Blood Crieth from the ground
From The Orchard Stories
The dusty path cut between the two impregnable stands of citrus trees, bisecting the great undifferentiated green masses on either side of it as it drew north to the orchard’s distant edge somewhere and finally to the desert bench beneath the mountain that loomed over it all. To get to the dusty path and Judge Walsh’s unkempt orchard through which it passed the boys had to skirt the eastern edge of the Gilbert orchard, along the path beside the Garowski yard and then under the thicket of huge and gnarled Carob trees, with trunks the girth of wine casks and whose bark was scaly as alligators and under which nothing grew save deep shadow and cool, even in the long hot summers. The Carobs stood guard on the northeastern corner of the Gilbert grove and had grown there since before the citrus trees had been planted at the dawn of the century. Now they stood like wizened old trolls, demarcating the terminus where the Gilbert power no longer held sway. From under the wide spreading branches of the Carob trees the boys looked across the gravel road that ran along the front of the Gilbert Great House and into the seldom trespassed acreage owned by Old Judge Walsh.
The entrance to the path was guarded on both sides by concrete and stone monoliths, impassive, gravid, and weathered over which had grown in haphazard neglect the encroaching arms of grapefruit trees, embracing them and obscuring the lettering etched deeply into the stone. The monoliths were man-high and massive, square and indomitable, atop which were fashioned enormous globes of concrete perched atop a rounded base. They spelled out in duplicate on either side of the dusty path the words Casa de Wanda. The boys could say the sounds and hear the words, but they did not understand what they meant.
Old Judge Walsh was old and had at one time been a judge but he hadn’t donned the black silk of office since his wife died terribly by her own hand long ago after suffering for years with the odd delusions of dementia. The difficulty of being married to a woman not of sound mind took its toll on the Judge himself, and the courthouse victims of his wanton, harsh, and arbitrary rulings grieved little and forgave less when the news of his wife’s unseemly demise was reported. The Judge retired shortly thereafter and few bemoaned the passing from the bench of this most peculiar and singular man. Since his wife’s death Old Judge Walsh lived a solitary and hermetic existence in a Great House of his own, engulfed by unkempt wild brambles and great knuckled trees that wanted water and tending. His groundskeeper, a little known but much rumored misanthrope named Kanoodle, who suited well his obstreperous and dismal master, was seldom seen but always present about the thicketed grounds of the Great House and he spent his time as a disembodied voice croaking from behind a blind of pomegranate trees here or a knotted Palo Verde bramble there, threatening and scaring idle gawkers and innocent trespassers from gaining entry to the Old Judge’s jealous solitude.
Old Judge Walsh’s grove spread out beyond his walled and guarded Great House and over the land north of the Gilbert plantation all the way to the mountain. His land sloped heavily, so close to the mountain, and the monsoon rains swept through it with sometimes precipitous fury, washing mounds of grey-brown soil from the infrequently tilled earth across the gravel road and onto the Gilbert property. Old Man Gilbert and Judge Walsh had not spoken to each other in years and could not or would not come to terms regarding the damage that such catastrophes wrought on Gilbert’s land but their respective lawyers had gone at one another hammer and tongs for decades.
As much as they were similar - irascible old eccentric men wedded perversely to their plantations and demanding, even with no provocation, the privileges that adhered still to the landed gentry - they husbanded their respective parcels in greatly different ways. Old Man Gilbert tolerated far less neglect on his land than did the Judge, although there was, even on the Gilbert plantation, a tired sense of faded grandeur to which Old Man Gilbert was either oblivious or ignored. The Judge, to the contrary, seemed to actively pursue the dereliction and demise of his holdings and was never to be seen surveying its metes and bounds nor regularly nor often even ploughing the earth in which his old trees grew. In recent years he had even neglected to truck in the Mexican pickers to harvest the fruit in the fall and the fruit drop on his land was ponderous and heavy. The sheer waste of the plantation’s usufruct secretly delighted him, for only great wealth permits great waste and great waste therefore is reserved to only a few. Since his wife’s ugly suicide and his untimely abdication from the bench, he had grown more and more inward and invisible, venturing outside the walls of his Great House, when at all, only at night.
The boys one day ventured the dusty path into Old Judge Walsh’s grove. They went again. Soon they added it to their regular rambles and explored it like they did the Gilbert grove when it had been new. It was there that Johnny had come upon the old and rusting rifle that he knew as soon as he saw it would be taken from him by his mother, if she ever laid eyes on it, who would say, “You can’t have that; you’ll put your eye out.”
Johnny bent to the gun barrel that stuck out from the dirt like a protruding tell-tale bone of a dead man, his grave shallow and disturbed by the passage of time, disbelieving his eyes and as he lifted it free of the earth that clung to it in chunks that fell away reluctantly and he saw it was intact, rusty and old. He held it reverently like he would an object frail and sacred and glanced up at Patrick dumbstruck.
“I don’t believe it,” he said. “It’s a gun.”
“Man, oh man, Johnny,” Patrick said, “what’re we gonna do with it?”
“Whaddaya mean we?” he said in no uncertain terms. “I found it.”
“O.K. then, whaddaya you gonna do with it?” Patrick corrected.
“Let’s try to clean it up and get it working,” he said staring at it with daunted amazement and disbelief. He could not fathom its age but he knew it was an old BB gun, older by far than the ones the Gilbert boys carried and used to slaughter everything that moved.
“It’s rusted clean shut,” he said lacing his fingers into the lever to try to cock it. “It won’t budge.” He pulled on the lever over and over and then straddled the gun between his legs to see if he could muscle it open. It was stuck fast. The wooden stock was faded grey and split along the grain, into which the soil had worked itself, splintering it. But it held together solidly and when he mounted it to his shoulder and sighted down it, it appeared every bit of a piece.
“We can’t tell anyone about this. You know that, don’t you? You can’t even tell your mom. Especially not your mom. Not even if she asks you. And she won’t ask you because she won’t know we found it. So keep your mouth shut about it, O.K.?” Johnny cautioned.
“O.K.,” Patrick agreed.
They wrapped the gun in old newspaper that they found and buried it in the second row off the dusty path under a tree half dead and withered brown from a branch that had split from the trunk.
The boys visited the gun in the days that followed, making along the path beside the Gilbert orchard, next to the Garowski yard and then under the great spreading Carob trees and then across the gravel road to the dusty path that split Old Judge Walsh’s plantation clean in two. In the days that followed the boys seldom stopped thinking about the gun and when they unearthed it together and sometimes alone they marveled at it and rubbed it like they would a magic lamp. They held it to their shoulders and sighted down its rusty and pitted barrel, aiming for the tops of trees and the birds perched there and then to further targets like the top of the mountain itself. They lingered with it long into the afternoons, sitting beneath the cover of the half dead tree and talked to each other in hushed and reverential tones about what they would do with it once they got it to firing.
It was deep in Old Judge Walsh’s orchard well off the dusty path that Patrick and Johnny had stumbled upon the old hidden fort. They had unearthed the gun again and unwrapped it from the newspaper and were puzzling on it and as they did they walked down a long row between the trees and wished on what they’d do with their treasure. The row was thick with weeds grown nearly to the tops of their heads from Judge Walsh’s lax husbandry.
“We’ll do target practice first so we get to be good shots just like Daniel Boone,” Johnny said, cradling the gun and pushing aside the weeds that blocked his way. “We’ll call it Ticklicker, just like he called his gun. We’ll make up targets and stick them on the trees and we’ll come out here and practice.”
“If those Gilbert boys give us any trouble, we’ll have a gun too and they’ll soon learn not to mess with us, that’s for sure,” Patrick added, feeling the power within him rise.
