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Chapter no 52 – Three Mountains Motel

Where the Crawdads Sing

1970

Judge Sims entered the courtroom and nodded at the defense table. “Mr. Milton, are you ready to call your first witness for

the defense?”

“I am, Your Honor.” “Proceed.”

 

 

After the witness was sworn and seated, Tom said, “Please state your name and what you do in Barkley Cove.” Kya raised her head enough to see the short, elderly woman with the purplish-white hair and tight perm who years ago asked her why she always came alone to the grocery. Perhaps she was shorter and her curls tighter, but she looked remarkably the same. Mrs. Singletary had seemed nosey and bossy, but she had given Kya the net Christmas stocking with the blue whistle inside the winter after Ma left. It was all the Christmas Kya had.

“I’m Sarah Singletary, and I clerk at the Piggly Wiggly market in Barkley Cove.”

“Sarah, is it correct that from your cash register within the Piggly Wiggly, you can see the Trailways bus stop?”

“Yes, I can see it clearly.”

“On October 28 of last year, did you see the defendant, Miss Catherine Clark, waiting at the bus stop at 2:30 P.M.?”

“Yes, I saw Miss Clark standing there.” At this, Sarah glanced at Kya and remembered the little girl coming barefoot into the market for so many years. No one would ever know, but before Kya could count, Sarah had given the child extra change—money she had to take from her own purse to balance the register. Of

course, Kya was dealing with small sums to start with, so Sarah contributed only nickels and dimes, but it must have helped.

“How long did she wait? And did you actually see her step onto the 2:30 P.M. bus?”

“She waited about ten minutes, I think. We all saw her buy her ticket from the driver, give him her suitcase, and step onto the bus. It drove away, and she was most definitely inside.”

“And I believe you also saw her return two days later on October 30 on the 1:16 P.M. bus. Is that correct?”

 

 

“Yes, two days later, a little after 1:15 in the afternoon, I looked up as the bus stopped, and there was Miss Clark stepping off it. I pointed her out to the other checkout ladies.”

“Then what did she do?”

“She walked to the wharf, got in her boat, and headed south.” “Thank you, Sarah. That will be all.”

Judge Sims asked, “Any questions, Eric?”

“No, Your Honor, I have no questions. In fact, I see from the witness list that the defense intends to call several townspeople to testify that Miss Clark got on and off the Trailways bus on the dates and times Mrs. Singletary has stated. The prosecution does not refute this testimony. Indeed, it is consistent with our case that Miss Clark traveled on those buses at those times and, if it please the court, it is not necessary to hear from other witnesses on this matter.”

“All right. Mrs. Singletary, you can step down. What about you, Mr. Milton? If the prosecution accepts the fact that Miss Clark got on the 2:30 bus on October 28, 1969, and returned at about 1:16 on October 30, 1969, do you need to call other witnesses to this effect?”

 

 

“No, Your Honor.” His face appeared calm, but Tom swore inside. Kya’s alibi of being out of town at the time of Chase’s death was one of the strongest points for the defense. But Eric had successfully diluted the alibi simply by accepting it, even stating that he didn’t need to hear testimony that Kya traveled to and from Greenville during the day. It didn’t matter to the prosecution’s case because they claimed Kya had returned to Barkley at night and committed the murder. Tom had foreseen the risk but thought it crucial that the jury hear testimony, to visualize

Kya leaving town in daylight and not returning until after the incident. Now, they’d think her alibi wasn’t important enough even to be confirmed.

“Noted. Please proceed with your next witness.”

Bald and fubsy, his coat buttoned tight against a round belly, Mr. Lang Furlough testified that he owned and operated the Three Mountains Motel in Greenville and that Miss Clark had stayed at the motel from October 28 until October 30, 1969.

Kya detested listening to this oily-haired man, who she never thought she’d see again, and here he was talking about her as though she weren’t present. He explained how he had shown her to her motel room but failed to mention he had lingered too long. Kept thinking of reasons to stay in her room until she opened the door, hinting for him to leave. When Tom asked how he could be sure of Miss Clark’s comings and goings from the motel, he chuckled and said she was the kind of woman men notice. He added how strange she was, not knowing how to use the telephone, walking from the bus station with a cardboard suitcase, and bringing her own bagged dinner.

“Mr. Furlough, on the next night, that being October 29, 1969, the night Chase Andrews died, you worked at the reception desk all night. Is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“After Miss Clark returned to her room at ten P.M. after dinner with her editor, did you see her leave again? At any time during the night of October 29 or the early-morning hours of October 30, did you see her leave or return to her room?”

“No. I was there all night and I never saw her leave her room.

 

 

Like I said, her room was directly across from the reception counter, so I would have seen her leave.”

“Thank you, Mr. Furlough, that’s all. Your witness.”

After several minutes of cross-examination, Eric continued. “Okay, Mr. Furlough, so far we have you leaving the reception area altogether to walk to your apartment twice, use the restroom, and return; the pizza boy bringing pizza; you paying him, et cetera; four guests checking in, two checking out; and in between all that, you completed your receipts account. Now I’d submit, Mr.

Furlough, that during all that commotion, there were plenty of

times that Miss Clark could have quietly walked out of her room, quickly crossed the street, and you would never have seen her.

Isn’t that entirely possible?”

“Well, I guess it’s possible. But I never saw a thing. I didn’t see her leave her room that night—is what I’m saying.”

“I understand that, Mr. Furlough. And what I’m saying is that it’s very possible that Miss Clark left her room, walked to the bus station, bused to Barkley Cove, murdered Chase Andrews, and returned to her room, and you never saw her because you were very busy doing your job. No more questions.”

• • •

AFTER THE LUNCH RECESS, just as everyone was settled and the judge had taken his seat, Scupper stepped inside the courtroom. Tate turned to see his father, still in his overalls and yellow marine boots, walking down the aisle. Scupper had not attended the trial because of his work, he’d said, but mostly because his son’s long attachment to Miss Clark confounded him. It seemed Tate had never had feelings for any other girl, and even as a grown, professional man, he still loved this strange, mysterious woman. A woman now accused of murder.

 

 

Then, that noon, standing on his boat, nets pooled around his boots, Scupper breathed out heavily. His face blazed with shame as he realized that he—like some of the ignorant villagers—had been prejudiced against Kya because she had grown up in the marsh. He remembered Tate proudly showing him Kya’s first book on shells and how Scupper himself was taken aback by her scientific and artistic prowess. He had bought himself a copy of each of her books but hadn’t mentioned that to Tate. What bullshit.

He was so proud of his son, how he had always known what he wanted and how to achieve it. Well, Kya had done the same against much bigger odds.

How could he not be there for Tate? Nothing mattered except supporting his son. He dropped the net at his feet, left the boat wallowing against the pier, and walked directly to the courthouse.

When he reached the first row, Jodie, Jumpin’, and Mabel stood to allow him to squeeze by and sit next to Tate. Father and son nodded at each other, and tears swelled in Tate’s eyes.

Tom Milton waited for Scupper to sit, the silence in the room complete, then said, “Your Honor, the defense calls Robert Foster.” Dressed in a tweed jacket, tie, and khaki pants, Mr. Foster was trim, of medium height, and had a neat beard and kind eyes.

Tom asked his name and occupation.

 

 

“My name is Robert Foster, and I’m a senior editor for Harrison Morris Publishing Company in Boston, Massachusetts.” Kya, hand to her forehead, stared at the floor. Her editor was the only person she knew who didn’t think of her as the Marsh Girl, who had respected her, even seemed awed at her knowledge and talent.

Now he was in court seeing her at the defendant’s table, charged with murder.

“Are you the editor for Miss Catherine Clark’s books?”

“Yes, I am. She is a very talented naturalist, artist, and writer.

One of our favorite authors.”

“Can you confirm that you traveled to Greenville, North Carolina, on October 28, 1969, and that you had meetings with Miss Clark on both the twenty-ninth and the thirtieth?”

“That is correct. I was attending a small conference there, and knew I would have some extra time while in town but wouldn’t have enough time to travel to her place, so I invited Miss Clark to Greenville so we could meet.”

“Can you tell us the exact time that you drove her back to her motel on the night of October 29, last year?”

“After our meetings, we dined at the hotel and then I drove Kya back to her motel at 9:55 P.M.

Kya recalled standing on the threshold of the dining room, filled with candlelit tables under soft chandeliers. Tall wineglasses on white tablecloths. Stylishly dressed diners conversed in quiet voices, while she wore the plain skirt and blouse. She and Robert dined on almond-crusted North Carolina trout, wild rice, creamed spinach, and yeast rolls. Kya felt comfortable as he kept the conversation going with easy grace, sticking to subjects about nature familiar to her.

 

 

Remembering it now, she was astonished how she had carried it off. But in fact, the restaurant, with all its glitter, wasn’t nearly as grand as her favorite picnic. When she was fifteen, Tate had boated to her shack one dawn, and, after he’d wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, they cruised inland through a maze of waterways to a forest she’d never seen. They hiked a mile to the edge of a waterlogged meadow where fresh grass sprouted through mud, and there he laid the blanket under ferns as large as umbrellas.

“Now we wait,” he’d said, as he poured hot tea from a thermos and offered her “coon balls,” a baked mixture of biscuit dough, hot sausage, and sharp cheddar cheese he had cooked for the occasion. Even now in this cold courtroom setting, she remembered the warmth of his shoulders touching hers under the blanket, as they nibbled and sipped the breakfast picnic.

