Hole in the Head by K Arlington Andrews

Having fallen from grace into a life of addiction and petty criminality, Devin Franks falls hard for fellow crook Angel Bradford - and gets accused of a violent murder.

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The lump in his pocket was an antique pendant, and it shimmered brightly when the police officer pulled it from the pocket of his jeans. A tiny silver pocketbook with a tarnished chain. Linked together with a paper clip.

"That's all I got left from my Momma. She been dead four years now..." His lips were ashy, his speech was slurred. His face was bruised and swollen.

Along with the pendant, the officer found a few dollars, no weapons. No drugs. His address on his ID was in the county, and he was far away from home. The officer put his belongings on the hood of the police cruiser and radioed dispatch.

"Is this still your address? Mr Franks... Devin Franks!"


"Have you been drinking this morning?"

"No sure. I mean, no sir."

"Any narcotics?"

"This morning?"

"At any time... Mr Franks... Sir, are you high?"


Happenstance and misfortune had broken Devin down into an incoherent shell of himself. He hesitated to answer. How could he be the same Devin Franks after all the drama he'd been through?

The police officer was having a hard time reconciling the genteel and smiling license photo with the bruised and discombobulated man standing in front of him.

"Mr Franks, were you getting high around here?"

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 witching hour, and suddenly he was calm and still. It made sense that they would find 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. 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 are taking a trip downtown. You've got a couple felony warrants from the county. Let's go."

Devin replied with a weak smile that froze when he noticed his Momma's antique pendant was gone from the hood of the police cruiser. Vaguely he wondered how it disappeared, but did not utter a word.

It was easy for him to escape the pandemonium of lockup. Sleeping was the best way to rid himself of the funk stank brothers that surrounded him like flies. So many hustlers from the streets.

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 in City lockup 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 went to eating.

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. Hazel eyes, café au lait 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." He was smiling. Devin looked away.

"Tell me something, bro. Why you always by yourself?"

The question struck Devin as odd. Had the fine young stranger noticed him too?

"I ain't from around here. Don't know nobody, I guess... I'm from the county."

Devin swirled circles in his mashed potatoes and gravy. He kept his head down. He didn't want his expression to betray the butterflies in his belly.

"Now you know me and that's all you need." His 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 COs 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 of 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, 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 for the first time.

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 that had 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 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 forensic evidence from the victim's home.

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 and considered possible defenses. The prosecution had been quick to charge his client, but he believed Devin was innocent. He'd represented killers before, and he felt in his heart of hearts that Devin Franks was no murderer.

"You hadn't known each other very long..."

"About six months."

"Did you have any idea he was capable of this degree of violence?"

Photos of the dead woman looked back at Devin, and he had to push them away.


"He left her dead on the kitchen floor... Lucky for us, none of your prints or DNA. Yours or his. But the car is a different story. You drove it to the pawn shop?

"Yes. We went there to pawn the rings."

"What happened after you got the money for the rings?"

"We ditched it and Angel got us a room. We stayed there about a week until the money ran out."

"What happened then?"

"What the fuck happened then is that he left me. Had me fucked up at the Grand and never came back. I had to pay the debts he made or else they would've killed me!"

James Rome really looked at Devin for the first time. He was scrawny looking in his jail issued scrubs, and he wondered how he had fallen from college senior to drug addicted, homeless, and unemployed. Who was this so-called friend named Angel who seemed more like the Devil.

"I didn't have a choice. I had to do what I had to do..."

A single tear trickled down Devin's face and landed next to pictures of the dead woman


Devin told his counsel that after they met at St Sabina's Café, they were always together. The night after they pawned the rings, Angel got them a room at the Grand Hotel. He paid for a week in advance and the room had a big tub that was large enough for them to bathe together.

Looking back, he didn't question why Angel was so quick to strip out his clothes and throw the possible forensic evidence in the trash. He strutted around the room in his boxers, as Devin smoked a blunt and enjoyed the view. His gaze lingered upon Angel's back like he was a work of art.

Angel's tatted body was a canvas of color. Below his broad shoulders was the arm of God reaching from the heavens, pointing his finger at a pitchfork and wings. A blood red rose with thorns circled around the word MOTHER, and more Angel wings and clouds completed the panorama.

