Inquisition

Mitchell ushered me into his office and closed the door behind him.  I took a seat in an uncomfortable wooden chair.  A bulletin board overlapped with postings and photographs and indecipherable scraps of paper occupied the wall behind the sheriff’s desk.  The desk was clean, with only a stapler and neatly stacked files interrupting the smooth plane.  A window to my left looked out on Main Street, where another Poscataw afternoon crept toward conclusion.

‘So where have you been?’ My cousin settled down behind his mammoth desk.  He put his feet up and tucked his hands behind his head.  The casualness didn’t fit with his earlier indignation, which made me wonder if the anger he’d shown in front of his mother was purely for her benefit.

‘You comfortable?’ I said.

‘Just answer the question.’

‘I went up to see my dad.  I drove up the night before, stayed in Memphis, and then went out to his place the next day.’

‘Why didn’t you stay with him that night?’

‘It wasn’t that kind of trip.’

‘What sort of trip was it?’

‘I wanted to show him what I’d found.’

‘The letters.  Charming.’

‘Look man: we’ve never gotten along.  You knew that already.’

‘Ok, so you drove up there.  Then what?’

I looked out the window as a diesel truck motored by.  Mitchell knew it wasn’t me but wanted to put me through the ringer.  I resented him like hell for it.

‘Jackson,’ he insisted.

‘I had a drink and showed him the letters.’  I looked back at my cousin sitting safe behind his desk.  What did he know about any of this?  ‘My dad didn’t like what he saw.  I left around three-thirty and then just kind of hung out by the river for awhile.’

‘Hung around by the river?’

‘I was watching the river.  Say, isn’t this an issue for the Mud City police?’

‘For now I’m questioning you on their behalf.  You should feel fortunate.  Don’t get smart with me.  Now you said you were watching the river.  Please continue.’

‘I hung around there for the afternoon, then drove south.  I stayed the night in Natchez.’

‘Why Natchez?’

‘I have some friends there.  Old Parchman Prison Guards.’

‘You don’t say.’

I nodded.

‘What did you do in Natchez?’

‘Visited Natchez Under the Hill.’

‘Sightseeing?’

‘Something like that.’

‘I wish you would take this more seriously—there’s a criminal investigation underway.’

‘Look you know I didn’t do it, Mitchell.  If I kidnapped dad, you would have known about twenty-minutes later—it would only take me that long to blow it.’  Mitchell was betrayed by a slight smile.

‘I just need you to answer these questions, Jackson.  I don’t think you did it—I just think you stuck your foot in the nest.’

Even as I heard Mitchell absolve me of guilt I knew I was scared.  I would have put almost anything past my father that afternoon and I didn’t like to consider the possibilities.

‘What did you do in Natchez?’

‘I spent a couple days in Natchez.’

‘Doing what?’

‘Sleeping, mostly.’

‘Where did you get the car?’

‘I bought it.’

‘From who?’

‘A drunk midget.’

‘And you’re an admitted drug-user up on a charge of kidnapping and maybe even patricide.  How are you any better?’

‘I never said I was.  I’m taller, though.’

‘Where’d you get the money for it?’

‘I dug it up in your mother’s rose garden.’  Mitchell rolled his eyes.  His expression was of the you-really-think-I’m-that-gullible variety.

‘You’re telling me you dug it up…’ he said, but already his expression had changed as he saw the potential for truth.  ‘You dug it up—grandpa buried it there.  You’re not messing with me?’

‘Honest to God.  There was eighty-grand.’

‘Eighty-grand!’

‘Grandpa buried it,’ I said.  ‘I don’t know why.  Just wait till your voters hear about this one.’

‘How much have you spent?  Or should I ask.’

‘I’ve spent a lot—thousands, tens of thousands.’

Mitchell groaned.  ‘Stop spending it.’  He took his feet off the desk and drooped his head and ran a hand through his hair.  It had only taken a moment for him to devolve from smug to disheveled.

‘Ok, look,’ he said after a long moment.  He looked up at me and I saw the bags under his eyes.  ‘We’re going to keep all mention of the money a secret.  I may have to reveal it later but for now let’s see if we can keep it under wraps.’

‘Fine,’ I said.  Mitchell intended to keep the family’s name clean if at all possible.  I decided I’d better not tell him about the package I sent to David Drysdale.

‘What did you do after you bought the car?’ Mitchell said, trying to get away from the subject of the money.

‘I drove back here.  I stopped in McComb.  I stopped for gas and lunch in Columbia.  Otherwise I didn’t stop except to piss.’

‘That’s the worst alibi I’ve ever heard.’

‘Ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a better one.’

‘You seem to think this is all a joke.’

‘I think it’s hilarious.  I keep waiting for my dad to jump out of the cake.’

‘You’re a suspect.’

‘Great.  The suspect?’

‘The leading suspect.’

‘On what grounds?’

‘Several.  We have motive.  It’s no secret what you’ve been up to.  We also have you at the scene of the crime.  And you have no alibi.’

‘That’s just circumstantial.  This is my father we’re talking about.  He may have just wandered off somewhere.’  I said the words because it was my ass on the line, but in my heart I knew this wasn’t true.

Mitchell looked away for a moment.

‘There were three rounds discharged from an antique pistol.  Your prints are all over it.’  I opened my mouth but didn’t speak at first.  I remembered the heft of the gun and how my father had told me it wouldn’t fire.

‘Well then I guess I should get myself a lawyer.’  I stood to go.  Mitchell stood as well.

‘I don’t suppose I have to tell you to stay close to town.’

‘Don’t worry about me, cuz.  I’ve seen Perry Mason.’  Mitchell shook his head and began to pick up a pile of folders.  ‘Say…’  I waited for Mitchell to look up but he was looking at the folders.  ‘You seen your brother lately?’

Mitchell set down the folders and crossed his arms over his chest and raised his nose defensively.

‘No.’

‘My bet is you find him, you find my father.’  Mitchell didn’t move.

‘What makes you say that?’

I told Mitchell about Gabe’s offers to kill my father.

‘Gabe’s been trying to creep people out for years,’ Mitchell said, moving again to pick up the folders.

‘I’ll see what I can find out,’ I said.

‘Don’t you see anything!’ Mitchell demanded.  ‘We’ve had enough of you.’

‘Right.’  Now it was my turn to smile.  ‘Well good luck with your investigation, Mitchell.  If I’m the only suspect then you’re in for a long one.’

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