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From his grandmother, Alex Cross has heard the story of his great uncle Abraham and his struggles for survival in the era of the Ku Klux Klan. Now, Alex passes the family tale along to his own children in a novel he’s written-a novel called Trial.
As a lawyer in turn-of-the-century Washington D.C., Ben Corbett represents the toughest cases. Fighting against oppression and racism, he risks his family and his life in the process. When President Roosevelt asks Ben to return to his home town to investigate rumors of the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan there, he cannot refuse.
When he arrives in Eudora, Mississippi, Ben meets the wise Abraham Cross and his beautiful granddaughter, Moody. Ben enlists their help, and the two Crosses introduce him to the hidden side of the idyllic Southern town. Lynchings have become commonplace and residents of the town’s black quarter live in constant fear. Ben aims to break the reign of terror-but the truth of who is really behind it could break his heart. Written in the fearless voice of Detective Alex Cross, Alex Cross’s Trial is a gripping story of courage in the face of prejudice and terror.
FEATURING ALEX CROSS
Alex Cross's Trial
The Big Bad Wolf
Four Blind Mice
Violets Are Blue
Roses Are Red
Pop Goes the Weasel
Cat & Mouse
Jack & Jill
Kiss the Girls
Along Came a Spider
A complete list of books by James Patterson is in the back of this book. For previews of forthcoming books by James Patterson and more information about the author, visit www.jamespatterson.com.
Copyright © 2009 by James Patterson
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group
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Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com
First eBook Edition: August 2009
Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
For Susan, of course
A PREFACE TO TRIAL
BY ALEX CROSS
A few months after I hunted a vicious killer named the Tiger halfway around the world, I began to think seriously about a book I had been wanting to write for years. I even had the title for it: Trial. The previous book I'd written was about the role of forensic psychology in the capture of the serial killer Gary Soneji. Trial would be very different, and in some ways even more terrifying.
Oral history is very much alive in the Cross family, and this is because of my grandmother, Regina Cross, who is known in our household and our neighborhood as Nana Mama. Nana's famous stories cover the five decades when she was a teacher in Washington—the difficulties she faced during those years of civil rights turmoil, but also countless tales passed on from times before she was alive.
One of these stories—and it is the one that stayed with me the most—involved an uncle of hers who was born and lived most of his life in the small town of Eudora, Mississippi. This man, Abraham Cross, was one of the finest baseball players of that era and once played for the Philadelphia Pythians. Abraham was grandfather to my cousin Moody, who was one of the most unforgettable and best-loved characters in our family history.
What I now feel compelled to write about took place in Mississippi during the time that Theodore Roosevelt was president, the early part of the twentieth century. I believe it is a story that helps illuminate why so many black people are angry, hurt, and lost in this country, even today. I also think it is important to keep this story alive for my family, and hopefully for yours.
The main character is a man my grandmother knew here in Washington, a smart and courageous lawyer named Ben Corbett. It is our good fortune that Corbett kept first-person journals of his incredible experiences, including a trial that took place in Eudora. A few years before he died, Mr. Corbett gave those journals to Moody. Eventually they wound up in my grandmother's hands. My suspicion is that what happened in Mississippi was too personal and painful for Corbett to turn into a book. But I have come to believe that there has never been a better time for this story to be told.
A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND
"LET HER HANG until she's dead!"
"Take her out and hang her now! I'll do it myself!"
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Judge Otis L. Warren wielded his gavel with such fury I thought he might smash a hole in the top of his bench.
"Quiet in the court!" the judge shouted. "Settle down, or by God I will hold every last one of you sons of bitches in contempt."
Bam! Bam! Bam!
It was no use. Warren's courtroom was overflowing with disgruntled white citizens who wanted nothing more than to see my client hang. Two of them on the left side began a chant that was soon taken up by others:
We don't care where. We don't care how.
We just wanna hang Gracie Johnson now!
The shouts from some among the white majority sent such a shiver of fear through the colored balcony that one woman fainted and had to be carried out.
Another bang of the gavel. Judge Warren stood and shouted, "Mr. Loomis, escort all those in the colored section out of my courtroom and out of the building."
I couldn't hold my tongue another second.
"Your Honor, I object! I don't see any of the colored folks being rowdy or disrespectful. The ones making the fuss are the white men in front."
Judge Warren glared over his glasses at me. His expression intimidated the room into silence.
"Mr. Corbett, it is my job to decide how to keep order in my court. It is your job to counsel your client—and let me tell you, from where I sit, she needs all the help she can get."
I couldn't disagree.
What I once thought would be an easy victory in the case of District of Columbia v. Johnson was swiftly turning into a disaster for Gracie and her increasingly helpless attorney, Benjamin E. Corbett: that being myself.
