By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Detective Thomas Herman is the officer assigned to head the investigation into Roman’s murder. Herman has been on the force for 27 years, six of those on Hollenbeck Homicide. His manner is tough-talking, no-nonsense, classic old-guard LAPD — more Andy Sipowicz than Bobby Simone. When Monica’s words appear in the morning paper, Herman is furious. "That’s just bullshit," he says. "Utter bullshit. Anybody who knows me knows I take a whole lot of pride in my clearance rate, and I’m working just as hard on this case as I’d work on any other. I understand this guy was Father Boyle’s main poster boy. Whether he was, or whether he still had one little finger in the game, nobody deserves to die like that," he says. "Not the chief’s granddaughter, not Roman Gonzalez."
When pressed, however, Herman admits there are departmental inequities. "Okay, yeah. If Robbery-Homicide downtown has a big case, they’ve got 10 units and everybody working overtime. On this case, if I put in a request for ballistics, I may get it back in one or two weeks if I’m lucky. We just don’t have the resources."
He hauls out a pile of papers neatly bound between blue covers, and drops it on a nearby table. "That’s the Roman Gonzalez file," he says. The file is 6 inches thick and the weight of your average telephone directory. "Now does it look like we aren’t working hard?" Herman rubs his hand over his face. "I love what I do, and I think I’m exceptionally good at it. But guys like me are leaving this department right and left because, half the time, we don’t have what we need to do our jobs, and the public rarely helps. We’ve got two eyewitnesses on this case, but will they give us names? Of course not." He squints as if against a light. "Solving a case like this is one thing," he says. "Clearing it is another. I know who did it. But can I prove it? Will I ever be able to prove it?"He begged his mother to get out, for the sake of his brothers, the twins.
Arnold Machado is the first one who actually says he is going to move as a result of the shooting. "I’ve had it with the projects," he says. "This is no way to live. I can’t ride my bike around the block anymore. Me and my wife are already looking for a house out in Whittier."
Gabriela Ortiz is also thinking of leaving, but she is less sanguine about her chances. "I’d like a new place to live, but where?" she says. "Where is it safe? Most of the places I can afford have gangs too. Let’s say I move to Highland Park, for example. Is that any better? In the projects, at least I know the players. I mean, I know where to duck, who has my back, and who doesn’t."
As summer drifts to fall, no one has found a place yet. And there have been no arrests. Victor Ayala still hectors his brother William to stay out of the projects, with greater and lesser degrees of success. Grace Campos has resorted to a few panicky actions. "Like I got life-insurance policies for all of us," she says, "even for the kids, like that would make us safe." Mostly, she says, she tries to put the fear out of her mind. "My kids have learned to tell time by when their father gets home," she says. "When I think about what it would be like for them to one day say, ‘Mom, when is Dad coming home?’ And for me to say, ‘Well, you know, honestly, never . . .’ It leaves me speechless. The only thing that helps is for me to somehow believe that what happened to Roman has a meaning, that it’s for a reason. If I don’t think that way, I’ll go crazy."
There is one truly hopeful note. The twins have been edgy for the past few months, and Father Boyle worries that they are being pressured to avenge their brother. But in early September, Armando unexpectedly walks into Boyle’s office to ask for a job. Although he affects unconcern as he crosses the space between the front door and the priest’s cubicle against the far wall, it is an uneasy visit. Several of TMC’s "enemies" either already work in the office or are there seeking employment. Nonetheless, Armando perseveres. "I’m ready to leave my old life behind," he says to Boyle. "It’s time."
Mando explains that he came to the decision because of a promise he made to Roman at the wake. "I told my brother I would take care of our mom, and his daughter," he says. "But I can’t take care of them if I’m locked up or dead. So I have to make myself do what’s right even though my anger doesn’t want to let me."
Many of the younger TMC homeboys are still mired in a dismal fatalism. "What’s the point of doing good," they say, "after what happened to Trigger?" But some of the older guys, like a previously incorrigible TMC called Traviesso — Trouble — are reaching out to Boyle for help. In patches, at least, the darkness brought by Roman’s death seems to be lifting.
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