Authors: John Grisham
“Look, Keith, I, uh, I’m at the end, okay, and I’m cool with it. I’ve spent time with the priest, said my prayers, all that. I’ve been here for eight years and if you or the governor granted clemency, then I would get off death row and go live out there in the general population for the rest of my life. Think about that, Keith. You and I are thirty-eight years old, not even halfway there yet. I don’t
want to spend the next forty years in this awful place. That would be worse than dying. Don’t beat yourself up. Let’s pull the plug and get it over with.”
Keith nodded and saw a tear trickle down Hugh’s left cheek.
Hugh said, “But look, Keith, there’s one thing. You gotta believe me when I say I didn’t intend to kill Jesse Rudy. Please. I would never harm anyone in your family. Please believe me, Keith.”
It was impossible not to believe him.
Hugh went on, “I’m a dead man, Keith. Why would I keep lying? Please tell Miss Agnes and the rest of the family that I didn’t intend to do it.”
“I’ll do that.”
“And you believe me?”
“Yes, Hugh, I believe you.”
Hugh wiped both eyes with the back of a sleeve. He gritted his teeth and struggled to regain his composure. After a long pause he mumbled, “Thank you, Keith. It’ll always be my fault. I put everything in motion, but I swear there was no plan to harm Jesse. I’m so sorry.”
Keith stood and walked to the door. He looked down at his old friend, a man he had hated for the last ten years, and almost felt sympathy. “The jury said you deserve to die, Hugh, and I agreed then. I agree now. For a long time I’ve dreamed of watching your execution, but I can’t do it. I’m flying to Biloxi to sit with my mother.”
Hugh looked up, nodded, smiled, and said, “So long, pal. I’ll see you on the other side.”
In the middle of the last century, there were a few gangs of outlaws who moved around the South causing trouble. They bought and sold anything that was illegal, and they had a nasty penchant for violence. It was never clear if their activities were related. Someone, probably in law enforcement, tagged them as the “Dixie Mafia,” and the legend was born.
A few of these characters did indeed settle along the Gulf Coast around 1950, no doubt attracted by the casual attitude toward vice. Biloxi's colorful history of its seafood industry and the immigrants who built it are accurately described. Everything else is pure fiction.
Two FBI agents, Keith Bell and Royce Hignight, worked the Coast in the 1970s and 1980s. They are retired now, and told me enough stories to fill a dozen books. Some I've used here in a greatly embellished way.
Mike Holleman is a close friend from our law school days at Ole Miss. He has always lived in Gulfport, is a true son of the Coast, and was a valuable source of knowledge in such areas as history, geography, people, legends, myths, and legal procedure. His father, the great Boyce Holleman, served as the district attorney and later became a legendary trial lawyer.
There was a real Mary Mahoney and she opened a fine restaurant in Biloxi in 1964. She named it The Old French House and it's still there, now run by her son Bob, a dear friend. He grew up on the Point, is a proud native, and knows more stories than those two FBI guys.
Thanks also to Gerald Blessey, Paige Gutierrez, Teresa Beck
Tiller, Michael J. Ratliff, Ronnie Musgrove, and Glad Jones.
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