“Yea, no more running from them when they come shooting through the yards,” Johnny added.
They struggled on along the row of trees speculating on the time that was sure to come and losing track of time as they did it and of how far they had walked, cradling and trading the gun and pulling on the stuck lever. Then they looked into the tree just ahead of them and stopped dead. Inside the tree, under the tree, in the tree was a huge structure built of real and solid wood that they would never have seen, even from one row of trees removed, had they not nearly walked right into it. There it stood, solid and formidable like a small house derelict and bereft. The boys could see no footprints in the dirt that led to it and no path through the choking weeds that grew up around the tree that hid the fort just like they did all through the grove. A carpet of dry and crinkled leaves had accumulated in deep piles about its exterior walls. They approached it like they would a huge sleeping dog and peeked cautiously and slowly inside. It was dusty and dank from long disuse and from the vaulting roof were strung dust laden cobwebs and along the wooden walls the schizophrenic webs of black widows, thick as tangled wigs and in the interstices between the rafters and in the corners were the remnants of nests of birds whose chicks were old and dead long seasons gone.
It must have been built time out of mind by boys they had never met and who had lived, they guessed, far across the orchard in the mysterious distance and who had hidden in it their boys’ treasures – comic books and baseball cards and old shirts from fabled historic little league teams; teams that now were remembered, when at all, only in the reverential hushed tones of legend and antiquity; teams whose players were now grown and gone off to high school or college even but who had been the storied golden boys of their time and who had broken all the records then that had once stood for all time and which would again be broken in the time that was now. Other treasures were there too, like a rusted pocket knife, stuck in the base of the tree around which the fort had been built and thrust deeply into the bark of the trunk that had bled sticky sap thickly like blood but which over the years had healed like an old wound that embraced now the knife that had cut it cruelly. Patrick worked it out and opened the wound again. He cradled the knife in his hands as he would a precious jewel or coin of great weight and glint and secretly put it in his pocket. They found marbles scattered on the leaf-strewn floor and yellowing clippings from newspaper sports pages, dimpled and dust encrusted from the rains that leaked through the now shaky roof during the monsoon rains of seasons past and there they read stories of athletes from 1957 and 1958, dates from the dark antiquity of time. The hidden fort also concealed girlie magazines, the likes of which they had never seen and they stared perplexed and aghast at the teasing breasts of women who were so much older than they were but who stared at them from the glossy paper as if they knew the boys, as if they were accusing them of intruding on their naughty half-dress but who for all that did not seem to mind the intrusion at all.
The mystery of the fort compelled them to wild speculation about the formidability of the boys who had constructed it. They wondered how long it stood here, abandoned, as they found it, like a ghost ship, appearing, but for the obvious passage of time, as if these boys had just stepped out and would be back any minute, would return here deep in the heart of the seldom trespassed grove across the gravel road from the Gilbert plantation. They stood and puzzled on the fort for some time until the sun began to set. The fort was made, they guessed, with wood purloined from a house that was being built on old orchard land where for decades it had grown old and fruitful unencroached and unmolested. Houses had begun to crowd the orchards and would someday replace them forever. But now the trees spread out in all directions and the building had only begun. The fort wood, they guessed, had been stolen from neat piles of timber that lay about the construction site and they had hauled it the long and bumpy way to the center of Old Judge Walsh’s plantation, where they had labored in this secluded secret place and built the fort. It stood in the amphitheater beneath the limbs of the largest tree in the grove, a tree whose branches formed a ponderous and towering canopy. Inside this canopy of dense and drooping branches, the builders had constructed a house the dimensions of the vault. It even had a second story that perched the boys in the highest branches, from which they could look out over the sea of treetops and north to the mountain that towered above the world. From there they could see anything and anyone who approached and they set a watch while they worked on the gun. They brought sand-paper to buff shiny the rusted old barrel and oil and rags to ply the seized and locked lever and to open again the chamber so that one day they could fill the magazine with BB’s and make it fire. They worked for hours at a time, perched in the top of the tree, scanning the perplexing and dumbfounding girlie magazines and looking down on the vastness of the world. The fort became their own.
They sneaked back to the fort every afternoon to work on the gun, safe and hidden. In their high perch they saw the tops of the date palms that grew in the old date garden across the sea of citrus trees and the palms looked like petrified fountains of fronds gushing up and out like splayed hands. They could see Old Judge Walsh’s Great House, with its red clay tiled roof burnished and ruddy in the late sun, hidden behind his walls lined with gnarled pomegranate trees and buried nearly under the wild growth of thickets. They listened to the calls of the chortling quail that scurried about the floor of the orchard with their herds of chicks in tow, now nearly grown after the long summer, blind to the boys hidden in the canopy. The mourning doves cooed and courted, shamelessly fecund and busy again with nest building, oblivious to the season and ignorant of any but the crudest [nest building] architecture. The trees were heavy with their twiggy unsound amalgams in which they raised their several broods of young and the nests tumbled from their tentative purchases and spilled like abandoned houses made of sticks. The boys looked out on the evening sun setting in the western sky, streaked and dotted with a swath of horizon clouds that dappled the sun and painted the light, and watched it change the western sky from yellow gold to rusty orange to magenta to blood black purple as the days of impending fall came to their quiet and somber ends. The sunsets glowed like silent slow motion fireworks, a color show into which the day slid to a quiet tranquil end. The cool night air carried to them the homely reassuring fusty scent of turned mellow desert earth - sharp and dank sour like sweet rot on wood - out of which grew the orchard’s great abundance of fruit. And in the indeterminate distance the drone of a lawn mower plying the grass and too the scent perhaps of the fresh cut grass wafting on the evening breeze that blew everywhere through opened screen doors in the houses below them lambent in the last light.
Then they listened for the fluted call of the mockingbird in the obscure and dissolute distance untraceable like the chirping of a cricket in the dark. While the wisps of clouds that had caught the showy last light muted to grey and black, they watched the evening star flicker suddenly out of the twilight and burn brilliantly and conspicuously above the lingering after-glow of the fading daylight before it too plunged into the darkness of the trees as if chasing the sun that had there disappeared. And there against the last molten metal glow of the fading twilight, burnished like mercury against the growing deep blue- black of night, they watched the erratic crazy dance of the bats. They swooped on their queerly serrated front-cusped and segmented wings in dizzying haphazard flight, awakened from their myriad secret attics and mountain caves, silhouetted flat black against the last dimming glow of the day. One and then two and then a half-dozen and then the western sky seemed alive with them, silent save for the nearly-heard high peeping of their curious magical radar with which they steered their crazy flight. Behind it all in the recess of the darkening day, hidden from sight and nearly buried in the subtle sounds on the night air, behind somewhere the drone of the solitary mower, was the high whining insistence of the cicadas, like a chorus of infinitesimally tiny engines buzzing so densely and imperturbably as to fade from hearing altogether until suddenly they would hear them and would remark it so to one another like an afterthought as they sat high in the fort staring wide-eyed into the gloaming.
In the orchard it was September of the year 1963 and the scourge of summer heat had for the season relented. The sun was setting earlier and earlier in the day although the boys were only vaguely conscious of it. They knew though that the evenings were cool again and so they lingered outside long into the afternoon and twilight and dusk perched in their fort above the trees but in them still and delighted in the deliciousness of it when the sun went behind the great mass of trees for the night. School had begun too, and with it the again and dreaded formal regimentation of their lives but it only snared them during the hottest part of the day. By the time they were free, it was cool for rambling and the light lingered long in the colored sky still and enough to allow time for adventure and wicked escape to their fort in the middle of Old Judge Walsh’s orchard.
