|Under The Cicadas|
Codys father had been one of Teddys political backers through a tedious eight years in Congress. Teddy had always counted on Old Fritz for that extra bag of money he needed to win an election. Fritz had it, gave it, and expected things for it. Teddy made sure the open cattle range continued as the modern ranchers credo, and that water remained at what Fritz referred to as a fair price. When the old man died everyone assumed that Teddy would retire, become Mayor, and adopt Cody. Teddy kept the little house and the land Fritz had given him along the southern edge of the Schumacher ranch, became the towns mayor, but never adopted Cody. No one did.
Mr. Mayor, Cody yelled across the yard. Teddy looked up in a faked surprise. He here yet? Teddy shook his head. Think hell show?
If you showed...I guess he will.
Im just surprised hes not here...its getting late, Cody said, ignoring the sarcasm.
Lawyers are always late, son. They dont like looking hungry. Its undignified.
A low cloud of dust rose along the outer road and Earls white 250 Ford truck rushed into view between the trees. The slow crescendo of clicking cicadas began to rise and their steady hum enveloped the yard. Sure you want to hang around for this? Teddy yelled over the cicadas clicking. Im just going to feel him out.
Thought I might help you push the load.
Nobody pushes Big Earl, Teddy said, watching the white truck race up the dirt road while another wave from the cicadas rushed over them in the August heat.
Were giving him an awesome deal no matter how you cut it, Cody yelled back, and headed for the house.
Teddy shook his head at the boys remark and waited for the white truck to pull into the driveway. Big Earl stepped out and sauntered across the yard. He walked with a slight stoop but Teddy still had to reach up to shake his hand. Isnt that Codys bay? Earl asked.
Certainly is, Teddy mumbled, as their boots thumped across the porch. Can I get you some iced tea?
That would do fine, Earl said.
Teddy opened the small fridge behind the screen. I can stiffen it up, if youd like.
Just the tea, Earl said, grasping the frosted glass before Teddy could pour any bourbon into it.
Hope you dont think Im trying to talk you into anything here, Counselor, Teddy said, lacing his own tea with the bourbon and ice.
Hell no, the big man said. I figure youve got a lot on your mind these days and need some answers.
Teddy liked that about Big Earl. He got right to the point. In his way he saved more sweat, grime, and bullshit than anyone hed ever known. He cut to the bone by just speaking his mind. Most people in town were God-fearing Christians that believed in those pretty Biblical words printed on thin paper. They had put up with Earls straight talk for years because if they got into trouble it was Earl they wanted to defend them and they paid plenty for the privilege.
Big Earl never cared much about how the truth got to the table just as long as it managed to get there. Teddy respected that about the big guy and admitted that whenever the platter of truth showed up at his end he just passed it on to the person sitting next to him.
I figure youre looking for some free advice from a good defense lawyer, Earl said.
Teddy gave out a big laugh and a short nod. Youve got me cold, he said.
This whole things really up to you, Earl told him.
Cody came into the room, glanced over at Teddy, and sat down. Whatre they saying down at the courthouse? Teddy asked, ignoring the kid.
That the whole things about a few people having a meeting and forgetting to get a permit, Earl said. Its just their way of trying to brush it under the carpet to protect you. Trouble is, it keeps blowing back out at them. Big Earl laughed at his own joke and looked over at the kid, and said, The fact that the meeting was held at two in the morning on federal property with over a hundred people attending is why it keeps blowing back out from under that carpet.
They cant prove it, Cody said, jumping up.
Were you there, son? Earl asked.
Yeah, I was there, the kid said, and seemed glad someone had finally asked him outside of the courthouse.
Did anyone see you there?
Sure, Cody admitted. I invited a few people over to my ranch...private property. And I can prove it.
There was an uncomfortable silence, and Big Earl finally said, Several noteworthy witnesses say otherwise, including two ministers and a police officer. They say it was not your property and that the number of people that were there couldnt possibly fit into your living room. That means the prosecutor will be questioning your ability to count...and to know where you are at any given time of the day or night. The kid looked sullen and sat down again. Even if what you say is true, Earl went on, this thing could turn into a circus. Its close to that now. Why dont you just pay the fine and hope the damn thing fades into everlasting County paper work?
