“I don’t know if Atticus would want me to tell you, but I trust you. So, I’m going to tell you anyway.”
Brielle leaned forward, listening attentively.
“Back in 1991, Atticus was twenty-three years old, and he was in the Army. He had enlisted in 1986, when he was eighteen, just out of high school. He went through Basic, then was stationed at Ft. Riley, then restationed at Ft. McClellan in 1989, where he met and married his wife. Their daughter was born the following year. Later, Atticus’ unit was deployed to Saudi Arabia to fight in the Gulf War and Louanne and the baby moved back to Alabama to stay with her family while Atticus was gone. But they made frequent visits here too. While he was fighting overseas, his wife and baby daughter were here on a visit to the in-laws. And they were both killed in a tragic car accident,” Jo somberly told her as she continued to puff on her cigarette, “the drunk driver who killed them was none other than Otis Crabtree, Johnny’s, Bobby’s and the rest of that brood’s granddaddy!”
Brielle gasped, placing her hand over her heart.
“Oh, my god! I’m so sorry, Jo, I didn’t know. I lived here then but I was too little. I do remember Grandma saying something about the accident from time to time, but I didn’t remember the names of the people involved” she said in empathy.
Brielle hung her head for a few seconds, then looked up at Jo again.
“God, I’m so, so sorry!”
A Heartbreaking True Story
Jo sighed and her eyes filled with tears. The tears then streamed down her cheeks. Brielle gently reached across the table and took Jo’s hand in hers.
“Sheriff Wayne Crawford Sr. arrested Otis and there was a big trial. But the trial was a joke! Talk about a kangaroo court! The voir dire process was rigged! Those crooks! They made damn sure to select jurors who were either partial to the Crabtree’s or afraid of them. Would you believe that Otis Crabtree, the bastard who killed Louanne and baby Amber, only got a year in the county lock-up? Oh, God! Atticus was beside himself! That son of a bitch killed his family! Losing Louanne and Amber was bad enough. But for courts to let this guy off with such a lowball sentence, oh god, it was like Atticus lost them all over again! Brielle, he never recovered from it. He’s still pissed to this day!” Jo explained, sniffling from crying. She took another puff and thumped her ashes in the small ashtray that sat between them.
“The Crabtree’s have always gotten a free pass! It’s why they’re like they are, Jo. Because they were never held accountable for anything. That is, until Bobby’s brother, Johnny and the Thomasville Conspiracy. And that still hasn’t stopped them,” Brielle replied.
The History Between the Crawfords and the Crabtrees
“You’re right, Brielle. Only they’ve become angrier, meaner, and twice as dangerous since one of their own finally, and I say, finally, got what was coming to him!” Jo added, “Atticus never remarried, and he never had another child. He’s still a widower. He stayed in the Army because, for a long time, he didn’t want to come back to this wretched place! He served until he retired in his early forties. He fought in the Gulf War and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After retiring from the Military, Atticus went into business on his own out of a desire to be his own boss. He flipped and sold houses for a living before taking his fortune and buying the land here to build the truck stop. Business at the Double Nickle and Bobtail Bud’s has boomed ever since. Atticus is my older brother. That’s why I know all this stuff. Please don’t let on to Atticus that you know anything about this, Brielle. Because he’ll know who told it.”
Jo then crushed the cigarette butt in the ashtray as she exhaled the last of the smoke.
“I promise, Jo. I won’t,” Brielle said as she took her index finger and crossed her heart with it. She then squeezed Jo’s hand.
Jo rose from her chair.
“Sit tight while I go use the little girls’ room,” she said before rushing off.
A Family Feud
Brielle just sat there and shook her head. She already knew some of the dangers of going up against the wrong people in Thomasville. She had learned that lesson in high school. But her experiences in high school had only scratched the surface. Even then, Brielle had not known how bad it could get nor how truly evil these people were until she read Shannon McGregor’s second memoir entitled, “The Thomasville Conspiracy: How I Made It Out Alive.”
Meanwhile, back in the dining area, Atticus glared hotly at the two lawmen who sat before him.
“Let me tell you something right here and now, Bobby! I ain’t Sam from the boot factory! I own this shit! I don’t just manage it! And you don’t come into my place of business and tell me who to hire and who to fire! I don’t give a damn if you’re hiding behind a sheriff’s badge or not! You’re only in that position because Sheriff Crawford was…oh, how should I say it? Mysteriously and under suspicious circumstances, killed in a hunting accident! And oh, let’s see. Who was he hunting with that day, Bobby? Oh, yes, now I remember! It was you! I don’t think I have to say any more. You’re not as stupid as you look. You already know what I’m trying to say…don’t you…Sheriff?”
Atticus Tells Bobby a Thing or Two
Bobby glared back at Atticus without a word, as did Ashton.
“Have a pleasant evening, gentlemen.” Atticus said with a smug smile before turning and walking back toward the kitchen.
“Oh, Atticus!” Bobby called.
Atticus stopped, turned, and came back to where the two crooked lawmen sat.
“’Something I can help you with?” Atticus asked in a short tone.
“You know? It would be a shame if an awesome business such as yours caught fire and burned to the ground one night. Perhaps you should buy an insurance policy. You know. Just in case.” Bobby said devilishly.
Atticus placed both hands on the table and leaned slightly closer to the county cops.
“You know what? I wouldn’t put it past a scumbag like you,” Atticus growled through his teeth.
“Then you might want to show a little bit more respect,” Bobby advised.
“You’re entitled to your opinions, Sheriff. You don’t have to like me and really, I don’t give a damn. But what you’re not entitled to is my respect. You got to earn that,” Atticus said in a matter-of-fact tone before walking away.