I don’t know how it happened, only that it did. Once upon a time, we had a happy family, but there’s a strain of fanaticism and compulsiveness that runs through us. Somehow, fate attached itself to the union of Denny Frawley and Jenny Fergus. My father and mother caught fire when their personalities rubbed together, and the mingling of their blood was even worse. Theirs was a demon seed.
I don’t know. Some people can handle shit, and some people can’t. Dad couldn’t do anything halfway. Whatever he touched consumed him, and it was the same with Mom and the same with me and my twin. Things got out of hand. Everything. We all have that in common. Whatever we do, we do to excess.
It didn’t happen all at once. In retrospect, it seems remarkably consistent, our synchronized descent into hell. It would be natural to blame it all on Dad, but, really, he wasn’t any worse than the rest of us. He just committed his sins and excesses on a grander scale. He led us to oblivion, but we all knew the way. The blaze of glory was scripted in our DNA. He started earliest and descended the deepest, but, in the eyes of God, he was no more guilty than everyone else in our deeply flawed clan. He didn’t turn to the Devil. The Devil was always there. Even though it must have seemed to him that everything was coming together, in reality, it was falling apart.
My earliest memories are of them being the life of every party. Then, when I was in grade school, Dad was the greatest president a PTA ever had. He spent four years on County Council, and he headed up the Bar Association, and then he ran for Solicitor and won by a landslide. That’s when he built his empire. In the early days, Mom just shone radiantly in the reflected brilliance of Dad’s burgeoning career. Then she learned he was unfaithful and wasn’t going to change. I was twelve when, all of a sudden, I awakened one morning to find a mother who was terminally sad. Up to then, she drank from bottles. Then bottles started drinking from her.
Hers was the saddest story and most pathetic case. She merits sympathy. The rest of us do not. She was the first out in Survival of the Fittest, but it’s not a game anyone wins.
When Dad played football, I’m told he was better than anybody else. As a lawyer, he was better than anybody else. His was a win-at-all-cost mentality. He was so good that mere winning bored him. He had to destroy everything and everyone in his path. He passed it along to his kids. Winning by the rules wasn’t enough. It was boring. We all had to change the rules to suit us. Cheating is cheating whether it’s on a game, a test, a loved one, the law, and whatever else society deems acceptable in any way, shape or form.
God, we loved to cheat. God, we broke the rules. For the longest time, it was so much fun. Then it ended so badly.
Marshall I. Pickens Hospital
Greenville, South Carolina
November 7, 2014
THE OLD SWITCHEROO
A traveling salesman named Bobby Lowe pulled off the interstate late on Tuesday night and checked into the Truckers Inn, where he negotiated a rate of thirty-five dollars. When he found the room ice-cold, he turned on the heat and decided to walk to the nearby Hardee’s, which was still open for another half hour. That was when Burt Lockerbie realized he had his man. Lockerbie was sitting in the Hardee’s parking lot, munching a Thick Burger when he saw Lowe’s fourteen-year-old Honda pull up at the office of the Truckers Inn. He watched the man check in, drive to his room, emerge from it, and walk over to have a burger.
A Honda of that age was simple to vandalize. It was late at night. Its owner would probably be up early and back on the road in the morning, and he was undoubtedly tired from a long drive. Getting him a little snack at Hardee’s now. He’d likely be out like a light by midnight.
Plus, the man was black, which made him a perfect diversion.
Lockerbie left to put his plan in motion.
Lowe dawdled a little the next morning. He’d driven late into the night because he knew he could get a cheaper room out in the sticks than in a city like Asheville or Spartanburg. He kept on driving till he saw what he was looking for. He might’ve gone for a Motel 6 if there had been one, but all he was going to do was sleep. In the Trucker’s Inn, he got what he paid for, but he didn’t see any bugs or anything. He had all day to get to Savannah, so he sipped some coffee and had some raisin bran in the breakfast nook, which, surprisingly, the Truckers Inn had.
