Over the past three years Queenie Reginald Smith had been arrested more times than she cared to admit. Recently she even managed to get herself arrested on Sixth and Howard Streets at four o’clock in the morning by trying to solicit an undercover cop she saw leaning against the entrance to The Tip Top Donut Shop. After she was taken to Juvenile Hall, Queenie assumed that Judge Williamson would release her from custody the way all judges did, given her youth and the prevailing view that her kind of crime did not warrant custody time. Judge Williamson, however, was not like all other judges.
“You‘ve been arrested seven times in the last three months for prostitution! You last attended eighth grade almost a year ago. You’ve been caught smuggling marijuana into a holding cell, and you recently attacked a police officer who was trying to cuff your mother. The truth is that you are really too smart to not make something more of yourself. I wouldn’t be helping you if I simply released you and sent you on your merry way.”
With that said, Queenie was “detained,” which was juvenile justice parlance for “not being released” from the juvenile detention facility any time soon. At the dispositional hearing Judge Williamson decided Queenie’s fate. Queenie’s lawyer strongly advocated for her release back to her grandmother, while her probation officer and the D.A. urged the judge to give her a long term in Out of Home Placement away from the city. Her lawyer argued that Queenie was not a criminal; she was merely a victim of physical and sexual abuse. The D.A. called her out on her truancy and claimed that she was harming herself and other girls she recruited into the life of prostitution. In the end Judge Williamson refused her release and ordered her to go to a place called Mingus Mountain near Prescott, Arizona, for rehabilitation. By the time the D.A.’s homicide team realized that Queenie was needed as a key witness in a triple murder case happening downtown, she was half-way to Mingus Mountain.
Queenie Reginald Smith was her mother’s name and her grandmother’s name before her. Young Queenie had been taught by both her mother and grandmother from an early age how to work the streets. She had been honest about her name, her date of birth, and her address the night she gave the information over to the police at the murder scene. The problem for the police was that neither fourteen-year-old Queenie nor any of the other Queenies were home very often and could not be easily subpoenaed for court. Mom was often doing time in prison for drug trafficking. Grandma worked mostly outside the house procuring male clients for the fourteen-year-old to service. In her grandmother’s eyes Queenie was a lucrative enterprise, a well-seasoned, tenderized juicy treat for the men of the community. Sometimes Young Queenie would walk the streets until all hours of the day and night looking for customers. Elder Queenie would not permit her granddaughter to come home unless she brought with her a satisfactory amount of cash from her nighttime endeavors.
The Public Defender wanted Queenie’s testimony as badly as the D.A. When each lawyer listened to Queenie’s taped statement made at the crime scene the night of the triple homicide, they heard it differently. Queenie gave a more comprehensive, nuanced description of the murderer than anyone else at the scene. D.A. Reynolds felt that her testimony would be the lynchpin of his case. Certainly, the case against Howard McGivern’s had holes in it, but Young Queenie gave a compelling description of Howard as the shooter.
The P.D. was confident that the description was of somebody entirely different than his client. Clearly the description was of a person similar to Howard, but when it came right down to it, Mr. Feinbaum was positive that the description was not the same person at all. Queenie was certain to help him win an acquittal at trial.
Queenie had heard from some of the recent arrivals at the Youth Guidance Center that two men were looking for her. Word on the street was that both the prosecutor and the defense attorney sent men to find her in places where she would usually hang or walk the track to hustle clients. She was fairly certain why they wanted to find her, and she was willing to be found if it meant that either of the men searching would come get her from Arizona and bring her back home. She hoped they would buy her a cheeseburger, three bags of Firey Cheetos, and some nice clothes. Maybe they would pay for her court testimony. She had heard all about witness protection programs from T.V. and wondered if she could get her entire family--grandmother, uncles, mother and cousins--a new house, a new washer dryer, even a brand-new neighborhood.
The flight that Probation Officer Wilmetta had booked to accompany Queenie to Arizona was on Southwestern Airlines. They had to fly into Phoenix and then rent a car and drive the rest of the way up to Mingus Mountain. Queenie had never been on an airplane before. She had never even been outside the city of San Francisco before, and although she was scared to leave her familiar surroundings she was actually excited to get on the plane. She wondered if the plane would feel like a rollercoaster. She wondered how it would feel to fly through the clouds.
