A Woman Like Me by Francine Rodriguez

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Date Book Published:  August 8, 2019

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Copyright © 2019 Francine Rodriguez

ISBN: 978-1-64438-847-1

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

Published by BookLocker.com. Inc., St. Petersburg, Florida.

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All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. Certain long-standing institutions, retail businesses, public offices, entities, and locations, are mentioned, but the characters involved, and their conduct and actions are wholly fictional. No identification with actual places and products is intended or should be inferred.

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This story is dedicated to Spot, Mr. Peabody, Barclay, and Maribeth, who always sat by my feet patiently while I wrote.

You are never as different as you feel


I know now this is the last chance I’ll have to tell my story. This isn’t the whole story, but it’s the only real account you’ll probably hear. I need to tell it now because I think my waiting is almost through. You know I’ve lived so many lives that I’m not even sure now if this one’s my real life, but I know it’s my last. And because I’ve lived so many lives, I know one thing for a fact; there’s freedom in not caring. When you don’t care, you can do anything you want. Anything, because you don’t care about the consequences.
I know I never cared about the price of freedom before. Just yesterday, I was planning to head straight to Mexico before they found me. But I think now I changed my mind. I’m too weary to start over again in another strange place, listening to another foreign language I don’t understand and knowing that one day when I’m not expecting it someone will spot me. Besides, where do you run to when you run away from a place that’s heaven compared to so many other places in the world?
Now I’m just lonely and worn-out, sitting here and waiting. The memories are unwavering; they cling to
me demanding attention, in an endless loop. I awoke as soon as the light started streaming in this morning. I sit on my bed and stare out of the dirty window in my tiny rented room downtown. Yesterday I sat here all day. I didn’t realize I did until I saw that the sky turned dark. If I pass through this day again, I’ll finish another bottle, and go back to sleep to wait for another tomorrow. Somebody will show up for me eventually or I’ll take the easy way out and shut down those memories forever.
Maybe once you’ve heard how it all happened, you might even see it from my point of view; but I shouldn’t kid myself; you probably won’t. I am sure though, that you’ll most likely agree with me on this; I’m really no different from anybody else locked away doing time. The blue uniform and the badge let me collect a paycheck and whatever other advantage I could grab. In exchange, I kept my mouth shut and my eyes turned away just like I was told.
Actually, you could say that I just continued down the path I’d already begun in another place far away, when I was someone else. Who you really are doesn’t change, no matter what you look like on the outside. So, in the end, I realize you won’t feel much sympathy for me once I finish telling you how it all happened. Really, you shouldn’t, because I’m sure I’d do it all again if I could start over.

Chapter One

When I was a little boy and we lived on the outskirts of the slums near Manila, my mother used to point her finger at certain people to single them out. “You see him?” She’d demand glaring down at me and shaking me with her free hand to get my attention.
I would follow her thin brown index finger pointing to a drunk who had passed out in his own vomit or one of the prostitutes with blackened eyes and a ripped dress, carrying her scuffed up stilettos in one hand and staggering under the weight of her abused body. “They were born bad.” She assured me with a shrug of worldly wisdom. “Even if they weren’t poor, they would live like that. Don’t ever feel sorry for any of them.”
She would spit over her shoulder in their general direction as she dragged me and my sister Florencia, down the alley, toward the dump to see what we could find to sell. We went regularly then, when she didn’t have enough customers to pay rent. The dump was really a large cesspool, a dumping ground for the cities’ garbage and broken, unwanted items. We collected mostly plastic bottles, pieces of cardboard and sometimes scraps of metal that we fished out from the stinking garbage.
On good days, we sold what we found to an old man, who was missing all but his two bottom teeth and one of his ears. He separated out the better finds and bagged them up in large trash bags. He dragged around a large wire cage mounted on bicycle wheels that he used to transport the bags to another man who sold them to a recycling plant.
He was different from the other scavengers at the dump, who were left to sell whatever wasn’t stolen from them by force at the end of the day. The other scavengers and thieves avoided him as if by noncommunicated understanding. People said he recovered ten times more than what he paid us for our trash, because he had witnessed the man who ran the recycling plant, murder somebody high up, who worked for the government. My mother said that he would be getting his hush money for years to come.
Those kinds of opportunities were few and far between. Everybody envied him. If he hadn’t had that stroke of luck, he’d be picking up trash just like everyone else that scavenged in the dump. The only one luckier, was an old woman, in her late sixties, who trudged around with him in a man’s dirty work shirt and beat-up work boots when the days weren’t particularly steamy, which were about the only times she could walk bent over with her crippling arthritis.
Rumor was that she had some kind of “inside connection with the local charities,” and was able to get her hands on the used clothes that were donated to the children in the orphanage. She sold them in the street as secondhand rags. I heard my mother talking sometimes about all the corruption. As best as I could understand, it was just the way the world operated and at least I understood the reason things were the way they were. Even then, I tried to take advantage of what I could learn in a situation and not ask anyone for anything. As far back as I can remember the rule was; if you wanted something you had to get it any way you could.
My mother taught me two important things in those years; she said often and loudly, “You’ll never meet anybody whom you can’t speak badly about.” This is something I took to heart and followed through the years. The only problem was I didn’t speak badly about them soon enough.
She also taught us by example, how to wait around endlessly, just watching the people you knew, waiting for somebody to slip up or let their guard down so you could rush in and grab something you needed.
Although most of our waiting was in long lines for some charity hand-out, being able to wait for an opportunity to take advantage of someone is a straight up skill for survival and not just a requirement for living when you’re poor. If I stop and think about it, it always worked out that way for me.
Even at that age, I decided that what my mother said about people “just being born that way,” must be true, because my sister, Florencia, who was younger and the ugly one…they all said so, was quiet and never caused any trouble. She hardly ever said anything and never complained even when we were hungry. She was that way as far back as I could remember, a small ugly brown baby lying in her basket, watching and waiting.
She always reminded me of a little field mouse with big ears and small eyes, except she wasn’t as cute.
And me? I complained and talked back all the time, no matter how many times they told me to shut up or smacked me in the face. I kept arguing, insisting on what I wanted, even if it didn’t do any good. I didn’t just argue and talk back; I struck out and hit or kicked my mother or any adult who tried to bring law and order into my young life. I didn’t care if I got the worst beating later. The point was that I’d left teeth marks in some adult’s arm. That was satisfaction enough for me.

Chapter Two

Even before I started school, I was stealing. I think I started at the same time I realized that if I wanted something, I would have to take it. Nobody was going to get it for me. At first, I stole small things that I could snatch and run away with, pocket candy, fruit, and cheap glass jewelry. I stole money from my mother’s purse and from her glass bottle savings jar whenever she wasn’t watching. I was expert at it from an early age; taking only a few coins at a time so they wouldn’t be missed from the bottom of the coin jar lined with torn rags. I always left the jar, so it still appeared almost full.
Later on, I started stealing girl’s clothes from the department store, a long bus ride, and an even longer walk away from our house, and hiding them down the front of my baggy pants and in the pockets of my jacket, that was several sizes too big.
Before I hit my teens, I was an expert at stealing makeup, even better than any of the teenage girls who stole in my school. I practically skipped down the aisles dumping bottles and tubes into a large canvas bag that I started to carry. I always kept the dresser drawers stuffed with bottles of liquid make-up, nail polish, lipstick and various colored eye pencils. I was generous though, at least in those days and gave my mother first choice of anything I stole. She couldn’t buy it herself and never asked where it all came from.
Of course, I lied too when it suited me; and yes of course I still do. When I was really young, I mostly made up things up about Florencia. I wanted her to get a good beating like the kind they gave me.
Later, I got more creative and when older teenagers refused to buy me the candy or sodas that I whined for, I made up lies about seeing them touching each other without their clothes. I told on them, using what I seen happen firsthand, in parts of the city where I wasn’t supposed to be, giggling in shock, watching naked men and women behind a glass window.
The smaller kids, like me, snuck inside these theatres in the city and stayed hidden behind the curtains that pulled open or closed. We hid below the different windows where the men and women performed, or we hid at the back of the seats facing the stage, watching, until the men who were owners of these places, finally spotted us there hiding behind the men jerking off in their seats and threw us out.
Lying to get back at the older kids made me giddy with happiness and I enjoyed it so much when those snotty teenagers got in trouble.
In school, I liked to tell the girls that made fun of my poor clothes and my untrimmed hair, that some other girls in our class had said something bad about them. That always started a fight and left one or two of them crying, with handfuls of hair pulled out and bruised eyes. I laughed like crazy every time, especially when they scratched each other leaving thin bloody lines on their legs and arms or when some of the older ones pulled out razors.
I cussed at grownups, using the foulest language I could, calling out their mothers, because I liked to see their shocked faces when the bad words rolled off my tongue. They would reach out to smack me, but I was always too fast for them and ran away.
I was always taller and bigger than the other children were. I guess you would say I was always the largest boy in my class, so I slapped and punched the others to keep them in line. If a child was particularly small and weak, I’d grab them from behind and twist their skinny little arms behind their back until they screamed and gave up whatever I wanted.
We didn’t have any toys of our own, so I took other children’s, if I saw something I liked. One day little Manny, who sometimes visited the front room of the shack we shared with the old lady who lived there, didn’t want to let me play with his soccer ball. He chose another kid to kick it around with in the oily gravel outside. I guess he knew that once I got my hands on it, he’d never see it again.
I waited till he started walking home through the large sewer pipe that ran from the dump to the ally. I could see he was in a hurry and probably had to get home before his mother found out he was missing. He wasn’t paying attention and didn’t notice that I was following him for a distance to make sure that no other kids joined us.
I forced him down on the ground, put my hands around his stringy little throat, and squeezed. He kept yelling that he couldn’t breathe. I squeezed harder, until his face was bluish. At the same time, I picked up a big rock with one hand and hit him in the head with it a few times. Blood gushed out in rivets staining the concrete. I backed up because I didn’t want to get it on my clothes. I’ve always been squeamish about blood. If I hadn’t seen the blood, I would have kept on going. As it was, Manny had trouble speaking, and he was slow thinking after that day, but he always let me have whatever I wanted to take from him.
Florencia and I lived with my mother in one back room we rented from a family who owned a little shack that leaned crazily against the back of a hill, not too far from the dump. All the little shacks on our dirt road leaned against each other in varying angles as if they needed each other’s support to keep from collapsing. In the bright sunlight, the corrugated metal that made up their walls gleamed and shone burnished shades of green and rust-red. When I didn’t know any better, I thought those walls were the most beautiful sight anybody could see.
The living area behind the dump was always overcrowded. Not enough space for so many people surviving on little or nothing, packed closely together with no space or privacy, where their emotions were like their body odors, unattended and likely to start a clash when triggered.
One of the consequences of the crowding was that everybody was somehow related in the little neighborhoods, either by blood or by familiarity. The smaller children ran shrieking down the alleyways from the time they woke up, ducking into any of the shacks they chose along the way. There wasn’t much in the way of work, so there were usually adults home all day. They shared food, helped each other with childcare, and took care of each other when someone was sick.
My mother never traveled far from the makeshift neighborhood where we lived. She never seemed to notice the black smoke that hung low in the sky or the acrid smell of the burning tires beyond the dump.
I heard when she was younger, she hustled the bar scene in the Capital. From what I know, that meant hand jobs in the dark booths and quick sex in the alleys behind the building, where you had to step carefully around the running sewage.
That’s where she met my father, on leave from the U.S. Army. Blond, blue-eyed, and pale-skinned, he was her physical opposite and she fell in love immediately. My mother claimed he was crazy about her, spent two weeks with her in her cramped room on a sagging bed and never went out with any other woman. She said he wanted to marry her, but that he was re-stationed somewhere else and that was the only reason he left. She said she didn’t bother to tell him about being pregnant with me. She never said why.
As I grew, I started to hear the word, “Tisoy,” used whenever I was around. When I finally figured out that it referred to me, I questioned my mother about what it meant. She told me that it meant that she and my father were in love and that was why I was born. Later, I heard that it referred to a “mixed race child,” born to a Filipino mother and a white soldier. The older people whispered about the mothers of Tisoys and called them sex workers. Tisoys, I gathered were not really liked very much by either race.
It always seemed that everybody wanted to make sure I knew just how much I wasn’t liked. I got it right away. Maybe that’s why I lack those nice qualities that everybody else has…. the caring they show each other. It’s what makes them more human. I hardly ever feel that way, except maybe for small children and sometimes old people. I figure it’s not the children’s fault yet; they haven’t had enough time to turn into the assholes that adults become.
When I got a little older, I asked about my father all the time. I wanted to know why she didn’t tell him about me, especially if he loved her so much. Didn’t that mean he would love me too? I’d seen my birth certificate, it wasn’t hidden that well; and I was able to figure out that she had given me his last name, but she never referred to it after I was born. From there forward, she gave me her last name and registered me that way for school and church.
Whenever I asked about my father, she always told me to shut up and said that, she’d moved on to another man, Florencia’s father. Florencia’s father disappeared too, somewhere along the way. I wasn’t disappointed about that. He had burnt leathery skin with pock marks and watery red eyes. He came home drunk every night. One day I came home from school and found that he’d killed my little black and white mutt I called Pepe. He hit him on the head with a hammer because he didn’t like the dog following him around begging for attention. He said the dog was annoying and he didn’t like animals anyway.
I loved that ugly little dog, more than my sister, Florencia, and probably more than my mother too. I was pretty sure he was the only living thing that loved me, no matter how bad I was or how much I was hated. Pepe was the only reason I looked forward to coming home at the end of the day. I carried his body out to the alley and sat holding him in my lap, crying, until it was late at night and his body was cold and hard. My mother just shrugged when I told her what happened and said she’d told me we shouldn’t take that dog in anyway.
Once when I was ten, Florencia’s father got into an argument with my mother because she said he was cheating with another woman. He was sitting at the table, naked from the waist up, waiting for her to iron his shirt so he could go out that night.
Suddenly, he had my mother down on the floor and was banging her head on the concrete. She was screaming and so I ran to the kitchen and grabbed the hot iron from the board and pressed it against his neck. He let out this horrible shrill scream. I felt good when he screamed, remembering how he’d killed my dog. He let my mother go though and ran out into the darkness.
He didn’t come home for a long time after that.
The first time they threw me out of school my mother sat in the Mother Superior’s office and cried and sobbed, rocking back and forth in the stiff cane chair and pulling at her uncombed hair. She promised to beat me until I said I was sorry and would never throw a book at one of the nuns again. She begged the woman to keep me in her school, but the nun told my mother she couldn’t be responsible for that, so I was sent to another school further away where nobody knew my reputation.
After two days there, I tried to climb out of a window to escape when the nun’s back was turned facing the blackboard, but the custodian, a burly little yellow-skinned man, with wide shoulders and short heavy arms, saw me and grabbed my ankles, forcing my hands off the ledge.
I dropped to the ground and wrestled him to the dirt. I was larger framed, and stronger than he was, and I would have kept the fight between us, except that another nosey nun intervened and tried to pull me off the custodian. I punched her in the stomach as she tried to hold my arms.
Then I grabbed a mounted glass cross off the wall and threw it at the door. It shattered into a million bright slivers and shards that reflected the light from the open window in turquoises and vermilions. The sound of shattering glass and the explosion of color stopped us both. We stared at each other, and she dropped her arms to her sides. I pushed her away and ran as fast as I could.
The nuns told my mother they wouldn’t let me back in school unless I changed my behavior and she paid a steep fine for replacing the cross. My mother laughed and said she wasn’t paying any fine and she didn’t really care about whether I went to school or not. She told the nuns that I was getting near the age when she could get me a factory job.
What was really upsetting her was the clothes I was bringing home. When I first started bringing home girls’ clothes, she was happy and excited because she thought they were for her and she got the first pick. She liked everything and took most of it greedily, storing it in her makeshift closet. I didn’t care because I couldn’t really wear the clothes outside anyway and I was happy just trying them on and imagining how I would look in a complete outfit parading around.
Our small room was cramped with just the three of us and when my mother had her “gentleman visitors,” she would wake us up, and half-drag and half-carry Florencia to the front room to sleep in the corner of the old woman’s bed. My mother would send me outside. When I was small, she usually left me to my own devices, telling me to sleep in the corner or to sit in front of the house till she was done. I’d sit down in a corner and usually fall asleep.
When I was about nine or ten, I decided that I wanted to see for myself what happened in there. The muffled panting and stifled cries triggered my interest, especially since she threatened me with a beating if I didn’t get out and stay out. I heard the neighbors said that it was a good thing that the old woman living there was almost totally blind so she couldn’t see my mother, “a woman of the street,” bringing her trade into the house.
The first time I hid to see what was going on and what the nosey neighbors were squawking about, I wedged myself behind the tall plywood box where she hung her clothes and waited until my mother dug her lipstick and powder out of the shoebox she kept under the bed. I watched her paint her face and put on a very thin dress that was once white but was now yellow and faded, and so worn you could see right through it. I noticed right away that she didn’t have on any underwear.
A small bald fat man entered the door a few minutes later. I remembered he smelled like cigars and old beer. I watched shocked as my mother took off the white dress and bent over the bed. I couldn’t see what was going on because the man was directly behind her on his knees blocking my view. All I could hear was the sound of wet flesh slapping against flesh. Sweat was dripping down his back, which was covered in part by thick matted black hair and I watched it darkening the bedspread. Then the man stretched out on the bed to lie on his stomach. I saw that his face was bright red as he turned his head from side to side, looking around the room.
My mother took out what looked like a long thick stick, the color of a white person’s skin and began to rub the man’s buttocks. He started to wiggle around and stick his butt in the air. I watched amazed, my hand over my mouth, as my mother slowly made the stick disappear inside of him. Probably I was overcome with everything going on, because I must have made some noise. My mother jumped up and yelled, “Who’s there? You damn well better not be in here!”
I scrunched down and kept quiet, and when she turned back to tell the man he had to leave, I crawled along the wall and was out of the door in seconds.
After that, I only watched a few times more. When I saw her coming up to the house with a nice-looking young man, I always wanted to watch them together. During those times, my mother smiled and the sour expression she generally wore disappeared. Sometimes I thought that maybe she was pretending that she was on a date and that the good-looking man with her was a boyfriend. At the time, those meetings seemed romantic to me and I looked on with awe, hoping that someday I could have a boyfriend who wanted to hold me and touch me in the same way.
The good-looking ones were an exception though. The men for the most part were ugly, scarred, and dirty. They used bad words and left a foul smell in the room after they were gone. My mother sprayed window cleaner, all around the room making us gag. After seeing my mother with a few more of these guys, I started to feel uncomfortable and made it a point to leave when I saw her bringing somebody to her bed.
I usually changed in the tiny space behind the bed where we slept. The plastic shower curtain that hung from two hooks screwed into the ceiling separated about a foot and a half of space between the bed and the wall and gave me some privacy from Florencia. I’d started pushing back my junk as things started changing down there, trying to flatten out the bulge between my legs and imagining how it would look when I could get rid of it for good. I would get lost in the feel of material, particularly the polyester underwear that I believed felt like real silk because back then I didn’t know the difference. When I’m focused, I shut out everything else.
So, that day I was stroking the material between my legs, concentrating on how smooth it felt compared to the rough sack-like cloth of my regular underpants. I didn’t see my mother’s fist flying toward my face. I think I felt the sting first, even though she didn’t have much strength in her hands or much of a swing for that matter. She did have an advantage because I was backed against the wall and all I could do was fending off her blows.
“You crazy son of a bitch. You freak!” She screamed while she struck out at me. Spit flew from her mouth while she stared at the bulge between my legs covered in pink polyester.
Part of me knew I should be ashamed of wearing the underwear, but part of me felt that it was the most natural thing in the world. My mother threw herself on the lumpy bed she shared with Florencia and began sobbing and beating the thin worn-out pillow they shared. “The devil is in you. It’s the devil’s work,” she shrieked. “You’re crazy like your father.”
She opened the first drawer of the broken blue plywood dresser that we shared and dumped out all the clothes that I’d given her over the last few months. Most of them still had their tags because she had nowhere to wear them either. “Do you want to wear these too?” She was sobbing, taking deep gulps of air. “How can you do this to me? What will the people think? It’s the devil! It’s the devil, I know it.” She gave one last shudder and sat up, wiping her eyes. When I think of her now, she is always crying, wailing, declaring her victimhood.
“Don’t you bring home any more clothes!” She shrieked. “They’re not for me. You’re possessed by the spirits. I need to burn the demons out of you!”
I stared at the tangle of pastel polyester bras and panties and slowly began to gather them up from the floor.
My mother picked her head up and wiped her eyes. “Don’t you put them back in there. Don’t put any of your things in this house again! Tomorrow we go to see Father Raymundo. He can take this thing out of you. Make you human.”
“What thing?” I wanted to know.
She didn’t bother to answer, just stamped out the door, and hurried down the alley. I picked up the underwear and stuffed it into two plastic bags that I pushed under the bed. I was beginning to feel warm all over, my cheeks flushed, and my fists kept clenching. I dragged out the bag and selected a pair of purple nylon panties. As soon as I slipped them on, I felt my muscles relax a little.
I made sure nobody was around and snuck into the front room and pulled the old woman’s bed away from the wall. The half-filled bottle of whiskey was still there hidden, the way she left it. I took a big gulp just like I saw the adults do all the time. The taste was horrible and burned all the way down to my stomach. I was going to put the bottle back but decided there wasn’t that much left anyway. Besides, the old bitch had hit me with a broom that morning. So, I finished it choking and coughing. I can still remember how strong and happy I felt after those first mouthfuls, like I owned the world and it was perfect. There was nothing to stop me from getting whatever I wanted. I don’t remember ever feeling that good again when I drank. Like they say, “It’s never as good as the first time.” I think it’s the same the very first time you really get drunk, as well as the first time you have sex; really good sex. From then on, you keep trying to feel the same thing again, but you never can.
Then, of course, a few minutes later, the flying, spinning, dizzy, out-of-this world-feeling began to fade and I began to gag. I barely made it to the back of the house so I could vomit in the dirt, until my stomach heaved, and driblets of water splattered onto the dirt. I wiped my eyes which were red and running and dragged myself back to my bed in the corner.
Now that I think about it, I can’t stand seeing a half empty bottle of booze anywhere. It’s like an exposed secret, an unfinished story. Why did somebody’s evening end too early? I always feel like I need to drain the bottle and get rid of the evidence. Without the incriminating bottle, everything is normal, calm, and all the secrets are back below the surface where they belong.
But my last thought that night was happy. I didn’t have to go to school tomorrow. In fact, I didn’t have to go to school ever again.

Chapter Three

The light was just starting to creep through the little slated window in the back bedroom when I felt the shock of cold water hit me, followed by two slaps across my face.
“You wake up now I said.”
I blinked and rubbed the water out of my eyes. My lip ached from the slap. “What’s wrong?” I sat up and looked at my mother bending over the bed. She was dressed in a high-necked blouse and a long skirt. I’d only seen this outfit on the few occasions that she went to church. Her didn’t have any makeup on and she looked pale and wrung out. I swung my legs over the bed and looked across the room. Florencia was already up and hustling out of the room, her head bent, and her shoulders hunched.
“Where are you going?” I called out. She shook her head and hurried forward, nearly running into the black figure standing in the doorway.
The cold water was starting to warm on my skin heated by the sticky early morning air.
“Get up. Put on your pants! He’s here.” My mother hurried to the other side of the bed and hurriedly tucked the bedspread into the mattress to hide the side that had burned when one of her visitors had forgotten to put out his cigarette before he fell asleep.
I rubbed my eyes trying to make out the figure standing in the doorway, while the shadows blocked my view. I could make out the outline of Father Raymundo, in his long black coat, and behind him, peeking around the corner, the old woman, who was out of bed hours earlier than usual for this special occasion. Florencia peered over the old woman’s head. I recognized the large silver cross she always wore hanging around her neck.
“My son,” Father Raymundo approached the bed and made the sign of the cross. “Please stay there.”
I sat back down, thinking that I really needed to go to the bathroom. That was usually my first move in the morning when my bladder felt close to bursting. Light was beginning to flow through the window in the front room. Normally I made it a point not to listen to anything they told me to do, but something was making me curious.
I could see Father Raymundo’s face up close, he moved toward the bed. His skin was creased, a ruddy brown and pock-marked, everywhere except his nose which was covered with a complex intertwining of small red and blue vessels. Every time I saw him, I stared at the craters of various sizes and depth on his face. They looked to me like the pictures of the moon’s surface that they showed us at school. I imagined that if I were a very small ant, I could crawl into them and peer out over the rim. I could hide there forever. My mother told me he hadn’t been vaccinated in the orphanage where he grew up and had a bad case of the pox when he was little. She said it had left him so ugly that he couldn’t find any woman to sleep with and very few men.
Father Raymundo motioned me to sit back and so I pulled the frayed blanket up to my neck and waited. He took out a small vial from his cassock and sprinkled some liquid that looked like water on me. He began muttering a prayer that I could not understand. My mother who was watching from the doorway started to sob, so he stopped and told her curtly to leave. Then he closed the curtain between the bedroom and the front room.
After we were alone, he got out his Bible and began to chant something else in a language I could not understand. As he chanted, he turned toward each of the corners of the room and flicked some of the water in each direction. Then he kneeled, clasped his hands, and began to pray. “Pray with me, my son. Pray to God to cast the evil spirit out of your body. Tell it to leave!” he commanded, looking to the sky.
I closed my eyes and sat still for once, and I could feel my heart crashing with each beat against my chest. I could hear my mother sobbing from the other side of the curtain and Florencia, of course, was wailing her prayers in unison.
After a few minutes, Father Raymundo stood up and raised his hands toward the ceiling and began to chant again. Then he sat on the edge of the bed and began to read from a worn red-leather covered Bible. I wondered if he knew that my mother brought men here to this bed and that they gave her money. The old woman had stopped talking about it, but now the neighbors, and of course, their children, had picked it up. I knew they teased Florencia to make her cry, but they knew better than to say anything to me now that I was bigger than most of them.
Father Raymundo didn’t seem to know or maybe he didn’t care, because he kept reading, underlining the passages with his finger. When he stopped reading, he stood up and made the sign of the cross. Spittle had collected at the corners of his mouth and I watched as it ran down his chin.
Then he touched his fingers to my forehead and told me I had been blessed. He lowered his voice and said from now on I would not want to do any of the things that my mother had told him about and I would behave like a proper son. He assured me that the evil spirits were now a thing of the past and that all the exorcisms he’d performed had been successful. He made me promise to go to church that Sunday before he left.
I was almost fully awake when he walked away from the bed and my mother ran in, her face wet with tears. “God has healed you for me,” she sobbed. “He is merciful. You are now a real man.”
I stared at her, trying to understand what she meant. I could see she was happy; drying her eyes on the hem of her worn skirt, so I shrugged and nodded.
After everybody finally stopped coming in to see my miraculous transformation, I sat alone with the thin patched blanket pulled up to my chin. A few minutes later I hurried out to the bathroom, my bladder throbbing and relieved myself in a long steady yellow stream that ran down the corrugated walls of the inside of the shed where we used the bathroom.
Then I went back into the house and dragged out the last bra and panty set that I had stolen and slipped into it, comforted by the slick feel of the rayon on my skin. I felt that someone inside me was awake now, someone who was the real me was free and would never go back to sleep.

Chapter Four

After I got thrown out of my last school, my mother found a job for me in a small factory that manufactured children’s slippers. I started that Monday, out of bed at six o’clock and standing in line to enter the factory at 7:00 o’clock. I looked around and watched as the line formed behind me. It snaked around the side of the building, men, and mostly women, huddled together in the damp morning air.
Standing behind me, was a small plump woman with hair that was starting to turn gray at the temples. I guess you could say she had a kindly face. I remember she had lines around her eyes and her chin wobbled when she spoke.
“Is this your first job?”
I looked up surprised. Old people never spoke to me unless they were yelling at me. Her voice was soft, and she spoke slowly, pronouncing the words carefully. I noticed that some of her teeth were missing and she looked pale and tired.
“Yes, first day too.”
She smiled then. “My son used to work here for a while, but not anymore.”
“Why? Did he get a better job?” I wanted to know. As I watched, it seemed that the people who entered the building following the snaking line were slowly being sucked into its bowels. I looked up at the barred windows on the third floor and began to worry that once you entered, you would not be able to leave.
“I’m only going to work here for a little while,” I assured her. The words helped to calm the panicky feeling that was making my stomach roll.
“That’s what my son said too,” she smiled again and made the sign of the cross.
I looked away. Ever since the ceremony in my bedroom, and my mother’s attacks, I couldn’t stay far enough away from the church and anything that was part of it.
“You shouldn’t think of any job like that. You should work hard and do your best and maybe one day you will be promoted and be a boss yourself,” she said.
She said something else about how I should be grateful that I had this job, because the government was making it impossible for the factories to hire young people anymore. The police were conducting raids all the time. The U.S. was boycotting products made by underage children.
“Age regulations,” she explained. “They want young people in school, but they can’t go to school because they need money to support their families.” She shook her head at the impossibility of it all.
“Did you finish school already?” She looked me up and down, checking out my height. I knew I looked older than I was.
“So did your son get a better job?” I ignored her question, already tired of the conversation. I couldn’t care less about whatever boycotting was, or the U.S. and I didn’t want to answer her question about finishing school.
She looked away for a moment before she answered. “He’s dead.”
“Dead?” I didn’t have any concept of tact in those days. Probably I still don’t. “How’d he die?”
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and gulped a big breath of air. “I don’t really know. They said he had a heart attack, but….” Her voice trailed off.
“He wasn’t even eighteen. Some of the others said they caught him stealing and the owners beat him with a pipe. His head…” She stopped. “They wouldn’t let us see the body. The government cremated him. We didn’t have the money to bury him.” She looked back down and shook her head.
I turned my back to her and stared up at the barred windows. The sun had stretched out in the sky and the heat was white hot and glaring. I could see it beating down on the rubbish dump, a few alleys away. Mostly I could smell the putrid rot of the garbage baking in the pulsing glare. The air was already smoky with the fragrance of burning rubber from the factory at the end of the road that recycled tires.
I made my way to the front of the line with a slowly gnawing dread, looking back one last time to the street before the iron door closed behind me.
By the time, I reached the small check-in desk at the entrance to the warehouse I could feel cold sweat drying on my feverish skin. The temperature was at least twenty degrees hotter on the inside of the building, in spite of the huge fans standing in each corner blowing hot air across the workroom floor.
A small brown man in thick wire-rimmed glasses, stood in front of a long table that blocked the entrance to the building. His voice was high-pitched, “Your name?”
After I answered, he flipped through the pages of a yellow tablet until he located my name on his list. He was dressed in a clean shirt and khaki pants that made him stand out from the rest of the slobs in line waiting to go to work. He pushed his glasses up to his forehead and studied me. “First day of work? You’re sixteen right?”
I stammered back in surprise. “What?”
“Sixteen. You must be sixteen to work here. Those are the regulations. Are you sixteen?”
I didn’t answer. My mother must have told them I was sixteen for me to get the job.
“Sixteen, right?” He didn’t look up again but nodded as if I’d answered and made a mark on his tablet. “Every day you sign in here at the desk and I check off your name. You need to be here at seven o’clock every morning, except Sunday. Lunch is twenty minutes. I’ll tell you when you can take it. Work is over when I ring the bell at six o’clock. If you come here late, you’re fired.
I looked around and saw huge bins standing next to rows of sewing machines. As the operators finished assembling the slippers, they tossed them into the baskets without looking up. Reaching to the other side, they picked up another set of slippers and began all over again.
I noticed an older woman wearing a huge plastic apron, which looked as if it wrapped twice around her twig-like frame twice. She walked slowly between the aisles of machines carrying a clipboard and dragging her left leg behind her. She stopped every so often, dug through one of the baskets, and picked up a pair of slippers. After examining it, she tossed it back in the basket or else leaned down and spoke to the machine operator in a high shrill voice.
She gestured to me and I walked over to see what she wanted.
“Follow me down the aisle and load up the boxes I say are okay. Then take the cart down to the backloading dock and leave it by the first trailer space.
Hurry up and come back. We’re on a schedule.” I followed her and loaded the boxes onto my cart. Once it was full, I pushed it as best as I could back to the freight elevator and out onto the loading dock, just the way I was told.
“So far, so good,” I told myself. I had never seen a loading dock before. A group of men stood around smoking cigarettes and passing a bottle between them. Large trucks with canvas covers were backing into and pulling away from the loading area where they stood. I could see each of the trucks was filled to the top with metal containers holding boxes of slippers.
“Hey you! Where you going?”
I turned around to face a tall light-skinned man with a shaved head and dirty beige jacket. I noticed he was wearing a large gold cross like the one Florencia wore. He had squinty black eyes and a thin mustache. He looked me over carefully and then spit his cigarette onto the cracked cement. “You’re Gene, aren’t you?” He stepped a little closer and squinted in the sunlight. “You busted up my little brother real bad a few months ago. Remember that? They tried to fix him up in the clinic, but he still can’t hear. Can’t see out of one eye either. They said you hit him on the head and made him bleed all over the place.”
I stared at him, not sure at first what he was talking about. I was always fighting. How should I remember? I stood up straight and shook my head and then I pushed forward with my cart.
“You’re not going anywhere you piece of shit,” He laughed. “You and me have business to take care of.”
I still didn’t raise my head, but as I looked ahead, I saw something flash in his hand. My heart was hammering away. Was that a knife?
One by one, I unloaded the boxes and stocked them on the loading dock the way they’d instructed. I kept my head down and started to push my empty cart forward, trying not to look in the direction of the man with the mustache.
He stepped in front of the cart so I couldn’t move. I avoided his eyes and looked at the wall behind him. Roaches scurried from the bottom to the top in a rapidly moving procession. If I squinted tightly, they looked like a moving black chain link. I looked away. I was getting dizzy watching them in the stifling room that smelled of sweat, mildew and machine oil.
“What the fuck are you looking at? I’m talking to you. We’re not through yet!”
I could see the shiny scars on his head when he stepped forward. Some of them were still new, the skin puckered and pink. I felt a sudden sharp sting and something wet dripping down my arm. Then I saw the flash of his knife as he stuck it back in his belt. I raised my fists and stepped forward.
“You want some more?” His mouth formed a sneer that raised his upper lip over his chipped teeth.
Before I could do anything else, a thick arm swung in front of me pushing me back. I looked up and a man was standing between the tall, light-skinned man, and me. The government soldier who stood at the door ran up and swung his rifle hitting the tall man in the face. I heard the crack of bone and saw him spit some bloody teeth. The soldier shoved the rifle in his back and ordered him to walk forward.
The thick arm belonged to a man named Manuel, and he worked downstairs. He lifted my arm and shook his head. “You’re lucky. We can fix you up, real easy.
Come on. Just hold that cut closed.”
I did what he said. I was feeling nauseous looking at the blood dripping down my sleeve, nauseous, lightheaded and confused. That guy had gotten the jump on me. I would have to fight him to stop him. But with a knife?
“Don’t worry about that pig anymore,” Manuel assured me. His small squinty eyes were following me intently. “He’s not coming back here. I expect he hasn’t got much left to live for. Probably will take his own life. So sad.” His laughter was giggly and high-pitched.
I followed him to a small dark room in the back corner of the warehouse. He pulled on a rusty chain that hung over the doorway and switched on a dim light that flickered rapidly, making me blink. I could see stacks of machine parts and cylinders of machine oil piled against the wall. Manuel pushed me into a sitting position on top of a stack of cylinders and peeled off his stained shirt. He opened a plastic water bottle that sat on top of the cracked sink and poured some cloudy grayish water onto my cut. It was throbbing and blood leaked out when I didn’t keep it pinched closed. The water washed off the caked blood and I could see how deep the cut was. I began to feel worse.
“It’s fine. You don’t need stitches,” Manuel assured me. He twirled his shirt into a bandana and twisted it tightly around my arm. The blood soaked through immediately and began running down my arm, but he told me to press down hard on the center of the cut. Gradually the bleeding slowed down and after I sat there for a few minutes, it had almost stopped.
“These things happen sometime.” Manuel patted his bulging stomach and leaned back against one of the barrels. “You know how to fight, don’t you? Got to take care of yourself around here.”
“I didn’t come here to fight,” I told him. “Did you know he was going to fight me?”
“He fights everybody.” Manuel shrugged his shoulders. “We take bets sometimes.”
“Did you take bets today?”
“No. No. Not today.” Manuel snickered and giggled again, that high-pitched squeaky sound that shouldn’t have come from somebody as large and bulky as he was. “They got word back to me that he was going to go after you on the dock right now.”
He stepped closer and I could smell his sweat when he reached out and touched my hair. “We can stay here for a little while and then I think you’re able to go back to work.”
“I’m not going back.”
“This is just the first day. You’re going to be working here for a long, long time.” He grinned again, showing me an expanse of broken teeth. I thought of the gravestones struggling to remain standing in the swampy sinking cemetery grounds,
Manuel leaned back against the wall and stared at me. “You know, you ought to be a little more grateful. He would have cut you up like a roasted chicken.” “Thank-you,” I mumbled and looked down at my arm. The cut throbbed in time to my heartbeat and I thought I could feel the blood pumping furiously as it slammed against the makeshift tourniquet.
Manuel moved closer and touched my cheek. “How are you going to make this up to me?”
“What?” I looked up not understanding.
Manuel pushed me back against the wall and grabbed the front of my trousers. With a quick jerk, he pulled open the zipper and reached inside. As soon as I felt his hot sticky hand, I swung my fist and caught him square on the nose. My first punch smashed it on contact. He screamed and blood sprayed out, hitting me in the face
I could feel my muscles tightening and my skin begin to burn. I began punching him in the face, over and over as his voice rose from a shriek to screams of pain. I grabbed him by the shoulders and pounded his head against the wall until I saw his eyes roll back and his body collapse. I held him against the wall for a few more moments and kept pounding his head until my arms were exhausted. Blood had started leaking from the bandage and my own pain made me stop.
As soon as he crumpled to the floor, I picked up a heavy iron pole with a steel hook that hung behind the door and beat him with the rod wherever I could land a blow. He had stopped shrieking and his face was a bluish color, although it was hard to tell since he was covered in blood.
He’d stopped moving and suddenly the pole was too heavy to hold, and I let it drop to the floor. Leaning against the wall, I waited for the wave of nausea to pass. I could hear loud voices coming closer and then the shriek of a female voice as the door slowly opened and blood leaking from Manuel’s body started running out.
The soldier that stood at the entrance of the building when I started working that morning ran at me with his rifle. I felt it strike my head and then my stomach. I folded and slumped to the ground.
The last thing I remembered was the smell of the pee-soaked floor and the chemicals leaking from the containers stacked against the wall as my head hit the ground.

Chapter Five

“Get up! Are you the king sleeping in late?” More loud laughter. I turned on my elbow. My body was numb with cold. I looked at the floor; it was hard cement, wet and smelling like ammonia. The room smelled like shit and unwashed bodies.
I’d ended up in prison, locked in an overcrowded cage with a cement floor, and a hole in the corner that served as a bathroom. There I was, with filthy men wearing rags, who fought with each other over cigarette stubs, eating one bowl of rice a day covered in weevils.
The only one who talked to me was an old-timer named Marco. He said one of the large American oil companies had hired him to work in Saudi Arabia, along with a lot of other local men. He said they liked to hire men from here because they could pay them one fifth of what they paid the other workers.
It seemed that the company was siphoning oil without buying the rights from the local residents. Feeling that the local residents had been wronged, he helped them rig up their own pipeline to get the oil back. It wasn’t rigged correctly, and a lot of men were killed when there was an explosion. Marco was brought back to be tried here in his country, and while they were taking him to court he got hold of a knife and stabbed one of the guards. He told me that both of us would be here together for the rest of our lives, but he was lucky and would die earlier.
I was there a week before the guards banged on the cage and called my name. “Your mama’s here to see you.” The portly one slipped the words from his mouth as he spit on the floor of the cell.
The two of them dragged me down the hall to a small room with a battered metal table and one chair. They fastened my shackles to the table with a length of chain. I started to move toward the chair but one of the guards poked me with his rifle. “The chair isn’t for animals like you. You stand! Your visitor sits.”
They left me there and closed the door. I leaned against the table for support, still dizzy and weak.
The door opened and my mother stepped in hesitantly, ahead of the portly guard, looking around, not focusing on me.
“Mama!” the word came out as a cry and the tears that had been burning my eyes finally overflowed. My mother moved closer to me, but the guard directed her to the chair, and she seemed to collapse into it.
Her eyes were red and sunken, and her voice was shrill. “Do you know how hard it was for me to get here?” She demanded an answer and began shaking her finger at me. The arms I’d raised to hug her collapsed at my sides as if a huge weight were pushing them down from my shoulders.
“I had to borrow some money to pay Mario. You remember Mario? He lives with Imelda. I had to pay him to drive me here. There’s no bus this far. That was the last of the money I have for this month.” She started sobbing, wiping her eyes on the back of her arm. I kept staring at her. She looked as if she had shrunk since the last time, I’d seen her. Her cheap polyester pants bunched around her waist and hung off her skinny butt. Her skin seemed to have darkened and wrinkled deeply overnight. It stretched tight over her face and around her swollen eyes that squinted under dark half-moon pouches.
She twisted the cheap plastic black bracelet on her right wrist and glared at me. “How could you do this to me? I thought you could help me. All I wanted you to do was earn a living for a change. You’re no good for anything else.” She was crying as loudly as she could. “I’ll never be able to hold up my head again.”
The guard looking annoyed, moved further to the back of the small room and lit a cigarette from a crumpled pack that he pulled from his waistband. The smoke filled the room and floated by in a nauseating haze.
“I hoped you’d come before,” I said finally. My voice was scratchy, and I heard myself mumbling the words.
“I came when I could.” She snapped, seeming surprised at what she’d heard. “Don’t expect me to keep coming all the time. You know you’re going to be here the rest of your life. It’s just too hard for me.”
I hesitated hearing what she said, but not believing it. I looked down at the ground. “Aren’t you here to take me home?”
I watched her hug her arms to her chest and look around the small room in fear. “Are you crazy? They’re not going to let you go home. Not for what you did. How could you do it?” she demanded again.
“He tried to….” I stopped, not knowing how to explain. Honestly, I couldn’t remember what happened after the first time I hit him.
“So now you are a murderer and you’ll never be anything else. You need to thank God that they don’t know the other awful things about you like I do. I knew you were no good. I just knew.” She started crying again, moaning and swaying from side to side.
“The guard who’d been practicing drills with his rifle, paused with his rifle in mid-air and scowled. “I think it’s time to go. Time’s up,” he said angrily.
My mother stood up from the table and backed away from me. “You heard him,” she sniffed. Her face was flushed and swollen from crying. She looked relieved, focusing her eyes intently on the guard and then slowly lowering them. A little smile began at the corner of her mouth. For a moment, I thought that maybe she confused him with one of the men she brought home. Then the smile disappeared, and she looked directly at me. “You’re not worth that,” she affirmed and turned to walk away.
A horrible thought began to form. “You’re coming back, aren’t you? Tell me when you’re coming back?”
“I have no idea. No idea when I can get a ride here again. You know I have to work every day. What do you want from me?” Her hands were shaking. I ran to her and hugged her tight, “Please come back. I’m sorry Mama.” For a few moments, I felt the stiffness in her body relax and she stood limply letting herself be held. But then just as quickly, she was tense again and pulled my arms off her scrawny frame.
The guard with the rifle snapped his fingers and gestured her toward the door. My mother straightened herself and turned away.
I still hadn’t appeared in front of a judge or heard any news about when that would happen. After a few weeks of listening in fear to the other men’s stories about who they’d killed or how much they robbed, and trying not to sleep much at night because I was afraid one of them would kill me, the Warden, Cristiano, brought me to his office and told me that he’d heard about how I’d beaten my supervisor to death in the factory. He told me my love of fighting was a good thing and he wanted to train me to fight on the prison circuit. He said I could make him a lot of money, and I had to make a choice. “Train to fight in the Muay Thai way with a man he called “Angel,” or rot away in the filthy cement room with the other men, who were mostly waiting to die of disease or the lack of food and water.
It wasn’t much of a choice, so I chose to get out of the horrible cell and train, for what, I wasn’t exactly sure. Angel, the older man, who would train me, moved me to an empty cell with a bag that hung from the ceiling.
He talked while he wiped his face with a towel and massaged the short gray hairs that sprouted from his chin. “The way you win these matches is by kicking hard, using your knees and elbows to strike and by kicking low to your opponent’s thigh. You’re not going to use your fists as weapons here. Your weapons are your hands, elbows, your shins, and knees. If your opponent kicks you mid to high body, you block that kick with your forearm, knee, or your shin. Do you know where your shin is?” He didn’t wait for me to answer. “You can also stop his attack with your shoulders, arms, or legs. Now stand up and come toward me.”
I spent the next hour copying his movements and trying to fend off his blows that seemed to come suddenly from nowhere. When I wasn’t fending off the blows, I was picking myself off the mat and holding on to whatever body part he’d struck.
After we’d finished in the ring, he took me to a small closet-sized room and handed me a jump rope, just like the one Florencia had when she was a little girl. He showed me how to jump, and then watched as I clumsily tried to jump without catching my feet. After tripping over and over again, I was finally able to jump a few times in a row.
That seemed to satisfy Angel because he then brought me over to a huge dirty canvas bag that hung from the ceiling. After wrapping my hands and wrists with something that looked like red bandages and showing me how to re-roll the tape after it was used, he showed me how to ball up my fist and punch the canvas bag. I kept at it until he let me stop for water and then he gave me the jump rope again. When my legs finally gave way and were too weak to hold me up, Angel told me to wipe my face and let me sit down again on the stool.
“Where is Mr. Cristiano, the Warden?” I mumbled through lips that were swollen and scraped. “I thought he was coming to see me.”
Angel climbed out of the ring and shook his head. “He won’t come down unless it’s to see you fight. He doesn’t waste time like that. I’ll let him know if you’re going to be fighting or not.”
“Am I going to be fighting?”
“Well,” he looked down and appeared to be thinking about it. “If you can show me some better stuff tomorrow, then maybe.”
“Tomorrow?” So, this nightmare wasn’t over yet. I followed Angel to the door, where the guard met us and started us down the slow walk back to my cell. As I watched Angel’s small bony frame moving ahead, I remembered that other boys where I’d lived had fathers or older brothers to teach them things.
When I was younger, I saw boys who were lucky enough to have fathers in their home that went off together with them, just the two of them, the father sharing his life experiences, lessons learned. Maybe they were just going to work or to buy something at the market, but they were spending the time together talking to each other, without anyone else around. Something I wished I could have.
Even though I’d seen enough neglectful fathers, there was always something inside of me calling out for that relationship, somebody to pay special attention to me because I was a part of them, somebody who thought I was worth something and saw past all of the bad things that I did. Somebody that knew inside that I was a good person and believed in me.
Lying down in my cell, I waited for Angel to come back when the sun went down. We were going running when it got cooler, he said. I ran my bruised and cut hands over my legs. They were covered with purple bruises and red scrapes and hurt when I touched them. My chest and arms were bruised and sore too. It hurt to breathe in. But I’d gotten through the day alive and they hadn’t sent me back to the cage with the other men.
I remembered at the end of each school day, I’d used up all my energy behaving, and was ready to strike if anything upset me or got in my way. When that I thought about it, most of my fighting happened when I couldn’t hold out any longer.
Now I only felt a terrible sadness. The sadness shut out the blinding anger. Anger at what, I wasn’t sure, just that I knew everything about me was wrong and something inside wanted so badly to get out.

Chapter Six

I was lying on my cot when somebody tapped on the metal bars. I looked up and one of the young ladyboys I’d seen on my way to the ring was standing outside. I remembered her because her hair was peroxide orange and it hung lank and straight hiding most of her face. She was wearing a pair of tight tiny purple shorts and a skimpy yellow top that didn’t reach her waist.
Her voice was wispy and high-pitched. “Can I come and visit you for a while? They’re going to let me in.”
She’d barely finished speaking, when a guard pushed her aside roughly, unlocked the cell door and pushed her through.
“You look like you don’t have too many friends here.” She laughed in a bubbly voice. Each time she laughed she tossed her hair back over her shoulders.
It was then that I saw her face. It was scarred entirely on the right side, her cheeks covered with thick patches of scarred skin. The lighter colored skin pulled tight across her face and disappeared behind her ears. The remainder of her face was discolored and marked with old reddish-colored scars. They looked like pox scars to me; something I’d seen a lot of when I lived back home. I remembered Father Raymundo and shuddered. I thought her face looked like one of the monster masks that the older kids wore on Halloween to scare us.
When she saw me staring, she shook her hair back over her face to cover it. “Don’t look!” It sounded like a command to me, so I looked away.
After a few moments she started talking again; her voice was soft and unsteady. “Look, I just want to say…You look so sad. Things will get better. You’ll get used to it here; you’ll learn. It’s better than where you came from. Lots of fighters pass through here. They get special favors as long as they fight.”
“So, what happens to them after they can’t fight anymore?”
She tilted her head up and I could see one dark brown turned-down eye. It looked sad to me.
“Then I guess you go back where you came from. I don’t really know.” “What about you?”
“The same, I guess. But I can go back to the street when they’re done with me here or if I get sick or something. I didn’t kill anybody.”
I started to tell her that I hadn’t killed anybody either but remembered that they said I had.
“So,” she straightened up and stretched her short delicate body. I watched, not able to take my eyes off her. No wonder the clothes I stole didn’t look the same on me! That was the body I should have had. I stared. The understanding was starting to come through. No matter how I felt inside, all anybody could see was my outside, my tallness, and my muscled arms and legs.
There was nothing about my body that was pretty. “What’s your name?”
“Gene.” I told her. Now I kept my head down, embarrassed by what I had just figured out.
“My name is Tammy,” she giggled a little and covered her mouth. She sat down next to me on the cot and touched my arm. It was swollen and covered with bruises. “Poor baby.”
I flinched when she moved closer and stroked my forehead, but I didn’t push her away. I didn’t remember anyone touching me, maybe my mother, but that was so long ago. It felt soothing so I closed my eyes. “I’m going to call you my little sister,” she said in her soft voice. “Even though you’re bigger than me.”
“What?” I stood up suddenly and moved away from her, but she kept on talking.
“Tomorrow I’m going to bring you a pink silk robe that I have. It’s too big for me, but it should fit, and the color will be beautiful on you.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I looked down and kept rubbing my arm. I wanted to ask her why she called me “little sister,” but I was afraid of her answer. “So,” I asked her, “How did you get here?”
Her eyes lowered and she shook a section of thick hair over the side of her face closest to me. “It’s a long story, I guess. I used to work for this family. I was a houseboy. I worked day and night. I did everything the maids didn’t want to do, washing, cleaning, and cooking their food. The kids beat me up every day for fun. My mother set up the job because she couldn’t feed all of us kids. They told her they would send my salary home to her every week. I stopped going to school, but the woman that hired me said that I could go home and see my family every few weeks.”
She wiped her eyes with a corner of her top and continued. “But then after a few days there, the kid’s father took me into one of the bedrooms upstairs and made me have sex with him. It hurt so much. I hated him! I would have killed him if I had the chance. They wouldn’t let me go home after that. I couldn’t even leave the house. When I asked for my family, he told me my mother didn’t want me in the house anymore because I was queer.”
“Was that true?” I interrupted.
She shrugged and looked down again. “I don’t know. She never came to see me and when I got away, I went back home, but my family couldn’t pay the rent
and they’d moved. Nobody knew where.”
“How did you get away?”
She looked behind me at some place far away you couldn’t see and touched the side of her face where the skin was raw and puckered. “One day he took me outside to the greenhouse and told me to lie down on a mat that he had covering a table. He made me lie on my stomach and then…” Her voice choked and quivered. “He poured hot oil on my back while he touched himself. I screamed but nobody came.”
I stared at her horrified at what she was saying. “But your face?” I stopped embarrassed, feeling my cheeks flush red hot.
She stepped back and straightened her head. “I surprised him. I turned over and stuck my fingers in his eyes. He grabbed me by my hair and threw the oil at my face. I was screaming so loud that his wife came and sent me to the laundry room to wash it off. Then I ran like hell. The opposite way from the laundry room. The front door was unlocked and there wasn’t anybody to stop me. So that’s how I got away.”
I stared and couldn’t think of anything to say. Finally, I asked her, scared of how she would answer. “So, did they do anything to that man?”
She stood up and began walking around my cell. “Of course not; he’s very rich and he said I attacked him. His wife told the same story. Except she said I stole her clothes too. They found out where I was hiding from one of my neighbors and I went straight away to jail. I wasn’t there that long though, about a year. Then I went back to the streets. I couldn’t go home. Anyway, I didn’t want to. But I had a new way to earn my living and you know I haven’t cleaned one toilet since I left that house.”
She gulped and laughed loudly, swinging her hair again. “I’m in again for prostitution this time. They usually make a big bust every so often and take us all away for a little while. Most of the time it’s when official from the government is visiting or somebody is here from the United States.
She explained how it worked. “Once we get locked up, we can come down here and work out of these cells as long as we split what we make with Cristiano. Mostly we just have sex with guards. Its cleaner here, more food, and I get to be with my sisters. But you have to fuck any man they send. Some of them are real dogs or just plain scary. I wouldn’t do it with them if I was back on the street. So that’s how it is.”
Tammy sat back down. “Once we had a girl here…well not really a girl, from Afghanistan. Somebody sold him, and that’s how he got here. It was crazy. He told me that when he was about ten years old his father first sold him to a businessman who paid somebody else to teach him how to dance. He was really a beautiful boy. You should have seen him.
Anyway, he said that they dressed him up in girl’s clothes and had him dance for a special group of men. He said they were all rich and, in the government, or famous or something. He said that after he finished dancing the men bid on him, and the highest bidder got his virginity. After that, they always made him have sex after he danced. I forgot the word he used, but it means, “Boy Play,” in their language. Strange that they want to have sex with little boys isn’t it?” She shook her shoulders and made a small disgusted face.
I thought about the man they said I’d killed. Was this the same thing?
Tammy stretched out on my cot and reached out a skinny arm to touch my face. “You know what? I can see you as a beautiful princess in a long silk gown with a tiara. The gown is pale blue. That’s your best color.
Do you like silky clothes?”
I ducked my head and nodded just a little.
“You’ve worn them before, haven’t you?” I nodded again.
“Don’t be ashamed,” she said.
I flinched even though I had just enjoyed the touch and curled myself further against the wall. Tammy shook her head. “You’ll see one day. I’m right. Now little sister I have to go to work. Lots of important men are coming today.”
While she stood up and straightened out her clothes, making sure that the bottom of her blouse stopped right at her stomach. The guard banged once on the cell bars and unlocked the cell door. Walking toward it, Tammy wiggled her hips and then turned around and gave me a half smile and blew a kiss. When I thought about it, she was the only friend I had, inside or outside my cell.
I trained in the ring every day with Angel and as soon as the sun went down in the evening, I ran ten times along the perimeter of the property surrounded by barbed wire. While I ran, I looked up at the tower that stood on top of the tallest side of the building where a guard sat lazily, his rifle propped up behind his chair.
I had a cold shower once a day, three bowls of rice, sometimes some kind of meat stew or soup, and all the water I could drink. A few times there was even a little left-over pastry that the guards didn’t want.
After two weeks, I was blocking kicks and throwing out some of my own. I’d learned how to turn my body and kick out to strike Angel’s midsection. I could strike with my hands, elbows, and shins. I spent hours hitting the heavy canvas bag and then dropped to the ground where I did push-ups and squats until he let me stop.
The guards started leaving the cell doors unlocked and every day I walked down the long corridors and looked for Tammy. There were many ladyboys lying across their cots, lounging against the cell walls or trying on bright colored clothes that hung from string they’d tied between the walls. There were new ones every few days, but I didn’t see her. The only one who talked to me was Angel, and his conversation was limited to yelling at me to kick or block in a particular direction or to punch the bag harder. A few times, I tried to ask him questions, but he just shrugged and ignored me.
After my nightly shower I dropped off to sleep exhausted and it seemed that the memory of my other life where I went to school every day and came home to my mother and Florencia, grew further and further away. After a while the purple bruises on my body turned yellow and then slowly faded into the tanned color of my skin. My muscles lengthened and my arms and legs were hard to the touch.

Chapter Seven

A month later Cristiano came to see me. I found him sitting on my cot facing the open door of my cell when I finished my shower. I stood and stared at him as the water dripped down my shoulders.
He stood up as soon as the cell door opened, and he was smiling. “Well I hear you are making good progress. You should be ready for your first fight in a week or so. You’re going to win this one.”
I stared in surprise, feeling uncomfortable seeing Cristiano occupying my little cell. He seemed too large, filling the entire space, standing in front of the cot where I spent so much of my time. I was annoyed; all I wanted was to finish whatever they put in my rice bowl and go to sleep
I always finished my dinner bowl quickly in the evening so I could fall asleep with the sound of the rain drops still falling. I tried not to think, and swallow one bite after the other until it was finished, drink water to wash it all down and then close my eyes. The sameness of every day calmed me and kept me from thinking too much. I knew just what to expect if I did whatever Angel told me. Now looking at Cristiano, I began to feel my heart hammer with fear. I flinched when he touched my shoulder, for some reason remembering Tammy, and he quickly withdrew his hand.
“Sit down,” he gestured at my bunk, as if I were suddenly a guest in the room where I was confined when I wasn’t training. “As I just told you, you will have your first fight next week and I expect you to win. You look a lot better than when you came. All cleaned up. Crowds will like you, but that will come later. I just wanted to stop by and see you. Do you have anything you want to know about next week? Don’t you want to know who you’re fighting?”
I stared past him and imagined that I was holding a piece of silk fabric between my fingers. For a moment, I could feel the silk against my skin between my legs. I remembered that Tammy knew I wore silk, at least what passed for silk. She could see who I really was.
“Who will I fight?” I finally asked.
Cristiano rubbed the stubble on his chin and laughed. “So, you are a little bit interested my friend. I thought so. You’ll be fighting one of the guys from another prison down the coast from here. He’s a little older than you, of course, but I hear good things about you so I’m not worried. Besides,” he laughed, “You have lots of incentive. You can always go back to the cage. I know you don’t want that.”
He extended his hand again and I ducked under his arm and dived back onto my bunk.
Two days later a new guard, younger, more fit, and wearing a clean starched khaki uniform, woke me before the light started to shine through the slatted bars. His touch was rough and demanding, so I struggled to sit up and shake away the sleep.
“Get up,” he ordered. “You are going on a long ride today.” He handed me a wet towel and I wiped my face. When I began putting on my frayed red shorts that I wore to train with Angel, he stopped me and handed me a pair of while shorts and a white tee-shirt. They were spotless and I stared in disbelief. I hadn’t worn anything this clean since leaving home that day long ago when I went to work at the factory.
“You need to look good today when you win.” He laughed and slapped me on the back. “Me too. “They told me to take a bath and put on a new uniform.”
I slipped on the white shorts and shirt and sat back down on the bed. The guard opened a plastic bag and took out new plastic shower shoes, rolled hand ties, and a bottle of water. “These are for you too.”
Again, I walked down the long corridor away from the surrounding cells where the ladyboys were housed. We stopped at the front entrance where the same guards sat together playing cards, their guns lying next to each other on the countertop.
“Do you get to see the fight?” the older one pushed his few curly black hairs across his forehead, trying to cover his baldness and looked enviously at the guard holding me by the arm.
“Sure, why not?” The young guard untangled his arm from mine and poked me in the ribs. I bent over and he laughed. The older man opened the door of the little room and handed the young guard a small roll of folded money. “You better remember to place this. Not like last time. The punk I bet against almost bled to death and I could have made a bundle if you weren’t so stupid. I still don’t know how you forgot to bet. I must have told you a hundred times. Bet before you start drinking! You’re a fucking idiot!”
When we stepped outside, the light stabbing directly into my eyes made me bow my head and look at the ground. The guard adjusted my cuffs so that I was cuffed to him by one arm. He gestured for me to drink the water. I drank it down in a couple of long gulps. My hair was soaked, and I lifted it from my neck with my free hand, surprised at how long it was. I hadn’t had a haircut for some time. I twisted it into a short ponytail that immediately became sweat soaked too.
The same van that brought me here pulled up in front of the building, but this time somebody had taken pains to wash it, making the dents in the sides and the bashed-in rear bumper even more noticeable. I was quickly pushed inside and slid over on the long seat covered in ripped plastic. The inside had been cleared of all the trash and you could see down to the scruffy carpeting that covered the floor. I was able to stretch my legs out to the back of the seat in front of me.
Two more guards with rifles came running from the building and one slid into the seat next to me, while the other took a seat in the front. I stared straight out the front windshield, peering around the heads of the driver and front seat passenger who fell asleep within minutes of the van’s leaving the prison. We drove on through a string of small towns, tin-shacks, and potholed dirt roads.
“Are we near Manila?” I finally asked as we pulled out on a highway where the van finally settled onto a paved roadway. I’d never seen Muay Thai fighting in Manila, but I’d heard occasional stories from boys who followed those things, usually because their fathers did too.
“Not too far away. Puerto Princesa.”
“Where’s that?” I asked, watching the stooped figures of farm laborers who you could barely see over the corn stalks swaying in the light breeze.
“Past the vegetable fields. Not far from Manila. We’re going to Iwahig Prison. Wait till you see it.” Even I could hear the pride in his voice.
I continued staring straight ahead, moving my eyes to the left and right sides of the windshield, watching the road bend as it followed row after row of green stalks that looked like they were shivering in the light breeze. I had never seen land that was not crowded with tumble-down shacks and sprawling piles of trash. There were people working in the fields, between the planted rows. I could see the bobbing of their bodies moving in time to the swaying of the corn.
The sun was very bright and the breeze blowing in through the open window had no smell of rotting garbage. I felt my shoulders relax and I thought I wouldn’t mind driving on this way forever.
I looked ahead again, and I saw rows of makeshift cabins lining the highway. Most of the cabins looked like they needed a lot of repair, but they had the look of real buildings that weren’t put together with pieces of cardboard, pounded tin, and whatever else could be found at the dump.
“I thought you said this was a prison,” I said, watching a group of small children squatting in the dirt, playing a game with what looked like an old beer bottle.
“Prisoners have kids just like everybody else,” the driver half-turned to answer. “Some of their families live here. Lots of the men work in the town.”
“You mean they leave the prison?”
“Yes, you idiot. They want them to work. That way they give some of what they make to the prison and keep some to support their families.”
The van pulled to the side of a long rectangular building that looked a lot like the prison I had just left. I noticed that there were many of these buildings grouped together on either side of the road. Men walked in and out of the building and lounged around outside, just the way they did where I’d lived with my mother before going to prison. There were no guards that I could see. Some men stood on the sides of the buildings selling water and fruit, others sat on overturned crates together talking.
There was a winding line of women and children leading to a bunch of smaller bungalows set back from the main buildings. I noticed that many of them carried baskets filled with what looked like pots of food. Most of them carried pillows and blankets. The children ran back and forth in the line shrieking and yelling. “Homecoming,” the driver laughed. “They’re here to visit their papas and while their fathers are screwing their mother they get to play with their new friends. They’re going to be changing that though. Now lots of the men get to go home for the weekend to be with their families.”
“And they come back here?” I asked in disbelief.
“Of course, I just said that. They have to finish their sentence, don’t they? Go on,” he gestured.
I stepped forward and waited for the guard to open the door. There was already somebody in the cell. He was lying on his side on one of the bunks. His face looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember why. “It’s open. Go inside and wait.”
I pushed on the door and it wasn’t locked. I stepped inside and the figure stretched out on the cot sat up.
“So, you’re the one,” he spoke up, his eyes moving up and down my body, stopping at my arms and shoulders.
“The one? What do you mean?”
“We fight today. I didn’t know you were so big.”
I crossed my arms over my chest feeling selfconscious.
“I’m Andres,” he said. “They told me your name, but I forgot. You’re not important anyway. I don’t need to remember your name because I won’t be seeing you again after I finish with you today. That won’t take too long I promise.”
I was certain I could do some serious damage to him right now. I didn’t want to wait for some regulated fight controlled by Cristiano. I turned to face him and balled up my fist. “You piece of shit, I’ll show you who
I am.”
Immediately I felt the stinging slap of something hitting me in the face. I heard myself breathe in sharply and turned around to see Angel, dressed in his grimy sweatpants and a torn tee-shirt, holding a steaming towel in one hand. ‘Pick that up, now! Move away from him and sit down. Do as I fucking tell you.”
I bent down and picked the wet towel off the floor.
I could feel my face burning and tears stinging my eyes.
“Go sit on the cot.” Angel’s voice was loud and commanding. There was none of the friendliness I’d heard in our last sessions. “You’re a stupid piece of shit. I should tell them to send you back right now.
You’re lucky everybody is already on their way here for the fight or I would.”
I didn’t expect what was next. Angel draped one of the towels across my shoulders and told me to hold my head up straight. Without warning, he pulled my head back and with a quick stroke and a pair of rusted scissors, he chopped off the small ponytail I’d been growing.
I stared in shock as several inches of my hair drifted to the floor. “What are you doing?” I asked him, terrified.
“Everybody gets a haircut, first time in. Those are
Cristiano’s rules. You’re no different.”
I tried to push him away, but he smacked me across the face and blood began to drip from my nose.
Angel jerked my head back and pressed the wet towel against my nostrils pinching them shut.
“Just sit here and shut-up. If you don’t, I’ll have some others come in here and beat the shit out of you before you ever see the ring.”
I closed my eyes and swallowed warm blood at the back of my throat, while I looked at Angel with a growing fear. Angel finished the job with an electric razor he’d brought in a little case and I sat mute, shaking, shocked into silence, as I watched the pile of black hair cover my bare feet.
Standing back, he regarded his work, “Not bad. Not as close as I cut my son’s, but close enough for today.”
I touched the top of my head; it was slick to the touch. The air was soft and cool as it touched my naked scalp and then settled on my neck.
“I used to like cutting my boy’s hair,” Angel said, wiping my head off with the damp towel.
I’d stopped shaking and looked up. “You have a son?” I’d never imagined that Angel or any of the guards had any other life outside of the prison. “Sure. I have four,” he answered, sounding surprised and wrapped the razor up with the towel.
“Trained them all myself. Not one of them fights any more. Two of them moved to the U.S. They both finished school. The one here works in the hospital in the Capital. He’s a nurse, and one operates a call center right in Manila. He makes the most money I think, with what they pay him on the side not to make calls for the other companies.
I suddenly felt jealous that Angel had cut their hair too, and that they had shared time with their father just like I always wanted. “How come they didn’t keep fighting like you?” I wanted to know.
“Oh,” Angel shrugged. “It’s all right for somebody like me or you, but not if you can do better. I wanted them to do better than me. I fought so I could feed my kids and send them to school. I didn’t want them to end up like me. And you?” he laughed. “You need to fight so you don’t get put back with the other maggots.”
He ran the towel over the top of my head and across the back of my neck. Then he lowered his voice. “I heard a few nights ago somebody stabbed a guard in your cell block because he took a bribe on the outside and didn’t pay up, so they punished all the men in the cage and stopped feeding them for a week. A couple of guys tried to complain to Cristiano, and he had some of his guards beat them to death.”
Angel left the cell after shaking his finger in my face and warning me to “behave myself,” and to “fight for my life.” Several guards came minutes later and led Andres away too.
After what seemed like hours, two more guards appeared and told me to follow them. We stepped outside into the early evening air that was wet and steamy as always and smelled of garlic and fried fish from vendor’s carts lining the sides of the building. I was cuffed to another guard’s stiffly starched khaki arm and we slid into the back seat of the same van that had transported me earlier.
We drove about two miles to another long stucco building. Cars were parked two deep around the front of the building, that stood under the shade of a torn awning which was once a bright red and green. I stepped out of the van and looked down the street. Cars were parked on either side as far as I could see. A lot of them had government decals and some displayed the Philippine flag affixed to their hood. The guard who was cuffed to me, raised his other hand, and nodded in the direction of a large roped off area to our left. More cars were squeezed into this lot, bumper to bumper, side by side.
“We haven’t had a good fight in a long time, and we got paid today,” he explained.

