The Truth Hurts, p.1Nancy Pickard
Books by Nancy Pickard
The Marie Lightfoot Series
The Whole Truth
Ring of Truth
The Truth Hurts
The Jenny Cain Series
Say No to Murder
Marriage Is Murder
But I Wouldn’t Want to Die There
The First Lady Murders
edited by Nancy Pickard
Author’s note: The Miami Book Fair is a real, and wonderful, event, but I have taken the liberty of moving it to the spring.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Pickard
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce
this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
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This book is dedicated, with awe and respect,
to all of the known and unknown heroes
of civil rights movements everywhere.
The nice thing about my kind of fame is that I can still find a grocery store where I can go in my shorts, a sloppy T-shirt, with ratty old plastic thongs on my feet and no makeup on my face, and no one will recognize me. There are still plenty of places in the world—if I seek them out—where nobody’s going to brake their carts and squeal in the produce aisle, “Oh, my God, you’re Marie Lightfoot! Can I have your autograph?”
That has never happened in this store. Not yet at least. If it ever does, maybe I’ll shop by phone. But for now, I’m blissfully anonymous, at least until the Miami Book Fair starts in three weeks. Why did I ever agree to appear there while I’m still in the middle of a book? I’ll have to drop everything for a day and don my “author” persona like a witch puts on her “glamour.” I’ll flick my magic wand and twirl three times and transform myself into a public figure again. Then there will be television interviews and pictures in the newspapers; then there will be crowds and autographs and stacks of my own books to sell, and I’ll feel like the grinning bull’s-eye in the middle of a promotional target. After that, maybe even a few shoppers in here will recognize me the next time I come in, but probably not. I hope not.
Fame is, as they say, definitely a mixed blessing.
Today I’m just a working writer, standing ninth in line at the Publix supermarket in West Bahia Beach, and feeling happily inconspicuous. This chain has huge stores, scattered all over south Florida. This one is my favorite because it is way out of my neighborhood, making it even less likely that anybody I know, or anybody who might know me, will spot me.
This being south Florida in early April, it’s even more crowded in Publix than usual, because not all of the spring breakers have taken their hangovers home yet. Some of them—the girls in bikini tops and cutoff jean bottoms, the boys in baggy swim trunks and shirts they’ve thrown on just to come indoors—are in line with me, mixed in with the retirees in their tidy shorts outfits and their muumuus. The kids are buying bread, cold cuts, and bottled water; their elders are here for their frozen dinners. Me, I’m here to stock up on fresh fruit, because our long-running drought has dried up my little backyard crop of avocados, oranges, grapefruit, and limes this year.
Sometimes I wonder if maybe I’m the biggest fruit in the bunch. Here I am, again, alone in a crowd, like some character out of one of those old private-eye novels. Hell, even Travis McGee—from those great John D. MacDonald detective novels—had his best bud, Meyer. Who have I got next to me, really? And I’m a woman, for God’s sake! Aren’t we supposed to be the relationship sex? Aren’t we supposed to be talking on the phone every day to our girlfriends?
I must’ve missed that lesson.
Where are my husband, my children, my best girlfriend?
I don’t see them here in my shopping cart.
When I’m writing—oh, hell, anytime— this is what generally passes for a social life for me. Going grocery shopping. Eating alone in a restaurant, writing in a notebook while strangers around me carry on their apparently normal lives. I do have a boyfriend, Franklin. There’s that to be said for me, but we’ve conducted most of our love life in such intense privacy, madly enjoying only each other’s company, that a person could be excused for confusing it with an isolation chamber. And by God, I have friends, too. I do. Male friends, female friends. None from my childhood, except for my screenwriter cousin Nathan, whom I adore, but he lives three thousand miles away in L.A. Nathan’s my only family, really. I sure don’t count my Aunt Julia and Uncle Joe—his parents who raised me—as Mom and Dad. Ugh. No way. It’s hard enough for Nathan to call them Mom and Dad, and he’s their real boy. But I have other friends besides him. I do. One left over from high school. Three people I sort of keep in contact with from college. A lot of business friends and acquaintances. I’m pretty close to my longtime agent and editor. I have an assistant now, Deborah, and she’s beginning to feel like a younger sister, for better or worse. Of course, except for her and my boyfriend, Franklin, and a few business friends from around here, all of my other “close” friends are an airplane ride away, but we’re still friends, it still counts. It does.
