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Authors: Michael Malone

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BOOK: Time's Witness
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Justin asked if I’d heard about Hall's reprieve—he’d kept calling here until 2:00 A.M. with no answer—so I explained where I’d gone last night, and why. “Alice is delirious!” he said, taking off some outer layers of L.L. Bean paraphernalia. “She ran off to Raleigh with Jordan West and that group. Distributing those handouts because somebody from the Supreme Court's visiting at the Governor's Mansion. That's a nice tree.” He perched on one of my denim couch sections with his thermos jug of french coffee and his bag of croissants on his lap; he's convinced there's nothing in my refrigerator but Pop-Tarts and discount beer. I gave him a “Go Tarheels” mug. He set it down on the glass table and walked over to fiddle with my tree lights. “Cuddy, you know Cadmean died last night?”

“Isaac Rosethorn told me. Frankly, Old Briggs never seemed the type.”

He nodded, not turning around. The top string of colored lights came back on. “Want to hear something weird? He left me that black thoroughbred of his. Manassas? Boy, that surprised me.”

I said, “My my, touchy as you are about your little knick-knacks in that old Victorian icebox of yours—”

“It's a Queen Anne—”

“Somehow I can’t see you moving a giant-sized not to mention vicious stallion with no potty training into your guest room. Still, it was a sweet thought. You want me to nuke those rolls of yours?” (I already know he won’t eat anything heated in a microwave.)

He said, “They’re hot enough just sitting in this room. Christ, it must be ninety degrees.”

I said, “Go look. I’m smack in the middle of the ‘comfort zone.’ Mr. C. didn’t happen to leave me his mills, did he? I could stand to retire.”

“Sorry.” Justin pulled off his Argyle sweater. “You’re not going to believe this.”

“Try me.” I lay down on the rug with my can of Pepsi and a cold pizza slice.

“Well, my cousin Buchanan drew up the will, so he called Mother this morning, and that miserable shit—”

“You’re not talking about my Peggy Savile, are you?” “—Cadmean cut out his sons, and left everything to
, Cuddy, with this codicil—that she has to quit teaching
astronomy and move back to Hillston. Or else the sons divide it all. Well, a few million to Haver University for a textiles technology lab.”

“My my my.” I hugged my knees hard. “Oh Lord, I hope there's an afterlife, so Mr. C. can watch when Briggs Junior tells your cousin Buck where he can stick her father's will. The old bastard.” Justin had a cloth napkin on his knees while he ate his croissant. “Are you kidding? You think Briggs is going to turn down ten and a half million dollars?! Why, she could get that codicil thrown out.”

“Don’t drop those crumbs on my wall-to-wall. Listen here, Justin, I stood in the draft when Daddy Warbucks tried to give Briggs Junior a
if she’d just come pour coffee at a board dinner. I’d rather gone to the Pole with Admiral Byrd. She's going to turn it down flat, plus now she probably won’t even come to the funeral.” I went to the closet for my parka. “Hell, she turned me down flat and this is nothing but ten million dollars. Put that bag in the trash compactor and let's go tear up some courts. Maybe if I hoisted you up on my shoulders, you could get the ball in the basket once in a while.”

Whenever we can, a group of us in the department play basket-ball against other nostalgic types sponsored by local merchants. We call ourselves Fuzz Five, and the only teams we ever beat are The Rib-House Rousers and the Stags of Stagg Hardware Store. If I could just persuade our lab man, Lieutenant Etham Foster (“Dr. Dunk-It” to every NCAA fan with any memory at all), to play with us, we’d sweep the series, but he says he never even liked the game, just wanted the education. So we mostly lose; well, hey, Justin only
to be five-foot-eleven, and Nancy White can walk under my
arm without its tickling. But this morning we were going against the
Cosmics of Carippini's Italian Restaurant, so we had a chance, since their captain's Father Paul Madison, who's shorter than Nancy, and their forward's Bubba Percy, who's scared to mess up his hair.

Driving to the Y, I pushed in a tape cassette. Loretta Lynn came on loud and feisty. “Lay off of my man if you don’t wanna go to Fist City.”

“Fist City?” groaned Justin, sticking his fingers in his ears. He took them out in a minute to ask me a favor: his amateur theatrics group, the Hillston Players—they put on “classics” in an old bank-rupted downtown movie theater, and pestered their friends to come watch them—needed someone to play Malvolio in their holiday production of
Twelfth Night.
Justin said, “We lost a male member to a broken leg.”