* * *
The Courthouse took the winter light full on its western face and glowed burnt orange in the morning. The Courthouse was built of massive fitted blocks of rust sandstone, mortared cunningly and nearly seamlessly by the stone masons. Ornate stone carvings and even a gallery of menacing gargoyles hung in filigree about the façade between the second and third floors. The edifice was square and obtrusive and conspicuous, receding inward stepwise like a wedding cake at the third and fourth stories and it occupied a full city block at the heart of Phoenix, patriotically set between Washington and Jefferson Streets and just one street off of Central Avenue. In Romanesque script, the letters angular and not round so the U’s looked like V’s, were carved the words, MARICOPA COVNTY COVRTHOVSE. No Latinate quotation meant to puzzle, edify or terrify was similarly scripted there, owing either to the plain and unimaginative thinking of the County Fathers at the time it was built or to an oversight or simple ignorance of Latin or of an apt phrase to chisel there. So it stood, plainly enscripted, but gigantic and stately built, solid as a stone mountain, the House in which fates were reckoned once and for all. The architect had found it expedient if a bit cruel and cute to perch above the building a fifth floor, loftier than the rest, crenellated along the top with battlements meant to give it the appearance of a medieval castle and open to the air, save for the heavy wire grate, the weight of heavy chains, that served to fill the enormous windows, which were the holding cells of the prisoners who sat at the heights looking out over the desert city as their cases were prepared for trial or their fates weighed in the balance by the black-robed men beneath them in their gilded chambers.
Judge Walsh took his chair at the bench with great flourish and pomp, looking out at the assemblage but not at them, rather over them, his nose elevated as if he were trying to avoid the stench of the aggregation of lesser men who filled his Courtroom. His chair was high-backed and buffed lustrous black, leathered and padded and shiny brass studded and held erect by a close-grained and highly polished oaken undercarriage on well oiled casters that allowed him to slide the length of the bench and glare menacingly at a recalcitrant witness if the necessity or opportunity presented itself. At his hand was the weighty gavel, outsized and fashioned from black mahogany and wrapped at its business end with a showy cylinder of sterling silver, bearing in flowing and ornate script the words: The Honorable Cornelius O’Driscoll Walsh, Esquire. Judge of the Superior Court, Maricopa County, Arizona, Anno Domini, 1927.
He peered out over the tops of his reading glasses at the milling crowd gathered in his courtroom looking peeved and preoccupied and impatient. He scanned the room quickly for a victim of a blast of his spleen that he felt would punctuate well the proceedings thus far. Before he spoke he gazed at the script wrought in the silver on his gavel, the plump handle of which he palmed abstractedly for the feel of the tool in his hand, like the feel of a baseball bat or a ball-peen hammer, gave him a feeling of potency, and read there with smug self-congratulation the words that attested to his position, which he had attained as a young man and had held these twenty-two years. He had sat the bench through the years of the Great Depression and through the years of the War and now presided on a bench that grew in importance with the burgeoning population of the Valley of the Sun in this happy era of peacetime prosperity. It was a marvelous time to be an important and pivotal man in a young and vibrant town, still small enough for one such as he to wield inestimable power.
“Mr. Foreman,” he bellowed at the enormous defense lawyer who stood gargantuan and imposing poring over the documents spread before him on the defense table, “is the time the Court has set for beginning proceedings inconvenient for you? Perhaps you would like us to begin at a later time in the morning to accommodate your schedule.”
His words fairly dripped condescension and were meant to humiliate and embarrass the defense lawyer whose client was on trial for his life.
“Why yes, your Honor,” William Foreman said in a voice that boomed like a salvation show preacher trying to reach the sinner in the back of the tent, and who was not intimidated in the least nor impressed with Judge Walsh’s weak attempt to distract him, “that would be just fine. I was remarking just this morning to my wife that a few extra hours of sleep would have suited me well today.”
The Judge sputtered.
“I’ll not tolerate your insolence, Mr. Foreman.”
“Excuse me Judge, I thought we were discussing the scheduling of the case. I haven’t an insolent bone in my rather commodious body, a fact to which Mr. Goss will attest, I trust.”
William Foreman was a formidable presence in the Courtroom. He stood six feet and four inches tall and weighed nearly four hundred pounds. He sported an ill-kempt beard that matched in color his rust orange hair. He moved, for a huge man, with the grace of a nimble athlete, but quicker and more astonishing yet was the speed of his mind and his tongue, which he used with judicious economy but unerringly, when necessary to fairly eviscerate his opponents. With the case of Grady MacPherson, now pending before the Court, his skills were sorely needed and would be dearly tested.
Mr. Harry Goss, the County prosecutor, who was built like a sawed-off weight lifter with a fleshy close shaved face and who dressed like a magazine ad for Arrow shirts, looked up slowly and unexcitedly, moved his heavy lidded sleepy dog eyes slowly as if interrupted from reading the newspaper, only vaguely aware of what had transpired, but having heard his name gave heed and said matter of factly, “Whatever Mr. Foreman requires of me, Your Honor, I give without hesitation and with courtesy.”
Goss and Foreman were not friends, which did not mean they did not like each other. Mr. Goss was aware of Mr. Foreman’s considerable skills, however, and Mr. Foreman knew it. On that rested their mutual respect and tolerance one for another.
“Thank you, my esteemed colleague,” Foreman said with a muted flourish.
Judge Walsh, neither articulate nor glib, was hamstrung by this exchange and turned on his bailiff, who was easier game, and ignored with poorly disguised discomfort what appeared to be a snide grin from Foreman who never let his eyes stray from the Judge’s for one moment.
“Where the hell is the prisoner?” the Judge seethed at his bailiff.
Young Tom Gorman, who was reading for the bar and who was better read in the law and the intellectual superior of his boss, shuffled the papers at his desk next to his Honor’s bench in a show of furious and concerted effort and mollified the Judge with the pat answer that he employed in every such situation.
“I will look into it for you, Your Honor.”
“See that you do,” the Judge said with terse heat.
Just then the sheriff’s deputy brought the defendant into the Courtroom through the side door reserved for incarcerated defendants. The door connected to a hall that communicated by means of a staircase with the rooftop lock-up. When the prisoner was brought to Mr. Foreman’s table and released from his shackles, Judge Walsh, who had not relinquished his hold on the outsized gavel, brought it down on the bench with a crack and bellowed, in his most gravid and judicious tone, “Order!”
Bailiff Tom Gorman then stood and recited the cant that preceded each day’s business, “Hear ye, hear ye, the Superior Court of Maricopa County is now in session, the Honorable Cornelius Walsh, presiding. All those having business before the Court draw nigh and you shall be heard. Please be seated.”
Grady MacPherson, just turned eighteen, quaked visibly as he sat at the table next to the formidable and enormous William Foreman, his lawyer, and awaited the dismal ordeal to resume on this the first day of the second week of his trial. With the way the trial was going he feared he would never see 1950.
* * *
Days of sanding the rust on the barrel had given it a high shine. Days of rubbing with rag and oil had freed the seized lever and the boys were able to move it back and forth. Once it had been dislodged from its rusted imperturbability, it remained for them to get the internal mechanism to work. They needed to cock the thing so it could fire. But having freed the lever did not mean that the sanding and oiling were done – not by a long sight. The boys met each day after school and set about working the gun into shape.
“Once we get this thing cleaned up we’re gonna need someone to tell us how to fix it right,” Johnny said while leaning heavily into the oil cloth on the remaining vestiges of rust that clung to the metal like a bad skin disease.
“Yea, but if we do that we’re gonna have to tell someone we got this,” Patrick said.
