Authors: Lisa G. Brown
Billy Bob Walker Got Married
By Lisa G. Brown
Some fool had
made an awful mistake.
Clancy Green, the bailiff, knew it the minute his watery blue eyes slid down over the paper he held in his hand, the docket that listed all the cases to be heard that day by the Honorable Judge Robert Sewell. Right there, dead at the top of the list, was the name "Walker."
Actually, the first line said, "Allen vs. Walker," but Clancy already knew.
It was Billy Bob himself.
What in blazes was the boy thinking of, to let his case come up before Sewell, of all people?
There was going to be trouble, trouble, trouble. Just thinking about it made Clancy sweat; he could feel little wet rivulets trickling down his bony back under the new shirt he'd just bought at the Wal-Mart over in Martinsville a week or two ago. He had a perfect right to sweat, he told himself. It was scorching hot to be just the first of May, and besides, this morning when they'd tried to turn on the central air-conditioning unit that was supposed to cool Sweetwater's courthouse, nothing had happened. Zilch. Sue Ellen Terry, the county court clerk, finally took matters in her own hands (she liked to do that) and sent to Turner's Small Engine Shop to get B. J. Turner to come and try to fix the thing.
So far, he'd had no luck, and now here they all sat, sweltering away together in this tinderbox of a courtroom—Clancy; Vinia Thompson, the court recorder; eighteen plaintiffs; and numerous defendants and witnesses. The only two missing as of yet were the judge himself . . . and William Robert Walker.
Clancy swallowed again, sweated some more, and finally swore viciously to himself, staring once again at the devilish paper.
"Well, I never, Clancy Green," an offended voice said somewhere near his elbow, and he jumped, startled. Vinia Thompson had settled herself into her customary chair, the one reserved for the court recorder, apparently while he'd been deep in apprehensive thought, and now glared up at him indignantly from near his elbow.
Too late Clancy recalled just what he'd muttered to himself and flushed a little in embarrassment.
"Sorry, Vinia," he muttered. "I didn't see you sit down."
"I should hope not," she told him repressively. "I never heard the like of such vulgarity. Don't you ever go to church?"
Vinia's mouth was as prim as the old maid she was, and her movements were precise and proper. Although they were of the same age—both fifty-two—Vinia had hardly changed one iota from the thin, toothpicky girl she'd been as a student at Briskin County High School. Even her straight, short, carefully molded hair had remained the same—except that now and then it looked suspiciously darker, as if it had just been doused with Loving Care.
But even to have hinted at such a thing as the possibility of Vinia coloring her hair on the sly would have embarrassed and offended her nearly as much as Clancy's profanity had.
Remembering exactly what he'd said, Clancy thought that he had indeed been rather . . . well, profane.
"You'd swear, too, if you'd seen this list," he told her defensively.
"Swearing is the sign of a lack of control and discipline that I—oh,
Vinia's sentence broke off abruptly as Clancy shoved the paper under her long nose and pointed with one quivering finger at the name on the top of the list. "Oh, my!" she repeated with dismay.
Then she looked up at Clancy. "What will we do?" "Do?" Clancy exclaimed, staring at her as if she were crazy. "I don't know 'bout you, woman, but I don't reckon I'll do a dam-—I mean, a single thing." "Does—does the judge know?" "How could he? He's been out of town for weeks. Just got back this mornin'. But you can bet Billy Bob knows. Why'n the he—Sam Hill he'd let this thing happen is anybody's guess. Surely he could’ a stopped it. He could'a told 'em—" Clancy broke off. He wasn't sure exactly what Billy Bob Walker could have said, after all.
"He's out to make trouble," Vinia predicted dismally. "Well, this oughta make enough for even him," Clancy returned.
At that moment, a buzzing fly entered the room by way of the windows they'd pushed and shoved up to ventilate the place—and Judge Robert Sewell took a more dignified route and entered through the door from his chambers off to the side.
His entrance was as striking as always. He was a big, tall man, and unlike many of the judges in this rural section of northern Mississippi, insisted upon formality. Even in the heat of this early spring day, Robert Sewell had on a crisp white shirt and a dark tie that showed above his flowing black robes.
He wore the robes on every courtroom occasion, no matter how slight, and on the occasions he was called upon to marry a couple, he even wore them then. People who admired him said it was his way of making it clear that the law of the land deserved respect.
