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COMMENTARY : Story Is So Big It's Right Out of Dumpster

February 04, 1994|JOHN BALZAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

That money apparently financed all or part of the scatter-brained plot to disable Kerrigan. Gillooly's attorney says the whole caper came down to about $5,000 or less.

The calls have already been placed, of that I am sure. Please put us through so we can ask Mr. Steinbrenner: Did you, sir, have the least hint that your generous support of this otherwise flat-broke young, troubled and promising figure skater would finance an attempt to change the outcome of Olympics and thereby poison amateur sports for years to come?

Click.

Everyone in Portland has a favorite among the misbegotten supporting cast of characters here.

For many, it's Shawn Eckardt. In the breathless opening of the drama, he was described as Harding's "350-pound" bodyguard. Then reporters got a grip. Eckardt suddenly shrunk to a 300-pound bodyguard.

Eckardt is important for several reasons. Foremost, he's the goofiest and the least photogenic of anyone involved--with sleepy eyes, a blank face and a neck like an oil drum.

Eckardt, you may recall, is thought to be the middleman in the hi-jinks. He was the link between Gillooly and the accused thugs-for-hire Shane Stant and Derrick Smith.

Seems that Eckardt's daydreams were more than a match for his tonnage. He had passed himself off among acquaintances as some sort of a young James Bond who had tangled with the terrorists of the world. But, OK, he would make time for his old pal Gillooly and help "take down a skater."

According to attorney Hoevet, Eckardt more or less discounted any James Bond-style fee and "bet on the come" by taking on the assignment.

Wreak a little violence into the world of figure skating, and guess what? Skaters everywhere will be in a desperate search for bodyguards. Enter Shawn Eckardt, 26-year-old entrepreneur and proprietor World Bodyguard Services Inc. He would protect figure skating from himself. Economists call this creating a market for your services.

Who besides his lawyer calls Eckardt stupid?

Another favorite character is Norman Frink. He is the glowering prosecutor with the razor-cut hair and the limited vocabulary.

Several times a day he parades in front of the cameras--and in fairness, he could hardly avoid the cameras because they are stationed at every door of the courthouse. He is the man that knows it all and tells nothing, unless of course he is clandestinely behind the leaks that have left Portland knee-deep in the sour broth of rumor.

But who is to say? Not Norman. He is tormentor: He has all the turkey sandwiches but won't feed the hungry mob scratching at this door.

At one court appearance, a crass wag bellowed out a question to Frink. "So who do you pick to play you?" As in, Skating on Thin Ice, The Movie.

Frink: Thin smile.

But sorry. Everybody in Hollywood prefers a speaking part these days, don't they. Could even Clint Eastwood pull off a role as a man in a dark suit who says 250 times: "The investigation is continuing. . . . The investigation is continuing. . . . "

Are we making light of events? Yes, and about time, don't you agree?

But not for long. As Frink explains: "The investigation is continuing." The satellite dishes stay aimed at the heavens.

One more thing. Did I mention that garbage was in the news this week?

No, not that kind of garbage, but the real stuff as comes out of the dumpster. It seems the owners of the Dockside Saloon and Restaurant in North Portland have reported to the FBI that Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly's household trash ended up in the restaurant's dumpster. Among the reported contents: The stub of a check for $10,000 from the U.S. Figure Skating Assn., an envelope addressed to Gillooly from the Associated Press, a Detroit taxi receipt and handwritten notes "related to" the Nancy Kerrigan's practice rink in South Dennis, Mass.

Is this a significant development? Does herein lie evidence? How did trash from the Gillooly-Harding residence in suburban Beavercreek end up behind a North Portland saloon? Just who picked through the restaurant dumpster to find this garbage? Why were they looking?

We don't know. But everyone is after the story. Gotta go.

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