At about a quarter to ten, Lowe got his car loaded. The trunk had two boxes of Bibles in it. He placed his travel bag in the back seat, didn’t notice anything amiss because he wasn’t looking for it, and drove up to the office to leave his key and get a receipt. He poured himself another cup of coffee for the road, though he figured he’d stop at a truck stop on the highway to fill up his insulated mug. Then Bobby Lowe, who was a religious man, said a little prayer asking the Lord to allow him safe passage, and pulled first out of the parking lot and then down the interstate. A squad car of some kind pulled down the ramp behind him, but he didn’t think anything of it. As he passed the next exit, a screaming squadron of police cars roared down the ramp after he passed.
Lieutenant Harold Kinley, who had been driving the single Latimohr Public Safety cruiser, pulled off the exit while five Sheriff’s Department cruisers screamed down the other side. The interstate wasn’t in the Latimohr city limits. His job had been merely to monitor the suspect and report when he moved and where he was going. That way the story could be reported as a joint effort of Rollison County and Latimohr city law enforcement. The anticipation was that this was going to be big. Kinley didn’t know for sure, but he was betting the Sheriff himself was in one of those cruisers.
Lowe thought the police were after someone else, or, more likely, something else. With all those cars hauling ass, he figured there must be a wreck or something up ahead. A bad one. The ambulances just couldn’t move quite as fast.
But it dawned on Lowe, none too subtly, that for some reason the cops were after him. He practically had to veer off the road because it seemed as if the cops were going to ram him if he didn’t jump to it. Two cars screeched to a halt in front of him, two more behind him, and the fifth actually stopped right alongside, out in the lane where folks were supposed to be driving when they weren’t passing. Uniformed officers in the back cars immediately started sitting out orange traffic cones.
A fat, white officer got out of the car alongside, and immediately pointed a big, chrome, gun right at Lowe.
“Get out of the fucking car! You hear me? Out of the fucking car! Now!”
Two more officers, more slender and young, also trained their guns on Bobby Lowe. He got out of the car.
“Officer, there must be some mistake …”
“We’ll see about that, boy. Spread ‘em.”
The man didn’t ask him for license and registration. His men relieved Bobby of his wallet and a Swiss Army knife he carried to open boxes and provide any other function he might need. They handled him roughly and demanded he open the trunk. Bobby told them the keys were still in the ignition and he needed to get them. They shoved him back along the side of the car. One of them slapped him. He was shaking, dropped the keys, got pushed to the ground and picked them up again. He opened the trunk.
“Hey, Sheriff, this here says the man’s a preacher.”
“Well, I’ll be,” Sheriff Felton Dorn said. “Sleazy fuckers’ll do anything. I reckon you’re proud of yourself, you son of a bitch.”
Bobby Lowe didn’t say a word.
“Sheriff, come look at this.” It was Sgt. Jim Lavery, who was opening Lowe’s boxes in the trunk.”
“Keep your gun trained on him, Troy,” he said to the officer with the wallet, who jammed the wallet into the pocket unoccupied by his own and pulled his piece.
“Bibles,” Dorn said. “Holy Bibles.”
“Holy shit,” the Sheriff said. “Search the car. Look under the seats.”
Bingo. The back seats had mats in the floorboard. Under them, and carefully arranged under both front seats, were 24 plastic bags, each containing approximately two ounces of what appeared to be marijuana.
The sheriff took one of the bags, ran a knife through one side, and sniffed.
“It’s weed, all right,” Dorn said. “Cuff the suspect, and read him his rights.”
“Sir … Sheriff, I don’t know how that got there. I’m, I’m, not a … drug …”
The Sheriff cuffed Lowe across the face.
“Save it, asshole. I’ve seen that fucking movie.”
Two major events were going on, the Latimohr Christmas Parade – traditionally, it was the first day school was out for the holidays -- and a major drug bust on the interstate. No, actually, there were three. While the Sheriff and five deputies were shoving Bobby Lowe around out west of town, and the Latimohr High School Marching Lions were playing “Jingle Bells,” Burt Lockerbie and his associate, Nathaniel Clinton, were knocking on the door of Apartment 217 at the Creekside Manor, a low-income project on the opposite side of town. Cesar Blancas was wearing underwear when he opened the door, squinting and rubbing his eyes. Lockerbie said “hiyadoin’” and shot Blancas twice in the chest. Clinton found Rosalie Espinosa in the bedroom and shot her dead, too.
They were out of there in three minutes.
