PEOPLE HAD ALWAYS CALLED Phenix City wicked. Or Sin City. For those of us who lived and worked outside the rackets, we tried our best to ignore it. But it was hard when most of the vice boasted services in neon down by the river, on the way to the only two bridges out of town. But we had schools and a hospital paid for in dirty money, and sometimes big-time poker chips would end up in the collection plates on Sunday. My son and daughter went to school and church with sons and daughters of bootleggers, pimps, and whores. Bert Fuller was a deacon, and Hoyt Shepherd, who most called the town’s kingpin, sometimes sang in the Christmas pageant and liked to play the part of the innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph. It was just an engrained part of our local economy, and the vice had gone on so long, it was very much like a strand of barbed wire that cuts a tree but is later absorbed, becoming part of its growth. Until that June, I guess I didn’t even know how deeply that wire cut. But there were things I learned, the darkest of moral depravity that went far beyond slot machines and illegal liquor that I still can’t wash from my mind.