Home > A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance #1)(15)

A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance #1)(15)
Author: John Grisham

It opened in the basement. One of the bodyguards waited by the open door of a clean white stretch limo, and Cat invited his guests in for a ride. They moved slowly past a row of Fleetwoods, several more limos, a Rolls, and an assortment of European luxury cars. "They're all mine," he said proudly.

The driver honked and a heavy door rolled up to reveal a one-way side street. "Drive slow," Cat yelled to the chauffeur and the bodyguard way up front. "I wanna show you fellas around some."

Carl Lee had received the tour a few years earlier during his last visit to Cat. There were rows of beaten and paintless shacks that the great man referred to as rental properties. There were ancient red-bricked warehouses with blackened or boarded windows and no clue as to what was stored inside. There was a church, a prosperous church, and a few blocks away, another one. He owned the preachers too, he said. There were dozens of corner taverns with open doors and groups of young blacks sitting on benches outside drinking quart bottles of Stag beer. He pointed proudly to a burned-out building near Beale and told with great zeal the story of a competitor who had attempted to gain a foothold in the topless business. He had no competitors, he said. And then there were the clubs, places with names like Angels and Cat's House and Black Paradise, places where a man could go for good drink, good food, good music, naked women, and possibly more, he said. The clubs had made him a very rich man. Eight of them in all.

They were shown all eight. Plus what seemed like most of the real estate in south Memphis. At the dead end of a nameless street near the river, the driver turned sharply between two of the red-bricked warehouses and drove through a narrow alley until a gate opened to the right. Past the gate a door opened next to a loading dock and the limo disappeared into the building. It stopped and the bodyguard got out.

"Keep your seats," Cat said.

The trunk opened, then shut. In less than a minute the limo was again cruising the streets of Memphis.

"How 'bout lunch?" Cat asked. Before they answered he yelled at the driver, "Black Paradise. Call and tell them I'm comin' for lunch.

"Got the best prime rib in Memphis, right here in one of my clubs. Course you won't read about it in the Sunday paper. I've been shunned by the critics. Can you imagine?"

"Sounds like discrimination," Lester said.

"Yeah, I'm sure it is. But I don't use that until I'm indicted."

"We ain't read about you lately, Cat," Carl Lee said.

"It's been three years since my last trial. Tax evasion. Feds spent three weeks puttin' on proof, and the jury stayed out twenty-seven minutes and returned with the two most precious words in the Afro-English language-'Not guilty.' "

"I've heard them myself," Lester said.

A doorman waited under the canopy at the club, and a set of matching bodyguards, different bodyguards, escorted the great one and his guests to a private booth away from the dance floor. Drinks and food were served by a squad of waiters. Lester switched to Scotch and was drunk when the prime rib arrived. Carl Lee drank iced tea and swapped war stories with Cat.

When the food was gone, a bodyguard approached and whispered to Cat. He grinned and looked at Carl Lee. "Y'all in the red Eldorado with Illinois plates?"

"Yeah. But we left it at the other place."

"It's parked outside ... in the trunk."

"What?" said Lester. "How-"

Cat roared and slapped him on the back. "Don't ask, my man, don't ask. It's all taken care of, my man. Cat can do anything."

As usual, Jake worked Saturday morning, after breakfast at the Coffee Shop. He enjoyed the tranquility of his office on Saturday-no phones, no Ethel. He locked the office, iguuicu me pnone, and avoided clients. He organized files, read recent decisions from the Supreme Court and planned strategy if a trial was approaching. His best thoughts and ideas came during quiet Saturday mornings.

At eleven he phoned the jail. "Sheriff in?" he asked the dispatcher.

"Lemme check," came the reply.

Moments passed before the sheriff answered. "Sheriff Walls," he announced.

"Ozzie, Jake Brigance. How are you?"

"Fine, Jake. You?"

"Fine. Will you be there for a while?"

"Coupla hours. What's up?"

"Not much. Just need to talk for a minute. I'll be there in thirty minutes."

"I'll be waitin'."

Jake and the sheriff had a mutual like and respect for each other. Jake had roughed him up a few times during cross-examinations, but Ozzie considered it business and nothing personal. Jake campaigned for Ozzie, and Lucien financed the campaigns, so Ozzie didn't mind a few sarcastic and pointed questions during trial. He liked to watch Jake at trial. And he liked to kid him about the game. In 1969, when Jake was a sophomore quarterback at Karaway, Ozzie was a senior all-conference, all-state tackle at Clanton. The two rivals, both undefeated, met in the final game at Clanton for the conference championship. For four long quarters Ozzie terrorized the Karaway offense, which was much smaller and led by a gutsy but battered sophomore quarterback. Late in the fourth quarter, leading 44-0, Ozzie broke Jake's leg on a blitz.

For years now he had threatened to break the other one. He always accused Jake of limping and asked about the leg.

"What's on your mind, buddy?" Ozzie asked as they sat in his small office.

"Carl Lee. I'm a little worried about him."

"What way?"

"Look, Ozzie, whatever we say here is said in confidence. I don't want anyone to know about this conversation."

"You sound serious, Jake."

"I am serious. I talked to Carl Lee Wednesday after the hearing. He's out of his mind, and I understand that. I would be too. He was talking about killing the boys, and he sounded serious. I just think you ought to know."

"They're safe, Jake. He couldn't get to them if he wanted to. We've had some phone calls, anonymous of course, with all kinds of threats. Black folks are bad upset. But the boys're safe. They're in a cell by themselves, and we're real careful."

"That's good. I haven't been hired by Carl Lee, but I've represented all the Haileys at one time or another and I'm sure he considers me to be his lawyer, for whatever reason. I feel a responsibility to let you know."

"I'm not worried, Jake."

"Good. Let me ask you something. I've got a daughter, and you've got a daughter, right?"

"Got two of them."

"What's Carl Lee thinking? I mean, as a black father?"

"Same thing you'd be thinkin'."

"And what's that?"

Ozzie reared back in his chair and crossed his arms. He thought for a moment. "He's wonderin' if she's okay, physically, I mean. Is she gonna live, and if she does, how bad is she hurt. Can she ever have kids? Then he's wonderin' if she's okay mentally and emotionally, and how will this affect her for the rest of her life. Thirdly, he wants to kill the bastards."

"Would you?"

"It's easy to say I would, but a man don't know what he'd do. I think my kids need me at home a whole lot more than Parchman needs me. What would you be thinkin', Jake?"

"About the same, I guess. I don't know what I'd do. Probably go crazy." He paused and stared at the desk. "But I might seriously plan to kill whoever did it. It'd be mighty hard to lie down at night knowing he was still alive."

"What would a jury do?"

"Depends on who's on the jury. You pick the right jury and you walk. If the D.A. picks the right jury you get the gas. It depends strictly on the jury, and in this county you can. me ngrit lolks. People are tired of raping and robbing and killing. I know white folks are."

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