A Time to Kill
(Hard Cover): 366
Three men entered the room from the kitchen. Two of them wore shoes. One was eating a saltine.
The one with no shoes was also bare-legged up to his knees, so that below his robe his spindly
legs could be seen. They were smooth and hairless and very brown from the sun. A large tattoo had
been applied to his left calf. He was from California.
All three wore old church robes from the same choir, pale green with gold trim. They came from
the same store as T. Karl's wig, and had been presented by him as gifts at Christmas. That was
how he kept his job as the court's official clerk.
There were a few hisses and jeers from the spectators as the judges ambled across the tile floor,
in full regalia, their robes flowing. They took their places behind a long folding table, near
T. Karl but not too near, and faced the weekly gathering. The short round one sat in the middle.
Joe Roy Spicer was his name, and by default he acted as the Chief Justice of the tribunal. In
his previous life, Judge Spicer had been a Justice of the Peace in Mississippi, duly elected by
the people of his little county, and sent away when the feds caught him skimming bingo profits
from a Shriners club. "Please be seated," he said. Not a soul was standing. The judges adjusted
their folding chairs and shook their robes until they fell properly around them. The assistant
warden stood to the side, ignored by the inmates. A guard in uniform was with him. The Brethren
met once a week with the prison's approval. They heard cases, mediated disputes, settled little
fights among the boys, and had generally proved to be a stabilizing factor amid the population.
Spicer looked at the docket, a neat hand-printed sheet of paper prepared by T. Karl, and said,
"Court shall come to order."
To his right was the Californian, the Honorable Finn Yarber, age sixty, in for two years now
with five to go for income tax evasion. A vendetta, he still maintained to anyone who would
listen. A crusade by a Republican governor who'd managed to rally the voters in a recall drive
to remove Chief Justice Yarber from the California Supreme Court. The rallying point had been
Yarber's opposition to the death penalty, and his high-handedness in delaying every execution.
Folks wanted blood, Yarber prevented it, the Republicans whipped up a frenzy, and the recall was
a smashing success. They pitched him onto the street, where he floundered for a while until the
IRS began asking questions. Educated at Stanford, indicted in Sacramento, sentenced in San
Francisco, and now serving his time at a federal prison in Florida. In for two years and Finn
was still struggling with the bitterness. He still believed in his own innocence, still dreamed
of conquering his enemies. But the dreams were fading. He spent a lot of time on the jogging
track, alone, baking in the sun and dreaming of another life.
2000 John Grisham