Authors: Robert Bailey
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Private Investigators, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Legal, #Spies & Politics, #Conspiracies, #Suspense, #Thrillers
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Robert Bailey
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of
Inc. or its affiliates.
Cover design by Brian Zimmerman
In loving memory of my grandmother, Rene Graham Bailey
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1969
The Man had said to be at the Waysider at 5:30 in the morning. Tom arrived at 5:20, knowing that it was a bad idea to be late for a meeting set up by the Man. He hoped he would arrive first, maybe drink some water and gather his thoughts, but the Man was already there. Sitting at a table in the corner of the café, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant read the
and drank coffee. Tom waded through the other tables and approached the Man, who hadn’t moved since the jingle of the front door had announced Tom’s arrival. Reaching the table, Tom cleared his throat.
The Man looked up from his paper but didn’t speak or smile. After two or three seconds, his mouth curved into a grin and he extended his hand.
“Well, you’re still a scrawny sack a shit. Ain’t that woman of yours feeding you?”
Tom smiled, relieved that the Man had broken the ice. As they shook hands and Tom sat down, a waitress came over to take their orders. The Man ordered two eggs, bacon, grits, biscuits, and more coffee. Tom said he’d have the same, knowing his stomach couldn’t handle that much food, but too nervous to ask for a menu.
As the waitress shuffled off, the Man took a sip of coffee and leaned toward Tom.
“So, how are things in Birmingham?”
“Great, Coach,” Tom said, trying to keep his voice steady. “I’m with a small insurance defense firm. Getting in the courtroom a little.”
“So I hear. Three jury trials and three wins in four years, right?”
Tom nodded, flattered but not surprised. The Man had so many judicial contacts, he could have made one phone call to learn Tom’s trial record. “Yes, sir, I’ve been lucky. George McDuff is a great partner, and he—”
“Lucky my ass,” the Man said, squinting at Tom. “The guy I spoke to said McDuff lets you run the show. He may help pick the jury, but then it’s your ball game.”
Tom’s face flushed with pride. The Man had done his homework. But why? The Man had not explained the purpose of this meeting when he had called yesterday. He had just said he needed to talk about something important.
“Tom,” the Man said, looking down to light a cigarette. “Jim Heacock came by my office Tuesday morning. You know Jim?”
Tom wrinkled his eyebrows. “Dean Heacock?”
The Man nodded, blowing smoke to his side. “Jim said his Evidence professor quit last week and he needs to fill that spot. He also wants someone to start a trial program and field a team to compete against other law schools. Jim really wants some new blood. Some talent. He said there weren’t any good candidates in the teaching ranks and asked me if I knew of any lawyers in the state who I thought would make a good professor.” The Man paused, tapping his cigarette into an ashtray on the table. “The first name that came to me was yours.”
“Mine?” Tom asked, dumbfounded. He had never given teaching a second thought. He wanted to be a trial lawyer. Just last week Lawrence Butler of the Jones & Butler firm had wanted to discuss Tom’s future with him over lunch. Although an offer had not been made, Tom was confident he’d get one soon, if not from Jones & Butler then from one of the other big firms.
“Yours,” the Man repeated. “Salary is fifteen thousand a year.” The Man set his cigarette on the ashtray and took a sip of coffee. “Tom, it’s real simple. If you want the job, I’ll tell Jim to hire you.”
Tom gazed down at the smoldering cigarette. Fifteen thousand dollars a year? That was a little more than what he was making now, but what about the future? What about being a trial lawyer?
“Coach, I . . . uh . . . I don’t know. I’ve never thought about teaching. I’ll need to talk with Julie. When do you need to know something?”
“Just get back to me in a week. I agree you should talk with your wife. But I want you to think about something.” The Man paused, taking one last pull on the cigarette before crushing it out in the ashtray. “Tom, I’ve always believed in giving something back to the people and institutions that gave to you. The University of Alabama has given me a lot. It’s where I played football and learned I wanted to be a coach. It’s where I got my degree and met my wife. I’ve never regretted coming home.” Then, forming a tent with his hands, he added, “You won’t regret it either.”
