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A Time for Mercy / (by John Grisham, 2020) -

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A Time for Mercy /    (by John Grisham, 2020) -

A Time for Mercy / (by John Grisham, 2020) -

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A Time for Mercy / (by John Grisham, 2020) -
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2020
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John Grisham
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Michael Beck
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upper-intermediate
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19:59:25
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

A Time for Mercy / :

.doc (Word) john_grisham_-_a_time_for_mercy.doc [2.73 Mb] (c: 5) .
.pdf john_grisham_-_a_time_for_mercy.pdf [3.21 Mb] (c: 4) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: A Time for Mercy

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To the memory of SONNY MEHTA Knopf Chairman, Editor in Chief, Publisher 1 T he unhappy little home was out in the country, some six miles south of Clanton on an old county road that went nowhere in particular. The house could not be seen from the road and was accessed by a winding gravel drive that dipped and curved and at night caused approaching headlights to sweep through the front windows and doors as if to warn those waiting inside. The seclusion of the house added to the imminent horror. It was long after midnight on an early Sunday when the headlights finally appeared. They washed through the house and cast ominous, silent shadows on the walls, then went away as the car dipped before its final approach. Those inside should have been asleep for hours, but sleep was not possible during these awful nights. On the sofa in the den, Josie took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, and eased to the window to watch the car. Was it weaving and lurching as usual, or was it under control? Was he drunk as always on these nights or could he have throttled back on the drinking? She wore a racy negligee to catch his attention and perhaps alter his mood from violence to romance. She had worn it before and he had once liked it. The car stopped beside the house and she watched him get out. He staggered and stumbled, and she braced herself for what was to come. She went to the kitchen where the light was on and waited. Beside the door and partially hidden in a corner was an aluminum baseball bat that belonged to her son. She had placed it there an hour earlier for protection, just in case he went after her kids. She had prayed for the courage to use it but still had doubts. He fell against the kitchen door and then rattled the knob as if it were locked; it was not. He finally kicked it open and it slammed into the refrigerator. Stuart was a sloppy, violent drunk. His pale Irish skin turned red, his cheeks were crimson, and his eyes glowed with a whiskey-lit fire that she had seen too many times. At thirty-four, he was graying and balding and tried to cover it up with a bad comb-over, which after a night of bar-hopping left long strands of hair hanging below his ears. His face had no cuts or bruises, perhaps a good sign, perhaps not. He liked to fight in the honky-tonks, and after a rough night he usually licked his wounds and went straight to bed. But if there had been no fights he often came home looking for a brawl. _The hell you doin_ up?_ he snarled as he tried to close the door behind him. As calmly as possible, Josie said, _Just waitin_ on you, dear. You okay?_ _I don_t need you to wait on me. What time is it, two in the mornin_?_ She smiled sweetly as if all was well. A week earlier, she had decided to go to bed and wait him out there. He came home late and went upstairs and threatened her children. _About two,_ she said softly. _Let_s go to bed._ _What_re you wearin_ that thing for? You look like a real slut. Somebody been over here tonight?_ A common accusation these days. _Of course not,_ she said. _I_m just ready for bed._ _You_re a whore._ _Come on, Stu. I_m sleepy. Let_s go to bed._ _Who is he?_ he growled as he fell back against the door. _Who is who? There_s no one. I_ve been here all night with the kids._ _You_re a lyin_ bitch, you know that?_ _I_m not lyin_, Stu. Let_s go to bed. It_s late._ _I heard tonight that somebody saw John Albert_s truck out here coupla days ago._ _And who is John Albert?_ _And who is John Albert, asks the little slut? You know damned well who John Albert is._ He moved away from the door and took steps toward her, unsteady steps, and he tried to brace himself with the counter. He pointed at her and said, _You_re a little whore and you got old boyfriends hangin_ around. I_ve warned you._ _You_re my only boyfriend, Stuart, I_ve told you that a thousand times. Why can_t you believe me?_ _Because you_re a liar and I_ve caught you lyin_ before. Remember that credit card. You bitch._ _Come on, Stu, that was last year and we got through it._ He lunged and grabbed her wrist with his left hand and swung hard at her face. With an open hand he slapped her across the jaw, a loud popping sound that was sickening, flesh on flesh. She screamed in pain and shock. She had told herself to do anything but scream because her kids were upstairs behind a locked door, listening, hearing it all. _Stop it, Stu!_ she shrieked as she grabbed her face and tried to catch her breath. _No more hittin_! I promised you I_m leavin_ and I swear I will!_ He roared with laughter and said, _Oh really? And where you goin_ now, you little slut? Back to the camper in the woods? You gonna live in your car again?_ He yanked her wrist, spun her around, threw a thick forearm around her neck, and growled into her ear. _You ain_t got no place to go, bitch, not even the trailer park where you was born._ He sprayed hot saliva and the rank odor of stale whiskey and beer into her ear. She jerked and tried to free herself but he thrust her arm up almost to her shoulders as if trying mightily to snap a bone. She couldn_t help but scream again and she pitied her children as she did so. _You_re breakin_ my arm, Stu! Please stop!_ He lowered her arm an inch or two but pressed her tighter. He hissed into her ear, _Where you goin_? You got a roof over your head, food on the table, a room for those two rotten kids of yours, and you wanna talk about leavin_? I don_t think so._ She stiffened and wiggled and tried to break free, but he was a powerful man with a crazy temper. _You_re breakin_ my arm, Stu. Please let go!_ Instead, he yanked hard again and she yelled. She kicked back with her bare heel and hit his shin, then spun around and with her left elbow caught him in the ribs. It stunned him for a second, did no damage, but allowed her to pry herself free, knocking over a kitchen chair. More noise to frighten her children. He charged like a mad bull, grabbed her by the throat, pinned her to the wall, and dug his fingernails into the flesh of her neck. Josie couldn_t yell, couldn_t swallow or breathe, and the mad glow in his eyes told her this was their last fight. This was the moment he would finally kill her. She tried to kick, missed, and in a flash he threw a hard right hook that landed square on her chin, knocking her out cold. She crumpled to the floor and landed on her back with her legs spread. Her negligee was open, her breasts exposed. He stood for a second or two and admired his handiwork. _Bitch hit me first,_ he mumbled, then stepped to the fridge where he found a can of beer. He popped the top, had a sip, wiped his mouth with the back of a hand, and waited to see if she might wake up or whether she was down for the night. She wasn_t moving so he stepped closer to make sure she was breathing. He had been a street brawler all his life and knew the first rule: Nail _em on the chin and they_re out for good. The house was quiet and still, but he knew the kids were upstairs, hiding and waiting. _ DREW WAS TWO years older than his sister, Kiera, but puberty, like most normal changes in his life, was coming late. He was sixteen, small for his age and bothered by his lack of size, especially when standing next to his sister, who was struggling through another awkward growth surge. What the two didn_t know, yet, was that they had different fathers, and their physical development would never be in sync. Heredity aside, at that moment they were bound together as tightly as any two siblings while they listened in horror as their mother suffered another beating. The violence was spiraling and the abuse was more frequent. They were begging Josie to leave and she was making promises, but the three of them knew there was no place to go. She assured them things would get better, that Stu was a good man when he wasn_t drinking, and she was determined to love him to better health. No place to go. Their last _home_ had been an old camper in the backyard of a distant relative who was embarrassed to have them on his property. All three knew they were surviving life with Stu only because he owned a real house, one with bricks and a tin roof. They were not hungry, though they still had painful memories of those days, and they were in school. Indeed, school was their sanctuary because he never came near the place. There were issues there_slow academic progress for Drew, too few friends for both of them, old clothes, the free-lunch lines_but at least at school they were away from Stu, and safe. Even when sober, which, mercifully, was most of the time, he was an unpleasant ass who resented having to support the children. He had none himself because he had never wanted them, and also because his two prior marriages ended not long after they began. He was a bully who thought his home was his castle. The kids were unwelcome guests, perhaps even trespassers, and therefore they should do all the dirty work. With plenty of free labor, he had an endless list of chores, most designed to disguise the fact that he himself was nothing more than a lazy slob. At the slightest infraction, he cursed the kids and threatened them. He bought food and beer for himself and insisted that Josie_s meager paychecks cover _their_ side of the table. But the chores and food and intimidation were nothing compared to the violence. _ JOSIE WAS BARELY breathing and not moving. He stood above her, looked at her breasts, and as always wished they were larger. Hell, even Kiera had a bigger rack. He smiled at this thought and decided to have a look. He walked through the small dark den and began to climb the stairs, making as much noise as possible to frighten them. Halfway up he called out in a high-pitched, drunken, almost playful voice, _Kiera, oh Kiera__ In the darkness, she shuddered in fear and squeezed Drew_s arm even tighter. Stu lumbered on, his steps landing heavy on the wooden stairs. _Kiera, oh Kiera__ He opened Drew_s unlocked door first, then slammed it. He turned the knob to Kiera_s and it was locked. _Ha, ha, Kiera, I know you_re in there. Open the door._ He fell against it with his shoulder. They were sitting together at the end of her narrow bed, staring at the door. Jammed against it was a rusted metal shaft Drew had found in the barn, and with it he had rigged a doorstop that they prayed would hold. One end was wedged against the door, the other against the metal bed frame. When Stu began rattling the lock, Drew and Kiera, as rehearsed, leaned on the metal shaft to increase the pressure. They had practiced this scenario and were almost certain the door would hold. They had also planned an attack if the door came flying open. Kiera would grab an old tennis racket and Drew would yank a small tube of pepper spray out of his pocket and blast away. Josie had bought it for the kids, just in case. Stu might beat them again, but at least they would go down fighting. He could easily kick in the door. He had done so a month earlier, then raised hell when a new one cost him a hundred dollars. At first he insisted that Josie pay for it, then wanted money from the kids, then finally stopped bitching about it. Kiera was rigid with fear and crying quietly, but she was also thinking that this was unusual. On the prior occasions when he had come to her room, no one else was at home. There had been no witnesses and he had threatened to kill her if she ever told. Stu had already silenced her mom. Did he plan to harm Drew too, and threaten him? _Oh Kiera, oh Kiera,_ he sang stupidly as he fell against the door again. His voice was a little softer, as if he might be giving up. They pressed on the metal shaft and waited for an explosion, but he went silent. Then he retreated, his steps fading on the stairs. All was quiet. And not a sound from their mother, which meant the end of the world. She was down there, either dead or unconscious because otherwise he would not have climbed the stairs, not without a nasty fight. Josie would claw his eyes out in his sleep if he harmed her children again. _ SECONDS AND MINUTES dragged by. Kiera stopped crying, and both of them sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for something, a noise, a voice, a door being slammed. But, nothing. Finally, Drew whispered, _We have to make a move._ Kiera was petrified and couldn_t respond. He said, _I_ll go check on Mom. You stay here with the door locked. Got it?_ _Don_t go._ _I have to go. Something happened to Mom, otherwise she_d be up here. I_m sure she_s hurt. Stay put and keep the door locked._ He moved the metal shaft and silently opened her door. He peeked down the stairs and saw nothing but darkness and the faint glow of a porch light. Kiera watched and closed the door behind him. He took the first step down as he clutched the can of pepper spray and thought how great it would be to blast that son of a bitch in the face with a cloud of poison, burn his eyes and maybe blind him. Slowly, one step at a time without making a sound. In the den he stopped dead still and listened. There was a distant sound from Stu_s bedroom down the short hallway. Drew waited a moment longer and hoped that maybe Stu had put Josie to bed after slapping her around. The light was on in the kitchen. He peeked around the door face and saw her bare feet lying still, then her legs. He dropped to his knees and scurried under the table to her side where he shook her arm roughly, but didn_t speak. Any sound might attract him. He noticed her breasts but was too frightened to be embarrassed. He shook again, hissed, _Mom, Mom, wake up!_ But there was no response. The left side of her face was red and swollen, and he was certain she wasn_t breathing. He wiped his eyes and backed away, and crawled into the hallway. At the end of it Stu_s bedroom door was open, a dim table light was on, and after he focused Drew could see a pair of boots hanging off the bed. Stu_s snakeskin pointed-toes, his favorites. Drew stood and walked quickly to the bedroom, and there, sprawled across the bed with his arms thrown open wide above his head and still fully dressed, was Stuart Kofer, passed out again. As Drew glared at him with unbridled hatred, the man actually snored. Drew ran up the stairs, and as Kiera opened the door, he cried, _She_s dead, Kiera, Mom_s dead. Stu_s killed her. She_s on the kitchen floor and she_s dead._ Kiera recoiled and shrieked and grabbed her brother. Both were in tears as they went down the stairs and to the kitchen where they cradled their mother_s head. Kiera was weeping and whispering, _Wake up, Mom! Please wake up!_ Drew delicately grabbed his mother_s left wrist and tried to check her pulse, though he wasn_t sure he was doing it properly. He felt nothing. He said, _We gotta call 911._ _Where is he?_ she asked, glancing around. _In the bed, asleep. I think he passed out._ _I_m holding Mom. You go call._ Drew went to the den, turned on a light, picked up the phone, and dialed 911. After many rings the dispatcher finally said, _911. What_s your emergency?_ _My mother has been killed by Stuart Kofer. She_s dead._ _Son, who is this?_ _I_m Drew Gamble. My mother is Josie. She_s dead._ _And where do you live?_ _Stuart Kofer_s house, out on Bart Road. Fourteen-fourteen Bart Road. Please send someone to help us._ _I will, I will. They_re on the way. And you say she_s dead. How do you know she_s dead?_ _ _Cause she ain_t breathing. _Cause Stuart beat her again, same as always._ _Is Stuart Kofer in the house?_ _Yep, it_s his house and we just live here. He came in drunk again and beat my mother. He killed her. We heard him do it._ _Where is he?_ _On his bed. Passed out. Please hurry._ _You stay on the line, okay?_ _No. I_m checkin_ on my mom._ He hung up and grabbed a quilt from the sofa. Kiera had Josie_s face cradled in her lap, gently rubbing her hair as she wept and kept saying, _Come on, Mom, please wake up. Please wake up. Don_t leave us, Mom._ Drew covered his mother with the quilt, then sat by her feet. He closed his eyes and pinched his nose and tried to pray. The house was still, silent; the only sounds were Kiera_s whimpering as she begged her mother. Minutes passed and Drew willed himself to stop crying and do something to protect them. Stuart might be asleep back there but he might wake up, too, and if he caught them downstairs he would fly into a rage and beat them. He had done that before: get drunk, rage, threaten, slap, pass out, then wake up ready for another round of fun. Then he snorted and made a drunken noise, and Drew was afraid he might wake himself from his drunkenness. Drew said, _Kiera, be quiet,_ but she did not hear him. She was in a trance, pawing at her mother as tears dripped from her cheeks. Slowly, Drew crawled away and left the kitchen. In the hall he crouched and tiptoed back to the bedroom where Stuart hadn_t moved. His boots still hung off the bed. His stocky body was spread across the covers. His mouth was open wide enough to catch flies. Drew stared at him with a hatred that almost blinded him. The brute had finally killed their mother, after months of trying, and he would certainly kill them next. And no one would bother Stuart for it because he had connections and knew important people, something he often bragged about. They were nothing but white trash, castaways from the trailer parks, but Stuart had clout because he owned land and carried a badge. Drew took a step back and looked down the hall where he saw his mother lying on the floor and his sister holding her head and moaning in a low pained hum, completely detached, and he walked to a corner of the bedroom, to a small table on Stuart_s side of the bed where he kept his pistol and his thick black belt and holster and his badge in the shape of a star. He took the gun out of the holster and remembered how heavy it was. The pistol, a Glock nine-millimeter, was used by all deputies on the force. It was against the rules for a civilian to handle it. Stu cared little for silly rules, and one day not long ago when he was sober and in a rare good mood he walked Drew to the back pasture and showed him how to handle and fire the weapon. Stu had been raised with guns; Drew had not, and Stu poked fun at the kid for his ignorance. He boasted of killing his first deer when he was eight years old. Drew had fired the gun three times, badly missing an archery target, and was frightened by the kick and noise of the gun. Stu had laughed at him for his timidity, then fired six quick rounds into the bull_s-eye. Drew held the gun with his right hand and examined it. He knew it was loaded because Stu_s guns were always at the ready. There was a cabinet in the closet packed with rifles and shotguns, all loaded. In the distance Kiera was moaning and crying, and before him Stu was snoring, and soon the police would come barging in and they would eventually do as little as they had done before. Nothing. Nothing to protect Drew and Kiera, not even now with their mother lying dead on the kitchen floor. Stuart Kofer had killed her, and he would tell lies and the police would believe him. Then Drew and his sister would face an even darker future without their mother. He left the room holding the Glock and slowly walked to the kitchen, where nothing had changed. He asked Kiera if their mother was breathing and she did not respond, did not interrupt her noises. He walked to the den and looked out the window into the darkness. If he had a father he didn_t know him, and once again he asked himself where was the man of the family? Where was the leader, the wise one who gave advice and protection? He and Kiera had never known the security of two stable parents. They had met other fathers in foster care, and they had met youth court advocates who had tried to help, but they had never known the warm embrace of a man they could trust. The responsibilities were left to him, the oldest. With their mother gone, he had no choice but to step up and become a man. He and he alone had to save them from a prolonged nightmare. A noise startled him. There was a groan or a snort or some such noise from the bedroom and the box spring and mattress rattled and heaved, as if Stu was moving and coming back to life. Drew and Kiera could not take any more. The moment had come, their only chance to survive was at hand, and Drew had to act. He returned to the bedroom and stared at Stu, still on his back and dead to the world, but oddly one boot was off and on the floor. Dead was what he deserved. Drew slowly closed the door, as if to protect Kiera from any involvement. How easy would it be? Drew clasped the pistol with both hands. He held his breath and lowered the gun until the tip of the barrel was an inch from Stu_s left temple. He closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. 2 K iera never looked up. She stroked her mother_s hair and asked, _What did you do?_ _I shot him,_ Drew said matter-of-factly. His voice had no expression, no fear or regret. _I shot him._ She nodded and said nothing else. He went to the den and looked out the front window again. Where were the red and blue lights? Where were the responders? You call and report your mother has been killed by a brute and no one shows up. He turned on a lamp and glanced at the clock. 2:47. He would always remember the exact moment he shot Stuart Kofer. His hands were shaking and numb, his ears were ringing, but at 2:47 a.m. he had no regrets for killing the man who_d killed his mother. He walked back to the bedroom and turned on the ceiling light. The gun was beside Stu_s head, which had a small, ugly hole in the left side. Stu was still looking at the ceiling, now with his eyes open. A circle of bright red blood was spreading in an arc through the sheets. Drew walked back to the kitchen, where nothing had changed. He went to the den, turned on another light, opened the front door, and took a seat in Stu_s recliner. Stu would have a fit if he caught anyone else sitting on his throne. It smelled like him_stale cigarettes, dried sweat, old leather, whiskey and beer. After a few minutes, Drew decided he hated the recliner, so he pulled a small chair to the window to wait for the lights. The first were blue, blinking and swirling furiously, and when they topped the driveway_s last incline Drew was stricken with fear and had trouble breathing. They were coming to get him. He would leave in handcuffs in the rear seat of a deputy_s patrol car, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. The second responder was an ambulance with red lights, the third was another police car. Once it was known that there were two bodies and not just one, another ambulance arrived in a rush, followed by more law enforcement. Josie had a pulse and was quickly loaded onto a stretcher and raced away to the hospital. Drew and Kiera were sequestered in the den and told not to move. And where would they go? Every light in the house was on and there were cops in every room. Sheriff Ozzie Walls arrived by himself and was met in front of the house by Moss Junior Tatum, his chief deputy, who said, _Looks like Kofer came home late, they had a fight, he slapped her around, then passed out on his bed. The kid got his gun and shot him once in the head. Instant._ _You talked to the kid?_ _Yep. Drew Gamble, age sixteen, son of Kofer_s girlfriend. Wouldn_t say much. I think he_s in shock. His sister is Kiera, age fourteen, she said they_ve lived here about a year and that Kofer was abusive, beat their mom all the time._ _Kofer_s dead?_ Ozzie asked in disbelief. _Stuart Kofer is dead, sir._ Ozzie shook his head in disgust and disbelief and walked to the front door, which was wide open. Inside, he stopped and glanced at Drew and Kiera who were sitting beside each other on the sofa, both staring down and trying to ignore the chaos. Ozzie wanted to say something but let it pass. He followed Tatum into the bedroom, where nothing had been touched. The gun was on the sheets, ten inches from Kofer_s head, and there was a wide circle of blood in the center of the bed. On the other side, the bullet_s exit had blown out a section of the skull, and blood and matter had been sprayed against the sheets, pillows, headboard, and wall. At the moment, Ozzie had fourteen full-time deputies. Now thirteen. And seven part-timers, along with more volunteers than he cared to fool with. He_d been the sheriff of Ford County since 1983, elected seven years earlier in an historic landslide. Historic because he was, at the time, the only black sheriff in Mississippi and the first ever from a predominantly white county. In seven years he_d never lost a man. DeWayne Looney had his leg blown off in the courthouse shooting that put Carl Lee Hailey on trial in 1985, but Looney was still on the force. But there, in all its ghastliness, was his first. There was Stuart Kofer, one of his best and certainly his most fearless, dead as a doornail as his body continued to leak fluids. Ozzie removed his hat, said a quick prayer, and took a step back. Without taking his eyes off Kofer, he said, _Murder of a law enforcement officer. Call in the state boys and let them investigate. Don_t touch anything._ He looked at Tatum and asked, _You talked to the kids?_ _I did._ _Same story?_ _Yes sir. The boy won_t talk. His sister says he shot him. Thought their mother was dead._ Ozzie nodded and thought about the situation. He said, _All right, no more questions for the kids, no more interrogation. From this point on, everything we do will be picked through by the lawyers. Let_s take the kids in, but not a word. In fact, put _em in my car._ _Handcuffs?_ _Sure. For the boy. Do they have any family around here?