April 29, 1905
The footsteps pounded the hallway; my office door swung wide open; reflexively, I stood.
Walter Kehoe, who’d broken away from Cephas and the other gentleman, leaving them to talk in the hallway. He comes around to my side of the desk, and clasps my hand and elbow in a firm, affectionate grip. I cann’t help but smile at my friend. Walter has that way about him — he puts anyone at ease in the room, no matter the situation.
“Did you have a good trip in from Tallahassee?” I ask.
“Yes.” He lowers his voice, and there’s a touch of concern in his eyes. “Are you all right? About the Daniels case, I mean.”
I shrug slightly; my face color with embarrassment. “Cephas talked to you about it.”
“It was a complicated case, Emmett. We know you put a lot of time and effort into it…”
“Can we talk about this later? “I ask, as I hear Cephas headed our way.
“Of course, son,” Walter says kindly.
“I just have to take a break,” I say, quietly to Walter. “I need to get away…” I pause, waiting for the words I wanted to say to come forth, but they don’t. .
“I understand, Emmett,” Walter says. “We’ll talk again.“
“Well, are you going to introduce me to the future chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court?”
Walter chuckles, as Cephas nods hello at me, and motions the loud gentleman into my office.
“Emmett, you remember Mr. Frank Mayes, editor and publisher of The Pensacola Journal. Frank, this is the young man I’ve been talking to you about, Emmett Wilson. Emmett, Frank will be joining us for supper tonight at home.”
Frank Mayes. I feel a strange sensation in my stomach, a sense of dread — ridiculous — I tell myself. That’s what I get for drinking without eating anything all day….
“We’ve met once before, Mr. Mayes. At my father’s house last year,” I say.
Mayes shakes my hand. “Nice to meet you, young Emmett,” he says, with a sarcastic smile and a jaunty manner. I nod and regard Mayes with distrust. What are Walter and Cephas doing with this two-bit egotistical showman? I know Mayes is important; but is he really that big of a deal? I must be certain to maintain a blank expression. Mayes notices it, though; he steps back; eyes me critically.
“You didn’t care for that, did you?” Mayes says.
I look him straight in the eyes. “No. It’s disrespectful.”
Mayes nods approvingly at me. “I apologize. I like a man who will stand up for himself.”
After dinner at the Wilson house, Kehoe and Mayes walk towards Lafayette Street; they are staying at the Chipola Hotel while in Marianna.
“Your friend, young Emmett, doesn’t like me. That was crystal clear at the table tonight, despite all of his good manners and upbringing, obviously to hide his disdain,” Mayes said, chuckling.
“He just doesn’t know you yet, Frank….”
“Oh, come on,” Mayes said, reaching into his jacket pocket, and taking out a silver case. He opens it, and offers a cigar to Walter, who took it, nodding thanks.
“Does that bother you?” Walter asks.
“Not really,” Mayes says, stopping to light Walter’s cigar with his lucifer, then his own. “I like what I see in him; he’s ambitious and frustrated, chomping at the bit to break out and do something for himself. I think there’s something about the young man that I can use in the future.”
“What do you propose?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Mayes said, blowing out a large cloud of smoke. “Maybe something in the district attorney’s office in a few years; there may be something in it for him.“
“You know about something in particular?” Walter asks cautiously.
“I always know something,” Mayes said, sarcastically.
“But — with the current administration, it would be for a Republican District Attorney,” Walter said.
“So? I have friends in both parties. A patronage position is a patronage position. Young Emmett would be useful there. And grateful, I’d think.“
“You discount the fact that Emmett is a tireless worker, and has integrity. He’d not want a handout. He’d want to have earned it on his own.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. He seems to have been the recipient of quite a few favors to ‘earn’ his way into his brother’s law firm,” Mayes said with a smirk.
“Whatever you think, I doubt Emmett would wish serve under any Republican. And if the office was a proper Democratic appointment, he’d certainly not be ready for it for a least a few years,” Walter said.
“No, of course not. I know about that debacle with the Daniels case. Emmett, right now, is clearly out of his league.”
“He’s young and inexperienced.” Walter said. “He’s like a son to me and Jennie. And it was his first big case to handle on his own.“
Mayes takes a few puffs of his cigar, as he stands looking at the darkened town square, a few carriages pass by. Marianna was quiet at this hour; it is a nice, sleepy town, Mayes thinks, but I miss the hubbub and noise of Pensacola.
