Page 15 of Ford County

The boy could lie.

"Got two dozen lawyers scramblin' right now," he said "State can't keep up with 'em."

"When do you hear somethin' from the court?" Inez asked.

"Any minute now. I got federal judges in Jackson, in New Orleans, and in Washington sittin' by, just ready to kick the state's ass."

After eleven years of having his ass thoroughly kicked by the state, it was difficult to believe that Raymond had now, at this late hour, managed to turn the tide. Leon and Butch nodded gravely, as if they bought this and believed that the inevitable was not about to happen. They had known for many years that their little brother had ambushed Coy and practically blown his head off with a stolen rifle. Raymond had told Butch years earlier, long after he'd landed on death row, that he'd been so stoned he could hardly remember the killing.

"Plus we got some big-shot lawyers in Jackson puttin' pressure on the governor, just in case the Supreme Court chickens out again," he said.

All three nodded, but no one mentioned the comments from the warden.

"You got my last letter, Momma? The one about the new lawyer?"

"Sure did. Read it drivin' over here," she said, nodding.

"I'd like to hire him as soon as we get an order for the new trial. He's from Mobile, and he is one bad boy, lemme tell you. But we can talk about him later."

"Sure, son."

"Thank you. Look, Momma, I know this is hard, but you gotta have faith in me and my lawyers. I been runnin' my own defense for a year now, bossin' the lawyers around 'cause that's what you gotta do these days, and thangs're gonna work out, Momma. Trust me."

"I do, I do."

Raymond jumped to his feet and thrust his arms high above, stretching with his eyes closed. "I'm into yoga now, did I tell ya'll about it?"

All three nodded. His letters had been loaded with the details of his latest fascination. Over the years the family had suffered through Raymond's breathless accounts of his conversion to Buddhism, then Islam, then Hinduism, and his discoveries of meditation, kung fu, aerobics, weight lifting, fasting, and of course his quest to become a poet, novelist, singer, and musician. Little had been spared in his letters home.

Whatever the current passion, it was obvious that the fasting and aerobics had been abandoned. Raymond was so fat his britches strained in the seat.

"Did you bring the brownies?" he asked his mother. He loved her pecan brownies.

"No, honey, I'm sorry. I've been so tore up over this."

"You always bring the brownies."

"I'm sorry."

Just like Raymond. Berating his mother over nothing just hours before his final walk.

"Well, don't forget them again."

"I won't, honey."

"And another thang. Tallulah is supposed to be here any minute. She'd love to meet ya'll because ya'll have always rejected her. She's part of the family regardless of what ya'll thank. As a favor at this unfortunate moment in my life, I ask that ya'll accept her and be nice."

Leon and Butch could not respond, but Inez managed to say, "Yes, dear."

"When I get outta this damned place, we're movin' to Hawaii and havin' ten kids. No way I'm stayin' in Mississippi, not after all this. So she'll be part of the family from now on."

For the first time Leon glanced at his watch with the thought that relief was just over two hours away. Butch was thinking too, but his thoughts were far different. The idea of choking Raymond to death before the state could kill him posed an interesting dilemma.

Raymond suddenly stood and said, "Well, look, I gotta go meet with the lawyers. I'll be back in half an hour." He walked to the door, opened it, then thrust out his arms for the handcuffs.The door closed, and Inez said, "I guess thangs're okay."

"Look, Momma, we'd best listen to the warden," Leon said.

"Raymond's kiddin' himself," Butch added. She started crying again.

The chaplain was a Catholic priest, Father Leland, and he quietly introduced himself to the family. They asked him to have a seat.

"I'm deeply sorry about this," he said somberly. "It's the worst part of my job."

Catholics were rare in Ford County, and the Graneys certainly didn't know any. They looked suspiciously at the white collar around his neck.

"I've tried to talk to Raymond," Father Leland continued. "But he has little interest in the Christian faith. Said he hadn't been to church since he was a little boy."

"I shoulda took him more," Inez said, lamenting.

"In fact, he claims to be an atheist."

"Lord, Lord."

Of course, the three Graneys had known for some time that Raymond had renounced all religious beliefs and had proclaimed that there was no God. This, too, they had read about in excruciating detail in his lengthy letters.

"We're not church people," Leon admitted.

"I'll be praying for you."

"Raymond stole the deputy's wife's new car outta the church parking lot," Butch said. "Did he tell you that?"

"No. We've talked a lot lately, and he's told me many stories. But not that one."

"Thank you, sir, for bein' so nice to Raymond," Inez said.

"I'll be with him until the end."

"So, they're really gonna do it?" she asked.

"It'll take a miracle to stop things now."

"Lord, help us," she said.

"Let's pray," Father Leland said. He closed his eyes, folded his hands together, and began: "Dear Heavenly Father, please look down upon us at this hour and let your Holy Spirit enter this place and give us peace. Give strength and wisdom to the lawyers and judges who are laboring diligently at this moment. Give courage to Raymond as he makes his preparations." Father Leland paused for a second and barely opened his left eye. All three Graneys were staring at him as if he had two heads. Rattled, he closed his eye and wrapped things up quickly with: "And, Father, grant grace and forgiveness to the officials and the people of Mississippi, for they know not what they're doing. Amen."

He said good-bye, and they waited a few minutes before Raymond returned. He had his guitar, and as soon as he settled into the sofa he strummed a few chords. He closed his eyes and began to hum, then he sang:

I got the key to the highway,

and I'm billed out and bound to go

I'm gonna leave here runnin',

'cause walkin' is most too slow.

"It's an old tune by Big Bill Broonzy," he explained. "One of my favorites."

I'm goin' down to the border,

now where I'm better known

'Cause woman you don't do nothin',

but drive a good man way from home.

The song was unlike any they'd heard before. Butch had once picked the banjo in a bluegrass band, but had given up music many years earlier. He had no voice whatsoever, a family trait shared by his younger brother. Raymond crooned in a painful guttural lurch, an affected attempt to sound like a black blues singer, apparently one in severe distress.

Now when the moon creeps over the mountain,

I'll be on my way

Now I'm gonna walk this old highway,

until the break of day.

When the words stopped, he kept strumming and did a passable job of playing a tune. Butch, though, couldn't help but think that after eleven years of practice in his cell, his guitar playing was rudimentary.

"That's so nice," Inez said.

"Thanks, Momma. Here's one from Robert Johnson, probably the greatest of all. He's from Hazlehurst, you know?" They did not know. Like most white hill folks, they knew nothing about the blues and cared even less.