The antique pendant shimmered brightly in the hazy morning sunlight when the police officers pulled it from the pocket of his jeans. The intricate piece was a miniature silver pocketbook that opened on a little hinge, and a hook had been jimmy rigged from a paper clip attached to a tarnished chain.
“That’s all I got left from my dead Momma,”
The man mumbled through swollen and cracked lips, as the officers continued their search. In his pockets he had a few dollars, but no weapons. No drugs. The address on his ID was from the county, and he was far away from home. The officer put his meager belongings on the hood of the police cruiser. The pendant still shimmered in the morning sun. One of the officer’s radioed dispatch, while the other approached him
“Mr. Franks is this still your address? Mr. Franks…. Devin Franks!”
“Have you been drinking this morning?”
“No…. No sure. I mean, no sir.”
“Any narcotics, drugs?”
“At any time… Mr. Franks… Sir, are you high?”
Happenstance and misfortune had broken the man down to an incoherent shell of his former self. He hesitated to answer to his own name. After all he’d been through, how could he be the same Devin Franks?
The police officer was having a hard time reconciling the gentile and smiling license photo with the dusty looking man standing in front of him.
“Mr. Franks, were you getting high in this neighborhood?”
The man pointed a boney finger down the street at a house on the corner.
It wasn’t where he lived but he had slept there many nights with Angel. In fact, Angel had taken him to many of the abandoned and vacated homes in the hood. And sometimes they cowered in those rat-infested hideouts together, and he reasoned to himself that anywhere was better than sleeping on the streets.
He could hear his name and social security number relayed on the radio in between crackles of static. The dispatcher had positive confirmation of his identity, and suddenly the massive bells of St. Sabina, the beautifully maintained coven for the wayward and indigent, rang throughout the impoverished neighborhood. It was his twelve-o clock hour, and he was suddenly calm and still. It made sense that they would come for him. At least now someone would know he was alive.
His family had washed their hands of him many years ago. Back then, the newly emaciated crack-fiend version of the cousin they remembered was unacceptable. They wondered what had happened.
Where was the smart young black man that was destined for greatness? Where was that handsome smiling example for his race? They tisk tisked at how he smoked up his privilege after his Momma died and they were through with his promises to pay back years of begging.
Drugs had turned him into a grown ass man who couldn’t keep a job, and because his way of living was so wrong, he found himself alone and homeless in the big bad city.
Then he met Angel. His patna, the ultimate hustler, the come-up artist extraordinaire, the down for whatever brother and his world changed, when he did strange things for change. He did things he’d take to his grave. The love he had for Angel dragged him down to his lowest and he knew all their illicit shenanigans would come back to haunt him.
The officers were laughing.
One of them grabbed him by his belt, raised him to his feet and grinned at the man like a Cheshire cat.
“Looks like you taking a trip downtown. Couple felony warrants from the county. You ready to go?”
Devin shook his head and gave the officers a weak smile that froze when he noticed his Momma’s antique pendant was missing from the hood of the police cruiser. He wondered how it disappeared, which one of the dirty cops had taken it, but he didn’t utter a word.
It was easy for him to go to his quiet place and escape the pandemonium of lock up. Sleeping was the best way to rid himself of the funk stank brothers that surrounded him like flies. So many hustlers from the streets. So many brothers he recognized pinned up like cattle.
From the safety of his quiet place, he searched their faces for Angel, but that didn’t make sense because Angel said he’d never go back to prison.
He became a professional at dissociation. With his head down, arms to his side, quiet like a church mouse, he became a version of himself he wasn’t raised to be. His Momma always said he had book smarts but no street sense.
He relied on his faith and prayed and struggled to believe that he would be delivered from this incarceration, and so he waited.
Although he slept most of his days away, at night, dreams of Angel would consume him. Together in a vaco getting high or tricking off with a female in a ramshackle hotel room. Always together, working a smooth lick or hustling the coins they needed to eat and get high.
But every morning when Devin woke up, above ground and alone, he was grateful. He knew God was in charge, so he spent his days in silent prayer and tried to fade into the bleak cinder block around him.
St. Sabina’s Café was a soup kitchen that ran every lunch hour, Monday through Friday, rain or shine, hell, or high water. The 100-year-old sanctuary was a magnificent structure among the urban decay. Serving the needs of the community, St. Sabina ran a daycare, elementary school, and food pantry. In the basement was the Café that provided free meals for the homeless.
