Roberto Gallardo slunk down in the hard wooden chair watching his attorney Clair Williams Esquire arguing at the side of Judge Hodge’s bench with Assistant DA Greg Fortnoy. He glanced over his right shoulder at the family of Alan Goldenberg. The daughter with the diamond stud in her nose was glaring at him. The rest of her family sat fixated on the discussion that none of them could hear at the front of the courtroom. Roberto could feel the crowd that filled the chairs in the gallery behind him grow restless. A gentle murmur rose as the conversation at the front dragged on.
No family or friends sat behind Roberto. They were all in Guatemala. When he’d been working he sent money home to pay for food and clothing and the house he and his wife had bought in the highlands outside of Puerto Quetzal. They loved the breezes that blew off the Pacific. But no money had flowed south during the many months that Roberto had been in jail and now they were in danger of losing it all.
The newspaper headlines had painted Roberto as a crazed criminal mastermind bent on gaining a foothold in the drug trade in San Francisco’s Mission District. In their view, and that of the police, the blue and white of the jacket he wore were the colors of the Guatemalan gang he was building. To Roberto the jacket was a reminder of where he was from and where he would return. Now the reporters sat behind him and sketched the highlights of the courtroom each day in words and charcoal.
Living illegally, even in a sanctuary city like San Francisco, is not an easy existence. Roberto’s English was as limited as his heart was large. A few friends from Puerto Quetzal who had preceded him on the journey to the north had helped him get started. Many had fled their homeland in the 1980’s and 90’s to escape the civil war that was funded partly by the Americans. They knew how to survive. They showed him where to stand along Cesar Chavez Street in the early mornings to get picked up by the contractors looking for cheap labor to clear weeded hillsides or carry heavy loads up the steep stairways of the houses being remodeled by the tech titans and financial wizards. That first Western Union money gram he’d sent home five years ago had made the loneliness and the difficulties all seem worthwhile. Now he wondered.
“The Judge is going to block the testimony of the cab driver as hearsay,” Clair whispered in his ear in Spanish as she slid back into her chair. “That’s good news for us.”
Roberto still didn’t completely understand how it had all happened, why he was sitting in this chair, why his picture had been on the front page of the paper. He’d bought the little remote controlled car for his son at the Goldenberg’s garage sale. An eighth birthday present for a boy who’d had to grow up quickly and help his mom while his dad labored far away. Roberto couldn’t know that the car was a pawn in a dangerous game.
Assistant DA Greg Fortnoy stood at the table to their right, “Your honor, the prosecution calls Adam Goldenberg to the stand.”
Adam looked quite different in suit and tie with neatly trimmed hair as compared to that Sunday afternoon he’d burst into Roberto’s apartment with a gun in his hand. The beard and dreadlocks were gone. Those crazed red-rimmed eyes that had frantically searched for the toy car that was his hiding place were clear now. But Roberto knew that the tattoo of the needle would still be on the inside of the arm.
After the introductions and the background, Fortnoy got to the question that everyone had been waiting these last three days for, “Adam, is the man who shot your father in this courtroom?”
The finger pointed to Roberto and brought back those horrible moments. The father bursting in, the son turning and firing before he knew who it was, Roberto trying to grab the gun before it turned again. The struggle had been intense, but just as the police had burst into the room, Roberto had won.
And there the story went wrong. Some of the dozen men who shared the cramped apartment were worse off than Roberto. Gangs were everywhere in the Mission and offered the best means of survival for those most desperate. It was the word of an upper class addict against an illegal. An illegal who was holding the gun at the end. Clair understood, but the facts were difficult.
When it came her turn, she played the best card they had, “Mr. Goldenberg, do you know a man by the name of Peter D’Amatto?”
Despite the cleaning and the coaching, Adam’s face quivered. The almost imperceptible twist of his lip said it all for Roberto. He glanced at the jury to see if they were reacting. The faces were stone.
The voice was not as firm as the finger had been, “No.”
“Thank you Mr. Goldenberg, that will be all.” Clair left the question hanging for the next act. Mr. D’Amatto was her key witness. He would testify that he had sold the gun to Adam.
That night in his cell as he lay on the hard bed listening to the sounds of those who were guilty or crazy around him, Roberto thought of the church that stood at the head of the square in Puerto Quetzal. He imagined the feel of his knees on the rough stones in front of the altar and the taste of the body and blood in his mouth.
The next afternoon the hard wooden chair felt like a cross holding him at points of pain as the crowd reassembled. Then the jury foreman stood and delivered his fate, “We find the defendant not guilty your Honor.”