The Losers | Chapter 11 of 15

Author: David Eddings | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1539 Views | Add a Review

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O Fortuna, velut Luna statu variabilis

If the subpoena had come a week or two later, they might have been gone. The leaves had turned, and Raphael wanted to be away before the first snow. Denise was unhappy about his being summoned to testify, and they came as close to having a fight about it as they did about anything now.

“It’s absurd,” she said the morning of the hearing. “I don’t see why you want to bother with it.”

“I have to go. If I don’t show up, they’ll send a couple of eight-foot-tall policemen to get me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! All you have to do is pick up the telephone. We can get out of things like this anytime we want to. That’s one of our fringe benefits. We don’t owe anything to their grubby little system. We’re exempt.”

“No. I won’t do that. That’s the kind of thing a cripple would do, but I’m not a cripple anymore. Besides, I want to get it all cleared up. Just for once I want to explain who Flood really was.”

“Who cares? The judges don’t care; the lawyers don’t care; the police don’t care—nobody cares. They’ve all got their neat little categories. All they’re going to do is stuff him into one of their pigeonholes and then forget about it. That’s the way they do things. Nobody cares about the truth, and if you tell them something that doesn’t fit their theories, all you’ll do is make them mad at you.”

“People have been mad at me before.”

“You’re impossible.”

“Will you come along with me?”

“No,” she said tardy. “I’ve got packing to do. If we’re ever going to get out of this town, one of us has to be practical.”

“You’ll be here then?” he asked her, looking around at the clutter of boxes in her apartment.

“Where else would I be? What a dumb question.”

“It’s just that I get jumpy when I don’t know where you are.”

She smiled suddenly and then kissed him.

The courthouse in Spokane is a very large, sprawling building with a high, imitation-Renaissance tower looming above it. It makes some pretense at reflecting civic pride while ignoring the human misery that normally fills it. As luck had it on the morning of the hearing, Raphael found a parking spot directly across the street from the main entrance on Broadway. He hated parking lots. They were always filled with obstacles that seemed sometimes deliberate. That luck made him feel better right at the start. There was that word again, however—luck. More and more he had come to know that it was a meaningless word. There was a perfectly rational explanation for why the parking place was there. He didn’t know what it was, but it was certainly rational.

He went up to the intersection, waited for the light, and then crossed. The courthouse lawn was broad and well cared for and was raised above the level of the sidewalk with a stone retaining wall. There was about the whole thing a kind of self-important aloofness that Raphael secretly found amusing. Slowly, step by step, he went up the stairs and into the building.

Frankie was waiting for him just inside the door. Her face was determined, and her dark eyes were flashing. “It’s about time you got here,” she snapped, looking up at him.

“The hearing isn’t for another half hour, Frankie.”

“Where the hell have you been? I’ve been trying to call you all morning.”

“I’m shacked up with a girl.”

She actually blushed. “That’s really crude, you know.” “Sorry.”

“I have to talk to you, Raphael. It’s important.” She led him to a room a few doors away.

“Are we allowed to go in there?” he asked dubiously as she opened the door.

“It’s one of the places we have here in the building. They have to give us rooms to conduct our business in, because most of the rime we’re more important in the courtroom than the lawyers. Give us a few more years, and we’ll be able to eliminate the lawyers altogether.”

They went into the room, and she closed the door. “We’re laying for you, Raphael,” she warned him. “We’ve got a couple of crack troops in that courtroom. We’ve got a lot of rime invested in that motorcycle gang. If those hairballs go to prison, three caseworkers and a supervisor are going to be out of work, so watch what you say in there. I know how you feel about us, but watch your mouth when you get on the stand. Those two girls have all the compassion of a pair of meat grinders. They’ll hang you out to dry if you screw up things for us. They’ve been literally sleeping with the defense attorney—who’s also a girl, which makes for a very interesting situation.”

“You’ve got a dirty mind, Frankie.”

“What else is new? Anyway, the defense is going to try to lay all this on your friend. He was the one with the gun, after all. Did you know that he killed two people that night?”

“I’d heard.”

“The defense is going to try to picture him as a Detroit hoodlum who led these poor, innocent young local boys astray. If you say anything that damages their case, my colleagues will cream you.”