Angel told him that he had found the old lady's purse in the trash. But even then, when he had nothing to complain about, something didn't feel quite right. Angel looking through the trash sounded good, but finding a purse full of gold rings and credit cards, nah, not so much. He knew not to ask too many questions; besides, Angel only told him what he needed to know.

Devin hopped off the bed and followed Angel into the bathroom. Angel paused at his reflection in the dingy mirror above the sink and, without a shred of modesty, wiggled out his boxers and lowered himself into the hot bath with his chiseled body like caramel dipped in a white foam.

"Come wash my back," he asked, and Devin snapped to attention, eager for the invitation to stay. He swirled the sweet-smelling soap suds across his back and found Angel's washcloth somewhere in the depths of the tub. He massaged the tenseness away and Angel stood up to expose his arousal.

He put it in his mouth as Angel braced himself against the wall of the tub, and for a long time neither one of them spoke, the gentle splashing of bathwater the only sound.

Hidden deep within the bowels of the Jefferson County Justice Complex, the spartan meeting room was a bleak reprieve from his daily routine. Sleep, chow, rec, bathe, sleep, chow. Again. He'd lost track of the days since he was arrested, and he relished this time with his attorney before they took him back to his pod.

James Rome sat across from him, taking notes on a legal pad he never seemed to be without. Devin admired the young man's style.

"Look at you. I haven't made you uncomfortable... Have I?" The counselor's laughter was nervous and genuine. He cleared his throat and looked up from his leather penny loafers.

"Believe me, I've heard a lot worse. Although try to keep your testimony straight and to the point."

Devin prayed to become an optimistic law-abiding humble version of himself as they rehearsed his testimony. He was painfully unwavering in his declarations of innocence. No. He had nothing to do with the murder of that woman. No. He had not seen Angel since he was abandoned at the Grand. Yes, he was ready to take the stand, in his own defense, even if he did get sidetracked, sometimes with the vivid recollection of their sexual escapades.

"Could you get me a pack of cigarettes up in here?"

Devin knew that wasn't happening, but he asked anyway. He had taken baby steps and after a few months, he had begun to trust the young lawyer.

With an arrogant humph, he said: "Tell me about yourself."

"What you want to know?"

"Got any family, character references. People I can call?"

"My cousins. They don't fuck wit' me no more."

"Mother? Father?"

"Dead and dead. I'm an only child. What else you want to know?"

The lawyer scribbled parents deceased on his notepad and looked up to see his client smiling with an expression that recalled pleasant memories, which he was happy to share with the young attorney.


Devin was a very feminine little boy, and there were times when his sissified ways got him bullied. It was true that being an only child could be lonely, and Devin had few friends. Maybe it was this social isolation, or his Momma's coddling, that made him vulnerable to snakes and thieves.

Her doting presence was not good for her son. He was extra special, and she lived to give him everything the world had to offer.

From the beginning, his life was lived to make her proud. She instilled his love of reading and history. She gave birth to his fascination for all things vintage and collectable. As his very first date, she taught him how to behave like a gentleman and speak with class and dignity.

Ruthie Jean Franks was from a different generation, but she dreamed beyond her circumstances. There were highs she couldn't soar to, that she made available to him. She loved her only child unconditionally. And she told him it didn't matter what the world said.

"When did your dad die?"

"I was eight years old, so 'bout 14 years ago."

"Single mom, huh? Me too, but it was three of us. Don't know how she did it all by herself..."

Devin agreed. "I never really had a father figure. Momma never remarried."

He ran from the bullies that called him faggot, escaping to his Momma's closet, where she let him be safe to play dress up. It was their little secret when he sashayed the runway in her stiletto heels. Hours he could spend, captivated by the ballerina that twirled atop her jewelry box full of baubles and bracelets, trinkets of all kinds. Who could explain his childhood fascination with his mother's things?

Some would say Devin had a lonely childhood with no brothers and sisters, the only child of a grieving young widow. They would feel sorry for the little boy who grew up smothered and alone in the big house on the hill.

But they couldn't comprehend the depth of his mother's unconditional love. He was the growing seed of her dead lover, and she loved him more than life itself.

"Last time I saw Momma alive, it was the summer of my senior year. I was home from school."

"How did she pass?" his lawyer asked.

"She was murdered."

Devin spat the words out like venom.

