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مجموعه: کتاب های خیلی ساده / کتاب 44

کتاب های خیلی ساده

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Lisa Thomas has just graduated from the college. She has left her home in Seattle and has become a junior reporter at the Livingston Gazette in Texas. Now she has to cover the execution of Gary Pearson, a black man accused of murdering a well-respected judge. The journalist is nervous. This is the first time she has written about such kind of news. The only advice she receives is just to record the facts and not to get emotional. However, after the meeting with the convicted man Lisa seriously doubts that he is guilty. But under the pressure from her colleagues the woman doesn't share her suspicions in the article. On the day of Gary’s execution the real murderer shows up and confesses to committing the crime. But will this be enough for a stay of this execution and save an innocent man from death?

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Just the Facts

‘The thing is, kid, you’re there to record the facts,’ said Gretzky. ‘You always have to remember that. That’s your job. Leave the morals to the politicians.’ He laughed that laugh he had. A ‘yack, yack, yack’ laugh. A kind of Fred Flintstone laugh.

I didn’t say anything.

‘Facts, facts, facts…you know,’ said Gretzky, clearing his throat to put on his ‘official’ voice. ‘“The prisoner’s last meal request was two double meat cheeseburgers (all the way with mayonnaise and mustard), fries, fried chicken (well done), chocolate cake, a large vanilla ice cream, and six cans of cola.” That’s the kind of thing Joe Public wants to know,’ he said. ‘It sells newspapers and it doesn’t hurt anyone.’

Gretzky paused for breath, and I took the opportunity to look out of the window at the passing countryside either side of highway US-190, the road from Livingston to Huntsville. It was four o’clock on an August afternoon and the heat was just beginning to die down. We were on our way to an execution - to watch a man being put to death for murder. The execution was timed for six.

The peace didn’t last long. ‘And, more important than all that, kid,’ Gretzky took his right hand off the steering wheel and waved his finger in my face, ‘is the fact that it keeps Jackson out of our hair.’

Len Jackson was the editor of the Livingston Gazette. I hadn’t known him for long, but I could see what Gretzky meant. He was a nice enough guy, and a good editor, but keeping him out of our hair seemed like a very good idea.

I’d just started as a junior reporter at the Gazette a month before. Tell you the truth, the job wasn’t my first choice. But I was fresh out of college, and junior reporter jobs were hard to come by. And I needed work really badly.

My dad had died a few years ago; Mom had given up a lot to put me through college and I couldn’t take any more money from her. So here I was in Texas. My friends were amazed. ‘Wow, Lisa, Texas!’ they said. ‘It’s so different from Seattle.’ Well, there was no denying that. It was a hell of a lot different. For one thing, it didn’t rain as much.

The guy I worked with most at the Livingston Gazette was Ron Gretzky. Gretzky was the senior reporter. He was around fifty-five and thirty pounds overweight, almost the typical image of the hardened journalist. He’d seen it all, twice. He was never going to make editor; he just wasn’t motivated or talented enough. For Gretzky, the years ahead to retirement meant more of the same. ‘The three Ms, kid: marriages, muggings and murder, that’s what this job’s about,’ he liked to say. ‘Oh, yeah?’ I’d joke with him. ‘And what about the executions?’ In the twenty years he’d been at the Gazette, he’d covered over three hundred executions.

And if that isn’t enough to harden a man, I don’t know what is.

Now Gretzky was driving me to see my first execution.

‘Best to take her this first time, Ron,’ Len Jackson told him. ‘Show her how it goes. Hold her hand, if you know what I mean.’ Jackson had looked at me like he thought I might need help; after all I am a woman. And a young one at that. The idea was that, after this first one, I would cover executions on my own. Gretzky would move over. Maybe Jackson reckoned that Gretzky had done enough, that it was beginning to affect him. Way too late for that, was my feeling.

‘Yeah, kid,’ said Gretzky, still pointing his finger, ‘just remember what these guys have done. They’re criminals.’

There was a pause as Gretzky took one hand off the steering wheel, unwrapped the hamburger he’d brought for the journey and started eating. It gave me time to think about Gary Pearson, the guy who was going to lose his life today. I’d met him for the first time about three weeks ago on death row. They always let the media in to talk to the guy who’s going to be executed a few weeks before the set date. ‘You can do this alone, kid,’ said Gretzky. ‘It’s good practice.’ So I went along and waited nervously in line with the guys from the Huntsville Echo and Associated Press. Finally, it was my turn, and I got about forty-five minutes with Pearson.

Gary Pearson was a black guy from Houston. They said he was a burglar who went crazy one day and shot a judge. The story went that Pearson was breaking into the judge’s house in a good neighbourhood of the city. The judge was at home and surprised Pearson. ‘I didn’t do it,’ Pearson told me calmly. Gretzky had warned me that people on death row often told journalists they weren’t guilty. I didn’t say anything and concentrated on not showing any emotion. ‘I was unlucky that the guy was a judge,’ Pearson continued, ‘and unlucky I was black.’

Yeah, unlucky as it turned out. The average length of time spent on death row is ten and a half years, and

Pearson had served about that. He was seventeen years old when the crime happened. I’d read that in most countries he would be considered a minor, under age, too young to be executed, but not here. I tried to put this uncomfortable fact out of my mind. But it is a fact.

‘So, if you didn’t do it,’ I said, ‘who did?’

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I really don’t know. The only thing I can tell you is that it wasn’t me. I broke into the house, and disturbed the old guy, but when I left he was alive. I swear it.’

‘But…’

‘The police picked me up an hour or so later,’ explained Pearson. ‘I had some stuff from Judge Baker’s house and the judge was dead. Who killed him? It had to be me.’

We talked some more. Pearson was calm and unemotional. ‘Yes ma’am,’ he said, when I commented on his coolness. ‘I guess ten and a half years gives you enough time to come to terms with the idea that you’re gonna die.’

He sighed.

‘I’ve been through it all,’ he went on. ‘I’ve done a lot of crying, ma’am. I’ve done the begging and even the fighting. Seems like now I’m kinda resigned.’ He sighed again. ‘I don’t have much confidence in the appeals any more. I guess it’s time to die.’

‘But,’ I said at the end of the interview, ‘you say you didn’t do it. If that’s really true, you have to fight!’

He just looked straight at me with a kind of soft, intelligent look and said, ‘Believe me, ma’am, they’re gonna kill me for this. It don’t matter what the truth is.’

When Gretzky came to pick me up after the interview I

was so shaken that he had to take me for a drink. ‘Happens to all of us the first time, kid,’ he said, as we sat drinking bourbon in a bar in downtown Livingston. ‘Soon it’ll be just like any other job to you.’

‘But he says he didn’t do it, Ron,’ I said, my hands still shaking as I drank the strong liquor, ‘and he sounds like he’s telling the truth.’

Gretzky shook his head. ‘They always do, kid, they always do. And remember that you’re a young woman…He was just looking for sympathy.’

It was true what Gretzky said. Guys on death row often tell you they’re innocent. What have they got to lose? But anyway, there were a lot of doubts in my mind after talking to Pearson, and they came out in my story. I showed it to Gretzky. He coughed and coffee went everywhere.

‘Want my advice, kid?’ he said, ‘Go back and write this again! Jackson’s just gonna throw it at you. “Is Pearson innocent?” Ah! Are you trying to lose your job?’

‘But what about the truth?’

‘Truth?’ Gretzky laughed. ‘You think that you know what the truth is, kid? That’s a sure way to end up on the street!’

So, in the end, I wrote a story which didn’t really say anything much. I was scared of Jackson, scared of losing my job. And anyway Gretzky could be right. I felt pretty bad, but I figured that if I really wanted a career as a journalist, I’d have to make a name for myself before I could write what I really thought.