Southwestern Airlines was an airline company that did not assign seats. Passengers were given group numbers and when certain numbers were called out from a microphone these groups could rush through the gate with their boarding passes and sit in any empty seat of their choice on the plane. Ms. Wilmetta showed her badge and identification to a uniformed man who appeared to be in charge, and both she and Queenie were able to board the plane long before the mad rush of passengers scrambling for seats. Wilmetta kept a tight grip on Queenie as she ushered her to a seat in the front of the airplane. After they were seated, a flight attendant walked towards them and smiled.
“Would you or your daughter like a magazine?”
“Oh, I aunt her daughter. And I ain’t got no money.”
“Honey, it’s free.” The flight attendant smiled as she handed Queenie a puzzle magazine.
Queenie wondered if the airline attendants were always this nice but decided that they were never usually this nice. They just felt sorry for her. Ms. Wilmetta must have told all of the airline personnel that she was on her way to Mingus Mountain. She thought about the pictures of Mingus Mountain in the brochures that Ms. Wilmetta had given her. There were large mountains surrounding the main buildings. The mountains were studded with prickly desert cactus like in a Wiley E. Coyote cartoon. There was a horse stable and a field where the horses were exercised. The dorm building had real bunk beds. The only stable she had ever known was a street corner where girls like her were put out on the track to work.
As the plane began to make its loud takeoff engine noise, Queenie sat back. Her excitement made her momentarily forget about the painful burns she still felt on both her inner thighs. These burns were a constant reminder to her of how vile some customers could be. She grimaced from chafing whenever she pulled her jeans on or off. A man called Big White Daddy burned both thighs with cigarette butts a few months back after he bound her wrists, gagged her, and ejaculated all over her stomach. Even though he paid her grandmother a great deal of money for this experience, Queenie hated him. She told her grandmother to refuse to set up any further dates with this man. She prayed on a daily basis that Big White Daddy would get his just desserts. Queenie, however, was not the type of girl to leave things up to divine intervention. She was determined to see to it that Big White Daddy never harmed another girl again.
For Queenie the thrill of landing in an airplane was almost as exciting as the takeoff. She grabbed her armrests when she felt the jolt of the plane touch down. As the plane landed she thought about how strange it was going to be to live at the Mingus Mountain boarding school. She wondered if anyone would really bring her back home to testify about the shooting she witnessed. Queenie reached for the fifty-dollar bill she had placed in a hidden pocket inside the lining of her hoodie in order to reassure herself that she had emergency cash in case she needed it. This was the money she won for First Place over a year ago at the Everett Middle School poetry contest. The poem Queenie had written was titled “What about Me, Maya Angelou?” It was a poem filled with anger and grief, a poem of profound and relentless rage, according to the contest judges.
Ms. Wilmetta rented a brand new red Pontiac convertible to drive Queenie up the mountain. This was the last car the rental company had available that day in the lot, and although the car cost a bit more than the normal government allowance for rentals, Ms. Wilmette was secretly pleased about her lack of choice in the matter. She was as pleased as Queenie that they would be driving to Mingus Mountain in style. They left the airport rental lot with the Pontiac’s top down, the air conditioning going full blast, and the hot dry desert sunshine raining in from all directions.
Mavis Wilmetta liked to take full advantage of her day trips to Phoenix. She would usually transport a girl up the mountain as quickly as possible so that she could spend the rest of her day enjoying the desert scenery, shopping, and drinking wine coolers at the Hassayampa Inn. This time Mavis could not spend the whole day in Prescott or even in Phoenix. She had to meet with her plumber about a clogged drain as soon as she returned. It was a shame she would not be able to spend her afternoon in Prescott. On the other hand, Mavis realized as she sped along the desert highway that neither she nor Queenie had eaten lunch. She looked over towards Queenie in the passenger seat and made a quick decision to take the far-right exit east towards Prescott. Most of the girls were fed a burger at Mac Donald’s before they left Phoenix, but Mavis really didn’t see any reason why Queenie shouldn’t have a proper sit-down lunch at a real restaurant in Prescott before going on up the mountain.
“Listen, Queenie, if we stop at a nice place for lunch I need you to promise me you won’t try to run.”
