Authors: Stephen - Scully 07 Cannell
"Tru, you want to look up at me?"
"'Kay." He didn't look up.
"Now. You wanta look up now?"
The eyes slowly came up and found me sitting across from him. We locked gazes for a second and I saw fear and pain swimming in brown pools of confusion before his eyes darted away, then came back, then darted away again. It was as if he was taking me in, one quick little glance at a time.
"I read your letter. You need to tell me why you think you were framed. You need to start at the beginning. Walk me through it."
"Man, this is so . . ." Then he looked over at one of the inmates across the room. "I can't snitch people out with them in here. I'm already wearing a rat jacket. It's why I keep getting stomped on."
"This is the visiting room, Tru. They have a right to be here."
"But. . ."
"I drove all the way up from L
. I'm interested in what you have to say. Forget about them. Just talk to me, okay?" He didn't speak, so I said, "Let's just start with the day of the murder. Your friend, Mike Church, came over and got into a fight with your mom. Start there."
Now his eyes finally found mine. "Ain't my fucking friend," he said, his voice barely a whisper. "That guy's like a case of the clap I can't get rid of. Been on me since tenth grade."
"You met him at the California Youth Authority, right?"
"Yeah. Pounded my ass every fuckin' mornin'. My crime was I was alive and that seemed to really piss him off."
"If he's not a friend, why was he over at your house the day your mother was killed?"
"To fuck with me. To make my life suck. That's all he ever wanted me for. He'd pop a bunch of Amies, get all 'roided out and come lookin' for my ass."
"No other reason?"
"That afternoon he said he wanted me to go buy a case of beer for him. Like I'm still his CYA yard bitch."
"That's it? That's all he wanted? Why?"
"Why? How the hell do I know? He wants my life to be shit. He'll kick my ass just to get the lint in my pocket. He's a fuckin' psycho."
"Why didn't he buy the beer himself?"
"I just told ya. He likes fucking with me. He knows my mom hates his guts. He likes to rile her up. Sometimes I wouldn't see him or his greaser gang friends for months, then all of a sudden, there he is. Back in my life like a boil on my dick. Nothing I can do about it, either."
"So he comes over to your house that Saturday. What time was that?"
"Two, two-thirty in the afternoon. My mom is home Saturdays. He knows that. He makes a point a frontin' her off. She gets all pissed. It's like a dance they did. Finally, she's out on the front lawn screaming at him. Called him a dumb cholo. Fucking Church snapped and almost killed her right there. It was all I could do to get him to leave."
Tru looked down at his sleeve again and started picking at loose threads. Then, without looking up, he blurted, "I been raped three times in a month. Had ta have my asshole stitched up twice at the infirmary 'cause they ripped me open back there. I can't... I can't stay here anymore. You gotta get me outta this car." Tears started rolling down his cheeks. He rubbed at them savagely with his cuff, fought desperately to rein in his emotions, glanced at the other inmates furtively to see if they were witness to his breakdown.
"I could see if I could get you moved into the Administrative Segregation Unit."
"I asked. They won't move me to ASU."
"Let me see what I can do."
He reached out and grabbed my hand in both of his like he was clutching a lifeline. "I made a lot of mistakes in my life, you know? Stealing shit, slamming drugs . . . but I didn't never hurt anyone and I sure didn't kill my mom. I didn't do it. I loved her."
He was shaking, or shivering, I don't know which. I fought the urge to bolt. This kid was such a victim it was starting to rattle me.
"Go on," I said. "You and Church left the house to get beer. What happened next?"
" 'Kay." He sat with his eyes down, said nothing.
"You gotta tell it now. Go on."
"'Kay." He sat there for a long time. Then finally, like an engine taking a long time to wind up RPMs, he started again, slowly at first, then gaining momentum.
"Church makes me go to this strip mall on Sepulveda to buy the case of beer. It's halfway across the Valley. For some reason, he has to buy beer from this exact fucking store. It's the way he was. He was always like that. Everything's a project. Mike Church is insane. He really is."