And now here I was on my way to see Pearson put to death. I wondered if he had already eaten his last meal. They said that it was only a guilty man who ordered a big meal; if a man was innocent he probably wouldn’t eat at all.

Gretzky finished the hamburger and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘Think of the victim,’ he growled, ‘and think of the victim’s family. Gonna stop at this gas station, kid. We need some gas, and I need the bathroom.’

Gretzky pulled the Buick up to the pump at the Exxon gas station. A young guy with long thin black hair came to fill the tank. Gretzky got out of the car and went towards the bathroom at the side of the building. I turned the car radio on low.

Think of the victim and the family, Gretzky had said. I’d read somewhere that the victim’s family often wants the guy who’s being executed to suffer more. A lethal injection they said, killed the guy too quickly. The judge’s wife had died twenty years ago but there was a son, John, and a daughter, Kathy.

Like his father, John Baker was a lawyer. In fact he was one of the top lawyers in Houston and a powerful kinda guy. He had made sure that his father’s killer was found guilty. Baker was always on TV talking about how important it was to get justice and he was determined to see Pearson executed. He would sit there today, behind the glass in one of the viewing rooms, and, like me, see a man be put to death. I wondered about Kathy Baker. Nobody had seen her for a very long time. They said she’d gone to live in Europe. No journalist had ever got near her.

I took the information sheet for reporters out of my jacket pocket. ‘Drugs used in the lethal injection,’ it said, ‘are Sodium Thiopental (puts a person to sleep), Pancuronium Bromide (muscle relaxant - collapses lungs), Potassium Chloride (stops heart beat). The prisoner is usually pronounced dead approximately seven minutes after the lethal injection begins. The cost of each execution for drugs used is $86.08.’

What would it feel like, seeing eighty-six dollars worth of drugs being injected into a guy, putting him to sleep forever?

Gretzky arrived back from the bathroom, still adjusting the belt of his trousers. ‘What ya reading?’ he asked, looking at the information sheet.

‘Ah yeah…But you’re lucky, kid. It’s so much cleaner than when they used to kill ‘em with an electric shock.

‘Oh good,’ I said. ‘I like clean.’

‘Not that I ever saw anyone die from an electric shock.’ Gretzky went on, ignoring the comment. ‘It was before my time. But you can only imagine.’

I tried not to imagine. It was bad enough thinking about the lethal injection. ‘So, what’s it like seeing a man tied to a bed and killed, just ten feet away from you?’ I asked Gretzky.

‘Well,’ he said, settling himself behind the steering wheel and putting on his seat belt, ‘it’s like a ceremony, kid. It’s hard to explain. It’s not really very emotional. You’ll be fine.

‘Anyway,’ he went on, ‘it’s not killing, kid. It’s execution. Killing is what he did, this Pearson.’

Oh yeah. Sometimes I found it hard to see the difference.

‘Isn’t killing always killing?’ I asked Gretzky. At times I couldn’t help myself.

‘Well now, kid,’ Gretzky said, ‘that’s way too philosophical. The guy’s gone out and killed a man. No one made him do it; he has to take responsibility for that.’

Gretzky reached to start the engine. Suddenly, the back door of the Buick opened and someone jumped into the back seat. Shocked by the sudden movement, I turned around and was even more shocked to see a slim young woman, dressed in a pale blue T-shirt and jeans. She was maybe twenty-eight, twenty-nine. She’d come from nowhere. She looked kinda familiar.

‘Face the front,’ the woman said to me. Then she said to Gretzky, ‘And you drive. Don’t try anything or I’ll blow your brains out.’ She had a slight Texan accent. She didn’t shout, but she sounded like she meant business.

I had noticed that the woman was holding both her hands low down so that they couldn’t be seen through the car window. She could easily have a gun.

‘Come on.’ she said to Gretzky. ‘Move!’ The woman sounded nervous and I hoped that Gretzky would do what he was told.

There was a moment when nothing seemed to happen; it hung in the air for what felt like hours. I looked at Gretzky out of the corner of my eye and hoped that he would start the car. Finally, Gretzky started the engine and steered the Buick slowly out of the gas station. ‘Where am I going?’ he said, his voice hardly more than a whisper.

