CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In early 1992, mere months into my career as a Gazette reporter, the city editor called me over to her desk and said she was sending me on an assignment to Mingo County.
I was excited for my first foray into "Bloody Mingo," but a tad nervous, too, once I found out what my task would be.
"Wig Preece is back in Kermit," she said. "Head down there and see if he'll talk to you."
The hoots and hollers from the veteran reporters who were within earshot were my first clues that this wasn't exactly a much-sought-after assignment.
In the mid-'80s, while I was busy finishing high school, and Mingo County was immersed in -- you guessed it -- political corruption, Wig Preece, his wife and some of his kids were basically ruling the little coal town of Kermit.
When the feds swept through and cleaned house, they grabbed the Preeces in the process, shipping them off to jail on various drug or tax evasion charges.
The Preeces' impudence showed just how lawless Mingo could be. They sold drugs out of a trailer next to city hall. When their supply ran low, they put out a sign that read: "Out of Drugs. Back in 15 minutes."
And, so, by February 1992, fresh out of jail, Wig and some of the others had returned to their old stomping grounds.
When I knocked on his door, Wig appeared wearing jeans and a stained white T-shirt. Although I was just 22, it wasn't the first time I'd been yelled at as a reporter, but it was the first time the message was delivered in such close proximity. "No! No interviews," he said, inches from my face, before slamming the door.
I spent the rest of the day wandering around Kermit, piecing a story together from the comments of a very wary group of neighbors. It was hard work, but the rough edges of the town, the landscape and the people absolutely fascinated me. I was hooked on Mingo County, and I soon adopted it as part of my beat.
I looked into shady spending by the Economic Opportunities Commission, which was supposed to be helping the poor. I investigated a sweetheart deal that seemed to put one ambulance agency in the county at a huge advantage over a competitor. I got my hands on a VCR recording showing what appeared to be cafeteria workers smuggling food out of an elementary school.
After the EOC stories appeared, the commission leaders and their cronies held a rally in Williamson to cheerlead the EOC and denounce my reporting -- and me.