In the car, Lockerbie said to Clinton, “Fuckin’ Mexicans’ll think long and hard ‘fore they fuck with me again.”
“Hell, yeah,” Clinton said. “Thug life.”
For a moment, Lockerbie had an urge to shoot that dumbass Nathaniel, too, but he let it pass.
“All it cost me was all the oregano Sam’s Club had in stock.”
Clinton thought, which wasn’t common, for a moment.
“What they say when you put that shit on the checkout counter?”
“I don’t know. I sent a kid up to Spartanburg in the Chrysler. Had to go to Greenville, too, to get enough. Paid with cash.”
THE OCCASIONAL BREAK
The car was big, freshly painted, and garish. It was a Chevrolet Caprice, probably at least twenty years old, two-tone paint, midnight blue most likely on the sides and what looked like old gold on the top: hood, roof, trunk. It had shiny rims that might account for the majority of its resale value. Almost surely it belonged to a kid, most likely black but perhaps Latino. The profile was a pretty reliable one.
The driver appeared to be distracted. At the sweeping left-hand turn that directed South College Avenue through – what else? – the college, the Chevy cut across the middle line. Officer Harold Kinley was back a ways, oh, a little over a hundred yards. If the driver knew he was there, he was definitely impaired. Harold Kinley activated the siren and pulled up, not in a frantic fashion – the shock of the lights and siren was quite enough – but in a way that undoubtedly elicited the same two words from the four or five who appeared to be in the Caprice.
“Y’all, y’all, y’all … we might be all right,” said Alonzo Ratliff, the driver. “I think it’s Officer Hal. Take a deep breath. Y’all be cool.”
Kinley used his spotlight, just for a few moments, to identify how many people were in the car. Four males. Three blacks and a white. The white male was on the passenger side in the back.
“Kitty, you in tonight? This is Kinley.”
“Ten-four, Hal. What you got for me?”
I got what looks like a blue and gold Chevy Caprice stopped on South College, about a quarter mile north of the Dilleshaw light. License number VKD 1106. Just looks a little suspicious. Ten-thirty-eight.”
“Ten-four, Hal. I’ll run the plate.”
“Ten-four. Good. That way I won’t have to. I don’t think there’s much to this, no way.”
Kinley strolled up. The windows were already down, all the way around. He shined his flashlight at the driver.
“Alonzo, how’d you do tonight?”
“I got fourteen points, Officer Hal. Five assists. We beat LBC by seventeen.”
“Ah, that ain’t nothing. That school’s so small, I don’t know what the letters stand for.”
“Lawrence-Bryan-Chandler, I think.”
“All three of them crossroads. Get your license and registration out and come join me in the squad car.” Ratliff started to speak, but Kinley waved him off and walked back to the car.
The lanky boy took about a minute before he joined the officer.
“Where’d you get that big, long car, Alonzo?” Kinley asked.
“It’s not mine, sir. You’n see from the registration. It’s Reggie’s. We went to this party. I ain’t done nothing wrong, Officer Hal. That’s why I’s driving them boys home.”
“You ain’t been drinking, have you?”
“One,” he said. “I drunk one beer.”
“What you been smoking?”
“I can smell it on your clothing.”
“It wasn’t me,” Ratliff said. “It was in the car.”
“I knowed somebody been smoking weed. I didn’t smell it from the car. I smelled the air freshener somebody sprayed around, most likely when you was slowing down to pull over.”
“That was when I was trying to get stopped when I seen the flashing lights.” Ratliff paused.
Kinley looked at him. Ratliff was just about to cry.
“Officer Hal, don’t do nothing to me. Gimme a break, will you? Honest to God, the only reason I’m in this mess right now is I was trying to do the right thing. I wouldn’t let Keon drive home. I’m just taking Teo and Hunter home. I’ll make sure Reggie spends the night at my house. I wish I hadn’t never went to that party.”
“All three those other boys play on the team?”
“Yes, sir. Teo plays the low post. Reggie’s the other guard ‘sides me. Hunter plays small forward.”
Hunter. Obviously the white one.
“Alonzo, look at me. Straight in the eyes. Now you look me in the eyes and tell me what you been doing one more time.”
