Saturday Sampler: Confessions from the Road
October 13, 2018
At one time in my life, their stories all came my way, and I wrote down their confessions from the road.
I grew up in a world occupied by storytellers. Their stories were better than books. Their stories became books. After all, life is just one story piled on top of another with page numbers.
In those days, storytellers did not know they were telling stories. They were simply carrying on a conversation. I never outgrew their stories. Nor did I ever stop listening to conversations that hopscotched their way along the side of a wayward road.
The voices stay with me. So do the stories they told me.
The voices may come from down the road a piece, at the counter of a diner, on the bar stool in a beer joint, sitting in the front yard of a mountain cabin, along a stretch of spun-sugar sand, back in the darkness of a pine thicket, amidst the downtown traffic jam of a city at sundown, or from the faint memories of a distant past.
Everyone who crosses my path has a story to tell. It may be personal. It may be something that happened last week or the year before. It may have been handed down for more than a single generation. It may even be true, but who knows anymore?
For decades I’ve collected the stories I hear and can’t forget those whose names are often long forgotten. But at one time in my life, they came my way, and I wrote down their confessions from the road.
Sampler: Sins of the Father
HE WAS OLD and grizzled, but not nearly as old and grizzled as he looked in the courtroom.
He wore rumpled suits. His shirt was frayed. His tie was almost always out of style and out of date.
And he hated losing. Lord, he hated to lose.
Mister Rayford was what they called him, and they always called him if they were in trouble, and if they were in trouble, Mister Rayford was the man they wanted by their side when the law was against them. He had, some said, the wisest legal mind in fourteen counties. Never named the counties. Didn’t have to.
Mister Rayford never handled divorces.
Didn’t like divorces.
Thought a man and woman should stay married and endure the consequences if they were foolish enough to get married in the first place.
But if one killed the other, Mister Rayford was the man who would stand and argue for their lives.
He kept most of them free and on the streets.
Didn’t care if they were innocent.
Didn’t care if they were guilty.
The fee I charge them, he always said, is punishment enough.
His son followed Mister Rayford footsteps, and they led him to law school and then to the courtroom.
Practiced in Dallas. Did well. Earned a pretty good reputation.
Called his daddy with the news.
“I’m coming home,” he said.
“Why?” Mister Rayford asked.
“I want to practice law in the same town you do.”
“Can’t afford a partner,” Mister Rayford said.
“Don’t want to be your partner.”
“This town’s not big enough for another good defense attorney,” Mister Rayford said.
“Don’t plan to defend anyone,” the young man said.
Silence. Mister Rayford was puzzled.
“I want to prosecute,” the young man said. “I’m going to work for the district attorney.”
More silence. Mister Rayford sadly shook his head.
“Don’t do that, son,” he said.
“You and I will have to face each other in court.”
“We’ll both enjoy it,” the young man said. “Old school against New School.”
Mister Rayford heard a chuckle. It turned into laughter.
“The whole town will get a kick out of it,” the young man said.
“Don’t do it,” Mister Rayford said again. His voice was soft. “For your sake and for my sake, don’t do it.”
“Too late,” the young man said. “I’ve already accepted the job.”
A month passed. That’s all. And the inevitable happened.
Mister Rayford sat in the courtroom across from his son.
The boy looked dapper.
And he had every loose end in the case neatly tied up.
He had done his homework.
The facts were on his side.
The young man couldn’t lose.
He presented his case, clearly and concisely.
Mister Rayford slumped in the chair. Every word from the prosecutor hammered another nail in his client’s coffin.
Mister Rayford did not present any witnesses.
He did not offer any evidence that might acquit his client.
He had none.
There were no character witnesses.
His client had no redeeming qualities.
Mister Rayford was proud of the job his son had done. He loved his son dearly.
But he hated losing.
Lord, he hated losing.
Mister Rayford stood and walked slowly toward the jurors. He knew them all. Hard workers. Farmers. Truck drivers. Teachers. They were his friends. He could not let them down. It was not a good year when he lost a case.
He said, “I hope you listened to every word my son told you. He is eloquent. He makes a fine speech. He makes a fine lawyer.”
Mister Rayford paused. He jammed both hands into his pants pockets and leaned against the rail, his back to the jurors as though he was afraid to face them.
“But let me tell you one thing,” Mister Rayford continued. “I’ve studied the case thoroughly, and I know one fact for sure, and it’s the one fact you need to know, too. My son was lying to you. Every word he spoke, though eloquent he was, was a bald-faced lie.”
Mister Rayford turned to face the jury. His voice bristled.
“I was there when that boy was born,” he said. “I watched him grow up. I heard the first words to ever come out of his mouth. The boy was lying then, and he’s lying still. The boy just can’t help himself.”
Mister Rayford sat down and looked as though he might cry.
By mid-afternoon, his client was a free man and on the streets.
By quitting time, his son had resigned.
By nightfall, the young man was driving back to Dallas.
Mister Rayford grinned over a chicken fried steak and bowl of turnip greens.
That’s where the boy belonged anyway, he knew. The boy was a damn good lawyer.
But he would never learn to lie as well as his daddy did.
Please click HERE to find Confessions from the Road on Amazon.