A Glibertarians Exclusive: Marilee – Part VII
Falfurrias, Texas, June 1970
Coy McAlester sat in his battered 49 Ford pickup, pulled off to the side of the road. He had passed through Premont a few minutes earlier, and could now see Falfurrias, just ahead.
Well, he told himself. I told myself I was going to do this.
The previous year had been one stroke of bad luck after another. After the four-day trip from Nebraska to Newport News, Virginia, Coy had arrived just in time to find the shipyard’s hiring office closed. “Come back in six or eight months,” the clerk in the shipyard office told him. “Might be putting some welders and pipefitters on then.” So Coy had waited, and waited, biding his time in a cheap one-room flat, calling in every week or so, before giving the shipyard up as a lost cause.
Since then, he had wandered, aimlessly. No steady work came his way, just a series of short jobs. He even resorted to picking peaches in Georgia for a time, but that season ended, leaving Coy to contemplate his continually shrinking roll of cash.
One rainy evening in a Kentucky hotel room, Coy sat, ignoring the television’s portrayal of what Coy thought of a ‘a bunch of assholes stuck in a wall telling bad jokes’ and considered his position.
And, of course, there was Marilee. Last he had heard of her was in Brooklyn. “Said she was going home,” Coy repeated, remembering the testimony of the waitress. Home, of course, must be Falfurrias; but also in Falfurrias was Jim Gompers’ family and an arrest warrant.
At last, Coy realized, there was only one path left open. “All right, then,” Coy muttered. “Enough of this shit. I’m going home. Goddamn monkey’s been on my back long enough.”
The next morning, he threw his few belongings once more in his truck, slid the Jap bayonet under the seat, and headed south for Texas, which brought him to the side of the state highway south of Premont.
“Last chance,” he said to himself. “Last chance to drive on, try to keep ahead of this.”
He shook his head. It had gone on long enough. And somewhere, out there ahead of him, was Marilee. He started the truck and drove on into town.
Falfurrias hadn’t changed much in thirty years. Coy hadn’t expected it would. The Brooks County Sheriff’s Office was still right where it had been. Coy parked in front of the low building and walked in.
A short, stocky fellow in a khaki uniform sat at a desk, reading a magazine, his booted feet propped up. He looked up with a questioning expression when Coy walked in.
“Here to see the Sheriff,” Coy said.
“Sheriff ain’t here,” the man said. “I’m Deputy Fred Archuleta. What can I do for you?”
“I’m Coy McAlester,” Coy said. He pointed at an old, yellowed notice still tacked up on the bulletin board. “That there, that’s me.”
Deputy Archuleta turned and looked. He looked back at Coy. “That’s you? Sure as hell? After all this time?”
“That’s me. I come to make things right.”
“Don’t rightly know how that will work,” Archuleta said. He leaned back in his chair. “The Gompers, well, they’re all dead or moved away. Jim Gompers’ folks been gone since just after the war. Won’t be nobody to testify either way. But here you are, and what the hell am I supposed to do with you?”
Coy shrugged. “I come to make things right,” he repeated. “A man gets tired of looking over his shoulder, and this thing been weighing on me thirty years now.”
Archuleta looked at Coy’s close-cropped, graying hair. “Veteran, are you?”
“1st Marines,” Coy agreed. “All the way from the ‘Canal to Okinawa. Got a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.”
“82nd Airborne, here,” Archuleta replied. “Jumped at Normandy and Market Garden. Was at Bastogne. That wasn’t any damn fun, but at least we went in by truck. Sheriff, he was in the 92nd Infantry, fought in Italy. Plenty of vets hereabouts. Hell, my son is in Vietnam, right now. Maybe that pendejo Nixon will get us out of there. Maybe not. Who knows?”
Coy just nodded. Damn cop sure likes the sound of his own voice, he told himself. “You gonna lock me up or what?”
“I don’t think the county prosecutors’ gonna want to have anything to do with this, not with you being a war hero and all the witnesses dead or gone. Being a veteran may not count for much in Californey or New York, but it still does here. But hell, you better come on back. Cells are just back here, down the hallway.”
Coy held out his hands, but Archuleta just shook his head. “Ain’t gonna bother with no cuffs. The jail’s empty, nobody for you to fuss with, and you been peaceable. Come on back; I’ll call down and tell the diner that we got a prisoner that needs supper. I expect the prosecutor will come talk to you in the morning.”
As they walked back to the cells, Coy thought about asking about Marilee, but shook his head. Time enough for that after whatever happens.
After thirty years on the lam, Coy was surprised at how much relief he felt. Monkey is off my back, he thought as he dug into the supper tray Deputy Archuleta brought in: Meat loaf, mashed potatoes, a hot roll, green beans, and a tin cup of coffee. He slept well. The cell’s cot was narrow and hard, but Coy had slept in many worse places.
In the morning, as predicted, the county prosecutor came in.
“Melvin Campos,” he introduced himself. “Brooks County prosecutor.” The man was unremarkable – medium height, medium build, dark brown hair – except in that he wore, effortlessly, what looked to be a fairly expensive suit. “You would be Coy McAlester?”
