Sycamore row, p.42
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       Sycamore Row, p.42
 

         Part #2 of Jake Brigance series by John Grisham  
Page 42

 

  “So the answer is no?”

  “The answer is no. I haven’t discussed it with anyone. ”

  “I take it things are tense between your client and his client. ”

  “I suppose. Herschel and Ramona can get along when they have to, but Ian is the problem. Herschel said he and Ian can’t stand one another, never have. He sees Ian as a privileged little prick from a stuffy old family that managed to lose it all, and so he’s trying hard to regain some status and play the big shot. He’s always looked down on the Hubbards as something slightly above white trash, until now of course. Now he’s suddenly enamored with the family and has deep concerns for its well-being. ”

  It was not lost on Jake that Stillman referred to someone else as a “privileged little prick from a stuffy old family. ”

  “What a surprise,” he said. “Look, Stillman, I just spent eight and a half hours playing pitch and catch with Ramona, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say the woman drinks too much. The red, leaky eyes, the puffiness partially hidden under makeup, the extra layer of wrinkles that seem too much for a woman of only forty-two. I’m an expert on drunks because I’m close to Lucien Wilbanks. ”

  “Herschel says she’s a lush who’s been threatening to leave Ian for years,” Stillman said, and Jake was impressed with his candor.

  “Now, she can’t run him off,” Jake said.

  “Oh no. I think Ian is once again madly in love with his wife. I have a pal in Jackson who knows some of Ian’s drinking buddies. They say he likes the ladies. ”

  “I’ll ask him about it tomorrow. ”

  “Do that. The point is, Herschel and Ian will never trust each other. ”

  They ordered more beers and finished off their first round. Stillman said, “You don’t seem too excited about the prospects of a settlement. ”

  “You’re ignoring what the old man wanted. He was very clear, both in his will and in his letter to me. He directed me to defend his handwritten will at all costs, to the bitter end. ”

  “He directed you?”

  “Yes. In a letter that accompanied the will. You’ll see it later. He was very specific in his desire to cut out his family. ”

  “But he’s dead. ”

  “It’s still his money. How can we redirect his money when his wishes were quite clear? It’s not right, and I doubt if Judge Atlee would approve it. ”

  “And if you lose?”

  “Then I’ll lose doing what I was directed to do. Defend the will at all costs. ”

  The second beers arrived just as Harry Rex lumbered by without speaking. He seemed preoccupied and did not look at Jake. It was not yet 6:00 p. m. , too early for Harry Rex to leave the office. He crawled into a booth by himself in a corner and tried to hide.

  Stillman wiped foam from his mouth again and asked, “Why’d he do it, Jake? Any clues so far?”

  “Not really,” Jake said with a shrug, as though he would honestly share inside dirt with his opponent. He wouldn’t give Stillman Rush the time of day if it could possibly help his cause.

  “Sex?”

  Another casual shrug, a quick shake of the head, a frown. “I don’t think so. The old guy was seventy-one, a heavy smoker, sick, frail, eaten up with cancer. It’s hard to imagine him having the energy and stamina to get it on with any woman. ”

  “He wasn’t sick two years ago. ”

  “True, but there’s no way to prove it. ”

  “I’m not talking about proof, Jake. Or evidence or trials or anything else. I’m just speculating. There’s got to be a reason. ”

  Then figure it out yourself, asshole, Jake thought but didn’t say. He was amused at Stillman’s clumsy effort at gossip, as if the two were old drinking buddies who often shared secrets. Loose lips sink ships, Harry Rex was fond of saying. Loose lips lose lawsuits.

  Jake said, “It’s hard to believe a little sex could be worth twenty-four million. ”

  Stillman laughed and said, “Not so sure. Wars have been fought over it. ”

  “True. ”

  “No interest in pursuing a settlement?”

  “No. I have my marching orders. ”

  “You’ll be sorry. ”

  “Is that a threat?”

  “Not at all. The way we see it, Booker Sistrunk has already pissed off every white person in Ford County. ”

  “Didn’t know you were such an expert on Ford County. ”

  “Look, Jake, you got one huge, sensational verdict here. Don’t let it go to your head. ”

  “I wasn’t looking for advice. ”

  “Maybe you need it. ”

  “From you?”

  Stillman drained his mug and sat it hard on the table. “Gotta run. I’ll pay at the bar. ” He was already out of the booth and reaching into a pocket. Jake watched him leave, cursed him, then eased deeper into the room and slid into the booth opposite Harry Rex.

  “Sitting among your friends?” Jake asked.

  “Well, well, so Carla let you out of the house. ” Harry Rex was working on a Bud Light and reading a magazine, which he put aside.

  “I just had my first and last drink with Stillman Rush. ”

  “How thrilling. Let me guess. He wants to settle. ”

  “How’d you know?”

  “Figures. A quick deal and those boys make out like bandits. ”

  Jake described Stillman’s version of a fair settlement, and they had a good laugh. A waiter delivered a platter of nachos and dip. “Is this your dinner?” Jake asked.