"It's gotta be Bud Light, you know? Nothing but Bud Light. Here's this guy, weighs over three hundred pounds, and he's gotta have diet beer. He gives me a hundred bucks and says buy all the Bud Light in the market, we'll take it and drink it at this party he knows about where there's all these girls. Putas, he calls 'em. I told him I couldn't drink booze 'cause I was on Antabuse. Antabuse makes you sick if you drink alcohol. Mostly though, I just wanted to get away from him."
"Was the Antabuse court mandated?" I asked him.
"Yeah. I agreed to take Antabuse, so they didn't incarcerate me for my last DUI. Had t'go into a program. Lotta shit like that. It's why I was doin' crystal."
"And Antabuse doesn't hit the crystal meth," I said, knowing it didn't.
"Ain't that a hoot?" He smiled at me. His teeth were crooked, but there was something innocent and strangely unaffected in his smile. In that instant, I knew he hadn't stabbed his mother to death. Why, I can't exactly say. It was a vibe. An instinct.
I've come to realize that in this world some people are predators, others are prey. Sometimes it's hard to know which is which because you'll find guys who look like they can kick ass, but underneath they're weak. The reverse can also be true. In the animal kingdom, the predators are easy to spot. They all have their eyes in the front of their heads to facilitate an attack. Lions, tigers, and wolves are designed by nature to kill. Antelopes, deer, and rabbit all have their eyes on the side of their heads. These prey animals are designed for flight and their vision allows them to see things coming at them peripherally. In the wild there are no exceptions to this rule. With people, it was a lot harder to tell. You had to read body language and to try to see into a man's soul. When I saw the innocence and simplicity hiding behind Tru's smile, I suspected that there was no set of conditions that could ever bring him to murder. Tru Hickman was not a predator. He was food.
"Go on," I said. "So he wants you to buy beer at a particular strip mall."
"Yeah. I go into this mini-mart and buy this beer while Church waits outside. There's only one six-pack of Bud Light in the fucking cooler and Mike is so adamant about me buying Bud Light at that exact store, I remember thinking, thank God they ain't out, 'cause he'd bust my ass if I walk out empty-handed. I buy it and leave. Church's on his cell phone when I walked out. He owns a garage and towing service in the Valley and after he hangs up he says there's a guy had an accident on the one-oh-one Freeway and he's gotta go back to his garage, get the tow rig, and pull this guy's car. He tells me to take a cab and to take the beer home with me. He says he'll be over at my house in an hour and then we'll go to the bang, shag pussy, get wasted. Again, I try and beg off, but Church says he can hook me up with some crank, so that does it. I'm down, you know?"
"He wants you to take the beer home with you?"
"He says, 'cause CHP cops would be at the freeway accident. He's got one DUI beef of his own and I guess he didn't want a six
pack in the truck."
"So you go home."
"I go home. He shows up a few hours later, but my mom is on the warpath. They get into another huge argument on the lawn. It's so loud the neighbors next door and across the street come out to watch. This time it's over the damn six-pack of beer. My mom won't let him have it because I'm on Antabuse. I tell her it's Mike's beer, but she's not having any. This time she throws a rock at him, hits Church in the chest. He would a killed her right there if I hadn't pointed to the neighbors watching. She pulls out her cell and calls the cops while we're all shouting at each other. Me and Church had t'split before they arrived."
"You left without the beer?"
"Mom wouldn't let us have it."
"I got totally buzzed at this party in the Valley. Don't even remember where it was. I did a lot of crystal and just aired out. The next morning, I have to walk home. I get to my house at eleven
thirty and find my mom dead on the kitchen floor. Man, it's a mess. Blood everywhere." His eyes started to fill up and the tears came again. "She was all I had, you know? She used to scream and bitch, but I'll be honest with you, man, it was just 'cause she cared. All my life nobody but her gave a damn what happened to me. I was such a fuck-up, on drugs and everything. I deserved everything she said."
