Melvin pressed his face between two bars and surveyed a row of prisoners. “Which one of you is my preacher?” he asked.
Five men sat leaning against the wall of the jail. Four of them bunched on one side, leaving plenty of room for the fifth. Melvin zeroed in on him. The man wore a black suit even though it was the dead of summer. He sat up straight and crossed one leg over the other.
“You must be my lawyer, Mr. Little,” the man said.
“You presume right. Listen, Reverend. We’ve got ourselves a problem.” Melvin motioned for his client to come closer. When the Reverend failed to move, he motioned harder. Reluctantly, the Reverend stood and strolled over to the row of bars separating him from his attorney. “The prosecutor has a witness against you,” Melvin whispered.
“Impossible,” said the Reverend, not bothering to conceal his voice.
“It is possible,” Melvin said. “And that means trouble for you and trouble for me. If you go to jail for murder, you don’t collect insurance money, which means I don’t get paid.”
“You’ll get your money,” the Reverend said.
“I hope I do,” said Melvin.
The Reverend looked his attorney in the eye. “I did not kill my wife,” he said.
“Can you back that up?” Melvin asked.
“I was at a revival meeting in Macon County when she was killed. I didn’t arrive home until the afternoon she was found.”
“Well, then, if you could just provide me with a list of names of people willing to testify that they saw you at this revival meeting that would be helpful.”
The Reverend fell silent.
“I didn’t think so,” Melvin said. “I hope you understand the seriousness of this situation. At this point, I’ll be lucky to get you a life sentence.”
The Reverend slowly spun around and paced toward the bench. The eyes of the other prisoners instantly fell to the floor. “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked,” the Reverend said.
“What’s that now?” Melvin asked.
“Psalm 58, verse 10,” said Reverend Baxter.
Melvin checked over his shoulder and then looked at the row of prisoners sitting as quiet as kittens. “Now you listen here, Reverend. I’m all for my clients spouting off a good Bible verse. I’ve even been known to drop a few choice lines in the courtroom myself, but this should be the last time I hear you say anything about bathing in people’s blood, wicked or not.”
“You would have me censor the word of God?” the Reverend asked.
“Be more selective, that’s all. Pick one that’ll make you look more sympathetic and less like a raging lunatic.”
“Do you believe me when I say I’m innocent?”
“I don’t care when you say you’re innocent.”
“I could never defend the wicked,” the Reverend said.
“Wicked or not, that’s none of my business,” Melvin said. “We have a system in place that says people are innocent until proven guilty. It’s my job to provide them with competent counsel, regardless of guilt. And as near as I can tell, it’s gonna be your job to prevent the prosecutor from finding any evidence that proves you guilty. Now, do we understand each other?”
“Good. Now let’s get you out of jail.”
Go to Chapter 9
Further Reading: The Compelling Story Harper Lee Never Wrote Harper Lee Manuscript Found?; Harper Lee's Next Book; Protecting Harper Lee; Comparing the First Chapters of Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird