James Robert Campbell is a native of Amherst, Texas, and a graduate of West Texas A&M University who has worked as a reporter, editor and photographer for a dozen newspapers in Texas, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. His stories and poetry have been in numerous magazines in the U.S. and Europe.
THE LITTLE RED FOOTSTOOL
Chapter One “Dr. Gill and Sarah”
The plans and expectations people have upon coming to a small town often turn out to be contrapuntal, especially for educated city people. Each town has its own personality with each one being distinguishable among natives; but they have in common the smaller scale on which everything works. Initially charming, the scale forces new ways of looking and feeling that may grow either to be a comfort or a type of madness.
Dr. Bradley Gill had half-heartedly tried to adjust to his new life in Terkel, Texas, in 1943. He wanted the quick prosperity of a small town practice but was bored with his slender blonde wife, the twenty-bed hospital, the Plains landscape and most sorely his social life. Trim and well-formed at six feet tall with brown hair and eyes, his pretty forehead and cheekbones, dimpled chin and straight nose reminded some people of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was charismatic on some days and disheveled on others, and patients complained that he seemed distracted.
Like most doctors, he had experimented with drugs. Stimulants in pill form and by injection were used at the parties he had attended at medical school in Galveston and he still often injected himself in the morning to conquer the almost immobilizing narcotic of his ennui. But he was more addicted to the remembered stimuli of his love affair with a little woman with a hard body, dark hair and large, dark eyes. Sarah DesHotel had worked as a nurse in the hospital where he took his residency and he still thought of how she looked at him in the elevator one day, gazing up seriously yet with a mirth that made his palms and belly sweat.
They met at a party organized by older medical students. Sarah had attended regularly and met Brad at the first one he was invited to after transferring from the University of Texas in Austin. They saw each other again the next day and by midnight had a full-fledged love affair going. It was his first really passionate relationship and Sarah was pleased by his fervor. Sometimes he stayed overnight in her second story apartment near the Gulf of Mexico, where they left the windows open to the ocean breeze. Evenings, nights and mornings were not enough, so they met in empty rooms at the hospital.
His ardor began to subside after three months and when he told her in a studied lovers’ conversation that he had no immediate plans to marry, she distanced herself in favor of another doctor. He tried to revive the affair and she saw him a few more times; but in the end she said, “I like being with you, Brad, but this guy wants to get married. I got to look out for the future.”
He told her again he first wanted to establish a practice, but the truth was that he was uncomfortable with the idea, knowing his family in Fort Worth wouldn’t approve. He told himself as he left the apartment that it was just an affair that was over, but he felt more confused and disturbed than he had expected.
She had since been out of his mind for long periods, but in the tedium of life in Terkel she returned with more ferocity than ever. He dwelled on the memories of her low, uncultured voice, the heat of her breath and body, her breathy exclamations and the scents of her hair and perspiration. He thought about her in this mode for almost a year before calling her that summer.
Chapter Two “Harry’s Wedding”
Sarah DesHotel of New Orleans was one of five children in the family of a merchant marine. She became a nurse for the purpose of marrying a doctor and went to Galveston for the medical school and parties. She was there for eight months, having two carefully considered but unproductive affairs, until meeting Dr. Gill.
She began with a rush but realized within a few weeks that he would not work out. She continued for as long as she could, risking trouble with the new resident, because it was her most enjoyable affair, Brad’s being quite handsome and newly or freshly awakened. She loved his contoured body and the way he savored her. She would not accept a man who wouldn’t give her what she wanted; but she submitted more thoroughly than she ever had, discovering new things about lovemaking and feeling more knowledgeable and fulfilled, to have become truly the woman whom she had often been only trying to portray.
She let him go with some regret but more resolution because Dr. Harry Arnott became obsessive about her even before she took him as a lover. He was a little taller than Brad but pudgy at over two hundred pounds and plain with round wire-rim glasses and a brown felt hat with a short, flat brim. He had more of the proverbial “doctor’s look,” the slightly off-center, introspective mien suggesting highly developed sensibilities, than did Brad.
Dr. Arnott had done what was necessary, no more, to navigate the curriculum and was ready to take a wife, having denied himself until he was near enough to finishing that he would not be hindered. Not being smooth with women, he had hired prostitutes and inspected them himself to ascertain that they had no diseases, preferring them because he could get better looking ones than the women who were socially available. He had never thought he would become legitimately involved with a woman as pretty and passionate as Sarah. He knew money and social status were his part of the bargain but was happy to make the trade because apart from a culturedness he feigned more than possessed, he was an earthy man who liked coarse women if they were polished enough to put up a social front.
Sarah had hoped for a doctor like Brad but expected one like Harry. She committed to him after the overlap, teaching him to trust her, and they married the next year when his residency was over and he returned to East Texas to practice in Bosque (pronounced Bos-key), near his hometown of Cullum. His father had the best practice in Cullum, a town of thirty-five hundred to Bosque’s fifteen hundred, and he planned to move back one day if it looked like he could make more money.
They had a grandiose wedding in the St. Barnabas Methodist Church -- the first event Sarah had thoroughly enjoyed since meeting Harry. She was the focus of hushed speculation as gossip circulated, but the prominence and power of the Arnotts was such that it was kept clandestine. Harry was considered to be marrying a trollop of some type and the event had an undercurrent of titillation because he had until then kept his randiness concealed in his hometown.
He sensed what kind of interest there was but didn’t care. He considered himself superior to the townspeople and knew Sarah’s pedigree would be less important in Bosque and obscure in ten or fifteen years. His relatives kept any dismay to themselves and greeted the couple with complete approval, partly because of the weight he carried as a new physician but also because there was a side of him that made disapproval of his choice unwise. He was normally cheerful and affected an easy-goingness, but he was a hater who, once alienated, could be intractable.
Harry LePoiner Arnott developed an emphatic and sometimes bitterly expressed enmity for the Japanese and Germans, but it was in a way disingenuous. His real hatred was for injuries to his pride. Unbeknownst to all but a few citizens of the state, he was, if sufficiently provoked, one of the most dangerous otherwise sane and productive members of the social upper class in Texas. He had two sisters and was the only medical person in the family other than his father and grandfather. His dad, Dr. Anthony Arnott, had indulged him greatly because he showed an early interest and apparent aptitude that was for the most part faked. His mother, the half-French, red-haired Genevieve LePoiner of Houston, was often distressed by his behavior but left him more in his father’s charge. Harry knew he had abnormal emotions at times, but he never got into trouble and did not think of himself as a potential criminal. Indeed, with a modicum of luck, he might have gotten through life with his failings and vulnerabilities being no more than a family secret, as many men do.
Chapter Three “New Orleans Romance”
“Sarah?” “Yes?” “It’s Brad.” “Uh. . .” “How’re you doing?” “Okay. How’re you?” Pretty good. I keep thinking about you.” “Where are you?”
“A little town in the Panhandle, Terkel.”