I didn't want him to melt down again. I wanted him to stay on the narrative, so I interrupted this memory and said, "You walked in and found her dead. Then what?"
"I called nine-one-one. This guy, Lieutenant Devine, arrives almost immediately. He takes me down to the Van Nuys station and asks me if I'll take a lie detector test. Since I didn't kill my mom, I say okay, if it will help, sure. He gives me the test, then tells me afterward that I flunked it. He tells me my shoe print matched the one by her body, but I know I didn't step in the blood. I was so scared I didn't go near her. I could tell she was dead from the back porch. She was pale as ivory, gallons of blood on the floor, knife wounds all over."
"He told you he matched the shoe print to your boots?"
"That's what he said, but I don't know how. Like I said, I never stepped in any blood. There wasn't no blood on my shoes, or on the soles. Nowhere. He also tells me I was laying in wait to kill and rob her, which is a lie, but that makes it premeditated murder and a murder for financial gain. Both those things qualify me for special circumstances. The death penalty. I've got a long drug record. I know how the system works. After Devine tells me all this, I know I'm dust, so I signed a confession they wrote."
"And then you pled out?"
"Yeah. The court assigns me a public defender named Yvonne Hope. It's this girl with red hair and braids, looks like she should still be in high school. I couldn't fuckin' believe it when I saw her. They cut a deal, offer me twenty-five to life, and I took it. Shit, I had no idea what it was gonna be like in here. I only done CYA and county time before this. I didn't know my asshole was gonna get torn open and have to get stitched up twice in one month. I didn't know I'd get a yard beat-down almost everyday. I can't live like this, Mr. Scully. I'll kill myself if this goes on much longer."
"Okay, Tru. I'll talk to somebody. I'll see if I can get you transferred to ASU. But you'll be lonely in there. No yard privileges."
"Hey, man, for me, the yard ain't no privilege."
"I'll try then."
I stood and he suddenly reached out and grabbed my hand again. "Don't go yet, man, okay? Please? I don't want to leave the visitor's center. Can't you stay a little longer?"
"I gotta leave now. I'll be in touch." I started to exit, then turned back and looked at him. He was standing there, head down, pulling at his frayed cuffs. There's a place where pathetic becomes heart-wrenching. I knew what Scout meant when she said Tru had been sacrificed. I also thought she was right when she said somebody must have it in for him. This wasn't right.
"Did you tell Lieutenant Devine that the second argument was over that six-pack of Bud Light?" I finally asked. "Of course. I told him everything."
"So what happened? The six-pack wasn't in the court evidence box. Didn't he find it in the refrigerator?" "I don't think he ever looked."
"ALL THIS RAILROAD NEEDS IS TRACKS AND A WHISTLE," Secada said.
We were in a Mexican restaurant on Olvera Street named La Golondrina. The food was always excellent and after six p
. mariachis strolled between the tables and performed for the dinner guests.
Olvera Street was the first street built in Los Angeles and is just a few blocks from both Parker Center and the Bradbury Building. We had agreed to meet here after work. Scout's black eyes danced in an almond face, framed by shiny, black hair that shimmered in low flickering candlelight. We had already ordered dinner and, while we waited, were on our first margaritas.
"We need to get Hickman moved to ASU," I said. "I filed a request before I left, but it's gonna creep through channels. He could be dead by the time it gets approved."
"I agree. Our best bet is to keep working and see if we can get him a writ of habeas corpus for a new trial."
"I found the two hundred dollars," I told her.
"The murder money? How can that be? Devine said Tru spent it on crystal meth the night of the murder."
"It was in the court evidence room. In the side pocket of Olivia Hickman's purse."
She put down her margarita. "No way." She looked puzzled, her brow furrowed. "So if Tru or Church didn't take the money, what's the motive for murder?"