_ Deputy Mick Swayze cleared his throat and said, _I don_t think so, Ozzie. I knew Kofer pretty well and he had this gal livin_ with him, said she had a rough background. One divorce, maybe two. I_m not sure where she_s from but he did say she ain_t from around here. I came out here a few weeks ago on a disturbance call, but she didn_t press charges._ _All right. We_ll figure it out. I_ll take the kids in. Moss, you ride with me. Mick, you stay here._ Drew stood when asked and offered his hands. Tatum gently cuffed them in the front and led the suspect out of the house and to the sheriff_s car. Kiera followed, wiping tears. The hillside was manic with a thousand flashing lights. Word was out that an officer was down, and every off-duty cop in the county wanted a look. _ OZZIE DODGED THE other patrol cars and ambulances and weaved down the drive to the county road. He turned his blue lights on and hit the gas. Drew asked, _Sir, can we see our mother?_ Ozzie looked at Tatum and said, _Turn on your tape recorder._ Tatum removed a small recorder from a pocket and flipped a switch. Ozzie said, _Okay, we are now recording anything that_s said. This is Sheriff Ozzie Walls and today is March twenty-fifth, nineteen ninety, at three fifty-one in the morning, and I_m driving to the Ford County jail with Deputy Moss Junior Tatum in the front seat, and in the backseat we have, what_s your full name, son?_ _Drew Allen Gamble._ _Age?_ _Sixteen._ _And your name, Miss?_ _Kiera Gale Gamble, age fourteen._ _And your mother_s name?_ _Josie Gamble. She_s thirty-two._ _Okay. I advise you not to talk about what happened tonight. Wait until you have a lawyer. Understand?_ _Yes sir._ _Now, you asked about your mother, right?_ _Yes sir. Is she alive?_ Ozzie glanced at Tatum, who shrugged and said into the recorder, _As far as we know, Josie Gamble is alive. She was taken from the scene in an ambulance and is probably already at the hospital._ _Can we go see her?_ Drew asked. _No, not right now,_ Ozzie said. They rode in silence for a moment, then Ozzie said, in the direction of the recorder, _You were the first on the scene, right?_ Tatum said, _Yes._ _And did you ask these two kids what happened?_ _I did. The boy, Drew, said nothing. I asked his sister, Kiera, if she knew anything, and she said her brother shot Kofer. At that point I stopped askin_ questions. It was pretty clear what happened._ The radio was squawking and all of Ford County, even in the darkness, seemed to be alive. Ozzie turned down the volume and went silent himself. He kept his foot on the gas and his big brown Ford roared down the county road, straddling the center line, daring any varmint to venture onto the pavement. He had hired Stuart Kofer four years earlier, after Kofer returned to Ford County from an abbreviated career in the army. Stuart had managed a passable job in explaining his dishonorable discharge, said it was all about technicalities and misunderstandings and so on. Ozzie gave him a uniform, put him on probation for six months, and sent him to the academy in Jackson where he excelled. On duty, there were no complaints. Kofer had become an instant legend when he single-handedly took out three drug dealers from Memphis who had gotten lost in rural Ford County. Off-duty was another matter. Ozzie had dressed him down at least twice after reports of drinking and hell-raising, and Stuart, typically, apologized in tears, promised to clean up his act, and swore allegiance to Ozzie and the department. And he was fiercely loyal. Ozzie had no patience with unpleasant officers and the jerks didn_t last long. Kofer was one of the more popular deputies and liked to volunteer in schools and with civic clubs. Because of the army he had seen the world, an oddity among his rather rustic colleagues, most of whom had hardly stepped outside the state. In public he was an asset, a gregarious officer who always had a smile and a joke, who remembered everyone_s name, who liked to walk through Lowtown, the colored section, on foot and without a gun and with candy for the kids. In private there were problems, but as brothers in uniform his colleagues tried to keep them from Ozzie. Tatum and Swayze and most of the deputies knew something of Stuart_s dark side, but it was easier to ignore it and hope for the best, hope no one got hurt. Ozzie glanced in the mirror again and looked at Drew in the shadows. Head down, eyes closed, not a sound. And although Ozzie was stunned and angry, it was difficult to picture the kid as a murderer. Slight, shorter than his sister, pale, timid, obviously overwhelmed, the kid could pass for a shy twelve-year-old. They roared into the dark streets of Clanton and soon slid to a stop in front of the jail, two blocks off the square. Outside the main door to the jail a deputy was standing with a man holding a camera. _Dammit,_ Ozzie said. _That_s Dumas Lee, isn_t it?_ _Afraid so,_ Tatum said. _I guess word_s out. They all have police scanners these days._ _Y_all stay in the car._ Ozzie got out, slammed his door, and walked straight for the reporter, already shaking his head. _You ain_t gettin_ nothin_, Dumas,_ he said roughly. _There_s a minor involved and you ain_t gettin_ his name or his picture. Get outta here._ Dumas Lee was one of two beat reporters for The Ford County Times, and he knew Ozzie well. _Can you confirm an officer has been killed?_ _I ain_t confirmin_ nothin_. You got ten seconds to get outta here before I slap cuffs on you and haul your ass inside. Beat it!_ The reporter slinked away and soon disappeared into the darkness. Ozzie watched him, then he and Tatum unloaded the kids and hustled them inside. _You want to process them?_ asked the jailer. _No, we_ll do it later. Let_s just get _em in the juvenile cell._ With Tatum bringing up the rear, Drew and Kiera were led through a wall of bars and down a narrow hallway to a thick metal door with a narrow window. The jailer opened it and they stepped into the empty room. There were two sets of bunk beds and a dirty commode in one corner. Ozzie said, _Take off the handcuffs._ Tatum snapped them off and Drew immediately rubbed his wrists. _You_re gonna stay here for a few hours,_ Ozzie said. _I want to see my mother,_ Drew said, more forcefully than Ozzie expected. _Son, you_re in no position to want anything right now. You_re under arrest for the murder of a law enforcement official._ _He killed my mother._ _Your mother is not dead, thankfully. I_m about to drive to the hospital and check on her. When I come back I_ll tell you what I know. That_s the best I can do._ Kiera asked, _Why am I in jail? I didn_t do anything._ _I know. You_re in jail for your own safety, and you won_t be here long. If we released you in a few hours, where would you go?_ Kiera looked at Drew and it was obvious they had no idea. Ozzie asked, _Do y_all have any kinfolks around here? Aunts, uncles, grandparents? Anybody?_ Both hesitated then slowly shook their heads, no. _Okay. It_s Kiera, right?_ _Yes sir._ _If you had to call someone right now to come get you, who would you call?_ She looked at her feet and shook her head. _Our preacher, Brother Charles._ _Charles who?_ _Charles McGarry, out in Pine Grove._ Ozzie thought he knew all the preachers but perhaps he had missed one. In all fairness, there were three hundred churches in the county. Most were small congregations scattered throughout the countryside and notorious for fighting and splitting and running off their preachers. It was impossible for anyone to keep score. He looked at Tatum and said, _Don_t know him._ _I do. Good guy._ _Give him a call, wake him up, ask him to get down here._ He looked at the kids and said, _We_ll leave you here where you_re safe. They_ll bring in some snacks and drinks. Make yourself at home. I_m goin_ to the hospital._ He took a breath and looked at them with as little sympathy as possible. His overwhelming concern was a dead deputy and he was looking at the killer. Still, they were so lost and pathetic it was difficult to want revenge. Kiera lifted her wet eyes and asked, _Sir, is he really dead?_ _He is indeed._ _I_m sorry, but he beat our mother a lot, and he came after us too._ Ozzie held up both hands and said, _Let_s not go any further. We_ll get a lawyer in here to talk to you kids and you can tell him anything you want. For now, just keep it quiet._ _Yes sir._ Ozzie and Tatum left the cell and slammed the door behind them. At the front, the jailer hung up his phone and said, _Sheriff, that was Earl Kofer, said he just heard that his son Stuart had been killed. Really upset. I said I didn_t know but you need to call him._ Ozzie cursed under his breath and mumbled, _Just fixin_ to do that. But I need to get to the hospital. You can handle it, can_t you?_ _No,_ Tatum said. _Sure you can. Give him a few facts and tell him I_ll call later._ _Thanks for nothin_._ _You got it._ Ozzie hustled out the front door and drove away. _ IT WAS ALMOST 5:00 a.m. when Ozzie wheeled into the hospital_s empty lot. He parked near the ER, hurried inside, and almost bumped into Dumas Lee, who was one step ahead of him. _No comment, Dumas, and you_re pissin_ me off._ _That_s my job, Sheriff. Just searching for the truth._ _I don_t know the truth._ _Is the woman dead?_ _I_m not a doctor. Now leave me alone._ Ozzie punched the elevator button and left the reporter in the lobby. On the third floor, two deputies were waiting, and they escorted their boss to a desk where a young doctor saw them coming and was waiting. Ozzie made introductions and everybody nodded without shaking hands. _What can you tell us?_ he asked. Without looking at a chart, the doctor said, _She_s unconscious but stable. Her left jaw is shattered and will need surgery soon to reset it, but it_s not that urgent. Looks like she just took a shot to the jaw and/or chin and got knocked out._ _Any other injuries?_ _Not really, maybe some bruises on her wrists and neck, nothing that requires care._ Ozzie took a deep breath and thanked God for only one murder at a time. _So she_ll pull through?_ _Her vitals are strong. Right now there_s no reason to expect anything but a recovery._ _So when might she wake up?_ _Hard to predict, but I_d guess within forty-eight hours._ _Okay. Look, I_m sure you_ll keep good records and all, but just remember that everything you do with this patient will probably be picked over in a courtroom one day. Keep that in mind. Be sure to take plenty of X-rays and color photos._ _Yes sir._ _I_ll leave an officer here to monitor things._ Ozzie marched away and returned to the elevator and left the hospital. As he drove back to the jail, he grabbed his radio and called Tatum. The conversation with Earl Kofer had been about as awful as one could expect. _You_d better call him, Ozzie. He said he_s goin_ over there to see for himself._ _Okay._ Ozzie ended the call as he stopped in front of the jail. He held his phone and stared at it and, as always at these terrible moments, remembered the other late night and early morning calls to families; terrible calls that would dramatically change and even ruin the lives of many; calls he hated to make but his job required it. A young father found with his face blown off and a suicide note nearby; two drunk teenagers hurled from a speeding car; a demented grandfather finally found in a ditch. It was by far the worst part of his life. Earl Kofer was hysterical and wanted to know who killed his _boy._ Ozzie was patient and said he couldn_t talk about the details at the moment but was willing to meet with the family, another dreadful prospect that was unavoidable. No, Earl should not go to Stuart_s house because he would not be allowed in. The deputies there were waiting for investigators from the state crime lab, and their work would take hours. Ozzie suggested that the family meet at Earl_s house and he, Ozzie, would stop by later in the morning. The father was wailing into the phone when Ozzie finally managed to hang up. Inside the jail, he asked Tatum if Deputy Marshall Prather had been notified. Tatum said yes, he was on his way. Prather was a veteran who had been a close friend of Stuart Kofer_s since they were kids at Clanton Elementary School. He arrived in jeans and a sweatshirt and a state of disbelief. He followed Ozzie to his office where they fell into chairs as Tatum closed the door. Ozzie recited the facts as they knew them, and Prather couldn_t hide his emotions. He gritted his teeth like a tough guy and covered his eyes, but he was obviously suffering. After a long, painful pause, Prather managed to say, _We started school together in the third grade._ His voice faded and he lowered his chin. Ozzie looked at Tatum, who looked away. After another long pause, Ozzie pressed on. _What do you know about this woman, Josie Gamble?_ Prather swallowed hard and shook his head as if he could shake off the emotion. _I met her once or twice but didn_t really know her. Stu took up with her I_d guess about a year ago. She and her kids moved in. She seemed nice enough, but she_d been around the block a few times. Pretty rough background._ _What do you mean?_ _She served some time. Drugs, I think. Has a colorful past. Stu met her in a bar, no surprise, and they hit it off. He didn_t like the idea of her two kids hangin_ around, but she talked him into it. Lookin_ back, she needed a place to stay and he had extra bedrooms._ _What was the attraction?_ _Come on, Ozzie. Not a bad-lookin_ woman, pretty damned cute really, looks good in tight jeans. You know Stu, always on the prowl but completely unable to get along with a woman._ _And the drinkin_?_ Prather removed an old cap and scratched his hair. Ozzie leaned forward with a scowl and said, _I_m askin_ questions, Marshall, and I want answers. This is no time for a cop cover-up where you look the other way and play dumb. I want answers._ _I don_t know much, Ozzie, I swear. I stopped drinkin_ three years ago so I don_t hang out in the bars anymore. Yes, Stu was drinkin_ too much and I think it was gettin_ worse. I talked to him about it, twice. He said everything was fine, same as all drunks. I gotta cousin who still hits the joints and he told me that Stu was gettin_ quite the reputation as a brawler, which was not what I wanted to hear. Said he was gamblin_ a lot over at Huey_s, down by the lake._ _And you didn_t think I should know this?_ _Come on, Ozzie, I was concerned. That_s why I had a chat with Stu. I was gonna talk to him again, I swear._ _Don_t swear to me. So we had a deputy drinkin_, fightin_, and gamblin_ with the riffraff, and oh by the way beatin_ his girlfriend at home, and you thought I shouldn_t know about it, right?_ _I thought you knew._ _We did,_ Tatum interrupted. _Say what?_ Ozzie snapped. _I never heard a word about domestic abuse._ _There was a report filed a month ago. She called 911 late one night and said Stu was on a rampage. We sent a car out with Pirtle and McCarver and they settled things down. The woman had obviously been slapped around but she refused to press charges._ Ozzie was livid. _I never heard about this and never saw the paperwork. What happened to it?_ Tatum shot a look at Prather, but it was not returned. Tatum shrugged as if he knew nothing and said, _There was no arrest, just an incident report. Must_ve been misplaced, I guess. I don_t know, Ozzie, I wasn_t involved._ _I_m sure no one was involved. If I looked high and low and grilled every man in my department I_m sure I wouldn_t find anyone who was involved._ Prather glared at him and asked, _So you_re blamin_ Stu for gettin_ himself shot, is that right, Ozzie? Blame the victim?_ Ozzie sank in his chair and closed his eyes. _ ON THE BOTTOM bunk, Drew had curled up with his knees to his chest and was resting under a thin blanket with his head on an old pillow. He stared blankly at the dark wall. It had been hours since he said anything. Kiera sat at the foot of the bed, one hand touching his feet under the blanket and the other hand twirling her long hair as they waited for whatever might happen next. From time to time there were voices in the hallway but they faded, then disappeared for good. For the first hour she and Drew had talked about the obvious_their mother_s condition, and the stunning news that she was not dead, and then the shooting of Stu. The fact that he was dead was a relief to both of them and they felt fear but no remorse. Stu had used their mother as a punching bag, but had slapped them around too, and threatened them repeatedly. That nightmare was over. They would never again hear the sickening sounds of their mother getting smacked around by a drunken thug. The jail cell itself was insignificant. Such crude and unsanitary conditions might bother a new offender, but they had seen worse. Drew had once spent four months in a juvenile facility in another state. Just last year they had locked Kiera up for two days in what was supposed to be protective custody. Jail was survivable. For a little family that was always on the move, one question before them was where to go next. Once they were with their mother they could plan their next move. They had met some of Stu_s relatives and had always felt unwelcome. Stu liked to boast that he owned the house _free and clear_ of debt because his grandfather had left it to him in a will. The house really wasn_t that nice. It was dirty and needed repairs, and Josie_s efforts to clean up were always met with disapproval. They had decided that they would not miss Stu_s house. During the second hour, they had speculated about how much trouble Drew might be facing. For them, it was a simple matter of self-defense, of survival, and of retribution. Slowly, Drew began to relive the shooting, step by step, or as much as he could remember. It had happened so fast and was a blur. Stu lying there, red-faced with his mouth open, snoring away as if he_d earned a good night_s sleep. Stu reeking of alcohol. Violent Stu who could awaken at any moment and slap the kids around for the fun of it. The pungent smell of spent gunpowder. The flash of blood and matter hitting the pillows and the wall. The shock of seeing Stu_s eyes roll open after he was shot. As the hours passed, though, Drew had grown quieter. He pulled the blanket to his chin and said he was tired of talking. She watched him slowly curl into himself and stare blankly at the wall. 3 T he jail was filled with off-duty deputies and Clanton policemen and other miscellaneous personnel, some with affiliations to the department, others without. They smoked cigarettes, drank coffee, ate stale pastries, and spoke in subdued conversations about their fallen comrade and the dangers of the work. Ozzie was busy in his office, on the phone, making calls to the state police and the crime lab, ducking calls from reporters and friends and strangers. When Reverend Charles McGarry arrived he was escorted to the big office where he shook hands with Ozzie and took a seat. Ozzie gave the details and explained that Kiera had asked to see their preacher. She said there was no family in the area and they had nowhere else to go. She was in the cell with her brother but Ozzie did not anticipate charges against her. There were two other juvenile cells but they were occupied, and she really didn_t need to stay in jail anyway. The preacher was only twenty-six years old and trying his best to lead a country church, one that Ozzie had visited when campaigning but with a different pastor back then. He was a pleasant young man who was obviously overwhelmed by the situation. He had been hired by the Good Shepherd Bible Church only fourteen months earlier, his first assignment since finishing seminary. He took a cup of coffee from Tatum and gave what little history he knew of the Gamble family. Josie and the kids had first shown up about six months back when a church member mentioned to McGarry that they might need some help. He went to their home on a weeknight and was treated rudely by Stuart Kofer. As he left, he invited Josie to their Sunday service. She and the kids had attended a few times, but she let him know that Kofer did not approve of their churchgoing. Without Stu_s knowledge, McGarry had counseled her twice and been stunned by her background. She_d had both kids out of wedlock as a teenager, served time for drug possession, and admitted to a lot of bad behavior, which she promised was all in the past. While she was locked up, her kids had been placed in foster care and an orphanage. _Can you take the girl somewhere safe?_ Ozzie asked. _Sure. She can live with us for the time being._ _Your family?_ _Yes. I have a wife and toddler and we_re expecting. We live in the parsonage next to the church. It_s small but we can find room._ _Okay. You take her home, but she can_t leave the area. Our investigator will want to talk to her._ _No problem. How much trouble is Drew in?_ _A ton. He won_t be getting out of jail anytime soon, I can promise you that. He_ll remain in the juvenile cell and I_m sure the court will appoint him a lawyer in a day or so. We_re not talkin_ to him until then. The case looks open and shut. He admitted to his sister that he shot Kofer. No other suspects. He_s in a lot of trouble, Reverend, a lot of trouble._ _Okay, Sheriff. Thanks for your consideration._ _Don_t mention it._ _And I_m sorry for your loss. This is hard to believe._ _It is. Let_s walk over to their cell and get the girl._ McGarry followed Ozzie and Tatum through the crowded reception room and it grew quiet. The preacher got some stares as if he had already joined the opposing team. He was there to offer support for the killer_s family. In a strange place and even stranger situation, the preacher did not realize the significance of the harsh looks. The jailer opened the cell door and they stepped inside. Kiera hesitated as if uncertain, then she stood and ran to McGarry. His was the first trusted face she had seen in hours. He squeezed her tight, rubbed her head, whispered that he was there to get her, and that her mother was going to be all right. She clutched him tightly as she sobbed. The embrace dragged on, and Ozzie shot a look at Moss Junior. Let_s move along now. In the darkness of the bottom bunk, Drew had all but disappeared under the blanket and had not moved a muscle since they entered. McGarry finally managed to gently push Kiera back a few inches. With his fingers he tried to wipe her tears, but they were rolling down her cheeks. _I_m taking you to my house,_ McGarry repeated, and she tried to smile. He looked at the bottom bunk for a glimpse of Drew but there wasn_t much to see. He looked at Ozzie and asked, _Can I say something to him?_ Ozzie said no with a firm shake of the head. _Let_s get outta here._ McGarry took Kiera by the arm and led her out of the cell into the hallway. She did not try to speak to Drew, who was left alone in his dark world as the door closed. Ozzie led them through a side door and into the parking lot. As they were getting into McGarry_s car, Deputy Swayze appeared and whispered to Ozzie. Ozzie listened, nodded, said _Okay._ He walked to McGarry_s window and said, _The hospital just called. Josie Gamble is awake and askin_ about her kids. I_m goin_ over and you_re welcome to come wait._ _ AS OZZIE ROARED AWAY, again, he told himself that he just might spend the entire day running from one hotspot to another as the awful story unfolded. When he ignored a stop sign, Tatum asked, _You want me to drive?_ _I_m the high sheriff and this is important. Who_ll complain?_ _Not me. Look, when you were back there with the preacher, I got a call from Looney at the scene. Earl Kofer showed up, out of his mind, said he wanted to see his boy. Looney and Pirtle have the place secured but Earl was hell-bent on gettin_ inside. He had a coupla nephews with him, young bucks tryin_ to be tough, and they made a big scene in the front yard. About that time the state investigators showed up with a van from the crime lab, and they were able to convince Earl that the entire house was an active crime scene and it was against the law for him to go inside. So Earl parked his truck in the front yard and just sat there with his two nephews. Looney asked him to leave but he said it was his property. Family property, he called it. I think he_s still there._ _Okay, in about an hour I_m goin_ to see Earl to meet with the whole family. You want to go?_ _Hell no._ _Well, you_re goin_ and that_s an order. I need a couple of white boys backin_ me up and I want you and Looney._ _Those people vote for you?_ _Everybody voted for me, Moss, don_t you know that? When you win a local race, everybody and his grandmother voted for you. I got seventy percent of the vote, so no complaints, but I have yet to meet a single person in Ford County who didn_t vote for me. And they_re proud of it, can_t wait to go vote for me again._ _I thought it was sixty-eight percent._ _It would_ve been seventy if your lazy-ass people out in Blackjack had turned out._ _Lazy? My people vote like hell, Ozzie. They_re tireless, relentless voters. They vote early, often, all day long, late, absentee, with real ballots, stuffed ballots, fake ballots. They vote dead people, crazy people, underage people, convicted felons who have no right to vote. You don_t remember_it was about twenty years ago_but my uncle Felix went to jail for votin_ dead people. Wiped out two cemeteries in one election. Still wasn_t enough, and when his enemy won by six votes he got him indicted._ _Your uncle went to prison?_ _I didn_t say prison. I said jail. He served about three months, said it wasn_t that bad, came out a hero but never could vote again. So he learned how to stuff ballot boxes. You need my people, Ozzie, we know how to swing elections._ Ozzie again parked near the ER entrance and they hustled inside. On the third floor, the same two deputies walked him down the hall where the same young doctor was chatting with a nurse. The report was quick. Josie Gamble was conscious, though sedated because of sharp pains in her splintered jaw. Her vitals were normal. She had not been told that Stuart Kofer was dead or that her son Drew was in jail. She was asking about her children and the doctor assured her they were safe. Ozzie took a deep breath, looked at Tatum who was reading his mind and already shaking his head. Tatum said softly, _All yours, boss._ Ozzie asked the doctor, _Can she handle the bad news?_ The doctor smiled and shrugged and said, _Now or later. It doesn_t really matter._ _Let_s go,_ Ozzie said. _I_ll wait here,_ Tatum said. _No you won_t. Follow me._ _ FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER, Ozzie and Tatum were leaving the hospital when they noticed Pastor McGarry and Kiera sitting in the ER waiting room. Ozzie walked over and quietly explained that he had just spoken with Josie and that she was alert and eager to see Kiera. She was distraught and confused by Kofer_s death and Drew_s arrest and really wanted to see her daughter. He again thanked the pastor for his help and promised to call later. At the car, Ozzie said, _You drive,_ and walked to the passenger door. _Gladly. Where to?_ _Well, I haven_t seen a bloody corpse in several hours, so let_s have a look at Stuart, may he rest in peace._ _I doubt he_s moved much._ _And I need to speak to the state boys._ _Surely they can_t screw up a case like this._ _They_re good boys._ _If you say so._ Tatum slammed the door and cranked the engine. Past the city limits, Ozzie said, _It_s eight-thirty and I_ve been up since three._ _Same here, especially that bit about eight-thirty._ _And I_ve had no breakfast._ _I_m starvin_._ _What_s open at this wonderful hour on the Sabbath?