After his family cut him off, he met people on the street that told him about St. Sabina’s. They said he could get something to eat there. That’s mostly why he went, at first. The lunchtime ministry was a blessing because sometimes it was the only meal he had all day. He enjoyed the food too, and the patrons, most of them unusual, some of them crazy, all of them entertaining, kept him coming back.
He waited in line with a backpack and baseball cap covering his nappy fro and grabbed his tray and food. It was pot roast day, and he was anxious to dive into his meal. He found an empty table near the back of the room and got to eating. The string beans needed seasoning, but the thin slices of pot roast and mashed potatoes were good.
Occasionally he’d look up from his meal, distracted by the young brother that moved from table to table and seemed to know everyone there. Handsome to be sure, café o ley complexion, 6ft tall, bald head, even then, he demanded Devin’s attention. The brother caught him staring, and when Devin looked away, he walked over to the table and sat down.
“What up with you?”
“Nothing much. Same shit, different day.”
“You got that right.” The stranger was smiling at Devin. “Tell me something bro. Why you always by yourself?”
The question struck Devin as odd. Had the stranger noticed him ?
“I ain’t from around here. Don’t know nobody, I guess…”
Devin swirled circles in his mashed potatoes and gravy. He didn’t want to look up. He feared his face would betray the butterflies in his belly, so he kept his head down.
“Now you know somebody. You know me and that’s all you need.” His megawatt smile lit up the space. “My name’s Angel. I run shit ‘round here.” He put his hand out for Devin to shake and that’s how they met.
He’d been incarcerated for three days, but it felt like a lifetime. The CO’s told him when to sleep, when to eat and when to wash his ass. Devin did what they said, when they said it. He obediently shuffled, head down and silent to chow, rec time and court.
When they called him out his pod, he stood in a row with other inmates going to see the judge. He tried to shake off the last vestiges of disbelief as they shackled his wrists and ankles for the journey.
Now was not the time to weep. He pulled himself together and accepted his new reality. It was just a short walk to the courtrooms, and when he arrived, the deputies, dressed in starched blues and shiny accouterments, removed his shackles, and led him to his seat.
He rubbed his wrists and looked around the crowded courtroom. The wooden pews were packed with family and friends, lawyers, and public servants. But no one was there for him. He half expected to see Angel when there was a tap on his shoulder and the deputy was telling him to get up.
“Your PD want to talk with you before court.” The voice came to him in a fog and the deputy led him out the courtroom to meet his lawyer.
The young and talented public defender sat across from his client and reviewed the hefty case file
The state’s first-degree murder charge against Devin Franks was based on evidence obtained from pawn shop videos and forensic data. The pawn shop’s security cameras had captured Devin pawning jewelry, stolen from a horrific home invasion a few days prior that resulted in the vicious murder of a 71-year-old white widow. Since Devin had used his ID to pawn the old woman’s jewelry, at the very least, he faced charges of receiving and selling stolen property. A warrant was issued for his arrest. But the security cameras also captured his accomplice, a person of interest named Antonio “Angel” Bradford who had a rap sheet a mile long.
Was he the driver of the black sedan, caught on a neighbor’s security camera speeding away from the old woman’s house, or was it Devin?
Detectives caught a lucky break when they found the car, abandoned, and stripped. They impounded it, processed it for evidence and found Angel and Devin’s prints all over the vehicle along with the blood DNA evidence from the victim.
The detectives hadn’t found Angel, but they had Devin in custody and the prosecution was charging him with murder in the first degree. He was looking at 25 years to life.
James Rome studied the gory crime scene photos in Devin’s case file and created possible scenarios in his head. It helped that he believed his client was innocent. He’d represented killers before, and he knew Devin Franks was no murderer.
“And so, you’re telling me that you weren’t with Angel when he stole the old woman’s rings and beat her to death.”
“Left her dead on the kitchen floor… But no prints. Yours or his.”
“Where did you go after you pawned the rings,” he asked.
“Angel got us a room at the Grand Hotel. We stayed there about a week until the money ran out.”
“What happened then?”
“What the fuck happened is that he left me there. I had to pay the debts he made! They would’ve killed me!”
James Rome was struck by his client’s words and really looked at Devin for the first time. He was scrawny looking in his jail issued scrubs, and he wondered how he became homeless, unemployed, and drug addicted like so many other black men he defended. He found himself angry with the so-called friend named Angel that Devin had needed in his life like he needed a hole in the head.
“I did what I had to do,” Devin said, as a single tear trickled down his face.