These people around me, though, some of them seem to have friends with them right here and now, but that’s only because they’re kids on spring break.
Take the two boys in line in front of me, for instance.
“Dude,” mutters one of them to his lanky, sunburned friend. “Check it out.”
I check it out, too, as if I’m actually a part of their conversation: it’s the cover of this week’s US magazine, which features a famous female singer in a photograph that reveals a lot of the chest from which her dulcet tones emerge.
“Oh, man” is his friend’s considered judgment.
Being a writer—even a best-selling one—is usual
The kids in the front of the line are having trouble coming up with enough change to pay for their stuff. They’re digging in their pockets and backpacks and pooling their quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies on the counter in front of the cashier. She’s keeping a hand firmly on the handles of the plastic bag that holds their groceries and she looks suspicious, as if she thinks they might just grab it and run. That would be interesting: I’d get to be an eyewitness to a true crime, but hardly of the sort that I usually cover. My books are long on sensational murders and heinous killers—not on teenagers copping Doritos and bean dip.
“Just charge it, for crissake,” one kid says to the other.
That seems to light up the ol’ beer-saturated brain cells. Now all his friend has to do is dig through his fanny pack and backpack to find a MasterCard or a Visa he can use.
While I wait, I peruse the rest of the magazine and tabloid racks.
Hm, what have we here?
I’ll be damned, Bigfoot’s been sighted in Washington State again. Isn’t that amazing. And my goodness, it appears that he has fathered twins this time. I’m tempted to pick up the tabloid and open it to find out who the lucky mom might be—Janet Jackson? Hillary Clinton? Rosie O’Donnell? —but what would the people behind me think? Oh, but will you look at that? Elvis is flying UFOs again. He must have trained out there in Nevada when he was doing all those Vegas shows. And here’s a little color picture of—
Oh, my God.
“Ma’am? You want to move your cart on up? Ma’am?”
I barely hear the cashier. The world just stopped for me. I can hear the other shoppers only through the deafening roar in my ears. I feel sick. I have to hang on to the handle of my shopping cart. There is a little photograph of me in the upper-right-hand corner of the tabloid newspaper, The Insider. And not just me, either, but me and my boyfriend. I’ve been on magazine covers before, that’s not the problem. He’s been on the front pages of newspapers before, that’s not the problem. My boyfriend and I have even been photographed together, now that we’re going public about our relationship, so that’s not the problem, either. Everybody knows now that Marie Lightfoot, the true crime writer, is dating Franklin DeWeese, the state attorney of Howard County, Florida. They know I’m a white woman; they know he’s a black man. That’s not news anymore. What’s different, appalling, shocking to me about this particular cover on the newsstands is the headline, printed in a small typeface, but one that is all caps, all black, and all too easy to read: “Best-Selling Author Hides Her Racist Past.”
“Ma’am? You going to check your stuff through now?” the cashier asks.
My hand reaches out for the top copy and places it in my shopping cart and I move numbly toward her. “Yes, I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Yes, I hide it, wouldn’t anybody ?
But it’s not my past, it’s my parents’. I’m not a racist; I date a black man, for God’s sake. It was them, it was my mother and my father. It was them. And I haven’t hidden anything from Franklin. He knows. . . .
And now it appears the rest of the world will, too.
“That’ll be seventeen dollars and twenty-seven cents, ma’am.”
No, Angie— the young checker’s name is Angie, according to her name tag, which I stare at as if somebody has just walloped me with a two-by-four— you have no idea how much this will cost us, and neither do I.
I hand her my cash, take my change and my bags with the tabloid newspaper tucked down inside one of them.
“Have a nice day,” she says.
I was actually having a pretty nice life until five minutes ago. I was, that is, if you don’t count the fallout from my “racist past.” I can explain that—I have explained it in a book I’ve only partly written, because I only partly know the truth. It’s called Betrayal.
By Marie Lightfoot
June 11, 1963
“We’re taking you to a house where there’s a room prepared for you. You won’t be the first man to stay there.”
His name was James.
He was very black, very scared, very angry, very young. Only eighteen. He’d gotten into a car with three white men who said they were there to help him. He hadn’t quite believed them, but refusing them had looked more dangerous than going with them. He had just been kicked out—literally in the seat of his pants onto the pavement in front of the Stuart County Jail—and he knew that if he hung around it would be bad for him. It wasn’t his town, it was a white town. Worse, he didn’t know a soul in the tiny black neighborhood, and even if he did, who was going to risk themselves for him, anyway?
