How positive all this is varies sharply according to who you talk to.