A Speedy Trial
By Joe C. McKinney
Granski and Cooper were headed eastbound on Atascosa Road at about 3:30 in the morning
when a beat-up Chevy ran a stop sign about fifty yards ahead of them. The driver got about
halfway out into the intersection before he saw Granski and Cooper’s patrol car, mashed down
on the brakes, then just sat there, blocking the road.
“Pull that dumb-ass over,” Cooper said, thumping his decayed and mangled arm impatiently
against the armrest of the passenger door.
Granski slowed the cruiser to a stop and turned on the strobes, waiting for the Chevy to move.
The driver sat there for a long moment, then put it in reverse and backed up to the stop sign.
“He thinks you’re gonna let him go,” Cooper said. “You’re gonna have to go get him.”
“Idiot,” Granski grumbled to himself. He turned the spot light on the driver and flicked it toward
Atascosa Road so the guy would know to pull over. When the guy still wouldn’t move, Granski
got on the PA and told the guy to move his car.
He still didn’t move.
“He hears you,” Cooper said. “He’s just playing dumb.”
Granski tried the PA again.
“You’re wasting your breath. He ain’t gonna move till you make him move.”
“You really want him that bad?” Granski asked.
Cooper smiled cruelly, and his teeth showed through the decayed holes in his cheeks. “What
do you think?”
Granski turned the cruiser around and got up behind the Chevy. Then he turned the strobes
With his flashlight in his hand, Granski pulled his huge bulk out of the car and made his way
up the driver’s side of the Chevy. Cooper was already out of the car and going up the passenger
side. He didn’t carry a flashlight, though. As a corpse, he didn’t need one.
Granski turned his light on the backseat as he made his way up to the driver’s window and saw
a bunch of stereo equipment and garbage bags that looked like they were full of mail. There
were at least half a dozen beer cans on the floorboard. The driver was a skinny Hispanic kid who
looked like he was in his early twenties. He looked up into the glare of Granski’s flashlight and
“Lemme see your license,” Granski said.
“Como?” the kid asked, his face as innocent as he could make it look.
“Boy, don’t piss me off.”
From the other side of the car, Granski could hear Cooper laugh.
“No English,” the kid said, still smiling.
Granski rolled some tobacco juice around in his mouth as he made up his mind about the kid.
He spit a long rope of juice on the fender of the guy’s car, then stood there dour-faced, waiting
for the guy’s reaction. The kid’s smile faded from his face, but he didn’t speak.
“Lemme see your license. I ain’t gonna ask you again.”
“No trego,” the kid said.
Cooper laughed from the other side of the car. It was a cruel, violent sound meant to stoke the
fire under Granski’s rage.
“He’s playing you.”
“Shut up, Coop,” Granski said.
Confusion colored the kid’s face for a second as he glanced to his right, and then back to
Granski. “Como?” he said.
“The longer you let him sit there p retending he doesn’t speak English,” Cooper said, “the more
control over this stop he takes from you. Don’t let him get away with playing you.”
“I know, Coop.”
Cooper looked normal again, like he looked when he was alive. He was lean and severe, with
a perfectly trimmed head of blond hair and a thick, sandy brown mustache. He wore the light
blue, summer uniform the Department hadn’t used since the late eighties, and his arms were
crossed over his chest, impatiently waiting for Granski to pull the kid o of the car. It was the
same pose he used to take twenty years earlier when he was Granski’s senior officer; and even
now that Granski was fifty-two, with more than twenty-five years on the Department, that stern
look still had the power to goad Granski into action.
“Get on out of the car,” Granski said to the kid.
The kid didn’t move.
“Boy, I told you to get on out of the car. Do it now before I reach in there and pull you out by
your freakin’ throat.”
The kid looked like he was thinking about trying the no English thing again, but then he looked
up and down at Granski’s huge six and a half foot, three hundred and twenty pound frame and
thought better of it. He opened the door and got out quietly.
“That’s better,” Granski said. “Now, lemme see your license.”
“No trego licensia,” the kid said.