_ _Well, Huey_s is probably just now closin_ and they don_t do breakfast. What about Sawdust?_ _Sawdust?_ _Yep, as far as I know it_s the only place open this early on Sundays, at least in this part of the county._ _Well, I know I_ll be welcome because they have a special door for me. Says, NEGROES ENTER HERE._ _I heard they took that down. You ever been inside?_ _No, Deputy Tatum, I have never been inside the Sawdust country store. When I was a kid here it was still used by the Klan for meetings that were not so secret. We may be living in 1990, but the people who shop and dine at Sawdust, along with those who sit by the old iron stove in the wintertime and tell nigger jokes, and those who chew tobacco on the front porch and spit on the gravel as they whittle and play checkers, are not the kind of people I want to hang with._ _They have great blueberry pancakes._ _They_ll probably poison mine._ _No, they won_t. Let_s order the same thing, then swap after we_re served. If I croak over and die, then Kofer and I can have a joint service. Damn, just think of the parade around the square._ _I really don_t want to._ _Ozzie, you_ve been elected sheriff of Ford County by two landslides. You are the Man around here, and I can_t believe you_re shy about walkin_ into a public caf? and havin_ a meal. If you_re afraid, I promise I_ll protect you._ _That_s not the case._ _A question. How many white-owned businesses have you ducked and dodged since you ran for sheriff seven years ago?_ _Well, I haven_t been to all the white churches._ _That_s because it_s humanly impossible to visit them all. Must be a thousand and they_re still building. And I said businesses, not churches._ Ozzie pondered the question as they flew by small farms and pine forests. Finally, he said, _Only one that I can think of._ _Then let_s go._ _Is that Confederate flag still flyin_ out front?_ _Probably._ _Who owns the place now?_ _I don_t know. I haven_t stopped by in a few years._ They crossed a creek and turned onto another county road. Tatum gunned the engine as he straddled the center line. The road saw little traffic on workdays and was especially quiet on a Sunday morning. Ozzie said, _Pine Grove precinct. Ninety-five percent white and only thirty percent voted for me._ _Thirty percent?_ _Yep._ _I ever tell you about my mother_s father, Grumps they called him? Died before I was born, which was probably a good thing. Ran for sheriff in Tyler County forty years ago and got eight percent of the vote. So thirty is pretty impressive._ _It didn_t feel too impressive on election night._ _Give it up, boss. You won big. And this is your chance to impress the enlightened people who dine at Sawdust._ _Why is it called Sawdust?_ _Bunch of sawmills around here, lots of loggers. Tough guys. I don_t know, but we_re about to find out._ The parking lot was filled with pickups, some new, most old and dented, all parked haphazardly as if their drivers had sprinted to breakfast. An off-center flagpole hailed the great state of Mississippi and the glorious cause of the Confederacy. Two black bears nuzzled each other in a cage next to the side porch. The planks creaked as Ozzie and Moss Junior crossed them. The front door entered into a cramped country store with smoked meats hanging from the ceiling. The strong, heavy aroma of frying bacon and burning wood filled the air. Behind the counter, an old woman looked at Tatum, then at Ozzie, and managed to nod and say, _Mornin_._ They spoke, kept walking, and entered the caf? in the rear where half the tables were crowded with men, all white men, no women. They were eating and drinking coffee, some were smoking, and all seemed to be chattering away, until they saw Ozzie. There was a noticeable decline in the noise, but only for the second or two it took them to realize who he was and that both were officers. Then, as if to prove their tolerance, they picked up their conversations with even more vigor and tried to ignore them. Tatum waved to an empty table and they sat down. Ozzie immediately busied himself with a thorough perusal of the menu, though it was unnecessary. A waitress arrived with a pot of coffee and filled their cups. A man at the nearest table looked for the second time and Tatum pounced. _This place used to have famous blueberry pancakes. That still the case?_ _You betcha,_ the man said with a grin, then patted his ample stomach. _That and venison sausage. Helps me keep my figure._ This got a laugh or two. Another man said, _Say, we just heard about Stuart Kofer._ The room was instantly silent. _Is it true?_ Tatum gave a quick nod to his boss, as if to say, _This is your moment. Act like the high sheriff._ Ozzie_s back was turned to at least half of the diners, so he stood and looked at them all. He said, _Yes, I_m afraid it_s true. Stuart was shot and killed around three this morning, at home. We_ve lost one of our best._ _Who shot him?_ _I can_t go into the details right now. We may have more to say tomorrow._ _We heard it was a kid livin_ with him._ _Well, we_ve taken a sixteen-year-old boy into custody. The boy_s mother was Kofer_s girlfriend. That_s all I can say. The state police are on the scene right now. Again, I can_t say much. Maybe later._ Ozzie was smooth and friendly, and he could not have scripted what happened next. A rustic old man with dirty boots and faded overalls and a cap from a feed company said, respectfully, _Thank you, Sheriff._ There was a pause. The ice was broken, and several others offered their thanks too. Ozzie sat down and ordered pancakes and sausage. As they drank coffee and waited, Tatum said, _Not a bad campaign stop, huh, boss?_ _I never think about politics._ Tatum suppressed a laugh and looked away. _You know, boss, if you came here once a month and had breakfast, you_d get every vote._ _Don_t want every vote. Just seventy percent of them._ The waitress laid a copy of the Sunday edition of the Jackson paper on the table and smiled at Ozzie. Tatum grabbed the sports section, and to pass the time Ozzie read the state news. His eyes drifted above the print and he noticed the wall to his right. In the center were two large 1990 football schedules, one for Ole Miss, one for Mississippi State, and around them were banners for both teams and framed black-and-white photos of yesterday_s heroes in various action poses. All white, all from another era. Ozzie had starred at Clanton High and dreamed of being the first black player at Ole Miss, but he wasn_t recruited. There were already two blacks in the program and Ozzie had always quietly assumed that, at that time, two were enough. He signed instead with Alcorn State, started for four years, got drafted in the tenth round, and made the L.A. Rams roster his rookie year. He played in eleven games before a knee injury sent him back to Mississippi. He studied the faces of the old stars and wondered how many of them had actually played in a professional football game. Two other players from Ford County, both black, had made it professionally, but their photos were not on the wall either. He lifted the newspaper an inch or two and tried to read a story, but he was distracted. The conversations around him were about the weather, a coming storm, the bass biting in Lake Chatulla, the death of an old farmer they all knew, and the latest stunts by their senators in Jackson. He listened carefully as he pretended to read and wondered what they would be discussing in his absence. Would they dwell on the same subjects? Probably so. Ozzie knew that in the late 1960s the Sawdust had been the gathering spot for white hotheads determined to build a private school in the wake of the Supreme Court_s betrayals on desegregation. The school had been built on some donated land outside of Clanton, a simple metal building with low-paid teachers and cheap tuitions that were never cheap enough. It folded after a few years of rising debts and intense pressure for countywide support of the public schools. The pancakes and sausage arrived and the waitress refilled their cups. _You ever had venison sausage?_ Tatum asked. In his forty or so years he had barely set foot outside of Ford County, but he often assumed he knew far more than his boss, who had once traveled coast to coast in the NFL. _My grandmother used to make it,_ Ozzie said. _I watched her._ He took a bite, considered it, said, _Okay, a bit too spicy._ _I saw you lookin_ at those photos on the wall. They need one of you, boss._ _Not really my hangout, Tatum. I can live without it._ _We_ll see. It ain_t right, you know._ _Drop it._ They dug into their tall stacks of pancakes, each enough for a family of four, and enjoyed a few bites. Then Tatum leaned in and asked, _So what_re you thinkin_ about a funeral and such?_ _I_m not family, Moss, in case you haven_t noticed. I suppose that_ll be up to his parents._ _Yeah, but you can_t just have a service and lower him into the ground, right? Hell, he_s a law enforcement officer, Ozzie. Don_t we get parades and marchin_ bands and drill teams and rifle salutes? I want a crowd and I want some folks really tore up and carryin_ on when they bury me._ _Probably not goin_ to happen._ Ozzie lowered his knife and fork and slowly took a drink of coffee. He looked at his deputy as if he was in kindergarten and said, _A slight distinction, Moss. Our buddy Kofer was not exactly killed in the line of duty. Indeed, he was off-duty and in all likelihood had been drinkin_ and carousin_ and who knows what else. It might be rather difficult to drum up support for a parade to send him off._ _What if the family wants a show?_ _Look, they_re still takin_ pictures of his dead body, so let_s worry about it later, okay? Now eat. We need to hustle over there._ _ BY THE TIME they arrived at Stuart_s house, Earl Kofer and his nephews were gone. At some point, they got tired of waiting and were probably needed back with the family. The driveway and front yard were crowded with police cars and official vehicles: two vans from the state crime lab, an ambulance waiting to haul Stuart away, another one with a crew just in case they were needed; even a couple of volunteer fire department vehicles were in place to assist, as usual, with the congestion. Ozzie knew one of the state investigators and got a quick briefing, not that it was needed. They looked at Stuart again, in exactly the same spot as before, the only difference being the darkened shades of the blood on the sheets around him. The stained and spattered pillows were gone. Two technicians in head-to-toe hazmat garb were slowly lifting samples from the wall above the headboard. _Fairly cut-and-dried, I_d say,_ the investigator said. _But we_ll take him in anyway for a quick autopsy. I take it the kid is still in jail._ _Yep,_ Ozzie replied. Where else would the kid be? As always at these crime scenes, Ozzie found it difficult to stomach the arrogance of the state boys who rolled in with their airs of superiority. He wasn_t required to call them to the scene, but in murder cases that led to murder trials he had learned that jurors tend to be more impressed with experts from the state police. In the end, nothing mattered but convictions. _Has he been printed?_ the investigator asked. _No. We thought we_d let you guys do that._ _Good. We_ll go by the jail and fingerprint him and scan for gunshot residue._ _He_s waiting._ They stepped outside where Tatum fired up a cigarette and Ozzie took a paper cup of coffee from a fireman who_d brought his thermos. They loitered a bit, with Ozzie trying to delay his next stop. The front door opened again and a technician began backing out slowly, pulling the gurney with Stuart wrapped tightly in sheets. They rolled him down the brick walkway, lifted him into an ambulance, and closed the door. _ EARL AND JANET Kofer lived a few miles away in a low-slung 1960s-style ranch house where they had raised three sons and a daughter. Stuart was their oldest child and because of this had inherited from his grandfather ten wooded acres and the house where he lived and died. The Kofers as a clan were not wealthy and did not own a lot of land, but they had always worked hard, lived frugally, and tried to avoid trouble. And there were plenty of them, scattered around the southern part of the county. In his first run for public office, in 1983, Ozzie was never certain how the family voted. However, four years later and with Stuart wearing a uniform and driving a shiny patrol car, Ozzie got every vote in the family. They proudly displayed his yard signs and even wrote small checks for his campaign. Now, on this awful Sunday morning, they were all waiting for their sheriff to pay his respects and answer their questions. For a show of support, Ozzie had Tatum at the wheel, followed by a car with Looney and McCarver, two other white deputies. It was, after all, Mississippi, and Ozzie had learned where to use his white deputies and where to use his black ones. As expected, the long front drive was lined with cars and trucks. On the porch, one group of men smoked and waited. Not far away under a sourwood tree another group did the same. Tatum parked and they got out and began walking across the front lawn as relatives stepped forward with their somber greetings. Ozzie and Tatum, and Looney and McCarver, worked their way toward the house, shaking hands, offering condolences, grieving with the family. Near the front, Earl stood and stepped down and thanked Ozzie for coming. His eyes were red and wounded and he began sobbing again as Ozzie shook his hands with both of his and just listened. A crowd of men gathered around the sheriff and expected to hear something. Ozzie met their sad and troubled eyes, nodded, tried to appear just as hurt. He said, _Really not much to add to what you already know. The call came across at two-forty this morning, call from the son of Josie Gamble, said his mother had been beaten and he thought she was dead. When we got there we found the mother unconscious in the kitchen being tended to by her daughter, age fourteen. The daughter said her brother had shot Stuart. Then we found Stuart in the bedroom, on his bed, a single gunshot to the head, by his service pistol, which was on the bed. The boy, Drew, wouldn_t talk so we took him in. He_s in jail now._ _No doubt it_s the boy?_ someone asked. Ozzie shook his head. No. _Look, I can_t say much right now. Truth is we don_t know much more than what I just told you. I_m not sure there_s that much more to it, really. Maybe we_ll know something tomorrow._ _He ain_t gettin_ outta jail, right?_ asked another. _No, no way. I expect the court will appoint him a lawyer real soon, and at that point the system takes over._ _Will there be a trial?_ _I have no idea._ _How old is this boy?_ _Sixteen._ _Can they treat him like an adult, put his ass on death row?_ _That_s up to the court._ There was a pause as some of the men studied their feet while others wiped their eyes. Softly, Earl asked, _Where is Stuart now?_ _They_re takin_ him to Jackson, state crime lab, for an autopsy. Then they_ll release him to you and Mrs. Kofer. I_d like to see Janet, if that_s okay._ Earl said, _I don_t know, Sheriff, she_s in bed and surrounded by her sisters. I_m not sure she wants to see anybody. Give her some time._ _Of course. Please pass along my condolences._ Two other cars were arriving, and out on the highway another had slowed. Ozzie killed a few awkward minutes and then excused himself. Earl and the others thanked him for coming. He promised to call tomorrow and keep them informed. 4 S ix days a week, every day but Sunday, Jake Brigance allowed himself to be dragged out of bed at the unholy hour of 5:30 a.m. by a noisy alarm clock. Six days a week he went straight to the coffeepot, punched a button, then hurried to his own private little bathroom in the basement, far away from his sleeping wife and daughter, where he showered in five minutes and spent another five with the rest of his ritual before dressing in the clothes he_d laid out the night before. He then hurried upstairs, poured a cup of black coffee, eased back into his bedroom, kissed his wife goodbye, grabbed his coffee, and, at precisely 5:45 closed the kitchen door and stepped onto the rear patio. Six days a week he drove the dark streets of Clanton to the picturesque square with the stately courthouse anchoring life as he knew it, parked in front of his office on Washington Street, and, at 6:00 a.m., six days a week, walked into the Coffee Shop to either hear or create the gossip, and to dine on wheat toast and grits. But on the seventh day, he rested. There was never an alarm clock on the Sabbath, and Jake and Carla reveled in a long morning_s rest. He would eventually stumble forth around 7:30 and order her back to sleep. In the kitchen he poached eggs and toasted bread and served her breakfast in bed with coffee and juice. On a normal Sunday. But nothing about this day would be normal. At 7:05 the phone rang, and since Carla insisted that the phone be located on his night table, he had no choice but to answer it. _If I were you I_d leave town for a couple of days._ It was the low raspy voice of Harry Rex Vonner, perhaps his best friend and sometimes his only one. _Well good morning, Harry Rex. This better be good._ Harry Rex, a gifted and devious divorce lawyer, ran in the dark shadows of Ford County and took enormous pride in knowing the news, the dirt, and the gossip before almost anyone not wearing a badge. _Stuart Kofer got shot in the head last night. Dead. Ozzie picked up his girlfriend_s boy, sixteen-year-old kid without a trace of peach fuzz, and he_s at the jail just waitin_ on a lawyer. I_m sure Judge Noose knows about it and is already thinkin_ about the appointment._ Jake sat up and propped up his pillows. _Stuart Kofer is dead?_ _Deader_n hell. Kid blew his brains out while he was sleepin_. Capital, dude, death penalty and all. Killing a cop will get you the gas nine times outta ten in this state._ _Didn_t you handle a divorce for him?_ _His first one, not his second. He got pissed off about my fee and became a disgruntled client. When he called about the second, I told him to get lost. Married a couple of crazies, but then he had a fondness for bad women, especially in tight jeans._ _Any kids?_ _None that I know of. None that he knew of either._ Carla scurried out of bed and stood beside it. She frowned at Jake as if someone was lying. Three weeks earlier, Officer Stuart Kofer had visited her class of sixth graders and given a wonderful presentation on the dangers of illegal drugs. _But he_s only sixteen,_ Jake said, scratching his eyes. _Spoken like a true liberal defense lawyer. Noose will be callin_ you before you know it, Jake. Think about it. Who tried the last capital murder case in Ford County? You. Carl Lee Hailey._ _But that was five years ago._ _Doesn_t matter. Name another lawyer around here who_ll even think about taking a serious criminal case. Nobody. And more important, Jake, there_s no one else in the county who_s competent enough to take a capital case._ _No way. What about Jack Walter?_ _He_s back in the sauce. Noose got two complaints last month from disgruntled clients and he_s about to notify the state bar._ How Harry Rex knew such things was always a marvel to Jake. _I thought they sent him away._ _They did, but he came back, thirstier than ever._ _What about Gill Maynard?_ _He got burned in that rape case last year. Told Noose he_d surrender his license before he got stuck with another bad criminal appointment. And he_s pretty awful on his feet. Noose was beyond frustrated with the guy in the courtroom. Give me another name._ _Okay, okay. Let me think a minute._ _A waste of time. I_m tellin_ you, Jake, Noose will call you sometime today. Can you leave the country for a week or so?_ _Don_t be ridiculous, Harry Rex. We have motions before Noose at ten Tuesday morning, the rather insignificant matter of the Smallwood case? Remember that one?_ _Dammit. I thought it was next week._ _Good thing I_m in charge of the case. Not to mention such trivial matters as Carla and her job and Hanna and her classes. It_s silly to think we can just disappear. I_m not running, Harry Rex._ _You_ll wish you had, believe me. This case is nothin_ but trouble._ _If Noose calls, I_ll talk to him and explain why I can_t get involved. I_ll suggest that he appoint someone from another county. He likes those two guys in Oxford who_ll take anything, and he_s brought them in before._ _Last I heard they_re swamped with death row appeals. They always lose at trial, you know. Makes the appellate stuff go on forever. Listen to me, Jake, you do not want a dead-cop case. The facts are against you. The politics are against you. There_s not a chance in hell the jury will show any sympathy._ _Got it, got it, got it, Harry Rex. Let me drink some coffee and talk to Carla._ _Is she in the shower?_ _Well, no._ _That_s my favorite fantasy, you know._ _Later, Harry Rex._ Jake hung up and followed Carla to the kitchen where they brewed coffee. The spring morning was almost warm enough to sit on the patio, but not quite. They settled around a small table in the breakfast nook, with a pleasant view of the pink and white azaleas blooming in the backyard. The dog, a recent rescue effort they called Mully but who, so far, answered to nothing except food, emerged from his turf in the washroom and stared at the patio door. Jake let him outside and poured two cups. Over coffee, he repeated everything Harry Rex said, except the parting shot about Carla in the shower, and they discussed the unpleasant possibility of getting dragged into the case. Jake agreed that the Honorable Omar Noose, his friend and mentor, was unlikely to appoint another lawyer from the rather shallow pool of talent that was the Ford County bar. Almost to a man, or to a person since there was now one female lawyer, they avoided jury trials, preferring instead to do the paperwork required of their quiet little office practices. Harry Rex was always up to a good courtroom brawl, but only in domestic relations cases tried before judges; no juries. Ninety-five percent of the criminal cases were settled with plea bargains, thus avoiding trials. Small tort cases_car wrecks, slip-and-falls, dog bites_were negotiated with the insurance companies. Usually, if a Ford County lawyer stumbled onto a big civil case he rushed to Tupelo or Oxford and associated a real trial lawyer, one experienced in litigation and not terrified of juries. Jake still dreamed of changing this, and at the age of thirty-seven he was trying to establish a reputation as a lawyer who gambled and got verdicts. Without a doubt his most glorious moment had been the not-guilty verdict for Carl Lee Hailey five years earlier, and he had been certain in its aftermath that the big cases would find their way to his door. They had not. He still threatened to try every dispute, and this worked well, but the rewards were still paltry. The Smallwood case, though, was different. It had the potential of being the biggest civil case in the county_s history, and Jake was the lead counsel. He had filed the lawsuit thirteen months earlier and had since spent half his time working on it. He was now ready for the trial and yelling at the defense lawyers for a date. Harry Rex had not mentioned the role of the county_s part-time public defender, and with good reason. The current P.D. was a bashful rookie whose early job approval ratings were about as low as they could get. He took the job because no one else wanted it, and because the position had been vacant for a year, and because the county reluctantly agreed to increase the salary to $2,500 a month. No one expected him to survive another year. He had yet to try a case all the way to a jury_s verdict and showed no interest in doing so. And, most important, he had never even watched a capital murder trial. Not surprisingly, Carla immediately felt sympathy for the woman. Even though she had liked Stu Kofer, she also knew that some off-duty cops could behave as badly as anyone. And if domestic violence was a factor, the facts would only become more complicated. But she was wary of another high-profile, controversial case. For three years after the trial of Carl Lee Hailey, the Brigance family had lived with a deputy parked in front of their house at night, and threatening phone calls, and hateful glares from strangers in stores. Now, in another nice home and with that case even further behind them, they were slowly adjusting to a normal life. Jake still carried a registered gun in his car, which she frowned on, but the surveillance was gone. They were determined to enjoy the present, plan for the future, and forget the past. The last case Carla wanted was one that might attract headlines. As they were chatting quietly, Miss Hanna appeared in her pajamas, sleepy-eyed and clutching, still, her favorite stuffed cub, one that she had never slept without. The cub was threadbare and far past its useful shelf life, and Hanna was nine years old and needed to move on, but a serious discussion about such a transition was being postponed. She crawled into her father_s lap and closed her eyes again. Like her mother, she preferred a quiet entry into the morning with as little noise as possible. Her parents stopped talking about the legal stuff and switched to Hanna_s Sunday school lesson, one she had not yet read. Carla disappeared and returned with the study guide, and Jake began reading about Jonah and the Whale, one of his least favorite Bible stories. Hanna wasn_t impressed with it either and seemed to doze. Carla busied herself in the kitchen with breakfast_oatmeal for Hanna, poached eggs and wheat toast for the adults. They ate quietly and enjoyed the peaceful moments together. Cartoons on television were usually prohibited on Sundays, and Hanna didn_t think to ask. She ate little, as usual, and reluctantly left the table for a bath. At 9:45, they were dressed in their Sunday finest and headed for worship at the First Presbyterian Church. Once loaded in the car, Jake couldn_t find his sunglasses, and hustled back inside, turning off the ever-present alarm system as he entered. The phone on the kitchen wall started ringing and the caller ID flashed a number_same area code but a different prefix that looked familiar. Could be Van Buren County, next door. No name, caller unknown, but Jake had a hunch. He stared at the phone, either unable or unwilling to answer, because something told him not to. Besides Harry Rex, who dared call on a peaceful Sunday morning? Lucien Wilbanks maybe, but it wasn_t him. It must be important and it must be trouble, and for seconds he just stood there gawking at the phone, transfixed. After the max of eight rings, he waited for the recording light to blink and punched a button. A familiar voice said: _Good morning, Jake, it_s Judge Noose. I_m at home in Chester and headed to church. You probably are too and I_m sorry to disturb, but there_s an urgent matter in Clanton and I_m sure you_ve heard about it by now. Please call me as soon as possible._ And the line went dead. He would remember that moment for a long time_standing in his kitchen, dressed in a dark suit as if filled with confidence, and staring at the telephone because he was too afraid to answer it. He could not remember ever feeling like such a coward and vowed that it would never happen again. He set the alarm, locked the door, and walked to the car with a big fake smile for his girls and got in. As he backed out of the drive, Hanna asked, _Where are your sunglasses, Daddy?