Tom met the Man’s eye and couldn’t help but think of that moment ten years earlier when the Man had sat at another table, flanked not just by Tom, but by Tom’s momma and daddy. He could still remember the Man’s words. “Son, you’ll never regret choosing to play for me and choosing to attend school at Alabama.” Turning to Tom’s momma, the Man had said, “Ma’am, I think your son’s a great football player and, more than that, a great kid. We’ll make him a man. We’ll make him go to class and get his degree.” Looking at Tom’s daddy, the Man had said, “And if he gets out of line, we’ll get him back in line, even if we have to lean on him a little.” Tom’s daddy had smiled at the last statement and met the Man’s gaze. The Man concluded by saying, “Folks, if you send your boy to Alabama, he’ll come out of it a winner. We’ll teach him success on the football field, and that success will carry over into every part of his life.” The Man had gone away without an answer that night, but Tom had known. He was sold, just like his parents, on Alabama football and Coach Paul Bryant.
A few minutes later the waitress brought their food, and the talk turned to the past, of the ’61 team and whether Tom kept up with any of the boys. The Man ate his breakfast quickly and looked at his watch every so often. He had done what he had come to do and now it was on to the next job at hand. When they were finished, the Man picked up the tab, and the two men walked together to Tom’s car.
“Think about what I said, son,” the Man said, squeezing Tom’s shoulder. “I’d love for you to come home.”
“OK, Coach, I . . .” But the Man was already walking away, passing out of earshot before Tom could get the words out. Through the glare of the sun, the Man’s six-foot-four-inch body cast a shadow over half the parking lot. Tom smiled and opened his car door.
He would talk to Julie. He would speak with George McDuff. He might even write out the costs and benefits of becoming a law professor. But by the time he was halfway to Birmingham, Tom knew. Just as he had known those many years ago.
The Man had called. And he knew he must answer.
At 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 2, 2009, Rose Batson stepped out of the Texaco gas station that she managed to grab a smoke. None of the four self-serve pumps were in use, and Rose spat on the ground after blowing out her first puff. “Ain’t makin’ no money today,” she said to herself, taking a long drag on her Camel unfiltered cigarette. Of course, it made no difference to Rose. She was on salary. But customers helped make the day pass. Yesterday had been crazy, what with all the beachgoers coming home. There hadn’t been a time from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. when at least one of her pumps wasn’t in use. Rose herself had only been to the beach once. Back in the summer of ’67, when she was a teenager. Panama City for a long weekend. Rose smiled to herself, thinking of the long-ago trip that marked the first, second, and third times she had ever been laid.
“Old Rosie could throw that leg,” she said out loud, laughing at the memory of her lost virginity.
Rose Batson had run the Texaco station at the intersection of Highway 82 and Limestone Bottom Road for over thirty-five years. Raised by her grandmother after her mother and father perished in a house fire, Rose was hired on by Tom Sloan at Sloan’s Bait and Beer Store in 1972. When Sloan sold the store to Texaco in 1990, Rose stayed on to manage the place. There wasn’t anybody in Henshaw or Henshaw County that Rose Batson didn’t know or at least claim she knew. She had seen a lot of things too. One night ten years earlier she had seen Rodney Carver shoot Henry Dawson with a twelve-gauge shotgun right outside her store window. Henry—or Hal the Pal as folks in Henshaw called him—had been too close a pal to Rodney’s wife, and Rodney had taken offense. Henshaw County style.
Rose stretched her arms over her head and her back creaked loudly. She coughed and some phlegm gathered in her throat, which she violently spat out.
“Fallin’ apart, old woman. You just fallin’ apart,” she growled to herself. Rose tossed the cigarette on the ground and stomped it out with her foot. Looking to her right, she thought she saw an object in the distance. Squinting, she noticed that the object was a car and it was approaching the station. She watched in silence as the car continued its ascent and smiled when its left-turn signal came on.
“Back in bidness,” she said, turning to walk back into the store. As she opened the door, she saw out of the corner of her eye another vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. As it began to hit a slight dip in Highway 82, Rose felt her stomach tighten. It was an eighteen-wheeler, and judging from the cylinder shape of its trailer, it was hauling some sort of fuel. She took two slow steps back toward the pumps and watched. As the eighteen-wheeler arose out of the dip and came into view, Rose Batson looked back at the stoplight and saw the red Honda Accord beginning its turn.
Oh my God
, she thought as her hands instinctively went to her cheeks and she held her breath.