Gracie Johnson was on trial for the murder of Lydia Davenport, a wealthy white woman who was active in Washington society at a level high enough to cause a nosebleed. Worse, Gracie was a black woman accused of killing her wealthy white employer.
The year was 1906. Before it was all over, I was afraid they were going to hang Gracie.
I had to be careful they didn't hang me while they were at it.
"I WILL NOT TOLERATE another outburst," Judge Warren said to the spectators. He turned to look me in the eye. "And I suggest that you, Mr. Corbett, select your objections with greater care."
"Yes, Your Honor," I said, then immediately held my tongue in check with my teeth.
"Mr. Ames, you may resume questioning the defendant."
Carter Ames, the city attorney, was a little old man about five feet tall. He strode to the witness stand as if he were every inch of six-two.
"Now, Grace, let's go back to the afternoon in question, May twenty-third. In your testimony—before the unfortunate disruption occurred—isn't it true that you essentially admitted to murdering Mrs. Davenport?"
"Excuse me, sir, I said no such thing," Gracie shot back.
"The court stenographer will please read the testimony given by Miss Johnson a few moments before the courtroom interruption."
"Got it right here, Carter," the stenographer said.
Wonderful. Ames and the court stenographer were on a first-name basis. No telling which parts of Gracie's testimony had been left out or "improved."
The stenographer flipped back the pages in his tablet and began to read in a droning voice.
"Miz Davenport was always a mean old lady. Never had a nice word for anybody. Ask me, she had it coming to her. The day before she got killed, she told me she was fixing to fire me because I was too stupid to know which side of the plate do the fish fork go on. She was a mean old witch, she was. I'm telling you, she had it coming."
I jumped up from my chair.
"Your Honor, obviously my client did not mean—"
"Sit down, Mr. Corbett."
I had one more thing to say—I just had to get it out.
"Your Honor, the prosecutor is deliberately twisting my client's words!"
Carter Ames turned to me with a smile. "Why, Mr. Corbett, I'm not twisting a thing. Your client has spoken for herself very clearly. I have no further questions, Your Honor."
"In that case, court will adjourn for a two-hour recess, so we can get ourselves a cold glass of tea and some dinner," the judge said. "I believe that Mrs. Warren said my personal favorite, chicken pot pie, is on the menu today."
Bam! Bam! Bam!
THE TWO-HOUR DINNER BREAK before Carter Ames and I gave our closing arguments seemed to last at least twice that long. I never had much appetite during a case, so I spent the interval pacing the block around the courthouse square, mopping my face and neck with a handkerchief.
Washington was in the grip of a torturous heat wave, and it was only June. The air was as thick and swampy as any summer afternoon back home in Mississippi. Carriage horses were collapsing. Society ladies called off their afternoon teas and spent their leisure time soaking in cool tubs.
Back home in Eudora I rarely had to wear the full lawyer suit with high stiff-starched collar and all the snaps and suspenders. Down south, folks knew how to survive the heat: move slowly, and wear light clothing.
It must have been ninety-five degrees when we finally returned to the courtroom. The newfangled electric fans barely stirred a breeze. Gracie's face streamed with perspiration.
The judge entered. "Are you ready, gentlemen?"
Carter Ames sauntered toward the jury box. He put on a big friendly smile and leaned in close to the jury foreman. Ames was justly famous for the high drama and fancy oratory of his closing arguments in murder cases.
"Gentlemen, I want you to join me on an important journey," he said, in his orotund voice. "I'll let you in on our destination before we commence—the Kingdom of Truth. Few who set out on the journey toward the Kingdom of Truth ever reach their destination. But today, gentlemen, I can promise you, that is where we shall arrive."
The smoke from Judge Warren's after-dinner cigar wafted blue through the air around the dandyish little city attorney. He slowly paced the length of the jury box, turned, and paced the other way.
"We are not going to make this journey by ourselves, gentlemen. Our companions on this journey are not of the fancy kind. They don't wear fine clothes and they don't ride first class. Our companions, gentlemen, are the facts of this case."
As metaphors go, it seemed fairly simpleminded to me, but the jurors were apparently lapping it up. I made a mental note to lay on an even thicker layer of corn pone than I had originally intended. It was the least I could do for Grace and her chances.
"What do the facts of this murder case tell us?" Ames asked. His voice dropped a few notes on the scale. "The first fact is this: Grace Johnson has all but confessed to the crime of murder, right here in front of you today. You heard her admit to a most powerful motive, the hateful emotions and vitriolic resentments she bore toward her employer."
It was all I could do to keep from jumping up and shouting "Objection!" Judge Warren's earlier warning served to keep me in my seat.
"The second fact speaks even more loudly. Grace claims that Lydia Davenport shouted at her. Let me repeat that shocking claim, gentlemen. Lydia Davenport dared to shout at the woman who was a willing employee in her household. In other words, Mrs. Davenport deserved to die because she shouted at a maid!"