Granski moved quickly for a big man. His hands were as big as dinner plates, and he brought
one down on the kid’s face, bitch-slapping him to the ground. The kid landed hard, and with his
hand on his cheek he stared at Granski, his face a mixture of anger, shock, and fear.
“What the hell, man!” the kid blurted out.
“I knew it!” Cooper shouted. “He was trying to play you.”
“I’ll handle him, Coop.”
The kid glanced over to the car, then back at Granski. Fear was starting to take over his
“Get up,” Granski said to the kid.
“You can’t hit me like that.”
“You try pretending you don’t speak English again and I’ll rip your teeth out. Now get up!”
The kid stood up slowly, uncertainly, still rubbing his cheek. Granski towered over him like
some kind of freak of nature, but the defiance was still visible in the kid’s eyes, even underneath
“Lemme see your license.”
“Go to hell.”
Granski bitch slapped him again, but much harder this tme. The kid went flying over the hood
of his car and landed in a heap near the front bumper. As Cooper stood there laughing and
yelling, “Don’t let him get away with that!” Granski made his way around to the front of the car
and grabbed the kid by his hair. He slammed the kid’s face into the headlight so hard the lens
cover shattered. The kid tried to grab at Granski’s wrists, but Granski was too strong and
wouldn’t let go. He threw him face-first onto the hood and made short work of handcuffing the
kid’s hands behind his back.
Granski stood him up and pushed him over to the back of the car. The kid still had glass stuck
to his face, and his mouth was bleeding. He tried to resist by stiffening up and even by kicking
at Granski, but it didn’t work. Granski was strong enough to carry him one-handed, and the kid
was a doll in his hands.
Cooper was hovering around Granski’s shoulder like a cormorant, waiting for a meal. “Ask
him his name.”
“What’s your name?”
The kid shook his head, trying to see through the pain. When he opened his mouth, all that
came out was a low, sick-sounding groan.
“He’s faking it,” Cooper said. “Don’t let him win. You’ve got him down. Now make him
“What’s your name?” Granski asked again, and this time he shook the kid savagely.
When the kid went limp in his hands Granski let him fall back against the car. Blood was still
running freely from his bottom lip and from a jagged cut above his right eye, staining the
neckline of his yellow t-shirt.
“You’re wasting time,” Cooper said. All the humor had gone out of his voice, leaving nothing
but meanness in its place.
“Shut up, Coop. Let me handle this. He’ll come around in a second or two.”
The kid stared out into the darkness, then back at Granski. “Are you talking to me?”
“I asked you for your freakin’ name,” Granski roared at him, grabbing him by the front of his
shirt. “Do I look like I’m playing with you? What is it?”
The disrespect in the kid’s tone made Cooper laugh. “This one’s a joker,” he said. “You still
don’t have his respect. You’re letting him win.”
Granski punched the kid in the stomach so hard it lifted him off the ground. When he landed
he was doubled over and fighting with the dry heaves. “Get up!” Granski growled at him.
The kid stood up with difficulty. He was swaying on his feet when he finally faced Granski
“Now,” Granski said, and leaned in close enough for the kid to smell the tobacco on his breath,
“I’m going to ask you for your name again. I’m gonna ask you other questions, too. Whenever
you answer me, you will give me the full answer to my question.” Granski straightened up to his
full height. “Understand? Now, what is your name?”
“Do you have a middle name, Rudy Guerra?”
“And that’s how your name shows up on your license? Just Rudy Guerra? Nothing else?”
“It might be under Rudolpho.”
“This kid is something else,” Cooper said. “Even after all that, he’s still trying to play you.
Pin him down to a story so we can watch him squirm.”
“I got it, Coop.”
The kid looked confused again. “Who—?”
“What’s your date of birth, Rudy Guerra?”
“The 23rd of December, nineteen-eighty.”
“So your name is Rudy Guerra, but it might be Rudolpho?”
“And your birthday is what again?”
“The 23rd of December, nineteen-eighty.”
“And that makes you how old?”
“I, uh—” The kid stopped there, trying to do the math in his head.
