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A Father's Law

by Richard Wright

Paperback, 32 pages, Harpercollins, List Price: $14.95 |


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Book Summary

Written shortly before and left unfinished at the time of his death and published for the first time, a masterful novel by the author of Native Son explores one man's conflict over his dual roles as a black police officer and father, especially after he begins to suspect that his son is a murderer. Original. 50,000 first printing.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: A Father's Law

A Father's Law


Copyright © 2008 Richard Wright
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-134916-4

Chapter One

He saw the dim image of the traffic cop make a right-face turn and fling out a white-gloved arm, signaling that the flow of cars from the east should stop and that those toward the south now had the right of way, and at the same instant he heard the cop's shrill whistle: Wrrrriiiiiieee ...

Yes, that was a good rookie. He had made change-over in traffic smartly, the exact manner in which the Metropolitan Handbook for Traffic Policemen had directed. The footwork had been perfect and that impersonal look on his face certainly inspired confidence and respect. That's the way a policeman should work. Well done, Officer, he mumbled in his sleep as the officer now did a left-face turn, again flinging out his flashing white-gloved hand and sounding his whistle: Whreeeeeiiiiiee ...



"Ruddy! Wake up!"

Wrrrriiiiiieeeeee ...

"Hunh? Hunh?"

"Ruddy, it's the telephone, darling!"

Wreeeiiieeeeee ...


"It's the telephone, Ruddy!"

"I'll get it, I'll get it," he mumbled, blinking his sleep-drugged eyes in the dark and fumbling with the bedcovers. He sat half up and sleep rushed over him in a wave, seeking to reclaim him. "This rush-hour traffic ..." He sighed, his voice trailing off.

"Hunh? Ruddy, are you awake?"


"Darling, the telephone!"

Wreeeeeiiiiiii ...

In one stride of consciousness, he conquered his sleep and pushed his feet to the floor, reached out to the bedside table and lifted the receiver. He cleared his throat and spoke professionally: "Captain Rudolph Turner, speaking."

A woman's sharp, crisp voice sang over the wire: "Ruddy, Mary Jane ... Mary Jane Woodford."

"Yeah, Mary Jane. What is it? What's up?"

"Who is that, Ruddy?"

"Wait, Agnes. I'm trying to talk. Switch on the light."

"What was that?"

"I was talking to my wife, Mary Jane. Spill it. What's the trouble?"

"A message for you. The commissioner wants to see you at two o'clock," Mary Jane informed him. "So hustle up here. And don't wear your uniform."

"Two o'clock? Tonight?"

"Naw. This morning. It's past midnight now. And it's urgent."

"But what about?"

"I'm not the commissioner, Ruddy. You understood what I've said?"

"I got it."

"You sound like you were dead to the world."

"I was sleeping like a log. I was dreaming. I was coaching a rookie to direct traffic."

"Traffic? I bet it was flowing north and south! Ha, ha!"

"You dirty-minded gal!"

"Ha, ha! See you, Ruddy!"


He hung up and stared into space, vaguely aware that his wife had flooded the room with light.

"Who was that, Ruddy?"

"Mary Jane. The commissioner's secretary."

"Why in God's name is she calling you at this hour?"

"It's her duty, honey. I got to go in at the commissioner's at two ..."


"It's morning, darling. It's urgent, she said."

"She shouldn't call you like that."

"She's doing what she's told."

"But she never called you before at this hour."

"I know. Don't know what this can mean."

"Didn't you ask her?"

"Yeah. I did. But she won't tell."

"Well, I never. You're a captain. They shouldn't rouse you out of your sleep like that."

"Something's up," he said, idly scratching his chest, vaguely sensing the vivid dream he had had fading from his mind. Was it the Maybrick case? No-that was settled. And don't wear your uniform! "She said I was not to come in in uniform."


"The commissioner's order, she said."

"That sounds fishy to me."

He turned and looked down at his wife's dimpled, peach-colored face, the deep brown eyes clouded and heavy with sleep.

"Now, Agnes, don't you be a little kitten and start scratching at Mary Jane. She's not trying to lure me out of the house for her sake ..."

"I didn't say that," Agnes mumbled sulkily.

He glanced at his wristwatch; it was twenty minutes past midnight. He leaned over to his wife and lifted her head with his left palm and kissed her. Gently, he eased her face from him. "You go right back to sleep. I'll get dressed."

"When will you get back?"

"I really don't know, honey. Something's up. It's been years since I got a midnight call to come in ... say, what's that?"


"That noise? Jesus ... Tommy's typing. And at this hour. Doesn't he ever sleep?"

"He's studying for his exams, Ruddy."

"Goddammit, he's overdoing it. A boy his age ought to be sleeping."

"He sleeps enough. You'll call me as soon as you know?"

"Sure thing, kitten."

"And no uniform? Maybe they've got a plainclothes assignment for you and-"

"Naw. Those guys are a dime a dozen."

"Maybe you're being assigned to guard some bigwig?"

"Could be. But they've got hundreds of guys to do that stuff. And I'm the man who assigns 'em. Couldn't be that." He rose, yawned, and stretched. "I won't wear my uniform, but I sure will take my gat."

"You do that," Agnes said.

"I'll shower," he said, turning as a knock came on the door.


"Yeah, Tommy. What is it?"

"Come on, Tommy," Agnes called.

The door swung in and a tall, slender brown youth of eighteen poked his head and half of his body around the doorjamb.

"I heard the phone and heard you two talking," Tommy began.

"I'm summoned to headquarters," Ruddy said lightly, poking his feet into his house shoes. "You still up?"

"Cramming," Tommy said, twisting his lips in a self-effacing smile.

"You ought to get your sleep, son," Ruddy said. "When I was your age, I was either playing baseball or chasing gals."

"He knows what he wants to do," Agnes said.

"A big crime case coming up, Dad?" Tommy asked. He now showed his right hand, which held a smoldering cigarette. He lifted it to his lips and drew smoke deep into his lungs.

"Don't know, son. Got to report at two. Say, you look damned tired," Ruddy scolded softly.