“Duuhh,” Johnny said in his dismissive tone, indicating again Patrick’s perfect genius for stating the obvious.
“Duuhh, nothing,” Patrick said defiantly. “Who we gonna tell we have this thing who won’t squeal on us for having it?”
“I haven’t figgered that out yet, but I will,” Johnny said thoughtfully.
Patrick left the hard thinking to Johnny.
Then Johnny said, “It’ll have to be someone who knows somethin’ about guns and junk. Or maybe someone who just knows lots about machines and tools.”
They both knew that the best man for that job was Donald Hennesy, but they couldn’t figure a way of getting him to help them without getting in trouble.
“Donald Hennesy is the one we gotta go to, you know that, don’t you?” Patrick asked.
“He may be. I’ll have to figger on it awhile,” Johnny said.
The problem was that if they told Donald Hennesy they would have to tell Kerry Hennesy and if Kerry knew he’d want part of the gun, or at least to shoot it and then they would have to tell him about the fort and he would start coming to the fort and the secret that Patrick and Johnny had and the hide-out that was all their own would be discovered. They could not abide such a disclosure for the fort had been and would always be for them a special place of retreat and it was after all theirs and theirs alone, by virtue of discovery, conquest and claim. It would change things forever if others knew about it and came there without them and used the things that they had hidden there or worse yet, stole them. The question became whether it was worth endangering the fort for the sake of the gun. But maybe Donald Hennesy would understand and would keep their secret with them. It was almost too much to believe that an adult, one of the parents, would protect a secret from the other parents and even perhaps from his own son. It was a formidable pickle they were in if the gun were ever to shoot again.
* * *
Donald Hennesy stood in his front yard clad in his [absurd] plaid Bermuda shorts, held at the waist by a glossy patent leather belt. On his feet he wore black patent leather penny loafers and white socks pulled ridiculously to the knees. He wore an undershirt like fat Italian men wear when they sit on their front stoops in Queens, New York and his substantial girth that lent him an air of happy and self-satisfied prosperity was little if at all disguised. He held the limp garden hose in his hands and it gushed forth a uniform stream of water into the planter that he had built in his front yard and had filled with white stones at his wife Joan’s insistence who loved all things white and pink – including rocks. Out of the middle of the round planter sprouted a dense and prickly juniper tree and planted around it in a circular pattern among the myriad white stones were pink miniature roses. The planter was Joan’s pride and joy, but the maintenance of it had fallen to Donald who stood in the afternoon sun dutifully watering the tree and the roses and looking closely for intrusive eruptions of Bermuda grass, the blessing and scourge of his yard. He was bending into the planter, his head nearly buried in the prickly juniper, the bottom of his Bermuda shorts broad and wide to the sun and the hose was absently pointing toward his shoe, which would in another second have been soaked if Patrick had not walked across the street and asked, “Whatcha, doin’ Mr. Hennesy?”
“Holy cats!” Donald exclaimed from the fright.
“Oh it’s you, Patrick,” he said, pulling his head from the Juniper tree and turning around and standing back up. “Well you almost killed me that time. I didn’t hear you or see you and you nearly scared me to death.”
“Sorry,” Patrick said smiling because Donald Hennesy always said ‘holy cats’ which to Patrick was absurd and meaningless and funny.
“Well, to answer your question, I’m pulling weeds and watering the planter, as you can see.”
“You were about to water your shoes if I hadn’t come and scared you,” Patrick said, pointing, still smiling. He liked Donald Hennesy because it did not make him feel foolish to talk to him. He was like Nan Warrington that way. Patrick could talk to her too without feeling silly.
“Well, then I guess I’m indebted to you for saving me.”
“Yea, I s’pose that’s right,” Patrick said.
“Whadaya know about rusty guns, Mr. Hennesy?” Patrick blurted.
“What?” Donald Hennesy said, half distracted with the water and still looking at his shoe to see that it was dry.
“I’m sorry, Patrick, what did you say about guns?”
“Well, I was kinda wonderin’ what you knew about rusty guns?”
“Oh, you were, were you? And why would that be?”
“Oh, just ‘cuz I was just wonderin’,” Patrick said evasively.
“Just wondering, you say?”
“Yea, just wonderin’,” Patrick said. He stood now with his hands clasped behind his back and his tongue digging deep into his cheek. He did not look Donald Hennesy in the eyes. (No one could look Donald Hennesy in the eyes because one of his eyes was a wanderer, which stared off to the side as often as it stared square on. But Patrick didn’t even look him in the good eye. Instead he looked askance, in the same direction that Donald’s wandering eye was staring.)
“Oh, I don’t know, I expect I know a little something about rusty guns. I suppose I might know enough about them to make them unrusty.”
“You do!?” Patrick gasped.
“Yes, I do.”
“Really!? I mean you can?”
“Why, sure, I think I can.”
“Whadabout makin’ em shoot again?” Patrick pressed, too astounded to be cautious anymore.
“Well, I suppose I could give it a try. Depends on just how broke and rusty she is.”
“O.K., thanks a lot, Mr. Hennesy,” Patrick said and suddenly turned on his heels and ran to Johnny Warrington’s house.
Donald Hennesy stood in his ridiculous Bermuda shorts, staring at the receding figure of the little boy who skipped lickety-split across the street and was gone and while he was staring at him and puzzling, the hose, limp in his hand, poured a stream of water directly onto his shoes. He wondered for an instant what the discussion of guns and rust had meant and then turned diligently to the problem of his wet shoes and shouted, exasperatedly, “Holy Cats!”
* * *
Even Harry Goss realized that the evidence to convict Grady MacPherson was scant. His case hinged on circumstantial evidence strung together with only the most tenuous of inferences. One must be cautious, he knew, of accusing of murder the last person to see the victim alive, when more often than not the guilty party is the first person to see the victim dead. Harry Goss did not know, was not himself sure, that Grady MacPherson fit either description. He (Grady) had been seen with the victim, once. He was not far from the victim when she was found, in pieces. But the crime had been brutal. Wanton and vile and brutal beyond even that against which he had grown immune in his years in the County Prosecutor’s Office. For the brutality, the public outcry for justice - even at the expense of convicting someone merely convenient - had been deafening. The County Sheriff had pulled out his hair for want of evidence or motive or even opportunity. No mention was made in the press and none was to be made to the jury, Judge Walsh had ordered, that the victim was unsavory, a morphine addict and a prostitute. It mattered little to the paper and less to the Judge in light of the gruesomeness of the method of her dispatch. So the local paper, little more than a yellow rag more concerned with the farm prices of alfalfa and hay than with the truth or even good writing or thoughtful commentary, had begun a steady drum beat of blood-lust for the arrest and conviction and speedy hanging of someone – anyone – for the heinous murder of the girl. Judge Walsh was a savvy political animal and knew that whatever horrors a conviction would mean to young Grady MacPherson, it meant reelection for him.
Grady MacPherson would do. He was a sullen unlettered young man who had appeared in the Valley only months before the murder and was seen often in the seedier parts of the city drifting and drunk and he worked, when at all, intermittently in the railroad yards loading boxcars with produce that came off the farms south and west of downtown.
His picture in the newspaper had generated more than just interest in the case, it had caught the eyes of most of the young women in town who, with few exceptions, found him heartbreakingly irresistibly handsome. The Courtroom, as a result, was filled with young women who sat demurely but transfixed, hoping to catch a glimpse of this handsome desperado and hoping too that he would catch a glimpse of them. For ladies love outlaws. But it was this distinctly unladylike outpouring of lust that particularly galled Judge Walsh. His Courtroom would not be turned into a sanctified whorehouse and these women, like all those who never had an eye for him in his youth, would not sit wanting and panting and wet for the miscreant who sat before him on trial. As much to punish and disappoint the shameless hussies as to do justice in the sad case, Judge Walsh was bound and determined that the boy would have a swift trial and then be hanged.
