Page 37 of Ford County

"I thought so," Jim said. His high-pitched voice had settled down an octave or two. He was not agitated now. He was at home, in front of a friendly crowd. "Because at trial you told the jury that Michael wouldn't reach the age of eight. Ten was impossible, accordin' to one of the many bogus experts you trotted into the courtroom. And your goal was obviously to shorten his life and lessen the damages, right? Do you recall all this, Lawyer Wade?"

"Yes."

Jim was pacing now, back and forth alongside Michael's bed, talking to Stanley, glancing at the four men bunched together along the wall. "Michael's now eleven, so you were wrong, weren't you, Lawyer Wade?"

Arguing would make matters worse, and why argue the truth? "Yes."

"Lie number one," Jim announced, and held up an index finger. Then he stepped to the bed and touched his son again. "Now, most of his food goes through a tube. A special formula, costs $800 a month. Becky can get some solid foods down him every now and then. Stuff like instant puddin', ice cream, but not much. He takes all sorts of medications to prevent seizures and infections and the like. His drugs cost us about a thousand a month. Four times a year we haul him to Memphis to see the specialists, not sure why, because they can't do a damned thang, but anyway off we go because they tell us to come. Fifteen hundred bucks a trip. He goes through a box of diapers every two days, $6 a box, a hundred bucks a month, not much, but when you can't always afford them, then they're pretty damned expensive. A few other odds and ends and we figure we spend thirty thousand a year taking care of Michael."

Jim was pacing again, laying out his case and doing a fine job. His handpicked jury was with him. His numbers sounded more ominous this far from the courtroom. "As I recall, your expert scoffed at the numbers, said it would take less than ten grand a year to care for Michael. You recall this, Lawyer Wade?"

"I think so, yes."

"Can we agree that you were wrong? I have the receipts."

"They're right over there," Becky said, pointing to the black metal cabinet. Her first words.

"No. I'll take your word."

Jim thrust forward two fingers. "Lie number two. Now, the same expert testified that a full-time nurse would not be necessary. Made it sound like little Michael would just lie around on the sofa like some zombie for a couple of years, then die and ever'thang would be fine. He disagreed with the notion that Michael would require constant care. Becky, you want to talk about constant care?"

Her long hair was all gray and pulled into a ponytail. Her eyes were sad and fatigued. She made no effort to hide the dark circles under them. She stood and took a step to a door next to the bed. She opened it and pulled down a small foldaway cot. "This is where I sleep, almost every night. I can't leave him because of the seizures. Sometimes Doyle will sleep here, sometimes Jim, but somebody has to be here during the night. The seizures always come at night. I don't know why." She shoved the cot back and closed the door. "I feed him four times a day, an ounce at a time. He urinates at least five times and has at least two bowel movements. You can't predict when. They happen at different times. Eleven years now, and there's no schedule for them. I bathe him twice a day. And I read to him, tell him stories. I seldom leave this room, Mr. Wade. And when Fm not here, I feel guilty be' cause I should be. The word 'constant' doesn't begin to describe it." She sat back down in her old recliner at the foot of Michael's bed and stared at the floor.

Jim resumed the narrative. "Now, as you will recall, at trial our expert said that a full-time nurse would be required. You told the jury this was a bunch of baloney. 'Hogwash,' I believe is what you said. Just another effort by us to grab some money. Made us sound like a bunch of greedy bastards. Remember this, Lawyer Wade?"

Stanley nodded. He could not remember the exact words, but it certainly sounded like something he would say in the heat of a trial.

Three fingers. "Lie number three," Cranwell announced to his jury, four men with the same general body type, hair color, hard faces, and well-worn dungarees as Jim. Clearly, they were all related.

Jim continued. "I made forty thousand bucks last year, Lawyer Wade, and I paid taxes on all of it. I don't get the write-offs that you smart folks are entitled to. Before Michael was born, Becky here worked as a teacher's assistant at a school in Karraway, but she can't work now, for obvious reasons. Don't ask me how we get by, because I can't tell you." He waved at the four men and said, "We get a lot of help from friends and local churches. We get nothin' from the State of Mississippi. It doesn't make much sense, does it? Dr. Trane walked away without payin' a dime. His insurance company, a bunch of crooks from up north, walked away without payin' a dime. The rich folks do the damage, then get off scot-free. You care to explain this, Lawyer Wade?"

Stanley just shook his head. There was nothing to be gained by trying to argue. He was listening, but he was also jumping ahead to the point in the near future when he would be forced to again beg for his life.

"Let's talk about another lie," Cranwell was saying. "Our ex' pert said we could probably hire a part-time nurse for thirty thou' sand a year, and that's the low end. Thirty for the nurse, thirty for the other expenses, a total of sixty a year, for twenty years. The math was easy, one point two million. But that scared our lawyer because no jury in this county has ever given a million dollars. Highest verdict, at that time, eight years ago, was something like two hundred grand, and that got slashed on appeal, according to our lawyer. Assholes like you, Mr. Wade, and the insurance companies you whore for and the politicians they buy with their big bucks make sure that greedy little people like us and the greedy lawyers we hire are kept in place. Our lawyer told us that askin' for a million bucks was dangerous because nobody else in Ford County has a million bucks, so why give it to us? We talked about this for hours before the trial and finally agreed that we should ask for somethin' less than a million. Nine hundred thou' sand, remember that, Lawyer Wade?"

Stanley nodded. He did in fact remember.

Cranwell took a step closer and pointed down at Stanley. "And you, you little sonofabitch, you told the jury that we didn't have the courage to ask for a million dollars, that we really wanted a million dollars because we were trying to profit from our little boy. What was your word, Mr. Wade? It wasn't 'greed.' You didn't call us greedy. What was it, Becky?"

"Opportunistic," she said.

"That's it. You pointed at us sittin' there with our lawyer, ten feet from you and the jurors, and you called us opportunistic. I never wanted to slap a man so hard in my life." And with that, Cranwell lunged forward and backhanded Stanley with a vicious slap across his right cheek. His eyeglasses flew toward the door.

"You rotten miserable piece of scum," Cranwell growled.

"Stop it, Jim," Becky said.

There was a long heavy pause as Stanley shook off the numbness and tried to focus his eyes. One of the four men reluctantly handed him his glasses. The sudden assault seemed to stun every' body, including Jim.

Jim walked back to the bed and patted Michael on the shoulder, then he turned and stared at the lawyer. "Lie number four, Lawyer Wade, and right now I'm not sure I can remember all your lies. I've read the transcript a hundred times - over nineteen hundred pages in all - and ever' time I read it, I find another lie. Like, you told the jury that big verdicts are bad because they drive up the cost of health care and insurance, you remember that, Lawyer Wade?"

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