Chapter Eight

As soon as we walked inside, I saw that I was in a huge concrete auditorium. There were stacked wooden benches, which I now know were bleachers, all along the perimeter. In the center was a fighting ring, roped off from the rest of the room, with a canvas floor. Angel stood outside the ring in one corner. He was arranging a small pile of towels and lining up plastic water bottles at his feet. I noticed he was wearing clean basketball shorts and a black tee-shirt.
Across the ring, another man sat on the floor talking to Andres. He was big like a bear and I noticed he wore a sizeable gold earring in one ear. Andres and the big man both looked up when I walked over to Angel.
I watched the big man stare at me. There was no expression in his eyes, and I could feel my heart beginning to beat faster. Angel caught my eye and stepped in front of me blocking out the view. “Don’t pay any attention to them,” he snapped. “You’ll be fucked up before you ever start. That’s just what they want.”
I kept my head down and nodded. Angel directed me to run in place and do push-ups just the way we did during training. Men were filling up the space around the ring, yelling and calling to each other. The air quickly heated up and somebody turned on a huge floor fan with mostly missing blades and aimed it at the ring.
I looked around and the people squeezed together seemed to cover the chipped plaster walls, sitting in layers on long benches facing the center. It looked as if half of them wore military uniforms. The other half I noticed seemed well-dressed. They looked like people who worked in the government offices.
Hands gestured, opening and closing, waving and dipping into their owner’s pockets, coming out with fists clenched and the contents passed to someone else. I watched them now understanding what they meant, as the wads of rolled up bills exchanged hands. Bets were placed, some for me and some against me.
Across the ring, Andres stood alone and silent, leaning against the ropes. He kept his eyes on me, never moving. The sweat on my back was now cold and clammy even though the room was overheated with so many bodies pressed closely together. Angel pushed his way through the crowd of men staring and pointing at the ring in anticipation and hurried over to me.
Across from me, a tall man who looked something like a Sumo wrestler, waved to the crowd as he entered the ring. He smiled broadly and turned to face the audience in each direction. The light reflected from of his mouthful of gold teeth. He wore a black uniform with gold letters on the front of his shirt. The audience applauded when he faced them.
Angel followed my eyes. “The referee,” he explained. He’s from around here. They all know him. Well respected,” he added.
“So, is he on my side?” I wanted to know if I had a chance.
“He’s not on anybody’s side. He’s here to keep you from getting killed in there. He’ll stop the fight if it gets out of hand. I’ve seen him grab a guy before he went flying out of the ring. But…I don’t know, I’m sure he places a bet or two here and there. I would, if I was him.”
Angel wiped my face down with one of the towels he pulled out of a blue plastic bucket, taped up my wrists, and instructed me to stay in the corner and wait until my name was announced before stepping into the center of the ring.
Moments later, a short bald man stepped into the center of the ring. He carried a microphone and waved his short pudgy arms in the air. The crowd yelled louder, and I could hear several rows of guards sitting close to the corner chanting, “Andres, Andres.”
Then I heard my name called and Angel pushed me forward toward the center. I heard the crowd booing. Andres jogged toward me and the crowd screamed with enthusiasm.
The noise rose to a great roar filling my ears and then my head. I could see the bald man’s lips moving but I couldn’t hear anything he said.
Andres stepped back and some of the noise died down. Then a loud whistle screamed shrilly, and he ran toward me, extending his leg in a roundhouse kick.
I barely had time to step back out of his way before he circled around me and clipped me with the side of his arm. The blow stung and caught me off balance. I rocked back and stumbled.
Angel was yelling, “Step up! Make your kill!”
I backed up and charged Andres, taking him by surprise. My left leg swung out, catching him in the small of his back and he stumbled and fell. He rolled to the side, quickly leaping up to face me and I didn’t miss the look of shock on his face. The crowd started yelling his name again and Angel circled, frantically yelling. “Use your body! Get on him! Look him in the eye and don’t look away.”
I backed up and then moved forward toward Andres. This time he was expecting me and struck a blow that sent me flying backward. The crowd went wild cheering him on.
I re-gained my balance, concentrated, and followed
Andres’ every movement. His sweat glistened as it streamed down his narrow chest while we danced around each other. I could hear the yelling getting louder. Even here, nobody wanted me.
Andres moved delicately with care, lightly on the balls of his feet. His movements hypnotized me and as I stared at his body, he looked away suddenly, uncomfortable. Without thinking about it, I moved forward in an instant, impatient, and resentful at the crowd screaming his name, and swung my leg wide catching him across the shoulder. I moved in closer and followed the first kick with a second kick to his lower back. He staggered and slipped down to his knees. The referee dashed between us and blew his whistle. Very slowly, Andres rose and walked away from the center of the ring. Round one was over.
I followed Angel back to my corner. He was excited and pounded me on the back while he wiped my face with a damp towel, “You’re getting to him. I don’t know what in the hell is wrong with him tonight, but you may just pull this off. You never want to disappoint a crowd.”
The crowd quieted down when I went back in the ring. In the first few rows, some voices called out Andres’ name, but not with the same energy as before. Again, we circled, and I locked my eyes on his and then moved them up and down his body. I could feel my hate burning through and my skin heating up. Andres became one of my former victims, lying helpless while I pounded his face bloody.
We exchanged a few cautious blows easing away from each other, undecided about where to strike next. I kept my eyes locked on his and suddenly made up my mind to charge him. He backed up again, but then quickly danced forward and swung at me. I was expecting the move and stepped back but released a vicious kick to his mid-section as he came forward. He went down and doubled up hugging his arms to his chest.
Round two was over. Angel hollered in excitement and danced around me while he toweled off the sweat that dripped from my face. “You’ve got him working. He didn’t expect that from you. Now go in there and fuck him up. Make all those sorry suckers regret their bets.”
The noise started up again; a dull murmur, drifting through the room, unclear and uncertain. It picked up momentum as I stepped forward and I could hear individual voices shouting at Andres. “Wake the fuck up and finish him off. You’ve got three more minutes.”
Other voices were still yelling his name, “Andres, Andres.” I forced myself to concentrate on the cool silkiness of a pink slip that I’d tried on in secret, feeling it rubbing against my thighs. When had I felt the silkiness of that slip? I couldn’t remember now. We kept circling each other. Andres danced back and forth striking quickly and then retreating. I approached Andres stepping lightly this time, bouncing from foot to foot, the way Angel showed me. I swung my right leg in a high arc just as Andres ducked. I lost my footing and stumbled. He moved in striking and forced me to my knees. As I struggled to get up, I could feel his fists sinking into my back and side. I doubled over again and looked up to see the referee’s legs approaching my face.
From some place far away, I could hear Angel yelling, “Get up, you son of a bitch!” The front row was chanting Andres’ name again.
I rolled to my side and tried to catch my breath. Andres was coming at me again, so I rolled to my left gasping for air. I clutched my stomach and staggered to my feet. A burning pain settled in the pit of my stomach. Andres stared at me in surprise when I stood suddenly and then charged. Luck was on my side; he ran toward the right and I was able to swing my leg around and catch him in the mid-section. He staggered backward and I felt a sudden burst of energy push me forward. I landed a left hook directly to his chin that glanced off his nose just as my fist slid upward. Then I threw another blow, followed by a kick to his stomach. It was his turn to double up. As soon as I saw his knees buckle, I followed up with more blows to his face. Blood was running from his nose and mouth and dripping down his chest.
The referee was yelling at me to step back and then the first two rows were on their feet chanting my name. I jumped on top of Andres and begin to pound his head into the canvas.
I only looked up when I felt several pairs of hands, including those of the referee, pulling me away from Andres. He was not trying to stand up, in fact, he was not even moving. The referee and another man jerked me to my feet. Angel was jumping up and down and thumping me on the back. I’d won this fight
I guess looking back, I can say the night I won that first fight was probably the best thing that had happened in my life to that point. When I heard the cheering and noticed the scowls on the faces of some of the guards who’d lost money betting against me, I was even happier. This time the underdog had made the others sorry; sorry they had overlooked me, dismissed me, bet against me.
What I felt that night ranks right up there with the first time I looked at myself in the mirror after my operation and saw a complete woman staring back. I was high on that first victory, higher than anything ever could get me after that.
A little while later, I was back in my cell, and a small gray-haired old man in a dark coverall came up to the cell door carefully balancing a tray with one hand. He approached cautiously and set the tray down on the floor before studying the ring of keys he pulled from his back pocket. He approached almost shyly and set the tray down on the edge of my pallet. He gestured to the bowl of soup and the cup of juice and motioned for me to eat. He was missing his front teeth except for the upper incisors that were gold capped. Lines and wrinkles crossed his face, intertwining across his cheeks and forehead. The over-sized coverall hung limply off his shoulders that were just bones that stuck out on each side of his narrow frame, and his eyes stayed focused on the bowl of soup.
He gestured again for me to begin eating, so I picked up the spoon and started with two large swallows. The broth was thin but flavored with onions and tasted better than anything I remembered. I’d drained almost half the bowl when I felt his eyes watching me, following every movement of the spoon on its journey from the bowl to my mouth.
When I stopped and stared back, he lowered his eyes, embarrassed. I picked up the spoon again, but from the corner of my eyes, I could see him licking his lips, looking up quickly to watch me swallow and then turning away.
I lifted the spoon again but suddenly my throat closed, and I knew I couldn’t swallow any more. I stuck the spoon back in the bowl and offered it to him. His eyes widened and he shook his head. “I can’t do that,” he whispered.
“Go ahead. It’s okay. I don’t want any more.” I grabbed his thin wrist and held it while I cupped his hand around the bowl.
He stared at me, unsure of what to do next. Then he decided and hurried to the back of the cell, tilted the bowl to his mouth and gulped the soup in one long drink.
The old people suffered the most I thought. It stood to reason if you started out young without anybody who cared enough to make sure you had enough food and a place to live, you’d probably end up the same way when you were old, alone and poor. And still nobody cared.
I still remember this old lady I met while I was driving a cab in New Orleans. I could never really forget her. Every now and then I see her standing at the curb, looking at her furniture sitting on the sidewalk.
I got the job driving cab because one of the cab company drivers owed a favor to Rory. He was the one who took me in and rented me a room when the woman staying there went away to prison.
It was far from any dream job I imagined I would have in the United States, but the place was not too different from the noisy crowded, stifling surroundings where I’d grown up. My passengers, tourists from the Quarter, often threw up in my cab after a long binge. For some reason they held out until I started my meter before they spewed their rum-soaked Cajun-fry onto the ragged cloth upholstery. I spent hours after my time shift ended, gagging and cleaning vomit off the back seat. A lot of my riders were insulting and degrading, having left their manners somewhere in Alabama, California, or West Virginia, whatever damn place they were away from. They wanted me to take them to see the “girly boys,” and were always disappointed when I dropped them off at the different bars on Bourbon Street. Like they thought I knew some girly boys personally, who would be more than glad to open their tiny darkened apartments and fix them breakfast with champagne.
Some of them told me they couldn’t pay at the end of the ride because their money was jacked at the last place they were drinking. Other passengers jerked the rear door open before I had even finished parking at the end of their ride and raced down the street to escape paying their fare. A few threatened me with guns. Loaded or not, I knew better than to challenge them.
Worse than the tourists, were some of the residents who spoke to me, in what I learned, was the honeyed drawl of the area, inquiring as to my health and family status, complementing me on my appearance, and then stiffing me for the fare at the end of the ride.
I’d only been driving for about a week and was still getting familiar with the city when I got a call to pick up a passenger. I crossed the bridge into the city and headed over to an address on Charbonnet Street.
As I pulled over to the curb, checking the address several times, I noticed that this building was part of a complex that spanned at least a city block. Directly next to the complex was a tiny wooden house, shotgun style, with peeling strips of old white paint, hanging shutters and a mostly rotted-out staircase and porch. The front windows were boarded up with plywood and the tall brushy weeds that made up the lawn in the front yard, blew freely in the breeze that slowly made its way down the row of buildings.
Trash bins over-flowed in front of the property, their lids hanging off broken hinges. Bags of clothes spilled over the tops and onto the cracked cement sidewalk. Pots and pans and stacks of chipped dishes stood next to the trash cans. Off to the side, an old upright vacuum with a worn-out dust bag leaned against a two-legged nightstand that was missing its drawers.
I pulled closer and stopped in front of the old woman standing there. “Did you call a cab?”
She looked me over carefully, probably surprised that I was a woman, but too well-mannered to say anything. “They called for me next door in the Center.” She gestured in the direction of the rectangular building.
She was pint-size, maybe a little over ninety pounds, but her spine was ramrod straight and she stood tall and proud facing me. She had a dark complexion with few wrinkles and her features were widely spaced on a face that had seen a lot of time pass her by.
She touched her gray hair self-consciously and patted the escaping frizz around her face, tucking it back into the tight twist of hair pinned at her neck. I remember noticing she had on a navy-blue suit and a small black hat pinned to her head with a large sparkling straight pin covered in rhinestones. She wore white gloves on her small hands and looked like she’d escaped from one of those old black and white photos of her family from long ago that my mother kept in a vinyl album under the bed. She had to be around eighty from what I could guess.
Before coming to the U.S. I didn’t see many black people, except for the soldiers passing through our part of town on leave from the base. I’d heard that blacks were dangerous, carried weapons and would kill you for no reason at all. I didn’t know much else except they talked in loud voices and used words that my mother said were “bad and uneducated.” I don’t remember seeing any black women that weren’t in a picture in a magazine or newspaper. I’d never seen an old one before. We stared at each other for a long minute. Her eyes were bright and focused right at me, and I felt that she might be able to see things I hadn’t told anybody else.
After a minute or so she seemed to make up her mind, maybe because getting into a car with a woman was less threatening, and she struggled to lift the old valise at her side. I saw that it was wrapped around with several lengths of twine.
“So where am I taking you?” I picked up the valise and tossed it in the trunk.
She stepped toward the door and looked back at me. “Only rode in a cab one time with my husband when we moved up north. He’s dead now. When we came back, we didn’t have no money, so we walked from the train station. My name is Mattie. Who might you be?”
I told her my name and she appeared to consider it.
Do you live here?” I asked.
“Not no more. Used to. Bank’s taking it.” Her mouth quivered and I saw her eyes fill up. “They say I can’t live here by myself and I can’t pay no rent either.” She reached out and opened the passenger door and sat down slowly in the front seat, ignoring the door I’d opened for the back seat.
She gave me an address on General Meyer Avenue in the Ninth Ward. I really didn’t like going there. I saw the place like a covered boiling pot on the stove, waiting to explode and spill everything down its sides. You could feel danger in the air. There were drug deals going on openly on most corners, and you knew there was plenty of bloodshed and cruelty in the streets and most likely inside the houses. The people living in this ward looked beaten down; like they’d stopped caring about anything a long time ago. The streets and the buildings on them looked like they fell apart from neglect, long before the hurricanes passed through.
A lot of the time the fares headed there had no money to pay once they arrived. I thought about this as I started the engine. I guess the woman could feel what I was thinking, because she reached over and opened the clasp on her small white plastic purse. She reached in and counted out a few bills. “Is this enough to get there? I saved for a long time.”
Feeling embarrassed, my face flushed, I barely glanced at her clenched hand, but told her it was. “So, are you going to visit your family?” I changed the subject mostly so I could stop feeling so uncomfortable.
“Oh no. No family to speak of anymore. Going to the state old age home to stay.”
“A home?” I’d heard about the homes for old people here in the U.S. Something we didn’t have where I came from. You stayed with your family until you died. We didn’t know another way.
She looked past me out the driver’s window. “See that house?” She pointed to a small blue bungalow partially hidden behind white-flowered shrubs. “Me and my husband Carver lived there when the kids was little.” Down the street; that’s where my sister lived.” She looked away. “Dorothy got killed in a robbery ten or no…fifteen years ago.”
“Where’s the rest of your family? Your children?”
“All gone.” She shook her head. “Some of my boys in prison. One of my girls went out to California. Don’t know what happened to her. My other girl she had an overdose.”
I nodded and kept driving. I didn’t know what else to say.
“I couldn’t take my things with me,” she began explaining. “They said so, the people from the state. Furniture and such have to stay. Just take what you can in one suitcase,” she clarified, sounding every bit like a government official herself. I thought about the household goods I’d seen by the curb.
She leaned forward and looked out the window again. ‘My friend Gussie lived over there,” she said pointing to a vacant lot where a couple of old mattresses and a broken couch sprawled in short thick grass. She’s dead too. Going now to the home over there in the ward. Won’t be going anywhere once I get there you know. I have to stay there till I die.”
I looked at her face and her eyes were wet and teary.
“I wanted to say goodbye to everybody before I left.” She said it quietly, barely whispering.
“Is there some place you want me to take you?” I asked, suddenly realizing that she wouldn’t be coming back to this neighborhood again.
She didn’t answer me, so I kept on driving. When we reached a stop sign, she suddenly sat straight up and reached into the lining of her purse. She tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention and looked me in the eye. “I have a little money here nobody knows about. See?” She dug out a couple of bills that looked like two fifties. “Can we make a deal? You seem like a nice lady.”
“Yes,” I said it carefully, not sure, what she would want.
“Can you drive me around here until this money runs out? I just want to see everything one more time.” “No problem.” I told her.
And so, we drove around for the next hour. She pointed out the small littered park a few blocks away where her husband had proposed to her, the corner where her brother was shot and killed by the police, and the small cemetery where her mother was buried before the bodies were moved to god-knows-where.
As we circled the neighborhood, driving up and down the small streets with no sidewalks, she got more excited, talking rapidly in her careful little voice, pointing out the small markets with ripped awnings and burnt out lights where she’d shopped years ago and a few of the boarded up properties that hadn’t survived the fires that burned them down to chunks of charcoal. They were still the homes of friends and relatives, long since moved away or now dead, she believed, but wasn’t sure. “What happened to them all?” she asked me puzzled. “I’m the only one left.”
Suddenly she seemed overcome and exhausted. She sunk back in the seat and closed her eyes, snapping her purse closed. “I’m ready to leave now. It’s time to go,” she told me.
“Let’s go then,” I pulled away from the curb while she stared out the window. We drove across the Bridge and stopped at the address she had given me for the home on General Mayer Avenue. It was a small institutional building. Once it had been whitewashed, but now the color was a badly faded gray. Window shades the color of water-stained old yellow paper were closed against the sun and the light. Huddled in the small over-hang that served as a front porch awning, several old people sat tied to straight-backed chairs with thick ropes across their middles, their bodies leaned from side to side, either the left or right. They looked like strangely shriveled chess pieces waiting to be placed on the game board. They sat staring straight out at nothing. From what I could see wheelchairs were not an item anybody spent money on here.
I hurried around and unloaded her valise and then opened the passenger door for her. Her arm was nothing more than a brittle stick covered in a shiny blue serge sleeve that had seen too many years of Sundaybest wear.
“I guess we’re here,” I told her. Looking up, I saw one of the window shades closest to the front door pulled back and several faces peering through the dirty glass. Moments later a large black man, who looked like an old linebacker with a barrel tummy, barefoot, in old stained gray sweats waddled out to the porch. “Ms. Bourdine, is that you? Good afternoon. You’re here right on time. They’re bringing out the applesauce in a few.”
Mattie lowered her eyes. “Yes sir, that’s who I am.”
Without asking, he reached around me and grabbed the valise, tucking it under one of his beefy arms.
She looked back up at me and dug into her purse.
“Here Miss, this is for you, like I promised.”
“No, no that’s okay.” I backed away from her. “It’s not necessary. I was going to take a break anyway.”
“You sure? We Bourdines always pay what we owe,” she assured me.
“Really you don’t owe anything. I liked riding around with you.”
She smiled then making the lines around her mouth deepen. “God bless you and your loved ones.”
The man turned to look back at us as she stuck the bills in her purse. His watery eyes remained affixed to the cheap plastic bag she carried.
I moved closer to Mattie and winked. “Looks like maybe you were right, and I’ll take that money,” I told her.
Catching her eye and winking, I reached over and pretended to take the folded bills, thanking her in my loudest voice several times. She stared up at me at first confused, and then a knowing smile lit up her eyes and she shared the pleasure of our little con. For a few seconds in time she seemed to forget that life had condemned her to wait in this place for her death. “Of course, you know best young lady. You certainly are a pretty one. Cajun, are you?”
Then the light left her eyes as she looked pleadingly down the street again, looking for something that would stop time. Finally, she turned away and followed the man carrying her suitcase into the darkened building. The people sitting by the door did not look up.

Chapter Nine

There were always five or six other fighters at each of the prison locations preparing to fight. They didn’t pay much attention to me. I was too young, and shy, and inexperienced in the things that made up their world. But I found myself watching them together, secretly. I don’t know why I didn’t want them to see me staring at them. I couldn’t see myself in them, even after staring at them for so long.
They were older than I was, shorter in height, slenderer in build, their muscles tightly roped. When they weren’t training or fighting, they spent their time together huddled in one of the cells or in a corner of the yard, smoking cigarettes that the guards snuck them and telling dirty jokes. They were always talking about the sex they had with different women. When I got close enough to hear what they were talking about I blushed with embarrassment and hurried away. Sometimes, after they realized they’d embarrassed me, they started laughing and tried to drag me back to the group. I pushed them away and ran to find some place to be by myself.
After a while, I knew most of the fighters that fought in the prison circuit on a regular basis. They each had a couple of stories to tell in the company of their supporters; and they told them over and over again. Their stories were about whatever had gotten them locked up in the first place. They told the stories of their criminal activities and misdeeds with great pleasure and probably as I know now, a lot of exaggeration.
They all commiserated with each other saying that the system had been stacked against them since day one, and fantasized a slow, painful, and bloody death for police and judges who separated them from the life they used to know.
When they weren’t bragging about how much sex they had, how they were more dangerous than other thugs, or that they were there on a bogus rap, they talked about their horrible childhoods; neglect and abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction.
A good many of them had spent most of their life locked up. Being allowed to fight and live outside of the rest of the prison population was the best thing that had ever happened to them. They never really invited me to their inner circle, but they never objected when I stood on the outside and listened. I was lonely, but I’d never really had any friends and I didn’t know how to make friends. I just wanted to know that I wasn’t alone. At the time, those guys seemed like gods to me. They had committed criminal acts as evil as mine, some against women and children. Some had done these things several times over and they were proud of what they had done.
All of us fighters made the rounds of the prisons and some of the smaller arenas where admission was private. I watched all of my favorites train whenever I could, not because I wanted to memorize their fighting style and prepare to defeat them the way Angel wanted, but because watching the guys move around in the ring, sweat gleaming on their skin, their feet dancing and the slapping sound of skin striking skin, filled my head and made me long for something I could not explain.
After I started fighting on the circuit, my memory of the first killing started to come back more often and stay with me longer. If I closed my eyes and concentrated, I could see the utility closet and my supervisor’s face covered in blood.
But right now, the memory of the second killing is even clearer. The second time I killed, it was Cristiano. He told me we were going on a fighting tour, first to Thailand and then to the U.S. I was thrilled as we drove to a hotel to spend the night on the way out of the country. We were going on an airplane, and I was over the top with excitement
When Warden Cristiano stepped into the hotel room, he put down the luggage, sat another smaller leather bag on the bed, and opened the lock with a key. As I watched, he took out stack after stack of cash and dumped them on top of the plush bedspread.
“See this? My winnings from your fights and the others. I’ve saved almost all of it. It’s enough to start over if I want. I’ve been thinking about starting over lately, what it would be like to go someplace where nobody knows me, living like a king without any worries. For a while at least. I think about it every time I go home.” He shook his head and blinked his eyes. For a moment, he seemed to shrink, and his broad shoulders rounded. “You don’t know how hard it is to keep pretending,” he told me.
I stayed silent, partly because I didn’t understand what he meant, but mostly because I couldn’t take my eyes off the piles of money now covering most of the flowered velour. I remembered all the fights that I’d had just to keep from getting locked back up in the cage. My fights and the fights of the other fighters had earned him those piles of money. It wasn’t fair. It was wrong. I should have some of that money. I’d earned it.
More than earned it, I’d bled for it.
Cristiano looked off into space for another moment or two and then gathered up the piles of bills with a little smile and began arranging them carefully in his leather bag.
I watched every stack he inserted without looking away. When he finished, Cristiano looked up and nodded toward one of the large suitcases standing next to the small bar. “Take the blue one for your things, such as they are. It’s empty. I can’t have you traveling like a beggar with your clothes in a plastic sack. We’ll buy you some more clothes when we get out of here. If you go with me, you need to look a hell of a lot better than you do now.”
I hurried over and grabbed the empty blue suitcase and stuffed my sack carrying a few belongings inside. Cristiano turned on the television set and began unpacking his clothes and arranging them slowly in the three drawers of highly polished dresser. I sat in one of the expensive antique chairs and stared at the television set trying to concentrate.
The television was tuned to some spy movie. The hero was a young man and they were sending him to another country to follow a senior intelligence officer, whom they suspected of killing a few of their agents. The plot was too complicated to follow, and I was too nervous, but I watched with interest as they gave the young spy phony identification and he proceeded to take a taxi to the airport in London. There he bought a ticket with his identification to travel to the Middle East. Could it really be that easy to do? I felt my heart beginning to beat faster and my face begin to flush. I’d never been on an airplane, never thought of traveling anywhere where a plane trip was necessary and had no idea how to go about it. Cristiano was handling everything, the way he always did.
Cristiano closed the leather case and pushed it to the back of the small closet in the corner. I watched and then spoke up. “I think I should get some of that money for all of the fighting I did.”
Cristiano turned the handle and closed the closet door. He sounded shocked when he answered. “Give you money? Why would I give you money? You’re not a professional fighter. You were just lucky I picked you for this little venture. You must be crazy to ask for money. Do you know how many prisoners would have traded places with you? Just for one fight? One day out of the cage.”
I could hear my voice shaking. “Nobody else fights for free. Even the amateurs get paid. You took advantage of us so other people could make money.” I recited what I heard whispered by the other fighters, during the long nights while we waited for our chance to go in the ring. I looked down at the floor while I spoke. I didn’t tell him that I’d also heard that some of the guys I fought with did get a little money on the side from Cristiano. They were the older guys, the ones who knew how things worked. I’d listened, not quite sure I believed what they said, but now I was pretty sure it was true.
Cristiano began to undress. He stepped out of his uniform slacks and hung them neatly over a chair and then quickly stepped out of his shorts. I looked away and stared at the television set. Then he unbuttoned his shirt and pulled off his undershirt. “I’m going to take a nice relaxing shower. You might want to take one too.” He turned and began walking toward the bathroom.
He stopped at the doorway and looked back. He wasn’t smiling anymore, and his jaw was set in a hard line. “Let’s not forget who is in charge here. I took a lot of chances with you guys. I made sure to pay off the right people. Do you know how much organizing it took to make it all work? How many people I oversaw? If the wrong people found out, I’d lose my job and end up in the cage with you.”
His kept talking. His voice was harsh now. “I can’t believe you have the nerve to ask me for money. I’ve been waiting it out all this time and saving up what I could, putting up with every asshole that bet a few bucks and lost. Sometimes I couldn’t even take my cut if we were short on bets. I was the one who had to pay everybody off! I’ve been waiting to have enough to get out of here and now I have it. If you don’t like the way things are done, you’re welcome to leave! There’s plenty more where you came from. I really don’t give a fuck what you do. Just make up your mind and don’t ever ask me for money again.”
He stepped into the bathroom and turned on the shower. I followed him and stood in the doorway looking away from him and toward the ice blue marble shower wall. I tried not to look at him directly. His nakedness embarrassed me and at the same time drew me into the room toward him. It was his maleness I think, almost a fragrance, musky and salty at the same time. It seemed to fill the room. The heat radiated off his compact frame and the light brown color of his skin. The room was filling with a steamy mist that overflowed the shower stall in a cloud of white vapor. I watched the vapor drift up toward the ceiling as he stepped under the showerhead.
I sat down on the toilet and waited. I wasn’t sure why, but I couldn’t let go of the image of the stack of bills now put away in the closet. Some of that was mine. I’d earned him that money. How was I going to make him share it with me? Could I convince him to give me just some of it? Should I steal it and sneak away? No, they would find me and send me back. I’d die in that place. I watched the fuzzy outline of his body through the heavy marbled glass doors.
Cristiano suddenly pulled the shower doors apart and stepped to the front of the stall. “Take off your clothes and come in. You’ll feel better. You made a mistake with me, but I’m a forgiving kind of guy and I’ll forget.” He chuckled, “I’ll forget faster if I feel better, but that’s up to you. Just so, you know I own you now. You’d already be dead if I called it. You do what I tell you and we’ll get along just fine.”
Cristiano extended his right arm and grabbed my wrist. “Maybe you’d like to get wet with your clothes on.” He moved his hand further up my arm and gripped it harder, pulling me toward him. I jerked my arm back and his left foot lifted off the shower floor, making his unbalanced right foot slide on the wet tile.
His words rang over again in my head, “Just so you know, I own you.” I could feel my chest tighten and a warm flush begin at the bottom of my neck. I hated him, more than anybody I could think of; more than the man in the factory they said I’d killed.
I gave him a hard shove backward into the stall, kicked him squarely in the stomach, and then followed with two sharp blows to the throat. Cristiano fell back easily, surprised. His body bowed as he slipped to the ground, grabbing his throat; choking. I kicked him in the face and his head flew back striking the corner of the tile bench where an assortment of multi-color designer bottles held a good-size selection of shampoos and oils.
I heard his head striking the tile, a dull wetsounding thud, reminding me of the blackish rotted melons I hunted for after school in the garbage behind the restaurants in the ally. I pitched them at the other kids, aiming for the head, ducking and shrieking with laughter when they hit the gravel and concrete, exploding with a splattering sound.
Cristiano lay on the floor of the shower, blood running freely from his head and covering the tile floor. He made a few choking noises and then vomited into the bloody pool that was running down the drain, along with the water flowing from the shower head. He’d stopped making noise, but I could see he was still breathing so I stepped in carefully, grabbed his head between my hands and struck it several more times on the tile floor where he lay, turning his face to the floor so I would not see his eyes that stared straight ahead, wide open. My heart felt like it was coming out of my chest and I quickly closed the glass doors as if that would erase the picture I had just created and stepped out of the bathroom.
Everything in the hotel room was just the way it was a few moments ago; the sound of the shower was muffled, and Cristiano wasn’t lying on the shower floor bleeding on the other side of the door. Was it real? My arms ached and my hands were swollen.
On the television screen, people were boarding a large airliner. I sat down on the edge of the bed, my legs shaking, and each breath feeling like a knife stabbing me in the chest. I thought about the fat supervisor they said I’d killed at the factory.
The closet door was partially open and the bag that Cristiano had filled with money was sitting next to the opening. I stood up and brought it back to the bed where I dumped out the bundles of money. Some of it was my money I told myself. It wasn’t fair for him to have it and not give me my share. I figured most of the rest should have gone to the other fighters, but they weren’t here now, and I was.
I packed all the bundles into the bottom of my suitcase and pulled out the documents that Cristiano had made for me to travel. I tucked them back in my waistband and then I sat down again in one of the straight polished wooden chairs and tried to think. They’d come looking for Cristiano and find out what I’d done. I could see them coming for me now. They’d be here any minute and I’d go back and spend the rest of my life in that filthy prison.
I sat down on the bed staring dumbly at the television set, but nobody came. It seemed like hours passed while I sat and watched the door but looking back it was probably only minutes. I finally decided that I mind as well try to leave. Maybe I could get out before they came.
Cristiano’s wallet was lying next to the television. I hesitated a moment, almost expecting him to come running out of the bathroom. Then I opened it and pulled out all the bills. I didn’t count them, but it looked like a lot of money to me, certainly more than I’d ever seen in my lifetime. I rolled up what I’d taken and pushed the wad of money deep into my pants pocket.
I looked around the room again. The only sounds were the television and the softly running water from the shower. Then I opened the door and peered out into the corridor. There was no one there, so I closed the door behind me and walked over to the elevator, my heart hammering away. I took the elevator down to the first floor, remembering the way I had come up.
Cristiano said we were going to Thailand. Well, I wasn’t going with him any longer, but why couldn’t I buy my own ticket and go with the money I had? I could use the documents he’d had made for me to do it. Could I do it? I asked myself over and over.
The lobby was mostly deserted at that early hour. There were only a handful of taxicab drivers sitting and smoking at the far end of the lobby by the door. As soon as I walked toward them, three of them jumped up. “Need a ride?” “Going to the airport?”
We walked to the front of the hotel where lines of taxis and busses were parked, their drivers lounging in front of the vehicles, talking, and smoking. A few drank what looked like beer from plastic cups. We stopped in front of one of the parked cabs and the driver reached for my suitcase, but I grabbed it away and held it tightly.
“I guess you don’t want it in the trunk?”
“No, I can carry it myself,” I told him.
He shrugged and opened the back door. I slid inside, my heart starting to beat hard again. I’d never ridden in a cab before. This one looked older than the others, but it was pretty clean. The seats were ripped, but there was no trash covering the floor, like in the vans that they used to take us to the fights. The entire cab smelled like mint and I saw that the cab driver was chewing gum rapidly, moving his jaws in a circular motion, stopping after every few chews to cough and wipe the back of his mouth. After he was finished doing that, he lifted the brim of his hat and scratched his forehead.
“We’ll be in the airport in a couple of minutes,” he assured me. I watched him chew and wipe his mouth as we pulled through traffic, passing the small encampments of people huddled along the perimeters of the airport, scavenging through trash for anything they could recycle. I stared at the dirty shabbily dressed children and wondered how I’d ended up sitting inside a cab looking out at them.
As soon as we passed the entrance to the airport, he turned around and asked me where I was going.”
I answered remembering what Cristiano had told me. “Bangkok, Thailand,” I told him, swallowing because my mouth was dry, and I felt like I was choking.
“Okay so we’re going to Philippine Airlines.” He sped up and pulled around another car easing us next to the curb. The driver of the car behind us slammed on his brakes, rolled down his window and cursed in a language I didn’t understand. At the same time, he shook his fist and then pounded it into the palm of his hand.
My driver laughed and extended his middle finger. “Okay, you’re here now.” He stopped the cab, turned around and stuck out his hand. I stared back at him still shaking from his driving maneuver, not understanding what to do next.
“It’s time for you to pay me. See that?” He pointed to some numbers behind a plastic window mounted on his dashboard. The plastic was so scratched and cloudy that I could hardly see the numbers, but I understood that I had to pay, so I reached in my pocket and pulled out the first bill in my roll.
The driver took it from me, his eyes opening wide in surprise as he turned it over and studied it. “I don’t have change for this. Did you see how much you gave me?”
I was already out of the cab and I shook my head, not understanding again, walking away as fast as I could without looking back. I didn’t know how much
I’d given him, but since he didn’t ask for more, I guessed I was okay. Besides, I had plenty more.
The driver called out after me as I took off at a running speed. “Come back! Wait for your change.”
I half-ran along the outside of the terminal, following the signs to Philippine Airlines, making my way between groups of red-faced tourists in Hawaiian shirts and baggy shorts and the brown-skinned men and women, who pushed brooms and mops along the airport corridors.
A blast of cool air hit me full on when I stepped inside the terminal. I stood back and watched the counter where the Philippine Airlines section dominated a large section at the rear of the terminal. A pretty, young, Pilipino woman in a blue uniform, with a long black ponytail, stood behind the counter smiling and waiting on the line of people in front of the counter. One by one, they spoke with her. Some handed her documents and were handed something back and some handed her suitcases that she set on a long rolling belt that moved them away from the counter. I decided that the travelers were sending the suitcases to the same place that they were going. I watched their transactions for nearly half an hour before I decided that I understood enough to make one of my own.
I stepped in line behind the person directly in front of the counter, reached inside my shirt for my documents, and fingered the roll of bills in my pocket. I kept my suitcase close to my body. I’d noticed that some of the people did not put their suitcases on the rolling belt but carried them with them and I’d decided to do the same.
When I reached the front of the line the pretty woman gestured me to move up closer. “Where are you headed? Do you have a ticket?” “Bangkok Thailand. No, I don’t have a ticket.”
“Travel documents, please.”
I handed her the packet of papers uncertainly, still a little warm and sweat smelling where they’d rested against my skin. She fingered through them looking bored, stamped something, and handed them back to me. “You need to purchase your ticket,” she said and began to pick at her long red nails. “What credit card are you using?”
I shook my head not sure of how to answer. My heart had started beating fast again and I looked behind me expecting to see the police coming to arrest me any second.
“Well if you are paying cash, I need this amount. You need to pay what’s on the receipt.” Her nails clicked away on the keys below the machine in front of her and she handed me a long thin paper receipt while she flicked back a strand of black hair with her manicured nails. I stared at the number on the bottom unsure of what to do, but then remembered my taxi ride and handed her three of the bills at the top of my roll.
She looked up surprised, as she shuffled through them, running her eyes over my body as if deciding whether to accept the money. I looked over my shoulder again anxiously, but nobody was watching us. She shrugged and handed me a printed cardboard ticket in a paper folder and some more bills. “Here’s your change. Your seat number is printed on the top righthand corner and I’m not checking your bag, so you’ll
have to carry it on board. Any questions?” I said “no,” and looked around confused.
In an annoyed voice she pointed down the corridor to the right. “Your plane leaves in two hours and fortyfive minutes from Gate Seven. Don’t you read?” She looked over my shoulder at the people standing behind me; a young couple with two small children and a crying baby in a stroller. “Next,” she called out.
I hurried past the rows of seats where people sat packed together, some talking in low voices, some sleeping. Families were eating food they’d brought with them in paper bags, children sitting in the floor at their feet. Everywhere there were suitcases, most of them cheap looking and falling apart. Some were belted or tied together with rope. My suitcase was new and expensive, and I clutched it with a death grip, suddenly appreciating the amount of money I was carrying, money that would take me away from here.
I arrived at the departure gate and stood leaning against the wall because there were no seats, still waiting for someone to come and arrest me. But nobody spoke to me or paid any attention to me whatsoever. I finally got up my nerve to sit on the floor with the rest of the people who weren’t lucky enough to get a seat and I waited.
And just like the woman at the counter told me; forty-five minutes later I watched the plane I was to board, land right before my amazed eyes. These eyes now belonged to a guy named Rodel Andrade. His name was on my ticket. Then I followed a straggling line of people on board, all headed for Thailand.

Chapter Ten

It was December 1989 when I landed in Bangkok and it was 102 degrees outside. It was the first of six Christmases that I spent in that country. Each Christmas I looked back at the past year and marveled at the strange and winding path my life was taking.
Of course, knowing I had all that money with me, made me feel more secure. It was a good amount; just like Cristiano said, enough to start over, to start a new life. I guarded it carefully, not sure yet what I was going to do with it. To support myself I began looking for a job the first day I was there. I’d already started down the path leading to cheap labor thanks to my mother.
After asking around, I found myself a low rent room to live where many of the younger Thai workers stayed, near the Nana Entertainment Plaza, the largest sex complex in the world. The complex housed the city’s bars, dance clubs, hotels, and sex tours. The money poured into the Plaza from tourists coming from Europe, Japan, Germany, and the U.S. The biggest money makers I learned were the white-collar sex package tours that promised the corporate types from other countries unlimited girls, and unlimited sex for reasonable prices.
I found a job washing dishes and mopping and cleaning the kitchen in one of the hotels in City Center. After a few months, I worked my way up to bussing tables when one of the regular bus boys didn’t come to work. They paid a little extra for that, and if I wanted to wash dishes, I could work an extra shift.
I saved every penny I didn’t absolutely need to live on, splurging only on a few slinky dresses and pink high heels, which I wore alone in my room, studying my reflection in the mirror. I was lonelier here than when I was fighting, and I kept waiting for someone to come after me because of what I’d done.
Almost a year later I was in the employee’s small locker room, changing back into my shorts and tank top and hanging up the white smock I wore when I worked. Polly, one of the janitors, who cleaned the kitchen, came in and started undressing next to me. I looked up in surprise. Women never came in here. They had their own dressing room. When she saw me watching she straightened up, pursed her lips and stuck her hand on her hip. “Is there a problem if I change here? There’s no room down the hall. Nothing I have should surprise you anyway.”
I shrugged and looked away. As usual, I didn’t quite understand the meaning of the sarcasm. But a moment later, I happened to look over at her after she slipped out of her underwear and saw to my shock that she had a penis, but no balls. I stopped dressing and stared; my mouth open.
Poly was round and soft with dimples and perfectly styled blonde hair. Girly. But she wasn’t a girl. Even with her dick taped down the way it was, I was impressed, and I kept staring. I guess she felt me watching and turned to face me.
“I look pretty real without them. Don’t I?” She began pulling a tight blouse over her head but kept one eye on me as I stared red-faced at the space between her legs.
“I’m in process,” she said matter-of-factly. “Pretty soon all of this ugly stuff will be gone. I don’t know how it got here anyway. It certainly doesn’t belong to me!” She laughed heartily and began to brush her hair away from her face, fastening it into a ponytail.
“You’re not…,” I began and felt my voice choke up.
“I’m as good as.” She answered. “I’ve been working on this for a long time. This didn’t happen
overnight. Don’t you think I’m pretty?”
I nodded mutely. “How did you…?”
“Well you need a good doctor for one thing, and it costs lots of money. My old man paid for this. If you’re interested, I can tell you the name of my doctor, but you can’t afford what I have if you’re working here.”
I could feel my skin begin to flush and a cold sweat start to run down my back while I pictured the piles of bills I had hidden away. “Yes, tell me your doctor’s name. Please tell me.”
She pulled her shoulders back and laughed, then reached into a pink polyester bag covered with small white beads. After digging around for a moment, she pulled out a business card printed on slick gray cardboard and handed it to me.
I pocketed the card and mumbled “thank you.” Then I hurried through the streets back to my room without stopping and climbed the stairs two at a time. I set the card down on my dresser and pulled out the sack with my money. I counted it again, just as I did from time to time. Then I set the sack back into the partition I’d dug out behind the wall in the closet.
I was pretty sure there was enough money to change me into the person I was supposed to be, enough money to fix it so that I would never have to look in the mirror and see a man’s face staring back at me.
Well, now you know the result. Yes, I went through with it; sex reassignment. I started with hormone replacement therapy and watched as the injections slowly triggered the changes in my body. Muscles softened and curves developed where there had been only angles. I had my Adam’s apple shaved down so it was no longer sticking out, and then a series of electrolysis treatments to remove any excess hair. Good thing I was light on body and face hair. I followed that with breast augmentation and was lucky enough to be able to pick a nice-size implant because I had a larger frame.
It was a long lonely time while I transitioned, but lucky for me I, was in a place where I was encouraged and praised as I erased my manhood. There were so many others who’d come to Thailand to make the same change and escape the horror of living in the wrong body.
Like I said, all that time I kept waiting for something to happen, for somebody to recognize me and call me out, but nobody did. After a few years passed, I started checking newspapers from back home. I finally located one in the library archives that said Cristiano died of a heart attack. The article said a wife and four children survived him. I breathed a little more deeply, but never stopped looking over my shoulder.
As more time passed, I started dressing like a woman when I wasn’t working in the restaurant. I grew out my hair and taught myself to put on make-up. I went out on dates with some of the tourists I met, practicing very hard at being feminine.
When I saw other families together, I remembered Angel, and thought about my own father. I’d found my birth certificate when I was going through my mother’s things looking for money to steal. His name was Theodore Holmes, and I wanted to meet him. I pictured him as a rich businessman living in a big estate somewhere in the U.S.
Besides, nothing was happening for me in Bangkok. I didn’t see myself getting old cleaning off tables in the same cheap tourist restaurant or hustling
American tourists for dinners, and drinks. No, I didn’t want to end up like my mother.
They said there was every kind of opportunity in the U.S. So, I sent for my birth certificate, and paid an old man, who was a known forger, to change the sex from “male” to “female” on the “live birth part,” and copy the official government stamp.
Then, as an American citizen, courtesy of my father, I got my travel documents and stepped on a plane one day heading for the United States. I didn’t start out planning to go to Louisiana. First, I thought about New York or even Los Angeles, but I heard it was expensive to live in those places and they said people got killed every day on the streets. I finally picked Louisiana because my birth certificate said my father was born there, and they said the weather was warm.
On a sticky and steamy Saturday in 1995, when Bill Clinton was President, I landed at the Louis Armstrong International Airport located in St. Charles Parish New Orleans. At that time, it was still called Moisant Field. They later changed the name in 2001. There was a big celebration and most of the police department turned out for the ceremony. But most of the white people weren’t happy with the name change.
Getting off the plane that Saturday, I checked out the people waiting to greet the arriving passengers and saw that more than half of them were black or of some mixed race, and most of them looked poor to me.
They yelled out loudly to everybody exiting the plane, using words I really didn’t understand, even though I supposed they were English. For some reason I felt relieved; they were more like the people I’d lived with all my life and less like the snotty American tourists that I’d seen every day in the hotels and restaurants in Bangkok.
I followed the line of passengers off the plane as they entered the waiting area. The sound was joyous, everyone happy to be reunited again. I pushed past them, on my own as always.
After taking the escalator down to the ground floor, I hurried along dragging my two carry-on suitcases and sat down at the end of a row of chairs trying to figure out what to do next. Everybody had some place to go, a home and people who cared about them. I told myself this was no different from back home or anywhere else, but I could feel the panic setting in, and anger at something I couldn’t see.
“You new here?”
I turned toward the sound of the voice. The accent was heavy, but the voice was wispy and light.
“What?” I looked up in surprise expecting to see a woman sitting down next to me. Instead, it was a man who looked to be in his late thirties, with a dark complexion and large brown eyes that bulged in his pointed face. His hair curled in damp oily-looking ringlets and he wore a brown argyle vest that hung from his skinny shoulders and shiny checked pants that were too long and frayed at the bottom. I noticed that a small pocketbook hung over his shoulder on a gold-plated chain that was mostly worn down to gray metal. For a moment, I forgot that I was feeling sorry for myself and stared back at his big bug eyes.
“Just sayin lady, you look kind of lost to me.” His tone was matter of fact and his jaw moved up and down rapidly snapping gum.
I shook my head “no,” and looked down. Since he was a stranger, I became immediately shy. This wasn’t Bangkok anymore.
“Where you from?” He persisted, leaning back against the seat and bearing down on his chewing gum.
“Thailand.” I gave him a one-word answer hoping that he would get up and leave.
“Really? I’m not sure where that is. Europe?” He responded with more enthusiasm than I’d heard in a long time. “What are you doing here? Do you have family or something? Well, you’re a looker. I’ll say that for you.”
I smiled back. I still liked to hear that I was pretty.
“What’s your name?”
“Genie Holmes,” I told him, thinking of my father.
“My name’s Rory Major Breaux. Nice to meet you. Where you headed?”
“Well…I’m not sure, I guess. First I need to find a place to live and a job before I do anything else.”
I looked past him at well-dressed men walking by, some very nice-looking, hurrying past in business suits, carrying brief cases and saw that their eyes were focused straight ahead as they headed toward their destination.
Not one of them even looked my way. I looked down at my trim blue skirt and my newest white blouse and felt my cheeks redden. Maybe I should have worn something sexier since I was in the U.S. Maybe I just didn’t look real enough here, even though I had in Bangkok. Or it could be they thought I was with this little guy sitting next to me.
I turned back to Rory who had inched closer and was studying me carefully. I wanted to tell him to get lost. He certainly wasn’t good-looking, and he looked poor too, dressed in hand-me-down clothes. A poor man wasn’t any use to me now. Maybe things were different here, but where I came from, men who had jobs were usually at work in the middle of the day. Otherwise, they were losers hanging around like this guy, hustling whomever they could.
I stood up and checked the ticket I was holding. The one suitcase I’d checked was waiting on the ground floor.
“Good-bye,” I mumbled in Rory’s direction and started to hurry away. I tripped, caught my heel and fell flat on my face, hitting my knee hard. I reached out and grabbed on to one of the chairs, red with embarrassment.
“Are you okay?” Rory bent over me immediately. He confronted two old ladies sitting at the end of the row who were staring at me wide-eyed, sprawled on the stained airport carpet. “What you two bitches looking at?”
I got up quickly, with Rory at my elbow and hurried the rest of the way following the arrows. Rory stayed close on my heels. As I turned the corner, I saw a few groups of people sitting around circular counters. As I got closer, I saw that the airport had a bar just like the one in Bangkok. My throat felt suddenly dry and I looked in the direction of the few empty seats.
“I’ll buy you a drink, if you want.” Rory said hopefully.
I turned around and looked at him. I wanted to get rid of Rory, but a nice drink that I didn’t have to pay for myself, sounded good right then.
“Ok.” I ordered a Margarita, because it seemed more ladylike than ordering a shot the way I usually did. Rory ordered something that came with a paper umbrella stuck in the middle of the glass. I watched him count out a few dollars from a thin shredding billfold. “Thanks.” I told him.
I downed my drink in a few sips and felt myself revive as the cool liquid trickled down to my stomach. Rory sipped his drink and turned the little paper umbrella carefully inside the glass. He finally looked up at me blinking his bug eyes rapidly. “I just wanted to say I think you look real good and all and I wanted to meet you.” He swallowed hard and looked down again. “Sometimes I come here and meet new people who come into town.”
“Here at the airport?”
“Sure,” he answered. “I meet people at the bus station too, but that’s usually on the weekends because the airport is too crowded.”
I set my glass back down on the bar and stood up. None of this made any sense and I was suspicious of anybody who was trying so hard to get to know me. It was time to move on.
Rory stood up too. “Do you need a lift? I have a car”
I stopped and looked at him again.
“Look, I’m just trying to help you out.” Rory shifted his weight to the balls of his feet and ducked his head. I couldn’t keep from staring at his protruding eyes.
“You’re not my type though,” he informed me. “You do look good, but I really like guys; the strong masculine type, you know. I just wanted to check you out. See you up close. I bet a lot of guys don’t know. But I can always tell. Anyway, you’re way too feminine for around here. You can bet you won’t have much competition.”
I wasn’t sure whether I’d been complemented or not. I didn’t like the fact that he saw through me so easily. Rory walked with me to claim my suitcase; the one that I’d taken from Cristiano before leaving the Philippines and acknowledged that it was a designer brand with a loud whistle, “Wow that cost somebody some green. No designer bags down here.”
I looked around at the carousel and the other suitcases traveling around were mostly banged-up cardboard or cheap faded nylon.
He moved in closer and whispered, “So what do you do to earn your money?”
I didn’t answer right away. Working in hotels and restaurants might not be considered much of anything. But then I looked up at Rory’s threadbare faded vest and worn out polyester pants and decided he wasn’t looking too good himself, so it didn’t matter. Mostly the gays I’d seen dressed well, so they could attract partners. Appearance was everything from what I’d heard. If that was the case, this guy was probably lonely.
“I worked in restaurant,” I told him. For a moment, I considered telling him about my fighting, but shut out the thought. Even though it gave me bragging rights and it would impress him, it was far too dangerous. People had a way of finding things out.
“Want that ride? Offer’s still good.”
I told him I did need a ride, but the question was to where exactly?
“I need to find a place to live first,”
Rory considered. “Well I can help you with that too.” He motioned me over to a bank of seats near the exit and put a coin into a newspaper dispenser. “Here you go. This is where you look for an apartment.” He opened the Times Picayune with a flourish and folded it back after thumbing through the sections. “How much money do you have?” he asked in an off-hand way.
“Why?” I answered.
“Well that will tell you where you can live.” He looked at me strangely. “It’s that way all over isn’t it?” I thought about where I’d lived with my mother and Florencia and shifted nervously. “I can afford a nice place,” I told him. My voice sounded defensive even to myself.
“Well then you can look in this section.” Rory pointed a carefully filed index finger toward the middle of the page.
I stared at the listings shocked. “People pay this much for rent here. Is everybody rich?”
He laughed and smoothed back his hair. “No sister. Nobody’s rich. Those rents aren’t high. Really. If you’re looking for high rent, you need to look around the Quarter. These are just average. If you’re looking for lower, look over here at Saint Charles Parish or for really low, look around Mid-City or North Rampart or near the Basin Street Projects.” He pointed at the bottom corner of the last page of ads.
“Do you live around there,” I asked.
“Oh me? Well I guess you could say that. Right now, I’m staying at my sister’s place. She lives in the Basin Street Projects. Her check stretches further there.
Right now, she’s away though. Won’t be out for a couple of years or so. So, I rent out the other bedroom.”
My curiosity returned and I put down the folded paper. “So where do you work?”
Rory scratched the few straggly hairs on his chin and looked beyond me at the cabs and buses pulling away from the curb. “You can say I have my own
business. I work for myself.”
“So, what do you do?” I was starting to feel uncomfortable again. I wasn’t good at this kind of small talk.
“Well everybody here is in the tourist business you could say. I call it the entertainment business myself. I just want to make sure everybody here has a good time, you know.”
I started to close the paper and fold it back up. “You still haven’t told me what you do.”
“Well it’s like this; some people come here, and they want to see the town and have a good time, but they want to, you know, be with certain other people.” “What do you mean?”
“You know, they want to be with people like you, so I fix them up. You could call me a matchmaker, I guess. Of course, I do other things. You know how it is. You got to diversify to make it these days. I even do a little work for the government sometimes,” he mumbled as an afterthought.
“People like me…?” I repeated. I’d stopped listening after I heard that.
“Well you know some men come here and they want to get down for real. You know they want to be…. well, who they want to be, do what they can’t do at home and be with someone different. You get it?”
I did get it and thought back to the last year of my life in Bangkok. There hadn’t been many men. I told myself that I wasn’t like the sloppy drunk trannies or the ladyboys who shared the streets with me. But the prospect of coming all the way here to find men who would buy me meals and give me a little money when we finished in bed, made me feel as if I’d stepped backwards, instead of going forward.
It wasn’t the only thing which upset me, Rory knew who I was just by looking at me. I thought about asking him what gave me away but decided I really didn’t want to know. I’d just have to try harder, pull out all the stops. Everybody at the hotels always told me I was good looking, and good-looking women always have a ticket in life.
I opened the paper again and pointed to a listing of rentals in the North Rampart and Mid-City areas. The prices were a lot lower than in the other section of the rental ads. “These look okay.” I told him.
Rory dug in his pocket and pulled out a broken pencil and I began circling apartments he pointed to. “These places are cheap cause there’s stuff going down here all the time. Drugs you know, other stuff too. People making money any way they can. That’s how it is. Most of these apartments get government subsidy. It’s kind of rough,” he told me. “But it’s a good deal till you start making some money or find somebody to take care of you.” “Besides,” he continued, “you won’t make any good connections living on the bougie side. You know it’s all about the connections, who can hook you up with what you need.”
By then we were already driving away from the airport in his 1970’s black Ford Escort with the peeling paint, the crashed-in rear bumper, the four bald spare tires that he said he planned to replace in a week, and the torn upholstery that reminded me of how I’d traveled when I was fighting. I slid in across the driver’s side, because the passenger door didn’t open. I thought about Cristiano’s beautiful Mercedes that we’d ridden to the hotel and I shivered.
Rory took me to look at several apartment complexes in neighborhoods that had vacancies. The neighborhoods were like those back home; row after row of crumbling buildings, housing semi-abandoned apartments, which backed-up onto trash-strewn alleys.
The apartments where people still lived all had barred windows. The empty apartments were boarded up with large pieces of wood nailed across both doors and windows. Rory explained that the bars were put up to try and keep out the squatters and the people who wanted to use the apartments for dope houses. “The dope houses are still here though,” he assured me. “You can get whatever you want if you can pay for it.” He looked me up and down, his eyes stopping to rest on my chest where my perfectly fitted implants strained against my blouse. “Some people get what they want for free you know.”
Everywhere I looked unkempt children in ragged clothes played in the cracked cement driveways and in the parking areas that housed more broken-down cars that looked like Rory’s. They chased each other dragging parts of broken toys and an assortment of objects that looked like they were hauled out of the trash.
Older girls in skimpy clothes jumped rope with lengths of metal chain and groups of teenage boys sat huddled in corners, aimlessly smoking, passing a bottle, or playing dice. Women in unbuttoned housecoats and slippers or dirty tee-shirts and sweatpants, with their hair still not combed, sat out in front of their doors smoking and drinking out of tall cans, occasionally moving toward the railings to scream at the children playing below.
Here and there, in the broken cement, a few spots of green straggly grass struggled to grow, reaching up toward the hot steamy air. After the third apartment, I was ready to give up. The small box-like rooms were dirty and needed painting. The linoleum was cracked; the carpets filthy and ripped and the bathtubs and sinks were rusted and needed a good cleaning to get rid of the black scum. Most of the apartments had no refrigerator or stove. Roaches and other bugs I didn’t recognize scurried about everywhere. I thought about my clean room in Bangkok and debated whether to look for a better apartment and pay a higher rent.
The sun was starting to go down so Rory suggested that we grab a drink. He stuck to me like glue. Indignant, he snorted and tossed his head, when I suggested that I could find an apartment on my own. He drove to a small bar off a side street on the edge of the lower Ninth Ward. There was no front entrance, so we had to walk down the block and ring a bell that was set into a wall besides a loading dock. “They have it like this so nobody can just walk in and rob the place,” he explained.
The bar was packed. Two dogs, scarred and mangy, walked around from table to table begging for scraps, stopping every so often to pee on a table leg. A small boy, about six years old, sat at the bar drawing a picture of his mother as she served drinks to the people sitting there. His mother, a thin prematurely old woman, with stringy blond hair and missing teeth, squinted in the smoky light, occasionally looking over at her son as he bent over the counter, and refilled his paper plate with greasy looking popcorn.
At the south side of the bar, tables were laid out and half eaten bowls of gumbo sat on their wet sticky surfaces, sloshing over their plastic bowls, as people bumped against the tabletops in passing.
The walls vibrated with the voice of Larry Graham singing One in A Million You. His voice reached down into the emptiness in my heart. All around, people were yelling and arguing. For the most part, they were darkskinned, but their features suggested the mixture of a whole lot of other races.
I remembered that someone in Bangkok told me that New Orleans was a non-stop party. Even though I wasn’t part of the people drinking and having a good time, I didn’t feel as alone. It reminded me of how I used to stand back and watch the other fighters in the circuit while they traded laughs and insults, even though they never included me. In Bangkok I’d stayed away from anything or anybody that had to do with fighting, in part because I didn’t want anybody poking around in my business, seeking out my identity, but mostly because I felt inside that if they knew who I was they wouldn’t really accept me either.
So, after a few more drinks, I got back in the car and Rory and I looked at a few of the apartments we’d circled. Then he told me he needed a roommate, somebody clean. No record. Somebody who wouldn’t rob him blind when he left the apartment. He already had one roommate, a drag queen named Lucy, who turned tricks and who might or might not be going off to prison for selling drugs. He explained that she was usually out in the street so she wouldn’t be any problem. I could sleep on the couch for free until her sentencing.

Chapter Eleven

By that time, I was too exhausted to argue with Rory. I told myself that it would only be for a little while, until I could afford one of those expensive apartments I’d seen listed, without spending any more of my stolen savings. By nine o’clock, that night, I’d moved myself and my suitcases into his apartment located in what he called the “Second Ward,” and which he said the locals called “Back of Town.”
Rory explained that the crumbling brick barracklike apartments lining the streets for blocks, covered with both finely lettered and hastily scrawled gang graffiti, were now called the TS Hanson Apartments, and we were up the street from the Super Dome anyway. Rory stated with pride that the apartments were out of the view of law enforcement.
His apartment was cluttered, but not too dirty, even though the carpet was stained, and the walls needed painting. There were a few pieces of cheap furniture and a small stove and refrigerator in the tiny kitchen. Rory put my suitcases in one of the small bedrooms under an unmade bed covered in a red tiger print spread. That was Lucy’s room.
Throughout the evening, young men dressed in baggy shirts that bulged at the hip, outlining their handguns, sagging pants, and expensive sneakers, drifted in and out of the apartment. Sometimes women dressed in short tight clothes and very high heels came with them. I sat and watched TV on the small portable set in the living room with my legs crossed primly, glancing around every so often. Rory took most of them to the back bedroom “to talk,” and they never stayed more than a few minutes. He introduced me to all of them, calling me his “beautiful new friend,” while telling them he had just met me. They all seemed to have strange names like “Strangler, and “Big Dog,” that meant nothing to me.
I saw one or two trannies in colorful flimsy clothes, trailing scarves that were carefully wrapped around their necks, follow Rory to the back room, and one large black man, easily over six foot four, wearing a woman’s blouse and slacks and wedge shoes. I noticed that Rory locked the door to the back bedroom every time he left, and he tucked the key hanging on a pink ring deep into the pocket of his baggy pants. When I asked him about it, he said that he was protecting his property, but when he went to the bathroom I peeked in and all I could see besides the piles of covers falling off the bed was a makeshift dresser that leaned crazily on three legs.
Rory pointed out two tall young black men who didn’t look more than sixteen. He told me, that they were from the dominant gang in that project called City Krew. He said that they usually hung out in the alcoves facing the alleys that separated the apartment buildings from each other.
“They’re okay.” He assured me. “Mostly they just deal smack. They usually don’t get it from me though.
They’d rather get their stuff from other gangsters and re-sell it on the streets. But they made a big bust the other day and this place has been dry except for the stuff I have.”
I tried to grasp everything he was saying, nothing of which I’d heard or seen before. There were plenty of heroin addicts where I grew up. You sometimes tripped over them as they lay dying in the dirty gutters from an overdose or they followed you on the street begging for change. But the drug dealers did not roam around openly dealing in the poor neighborhood where I’d lived. If they were bold enough to sell in the open, they risked getting locked up for the rest of their life.
Of course, there were plenty of drugs in Bangkok if you were interested. But the area of the city where I lived and the surrounding hotels and bars specialized in mostly sex trade, the kind that was usually illegal in other places. I didn’t remember anybody asking me where they could find drugs, but I did remember them asking me if I knew a place that specialized in providing seven-year-old girls.
“Aren’t you afraid of getting caught selling drugs?” I asked Rory. You would think I would be afraid, myself, just being around it. But I think I found it exciting. It wasn’t like pounding someone into the ground with my fists, but exciting just the same.
Rory smiled a little when I asked and shifted his weight. He looked down at his shoes and unconsciously rubbed each shoe against his pant legs. His old alligator shoes were scuffed, the leather was peeling away, and the heels were worn down almost completely since Rory was pigeon-toed.
“I’ve got people looking out for me,” he said. “Important people. I sell mostly to the same crowd, like the ones, you saw in here. The crews usually won’t touch them. They’d as soon as shoot them. Don’t know why. Their money’s as good as anybody else’s. Not likely to rob you either. Most of them aren’t even strapped. Gangsters think they’re freaks, but the people you saw in here won’t buy from anybody else. I take good care of them.’
He lowered his voice. “These days I got a special mixture. Nobody else selling these bundles, speedballs, coke and heroin. Double the price. Don’t you worry,” he added with pride. “Guess you’re wondering if I use too.”
I told him I hadn’t thought of that, not yet.
“Never, not once in my life!” He wagged his finger still pointed at me. “You’ve got to be a weak ignorant fool to do drugs. One thing I’ve never been is a stupid motherfucker. I leave that to my brothers and sisters who have no control. Only a loser would let something control them in this world. A man’s gotta keep his head on straight. You can’t be on the lookout for opportunity if your head fucked up.”
“You just watch,” he added, “Long as you’re around you’ll never see me taking any shit, free or not. I’m one clean machine. You can put your money on that.”
By two o’clock in the morning, the foot traffic stopped, and I remembered years back, waiting sleepily for my mother’s last customer to leave for the night. Maybe that’s why his apartment seemed so familiar. So much like the only home I remembered.

Chapter Twelve

All of life can be summed up by two short words, “what if?” What if I’d behaved in school and didn’t cause so much trouble? I wouldn’t have ended up working in the factory where I’d killed a man. What if I’d stayed in Bangkok, working in the kitchen the rest of my life? What if I hadn’t had the operation that changed me forever? What if I’d dumped Rory as soon as I saw the kind of life he led? What if I didn’t take up with Raleigh?
So, I settled in on Rory’s couch with the promise of Lucy’s room as soon as she went off to prison and as soon as I could pay rent. Even though I didn’t have any game plan, my life began meandering down another path. Because of the late-night traffic, Rory didn’t wake up before three or four o’clock to start his day. I tried to be as quiet as possible while I showered and put on my make-up. As soon as he was awake, Rory liked to help me figure out what outfit to wear. After getting dressed, I returned to the couch and tried to figure out what to do next.
One of his customers, Pinky, a bulky Albino man, with a barrel chest atop a short squat body, drove a cab part time around Jackson Square. He told me somewhat grudgingly, that they were looking for drivers. He said you could work as much or as little as you liked. He pointed out that he worked only enough to keep himself loaded and he was doing just fine.
Since I didn’t know how to drive, I asked Rory if he thought I could buy into some of his supply of dope and see if I could get my own customers and sell it myself.
Rory immediately responded by yelling and cursing and demanding to know if I was trying to take over his territory. I hastily tried to explain that I wasn’t trying to do any of those things because I had no idea how things worked. He calmed down a little and sat back down on the couch, but kept yelling in a loud blustery voice; “Do you want to get shot? Do you? You’re too classy to do that shit!” He slammed down the rolled-up newspaper that he’d used to kill flies. “Here there’s a whole section with available jobs. Everybody’s hiring. Check it out!”
I spent the rest of the morning stumbling through the job ads. The reality was there was nothing I was qualified to do except restaurant work. It seemed like a big letdown. I folded up the newspaper and faced Rory, “I don’t want to do that kind of work anymore. I came all the way here to start a new life.”
“Well then,” Rory shrugged his shoulders and eased closer. “Remember what I said yesterday? I can introduce you to people. They’ll make it worth your while, especially those politicians up there all high and mighty. Those old white men just love someone like you and if they can keep it on the down low so much the better.”
“I don’t want to do that either,” I snapped. “You just said I had too much class to do what you do, didn’t you?”
“Maybe you have too much class to sling dope, but pussy’s another thing. No women or man that I know has too much class to earn their living using what God gave them.” He lowered his eyes and ran them over my body; “In your case it’s not what God gave you, it’s what you went and got for yourself. But I’m wondering,” he squinted. “How’d you get enough money for all that working in restaurants? If you tell me your tricks paid for it all then you’re wasting your time doing anything else.”
“Not with tricks. I had a boyfriend. He paid,” I lied. That was a mistake. Immediately Rory began slamming me with questions about this invented boyfriend. Who was he? How did he make his money? Was he with me when I was all male?
To discourage him from asking any more questions I undressed and showed him just how female I was. He had nothing to say, but I could see by how his eyes bugged out even more, that he was very impressed. Learning to lie well can keep you out of all kinds of trouble. I know that personally. I’m good, but there are better. I’ve witnessed first-hand champion liars in uniform, take the stand, justify random shootings of innocent people, and give testimony about a gun that appeared magically out of thin air at the site of a body full of bullet holes.
So, Rory bought my story and even seemed impressed that I’d persuaded a man to spend so much money on me. When Pinky came around again for his supply later, I told him I was interested in driving a taxi. By that time, it seemed my only option. Pinky halfheartedly told me that if I paid him, he would teach me to drive, so I could get my driver’s license. Since I didn’t have any driving experience, he said that for a little more money he would introduce me to the taxi owner and make sure he hired me.
Lucy got locked up and I moved into her room that smelled of sweat, chemicals, and dirty tennis shoes. I shoved her few moldy clothes over in the closet and buried my sack holding the remaining bundles of bills behind a loose plywood plank.
Pinky came around late every afternoon for the next two weeks and taught me to drive his beat-up Toyota. Rory stood at the door shaking his head, reminding me before I left, that he could fix me up with someone to pay my bills. All I had to do was ask and of course, there would be something in it for him too.
Feeling nervous and awkward before I tried it, I picked up driving easily because it was something physical, and physical was what I was used to. At Pinky’s direction, I drove through the French Quarter and the surrounding streets, navigating around the tourists strolling without direction from shop to shop or lined-up along the sidewalk outside the bars and restaurants.
After Pinky was satisfied that I knew my way around the inner city, he took me to take my driving test. I was so excited when I passed and when they handed me my license that had my picture on the it. I studied the picture all the way back to Rory’s, thinking that there was no way anybody would ever look at it and guess that I wasn’t always a good-looking woman. I gave Pinky the small “finder’s fee,” that he asked for and he put my application ahead of all the others that were stacked in his boss’s office. When the cab company was looking to fill an open spot a week later, he talked to his boss about what a hard worker I was and how he had known me for most of my life.
I passed my background check which Pinky assured me was nothing more than checking to see I wasn’t using some dead person’s driver’s license, and then a wizened old company doctor, covered in brown age spots, checked my heart to make sure that I was still breathing and gave me a perfect bill of health.
The next thing I knew, I had a shift driving taxi during the afternoon. Pinky explained that it wasn’t the best shift because the tourists didn’t come out that early for dinner and bar crawls, but I didn’t have enough seniority to get a better shift.
All the other drivers were male, except for a couple of butch women that looked like they could have taken me down without a problem. The men whistled and cat called when I was assigned my first cab and watched laughing as I nervously took the driver’s seat and was finally allowed to drive up the exit ramp and out to the street.
My excitement at driving my first cab disappeared quickly when I got a whiff of the dried vomit in the back seat. The supervisor told me to get used to it, because so many of the passengers were drunk when you picked them up and the motion of the drive made them puke up their guts. He explained that the last driver had left in a huff because he said his pay was short and didn’t bother to clean out the cab after his last fare. He handed me a bucket and some torn rags to clean out the cab and I scrubbed the back seat dutifully trying not to gag
In addition to cleaning up the puke in the back seat there were the fares that didn’t pay, the ones that argued with you when you arrived at their destination. They would insist that you’d driven the long way around when they were drunk or high and had no idea about distances in the Quarter. Some of them tried to bargain down their fare and a few even threatened me when I tried to collect.
I chased one guy who pulled a knife, nearly four blocks after he ran from the cab. I chased him into an alley and pushed him up against the wall. His eyes bulged when I grabbed him around the neck and jammed my hand into his pocket to find his wallet. I started out taking the amount of the fare but ended up helping myself to the rest of the bills just to compensate for my trouble.
But on my first day, for the first few hours, there were no fares and I spent my time driving through the neighborhoods getting familiar with the streets using the fold-out city map the supervisor provided, and admiring the beautiful houses and carefully tended gardens around the French Quarter, the Garden District and in Lake Terrace.
A little later, I was making my second trip around the tourist hang outs looking for a few stragglers in need of a ride. I was driving slowly because I was still really getting the feel of the cab and getting to know the area. I pulled into a parking space that suddenly opened on Magazine Street in front of Henry’s Uptown Bar. I shut off the engine and peered at the open door. I’d heard that Henry’s was really a neighborhood bar so I figured it wouldn’t be full of tourists especially at this hour.
As I sat there, a few alabaster-skinned Midwesterners, their faces shiny with sweat and visibly sporting underarm stains from the soggy heat, meandered down the street, stopping to look in the shop windows or ducking into more commercial establishments blaring hard rock or nasal-sounding country music.
I reached under my seat for my purse and looked up to see a short pigeon-toed figure dressed in faded polyester pants and a bright yellow and red flowered shirt, hurrying down the sidewalk walking along in the wet breeze blowing through the streets in the late afternoon.
The figure was stepping fast, off-balance and lurching a little from side to side. As he approached, I saw it was Rory. He wore wide-framed dark sunglasses that covered most of his face and as he passed me at the curb, I saw the back of his shirt was soaked with sweat. I was surprised to see him out on the street in the afternoon. He usually never left the apartment until after dark.
I was just about to call out to him, when a local police car pulled over and double parked in the street ahead of me, leaving their blinking lights on. Two cops, one black and bald, smoking a cigar, and one white, with longish greasy hair and a wrinkled uniform, got out, slamming the car doors behind them. They walked toward Rory who waved them over to the wrought iron bench that was chained to the side of the building.
Rory sat down and the two cops walked toward him looking around the street. Nobody was approaching. They moved over and stood to either side of him leaning in close. Rory’s mouth was moving rapidly, and he waved his hands around in broad gestures. The cops were listening to him; their arms folded, nodding their heads as if they agreed with what he was saying.
After a few minutes, the white cop reached inside his pocket and handed Rory something cupped in his right fist. Then they both turned and walked back to their squad car. Rory watched them leave and then pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and deposited whatever the cop handed him. He looked up the street again and then took off, walking with his familiar waddle. I sat and stared after him, wondering what he had been talking to the cops about and what they had handed him.