Harry Goss, Esquire, was not blind to the Judge’s obvious enthusiasm for the demise of the accused and it infuriated him. For Harry Goss believed that a man was entitled to a fair trial and let the facts, like chips, fall where they may and justice be done. He did not believe that one picked a man and tried to fit a crime to him, rather one picked a crime and tried to fit a man to it. The Judge’s obsequiousness to his requests and fawning attention to and compliments for his arguments chafed him. If he were going to win the case he wanted to do it on the merits and on the facts. There was no joy for him in winning a case in which he himself had little faith. So as the trial progressed, Harry Goss began to draw in his armaments and to mute his otherwise pointed and florid rhetoric and subtly began to sabotage his own case. Anything than to be seen as the lackey and bagman to this malevolent on the bench. Anything than to be party to a lynching that would forever be on his head and hands if he did nothing to prevent its coming to pass.
The newspaper began to refer to the proceedings as the David and Goliath struggle. Photographs of the two lawyers locked in battle could not have formed a more perfect contrast. Harry Goss was all of five feet and four inches tall, standing nattily tailored and in his dress shoes. William Foreman was an unkempt, hirsute and thundering giant. The newspaper took Biblical comfort in reminding its readers that David had slain Goliath with his stone and sling, his hand guided by the powerful touch of the Almighty. It might have accurately reported of the trial that Harry Goss’ hand was being manipulated and guided by a lesser but no less powerful touch in the circumstances, that of Judge Walsh, but it did not. The comparison could not have been more apt. For whatever differences there were in the respective causes of Goliath and Foreman, it was no less true in the one case than in the other that the cause was doomed. Little could prevent the outcome, for the power on the bench had decided it already. The hand that swung the gavel also had a thumb weighing heavily on the scales of justice.
There was no evidence whatsoever that the murdered girl had been raped. The County Coroner had made no examination on the subject, being more concerned with whether the severing of various of the limbs had caused death by loss of blood or whether death was brought about by the massive head injuries that had rendered the skull the consistency of scrambled eggs. Nevertheless when the coroner had concluded his testimony, none of which had touched upon the subject of rape nor implicated even tangentially the involvement of Grady MacPherson, the Judge asked, “Dr. Bloom, in your opinion was the unfortunate decedent raped prior to her death or only after she had expired?”
The blushing girls in the Courtroom come to play court to the accused gasped in unison, the collective inhalation like a choir of nuns catching their breath in the interval between notes of a Gregorian chant.
“Objection!” William Foreman thundered, rocketing from his seat, stern and withering as the wrath of God.
“Overruled,” the Judge cooed unctuously, drawing out the word and smiling at Foreman as he did.
“Judge, this is an outrage and I protest,” Foreman continued. “How dare you insert scandal and lechery and bald sexual innuendo where there is no evidence to support it! If you want to prosecute this case with unsupported and slanderous and poisoned suggestion to this jury, may I suggest you come down from the bench and take Mr. Goss’ chair? Until you do, sir, I ask that you restrain yourself to acting as the judge in this case. But when and if you do so, sir, begin to prosecute my client I request you conduct yourself with the integrity and restraint that Mr. Goss has shown heretofore. As it is now you have besmirched, with your shameless libel, the presumed innocence of my client beyond, I fear, even the Almighty’s power to repair.”
“I will tell you what is an outrage, Mr. Foreman,” Judge Walsh said, holding his gavel like a hatchet raised at the big lawyer, “your behavior in this Courtroom is an outrage and I take pains to point that out to the jury who I know have no difficulty perceiving it on their own. Your invocation of the Almighty here is a blasphemy. I instruct you to desist from such plainly objectionable behavior in the future. May I also suggest at least the simulation of respect for the Court, even if you cannot find it in yourself to feel it? If you do not, there is ample space, even for a man of your considerable proportions, in the cells above our heads. You have objected and I have overruled your objection. The question is before the witness and he shall answer it.”
The coroner who was plainly disgusted with the exchange taking place before him and no stranger to the cloying hypocrisies of the Courtroom, coolly looked up to the Judge and answered through his teeth, “No, Your Honor, I am sorry, I will not.”
The problem for William Foreman was not that his client was guilty. On the contrary, his client was not guilty. The problem for William Foreman was that the sheriff had not come up with someone who looked more guilty than Grady MacPherson. All juries, he knew, think that a trial is an opportunity for the guilty to prove his innocence or at the very least to solve the crime by pointing to the guilt of one other than himself. William Foreman’s problem was that if he did not do what the sheriff had not done, could not do or would not do, that is, find the actual murderer and prosecute him in the guise of defending his client, all bets were off and his man was for the gallows.
* * *
Donald Hennesy sat in his workshop. The yellow lamp on his workbench shone solitary in the room and its light spilled out into the evening and cut a wedge of light into the dusk out the half-opened door. Johnny Warrington stood unseen and unheard outside the door in the shadow where the wedge of light did not cut and waited for the right moment to announce that he was there and why he had come. Patrick Reilly stood behind him with his heart racing for the anticipation. Donald Hennesy’s face was half lit by the yellow light and the smoke from the pipe he held clenched in his teeth billowed hugely in it. The room smelled of rich tobacco, honeyed and dusky like a smoldering sweet fire and the boys sniffed it luxuriously. Donald Hennesy always smelled like tobacco smoke. He was driving a brass screw into an ornate piece of joinery, fitting the pieces of textured wood together with a fierce but steady and precise determination like one certain of the accuracy of his measurements who need not fret for the fitting. As he drove the screw, the sweat beaded freely on his forehead and his cheeks glowed like they would on a cold night in candlelight. Finally Johnny found the courage and tapped nearly inaudibly on the half-opened door.
“Ho-oly Ca-ats!” Donald Hennesy bellowed.
He spun around on his chair and glared hard, his eyes huge from the surprise into the dark of the evening outside the half-opened door. Then he squinted, the pipe still clenched in his teeth so hard the boys could see the muscles bulge on the sides of his ample cheeks. The smoke swirled around his head like a thunderstorm.
“Who’s there?” he said, not smiling.
Johnny and Patrick stepped into the light.
“Well, you nearly killed me that time,” he said.
He looked at the two boys in the doorway and wiped his brow with a handkerchief he pulled out of his shirt pocket.
“Well,” he said.
He looked again at the boys and put the handkerchief back folded where it had come from.
“What do you have there, Johnny?” Donald Hennesy pointed with the stem of his pipe at the gunnysack that Johnny held down at his side. It was a gunnysack from the great monsoon gunnysack raid on the chicken coop.
Johnny looked down where Donald Hennesy was pointing and said nothing.
“’Member when I asked you about fixin’ a rusty gun?” Patrick asked. “To make it shoot?”
Patrick looked at Johnny to see that it was all right to come right out with it.
Donald looked from Johnny to the gunnysack to Patrick and said, “Yes, I suppose I do.”
Johnny only looked down and said nothing.
“Well this is it,” Patrick said, lifting the gunnysack that Johnny did not relinquish that concealed the gun. As he did so Patrick looked around him cautiously and suspiciously to make sure he was not being watched. He could not be too careful, he thought.
The boys came into the light and into the workshop tentatively, each holding onto the gunnysack as they laid it on the workbench. Donald Hennesy turned on his chair and watched the boys lay it before him. Johnny slowly unveiled the treasure.
