As he was driven to Angola, Cory Wilde prayed his torment was just a dream. But the murder was real, and so was his sentence: twenty-nine years working the sugar cane fields in one of the nation’s cruelest prisons. When he is finally released, he is an old man, drained of every drop of life that once made him such a terror, but his name still has the power to make the people sweat in Troy, Louisiana.
At first Pete Brady, the new owner of the town’s weekly newspaper, doesn’t understand why his readers are so afraid of this broken old man. The original case against Wilde, whose life was spared despite the fact that he committed a capital crime, raises questions Brady cannot answer. Chasing this story could mean a lynch mob whose sights are set not just on the old man, but on Brady himself.
About the Author
Malcolm Shuman is an American author and archaeologist from Louisiana. After serving in the US Army, Shuman pursued doctoral studies in the field of cultural anthropology. He has been on the faculty of universities including Texas A&I and Louisiana State, and continues to work as a contract archaeologist. Shuman has also published fifteen mystery novels under various pseudonyms. He lives with his wife in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Read an Excerpt
A Pete Brady Mystery
By Malcolm Shuman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 M. S. Karl
All rights reserved.
Peter Brady did not go fishing with murder in mind. He'd had enough of murder in the past few years, first as ace crime reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and then, during the last year, as editor of the Troy Parish Weekly Express, when his hope for a tranquil life in the pinewoods of north Louisiana had been shattered by the killing of a prominent citizen. He'd been lucky. He'd managed not only to solve the crime but had come to terms with himself. Now, reeling in slowly from his position in the bow of Emmett's skiff, the only murder he contemplated was that of a particularly wily bass over by the shoreline, one who had already cost him an expensive lure by dragging it under a fallen log.
Emmett Larson, in the stern, popped the top of a beer can, watching the younger man's bait come up out of the water.
"He's playing with you. Might as well give up today," he commented.
Brady stowed his rod under the seat of the boat. He saw the old editor lift the beer to his lips, and then he relaxed. How long had it taken before he could watch someone else drink without feeling pangs of envy? Well, that was behind him now. He raised his own can of ginger ale and sipped. Actually, it had gotten to where it tasted pretty good.
Emmett lifted the stringer and eyed the mess of bass approvingly. "Not bad, if I do say so." He hoisted the fish into the boat and began to secure his line.
Brady looked over at the fallen log. The bass was like some of his news sources, he reflected: a lot of courting, a lot of back and forth.... Well, by God, he'd managed to bring most of them in and he'd get the bass, too.
"Kelly coming in tonight?" Emmett asked suddenly, pretending to fiddle with his tackle.
"I think so," Brady said, trying not to sound too enthusiastic. He still had trouble accepting the idea that Emmett approved of his relationship with the older man's daughter.
"Girl's got no business on those roads at night," Emmett grumbled. "Three hours to get here from Baton Rouge and every drunk in the state's on those highways on Saturday night."
"She said she had some last-minute work to finish up," Brady explained. "Something about a term project."
"And that's another thing," Emmett declared. "I thought you two were going to get married, she was going to help you get the Express back on its feet. But inside of six months, she runs off to Baton Rouge to get a master's degree in journalism at LSU. What kind of sense does that make?"
Brady sighed. He had to admit he had not been entirely in favor of Kelly's decision. "She did help, Emmett. But she felt as if she could contribute more if she got her degree," he said lamely.
Emmett snorted. "People down there at that school don't know how to run a newspaper. All they do is teach. And this commuting on weekends." He squinted. "I guess she's going to stay at your place?"
Brady swallowed. "Well ..."
"It's okay. Not my business. Nobody else's, either. Even in Troy, things've changed in the last ten years." He shook his head again. "But I want you to talk sense to her, all right?"
Brady nodded. How could he explain about Kelly's innate independence? About the need to sort things out after she'd returned from the north and a failed marriage last year and things between them had moved so swiftly? "I'll do what I can," he mumbled.
Emmett grunted and started the motor. He guided them through a maze of cypress stumps to the mud landing and together they hauled the aluminum boat up onto the shore and hoisted it onto Emmett's trailer.
The two men got into the battered pickup and Emmett started them forward over the rough dirt road to the highway. It was late afternoon and the June shadows had already begun to lengthen, and the first mosquitoes were venturing out from the fetid puddles beside the trail.
Emmett drove without speaking and Brady lapsed into his own reverie, excited at the thought that even now Kelly was probably on her way. He closed his eyes and did not open them again until the squeal of the brakes and Emmett's oath slammed him awake and he realized they were back in Troy.
It was the same Troy—narrow, little streets, train track through the center of town, new courthouse slumbering in the golden evening, and yet something, indefinably, had changed.
He looked from Emmett, frozen behind the wheel, to the people on the sidewalk and then back to Emmett again.
"Emmett, what's wrong? What happened?"
The old editor licked his lips and then eased his foot up off the brakes, a glassy look in his eyes. Brady glanced back through the outside mirror; a couple of people on the sidewalk were staring, not at the truck but at something on the courthouse lawn. However, when Brady looked, all he saw was an old man sitting on a bench in the sun.
The truck turned the corner and two blocks later pulled up in front of the wooden frame house where Emmett lived.
"Emmett ..." Brady began, but the other shook his head, as if to discourage a fly. Then he slowly opened the door, got out, and walked around to the boat. He found his ice chest, reached inside, and took out a beer.
"Holy Christ," he muttered. "It's true. I never thought it would happen, but it did." He swallowed half the can in one gulp and wiped his mouth with his arm.
"What are you talking about?" Brady demanded. "What's going on?"
Emmett downed the rest of the can and crumpled it in his fingers. "Back there," he growled. "In front of the courthouse, big as life."
Brady waited and Emmett shook his head again. "After nearly thirty years, they let him go. He's back. Cory Wilde is back!"
Brady sat alone in his living room, a Pete Fountain record on the turntable. In a few minutes, he would put the bass in to bake and after that, he would toss the salad. But the anticipation of Kelly's imminent arrival had been dulled by Emmett's strange reaction. The older man had refused his offer to help unload the boat and had gone inside with hardly another word, leaving Brady to drive home with the stringer of fish. Brady had cleaned the bass at once, using the time to try to make sense of Emmett's reaction.
Cory Wilde. Where had he heard that name? Of course. Cory Wilde was the man against whom the town had signed a petition; the convict who was appearing before the parole board. He had killed someone in Troy almost thirty years before and had been in Angola ever since. Weeks ago, when his name had been proposed for release, Judge Honeycutt had gathered signatures to send to Baton Rouge, and Sheriff Matt Garitty had gone to the parole hearing to present the town's views. Unexpectedly, the parole had been granted, and Brady had run a short item about it in the last issue of the Express; but, whatever the resentment felt by the townspeople, no one had ever expected to see him back here. Yet, whatever had happened had happened nearly three decades ago. Cory Wilde must be an old man now. Why should he strike such fear into Emmett Larson, and cause gaping among the people in the street? Well, there might be a human-interest angle there somewhere, and, since the murder was almost thirty years in the past, there was no danger of getting involved in a current investigation, which was something Brady had forsworn after Kelly had nearly lost her life last year and half the town had quit speaking to him for exposing a particularly loved member of the community as a murderer.
His thoughts were interrupted by the harsh sound of the telephone and he roused himself to answer it.
"Brady?" It was Kelly's voice, and he went on immediate alert.
"Kelly, are you all right? Where are you?"
"I'm fine, silly. But I'm still in Baton Rouge. I wanted to tell you I can't get away."
"Oh." He felt all the excitement leak out of him like air from a punctured balloon. "You mean you won't be coming."
"I can't. I have this damned thing due Monday. And I still have twenty pages to go. Please don't hate me."
"No, of course not." Inwardly, he cursed the summer session with its rigid schedules and demands. A hundred and sixty miles. It might as well be the moon!
"Brady, are you all right?"
He cleared his throat. "Yeah. Sure. You do your project and finish things up. Maybe I can run down next weekend."
"That would be great. I'm meeting some super people. There's a Jeff Baxley, who teaches one of my classes. He says he knows you."
"Baxley? Sure." A picture of Baxley's perfectly coiffured blond hair and sky-blue eyes came to mind and Brady bit his tongue to keep from saying anything. The bastard probably worked out with weights. He started to tell her that her professor had been bounced from the Shreveport Times before an undiscriminating faculty had picked him up, but he decided against it. "Good old Baxley," he said.
"Is anything happening in Ye Old Towne?" Kelly asked light heartedly. "Pop's fine?"
"Yeah. Everybody's just fine." He hesitated and then took the plunge: "By the way, you ever heard of a man named Cory Wilde?"
There was a momentary hesitation. "Cory Wilde, Cory Wilde. Where have I heard that name?"
"How about parole, as in parole board?"
"Oh, sure. Now I remember. Dad mentioned him, I think. It was a famous murder case. Before I was born."
"But not before I was," Brady muttered sardonically.
"So what about him?" Kelly asked.
"Nothing, except he's back."
"Back? You mean in Troy?"
"That's right. And a lot of people seem pretty surprised."
"Sure. Dad said he was a pretty bad character. But he must be old by now."
"Not too old to stop cars."
"Well, Brady, it sounds like a story to me."
"I was afraid you'd say that." He shifted the phone from one shoulder to the other. "Look, do me a favor, as long as you're going to be spending all that time down there. Check with the local paper and the parole board and see if you can find out why they went against the locals and let Cory Wilde out. And then find why in the hell they'd allow him to come back to the place where the crime was committed. That's just about unheard of."
"Done. Anything else?"
"Yeah. Finish that damned project and get back up here. That's a message from your father, but it comes from me, too."
"You aren't jealous again, are you?"
"No, it's a little more biological than that."
"I know," she purred. "Me, too. Well, hold off. It'll be all the better."
When he'd hung up the phone, he wandered into the kitchen and then realized he was no longer hungry. He put the fish into the freezer and went back to the living room. For once, jazz music did nothing for him. He needed an outlet for the energy he'd stored up waiting for Kelly. With a sigh, he turned off the stereo, locked his door, and walked up the street to the newspaper office.
It took him half an hour of rummaging through the dusty files that served as the newspaper morgue, but finally he found it. And as he read it, his stomach turned.
How the hell could they ever have released Cory Wilde?CHAPTER 2
Local Girl Vanishes, screamed the headline. For the third time, Brady ran his eyes over the front-page story for June 4, 1959.
The facts seemed simple enough: On Saturday, May 30, at seven-thirty P.M., fifteen-year-old Alice Ann Potter had been picked up at her home by her girlfriend and two boys. The foursome had been seen at the Dairy Queen by a number of other teenagers and everything seemed normal. After a soda, they and several other carloads of young people had headed for the drive-in theater on Highway 84. At some point in the double feature, Alice Ann had gotten into an argument with her date, a sixteen-year-old named Bosley Cox, over comments he made about the rock idol starring in the movie. Alice Ann had left the car, slamming the door loudly enough to attract the attention of the occupants of the vehicle beside them. The ticket salesman had seen her walk out the gate. Since it was less than half a mile to the center of town and she seemed in possession of her faculties, he thought little of it. Somewhere on that half-mile stretch, however, Alice Ann Potter had disappeared.
A full-scale search had been mounted, using inmates from the parish prison to comb the ditches and the byways, and Sheriff Thomas had sent fliers to the neighboring parishes. The Cox boy had been questioned several times, but since he could account for his whereabouts for the rest of the night and over the next day, he was released.
Brady sighed and put aside the brittle newspaper, already knowing what he would find in the next issue.
GIRL FOUND MURDERED, read the banner. Once more, the facts seemed straightforward. An anonymous phone call had directed the searchers toward a small parcel of private land adjoining the national forest. Bloodhounds had been brought in and within two hours, the girl's body had been found in a shallow grave. A medical examination showed she had been raped and strangled. Local authorities would say nothing more at this point than that they were pursuing certain leads, but a side-bar editorial by Emmett Larson deplored the crime and hinted that the local authorities had someone in mind.
It was the following week's issue that announced the arrest of Cory Wilde.
ARREST IN MURDER, the headlines cried. This time, Brady read the story word for word, to be sure he missed nothing:
Parish authorities yesterday announced the arrest of Cory Wilde, a resident of Ward Five, for the murder of Alice Ann Potter. Wilde, thirty-one, was arrested by Sheriff Alva Thomas on a warrant issued by Judge Troy on the basis of an eyewitness report. Wilde was taken to the parish prison under heavy guard. This newspaper has learned that Wilde's wife was out of town visiting relatives in Winn Parish the night the crime allegedly occurred. Readers will remember that it was on Wilde's land that the body was discovered last week. It is to be hoped that with this arrest, this terrible tragedy can be put to rest.
Brady stuck the yellowed pages back in the folder, reflecting on Emmett's tendency to editorialize. It was common practice on small-town weeklies, and he wondered whether perhaps he didn't bore people with his own spare, big-city style.
He replaced the folders in the file, started to close the drawer, and then stopped. Something was bothering him and all at once he realized what it was: It was not so much the fact that Cory Wilde was free and in Troy, but that he was still alive. In 1959, the criminal code had mandated the death penalty not only for first-degree murder but also for aggravated rape. Curious, Brady pulled open the next file drawer and skimmed through the folders until he saw a headline on the case: WILDE CONVICTED.
He withdrew the issue and moved from the dim morgue back to his desk in the big room that served as the main office.
A local jury convicted Cory Wilde of second-degree murder in the death of fifteen-year-old Alice Ann Potter. Wilde will be sentenced on August 24.
And that, surprisingly, was all. Then Brady's eyes touched the side-bar editorial and he saw that Emmett Larson had had a great deal more to say.
SAD MISCARRIAGE, the bold print pronounced, and underneath, an angry Emmett had demonstrated the acerbic style that had left the newspaper almost readerless by the time Brady had bought him out.
A learned jury of gallipots and embalmers, led by a specialist in the tonsorial art, and confused by an inept and incompetent prosecutor, have given a clear message to evildoers in Troy Parish. And the message is this: The life of a young girl is not worth the life of an adult, even when the young girl has suffered the cruelest barbarities imaginable by the mind of demented men. The last person to be executed in this parish was Cornelius Green, a Negro who had raped a white woman, and yet even Cornelius Green, in his perverted cruelty, saw fit to allow his victim to live. It can only be hoped that at the next election, voters will remember District Attorney Honeycutt's pusilanimous presentation of this case and will replace him with someone not afraid to exact society's full measure of retribution on the lawless.
Excerpted from Death Notice by Malcolm Shuman. Copyright © 1990 M. S. Karl. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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