by Tim Gilmore, 5/19/2016
Neither of them mentions the double ax murder or the “drugs-for-sex deal gone bad.” Charlene hits the jukebox and plays Guns ’n Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”
Greybeard’s Tavern has been here longer than he has, Tommy says, and he’s 75 years old.
Greybeard’s has been here 50 years, Charlene says, because she’s 53 and she moved in down the street when she was three years old.
Tommy leans back from the bar and stares vacantly at the TV screen, some local news murder story, his silver hair combed straight down his back.
He’s trained greyhounds for 44 years and none of these assholes who hold their picket signs on street corners have been down at the kennel with him to see what goes on.
“These people says we’re cruel to these animals don’t know shit. These animals was born to run. I say I train ’em, but I don’t. It’s already in ’em. These goddamn Grey2K people!”
Grey2K USA is an organization that advocates for greyhound protection. Greybeard’s. Greyhounds. Grey2K.
Most of the dog tracks have folded, Tommy says, and only the Orange Park Kennel Club is left. He trains his dogs at a kennel down West First Street, where the Jacksonville dog track used to be.
From June 2013 to December 2014, Grey2K reported the deaths of 23 greyhounds at the Orange Park track, reflecting numbers the state requires dog tracks to record. Most dog track deaths come from broken legs that result in collisions or falls while racing.
A confused discussion about what keys are on a certain keyring breaks out between Charlene and Jenna, the bartender. There’s a key that was on the ring that’s now off and a key that’s off the ring that was on. There’s confusion about a key to someone’s back door.
Charlene walks to the front door, opens it dramatically, and stands with her legs wide apart in the sunlight, the front buttons of her sundress undone to just below her waist.
With the key situation mysteriously resolved, she returns to her seat at the other end of the bar and Tommy asks me excitedly, “Did you see that?”
“I’m not sure,” I say.
“Her buttons down here was undone and I’m like, ‘Do I see that thing I think I’m seein’?’”
Charlene’s here most afternoons and nights. She challenges men to the pool table and buys them a $1.50 Bud Light in a plastic cup if they win. She dances up Papa Jerry, bald and big-bearded.
Big beards and bald heads are as common here as Harleys and leather jackets, but there’s only one Greybeard. That’s Curtis Kimbler, the biggest biker activist in the city.
Even in his absence, Greybeard fills his tavern. A stuffed greybearded biker hangs over the bar with a toy assault rifle aimed just over his head.
In a cartoon of the streetcorner tavern that adorns the laminated bar and the walls, a buxom brunette stands in the doorway in a short red dress, a biker and his girl grapple in the back yard, and Greybeard parks a bike by a street sign in front of the corner door.
A sign over the bathrooms reads, “Kwitcherbitchen,” and another over the jukebox and cigarette machine says, “Bikes Babes Beer.”
Confederate flags hang over the pool table and a square wooden column by the bar. “Git Er Done,” the caption on the latter flag reads.
A biker named Doug explains succinctly why he loves Greybeard’s: “The worst of the worst bikers, damn women humping women, bartenders picking up tips with their titties, glad I’m not black!”
Doug says, “I may not have a Ph.D., but I do have a DD-214,” referring to the U.S. military’s form for discharge from active duty. I don’t mention that I have a Ph.D.
Lucille wears a tiny purple bikini top with blue flower etchings over each breast. The tattoos on either arm are incomprehensible. She says she’s a “sexy grandma.”
Greybeard took over the bar in the late 1990s, but the two-story corner-box building had been a grocery and bar in this Northwest Jacksonville district called Woodstock since 1947.
Long before Greybeard Kimbler, the corner store was Steve’s Grocery, and Steve lived in the apartment upstairs. His name’s carved into the sidewalk in front of the corner door.
Greybeard became a victims’ rights advocate after “an axe-wielding murderer,” in the words of a June 2007 Victims’ Advocate front page story, “viciously hacked to death” his daughter, Kimberli Kimbler, then eight months’ pregnant, and Archie Crook Sr. in their rental home in 1999. Greybeard was advocating victims’ rights eight years before a jury ruled on the double homicide in 2007.
Jason Simpson, convicted of the double ax murder, had turned informant for the cops after he and Crook had long “been involved” with the sale of “illegal drugs.” Simpson’s defense attorney said Crook’s son, Archie Jr., not Jason Simpson, had murdered his father and Kim Kimbler. He said Simpson had helped Clay and Duval County authorities solve “several murders.”
When the jury recommended death, Greybeard responded tersely, “You live by the sword. You die by the sword.”
In June 2007, Greybeard organized an impromptu biker brigade’s “poker run.” Participants downed a few beers in the morning and set off together on their bikes toward other bars. They collected a playing card at each station and the best poker hand at the end of the ride collected the cash. That first race, proceeds from the ride, raffles, and silent auctions contributed $2,628 to the Justice Coalition.
For the next several years, Greybeard’s Tavern participated in each poker run, most of the time as the starting line.
Then Kathy was beaten to death in the boarding room over the bar. Bartending at Greybeard’s, she’d resided upstairs for two to three months.
Her family described her as compassionate… independent… ambitious… social… fearless… free-spirited… bold… bossy… talkative… profound… sympathetic… protective… kind of heart… artistic… animal lover.
Randal William Wagoner, a 45 year old man of Raiford, Florida, said he knew Kathy but denied he had hurt her.
Police argued a “drugs for sex” deal fell through above the bar, whereupon Wagoner beat Kathy Johnson to death, then set her apartment on fire.
The scuttlebutt downstairs takes fire too. A female former bartender says drugs have always moved freely through the building, even when Mayor John Peyton praised the bar for charity donations from “Bikers against Child Abuse.”
A man with a silver mullet and dark wraparound sunglasses says, “Ain’t no drugs for sex here. Fuck that. These girls show their titties for a dollar, that’s all it is.”
A younger man named Luke says Kathy was kind. She could be tough, rev up a bike, but she’d always take care of an injured animal. She’d bottle-fed a baby squirrel that had fallen from its nest. An emaciated Chihuahua puppy, its belly full of worms, seated itself beside her late at night, nestled up next to her heart.
Luke offers to buy me a $1.50 drink. There’s only Bud and Bud Light on tap, and both are served in ribbed plastic cups.
“Look,” he says, “Greybeard’s a great man. He raises money for justice every single day. So you can go outside and imaginate what’s inside. Or you can have another drink on me and fuck all the rest!”