Atticus was an only child. His parents had told him that they couldn’t have more children. But now he knew that it was his father who could never have a child. Atticus supposed that was one of the hurdles his parents had faced when they’d separated. He scratched his head and wondered what kind of a man would take his wife back, pregnant with another man’s child, then raise that child as his own.
A pretty damn good man, Atticus thought as he pushed forward along Interstate 26. Tyrone Green had been a formidable personality. With a big voice and staunch principles he could be intimidating in the courtroom. And in the home, as well. He was generous with charities, a deacon in the church, and took on a lot of pro bono cases. Atticus had always admired him and knew his father loved him. But they were never close. Part of the reason was because Tyrone worked so hard and rarely had time. But even if he did, he wasn’t the type to play catch in the yard or take his son to a game. Not because he didn’t care. The thought had probably never even crossed his mind. But he was a good father in his own way. He did his best, and Atticus, now knowing the circumstances of his birth, thought Tyrone did better than most men would have done.
Atticus looked out the passenger window as he approached the Ravenel Bridge. It spanned the Cooper River like two giant, glistening steel sailboats. Beneath, the blue waters sparkled in the sunlight. His thoughts stilled as he became another tourist gawking at the sight of the shimmering water below speckled with pleasure boats and, beyond, great hulking cargo ships in dock. As he soared over the bridge, the fabled city spread out beneath him. He spied the multiple church spires that gave Charleston the name the Holy City.
As he crossed the bridge into Mt. Pleasant, his thoughts shifted from the Green family he’d grown up with to the Muir family he would soon meet. He stretched his fingers against the steering wheel as he felt a surge of apprehension. The Muir family of Charleston was historic. His search had come up with a long family tree, and annotations of papers held by the Charleston Library Society. He’d felt a quiver of disquiet when he’d read the old slave purchase records. He knew it was likely that a wealthy Charleston family in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would have had slaves, but to read it—to read in unforgiving print that his own ancestors had owned slaves—was hard for a black man to accept.
At long last he crossed the wetlands from Mt. Pleasant to Sullivan’s Island. The shadow of his Silverado pickup truck traveled on a parallel path to it. The truck was a far cry from the flashy two-seater sports coupe of his youth, but it had a powerful engine, was cushy inside, and was the southern man’s dream car. Plus it suited his new lifestyle. He used the truck for church business, carting food, clothing, and supplies from one place to another.
The low tide exposed the rich black mudflats and mounds of black, sharp-pointed oysters. White egrets perched elegantly on long sticklike legs, feasting on fiddler crabs and a cornucopia of insects. Some good fishing was back in those creeks, he’d wager. He smiled ruefully, trying to remember the last time he’d picked up his rod. He couldn’t. Sullivan’s Island was similar to the barrier islands he frequented off the coast of Georgia, the beautiful Sea Islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and of course Tybee Island and the magical Cumberland Island.
Yet each island had its own history and unique flavor. Crossing onto Sullivan’s Island, he spotted first a small green space on his left separated from the road by a small chain. A handsome sign declared it to be an African-American cemetery. He knew that Sullivan’s Island had played an important role in African-American history. But had never heard of this cemetery. A number of slave cemeteries with unmarked graves were on the barrier islands, some of them only recently discovered as a result of development of coastal property. He made a note to research this cemetery later. For now, his attention was focused on one house on the island, Sea Breeze, home of the Muir family. His map showed it to be on the back side of the island, facing a small body of water called the Cove.
Turning onto Middle Street, he crawled at a snail’s pace past a few blocks of small restaurants and shops in lowcountry-style buildings. Once beyond the strip, the streets were thickly lined with palmetto and oak trees covered with the spring-green softness of new leaves. Even a stranger such as him could detect a sense of neighborhood. As well as an air of privilege. Charming historic cottages and imposing new mansions nestled in the foliage, side by side.
His navigation system led him off Middle Street to the narrow side streets along the back of the island. When he hit a gravel road, he checked his map. Yes, this was the correct way. He drove slowly forward, slowing when he noted the mailbox number before a property hidden behind a tall green hedge. This was it.
He paused at the entrance, modest yet subtly imposing. Atticus recalled his mother telling him, “Those with real money don’t need to advertise.” His mouth went dry and he could feel his heart pumping in his chest at the prospect of meeting the Muir family.
Atticus had decided to arrive without calling them first. He didn’t want to give them the chance to refuse him. And, perversely, he wanted to see what kind of a reaction a black man at their front door would receive before he told them of his family connection. He’d rehearsed in his mind what he planned to do. He would knock on the door, and when it opened, he’d politely introduce himself, then tell them that his mother was a great friend of Parker Muir’s. How she had spoken of him so often that he was curious to see where he’d lived. This would give him the opportunity to gauge for himself how he was received, to get a feel for them before he boldly told them that he was Parker Muir’s illegitimate son. News like that had to be presented carefully. Anyway, he thought, blowing air through his lips, that was the plan.
Atticus wiped his palms on his thighs. A pretty flimsy plan, he knew.
He shifted into drive and passed through the hedge. The house was what was called by Charlestonians a beach cottage, a place a wealthy city family had come to in the sweltering summers to escape the heat. Over the years the small house had to have been raised on pilings and renovated, yet it had kept all the grace of the original. Solid, elegant, but not ostentatious. He caught in the air the unmistakable whiff of old money.
On either side of the main house stood a small white wooden building. The one on the right was the picture of a lowcountry cottage, with a red tin roof and front porch complete with rocking chairs. To the left sat a sorry-looking garage that appeared to be tilting. He grinned, thinking that building at least appeared to have weathered one storm too many.