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Authors: Charlaine Harris

(LB1) Shakespeare's Champion (9 page)

BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
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We’d tried every restaurant, sat through Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal movies, visited every sporting goods store to compare their prices to Winthrops’, and done our weekly shopping at the Super Center.

This evening, Claude suggested a movie. I almost agreed out of courtesy. But remembering the uncomfortable hours with Marshall, I admitted, “I really don’t like going to the movies.”

“That so?”

“I don’t like sitting with a lot of strangers in the dark, having to listen to them shift around and rattle paper and talk. I’d rather wait until it comes out on video and see it at home.”

“Okay,” he said. “What would you like to do?”

“I want to eat at El Paso Grande and go to the bookstore,” I said.

Silence. I looked over at him out of the corners of my eyes.

“What about Catch the Wave and the bookstore?” he countered.

“Done,” I said, relieved. “You don’t like Tex-Mex?”

“Ate there last week when I had to come to Montrose to the courthouse.”

As we waited on our order in the seafood restaurant, Claude said, “I think Darnell Glass’s mother is going to bring a civil suit against the Shakespeare Police Department.”

“Against the department?” I asked sharply. “That’s unfair. It should be against Tom David.” Tom David Meicklejohn, one of Claude’s patrolmen, had long been on my black list, and after the Darnell Glass incident, he’d moved to the number-one spot.

Suddenly, I wondered if this was the real reason for the flowers, the evening out: this conversation.

“Her lawyer’s also naming Todd Picard. You think you could remember the timing just once more?”

I nodded, but I heaved an internal sigh. I was reluctant to recall the warm black night of The Fight. I’d been interviewed and interviewed about The Fight: That’s what all the Shakespeareans called it. It had taken place in the parking lot of Burger Tycoon, a locally owned hamburger place that competed valiantly with Burger King and McDonald’s, which were both down Main Street a piece.

I’d only come in on the crisis, but I’d read and heard enough later to flesh out what I’d actually seen.

DARNELL GLASS WAS
sitting in his car in the Burger Tycoon parking lot, talking to his girlfriend. Bob Hodding, trying to pull into the adjacent parking space, hit Glass’s rear bumper. Hodding was white, sixteen years old, a student at Shakespeare High School. Glass was eighteen and in his freshman year at UA Montrose. He had just made the first payment on his first car. Not too surprisingly, when he heard the unmistakable grinding crunch of the two bumpers tangling, Glass was enraged. He jumped out of his car, waving his hands and shouting.

Hodding was instantly on the offensive, since he knew the reputation of the young man whose car he’d just hit. Darnell Glass had attended the Shakespeare schools until he enrolled in college, and had a reputation as a bright and promising young man. But he was also known to be aggressive and hair-trigger sensitive in his dealings with white peers.

Bob Hodding had been raised with a Confederate flag flying in front of his house. He remembered Glass overreacting to situations at the high school. He wasn’t afraid, since he had three of his buddies in his car, and he wasn’t about to apologize in front of them, or admit his driving had been less than adequate.

A couple of witnesses told Claude later, privately, that Hodding pushed every emotional button he possibly could to further enrage Darnell Glass, including a jibe about Glass’s mother, a junior high school teacher and well-known activist.

It was no surprise to anyone when Glass went ballistic.

And that was where I came in. I hadn’t ever met Darnell Glass or Bob Hodding, but I was there when The Fight began.

So were two policemen.

I’d just pulled into the parking space on the other side of Glass’s, having picked that night of all nights to buy a hamburger instead of cooking for myself, an event so rare it later seemed to me that a cosmic joke had placed me at the punch line. It was a very warm evening in early September; of course, in Shakespeare we have to mow our yards until well into November.

I was wearing my usual T-shirt and baggy jeans, and I’d just finished work. I was tired. I just wanted to get my carryout food and watch an old movie on television, maybe read a chapter or two of the thriller I’d checked out of the library.

Off-duty Shakespeare patrol officer Todd Picard was in Burger Tycoon picking up his family’s supper. On-duty patrol officer Tom David Meicklejohn had pulled in to get a Coke. But I didn’t know there were two serving officers of the law present.

Not that their presence had made any difference. Though, of course, it should have.