‘Towards Huntsville.’

Gretzky got back on US-190 and we headed towards Huntsville again. I glanced at Gretzky. His round face, usually pink, had gone a greyish white.

I was still trying to figure out why the woman was so familiar to me. I closed my eyes and tried to remember her face, which I’d seen so briefly. I thought about her short brown hair and almost boyish build. Suddenly I had a flash of a news program I’d seen a few months ago, before I’d even started working at the Gazette. The program was about the Judge Baker murder and they’d shown an old college photo of Kathy Baker, his daughter. But that was practically the last anyone had seen of her. Could the woman with the gun sitting in the back seat of the Buick be Kathy Baker?

In a few moments I had my answer.

‘I read your article, Miss Thomas,’ said the woman, ‘the one about Pearson.’

There was a brief silence.

‘It was garbage,’ she said.

‘I, er…’

‘Gary Pearson didn’t kill my father,’ said Kathy Baker, clearly and firmly, ‘and I’m sure that Pearson told you that.’

‘But they always tell us that!’ said Gretzky.

‘Shut up, Gretzky,’ said the woman. ‘There’s a lot to say and do, and we haven’t got much time. Turn the radio up, Miss Thomas. That’s the news.’

Well, Kathy Baker certainly knew who we were. I turned the car radio up, just in time to hear the news. It was five o’clock. An hour to go before the execution.

‘In exactly one hour’s time,’ said the newsreader, ‘Gary Pearson will be executed for the murder of Judge William A. Baker…’

‘Garbage!’ said Kathy Baker.

‘So Pearson didn’t kill your father?’ I asked her.

‘Of course he didn’t!’ the judge’s daughter answered.

‘How do I know that?’ she shouted. ‘Because, Miss Thomas, I killed him!’

I didn’t say anything but I heard Gretzky breathing fast.

‘Oh, I know what you’re thinking,’ she said. ‘You think I’m crazy! Oh no, I’m not crazy. Shhh! Listen!’

‘The dead judge’s son, John Baker,’ the voice on the radio went on, ‘spoke this morning to HBC Radio.’

Then came John Baker’s voice, clear and firm: ‘This is the day we’ve all been waiting for,’ he said, ‘the day when the man who killed my father finally gets what he deserves.’

‘Ah,’ said Kathy Baker, ‘my brother is always so convincing!’

The next news item came on and I turned the radio off.

‘You killed him?’ I turned to Kathy Baker.

‘Listen carefully, Miss Thomas,’ said Kathy Baker, ‘because God knows what’s going to happen, and I want you to be able to tell my story.’

We were just two kilometers from the Huntsville Unit, the place where the execution would take place.

‘Go ahead,’ I said.

‘Well,’ she began, ‘the truth is that my father was a terrible man, a bully. He used to shout and hit my mother and me every day. His bullying frightened us so much that we did whatever he wanted. It’s the same old story. Everyone thought he was wonderful, a good judge and “the heart and soul of the community.” And to the outside world he looked like that. But the fact is that he was a dreadful man. He killed my mother with his bullying, just the same as if he had taken a gun and shot her.’ Kathy Baker’s voice got soft and it sounded like she was going to

cry. ‘I watched it happen,’ she went on. ‘He bullied both of us every single day. I hated him!’

‘And your brother…What about John?’

‘Ah, my dear brother!’ said Kathy. ‘My brother saw it all, but my father never bullied him in the same way. John loved my father very much and made excuses for everything he did. John’s story is that my mother and I asked for it, that somehow it wasn’t his fault.’

I looked at Gretzky’s grey face staring straight ahead at the road.

Kathy Baker sighed deeply and continued her story. ‘My father kept guns,’ she said, ‘like most folk around here. He kept them in his study. Oh, I knew where they were; I’d known all my life.’ Kathy Baker spoke fast; she was eager to tell her story, as if no one had ever listened before. ‘He had some valuable things in his study too, some paintings and such.’

