I cannot hear the footsteps behind me as I sulk down Donegal Street, retracing Francisco’s final steps. He was murdered here on Thursday evening. A detective riffled through our apartment early on Friday morning looking for clues and leaving me with none. By Friday evening, they had credited the crime to a Joseph Lutz who they found dead with a needle in his arm and Francisco’s cellphone in his pocket.
On Saturday, the paper ran a story using Francisco’s death as a springboard to talk about Lutz’s fall from grace as a prominent trial attorney. The report was on Lutz’s chaotic spiral into drugs and violence, and how the criminal justice system failed him by sending him to prison rather than rehab. They mentioned Francisco twice, referring to him as Franklin, while painting his killer as a victim of the system.
It was very illuminating for me to learn Francisco’s death was not at the hands of a junkie, with multiple violent convictions, who stabbed him nine times in the back and abdomen, stolen his backpack full of camera equipment, used the cash to buy heroin, and then overdosed on a stoop a few blocks away. Rather, it was the politicians who make the laws that ended Francisco’s life. I personally blame the drugs for not being strong enough to kill Lutz sooner.
Some idiots online started a crowdfunding campaign to fund a documentary exploring Lutz’s fall from grace. Their goal is $500,000 because they want to investigate the past and examine his life through the lens of a Hindsight camera. I knew right away, it was all a money-making scheme; someone will run off with the money and nothing will ever get made. It takes nearly $1 million, and a nuclear reaction, just to turn the Hindsight camera on for a few minutes.
“Hindsight is 20-20…if ya got da money!” Francisco would joke every time the anchorman mentioned the device or, more aggressively, after they’d mention how long a poor kid was missing with no leads.
On Sunday, they cremated Francisco Levi, and on Monday, I was asked by Mrs. Levi to leave the church before Franklin’s father threw a fit. The overt enunciation of Franklin set off a fuse in me and, on Monday afternoon after the explosion, I was placed in the backseat of a squad car. Grand Theft Urn is how I assume the charges would have appeared if Mrs. Levi hadn’t half-heartedly talked her husband out of pressing charges. Francisco Levi was a homosexual and, to his parents, I would never be anything other than the man who made their son gay.
Freshman year of college, Franklin lived across the hall from me. His door handle was permanently adorned with a tube sock by his much suaver roommate. The full-bodied fellow spent most nights plopped down on a beanbag chair in the hall. We didn’t talk much the first few weeks; I honestly wanted to kill him for leaving our floor reeking of microwaved Broccoli and Cheddar Rice-A-Roni every goddamn night. He liked it crunchy and would put it in for a minute too long every time.
In mid-September, I found myself being “Franklin’ed” for the first time by my roommate, Emmanuel Rivera, and a girl that was way out of his league.
“So, is it true?” I asked, sliding my back down the wall and easing myself to the floor.
“W-what?” he asked, caught off guard by someone speaking directly to him.
“Is Rice-A-Roni really changing their slogan to ‘The Franklin-cisco Treat’?”
His lip formed something between a smile and a frown, trying to decipher whether I was being a dick or not. Given that this was our first transaction after a month of being neighbors, I’m not surprised. Ninety seconds later, I was back in my musty room debating whether it smelled worse than the broccoli stench.
As my roommate’s sexual exploration increased in frequency and length, I found myself hallway hanging with Franklin almost every night. His face would light up each time my beanbag chair showed up in the hall.
“I think you might get more excited about our roommate’s getting laid then they do,” I jabbed at him.
“Well, we don’t really talk unless they’re getting laid,” he said quietly, not looking up from his steaming Roni. My heartstrings were fully tugged.
Everyone knew Franklin—he was the kid who lived in the hallway—but no one knew him outside of a “Whaddup, Franklin?” as they passed, and Franklin didn’t possess the initiative to say anything other than, “Hi.”
I tried to pull him out of his shell, but in the end, he just pulled me into his. We’d laugh our asses off in our little hallway bubble. We were both film majors and would spend hours watching movies, coming up with revolutionary ideas for scripts that were just rip-offs and over-analyzing the JFK Hindsight footage from the Grassy Knoll, while chowing down on delicious Rice-A-Roni cups.
By the time Thanksgiving break rolled around, my roommate withdrew from school to get a job and support his pregnant girlfriend. After a week of solo living, I came back from class to find ‘Matt and Francisco’s Room’ written on my whiteboard. Francisco moved in and Franklin disappeared. It took until the last day of freshman year for Francisco Levi to work up the nerve to kiss me.
