Authors: Pete Dexter
Tags: #National Book Award winning novel 1988
I want a number wrote down, right now at the
start," Trout said.
That's how I do business." He was smiling
now, as if he had Seagraves trapped. Trout's teeth were yellow and
gapped, and against his will, Seagraves imagined the way it would
have looked when he shot the girl.
All right," he said, "you tell me
what you did, and I'll tell you how much it costs."
Seagraves took the chair in the corner and moved it
to the table. He did not want to be in the room with Trout and what
he had done — he had wanted it softened first, to read it, have one
of his clerks take the statement — but there was something in Trout
that pushed things farther than they were intended to go.
Trout sat still. His face was changed, but it held
the smile. "What did you want to know?" he said.
Everything you did in that girl's house."
Trout rubbed his ears and pushed the hair back off
his face. "The family owed me a debt," he said. "A
legal debt . . ."
Seagraves did not try to guide him now. He waited to
see where the story would go on its own.
It was eight hundret dollars, I sold him that
Chevrolet, and I told him I get my money. It was eight hundret for
the car, another two hundret and twenty-seven for the insurance. I
always tell them I get my money. You can ask any coloreds in Cotton
Point, they'll tell you the same thing."
Seagraves stared at Trout and waited.
I warned that boy when he brought the car
back," he said. "He busted it up, wanted me to forgive the
debt." Trout shook his head. "I don't forgive debts,"
he said. "I pay my obligations, and I am paid in return."
Seagraves sat still.
And I went out there, to Indian Heights where
this family is, to collect my money."
Seagraves stopped him. "You thought they had
eight hundred dollars in the cookie jar?"
I never said so. I went out to get them to sign
me a note to have it took from their pay. That's all that was
intended, to get my note signed."
You brought Buster Devonne," Seagraves
That debt was legal. That's all anybody's got
to do, look at the bill of sale. I am a businessman, I don't make
nothing up." Trout moved in his chair, looking uncomfortable. "I
don't have a cruel heart," he said.
Seagraves smiled at the phrase.
"We drove out to the house," Trout said.
"This boy Thomas Boxer was on the porch. Buster Devonne had the
note, and Thomas Boxer wouldn't sign it. He had his feet on the rail.
I shook him by the collar. There was people behind their curtains
now, and you forgive one debt, ain't none of them going to pay you
Then the boy rose up like nobody's business,
made to grab me, and I went to sit him back down. The girl got in the
midst of it — she put herself in the midst — and then the woman.
The ruckus moved into the house, where the girl and the woman was
shot. The boy run off, and I wouldn't want his conscience to live
Seagraves said, "Who shot the girl and the
woman? Was it Buster Devonne or was it you?"
"Don't know," Trout said. "It was
cloudy in the house, and it's still cloudy when I think about it."
"Smoky," he said.
"You told Hurbert Norland they had guns?"
Trout thought for a moment and then said, "Yessir."
Seagraves heard the lie in that. "You got your
Trout opened the drawer to the table and came out
with an ivory-handled Colt automatic. He laid it on the table between
them, with the barrel pointed at the bottle of mineral water. "That's
the one I carry," he said. "You can take it if you need, I
got spares here in the store."
With the gun on the desk, Seagraves imagined the
scene again, how it might have looked to the girl. "Did you
clean it when you got back?" He was going slower now, thinking
Trout nodded and said, "That gun cost two
hundret and forty dollars, you damn right I cleaned it."
Did you look at the clip, see how many rounds
Seagraves studied the gun, there was something out of
What is that, a thirty-eight?"
Trout smiled. "No sir," he said, and he
picked it up in his open hand, as if he were weighing it. "This
is a forty-five. A lot of people make the same mistake; it don't look
like what it is."
How many times was it fired?"
Trout shrugged. "Didn't count," he said.
"You removed the clip when you cleaned it."
I loaded it back up," he said. "I
didn't count the rounds."
What did Buster have?" Seagraves said.
"Did he have a forty-five too?"
Trout shook his head. "He got a thirty-eight.
The same one from when he was on the police. Buster gets a gun he
likes and sticks with it."
Trout put the automatic back on the table and
Seagraves picked it up. He thought of the girl in Cornell Clinic and
the accidental nature of her associations. What would she make of a
rich white man, holding the gun that shot her? He wondered suddenly
if she could read. If somebody had somehow shown her the story in the
newspaper beforehand — the story that she'd been shot — would she
have known what it was?
"And there were guns in the house,"
Trout did not answer, did not seem to understand what
Did you see guns? You said they had guns too."
I might," he said.
· "Did anybody touch them?"
It went slow, with Trout taking his time to consider
I would say so, yes, sir."
This girl might of touched a gun?"
"And the woman might of touched a gun?"
Trout shrugged. "It got smoky," he said.
"You couldn't tell who was shooting .... "
Seagraves heard the false sound in that, and Ward
Townes would hear it too. What he would do about it Seagraves didn't
know. On the whole, Townes was sweet-dispositioned — some days you
couldn't tell he was even a prosecutor — but there was something in
him that wasn't sweet too, and Seagraves saw no reason to bring it
He stood up, and Trout stood up with him, making the
room crowded. "If a man were to come in here today,"
Seagraves said, in an off handed way, "and told you this or that
was the way to run your business, would you listen?"