They didn’t have to wait long. Moments later, a ruckus as loud as cannons sounded from the north. “Here they come,” Tate had said.

A thin, black cloud appeared on the horizon and, as it moved toward them, it soared skyward. The shrieking rose in intensity and volume as the cloud rapidly filled the sky until not one spot of blue remained. Hundreds of thousands of snow geese, flapping, honking, and gliding, covered the world. Swirling masses wheeled and banked for landing. Perhaps a half million white wings flared in unison, as pink-orange feet dangled down, and a blizzard of birds came in to land. A true whiteout as everything on Earth, near and far, disappeared. One at a time, then ten at a time, then hundreds of geese landed only yards from where Kya and Tate had sat under the ferns. The sky emptied as the wet meadow filled until it was covered in downy snow.

No fancy dining room could compare to that, and the coon balls

offered more spice and flare than almond-crusted trout. “You saw Miss Clark go into her room?”

“Of course. I opened her door and saw her safely inside before I drove away.”

“Did you see Miss Clark the next day?”

“We had arranged to meet for breakfast, so I picked her up at 7:30 A.M. We ate at the Stack ’Em High pancake place. I took her

back to her motel at 9:00. And that was the last I saw of her until today.” He glanced at Kya, but she looked down at the table.

“Thank you, Mr. Foster. I have no further questions.”

 

 

Eric stood and asked, “Mr. Foster, I was wondering why you stayed at the Piedmont Hotel, which is the best hotel in the area, while your publishing company only paid for Miss Clark—such a talented author, one of the favorites, as you put it—to stay in a very basic motel, the Three Mountains?”

“Well, of course, we offered, even recommended that Miss Clark stay at the Piedmont, but she insisted on staying at the motel.”

“Is that so? Did she know the motel’s name? Did she specifically request to stay at the Three Mountains?”

“Yes, she wrote a note saying she preferred to stay at the Three Mountains.”

“Did she say why?” “No, I don’t know why.”

“Well, I have an idea. Here’s a tourist map of Greenville.” Eric waved the map around as he approached the witness stand. “You can see here, Mr. Foster, that the Piedmont Hotel—the four-star hotel that you offered to Miss Clark—is located in the downtown area. The Three Mountains Motel, on the other hand, is on Highway 258, near the Trailways bus station. In fact, if you study the map as I have, you will see that the Three Mountains is the closest motel to the bus station . . .”

“Objection, Your Honor,” Tom called out. “Mr. Foster is not an authority on the layout of Greenville.”

“No, but the map is. I see where you’re going, Eric, and I’ll allow it. Proceed.”

“Mr. Foster, if someone were planning a quick trip to the bus station in the middle of the night, it is logical that they would choose the Three Mountains over the Piedmont. Especially if they planned to walk. All I need from you is the confirmation that Miss Clark asked specifically to stay at the Three Mountains and not the Piedmont.”

“As I said, she requested the Three Mountains.” “I have nothing more.”

“Redirect?” Judge Sims asked.

 

 

“Yes, Your Honor. Mr. Foster, how many years have you worked with Miss Clark?”

“Three years.”

“And even though you didn’t meet her until the visit in Greenville last October, would you say that you’ve gotten to know Miss Clark quite well through correspondence over those years? If so, how would you describe her?”

“Yes, I have. She is a shy, gentle person, I believe. She prefers to be alone in the wilderness; it took some time for me to convince her to come to Greenville. Certainly she would avoid a crowd of people.”

“A crowd of people like one would encounter at a large hotel such as the Piedmont?”

“Yes.”

“In fact, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Foster, that it is not surprising that Miss Clark—who likes to keep to herself—would choose a small, rather remote motel over a large bustling hotel right in town? That this choice would fit her character?”

“Yes, I would say that.”

 

 

“Also, doesn’t it make sense if Miss Clark, who is not familiar with public transport and knew she had to walk from the bus station to her hotel and back again, carrying a suitcase, that she would select a hotel or motel closest to the station?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. That will be all.”

When Robert Foster left the witness stand, he sat with Tate, Scupper, Jodie, Jumpin’, and Mabel, behind Kya.

• • •

THAT AFTERNOON, Tom called the sheriff back as his next witness.

Kya knew from Tom’s list of witnesses that there weren’t many more to be called, and the thought sickened her. The closing arguments came next, then the verdict. As long as a stream of witnesses supported her, she could hope for acquittal or at least a delay of conviction. If the court proceedings trailed on forever, a judgment would never be handed down. She tried to lead her mind into fields-of-snow-geese distractions as she had since the

trial began, but instead she saw only images of jail, bars, clammy cement walls. Mental inserts now and then of an electric chair.

Lots of straps.