Brad’s call was welcome. Harry had been proffering a kind of conviviality that she tried to reciprocate, but his intensity and the dull small town had made her restless. She had often reminisced about Brad in the long, silent days in the big brick house and now her pulse surged in her head and made her slightly dizzy. “I should have married you, Sarah.”
“Nothin’ we can do about it now.”
“I can’t forget you. I think about us all the time.”
“Brad.” She looked around, but of course Harry was at the office. She started to tell Brad she could not resume their affair, but she suddenly wanted to. Her body warmed and became more fluid and graceful as she stood there breathing slowly into the phone.
“Call me tomorrow. I need time to think.”
“I’m not asking you to give up anything. I’d just like to see you again. . . a few times.”
“Call me back.”
She asked the next day if he could meet her in New Orleans the next month when she visited her family. He said he’d contrive to. “Who did you marry, Brad?”
“A girl from Fort Worth. I’m fond of her, but we don’t fit like I thought we would.”
“You remember Harry.”
“Sure.” Remembering Harry was part of what gave Brad the confidence to call her. He had been cordial to them after the breakup but stayed away from her, not wanting to be rebuffed again. But he felt much superior to the other man and hoped the difference was by now reason for Sarah’s wry regret. “How’s he doing?”
“Okay. People been goin’ to Cullum to see his daddy, so they took right to him.”
She had originally thought Brad was unwilling to marry her because of her unculturedness and he would choose another woman in deference to his family of doctors and other rich people. She still felt as though she were somewhere below him looking up but now took heart in knowing she had a stronger hold on him, in an important way, than his wife.
Brad made the excuse of going to New Orleans to look for medical equipment and Sarah arranged to go for a couple of days during the week so Harry could not accompany her. Marty had left the previous weekend to see her family and Harry resolved to visit New Orleans with Sarah in the future.
Sarah saw her mother for a few hours to cover her trail in case Harry called but spent the rest of her time with Brad at the rococo Saints Arms Hotel. It was the most concentrated debauchery either of them had ever undertaken. Brad brought stimulants with which they injected themselves periodically, balancing that with room service wine and whiskey. They went out to eat but were staring into each other’s eyes before the dinner was brought and cut short the outing to return to the room.
They broke away once a day to call their spouses and lie enthusiastically. Marty was nice to Brad, but Sarah thought there was a trace of malice in Harry’s voice. She went back to Brad smoothly enough but resolved to be careful when she went home.
It was the kind of extended other-worldly experience they had both long wanted. As much danger as there was in it, their time let them discover the “two become as one” phenomenon. In their debauchery as it should have been in their marriage, the difference between male and female was negligible. They were not themselves or each other anymore; they were one thing, more than double what they had been apart and less overwhelmed by the drugs, alcohol and carnality than by the revelation of one of the essential secrets of the universe, the power and beauty there is in the resolution of “a two.”
Even if Brad never wanted to marry her, Sarah was still glad she had done it. Paying critical attention to his eyes when he said he loved her, she thought maybe she was fooling herself, but it really seemed like he meant it. He was so enraptured that she could not imagine his ever letting her go again. They lay still for awhile before hunger overwhelmed them and they leaped up, laughing as they dressed, to rush to a streetside restaurant and eat seafood and drink chablis. They strolled through Andrew Jackson Park just after dark, stopped, embraced under the radiant moon and kissed. “I love you, Brad,” she said.
“I love you, too. This is romantic.”
He felt a strong attachment but had no intention of leaving Marty because his family would have disapproved and he planned eventually to go back to Fort Worth. What he loved was the eroticism. He took a genteel approach to sensual matters and treated Sarah politely, almost like a formal acquaintance, except in their intimate sphere.
He wanted one more time with her, but his flight was leaving for Dallas and he had to go right after they returned to the Saints Arms three blocks off Bourbon Street. She waved goodbye as he gave her a thumbs-up through the taxi’s rear window. She came down five minutes later to hail a ride to her mother’s big apartment near the Mississippi River. Brad was going to lay over in Dallas to rest and collect himself and she needed to do the same.
Chapter Four “Home with Harry”
Sarah concocted a series of strategems and counter- strategems to use with Harry or that he might try on her. They seemed endless the more she thought about it, but she was just trying to be prudent and was not really apprehensive because she was prepared to leave if he ever threatened or hurt her. His idiosyncracies would have been less vexatious if he had not been so disturbed. She wouldn’t have been so susceptible to Brad if Harry had been more normal, she thought.
“Hi, honey!” she called to him behind the rope on the runway. He waved back, smiling artificially. He took her suitcase and hugged her sideways in a tentative, exploratory way that made her skin crawl. “I hope you didn’t mind me takin’ a couple o’ extra days,” she said. “It’d been a long time since I seen ‘em.”
“I didn’t. Been looking forward to getting you back.” He goosed her under the arm by her breast, but she had braced herself and did not flinch. She fell asleep when they got home and he left for the office and she did not awaken until he gingerly woke her, naked and cuddling.
“Are you glad to see me?” she asked.
“You bet! I’m always glad to see you.” He did not know what was wrong with her trip but was suspicious. She had sounded nervous on the phone and stayed too long. But he did not want to believe she was two-timing him on so little evidence and would wait to be sure.
Chapter Five “Unfinished Business”
Brad and Sarah rendezvoused twice more during the next year. They waited six months between times and resolved to make the third time their last for a longer period. Sarah started staying more at her mother’s and going to the hotel to see Brad, who even returned with some medical equipment to validate his story. Sarah took Harry with her between assignations to see her relatives.
Harry thought he knew what she was doing after the second trip and was certain before she was back from the third. Mulling his suspicions, he tried to think of whom she could be seeing. He had made her tell him her sexual history after they married. She had deleted parts of it, of course, but told him about Brad because she thought he might already know.
Harry called Brad’s office in Terkel when Sarah left for the second time and was told Dr. Gill was in New Orleans on business. He thought it could be a coincidence, but after her third departure and another report that Dr. Gill was in New Orleans, he was sure.
What affected him worst was the realization that both Gill and Sarah must see him as the less exciting, less attractive man. The thought of their derision made him feel hotter and meaner than he had ever felt. He considered going there and killing them but played the scene through in his mind and realized he did not want to kill Sarah, just Gill. His writhing brain told him he could only get even with Gill by killing him. The imperative to kill Dr. Gill had him grunting and making rhythmical movements like an animal in his big leather chair in the den.
Harry was pleasant and made light conversation upon her return, soft-shouldering the dark blue Buick out of Dallas and over the forest-sided roads of East Texas to Bosque. He waited until they were sitting in the den with drinks to say, “I know you’ve been seeing Dr. Gill, but I still want us to stay together.”
Sarah had been preparing for this and was not going to lie first and tearfully repent. “Don’t think I don’t regret it because I do. I won’t see him anymore if that helps. It’s over.”
Brad had finally told her he could not marry her. In their last hours together they stupefied themselves with liquor, two final injections and lovemaking in which Sarah turned her head. “I don’t know what to say,” she said, puffing a cigarette and sipping her drink. “I’m sorry?”
“You don’t have to say anything. Sometimes old flames take awhile to die out.”
“That’s all it was, unfinished business. I’d like to forget it if I can.”
“It’s already forgotten as far as I’m concerned if he’ll do one thing -- apologize.”
“You mean go see him?”
“I could get over it better. I won’t get mad.”
She had never been able to read him very well and was afraid he was being false. She couldn’t tell anything as he sat there placidly with one hand under his chin, bobbing his head as he talked. “I’d rather not,” she said.
“I know, but you won’t have to do anything but call him. It would help me,” he said, patting her knee.
Eerie as it was, his being too nice was hard for her to be skeptical about because she hadn’t expected him to be conciliatory or even rational. She thought he might be playing some sinister game that she had to play along with without knowing what it was.
Chapter Six “Something Maddening”
Marty Gill had long felt something maddening was forcing its way into her life. She was trying to disguise the intermittent depression she felt but thought it must be related to the war with the Germans being on the verge of defeat. Drs. Arnott and Gill had been exempted from service because they practiced in rural areas where there was a dearth of doctors. The phone started ringing at ten o’clock that night.
“Hello,” said Marty.
“Is Dr. Gill there?” Sarah asked.
“Ask who it is.”
“Whom shall I say is calling?”
“Mrs. Arnott, Sarah.”
Brad had expected no more than some type of embarrassment if Harry learned of the affair, but he still did not want to take the phone to talk to Sarah in front of his wife. “They’re old med school friends,” he said, getting up. “I wonder what they’re up to now. Hello,” he said brightly.
“Brad, he knows.”
“Where are you?”
“Phone booth outside town.”
“Oh? What have you been up to?”
“He made me come up here. He wants to talk.”
“Right! I’d invite you to stay, but we don’t have the room.”
“Who is it, Brad?” Marty asked.
“Just a minute,” he told Sarah before shielding the phone and telling Marty, “They’re passing through on vacation. They’re staying at a motel here, old party friends,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Hello, Sarah?”
“He’s settin’ there watchin’ me. I don’t think he’s goin’ back unless you talk to him.”
“I’m sorry, Sarah. I’m bushed. Why don’t I come by in the morning?”
“He’s just gonna keep makin’ me call. I don’t think he’ll do anything but talk.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t make it tonight. Tell Harry next time. Good night.” He hung up.
“Harry Arnott,” he said to Marty. “He’s tying one on and wants me to drink with him.”
“Is he a doctor?” “Yeah, in East Texas. They’re on the way to New Mexico.”
“Go over and see him if you want to.”
“I really don’t. I’m tired. I don’t want anything to drink.”
Harry made Sarah call every fifteen minutes for an hour and a half and Marty had to keep answering in case it was the hospital. Sarah made each call more insistent than the last, finally making a reference to Brad’s med school reputation as a voluptuary to shorten the ordeal. Marty grew more and more distressed and prevailed on Brad to talk to Sarah again at half- past eleven after going to bed herself and getting up twice. “Sarah, I don’t feel like going out.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“I agreed with him, he deserves an apology. I thought you’d come.”
“All right!” he said, muffling his mouth with his hand. “But I don’t ever wanta see or hear of either one o’ you again!”
“Couple o’ miles out o’ town, Texton highway.”
He hung up, really perturbed and thinking he might just break old homely Harry’s nose. He can learn not to mess with me! he thought.
Chapter Seven “Don’t Tell Anybody”
Just after midnight on that starry April night, Brad parked his gray Packard coupe behind the Arnotts and he and Harry got out into the sweet night air. There was no question of Brad’s punching Harry, though, because Harry unhesitatingly brought up a pistol and fired, shouting, “Don’t you know this is my wife?” The first bullet missed the left side of Brad’s head by fewer than six inches and the second almost hit him squarely in the belly button, going in an inch low and to the right.
Being a young man in good condition, he saved his life by not falling but running to his right away from the cars and into the darkness of the cotton field. With Sarah screaming and Harry cursing, the Buick whirled and shone its headlights into the field. Harry swept the field, urgently seeking Dr. Gill because he did not intend to leave him alive; but a car was coming down the two-lane asphalt highway and he left the scene.
With her terror when Harry started hunting Brad after pulling the big long-barrel police model .38-caliber revolver from under the seat and shooting him, Sarah was for the first time in her life so scared that she could not move or say anything. She was afraid Harry would kill her, too. She had seen Brad hit and thought he was dying. She didn’t realize Harry had made her an accomplice. She had seen Brad grimace, fall halfway to the ground and, face agonized and pathetic, stagger away. Harry was holding the pistol in his lap with one hand and steering with the other as she gauged the distance in sidelong glances, gathering her nerve to try to grab it, when he said mellifluously, “I’m sorry, Sarah.” He turned and gave her what he meant to be a look of perfect compassion. “I didn’t want to deceive you, but I just had to get him and I knew you wouldn’t go along. I hope you know I wouldn’t hurt you. Can I put the gun up? I’m going to throw it away as soon as we get to a lake.”
“Hell’s bell’s, Harry, don’t you know we’re in trouble?”
“Maybe; we’ll get out of it.”
“I never thought you’d do somethin’ like that.”
“I’ve got plenty o’ money, lot o’ friends. I might do some time, but not much.”
“What about me?”
“You won’t do any time, Sarah.”
She sat stiffly as he turned on the radio, tuning in a favorite big band station, and stayed that way while he stopped at a lake near Ploughman to throw the gun in. They ate in an all-night restaurant in Early and were home, with his pushing the Buick haphazardly to eighty miles an hour as the night shortened, by daybreak.
Brad had run as far as he could and watched Dr. Arnott’s car, wriggling into the soil and pressing his right cheek down with his palms flat on each side of his head until the Buick left. He crawled out of the field on all fours, holding his abdomen and crying, and lay on the roadside until another car came and he hailed it, pushed up sideways on his right shoulder and feebly waving both arms and hands in front of and slightly above him. “I’m a doctor,” he said. “Some people robbed me.”
“What do you want me to do?” asked the motorist, a slick- haired salesman in a wide-lapel suit.
“Take me to the hospital. Don’t tell anybody.”
Chapter Eight “Official Bi’ness”
He did not want to give the factual account of what had happened, of course. But after surgery and two days at Birdsong Memorial Hospital in Texton during which the attack was reported and became the subject of gossip over much of West Texas and parts of New Mexico and Oklahoma, Brad saw he couldn’t stay with the story he told at the hospital, that he had been out driving and stopped to help two men who shot him and fled without robbing him. Victory County Sheriff Tag Tankersley knew that was not the real story and on the afternoon of the second day cajoled him into telling the truth. “If you know who shot you, you better tell me so we can pick him up. Besides that, you don’t want to perjure yourself.”
