Authors: Gar Anthony Haywood
Not Long for This World
An Aaron Gunner Mystery
Gar Anthony Haywood
Open Road Integrated Media Ebook
Few men will ever know such love and faith.
ronically, Darrel Lovejoy wasn’t looking for trouble the night he found it for the last time. Had the world in which he lived been just, he would have died a far more noble death, been cut up or shot down in the midst of performing some laudable act of gallantry and self-sacrifice, but the world was not just and life was unkind, and so he died instead somewhat routinely, as many far more ordinary men and women living in the ghettos of America die every day. The thirty-three-year-old black man was just minding his own business when his time came, returning from an innocent walk to the corner market for a paltry eight dollars in groceries, his antennae retracted, his defenses down. He didn’t see the blue Ford Maverick or the shotgun barrel nosing out of its passenger-side window until his fate had long since been decided.
A South-Central Los Angeles youth gang known as the Imperial Blues was unofficially given credit for the hit in its aftermath, and this was a development no one familiar with Lovejoy’s personal history, or the Blues’s long-standing record of disservice within the community, rushed to question. It made sense—as it would have had any of a dozen other L.A.-based juvenile fraternities of terror been implicated in the Blues’s place, because Lovejoy had been equally despised by them all. From the nineteen different chapters of Cuzzes on the Westside (among which were the Blues) to the sixteen tribes of their eternal enemies, the Hoods in the east, he had been a thorn in their collective side for years, a constant distraction and source of aggravation, and as such, it was generally assumed that the man was living only on whatever time they chose to loan him.
He had earned such unenviable disfavor as the founder and chief executive officer of the L.A. Peace Patrol, a nationally publicized, community-sponsored band of volunteers who made it their business to monitor and control gang-related violence in the low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods where gang warfare ran most rampant. Lovejoy’s was the story of a local boy gone good, a college-educated escapee of the ghetto who in the fall of 1985 had abruptly scrapped a successful advertising sales career, double-backed on himself, and returned to his roots, all for reasons too altruistic for most people to take seriously. He seemed too good to be true.
In time, however, he proved to be exactly what he claimed to be: a man out to change the world. He was being driven by no great personal loss, past or present, and had little to gain as near as anyone could tell, yet Lovejoy was determined to see the streets of his childhood purged of gang violence, the ages-old tribal insanity that fed daily, and indifferently, on children and adults alike. He had no plan at the beginning; he wandered from one community-service group to another, learning firsthand what methods of communication and reform bore the most fruit or suffered the greatest amount of resistance. He worked side by side with police task-force officers and child psychologists, social workers and ex-gang members—but he never really found himself until he and the Reverend Willie Raines joined forces.
Raines was the dynamic figurehead of the Children of God Ministries, a black Christian juggernaut that had evolved over fourteen years from a small Baptist church in Inglewood to a powerful religious/political movement of nationwide scope and influence. The Reverend was a perpetual-motion machine, a charismatic leader with a gift for gab who was as adept at charming small donations out of his most impoverished flock as he was at shaming the minority corporate community out of much larger ones. His teachings, and most of CGM’s programs, focused almost exclusively upon the underclass youth of America, its defense against modern-day social ills and its proper cultivation within a “morally sound” environment. He was a tireless opponent of drug use and pornography, and an inspirational salesman for education and the family unit. In the eyes of many black Americans, he was a role model forged in gold.
Lovejoy himself had not held that opinion immediately, but the more Raines sang his song, gaining more and more media exposure and financial momentum, the more it became obvious to Lovejoy that the two men seemed to want the same things for the future generations of their people. Deciding to seek Raines out, patiently waiting in a long line to see an increasingly unapproachable man, he eventually found that Raines concurred: Their ideals were, indeed, compatible.
The Peace Patrol was born soon after the pair’s first meeting, backed by CGM’s money and steered by Lovejoy’s grit. The success the joint venture inevitably achieved did not come nearly as easily, however. Lovejoy’s approach to defusing gang violence—direct and unarmed intervention—was wrought with peril, and much blood was spilled before the patrol earned the respect necessary to deal with gang leaders and their minions on any kind of productive level. Early on, the casualties among the ranks were high, including a pair of near-fatal episodes involving Lovejoy himself, and the community’s faith in the program, not to mention its active participation in it, was on the wane.
Again, however, Lovejoy’s persistence came into play. He was, after all, a man whose penchant for speaking the cold, hard truth could be ignored, or ridiculed, only for so long. The tide began to turn. His lectures started hitting home and the infallible logic upon which his rhetoric was based began to reach even the most jaded members of his daily audiences. In accordance with his agreement with Raines, the kids he was able to win over he referred to the Reverend and the Children of God Ministries for further instruction in the Word; those he could not, he merely endeavored to keep from killing one another, for however long that was possible.
A week was usually tops.
He was the best there was in the human salvage business, but the work was hardly lucrative. After three years of endless effort, he had little to show in the way of thanks for his good works, save for a dozen or so plaques mounted on the walls of his office, trinkets tossed his way by assorted citizens’ action committees, and a
magazine cover story that made him nearly as famous as Raines for all of three weeks.
His final reward, however, was murder. Only weeks before he was scheduled to moderate a ground-breaking peace conference between the two most dominant factions of the Los Angeles gangbanging tribal structure, an event that Raines had masterminded and arranged with great care and promotional fanfare, Lovejoy met with a fast death on a dark corner. It was a pitiful, ignoble end with no bravery or heroism attached.
