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Ford County: Stories

Fetching Raymond

Mr. McBride ran his upholstery shop in the old icehouse on Lee
Street, a few blocks off the square in downtown Clanton. To haul
the sofas and chairs back and forth, he used a white Ford cargo van
with “McBride Upholstery” stenciled in thick black
letters above a phone number and the address on Lee. The van,
always clean and never in a hurry, was a common sight in Clanton,
and Mr. McBride was fairly well-known because he was the only
upholsterer in town. He rarely lent his van to anyone, though the
requests were more frequent than he would have liked. His usual
response was a polite “No, I have some deliveries.”

He said yes to Leon Graney, though, and did so for two reasons.
First, the circumstances surrounding the request were quite
unusual, and, second, Leon’s boss at the lamp factory was Mr.
McBride’s third cousin. Small-town relationships being what
they are, Leon Graney arrived at the upholstery shop as scheduled
at four o’clock on a hot Wednesday afternoon in late

Most of Ford County was listening to the radio, and it was
widely known that things were not going well for the Graney

Mr. McBride walked with Leon to the van, handed over the key,
and said, “You take care of it, now.”

Leon took the key and said, “I’m much

“I filled up the tank. Should be plenty to get you there
and back.”

“How much do I owe?”

Mr. McBride shook his head and spat on the gravel beside the
van. “Nothing. It’s on me. Just bring it back with a
full tank.”

“I’d feel better if I could pay something,”
Leon protested.


“Well, thank you, then.”

“I need it back by noon tomorrow.”

“It’ll be here. Mind if I leave my truck?”
Leon nodded to an old Japanese pickup wedged between two cars
across the lot.

“That’ll be fine.”

Leon opened the door and got inside the van. He started the
engine, adjusted the seat and the mirrors. Mr. McBride walked to
the driver’s door, lit an unfiltered cigarette, and watched
Leon. “You know, some folks don’t like this,” he

“Thank you, but most folks around here don’t
care,” Leon replied. He was preoccupied and not in the mood
for small talk.

“Me, I think it’s wrong.”

“Thank you. I’ll be back before noon,” Leon
said softly, then backed away and disappeared down the street. He
settled into the seat, tested the brakes, slowly gunned the engine
to check the power. Twenty minutes later he was far from Clanton,
deep in the hills of northern Ford County. Out from the settlement
of Pleasant Ridge, the road became gravel, the homes smaller and
farther apart. Leon turned in to a short driveway that stopped at a
boxlike house with weeds at the doors and an asphalt shingle roof
in need of replacement. It was the Graney home, the place
he’d been raised along with his brothers, the only constant
in their sad and chaotic lives. A jerry-rigged plywood ramp ran to
the side door so that his mother, Inez Graney, could come and go in
her wheelchair.

By the time Leon turned off the engine, the side door was open
and Inez was rolling out and onto the ramp. Behind her was the
hulking mass of her middle son, Butch, who still lived with his
mother because he’d never lived anywhere else, at least not
in the free world. Sixteen of his forty-six years had been behind
bars, and he looked the part of the career criminal --- long
ponytail, studs in his ears, all manner of facial hair, massive
biceps, and a collection of cheap tattoos a prison artist had sold
him for cigarettes. In spite of his past, Butch handled his mother
and her wheelchair with great tenderness and care, speaking softly
to her as they negotiated the ramp.

Leon watched and waited, then walked to the rear of the van and
opened its double doors. He and Butch gently lifted their mother up
and sat her inside the van. Butch pushed her forward to the console
that separated the two bucket seats bolted into the floor. Leon
latched the wheelchair into place with strips of packing twine
someone at McBride’s had left in the van, and when Inez was
secure, her boys got settled in their seats. The journey began.
Within minutes they were back on the asphalt and headed for a long

Inez was seventy-two, a mother of three, grandmother of at least
four, a lonely old woman in failing health who couldn’t
remember her last bit of good luck. Though she’d considered
herself single for almost thirty years, she was not, at least to
her knowledge, officially divorced from the miserable creature
who’d practically raped her when she was seventeen, married
her when she was eighteen, fathered her three boys, then mercifully
disappeared from the face of the earth. When she prayed on
occasion, she never failed to toss in an earnest request that Ernie
be kept away from her, be kept wherever his miserable life had
taken him, if in fact his life had not already ended in some
painful manner, which was really what she dreamed of but
didn’t have the audacity to ask of the Lord. Ernie was still
blamed for everything --- for her bad health and poverty, her
reduced status in life, her seclusion, her lack of friends, even
the scorn of her own family. But her harshest condemnation of Ernie
was for his despicable treatment of his three sons. Abandoning them
was far more merciful than beating them.

By the time they reached the highway, all three needed a
cigarette. “Reckon McBride’ll mind if we smoke?”
Butch said. At three packs a day he was always reaching for a

“Somebody’s been smokin’ in here,” Inez
said. “Smells like a tar pit. Is the air conditioner on,

“Yes, but you can’t tell it if the windows are

With little concern for Mr. McBride’s preferences on
smoking in his van, they were soon puffing away with the windows
down, the warm wind rushing in and swirling about. Once inside the
van, the wind had no exit, no other windows, no vents, nothing to
let it out, so it roared back toward the front and engulfed the
three Graneys, who were staring at the road, smoking intently,
seemingly oblivious to everything as the van moved along the county
road. Butch and Leon casually flicked their ashes out of the
windows. Inez gently tapped hers into her cupped left hand.

