“I have to help him, Albert!” Eva said, turning toward Albert Sr. She swiped at her eyes with a Kleenex and smoothed back her hair.
“Who’s he?” asked Denny.
“He’s an old friend of Eva’s,” Junior explained.
“How?” asked Albert Sr. “What can you do?”
“I can start by getting him a lawyer,” Eva said, leaning forward. “Will you be his lawyer?”
“Me?” he said. “You don’t want me for this, Eva. I’m not a criminal attorney. This guy’s going to need some kind of a miracle. There must be a hundred witnesses, for God’s sake.”
“Who’s a good criminal attorney?” she asked desperately.
Albert Sr. rubbed the top of his head. “Well,” he mused, “Allen Murphy is pretty good or Shelia Boyd, she’s good, or . . .”
“Red Pepper is the best,” Junior interrupted. “He brags he’s never lost a case, and he may actually be telling the truth.”
Albert Sr. shook his head. “Oh, I don’t know about Red,” he said. “I doubt you could even get him.”
“Why not?” Eva asked, intrigued.
“Because he’s more celebrity than he is an attorney,” Albert Sr. told her. “He only takes high, high profile cases that guarantee tons of money and plenty of publicity.”
“Do you know him, Albert?” Eva asked hopefully.
“We’ve met,” he said. “I helped him out with one of his cases a few years back.”
“Will you phone him for me? Get me an appointment? Please, Albert!” Eva pleaded like a hungry child at a baker’s window.
Jay Ralston “Red” Pepper was the most prominent criminal defense attorney in Texas. His trademark was his flamboyant dress: white cowboy hat, white boots, and a solid gold belt buckle. He wore large diamond and emerald rings on both hands. Beneath his hat was a full head of sandy-colored hair that was meticulously mussed to project just the right impression of a brilliant man blessed with devil-may-care shrewdness. He used the nickname Red—for Red Pepper—because, he said, he crushed his opponents like crushed red pepper.
Red Pepper was a former rodeo clown who had decided to go to law school after the last bull he had ever ridden tossed him off its back like a rag doll and stomped over his legs until they were broken in a dozen places. Attending classes part-time, it took him nine years to finish. Red found he liked the law; he liked to argue the law, mostly because he just liked to argue, period. He was a struggling, starving attorney for twelve years during which time he married and divorced five different women, one of whom he married twice and divorced twice. “Dammit, Sherry,” he told her after their second divorce was final, “We just can’t make up our minds can we, darling?”
Red’s practice specialized in cowboys, meaning most of his cases involved defending clients for reckless driving, driving while drunk, drunk and disorderly, assault, vagrancy, spousal abuse, and delinquent alimony and child support payments. Then, fate smiled on Red’s career. Mavis Benedict murdered her husband with a twelve-inch kitchen knife, amputated his penis, and fed it to her garbage disposal.
Mavis Benedict was the wife of Aaron “Slim” Benedict who weighed about 325 pounds. “Slim” and Mavis Benedict owned the Benedict Rodeo and Wild West Show in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, which netted them close to $1.5 million dollars a year.
Mavis was less than five feet tall, weighed 110 pounds, and was as ornery as a hungry pack mule on a humid day. Mavis had heard the gossip around that Slim was “porking” the wife of one of the “Indians” in the Wild West show. (The “Indian” and his wife were actually both Greek, but they barely spoke English, which facilitated the man’s Indian persona.) The rumors were untrue, but Mavis, never one to be stalled by research, believed them and acted accordingly.
At the time of the murder, Red happened to be on the rodeo site, meeting with the wife of a potential client: a cowboy sitting in jail accused of stealing an ice cream truck during a drunken escapade and “a terrible hankering for ice cream,” as he had told his wife over the phone. Upon hearing the rumors, spreading like a brushfire through the rodeo grounds, that Mavis Benedict had stabbed her husband to death and whacked off his wiener, Red excused himself from the ice-cream thief’s wife and rushed to Mavis’s side to offer her his comfort and professional services.