Three Years Earlier

He was home for summer vacation and anxious for the next chapter in his life to begin. Between his part time job and hanging out with friends, he spent little time with his Momma. How could he have known that this would be the last time he saw her alive. The regret of not spending more time with her was hard for him. She didn't deserve to die, so raffishly, so alone without him there.

His Momma Ruthie Jean had been a jazzy old lady. Learning new things kept her young, and she loved to listen to her son's favorite music. The night before he left, they were listening to Erykah Badu, or that girl with the head wrap as his Momma liked to call her.

She had decided to sell the house and get something smaller, and he struggled with her decision. He hadn't considered that maybe she was tired of owning the four-bedroom home with no-one to share it with.

She had proudly paid off the mortgage, and was ready to release old burdens during her new retirement. They had talked about it, and she was sure that she wanted to sell. Devin hadn't been so sure it was a good idea. Seemed like she was just settling into retirement after teaching for 35 years, now she wanted to go on a 60-and-older cruise. He gingerly changed the subject.

"You still volunteering at the shelter?"

"Yes, baby, and child you won't believe what this new client asked me." In typical fashion, his Momma kept talking. "She's got two boys. One's a handsome little fella but bad as hell. The other one is about 17. He's the one sending her through hell. In and out of the juvie home. Take after his daddy..."

"What she ask you?"

"Poor thing asked me If I had some work around the house the older one could do. Maybe he could organize your Daddy's tool boxes and stuff in the basement."

His Momma was always trying to help somebody, and he was happy that she was utilizing her time. But the truth is, he barely listened to her that night; he had become a professional at tuning her out.

"I'm picking up some of the younger ones. We're going to the History Museum and the Zoo on Saturday. Wish you could come with us..."

Her bottom lip was slightly pouted. They had already discussed this, and he wasn't having it.

"Ma, I'm leaving Sunday morning. Saturday's my last day in the city before I go back to school. I don't want to be chaperoning some bad ass kids at the zoo."

She hugged him, the same way she held everything she loved, tight and close to her heart. It's okay, she said. Go hang out with your friends.

The last time he talked to his Momma, it was that bright Sunday morning - before he knew what it felt like to live without her.

She sounded tired. Her trip with the shelter kids had worn her out. She said one of the mommas never came back. She left her child with the chaperones and just disappeared.

"Can you believe it?" she asked him. "Poor baby's Momma just left him. Devin, tell me what in the world could be more important that getting yo' lazy black ass up and picking up your child. You know I broke down and brought him home. He slept in your room last night. His daddy is supposed to come and get him this morning."

Devin half heard her. His head was still rocking from all the partying last night with his friends.

"Okay Ma, my bus is starting to board. I'll call you from school."

"I love you baby. Be Good."

His ride back to school was miles of highway speeding by the bus's windows. He saw corn fields and farm animals with the occasional barn or country home that broke up the monotony. The scenery was a visual lullaby. So ready to get back to campus and finish his last year, he would learn that God laughed at the best made plans.

He made it back to his dorm room and prepared himself for the week ahead. He unpacked his clothes and notebooks from home. When he went to bed, his dreams were of his Momma.

In the dream, she sat on the edge of his bed, and it didn't seem strange that she was in his dorm room that night. She was talking, saying so much that he needed to hear. He could smell her perfume, but he could barely see her in the darkness.

You gonna be alright, she whispered, and that's when he woke up. The morning sun beamed through the dorm room windows like a spotlight.

It wasn't the alarm he heard, but his rickety wall phone. He shook off the last pieces of the dream, half asleep, and shuffled across the room.

It was his cousin calling, and he knew something was wrong.

"Devin honey, there's trouble at home," his cousin said, her voice quivering.

Devin paused for a moment as his lawyer put down his notes and sat quietly in the awkward silence before he asked, "Did they find who did it?"

Devin shook his head and continued with his memories of his Momma.

Devin and close friend Archie sat outside the church as a light rain began to tap the windows of the sports car, and for a long time neither one of them spoke. The events of the last few days had been devastating, and both men were struggling to comprehend the catastrophic changes in their lives.

He had bravely made it through his Momma's homegoing, with grace and composure, although he wanted to deny the truth and run. Archie sat next to him in silent support and complicit in his escape. Archie was older and had experienced so many things Devin was anxious to try. He was exhausted. There seemed to be hundreds of strangers who knew his Momma Ruthie Jean Franks and came to pay their respects. With puffy eyes in a sharp suit, and a smile, he embraced their fond recollections.