“I would be. I am, in fact.” Coy had been reclining on the bunk. He rotated himself to sit up facing the cell door. Campos pulled an old steel chair from the hallway to just in front of the door to Coy’s cell and sat down.
Coy grinned, looking pointedly at Campos’ suit. “Lawyerin’ hereabouts must pay better than she used to.”
Campos looked down at his lapels as though some errant piece of lint had appeared. “Oh. I see. Don’t let that fool you – my old man’s a tailor, over in Corpus Christi.”
Campos produced a folder, began flipping through the papers within. “Coy Walton McAlester,” he read. “Warrant here says you were wanted for the homicide of one James William Gompers, March 16, 1940. No eyewitnesses, but Mr. Gompers appeared at the office of one…” He turned the page. “Travis W. Oliphant, M.D., of Falfurrias, said he had been in an altercation with Coy McAlester – that’s you – and had been struck in the stomach and the arm. He died shortly after, and the death certificate says internal bleeding from a ruptured spleen, which was in additions to a fractured humerus.”
Campos closed the folder. “He named you as the attacker.”
Coy shrugged. He had come to settle up but saw no reason to volunteer information; he had spent enough nights around a poker table to know when it was time to make the other fellow show his cards.
“See, here’s my problem,” Campos went on. “The original warrant, that was sworn out by Jim Gompers’ parents, but they’re both dead. They swore out that warrant based on word-of-mouth from Dr. Oliphant, but he’s dead. The only surviving relation of Jim Gompers I could find was his aunt, Melissa Hargrove, of McAllen, but when I called this morning, she said, and I quote, ‘That whole branch of the family was never any damn good, and I frankly can’t be bothered if they’re alive or dead.’ She couldn’t offer any information.”
“And?” Coy prompted. Things were suddenly looking up.
“So, Mr. McAlester,” Campos said, “it comes to this: If I took this into the courtroom, no jury in the county would convict on third-hand, written testimony from thirty years ago, and no living witnesses. In fact, I give you fifty-fifty odds Judge Travis would hold me in contempt for wasting his time with this business. So, since it’s my decision as to whether to prosecute this or not…”
“Do you harbor any notions of staying in Falfurrias?”
Coy weighed that. “Don’t rightly know. Someone I know is here – leastways, last I knew she was. Marilee Peyton. Her father used to run the dry-goods store in town.”
“I know of the family. Mr. Peyton died a few years back, but Rose Peyton still lives on the same old property. Don’t know of any Marilee Peyton, but Mrs. Peyton may be able to give you some hint.”
“Are you saying I can go find out?”
Campos looked slightly frustrated but nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I have a funny feeling you did kill Jim Gompers, but there’s no way I’m taking this into court. Since I can’t prosecute you, we have to let you go. Honestly, I’d feel a whole lot better if you left Falfurrias and went back to wherever you’ve been since 1940, but that’s up to you. I have some paperwork to do, but I suppose you’ll be a free man before the county has to pay for your lunch.”
Campos proved to be as good as his word. Sheriff Forrest, a large, broad-shouldered, swag-bellied man, unlocked Coy’s cell at eleven-thirty and announced, “Coy McAlester! You’re free to go. Pick up your personal effects from Deputy Archuleta.”
As Coy walked out of the cell, grinning, the Sheriff said in a low voice, “I knew Jim Gompers back in the day. He and his whole family, white trash the lot of ‘em, but sure didn’t mind looking down at us colored folks. You ask me, you did the world a favor. You take care of yourself, gyrene.” He smiled, revealing strong yellow teeth, and slapped Coy on the back.
“Thanks, dogface,” Coy replied. He gathered up his ruck and suitcase and walked out into the south Texas sunshine a free man.
Half an hour later, he was on the road north again. Ten minute’s conversation with Rose Peyton gave him the information he had sought; “Marilee said, if you ever came by, to tell you where she was. Tom and I knew what you did for her, Coy, and while we don’t condone violence… Well, Marilee was in a bad place, and you helped.”
Ever since walking out of the Brooks County Sheriff’s office, it was as though Coy had been pulling in a long, red thread, the visualization of that old, thirty-year entanglement. Now, as he walked up the concrete walkway, up on to the boards of the front porch, to knock on the screen door, he pulled the last few feet of the thread in.
He knocked. After a moment, he heard footfalls from within. And then, there she was, crisp in a pale-yellow waitress’s uniform. “Coy!” she exclaimed. Her green eyes were bright, and she was smiling the old smile again.
“Yup,” Coy said. “It’s me, Marilee. Free and clear. It’s me.”
The screen door slammed open, and Marilee threw herself into Coy’s arms. Through her tears, she smiled. “It’s about damn time,” she said.
So now I’m going back again,
I got to get to her somehow.
All the people we used to know,
They’re an illusion to me now.
Some are mathematicians,
Some are carpenter’s wives,
Don’t know how it all got started,
I don’t know what they’re doing with their lives.
But me, I’m still on the road,
A-heading for another joint,
We always did feel the same,
We just saw it from a different point,
Tangled up in blue.