Ollie M. Jones would be the first one the cops would talk to. The fact that he was spattered with blood no doubt had something to do with it. His white jersey with the blue Royals across the front was a canvas of dappled red, certain to catch the attention of the responding police officers.
But Ollie would look back on it and know it wasn’t the blood that nabbed the gaze of the young LAPD badge, the one with the dark eyes and bull shoulders. It was the screams that did it.
Ten minutes after it happened, Ollie was still screaming, unable to keep the horror silent.
Tara Lundgren thought she heard the sound of several metal bats making contact with several balls simultaneously. That’s the way she described it to the reporters from the three local news stations, plus the CNN guy.
“I was standing right here”—Tara indicated with her arm one of the park’s four baseball diamonds, the one in the northeast corner— “watching my son’s game, when I heard the shots. Like I said, it sounded like bats hitting balls, but then I thought to myself, it didn’t really, because a ball hitting these aluminum bats goes ping, and this sound was more like whap. Then I heard the screams, and I turned around like this”—Tara did a forty-five-degree pivot—“and I saw the people running.And I thought, no, it couldn’t be happening, it has to be a joke. But it wasn’t. Dear God, it wasn’t.”
At the hospital, Robert Landis blocked the homicide detective’s path.
“Sir,” the detective said, “the doctor says it’s all right—”
“I don’t care what the doctor says.You can talk to him tomorrow, if he’s able, if he wants to, or you can—”
“Sir, listen to me, I understand completely—”
“I do, sir, I do. I have two boys of my own.”
“He shot my son in the chest! While he was playing baseball! What kind of a sick . . . why don’t you just shoot him?”
“Sir, if you’ll let me talk to your boy, we can put together a case, we can make sure this guy gets put away.”
“No,” Robert Landis said. “Kill him.You have to kill him.You have to make sure of that.”
“If you’ll let me see your boy now?”
Robert Landis erupted in tears.
“As of now?”
“Six.” Syl Martindale’s breath left her, turning her chest into a vice.
“Six kids dead.”
“Five boys.” Reesa Birkins swallowed. Hard. “One adult.”
“Why, why, why?”
Reesa placed a hand on her friend’s arm. “That’s beyond us. I can’t understand it, I can’t. I just have to look to God to—”
“God?” Syl sat straight up, jostling the coffee cup on the kitchen table. “What are you talking about? My best friend just watched her only child die in the dirt in front of her.”
Chamberlain Mills, vice president of KNX Newsradio, 1070 AM, delivered his nightly editorial the following evening.
“And now the scourge of violence has come not to another school campus, but to a public park, a place once thought safe in the daytime, a place where families could picnic or watch baseball games under blue southern California skies. That dream is now shattered. What is our answer? We must start with a deeper understanding of the cause of all this violence.How, we must ask, can a thirteen-yearold boy murder six people in cold blood? And what are we to do with mass murderers who have not even reached puberty? These are deep and troubling questions for our society.We must seek understanding above all else. Only then do we have a realistic hope for a solution.”
“We’re going all the way on this one,” District Attorney John Sherman told the reporters. “This is it, the line in the sand.We can’t let this keep happening. What we need here is not some wishy-washy understanding of sick minds.What we need is punishment for monsters. I don’t care how old they are.”
And in the lockup at the Van Nuys jail, a four-by-eight reeking with the smell of ammonia and urine and sweat and old clothes, he sat alone, barely hearing the sound of cop footsteps and radio-static voices over intercoms, looking at his hands. For hours he would look at them, wondering if they were like his father’s hands, or would be when he was all grown up. And he would think about what he’d done and wonder even more, part of him at least, why he didn’t feel a thing about it. Not a single, solitary thing.
Lindy Field gunned her Harley Fat Boy, snaking through the congested Los Angeles traffic in the Cahuenga Pass. She’d bought the bike for days like this, when she was late getting downtown and the LA freeway system was pulling its asphalt-glacier routine. Well, for that and because she just didn’t see herself as a car person.
Inside all the best defense lawyers, Lindy believed, was a hog engine revved to the limit. She could not abide the lawyers who puttputted around the criminal courts, doing deals when they should have been chewing prosecutors’ rear ends.
The way she used to. Maybe the way she would again, if the chips fell right for a change.
She made it to the Foltz Criminal Courts Building five minutes after her planned time of arrival and took off her helmet. She could feel her tight, sandy blonde curls expanding. Security gave her red leather jacket with the Aerosmith patch on the back a skeptical onceover. They probably thought she was just another family member of some loser defendant here in the city’s main criminal court center.
Of course, Judge Roger Greene’s clerk, Anna Alvarez, knew her. She’d called Lindy to set up the meeting, the nature of which was still a mystery to Lindy. Anna stood at her desk in the empty courtroom and greeted Lindy like an old friend.
“Hey, there she is. Been too long.”
“What is this place?” Lindy looked at the walls. “It seems somehow familiar.”
“Yes, it’s a courtroom. A place where strange lawyer creatures can sometimes be seen.”
Lindy hugged Anna. “If a strange lawyer is what you want, I’m your girl.”
“Good to have you back.”
Was she back yet? You need a case and client for that, don’t you? Lindy breathed in the familiar smell of carpet and wood and leather. Yes, familiar, yet oddly out of reach.
Anna took Lindy back to Greene’s chambers. Greene embraced her like a father welcoming his child home as Anna returned to her desk.
Judge Roger Stanton Greene was fifty-seven, lean, with a full head of black hair streaked with imperial gray.Very judicial. Greene served in Vietnam as a Green Beret. Came back, finished first in his class at Stanford Law.
And he was one of the better judges in town. Actually fair toward people accused of crimes. That he continued to be reelected in lawand- order Los Angeles was something of a miracle. Lindy had tried a few cases before him as a PD, and he always seemed to be looking for ways to cut her a break.
“You look wonderful,” Judge Greene said.
Lindy tossed her helmet on a chair. “You’re a great liar, Judge. Ever think of going back into practice?”
He laughed. His chamber was filled with books—not just law, but all sorts of subjects.Greene was one of the most learned men she knew.
“So how long’s it been since you’ve tried a case down here?”