But many of the mourners were angry, as was he, and he struggled to make sense of the senseless. They quietly demanded justice and agreed that someone had to be held accountable. His Momma had been murdered in her home, probably by someone that she had tried to help. The little boy she took home from the homeless shelter still hadn't been found.

Her death was a horrible and unjustifiable act.

Who would want to kill Miss Ruthie?

It was on the mind of everyone that attended her service. Devin couldn't express the depths of his pain. He hadn't been there to protect his Momma, and guilt was like a bitter phlegm that threatened to strangle him.

Devin recognized the man standing across the parking lot watching him and Archie. He was one of the homicide detectives that had picked him up from the airport and drove him to the station to take his statement. They told him that he couldn't go home because there had been a violent and bloody struggle there as his mother had fought for her life. Her body was at the morgue if he wanted to view her remains. It would be decades before he forgave himself for wanting to escape and not owning his birthright as Miss Ruthie's only child. There was so much fate had thrown on his shoulders.

Devin was quiet as Archie drove the car through the throng of funeral goers and slow-moving cars. He didn't question Archie's destination and he didn't care. He let himself melt into the sumptuous upholstery and be whisked away from his mother's homegoing.

James Rome had pulled a few strings with the guards, and the contraband cigarettes they had let him sneak in to Devin had burned to ashes on the table between them. It had been Devin's first cigarette in months, and he savored the toxification.

"After your mom passed, you were her only living heir. You inherited everything. So why are you out there hustling?" It was a good question, and it hung unanswered between them as Devin extinguished the smoldering butt.

"Because I was doing anything to block out Momma. I was hella smoking to bury my pain. Losing Momma like that was too much. Shit, the first time I turned a trick, my buddy Archie turned me on, right after Momma's funeral..."

"Welcome Mr Archie, sir..." The doorman stood up from behind the massive marble console and tipped his hat in Devin's direction.

"Good evening, Spencer," Archie replied. Do we need to sign in?"

Devin felt small in the lobby of the sophisticated high rise.

"No need for that. Mr Goodheart is expecting you both." Devin detected the doorman's lingering stare as they walked to the bank of elevators. Once inside, Archie loosened his tie, and told Devin to do the same.

"You're my friend, D, home from school. This is your first time hanging out. Are you ready to get your coins, child?"

Devin's pain was slipping away, and it felt good to forget. He was suddenly captivated by the whoosh sound of the elevator as it climbed higher and higher.

"These old daddies got that paper, child..."

Archie gave a witchy po cackle, followed by a crispy executed snap, and they both gagged at the diva moment.

The scent of magnolia blossoms, clean and fresh, was a sign that the seasons had changed; the trees that surrounded Jefferson County Justice Complex were in full bloom. Every day Devin would spend his one hour of rec time outside inhaling the intoxicating aroma in silent prayer and meditation. It was easily the best part of his day. Although he was still incarcerated, things had changed.

Time had begun to heal, and he was learning to forgive himself for making bad choices. He had hours alone in his cell with his thoughts. He named his solitude prison rehab and wrote for hours in his journals. There were many sleepless nights going over the little details of his life. When he connected the dots, he felt like a fool. He had been the perfect sucker to take the blame. He felt used.

Angel was a master at not being found, and no one had seen him since their last week together at the Grand Hotel. When the detectives asked him if he knew the rings were stolen, he told them the story Angel told him. Angel found the purse in the trash. He didn't kill the old woman. He was never at her house. He never even knew her name.

It was a special occasion when James Rome came by the facility to prep him on the status of his case. They finally had a trial date that both sides could agree on, and the trial began in two weeks. The CO led him through the Segregation Unit. It was a separate wing in the facility that housed the more vulnerable inmates. The area had 25 single pods that opened to a big group room that was apart from general population. His counsel would be waiting for him in the visitation area on the other side through a maze of hallways. He was excited because Miss Wonda was coming too. He was so grateful for all the support he could get.

The Jefferson County Inmate Visitation Center was loud and crowded as usual. The room was full of baby mommas, young sons and daughters, counsel, and guards. The giant room was furnished with plastic tables and chairs that were bolted to the floor. A wistful view of the visitor parking lot and surrounding property could be seen through the big windows. To see an inmate waving and staring out those windows, watching his people go back to the outside world without him, was a sad thing.

