H Is For Homicide Page 34

Nettie, the black woman, looked to be in her late thirties. She was tall, with broad shoulders and breasts the size of torpedoes. Her hair was big and brushed over to the right, where the bulk of it stuck out stiffly as if blown by a hard wind. The black strands had a gray cast from all the split ends. She wore blue jeans, an oversize white T-shirt, and white crew socks. Bibianna arranged her mattress beside mine and took a seat, watching Nettie with respect. ’’She was charged with 'attempt to inflict bodily injury'and 'assault with a deadly weapon.'She attacked a wino with an uprooted palm tree. I guess it was a little one, but can you believe that?’’

The other inmate, the white girl, was scarcely more than twenty, wearing an ankle-length organza dress and a corsage on one wrist. She was crying so hard it was impossible to figure out what her story was. She sank in a huddle and buried her face in her hands. She and Nettie both reeked of booze. The black woman paced restlessly, staring at Heather, who kept wiping her nose on the hem of her dress. Finally, Nettie stopped pacing and nudged her with a foot.

’’What's the matter with you, blubbering away like that? Hush up a minute and tell me what's wrong here.’’

The girl lifted a tear-streaked face, blotchy with embarrassment. Her nose was pink, her makeup smeared, her fine, pale hair coming loose from a complicated arrangement on top that looked like it had been done professionally. There were little sprigs of baby's breath tucked here and there like pale dried twigs. She paused to lick at a tear trickling toward her chin and then told a garbled tale of her boyfriend, a fight, being left penniless on the side of the freeway, too drunk to stand, picked up by a CHP cruiser and arrested on the spot. This was her twenty-first birthday and she was spending it in the county jail. She'd barfed on her dress, which she'd had on layaway for six months at Lerner's. Her daddy was on the city council and she didn't dare call home. By the time she got to this point, she burst into tears again.

The skinny woman on the mattress made a muffled response. ’’B.F.D. Big f*kin'deal.’’

Nettie, offended, turned on the woman, whom she apparently knew. She fired a dark look at the huddled form. ’’Mind your own business, bitch.’’ She patted Heather awkwardly, unaccustomed to mothering but identifying with her plight. ’’Poor sweet baby. That's all right. That's just fine. Now don't you be upset. Everything's going to be all right... ’’

I stretched out on my side, my head propped up on my hand. Bibianna had her back against the wall, her arms crossed for warmth. ’’What a crock of shit. People out there killing each other and they arrest someone like her. I don't get it. Call her old man and have him come get her out of here. He's going to call anyway once he figures out she's not home.’’

’’How come you're so down on the police?’’ I asked.

Bibianna ran a hand through her hair, giving it a toss. ’’They killed my pop. My mom's Anglo. He was Latino. They met in high school and she was crazy about him. She gets knocked up and they got married, but it worked out okay.’’

’’Why'd the cops kill him?’’

’’It was just something dumb. He was in a little market and lifted something minor - a package of meat and some chewing gum. The store manager caught him and they got into a tussle. Some off-duty cop pulled his gun out and fired. All for a pack of ground beef and some Chiclets for me. What a waste. My mother never got over it. God, it was awful to watch. She married some guy six months later and he turned out to be a real shit, knockin'her around. Talk about bad karma - the cops killed him, too. She'd kick him out. He'd disappear and then show up again, all contrite. Move in, take her money, beat the crap out of us. He's drunk half the time, doing 'ludes and coke, anything else he could get his hands on, I guess. If he wasn't pawing at her, he was pawing at me. I cut him once, right across the face - nearly took his eye out. One night, he got caught breaking into an apartment building two doors away from us. He barricaded himself in the place with a twelve-gauge. The cops swarmed all over the neighborhood. Television crews. SWAT teams and tear gas. Cops shot him down like a dog. I was eight. It's like how many times I gotta go through this, you know?’’

’’Sounds like they did you a service on that one,’’ I said.

Her smile was bitter, but she made no response.

’’Your mother still alive?’’

’’Down in Los Angeles,’’ Bibianna said. ’’What about you? You got family somewhere?’’

’’Not anymore. I've been on my own for years. I thought you were going to do my numbers,’’ I said.

’’Oh, yeah. What's your birthday?’’

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