Authors: Pete Dexter
Tags: #National Book Award winning novel 1988
Lucy watched him come into
the dining room and saw he was carrying the keys to the car. She was
angry and did not speak. He saw she had put her glasses on, and they
were fogged from the steam of the boiled potatoes on her plate.
* * *
PARIS TROUT LIVED IN a hundred-year-old white house
at the corner of Draft Street and Samuel. There were eight bedrooms
and four baths, servants' quarters, long hallways, and high ceilings.
Seagraves had been told he kept the whole house dark.
His wife answered the doorbell. She did not seem to
recognize him and stood in the door waiting for him to explain what
Mrs. Trout?" he said. "I am Harry
Her look did not change. "I know you, Mr.
Seagraves," she said. "What may I do for you this evening?"
He had seen more of Hanna Trout before she married
than since. She had grown up in Cotton Point, taught third and fourth
grades at Fuller Laboratory School, and then worked herself into a
position with the state department of schools in Atlanta.
She had been plainspoken all her life, a trait which,
in spite of her good looks, had scared off all the men who noticed
her until Paris Trout. The town psychologists said that he'd married
her to replace his mother, who had not spoken a word since her
stroke. Hanna was forty-six years old and had been married two years.
"I was wondering if I might see Paris," he
She stood where she was, looking into his eyes. He
hadn't told her.
"It's a matter of some urgency," he said,
"or I would not inconvenience you like this at home."
She held herself a moment longer at the door and then
stepped to one side. "Come in," she said. "I'll tell
him you're here."
Seagraves stood in the hallway, and Hanna Trout went
upstairs. He noticed the curve of her bottom as she climbed the
steps, the movement pulled her dress against her skin first on one
side, then the other. From behind she looked younger than his own
The hallway itself was bare. The paint over the
staircase was spotted and beginning to peel. The windows were dirty.
The house felt empty, as if no one lived there, and hadn't for a long
In a few moments Hanna Trout was back on the stairs.
She held herself straight coming down, her fingers barely touching
the banister. There was a calmness about her that struck
Seagraves as practiced.
Paris will be down when he dresses," she
Seagraves looked at his watch; it was seven-thirty.
He followed her into the living room and sat on a
davenport with frayed cushions. The wallpaper was a pattcm of green,
blistered here and there, and torn. There were spider webs in the
corners of the ceiling. Hanna Trout took a seat in a straight-back
chair across the room and crossed her legs. He thought of his own
wife and her legs — no better than the ones in front of him now —
and the house she kept. Lucy would reburn Georgia before she let
someone see her house like this.
There was a noise on the stairs, slow and heavy, and
then Paris Trout came through the threshold of the door in his robe
and slippers. His hair was slicked straight back and emphasized the
angles of his head. He nodded at Seagraves and then looked at his
wife in an unfriendly way.
Seagraves watched her change under that look. "Would
you like some coffee?" she said.
Trout did not answer. "You read my mind,"
Seagraves said, and she stood up, walking within a foot of her
husband on the way to the kitchen. He did not look at her again.
"Hubert Norland called me a little bit ago,"
Seagraves said when she was gone.
Trout sat down in the chair his wife had left. His
arms were long and thin, and his pale hands spilled over the ends of
the armrests and hung in the air. "Hubert Norland knows me,"
he said. "I answered him what he asked, and that's all there is
Seagraves felt tired. "You told him you shot two
colored people," he said. "That doesn't mean it ends."
Trout shrugged, his hands kept still. "What they
gone do, arrest me for collecting legal debts? I told that boy when
he took the car, I get my money. You ask any people I lent to, I told
them all the same thing."
Seagraves held up his hand for Trout to stop. "You
told too many people too much already today," he said.
Trout stared at him, deciding something. "You
worried about this, ain't you?"
There wasn't anybody owed you money that was
shot this afternoon," Seagraves said.
The same family."
Seagraves shook his head. "The one that's going
to die," he said, "her name's different, and she isn't but
thirteen, fourteen years old."
Paris Trout squinted, looking at things from a new
angle. "I recognized that girl from before," he said. "She
was with Henry Ray Boxer on the day he tore up the car."
Seagraves shook his head. "Her name's Sayers,"
Ain't a jury in the state that could expect a
white man to keep track of family lines amongst the dark aspect,"
Trout said. He was sitting up in the chair now, paying attention.
Seagraves took it for a positive sign that he had the man's interest.
He said, "There's all kinds of juries, and now
days you don't know what they expect." And he saw that Paris
Trout had paid attention to that too.
Trout shrugged again, but the problem had settled on
him now. He said, "Well, Mr. Seagraves, God's will be done."
Seagraves closed his eyes and let his head fall back
into the cushion. "There°s more men than you can count gone to
prison in this state, leaving things in God's hands," he said.
His eyes were still closed when Hanna Trout came into
the living room, carrying a silver tray. He heard her and sat up,
smiling, and accepted a cup of coffee. She poured it without
returning his smile and then turned to her husband. He ignored her.
When she had gone back to the kitchen, Trout said, "I
had a legal debt to collect. I am within my rights to make the
That was two women in their own house,"
Seagraves said. "One of them was a child, and if she dies, Ward
Townes is legally bound to come after the person that shot her."
Trout considered Ward Townes. "He got to live
here just like anybody else," he said finally.
Seagraves did not answer that, he had been weighing
the same thought. You could never be sure what Ward Townes would do.
