What gave her such style was the way the simplicity of everything else in her appearance contrasted with her tattoo. Rather than a discreet, dainty turtle or butterfly, Pauline had the indelible mark of the Chrysler Building on her right arm.
It started just below her right shoulder and extended for several inches, to her elbow. It was rendered in a lustrous gold that caught the light bouncing off the spire, and in such detail that it included a winged gargoyle scowling down at the metropolis. According to rumor, it had taken six eight hour sessions.
When I asked her why she felt so strongly about a skyscraper, her brown eyes flashed as if to say I didn't get it. "It's about people choosing to make something beautiful," she said. "Plus, my grandfather worked on a Chrysler assembly line for thirty-eight years. I figured he helped build it."
Pauline sat on the edge of my desk and told me that Stanley Higgins, the prosecutor in Mudman's case, had sent six men to death row from one little Texas county. He'd retired recently, mainly to a redbrick bar in a working-class section of Amarillo. "According to some nice people who befriended me there, Higgins has a serious drinking problem. Approximately every night, he spouts off about his career as a prosecutor and what he calls 'Higgins's justice.' I should probably make another trip before he parties himself to death."
"Is this what you do all day? Collect voir dire on the enemies of Nelson, Goodwin and Mickel?"
She smiled, and it was hard not to join in with her. "You can use the Latin if you like, but I call it dirt. There's no lack of it out there, young Jack."
"Not as young as you might think. Mind if I ask what you do in your spare time?" "Garden," Pauline said, straight-faced. "Seriously?"
"Cactus, mainly. So be careful, Jack. Besides, I hear you're spoken for. Private investigator, remember?"
AT 9:20 THAT FRIDAY EVENING, I grabbed my backpack and descended by elevator, escalator, and stairs, each a little grittier than the one before, until I reached a subway platform beneath Grand Central Terminal. The MTA shuttled me west and south to Penn Station, and I high-stepped it over to the track that would take me to Long Island. I caught the last train out.
Every car would soon be cheek by jowl with frisky young urbanites headed for the summer's first big Hamptons weekend, but I was early enough to claim a window seat. I slipped a CD into my Discman and hunkered down for the creaking three-hour ride to where the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road dead-end. Montauk. Home.
Minutes before the train lurched out, a kid who looked like a college freshman going home for the summer, all his dirty laundry and worry squeezed into one huge bag, sank into the seat across from mine.
Five minutes later he was asleep, a dog-eared paperback of The Red Badge of Courage hanging perilously from the pocket of his Old Navy tech vest. The book had also been a favorite of mine, and I reached over and tucked it safely back in.
Looking at the kid, who was tall and gawky with one of those mustache-goatees a nineteen-year-old sprouts with anxious pride, I was reminded of all the trips I made back home on that same train. Often I traveled in total defeat. Other times I was just looking to rest and refill my wallet, laboring for my old man's little construction company if he had enough work or, more often when he didn't, repainting the hulls at Jepson's Boatyard. But for five years I never made the trip without a nameless dread of what the future held.
It made me realize how much better things had gotten. I had just finished my second year at Columbia and made Law Review the semester before. I'd parlayed that into the associate gig, where I made more in a week than in a summer humping two-by-fours or repainting hulls.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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