Chapter Thirteen

The next afternoon, I made a pot of black coffee and waited for Rory to come out of his small crowded room. He was later than usual and when the door finally opened, I saw an older white man dressed in pressed gray slacks and a sport coat step out first. The man’s hair was thinning on the sides and combed over the top of his pinkish scalp. His watery blue eyes opened wide when he saw me. “Rory,” his voice was whiny. “Who’s that? You said nobody was home.”
Rory hurried out behind him wearing a short pink bathrobe that I’d seen in Lucy’s closet earlier. He pulled it closed around his bony frame and waved his arms at me. “That’s just Genie,” he assured the man, patting him lovingly on the shoulder. “Let’s not get into a tither dear.”
I picked up a can of bugspray that Rory swore kept the apartment livable and sprayed the line of bugs that crawled along the baseboard, watching as they keeled over waving their tangled legs listlessly.
After the old man left, Rory stayed in his room avoiding me until a few minutes before I left to start my shift. He hurried past me muttering to himself, until I stepped in front of him and blocked the door.
“Oh, you’re still here?” He said.
“I’m just leaving,” I told him.
“When do you get paid?”
“Payday at the old taxi company. When is it?” His voice was suddenly business-like.
I told him I thought it was next week.
Rory nodded his head vigorously and wiped his sunglasses clean with his shirt tail. “You can pay me your first month’s rent as soon as you get your check. I’ll tell you what your share of the utilities comes to.”
“Okay.” I waited a second, and then asked. “Who was that man?”
“Man? The guy that was here? A friend, just a friend. I have lots of friends. This is my apartment. None of your concern.” Now his voice was shrill, and his hands were shaking. The carefully filed fingernails seemed to vibrate with the movement.
I shrugged. Really, it was none of my business. “I just wondered….” I began. “Aren’t you worried hanging around with cops?”
“What?” Rory turned completely around and stared at me in shock.” “What are you fucking talking about?” “I saw you yesterday in the Quarter when I was driving. You were talking to two cops.”
“So?” he challenged. “You sure are all about my business. Are you a spy too?”
I laughed, feeling self-conscious. Why did Rory’s socializing with those cops make me so nervous? Was I afraid they would start looking at me? I’d stopped checking over my shoulder in Bangkok. But since yesterday after seeing him sitting on that bench, I kept thinking that every cop I saw knew what I had done and was coming after me. It was just a matter of time.
Rory walked back to the couch and brushed off two half-empty pizza cartons, spilling dried pineapple and pepperoni onto the carpet. I watched the crusts roll under the legs of the armchair that was propped up with a couple of bricks, thinking how different it was here. Nobody back home wasted even a mouthful of food.
He reached over and absent-mindedly picked up an empty soft-drink cup and crushed it between his fingers. “I told you when I met you that I hustle for a living didn’t I? We’re not all born beautiful. “I do what I can. Sometimes I help the cops out a little. You know what I mean?”
I shook my head. No, I didn’t have a clue what he meant.
Rory gave me a long look. He was thinking something over. “Sometimes I know things other people don’t,” he explained. “So, I pass on what I know.”
“Pass it on?”
“Yeah, you know, like if somebody did something they shouldn’t do and somebody else wants to know who did it, I can help out.”
“What kind of things?” My skin was suddenly starting to feel clammy, and my heart started beating faster, like this was pointing to me.
“Oh, the usual stuff. Breaking into houses, stealing stuff. You know.”
“How do you know these things?” I asked him. “Oh well I know pretty much everything that goes on here you know. People talk. I listen. They tip out each other. Sometimes I find out about something that’s going to happen. Maybe it’s not too legal. They even bring me stolen stuff for sale. I’ve had all kinds of stuff; guns, televisions, lots of car radios, even a few cars.”
“So, you tell the cops about those things?” “Yeah, sure. It’s a good way to make friends,” he laughed.
I thought about it for a moment. “So, what do the cops give you back?”
Rory laughed. “Friendship, like I just told you. The more I tell them the better friends we are.” “So, you get money for information?” I asked.
“Sometimes. There’s different kinds of friendship. Depends on how I can help them. If I help them on bigger things, they get real happy. So, I keep my ears open and pass on what I know.”
“How much do they pay you?” My curiosity was growing in bounds.
Rory shook his head. “I’m not going there. That’s my business. They do take care of me though. They see to it that none of the other cops’ mess with me. You know what I mean?” He waved his hand around the apartment. “All this is mine and nobody’s coming through the door to stop me. It’s like a free pass to go
about my business. No problems.”
“So, what happens if these people find out you told the cops about them?”
Rory laughed. “They don’t find out. It’s all confidential. Cops don’t squeal on their sources.” “So that’s why you still live here?” I asked.
“Well partly. I have my finger on everything that goes on around here. Not much gets past me. If I moved away I’d lose a lot of trade plus my extra income.”
It was bothering me, so I asked. “What do you spend your money on then if you live in a place like this?”
“Place isn’t good enough for you?” Rory bristled.
I looked around at the dirty walls, and the stained carpet. “I would think it wouldn’t be good enough for you.”
Rory smiled. His face relaxed. “I guess I can tell you. I pay part of the bill for my brother’s nursing home, twenty-four-hour care. It costs a shitload of money. He raised me pretty much and now there’s nobody else to take care of him. They treat him real good there. The best of everything. It’s a step above the place where they sent him when the government was paying.”
I hesitated. “Why is he in a nursing home?”
Rory shook his head and sighed. “Well I can tell you that too, I guess. He got shot dealing on this very street. Some guys from Iberville ambushed him, shot him in the back. Don’t know how many shots. Took every penny on him and all his supply, then left him for dead. He’s just a vegetable now. The only thing he can do is breathe on his own. Mind’s gone. He doesn’t know me anymore. Just moves his eyes back and forth.
Can’t pay for that place he stays in just slinging the way
I do.”
After he left the apartment, I sat down on the beatup couch and thought about what he told me. What Rory didn’t know about me could be worth quite a bit of money to him, much more than one of his junkies squealing about a stolen car.
So, Rory’s brother lived in a nursing home. I didn’t have a brother and I couldn’t imagine what that would be like, feeling responsible for someone else the rest of your life. I wondered what would eventually become of Florencia and her stupid thick glasses and oversize crucifix, and whether her praying would pay off some day. I knew for sure my mother wouldn’t be that lucky as more time passed. She’d never have the luxury of ending up in a nursing home. It didn’t work that way back home in my country.
The more I thought about it the more anxious I got. Would I grow old here alone too? Would I end up like Rory, where only ugly old men wanted me? I dug out my birth certificate hidden with my roll of bills behind the loose planks in the closet at the bottom of my suitcase. I tucked the small key inside my bra for safe keeping.
I ended up here in New Orleans in part because I wanted to find Theodore Holmes, the man listed on my birth certificate as my father. Most of all I’d imagined that he would be so happy to see me that he’d cry. He’d explain why we hadn’t met up before, that he was trying to find me, but he lost my mother’s address and he lived so far away in the U.S. He would tell me that he sent letters, but he didn’t know if I ever received them.
Of course, he’d wanted to bring me here to live with him. He’d waited for my mother to contact him, but she never did. He’d tell me he loved me so much that my happiness was more important to him than anything else was. The fact that I’d changed sexes would make him happy for me, because he would understand that I’d been born in the wrong body. Finally, I’d have my protector, my ally. I didn’t need my mother or Florencia. I had my father.
I learned a lot about trying to locate a person in the next year, especially one who didn’t really matter to anybody but me. But I didn’t know that yet. There was no internet search back then. You searched by banging on doors and “begging your pardon,” when that door closed in your face. And you spent hours on phone calls that lasted one or two minutes at best, before the other party hung up.
Armed with the New Orleans phone directory that Rory used to prop up the downslope side of the refrigerator, I began calling every male listed with the name of Holmes and then started over by calling females with the same last name.
In my off hours, I drove to addresses listed in the phone book when no one answered the phone. It was hard making the phone calls in the first place because it wasn’t easy for me to talk to people. I stammered, searching for the words before I ever choked anything out.
Knocking on doors was worse. Most of the time I never even finished my sentence before the door slammed and I was directed off the porch or down the hall to the stairs. I meandered through almost all New Orleans and then through the other neighboring cities. No luck.
I’d finished calling all the “Theodore Holmes,” listed in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport and then everybody else with the last name of
“Holmes.” This was before I started making calls in the states close by like Mississippi. I was still going on my theory that most people probably return to their original homes or stay close, which seemed to describe everybody I met in New Orleans. Fares were slow then, because tourist season hadn’t started, and I was starting to think about looking for another job.
I didn’t really have any friends. Sometimes the guys who drove cab or some of the fares would ask me out to dinner or for a drink, but I would feel myself go cold, not sure what to expect.
Time was drifting by and I wasn’t moving with it. My stockpile of cash was disappearing and living on a taxi driver’s wages looked like a future hell to me. The faces of the two men I’d killed floated slowly through my mind whenever I stopped moving and began to sit and think. I wasn’t sure if I was more afraid of being discovered, or more afraid of the kind of person I was, the kind who’d killed two people.
Then by chance one day, I picked up a fare on her way to the Department of Veterans Affairs, a young black woman, dressed in a business suit and high heels. She plucked her cigarette from between her downturned lips before getting in the cab and told me she worked for the VA Department in Washington and was on her way to check servicemen’s records to verify pension entitlements. I wasn’t sure what all that meant, but I did catch the part about serviceman’s records and waited until I collected her fare to ask her if I could find out if my father was still in the service.
She had me write down his name and my phone number and told me she would check for me. I waited for nearly two weeks thinking she forgot, but she called on a Friday morning. “Your father left the service fifteen years ago with a dishonorable discharge.”
I asked her what that meant, and she told me that he was convicted of sexual assault on a minor and that he’d served a few years in state prison. “That’s how he got his dishonorable discharge,” she informed me. He’s a registered sex offender and according to the records, lives in Birmingham Alabama. He’s on Social Security Disability.” She even gave me his address and phone number. I guess I must have seemed harmless.
I remained sitting on the couch after the phone call. I felt numb and queasy, everything falling apart in just those few minutes on the phone. He wasn’t rich and I guessed he probably didn’t live in any mansion. In fact, he was a convicted felon just like most of Rory’s customers. Sexual assault? I remembered the teens in Bangkok who peddled their little sisters to the tourists. How could somebody like that be my father?
Another year passed. I’d made a few friends in the Quarter, a couple of drag queens and a good looking transsexual. I watched their shows which were entertaining and kept the tourists coming back. We drank together once in a while and swapped stories. Other than that, I kept to myself. My new friends said I was stuck up because I couldn’t bring myself to go out with any men. I didn’t try to explain it to them. I couldn’t imagine going home with any of those guys or eating cheap food with them at the local take out places. Never the good restaurants. They couldn’t afford to go there. And afterward? What then?
On my first-year job anniversary, I was still telling myself that I needed to quit the cab company and find a better paying job. When I ended my shift and went back to the apartment. Rory was still out and so there were no customers. I turned on the television and tried to concentrate on a movie, but I kept thinking about my father. He wasn’t that far away, just across a few state lines. I wanted to know how it all happened to him. Did life come at him full speed and knock him down the way it did with me? Maybe he’d been set up. According to Rory, people were set up all the time by their friends and by their families, not just by the cops. Rory would know. Many times, he was a part of setting people up.
I went to the library and read up on how the sex offender registries worked. Mr. Theodore Holmes would never crawl out of that hole, but I still wanted to know his story. Part of me wanted to believe there was some mistake. So, I called him. The phone rang maybe ten times. There was no voice mail telling me to leave a message, so I was about to hang up when I heard rustling at the other end of the line like somebody was crumbling up paper.
“Hello?” I could hear my voice quavering. Somebody was on the other end listening. I cleared my throat. “Hello, is this Theodore Holmes?”
There was no answer just a raspy breathing. “Theodore Holmes?” I repeated. “Sorry to be calling now, but I’m just trying to reach him. Are you Theodore Holmes?”
Someone on the other end of the line coughed. The sound was phlegmy and congested. I waited. No response, so I started to lower the receiver.
“Yes. What do you want?”
I repeated it again dumbly, “Mr. Holmes?”
“I said “yes.” “Who is this? Why are you calling me?”
I swallowed. Now what to say? “I’m Genie Holmes, you and my mother…. I’m your child. Your name is on my birth certificate.”
More silence in response. Then, “Why are you bothering me?”
“I came all the way here to the U.S. to find you. I wanted to know who you are. My mother would never talk about you.”
More silence. “Where’d you say you were from?”
“The Philippines. You were stationed there when you were in the service. That’s where my mother lived. She said you stayed with her for a month.”
“I was in the Philippines.” The reply was tentative, almost fearful.
“I just wanted to get to know you. That’s all.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“I knew lots of women in the Philippines,” he answered. “I don’t have any kids. Nobody ever said I did. How’d you find me?”
I told him about the woman at the Veteran’s Administration that rode in my cab. He muttered something about the government always being in his business.
I didn’t plan on saying it. It stumbled out by itself “My mother said you loved her, and you were coming back. I guess she never heard from you again.”
He was quick on the defense. “I’ve heard that story before. Those women there fucked a lot of soldiers. But as much as they did, they were careful, didn’t see any of them pregnant.”
I clenched my teeth. “My mother knew who my father was, and she said it was you. She’s not a liar.”
“So, what do you want? Money? I don’t have any. I’m sick. You came to the wrong place.” His voice had gotten stronger, dismissive.
“I told you I don’t want your money. I just wanted to meet my father. That’s all. But since you’re an asshole, maybe I don’t anymore.”
I heard a gruff laugh at the other end of the line. “That’s the nicest thing I’ve been called today, but I still don’t believe you.” There was a pause and then,
“where exactly are you?”
“New Orleans,” I told him.
He was thinking, debating about what to do. “Well, are you here by yourself?”
“If you want to know if my mother’s here, she’s not. We haven’t talked in a while.”
He laughed,” I wouldn’t want to deal with some crazy old woman. I’ve got enough problems myself. So how long have you been in the U.S?”
“About a year and a half.”
“That long? Time does fly. I was in my late twenties when I was stationed over there. Not in the service anymore.”
I told him that I’d heard that.
“So, I guess you heard why too?”
“I heard.”
“Well you can’t believe everything you hear you know. What do you look like?”
I told him I was tall, light-skinned, with brown hair. I didn’t tell him that the category marked “male,” on my birth certificate wasn’t valid anymore.
“You don’t look Filipino?” he wanted to know.
“No, not really. They say I look exotic.”
“Do you drive?” he asked. I told him I did.
“If you want to come out here, I’d like to get a look at you, see if what you’re saying is true. I don’t get out much myself.”
“I can come this weekend. I’ll get off work.”
“Well don’t come too early. I usually sleep in, not much to get up for these days.”
My boss charged me nearly a week’s worth of fares to rent his taxi for the six-hour drive to Birmingham. From the time I mapped out the directions in detail from the area map that he taught me to use, to the moment I pulled onto the 59-freeway heading north, I almost called off the trip. I drove steadily and once I passed Metairie, Louisiana, the road emptied out and began winding through the countryside where there were fewer cars traveling in my direction. Not too many people were on their way to Alabama. I stopped halfway in Enterprise to stretch and grab a sandwich and then headed toward I-20 East.
The music on the radio changed from the jazz and blues that I was used to hearing in New Orleans, to country and western songs by Tim McGraw and Garth Brooks. The two radio stations that I could hear on my beat-up cab radio played Just to See You Smile and Longneck Bottle, at least ten times each, before I tired of the words and turned off the radio.
After about an hour of driving in silence, hearing only the sound of my threadbare tires sliding along over the potholes and loose gravel and my own worried thoughts shouting in my head, I turned the radio back on. The music on one of the stations had been replaced with the nasal twang of a country preacher threatening damnation and urging everybody to give large contributions of money and property, or anything else of value to his church. Otherwise, he assured, everybody in his listening radius was headed to hell.
As it grew later, the sky began to darken, the thin filaments of clouds clustering together and then spreading like a purple bruise across the sky. I held my written directions closer to my face, re-read them for the hundredth time, and exited at the last turn off marked on the page.
The gravel road wound around the side of a ravine and then dipped straight down into a dry basin. The only landmark was a rusty water cistern that sat at the top of the embankment. A few hundred feet to the right, a few patches of Dog Fennel and Butterfly Weed pushed up out of the eroded ground blowing in the dusty wind. Otherwise, the land where the rows of trailers sat was barren, except for a few paint-chipped and rusted cars parked behind them.
He hadn’t told me that he’d lived in a trailer park, but then it didn’t look like most of the trailer parks I’d seen going through Louisiana. Places like this one were more like a homeless encampment of loosely scattered ancient and battered vehicles now referred to as trailers, probably once used to house migrant workers.
There were campers with cracked shells, collapsed sides and plywood doors and windows, sometimes raised out of the sinking mud and sand on stilts and cement blocks. Number 22 was at the end of the second row. It was just several camper shells welded together with sections of sheet metal, forming a rusted metallic sculpture that leaned clumsily to the left, as if it was trying to hide from the light. Two-by-fours were nailed onto a pallet to serve as the front door. One of the old camper windows still remained in the front wall of the trailer, covered with a folded blanket.
I was a little child again, back home with my mother, looking down the alley where I’d lived, at the rows of corrugated shacks and smelling the burning tires from the dump. No, I wasn’t sad for this man if he was my father. I was sad about my own disappointment if he was.
I took a deep breath. There was no smell of burning tires or sweating garbage, just the heavy smell of damp earth and a heavy iron-like odor of dissolving metal flaking off the trailer walls. Rain was falling now, a light patter, hitting the dirt and leaving small round holes where the raindrops parted the dusty ground. If I left now, I’d never know.
I climbed up the three stairs on the rubber covered stool and knocked. I knocked twice more, waiting between knocks before I called out. “Anybody home?”
Footsteps shuffling and the sound of a latch clicking. Slowly the door swung back, and a man peered around, shielding his eyes from the light. “You
Gene Holmes?”
I gulped. “Yes, I’m Genie.” I shoved the copy of my driver’s license through the open space and watched a shaking wrinkled hand with bitten nails grab it.
Minutes passed. I stayed rooted to the top step. Through the space between the door and the wall, I could see a tall stopped frame bent over reading. The man stepped aside and waved me in. I could feel his eyes snaking into my back as I stepped ahead carefully in my low-heeled shoes.
“Genie?” His voice was puzzled, doubting.
“I call myself Genie now. I had the operation when I was in Bangkok. I’m the same person, only different….” I stopped, not sure of what else today. He didn’t answer for a minute, just stared, and pointed me toward a small red velour love seat that was even more beat up than Rory’s couch.
“I heard about that operation in the news. They change you to a girl. Never knew anybody who had one. Why’d you want to do that?”
His voice was flat, but I didn’t hear any judgment or disgust the way I’d pictured my mother responding, only a faint curiosity.
“I was meant to be female so anything else was a mistake. I knew it right away,” I told him. “I couldn’t live like that anymore. As soon as I could, I fixed the mistake. Now I’m whom I’m supposed to be.”
“Do people know you used to be a man first?”
“Only some people who knew me then, but I really don’t see them anymore and,” I continued, “the people who are my friends now. I guess some know…. They don’t ask.” My voice trailed off.
The smell of stale smoke and old beer clung to his skin and clothing. A fine web of lines intersected at the corners of his bloodshot eyes and the pouches hanging under them were swollen, gray, and sallow in color. He needed a shave and his whiskers were stiff and gray, poking out from his cheek bones and jaw. His teeth were crooked too, and the two top incisors were chipped, the right one nearly in two. He rubbed his chin and I saw the cupid’s bow of his top lip and instinctively touched my own. Our ears were identical and the shape of his eyes; a wide, deep set oval, were the same color as mine. Both our cheek bones rested high on our angular faces and I remembered looking at my mother’s flat round face, wishing then I could see my father’s face.
He stood up, holding on to his back stiffly and sat down next to me suddenly lost deep in thought. He was tall just like me, with long fingers and big feet. His skin wasn’t the pallid white of so many of the tourists I’d seen but had a slightly tanned undertone. Mine was even more so. Probably that came from my mother.
All around the trailer, I could sense his defeat, even though there was little in the way of lighting. It was clear from the over-flowing ashtrays on every surface, to the piles of bottles, some stacked in corners or covering the kitchen counter. Empty take-out containers filled the sink and the small trailer reeked of rotting garbage. I cringed at the familiar smell.
He noticed and lowered his eyes. “Haven’t gotten around to much housework lately,” he offered.
“How did you end up living here?” I wanted to know.
“Well you know my history. They made a record of it. Where else can somebody like me live? Can’t live too close to town, the people don’t want me there. Can’t rent anywhere. Nowhere near a school or park, not when you’re on the Registry,” he shrugged, resigned.
“So how do you get by?” I asked thinking about what the woman from the Veteran’s Affairs had told me.
“A little disability from the government. Doctors say I have mental problems, so they send me a little check every month and I stretch it.”
I looked again at the bottles strewn around the room that confirmed just how he stretched it. I felt my throat tighten and at the same time, tears beginning to sting my eyes. I could hate this man, my father and who he was now.
“You were in the service, weren’t you? Don’t you get a pension?” I knew something about service pensions, because Pinky had once been a Marine and bragged that he got seven hundred dollars a month for a psychiatric condition that was diagnosed when he served. “Every month, without fail,” he told us over and over when he ran out of cash and Rory gave him a little extra from the cut to sell on the side.
My father looked away before he answered. “How about a shot first?”
When I didn’t respond, he walked over to the sink and rinsed two plastic cups that were floating in the grayish water. He opened the top row of cabinets that were empty except for a bottle of cheap whiskey that still had a little liquid sitting at the bottom. He poured out what was left, squinting as he measured. “I gave you the bigger share,” he said almost proudly, handing me the cup that had a teddy bear cartoon painted on it.
I took the cup and examined it, wondering suddenly where it came from. It was clean if slightly greasy. “So, what about the military pension?” I asked again.
“Well, you know I got a dishonorable discharge, so I don’t get a pension. They took it away cause of the conviction. All that time in the service, doing it for Uncle Sam. Doesn’t amount to nothing.” His voice was harsh. “Got ratted-out by my buddy too.”
“You’re a Registered Sex Offender,” “Depends how you look at it, I guess.”
I stared, surprised. I thought about Bangkok again.
“You got convicted here in the States, didn’t you?”
“Yep. Right here. It’s the only place where they make sex a crime.
“You mean sex with a minor,” I said sarcastically. “Thought she was older. She looked older than fifteen. I can tell you that. She was related to my buddy, the one that I first shipped out with overseas. Hell, I met her when I went home with him for a visit. I stayed in his aunt’s house for darn near a month. Kept everything on the up and up. We snuck around because we didn’t want any trouble. But she told his sister when they got high together. Then his sister told her brother about me. Anyway, she said she was pregnant, and her father shit a brick. About that time, it seemed everybody knew.”
I felt a headache starting at the back of my neck.
“Then her dad went to the police,” he said. “She changed her story then real fast. Said that she didn’t want to do it and I kept pushing her. She told them we did it every day, sometimes twice. Can you believe that little bitch lying like that? So, I plead guilty,” he finished, downing the last of his drink.
“Does that mean I have a brother or sister somewhere?” I cringed when I said it.
“Nope. Negative there. She wanted to keep it, but her father was against it. Then she had a miscarriage. All gone. Probably too many drugs. That’s what I think.” He forced a smile.
“You couldn’t support a child. You can’t support yourself.”
He just shook his head in agreement. “Guess you’re right about that. I could still get back on my feet if I wanted though. Someday. But I guess I won’t be seeing any grandkids coming from you. Can you have kids now?”
“Do you remember my mother?” I changed the subject, wanting to hear him say he did.
He looked longingly at the empty bottle and then directly at me. “Maybe. There were lots of girls back then. To tell the truth I really didn’t prefer those women. They all wanted to come to the U.S. They’d do anything to get here.”
“My mother wasn’t like that. She had a lot of pride. She could have gone after you when you got her pregnant. It would have been easy to find you through the service, but she didn’t.”
He was silent for a moment, rubbing his blood shot eyes with his large wrinkled fists covered in liver spots “Seems I remember some woman going on about it once, maybe crying too, but it wasn’t my problem. Those women used us soldiers to get over here. Knew a few guys who married them and brought them home. Once they got here and got legal, they took those fools for every penny they could. Nobody was going to use me like that.”
He studied me. “Now, I could say you belong to somebody else, but you sure do look a lot like me. Just don’t understand that operation you had. I can’t see that you were ever a man to begin with.”
That’s when I realized that when you hate somebody, it’s because of something you see in yourself, something lurking in the shadows that you don’t want to see. I couldn’t name it then, but I knew I had the same ability to waste my life and be just like him.
“Let me get a good look at you.” He moved quickly, switching on a small lamp that was nothing, but a bulb attached to a ceramic base with several loops of wire, and held it close to my face. We stared at each other.
Somewhere in that small room, I could hear the ticking of a clock. He moved the lamp close to my face, squinting and then moved the lamp over to my hands, placing his own mottled hand next to mine. The size of our hands, the shape, and length of our fingers and nail beds were identical. He straightened up and placed his hands on his cheek bones while he looked at mine. “Guess so or a damn good copy.”
He wagged his finger in front of my face. “You sure you aren’t looking for money…because, like I said, I don’t have any.”
I stood up and brushed off my clothes. Despite the cold, I felt over-heated and sweaty. “I think I need to leave,” I told him.
He’s just an ugly old drunk I thought, not really family to me. He doesn’t matter. But I could see myself in his weathered face and I instinctively knew how he thought back then. If I’d been in his place, I would have done the same thing. He’s in me. This is how you survive I thought.
My father stood up, surprising me by blocking the door to his trailer. “Look if you need a place to stay you can always stay here. It’s not much, but it beats paying rent till you get on your feet.”
“I’m already on my feet,” I told him. “I work, remember.”
He looked confused and then shook his head up and down in agreement. “No offense meant. Just wanted to help if I can. Anyway, offer is always open. Then he called out, “you can call me Teddy. Everybody does.”
“Teddy,” I repeated. So, he didn’t want me to call him “Dad.” I thought about that as I said goodbye and hurried back to my cab. He was lonely too, I thought.
So lonely that he was even reaching out to me.

Chapter Fourteen

I pushed my cab hard on the way back, flying by the massive oak trees and meandering bayous. All the waterways were overflowing with life of their own. I was anxious to return to the familiar, Rory and his customers nervously pacing, shaking, and wiping their noses in our living room, waiting to make a buy. Mostly it was familiar and familiar was preferable over the unknown. But the constant stream of people going in and out of the apartment and the loud voices and blaring music reminded me how dirty and unsafe the apartment was.
I always felt that I could be one step away from ending up in prison myself, if Rory’s cop friends ever decided to bust him. Rory survived that way too, I thought. Passing along information to the cops paid a lot of his bills.
When I parked my cab in the carport, I could see that the door to the apartment was standing open. I waited on the bottom step looking up, worried about what might be going on up there. Rory was pacing by the door wringing his hands, his duck-like walk and wagging arms made him look like a spastic wind-up toy.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, wondering what troubles of his could rub off on me.
“Damn, Harvey got busted this morning.”
“Who’s Harvey?”
“Ace Harvey, he’s the detective I told you about. Remember? He has that cocaine warehouse down near the Eighth Ward.”
I shook my head. I never ceased to be amazed at the way Rory talked about these cops as if they were family or personal friends. Maybe they were. I couldn’t see it that way. I figured he had everything to lose with them, but they didn’t stand to lose a thing.
“Well he just got busted. Dumb Shit.”
“For selling drugs?”
“No, damn it!” Rory was pacing faster. “Asshole put a hit on this broad cause she complained to the cops about him. She said he threatened to bust her or some shit like that. Made her have sex in his car while his partner kept watch. The partner rolled over when she complained, and the FBI got involved. She was gonna testify and the Feds tapped his phone. They heard him set up a hit on her. They have the whole thing on tape.”
Rory dug a cigarette out of his pocket. “Now I gotta deal with City Krew, straight up, sons of bitches, low life gangster-mother-fuckers. Like I got a death wish or something,” he sputtered, inhaling.
I went back to my room, locked the door, and checked my money; a daily ritual, sometimes, three times in a day. I added some lose bills to the few bundles remaining. Back in the tiny kitchen, I made myself a baloney sandwich on the two remaining slices of white bread, Rory insisted baloney and white bread was food fit for gods, but I knew better. He used every penny he made to support his brother including whatever I gave him for food.
When I walked out to the living room, he was sitting in a corner of the couch smoking furiously and dropping the ashes on the already blackened rug. “The thing is,” he continued, “everybody’s going to be extra careful. You know what I mean? Nobody trusts nobody. This just kills my business.”
Rory flipped through the television channels, watching whatever was on television for a moment or two and then moving on to the next channel. We sat like that for over an hour. None of the usual people came to the door to do business. Rory cracked his knuckles and massaged his shoulders, looking up at the door every few minutes. He stood up suddenly.
“Nobody’s coming. Word’s out. They’re scared to come here.”
“Scared of you?” I wasn’t following him.
“Yeah, me and Ace had a real close relationship.
Know what I mean?”
I thought about Rory giving information to his cop friends. In Rory’s case, he bragged that he informed on things that weren’t even true. “So, what,” he’d say, “it’ll go down sometime anyhow. Once you’re crooked, you’re always crooked. They’ll catch you eventually and then you’re fucked. I’ve gotta get out for a while,” he said, jumping up from the couch.”
I watched him leave, wondering if I should go up to the Quarter and see if I could find any of my few friends and have some drinks. It wasn’t that late. As I was just about to switch off the television, a public service announcement came on; the police department was hiring. No experience needed. They were promoting affirmative action, whatever that was, and the smiling man on camera said they were looking for female candidates.
I sat back down and stared at the television screen. I was still sitting there, staring, and thinking when a commercial came on for Purina Dog Chow, showing a happy scampering hound in the backyard of a “too cute,” little bungalow, with white curtains at the windows, somewhere in the suburbs. The dog scampered happily from the carefully trimmed green backyard through the house, on polished wooden floors.
His owners were oh-so-happy, smiling, as the camera panned the wheat-covered sofas and easy chair, to the cozy yellow kitchen. The commercial ended with the immaculately groomed woman with medium length shoulder hair, and her perfect husband, and child, eating a wholesome dinner that she cooked in the kitchen and placed on a perfectly set table. This was the way the United States looked in every picture I’d ever seen before I’d come here.
I wanted to find that home, the one in the commercial and live there happily ever after. But mostly I wanted to find some place where I belonged, where I wouldn’t need to hide because of who I was now or what I’d done before. I kept thinking that most people don’t re-live the murders of two men when they wake up in the middle of the night, their arms throbbing from pounding somebody’s flesh lifeless, but I do.
Some nights when I wake up, I want to kill them all over again.
I waded through the takeout cartons and unread newspapers on the plastic surface of the kitchen table. The television commercial had mentioned that the police department was running a big recruiting ad. I located yesterday’s paper, the Times Picayune, still unopened. Rory ordered both the daily and the Sunday paper, so he could keep track of the obituaries. He wanted to know when one of his customers died, either through an overdose or because somebody didn’t approve of the way they’d been cheated and wanted to make a point.
There was an ad, just like they said, and it was a large one, covering most of the page in the classifieds. The smiling face of a black police officer pointed out from the photo, urging anyone over twenty years of age and a high school graduate to apply. Women were especially encouraged. I read the ad over twice. An entrance exam and a physical performance test would be given. The physical test was one test I knew I could pass.
Employment with the police department was a chance to serve the community the ad stated. I copied down the address where they said you could pick up your application. I went back to my room and looked at my face in my small hand mirror. There was no hint of who I used to be. If they hired me people would look up to me, respect me and maybe I could make up for what had gone so wrong for me in the past. Maybe it wasn’t too late to change who I’d been.
I went to bed early, looking forward to the next day and hopefully a new job, but I kept waking up that night to loud arguing going on in the living room. Rory and one of his customers were going at it. The customer, an over-dressed queen who danced at one of the local clubs, was screaming and cursing that Rory owed him money or some more dope to make up for what he’d ripped off. I peeked out of my room and saw Rory curled up in the corner of the couch with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his spindly frame.
Finally, I gave up sleeping and stumbled into the living room to stare at the static-speckled picture on the television and watched black and white movies until the sun came up. After fixing myself a cup of instant coffee, I bathed, smearing lotion from head to toe, and dusting myself with talcum powder.
I stood in front of the small plywood closet and after some thought, selected my blue slacks and a white tailored jacket that seemed like something a careful person like a cop, would wear on their day off. I selected my usual black flats and rubbed them clean with toilet paper and some hair grease that I found in the bathroom. I twisted my hair up and examined myself in the mirror. Satisfied, I called up my boss at the taxi stand and told him I wouldn’t be in today.
I copied down the address from the newspaper, even though I’d passed the station so many times while driving. Rory came stumbling down the steps as I was leaving. “Where you going?” he wanted to know. “It’s
too early for your shift isn’t it?”
“I’m going to apply for a job,” I told him.
He widened his bulging eyes, shot through with red vessels, in surprise. “You already have a job. Don’t you?”
“Sure, but no harm in wanting a better one.”
He shook his head, looking more mournful than usual. “No better job here than driving cab.” “Some people think different,” I told him.
“You’re all dressed up too,” he added, looking me up and down. “Fancy, huh?”
“No just business-like,” I answered. “I’ll see you later.”
“You know,” he began. “You can be a little uppity bitch cause you look pretty good, but you still not the real deal. Some people out there might look a little harder. You know what I mean?”
The city was waking up by the time I walked down the street. Everywhere, men dressed in button down suits and women in clingy jersey dresses and impossibly thin high heels, scurried to some destination where they would willingly surrender themselves for the next eight hours.
The station lobby was bustling with every straightbacked chair occupied. Those who couldn’t find a seat propped themselves up against the walls, their legs sprawled in front of them. I almost turned around and left when the man at the desk raised his eyes and looked me over. “Can I help you miss?”
“I want to apply for a job as a policeman,” I stumbled over the words.
The man behind the desk adjusted his glasses and threw back his head laughing. His voice was deep and throaty and seemed to rise from his belly straining against his blue uniform shirt. “Hear that Tyrone? This woman here wants to be a policeman.” More laughter echoed from behind the partition.
“I mean a police officer.” I blushed red at my mistake. I was starting to feel angry.
“Hey, you here for the Affirmative Action Program?” An older white man wearing a pressed blue uniform pushed out through the swinging gate, separating the desks from the lobby. He was short and stocky with a barrel chest and iron gray hair cut close to the scalp. His glasses rested at the tip of his nose and the blue eyes peering over the top were a watery blue. They looked across his face toward a bulbous nose; the skin across it was a shiny cherry red and stretched thin over small ken vessels. An alcoholic I thought.
“Well, do you want to be a police officer here in this parish? We have a program right now. If you want to, you’d be our third woman to apply under this directive. The other two quit. Didn’t even finish training. See, I didn’t really think it was such a good idea bringing you all in, but the law is the law. We got a quota now. Gotta hire a certain number of women by the end of the year otherwise we lose some funding or some such bullshit.
He folded his arms across his chest and looked me over carefully. Then he turned to face one of the guys sitting at the desk. “Tyrone you sure are a stupid motherfucker. I heard this woman say she was here to apply under affirmative action. Right?” He raised his eyebrows and stared at me intently.
Tyrone reached across the counter and handed me a clipboard and a pen. “Go ahead fill this out. I’m sure Sergeant Brownard here will make sure you get through.” He smirked and rolled his eyes.
I grabbed the clipboard and took the only empty seat along the wall. It didn’t take me long to fill out the application. I didn’t have much education or work experience to speak of. I didn’t have any law enforcement experience either, which they said was essential, in large block type written at the top of the application.
Well, I tried. I told myself. It was still early I could go back to the apartment, change into my jeans and let my boss know I was available to drive in the afternoon. As soon as I handed back my application, the man named Tyrone, passed it to Sergeant Brownard, who called me into his cubicle and closed the door. He grabbed a stack of papers that spilled over the side of an aluminum backed chair and waived me to sit down.
“We’ll just do this ourselves,” he told me lowering his voice and running his eyes over my body. “Let me have your identification.”
I handed him my birth certificate, the one especially created for me, and my Louisiana driver’s license, glad I’d read the whole newspaper article stating that all applicants needed to provide identification.
“You graduated from high school in the
Philippines, didn’t you?”
It was not a question, but a statement, so I nodded,
“Did some time in the military there. Didn’t you?”
I nodded again.
“See there?” Sergeant Brownard held up the application. “You were missing a few items, but now we’re complete. Follow me.” He ushered me back to the desk in front of the lobby. The noise had risen to a fever pitch. Two young boys in dirty gym shorts and tank tops, both barefoot despite the cold dirty tile floor, chased each other up and down the corridor. An old man with dreadlocks and a beard that looked as if it was dyed red at the ends, walked from person to person asking for money to buy a bottle. I looked around. Tyrone, who was still sitting at the front desk, met my eyes and lowered his head, nodding it from side to side.
“Okay now.” Sergeant Brownard ushered me to the side, busily stapling papers together, tapping them quickly on the desk. “We just need your civil service test. You gotta pass this one to get hired. It’s just a general intelligence test and you get your psych evaluation after that. Then we’ll get your physical. Any questions?”
He stood up and handed me two forms. One had small rectangular boxes that were colored in with a dark marker. The other form had the same boxes but none of the boxes were marked. “See this? It’s an electronic scan sheet.” He held up the blank sheet. “This is the first part of the exam. None of the answers are marked, so you’re going to make this one look just like this one.” He held up the sheet where the rectangular boxes were filled in. “When I get it back, I’ll fix it for you. Let you miss a couple, so it won’t look too funny. Got it?” He winked and pointed toward an empty room along the corridor with a desk and a chair that I could see through the open door. As he handed me the papers, his hands grazed along my back. I felt my muscles tighten and he quickly withdrew his hand.
Once inside the small room I collapsed into one of the chairs along the wall that had a square wooden writing partition attached with a metal brace. The walls were covered with posters showing officers in clean pressed uniforms kneeling in front of small children, holding elderly people’s arms or standing in front of cars with the hoods propped up. They were all smiling, ready to help the good citizens of Louisiana with car trouble or anything else they needed.
I’d never seen one cop here helping anybody, old or young. Certainly not anybody with dark skin. Even the black cops were likely to arrest you or beat you up for any reason or no reason at all. Everybody knew that. All the drivers knew someone who’d had a run in with the cops and came out bloodied and battered or spent time locked up after some bored cop charged them for resisting arrest.
The door to the small room where I sat holding the forms was closed, but it couldn’t shut out the loud cursing coming from the lobby and the strong smell of chlorine wafting up from the floor didn’t quite cover the odor of urine that clung stubbornly to the tile. I pictured all the people that passed through here, lines of them, like ants in columns, their heads bent, their walk shuffling, all in some kind of trouble, all forced to deal with the police one way or another. If I got hired, I’d be in control of them and their problems. They would have to listen to me and do as I said. I really liked that idea, just as much as much as I believed that this job would make up for my past life.
I lined up the two forms and carefully marked the blank boxes on the first sheet, matching the boxes that were shaded in on the other sheet. I checked the two forms to make sure they were identical and filled my name in on the top.
When I brought the forms back to the front desk, Sergeant Brownard hurried around and took them back into his cubicle. After a few moments, he stuck his head around the corner and informed me I’d passed the first part of the test. Then he asked for my identification again and the Social Security number which I’d gotten when I started to drive my cab. He wrote down the information and then told me to come back the next day. I had an appointment with Dr. Luther La Tour II for my psychological exam. He filled out a small business card with the room number to remind me and told me to make sure and come by to say hello to him and finish the second part of the exam before I saw Dr. La Tour.
As I left the lobby, I heard Tyrone still seated at the front desk, address two black men who’d been waiting since I first arrived, telling them that there were no openings for police officers, to try again in about a year. More cops needed to die or retire he explained. “Besides,” I heard him continue, “I don’t know why you want to do police work. Being a cop is about the lowest paying job around.”
While he was explaining all this, two cops crashed through the front lobby door, each holding the arm of a stooped black man with wild gray hair that stuck up on either side of his head. He was dressed in torn painter’s clothes stained heavily with dark green paint and thick brown resin. He struggled against his captors, pulling from side to side, yelling in a booming voice that once he was released he was coming back to get the rest of them.
The taller heavier cop had lost most of the buttons on his shirt and since he wasn’t wearing an undershirt, it barely covered his bloated belly. He gripped the old man firmly on his left side, trying to cover his stomach with his right hand and yelled over his shoulder at Tyrone, his voice smug with self-importance. “Hey man, his guy stabbed his wife to death with a steak knife. Then he rolled her body off the roof into the bed of his pick-up truck and dumped it at the garbage dump.
Ain’t that some shit!”
There was an immediate hush in the lobby, followed by low murmurs and soft whispers from those occupying the seats along the wall. Even the two boys playing tag in the corridor stopped running and stood still, their mouths hanging open as they watched the old man being dragged past them
I returned the next day dressed carefully in my second-best outfit. It was already ninety degrees. My makeup felt sticky as it trickled down my cheeks and caked under my jaw line. I wiped my neck carefully with the back of my hand and patted my hair as I opened the lobby door.
Tyrone was not on duty, but a light skinned secretary wearing a short dress and thigh high vinyl boots, told Sergeant Brownard I was here and returned to hand me a booklet, entitled “Part Two,” of the department’s General Entrance Examination. She looked me over knowingly when she directed me to the same room I’d sat in yesterday. “Right down the hall. Just like yesterday.”
Again, she’d given me a blank sheet and one that was already filled out, along with the questions. I shaded in the small columns, stroking the soft gray lead in between the spaces, glancing up each time to make sure I’d copied the answer correctly.
When I was finished, I put the answer sheets aside and looked at the test questions, curious to see what was on the test. School was rough for me, mostly because I was too angry and restless to care about learning anything. The nuns gave up on me when I was young. They were satisfied if I just kept my mouth shut and didn’t get into a fight. There were a whole lot of days when I couldn’t even do that. Just knowing there was a test inside the folded booklet I was holding made me feel a little nauseous.
The booklet started off with short paragraphs that directed you to read and answer questions at the end. The title of that part of the test was Reading Comprehension. I tried reading the first set of short paragraphs. It was about some birds and where they flew at different times. I’d never had any interest in birds and their names were long and hard to follow. The story was boring and so I gave up. I couldn’t answer any of the questions at the end because I couldn’t remember what I’d read, and I didn’t see the answers when I looked back.
I moved on to the next page that discussed the way a river flowed through some mountains. This wasn’t as boring as the first story, but it had a lot of words I hadn’t seen before and didn’t understand. I’d improved my reading a whole lot in Bangkok, but not enough to understand the point of the paragraphs.
There were a few pages titled Logic Questions, that asked you to figure out what time people would arrive at their destinations when they took buses at different times of the day. It seemed that some of them had to transfer to other buses which took more time. I had no idea how to figure any of that out.
Then there were questions that asked which article in a group of four things was out of place. I could only answer one of those because I recognized that only one of the animals pictured had a long tail. The rest of it made no sense to me.
Finally, there was a section with math questions. I’d never passed math in school; never wanted to learn my multiplication tables or anything requiring memorization. I’d stopped with addition. It was the only skill that seemed worth my effort since it let me count how much money I had socked away.
I closed the booklet and looked around the empty room. The truth was I could never pass this test by myself. I didn’t know why Brownard wanted to help me or how he was going to pull it off and get me hired in the police department. I turned the test in at the front desk and immediately Sergeant Brownard appeared to carry it back to his cubicle. He hurried me down the hall to the elevator for my psychological evaluation on the next floor. There were no people waiting in the hall on the second floor and the corridor was dimly lit. As I sat waiting in another sticky and scarred plastic chair, I looked around and decided that the people here in the U.S. were not really that different from the people back home. They were fatter and had more tattoos, but they were still like all the poor people I was used to seeing, anxious and resentful, not knowing what was going to hit them next.
The door next to me finally opened and a tall darkskinned black man directed me inside. He was dressed like a conservative banker in a navy-blue suit with a vest and a maroon tie. His shoes were polished so well they reflected the color of his tie. I noticed that his hair was cut close to his head and gray at the temple. Round wire glasses blocked out the upper half of his thin face and made him look the way I thought a college professor would look. He was a sharp contrast to the other male employees I’d seen walking around at the station in civilian clothes.
He introduced himself as Luther La Tour II and told me he was a civilian psychologist for the state of Louisiana and that he administered the psychological tests that all police officers had to pass before they were hired. He waved me into his office furnished with a mahogany desk, a straight back leather chair, and brown shag carpeting that looked like it belonged in somebody’s home. There were pictures of a little boy and a little girl in shining silver frames on his cadenza. I could see from where I stood that they were mixed race kids. There was no picture of his wife. Divorced, I thought. Probably got caught fooling around. I wasn’t used to seeing black men in professional positions. He sat me down at a desk in the cubicle next to his office and gave me another booklet. He explained that he was giving me a timed psychological test. “Just answer the questions honestly and you’ll be fine.” He told me.
I opened the first page and slowly began reading. The first set of questions asked if I was ever frustrated, lonely, depressed, or suicidal. I checked, “yes,” for all of them. I’d spent most of my life suffering those feelings.
The next question asked if I ever wanted to harm other people. I thought about that for a few moments. As far back as I could remember I always wanted to hurt someone, even if that someone didn’t personally cause me any problems. There were my mother’s customers, kids in the neighborhood and the nuns at school. There were rude people, and people who laughed at me or looked down at me. I guess the honest answer was “yes,” and “frequently,” was the amount of time I thought about hurting other people.
There was one whole page that asked me to write in my own words “why I wanted to be a police officer.” I wrote down that I wanted to make my life better, and then stared at the rest of the page that was blank. I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
There was another question that asked what I would do if a superior officer told me to do something that was against the law. Would I follow his instructions and break the law? Or would I go against his orders and follow the rule of the law? I didn’t know any better; I didn’t figure out the one they wanted to see was, “always obey the law, even if you have to go against a superior.” You would think that I would have seen the obvious answer, but I didn’t. My life experience had already established a strong preference for following who ever appeared to be in charge and letting them do the thinking for me. Making decisions about what was wrong, or right was not my strong point. As I see it now looking back, I fit right in the department. So, I guess you know how I answered that question.
The last questions were true or false. I was glad since they didn’t seem to require too much thinking and if that wasn’t enough, they stated very clearly, what I always felt: “True or false; (1) When I am criticized, I feel personally offended.” “True or false; (2) People generally cannot be trusted.” “True or false; (3) When I am teased, I don’t take it in stride.” “True or false; (4) You shouldn’t feel sorry for someone who is doubting or uncertain.” I hurried through the final pages finding most of the statements to be true and closed the booklet.
I knocked on Luther La Tour’s door and let him know I was finished with the test. He took the booklet, told me to have a seat, and closed the door. I sat down where I’d sat before, easing off my slip-on flats with the little heel that pinched in the toe, wiggling my bare feet on the cool tile.
While I sat, a young woman walked by on her way to the elevator. She was young, somewhere around my age. She appeared to be walking under a spotlight, glowing and regal. Tall and slender, she was dressed in tight black pants and a fitted sleeveless pink sweater. Her shining high-lighted blond hair hung down to the middle of her back and turned under perfectly at the ends. I noticed her bare arms first in the pale splash of light that peeked out from a partially open door. Her skin was a soft cover of pale alabaster holding in place delicate bones. Not a pore, crease, line, blemish, stray hair or freckle on the milky surface; skin that had never felt the heat of the sun. Her arms swung in time to the lazy rhythm of her walk, fingertips brushing the tops of her long legs.
I took in a quick gasp of breath and she turned her head to follow the sound. We stared at each other for a moment and I watched her pink lips pucker and her blue eyes crinkle above her high cheek bones that glowed with soft rosy health. Not a bead of sweat on her face, even though the hot wet air meant that the air conditioner was not working on this floor.
Then she turned away and walked down the hall toward the exit. I followed her with my eyes; and then stared down at my big hands, the skin still hard and rough where lotion did not help. From what I saw here in the U.S., this woman was the ideal beauty. She had the face and figure every woman wanted. I wanted to look like her too. If a woman could be pretty, she ought to be perfect and look just like the woman walking down the hall, somebody to be envied, a subject of jealousy by other women.
To this day, I believe that if women were to tell the truth, they would tell you that they wished they looked more like the ideal beauty. Who wants to feel inferior or unequal when compared to another woman? Nobody wants to be the homely the one, the one by which others measure their own beauty. Nobody really wants to pretend that their flat nose, wide hips or broken-out skin describes a new kind of beauty, a kind that is just as looked-for as the ideal one. If you fought this fight, all you ever could be was jealous. How could I hold a candle to the woman who passed in the hall?
Then there was the other nagging fact, this sudden discovery that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, not even smart enough to answer most of the questions on the police entrance exam. It was as if someone held up a mirror and as I got a good look at myself.
Luther La Tour sat across from me at his desk, rocking back and forth slightly in his expensive leather chair. He made a bridge of his hands and clasped them in front of his nose. “Well I’ve reviewed your responses, and I need to inform you that a career in law enforcement is just not meant for you. I don’t think I’ve seen a raw test score as bad as this one” After delivering his message he leaned back in his chair and pushed away from his desk as if he wanted to move as far away from me as possible.
He starred at me quizzically. “Clearly you exhibit a lack of judgment in making decisions and an inability to deal with supervision. Are you aware of that?” I nodded “yes,” thinking that the decisions I’d made since I was a child always ended up with me deciding I needed to hurt somebody. That was the only way I knew to survive. Wasn’t that the reason I was here and not back in that horrible factory or rotting in that hell of a prison? Was it bad judgment to want to survive? Maybe most people would think my decisions were bad, decisions they never would have made in the same circumstances. Most people would have given in and accepted whatever was coming, never striking back the way I did, or better yet, like me, striking out first. And yes, he was right. I fought against anybody trying to supervise me. I hated somebody telling me what to do. I always had.
He went on, “So you understand based on the results of your testing and your interview today I cannot recommend you for employment. I’ll have to call Officer Brownard with my findings. “Besides,” he added; you wouldn’t be happy with somebody riding you all the time like they do with new recruits. You’d have to take orders around here all day long.” He put his glasses back on and continued talking. “With your attitude you could seriously screw up and hurt yourself or another officer.” He frowned and licked his lips. “Could even be a civilian who gets injured and they’d sue us from now till Sunday. Worse, you could get somebody killed since you can’t tell right from wrong. We don’t just hire anybody who applies you know. Not anymore. Do you understand how it is? Bottom line, you’re not a good fit, so I can’t approve your hiring.”
He wrote something on the bottom of some forms, folded them and sealed them in a long white envelope. Then he pointed to the door and told me to go back down to Sergeant Brownard and take a seat in the lobby.
My eyes burned with tears that I wiped away with the back of my sleeve. I rode the elevator back to the lobby floor, staring at the heel marks and streaks of dirt on the floor, so I wouldn’t see the faces of the other riders standing just a foot or so away, staring at me with curiosity. As soon as the door opened, I pushed my way out and took long strides toward Sergeant Brownard’s small office to the right of the front counter.
Sergeant Brownard finally came around to the counter and waved me into a vacant cubicle. He read over the papers in the folder I handed him, pacing anxiously in the small space, his movement blocked by folding chairs stacked four deep. “Look,” he began. “You failed the psych exam. La Tour’s write up says you’re not fit for duty.”
I kept my head down because I could feel my eyes tearing up again. The room was growing blurry, the walls melting into the floor and a steel band was pressing against my forehead, tightening by the second. I folded my arms into my sides to keep from striking out. I was caged. Nowhere to move. I wanted to slam his head to the floor, break his ribs, and knock out his teeth, like I would if he was somebody else and if this was some other place.
When I finally picked up my head and faced him, Sergeant Brownard was kneeling next to me. I wiped my eyes and sat up straight when I answered him. “All those questions, I was told to answer them honestly and
I did.”
“Well maybe honesty isn’t the best policy when you’re trying to get a job.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “That test you took says you could be dangerous out there. You don’t have any respect for authority, so how can I trust you with the public? We’ve got too many crazies on the force as it is. The problem is all of them are men. I need to bring in a few female candidates, but I need one that’s not crazy or liable to kill someone.”
I took a deep breath. “Can’t you just give me a chance? I’m a really hard worker. Just ask my boss how many fares I pick up a day. You won’t be sorry if you hire me. I promise.” The words tumbled out before I could stop them. I was begging, something I’d never done. Nobody here had any idea who I was or what I’d done before coming here. But I knew and I needed to forget, become a new person, somebody who did good things and got respect. I had to get rid of the negative energy that attached itself to me so I could stop dragging it around all day.
Sergeant Brownard shook his head and lowered his voice, speaking close to my ear. “Look, I’ve overlooked plenty of things for other people too, covered up whatever I could, but nothing like I’d be doing for you now. There’s not one positive reason to hire you, except that they’ll probably replace me by next month if I can’t make the EEO quota by the end of this week.”
He stood up but kept whispering. “You know recruitment is tough here. The pay is low. The working conditions are shit. We don’t give bonuses or housing assistance, but I still need to get a couple of women on the force. I need to know that you won’t cause trouble in any way if I pass you through. But the way you answered those questions….” His voice trailed off.
“I promise I know how to behave now.” I heard myself say. “I just want a chance at this job. Nothing else. I’ll work hard. I’ll get used to being supervised. I’ll do whatever you tell me.”
“Another thing,” he said, raising his voice. “I’ve gotta know you have the other officer’s backs. We all stick together here. They’re not going to accept you. I can tell you that. They’ll give you a lot of crap. But you need to give one hundred per cent for them anyway, back them up, support them, believe in what they do, corroborate whatever they say. Do you understand that? If you don’t, there could be trouble for everybody. It could go really bad for you too. If you don’t support other cops, you won’t be safe on the streets. Do you get what I’m telling you? Understand?”
I told Sergeant Brownard I understood. He could count on me.
We stared at each other. Sweat was pooling under my arms and along my forehead and the noise in the lobby droned down to a dull buzz that filled my head. Brownard kept his head down, looking at my test results from La Tour for the longest time and then he marked something on the stack of papers he was holding, muttering about making an emergency appointment and probably overlooking potential risks. When he looked up, he faced me directly. “Anything you’re holding out before you have your medical?
You’re on drugs? Drink too much? Blood pressure too high?”
I told him that none of those things applied to me, slowly realizing that he was fixing it so I could go on to the next step. My relief was replaced by the sudden thought that since I’d once been a man the medical exam might not go so well. The last doctors I’d seen for a real examination were in Bangkok. They followed me after my surgery until I got bored with their endless check-ups where they poked and prodded me, examining the change they’d made between my legs, squeezing my new breasts and making me take blood test after blood test. If I didn’t tell now would they be able to find out? I cleared my throat and tried to decide just how much to tell Sergeant Brownard.
Just as I started to speak, he glanced at his watch. “Shit look at the time. I need to get all my paperwork in by this afternoon for the monthly report. We don’t have time for a full work up. I don’t want to wait in case the doctor isn’t in today either. Go down the hall to the medical unit. Tell them this is an emergency appointment. Have them write your blood pressure, height, and weight on this form. That’s all they need to do. You look healthy enough to me.”
I did what he said. A balding female nurse wearing a uniform covered in cartoon decals took my blood pressure and checked my heart. The doctor only came to the station every two weeks. He was the one who had to examine me and say I was physically fit. If I was, I could proceed to the physical performance test. She mentioned something about scaling walls. Was I going to be scheduling a pre-employment exam with their doctor?
I told her I was and left the medical unit without ever taking off an item of clothing.
The following day a female voice with a giggly southern drawl called to tell me that I’d passed my physical, my references had checked out and I was to report to the Human Resources Office two days from now to fill out some forms. She said that my service pistol, shield, night stick, and radio would be issued to me then. When I asked about my uniform, she told me I would have to buy my own. She also told me that I was responsible for buying my own gun belt and handcuffs.
I hung up the phone knowing that this man, Brownard, had come through for me, like nobody ever had before in my life. I felt relieved and excited at the same time. This had to lead to a change in my life.

Chapter Fifteen

Rory opened the door to his bedroom and stepped out, unaccustomed to waking up this early in the morning, he shielded his face from the light. “What the fuck’s going on?” he wanted to know. Reeking of sour beer, he staggered into the kitchen wearing his usual torn and faded boxers hanging low on his bony hips. Staggering a little from side to side, he jerked open the refrigerator door and helped himself to a carton of orange juice that I had been saving, raised it to his crusty mouth, and took a huge swig from the carton before I could say a word. “What’s your problem now bitch? I can’t even get a little sleep around here.”
Rory stuck the carton back on the first shelf that was already crowded with half empty beer bottles. “I didn’t eat any food, I drank me some juice,” he laughed and started walking back to his room with that duck-walk of his.
Moving out crossed my mind every day, but I usually put the thought aside until the next time I got angry. Mostly I felt sorry for him. Without my help with the rent, it would be hard for him to find another paying roommate to put up with his crap and the crap from his customers who filled the apartment into the early hours of the morning “I got hired by the police department,” I told him.
Rory turned around, his mouth opening wide, showing lots of dark pink gum where his molars used to be. “What did you say?”
“I said I got hired by police department. I have a start date and everything.”
“You serious?”
“Yes, real serious and I’ll probably be moving out soon. Just want to give you notice.”
Rory looked like he’d suddenly sobered up, wide awake and jerky. He lumbered over to the couch and sat down. “You think that’s a good idea?” he questioned.
I laughed. “Joining the police department or moving?”
“Well both, I guess,” he answered. “How’d you pull off getting hired? I mean like you are.”
“They need women on the force. That’s what they said.”
“But…,” he gestured below my waist and made a cutting motion with imaginary scissors.
“I’m a woman. That’s all that matters,” I snapped back in defense.
“Gotta give you credit man,” Rory shook his head puzzled. “You were able to pull a big one off.” He looked thoughtful. “Who’d you blow? If I knew you were serious, I’d have fixed you up with some of the cops on the inside. They’re friends of mine, you know.”
I waved him away. The constant bragging about his cop friends was old a long time ago and as far as I could see, his clients were a lot fewer since his “close friend,” on the Eighth Ward had been busted. Rory was now dealing with the gangsters in the projects to get his supply and they’d started moving in on his customers, not caring any longer whether those customers shifted sexes at the drop of a hat or tucked their dicks up into their panties. They were expanding their territory and cutting back his profits and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about
I picked up the daily paper, folding it over until I found the want ads. I ran my finger down the column for apartment rentals.
“Hey, don’t be so quick to leave here,” Rory admonished. “Once you start working, we can both make a lot of money. While you’re out in the street, you can see if some of the business owners want to leave their doors unlocked after hours. I can get rid of whatever you pick up and we both make money. The owner can claim any losses on their insurance, so they’re covered too.” Rory was fully awake and thinking.
“Plus,” he continued, “You can take some expensive stuff from those crime scenes or from stolen cars Parked cars even,” he added, thinking about his oversight. “You could even get some of my competition busted. That would make it a lot easier on me.”
“No thanks,” I pulled out my ball point pen and circled a few listings.
“Why?” Rory persisted. “Can’t imagine turning down good money, easy money too. They don’t pay
cops that much. Did you know that?”
“Yes, they told me.”
“Probably less then you make, driving cab. Now you have the perfect set up. You could start rolling in the money.”
I remembered what Brownard said and I shook my head again. I’d promised I’d behave. I’d stopped stealing a long time ago. Now I shopped in the woman’s section of the department stores with the money I’d earned and bought whatever I wanted.
“You’re a punk!” Rory announced with a sneer.
“One day you’ll be sorry you didn’t go in with me and it’ll be too late. I won’t have a thing to do with you.”
“That’s okay.” I told him while I copied a couple of addresses and phone numbers to check out. Looking around I thought how dirty and crowded the apartment seemed. Even though I’d lived in a falling down shack, with tin sides, in a much smaller room with my mother and sister, the room was kept clean. Our clothes were always put away in boxes, under the bed or stuffed in the cardboard dresser. At the least sign of disarray, my mother would beat the guilty culprit without pity.
I drove away from New Orleans toward Metairie where I’d seen a few rentals listed that I thought I could afford.
The location of the first address I’d circled in the paper turned out to be an apartment complex, instead of a small house the way it was described, so I drove straight to the second address and parked in front of a small wooden frame house, with a “For Rent,” sign stuck in the middle of a patch of grass, that served as the front lawn.
Nobody answered when I knocked, but the blinds were half-drawn, so I peeked between the slats. The rooms were small and empty. It would do, but after I did some addition in my head, I decided that the rent was too far out of my reach anyway, unless I had a roommate and I really wanted to live alone.
Next, I checked out an ad for a rear house. It was set back from a larger ranch-style house that was in a deteriorated state. The rear house was recently painted a flat no-nonsense beige and was separated from the front house by a good size yard, where two apricot trees scattered rotting fruit on a raggedy sprawl of grass.
The front door was unlocked so I walked in. This house was considerably smaller. The rooms linked together shot-gun style, like so many of the houses I saw here. The bathroom and kitchen were tiny, closets really, and the floors were worn and scratched. The backdoor opened out to a tiny porch that held a stained gray washtub and faced another larger rectangle of over-grown grass and weeds. Further, away, I saw the remains of a rotting wooden shed where bright light flooded through the gaps between the boards.
I walked back to the front of house. As I closed the front door and turned around, an old woman limped toward me leaning on a carved wooden cane. The flowered house dress she wore was faded and flapped around her swollen calves as she stepped carefully toward me. Her hair was set in pin curls and she held an unlit cigarette in her free hand. Her voice was raspy, and she pronounced the words awkwardly, as if she was deaf when she learned to speak. “You here to see the house?”
“Yes, I think I just saw it. I like it. I’d like to rent it.
She studied me leaning on her cane. Her eyes were small and shiny, surrounded by wrinkles “You new here?”
I told her I’d lived here in the city for a while and I was working for the police department as an officer. She raised her eyes in surprise and looked away for a moment. “You’re a cop? I’ve never seen a woman cop before. Didn’t know they had such things. I did see a woman driving a mail truck the other day though. Are you going to arrest criminals and everything?”
“Yes, they’re just starting to hire women here. At least that’s what they told me. I start the Academy in a few days.”
She looked past me sadly toward the shed in back. “My last tenant left here one night. He didn’t pay any rent for months. It puts a big hurt on me. You know I live on my Social Security. I count on that money. By the way my name is Mrs. Devereux.” She stuck out a bony wrist where the spotted brown skin stretched tightly over large ropey blue veins.
“Well, I promise to pay every month.” I told her and shook her hand.
“You pay your own utilities you know, and I don’t want anybody else living here either unless I say it’s okay”
“That’s fine,” I answered. “Nobody else will be living here.”
“My husband, Harold, used to sit in that shed every night and drink his brew. He’s been gone now almost ten years. I never go in that old shed any more. He wouldn’t want me to.”
She started turning to face the front house. “I live alone here, so I got to be careful who I rent to.”
I told her I understood, and we walked back to the front house. The drapes were drawn, and the house was filled with dark bulky shaped furniture, some of it covered with sheets. Brick-a-brace crowded onto shelves lining the paint-chipped walls, fought to find space. She waved her arm in the direction of the shelves, “I don’t have much use for all that, but I guess you can’t die in your sleep just because you want to.”
I wrote down my name for her and told her I would be back the next day to give her a deposit and sign a lease. I didn’t give her the phone number at the apartment when she asked. I didn’t get a good feeling when I thought of her talking to Rory.
“I’m glad you’re a police officer,” she told me primly, following me to the car. “You don’t seem like the others. They’re so loud and rude. Terrible manners. Every time they came to my bar, they made me give them and all their friends’ free drinks. They’d curse me out if I didn’t pour for them all evening.”
“So, you owned a bar?” I replied, trying to steer the conversation away from police and how they behaved.
“Sure did. My husband and me. I closed it down when he died. I was going to take the money from the sale and move to California, live near my daughter and watch the grandkids grow. Then I saw the prices of the homes. Forget it! I could buy three homes here for the prices they charge out there. Didn’t know what to do with that money from the sale. Still don’t. So, I just save it. I’m not going to put it in any bank. Banks are all crooks. They’re likely to lose your money if they don’t steal it first. I don’t trust them. I like to be able to look at my money and feel it in my hands any time I want, you know what I mean?”
She removed several pins from her hair, dropping them into her pocket, and released a few coarse gray strands, now springy and curled at the ends. “Yeah I’m glad you’re here. It’ll be safer now. I won’t worry about being robbed.”
I thought about telling her that, but I really didn’t believe in banks either. I kept my money hidden in my closet, telling myself that I wanted it handy in case I had to pick up and leave in a hurry. I wondered where she hid her money and how many people knew the location. I figured that I could get her to tell me just by talking to her if I ever wanted. She liked me.
The next day I packed my clothes, my collection of lotions, creams and shampoos, and a few books in some cardboard boxes I’d found in the trash behind Cost Less Drugs. I stuffed my mostly empty bag of money that I’d stored in the closet, into the bottom of a plastic bag and filled the rest of it with dirty laundry.
Rory followed me down the stairs and up to the window of my old Caprice, that I’d bought recently. He watched as I moved my things. This was only one of a few times I’d seen him up this early, mostly dressed and somewhat sober. He told me that all his offers for us to go into business together were still open and he promised me that he would give me information on his friends and contacts for a price. Rory said he was anxious to start working as a “CI” for me and both of us would benefit. In case I didn’t know, he explained proudly that “CI” meant “Confidential Informant.” All I had to do was give him a call. I promised him that I would, while he kept repeating that I should remember not to sleep with anybody unless they paid me lots of money or provided a life of wealth and leisure. He made sure to add that if I did strike it rich lying on my back, to come and find him so he could go along for the ride.
Then I drove back to my new home and paid the first and last month’s rent in cash and signed a lease. I watched Mrs. Devereux count out the bills I gave her and roll them carefully before dropping them into the pocket of her over-size house dress.
I took the key she gave me and brought in my things, arranging them around the few pieces of furniture left in the house by the last tenant. Once I set my shampoo and conditioner on the bathtub ledge, I felt more confident.
After walking through the small rooms several times and poking at the peeling plaster walls, I finally located a loose piece of linoleum by the corner of the refrigerator nearest to the wall. I used a pocketknife to enlarge the piece and then cut it from the floor. Then I reached down and packed in the balance of my savings that I’d transferred to an old beef jerky jar I’d found in the tiny bathroom. Once the linoleum was re-set into the floor and the refrigerator moved back in place, you would never know anything was there.

Chapter Sixteen

I reported to the academy exactly at the time they’d ordered, on a cold Monday morning when the air was wet, and damp and a filmy mist hovered over the ground
I dressed in my new uniform, wearing the gun belt that I’d purchased myself, after a visit to the uniform supplier that the Department recommended. The supplier was located downtown in a small building lined wall to wall with over-stocked shelves and hanging racks overloaded with uniforms, all crowded together behind the narrow-cramped aisles.
Inside the store, thick blue smoke from countless cigars floated toward the ceiling. Cigars were permitted on the sales floor because they encouraged cops to stay longer and buy more on credit than they needed or could afford. I heard from one of the salesmen there that once you were a regular and spent enough money, you were invited to the stockroom where you could have a few drinks or something stronger if that’s what you wanted.
The wizened old man who owned the uniform store was mystified when I told him what size trousers I wanted him to take down from the shelves. He asked if I wanted him to make me a skirt instead. He pointed out that he’d made one for a female mail carrier two weeks ago. She wouldn’t be caught dead in trousers he explained. I insisted on the trousers and he altered them for me while I waited. When he finished, they fit perfectly. I turned in front of the mirror to study my reflection as the other men in the room stopped talking and stared, their faces registering shock.
When I entered the auditorium of the academy that first day, I relived the same experience I had in the uniform store. All heads turned to stare, and conversation stopped except for a few low murmurs. The man standing at the podium in front of the class was short and stocky, with permanently sun-burned skin, probably a traffic cop for most of his service. He frowned at me and looked down at his clipboard. Then he shook his head and massaged his chin. An image of Cristiano passed in front of my eyes, his head leaning back crazily in the shower and blood flowing in slow rivulets down the drain. I closed my eyes and forced the image away.
The sign on the podium facing the man said “Sargent,” I couldn’t make out the name, but I decided he looked like a combination of several races. Even though this wasn’t the Philippines, there still was a definite difference in the way darker-skinned people were treated and the way they treated each other, that depended on how much color was in their skin. I saw it everywhere, just as I’d seen it at home.
Holding my head high, I took a seat in the back of the room, making it awkward for the other cops to turn and stare. After a few moments, most of them turned away, losing interest and resuming their conversations, cursing roughly or shouting across the aisle. I could hear laughter coming from the group of men who sat in the front row. They must be confident to sit there I thought. Later I found out that the cops sitting in the front row were there for re-training because they’d messed up in the field and were being given one more chance before they were fired. Every few minutes, a few of the men would turn around again and stare at me, some pantomimed sexual moves and then leaned in toward their neighbor to whisper. When the men looked back and stared openly, I felt strangely naked, as if the person I saw in the mirror that morning when I dressed, was not who I really was, and they all knew it.
Most of the men there were white…. really white. Overgrown farm boys with red faces, thick arms, and bulky frames. The few black men there were darkskinned. I noticed because when I drove my cab, I saw that light-skinned blacks usually held most of the higher paying indoor jobs, and when I saw a worker outside in the hot sun, his skin was usually on the darker end of the color chart.
After roll call, and a long lecture on the importance of the police department in fighting crime, the training lieutenant called for formation and we marched out to the grassy field behind the auditorium at his direction. Most of the guys in the class couldn’t follow the calls and ended up tangled in their own feet. After much yelling, we stood at attention until the worst offenders were able to follow the instructions. The ones that couldn’t were ordered to do push-ups. Surprisingly, a couple of them weren’t even able to do even one. The sergeant told them to leave. Watching them improved my spirits immediately. I relaxed a little just as we were told to pick a partner to practice defense tactics and takedowns.
I watched the others in the group pair off, but nobody approached me. Finally, the sergeant pointed at a lone guy in the back of the group and told him to partner with me. I kept my head down embarrassed, hearing the snickers. My partner was a tall thin black man with a shaved head. His uniform bagged a little in the seat of his pants. He didn’t smile or even look at me.
The sergeant demonstrated the procedure for a takedown. Easy stuff, exactly what I’d done in the ring so many times, just more violently. When he called for a pair of partners to come up and demonstrate I raised my hand. My partner gave me a dirty look and the rest of the men began hooting until the sergeant told them to shut up.
I assumed the position demonstrated and then performed the move as I had just seen it. My partner hit the grass with a loud smack and the men booed, laughing noisily. The Sargent asked me to repeat the move, but my partner was still sitting on the ground rubbing his shoulder where he’d hit it.
The Sargent then stepped in himself and asked me to demonstrate on him. I did, and he fell backward landing partially on his side. Looking surprised, he asked me where I’d learned to do that. “Around,” I answered vaguely, while the rest of the men stared at me. They’d stopped laughing as soon as my partner hit the ground.
Then we were assigned our service weapons and the serial numbers along with our names were recorded in a black leather register that the Sargent’s secretary brought out to the field. The Sargent told us that tomorrow we would receive weapons training, but today we would practice taking away and re-taking weapons with the unloaded Glocks that we were assigned.
This exercise too, was a snap for me. I knew exactly what footing to take and how to hold my body to put the other guy at a disadvantage, I felt fully satisfied, when one-after-one, I took their weapons away with one quick move and watched them struggle against me unable to take mine away.
When he dismissed us for lunch, my partner looked up and smiled a half-crooked grin showing a missing molar. “My name’s Psalm Monroe. My mama couldn’t decide which psalm was her favorite to name me after, so she just left it blank. Everybody calls me Monroe. Where’d you learn to do that?” His expression was intense, and he ran his eyes over my body curiously.
I told him I’d had some military training in Bangkok. He raised his eyebrows. “They have female soldiers there?”
I told him they did, not knowing if this was true or not, but I knew there were females in the Army here, so it seemed reasonable. My answer seemed to satisfy him, and we wandered back to the front of the building to order a couple of sandwiches from the beat-up catering truck that pulled up to the academy every day promptly at twelve o’clock.
A few of the other trainees stopped and said hello, as we ate our sandwiches under the shade of a clump of trees at the side of the building. Mostly they spoke to Monroe while their eyes looked me over closely. By the time we finished eating I knew that Monroe was a survivor too. He’d come through a series of foster homes in Baton Rouge and had even managed to attend college in Georgia for a little while. He told me he couldn’t finish because he was lonely away from New Orleans and even though he didn’t have any real family here, he was uncomfortable living anywhere else.
Though he was only a couple of years older than I was, Monroe already had four children by three different women, none of which he saw regularly. He was behind in his child support and his rent, so he’d moved out of his apartment. Right now, he was living with a stripper that worked in one of the clubs downtown. He told me that when he was hired, someone from the department informed him that he had to bring his child support up to date in ninety days or else he would be fired. Monroe didn’t think he could set aside that much money on the “shit pay,” he expected to receive here, but he didn’t seem bothered by it either. “I can get another job driving transit,” he told me. “Doesn’t matter much to me.”
Leaning in, he told me that he’d married his second wife when he was still married to the first one and then married a third time again, without divorcing the previous wife.
I was astonished. “Isn’t that against the law?”
He laughed. “Guess so, but nobody cares. Somebody has to complain first, and my women never knew.”
“But why didn’t you just get a divorce?” I wanted to know, curious although I really didn’t want to get too close to any of these men.
“Oh well, too much trouble, I guess. Lots of red tape. Didn’t stay with the second wife too long though. I married her when I was drunk in Vegas. I think she was drunk too. After about two weeks, she left me. I guess she sobered up.”
He took a long swallow of his coke and continued. “She was pretty old, you know. Probably around forty, I usually don’t go after them that old. She must have asked me to marry her when I wasn’t sober. I think she had a little money,” he chuckled and ran his hands through the small strip of hair across his upper lip.
Monroe was smooth; especially for a man who wasn’t that good looking, but I guess if a man doesn’t have the looks, he has to find a way to get over. After hinting around, he finally said that he wanted to get together with me and asked if I wanted to cook him dinner. I laughed and told him I didn’t cook and anyway I was missing a stove in my new house. Monroe considered this and then suggested that I could take him out to dinner. I would have to pay he explained, because he needed to save every penny, he could to pay off his back-child support.
Finally, to get rid of him, I told him I would think about it. As we walked back to the auditorium, a slightly older cadet with a blond crew cut and deep-set gray eyes fell in step with me. I remembered his look of disapproval when I walked in, how his face flushed red and his upper lip drew up on one side of his mouth over his evenly spaced white teeth. “Pretty impressive showing,” he said a little roughly. “Did you study martial arts or something?”
“A little,” I shifted my feet and stared at the ground.
“Looks like more than a little to me. You took those guys down hard. We haven’t had any women cops in this town, but I heard there are a few in Westridge. I think its bad business myself. I don’t know why a woman would want to mess around with this stuff. You
know it gets pretty dangerous down here.” I just nodded and kept walking.
He continued to walk with me. “What’s your name by the way?”
“Miss Holmes,” I told him.
“Well I have two names, a first name, and a last name; Richard Lee Kowalezyk. Up until about seven or eight years ago, I was the only male in my family that wasn’t a cop. They all work right here in
Louisiana. Can you believe that?” I told him it was hard to believe.
He nodded his head in agreement. “But I finally took care of that. I had a few warrants fixed and such. Called in some favors. It helps to have family on the force. I just transferred in down here. We bought a house. Now I’m stuck with all the rookies.”
His voice had a heavy twang and I noticed he breathed heavily though his nose. “Anyway, like I said, Why do you want to be a cop? Nobody will partner with you or watch your back. You should hear what they’re all saying in the classroom.”
“I’ll be fine,” I told him and hurried back to my seat at the back of the auditorium. The men turned to look at me curiously. Maybe they were surprised I was still there, but I stared back defiantly, and they quickly looked away.
The afternoon dragged on and we heard lectures on traffic enforcement and report writing. Learning about traffic wasn’t too complicated, but I was worried about the report writing exercise. As it turned out there was a standard format for that too and we were given a list of words to use when we wrote. I wrote out a sample following the facts they gave and when I compared it to the written answer they passed around, it wasn’t all that bad.
During the last hour, we practiced with our batons and again I felt confident moving around the floor with the baton in my hand, watching many of the guys in the class, clumsy and awkward, trying to imitate the
Sargent’s stance.
We finished the day marching again in formation. Before we were dismissed for the day, the Sargent called out five names loudly, telling their owners they were to leave now and not return tomorrow. This time I turned my head to watch four white guys and one black, quietly gather their things and leave, not looking up once at the rest of us standing at attention.
I let out a small breath. I’d made it through the day, and I hurried back to my little house grateful to be alone. But I wasn’t. The front door was unlocked, and Mrs. Devereux was sitting on the only furniture, besides the bed, a straight back chair, looking out the small side window.
“Oh good, you’re home.” She waved a pint of whisky in my direction and pointed to the kitchen counter. “I brought over a glass for you. Myself, I drink out of the bottle,” she explained.
“What are you doing in here?” I was more than surprised even though I knew she had a key. She’d made a point of telling me that when I gave her the deposit. Even so, when I’d rented rooms before in Bangkok nobody ever came in unless I invited them.
“Just visiting. Pour yourself one.” She stood up shakily and handed me a glass.
Trying to think of what to say, I took the glass and poured myself a shot. My eyes traveled to the area near the refrigerator, always worrying about my money.
“So how was your first day?” She wanted to know.
“Fine, just fine,” I told her. “I was planning to take a nap when I got home.”
She didn’t hear me or pretended not to. She took another swallow from the bottle and gestured toward the window. “You need curtains. I can look right in here from my kitchen.”
“Okay. First payday,” I promised.
“Like I said before, never saw any women cops before. Do you have a boyfriend? If you do, I don’t want any strange men staying over now.”
“I told you before you don’t have to worry about that.”
“It gets lonely here all day. Nothing but my cat Charlie to keep me company. Charlie was my brother’s name, but he died in the war. I thought I was going to die too, but they got all the cancer last year. I’ve got to go back and check to see if it’s in…what did they say…remission?” She reached in her sagging dress pocket and pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes. “Want one?”
I shook my head and wondered how I could get her to leave.
“You know,” she began, “I really don’t think that checkup will be a good one. I’ve been praying on it and I really want the Lord to take me soon, but he wants me here I guess.” She sighed.
“Yes,” I answered. “You told me that yesterday.” Not knowing what else to say, I repeated what I remembered my mother saying. “Be grateful for your life. The Lord gave it to you.”
She raised her eyes and nodded doubtfully, while staring at me and inhaling, filling my small living room with menthol smelling smoke. “What about your family. You never said?”
I started to tell her it wasn’t her business, but maybe because I’d finally met the man and he was the only family I had here, I told her that my father lived a few states over and that I’d visited him a couple of months ago. I told her my mother was dead. That way I wouldn’t have to remember what I’d told her.
She stubbed out her cigarette on a small plate left on the windowsill and stood up slowly.
I hesitated and then plunged in. “Would you tell me the next time you plan to visit? I’m not used to having people just walk in.”
“Oh, I’m the landlady you know, and this house belongs to me. I can come in whenever I want.”
I started to tell her this wasn’t true. I knew for a fact that Rory had checked it out with his cop friends. They told him that the landlord had to give you notice unless it was an emergency. I didn’t see any emergency here, just a long string of evenings spent with this sad old lady when I wouldn’t have my house to myself. “Well I guess I’ll be going now,” she offered, looking at me with downcast eyes as if waiting for me to ask her to stay. I didn’t. As soon as her back was facing me, I locked the door and hurriedly checked my hiding space for the rest of my money. It was still there although the remaining roll of bills was a lot thinner since I’d paid first and last month’s rent.
At the Academy, we spent most of the time on weapons training, more defense training, and takedowns which I found easy, almost as easy as physical conditioning. No one in the class could keep up with me when it came to anything physical. We spent less time studying criminal law and investigation which was interesting and not as boring as report writing, which was hard for me.
I partnered up with Psalm Monroe when I had trouble writing reports and I saw how easy it was for him. I guess it helped that he went to college. When they saw me seeking him out, some of the other trainees came over and asked his advice. After a few weeks, the instructor let him help teach the class. He stood up straight and grinned widely, his face flushed, white teeth flashing between his dimples, when he was able to explain some difficult-to-understand idea or procedure that the Sargent had no luck with teaching.
Except for Monroe and Kowalczyk, the other men generally ignored me. When they did notice me, they whispered to each other and made the same sexual gestures I’d seen when I first started class. I don’t know if it bothered me more when they ignored me, or when they openly ridiculed me.
Sometimes I felt alone and sad when I stood back and watched the rest of the cops in my class. But at other times, I wanted to hurt them. I know I took pride in hearing their bodies slamming forcefully against the floor when I took them down during our takedown training. I put all my muscle into each move and left them hurting. They didn’t whisper about me when they were in pain and there were no gestures made because their arms were sprained and painful.
The days passed, long and tiring, while we trained. Every day I reported a little early to class, my uniform neatly pressed, my hat on straight and my Glock polished and ready for inspection. When I collected my first paycheck, I saw it wasn’t much larger than the money I’d earned driving a cab. But I liked the way people outside of the academy, just walking in the street or standing in line at the bank, looked at me in my uniform. When they stared and whispered to each other, it was with curiosity and I liked to think they saw me as a hero or at the very least someone special, out of the ordinary. I’d taken to wearing my uniform to work instead of changing when I arrived, because there was no locker room for women and my only option was to change in the tiny janitor’s closet, stepping around the brooms and mops. Besides, wearing my uniform made me feel as if I really was a different person, a woman to be respected, and a person with a clean image.
It was getting so that some of the men even nodded slightly to me in greeting when I passed and most of them stopped complaining when they were assigned to partner with me for the exercises. Based on how well I performed in the physical training I guess most of them felt I would have their back if needed in a jam. What they didn’t know was it all depended on how I felt about them at the time. I stored up all the times they’d laughed at me or ignored me and liked to mull over them in my mind again and again, like a never-ending movie.
I pictured whole scenarios where I stood by in my uniform giving the go ahead to some thug who would beat or stab those officers to death while I watched in approval. It served them right I told myself, and I justly removed some of the guys from my daydream when they started to show me some respect. I told myself the fantasies didn’t fit with my new image, but they managed to calm me when my anger boiled over.
At the end of the last month of training, I passed all my tests and graduated from the Academy. Unlike the rest of the guys in my class, there was nobody to appreciate or celebrate my passing, no mother, father, boyfriend, or husband. I took my certificate and went by myself to a bar in the Quarter, where I sat alone in the corner as far away from the tourists as I could get. I drank until I was numb.
At the end of the evening when the bar was emptying out and the jazz combo stopped playing, a tall, well-muscled, and good-looking tourist, wearing jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, got up from his table where he was sitting alone and came over and sat down next to me. He told me he was here to make a sales presentation and then said he was looking for someone just like me. He wanted to know if I was lonely. I told him I was, and so we flirted a little and he bought me a late dinner at one of the cheaper places in the Quarter. Then we headed back to his hotel room with a bottle and some ice from the machine in the lobby.
After some small talk, most of the bottle of gin, and after watching me parade around without my clothes he tried to get it up, but couldn’t, not even with the help of my freshly manicured hand and some lube he was carrying. Finally, he put his head down on one of the coarse linen pillows, turned away and fell asleep, drool trickling from the side of his mouth.
I got dressed quietly and started for the door when I saw his wallet lying next to the table lamp, partially covered with the wad of Kleenex he’d used to clean himself. I reached for it automatically, telling myself I just wanted to learn something about him, just the way l was trained when we stopped a suspect. My heart was beating hard when I took out his license and saw he was from California and that he was a lot older than I’d thought. He ought to know better at his age, picking up strangers in the Quarter I told myself. There was an identification card showing he worked at an aircraft plant and a couple of pictures of two homely teenage girls posing in lawn chairs, who looked a lot like him.
The wallet itself was disappointing though, only a few credit cards and a library card. I opened the back compartment and counted the cash, one hundred and eighty-nine dollars. Reaching back in I started to replace it and then remembered my own shrinking bundle of cash. I sat down in the armchair by the bed and considered the bills in my hand. Then I folded them quickly and put them into my purse. I closed the door quietly and hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the front handle and then I went home and slept until it was time to report back to work.
For the next week, I patrolled with one of the older officers, named Loyle Worthington. Loyle was one of those guys who, when he spoke at all, talked about the Vietnam War where he’d been a private in the Marines and spent most of his career in Southeast Asia.
It seemed that Loyle, whose face was sun-
weathered, who needed a shave by early afternoon, and whose neck and arms were covered with tattoos, long faded from green to a dirty blackish gray, was retiring in a few months. He wasn’t very happy about me being assigned with me, and I heard through Monroe that he’d complained right up the chain of command about having to ride with a woman. The funny thing is he reminded me of my father, just a little more cleaned up and mostly sober. I don’t think he ever spoke more than a handful of words to me that whole week. Maybe that was because on our first day after he finished his coffee and paper bag full of beignets, he started to reminisce about some girl in Vietnam that he’d left behind after the war. According to Loyle, she was probably the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen, not like the ones here in the states and of course, she had been crazy in love with him. He waited for me to agree with him that American women couldn’t hold a candle to “the women over there.” When I told him I didn’t agree, he just shook his head and mumbled something about me being an example. American women were just not feminine he said, gesturing in my direction. Then he pretty much stopped talking to me.
We just rode in silence around the city and when he pulled a vehicle over or stopped someone walking on the street, he told me to wait in the car and “just watch.” I watched him pull over mostly weather-beaten and battered older vehicles belonging to black and other mixed-race people. I wondered if he first looked through the car windows and sized up the race of the occupants, before he zeroed in on the car itself and tried to assign some traffic infraction or defect that would cost the owner some serious cash, and booster his lagging ticket log. Mostly we got calls to tow illegally parked cars, investigate businesses that had been broken into or directives to pick up people with outstanding warrants.
Loyle pulled our unit over whenever he saw any street people sleeping on a patch of grass or spare bench. “Loitering,” he declared angrily, tapping his holster. These ragged beings, awake and moving around, seemed to bring out the anger in him, particularly in the afternoons when the sticky wet heat pulled the sweat and energy from your body. Everybody who knew better gave in to the urge to lie down in a cool place and stayed off the asphalt streets. Unless the streets were the only place they had left.
On the last day of my ride-along training, we wasted away two hours, Loyle, putting away two good size breakfasts of bacon and eggs and buttered grits at a roadside dinner, where he bragged that he always ate free. I took the patrol car and wandered aimlessly inside the clothing shops fingering expensive clothes, trying to kill some time before we started patrolling again.
The only uncomfortable thing was being around the other cops who still mostly ignored me or made snide comments that they didn’t think I heard. We certainly didn’t socialize in the locker room. I never went in there. I never changed clothes at work. Of course, I never showered there. And, like I said, I refused to use the small closet they’d set aside to change clothes. When I used the women’s restroom that the female secretaries used, they never spoke to me, just stared with eyebrows raised.
Mostly I was able to avoid other cops during training. After we received our first assignments, they didn’t invite me to drink with them after our shift was over and they didn’t include me in any of their off-duty plans. I figured it was for the best, because I still couldn’t control myself when I got angry and I didn’t want to lose my job. Anyway, I couldn’t see myself hanging out with them. What would we talk about anyway? Even the married ones in the class talked about getting pussy all day except for Richard Kowalczyk, who seemed to be deeply religious and talked a lot about Heaven and Hell. Otherwise, he was all right or so I thought at the time. He didn’t get a lot of play from the guys and I think they were a little afraid around him because he was so religious. Monroe was a bragger, but he didn’t take himself too seriously and was kind of funny and likeable.
As soon as I picked Loyle up from the diner that day and we started back downtown, we got a call to bring in a witness to court. As I drove near the Ninth Ward, we got another call about an accident about three blocks away. Immediately I sped up and hit the siren. I admit those first times I saw the traffic clear a path for my police car I was impressed. I guess it was part of the respect I wanted so badly from everybody that met me now.
Ahead in the road a small motorbike lay on its side, parts of the fender were scattered everywhere, like pieces from a red metallic mosaic dropped from the sky and waiting to be put together. The frame of the motorcycle was twisted, and the back tire was missing. It looked as if it rolled to the side of road and now rested near the embankment overlooking a dry gully, where trash floated in a foot or two of stagnant water.
An older model Chevy van without rear plates perched on the edge of the embankment, its front end pointed downward toward a slight incline that faced a steep drop off further down. A woman hung out the door screaming, “Help me! Help Me! I’m going to fall.” Then she pointed toward the motorcycle rider. ‘He’s dying, get him to the hospital.”
Loyle jumped out of the car and yanked the woman from the driver’s side of the van as I pulled over. He sat her on the ground a few feet away and looked around for a witness. “Who called the police?” He wanted to know.
The woman started sobbing and shook her head. She gestured back to the highway. “He took off. Just took off.”
“Damn,” Loyle muttered to me. “Ain’t this some shit. “We’re gonna be here all the fucking day and I have a date.” It was pretty much the first thing he’d said to me that day.
I hurried over to the man lying in the road. Even from where I stood, I could see he was not moving. He was lying on his side almost in a fetal state, his right leg extended backward. His head rested near a rock about the side of my fist and blood soaked the roadway around him. His neck looked twisted. He wasn’t breathing. I walked over; my heart pounding suddenly scared of what I was seeing.
I bent down and searched for a pulse, just as we’d been shown in our emergency training course. I didn’t find one. Loyle bent down and checked again. “He’s dead, man.” Then using a stick lying nearby, he carefully moved the man’s head to the side where blood ran into the gravel. Most of the left side of his head and face was blood soaked. A medium size indentation like a bloody canyon had caved in the sunburned side of his cheek below his eye. The wound poured out blood that looked like dark red lava from a newly erupting volcano. Fragments of gravel and dirt stuck to the surrounding skin.
“Shit,” Loyle commented. Then he scooted over in the bloody gravel and poked a rock which was flat on one side. After a moment or so of maneuvering, he turned it over. It was covered with blood.
“Did he fall on it?” I asked suddenly aware of the flies that were buzzing over our heads in the moist heat of midday.
Loyle kept staring. Then he looked back at the woman sitting outside of her van. “I bet she knows though.”
We walked back to the van hearing the woman wailing, high-pitched and hysterical, as she stood up rocking from side to side, her feet planted in the roadway. “He’s hurt real bad, isn’t he?” She sobbed.
Loyle studied her and I followed his eyes. She wasn’t as old as I would have thought before, maybe around forty. I guess she’d been pretty once. Maybe. Her blonde hair was faded and there were fine lines around her eyes, but her nose was small and straight, and her lips were plump. Just like the faces I saw over and over in the fashion magazines.
“No ma’am,” Loyle responded. “He’s dead.”
The woman clutched at her chest and walked back to the van reaching out blindly for the open door.
“Get away from there,” Loyle yelled. “It’s going to go over.”
“Oh God, no, he can’t be dead.” She turned toward Loyle, stepping further away from the teetering vehicle. “Please no. I love him so much.” Loyle looked up in surprise. “You know him?” She nodded her head, blue eyes streaming tears.
“He’s my husband.”
“So how did he end up here?” Loyle was watching her now, tight fitted blue jeans, and a halter top stretched over taut breasts. I had to admire her too. She had the figure of a twenty-year-old.
“I don’t know.” She ran over to the man and stretched herself across his chest sobbing. “It’s all that bitch’s fault. This never would have happened except for her. She didn’t want him to go back to me. That’s why she called me. I know that’s why. He wasn’t going to divorce me. She was lying!”
Loyle looked confused. “What are you talking about?”
“We were going to get back together. I know he was going to tell me that after he left her. That’s why I followed him from her house after she called me.”
Loyle took off his hat and rubbed his chin, now starting to show the first scatterings of afternoon bristle. “So, you’re telling me that the woman who called you was his girlfriend? And then you followed him, and he fell off his bike? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
The woman wiped her eyes. “He left me for that ugly bitch last year, but I kept calling him. I told him I couldn’t live any more without him. I didn’t know how to do anything without him. Anything. I begged him to come back to me, but he wouldn’t take my calls anymore. He told me not to call again, not to wake him up at night, not to bother her either.” The woman stopped and began sobbing hysterically again.
Loyle cut her off. “Go ahead and finish what you were telling me.”
“Well a few days ago I heard they’d been arguing in front of everybody, so I knew he was going to come home. Then this morning she called me. She said he was there at her house and she told me that he wanted to marry her. She said he was going to ask for a divorce. I know it was a lie, so I waited outside of her house to see him leave. I was going to ask him. To see for myself, but he wouldn’t talk to me. I know he was going home so I followed him. He tried to lose me, but I followed him.”
“So that doesn’t explain what he’s doing lying there. He knew how to ride that bike didn’t he?” Loyle persisted.
The woman wiped her eyes with her freckled forearm and looked around nervously. “He’s been
riding since he was a kid.”
“So, what made him fall?” Loyle demanded. “I was following him and then…. I don’t know”
Loyle walked over to the mangled bike and lifted the frame. From where I stood, I could see I could see a thin line of scratches. “These old or new?”
The woman looked away. “I just tapped the back a little, but he got hit before and never fell off. I swear.”
“So, you hit the rear of his bike?”
“I just wanted him to stop and listen to me. That’s all I wanted.”
Loyle stared at her. “How about that dent in his head? Something hit him hard, like that rock over there. Looks like when he fell off, he landed on his neck.
Broke it. Looks like.”
The woman’s shoulders shook, and she started sobbing again, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I love him. I’ll always love him. He shouldn’t have gone to that woman. I put up with it then, but I couldn’t take any more.”
Loyle pointed at the blood-covered rock. I could see that it wasn’t as big as I’d first thought. It was curved and flat, just the right size to fit into the palm of her hand.
“No,” Loyle said, bending down to examine the stone. “He fell off cause you hit him with this. Isn’t that true?” He grabbed the woman by the arm and jerked her from side to side. Her body flopped and her head rolled toward her chest. “Isn’t that what happened?
That’s why he hit his head. Why’d you throw that rock?”
The woman wiped her eyes and her streaming nose again with the back of her wrist. “He wouldn’t stop. I just wanted to talk to him. He wouldn’t stop. I begged him, but he just speeded up. So, I tapped his wheel a little and pulled around him, right alongside of him and then he gave me the finger.” She gestured into space.
“So, is that when you threw the stone?” Loyle said harshly. “That’s murder you know.”
“I didn’t think it would hit him. Never in a million years. He just looked surprised and the bike went flying. Then he was lying there like now. Why couldn’t he just answer me? I wanted to know the truth. I needed him so much.” She was hugging herself now, shaking, lips trembling. “He didn’t have to disrespect me like that. What’s going to happen to me now?” She’d stopped sobbing and was now sniffling.
Loyle made a noise that sounded hallway between a snort and a laugh. “Well I guess that just depends, doesn’t it?”
“Depends?” She said and looked up. I caught her eye. She was pretty, in a frail, helpless, faded sort of way. Something about the question in her voice made me turn away.
“Yep,” Loyle said with assurance. “Depends on how you cooperate with the police. Understand? This could be just a case of your husband losing control of
his bike or something much worse. Get it?”
The woman just stared without speaking.
“Now,” said Loyle, his voice steady and controlled. “We’re going to have a long talk about what happened, just you and me. “Genie, you take the squad car back to the station, call for the ambulance and I’ll stay here with…what’s your name by the way?”
“Aggie.” Her voice was barely louder than a whisper.
“Right, Aggie. I gotta prepare the police report and take your statement and we can do that ourselves, can’t we?” He reached into his pocket and took out a crumpled napkin. Stooping down he picked up the stone and wrapped it carelessly in the napkin and tucked it into his pocket.
Loyle pointed at the cruiser and motioned me to go. I straightened up and caught the woman’s eye. I saw her watching me, the look of fear and silent plea for help. I spoke up. “It probably would be a good idea if I stayed and watched you prepare the report. I need some field experience you know, outside of the classroom.”
“You don’t need anything I don’t say you need girl. Get going now or I’ll write you up. One write-up will do it for you. Nobody else wants to ride with you anyway. I’ll see to it you pack up today. I don’t need anybody to watch the door here. No traffic on this road this time of day. Get going and make sure you call the ambulance when you get there.”
“Why don’t we call now?” I asked. Isn’t that the procedure?”
“What the fuck for? He’s dead! You see for yourself! Give me some time to get the facts down, before we have some other assholes crawling all over the place.” Loyle glared at me. “I don’t want to see any new faces here till I finish my report. That’s at least an hour. Do you hear me? Before you go help me push this shit bucket back up.”
I stepped down the side of the embankment, and together with Loyle, we pushed the woman’s van up the slight incline, and back onto the side of the road. Then Loyle pointed again at the squad car, and grabbed the woman by the arm, steering her toward the open door of her van.
I turned around and walked away, confused by what I’d seen, my instincts for danger wide awake. I started the engine and watched from a distance as the door of the woman’s van closed and she and Loyle disappeared inside.
Visions of the supervisor in the janitor’s closet at the shoe factory, his wiry-haired hanging stomach and rancid breath, suddenly appeared, making me dizzy and cold. I put my head down and stared at the dark blue thread of my uniform pants. I gulped for breath, breathing in large bursts of air, until I could hold my head up, and not feel as if my body was spinning away as far as it could from the memory. I drove a mile or so and pulled over to the curb, seeing the woman’s wide eyes staring at me, willing me to stop what she suspected was about to happen.
What could I do? What did I feel? Sympathy for the woman? If I felt sympathy, should I report Loyle? Whom should I report him to? What would happen if I did? I answered the last question myself. My job here would be over before it started. Anybody who snitched on a cop never survived in the end. I’d learned plenty from Rory’s gossip.
Besides, I thought, the woman was nothing to me. Really, she was a murderer just like I was. Worse, I told myself. She’d killed her husband who she said she loved so much, just as sure as if she’d fired a bullet into his heart. At least I’d killed for a reason, I thought…both times. So, I protected myself and now I kept the secret I’d have to take to my grave. But why did she kill? Jealousy? That was no reason I told myself. It wasn’t the same as what happened to me. She would end up getting what she deserved. But what was that?
As soon as I reached the station, I called for an ambulance and made a second call for back up for Loyle, even though he hadn’t told me to. I knew I wasn’t going to say anything to anybody. It wasn’t my business I told myself. She didn’t deserve my sympathy.
I checked the front desk, and Loyle wasn’t back yet. I parked the squad car across the street from the station and walked around the block, ducking into a bar, after looking around to make sure no one saw me. It was the middle of the day and cops filled the booths and stood back to back at the bar. I checked my watch every few minutes, wondering how I would finish my shift that day, since Loyle wasn’t around and I wasn’t supposed to be patrolling alone. I ordered another whiskey and downed it to get rid of my anxiety. I started to order a third, when Loyle came through the door, announcing his presence with a shrill wolf whistle. One of the men turned around and called out to him and he waved everybody over to the bar. Thinking that he was going to buy a round of drinks, a few of the cops followed him, but when they reached the bar, he turned his back and ignored them, ordering a draft beer for himself.
I elbowed my way up to the bar ignoring the occasional touch or pat I felt on my butt and the catcalls that went with it. I watched Loyle down a healthy swig of his beer and then nudged him in the ribs. He looked up and raised his eyebrows. “What are you doing in here? This is no place for you. When a man goes to a bar, he wants to let his hair down, not have to associate with a bunch of hormonal broads.”
“What happened?” I wanted to know.
“What’re you talking about?” Loyle half turned to me swallowing the rest of his beer.
“What happened to that woman? The motorcycle accident?”
“Nothing much,” he answered and ordered another beer.
I stepped closer and noticed that he was flushed and sweaty and his shirt hung limply outside his uniform trousers.
“Did the ambulance show up?” I wanted to know.
“Sure did. Carted the guy away. Another traffic fatality. His fault for speeding. Motorcycles are dangerous. He should have known better.”
“What? Speeding? He wasn’t speeding. That woman said she was his wife said she threw a rock and it hit him. What about that woman?”
Loyle shrugged. “Took her statement and she didn’t say anything about a rock. She said he was speeding, and he lost control.”
“What happened to the rock?” I remembered that Loyle had wrapped it in a napkin the last time I saw it. “It was bloody,” I reminded him.
“What rock? I didn’t see any rock.” Loyle’s eyes were wide and mocking. He wiped his mouth on one of the small cocktail napkins from the counter and smirked at me one eyebrow raised.
I started to speak. “Did you write up a report?”
“Of course. All turned in and everything.”
“So, you’re not mentioning that she threw the rock? She should be arrested. That was a homicide.” “Not the way I saw it,” Loyle straightened up. “Me and her had a real good talk and she saw what was best for her. No need to start trouble. It doesn’t bring back the dead.”
“That’s not how I heard it. You’re saying she changed her story?”
“Not that I heard. She said he was speeding the first time I talked to her. No reason to doubt it.” He put his glass down on the bar and looked me in the eye. If you heard anything else, you’re confused. We straightened all that out after out little talk. Guess you were the one mistaken.”
“Can I see the report?” I asked still not believing how the story had changed.
“Nope, it’s under seal.”
“Under seal? Why? Those reports are always
available to the public.”
“Not this one.”
“Why,” I wanted to know.
“Because I had it sealed. They owe me a few favors down there. No need to mess up anybody’s life. She can look at it like I did her a favor.”
“Come on,” Loyle said, throwing a dollar bill on the bar. “It’s time to get back to work.”
I followed him out the door, thinking about the man lying near his motorcycle with the twisted neck. After Loyle finished with the woman inside her van, the world of trouble she was facing was erased by some words written on a traffic report. From now on, she’d be a grieving widower and not a murderer. And just like that, everything that happened that day when the motorcycle rider was killed was re-written. And let me tell you, it gets easier to re-write history every time. You just learn to trade death for life.
That night I sat down at the kitchen table and wrote down everything that happened that day, in the black and white, lined, compensation book I started keeping as a journal. It was just like the notebook I’d kept in prison recording my fights. Two full pages in my cramped handwriting, carefully describing how the motorcycle rider died because he was hit with a rock and how Loyle saw to it that his wife wasn’t arrested for his murder. Seeing it written down as it really happened made me feel that I was doing the right thing and telling the truth.