The trial of Mavis the Marauder, as the newspapers dubbed it, was headline news every day for six weeks. The victim and the accused were wealthy white trash and the grotesque nature of Mavis’s crime was spectacularly sensational. The first day of the trial, the courthouse was a bedlam of newspaper, radio, television reporters, microphones, and cameras. Red barely pushed through them to make it into the courtroom on time. On the second day of the trial, Red wore his brand new hat, boots, and belt buckle and arrived at the courthouse forty-five minutes early to allow ample time for newspaper, radio, and, particularly, television interviews.
The facts of the case were not complicated so Red spent much of his time preparing by reading quotations from Mark Twain and Will Rogers to, as he subsequently wrote in his first book, “put himself in the proper frame of mind.” Red paraded a dozen character witnesses in front of the jury who, literally, swore on a Bible that Mavis Benedict was too sweet a woman to ever commit such a heinous crime, so therefore it had to be someone else whom law enforcement had just been too lazy to find; maybe the Greek who impersonated an Indian for a living had heard rumors that Slim was diddling his wife?
Red cajoled and prodded the jury with homespun humor for over an hour in his closing statement finally concluding that “no good folks” could possibly find his client guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. “So you must acquit. Which means, my good friends, let’s quit lollygagging around here and send this little woman back home so she can quit being abused by the state and properly grieve her poor, dead husband. As that sage Will Rogers told us: ‘It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that just ain’t so’—in this case no matter how many whoppers the prosecution assails you with, my friends, it just ain’t so!”
The jury deliberated for about thirty minutes. Every juror sat upright, smiling munificently at Red when their foreman proudly announced their verdict: not guilty.
Red agreed to meet with Eva as a professional courtesy to Albert Bennett, Sr. who had assisted one of Red’s clients a few years back. (Albert Sr. had testified as an “expert witness” against the “corrupt” practices of auto insurance companies.) Red’s client had poisoned her insurance agent after he jilted her for another woman, younger and prettier. Red insisted, however, that the brief affair between his client and the agent had nothing to do with the poisoning; it was the maddeningly unfair stipulations in the liability section of her homeowner’s policy that had “driven her nearly insane.” “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.” Red quoted Mark Twain in his closing remarks, condemning the insurance company for its “blatant and pernicious dishonesty, thievery, and downright ravenous greediness.” The case resulted in a hung jury, and Red’s client was released when the state declined to pursue a second trial.
Red’s office was in the penthouse of a skyscraper in downtown Dallas, which was owned, ironically, by the same insurance company he had once denounced as “evil.” Albert Sr. had secured Eva a plane ride on the private corporate jet of one of his former clients, and she touched down in Dallas exactly forty-one minutes after taking off from Corpus Christi.
Eva was escorted inside Red’s private office by a perky, young, blonde secretary. The office looked more like a lair than a lawyer’s workplace as far as Eva was concerned. The head of a handsome twelve-point buck was mounted on one wall and an even larger moose head with a fifty-eight-inch rack spread was mounted on the other wall. Posing in the corner, set to charge, stood a ferocious nine-foot black bear with snarling teeth and long sharp claws exposed and ready to slash. The room was dominated by white and black leather couches of all shapes and sizes: sofas, love seats, wall huggers, and a sprawling sectional in front of a generous glass desk top supported by curving wrought iron legs. Behind the glass desk was the only standard piece of office furniture in the room: an executive white leather swivel chair.
Red rose and walked toward Eva the moment she entered the room. He extended his hand. “Darling,” he said smiling, looking her up and down, “how are you today?”
“Thank you for seeing me,” she replied. Red motioned to the sectional and Eva sat. She sat back comfortably, adjusted her tan skirt, and folded her hands in her lap.
“No thanks required, darling,” he said, returning to his white leather chair. “Any friend of my friend Albert Bennett is a friend of mine.”
Eva smiled and crossed her legs.
Red glanced approvingly and said, “How can I help you, darling? Albert was pretty mysterious on the phone.”
“You heard about the Blanco shooting?” she asked.
“Darling,” he beamed, “I’d have to be a mama grizzly in deep hibernation not to have heard about it. All of Texas is gabbing about that shooting and they ain’t letting facts get in their way either. As Mark Twain told us, ‘Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.’”
Eva laughed politely.