“He still thinks he can win,” Cooper said, and let out a whistle that said ‘This wouldn’t be
happening if I were questioning him.’
“He ain’t gonna win, Coop. Let me handle this, would you?”
“Who are you talking to?” the kid asked. He was starting to get some of his courage back now
that the sting from the slap was going away.
“You don’t know how old you are?” Granski asked him. “You’re lying to me, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not. I swear. I’m twenty-five.”
“So where’s your license, Rudy Guerra?”
“It’s at home.”
“Why did you lie to me?”
“Come on, man. I just don’t want a ticket. I ain’t got no money.”
“What you’re about to get is a whole lot more expensive than a ticket. You lie to the police,
you gotta know you’re goin’ to jail.”
“Please, Officer. I said I was sorry. Don’t put a case on me. Please. I can’t afford to go to
jail. I got family counting on me.”
“Yeah, well, I guess you should have thought of that before you lied to me.”
“I’m sorry, Officer. Please.”
Granski ignored him and stuffed him into the backseat of the police car. But as soon as the kid
was inside, he started to squirm. “What the hell, man! This car smells like somebody died in
“Shut up,” Granski said, and slammed the door on him.
When he looked back at Cooper he said, “Let’s take a look inside his car.”
Cooper didn’t move. “What are you doing? Can’t you see he’s still lying to you? You just let
him get away with it.”
“He hasn’t gotten away with anything yet. I just want to look around inside his car. His
wallet’s probably in there somewhere.”
“And then what? Are you really gonna waste our time arresting him? The courts won’t do
anything to him.”
“So what’s the point?”
“Let’s just look through the car, Coop. If we find something with his name on it, we can prove
“I thought I taught you better than that. You know he’s lying. He didn’t even know how old
he was supposed to be for Christ’s sake. Back in the day we would have just beat on him until
we got the truth out of him.”
Granski tried to protest, but Cooper wouldn’t let him. “Just look through the car if you want
to. I can tell you what you’re going to find, though.”
Cooper motioned to the Chevy with a flick of his wrist. “Go ahead, see for yourself.”
Granski opened the driver’s door and felt under the seat. He opened the glove box and threw a
wad of trash onto the floorboard. There was nothing under the visor or in the armrest, either.
The ashtray slid out, though, and he found a frayed calfskin wallet tucked up behind where the
tray had been.
Inside was a Texas ID card with the kid’s picture on it. The ID said his name was Frank
Bernal, Jr. Granski held it up to Cooper, who was leaning in the passenger window, watching
him. “See, I told you.”
“That’s great,” Cooper said without enthusiasm. “But you already knew he was lying to you.
What really chaps me off is that you haven’t done anything about all this stuff in the backseat.
Haven’t you figured out yet the kid’s a burglar?”
“Yeah, a burglar. Look at this,” he said, holding up a well worn screwdriver. “And look at
this stereo equipment. You think the kid’s got the money for this kind of stuff? I don’t think so.
And why do you suppose none of this mail’s got his name on it? Any thoughts on that?”
“I don’t know.”
Cooper waved his rotten corpse hand back toward the police car. “Well, why don’t you ask
“Alright, Coop, I will. Let me see one of those letters.”
Granski took the envelope back to the car and got the kid out of the backseat. “Let’s try this
again,” he said. “First of all, what’s your name?”
“What’s the point?” the kid said. “You’ve got my ID.”
Granski didn’t answer him. He looked back at Cooper, who was waiting for him to do what
should have been done already, then he grabbed the kid by the shoulder and pulled him into the
field next to the street. Granski pushed him down to his knees. Then he took out his pistol and
pointed it at the kid’s forehead.
“What is your name?”
“You can’t do this. You’re the police. You’re not allowed to do this.”
Granski flexed his finger over the trigger. “What is your name?”
“Frank Bernal,” the kid said, and swallowed hard.
“Why did you lie to me?”
The kid’s voice was broken and wet now. Tears were streaming down his face. “I already told
you,” he said. “I can’t afford another case.”