Chapter Seventeen

Loyle was a lot more civil to me after that day, as if I’d passed some sort of initiation, that only we were witness to. He talked less and less about “the war,” and the different women he was having sex with and started talking about hunting, which was his next favorite subject.
Loyle was looking forward to his vacation in two weeks when he planned to hunt wild hogs with his brother. He pulled out a picture of a couple of his brother’s hounds, Catahoula’s, whom he said could take down any number of mean hogs. I didn’t know much about dogs, the only ones I’d ever seen struggled for survival in the streets. The dogs in the picture looked like the dog in the Charlie Brown comics to me and I said so, because I’d seen those comics back in the Philippines. Loyle responded that was just the type of thing a dumb foreigner like me would say. I’d explained that I really wasn’t a foreigner, because my father was an American citizen, but I think it all went over his head.
I mostly tried to keep my mouth shut and just listen, no matter how much crap came out of Loyle’s mouth. Mostly I was afraid of seeing a repeat of the first traffic fatality that I’d covered with him, but luckily Loyle and I only encountered black drivers with expired tags and broken taillights. Loyle enjoyed tailing these rolling wrecks with our lights flashing strobe-like and then pulling them over while his voice bellowed over the loudspeaker. He would stroll up to the driver’s window, gun drawn, baton swinging, hips rolling, and his bowed blue serge legs stepping high, and assess the occupants of the vehicles. At first, I stayed in our unit, but after a few weeks Loyle decided that I need to learn how it was done.
One night in late June, Loyle and I were together on the last watch, driving slowly past the old cemetery, away from the center of the city and then circling back again. Loyle’s syrupy, slightly drunk voice droned on doggedly, reminiscing about a night his whole company took on a deserted village that he said was full of abandoned women just waiting for someone like him.
Loyle talked to keep himself company, not noticing whether I listened. For the most part, he’d gotten used to me riding with him, riding shotgun mostly, because he didn’t believe in women driving when there was a man around.
Even so, Loyle’s company was about the only company I had now. I worked my watch and then went directly home. The only other cops who bothered with me were Richard and Psalm Monroe, who sometimes exchanged a few words in passing, but I don’t think that would have happened if they hadn’t been in my class.
I started buying a bottle to drink at night on the way home and stopped going to the bars in the Quarter. When I returned home, Mrs. Devereux was there waiting, usually drunk, and wanting to ask me questions about my day. I put her off as much as possible and walked her back to the front house. She moved slowly and looked up at me with eyes that were cloudy and unfocused. Sometimes she’d be waiting but didn’t seem to recognize me when I arrived. She’d taken to giving me little things, small china figurines, doilies, things like that, because she said my house was empty and sad. She didn’t realize that it wasn’t just my house that was empty and sad. I took her small gifts and positioned them around on the counters and windowsills so she would see, but she didn’t seem to notice. She came around to collect the first month’s rent personally, but for some reason she stopped collecting after that and I didn’t remind her. I figured I’d play out my hand until she called it in.
Anyway, one-night Loyle and I rolled up on an old Grand Prix, a huge car from what I could see, like a boat. Loyle, who claimed to know something about cars, said it was vintage, from the early seventies. The bumper on the auto was pushed in, and of course, one of the taillights was out, justifying a stop. Loyle motioned me out of the car gesturing for me to approach on the passenger side.
Loyle reached the driver’s window first and as soon as it was rolled down, a wave of marijuana smoke poured out into the cold air. It hung there suspended, a fine skein of grayish blue, before the damp night air sucked it up. Music blasted from the radio taped to the dashboard with industrial tape and the vibrating beat was accompanied by an enraged male voice, shouting in rhymes about growing up poor in the hood. The sound shook the entire vehicle, making it shudder all the way to the rear of the car.
I pointed my light toward the passenger side window. A young woman with stringy blonde hair rested her head against the back of the seat, her eyes half-closed. I shinned my light in the direction of the driver, a large-boned, dark-skinned black, wearing a yellow wife beater. He sat leaning forward, his hands resting on top of the steering wheel. His braids were loose and frizzy at the root, beads hanging low on one side and a large blue plastic pick was stuck behind his right ear.
Loyle moved his light to the rear of the car and I saw it was littered with crumpled cartons and bottles. When he shifted his light back to the console, I saw an open forty King Cobra sitting in the cup holder. “Well now,” he said his voice extra syrupy. “What’s that I see lying down in the back seat? Is that a Sharps model
1874 Creedmoor? I do believe it is. Haven’t seen one in any number of years. Ain’t that something? How is it you come to have it just resting right there? That model would set a man back a good fifteen thousand dollars on a given day. Didn’t know you made that kind of money at the Circle K. Learn something new every day, don’t you?”
The black man stayed quiet his head bent forward. Loyle yelled across the front seat at the girl, “Hey, wake up now bitch, parties over. Tap on that horn and wake her up,” he directed the driver. “Don’t worry I got this gun pointed right at your temple. Don’t try to fuck with me.”
The girl stirred, rolling her head from side to side at the sudden blast of sound. She focused and followed the beam of light sitting up straight, startled.
“Where you guys headed?” Loyle leaned in toward the passenger seat. The girl licked her lips and wiped the back of her mouth. Even in the dark, I could see she was slack-eyed, and her stare was vacant.
I watched Loyle closely, his right hand holding the flashlight shook and his left hand tapped nervously on his holster. Loyle didn’t approve of white girls going with black guys. Actually, he didn’t have much use for black people period. When he wasn’t running on at the mouth about “the war,” or the different broads he said he’d been with, he was complaining about how the blacks had taken over this city, and “didn’t know their place anymore.” He couldn’t see why any white woman in her right mind would have a relationship with a black man.
Loyle ordered the man out of the vehicle, after yelling at me to keep my gun trained on him as he exited. The man stepped out gingerly and placed his hands on the roof of the automobile. He looked unkempt, the look of druggies I’d seen in Rory’s apartment and he reeked of weed. Loyle reached in the car and removed a partially smoked blunt from the ashtray. The girl in the front seat had nodded off again, oblivious to what was happening.
Tossing me what was left of the blunt, Loyle directed me to bag it up for evidence while he kept the driver at gunpoint. When I came back to the car, he had me reach in and remove the shotgun from the back seat.
“Where’d you get this?” He asked the driver again. The driver mumbled something.
“What’s that?” Loyle yelled. “I didn’t hear you.” “Bought it!” The driver said a little louder.
“You got a receipt?” Loyle wanted to know. “Nah,” the driver looked around and catching my eye, he looked surprised. “Bought it from a guy.”
“Know the guy’s name?” Loyle was enjoying the conversation. I knew the only thing that could have made it better, would have been if the driver seemed scared. He didn’t, even though he was standing there without any weapon after being frisked by Loyle.
“Book the rifle as evidence,” Loyle barked at me.
I took the rifle back to our car and laid it carefully in the truck, after checking to see it was unloaded.
At gunpoint, the driver was handcuffed and directed into the rear seat of our car, while I marked him with my revolver. “Get the girl in too,” Loyle called out.
I poked at the girl, but she slept soundly, snoring softly, spittle trickling down her chin.
“Just grab her, don’t be an idiot.”
I glared back at Loyle, my face turning red. I was learning to hold my temper since it wasn’t like I could haul off and punch anybody. Hesitating, I reached for the girl’s arm, the skin was pale, soft, and malleable, and I felt my fingers digging in. I pulled hard and dragged her out, trying to set her on her feet. Her small frame was clad in what looked like a child’s tee shirt and small tight shorts that skimmed the edge of her butt.
I half-lifted, half-dragged her back to the squad car, cuffed her and pushed her in next to the driver. Loyle gave her a long look. “Looks like Missy’s out of it. Too bad she likes dark men. Wouldn’t touch that stuff after he got to it.”
Loyle started the engine. “Wait here,” he told me, and returned to the car that now looked abandoned sitting alone in the dark. I watched him bent over the trunk and then reaching across the console. A few moments later, he returned, after shoving a few items in a paper bag that he carried.
The car now smelled of weed, and nervous sweat. The driver called out from the back seat. “You got my stuff? I want it all back when I make bail. You hear me!”
Loyle snickered and with a quick motion pulled off to the side of the road and got out. Pulling open the passenger door, he reached for his gun and turned it around. Without hesitation, he began hitting the driver in the face with the butt end. The driver cried out struggling to move away, but there was no place for him to go in the vehicle and no way to protect his face which was taking the worse part of the beating. Loyle moved into the vehicle now, almost lying on top of the driver who’d rolled onto the floor. The sounds of the driver’s screams filled the interior of the car, along with the dull smacking sound of metal striking flesh and cracking against teeth. I shrank down in the front seat and told myself it wasn’t any of my business. I was supposed to do just what I was doing, I told myself.
What mattered was that I keep my mouth shut and that would mean I could keep my job.
The screams became muffled sobs and the girl riding next to the driver came to and began her shrill yelling, “Blood, there’s blood all over everything!
Stop! Stop!”
Loyle slowly backed out of the car and climbed back into the driver’s seat. The girl’s screams were replaced by noisy sobs. The driver in the rear seat groaned once and was silent. Loyle was subdued. There was blood on the handle of his revolver, and it leaked onto his holster and pants leg. “Do me a favor,” he said. “Get a towel out of the glove box and wipe down everything. Now that’s a job a girl can do.” He looked over at me and laughed, his old self returning in a flash.
I gritted my teeth, pulled out a faded dish towel, wiped the blood off the seat next to him and then removed his gun and wiped that down too. “Don’t worry about the holster,” he told me. “I’ll take care of that later. Don’t want to mess up the vehicle.”
We pulled around the back of the station and the girl crying softly now, stepped out of the car when Loyle told her to. He jerked the driver out without asking me for help. The man looked nothing like he’d looked when we first stopped him. His face was covered with blood that ran down his shirt. His right eye was swollen shut and his nose leaned to one side. His open mouth was bloody and raw. He moaned and spat pieces of teeth onto the ground.
“Follow me in so we can book em.” Loyle yelled over his shoulder. I carefully took the girl’s arm and led her through the front door down the corridor, past the yelling and cat calls from the people seated in the lobby. The girl stepped lightly in thin black ballet flats worn at the sole and scuffed at the heel. “How old are you?” I asked as we walked.
“Fifteen,” she whispered and looked up at me her eyes dilating widely. I remember thinking that somebody badly needed to wash her hair and scrub her face and she would be what she was supposed to be, an angelic child. “We need to call your mother,” I told her. “Give me the number.”
“Can’t call her.” She lifted swollen eyes and informed me matter-of-factly.
“Why? You’re a juvenile. We have to inform your parents.”
“I don’t have any parents. I used to live in Hillsides. That was before Lenny started taking care of me.”
“Lenny? Is that the driver we just arrested with you?”
She nodded and raised her cuffed arms, bringing her hands toward her face to bite on a cuticle as we walked.
“Is that the state home here in Louisiana?”
She shook her head. ‘No, in Arkansas.”
“How’d you get down here then?”
She shrugged. “Just sneaked out one day, took a bus until my money ran out. Then I met Lenny.”
“Well, when they find out how old you are, you’re going to end up in state care again,” I told her. “You shouldn’t be on the street anyway. You could get killed out here.”
“Lenny takes care of me.”
“Looks like Lenny’s in some trouble. He’s not going to be taking care of anybody for a while.”
She jerked her arms downward and I almost lost my grip.
We reached the end of the corridor and Loyle was waiting leaning against the wall, arms folded across his chest. I peered into the holding cell and saw that Lenny was lying face down on the metal slab attached to the wall that served as a bunk. Loyle grabbed the girl’s arm and shoved her into the open cell next door. Then he ushered me down the hall and out the back door to our squad car.
“Get in.” Loyle directed. We drove a couple of blocks from the station, where a lot of the cops liked to park since one of the streets was lined with bars. Loyle pulled over next to a late model pick-up truck with a New Orleans Saints decal on the bumper and stopped the car. While I watched, he grabbed a car mat from behind the seat and headed over to the trunk of the cruiser. I stepped out and watched him remove the rifle from the trunk and roll it carefully in the sheepskin mat. Then he carried the roll back to the pick-up and loaded it cautiously into the long metal box in the bed of the truck.
Loyle motioned me to get back in the car. He was smiling broadly and humming to himself. “Just hit the mother lode,” he informed me. “Need that cash. This
boy has got bills to pay.”
“You’re taking it?”
“Damn right I’m taking it and selling it too. This one’s worth a pretty penny.” Loyle pulled into the back dock behind the station and shut off the engine. I stared ahead bewildered. “So, you’re not going to book it as evidence?”
Loyle laughed. “Hell no. It ain’t his anyways. For sure, it’s stolen from some other poor son of a bitch. So, it might as well be mine.” “But if it’s stolen shouldn’t we check out and see if we can return it to the owner?”
Loyle looked over and raised his eyebrows. “Why? That asshole we arrested wasn’t going to give it back. Why should I? It’s a real collector’s item. Hard to find. I used to get a free gun catalogue couple of times a year.
That’s how I know.”
“Maybe it really is his rifle like he said.” I kept picturing the rifle in the metal carrier box in the back of the truck.”
“You fucking kidding? That poor country ass nigger! He ain’t had in all his life the money that rifle costs. You worried about something? When I sell it, I’ll give you a little piece.”
We booked the driver for resisting arrest, possession of drugs for sale and drug paraphernalia, driving under the influence, statutory rape, endangerment of a minor, transporting a minor across state lines, and oh yes, driving a vehicle with an equipment violation. We booked the girl as a juvenile for prostitution and drug possession. We didn’t book the driver for possession of stolen property because Loyle kept the rifle and I kept quiet.
Before we left the building, Loyle ducked into an empty office and made a phone call. It took about a minute, so I was curious and wanted to know whom he was calling.
“Property Clerk,” he answered.
I followed him down to the property room located in the basement. I’d never been down there before and I looked around curiously at the shelves stacked high with electronic equipment, rifles and handguns, clothing and other items all blocked by an iron gate. “Do they keep cash here?” I asked.
“Sometimes they book it, but it doesn’t last long,” Loyle responded, adding, “unless it’s some sort of high-profile case with everybody watching. No selfrespecting dealer expects to get it back.”
We’d been there a few minutes when a short man wearing coveralls entered. His eyes were rummy and swollen. “Just woke up,” he explained to Loyle, unzipping the front of his coverall to show his bluestriped pajamas. Looking down, he gestured toward his pager, before slipping it into his pocket.
“Well,” Loyle answered. “You need to get here a lot faster otherwise I can always call someone else. “This is Homer,” Loyle gestured toward the little man who was now pushing open the iron gate that separated the shelves of goods from the front counter. “Homer manages the property here. He helps me out when I need it. Don’t you Homer?”
Homer nodded energetically. I picked up the signin sheet attached to a clipboard on the front counter.
“Do we sign in?” I asked.
“Hell no!” Loyle swore under his breath and reached into his pocket, pulling out a packet of gum. With a quick snap, he opened the packet and popped a stick of gum in his mouth. “We’re special so we don’t have to sign in here.”
Homer rubbed his eyes still swollen with sleep.
“What do you want now?”
Loyle leaned in and whispered and Homer walked to the rear of the cage-like room and opened one of the drawers in a large standing cabinet. He stood with his back to us and measured something with a small cup that he emptied out onto a miniature scale. Then he emptied the contents of the scale into a plastic bottle. Walking back to the counter he handed the bottle to
Loyle. “Here you go man.”
Loyle held the plastic bottle filled with white powder up to the light and nodded satisfied. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. Carefully he counted out a few bills, folded them in half, and handed them to Homer. Homer reached out and pocketed the bills in a flash. Then he closed the iron gate and locked the door to the room. “Going back home to sleep,” he said rubbing his eyes.
“Time to go,” Loyle said matter-of-factly.
We exited the building, after hitting the time clock and started back to our cars.
“I don’t understand,” I told him.
“Not much to understand. Do you want a cut of this coke or do you want me to pay you cash for your piece?”
“What are you going to do with it?” I gestured toward the small bottle that Loyle held in his palm.
“It’s for sale as soon as I get out of here. You can sell yours or I’ll give you two hundred now. What do you want?”
I opened my mouth and tried to think of what to say. “Isn’t this awfully risky?” What if we get caught?”
“That’s Homer’s job, to make sure that we don’t. I been working with him for the last five years. He’s real reliable. I page him when I need something, and he comes running. No matter what time.”
“So, he gives out the property booked in there?”
“Yep he does. Usually not much in the way of drugs left after the first of the month though. Looks like we got there just in time.”
Loyle kept watching me. “You sure are a chicken shit. That’s why I don’t like working with broads. I never see any of the guys ask so many questions. Look, you know you need to keep your mouth shut about this don’t you? Homer’s taking a big risk too. I make it worth his while to be on call for me, but he doesn’t want any trouble either.”
We stopped in front of my Caprice. “Here,” Loyle handed me a few tightly folded bills. “This way you don’t have to mess around trying to sell stuff. You don’t impress me as the sharpest knife in the drawer. Likely to get caught, get us all busted.”
I folded my arms across my chest and shook my head
Loyle stepped close, so we were eye to eye. “Look you take this. Don’t make no fuss or I’ll see to it you won’t be working for the department. Get it? Can’t have anybody like you around that can’t be trusted. You take it now. Tomorrow I’m putting in for a change of patrol partner. I don’t feel good with you.”
He reached over and stuck the small tube of bills under the first button of my uniform shirt, so it stuck in my bra. Then he turned away and got into his truck. I stood there for a minute and then I started up the engine on the Caprice and drove.
I drove past wide grassy lots lined with oak trees, passing the pastel colored mansions, pale pink and turquoise, warped and faded from the rain and salty air, separated by the trolley tracks from the two-story brick projects with sagging balconies.
In the project walkways large women in stretched out tee shirts, braided the hair of boys who sat lethargically between their legs, showing gold teeth when they smiled. Dice games were starting up in front of storefronts selling beer, crawfish, and sandwiches. Prematurely aged women in mismatched clothes and elderly men, their bodies frail and bent, carried their cans and bottles in brown paper bags. Their hair was knotted and their stares wide-eyed as they looked back at the passing traffic.
I drove straight home and steered my car down the long narrow cracked cement driveway. I walked over to the front house and looked around. The sound of chattering birds and the humming of cicadas filled the air. I peered into the front windows between the missing slats on the faded blinds and didn’t see anybody home. I walked around to the bedroom and peeked under a window shade that was partially rolled up. No sign of anybody.
I remembered then, that Mrs. Devereux told me last night she was going to have a transportation service take her to the market this morning. Telling myself that I just wanted to make sure she was out and not in any trouble. I forced the door to the washroom and let myself in to the service porch area. But I already knew by then, as I pressed my body against the warped wooden door frame, that there was another reason slowly percolating in my mind.
I stepped quietly, walking down the polished wood floors, clean, but worn and scratched, away from the living room stuffed with knickknacks and heavy oversize velour furniture, covered in layers of doilies and small standing bookcases filled with cracked leather photo albums.
Turning the corner, I reached the bedrooms. I opened the door to the larger room and peeked in. Apparently, this was her bedroom. The walls were white, and the bed was covered by a worn green chenille spread. The only furniture was a dark mahogany dresser and wardrobe and a straight back chair made of braided cane. A green shag carpet covered the floor. The top of the dresser was covered with a crocheted scarf and several Bibles sat on top.
I opened the closet and saw that there were just a few housedresses hanging on rusted metal hangers that smelled of mothballs and looked as if they had been hanging for some time. At the rear of the closet, an oldfashioned red coat with glass buttons straight out of those old movies, hung alone, covered in a cracked plastic bag. Along the wall, several pairs of orthopedic shoes with worn heels rested in plastic shoe trees. Next to the shoes were stacked shoe boxes. I was curious so I pulled them out and opened them. They were all empty.
I peeked into the second bedroom and stood back surprised. The room was wall-papered in pink gingham, the molding was painted a soft pink and the ceiling was bordered in white. The bedspread, curtains, and area rug were white with soft pink roses. On the painted white pine desk, pink angels floated on a sheer white gauze lampshade. A picture of Jesus hung over the bed and two large gold crosses hung on opposite walls. Several pink teddy bears wearing pink and white ruffled outfits were propped up on various throw pillows made of pink silk.
I opened the closet thinking how I would have loved this room growing up and wondering whom it belonged to.
Clothes were arranged neatly inside the small walkin closet, hanging on fabric hangers, pressed tightly against each other. Built in shelves, held folded pastel sweaters and blouses, stacked on top of jeans and slacks neatly creased. I pulled one of the hangers aside and held up a small form fitting white knit dress with lace cut-outs on the skirt. Whoever wore these clothes and lived in this room was a girly girl; the kind I’d always admired. I had to imagine her because there were no photos to look at.
I closed the door and walked back to the kitchen. Mrs. Devereux never got back until late. It was the one day in the week when she splurged and treated herself to McDonald’s for dinner after she finished shopping. Her driver, another old woman, still able to get behind the wheel, ate with her.
I filled a glass of water and looked around. Lucky for Mrs. Devereux, this house was paid off, something to do with an insurance policy her husband had. It kicked in when he died. Lucky Mrs. Devereux. She had money to spare too. Money that she didn’t keep in the bank. Most likely, that money was hidden right here in the house so she could keep an eye on it. I’d watched her slip my cash rent into her pocket and figured she stashed it when I was out of sight.
It made me curious wondering just how much she’d managed to save over the years. It didn’t look as if she had many needs. She didn’t eat much, and she certainly didn’t buy new clothes. From what I could see, the only money she spent was on cheap liquor. Knowing what was coming, I could feel a cold sweat starting on my forehead and along my neck. She was old and she didn’t need the money, I told myself.
It wasn’t afternoon yet when I gripped the paneling along the wall and felt the free space. I stuck my arm down as far as I could reach and felt around. Nothing. I even checked under the mattress. Certain that I’d checked every possible hiding place, I walked out and closed the door.
The pink bedroom took a little longer. I combed through all the furniture and looked under the bed. I checked everything in the closet. No money there.
Discouraged I returned to the living room. Maybe she was just making it all up, an old woman with wishful thinking and I’d fallen for it. I began to turn over the figurines after I looked under the couch cushions and behind every piece of furniture that had to be moved.
Then my eyes locked on the picture albums sitting on top of boxes labeled “photos.” Sitting on the floor in front of the bookcases, I pulled out the albums and saw they were stacked one on top of the other. I quickly opened all of them in the first row along the floor. They were full of old black and white photos of people in the wide belted skirts and baggy suits of the forties and fifties, some of whom looked a little like Mrs. Devereux; a mix of Cajun, Creole, black and whatever white people had added themselves to the mix. Most of the women wore hats with veils that partially covered their faces or wide picture hats with flower arrangements on the top. They smiled lazily into the camera showing off their Sunday best and their freshly set hair coiled along their necks and foreheads.
Some of the albums held newer photos from a different generation, young men and women dressed in bell bottoms, loud flowered shirts in bright orange and green, short skirts and high platforms, some with the long, stringy, center-parted hair, trendy in those days, and others with their natural wooly hair picked out from their heads in fuzzy halos.
One album was full of baby pictures, chubbycheeked infants, some fair and blond and some darkskinned, with a head full of curly hair, dressed in miniature dresses and short pants with suspenders and bow ties. Little girls in the photographs wore pigtails and tight braids, held with colorful plastic clips and boy toddlers showed closely shaved heads. They smiled crooked grins as they reached out from adult arms, stretching toward the camera.
After I pulled out the front row of albums, I reached back and started on the second row where the photo boxes were lined up. The first three boxes were stuffed with documents, insurance policies, property deeds and official looking letters stamped with the seal of the state of Louisiana.
At the bottom of the second box was a death certificate for someone named Laurie Devereux. She was fourteen at the time of her death and she’d died eighteen years ago of Leukemia. I wondered if she was the girl who’d occupied the pink bedroom and if she was Mrs. Devereux’s youngest daughter, born late in her life, but there was no other record of her.
The third, fourth and fifth boxes stacked against the back of the bookcase were taped shut. I hesitated a moment, but since I’d gone this far, I went to the kitchen and helped myself to a butter knife from the silverware drawer. The moisture in the air had softened and frayed the tape on the old leather box. I pulled the lid off and stared at rolls of bills folded and arranged, neatly filling the entire box. My heart started to hammer, and I opened the next two boxes with shaking hands. They were stuffed with bills too.
I checked my watch and saw that it was getting late. I hurried to the kitchen and grabbed a large paper bag from the broom closet. Then I dumped all the cash from the boxes inside. I shoved the boxes to the back of the bookcase where I’d found them and, covered them back again with the photo albums.
I grabbed my paper bag, now almost bursting and ran to the service porch and out the back door, latching it behind me.
I told myself that as soon as I talked to her again,
I’d tell Mrs. Devereux that her back door needed fixing. Anybody could force it open. As soon as the door was locked, I remembered that I’d left the butter knife out and I wondered if she would see it. More worrisome, I wondered how often she checked her money. It suddenly occurred to her that she might be like me and check it every day or so. Of course, the most important question was, when she found it missing would she suspect me?
I hurried to my bedroom, pulled down the window shades, and dumped my bag onto the bed. I tried to remember if this was as much cash as I’d taken from Cristiano, since this money was not bundled. I unfolded the rolls of bills and started counting, separating the bills by fifties and twenties.
If none of the money was spent from the sale of the bar when her husband died and she’d collected something on his life insurance, ninety-two thousand dollars remained, mostly in fifties. I sat back staring at the money expecting Mrs. Devereux to come banging on the door, yelling about finding the butter knife on her living room floor. After some time passed, I rolled up the bills and added them to the money I’d hidden. Then I sat down and pulled out my composition journal and wrote about my day, how Loyle beat up the driver of the car we stopped, how the young girl with him had run away from Arkansas and how Loyle ended up with a rifle to sell and a bag of coke. I didn’t forget to add that he had an “on call connection,” to the property room named Homer.

Chapter Eighteen

As it turned out, Mrs. Devereux didn’t approach me about the butter knife. In fact, she stopped coming by to visit or using her key to come in when I was gone.
Loyle kept his word and put in for a change of partner the very next day after we arrested the suspect with the antique rifle. For the next week while he waited for a new partner, I rode with him and he never mentioned the arrest we made. I watched him pull over a few cars for no reason and punch and kick some of the guys we arrested, while I sat sheltered in the interior of the squad car. I kept my mouth shut and told myself that it wasn’t any of my business and it didn’t change my life any. Besides, some of the suspects he stopped, fought back viciously, not wanting to give up anything and Loyle told me before he stopped speaking to me, that keeping me in the car was keeping me from getting hurt.
It was about eight months from the beginning of my training, and I had almost two more years of assignment on patrol, in what the department referred to as getting “field experience.” Judging by the comments and whispers at roll call, the guys were speculating and taking side bets as to who it would be the unlucky one to ride with me.
A couple of days later, they assigned me a new patrol partner, whom I’d already met, Richard Lee Kowalezyk. The guys laughed about him and called him “The Zealot,” because he was so religious.
About the same time, another female officer reported for duty. Actually, she’d worked for the police department for quite some time, in another city, but she’d been off on disability for nearly a year. Now she was transferring to our division. She was a tall black woman with broad shoulders and large shiny false teeth. The black wig she wore was sprayed so stiffly, that even the strong wind blowing in from the gulf didn’t move a hair when she went out to the back dock to check out her vehicle. She looked like she was in her late forties, which was old in my eyes. I looked her up and down and wondered how she managed to keep up. She was overweight and when she walked around the station, she limped, and it looked like her back and knees hurt her.
They announced her name, “Mary-Alazia,” during roll call and pointed out how she already had a few years in the department. The gossip was that she was transferred because of a bust she’d made that resulted in the death of some underage street dealer. Supposedly, she didn’t really know who he was or how he made his living and shot him by accident, during a routine stop.
I remembered seeing the news coverage on television. A perky Asian newscaster reported that the young man drew a weapon, but nobody believed it, not even the other cops. His family and other gang members put a hit on Mary-Alazia. The department where she’d worked was trying to bring in the big guns to show the other gang members they meant business, but so far nobody on the street was talking and they were afraid she wouldn’t last unless they found her a new place to work.
Mary-Alazia interested me. I heard she was one of the first women to join the police force in Louisiana, so I figured it must have been hard for her to deal with the all the prejudice against women from the rest of the cops. I heard she had five children and was married three times and I have to say I admired her for that too.
Now after work each day, I stopped at the liquor store and bought a bottle on the way home. I locked myself in my little house and drained the bottle down to the last drop. The few acquaintances I made stopped taking my calls and faded out of my life. None of them ever really said so, but I knew it was because I was a cop.
Even Mrs. Devereux’s visits stopped right after I helped myself to her money. Every day feeling guilty, I toyed with the idea of sneaking in and putting the money back when she was gone, but the lights were always on and it didn’t seem as if she left the house anymore. At first, I was worried, fearing the worst. I was waiting for her to confront me or to hear a knock on my door because she’d called the police. But a couple of weeks passed, and nothing happened.
One day I bumped into the woman who used to drive Mrs. Devereux to the market. She told me that Mrs. Devereux now paid her weekly to do her grocery shopping at the Save A Lot Food Store and bring it to her house. She mentioned that Mrs. Devereux was sick again. I hoped that the fact she was sick meant that she might not be thinking about her money.
At the end of each week when I collected my trash and bagged up the bottles, I thought how much like Mrs. Devereux I was becoming. I really didn’t have anybody to talk to when I wasn’t on field patrol. I only had Richard, the Bible quoting, strait-laced cop, and occasionally Psalm Monroe who was on another watch. I was lonely, just like I was when I was driving cab. Sometimes I played a game with myself, where I kept count of the number of words I spoke in one day. When we didn’t get a domestic violence call where we had to talk down the perpetrator and sometimes the victim, the number was awfully small.
The only thing that I looked forward to, was buying pretty clothes on my days off at Saks and Neiman
Marcus, since I’d discovered buying on credit. I quickly ran up my cards to the limit, but I put the bills in a drawer so I wouldn’t have to look at them and modeled the clothes for myself, alone, just me, and my bedroom mirror.
One night, when I was off, and the rain came slamming down on my roof and hitting my windows like shotgun pellets, I sat in the dark and stared at the small color television I’d bought at a thrift store, wondering what it would be like to have somebody to sit here with me and watch television, maybe share a drink. But it was better this way I told myself. I didn’t need anybody poking around in my past. Too many questions made me angry, made me want to strike out and hurt the person asking.
When thunder finally started rolling in that night and flashes of light briefly appeared in the darkness, I noticed that the lights were off in Mrs. Devereux’s house. I hadn’t seen her for some time, so I was curious about what was going on with her. By that time, I couldn’t really remember taking her money, and it seemed that it was really always my money. Besides when you dream about dead bodies and blood, you’ll always know you were responsible for worse things than some missing money.
I stared out my window at the flashes of light and thought about Mrs. Devereux. Finally deciding to check on her, I put on a bathrobe, grabbed my flashlight and a jacket to hold over my head and hurried through the pouring rain, stepping into icy pools of water that were dammed up in the recesses of the concrete walkway. An older model Toyota was parked in the front of the driveway close to the house. I stared at it surprised. I’d never seen that car here before.
The lights were all out on the south side of the house facing me, so I ducked under the eaves and stayed close to the wall until I found my way to the front of the house that faced the street. I shook the water out of my face and peered into the living room. I didn’t see anybody, so I walked around to the side window where I thought the old woman slept. There was barely enough light to make out the outline of her bed. I shinned my flashlight in the direction of the bed and kept it pointed there. There was a vague outline of a body curled on its side beneath the covers in the wide four poster bed. Next to the bed sat a tall green oxygen canister with plastic tubing that reached to the bed. There it disappeared into the shadow of the curved body.
At the foot of the bed, a rocking chair slowly rocked back and forth facing the bed. The woman in the rocking chair was talking on the phone. Her voice was loud, carrying over the sound of the rain pounding on the corrugated metal siding. She spoke with an accent that I couldn’t place, her speech sharp and punctuated, each phrase followed by words in another language, maybe Spanish. “Si es verdad.” “Two strokes, one right after the other. Her home aide said when she came to pick up the viejita, she’d just had some kind of shock, and she was screaming to call the police or something. Then she stopped screaming and didn’t talk or move at all. Later, she had another stroke they said. No, she doesn’t move much, just a little bit on her left side. Doesn’t talk at all. Nada. They put in a feeding tube and she’s on the oxygen all the time. What? No, it’s permanent they said. No, I’m just working nights. The day shift is una negra, joven. The viejita es loca. You know the disease when the old people can’t remember anything? She doesn’t recognize anybody, just stares at the wall. Sí, es verdad.”
I watched as the woman stood up and moved away from the rocker and walked over to the nightstand. She was short and squat and wore a loose-fitting paleyellow top and pants, like the nurses wore in the hospitals. As I watched, she poured herself a glass from the pitcher of clear liquid sitting on the nightstand. She threw her head back to drink and seemed to notice my light shining into the room. She put down the glass and started toward the window.
I hit the button on my flashlight and ducked back out of sight against the wall. From where I stood, I could picture the woman standing in the dim light, staring out at the pouring rain, probably wondering where the strong beam of light suddenly came from and where it went.
Back in my own house, shivering, my teeth chattering, I stripped off my clothes in the bathroom and wrapped myself in three of my new bath towels. So, Ms. Devereux had a stroke. Two strokes it seemed. She was sick enough to need oxygen and have someone who wore a hospital uniform stay with her day and night.
No wonder I didn’t find her in my living room waiting when I came home or telling me that her money was missing. The caretaker said that something shocked her before she had the first stroke. It hit me that the shock might have been finding out that her money was missing. She was asking for it I told myself. She shouldn’t have bragged about keeping all that money. Besides, she really didn’t have anything to live for, she said so herself. Her husband was dead; her daughter lived in California and she had an illness that fought its way back from remission.
When I finally fell asleep the rain slowed to a soft patter, and I dreamed I was imprisoned at the bottom of a large pit of soft silt and wet mud looking up toward the sky. It was dark and cold in the pit and I tried to climb out, but my hands couldn’t get a grasp on the slippery walls and the mud kept sliding between my fingers. I woke up with tears on my face and long red scratches on my cheeks where my nails had dug in while I was sleeping.
Riding with Richard was nothing like riding with Loyle. Richard talked all day, mostly about Jesus and the prophets. He quoted scripture and lamented on the present state of society. He was against abortion, gays, and feminists. You name it. But despite that, he usually treated people decently. He didn’t ask too many questions except for some curiosity he had about Thailand and where it was located.
Richard told me that at one time, he planned to travel and see all those faraway places he heard about at school and saw on a map, but then he’d accepted Jesus and the Jesus didn’t approve of people straying away from their homes to foreign places. I asked him why and he said that Jesus believed a person should only travel if he was spreading the gospel. He said he didn’t consider himself worthy of preaching, so he made it a point to stay close to home.
Richard was married with three little girls and a wife named Martha, who was trying to home-school them. He told me that he and Martha met in church when they were teenagers and married when they were eighteen. The reason he’d fallen in love with her was because she was so devout. She dressed conservatively, didn’t wear make-up, and kept her hair long, because he liked it like that. He made a point of telling me that he and Martha were both virgins when they got married and he planned to make sure that the same would be true for his daughters when their time came.
I never had anything to contribute to this line of conversation, but Richard didn’t seem to mind and really, he didn’t seem to judge me, even though I was the opposite of his wife. Sometimes, though, when he was talking, I wondered what he would say if he knew whom I really was and what I’d done. According to Richard, he and Martha lived life according to the Ten Commandments and there was no room for error.
One afternoon at roll call when Richard and I were starting patrol, Mary-Alazia surprised me, by tapping me on the shoulder and asking if she could speak to me. Surprised, I turned around and followed her to the back of the room. Mary-Alazia adjusted her pageboy-styled wig so that it was now crooked on the left side, instead of the right. “Look,” she began, “I’ve been checking you out, and you look like a good person to me. I don’t know if you’re a good cop yet. Haven’t worked with you, but maybe we will someday.” She leaned back on a table stacked with maps of the city and yellow crime scene tape. Mary-Alazia touched me on the arm. “I’ll try to run interference for you here with the guys when I can. I see it’s a little rough.” She gestured at the cops standing in the back row. “They don’t mean anything, just not used to you yet.”
“Well, I’ve been here a while now and it’s still the same. Nobody talks to me. Just a couple of the guys.” I told her.
“It’ll get better. These guys are set in their ways. Change comes hard. Well anyway, what I wanted, was to ask you a favor.”
“A favor?” I repeated, wondering what she could possibly want.
“Yes. See I just can’t think of anybody I’d trust to ask.” She’d gradually eased us into the furthest back corner and lowered her voice, so I had to stand inches from her to hear.
You know by now I was curious. “So, what’s the favor?” I asked again.
“Well actually I want to introduce you to a young
“That’s okay. Forget it.” I stopped her.
“Just let me finish,” she went on. “I have a son, Raleigh and he needs a good-looking girl like you with her head on straight, somebody to go out with, somebody that can keep an eye on him. He’s a real special guy.”
“I’m sure he can get his own girl. Most guys don’t like to be fixed up,” I told her
“Well I need to help him out here. He always picks those fast tail girls, the kind that spend his money and get him in trouble.” Mary-Alazia answered. “Right now, he doesn’t have a chance to get together with anyone, but when he gets out it, would be nice to have
someone to welcome him home.” “Gets out?” I repeated.
“The boy’s doing a little time, that’s all. He’ll be out before the holidays so he can spend Christmas with his family.”
I laughed. “I’m a police officer, remember? I can’t associate with criminals.” They made a big point of that at the academy.”
Mary-Alazia waved her hand. “Some bullshit charges! He ain’t a big-time gangster or anything like that. I think it was really mistaken identity. That’s what I think. I wasn’t around at the time or I would have advised him better than that lazy ass public defender. They pled him out and he had a prior. Big mistake!” I didn’t get to respond because we were called back to answer roll call, but Mary-Alazia caught my eye and winked at me from the back row when I turned around.
Sunday afternoon watch was peaceful compared to the rest of the week, because most of the of the cities’ residents were either attending late church services or sleeping off last night’s drunk.
Richard and I answered one domestic violence call and arrested the boyfriend after it appeared he’d blackened the eye of his brother’s wife. It seemed that he did it because she’d sold her food stamps and some of his favorite tapes and spent the money on new shoes. The tapes were the problem. He’d spent a lot of time making them.
So, we were riding along, and Richard was singing one of his favorite hymns. I don’t remember which one, something about the grace of God. Most of his hymns sounded the same to me, but they were calming, and I preferred him singing rather than preaching. We’d circled the Quarter and now headed back out on the freeway. Richard raked his hand though his dirty blonde hair and started mumbling about the “queers” we’d seen strolling down Bourbon Street. I always squirmed when he started talking like that, but I kept quiet, pretending to listen.
“It’s not that I have anything against them or anything,” he started. “I just wish they didn’t wear those awful clothes and all that make up.”
“It’s an expression. They’re expressing who they are,” I started to explain.
“Who they are is male. They need to face that fact and stop trying to be something else. It’s against God’s word.” He smiled, which was rare. Anyway, none of them really look like women. They can’t look like you.
It’s not possible. I don’t care what they do.”
I gulped but felt obliged to answer. “There are some drag queens that are so beautiful even you would be fooled”
“It’s still a sin.” Richard answered me. “They’ll get their due justice in the next life.”
I was starting to feel nervous, as if he could see into me and knew that I was just the person he was talking about. Luckily, a car full of black teenagers ran a red light and for the next thirty minutes, we were busy patting them down and writing the driver a ticket. Richard wasn’t like Loyle in that regard. He kept it at writing tickets and I never saw him beat on anybody or steal anything from their car when we made an arrest. He didn’t ask any of the shop owners for free merchandise or demand free food and drinks the way the other cops did. I thought that maybe it was because he was so religious.
After we finished with the last stop, we pulled into a burger place and ordered a couple of greasy fried sandwiches that Richard recommended. When I lived in Bangkok I ate mostly rice and vegetables, and I liked it that way. I unwrapped the sandwich suspiciously and my fears were confirmed; there was fried meat smelling of lard, processed cheese and plenty of mayonnaise, something I never could get used to eating. Richard generously dumped a handful of fried onion rings on my plate to finish off the meal, after squirting their greasy breading with ketchup. He handed me a giant size plastic cup of cola and then reached into his pocket to pay, waving me away when I tried to stop him. “My treat,” he insisted. “I just want to say that I don’t often see clean, wholesome, hard-working, young women like you. You’re like my wife, a good clean woman and like Beth.”
I choked on part of an onion ring. “Who’s Beth?” “She’s this little girl I mentor from our church,” he explained. “Sweetest little girl. Her mama’s in prison and she doesn’t know her father. She lives with her grandma and they don’t have much money. Grandma’s got cataracts and can’t see. Anyway, she doesn’t know how to drive. I take Beth to basketball practice, church, you know, here and there.”
“That’s really nice of you,” I said, grateful that we were no longer talking about me. “You have other kids, don’t you?”
“Yep, sure do. Michelle is nine, Aubrey is six, and Winston is three. You know what? I just thought of something. Martha is making a roast tonight with baby potatoes and I’m picking up Beth to have dinner at our house. You should come.”
“Thank-you but I need to go home,” I told him. I did need to go home. It was a long day and I started drinking about the same time every day. My body didn’t react well if I got a late start.
“Please come,” Richard urged. “I want my wife to meet you and you look like you could use a good meal. I want you to meet my family. You don’t have any family here, do you?”
“Just my father. He lives out of state.”
“Well come on then. I’ll give you the address and you come over after work. Don’t tell me no. Wait till you meet Beth. She’s the greatest kid.”
Richard wrote his address down on the back of a blank Stop and Frisk Report that we used when we patrolled the wards and handed it to me. I thanked him and sat back surprised that someone on the force invited me to their home.
As soon as I got home and pulled up the gravel driveway abutting the front house, I knew something had happened and it wasn’t good. An ambulance was parked on the lawn and several vehicles that I hadn’t seen before blocked my access to the driveway.
As I watched, two burly male ambulance attendants dressed in white, wheeled out a raised stretcher and loaded it into the ambulance. Lying on the stretcher was Mrs. Devereux, a tiny body drowning in white blankets, strapped to the frame of the stretcher with wide black straps. There was an oxygen mask covering her face and what little of it I could see, was a pale shade of gray. Trailing behind the stretcher was the woman I’d seen through the window, Mrs. Devereux’s caretaker, she was rubbing her eyes and sobbing, limping along in her black orthopedic shoes.
On the porch stood an elderly priest holding a Bible and a rosary. He watched the procession absently, biting on his thumb nail. Next to him stood a chubby middle-aged woman, with a droopy neck and blond hair hanging in her face, wearing baggy Bermuda shorts and a tank top that stretched tight across the rolls of fat around her middle.
Two pre-teen boys in track pants and high-top tennis shoes threw a football back and forth on the small scrubby patch of grass in front of Mrs.
Devereux’s house. Leaning against the mailbox attached to the remaining plank of what was once a picket fence, was a balding middle-aged man wearing a green polo shirt tucked into polyester pants that looked a few sizes too small. He watched the procession looking over his dark sunglasses perched on his nose and chewed aggressively on a pink wad of gum that he snapped in and out of his mouth.
I stopped alongside the ambulance and one of the attendants yelled out without turning to look at me. “Get out of here, or we’ll call the police. This place isn’t for sightseers.”
I felt my face redden. “I live here, and I am the police,” I snapped back.
The attendant turned around. “Well don’t tie up the driveway. We’re moving out. She doesn’t have long.” The women with the tank top hurried over next to me and began wailing, “My mother, poor thing, Jesus watch over her,” she called up to the sky. Then turning to me, she frowned. “Do you really live here? Where? In the back house? My name is Candace,” she informed me. “And my husband’s name is Henry. Those are my two boys,” she gestured toward the boys howling as one leaped on the other, forcing him to the ground and grabbing the football. “We came as soon as we heard. We flew here all the way from California. Do you know how much that costs? Henry borrowed the money from his boss, and we put the rest on our credit card. Brought our boys too. Nobody wanted to take care of them. Last time we left them overnight there was a little fire in the garage. No big deal, but people do talk.”
I watched the ambulance pull out of the driveway and the priest walk over to an older model Japanese car.
Candace was quiet now, her head down. “Did you know my mother well?”
I told her that we’d spoken before, but no, not well.
“Are you really a cop? We have some women cops in California. I saw one or two. Well, it’s a shame she wouldn’t leave here. We’ve got a room ready for her. It’s been ready these last few years. I thought we could get her to sell. Invest her money you know. We’d help her invest and she could help me by babysitting.”
I looked over at the two boys who were now tearing out handfuls of grass and dirt from the small lawn to throw at each other. I was glad for Mrs. Devereux’s sake and mine, too, that she’d never made that move to California.
Candace looked back toward the house. “It doesn’t look like she’s going to come back. How long do people last in a coma anyway? Do you know?” I told her I had no idea.
“Well, we’re going to have to sell this house. That’s why Henry’s here.” She pointed at the man in the green polo shirt. He waved and lit a cigarette. Sighing, she clasped her hands together and chatted on. “My poor mother. That house of hers needs a lot of work. I’ll have to plan what to do after we clear the title. You know I get everything she has. We don’t have the money to fix it right now, but maybe I can sell it as is. Is property going for a lot here? It sure does in California. Of course, she’s not dead yet.”
She followed me back to the rear house. “I’ll be giving you my address and you can send your rent payment there until we sell this place. I’ll come by later after we get back from the hospital, though I guess she won’t really know the difference if I’m there or not.” Mrs. Devereux’s caretaker followed Candace, stopping a few feet from my house and began murmuring to herself and stroking the large gold cross handing around her neck. Candace suddenly seemed to notice her. “I suppose you need to be paid too. Is that right? “How much does she pay you anyway?”
In a low voice, the caretaker began explaining that she was paid by the state every month on the first and the fifteenth and Mrs. Devereux made up the difference and always gave her extra money each week because the state paid so little. “A little extra money to feed my kids, each week,” she repeated.
Candace shook her head, “I’ll have to pay you later when I get back to California. Believe me, there’s not going to be any extra from me.” She reached into her purse, pulled out a piece of paper, and told the caretaker to write her name and phone number on it.
Candace hurried over to her sons who were now throwing rocks onto the highway, seeing how close they could come to hitting a moving car. She smacked one of them on the back of his head, making him fall forward on the grass shrieking with laughter.
The caretaker followed the movements and turned to me. “I’m not getting paid, am I?” “I really don’t know,” I told her.
The caretaker narrowed her eyes following
Candace. “I guess I better go then. Poor woman, The Missus, she was so sad. Do you know somebody took her money? I think so.”
I straightened up. “What are you talking about?” “I told her to report it to the police,” she whispered. “What money are you talking about,” I asked again.
“I’m not sure. The Missus said a lot of things. She talked crazy sometimes. I was there right after she had the stroke. It was my regular day to work. When I came in, she was lying on the floor by the bookcase. She was crying. She said, “It’s all gone. All of it.”
“Did she tell you that her money was missing?”
“The Missus said she went to count it and it was all gone. She said it was the money she was saving from her husband’s insurance, and from the bar they didn’t have any more. But her husband’s dead, isn’t he? She told me he was when I met her. But later she said that when he came back, they were going to use the money to take a trip.” The caretaker shook her head and cleared her throat. “She was a nice woman, drank a little too much, but she was always nice to me when I cleaned and helped her take a bath.”
I watched her walk away as I opened my front door. Then I remembered and hurried to check my stash of money, my heart pounding. Everything was in place. I sat down on my sofa, watching a movie in my head. In this movie, I was the star and I was convicted and sentenced to death for everything I had done. The movie stopped right after that scene, and I wondered when they took me from my cell and strapped me to the gurney, would I scream out? Or would I endure it till the end?
I heard a knock at my door. And after looking through the peephole, I saw it was Candace. If I didn’t answer would she go away? I knew she wouldn’t, not somebody like her, so I slowly opened the door a crack. “Yes?”
She didn’t bother to answer, just pushed past me, and walked inside. “I always wondered what it was like in here. Mama never let me in. Said I’d bother the tenants. It’s not much I see.”
She walked back toward the bedroom and then returned to the living room, preoccupied. Her eyes wandered around.
I thought to myself how she was so ordinary, the type of person who worked in a factory or checked groceries at a checkout line. The type who took her sons out for pizza on Saturdays and worried about how to stretch a package of macaroni during the week or whether there were enough clean socks to last. She was just a regular person, with a regular life. Candace lit a cigarette without asking, inhaling several times before she turned to me. “I just wanted to ask you again, did my mother ever tell you that she was saving some money?”
“No, she didn’t,” I answered. “I’m on my way out so I need to get going.”
Candace sat down in one of my straight back chairs ignoring what I said. “She told some people that she saved the money from the sale of the bar, but not in a bank. She didn’t trust banks and she didn’t want me, her only daughter, to hold it for her, so I thought she probably hid it somewhere in her house.”
Mrs. Devereux had good instincts I thought. She’d only been wrong about me. I moved toward the door, “I already told you she never spoke to me about money.”
“Well,” she said pacing around the room, “I already looked through her house and I just thought she might have told you something, you being a cop and all. But if you say no, then I guess we’ll go over to the hospital. The ambulance guy said she wasn’t going to make it.
We’ve got to get back to California. Henry’s got to go to work.”
She looked over at me. “I don’t know if I’ll be back here any time soon if she doesn’t die right away. Plane tickets get real expensive you know.”
I walked toward my door to lock it with Candace standing right behind me, still talking, “We’re going to cremate her. No money for a cemetery plot. Probably no service either. There’s no point.” She handed me a small address label that she tore off from an envelope in her purse. “Here, you mail your rent payment to this address.”
I asked her if I had to move any time soon. “Oh heavens, I don’t know. It’s going to cost a pretty penny to get this place up to snuff unless we sell as is. Meanwhile we need the rent.”
I was sorry that Mrs. Devereux was old and probably wouldn’t live much longer from what I heard, but I was glad too, because she was probably the only one who would suspect me of taking her money. Mrs. Devereux had no reason to trust me, but she should be able to trust her daughter. But then maybe she was more like me and didn’t trust anybody, except the only people she shouldn’t have trusted.