“Where could I possibly run to, Miss Wilmetta? I don’t know anyone around here, I don’t have enough cash to get back home, and I sure don’t know where I am!”
“I’m just saying that if we have a real nice meal I expect you to behave.”
Queenie looked at Mavis as if the suggestion of misbehaving was the most insulting idea she had ever heard. She slumped back in her seat and stared straight ahead with a fake pout, inwardly as glad as Mavis that they were taking the detour. They drove for about a half hour until they reached Prescott proper. Finally, they parked in the center of the town square, and before she knew it Queenie found herself sitting across from her probation officer in the Peacock Room of the Hassayampa Inn having a tall glass of lemonade and a tuna melt, while Mavis drank a cool drink in a pink glass with limes hanging over its sides.
They sat and talked about each cactus they saw along the way into town. They talked about the kind of animals that often live in the desert. They both ordered refills of their cold drinks and then continued talking. To any outsider they could have been an ordinary mother and daughter on a long road trip discussing the sites. Mavis’ skin tone was darker than Queenie’s, but there was nothing to suggest that they weren’t in some way related. In the back of her mind Queenie knew she would remember this lunch for a long time to come. Sitting and talking at the restaurant made her feel just like a regular girl.
As Mavis handed a credit card to the waiter, her cell phone rang. She answered it, listened, and looked directly at Queenie.
“We stopped along the way for a quick bite of lunch. If the D.A. wants the child, the D.A. is going to have to come and get the child. I haven’t seen a subpoena yet, have you? Yes, I’ll certainly let her know. We arrive in about an hour.”
The phone call ended abruptly. Mavis explained that the call was to let them both know that a District Attorney investigator named Lou Something Or Other was looking for Queenie. He was going to come all the way to Mingus Mountain early tomorrow morning to bring her back to San Francisco to testify, unless Mavis saw fit to turn around and bring Queenie back to San Francisco herself. It was Mavis’ job to get Queenie up the mountain. She was not about to bring Queenie all the way back to the airport on the say so of some D.A. investigator.
As they walked outside Mavis’ cell phone rang again. She gave a sigh as she looked at the caller I.D.
“We are on our way! Really? The Public Defender? Do they have a subpoena? Tell them the same thing. If the public defender wants the child, the public defender is going to have to come and get the child.”
By the time they drove to Mingus Mountain the temperature was ninety-seven degrees and felt like a dry sauna. Mavis handed some official papers to a person in charge, obtained a few signatures, gave Queenie a quick firm hug and drove away, leaving her in the care of a very large woman with dyed blond hair named Rita.
Rita huffed and sweated as she showed Queenie the stables where the horses were kept, the sheds where arts and crafts projects were done, and the dormitory rooms. Each girl slept in either a lower or an upper bunk, depending on their seniority. The bunks were located next to a large bathroom with multiple shower stalls and sinks. Queenie was instructed to put her suitcase on one of the upper bunks, and as she did so she asked her tour guide why all the mirrors in the bathrooms looked so strange. The mirrors, she was told, were made of brushed steel so that the girls would not try to break them and cut themselves.
“Why would a girl want to do that?”
“Girls cut themselves. It just happens. Don’t ask me why it happens. It just does.”
Queenie was then taken to the school building. She was allowed to peek through an open window into a classroom where she saw girls looking very busy trying to learn. The next stop on the tour was the cafeteria and finally the therapeutic services office. Queenie was made to sit in a chair until a woman with gray frizzy hair and purple lipstick came out to greet her.
“You must be Queenie. I am so pleased to meet you. My name is Robin Samuels. Everyone around here calls me Dr. Robin. I’m one of the therapists at Mingus Mountain and I am very lucky because I get to work with young girls like you. I am really looking forward to getting to know you. Are you thirsty? It’s pretty darn hot and dry around these parts. Would you like a soda?”
Queenie shook her head no as she glanced at an old armless Barbie doll lying on top of a stack of papers on Dr. Robin’s desk. Dr. Robin came around to the side of the table and pulled up a chair opposite Queenie, as though they were both about to play a game. Without the desk between them Queenie could not avoid looking at Dr. Robin’s clothing. She wore a green and blue Hawaiian shirt and a hot pink skirt that came down to her ankles. She had a pair of sunglasses dangling from the open collar of her neck and looked like an out-of-town visitor ready to board a tour bus to the Grand Canyon.
“Listen, I know that a lot of people are interested in bringing you back to San Francisco. Whatever their reasons for wanting you there to testify, I believe you will be back there before you know it, and it’s my job to help you to be as comfortable here as possible. If there is anything that is bothering you, well, you just let me know.”
As she said those words Queenie squirmed in her chair. She had a sudden impulse to point out the burns on her thighs to Dr. Robin but remained silent in the chair, swinging her feet back and forth like a young child. The remaining time with Dr. Robin was spent going over a schedule of future meetings.
The public defender investigator, Jaime Garcia, and the district attorney Investigator, Lou Landofini, sat opposite each other at gate eighty-seven at the Southwest Airlines terminal. Both men had gotten to the airport at six that morning. They came to the airport exactly twenty-four hours after Queenie and Ms. Wilmetta boarded the plane for Phoenix. Each man was sent there for the exact same reason. They came there to board a plane that would take them to Phoenix. Once they arrived in Phoenix they were tasked by their respective offices to rent a car and drive up to Mingus Mountain. Both were expected to bring Queenie back home to testify as their star witness in the murder trial of Howard McGivens.
Lou smiled as he watched Jaime rummage through a stash of papers in his briefcase. He got up out of his seat and moved over to the seat next to him.
“I take it we are both headed to the same place.”
“You renting a car at the airport?”
“Yes, Sir. Any reason we shouldn’t save the City and County some money and drive up there together?”
“I don’t see any reason why not.”
At the Phoenix airport they rented a blue Sedan and headed towards Prescott. They would have just about enough time to bring Queenie back to San Francisco to testify that afternoon. When they arrived at Mingus, they met with a man wearing a bolo tie named Hawthorne. He left both men standing in the entrance as he walked off down a long hallway to take Queenie out of class. Fifteen minutes later she came back with him to the front entrance where the two men were waiting. Hawthorne led all three out of the building past the horse stables to where the rental car was parked. Lou opened the back-passenger door and motioned for Queenie to get inside. She climbed in the back as Lou walked around to the opposite side and sat next to her. Jaime took the wheel.
As they began the twisting descent down the mountain, Queenie was the first to speak.
“What d’ya have for me?’
Lou gave her a perplexed look and Jaime eyed Lou through the rearview mirror.
“I said what do you all have for me?”
“I am not sure what you mean.”
“What I mean is, you want something from me, don’t ya? What do I get?”
Her question was the logical result of her many years of doing business. In the past she had bartered for money, for candy, even once for a new pair of high top shoes with yellow laces. Although she had never traded herself for courtroom testimony, she was excited about the possibilities that such a transaction could bring. “You know, witness money, freedom, all that stuff.”
Jaime looked at Lou through the rearview mirror. Lou was not willing to take a chance on impugning this star witness’ credibility with any promises. But as a seasoned investigator he was certainly as good a hustler as the young girl seated next to him in the back seat of the Sedan.
“Tell you what, love; let’s first go over the taped statement you gave to the police on the night of the shooting.”
Lou nodded to Jaime who immediately placed the audio CD of Queenie’s statement into the built-in disc player on the dashboard of the car. Jaime continued to drive towards Phoenix as Queenie’s voice came over the car speakers. The monotony of the questioning put her fast to sleep on the long ride to the airport.
Three hours later Jaime, Lou, and Queenie sat on a bench outside of Department twenty-five at the Hall of Justice. They arrived in time for the afternoon court session. They waited patiently outside the courtroom for the medical expert to finish testifying. Queenie stood on her tiptoes and glanced at the jury through the window of the courtroom door. She saw the backs of the spectators seated in the main body of the courtroom and recognized one man in particular seated in the back row. She also saw a tall, silver-haired gentleman on the witness stand who looked like he was at a pulpit giving the jury a church sermon.
Inside the courtroom Doctor Ira Wald was telling the jury about Axenfeld-Rieger Syndrome—a rare genetic disorder affecting a patient’s eyes.
Assistant District Attorney Reynolds looked pointedly at the jury as he handed the photograph of the defendant to the witness on the stand.
