Once We Were Friends
Summertime 1959. It was a different time, a quieter and gentler time. America was at peace or rather it was a time between wars. For Davey Malloy it was summertime, a week after Memorial Day and three days before his twelfth birthday. He now had his freedom and the whole summer to do whatever he wanted. He and his best friend Timmy were free to go hiking, fishing, biking, swimming and exploring. They would have a grand old time but that summer would turn out different than either would ever had expected. It was a summer he would never forget, a summer that changed his life forever. Years later one of them became a cop and the other e was sitting on death row. It all went back to the summer of '59. If only…
Nathaniel Hutchinson had settled into bed for some long needed rest, he was tired and worn out. The seventy-eight year old attorney soon began to drift off, dreaming of fishing with his old friends, laughing, drinking and card playing, as his eyes finally closed.
The phone on the old wooden bedside table rang and yanked him from his peace and quiet. The time on the alarm clock clicked over to read 12:03 a.m. He lifted the receiver. “Hello?”
“Hello? Mr. Hutchinson?” the voice on the other end asked.
“Yes?” said his shallow voice, still craving sleep, his eyes closed.
“Sir, this is Gladys Turner at the Circuit Clerk's office. I know it’s after midnight sir and my husband would shoot me if he knew I was working this late, but I thought ya' all would want to know,” he heard her say with her distinctive south Georgian accent. “I just got an email and… well sir, your appeal was denied. I'm so sorry sir; I wish I had better news for you.”
He took in a deep breath before saying, “Thank ya Gladys,” he said rubbing his eyes as he sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bed running his hand over his balding head. Long, thin strands of gray tresses now replaced his once healthy head of jet-black hair.
“Good luck to you sir. I'm sorry I didn't have better news for you. And I’m sorry to wake you and the missus. Good night.” He hung up the phone and bent over in sad disappointment glancing at the alarm clock. It read 12:07 a.m.. Timothy Elroy Walker's execution would take place in less than seventeen hours. At seven p.m. Walker would receive a lethal injection at the state prison in Starke, Florida. He knew the drill and knew the amount of work that now had to be done to prepare for Timothy Walker’s final appeal.
Nate’s next step was to file a writ with the emergency applications department at the United States Supreme Court. Rubbing his eyes, he knew the appeals office opened at nine a.m. He glanced at his pillow; it called him back to sleep. Best get started, he said to himself.
He knew his client was guilty; Walker had told him so at their first meeting and even confessed to it in court at his trials. Now he had been on death row for twenty-five years. Nate was Walker's fourth lawyer and had been for the past ten years. Walker had fired him so many times over the years that it had become a running joke. But now it had come down to this, and this was no laughing matter. He took in a deep breath, his chest coughing.
“You okay Nate?” asked Agnes, his wife of forty-nine years. He felt her kind and gentle hand stroke his back and touch his neck, calling him back to a tempting sleep.
“It was denied.” He said with a sigh. “God damn it, they denied his appeal. All that work, gone.”
“Oh, Nate. I'm so sorry but you gave it your best darling. Come back to sleep, you need your rest. You been looking real tired here lately.”
“No… I got things to do.” He said with a labored sigh. “Nathaniel, I know you were counting on that appeal to give him some more time. But it's over. Let the law take its own course. Come back to bed, please?” He believed in the concept of the death penalty. He felt it was a deterrent to crime but he always thought it should never be quick or easy. That’s just the way it should be.
Two months earlier, the aging attorney had filed a last minute appeal with the State Supreme Court. He filed his writ after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in another case that intellectual capacity should not be determined solely by a score on an I.Q. test. The State of Florida ruled someone had to have an IQ of at least 70 before an execution could take place, Walker's was 79. Grounds for an appeal, he thought to himself. Now that appeal had been denied. The next step was to ask the highest court in the land to spare his client's life. The court of last resort, the United States Supreme Court.
“I have other things that must be done,” he murmured.
“For Walker?” Agnes asked leaning closer. “That ungrateful …. ummm?" Her voice trailed off and she stopped short of finishing what she was saying. "Nate, he never appreciates anything you do for him, he never did. And not once did he say thank you for all you've done.” She felt his body tense next to her as he sat on the side of the bed.
He turned to look at her and solemnly told her, “Agnes, dear heart, I took a vow when I became an attorney that I would fight for my clients to the very best of my ability. Guilty or innocent, that’s what I swore to do. Nothing should be left undone, especially when someone's life is on the line - regardless of whose life it is. I take the vows I make very serious… just like the vow I took when we got married. And have I ever let you down?”