“Why are you telling me this, Frankie?”

“Because I gave notice yesterday morning. I’m quitting. I’m changing sides.”

“Hell, babes, don’t do that. You’re one of the good ones.”

“Not anymore. You peeled my soul raw when you told me

about how Jane Doe got away from us. I didn’t realize how much the people we’re trying to help really hate us. I can’t live with that, Raphael. I cried for three days. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

“Aw, Frankie.” He half reached for her.

“None of that. If you start groping me now, you’ll get us both arrested.”

He stared at her, not comprehending. “You lost me on that one, kid.”

“I’ve got a letch for you, you dumb klutz. If you put your hands on me, I’ll peel you like a banana right here on the spot, and I don’t have a key, so I can’t lock that door.”

He had to put a stop to that. “Francesca,” he said firmly, “don’t even talk about things like that. You know it’s out of the question.”

“I have enormous self-confidence, Raphael.”

He suddenly realized that she was about half-serious.

She sighed. “You’ve saved three of us, do you know that? You saved yourself, you saved Jane Doe, and you saved me. You got the three of us out of the goddamn system. That may be the only victory for our side in this whole freaking century. That’s why you have to be very careful in that courtroom. Don’t let them rattle you enough to make you get mad and start running your mouth. Keep it all strictly business, because if you start ranting and raving, and if the wrong judge is sitting on the case, those two girls will have you committed before you ever get out of the courtroom. You watch your ass, Raphael Taylor. Jane Doe and I won’t be able to have much of a victory celebration if our glorious leader’s in the loony bin.”

“They can’t do that to me, Frankie,” he scoffed. “Like hell they can’t. If you get the least bit excited, they’ll have you out at Medical Lake before the sun goes down.”

“Maybe I should call in sick.” She actually had him a little worried.

“That’s what I wanted to tell you, but you wouldn’t answer your goddamn telephone! It’s too late now. If you don’t show up at this stage, they’ll put out a bench warrant for you. Just go in there, keep a smile on your face, and keep your big mouth shut.” She glared up at him, her lower lip very active. “At least I was able to cover your ass a little bit.” “What?”

“I purged your file. There aren’t any reports in it but mine.” “Why?” That really baffled him.

“Because you were playing games when you first got here. What the hell were you doing with all those empty bottles? You’re listed as an alcoholic, did you know that?”

“I’m what?”

“There was a report in your file. It said that there were wine bottles all over that pigeon coop you live in. What were you thinking of?”

He laughed ruefully. “I was trying to be cute, I guess. They gave me a caseworker I didn’t like. I thought I’d give her something to worry about.”

“Dumb! How can you be so goddamn dumb? Don’t you know that when you talk to one of us, you’re talking to all of us? That’s what those files are for, dummy. You owe me at least one roll in the hay, Raphael Taylor, because I’m the one who punched the erase button and covered your ass. And I did it with this finger.” The finger she held up was not her index finger.

He grinned at her. “You’re a buddy, Frankie.” He was genuinely grateful.

“They don’t have a single goddamn thing on you,” she continued. “I even cleaned up some of my own reports. There’s nothing in your file that says that you can’t walk on water or raise the dead. What are you going to say in there?”

“I’m going to tell them the truth.”

She said a dirty word in Italian. “They’ll eat you alive if you do that, Raphael. Just let it slide. Nobody gives a damn about the truth.”

“I do.”

“That’s because you’re a weirdo. Just say what they want you to say and get out of there before they get their hooks into you. Your friend is dead. Nothing can hurt him now.” “I want to set the record straight.”

“The record’s never straight, you idiot! Haven’t you ever read 1984? They rewrite the record anytime it doesn’t suit them. You’re spinning your wheels and exposing your bare fanny for nothing.” She looked up at him and then threw her hands in the air. “All right. Do it your way—you will anyway—but please be careful. Now come here.” She grasped the front of his jacket and pulled him slightly off balance. Then she kissed him very savagely.

“Mar-rone!” she breathed. “Why do you have to be—” She stepped back and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “I’ve wanted to do that since the moment I laid eyes on you. You’re lucky you’re out of action, Raphael Taylor. I’d have destroyed you. I’d have devoured you. If you’ve never had an Italian girl jump your bones, you don’t know what you’ve missed.”

