Raymond's face contorted again. He hit the strings harder.
I went to the crossroad,
Fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad,
Fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above, "Have mercy now,
Save poor Ray if you please."
Leon glanced at his watch. It was almost 11:00 p.m., just over an hour to go. He wasn't sure he could listen to the blues for another hour, but resigned himself. The singing unnerved Butch as well, but he managed to sit still with his eyes closed, as if soothed by the words and music.
Standin' at the crossroad,
Tried to flag a ride Whee-hee,
I tried to flag a ride
Didn't nobody seem to know me, babe
Everybody pass me by.
Raymond then forgot the words, but continued with his humming. When he finally stopped, he sat with his eyes closed for a minute or so, as if the music had transported him to another world, to a much more pleasant place.
"What time is it, bro?" he asked Leon.
"Eleven straight up."
"I gotta go check with the lawyers. They're expectin' a ruling right about now."
He placed his guitar in a corner, then knocked on the door and stepped through it. The guards handcuffed him and led him away. Within minutes a crew from the kitchen arrived with armed escort. Hurriedly, they unfolded a square card table and covered it with a rather large amount of food. The smells were immediately thick in the room, and Leon and Butch were weak with hunger. They had not eaten since noon. Inez was too distraught to think about food, though she did examine the spread. Fried catfish, French-fried potatoes, hush puppies, coleslaw, all in the center of the table. To the right was a mammoth cheeseburger, with another order of fries and one of onion rings. To the left was a medium-size pizza with pepperoni and hot, bubbling cheese. Directly in front of the catfish was a huge slice of what appeared to be lemon pie, and next to it was a dessert plate covered with chocolate cake. A bowl of vanilla ice cream was wedged along the edge of the table.
As the three Graneys gawked at the food, one of the guards said, "For the last meal, he gets anything he wants."
"Lord, Lord," Inez said and began crying again.
When they were alone, Butch and Leon tried to ignore the food, which they could almost touch, but the aromas were overwhelming. Catfish battered and fried in corn oil. Fried onion rings. Pepperoni. The air in the small room was thick with the competing yet delicious smells.
The feast could easily accommodate four people.
At 11:15, Raymond made a noisy entry. He was griping at the guards and complaining incoherently about his lawyers. When he saw the food, he forgot about his problems and his family and took the only seat at the table. Using primarily his fingers, he crammed in a few loads of fries and onion rings and began talking. "Fifth Circuit just turned us down, the idiots. Our habeas petition was beautiful, wrote it myself. We're on the way to Washington, to the Supreme Court. Got a whole law firm up there ready to attack. Thangs look good." He managed to deftly shove food into his mouth, and chew it, while talking. Inez stared at her feet and wiped tears. Butch and Leon appeared to listen patiently while studying the tiled floor.
"Ya'll seen Tallulah?" Raymond asked, still chomping after a gulp of iced tea.
"No," Leon said.
"Bitch. She just wants the book rights to my life story. That's all. But it ain't gonna happen. I'm leavin' all literary rights with the three of ya'll. What about that?"
"Nice," said Leon.
"Great," said Butch.
The final chapter of his life was now close at hand. Raymond had already written his autobiography - two hundred pages - and it had been rejected by every publisher in America.
He chomped away, wreaking havoc with the catfish, burger, and pizza in no particular order. His fork and fingers moved around the table, often headed in different directions, poking, stabbing, grabbing, and shoveling food into his mouth as fast as he could swallow it. A starving hog at a trough would have made less noise. Inez had never spent much time with table manners, and her boys had learned all the bad habits. But eleven years on death row had taken Raymond to new depths of crude behavior.
Leon's third wife, though, had been properly raised. He snapped ten minutes into the last meal. "Do you have to smack like that?" he barked.
"Damn, son, you're makin' more noise than a horse eatin' corn," Butch piled on instantly.
Raymond froze, glared at both of his brothers, and for a few long tense seconds the situation could've gone either way. It could've erupted into a classic Graney brawl with lots of cursing and personal insults. Over the years, there had been several ugly spats in the visitors' room at death row, all painful, all memorable. But Raymond, to his credit, took a softer approach.
"It's my last meal," he said. "And my own family's bitchin' at me."
"I'm not," Inez said.
"Thank you, Momma."
Leon held his hands wide in surrender and said, "I'm sorry. We're all a little tense."
"Tense?" Raymond said. "You think you're tense?"
"I'm sorry, Ray."
"Me too," Butch said, but only because it was expected.
"You want a hush puppy?" Ray said, offering one to Butch.
A few minutes earlier the last meal had been an irresistible feast. Now, though, after Raymond's frenzied assault, the table was in ruins. In spite of this, Butch was craving some fries and a hush puppy, but he declined. There was something eerily wrong with nibbling off the edges of a man's last meal. "No, thanks," he said.
After catching his breath, Raymond plowed ahead, albeit at a slower and quieter pace. He finished off the lemon pie and chocolate cake, with ice cream, belched, and laughed about it, then said, "Ain't my last meal, I can promise you that."
There was a knock on the door, and a guard stepped in and said, "Mr. Tanner would like to see you."
"Send him in," Raymond said. "My chief lawyer," he announced proudly to his family.
Mr. Tanner was a slight, balding young man in a faded navy jacket, old khakis, and even older tennis shoes. He wore no tie. He carried a thick stack of papers. His face was gaunt and pale, and he looked as if he needed a long rest. Raymond quickly introduced him to his family, but Mr. Tanner showed no interest in meeting new people at that moment.
"The Supreme Court just turned us down," he announced gravely to Raymond.
Raymond swallowed hard, and the room was silent.
"What about the governor?" Leon asked. "And all those lawyers down there talkin' to him?"
Tanner shot a blank look at Raymond, who said, "I fired them."
"What about all those lawyers in Washington?" Butch asked.
"I fired them too."
"What about that big firm from Chicago?" Leon asked.
"I fired them too."
Tanner looked back and forth among the Graneys.
"Seems like a bad time to be firin' your lawyers," Leon said.
"What lawyers?" Tanner asked. "I'm the only lawyer working on this case."
"You're fired too," Raymond said, and violently slapped his glass of tea off the card table, sending ice and liquid splashing against a wall. "Go ahead and kill me!" he screamed. "I don't care anymore."
"No one breathed for a few seconds, then the door opened suddenly and the warden was back, with his entourage. "It's time, Raymond," he said, somewhat impatiently. "The appeals are over, and the governor's gone to bed."