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(photo by Ensenada Police Department)

The late J.D. Salinger’s 1951 coming-of-age novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” is among my favorite books, although I’m hardly alone. Through Holden Caulfield, his troubled teenage protagonist, Salinger’s portrayal of lost innocence still sells an amazing 250,000 copies annually. Published in eight languages, it’s sold 65 million copies to date. And yet it was also the most banned book in America between 1966 and 1975.

Salinger, whom some considered the most important American writer to emerge from World War II (he fought at D-Day and Battle of the Bulge), turned his back on success and went into a lifelong seclusion. He became the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous.

The title of the novel comes from a moving passage wherein Holden describes the only thing he’d like to be in life. “I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye on the edge of some crazy cliff. If they’re running and don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye.” With a nod to J.D. Salinger, I think I’ve crossed paths with a real life catcher in the rye.

Fausto Atilano is a bail bondsman and a bounty hunter. But whereas all other bounty hunters focus solely on getting their fugitive into jail, Fausto donates much of his time to keep them out. He does so with his personalized “Contract for Justice.”

Often to younger offenders, Fausto offers a zero-tolerance set of terms and conditions; a step-by step plan to change the individual’s behavior. If agreed to by the fugitive and then by court, the contract can keep a young person out of jail where too often he/she is endlessly recycled in the criminal justice system. Essentially, Fausto has saved dozens and dozens of kids from going over the cliff.

The bail bonds and bounty hunter business is not exactly one that is associated with kindness. It’s a tough, gritty world, recently popularized by the mega-hit A & E reality TV show “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” I tell friends to think of Fausto as a “thinking man’s Dog.”

A critical turning point in Fausto’s life occurred four years ago. He had just tracked down a 20-year-old crack addict who had skipped bail and was six months pregnant. (Not a rosy set of circumstances, to say the least.)

The young woman, who wanted to get an abortion, touched Fausto’s heart. In an extraordinary gesture, he paid her doctor and hospital bills.
While Fausto’s compassionate side is obvious, make no mistake, he’s a tough customer. A one-time competitive body builder, he’s also a former state prison guard and chief of security for Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Pre-Governator era.)

What makes Fausto additionally unique is that he’s the only bounty hunter who regularly crosses the Mexican border. There he faces potential violence at every turn, from drug cartels to smuggling gangs. (Is that all?)

Fausto works with his team of bounty hunters, one of whom, Vincent, is a “graduate” of the Contract for Justice. (Meaning Vincent almost fell off the cliff.) Meanwhile, Fausto’s story is so compelling that TV has come calling with the idea of a reality show. Will Hollywood change Fausto? Strong as he is, it’s likely to be the other way around.

To see Fausto in action go to You Tube and type Fausto’s Justice_4_EMIX.mov.

As for the enigmatic J.D. Salinger, he died on Jan. 27, 2010 at his rural New Hampshire home where he’d lived in near isolation for more than 50 years. He was 91. It’s ironic, I suppose, that when I first came upon Fausto’s work saving troubled kids I couldn’t stop thinking of “Catcher in the Rye.” And now that I’ve written about Fausto, I can’t stop thinking of Salinger. As Holden might have said, “I guess life is like that.”

If he isn’t too busy lately reading books about the life of J.D. Salinger, Jack can be reached at jnsmdp@aol.com.

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