Ashamed, she whispered, “No dear. I love you. I'm just worried for you, that's all, your heart, and all.” Changing the subject she asked, “What's next?”
“Time for me to get up and get my final appeal paperwork ready and I don’t have a lot of time. They open at nine o’clock. You stay here in bed and get some rest. I'll try to be quiet. Go back to sleep.”
When he stood, Agnes felt the bed lift up and saw his outline standing there in the dark. She reached out and touched his leg, “I'll be down in a little bit to make some coffee and then some breakfast. I love you.”
“Love ya too sweetheart.” He kissed her forehead and grabbed his wristwatch from the bedside table. He looked at the time, seventeen hours to go before the execution. Not a lot of time. He headed for the bathroom and closed the door so as not disturb her. He slowly shaved the grey stubble from his weathered face and began to plot his next filing. This may be Walker’s last chance at a reprieve. He knew he would have to talk to his client. But what would he say to him? What could he say?
The black and white tile floor was cold on his feet. Swinging open the broken door to the old medicine cabinet, the one he promised Agnes he would fix years ago, he looked for his heart medication. He searched among the multitude of amber bottles with various white labels until he found the right one. Bottle’s empty. Shit. He forgot, he had meant to get a refill when he was in town Saturday but with the deadline approaching and all… well… Don’t tell Agnes, she'll only worry. I'll pick some up later at the pharmacy when I go into town.
The old attorney washed his face, combed his thinning hair, then brushed his teeth and since he was working from home, he put on his worn but comfortable khakis, the ones with the rip in the back pocket. Next, he slipped on his sneakers and a blue chambray work shirt that was hanging from the back of the closet door. After he dressed, pulling up his red suspenders over his shoulders, he walked down the creaking wooden steps and could smell the aroma of fresh coffee emanating from the kitchen. He smiled. Agnes.
“Agnes sweetheart, I told you to sleep some more. I won't be long doing this stuff. Hell, I've done so many of them for the other courts. They all ask for the same thing, mountains of paperwork and files.”
She turned from her stovetop, gave him a gentle smile, and walked past the old coffeemaker as she glanced at her knight in shining armor.
He kissed her neck, gave her a loving tap on her behind, and then took a sip from her coffee mug sitting on the small kitchen table. She poured him a fresh cup of coffee and handed it to him, flavored just the way he liked it, with a hint of cinnamon. His was an old mug his father had given him years ago, right before he died. The golden emblem was fading, Elks Lodge #57, Jacksonville, Florida.
He stood, looked at her in her housecoat, gave her a peck on the cheek, and headed for his office. “Thank ya' darlin'.”
“Breakfast in an hour,” she said from the kitchen as he walked away.
He raised his hand in acknowledgement and shut the door to his office behind him so he would not be disturbed. His wood panel workplace grew smaller every year as the boxes, filled with interview paperwork, files, writs and court hearings for Walker, continued to grow and crowd him out of his prized real estate.
His office was in stark contrast to the rest of the small farmhouse, which was kept neat and proper by his well-organized wife. In her domain, there was a place for everything and everything was in its place but in his office, files and boxes were scattered everywhere. She hated to come inside and when she did she had to resist the temptation to clean it up and organize it for him. This was his domain. She counted sixteen boxes and was always asking if he needed to keep everything forever. “No,” he would always say, “Just until it's over.”
Twenty minutes later, she tapped on his office door and handed him another cup of coffee. He looked at his watch, 1:15 am. Time to get to work.
7:57 A.M. -
She knew they were going to be late. Why would today be any different? But it was. Today was the day. “Mitchell..., come on… get up!” she muttered aloud after entering his hotel room. “You have to be at your book reading in an hour.”
There was no movement from the bed. “I thought you’d be up by now. It’s nearly eight o’clock.” Still no movement. Finally, she heard a voice spoke from beneath the covers, “Carol?” he groaned, it sounded more like an accusation than a question.
“Yes, who else would it be?”
When she walked into the room, it was dark. The tall shapely middle-aged literary agent thrust open the drapes. In one sweeping motion she invoked brightness to the darkened room allowing the early morning summer sunlight to stream inside and chase away the shadows. He pulled the sheets higher over his head to cover his eyes to keep out the start of day. She looked over at her client as his leg moved slightly.
“Come on my friend, time to get up,” she said shaking the bed in an effort to wake him.
A long groan greeted her. “Oh no… I need coffee,” he mumbled like a dead man.