“One of the things I do well, Kehoe, is that I get to know the big political players in West Florida intimately. It isn’t hard; you ask the men straight out. If they don’t give you a satisfactory answer, then you just start digging around. The facts all come out, eventually. What comes out of this is information — which is power. I know the strengths and weaknesses of the big party men, and who I can use to the party’s advantage. I’ve gotten to know a lot about Cephas Wilson — he’s smart, I’ll give you that, but his weakness is his ego. And his philandering. Both of which have gotten him into trouble. I know he wants to be Governor of Florida one day, and he might, despite his shortcomings. But that’s as high as I think he’ll go.“
“You don’t know that….“
“Yeah, I do,” Mayes said. “Your friend Cephas needs to play along, though. I know what Ceph has his eye on; he thinks he has a shot at Tallahassee. Maybe he does, if he watches his step, keeps his name out of the papers with regard to scandals and so forth,” he said, giving Kehoe a cold, knowing look. “We’ve had enough problems with the oldest brother in that family, Max. No. The real member of the Wilson family with potential is young Emmett. Now there’s someone we can mold into a U.S. Congressman or Senator who would truly represent our interests on the national level. He’s also got a clean personal record — no flagrant affairs with married women, or bastards in the woodpile, and so forth. It’s hard enough to sell the progressive ticket when your candidate has ….”
Kehoe frowned and interrupted. “Emmett? I don’t understand. He’s just a year out of law school…”
“Kehoe. Every man has his price. Even our Emmett. In case you didn’t notice it, there’s a bit of discord between the brothers Wilson, and I daresay it has much more to do with something else other than Emmett losing the Daniels case last week. Anyone could see it if they were observant enough.“
Kehoe said nothing, but continued to smoke the cigar.
“The point is, the young man has much potential. True, he’s untried, and needs a lot more training and experience. But he’s impatient and wants to be more than where he is right now — that’s raw ambition — and I like that. There’s something here we can use in the future, for everyone’s mutual benefit. Not now, not for several years, of course, but there is definitely something about our young Emmett….“
“If you want to get to know him better, Mayes, you should stop referring to him as ‘young Emmett’,” Kehoe said.
“Mmm,” Mayes said, puffing on the cigar. “There’s not much love between Cephas and Lula.“
“I don’t think that’s any of your damn business, Mayes,” Kehoe said, irritatedly, as they pause in front of the Jackson County Courthouse.
“Come now, Walter. There’s more affection between Mrs. Wilson and young — er — Emmett than man and wife. Mrs. Wilson did not give Cephas a peck on the cheek or anything more than pure civility; yet she gives Emmett a warm smile, an affectionate pat on the shoulder. Sisterly, but warm affection there. Definitely information worth noting,” he added.
“Emmett has lived with Cephas and Lula since he was 16 years old. She’s been like a mother to him.”
“Mmm,” Mayes said, thoughtfully puffing. “When does Emmett plan to settle down? Seems like he’s old enough.“
“Probably not for a few more years.”
“No one special in his life? Sowing his wild oats still?“
“There really hasn’t been anyone special in his life that I can think of; not that he’d tell me anything about it, Mayes. He’s quite buttoned up about his private life.“
“He isn’t, perhaps, of another persuasion?“
“Honest to God, Mayes!” Kehoe said, turning to him angrily.
“Just wondering — a well connected, good looking young man like Emmett. Keeps to himself. A bit secretive. Has ambitions; some talent that needs refinement — if we are to consider his potential for the party, and perhaps something important one day, we need to make sure there isn’t anything suspicious about his character, you know. No strange skeletons in the closet to come out later …“
“There is nothing about Emmett that is suspicious,” Walter said, angrily. Y”ou don’t even know this young man. I think the real problem is that Emmett doesn’t like you, and doesn’t bother to hide it or pay homage to you. Does it really bother you that much Mayes?“
“Of course not,” Mayes said, waving Walter off. “I’ll just stick to the business at hand. What about Emmett’s politics, then?“
“Staunchly Democratic, naturally.“
“Oh, naturally,” Frank said, as he looked up at the darkened courthouse on the square, and puffed his cigar.
“If you are questioning his loyalty…. “Walter started.
“I’m wondering if he will follow directions to the letter for the party, given the opportunities that the party may have for him in the future,” Frank interrupted, briskly.
“I don’t think you’d have any problems there,” Walter said, firmly.
“He has quite a bit of integrity.“
“Yes,” Walter said.
“Heres’s a question, Walter. Do you really think someone with that much integrity really has a chance in politics, or would do anything for the party? Think about it. How far do you think a man with a true core of integrity like Emmett’s will go in the party? “
“Now you think about this, Frank: You’ve built your career on knowing what the constituents want, and being able to convince them, in your paper, that you know how to make that happen for them. They want someone honest, intelligent, and hard working, who won’t sell out to party bosses. What if you actually delivered that?”
Mayes stared at him for a moment, then chuckled for about five minutes.
“What if, indeed?“
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