Those who despised him said it just showed he was a stuck-up snob whose family had been among the very few in the area to have the money to send their son to law school at Ole Miss. The robes made sure nobody forgot just who he was.
A few of the female persuasion whispered that the black garment emphasized his tremendous height and threw the fading blond of his hair into icy relief. He was undeniably handsome; his looks had helped him catch the eye of the daughter of another well-to-do-family, this one from Biloxi. His wife, Lydia, was nearly as smoothly perfect as Sewell himself was.
Rut nobody ever said any of those things to Judge Sewell, because the robes did one more thing—they set him apart, and his distinguished, aesthetic face finished the job, marking physically some sort of fence between him and the farmers and workers and laborers that made up most of Sweetwater and the rest of Briskin County. A good judge, most said.
An elegant, fine figure, the women added.
A mighty cold fish, Clancy thought miserably, and hastened to drop the paper with its disastrous name down by his side.
The judge grimaced as he settled himself into his seat on the raised dais. "I thought somebody was coming to turn on the air-conditioning," he said in the general direction of Clancy.
Clancy clutched the paper and swallowed once, the Adam's apple in his long, skinny neck bobbing deeply, and his answer was meek. "R. J. Turner's down there tryin', sir. There's something wrong with it."
The judge looked up. "I think we're all aware of that." There was a trace of mild irritation in his voice as he reached into an inner pocket for his glasses. The gold wire frames gave just the right touch of somber intellectuality to his features. "Tell Turner to fix it."
Clancy was not normally a tenacious man, but today he was grasping at straws. Anything to delay the evil hour when the judge realized exactly to whom the first name on his list belonged.
"Yes sir, I will, but you know, some of the council members think that since we had a shortfall in taxes anyway, and since this May's might)' mild and pretty, we'd be doin' well to leave these windows open." Clancy gestured grandly toward the wide open apertures, the ones that had let in the adventuresome fly that was just now buzzing around his head.
Sewell stared at Clancy. "I beg your pardon?" "You know, just take advantage of God's good mood and save the county money in the electricity department, to boot . . ." Clancy trailed off, weakly.
Most of the courtroom had gotten quiet when the judge walked in; now the rest of it fell silent at the byplay between Sewell and the usually taciturn bailiff. Sewell himself was staring at Clancy as if the latter had lost his mind. Then he leaned forward, locking his fingers together with care.
"Mr. Green," he said, his voice silky, "when I am six feet under the Mississippi soil, I will have an eternity to admire the elements. The flies, the heat, the dirt that God has made. But until then, my courtroom will not be turned into some example of primitive living. More than flies and dust, I find the odor of sweat repugnant." Sewell released his fingers and leaned back in his chair, which creaked under his weight. "The minute Turner gets that unit fixed, I want it turned on. Is that clear?"
Clancy nodded. This diversion had not been a good idea.
"The council can cut corners someplace else. Not in my courtroom. And if they don't like that"—he looked out idly at the listening audience and added humorously, suggestively—"then we might look into
finances to find out where our taxes are going. Maybe we could cut
There was a moment's pause, then as the crowd caught what Sewell was saying, a startled cheer of approval went up, as well as a smattering of laughter and a shrill whistle from the throat of Toy Baker, who stood leaning against a side wall.
Clancy had time to think resentfully that even while most of the general redneck populace was a little wary of Sewell, he had an uncanny knack for working them— when he chose to lower himself to do so.
It was true—Robert Sewell might even be governor someday, especially if he got Sam Pennington's money and power on his side.
And if things like William Robert Walker didn't crop up to cause trouble.
"Where's the docket?" the judge questioned abruptly, searching through the papers on his desk. "Here, Mr. Green, who's the first case?"
Clancy glanced wildly at Vinia, whose head stayed bent determinedly over her keyboard. He cleared his throat. There was no help for it.
"The case of Bud Allen and the Country Palace versus William Robert Walker." Clancy said it quickly, hoping the three words would slide together innocuously.
The judge had been scribbling something on a notepad, and it took a second or so for the name to register. His hand jerked an infinitesimal bit, then stopped all movement.
"I beg your pardon?" he repeated again. His voice was deadly calm, but his blue eyes were steely behind the lenses of his glasses.
"Bud Allen and the Country Palace vs. William Robert Walker," Clancy answered. This time his voice was firm, and just maybe there was a trace of defiant, malicious knowledge in it.
