Authors: Gilbert Morris
The two uniformed deputies were flanking Noah, and each of them had a nightstick in his hand. She had seen the deputies before but did not know their names. One of them was a large man with his belly hanging over his belt and tow-colored hair. The other was a much smaller man. His hat was pushed back on his head revealing black hair, and there was a sneer on his face as he stared at Noah Valentine.
“Come on, nig, we know you robbed that store. You might as well ’fess up to it.”
“No, suh, I ain’t robbed no store,” Noah protested, shaking his head vigorously. “I was here all night last night. You can ask my mama if it ain’t so.”
The big deputy laughed, a raucous, cruel sound. “Well, how ’bout that, Arlie? His mama will tell us he was here all night. Now, ain’t that sweet!”
The smaller deputy named Arlie grinned with a sharklike expression. “I guess we’ll just have to take her word for it, won’t we, Merle?”
Jenny somehow knew what was coming, but it happened so fast she was unable to respond.
The grin faded from the smaller man’s face. “You gonna
confess to holdin’ up the store?” he asked. “You might as well, ’cause we’ll get it out of you one way or another.”
“No, suh, I ain’t held up no store, Deputy Pender.”
Arlie Pender, like many small men, felt the need to prove himself to those who were larger. “You callin’ me a liar?” he snapped.
“No, suh, I ain’t.”
“He called me a liar, Merle. I ain’t standin’ for that!”
In a swift move, the small deputy lifted his nightstick and brought it down hard on Noah’s skull. Jenny gasped, the sound of the sharp blow nearly making her sick. It sounded like someone striking a watermelon with a blunt instrument. She saw Noah go down on one knee, his hands covering his head. The rich, red blood was coursing down his face when suddenly the large man raised his stick too and struck at him. Noah was covering his head, so the stick struck his thick arm, but then both the men began to rain down blows, cursing and shouting.
Afterward Jenny did not remember making any conscious decision to interfere. She simply found herself running toward the trio and heard herself shouting, “You stop that, you hear me!” She came to stand before the two men, and Noah, who was now lying on his stomach trying to cover his head, rolled over and looked up at her, blood streaming down his face. He struggled to his feet, his eyes half glazed from the force of the terrific blows he had taken.
“You’re interfering with a police action here, lady,” Pender said.
“That’s right,” Merle Arp said. “He was resisting arrest.”
“No, he wasn’t,” Jenny said. She looked up at the big man fearlessly, her eyes were flashing, her face pale. “You hit him without any provocation!”
The small deputy laughed. “You must be a Yankee. I can tell from the way you talk.”
“Doesn’t matter how I talk! You two struck this man without any cause.”
“Well, now, that’s just your word against ours,” Merle Arp said. His eyes went over Jenny in a suggestive manner, and he said, “You ain’t bad lookin’ for a Yankee girl. Me and you might step out some night.”
“But now just step back, miss. We’re takin’ this man in.”
A movement caught Jenny’s eyes, and she turned to see a tall black woman wearing a faded brown dress come outside. She was holding a small child no more than three or four by the hand, and several other children gathered behind her. “He wasn’t doin’ nothin’ to you. I seen it all. You hit him for nothin’!” she said.
“Get back in the house, Mama!” Noah said. He wiped the blood from his face and turned to the two men. “I didn’t rob no store.”
“You’ll have your chance to prove that. Put the cuffs on him, Merle.”
Jenny watched helplessly as they put the cuffs on the big man and forced him into the backseat of the car. Deputy Merle Arp stopped long enough to run his eyes up and down her figure and said, “I’ll be seein’ you, sweetie. I think you and me would go pretty well together.”
“You’ll see me all right, but it’ll be in court! I’ll be there to testify to what you two did.”
The two deputies grinned at each other, and then Arlie Pender winked at her. “You just do all you want to, Yankee lady.”
The car pulled out, and Jenny turned to the black woman. “I saw it all,” she said. “I’ll go see the sheriff about it. My name’s Jenny Winslow. I live down the road.”
“I’m Hattie. Noah’s mama.” A deep sadness revealed itself in the woman’s large brown eyes. She was a strong woman but bowed by time and trouble. “It won’t do no good. That sheriff, he hates my boy just ’cause he got in trouble one time.”