“I love you, too, Frankie.” He really meant it.

“I’m not talking about love, Taylor. That might have come later, but there would have been much, much more important things to take care of first. Be careful in there, my Angel. Be very, very careful.” She wiped her eyes again. “Now get out of here.”

He smiled at her fondly and half turned.

“Raphael?” She said it in an almost little-girl voice.

“Yes?”

“I love you, too, dammit.”

The assistant prosecutor was the young man who had been sitting in Flood’s hospital room the day he had died, and he was waiting nervously near the elevators when Raphael came up.

“I’ve been trying to get hold of you all week, Mr. Taylor,” he said, coming up to Raphael. “I wanted to go over your testimony with you.”

Raphael immediately disliked the man. “Why?” “No lawyer likes surprises in the courtroom.” “Life is full of surprises. Is this likely to take long? I have a lot of things to do today.”

The prosecutor looked at him, a bit startled by his tone. “I’ll speak with the judge. I think he’ll agree to letting you testify first—because of your disability. To be perfectly honest with you, Mr. Taylor, I didn’t really understand what you and Flood were talking about the night he died. Are you going to be getting into that? I mean, is it relevant?”

Raphael drew in a deep breath. There wasn’t really any way to avoid it. It all had to come out. “Ask me the kind of questions that’ll give me some leeway, okay? It’s sort of long and complicated, but I don’t think anybody’s really going to understand what Flood was doing unless I tell the whole story.”

“I could have the judge delay the proceedings to give us time to go over it if you’d like.”

Raphael shook his head. “I don’t have more than one recitation of this in me. It’s going to be hard enough to say it once. Shall we get on with it?”

They went into the courtroom.

In due time the judge, a balding man with thick glasses and a slightly wrinkled robe, marched in while everyone stood, and the hearing began.

The preliminaries dragged on for a half hour or so with the nervous young prosecutor and an equally nervous young woman from the public defender’s office both behaving with an exaggerated formality that spoke volumes about their amount of experience.

Raphael glanced idly over at Heck’s Angels. Big Heintz was there with one side of his face bandaged. Jimmy’s nose was broken, and both of his eyes were swollen nearly shut. Marvin’s arm was in a cast, and Little Hider was holding a pair of crutches. There were a dozen or so others—strangers—with various bruises and bandages.

Since some of the defendants were quite young, there was a great deal of polite bickering between the two lawyers about whether or not the juveniles should be separated from the adults. Two hard-eyed young women in professional-looking suits sat protectively near the younger members of the gang, furiously scribbling notes and passing them across the railing to the defense counsel. These were the two Frankie had warned him about.

The judge finally ruled that the problem of jurisdiction could be sorted out later, since this was simply a preliminary hearing. The young woman from the public defender’s office hotly took exception, which the judge wearily noted.

“All right then,” the judge said finally, “I guess you may proceed, Mr. Wilson.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” the prosecutor said. “This is one of three hearings to be held in this matter. At the request of the police department and in the interests of maintaining order, it was deemed wise to keep the members of the three gangs strictly segregated.”

“Objection, Your Honor,” the defense counsel said, leaping to her feet. “The word ‘gangs’ is pejorative.”

“Sustained,” the judge decided. “Select another word, Mr. Wilson.”

“Would counsel accept ‘groups’?” the prosecutor asked. “ ‘Groups’ is all right,” she replied.

The prosecutor turned back to the judge. “If it please the court, I have one witness who is severely disabled. His testimony may be out of sequence, but he has asked that he be allowed to testify early in the proceedings since he experiences a great deal of discomfort when required to sit for extended periods.”

“Of course, Mr. Wilson.”

The prosecutor called Raphael’s name, and Raphael rose, went to the witness stand, and sat. He drew in a deep breath and pulled an icy, detached calm about himself. Frankie’s warnings were very much on his mind, and he knew that he could not allow anything to rattle him. He was sworn in, and then they began.

“Mr. Taylor,” the prosecutor said, “are you acquainted with this group of young men?” He indicated the assembled Angels.

“I’ve met some of them—briefly. They live a few doors up the street from me.”

