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A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance 1) John Grisham 2022/8/8 14:24:24

In his heyday in the sixties, the Reverend Isaiah Street had been the moving force behind civil rights activity in Ford County. He walked with Martin Luther King in Memphis and Montgomery. He organized marches and protests in Clanton and Karaway and other towns in north Mississippi. In the summer of '64 he greeted students from the North and coordinated their efforts to register black voters. Some had lived in his home that memorable summer, and they still visited him from time to time. He was no radical. He was quiet, compassionate, intelligent, and had earned the respect of all blacks and most whites. His was a calm, cool voice in the midst of hatred and controversy. He unofficially officiated the great public school desegregation in '69, and Ford County saw little trouble.

A stroke in '75 deadened the right side of his body but left his mind untouched. Now, at seventy-eight, he walked by himself, slowly and with a cane. Proud, dignified, erect as possible. He was ushered into the sheriffs office and seated. He,declined coffee, and Moss Junior left to get the defendant.

"You awake, Carl Lee?" he whispered loudly, not wanting to wake the other prisoners, who would begin screaming for breakfast, medicine, lawyers, bondsmen, and girlfriends.

Carl Lee sat up immediately. "Yeah, I didn't sleep much."

"You have a visitor. Come on." Moss quietly unlocked the cell.

Carl Lee had met the reverend years earlier when he addressed the last senior class at East High, the black school. Desegregation followed, and East became the junior high. He had not seen the reverend since the stroke.

"Carl Lee, do you know Reverend Isaiah Street?" Moss asked properly.

"Yes, we met years ago."

"Good, I'll close the door and let y'all talk."

"How are you, sir?" Carl Lee asked. They sat next to each other on the couch.

"Finej my son, and you?"

"As good as possible."

"I've been in jail too, you know. Years ago. It's a terri-

ble place, but I guess it's necessary. How are they treating you?"

"Fine, just fine. Ozzie lets me do as I please."

"Yes, Ozzie. We're very proud of him, aren't we?"

"Yes, sub. He's a good man." Carl Lee studied the frail, feeble old man with the cane. His body was weak and tired, but his mind was sharp, his voice strong.

"We're proud of you too, Carl Lee. I don't condone violence, but at times it's necessary too, I guess. You did a good deed, my son."

"Yes, suh," answered Carl Lee, uncertain of the appropriate response.

"I guess you wonder why I'm here."

Carl Lee nodded. The reverend tapped his cane on the floor.

"I'm concerned about your acquittal. The black community is concerned. If you were white, you would most likely go to trial, and most likely be acquitted. The rape of a child is a horrible crime, and who's to blame a father for rectifying the wrong? A white father, that is. A black father evokes the same sympathy among blacks, but there's one problem: the jury will be white. So a black father and a white father would not have equal chances with the jury. Do you follow me?"

"The jury is all important. Guilt versus innocence. Freedom versus prison. Life versus death. All to be determined by the jury. It's a fragile system, this trusting of lives to twelve average, ordinary people who do not understand the law and are intimidated by the process."

"Your acquittal by a white jury for the killings of two white men will do more for the black folk of Mississippi than any event since we integrated the schools. And it's not just Mississippi; it's black folk everywhere. Yours is a most famous case, and it's being watched carefully by many people."

"I just did what I had to do."

"Precisely. You did what you thought was right. It was right; although it was brutal and ugly, it was right. And most folks, black and white, believe that. But will you be treated as though you were white? That's the question."

"Ana 11 I'm convicted?"

"Your conviction would be another slap at us; a symbol of deep-seated racism; of old prejudices, old hatreds. It would be a disaster. You must not be convicted."

"I'm doin' all I can do."

"Are you? Let's talk about your attorney, if we may."

"No." Carl Lee lowered his head and rubbed his eyes. "Have you?"

"In Memphis in 1968.1 was with Dr. King. Marsharfsky was one of the attorneys representing the garbage workers on strike against the city. He asked Dr. King to leave Memphis, claimed he was agitating the whites and inciting the blacks, and that he was impeding the contract negotiations. He was arrogant and abusive. He cursed Dr. King-in private, of course. We thought he was selling out the workers and getting money under the table from the city. I think we were right."

Carl Lee breathed deeply and rubbed his temples.

"I've followed his career," the reverend continued. "He's made a name for himself representing gangsters, thieves, and pimps. He gets some of them off, but they're always guilty. When you see one of his clients, you know he's guilty. That's what worries me most about you. I'm afraid you'll be considered guilty by association."

Carl Lee sunk lower, his elbows resting on his knees. "Who told you to come here?" he asked softly.

"I had a talk with an old friend."

"Just an old friend, my son. He's concerned about you too. We're all concerned about you."

"He's the best lawyer in Memphis."

"This isn't Memphis, is it?"

"He's an expert on criminal law."

"That could be because he's a criminal."

Carl Lee stood abruptly and walked across the room, his back to the reverend.

"He's free. He's not costin' me a dime."

"His fee won't seem important when you're on death row, my son."

Moments passed and neither spoke. Finally, the reverend lowered his cane and struggled to his feet. "I've said enough. I'm leaving. Good luck, Carl Lee."

Carl Lee shook his hand. "I do appreciate your concern and I thank you for visitin'."

"My point is simply this, my son. Your case will be difficult enough to win. Don't make it more difficult with a crook like Marsharfsky."

