Authors: Gary Gusick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Political
The Last Clinic
Copyright © 2012 Gary Gusick.
All rights reserved.
Published by Benoit Press.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without written permission from the author.
This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, or establishments, organizations, books, movies, or locales are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
To Lee Ann.
It was six a.m. and still dark when Reverend Jimmy Aldridge dragged the 7-foot pine cross from the back of his oversized SUV. He leaned the cross against the rear door and examined the spot where the two spiky poles intersected. The rawhide cord that held the stakes together was wrapped three times and tied nice and tight. He fumbled around in back of the SUV until he found the rolled-up poster with a photo of an unborn fetus, ten weeks along. He carefully unrolled the poster, pressed it flat to the cross, and whacked it with the staple gun four times. Top, bottom, right, and left.
He reached into the breast pocket of his suit coat and came out with an envelope bulging with money. He locked the envelope in the glove compartment behind an official state map of Mississippi. Feeling behind the front passenger’s seat, he removed a brown gunnysack robe from its hanger. He lifted his arms and slipped the robe over his suit, letting it fall until it reached his shoe tops.
Next, he leaned his back against the SUV and pressed onto the cross, lifted his shoulders, and wrapped his arms around the beam. Bending at the waist, he hoisted the cross upwards so that his back supported its weight. Then, step by step, he plodded up the hill, a quarter mile until he reached the entrance to the Jackson Women’s Health Clinic.
He positioned himself next to the gate, placing the bottom of the cross on the sidewalk and holding the staff upright with one hand. With his free hand, he took a small flashlight from his pants pocket, flipped it on, and angled the light upwards towards the poster, illuminating the photo of the unborn fetus.
A set of headlights popped up over the hill. A truck, a twelve-wheeler, rumbled his way. He lifted the cross a few inches off the ground and shook it at the driver.
“Christ died so babies may live!”
His robe flapped in the breeze as the truck roared by, the driver failing to react.
A second vehicle, a Jackson school bus, followed. “The Health Clinic is a death clinic,” he yelled. This driver, a middle-aged hippie type, gave him the finger.
“Have a blessed day, Brother,” he called out to the disappearing taillights. Then added, “You baby-killing son-of-a-whore.”
The sun started to peek up over the horizon. A black SUV wheeled around the corner and came to a halt across the street, directly in his view.
“The unborn have a right to live,” he shouted to the occupant. “God’s work must be our own.”
The window on the driver’s side rolled down.
Reverend Aldridge’s face broadened into a smile. “What are you doing here at this hour?”
The driver said nothing.
Still smiling, Reverend Aldridge propped the cross against the fence, clicked off the flashlight, and started toward the SUV. Two steps later, he saw the barrel of the shotgun pointing out the window at his groin.
House Bill 674.
Darla Cavannah was in REM sleep when she became aware of the ringing. She was dreaming about the child again, the little boy. It was dark in the dream at first, and she could only sense the boy’s presence. Something told her they were on the same wavelength, though, she and the boy. Yet she wasn’t sure if they were related, or friends, or even if they had met. She recalled catching glimpses of him in other dreams, where the boy had been dashing about from room to room in that super slow motion they do in movies, his blondish/brownish hair, lighter than hers, bouncing up and down with each step he took. She remembered that he had been different ages in different dreams, as young as four and as old as twelve.
Though the boy had been in many dreams, the dreams had a common theme. Each dream had been set in different houses. The houses always had multiple floors and many rooms. In every dream, it was just she and the boy alone in the house, though they were always in different rooms. She could hear him calling to her as she moved from room to room looking for him. His voice was pure and sweet like the choirboys she used to hear during mass back in Philadelphia when she was a schoolgirl. In each dream, the boy’s voice sounded as though it were coming from the next room.
She had no trouble picturing his features, although she was sure she had never seen him face to face. At certain times, it felt that she was on the verge of catching up with him. At other times, it seemed like he was about to slip away. That was the worst part. One minute, hope; the next minute, despair.
She heard ringing.
It’s my alarm clock,
the alarm on my cell
. Then, mixing the alarm up with her dream, she speculated that the ringing might be her biological clock going off. Her roommate Kendall Goodhew, who had two children and was up on pop psychology, had planted the thought two days earlier.
“Women in their mid to late thirties, it jumps up and bites them, Sugar, this barren womb issue. Especially if they’ve lost a husband like you have. You feel like time is running out. The chance for a child is slipping away from you. So you have these crazy dreams, and sometimes a woman can have panic attacks. I saw it on
For Kendall, the talk show lady was the final word on all womanly matters.
Kendall was right, of course, although there hadn’t been any panic attacks. Not yet, thank God. There was this yearning and the aching sense of incompleteness, a void feeling in her womb. But there was more to it, areas too private to discuss even with Kendall.
By the third ring, Darla identified the sound and groped for her phone.
She didn’t need to look at the Caller ID. It was Shelby Mitchell, the Sheriff for Hinds County, 58 years old, and a grandfather of six, who still addressed all women, regardless of their age or marital status, as Miss, followed by their first name.
“Y’all familiar with House Bill 674?”
Shelby did this sort of thing—came at you out of nowhere.
