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Home > A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance #1)(12)

A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance #1)(12)
Author: John Grisham

"I wish I could do something, Carl Lee."

"All you can do is pray for her, pray for us."

"I know it hurts."

"You gotta little girl, don't you, Jake?"

"Yeah."

Carl Lee said nothing as they walked in silence. Jake changed the subject. "Where's Lester?"

"Chicago."

"What's he doing?"

"Workin' for a steel company. Good job. Got married."

"You're kidding? Lester, married?"

"Yeah, married a white girl."

"White girl! What's he want with a white girl?"

"Aw, you know Lester. Always an uppity nigger. He's on his way home now. Be in late tonight."

"What for?"

They stopped at the rear door. Jake asked again: "What's Lester coming in for?"

"Family business."

"Y'all planning something?"

"Nope. He just wants to see his niece."

"Y'all don't get excited."

"That's easy for you to say, Jake."

"I know."

"What would you plan, Jake?"

What do you mean?"

"You gotta little girl. Suppose she's layin up in the hospital, beat and raped. What would you do?"

Jake looked through the window of the door and could not answer. Carl Lee waited.

"Don't do anything stupid, Carl Lee."

"Answer my question. What would you do?"

"I don't know. I don't know what I'd do."

"Lemme ask you this. If it was your little girl, and if it was two niggers, and you could get your hands on them, what would you do?"

"Kill them."

Carl Lee smiled, then laughed. "Sure you would, Jake, sure you would. Then you'd hire some big-shot lawyer to say you's crazy, just like you did in Lester's trial."

"We didn't say Lester was crazy. We just said Bowie needed killing."

"You got him off, didn't you?"

"Sure."

Carl Lee walked to the stairs and looked up. "This how they get to the courtroom?" he asked without looking at Jake.

"Who?"

"Those boys."

"Yeah. Most of the time they take them up those stairs. It's quicker and safer. They can park right outside the door here, and run them up the stairs."

Carl Lee walked to the rear door and looked through the window at the veranda. "How many murder trials you had, Jake?"

"Three. Lester's and two more."

"How many were black?"

"All three."

"How many you win?"

"All three."

"You pretty good on nigger shootin's, ain't you?"

"I guess."

"You ready for another one?"

"Don't do it, Carl Lee. It's not worth it. What if you're convicted and get the gas chamber? What about the kids? Who'll raise them? Those punks aren't worth it."

"You just told me you'd do it."

Jake walked to the door next to Carl Lee. "It's different with me. I could probably get off."

"How?"

"I'm white, and this is a white county. With a little luck I could get an all-white jury, which will naturally be sympathetic. This is not New York or California. A man's supposed to protect his family. A jury would eat it up."

"And me?"

' "Like I said, this ain't New York or California. Some whites would admire you, but most would want to see you hang. It would be much harder to win an acquittal."

"But you could do it, couldn't you, Jake?"

"Don't do it, Carl Lee."

"I have no choice, Jake. I'll never sleep till those bastards are dead. I owe it to my little girl, I owe it to myself, and I owe it to my people. It'll be done."

They opened the doors, walked under the veranda and down the driveway to Washington Street, across from Jake's office. They shook hands. Jake promised to stop by the hospital tomorrow to see Gwen and the family.

"One more thing, Jake. Will you meet me at the jail when they arrest me?"

Jake nodded before he thought. Carl Lee %miled and walked down the sidewalk to his truck.

Lester Hailey married a Swedish girl from Wisconsin, and although she still professed love for him, Lester suspected the novelty of his skin was beginning to fade. She was terrified of Mississippi, and flatly refused to travel south with Lester even though he assured her she would be safe. She had never met his family. Not that his people were anxious to meet her-they were not. It was not uncommon for Southern blacks to move north and marry white girls, but no Hailey had ever mixed. There were many Haileys in Chicago; most were kin, and all married black. The family was not impressed with Lester's blonde wife. He drove to Clanton in his new Cadillac, by himself.

It was late Wednesday night when he arrived at the hospital and found some cousins reading magazines in the second-floor waiting room. He embraced Carl Lee. They had not seen each other since the Christmas holidays, when half the blacks in Chicago trooped home to Mississippi and Alabama.

They stepped-, into the hall, away from the relatives. "How is she?" Lester asked.

"Better. Much better. Might go home this weekend."

Lester was relieved. When he left Chicago eleven hours earlier she had been near death, according to the cousin who had called and scared him from bed. He lit a Kool under the NO SMOKING sign and stared at his big brother. "You okay?"

Carl Lee nodded and glanced down the hall.

"How's Gwen?"

"Crazier than normal. She's at her momma's. You come by yourself?"

"Yeah," Lester answered defensively.

"Good."

"Don't get smart. I didn't drive all day to hear crap about my wife."

"Okay, okay. You still got gas?"

Lester smiled and chuckled. He had been plagued by stomach gas since the day he married the Swede. She prepared dishes he couldn't pronounce, and his system behaved violently. He longed for collards, peas, okra, fried chicken, barbecue pork, and fatback.

They found a small waiting room on the third floor with folding chairs and a card table. Lester bought two cups of stale, thick coffee from a machine and stirred the powdered cream with his finger. He listened intently as Carl Lee detailed the rape, the arrests, and the hearing. Lester found some napkins and diagrammed the courthouse and the jail. It had been four years since his murder trial, and he had trouble with the drawings. He had spent only a week in jail, prior to posting bond, and had not visited the place since his acquittal. In fact, he had left for Chicago shortly after his trial. The victim had relatives.

They made plans and discarded them, plotting well past midnight.

At noon Thursday Tonya was removed from intensive care and placed in a private room. She was listed as stable. The doctors relaxed, and her family brought candy, toys, and flowers. With two broken jaws and a mouthful of wire, she could only stare at the candy. Her brothers ate most of it. They clung to her bed and held her hand, as if to protect and reassure. The room stayed full o'f friends and strangers, all patting her gently and saying how sweet she was, all treating her as someone special, someone who had been through this horrible thing. The crowd moved in shifts, from the hall into her room, and back into the hall, where the nurses watched carefully.

The wounds hurt, and at times she cried. Every hour the nurses cleared a path through the visitors and found the patient for a dose of painkiller.

That night in her room, the crowd hushed as the Memphis station talked about the rape. The television showed pictures of the two white men, but she couldn't see very well.

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