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     ROBERT CRAIS: THE TWO MINUTE RULE
     
                                     excerpt three

2.

     "What should I do?"
     "What do you mean?"
     "I don't know what to do about this. Is there someone I'm supposed to see? Something I'm supposed to do?"
     Holman had served a total of nine months juvenile time before he was seventeen years old. His first adult time came when he was eighteen—six months for grand theft auto. This was followed by sixteen months of state time for burglary, then three years for a stacked count of robbery and breaking and entering. Altogether, Holman had spent one-third of his adult life in state and federal facilities. He was used to people telling him what to do and where to do it. Wally seemed to read his confusion.
     "You go on with what you were doing, I guess. He was a policeman. Jesus, you never said he was a policeman. That's intense."
     "What about the arrangements?"
     "I don't know. I guess the police do that."
     Holman tried to imagine what responsible people did at times like this, but he had no experience. His mother had died when he was young and his father had died when Holman was serving the first burglary stretch. He had nothing to do with burying them.
     "They sure it's the same Richie Holman?"
     "You want to see one of the counselors? We could get someone in here."
     "I don't need a counselor, Wally. I want to know what happened. You tell me my boy was killed, I want to know things. You can't just tell a man his boy was killed and let it go with that. Jesus Christ."
     Wally made a patting gesture with his hands, trying to keep Holman calm, but Holman didn't feel upset. He didn't know what else to do or what to say or have anyone to say it to except Wally.
     Holman said, "Jesus, Donna must be devastated. I'd better talk to her."
     "Okay. Can I help with that?"
     "I don't know. The police gotta know how to reach her. If they called me they would've called her."
     "Let me see what I can find out. I told Gail I'd get back to her after I saw you. She was the one got the call from the police."
     Gail Manelli was a business-like young woman with no sense of humor, but Holman liked her.
     "Okay, Wally," Holman said. "Sure."
     Wally spoke with Gail, who told them Holman could obtain additional information from Richie's commander at the Devonshire Station up in Chatsworth, where Richie worked. Twenty minutes later Wally drove Holman north out of Venice on the 405 and into the San Fernando Valley. The trip took almost thirty minutes. They parked outside a clean, flat building that looked more like a modern suburban library than a police station. The air tasted like pencil lead. Holman had resided at the CCC for twelve weeks, but had not been outside of Venice, which always had great air because it was on the water. Living on a short leash like that, cons in transition called it being on the farm. Cons in transition were called transitionary inmates. There were names for everything when you were in the system.
     Wally got out of the car like he was stepping into soup.
     "Jesus, it's hotter'n hell up here."
     Holman didn't say anything. He liked the heat, enjoying the way it warmed his skin.
     They identified themselves at the reception desk and asked for Captain Levy. Levy, Gail said, had been Richard's commanding officer. Holman had been arrested by the Los Angeles police department on a dozen occasions, but had never seen the Devonshire Station before. The institutional lighting and austere government decor left him with the sense that he had been here before and would be again. Police stations, courts, and penal institutions had been a part of Holman's life since he was fourteen years old. They felt normal. His counselors in prison had drummed it home that career criminals like Holman had difficulty going straight because crime and the penalties of crime were a normal part of their lives--the criminal lost his fear of the penalties of his actions. Holman knew this to be true. Here he was surrounded by people with guns and badges, and he didn't feel a thing. He was disappointed. He thought he might feel afraid or at least apprehensive, but he might as well have been standing in a Ralphs market.
     A uniformed officer about Holman's age came out, and the desk officer waved them over. He had short silvery hair and stars on his shoulders, so Holman took him for Levy. He looked at Wally.
     "Mr. Holman?"
     "No, I'm Walter Figg, with the CCC."
     "I'm Holman."
     "Chip Levy. I was Richard's commander. If you'll come with me I'll tell you what I can."