“How much did McBride charge you?” Butch asked from
the passenger’s seat.

Leon shook his head. “Nothing. Even filled up the tank.
Said he didn’t agree with this. Claimed a lot of folks
don’t like it.”

“I’m not sure I believe that.”

“I don’t.”

When the three cigarettes were finished, Leon and Butch rolled
up their windows and fiddled with the air conditioner and the
vents. Hot air shot out and minutes passed before the heat was
broken. All three were sweating.

“You okay back there?” Leon asked, glancing over his
shoulder and smiling at his mother.

“I’m fine. Thank you. Does the air conditioner

“Yes, it’s gettin’ cooler now.”

“I can’t feel a thang.”

“You wanna stop for a soda or something?”

“No. Let’s hurry along.”

“I’d like a beer,” Butch said, and, as if this
was expected, Leon immediately shook his head in the negative and
Inez shot forth with an emphatic “No.”

“There’ll be no drinking,” she said, and the
issue was laid to rest. When Ernie abandoned the family years
earlier, he’d taken nothing but his shotgun, a few clothes,
and all the liquor from his private supply. He’d been a
violent drunk, and his boys still carried the scars, emotional and
physical. Leon, the oldest, had felt more of the brutality than his
younger brothers, and as a small boy equated alcohol with the
horrors of an abusive father. He had never taken a drink, though
with time had found his own vices. Butch, on the other hand, had
drunk heavily since his early teens, though he’d never been
tempted to sneak alcohol into his mother’s home. Raymond, the
youngest, had chosen to follow the example of Butch rather than of

To shift away from such an unpleasant topic, Leon asked his
mother about the latest news from a friend down the road, an old
spinster who’d been dying of cancer for years. Inez, as
always, perked up when discussing the ailments and treatments of
her neighbors, and herself as well. The air conditioner finally
broke through, and the thick humidity inside the van began to
subside. When he stopped sweating, Butch reached for his pocket,
fished out a cigarette, lit it, then cracked the window. The
temperature rose immediately. Soon all three were smoking, and the
windows went lower and lower until the air was again thick with
heat and nicotine.

When they finished, Inez said to Leon, “Raymond called two
hours ago.”

This was no surprise. Raymond had been making calls, collect,
for days now, and not only to his mother. Leon’s phone was
ringing so often that his (third) wife refused to answer it. Others
around town were also declining to accept charges.

“What’d he say?” Leon asked, but only because
he had to reply. He knew exactly what Raymond had said, maybe not
verbatim, but certainly in general.

“Said thangs are lookin’ real good, said he’d
probably have to fire the team of lawyers he has now so he can hire
another team of lawyers. You know Raymond. He’s tellin’
the lawyers what to do and they’re just fallin’ all
over themselves.”

Without turning his head, Butch cut his eyes at Leon, and Leon
returned the glance. Nothing was said because words were not

“Said his new team comes from a firm in Chicago with a
thousand lawyers. Can you imagine? A thousand lawyers workin’
for Raymond. And he’s tellin’ ’em what to

Another glance between driver and right-side passenger. Inez had
cataracts, and her peripheral vision had declined. If she had seen
the looks being passed between her two oldest, she would not have
been pleased.

“Said they’ve just discovered some new evidence that
shoulda been produced at trial but wasn’t because the cops
and the prosecutors covered it up, and with this new evidence
Raymond feels real good about gettin’ a new trial back here
in Clanton, though he’s not sure he wants it here, so he
might move it somewhere else. He’s thinkin’ about
somewhere in the Delta because the Delta juries have more blacks
and he says that blacks are more sympathetic in cases like this.
What do you thank about that, Leon?”

“There are definitely more blacks in the Delta,”
Leon said. Butch grunted and mumbled, but his words were not

“Said he don’t trust anyone in Ford County,
especially the law and the judges. God knows they’ve never
given us a break.”

Leon and Butch nodded in silent agreement. Both had been chewed
up by the law in Ford County, Butch much more so than Leon. And
though they had pled guilty to their crimes in negotiated deals,
they had always believed they were persecuted simply because they
were Graneys.

“Don’t know if I can stand another trial,
though,” she said, and her words trailed off.

Leon wanted to say that Raymond’s chances of getting a new
trial were worse than slim, and that he’d been making noise
about a new trial for over a decade. Butch wanted to say pretty
much the same thing, but he would’ve added that he was sick
of Raymond’s jailhouse bullshit about lawyers and trials and
new evidence and that it was past time for the boy to stop blaming
everybody else and take his medicine like a man.

But neither said a word.

Excerpted from FORD COUNTY: Stories © Copyright 2011 by
John Grisham. Reprinted with permission by Bantam. All rights

Ford County: Stories
by by John Grisham

  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553386816
  • ISBN-13: 9780553386813