Page 37

A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance 1) John Grisham 2022/8/8 14:24:29

"There's a little cafe around the corner where the specialty is grease and fried corn meal. My system needs a shot of grease."

They walked around the square to Claude's, where the crowd was thin for a Saturday afternoon. There were no other whites in the place. Claude was absent and the silence was deafening. Jake ordered a cheeseburger, onion rings, and three headache powders.

"Got a headache?" Ellen asked.

"Hangover? I thought you were a teetotaler."

"And where'd you hear that?"

"Newsweek. The article said you were a clean-cut family man, workaholic, devout Presbyterian who drank nothing and smoked cheap cigars. Remember? How could you forget, right?"

"You believe everything you read?"

"Good, because last night I got plastered, and I've puked all morning."

The law clerk was amused. "What do you drink?"

"I don't-remember. At least I didn't until last night.

_ i, ano i nope it's my last. I'd forgotten how terrible these things are."

"Why do lawyers drink so much?"

"They learn how in law school. Does your dad drink?"

"Are you kidding? We're Catholic. He's careful, though."

"Sure, all the time," she said proudly.

"Then you'll make a great lawyer."

Jake carefully mixed the three powders in a glass of ice water and slugged it down. He grimaced and wiped his mouth. She watched intently with an amused smile.

"What'd your wife say?"

"The hangover, from such a devout and religious family man."

"She doesn't know about it. She left me early yesterday morning."

"She went to stay with her parents until the trial is over. We've had anonymous phone calls and death threats for two months now, and early yesterday morning they planted dynamite outside our bedroom window. The cops found it in time and they caught the men, probably the Klan. Enough dynamite to level the house and kill all of us. That was a good excuse to get drunk."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"The job you've just taken could be very dangerous. You should know that at this point."

"I've been threatened before. Last summer in Dothan, Alabama, we defended two black teenagers who had sodomized and strangled an eighty-year-old woman. No lawyer in the state would take the case so they called the Defense League. We rode into town on black horses and the mere sight of us would cause lynch mobs to form instantly on street corners. I've never felt so hated in my life. We hid in a motel in another town and felt safe, until one night two men cornered me in the motel lounge and tried to abduct me."

"I carry a snub-nosed .38 in my purse and I convinced them I knew how to use it."

"My father gave it to me for my fifteenth birthday. I have a license."

"He must be a hell of a guy."

"He's been shot at several times. He takes very controversial cases, the kind you read about in the papers where the public is outraged and demanding that the defendant be hanged without a trial or a lawyer. Those are the cases he likes best. He has a full-time bodyguard."

"Big deal. So do I. His name is Deputy Nesbit, and he couldn't hit the side of a barn with a shotgun. He was assigned to me yesterday."

The food arrived. She removed the onions and tomatoes from her Claudeburger, and offered him the french fries. She cut it in half and nibbled around the edges like a bird. Hot grease dripped to her plate. With each small bite, she carefully wiped her mouth.

Her face was gentle and pleasant with an easy smile that belied the ACLU, ERA, burn-the-bra, I-can-outcuss-you bitchiness Jake knew was lurking somewhere near the surface. There was not a trace of makeup anywhere on the face. None was needed. She was not beautiful, not cute, and evidently determined not to be so. She had the pale skin of a redhead, but it was healthy skin with seven or eight freckles splattered about the small, pointed nose. With each frequent smile, her lips spread wonderfully and folded her cheeks into neat, transient, hollow dimples. The smiles were confident, challenging, and mysterious. The metallic green eyes radiated a soft fury and were fixed and unblinking when she talked.

It was an intelligent face, attractive as hell.

Jake chewed on his burger and tried to nonchalantly ignore her eyes. The heavy food settled his stomach, and for the first time in ten hours he began to think he might live.

"Seriously, why'd you choose Ole Miss?" he asked.

"It's a good law school."

"It's my school. But we don't normally attract the brightest students from the Northeast. That's Ivy League country. We send our smartest kids up there."

"My father hates every lawyer with an Ivy League degree. He was dirt poor and scratched his way through law

_--. -. .,.6,*i. ,*v o cuuuicu me snuos from rich, well-educated, and incompetent lawyers all his life. Now he laughs at them. He told me I could go to law school anywhere in the country, but if I chose an Ivy League school he would not pay for it. Then there's my mother. I was raised on these enchanting stories of life in the Deep South, and I had to see for myself. Plus, the Southern states seemed determined to practice the death penalty, so I think I'll end up here."