There it was, with Donald Hennesy’s work light shining soft yellow full on it in the warm night, resurrected from its grave, sanded buff and shiny along the barrel, its lever loosed from the grip of rusted paralysis, the stock sanded smooth. The boys stared at it and looked up at Donald Hennesy expectantly, saying nothing, as in the distance the crickets chirped in a chorus and the cicadas buzzed in the indeterminate night.
“Well, what have we here?” Donald said, puffing energetically on his pipe, as he always did when assessing a new task, filling the room again with smoke that bloomed hugely in the lone light.
“We don’t know how to get it to fire,” Johnny finally said, breaking his silence that had begun to unnerve Patrick.
“What’ll you do with it if you do get it to fire?” Donald said looking at each of the boys in turn with his one eye that looked square on.
“Shoot it,” Johnny said flatly. “We want to shoot it.”
“Ahh, yes, I see,” Donald said thoughtfully. “Have you thought about what you want to shoot at?”
“Oh, you know, targets and junk,” Johnny said.
“And your folks know you boys have this gun?” Donald asked pointedly, removing his pipe from his mouth and looking at each of the boys in turn with his one eye that looked square on.
“Not exactly,” Patrick owned.
“Yea, not exactly,” Johnny echoed.
“Ahh yes, I see. Tell you what, I’ll see what I can do. For now I’ll keep your secret. When I get done, if I can fix this relic, then we’ll have a talk about shooting at targets . . . and junk, as you say. Now you leave this with me, there’s a place I can put it where no one will find it. I can’t promise you I can fix it or when I’ll get to it, but I promise you I’ll give it a try. Don’t come around pestering me on it. I’ll let you know. Now run along. It’s late. It’s time for supper. Your folks probably wonder where you are. Now git.”
* * *
Emily Young Walsh had married him because her mother said he was a great catch. Those were the words she used and they meant that Cornelius O’Driscoll Walsh was a man of substance who had enough ambition and hunger for self-advancement that any woman who hitched her wagon to his would never have to worry about where her next meal was coming from. Would never have to worry that he would wander, for the man was not handsome and seemed only mildly if at all interested in young women. His ambition lay to wealth and the accumulation of it and of the status and prestige that wealth could purchase. He came from wealth. His family owned land in the Valley. There was the Walsh home place, the Great House out in the orchard district, where Cornelius had been raised, silver spoon stuck in his mouth, the son of a prominent lawyer whose health had failed, but not before he had amassed a fortune rivaling that of Frank Gilbert, Sr., who owned the citrus ranch abutting the Walsh property.
She had not even considered marrying for love for if she had she would not have married the man she did. There was little in the way of love in Cornelius O’Driscoll Walsh. He and Emily had had no children largely for not trying. She became, instead of a mother, a hostess to the small and cliquish group of men and women of substance who banded together largely out of fear; fear of isolation and of the rabble that were pouring into the Valley in search of cures for tuberculosis, cures for penury, and then cures for the disaster that was the Dust Bowl. They banded together also out of boredom from the idleness of easy riches and so they hosted one another in a dull round of pointless parties in the years after the Great War.
As a young girl she had had a melancholic turn which her mother had dismissed as girlish maladjustment and for which she had prescribed elixirs that bore in quaint variation the words “soothing syrups” which contained, until the Act of Congress of 1914 that banned them, concoctions of opium or morphine or laudanum. The elixirs had worked after a fashion on Emily’s melancholic turn only to give birth to a malady more grim than the one they claimed to cure. As time went on and the soothing syrups became more difficult to obtain and then impossible without the aid of indulgent or sympathetic or unscrupulous doctors willing to prescribe on demand, her condition worsened into pitiable despondency, delusion and intermittent and pathetic addiction.
Emily’s condition did not concern the Judge so greatly as to permit it to interfere with his ambitions nor did he allow her to use it as an excuse to shirk her social duties which for him were indispensable to cultivating his position in the community of elites to which he belonged by luck of birth, inherited wealth, and judicial position. He dismissed her deteriorating condition as a mere inconvenience and brooked no excuses for deviation from their appointed rounds of social appointments. For this she suffered immeasurably, maintaining over the years a hold on her crumbling composure only at great personal cost, putting up a front which cracked and then sundered absolutely until it finally became clear even to her wooden-headed husband that she was not fit. Thereafter she remained at home, shut up in the Great House, dependent on Kanoodle the groundskeeper to shield her from contact with the rest of the world.
As the second week of the Grady MacPherson trial got underway, it had been nearly twelve years since Emily Walsh had been beyond the gates of the Walsh Great House, unless it were for periodic hospitalizations or surreptitious trips to the pharmacy that she would undertake with the assistance of Kanoodle. In those years, Judge Walsh had lived for his work, for only there did he find relief from the nightmare of life at home. Only there was he permitted again the all but vanished feeling of being important and powerful and among the ascendancy. His sojourns into society had become infrequent and he found that his peers invited him with less and less frequency to their clandestine and exclusive gatherings until he was invited not at all. Country Clubs began to be the gathering places of choice among the moneyed and the powerful and wanting a sponsor to admit him, he was never invited to join. Nor did he even tangentially solicit one, for he was a man who required always a special invitation.
The vistas of his life began to diminish and then to close where once they had been vast and without limit and between his stately Great House and the Courthouse there was little that occupied his time except for the pathetic disappointment that was his wife. So he clung to his position on the bench with a morbid desperation for when it was gone, there would be nothing, nothing absolutely. He was fifty-nine years old, young enough still to achieve great things, old enough to command respect as a seasoned and senior jurist to whom the bench and the bar should look for moral example and jurisprudential guidance and anecdotal wisdom. But they did not. He was neither loved nor respected nor admired. Lacking these, he had settled for the bitter solace he found in knowing at least that he was feared.
The case of Grady MacPherson caught the popular imagination because the newspaper dictated that it would. The women doted on the handsome young accused and the crime was sensational enough, but the sheer volume of lurid ink, dripping with invective, devoted to the case was one of those inexplicable happenstances that cannot be explained save for the peevish bent of the editorial board. For nothing was remarkable about the case and certainly nothing redemptive in the life of the victim that would otherwise provoke sympathy for her passing. No, she had been a whore and a morphine addict and a denizen of the lower quarters of the city. Perhaps it was that she counted among her patrons some the of City’s more prominent men who did not so much grieve her passing as want it avenged, for without her they lacked her and missed her as a receptacle for their hypocritical moral transgressions.
Whatever the reason, Judge Walsh could feel the way the political winds blew and he knew that this man, insignificant, expendable, disposable, was for the gallows, the evidence and fairness be damned. So the trial progressed to its inevitable and cacophonous conclusion, the high-minded thunderings of William Foreman, the giant defense lawyer, notwithstanding.
* * *
The earth spun toward autumnal equinox and as it did the moon waxed in the heavens and the boys who still took to their refuge in the canopy of the tree, even without the gun to worry on and rub, saw the moon yellow and huge as it rose above the sea of trees that spread out before them just as the sun was setting. It cast a haunting golden glow on the trees and lit the bats against the star stabbed sky. While they sat the evenings like this they waited with young boy impatience for the treasure they had entrusted to Donald Hennesy.
“You really think he can get it to shoot?” Patrick asked, not for the first time.
“Heck, he can fix anything, you know that,” Johnny said impatiently.
“Yea, but what if ours is too far gone? You know, too old and busted?”
“Not a thing he can’t fix. He’s got every tool you could think of wanting and he knows how to use ‘em. Pop says he’s a engineer, but not the kind that runs the trains, the kind that fixes machines and junk. So I’m bettin’ he can fix just about anything. And he sure as heck can fix that ol’ gun.”