With great alarm, Brad thought he could have made up a better story if he hadn’t been so shocked and in so much pain. He felt absurd protecting Dr. Arnott. Who would have thought he was such a maniac? Along with recognizing the untenability of his account, he knew what the other man was now and was afraid he would try again. He told the sheriff who the assailant was but maintained he did not know why Dr. Arnott had shot him. He was in such emotional and physical anguish that he was blubbering in spasms of remorseful sobbing.
Hanging his head, Tankersley left to issue a warrant for Dr. Arnott. Marty met him in the hall and asked, “What did he say?”
“He’ll have to tell you. Give ‘im awhile an’ go in.”
“It was Dr. Arnott, wasn’t it?”
“You can get it from your husban,’ Miz Gill. Excuse me now. I got to go do some official bi’ness.”
She had immediately known what happened. She remembered the strained, peculiar conversations with Sarah, whom she knew only as a vulgarian and an emotional rapist, with disgust. Marty hated the scandal she knew was everywhere but regretted the personal aspects of it more. She was not surprised that Brad had had an affair. She was just sickened by its extraordinary salacity and dismayed that he had so publicly besmirched himself and come so close to being murdered. She had no familiarity with any of this and was bereft of her natural bearings as she went down the hall and into the room. “Did you talk to the sheriff?” Brad asked.
“Did he tell you?”
“I guess. . . I know.”
“I’m sorry, Marty,” said Brad, bowing his head and trying to regurgitate some of the remorse he had shown to Tankersley. “I must have been crazy, but good God!” He sobbed and looked at her with tears refilling his eyes.
He was in periodically excruciating pain and it grabbed him now, making him howl in earnest and prompting her to embrace him, crying and stroking his hair. She was normally a pleasant, hopeful-looking woman with well-shaped cheekbones, blonde hair cut short and big, wide-open green eyes. But it was not the natural woman who was talking to Dr. Gill as the warrant was going out for Dr. Arnott but the haunted, fragile one she had been evolving into that day.
“She said he just wanted to talk,” Brad said. “That’s all we thought he was doing. The affair was over. I won’t ever do it again. You won’t divorce me, will you?”
“Now is not the right time to ask.” Chapter Nine “The Couples”
Marty bore most of the scrutiny because Dr. Gill stayed indoors most of the time for two months. She hated her trips out because of people’s expressions when they stared or stole glances. They looked so repulsive. She was discomfited but not embarrassed because she hadn’t done anything wrong. Brad’s parents evinced unflagging support, waiting for the uproar to die down and hoping it would one day be forgotten.
Being in a town like Terkel was in a way helpful because its few doctors were looked on as almost godlike by much of the citizenry and as too indispensable to be dealt with on an ordinary plane by the rest. Dr. Gill had patients not just in Terkel but from miles around and while he wasn’t as beloved as some had been, he was a competent physician and a usually congenial man who still held the sensitive place in people’s lives that doctors do. He found all he had to do was play “doctor,” be serious and businesslike, and he had no more than a few annoying remarks or questions, quickly or softly spoken, that he could easily ignore.
Sarah was charged with attempted murder a few days after her husband was arrested and released on bond. It was an event from which Marty, remembering Sarah’s remark that she knew how much Brad liked parties because she “used to be his girlfriend,” derived much secret satisfaction. Harry was going to be tried first and the district attorney told Brad he thought it would be a year. The Gills’ life calmed as the weeks passed and at times seemed almost irenic. Brad was very solicitous, fearing Marty would divorce him. Their little girl Katy was fortunately not school age, so they refined an insular, if somewhat brittle, new life.
Harry and Sarah passed their time similarly, but Harry was cheerier than Brad and Sarah glummer than Marty. Their tack was that they were in Bosque all the time and did not know why the Gills were making such accusations. Dr. Arnott told it around town that Dr. Gill was a drug addict and must have been shot by some underworld character. He said Dr. Gill and he had been rivals for Sarah and he won, fomenting Dr. Gill’s enmity. By saying Dr. Arnott had shot him, Dr. Gill could cover the seedy truth. The Bosqueites of course took the Arnotts’ side and their support made it easier for Sarah. What bothered her was that she saw the same looks on people’s faces that Marty did. It was a situation people in neither place knew how to deal with. It was disturbing but fascinating because the people understood, regardless what they said to the principals, what had happened.
The Gills were nominal Methodists who only went on Easter and Christmas, but the Arnotts were First Christian Church members who attended weekly. They found religion useful to mollify their image and listened in an ostensibly attentive way but with total self-absorption one Sunday morning as the bushy white-haired Dr. Marshall Menzies preached on the availability of inner peace. Invoking Philippians 4:8-9, he said, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things. The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do and the God of peace shall be with you.”
Chapter Ten “He Don’t Squeal”
The fifteen months between the shooting and trial were a kind of solstice. The Gills turned to each other with a desperation that made them closer and more comforting to each other than ever while the Arnotts indulged in experiments that, not surprisingly, Harry found more enjoyable than Sarah. Brad was anxious to prove himself and please Marty at levels he had never taken the trouble to reach. She responded and her spring-wound cleaving engendered a new tenderness in him. They dreaded the trial but looked forward to its aftermath as a time when the ordeal would be over.
In their concentration on each other as a form of security, Brad introduced Marty to the things he most enjoyed. They left Katy in Fort Worth and vacationed in Santa Fe. She did not need liquor or drugs, but he persuaded her to let him inject her in the motel room as they drank and laughed through the hazy interludes. She understood better now what made him happy and would do anything to put more certainty into their lives, although she found drugs and alcohol a hindrance.
Harry knew Sarah would not leave him now so long as he didn’t get too rough. She had been charged, too, and needed him to pay her legal expenses. With his new confidence, he coaxed her into letting him tie her up and put her in hiding places around the house. Giggling and baby talking, he would look for her as though he did not know where she was, covered with a black cloth. He liked to tie her on the bed and once made her threaten to leave by getting out a new .38 he had bought. For a long time, Sarah did not understand her life anymore. But with her cooperation, Harry started to behave normally more of the time. It was a strange rapport from which they took a perverse comfort. Really hurting her would not have fit into Harry’s mode of reason, but not letting Dr. Gill win out, no matter what the cost, made sense. If he were convicted and imprisoned, that would again put Gill one up in their humiliation contest. No one in town questioned his defense, but the real core of sympathy was not based on their acceptance of his account. It was on the perception of him as a justifiably enraged cuckold. Many felt that, doctor or not, he had responded in the proper masculine manner. Some told him they remembered seeing him in town that day. Others said to his discouragement that they had seen his car parked outside his home all afternoon and night and volunteered to testify that he could not have been four hundred miles away in the Panhandle. His story was that Sarah and he had taken a ninety-minute drive that late afternoon and early evening and his attorneys did not want to put any obvious liars on the stand.