Tamika Downs, the thirty-two-year-old mother of four who had witnessed his assassination from a nearby bus bench (and who, incredibly, had actually stepped forward to admit as much to the authorities), swore to reporters afterward that Lovejoy had deserved a far better conclusion to his life story.
But then, as so many of the man’s friends mused in mourning, so did the average dog.
n the fourth day of proceedings in the civil suit of
being heard in Room 221 of the downtown Los Angeles Municipal Courthouse, a full hour after the lunch break of which he had neglected to take advantage, private investigator Aaron Gunner finally took the stand on behalf of the defendant, Celia Hernandez. He had been on his way to the snack shop down the hall, in search of his second cup of coffee since noon and his fifth overall, when the bailiff called him inside.
Gunner’s relief at the summons was only partially due to boredom. While Hernandez had paid him a fair and equitable sum to deal with the circumstances of her case in earnest, he found them laughable nevertheless, and was anxious to have his participation in the litigation come to an end.
Eighteen months earlier, Celia Hernandez had made the acquaintance of Lionel Compton in the dark and empty parking lot of the El Segundo aeronautics tooling firm where they both worked the late shift—she as a keypunch operator, Compton as a machine-shop trainee—and their introduction had not gone well. Gunner’s client’s description of the incident was attempted rape, plain and simple; Compton saw it as a harmless passing of two young and attractive coworkers in the night. The pair could agree on nothing that occurred during their brief exchange save for the way it came to an end—with two well-placed and highly motivated knees to Compton’s groin, courtesy of Hernandez.
It was Compton’s contention that the blows had cost him whatever sexual capacity he could have claimed beforehand, and if his police record was any indication, everyone involved in the case admitted, that was a sizable loss indeed, because the twenty-four-year-old black man had a history of sex-related arrests and convictions almost too long for a single machine to print out. It was a background that should have, and likely
have, invalidated his case long before it ever came to trial had Hernandez only been wise enough to press charges against him following their altercation. Sadly, however, Hernandez had not. She had tried to ignore the incident instead, mistaking her assailant’s foiled attempt at assault for but an isolated if stupid blunder he would never make again, and Compton was using the abstention to lend credence to his argument that the woman’s attack upon him had been as unprovoked as it was damaging.
He was suing for a cool million.
Hernandez’s lawyer, a low-rent file-server twice removed from Kenya whose firm operated out of a department-store chain, chose to build his client’s defense upon the assumption that Compton’s claims of sexual incapacitation were vile exaggerations, if not outright lies, and hired Gunner to prove it. Gunner did. It took five weeks of surveillance and all the film a good Olympus camera could shoot, but the results were unmistakable. The prints were clear and self-explanatory; Gunner’s photography was improving.
Compton and a hooker at the Red Robin motel
a Baldwin Hills flophouse on La Brea just north of Exposition
Compton and two hookers at Compton’s bachelor apartment in Hawthorne
and a male friend at the Red Robin
and a female friend at the Red Robin
The eight-by-tens left little to the imagination—Gunner had shot them all outside one poorly draped window or another, his camera armed with a telephoto lens that could have brought the hairs on a fly’s hind leg into razor-sharp focus—but his testimony was required to explain them, nevertheless. William Botu, Hernandez’s department-store lawyer, asked simple questions, to which Gunner provided simple answers. The three
’s—who, what, and where—were covered in great detail; it was a tedious, if painless, affair.
Then Daniel London, the walking oil slick representing Compton, decided to go for broke and cross-examine. It had already been established that his client’s only witness—Compton himself—was a highly unreliable source for the truth, and London was hoping the same conclusion could be reached about Gunner, with a little creative questioning.
Compton was dead meat otherwise.
Therefore, the square-jawed counselor in the finely tailored blue suit wandered about before the witness stand, hands behind his back, delaying his first question as long as possible so as to leave the jury with the false impression that he had given it a good deal of thought. Only when the Honorable Theodore J. Spillman, who was hearing the case, voiced his impatience with a dry and hollow stage cough did London abandon the tactic, in order to hand Gunner one of the twenty-seven photographs held in evidence, this one labeled E
“Mr. Gunner,” London said, smiling effusively, “do you recognize that photograph?”
Gunner did the polite thing and glanced at the print before answering. “Yes. Of course.”
“Did you take it?”
“Yes, sir, I did.”
“At the Red Robin motel?”
“That’s right. Outside of Room 11, in the north wing, as I said before. The stenographer can read back the date and time for you, if you missed that, too.”
London stopped smiling. Somewhere in the back of the courtroom, a giggle was dying. “That won’t be necessary,” he said. He started to pace again. “I would, however, like you to take another look at that photograph and tell me, in your own words, what you see. Of my client, Mr. Compton’s, anatomy, specifically.”
“Your Honor …” Botu said, rising.
Spillman ordered him back to his seat with a firm wave of his right hand. “Let’s see where Mr. London’s headed before voicing any objections, shall we, Mr. Botu?”
“Thank you, Your Honor,” London said.
Gunner gave Exhibit A-14 a thorough evaluation, said, “His head, in profile; his right leg and both feet; both arms, but only one hand, his right. Oh, and his joint.”