James Rome and Miss Wonda had found an empty table near the back of the room. Devin let himself be glad to see them. He told himself that he deserved their support, and he would not be sullen and ungrateful. He had learned that his attitude had kept so much of his life in disrepair.

"Is this the suit?" he exclaimed as Miss Wonda gave him a great bear hug.

Devin peeked inside the brown paper bag that contained neatly folded blue fabric.

"I figured you and Archie were about the same size. I kept some of his good clothes. You know he had so many clothes. I just couldn't bring myself to give everything to Goodwill."

When Miss Wonda said her dead son's name, it struck Devin like a slap. Archie had overdosed while he was in prison. He still regretted not being able to attend his friend's funeral.

"At least I'll be looking good in court." He tried to convince himself that a new suit could help save him.

In subtle ways over time, Devin was an unwitting accomplice. He'd find himself in schemes and swindles that were always masterminded by Angel. It became the fabric of their relationship, and often Devin's lack of street game is what contributed to the come up.

Once done, Angel would always get the bigger piece of the pie; sometimes he'd be almost fair with his patna if he was in the mood. Whatever he gave him, it was enough for Devin to shut up complaining. It was like giving him a shot of something that made him fearless, and afterwards, he was numb. Every time they pulled off a good lick, He was fascinated by how quickly Angel could get into anywhere, locked or not - a store, a home, a car - and leave with a come up. He told himself he was going to stop using drugs and get away from all the confusion. The streets were full of lost souls, and he knew it wasn't too late for him to turn his life around. Maybe he could convince Angel to stop hustling and they could create a life.

But so far, that wasn't happening. He wasn't sure what Angel wanted, besides more dope and a good time.

Angel was smoking a blunt, and Devin drove the black car to the pawn shop on College Avenue.

"What, we gonna cop out the Pawn Shop?"

Angel looked at him like he was the dullest color in the crayon box as he reached inside the waistband of his jeans and pulled out a purple Crown Royal sack that concealed a bunch of stolen loot. He fished out two rings. They would bring them more than enough money to cover a week of rent at the Grand.

"I'm going in there with you," he said. "Don't take less than $700 for both. They gonna ask you if you wanna sell, and you say no. You get more money if you take a loan." Angel was good at giving instructions. Devin nervously glanced at his reflection in the car's rearview mirror. He used his shirt tail to wipe his face and he could smell their combined funk mixed with weed.

"Babe, you need a shower," Devin volunteered.

"We gone get that and more if you act right."

He watched Angel stuff the purple sack back in his crotch as they went inside the pawn shop. He hadn't seen what was inside, and he promised himself that later, he would check it out, when Angel was asleep.

That night together at the Grand Hotel, only Angel knew the rings belonged to a dead woman.


On an optimistic Tuesday morning in June, Devin took his seat on the witness stand.

"Do you promise to tell the truth and the whole truth so help you God?" the deputy asked him.

"Yes... I do." His right hand was shaky, his voice a little weak.

Although he and James Rome had practiced for this day, he was still a nervous wreck. God, how he longed for a hit. But those days were long gone. He ignored the stares from the victim's family that cut him like a knife. The prosecuting attorney and her legion of brown-nosers huddled and conspired. He was studied and critiqued. He was grateful for the thumbs up as James Rome approached the witness stand.

"Mr Franks, your earlier testimony is that you haven't seen Angel Bradford since your time together at the Grand Hotel. Is that correct?"


"That was after he used you to pawn the rings, and you didn't know where or how he got them."

"Yes sir. That is correct." James Rome took an abbreviated pause.

"Mr Franks, why were you drunk and incoherent the morning you were arrested near St Sabina's?"

"I had been looking for Angel. That was his hood. I hadn't heard anything from him, and I was desperate."

"Why were you desperate, Mr Franks?"

He took a deep breath before he recited his testimony.

Devin could hear Mrs Patel's fluffy house shoes shuffling down the hallway before she arrived. This would be her third time today, and surely she was tired of his excuses.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

"No pay no stay. You and your friend must leave."

They'd been staying at the Grand for the past seven days, and check out time was hours ago. Clothes were scattered everywhere. Fast food wrappers and liquor bottles toppled the garbage can and Devin sat in the middle of the disarray. Angel's Crown Royal sack lay open at his feet, and he was numb. Inside was the loot, and the pocketbook pendant.

