A/N: This story is primarily based on the musical Parade. It might help if you're familiar with it, but if not, then I order you to go to your local music store, library, itunes, etc. and check out the cast recording right now. I think it is probably one of the best (if not underrated) American musicals ever written.
Just thought I'd mention there are also a couple bits of dialogue taken from the TV movie The Murder of Mary Phagan.
And please forgive some inaccuracies that abound.
Now…enjoy the story (or not). Read/review if you choose to do so.
The South's Least-Favorite Son
"I'm here to look into the eyes of little Mary's killer."
Leo Frank glanced up from the book he was reading and examined the grizzled man who stood outside his prison cell. He wore a blue suit, his hair slicked back. His eyelids were red and his mouth pinched in an angry scowl made him appear as though he hadn't slept in days.
"You have the wrong cell," Leo answered calmly. He had been through this before in the days following his arrest. A myriad of ignorant people came far and wide to chastise him. Of course he was grateful for the occasional bearer of good tidings, but now he braced himself for the imminent verbal onslaught.
"Oh, I don't think I got the wrong cell…murderer," the man said.
Leo ignored him and turned back to his book. During his time in prison he learned to stifle his anxiety. He also knew that any effort to dissuade the man of his convictions would be futile.
"Look at me when I'm talking to you, you damn devil," the man continued, edging closer to the bars.
Leo remained ridged, not daring to give into the man's taunts.
"Back off," warned a nearby guard.
The man began to retreat slowly. He paused momentarily and glanced at the guard. With a snort, he strode back to the cell and brought his face against the bars, sending a mass of spit hurtling toward Leo's face. It hit his eyeglasses and trailed down his cheek, but Leo remained stoic.
"If you was out of that cell you'd get a lot worse!" the man growled as the guard led him away.
Leo sighed. It was the first time anyone had ever spit on him. How could it have come to this? With the corner of his bed sheet, he cleaned off his lenses and face. He pushed his glasses back on and lay back on his cot. It was another dull morning, one that became a tiresome pattern of waiting around for the impending surprises of his circus-like trail, eating the same scant meals, reading the same old books. Leo stared up at the concrete ceiling of his Fulton Tower prison cell. Never before did he think he would end up in the wake of such a terrible turn of events. What were the odds of a young girl getting murdered in the pencil factory on Confederate Memorial Day?
He began to imagine how events would have transpired had he not been at the factory that day. He could have gone on a picnic with Lucille, spent time with his wife for once, instead of working the weekend like the persistent fool that he was. Was taking the blame for a crime he did not commit the price he had to pay for trying to support his family?
A family, he thought. He and Lucille had hopes to try again. Her miscarriage four years ago left her despondent for some time, and even made Leo feel like a failure. He veiled his melancholy from Lucille by toiling away long hours as superintendent at National Pencil, trying to create nest egg for the future. He had planned on staying at the factory for another three years, and when the time was right they would raise a son or daughter, and eventually move back to Brooklyn. Lucille required convincing of course, but Leo felt he had done his time in the South and needed a change.
Now that dream seemed improbable.
A knock on his cell bars stirred him from his ruminations. "Hey, Leo. The missus to see you," the guard said.
He looked up and found Lucille standing before him, her face grim. She held a basket in her hands, its handle smashed.
"Lucille, what's the matter?" Leo asked, rushing to her. "Your dress is torn. What happened?"
"Reporters. There were so many this time," she said faintly. The guard opened the cell and Lucille handed the broken basket to her husband. The door slammed closed and Leo set the basket on his cot. He turned back to Lucille and placed a comforting hand on her cheek. She wouldn't meet his eye. Leo was almost certain he felt her flinch ever so slightly at his touch.
"You have to be strong," he urged.
His wife looked up at him. Her solemn expression made him ache inside. How worn she'd become since his arrest, her usual spark of vivacity extinguished. She stood searching his face, almost hesitant to say anything. Finally after a lingering silence, she spoke. "Those girls on the stand said terrible things about you."
"Every Saturday? And in your office no less?" she pressed with quiet bitterness. "Wasn't I enough for you?"
Leo stared at her in shock. New testimony from the factory girls had even turned his wife into a skeptic of his morals. How easy it was for others to accuse him of licentious deeds.
"Don't believe a word of it. You-you are all I have ever needed. My God," he said. He pulled Lucille close to him. "What else must I say?"
Lucille hung her head, trying to hold back a faint layer of tears that had begun to form. She placed a hand on the back of his neck and leaned against the cold bars of the prison cell.
"I feel as though I know you so well—and yet I don't," she spoke.
The words floored Leo. He didn't even know how to begin arguing for the truth. No matter how much he tried, his words were useless. They could be twisted, mutilated, and torn apart like a piece of clay and shaped into something completely different. No one could see into his mind. "Everyone has their secrets," he began, "but trust me when I say I have nothing to hide."
She sighed and seemed to loosen at his reassurance. "Home isn't the same without you," she said.
Leo glanced at his surroundings. He would have given his right arm to be back in his own bed, his own house once again. "You know, I think I'm finally getting used to these bars," he joked.