He had gone to the war, for instance, the only lawyer in Cotton Point
except Seagraves himself who had. Seagraves knew the prosecutor could
have got an exemption like anybody else with money. He knew he had
forgiven legal fees when he was in private practice.
On the other hand, Seagraves had seen the deals he
cut to get what he wanted.
Seagraves thought the source of the contradiction was
that Ward Townes did not come from the substantial side of the Townes
family and could not be depended on to side with anybody. There had
been a split in the family a long time before anybody alive now could
remember, and one branch established the manufacture of bricks in
central Georgia and got rich, and the other side laid the bricks and
waited their turn.
The substantial Towneses lived on Draft Street with
Seagraves. Ward Townes's side of the family had settled in town
later, on Park Street with the car dealers and dentists.
"I wouldn't count on anything from Ward Townes,"
he said finally. "There's some people you can't predict."
He's got to live here," Trout said again.
"I do not want to leave your house tonight,"
Seagraves said, "without an agreement between us on the serious
nature of the events that have occurred. Ward Townes can't be taken
"What would he go and make trouble for himself
Principle," Seagraves said. "He might
do it on principle."
"The principle in this is on my side,"
Trout said. "You're a businessman, I ain't got to explain it to
Hanna Trout came back into the room again, and this
time she sat down. "I would like to know what this is about,"
she said. Seagraves waited for Trout to answer, but he gave no sign
that he'd even noticed her.
When he spoke again, it was to Seagraves. "Besides,
Buster Devonne was there too. He did as much as me, and that makes
two witnesses on our side."
I think you ought to stay away from Buster
Devonne awhile," Seagraves said. "You aren't in this
together now, and if that girl dies, you don't want to be in it
°'What girl?" Hanna Trout said quietly.
Seagraves turned to her, acknowledging her. She
looked clean and strong, he could not imagine her neglecting her
house in the way it had been neglected. Seagraves waited for Trout to
tell her what had happened, but it was as if she were not in the
Trout drew a long breath. "Buster Devonne is in
my employment," he said, "and he will say any damn thing I
"You pay him enough to spend the next five years
killing snakes for the state?"
Trout thought it over. "He would if I told him."
Seagraves caught another look at Mrs. Trout. He
wished she would go back into the kitchen, it was hard to watch her
husband insult her in this way. He wondered what kept her in the
chair. He thought again about the condition of the house and was
curious if it was connected to her stubbornness.
"People don't go to prison for other people,"
Seagraves said, returning to Trout. "Things look different to
him than they do to you, and they look different sitting in the
living room than they will in front of Judge Taylor."
Things look different ways when they ain't
clear," Trout said.
Seagraves put the cup on the table beside the
davenport and stood up to leave. Trout stood up with him, and the
sudden movement startled his wife. She recovered herself and smoothed
You be at the store tomorrow?" Seagraves
Business as usual," Trout said. "All
I expect you'll hear from Ward Townes in the
morning," Seagraves said. "He'll likely send Hubert Norland
over to pick you up, to interrogate you on what happened."
Trout considered that.
If that in fact occurs," Seagraves said,
"you have somebody call me, and I'll meet you at the courthouse.
I don't want you telling Ward Townes the time of day without me there
in the room."
He started for the door and then stopped. "Don't
count on Buster Devonne to get you off" he said. "Or Ward
Townes, or anybody or anything. The only people you can count on
right now are your lawyer and your family, and that is what I came
over here tonight to impress on you. We'll begin on the rest
tomorrow, when there's more time .... " He stole a look at Mrs.
Trout and then smiled because she'd caught him.
"I'm sorry to push my way into your house at
this hour," he said to her, "and I hope you will forgive
the abrupt nature of this business."
Trout looked off in another direction while Seagraves
spoke to her, as if he were waiting for him to finish tinkling in the
What is the nature of this business?" she
said, studying his face. Seagraves considered her again, noticing her
eyes. They were as dark as the coffee she'd brought him. He found
himself attracted. He said, "I think perhaps that is something
you'd better discuss with your husband, Mrs. Trout." He saw that
did not satisfy her.
If you like, you could come with Paris to my
office tomorrow and we'll go over it in detail." He looked at
Trout for help, but Trout was still focused a long way off.
The details are not my interest, Mr.
Seagraves," she said, looking right into his face. "My
interest right now is what act has brought you to this house tonight.
There is a girl involved. What has happened to her?"
It isn't scandalous," Seagraves said. "l
can assure you it isn't that."
He shook her hand and then let himself out the front
door. Trout had not moved or changed attitude.
Seagraves walked a few steps toward the street and
then stopped to light a cigar. He felt relieved to be out of the
house. He thought of her bottom as she climbed the stairs and tried
to remember the oldest woman he had ever taken to bed. There had been
a whore in Atlanta during his first term in the state legislature —
she had seemed old to him then, but that was a long time ago, when he
didn't know what old was.
It came to him slowly that
the oldest woman he had ever had was his wife. And that was a long
time ago too.
* * *
IN THE MORNING HARRY Seagraves walked to work. He
followed the sidewalks to the college, speaking to everyone he met,
and crossed the campus on a diagonal to Davis Street. His office was
half a block up, on the second floor of the Dixie Theater Building,
and you would never know, looking at the building or the offices
inside it, that his was one of the richest and most successful law
practices in the state.