Harry took a call one day at work from someone whose voice sounded familiar but who requested anonymity. It sounded like a man named Ritter whose family he treated and who had just gotten out of the penitentiary after serving two years for stealing lumber in a neighboring county. “There’s a guy in Dallas could help you,” the voice said. “A pro, real coldblooded.”
“Oh? What’s his name?”
“Tex Wilkie. You can get ahold of him through his brother, got a garage.”
“A professional, you say?”
“Well, I don’t know what I’d need him for, but I appreciate it.”
“I know him. He don’t squeal.” “Oh, he doesn’t?”
Harry thanked the man and hung up. He was near the end of the day and had sent his nurse home. He leaned back with a daydreaming look and thought of his trial, a month away. He had been less hopeful because the Gills were going ahead with their testimony. He would have let it drop if he had been exonerated, but he thought, Gill is healthy and happy again, probably doesn’t even know the difference. His people’ll back him like mine do me and they’ll convict me. The trial would in Terkel.
Harry thought Gill would not be alive and about to send him to prison if he had used a professional killer. The conversation he had just had was convincing and he found himself, as when he had raised the pistol to shoot Gill, mechanically and somewhat surrealistically picking up the phone, getting information and writing the number of Wilkie’s Garage in Dallas.
He felt it would be naive to think he could start arranging it that easily, but he was sure that if what he had been told was true, Tex Wilkie’s brother would not betray him. The brother must provide protection, he thought. He was confident the call had been from an ex-convict who told the truth as he knew it because there was real advocacy in his voice. He had thought of asking him to make the contact, but that would have been too risky. He wanted to make the call but was afraid it would be too unconventional in the criminal world and be discounted. He sat back and thought of everything that had happened, sharpening his fighting mood and trying to clear his mind and make it agile. Then he relaxed and smiled, thinking, I’ll ask my lawyer about this man. That’s the kind of thing lawyers are good for.
Chapter Eleven “Tex”
Tex Wilkie was proof in the living flesh that rather than being anything, evil is more essentially the absence of things. His was a real killer’s look, not the demented one that sometimes came over Dr. Arnott but the insouciant, mildly chuckling one that says, I know secrets few people know and what you think is awesome is really more like a joke.
He was five feet, nine inches tall with sandy blond hair, dark blue eyes, long, full features and tight, waxy skin. He had weighed one hundred eighty-five pounds when he shot it out in 1943 with a Blackland County deputy on the Texas High Plains, trying to kill a man scheduled to testify against him in a burglary case; one sixty-five after jumping furlough and one-fifty or less at times when in jail. More average-looking in his healthier forms, the skinnier he got, the more reptilian he looked. His eyes became more prominent with hard, dark pupils and flat lids across the tops so he looked like what he was, a human snake.
The people most afraid of him were those who knew him best: criminal associates, relatives, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends and lawyers. One who had represented him often was Ronald “Jelly” Barnes, who regarded him as “a man who has no feelings.” After breaking into the underworld as a gunman in the Texas and Louisiana bootlegger wars of the 1920s, Wilkie prospered as a burglar and killer, specializing in dynamite-rigging cars. He only had convictions for assault, attempted murder and burglary, but the Texas Rangers estimated he had killed more than twenty people, mostly other hoodlums.
He had attended Texas Baptist College in his hometown of Corsairs in Southeast Texas for two years with the ambition of becoming a physician. He worked in various jobs at the medical school and during three years in prison was a valued nurse and operating room assistant, learning the use of chloroform for the later purpose of knocking out burglary victims.
Wilkie was drafted out of college in 1917 but did not go overseas to fight. He never returned to school but took to the criminal lifestyle and at forty-six had had no more than minor convictions and incarcerations. He was one the most feared criminals in the state in knowledgeable circles but had been so polished that he never got much publicity and was not seriously sought after when he failed to appear at the end of his sixty-day furlough for treatment of a leg wound inflicted by the deputy. He was in Dallas with a barmaid who was not known as one of his women. He’d been hoping for work when, two weeks before Dr. Arnott’s trial, he learned Harry wanted to meet him.
Harry had hired a lawyer in his East Texas hometown of Bosque and top Dallas criminal attorney Hal Harrison after shooting Dr. Gill. He called Harrison ostensibly to talk about his case and asked about Wilkie, saying a friend had told him the man would be a likely choice if Dr. Gill hired someone to kill him. The lawyer confirmed the gravity of anything pertinent to Wilkie and gave Harry a sketch of what he knew.
Harry took his Sarah with him to meet Harrison and called Wilkie’s brother Jack from the hotel. He surmised he would be taken more seriously if he related his legal trouble, so he told Jack Wilkie he would go on trial for attempted murder in two weeks and would pay well “for a job.” He left his number and Tex called that night.
“Dr. Arnott,” he said pleasantly.
“This is Tex,” Wilkie said in his softly modulated voice.
“Uh, yes,” Harry said, smiling at Sarah. “I was wondering if we could talk.”
Wilkie told him to park fifteen yards past the gate at the Pearly Gates Cemetery at ten o’clock. He arrived thirty minutes early, stopped nearby and hid behind a monument. He had called a lawyer he knew in Texton after setting the meeting and learned there was such a case about to be tried. He was sure it was legitimate, so to speak, but wanted to look Dr. Arnott over first. Harry arrived, emerged and lit a cigarette, illuminating his face. It would be risky, but Tex wanted a big pay day so he would not have to work for awhile. He did not smoke, drink heavily or gamble except for small stakes. He’d never been prone to waste money because it was one of the things he liked best along with expensive clothes, good cars and easy-going, closed-mouth women. He perused the richly attired physician and his heavy new car and knew this would be his biggest score ever. He moved through foliage and approached Harry from around a corner in the road with a composed expression but with eagerness in his heart like a teenage job applicant.
“Doctor,” he said with a deliberate lilt, not offering his hand out of deference.
“Yes!” Harry held out his hand and warmly shook Tex’s. “Shall we get in the car?”
They settled into the Buick and sat silently with Tex looking out the front and Harry glancing at him. “Should I tell you about the job?”
“It’s Dr. Bradley Gill in Terkel, Texas. I shot him and he’s fixing to testify on me.”
“Has he got a family?”
“Wife and a kid.”
“How old is the kid?”
“Little, shouldn’t be a problem.” “The woman?”
Harry paused. “Do you think it’ll be necessary?”
“Do it if you have to.”
“Do you know where he lives?” Wilkie asked.
“Never been there.”
“I’ll find it.”
“Fifteen thousand in advance.”
The amount surprised Harry. He had brought part of it and would have to borrow the remainder, having depleted his bank account for legal fees. But he didn’t argue because Tex never identified a client, no matter what the pressure.
“A doctor is bound to bring heat. I may need a lawyer. Once I’m paid, I never contact you again.”
“Well, I guess you get what you pay for,” said Harry, pulling an envelope from his coat. “I’ve got five thousand on me. Can I meet you back here with the rest?”