Chapter Nineteen

Richard’s house was a modest ranch style, large, but plain, located in a suburban area near Metairie. It stood apart from the other houses on the block at a dead end and was set back off the road behind a wide green lawn that needed mowing. There were several bikes lying in the grass close to the porch and a tangled badminton net hanging over one of the bushes.
I popped a stick of gum in my mouth hoping to hide the smell of alcohol, and I grabbed the box of candy I’d picked up at the liquor store because I’d heard you were supposed to bring something when you went to dinner at someone’s house. I knew Richard was dead set against liquor, and I didn’t know where to get flowers.
Halfway to the porch I almost turned around and drove away, wondering what I was doing, going to family dinner with a family that I didn’t know, and how I was going to survive the evening without saying anything wrong.
Richard answered the door. He’d showered and changed to jeans and a blue work shirt. You could see the fresh comb marks in his hair. For the first time I noticed that the fine network of lines around his eyes had deepened, even over the short period of time that I’d known him. Dark splotches under his eyes showed he was missing some sleep or maybe he was sick.
The living room was carpeted in worn beige shag. It was covered with coloring books, crayons, and Barbie dolls. The smell of cooking meat and onions drifted out of the kitchen. Richard ushered me past the living room and led Martha from the kitchen to meet me holding her arm.
I guess the only way to describe her was to say she was “country.” I’d heard that word used so many times describing someone who was slow-witted or back- woods. I just never thought about what it really meant. Martha was tall, as tall as I was and large-boned with broad shoulders and a strong back. She carried some extra weight that made her look strong and healthy. In fact, she made me feel just a little more svelte and model-like standing next to her. Her round face and wide mouth smiled easily, and I was pretty sure she smiled most of the time. She didn’t wear any make-up and her hair was cut short and boyish. When I complimented her on the style, she pointed out that she’d cut it recently, and Richard didn’t like it that way.
Martha’s dark blue eyes twinkled behind round wire-rimmed glasses that nobody wore any more. She wore high-waisted jeans and plastic sandals. Balancing a toddler with platinum colored hair and rosy cheeks on one hip, she extended her hand. “So nice to meet you. Richard always talks about you. He admires you so much. You have good Christian values.” She introduced me to the other two children, while Richard watched smiling. There was no lack of smiling in this house. From the hall, I heard a flushing sound and when the bathroom door opened, a small figure stepped out.
I didn’t know much about children. I still don’t, but you could see right away that she wasn’t part of this family, or maybe not anybody’s family.
I couldn’t really tell her age although Richard later pointed out that she was ten years old. She didn’t look ten, more like six or seven; small-boned, skinny and frail in appearance, she walked slowly as if testing each step, afraid to make a mistake. Her mousey brown hair hung over her face, stringy and mostly uncombed, her sweatpants rode high on her sickly white stick legs and her tee-shirt didn’t quite cover her stomach. “This is Beth,” Richard said loudly, putting his arm around the girl and pulling her close. “Beth, say hello to the nice lady.”
Beth didn’t look up at me as much as she peered through her hair and murmured something unintelligible.
“Hi Beth,” I answered. “How are you today?” I used my best “policewoman voice.”
She looked up this time and gave me a shy reply.
“Fine,” then she ducked her head.
Richard told her to sit at the table with two of his other children. He lifted the toddler from his wife’s arms and stuck him into his highchair, where he immediately tore off his bib and began banging on the tray with a metal spoon.
“Let me show you the rest of the house,” he suggested. Martha will get everything ready.”
I followed Richard through a narrow corridor with bedrooms leading off to the side. All three rooms were overflowing with toys that spilled out to the hall and I saw a bathroom with a full bathtub and a floor covered in towels. Richard apologized and told me that his wife was giving his son a bath when he called and told her he was bringing me to dinner. “I guess she didn’t finish, and I didn’t pick up the towels,” he explained, sweeping them up and dumping them into the hamper covered in cartoon decals.
“That’s the backyard out there.” He pointed to a large square of green lawn with a swing set covering most of it.
I nodded appreciatively because I could see that this whole set up was a source of pride, his job as a cop, his wife, the children, and the house. Oh, and yes and his religion. He was complete. His life couldn’t get any better than this.
We went back to the table and bowed our heads while Richard said a prayer. I raised my eyes a little and watched his children and Beth as he rambled on. His kids were bored, young, and distractible. They wanted dinner over so they could return to their play.
Beth had no expression whatsoever. As soon as Richard stopped talking, she reached across the table, snatched a roll from the basket, and stuffed it into her mouth. Richard corrected her and she nodded her head vigorously, spooning potatoes into her mouth, as Martha loaded her plate. Richard asked the kids how they were doing with school and they mumbled answers I couldn’t understand.
Did my mother ever ask me how I was doing in school? I tried to remember those days when I ran home hoping she was alone and there was no man visiting in her room. I guess she didn’t have to ask, because she already knew how I was doing. Badly. I had another fight or hurt some kid. The teacher and either a nun or some child’s angry parent were complaining, and they wanted me out of there.
“So, I know you’re new here. Did you find a church to attend yet?” Martha questioned, before passing me the roast beef.
I told her that I was still settling in and changed the subject, asking her the ages of her children which I already knew. She answered willingly and for a while spoke about how much she loved where she lived and all the friends, she had who believed in the Lord.
I felt as if the room was slowly getting smaller and wondered why I’d agreed to come here, a place where I fit less than any other place where I’d ever been. Somehow, I was peeking into these people’s lives and there was nothing here that looked like the life I admired in commercials.
Richard didn’t speak for a while, except to tell Martha and the children that I came here from Thailand and asked them if they knew where that was. They shook their heads, “no,” and ate faster, not wanting to get stuck at the table. I kept my eyes on Beth who finished her plate and was served another immediately. When she put down her fork, I asked her about school, the way Richard had asked his kids. She sat up and shrugged, indifferent, more curious about me. She looked me over carefully. I could see that school was not up there on her list of child concerns. Like most of the kids I remembered, even myself, just surviving day to day took priority over everything else, including school that came in last. I just didn’t expect it to be that way with kids in this country.
Richard spoke up when she didn’t answer. “I’m going to be spending a lot more time with her, helping her with her homework and her reading,” he explained. “She doesn’t have anybody at home for her you know.”
His older daughter and son looked over at Beth and down at their plates. Maybe I was wrong, but they didn’t look very happy with their dad’s plans.
Richard turned to his daughter. “Beth’s going to stay here tonight. Why don’t you see if you can find her some of your pajamas to wear after you help your mom clear off the kitchen table?”
Martha swung the toddler over his highchair tray and nodded in the direction of her daughter. “Don’t forget to say an extra blessing for our church tonight. Without our church and Jesus bringing her to us, Beth wouldn’t have our family to support her and show her God’s love.”
I offered to help Martha and her daughter clear the table, but she refused, saying I was company and sent me into the living room with a cup of coffee to visit with Richard.
Richard turned the television on to a station that showed old re-runs of family shows like Andy of Mayberry and Father Knows Best, shows Rory once pointed out to me would make me familiar with how white people lived here. “Clean Christian shows,” he would laugh, while he walked back and forth to his stash in his bedroom to fill his customer’s orders for weed, pills and heroin in the late evening, when everybody else was in bed asleep.
So, I sat on the couch with Richard and Beth and stared at the television, waiting for a good time to leave. Richard laughed loudly when Little Opie and Aunt Bea argued with Andy, and Beth fixed her stare on his face intently as if looking for a reaction to imitate. After a few minutes I decided that the behavior of the family on the television screen was as strange to her as it was to me.
By the time Martha sat down to join us, I was starting to squirm in my seat. “We don’t buy the kids video games,” Martha offered, watching me. She looked over at Richard and stroked the top of her daughter’s head. “Next fall I’m going to start homeschooling them again. I started, but it was too hard right now. I’m just waiting for my baby to start walking around.”
I patted the worn vinyl seat on the couch and wondered what they would think if they knew my only friends here were a drug dealer working out of his apartment and some sexually ambiguous men who dressed in drag and hung around the bars in the Quarter. Richard ignored the real world as much as possible while he was at work and as soon as he took off his uniform, it disappeared entirely.
I said good night, turning down an offer by Martha to hear the kids say their prayers and a couple of Rice Krispy treats she tried to serve me on a flimsy paper plate. After a round of goodbyes, Richard walked me to my car and told me proudly that he was starting a youth baseball team for children Beth’s age which he was going to coach. He thanked me for coming and said he hoped that I would join his family’s church and spend more time with them. “I never had a father take an interest in me, so I want it to be different, especially for Beth,” he told me.
I drove away as quickly as I could, thinking that I’d just spent an evening with a real American family, all blond haired and blue-eyed, just like the ones on television commercials, but instead of the nice house and matching furniture they had Jesus.
I pulled into the driveway and noticed that the front house was dark and already had a lonely, shuttered, neglected look, like so many of the properties around here
I was pretty sure Mrs. Devereux was not coming back to live among all those old photo albums and china figurines again. I told myself that if she survived her stroke she would probably end up in one of those old folk’s homes.
Richard seemed genuinely glad to see me the next day. We headed out on patrol together, with him telling me over and over that he wanted me to join his church and spend more time with his family. He said he hoped that God would send somebody for me and that I would build a family of my own. I stayed silent. It was particularly warm that season and Richard always got tired right after we ate lunch. Myself, I was bored cruising up and down the same route looking for some reason to stop someone.
After a few days of stopping mostly homeless men, usually drunk on sweet wine or high from huffing, as they wandered into traffic or fought with each other in the street, and a handful of prostitutes and drunk drivers, Richard stopped wanting us to pull over and investigate when we saw something sketchy. He complained that we would need to follow up with some real time-consuming police work if we did.
He’d started to let me drive, sinking listlessly into the passenger seat. “Keep driving,” he would say to me when I had the wheel, yelling out the window. “Get the hell off the road,” to drivers coming out of the Quarter, blinking in the bright daylight, so drunk they could barely sit up in the driver’s seat. He didn’t have Loyle’s ambition. He was satisfied with just yelling.
Richard started to pull over after lunch in the first back alley we saw so he could take a nap. I could never nap in the car, so I started having him drive me to some place where I could shop, something I’d started doing with Loyle. We spent most of the afternoon with Richard napping and me shopping and having a few drinks. At first, I stayed close to the car in case we got a call, but I figured out that if we didn’t respond, we’d hear that another car had.
I was building quite a wardrobe for myself and even started shopping for a few pieces of furniture for my little house. Driving a squad car every day and living like Richard did, with cheap secondhand furniture and tasteless clothes bought from a Sears’s catalogue, didn’t make any sense to me.
On the last day of my work week, Richard surprised me and called in sick. I found out that Psalm Monroe was assigned in his place. I told myself that I’d call later and see if Richard was all right, but I was never able to contact him. When he returned to work a week later, I heard he’d been given a different assignment and that he’d picked up some security work on the side in one of the better restaurants.
I was glad Richard was reassigned, because I needed a little break from the sameness of our days riding together. Like I said, Richard was quiet when we partnered together. He stared out the window as I drove and seemed to be lost in thought most of the time. He looked tired and worried too and I noticed he wasn’t quoting the Bible as much as he used to. I tried to make conversation asking him about his kids and his new park league baseball team, and he only gave me one syllable answers.
Monroe was completely different from Richard. He was loud and boisterous, told dirty jokes, and insisted on smoking his cigar on patrol, until I told him that the smell made me gag so much that I was going to throw up in the car. He stopped then, but I was still gagging on the smell of his cologne, that reminded me of the bug-spray my mother used in the Philippines to keep away the mosquitos.
Monroe talked non-stop about being broke, his four children, two of whom were incarcerated at juvenile facilities, the stripper he lived with, who he thought was cheating on him with a relative, his girlfriend on the side, who called the stripper every day and hung up, and the back child support that he couldn’t seem to repay.
Monroe wasn’t like Richard or any of the rest of us newbie graduates from the academy, trying to figure it all out. He knew his way around with the commanding officers, laughing and exchanging insults with them as if they were close friends, and moving through the streets assured and familiar, always knowing what to say and how to act. Monroe was the ultimate politician and palm slapper. Maybe if he’d been born with more money or another color of skin, we’d see him on television, elected to public office, and hobnobbing with the rich and famous
Even with his college education, Monroe told me he’d never been able to get a job until the police department hired him the first time a few years back.
He explained that he’d been suspended from duty citing a couple of “bogus” drunk driving incidents, which he blamed on one of his baby mamas, who he said, drove him to drink. There was also another incident on his record, where he said they charged him with using excessive force during an arrest. Monroe seemed puzzled when he talked about it, telling me that the man he arrested brought it all on himself. “He shouldn’t have cursed at me. Why would you do that when I’m holding the gun?”
Any way, he was thankful that the police department chose to overlook his record and offer him his job back after he finished his suspension and mandatory re-training at the academy. Monroe was jovial, always ready with a joke and a huge grin that lit up his face. He knew everybody wherever we went, and if he didn’t, he introduced himself. The shop owners and bartenders were always happy to see Monroe, and then stand around shooting the breeze with him. Sometimes they even shut down their business so we could all go to back of the shop, have a few drinks on them and talk. He graciously accepted free meals, drinks, and merchandise that they sometimes handed out the back door. He referred to the merchandise as “having fallen off the truck.”
Working with Monroe, I changed my way of thinking and got a new toaster, coffee maker and a broiler oven, plus countless free meals, and not just hamburgers, expensive food that came from some of the best restaurants. Free drinks were the norm every day and the foot patrol that we performed on the morning watch, included a stop in a few of the popular bars for a refreshing drink to cool us off, even though it wasn’t even ten o’clock in the morning.
Monroe assured me that the real reason the owners of the bars liked to have us there was because it kept out gangsters and dealers so they could attract more of the tourist crowd and the tourists liked to see us in the bars they visited because it made them feel safer. All I know is that the Department never called us on it and I was beginning to think that I was getting paid a decent salary to eat and drink so much every day that my uniform pants dug into my waist and cut into my thighs leaving red irritated marks
The next day when I clocked in, the watch commander started his usual monologue by telling us that arrests were down in our department. Mostly he said, because we were short officers. He complained that he’d only seen a couple of busts for breaking and entering this month and not much else in the way of police work. “We’re not being proactive in hunting out crime. “Do you have any suggestions on how we can improve?” He looked around for a response.
From the back of the room I heard somebody yell out, “Send for Deputy Dog,” followed by snickers and whistles. Realizing that a helpful response was not coming he continued, “We’re not able to dispatch to calls like we used to, so I have orders to transfer some of you back to nights.” He slowly read through the list of names for reassignments and I heard that Monroe and I were both assigned to night watch as partners. Monroe came hurrying over as soon as he heard. “Now we can make some real money,” he assured me. The first night on patrol wasn’t much different from the daytime watch. We ate well and stopped for free drinks whenever we felt like it. Most of the retail businesses were closed so we weren’t offered new appliances and other furnishings the way we were during the day.
When our watch that first night was almost over, Monroe pointed out a prostitute leaving a bar and we drove down the street slowly, following her into the patio of the Café Du Monde. Monroe pointed out that she had probably been working all evening and was carrying a lot of cash. He told me to look at the way she was dressed, a tight black skirt, low cut yellow blouse and black stilettos, “sexy, but mostly tasteful,” he said. “That means she only blows guys with money, so no short shorts with ass cheeks all out, no halters, nicely combed hair,” he pointed out. “So, applying common logic, which by the way I studied in college, you can say logically that Baby Girl probably did all right for herself tonight.”
As we pulled closer, I could see that the girl was probably no more than sixteen, maybe seventeen. A flush of acne covered her cheeks and forehead. She stepped back from the sidewalk and propped herself against the wall of a vacant storefront. After a few moments, she lit a cigarette from a pack she carried in the small patent leather purse that hung off her shoulder and begin looking up and down the street, moving her feet from side to side. Her upper body shivered and twitched every so often. We watched her for several minutes.
I was starting to relax because Monroe was so easy going it made patrol seem like a night out on the town. The sound of a wailing horn floating from one of the bars out to the street was the only thing that reminded me that I wasn’t part of the crowd inside
“That sweet young thing’s a tweaker,” he said matter-of-factly, imitating her twitching shoulders.
“Dick’s not the only thing she sucks. I’d say she has a liking for that glass pipe.”
“Looks like it, I guess.” I thought about Rory’s customers or “clientele,” as he referred to them, selling off their food stamps at the end of the month for just a little taste. “At least she works for a living.”
Monroe leaned back in his seat and laughed a heartfelt belly laugh. “Here, have some of this,” he cupped his hand and struck a match lighting the end of a neatly rolled joint that he’d pulled from his pocket, and taking a long pull before passing it toward me.
“No thanks,” I held my hand up pushing his away.
“No? Okay, suit yourself.” Monroe took another hit and tucked the rest of the joint behind his ear. “Look over there.” Monroe pointed at the polished tan El Dorado pulling into the curb about half a block down. He waited as the tall, light complexioned driver, left the car and started walking toward the girl. The young man stepped with a swagger, his light blue suit catching the light, iridescent under the yellow cast. As soon as he was parallel to our car, Monroe jumped out. “Going somewhere?”
The man turned around startled. He was goodlooking in the way I thought only a light skinned Cajun can be, caramel skin with golden eyes. His suit was a pale green with dark striping and his shoes I knew by now, were alligator. Monroe stepped in front of him and stood with his hands on his hips. “Where are you going this evening if I may ask?”
The man looked down the street in the direction of the girl and seemed to be thinking about what to say.
“Just out for a walk. Can’t stop me for that. I got my rights.”
“You certainly do,” Monroe, answered. “And it’s a good thing you and I know each other so well isn’t it? I don’t need you to produce identification do I, Luther Ray?”
Luther Ray moved his eyes to the right, looking down the street again in the direction of the girl, but trying not to be too obvious. The girl looked down the block but didn’t see him and started to slowly walk back the way she came.
Monroe moved in closer. “You got some business with that girl? Something that’s against the law maybe?”
“Ah man, she’s just a friend. You know I only want to say hello before she moves down the road.”
“Yeah?” Monroe nodded his head. ‘I can see how you would want to do that. She is fine, but I just need to make sure you don’t bother that girl, take something from her like her money. Especially since she worked so hard for it. Do you understand me?”
Luther Ray grimaced. “I’m not planning nothing like that.”
“No, you’re sure not Luther. Remember the last time I took you in for pimping? Or was it battery? You beat that girl up bad because she didn’t have any money. Remember that?”
Luther’s jaw clenched and his eyes narrowed as the girl walked further down the street and turned at the corner.
“The way I see it,” Monroe continued, “I’m just helping you stay out of trouble tonight. See if you can’t get hold of that girl, you can’t take her money, so I won’t have to arrest you for pimping her. I’m just looking out for you bro.”
Luther swore under his breath and looked back at his car.
Monroe followed his gaze and uncrossed his arms. “And if she doesn’t have any money, I won’t have to arrest you for assault and battery. See how it goes? But most importantly, I won’t have to search you and bust you for what you’re holding. Possession for sale this time is it? I know you always got some on you.”
Luther Ray glared at Monroe and looked over at me, since I’d stepped out of the car and stood a little further behind Monroe.
“Yep,” Monroe nodded his head. “What you see is what you get. A real hot piece and a cop to boot. What do you think of that?”
Luther shook his head and stuck his hands in his pocket. He looked suddenly chest-fallen and resigned.
“Well we’re all going to be getting along now. Call it a night is what I always say. Nothing good happening in these streets his time of night. If I were you, I’d head on home and forget chasing that girl down, giving her what for. It’ll just get you busted.”
Luther turned on his heel without saying anything and walked toward his car.
“Have a pleasant night sir,” Monroe called out after him chuckling.
“What’s going to happen to the girl when he catches up with her?” I wanted to know.
‘Oh, he’ll beat the hell out of her for sure cause she’s empty handed and he waited all night for his money.”
“What? I thought you said she would be carrying a lot, that she’d had a good night.”
“Not after we get hold of her. That girl won’t have nothing but an empty purse. I’m driving, you might lose her.” Monroe slid into the driver’s seat. He always complained that I drove too slowly and told me to speed up when I stopped at lights and stop signs. “We’re cops,” he kept telling me. “That safety shit is for other people. What are you afraid of? Getting a ticket?”
We got back in the car and started driving in the direction the girl had traveled. She hadn’t gone far, maybe halfway down the block after she made her turn at the corner. She was walking slowly. There was something about the way she hunched her shoulders against the damp wind that reminded me of the children from the orphanages in Bangkok. They haunted the tourist spots. Slight bodies clad only in their underwear or a ragged pair of dirty shorts, they were sent out alone on weekends by the people in charge to sell souvenirs from Thailand, and told not to return unless all the trinkets were sold and they had the money to hand over. As soon as we got close, Monroe hit the siren. “Watch and learn,” he told me. “Baby needs new
With a sudden move that sent me sliding in my seat, hitting my shoulder against the passenger door, Monroe pulled the car over to the curb in front of a stripper bar and rushed out with the engine still running. The commotion startled the girl. She turned around and gaped at Monroe, her mouth falling open and frantically backed up trying to turn and run. Monroe was too fast for her. In one quick step made on his long spindly blue clad uniform legs, he reached her and grabbed her by the arm. “Where you going so fast girlie?”
The girl tried to pull away. Monroe tightened his grip and the girl stopped struggling and gripped her small shoulder purse closer to her body. I shut off the engine and joined Monroe on the curb.
Monroe dragged the girl back down the street to our car parked at the curb. I followed, not knowing what to expect, remembering Loyle and the woman in the van.
“Put the gun on her,” He ordered turning to me. “Face the car and spread your legs. Let me see your identification,” he barked at the girl. Shaking, with blackened mascara tears streaming down her face, the girl dug into her purse and handed her identification card to Monroe. He positioned his flashlight above the card and nodded his head. “That’s who I thought you were. Going to call this in. You, Holmes, don’t move the gun off her!”
I stood behind the girl while she sobbed, and Monroe sat in the car and ran her license. Finally, he slid out the door, a wide grin on his face. “Tisha La Beausolei, that’s right isn’t it? I knew I guessed right when I spotted you, your name and everything else. That’s why they call me The Master, around here. I hauled you in before making a sale in the park to some high scholar and the time before that, when you were in the alley with most of your clothes off, taking a trick’s wallet. How much time did you get for that? Did the woman from Children’s Services pay you a visit when you weren’t home, but your baby was?”
Monroe shook Tisha by the arm the way I’d seen a pit bull shake a Chihuahua by the neck. She was crying now, but not struggling to get away. “I see you’re at it again. Big night? Did you find any credit cards you liked by chance?” He pulled the small purse from her shoulder and dumped it on a rain splattered stone pillar in front of the door of a boarded-up store front. “My Lord what have we here?” he said sounding like an English gentleman.
I moved closer and saw the contents of her purse contained a tightly rolled wad of bills and three credit cards; two Visas, and a Master Charge. It also contained a small sandwich bag with white powder and a small glass pipe and cigarette lighter.
“Take a look at these Officer Holmes,” he addressed me. “Looks to me like Miss Tisha’s been doing some illegal business don’t it?” I shook my head but kept quiet.
Tisha was trembling as she stared at the money and credit cards. “I got a little kid at home to take care of.
He’s got to eat too.”
“You also got a couple of drug felonies on the books, don’t you,” Monroe responded.
“I think they got thrown out,” Tisha told him, wiping her eyes with the back of her free hand.
“You wish. They don’t throw out felony convictions. They came up with at least two of them, but you probably remember the others, don’t you? If I recall right, the judge told you the last time they’d send you up for nice long stretch the next time he saw you.” Monroe had changed from an easy-going, fun-loving partner to a snarling bully, and I wanted him to go on and make the arrest so the angry barrage of words would stop.
Tisha looked in my direction, her eyes noticing me for the first time. I could see that one of them, which was hidden by her hair, was slightly blackened and she had yellowish splotches on her cheeks and neck that looked like they had once been bruises. She stared while Monroe continued his rant and then turned her face away.
“Now I can run you in and we’ll see exactly where we stand,” he was saying. “But we both know, don’t we, sister? If I bust you now, you’re looking at some serious time.”
Tisha just kept staring at the roll of bills and the credit cards. “I just need to feed my baby,” she started sobbing.
“You need to feed your habit, is what you need, and I’m an understanding man, and Miss Holmes, here, is an understanding woman. That’s why I’m willing to help you out tonight.” Monroe scooped up the roll of bills and began leafing through them counting. He finished and straightened up, “eight hundred and seventy-five right here. Not too shabby for a night’s work.” He chuckled, “Besides you’re not exactly prime grade A material. Now are you?”
Tisha watched as Monroe stuck the roll of bills in his pocket and then handed me the credit cards. When she spoke, she was crying. “If you take that money I’ll get beat within an inch of my life. You know he’ll do it. He almost killed me last time because I didn’t make enough. Why don’t we make a trade? You can have the whole night for free whenever you want. I’ll do whatever you say.”
Monroe stepped back and glared at Tisha. “No way. I don’t ever do that. That’s disgusting, not a fit thing for a police officer to do. I slipped up once and got me some bad clap. Hurt like a motherfucker when I peed.
If you don’t like my offer, I’ll be happy to book you. Let’s see; prostitution, possession with intent to sell, possession of drug paraphernalia, being under the influence, resisting arrest, can you think of anything else Miss Holmes? Help me out here. Nothing to add? So, I’d say it was a fair trade, wouldn’t you?” Monroe’s voice resonated with dismissal.
“Please,” Tisha began, “I can’t take another beating. I told you he’ll kill me.” She wiped her nose with the palm of her hand and looked up. “I need my stuff too,” she pointed at the plastic bag, swiping at her running nose again. “I just need a little taste.”
Monroe ignored her. “I’m doing you a favor. You should be grateful. Reliving you from the wages of sin and helping you kick the monkey off your back. I should be canonized. Deal? Miss Tisha? I knew you’d see it my way.” He laughed and turned away, motioning me to follow.
Tisha stayed right where we left her. She sat down on the sidewalk with her back to the storefront and cried holding on to her empty purse.
Monroe jogged back to the car and I hurried after him looking back at Tisha until she disappeared. As soon as we were seated, Monroe dug into his pocket and counted out the bills, mostly twenties. “Okay, one half of this is four hundred and thirty-eight dollars. Is that right?” He quickly sifted through the bills and handed me some. “Do you want the Visas or the Master Card? I think I should keep the Visas this time. I did all the talking. So, what do you say?”
I thought about Tisha flying high on meth, down on her knees that night earning the money Monroe held in his hands. I remembered the woman in the van. She had no money, so she bargained with something else.
I needed to stop caring about what I saw out here. It didn’t concern me, I told myself. So, I guess you’re not surprised that I took the money, and maybe as some small gesture of decency I left the credit cards, or maybe it was just because I didn’t know what to do with them. Monroe thanked me over and over, saying he had a connection who could give him a good amount of cash for them. He asked if I wanted a cut and I said no.
By the time I got back to my little house, it was early morning.
As soon as I pulled up to the curb, I saw Mrs. Devereux’s caretaker sitting on the porch of the front house, her legs crossed at the ankles. She was wearing a blue uniform this time and she sat up straight like a sentry in front of the shuttered house. What was her name again? Maria? That seemed like a good choice. I didn’t want to ask her. My heart started pounding. Mrs. Devereux must be out of her coma and talking about her missing money. My hands shook as I parked and stepped out of the car. They can’t prove anything I told myself. Nobody knows but me.
The short woman stood up painfully holding on to the wooden banister which was detaching from the stairs. She limped toward me waving energetically as if I wouldn’t see her. At the foot of the porch was a cardboard box and I could see several bottles of Clorox and a bottle of Windex on top.
As I walked toward her, she pointed back toward the house, smiling sadly, “I cleaned all the windows and I watered the yard too,” she informed me. Then she lowered her eyes, “the Missus passed yesterday,” she told me.
I took a deep breath and felt my shoulders relax. I was safe. I didn’t have to run this time, nobody was the questioning the rumor of Mrs. Devereux’s hidden money, except her daughter, and more importantly, nobody was trying to tie the rumor to me. “I’m sorry to hear that she passed,” I answered.
She nodded slowly, reaching back to twist her knotted hair. “I called her daughter, but the hospital already let her know she was dead. I just wanted to clean up here a little. She liked it when I cleaned the windows.” She gathered up her box of cleaning supplies and started walking past me. “I don’t think she’s gonna sell this place so soon because she doesn’t have any money to fix it up.”
“It looks fine to me,” I told her, remembering the gloomy rooms. “Maybe some paint would help.”
The woman stopped walking and frowned. “Her daughter wants you to send the rent to this address. She had me copy it down for you.” Reaching into her frayed shoulder bag, she removed a folded sheet of notebook paper and handed it to me.
I said goodbye to her while I tucked the paper into my wallet and watched as the woman carried her supply box to her car and drove away.
Once inside, I pulled the shades against the light and counted the money I’d hidden twice to make sure. It was all there, and it was mine. I opened a new bottle of whiskey and took a good-sized swallow, waiting for it to warm my stomach and relax the tight muscles in my shoulders.
And Mrs. Devereux? I couldn’t say that the money hadn’t been her money, or that she didn’t deserve it. She’d come by it honestly and guarded it for years, probably afraid that somebody dishonest would take it from her. Her daughter maybe? Had she told me by mistake, or did she really want me to know and maybe act on it?
I closed my eyes and saw the familiar ledger that I’d created in my head with all my bad deeds lined up on one side and my good ones on the other. So far, the ledger was over-loaded with the bad stuff. Maybe the only good thing I did was let Mrs. Devereux visit me when she was drunk, listen to her ramblings, and keep her from being too lonely for a little while. On the other side, maybe her stroke was my fault.
Working as a cop wasn’t going to make the ledger balance out any better, not if I did what everybody else did on the force. I might end up with a lot of money that I made on the side, but I’d still be a bad person with all my marks on the wrong half of the ledger.
I took another few drinks. If I drank enough I could make the ledger disappear and along with it the nagging worry that I’d end up poor and hungry, living like my mother and Florencia in a crooked tar-paper covered shack at the end of an ally, swimming in spilled garbage and smelling of burning tires.
Before I went to bed, I sat down at the kitchen table and wrote that day’s entry in my little red journal about Monroe and the money he stole from Tisha. The previous pages talking about Monroe only described the things he got on the take while he was on patrol. Of course, I didn’t mention the free stuff I managed to score.
I filled up two pages on what I saw that day. The page about Monroe followed all the entries I made about the things I saw Loyle do, including hiding the bloody rock when the motorcycle rider was killed and stealing the antique rifle from the suspect we arrested. I really didn’t know why I was writing down this information or what, if anything, I planned to do with it. I hid my journal under the bed tucked inside of a thick quilt.

Chapter Twenty

The next week dragged by, the days and nights seemed suspended in time, as if someone had taken the city and willed it to move forever in slow motion, sinking slowly into the humid air. My spirits were down, and patrol was routine, now that I knew what to expect each day. I examined my paystubs and I saw what they were talking about when they said cops in Louisiana were the lowest paid in the country, beat out only by the cops working in Mississippi. After taxes, I knew I’d earned more driving a cab.
I finished my watch every day and returned to my little house to drink myself to sleep. Richard called once to invite me to a church event, but I turned him down. All his religious talk made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t imagine his reaction if he knew I wasn’t always the proper female that sat next to him in the squad car.
I eavesdropped enviously during roll call when other cops announced the plans they had for that evening or the weekend. There were parties, sports events, family gatherings. They joked about their relationships with their wives and girlfriends, trying to outdo each other in having the craziest, most jealous, or sexiest woman. They criticized their family members for being leeches, welfare recipients or outright criminals and bragged about their kids, touting them as geniuses in school, star athletes in little league. The only thing that seemed to set the present apart from my past was the sad realization that I had finally arrived at my future and it too was a solitary place where no one tried to find me.
One Saturday night when I was off and the silence in my little house was even worse than usual, I called and left a message for Rory. Whoever answered the phone had a high falsetto voice and said she was his new roommate. Rory didn’t return the call and I was embarrassed to call again in case the same person answered.
With lots of time on my hands, I got my long hair shaped in a stylish cut and bought some expensive designer make-up. I was bored with buying clothes and had a big scare when the credit card bills kept coming in the mail. I knew my salary wouldn’t stretch that far and I didn’t want to touch my stash of money. I sat staring in the mirror for hours, looking for flaws, something that didn’t fit or that would give me away.
One particularly humid summer night in the middle of the week, when even the scummy bars and clubs seemed to be at rest, wilting in the heat and waiting to recoup enough energy to host another round of tourists, we were patrolling the downtown area, bored and out of conversation.
Monroe was unusually quiet. He drove with one hand on the wheel and the other holding the small silver flask filled with gin that made his watch easier to take.
After we took our lunch, Monroe and I finally had a little action. We pulled over a couple of drunk drivers and stopped one college student, high enough on whatever he’d been smoking in the glass pipe he was waiving around. We booked the first driver who was so drunk he rolled out of the driver’s seat and onto the asphalt. Monroe let the second drunk driver go after he slipped Monroe a couple of large bills.
As soon as we finished booking the arrestees and filing our reports, Monroe and I climbed back in the car to finish the watch. Monroe leaned over and waved a few folded bills in my face. “Here’s what’s comin to you,” he told me, pulling a U-turn out of the lot.
I moved away and shook my head. “That’s okay.
Keep it.”
Monroe drove for a few minutes without saying a word and then he suddenly pulled over to the curb just before we hit the freeway. He killed the engine and turned to me. “I see you have a problem with the little bit of extra cash we pick up out here.”
When I didn’t answer, he continued, “Well that’s just what I see with you. What’s the problem? That gentleman back there decided it was worth a little cash to bypass all the hassle that goes with a drunken arrest. He’s smart. He avoided court and all the shit that goes with it. What’s wrong with that? He’s not hurting anybody is he? And this little money certainly helps me out. It could help you too.”
“What if he kills somebody later on?” I asked. “He needs help. It’s our job to stop him isn’t it?”
“Well, that depends on how you look at it I guess,”
I backed down and lowered my voice. “How do you look at it?” I asked Monroe. “I mean don’t you think it’s our job to arrest him; take him off the street?”
Monroe turned away and struck the steering wheel firmly with the side of his hand as he spoke. “Just like I said, this is a little detour for both of us. I ain’t no doctor. I can’t help him with his problems and I’m no fortune teller either. Are you? How do you know he’ll kill someone? You don’t. Most people here been driving drunk their whole life, and nothing happens.
I’m not responsible for him or any of them.” Monroe waived the money under my nose again. “So, you don’t think I fucking deserve this for helping a citizen out, saving him some time and money? Doing my good deed?”
I felt my face redden and my neck tighten.
Meanwhile Monroe was watching and judging me, waiting to see if I could be trusted. I thought back to Brownard’s warning. I couldn’t afford to go against the grain, to lose another cop’s trust. Nothing good would come of it. The most important thing for a cop to remember was that he had to have his brother officer’s back. Isn’t that what Brownard warned me? I turned in my seat and faced Monroe reaching out my hand. “I guess you’re right. I see it now. I’ll take my share.”
Monroe’s smile lit up his face. His teeth gleamed like polished ivory in the yellow glow of the streetlamp. “You sure now? I don’t want you to do anything against your principles. I mean if you’re on board and just don’t want to take the money I’ll hold it for you. Can’t promise I won’t spend it though.”
I forced a laugh, my voice sounding weak, defeated. “Here you’re right. Give it to me.”
Monroe stopped smiling. He reached over and handed me some rolled up bills. I squeezed them tightly and tucked them into the cup of my bra. Somewhere, whoever oversaw tallying up the deeds, had just entered another negative mark in my column. Monroe didn’t say another word as we pulled on to the I-10 East, leaving New Orleans. He drove steadily his foot heavy on the gas. I sunk back in the passenger seat feeling weary, grateful that the watch was almost over.
We hadn’t driven more than two miles before we spotted what looked like an older model Volvo, chugging along at a slow crawl in the far lane moving toward the exit. The car was some pale washed out color which was probably the only reason we were able to see it by the light reflected off the roadway, since the taillights were out.
Monroe hit the siren while he stepped on the gas, pushing it to the floor. In what seemed like less than a minute’s time, he pulled up directly behind the Volvo and slammed on the brakes. I felt my body whip back and forth despite the seat belt. We missed hitting the rear bumper of the Volvo by a matter of inches.
I was shaking as Monroe started yelling through the speaker, “Pull to the side and stop your vehicle. Shut off your engine!”
The car crawled a few more feet and just as Monroe was about to repeat his warning, it came to a shuddering stop, partially on the shoulder. Monroe called out, “Stay inside your car. Put your hands on the steering wheel and keep them there.”
When we didn’t see any movement in the car, Monroe shined the high beam. “Well for damn sure some asshole’s driving it,” he swore as he shut off our engine.
Opening his door, Monroe motioned me out and directed me to approach the Volvo on the passenger side, while he approached on the driver’s side. I drew my revolver the way we’d been instructed and aimed it at the driver’s seat as we approached the car. The absolute stillness of the air and the mostly dark roadway made me feel as if I was moving in slow motion, watching myself from a place outside of my body.
We stepped closer to the car, shinning our lights in the direction of the driver. Up close, I saw that I was right, and the car was an older model Volvo. Most of the paint had cracked or peeled off and the body was well-rusted from the humidity and damp gulf air. The rear bumper was hanging, and the passenger side door crashed in. Pieces of broken glass clinging to hollowedout casings were all that remained of the taillights. I could see a torn iridescent Soul Fest sticker pasted on the side of the bumper that fastened to the body of the car with bungee cord.
As Monroe pointed his revolver at the driver and called for him to use one hand to roll down the window and keep the other one on the steering wheel, my heart began to pound. “Come around here,” Monroe, yelled out to me.
I hurried over to the driver’s side and followed the stream of light Monroe was shining on the driver. The driver turned to look in my direction as I approached the car. In the harsh glare of the light, I could see the driver was light-complexioned, with a wide nose and large lips. He wore thick glasses in black plastic frames that kept slipping down his nose and his dark hair was cut close and neat, the ends tipped with blonde.
The several dangling earrings he wore on each ear were one of the first things you noticed. The second was the armful of clanking bracelets and the several gold rings on each hand. He handed Monroe his license that he removed from a red patent leather wallet with shaking hands. He appeared small in stature and sat-up straight until Monroe ordered him out of the car. We kept our revolvers on him as he slowly eased out of his seat, hands held high in the air just like Monroe ordered.
As soon as the man stepped out of the car, I began to feel a slow creeping dread begin to close over me. The sudden sound of something striking the Volvo jostled my attention. I looked up in time to see the man’s glasses slide off his face and hit the asphalt as Monroe pushed him against the closed door of his car and kicked his feet apart. Monroe then stepped carefully forward until he was standing on the glasses and ground them into the pavement while their owner stared, his mouth open in shock, just the way mine was.
The driver of the Volvo was young, probably in his very early twenties. He wore tight black pants and a dark shirt that fit his delicate frame closely. Monroe was examining the license that he’d had the man take out of his wallet. He laughed heartily as he read by the beam of his flashlight. “Bennett O’Carroll, what kind of name is that for a nigga?” He snorted, standing back with one hand on his hip, polishing his shoe on the leg of his pants. “Did you hear that?” He turned to me.
“This nigga thinks he’s Irish or something. What the fuck!”
Bennett O’Carroll, the owner of the identification turned around and eyed Monroe with barely concealed disdain. “I came by that name from my father, but it’s really none of your business. What are you stopping me for?”
Without warning, Monroe shifted his revolver, clenched his right fist, and punched the man in the face with his free hand. The man’s head snapped back, and blood began to stream from his nose.
Monroe pulled his fist back and shifted his revolver again. “You shut the fuck up. I ask the questions here.” He moved closer to Bennett and yelled in his face pointing the revolver.
I looked away wishing that I was watching a scene from a television movie and I could change the channel if it was too gory or just get up and leave whenever I wanted.
The man named “Bennett,” wiped his nose with the sleeve of his jacket, stood up straight and crossed his arms over his chest. Now that I looked closer, I could see his small deliberate gestures. But I was two steps behind Monroe. He’d already figured it out.
“You wanna know what I stopped you for?”
Monroe began rattling off a list of infractions, starting with the no taillights and moving on to resisting arrest before Bennett cut him off.
“Resisting arrest? Are you kidding?” Bennett laughed as he tried to stop the flow of blood with the back of his wrist. “How can I do that? You have the gun.”
Monroe ignored the remark. “Where were you going?” He demanded, shining the light again in
Bennett’s face.
Bennett stared up at him, answering calmly. “Going home from my aunt’s place. We just had a party to celebrate my new job. I’m going to be teaching fifth grade starting next Monday in West Gulf.” He stood up a little straighter. “It’s gonna be my first teaching job.”
“What?” I heard Monroe say. “You’re a teacher? A pervert like you? I don’t want any of my kids nowhere near you. We need to get rid of you fags taking up space in this fine state. Teaching school! You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”
Bennett stopped talking and was tenderly touching his nose that had started to swell. “Look,” he started again in a shaking voice, “Why don’t you just write me my ticket and I’ll be on my way.” He stood up straighter and faced Monroe. “I was going to fix those lights with my first paycheck from the school board. I just don’t have any money right now.”
“Hell no!” Monroe shouted his voice hoarse and threatening. “How in the hell do you come off telling me what you’re gonna do? You better shut your mouth.” He gestured toward me. “Go ahead and search the vehicle.”
I looked back at Bennett wanting to tell him that this wasn’t me talking, to let him know that if it was up to me, I would give him a warning and let him go. There were two suitcases in the trunk. Monroe insisted that I open them. They were packed with tightly folded clothing arranged around plastic bags of men’s toiletries. After I looked through the suitcases, Monroe dumped them on the roadway his furious glare focused on Bennett the whole time. Bennett’s eyes filled with tears and his lips began to tremble as his clothes hit the dirt, but he didn’t move a muscle; just stared down at his broken glasses.
In the trunk, there was also a box of paperback books and another smaller box filled with notebooks, pencils, and papers. At the top of the box of notebooks was a cheaply framed diploma from the University of Alabama that said Bennett O’Carroll had graduated this year with a Bachelor’s in education. Clothing on hangers was neatly laid across the back seat and several pairs of shoes were stacked on the floor beneath. On the front passenger seat there was a large box filled with plastic dishes and cups and a few pieces of silverware.
Bennett was moving everything he owned to West Gulf.
I searched the glove box without being told, to avoid looking at Monroe. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew him well enough to know that this easy-going, good-natured, opportunist of a man, was another person now, suddenly crazed for some reason I couldn’t explain, except to think that the only object of his rage was Bennett, unapologetic in who he was and trying to stand up for himself. Bennett was traveling in dangerous territory.
Bennett was cuffed now, lying curled up on his side by the car, where Monroe threw him to the ground and kicked him in the back after he got the cuffs fastened. I’d watched it all, rooted to the spot while Monroe ignored me and walked back to our car to use the radio Monroe’s voice startled me, “I just called for some back up. This isn’t the kind of thing a lady should be part of.”
“Back up?” I bristled. “Why? Are you arresting him? You don’t need back up. I can do my job just as well as anybody else.”
Monroe didn’t answer. “Why don’t you just give him a ticket?” I asked. “He said he was going to fix the taillights when he got paid.”
Monroe looked up and shook his head looking off into the darkness beyond the road. “A teacher! Can you believe that? The whole world’s out of control and I’m not the only one that thinks so. This isn’t California where all the fruits live. We don’t like his kind down here.”
“Are you arresting him?” I asked again.
“Eventually, not right away. First, we need to teach him a little lesson before he thinks he’s high and mighty enough to grab some little kid and stick it in him. You’d think they’d make it against the law for that son-of-abitch to try and teach our kids.”
We stood there like that, Monroe and I, for minutes, until the quiet of the night was interrupted by three squad cars jamming on their squealing brakes as they pulled up next to us by the embankment, spraying dry grit and dust in the air.
About five cops jumped out of those cars, all in emergency stance. I recognized Loyle and a couple of other black officers and one older Hispanic-looking officer that I saw in roll call who never spoke to me. One of the cops was carrying a baseball bat. Another was running toward our car yelling in Monroe’s direction in a raspy cigarette-voice, “Where’s the fag?
I got your back Roe!”
Monroe pointed at the ground where Bennett lay curled. Instantly, three of the officers were on him. I heard the bat striking flesh and Bennett screaming. Loyle turned to me and tried to nudge me toward the cops that were surrounding Bennett. “Good day for you to get some first-hand training. Look and see how we handle it in this parish when some asshole resists arrest!”
The cop with the bat stood over Bennett and jerked him to his feet by his coat collar with one swift pull as if he were a stick puppet. Another cop came over and punched Bennett several times in the mouth. Teeth splattered to the ground and blood began to trickle from his mouth. Bennett’s whole face was now covered with blood and whatever skin showed through was bruised purple and beginning to swell.
Monroe stood back and watched approvingly. “This here is a sendoff party for this little bitch over here, before we take her in.” His eyes shifted to me. “Aren’t you going to have a little fun too?” he wanted to know. “I know you’re a lady and all, but what the heck.”
“No,” I yelled at him. “This is crazy. You need to stop it! Stop them!” I turned in the direction of the cops gathered around Bennett. The shrillness in my voice got their attention. They threw Bennett back down to the ground and everybody turned to look at me.
I looked back at the men and then at Bennett. “If you’re going to arrest him, just do it,” I yelled. “It’s only a mover for no taillights. He never resisted arrest!”
“We’re just trying to teach this one who plays hide- the-sausage a little lesson,” said one of the younger cops who had been hanging back, watching beyond the men gathered around Bennett. He looked at me and then turned away. I thought he looked embarrassed.
Monroe walked over to me. “Stop butting in. This isn’t your call. I’ll decide what we book him for when we’re finished with him.”
The cop holding the bat nodded in agreement and with the encouragement he was getting, brought the bat down again on Bennett’s huddled form. As soon as I heard Bennett’s weak scream of pain, I ran toward them and grabbed the bat out of the cop’s hands as he took his stance, ready to strike again. I threw the bat as far as I could and then grabbed the cop’s arms forcing him to his knees. I raised my leg and kicked him hard in the chest, watching as he fell backward and remained lying there in the gravel.
The others were suddenly quiet. They stepped back, staring at me in shock and disbelief. Monroe’s eyes narrowed and he stopped pointing his revolver mid-air and released his arm to swing free at his side as he moved toward me. What the hell is wrong with you taking down one of our guys? Are you fucking crazy?”
I looked the men and then back at Monroe. “So, you called these guys to just come and help you beat up a suspect? He’s just a regular schoolteacher. You’ve got to know that’s wrong.” I was screaming at them now. I watched the other cop’s eyes moving across me and past Bennett without stopping, not wanting to look at either of us. None of them said a word. They just stood there gathered around Bennett and stared, their eyes shifting over to the cop who was making a feeble attempt to pick himself up off the ground.
Finally, Loyle spoke up. “Like I said when I got here, we got a suspect resisting arrest and it’s our job to make him pay for it. I’m sure glad you’re not my partner anymore.” He looked at the man that I’d brought to the ground. I’d say you’re on dangerous turf going after one of our own like that. That’s a reportable offense.”
One of the two black cops started walking away from us and turned to his partner, “I’m done here. I don’t need this headache. I want to leave early tonight anyway. Marlene is coming over and I need to clean the apartment.”
Monroe called after them, “You want some sexual pervert queer teaching the kids in this parish? I don’t! Take a stand! Don’t let some damn woman tell you what’s what! She’s still wet behind the years. Just graduated with the last class.”
He approached the other squad car and gestured toward the cop driving, “I’m going to need your car to transport the suspect. I don’t want to ride with that one ever again,” he said pointing at me. “She can drive our car back to the station by herself.”
I stood and watched as Bennett was half carried and half dragged to the squad car and loaded into the back seat by Monroe. Monroe slammed the door on him and then walked around to the passenger’s seat. I listened as he called to have the Volvo towed. I wondered if Bennett would make it back to the station in one piece and what would happen to him when I wasn’t around.
I climbed into the driver’s seat of the squad car I’d been riding in with Monroe. As I started the engine I wondered if I would feel differently if Bennett was just an ordinary white guy, somebody who leered at woman on the sly and who was at least somewhat of a racist, knowing just when to mask it, like most of the men I saw in this city. Would I even care if they beat the hell out of him then? Or would I secretly cheer them on, glad that he was getting what he deserved?
When you talked about hatred for gays, I figured you didn’t have to look any further than Monroe, wannabe middle class, strictly reared in the church by the word of the Bible and probably beaten within an inch of his life every time he cussed or forgot the words to his mama’s favorite psalm. Yet none of those church teachings mattered, because the hatred radiated off him in waves like a broken radiator coil, whenever he came across a gay man, even if that man kept his mouth shut and didn’t threaten Monroe’s already fragile image.
As I was starting to understand, it was worse for Bennett, who was not just gay. He was black too, something Monroe could not forgive him for being. That’s when I realized there just weren’t any exceptions for any of us.
Bennett wasn’t like the friends I’d made in Bangkok or here in the Quarter. I didn’t get the impression he lived only to dress up and flaunt his womanly assets or drink and shovel drugs into his body. No, Bennett was an exemplary man, gay or straight, black or white. He’d accomplished something important in his life; I’d seen his diploma and I imagined that he’d overcome hurdles and struggled to get it. He was on his way to live a good life, the kind of life most of the people around here would admire him for, if he was a straight guy. But of course, he wasn’t. He was just a gay black guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I followed the car carrying Bennett and Monroe back to the station and waited while they off-loaded him, tossing the contents of his trunk into plastic bags.
I hoped for his sake they wouldn’t destroy his diploma.
As they moved Bennett to the rear toward the holding cells, I snuck a careful look. He was beat up bad. His face was swollen and bloody but having seen other fighters before who looked a lot worse, some who I’d fought. I told myself he would heal from those injuries and live to tell about his arrest. I hoped he would let everybody know about how our police department behaved in the field today. How they treated certain people.
Maybe I told myself I was looking at it all wrong. This whole experience would teach him a good lesson about driving without taillights in this red neck country. He was asking for it! The possibility reassured me. I’d stepped up, hadn’t I? Did what I could.
Eventually Monroe brought over the arrest report he’d prepared so I could sign off and we could clock out. The description of the reason for arrest was long and wordy, taking up nearly two pages in his tight crowded writing that slanted downward. I remembered somebody long go telling me never to trust a person who wrote that way, something about not being forthright.
Monroe, like Bennett, was college-educated. He enjoyed writing, telling a story, and embellishing it when it was in his interest. I saw there was no mention in the report of witnesses or any of the other cops that showed up at the scene. I barely glanced at the pages following the section that listed the basis of the arrest of the suspect, knowing the rest of the report was also full of lies, just made up charges to arrest Bennett. As I looked it over, I tried to meet Monroe’s eyes, but he stared straight ahead holding his pen. “Are you signing?” he asked me matter-of-factly. It wasn’t much of a question and he already knew the answer. I stared at my signature line, holding my pen above the paper for what seemed like minutes before I scratched my name on the last page.
By the time Bennett and his property were booked in, I’d earned an extra two hours of overtime for myself, although I wanted to run away from there as fast as I could. I was pretty sure that Monroe and probably the others too, had already started talking about Bennett’s arrest and my behavior. Gossip spread like fire here. A few of the cops stared at me out right and whispered among themselves and the others continued to ignore me. I started to worry that when the watch commander found out I’d be up for some type of discipline, at the very least a suspension, based on what I’d seen handed out to other cops who’d managed to fuck up.
Finally, alone in my car I set the air conditioner on high making my teeth chatter and every bone in my body ache, as it dried the sticky sweat that stuck to my face and bare arms. I made sure that I stopped at the liquor store on the way home and bought an extra bottle. I was drinking them so fast lately. My hands were shaking, and I could barely wait to feel the warm liquid trickle down my throat.
I opened the car door and inhaled the smell of over ripe garbage and dried sour milk from the trash cans along the driveway. They hadn’t been picked up this week. I’d heard something about the sanitation workers planning a strike, but I guess I’d missed it when they did.
Not wanting to go near the trash cans, I walked around the long way past the rear of Mrs. Devereux’s house. The shades were still drawn, and the house seemed to have slipped into an ever-lasting slumber.
Newspapers were stacked on the porch and mail was falling out of the over-stuffed mailbox, landing on the side of the house under the front window. I reminded myself as I did every day, that I need to call the newspaper and the post office to stop delivery. The occupant was dead.
As soon as I opened my door I hurried in, checked to make sure I was alone and made sure all the shades were drawn. Then I stripped down to panties and bra and filled a tall glass with whiskey. I drank it down and filled another glass. When I finished that one, I took a long hot shower, conditioning my hair and shaving my legs. The shaking had stopped and feeling calmer, I checked my money stash as I did every day and wrote about Bennett’s arrest and the part Monroe and the other cops had in it. Then I set my alarm clock, rubbed lotion on my body and fell into a deep sleep.
In what seemed like just minutes, the shrill ring of the phone woke me up. I rolled over and picked up my alarm clock. I’d been sleeping for just over an hour and it wasn’t time to get ready for work. I wondered who could be calling me at this hour. Hesitating I picked up the receiver.
“Holmes, is that you?”
“Yes,” I struggled to recognize the voice on the other end.
“Holmes, this is Sergeant Beaudry. You were one of the arresting officers for Bennett O’Carroll last night?”
I thought back, Beaudry was on a different watch, but I remembered him giving some of the trainings and I remembered how he snickered every time he looked in my direction. When I didn’t answer, the voice on the other end became impatient. “Don’t you remember? Your name is on the report as one of the arresting officers. He was a young guy, black, lots of jewelry, real fruity.”
“Yes, I remember.” I finally answered.
“Well put your drawers on and get down here. He just hung himself in his cell. We wouldn’t have found him till morning, but the janitor thought he saw a light on down there, so he went to check.”
“What?” “What do you mean he hung himself?”
“You heard me. Boy put an end to his miserable life. Knew how to use his blanket to do it. He wasn’t on any kind of suicide watch or anything like that. Did he say anything to you? Give you any indication that he was depressed or something?”
I felt the bottom of my stomach drop out. “Monroe was the one who booked him. Did you talk to him?” I asked.
“He’s not answering his phone. I sent a patrol by his house and he’s not home. I need you down here right now. Somebody here dropped a dime to the press and as soon as the news got out, we picked up reporters and bleeding hearts wall to wall.
“Well,” I hesitated.
“You’ll need to get down here and answer some questions. By the way, the defendant’s nose was broken and a couple of ribs too. It says in the report he resisted arrest so that should explain it, but Internal Affairs will be interested.”
I bit my lip remembering Bennett’s delicate frame and how he hunched his shoulders and his whole upper body inward, as if he was protecting himself from everything surrounding him.
“Look,” I said, “He was a teacher and he was going to start his teaching job in West Gulf next week. He told us that right away. Why would he commit suicide?”
“Hell, if I know. Leave them alone for one minute and it happens. Besides, the report says he was smoking marijuana. So, who knows?”
“Marijuana? I didn’t see any marijuana. I mean he didn’t seem high.”
“What are you talking about?” Sargent Beaudry’s voice rose harshly. “You signed off on the report and that’s what it says. Are you telling me that’s not true?” “No,” I stammered.
“Well you better get down here now. I don’t have time to mess with you. Reporters are starting to get out of hand down here.”
I hung up the phone and swung my legs over the side of the bed. As soon as I tried to stand up my head began to pound, first at the temples and then downward from the crown to the base of my neck. I staggered to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face, feeling my eyes start to throb in time to the beat from my head. I made a few half-hearted swipes with my toothbrush and twisted my hair into a ponytail. I picked my dirty uniform off the floor and stepped into the trousers and buttoned the shirt with shaking hands.
My head pounding, I swallowed a couple of aspirins. I looked for my uniform shoes and couldn’t find them, so I finally settled on a pair of tennis shoes. Ten minutes later, I turned the key in the ignition and backed out of the driveway. The streets were silent and peaceful, swept clean of human noise and the crowding that would start again in a few hours.
I pulled into the employee parking lot shaking and sick to my stomach, a machete hacking away in my head. Why would he want to kill himself? I tried to imagine what he was feeling when we arrested him, but I couldn’t remember anything he’d said or done that would have been a clue.
He was probably used to being stopped here. Maybe beaten too. He didn’t even look as shocked as I did when it started. I should have done more to help him, but what? I couldn’t stop the arrest.
I saw myself years later, still working as a police officer, selling off my soul, one piece at a time till there was nothing left. But what was the alternative? Drive a cab again? Maybe some other job buried in a kitchen, never seeing the sun or feeling the breeze on my skin, washing dishes for eight hours straight or changing old people’s dirty diapers in a convalescent home.
I’d taken to the giddy freedom of this job on the first day and the freewheeling unchecked freedom it provided. Sometimes I felt like I was roaming the alleys of my childhood. Running in the steaming air, smelling the burning rubbish intermingled with the pungent smell of adobo. Knowing in those days, that I was the little dictator in the distance between the school and our shack. An area that nobody else dared to breach.
Once Monroe saw Bennett it was a done deal, just like the lesson he wanted to teach him. Some things set in motion couldn’t be stopped. All the cops were happy to find out that they were just given a good excuse to beat on somebody. It was Bennett, I couldn’t understand. Why would somebody give up when they had a chance to start a new life as an educated person, with a good job where they would be respected?
The street in front of the Department was lined with parked vans covered with the logos of the local TV stations. The coroner’s wagon was parked directly in front of the door. On the sidewalk and in front of the entrance, reporters milled about carrying microphones, and cameramen juggled for positions closest to the door. I wondered who had tipped them and how much they’d made off the deal.
I pushed past the crowd at the door by using my elbows and thrusting my badge in their faces to force back the reporters. A few of the reeled in surprise when they saw I was a cop and immediately stuck a microphone in my face homing in on me. There was a human-interest story there somewhere. I shook my head, pushed away the microphones, and didn’t speak to any of them.
As I stepped into the lobby, two burly men from the coroner’s office dressed in white scrubs, carried out a covered stretcher. As soon as they opened the lobby door, cameras began to click away.
Sargent Beaudry was waiting in the Commander’s office, a well-furnished office off the annex. As soon as I stepped inside, the glare rising off the highly polished oak floor blinded me. Cleaning the floor in here was a special assignment for the old stooped gray-
haired black man who whistled “My Darlin Clementine, as he stepped around spritely twirling his mop.
Behind a massive desk sitting in front of the office, covered in stacks of papers and bright colored folders, a long marble conference table lined the rear wall of the office, surrounded by small plush coffee-colored leather chairs.
Sargent Beaudry sat at the head of the table along with several other men that I didn’t recognize. About half of the men were in uniform looking worried, sipping on paper cups of coffee. All of them looked half-asleep, after being dragged out of bed during the hours when they usually slept. Most of them looked shocked when I was introduced. They turned to each other as if to validate what they saw.
Sargent Beaudry motioned me to sit facing the panel at the table. “What took you so long?” He demanded glancing down and frowning at my tennis shoes. His voice was nasal and whiny, and it grated on my ears.
“I came as soon as you called.” I told him.
He looked me up and down. “Just like a woman I guess.”
I wanted to set him straight, but I could see the other men watching me curiously, so I stopped myself.
Sargent Beaudry introduced the others so quickly that I barely heard their names or titles. “Before we start,” he began, “You know you’re entitled to be represented by counsel here even though this is an informal inquiry.
You know that don’t you?” I nodded my head.
Then he began, “Luckily for you, I was finally able to reach Mr. Monroe after I called you. He helped us out with some information. It seems he spent some time with Mr. O’Carroll after he was booked in, trying to calm him down. He said that the boy was depressed and crying after he finished booking him, so he moved him to one of the back cells where it’s quiet. Seems he told Monroe that he was tired of living the way he was. Monroe said when he left him, he was crying in his bunk.”
I sat up in surprise. I couldn’t imagine Bennett saying anything like that and I couldn’t imagine Monroe spending any time with Bennett trying to help him. I shook my head in disbelief.
Sargent Beaudry noticed and shrugged indifferently. “Probably the drugs. You know, the marijuana. That O’Carroll had quite a bit on him it seems. Did the boy seem depressed to you?”
I just didn’t see him as depressed I thought. Angry, but not depressed. I finally answered, “No I can’t say he seemed depressed.”
Sargent Beaudry seemed to be thinking. “You’re a newbie. Probably you don’t have enough experience to pick up the signs. That just comes with time. Maybe he was sorry he got caught with drugs and then resisted arrest. Looks like he put up quite a fight. These stupid sons of bitches never learn. I mean we have the upper hand!”
“Well,” I began, “he told us he had a teaching job coming up in West Gulf and he just finished college. Just got his degree. I didn’t think he was depressed.” I didn’t say anything about the marijuana or about resisting arrest. How could I? Unless I was willing to say that Monroe was lying.
Sargent Beaudry didn’t seem to hear me. “That drug conviction would knock him right out of that teaching job. He must have known that when you arrested him. Hell, that would depress anybody, especially if they were shaky already. Those queers aren’t wrapped too tight.”
“Anyway, there’s something else.” Sargent Beaudry continued. “More importantly, I heard you struck another officer without provocation. He’s not making an official complaint, probably embarrassed to be clocked by a woman in front of the guys. He’ll never live it down, but the other officers are talking about it. It’s spreading like wildfire. So, what happened out there?”
“There was a scuffle….” I began. My head was pounding, and I could taste alcohol rising in my throat.
“When the prisoner was resisting arrest?” Sargent Beaudry interrupted.
I avoided the question. “Well there were a lot of cops there around him. Monroe called them to the
scene, and it got out of control I guess.”
Sargent Beaudry looked over at one of the other cops sitting across from me and raised his eyebrow before he spoke. “What happened honey? Did you get excited and hit the wrong guy?” Quiet laughter erupted from some of the men sitting at the table.
He leaned forward in his chair. “I heard from Monroe that you didn’t like the way things were handled, that you complained about the arrest. Is that true?”
I hesitated, “I thought he should have gotten a ticket, so that’s what I said.”
“So, you disagreed with your patrol partner who has years more experience than you do. Is that right?” “I guess so.” I wanted to add that Monroe wouldn’t have gone to all that trouble if Bennett had been straight, but I didn’t.
Sargent Beaudry suddenly chuckled. “You remind me of my wife. She doesn’t know a damn thing but what’s in the kitchen, but she always tries to tell me what to do. Always has a different opinion. Must be a woman thing. You gals can’t help it.” I could feel the others sitting across from me relax. A few of them smiled weakly and I could see them writing something down.
“So,” Sargent Beaudry began, “I’m concluding my investigation of this death. As far as I’m concerned, I’m satisfied, the queer committed suicide by hanging, and I’m ready to give a statement and call his family. Everything supports what Monroe told me. I’ll file my report now. One less like him on this planet is fine with me”
He hit the buzzer on the wall and a young woman with long corn row braids, cautiously entered in deference. Sargent Beaudry pointed at her and barked out directions. “Lizzie, look up the address and have Officer Dupree drive out to O’Carroll’s family and drop the news. Give me ten minutes to freshen up and then I’ll go out and give the reporters a statement.” He turned toward the men sitting in front of me, “Let’s call it a day Gentlemen. I’ll expect a copy of your findings as soon as possible.”
I looked down at my hands. Of course, Bennett had a family. I just hadn’t thought of it before. A mother who would find out soon that all she had left of her son was lying in a box that she would bury in the ground, along with the memory of him as a child.
Maybe she’d force herself to go back as far as she could remember, to a chubby baby still in diapers, a safe image that didn’t have anything to do with who he became as an adult. Even though it hurt more, it was better that way.
“And you,” Sargent Beaudry added, pointing at me, “You need to start falling in line today girl. You have no business trying to rule the roost when you don’t know shit from shinola. The next time a senior officer decides on what course of action to take, you just shut your damn fool mouth and ask him how you can help. Is that clear?” He sighed and looked around the office.
“This is men’s business. Fucking liberals always changing the laws. Now it’s called Affirmative Action. You know, we never had women on the force before. I sure hope this isn’t going to be a problem for me, because I get rid of my problems, young lady. Are you clear? No questions? If not, you can go now. Just don’t expect any of the guys to get your back after you took that queer’s side.”
I stood up picturing Bennett’s body hanging in one of the back cells that was only used in emergencies and was usually kept dark. I wondered what he was thinking in those last moments knowing he was going to die. Whom did he think of? Did he call out for help knowing that nobody was coming? Or had he already given up when Monroe took him back there?
So, in case you’re wondering, no, I wasn’t sure if he’d hung himself or not. I just doubted it. Really doubted it. Why would he do that now in his life? And why did Monroe take him to one of the back cells, where nobody, including the cops at the station, ever went?
Well it didn’t matter anymore I thought. Bennett was dead whether he did himself in or if Monroe had a hand in it. He was free now; no more police stops, no more beatings, no more ridicule. No more teaching job.
Monroe would be glad about that.

Chapter Twenty-One

I could hear the phone ringing as I turned over in bed, but by the time I dragged myself out of the covers, and picked it up, the ringing stopped. I stretched out again on my bed, closed my eyes, and tried to sleep. After a few minutes, I gave up, opened my eyes, and started to stare at the wall. Finally, I sat up and tried to watch television. I was just in the middle of Andy of Mayberry, watching Andy teach Opie a lesson in sharing, when the phone rang again. I reached over and grabbed the receiver hoping it had nothing to do with Bennett’s hanging. “Hello,” I answered, keeping my eyes on the television screen. I remembered for the hundredth time that Rory introduced me to this program and said it would teach me about life in the United States. So far, I hadn’t seen anything that resembled the life you found out here in the streets, where nobody was kind-hearted, and everybody was hustling a buck by running over somebody else.
There was a burst of static on the other end of the line and then I heard a voice hesitating, “Genie?” “Yes,” I answered, knowing the voice but not quite recognizing it.
“Genie, it’s Teddy. I know it’s kinda late, but I’m borrowing a phone over here and this is the only time they’re away.”
“What? Theodore Holmes?” I heard my voice shaking.
“Yeah, that’s me all right. Look I’m kinda in a little jam here. I didn’t pay for my space and they locked me out of my trailer. I was just wondering if you could loan me a few bucks until my check comes in.”
Surprised at the caller and at what he wanted, I hesitated before answering.
“Okay. That’s all right.” The voice answered. “Sorry I bothered you. I won’t call again, I promise.” “Wait,” I stopped the voice at the other end. “I just didn’t recognize you, that’s all. Sure, I can loan you some money if you need.”
“Well I probably can’t pay it back right away cause I already owe most of my next two checks. Just want to be up front with you.”
“I understand,” I told him. “So where are you living now?”
“Well, nowhere exactly,” he answered. “I kind of stay a night here and a night there. That’s how I’m using this phone. Got to get off before the owner comes back. He doesn’t know I’m here.”
I looked around at my little house that seemed so empty and lonely. “Listen, I told him. “Why don’t you come and stay with me for a while. I have a spare bedroom and you can have it all to yourself. You just have to keep it clean.”
“Live with you?” He sounded astonished. “Nobody ever wanted me to live with them before. Most people want me to go away.”
“Well, you’re my father.” I thought about Mrs. Devereux and how she never went to California to live with her daughter. Now she was dead.
“No excuses,” I insisted. I’ll come and get you tomorrow. Dad?” I choked out the word, surprised at how hard it was to say. “So, what do you think?”
“I don’t know. I like to keep to myself you know. I start drinking around noon.”
I laughed, thinking he was joking. “You can keep to yourself here. Nobody will bother you. They won’t even know you’re here.”
There was a long silence, then he spoke up, “Are there more people like you where you live?”
“Like me? What do you mean?”
“I mean like they once were a boy or a girl and now they’re something else.”
I laughed. “Not in my house, just me.”
“Well I gotta tell you, I said it didn’t bother me last time, but that’s not really true, it does bother me some what you did.” “My sex change?”
“Yeah if that’s what you call it. Like I told you, I just don’t understand that kind of behavior.”
“I’ll try and explain it to you some time,” I offered, thinking about Bennett and taking a few deep breaths to calm myself.
“Don’t think you can,” he responded.
“So, what do you think about living here? I can pick you up right after I get off work. I’ll drive straight up.”
There was a long pause and then he said sadly, “I’ll be ready. I’ll go back to the trailer and wait for you.” After I hung up, I suddenly felt a lot better. I sat down at the kitchen table and made out my rent check, addressing the envelope carefully to Mrs. Devereux’s daughter. For the first time in weeks, I felt like straightening up the place.
For the next few hours, I scrubbed the windows until they gleamed and then washed down the walls in the living room and bedroom. I wrapped my dirty clothes in a couple of bed sheets and drove around the block to Laundry Land. I loaded up three machines before I remembered I didn’t have detergent. Checking to see if the place was deserted, I stuck a screwdriver into the soap dispensing machine and twisted the lock until it broke. Helping myself to a few packets of detergent, I dumped the rest out onto the folding table, in case somebody else found themselves in the same predicament.
After my clothes dried, I drove home and made up the cot in the smaller bedroom for my father, leaving two folded towels on the chair by his bed, just the way they did in the hotels in Bangkok.
Looking around, I realized that most of my household furnishings, particularly the top-quality stuff was free, given to me while I was on my beat, by the owners of shops catering to bougie shoppers and sometimes tourists.
At first, I was uncomfortable taking anything, but Monroe, pointed out that when I refused a gift it made the police look bad. “If you don’t want a few little gifts,” he would say, “then you should tell them you’ll come around once a week to collect a little cash just like we all do. You know, to make sure our superior service continues.” And so, I learned. Too embarrassed to ask for cash payments the way many of the cops did, I found a way to get gifts. After the first few times they gave me a few items, I got the hang of it
Now I’d started paying off my credit cards after putting them to rest in the back of my drawer. I could boast about owning expensive leather shoes and designer purses, something my salary certainly didn’t cover. I even had a few evening dresses, knock offs, but damn good ones. They were also gifts from store owners, even though I had no place to wear them.
I told myself I was just following the grand old southern tradition of supporting your local police and respecting law and order. From my point of view, we were the ones out there responding to cries for help, coming from over-turned piles of twisted metal on the roadway. We were the ones who opened car doors to find the upholstery soaked with greasy red blood or needed to transport somebody’s wife with blackened eyes and busted ribs for emergency care, knowing that as soon as she was released from the hospital she’d be back with whoever beat her up.
We deserved more than the pittance salary we all complained about, and any benefits we could pick up were justified.
Wanting everything to be perfect for my father, I swept and dusted the bedroom that was to be his and washed the organdy curtains that had been given to me while I was on patrol. I mopped the tiny kitchen floor and cleaned off my two-burner stove. I finished off by scouring the bathtub and toilet. Satisfied that my little house was presentable, I crawled back into bed and fell asleep.
The next day after finishing work, I picked up my father and three large trash bags stuffed full of his belongings and started driving him to my house to stay for a while. We weren’t sure for how long.
All the way home he smoked cigarette after cigarette, having had me stop at a drugstore and buy him a carton because he’d run out. He coughed a lot; a deep phlegmy cough and kept rolling down the window of my old Caprice to spit. I kept looking over at him, studying his face from the side, trying to count our similarities. We both had the same strong bone structure and chin line. I was glad. It meant I belonged somewhere, came from someone.
In my head I experimented with saying the word
“Dad,” but it sounded awkward to me when I took in his dirty jeans and work shirt and his gray hair and beard that seemed to have grown together, partially covering his face. If ever there was someone who shattered the image of my father as an upper-class gentleman, or a high-ranking military officer, it was my father, himself, as he wiped his nose with the sleeve of his ragged shirt.
A few blocks away from home, we passed a liquor store and he asked me to stop get him a pint. I didn’t tell him I stopped there every day after work, right as rain or that I had a whole string of liquor stores to stop at, and they always gave me a steep discount.
He asked me to buy a pint, but I’d already made up my mind to do better than that when I left him in the car. I purchased a few bottles and a couple of Hershey candy bars that he’d asked for.
When I stepped out of the store, my father was standing by the car surrounded by a few teenagers who looked like gang bangers, in sagging basketball shorts and high-top tennis shoes. Two of them wore doo rags wrapped tight and tied over their foreheads, partially covered by baseball caps and the other sported a shaved head. Even though the temperature was in the low sixties they stood with their backs to the wind, jacketless, in huge cotton t-shirts that hung almost to their knees. At least one of them had to be strapped.
I thought I recognized the tallest one with a face full of acne from the Calliope, and I could almost picture him sitting in the back of my squad car staring out with his middle finger extended, and his eyes red from huffing glue behind the railroad tracks.
His journey wouldn’t be a long one I thought. There wasn’t a high school graduation or college in his future, no bright spring day when he would marry in his hometown church with his family looking on proudly. Right around the corner there was only a prison cell calling his name.
As soon as I walked up, the three guys backed away from my father who was smiling broadly. “Genie, I told these young men you’d be happy to buy them a few bottles. They have a problem getting it without their identification.”
I forced a little smile, looking them over. “You mean they don’t have any, right?”
The one guy that I thought I recognized, stepped forward, clearly the spokesman for the trio. “A pussy cop,” he yelled. Then lowered his voice. “We forgot our ID’s at home,” he offered sarcastically. “This nice man said his daughter was going to help us out. He doesn’t have any identification either”
“See,” my father jumped in, “They have identification. They just forgot it.” He looked at me hopefully, fingering a few tightly rolled bills before tucking them into the torn pocket of his pants. “They gave me a little extra for myself and I said you’d buy them a bottle. I left my ID home too.”
I ignored the guys and turned to my father. “You know I can’t buy liquor for minors, I’m in uniform anyway. Do you know how much trouble I could get into?”
“No trouble!” One of the others spoke up. The owner, Desmond, already paid you guys off. I saw it myself yesterday. Nobody would tell on you. You’re a cop.” He laughed out of the side of his mouth and spit in the jumble of weeds growing in between the cracked cement foundation in front of the store. “You are a cop, aren’t you? I never saw a lady cop before.”
I ignored him and turned to my father. “Give him back his money. I’m not buying anybody alcohol.” I shifted my paper bag full of bottles, afraid that the bottom was going to fall out from the weight.
“Oh, come on now.” My father’s voice was now a petulant whine. “Don’t be like that.”
“You heard him,” the first one to speak stepped up closer to me, patting his pocket. He looked about sixteen, and I began to feel my heart start to beat faster. Taking a deep breath, I walked to my car and opened the trunk. Once the bag was inside, I turned back to my father, keeping my voice calm. ‘Give him his money back, and let’s get going.”
“Why?” My father whined, he said you wouldn’t get in trouble. Some of this is for me you know.”
“I just bought you something to drink. You don’t need their money.”
My father shook his head. “No way. I don’t get a free bottle every day.”
“Listen to the old man.” The only one who’d stayed silent was now talking. “Hey, let me see what’s under that uniform bitch.” He reached out toward me.
I stepped back and caught his arm mid-air, twisting it behind his back and then delivered a quick kick to his chest and one to his groin that sent him to his knees. He cried out and looked over at the other two watching. “Why are you fucking standing there? Help me!”
The tall one with the acne slid his hand along the side pocket of his shorts. There was the quick flash of a knife. I didn’t see the outline of a gun, but I couldn’t be sure, so I reached down and pulled out mine. My father’s eyes opened wide and stared at the boy doubled over on the ground, and then looked back at me.
“Police brutality,” screamed the one on the ground. He didn’t make a move to rise and the other two didn’t make a move to help him. “You see what she did!” His voice was shrill, and I could see tears in his eyes. “You need to fuck her up.”
“Wait now,” my father, mumbled, suddenly backing away from all of us. “You should’ve just bought them their bottle.” He looked from me to them, now worried enough to keep backing further away.
“Give them back their money,” I ordered, this time with the gun pointed at them the way they’d showed us at the academy. One of the others standing started yelling, “Motherfucker, take the gun off him. Just because we’re black.”
“No guns, no guns!” My father called out from where he’d backed up close to my car. He wasn’t making a move to give back the money even though he’d taken it out of his pocket, so I snatched it from his hand.
Still holding my revolver, I reached out and thrust the small roll of bills at the guy down on the ground. He kept holding his middle and made no move to reach for it.
“Let’s go.” I grabbed my father by the arm and dragged him to my car. He didn’t resist now, letting me clutch at him. I felt the boniness of his arm beneath the worn-out fabric of his shirt.
I half pushed, half shoved him into the front seat, and slammed the door while I holstered my gun. As I started the engine, I could hear their curses following us, and the sound of a rock one of them had thrown, striking the rear of my car. “What was that?” I screamed at my father who was now huddled in the corner of the front seat wiping his eyes.
We drove a few more blocks, my hands clutching the wheel and a cold sweat trickling from my hairline.
“You could have gotten us killed!” I pulled the car over to the curb as I shoved the gear into park and turned to face the man that I’d been so happy to see a few hours ago.
“They weren’t mad at me! I was trying to get them a few bottles. You were the one they were mad at.” He stared at me in defiance. “All you had to do was a simple thing and everybody would be happy. Haven’t you ever done a favor before?”
I pounded the wheel. “I don’t buy liquor for minors for heaven’s sake. I’m a cop. You don’t know what you got us into. Can’t you see those assholes are dangerous? Maybe they had guns. I could have shot one.”
My father shrugged. “Are we almost home? I need a drink.” He shivered and hugged his arms in closer to his body. Leaning back against the seat he closed his eyes and I saw the huge black circles under them, and the network of lines and broken blood vessels that covered the rest of his face. I shut up then because I could see he wasn’t paying any attention, and what was worse, didn’t give a damn about what almost happened, when it scared me to death.
My father fell asleep during the next mile or so, and by the time I unloaded the car he was snoring loudly. I shook his arm and called his name several times before he stirred and looked around blankly, “Where am I?” “We’re home,” I told him, helping him out of the car.
He stared at me in surprise and looked over at the front house where Mrs. Devereux used to live. “What home?”
My father followed me to the house and stood waiting on the porch while I opened the door. After I walked in and put the grocery bag on the table, I noticed he hadn’t moved from the porch. I went back out and led him in, watching him look around bewildered.
“We’re home,” I told him. “Remember you lost your place and you’re staying with me.”
“I lost my place?” He repeated what I said, staring at the bag on the table in confusion. It must have triggered something in him, because he grabbed for it, almost knocking it off the table. I caught the bottles as they rolled out. He was lightning fast and grabbed a pint as it slid to the edge of the table and uncapped it with a flourish. Tilting it back, he took a long drink, coughed, and grinned at me.
I turned on my small television and my father sat down on the couch to finish his bottle while he stared at it. I walked toward the bedroom thinking that I’d grab an hour of sleep before I got ready for work that night. But then I looked back at my father, a cigarette clenched between his teeth, as he watched the ashes slowly trickle to the floor. It suddenly occurred to me that it might not be a good idea to leave him by himself.
Sighing, I sat down next to him and watched a report about soldiers returning from Vietnam after being contaminated with Agent Orange and how three hundred tons of black sludge was somehow released in the Mississippi that day. President George W. Bush, grinning slyly, faced the camera announcing he disagreed with a proposed senate bill. Hadn’t he just become President?
I changed the channel and stared at the screen where the finale of Survivor was airing. My father was dozing, his bottle finished and lying next to him on the couch, his head rolling from side to side, and spittle dribbling from his mouth. It occurred to me that he probably hadn’t eaten, so I checked my freezer and popped a frozen dinner in the oven to heat. When I figured the dinner was heated, I woke him up and sat the tin tray in front of him with a fork. “Here you go. Eat some dinner before you go to bed. I’m going to take a shower.”
He just stared at me dazed and watched as I walked away. “The bathroom is this way.” I pointed as I walked toward it, thinking that it would be awfully hard not to find in my little house. I stood under the water turning it up as hot as I could stand. I shampooed and conditioned my hair, wringing and twisting it between my fingers, remembering how it felt to run my hands over a shaved head when I was another person in a different time. Tying a towel around my head, I slipped into a silk robe and walked back to the living room.
My father hadn’t touched his food. It sat congealing in its metal tray, the potatoes sodden, and the pork cutlet faded and anemic-looking in watery brown gravy. He had though, returned to the table and helped himself to another bottle from the grocery bag and was now partway through drinking it.
I brought a glass over and poured some of the liquor into a glass for myself. He frowned at me and moved the bottle back between his legs. “Nice place you got here. Who else lives here?”
“Just me,” I told him, thinking that I’d told him that before. “Do you want to see your room?” I thought about how I’d cleaned it for him.
I lead my father over to his room by half-propping him up and half dragging him. He was barely able to stand after finishing one pint and part of another. He looked around the room confused and unfocused, his shirt sticking to his bony chest. Then he fell on the bed, his eyes already shut. I took off his shoes and closed the door behind me, before I stretched out on my own bed and closed my eyes.
Just before I fell asleep, I looked across the yard and I thought I saw the shadow of Mrs. Devereux sitting in her rocker by the fireplace, counting her money and smiling. Then just as quickly as the image appeared, it grew more and more faint, the stacks of bills floating into the air and evaporating. Mrs. Devereux’s face drifted toward the window, but she wasn’t smiling any longer.
Lately I’d started taking my share of any cash that we picked up in some shakedowns while on patrol. Before, not taking cash made me feel just a little more honest. But in the end, I have to say I just didn’t deal well with disapproval, still hoping that someday the other cops would like and respect me. Since the incident with Bennett, I was shunned by almost all the other cops, who knew by now that I’d stuck my neck out and beat up one of their brothers while I was trying to help some queer. The way it stood; I couldn’t afford to do anything else that would make them look at me harder. I knew the day would come when I called for their help and they wouldn’t answer.
A few days later, Mary-Alazia was on my watch and she came up to me at roll call and told me that her son, Raleigh, was out on parole. She still wanted me to meet him. She was sure we would hit it off. At first, I tried to use my father as an excuse not to go out and meet him. I finally told her to go ahead and arrange for us to meet.
I noticed then, that my father hadn’t taken a shower since he started staying with me. He generally stayed up till three or four in the morning drinking and watching television or rather staring at the screen, not really caring what was on, and then slept until twelve or one o’clock, He barely ate any of the dinners that I warmed for him in the oven, but demanded that I buy him more and more alcohol and cartons of Lucky Strike. He liked me to lay in a good supply of Good Day candy bars, and licorice whips with the bottles I bought. Those he did eat.
My father always slept on top of his bed covers with his shoes on, completely laced, telling me the first time I saw this that he didn’t want to mess up his covers by pulling them back and then later admitting that he slept that way because he’d slept on the street before. He said he needed to be ready to run for his life in a quick second from some crazy son-of-a-bitch with a knife, trying to steal his shoes.
He didn’t venture out of the house during the day, even though I set up an old chair in the back yard so he could get some air. He said that the air would probably kill him and when I laughed, he cursed me and took a bottle to his room, where he stayed for the remainder of the day. Generally, from what I could see he didn’t watch much television during the day but preferred to smoke and stare at the walls.
One night before I was leaving for work my father began whimpering and pounding on his stomach.
“Where’s my check?” he demanded, tears running down his eyes. It turned out he was scared he would stop receiving his Social Security check since he wasn’t living in his trailer where it was mailed before. After calming him down, I checked the ragged plastic folder that he carried around and slept with and found that he had two checks that he hadn’t cashed. I had him sign the backs and told him I would cash them at my bank.
I got used to bringing home more than twice as much liquor as I was used to buying when I lived alone. The liquor kept him from yelling and cursing at me if I was around and if I wasn’t, from standing on the porch facing the street and shrieking at the top of his voice. There were times he stayed in his bed crying for hours on end. Although he told me, he didn’t know what was making him cry in the first place.
After I cashed out his first two checks for him, I started to sign the back of the checks myself and cash them out. Nobody hesitated to cash a check for me when I was in uniform. I didn’t give the cash to my father because I told myself he would end up walking around in the projects looking for meth. Meth was something he talked about, remembering it with pleasure from past times. One day he was missing when I came home. I found out later that after an hour or so of walking around on the hot concrete, trying to locate some meth or any other drug, a social worker making the rounds, spotted him standing in front of a house yelling and called the cops. It seemed he asked a little girl if he could go in her house to get out of the heat, and if her mother had something to get him high.
When he was full of liquor, my father was usually friendly. He talked a lot about his good times in the service and girls he’d slept with in the Philippines. He never mentioned my mother and the girls he had sex with sounded more like children, something I tried not to hear.
I started putting the cash from his checks in my own account, sometimes giving him a few dollars to hold on to for extra cigarettes. He didn’t care as long as the liquor kept coming. I figured I owed it to myself for putting up with him. Maybe people would look at me differently and think that I really was a good person and my past would disappear. Maybe my father would turn over a new leaf and become the man I’d always pictured. But the truth is, not everybody will grow up to be a space astronaut, a brain surgeon or a model on the cover of Glamour. Sometimes you just have to face reality and you have to accept that the things you do every day tell the world who you really are.
If I was being honest, I would say I was tired of having my father there after the first few days. A bitter, surly and sullen old man with a questionable past, he didn’t make me feel any less lonely. At best, I just felt it was my duty to take care of him. He was my father and he had nowhere to go.