If we do that then we admit we did it, Cody said.
They might just take it as a beau geste.
The kid looked confused, and Teddy quickly asked, You think they really might, Earl?
Dont know. Paying the fine will at least take the smell off it a bit.
The cicadas stopped their high clicking and the three men listened to the ice hitting the side of Earls glass as he took another slug of the cold tea. Earl leaned back and said, Theres a firm down in Phoenix that specializes-
We dont want outsiders in this, Cody said.
You ought to get the best, son, Earl told him.
We decided to keep it in the family, Teddy said, glancing over at Cody. Less publicity the better. But we wanted your opinion before we went any further.
I just gave you my opinion.
You dont think theres a lawyer here that could-
Call Phoenix and be done with it, Earl insisted. They have more experience with these things, and youll need that if Singleton is prosecuting.
Teddy poured some more tea into Earls glass, and said, Singletons given the case over to his assistant.
Singletons assistant isnt ready for anything like this. He just got out of law school...barely passed the bar. He couldnt argue a traffic ticket.
Teddy watched the change of expression come into Earls eyes when he figured out theyd played a political card to keep the regular prosecuting attorney off the case. Could be a break for your side though, Earl admitted. But be careful. These things can backfire.
Hows that? Cody asked.
Sometimes young enthusiasm goes a long way. The kid may be inexperienced, but hes not dumb. He might dig a lot deeper than his boss. And if he gets together with one of those hotshot reporters on The Courier the whole thing could blow out of control. If that boy starts to dig he might find all kinds of things. Your relationship with Cody, how you got this house, and the ranch itself would be open for investigation.
Thats none of their business, Cody said.
Exactly, Earl said. There are lots of questions people dont ask because they dont want to hear the answers. But its situations like this that force them to ask those questions. Its one thing to be thrown out of office, Teddy, but its something else if they throw the both of you in jail along with it. I think you should bring in the Phoenix boys, Earl said again. Theyre straight and fast. Theyll do a quick plea bargain and itll be over.
The room got quiet and Cody headed for the door in a rush. Be right back, he yelled over his shoulder.
Whats that kid up to? Big Earl asked.
You got me, Teddy said with a shrug. He does the craziest things. I cant figure him out anymore.
No one ever expected you to. Hes damaged goods and you know it. Teddy looked up in surprise. It was unusual for Big Earl to reveal his hand like that. Does he know how bad a situation hes in? Earl asked. If he knowingly lied to a Grand Jury about where-
I think hes beginning to figure that out.
Are you holding something back on me, Teddy? Earl took in a deep breath. Did you drag me out here to ask if I was up to taking your case?
I just wanted your opinion before we did anything.
I didnt think anyone in this town gave a rats ass about my opinion...except in the courtroom.
This town doesnt like hearing the truth, Earl. Im different. I just dont like spreading it around. Truth can be toxic to a politician.
Earl finished his tea and listened to the cicadas. How do you stand those bugs hanging over you like that? he asked. Theyre so noisy I cant hear myself think.
They show up a few weeks in the dog-days, make a lot of clatter, then disappear for the rest of the year.
Theyre a goddamn menace, Earl said.
The old man gave me this property and I figure I got a pretty good deal, Teddy said.
Maybe. But an even better deal is to get the best lawyer you can and crawl out of this mess youre in.
Are you that lawyer, Earl? Teddy asked.
In this town...probably, the big man said, but I still think you should make that call to Phoenix.
Thats an honest answer.
I happen to know the prosecution has pictures of the license plates of everyone attending that meeting. They know who was there because they were there. You broke the law and they caught you. Its as simple as that.
I couldnt resist, Teddy mumbled. There were a lot of votes out there that night.
Maybe, but the voters that werent out there are the ones that can vote you out of office for what you did.
