Walden smiled. “It could have been any one of thousands of people I know. There isn’t a person I’ve defended who isn’t capable of climbing into a window and trying to kill a pretty girl. You just have to tell me a time and a place, and I can match a murder with it.”
Samantha opened her mouth to speak, but Mike beat her to it.
“February 1975, Louisville, Kentucky,” Mike shot out, but he didn’t turn to look at Samantha who was glaring at him. That was the time and place when her mother had died.
“I’d like to go now, Mike,” she said softly, but Mike kept looking at Walden and didn’t move from his chair.
After looking from one to the other of them, Walden punched a button on his phone and told his secretary that he wanted anything she had for the date and place Mike had given him. “She has everything on computer so it should take only a minute,” he said into the silence that had developed after Mike asked his question.
For five long minutes he sat back in his chair and looked at the two of them, trying to figure out what was going on besides the writing of a biography. He wondered if they knew the full extent of what a nasty creature Doc was, or if they thought he was a sweet old man merely because he had defied the devil long enough to reach the age of ninety-something.
When his secretary placed a single fat file folder on his desk, Walden leaned forward.
“Ah, I remember this creep well. He went to the gas chamber about ten years ago and never was there a more deserving occupant. I defended him, but I was glad to know that there was no way I could win the case. On the night before he was executed, he asked me to come to his cell so he could tell me all about his life. I’d like to tell you that he was remorseful, but he said he wanted me to write everything down so he could be put on TV or in the movies like Al Capone was.”
Walden flipped through the pages of notes. “I wasn’t going to tell him that I’d die before I made him into a folk hero, but I recorded everything he said in case I later had someone accused of something he’d done.”
Running his finger down the pages he said, “1975. Ah, here it is. My, my, but he was busy that year. Four, no five killed by him, all of them gang members. No, wait, here’s one.”
Glancing up at Mike, he said, “Louisville, Kentucky. February.” He looked back down at the pages. “Nasty, nasty, this one. Good lord! I had forgotten about this. He was looking for Half Hand’s money. I think someone hired him but he wouldn’t say if he was hired or on his own. I think he wanted me to think he was smart enough to kill people without someone else telling him who, what, and where.”
“What did he do?” Mike asked quietly
“He killed a woman. He said he had a tip that someone in her family knew about Half Hand’s money, so he went to Louisville, kidnapped the woman, and tortured her a while to get her to talk. Let’s see…He held her against a hot radiator, but when he realized that she didn’t know anything, he took her out and ran her over with his car. He bragged about how the woman begged him not to hurt her little girl, so after he killed her he stayed in town a few weeks and talked to the kid and asked lots of questions to see if she or her father knew anything. He decided they didn’t, so he left town.”
H.H. looked up at the two of them. A moment before they had been healthy-looking and pink fleshed, but now they appeared pale and sickly. The man reached out and took the woman’s hand where it was gripping the chair arm, and it was then that H.H. realized that the tortured woman was probably this young woman’s mother.
“I…I…” he began, and H. H. Walden, the man who was never at a loss for words, could think of nothing to say.
Mike stood up. “Mr. Walden, thank you so much for your help. I think we’ll leave now.”
“Look, I’m sorry I told you that story. I didn’t mean…” There was nothing else he could say as he watched the two of them leave his office.
“Are you all right?” Mike asked when they were on the street.
/> Samantha nodded. “Fine. Really, Mike, I’m fine, but I think I’d like to take a little walk now. By myself. So I’ll see you later.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.” When he continued looking at her anxiously, she gave him a reassuring little smile and put her hand on his arm. “Mike, it happened a long, long time ago. I’ve had many years to get over my mother’s death, and it really doesn’t matter how she died. Dead is dead, whether it was an accident or murder. I’d just like to be alone now. Maybe I’ll go to a church for a while.” With a little squeeze on his arm and another little smile, she turned away.
Mike caught her arm and spun her around. She was a good actress, he had to admit that, and if he hadn’t known what she’d just found out, he’d never have known she was suffering. But he was beginning to know Samantha, know her well. Most of her life had been spent keeping grief and despair to herself, sharing it with no one. “You’re going with me.”
“No, I…” She tried to get away from him, but he caught her arm and held her to him.
Curling his bottom lip around his teeth, he gave a piercing whistle that made a cab come screeching to a halt. Mike opened the car door and pushed Sam inside. When she tried to speak to him, he told her to be quiet. As they neared the house, he took her chin in his hand and turned her face to the light to look at her. Her skin was pale and clammy to the touch; her breath was uneven.
When the cab stopped, Mike paid and got out, pulling Sam behind him as he ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time, half carrying her when she couldn’t keep up with him. Shoving the key into the lock, he flung the front door open and once inside, he ran with her toward the bathroom.
He barely made it before Sam began vomiting into the toilet. With one big hand on her forehead, the other arm wrapped around her ribcage, he held her while she heaved and heaved and heaved, her stomach convulsing, jerking in its attempt to bring up more. When there was no more, when she was hanging over the bowl with her stomach moving in spasms, he went to the sink and soaked a washcloth in cold water, then pressed it to her forehead as he flushed the toilet and put the lid down.
He had to help her off the floor to sit down. “I’m fine,” she whispered. “Really, I am.”
“Like hell you are.” Leaving her alone for a moment, he got her some orange juice, then had to make her drink it. “And this.” He held out a mint and when she shook her head no, he squeezed her chin and popped it into her mouth.
Taking the washcloth from her, he rinsed it, wrung it out, and wiped her hot face. What did one do in situations like this? he wondered. How did one deal with such devastating news as Samantha had just received? He tried to imagine how he’d feel if he’d just been told that his mother had been tortured and killed at the whim of some criminal who thought she might know where some money was.
“When you were a child,” Mike asked, tenderly stroking her hot face with the cool cloth, “and you were sick, who took care of you?”