Read Sycamore Row Page 2

Page 2

Oh well, Ozzie would find out soon enough. Driving toward Clanton, with the ambulance behind him, he began calling people who might know something about Seth Hubbard.


Jake Brigance stared at the bright red numbers of his digital alarm clock. At 5:29 he reached over, pushed a button, and gently swung his feet out of bed. Carla flipped from one side to the other and burrowed deeper under the covers. Jake patted her rear end and said good morning. There was no response. It was Monday, a workday, and she would sleep for another hour before scurrying from bed and hustling off to school with Hanna. In the summer, Carla would sleep even later and her days were filled with girl stuff and whatever Hanna wanted to do. Jake, though, had a schedule that rarely varied. Up at 5:30; at the Coffee Shop by 6:00; at the office before 7:00. Few people attacked the morning like Jake Brigance, though, now that he had reached the mature age of thirty-five, he asked himself more often why, exactly, did he awaken so early? And why did he insist on arriving at his office before all other lawyers in Clanton? The answers, once so clear, were becoming more obscure. His dream since law school of being a great trial lawyer was not diminished at all; indeed, he was as ambitious as ever. Reality was bugging him. Ten years in the trenches and his office was still filled with wills and deeds and two-bit contract disputes, not one decent criminal case and no promising car wrecks.

His most glorious moment had come and gone. The acquittal of Carl Lee Hailey was three years ago, and Jake sometimes feared he was now beyond his pinnacle. As always, though, he brushed those doubts aside and reminded himself that he was only thirty-five. He was a gladiator with many great courtroom victories before him.

There was no dog to turn out because they’d lost their dog. Max died in the fire that destroyed their beautiful and beloved and heavily mortgaged Victorian home on Adams Street, three years ago. The Klan had torched the house in the heat of the Hailey trial, July 1985. First they burned a cross in the front yard, then they tried to blow up the house. Jake sent Carla and Hanna away and it was a wise thing to do. After the Klan tried to kill him for a month, they finally burned down his house. He had given his closing argument in a borrowed suit.

The topic of a new dog was too uncomfortable to fully address. They had danced around it a few times, then moved on. Hanna wanted one and probably needed one because she was an only child and often claimed to be bored playing alone. But Jake, and especially Carla, knew who would assume the responsibility of housebreaking and cleaning up after a puppy. Besides, they were living in a rental home with their lives far from settled. Perhaps a dog could bring about some normalcy; perhaps not. Jake often pondered this issue in the early minutes of the day. The truth was he really missed a dog.

After a quick shower, Jake dressed in a small, spare bedroom he and Carla used as a closet to store their clothes. All rooms were small in this flimsy house owned by someone else. Everything was temporary. The furniture was a sad ensemble of giveaways and flea market leftovers, all of which would be tossed one day if things went as planned, though, Jake hated to admit, almost nothing was going his way. Their lawsuit against the insurance company was bogged down in pretrial maneuvering that seemed hopeless. He had filed it six months after the Hailey verdict, when he was on top of the world and bristling with confidence. How dare an insurance company try and screw him? Show him another jury in Ford County and he’d deliver another great verdict. But the swagger and bluster faded as Jake and Carla slowly realized they had been seriously underinsured. Four blocks away, their vacant and scarred lot was just sitting there, gathering leaves. From next door, Mrs. Pickle kept an eye on it, but there was little to watch. The neighbors were waiting for a fine new home to rise up and for the Brigances to return.

Jake tiptoed into Hanna’s room, kissed her on the cheek and pulled the sheets up a bit higher. She was seven now, their only child, and there would be no others. She was in the second grade at Clanton Elementary, in a classroom around the corner from where her mother taught kindergartners.

In the narrow kitchen, Jake pushed a button on the coffee brewer and watched the machine until it began making noises. He opened his briefcase, touched the 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol holstered inside, and stuffed in some files. He had grown accustomed to carrying a gun and this saddened him. How could he live a normal life with a weapon nearby at all times? Normal or not, the gun was a necessity. They burn your house after they try to bomb it; they threaten your wife on the phone; they torch a cross in your front yard; they beat your secretary’s husband senseless and he later dies; they use a sniper to take a shot, but he misses you and hits a guard; they wage terror during the trial and keep up their threats long after it’s over.

Four of the terrorists were now serving prison sentences—three federal, one at Parchman. Only four, Jake reminded himself constantly. There should have been a dozen convictions by now, a feeling shared by Ozzie and other black leaders in the county. Out of habit and out of a sense of frustration, Jake called the FBI at least once a week for updates on their investigation. After three years, his calls were often not returned. He wrote letters. His file filled an entire cabinet in his office.

Only four. He knew the names of many others, all suspects still, in Jake’s mind anyway. Some had moved and some had stayed, but they were out there, going about their lives as if nothing had happened. So he carried a gun, one with all the proper permits and such. There was one in his briefcase. One in his car. A couple around the office, and several others. His hunting rifles had gone up in the fire, but Jake was slowly rebuilding his collection.