What man?" Trout said.
"I don't care, President Eisenhower. Would you
Not to that sonofabitch."
Then Marvin Griffin. Would you listen to
"To run my business?"
Marvin Griffin ain't been in a business like
What if he was? What if Mr. Griffin had a
business like yours up in Atlanta, and he came in here tomorrow and
said this or that was the way things ought to be done."
Trout took it to heart. "I would tell him to get
the hell out," he said.
"Hold that thought," Seagraves said. "Hold
that one thought when you see Ward Townes this afternoon. That you're
coming into his store."
Trout started to answer, but then he stopped.
Seagraves said, "Leave your bill of sale here. Let him ask for
what he wants to see." Seagraves looked at the paper on the
table. The gun was there too. "All except that," he said.
"Let me have the weapon, he'll need that, and I'd just as soon
as it wasn't on your person when it changed hands."
Trout picked up the gun and handed it to Seagraves.
Seagraves put it in the pocket of his coat.
I'll want that back," Trout said. "You
tell Mr. Townes I want my property returned."
It's his store," Seagraves said.
"It's my property."
Not now," Seagraves said. "There is
nothing connected to you and that girl that's yours, and there is
nothing you want to claim."
"I ain't ashamed," Trout said.
Seagraves was on the way out but those words stopped
him, and for a moment he fought an urge to quit Trout on the
spot. "I know you aren't," he said, "but I want you to
You ain't told me what it's going to cost,"
You haven't told me
what you did."
* * *
SEAGRAVES LEFT THE STORE the way he had come in,
walked up the alley to the street, and turned left. A dozen people
spoke to him in the two blocks to Comell Clinic, most of them he
recognized from Homewood Community, where the state hospital was.
During his tenure in the state legislature Seagraves had gotten city
water for Homewood, and controlled every Democratic vote there since.
And there weren't any Republicans, not even in the asylum.
People in Homewood named their children after Harry
Seagraves, some of them even believed he lived there. He took his
time, speaking to everyone who spoke to him, commenting on the
weather a dozen times between Trout's alley and the glass door to
Thomas Comell Clinic. There had been no winter that year, and people
wanted him to reassure them the seasons weren't gone forever.
He stepped through the doors of the clinic, smiled at
the nurse sitting at the desk and then at the patients waiting in
chairs around the room.
The nurse straightened herself and smiled. "Mr.
Seagraves," she said.
Miss Thompson," he said, reading the name
off her blouse. She was a small-boned woman, somewhere between thirty
and forty, and her hair hung in a ponytail over one shoulder. She put
in time on her looks, and Seagraves imagined her ponytail matted
against his own shoulder, wet from the bath. He put it out of his
I wonder if I might see Dr. Braver when he has
a minute," he said.
She went for the doctor, and he took a seat against
the wall with the patients. He signed the cast on a boy's foot and
gave him a quarter to buy a Moon Pie and a Dr Pepper after he was
finished with Dr. Braver.
The doctor came through the door a moment later, and
Seagraves left his seat. Dr. Braver was wearing white shoes with pink
soles, a white belt, rimless spectacles. He did not smile when he
shook hands, but then, Seagraves had never seen him smile.
He noticed an intimate look pass between the doctor
and his nurse as they came into the room, however, and surmised that
she was doing what she could in that direction.
"What may I do for you today, Mr. Seagraves?"
There were specks of blood on one of the doctor's
sleeves and a spot of red on the gold watch he wore under it. He had
snow-white hair and had been that way since he was twenty-five years
I wonder if we could have a moment in private,"
"We could," Braver said. He looked quickly
behind Seagraves at the waiting patients and then spoke to his nurse.
"Ain't nobody dying on us, is there?" he said.
No sir," she said.
Good," he said. He held the door to the
back rooms open, and as Seagraves walked through, the doctor spoke
again to his nurse. "Call Dr. Bonner for me," he said.
"Tell him I said to do something about the rocks out to front of
Yessir," she said.
P. P. Bonner was not a medical doctor, but the pastor
of the First Presbyterian Church. Seagraves recalled his boy, Carl,
the youngest Eagle Scout in the history of the state, had gone off to
Tufts University in Massachusetts when he was only sixteen years old.
Won medals in Korea and was getting ready to graduate law school
Seagraves did not remember the boy well, only that he
was famous in Cotton Point and had always seemed too polite. As if he
wanted something from you.
Dr. Braver followed Seagraves through the door and
then led him down a long hallway to his office. He did not sit down
or offer him a seat.
He removed his glasses and cleaned them with a corner
of his coat.
Yessir," he said, "what can I do for
Seagraves was direct, anything else was wasted on
Braver. "A prognosis on Miss Rosie Sayers," he said.
Braver blinked at the lawyer. "To what specific
purpose?" he said.
I represent an interested party," he said.
°What party would that be?"
Paris Trout," he said.
Dr. Braver scratched the side of his ear and then
studied the end of his finger. "Prognosis," he said.
Tell you what," Dr. Braver said, "I'll
leave you make your own."
He walked back out of the office and then up two
flights of stairs. He seemed in more of a hurry now, and Seagraves's
feet began to hurt, keeping up.