Page 35 of Ford County

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More silence as they left Clanton behind. Lawyer Wade took deep, quiet breaths and managed to calm himself somewhat as he tried to arrange his thoughts and address the scenario of being ab' ducted. Okay, Lawyer Wade, what have you done in twenty-three years of practicing law to deserve this? Whom did you sue? Who got left out of a will? Maybe a bad divorce? Who was on the losing side of a lawsuit?

When the boy turned off the highway and onto a paved county road, Stanley finally said, "Mind if I ask where we're going?"

Ignoring the question, the man said, "Name's Cranwell. Jim Cranwell. That's my son Doyle."

That lawsuit. Stanley swallowed hard and noticed, for the first time, the dampness around his neck and collar. He was still wearing his dark gray suit, white cotton shirt, drab maroon tie, and the entire outfit suddenly made him hot. He was sweating, and his heart thumped like a jackhammer. Cranwell v. Trane, eight or nine years ago. Stanley defended Dr. Trane in a nasty, contentious, emotional, and ultimately successful trial. A bitter loss for the Granwell family. A great win for Dr. Trane and his lawyer, but Stanley didn't feel so victorious now.

The fact that Mr. Cranwell so freely divulged his name, and that of his son, meant only one thing, at least to Stanley. Mr. Cranwell had no fear of being identified because his victim would not be able to talk. That black pistol over there would find some action after all. A wave of nausea vibrated through Stanley's mid' section, and for a second he considered where to unload his vomit. Not to the right and not to the left. Straight down, between his feet. He clenched his teeth and swallowed rapidly, and the moment passed.

"I asked where we're going," he said, a rather feeble effort to show some resistance. But his words were hollow and scratchy. His mouth was very dry.

"It's best if you just shut up," Jim Cranwell said. Being in no position to argue, or press his inquiries, Stanley decided to shut up. Minutes passed as they drove deeper into the county along Route 32, a busy road during the day but deserted at night. Stanley knew the area well. He'd lived in Ford County for twenty-five years and it was a small place. His breathing slowed again, as did his heart rate, and he concentrated on absorbing the details around him. The truck, a late-1980s Ford, half ton, metal-lie gray on the outside, he thought, and some shade of dark blue on the inside. The dash was standard, nothing remarkable. On the sun visor above the driver there was a thick rubber band holding papers and receipts. A hundred and ninety-four thousand miles on the odometer, not unusual for this part of the world. The kid was driving a steady fifty miles an hour. He turned off Route 32 and onto Wiser Lane, a smaller paved road that snaked through the western part of the county and eventually crossed the Tallahatchie River at the Polk County line. The roads were getting narrower, the woods thicker, Stanley's options fewer, his chances slimmer.

He glanced at the pistol and thought of his brief career as an assistant prosecutor many years earlier, and the occasions when he took the tagged murder weapon, showed it to the jurors, and waved it around the courtroom, trying his best to create drama, fear, and a sense of revenge.

Would there be a trial for his murder? Would that rather large pistol - he guessed it was a .44 Magnum, capable of splattering his brains across a half acre of rural farmland - one day be waved around a courtroom as the system dealt with his gruesome homicide?

"Why don't you say something?" Stanley asked without looking at Jim Cranwell. Anything was better than silence. If Stanley had a chance, it would be because of his words, his ability to reason, or beg.

"Your client Dr. Trane, he left town, didn't he?" Cranwell said.

Well, at least Stanley had the right lawsuit, which gave him no comfort whatsoever. "Yes, several years ago."

"Where'd he go?"

"I'm not sure."

"He got in some trouble, didn't he?"

"Yes, you could say that."

"I just did. What kind of trouble?"

"I don't remember."

"Lyin' ain't gonna help you, Lawyer Wade. You know damned well what happened to Dr. Trane. He was a drunk and a drug head, and he couldn't stay out of his own little pharmacy. Got hooked on painkillers, lost his license, left town, tried to hide back home in Illinois."

These details were offered as if they were common knowledge, available every morning at the local coffee shops and dissected over lunch at the garden clubs, when in fact the meltdown of Dr. Trane had been handled discreetly by Stanley's firm, and buried. Or so he thought. The fact that Jim Cranwell had so closely monitored things after the trial made Stanley wipe his brow and shift his weight and once again fight thoughts of throwing up.

"That sounds about right," Stanley said.

"You ever talk to Dr. Trane?" "No. It's been years."

"Word is he disappeared again. You heard this?"

"No." It was a lie. Stanley and his partners had heard several rumors about the pulling disappearance of Dr. Trane. He'd fled to Peoria, his home, where he regained his license and resumed his medical practice but couldn't stay out of trouble. Roughly two years earlier, his then-current wife had called around Clanton asking old friends and acquaintances if they'd seen him.

The boy turned again, onto a road with no sign, a road Stanley thought perhaps he'd driven past but never noticed. It was also paved, but barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. So far the kid had not made a sound.

"They'll never find him," Jim Cranwell said, almost to himself, but with a brutal finality.

Stanley's head was spinning. His vision was blurred. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, breathed heavily with his mouth open, and felt his shoulders sag as he absorbed and digested these last words from the man with the gun. Was he, Stanley, supposed to believe that these backwoods people from deep in the county somehow tracked down Dr. Trane and rubbed him out without getting caught?

Yes.

"Stop up there by Baker's gate," Cranwell said to his son. A hundred yards later, the truck stopped. Cranwell opened his door, waved the pistol, and said, "Get out." He grabbed Stanley by the wrist and led him to the front of the truck, shoved him against the hood spread eagle, and said, "Don't move an inch." Then he whispered some instructions to his son, who got back in the truck.

Cranwell grabbed Stanley again, yanked him to the side of the road and down into a shallow ditch, where they stood as the truck drove away. They watched the taillights disappear around

a curve.

Cranwell pointed the gun at the road and said, "Start walkin'."

"You won't get away with this, you know," Stanley said.

"Just shut up and walk." They began walking down the dark, potholed road. Stanley went first, with Cranwell five feet behind him. The night was clear, and a half-moon gave enough light to keep them in the center of the road. Stanley looked to his right and left, and back again, in a hopeless search for the distant lights of a small farm. Nothing.

"You run and you're a dead man," Cranwell said. "Keep your hands out of your pockets."

"Why? You think I have a gun?" "Shut up and keep walkin'."

"Where would I run to?" Stanley asked without missing a step. Without a sound, Cranwell suddenly lunged forward and threw a mighty punch that landed on the back of Stanley's slender neck and dropped him quickly to the asphalt. The gun was back, at his head, and Cranwell was on top of him, growling.

"You're a little smart-ass, you know that, Wade? You were a smart-ass at trial. You're a smart-ass now. You were born a smartass. I'm sure your Momma was a smart-ass, and I'm sure your kids, both of 'em, are too. Can't help it, can you? But, listen to me, you little smart-ass, for the next hour you will not be a smart-ass. You got that, Wade?"

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