When Mateo was arrested for murder, none of us were surprised. Even when he was but a child, it was clear that there was something wrong with him. Children who throw tantrums, make messes, and scream when their toys are taken away are a blessing. You can tell that they are human and will grow into normal adults. The well-behaved ones, the quiet ones, are the ones to be watched out for. Because they do not openly cause mischief, they wait until everyone’s back is turned and the lights are out.
The first clue was when he was six years old. An earth-shattering scream echoed across the house and we all gathered into the kitchen. A dead bird lay on the cutting table, its eyes bulged out and feathered body akin to a deflated balloon. Poor Marta shook in the corner by the stove, recoiling and pointing accusingly at Mateo. The boy stared at the creature with an intense curiosity, examining it with the coolness of a forensic specialist who had seen countless bodies before.
“Do not touch that, Mateo!” Miss Lidia screeched as she moved past us and picked up her son. As if the poor bird was pecking away at his body.
Marta was quickly dismissed as she tried to explain why the bird was there. The boy’s mother, of course, would have none of it. She always defended her son. Always. As she took him upstairs, we all proceeded to clean the mess and calm Marta down. She had been much smarter than the rest of us, resigning the following week. When Miss Lidia asked the reason for it, Marta asserted that she could no longer stand “to look at her little monster and his wicked smile”. She saved herself from a long bout of trouble while the rest of us were plagued with the danger of a cherub-looking menace and the mother who believed he could do no wrong. It was only a matter of time that we were called to testify to his crimes.
There was a claustrophobic cloud that hung in the air, laced with the sickening scent of leather and musky perfume. The room was packed with wolves in sheep’s clothing ready to protect their little lamb. The Delgadillo Family were the most prominent family in the city, slaughterhouse tycoons who had run a successful business for five generations in counting. They worshipped the God of Meat, preached his word, and built shrines to in his honor throughout town. Their church was located right behind their estate, a grand fortress that stood proudly atop of a hill overlooking the city. Perhaps Mateo was only a product of his environment. After all, what sane person could sleep at night with hymns of dying cattle ringing in their backyard? Even so, his crime was inexcusable. Joseph was a kind man and a good worker. He never bothered anyone and if he was guilty of any sin, it was gluttony. Though, that much could be said about anyone. The Delgadillo’s wealth was proof of that.
When the judge entered the room, we dutifully roseup and listened to him announce the trial. The dullness in his eyes could not be overstated. This was not a man who wanted to see justice served. He merely wished to get the ordeal over with as quickly as possible. No one cared what the prosecuting defense had to say, the trial had certainly been fixed, a reverse kangaroo court that was a formality more than anything. The defense attorney, however, a known friend of the Delgadillos, was quite engrossed in his goal, if only to put on a performance. He grinned as if he were about to dazzle us and made his opening statement, effortlessly.
“Your Honor, counsel, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am here today to represent Mateo Delgadillo, college student, beloved son, and member of our community. He sits here today, wrongly accused of murder in the first degree. He sits here, in this courtroom, while he should be enjoying his summer, the warmth of the sun on his face, catching up with his friends and family, and eating heartily. Instead, he is being tried for a crime he did not commit.”
The attorney slithered like a weasel to address the jurors directly, outstretching his arm towards his defendant, eyes glazed with a feigned sympathy. We all knew that money was his motivation, just as it was the motivation of the Delgadillos to maintain their high status. The unanswered question that boiled over in the rest of our minds was why Mateo killed Joseph. Still, the lawyer prattled on despite any moral obligation.
“Members of the jury, Mateo was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He did not kill Mr. Jimenez. No, he merely discovered the body of an old man who had too much to drink. Mr. Jimenez, God rest his soul, had worked for the Delgadillo family for forty years. He maintained their beautiful garden, which has often been the place where I know many of us gathered for parties. Parties graciously hosted by the Delgadillo family. Sadly, as many of us also know, Mr. Jimenez was an alcoholic. A factor that was not held against him. Instead, he was treated kindly by all members of the Delgadillo family, including Mateo. A simple DNA test will prove that on the night he died, Mr. Jimenez had an alcohol level of .25% which would have undoubtedly led him into a stupor. After years of excessive drinking, his blood pressure would have increased drastically. His heart gave out and that is a fact. As for the blood on my client’s hands? Well, members of the jury, if you will recall, there is a statue of Jorge Delgadillo that is displayed right where Mr. Jimenez’s body was discovered. The defense has concluded that in his drunken haze, he tumbled and hit his head against said statue, causing the wound. Fast forward to my client taking a walk outside, discovering Mr. Jimenez on the ground, bleeding and unmoving. And now…”
The defense attorney turned once more, this time addressing me, a would be witness, with an intense determination to destroy me. For I knew too much, and everyone knew it.
“Those who have held a grudge against my client for years, want to accuse him though it is known that Mr. Jimenez had been dead for precisely six minutes before Mateo discovered him.”
There was an angry buzz that filled the room, along with some growls from the wolves who sat behind me. Though the beige walls appeared to be closing in, it was not their snapping teeth that unsettled me. I finally looked at Mateo, seemingly unaffected by the commotion around him. What on Earth was going through his mind? There was no detectable malice in his eyes nor amusement. He only sat in silence with his head tilted back somewhat as he leaned in his chair. Every fiber of my being wanted to strangle him, punch him, bash his head in like he had to done to Joseph. I just wanted some sort of reaction so that I could justify his wickedness. Yet, he sat unbothered and silent.When at last the time came for Mateo’s plea, however, the shock from all parties jolted the trial to life.
“Guilty.” Mateo asserted his answer clearly and calmly. The confident façade of his attorney had melted in a sheer panic. This apparently, was not according to plan. Even the judge was intrigued by this confession, showing an ounce of interest for the first time since the trial began.
“Are you certain that you want to plead guilty, young man? You do this by your own free will and under oath?”
“I do, Your Honor.”
“And you understand that if the jury agrees and you are deemed guilty, that you will be sentenced to life in prison?”
“Very well then. Would you care to confess, in detail, to the crime you have been accused of?”
There was a long pause that commanded the room. We all stared at Mateo with bated breath, waiting for his explanation. I recalled how angelic he used to look, dark curly hair, chestnut brown eyes, and chubbyfingers. Though he was a terror, he had at least had a face more than his mother could love. Moreover, he had been able to feign some emotion back then, playing the part of the sweet boy his self-involved family believed him to be. As he grew into adulthood, his hair and eyes remained the same, he had grown less plump, but there was no longer a need to pretend. With the whispering wolves now muzzled and the weasel attorney at a loss for words, I could see that Mateo was man who had grown tired of charades.
“Honestly? I was bored. My family was annoying me. I wanted to get out of the house…and he was right there.”