  “Naw, this is high tea. I’m headed back to the office. You’ll never guess who’s in town. ”

  “Who?”

  “Remember Willie Traynor, used to own the Times?”

  “Sort of. I met him once or twice, years ago. Seems like he sold the paper about the time I arrived here. ”

  “That’s right. Willie bought it in 1970 from the Caudle family. It was in bankruptcy and I think he paid something like fifty grand for it. Sold it ten years later for one point five mill. ” Harry Rex loaded up a nacho and stuffed it in his mouth. Pausing only slightly, he continued, “He never really fit in around here, so he went back to Memphis, where he was from, and lost his ass in real estate. Then his grandmother died and left him another bundle. He’s in the process of losing it too, I think. We were pretty close back in the day and he pops in from time to time, looking for a drink. ”

  “Does he still own the Hocutt House?”

  “Yep, and I think that’s one reason he wants to talk. He bought it in 1972 after all the Hocutts died off. Talk about a weird bunch. Twins, Wilma and Gilma, plus a brother and a crazy sister, and none of them ever married. Willie bought the house because nobody else wanted it, then he spent a few years fixing it up. You ever seen it?”

  “Only from the street. It’s beautiful. ”

  “It’s one of the finest Victorians in these parts. Kinda reminds me of your old place, just a lot bigger. Willie has good taste and the interior is immaculate. Problem is, he hasn’t spent three nights there in the past five years. He wants to sell it, probably needs the money, but, hell, can’t nobody around here afford it. ”

  “Whatever the price, it’s way out of my range,” Jake said.

  “He thinks it’s worth $300,000. I said maybe so, but he’ll never get it. Not now, not ten years from now. ”

  “Some doctor’ll buy it. ”

  “He mentioned you, Jake. He followed the Hailey trial, knows all about the Klan burning your house. He knows you’re in the market. ”

  “I’m not in the market, Harry Rex. I’m in litigation with the insurance company. But tell him thanks anyway. Too rich for my blood. ”

  “You want some nachos?”

  “No thanks. I need to get home. ”

  “Tell Carla I love her and lust after her body. ”

  “She knows it. Later. ”

  Jake walked to his office in a cold drizzle. The streetlamps around the square were adorned with Christmas w
reaths and silver bells. Carols rang out from a Nativity scene in front of the courthouse. The merchants were open late and the stores were busy. There was a slight chance of snow tomorrow and few things excited the town like such a forecast. The old-timers claimed there had been a white Christmas in 1952, and even the slightest chance of one now had kids staring out of windows and stores offering shovels and salt. Shoppers scurried about with great anticipation as if a blizzard was expected.

  Jake took the long route home, driving slowly away from the square and into the shaded streets of central Clanton until he turned onto Market Street. A light was on in the Hocutt House, a rarity. Jake and Carla had passed it many times, always slowly, admiringly, and always aware that the lovely Victorian was hardly used. There had always been rumors that Willie Traynor was selling the place. He had abandoned Clanton after he sold the paper, and everyone knew it.

  The house needed painting. In the summer, the flower beds were choked with weeds and the grass was rarely mowed. In the fall, the leaves gathered in drifts on the front porch and no one raked them.

  For a moment, Jake was tempted to stop, knock on the door, barge in, have a drink with Willie, and talk business. But the temptation passed and he headed home.

  24

  On the morning of Christmas Eve, Jake slept late, or as late as possible. With Carla dead to the world, he eased out of bed at seven, and without a sound went to the kitchen. He brewed coffee, scrambled eggs, and toasted muffins, and when he returned with breakfast in bed she grudgingly came to life. They were eating slowly and talking quietly, thoroughly enjoying a rare moment, when Hanna bounded into the room full of anticipation and chattering nonstop about Santa Claus. She wedged herself between her parents and helped herself to a muffin. Without prompting, she reviewed everything she’d put in her letter to the North Pole, and seemed genuinely concerned that she might be asking for too much. Both parents patiently disagreed. She was, after all, the only child and usually got what she wanted. Plus, there was a surprise that would overshadow all of her requests.

  An hour later, Jake and Hanna left for the square while Carla stayed home to wrap packages. Roxy was off for the day, and Jake needed to retrieve a gift for his wife. The office was always the best hiding place. He expected to find no one there, but was not too surprised when he saw Lucien in the conference room, digging through a stack of old files. He looked as though he’d been there for hours, and, more important, he looked clean and sober. “We need to talk,” he said.

  Hanna loved to rummage through her father’s big office, so Jake turned her loose upstairs and went to find coffee. Lucien had already consumed half a pot and seemed sufficiently wired. “You’re not gonna believe this,” he said as he closed the conference room door. Jake fell into a chair, stirred his coffee, and asked, “Can this wait until Monday?”

  “No, shut up and listen. The great question here is, Why would a man do what Seth Hubbard did? Right? Make a last-minute will, crude and handwritten, cut out his family, and leave everything to a person who has no claim to any of his fortune? This is the question that haunts you now, and it will only get bigger until we find the answer. ”

 
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