Home > Ford County(9)

Ford County(9)
Author: John Grisham

The phone call rippled through the community, and within an hour a carload of friends was headed to Memphis to assess the damage. They learned that Aggie had survived a surgical procedure to remove a blood clot in the brain, and that he, too, was charged with felony assault on a police officer. A doctor told the family that he would be in the hospital for at least a week. The family had no insurance. His truck had been seized by the police, and the procedures required to retrieve it appeared impenetrable.

Calvin's family learned that his bond was $50,000, an unrealistic sum for them to consider. He would be represented by a public defender unless they could raise enough cash to hire a Memphis lawyer. Late Friday afternoon, an uncle was finally allowed to talk to Calvin in the visitors' room of the jail. Calvin wore an orange jumpsuit and orange rubber shower shoes and looked awful. His face was bruised and swollen, his right eye still closed. He was scared and depressed and offered few details.

Still no word from Roger.

After two days in the hospital, Bailey's progress was remarkable. His right leg was broken, not crushed, and his other injuries were minor cuts, bruises, and a very sore chest. His employer arranged for an ambulance, and at noon Saturday Bailey left Methodist Hospital and was driven straight to his mother's house in Box Hill, where he was welcomed home like a prisoner of war. Hours passed before he was told of the efforts by his friends to donate their blood.

Eight days later, Aggie came home to recuperate. His doctor expected a full recovery, but it would take time. His lawyer had managed to reduce the charges to a simple assault. In light of the damage inflicted by the cops, it seemed fair to give Aggie a break. His girlfriend stopped by, but only to end the romance. The leg' end of the road trip and the brawl in the Memphis strip club •would haunt them forever, and she wanted no part of it. Plus, there •were significant rumors that perhaps Aggie was a bit brain damaged, and she already had her eye on another boy.

Three months later, Calvin returned to Ford County. His lawyer negotiated a plea to reduce the assault from a felony to a misdemeanor, but the deal required three months in the Shelby County Penal Farm. Calvin didn't like the deal, but the prospect of going to trial in a Memphis courtroom and facing the Memphis police was not appealing. If found guilty on the felony, he would spend years in prison.

In the days following the melee, to the surprise of everyone, the bloody corpse of Roger Tucker was not found in some back alley in downtown Memphis. He wasn't found at all; not that anyone was actively searching for him. A month after the road trip, he called his father from a pay phone near Denver. He claimed to be hitchhiking around the country, alone, and having a grand time. Two months later he was arrested for shoplifting in Spokane, and served sixty days in a city jail.

Almost a year passed before Roger came home.

Fetching Raymond

Mr. McBride ran his upholstery shop in the old icehouse on Lee Street, a few blocks off the square in downtown Clanton. To haul the sofas and chairs back and forth, he used a white Ford cargo van with "McBride Upholstery" stenciled in thick black letters above a phone number and the address on Lee. The van, always clean and never in a hurry, was a common sight in Clanton, and Mr. McBride was fairly well-known because he was the only upholsterer in town. He rarely lent his van to anyone, though the requests were more frequent than he would have liked. His usual response was a polite "No, I have some deliveries."

He said yes to Leon Graney, though, and did so for two reasons. First, the circumstances surrounding the request were quite unusual, and, second, Leon's boss at the lamp factory was Mr. McBride's third cousin. Small-town relationships being what they are, Leon Graney arrived at the upholstery shop as scheduled at four o'clock on a hot Wednesday afternoon in late July.

Most of Ford County was listening to the radio, and it was widely known that things were not going well for the Graney family. Mr. McBride walked with Leon to the van, handed over the key, and said, "You take care of it, now."

Leon took the key and said, "I'm much obliged."

"I filled up the tank. Should be plenty to get you there and back."

"How much do I owe?"

Mr. McBride shook his head and spat on the gravel beside the van. "Nothing. It's on me. Just bring it back with a full tank."

"I'd feel better if I could pay something," Leon protested.

"No."

"Well, thank you, then."

"I need it back by noon tomorrow."

"It'll be here. Mind if I leave my truck?" Leon nodded to an old Japanese pickup wedged between two cars across the lot.

"That'll be fine."

Leon opened the door and got inside the van. He started the engine, adjusted the seat and the mirrors. Mr. McBride walked to the driver's door, lit an unfiltered cigarette, and watched Leon. "You know, some folks don't like this," he said.

"Thank you, but most folks around here don't care," Leon replied. He was preoccupied and not in the mood for small talk.

"Me, I think it's wrong."

"Thank you. I'll be back before noon," Leon said softly, then backed away and disappeared down the street. He settled into the seat, tested the brakes, slowly gunned the engine to check the power. Twenty minutes later he was far from Clanton, deep in the hills of northern Ford County. Out from the settlement of Pleasant Ridge, the road became gravel, the homes smaller and farther apart. Leon turned in to a short driveway that stopped at a boxlike house with weeds at the doors and an asphalt shingle roof in need of replacement. It was the Graney home, the place he'd been raised along with his brothers, the only constant in their sad and chaotic lives. A jerry-rigged plywood ramp ran to the side door so that his mother, Inez Graney, could come and go in her wheelchair.

By the time Leon turned off the engine, the side door was open and Inez was rolling out and onto the ramp. Behind her was the hulking mass of her middle son, Butch, who still lived with his mother because he'd never lived anywhere else, at least not in the free world. Sixteen of his forty-six years had been behind bars, and he looked the part of the career criminal - long ponytail, studs in his ears, all manner of facial hair, massive biceps, and a collection of cheap tattoos a prison artist had sold him for cigarettes. In spite of his past, Butch handled his mother and her wheelchair with great tenderness and care, speaking softly to her as they negotiated the ramp.

Leon watched and waited, then walked to the rear of the van and opened its double doors. He and Butch gently lifted their mother up and sat her inside the van. Butch pushed her forward to the console that separated the two bucket seats bolted into the floor. Leon latched the wheelchair into place with strips of packing twine someone at McBride's had left in the van, and when Inez was secure, her boys got settled in their seats. The journey began. Within minutes they were back on the asphalt and headed for a long night.

Inez was seventy-two, a mother of three, grandmother of at least four, a lonely old woman in failing health who couldn't remember her last bit of good luck. Though she'd considered herself single for almost thirty years, she was not, at least to her knowledge, officially divorced from the miserable creature who'd practically raped her when she was seventeen, married her when she was eighteen, fathered her three boys, then mercifully disappeared from the face of the earth. When she prayed on occasion, she never failed to toss in an earnest request that Ernie be kept away from her, be kept wherever his miserable life had taken him, if in fact his life had not already ended in some painful manner, which was really what she dreamed of but didn't have the audacity to ask of the Lord. Ernie was still blamed for everything - for her bad health and poverty, her reduced status in life, her seclusion, her lack of friends, even the scorn of her own family. But her harshest condemnation of Ernie was for his despicable treatment of his three sons. Abandoning them was far more merciful than beating them.

 

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