“Here, have a sip of this” she volunteered, handing him her latte in a paper cup, “then take a shower and get dressed. Hurry up. We don’t have a lot of time.”
Fingers appeared from underneath the sheets, searching. She saw the scar across the back of his hand, which extended up his arm. “Ugh God,” he said ... “that's just milk. There’s no coffee in that. Order me up some will you? Please?” he muttered.
“Hey, I’m your literary agent not your servant remember,” she said with a grunt to her star client.
His leg moved. "Please?"
She could never say no to him and that was part of the problem. Finally, picking up the phone she ordered a pot of coffee and something to eat for breakfast. Still no movement from underneath the sheets. She repeated her wakeup call to him again; by now, it was something she was accustomed to doing. “Late night?” she asked, already knowing the answer. “I should have known. Come on, time to get up, time to pay the piper.”
The smell of spilt whiskey, burnt cigarettes, and stale perfume filled the air. The seasoned agent made her way to the nearby armchair and sat down while she finished reading yet another unsolicited manuscript. She sipped her lukewarm coffee. Two half-empty whiskey glasses and a pile of lipstick stained cigarettes were in a nearby ashtray. The rank odor was disgusting as she shoved it away from her across the floor with a push from the toe of one of her high-heeled shoes.
She stretched out her long limbs, crossing her legs at her ankles causing her skirt to tighten across her thighs and rise slightly. Mitch always found the pose to be sexy… she found it comfortable. Forcing her way through yet another manuscript she complained to no one in particular, “I can’t believe the shit people write it. I’ve heard other agents say they can tell a manuscript is crap just by reading the first page of a book. Hell, I can tell by looking at the first sentence.” She tossed the blue covered, three-inch thick manuscript into a nearby metal trashcan, making a resounding noise in the silent room.
She watched his bed – no movement. They were going to be late and she could not afford to anger anyone at this point in their book tour only one more week to go. Today was going to be a busy day.
She looked up, “Mitch, come on... get up, you got a big day ahead of you,” she said as she removed the New York Times from the black linen bag she had taken off the doorknob to his room.
“Where are we?” came the question from underneath the sheets. “New York.”
The downtown hotel room was large and expensive but it was close to the mega-bookstore and near the uptown publishing offices. She knew if they stayed here, he would not be late for his meetings. Yeah, fat chance, she thought to herself. Carol heard the sheets rustle and saw him stand, then stagger towards the bathroom, naked. She watched him run his fingers through his rumpled sandy grey and blonde hair while she admired his well-sculpted but slightly aged physique. He looked at least ten years younger than the age on his driver’s license. He closed the door and she soon heard the sound of running water from the shower.
Empty liquor bottles from the mini-bar littered the floor. It must have been some night last night she thought to herself before returning to her newspaper. Then she thought to herself, Today was going to be a tough day… a very tough day.
When he reappeared, he had already shaved, combed his hair, and stood in front of her wearing only a smile with a white towel strategically wrapped around his waist. He looked good.
“What’s on the schedule for today?” he asked toweling off his face before he turned to get dressed.
She watched his every move. “Well, we grab a quick bite to eat for breakfast, and then you do your book reading at the Megastore followed by an or so hour book signing, then smooze with the manager for awhile then off to mid-town to have an early lunch at Velliggios. After that on to your next reading at Brighton’s, then another one at Reeds Bookstore and then end up the day with a short press interview back here at the hotel, then drinks with Dan Eliot, Senior Editor of Windham Press. Then dinner, you and me.”
“Yeah, tell me again, why are we meeting with Windham? We already have a publisher.”
“He’s responding to some inquiry you sent him.” She gave him a look…, her displeased look. “This is just an exploratory meeting. His boss, the CEO, liked the book you sent her. He mentioned she might join us later, so I need to have you keep your wits about you. They are the biggest in the business, it can't hurt to talk to them."
“Okay?” “Okay. Got it.”
“Want a cigarette?”
“No,” he muttered.
She paused and asked quietly, “Do you need a drink?”
“No… no thanks…, it doesn’t help. The pain doesn’t go away,” he said as he pulled on his socks then his shoes and looked at her with his trademark half smile.
The jagged scar on his hand had healed but the scar to his heart had not. She saw it in his eyes and wanted to go to him, wrap her arms around him and hold him do anything to help ease the pain. But she had been down that path once before and now was not the time to start again.