“Any time,” said Tex, taking it with a light heart and agreeing to meet in the cemetery in exactly a week. “Any preference on the time?”
“After the trial in two weeks. It’d be too obvious if we did it before.”
“How long after?”
“Any time. The sooner, the better.”
Chapter Twelve “The Night of His Return”
Harry still might have called it off if he had been acquitted because he knew Gill’s murder would cause a furor and he would be widely blamed. He had little hope, though, and thought it best to deal decisively with Wilkie while he had the chance. His blood lust was up and while he would have written off the money with an acquittal, he was better prepared to see it through to the logical conclusion. At the end of his reasoning, he still felt the other man deserved to die. He met Wilkie in the cemetery again and gave him the money in one hundred dollar bills in a spare doctor’s bag. “When do you think it’ll happen?” he asked.
“Two or three weeks after the trial. I don’t like to work too fast, but I’ll do it as soon as I’m ready.”
“Well,” said Harry, offering Wilkie his hand. “Good luck.”
Tex disappeared into the cemetery and Harry backed out and started home. Feeling more placid than he had in a long time, he clicked on the radio and hummed to Whispering Jack Smith’s “Crazy Rhythm” as he drove south out of town. Tex had wanted his money in advance so he would have no trouble collecting it and to leave it with someone he trusted until the heat was off. He certainly didn’t want to be caught with it and lose it.
Conducted in the week of the Tehran Conference and thus upstaged by Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, the trial went as Harry expected. Brad said Dr. Arnott had shot him but maintained he didn’t know why, although he testified Harry had shouted, “Don’t you know this is my wife?” and left no doubt of the motive.
A half-dozen Bosqueites swore Harry was in town at times when it would have been impossible for him later to have driven to Terkel. Dr. Gill’s wife Marty said a woman identifying herself as Mrs. Arnott called numerous times that night and forced Dr. Gill to meet her on the Texton Highway. Neither Harry nor Sarah took the stand.
The jury deliberated for two hours and came back with a five- year term. Harry took care not to look vindictive, standing around the courtroom and in the hall outside and commenting for all to hear, “Well, I’m not too surprised. I figured we’d lose up here in Dr. Gill’s home territory. We’ll reverse it on appeal.”
The Gills were in extreme discomfiture throughout the trial and left immediately. “I guess we’re lucky he got anything,” said Brad in the car.
“Do you think she’ll get anything?” Marty asked.
“The DA doubts it.” Tex drove to Terkel from Dallas five days later and never got out of the car except to check a telephone directory at a service station for the address. He drove at twilight to look at the Gills’ beige-blond brick house on the city’s nicest street, six blocks west of downtown, and the dark neighborhood. He stayed just long enough to get the layout and visualize his movements for the night of his return.
Chapter Thirteen “The Little Red Footstool”
To Francis “Tex” Wilkie, it was just another criminal adventure, albeit the biggest of his life. He took a few days to spend some of the money and stayed in Blackland a hundred miles away. He put up in a cheap hotel and contacted a garageman whom he had known for a long time, Blackie McNeese. McNeese well knew what Wilkie was but knew he was a professional who would protect him. McNeese had a teenage son from whom Wilkie bought a pair of black tennis shoes and he came back at night when no one was in the garage to buff the tread off. Tex had a former girlfriend who was living with an ex- convict he knew and he arranged to rent one of their cars, a 1940 black Ford, for Thursday night. The couple knew Tex was using them to advance a criminal enterprise, but it had been a long time since anyone who knew him had told him “no” about anything. Knowing his reputation better than anyone, he used his easy charm to smooth his operations, approaching politely, smiling often and making quiet, wry jokes to soften the effect.
He had supper at a cafe near his hotel and lingered over coffee and the newspaper, the Blackland Pictorial. He went for the car at eight, parking the tan 1939 Dodge he had borrowed from his brother, and drove south at a leisurely pace. He had called a woman in Houston the day before and said he would see her in two days. He chose her because he had used her in a killing four years earlier and was certain, based on her dummied-up response to officers then, that she would tell investigators nothing. He got into Terkel at ten-thirty and drove southeast toward Texton to kill another thirty minutes. He timed fifteen minutes and headed back, enjoying the car’s peppiness.
The alley behind the house was as dark and quiet as usual when he wheeled slowly into it from the east. He shut off the ignition and coasted to a stop, opening his door. He sat there to see if anyone would investigate, but no one showed. He had stopped between the Gill house and the one next door so the people in each might assume he was visiting the other. He had taped the interior light switches flat inside the doors and there was no light when he got out wearing the tennis shoes and carrying Dr. Arnott’s bag with his burglary tools.
Tex circled the house again and again, peeking into windows until he was sure everyone was asleep and the child would not wake up. He found an unlocked window and stretched to push it up far enough to get his head and shoulders through. There was nothing outside to boost himself off and he had to jump, catch himself on his arms and look in through the curtains. In his most athletically demanding feat of the night, he came down on the windowsill on his belly and grunted to himself, straining fiercely to maintain silence. Right under the window was a red footstool with a scowling blue cat’s face across the top. He looked around the room, saw the five-year-old girl sleeping in her bed and then saw the footstool. It was a foot high, so he got it and dropped back to the ground.
He put on rubber gloves, not surgical gloves but thicker laboratory worker’s gloves, flesh-colored and snug. He wanted to move with dispatch now that everything was in order. He set the footstool and stepped on it, jumped, put the bag in and wriggled slowly through the window and onto the floor. He lay there for a minute, listening, and only heard Katy’s breathing. He sat up meticulously and then got up and moved into the hallway. He opened the bag and put on his mask, which covered his whole head with slits for the eyes and mouth. He took out his heavy short barrel .44-caliber revolver, closed the bag and carried the pistol in his right hand and the bag in his left.
He passed a bathroom on the left and knew the open door at the hall’s end was the doctor’s bedroom. His eyes adjusted to the gloom with the pupils crowding out the irises. He made out Brad’s face on the other side of the bed and moved deliberately around; but coming within six feet, he stepped quickly, pressed the muzzle between the beatifically sleeping eyes and pulled the trigger. Marty awoke in a state of perfect emotional suspension, started to rise and was hit hard in the head. She could not rise again but, though essentially unconscious, was terrified at the most basic level and started moaning and making agonized movements as if having a nightmare.
Tex put down the bag, took out a roll of packing twine and began wrapping Marty to Brad. He wrapped and wrapped until he did not think she could get loose. He didn’t finish her because he was wearing the mask and she could not identify him. It was just a commercial job and he would not do any more than the contract called for. Marty kept moaning and moving slightly, tied tightly Brad back to back. Tex had stepped into the shadows by the dresser when he heard the little girl.
Katy had awakened when the gun went off. It was plenty loud enough to wake her, even muffled by her father’s head. She toddled in in her white nightgown, sucking her thumb, and the man in the mask grabbed her. He opened his chloroform bottle and carried her into the hall, opened the closet, pushed her in and splashed the liquid on her. “Don’t, don’t!” she cried, fighting with her arms. He piled clothes, laid her on them, closed the door and returned to the bedroom.