"Why are you so opposed to the death penalty?"

"No, I'm very much in favor of it."

"That's incredible! Coming from a criminal defense lawyer."

"I'd like to go back to public hangings on the courthouse lawn."

"You're kidding, aren't you? I hope. Tell me you are."

She stopped chewing and smiling. The eyes glowed fiercely and watched him for a signal of weakness. "You are serious."

"I am very serious. The problem with the death penalty is that we don't use it enough."

"Have you explained that to Mr. Hailey?"

"Mr. Hailey does not deserve the death penalty. But the two men who raped his daughter certainly did."

"I see. How do you determine who gets it and who doesn't?"

"That's very simple. You look at the crime and you look at the criminal. If it's a dope dealer who guns down an undercover narcotics officer, then he gets the gas. If it's a drifter who rapes a three-year-old girl, drowns her by holding her little head in a mudhole, then throws her body off a bridge, then you take his life and thank God he's gone. If it's an escaped convict who breaks into a farmhouse late at night and beats and tortures an elderly couple before burning them with their house, then you strap him in a chair, hook up a few wires, pray for his soul, and pull the switch. And if it's two dopeheads who gang-rape a ten-year-old girl and kick her with pointed-toe cowboy boots until her jaws break, then you happily, merrily, thankfully, gleefully lock them in a gas chamber and listen to them squeal. It's very simple."

"Their crimes were barbaric. Death is too good for them, much too good."

"And if Mr. Hailey is convicted and sentenced to die?"

"If that happens, I'm sure I'll spend the next ten years cranking out appeals and fighting furiously to save his life. And if they ever strap him in the chair, I'm sure I'll be outside the prison with you and the Jesuits and a hundred other kindly souls marching and holding candles and singing hymns. And then stand beside his grave behind his church with his widow and children and wish I'd never met him."

"Have you ever witnessed an execution?"

"I've watched two. You'd change your mind if you saw one."

"Good. I won't see one."

"It's a horrible thing to watch."

"Were the victims' families there?"

"Yes, in both instances."

"Were they horrified? Were their minds changed? Of course not. Their nightmares were over."

"I'm surprised at you."

"And I'm bewildered by people like you. How can you be so zealous and dedicated in trying to save people who have begged for the death penalty and according to the law should get it?"

"Whose law? It's not the law in Massachusetts."

"You don't say. What do you expect from the only state McGovern carried in 1972? You folks have always been tuned in with the rest of the country."

The Claudeburgers were being ignored and their voices had grown too loud. Jake glanced around and caught a few stares. Ellen smiled again, and took one of his onion rings.

"What do you think of the ACLU?" she asked, crunching.

"I suppose you've got a membership card in your purse."

"I joined when I was sixteen."

"Why so late? You must have been the last one in your Girl Scout troop to join."

"Do you have any respect for the Bill of Rights?"

"I adore the Bill of Rights. I despise the judges who interpret them. Eat."

They finished the burgers in silence, watching each other carefully. Jake ordered coffee and two more headache powders.

"So how do we plan to win this case?" she asked.

"I still have the job, don't I?"

"Yes. Just remember that I'm the boss and you're the clerk."

"Sure, boss. What's your strategy?"

"How would you handle it?"

"Well, from what I gather, our client carefully planned the killings and shot them in cold blood, six days after the rape. It sounds exactly like he knew what he was doing."

"So we have no defense and I think you should plead him guilty for a life sentence and avoid the gas chamber."

"You're a real fighter."

"Just kidding. Insanity is our only defense. And it sounds impossible to prove."

"You're familiar with the M'Naghten Rule?" Jake asked.

"Yes. Do we have a psychiatrist?"

"Sort of. He'll say anything we want him to say; that is, if he's sober at trial. One of your more difficult tasks as my new law clerk will be to make sure he is sober at trial. It won't be easy, believe me."

"I live for new challenges in the courtroom."

"All right Row Ark, take a pen. Here's a napkin. Your boss is about to give you instructions."

She began making notes on a paper napkin.

"Ninety words a minute."

"I should've known. I'd like it by Wednesday."