I ran my hands over the Fabergé box. The lid swung smoothly on its hinges. The gold clasp fastened with a muted click. As I gazed at this dazzling object, I was only half-aware of a key turning in the front door of Mercer House and of footsteps approaching in the entrance hall. Suddenly, a sharp voice cut the air.
"Goddammit! Goddamn bitch!"
A blond boy stood in the doorway. He appeared to be about nineteen or twenty. He was wearing blue jeans and a sleeveless black T-shirt with the words FUCK YOU printed in white across the front. He was trembling with barely con-trolled fury. His sapphire-blue eyes were blazing.
"What seems to be the problem, Danny?" Williams asked calmly, without rising from his chair.
"Bonnie! Goddamn bitch. She stood me up! She's runnin' around at all the southside bars. Dammit! I ain't takin' her shit no more!"
The boy grabbed a vodka bottle from the table and filled a crystal glass to the brim. He gulped it down. His arms were tattooed--a Confederate flag on one arm, a marijuana plant on the other.
"Get hold of yourself now, Danny," Williams said, speak-ing deliberately. "Just tell me what happened."
"Maybe I was a few minutes late! I got throwed off in my timing. So what! Shit! Her girlfriend said she left 'cause I wasn't there when I said I'd be." He glared at Williams. "Gimme twenty dollars! I need the money. I'm pissed off!"
"What do you need it for?"
"None of your goddamn business! I need to get fucked up tonight, if you really wanna know. That's what!"
"I think you've already accomplished that, Sport."
"I ain't anywhere near fucked up enough yet!"
"Now, Danny, don't go doing that and driving your car. You'll get arrested for sure if you do. You've already got charges against you from the last time you got, quote, fucked up. They're really gonna nail you this time."
"I don't give a goddamn about you or Bonnie or the god-damn police!"
With that, the boy turned and abruptly left the room. The front door slammed. Outside, a car door opened and closed. A sharp, prolonged squeal of tires pierced the evening still-ness. There was another squeal as the car rounded the cor-ner of Monterey Square, then another as it turned again and sped down Bull Street. Then all was quiet.
"I'm sorry," said Williams. He got up and poured himself a drink, not Madeira this time but straight vodka. Then si-lently, almost imperceptibly, he released a sigh and allowed his shoulders to relax.
I looked down and saw that I was still holding the Fabergé box. I was clutching it so tightly I was afraid for a moment I might have dislodged a jewel or two from the top. It seemed intact. I handed it back to Williams.
"That was Danny Hansford," he said. "He works for me part-time refinishing furniture in my workshop."
Williams studied the end of his cigar. He was calm, controlled.
"This is not the first time something like this has hap-pened," he said. "I have an idea how it will end up. Later to-night, about three-thirty, the telephone will ring. It'll be Danny. He'll be charming and sweet-natured. He'll say, 'Hey, Jim! This is Danny. I'm real sorry to wake you up. Boy, did I fuck up tonight! Ma-a-a-an, did I make some big mis-takes!' And I'll say, 'Well, Danny, what happened this time?' And he'll say, 'I'm callin' from the jailhouse. Yeah, they put me in here again. But I ain't done nothin' wrong. I was goin' down Abercorn Street, see if I could find Bonnie, and I burned a little rubber and turned left real quick, and there was this goddamn police car! Blue lights, sirens. Man, I'm in trouble. Hey, Jim? Think you could come down and get me out?' And I'll say, 'Danny, it's late, I'm tired of this. Why don't you just cool it and relax yourself tonight. In jail.'
"Now, Danny won't like this one bit, but he won't lose his cool. Not now. He'll keep it calm. He'll say, 'I know what you mean, and you're right. I oughta stay in here the rest of my goddamn life. It's been a messed-up life anyhow.' He'll be working on my sympathy now. 'It's okay, Jim,' he'll say. 'Just leave me here. Don't worry about it. Hell, I don't even care. I hope I didn't get you upset. Hope you can get back to sleep all right. See you later.'
Excerpted from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Copyright© 1994 by John Berendt. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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