I said, “That's a tough way to lose one. What’d he do, land on it funny?”

He turned down my tape. “Is that supposed to be vulgar?”

“Mildly. Listen, I’m a man of the
vulgo, vulgaris
, that's the people, yes!, to you.”

vulgus, vulgi
, to you,” said Justin, naturally enough a classics major way back when. “Come on, this is a great part. And we need somebody quick, I mean a quick study.”

“Forget it, I never acted in my life.”

“Are you kidding? With all your affectations? And you look right too, tall and thin. See, Malvolio's this Puritan steward to a countess, but he thinks he's better than everybody, and keeps telling them to stop having fun, so they trick him into thinking the countess is in love with him, and she has him locked up as a madman.”

I gave Justin the long raised eyebrow I’d seen on the waiter at the Hillston Club. “You’re telling me I’m
for this part?”

“You’ve got the best lines. ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.’”

“Doesn’t sound like greatness you’re fixing to thrust upon me; sounds like public humiliation.”

“See!” He socked my arm. “Just what Malvolio would say. Blue Randolph's playing the countess, and I’m playing her drunk uncle.”

“Well, that fits. Who's Blue Randolph?”

“Oh, you know. Atwater's granddaughter. At the dance? Wearing bright red?” He pantomimed an hourglass.

“I seem to recall her.” We turned in at the YMCA, where the state flag was lowered to half-mast. A squad of women jogged past us, looking like they wished they hadn’t signed up. “Why don’t you ask Paul Madison to do this part?”

“He's playing the Duke. Well, just promise me you’ll think about it.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Justin tells me Paul's in a great mood today; he's already called him to leak the news that Briggs Cadmean had left his big ugly Gothic mausoleum of a house to Trinity Episcopal Church for a “rest home.” This was going to surprise people, since the old robber baron had attended First Presbyterian; not that he paid much heed to any moral reminders he might have heard there. Well, the Reverend Thomas Campbell might gnash his teeth on his pulpit over this raiding of wealthy parishioners, but I’ve about decided there's no con Father Paul Madison's not capable of pulling on unsuspecting sinners while they’re smiling indulgently at his unworldly face.

I said to Justin, “God, what a blabbermouth you are. What’d your cousin Buck do, come over at 5:00 A.M. with a copy of the will?”

“Oh, you know how families talk. It's going to be a convalescent home, and the stipulation is, anybody that worked more than thirty years at Cadmean mills can stay there free ’til they die.”

“Too bad my daddy couldn’t wait.”

In the locker room, Justin says, “You know, Alice told me you probably could have sued the mills over your father's death. Brown lung disease.”

“Yeah, and bought him a bigger tombstone. Or maybe I could have sued Haver Tobacco Company for those four unfiltered packs a day Daddy smoked. Or maybe just sue Adam for loving his wife.”

“Boy, you’re in a rotten mood.”

“Am I?”

“You know what? Sometimes I think you do it just on principle.”

“Well, hey, Justin, somebody's got to.”

Paul Madison was in a good mood. While jabbering about his
new convalescent home, he kept passing the ball to Bubba Percy, who appeared to be catching up on lost sleep under the basket, so my Fuzz Five moved out of last place. Nancy White (a tough East Hillston kid who used to lead a girls’ gang that would tear your face off, and your hubcaps, too) ran about forty miles during the game, scored eight points, and yelled, “
Woman power!
” after every one.

Back in the locker room, I told Father Paul he ought to put in a good word with his Boss Upstairs for old Cadmean (now undoubtedly in hell, and as hot as one of his factory smokestacks), since the industrialist's opportune croaking had not only given Trinity Church more beds than that Porsche was going to buy them, it had temporarily saved George Hall's life. And Paul told me that at tomorrow's Mass he was reading Cadmean into the general prayer, plus dedicating the altar flowers to the repose of his soul.

I said, “You figure that’ll get the s.o.b. moved some place cooler?”

The rector blithely tossed his towel in the bin. “Any hell that poor old man was in, he left when he died. And God bless him for dying when he did.” Snapping on a white collar over the black shirt, he laughed as he left the locker room. “Oh, wondrous are the ways of the Lord!”