Ratliff gulped. “Officer Hal, we played our first ballgame tonight, beat LBC, 62-45. I went with Teo Davin, and Reggie Dunean, and Hunter Saraceno to this party out in the country. It was in this … clubhouse.”
“Saraceno. That means this Hunter kid’s daddy is the Episcopal priest.”
“Any adults at this party.”
“No, sir. They was at home, but that was, like, a hundred yards away.”
Clubhouse. Be it’s Denny Frawley’s place. Damn, is Denny’s boy that old? Reckon he is.
“So, how many people there?”
“Uh.” Ratliff looked down, seemed to be counting, then remembered he was supposed to be looking Kinley in the eye. “Eight. Them other boys was sleeping over down there.”
Alonzo hesitated. “No, sir.
“I knowed I never shoulda gone to that party. Hunter didn’t tell us –me and Teo and Reggie – nothing ‘bout it till after the game. Main reason I even went was Reggie was my ride home. I din’t have much choice once him and Teo ‘cided they wanted to go.”
“And you drank one beer?”
“Not even that. I left half of it sitting on the table.”
“Didn’t smoke no weed.”
“Rest of ‘em was?”
Alonzo didn’t say anything.
“You don’t want to squeal on your friends.”
“Relax,” Kinley said. “I’m not gonna run your asses in. I’m just that stupid. I bet I could bust at least one of you – I’m betting most likely the rector’s son – for possession. I hope the hell it wouldn’t be you. I just don’t see no need in causing no scandal. Look, I believe you. I’ve known you since you was a boy. I don’t know about your friends. What I do know is that your daddy runs a funeral home, and you better not give him some really sad business, ‘cause if you do, one thing it’s gonna do is make me feel like it’s my fault.”
“Yes, sir. I won’t prove your wrong, as God is my witness.”
“I expect God always is,” Kinley said. “Now you get the hell home, and when I ride down Sunglow Lane later on, there better be a loud-ass Chevrolet in one of them driveways.”
LICENSE TO KILL
For almost twenty years, Harold Kinley had met Denny Frawley for breakfast at the Lions’ Den on the public square at eight on Saturday mornings. Frawley was the Third District Solicitor, which meant that the meetings weren’t as professionally justifiable as if Kinley had worked for the county sheriff or the Highway Patrol. They met because they’d known each other all their lives, played ball together, been in each other’s weddings and usually sat together at the local high school and college ballgames. Kinley wouldn’t put it past Frawley to write off every single one of their breakfasts, though, and it was fine by him since the solicitor always picked up the tab.
“I heard the Lions won last night,” Frawley said. Amber Healey, the waitress, poured hot coffee to go along with Denny’s pancakes and link sausage and Hal’s ham-and-egg omelet. It was the standard order. Amber knew that Denny took his coffee with cream and sugar, while Hal drank it black with Sweet ‘n’ Low.
“Yeah,” Hal said, “they played so well that the boys partied well into the night.”
Frawley looked up. “Oh?”
Kinley seasoned the grits that came with the omelet, then buttered the toast and spread some jam.
“I stopped Alonzo Ratliff last night. He was with three other boys who start on the basketball team. They won their first game and went to a party. I spotted ‘em driving through the college and pulled them over.
“Seems they’d been at a party down at the cabin behind your place.”
Frawley washed down a big bite with his coffee and motioned for Amber to refill it.
“Hmm,” he said. “Barry spent the night down there. I thought it was just him and a couple of his friends.”
“It wasn’t a big thing,” Kinley said. “The Ratliff boy said Hunter Saraceno got him and Teo Davin and Reggie Dunean to go out there a while.”
“Were they drunk?”
“They’d been drinking.”
“You book ‘em?”
“Nah. Ratliff kid hadn’t been drinking, and he was driving. He said the only reason he went was because it was Teo’s car and that was his ride. That’s why he was driving. To make sure they got home. Way I figure it, Alonzo was doing the right thing. I believed him. Let him go.”
They ate in silence for a time. Kinley got more coffee.
“That’s the thing about this town,” Frawley said. “Everybody knows everything. Ain’t no secrets, when you get right down to it.”
After I got off, ‘bout two in the morning,” Kinley said, “I drove through the Truckers Inn parking lot.”
“Ain’t in the city limits, is it?”