“Yes, Sir. I notice from his eyes that the individual in this photograph probably has the condition about which we have been speaking.”
“Nothing further of this witness, Your Honor.”
“May I step down judge?”
“No cross judge.”
“Doctor Wald, you are excused.”
Queenie sat back down on the bench outside the courtroom. A few seconds later the doctor came bounding out of the courtroom door along with the D.A. D.A. Reynolds looked over towards the bench.
“Is this Queenie?”
“Yes, Sir. This is the one and only Miss Queenie Reginald Smith, the girl everyone has been looking for.”
“You got her here just in time! The judge is in a foul mood. You’re up next young lady.”
After this brief exchange, Reynolds ushered Queenie through the large courtroom doors. She rubbed her right thigh as Reynolds led her up to the witness stand.
“The People call Ms. Queenie Reginald Smith to the witness stand.”
The portly courtroom clerk stood up from behind his metal desk and told Queenie to raise her right hand. Queenie raised her left hand instead. The clerk smiled and said, “No, no, your other right hand, sweetheart.”
After she was sworn in to tell the truth, the whole entire truth, Queenie took her seat in the witness chair. She quickly looked about the courtroom. It was then that she confirmed the fact that Big White Daddy was sitting in the back row of the courtroom. She knew he would be there, that he would not miss his own brother’s murder trial. She tried not to stare at him when she stated her name and her date of birth. Reynolds asked her if she knew the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie. He asked her if she was going to tell the truth in front of the jury.
“What happens when you tell a lie, Queenie?’
“Jesus punishes you.”
Reynolds saw the judge nod at him to continue with his questions. He asked Queenie where she was the night of the shooting. She told him she was hanging out by the gas station. He then asked her if she saw the man who shot and killed three people at the gas station. Queenie paused and looked around the courtroom.
“Yeah, I seen him. I seen him clearly. I was close up and I know him from the neighborhood.”
“Queenie, can you tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury what he looked like?”
“Big, white, and ugly.”
As soon as Queenie gave this description, Judge Bergman started to cough in an effort to stifle a laugh.
“I mean, can you describe what he was wearing?’
“Black pants, Giant’s t-shirt, zip-up hoodie.”
“What, if anything, did you notice about his eyes?”
“They were weird.”
“What do you mean by weird? Can you describe his eyes for the ladies and gentlemen of the jury?”
“They were wide apart. One eye had two black spots in it.”
At the moment she described his eyes, the jurors began to scribble onto their notepads. D.A. Reynolds paused dramatically for effect and then asked two final questions.
“Queenie, do you see the man who shot and killed those three young boys today in court?”
“Yes. I see him.”
“Can you point him out and tell the jurors where he is seated?”
“Yes, I can. He’s the big white man in the back of the courtroom. He’s sitting in the last row of seats. Everyone calls him Big White Daddy. His brother is the defendant.”
At that moment Big White Daddy bolted upright out of his chair and began to yell at Queenie, cursing loudly. The two bailiffs standing by the side doors grabbed him by both arms. All twelve jurors began talking at once. Two news reporters stood up to leave the courtroom, but Judge Bergman hit the automatic door lock from underneath the bench by his chair, and the doors remained locked. No one could enter or exit the courtroom. He yelled “order,” banged his gavel three times, and called for an immediate sidebar.
Queenie continued to quietly sit on the witness stand. She looked at the chaos erupting around her and watched intently as Big White Daddy was dragged off into the holding cell by the bailiffs. She glanced at the man she actually saw do the shooting remain seated quietly at counsel table. She watched the D.A. and P.D. approach the side of the judge’s podium and tried to listen in as they whispered fervently to the judge.
At that precise moment Queenie knew there would be no witness compensation money for her. At that precise instant she also knew she was going back to Mingus Mountain and would not be able to come home for a long time. As she sat up on the witness stand she allowed herself to picture every different type of cactus she had seen growing along the road in the hot Arizona desert sun. She thought about the wonderful time she had with Miss Wilmetta at lunch. She remembered the airplane ride through the clouds and thought about the stables out back behind the arts and crafts building at Mingus Mountain. She thought how nice it might be, someday, to learn how to ride horses.