_ _Oh, I couldn_t find them._ _They were on the counter by the mail,_ Carla said. He shook his head as if it didn_t matter and said, _Didn_t see them and we_re running late._ _ THE LESSON IN the men_s Bible class was a continuation of the study of Paul_s letter to the Galatians, but they never got around to it. A policeman had been murdered, a local boy whose parents and grandparents were from the county, along with other family members scattered about. Much of the discussion was about crime and punishment, with the mood running strongly in favor of swift retribution, regardless of how young the killer might be. Did it really matter if he was sixteen or sixty? It certainly didn_t matter to Stu Kofer, whose stock seemed to rise by the hour. A bad kid pulling a trigger can do just as much damage as a serial killer. There were three lawyers in the class, and the other two held forth with no shortage of opinions. Jake was passive but deep in thought, and tried not to appear troubled. His Presbyterian brethren were considered a bit more tolerant than the fundamentalists down the street_the Baptists and Pentecostals who loved the death penalty_but judging by the thirst for vengeance in the small classroom Jake figured the boy who killed Stu Kofer was headed to the gas chamber at Parchman. He kept trying to dismiss it all, because it would be someone else_s problem. Right? At 10:45, with the pipe organ roaring away and calling all to worship, Jake and Carla made their way down the aisle to the fourth pew from the front, right side, and waited for Hanna to come bouncing in from her Sunday school class. Jake chatted with old friends and acquaintances, most of whom he rarely saw outside of church. Carla said hello to two of her students. First Presbyterian averaged 250 congregants for the morning service, and it seemed as if most were milling around and exchanging greetings. There was a lot of gray hair, and Jake knew their minister was concerned about the flagging popularity of worship among younger families. Old Mr. Cavanaugh, a perpetual grouch who most people tried to avoid but who wrote bigger checks than any other member, grabbed Jake by the arm and said, much too loudly, _You ain_t gettin_ involved with that boy who killed our deputy, are you?_ Oh, the retorts he would love to use. First: Why can_t you ever mind your own business, you cranky old bastard? Second: You and your family have never thrown me a dime in legal work, so why are you now concerned with my law practice? Third: How can the case possibly affect you? Instead, Jake looked him square in the eye and without a trace of a smile replied, _Which deputy are you talking about?_ Mr. Cavanaugh was taken aback, paused just long enough for Jake to free his arm, and managed to ask, _Oh, you haven_t heard?_ _Heard what?_ The choir erupted in a call to worship and it was time to be seated. Hanna appeared and wedged herself between her parents, and not for the first time Jake smiled at her and wondered how long these days would last. She would soon start bugging them to let her sit with her friends during _Big Church,_ and then not long after that boys would enter the picture. Don_t look for trouble, Jake reminded himself. Just enjoy the moment. The moments, though, were difficult to enjoy. Not long after the preliminary announcements and the first hymn, Dr. Eli Proctor assumed the pulpit and delivered the somber news that everyone already knew. With a bit too much drama, at least in Jake_s opinion, the pastor told of the tragic loss of Officer Stuart Kofer as if in some way it directly affected him. It was an irritating habit, one that Jake occasionally mentioned to Carla, though she had no patience for his complaints. Proctor could almost cry when describing typhoons in the South Pacific or famines in Africa, disasters that no doubt deserved the prayers of all Christians, but were on the other side of the world. The pastor_s only connection was the cable news shared by the rest of the country. He managed, though, to be more profoundly touched. He prayed long and hard for justice and healing, but was a bit light on mercy. The youth choir sang two hymns and the service switched gears. When the sermon started, at precisely 11:32 by Jake_s watch, he tried gamely to absorb the opening paragraph but was soon lost in the near dizzying scenarios that might be played out in the days to come. He would call Noose after lunch, that much was certain. He had great respect and admiration for his judge, and this was strengthened by the fact that Noose felt the same way about him. As a young lawyer, Noose had gotten himself involved in politics and gone astray. As a state senator, he had narrowly missed an indictment and was humiliated at reelection time. He once told Jake that he had wasted his formative years as a young lawyer and had never honed his courtroom skills. With great pride he had watched Jake grow up in the courtroom, and still relished his not-guilty verdict in the Hailey trial. Jake knew it would be next to impossible to say no to the Honorable Omar Noose. And if he said yes and agreed to represent the kid? That kid sitting over there in the jail, in the juvie cell that Jake had visited many times? What would these fine folks, these devout Presbyterians, think of him? How many of them had ever seen the inside of a jail? How many had an inkling of how the system worked? And, crucially, how many of these fine law-abiding citizens believed every defendant had the right to a fair trial? And the word _fair_ was supposed to include the assistance of a good lawyer. The common question was: How can you represent a man who_s guilty of a serious crime? His common response was: If your father or son was charged with a serious crime, would you want an aggressive lawyer or a pushover? Typically, and with no small measure of frustration, he was again busying himself with thoughts about what others might think. A serious flaw for any lawyer, at least according to the great Lucien Wilbanks, a man who had never worried about the concerns of others. When Jake finished law school and found himself working in the Wilbanks law firm under Lucien_s tutelage, his boss had proclaimed such gems as: _Those pricks down at the Rotary Club and the church and the coffee shop will not make you a lawyer and will not make you a dime._ And, _To be a real lawyer, first you grow a thick skin, and second you tell everybody but your clients to go to hell._ And, _A real lawyer is not afraid of unpopular cases._ Such was the atmosphere of Jake_s apprenticeship. Before he was disbarred for all manner of bad behavior, Lucien was a successful lawyer who made a name for himself representing the underdogs_minorities, unions, poor school districts, abandoned kids, the homeless. Because of his brazenness, though, and his self-awareness issues, he often failed to connect with juries. Jack pinched himself and wondered why he was thinking of Lucien during the sermon. Because if he still had a license to practice law, Lucien would be calling Noose and demanding that he, Lucien, be appointed to represent the kid. And since all other locals were running from the case, Noose would appoint Lucien and everyone would be pleased. _Take the damned case, Jake!_ he could hear him yelling. _Every person is entitled to a lawyer!_ _You can_t always pick your clients!_ Carla realized he was drifting and shot him a look. He smiled and patted Hanna_s knee, but she quickly shoved his hand away. After all, she was nine years old. _ IN THE PARLANCE of the Bible Belt, those within the faith used many words and terms to describe those outside of it. On the harsher end of the spectrum, the _lost_ were referred to as heathen, unsaved, unclean, hell-bound, and just old-fashioned sinners. More polite Christians called them nonbelievers, future saints, backsliders, or_the favorite_unchurched. Whatever the term, it was safe to say that the Kofers had been unchurched for decades. Some distant cousins were members of congregations, but as a rule they as a clan had avoided involvement with the Word. They were not bad people, they had just never felt the need to pursue the holier way. They had had their chances. Dozens of well-meaning country preachers had tried to reach them, to no avail. And it was not unusual for traveling evangelists to target them and even call them by name in fiery sermons. They had often been at the top of prayer lists and subjected to door-to-door solicitations. Through it all, they had resisted all efforts to follow the Lord and were quite content to be left alone. On that somber morning, though, they needed the embrace and sympathy of their neighbors. They needed the usual outpouring of love and compassion of those closer to God, and it wasn_t there. Instead, they huddled en masse at Earl_s home and tried to cope with the unimaginable. The women sat and cried with Janet, Stu_s mother, while the men stayed outside on the porch and under the trees, smoking, cursing quietly, and talking of revenge. _ THE GOOD SHEPHERD Bible Church met in a picturesque white-frame building with a tall steeple and a manicured cemetery behind it. The building was historic, 160 years old, and had been built by Methodists, who handed it down to some Baptists, who disbanded and left it vacant for thirty years. The church_s founders had been an independent group, not fond of denominational labels and the rampant fundamentalism and political leanings that had swept through the South in the 1970s. The church, with about a hundred members, had bought the building out of foreclosure, renovated it with great care, and welcomed more enlightened souls who were weary of the prevailing dogma. Women were elected as elders, a radical notion that gave rise to the whispered claim that Good Shepherd was a _cult._ Blacks and all minorities were welcome, though they worshipped elsewhere, for other reasons. On that Sunday morning, attendance was up slightly as the members met to learn the latest details of the killing. Once Pastor Charles McGarry let it be known that the accused, young Drew Gamble, was practically one of them, and that his mother, Josie, was in the hospital, badly injured after a brutal beating, the church circled its wagons and embraced the family. Kiera, still in the jeans and sneakers she wore during the terrible ordeal of the night before, sat through Sunday school in a small classroom with other teenage girls and tried to comprehend where she was. Her mother was in the hospital and her brother was in the jail, and she had already been told that she could not go back to the house to gather her things. She tried not to cry but couldn_t help herself. During the worship hour she sat on the front pew with the pastor_s wife on one side, holding her arm, and a girl she knew from school close on the other. She managed to stop the tears but she couldn_t think clearly. She stood for the hymns, old songs she had never heard before, and she closed her eyes tight and tried to pray along with Pastor Charles. She listened to his sermon but heard nothing. She had not eaten in hours but had declined food. She could not imagine going to school tomorrow and decided she would not be forced to do so. All Kiera wanted was to sit on the edge of her mother_s hospital bed, with her brother on the opposite side, and touch her arms. 5 S unday lunch was a light salad and soup, the usual unless Jake_s mother was in the mood to put on a spread, a treat that happened about once a month. But not today. After a quick lunch, he helped Carla clear the table and stack the dishes and toyed with the idea of a Sunday nap, but Hanna had other plans. She wanted to take Mully for a walk to the city park and Carla volunteered Jake for the adventure. He was fine with it. Anything to kill time and avoid the return call to Judge Noose. By two he was back and Hanna disappeared into her room. Carla boiled water and served them green tea at the breakfast table. She asked, _He can_t make you take the case, can he?_ _I really don_t know. I_ve thought about it all morning and I can_t remember a case where the court tried to appoint a lawyer and he refused. Circuit judges have enormous power and I suppose Noose could make my life miserable if I said no. Frankly, that_s why you don_t say no. A small-town lawyer is dead if he alienates his judges._ _And you_re worried about Smallwood?_ _Of course I_m worried about it. Discovery is almost complete and I_m pestering Noose for a trial date. The defense is stalling as always but I think we have them on the run. Harry Rex thinks they might be ready to talk settlement, but not until they_re staring at a firm trial date. We need to keep Noose happy._ _Are you saying he might carry a grudge from one case to the next?_ _Omar Noose is a wonderful old judge who almost always gets it right, but he can also be prickly. He_s human and makes mistakes, and he_s also accustomed to getting whatever he wants, at least in his own courtroom._ _So he would allow one case to affect another?_ _Yes. It has happened._ _But he likes you, Jake._ _He sees himself as my mentor and he wants me to do great things, and that_s a perfect reason to keep the old guy happy._ _Do I get a vote in this?_ _Always._ _Okay. This is not the Hailey case. There is no racial tension here. As far as I know, everybody is white, right?_ _So far._ _So the Klan and those crazies won_t show up this time. To be sure, you_ll rankle some people who want to string the kid up right now and they_ll resent any lawyer who takes his case, but doesn_t that go with the territory? You_re a lawyer, the best in my opinion, and right now there_s a sixteen-year-old boy in serious trouble and he needs help._ _There are other lawyers in town._ _And which one would you hire if you were facing the death penalty?_ Jake hesitated too long and she said, _See._ _Tom Motley is a promising trial lawyer._ _And one who doesn_t get his hands dirty on the criminal side. How many times have I heard you give that rant?_ _Bo Landis is good._ _Who? I_m sure he_s great but his name doesn_t ring a bell._ _He_s young._ _And you would trust him with your life?_ _I didn_t say that. Look, Carla, I_m not the only lawyer in town and I_m sure Noose can twist somebody else_s arm. It_s not uncommon in nasty cases like this to appoint a lawyer from outside the county. Remember that terrible rape out in Box Hill three or four years ago?_ _Sure._ _Well, we begged off and Noose protected us by hooking in a lawyer from Tupelo. No one here knew him and he handled it as well as could be expected. Bad facts._ _And that was a plea bargain, right?_ _Yes. Thirty years in prison._ _Not enough. What are the chances of a plea bargain in this case?_ _Who knows? We_re talking about a minor, so Noose might cut him some slack. But there_ll be a big push for blood. The death penalty. The victim_s family will make noise. Ozzie will want a big trial because one of his boys is dead. Everybody_s up for reelection next year so it_s a perfect moment to get tough on crime._ _It doesn_t seem right to send a sixteen-year-old kid to death row._ _Try telling that to the Kofer family. Don_t know them, but I_ll bet they_re thinking about the gas chamber. If some guy harmed Hanna, you wouldn_t be too concerned about his age, would you?_ _Probably not._ They took a deep breath and allowed this sobering thought to pass. _I thought you were ready to vote,_ Jake said. _I don_t know, Jake. It_s a tough call, but if Judge Noose pushes hard I don_t see how you can say no._ The phone rang and they stared at it. Jake walked over and looked at the caller ID. He smiled at Carla and said, _It_s him._ Jake grabbed the receiver, said hello, then pulled the cord halfway across the kitchen and took a seat with his wife at the breakfast table. They waded through the pleasantries. Families were all fine. The weather was changing. Terrible news about Stuart Kofer. They both professed admiration. Noose had spoken to Ozzie, and Ozzie had the kid locked away, safe and secure. Good ole Ozzie. Most sheriffs Noose dealt with would_ve had the kid on the rack and signing a ten-page confession. Hitting his stride, Noose said, _Jake, I want you to represent this kid through the preliminaries. Don_t know if it_ll turn into a capital case but that_s always a real possibility. Nobody else in Clanton has any recent experience with the death penalty and you_re the lawyer I trust the most. If it goes capital, then we_ll revisit your representation and I_ll try to find someone else._ Jake closed his eyes and nodded and, at the first pause, jumped in. _Judge, you and I both know that if I step in now there_s an excellent chance I_ll be stuck with it all the way._ _Not necessarily, Jake. I just spoke with Roy Browning over in Oxford, damned fine lawyer, you know him, Jake?_ _Everybody knows Roy, Judge._ _He has two capital trials this year and is swamped, but he has a young partner who he thinks highly of. He promised me they would take a look at the case down the road if it goes capital. Right now, though, Jake, I want someone in that jail talking to the kid and keeping the police away from him. I don_t want to be faced with some bogus confession or a jailhouse snitch._ _I trust Ozzie._ _And so do I, Jake, but this is a dead policeman, and you know how worked up those boys can get. I would just feel better if that kid had some protection right now. I_ll make the appointment good for thirty days. You get over there and see the kid, then we_ll meet at nine Tuesday morning before the Civil Docket. I believe you have motions pending in the Smallwood case._ _But I knew the victim, Judge._ _So what? It_s a small town and everybody knows everybody, right?_ _You_re pushing pretty hard, Judge._ _I_m sorry, Jake, and sorry to be bothering you on a Sunday. But this situation can get dicey and needs a steady hand. I trust you, Jake, and that_s why I_m asking you to step in. You know, Jake, when I was a young lawyer I learned that we don_t always get to choose our clients, right?_ And why not, Jake asked himself. _I_d like to discuss this with my wife, Judge. As you know, we went through a lot five years ago with Hailey and she may have an opinion or two._ _This is nothing like Hailey, Jake._ _No, but it is a dead policeman, and any lawyer who represents the alleged killer will face a backlash from the community. As you say, it_s a small town, Judge._ _I really want you to step up to the plate here, Jake._ _I_ll discuss it with Carla and I_ll see you first thing Tuesday morning, if that_s all right._ _The kid needs a lawyer now, Jake. As I understand things, he has no father and his mother is in the hospital with injuries. There_s no other family in the area. He_s already admitted to the killing, so he needs to shut up. Yes, we both trust Ozzie but I_m sure there are some hotheads around the jail who cannot be trusted. Discuss it with your wife and call me back in a couple of hours._ There was a loud click and the line was dead. His Honor had just given an order and hung up. _ THE MARCH WINDS picked up late in the afternoon and the temperature dropped. With his girls lost in an old movie in the den, Jake left his house and went for a long walk through the quiet streets of Clanton. He often spent an hour or two alone in his office late on Sundays, reviewing the files he had not managed to close the previous week and deciding which ones to postpone next. At the moment he had eighty open files, but only a handful were decent cases. Such was the practice of law in a small, poor town. These days his world was consumed with Smallwood, and most other matters were being ignored. The facts were as simple as they were complicated. Taylor Smallwood, his wife Sarah, and two of their three children were killed instantly when their small import collided with a train at a dangerous crossing near the Polk County line. The accident happened around ten-thirty on a Friday night. A witness in a pickup truck a hundred yards behind the family said the red flashing crossing lights were not working at the time of the collision. The train_s engineer and brakeman swore that they were. The crossing was at the foot of a hill that dropped fifty degrees from a crest half a mile up. Two months earlier, Sarah had given birth to their third child, Grace. At the time of the accident, Grace was being kept by Taylor_s sister who lived in Clanton. Typically, such a sensational accident sent the local bar into a frenzy as every lawyer in town searched for an angle to land the case. Jake had never heard of the family and struck out immediately. Harry Rex, though, had handled a divorce for Sarah_s sister and she was pleased with the results. As the vultures were circling, he struck quick and got a contract signed by various family members. He then dashed to the courthouse, set up a guardianship for Grace, the sole heir and plaintiff, and filed a $10 million lawsuit against the railroad, Central and Southern. Harry Rex knew his limitations and realized that he might not connect with jurors. He had a much better plan. He offered Jake half the fee if he would step in as lead counsel, do the heavy lifting, and push hard for a trial. Harry Rex had seen the magic with the Hailey jury. He had sat mesmerized like everyone else as Jake pleaded for his client_s life, and he knew that his younger friend had a way with jurors. If Jake could just land the right cases, he would someday make a lot of money in the courtroom. They shook hands on the deal. Jake would take an aggressive role and lean on Judge Noose to speed things along. Harry Rex would work in the shadows, plowing through discovery, hiring experts, intimidating insurance lawyers, and, most important, picking the jury. They worked well together, primarily because they gave each other plenty of room. The railroad tried to remove the case to federal court, a less friendly jurisdiction, but Jake blocked the move with a series of motions that Noose granted. So far, their judge had shown little patience with the defense lawyers and their usual stalling tactics. The strategy was straightforward: just prove the crossing was dangerous, badly designed, not properly maintained, well known as a place of near misses, and that the warning lights had failed that night. The defense was just as simple: Taylor Smallwood hit the fourteenth boxcar without ever touching his brakes. How do you not see, whether at night or in clear daylight, a railroad boxcar that is fifteen feet tall, forty feet long, and covered with bright yellow reflective warning stickers? The plaintiff had a strong case because the damages were enormous. The defense had a strong case because of the obvious facts. For almost a year, the railroad_s insurance lawyers had refused to discuss settlement. However, now that the judge was setting a trial date, Harry Rex believed some money might be on the table. One of the defense lawyers was an acquaintance from law school and they had been drinking together. _ JAKE PREFERRED HIS office when it was empty, which was rare these days. His current secretary was Portia Lang, a twenty-six-year-old army veteran who would be leaving in six months to start law school at Ole Miss. Portia_s mother, Lettie, had inherited a small fortune in a will dispute two years earlier, and Jake had battled an entire squad of lawyers to uphold the will. Portia had been so inspired by the case that she decided to go to law school. Her dream was to become the first black female lawyer in Ford County, and she was well on her way. Far more than a secretary, Portia not only answered the phone and ran interference with the clients and foot traffic, she was also learning legal research and wrote clearly. They were negotiating a deal in which she would continue to work part-time while in school, but both knew it would be nearly impossible the first year. To complicate their lives, Lucien Wilbanks, the owner of the building and former owner of the law firm, was now in the habit of arriving for work at least three mornings each week and generally making a nuisance of himself. Disbarred years earlier, Lucien could not take cases or represent clients, so he spent too much of his time sticking his nose into Jake_s business and unloading unsolicited advice. He often claimed to be studying for the bar exam, a monumental challenge for an old man with much of his mental strength sapped by years of heavy drinking. Lucien claimed that by keeping hours at the office he stayed away from the whiskey cabinet at home, but before long he was sipping at his desk. He had assumed ownership of a small downstairs conference room, far away from Jake but too close to Portia, and usually spent the afternoons snoring off his liquid lunches with his feet on his desk. Lucien had made one crude comment of a sexual nature to Portia, after which she threatened to break his neck. They had been civil ever since, though she was happier when he was absent. To round out the firm_s lineup, most of the typing was being done by a twenty-hour-a-week former client named Beverly, a perfectly nice lady of middle age whose entire existence revolved around smoking cigarettes. She chain-smoked, knew the habit was killing her, and had tried every gimmick on the market to quit. The addiction prevented her from keeping a full-time job, and a husband. Jake fixed her an office behind the kitchen where all windows and doors could be left open and she could peck away in a blue haze. Even then, everything she touched reeked of stale smoke and Jake was worried about how long she would last. He quietly speculated to Portia that lung cancer might get her before he was forced to terminate her employment. But Portia did not complain, nor did Lucien, who still smoked cigars on his porch and often smelled of old fumes himself. Jake eased upstairs to his grand office and did not turn on the lights because he did not want to attract attention. Even on Sunday afternoons, he had heard people knocking on his door. Not often, though. Not often enough. Some days he wondered where the next clients were coming from. Others, he wanted to get rid of all of them. In the semidarkness, he stretched out on the old leather sofa purchased by the Wilbanks brothers decades earlier, and he stared at the dusty fan hanging from the ceiling and wondered how long it had been there. How much of the practice of law had changed over the years? What were the ethical dilemmas faced by those lawyers back then? Did they worry about taking unpopular cases? Were they afraid of a backlash if they represented murderers? Jake chuckled at the stories he_d heard about Lucien. He had been the first, and for years the only, white member of the county_s chapter of the NAACP. And later, the same for the ACLU. He had represented unions, a rarity in rural north Mississippi. He sued the state over the lousy schools for blacks. He sued the state over capital punishment. He sued the city because it refused to pave the streets in Lowtown. Until he was disbarred, Lucien Wilbanks had been a fearless lawyer who never hesitated to fire off a lawsuit when he thought one was needed, and never failed to help a client who was being mistreated. On the sidelines now for the past eleven years, Lucien was still a loyal friend who reveled in Jake_s success. If asked, there was no doubt in Jake_s mind that Lucien would advise him to not only take on the defense of young Drew Gamble but to do so with as much noise as possible. Proclaim innocence! Demand a speedy trial! Lucien had always believed that every person charged with a serious crime deserved a good lawyer. And, Lucien had never, throughout his colorful career, dodged the attention that a bad client could bring. Jake_s other close friend, Harry Rex, had already weighed in and there was no reason to revisit the question with him. Carla was on the fence. Noose was waiting by the phone. He wasn_t worried about the Kofers. He didn_t know them and believed they lived in the southern part of the county. Jake was thirty-seven years old and had practiced law successfully for twelve years without that family. He could certainly prosper in the future without knowing them. He was thinking about the cops_the city policemen, and Ozzie, and his deputies. Six days a week, Jake had breakfast four doors down at the Coffee Shop, and Marshall Prather was often there, waiting with the morning_s first insult. Jake had done legal work for many on the force and knew that he was their favorite lawyer. DeWayne Looney had testified against Carl Lee Hailey, and had stunned the jury by admitting he admired the man who blew off his leg. Mick Swayze had a crazy cousin that Jake had successfully shipped off to the state mental hospital, at no charge. Granted, the legal work wasn_t much_wills and deeds and small stuff that Jake charged little for. Pro bono work was not unusual. As he studied the ceiling fan, he had to admit that not a single law enforcement officer had ever brought him a decent case. And wouldn_t they understand if he represented Drew? Sure they were in shock at the murder of a colleague, but they realized that someone, some lawyer, had to represent the accused. Might they feel better if the lawyer was Jake, a friend they trusted? Was he about to make a courageous decision, or the biggest mistake of his career? He finally walked to his desk, picked up the phone, and called Carla. Then he called Judge Noose. 