“But you were, I take it, much better acquainted with a Mr. Jacob D. Flood, Junior—now deceased.”

“Yes.”

“Would you please elaborate on that acquaintance?”

“We were roommates at college,” Raphael replied. “He came to Spokane last spring when he found out that I was here.” “You were friends then?” “I thought so.” “Mr. Flood was educated?” “Yes.”

“He came from a wealthy family?” “Yes.”

“Did he ever explain to you the nature of his association with the group of individuals here in this courtroom? I mean, they do not appear to be the sort of people with whom someone of education and wealth would normally associate.”

“They amused him. He had other reasons, but basically it was because they amused him.”

“Objection, Your Honor,” the defense attorney said, coming to her feet. “Purely speculative.”

“I think we can allow a certain latitude, Miss Berensen,” the judge told her patiently. “These proceedings are preliminary after all, and whether or not Mr. Hood was amused by the defendants hardly seems to be a major issue.”

“Your Honor!” she protested.

“Overruled, Miss Berensen.” The judge sighed.

Quite suddenly, perhaps because of the hard chair or his nervousness or the aggravation of the defense attorney’s objection, Raphael’s left thigh and leg and foot began to ache intolerably. He grimaced and shifted his position.

“Are you in pain, Mr. Taylor?” the judge asked, a note of concern in his voice.

“No more than usual, sir.”

The judge frowned slightly and looked down at his notes for a moment. “Mr. Wilson,” he said, looking up, “what is the proposed thrust of your examination of Mr. Taylor?”

“Uh”—the prosecutor faltered—“background, primarily, Your Honor. Mr. Taylor appears to be the only person in Spokane who really knew Mr. Flood, and since Mr. Flood and his role in this matter are likely to play a major part in any trials resulting from these proceedings, I felt that Mr. Taylor’s testimony would help us all to understand that rather strange young man.”

“Then Mr. Taylor is here not so much as a witness for the prosecution as he is in the capacity of a friend of the court?”

“Uh—I suppose that’s true, Your Honor.”

“Miss Berensen.” The judge turned to the defense. “Would you take exception to designating Mr. Taylor a friend of the court?”

“Most strenuously, Your Honor. The man Flood was the instigator of this whole affair. The defense could never accept testimony from his close friend with an amicus curiae label attached to it.”

“Your exception will be noted, Miss Berensen. It does not become any of us, however, to inflict needless suffering upon the witness. What I propose is to permit Mr. Taylor to present narrative testimony concerning the man Flood—his background and so forth—in order to allow the testimony to be completed as quickly as possible. Would you accept narrative testimony from the witness based upon humanitarian considerations, Miss Berensen?”

The defense attorney seemed about to protest further, but thought better of it. “Very well, Your Honor.” She was almost sullen about it.

Behind her the two young women scribbled furiously.

“All right then, Mr. Taylor,” the judge said, “why don’t you just give us a brief outline of Mr. Flood’s background—insofar as you know it?”

“Yes, Your Honor.” Raphael thought for a moment, looking at the patch of golden morning sunlight slanting in through the window at the back of the courtroom, and then he started. “Damon Flood’s dead now, so nothing I can say will matter to him. It’s taken me a long time to piece his story together, so I hope you’ll be patient with me. Flood himself isn’t on trial, but his motives in this business may be important.” He looked inquiringly at the judge, silently seeking permission to continue.

“I think we can all accept that, Mr. Taylor. Please go on.”

“Thank you, Your Honor. Jacob Damon Flood, Junior, was born in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. His family is well-to-do. Mr. Flood’s mother died when he was four, and his father was totally immersed in the family business. Flood was not particularly lovable as a child, and he was in continual competition with a cousin who appears to have been everyone’s favorite—even his own father’s. I suppose it finally came to a head during one of those confrontations between Flood and his cousin. Whatever the reason, they fought, and Flood received a very public and humiliating beating while his own father looked on approvingly. As closely as I can reconstruct it, that was the point where something slipped or went off center. He knew who he was. He knew that it was his father who was the head of the company that was the source of all the family wealth. I guess that all his relatives kowtowed to his father, and he expected the same kind of respect. When he didn’t get it, it unsettled him. He became obsessed with the idea of getting revenge—on the cousin certainly and probably on his own father as well. Of course a child can’t attack an adult—or a physically superior child—directly, so Flood transferred his rage and hatred to others—to people who resembled the cousin and whose destruction or disgrace would most severely hurt some older authority figure, who represented his father, I suppose. Does that make any sense at all? I’ve thought about it for a long time, and it’s the only explanation I can come up with.”

