By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
There is much nodding among the other heads in the group. Then the pixie in the ski jacket speaks again. She says she met Scott only two months before he was killed. "I was with this guy at the time who was starting to weird me out a little, and Eric sort of pulled me aside and said, 'Look, this guy has really bad energy. You shouldn't be with him.' And so I broke up with him, and he wound up raping the next girl he got with, and then he beat up another chick so bad she had to go to the hospital."
Joe sits down and puts his arm around her. "I'm here to protect you now," he says. Standing next to them is a young man who is shivering, wearing only jeans and a red short-sleeved shirt bearing the image of game-show host Bob Barker and the word "Pimp." He's on lunch break from his job at a fast-food joint three blocks away. "I used to be homeless until about six months ago," he says. "I just come here on my breaks to slum it. I just still fit in here, I guess." He says Scott was the same way. "Even though he had money, you know, you could tell he was still one of us."
Pimp shirt says he used to regularly buy a quarter-ounce of pot, break it into grams and sell it in Civic Center Park. "I'd been doin' it like about four months, and then one day Eric bought me a cup of coffee and just basically gave me this rap like, 'Look, it's all fine and good to make a little money off this, but be smart about it; don't just go out and blow it on X [the designer drug Ecstasy] and forty-ouncers. Use it for something you really need.' So I was like, 'Well, I could use a place to live,' so he helped me figure out my finances, like how much I would need to save every week to be able to score an apartment in three months, right? And I would just set aside that money and have him hold it for me. And then three months later, I had an apartment, so I had an address, so I could get a job. And that's why I'm not homeless."
None of the kids on the steps will give their names, not even their street names -- except for Joe, who initially claims his last name is "Schmoe." Pressed for his legal name, Joe Schmoe produces a junior high school ID card with a picture of him at fourteen years old looking suitably surly. Beneath the photo is his last name: Eslenger.
"Print it," he says. "Print everything I said. Print this: I'm not afraid of Kidder."
Joe's companions are. They practically flinch every time Joe says the name. None of them will admit they were with Joe the day after Scott's murder, when Kidder came around bragging.
"Let's just say it's pretty well known around here that a certain person was saying a certain something about a certain crime," declares a grungy-haired peer with a ring through his septum. "And then let's leave it at that."
But Joe says, "No, let's not."
And then he goes off.
"[Kidder's] not really a street kid, but he used to, like, to come down here a lot and tag the shit out of everything and strut around and act all bad. And he is bad. I admit that. I know he's jacked [robbed] a lot of people. Some of us used to call him 'Hammer' because he always carries a hammer with him for a weapon. But his tag is Kidder. That's what he uses in his graffiti. He's part of a graffiti crew called RTD. That stands for 'Right to Draw.'"
The guy in the pimp shirt puts a hand over Joe's mouth. Joe knocks it away.
"His story about [the murder] kept changing. That first day he said, straight up, he did it. He said he snuck into the dude's place the night before and killed him and took all his money and all his kind bud. A few days after that, a few of us started talking about bringing down some street justice, because Eric was pretty well-liked down here, and with him gone, it was going to be a lot harder to find kind bud."
The others on the steps snicker knowingly. Joe keeps on.
"I think maybe Kidder heard we might be coming after him, because he showed up here one last time with a different story. Now he said he didn't actually do it himself. He said he had just set it up kind of like a home-invasion robbery, and it was really some other guys that went in there...this set of East Coast guys he met down here on the mall. He was going on and on about how nobody was supposed to get hurt and how he was sorry. This was maybe two weeks after it happened. I never saw [Kidder] after that, but about that same time, I heard the cops were asking around about him, and a little bit after that some of his boys came around, delivering threats. Anybody says anything, they're gonna be next kind of thing. Put everybody into a panic.