Sycamore row, p.54
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       Sycamore Row, p.54

         Part #2 of Jake Brigance series by John Grisham
Page 54


  Wade Lanier was having a beer in the men’s grill at the country club when Clapp tracked him down. He teed off every Sunday morning at precisely 7:45 with the same three pals, played eighteen holes, usually won more money than he lost, then drank beer for a couple of hours over poker. He quickly forgot about the cards and the beer and made Clapp repeat every word of his conversation with Julina Kidd.

  Most of what she said would not be admissible in court; however, the fact that she could take the stand, let the jury absorb her ethnicity, and chat about her claim for sexual harassment at the hands of Seth Hubbard would sway any white jury to believe the old guy and Lettie were probably doing business. They would believe that Lettie had gotten as close as humanly possible, and she had influenced him. She had used her body to work her way into his will. Lanier couldn’t prove it by a preponderance of evidence, but he could certainly imply it in a powerful way.

  He left the country club and drove to his office.

  Early Monday morning, Ian and Ramona Dafoe drove three hours from Jackson to Memphis and had a late breakfast with Herschel. Their relationship had deteriorated and it was time to patch things up, or that’s what Ramona said anyway. They were on the same side; it was foolish for them to bicker and distrust one another. They met at a pancake house, and, after the usual efforts at reconciliation, Ian launched into a strong-armed plea for Herschel to ditch Stillman Rush and his firm. His lawyer, Wade Lanier, was far more experienced, and, frankly, was worried that Rush would be a hindrance at trial. He was a pretty boy, too showy, cocky, and likely to alienate the jury. Lanier had watched him closely now for over four months and did not like what he saw. There was a big ego and not much talent. Trials can be won or lost by the arrogance of a lawyer, and Wade Lanier was worried sick. He was even threatening to bail out.

  And there was more. As evidence of the inequality of their lawyers, Ian revealed the story of the other will and its attempted bequest of $50,000 to Lettie. He did not name names because he didn’t want Stillman Rush to screw up things. Herschel was stunned, but also thrilled. But wait—it gets better. Now Wade Lanier had found a black woman who sued Seth for sexual harassment.

  Look at what my lawyer is doing, and compare it to yours. Your boy is not in the game, Herschel. Lanier understands guerrilla warfare; your lawyer is a Boy Scout. Let’s join forces here. Lanier even has a deal to offer: if we come together, get rid of Rush, and allow Lanier to represent both of us, he’ll cut his fee to 25 percent of any settlement. He has a strategy to force a settlement, especially in light of what his chief investigator is digging up. He’ll pick the right moment and spring it all on Jake Brigance, who’ll crack under the pressure. We can have the money within a few months!

  Herschel held his ground for a while, but eventually agreed to drive to Jackson and meet with Lanier in secret.

  Simeon Lang was finishing Monday’s dinner of pork and beans from a can and four slices of stale white bread when the jailer appeared and stuck a package through the bars. “Happy reading,” he said and walked away. It was from the law offices of Harry Rex Vonner.

  Inside was a letter from the lawyer, addressed to Simeon, care of the Ford County jail, and the letter tersely announced to Simeon that what followed was a Complaint for Divorce. He had thirty days to respond.

  He read it slowly. What was the hurry? Habitual cruel and inhuman treatment; adultery; desertion; physical abuse. Page after page of allegations, some of them wild, some of them true. What difference did it make? He’d killed two boys and was headed to Parchman for a long time. His life was over. Lettie needed someone else. She hadn’t been to see him since they locked him up, and he doubted she would ever visit. Not here, not in Parchman. Portia had stopped by to say hello but didn’t hang around too long.

  “What’re you reading?” asked Denny from the top bunk. Denny was his new cell mate who’d been caught driving a stolen car. Simeon was already tired of him. He preferred living alone, though at times it was almost pleasant having someone to talk to.

  “My wife just filed for divorce,” he said.

  “Lucky you. I’ve had two of them already. They get kinda crazy when you’re in jail. ”

  “If you say so. You ever had a restrainin’ order?”

  “No, but my brother did. Bitch convinced a judge he was dangerous, which he was, and a judge told him to stay away from the house and keep his distance in public. Didn’t bother him. Killed her anyway. ”

  “Your brother killed his wife?”

  “Yep, but she had it coming. It was justifiable homicide, but the jury didn’t exactly see it that way. Found him guilty of second-degree. ”

  “Where is he?”

  “Angola, Louisiana, twenty years. That’s about what you’ll get, accordin’ to my lawyer. ”

  “Your lawyer?”

  “Yeah, I asked him this afternoon when I saw him. He knows about your case, said the whole town is talkin’ about it, said folks are really upset. Said your wife’s about to get rich from this big will contest but your ass’ll be locked away for the next twenty years. By the time you get out all the money’ll be gone, what with all the new friends she’s got. That true?”

  “Ask your lawyer. ”

  “How’d your wife get herself into that old man’s will like that? Said he left behind twenty million bucks or so, that true?”

  “Ask your lawyer. ”

  “I’ll do that. Didn’t mean to piss you off or anything. ”

  “I ain’t pissed. Just don’t want to talk about it, okay?”

  “You got it, man. ” Denny picked up his paperback and started reading.

  Simeon stretched out on the bottom bunk and went back to page one. In twenty years he would be sixty-six. Lettie would have another husband and a much better life. She would have the children and grandchildren and probably great-grandchildren, and he would have nothing.

  He wouldn’t fight the divorce. She could have it all.

  Maybe he could see Marvis in prison.


  Eight days after the Roston tragedy, and just as it was beginning to wind down and folks were discussing other matters, it bolted back onto center stage in the weekly edition of The Ford County Times. On the front page, under a bold headline—COUNTY MOURNS LOSS OF ROSTON BROTHERS—were large class photos of Kyle and Bo. Below that and beneath the fold were photos of their wrecked car, their coffins being carried out of their church, and their classmates holding candles at a vigil outside Clanton High School. Dumas Lee had missed little. His stories were long and detailed.

  On page two was a large photo of Simeon Lang, his face ominously bandaged, leaving the courthouse in handcuffs the previous Thursday with his attorney of record, Mr. Arthur Welch of Clarksdale. The story that accompanied the photo made no mention of Jake Brigance, primarily because Jake had threatened Dumas and the newspaper with a libel suit if it even remotely implied that he represented Simeon. There was mention of the old but still pending DUI charge from the previous October, but Dumas did not pursue it or imply that it had been improperly handled. He was terrified of litigation and usually backed down quickly. The two obituaries were lengthy and heartbreaking. There was a story from the high school with glowing comments from classmates and teachers. There was one from the accident scene with Ozzie providing the details. The eyewitness had a lot to say and got his photo in the newspaper. The parents were silent. An uncle asked that their privacy be respected.

  Jake had read every word by 7:00 a. m. , and felt exhausted. He skipped the Coffee Shop because he was tired of the endless prattling about the tragedy. He kissed Carla good-bye at 7:30 and went to the office, hoping for a return to his normal routine. His goal was to spend most of the day working on cases other than Hubbard. He had a handful of clients in real need of some attention.

  Just after 8:00, Stillman Rush called with the news that he had just been fired by Herschel Hubbard. Jake listened thoughtfully. On the one hand he was delighted to see
Stillman hit the back door because he really didn’t care for the guy, but on the other hand he was bothered by Wade Lanier’s powers of manipulation. In his only other major trial, that of Carl Lee Hailey, Jake had gone toe-to-toe with Rufus Buckley, then an accomplished district attorney. And while Buckley was quite skilled in the courtroom and smooth on his feet, he was not overly bright, not a crafty manipulator or a clever schemer. Not at all like Wade Lanier, who seemed to be always one step ahead. Jake was convinced Lanier would do anything, lie, cheat, steal, cover up, whatever it took to win at trial, and he had the experience, quick wit, and bag of tricks to do so. Jake wanted Stillman in the courtroom, bungling things and strutting in front of the jury.

  Jake sounded sufficiently sad to say good-bye, but forgot about the call within the hour.

  Portia needed reassuring. They had fallen into the habit of having a morning coffee around 8:30, always in Jake’s office. The family had received four threatening calls in the days after the accident, but now the calls seemed to have stopped. A deputy still hung around the house, sitting in the driveway, checking the rear door at night, and the family was feeling safer. The Rostons had handled themselves with such grace and courage that the raw feelings had been contained, at least for now.

  However, if Simeon decided he wanted a trial, then the entire nightmare would be replayed. Portia, Lettie, and the rest of the family were worried about the spectacle of a trial, of having to face the Roston family in court. Jake doubted that would ever happen, and if it did it would be at least a year away.

  For three months, he had been prodding Lettie to get a job, any job. It would be important at trial for the jurors to know she was working and trying to support her family, not retired at forty-seven and expecting the windfall. But no white homemaker would hire her as a housekeeper, not with her baggage and controversies. She was too old for the fast-food joints; too black for anyone’s office staff.

  “Momma got a job,” Portia said proudly.

  “Excellent. Where?”

  “The Methodist church. She’ll clean their preschool three days a week. Minimum wage but that’s all she can find right now. ”

  “Is she happy?”

  “She filed for divorce two days ago, Jake, and her last name is pretty toxic around here. She has a son in prison, a houseful of deadbeat relatives, a twenty-one-year-old daughter with two unwanted kids. Life’s pretty tough for my mom. A job that pays three and a half bucks an hour is not likely to bring much happiness. ”

  “Sorry I asked. ”

  They were on his balcony, outside where the air was brisk but not too cold. Jake had a million things on his mind, and he’d already had a gallon of coffee.

  “You remember Charley Pardue, my so-called cousin from Chicago?” she asked. “Met him at Claude’s a couple of months ago. ”

  “Sure. You called him a shyster who wants money for a new funeral home. ”

  “Yep, we’ve been talking on the phone, and he’s found a relative over near Birmingham. An old guy in a nursing home, last name of Rinds. He thinks this guy could be the link. ”

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