Chapter Twenty-Two

One Thursday night I drew a new patrol partner, an aging Cuban from Florida, who’d, spent most of his life in the military. Relieved to be away from Monroe, I tried to warm up to Manny, hoping that we could spend more time policing and less time strong arming the drivers on traffic stops.
Shortly after one o’clock, we got a call to pick up a couple of kids and take them to juvenile detention. Narco detectives had just busted their apartment, one of the rattier buildings in the BW Cooper Apartment Complex. Just before we left the station, Manny got a call saying his wife was taken to the hospital and they suspected a heart attack, so I started out alone.
Sargent Torres, who worked homicide, was at the scene when I arrived. He was over-joyed because one of our officers had shot some defendant who was out on bail on Federal weapons and drug charges. The man, who was shot, was going to get indemnity in an upcoming trial because he was planning to testify that Torres planted guns and fabricated witness statements in a prior case.
A few hours before the shooting Torres had been besides himself, complaining that he’d always taken care of the deceased and given him “a piece of what was stolen,” to keep his mouth shut. “There’s just no honor,” he told the men assigned to him. “You can’t trust anybody now. I mean that guy turned his cousin last week!”
When we arrived for the pick-up, the apartment was in shambles, furniture overturned, clothes dumped on the floor, toys scattered throughout the place. Blood was spattered on the walls and carpets. In the back bedroom, two small children sat on the box springs from what used to be their bunk bed. The mattress, as well as the mattress in the master bedroom, had been ripped apart to search for more drugs. Mattress stuffing covered the floors and blankets intertwined with clothes from the two small children’s dressers that were turned over on their sides. Toys were shoved in a corner and a red-haired rag doll leaned crazily on top of a pile of broken board games. Headless Barbie dolls with coffee-colored skin lie naked like decapitated zombies.
The children watched me with mild interest, unafraid. They stared at my uniform, not questioning who I was. I could tell they were dealer’s children, accustomed to traffic inside their apartment at all hours of the day and night. Strange faces and bizarre goingson were the usual.
The kids were thin I noticed. Too thin. They didn’t know it, but they’d probably seen their mother or father for the last time, or at least for a very long while. Children’s Services would parcel them out to foster and after a series of homes, their memories of their parents would get fuzzier. Maybe at some point their parents would get out of prison and try and regain custody. But there was a good chance they wouldn’t.
“Hi, I’m Officer Holmes. I’m going to take you to a nice safe place tonight, okay?” They stared back at me, two little girls, maybe six and eight years old, resigned to their fate whatever it might be. “Let’s find some pajamas, and pack a little suitcase,” I said trying to make it all sound like a game. I watched, but neither one moved from their spot on the box spring.
“Okay then, let’s look for pajamas!” I began digging through scattered clothing. Most of it needing washing.
“Where’s my mother?” The older girl spoke up first. “Where did they take her? The hospital?”
“No stupid.” The younger one with a set of thick frizzy braids, clipped together with brightly colored plastic barrettes, answered her sister. “She wasn’t sick this time. She was awake. Didn’t you see? She’ll be back tomorrow for sure.”
I found a few pairs of stretch pants and a couple of long-sleeved shirts that would have to double as pajamas. Their mother and her problems would be turned over to the Feds by tomorrow and going home would not be an option. “Come on. Let’s put these on so we can go.” I said carefully.
“I don’t want to go!” The younger one stood up, challenging me. ‘” I’m going to stay right here and wait for my mother.”
“You can’t stay here by yourself,” I began explaining. We are going to close up the house and it will be dark.”
“That’s scary.” The younger one answered, as she looked around at the men from the crime unit hurrying through the rooms, taking pictures and slipping things into bags with latex-gloved hands. She moved a little closer to her sister who put a protective arm around her. “Look,” I hesitated, searching for the right words. “I need to take you some place safe for now. You can wait for your mother there.” I didn’t bring up that they would be waiting till hell froze.
The older one considered and then whispered to the younger one. “We can only go for tonight,” she explained, as if a trip to an amusement park was being discussed “Cause she’ll be back tomorrow. She always comes back the next day.”
“Can I take my dolls?” the younger one chimed in.
I told them they could take what they could carry, helping the younger one into her stretch pants and pulling a striped pink shirt over her head. The older one dressed quickly on own and began stacking some of the decapitated Barbie’s in a pile next to the bed. I grabbed a large trash bag and placed the few items of clothing and some of the dolls into it.
I noticed a photo on the dresser, a young woman, holding a bundle wrapped in pink, standing next to a little girl that looked like the older daughter. The young woman had a fresh glow, her mouth turned up and her eyes shining as she stared into the camera beaming. She held her daughter as if she was displaying a precious treasure for the camera and I wondered how she’d held up after she became a dealer.
The younger girl told me her name was Maya and she remembered her birthday dress was in the clothes hamper in the bathroom. I told her to stay where she was, and I would get it. The hamper was nearly empty, most of the dirty clothes spilled onto the floor, but I located the little dress and started back to the children’s bedroom. I passed the larger bedroom a few feet from the bathroom and decided it must have belonged to her mother. Two police techs wearing gloves and plastic booties over their shoes were dumping out the contents of the closet, probably used to store coke and weed instead of clothes.
One of the techs, a pale red-headed guy with grayish teeth and a pot belly was tallying the baggies he removed on a yellow legal pad and throwing them over his shoulder into a pile in the hall. Every few minutes a skinny black guy with longish braids walked through and picked up the baggies in the pile which he put into a larger plastic bag with an evidence tag.
I stopped and watched, remembering another apartment, another dope bust from before. We were called as back up, because there was so much evidence to book, and a couple of dead dealers. There was a baby there in a crib too, wearing filthy pajamas, and I remember picking him up and holding him while he screamed in terror. One of the investigating officers shot and killed his father while he was handcuffed on the floor. They joked about it afterwards. The last thing the baby’s father saw before he died was the arresting officers pocketing his cash and his drugs.
While I was walking back to the living room, I saw several baggies lying there waiting to be picked up. I looked around, but nobody was watching. Everybody was busy doing something, laughing and joking.
Nobody gave me a second glance. I bent over as if I was fixing my shoe and quickly tucked two of the baggies into my bra and buttoned my sweater over it. Then I walked back, collected the two girls, and loaded them into the back of my squad car.
We drove a few blocks and I turned around expecting them to be falling asleep, but they were sitting up looking out at the darkness wide awake. I figured they were probably used to staying up most of the night anyway. “Are you hungry?” I called toward the back seat.
They both piped up. “Yes. We want to eat!” The older girl pointed out that it was too late for Best N’ Burgers to be open and that was her favorite place to eat.
“I know another place.” I told them and made a quick U-turn into the parking lot of an all-night char broil place. I figured the few men in there were either truckers or worked all night somewhere and were catching dinner.
The waitress was an older woman with short gray hair and slack crepe-like skin on her arms and hands. The lines on her face and sagging jowls said she’d seen hard times and managed to survive. She took a quick at me and the girls, raised her eyebrows, and gave me a knowing nod. “Nice of you to get them a meal officer. It’s on the house.”
I nodded my thanks and ordered the girls hamburgers and fries and a large soda to share. While they were eating, I went back to my car and hid the baggies of white powder in my trunk. When I went back inside Maya was crying softly, her head on the table. She looked up when I came over. “I want my mommy. I don’t want to wait till tomorrow. Take me to my mommy.”
I went across the table and patted her on the back. Touching her was strange and uncomfortable for me. I’d touched and held a baby a few times before when I was on duty, but not older children. “Look, I told you that this is just for a little while and you’ll see your mother again, I’m sure.” I didn’t add the part where she would probably end up seeing her through a plexi-glass screen. Feeling worse about lying, I ordered them each a scoop of chocolate ice cream, which the older girl, (by now I knew as Tanisha), gobbled down. But Maya didn’t touch hers.
I loaded the girls in the back seat, and we took off toward Baton Rouge where the juvenile facility was located. By the time we arrived, they’d both fallen asleep, propped against each other, side to side. They barely woke when I carried them in and handed them to the social worker on call. She was a young white woman with huge tortoise shell glasses and a big wrinkle in her forehead when she frowned.
The intake office and the corridor were dark and smelled of old urine that Lysol didn’t conceal. The walls needed painting and were covered with plastic cartoon decals that chipped and faded a long time ago. I wondered what the girls would think when they woke up there and if they would remember me, or just remember that men in uniforms had dragged away their mother.
As soon as I got home and opened the front door, my father started nagging me for cigarette money, complaining that he’d already finished the carton I’d bought him. He started yelling that if I just gave him some spending cash he could go out and buy what he needed when I was away, pointing out in his whiny voice that we were getting low on liquor too. I remembered that I’d socked away a bottle for myself, since he drank everything in sight at record speed. I hoped he hadn’t gone searching and found it.
“So, when are you giving me my money?” He wanted to know, looking at me in a way that made me wonder if he knew who I was when I came home from work.
“Did you have a bath today?” I changed the subject. God knows he reeked of stale sweat and now so did my little house that I’d tried to keep so neat. It wasn’t as if you could force him. I’d just cashed another of his Social Security checks and the money was stashed away with the rest of my savings. He usually didn’t ask about his checks anymore, not as long as he had enough to drink and cigarettes to smoke. I’d started using my stash to pay for the liquor and the cigarettes.
You’re probably wondering now if I was sorry, I’d offered to let him live there. Yes, I was. And I thought everyday about kicking him out. Two days ago, he tried to light a cigarette on the two-burner stove, but only managed to turn on the gas. When he didn’t see a flame on the burner, he walked away to take another nap and left the gas on. I was lucky that time because I got home only a few minutes later. When I told him that from now on, he couldn’t use the stove, he swore at me. Called me an interfering cunt.
A few minutes later when I was ready to really light into him, I found him passed out on the couch. I decided right then that I deserved the money he collected from his Social Security, even though what they sent him was pitifully little. I told myself he had to pay with what he had, if he wanted to behave like an asshole and live in my house.
After several fails, mostly because I kept canceling, Mary-Alazia was finally able to set up a blind date with her son, Raleigh, who was now out on parole. Right, I said parole. She was up front when she’d explained his “little problem.” So, you probably wonder why I would go out with someone recently released from prison. Well now looking back, I wonder about that too. I think it was all because of my never-ending loneliness. The sad truth is you can’t unwring a bell that never should have been rung.
Before Raleigh, I spent a lot of time alone looking at my face in the mirror, moving from bright daylight to more subdued lighting, then to darker shadows. I didn’t have much else to occupy my time anyway. I held the mirror close and looked at each and every pore, flaw, or stray hair with a critical eye. I checked my body in the full-length mirror that I took out of the bedroom that was now my father’s.
All in all, my physical appearance was everything I wanted, except possibly for my over-sized feet, but that couldn’t be helped. Thank goodness for simple black flats. I never thought back to who I used to be or how I used to look. The person who survived the fight circuit and the filthy prison cell was dead and buried. A stranger to me, and unknown to everyone else. I’d come a long way and was still alone. Some things never change.
So how did Raleigh fit into this? I can say now that sometimes murderers come at you with a smile. I agreed to meet him at a small bar outside of town. Mary-Alazia set it up. She told me she even gave him some spending money so he could buy me a drink or two. When I left work, she was giggling as if she was in grade school, excited by her role in matching us up.
I dressed carefully, wanting to look pretty, then changing my mind. This guy was penniless and a convicted felon at that. I was doing Mary-Alazia a favor. It was stupid on my part to have any expectations. I finally decided on jeans; they were safe and not too dressy. I added a low-cut top to dress it up and hoped I wasn’t making a fool of myself.
Before I left, I opened a bottle of whiskey and poured a glass to relax me. I gave the rest of the bottle to my father who clutched it to his chest and took a long swig before slamming it on the table and started yelling. “Why are you hiding my liquor? I’ve been looking for a bottle all this time. Why are you so hateful? You’re a bad daughter.” As usual, he choked when he said “daughter,” and looked down at his feet. “I’ve a good mind to move out tomorrow.”
“Go right ahead,” I told him. “I hope you can find someplace else to stay. I hear it’s going to rain tonight.” He gave me a dirty look and took another drink. On my way out, I remembered to call Rory, so I turned around and dialed the familiar number from the phone on the kitchen wall. I needed to know what kind of white powder was in the half-filled the baggies I’d taken from the drug bust and hidden in my closet. I wasn’t sure if it was coke or something else. He could be useful for some things and I could make it worth his while. Rory didn’t answer, so I left a message telling him I wouldn’t be back until tomorrow. I didn’t want my father to answer if he happened to call back.
I pulled up to the Last Call, a small neighborhood bar outside of town and parked in the back. I sat in my car for a moment and then went inside. It seemed to be a pretty lively place; music was blaring, a mix of old country and R&B. The crowd was mixed too, nobody gay or transsexual that I could see, but a bouquet of races in all combinations. There were white men and women in western gear, including cowboy hats and several black men dressed in stylish sweat suits and expensive tennis shoes. I relaxed and sat down at the bar. After looking around, I ordered a whiskey and soda. The bartender raised his eyebrows and winked when he brought me my drink.
I took a sip and looked around. A mixed couple was dancing in the middle of the floor to an old BG’s song left over from the disco days. I’d started to listen to music lately, really listen, since I was alone with nothing else to occupy my time. I’d even managed to pick up a small CD player that didn’t make its way to the property room. Now I could recognize what was what and saw right away that music was divided along racial lines, just like everything else here. The people were taking turns playing the jukebox, first a country hit followed by some R&B or maybe some pop. They sat at opposite sides of the room, politely waiting their turn to play music.
After I finished my drink, I looked around. No Raleigh. So, I ordered another. The bartender filled my glass and waved away the money I put down on the bar.
“That guy over there is paying for it.” He gestured toward a corner table where a large white man in a red checked shirt and a black cowboy hat sat drinking alone. As soon as I looked his way, the man motioned me to his table, but I shook my head. He immediately gave me a dirty look and turned his back to the bar.
I finished the second drink and picked up my purse. I needed to get back home and check on my father. The voice came from the left, “Are you Genie?”
I turned to look at a light-skinned man with hazel eyes, a little on the short side, with close cut hair, wearing a polo shirt, standing next to me. “Are you Raleigh?” I asked, remembering that I’d never asked Mary-Alazia what he looked like.
“Sure am.” He looked me over briefly, and looked away, lighting a cigarette. Turning to show me a somewhat chiseled profile, he rotated his head from right to left, looking around the room, not missing a thing. I can’t say I would have recognized him as a typical felon out on parole. I remember he was wearing khaki pants a little baggy in the legs but fitted around the waist and hips. From where I stood, I could see the outline of a revolver against his hip. I frowned, thinking that he was already in violation of parole and pulled my purse holding my service revolver closer to me on the bar.
His disinterested appraisal of me set me back. I was used to rejection, but not that kind, especially from someone like him. But then my experience up until then had been mostly with tourists, men older than I was, with money to spend. I couldn’t really say I’d spent much time with men my own age. I guess it was his indifference that got through to me. I patted my hair and wiped at my face with a paper napkin, silently wondering if something about me had changed since I sat down at the bar.
“Can you buy me a drink?” He turned to face me suddenly looking bashful. I called the bartender over wondering what happened to the money Mary-Alazia told me she was giving him to buy me drinks.
He ordered bourbon straight up and then looked at me directly for the first time. “So how do you like being a cop? My mom says it’s a shit job. She just went back to work. They cut off her disability.” I told him I knew that, and added, “Being a cop is okay,” I tried to match his casual tone.
“You must get a lot of free shit being a cop,” after which he added, “and a girl.” He lowered his voice. “Got to get me something going soon,” and looked around the bar as if the answer was waiting there. “Most of my home boys still doing time. But there’s always opportunity out here if you’re looking,” he informed me.
Raleigh went on to tell me that he’d already had a couple of offers to act as muscle for one of the local gangs. “They just need a little help collecting sometime,” he explained. After downing his drink, he asked if he could get another and I told him he could. Raleigh directed my attention to the outline of his revolver prominent against his clothing. “See that? I’m ready for anything!” He told me.
“How does your mother feel about you being out?” I wanted to know.
“Oh, she’s happy all right. She drove up twice a month to see me. Took it kind of hard, being a cop and all. Sometimes you know it’s a problem, her being a cop. Kinda puts a damper on things.”
I had to smile at that. “So, what made you agree to meet up with me then?”
Raleigh grinned broadly, showing a left-sided dimple which would have been totally charming if his grin didn’t also display a couple of missing teeth on the left side of his mouth. “Well to tell the truth you don’t see many lady cops. The only one I know is my mother, and she’s always been a dyke, long as I remember, so I wondered what you looked like. She said you were young and pretty.”
I stood back thinking he was at least honest about some things. “So how do I size up?”
“Pretty damn good I’d say. You got a cigarette?”
I told him I didn’t smoke. He leaned over to his side and bummed a cigarette from an old man who looked ready to pass out on his bar stool. Lighting it with matches he took from behind the bar, he turned back to me. “I had enough of the breeders here to last a lifetime.”
“Breeders?” I shook my head. “What’s a breeder?” “Yeah you know, these girls they start opening their legs about fourteen and crank out a few kids before they’re eighteen. Most of them keep going. They need somebody to take care of them and their babies, welfare ain’t enough to get by.”
“Do you have kids?” I asked surprised by his remark.
“I got a few. Yes, I do,” he laughed. “I got a boy seven and two little girls. I don’t see em though. Can’t get along with their mamas. They just want my money, spend it on clothes and weaves and getting their nails done. That’s what I like about you. You’ve got a real job. You’re going someplace!” “Well I don’t know about that…”
“Yeah.” he said, if I hang on to your coattails maybe I can go somewhere too. As I said, I’m putting a few little things together; you know I’m a hustler too. Now that I’ve seen you, I think we’d make a hell of a team.”
Raleigh began telling the story of the last job he tried to pull off, breaking in and stealing some guy’s
CD’s from his stockroom to sell on the street, finding him alone in the shop with a gun and how it went all wrong because Raleigh himself didn’t have a gun. I sat back and listened, drawn to his slow velvet voice and the way he used his face to tell a story, widening his eyes in horror or wonder and nodding his head rapidly to show when he was pleased. I was surprised at how easy it was to sit and listen to him. Personally, I could side with him in stealing the CD’s from the record store owner who made a pile of money and lived over in the Garden District. I mean, better to steal from a business, than from one of the broke gang bangers he hung around with. Although, I learned later that he did that too.
So, Raleigh and I drank together for another hour, with him doing most of the talking about life in prison and how many fine women competed with each other to visit him and smuggle something inside that he wanted. As he talked occasionally touching my arm, I realized his whole life centered on being a criminal, and he had begun down that road when he first got busted at age twelve, stealing stolen car stereos. I wondered if Mary-Alazia really knew her son at all or if she was just like all the parents of the juveniles we arrested, cursing at us, indignant at the outrage, because their angel was really a good boy and it was his friends who were a bad influence.
As he kept talking a mile a minute, I realized
Raleigh hadn’t asked me a single question about myself, not where I came from or anything about my family. Nothing at all. He just wasn’t interested. He did tell me he liked the fact I was a cop more than once.
“We could be a good team,” he said winking again.
“Nobody would ever suspect me, and I’d be right at your side.” My eyes kept returning to the outline of the revolver he wasn’t supposed to be carrying.
And now you’re thinking that since I had a pretty good picture of Raleigh, the felon, and listened to him brag about his criminal past, while planning a criminal career in the future; I would run like hell. You’d be right in thinking that, especially since I was a cop and had so much at stake. But you know it didn’t worry me at all. In fact, I have to say I kind of liked it. Raleigh was like the bad guy in all the westerns I’d seen back home that didn’t answer to anybody. I imagined that all the want-to-be, and for-real-gangbangers in the neighborhood showed him respect and he always got his way. To me he was kind of exciting, macho, a daredevil since he stole his first car at thirteen.
Raleigh’s hand hovered over mine and his arm brushed gently against my shoulder as he spoke. He talked about doing prison time, (Mary-Alazia was apparently ignorant about him or just plain lied to me). He had a long history of petty, and not-so-petty crime. He spoke with fond memories of the other inmates he’d met, telling me they were all innocent and generally persecuted because of their color. He kept me laughing with his imitations of the guards and their struggle to keep control over the inmates, who were of course much smarter than the guards. Raleigh was a master at entertaining me. I kept the drinks coming and he kept talking.
“Let’s play What’s Your Story, he suggested.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s just a game I invented in lock-up. You pick out a person and tell the story of his past and what crime he’s hiding. I’ll start and show you. Let’s start with you. I’ll tell you about your past.”
“All right,” I waited expectantly as he leaned back and crossed his arms.
“Let’s see,” he said. “You come from a rich family and you left because you didn’t want to marry the guy your father picked out for you. You were always a rebel. You came to the U.S. because you were in a beauty pageant. But you didn’t win. You married a rich older man but left him because he couldn’t get it up anymore. You like excitement so you became a cop.
That’s about right isn’t it?”
I laughed and told him he was way off, especially about my being from a rich family and the part about the beauty pageant.
Raleigh didn’t listen. “And you’re hiding a secret.
Let’s see what it is.”
I lowered my head suddenly feeling uncomfortable. Any one of the things I was hiding would shock him and probably anybody else.
“I would say you’re hiding the same things my mom does. You know, stuff you do as a cop.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Oh, you know, like mooching free stuff from people, taking stuff from the shops, keeping the stuff you take off the people you arrest.” He raised his eyebrows. “Getting a little pussy from the women you pick up…but I guess that doesn’t apply to you though.” He winked, looking smug with knowledge.
“Oh, is that so?” I had to admit that except for having sex with the female arrestees, I’d participated in all of those things, even if it was just by watching my partner. In fact, I was just wondering how much that bag of white powder was worth. I needed to call Rory again. I’d tasted it and the little bit on my tongue was numbing, so it probably was coke.
A little before closing time, we finished our drinks and walked toward the door. Raleigh took my arm and looked back at the bar shaking his head. “You know my mom showed me how it really is when I was a little guy. I remember when cops would drop off a bunch of stolen stuff at our house for her to hide, like at least once a week. I got it right away, that they brought it to our house because they wouldn’t be looking her way, like they did with the rest of the guys. Of course, she never stopped them.”
His voice trailed off. “You know she was so disappointed the first time I got sent up. Never understood why though.” He looked a little sad. “Boys love their mothers you know. She came to see me twice a month like clockwork,” he told me again. “Cried every time.”
He walked me back to my car and I offered him a ride. It was pretty late, and I couldn’t see him walking the several miles to his mom’s house on the dark unpaved road. He looked over at my car and told me his mother never let him ride in the police cruiser. “I always wanted to ride with the siren going full blast, but she never let me. Maybe sometime, huh?” He gave me a shy smile. “Well thanks for the drinks,” he said when I dropped him off and gave him my phone number. “Remember what I said, we could make some good money together. Just tell me when you’re ready.” I thought about him all the way home. I was confused. Part of him teetered on the edge of trouble waiting to happen. And the other part, shy and sweet, child-like in appreciation of the wonder of things like my police car. I wasn’t sure which one I was attracted to more.
My father was pacing on the small porch in front of my house when I pulled into the driveway. I was surprised to see him because he seldom ventured outside, and never at night when his favorite television programs were on or he was too drunk to stand up. I looked at my watch and saw that it was morning.
“What’s going on?” I called, as I stepped out of my car. “What are you doing up?”
My father stopped where he was and stuck out his lower lip. “You in some kind of trouble?”
“No, what are you talking about?”
“Well this little colored guy came looking for you, banged on the door like he lived here. Said you used to be his roommate. He looks like a con to me. I told him
I didn’t know when you were coming back.”
I wondered how Rory knew where I’d lived. I never gave him a forwarding address. “He’s okay,” I told my father. “I called him earlier, but I didn’t expect to see him here.”
“I don’t like him,” my father said flatly. “I don’t want him here.”
“He’s not coming to live. He just needs to talk to me. That’s all.”
My father sniffed. “I told him not to come back here.”
“What?” I was surprised and angry. “This is still my house you know.”
“I’d leave right now if I could, but the owner doesn’t want me back in the trailer anymore.” My father snapped.
I wasn’t surprised to hear that. Things were getting testier every day, and he hadn’t mentioned going back to his old place since he settled in. At the end of the day, my mother was right not trying to locate him after he left. Something about letting sleeping dogs lie.
I didn’t answer him and after a while, he came back inside and went to sleep in his chair. I waited until he was snoring and checked my stash of money. I was adding to it on a regular basis whenever my partner was able to pick up some cash on a pay off. I never refused to take what they gave me as my cut. It was even more important that I play along now since I’d been labeled as a traitor for standing up for Bennett.
I called Rory the next day and agreed to meet him at his apartment. As soon as I finished work, I drove over to my old neighborhood with the bag of white powder in my trunk and a copy of an arrest report for one of Rory’s customers that I’d written but hadn’t filed. It could come in handy as a bargaining tool if needed.
I climbed the crumbling concrete stairs and used what was left of the wrought iron railing to keep from falling over the side of the steep climb. Wire clothes lines now hung between the buildings, and panties, bras, and stiffly dried blue jeans hung next to scrubbed work clothes and large tee-shirts that had once been white.
Stepping around broken plastic dolls and overturned toy baby buggies, I inched my way toward his apartment at the back of the second floor. I knocked on the door several times, watching as one-by-one the neighbors peered out their windows between their slatted shades to see who was here. The only outsiders they were used to seeing were social workers and cops bringing trouble. They quickly stepped back and closed their blinds when they saw my uniform,
A couple of children that looked as if they had just learned to walk, toddled on unsteady legs, playing dangerously near the broken railing at the top of the stairs. I stared at them thinking that if they stayed here until they grew up, I would be arresting them in about ten years. I could see older children playing anywhere they could, underneath the stairs, in front of the doors and in the dirty hallways.
I was just about to leave a note, when Rory opened the door a crack and peered out. His face was more yellow and gaunt than I remembered, and he’d lost a lot of hair. He stared at me wordlessly and then opened the door. “Hey babe didn’t expect to see you so soon.” He opened the door wider so I could come in, and then gave me a quick off-the-shoulder hug.
I stepped into the apartment that reeked of stale cigarette smoke, weed, and something greasy and fried.
Rory cleared the couch again for me just the way he’d had when I first came to this apartment, but I couldn’t bring myself to sit down. I looked around at the glass pipes, half empty baggies, and spoons lying around the coffee table and the breakfast counter in the kitchen and remembered all the shivering, runny-nosed, boneaching, yellow-eyed customers who’d sat there before me. Rory eyed my uniform suspiciously and shook his head. ‘Never thought I’d have a cop in the family,” he said. “How’d you know where to find me?” I asked first. “I know people, remember? You weren’t hard to find, but some of the cops that have your address aren’t too happy with you.”
I told him about what happened with Bennett and he nodded his head. “Yeah that’s how it is, and now you’re on the outs. “Every man for himself.”
“Are you sick?” I asked looking at his pale boney face.
“Nah. Just a little under the weather. Got a few problems. You know how it is. Cops getting more slippery all the time. Can’t trust them.” Rory limped over to the counter that separated the kitchen from the living area and lit a cigarette. “Not getting paid lately and I’ve given them some good collars. I hate giving away free stuff. I’m in it to make money”
I changed the subject, hoping he wouldn’t ask me to help him with that. “Well maybe I have some good news for you,” I said. I have something here. Maybe you can sell it and we can split the proceeds.”
“It’s not weed is it?” Rory asked. “I can’t unload what I have now. Look at this. He led me to his crowded sweaty bedroom and opened the closet door. Baggies were stacked in rows on the shelves, from the floor halfway across the small space where only a pair of pants hung.
The sheer amount of baggies made me gasp.
“That’s worth a whole lot, isn’t it?” I asked him.
He answered, sounding depressed. “No market here now. Not in this neighborhood. Most of my trade’s been taken over by City Krew. They’re going to come and collect the money for what I sold and take all this at the end of the week. I even owe them for what I’ve smoked too. Couldn’t sell shit.”
I reached in my purse and pulled out the baggies filled with the white powder. His eyes popped when I handed it to him.
He reached in and scooped a small bit of powder onto his finger and ran it along the inside of his mouth.
“Yep, coke! I thought so. You got any smack? There’s a panic right now. Something happened to the guys at the top. There’s nothing on the street. I can quadruple the price easy.”
I sat down on one of the torn bar stools. “I don’t have any smack; just what you see in front of you. “So,
we can work something out. Right?”
“Where’d you get this? The evidence locker?”
“No, it didn’t get that far. Right off a crime scene.”
Rory smiled. “Now you’re talking. I told you we could get some business going as soon as you put on that uniform. I was right, wasn’t I?”
I didn’t answer, not wanting to think that I’d ended up following his advice. “Well you mind as well sell it.
Can’t have it sitting around my house.” I told him.
Rory fingered the bag, his spirits suddenly lifted, his mind whirling with numbers. He frowned suddenly and looked at me worried. “Forgot to ask, who is that old man I saw at your place? Nasty asshole. And you thought I was a bad roommate!”
“He’s my father.”
Rory looked surprised. “So, you had yourself a reunion I guess.”
“Something like that. He needed a place to stay.”
“Well it’s hard for an ex-con to get an apartment.” Rory advised. “That’s what they say anyway. I don’t really know myself.”
Wondering how he knew my father was an ex-con; I turned and pointed to the baggie. “So, what do you say you sell it and we split; two thirds for me and one third for you.”
“Hell no,” Rory exploded. “I’m the one’s gotta go out and push the shit. All you have to do is sit back and wait for your share. How’s that fair?”
“If I didn’t bring it to you there wouldn’t be anything for you to sell.”
“No way. Don’t try and take advantage of me cause you got that uniform.” Rory declared.
“Well,” I stood up, “I can move it somewhere else I guess.”
Rory just stood there blinking. I could hear the sound of a baby crying from the floor below, the slamming of doors and a high-pitched scream followed by the sound of a loud slap and more shrieking. I smelled Clorox drifting through the kitchen window. “Look,” Rory said, “I’m down to my last dime. Gotta make that payment to the home or my brother will be out on the street. Things are tough now, so you got me over a barrel.”
“So, what do you want to do?” I asked him.
“Fifty-fifty. Okay?”
I shrugged and told him it was fine. In reality, I couldn’t see myself taking a chance selling drugs to people who looked like Rory’s customers.
Rory told me he could move all the coke by Friday. First, he was going to step on it with some cut, which he said was just a little cheap baby laxative and then go and find his customers. He seemed encouraged and in better spirits than when I came. We sealed the deal with a few shots of cognac that he kept in the back of his broom closet.
As I reached the bottom of the stairs, a little boy on a small rusted bike, wheeled in front of me, and dropped the bike at my feet. He was barefooted and shirtless, dirt streaked across a round face with large deep-set brown eyes and full plump lips. He stood and stared at me, running his eyes over my uniform for a moment before he spoke. Then he crossed his arms over his chest. “Can you give me a dollar?” He wanted to know.
“Why should I give you a dollar?” I asked, gripping my purse a little harder.
“Cause I’m hungry and I want to buy potato chips.” He looked up directly meeting my stare and I could see that one of his eyes was out of focus, wandering. “The other cop who came here yesterday gave me money for a soda.” He added by way of comparison.
“How come you’re not in school?” I asked looking around and noticing that there were a whole lot of school age children playing everywhere.
“I hate school.” He told me matter-of-factly.
“You know your mother can get in trouble if you don’t go to school.” I answered watching his face.
“My mom’s in jail.”
“So, who takes care of you?”
“Sometimes my aunt if she’s not sick. She’s sick now. She needs her medicine. She’s gonna see Rory later when she cashes her check.”
Sighing, I reached in my purse and handed him three-dollar bills. He grabbed them looking excitedly at what was in his hands and turned to run away.
“Don’t you say thank-you?”
He stopped and stared, puzzled. “What?” “You’re supposed to say thank-you when somebody gives you something. Like right now,” I told him.
He cocked his head to one side confused and kept staring.
I shook my head. Giving up, I headed down the stairs and drove back home. The mailman had dumped the mail by the side of the box, hurrying through his route as fast as he could to beat the heat. I swore to myself as I bent down to pick it up. There were the usual pile of circulars and my father’s social security check. I quickly went back to my car, tore open the envelope, and signed his name on the back of the check.
Then I drove a mile or so to the bank and cashed it. I gave my father five dollars to spend
I was working that night’s watch with Richard, who I hadn’t seen much of, since I had dinner at his house that night so long ago. He’d pretty much even stopped speaking to me when the other cops were around. I figured he’d heard about the incident, where the others said, “I’d defended a fag.” He was so crazy religious that it was probably even harder for him to accept.
As I sat on the toilet in my bathroom, I wondered just how upset Richard would be if he knew who I really was. I smiled, thinking that peeing sitting down was still taking some getting used to even now. Sometimes I would find myself standing, lost in thought, completely forgetting that my new anatomy wouldn’t let me point and aim.
I took my shower and put on a clean uniform. After applying a little make up, I checked the living room and my father was snoring quietly in his chair with the television on. I turned down the volume and sat a box of graham crackers down on the table next to his bottle of gin. He didn’t eat very much except for crackers, and if I forced it, dry cereal out of the box without milk.
Most of the time he didn’t want to stir from his chair. He managed to sleep there most of the night with the television playing at ear-splitting volume. He yelled and kicked his feet if I suggested that he get up, even to walk to the porch or change his clothes.
A few days ago, I’d dragged him to the bathroom and threw him in the shower where he screamed bloody murder when I turned on the water. I held the door closed so he couldn’t leave. After a while, the pounding spray seemed to soothe him and he stopped yelling, but he didn’t seem to get much cleaner because he was suspicious of the soap. When I saw him like that, I was glad that I cashed his checks and even more pleased that he didn’t remember when he used to cash them himself.
I turned on the porch light, pausing to stop and study the front house that was starting to look abandoned. Weeds had taken over the front yard and the remaining grass was dry and overgrown. Purple vines of some kind now trailed along the porch, and one of the front windows was cracked. So far Mrs. Devereux’s daughter hadn’t sent anybody to fix up the house for sale, which meant I didn’t have to worry about moving, at least not yet. I thought about telling her I was interested in buying and even went as far as calculating my down payment, but something restless and anxious down in my core, told me that I wouldn’t be living here for that long.
I punched in and hurried to roll call, passing MaryAlazia, who called out happily that she was “so grateful,” and thanked Jesus, that Raleigh and I were going out.
Sergeant O’Malley, a transfer from Mississippi, briefed everybody on a missing little blonde girl, who’d only been reported missing that morning, although her mother said she’d disappeared two weeks ago. The mother was still being held for questioning. I thought about all of the children running around at Rory’s apartment complex and wondered if any of them had ever disappeared. That place was a sweet spot for predators, kids just ripe for the taking. After he finished with the missing little girl, he began on a list of recent crimes in the parishes. There were three burglaries of stores near the Square. The suspects weren’t caught yet, but prints were obtained, and one of the suspects had used a tourist’s credit card to buy a pair of Nikes in an upscale store. In another incident, two officers were dispatched to Wal-Mart, to pull footage from the security cameras and see if the suspect from an early morning robbery could be identified. There was a report of rape on the campus of Tulane and the suspect matched the description in a similar rape at Xavier University, a few weeks ago. One of the detectives was being called on to take a second statement from the rape victim at Tulane.
I tuned out at this point and looked at the floor as the list continued. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the rest of the cops, their faces blank and disinterested as they waited to be excused to start patrol.
Since the Bennett suicide appeared in the paper, the cops who behaved as if I didn’t exist before, now openly made nasty remarks and sneered at me. I’d spoken about it to Mary-Alazia once, but she just told me that being gay was against what Jesus said in the Bible, and she knew that the other guys agreed with her. Her advice was to wait it out and eventually the rest of cops would forget what I had done.
Since I wasn’t part of their conversations or included in their friendship, I spent a lot of time listening to the other cops talk about their wives and families. It seemed to me that most of them felt stuck and unhappy, overwhelmed by all the responsibility that had fallen on them and resentful of their single friends or anybody else that they thought was living the high life. Even the ones with girlfriends, seemed to get tired after a while of talking about all the sex they had, and were anxious to move on to the next conquest.
All in all, even if they accepted me, and who I was now, I couldn’t picture myself coupled up with any of them, having expected sex and keeping house. I didn’t see myself stuck changing diapers or mopping up the baby vomit of some adopted kid, and spending my day watching soap operas as a reward for cleaning out the refrigerator. I suspected that all that came with the house in the suburbs that I saw in commercials.
I knew what I wanted were the things rich people had, far-away vacations on yachts, unlimited money to spend, expensive designer clothes worn only once and relationships with beautiful well-dressed men who worshipped me.
My thoughts were muddled, visions of excitement and adventure raced through my head. I could see myself in distant places, exotic locations, tall mountains and beautiful blue seas, war zones where I emerged as the lone survivor armed with a machine gun, shooting my way through ruins strewn with dead bodies, the only survivor of a genocidal massacre.
As far as I could see, not too many women reached for higher ground. Most of them were stuck too and the ones who’d escaped the standard fate, probably did so because of their looks, but were still dependent on some man to do it for them.
I was thinking about all of this, as I climbed into the patrol car and Richard and I pulled out of the lot. That night we were on our way to serve a warrant near Abita Springs, about an hour from New Orleans. Richard and I hadn’t ridden together for quite a while and we hadn’t talked at all in the meantime. He glanced at me once when I got in the car and then turned to face the road ahead. After we drove for a few minutes, he looked over at me. “So, what’s going on with you? You’re all they were talking about for the longest time.”
“Talking about what?” I pictured the long evening ahead, with both of us not speaking. “We mind as well get it all out now. You look like you’re going to burst.”
Richard smiled a tiny smile and the lines around his mouth deepened, making his lower jaw shrink back into his face. There were new lines at the corners of his eyes, and the hollows underneath seemed even darker.
He’d aged ten years since the time I’d visited his home. He started to speak, stopped, and then began. “Well I wondered if what they were all saying was true. I mean you know how people exaggerate things. They say some really bad things about you because of that fairy.”
“Don’t use the word “fairy,” say “gay.” “That’s the right word.” I told him.
Richard turned away to face the wheel. “So, what’s your connection to this guy? Why did you give a damn? I mean you turned this whole department against you.” “Some things just aren’t right.” I answered.
“Sure, but usually the Bible tells you what those are.”
“I don’t read the Bible,” I told him. “I don’t like to see somebody handled like that. He didn’t deserve what they were doing so I stopped it.” The window was open, and I could feel the wet air carrying the faint smell of flowers. “So, you’re against me too?” I wanted to know.
Richard didn’t answer for a minute. He looked down at his lap, and then he shrugged his shoulders. “I just follow the Bible. Whatever it says. It says people like that guy you arrested don’t follow the word of God, so they don’t deserve our charity.”
“I don’t think it gives you the right to beat somebody to death for no reason.” I was starting to get angry, my face flushing, and my jaw tightening.
The same thing that happened to Bennett happened to other men all the time because we were police and had the power to do what we wanted. But watching it happen never gave me the same kind of feelings I’d had, when it happened to Bennett.
Taking a deep breath to calm myself, I started talking. “So, how’s life been treating you?” I added carefully, “You look tired, and you looked tired last time too.”
Richard sighed. “It’s hard with the kids. My wife’s been staying with her mother. She left the kids with me. She needed a break she said.”
“Are you taking care of them yourself?” I couldn’t imagine taking care of three kids and working the way he did.
“They go to the babysitter when I’m working,” he answered.
“When is she coming back?” I asked, feeling like I already knew the answer.
“I don’t know. Maybe never.”
“So, what happened?” My mind immediately went to the obvious. The guys talked all the time about “getting caught,” and what their wives did to get back at them. Secretly I was always glad to hear that somebody’s wife screwed the cheating husband’s best friend. I couldn’t picture Richard’s wife doing that though.
“Really, I don’t want to talk about it,” Richard said, and picked up a call on the radio. The dispatcher gave us an address where we were supposed to serve the warrant. Apparently, the guy we were serving moved around regularly and avoided service twice before. Richard told me the order was to serve him now no matter what we had to do.
We pulled off the highway and Richard coasted along one of the side roads that ran horizontally. We were travelling deeper into the woods that ran along swamp land, away from the lighted highway. Richard drove with one hand on the wheel, and the car bounced and rocked along the ruts bordered by broken branches, overgrown brush and gravel, until we finally started heading downhill. Ahead I could see a small clearing and a broken-down shotgun shack covered on three sides with tar paper. Boards covered what looked like a window.
Richard pulled up closer and shut off the engine. We stepped out of the car together and as soon as I saw Richard draw his revolver, I drew mine. I could hear music coming from inside, a high-pitched voice singing something off key, alternating with loud cackling laughter.
We walked slowly on the hard-packed ground, our shoes crunching on dry brush and broken twigs. The shotgun house was set back from the road and an old rusted Chevy, with a gutted-out interior and an overturned dump truck were parked in front. Both vehicles looked like they had survived some sort of fire, and now stripped to their bare frames, lay like prehistoric barricades between the house and the roadway. An empty old refrigerator without a door was propped against a pile of half-chopped wood. Bags of what looked like trash and old newspapers over-flowed from the narrow porch.
The shack itself was set up on wooden blocks and several cracked pieces of wood served as steps to the front door. As Richard leaped over the makeshift steps and knocked loudly on the door, I could hear men’s voices, followed by a slurred female voice, “Who’s there?”
“Open the door. It’s the police!” Richard shouted as he began banging on the sagging plywood door. “I ain’t opening no door,” was the response.
Richard pounded harder and then kicked the door once with his foot. I watched the cheap wood buckle and fold.
“Get away from there,” yelled a male voice, hoarse and slurred. “Step back,” Richard ordered.
I climbed over the last plank to the porch and stepped back, while Richard charged the door with his shoulder, knocking it back into the house. Hoisting his revolver, he ran forward, and I followed.
The small shack was only one room where a couple of battered couches sat across from a wood burning stove. Two older white men in undershirts and stained work pants sat on the couch, one of them holding a half empty bottle of Jim Beam, and the other holding a forty ounce. They looked up in shock as we tumbled into the room.
“Damn,” the one holding the whiskey slurred. “It really is the cops,”
“I told you not to open the fucking door.” The voice in the corner screeched. It belonged to an old skinny woman with straggly gray hair and missing teeth. She was barefoot and wore a long green tee-shirt that hung down to her bony knees that were covered in scabs and healing cuts. “Didn’t I tell you? You piece of shit!” She screamed as she danced from one foot to the other, drunk, and unfocused.
Her outburst was directed at the man holding the beer and the woman suddenly charged him, pounding him with her fists as he sat, eventually punching him in the face. The man ducked down, and the woman climbed on the back of the couch and reached over to choke the man, as he held his nose which was now bleeding onto his shirt. The man sitting next to him jumped up and shoved the woman over the back of the couch, where she landed on her back. She was immediately up and swinging.
“I’m here to serve a warrant on Larry De La Croix,” Richard yelled. The man with the bloody nose looked up hearing the name.
“Are you Larry De La Croix?” Richard asked moving toward the couch. The man held his shirt to his face. Then he jumped up and ran toward the door. The woman grabbed a bottle off the counter and took a swing at Richard, hitting him in the mouth. Richard bent over holding his jaw, and I took off running after De La Croix.
He ran surprisingly fast, long strides on spindly legs and bare feet. He ran into the darkness beyond the shack and I was right behind him moving my fastest, feeling myself get closer as the seconds passed, until I hit an over-hanging branch, smacking myself on the forehead. The pain was sudden and sharp. For a moment, I felt my head explode in a whirl of pin-sharp lights and I bent over to steady myself. My forehead began to throb and something wet was running in my eyes. I wiped my head with the back of my wrist and smelled the faint iron-like smell of blood.
The woods were absolutely still. Not a sound penetrated the dark canopy of trees that shut out almost all of the light from the moon. I couldn’t hear any footsteps ahead which would mean I was far behind De La Croix. He was gone now. I leaned against the trunk of a tree outlined by striplings of white bark that gave off a faint iridescent glow. Reaching behind me for my belt hook, I grabbed my tactical flashlight and pressed the button aiming it ahead of me, but it didn’t light. I pressed it again and again, and then threw it down in frustration. Then I tried calling three times on my radio, but nobody answered.
Leaning against the tree, I wiped more blood from my forehead. It was starting to dry on my skin, while throbbing pain hammered away inside my head. I looked up into the trees and tried to find some light. My eyes were getting used to the heavy darkness and I turned slowly looking to find my way back.
Slowly on shaky legs, I started walking in the direction that led back to the shack. Any minute now, I expected to hear Richard calling me. How far had I run?
I wasn’t sure. The distance didn’t seem that far, but I’d been walking for what seemed like a lot longer. I couldn’t hear anybody calling me and I wondered how he was doing with the man and woman in the shack.
Feeling my way in front of me, I blocked as many branches as I could from hitting my face and kept moving. The air was cooler, but wet and heavy. I could feel my heart starting to beat harder. I never liked being alone in the dark. This was the darkest night I’d ever seen. There was no light from anywhere.
As I walked, the ground under my feet started to feel different, wet, and muddy and shot through with swamp silt. There were no twigs or gravel crunching under my feet, and they slid easily into the soft marsh covering the tops of my shoes. I pulled my feet through the swampy earth and kept walking, not sure, if I’d turned the wrong way or just walked too far.
As I pushed through a dense overgrowth that scratched my bare arms, I saw a glow ahead. At first, I thought I’d reached the shack and relief flooded through me. I started to walk faster, my hand on my revolver. The light grew brighter and leaped into the sky and I slowed down seeing that the light was coming from the flames rising from a huge bonfire.
Still relieved at being closer to some kind of civilization, I started to step forward and announce that I was a police officer and needed help. If I recalled right, our instructor at the academy had spent over an hour instructing us on how to get help from citizens when you needed it and how to do it in a professional way. But I started to get a strange feeling that I shouldn’t show myself just yet. I still don’t know where that feeling came from, but I stepped back in the shadow of an overhanging tree lighted by the glow of the fire.
My eyes slowly focused on the burning light and I made out the shapes of a group of men standing around a blazing fire that shot up from inside a large black drum. They were all wearing what looked like dark masks that covered the top portion of their faces. Blackish curling smoke surrounded the barrel where they stood, and the bright yellow flame shot up from the middle of the fire.
Yards from the fire, several beat up pick-up trucks were parked together. As I watched, another man was led away from the trucks at the end of a rope that was wound around his upper body. From what I could see, all of the men were white or light-skinned and they all looked like they were holding rifles. It seemed they were older by the way they moved, somewhat lumbering and stooped over. Most of them looked at least in their fifties, balding or gray-haired.
They dragged the man at the end of the rope into the center closer to the barrel and then some of the men began hitting him with belts or what looked like whips. I stared shocked as he tried to cover his body, while he shrieked at them to stop.
Then just as suddenly as it started, the men all stopped, and I could hear them chanting something I couldn’t make out. Two of the men grabbed the arms of the man that was being hit and pinned them back. Another man grabbed what looked like a long stick and held it over to the fire before bringing it over to the man who was being held. He brought it down slowly waving it in the man’s face.
I covered my mouth to keep from screaming. A cold sweat was starting at my hairline and moving down my back. I felt completely alone, frozen, as I inched back deeper into the brush. I gripped my revolver waiting for the familiar feeling of security attached to the cold metal, but it didn’t come.
The man at the end of the rope got down on his knees and faced another man who wore a full-face mask and a loose black robe. The man with the robe was handed the branch that was burning on one end. He waved it in front of him and the man on his knees lay down flat on his stomach. The branch was lowered to his back and the man screamed, a horrible howling sound of pain. And then there was complete silence except for the soft murmur of rustling leaves.
The fire was starting to burn down, and the light was getting dimmer. I re-holstered my revolver and wondered what I should do. A voice in my head said it was my job to stop what was going on. After all, I was an officer of the law, but a stronger feeling of dread had taken over and all I wanted to do was get away from this place that made me feel like an eavesdropper in hell.
I think at that moment, I realized what I believed about myself must have changed when I became a woman. I believed before, that I was a strong, powerful, fearless fighter, ready to crush, to beat, and to kill.
This belief had disappeared somewhere and instead I now believed I was powerless, weak and afraid of being hurt if these men saw me, traits that I disliked in anybody.
My body was more than just a way of carrying around my thoughts and feelings and who I really was inside. Now that I looked the way I felt inside; my thinking had taken on a new identity to go with it. Before I would have come out attacking, ready to kill the way I did in my past life. The worse I could have expected was a beat down. I remembered how my partner forced the woman into her van with him after the motorcycle accident we handled.
Visions of porno movies I’d seen in Bangkok crowded my mind, men strangling women, raping and beating women. Women were like food for predators. They weren’t safe anywhere. I’d entered a new reality with my new identity. There were more than half a dozen men here right now. Rape would probably be the least painful thing that they would do to me if they wanted. I shuddered
I watched the man lying down slowly stand up, and another man leave his place in front of the fire and cut the rope from his hands. He stood there, head down, while the other men broke into a cheer and began drinking from bottles they suddenly produced.
I tried to see my watch in the fading light from the fire. It seemed I had been there for hours but that probably wasn’t true. I figured I could probably wait them out as long as I stayed hidden. Richard was sure to come after me, but remembering the crazy woman at the shack, maybe he’d already called for back-up and was stuck there. I kneeled in the dirt just in time to avoid another pickup truck heading from the direction
I’d come.
It drove only a foot or so away from where I was hiding and then suddenly stopped. I noticed the truck had some strange damage on the passenger side; it looked as if some large pointed object had driven directly into it, leaving a deep crater about thirty-six inches across. The metal around the crater was puckered and folded and mostly covered with rust and chipped white paint. At the top of the crater was a Huston Astros decal. Leaving the headlights on, a middle-aged man with curly white hair, dressed in fatigues and a baseball cap, stepped back, opened the driver’s side door and stepped out. He walked around to the passenger side, less than a couple of feet from me and standing back, he used his entire body like a fulcrum to force open the door. Three little girls slowly climbed out as he ordered, blinking in the hazy light and stood next to the truck holding hands.
I was so close I could smell the scent of bubble gum and the sweet yeasty smell of unwashed children’s bodies. They were very young, the oldest, a white girl looked about ten years old. There was something very familiar about her twig-like body and the lank brown hair that fell around her face, but I couldn’t place why. The two little black girls with her were younger; their hair was cut short, curling into tight ringlets on their heads. I looked closer and decided that they were sisters.
The littlest black girl was sobbing quietly and the older one patted her, trying to comfort her. It sounded like she was asking for her mama. The driver of the truck walked back to them and told the little girl to shut up, but she wouldn’t stop. He picked up his hand threatening to hit her, and I stood up, still staying hidden.
The older white girl who had been standing apart, finally went over and put her arms around the little black girl and rocked her. “Don’t cry anymore,” she told her. ‘You’re making them mad. Your mama can’t come now.”
That really stepped up the little girl’s sobs. She began gulping and wailing, trying to pull away from the arms that restrained her.
“You’ll get some candy after. They always give us some.” The older white girl assured her.
And then the crack of thunder hit, lighting up the sky with huge streaks of light that spanned the entire area beyond me. It was followed by another sharper jolt that lit up the sky again and shook the trees. From where I was standing, I could see that the road was to my east, clearly marked in the wash of the light. I’d gotten turned around and gone in the wrong direction.
Then it began to rain; huge funnels of water pounded the earth, turning the dirt into muddy slush in a few moments, soaking the brush, and covering the leaves and branches where it began to drip downward in a steady deluge.
The little girls began shrieking. “Rain! It’s raining!” They raced over to the truck, jerking back the door to climb inside the cab. They were followed by the man wearing fatigues who started the engine, not looking anywhere but the road in front of him. He gunned the engine and accelerated up the small hill to the road.
All activity stopped yards ahead of me. The fire was completely out, and I could hear men shouting, followed by the sound of engines turning over. One loud voice yelled out, “It’s gonna flood down here. Get the hell out.” More engines started and I could hear tires spinning in the newly churned mud. Then it was silent except for the sound of the rain pounding on the dirt, quickly filling the rivulets and crevices with muddy water and churned-up silt.
Lightening flashed through a ceiling of black swollen rain clouds and I stepped out into the soaking rain to see I was all alone. The trucks and the men were gone. The little girls were somewhere else now with that man in the old pick-up truck. The little girls didn’t have to perform in the freak show tonight, but I didn’t want to think of what their performance might have been. More than that, I didn’t want to think of what that group of men would have done to me if they saw me.
Getting out of there as fast as possible, was all I wanted to think about, and I immediately started in the direction of the road that was lit up by lightening streaks just a few minutes ago. I stumbled through the rain, soaked through and through, slipping in the mud and wiping the torrents of water striking my face. As I moved closer to where I believed the shack was, I tried my radio again, but there was still no answer.
A few minutes later, I turned the corner around a large bend lined with gravel and rubbish that looked like a trash dump. Two other police cruisers were parked next to Richard’s patrol car with all of their lights on. I ran toward them as the rain slowed down to thick splattering drops. I could hear the sound of rushing water and I looked back to see the canyon below filling quickly. I swallowed and shuddered.
Shaking the water from my face, I hurried toward the front of the shack. Richard and two other officers were standing in front. The two officers were smoking and laughing. Richard was leaning back against the front wall looking amused. Light from inside the shack spilled outside. I looked over and saw that the woman I’d seen earlier and the man who’d remained in the shack were now sitting in the back of one of the squad cars.
“I see you didn’t get De La Croix,” were the first words out of Richard’s mouth.
I wasn’t expecting that. The other two cops laughed.
“I chased him, but he got away. It was pitch dark and my flashlight wasn’t working.”
Richard clucked sympathetically. “You should always check and make sure it’s up and working when you put on your gear. You could have brought him in. Made some points for yourself.”
“God knows you need some.” One of the cops standing next to him threw back his head and laughed. Richard looked away and shifted his feet.
“I’ve been calling,” I told him. “Nobody responded.”
“Are you sure you know how to operate that thing? I didn’t hear any calls. Anyway, we’ve been a little busy as you can see.” The cop standing furthest away gestured toward the car. “She gave us hell. Chased her up and down like a squawking hen. She scratched the shit out of me till I busted her in the face. The state of Louisiana is gonna be buying her a new set of teeth.” “Still,” I muttered. “Somebody should have taken my call. I needed help.”
“What kind of help? You lost the piece of shit you were chasing. Guess he outran you. So, you didn’t need any help bringing him in did you?” One of the cops who was smoking when I got there, dropped his cigarette on the ground as he spoke to me and stamped it out with his foot.
I started to tell them I got lost during the chase. I hadn’t even thought about them blaming me for the man getting away. Now everybody knew I hadn’t checked my equipment, that I was ditched by the guy I was chasing, and on top of that they thought I didn’t know how to use my radio.
I looked over at Richard, willing him to say something. He’d seen me take off running after the guy with the warrant. But Richard just kept staring into the distance. There were five cops standing around there, shooting the shit, with the man and woman they’d arrested stashed in their patrol cars. Wouldn’t one of them have offered to go after me and see what happened to me? Would they have gone to check if I was somebody else?
Finally, Richard pointed back down the road that I’d followed to get back to the cabin. The rain had stopped completely, and I could hear the buzzing of insects. “Usually they hide out in the woods when they see a patrol car pull up,” he said matter-of-factly. “These crazy peckerwoods are dangerous as hell. They’ll fight you at the drop of a hat. Nobody’s stupid enough to chase them in those woods. This guy’s been avoiding this warrant for the last month at least.”
One of the cops who stood a foot taller than the rest, chuckled at that, while taking a long pull on his cigar. “Well, somebody sure was stupid enough! We just put out an APB; one of the patrols out of the parish limits will pick him up. Either that or shoot his ass.” He paused and gave me a long look. “Didn’t anybody tell you to stay out of those woods girl? In the dark, and in the rain? Did you graduate the academy or get your certificate lying on your back?” A low burst of laughter followed from the rest of the guys standing there.
I felt my face turning red and my throat start to tighten. I looked back at Richard who turned away. Feeling like a complete idiot, I answered him. “I just took off after him when he started running away. It wasn’t raining very hard then. I didn’t ask any questions. I thought I was supposed to try and bring him in.”
The black cop scoffed. “We don’t do anything where we can end up hurt here. It doesn’t make no damn difference whether we pick him up or not. He’ll be out on bail and back here anyway in a few hours. Why kill yourself? That’s what I always say. That De la Croix ain’t nobody famous. No Jack the Ripper or nothing.” He said it knowingly, as if his knowledge of famous criminals was the only knowledge that mattered.
The other cops nodded soberly. One of them walked over and closed the door to the shanty. “Nothing else going on here. Let’s go book those two and have a little fun.”
With the exception of Richard, the others took off in their patrol cars gunning their engines and yelling war cries out of their rolled-down windows. We stood there quietly together, neither one of us speaking. Then Richard abruptly turned and propped up what was left of the front door with a few weathered planks of wood.
“That might keep out the prowlers until they make bail and come back,” he said, more to himself, than to me.
In silence, we got back into the patrol car and started to drive back to the station. I spoke first. “I did get lost out there, completely turned around. I banged my head on a branch or something.” I touched my forehead where the blood had dried over a large painful lump.
“I can see that,” Richard answered. “You said your light didn’t work?”
I dragged it around on my belt and pressed the button, but no light came one.
“Well,” Richard said, “you need to make sure your equipment is always ready. You should know that.”
“Then why didn’t somebody answer my call?” I said. “I needed help right away.”
“You saw we piled all the equipment in the kitchen when we were restraining those scumbags, didn’t you? Nobody could answer your call. We were making an arrest and that stupid hyena was fighting us tooth and nail.”
“You were just standing around when I got there. It didn’t take you all that time to cuff them and get them in the car.”
Richard looked straight ahead at the road. “Like Carl told you, nobody goes chasing anybody in the woods in the dark. Anything could happen. You were just lucky.”
“I saw something when I was there,” I told him, wondering what he would say. For a moment, I thought I would redeem myself for losing the guy I was chasing and getting lost myself. Maybe I’d stumbled onto something that could lead to a big bust and it would be all because of what I’d found.
“Like what?” Richard looked interested.
“Some men. They had a bonfire and rifles and they were wearing masks. They had one guy tied up like a prisoner. It looked like they burned him.”
Richard’s sat up straight. “Some secret society meeting. Elks or Masons. Something like that probably.
They’re a little off if you ask me.”
“I don’t think so,” I told him. “They looked dangerous. Why would they hide in the woods?”
“You were just scared,” Richard said. His voice softened a little. “It was dark and rainy, and you were lost. Ladies get scared when they see a group of men they don’t know.”
“No,” I told him angrily, surprised at the way he explained it. “That’s not all I saw. Some guy in a truck brought three little girls. I think he was bringing them to the men around the fire, but the lightening started and some of the men started to yell that the place was going to flood. They girls got back in the truck, and everybody drove off.”
That’s when I saw Richard’s face in the light shining through the windshield. It was pale white, and his eyes were open wide in their hollowed sockets. He turned to me and his mouth was open, his expression shocked.
“Was that some kind of Klan meeting or something?” I asked. “I didn’t see any hoods, just masks. They were scary so I hid myself. And that guy they were beating up, he was a white guy too. What was going on?”
“Don’t know.” Richard answered and turned away. I watched his hands shake as they turned the wheel.
“Want me to drive?” I offered, wondering why he wasn’t saying anything about me not stopping what I saw.
“No,” Richard cleared his throat. His voice was choked and raspy. “Tell me about the little girls again.” I repeated what I had just told him, wondering why he wasn’t interested in the men attacking the guy tied up with rope.
We pulled into the station parking lot, and Richard just sat there leaning forward on the steering wheel. His eyes were looking at something miles away. I watched him for a few minutes and then started to get out of the car.
When I opened the door, he spoke up; “So what did the little white girl look like again?”
I described her, down to her oversize clothes and stringy brown hair, and as I did, I remembered why I knew her. She was the same little girl that he had introduced me to at his home when I went there for dinner. This was the little girl who sat on his lap, who he helped with her arithmetic, and as he told me proudly, taught to play basketball.
After a moment, I asked him, “Is that the little girl
I met?”
Richard’s head moved only slightly up and down.
“What was she doing out there?” What were they all doing out there?” I persisted, a nagging uncomfortable feeling beginning to tighten my stomach.
“I can’t tell you that. It’s none of my business and none of yours either,” he snapped and began cracking his knuckles, the sound harsh as it reverberated in the stillness.
“Who were those men anyway?” I asked. “Why the masks? They’re Klan, aren’t they? Just a different way to hide who they are.”
“They’re not Klan!” The Klan’s mostly gone from around here.” Richard yelled, almost indignant.
“I doubt it.” I told him remembering how most of the cops, even the black ones, treated the people we arrested who weren’t white.
“No,” Richard said quietly now. “They’re just regular guys. That’s why it’s worse.”
I leaned back in the seat not interested in leaving the conversation. “So, who are they then, these regular guys?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Richard said. “They hold public office, a few of them. Elected officials. They’re judges, lawyers, businessmen. One is a Chief of Police, from another city.”
“So, what do they do exactly? Beat up other men? Burn them with torches?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it gets out of hand sometimes.”
“They looked crazy to me.” I told him. “I never saw normal men behaving like that.” I thought about Cristiano’s bloody head after I pounded him in the shower.
“You don’t understand. They have a sort of club; I guess you can call it that. They call it The Association. They’re all original members, old timers. Nobody can join unless they all approve. Haven’t had a new member in years. They have their own rules. Real strict and real secretive I hear.”
“Is that why they wear masks?” I wanted to know.
Richard shrugged. “I guess they want their privacy. “The whole thing doesn’t make sense,” I told him. “It looked like they were trying to kill that guy. Why?” “They have their own kind of justice down here,” Richard, answered. “Whoever he was, he must have pissed off somebody and they brought him down here to serve their justice on him. Maybe it was just some kind of initiation.” See it’s not just our blacks that catch hell”
“So how do you know so much about them?” I asked shivering, grateful that I’d kept my mouth shut and stayed hidden.
“Word gets out,” Richard said. “You don’t want to cross them. Leave them be. That’s my advice.”
“What about the children? The girls? Are they part of it too?”
“Sometimes, I guess. That’s what I hear.”
“So, they take away somebody’s children and bring them to the woods in the middle of the night? For what?”
Richard put his head back and I thought I could see tears in his eyes. “Those children don’t belong to anybody. Nobody wants them. They come from the group homes and foster care, a lot from single parent druggies. They don’t even know they’re missing half the time. One of those guys comes by in a big expensive car, dressed real nice and borrows them for a little while. Maybe he takes them for an ice cream or buys them a toy first. Nobody complains. The kids don’t even understand what’s happening. After a while, they get used to it. Sometimes one of the men takes a liking to one of them and kicks in a little money for their food or for school clothes.”
I sat stunned. “You mean they’re child prostitutes for those old men?”
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on here you just wouldn’t understand,” Richard snapped. He was sitting up straight now and blinking his eyes.
“Well why don’t the police stop it?” I wanted to know. You saw that every day over in Bangkok. But this was a different country; children were treated pretty well here. Weren’t they? I pictured the children in the complex where Rory lived. Well maybe not all of the children here were treated well. Probably not the poor ones.
Richard’s voice broke. “Nobody’s stupid enough to stick their nose in somebody else’s business. Live and let live. That’s the motto here.”
I was suddenly nauseous remembering the smell of my supervisor’s breath in the shoe factory, when he tried to pull my face close to his. “So, what you’re saying is the cops here ignore it, because they get something out of it. That’s it, isn’t it? How much to they get paid to sell those kids to those old guys?”
“I don’t know damn it! That’s enough questions!” Richard slammed his fist down on the steering wheel.
“Let’s call it a night. We need to write up a report on what went down when we tried to serve the warrant, and then we can punch out.”
We walked back silently to the break area, where the other officers who’d been at the shack, were busy preparing a written statement about the two arrests and the service of the warrant. They’d finished booking the man and woman who’d been at the shack and they seemed in good spirits, although their now dirt-stained uniforms and messed up hair suggested that the arrest wasn’t run-of-the-mill.
Part of me applauded the woman I’d seen earlier; the one they’d booked. Maybe she was some sort of payback for them leaving me out in the woods. But I kept seeing the little girls standing outside the truck in the thunderstorm and when I thought about them, I felt ashamed.
I added a few paragraphs to the report, leaving out getting lost and what I’d seen while I was hiding. I was almost tempted to mention that I tried to reach the other officers in the shack by radio, but that they didn’t return my call. Then I remembered what Brownard told me about having the other guy’s back and changed my mind.
When I’d finished writing my report in the straight block letters required, I looked dutiful and brave because I’d chased the subject in the dark until I lost him. Satisfied, I signed off and added my report to the pile of paper on the table. I walked over to the time clock and waited in line to end my watch. I looked around at the other officers and wondered which ones knew about the men in the woods or did they all know and not care?
As I walked back toward my car, Richard called out, “Hey can you pick me up tomorrow for work? I gotta leave the wagon for the babysitter. She’s taking them to the park.”
I told him I would and remembering I’d lost the address; I wrote down his home address on a piece of brown paper that Richard tore from a bag he found on the floor of his car. I watched him drive off, wondering what made their mother leave.

Chapter Twenty-Three

On the way back home, I decided to stop and catch up with Rory. He still hadn’t paid me any money for the coke I’d given him to sell. I figured at this hour he’d be going to sleep so the odds were good that I’d catch him at home.
The whole complex must have just settled down when I pulled into the parking lot. The small children of Rory’s customers had finally wandered off to sleep wherever they could, after staggering around all evening, their sleep-deprived bodies following the adults from apartment to apartment, from one dope party to another. Most of them probably went to bed hungry I thought and probably some of them knew first-hand what adults did behind closed doors.
I climbed the stairs thinking that the apartments didn’t look quite as miserable in the dark. Laundry still hung from lines suspended between the buildings, because nobody had bothered to take it down. But in the dark, the shapes of the raggedy garments were graceful as they blew just a little in the damp breeze. I banged on Rory’s door for several minutes with no answer. Finally, a tall long-legged drag queen with ashy colored skin, wearing a bra and panties, and holding a blonde synthetic hair ponytail, opened the door a crack and peered out. She raised her eyebrows at the uniform, and then closed the door with a loud bang. “Nobody’s home,” she yelled on the other side of the door.
I started banging on the door again and called out for Rory.
“You got a warrant?” The voice on the other side was deep and insistent.
“No warrant. He’s a friend,” I yelled back.
There were some scrambling noises on the other side of the door and the same voice called out “He’s sleeping.”
“Tell him Genie wants to speak with him.”
I heard a door slam and Rory cursing. “You stupid bitch, I just got to sleep.”
A high falsetto voice began sobbing and a few moments later the door opened, and Rory peered out. His eyes were nearly swollen shut and his complexion was a dull yellow. I noticed he wasn’t wearing his lower set of false teeth with the bright pink gum line, and his mouth looked as if it had receded into his jaw like a piece of wrinkled fruit
“Oh, it’s you. Why so early? I’m just going to bed.
Busy night you know.”
I pushed past him into the small apartment. If possible, it was even more cluttered than the last time I’d been there.
“If you had a busy night you should have some money for me,” I pointed at the coffee table covered with cigarette papers, glass pipes, and spoons. A couple of thin lines of white powder that had managed to survive the night stuck to the corner of the table, probably because the user didn’t want to kneel on the ripped linoleum that hurt their knees.
“You know how it is around here. You don’t have to get all high and mighty on me just cause you got on that uniform. You still the same piece of ass you was when I picked you up at the airport,” Rory stuck his hip out, and started digging around looking for a cigarette. “No,” I told him. “I’m a different person. I’m the person that is missing some money that you owe me.
Why are you avoiding me anyway?”
Rory looked around. “I’ve had a few problems lately. Needed a little myself. Don’t worry I’ll pay you back. Probably next week or so.”
“No,” I told him. “It’s already been too long. Just give me back what you didn’t sell, and I’ll handle it.”
Rory started laughing. “What do you think we’re talking about? Candy bars or something? That blow is long gone.”
I looked over at him confused. “I thought you didn’t sell it all.”
“I didn’t say that,” Rory answered sniffing. I said I needed some myself.”
“So, you used it all up yourself?” I was incredulous.
“Not all of it. Some I sold, but I had it going on four weeks. What did you expect?”
I mumbled something about thinking that he didn’t use any of the drugs that he sold. “Never mind then, just give me the money for the stuff,” I snapped.
Rory threw back his head and laughed at that. “What money? I just told you I don’t have any. No money at all. Nobody’s got money these days dealing with City Krew. A guy can’t survive.”
“So, you mean that I gave you some blow for free, that I could have sold myself?” I was starting to feel my anger rising. “And you planned to rip me off all along?”
“Nobody planned to rip you off.” Rory said mimicking my voice, making his high and squeaky. “Shit just happens,” he explained.
I slapped him in the face with the palm of my hand, knocking him to the floor.
Rory lay there shocked, rubbing his cheek while I stood over him.
“I want my money.” I told him, wondering why I’d gone back on my resolve not to have anything to do with him once I moved.
“Like I said, I have no money,” he told me again. Then he sat up on his heels and pulled himself to his feet by holding onto the edge of the coffee table. “I can’t believe you hit me,” he muttered looking around like someone desperate to find a place to hide. “I thought you had class.”
“Well I guess I have no class when it comes to money.” I told him thinking about how I got the money I’d stashed away.
“Look, tomorrow I’m getting a big delivery of smack, pure stuff, uncut, coming straight up from Mexico. Maybe not China White, but still okay. Give me a few days to get it cut and on the street. I’ll have your money in no time flat.”
“That’s what you told me when I gave you the coke to sell,” I reminded him.
“Oh well, then,” Rory pulled his robe around his body. “If our friendship means so little to you…”
I looked at his scrawny frame and sunken face, and thought how much he resembled an oily-faced creepy street rat, corned by a large ally cat
“You gotta believe me.” He said looking past me toward the apartment door. “Tomorrow night this place will be poppin as soon as the shipment comes in. All the regulars will be in line. It’s gonna be some kind of party like you ain’t ever seen. I’m tellin you. Even City Krew will be here buyin some. Their source didn’t come through and they have a shitload of customers themselves.”
I looked up. Now I was interested.
Rory met my eyes. “Oh yeah, there’s gonna be pills too and lots of weed. Lots of weed for sure!” He waited to see what I’d say.
I was interested. Just not in the way he was thinking. The coke was gone; probably he’d given a lot of it away trying to win friends, whatever he didn’t snort up himself. I could have taken it somewhere else, maybe even sold it myself. The only comforting thought was that I hadn’t paid a dime for it courtesy of the police department.
I needed to make up the loss, set it right and teach a lesson that I was not to be messed with. Rory had already showed me how to do that. He would be surprised at how well I’d paid attention.
“So, I’ll be here tomorrow night late to collect what I can,” I told him turning around and walking to the door.
“You will?” Rory was clearly surprised. “I won’t have much money tomorrow cause I need time to cut it up and get rid of it,” he told me again. “But don’t worry. Like I said, there’s going to be pills and weed too. That’ll bring some money don’t forget.”
“Don’t worry,” I answered, “I’m just going after what’s fair. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Looking relieved, Rory closed the door behind me and peeked out from behind the torn shades watching as I walked down the stairs.
Hurrying toward my car, I stumbled, straightened up, and stumbled again, this time on what looked like a pile of rags rolled into a ball hugging the side of the building.
The pile of filthy blankets moved at the touch of my foot and a brown-skinned dirty leg peeked out. The bottom of the skinny foot attached, was covered with some kind of black tar. Then the blankets folded back further, and a wild-haired man dressed in a filthy hospital gown, sat up and slowly looked around. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at him. For a moment, I almost called out, “Marco,” then realized that the man sitting on the ground couldn’t have made his way from his prison cell to the other end of the world.
The man watched me for a long moment; his eyes were sharp and beady. I could see him taking in the uniform, calculating what his find could bring. He gave me a toothless grin and held out a claw-like cupped hand tipped with black ragged nails. “Can you spare some change miss so I can get something to eat?”
My nose filled with the smell of him and his rancid blankets, but I reached into my purse and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. Hesitating, I reached out slowly and handed it to him, wondering if the men in prison back in the Philippines were still alive or if they’d already died of starvation or a beating by some other prisoner. I reached in my wallet and grabbed another two dollars to hand to the man on the sidewalk. “Please buy something to eat,” I told him. And he gave me a “thumbs up,” as I walked away.
I hurried to my car and slid into the soft new leather seat, exhausted and shaking from everything that had happened that night. The car was a recent purchase.
This year’s model, right off the showroom floor of Meryl’s Motors, a sleek shiny lacquered black, with brown leather interior. I popped in a cassette that I’d bought recently, hit the air conditioning, turning it on as high as it would go, and leaned back in the seat. Now I was glad I’d gotten rid of the old Caprice. No price too high for comfort. It was time to go home and sleep, so I could get up tomorrow and do it again.
I hoped my father was still passed out in front of the television. If he was awake, I’d try to feed him. Mostly he ignored the Tasty Krisp cereal I gave him. I’d seen it advertised on television and everybody eating it looked like they’d entered heaven with one mouthful. Lately, though, he’d thrown a few bowls of the cereal at me and one of them hit me in the arm leaving a spreading purple bruise.
Hell yes, I was sorry that I’d asked him to live with me. As the days passed, he seemed to forget that he’d ever had any other life besides the one he had sitting in my recliner. I finally faced the fact that he had no prospects to move out somewhere else and probably never would. The only benefit was his monthly check that kept coming and I kept cashing.
When I looked at him, I finally understood that heredity is more than just passing along your DNA, your hair or eye color. It’s a way of being that is passed down too, a way to make your life work in this world. When I watched him, I was sure we both had the same way of making our life work.
Sitting there, I suddenly I remembered something I had to do. I started the engine and drove over to Café Du Monde to kill some time until the vice and narcotics officers, that everybody called the Narco Crew, started reporting to work.
I picked a table near the outside, close to the street, and drank two cups of strong coffee with chicory, deliberately over-tipping the young woman server with a sagging after-birth stomach and an immaculate white apron. She moved from table to table, always walking or standing. She looked like a poor single mother to me or else a poor student from one of the nearby parishes. While I sipped, I started thinking about Rory.
I had a lot of funny memories of Rory that used to make me laugh when I called them up, especially when I was feeling down. I just had to think of him waddling through the apartment to start smiling. But my favorite was his imitation of the latest bimbo actress auditioning for a part in a movie. He performed this mime while draped in a bath towel and wearing a shower cap, his balls hanging free below the draped terry cloth. It seemed I couldn’t call the memory up anymore. Also gone, were the memories of him sadly complaining about the monthly note he paid to the convalescent care facility for his brother, who didn’t recognize him anymore, and who was not going to get any better…ever.
Now I couldn’t call up the memories. All I felt was disrespected. But this wasn’t the kind of wrong you could fix by giving the other person a good pounding like I was used to. I didn’t want to hurt him necessarily, but I needed to teach him a lesson.
Besides, I thought it would be good for him to stop using the stuff he sold from his apartment himself. The way it looked; he’d probably started using when I moved out. I could still remember him swearing up and down that he never “touched the stuff he sold.”
Anybody would agree with me I thought; a little time away from his apartment would do him some good. The way I saw it, Rory’s day had passed by popular demand and he was no longer the drug lord of the Basin Street Apartments.
I made sure it was past ten o’clock when I pushed open the lobby door back at the station and walked to the bank of elevators leading to the second floor. The two vice detectives never got in any earlier than ten and always stopped for breakfast or a Bloody Mary at one of the nudie bars to start their day. I didn’t want to stand around waiting for them. Somebody was sure to wonder what was up with me. People like to talk around there.
I opened the door to the Narco Unit and stepped inside. The three detectives that shared the office, Bridgeford, Ochs, and Mulroy, were introduced to us during training. Bridgeford and Mulroy were older black men, Doublemint Twins actually, overweight and balding. They puffed on stinky cigars and always dressed in clothes that looked like they came from some 1930’s movie about a cabaret in uptown Harlem.
Whenever you saw them together, you also expected to see a whole line of leggy coffee-colored girls in heavy make-up, tap dance their way onto a stage. They usually wore two-tone shoes that looked like they’d been in style fifty years ago.
One of the instructors said they were both married to younger women who spent every penny of their husband’s salary on expensive jewelry and didn’t leave them a dime to replace their old clothes. People said that unfortunately for their wives, both detectives were going to retire soon, and their gravy rains would be drying up.
I didn’t know if these two guys were good detectives or not, but the way they were always laughing too loud, cursing and complaining about their hangovers and the size of the tits on the whores they’d busted, didn’t give me much confidence.
Detective Ochs, the only one there, was a short little man with a chest that stuck out like a homing pigeon. Although he looked white to me, he made sure everybody knew he was Creole as soon as he introduced himself. I was glad to see Detective Ochs alone in his office to the left of the secretary’s cubicle.
I waved and smiled, fixed my lipstick and fluffed out my hair. I wanted to make sure I looked good. Detective Ochs waved back from across the room and motioned me into his office.
So, I went in, took a chair, and shyly introduced myself. I told the Detective that I wanted to let him know something in confidentiality, something that needed to be handled in order to protect the community. I told him I could tell anyone else, but I felt that he looked like a “take charge kind of guy.” He looked pleased and sat back alert, preparing to listen.
He didn’t give me any sign that he knew anything about the part I’d played during Bennett’s arrest. If that was true, he must be the only person who didn’t know about Bennett’s arrest and didn’t condemn me for stepping in. Maybe he was like me and nobody at the station talked to him either.
I then started my spiel by proceeding to give Rory credit for most of the drug trade in and around the apartment complex, and for that matter in the entire neighborhood and city. By the time I was done talking it up, it looked like City Krew depended on Rory to keep them supplied with their entire product line. I described his success in drug dealing in a way Rory could have only dreamed of achieving.
I talked about the huge supplies of various product coming in daily and all the money being laundered in that crowded little apartment. I closed my little speech with details about what was going down in Rory’s apartment tonight and exactly what was up for sale. I was counting on all the baggies of marijuana I’d seen to be there through tonight.
Of course, I left out the details that would have told you that it was probably a miserly supply of smack that was expected, just a handful of pills and maybe no weed at all if City Krew had been there first. Probably there would only be a few straggly buyers waiting for something to buy since it was the wrong time of the month for welfare checks. But Ochs didn’t know that and couldn’t have been more pleased. He sat back and patted his round stomach and licked his lips.
He assured me he didn’t know Rory. He’d just heard his name bantered around but appreciated the tip and assured me that if everything was like I said, I would receive a notable mention in my personnel file. And that could lead me down the road to a promotion. I assured him that I had first-hand knowledge of everything that happened in that apartment and that I had my own informant checking things out at all times. Rory was the only drug dealer I’d ever known personally and watched in action. But when I compared him to the other dealers I’d seen around the city, especially the ones in City Krew that terrorized the neighborhood; he was a joke; a lazy little man with a big complex and part of me resented him for milking the poor desperate fools that dealt with him. At least I reasoned, they should be taken advantage by somebody smarter, somebody who was really threatening.
Once upon a time, somebody must have dropped an opportunity to sell dope into Rory’s lap and he rolled with the flow. If you have no destination in life, any road will take you there. He would do just fine in prison.
Ochs promised that he and his other two partners, and some other patrol officers that he would put on assignment detail, would be out at the apartment that night to make a big bust, “enough to feed everyone.” It was just that easy.