Ames was not just a skillful actor; when it came to the facts, he was also quite the juggler.
"Now let another fact speak to you, friends. The fact is, the court has appointed one of the capital's finest young attorneys to represent Grace Johnson. Now mind you, this is as it should be. Let the least among us have the best defense money can buy—your tax money, that is. But don't let the young gentleman fool you. Don't let his pretty words bamboozle you. Let me tell you what he's going to try to do."
He waved his hand indifferently in my direction, as if I were a fly buzzing around his head.
"Mr. Corbett will try to cast doubt upon these obvious facts. He will tell you that the Davenport house was bursting with employees who might have murdered Lydia Davenport."
Ames spun on his tiny heel and pointed a crooked finger at my client.
"But the fact is this: Only one person in that house admits out loud, in a clear voice, to having a motive for the murder. And that person is seated right there! Grace Johnson!"
He strode to the prosecution table and lifted a worn brown Bible. He opened it to a page he seemed to know by heart and began to read aloud.
"If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
He snapped the Bible closed with a flourish and held it high in the air.
"Gentlemen, we have arrived. Our journey is done. Welcome to the Kingdom of Truth. The only possible verdict is guilty."
Son of a bitch! Carter Ames had just destroyed my closing argument.
THE DIMINUTIVE PROSECUTOR THREW a thin smile my way as he returned to his chair, his eyes dancing with the light of triumph. I felt a twinge in my stomach.
But now it was my turn to speak, and hopefully to save a woman's life.
I began with a simple declaration of the fact that no one had witnessed the murder, and then I discussed the other suspects: the Irish gardener, Mrs. Davenport's secretary, and her houseman—all of whom despised their employer and could have easily committed the murder. Of course, they were all white.
Then, since Carter Ames had stolen my thunder, I decided to finish up in another direction, a bold and risky one that brought tremors to my hands.
"Now, before you all go off to your jury room, I'm going to do something that's not often done. Mr. Ames claimed to have taken you to the Kingdom of Truth, but the fact is, he never even got close to his stated destination. He omitted the most important truth of all. He never mentioned the real reason Gracie Johnson is facing the possibility of losing her life.
"You know the reason. I don't even have to say it. But I'm going to say it anyway.
"Gracie Johnson is colored. That's why she's here. That's the only reason she's here. She was the only colored employee in attendance at the Davenport house that day.
"So there it is. She's a Negro. You gentlemen are white. Everyone expects that a white jury will always convict a black defendant. But I know that not to be true. I think—matter of fact, I truly believe—that you have more honor than that. You have the integrity to see through what the prosecutor is trying to do here, which is to railroad an innocent woman whose only crime was telling you honestly that her boss was a mean old woman.
"Do you see what we've found? We've turned up the most important fact of all. And that fact, the fact that Gracie's skin is black, should have no influence whatsoever on what you decide.
"That's what the law says, in every state in this Union. If there is a reasonable doubt in your mind as to whether or not Gracie Johnson is a murderer, you… must… vote… to… acquit."
I started to go back to my chair, but then I turned and walked right up to Carter Ames's table.
"May I, Carter?"
I picked up his Bible, flipping through the pages until I appeared to find the verse I was seeking in the book of Proverbs. No one needed to know I was quoting from memory:
"When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous."
I closed the Good Book.
CARTER AMES PUSHED his silver flask of bourbon toward my face. "Have a swig, Ben. You deserve it, son. Well done."
What a sight for the funny pages we must have made—Ames barely five feet tall, me at six-four—standing side by side in the marble hallway outside the courtroom.
"No, thanks, Carter. I'd rather be sober when the verdict comes in."
"I wouldn't, if I was you." His voice was a curdled mixture of phlegm and whiskey. As he lifted the flask to his mouth, I was surprised to see half-moons of sweat under his arms. In the courtroom he'd looked cool as a block of pond ice.
"Your summation was damn good," he observed. "I think you had 'em going for a while there. But then you went and threw in that colored stuff. Why'd you have to remind them? You think they didn't notice she's black as the ace of spades?"
"I thought I saw one or two who weren't buying your motive," I said. "Only takes one to hang 'em up."
"And twelve to hang her, don't I know it."
He took another swig from his flask and eased himself down to a bench. "Sit down, Ben. I want to talk to you, not your rear end."
"Son, you're a fine young lawyer, Harvard trained and all, gonna make a finer lawyer one of these days," he said. "But you still need to learn that Washington is a southern town. We're every bit as southern as wherever you're from down in Podunk, Mississippi."
I grimaced and shook my head. "I just do what I think is right, Carter."
"I know you do. And that's what makes everybody think you're nothing but a goddamned bleeding-heart fool and nigger-lover."
Before I could defend—well, just about everything I believe in—a police officer poked his head out of the courtroom. "Jury's coming back."