Marty was quieting down and becoming part of the gruesome bundle. Tex watched for awhile and realized with the little letting-go he sometimes felt that she would die, too. He put everything into the bag, went into Katy’s room and closed the window. He peered outside and went out the back door. Looking all around, he ran in a dog trot to the car, turned on the lights when he was out of the alley and met one slow-moving farm pickup on his way north out of town.
Katy woke up at seven a.m., opened the closet and went in to see her parents. At first she could not understand. Then her eyes got bigger, popping out more, her mouth opened wide and she just stood there looking. The incredible look in her eyes was still there years later. The conventional description would be that it was horrified, but it was more than that. If you had looked right into her eyes, you would have seen that something had been murdered in there. Wilkie had been merciful in his way, but the worst murder took place in those flashing instants as the innocence in Katy Gill’s beautiful blue eyes throbbed, shrank and died.
She thought of going to a neighbor lady’s, reared back, slowly whirled to the open door and walked stiffly through the hall to the kitchen door. Mrs. Chumley was outside getting her newspaper and saw the child coming across the lawn. “Katy, is something wrong?” she called. Seeing her expression, the woman asked, “What in the world?” Something caught her eye above and to the right of the little girl’s head. It was where Tex had left it, standing with its red oak legs pressed into the dirt: the little red footstool.
Chapter Fourteen “Big Daddy”
Tex gunned the Ford to eighty and better most of the way to Blackland and switched cars. The Dodge was a souped-up number he knew would run relentlessly and he drove it hard through the night to reach Houston by noon Friday. He stopped on a bridge at Tonkawa Creek Reservoir south of Corsairs and dropped in the bag with the burglary tools, gun and tennis shoes, cutting it with his knife to make it sink. He had told the woman, a skinny but buxom dark-haired creature named Ronni Dale, that he might need her for an alibi. “Sure, Tex,” she had said. “You know you can count on me.”
Sheriff Tag Tankersley was unready for the Gills’ bedroom and left when he felt the nausea. The child was taken by Dr. Gill’s parents and Tag shut the house after the bodies were removed. He had interviewed Katy, recognized chloroform was used and called the Texas Rangers. He checked the alley and made casts of partial tire prints, but the alley was hard and the prints were indistinctive.
Ned Tomes was in his middle fifties and known, among other things, for having been among the half-dozen lawmen who ambushed Bonnie and Clyde in Louisiana in 1934. At five foot- ten and mostly bald with a small pot belly, he still played the part of a Ranger with elan. With the rest of the Bonnie and Clyde party, he had fired and fired his high-powered rifle at the small figures in the car and done his duty as well as the others. But it was with disgust that the pair had created the necessity and at length he found it so disturbing, especially the day and night of waiting and the banshee death screams of Bonnie Parker, that it made his face look even more like the death’s head it already had resembled.
Tex had not presented a threat to the public like Bonnie and Clyde, but the Rangers had discussed making an all-out search for him when he disappeared following the Blackland shootout. But they had had greater priorities and they circulated a notice that he should be picked up if his whereabouts became known. He was a high-grade criminal but a low-grade fugitive who until then had never killed anybody that they knew of but other shady characters. Some lawmen may be prone to a level of friendliness with well-known criminals who play the game intelligently and with a little humor and some had that kind of relationship with Tex.
Alerted by the report of chloroform, Tomes had two top investigators leave Austin and Texton for Terkel while he directed the hunt for Tex and other suspects. Ronni Dale’s name came up with twenty other Wilkie associates. The Rangers fanned out to check them all and by nightfall found her apartment. She was at work and Tex did not answer the door. They found the bar she worked at and Ned was called in Austin when she told them yes, Tex was staying with her. They took her back, but he had left.
Tex was glad he was in Houston because he wanted to go to a nightclub he knew, Big Daddy’s. He left ten minutes after the Rangers and took a cab. He was comfortable with Gene “Big Daddy” Cromartie, having let his hair down there two or three times. He had rarely been a heavy drinker but had considerable experience with drugs and once or twice a year would drug himself into oblivion by injecting heroin or a powerful pharmaceutical like a post-operative sedative if no heroin was available. He didn’t do it often enough to be an addict and took care not to let it become a regular habit because he would have then had less credibility as a killer.
He went in and waited for Big Daddy because the six foot-six, two hundred-ninety pound black man could procure the heroin and two or three attractive women. He still had seven hundred dollars of Dr. Arnott’s money and flashed some to motivate the bartender to send for Big Daddy.
Cromartie had been a nightclub man for most of his life and killed a couple of men himself. Tex and he locked eyes across the table with a look of what could only be described as mutual dark knowledge. “Well, sir, what can I do for you this evening?” he asked, shaking Tex’s hand.
“Aw, I want some action,” said Tex. The juke box churned out rhythm and blues as men and women danced, drank and talked. “Girls, heroin, clean needle.”
Big Daddy filled Wilkie’s requests along with a case of beer, some trucker’s pills and an untraceable nearby motel room, having been told he was on the run. Tex usually had either booze and women or drugs because the drugs were so powerful, but he wanted everything at once tonight. He took a big shot of heroin at nine and a smaller one at three in the morning. He took pills to get from getting sleepy and the hazy, liquid experience of the drug never nudged him toward sleep. The beer tasted good because he was dehydrating and needed fluids. The room was sultry but reasonably well-furnished and comfortable.
It must have been the beer that did it because that was what he had the most of after three-thirty. He didn’t typically drink a lot because a number of times he had gotten drunk and come close to killing someone when he did not want such a reaction. He killed a half-dozen black people and Mexicans on mean drunks in the early ‘30’s and evaded punishment each time either by covering it up or because it was easy for a white man to get away with killing minorities in those days. At a little after five, he got out his lock-blade knife and grabbed the nearest woman by the hair.
The others looked at his brutal expression as he held the knife to Regina’s throat, pinking holes in her neck with the hot-sharp tip and making her bloody. They had thought he was a mean- looking old man but were used to rough people and had had no indication he would get violent. Screaming and hitting with their arms, they fought each other to get the bolted door open and were further panicked by Wilkie’s crushing up behind them and stabbing their backs and hips as he held Regina in his left hand, grunting like a beast.
The first two women opened the door and escaped. Not deeply cut, Regina broke away with a desperate application of strength, leaving a ball of hair in Tex’s fingers, and ran faster than she had known she could, falling on the far side of the driveway but bounding up to find Big Daddy.
Cromartie knew who Wilkie was but knew he only had a knife and looked at it about the same as he would have with any old crazy dude. “Mister Tex?” he called through the open door. He had a .44 Derringer and he had been a boxer and might let him lunge, sidestep and clip him with a little knockout punch. “Can I come in?”