I’d seen wiry Darnell wisely get in the first punch, and I saw the taller, more muscular Bob Hodding gag and double over, and then I watched his friends swarm over Darnell like angry bees.

If I’d had a gun or a whistle, maybe the sudden noise would have halted them, but I only had my fists. These were strong high school boys full of adrenaline and I had my work cut out for me. Not wanting to seriously hurt the little bastards made my job more difficult: I could drop them fairly easily if I was inclined to cause some lasting damage. Since Bob Hodding was temporarily out of the picture, puking his guts out in the crepe myrtles lining the parking lot, I concentrated on his buddies.

I moved up behind the tallest boy, who was raining punches on Darnell Glass. First I pinched a pressure point in the upper shoulder of the boy, who was standing between the other attackers, with my right hand. With my left, I pressed a point in his upper arm. The boy shrieked. Though he began to crumple, he still provided me with cover from the black-haired kid on my right, who was swinging blindly at me, but standing legs a-spraddle…someone who’d never fought in the street. I kicked him in the balls, just a glancing blow, a pretty neat kogen geri.

That took care of him.

The boy I’d disposed of first finally hit the ground wailing. He tried to scramble back, out of the way, to figure out what had happened.

From the corner of my eye I finally noticed the patrol car. I saw Deputy Tom David Meicklejohn climb out of it. He did nothing but smile his mean redneck smile and extend his arms to bar spectators from joining in the brawl. A man in civilian clothes, a bag and a cardboard tray with five cups in holders bogging him down, was yelling at Tom David. I later learned this was off-duty officer Todd Picard.

Meanwhile, the third boy grasped Darnell around the waist and tried to lift him off his feet, a wrestling move. Losing patience and temper, I hook-kicked him behind his knee, and of course his legs folded. But the parking lot sloped, and he brought Darnell down with him. Darnell rolled rapidly to the side. I slipped on a wrapper on the pavement and hit the ground myself, and the boy’s flailing foot, shod in a boot, caught me painfully right at the joint of my right hip. I rolled away and jumped to my feet before the pain could get its teeth into me. When the wrestler struggled to his knees, I pulled his arm up behind him. “I’ll break it if you move,” I said. Most people recognize absolute sincerity. He didn’t move.

Being on the ground is most often bad in a fight, but Darnell, though bleeding in several places on his face and badly bruised, had not lost his spirit. Bob Hodding, slightly recovered from the punch to the stomach and frantic with rage, staggered toward Darnell for another try. Darnell kicked up at Bob, who staggered back into the arms of a Marine who happened to be on leave and visiting his family. This huge young man, right out of basic training, stepped around Tom David to grip Bob Hodding with a hold like handcuffs and give him some sound, if unprintable, advice.

I stood panting, scanning the group for another adversary. I was feeling pain in my lip, and I noticed a few spots of bright blood staining my gray T-shirt; an elbow had caught me in the mouth somewhere along the way. I straightened up, evaluated the remaining fight left in the boy I was restraining, decided it was practically nil. The Marine, whose name I never learned, caught my eye and gave me an approving nod.

“Sorry I didn’t get out here earlier,” he said. “That Tae Kwon Do?”

“Goju. For close fighting.”

“My drill sergeant would love you,” he said.

I tried to scrape together a smile.

At that point a noise like a siren went off a few feet away.

It was coming from the mouth of Darnell Glass’s girlfriend, Tee Lee Blaine. She’d watched the fight from inside the car. Now she scrambled out to help Darnell rise. She was floundering through a spectrum of emotions, from fear for her own safety and Darnell’s, to anger over the dent in the car, to rage that Darnell had been ganged up on. She knew each of the white boys by name, and she gave each of them a few new ones.

I caught Tom David Meicklejohn’s eye. I wanted powerfully to kick him.

He smiled at me. “Keeping back the crowd,” he said succinctly. By then, Todd Picard had deposited the food in his car and was standing by Tom David’s patrol vehicle. Todd looked ashamed. I’d finally recognized him, and if I’d had the energy I’d have slapped him. I expected no better from Tom David, but Todd could have given me a hand.

For the first time, I realized there was quite a crowd. Burger Tycoon is on Main Street (Shakespeare’s not too imaginative about street names) and the restaurant had been full. It was true that if Tom David had not kept the crowd back the incident could have turned into a full-fledged riot; but he had allowed most of this to happen, as I saw it.