There was a long, startled stillness in the too-warm, too-crowded little courtroom while Sewell breathed. That was all he did, just took a few deep breaths, while the skin that was stretched tautly across his cheeks mottled scarlet.
"And who—" the judge stopped a moment, suddenly flexing his hands as if they'd gone stiff, "who is responsible for this case being on my docket?" He might have appeared calm, and his words might have been distinct, but there was a rich fury running through his voice, outrage and temper mingling.
Nobody moved. Nobody answered.
Sewell took a long, deep breath. "Who is the attorney representing Bud Allen?" he demanded at last in the tense silence.
Finally, a throat cleared, and J. C. Hayes came reluctantly off the back wall a few steps.
"I reckon I am, sir." On any normal day, J. C. looked and acted more like a loud used-car salesman than he did a lawyer, but this morning he was subdued. Even his lacquered brown pompadour was a little flatter.
Sewell stared at him in distaste. "Why is this case on my docket?" he demanded.
J. C. squirmed under Sewell's unflinching stare. "I don't know what you mean. Your Honor." To Clancy's ears, his voice had a slight whine to it.
Sewell sucked in his breath sharply. "I've got no use for either you or your client, Mr. Hayes," he told the lawyer, his voice harsh. "But you know that. Bud Allen is in this courtroom just every few months or so over that— that so-called business of his. I've put up with that. But dragging this man Walker into it . . . he's a—a—"
"A what?" came a drawling, half-amused voice from the doorway.
The absorbed crowd gasped as if they were one unit, and all eyes turned toward the voice.
Clancy did the same—then groaned.
The man leaning lazily on the doorjamb, completely filling the opening, had both hands shoved nonchalantly down in the front pockets of skin-tight Wranglers. His shirt was opened carelessly down three buttons, and he had a green battered John Deere cap pushed back on his head.
Everything about the newcomer said clearly that he just didn't give a damn, not about the courtroom, not about this case, and most of all, not about Robert Sewell.
Sewell, on the other hand, was notching steadily upward on the fury scale. His nostrils were spread, his lips thin.
"I'll not hear this case," he said, thickly.
Both J. C. and the man in the doorway—William Robert himself—straightened.
"I don't know why not," J. C. interjected quickly. "You're the judge who's supposed to hear it, Your Honor. My client's got no complaints. And Billy Bob—" J. C. looked toward the other man, his face bland and guileless as a baby's.
Walker laughed, his laugh as careless as the rest of him. "Billy Bob's got no objections, either." The three men faced each other over the heads of the people in the courtroom in a triangle of contention. The man in the doorway was putting on a good act, Clancy thought in quick-born pity, but tension suddenly emanated from him with an electrical force in spite of his casual stance.
"This ... is a travesty," Sewell finally rasped out, and he stood, his movements jerky and disjointed.
"You have to give a reason if you refuse to hear a case, Your Honor," J. C. told Sewell quickly, too quickly.
"I'm aware of the law," Sewell answered icily. His composure was coming back to him, Clancy thought, as the shock of Billy Bob's presence wore off.
"I don't know any reason for you not to hear the case, Your Judgeship," Walker put in, crossing his arms over his chest. "But maybe you do." His voice was challenging, suggestive.
Billy Bob's sheer audacity nearly knocked Clancy off his feet; he was afraid to look at Sewell, to see his reaction.
In a rush of fury, Sewell snatched up the gavel. "How dare you," he demanded, then he caught himself, and slowly sat back down. After an instant's pause, he said distinctly, through tight lips, "Very well. You're right. I'm quite sure, Mr. Walker, that I can administer justice to you, for once in your life. You'll get just what you deserve in my courtroom."
"I figured that," Billy Bob answered, his voice cheerful, his face innocent and angelic.
But there was a palpable strain quivering between the two of them as they eyed one another in a fleeting, heavy silence.
Old enemies, Clancy thought.
Through the open windows drifted clearly the words of Sue Ellen Terry as she called cheerfully to someone across the courthouse lawn, "How you doing, honey? We heard you were in the hospital having your tubes tied. You should'a let some of us know, just for moral support. Why, there's not a whole set of Fallopian tubes in town except Lou Talley's, and you'd think after she'd had those five wild boys, even she would have the good sense—"
There was a rippling burst of nervous laughter in the room, and it jarred Sewell into turning away from Walker's blue stare.