6 I t was dark when he left the office and even darker as he walked around the deserted square. It was almost eight on a Sunday night and not a single store or caf? was open. The jail, however, was bristling with activity. As he turned down the street and saw the fleet of patrol cars parked haphazardly around the buildings, and the news trucks_one from Tupelo, one from Jackson_and the crowd of men loitering outside smoking and talking quietly, a sharp pain hit low in his stomach. He felt as though he was walking directly into enemy territory. He knew the layout well and decided to duck down a side street and enter the sprawling office complex through a rear door. The buildings had been enlarged and renovated over time and with no clear plan as to what might be constructed next. Along with the twenty or so cells and holding rooms and reception areas and cramped hallways, the complex housed the sheriff_s department on one end and the Clanton City Police on the other. For the sake of simplicity, all of it was simply referred to as the _jail._ And on that dark night the jail was packed with every person even remotely connected to law enforcement. It was indeed a brotherhood; the comfort in being with others who wore the badge. A jailer told Jake that Ozzie was in his office with the door locked. Jake asked him to inform the sheriff that he needed to speak with him and would wait outside near the yard, a fenced area where the inmates often played basketball and checkers. In good weather, Jake and the other lawyers in town would sit on an old picnic table under a tree and chat with their clients through the chain-link fence. At night, though, the yard was dark as all prisoners were locked away. Their small cell windows were secured by rows of thick bars. At that moment, Jake had no clients serving time in the jail, other than his latest one. He had two boys at the state penitentiary at Parchman, both for selling drugs. One had a mother with a big mouth and was blaming Jake for their family_s demise. A door opened and Ozzie appeared, alone. He strolled over, in no hurry, as if his shoulders were weighted, as if he hadn_t slept in days. Instead of extending a hand, he cracked his knuckles and gazed across the yard. _Rough day,_ Jake said. Ozzie grunted and said, _The worst one yet. Got the call at three this mornin_ and haven_t slowed down since. It_s tough losin_ a deputy, Jake._ _I_m sorry, Ozzie. I knew Stu and liked him. I can_t imagine what you guys are going through._ _He was a great guy, kept us all in stitches. Maybe a darker side, but we can_t talk about that._ _And you_ve met with his family?_ Ozzie took a deep breath and shook his head. _I drove out, paid my respects. They_re not the most stable people I_ve met. They_ve called here this afternoon askin_ about the boy. Two of them showed up at the hospital, said they wanted to talk to the boy_s mother. Crazy stuff like that. So now I_ve got a deputy parked outside her room. You better watch these guys, Jake._ Just what the little Brigance family needed. More crazies to worry about. Ozzie cleared his throat and spat on the ground. _I just talked to Noose._ _So did I,_ Jake said. _He wouldn_t take no._ _He told me he leaned on you, said you didn_t want to get involved._ _Who would, Ozzie? Certainly nobody from around here. Noose promised me he would try to find a lawyer from outside the county, so I_m just sort of standing in for the preliminaries. At least that_s the plan._ _You don_t sound too sure._ _I_m not. These cases are not easy to get rid of, especially when the rest of the bar goes into hiding and won_t take calls from the judge. There_s a good chance I_ll get stuck with it._ _Why couldn_t you just say no?_ _Because Noose is standing on my neck and because there_s no one else, not now anyway. It_s hard to say no to a circuit judge, Ozzie._ _Sounds like it._ _He pushed pretty hard._ _Yeah, that_s what he said. I guess we_re on opposite sides here, Jake._ _Aren_t we usually on opposite sides? You bring _em in, I try to get _em off. Both doing our jobs._ _I don_t know. This seems different. I_ve never buried a deputy before. Then we_ll have a trial, a big one, and you_ll do what good lawyers are supposed to do. Get the kid off, right?_ _That day is far away, Ozzie. I_m not thinking about a trial right now._ _Try thinkin_ about a funeral._ _I_m sorry, Ozzie._ _Thanks. Should be a fun week._ _I need to see the kid._ Ozzie nodded to a row of windows on the back side of the jail_s most recent addition. _Right there._ _Thanks. Do me a favor, Ozzie. Marshall, Moss, DeWayne, those guys are my friends, and they won_t like this at all._ _You got that right._ _So at least be honest and tell them that Noose appointed me, and that I didn_t ask for the case._ _I_ll do that._ _ THE JAILER OPENED the door and switched on a dim light. Jake followed him inside as his eyes tried to refocus in the semidarkness. He had been in the juvie cell before, many times. The normal procedure would have been to handcuff the inmate and walk him down the hall to an interrogation room where he would meet face-to-face with his lawyer while a jailer stood guard just outside the door. No one could remember a lawyer being attacked in the jail by his client, but they were cautious nonetheless. There was a first time for everything and the clientele was not the most predictable. However, it was obvious to Ozzie and the jailer that this inmate posed no threat. Drew had completely withdrawn and refused all food. He had said nothing since his sister left twelve hours earlier. The jailer whispered, _Shall I leave the door open, just in case?_ Jake shook his head no and the jailer left, closing the door behind him. Drew was still on the bottom bunk, using as little space as possible. Under a thin blanket, he was curled with his knees to his chest and his back to the door, wrapped tight and warm in his own little dark cocoon. Jake pulled over a plastic stool and sat down, making as much noise as possible. The kid did not flinch, did nothing to acknowledge the presence of his visitor. Jake adjusted to the utter stillness, then coughed and said, _Say, Drew, my name is Jake. Are you there? Anybody home?_ Nothing. _I_m a lawyer and the judge has assigned me to your case. I_ll bet you_ve met a lawyer before, right, Drew?_ Nothing. _Okay. Well, you and I need to be friends because you_re about to spend a lot of time with me, and with the judge, and with the court system. You ever been to court before, Drew?_ Nothing. _Something tells me that you_ve been to court._ Nothing. _I_m a good guy, Drew. I_m on your side._ Nothing. A minute passed, then two. The blanket rose and fell slightly as Drew breathed. Jake could not see if his eyes were open. Another minute. Jake said, _Okay, can we talk about your mother, Drew? Josie Gamble. You know she_s okay, right?_ Nothing. Then a slight movement under the blanket as he slowly uncurled his legs and stretched them. _And your sister, Kiera. Let_s talk about Josie and Kiera. They_re both safe right now, Drew. I want you to know this._ Nothing. _Drew, we_re not getting anywhere here. I want you to turn around and look at me. It_s the least you can do. Roll over and say hello and let_s have a chat._ The boy grunted the word _No._ _Great, now we_re getting somewhere. You can talk after all. Ask me a question about your mother, okay? Anything._ Softly, he asked, _Where is she?_ _Turn around and sit up and look at me when you talk._ He rolled over and sat up, careful not to hit his head on the frame of the top bunk. He pulled the blanket tight around his neck as if it protected him and leaned forward with his feet hanging free. Dirty socks, shoes over by the commode. He stared at the floor and huddled under the blanket. Jake studied his face and was certain there had to be a mistake. Drew_s eyes were red and puffy from a day spent under the covers and probably no small amount of crying. His blond hair was wild and in need of a trim. And he was tiny. When Jake was sixteen years old he was the starting quarterback for Karaway High School, ten miles from Clanton. He also played basketball and baseball and was shaving, driving, and dating every cute girl who would say yes. This kid belonged on a bike with training wheels. Chatter was important and Jake said, _Paperwork says you_re sixteen years old, right?_ No response. _When_s your birthday?_ He stared at the floor, motionless. _Come on, Drew, surely you know your own birthday._ _Where_s my mother?_ _She_s at the hospital and she_ll be there for a few days. She has a broken jaw and I think the doctors want to operate. I_m going by there tomorrow to say hello and I_d like to tell her that you_re okay. Under the circumstances._ _She_s not dead?_ _No, Drew, your mother is not dead. What do you want me to say to her?_ _I thought she was dead. So did Kiera. We both thought Stu had finally killed her. That_s why I shot him. What_s your name?_ _Jake. I_m your lawyer._ _The last lawyer lied to me._ _Sorry about that, but I_m not lying. I swear I don_t lie. Ask me something now, anything, and I promise I_ll give you a straight answer without lying. Try me._ _How long will I be here in jail?_ Jake hesitated and said, _I don_t know and that_s not a lie. It_s the truth, because right now nobody knows how long you_ll stay in jail. A safe answer would be _a long time._ They_re going to charge you with killing Stuart Kofer, and murder is the most serious crime of all._ He looked at Jake and with red moist eyes said, _But I thought he killed my mother._ _I get that, but the truth is, Drew, that he didn_t._ _I_m still glad I shot him._ _I wish you had not._ _I don_t care if they keep me in prison forever because he can never hurt my mother again. And he can_t hurt Kiera and he can_t hurt me. He got what he deserved, Mr. Jake._ _It_s just _Jake,_ okay? Drew and Jake. Lawyer and client._ Drew wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand. He closed his eyes tightly and began shaking, shivering as if the chills were sweeping through him. Jake pulled down another thin blanket from the top bunk and draped it over his shoulders. He was sobbing now, shaking and sobbing with tears dripping off his cheeks. He cried for a long time, a small, pitiful, terrified little boy so utterly alone in the world. More of a little boy than a teenager, Jake thought more than once. When the shaking stopped, Drew went back into his own world and refused to speak, refused to acknowledge Jake_s presence. He wrapped himself in the blankets, lay down, and stared blankly at the mattress frame above him. Jake brought up his mother again, but it didn_t work. He mentioned food and soft drinks but there was no response. Ten minutes passed, then twenty. When it became apparent that Drew was not going to respond, Jake said, _Okay, I_m outta here, Drew. I_ll see your mother in the morning and tell her you_re doing just great. While I_m away, you are not to speak to anyone else. No jailer, no policeman, no investigator, nobody, you hear? Which, for you, should not be a problem. Just say nothing until I get back._ Jake left him much as he_d found him, lying still, trance-like, staring wide-eyed but seeing nothing. He closed the door behind him. At the desk he signed out, avoided some familiar faces, and left the jail on foot for the long walk home. _ OUT OF CURIOSITY, he took a detour near the square and saw an office light on, as he_d expected. Harry Rex often locked himself away late at night, especially on Sunday, to catch up with the madness that was his practice. During most days his dingy waiting room was filled with warring spouses and other unhappy clients, and he spent more time refereeing than settling disputes. In addition to that stress, his fourth marriage was not going well and he preferred the late-night tranquility of his office over the tension around the house. Jake tapped on a window and entered through a rear door. Harry Rex met him in the kitchen and removed two cans of beer from the fridge. They settled into a cluttered workroom beside his office. _Why are you out so late?_ he asked. _Stopped by the jail,_ Jake said, and Harry Rex nodded as if this was no surprise. _Noose hazed you into it, right?_ _He did. Said the appointment was only for thirty days, just to get the kid through the preliminaries._ _Bullshit. You_ll never get rid of this case, Jake, because no one else_ll take it. I tried to warn you._ _You did, but it_s pretty hard saying no to the circuit judge, Harry Rex. When was the last time you looked at Noose and said no to a favor?_ _I stay away from Noose, not my domain. I prefer chancery court where we don_t have juries and the judges are afraid of me._ _Chancellor Reuben Atlee is not afraid of anybody._ Harry Rex swallowed some beer and looked at Jake in disbelief. He took another swallow and kicked back in an old wooden swivel. He_d lost fifty pounds the year before but had now regained at least that much, and because of his bulk he struggled to lift both feet to the table. But they made it, in ragged old jogging shoes that Jake could swear he_d been wearing for at least the past decade. Feet in place, cold beer in hand, he continued pleasantly, _A really stupid move on your part._ _I may have stopped by for a beer but not for any abuse._ As if he didn_t hear him, Harry Rex said, _My phone has been ringin_ all day as the gossip spread and I heard from people I thought were dead, hoped most of them were anyway, but, seriously, a murdered deputy? This county has never seen one of those, and so folks are prattlin_ away right now. And tomorrow and the next day and the rest of the week, that_s all this town will talk about. How much they all loved Stuart Kofer. Even the wags who hardly knew him will discover a deep admiration for the guy. And can you imagine the funeral or memorial or whatever Ozzie will put on with the family? Hell, you know how much cops love parades and funeral processions and burials with guns and cannons. It_ll be quite the show with the whole town tryin_ to get into the act. And when they_re not weepin_ over Kofer they_ll be vilifying his killer. Sixteen-year-old punk shot him with his own gun in his own bed. Cold-blooded murder. Let_s string him up now. As always, Jake, the guilt will rub off on the lawyer, on you. You_ll do your best to represent your client and they_ll hate you for it. It_s a mistake, Jake, a big one. You_ll regret this case for a long time._ _You_re assuming too much, Harry Rex. Noose assured me it_s only temporary. I_ll meet with him Tuesday to discuss the possibility of approaching some of the national child advocacy groups to get some help down here. Noose knows the case is not good for me._ _Y_all talk about Smallwood?_ _Of course not. That would be highly inappropriate._ Harry Rex snorted and swallowed more beer. It was unethical to discuss a hotly contested case with the presiding judge when the opposing lawyers knew nothing of the conversation. Especially a phone chat on a Sunday afternoon that was initiated for other reasons. But such ethical formalities had never impressed Harry Rex. He said, _Here_s what might happen, Jake, and this is my biggest fear. Right now those sumbitches on the other side of Smallwood are gettin_ nervous. I_ve convinced Doby that they don_t want to mess with you in your courtroom, in front of a Ford County jury. You_re good and all that but not nearly as good as I_ve made you out to be. I_ve blown a lot of smoke up his ass and he_s not much of a trial lawyer anyway. His partner is better, but they_re from Jackson and that can be a long ways off. Sullivan will be sitting at the table with them but he_s not a factor. So we_re talkin_ trial dates for Smallwood and I have a hunch the railroad will start droppin_ hints about a settlement. However._ A gulp of beer and the can was empty. _Yesterday you were the golden boy with a fine reputation, but that started changin_ today. By the end of the week your good name will be mud because you_re tryin_ to spring the kid who murdered our deputy._ _I_m not sure it was murder._ _You_re crazy, Jake. Have you been hangin_ around Lucien again?_ _No, not today. It could be insanity. Could be justifiable homicide._ _Could be. Could be. Let me tell you what it will be. It_ll be suicide for you and your law practice in this small and unforgiving town. Even if you keep Noose happy, it_ll still kill Smallwood. Can_t you see that, Jake?_ _You_re overreacting again, Harry Rex. There are thirty-two thousand people in this county and I_m sure we can find twelve who_ve never heard of me or Stuart Kofer. The railroad_s lawyers can_t point at me in the courtroom and say, _Hey, that guy represents cop killers._ They can_t do that and Noose won_t let them try._ Harry Rex jerked his feet down as if he_d had enough, and he lumbered out of the room, went to the kitchen, fetched two more beers, and brought them to the table. He popped a top and began pacing along the far end of the table. _Here_s your problem, Jake. Your problem is that you want to be the center of attention. That_s why you fought to hang on to the Hailey case when all the black preachers and organizers and radicals were tellin_ Carl Lee to ditch the white boy before they sent his black ass to Parchman. You fought to keep the case and then you defended him brilliantly. You love it, Jake. I don_t expect you to admit it, but you love the big case, the big trial, the big verdict. You love being in the very center of the arena with all eyes on you._ Jake ignored the second can and took a sip from his first. _What_s Carla_s opinion?_ Harry Rex asked. _Mixed. She_s tired of me carrying a gun._ Harry Rex drank some beer and stopped to stare at a bookcase filled with thick, leather-bound law treatises no one in his office had touched in decades. Not even to dust. Without looking at Jake, he asked, _Did you say the words _justifiable homicide_?_ _I did._ _So you_re already at trial, right, Jake?_ _No, I_m just thinking out loud. Just a habit._ _Bullshit. You_re already at trial and plannin_ the defense. Did Kofer beat the woman?_ _She_s in the hospital with a concussion and a broken jaw that will require surgery._ _Did he beat the kids?_ _I don_t know._ _So there was a pattern of Kofer comin_ home drunk late on Saturday night and slappin_ everybody around. And the way you see the defense is that you_ll in effect put him on trial. You_ll slander his good name by exposin_ all of his sins and bad habits._ _It_s not slander if it_s true._ _That could be a very nasty trial, Jake._ _I_m sorry I mentioned it, Harry Rex. I don_t plan on being anywhere near that courtroom._ _Now you_re lyin_._ _No, I think about trials because I_m a lawyer, but this one is for someone else. I_ll get through the preliminary stuff, then unload the kid._ _I doubt that. I truly doubt that, Jake. I just hope you_re not screwin_ up Smallwood. Truthfully, I really don_t give a damn what happens to Stuart Kofer or his girlfriends and kids and people I_ve never met, but I do care about Smallwood. That case could be the biggest payday in our lousy little careers._ _I don_t know. I got a thousand bucks for the Hailey case._ _And that_s about all you_ll get for this turkey too._ _Well, at least we have Noose on our side._ _For now. I don_t trust him as much as you do._ _Have you ever met a judge you trusted?_ _No. Nor a lawyer._ _Look, I gotta go. I need a favor._ _A favor? Right now I_d like to choke you._ _Yeah, but you won_t. Tomorrow morning at six, I_ll walk into the Coffee Shop and say hello to Marshall Prather. Same routine. Might be another deputy or two at the table. I need a wingman._ _You_ve lost your mind, Jake._ _Come on, pal. Think of all the crazy stuff I_ve done for you._ _Nope. You_re on your own. Tomorrow mornin_ you get another dose of life as a small-town criminal lawyer._ _And you_re afraid to be seen with me?_ _No. I_m afraid of wakin_ up that early. Beat it, pal. You_re makin_ your own decisions these days, without regard to others. I_m pissed and I plan to stay that way for a long time._ _I_ve heard that before._ _This time I mean it. You wanna play radical lawyer, get your buddy Lucien to join you for breakfast. See how the locals enjoy him._ _He can_t get up that early._ _And we know why._ _ WITH HANNA TUCKED IN for the night and Jake out roaming the streets, Carla watched television and waited on the ten o_clock news. She started with the Tupelo station where, as expected, the murder of Stuart Kofer was the lead story with a large color image of the deputy in his nicely starched uniform posted as background. Details were still under wraps. A suspect, a minor, name not given, was in custody. There was footage of an ambulance leaving Kofer_s property with, presumably, a dead body inside but none visible. No comment from the sheriff or anyone else with authority. No comments anywhere, yet the intrepid reporter on the scene managed to ramble on about the killing for a solid five minutes while saying almost nothing. Filler was added with live shots of the Ford County Courthouse and even the jail, where some patrol cars were filmed coming and going. Carla switched to a Memphis station and learned even less, though for good measure the story included something vague about a _domestic disturbance,_ with the mild implication that Kofer had been called to the scene to break up a fight and somehow got hit in the crossfire. There was no reporter on the scene to get to the bottom of things. Evidently, a weekend intern at a news desk was ad-libbing. Another Memphis station spent half its time recapping the city_s own daily carnage of home invasions, gang wars, and random murders. It then went south to the Kofer story and the real news that, allegedly, he was the first county officer to be killed _in the line of duty_ since a moonshiner shot two deputies in 1922. Not surprisingly, the reporter spun things to give the impression that the county was still rife with illegal whiskey, drugs, and other lawlessness, a far cry from the safe streets of Memphis. Jake walked in during the last report, and Carla turned off the television and briefed him on the others. He wanted some decaf coffee. She brewed a pot and they had a cup at the breakfast table where the long day had begun. He replayed his conversations with Ozzie, Drew, and Harry Rex, and he confessed that he was not looking forward to the coming week. She was sympathetic but obviously worried. She wanted the case to simply go away. 7 A fter the Sunday night service at Good Shepherd, Reverend McGarry convened a special meeting of the board of deacons. Seven of the twelve were present, four women and three men, and they gathered in the fellowship hall with cookies and coffee. Kiera was next door in the small church parsonage, with Meg McGarry, the pastor_s wife, eating a sandwich for dinner. The young preacher explained that since Kiera had no other place to go at the moment, she would be staying with them until_until what? Until a relative showed up to claim her, which didn_t appear likely? Until some court somewhere issued an order? Until her mother was discharged and could leave town with her? Regardless, Kiera was now an unofficial ward of the church. And she was traumatized and needed professional help. Throughout the afternoon she had talked of nothing but her mother and brother and her desire to be with them. Meg had called the hospital and talked to an administrator who said that, yes, they could provide a foldaway bed for the girl to stay with her mother. Two of the lady deacons volunteered to spend the night down the hall in the waiting room. There was a discussion about food, clothing, and school. Charles was of the firm opinion that Kiera should not return to classes for at least a few days. She was far too fragile and there was the near certainty that another student would say something hurtful. It was finally agreed that the school attendance issue would be dealt with on a day-by-day basis. One member of the church taught algebra at the middle school and would talk to the principal. Another member had a cousin who was a child psychologist and she would inquire about counseling. Plans were formulated, and at ten o_clock they drove Kiera to the hospital where the staff had arranged a bed next to her mother_s. Josie_s vitals were normal and she said she felt okay. Her swollen and bandaged face, though, told another story. A hospital gown was provided for Kiera, and when the nurses turned down the lights, she was sitting at her mother_s feet. _ AT 5:30 A.M. Jake_s alarm clock started making noises. He silenced it with a slap and rolled back under the covers. So far, he had slept little and was not ready to begin his day. He burrowed deep, found Carla_s warm body, moved closer but was met with resistance. He withdrew, opened his eyes and thought about his newest client sitting in jail, and was about to surrender to the morning when thunder rolled in the distance. A cold front was expected, with potential storms, and perhaps it wasn_t safe to venture out. Another reason to sleep more was the desire to avoid the Coffee Shop on this dark day, when all the chatter and gossip would be about poor Stu Kofer and the teenage thug who murdered him. Yet another reason was the fact that he was not due in court or anywhere else the entire day. As the reasons accumulated he felt them closing in, smothering him, and eventually he drifted off. Carla wakened him with a pleasant kiss on the cheek and a cup of coffee, then she was off to rouse Hanna and get her ready for school. After two sips, Jake thought about the newspapers and hopped out of bed. He pulled on some jeans, found the dog, leashed him, and went outside. The morning editions from Tupelo, Jackson, and Memphis were strewn along his drive, and he quickly scanned each. All had the Kofer story on the front page. He tucked them under his arm, made the block, and returned to the kitchen where he poured more coffee and spread out the papers. The gags were holding; no one was talking. Ozzie wouldn_t even confirm that he was the sheriff. Reporters had been shooed away from the crime scene, the jail, the home of Earl and Janet Kofer, and the hospital. Officer Kofer was thirty-three, an army veteran, single with no children, four years as a deputy. The sparse details of his bio were spread thin. The Memphis paper covered the story of Kofer_s deadly run-in with some drug dealers three years earlier on a rural road near Karaway, a shoot-out that left the bad guys dead and Lieutenant Kofer only slightly wounded. A bullet grazed his arm and he refused hospitalization and never missed a day of work. Jake was suddenly in a hurry. He showered, skipped breakfast, kissed his girls goodbye, and headed to the office. He needed to visit the hospital and it was imperative that he see Drew again. He was convinced the kid was traumatized and needed help, medical as well as legal, but he wanted to pick the right moment for another attorney-client consultation. Evidently, others felt differently. Portia was at her desk, standing, holding the receiver of her phone, looking puzzled. Her customary smile was missing as Jake walked into the office. _This man just yelled at me,_ she said. _Who was it?