Chapter Twenty-Four

My father was still asleep in the recliner when I finally got home, even though it was well into midmorning. I didn’t bother to wake him up, just turned off the television and put the remainder of a box of dry cereal in a bowl on the end table next to the chair.
I sat down at the kitchen table, took out my journal, and wrote about everything I’d seen in the woods, beginning with the man who was tied up and ending with the little girls in the pick-up truck. I shivered as I wrote. Then I stumbled off to bed as the sun was starting to blast through my windows and beat against the chipped wooden siding on my house. It was going to be another boiling hot day, with the usual heavy layer of humidity holding back any breath of fresh air.
I slept fitfully with my small electric fan blowing hot air on my face and drying out my eyes. I woke every thirty minutes or so, soaked in sweat, from dreams about the little girls standing by the truck in the woods.
In my dreams, I was running away with the little girls, from a man with a black mask over his face holding a burning torch. He chased us through tangled masses of dead tree branches, while we tried not to sink in the mud and silt that kept rising and sucking our feet downward. In my dreams, we would always run toward a dead end that was clear of the tangled branches and looked like a doorway to escape. When we tried to open the door to get to the other side, the man lassoed us with a thick rope he wore twined around his neck. Once we were all tied up, he burned our legs and feet with his torch while we shrieked in pain.
That afternoon I kept waking up shaking, sometimes screaming and clawing at my legs, unable to swallow because my throat was raw and my voice hoarse. My senses were drowning in the sounds and smells of the dark woods.
Finally, after a couple of hours of waking up I stopped trying to sleep and staggered to the kitchen to make myself some coffee. I remembered I was supposed to pick up Richard for work that night because he didn’t have a car. My father edged his way over to the kitchen table and sat down glaring at me.
“Why’re you making all that noise?” He wanted to know.
“Bad dreams, I guess,” I said.
He narrowed his eyes and looked me over carefully like I was some kind of specimen on a slide. “Bad dreams mean you’re living a bad life,” he replied. “You are, aren’t you? Probably something to do with that ugly little guy that came looking for you isn’t it?”
I stopped midway from pouring my coffee, wondering if by some freakish miracle he knew about my ratting out Rory. But that was impossible. “How about some cereal?” I changed the subject.
He surprised me by getting up and bringing me his bowl. I poured in a generous amount and added lots of milk and sugar just the way he liked it before he started drinking so much.
For the first time since he’d lived there, he sat down at the table with me and ate while I drank my coffee. I started to relax a little. Believe it or not, I was comforted by his presence; eating a real meal at the table with my father was what I’d dreamed of as a kid. I pushed the thoughts about Rory and the little girls to the back of my mind.
After he finished his Tasty Krisp and picked up the bowl licking it clean, my father stood up from the table his face suddenly darkening and his mouth narrowing into a mean looking sneer. “What’s been happening to my Social Security checks? I used to get them like clockwork every month.”
I felt my heart jump in surprise. “You moved here. Remember? And you had them forwarded here too.”
“I know that,” he snapped. “What happened to them when they came here?”
“Well they were deposited in the bank. I told you that before.”
“How? I didn’t sign them. The bank won’t take them if they’re not signed. I know that for a fact. I tried to cash a few for this broad when she was living with me. They said at the bank she had to sign off on the back herself.”
Thinking that the “broad,” he mentioned probably had no idea he was trying to cash her checks, forced me to come up with an answer. “You did sign off on them. Don’t you remember?”
“No, I didn’t,” he challenged. “I’d remember if I did. Where’s the money then?”
“Like I said, it’s in the bank.”
“You mean I have an account here?” He looked puzzled. “Well I need it now. I got a hankering to go to New Mexico. I heard it’s even cheaper to live there. I used to have a friend, he’s out of prison now, and he lives there with his sister. She can’t walk any more. I know he’d have a place for me.”
“Well like I said before, anytime you want to move its okay with me.” I was stalling but starting to feel a little better by then. I really didn’t want him staying here. An accident waiting to happen. If worse came to worse, I’d give him a little money to leave.
“As soon as I get my money I’m leaving,” he told me again. “I’m totaling up all the checks,” he said. “For the time I’ve been here.”
“You know food costs money,” I told him, “and so do cigarettes and the booze you drink up.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem for you. Cops make a lot of money.”
“You’re wrong about that,” I answered. “We’re the worst paid force in the region and it costs a lot to support another person.”
“Support,” he shouted. “You think this measly bowl of cereal counts as support?”
“I was thinking about the cigarettes and alcohol,” I told him.
“So, you’re charging me to stay here then?” “No, you’re just helping a little with the cost.”
“Ain’t that the most fucked-up thing? Fuck you!” He swore. “I’m gonna figure out what you owe me and go to the bank and take it out tomorrow.” He stumbled off to sit in the living room on my recliner and in a few moments, I heard General Hospital coming on the air as the television clicked on.
I didn’t feel like drinking coffee anymore so I placed my cup in the sink along with his cereal bowl and headed for the shower wondering how I would handle him tomorrow.
Thirty minutes later, I finished my makeup and like every day, twisted my ponytail into a tight bun at the nape of my neck. I gathered together my cuffs, my flashlight, and my baton and holstered my service revolver. Sighing, I checked my map for directions to Richard’s house again and headed off. I’d managed to lose the scrap of paper that he’d given me with the address, but I thought I’d remember the house when I saw it. Before I stepped out of my room, I threw back a good amount of vodka from the bottle that I’d hidden in my underwear drawer.
It was particularly sultry that night and the moon gave off a diffused glow that shone down on the tops of the trees and shrubs, making them look as if amber jewel drops framed them. By the time I started the air in my car, my shirt was sticking to my back, and my bra was damp and chafing.
My mind was running over everything that had happened that day and what I hoped would happen at Rory’s apartment tonight. If everything went the way I wanted it to, there’d be a big surprise when he opened the door. It would be a surprise for his customers too. I have to admit I felt kind of bad for him, but the way I saw it, he deserved it for cheating me.
I checked my watch again. Richard wasn’t really a bad guy I told myself. I guess you couldn’t help being brought up in a strict religion that condemned just about everything that didn’t have to do with the Bible. I told myself I wouldn’t try to point out how his beliefs didn’t always follow Bible teachings. Live and let live. Maybe I should have thought of it like that when they arrested Bennett.
The middle lane of the freeway was backed up bumper to bumper because some idiot overturned his truck, so I sat in traffic shifting restlessly and chewing on my cuticles until traffic started moving again.
I checked my watch in the muddled light and saw that I was running a little tight, but we would be okay if Richard was ready and waiting. Pulling off the road at my exit, I marveled at how Richard’s house wasn’t far from my house at all. I still remembered that Richard’s street was the first street off the exit and his house was located at a dead end. I could also picture the house set back far off the street, away from the other three houses on that block.
I pulled up in front and studied the house for a few minutes. Yes, this was it. Except for the fact there were no toys on the front lawn, everything was just the same as it was when I had dinner there. I honked twice and waited. Richard didn’t come out, so I honked again. I waited another few minutes and still no Richard.
Sighing, I shut off the engine and walked to the front porch. I knocked and waited and then knocked again. I walked around toward the back of the house and called out, “Richard,” three or four times and then I returned to the porch and knocked harder.
Finally, I figured he must have gotten a ride with somebody else. He’d said the kids were with the babysitter. Still it was strange he hadn’t called and told me not to pick him up. I was just about to leave, and at the last minute, I tried the doorknob. It was unlocked and the door swung open.
Stepping inside, I looked around and called Richard again. The house was almost completely dark. I kept calling as I walked toward the bedrooms that were separated from the living room by a long corridor. Looking out the side window from the living room, I spotted an old pickup truck parked by the house. I stopped and looked at it through the window, thinking that I’d seen a truck just like it with a smashed inside that looked like a moon crater, and an old Huston Astros sticker on the door. But I couldn’t remember where.
I passed through the corridor. Unlike last time, the house was in disarray, but not only with scattered toys. Beds were unmade and sheets and bedspreads hung off the bare mattresses and lay tangled on the floor. Clothes were thrown carelessly where they landed, and closets stood empty, their hangers bare.
I called out again and kept walking toward the last bedroom at the back of the house leading out to the yard. I remembered that Richard used it as an office sometime. Mostly he said he just sat and read his Bible there. I started to turn around. Nobody was home, I couldn’t figure out what in the world happened so I decided I would lock up the house. Some emergency must have made him leave in a hurry without calling me.
Then I heard the voice, soft, slow, the measured cadence of a southern drawl, singing. I listened. I recognized the song; it was the only one Richard sang that he said was not a “gospel song.” The words were sad, they told of the end of love and loneliness. I was pretty sure it was called I’m So Lonesome I could Cry. Richard told me once while we were driving, that the singer, Hank Williams, was probably the best and most famous country singer ever. I recognized the song because I’d never liked it. It was too sad. A sad song like that brought back memories of who I was before, and how lonely I’d been then, and still was. For some reason the song made me picture my mother visiting me in prison, the only time she ever came to visit.
The singing continued, soft and mournful, and there was another voice coming from the room too, a child’s voice, whimpering. The whimpered words were clear in the absolute silence of the house. “No, I don’t want to.”
I pushed open the door to the last bedroom and stared in shock, a cold knot of sickness rising in my stomach. A bedside lamp that cast a muted glow on the tangled sheets dimly lighted the room.
On the king-size bed lie the little girl that I’d met so long ago when he invited me to dinner. The same girl that I’d seen by the beat-up pickup truck in the woods. Somebody had dressed her in black panties that were pulled down to her thighs, and a bra that wrapped around her skinny chest almost twice. When she looked up, I saw that her mouth was covered with red lipstick and her eyes had been outlined heavily in black. Richard kneeled next to her naked, his boxer shorts now rolled down to his ankles.
He didn’t hear me at first, caught up in this nightmarish scene, his right hand between the girl’s legs holding them open. He wasn’t singing anymore, just murmuring, his other hand between his own legs stroking. “Come on. Just one more time. I’ll buy you anything you want. Tell me what you want.”
With the agility of a child, the girl sat up in one fluid motion kicking him away and jumped off the bed. She pointed at me screaming. “Go away! Go Away!”
Richard turned to face me his mouth dropping open in shock as his eyes met mine. Still yelling something I couldn’t understand; the girl ran out of the bedroom and down the corridor toward the front of the house.
Richard’s eyes followed her miserably, torn between wanting to run after her and facing me. He chose the latter and grabbed a twisted sheet, wrapping it around his lower body. Turning away from me, he moved toward the middle of the bed and sat huddled over, his head bent down.
I watched him in disgust and disbelief. I felt dizzy in the unaired over-heated room that smelled of stale sweat and old secretions. My legs began to wobble, and I dropped into the straight back chair that sat near the rear window covered with heavy aluminum blinds.
When I could finally choke out a few words I said,
“Aren’t you going after her?”
Richard shook his head from side to side, holding it between his palms. It was barely a discernable gesture. “She’s not going anywhere,” he mumbled.
“That’s the little girl I met before, isn’t she?” I recognized the slight frame and long, limp hair.
He started sobbing now. Great racking sobs that came from some place far off where shame had been housed, stored up for who knows how long. Now released.
“That’s the same little girl I saw in the woods. I just couldn’t place her. And the pickup truck? Is that yours?”
“No, the truck’s not mine. I was working on it for somebody.”
“So, everything I saw…. everything I told you that night, you knew about already. You know those men. You’re a part of it. You’re one of those pedophiles going after little girls! All that Bible talk. Jesus talk! What was that for? To hide who you really are? Well you fooled me,” I screamed at him.
My shock had turned to fury. “All this time I was afraid to say the wrong thing in front of you. You were always so proper, and there you are trying to stick your dick into that naked little girl in your own house. I guess you fool everybody don’t you?”
Richard looked up still sobbing. His face was streaked with tears and snot dripped from his nose. He answered me in hoarse gulps. “You don’t understand, you’re just like the others,” he said. “She’s the only one. I never wanted any others. I chose her. I love her.
Just her. She’s special. I’d never hurt her. Never hurt a hair on her head.”
“Are you crazy?” I heard my voice shrill, screaming again. “Having sex with a ten-year-old makes you the worse kind of criminal, a perverted, disgusting, child-raping criminal. Men like you deserve to die.” I reached down touching my service revolver. The solid feel of metal was comforting, reminding me that there was something I could count on in this world that wouldn’t disappoint me.
Richard kept backing up, moving further away from me toward the large faux wood headboard and I kept my hand on my revolver wondering what to do next. Seconds passed, and we stayed right where we were. I could hear the voice screaming in my head.
“Shoot him now.” But I wanted answers; I wanted to understand.
The little girl slunk back into the room and approached the bed. She was wearing her tee-shirt, a shrunken stained piece of faded flowered cotton that rode up over her ribs and over-washed stretch pants that hung like pajamas. She entered warily watching the gun in my hand and slowly eased herself toward the foot of the bed. “Daddy,” she called out.
“Daddy?” I repeated, looking over at Richard. “No, it’s not like that,” he began.
“He’s not my real daddy,” the girl explained in a soft voice. “Just pretend. I don’t have a real daddy.” Her voice was clear. No tears.
“Beth why don’t you go and watch television,” Richard said. His voice was weak and resigned. He looked first at Beth and then to me, defeated.
She hesitated, and ran over to Richard, first kissing him on the cheek and then bolting out of the room.
“So, you see,” he mumbled, “That’s the way it is.”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to erase the vision of what was happening in that room. I looked down at my watch. So much time had passed. I was late for work. I realized it didn’t matter at all.
As if he read my mind, Richard spoke up. “I got called off tonight. I was going to call you not to come, but Beth wanted me to pick her up. She’s having problems at the home, some of the girls bullying her again. I guess I got busy getting that old truck running to go get her. Forgot to call you and tell you not to come. Sorry,” he mumbled. “I guess that was my big mistake.”
“Is she why your wife left?” I wanted to know.
Richard gave a little nod. “She knows now. I guess
Beth let it slip.”
“Let it slip? You make it sound like you were having an affair with another woman! She’s going to report you, you know.” I couldn’t imagine what his wife thought, if I felt betrayed myself. “You’ll never see your kids again. You shouldn’t see them anyway. Do you know what they do to child molesters in prison?”
Richard stood up his face flushing, trying to cover his nakedness. He turned his back to me and stepped into a pair of trousers.
“I know all that,” he said woodenly. “Just like I know my name. I knew it would go down this way. But I didn’t have any other choice. Sometimes there’s no choice in life.” He looked up at me. “I was just racing against time, couldn’t stop; couldn’t run away.”
“You couldn’t keep your hands off a child?” I demanded.
“Like I said, you wouldn’t understand. I didn’t think anybody would, and nobody does. Beth loves me and I’m all she has. Nobody ever loved her before.” “That’s not love,” I screamed back, remembering my supervisor in the shoe factory. “That’s just easy sex for you with a little kid who can’t say no. Were there other kids too? What’s wrong in your head?”
Richard looked up at me, “What I told you the other night about the men you saw; it’s all true. Some of them like to torture others or have someone torture them. Most of them would rather hurt young men, strangers they don’t know. They like beating, cutting, and burning. Torture’s like sex for them. They do it to druggies or drifters they pick up or the guys we bring to them. Some of them just watch and get off.”
He tried to explain, as if this was just an ordinary gathering of restless men looking for something to occupy their time, like a bowling league. “These guys have been doing it their whole life. Some of them started watching their fathers. But some of the men like it with really young girls, different young girls. They pay a lot more money now to keep it going. So now you know everything don’t you?”
“So that’s why the masks,” I said.
“The kind of stuff some of them like is not exactly popular around here. This is a religious community. Nobody talks about sex…. especially not….” His voice trailed off and his face flushed. “They want to keep a low profile. They have names to protect, jobs, families”
“I guess so,” I said. “Especially if they’re fucking children.”
Richard hugged his arms to his chest. “I didn’t know about the children at first. All I saw was that they were interested in us bringing them men. They even paid off the druggies and crazies for a couple hours of fun where nobody could see. Problems started when we brought them men in custody, so they didn’t have to find their own. Those guys had no choice, nobody to complain to who would listen. Why there were a couple of judges in the group one year and a state legislator. It could go really bad on a custody hold if he complained or caused any trouble. I wanted out then.”
“And the kids?” I kept at it. I wanted to know every last detail.
“The kids came later,” he said. Some of the group were already doing it with kids all along on their own. But then I guess they started talking among themselves. Some of them decided they had kids in common too. They wanted to bring that into their group.”
Richard paused and looked down, “It was too risky for them to go after kids themselves, even the ones in parish care or foster. They would probably be seen, and kids talk.
The television suddenly turned on full blast in the living room drowning out our voices. The nightly news, broadcast again. Distracted, we both turned to look in the direction of the blaring sound; Timothy McVeigh had been sentenced to death for the Oklahoma City bombings, two more people were convicted in the New York Trade Center bombings, and Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay. “Turn down the television baby,” Richard called out down the hall.
I waited until the volume dropped and turned back to Richard, “Finish telling me what you were going to say.”
“So, like I said,” he continued, his voice flat. “There were a quite a few members in high up positions. Still are. One of the original members was a judge, and he suggested that the police should take an interest in helping the underprivileged kids in these coastline parishes. He set it up with the Chief so the parish police departments would sponsor the poorer kids, kind of like big brothers. You know, teach them to play sports, take them for pizza, maybe help them with their homework. Stuff nobody else did.
He hesitated and continued talking. “So, a kind of off-the-books program started. Everybody trusts the police. The Chief got a little money from the members to buy a few things for the kids and some for him to keep if he was quiet.”
Richard looked off wistfully toward the living room, but he kept talking, his voice dogged. “After that some of the kids got introduced to another kind of sponsor. There weren’t that many. Mostly just little girls that a couple of members had a taste for.”
“So, it’s still going on, and it’s still a secret today?” I said, slowly understanding.
“Mostly just rumors. People talking. They’re only a few men in the group now who participate. Most of the old timers died a while back. The rest of the group might suspect, but they’re not included when they bring out the girls, so they don’t really know. You happened to be there the other night. Bad luck, I guess. For me,” he added.
“And you? You supply the girls?”
Richard choked. He coughed into the back of his hand. When he stopped, his voice was hoarse, almost a whisper. “My first commanding officer was one of those members that started it. He’s retired now. He said I had a good way with kids. So did my father and my brother.”
“How many were there? How many did you bring,” I demanded.
“Since I’ve been working out of this precinct? Not a lot really.”
“Not a lot? So that makes it all right?” I yelled. “Why didn’t any of them report you?”
“You don’t understand, do you? These kids are used to this kind of thing. You don’t know how they lived or what other people did to them before. A lot of them…well it was normal for them and they were getting attention. They thought it was love. They never got love before, and I could spot that a mile off. Besides even if somebody believed them nobody would do anything about it.”
“Is that the way it is with that girl in the living room?”
“Her name is Beth,” Richard answered slumping, his arms dropping to his sides. “I never got involved before…never did anything like that. The Bible says it’s wrong. I hated anybody that did that sort of thing, would come close to killing them when I had a chance. I just brought them when they asked me. It was just different with her. She brought it out, my love for her.….” His voice trailed off.
“But you got money for bringing girls to the group, didn’t you?”
“Not always money, mostly favors. Maybe better assignments or promotions. Not so many foot patrol assignments in the upper wards. I didn’t have to pay my dues like the rest of them. I got an assist in the Detective Unit where I worked before. Maybe it’ll help get me promoted here sometime soon.
I leaned against the wall and wondered if this would be any less disgusting if I heard it before my sex change. I thought about the way I saw men look at women, even the very young girls, barely coming into teen years. I could see why a lot of men wouldn’t blink an eye at what Richard was telling me. Young girls were a short hop from full grown women. And they thought females should always be available to them whenever their dicks got hard. Did I ever think like that? Did my thinking change because there was something missing between my legs?
Richard sat back, spent. “You know my grandmother told me, when you see a circus in town don’t jump in the middle and expect people not to call you a clown.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. “I guess it’s the same as the old saying, “if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” He laughed ruefully. “But I just wanted you to understand about
Beth, how I feel. It’s not the same as…the others.”
The sound of his voice and everything he had told me hung heavily in the air like a noxious dark cloud of settling poison. “What’s going to happen to that little girl in there?” I wanted to know.
Richard didn’t answer at first. He looked down at his hands plucking at the twisted bedding surrounding him. “You’re right about what you think. You don’t have to say it. I’m lower than shit. I know it. Before I started with all this, I would be thinking just like you, that someone like me should be crucified, killed on the spot.
He stared past me, in the direction of the window covered in heavy blinds. “I could say I won’t be part of supplying any kids again, but you probably won’t believe me. I could tell you I won’t ever see Beth again, but you won’t believe me either. I could tell myself that I don’t care what you think of me, because in my heart I know I love that little girl. But we all know what people think of someone like me. I have to live with that.”
“What about getting you fired so you don’t have any contact with children who trust you? What about locking you up for the rest of your life? Don’t worry it would be a very short sentence for you. You wouldn’t last more than a couple of days on the inside. I’d be glad to pay the guy who carves you up in there. I’d even pay the ones who held you down when he did it. Every penny I have. What about that?” I waited for his answer.
“That won’t stop what I feel for her.”
“I bet it would, if this whole thing was blown wide open.” I could feel my forehead and my jaw tightening when I talked.
“It wouldn’t make any difference,” Richard answered. “There’s too much at stake for everybody else. Nobody would believe you and nobody would give a damn even if they did. There’s no one who cares about those kids. You’d be asking for a world of hurt for yourself. Believe me. What they’d do to me wouldn’t touch what they’d do to you. You asked me about the Klan; well these guys grew up seeing just how it operated. They’re well-schooled.
His threat stopped me dead in my tracks. The pounding of my heart matched the growing throbbing in my head. I took my hand off my revolver and flexed my wrist.
Then I stepped forward automatically and punched him in the face, over and over again. I saw his skin collapse. Blood flowed from his nose and the bones in his face cracked with the force, as I rammed my fist again and again into his face.
Before his eyes closed shut with the blows, he looked at me in horror; “Wait Genie stop!” He screamed, trying to move away. There was nowhere for him to go. I backed him up further against the headboard and punched him again and again in his naked stomach. Blood from his face covered my hands and spread out onto the bedding. “I thought you were a good guy,” I screamed. “I thought you were religious. You’re just like all those other religious phonies.” I kept kicking him with my sturdy shoes, moving onto his chest, until I tore his skin, leaving a bleeding gash that ran down his side and dripped onto the rug.
He kept trying to say something, tried to sit up, and cover himself, but that just made me angrier. I reached between his legs and twisted his limp penis, the organ he used to abuse the sad little girl in the living room. His screams filled the house. I couldn’t hear it because my head was exploding with rage, drowning out any other sound.
Finally, he just lay there, not moving at all. I watched his blood leak onto the floor, pleased that it would probably never wash out. After minutes passed, I backed away and stepped into the small bathroom off the bedroom. I washed my hands and cleaned the blood spatters of my uniform as best as I could. I splashed water on my face and pinned my hair back up in a bun at the back of my neck.
Then I walked out into the living room. Beth sat on the couch her knees hugged up onto her chest. She didn’t look up at me, but sat staring straight ahead facing the television, her eyes not moving. On the screen a black and white cartoon cat wearing a polka dot vest, climbed into a little car with pin wheels and honked the horn.
I paused in front of her and stopped. I gestured to the telephone on the end table. “You better call someone to come and pick you up.” I said. “Richard is feeling sick and he can’t watch you tonight.”
She didn’t give me any indication she heard. I walked out and closed the front door behind me.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Some low life gangster from City Krew shot Detective Ochs. They announced the shooting at roll call the next day, although I’d already seen it on the news earlier. He was in critical condition and they said they weren’t sure he would pull through. I saw it when I was walking out to the living room to shut off the television.
A skinny blonde reporter with carefully styled blow-dry hair stepped up to the mike and made the announcement. I stopped short of turning off the television and listened. Apparently, according to the reporter, Ochs was ambushed when he was conducting an early morning raid on a drug den.
That’s the way the news explained it. We heard it from the horse’s mouth, that Ochs was acting on a tip and entered the apartment with a warrant to conduct a search of the premises. The pickings were slim and the druggies visiting the apartment at the time weren’t holding. It didn’t appear that any arrests were going to go down, maybe just the apartment owner for a handful of drug paraphernalia and a few mostly empty baggies of coke and weed.
But just as they finished turning over all the rooms, probably pissed off at the bad tip, a tall, dark-skinned men, with a handkerchief over his face, knocked at the door, delivering a shitload of horse for somebody named Rory.
Well, it seemed that Rory saw the delivery in progress, and tried to slip by Ochs, and run out the front door, but a car full of City Krew members pulled up right by the staircase to the building. A couple of them charged the stairs and Rory tried to run back inside. One of City Krew recognized him because Rory owed him money, and opened fire, striking Rory in the shoulder and hitting Ochs in the back. Three other officers were also wounded as they tried to leave out of the front door, which was the only entrance and exit to the apartment. The gang member making the delivery was sprayed with bullets before City Krew grabbed up the bricks and fled.
After the announcement, a large manila envelope was passed around at roll call, and it was suggested that everybody donate to Ochs’s family and young children. I dug out a few bills that I carried on me after locking up my purse and thought that now Ochs’s young wife might not have to divorce him after all.
I felt sad for Ochs, but told myself that he put himself in dangerous positions all the time, and as far as Rory, well a flesh wound might just straighten him up, make him think, maybe more than just some time served while he made more connections to sell dope.
Richard didn’t come back to work. Somebody said he was on disability. That made it sound like he wasn’t very injured to me. “Scamming the system,” I overheard. I hadn’t worked him over as hard as I thought. One or another of the guys I worked with every day was always on disability. It was considered one of the perks of this low-paying job.
Feeling sick, I read, and re-read the entry in my journal describing what I’d seen Richard doing with the little girl, Beth, and wondered what to do about it. I added in all the information that Richard had given me about the cops supplying kids on demand for the group of men. Then I sat and wondered whom should I tell, and whom could I trust?
I dreamed about Beth wearing that black underwear and lying in those tangled bed sheets in that back bedroom, or down on her knees in front of one of the masked men I’d seen in the woods. I woke up nauseated after each dream, and when I stood at roll call, I wondered how many of the men there knew the same thing I knew, and why they stayed silent.
That month a number of us were taken off patrol and assigned to locate a truck driver, suspected of killing a number of prostitutes as he traveled along his delivery route. He was particularly hard to catch, because he kept moving up and down the Gulf Coast. We didn’t have much of a description. I guess it stands out in my mind because my father brought it to my attention one of the few times, he talked with me, without asking where his money was.
It was late afternoon and I’d slept badly again. I woke up shaking, sweat covering my body. Before sleeping, I tried to turn off the thoughts in my head, thoughts of Beth, and the men in the woods, but the thoughts dissolved into dreams, where I chased little children who floated through the air because they had no legs to walk. The children floated away so fast that I couldn’t catch them, and then exploded into pools of bright red blood that covered every inch of my skin leaving it wet and slick.
I woke up hearing the kids calling to me, taunting me to run after them. As I slowly opened my eyes, I saw I was in my own bedroom alone, my fists balled up at my sides.
I’d mostly adjusted to working night watch. I didn’t have to listen to my father whine or argue with me, and I didn’t have to see him guzzle down the liquor I bought before he passed out. Besides, there was more action at night, and the tourist joints and tittie bars gladly kicked over a little something to their local police. It was expected of them. When it was discovered that drugs were being sold in the back of some bar, or some underage pimpled blonde wearing a thong was giving cheap blow jobs, we were glad to look the other way.
I patrolled alone a lot of nights because my assigned partners liked to hang out at the cheap motels like the Nightlight, right outside of town. Usually they got together with other cops to drink or snort coke, and other times they spent their entire shift in a motel bed with whatever woman was available and willing, while they told the dispatcher they were out on calls.
“Hey Genie, do you think they’re gonna catch that guy,” my father called out, as I padded to the bathroom wiping the morning’s sweat from my face. My mouth was thick and swollen and I had the shakes because I badly needed a drink as soon as I woke up.
I turned to him in surprise and answered in a garbled voice. What guy?”
He pointed to the television which surprisingly was tuned to the news instead of his usual show, where the female contestants attacked each other with their fists after they heard the results of their paternity tests. “They think maybe the murderer is a truck driver, you know the one murdering all those whores.”
I sighed, “Everybody’s working on trying to catch him, but if he is a truck driver, he changes location all the time. So, it’s hard,” I answered. “And all those murdered girls are not whores,” I added.
“Don’t matter to me. Maybe I hope they never catch him. Those whores deserve it.”
I ignored his comment. “What makes it hard too, is that a lot of the prostitutes hit up the truck stops and sell blow jobs to the drivers. Then the drivers move on and they find another dead hooker in the woods a few days later.”
“How’d they die?” he wanted to know.
“Most of the time by strangulation,” I answered surprised at his question.
“Well you know I’ve been watching this program and these women have AIDS and they don’t tell the guys they have sex with,” he informed me.
“That’s pretty rotten.” I answered.
“You think so?” He seemed to consider. “If I had AIDS, I’d sleep with as many women as I could to pass it along. That’s what I’d do. It’s a lot easier than strangling them. Bet some of them put up a good fight.” I closed my eyes for a moment and pictured my mother. However, she’d managed; she was free of him. “And another thing,” he began, “I don’t care for the people living in the front house. Not at all.”
“Why is that?” I asked, remembering that a family had moved in about a month ago, a young black mother with three teenagers. I guessed Ms. Devereux’s daughter decided she needed the rental income more than she needed a sale. I’d talked to the family for a few minutes while they moved in, and immediately let them know I was a cop.
What bothered me was how cheerful they were. You could see they barely had any furniture and I hardly ever saw them buy groceries. But they always seemed to be smiling and humming to themselves. Their happiness disturbed me; it was like they didn’t see the ugliness in life.
“I don’t want to live next door to no colored people,” my father answered defiantly. “I never had to before.”
“You don’t say “colored,” you say “black,” I corrected. “And you’re not the one living next door; I am.”
My father looked back at me puzzled. “I already had a fight with the neighbors yesterday.”
“How’s that?” I wanted to know. “You sleep most of the day and you’re too drunk the rest of the time.”
My father glared at me. “That boy had the nerve to come and introduce himself to me. Said he saw me through the window and noticed I was alone. Just like that, he knocked on the door. A lot of fucking nerve I say.”
“Well you better not start any trouble,” I told him.
“I like living here and I plan to stay.”
My father stood up painfully from the recliner. His eyes were red-rimmed, and his hands shook as he tried to balance on the arm rests. “Well I don’t like living here. How about that?” He picked up his half full glass of whisky from the side table and threw it at me. It splashed over my face and hair, dripping down my face onto my shoulders and I stood staring at him shocked.
For a moment, the silence inside my house seemed to be a live thing, slowly closing in around me, as I wiped the sticky mess from my face. What the fuck!”
He nodded his head satisfied, something accomplished. Then immediately began to frown, his sagging cheeks puckering and his eyes folding into their creases. Looking down at the empty glass he stamped his feet and then began whining, “It’s all gone now. I want more!”
“You’re an asshole!” I yelled. “And I don’t want you here either. I was doing you a favor, but you don’t deserve it. You’re nothing but trouble. No wonder why you couldn’t live any place. The only place for you is Hell.”
“You can’t talk to me like that you he-she,” he screamed back. “I don’t know how fucked up you must have been to do something like that to yourself. You embarrass me. How can I tell my friends my daughter is really a guy?”
“What friends?” I swiped at my dripping hair. “You have no friends. Nobody wants you.” My face was on fire and I could feel the slow anger burning like a lit match. “You need medical help. You’re demented. They have medication now for dementia.”
“I ain’t going to no doctor,” my father declared as he staggered off toward his bedroom.
Cringing at the stale odor of sweat as he opened the door, I slammed the bathroom door and turned on the shower. Stepping under the cool water, I felt tears stinging my eyes. Life was unfair, just like my mother always said, but at the time, I thought it was because she had lived it that way. Maybe I was wrong. Bennett was dead for no reason at all and Beth and those other children…who knew what they had to suffer to keep living. Meanwhile my father in all his drunkenness was alive, and it seemed he was going to keep on living for a lot longer.
I briefly thought about Rory, but whatever happened he deserved, I reasoned, and Mrs. Devereux? Well she should have been smarter. Anyway, I told myself, she was headed to her grave before I ever came into the picture.
I stepped out of the shower and answered a call from Raleigh. He said he’d been trying to call me, but I never answered and some old codger, who did answer, cussed him out. I told him I was sorry and was going to buy a mobile phone I’d seen advertised. That way nobody would have to call my house anymore. Meanwhile I’d have to find a way to deal with my father until I could get him out.
Abernathy Cartwright M.D. was the doctor all the cops went to when they claimed they’d been injured on the job, or when they wanted to retire early on disability benefits. According to the uniform-wearing grape vine, Dr. Carter always provided an outstanding workrelated diagnosis for how a particular claimed injury occurred, even when there was doubt if the injury happened at all.
He always filled the claims forms out in his office and was nice enough to add on other body parts that were supposedly injured, in addition to the one that was first claimed. He diagnosed everybody as “severely disabled,” “permanently disabled,” or “chronically ill,” and always recommended a good few months off work and a return to “very light duty.” His waiting room was always packed and there was standing room only, outside of the door to his rundown clinic not too far from downtown.
The rumor was that he also prescribed strong pills that might not take away the pain of an injury but were guaranteed to leave you floating high up in space, so you didn’t care about the pain or anything else for that matter. For a little extra paid in cash, he prescribed several months’ worth of pills at one time, so you didn’t have to keep coming back to renew your prescription.
I had extra comp time, so I put in for a day off and arrived at Doctor Cartwright’s a few minutes after the office opened, during the time I usually went to sleep. Doctor Cartwright was just as everybody said, kindly in appearance, chubby and white-haired. Mary-Alazia called him a true gentleman, and a friend to the police force. Myself, I don’t think he could hear very well and so he talked very little and nodded his head vigorously no matter what you told him.
I waited to see him for almost two hours, listening to the different conversations around me. Most of the men patients were cops or fire fighters. After discussing their injuries in great detail and how their credit cards were maxed out, they moved on to other topics.
Most of the men in the waiting room had girlfriend problems that united them in a common bond. The problem being, their girlfriends were threatening to tell their wives and they sought out suggestions to keep the relationships going on both ends. From what I could make out, most of them were already divorced; some twice, drowning in child support. But they were always hopeful of meeting the perfect beauty that would make them happy forever.
When I finally got in to see the doctor, I explained that I’d come to see him not about myself, but about my father. I told him my father had what seemed like dementia and kept refusing to see a doctor. I mentioned his drinking. Doctor Cartwright said he would prefer to examine my father in person, but in the meantime if I wanted to pay an added fee, he would prescribe several medications including a couple of pills for my father’s dementia called Reninyl, and Doxepin. He explained that these pills had the added benefit of knocking my father out at night for at least twelve hours, if he took several at a time. The rest of the pills would also help him sleep and would calm him down and make him less anxious. I only recognized the names “Benadryl,” and Valium, which I’d heard about in Bangkok. There was also Ativan, and Ambien, and something called Placidyl. He suggested I try them all on my father to see which ones worked.
He wrote out a prescription for all of the pills he named and then sent me to the front desk to pay, before I could pick up the medicine from his pharmacy next door. Apparently, he also owned the pharmacy. The pills were to be “taken as needed,” the directions stated. My stomach turned over when I saw how much he was charging me, but I told myself it would be worth it if I could shut my father up, and get some peace and quiet until I could figure out how to get him out of my house. Knowing it was useless to try and get him to take the dementia medicine; I thought I’d work on the sleeping pills first. Surprise! As soon as I told him I had something to make him sleep, my father turned down the television and looked up expectantly. “You got Seconals?” They’re called Reds.” He informed me, looking pleased. “What about Quaaludes? You got those?”
I told him I didn’t have those particular pills, but I had another kind and I read the directions on the label to him. At first, he shook his head. “I only take downers when I take pills,” he explained and poured himself another shot of whiskey.
After he’d finished another two shots, he closed his eyes and began talking about one of the prison guards he remembered when he was locked up in the
Tennessee State Department of Corrections. I didn’t remember him telling me about Tennessee before. I pretended to listen, while he explained that this particular guard had an affair with a prisoner and the prisoner’s cellmate got jealous and shanked the guard one night when security was low.
I poured him another shot and handed him two of the sleeping pills. I checked the directions on the medication the doctor said was for his dementia and saw that he was to take two tablets every day, one every eight hours. Mind as well start now. I dropped two of those pills into his hand for good measure.
“These downers?” He wanted to know.
I told him they were, and he looked me in the eye and greedily swallowed both the pills in one gulp. A few minutes later, he leaned back in the recliner and closed his eyes. I reached over and poured the remainder of the bottle he was holding into my shot glass. He didn’t notice when I took it out of his hands.
I sat and watched my father sleep, the untroubled sleep of someone who has made a space for himself in the world, where the evil and the chaos of his life didn’t matter.
Doctor Cartwright knew his way around pills. After work that night, I checked back, and my father was still sleeping, his breathing a little ragged and his color still pale. I woke up once to go to the bathroom after I fell asleep, and he was still sleeping in the recliner in the same position. His color was grayish and his breathing shallow. I woke him up after giving him a few good shakes. Honestly, he looked like a cadaver and it scared me.
I helped him to bed and opened the window in his stuffy little room. He stared at me through half-closed eyes and then turned his back to me and went back to sleep. It was nice not to hear him cursing at me and calling me names or to see him sitting through days and nights in the recliner like a wax figure, ready to release his squirming vipers without warning.
The next morning when my father got up to use the bathroom, he drank some milk and swallowed a few more pills. Then he toddled off to bed without saying a thing. The way I saw it, this was working really well, definitely worth the price of the pills for the quiet alone, and the money I was saving, only buying enough alcohol for myself instead of trying to keep him supplied too.
It was almost the way it had been before he came. I figured if things stayed like this, I could chance inviting Raleigh over without worrying about my father making an ass of himself.
But I still couldn’t forget what I’d seen at Richard’s house that night, and I thought about Beth every time I saw a little girl on the street or on television. I wanted to talk to her, to tell her this wasn’t the way life was supposed to be and that I could help her. I just wasn’t sure how, unless I reported everything I saw. I picked up the phone to do it a few times, but then remembered what Richard said about the men I’d seen in the woods and what could happen to me. Every time I picked up the phone, part of me said to leave the whole thing alone, it wasn’t any of my business. I even tried calling Richard, but he never answered my call.
When I thought about Beth, I could hear my mother advising one of our neighbors who complained to her that his thirteen-year-old daughter was having sex. “What’s the problem here? She’s only going to do it any way sooner or later. It’s better if she learns how to do it early, so when she gets older, she can make good money for herself and not give it away for free.”
The way I saw it, my mother would have turned my little sister Florencia out, just like the pimps did here with the newbies straight off the bus from Dakota or someplace like that. Lucky for Florencia she was just so damn unattractive and so religious that she probably would never spread her legs, even if Jesus came down from above and made a special request.
Eventually weeks passed and it was confirmed that
Richard was no longer on the Department. Either was Monroe, I heard. The rumor was Monroe’s leaving had something to do with back child support and being thrown in jail for contempt. It seemed that Richard simply stopped coming to work and eventually they fired him.
Every day I reported for work and went about my business just like always. I made sure my father had enough sleeping pills to keep him knocked out, so he wouldn’t get into any trouble when I was gone or bother me when I was there. Things were quieter, lonelier in a way, but there was still the nagging feeling that Beth was always around hiding somewhere close by, terrified and afraid to show herself, like a small pale ghost waiting to be erased from the universe.
During those days, Raleigh filled some of my time, shoring up the lonely patches. Maybe I wouldn’t have given Raleigh the time of day in another place and time. But the fact is; loneliness can lead you down a path you probably shouldn’t take, especially if you have no destination in mind.
I got Raleigh a job as a security guard in one of the strip bars in Ascension Parish. If you knew somebody and they vouched for you. Nobody cared about a background check. I happened to know the former owner, who hired Raleigh, before selling the bar.
The man had refused to give his teenage son permission to start the sex change process. Everybody in the Quarter was gossiping about it and he told anyone who would listen how he felt, even while everybody knew that he cheated on his wife with other men.
From what I heard, his son couldn’t take it anymore and one night after a drug binge, he used gardening sheers to try and remove that uncomfortable appendage between his legs himself. He bled to death in the master bath of his parent’s mansion in the Garden District. His father sold the bar and donated the money to help AIDS patients. After that, he had a soft spot for gays and transsexuals, and he stopped picking up guys in the Quarter.
Raleigh was young, good looking and muscular, an advertisement for clean healthy living, dimples and all. I heard he told the new owner of the bar, a middle-aged white woman, with smoker’s lines around her mouth, that he had a lot of experience as “muscle.” He even named a few of his clients and how he single-handedly kept them from being tied to a cement block and tossed into the bayou. He didn’t tell her that the names he gave her belonged to other inmates that he’d protected on the inside in exchange for favors. They said she was so hot and bothered looking at him that she didn’t hear a word he said.
Since Raleigh was a convicted felon, he wasn’t supposed to have access to a firearm, but of course he owned quite a few guns himself, most of them stolen. I did my part and slipped into the property room in the early morning hours before anyone was on the clock and picked out a 12 gauge shot gun for him, because he said he wanted one, just like the one his favorite cousin used in a robbery.
The one I lifted for him was an older model and a little banged up. There were small pieces of tape covered with writing on the handle, stating that pieces of human tissue had been removed from the revolver and were now stored as separate exhibits with corresponding numbers. I flushed the property tags down the toilet along with the pieces of tape, just as I’d seen the other guys do when there was something in the property room they wanted.
Evidence was always mishandled one way or another and a lot of it disappeared once it was booked in. Now I heard the departments are going to start using computers and recording every little item booked in, instead of writing it down. I guess it’ll be a lot harder to make evidence disappear. But I bet that wouldn’t keep someone like me from trying.
Raleigh seemed happy with his job at the bar. He said it was usually peaceful and he only had to occasionally remind the customers to back away from the stage and keep their hands off the girls. Keeping the owner’s hands off him was a little harder he told me. He said she liked to come up behind him and stroke his butt and thighs. It was annoying he said, but better than being touched in the prison shower and having to watch his back when he stepped into the shadows.
Raleigh was the one who suggested that I get a second job and work security with him part time, because we weren’t seeing much of each other since I was rotated back to days. He said he’d persuaded the owner, Mrs. La Fontaine, that he needed help on weekends, even though he told me business was slow because the girls there were not as good looking as in some of the other bars. I guess she believed him.
I applied on Raleigh’s recommendation, one overcast humid morning on my day off, when the club was nearly empty. A tall blonde with a braided blonde weave moved languidly on the platform suspended above the seating area. She kept looking around the room as she hooked her thumbs into her bikini bottom. I guess she was disappointed because there were only two old men sitting at the bar and they weren’t paying any attention to the dancer on the stage by the seating area.
The owner was late for my interview and the bartender told me to wait. She’d show eventually. So, I ordered a drink and then another. By the time she arrived, the whiskey-and-seven had kicked in and I swayed in my seat to the hard rock music blasting from the speakers.
The owner, Mrs. La Fontaine, looked exactly like Raleigh said she did, with overly tanned, wrinkled skin that had a slight orange tinge and bleached platinum hair that was starting to thin from the crown.
“I’m Betty La Fontaine.” She held out her hand and studied me, her eyes peeping out under thickly mascaraed lashes. “Follow me please,” she directed when the bartender pointed me out.
I followed her to a small room in the back of the bar, which was furnished with an oversize maple desk, two steel filing cabinets, and a large old-fashion cast iron safe. I started to sit down, and she gestured for me to remain standing. “Turn around please.” She commanded.
I did as she said. Surprised, I turned slowly in a circle at her direction.
“Kind of skinny in the butt and not too much in the boob department. We like em with bigger boobs; the customers tip more that way. Are you planning on getting bigger implants?”
I laughed and told her that I wasn’t trying to get a job dancing and that Raleigh had recommended me for security. She looked at me doubtfully, until I told her I was a cop. As she raised her eyebrows, I reached in my purse and produced my police identification.
After putting on a pair of tortoise-framed glasses that magnified her eyes, she stared at my identification intently. Finally, she looked up. “Well I guess you’re telling me the truth. Ever worked security before?”
I told her I hadn’t but assured her that my experience on the force would compensate for that. She looked me up and down again and then removed her glasses. “Guess I won’t have to worry about you touching my girls. It’s Raleigh I have to worry about. Some of my girls have a crush on him. I told them he wasn’t going nowhere, but you know how it is with young girls, especially the ones already been burned. He is real pretty after all. But if you’re here keeping an eye on him maybe I won’t have to worry. Is that why you want to work here? You’re not queer for my girls, are you?”
I assured her that I had no interest in her girls. I only wanted to work part time, a few nights a week, to supplement my income. Raleigh recommended you highly,” she told me. “But then I guess he would,” she laughed. “Are you sure you can take on a man if there’s a fight? Customers get into fights here all the time or their hands get a little too frisky and we have to throw them out. Some of them are big guys and I’ve never seen a woman security officer anywhere before.”
I laughed. “I’m absolutely sure I can take on anybody,” I told her. “I have a lot of experience fighting and I had to qualify to be on the force.” I was starting to relax and think that Raleigh was right, and this was going to be a piece of cake.
She snapped her purse shut and leaned in. “This is the job in a nutshell. “You make sure nobody bothers the girls. Those pencil-dick peepers need to stay the hell away from the barrier around the stage. Then you need to make sure that everybody stays the hell out of my office.” She gestured toward the safe. “I collect the money from the bar every couple of hours or so, and if I don’t, I’ll tell you or Raleigh to bring it to me. The money gets deposited right here in my office safe. Sometimes I make a nightly drop but if business is slow, I make my drop at the bank before we close on Friday.”
She sat back in her desk chair and put her feet up on a tattered embroidered hassock. “Now with both of you working I can get out a little in the evening myself.” She lowered her voice. “There are nicer places to go in this city than this one. If things work out, you’ll get the combo to the safe and you and Raleigh can make some of the nightly deposits. How’s that?”
I looked around at the small crowded office and shivered, remembering how Mrs. Devereux had let me know that she had money hidden somewhere in her house the day I moved in.
Mrs. La Fontaine dug around in one of the file cabinets for a few moments and produced a few papers that she paper-clipped together and handed me. “Here you go. I need these for the books. Go fill them out at the bar and bring them back. You can call me Betty by the way, and you can have another drink if Jack offers it to you.” She eyed me shrewdly. “But I don’t like my security people to drink too much. It’s bad for business.
Got it?”
I told her I understood and went over to the bar and began filling out a makeshift application, including a statement that said I was being hired as an independent contractor and I was liable for my own taxes. I also signed a form stating that the bar was not responsible in case I was injured while working there and that no benefits such as health insurance were being offered.
While I sat there filling out the information, I watched the women or “girls,” as Miss La Fontaine called them, trickle in for the afternoon shift. There were about eight dancers, and I can say they came in all shapes, sizes, and skin colors. One for every man’s taste. But most of them were far from glamorous, the way you see them on television and movies. There was lots of jigging skin, cellulite, scars, and stretch marks. No firmly toned or tanned bodies passed by me on their way to the stage. What they all had in common was the way their faces pulled downward, their expressions bored, and their mouths puckered in slight frowns, as their eyes prowled for customers for lap dances where they made most of their money. There was a heavy air of resignation, as if these women had left any happy memories behind when they stepped through the door of the club.
As I finished filling out my papers, men started trickling in, the lunch crowd. They sat close to the stage swilling their drinks and calling out to the dancers. One or two of the women stepped close to the end of the stage, a few feet from where the men were seated, spreading their legs, and sticking out their rear ends. As soon as they began grinding their hips, the cat calls started and some of the men began moving their eyes from the girls back to their laps. Their hands, and elbows stayed low in a continuous stroking movement.
I watched, wondering what the dancers thought, if they noticed at all, since most of them looked straight ahead, their eyes focused on some place only they could see. And these men? Their attention was pin- point, engrossed in what was going on. Hollering at the stage, desperately wanting, they threw back drink after drink. And in that hour or so that was probably allocated for their lunchtime, they waited for the women to show them a sign.
Some of the women were decent dancers and they moved along catching the beat of the music that shifted from rock to country and then to techno. Others moved uncomfortably, occasionally reaching for one of the poles on either side of the stage. The audience didn’t seem to notice the dancer’s indifference.
I wondered if these women dancing saw the same men as dangerous to them when they weren’t on stage, separated and protected.
What did they feel about these men staring at them nearly naked while they touched themselves? Did they worry about assault or rape when they walked alone at night? When they were together alone, did they talk about it? Did they say things like; “How do I keep from getting attacked and raped?” “What do you do? Mace them?” What happens if he doesn’t listen when I say no?”
Maybe they stopped worrying about these things when they decided to dance without their clothes. But by the long-suffering expressions on some of their faces, I didn’t think so. Maybe they thought it was a part of every woman’s life. I realized suddenly that thinking about these things was part of being a woman.

Chapter Twenty-Six

In early March, which began with several weeks of icy splashing rain, I called in sick, and went to court instead to see Rory sentenced. He sat behind the long glass partition on the right side of the courtroom, on a wooden bench along with about a dozen other prisoners.
When he shuffled in single file in his plastic shower shoes with the other inmates, I could see he’d lost even more weight and his jailhouse jumpsuit ballooned over his sunken rear end. His nearly bald head was down, and he didn’t look ahead or to the left or right of the courtroom. I could see that the stems of his glasses were taped sloppily with black electric tape that bulged over the sides of his ears.
I’d been checking regularly on the status of his case. No bail was ever set. I’m sure his public defender must have requested it. But Rory was never a good candidate, so he sat inside, waiting until he could plead guilty and be sentenced. Rory had the worst luck; probably, for the first time in his life, key dealers fronted him a major supply of product that night. But then the raid went down, and then Ochs got killed leading the raid. Now it was all on his shoulders.
I moved closer to the counsel table so I could hear what was going on. Almost as if he felt my presence,
Rory looked up at me. Our eyes locked and held, his sad and disappointed. Maybe ashamed. I felt my face flush and I looked down at my feet wondering if he had put it together and figured out that I was the reason he was sitting on a hard, wooden bench behind a glass partition.
I seated myself carefully listening to the conversations at the counsel table. One by one, the DA and the Public Defender, discussed dispositions for the clients that the Public Defender represented. The Public Defender was a thin nervous woman with short chopped mouse-brown hair and no make-up, wearing an over-size navy-colored jumper and flat shoes. She bit her nails as she spoke. The DA was a large black woman, dressed well in a red suit and high red heels. She listened impatiently her eyes wandering around the room.
I waited for about twenty minutes until I finally heard them bring up Rory’s name. The Public Defender held up a finger motioning the other woman to wait, and then entered the glass box where she sat down next to Rory. She spoke to him for about two minutes, gesturing purposelessly with her arms. Rory kept shaking his head but didn’t look up at her. Finally, she stood up and walked back to the counsel table.
A few of the people sitting in the seats closest to the rail moved over when they saw I was a cop. Out of dislike or respect, I didn’t know which, so I moved up two rows and leaned in closer. I heard the DA say something about forty years, and then she mentioned The Louisiana Sentencing Guide, and how Rory’s sentence was right under the column for “Theft of Crawfish.” Then they both sat back and laughed.
When Rory’s name was called, he stood up in the box and faced the judge, a red-faced old white man who looked as if was falling asleep. I heard the Public Defender ask for a continuance to obtain some report, the title of which I couldn’t hear, and the DA say she wasn’t opposed. The judge continued the sentencing hearing for sixty days. I got up and walked out. I knew I wouldn’t be coming back to see how it ended for Rory.
I got back home in time to catch the mail carrier and grab my father’s Social Security check out of the mail. Lately he was sleeping most of the time but drinking less liquor than before. I figured the pills hit him before he had a chance to drink more than a couple of shots.
He looked even skinner than last week and spent most of his time in bed. I checked on him again and he was lying in the same position he’d been in when I left, curled up on his side, his breathing shallow and labored. His iron-gray beard now filled in the lower half of his face and long tendrils of white hair curled down his neck.
I sat on the edge of the bed and shook his arm trying to wake him. He opened one eye and stared at me. “Leave me the fuck alone,”
I pretended I didn’t hear him. “I’ll make you a bowl of cereal,” I began.
“No,” he spat out, half rising on one elbow. Looking around the room, he began to focus. “When does my check come in?” Tell me now!”
“This week,” I assured him, knowing I’d be cashing it before I went out that night to work security with Raleigh. Maybe I could put him in some kind of a home. That would cost money though. My money. And he’d never spent a dime on me. I couldn’t think of one reason I would want to spend more money on him than what he already cost me.
I watched him turn his back to me and close his eyes. I couldn’t label the feeling I had then, but now I guess I can say I felt a little guilty about keeping his money. I guess I didn’t want to recognize then that he was wasting away.
I ironed my dark blue security uniform, exactly like the one Raleigh wore, and shinned my shoes until they gleamed. Most of the cops worked a second job; a security detail at a club or restaurant, but I was sure they didn’t enjoy it the way I did, because I worked with Raleigh and anything could happen when I was with him.
Things were going fine for us then. Raleigh even spent the night a couple of times, huddled with me in my single bed. My father was so zonked out on his pills he never woke up once. I close my eyes now and remember those good times, when the whole reason for life was alcohol bubbling in a glass.
Raleigh was the first guy I guess I could call a boyfriend. He was a few years younger than me, with the happy expectant air of a little boy on a playground, ready to jump on anything that came his way. I can truly say he was one joyful person, a drastic change from the older more pessimistic men I’d been with, men who knew the score and came to me with their pockets full.
One of the first times we went out, he asked me to pick him up in the patrol car. He’d been in a cruiser many times before but wanted to ride up front this time without someone holding his head down and forcing him into the back seat. Sitting up front, he put on my cap and looked around the cab with all the excitement of a child on Christmas. “Can I put on the siren?” He wanted to know. And then a few minutes later, “What about the flashing lights?”
So, we drove a few miles with the siren blaring and the lights flashing. “Wow!” Was all he could say. When I finally pulled over and killed the engine, he turned to me and said sadly, “I wish I could be a cop. I’d run the siren and the lights all day long, but they won’t let me because of my felonies.”
I remember thinking it was a strange remark coming from a grown man, but that was just it; sometimes Raleigh sounded like a little boy, wistful and innocent; untouched by the adult world. His eyes moved continuously, never resting too long on one object or person as if wanting to take in everything available to see. Looking back, I think he wanted me to be a child with him, and so I was.
One night we stopped in Algiers for a drink and ended up in one of the local parks where Raleigh insisted we ride the swings and climb the jungle gym. I laughed the whole time as we drank from a bottle of vodka and he pushed me in the swing, higher and higher, until the horrific images of my father looking like a skeleton and Richard molesting Beth, evaporated into the dark sky.
We tried to have sex in the car that night, right in the parking lot next to the monkey bars. Raleigh said it was the best place for him to get hard. But he never did. In fact, there was no place, where he could; and we tried them all. Raleigh blamed it on the drugs he said they forced him to take in prison. That didn’t make sense to me, so I checked all the records I had access to but didn’t find any mention of them giving him drugs when he was locked up. The closest he came was the coke that was smuggled in by some female, that ended up with him getting sent to the SHU, and the pruno that he concocted with the other inmates.
Secretly I was fine without seeing him with a hard dick. It made him seem even more special and less like the men in my memories that I tried to forget. When he couldn’t get hard, Raleigh would hug me and hold my hand, until his attention began wandering and he got bored. For those few minutes I felt cared for, even if his eyes never stopped their roving to focus.
Raleigh laughed often and hard. His dimples stretched across his cheeks with joy. Memories of funny incidents from his past filled his mind, sometimes in endless procession and he was always willing to share a memory or two. He was friendly; congenial, and always called out to strangers. “Hey how are you doing”? Where you from? My name is
Sometimes though, the incidents he recalled as he laughed and poked fun at the people he remembered, involved somebody who’d been his victim. When I pointed out how friendly he was with strangers, he looked surprised. “Well, you never know when you need to use somebody out here. I know people all over I can use for different things. Got people ready to do me favors every place I go.” Then he took a big gulp of his drink and turned away to stop my questioning.
Even though Raleigh was working five nights a week, he still never had any money. The District Attorney took him to court for repayment of welfare money that the mothers of a couple of his kids were collecting all this time.
I asked him if he was going to start seeing his kids since there was no reason for the mothers now to deny him visitation. He told me flat out that he wasn’t really too interested in seeing them, because he didn’t really know what to do with kids. Actually, that was fine with me because I didn’t want to share the time we had together with anyone else.
With the money he had left over after the state grabbed their share, Raleigh liked to buy pastel silk shirts with paisley patterns and shiny two-toned patent leather shoes. I even bought him a few shirts myself. I headed for Saks Fifth Avenue, by-passing the sale racks and going straight for the over-priced displays, I picked the most expensive ones I saw.
Just watching his excitement when he opened the plastic bag with the Saks label, brightened my spirits and made me feel loved. But Raleigh’s excitement faded as soon as he finished holding up a new shirt to his body. I never really noticed how fast Raleigh lost interest in things. Within a couple of minutes, he was looking around expectantly for something else to happen, and the gift of the shirt was something from the past. For a little while, I concentrated on seeing him happy. I stopped thinking about Beth or the men in the woods, and sometimes Bennett, grateful for an opportunity to shut out their images.
Raleigh was usually broke soon after he cashed his check, and his mother, I heard, stopped giving him any extra money after he got a job. I didn’t mind handing over a few extra dollars to him for spending money, for cigarettes, and sometimes liquor, if he couldn’t get it for free.
He was a creature of habit, and ate his one meal a day, (a hamburger and french fries), at the club, on the house, just like the cooks and the bartenders. The dancers had to pay full price and never seemed to eat there. The club wasn’t known for gourmet dining, but the customers didn’t seem to mind eating the undercooked burgers and the greasy fries as long as they could watch jiggling tits and grinding hips while they chewed and swallowed.
Raleigh never had much of an appetite for calories if you didn’t count the alcohol. When things were going well, Raleigh was friendly and playful. His face was beautiful to me and when he walked around, he seemed powerful and impressive. People liked him and approached him. He enjoyed life and did everything with such enthusiasm, including making me feel beautiful and special.
I don’t remember exactly when I started giving him more spending money. Maybe it was when he started complaining about how little he was making at the club. “Just chump change,” he would rage as soon as his check was gone and he would threaten to quit before the weekend, so he could leave the owner in the lurch just like she deserved. I heard through the grapevine of bitchy dancers that Raleigh offered to have sex with the owner on her terms if she would give him extra money.
Of course, I didn’t believe it at the time.
I started nagging him every time he threatened to quit. “You can’t quit till you get another job and if you don’t work you violate your parole. Then they’ll send you back for sure.” I repeated this over and over, along with my other complaint, “If you didn’t give those jacked up dancers so much in tips; you’d have plenty left over to spend.”
Raleigh just shrugged and snickered. “Just showing my appreciation baby.”
After we’d been seeing each other for a few weeks, Raleigh suggested he move in with me and send my father packing. I really did want my father out, but now that he took pills all the time, he was less bother. I just needed to make sure his prescription was filled, and alcohol was handy when he was awake. That, and a little cereal, in case he felt like eating something.
When I thought about it, having my father there was a lot simpler than having Raleigh with me all the time. I started to notice that Raleigh was the most fun when I was really drunk.
When we worked security together, I tried to do what I was hired for; I kept an eye on the customers, made sure they paid for their drinks and watched who came in the door.
Raleigh encouraged all of his friends to come and check out the girls when he was working. He told them which girls he through were fine and which he thought were “dogs.” None of the men he invited in had a dime on them and demanded free drinks while they tried to feel up the dancers.
When his friends were in the house there was always a fight involving pushing and shoving, punches that landed randomly, sometimes on the dancers or the two waitresses in bikinis. Drinks were thrown, glasses smashed, and girls screaming “motherfucker this,” and
“motherfucker that,” from the stage. I would step in to break it up, while Raleigh stood back amused and watched whomever I pushed away from the stage recoil in shock.
One night after the club shut down and I didn’t have to get up early for work the next day, I let Raleigh do what he liked best, drive the patrol car, wearing my cap and belt with my cuffs and revolver. I let him run the siren full blast all the way. We drove straight out of town passing darkened businesses selling cut rate liquor, wholesale carpet, and rental cars. As the traffic grew less and less, a thin monotonous driving rain started coming down on the roadway, leaving a glassy slick shine that blinded your eyes if you stared too long.
Raleigh was unusually quiet after his initial excitement at starting our trip down the highway. He didn’t mention any of the gossip circulating at the club that was particularly juicy.
I have to say the way he acted at the club made me really jealous. I admit my ego was fragile, and Raleigh chipped away at it when he admired other women for their looks or body or just plain flirted for their attention. I knew I had to be on my toes, work harder at being the kind of woman that he wouldn’t want to leave. I didn’t get that my most attractive attribute was the job I had.
I alternated between thinking that I really didn’t care if he found somebody else and worrying if he did. Even if he was good-looking and could be very charming, he wasn’t exactly a good catch and I could go on with my life the way it was before. Who knows what other man was waiting down the road and would treat me like a queen?
Then there were other times I thought of how lonely it would be without Raleigh and his simple way of handling most of the days, with gusto and energy. I’d be stuck dealing with grim humorless men, the kind who didn’t get a thrill riding in my cruiser and holding my service revolver while they wore my cap or swinging on the swings in the children’s playground at three o’clock in the morning.
I told myself I’d do whatever it took to keep him. So far, it was just small sums of money. I could handle that.
That night Raleigh drove for a while with one hand on the wheel and the other on my service revolver that he liked to hold when he drove. Being with him, made me feel reckless and daring. I picked up his enthusiasm and let him carry my gun when he asked. At the time, I thought his playing at being a cop was cute harmless clowning, good for a laugh.
That evening he pulled the car over by
Pontchartrain Park where it was quiet and deserted and parked under a tree. The rain trickled down the windshield in slow drips pooling on the hood. We sat quietly watching it for a few minutes. When he turned to look at me, Raleigh wasn’t smiling, and his mouth turned down at the corners. “I gotta tell you, I need to come up with some more cash pretty soon or I’m gonna be hurting real bad. They put a hit on me. I only have a week to get them their money. They’re not fooling around this time.”
I stared at him, not sure if I believed him and realizing grudgingly, that he had a whole other life when he wasn’t with me or in the club. I tried to picture it, feeling jealous and let down at the same time. “Who’s going to get you?”
He shook his head. “There’s some stuff you can’t know. You just gotta trust me. I’m in trouble and I need a lot of money fast.”
But why?” I asked. “You got paid this week, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I got paid, but that’s just a drop in the bucket like I told you before. Serious cash is what I need, like the kind they take in every night in that club.” He paused. “If I was a different color, I’d own me a piece of some operation like that and I’d be rolling in the
I didn’t answer right away. It always bothered me when Raleigh slipped into jailhouse slang. It was something we would never share.
He looked down at his lap and removed my cap from his head. “Who am I kidding? I’ll never be able to make money like that on my own. I was done before
I ever had a chance.”
I’d heard his story before. Listening to his version of a lonely childhood spent mostly indoors, watching cartoons on television and eating frozen dinners covered with tin foil while his mother was working, interested me at first, until I heard it one too many times. From what I could tell, his mother had worked her ass off as a cop to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. I had to give her credit for raising Raleigh on her own. In my opinion, the fact that Raleigh had to stay inside the house while she was working, and wasn’t allowed outside to play or hang out in the street with the other kids, didn’t seem like a big deal at all to me, and it didn’t smack of the deprivation the way he claimed. In comparison to my childhood, I thought he’d had it real easy like most of the people raised here in the U.S. Besides, it was clear to me that his mother loved him in spite of the fact he’d been sent up more than once and the trouble he’d probably caused her.
After a while, my eyes glazed over when Raleigh started complaining about how his life turned out, or how much better it would be if he was white. I always knew that something would come up pretty quickly and distract him from his depression.
That night I sat next to him with the windows rolled down, breathing in the still night air as his voice droned on.
In the back of my mind, I weighed my decision again to report Richard or not. I’d finally decided that I couldn’t wait any longer. I told myself that I would be doing the right thing and Richard’s warnings about retaliation were probably just made to keep me quiet. How many people before me kept quiet about the supervisor in the shoe factory? Or about Cristiano?
Then something he said caught my attention and turned my mind back around.
“Just a little every night, off the top,” Raleigh was saying.
“What? What are you talking about?” I felt as if I’d left the car for a while and returned to hear a conversation in another language that I didn’t understand.
“I said; I’ve been helping myself to a little from the till before she closes out at night. Not too much to catch her attention, mainly twenties, a few fifties. But I need
a lot more than that and I need it real fast.”
I stared at him not knowing what to say.
He gripped the wheel and began to explain. “I didn’t tell you before because it’s just better if you didn’t know, you being a cop and all. But now I have to tell you because I need your help. It’s real simple; I have it all figured out. La Fontaine is going to have you make the deposit Friday night when you’re working. She told me last night she’s gonna have you close Fridays from now on. You’re even getting the combination to the safe. There’s some off-the-bookscash she stashes there too. You can put it in the cash bag “by mistake” for deposit. And that’s when you’re going to get robbed. That old broad won’t know what hit her. I figure there should be around four or five thousand for every night we’re open, more on the weekends. Maybe with the extra she’s hiding in that safe, around seven thousand for Friday’s take alone. Could be a total haul of around thirty-five thousand or so. Maybe she wouldn’t take all that money out to put in the bank, but you would, if you’re making the deposit on Friday. It has to be on Friday, when you work.”
“You’re kidding, Right?”
“No ma’am. I’m dead serious. I’m gonna do this, sure as I’m sitting here now.”
“No thanks. Don’t include me,” I told him. “I don’t want to be part of that, lose my job.” I shook my head and looked down so he wouldn’t see that his asking hurt me.
Raleigh leaned over and touched me lightly, running his fingers slowly up my arm. “I would never do anything to get you in trouble. You know that. I just need this one little favor. That’s all. There’s nobody else I can ask. I just need a quick fix so I can pay back what I owe. That’s all. I promise all you have to do is take the deposit down the street, walk toward the bank through the alley and I’ll meet you and take it from you. Then you just go back and say you were robbed. That’s all. Somebody put a gun to your head. You didn’t see anything.”
I thought about my money I had stashed away; the money nobody knew about and how I’d gotten it in the first place. But somehow, I couldn’t see giving it to Raleigh no matter how badly he needed it. Offering it to him seemed just as good as confessing my crimes, telling him my secrets, and throwing away my security for nothing.
But maybe stealing somebody else’s money was a different story. I have to admit that handing over the bag of money from the club to Raleigh sounded exciting, like something from a movie.
Maybe I’d already started trying to justify what I figured was coming down the road, because I wanted Raleigh to be beholden to me. I was about to make another one of my life choices, the kind you could look back at later in shock at your own reckless stupidity.
It actually sounded simple. Raleigh would get his money, and probably Mrs. La Fontaine was insured for this type of thing, so she’d get paid back. Mrs. La Fontaine planned out her deposits, so that her bank balance never got over a certain amount. She said it had something to do with the IRS and levies, and that was why she was so careful about her safe and who made her deposits.
I couldn’t help but remember that so far, the two other people I knew who hid their money, Cristiano, and Mrs. Devereux ended up dead.
“She’ll know it was you,” I finally answered trying to dismiss the excited beating that started in my heart when I pictured myself, cool and collected in my uniform, being robbed by the good-looking guy sitting next to me.
But the scenario playing in my head stopped there as I thought about it more. I couldn’t see myself lying about getting robbed and making it believable when they questioned me. I pictured telling Mrs. La Fontaine, watching her mouth tighten in shock, her hand clutching her heart as she tried to calculate exactly how much money was taken.
“You’ll get caught and go back to prison for sure.” I told him shaking my head.
“No,” Raleigh was adamant. “They’ll never find out. I have it all planned. I’m working with you that night. Right? I’ll just duck out for a quick minute when you go to the bank, relieve you of the money and run right back in, so I’ll be there by the time you get back and tell everybody you’ve been robbed. We’re talking like five minutes. I’ll call the police for you and everything. Meanwhile I’ll hide the cash bag out back and grab it when everything’s over.”
Raleigh went on, promising that as soon as he paid off his debt we would go on a nice vacation. He told me I should plan to take some time off.
“Friday, just a couple of days away!” he said several times when I told him I wouldn’t do it. He ignored what I said, and I began to realize he was sure
I’d help him.
While he kept talking, I closed my eyes, I could see the swaying trees peeling off their fragile white bark in the New Orleans sunshine that filtered through a misty morning. I could see too, the iridescent shiny green slime that floated on the bayou separated from the brackish water beneath it.
I shifted in my seat and stretched my cramped back, my mind drifting back to what I needed to do. Raleigh had stopped talking and started the engine. He looked over at me, and I shook my head and looked away. Raleigh opened the door on the driver’s side. “Why don’t you drive back,” he said.
The next day as I was leaving for work, I heard my father’s bedroom door opening and I stopped short of grabbing my purse and keys and waited. It was a minute or two before he slowly emerged. If I thought he looked bad before, it was nothing compared to now. Sleeping in that squalid dark room almost twenty-four hours a day had sucked all the color from his face and from his long straggly hair, leaving them both a pale washed out gray. He was painfully thin. I could see his ribs outlined against his tee-shirt.
He looked up at me for a moment and then turned away. His eyes were red-rimmed, and the white portion was a sickish orange yellow. My heart jumped and I thought that the slow death he was cultivating in that room was speeding up toward a successful finish. “You look terrible,” I told him. “I’m going to take you to a doctor tomorrow. If you want to drink yourself to death, I don’t want you to do it here.”
He ignored me and slowly through glazed eyes, started toward the bathroom, swaying as if he was negotiating the deck of a ship.
I waited until he came out and tried again, feeling suddenly sorry for him, “How about if I make you a sandwich or something. I have baloney and cheese. You don’t eat anymore, not even cereal.”
My father waved me away and staggered over to the counter, holding on. He checked the cupboards for another bottle, but there wasn’t one. Then he toddled over to the refrigerator. Maybe there. Except for a wedge of cheese and a package of baloney, the refrigerator was empty. He began shaking and turned to face me directly, “There’s nothing to drink, damn you! I pay you to live here. What the fuck?”
“I’m getting some later.” I mumbled.
He stared back at me for the longest time, seeming to know something that maybe I didn’t know yet myself. “What about my pills? I know I have pills.
Where are they?”
I hurried back to my room and rummaged through my underwear drawer, pulling out the bottles that I’d tucked into the cups of my black bras. The bottles of Valium, Ativan, Seconal, and Ambien were was still half full, because I hadn’t refilled the prescription that long ago. I planned to dole out the pills a little at a time while I slowed him down on the alcohol. Then it would be time for him to move.
Returning to the living room, I gave him a few capsules and he dry-swallowed them before he started yelling. “This ain’t shit. Just give me the bottle and I won’t have to bother you anymore Miss High and Mighty!”
“There’s only a few pills left,” I lied. I’ll get you another prescription. “How about something to eat?”
“I said no! Don’t want anything!”
He looked at me again strangely when he was talking. With the first wave of drowsiness from the pills softening his focus, he held onto the walls as he toddled back to his room.
“Remember,” I called out, “tomorrow you go to the doctor.”
He didn’t turn around. I ran back to my bedroom and looked around quickly for another hiding place; the underwear drawer was too obvious, and I didn’t want him to start looking anywhere else in case he found where I’d hidden my money. I picked another spot. I took the half-full bottles of pills and tucked them into the toes of the black patent leather dress-up shoes that I hardly ever wore and pushed the shoes to the back of the shelf in my closet.
His appearance shocked me and jangled my squeamish senses. Some of my anger fizzled out when I saw how he had deteriorated, his body decaying from the inside out. I told myself I should have watched over him more. Still, he was an adult, free to do, as he liked. Even so, I felt pity, and my eyes leaked tears that dripped down my uniform shirt.
Once he was gone, as much of a disgusting failure as he was, I would be completely alone in the world. My mother and Florencia didn’t want anything to do with me. Believe me, I’d tried. Maybe it was the photo I’d sent, the one where I looked so pretty, a glamour photo. Boy was it expensive! Soft lighting and carefully applied makeup, my best dress, a couple of poses to find the best angle. They never even commented, except to say I was an abomination. My mother saw it all coming she said.
I closed the bathroom door behind me and sat on the toilet and cried, deep racking sobs. Before my operation, I’d fought back the anger and confusion that came on regularly, like clockwork. When I figured out what was wrong, I knew things would be different once I had my operation. Now I couldn’t tell if they were really different at all. The loneliness never went away. In fact, I was lonelier than ever.
The only friend I’d made on the force had been Richard and thinking about him and what I was going to do, made nausea rise in my throat. Raleigh …well he hadn’t called me again after the last time we drove to the park. He switched nights at the club, so I didn’t see him there. I called him once late at night when I was drinking. He was polite, and I could hear his mother in the background asking who was on the phone.
The Friday Raleigh selected to rob the club, passed, and I wondered if he was able to get the money he said he needed somewhere else. I made some small talk and started to tell him that I’d changed my mind, I’d help him with his plan to take money from the club. I even started to tell him that I’d give him the money he needed from my own pocket. It was a short conversation. He cut it short right there and told me that he was on his way to his girlfriend’s house and hung up. I opened another bottle, changing to a different brand of whiskey that cost less.
I tried to think about some of the good things that happened recently. The only one I could come up with was beating out most of the guys on my watch in the annual physical fitness test. I was still able to bring them down to the mat and lock up their arms and legs with a few quick moves; the kind they’d never seen.
Yes, it made me feel good to see them groveling as they tried to get up from the floor, fighting through their pain, holding their backs or clutching their stomachs. But I didn’t feel good later when they moved away from me to sit somewhere else during roll call and whispered about me, snickering behind their hands as they covered their mouths.
I pictured my funeral with no mourners, nobody at the grave site, no flowers or ceremony, just me in my casket and the grave digger spending a little time together before they closed the lights forever. Even when I was buried, I was sure I’d smell the stink of New Orleans and the feeling of watching the city pass by me, not noticing me in the least.
I wiped my eyes and checked my face in the mirror. It was red and swollen from the heat in the little bathroom and my streaming tears. I could see the house in front was slowly starting to look like the ones in the upper wards, shingles falling off the roof, paint peeling in gray streamers down the siding, a dry brush-weed choked lawn and a rotting staircase leading to the porch. My out of state landlady didn’t care. New Orleans was really far from Los Angeles.
Inside my little house, the humidity left wet greenish stains on the walls and buckled the linoleum in the kitchen. The windows in the kitchen didn’t close and a green fungus grew in the casings. In the end, I guess it’s all the little things added up that get to you and make you want to give up. I told myself that the sadness that hung around me had everything to do with all of these little things that I saw every day and nothing to do with my memories.
I had an appointment to see Sargent Brownard, so I held a cold washrag to my face, trying to bring down my swollen eyes. I’d thought long and hard before deciding to report Richard and to tell about what I’d seen in the woods. I decided to call Brownard because I had no idea who I should go to in the Department.
He was the only superior who ever acknowledged me with more than a nod. I felt grateful to him because he was responsible for me getting hired in the first place, and I had to trust him because he’d trusted me. I actually believed then, that the men who abused Bennett, laughing after he died, would act decently now, and put a stop to Richard and the other men in that group, once they knew what they did to helpless children.
Sergeant Brownard agreed to meet me in a small bar off Royal, away from the station where I hoped there wouldn’t be any cops hanging around. I still didn’t know if I was doing the right thing and how he would react when I told him. But I kept seeing Richard and Beth on that bed. It was part of the same nightmare that woke me almost every night. In it the bed was lit on fire from torches carried by the men in the woods and Beth screamed for help before I woke up.
Fighting the nagging feeling that I should call and cancel my meeting, I put on more make-up to cover my puffy eyes and changed into a cotton dress that usually picked up my spirits. Today it didn’t work. I checked one last time on my father, feeling my guilt hit me in the face when I opened the door to his room. He was breathing roughly and moved only slightly when touched. “Tomorrow you’re going to the doctor,” I said again. Reassuring myself.
Sergeant Brownard was already sitting at the bar when I finally got enough courage to go inside. He was dressed in camouflage pants that dragged over the tops of his gray slip-on tennis shoes. He wore a long-sleeve white shirt that looked like it was a hold-over from his days at the station. Laughing, he waved a mug of beer and watched the ball game on a blurry large-screen television hanging above the bar. Sitting next to him were a couple of old timers with faded plaid shirts and red noses that meant they were regular bar-goers.
I watched them for a moment before going over.
Timidly, I called out in a soft voice. “Hello.”
Brownard turned slowly, followed by the other two who stared in surprise. The older, drunker one, whistled through his teeth. “Ain’t you one fine filly?”
I felt my face redden and Brownard quickly introduced me as one of his officers. The other two men shut up looking surprised. He introduced them to me as retired cops, one from Mobile Alabama, and one from Shreveport. We all stood looking awkwardly at each other, me wondering if I’d end up sitting at this very same bar when I was old and alone.
After a while, Brownard said we had business to talk about and told the two he’d see them around. He ushered me to one of the booths in the back and ordered two more beers, without asking me what I wanted to drink. As soon as I sat down, I asked him why we were meeting in a cop bar.
He raised his eyebrows and looked around. “Is this what you call a cop bar?” He wanted to know.
“Well I mean you’re drinking with those two…so I would say yes.”
He laughed, “Well, this is where I drink and the cops here are old timers. Most of them retired. I don’t go in for those fancy places where the tourists go or over there uptown. I don’t pay extra to drink watered down drinks with tourists at double the price. Anyway, it’s private right here. Isn’t it?” He gestured at the two vacant booths on either side of us. “Are you keeping yourself out of trouble? Not bucking the system and backing up your brothers when need be?”
I told him I was and took a few quick swallows of my beer.
“So, what is it you wanted to tell me that had to be said outside of the station?”
I looked around, checking the area again. “Well, I think you said that it was our job to enforce the laws, and that was what we were getting paid for.” My voiced quaked, but I forced myself to keep talking. And if we saw someone violating the law, we need to step in.
He shrugged. “Sounds right so far.”
“So, what if the person who violates the law is another officer. What happens then?”
Sergeant Brownard sat back and rubbed his chin. He looked over at me thoughtfully and then reached for his beer. Picking up the mug in his left hand, he downed most of the contents in two swallows. “I guess that depends,” he said. “What do you have in mind?”
“Well I know of an officer who is…well he’s having sex with a minor.” I said it so softly I wasn’t sure he heard.
“That’s it?” Sergeant Brownard chuckled. “Damn you must be talking about half the force. You ever hear of cop groupies? We got em here. Just like all over. They spread em at the drop of a hat. They say it’s the uniform. Had a few myself.” He winked and held up his hand signaling he wanted another beer. “Of course, that was a while back when I was a little younger.”
“This one’s a little girl; maybe ten years old or so. She’s not a groupie.” My voice was getting stronger.
“So, what are you saying? Her Dad’s on the force and he’s boning her? If that’s it, I don’t want anything to do with it. We stay out of the other guy’s family life.” “Family life? Isn’t that rape?”
“I don’t deal in legal terms, just the regular stuff like drunk driving, robbery, occasionally homicide. And I don’t even deal with that anymore. It’s not my pay category. I’m in personnel now.” Shaking his head, he swallowed the last of his beer and snapped his fingers at the young woman in a tight halter top who left the bar and ambled over to our booth.
“Two whiskeys please!” His voice had a booming quality, and he turned his head to watch her swaying walk.
I finished my beer and then tried again. “The little girl’s not his daughter. He’s a police volunteer at some kind of charity organization and he volunteers to take her places, help her with homework, things like that. He takes her to his house and has sex with her. I think his wife found out and left.”
Sergeant Brownard shrugged. “So? How is that my business? I didn’t see him do it. Did you?” “Yes,” I told him. “I came in on them.”
“So, what did you tell him? Not to do it again?” He laughed and took the glass of whiskey from the tray the young woman was carrying.
I picked up my glass feeling confused, and a little dizzy. I told myself I’d have to cut back on the drinking. Maybe not start so early; leave it till I went to bed. “Actually,” I answered, “I heard he’s not on the force, resigned or on disability or something like that. He’s not working lately.”
“There you go. Problem solved!” He took a quick swig of his whiskey and winked at me.
“It’s not solved! He’s still doing it I’m sure. He needs to be reported.”
“Well I guess that’s up to you, isn’t it? But I think you’d be smart enough to stay out of other folks’ business. I guaranty you it’ll come back and bite you on the ass.”
“That’s not all I saw.” I told him about seeing the men in the woods and the little girls they’d brought with them.
Sergeant Brownard didn’t look up. He kept his eye on his glass and slowly turned it around in a circular pattern on the table. I saw the muscles tighten in his neck and his right hand squeezed the glass harder.
We sat there in silence. Finally, he looked up and I saw a pale sheen of perspiration on his forehead.
“Sometimes things are just best left alone.” “So, you know what I’m talking about?” I asked.
He didn’t answer my question. “If I were you, I’d forget about anything you think you saw. Nobody around here will back your story. You’re just looking to get yourself hurt.”
I sat up straighter and stared at him until he looked up. “Who’s going to hurt me?” I wanted to know.
Sergeant Brownard looked away. “There are some people here that do some things we might not agree with. But it’s their business and as long as they stay away from my family, I just let them be.”
“So, it’s okay for them to abuse little children in the state system because nobody cares about them? That’s what you’re saying.”
He sighed. “Some people are just born with bad luck. You know? They have nothing going for them from day one. It’s like they’re born for someone else to victimize. Poor and unwanted. What can I say? You can’t save the world.”
I held onto my glass suddenly feeling nauseous as if something was rummaging in my insides. “It’s wrong. I don’t understand how anyone could do that to a child.”
Sergeant Brownard swirled his glass and took another drink. “Like I said, people have different ways of doing things, different beliefs about what’s wrong or right. Maybe they don’t see anything wrong with it. It doesn’t make them bad people in other ways. Most of them are good, law-abiding, church goers too. They help out this city any way they can.”
“So, you know who they are? The men I saw in the woods?”
“Maybe,” he answered. “It doesn’t matter if I do or don’t. Just remember I told you some of them run this city and they won’t take too kindly to your meddling. They’ll want to put a stop to your snooping around.”
“I can’t just pretend I didn’t see it. Somebody needs to know and stop it.” I said, angry now. Sergeant Brownard drained his drink, “You don’t have much choice, do you? Unless you’re ready for the consequences. Besides, you don’t know who those men are. Do you?”
I looked up in surprise remembering the masks. The only one I knew for sure was Richard, but that was a start.
His eyes narrowed and he leaned across the table. “Remember what I told you when I hired you. The biggest part of your job is to back up your brother officers. We’re your family. You always take care of
your family. Do you remember that?” I nodded slightly.
“Well from my point of view you owe me big time and you know it. I really stuck my neck out so you could get your job. You wouldn’t be sitting here talking to me if you didn’t know we have our own secrets. That means you don’t want to cause any problems for me or anybody else. Right? You start reporting people and yapping about what you think you saw, and all hell will break loose here once it gets out. I guarantee you. I don’t know what things were like where you came from, but just remember people around here get rid of their problems.”
Sergeant Brownard stood up and held onto the side of the table. He leaned over toward me, lowering his voice even more. “Nobody’s forgotten about your little incident with that queer either. I had to do some fast talking for you, or things could have gone a lot worse.”
I stared at him wordlessly, thinking that my good intentions were pointless. According to what I’d just heard, I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to stop crime or help someone else commit it.
He stood, staring down at me. “You just remember what I told you. I owe people too; the kind of people that let some of your mistakes slide by so you can keep on living your life. Do you understand girly? I owe them a warning about you, that you’re thinking about causing some problems for a lot of people you don’t even know. I can guaranty they won’t like it, but I can’t tell you what they’re gonna do about it.”
He gave me a long meaningful look, and I could feel my heart begin to beat harder. “None of those dirty little kids or the guy you say got a beat down in the woods are worth it. You think long and hard.” He stood up and walked toward the door.
I sat there shaking and ordered another drink, changing from whiskey to gin, insuring myself of a terrible headache to match the pain in my stomach. As it turned out, I by-passed the headache; I’d barely finished my drink when I ran to the small musty bathroom and vomited into the stained porcelain toilet. Feeling beaten and exhausted, I drove home thinking about how good it would feel to stretch out in my bed and hide,
When I pulled into the driveway, I could see the two skinny teenagers who’d just moved into the front house, sweeping up the litter in the walkway. The woman I figured was their mother, was watering the dry weeds that grew robustly in the dirt that bordered the house. I sat for a moment in my car and watched them working. They looked like they were enjoying themselves, stopping to make a few dance moves in time to the music coming from the small boom box that sat on the crumbling staircase. Their mother who had the same tall stooped string bean frame, looked over their way every few minutes and smiled, aiming her patched garden hose at a different plot of brown strawlike weeds. I could see those two were her pride and joy and boy did I envy them right now. I remembered that I needed to take my father to the doctor tomorrow. He was slipping fast.
He wasn’t sitting in the front room and he didn’t answer when I called out. I knocked on his closed bedroom door, but he didn’t answer that either. I walked toward my room and saw that the door was wide open. All the dresser drawers had been dumped out and were sitting overturned and empty on the bed, and my bras and panties were scatted on the floor. Blouses and other clothes were flung every which way.
I didn’t see the bottles of pills anywhere. I checked the toes of my shoes, but they were empty.
I ran back to his room and opened the door. He was lying curled up on his side the way he always slept, a skeleton in a sea of twisted blankets. I called out to him,
“Dad, wake up.” I didn’t remember calling him Dad before, but now the word flowed easily as if it had been waiting all this time to come out of my mouth. I called him again and then tapped him on his shoulder. His pillow was covered with stains and sent out a foul odor that mingled with the smell of his blankets and filled the room. I felt my eyes beginning to tear up; I could have washed the bedclothes for him. Why didn’t I?
He still didn’t move, so I grasped his bony arm and turned him face-up. I heard a voice scream out in shock and I realized it was mine. His face was a pale gray; the color must have left it sometime ago, and his eyes were wide open, staring unfocused at the ceiling. His body felt tense under my hand and he wasn’t breathing or moving as I jumped back from the bed.
I backed up and watched his body for some sign of movement, but there wasn’t any. Slowly I walked over to the side of the bed and hesitantly put my fingers around his wrist. There was no pulse under that paper thin, white skin.
Numbly, I called an ambulance giving them my officer ID and they were there in minutes to pronounce him dead. The ambulance driver made a few calls and the coroner appeared and loaded him on a gurney, taking away the body. Just like that, he was gone, as if he’d never existed at all. I sat in the chair he always sat in and kept the lights off. As I watched, the shadows began to creep across the floor of my small living room. As they crept, they darkened the cheap beige carpet like a drop of dark ink dissolving slowly in a cup of water. When the room was completely dark, I pulled out the last bottle of whiskey left in the cupboard and poured myself a full glass.
I sipped slowly as tears slid down my cheeks. I didn’t bother to wipe them away. I’d lost both of my parents without ever really knowing either one. The nagging thought that I could have done something more, just some little thing like changing his sheets, maybe making him more comfortable, maybe taken him to the doctor sooner, kept pushing its way into my mind.
I tried to focus on who I knew he was, an alcoholic, a drug addict, a convicted child molester, and the father who deserted me. I told myself I’d bought him some peace with the pills. The look of relief in his eyes when he swallowed and escaped this place for a little while, was all he ever wanted. Nobody would ever expect anything from him again.
I dozed in the chair and woke up to a knock on the front door. The woman from the front house stood there with one of her teenagers who held out a casserole dish.
“I’m sorry for your loss. I saw them carry out the body,” she said, looking down at her feet in torn rubber sandals. “We brought you something to eat. Thought you might be hungry.”
My face flushed as I remembered what my father said about not wanting to live next door to them. Their poverty passed down from mother to children; years of rejection, secondhand clothes and the reminder that even white trash like my father had no use for them, must have eaten away their self-worth. But it hadn’t touched their humanity. I thanked them and watched them walk back to the front house. The driveway and lawn were swept clean of trash. All the shrubbery was trimmed back, and the floorboards on the old rotting porch shone in the moonlight as if they’d been painted. I put the casserole in the refrigerator and dug out the money I had been hoarding from my hiding place. I carefully counted it out and bundled it for deposit in the bank.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