“What did he do?”
“He sold some moonshine whiskey, and he had to go to the pen, but he found the good Lord while he was there. He
served his time, and ever since he’s been helpin’ me raise these chil’uns. They daddy’s dead.”
“It’ll be all right, Hattie. They can’t do anything to him because I saw it all.”
“You don’t know this place, Miss Winslow. A black man ain’t got no defense against a white man’s word.”
Jenny, at that moment, felt a surge of rage such as she had rarely experienced. Her life before the stock market crash had been smooth and relatively uneventful. She had not experienced things like this in New York City, but now standing in front of the pitiful shack with the sorrowing mother in front of her, a resolution formed itself. She nodded and said, “I’ll go see the sheriff right away, Hattie. Don’t worry about it. The Lord will take care of you.”
“The good Lord will have to because there ain’t nobody else. But I thank you, miss, for your kindness.”
Jenny went back, got into the truck, and left. As she pulled out onto the highway, she took one glance and saw Hattie Valentine staring at her, the children gathered about her. They made a sad tableau to her, and the resolution to help Noah Valentine grew into something stronger than she had ever known before.
Dr. Harrison Peturis was enjoying a rare moment of rest. He was one of the few doctors in the county that would go outside the city limits to treat patients, and as a result he kept a busy schedule. He leaned back in his chair reading from his favorite book,
He always read the book aloud, and his voice rolled as he seemed to chew on the words and brought them out in full-throated tones:
“At certain revolutions all the damned
Are brought; and feel by turns the bitter change
Of fierce extremes, extremes by change more fierce,
From beds of raging fire to starve in ice
Their soft ethereal warmth, and there to pine
Immovable, infixed, and frozen round
Periods of time, thence hurried back to fire.”
a punishment for you.” Peturis got up and read the lines again, filling his office with the sound of his powerful voice. He was a big man, built like a huge stump. Everything about him was thick—his arms, his legs, his body, his neck. He had coarse salt-and-pepper hair, a clipped black beard, and snapping brown eyes. As he continued to read from the poem with obvious enjoyment, he stopped only to puff on the thin cheroot that he kept clamped between his jaws like a bulldog. White ash from the cigar covered the front of his vest, and some flakes even showed in the blackness of his beard.
The door opened, and Peturis looked up to see his nurse, Geraldine Sweeting, enter. She was tall and rail thin, with a voice surprisingly deep for a woman. “Doctor, Jenny Winslow’s here.”
Tossing the book on his desk, Peturis turned and nodded. “Must be time for that baby.” He walked out of the office and found Jenny standing in the waiting room. Without preamble, Jenny said, “You’ve got to come, Dr. Peturis. It’s my stepmother. The baby’s on the way.”
“How’s she doing?”
Jenny shook her head. “She seems all right to me, but I don’t know anything about babies.”
“All right. I’ll come right away. No patients here. Geraldine, you’d better come along with me. At her age it’s liable to be a troublesome delivery.”
“Would you hurry please, Doctor,” Jenny urged. “I think my father’s worried.”
Peturis puffed on the cigar rapidly, then pulled it from his lips and grinned. “He ought to know all about having babies. He had you, didn’t he?”
“This is different. He’s older now. Please hurry, Doctor.”
“All right. All right. I’m on my way.”
“I’ve got one errand to run, and then I’ll be right home.”
Jenny left the doctor’s office and went at once to the sheriff’s office. She walked in and found the new sheriff, Max Conroy, standing with his two deputies. The three grinned at her when she entered.
“Well, I’ve been expecting you,” Max said. “I understand there’s a little difference of opinion here about this business.”
“Noah Valentine didn’t do a thing, Sheriff. These two just started hitting him for nothing.”
Conroy shrugged and said, “I have to take my deputies’ word for it. Noah’s been in fights before. As a matter of fact, he once beat up a fellow so bad he almost didn’t make it.”
“But that was then and this is now!”
Jenny stood there arguing, but she saw that the men were toying with her. A fourth man was in the room, but he said nothing. He was standing against the wall, not tall but well built, and bearing the uniform of the sheriff’s office. Jenny did not notice him at first, but when she turned she saw him standing there and surmised that he was an Indian. He had copper cheeks and eyes black as obsidian, and his face was absolutely expressionless, so she had no hope of his helping her.
