It was over. We all got up to leave. Two deputies had the prisoner by the arms. I was sitting in back of the courtroom because I had been on another assignment and I had gotten there late. I was near the aisle when I heard someone called out loud and clear: “BOY.” I looked back over my shoulder and saw that the two deputies had stopped with their prisoner and were facing old Brady Sims. Next came the loudest sound that I had ever heard. I saw the prisoner fall back with blood splashing from his body, and both deputies let go of his arms at the same time. Brady Sims stood there in that old faded blue jumper, with the smoke still rising from the gun in his hand.
Then came the screaming and scrambling to get out of the place or get down on the floor. The members of the jury who didn’t run out of the room got down behind their chairs. The judge went under his desk. The two deputies stood frozen, with their hands near their guns, but not on the guns. Brady, facing them—his head as white as cotton is in September—stood as straight and tall as a picket in a fence. I watched him, I watched them all, afraid to run, afraid to get down on the floor.
“Tell Mapes give me two hours,” Brady said.
“You don’t think you walking out of here, do you?” Claude said. He was the younger of the two deputies.
Brady got his hat off the chair next to the one where he had been sitting. He adjusted it well on that pile of cotton.
“I didn’t come here for no foolishness, boy,” he said to Claude. “Tell Mapes what I said,” he said to Russell, the older deputy.
“Go on,” Russell said.
“Go on, like hell go on,” Claude said.
Then I heard that deafening sound again—and the smoke rising up between the old man and the two deputies.
“You old bastard, you,” Claude screamed. “You tried to kill me, you old bastard, you.”
“I shot down in the floor that time,” Brady told him. “Don’t try it no more.”
“Go on,” Russell said again.
“You crazy?” Claude asked Russell.
“Mapes’ll bring him in.”
“Mapes put us in charge.”
“Go on,” Russell told Brady.
“You go’n take the blame for this,” Claude told Russell. “By God, you go’n take all the blame for this.”
Keeping his eyes on the deputies, old Brady backed his way down the aisle. The two deputies watched him, but did not move. The rest of the people lay quietly on the floor. I watched the old man back closer and closer to where I stood. Then we were facing each other, three or four feet apart. I had known him all my life, but this was as close as I had ever been to him. His face was the color of dark worn leather, and looked just as tough. His mustache and beard were the same color as the hair on his head—snow-white. He had a large hawkish nose, thin lips, and the whites of his eyes were yellow. But those same eyes looked tired and weak.
He continued to stare at me, as if he wanted me to understand what he had done, or why he had done it. But at that moment I couldn’t even think, I was barely able to breathe. Still, I couldn’t look away.
When he saw no answers in my face, he looked again at the deputies and slowly backed out of the courtroom, with the big gun still in his hand, pointing at nothing.
I took in a deep breath and tapped my chest a couple times to make sure that I was all right, then I went outside.
I saw some of the people who had been inside the courtroom were now standing out on the lawn. Others from nearby stores and shops had joined them. Now, we all watched Brady go to his truck—the big pistol still hanging from his hand. He had to jerk twice on the truck door to get it open. Then he had to back up and go forward twice before he had the old blue pickup straightened out. He drove slowly out of town.
The nearest public telephone was in the drugstore across the street. I ran over there and called the paper. Velma, the secretary, answered. I told her I wanted to speak to Cunningham. Quick. I told him what had happened. He told me to stay there until he got there, and to get everything down that I could. I ran back to the courtroom. The people had gotten up off the floor. The jury members who were left sat in their respective chairs. The judge was sitting at his desk, his hands clasped together as he looked back over the courtroom where a few of the spectators were sitting. The two deputies were standing over the body of the prisoner. Someone had spread a raincoat over the body. Blood flowed from under the raincoat toward the jury box.
Then we heard Mapes. No, we heard the car coming in fast, then screeching to a dead stop in Mapes’s parking space. We heard the car door slam and some loud cussing, then he was inside, pushing those two hundred and sixty-nine and a half pounds of fury (he had weighed three hundred pounds a year ago, but his doctor had put him on a strict diet, and he had lost thirty and a half pounds, and he was proud of it, and wanted you to know it). Now he was huffing and puffing and pushing all that weight up the aisle toward us. He looked at his two deputies like he wanted to strangle both of them, then he leaned over and pulled back the raincoat for a second, and flung it back with the same fury. Now he was looking at Russell.
“Out of nowhere—BOOM,” Russell said.
Mapes stared at him with those steel-gray eyes.
“Out of nowhere—boom? I’m supposed to tell Victor Jarreau—out of nowhere—boom?”
“Nobody saw it coming,” Russell said. “Nobody expected anything like that. He was sitting over there like he’s been doing the last two days. Stood up, hollered at the boy, and shot him. What else can I say?”
“You can say you tried to stop him.”
“Stop him? Stop him how? Nobody knew what happened ’til it was over.”
“He’s right,” Judge Reynolds said. “I’ve observed him in that same chair for the last two days. I saw no warning that—”
“You’re not paid to see men carrying guns, he is,” Mapes said. “Well?”
“What more can I say, Mapes?”
“What more can you say; what more can you say? You can tell Victor Jarreau how this arthritic old man had time to pull out a gun from—I don’t know where—time to holler to the boy, time to shoot—while you and this, this thing over here, had your minds somewhere else. Tell him that.”
“Mapes,” Judge Reynolds said. “I’ve been sitting here waiting to talk to you, because I thought you could be sensible. But I see it was just a waste of my time. He could do no more to stop Brady from killing that boy than you could have stopped him from wherever you were. Ladies and gentlemen, excuse me, I’ll be in my chambers.”
The judge left. Mapes was looking at Russell.
“He wants two hours,” Russell said.
Mapes was still looking at him.
“Then come and get him,” Russell said.
Mapes didn’t say anything, but it seemed like those two hundred and sixty-nine and a half pounds of fury wanted to explode.
“Old bastard shot at me,” Claude said, out of the quietness.
Mapes heard him, but he went on looking at Russell. Russell had been around long enough to handle situations like these.
“Luckily, the old bastard missed,” Claude said, speaking again.
Mapes looked at him this time. He looked at him up and down. He looked at him well.
“He didn’t miss,” Mapes said. “He don’t miss what he shoots at. I’ve hunted with him enough times to know that he never misses what he shoots at.” He turned back to Russell. “Call Herman. Tell him come pick this up. Think you can remember that much?”
Russell didn’t answer. Mapes looked down at the raincoat.
“He can have his two hours, then I’ll get him.”
“Want me to go with you?” Claude asked.
“No,” Mapes said. “You’ve already worked too hard for one day.”
“I’d like to be the one to put the cuffs on him, myself,” Claude said.
“You can go and arrest him.”
“No. Old bastard liable to shoot at me again, and I don’t want to have to kill him.”
Mapes grunted to himself, then he turned to the jury box where the people sat waiting.
Mr. A. Paul sat in jury chair number eleven. He was the only black member of the jury, a little baldhead man who was a deacon in his church and lived on the same street as I did in Bayonne. He wiped his head with a pocket-handkerchief and stared down at the floor. The white jury members were all looking at Mapes.
“Every last one of you, come to my office,” Mapes told them.
“Half of them have already gone,” Russell said.
“Find them, round them up, and bring them to my office,” Mapes said. He turned to me. “Were you there?”
“Yes, sir, but I didn’t see anything, Sheriff.”
Copyright © 2017 by Ernest J. Gaines. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.