     Levy was a short, compact guy who looked like an aging gymnast. He shook Holman's hand, and it was then Holman noticed he was wearing a black armband. So were the two officers seated behind the desk and another officer who was push-pinning flyers into a bulletin board: Summer Sports Camp!! Sign up your kids!!
     "I just want to know what happened. I need to find out about the arrangements, I guess."
     "Here, step around through the gate. We'll have some privacy."
     Wally waited in the reception area. Holman went through the metal detector, then followed Levy along a hall and into an interview room. Another uniformed officer was already waiting inside, this one wearing sergeant's stripes. He stood when they entered.
     Levy said, "This is Dale Clark. Dale, this is Richard's father."
     Clark took Holman's hand in a firm grip, and held on longer than Holman found comfortable. Unlike Levy, Clark seemed to study him.
     "I was Richard's shift supervisor. He was an outstanding young man. The best."
     Holman muttered a thanks, but didn't know what to say past that; it occurred to him that these men had known and worked with his son, while he knew absolutely nothing about the boy. Realizing this left him feeling uncertain how to act, and he wished Wally was with him.
     Levy asked him to take a seat at a small table. Every police officer who ever questioned Holman had hid behind a veneer of distance as if whatever Holman said was of no importance. Holman had long ago realized their eyes appeared distant because they were thinking; they were trying to figure out how to play him in order to get at the truth. Levy looked no different.
     "Can we get you some coffee?"
     "No, I'm good."
     "Water or a soft drink?"
     "No, uh-uh."
     Levy settled across from him and folded his hands together on the table. Clark took a seat to the side on Holman's left. Where Levy tipped forward to rest his forearms on the table, Clark leaned back with his arms crossed.
     Levy said, "All right. Before we proceed I need to see some identification."
     Right away, Holman felt they were jacking him up. The Bureau of Prisons had told them he was coming, and here they were asking for his ID.
     "Didn't Ms. Manelli talk to you?"
     "It's just a formality. When something like this happens, we have people walking in off the street claiming to be related. They're usually trying to float some kind of insurance scam."
     Holman felt himself redden even as he reached for his papers.
     "I'm not looking for anything."
     Levy said, "It's just a formality. Please."
     Holman showed them his release document and his government-issued identity card. Realizing that many inmates had no form of identification upon release, the government provided a picture ID similar to a driver’s license. Levy glanced at the card, then returned it.
     "Okay, fine. I'm sorry you had to find out the way you did--through the Bureau of Prisons--but we didn't know about you."
     "What does that mean?"
     "You weren't listed in the officer's personnel file. Where it says 'father,' Richard had written 'unknown.'"
     Holman felt himself redden even more deeply, but stared back at Clark. Clark was pissing him off. It was guys like Clark who had been busting his balls for most of his life.
     "If you didn't know I existed, how did you find me?"
     "Richard's wife."
     Holman took it in. Richie was married, and neither Richie nor Donna had told him. Levy and Clark must have been able to read him because Levy cleared his throat.
     "How long have you been incarcerated?"
     "Ten years. I'm at the end of it now. I start supervised release today."
     Clark said, "What were you in for?"
     "Banks."
     "Uh-huh, so you've had no recent contact with your son?"
     Holman cursed himself for glancing away.
     "I was hoping to get back in touch now that I'm out."
     Clark made a thoughtful nod.
     "You could've called him from the correction center, couldn't you? They give you guys plenty of freedom."
     "I didn't want to call while I was still in custody. If he wanted to get together I didn't want to have to ask permission. I wanted him to see me free with the prison behind me."
     Now it was Levy who seemed embarrassed, so Holman pushed ahead with his questions.
     "Can you tell me how Richie's mother is doing? I want to make sure she's okay."
     Levy glanced at Clark, who took his cue to answer.
     "We notified Richard's wife. Our first responsibility was her, you understand, her being his spouse? If she notified his mother or anyone else she didn't tell us, but that was up to her. It was Mrs. Holman--Richard's wife--who told us about you. She wasn't sure where you were housed, so we contacted the Bureau of Prisons."
     Levy took over.
