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Home > A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance #1)(22)

A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance #1)(22)
Author: John Grisham

Cobb's parents had divorced when he was small, and his father drove from Birmingham for the funeral. After the burial he disappeared. Mrs. Cobb lived in a small, clean white frame house near the settlement of Lake Village, ten miles south of Clanton. Her other two sons and their cousins and friends gathered under an oak tree in the backyard while the women made a fuss over Mrs. Cobb. The men talked about niggers in general, and chewed Red Man and sipped whiskey, and reminisced about the other days when niggers knew their place. Now they were just pampered and protected by the government and courts. And there was nothing white people could do. One cousin knew a friend or someone who used to be active in the Klan, and he might give him a call. Cobb's grandfather had been in the Klan long before his death, the cousin explained, and when he and Billy Ray were kids the old man would tell stories about hanging niggers in Ford and Tyler counties. What they should do was the same thing the nigger had done, but there were no volunteers. Maybe the Klan would be interested. There was a chapter farther down south near Jackson, near Nettles County, and the cousin was authorized to contact them.

The women prepared lunch. The men ate quietly, then returned to the whiskey under the shade tree. The nigger's hearing at 2:00 P.M. was mentioned, and they loaded up and drove to Clanton.

There was a Clanton before the killings, and there was a Clanton after the killings, and it would be months before the two resembled each other. One tragic, bloody event, the duration of which was less than fifteen seconds, transformed the quiet Southern town of eight thousand into a mecca for journalists, reporters, camera crews, photographers, some from neighboring towns, others from the national news organizations. Cameramen and TV reporters bumped into one another on the sidewalks around the square as they asked the man in the street for the hundredth time how he or she felt about the Hailey event and how he or she would vote if he or she was on the jury. There was no clear verdict from the man on the street. Television vans followed small, marked, imported television cars around the square and down the streets chasing leads, stories, and interviews. Ozzie was a favorite at first. He was interviewed a half dozen times the day after the shooting, then found other business and delegated the interviewing to Moss Junior, who enjoyed bantering with the press. He could answer twenty questions and not divulge one new detail. He also lied a lot, and the ignorant foreigners could not tell his lies from his truth.

"Sir, is there any evidence of additional gunmen?"

"Yes."

"Really! Who?"

"We have evidence that the shootin's were authorized and financed by an offshoot of the Black Panthers," Moss Junior replied with a straight face.

Half the reporters would either stutter or stare blankly while the other half repeated what he said and scribbled furiously.

Bullard refused to leave his office or take calls. He called Jake again and begged him to waive the preliminary. Jake refused. Reporters waited in the lobby of Bullard's office on the first floor of the courthouse, but he was safe with his vodka behind the locked door.

There was a request to film the funeral. The Cobb boys said yes, for a fee, but Mrs. Willard vetoed the proposal. The reporters waited outside the funeral home and filmed what they could. Then they followed the procession to the grave sites, and filmed the burials, and followed the mourners to Mrs. Cobb's, where Freddie, the oldest, cursed them and made them leave.

The Coffee Shop on Wednesday was silent. The regulars, including Jake, eyed the strangers who had invaded their sanctuary. Most of them had beards, spoke with unusual accents, and did not order grits.

"Aren't you Mr. Hailey's attorney?" shouted one from across the room.

Jake worked on his toast and said nothing.

"Aren't you? Sir?"

"What if I am?" shot Jake.

"Will he plead guilty?"

"I'm eating breakfast."

"Will he?"

"No comment."

"Why no comment?"

"No comment."

"But why?"

"I don't comment during breakfast. No comment."

"May I talk to you later?"

"Yeah, make an appointment. I talk at sixty bucks an hour."

The regulars hooted, but the strangers were undaunted.

Jake consented to an interview, without charge, with a Memphis paper Wednesday, then barricaded himself in the war room and prepared for the preliminary hearing. At noon he visited his famous client at the jail. Carl Lee was rested and relaxed. From his cell he could see the coming and going of the reporters in the parking lot.

"How's jail?" Jake asked.

"Not that bad. Food's good. I eat with Ozzie in his office."

"You what!"

"Yep. Play cards too."

"You're kidding, Carl Lee."

Chapter Six

"Nope. Watch TV too. Saw you on the news last night. You looked real good. I'm gonna make you famous, Jake, ain't I?"

Jake said nothing.

"When do I get on TV? I mean, I did the killin' and you and Ozzie gettin' famous for it." The client was grinning- the lawyer was not.

"Today, 4n about an hour."

"Yeah, I heard we's goin' to court. What for?"

"Preliminary hearing. It's no big deal, at least it's not supposed to be. This one will be different because of the cameras."

"What do I say?"

"Nothing! You don't say a word to anyone. Not to the judge, the prosecutor, the reporters, anyone. We just listen. We listen to the prosecutor and see what kind of case he's got. They're supposed to have an eyewitness, and he might testify. Ozzie will testify and tell the judge about the gun, the fingerprints, and Looney-"

"How's Looney?"

"Don't know. Worse than they thought."

"Man, I feel bad 'bout shootin' Looney. I didn't even see the man."

"Well, they're going to charge you with aggravated assault for shooting Looney. Anyway, the preliminary is just a formality. Its purpose is to allow the judge to determine if there's enough evidence to bind you over to the grand jury. Bullard always does that, so it's just a formality."

"Then why do it?"

"We could waive it," replied Jake, thinking of all the

cameras he would miss. "But I don't like to. It's a good chance to see what kind of case the State has."

"Well, Jake, I'd say they gotta pretty good case, wouldn't you?"

"I would think so. But let's just listen. That's the strategy of a preliminary hearing. Okay?"

"Sounds good to me. You talked to Gwen or Lester today?"

"No, I called them Monday night."

"They were here yesterday in Ozzie's office. Said they'd be in court today."

"I think everyone will be in court today."

Jake left. In the parking lot he brushed by some of the reporters who were awaiting Carl Lee's departure from jail. He had no comments for them and no comments for the reporters waiting outside his office. He was too busy at the moment for questions, but he was very aware of the cameras. At one-thirty he went to the courthouse and hid in the law library on the third floor.

Ozzie and Moss Junior and the deputies watched the parking lot and quietly cursed the mob of reporters and cameramen. It was one forty-five, time to transport the prisoner to court.

"Kinda reminds me of a buncha vultures waitin' for a dead dog beside the highway," Moss Junior observed as he gazed through the blinds.

"Rudest buncha folks I ever saw," added Prather. "Won't take no for an answer. They expect the whole town to cater to them."

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