“Some of him is missing,” I yelled at the Levis from across the street after the police rolled away. They shot a concerned look from me down at the urn in Mr. Levi’s hands, “I shoved some up my butt, you know, for old times’ sake.” Mr. Levi dropped the urn as if my cock was in his hands and let it crash down onto the sidewalk with a metallic clang. For a moment, I felt sick wondering if the ashes would explode onto the street. They didn’t and I burst out laughing.
The startling truth of the matter is this: I’m not gay and Francisco died a virgin. I’ll take those truths to my grave. Francisco’s kiss freshman year led to some awkwardness, but, after a couple deep conversations, we chalked it up to a misunderstanding. Most people assume I’m gay because I’m artsy, wear jewelry and tight clothes, and live with a gay guy. My family history did nothing to steer people from their shallow conclusions. Everyone knew the story of the disgraced congressman caught molesting with his sixteen-year-old son’s best friend. Everyone assumed either I was gay, molested by my father and keeping it quiet, or all the above.
For Francisco, the kiss confirmed what he was not entirely sure about before; for me, well, I didn’t need confirmation about my sexuality. He came out to his parents over the summer and, in the fall when they met me on move-in day, they just assumed we were boyfriends. They made a whole thing of it and tried to get the school involved but couldn’t do much since Francisco was paying his tuition from a trust his grandfather had set up. Just as with Hindsight, money talks. Francisco’s parent’s church-inspired homophobia led them to believe their son was squandering his inheritance to make weird art movies and get spoon-banged every night. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like a bad way to use your money.
I’d been wary of friendship since Chu disappeared from my life in junior year and reappeared all over the TV screen talking about the horrible things my father did to him. I felt like an idiot for not realizing what happened to my best friend. I just wished he told me and we could have stopped the abuse earlier; sometimes I wonder if I would have even believed him? His parents just laughed it off as a joke when he worked up the courage to tell them. Chu had to record his own abuse with a hidden camera and present it to the police for anyone to believe him.
We tried to hang out once after the media firestorm died down, attempted to start the next chapter of our friendship, but he couldn’t find the words, and neither could I. The remaining year of high school was lonely, no one wants to be friends with the child molester’s son. I kept my head down, ignored off the daily bombardment of homophobic slurs, and applied to the farthest colleges from home.
Francisco reminded me of Chu, not in appearance or mannerisms, but in comfort. It was calming and exciting being with him and, after so much time isolated from friends and family, it was good to feel at home. Chu hid his truth for almost six years before revealing the abuse. I couldn’t let another friend’s spirit be smothered out by parental ignorance. Francisco wasn’t ready to date guys, not confident enough in himself to even try a dating app, but I was happy to put on the show for his parents and keep their reeducation at bay.
My phone buzzes again, and I reject my father’s third call in the past hour. Mom must have told him about Francisco. Why would he think he could make anything better? He’s been trying to wiggle his way back into my life since his release from jail two years ago. I’ve changed my number twice, and it appears it’s time to do it a third time.
Francisco’s murder was solved, but the truth is, it’s just a band-aid on my broken heart. Outside of school, he was everything to me. Neither of us ever had a steady romantic partner or many other friends to speak of. We’d work in our studio editing video ads together, mostly for car dealerships and law offices, a far cry from the blockbusters we’d dreamed of. I teach the same Intro to Screenwriting and Film Theory classes I thought I didn’t need four-years ago. I’m working on finishing my MFA thesis, Hindsight Starlight: The Ethics of Filming Dead Celebrities. It explored the use of Hindsight cameras to create celebrity biopics. There were a lot of grey areas that makes me want to peel my skin off.
I spend six hours a week teaching, the rest was spent putzing around with my movie, and then go home and hang out with Francisco. We were so co-dependent, you couldn’t blame his parents for thinking we were partners.
92 Donegal Avenue, a three-story redbrick rowhome that was identical to all the others on the street aside from small decorative additions. Hand-cut snowflakes dangle in the windows of 84; a slacking line of Christmas lights on 86; a weeping trail of dried blood on the concrete steps of 92. This is the spot where the knife entered Francisco and his soul exited.
The wrought iron handrail wiggles beneath my grip as I ease my way up the stairs, careful not to step in my friend’s bloodstains. I understand how it ended for Francisco. A knife in the back and then a quick—I hope—fade to black. What I can’t piece together is why the hell he was in this part of town. It’s too expensive; we don’t know people who live in houses like these. I guess he could have been visiting a client, but it seems unlikely. He had a steady flow of work for months that was coming in from online. People would send him footage all the time to remold into something professional so working at home left him with very little reason to leave the house other than catching a movie or picking up food. He’d been editing so much his camera bag had started collecting dust; I’d teased him about it a few weeks ago. Why did he end up at this house with a camouflage backpack full of gear? Was this where his client lived, was he buying camera gear from someone, or did he run from his random assailant and rushed to the nearest front door for help? Those are the only three solutions I can picture.