“It’s not inconsistent with things we encounter occasionally, Mr. Taylor,” the judge said approvingly. “Please continue.”

Raphael took a deep breath and looked down into the courtroom. The two young women Frankie had warned him about had stopped writing and were staring at him with open hostility. “In time Flood was sent to a number of those exclusive and very expensive private boarding schools in the east where the wealthy dump their children. He developed a game—a very personal and vicious kind of game. He made a point of seeking out boys who resembled his cousin. He would befriend them—and then he would destroy them. Sometimes he planted evidence of crimes or expellable violations of the rules among their belongings—those were his earliest and crudest efforts. Later he grew more sophisticated, and his plots— if that’s not too melodramatic a term—grew more complicated. I’m told that this happened several times in various prep schools and during his first two yean at college. It was at that point that I met him. We both transferred to Reed College in Portland from other schools, and we roomed together there. I’ve been told that I closely resemble Flood’s cousin, so I suppose his reaction to me was inevitable.”

The judge looked startled. “Mr. Taylor,” he interrupted, “are you implying that this man was responsible for your injury?”

“No, Your Honor. The accident was simply that—an accident. Flood really had nothing to do with it. I can’t be sure exactly what it was that he originally had planned for me. By this time he had refined his schemes to the point where they were so exotic and involved that I don’t think anyone could have unraveled them. I honestly believe that my accident threw him completely off. It was blind chance—simple stupid bad luck—and he couldn’t accept that.

“Anyway, after the accident, when I had recovered enough to be at least marginally ambulatory, I left Portland and came here to Spokane. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going, and it took Flood five months to find me. He wasn’t going to let me get away from him, but my condition baffled him. How can you possibly hurt someone who’s already been sawed in two?”

“Your Honor,” the defense counsel protested. “I don’t see the pertinence of all this.”

“Miss Berensen, please sit down.”

The young woman flushed and sank back into her seat.

“Go on, Mr. Taylor.”

“When I first came to Spokane, I entered therapy. Learning to walk again is very tedious, and I needed a diversion, so I started collecting losers.”

“Losers? I’m not sure I understand, Mr. Taylor.”

“In our society—probably in every society—there are people who simply can’t make it,” Raphael explained. “They’re not skilled enough, not smart enough, not competitive enough, and they become the human debris of the system. Because our society is compassionate, we take care of them, but in the process they become human ciphers—numbers in the system, welfare cases or whatever.

“I was in an ideal spot to watch them. I live in an area where they congregate, and my apartment is on a rooftop. I was in a situation where I could virtually see everything that went on in the neighborhood.”

“Your Honor,” the prosecutor said, “I don’t want to interrupt Mr. Taylor, but isn’t this getting a bit far afield?”

“Is this really relevant, Mr. Taylor?” the judge asked.

“Yes, Your Honor, I believe so. It’s the point of the whole thing. If you don’t know about the losers, nothing that Flood did will make any sense at all.”

“Very well, Mr. Taylor.”

“It’s easy to dismiss the losers—to ignore them. After all, they don’t sit in front of the churches to beg anymore. We’ve created an entire industry—social workers—to feed them and keep them out of sight so that we never have to come face-to-face with them. We’ve trained whole generations of bright young girls who don’t want to be waitresses or secretaries to take care of our losers. In the process we’ve created a new leisure class. We give them enough to get by on—not luxury, regardless of what some people believe—but they know they won’t be allowed to starve. Our new leisure class doesn’t have enough money for hobbies or enough education for art, so they sit. I suppose it’s great for a month or two to know that you’ll never have to work again, but what do you do then? What do you do when you finally come face-to-face with the reality of all those empty yean stretching out in front of you?

