‘TRUEBLOOD,’ I said into my cell phone.
I had known Pat Garrat’s secretary nearly four years. Even on the phone I knew she had bad news. I could even guess how bad it was. ‘Yeah, Sandy,’ I answered, my left hand on the steering wheel of my big county-issue sedan, the right up by my ear.
‘Garrat wants to see you as soon as possible.’
‘I’ll be there in half-an-hour.’ I put my phone back in my pocket and pulled into a farmer’s driveway so I could turn around. I had been firming up a list of witnesses about a burglary spree the sheriff’s department had interrupted a few weeks earlier. We needed live bodies in the witness stand so a jury could understand the nature and extent of the damage these kids had done. Naturally folks were reluctant to help. About half of them wanted their stuff back without bothering to take a day or two off to see justice done. The others worried about retribution.
And why not? The thieves were juveniles; no matter what we did they were going to get another chance and sometimes second chances take the form of revenge. I was too old to marvel at such legal niceties, but for the past couple of days I had been telling people that when the prosecutor finished with these thieves, they weren’t going to remember who testified. All they would be thinking about was getting out of Shiloh County! It was a method that worked with a lot of people. Pat Garrat was new to office but as tough as tempered steel. Remind them who was running things, and they would get a private smile and tell me I was probably right.
Of course there were some of the older ones who told me Pat Garrat was not half the politician her daddy had been. I never disagreed with such sentiment, and I had been hearing it since Garrat had started campaigning for the prosecutor’s office over a year ago. I would answer instead that I had had the honour of working for Governor Pat Garrat and that in my opinion no one was ever going to be the equal of that Pat Garrat, but if anyone was going to get close to his sort of integrity his little girl had the best chance. More often than not people got a private smile on their faces and a look of hope that comes when something grand is stirring to life.
I took State Road 159 north into metropolitan Hegira, blinked, and hit the raw open countryside again. I passed through yellow fields in fallow, vast acreage of farmland ploughed and disked to a wet black and waiting seed, a smattering of woods, and small clumps of working class houses trying to be a suburb. The countryside was breaking out of wintertime, but a cold mist took away the pleasure of it.
I GOT BACK TO the office close to forty-five minutes after Sandy’s call and left the parking lot whistling contentedly. At the north door I passed through a security check, then ambled on until I came to the county prosecutor’s suite of offices. Garrat had seven prosecutors, a couple of them looking to be very decent lawyer-types if you could forgive them their green, but they were all young. In a particularly morose period of my life—as I recall it was a week or so after Will Booker’s appeal case broke over us like a canker sore—I had tried to decide if all the lawyers together, including Pat Garrat, had as much work experience as I did. When I finished the tally, I still had room for the three paralegals and Sandy Willis, who was huffing her way toward a reluctant early middle age. After that only my bartender could console me. She said if I was counting real work, there wasn’t a soul in Shiloh Springs with less experience than I had.
There was a smoked glass window from floor to ceiling next to the entrance of Garrat’s outer office. I usually checked myself in its pale reflection just to make sure I was not going to be mistaken for a lawyer. This morning there was no chance. With more than a bit of the barn about me, I actually looked like a conservation officer. Country folks have an unusual hierarchy, with conservation officers standing several rungs above investigators for the prosecutor’s office. A little straw stuck in your pants cuff will get you through a farmhouse door a lot faster than a badge, so I had purposely dressed the part.
I smiled at my reflection like an old friend, pretty much the only one I had—at least the only one I could trust. I stand an inch over six feet and weigh a few pounds beyond the two hundred ten mark. My chest is broader than my waist by a whisker, and I am as bald as a friar. Handsome as a sunrise, too, even if I do say so myself. Fifty-eight years can kill a lot of moral failings in a man but not his vanity. Vanity needs the grave to stop it cold.
I RAISED MY EYEBROWS when I opened the door. ‘How is she doing?’ I asked in a whisper.
Sandy was on the phone, but her saucer-sized eyes and wagging chin let me know things were not good. I went down a long hall to the last door on the left, my cubbyhole. There I dropped off my winter coat and slipped on a wrinkled wool sports jacket. It was a good cut of cloth but older than most of our lawyers. I got a tiny notebook that fit into my frayed jacket pocket, bummed a Bic pen from Sandy’s desk on the way back in exchange for a confidential wink, and then got some coffee.
I went through Garrat’s door without knocking. Garrat, Steve Massey and Linda Sutherlin, the paralegal, were at Garrat’s conference table just to the left of the entryway. Massey was in a trial lawyer’s uniform, a three-piece wool blend in midnight blue with a scarlet tie hanging under his square chin. He had dark brown hair that had a few nice waves and a rambunctious curl or two to finish the effect. He wore old horn rim glasses for reading, and loved nothing better in the courtroom than to take them off with a flourish, imagining, I suppose, a startling transformation. In my opinion it was wasted effort. With or without them, Massey had an expression that looked like wildlife caught in the headlights.
Linda Sutherlin sat between Massey and the chair I usually grabbed. Sutherlin wore a black slip and, as far as I could tell, nothing else but shoes. She was rail-thin and kept a spike through her nose and another at the bottom of her lower lip. It was my studied opinion that Sutherlin used the extra weight to keep from blowing away. She had a few miscellaneous rings on her fingers, a studded band about her neck, and one tattoo that I could see: the word MOM written in a shaky scrawl high up on her thigh.
‘You’re late, Rick,’ Garrat announced.
It wasn’t a tone I especially took to, even from Pat Garrat, but I didn’t answer it in kind. ‘Traffic,’ I lied. Knowing I had been down in Hegira, which doesn’t even make most maps, Garrat gave me a long, smouldering glare, and I braced myself for a weird ride.
© Craig Smith 2012