Their shelter for the last week was over, and Angel had just disappeared, leaving him literally holding the bag.

Mrs Patel used her master key to open the door, but the chain stopped her entrance into the room. Devin could feel her exasperation.

"I know you're there... and no visitors..." A burly voice cut her off.

"Yeah, bitch! Open the goddamn door!"

Jangalang's gangsta bravado shook Devin to his core. He sprung up from the bed like a jack-in-the-box. His eyes were wide. The drug dealer had come for his money, and he had to think fast. He stuffed the purple sack in his underwear and walked cautiously to the door. Before he got there, Jangalang kicked it open.

"Where that cock sucker at?"

"I'm waiting, just like you. That nigga should have been here."

Devin's fake demeanor did nothing to convince Jangalang or Mrs Patel. They saw the desperation in his eyes.

"Fuck that! Call him!"

Jangalang picked up Devin's phone from the floor and threw it at him. The cell barely missed his head and landed with a thud under the window. With wobbly knees he walked to the window, got his phone, and dialed Angel's number.

"Baby...where you at? Uh... huh... okay yeah. But you told me last night. I ain't seen you, and Jangalang here, Mrs Patel want her rent..."

Jangalang snatched the phone.

"Yeah, you little cocksucker. Get your get your faggot ass over here with my money... Where you... hello?"

Devin's stomach churned as it took a few seconds for Jangalang to realize that Angel wasn't on the line. Devin reached behind him and unlocked the window. Jangalang turned.

"You bitch ass mother fucker..." The window was open. Mrs Patel was begging for peace from the hallway.

"Now sir, please leave this property," she pleaded. "I don't want to call the police." Devin turned to leap out the window but Jangalang grabbed his leg and pulled him back in.

"You and your boyfriend got three days to get me my money," said Jangalang. The commotion had attracted attention from other guests in the hotel. A half-dressed woman stood outside the room watching the scene like a movie.

The first blow struck him like a hammer and Devin sunk to the floor like a rag doll. He tried begging for mercy.

"I don't... know... where he is." His words were slurred as Jangalang landed an uppercut that shut him up. Blood sprayed across the room, painting the wall with his swollen lips. He crawled like a dog while Jangalang kicked him in his teeth, in his ribs, and pushed his throat to the floor with the heel of his boot.

"You tell that bitch ass nigga I know what he did. I know he got my money. Y'all bitches think you playing me, but I got you." He looked crazed, psychotic, and Devin was blacking out.

"Three days, motherfucker... and I won't be so nice next time." Jangalang left the room in a huff. Mrs Patel pressed a wet towel to his battered face and helped him off the floor.

"So, what happened next?"

James Rome led Devin to the end of his testimony, slowly like they practiced.

"I knew I had to find Angel."

"And did you?"

"No. The police found me."


"Mr Franks would like you to believe that the home invasion and murder of Edith Jameson, a poor 71-year-old widow who didn't deserve to be beaten to death in her home, was the brainchild of a career criminal, a person of interest named Angel Bradford. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, trust and believe our detectives are looking for this convicted felon as we speak. DNA evidence ties him to the scene, and yes, some of Mr Franks' testimony may be true."

The raven-haired lead prosecuting attorney was winding down her closing statements. The jurors studied her in rapt attention.

"But the commission of this murder could not have been possible without the assistance of Mr Franks. He drove the car. He pawned the rings. He admitted to using the money for a room that he and this Angel person shared together... He benefited greatly from the murder of poor Mrs Jamieson.

"Look at what these monsters did to her." There was a gasp in the courtroom as the reckless prosecuting attorney passed around the gory crime scene photos and Devin felt his faith fading with every incriminating word.

"According to Missouri statute, if there is an accomplice in the commission of a felony, the accomplice is guilty of said crime. Devin Franks is guilty. His hands are bloody too. Mrs Jamieson and her family deserve justice, and it is your duty to return a guilty verdict."

His days were filled with dwindling optimism, and his nights were awash with dreams of Angel. Somedays Devin believed he'd never be free. On those days, he accepted his fate and waited for the verdict. The wheels of justice churned slowly, and the lack of a verdict did little to lighten Devin's mood. He wanted to be vindicated, but he was tired. His dreams of Angel had kept him up at night.

James Rome was flipping through his notes as the deputy kept a watchful eye outside the small holding room.