“You think he’ll give it back to us after it’s fixed?”
“That’s what I worry about sometimes. I sure as heck hope he don’t make us tell our folks. That’d be the end of things. They’d skin me for keepin’ secrets and then yell at me about guns. Pop’s got some guns but he don’t want us havin’ secrets like this.”
“Yea, me too,” Patrick said miserably.
Two days later Patrick Reilly saw Donald Hennesy just like before with the hose in his hand watering the planter in his front yard and chomping on a fat stogy. The sun from the tops of the trees in the orchard slanted its waning last light and stretched long shadows into the coming evening. It was starting to cool so he wasn’t sweating too badly. Still he had rings under his arms that soaked his undershirt nearly down to his waist. Donald Hennesy caught Patrick’s eye without saying a word and after he had Patrick’s attention, he beckoned him over with a pull on his finger. Patrick had been careful not to approach Donald Hennesy these ten days he had been waiting on the gun because he took Donald Hennesy’s warning to heart that he and Johnny were not to pester him about when or whether the gun was fixed. So Patrick had chafed at a distance and never even dared to look straight at him for fear he’d take it as a pestering and then stop working on the gun altogether. But now he saw the beckoning finger and knew what it meant. He skipped across the street as fast as he could move.
“Where’s Johnny Warrington?” Donald Hennesy said.
“Home, I guess,” Patrick said.
“Go get him,” he said. “ I’ll be in the work shop. Bring that gunnysack. We’ll talk about what I’ve been able to do. Now skip to it. Don’t be dawdling.”
Patrick ran kitty-corner across the street and cut through the Warrington yard and ran around back. He was like another of the Warrington boys for all the time he spent there, so when he got to the back he let himself in and ran to Johnny’s room.
“It’s time,” was all he said.
Johnny grabbed his shoes and put them on without tying them and the pair ran out the house and across the yard until Patrick stopped and said, “Get the gunnysack.”
Johnny turned without breaking stride, dodged into the storage room off the garage and emerged, running with the gunnysack tucked up under his arm.
“Let’s move,” he said when he caught back up to Patrick.
They darted across the street and went on tip-toes around the Hennesy house, vigilant for the face of Joan Hennesy in the lighted and curtained windows, whom both the boys feared and sought to avoid and saw finally the open door of the workshop with the yellow light coming from it and cutting a wedge like a dim beacon in the growing twilight. They peered inside and saw Donald Hennesy perched at his work table and there before him under the glow of the lone lamp was the gleaming buffed and shiny sanded and varnished resurrection of the corpse of the gun that they had unearthed nearly four weeks ago, remade and reborn, back from the dead and smelling up close like oil and paint thinner.
The boys approached it like they would a sacred thing; their eyes wide with wonder like Christmas morning. Donald Hennesy sat before his handiwork puffing on his fat stogy like a man admiring a newborn son, come into the world only after a monumental struggle. He said nothing, but the smoke came from his mouth like a little Puffing Billy locomotive engine. He was as much a little boy to look at him there, as were the two little boys who stood beside him in wonder.
“Well,” Donald Hennesy said.
The boys said nothing. They didn’t dare to touch it. The varnish on the stock was shiny like it was still wet and the barrel was wet too with a sheen of oil that made the yellow light glint off it. Patrick looked at Donald Hennesy who looked back at him with his good eye and said, “Go ahead.”
Patrick picked it up and held it like he would something he feared would break. He felt that the varnish had dried and was smooth as he passed his hand over it. The barrel was slick and polished and blue-silver but dry too, as if Donald had painted it with some magic that dried slick. He put it to his shoulder as he had so many times in Judge Walsh’s orchard and lined down the sight imagining he was firing it for the first time.
“Wow,” he said reverently, “it’s keen.”
He passed it to Johnny who felt on it like Patrick had, testing its texture and gauging its weight. Johnny looped his hand through the once rusted lever and pulled down on it and the lever moved and something inside, like sturdy and well oiled gears, clicked and engaged like a big clock moving to the next moment in time.
“Does it fire?” he asked.
“Oh, I think so,” Donald said enigmatically.
He smiled with the wet stogy tucked deep in his cheek and he puffed out a cloud into the close and low lit room.
“Oh, yes, I do believe it does,” he said again.
“Now come look at me, the both of you,” he said after Johnny had examined it and put it back on the work table.
The boys came around to the front of his chair and he took a shoulder of each of them in his hands and put them tight together side by side so he could look down on them both at the same time with his good eye.
“Now listen to me. This is not a toy. You’ll put your eyes out if you’re not careful. I don’t want to hear about either of you shooting birds with it, either. That’s what those Gilbert boys do and it’s wrong and you both know it. It’s a sin. Don’t ever forget it. If I hear you’ve done it, I’ll come and take it back because now that I’ve worked on it I’ve got a claim on it. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mr. Hennesy,” the boys said in unison, Patrick feeling like maybe he was going to start crying because this was all so serious now.
“Now, your folks don’t know you have this thing and they should. I’m not going to make you tell them but I want you to do it. So you think about it and decide. It’ll be up to you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mr. Hennesy,” the boys said in unison again. Patrick could not stand it. He’d rather be told than to be put on his honor. It was one thing to defy; it was another to do something he knew was wrong or not do something he knew he should. He felt queasy suddenly.
“O.K. we understand each other. Now where’s that gunnysack? We’ll tuck her in there snug and the two of you are off.”
“Thanks, Mr. Hennesy,” they said. They wrapped up the gun. Johnny tucked it under his arm. They made for the door.
“Before you go boys, there’s one other thing I want to ask you.”
Patrick looked at Johnny and Johnny looked at Patrick, each fearing this last question more than they dreaded the warnings he had given them so far.
“Kerry doesn’t have any brothers. You boys know that. For that he’s not as lucky as you two who each have lots of brothers. So sometimes it’s hard for him. I want you to do me a favor, just like I’ve done you a favor. I want you two to try to be friends with Kerry. If you try, you will have paid me back for this little favor I have done for you. Will you try to do that for me?”
Patrick looked up into the good eye of this good man and felt the lump that had started during the warnings grow huge in his throat for all the times he had been mean to Kerry which he knew his father knew about and he felt so ashamed that he didn’t know whether he could make it out into the night with the gunnysack without busting up altogether.
“Yes, Mr. Hennesy,” they said.
“Thanks, boys,” he said, “that would be a great favor to me. Now it’s late. Your mothers wonder where you are. You’ve got school tomorrow. Now git.” As Patrick was leaving the workshop and passing from the wedge of yellow light that cut into the twilight, Donald Hennesy stopped him for an instant and said, “Put this in your pocket.” Patrick did without looking at it and they were gone.
They moved into the night along the path between the Garowski yard and the Gilbert orchard and then under the thicket of Carob trees until they came to the gravel road that passed in front of the Gilbert Great House and then across that to Old Judge Walsh’s orchard where they scampered as fast as they could in the gathering dark, along the row of trees they knew blindfolded and then to their secret fort. They scaled up to the second story, Johnny handing the gunnysack up to Patrick and then climbing up himself. By now the moon, just days past full, was beginning to rise in the balmy luminescent night. The boys settled themselves into their respective spots in the canopy to look down on the night and Johnny reached into the gunnysack and pulled out the treasure once more. The first light of the rising moon caught its polished barrel and they stared at in silence.
After they had tucked it away, wrapped in the gunnysack and stowed in the secret chamber there in the fort, Patrick remembered his pocket.
“Wait a minute,” he said, as they were leaving for home.
“What?” Johnny said impatiently.
Patrick dug into his pocket and pulled out a little barrel, the size of a half candle. Patrick shook it and heard inside the unmistakable sounds of BB’s. A sleeve of new shiny BB’s.
