Authors: Pete Dexter
Tags: #National Book Award winning novel 1988
Mr. Trout went to his pocket too. He was holding
Thomas with one hand, shaking him now, and the other hand came out
sparkling in the sun.
Rosie heard herself again. "Lord have mercy,"
she said, "He's got brass knucks." She had seen the uses of
brass knucks back in the Bottoms, they were as bad as a knife. And
then Miss Mary was there, on the first step to the porch, looking up
at Mr. Trout. "There's no call to hurt nobody here," she
"Lord a mercy," Rosie said again, and her
voice distracted Mr. Trout. He stared at her a minute, and then she
saw that screaming look in his eyes.
"What the hell you got to do with it?" he
said suddenly. He let go of Thomas and came after her, and she ran
into the house. She heard him behind her, tearing up the furniture.
The shades were drawn over the windows in the first room, and coming
in out of the sunlight, she was suddenly blind. She cried out for
Mr. Trout stumbled behind her, he broke a piece of
glass. She heard him curse as she passed into the second room. It was
lighter in there, and she could see the details of the walls and
floor, she could see her own feet. It seemed to her that things had
And then she heard him behind her again. It surprised
her in some way that he was still there.
"What the goddamn hell does it got to do with
you?" he said again. And she saw his face without turning to see
it, and then his arm had gone around her throat, and he was shaking
her from behind.
She reached in back of herself to slap him away, and
then there was a cracking noise on the side of her head, and he let
her go. And in that moment things went dark and she felt the
beginnings of a nightmare.
And she bit her hand, to make it stop, and then she
heard another noise, louder and farther away, and something hit her
in the side and spun her down. Then she smelled the smoke in the air
and knew that she'd been shot.
"Miss Mary . . ."
She heard the woman somewhere behind. "Coming,"
she said, "I'm coming now." And then there was another shot
and then another. She heard the breath go out of Miss Mary, and then
she heard the words again. "I'm coming now."
Rosie lay on the floor and looked up, and Miss Mary
walked past without seeing her. She was bleeding from her shoulder
and her back.
"Where you goin'?" the child asked.
Miss Mary stood still to speak. "I got to go
into the stove room," she said. "I got to lie on the
Miss Mary walked slowly through the second room and
into the third. She dropped to her knees just before she reached the
last room of the house, the kitchen.
Rosie watched her from the floor, feeling sick and
dizzy. When the dizziness passed, she pulled herself up and walked
into the kitchen too. She was wrong in the side, she couldn't say
exactly how. She heard the men talking, she could not make out the
words. The smell of gunpowder was thicker when she stood than it had
been on the floor, and the voices seemed to come out of it.
She touched the wall for her balance and got into the
kitchen. Miss Mary was on her hands and knees. The child wanted to
help her, but she turned sick again and sat down on the trunk against
Miss Mary climbed off the floor then and laid herself
across the table. For a moment it was still, and then Mr. Trout
appeared in the doorway, holding his gun. He took a step in, raising
his arm, and Rosie raised her eyes to meet it. The first shot hit her
in the arm, a little above the elbow. The second shot took her
"Lord have mercy," she said to Miss Mary,
"the man has shot me in the stomach."
Miss Mary twisted up off the table at that and turned
to stare at Paris Trout. He shot her in the breast. She pushed off
Come on, child," she said, and held out
Rosie Sayers took the hand and got to her feet, and
she and Miss Mary walked together out the back door into the yard.
They sat together on the back steps and then lay together on the
ground. They heard the car engine race as Buster Devonne and Mr.
Rosie closed her eyes. She opened them once and saw
the children, and Ray and Linda, standing over her as still as
pictures. Thomas Boxer had left to call the police.
She called out to Miss Mary.
I'm right here next to you," Miss Mary
It's so cold," she said.
"You ain't afraid, child, you been saved."
Yes I am."
"You been saved," Miss Mary said. "And
I am here with you now wait for Jesus."
"I'm so cold," the child said.
She said, "Jesus will be here soon, cover you
with a blanket."
The news that Paris Trout had shot two colored
females in Indian Heights came to Harry Seagraves from the police
chief Hubert Norland. Seagraves kept Chief Norland on a small
retainer for just that sort of information.
The call came at supper. The maid brought the
telephone to the table, but when Seagraves heard the chief s voice,
he excused himself and used the phone in his study. He did not like
to discuss matters of blood or violence in front of his wife, who had
an interest in other people's troubles which he tried not to feed.
Mr. Seagraves," the chief said, "I'm
over to Comell Clinic, and there's a couple of negras here got shot
up by Paris Trout."
Harry Seagraves had taken the call standing up. Now
he sat down. The police chief did not add to what he'd said or
explain it. Seagraves liked to find things out in his own order.
"Who are they?" he said.
"Females," said the chief
Seagraves tried to picture it, Paris Trout with
colored women, but it would not come. He didn't think Paris Trout had
an appetite for women, colored or white. He was one of those people
who did not like to be touched.
"One of them's named Mary McNutt," the
chief said, reading now from the report. "Thirty-eight years old
Negress, employed by the Markham family as a maid . . . shot three,
four times. The other would Rosie Sayers, and that one ain't going to
Harry Seagraves sat still and tried to think of a way
of removing himself from this before it began. His law firm,
Seagraves, DuBois, Clatterfield & Spudd, represented most of the
old and the rich families in Cotton Point, the families that lived in
the houses on Draft Street, families like his own. He was part of
their safety. Paris Trout was not of that group socially — he had
no social affiliations — but he owned property and lumber interests
and the store and was known to have money. His sister was a court
clerk. His mother, until her stroke, had run the family store and
been the most visible and outspoken woman in Cotton Point.