Suddenly the hip that had taken the kick began to throb. I’d run out of adrenaline. I eased myself down into a sitting position and leaned my head back against the car.

“Lily! You okay?” a voice called from the crowd, and I saw my neighbor. Carlton, neatly groomed as always, was accompanied by a bosomy brunette with a headful of curls. I remember thinking about his companion for longer than the topic deserved, trying to recall where the woman worked.

It had been nice to have someone ask about my welfare. I was feeling distinctly flat and a little shaky.

“I’ll be fine,” I said. I closed my eyes. I would have to get up in a minute. I couldn’t sit here looking hurt.

Then Claude was bending over me, saying, “Lily! Lily! Are you hurt?”

“Sure,” I said angrily. I opened my eyes. “Having to do your cops’ jobs for them. Help me up.”

Claude extended his hand and I gripped it. He straightened and pulled, and I came up. Maybe not gracefully, but at least I was steady on my feet once I got there.

Darnell Glass was standing by that time, too, but leaning heavily against his car, Tee Lee supporting him on his other side. The Marine let go of his captive, and the white boys were getting into Tom David’s patrol car.

“You have a problem with your officer there,” I told Claude.

“I have more problems than that right now,” he answered quietly, and I observed that the crowd was restless, and hot words were being exchanged among a few young men in the parking lot.

“Get in my car,” he said. “I’ll get the boy and the girl.”

So we all took a ride down to the police station. The rest of the evening was completely miserable. The white boys were all juveniles. Their parents descended in a cloud of buzzing, like angry African bees. One father snapped at me that he ought to sue me for hurting his boy—the one I’d kicked in the groin—and I used his prejudice against him. “I would love to tell the court how a woman beat up your boy and two others,” I said. “Especially when they were ganging up on one young man by himself.” I heard no more comments about suing.

Until now. And I wasn’t the target of the lawsuit.

AS OUR WAITRESS
left, Claude spread his napkin in his lap and speared a shrimp. “Tom David was there and did nothing,” he said, just a hint of question in his voice. “Todd was there and did nothing.”

I raised my brows. “That’s right,” I said. “Do you doubt it?”

He shot a look at me from under his heavy brows. “Tom David says he had to keep the other people from joining in. Todd says he was afraid he wouldn’t be recognized as an off-duty officer and would be seen as joining the brawl.”

“Of course they’re going to say that, and there may even be some trace of truth to it. But they also let two other people do their job, me and the Marine. Tom David, for sure, wanted Darnell Glass to get beat up. At the very least, Todd didn’t care if that happened.”

Claude avoided my eyes, clearly unhappy with the idea that a member of his force would let violence go unchecked, even though to my certain knowledge, Claude bore no love whatsoever for Tom David Meicklejohn.

“And Darnell struck the first blow,” he said, again in the tone of one confirming an unpleasant truth.

“Yes. It was a good one.”

“You never met any of those boys beforehand,” Claude said.

“No.”

“Then why so partisan?”

I stared over at him, my fork suspended midway to my mouth with a bit of flounder impaled on the tines. “I didn’t care until they all jumped him,” I said after a moment’s thought. “I would have done the same if Darnell had been white and the other guys black.” I thought about it. Yes, that was true. Then the familiar tide of anger surged up. “Of course, as it turned out, I might have saved my strength and let them go on and stomp him.”

A dull red flush crept up Claude’s face. He believed I was accusing him of something. But I wasn’t, at least not consciously.

Darnell Glass hadn’t lived long after that evening in the Burger Tycoon parking lot.

Four weeks later, he’d been beaten to death in a clearing in the woods north of town.

No one had been arrested for the crime.

“If the rumors are true and Mrs. Glass does bring a suit, you’re sure to be called as witness.” Claude felt obliged to point that out to me, and he wasn’t happy about it, any more than I was.

“I wish we hadn’t started talking about this,” I said, knowing it was futile to say. “If you’re really worried about the future of your police department, thinking it’ll rest on my testimony…I can’t change or shade what I saw. You may not want to be around me.” This wasn’t the right place. I said it too bluntly. And I felt a funny pang when the words left my mouth.

BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
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