He stepped outside, onto the small brick porch, and filled his lungs with the cool air. On the street, directly in front of the house, there was a Ford County sheriff’s patrol car, and behind the wheel sat one Louis Tuck, a full-time deputy who worked the graveyard shift and whose primary responsibility was to be seen in the neighborhood throughout the night and, specifically, to be parked near the mailbox at precisely 5:45 each morning, Monday through Saturday, when Mr. Brigance stepped onto the porch and waved hello. Tuck waved back. The Brigances had survived another night.

As long as Ozzie Walls was sheriff of Ford County, which would be at least three more years and probably much longer, he and his office would do whatever possible to protect Jake and his family. Jake had taken Carl Lee Hailey’s case, worked like a dog for peanuts, dodged bullets, ignored real threats, and lost almost everything before delivering a not-guilty verdict that still resonated in Ford County. Protecting him was Ozzie’s highest priority.

Tuck eased away. He would circle the block and return in a few minutes after Jake left. He would watch the house until he saw lights in the kitchen and knew Carla was up and moving around.

Jake drove one of two Saabs in Ford County, a red one with 190,000 miles on it. He needed an upgrade but couldn’t afford one. Such an exotic car in a small town had once been a cool idea, but now the repair costs were brutal. The nearest dealer was in Memphis, an hour away, so every trip to the shop killed half a day and cost a thousand bucks. Jake was ready for an American model, and he thought about this every morning when he turned the ignition key and held his breath as the engine rolled over and came to life. The engine had never failed to start, but in the past few weeks Jake had noticed a delay, an extra turn or two that evoked an ominous warning that something bad was about to happen. Paranoid, he was noticing other noises and rattles, and he was checking the tires every other day as the treads grew thinner. He backed onto Culbert Street, which, though only four blocks from Adams Street and their vacant lot, was clearly in a lesser part of town. The house next door was also a rental. Adams was lined with homes much older and statelier and with more character. Culbert was a hodgepodge of suburban-style boxes thrown up before the city got serious about zoning.

Though she said little, Jake knew Carla was ready to move on, to somewhere.

They had actually talked of moving away, of leaving Clanton altogether. The three years since the Hailey trial had been far less prosperous than they had hoped and expected. If Jake was destined to slog through a long career as a struggling lawyer, then why not struggle somewhere else? Carla could teach school anywhere. Surely they could find a good life that did not include weapons and constant vigilance. Jake may have been revered by the blacks in Ford County, but he was still resented by many of the whites. And the crazies were still out there. On the other hand, there was a certain safety living in the midst of so many friends. Their neighbors watched the traffic and a strange car or truck was noted. Every cop in town and every deputy in the county knew the safety of the little Brigance family was of the highest importance.

Jake and Carla would never leave, though it was sometimes amusing to play the old game of where-would-you-like-to-live? It was only a game because Jake knew the brutal truth that he would never fit in a big firm in a big city, nor would he ever find a small town in any state that was not already brimming with hungry lawyers. He was looking clearly at his future, and he was okay with it. He just needed to make a buck.

He drove past the empty lot on Adams, mumbled vile words in condemnation of the cowards who torched his home and managed a few choice ones for the insurance company as well, then sped away. From Adams he turned onto Jefferson, then Washington, which ran east and west along the north side of the Clanton square. His office was on Washington, across from the stately courthouse, and he parked in the same spot each morning at 6:00 a. m. because at that hour there were plenty to choose from. The square would be quiet for two more hours, until the courthouse and the shops and offices around it opened for business.

The Coffee Shop, though, was bustling with blue collars, farmers, and deputies when Jake strolled in and began saying good morning. As always, he was the only one wearing a coat and tie. The white collars gathered an hour later across the square at the Tea Shoppe and discussed interest rates and world politics. At the Coffee Shop they talked football, local politics, and bass fishing. Jake was one of the very few professionals tolerated inside the Coffee Shop. There were several reasons for this: he was well liked, thick-skinned, and good-natured; and, he was always available for a quick legal tip at no charge when one of the mechanics or truck drivers was in a bind. He hung his jacket on the wall and found a seat at a table with Marshall Prather, a deputy. Two days earlier, Ole Miss had lost to Georgia by three touchdowns and this was the hot topic. A gum-smacking, sassy gal named Dell poured his coffee while managing to bump him with her ample ass—the same routine six mornings a week. Within minutes she delivered food he never ordered—wheat toast, grits, and strawberry jelly, the usual. As Jake was shaking Tabasco sauce on the grits, Prather asked, “Say, Jake, did you know Seth Hubbard?”

“Never met him,” Jake said, catching a few glances. “I’ve heard his name once or twice. Had a place up near Palmyra, didn’t he?”

“That’s it. ” Prather chewed on a sausage as Jake sipped his coffee.

Jake waited, then said, “I guess it’s safe to assume something bad happened to Seth Hubbard because you put him in the past tense. ”