"My Momma told me I needed some of my friends like I needed a hole in the head." His voice was thin.

James Rome looked up perplexed. "What made you think of that?"

"I need to tell you something ..." Devin began, before there was a knock at the door and the deputy entered the room. The jury had reached a verdict.

In his dreams, he smelled the trash, Angel burned for heat. He heard the flames crackling in the garbage cans, and the smoke burned his eyes.

What he told no one is that he found Angel, in a vaco down the street from where the officers arrested him. Dozing by the firelight, he was unfazed by Devin's raggedy appearance.

"Congratulations. You found me," he said sarcastically.

Devin limped into the open space and his crippled shadow danced with the flames. In his dreams, the moonlit night was clear, and he wasn't afraid.

"This belongs to you."

He threw the purple Crown Royal sack on the floor, and Angel counted the contents inside.

"Something missing, ain't it babe?"

Devin stared Angel eye to eye.

"You mean this..." and slung the silver pocketbook pendant.

Angel gave a side-eye glance at the trinket as it slid across the vaco floor. "That old shit ain't worth nothing." But Devin knew he was lying. The flames grew until they licked the ceiling.

"Where'd you get it?" The question was a whisper, and the words were like gasoline.

Angel studied his patna in silence. Somebody had put a beating on his ass good. He knew it was probably Jangalang. "You still on the right side of the dirt," he said sarcastically.

"Made my paper just like you showed me." Devin replied. His words were sullen, disconnected. "Wanna see what else I bought?" Devin said, and slowly pulled the pistol from his pocket. "Got it from a drug boy on Grand. Mr Goodheart gave me the money..."

The world stopped spinning, and Angel and Devin were the only two people alive.

"WHERE'D YOU GET THE GODDAMN POCKETBOOK!" Devin screamed. He held the pistol and released the safety just like the dope boy showed him how.

"OPEN IT!" he shouted as Angel struggled with the tiny clasp. The antique pendant shook in Angel's hands. He knew what the inscription said without having to read it...

To my Dearest Ruthie Jean. Love Louis.

"Ruthie Jean was my Momma."

Was it a half assed apology he read in Angel's pleading eyes before he pulled the trigger?

The 12 jurors walked quietly to their seats and Devin searched their faces for some indication of his fate, but he saw nothing. He was about to tell his lawyer the entire truth before the deputy announced they had reached a verdict. Was it guilt that fueled his dreams and pushed him to disclose the missing piece of the puzzle? They'd never find Angel alive, because he had killed him.

The judge reviewed the verdict and sent it back to the jury foreman to be read aloud. Devin looked over his shoulder to see Miss Wonda smiling and her hands clasped together in prayerful anticipation.

"Devin Franks, please stand... The judge sounded like God reciting the commandments.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury have you reached a verdict?"

"Yes we have, your honor."

The foreman cleared his throat. "We the jury, duly appointed and sworn in true deliverance by the state of Missouri, find the defendant Devin Louis Franks, in count number one, murder in the first degree, not guilty..."

His heart skipped a beat, could it be true?

"In count number two, Burglary and Property Theft, we find the defendant not guilty...

"In count number three, Receiving and Selling Stolen Property, we find the defendant guilty."

James Rome patted him on the back, and he struggled to catch his breath. He couldn't believe what he'd just heard.

"Thank you for your service, jury. You are dismissed." The judge aimed his penetrating gaze at Devin. "Mr Franks, a jury of your peers has found you not guilty in charges one and two. You are released from custody on charge three due to time served. And so, it shall be." He banged the gavel.

It was real. He wasn't dreaming. He was free!

The cool wind blew against his face as James Rome drove him back to Jefferson County Justice Complex for the last time. He looked forward to the shindig at Miss Wonda's house later that evening after he packed up his meager belongings and cleaned out his cell. Even his cousins were coming. They were there during the trial, and they shared real feelings of victory after the verdict was read.

Part of him was afraid to reconnect with his old friends. He had changed so much from the person he used to be. Would they still accept him? He was free to do whatever he wanted, and it felt good to be the old Devin from days gone by.

"I wanna finish my last semester and get my bachelor's."

The counselor played cool jazz on the car radio, a little Incognito and a grown, sexy sister named Monique Bingham. The smooth grooves were the perfect soundtrack for his mellow mood.

"That's a great idea..."

James Rome was glad to hear his client planning for his future.