“For most of the losen crisis is the answer. Crisis is a way of being important—of giving their lives meaning. They can’t write books or sell cars or cure warts. The state feeds them and pays their rent, but they have a nagging sense of being worthless. They precipitate crisis—catastrophe—as a way of saying, ‘Look at me. I’m alive. I’m a human being.’ For the loser it’s the only way to gain any kind of recognition. If they take a shot at somebody or OD on pills, at

least the police will come. They won’t be ignored.”

“Mr. Taylor,” the judge said with some perplexity, “your observations are very interesting, but—”

“Yes, Your Honor, I’m coining to the connection. It was about the time that I finally began to understand all of this that Flood showed up here in Spokane. One day I happened to mention the losers. He didn’t follow what I was talking about, so I explained the whole idea to him. For some reason I didn’t understand at the time, the theory of all the sad misfits on the block became very important to him. Of course with Flood you could never be entirely sure how much was genuine interest and how much was put on.

“Anyway, as time went on, Flood started to seek out my collection of losers. He got to know them—well enough to know their weaknesses anyway—and then he began to destroy them one by one. Oh, sure, some of them fell by natural attrition—losers smash up their lives pretty regularly without any outside help—but he did manage to destroy several people in some grand scheme that had me as its focus.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow that, Mr. Taylor,” the judge said.

“As I said, sir, I collect losers,” Raphael explained. “I care about them. For all their deliberate, wrongheaded stupidity I care about them and recognize their need for some kind of dignity. Social workers simply process them. It’s just a job to all those bright young girls, but I cared—even if it was only passively.

“Flood saw that, and it solved his problem. He’d been looking for a way to hurt someone who’d already been hurt as badly as he was likely to ever be hurt, and this was it. He began to systematically depopulate my block—nothing illegal, of course, just a nudge here, a word there. It was extraordinarily simple, really. Losers are pathologically self-destructive anyway, and he’d had a lifetime of practice.”

“Your Honor,” Miss Berensen protested, “this is sheer nonsense. It has no relation to any recognized social theory. I think Mr. Taylor’s affliction has made him …” She faltered.

“Go ahead and say it,” Raphael said to her before the judge could speak. “That’s a common assumption—that a physical impairment necessarily implies a mental one as well. I’m used to it by now. I’m not even offended at being patronized by the intellectually disadvantaged anymore.”

“That’ll do, Mr. Taylor,” the judge said firmly.

“Sorry, Your Honor. Anyway, whether the theory is valid or not is beside the point. The point is that I believe it—and more importantly Flood believed it as well. In that context then, it is true.

“In time Flood insinuated himself into this group of bikers up the street. The gang posed special problems for him. He’d been able to handle all the others on the street one-on-one, but there’s a kind of cumulative effect in a gang—even one as feebleminded as this one.”

Big Heintz came half to his feet. “You watch your mouth, Taylor!” he threatened loudly.

The judge pounded his gavel. “That will be all of that!”

Big Heintz glowered and sank back into his chair.

The judge turned to Raphael then. “Mr. Taylor, we’ve given you a great deal of latitude here, but please confine your remarks to the business at hand.”

“Yes, Your Honor. Once he became involved with the gang, I think Flood began to lose control. Crisis is exciting; it’s high drama, and Flood was pulled along by it all. He could handle the gang members on a one-to-one basis quite easily, but when he immersed himself in the entire gang, it all simply overpowered him. Being a loser is somehow contagious, and when a man starts to associate with them in groups, he’s almost certain to catch it. I tried to warn him about that, but he didn’t seem to understand.” Raphael paused. “Now that I stop and think about it, though, maybe he did at that. He kept after me—begging me almost—to move away from Spokane. Maybe in some obscure way those pleas that we get out of this town were cries for help. Maybe he realized that he was losing control.” He sighed. “Perhaps we should have gone. Then this might not have happened—at least not here in Spokane. Anyway, when I saw the gun, I knew that he’d slipped over the line. It was too late at that point.”

“Then you knew he had a gun?” the judge asked.

