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Her three grandsons have lived with her since their mother died of lung cancer about ten years ago. Their father had long since left -- he appeared last year, gave each son $50 and then vanished. They think he lives in Milwaukee, but they don't know what he does for a living or if they'll ever see him again.
The paneled living room walls are covered in smiling school pictures. There isn't a picture of Montreal, the oldest, the one who looks just like his father and the one who's in jail, again. Montreal dropped out of school in the tenth grade. He did janitorial work at the water company, but after he was laid off, he was arrested for delivering and trying to sell less than a gram of cocaine. He went to boot camp, but after marijuana showed up in his monthly urine test, he spent a year in jail drawing colored-pencil portraits of Jesus.
On the walls of Montreal's bedroom are baseball caps, pictures of Biggie Small and Polaroids of him and his brothers. There isn't a speck of dust on the porcelain teddy bears and bunny rabbits sitting beside his apricot sea kelp facial scrub. A holograph of Jesus at the Last Supper sits on the TV. Montreal went to church every other Sunday; he missed services that week.
Montreal made money giving $5 fades and tapers to neighbors; he told his grandmother he wanted to go to barber college. When he wasn't cutting hair, he spent his time watching TV, playing basketball or hanging out with his girlfriend. His grandmother didn't like the company he was keeping; she didn't like his friends.
"I would tell 'Trell to run with some nice boys," she says. "I told him, "Don't be messing around with bad company. You run with bad company, you gonna get messed up with bad company.' You really can't run with nobody. You don't know what people are going to do."
She's talking about the boys Montreal was arrested with. There's Jermaine Harris, Montreal's best friend, who worked as a gofer at a tanning salon. The boys used to live on the same street, and went to school together until they both dropped out. Jermaine played basketball for Yates and was arrested last December for stealing a woman's ring. He spent 30 days last August in the Harris County Jail for violating parole and evading arrest.
Then there is Kendrell Jenkins, a tenth-grader the same age as Montreal's little brother, Meco. Kendrell plays football for the Yates Lions, loves video games and watches a lot of professional football on TV. "He's all right," Meco says.
And then there's Ray Ray. Mention Ray Ray, and Meco's face closes off. "Ray Ray, he bad." He used to take boxing lessons and has four gold teeth, all with diamond chips. Ray Ray has a juvenile offense on his record, but neither the assistant district attorney nor his lawyer, Marcelyn Curry, will say what it was for. "Something involving dogs," Curry says.
Montreal was watching TV with Meco when Billie Marie left to go visit her mother that Sunday night. She wanted Montreal to stay home, she says. "But he loved to ride."
Christine Biehle and her fiancé bought each other bikes for their birthdays. On Sunday, October 29, around 7:30 p.m., they were riding home from Walgreens. It was dark as they rode down Westmoreland; a car swerved, almost hitting Christine's bike.
"What the hell are you doing?" she asked the driver angrily. He pulled out a gun and demanded her wallet.
She edged closer to her fiancé, William Strickley, who handed over his backpack, which had his wallet (filled with a whopping $3) and the Pop Rocks, panty hose and hair dye they had bought. The gunman searched the empty pockets of Christine's overall shorts himself.
"He called Bill a pussy and told him he ought to shoot him just for the fuck of it," Christine says. "And then they jumped in the car and took off." Her fiancé called the police on his cell phone. The Pontiac stopped in the middle of the street and started backing up. The couple thought the robbers were coming back to kill them.
But when the car stopped a block away, it was to rob Mary Brandes, a 59-year-old school librarian, and her nephew. They got $20 and her voter registration card. In the next five minutes they robbed both 30-year-old Kyle Cleek, who was walking home from Paks with $8 in his pocket and a bag of potato chips, and Tommy Gothard, who was coming home from having a couple of Cuba libres, listening to the jukebox and watching the drag show at the Brazos River Bottom country-western bar. Tommy says the gunman was shaking and seemed more scared than he was, "which made it worse."
The robbers crossed to the other side of Westheimer and started trolling the streets, fishing for their next money machine. Pay dirt was 28-year-old Ryan Wells, a waiter at Blue Agave, who had about $150 in tips. After they took his money, Ryan demanded his Ralph Lauren leather wallet back. They tossed it out the window.
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