“Darling,” he continued, “what possible connection could an angel like you have with smarmy polecats like Juan and Carmella Blanco?”
“You’d be surprised,” said Eva starkly, “but I’m not here about me. I’m here about the boy who shot them. I want you to represent him.”
Red stopped smiling and studied Eva closely. After a moment, he said, “I don’t figure you for a frivolous person, so I take it you’re serious.”
“As a heart attack,” said Eva, staring back at him. “I can pay you.”
“That’s important,” he nodded, “but, darling, why do you care about this murderer?”
“He saved my life,” she said, “and now I’m going to save his.”
“Hmmm,” he tapped on the glass desk top with his index finger. “I have my reputation to consider. I’ve never lost a case and that’s not all due to brilliance. I don’t accept cases that are sure losers, and, darling, I hate being the skunk in the woodpile here, but this case sure looks like a sure loser to me.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you knew all the facts,” Eva argued. “Rafael had every right to shoot those animals.”
“A lot of folks will disagree with you on that, darling. Of course, as Will Rogers says, ‘A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries.’ Still, as much I’d like to help your friend, I just don’t think I’m your man, darling.”
“Why?” pressed Eva. “I can give you a check—a retainer—right now for $50,000.”
Red smiled. “And I appreciate that, darling, I truly do. I love $50,000 checks. But, I think I’m going to have to sit this here rodeo out.”
“I’ll double your usual fee,” Eva persisted.
“Now, darling,” he said casually, “now you’re embarrassing me. Do you even know what my hourly fee is?”
“I don’t care,” Eva said. “Whatever it is, I’ll double it.”
Red sat straighter in his chair as if he were about to lecture. “Darling, I’m very flattered, truly I am. And it’s as clear as spring rainwater in a bucket that you’re a strong-minded filly, but, darling, I have to advise you that when all is said and done you’ll ascertain that I cannot be broken. Once I make up my mind, darling, I’m as steadfast as a steer being prodded to walk down a flight of stairs: it just ain’t going to happen. Now let me refer you to one of my colleagues.”
“I don’t want them; I want you,” Eva persisted.
“Why so stubborn, darling?” he shook his head, puzzled.
“Because everyone says you’re the best.” Eva explained.
“Welllll …” he dragged it out, “I must confess . . .”
“That’s why I want you,” Eva jumped in. “You’re the best, and Rafael needs the best. He could end up in prison for life without you.” Eva leaned forward, distress clearly straining her face.
Red stared at her for several seconds, considering. He shook his head. “Darling, I am truly, truly sorry to have to disappoint such a gorgeous young woman as yourself, but in the interest of salvaging some remnant of my chivalry, I’m going to tell you a secret so you’ll know why I won’t accept your friend’s case.” He glanced at the watch on his wrist.
Eva tensed, her desperation rising like a tide. She was running out of time to convince him and she knew it.
“I may be taking a little hiatus in a few months from this here lawyering stuff.”
“You’re not retiring?” Eva said, concerned.
“Not so you’d notice,” he drawled, “but some folks are chewing on my leg to run for political office, and I’m considering allowing them to persuade me.”
“Politics?” Eva smirked.
“Don’t look so shocked, darling,” he chuckled. “I might surprise everyone and actually beat that sonofabitch Gardner. After all, ‘A fool and his money are soon elected,’ and I got plenty of money and no kids to leave it to when I pack it in.”
“You’re going to run against Governor Gardner for the senate?” Eva said, her eyes widening.
“Pretty sure I am, darling,” he confirmed. “Gardner’s been sucking on the government teat long enough. But, he’s been sucking on it for quite a spell, so he’s not going to be pushover. If I do decide to run that bastard off the reservation, I’m going to have to put all my energy into it.”
Eva began giggling. Relief swept over her like a cool breeze.
“What’s so funny?” he said defensively.
Eva recovered her composure and said, “Mr. Pepper . . .”
“Call me Red, darling.”
“Red, I can help you win that election. I swear I can.” She moved forward on the cushion, her hands clasped together.
He looked at her quizzically. “You? How?”
“If I satisfy you that I possess something that will absolutely destroy Gardner in an election, will you represent Rafael?” She raised her eyebrows and smiled.