“You boys leave here, and I’ll settle this with Miss Winslow,” Conroy said. The two deputies, Arp and Pender, laughed and then disappeared into the back, where there was evidently an extension of the office. The copper-faced man said nothing but went out the front door. As soon as the door was closed, Conroy walked over to stand by Jenny. He was no more than thirty-five, tall, lean, and wiry. He had sandy hair, and his green eyes were as cold as she remembered them from the store. There was something suggestive in his manner that made Jenny’s stomach turn. “You just don’t understand these niggers,” he said with a half smile. “You got to crack down hard on ’em. Why, half of ’em are cutting the other half to bits with razors on Saturday night.”
“Sheriff, I admit I’m new to this country, but if I had seen what I witnessed this afternoon in New York, I would have come to the same conclusion. Your deputies attacked Noah Valentine for no reason.”
“That’s not what they say.”
Jenny felt a sense of hopelessness, but something about the bland expression of the deputies and the sheriff infuriated her. “Why would I lie?”
“Now look, Jenny, when you get to know me better you’ll understand that this is a tough job. We have to be hard. Maybe the boys get a little over-anxious sometimes, but they put their lives on the line every day.” He reached out and put his hand on her arm and squeezed it. “Look, why don’t you and I go out tonight? We can talk about this.”
Jenny wrenched her arm away. “I’m not going out with you, not ever,” she said, “and you haven’t heard the last of this!” She turned away and heard Conroy’s laughter follow her. She slammed the door and started blindly down the street but quickly collided with a man.
“Excuse me,” she muttered. Looking up, she saw it was the deputy who hadn’t said anything.
“My name’s Billy Moon, Miss Winslow.”
The voice seemed to come from deep within the man’s chest. He was more muscular than most men, extremely strong looking, and although his face was expressionless, she saw something in his eyes that caused her to feel he was a different sort of man than the sheriff and the other two deputies.
“It’s not fair, Deputy Moon,” she said.
Moon studied her for a moment, then said, “If I were you, I’d go see Luke Dixon.”
“Luke Dixon? Who’s he?”
“He’s a lawyer. Trying to be, anyway. He does surveying on the side to make a living.”
“Why should I go see him?”
“He’s a pretty good man, and he sometimes takes on cases
other lawyers won’t handle. He’s got a bad name with some of the local leadership around here because he won’t play their game.”
“I don’t have any money for a lawyer.”
“Go see him anyway,” Moon said quietly. He hesitated, then said, “If you do go, you might tell him I heard Merle and Arlie brag on how they beat Noah up.”
“You’d testify to that?”
“Yes.” The answer came quickly, and Moon said, “We had a pretty good department here as long as Sheriff Beauchamp was around.”
“It must be hard for you.”
“I don’t think I’ll be around long. Conroy’s trying to figure out a way to get rid of me. He will after the next election.”
“I’ll go see Dixon.”
“Drive down Main Street, turn to your right at the next corner. You’ll probably find him there. He’s between jobs at the moment.”
“Thank you, Deputy.”
“You’re welcome, miss.”
Moving quickly along the street, Jenny found the office of Luke Dixon without any trouble. The sign outside his door read
Luke Dixon, Attorney at Law.
She entered and at once was greeted by a lanky man with a head full of blond hair and pale blue eyes. “Can I help you, miss?”
“My name’s Jennifer Winslow, and I need help.”
“Have a seat,” Dixon said. His eyes took her in quickly, and he sat back and listened as she explained why she was there.
“And what would you like for me to do?”
“I’d like for you to defend him. He doesn’t have any help at all. His mother and his brothers and sisters saw what happened.”
“Their word won’t mean much in court. It’ll have to be up to you. Are you ready to testify?”
“All right. I’ll see what I can do.” He hesitated, then said,
“I heard about your folks. Your dad won the Congressional Medal of Honor, didn’t he?”
“Yes, in the Spanish-American War.”
Dixon did not comment, but Jenny could see that this meant something to him.
“All right,” he finally said. “I’ll go down and see Noah. I always liked the man. He was a rough one in his early days, but he’s been straight since he got back. Straight as the law will let him.”