“Yes, Your Honor. There’d been a skirmish between the two gangs, and Flood had been beaten pretty severely. I suppose that’s what finally pushed him over the edge. In a sense it was like the beating he’d received from his cousin in his childhood, and Flood could never let something like that just slide. He had to get even, and he had to arm himself to make sure that it didn’t happen to him again. I think that toward the end he even forgot why he’d gotten mixed up with the gang in the first place. Anyway, when Heintzie’s grand and final war came, Flood was caught up in it—hooked on crisis, hyped on his own adrenaline, not even thinking anymore—a loser. I suppose it’s sort of ironic. He set out to destroy the gang, but in the end they destroyed him. And what’s even more ironic is that all Flood really wanted to do when he started out was to try to find a way to hurt me. He knew that I cared about my losers, so he thought he could hurt me by destroying them. In the end, though, he became a loser himself and wound up destroying himself. I suppose that his plan really succeeded, because when he destroyed himself, it hurt me more than anything else he could have done. It’s strange, but he finally won after all.” Raphael looked up at the ceiling. He’d never really thought of it before, and it rather surprised him. “I guess that’s about it, Your Honor,” he told the judge. “That’s about all I really know about Damon Flood.” He sat quietly then. It had not really done any good; he realized that now. Denise and Frankie had been right. The categories and pigeonholes were too convenient, and using them as a means of sorting people was too much a part of the official mentality. But he had tried. He had performed that last service that a man can perform for a friend—he had told the truth about him. In spite of everything, he realized that he still thought of Flood as a friend.

“Mr. Wilson?” the judge asked.

The prosecutor rose and walked toward Raphael. “Mr. Taylor, from your observation then, would you say that Mr. Flood was definitely not the leader of this—ah—group?”

“No, sir. It was Heintzie’s gang, and it was Heintzie’s war. The gun was Flood’s, though. I think it’s what they call escalation. About all Heintzie wanted to do was put a few people in the hospital. Killing people was Flood’s idea. In the end, though, he was just another member of the gang—a loser.”

“Uh—” The prosecutor looked down at his notes. It was obvious that he had not expected the kind of testimony Raphael had just given them. “I—uh—I guess I have no further questions, Your Honor.”

“Miss Berensen?” the judge said.

“Your Honor, I wouldn’t dignify any of this by even questioning it. My only suggestion would be that Mr. Taylor might consider seeking professional help.”

“That’s enough of that, Miss Berensen!” The judge sat for a long time looking at the bandaged and sullenly glowering young men seated behind the defense table. Finally he shook his head. “Losers,” he murmured so softly that only Raphael could hear him. Then he turned. “Mr. Taylor, you’re an intelligent and articulate young man—too intelligent and articulate to just sit on the sidelines the way you’re doing. You seem to have some very special talents—profound insight and extraordinary compassion. I think I’d like to know what you plan to do with the rest of your life.”

“I’m leaving Spokane, Your Honor. I came here to get some personal things taken care of. Now that all that’s done, there’s no reason for me to stay anymore. I’ll find another town—maybe I’ll find another rooftop and another street full of losers. Somebody has to care for them after all. All my options are open, so I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what happens tomorrow—trust to luck, if you want to put it that way.”

The judge sighed. “Thank you, Mr. Taylor. You may step down.”

Raphael got his crutches squared away, stood up, and went carefully down the single step from the witness stand. Then he walked smoothly up the center aisle with the stately, flowing pace of a one-legged man who has mastered his crutches and is no longer a cripple. He hesitated a moment at the door. There was still the matter of the two derelicts who had been found shot to death in downtown alleys. He realized, however, that he really had no proof that it had been Flood who had so casually shot them as a means of proving to himself that he did in fact have the nerve to shoot another human being. Raphael also realized that he would prefer to leave it simply at that. A suspicion was not a certainty, and for some reason he did not want that final nail driven in. If it had been Flood, it would not happen again; and in any case, if he were to suggest it to the prosecutor or anyone else, it would probably delay the escape from Spokane with Denise that had become absolutely necessary. The bailiff standing at the back opened the door for him, and Raphael went on out.

The two young women who had been in the courtroom were waiting for him in the hall. “Mr. Taylor,” the blond one said, “we’re from the department of—”

“I know who you are.” Raphael looked directly into the face of the enemy.

“We’d like to talk to you for a moment, if you’re not too busy,” she went on, undeterred by his blunt answer.

“I am, but I don’t imagine that’ll make much difference, will it?”

“Really, Mr. Taylor,” the brunette one protested, “you seem extremely hostile.” “You’ve noticed.”