_ She put the receiver away, picked up the Tupelo paper, pointed to the black-and-white photo of Stuart Kofer, and said, _Said he was his father. Said his boy got shot yesterday, shot dead, and that you_re the lawyer for the kid who shot him. Talk to me, Jake._ Jake tossed his briefcase onto a chair. _Earl Kofer?_ _That_s him. Sounded crazy. Said the kid, Drew somebody, didn_t deserve no lawyer, crazy stuff like that. What_s the deal?_ _Have a seat. Is there any coffee?_ _It_s brewing._ _Noose appointed me to the case yesterday. I met with the kid last night at the jail, so, yes, our little law firm now represents a sixteen-year-old boy who will probably be indicted for capital murder._ _What about the public defender?_ _He couldn_t defend a bully in kindergarten and everybody, especially Noose, knows it. He called around and couldn_t find anyone else and he thinks I know what I_m doing._ Portia sat down, tossed the newspaper aside, and said, _I like it. This will really liven up the place. Almost nine o_clock on a Monday morning and we_ve already had our first nasty phone call._ _There will probably be others._ _Does Lucien know?_ _I haven_t told him. And Noose is promising that he_ll replace me in thirty days, just wants me to handle the preliminary stuff._ _Did the boy shoot him?_ _He didn_t talk much. In fact he clammed up and went into a daze. I think he needs some help. Based on what Ozzie said, he shot him once in the head with his own gun._ _Do you_did you know Kofer?_ _I know all the cops, some better than others. Kofer seemed to be a good guy, a friendly sort. Last month he spoke to Carla_s sixth graders about drugs and she said he was wonderful._ _Not a bad-lookin_ boy, for a white guy._ _I_m going to the hospital in about an hour to see the kid_s mother. Looks like Kofer may have knocked her around some before his big moment. You want to go?_ Portia finally smiled and said, _Of course. I_ll get you some coffee._ _What a good little secretary you are._ _I_m a paralegal slash research assistant, soon to be law student, and before you know it I_ll be a full-blown partner around here and you_ll be fetching me coffee. One milk, two sugars._ _I_ll write that down._ Jake climbed the stairs to his office and took off his jacket. He had just settled into his leather swivel when Lucien arrived, before the coffee. _Heard you got a new case,_ he said with a smile as he fell into a chair, one that he still owned because he owned all the other furniture as well as the building itself. Jake_s office, the grandest one, had belonged to Lucien before he was disbarred in 1979, and to his father before he was killed in a plane crash in 1965, and to his grandfather who built the Wilbanks firm into a powerhouse until Lucien took over and ran off all the paying clients. Jake should have been surprised that Lucien knew, but he wasn_t. Like Harry Rex, Lucien seemed to hear the hottest news first, though both had entirely different sources. _Noose appointed me,_ Jake said. _I didn_t want the case, still don_t._ _And why not? I need some coffee._ Usually, on a Monday morning, Lucien did not bother with pushing himself out of bed, showering and shaving, and putting on semi-respectable clothes. Since he couldn_t practice law, his Mondays were normally spent on the porch trying to drink off the weekend_s hangover. The fact that he was awake and fairly presentable meant he wanted details. _It_s coming,_ Jake said. _Who told you?_ A worthless question that was never answered. _Sources, Jake, sources. And why don_t you want the case?_ _Harry Rex is afraid it might somehow damage the Smallwood settlement._ _What settlement?_ _He thinks they_re getting ready to put money on the table. He also thinks that this killing could damage my stellar reputation as a noted trial lawyer. He thinks the public will turn on me and we won_t be able to pick fair and open-minded jurors._ _When did Harry Rex become an expert on juries?_ _He thinks he_s an expert on people._ _I wouldn_t let him in front of my jury._ _That_s my job. I have the charisma._ _And the ego, and right now your ego is telling you that you_re far more popular than you really are. Defending this kid will not affect your railroad case._ _I_m not sure. Harry Rex thinks otherwise._ _Harry Rex can be stupid._ _He_s a brilliant lawyer who happens to be my co-counsel in what just might be the biggest case of our struggling careers. You don_t agree with him?_ _I seldom do. Sure, you_ll take some heat for defending an unpopular client, but what the hell? Most of my clients were unpopular, but that didn_t mean they were bad people. I didn_t care what these yokels thought about me or them. I had a job to do and it was completely unrelated to the gossip in the coffee shops and churches. They may talk about you behind your back but when they get in trouble they_ll want a lawyer who knows how to fight, and fight dirty if necessary. When_s the kid going to court?_ _I have no idea, Lucien. I plan to talk to the D.A. and to Judge Noose this morning. There_s also the matter of youth court._ _Not a youth court matter, not in this backward state._ _I know the law, Lucien._ _A charge of murder is automatically excluded from youth court jurisdiction._ _I know the law, Lucien._ Portia opened the door and eased in with coffee and cups on a tray. Lucien continued his lecture. _It really doesn_t matter how young the kid is either. Twenty years ago they put a thirteen-year-old on trial for murder down in Polk County. I knew his defense lawyer._ _Good morning, Lucien,_ Portia said politely as she poured coffee. _Mornin_,_ he said without looking at her. In the early days of her employment he enjoyed long, leering stares. He had touched her a few times, on the arms and shoulders, just little affectionate pats that meant nothing, but after some stern warnings from Jake and a direct threat of bodily harm from Portia, he_d backed off and grown to admire her. _We had another call, Jake, about five minutes ago,_ she said. _Anonymous. Some hick said if you tried to get this boy off like you got that Hailey nigger off, there would be hell to pay._ _I_m sorry he said that, Portia,_ Jake said, stunned. _It_s okay. I_ve heard it before and I_m sure I_ll hear it again._ _I_m sorry too, Portia,_ Lucien said softly. _Real sorry._ Jake waved at a wooden chair next to Lucien and she sat down. In unison, they sipped their coffee and thought about the N-word. Twelve years earlier, when Jake finished law school and arrived in Clanton as the rookie, the word was commonly used by white lawyers and judges as they gossiped and told jokes and even did their business without an audience. Now, though, in 1990, its usage was fading and it was deemed improper, even low-class, to use it. Jake_s mother hated the word and had never allowed it, but, growing up in Karaway, Jake knew that his home was different in that respect. He looked at Portia, who at the moment seemed less bothered than the two men, and said, _I_m really sorry you heard that in this office._ _Hey, I_m okay. I_ve heard it my entire life. I heard it in the army. I_ll hear it again. I can deal with it, Jake. But, just to clear the air here, all the players involved are white. Right?_ _Yes._ _So, we shouldn_t expect the Kluckers and those guys to show up, like Hailey, right?_ _Who knows?_ Lucien said. _There are plenty of nuts out there._ _You got that right. Not yet nine on a Monday morning and two calls already. Two threats._ _What was the first one?_ Lucien asked. _The father of the deceased, a man named Earl Kofer,_ Jake said. _I_ve never met him but it looks like that might change._ _The father of the deceased called the lawyer of the person arrested for the killing?_ Jake and Portia nodded. Lucien shook his head, then he smiled and said, _I love it. Makes me wish I was back in the trenches._ The desk phone rang and Jake stared at it. Line three was blinking and that usually meant Carla was calling. He slowly lifted the receiver, said hello, and listened. She was at school, in her classroom, first period. The secretary in the principal_s office down the hall had just answered the phone, and a man who refused to give his name asked if Jake Brigance_s wife worked there. He said he was a good friend of Stuart Kofer, said Kofer had a lot of friends, and that they were upset because Carl Lee Hailey_s lawyer was now trying to get that kid out of jail. Said jail was the only thing keeping the boy alive at the moment. When she asked his name for the second time, he hung up. The secretary informed the principal, who told Carla, then called the city police. _ WHEN JAKE WHEELED to a stop in front of the school, he parked behind two patrol cars. An officer named Step Lemon, a former bankruptcy client of Jake_s, was at the front door and greeted Jake like an old friend. Lemon said, _The call came from a pay phone at Parker_s store, down by the lake. That_s as far as we can dig. I_ll get Ozzie to ask around at the store but my guess is it_s a waste of time._ Jake said, _Thanks,_ and they stepped inside where the principal was waiting with Carla, who seemed thoroughly unflustered by the phone call. She and Jake walked away for some privacy. _Hanna_s fine,_ Carla whispered. _They checked on her right away and she knows nothing._ _The asshole called the school where you work,_ Jake whispered. _Watch your language. It_s just some nut, Jake._ _I know. But nuts can do stupid things. We_ve had two calls at the office already._ _Do you think it_ll blow over?_ _No. There are too many big events just around the corner. The boy_s first court appearance. Kofer_s funeral. More court appearances, and one day there might be a trial._ _But you_re just temporary, right?_ _Right. I_ll see Noose tomorrow and tell him what_s going on. He can find another lawyer from outside the county. You_re okay?_ _I_m fine, Jake. You didn_t have to race over here._ _Yes I did._ He walked out of the building with Officer Lemon, shook hands with him and thanked him again, and got in his car. Instinctively, he slid back the lid of his console to make sure his automatic pistol was still there. It was, and he cursed it, and shook his head in frustration as he drove away. At least a thousand times in the past two years he had vowed to put his firearms away and retrieve them only for hunting. But the gun nuts were loose and more rabid than ever. It was safe to assume that in the rural South every vehicle had a weapon. Old laws had made it necessary to hide them, but newer ones had brought them out into the open. Get a permit these days and you could hang rifles in your rear window and strap a six-shooter on your hip. Jake despised the idea of keeping guns in his car, his desk at work, his nightstand at home, but once they take shots at you, burn your house, and threaten your family, notions of self-preservation become priority one. 8 A Mrs. Whitaker and a Mrs. Huff introduced themselves in the third-floor waiting room and asked if Jake and Portia would like something to eat. The Good Shepherd Bible Church was in the process of laying siege. The coffee tables and counters were covered with food, and more was on the way. Mrs. Huff explained that the ladies of the church were working shifts now, keeping a watchful eye on Josie Gamble down the hall in that room with a bored deputy sitting outside the door in a rocker. As Mrs. Huff talked, Mrs. Whitaker placed two thick slices of triple-fudge cake on paper plates and handed one to Portia and one to Jake. Since it was not physically possible to decline the cake, they took small bites with plastic forks as Mrs. Huff went through the results of Josie_s latest tests, with no respect for privacy. When Jake was finally allowed to speak and told them that he was the court-appointed lawyer for Drew, the ladies were visibly impressed and offered coffee. Jake introduced Portia as his paralegal, but it wasn_t clear if they knew what that meant. Mrs. Whitaker said her nephew was a lawyer over in Arkansas, and, not to be outdone, Mrs. Huff said her brother had once served on a grand jury. The cake was delicious and Jake asked for another, smaller slice, and accepted some coffee to wash it down. When he glanced at his watch Mrs. Whitaker informed him that Josie_s door was closed because she was being examined by her doctors. It wouldn_t take long, she assured him, as if she was now well versed on hospital procedures. Since both ladies seemed hell-bent on talking nonstop, Jake sat down and began asking questions about the Gamble family. Mrs. Whitaker got the jump on her rival and explained that they, mother and children, had been worshipping at Good Shepherd for the past few months. One of the deacons, Mr. Herman Vest they thought it was, had met Josie where she worked at the car wash in Clanton and struck up a conversation, as he was prone to do. Mr. Vest enjoyed meeting new people and inviting them to church. Mr. Vest, if it was indeed him, had passed along her name to their pastor, Brother Charles, and he had followed up with a home visit, one that reportedly did not go well because the man of the house, Officer Stuart Kofer, may he rest in peace, had been quite rude to their pastor. Additionally, it was obvious that Josie was living with the man without the benefit of holy matrimony, living in open sin, so that gave them all additional ammo for their prayer lists. Nevertheless, Josie and the kids visited one Sunday morning. The church always took great pride in welcoming visitors. That was one reason its enrollment had almost doubled since Brother Charles had arrived. One big happy family. Mrs. Huff barged in at this point because she had something special to offer. Kiera at the time was only thirteen years old, fourteen now, and Mrs. Huff taught the young teenage girls in a Sunday school class. Once Mrs. Huff, as well as the rest of the church, came to realize what awful things Josie and the kids had been through, they really took them in. Mrs. Huff had a special interest in Kiera, who at first was extremely shy and introverted. About once a month Mrs. Huff invited the class to her house for pizza, ice cream, and a scary-movie sleepover, and she coaxed Kiera into joining them. The other girls were terrific, some knew her from school, but she had a difficult time relaxing at the little party. Portia had put down her cake and was taking notes. When Mrs. Huff paused for a breath, Portia pounced with _When you say the family had been through some awful things, what do you mean? If you don_t mind telling us._ These two women would tell anything. But they did glance at each other as if thinking perhaps they should throttle back. Mrs. Huff said, _Well, when they were younger they were separated. Not sure how or why, but I think Josie, and she is a dear, had to go away, maybe got in some trouble, you know? The kids were sent away. Something like that._ Mrs. Whitaker added, _Drew_s teacher said the class was doing pen-pal letters to boys and girls in orphanages and Drew said he_d been there once, to an orphanage, and he wasn_t ashamed to talk about it. Seems like he_s more outgoing than his sister._ _Any family around here?_ Jake asked. Both ladies shook their heads. No. Mrs. Huff said, _And I_m not sure how or why she took up with that Kofer fellow. He had a bad reputation in the area._ _For what?_ Portia asked. _Well, there were a lot of rumors about the guy, down our way. Even though he was a deputy, he had a darker side._ Jake was keen to pursue the dark side when a doctor walked in. The ladies proudly introduced him to the family_s lawyer and his paralegal. As in most hospitals, the presence of a lawyer chilled the conversation with the doctor. He assured them the patient was doing fine, still in pain, but getting restless. Once the swelling was under control, they would do the surgery to reset the broken bones in her cheek and jaw. _Can she talk?_ Jake asked. _A little. She struggles but she wants to talk._ _Could we see her?_ _Sure, just don_t overdo it, okay?_ Jake and Portia hurried from the room as Mrs. Whitaker and Mrs. Huff were pointing the doctor toward the latest casseroles and talking about lunch. It was 10:20. The deputy on hall duty was Lyman Price, probably the oldest member of Ozzie_s force and the one least able to stalk drug dealers and chase down criminals. When he wasn_t pushing papers around his desk at the jail, he worked the courtrooms keeping order in the court. Killing hours outside a hospital room was another perfect job for old Lyman. He greeted Jake with his usual gruffness, with no hint of an edge because of the Kofer business. Jake knocked on the door as he opened it and smiled at Kiera, who was sitting in a chair, reading a teen magazine. Josie was on her back but propped up and alert. Jake introduced himself and Portia, and said hello to Kiera, who put down the magazine and stood near her mother_s feet. Jake said they would just be there for a moment, but he had met with Drew the night before and promised him that he would see his mother and make sure she was okay. She grabbed his hand and squeezed it and through the gauze mumbled something like _How is he?_ _He_s okay. We_re on our way back to the jail to see him now._ Kiera had moved closer and was sitting on the edge of the bed. Her eyes were moist and she wiped her cheeks, and Jake was struck by the fact that she was much taller than her brother, though two years younger. Drew could pass for a little boy far away from puberty. Kiera was physically mature for her age. _How long in jail?_ Josie asked. _A long time, Josie. There_s no way to get him out for weeks or months. He_ll be charged with murder and face a trial and that_ll take a lot of time._ Kiera leaned forward with a tissue and wiped her mother_s cheeks, then wiped her own. There was a long silent pause as a monitor beeped and nurses laughed in the hallway. Jake flinched first and was suddenly eager to leave. He clutched Josie_s hand, leaned down and said, _I_ll be back. Right now we_re going to check on Drew._ She tried to nod but the pain hit and she grimaced. Backing away, Jake handed Kiera a business card and whispered, _There_s my number._ At the door he turned around for a last glance and saw the two clutching each other in a tight embrace, both crying, both terrified of the unknowns. It was a heartbreaking image that he would never forget. Two little people facing nothing but fear and the wrath of the system, a mother and daughter who_d done nothing wrong but were suffering mightily. They had no voice, no one to protect them. No one but Jake. A voice told him that they, along with Drew, would be a part of his life for years to come. _ THE CHIEF PROSECUTOR for the Twenty-second Judicial District_Polk, Ford, Tyler, Milburn, and Van Buren counties_was the district attorney, Lowell Dyer, from the even smaller town of Gretna, forty miles north of Clanton. Three years earlier, Dyer had challenged the great Rufus Buckley, the three-term D.A. who many believed would one day become governor, or at least try. With as much ceremony, publicity, grandstanding, and outright hotdogging as the state had ever seen, Buckley had prosecuted Carl Lee Hailey five years earlier and begged the jury for death. Jake convinced them otherwise and handed Buckley his greatest defeat. The voters then gave him another one, and he limped back to his hometown of Smithfield and opened a small office. Jake and virtually every other lawyer in the district had quietly supported Lowell Dyer, who had proven to be a steady hand at a rather dull job. Monday morning was anything but dull. Dyer had taken a call late Sunday night from Judge Noose, and the two had discussed the Kofer case. Ozzie called early Monday morning, and by 9:00 a.m. Dyer was meeting with his assistant, D. R. Musgrove, to consider their options. From the outset, there was little doubt that the State wanted to push for a capital murder indictment and seek the death penalty. A man of the law had been murdered in his own bed, by his own gun, in cold blood. The killer had confessed and was in custody and, though only sixteen, he was certainly old enough to know right from wrong and appreciate the nature of his actions. In Dyer_s world, the Good Book taught an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, vengeance is mine saith the Lord. Or something like that. The exact wording from the Bible was really not that important, because capital punishment was still favored by an overwhelming majority of the population, especially those concerned enough to vote. Polls and public opinion surveys were of no consequence in the rural South, because the issue had long since been settled and public sentiment had not changed. Indeed, when Dyer ran for office he said several times on the stump that the problem with the gas chamber was that it was not being used enough. This had really pleased the crowds, or at least the white ones. In black churches, he had avoided the issue altogether. The law currently considered murder to be exempt from youth court jurisdiction if the accused was at least thirteen years old. A twelve-year-old could not be prosecuted in circuit court, the tribunal for all criminal prosecutions. No other state had such a low threshold. In most, the defendant had to be at least sixteen to be tried as an adult. Up north, a few states had bumped the age up to eighteen, but not in the South. Though the gravity of the moment throttled his enthusiasm, Lowell was secretly delighted to have such an important case. In his three years, he had not indicted anyone for capital murder, and as a prosecutor who saw himself getting tougher and tougher, he had grown frustrated with such a bland docket. If not for the production and peddling of drugs, and the gambling sting run by the Feds with local help, he_d have little to do. He had tried a drunk in Polk County for vehicular homicide and put him away for twenty years. He had won two bank robberies in Milburn County, same defendant, but the guy had escaped and was still on the lam. Probably still robbing banks. Before the Kofer killing, Lowell was spending his time on a joint task force of prosecutors trying to fight the cocaine plague. But with the Kofer killing, Lowell Dyer was suddenly the man in the middle. Unlike his predecessor, Rufus Buckley, who would have already called at least two press conferences, Lowell avoided the reporters Monday morning and went about his business. He spoke to Ozzie again, and Noose, and he placed a call to Jake Brigance but got voicemail. Out of respect, he called Earl Kofer and passed along his sympathies while promising a full measure of justice. He sent his investigator to Clanton to start digging. And he took a call from a pathologist at the state crime lab. The autopsy revealed that Kofer died of a single bullet wound to the head, in through the left temple, out through the right ear. Nothing really remarkable, but for the fact that his blood alcohol level was .36. Point-three-six! Three and a half times the state_s limit of .10 to be legally drunk behind the wheel. Kofer was six feet one inch tall and weighed 197 pounds. A man that size, and that drunk, would have a difficult time doing anything_walking, driving, even breathing. As a small-town lawyer with fifteen years_ experience, Lowell had never seen or heard of a case involving such a high level of alcohol. He expressed disbelief and asked the pathologist to test the blood again. Lowell would review the autopsy report as soon as he received it, and in due course he would hand it over to the defense. There would be no way to conceal the fact that Stuart Kofer was blind drunk when he died. No set of facts was ever perfect. Every prosecution, as well as every defense, had its flaws in the proof. But for a deputy to be so raging drunk at two in the morning presented a lot of questions, and just hours after landing the case of a lifetime Lowell Dyer had his first doubt. _ JAKE DROPPED PORTIA off at the square and drove to the jail. It was still busier than usual and he did not want to go inside and face the stares. But as he parked on the street he said to himself, _What the hell? You can_t defend a cop killer and still be loved by the cops._ If they resented Jake for doing his job, a job that no one else wanted but had to be done, then he couldn_t worry about it. He entered the front room where the deputies liked to kill time gossiping and drinking gallons of coffee, and said hello to Marshall Prather and Moss Junior Tatum. They nodded because they had to, but within seconds Jake realized the battle lines had been drawn. _Is Ozzie in?_ he asked Tatum, who shrugged as if he had no clue. Jake kept walking and stopped at Doreen_s desk. She was Ozzie_s secretary and guarded his door like a Doberman. She also wore a full uniform and carried a gun, though it was no secret she had no law enforcement training and could not legally make an arrest. It was assumed she could use the pistol but no one had dared to test her. _He_s in a meeting,_ she said coolly. _I called half an hour ago and we agreed to meet at ten-thirty,_ Jake said as politely as possible. _It_s ten-thirty._ _I_ll buzz him, Jake, but it_s been a crazy morning._ _Thank you._ Jake walked to a window that overlooked a side street. Beyond it was the first cluster of office buildings that lined the south side of the square. The dome of the courthouse rose above the buildings and the stately oaks that were two hundred years old. As he stood there he was aware that the usual chatter and banter behind him had died down. The deputies were still around, but now so was the defense lawyer. _Jake,_ Ozzie called as he opened his door. Inside his office, the two old friends stood and looked at each other across the big desk. Jake said, _We_ve already had two threatening phone calls at the office, and someone called the school asking about Carla. Wouldn_t leave a name, of course, they never do._ _I know about the call to the school. What am I supposed to do, Jake? Tell people not to call your office?_ _Have you spoken with Earl Kofer?_ _Well, yes, twice. Yesterday at his farm and this morning on the phone. We_re tryin_ to work out some details about the funeral, Jake, if that_s okay._ _I_m not thinking about the funeral, Ozzie. Could you politely inform Mr. Kofer to inform his people, whoever the hell they are, that they need to back off and leave us alone._ _So you_re certain it_s the family?_ _Who else would it be? I_m told they_re a bunch of hotheads. They_re obviously upset about the killing. Who wouldn_t be? Just stop the threats, okay, Ozzie?_ _I think you_re upset too, Jake. Maybe you should settle down first. Nobody_s been hurt, other than Stuart Kofer._ Ozzie took a deep breath and slowly eased into his chair. He nodded and Jake sat down too. Ozzie said, _Record the calls and bring them to me. I_ll do what I can. You want security again?_ _No. We got tired of that. I_ll just shoot them myself._ _Jake, I really don_t think you have anything to worry about. The family is upset but they_re not crazy. We_ll get through the funeral, maybe things will settle down. You_ll be off the case soon, right?_ _I don_t know. I hope so. Have you checked on the boy this morning?_ _I talked to the jailer. Kid_s really shut down._ _Has he eaten anything?_ _Some chips maybe, drank a Coke._ _Look, Ozzie, I_m no expert, but I think the kid is traumatized and needs help. He could be in the middle of some type of a breakdown, for all we know._ _Forgive me, Jake, but I_m not feelin_ the sympathy._ _I get that. I_ll see Noose in the morning before the Civil Docket, and I plan to ask him to send the kid to Whitfield for tests. I need your help._ _My help?_ _Yes. Noose admires you, and if you agree that the kid needs to see a professional, then he might go along. The kid is in your custody and you know more about his condition than anyone else right now. Bring the jailer over and we_ll meet with Noose in his chambers. Off the record. You won_t have to testify or anything. The rules are different for minors._ Ozzie gave a sarcastic laugh and looked away. _Let me get this straight. This kid, regardless of his age, murdered my deputy, whose memorial service or funeral or whatever you white folks call these events, has not yet been planned, and here I am with the defense lawyer who_s askin_ me to help out with the defense. Right, Jake?_ _I_m asking you to do what_s right here, Ozzie. That_s all._ _The answer is no. I haven_t even seen the kid since they brought him in. You_re pushin_ too hard, Jake. Back off._ Ozzie was glaring across the desk when he gave the warning, and Jake got the message. He got to his feet, said, _Okay. I_d like to see my client._ _ HE TOOK HIM a can of Mountain Dew and a package of peanuts, and after a few minutes managed to coax Drew from under the covers. He sat on the edge of his bed and opened the drink. _I saw your mother this morning,_ Jake said. _She_s doing great. Kiera is with her at the hospital and there are some folks from the church taking care of them._ Drew_s eyes never left his feet as he nodded. His blond hair was stringy, matted, dirty, and his entire body needed a good scrubbing. They had yet to dress him in the standard orange jail jumpsuit, which would be an improvement over the cheap and wrinkled clothes he wore. He kept nodding and asked, _What church?_ _I believe it_s called the Good Shepherd Bible Church. The pastor is a guy named Charles McGarry. You know him?_ _I think so. Stu didn_t want us to go to church. Is he really dead?_ _He_s dead, Drew._ _And I shot him?_ _Sure looks that way. You don_t remember?_ _Sometimes I do, sometimes I don_t. Sometimes I think I_m dreaming, you know? Like right now. Are you really here, talking to me? What_s your name?_ _Jake. We met last night when I stopped by. Do you remember that?_ A long silence followed. He took a sip and then tried to open the peanuts. When he couldn_t, Jake gently took the package, tore the top, and gave it back. Jake said, _This is not a dream, Drew. I_m your lawyer. I_ve met your mother and sister and so now I represent the family. It_s important for you to trust me and talk to me._ _About what?_ _About what. Let_s talk about the house where you live with Kiera and your mother and Stuart Kofer. How long have you lived there?_ More silence as he stared at the floor, as if he_d heard nothing Jake said. _How long, Drew? How long did you live with Stuart Kofer?_ _I don_t remember. Is he really dead?_ _Yes._ The can slipped from his hand and hit the floor with foam splashing near Jake_s feet. It rolled a bit, then stopped but continued leaking the soda. Drew did not react to the dropped can, and Jake tried his best to ignore it too as the puddle inched closer to his shoes. Drew closed his eyes and began to make a low humming sound, a soft painful groan that came from somewhere deep within. His lips began moving slightly, as if he was mumbling to himself. After a moment, Jake almost said something to interrupt him, but decided to wait. Drew could have been a monk in a deep trance-like meditation, or a mental patient drifting away again, into the darkness. But Drew was a wounded child in need of help that Jake was unqualified to give. 9 B y noon Monday Ozzie was fed up with the crowds and noise, the off-duty guys hanging around to gather or spread the latest gossip, the retired cops just wanting to be part of the brotherhood, the useless reserves taking up space, the reporters, the nosy old ladies from town stopping by with brownies and doughnuts as if massive quantities of sugar would help in some way, the curious with no discernible reason for being there, the politicians hoping their presence would remind the voters that they believed in law and order, and friends of the Kofers who thought they were helping the situation by offering their support for the good guys and supporting the boys in blue. Ozzie ordered everyone who wasn_t on duty out of the building. For over thirty hours he had worked hard at maintaining the facade of a pro untouched by the tragedy, but fatigue was settling in. He had barked at Doreen, who barked back. The tension was palpable. He gathered his A-team in his office and, politely, asked Doreen to guard the door and hold all calls. Moss Junior Tatum, Marshall Prather, and Willie Hastings. None were in uniform, nor was Ozzie. He passed around sheets of paper and asked them all to take a look. After enough time, he said, _Point-three-six. Can any of you remember catchin_ a drunk driver who registered point-three-six?_ The three veterans had seen it all, or thought so. Prather said, _I_ve had a couple of threes, but nothin_ higher. Not that I can remember._ Moss Junior shook his head in disbelief and said, _Not here._ Hastings said, _Butch Vango_s boy was point-three-five. I think that_s the record for Ford County._ _And he died,_ Prather said. _Next day at the hospital. I didn_t bring him in so I didn_t do the test._ _There was no test,_ Prather said. _He wasn_t drivin_. They found him lyin_ in the middle of Craft Road one mornin_. Called it alcohol poisonin_._ _Okay, okay,_ Ozzie said. _Point is, our fallen brother was saturated with enough booze to kill most men. Point is, Kofer had a problem. Point is, Kofer was out of control and we didn_t know the extent of it, did we?_ Prather said, _We talked about this yesterday, Ozzie. You_re tryin_ to blame us for not rattin_ out a fellow officer._ _I am not! But I smell a cover-up. There were at least two incident reports filed after Kofer_s girlfriend called when he slapped her around. I never saw them and now I can_t find them. We_ve looked all mornin_._ Ozzie was the sheriff, elected and reelected by the people, and the only person in the room who was required to face the voters every four years. The other three were his top deputies and owed him their paychecks and careers. They understood the relationships, the issues, the politics. It was imperative that they protect him as much as possible. They weren_t sure if Ozzie had actually seen the memos, and they weren_t sure how much he knew, but at that moment they were on board with whatever image he wanted to project. Ozzie continued, _Pirtle and McCarver filed one about a month ago after she called the dispatcher late one night, then she refused to press charges so nothin_ happened. They swear they filed the report, but it ain_t here. Turns out that four months ago the girlfriend called the dispatcher, same crap, Kofer came home drunk, slapped her around, Officer Swayze made the call but she wouldn_t press charges. He filed the report, now it_s gone. I never saw it, never saw either one. Here_s the problem, boys. Jake stopped by an hour ago. He_s been appointed by Noose and he claims he doesn_t want the case, says Noose will find somebody else as soon as possible. We can_t be sure of that and it_s out of our control. For now, Jake is the lawyer and it_ll take him about five minutes to sniff out missin_ paperwork. Not now, but down the road if this thing goes to trial. I know Jake well, hell we all know him, and he_ll be a step ahead of us._ _Why would Jake get involved?_ Prather asked. _As I said, because Noose appointed him. The kid has to have a lawyer and, evidently, no one else would take it._ _I thought we had a public defender,_ Hastings said. _I like Jake and I don_t want him on the other side._ Willie Hastings was a cousin to Gwen Hailey, mother of Tonya, wife of Carl Lee, and in their world Jake Brigance walked on water. _Our public defender is a greenhorn who_s yet to handle a serious case. I_ve heard that Noose doesn_t like him. Look, guys, Omar Noose is the circuit judge and has been for a long time. Love him or hate him, but he rules the system. He can make or break a lawyer and he_s quite fond of Jake. Jake couldn_t say no._ _But I thought Jake was just doin_ the preliminary stuff until they brought in somebody else?_ Prather asked. _Who knows? A lot can happen and it_s still early. They may have trouble findin_ somebody else. Also, Jake_s an ambitious lawyer who likes the attention. Keep in mind he was hired and trained by Lucien Wilbanks, a radical in his day who would defend anyone._ _I can_t believe it,_ Tatum said. _Jake did a land deal for my uncle last year._ Ozzie said, _He said they_re already gettin_ phone calls, threats. I_m gonna ride out again and talk to Earl Kofer, pay my respects and such, talk about the burial, and make sure those folks are under control._ _The Kofers are okay,_ Prather said. _I know some of them and they_re just in shock right now._ _Aren_t we all?_ asked Ozzie. He closed the file, took a deep breath, and looked at his three deputies. He settled on Prather and finally asked, _Okay, let_s hear it._ Marshall tossed his sheet of paper on the desk and lit a cigarette. He walked to a window, cracked it for ventilation, and leaned against the wall. _I talked to my cousin. He wasn_t out with Kofer Saturday night. He called around and got the scoop. Seems there was a card game at Dog Hickman_s cabin near the lake. Poker, low stakes, not a high-dollar crowd, but an unnamed player showed up with some shine, peach flavored, fresh from the still, and they got into it. Everybody got wasted. Three of them passed out and stayed there. They don_t remember much. Kofer decided it would be smart to drive home. Somehow he made it._ Ozzie interrupted with _Sounds like Gary Garver_s still._ Prather took a drag and stared at the sheriff. _I didn_t ask for names, Ozzie, and none were offered, except for Kofer and Dog Hickman. Kofer_s dead and the other four are kinda scared right now._ _Scared of what?_ _I don_t know, maybe they feel some responsibility. They were gamblin_ and hittin_ the moonshine and now their buddy is dead._ _They must be stupid._ _I didn_t say they weren_t._ _If we start raidin_ dice and poker games we_ll have to build a new jail. Get me their names, okay, and assure them that they will not be charged._ _I_ll try._ Filtered their names, Marshall, because you can bet that Harry Rex Vonner will have the names by tomorrow, and Jake_ll get to them first._ Moss Junior said, _They_ve done nothin_ wrong. What_s the big deal? The only crime here is murder and we got the killer, right?_ _Nothin_ is that simple,_ Ozzie said. _If this thing goes to trial you can bet your ass the defense lawyer, whoever it is, will make hay out of Kofer_s bad behavior that led to the shootin_._ _They can_t do that,_ Prather said. _He_s dead._ _And why is he dead? Is he dead because he came home drunk and fell asleep and this stupid kid thought it would be fun to blow his brains out? No. Is he dead because his girlfriend wanted his money? No, Marshall. He_s dead because he had the bad habit of gettin_ bombed and punchin_ her around and her boy tried to protect her. This will be an ugly trial, boys, so just get ready for it. That_s why it_s imperative now that we know everything that happened. Start with Dog Hickman. Who can talk to him?_ _Swayze knows him,_ Willie said. _Okay. Get Swayze to run him down as soon as possible. And make sure these clowns know we_re not after them._ _Got it, boss._ _ WITH CARLA TEACHING school and spending many of her evenings preparing lesson plans and grading papers and trying to monitor Hanna_s homework, there was little time for the kitchen. The three ate dinner together most evenings at exactly seven. Jake occasionally stayed at the office until late or was out of town, but the life of a small-time practitioner did not require much time on the road. Dinner was always something quick and as healthy as possible. A lot of chicken and vegetables, baked fish, few breads or grains, and they avoided red meat and added sugar. Afterward, they hustled to clear the table and tidy up the kitchen and get on with more pleasant matters like television, reading, or playing games once Hanna had finished her homework. On perfect nights, Jake and Carla enjoyed walks through the neighborhood, short little excursions with the doors locked and Hanna safe in her room. She refused to walk with them because being all alone in the house was such a cool move for a big girl. She would settle in with Mully the mutt and read a book as the house became quiet and still. Her parents were never more than ten minutes away. After one of the longest Mondays in recent memory, Jake and Carla locked the doors and walked to the edge of the street where they paused by the dogwoods and enjoyed the aroma. Their home, known as the Hocutt House, was one of twenty on a shady old street eight blocks from the Clanton square. Most of the homes were owned by elderly pensioners who struggled to keep up with the ever-increasing maintenance, but a few had been reclaimed by younger families. Two doors down was a young doctor from Pakistan who at first had not been well received because no one could pronounce his name and his skin was darker, but after three years and thousands of consultations he knew more secrets than anyone in town and was widely admired. Across the street from him and his pleasant wife lived a young couple with five children and no jobs. He claimed to run the family timber business his grandfather started and handed down, but he seldom left the country club. She played golf and bridge and spent most of her time supervising the staff that was raising her brood. Besides those two homes, though, and the Hocutt House, the rest of the street was dark, as the older folks turned in early. Carla suddenly stopped, pulled on Jake_s hand, and said, _Hanna_s alone._ _So?_ _You think she_s safe?_ _Of course she_s safe._ Nonetheless, they instinctively turned around. After a few steps, Carla said, _I can_t do this again, Jake. We_ve just settled into a normal routine and I really don_t want to start worrying again._ _There_s nothing to worry about._ _Oh really?_ _Okay, yes, there_s something to worry about, but the threat level is low. A few strange phone calls here and there, all made by cowards who wouldn_t give their names and hid behind pay phones._ _I think I_ve heard this before, right before they burned down our house._ They walked a few steps, still holding hands. _Can you get rid of the case?_ she asked. _I just got it yesterday._ _I know. I remember. And you see Judge Noose in the morning?_ _Bright and early. For motions in Smallwood._ _Will you talk about this case?_ _I_m sure we will. It_s the only case that_s being discussed anyway. Drew needs help right now, or at least he needs to be seen by a professional. If I get the chance I_ll ask Noose about it. And if by chance he_s found another lawyer, then I_m sure he_ll tell me._ _But that_s unlikely?_ _Yes, it_s unlikely this soon. I_ll do the preliminary stuff, make sure the kid_s rights are protected, try to get him some help and so on, and then in a few weeks I_ll push Noose hard to find a replacement._ _Promise._ _Yes, I promise. You doubt me?_ _Sort of, yes._ _Why?_ _Because you care, Jake, and I already get the sense that you_re worried about this kid and his family and you want to protect them. And if Judge Noose has a difficult time finding another lawyer, it_ll be easy for him to just lean on you again. You_ll be in place. The family will trust you. And, be honest, Jake, you enjoy being in the center of the ring._ They turned into their narrow driveway and admired their lovely home, all safe and quiet. Jake said, _I thought you wanted me to represent the kid._ _I thought so too, but that was before we started getting phone calls._ _They_re just phone calls, Carla. Nothing counts until they start shooting._ _Well, that makes me feel better._ _ ACCORDING TO EARL_S lawyer, the property was owned solely by Stuart, having been passed down through probate, courtesy of his grandfather who died twelve years earlier. The two ex-wives were long gone and their names had never been on the deed. Stuart fathered no known children. He died without a will, and under Mississippi law the property would be inherited by his parents, Earl and Janet, and his younger siblings, in equal shares. After dinner Monday night, Earl and his two surviving sons, Barry and Cecil, drove to the house for the first look around since it was released by the state investigators that afternoon. It was not a visit they wanted to make, but it had to be done. When Earl parked behind Stuart_s pickup and turned off the headlights, they sat and stared at the dark house, a place they had known forever. Barry and Cecil asked if they could remain in the car. Earl said no, it was important for them to see where he died. In the rear seat, Barry tried to muffle his sobs. Finally, they got out and walked to the front door, which was not locked. Earl braced himself and entered the bedroom first. The mattress had been stripped of its sheets and blankets, and a large, hideous stain of dried blood dominated the center of it. Earl backed into the only chair in the room and covered his eyes. Barry and Cecil stood in the door and gawked at the gruesome spot where their brother had breathed his last. There were specks of blood on the wall above the headboard and a hundred tiny divots where the technicians had removed matter for whatever was to be done with it later. The room smelled of death and evil, and a sharp pungent odor not unlike that of roadkill grew heavier the more they inhaled. Ozzie said they could burn the mattress. They dragged it through the kitchen and across the small wooden deck to a spot in the backyard. They did the same with the headboard, frame, box springs, and pillows. No one would ever again sleep on Stuart_s bed. In a small closet in the hall, they found Josie_s clothes and shoes, and after taking stock of her belongings, Earl said, _Let_s burn _em too._ In a dresser they found her undergarments, pajamas, socks, and so on, and in the bathroom they found her hair dryer and toiletries. Her purse was on a kitchen counter by the phone, and beside it was a set of car keys. Cecil left the keys and did not look inside the purse, but tossed it onto the mattress with the rest of her things. Earl poured lighter fluid and lit a match. They watched the fire grow quickly and took a step back. Filtered the kids_ stuff too,_ he said to Cecil and Barry. _They ain_t comin_ back here._ They raced upstairs to the boy_s room and grabbed everything that might burn_bed linens, clothing, shoes, books, a cheap CD player, banners on the wall. Barry cleaned out the girl_s room. She had a few more items than her brother, including some stuffed bears and other animals. In her closet he found a box of old dolls and other toys, which he hauled downstairs and outside and happily tossed on the roaring fire. They inched away from it and, mesmerized, watched it grow until it began to die out. Barry asked his father, _What about her car?_ Earl sneered at the old Mazda parked beside the house and for a moment thought about torching it, too. But Barry said, _I think she owes money on it._ _Better leave it alone,_ Earl said. They had discussed gathering Stuart_s personal effects, his guns and clothing and such, but Earl decided they could do it later. The house had been in the family for a long time and was secure. He would change the locks tomorrow and drive over to check on it each day. And he would pass along the word, through Ozzie, that there was no reason for that woman or her kids or any of her friends to ever set foot on Kofer property again. Ozzie could deal with her car. _ DOG HICKMAN RAN the only motorcycle shop in town and sold new and used bikes. Though he was familiar with illegal activities, he had been smart enough to avoid getting caught and had no record, other than an old drunk-driving conviction. The police knew him well, but since he didn_t bother people he was left alone. Dog_s vices were primarily gambling, bootlegging, and dealing in pot. Mick Swayze had traded several motorcycles with Dog and knew him well. He stopped by the shop after dark on Monday and, after assuring him that he was off-duty, took a beer. Mick got right to the point and promised Dog that Ozzie was not looking for people to accuse. He just wanted to know what happened on Saturday night. _I_m not worried about Ozzie,_ Dog said confidently. They were outside, leaning on his Mustang, smoking cigarettes. _I_ve done nothin_ wrong. I mean I wish I hadn_t drunk so much so maybe I could_ve stopped Stu before he got lit, you know? I should_ve stopped him, but I didn_t do anything wrong._ _We know that,_ Swayze said. _And we know there were five of you at your cabin, passin_ around a jug. Who were the other three?_ _I ain_t snitchin_._ _How can you snitch, Dog, if there_s no crime?_ _If there_s no crime, what are you doin_ here askin_ questions?_ _Ozzie wants to know, that_s all. Kofer was one of us and Ozzie liked him a lot. We all liked Stuart. Good cop. Great guy. He was also drunk as a skunk, Dog. Point-three-six._ Dog shook his head in disbelief at this news and spat on the ground. _Well, I_ll tell you the truth. When I woke up yesterday mornin_ my head felt like it was point-five-five. I stayed in bed all day and barely got out this mornin_. Crazy shit, man._ _What was it?_ _Fresh batch from Gary Garver. Peach flavored._ _That_s three. Who were the other two?_ _This is confidential, right? You ain_t tellin_ nobody._ _Got it._ _Calvin Marr and Wayne Agnor. We started off with a case of beer, just playin_ poker in my cabin, no big plans really. Then Gary showed up with two quarts of his good stuff. We all got hammered. I mean, blacked out. First time in a long time and it was bad enough to make me think about quittin_._ _What time did Kofer leave?_ _Don_t know. I wasn_t awake when he left._ _Who was awake?_ _Don_t know, Mick. I swear. I think we all passed out and things went black. I don_t remember much. At some point in the night, have no idea when, Stu and Gary left the cabin. When I woke up late Sunday, Calvin and Wayne were still there, in rough shape. We got up, tried to stir around, drank a couple of beers to kill the pain, then the phone rang and my brother told me Stu was dead. Shot in the head by some kid. Hell, he was just there, right there at the card table, shufflin_ cards and sippin_ peach whiskey from a coffee cup._ _You been hangin_ out with Stu?_ _I don_t know. What kind of question is that?