“I said I was on the way home. I mentioned it ‘cause I was gonna ask if you was interested in which cheerleaders was shacked up.”
Frawley smiled. “Don’t care, Hal. Not unless it was Carole.”
“Nah. Course not. I was just using it as an illustration of just how it is everybody knows everything.”
“None more than you and me, old friend. None more than you and me.”
“Denny, what you gon’ do in the Allenson case?” Kinley asked.
Frawley picked up the last bit of sausage with his fork, swooshed it around in the remaining syrup and ate it slowly.
“First degree,” he said. “Death penalty. That ain’t for public consumption yet.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little harsh?”
“Dead girl from a good family. The people ain’t of a mind for leniency.”
“You know as well as I do it was accidental. Boy needs to go to the pen, but twenty years ought to do it. I don’t know who Brandon Allenson was shooting at, but it wasn’t Leslee Whittaker. There was a scuffle, and the gun went went off. That’s not first degree.”
Frawley sipped his coffee, sloshed it around a little, paused, and stirred in a little more sugar.
“Know what saves the world, Officer Kinley? The fact that most criminals are so damned dumb.
“Suffice it to say. I got my case.”
“Why’s he got to get a lethal injection?”
“I like to kill,” Frawley said. “Voters like me to kill.”
Denny Frawley busied himself with menial duties, thus making sure he could monitor the cabin by glancing out across the sprawling patio from time to time. The solicitor rummaged through his emails, deleting most of them, and signed a stack of invoices, writs, applications, contracts and the like. When Barry finally arrived, he got up and intercepted him in the living room.
“I need to talk to you, son.”
“Okay, Dad, gimme a minute. I gotta piss like a racehorse.”
Frawley smiled. “I’ll be in the study,” he said.
What Barry Frawley, already furiously chewing gum, really needed to do was wash his hands, and maybe gargle for good measure. Life ain’t easy for the solicitor’s son.
Relax. Steady as you go. Be cool.
“Sit down, Barry,” Frawley said. “How you been?”
“I’m off to a slow start. Me and Jerry and Hayden and Tripp played ‘Madden’ half the night.”
“Heard you had some company.”
“Just for a little while. Couple guys from the basketball team came by for a little while. They probably wudn’t there an hour. Hunter Saraceno came over with a couple of his teammates.”
Frawley noted that Barry conspicuously mentioned only the white one.
“Why your eyes so red?”
Because I forgot where the Visine is. “Two reasons, Dad,” Barry said. “One, I wear hard contact lenses. Gas permeable. Two, I was up all night staring at a video screen.”
“No beer? No weed?”
Barry looked his father straight in the eye. “As God is my witness. All I did was drink Co-Cola and eat pizza. We just spent the night in the cabin ‘cause we didn’t want a racket to wake up you and Mom.”
He wasn’t Denny Frawley’s son for nothing.
“How your grades?”
“Good,” Barry said. “Great. We just got two weeks to Christmas break. I got a pretty good chance at straight A’s.”
“Glad to hear it. What you planning to do today?”
“Hayden’s outside. Me and him was going to the ballgame. You and Mom going?”
Roberson College’s football team was playing in the Division II playoffs.
“When’s it start?”
“I might show up. Depends on whether I can get this pile of work done,” Frawley said. “I might get there before halftime.”
“Good, maybe we’ll see you in the parking lot. We’ll drop by Judge Lazenby’s tent soon’s the game’s over.”
“Don’t hold me to it,” Frawley said, “but I’ll see what what I can do.”
“Go Rhinos! I’m gonna head on over there now. I’m hungry. I believe we might hit the Judge’s spread early. Hayden’s mom is bringing a big pot of chili.”
Frawley peeled off a couple twenties. “Go by KFC on the way and pick up a bucket of Original Recipe.”
Barry’s wheels were a hand-me-down Explorer, loaded, four-wheel-drive, with a killer stereo system. Hayden Kinley was listening to Wiz Khalifa, not quite as loudly as he would have anywhere else but the Frawley’s driveway.
“What took you so long, nigga?”
“I thought I was gonna slip in and out,” Barry said. “Dad was waiting for me. Wanted to make sure we hadn’t been smoking weed.”
Hayden didn’t say anything.