Seagraves had represented him before, in half a dozen
civil suits, and did not see how he could turn him away now. The
obligation was not so much to Trout as to the families on Draft
Street, who counted his protection as a constant.
The one that ain't going to live isn't but a
child," the chief said.
It ain't written down," the chief said,
"but she could be thirteen, fourteen years old."
"You have the name?" He opened the drawer
of his desk and found a piece of paper. He dipped his desk pen in the
inkwell. The chief spelled out Sayers. It was not a name Seagraves
had heard before.
Is she native?"
Not to me," the chief said. "They
ain't related, but the girl lived with the woman. Sometime they take
each other in like that."
"What was Paris Trout doing in Indian Heights?"
Collecting for a car, he says."
Without realizing he was doing it, Harry Seagraves
drew a cross on the paper, above Rosie Sayers's name. When he saw
what it was, he changed it to a dollar sign. "Paris Trout
doesn't make loans to women," he said.
"Well, that's what he told me," the chief
said. "Him and Buster Devonne was out there to collect for a
Buster Devonne was there?"
Yessir," the chief said. "He done
some of it too. I don't know how much. Their story is that the negras
The line was quiet while Harry Seagraves thought.
Buster Devonne had been a policeman, and he'd hurt a number of
colored people without reason. "Are you sure the girl's going to
die?" he said finally.
That's what Doc Braver said."
The line was quiet again, and it was the chief who
Mr. Seagraves?" he said. "What do you
want me to do about this?"
Have you talked to Ward Townes?"
"No sir, I called you first thing after I'd
finished with Mr. Trout."
"And he told you he'd shot the girl."
"Yessir, him and Buster Devonne."
Seagraves leaned back in his chair and stared at the
ceiling, picturing the conversation. "Did you take it down?"
No sir, it was on the phone. I bring them in to
my girl to take it down."
Paris Trout would refuse to see it, that it was wrong
to shoot a girl and a woman. There was a contract he'd made with
himself a long time ago that overrode the law, and being the only
interested party, he lived by it. He was principled in the truest
way. His right and wrong were completely private.
Harry Seagraves had been around the law long enough
to hold a certain affection for those who did not respect it, but his
affection, as a rule, was in proportion to the distance they kept
from his practice.
A man like Paris Trout could rub his right and wrong
up against the written law for ten minutes and occupy half a year of
Harry Seagraves's time straightening it out. And a man as important
as Paris Trout, it was difficult to pass the case to a junior
partner. Draft Street would watch what happened to him and fear for
Mr. Seagraves?" The chief sounded worried
Yessir," Seagraves said. "I
appreciate your courtesy, Chief. My advice to you now would be to
call Ward Townes and inform him of the situation. He may want to
wait, see if the girl dies. Sometimes young folks are resilient
beyond medical expectations, and if that is the case with Miss
Sayers, then we may be interrupting supper for no cause."
I hate to bothered you at supper," he
said, "but I thought you'd want a head start on this."
It's no bother .... Listen, you come by soon
and sit at the table with us. Lucy was asking on you and your family
°Thank you, sir. Y'all have to come over to see us
The line went quiet again, both of them out of
manners. "There's one other thing," Seagraves said.
As long as it's not taken down anywhere, I'd
just as soon Paris never talked to you at all. That way me and Mr.
Townes start fresh and fair." Seagraves waited while the police
chief thought it over. Then he said, "Of course, if that
compromises you in some way . . ."
No sir, that'd be all right."
Yessir, I can do that .... "
Is there something else?"
If the girl dies," the chief said, "I'd
likely have to come get Mr. Trout." Seagraves heard the worry in
"You just give me a call at the office, I'll
bring him to you."
Thank you, Mr. Seagraves. And I'd likely have
to come for Buster Devonne too."
That would be up to you," Seagraves said,
"Mr. Devonne is no concern of mine." And then he hung up.
Paris Trout was principled, in his way, but Buster Devonne was a dog
off his leash.
The door to the study opened a few inches and his
wife looked in. "Harry?" she said. He looked up without
answering. He did not like her in this room, her or anyone else.
"Is something wrong?" she said.
He rubbed the front of his face with his hands,
feeling tired. "I'll be out directly," he said. She did not
move, though. She wanted him to apologize for leaving supper. He
said, "I've got to make a call."
He nodded and picked up the telephone, waiting for
her to close the door. She stood where she was. '°What is it?"
Paris Trout gone took a damn gun and shot two
Her pretty white face turned soft, opening to the
news. "Did they work for anybody we know?" she said.
Charley Markham's maid is one of them," he
said, "but that doesn't make it our business."
Her face, suddenly hurt, stayed in the opening a
minute longer and then disappeared. The room took a peaceful feeling
the minute she was gone.
He decided to visit Trout instead of calling. It
wasn't that the man was less remote in person — he was one of the
few clients Harry Seagraves had who were actually easier to talk to
on the telephone — but that the news of what he had done was
disquieting in a way that made him want to get out of his own house.