Home > A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance #1)(16)

A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance #1)(16)
Author: John Grisham

"Everbody is."

"My point is that there'd be a lot of sympathy for a father who took matters into his own hands. People don't trust our judicial system. I think I could at least hang a jury. Just convince one or two that the bastard needed to die."

"Like Monroe Bowie."

"Exactly. Just like Monroe Bowie. He was a sorry nigger who needed killing and Lester took a walk. By the way, Ozzie, why do you suppose Lester drove from Chicago?"

"He's pretty close to his brother. We're watchin' him too."

The conversation changed and Ozzie finally asked about the leg. They shook hands and Jake left. He drove straight home, where Carla was waiting with her list. She didn't mind the Saturdays at the office as long as he was home by noon and pretty much followed orders thereafter.

On Sunday afternoon a crowd gathered at the hospital and followed the little Hailey girl's wheelchair as it was pushed by her father down the hall, through the doors, and into the parking lot, where he gently raised her and sat her in the front seat. As she sat between her parents, with her three brothers in the back seat, he drove away, followed by a procession of friends and relatives and strangers. The caravan moved slowly, deliberately out of town and into the country.

She sat up in the front seat like a big girl. Her father was silent, her mother tearful, and her brothers mute and rigid.

Another throng waited at the house and rushed to the porch as the cars moved up the driveway and parked on the grass on the long front yard. The crowd hushed as he carried her up the steps, through the door, and laid her on the couch. She was glad to be home, but tired of the spectators. Her mother held her feet as cousins, uncles, aunts, neighbors, and everybody walked to her and touched her and smiled, some through tears, and said nothing. Her daddy went outside and talked to Uncle Lester and the men. Her brothers were in the kitchen with the crowd devouring the pile of food.

Rocky Childers had been the prosecutor for Ford County for more years than he cared to remember. The job paid fifteen thousand a year and required most of his time. It also destroyed any practice he hoped to build. At forty-two he was washed up as a lawyer, stuck in a dead-end part-time, full-time job, elected permanently every four years. Thankfully, he had a wife with a good job so they could drive new Buicks and afford the country club dues and in general put on the necessary airs of educated white people in Ford County. At a younger age he had political ambitions, but the voters dissuaded him, and he was malcontent to exhaust his career prosecuting drunks, shoplifters, and juvenile delinquents, and being abused by Judge Bullard, whom he despised. Excitement crept up occasionally when people like Cobb and Willard screwed up, and Rocky, by statutory authority, handled the preliminary and other hearings before the cases were sent to the grand jury and then to Circuit Court, and then to the real prosecutor, the big prosecutor, the district attorney, Mr. Rufus Buckley, from Polk County. It was Buckley who had disposed of Rocky's political career.

Normally, a bail hearing was no big affair for Childers, but this was a bit different. Since Wednesday he had received dozens of phone calls from blacks, all registered voters or claiming to be, who were very concerned about Cobb and Willard being released from jail. They wanted the boys locked up, just like the black ones who got in trouble and could not make bail before trial. Childers promised his best, but explained the bonds would be set by County Judge Percy Bullard, whose number was also in the phone book. On Ben-nington Street. They promised to be in court Monday to watch him and Bullard.

At twelve-thirty Monday, Childers was summoned to the judge's chambers, where the sheriff and Bullard were waiting. The judge was so nervous he could not sit.

"How much bond do you want?" he snapped at Childers.

"I dunno, Judge. I haven't thought much about it."

"Don't you think it's about time you thought about it?" He paced rapidly back and forth behind his desk, then to the window, then back to his desk. Ozzie was amused and silent.

"Not really," Childers answered softly. "It's your decision. You're the judge."

"Thanks! Thanks! Thanks! How much will you ask for?"

"I always ask for more than I expect," replied Childers coolly, thoroughly enjoying the judge's neurosis.

"How much is that?"

"I dunno. I hadn't thought much about it."

Dullard's neck turned dark red and he glared at Ozzie. "Whatta you think, Sheriff?"

"Well," Ozzie drawled, "I would suggest pretty stiff bonds. These boys need to be in jail for their own safety. Black folk are restless out there. They might get hurt if they bond out. Better go high."

"How much money they got?"

"Willard's broke. Can't tell about Cobb. Drug money's hard to trace. He might could find twenty, thirty thousand. I hear he's hired some big-shot Memphis lawyer. Supposed to be here today. He must have some money."

"Damn, why don't I know these things. Who'd he hire?"

"Bernard. Peter K. Bernard," answered Childers. "He called me this morning."

"Never heard of him," retorted Bullard with an air of superiority, as though he memorized some kind of judicial rap sheet on all lawyers.

Bullard studied the trees outside the window as the sheriff and prosecutor exchanged winks. The bonds would be exorbitant, as always. The bail bondsmen loved Bullard for his outrageous bonds. They watched with delight as desperate families scraped and mortgaged to collect the ten percent premiums they charged to write the bonds. Bullard would be high, and he didn't care. It was politically safe to set them high and keep the criminals in jail. The blacks would appreciate it and that was important even if the county was seventy-four percent white. He owed the blacks a few favors.

"Let's go a hundred thousand on Willard and two hundred on Cobb. That oughtta satisfy them."

"Satisfy who?" asked Ozzie.

"Er, uh, the people, the people out there. Sound okay to you?"

"Fine with me," said Childers. "But what about the hearing?" he asked with a grin.

"We'll give them a hearing, a fair hearing, then I'll set the bonds at a hundred and two hundred."

"And I suppose you want me to ask for three hundred apiece so you can look fair?" asked Childers.

"I don't care what you ask for!" yelled the judge.

"Sounds fair to me," said Ozzie as he headed for the door. "Will you call me to testify?" he asked Childers.

"Naw, we don't need you. I don't guess the State will call anybody since we're having such a fair hearing."

They left the chambers and Bullard stewed. He locked the door behind them and pulled a half pint of vodka from his briefcase, and gulped it furiously. Mr. Pate waited outside the door. Five minutes later Bullard barged into the packed courtroom.

"All rise for the court!" Mr. Pate shouted.

"Be seated!" screamed the judge before anyone could stand. "Where are the defendants? Where?"

Cobb and Willard were escorted from the holding room and seated at the defense table. Cobb's new lawyer smiled at his client as the handcuffs were removed. Willard's lawyer, Tyndale, the public defender, ignored him.

The same crowd of blacks had returned from last Wednesday, and had brought some friends. They closely followed the movements of the two white boys. Lester saw them for the first time. Carl Lee was not in the courtroom.

From the bench Bullard counted deputies-nine in all. That had to be a record. Then he counted blacks-hundreds of them all bunched together, all glaring at the two ra**sts, who sat at the same table between their lawyers. The vodka felt good. He took a sip of what appeared to be ice water from a Styrofoam cup and managed a slight grin. It burned slowly downward and his cheeks flushed. What he ought to do was order the deputies out of the courtroom and throw Cobb and Willard to the niggers. That would be fun to watch, and justice would be served. He could just see the fat nigger women stomping up and down while their men carved on the boys with switchblades and machetes. Then, when they were finished, they would collect themselves and all march quietly from the courtroom. He smiled to himself.

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