THE CUMBERSOME IRON SHACKLES around Gracie Johnson's ankles clanked noisily as I helped her to her feet at the defense table.
"Thank you, Mr. Corbett," she whispered.
Judge Warren gazed down on her as if he were God. "Mr. Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict in this case?" he asked.
"Yes, we have, Your Honor."
Like every lawyer since the Romans invented the Code of Justinian, I had tried to learn something from the jurors' faces as they filed into the courtroom—the haberdasher, the retired schoolteacher, the pale young man who was engaged to Congressman Chapman's daughter and had cracked a tentative smile during my summation.
Several of them were looking directly at Gracie, which was supposed to be a good sign for a defendant. I decided to take it that way and said a hopeful little prayer.
The judge intoned, "How find you in the matter of murder against Grace Johnson?"
The foreman rose in a deliberate manner, then in a strong, clear voice he said, "We the jury find the defendant guilty as charged."
The courtroom erupted with exclamations, some sobs, even an ugly smattering of applause.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
"I will have order in my court," said the judge. Damned if I didn't see a smile flash across Judge Warren's face before he managed to swallow it.
I slid my arms around Gracie. One of us was trembling, and I realized it was me. My eyes, not hers, were brimming with hot tears.
"It be all right, Mr. Corbett," she said quietly.
"It isn't all right, Gracie. It's a disgrace."
Two D.C. blueboys were heading our way, coming to take her back to jail. I motioned for them to give us a moment.
"Don't you worry, Mr. Corbett," Gracie said. "Jesus works in mysterious ways."
"God bless you, Gracie. We'll file an appeal."
"Thank you, Mr. Corbett. But now I got to tell you something."
She leaned close to me, dropping her voice to a whisper. "I done the crime."
"I done the crime."
"I got five chillun, Mr. Corbett. That old lady, she don't pay me hardly nothing. I needed money. So I meant to take the silver."
"And… what happened?"
"I was coming through the dining room with the silver chest in my hands. Miz Davenport walk in. She 'posed to be having a nap. Well, she screamed at me like she the devil. Then she come a-running at me."
Gracie was composed, very calm, almost in a trance as she spoke to me.
"I had the bone-handle carving knife in my hand. Not for her—I don't know, just in case of something. When she run at me, I turned. She run straight up on that knife, sir. I swear I never meant to do it."
The policemen apparently felt they'd been patient long enough. They came up alongside us and, taking hold of Gracie's arms, began to lead her away.
"But I tell you, Mr. Corbett…"
"I would do it again."
AS I WALKED all the way home from the courthouse on that hot June day, I still had no idea what life-changing things were in store for me and my family. Not a hint, not a clue.
Our house was quiet and dark that afternoon when I arrived. I walked through the front parlor. No sign of Meg, Amelia, or Alice.
In the kitchen a peach pie was cooling on a table. Through the window I saw our cook, Mazie, sitting on the back stoop, shelling butter beans into a white enamelware pan.
"Has Meg gone out, Mazie?" I called.
"Yes, suh, Mr. Ben. And she took the littl'uns with her. Don't know where. Miz Corbett, she was in some bad mood when she went. Her face all red like, you know how she gets."
How she gets. My Meg, my sweet New England wife. So red in the face. You know how she gets. The gentlest girl at Radcliffe, the prettiest girl ever to come from Warwick, Rhode Island. Burning red in the face.
And she gets that way because of me, I couldn't help thinking. Because of my failure, because of my repeated failure. Because of the shame I bring on our house with my endless "charity cases" for the poor and disenfranchised.
I walked to the parlor and lifted my banjo from its shelf. I'd been trying to learn to play ragtime tunes since I first heard the new music that had come sweeping up from the South late in the old century. It was music as noisy and fast as one of the new motorcars that were unsettling horses all over the country.
I sat on the piano bench and tried to force my clumsy fingers to find the first offbeat notes of that skittering melody. The music seemed to be in such a hurry, but something about it took me back to a place and a time much slower, and maybe better, than any in Washington, D.C. The bumpy syncopation reminded me of the sound I used to hear coming from tiny Negro churches out in the country, in the woods outside Eudora, Mississippi, where I was born and raised.
As a boy I'd walked past those churches a thousand times. I'd heard the clapping and the fervent amens. Now that had all gotten blended in with a fast-march tempo and the syncopated melody of the old work songs. Mix it all together, speed it up, and somehow, from that corner of the South, down around where Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas meet up, the music came out ragtime.
Whenever I heard that sound, whether issuing from a saloon on the wrong side of Capitol Hill or a shiny new phonograph in Dupont Circle, it sent me out of my Washington life and down the memory road to Mississippi.
And whenever I thought of Mississippi, I couldn't help seeing my mother's face.
- "The Man Who Can't Miss."—TIME
- On Sale
- Apr 6, 2010
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Grand Central Publishing