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Home > A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance #1)(14)

A Time to Kill (Jake Brigance #1)(14)
Author: John Grisham

It was important for Cat to be popular in the community because he would be indicted again and tried again, and in all likelihood acquitted again by his peers, half of whom were black. The authorities had found it impossible to convict Cat of killing people and of selling such things as women, cocaine, stolen goods, credit cards, food stamps, un-taxed liquor, guns, and light artillery.

He had one eye with him. The other one was somewhere in a rice paddy in Vietnam. He lost it the same day in 1971 that his buddy Carl Lee Hailey was hit in the leg. Carl Lee carried him for two hours before they found help. After the war he returned to Memphis and brought with him two pounds of hashish. The proceeds went to buy a small saloon on South Main, and he almost starved before he won a whore in a poker game with a pimp. He promised her she could quit whoring if she would take off her clothes and dance on his tables. Overnight he had more business than he could seat, so he bought another bar, and brought in more dancers. He found his niche in the market, and within two years he was a very wealthy man.

His office was above one of his clubs just off South Main between Vance and Beale, in the roughest part of Memphis. The sign above the sidewalk advertised Bud and br**sts, but much more was for sale behind the black windows.

Carl Lee and Lester found the lounge-Brown Sugar- around noon, Saturday. They sat at the bar, ordered Bud, and watched the br**sts.

"Is Cat in?" Carl Lee asked the bartender when he walked behind them. He grunted and returned to the sink, where he continued his beer mug washing. Carl Lee glanced at him between sips and dance routines.

"Another beer!" Lester said loudly without taking his eyes off the dancers.

"Cat Bruster here?" Carl Lee asked firmly when the bartender brought the beer.

"Who wants to know?"

"I do."

"So."

"So me and Cat are good friends. Fought together in 'Nam."

"Name?"

"Hailey. Carl Lee Hailey. From Mississippi."

The bartender disappeared, and a minute later emerged from between two mirrors behind the liquor. He motioned for the Haileys, who followed him through a small door, past the restrooms and through a locked door up the stairs. The office was dark and gaudy. The carpet on the floor was gold, on the walls, red, on the ceiling, green. A green shag ceiling. Thin steel bars covered the two blackened windows, and for good measure a set of heavy, dusty, burgundy drapes hung from ceiling to floor to catch and smother any sunlight robust enough to penetrate the painted glass. A small, ineffective chrome chandelier with mirror panes rotated slowly in the center of the room, barely above their heads.

Two mammoth bodyguards in matching three-piece black suits dismissed the bartender and seated Lester and Carl Lee, and stood behind them.

The brothers admired the furnishings. "Nice, ain't it?" Lester said. B.B. King mourned softly on a hidden stereo.

Suddenly, Cat entered from a hidden door behind the marble and glass desk. He lunged at Carl Lee. "My man! My man! Carl Lee Hailey!" He shouted and grabbed Carl Lee. "So good to see you, Carl Lee! So good to see you!"

Carl Lee stood and they bearhugged. "How are you, my man!" Cat demanded.

"Doin' fine, Cat, just fine. And you?"

"Great! Great! Who's this?" He turned to Lester and threw a hand in his chest. Lester shook it violently.

iuia ucie s my orother, Lester," Carl Lee said. "He's from Chicago."

"Glad to know you, Lester. Me and the big man here are mighty tight. Mighty tight."

"He's told me all about you," Lester said. Cat admired Carl Lee. "My, my, Carl Lee. You lookin' good. How's the leg?"

"It's fine, Cat. Tightens up sometimes when it rains, but it's fine."

"We mighty tight, ain't we?"

Carl Lee nodded and smiled. Cat released him. "You fellas want a drink?"

"No thanks," said Carl Lee.

"I'll take a beer," said Lester. Cat snapped his fingers and a bodyguard disappeared. Carl Lee fell into his chair and Cat sat on the edge of his desk, his feet dangling and swinging like a kid on a pier. He grinned at Carl Lee, who squirmed under all the admiration.

"Why don't you move to Memphis and go to work for me?" Cat said. Carl Lee knew it was coming. Cat had been offering him jobs for ten years.

"No thanks, Cat. I'm happy."

"And I'm happy for you. What's on your mind?"

Carl Lee opened his mouth, hesitated, crossed his legs and frowned. He nodded, and said, "Need a favor, Cat. Just a small favor."

Cat spread his arms. "Anything, big man, anything you want."

"You remember them M-16's we used in 'Nam? I need one of them. As quick as possible."

Cat recoiled his arms and folded them across his chest. He studied his friend. "That's a bad gun. What kinda squirrels you huntin' down there?"

"It ain't for squirrels."

Cat analyzed them both. He knew better than to ask why. It was serious, or Carl Lee wouldn't be there. "Semi?"

"Nope. The real thing."

"You talkin' some cash."

"How much?"

"It's illegal as hell, you know?"

"If I could buy it at Sears I wouldn't be here."

Cat grinned again. "When do you need it?"

"Today."

The beer arrived and was served to Lester. Cat moved behind his desk, to his orange vinyl captain's chair. "Thousand bucks."

"I got it."

Cat was mildly surprised, but didn't show it. Where did this simple small-town Mississippi nigger find a thousand dollars? Must have borrowed it from his brother.

"Thousand for anyone else, but not for you, big man."

"How much?"

"Nothin', Carl Lee, nothin'. I owe you somethin' worth much more than money."

"I'll be glad to pay for it."

"Nope. I won't hear it. The gun's yours."

"That's mighty kind, Cat."

"I'd give you fifty of them."

"Just need one. When can I get it?"

Chapter Four

"Lemme check." Cat phoned someone and mumbled a few sentences into the receiver. The orders given, he hung up and explained it would take about an hour.

"We can wait," Carl Lee said.

Cat removed the patch from his left eye and wiped the empty socket with a handkerchief. "I gotta better idea." He snapped at the bodyguards. "Get my car. We'll drive over and pick it up."

They followed Cat through a secret door and down a hall. "I live here, you know." He pointed. "Through that door is my pad. Usually keep some naked women around."

"I'd like to see it," Lester volunteered.

"That's okay," said Carl Lee.

Farther down the hall Cat pointed to a thick, black, shiny iron door at the end of a short hallway. He stopped as if to admire it. "That's where I keep my cash. Post a guard in there around the clock."

"How much?" Lester asked with a sip of beer.

Cat glared at him and continued down the hall. Carl Lee frowned at his brother and shook his head. Where the hall ended they climbed a narrow stairway to the fourth floor. It was darker, and somewhere in the darkness Cat found a button on a wall. They waited silently for a few " u,.m me wait opened and revealed a bright elevator with red carpet and a NO SMOKING sign. Cat pushed another button.

"You gotta walk up to catch the elevator goin' down," he said with amusement. "Security reasons." They nodded approval and admiration.

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