Excerpt: 'The Scarecrow'

I knew that was what she was going to say. They are never guilty. No one calls you up to say you got it right or the police got it right and their son or their husband or their boyfriend is guilty of the charges. No one calls you from jail to tell you they did it. Everybody is innocent. The only thing I didn't understand about the call was the name. I hadn't written about anybody named Alonzo – I would have remembered.

"Ma'am, do you have the right person here? I don't think I wrote about Alonzo."

"Sure you did. I got your name right here. You said he stuffed her in the trunk and that's some motherfuckin' shit right there."

Then it came together. The trunk murder from last week. It was a six-inch short because nobody on the desk was all that interested. Juvenile drug dealer strangles one of his customers and puts her body in the trunk of her own car. It was a black on white crime but still the desk didn't care because the victim was a drug user. Both she and her killer were marginalized by the paper. You start cruising down to South L.A. to buy heroin or rock cocaine and what happens happens. You won't get any sympathy from the gray lady on Spring Street. There isn't much space in the paper for that. Six inches inside is all you're worth and all you get.

I realized I didn't know the name Alonzo because I had never been given it in the first place. The suspect was sixteen years old and the cops didn't give out the names of arrested juveniles.

I flipped through the stack of newspapers on the right side of my desk until I found the Metro section from two Tuesdays back. I opened it to page four and looked at the story. It wasn't long enough to carry a byline. But the desk had put my name as a tagline at the bottom. Otherwise I wouldn't have gotten the call. Lucky me.

"Alonzo is your son," I said. "And he was arrested two Sundays ago for the murder of Denise Babbit, is that correct?" "I told you that is motherfucking bullshit."

"Yes, but that's the story we're talking about. Right?"

"That's right and when are you going to write about the truth?"

"The truth being that your son is innocent."

"That's right. You got it wrong and now they say he's going to be an adult and he only sixteen years old. How can they do that to a boy?"

"What is Alonzo's last name?"

"Winslow."

"Alonzo Winslow. And you are Mrs. Winslow?"

"No, I am not," she said indignantly. "You goin' put my name in the paper now with a mess a lies?"

"No, ma'am. I just want to know who I am talking to, that's all."

"Wanda Sessums. I don't want my name in no paper. I want you to write the truth, is all. You ruin his reputation calling him a murderer like that."

Reputation was a hot button word when it came to redressing wrongs committed by a newspaper, but I almost laughed as I scanned the story I had written.

"I said he was arrested for the murder, Mrs. Sessums. That is not a lie. That is accurate."

"He arrested but he did'n do it. The boy wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Police said he had an arrest record going back to twelve years old for selling drugs. Is that a lie, too?"

"He on the corners, yeah, but that don't mean he go an' kill nobody. They pinnin' a rap on him and you jes along for the ride with your eyes closed nice and tight."

"The police said that he confessed to killing the woman and putting her body in the trunk."

"That's a damn lie! He did no such thing."

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