Thats already been suggested. Someones trying to make an example of me. But it wasnt like that. I was worried about Cody so I went along. Those ranchers down Dewey way got him convinced the Latinos are taking over the county...and that the world will end if they do.
That crowd thinks terrorists and drug dealers are in their coffee beans.
Thats not all. Somebodys been sneaking on to the ranches at night and gunning their cows. They dont steal them...just shoot em up and leave em to die. Its got them spooked.
Have they reported it? Earl asked.
Hell, no. Theyre fighting mad and determined to take care of it themselves...and in their own way.
Hope there isnt some stray fruit picker hanging around or their next meeting might turn into a lynching.
Jesus, I never looked at it that way.
Big Earl saw a movement out the window. Cody was heading for the back door with a large white box. Whats that kid up to? Earl asked again.
Damned if I know, Teddy muttered in a low moan.
Hes lied to a Grand Jury and been caught at it. Does he understand what that means?
I tried explaining it to him but hes got his own sense of justice. His world comes cut and dried.
Like shooting cows?
Jesus, you dont think
You better find a law firm...and fast, Teddy.
Cody burst into the room with the big white box under his arm. Dont want you thinking we dragged you out here just to pick your brain, sir, he said to Earl as if hed been rehearsing it in the back room.
Big Earl glanced at Teddy, put down his ice tea, and opened the box. A rush of smooth black material slipped out over his arm. Teddy knew exactly what it was but hadnt expected Cody to go that far. He reached out to catch the material before it hit the floor and shoved a business envelope into Earls hand. Congratulations, he muttered. Shouldve given you this earlier. Earl stared down at the envelope and the material on his arm. Read it, Teddy said. Its signed and delivered.
The Governors office, Earl muttered, opening the envelope and taking out the letter. Hes appointed me the Countys new criminal-court judge.
Said he knew you.
Yeah, we suffered through law school together, Big Earl said, refolding the letter and stuffing it back into the long envelope. Too bad the Governors headed for jail. Thats what happens out here when you marry into money. Youre either thrown on a boring bank board and get caught fiddling with loan votes like he did, or you get elected and sent off to D.C. Either way...you lose, he said, glancing at Teddy.
We were the ones that recommended you, Cody said in a rush as if he hadnt heard anything Earl had just said. Try it on, try it on, the kid insisted, lifting the rest of the black cloth out of the box and holding it up.
Thank you, Earl mumbled, putting his arms through the large openings.
Youll get used to it, Cody said, smoothing the purple stripes that ran up the edge of the bloused sleeves.
Teddy could see the suspicion creeping back into Earls eyes again. I dont know what to say, the tall man mumbled, staring down at the robe that turned him into a judge.
Dont say anything, Teddy said. Youve got the job and no one can take it from you.
Thats the system, Cody said. All legal like.
Earl looked uncomfortable, shifting in the robe until it finally fell into place across his shoulders. I better call Bobbie and tell her, he said.
Of course, use the phone in the bedroom, Teddy said, pointing toward the back of the house.
When the bedroom door closed, Cody whispered across the room, Who the hell is Bobbie?
His wife, Teddy whispered. You pushed too hard and too fast, kid. I told you Id handle this but-
I dont hear anything in there, Cody said, moving closer to the door to listen.
Thats cause hes not talking to anybody, so get away from that door. Hes in there trying to figure this thing out. Earls nobodys fool. He picked up on that Singleton move like a hound dog, and you bringing in that goddamn robe just made things worse. I told you lawyers dont like looking hungry. You cant force something like this on a guy like Earl. Jesus, I had no idea he went to school with the Governor. Hes probably right about that bastard going to jail too. Harvard Law, my ass.
We just did him a favor, for Christs sake.
You dont do favors for guys like Big Earl. Youve got to make guys like that think theyre doing you the favor, Teddy said, pouring more tea and hitting it with a large splash of bourbon. Just leave me alone with him. Maybe I can salvage this thing.