Lester left Chicago just before midnight Friday. He headed south alone, as usual. Earlier his wife went north to Green Bay for a weekend with her family. He liked Green Bay much less than she liked Mississippi, and neither cared to visit the other's family. They were nice people, the Swedes, and they would treat him like family if he allowed it. But they were different, and it wasn't just their whiteness. He grew up with whites in the South and knew them. He didn't like them all and didn't like most of their feelings toward him, but at least he knew them. But the Northern whites, especially the Swedes, were different. Their customs, speech, food, almost everything was foreign to him, and he would never feel comfortable with them.

Both sides of Interstate 57 looked the same after midnight-scattered lights from the small, neat farms strewn over the countryside, and occasionally a big town like Champaign or Effingham. The north was where he lived and worked, but it wasn't home. Home was where Momma was, in Mississippi, although he would never live there again. Too much ignorance and poverty. He didn't mind the racism; it wasn't as bad as it once was and he was accustomed to it. It would always be there, but gradually becoming less visible.

i ne wmtes stui owned and controlled everything, and that in itself was not unbearable. It was not about to change. What he found intolerable was the ignorance and stark poverty of many of the blacks; the dilapidated, shotgun houses, the high infant mortality rate, the hopelessly unemployed, the unwed mothers and their unfed babies. It was depressing to the point of being intolerable, and intolerable to the point he fled Mississippi like thousands of others and migrated north in search of a job, any decent-paying job which could ease the pain of poverty.

It was both pleasant and depressing to return to Mississippi. Pleasant in that he would see his family; depressing because he would see their poverty. There were bright spots. Carl Lee had a decent job, a clean house, and well-dressed kids. He was an exception, and now it was all in jeopardy because of two drunk, low-bred pieces of white trash. Blacks had an excuse for being worthless, but for whites in a white world, there were no excuses. They were dead, thank God, and he was proud of his big brother.

Six hours out of Chicago the sun appeared as he crossed the river at Cairo. Two hours later he crossed it again at Memphis. He drove southeast into Mississippi, and an hour later circled the courthouse in Clanton. He'd been awake for twenty hours.

"Carl Lee, you have a visitor," Ozzie said through the iron bars in the door.

"I'm not surprised. Who is it?"

"Just follow me. I think you better use my office. This could take a while."

Jake loitered at his office waiting on the phone to ring. Ten o'clock. Lester should be in town, if he's coming. Eleven. Jake riffled through some stale files and made notes for Ethel. Noon. He called Carla and lied about meeting a new client at one o'clock, so forget lunch. He would work in the yard later. One o'clock. He found an ancient case from Wyoming where a husband was acquitted after tracking down the man who raped his wife. In 1893. He copied the case, then

threw it in the garbage. Two o'clock. Was Lester in town? He could go visit Leroy and snoop around the jail. No, that didn't feel right. He napped on the couch in the big office.

At two-fifteen the phone rang. Jake bolted upright and scrambled from the couch. His heart was pounding as he grabbed the phone. "Hello!"

"Jake, this is Ozzie."

"Yeah, Ozzie, what's up?"

"Your presence is requested here at the jail."

"What?" Jake asked, feigning innocence.

"You're needed down here."

"Carl Lee wants to talk to you."

"Yeah. He wants you too."

"Be there in a minute."

"They've been in there for over four hours," Ozzie said, pointing to the office door.

"Doing what?" asked Jake,

"Talkin', cussin', shoutin'. Things got quiet about thirty minutes ago. Carl Lee came out and asked me to call you."

"Thanks. Let's go in."

"No way, man. I ain't goin' in there. They didn't send for me. You're on your own."

Jake knocked on the door.

He opened it slowly, walked inside and closed it. Carl Lee was sitting behind the desk. Lester was lying on the couch. He stood and shook Jake's hand. "Good to see you, Jake."

"Good to see you, Lester. What brings you home?"

Jake looked at Carl Lee, then walked to the desk and shook his hand. The defendant was clearly irritated.

"Yeah, Jake, sit down. We need to talk," said Lester. "Carl Lee's got somethin' to tell you."

"You tell him," Carl Lee said.

Lester sighed and rubbed his eyes. He was tired and

irusiraiea. "i ami saym' anotner word. This is between .you and Jake." Lester closed his eyes and relaxed on the couch. Jake sat in a padded, folding chair that he leaned against the wall opposite the couch. He watched Lester carefully, but did not look at Carl Lee, who rocked slowly in Ozzie's swivel chair. Carl Lee said nothing. Lester said nothing. After three minutes of silence, Jake was annoyed.

"Who sent for me?" he demanded.

"I did," answered Carl Lee.

"Well, what do you want?"

"I wanna give you my case back."

"You assume I want it back."

"What!" Lester sat up and looked at Jake.

"It's not a gift you give or take away. It's an agreement between you and your attorney. Don't act as though you're doing me a great favor." Jake's voice was rising, his anger apparent.

"Do you want the case?" asked Carl Lee.

"Are you trying to rehire me, Carl Lee?"

"Why do you want to rehire me?"

" 'Cause Lester wants me to."

"Fine, then I don't want your case." Jake stood and started for the door. "If Lester wants me and you want Mar-sharfsky, then stick with Marsharfsky. If you can't think for yourself, you need Marsharfsky."

"Wait, Jake. Be cool, man," Lester said as he met Jake at the door. "Sit down, sit down. I don't blame you for bein' mad at Carl Lee for firm' you. He was wrong. Right, Carl Lee?"

Carl Lee picked at his fingernails.

"Sit down, Jake, sit down and let's talk," Lester pleaded as he led him back to the folding chair. "Good. Now, let's discuss this situation. Carl Lee, do you want Jake to be your lawyer?"

Carl Lee nodded. "Yeah."

"Explain why." Jake asked Carl Lee.

"Explain why you want me to handle your case. Explain why you're firing Marsharfsky."

"I don't have to explain."