On a slow, chilly Saturday in December, shortly after the Lakers overcame a sixteen-point halftime deficit and beat New Jersey, I got a call from a murderer.
I hadn’t watched basketball since college, had returned to it because I was working at developing my leisure skills. The woman in my life was visiting her grandmother in Connecticut, the woman who used to be in my life was living in Seattle with her new guy–temporarily, she claimed, as if I had a right to care–and my caseload had just abated.
Three court cases in two months: two child-custody disputes, one relatively benign, the other nightmarish; and an injury consult on a fifteen-year-old girl who’d lost a hand in a car crash. Now all the papers were filed and I was ready for a week or two of nothing.
I’d downed a couple of beers during the game and was nearly dozing on my living room sofa. The distinctive squawk of the business phone roused me. Generally, I let my service pick up. Why I answered, I still can’t say.
I didn’t recognize his voice. Eight years had passed.
“Speaking. Who’s this?”
Now I remembered. The same slurred voice deepened to a man’s baritone. By now he’d be a man. Some kind of man.
“Where are you calling from, Rand?”
“Out of the C.Y.A.”
“I, uh . . . yeah, I finished.”
As if it had been a course of study. Maybe it had been. “When?”
What could I say? Congratulations? God help us?
“What’s on your mind, Rand?”
“Could I, uh, talk to you?”
“Uh, not this . . . like talk . . . for real.”
The living room windows were dark. Six forty-five p.m. “What do you want to talk about, Rand?”
“Uh, it would be . . . I’m kinda . . .”
“What’s on your mind, Rand?”
“Is it something about Kristal?”
“Ye-ah.” His voice broke and bisected the word.
“Where are you calling from?” I said.
“Not far from you.”
My home office address was unlisted. How do you know where I live?
I said, “I’ll come to you, Rand. Where are you?”
“Uh, I think . . . Westwood.”
“I think . . . lemme see . . .” I heard a clang as the phone dropped. Phone on a cord, traffic in the background. A pay booth. He was off the line for over a minute.
“It says Westwood. There’s this big uh, a mall. With this bridge across.”
A mall. “Westside Pavilion?”
Two miles south of the village. Comfortable distance from my house in the Glen. “Where in the mall are you?”
“Uh, I’m not in there. I kin see it across the street. There’s a . . . I think it says Pizza. Two z’s . . . yeah, pizza.”
Eight years and he could barely read. So much for rehab.
It took awhile but I got the approximate location: Westwood Boulevard, just north of Pico, east side of the street, a green and white and red sign shaped like a boot.
“I’ll be there in fifteen, twenty minutes, Rand. Anything you want to tell me now?”
“Uh, I . . . can we meet at the pizza place?”
“I ate breakfast.”
“See you in twenty.”
“Okay . . . thanks.”
“You sure there’s nothing you want to tell me before you see me?”
“Anything at all.”
More traffic noise. Time stretched.
“I’m not a bad person.”
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