He nosed into the room and saw Tex standing on the other side where the beer was, drinking with the knife nearby on the floor. “I didn’t hurt anybody, did I?” Tex asked.
“Naw!” Big Daddy asserted, smiling. “They all right.”
Chapter Fifteen “Whatta Ya Heard ‘Bout ‘Ol Hoodle?”
Ronald “Jelly” Barnes was one of the best lawyers in Texas. Six foot one and fairly trim with dark curly hair and a Boston Blackie mustache, he thought so hard and yet so fluidly that people could watch him think, moving his face and body and using his skills in a constant flow. He was a flawless courtroom tactician and an imaginative and moving speaker with a dominating presence. But as such attributes may, Jelly’s drew as much opprobrium as praise. He was hated by lawmen, the families of his clients’ victims and various other law enforcement-minded people because he was so often successful, in their minds, at thwarting justice. He took it with studied bemusement and a little grief, knowing, even if no one but his wife and other attorneys seemed to, what he was. He was obliged to make ethical allowances at times, but he was a lawyer, not a criminal, and it was regrettable that so many people didn’t appreciate the difference.
Barnes was the first to learn whom Tex had given the money to. Tex never mentioned the man except when Jelly needed money and Tex would have the lawyer contact him. Tex had left fourteen thousand dollars in cash with a man he had known in the Huntsville prison, now a wheat farmer in southwestern Oklahoma, Hoodle Jones.
The Rangers got Ronni Dale to admit she had not seen Tex until mid-day after the crime. They traced him to Blackland, the garage and the borrowed car. The alley tread matched the tires, but it was a common type and the casts weren’t good enough for court. So they could not prove he had been in Terkel. A particularly offended Terkelite offered to testify he had seen Tex in a cafe there that night, but the Rangers did not believe him. They were further flummoxed by Ronni Dale, who disappeared with determination and some evident imagination, taking a few belongings and vanishing from Houston and, as far as the Rangers ever knew, from the earth. They made unsuccessful searches for her before each of the three trials.
They knew Wilkie had done it; they just couldn’t prove it. He never testified, but his statement to investigators was often repeated in the newspapers: “Boys, I have an alibi, but I can’t say who I was with that night because she’s a married woman.” The juries of hard-faced farmers in Terkel, Favorite and Whittle Nock over the next three years knew he was guilty, too, twice giving him the death penalty and the last time life. But each time, the state appeals court in Austin looked at the evidence and kicked it back.
The tormented Tomes drove himself through nights and weekends and even in his dreams. He whipped and lacerated himself to drive and drive, concentrate and push, think of nothing else until by virtue of his suffering new evidence would emerge, Tex Wilkie would be convicted and executed and the world would again be in order. He sat down after supper one night, got halfway up, made a half-cry to his wife in the kitchen and died, pitching over sideways with a final moan over the case. They made Tex do hard time all right, keeping him in the air- tight new county jail in Blackland and basically on a bread and water diet for four years. Jelly protested, but the jailers always stayed just within the rules. Tex responded toughly and didn’t complain. The sheriff and jailers harbored the hope he would break and admit Dr. Arnott had hired him, but he was a pro and that would have abrogated his whole history and whatever future he had left. He was still Tex Wilkie and that would have made him nothing. Because of what he had done and because they knew his convictions wouldn’t stand up, they never let up on him. They saw it as loyalty to the Rangers and Ned Tomes, so they had him under one hundred-thirty pounds and looking snakier than ever when the third appeal finally came down and Jelly got him out on bail.
Tex was down to a level not even he had known he could reach. The days, months and years had been a fog of interminable discomfort and hunger, aching bones in the seemingly always cold cell, no cellmate and no one visible for hours on end, nothing to read, no cigarettes, no time outside in the fresh air, a chicken wire bed with no blanket, no mattress, no pillow and a bucket to defecate in that went unemptied for days.
It was a different Tex than had ever existed whom Jelly faced on the morning he got him released on ten thousand dollars’ bail. The authorities were saying they’d try him a fourth time, but the delay would be longer and the bond denial was no longer tenable. “Whatta ya heard ‘bout ol’ Hoodle?” Tex asked, moving from side to side but keeping his eyes on the lawyer.
Jelly shrugged, gauging his client’s response, and said, “I heard he bought three new combines.”
Tex said nothing, did not react at all except that astonishingly, as pale as he was, he turned even paler.
Chapter Sixteen “Hoodle and Tex”
Tex was on the loose and out of control like he had never been. They gave him back his lock-blade knife and he was going to gut Hoodle like a steer in his own living room. The news that Hoodle had betrayed him made something pop in his mind so that now, though maintaining an outward calm, he was on the attack in as blindly destructive a fashion as a bullet hawk or a fighting bull. He was so focused on reaching and killing Hoodle that he took no precautions at all.
Nobody ever knew if someone tipped Hoodle or if he was just edgy and watching. Whatever the reason, chubby little Hoodle Jones was ready when Tex flung open the screen door that morning and came in moving fast and stiff-legged like a monster. Hoodle was scared of Tex but was a tough guy himself, an ex- shotgun man in the bootlegger wars, and he knew that anybody, Tex included, would die if they walked in with him aiming his double-barrel sawed-off twelve-gauge shotgun. Squatted behind the cocked hammers and big barrels when Tex came in, he was like a boxer dispassionately delivering a one-two. He put one charge in Tex’s chest and the other in his face. The buckshot reversed Tex’s direction and blew him back into the screendoor. He fell onto his left side on the back of the doorway over the concrete porch.
Hoodle was overjoyed in his white frame house ten miles west of Big Toe Lake and twenty-two miles north of White Buck, Oklahoma. He could imagine his ghoulish fate had Tex gotten the drop on him. Wilkie’s reputation was such that Jones only had to say he saw him coming and didn’t know why Tex wanted to kill him to be exonerated. Throughout the tri-state region among lawmen and criminals who had crossed Tex and woke up in a cold sweat, the news was absorbed with exquisite relief and even pleasure, including at the dinner Jelly Barnes took his wife Georgia to that night.
Nine months after killing Tex, Hoodle opened his dynamite- rigged mailbox and died even faster. Whoever it was used a method that explained what it was about because Tex had pioneered in Texas the practice of dynamite-rigging cars.
The Arnotts kept to themselves and resurfaced only once more. The charge against Sarah was reduced to “aiding in the commission of a felony,” for which she paid a fine and received a suspended sentence. The appeals court waited two years to reverse Harry’s conviction because Judge Errol Nix had erred by allowing a distant cousin of Dr. Gill’s onto the jury. He was retried another year later, anticlimactically after Tex’s death. Smiling often and laughing with his lawyers, Harry coasted through the trial, having only to contend with the Gills’ affidavits, and got two years. He had taken care to bely the accusations in every way he could in Bosque and after nine months in which he helped to run the prison hospital and spent his free time painting landscapes, he returned to Bosque and Sarah.