“How ’bout ruthless?” I yelled after him, and he stuck his head back through the door, grinning. “You betcha,” he said.

Justin and I left Bubba in front of the mirror admiring his nakedness while he combed his hair for half an hour. He said, “Check the front page. I gave you a quote, Mangum. You owe me.”

I said, “I hope it was the one about your mama and the hyena.”

“Man, you’re so touchy. Lighten up.” He swirled the comb through a complicated auburn wave. “Life's too short to get too heavily invested in it. Trivial pleasure, that's the way to go.”

“Bubba, life's too short to spend half of it combing your goddamn hair.”

“You keep missing the point, Mangum. Shallowness is the secret of happiness. That's the point.”

Justin said, “You must be the happiest man alive.”

“Believe it, friend,” called Percy over his bare furry pink shoulder.



At the municipal building a basket of lilies had already been placed beneath Cadmean's portrait. Justin dropped me off there on his way to East Hillston to chat with Preston Pope, a local thief on whom my predecessor Fulcher had once tried to unload a homicide rap. I had Justin working on what looked like a case of rivalry among some upwardly mobile gun smugglers: two months ago we’d found a Saab driven into deep woods off the 28 bypass; the trunk was full of guns; the front seat was full of the driver, who’d been dead so long he had to be shoveled into a plastic bag, but whose loafers Justin was still able to identify as Ballys of Switzerland. If Preston Pope knew anything about the smuggling (anything that didn’t involve his family), Justin would be the one he’d tell.

Down in the holding cell, the drunks had sobered up and gone. Billy Gilchrist had left Zeke with an I.O.U. for five dollars. Upstairs, there was a sullen tension around the place because of George Hall's reprieve; a couple of the older patrolmen sat by the coffee table telling anybody who came over how the lousy system was rigged to let killers walk: to them, George Hall was a cop-killer, pure and simple, and they wanted him dead. A young recruit, John Emory, who was black, started arguing with them that Hall hadn’t had a fair trial; voices got loud, then they got ugly. Finally Zeke sent all three men down to wash the squad cars.

There was too much paperwork on my desk; moving it from the In side to the Out is the bulk of my job. For the rest, I spend a lot more time with feuding families and worn-down social workers than I do with big guns and fast cars. The duller my job, the better a job I figure I’m doing. Like I say, I’m a peacekeeper. After two years in a war zone, peace is my idea of a party. I gave up even carrying a gun a long time ago; if you’ve got it on you, chances are you’ll get scared enough or mad enough to use it. Nothing's simpler than squeezing a trigger. It's quicker than thinking, and a lot less tiring than giving chase. I came so close one time to killing a guy who jumped me with a screwdriver in his living room, it still gives me bad dreams. Since 1925, Hillston police have records of fourteen suspects killed while “escaping” or “resisting arrest.” Twelve were black, and those are
just the figures
the record books. No suspect's escaped and no suspect's been injured, much less died, since I’ve been chief, and I’m proud of that. I don’t want any more macho jocks and hot-rod cowboys on my force looking for a legal chance to speed around and shoot their rods; aside from Purley Newsome, I don’t have too many of them left either. The best way is to convince them to resign. One gave up after three months on traffic duty at Polk Elementary School. One developed a perforated ulcer from refilling out departmental forms ’til he spelled words like “apprehended” right.

The worst one (a close pal of the guy George Hall shot) left before my promotion. His name was Winston Russell. I kicked him in the nuts once after a prostitute told me in the hospital what he’d done to her with his nightstick. He called me a “Fucking sick idealist,” but he misunderstood me. By the time I finished coaching that woman for his trial, he was lucky they didn’t put him away for life. But he was out on parole after eighteen months, and came ringing my doorbell with that Carolina pancake. If I’d been an idealist, I would have been more surprised when I’d opened my door. This time Russell got five years and served two. He was supposed to have gotten out again a few months back. I kind of doubt he’ll drop by and ask for his old job. Winston Russell was a sadist; I didn’t know his pal Bobby Pym all that well, but I bet the two had a lot in common. They made the Black Panthers’ views on their profession sound understated. A clue to Purley Newsome's character was that when he first came on the force, he’d admired those two goons and was always sucking up to them, offering guffawing anecdotes of his own puny tyrannies for their approval.

BOOK: Time's Witness
12.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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