* * *
Big Bill Foreman had failed, as the sheriff had failed, to find and convict the true murderer so the jury was left with only one man on which to lay the blame and that man was Grady MacPherson whom the Judge despised and knew was guilty. The jury knew the Judge’s opinion because he lost no opportunity to express it, suppressing with increasing stridence the repeated objections of defense counsel. Harry Goss was merely going through the motions, calling his witnesses in the order he had ordained before the trial had begun and asking them perfunctorily the questions he felt he could and needed to secure a conviction. Judge Walsh did the rest. Judge Walsh buried the defendant.
The congregation of women who appeared daily in the courtroom dwindled to an ardent few; the rest, catching the force of the Judge’s calumny against their handsome man had abandoned him as a lost cause.
When the Judge charged the jury he did it with vicious disdain, fairly directing the jury to return a verdict of guilty as quickly as they could in order that they could soon and forever wash their hands of this sordid and savage man. When they returned from deliberations Big Bill Foreman did not even look their way, did not look at the Judge, did not look at anything, but stared blankly ahead of him, listening to and enduring the roaring wind of rage that howled in his head and thought for a moment he was going to explode, was going to tear the very building down. He did not hear the jury foreman utter the words “Guilty as charged” nor did he need to. The case had been lost before it had ever begun.
Emily Walsh did not wait for the sentencing. Nor did she give the Judge but one opportunity to hear her. She had told him that if he killed that handsome boy, it would be the last thing he did on the bench. She stood before him, frail and wasted like a wild and starving thing and her eyes were glazed and the pupils pinned from the morphine and she looked through him and into him and said shrilly in a whisper with the unerring moral conviction of scripture that elevated it to a prophecy and to a warning not to be ignored, “If you kill that boy, Con, the voice of thy brother’s blood will crieth unto you from the ground and you will never have peace.” That is all she said.
The Judge ignored her as he had ignored her these last twelve years, seeking to distance himself from her increasingly hysterical and nonsensical fantasies born of her diseased mind. She did not wait for the sentencing for it was a mere formality. She did it on the day the jury came back after only ninety-four minutes of deliberation, most of which time was taken drinking coffee and choosing a foreman. She did it because she knew her husband had killed that handsome boy and after all that she had endured on his behalf, it had now become finally too much.
Judge Walsh returned home after discharging the jury for the day, admonishing them to return promptly the next morning early to consider sentence, but promising them also that a sentence of death, he was sure, would be forthcoming before the clock struck noon and then wishing them a pleasant evening.
He found her hanging from the chandelier in the living room of the Great House. The weight of her body had pulled the leaded glass from its mooring in the ceiling and the electrical wire that held the chandelier was all that held her and the ornate light suspended in the air. But it was enough. Her face had swollen monstrously from the congealed blood and she looked down on him, her eyes still open in her bloated and disfigured face. Pinned to her dress, for she was a lady of the Old School and always wore a dress, was a piece of stationery monogrammed at the top with the name Cornelius O’Driscoll Walsh and just beneath it in huge script were the words that completed the sentence that the monogram began “is a murderer”. Those few who learned of the note and told others until everyone knew, wondered, but of course never learned, who it was precisely that she meant.
Judge Walsh did not return to the Courthouse the next day. The Presiding Judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court took the verdict in the circumstances. The jury returned with a sentence of death before the Courthouse clock struck eleven a.m.
About this, Cornelius O’Driscoll Walsh had been uncannily prescient.
Judge Walsh took leave from the bench and resigned before the year’s end. He never again took the bench nor did he ever again sit his chair, high-backed and buffed lustrous black, leathered and padded and shiny brass-studded and held erect by a close-grained and highly polished oaken undercarriage on well oiled casters that allowed him to slide the length of the bench and glare menacingly at a recalcitrant witness or a timorous green attorney. He never again struck the bench with his black mahogany gavel with its showy cylinder of sterling silver, bearing in flowing and ornate script the words: The Honorable Cornelius O’Driscoll Walsh, Esquire. Judge of the Superior Court, Maricopa County, Arizona, Anno Domini, 1927. He never again even set foot in the Courthouse at all, sending instead his man Kanoodle to collect his property, his books, his photographs, plaques and awards, the stuff of his life for twenty-two years, now suddenly and pathetically ended.
It was as if he had forever been banished.
About this, Emily Young Walsh had been uncannily prescient.
Review by the Arizona Supreme Court was perfunctory. The conviction and sentence were affirmed. Grady MacPherson never saw his nineteenth birthday and never saw the year of our Lord, 1950.
About this, Grady MacPherson had been uncannily prescient.
* * *
It was in Judge Walsh’s orchard thirteen years later, when the sordid circumstances had mostly been forgotten and the new families that had moved into to the orchard district, ever closer to the Judge’s Great House which had once been so isolated in his huge citrus grove, knew nothing at all except faint rumors of a sad suicide, that Patrick finally fired the gun that Johnny had found buried there. He tucked it to his shoulder and murmured its name “Ticklicker” as he would murmur the name of his dog when he scratched his ears and pulled the trigger and watched the target pop. He fired it at oranges that grew fat on the trees and that would not again this season be harvested by the Judge who had left his orchard to grow wild, and he watched the tart juice from the green fruit squirt forth and then drip onto the ground when the pellet broke the skin.
Until one day he watched Johnny aim at a bird high in a date palm that grew along the edge of the orchard. He fired and he missed. Johnny did not say that he knew that he was defying the rule that Donald Hennesy had given them, although he knew he was. Nor did Patrick say that he knew that he was defying that same rule when Johnny handed him the gun and dared him kill the bird he had missed. So he took the gun and murmured “Ticklicker” and drew down on the bird, high in the tree. It was a mourning dove and he watched as it filled its ample throat with the wind to coo its call and he breathed steadily down the barrel like he had learned he was supposed to do and he squeezed the trigger just right, so that he knew before the gun fired that the BB would fly true and it was too late before he had even fired and he watched the bird pop like it had been surprised and then flop spastically over and over and over again in writhing pathetic contraction and then lose its purchase in the fronds of the tree and come spilling down to the ground with a thud. There it flopped and spilled its blood like someone had pricked a fat red water balloon, its life flowing full and thin and endlessly on the dusty weeded earth at his feet. Then he knew what it meant to be forever too late. What irretrievable meant. What it meant when forever had taken something away and there was no getting it back; no saying “I didn’t mean it” or “I’m sorry”. He learned then the meaning of irrevocable and his young boy’s heart broke a thousand times for the lesson that he would never unlearn; for the place to which he could never return. Then it stopped its struggling there in the dust, spent and blood splattered, its head turned wrong on its limp neck. He stared at it in uncomprehending amazement and horror and looked at Johnny and did not know what to say or what to do and all he wanted was to hide the bird, this evidence of irrevocable murder and he wanted never again to see the weapon that had been the instrumentality of the crime. So he handed it to Johnny, getting shut of it once and for all. He then bent to the bird that lay in the dust and hefted its plump weight in his two hands reverently as if he were carrying the heavy parcel of his sin to some place to get absolution and he walked deep into Judge Walsh’s trees and buried the bird in a place no one would ever find. From there he walked alone out of the orchard and back to the dusty path down to the gravel road that passed in front of the Gilbert Great House and from there to the Carob thicket under which nothing grew save deep shadow and cool, that now looked different – as did everything he saw. Then down the path by the Garowski yard and to his house where he went inside and closed the door of his room to shut out what could never be shut out, lay down on his bed and wept.
Copyright© 2010, Thomas Phalen, All rights reserved.