"I did a little research... Had a lot of free time," Devin said, and gave a dry chuckle. "You wouldn't believe all the resources available at the prison library. It was usually just me there. Hardly no one takes advantage of it all. Grants, scholarships, all kinds of stuff."

They were getting closer to their destination, and Devin could smell the magnolia blossoms that surrounded the prison grounds. It smelled different from the outside.

James Rome parked in the visitor lot and gave him some boxes from the trunk. He'd need them to pack. He'd spent two years and six months of his life behind bars, but this time, he entered Jefferson County Justice Complex for the last time, as a free man.


James Rome shook out the contents of the padded manila envelope, and the yellowed newspaper clipping fluttered to the mahogany desk like tissue paper. The envelope was addressed to him, and the postmark was from Jefferson County, MO. He smiled. It had been at least three years since his old public defender days...

The article had been cut from page two of the St Louis Post Dispatch Metro section, dated four years ago:

Workers from the Block Operation Program made a horrific discovery Tuesday morning. The skeletal remains of an adult male were found during a routine home demolition. Neighbors say squatters often used the vacated property to escape the cold, and the identity of the victim is unknown. A police spokesman said the body had one gunshot wound to the head, and had been stuffed in a garbage-can and set on fire. Anyone with information leading to the arrest in this crime should call Crime Stoppers.


  1. Poor Devin Franks!
    This story celebrates a tremendous intersectionality for its protagonist.
    Devin Franks is black, gay, a dope addict, and homeless, also he lives in Missouri.

    I enjoy how the story unfolds as circles within circles with layers of flashbacks.
    The same boyfriend Angel, with whom Devin hustles, is also in fact the young man who years earlier murdered Devin’s mother and started him on his downward spiral of drug use and homelessness.

    (It is confusing to have Archie in the picture - he seems to be a first boyfriend who encouraged Devin to turn tricks with him for cash, soon after Devin’s mother’s death. The protagonist’s motivation for this seems a bit unclear. It’s also unclear when, where and why Devin started abusing hard drugs - as a reader I would have enjoyed flashbacks to these moments within the context of the larger story.)

  2. Glad you found it interesting and grateful for your impressions and critique. I struggled with Archie character. Devin only hints at their relationship a few times but he could be more central in subsequent drafts

    1. I tend never to believe that people are victims of circumstance. We all make choices that led us to the situation we are faced with either good or bad. Thanks so much for reading Devin as a multidimensional character. I wanted his struggle to be about finding his voice and vindicating himself after his abusive relationship with Angel. K Arlington Andrews

  3. I was hooked by this story until the end. It is deeply sad how there was no support for Devin after his mother’s passing. It shows how people fall through the cracks and how we as a society fail those that need the most help by criminalizing them.

    We also see some of Devin’s darkness come out towards the end, showing us that he is not merely an innocent victim of circumstances, but someone who has been transformed by these events and meets darkness with darkness.

  4. This is a multi-layered piece of very powerful fiction. Jefferson County, Missouri, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the dehumanizing effects of the judicial bureaucracy all ring true. It was as if the story had been taken from the local headlines. It could have been written by a beat reporter. The backstory afforded on Devin was extremely effective and the depiction of Angel as the ultimate user, manipulator, miscreant was true to life as well. When I read the story I noted that no one else had tendered a comment; probably they were put off by the very length of the piece. However, it is well worth the time it takes to peruse. Street slang was prolifically implemented, and was true to life as well. Terrific fiction, K. Arlington Andrews.

    1. Terrific critique my friend. Thanks for your time and review. I agree that the length of the piece may be off putting for some. I also enjoyed your observation that it could have been written by a beat reporter. Journalism has always been my thing. Ironically, Devin Franks becomes a reporter covering the serial murders of gay black men in Chicago in the novel I'm working on called the Grave Garden K Arlington Andrews

  5. Whilst this is a long read, it didn't feel like it because it reads so well - slightly Ellroy-esque in my opinion, but with a sadder tinge to it. As others have said, the writing is well-paced, slick, and maintains a strong narrative voice throughout. I felt real sympathy for Devin.

    1. Thanks for the praise and the time you took reading my work. Always good to learn something new, and your reference, "Ellroy-esgue" made me go Google Search! I'm flattered by your comparison of my work to his. Glad you shared!
      K Arlington Andrews