“Tell me, Frank. Are you a burglar?”
“You heard me, Frank. Answer the question.”
The kid looked around for anything, anyone who could help him. He leaned his head back and
yelled up into the sky as loud as he could. He yelled until he was out of breath; then, when it
was obvious no one heard, he hung his head and started to sob into his chest. Finally, even that
sound died away, and the silence of the night closed in around them.
Cooper appeared at Granski’s side and said, “What’s he yelling about?”
“He doesn’t want to admit he’s a burglar.”
“Of course he doesn’t,” Cooper said. “Thieves are as bad as drunk drivers. They have an
enormous capacity to deny any sense of personal responsibility. It’s part of their nature.”
“I just want him to admit it?”
Through his tears, the kid said, “Who are you talking to, man?”
“Don’t interrupt,” Granski told him.
“Interrupt! What the hell are you talking about? There’s nobody there, man. You’re fucking
“That does it,” Granski roared, and stuck the barrel of his gun back in the kid’s face. “I am
gonna blow your freakin’ head off!”
“Stop!” Cooper yelled.
Granski turned back to Cooper. “Why not?”
“Two reasons. First of all, if you shoot him, they’ll be able to trace the bullet back to you. I
understand, but don’t think for a second that the Department will. This little shit’s not worth
getting in trouble for.”
“And the second reason?”
“The second reason is that even peckerwoods like Mr. Bernal here have a right to a speedy
trial. If you wanna do this right, give him a fair trial.”
“Stop it, man,” the kid said. “You’re really scaring me. Please. Come on. Just let me go.”
“Absolutely,” Cooper said. “A trial. There’s some rope in the trunk. Take him to that tree
over there. I’ll meet you there.”
As Granski pulled the kid over to a huge, twisted oak tree, Cooper tied the end of a length of
rope into a noose. Granski forced the kid to his knees again, then took the rope from Cooper and
tossed the rope over a sturdy branch.
“You do not have the right to remain silent,” Granski said to the kid. “Your silence will be
used against you. Either convince me now you’re not a burglar, or you lose.”
The kid screamed for a long time. He gave it everything he had, but there w no one to hear
him. The night was a thousand empty acres in every direction.
“You’re running out of time,” Granski said, and forced the kid’s head into the noose. As he
tightened the knot, the kid began to cry.
“Don’t you understand?” Granski asked him. “You have a chance to live through this, but first
you have to convince me you’re not a burglar. You can waste time crying, or you can start
trying to convince me.”
“I’m not,” the kid said.
“That’s not proof. You’ve already shown me I can’t take your word for it. I need proof,
something I don’t have to take your word for. Can you even tell me whose name is on this
envelope? If that’s your stereo, what brand is it? What model?”
“Please, don’t do this man. Don’t.”
“That’s not proof.”
“He’s not gonna say anything he hasn’t already said,” Cooper pointed out. “Just hoist him up.”
Granski balled the length of rope around his giant fist and pulled. The kid rose up on his tip
toes, his eyes suddenly very large and afraid.
“This trial’s almost over, Mr. Bernal. Are you going to try to disprove the accusation against
The kid’s voice was a muffled whisper. “Please don’t,” he said. The tears mingled with the
dirt and blood on his cheeks, washing it all down his cheeks in little rust colored rivulets.
“Hoist him up,” Cooper ordered.
Granski did as he was told. He pulled the rope so the kid’s feet left the ground. He only
needed one hand to hold the rope in place. Four minutes later, the kid’s legs stopped kicking and
he was dead, his body starved for air.
“What do you want me to do with this?” Granski asked Cooper, still holding the kid’s body
“Don’t let him down. Tie the end of the rope to the roots of the tree.”
Granski tied off the rope. “What now?”
“Get your cuffs. You don’t want to leave those on him.”
“Nope. That’s it.”
“We just leave him here?”
“Yep. They’ll probably find his car in the morning. A lot of traffic comes through here
starting around seven.”
“And what do we do?”
“We go get something to eat. Fried chicken sound good to you?”