I cant believe hes not on the phone in there, Cody said, listening at the bedroom door again. No Harvard guy turns down being a judge. Its unpatriotic.
Were sliding on black ice here, boy. And we been on it ever since you put that damn cross up at the meeting.
Those people take that cross stuff serious, Teddy. Thats why they were in their white robes. They love crosses. Besides, you said it was all about votes!
You didnt have to set the goddamned thing on fire!
The guys on the fire truck told me it was okay.
Cody heard something move in the bedroom and jumped away from the door, knocking over a small side table next to the stuffed chair. Magazines flew across the floor and Cody tried picking them up before Earl got to the door. The large man rushed back into the room with the opened robe swirling around him. Think Ill try some of that bourbon now, he said, grabbing the bottle of Wild Turkey and pouring it into his iced tea.
Did you get Bobbie? Teddy asked.
She didnt quite believe it, Earl said, gulping the tea. She never liked the Governor and he knew it, so she cant quite figure why hed do something like this for me. Shes got this idea that theyll assign me to this dumb Ku Klux Klan case that youre tied up in. She thinks the whole things going to be a fast trial. Open and shut. Cody glanced at Teddy, but didnt move. Whats got her curiosity going is this first-time judge, first-time prosecutor thing. It puts the trial in an almost automatic appeal situation. Like the whole thing is being set up. Thrown to the appeals court down in Phoenix. Thats what the defense is counting on. He gave out a sudden laugh, and said, I forgot to mention the robe to her, Cody. Sorry about that. She wouldve gotten a kick out of it.
Thats all right, sir, Cody mumbled.
Of course, I could recuse myself and theyd have to appoint another judge, Earl went on. Or we could keep this little meeting of ours a secret...like it never happened.
Thats the best idea youve had all day, Teddy said, glancing over at Cody picking up the magazines.
I suppose we could work out some general terms right now and get that out of the way, Earl said. Bobbies been wanting to move out this way for a long time. I told her you had some ranch property up for sale at a great price, Cody. She jumped at it. Those six or seven acres of bottomland youve got tucked up against Teddys place ought to do fine. A thousand dollars an acre sounded pretty reasonable to her.
Hell, that bottomlands worth a lot more than-
Well have to make the deal before the trial dates set. Shell pay cash, of course.
Its a great spot for a house, Teddy said quickly, trying to cover Codys confusion. Shell love it out here. Maybe I can even pick up a few horses for you.
That might make it messy. Everythings got to be legal and at least look above board.
Of course, Teddy agreed. Ill have the lawyers get the sale papers out to you immediately, he said, smiling over at Cody.
Big Earl slipped out of the robe and folded it back into the white box. Thank you, son. This was a beautiful thought...and kind of you, he said, heading for the door. Ill go down and report to the courthouse with this letter while you get that land agreement postdated.
No problem, Teddy said, stepping out into the yard with Big Earl under a crescendo of cicadas. I didnt have anything to do with this robe business, Earl, he yelled over the cicadas clicking.
I know, Earl said, handing the white box back to him. That kid will drag us all down if we let him. Hes crazy stupid. You think he bought that robe in the same place they make the Klans white ones? Earl jumped into the truck before Teddy could answer. The low growl of the engine blended into the high clicking sounds over them. Tell that kid Ill buy my own uniform for the job. It comes with the territory.
Earls truck started for the road and Teddy turned back toward the house with the white box under his arm. Halfway across the yard he saw Cody coming at him with the double-barreled shotgun. Teddy looked back toward Earls truck but it had already made the turn on to the main road. He made a quick run for the shed but Cody cut him off and Teddy raised the white box with the judges robe in it for protection.
Earl heard the explosion and thought hed blown a tire, but the truck held the road. The clicking waves from the cicadas rose in a quick tremendous roar and he slowed the truck down to listen. When the shotguns second round came the clicking stopped in a deafening silence. Earl picked up speed, reached the main road, and made the turn for home to show Bobbie the Governors letter. After they discussed it hed drive down to the courthouse and get his first assignment.