He stood before her in what had become his standard traveling uniform for the last three months, white t-shirt, khakis, sneakers and a well-traveled navy blazer. “What else?” he asked as he tucked in his shirt.
She looked at him with a smile. As always he cleaned up nice… real nice. “Tomorrow we drive to Patterson New Jersey for a one o’clock book signing and start all over again. One more week and the tour is over and you can go back to your little beach house in Delray. But today is a hectic day.”
He grunted. She was keeping him extra busy today, he thought to himself. Today of all days. He had waited years for this day. Today it would be over.
A knock on the door echoed throughout the room. She was up before it even registered with him and his dimmed senses. The bellhop set down the tray with a pot of coffee and a bagel with some cream cheese. She signed the receipt and sent him on his way.
“Black.” It was more of a statement then a request. “Please.” He looked at her cutting the bagel in half and began eating.
“The other half is yours.”
“A half of a bagel? Carol, I’m starvin’.”
“Were having an early lunch at Velligio’s, so this is just to hold you over until then.” Just what she needed, another Italian lunch but it was Mitch’s favorite restaurant when they were in the city. She noticed he had picked up some weight during their tour but she would slim him down, she just needed some time. But they only had one more week together, one week, seven days.
She saw the disappointment register on his face. “But on the bright side you got a great review in the Times today, which should help boost sales …and I quote-
“Mitch Patterson continues his great story telling with his latest book, the hard hitting novel, The Search for Timothy Walker. The ex-cop documents the relentless eight-month nationwide manhunt for Timothy Walker founder, and leader of The Boston Brotherhood. It is a spellbinding tale and his latest effort is already climbing the Times bestselling sales charts.” She smiled. “Damn good if you ask me. Right Mitch?”
“Yeah.” He chuckled his trademark laugh. “You know, I still remember what Raymond Chandler said about critics and publishers, something like – It’s wrong to be harsh with the New York critics, unless one admits in the same breath that it is a condition of their existence that they should write entertainingly about something which is rarely worth writing about at all." He made a face.
"Where’s the damn coffee?” he muttered to himself changing the subject. He did not like discussing reviews. They were just somebody else’s opinion of his work. Mitch preferred to write the stories and leave everything else to Carol.
She looked up, “Hey, and speaking of publishers what’s with you sending a manuscript out to publishing houses without me knowing about it? When Dan Eliot called me last night, he mentioned an interest in a manuscript you sent him. Mitch, that’s my job you know, remember me, Carol Litchard? Principal Agent of Litchard and Associates, literary agents? You know, the agency that represents you?” She saw his head droop.
“He said the manuscript you sent didn’t even have your name on it. It had the name of somebody named Roger - Roger Winston? Don’t you think people can tell it’s your writing? Come on now?”
“It’s just something I wrote - a novella and something different then what I usually write. I figured I’d just send it off to a few people in the business. Since it was unlike anything I have written I thought… well I didn’t want you to waste your time on it. Honest Carol... I’m sorry. “
She wanted to hug him again, with those lost blue eyes, drooping head and heartfelt sympathy written on his face. Damn him...damn him to hell. This is getting complicated… again.
“Let me be the judge of that will you?” she finally said. “Hell, I haven’t even seen the damn manuscript. I have no goddamn idea what it’s even about and we’re meeting with some of the most powerful people in publishing tonight and over drinks he might casually ask me, ‘Well Carol what did you think of his latest effort?’ Duh? I’ll feel like a real jerk... Come on Mitch.”
“Sorry Carol... I guess I just didn’t think it all the way through...that’s all.”
She reached out and gently moved a wild strand of graying blonde hair from his forehead, placing it back into its rightful place. “Okay, okay, what’s the title and what’s it about?”
He smiled that Robert Redford smile of his and said, “It’s called Summertime and it’s a coming of age story. A novella." He stopped before continuing; “I have a copy of the manuscript if you want to see it?” he said. His eyes came alive talking about his latest project.
Surprised at his emotion she told him, “All right, allright I’ll skim through it, so at least I’ll be able to speak half-way intelligently about it when we meet with him.”
He reached into his worn brown leather courier bag and retrieved a tattered manila envelope and handed it to her.
She looked inside at the cover title, Summertime and shoved it inside her briefcase with the admonishment, “Come on we gotta go, just don’t ever do that again. Okay?” He nodded his head.
She took in a deep breath, kissed him on the cheek and walked out the door with her briefcase in one hand and her large leather purse slung over her shoulder. This is getting complicated. Maybe accompanying him on this tour was not such a good idea after all.