The chains binding Granville Oliver's wrists scraped the scarred surface of the table before him. Manacles also bound his ankles. Oliver's shoulders and chest filled out the orange jumpsuit he had worn for half a year. His eyes, almost golden when Strange had first met him, were now the color of creamed-up coffee, dull in the artificial light of the interview room of the D.C. Jail.
"Looks like you're keeping your physical self together," said Strange, seated on the other side of the table.
"Push-ups," said Oliver. "I try to do a few hundred every day."
"You still down in the Hole?"
"You mean Special Management. I don't know what's so special about it; ain't nothin' but a box. They let me out of it one hour for every forty-eight."
Strange and Oliver were surrounded by Plexiglas dividers in a space partitioned by cubicles. Nearby, public defenders and CJA attorneys conferred with their clients. The dividers served to mute, somewhat, the various conversations, leaving a low, steady mutter in the room. A thick-necked armed guard sat watching the activity from a chair behind a window in a darkened booth.
"It won't be long," said Strange. "They finished with the jury selection."
"Ives told me. They finally found a dozen D.C. residents weren't opposed to the death penalty, how'd they put it, on principle. Which means they found some white people gonna have no problem to sit up there and judge me."
"Four whites," said Strange.
"How you think they gonna find me, Strange? Guilty?"
Strange looked down and tapped his pen on the open folder lying on the table. He didn't care to take the conversation any further in that direction. He wasn't here to discuss what was or was not going to happen relative to the trial, and he was, by definition of his role as an investigator, uninterested in Oliver's guilt or innocence. It was true that he had a personal connection to this case, but from the start he had been determined to treat this as just another job.
"The prosecution's going to put Phillip Wood up there first," said Strange.
"Told you when I met you the very first time he was gonna be my Judas. Phil can't do no more maximum time. Last time he was inside, they took away his manhood. I mean they ass-raped him good. I knew that boy would flip." Oliver tried to smile. "Far as geography goes, though, we still close. They got him over there in the Snitch Hive, Strange. Me and Phil, we're like neighbors."
Wood had been Granville's top lieutenant. He had pled out in exchange for testimony against Oliver. Wood would get life, as he had admitted to being the triggerman in other murders; death had been taken off the table. He was housed in the Correctional Treatment Facility, a privately run unit holding informants and government witnesses in the backyard of the D.C. Jail.
"I've been gathering background for the cross," said Strange. "I was looking for you to lead me to one of Phillip's old girlfriends."
"Phil knew a lot of girls. The way he used to flash . . . even a bitch can get some pussy; ain't no trick to that. Phil used to drive this Turbo Z I had bought for him around to the high schools, 'specially over in Maryland, in PG? Drive by with that Kenwood sound system he had in there, playin' it loud. The girls used to run up to the car. They didn't even know who he was, and it didn't matter. It was obvious he had money, and what he did to get it. Girls just want to be up in there with the stars. It's like that, Strange."
"I'm looking for one girl in particular. She swore out a brutality complaint against Wood."
"The prosecution gave you that?"
"They don't have to give you charges, only convictions. I found it in his jacket down at the court. This particular charge, it was no-papered. Never went to trial."
Copyright © 2003 by George P. Pelecanos
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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