A Time for Mercy Page 1

Author: John Grisham

Series: Jake Brigance #3

Genres: Mystery , Thriller


The unhappy little home was out in the country, some six miles south of Clanton on an old county road that went nowhere in particular. The house could not be seen from the road and was accessed by a winding gravel drive that dipped and curved and at night caused approaching headlights to sweep through the front windows and doors as if to warn those waiting inside. The seclusion of the house added to the imminent horror.

It was long after midnight on an early Sunday when the headlights finally appeared. They washed through the house and cast ominous, silent shadows on the walls, then went away as the car dipped before its final approach. Those inside should have been asleep for hours, but sleep was not possible during these awful nights. On the sofa in the den, Josie took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, and eased to the window to watch the car. Was it weaving and lurching as usual, or was it under control? Was he drunk as always on these nights or could he have throttled back on the drinking? She wore a racy negligee to catch his attention and perhaps alter his mood from violence to romance. She had worn it before and he had once liked it.

The car stopped beside the house and she watched him get out. He staggered and stumbled, and she braced herself for what was to come. She went to the kitchen where the light was on and waited. Beside the door and partially hidden in a corner was an aluminum baseball bat that belonged to her son. She had placed it there an hour earlier for protection, just in case he went after her kids. She had prayed for the courage to use it but still had doubts. He fell against the kitchen door and then rattled the knob as if it were locked; it was not. He finally kicked it open and it slammed into the refrigerator.

Stuart was a sloppy, violent drunk. His pale Irish skin turned red, his cheeks were crimson, and his eyes glowed with a whiskey-lit fire that she had seen too many times. At thirty-four, he was graying and balding and tried to cover it up with a bad comb-over, which after a night of bar-hopping left long strands of hair hanging below his ears. His face had no cuts or bruises, perhaps a good sign, perhaps not. He liked to fight in the honky-tonks, and after a rough night he usually licked his wounds and went straight to bed. But if there had been no fights he often came home looking for a brawl.

“The hell you doin’ up?” he snarled as he tried to close the door behind him.

As calmly as possible, Josie said, “Just waitin’ on you, dear. You okay?”

“I don’t need you to wait on me. What time is it, two in the mornin’?”

She smiled sweetly as if all was well. A week earlier, she had decided to go to bed and wait him out there. He came home late and went upstairs and threatened her children.

“About two,” she said softly. “Let’s go to bed.”

“What’re you wearin’ that thing for? You look like a real slut. Somebody been over here tonight?”

A common accusation these days. “Of course not,” she said. “I’m just ready for bed.”

“You’re a whore.”

“Come on, Stu. I’m sleepy. Let’s go to bed.”

“Who is he?” he growled as he fell back against the door.

“Who is who? There’s no one. I’ve been here all night with the kids.”

“You’re a lyin’ bitch, you know that?”

“I’m not lyin’, Stu. Let’s go to bed. It’s late.”

“I heard tonight that somebody saw John Albert’s truck out here coupla days ago.”

“And who is John Albert?”

“And who is John Albert, asks the little slut? You know damned well who John Albert is.” He moved away from the door and took steps toward her, unsteady steps, and he tried to brace himself with the counter. He pointed at her and said, “You’re a little whore and you got old boyfriends hangin’ around. I’ve warned you.”

“You’re my only boyfriend, Stuart, I’ve told you that a thousand times. Why can’t you believe me?”

“Because you’re a liar and I’ve caught you lyin’ before. Remember that credit card. You bitch.”

“Come on, Stu, that was last year and we got through it.”

He lunged and grabbed her wrist with his left hand and swung hard at her face. With an open hand he slapped her across the jaw, a loud popping sound that was sickening, flesh on flesh. She screamed in pain and shock. She had told herself to do anything but scream because her kids were upstairs behind a locked door, listening, hearing it all.

“Stop it, Stu!” she shrieked as she grabbed her face and tried to catch her breath. “No more hittin’! I promised you I’m leavin’ and I swear I will!”

He roared with laughter and said, “Oh really? And where you goin’ now, you little slut? Back to the camper in the woods? You gonna live in your car again?” He yanked her wrist, spun her around, threw a thick forearm around her neck, and growled into her ear. “You ain’t got no place to go, bitch, not even the trailer park where you was born.” He sprayed hot saliva and the rank odor of stale whiskey and beer into her ear.

She jerked and tried to free herself but he thrust her arm up almost to her shoulders as if trying mightily to snap a bone. She couldn’t help but scream again and she pitied her children as she did so. “You’re breakin’ my arm, Stu! Please stop!”

He lowered her arm an inch or two but pressed her tighter. He hissed into her ear, “Where you goin’? You got a roof over your head, food on the table, a room for those two rotten kids of yours, and you wanna talk about leavin’? I don’t think so.”

She stiffened and wiggled and tried to break free, but he was a powerful man with a crazy temper. “You’re breakin’ my arm, Stu. Please let go!”

Instead, he yanked hard again and she yelled. She kicked back with her bare heel and hit his shin, then spun around and with her left elbow caught him in the ribs. It stunned him for a second, did no damage, but allowed her to pry herself free, knocking over a kitchen chair. More noise to frighten her children.

He charged like a mad bull, grabbed her by the throat, pinned her to the wall, and dug his fingernails into the flesh of her neck. Josie couldn’t yell, couldn’t swallow or breathe, and the mad glow in his eyes told her this was their last fight. This was the moment he would finally kill her. She tried to kick, missed, and in a flash he threw a hard right hook that landed square on her chin, knocking her out cold. She crumpled to the floor and landed on her back with her legs spread. Her negligee was open, her breasts exposed. He stood for a second or two and admired his handiwork.

“Bitch hit me first,” he mumbled, then stepped to the fridge where he found a can of beer. He popped the top, had a sip, wiped his mouth with the back of a hand, and waited to see if she might wake up or whether she was down for the night. She wasn’t moving so he stepped closer to make sure she was breathing.

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