‘I was nineteen years old, in my first year at college,’ she went on, ‘That evening - it was a Friday - my father was in his study, drinking as usual. He drank whiskey, and by nine o’clock he was always drunk. At about eleven thirty I went to bed, leaving my father asleep with his head on the desk in his study. He was dead drunk and I couldn’t move him. So I left him there, asleep, and turned the lights out. It wasn’t the first time I’d left him like that.’

‘I went upstairs to bed,’ she continued. ‘I fell asleep very quickly and was woken up about two hours later by my father shouting. He was still in his study on the ground floor. Someone had got in through one of the small windows that he’d left open. The burglar had started looking for things to take and walked into my father. My father woke up and started shouting and swearing at the top of his voice.’

‘So you went down?’

She nodded. ‘I ran downstairs, to see the burglar running down the street with some of my father’s things under his arm.’

There was a brief pause in her story as she remembered that scene so long ago.

‘My father turned on me,’ Kathy said. ‘He started hitting me and shouting, swearing, blaming me for leaving the window open. It was really terrible. My father was a very big man.’

I remembered seeing photographs of the judge on the TV program where I’d first seen the picture of Kathy. He really was very tall and well-built and Kathy Baker was small and slim.

‘Then, in his drunken state, he tried to… you know… just like he used to with my mother. I fought him off and he hit me.’

Kathy Baker paused again.

‘He hit me so hard,’ she went on, ‘that I fell against the cupboard where the guns were. I knew which guns had bullets in. I took one of them out of the cupboard and pointed it at him. I didn’t really mean to shoot him, but he just kept coming towards me. He was drunk and smelled of liquor. I thought about my mother and all the times he’d left her bruised and crying. Then I thought about myself. I shot him twice through the head.’

Kathy Baker took a deep breath. I looked at Gretzky but he was just staring ahead at the road, his large, round face now dripping with sweat.

‘And no one heard the shot?’ I asked.

‘No,’ said the young woman. ‘Our house was well away from any other houses. Anything could happen there, and no one would ever know.’

Yes, I thought, that was how Judge Baker had managed to abuse his wife and family for so long.

‘I was very upset, hysterical,’ she went on. ‘I called my brother and told him the whole story, told him what had happened.’

And…?’

‘I told him about the burglar,’ Kathy Baker explained, ‘and how my father had turned on me. When John heard about the burglar, that he was a black kid, he just said, “Don’t worry, Kathy. There’s a way of working this out.” ‘

‘He made up a story?’ I asked.

‘Just like that,’ she answered. ‘The story was that my father had disturbed the black kid and that the kid had shot him. Pearson was picked up later that night with stuff from the house, and he was charged with murder.’

‘But the gun…?’ I asked.

‘John fixed it all,’ she said. ‘Wiped my fingerprints off the handle and somehow managed to get Pearson’s on there. My brother is a very powerful man, with powerful friends. Everybody believed it.’

And what about you?’ I asked.

Kathy Baker sighed deeply. ‘This is the worst part. I… I agreed to it, Miss Thomas,’ she said. ‘Oh, at first I wanted to tell the truth. After all, it was self-defence. But my brother said that they’d never believe me, that I’d go to prison; in this state they might even execute me. After all, my father was respected in the community. My brother is a persuasive and powerful man. I was a kid; I was scared to death! I’ve been scared to death all these years.’

‘So your brother sent you to Europe?’ I asked.

‘He said it was for the best,’ said Kathy, ‘and I believed him.’

‘And so Gary Pearson is losing his life…’

‘… for something he never did.’ Kathy Baker finished my sentence and added, ‘And it’s only now that I’ve got the courage to come forward.’

It certainly was late, I thought, perhaps too late. I looked out of the window and saw a sign for the Huntsville Unit. I looked ahead and saw the low building ahead of us beside the road. We didn’t have much time.

‘How did you find us?’