She propped herself up with the phone to her ear still half asleep, there in the dream, back in the room, looking for the boy, just one room ahead. She was enchanted by his sweet voice and not at all sure she was ready to leave the dream.
She looked at the clock on the phone.
She was normally an early riser, but lately had fallen into sleeping until ten or eleven and sometimes wallowing in the sheets until well past noon.
“I do apologize for the somewhat early hour,” Shelby said.
She rubbed her face and ran a hand through her morning hair, smoothing it out, and noticed she was feeling a little crampy. She was actually glad about it, glad that she could still ovulate. She’d missed a month, and she hadn’t been with anybody. Thinking it might be the onset of menopause had scared her. The discomfort was a good sign.
What had Shelby been saying? Something about a house bill? Not that it mattered. What she wanted to do was go back to the dream with the boy. What she wanted to do was hang up.
“I hope this isn’t about work, Shelby. I’m on leave for a year. Remember? You’re the one who encouraged this.”
“The unpaid leave. A verbal agreement, as I remember, but subject to the vicissitudes of the ever-changing business of law enforcement.”
Shelby did crossword puzzles and enjoyed using words like “vicissitudes” whenever the opportunity arose.
“I need a favor,” he said.
“Now that you put it that way…”
She was into him. Owed him one. Okay, more than one. When her husband died last fall, Shelby had come to her aid in that quiet, gallant way Southern men had. He’d used his influence to keep the details of her husband’s death out of the papers. Hushed up the stuff about Hugh’s being high on oxycontin when he wrapped his Mercedes around a streetlamp on his way home from the casino in Vicksburg. Thanks to Shelby, there was no mention of the gambling debts Hugh had run up. Shelby went further and called a friend, a state senator from over that way. He got the senator to convince a couple of the casino owners to go easy on the paper they were holding on Hugh, to lower the vig, and then work out a reasonable payment plan so she could at least keep her house. Maybe some of the help was more out of respect for her husband’s football career than their marriage. More about protecting the image of a state treasure. That’s how Shelby and everybody else in Mississippi looked at Hugh Cavannah. She owed him anyway. Now he was calling to collect. Must be something important.
“Now about House Bill 674. As I’m sure you’re aware…”
“I’m lucky if I can keep track of my electric bill, let alone a house bill, whatever it is. You know I’m not political.”
Not being political was something you had to declare if you lived in Jackson, Mississippi, where the state government was the biggest employer, and politics was only slightly less popular as a spectator sport than SEC football.
“Here’s the short of it, if I must. The pro-life forces in the great state of Mississippi are trying to get a law on the books that says life begins at conception. The personhood law, they call it. The idea being to take the new law up to the Supreme Court and knock heads with the pro-choice crowd. But the initiative was defeated because it was poorly written and confusing. Who knows how long before they can get the next personhood initiative before the voters? In the meantime, Bobby Goodhew, your roommate’s ex, his lobbying firm represents The National Rights of the Unborn. They got the Chairman of the House Public Health and Human Services Committee, that little fat ass, Charlie Hogshead, to sponsor this bill, House Bill 674. I won’t torment you by reading the bill in its entirety. In essence, it says that no clinic, meaning no abortion clinic—of course there’s just one in the entire state—no abortion clinic can perform a D&C in Mississippi unless they have a physician who is on staff at…, and I am reading now, ‘…not less than three hospitals within a five mile radius of said clinic.’ You see where I’m headed, right?”
This was how Shelby talked, with everything like a slow ride down a winding country back-road.
“I have no idea where you’re headed.”
“It all gets eventually around to Reverend Jimmy Aldridge. You know him?”
“I know who he is. If you mean do I know him personally, we met a couple of times. Kendall used to attend services at his church. He married her and Bobby, didn’t he?”
“Baptized their children too. I was there at the wedding, along with half of Northeast Jackson. Quite the to-do.”
“I’ve seen pictures of the wedding.” She had come home to find her roommate Kendall in tears, going through an old family album, looking at wedding pictures but mostly pictures of her two kids Molly and Jake, ages ten and eleven. The kids now lived with Bobby. The separation from her children, only getting to see them on weekends was tearing Kendall apart.
Shelby continued. “So now for the last three years, Reverend Jimmy’s been out picketing every morning in front of the abortion clinic. Carrying a cross with photos of an unborn fetus on it. Calling attention to the goings on at the clinic, you might say. Stirring the pot. Flagging the house members as they drive by on their way to the Capitol. Doing his part to push the bill, number 674, through. In addition, of course, the said Reverend is trying to shame women out of terminating their pregnancies.”
Darla heard Shelby take a breath and thought about telling him to come to the point, but knew it wouldn’t do any good.
“That doctor at the clinic, that Stephen Nicoletti fellow? Only two hospitals in Jackson have him listed on staff. Bobby Goodhew and his people saw to that. If the bill, that’s House Bill 674, passes, and the good doctor isn’t listed on three hospitals, he won’t be legally allowed to perform abortions in the state of Mississippi. The Jackson Woman’s Health Clinic will be out of business. Dr. Nicoletti will have to pack up his little black bag and move to Alabama. So you might say there’s a natural amount of antipathy between the Reverend Jimmy and the Doc.”