     "We'll bring you up to date with what we know. It isn't much. Robbery-Homicide is handling the case out of Parker Center. All we know at this point is that Richard was one of four officers murdered early this morning. We believe the killings were some sort of ambush, but we don't know that at this time."
     Clark said, "Approximately one-fifty. A little before two is when it happened."
     Levy continued on as if he didn't mind Clark's intrusion.
     "Two of the officers were on duty, and two were off--Richard was not on duty. They were gathered together in--"
     Holman interrupted.
     "So they weren't killed in a shootout or anything like that?"
     "If you're asking whether or not they were in a gun battle we don't know, but the reports I have don't indicate that to be the case. They were gathered together in an informal setting. I don't know how graphic I should be--"
     "I don't need graphic. I just want to know what happened."
     "The four officers were taking a break together--that's what I meant by informal. They were out of their cars, their weapons were holstered, and none of them radioed that a crime was in progress or a situation was developing. We believe the weapon or weapons used were shotguns."
     "Jesus."
     "Understand, this happened only a few hours ago. The task force has just been formed, and detectives are working right now to figure out what happened. We'll keep you informed on the developments, but right now we just don't know. The investigation is developing."
     Holman shifted, and his chair made a tiny squeal.
     "Do you know who did it? You have a suspect?"
     "Not at this time."
     "So someone just shot him, like when he was looking the other way? In the back? I'm just trying to, I don't know, picture it I guess."
     "We don't know any more, Mr. Holman. I know you have questions. Believe me, we have questions, too. We're still trying to sort it out."
     Holman felt as if he didn't know any more than when he arrived. The harder he tried to think, the more he saw the boy running alongside his car, calling him a loser.
     "Did he suffer?"
     Levy hesitated.
     "I drove down to the crime scene this morning when I got the call. Richard was one of my guys. Not the other three, but Richard was one of us here at Devonshire so I had to go see. I don't know, Mr. Holman--I want to tell you he didn't. I want to think he didn't even see it coming, but I don't know."
     Holman watched Levy, and appreciated the man's honesty. He felt a coldness in his chest, but he had felt that coldness before.
     "I should know about the burial. Is there anything I need to do?"
     Clark said, "The department will take care of that with his widow. Right now, no date has been set. We don’t yet know when they’ll be released from the coroner.”
     "All right, sure, I understand. Could I have her number? I'd like to talk to her."
     Clark shifted backwards, and Levy once more laced his fingers on the table.
     "I can't give you her number. If you give us your information, we'll pass it on to her and tell her you'd like to speak with her. That way, if she wants to contact you, it's her choice."
     "I just want to talk to her."
     "I can't give you her number."
     Clark said, "It's a privacy issue. Our first obligation is to the officer's family."
     "I'm his father."
     "Not according to his personnel file."
     There it was. Holman wanted to say more, but he told himself to take it easy, just like when he was inside and another con tried to front him. You had to get along.
     Holman looked at the floor.
     "Okay. I understand."
     "If she wants to call, she will. You see how it is."
     "Sure."
     Holman couldn't remember the number at the motel where he would be living. Levy walked him out to the reception area where Wally gave them the number, and Levy promised to call when they knew something more. Holman thanked him for his time. Getting along.
     When Levy was heading back inside, Holman stopped him.
     "Captain?"
     "Yes, sir?"
     "Was my son a good officer?"
     Levy nodded.
     "Yes, sir. Yes, he was. He was a fine young man."
     Holman watched Levy walk away.
     Wally said, "What did they say?"
     Holman turned away without answering and walked out to the car. He watched police officers entering and leaving the building as he waited for Wally to catch up. He looked up at the heavy blue sky and at the nearby mountains to the north. He tried to feel like a free man, but he felt like he was still up in Lompoc. Holman decided that was okay. He had spent much of his life in prison. He knew how to get along in prison just fine.

© 2006 by Robert Crais 


   
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