‘Well, I had your names,’ she said, ‘and I saw Gretzky on TV, talking about all the executions he’s been to. I knew which newspaper you worked for and I found out which car you drove. I knew you’d be going to the execution, so I just waited…’

‘But what if we hadn’t stopped here?’

‘It was a chance I had to take,’ she said. ‘But it’s the only gas station on this road. Otherwise, I don’t know… I guess I would have stood on the road and waved you down.’

Suddenly Gretzky slowed down. We were at the Unit; in front of us there were police officers and cars. Behind them I could see John Baker, a look of surprise on his face as he saw his sister.

Kathy Baker got out of the back of the car. I looked at her, expecting to see a gun, but she didn’t have one. She ran up to the police officers and said, ‘I would like to say that

Gary Pearson did not kill my father, Judge William A. Baker. He is innocent. I killed my father.

‘And he knows it!’ she added, pointing at her brother.

‘She’s telling the truth!’ I shouted. As soon as I’d said it, I knew I was right: she was telling the truth. The policemen just stared at me.

‘She’s telling the truth,’ I said again. I felt like I was talking in a dream, one of those dreams where you’re trying to speak, but no one can hear you. ‘Gretzky, tell them!’

Gretzky held up his hands and said, ‘Well now, kid, come on… How can you be sure telling the truth?’

‘Gretzky!’ I screamed, but he just looked at me. I turned away from him in disgust. Up until then I’d thought he was lazy but harmless. Now I knew that he was the kind of self-satisfied man who turns away from injustice because it is just too uncomfortable to do anything about it.

I ran towards John Baker. ‘You’ve got to stop this execution,’ I said, trying to keep my voice calm.

Baker looked at me and said, ‘My sister is obviously very ill.’ His face was expressionless. He turned towards one of the police officers and said, ‘Perhaps you should take her away.’ They took Kathy Baker away in a car, struggling and shouting.

‘Where’s Pearson’s lawyer?’ I shouted at no one in particular. ‘I demand to see Pearson’s lawyer!’

‘It’s too late for that, ma’am,’ said one of the police officers. ‘The execution’s about to happen, and everyone has to go in.’

John Baker walked towards the building where the execution would take place. I ran after him, shouting desperately, ‘Too late! How can it be too late? This is a man’s life!’

I was running, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. It was like one of those dreams where you can’t move. Like you’re running through mud. I ran past the police officers and managed to get through the door. But I didn’t get far. After just a few meters I felt two officers holding me by the arms. They pulled me back and took me outside again.

I remembered what Pearson had said when I saw him: ‘Believe me, ma’am, they’re gonna kill me for this. It don’t matter what the truth is.’

Gretzky and everyone else turned to go into the place of execution. The door closed. There was no one left. All I could do was cry into the warm air of a Texan summer evening as they executed Gary Pearson.

I carried on running. I ran as long and as hard as I could. I ran away from the place where they could execute a man for something he hadn’t done. I ran from the place where they could execute men at all.

I ran from the place where I would become the kind of journalist I hated, the kind that could no longer recognise the truth. Where I would become like Gretzky, weak and lazy. Where I would become the kind of person who lets injustice happen because they don’t speak out.

I ran all the way back to Seattle. I had no money and no chance of getting the kind of job I wanted, but at least I could live with myself. I got a job waiting on tables in a diner so I didn’t have to take money from my mother. At last I found a little newspaper where the editor would let me write my story, let me tell my truth.

I wrote my article and told the story of how Gary Pearson was a kid of seventeen from the poor side of town who burgled rich houses. Of how they tried him for a murder he never committed. I wrote the story of the judge who everyone thought was a respectable man in the community but who was a bully and a drunk. I wrote the story of the daughter he had abused, who had killed him out of self-defence and was then too scared to tell what really happened and the story of how Kathy Baker had finally tried to tell the truth, but wasn’t allowed to.

I wrote the story of how power can do anything, even execute an innocent man.

I wrote the facts. Just the facts.

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