Lucille chuckled half-heartedly. "I don't think I am," she said dabbing her eyes as she sat down on a nearby stool.
"Well, you'd better—with the way things are going," he spoke. "All of Atlanta is against me."
Lucille shook her head. "Not everyone is. Practically all of B'nai B'rith is on your side. There are plenty of good people fighting for you."
Leo scoffed and reached for a newspaper on the table in his cell. "They had better try harder. Do you think this is going to assuage the crowds?" He unfolded it to the front page to a bold headline: 'FRANK A PERVERT' SAY FORMER EMPLOYEES.
"The Jeffersonian? Is that the only paper they give you?"
"Yes. The staff here must find some strange pleasure in knowing that Tom Watson describes me as a 'filthy sodomite,'" Leo said throwing the paper across his cell. "What gives anyone the right to print such slander?"
"Lies can be easier to believe. The papers wouldn't sell if-"
"Do you think I don't know that?" Leo snapped. "I see it every day, and it's all the same. People I don't even know fabricate these outrageous stories about me. I have to sit in that stifling courtroom while that bastard Dorsey maligns my character, while Jim Conley feeds the jury lies when he knows I can do nothing about it! My God, I'm going mad here!" He slammed his fist against the cell bars. "My attorney says he's working up a strategy to help us win, but he doesn't have the nerve to tell me what it is! I don't deserve to be treated this way."
Lucille stood and regarded him in calm silence. "That's right, Leo, that's exactly right," she began slowly, "You're the only one who has to deal with this whole affair. You're the only one who has to sit there and listen to the lies. You're the only one who's powerless."
Leo turned away from her and shoved his hands in his pockets, frustrated and miserable. Lucille was right, and she knew how to get the best of him. He realized he could be selfish and stubborn, but was unable to admit it. He was surprised that his usually dormant temper was now manifesting itself more than ever.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I just want it all to be over."
"We all do."
Leo exhaled and rubbed his aching forehead. In all truthfulness, he hadn't the slightest idea of what his wife had to deal with each day. He faced her. "What do they ask you? The reporters, I mean."
At the mention of reporters she began to shift uncomfortably. "You wouldn't like what they say."
"I think I've heard it all by now," Leo said. "Tell me."
She paused and looked him in the eye. "They want to know what it's like being married to a deviant and…if I've ever seen the pictures of naked women in your office. They want to know if you're…different from other men…" she trailed off and looked away from him. "Oh, Leo, don't make me repeat it."
Leo reached through the bars and took Lucille's hands in his. "I won't make you," he said. "I'm sorry."
They sat there in silence with only the sound of the guard's passing footsteps echoing through the tower. Finally Lucille spoke.
"Leo, I came here to tell you something," she began. "My aunt in Savannah wants me to stay with her again—until the trial's over." She paused and looked into his eyes. "I'm seriously considering it this time."
"What? No. Not again. Stay here," he pleaded. "You refused her before, you can do it again. Lucille, I need you here with me."
"Why? So I can be stared at and accosted in the street—thrown to the pavement by strangers day after day?"
"No, that's not what I—I just…"
"What, Leo? A month ago you wouldn't so much as acknowledge me, let alone allow me to pay the bills, and now you want me here every waking moment. Why? Why this all of a sudden?"
Leo averted his gaze, half-ashamed to have his wife see him so crestfallen. "Because I…I'm…afraid," he nearly whispered.
Lucille's dour expression softened at his words.
"You're my best friend, Lucille. I don't want anyone else by my side but you," he said. "I did not kill that child. I could never. I could never." He held her gaze. "That's the honest truth."
Lucille regarded him earnestly and cupped his face in her hands. "I know it is."
She leaned against the bars and met his lips. Leo savored the moment, holding her close. For once he felt safe, just he and Lucille, together for a fleeting moment.
"Time's up," the guard interrupted.
They broke their embrace.
"Do all of our visits have to end this way?" Lucille asked solemnly.
Leo let go of her hand. "Don't go to Savannah," he entreated once more.
"I'll phone my aunt tonight," she said as the guard led her away.
"What will you tell her?"
Lucille looked back at him and smiled. "I'll tell her she won't have to make up an extra bed for me."
An elated grin spread across Leo's face. He stood clutching the bars as he watched his wife go, grateful to have such a devoted companion. In the back of his mind he tried to convince himself that the accusations would die down. In time he would be proven innocent and then those people would be sorry they ever blamed him for such a dreadful crime. His lawyers would turn the tables on the prosecution and justice would prevail. He would be able to get on with his life. He would be with Lucille again. He would be free.
And then what?
Leo moved to the single barred window in his cell and looked out. He watched Lucille hurry past a throng of reporters and board a trolley. When it disappeared out of his view, Leo turned back to find the sheriff and two guards waiting outside his cell.
"It's that time again, Mr. Frank," the sheriff said unlocking the door, ready to take him to the trial.
Leo nodded and walked out filled with a new sense of optimism. Today would be the day the clouds would lift at the courthouse. He just knew it.
A/N: Stay tuned for more.