Suddenly, she felt she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t sit here any longer, her head too heavy to hold up. She sagged slightly, and Tom turned from the sheriff to Kya as her head dropped onto her hands. He rushed to her.

“Your Honor, I request a short recess. Miss Clark needs a break.”

“Granted. Court dismissed for a fifteen-minute recess.”

 

 

Tom helped her stand and whisked her out the side door and into the small conference room, where she sank into a chair.

Sitting next to her, he said, “What is it? Kya, what’s wrong?”

She buried her head in her hands. “How can you ask that? Isn’t it obvious? How does anyone live through this? I feel too sick, too tired to sit there. Do I have to? Can’t the trial continue without me?” All she was capable of, all she wanted, was to return to her cell and curl up with Sunday Justice.

“No, I’m afraid not. In a capital case, such as this, the law requires your presence.”

“What if I can’t? What if I refuse? All they can do is throw me in jail.”

“Kya, it’s the law. You have to attend, and anyway, it’s better for you to be present. It’s easier for a jury to convict an absent defendant. But, Kya, it won’t be for much longer.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better, don’t you see? What comes next is worse than this.”

“We don’t know that. Don’t forget, we can appeal if this doesn’t go our way.”

Kya didn’t answer. Thoughts of an appeal sickened her more, the same forced march through different courtrooms, farther from the marsh. Probably large towns. Some gull-less sky. Tom stepped out of the room and returned with a glass of sweet iced tea and a package of salted peanuts. She sipped at the tea; refused the nuts. A few minutes later, the bailiff knocked on the door and led them back into court. Kya’s mind faded in and out of reality, catching only snippets of the testimony.

“Sheriff Jackson,” Tom said, “the prosecution is claiming that Miss Clark snuck out of her motel late at night and walked from the Three Mountains Motel to the bus station—a trip of at least twenty minutes. That she then took the 11:50 P.M. night bus from Greenville to Barkley Cove, but the bus was late, so she couldn’t have arrived in Barkley until 1:40 A.M. They claim that from the Barkley bus stop, she walked to the town wharf—three or four minutes—then she boated to the cove near the water tower—at least twenty minutes—walked to the tower, another eight minutes; climbed it in pitch dark, say, four to five minutes at least; opened the grate, a few seconds; waited for Chase—no time estimate—and then all of this in reverse.

“Those actions would have taken one hour seven minutes

minimum, and that does not count time supposedly waiting for Chase. But the bus back to Greenville, which she had to catch, departed only fifty minutes after she arrived. Therefore, it is a simple fact: there was not enough time for her to commit this alleged crime. Isn’t that correct, Sheriff?”

 

 

“It would’ve been tight, that’s true. But she could’ve jogged from her boat to the tower and back, she could’ve cut a minute here and there.”

“A minute here and there won’t do it. She would have needed twenty extra minutes. At least. How could she have saved twenty minutes?”

“Well, maybe she didn’t go in her boat at all; maybe she walked or ran from the bus stop on Main, down the sandy track to the tower. That would be much quicker than going by sea.” From his seat at the prosecution table, Eric Chastain glared at the sheriff.

He had convinced the jury there was enough time for Kya to commit the crime and return to the bus. They didn’t need much convincing. In addition, they had a superior witness, the shrimper, who testified that he had seen Miss Clark headed to the tower by boat.

“Do you have any evidence whatsoever that Miss Clark went by land to the tower, Sheriff?”

“No. But going by land is a good theory.”

“Theory!” Tom turned to the jury. “The time for theories was before you arrested Miss Clark, before you held her in jail for two

months. The fact is you cannot prove that she went by land, and there was not enough time for her to go by sea. No more questions.”

Eric faced the sheriff for the cross. “Sheriff, isn’t it true that the waters near Barkley Cove are subjected to strong currents, riptides, and undertows that can influence the speed of a boat?”

“Yeah, that’s true. Everybody lives here knows that.” “Someone who knew how to take advantage of such a current

could boat very quickly to the tower from the harbor. In such a case, it would be very feasible to cut twenty minutes off the round trip. Isn’t that correct?” Eric was annoyed that he had to suggest yet another theory, but all he needed was some plausible concept the jurors could latch on to and pull them in.

“Yeah, that’s correct.”

“Thank you.” As soon as Eric turned from the witness stand, Tom stood for the redirect.

“Sheriff, yes or no, do you have any evidence that a current, riptide, or strong wind occurred on the night of October 29 to the 30 that could have decreased the time for someone to boat from the Barkley Cove Harbor to the fire tower, or any evidence that Miss Clark went to the tower by land?”

“No, but I’m sure there—”

“Sheriff, it doesn’t make any difference what you’re sure of or not. Do you have any evidence that a strong riptide was flowing the night of October 29, 1969?”

“No, I don’t.”

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