_ _A simple one._ _Not as much as a year ago. He was losin_ control, Mick, you know? We_d play poker once a month, usually at the cabin, and you could always count on Stu to overdo things, drink too much. Who am I, right? But there was talk about Stu. Some of his friends were concerned. Hell, we all drink too much, but sometimes it_s the drunks who see what_s really goin_ on. We figured Ozzie knew about it and turned a blind eye._ _I don_t think so. Stu showed up for work every day and did his job. He was one of Ozzie_s favorites._ _Mine too. Everybody liked Stu._ _Will you talk to Ozzie?_ _Well, I don_t want to._ _No rush, but he_d just like to have a chat. Maybe after the funeral._ _Like I got a choice?_ _Not really._ 10 A s with most hot courthouse rumors, the source would never be known. Did it spring to life behind a hint of the truth, or was it someone_s idea of a joke down in the Office of Land Records on the first floor? Did a bored lawyer create the fiction with one eye on the clock to see how soon the story would make the rounds and find its way back to him? Since the courthouse, indeed the entire town, was still buzzing with the details of the murder, it was not too far-fetched to believe that someone with a bit of authority, perhaps a deputy or a bailiff, might have said something like _Yep, we_re bringin_ the boy over today._ At any rate, early Tuesday morning half the county knew for a fact that the kid who killed Stuart Kofer would appear in court for the first time, and for good measure the rumor was soon amended to include the irresistible fact that he would probably be released! Something to do with his age. On a routine day, the Civil Docket attracted only a few lawyers who had motions pending, never a crowd of spectators. But on Tuesday, the gallery was half full as dozens gathered in the main courtroom to witness this horrendous miscarriage of justice. The clerks checked and rechecked the docket to see if they had missed something. Judge Noose was not expected until almost ten, when the first motion hearing was supposed to start. When Jake ambled in at nine-thirty he at first thought he had somehow chosen the wrong date. He whispered to a clerk and was told about the rumor. _That_s odd,_ he whispered back as he scanned the hard faces staring at him. _Seems like I_d know it if my client was coming to court._ _That_s usually the way we do things,_ she whispered back. Harry Rex arrived and began insulting an insurance lawyer. Others milled about with eyes on the crowd and wondering what was the attraction. Bailiffs and deputies huddled to one side, aware of the rumor but unaware of any orders to bring the defendant over from the jail. Lowell Dyer entered through a side door and greeted Jake. They agreed to have a word with Noose as soon as possible. At ten, His Honor called them back to his chambers and offered them coffee as he lined up his second round of daily medications. His robe was hanging on the door and his jacket was draped over a chair. _How_s the defendant?_ he asked. Noose had always been gaunt with a long, lanky frame and a sloping nose that was often redder than the rest of his pale skin. He had never looked that healthy, and to watch him knock back an impressive collection of pills made the lawyers wonder just how sick he might be. But they didn_t dare ask what was ailing him. Jake poured two cups of coffee into paper cups, and he and Lowell sat across from the judge. Jake replied, _Well, Judge, the kid is not doing too well. I saw him this morning for the third straight day and he_s shutting down. I think he_s traumatized and having some sort of breakdown. Can we get him evaluated and perhaps treated? This might be a sick little boy._ _Boy?_ Lowell asked. _Try telling that to the Kofers._ _He_s sixteen, Jake,_ Judge Noose said. _Hardly a boy._ _Wait till you meet him._ _Evaluated where?_ Lowell asked. _Well, I_d prefer that the pros do it, down at the state hospital._ _Lowell?_ _The State objects, as for right now anyway._ _I_m not sure you have the right to object, Lowell,_ Jake said. _There_s no case yet. Shouldn_t you wait until you get the indictment?_ _I suppose._ _Here_s the problem,_ Jake said. _The kid needs help right now. Today. This very moment. He_s suffering from some type of trauma and he_s not improving sitting over there in the jail. He needs to be seen by a doctor, a psychiatrist, someone a lot smarter than we are. If that doesn_t happen, then he may continue to deteriorate. At times he refuses to talk to me. He can_t remember from one day to the next. He_s not eating. He_s having crazy dreams and hallucinating. At times he just sits and stares and makes this weird humming noise like he_s lost his mind. Don_t you want a healthy defendant, Lowell? If the boy_s crazy as a loon, you can_t put him on trial. There_s no harm in at least getting someone, some doctor, to take a look._ Lowell looked at Noose, who was chewing a pill that must have been bitter. Noose said, _Crime, suspect, arrest, jail. Looks to me like the defendant needs a first appearance._ _We_ll waive it,_ Jake said. _There_s nothing to be gained by hauling the kid over in a police car and dragging him into a courtroom. He simply can_t handle that right now. I_m being honest here, Judge, I don_t think the kid knows what_s happening around him._ Lowell smiled and shook his head as if he had doubts. _Sounds to me like you_re already laying the groundwork for an insanity plea, Jake._ _I am not, because Judge Noose here has promised me that he_ll find another lawyer to handle the trial, if there is a trial._ _Oh, there will be a trial, Jake, I can promise that,_ Lowell said. _You can_t kill a man in cold blood and walk away._ _Nobody_s walking away here, Lowell. I_m just worried about this kid. He_s detached from reality. What_s the harm in having him evaluated?_ Noose had finished with his meds and was choking them down with a glass of water. He looked at Jake and asked, _Who would do it?_ _State Health has a regional office in Oxford. Maybe we can send him over there to be examined._ _Can they send someone over here?_ Noose asked. _I really don_t like the idea of the defendant leaving jail so soon._ _Agreed,_ Lowell said. _They haven_t had the funeral yet. I_m not sure the kid would be safe outside the jail._ _Fine,_ Jake said. _I don_t care how we do it._ Noose raised his hands and called for order. _Let_s agree on a plan here, fellas. I assume, Mr. Dyer, that you plan to seek an indictment for capital murder, is this correct?_ _Well, Judge, it_s still a bit early, but, yes, that_s how I_m leaning as of today. It appears as if the facts call for such an indictment._ _And when would you present this case to your grand jury?_ _We meet here in two weeks, but I can always call it early. Do you have a preference?_ _No. The grand jury is really none of my business. Mr. Brigance, how do you see the next few weeks unfolding?_ _Thank you, Your Honor. Since my client is so young I will have no choice but to ask you to transfer his case over to youth court._ Lowell Dyer bit his tongue and gave Noose plenty of room to respond. Noose looked at him with raised eyebrows and Dyer said, _Of course, the State will oppose such a motion. We believe the case belongs in this court and that the defendant should be tried as an adult._ Jake did not react. He took a sip of coffee and glanced at a legal pad as if he knew this was coming, which in fact he did because there was no chance at all that the Honorable Omar Noose was going to allow the Ford County Youth Court to handle such a serious crime. Lesser offenses committed by teenagers were often sent down_car theft, drugs, small-time larcenies and burglaries_and the juvenile judge was known to be judicious in dealing with them. But not serious crimes involving bodily harm, and certainly not murders. Most white Southerners firmly believed that a sixteen-year-old like Drew Gamble who shot a man sleeping in his own bed must be tried as an adult and given a harsh sentence, even death. A small minority felt otherwise. Jake wasn_t sure, yet, how he felt, though he already doubted whether Drew had the wherewithal to understand criminal intent. Jake also knew the political realities. Next year, 1991, both Omar Noose and Lowell Dyer faced reelection_Dyer for the first time, Noose for the fifth. Though His Honor was pushing seventy and took a lot of meds he was showing no signs of slowing down. He enjoyed the job, the prestige, the salary. He had always faced light opposition_few lawyers were willing to challenge a sitting and entrenched judge_but there was always the chance of that screwball election where an underdog caught fire and the voters decided they wanted a new face. Three years earlier, Noose had been hounded by a quack of a lawyer from Milburn County who made a bunch of wild claims about lenient sentences in criminal cases. He got a third of the vote, which was not unimpressive for a complete unknown with little credibility. Now, a more ominous threat was looming. Jake had heard the rumors and he was sure Noose had heard them too. Rufus Buckley, the ex_district attorney, the showboat Dyer had defeated in a close election, was reportedly making waves and dropping hints about wanting Noose_s seat on the bench. Buckley had been banished to the sidelines, where he spent his days in a small office down in Smithfield drafting deeds and fuming and plotting his comeback. His greatest loss was the not-guilty verdict of Carl Lee Hailey, and he would forever blame Noose. And Jake. And everyone else remotely connected to the case. Everyone but himself. _File your motion in due course,_ Noose said, as if he_d already made up his mind. _Yes sir. Now, about the psychiatric examination._ Noose stood and grunted and walked to his desk where he took a pipe from an ashtray and stuck the stem between his stained teeth. _And you think this is urgent?_ _Yes I do, Judge. I_m afraid this kid is slipping as the hours pass._ _Has Ozzie seen him?_ _Ozzie_s not a shrink. I_m sure he_s seen him because he_s at the jail._ Noose looked at Dyer and asked, _And your position on this?_ _The State is not opposed to an exam but I don_t want that kid out of jail for any reason._ _Got that. Okay, I_ll sign the order. Do you have other business today?_ Dyer replied, _No sir._ _You_re excused, Mr. Dyer._ _ THE CURIOUS CONTINUED to stream into the courtroom. The minutes passed and Judge Noose did not appear. Near the jury box, Walter Sullivan sat with his co-counsel, Sean Gilder, an insurance lawyer from Jackson who was defending the railroad in the Smallwood case. They spoke in low voices about this and that, lawyer talk for the most part, but as the crowd grew Walter began to realize something. Harry Rex_s instincts were correct. The lawyers for the railroad and its insurance company had finally agreed to approach Jake with the idea of a preliminary chat about a settlement. But they planned to be extremely cautious. On the one hand, the case was dangerous because the damages were high_four dead family members_and Jake would be trying the case on his turf, indeed in the very courtroom where they were now sitting and from which he walked out with Carl Lee Hailey as an innocent man. But on the other hand, the railroad and insurance lawyers were still confident they could win because of liability issues. Taylor Smallwood, the driver, had hit the fourteenth boxcar of a moving freight train without, evidently, touching his brakes. Their expert estimated his speed at seventy miles per hour. Jake_s expert thought it was closer to sixty. The speed limit on that forlorn stretch of road was only fifty-five. There were other issues to worry about. The railroad crossing had historically been badly maintained, and Jake had the records and photos to prove it. There had been other accidents, and Jake had those reports enlarged and ready to show to his jury. The only known eyewitness was an unstable carpenter who had been following the Smallwood car perhaps a hundred yards behind, and he was adamant in his deposition that the red flashing lights were not working at the time. However, there were rumors, still unsubstantiated, that the gentleman had been drinking in a honky-tonk. That was the terrifying aspect of going to trial in Ford County. Jake Brigance was an upstanding young lawyer with an impeccable reputation and could be trusted to play by the rules. However, his clique included Harry Rex, also his co-counsel, and the loathsome Lucien Wilbanks, neither of whom spent much time worrying about the ethics of the profession. Thus, there was the potential for a huge verdict, but the jury could just as easily blame Taylor Smallwood and find in favor of the railroad. With so many unknowns, the insurance company wanted to explore settlement. If Jake wanted millions, then the negotiations wouldn_t last long. If he chose to be more reasonable, they could find common ground and make everyone happy. Walter tried few cases himself, preferring instead to be the local guy when the big firms from Jackson and Memphis rolled in and needed a presence. He collected modest fees for doing little more than using his connections and helping to weed out potential problems during the selection of the jury. As the courtroom buzzed with quiet gossip and speculation, Walter realized that Jake was about to become the most unpopular lawyer in town. Those folks packing into the pews were not there to support Drew Gamble and whatever family he might have. No sir. They were there to get a hateful look at the killer and silently rage against the injustice of treating him with sympathy. And if Mr. Brigance somehow worked his magic again and got the kid released, there might be trouble in the streets. Sullivan leaned toward his co-counsel and said, _Let_s get through the motions and not broach the idea of settlement, not today anyway._ _And why not?_ _I_ll explain later. There_s plenty of time._ _ ACROSS THE COURTROOM, Harry Rex chewed on the ragged end of an unlit cigar and pretended to listen to a bad joke from a bailiff while glancing at the crowd. He recognized a girl from high school, couldn_t remember her last name back then but he knew she had married a Kofer. How many of these people were related to the victim? How many would resent Jake Brigance? As the minutes dragged on and the crowd grew, Harry Rex confirmed his original fear. His buddy Jake was taking a case that would pay peanuts and, in doing so, risking a case that could be a bonanza. 11 L ate Tuesday morning, Pastor Charles McGarry, his wife, Meg, and Kiera arrived at the hospital and went to the waiting room on the third floor where they checked in with the crew from his church. They had things well under control and were feeding half the hospital_s staff and some of its patients as well. Few things excite country folk more than a trip to the hospital, either as visitors or patients, and the members of the tiny church were rallying around the Gamble family with great love and enthusiasm. Or at least around Josie and Kiera. Drew, the accused killer, was locked away and none of their concern, which was fine with them. But the mother and sister had done nothing wrong and were in dire need of sympathy. Josie_s room was busy with nurses preparing her for the trip. Kiera hugged her and then backed into a corner where Charles waited and watched. Her doctors were convinced that there was a better reconstructive specialist in the larger hospital in Tupelo, where her surgery was scheduled for early Wednesday morning. She managed to swing her feet off the bed, stand alone, and walk three steps to the gurney where she settled in as nurses restrung tubes and wires. She tried to smile at Kiera, but her face was swollen and covered with gauze. They followed her down the hall, where she passed the admiring crowd from Good Shepherd, and to the service elevator and down to the basement where an ambulance was waiting. Kiera left with Charles and Meg and hustled to his car. They followed the ambulance away from the hospital, out of town, and into the countryside. Tupelo was an hour away. _ AS JAKE WAS trying his best to sneak out of the courthouse through a rear door, someone called his name. Oddly enough, it was Ozzie, who knew the secret passages and rooms as well as anyone. _Got a minute?_ he said as they stopped beside two ancient vending machines. Ozzie preferred to be noticed around the courthouse, shaking hands, slapping backs, lots of laughs, a big personality, ever the politician shoring up his base. To find him lurking in the shadows could only mean that he didn_t want to be seen chatting with Jake. _Sure,_ Jake said, as if he or anyone else in the county could say no to Ozzie. He handed Jake a square envelope with the words SHERIFF_S DEPARTMENT stamped on the front. _Earl Kofer called this mornin_ and had his nephew bring these by the jail. It_s the keys to Ms. Gamble_s car. We went out and got the car, brought it in, it_s parked behind the jail. Just so you_ll know._ _I didn_t realize I represented Josie Gamble._ _You do now, or at least everybody thinks so. Earl was quite clear. She is never to set foot on that property again. They_ve changed the locks and if they see her they_ll probably start shootin_. She and the kids didn_t have much in the way of clothes and such, but it_s all been destroyed. Earl bragged about burnin_ it last night along with the bloody mattress. Said he almost burned the car too but figured she owed money on it._ _Just tell Earl to keep his matches dry, okay?_ _I_d like to avoid Earl myself for a few days._ _Was he in court this morning?_ _I think so, yes. He doesn_t like the fact that you_re representin_ the guy who killed his son._ _I_ve never met Earl Kofer and there_s no reason he should be concerned with my law practice._ _There_s also a paycheck in there._ _Ah, good news._ _I wouldn_t get excited. Seems she worked at the car wash north of town and they owed her for last week. Probably not much. Somebody brought that to the jail too._ _So she_s fired?_ _Looks that way. Somebody said she was also workin_ at a convenience store over by the high school. You checked this gal out?_ _No, but I_m sure you have._ _She was born in Oregon, thirty-two years ago. Her father was in the air force, not a pilot, and they moved around. She grew up on the base in Biloxi but her father got killed in some kind of explosion. She dropped out of school at sixteen when she gave birth to Drew. The proud papa was some tomcat named Barber, but he disappeared a long time ago. Two years later she had the girl, different daddy, some dude named Mabry. He probably never knew it. She lived here and there, the record is spotty. When she was twenty-six she married a gentleman named Kolston, but the romance broke up when he went to prison for thirty years. Drugs. Divorce. She served two years in Texas for dealing and possession. Not sure what happened to the kids because, as you know, that family court stuff is sealed. Needless to say, they_ve had a rough time. Things_ll get worse._ _I would say so. They_re homeless. She_s unemployed, facing surgery tomorrow, no place to go when she_s released from the hospital. Her daughter is living with their preacher. Her son is in jail._ _You want sympathy, Jake?_ Jake took a deep breath and studied his friend. _No._ Ozzie turned to leave and said, _When you get the chance, ask that kid why he pulled the trigger._ _He thought his mother was dead._ _Well, he was wrong, wasn_t he?_ _Yes he was. So let_s kill him, too._ Jake held the envelope and watched the sheriff disappear around a corner. _ FROM YEARS OF observation and experience, Jake had become an expert on the rhythm and flow of commerce around the square, and he knew that at four-thirty in the afternoon the Coffee Shop would be deserted and Dell would be behind the counter wrapping cheap flatware with paper napkins and waiting for the clock to hit five so she could call it a day. During breakfast and lunch she oversaw the gossip, stirring it up when things were slow, throttling it back when it became too vicious. She listened hard, missed nothing, and was quick to reprimand a raconteur who veered off script. Foul language was not tolerated. A dirty joke could get you banned. If a customer needed to be insulted, she was quick with a quip and didn_t care if he never came back. Her recall was legendary and she had often been accused of quickly scribbling down notes to herself to record important rumors. When Jake needed the truth, he ventured over at four-thirty and sat at the counter. She poured coffee and said, _We missed you these past two mornings._ _That_s why I_m here now. What are they saying?_ _It_s big news, obviously. First murder in five years, since Hailey. And Stu was a popular guy, good deputy, came in here for lunch every now and then. I liked him. Nobody knows the kid._ _They_re not from here. The mother met Kofer and a romance ensued. Pretty sad little family, really._ _That_s what I hear._ _Am I still the favorite lawyer?_ _Well, they_re not going to talk about you with me close by, now are they? Prather said he wished they could find another lawyer, said Noose dumped the kid on you. Looney said you had no choice, said Noose would replace you later. Stuff like that. No criticism yet. You_re worried about it?_ _Sure. I know these guys well. Ozzie and I have always been close. It_s not comforting to know that the cops are pissed off._ _Watch your language. They_re okay, I think, but you need to show up tomorrow and see how they act._ _I plan to._ She paused and glanced around at the empty caf?, then leaned in a bit closer. _So, why did the kid shoot him? I mean, he did do it, right?_ _There_s no doubt about that, Dell. I won_t let them interrogate the kid but they don_t have to. His sister told Moss Junior that he shot Stuart. Doesn_t give me much to work with, you know?_ _So, what was the motive?_ _I don_t know, and I_m not that involved. Noose told me to just hold the kid_s hand for the first month until he finds someone else. If it goes to trial maybe they_ll find a motive, maybe not._ _Are you going to the funeral?_ _The funeral? I haven_t heard._ _Saturday afternoon, at the National Guard Armory. Just heard about it._ _I doubt if I_ll be invited. You going?_ She laughed and said, _Of course. Name the last funeral I missed, Jake._ He could not. Dell was known for attending two and sometimes three funerals a week and fully recapping each as she served breakfast. For years Jake had heard tales of open caskets, closed caskets, long sermons, bawling widows, jilted children, family dustups, beautiful sacred music, and bad organ recitals. _I_m sure it will be a show,_ he said. _It_s been decades since we buried an officer._ _You want some dirt?_ she asked as she once again glanced around the caf?. _Of course._ _Well, word is that his people are having trouble getting a preacher. They don_t do church, never have, and all the preachers they_ve stiff-armed over the years are saying no. Can_t blame them, can you? Who_d want to stand up at the pulpit and say all the usual happy stuff about a man who never darkened their door?_ _So, who_s officiating?_ _Don_t know. I think they_re still scrambling. Come back in the morning and maybe we_ll know something._ _I_ll be here._ _ THE TABLE IN the center of Lucien_s downstairs workroom was covered with thick lawbooks, legal pads, and discarded papers, as if the two non-lawyers had been plowing through research for days. Both wanted to be lawyers and Portia was well on her way. Lucien_s glory days were far in the past but he still, at times, found the law fascinating. Jake walked in, admired the mess, and pulled up another mismatched chair. _So, please tell me your brilliant new legal strategies._ _Can_t find one,_ Lucien said. _We_re screwed._ Portia said, _We_ve tracked down every youth court case over the past forty years and the law doesn_t budge. When a kid, a person under the age of eighteen, commits a murder, rape, or armed robbery, original jurisdiction is in circuit court, not juvenile._ _What about an eight-year-old?_ Jake asked. _They don_t rape much,_ Lucien mumbled, almost to himself. Portia said, _In 1952, an eleven-year-old boy in Tishomingo County shot and killed an older kid who lived down the road. They kept him in circuit court and put him on trial. He was convicted and sent to Parchman. Can you believe that? A year later the Mississippi Supremes said he was too young and kicked it back to youth court. Then the legislature got involved and said the magic age is thirteen and older._ Jake said, _It doesn_t matter. Drew is not even close, at least in age. I_d put his emotional maturity at about thirteen, but I_m not qualified._ _Have you found a psychiatrist?_ Portia asked. _Still looking._ _And what_s the goal here, Jake?_ Lucien asked. _If he says the boy is certified batshit crazy, Noose ain_t movin_ the case. You know that. And can you really blame him? It_s a dead cop and they have the killer. If the case went to youth court the kid would be found guilty and put away in a kiddie jail. For two years! And the day he turns eighteen, youth court loses all jurisdiction and guess what happens._ _He walks,_ Portia said. _He walks,_ Jake said. _So you can_t blame Noose for keeping the case._ _I_m not trying to plead insanity here, Lucien, not yet anyway. But this kid is suffering from something and needs professional help. He_s not eating, bathing, is barely talking, and he can sit for hours staring at the floor and humming as if he_s dying inside. Frankly, I think he needs to be moved to the state hospital and put on medication._ The phone rang and they stared at it. _Where_s Bev?_ Jake asked. _Gone. It_s almost five,_ Portia said. _Out for more cigarettes,_ Lucien said. Portia slowly lifted the receiver and said, quite officially, _Law office of Jake Brigance._ She smiled and listened for a second and asked, _And who_s calling, please?_ A brief pause as she closed her eyes and racked her brain. _And this is in regard to which case?_ A smile, then: _I_m sorry but Mr. Brigance is in court this afternoon._ He was always in court, according to the office_s rules of engagement. If the caller was a non-client or other stranger, he or she was left with the impression that Mr. Brigance practically lived in the courtroom and getting an appointment for an office consultation would be difficult and probably expensive. And this was not unusual among the bored and timid office practitioners in Clanton. On the other side of the square, a worthless lawyer named F. Frank Mulveney trained his part-time secretary to go one step further and gravely inform all callers that _Mr. Mulveney is in federal court._ No lowly state work for F. Frank. He was off to the big leagues. Portia hung up and said, _A divorce._ _Thank you. Any more cranks today?_ _Not that I know of._ Lucien stared at his wristwatch as if waiting for an alarm. He stood and announced, _It_s five o_clock. Who wants a drink?_ Jake and Portia waved him off. As soon as he was gone, she asked quietly, _When did he start drinking here?_ _When did he stop?_

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