The newspaper on the top step steals my attention: HINDSIGHT CONFIRMS JFK AFFAIRS. The shit they’ll throw money at; who cares about the unsolved murders and missing children cases, someone had sex decades ago! What active crime could they have solved with all that money spent? I bend down to pick up the rag, and something catches my eye from deep within the bushes. Part of the official police report goes out of the window as I pluck Francisco’s backpack from the bed of shrubs. It’s heavy, still full of camera equipment; gear that was allegedly pawned for drug money by Lutz. If it wasn’t for the tiny red Rice-A-Roni keychain dangling off the side, I don’t think I would have ever seen it in the mix of green.
I don’t hear the footsteps behind me as I slide the camera from the bag. The display snaps to life, and the world around me disappears as I play the only clip on the memory card. Francisco was positioned across the street; focusing in on 92 Donegal Avenue. A middle-aged man is standing right here, in the same place as I am right now. He’s talking to a crying, gray-haired woman at the front door. I know I’ve seen her before. In the reflection dancing across her eyeglasses, I see the hologram tablet in the man’s hand showing a little girl walking along a sidewalk. The woman hugs the man before disappearing into the house and then returns with an envelope. She hugs him again before he strolls back into the night. Francisco curses to himself just as the clip ends. The sound of his voice catches me off-guard and hammers in my gut. I pull up the video details tab. The timestamp makes my stomach turn: this is Francisco’s final night on Earth.
My cellphone rings and I reject it again, “Fuck off, you fuckin’ piece of shit child molester!” I tremble trying to figure out what to do with what I’ve found. Who were these people? Why was he filming them? I pound on the door in front of me. I need answers. I pour through the backpack in between knocks, looking for additional clues. There’s a legal pad covered in Francisco’s chicken scratch. I finally hear the footsteps behind me and, before I can turn, I feel the knife tear into my right kidney. The phone buzzes in my hand and I hit accept as the blade slides out of my back.
“Dad…d-dad…h-he…lp,” I gargle desperately into the phone as the knife strikes once again. I hear him calling my name from two-thousand miles away. Someone plucks Francisco’s camera and backpack from the ground in front of me, and I find myself staring up at the man in the video, the detective who searched our house the night of the murder. The detective leans over me, inspects my crumpled body and then drives the knife down one final time. I cannot hear the footsteps all around us as the prosecutor pauses the Hindsight hologram playing at the center of the courtroom.
Derek Milton has kept his head bowed throughout the video. He knows what’s on it. My mother cries and a bailiff restrains my father. He’s still on probation and shouldn’t be doing anything to risk going back to jail, but his son was just murdered in front of him and he doesn’t give a damn. After paying a half-million dollars and fundraising another quarter-million to solve my murder, he’s gotten to watch the life fade from me in front of a packed courtroom.
The gray-hair lady, whose stoop I died on, testifies and gives context to everything that happened. Six years ago, her granddaughter was killed by a hit and run driver. The police investigated but were unable to track down the killer. One snowy night, Derek arrived on her doorstep with a proposition: if she can pull together $20,000, he can provide Hindsight footage of her granddaughter’s accident. He calls himself a detective, but he’s actually a file clerk with access to cold case files. Derek claims to be investigating another crime on the very same night her granddaughter died that has funding for Hindsight. If she can get him the money, he can bribe the Hindsight operator to capture the additional footage and solve the crime. Two weeks later, he returns with a brief clip right before the accident and demands an additional $5,000 for the entire video. The con is that simple. He never returns with the footage because the footage doesn’t exist. Derek collects quality surveillance video footage from cold cases and has his freelance videographer convert them to holograms and apply the trademark rainbow vignette of Hindsight. They don’t have to be perfect, just convincing enough to offer hope to desperate grieving families.
The prosecutor speculates that Francisco didn’t realize what he was wrapped up in until he recognized the hit-and-run victim as the daughter of his freshman year hallmate, the one he’d left school to raise. My friend started asking questions and tailing Derek, which sealed his fate. Derek spotted him and realized Francisco had pieced things together.
No one knew how the backpack ended up in the bushes, but I could speculate that he likely rested it on the railing before knocking on the door and bumped it into the bushes himself. Part of me would hope he saw Derek approaching and had the foresight to push it overboard so things could unfold the way that they did. Either way, I told the police about the missing backpack and it lent itself to the narrative. No one would have ever spent the time or money to solve Francisco’s murder. Joseph Lutz, whose dead body Derek planted Francisco’s phone on, took the fall and the world kept turning.
I cannot hear the footsteps all around me as the judge calls for a recess. The prosecutor clicks off the projection, but I am already gone.