Very Good English
by Robert Boucheron
Webster Fagle had not been idle. He had gotten his client out of jail on the child support delinquency. Patrick Willis was now a free man, if penniless. Fagle had also shone a lurid light on the chief of police. J. D. Ryder carried on an affair with Ralph Willis for years, graphically described by Ralph’s emails to his brother Patrick. Ryder was now a suspect in Ralph’s death, and police detective Stewart Blake would have to question him. But a vital piece of information was missing. Where was Patrick at the time of the shooting?
Blake had the answer. Patrick Willis left the poker game at eleven, drove to his brother’s house, and made one last plea for money. The ensuing argument turned violent, and Patrick shot his brother in the basement. Why there? That’s where he found Ralph doing laundry. Once the deed was done, Patrick dashed upstairs to see what he could take in the way of money or valuables. Alternately, in desperation Ralph had given his brother all he had, and still it was not enough. Either way, it was Cain and Abel all over again.
While Patrick was cooling his heels in the county jail, Blake searched his room at the Budget Motel, searched the rental car, and canvassed pawn shops within a few hours’ drive of Hapsburg. He needed to find the jewelry, any bloodstained items, and above all, the gun. When nothing turned up, he searched again. No one could say that police procedure was lacking.
Blake questioned anyone who had contact with Patrick, such as Gopal Chatterji, the motel manager, and Dick Malone, the poker game host. He questioned those who might have had contact, such as Mary and Skip Willis. The one person he did not interview was the one who had alerted the police in the first place.
Fagle found Jolene Pitt at Hambrick’s Lounge over the weekend. Well past the age of thirty, deeply tanned, with a gorgeous mane that owed something to hair products and extensions, she wore a flame-red blouse and a wide leopard-print belt to match her handbag.
“Keep moving, that’s my motto,” she said. “Live your life, and enjoy every minute.”
Fagle treated her to a drink. He explained what happened to Patrick Willis.
“At this very moment, he lies in a barren cell.”
“Serves him right, the deadbeat.”
“You wouldn’t kick a man when he’s down, would you?”
“If you’re playing on my sympathy, that string is busted.”
“Nobody’s all bad, Jolene. All I’m asking is for you to make a statement to the police. Where you were, at what time, anyone else who was present, any detail that can be verified.”
“I don’t care if I never lay eyes on that man again.”
“You don’t have to. Lt. Blake or the officer on duty will be glad to assist.”
“The police are not real friendly with people in my sphere, if you know what I mean.”
“Patrick told me something confidential while were going over his case. He said the one bright spot in his life was a lady he met recently.”
“Who he was referring to, if I may ask?”
“He said: ‘She’s a lady who lives as hard as I do, and she never stops to look back.’”
“I guess that’s me,” Jolene mused. Then she sat up straight. “How do I know you’re not making this up?”
“Ask him yourself.”
“Did he say he wanted to see me again?”
“He’s up against the worst charge a man can face, and he’s at the lowest point a man can sink. Only you can save him.”
“You made your point, Mr. Fagle. I can see how you sway those juries in the courtroom.”
“This isn’t about me, Ms. Pitt. My client needs you. On his behalf, I beg of you.”
“Out of the goodness of my heart, I’ll do it.”
The attorney brightened.
“But I want you there by my side. There’s been enough funny business lately.”
* * *
Jolene appeared at the police station on Tuesday. Webster Fagle met her there, as promised. Blake was on hand to take her statement. The detective was impressed enough to drop his gruff manner.
“May I take your coat?” he asked.
“It’s not genuine mink,” she said, “but it’s a pretty good imitation.”
“You look fine,” Fagle said. She was dressed much as she had been on Saturday night.
“I’m here to clear a man’s name. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”
Blake and Fagle went over Jolene’s account of the Sunday night in question. They explained that her statement might be entered as evidence in court. They watched as she wrote with a ballpoint pen on a legal pad.
Patrick Willis phoned me at about eleven o’clock from Dick Malone’s, where a poker game was breaking up. I could hear male voices in the background, cards slapping on a table, profanity, and the name Malone.
Willis apologized for the lateness of the hour. The game was a bust, and he needed to wind up the weekend on a positive note. If I was by any chance available he would really like to see me. As chance would have it, I was. He said he would pick me up in a few minutes. A few minutes later, he pulled up in front of the apartment, and I got in the car. My roommate Marla saw us leave.
Right off the bat, I could tell Patrick was hammered. The car veered this way and that. Fortunately there was no traffic on the roads. I told him to slow down. He said he only had one or two drinks and we would get there in one piece, which we did. He’s a man who can hold his liquor, I’ll say that for him.
At the motel, we each had a nightcap. He told me his brother kicked him out of the house the night before. They had been having trouble, and this was the last straw. Patrick came to town especially to see Ralph about finances, and to try and collect an outstanding debt, both of which he was unsuccessful at. He was not bitter and hateful, just stymied.
We retired for the evening. By then it was about midnight. Patrick went out like a light. I tend to be a light sleeper, so I am certain that he did not stir until Monday morning. As a matter of fact, he was dead to the world when I left the motel. The manager called a cab for me. He’s a real Indian, not cowboys and Indians, a nice, young man who speaks very good English.
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories, essays and book reviews appear in Bangalore Review, Digital Americana, Fiction International, New Haven Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Poydras Review, Short Fiction, The Tishman Review.