“Mr. Taylor,” the blonde said, “you really should leave social theory to the experts, you know. This notion of yours—it just isn’t consistent with what we know about human behavior.”

“Really? Maybe you’d better go back and take another look then.”

“Why are you so hostile, Mr. Taylor?” the brunette asked. She kept coming back to that.

“I’m bad-tempered. Didn’t you study that in school? All of us freaks have days when we’re bad-tempered. You’re supposed to know how to deal with that.”

He could see their anger, their frustration in their eyes under the carefully assumed professional masks. His testimony had rather neatly torpedoed their entire case, and they were furious with him. He’d done the one thing Frankie had warned him not to do.

“I’d really like to discuss this theory of yours,” the blond one said with a contrived look of interest on her face.

“Oh really?” Raphael was very alert now. He knew that he was on dangerous ground.

“And you really ought to try to control your hostilities,” the brunette added.

“Why? Nobody else does. Could it be that you think I should control my hostility because I’m a defective and defectives aren’t permitted to dislike people?”

“We’d really like to talk to you, Mr. Taylor,” the blonde said. “Could we make an appointment for you at our office—say next Tuesday?”

“No. Now, if you don’t mind, I have things to do.”

“We really think we could help you, Mr. Taylor,” the brunette said, her eyes hardening.

“I don’t need any help,” Raphael told her. “There’s not one single thing I need you for.”

“Everybody needs help, Mr. Taylor,” the blonde said.

“I don’t. Now, you’ll have to excuse me.” He set the points of his crutches down firmly and began to walk down the hallway toward a waiting elevator.

“We’ll always be there,” the blonde called after him. “Don’t hesitate to call—anytime at all.”

She sounded almost like old Tobe. That made Raphael feel better somehow. He was almost safe now—close enough to safety at any rate to take the risk. “If you girls really want to help, you ought to learn how to type,” he threw back over his shoulder. Flood would have liked that.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” the blonde demanded.

“It’s a sort of an inside joke,” he replied. “It’d take much too long to explain.” He stepped into the elevator.

“You’ll call,” the brunette yelled after him in a shrill voice. “Someday you’ll call. Someday you’ll need our help. Your kind always does.”

He might have answered that, but the elevator door closed just then.

It was good to have it all over. In a very personal way he had put Flood finally to rest, and now it was over.

It was just before noon when he came out of the courthouse, and the autumn sun was bright and warm. He went down the several steps to the sidewalk and started up toward the intersection, moving along beside the low retaining wall.

At the comer the bald, skinny philosopher was delivering one of his speeches to the indifferent street. Although Flood had reported seeing him in various parts of town, Raphael had not really been certain in his own mind that the crazy orator who had greeted him on that first snowy night in Spokane was still roaming the streets, or if he had ever really existed at all.

“Whenever anything is done with one intention,” the orator boomed, “but something else, other than what was intended, results from certain causes, that is called chance. We may therefore define chance as an unexpected result from the coincidence of certain causes in matters where there was another purpose.”

Raphael stopped and leaned back, half sitting on the low retaining wall to listen. He leaned his crutches against the wall on either side of his single leg and crossed his arms.

“The order of the universe,” the bald man went on, “advancing with its inevitable sequences, brings about this coincidence of causes. This order itself emanates from its source, which is Providence, and disposes all things in their proper time and place.”

Raphael found himself smiling suddenly. Without knowing exactly why, he uncrossed his arms and began to applaud, the sound of his clapping hands quite loud in the momentarily quiet street.

Startled, the crazy man jerked his head around to regard his audience of one. And then he grinned. There was in that grin all the rueful acknowledgment of human failure, of lives futile and wasted, and at the same time a sly, almost puckish delight in all the joy that even the most useless life contained. It was a cosmic kind of grin, and Raphael found its sly, mischievous twinkle somehow contagious.

Still applauding, he grinned back.

And then, that impish smile still on his face, the crazy man extended one arm to the side with exaggerated formality, placed his other hand on his chest, and took a florid, theatrical bow. His face was a sly mask when he came erect again, and he looked directly at Raphael and gave him a knowing wink before he turned back to continue his oration to the swiftly moving traffic.

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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