If only he had a buddy, he thought, then maybe hewouldn’t have had to get into a car with these white men. He knew he’d feel braver in the company of a black friend. Maybe together they could have walked away, stolen away over fences and across the cotton fields. But everybody else who had been arrested at the voter registration line in Beauchamp three weeks ago was either still back there in that jail hellhole, or they’d already been sprung.
As the Plymouth sped along dark back roads, James was afraid to talk, but he had a million questions in his mind—who are you guys, why are you doing this for me, where are you taking me?
“You won’t be the first man to stay there,” the driver had said.
James had heard that word, man—heard the white man say it—and felt so overwhelmed by it that he nearly missed hearing the rest of what was said. Never, never before in his whole eighteen years had he ever—ever—heard a white man call a black male a man. He was so accustomed to being called boy that to hear this white man call him a man nearly knocked him over with shock. If he never heard it another time in his life, it would still be proof of something he had long disbelieved, evidence that had always eluded him that white people—some white people, maybe only these three out of all the world, for all he knew—could change. For whatever reason, whether they really wanted to, or not, apparently they could change the habit of their minds and their mouths.
His grandmother had always told him so. “You foolin’ youself, Grandma,” he had always shot back at her.
They made him fold himself in half in the backseat of the Plymouth so he wouldn’t be seen, which meant that he didn’t know that night that he was being delivered into the heart of whiteness, as he would call it ever after. All he knew was the information that his own senses delivered to him moment by moment—the rank smell of his own body,the feel of rough upholstery under his cheek, the sight of the plastic back of the driver’s seat, the bitter taste of his own unwashed mouth, and the oppressive sound of the silence among the four men in the Plymouth, a silence broken only by the hum of the tires on the road below him.
After a while, he decided that it wasn’t that they were ignoring him by not talking to him, it was more like they were even more scared than he was.
This was a revelation to him, too.
But he could see it clearly—the fear on their white faces, the tense way the driver stared straight ahead at the road, the way the shotgun passenger kept looking around in every direction, and how the man who sat in the backseat with James kept glancing out the back window, as if he was looking for headlights that might suddenly appear on the road. It was only their fear, their obvious fear, that kept James from believing he was being driven off to be lynched in the dark woods.
If these three white men were going to do that to him, they wouldn’t be scared like this, he fig
Or turn him loose on these white roads in the dark.
No, they were too scared for that possibility, he believed. Wanted to believe. So maybe they really were in the Movement. He’d heard of white people who risked their lives for it—like those Christians who hid Jews in Germany—but he’d never believed it, not really. His other grandma had always warned him to never trust a whiteperson,because when push came to shove, he was the one who was going to get pushed and shoved.
It was miles before somebody finally said something.
“Anybody coming?” the driver asked the white man in back.
“No,” answered the one beside James. He removed his gaze from the receding blacktop road long enough to say to James, “We’re on a timetable. We have to pass by a certain house in Stebanville within a certain time span so they know we’ve made it safe that far. Then we’ve got three other times to meet before we get you to where you’re going to be for a while.”
James didn’t move from his doubled-over position.
“It’s probably safe for you to sit up now,” the man beside him said.
He unfolded himself slowly. Even then, he listened to them with bent face and lowered eyes, in the subservient posture in which he’d always listened to white people. He wanted to blurt out “Where you takin’ me?” but he didn’t, he just listened hard. He felt ashamed. He knew he smelled. When the guards at the jail had hung him from the water pipes by his wrists two days ago, he had tried desperately to control himself, but finally his bladder had let loose and he had soiled himself inside his trousers. At least he had managed to hang on to his bowels, but when you didn’t get near washing water for three weeks and you lived in a ten-by-ten cell with five other men and an open hole in the ground for a toilet and people getting sick all around you, there wasn’t any chance you were going to come out smelling anything but rank. No shave in three weeks, either. He was ashamed to feel so offensive. A small, toughened part of him found humor in thinking that was the true proof of the helpful intent of these men: nobody but do-gooder Movement white people could have stood to ride for hours like thisin a closed car with him. It was so cool outside on this June night that they had to keep the windows rolled up all but a crack.
The Truth Hurts by Nancy Pickard / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes