Down River(78) by John Hart

“You locked me up for murder. You locked Dolf up for murder. Hard to keep that from being personal.”

“Then you can leave right now. I don’t owe you anything.”

I tried to calm down. I told myself that I came here for a reason.

The judge’s face had gone dark red. A chair creaked in the other room. I leaned back, breathed in, breathed out, and he smiled in a way that made me queasy. “That’s good,” he said. “That’s better. I knew that somewhere there was a Chase that could be reasonable.” He smoothed his polished, white hands across the desk. “If you could just talk your father into being equally reasonable.”

“You want him to sell?”

“I want him to consider the well-being of this county.”

“That’s why you went to see him?”

He leaned forward and cupped his hands as if he were holding some great jewel. “There is opportunity here. Opportunity for you, for me. If you could just talk to him.…”

“He knows his own mind.”

“But you are his son. He’ll listen to you.”

“That’s why you agreed to see me? So I could talk to my father?”

His face closed down, smile gone. “Somebody needs to make him see reason.”

“Reason,” I said.

“That’s right.” He tried another smile, but it failed. “Things have gone from bad to worse for your family. Seems to me that this is the perfect opportunity to steer your family in a better direction. Make some money. Help the community…”

But I didn’t hear all that. My mind was stuck. “Bad to worse…” I repeated the phrase.


“What do you mean?”

He opened his hands, lifted the right one, palm up. “Bad,” he said, then lifted the left hand. “Worse.”

I pointed at the right hand, knew that he could read the tight anger in my voice. Knew that he enjoyed it. “Start with the bad,” I said.

“I’ll start with the worse.” He jiggled that hand. “Another loved one in jail for murder. People getting killed and hurt on the property. An angry town—”

“Not everybody feels that way,” I interrupted.

He tilted his head, continued in a louder voice. “Risky business decisions.”

“What risky business decisions?”

His mouth twitched at one corner. “Your father’s in debt. I’m not sure that he can pay.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“It’s a small town, Adam. I know a lot of people.”

“And the bad?” I asked.

He lowered his hands, took on a pained expression that I knew was false. “Do I really need to explain it?”

I bit down, hard.

“Your mother was a beautiful woman.…”

He was twisting the knife for his own satisfaction. I saw that and refused to participate. I came to my feet, raised a finger, then turned and walked away. He followed me into the antechamber. I felt him behind me as I passed his secretary’s desk. “Bad to worse,” he said, and I turned to face him. I don’t know what his secretary saw on my face, but she was dialing as I closed the door behind me.


My father was drunk. He was alone in the house and he was hammered. It took about three seconds for me to figure that out, mainly because I’d never seen it before. His religion was work to excess and all other things in moderation, so that in the past, when I’d come home drunk and bloody, his disappointment shone out like holy fire. This thing that I saw now… it was new and it was ugly. His face was loose and drawn, eyes gone wet. He filled the chair like he’d been poured into it. The bottle was open and close to empty, the glass down to half a finger. He stared at something in his hand, and strange emotions moved in him so that his features seemed to flow across the bones of his face. Anger, regret, remembered joy. It was all there in staccato bursts, and it made him look like a soul unhinged. I stood in the door for a long time, and I don’t think he blinked once. Were I to close my eyes, I would see the color gray touched with small, cold yellow. An old man in a fractured slice of time. I had no idea what to say to him.

“Kill any dogs this morning?”

He cleared his throat and his eyes came up. He opened the desk’s drawer and slipped whatever he’d been holding inside. Then he closed the drawer with something like care and shook his head. “Let me tell you something about scavengers, son. Only a matter of time before they find a streak of bold.”