When the morning light finally peeked through my living room blinds, I woke from a light sleep and took an ice-cold shower to clear out the dull fuzzy feeling in my head. I poured the rest of a mostly finished bottle and then drank a cup of black coffee to get my head in shape for the long day ahead.
I checked the directory for funeral homes and then called around to see how much they would charge to pick up the body and prepare it for burial. At first, I started at the low end of the scale; my usual habit, picking the least costly way to go. Then a wave of sadness hit me. My father lived such a deprived life, not much better than my mother in the Philippines, even though he lived here in the United States. They’d both long ago given up their right to live any kind of comfortable life or maybe they just lived out their birth right; a one-way ticket to live in poverty until their death.
After calling around and asking about funeral and burial prices, I settled on The Briarwood Funeral Home, because somebody on the other end of the phone was nice enough to explain the burial process to me and told me that I could pay in installments. I didn’t feel right about buying a cheap burial package for my father, even though it was right in line with a cop’s pay. I told them all right away that I was a cop, used to getting some kind of break in just about the cost of everything.
I figured that in his death my father deserved a taste of the money I’d stashed. A little of it was his. Guilt is very persuasive when it finally comes and settles in. After the funeral home offered me a large deduction if I paid up front in cash, I made arrangements to have the body moved there. Then I drove downtown to the Coroner’s Office and stood in a white-tiled room surrounded by polished stainless steel as cold as the inside of my refrigerator, and identified the pale shrunken body lying on a metal pallet as my father. A young Asian man handed me the death certificate that said my father died of natural causes. I watched them pull the sheet back over his emaciated body and wondered what that really meant.
I started out driving again, looking for a cemetery. For the first time since I’d lived here, I visited the old cemeteries in the Garden District, the Lafayette, and the St. Louis, before heading out of town. I’d never been to a cemetery before. My mother saw to that. She was terrified of the ghosts she said that sat on the graves and waited to lure visitors over and then forced them into the gravesite below.
That day I joined the lines of perspiring tourists from the mid-west with their sun-burned skin and sweaty underarms, wearing Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts. I stood next to them staring in amazement at the tall, sometimes crumbling, granite and concrete headstones, many years old, crowded together under the broiling mid-day sun, fenced off by wrought iron. I listened as a young white woman with many turquoise piercings and long blonde braids, who served as a tour guide, enthusiastically recited the history of the graveyard. It was a long and tedious tale for the tourists, who were fighting for a few inches of shade in the shadows of the tombs. She explained that the dead here were buried above ground, but that some cement tombs housed others who were buried below the surface.
I was pretty sure that my father wouldn’t want to be buried in the ground with a ton of cement sealing him in the earth. He’d complained about the tight space in my little back house. Besides, that was no longer an option here. They’d run out of room a long time ago.
I headed out of the city quickly and headed for an old cemetery that I heard a couple of the tourists talking about while they pointed to one of the throw-away maps that the guides handed out. They said that this cemetery was the place where they buried the homeless and the destitute that had no family to care what happened to their body. The cemetery was a tourist attraction because it was so old that quite a few Buffalo Soldiers were buried in the rear of the grounds.
As I pulled up to the front office, I saw it abutted a wide green field, containing neat rows of tombs as far as you could see. Fresh flowers surrounded many of the tombs. A number of the tombs were covered with makeshift wooden crosses, and feathers and rocks. I knew by now that meant that someone was worshipping voodoo. I decided that this pastoral place packed with greenery, where the only sound you heard was the chirping of birds, was where I would bury him, no matter what it cost.
One thing I knew from experience, was that when you deal in cash with businesses, they pretty much give you whatever you ask for. Although I gulped when they told me the price of the burial, I handed over the total in cash. This caught the cemetery director’s attention and he left his office to check me out and see where the money was coming from. I showed him my police badge to seal the deal. Satisfied that I wasn’t bringing marked money directly from a bank robbery, he gave me a contract to sign and made arrangements to hold the funeral service next week.
Then I drove back home and called in sick for my watch. I gathered up all the money that I’d saved and drove straight to the bank. I opened another account and deposited all of it, except for a couple of thousand.
Back at my house, I sat on my porch and stared down the driveway. The teenagers in front were washing the windows, stopping occasionally to flick water-soaked rags at each other. Their laughter and offkey voices singing along to the music from their radio, filled my head and body and pushed back some of my anxiety.
Whenever the young teenage girl got hit with water, she shrieked happily, and chased her brother around the little patch of dried brush in the front yard.
If I closed my eyes, I could see the children back home in the Philippines, playing in the trash-strewn alley, sailing paper boats along the trickling stream of water that came partially from the leakage of the outdoor toilets. While they kneeled in the filthy water, they weren’t just poor ragged children covered with bug bites, who probably wouldn’t eat that night. They were their ship’s commanders, and right there in that moment, they controlled their little paper ships traveling on their voyage along the gutter. And that was all that mattered.
Feeling a little steadier, I went back into the house and pulled out the Police Directory that was handed out when I was hired. I ran my finger over the titles, stopping at Deputy Superintendent. With my heart beating, I dialed the main number and then the extension for the Deputy’s office. A woman’s voice came on the phone telling me to leave a message. I hung up quickly, feeling guilty about the call as soon as I heard her voice.
I unpacked the two bottles of whiskey I’d bought on the way home and poured a shot. A few minutes later, I felt my confidence come back and I dialed the number again. The same voice answered and asked me to leave a message. I hung up again, and then I realized that I probably would never get past the Deputy’s secretary even if I ever reached her.
Trying to figure out what to do, I paced around the small living room studying the walls that suddenly seemed so bare without any pictures. Without realizing it, I’d gotten used to seeing my father sitting propped up in the recliner with a glass in his hand, head slumped onto his chest. I picked up the phone to try and reach Raleigh again. Pride gets pushed back when you feel you hit bottom.
Just as I started to call him, I heard music and laughter from the front house, and I hung up the phone. I flipped through my address book and looked up Ms.
Devereux’s daughter’s number and dialed. I reached an answering machine, so I left a message. “Hi, this is your tenant, Genie Holmes. You know me, I live in the back house. I know you weren’t planning to sell your house just now. I see you rented it out, but I’m ready to buy it cash just the way it is.” I left my phone number and hung up.
Then I sat down and began to write a letter to the Deputy Superintendent. It took me a few hours because I kept tearing up the pages and starting over. I wasn’t sure just how to put my choking anger into words. I needed to make him see that what was happening to Beth and other children was more than just some kids who nobody wanted being used for sex.
Not sure how to begin my letter, I started at the beginning by telling him who I was and how I’d come to see what I saw in the woods. When I started to describe what I saw Richard doing with Beth, I hesitated again and tried to think of a way not to use his name. But I couldn’t think of another way to tell it unless I explained how I came to know Richard and be in his home, which was also how I came to see what was going on in the woods that night with the masked men.
So, I kept on writing, using Richard’s name, and repeating what he’d told me about “the important people,” that might be a part of what I saw. I pointed out that I’d kept a journal, which I wrote in regularly, that described in detail both of the incidents I witnessed, and the people involved, and all the other incidents involving police conduct where I thought the police were in the wrong.
I even brought up Bennett and how I thought that the cops were responsible for his death. I explained that I wrote in the journal with great care, using names and dates so that nothing I saw would be forgotten. After a couple of hours, I had a draft that seemed to read well and make sense, so I copied it over in my best handwriting the way they showed us to prepare a report during my police training. Satisfied, I folded the two sheets of stationary and sealed the envelope, leaving my house to drop it in the mailbox in front of the nearest post office.
I felt more certain that I’d done the right thing and I had a duty to report what I saw, in spite of what Brownard told me about “having the other guy’s back.” I called in sick for the week, using my father’s death as the reason.
“Sorry for your loss.” The voice on the other end said. “If there’s anything you need, I’ll send one of the officers by. Just say so.”
I settled down in the recliner and turned on the television. The phone rang again. This time it was Mrs.
Devereaux’s daughter, Candace, calling from Los Angles. “Do you really want to buy that old place? I was planning to hang on to it till the price goes up, and we need the rent money down here. The cost of living is through the roof.”
I told her that I did want to buy it badly, and I wanted to close the deal as soon as possible. I guess that surprised her. “Well I just want to know, you being a cop and all. Why do you want to buy that old place? I mean the house is pretty beat up. Most of the young working people want to live closer to where all the action is. You make enough money to move
somewhere else, don’t you?”
I told her that I wanted the house because my father just died, and that when he was living with me, he always admired it. Poor man, he’d wanted to live in a house like that all his life I told her. He said it just needed a little work, and he would have loved to do it if he had the chance. It was an amateur attempt to appeal to her sensitive side, but I figured a little white lie was okay if it worked.
Apparently, her sensitive side was not impressed. “He lived with you there in the back house?” she sounded agitated.
“Yes, he did. Till he died.” I told her, adding that the funeral was in a couple of days.
“Well you never let me know,” she whined. “I know my mother told you when you moved in you couldn’t have anybody staying there with you. If you did, we were entitled to extra rent. You just never told me!”
“He was sick, and I was busy taking care of him…. what with work and all.” I let my voice trail off.
“Well now I’ve lost out on a lot of rent.” She snapped back. “That’s flat out stealing from me.”
I could feel my arms tensing up against my sides. “Don’t accuse me of stealing! You’re the thief here. Look at the shape the front house is in, and you rented it out without fixing anything. You’re lucky somebody didn’t get killed trying to go up the front stairs. I’m going to make a list of all the building code violations in that place and help the tenants report you. The city would slap a hell of a lot of fines on you and stop you from collecting rent until you made the place livable.” “Report me? They wouldn’t dare, not that welfare queen and her illegitimate children. I got the scoop on them from the real estate lady that rented it for me. If that woman opened her mouth, I’d evict her so fast her head would spin.”
“Well maybe I’ll go and report you then. You’re not ever going to evict me. I’ll fight you every step of the way, and you’ll have to come back here to fight me in court. You’ll have a hard time in this town evicting a police officer that complained to the city about the shithole you’re renting out. Me and your tenants could just live here for free forever. How’s that?”
She was quiet on the line, digesting what I just told her.
“And you want to buy it as is?” She finally spoke. “That’s what I said.”
“Well I don’t know,” she hesitated. “What about the rent you owe for your father staying there? What about that?”
I lowered my voice. “You never know, maybe something might happen to your houses; an electrical fire or a flood inside, because somebody left the water running. I bet you don’t have insurance for that do you?”
I heard her gasp and I could imagine her pale skin flushing and her double chin trembling. “That’s against the law! You can’t threaten me.”
I stood up and stretched out the phone cord. “Don’t consider it a threat. Accidents happen all the time. Why don’t you give me the name of the real estate company you use here? I’ll deal with them myself, and we won’t have to talk again.”
She muttered under her breath. Something about how I was a dirty cop and a bitch as well, but she ended up giving me the name and phone number of the local realtor who’d rented the house before she slammed down the phone.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

My father’s funeral was on Friday, and it was biting cold and overcast with a heavy damp mist that covered the gray patches of sky. I didn’t sleep much the night before, and by four o’clock in the morning, I was sitting and drinking coffee in my little kitchen. Three hours later, I still sat staring out the window, watching as the two teenagers from the front house started off to school and their mother began sweeping down the porch, just the way she did every morning when I was awake to watch.
I dressed in my dark navy pants and shirt and skipped most of my usual make-up. I felt somber and beaten down and I wanted to look just like I felt. The traffic was light, and it took no time at all to reach the cemetery. I parked and looked around. Scattered groups of families stood by other graves, some in the midst of holding a funeral presided over by clergy. Other individuals placed flowers or simply sat in the grass or on folding chairs in the weak morning sunshine.
The burial site I bought for my father sat on a small incline not far from an overhanging tree with large fanlike green leaves tipped with yellow. I wasn’t expecting anybody else to come. I didn’t know any of his friends or even if he had friends anymore. I was pretty sure I didn’t either. I hadn’t thought of flowers. Feeling guilty, I looked around and when I saw nobody was watching, I quickly pulled a few pink carnations from a clay pot next to a large marble tomb a few yards away.
I watched several hearses drive by, polished black, and gleaming in the sunshine, followed by long snaking lines of late model cars with orange funeral stickers in the window. Some of the processions were led by motorcycle cops that I recognized, moonlighting as funeral security. The people who get buried here have money I thought.
The cost of his burial made me choke if I thought about it. It was ironic that in the end my father managed to join the people who had always pushed him aside. He was finally mixing with old money and I guess he would have appreciated that somebody else was paying for it.
It hadn’t been that easy finding a reverend to perform the service. The first question they kept asking me was, “What church do you attend?” I guess most of them didn’t like my answer. Not being a member of any church seemed to put the brakes on their availability.
After a few calls though, I had it wired, and I thought I had an idea about what to say. I told them that my father was a native of their parish and he’d been traveling the country speaking about the glory of the Confederacy, when he had a heart attack and died suddenly. I told them that it was his dying wish to have the reverend from their parish perform his burial service. After that little speech, there were quite a few “well bless his soul,” and “long live the Confederacy,” responses, and after a few calls, I heard “Ma’am our reverend would be honored to do it. A Vietnam vet too, did you say?”
The reverend pulled up exactly on time in a late model Mercedes, followed by the mortuary hearse. I stepped back as the casket was unloaded and hoisted onto the polished runners next to the cement blocks. The reverend was an older white man, with closely clipped gray hair, and ruddy skin. “I’m Colton Block from Unity in Zion Baptist Church,” he said in a smooth buttery voice. “You spoke to my staff on the phone, and I agreed to conduct the service today.” He held out his hand pointedly.
I stared for a few moments not understanding. Then my face red with embarrassment, I opened my purse and counted out the bills, remembering what I’d been told he charged.
“Cash, that’s nice. Too many people using plastic these days. God appreciates direct tidings. Credit’s an affront to the Lord. The Lord doesn’t like anything that’s too easy for his followers. People need to work hard and suffer for what they get.” He flipped the bills between his fingers, and seeming satisfied, he folded them and put them in his pocket. “Are you expecting any more mourners?”
I looked across the internment space a few rows down at another service that had just started. The people were still coming to the gravesite; I estimated about four hundred. The metal folding chairs were all taken. And the flowers!
I shook my head. “This is it,” and he nodded and went to stand by the coffin. It was just me and the reverend, and my father in the coffin.
For the next twenty minutes, Reverend Block talked about this man he did not know, from the sketchy information I’d given him. Facing me, he began his long and winding homage about my father having led an exemplary life serving his country and how he was a distinguished veteran and a blessing to his family. He talked about how faithful my father had been in service to the Lord and how generous he was to the church.
“God knows how much his daughter will miss him.”
Reverend Block wound down the ceremony by quoting some passages that I knew vaguely were from the Bible, but I had no idea what they meant or how they connected to my father.
I looked down at the highly polished wood of the coffin and wondered what my father would think of all this praise, and whether he was somewhere close by watching. I wondered if all this was enough to make up for everything I should have done and maybe everything I had done.
Suddenly Reverend Block stopped talking and I realized the service was over. He stepped back from the grave site, leaned over, and picked up a handful of dirt, sprinkling it on top of the casket. He motioned for me to do the same. I moved closer and tossed a few pebbles onto the casket. Then I placed the carnations on the top. Reverend Block walked over and shook my hand without letting go. Holding my hand between his twowhite large-knuckled ones, he asked me if I wanted to donate any more to his church. When I told him I didn’t, he scratched his head looking puzzled. Then shrugged and walked away.
I sat down and watched the casket being set into the cement. It was a perfect day; thin steams of sunshine peeked through feathery clouds hovering over the burial field. The field itself was covered in emerald green grass still moist with the last rain. I envied my father his peace and wondered when I could stop running. When I looked up, I saw the workers who were pouring cement staring and whispering, so I finally stood up feeling self-conscious and walked away.
I drove around for a while slowly, up and down the streets and alleys of the Ninth Ward. I looked out my windshield, watching the people sitting on their porches or on folding chairs propped up in front of their houses, some of them scurrying up and down the blocks, furtively settling their scores and transacting their business.
For a little while I’d felt at home here. I guess a prostitute’s child doesn’t rise very far above her class in one generation. But now some time had passed and the poorly dressed people living here, commiserating in their poverty, looked like strangers to me.
I stopped on the way home, and bought a few more bottles of whiskey, hoping to spend the next couple of days indoors hiding away. As I turned the corner a late model silver Grand Prix pulled into the driveway and a short trim black woman wearing a tweed suit and black patent leather high heels, stepped carefully onto the crumbling concrete. Looking around she patted her hair and reached inside her purse to remove a lipstick. Using the side mirror, she bent over and carefully applied color to her plump lips. Then she straightened up and turned to look in my direction.
She introduced herself as Mrs. Stribling, the real estate agent who’d rented out the front house for Mrs. Devereux’s daughter. She was grand-motherly with a wide smile displaying too-large dentures. “Hello, hello,” she chirped. I’m here to see if we can get this house over to someone who can take care of it.”
So, we sat together in my little kitchen and she told me the asking price for the property that included the front and back house. I’d looked at prices in the real estate ads and the asking price was on the high side, but I didn’t want to wait around. I made a counteroffer which was what I heard was done and she passed it on to Mrs. Devereux using my phone. I made sure Mrs. Stribling knew I was a police officer. After the first time I mentioned it, she raised her eyebrows and told me she hoped I’d catch a lot of bad criminals so she could feel safe in her neighborhood again.
Giggling, she told me she hoped that no bad men raped her before we caught them. She said that she’d call me when she heard back from her client.
The first night back at work I was still shaking from all the drinking I’d done most of the days and all of the nights since the funeral. I knew something was up right away. I guess I felt it from the time I opened the door and sat down for roll call. It wasn’t that the other guys ignored me; they did that anyway. Even Mary-Alazia hardly spoke to me anymore when we ran into each other. But that started before this, and I thought it had to do mostly with Raleigh, since he had somebody new.
Today the other cops already in the room looked me in the eyes outright, staring hard, nudging each other, and whispering. Even the watch commander gave me a long stare when I sat down. I could feel the disapproval in his eyes, and something else more like anger and disgust.
The cop sitting next to me, an older white guy, who sometimes gave me a quick sideways smile as if he was afraid someone would see, moved his chair away as far as possible as soon as I sat down. The man sitting on the other side of me, a young good-looking black recruit, followed his example and got up and moved to the back row. So, I knew something was up.
The watch commander slogged through the usual information, mostly dealing with the outstanding events on the previous watch and then asked for volunteers to serve a few warrants. I raised my hand so that everybody could see that I was willing to do my share, but I raised it uncomfortably, remembering all too well, how everything went down when I went to serve the last warrant. The watch commander looked over my head and chose two of the newer officers sitting directly in front of me.
After writing something in his large yellow tablet, the watch commander began his usual last-lecture-of the evening. He complained that arrests were down, because officers weren’t putting their best effort into catching criminals, and how next year’s budget would be affected because of our laziness. This time he added that the city was looking at possible layoffs when the next budget proposals came up on the ballot, and management was not planning to fill the vacated positions of this year’s retirees.
I was surprised at their plan, thinking about the lack of cops on the street now, and all of the crime that went on in the apartment building where I’d lived with Rory. Then I remembered that it was pretty much black on black crime that nobody else cared about.
When he reached the end of his talk, the watch commander asked for volunteers to participate in a door to door search for a missing two-year old girl. Apparently, she’d wandered away from foster care, but hadn’t been reported missing for over a day. Now that I thought about it, some little kid went missing at least once a week and it seemed they always turned up dead.
Nobody raised their hand, so I raised mine. The watch commander looked around the room, his eyes roaming from face to face expectantly, hopeful he could entice someone to raise their arm. When no one did, I raised mine again. He looked over my head again and then back to me. He frowned as his eyes focused on my raised arm. “Well I don’t see anybody else, so Holmes you are it, I guess.”
“Arguelles, I don’t have an assignment for you yet, so you’re going with her tonight. That’s it for now. Any questions?”
The room was silent, except for the sound of metal chairs scraping against the concrete floor, and slowly the men seated rose and lumbered without enthusiasm toward the door to begin their watch. I hung back and a tall thin officer, with a heavy beard beginning to sprout on his recently shaved face, came up to me and told me he was Officer Arguelles. We walked together to the assignment window and picked up our information. I picked up the packet with data on the missing girl and Arguelles checked out our vehicle and automatically climbed into the driver’s seat.
Hesitating a little, I buckled up and asked him how long he had been on the force. He told me he’d been here a little over a month, and that he’d transferred from Houston, because his wife got a teaching job in Benjamin Franklin High School. I asked him what he was looking to do in the future, and he told me he was going for detective as soon as he had a little more time under his belt.
Following that, neither one of us spoke until we arrived at the neighborhood where the little girl had disappeared. After parking, he turned off the engine and looked over at me. “I guess I expected you to be a different kind of person,” he told me “Different? What do you mean?”
“Well they’re saying a lot of things. Lots of talk going on. You know.”
“What kind of talk?” I asked.
He looked down embarrassed and swallowed, his large Adam’s apple pressed forward against his throat and then receded. “I guess I shouldn’t say. I’m new here, still feeling my way around, and I don’t know very many people yet. This isn’t Houston for sure.”
I thought his large brown eyes looked kind. “I need to know what they’re saying.” I pushed on.
He sighed. “There’s gossip everywhere, I guess. It was like that in my old precinct too. But the people were different there. Not so closed off like here. They don’t much like strangers or probably women either. Right?”
“No, I guess they don’t like women. You’re right about that.”
He nodded. “Well you don’t look or seem like a snitch or a rat to me,” he said turning away.
“Is that what they’re saying?”
“Just that you’re trouble. That you don’t back up the uniform when they need you…some incident with a guy that got arrested. A homosexual?” I nodded my head and waited.
“And then something real recent, that you complained about a fellow officer all the way to the top brass. They say you wrote a letter, and you talked about some high mucky mucks, that you thought were involved in some stuff.” He turned away looking ashamed. “I really don’t like to talk about gossip, but I felt like you didn’t know. You should know these things. You should know for your own …” His voice trailed off.
“Well I guess that’s why everybody’s whispering about me,” I told him.
“They sure don’t trust you,” he said. “And don’t want to work with you either. I guess I can’t blame them for that. I’d be real careful with somebody I couldn’t trust myself.” He stepped out of the car. “It’s just that I heard that they might be planning something. You need to watch out.”
“Planning what?” I could feel my heart starting to beat faster. It was the same feeling I had before each of my fights; except this time, it was a real fear of something unknown.
“I don’t know,” he shook his head. “I’m not exactly an insider myself,” he reminded me. “So, I don’t know what you really did to them or what they think you did.”
“I didn’t do anything to them. It has nothing to do with them. I just reported a crime I witnessed. Two crimes. One of them involved an officer on the force.”
Arguelles nodded his head slowly. “Well that explains why they think you broke the code. No cop rats out another cop no matter what. Especially like that! I gotta admit that takes balls, writing a letter. That’s really something.”
“I had to tell somebody to try and stop it. Sex crimes are being committed against kids, and it’s all being kept on the down low.” I tried to explain, to make him see why I did it.
I could see the Deputy Superintendent’s secretary reading my letter and immediately calling the other secretaries that worked in the executive office and telling them what I wrote. From there on, it was like a long chain of re-tells reaching across people I didn’t know, to the patrol officers who I did know.
Arguelles looked around before he spoke. “Just watch your back. Most of these guys think protecting a fellow officer is more important than stopping crime or helping out kids…. or whatever.”
We didn’t talk about it for the rest of the evening, because the calls started coming in at breakneck speed. We broke up a couple of drunken fights in the clubs and arrested a few prostitutes who had just finished rolling an older tourist. We stopped a young woman for making threats in a bar and ended up arresting her for selling cocaine and assaulting the bartender with a knife.
After leaving the station where we booked the prostitutes, we stopped a speeding car, and while Arguelles was running the plates, the driver, a heavyset young black man, took off running, dropping his glasses on the street. I chased him down easily, but he struggled and took me to the ground where we rolled around on the hard-cracked pavement.
While we fought, Arguelles tried to separate us at gunpoint. I finally pinned the man’s arm by snapping it and then gave him two strong kicks to the torso that broke his ribs. We started dragging him to the patrol car cuffed for transport when I felt my anger kick in again.
I propped the man up against the car and pounded blow after blow across his face while he screamed. Once I started, I couldn’t stop, and I kicked him again and again in his already broken ribs. I made sure he was watching when I located his glasses by the door of his car and stomped on them until they were smashed into pieces.
After the suspect passed out, Arguelles pulled me off him and stuffed him in the back of the patrol car. I filled out the arrest report stating that the suspect had resisted arrest and that he told us he’d been injured in a recent fight at the time we stopped him. Arguelles never said a word. He signed off and just kept staring at me. When we punched out for the night, he told me that maybe transferring to this precinct wasn’t such a good idea.
“You people down here are just plain crazy. I never fought a guy like that back home when I was in uniform,” was the last thing he told me before he walked away.
With every tender muscle in my body crying out in pain, sore all over and covered in sweat, I looked in the mirror and saw that my face and arms were bruised and scratched from struggling with the man we arrested. Knowing that all of this had been unnecessary, and not understanding what had set me off, I splashed water on my face trying to refresh myself in the tiny bathroom set aside for women. When I finished washing-up, I dried my face with paper towels. After changing into my tennis shoes to drive back home, I started walking toward the rear parking lot.
The early morning air was still damp, and I could see the asphalt covered with wet mist. The sweetscented smell of oleanders wafted from the large bushes planted in front of the businesses that bordered the station.
I was thinking about going to the Quarter for a while to kill some time, instead of going home to my lonely house, when the sound of a fire engine siren blasted through the air. Three fire engines and a hook and ladder truck came flying up the street at top speed, one behind the other, like a parade of shrill screaming metal beasts. I looked out across the lot and saw that my car was the only one parked in the employee section. Everybody else had disappeared as soon as they punched out. The big brass and the few support staff that worked nights, parked close to the side of the station in a separate lot where they could avoid any running into the public.
I looked past my parked car, watching the fire trucks speeding by, when suddenly a loud noise filled my head and a brilliant red ball of light burst from my car and exploded. A huge wave of fire followed the burst of light and black smoke seeped in around the edges of the fire shooting upward into the sky. Within minutes, my car was covered in flames and burning steadily. The blaze filled the darkness with a brilliant orange and red glow.
I stood there in shock watching my car burn, trying to figure out what had happened. Then I turned around and walked back to the station for help. The watch commander called for a fire truck that showed up after most of the shooting flames had burned out.
They doused my car and the area around it, so all you could see was billowing black smoke covering part of the parking lot.
I stood there and watched numbly until one of the guys operating the hose, said that it was safe for his men to go in close and have a look.
After a few minutes, one of the men called out in a loud voice. “Come check this out.” The rest of the men left the truck they were standing by and went over to my car. I saw them run back to their truck and gather around the driver, so I went over to see what was going on. “We’re calling the bomb squad from Lafayette!” One of them yelled out excitedly.
Nobody was allowed near my car, which now was reduced to a heap of black twisted metal. Ashes and charred metal pieces covered the area around it and an occasional red ember popped out momentarily, shooting toward the sky.
One of the property clerks brought us watereddown coffee in Styrofoam cups while we waited. Around an hour passed and finally a mud-colored Crown Vic pulled into the lot and two men in plain clothes got out. They were middle-aged white men, clearly pissed off at being called out to a parking lot at this hour.
They went straight to the remaining fire fighter and they all huddled together next to my car. Finally, one of the men in an oversize gray overcoat and wire rim glasses called for the owner.
The other man carried an open tool kit a careful distance from his beige turtleneck sweater. He held up a round cylinder with wires poking out of the sides.
“You the owner? See this?” He gestured, extending the cylinder toward me. “You’re one lucky girl I tell you!”
“Why? What is that?” I asked, suddenly thinking I knew.
“This here is a timer explosive. They set them off remotely with a special control somewhere away from the bomb or the ignition sets it off when you turn on the car. But sometimes they go off without the remote when something goes wrong.”
The man in the overcoat took off his glasses and pointed at the fire truck which was pulling out of the yard. “The gentlemen who put out this fire said three engines were driving by and that might have been what set it off prematurely.”
“You mean it’s a bomb?” I asked in shock.
“Yep,” he replied. “That’s just what it is. Looks like it was set to go off when the ignition switch turned over. Maybe all the noise made it turn on. Something did. You sure are lucky,” he said again. “I guess it’s not your day to die.”
The other man put his glasses back on and looked me over carefully. “I’m gonna have this hunk towed back to our precinct and I’ll file my report. Can I see some ID?”
I handed him my identification and my badge, still staring at my car, while the man in the turtleneck, sitting in the Crown Vic called the tow truck. “A fellow officer, huh?” he chuckled blinking behind his glasses. “Don’t see too many like you. Who did you piss off so bad they want you dead?”
I shook my head and feeling somebody standing next to me, I turned to look.
The watch captain stood a few feet from me his arms folded over his chest. He looked at me and smiled. “Bad landing, I guess. But any time you can walk away from a landing, they say it’s a good landing anyway. Wouldn’t you agree? By the way I’ll have a patrol unit go by your house every couple of hours to make sure there’s no funny business.”
I returned to the station and sat waiting, sick to my stomach, while a new officer slowly and painfully filled out a police report on the destruction of my vehicle. Then I sat some more in the lobby waiting for one of the cadets from the academy assigned to take me home.
The feeling of hanging suspended in space, and being totally numb, lasted a while longer and then I began to think about what really happened. Somebody wired my car to kill me, to blow me to pieces when I started it. The explosive went off by mistake before it was supposed to. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting here watching the parade of uniforms bustling around. Who would go that far to see me dead?
It was the letter I told myself. Somebody in the department didn’t like me telling what I’d seen. I’d been warned; but I didn’t listen. It had to be the letter. Now what? I asked myself, as a skinny pimply cadet on assignment to the Commander’s office, left his mountainous stack of filing on the rickety metal desk in the supply room to drive me home. “You sure are lucky,” he told me in an envious tone.
I looked back at him confused. “Lucky? Do you want to change places with me and have somebody try to kill you?”
He flushed bright red, down to his strawberry blonde hair that was short and slick, covering a bumpy scalp. “I just meant you know…. that it didn’t happen.
That’s all.”
I didn’t bother to answer him as I got out of the car. The street was quiet, and the front house looked wellscrubbed and deserted. Somebody had nailed up the railing by the stairs and put boards over the rotting steps. A few pink flowers that I didn’t recognize had sprouted in the dirt near the porch.
With my head throbbing, I managed to get back to my house and open the door. After pulling down the shades, I threw myself across the bed with my clothes on. I didn’t need a drink that morning to fall into a deep sleep and dream of fire shooting from the sky. It came down in beautiful bursts of red and orange and burned the skin off my body.
The phone woke me sometime in the late afternoon. I guess it was ringing for a while, because I could still hear the shrill tone that I’d heard in my sleep. I sat up groggily and looked around. Covered with sweat, my eyes crusted over and my mouth full of the rancid taste of stomach acid, I staggered out of bed and reached for the phone just as the caller was about to hang up. “Hello,” I croaked hoarsely.
“Hello!” The voice was chirpy and invigorated.
“This is Mrs. Stribling, your friendly realtor. “How are you today?”
“Great, just great,” I told her.
“Well every day is a good day in the name of our
Lord,” she informed me. “Don’t you agree?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“You’re probably wondering why I called and what’s going on with the property aren’t you? Well I called to give you some good news. Your landlady says she’s ready to sell at the price you offered. My, my, isn’t that good news?”
“Yes,” I mumbled trying to clear my throat. “Well I’m drawing up the purchase contract and I’ll have it for you as soon as possible. We don’t have to worry about qualifying for a loan, do we? I mean, since this is a cash transaction and all. I don’t have many of these I can tell you, so I’m going to have our lawyer look the documents over. The only ones who do them like that are foreigners and I just don’t trust them. Do you?”
I didn’t answer. Instead, I propped my head up with my hand and closed my eyes against the pain pounding behind my temples.
“Well as soon as we get all these documents signed, and record the deed, I know you’ll be in a hurry to get rid of the tenant in front. I can’t say as I blame you. She’s one Jezebel if ever I saw one. Two kids and no husband in sight. These people think living off of welfare’s a way of life. They just keep having kids all the time. It’s a downright embarrassment to me.”
I wanted to ask her if she was embarrassed because the woman in the front house was black like she was.
“So anyway,” she rambled on. “I’ll be by as soon as the papers are ready. You all have a good day now.”
I hurried to the kitchen leaving the phone off the hook and poured myself a shot of whiskey to revive. After I refilled my glass again, I began to feel more human, so I took a hot shower. It was starting to get late, so I called for a rental car, after calling my insurance carrier to tell them my car was destroyed.
I told the car rental agent that I was a police officer and waited expectantly for the offer of a free car rental. The agency only offered a small discount to cops, so I called another one. They offered a better discount making it a lot cheaper, so I rented from them and they told me the car would be delivered in an hour.
I sat down on the bed and tried to sort out everything that happened, tried to figure out how I’d gotten to this place, but I just felt wearier and more confused. I wished there was someone, somewhere, who could comfort me and give me advice, but I realized that nobody even knew me.
Now instead of seeing the images of Beth and the other little girls, I saw the burnt frame of my car shooting black smoke into the air and I wondered when whoever wanted me dead would try it again.
I stayed out of work for most of the next week, after calling in and telling them I was too nervous to handle regular patrol duty. Nobody on the other end disagreed with me. I wasn’t lying about being nervous, I was scared to death and my heart began to pound every time
I thought about how close I’d come to death.
I started parking my rental car down the street instead of in my driveway. The next day there was a small article buried in the Picayune Times that said a police officer was the victim of a car bombing that occurred in the employee parking lot of the police department, last night between midnight and six a.m. It closed by saying that police are searching for suspects.
The Gambit Weekly also ran a small paragraph talking about the vandalism to my car, but nobody approached me to ask me any questions or get any inside information.
The first day I was out, nervous and shaking, I took one of my father’s Ambien, a few Valium, and a Benadryl to calm myself, and went back to bed. I’d refilled my father’s expired prescription by slipping the pharmacist an extra twenty dollars and got myself another thirty-day supply. When I crawled into bed, all I wanted to do was sink into the black hole of sleep, where there were no thoughts or images hovering over me and I could feel nothing, not even fear. I told myself that the sleep would rejuvenate me, revive me. Maybe I’d wake up as a different person. Doing anything else was a waste of my time and strength.
After a few days of sleeping on and off, most of the day, and sitting blankly in front of the television the rest of the time, I finally got up and fixed myself something to eat. I even made a bold move and shampooed my greasy hair and shaved my legs. When I rinsed out my hair, I noticed that long strands were falling out and clogging the drain. Its stress, I told myself.
Exhausted from all the effort, I started to go back to bed when I heard the mail carrier on the porch. I waited until his footsteps drifted off into the distance and then peeked around the corner to collect the mail. The box was full since I hadn’t picked it up all week. I sat down on the couch and sorted through the junk ads and the bills until I saw the governmentstamped-envelope. My father’s Social Security check was still coming, since I hadn’t notified Social Security that he was dead. I sat and stared at the brown envelope turning it around and around in my hands. Finally, I tore it open and signed my father’s name on the back the way I always did.
I turned on the television and tried to find something to hold my interest, but I kept looking at the check. After a while, feeling a small burst of energy that I hadn’t felt all week, I got dressed, and after examining my rental car from the inside out with my heart pounding in fear, I hurried to the bank to deposit the check in my account.
When I returned to work the next day, there was a note on my timecard that said the Senior Watch Commander wanted to see me. I knocked on his door nervously, because I could see a couple of other senior officers sitting around drinking coffee with him. Since my car was bombed, I told myself that I’d never have anything to do with anybody in supervision ever again and already I was going back on my word.
The Commander pointed at a chair and I sat down. He told me that he’d read over the report made by the investigating officers, and it concerned him. I was expecting him to ask how I was doing, and if I was really ready to return to work or say that he was worried about my safety, so he was going to put a tail on me in the field. Maybe he was going to send another patrol car out to drive around my neighborhood and check on me, since the previous patrol was not coming around anymore.
He didn’t say any of those things though. He said he was worried that other officers who worked with me could get hurt if somebody set another bomb.
“I have to consider the safety of the other officers assigned to this division,” he said hurriedly. “So, until we close your case, you’re assigned to a desk in here. Anyway, I need some help with data entry; we’ve had too many secretaries quit in the last few months, and I’ve got piles of cases that need data input and filing. That way, if you stay inside the station, I can assure these officers that none of their men will get hurt in case this happens again.”
I felt a flush starting at the base of my neck and crawl up my cheeks. Feeling ashamed and small after what I’d just heard I hesitated before I asked. “Is there any progress in finding out who set off that bomb in my car?”
“We’re working on it,” he said curtly. “These things take time, as you should know. So, in the meantime this is the best solution for everybody. That way we won’t be putting anybody else at risk. I have to look out for my men. If there are no more questions that will be all for now. I’ll call Connie and she can show you the ropes.”
I took a deep breath; the familiar feeling of remoteness closed in on me as I realized he didn’t give a damn about what almost happened to me. The motto I heard over and over again, about always backing up your fellow officers didn’t cover me. Worse, I hated the idea of being cooped up inside and stuck at a desk for more than a few minutes at a time.
Every day now, I took a few Valium and a couple of Benadryl when I started out. The pills did exactly what the doctor promised me they would do for my father. They dulled my feelings and eased my anxiety. Everything was out of focus and I felt as if any moment I would drop off to sleep. As the day wore on, I took more pills and managed to get through it, as long as I kept the spacey-sleepy feeling going.
I followed Connie to the basement the first day back, where several rows of metal desks were set up. She turned out to be a large freckle-faced woman with tightly curled gray hair and orthopedic shoes, wearing a flower print dress. The first desk I came to, was stacked with file folders.
“See those?” She pointed at the stacks. “They all need to be filed in alphabetical order in those cabinets.” She pointed to a row of metal cabinets lining the back wall. “You know how to file don’t you?”
I nodded, thinking it couldn’t be that hard and sat down in the metal chair in front of the desk.
“I’ve been working down here for the last few months,” she said. “Since it’s after hours there’s nobody working down here now. You can bring a radio tomorrow if you want. I’ll come down and get you when it’s time for lunch. We usually bring our own. Nothing’s open and you can’t go out and get something in thirty minutes.
Make it easy on yourself,” she admonished. “Put those files in alphabetical order and then load them on to one of these chairs. You can wheel the chair over to the cabinets. That way you won’t have to walk back and forth so much.”
I stared at her marveling how she had this whole system worked out. Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought of using the chair to move the files. More than that, I had to hand it to her for working down here period. For a few months, she’d said.
As soon as Connie left, I began to feel the walls moving in closer, and the silence in the large empty room was only broken by the faint echoes of doors slamming and elevators moving somewhere in the building. I’d never wanted to work in an office like so many of the transgender people I’d met before who did physical work for a living. They didn’t know any better, I told myself, and thought being a secretary was the supreme job for a woman. Wearing a tight skirt, high heels, and a low-cut blouse, while you sat at a desk all day typing and talking on the phone, was my idea of hell.
I walked around the room and looked at everything. In the back corner, a large computer with a brightly lit screen covered in electric green icons, sat deserted. I’d never touched a computer before; I’d never even gotten close to one. I tapped the keys, but it didn’t type anything on the screen. There was a small sign on the keyboard that said, “Enter your password.” I didn’t have a password, so after studying the machine for a while I walked back to the stack of files.
Facing the prospect of all those hours alone, I started missing Raleigh again and I wished I had the comfort he’d given me before. I wanted to hear him tell me that everything was fine, to feel his strong arms around me again. I needed him to make me feel that we were invincible and could do whatever we wanted, because nothing mattered except having a good time right now. Looking around I saw I’d been right at first glance; there was no phone down here either.
I locked the door from the inside. Then resigned, I began filing.
The hours crawled by. Connie banged on the door, surprised that it was locked and told me it was time for lunch. She shared a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with me and poured me a paper cup of some cherryflavored drink she poured from her thermos covered with painted yellow daises.
While she chewed, she told me about how much she worried about her daughter who had an abusive boyfriend who beat her and her two-year-old child. When I suggested she call the police on him, she waved her hands in the air and told me the neighbors called the police many times, and her daughter had even been to court. When I asked what happened in court, she said she didn’t know, but her daughter always ended up back living with that guy.
It was, said in confidence behind her cupped hands, better after all, than having her daughter live with her and watch television while she got high on drugs. Then she went on to complain about the price of groceries at Value Mart and the cost of rent on her onebedroom apartment. Apparently, she’d also gotten the wrong prescription for glasses and it was hard to see the keyboard when she typed up reports for the brass. I listened and nodded politely, wondering how long I could last in this new position before I’d really want to drink myself to death.
Connie kept an eye on the cheap plastic watch she wore and in precisely thirty minutes, she said it was time for me to go back to work. We picked up the plastic wrap and cleaned off the table and I went back and filed some more. By the time an hour had passed, I was too sleepy from the pills and the boredom of filing. I walked back over to the table, shoved the files aside, and put my head down. I stayed asleep until Connie banged on the door and told me it was time to go home.
I had two patrol officers escort me to my rental car parked next to the building entrance. I checked it completely before getting in, and drove directly home, stopping only at the drive though diary which stayed open all night. The owner, an old Vietnamese man, was happy to run over to the liquor store one building over and grab a few pints for me, in exchange for a nice tip. The next morning, bright and early, after I’d just drifted off, Mrs. Stribling was pounding on my door, calling my name. I staggered out of bed to answer, after peeking through the window and grabbing my revolver just in case. I let her in and ambled over to the kitchen table, holding my robe closed, while she followed behind me, going on and on about some papers I needed to sign.
“Is that real silk?” She wanted to know, as she fingered my pale pink sleeve between her ring-covered fingers. I assured her it was.
I sat and signed my name to a string of documents that I barely read, knowing only, that I was buying the property that included the back and front house, and knowing that most of the money I was using to buy it, I’d stolen from the woman who owned it before. I told myself that what I had in mind for this property would make things right.
When I finished signing the papers, I asked Mrs.
Stribling how I could transfer the property once I’d purchased it. She looked at me surprised but explained that it was a simple process and all I had to do was sign a certain deed and the person I was transferring the property to, just needed to record it.
I thought about it for a moment and then asked her to prepare the deed for me to sign, transferring the property, along with the deed showing I was the new owner. After shaking her head and telling me I was crazy, she agreed to do it and told me the property would go through a quick escrow. When I looked at her puzzled, she said that in less than a week the property would be mine.
The phone rang later on while I was getting dressed for work. I jumped, the way I always did now and hesitated before I picked it up. There’d been a few callers that hung up when I answered, and even though it had happened a few times before, I now worried that somebody wanted to find out if I was home. I caught it on the last ring, just in time to hear the soft silky drawl of Mrs. La Fontaine’s voice; “Anybody there?”
“Hello,” I answered. My voice sounded gravely and harsh. I had to clear my throat several times before the words came out from where they were trapped in my throat. I hardly spoke to anybody now with the exception of Connie, who appeared every night knocking on the door of the locked file room to tell me it was time for lunch.
“Genie, is that you?” Mrs. La Fontaine yelled into the phone. “Can you hear me?”
“Yeah I hear you.” I cleared my throat.
“I heard what happened to you. Did they catch them? Are you okay now?”
“Yeah; I’m okay now, but they didn’t catch them.” I thought to myself that she was the first person to ask how I was doing, and it made me feel like crying. I tried to think of something else to say, but my mind seemed to shut down the way it always did when I thought about what happened.
“Well,” she said, “I was just wondering if you were coming back to the club. I haven’t heard anything from you and I still need another security person. It’s getting busy now. I can advertise but if you want to come back, I’d be glad to have you.”
“Oh, well…. I.” Hesitating, I almost said no, but then thought about the lonely nights when I was off. They stretched on and on with nobody to talk to. At least when I left my makeshift prison in the basement of the station, I’d have something to look forward to for a few hours. I could already see the swaying bodies of the dancers as they bumped their bodies in time to the music on stage or ground them into the laps of the men in the audience. It was life, lively and real, and I missed it. I told her I’d be at the club the next night I was scheduled off duty.
Connie didn’t come to work that night. After I punched in, I downed three Valium with a few swallows of whisky from the silver flask I’d started to carry with me. The Valium and other pills, like Ambien, softened the anxiety that grew every time I left my house, or when I finished working and stepped out of the basement to go home. Every few hours I reached for the small bottle of pills, as the hazy fog started to clear in my head, and I began to imagine how whoever set the bomb would get me the next time.
Later in the evening I ate my dry cheese sandwich by myself and listened to the small portable radio that I kept by the filing cabinets. I turned it to an oldies station and the first song that I heard was A Rainy Night in Georgia by Brooke Benton. The sadness in his voice called up a vision of the endless flow of sluggish bayous and other lonely slow-moving stagnant bodies of water that meandered mostly untraveled through the state, drifting toward secluded destinations.
I guess I couldn’t complain about being quarantined in the basement filing, even though I missed being out on the street. It could have been worse; work was just an extension of my solitary home life.
I napped a couple of hours every night on the clock, earning the same salary I did when I was assigned to patrol. Nobody checked on me, and with the exception of Connie, who had to knock before I let her in; I didn’t see anybody at all. There was still no word about when I’d be re-assigned to regular patrol, and I didn’t hear anything about the investigation of my car bombing.
I was off the next day and after soaking in a hot bath and applying a good amount of lotion and bath powder, I dressed up in one of my nicer dresses and headed over To St. Charles Avenue to meet Mrs. Stribling at her office. I had a few drinks as well, waiting for the pills to kick in. I looked around and tried to distract myself, thinking about the careless way so many women went out of their house. You saw it everywhere, in Rinaldi’s Market, Cut Rate Drugs, the post office and even in the Quarter. Sweatpants, dirty tennis shoes, uncombed hair, and no make-up were standard for so many of them. Clearly, they didn’t appreciate being a woman and the advantages they had. Of course, they wouldn’t.
They didn’t know any different.
I started to feel a little less afraid as the days passed and nothing about the bombing was mentioned. Sometimes I thought I’d imagined it all. Maybe it was the pills that were calming me down or maybe it was because I hardly had any interaction with anybody these days, including the other officers. They ignored me in roll call where I was pretty much invisible, while they laughed and joked among themselves.
When roll call was over, I took the elevator down to the file room where I spent the rest of my shift mostly sleeping, and occasionally doing a little filing. I felt like the department owed me for what happened, even though I couldn’t say for sure who was responsible.
The day I got my insurance check for the replacement of my burned car, I used it to put a down payment on a new Audi coupe, a deep blue with a brown leather interior, and all the gadgets that were available as add-ons for an increased price. There were no other cars like it parked in the employee lot or anywhere around where I lived. I’d seen a car just like it driven by an actor on one of the daytime soaps. Just the way I was doing now, I parked my new car down the street from my house and close to the station entrance door when I was at work.
Today I’d taken my tranquilizers early in the morning, just three Valiums, and an Ativan, and I was feeling calm and barely worried. I was going to be a property owner, something my mother and probably my sister, would never be in their lifetime. The sale was complete and the deed to the property only needed to recorded at the Recorder’s office.
Mrs. Stribling was waiting with strong coffee and croissants to celebrate when I got there. Her assistant, a young blonde girl, with a faded platinum ponytail, and large red-framed glasses, sat bent over a typewriter, pecking away, looking up every minute or so not to miss anything that went on there. I supposed that gossip was sparse, and you had to glean what you could.
Mrs. Stribling ushered me into her inner office decorated with crocheted doilies and fake flowers. Streaks of sunlight peeked through the partially drawn blinds shining down on undusted furniture. Even her pale green wallpaper covered in cabbage roses called out for attention in the bright light. Today was a good day for Mrs. Stribling, too, with a respectable size commission in sight. Looking around at the faded furnishings and her dated clothing, I figured she didn’t get too many of these.
When we were finished, I asked for the Quit Claim
Deed that she told me was used to transfer property.
She pulled it out of a manila folder frowning and handed it to me. ‘I don’t understand what you want with this. You just bought this property and now you’re gonna give it to someone else.” She looked at me baffled.
“Yes. It’s going to be a gift,” I explained.
“A gift? Who gives a gift like that? I guess to someone in your family. Right?”
“No, she’s not related to me at all, but I feel like I know her.” I answered.
“Well that’s about the strangest thing I ever did hear,” she said shaking her head. “You must have lots of money to throw around doing stuff like this.” “Not anymore,” I laughed. “I just spent it all.”
Sighing and shaking her head, Mrs. Stribling uncapped her black ink pen and asked me the name of the party I wanted on the transfer deed.
I told her that I wasn’t really sure, I’d probably heard the name when I was introduced, but I didn’t remember it now.
That completely shocked her. She stood up and put her hands on her hips. “So how am I going to fill this out?” She demanded.
“Just look at the rental agreement for the front house where I live. I’m sure it’s there,” I told her. Still staring at me, as if she’d just realized she was in the presence of a crazy person, she opened her mouth and closed it in one smooth motion. “The front house is rented to that welfare queen; the one I was hoping you’d evict. A Jezebel if ever I saw one! Is that who you’re giving it to?”
“That’s her. What’s her name?” I asked.
“Well…its wait. I’ll see right now.” She stood up and opened one of the file cabinets Her fingers flew between the files until she stopped. “Delphinine Boisseau, that’s her name. Her and her two kids; they have a year’s lease. I couldn’t rent that place to anybody. Believe me I tried. Once the people came to take a look at it, they wanted all kinds of repairs,
wanted me to fix it up like a regular palatial estate.” “Maybe they just wanted it to be livable,” I suggested.
“What?” she asked looking confused.
“Never mind. Go ahead then and fill it out. I need to go,” I told her.
Still looking confused, she typed the name “Delphinine Boisseau,” on the form. It was simple, understandable even to my untrained eye, so I signed it and deeded over the property I’d just bought. Mrs. Stribling said through her clacking dentures that she would have the deed recorded before noon on that day, over on Loyola Avenue.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

I woke up on my day off looking forward to working at the club that night, and I missed the sounds of what always seemed like a non-stop good time party. I guess I pretended it was like Disneyland, the happiest place on earth, just like everyone else who worked there, since we all understood how it really was.
I knew that most of the young dancers who stripped always wore welcoming smiles. But I knew they were really thinking about the small kids they left alone in their trailers outside of town and hoping the kids wouldn’t get reported and picked up by child welfare.
I knew that the men, who came to watch them and touch themselves, realized that when it was over and they stopped waving five-dollar bills, none of the girls would even look in their direction.
The day got off to a good start; a messenger knocked early delivering the recorded deed to the property, naming Ms. Boisseau, an unmarried woman, as the owner of the plot and tract where both of the houses stood.
I knocked on her door to show it to her, but she wasn’t home, so I slid it under her door. I was happy for her. If anybody deserved to have a house for her little family, she did. From what I could see, she was decent, somebody who tried to make wherever she lived clean and comfortable for her children. I knew without being told, that she wanted a bigger life for her children than the one she’d lived herself. She just didn’t have the means to get it, and nobody to give her a push.
I also heard through Connie, the day before, that I was going back on patrol. She told me the Watch
Commander would be letting me know personally. She’d started nagging me about how few case file folders I’d filed away in the cabinets. She couldn’t understand how the stacks never really seemed to shrink, even though she was able to clean off her pile of folders every day.
I didn’t tell her that I’d started sleeping most of the time, curled up under the desk, usually waking only for lunch and when it was time to leave. Since I started taking the pills every day, I didn’t feel much of anything, not even fear. Connie didn’t know about me sleeping most of my shift, but she knew I wasn’t working, so she’d reported me to the watch commander. He called me up and said my “detail,” wasn’t working out and he was sending me back to the street. I shrugged and told him that was fine with me.
There was still no news on who had bombed my car, and when I asked how the investigation was going, I was told that it was on the “back burner,” but not quite a cold case, since there were a lot of unsolved homicides on their radar, and they needed to get to them before they took a look at this one.
Feeling betrayed, let down, and now dismissed, because nobody cared what happened to me, I was pretty sure somebody on the force knew who did it and as I punched in each night, I looked at all of the faces of the cops around me and wondered if I’d ever find out.
Anxious to get started working at the club that night, I dressed early in my uniform, applied my makeup and polished my shoes. I took a Benadryl and a couple of Valiums, knowing I had to taper off on the pills, because the pharmacist told me he wouldn’t refill the prescriptions again even if I paid him double. The Benadryl was still a little sketchy for me, not only dulling my senses like the Valium or the Ativan, or even the Placidyls, that I like the best, but also making me just a feel sleepy and sluggish. I fixed that by drinking a strong cup of instant black coffee, topped off with several shots of my favorite whiskey, and then sat down to watch television until it was time to go.
I flipped through the channels, disinterested, until a commercial came on showing a hot young couple in skimpy summer clothes, frolicking in Hollywood California. Hollywood was ideal. The deep sensual voice in the background went on and on about its virtues, a place where movie stars haunted the city’s classiest spots in exquisite foreign sports cars, and where you could go to the mountains, the beach, and the dessert all within the same day. The skies were always blue, and the temperature warm and sultry, with a cool breeze blowing for good measure. There was gourmet food and liquor around every turn, of every type imaginable, and the beaches beckoned newcomers with their miles of white sand and an ocean showing off softly rolling blue waves.
I thought to myself that living here hadn’t worked out so well for me after all. My standing on the force, which was shaky to begin with, had disintegrated to less than zero since the incident with Bennett, and the letter I’d written. Probably most of the cops I worked with were glad somebody fire-bombed my car. Probably they were sorry I wasn’t in it when it happened and maybe they planned to do it again or worse. The truth was, I couldn’t name anybody I could call a friend here, and every day I slipped further and further away from my dream of forgetting my past and having a future where I was respected, and maybe even loved.
It was around midnight when I pulled up in the parking lot behind the club. It was a Friday night, so the lot was full. I wondered if Raleigh was still working security. I still thought about him, just a little less than before, but when I did, it was in sadness, because I really didn’t understand what happened. I didn’t want to believe he’d stopped seeing me because I didn’t want to help him rob the club. That hurt.
As I walked through the employee’s entrance, I told myself that if Raleigh was there tonight, I’d try and talk to him, maybe put some closure to things. My emotions seemed to have shifted from outright blinding anger to weepy sadness since my operation. Now all I could do was slink off in embarrassment and depression to nurse my wounds and sometime cry.
I ducked into the women’s bathroom to check my hair and make-up before I reported to Mrs. La Fontaine. Standing in front of the mirror was a tall red head with huge store-bought boobs and a tiny waist. She was curvy and muscular, the ideal woman, or so
Cosmopolitan said in its latest issue. I wondered why she was using the public bathroom instead of the one next to the dressing room where the all the dancers changed.
I re-arranged my ponytail and checked my lipstick in the large beveled mirror trying to avoid her eyes. My hair was thinning, and the beginning of some very fine lines had etched themselves deeper around my eyes. Even my cheekbones had lost their sharpness and I’d always prided myself on them giving my face a trace of the exotic.
Feeling suddenly depressed, I looked over at the red-headed woman who was now brushing her thick lustrous hair back from her face. She stared into the mirror and watched it fall into a cascade of flowing waves. Her skin was milky white, and I noticed her eyes were blue. She unzipped the tight black shift dress she was wearing and stepped out of it.
She was wearing a silver thong and silver pasties over her nipples. She even had a large silver butterfly pin in her hair that matched her six-inch high silver heels. The small scripted tag she wore on the waistband of her tiny thong said “Kimberly.”
She looked to be in her early twenties. But there was something else I felt, watching her undress with confidence and surety. It was more than the threat of her realness, her femaleness, and her beauty, that was so immediate, so in my face. It was a threat that wasn’t clear to me yet, but I knew that as she passed through my life, she was going to leave a mark that I wouldn’t forget.
As I watched, she reached into her red leather purse and pulled out a small bottle. With much ceremony, she poured a little white powder on her wrist, and leaning her back against the counter; she bent forward, flatted the little mound, drew it out with her finger, and inhaled the line.
That’s why she’s using this bathroom I thought. Mrs. La Fontaine must be checking the girls again for drugs. She poured another small mound, repeated her procedure, and inhaled deeply. After putting the little bottle back in her bag, she looked over at me taking in the uniform, unsmiling. “Are you security too? Like my boyfriend Raleigh?”
I choked as she said his name, feeling trapped in the insult. “No, I’m a police officer. He’s just private security hired by the club,” I told her.
“Oh,” she said flatly. “I just started here last week. Raleigh got me the job. He knows me from A Bump Up. I used to dance there too. He came to watch me every night.” She kept staring at me. “The money’s better here though. How do you know Raleigh? From working here?”
“Something like that,” I told her and started walking out, my face burning.
“Okay. Well, see you around,” she called out after me.
I stood looking at myself in the mirror, feeling old and ugly, when I heard a small rustle in the corner and noticed a large plump cockroach crawling up the wall by the mirror, his steps making a scratching noise on the peeling wallpaper. I watched him walk purposefully toward the ceiling. When he reached it, I hit him hard with the barrel end of a beer bottle that somebody left in the trash can. I hit him again and again until his body was reduced to a squashed brown stain on the tinted red wallpaper.
Then I walked slowly to the back office, thinking about telling Mrs. La Fontaine that I didn’t want to work security anymore. I would give her notice tonight so she could get someone else, some other cop who needed a little extra money to support his over-sized family.
The club was packed; all the seats were taken, and loud male voices called out to the girls who pretended to ignore them but were really sizing them up to see where the tips and the lap dances were coming from. I could hear gruff male chatter between the men sitting in groups, “men’s night out,” I thought. Money was dragged out of wallets, and already being counted and folded into denominations by sweaty hands.
The guest DJ, a young black man in his early twenties, wearing a large puffy jacket and sagging jeans, walked on stage and began to assemble his equipment. “Testing. Testing,” he mouthed into the microphone, while pouring himself a beer.
I noticed the waitresses wearing black bikinis, looked older and more beat up than the girls who were going to dance. They gathered around the bar talking loudly, so that you could clearly hear that someone’s child had diarrhea all day and someone’s boyfriend didn’t come home last night.
I pushed open the door to the small office where Mrs. La Fontaine spent most of the evening, watching the stage from a set-in glass window in the corner of the office.
“Well hello sweetheart! So glad to see you again. You’re lookin mighty pretty,” she purred. “We’re just getting started.”
She pointed in the direction of the dancers, most of which were taking the stage. She turned around from her desk where she was counting up receipts on an adding machine. “I really hoped you’d be able to help me out here. You know with deposits and such, but never mind, we’ll talk about it when you’re better.
I started to tell her that I was quitting, but one of the bartenders came in to complain that a shipment of gin was missing from the boxes they unloaded, and she immediately turned to the telephone and became busy.
Thinking I would talk to her when my shift was over, I started walking to the back of the club to take my usual seat where I had a good view of the stage and the men sitting around it. From where I sat, I could also monitor the front door in case there was trouble. Looking down, I rubbed my security badge with the edge of my sweater, trying to bring back some shine. I liked when it when my badge was the first thing some asshole customer saw, after he saw that I was a woman.
Just as I pulled out my chair, I saw Raleigh walking my way. His smile was broad. He still looked handsome in his cheap rent-a-cop uniform, and he still walked as if he hadn’t a care in the world. “Hi baby! How are you?”
I was so surprised to see him that I didn’t know how to answer, so I just nodded my head dumbly. He walked over and gave me a hug, pulling me close to him. I felt the hardness of his arms, knowing that he didn’t develop them from working at hard labor, but from years of lifting weights leisurely in the exercise yard while he did his time. The feel of his body made me think of Kimberly, whom I’d just met in the bathroom, and I straightened up and pushed away. I smelled the sweetish odor of cinnamon in his cologne. “I didn’t know you were still working here,” was all I could think of to say.
“And I didn’t know you were working here either,” he laughed. “Happy reunion to us!”
I forced a smile, watching two more girls take the stage. One of them was Kimberly. I looked back at Raleigh who was still holding my arm. With his free hand, he pulled a chair over next to me and moved closer. “I missed you baby.”
I thought about how he’d suddenly stopped calling without an explanation, and how he didn’t return my calls. I gestured toward the stage. “Not that much according to Kimberly.”
Raleigh laughed a deep rich chuckle. Behind him, strobe lights circled the stage and flickered off the walls, moving at a measured pace around the room. Now that he was looking directly at me, I saw that his light eyes were glassy and dilated, and his face was covered with a fine sheen of sweat.
“Did she tell you something? Don’t mind her. She’s just a kid. Like a puppy, follows me everywhere.” He grinned. “What you been doing with yourself?”
Everything was okay again. We were just like before, and I was suddenly happy without knowing why. But when I looked up at him, wanting to tell him about what happened to me after I wrote that letter, how my car was bombed and how scared and lonely I was, I suddenly realized that I wanted to tell someone who would listen the way an adult would, maybe offer sympathy or advice.
Raleigh never liked talking about “grown up stuff,” as he called it. What I had to say would bore him right away. I remembered how his attention span was only a few minutes long. So maybe he’d listen only as far as the bombing, and only about how my car blew up into a thousand pieces. But he’d probably stop being interested when he heard nobody was killed.
I swallowed. “Just working. Nothing much.”
“How about we get together after work?” He suggested. “It’s kind of late by then,” I answered.
He frowned. “You were a night owl when I knew you. Did you change or something? We could go ride around in your squad car. I’ll drive,” he puffed out his chest. “Just like old times.”
“I can’t do that anymore,” I said, thinking about everything that had happened since I last saw him. “Well I don’t have any money so I can’t buy you a drink,” he made a sad face. “I had my mom give me a ride to work today so I could try to bum a few bucks off her. But she said, “No.”
I hesitated, half-wanting to stop what was coming out of my mouth. “What about going back to your place? We could pick up a bottle and just talk.”
Raleigh laughed. “No ma’am. Can’t do that. I’m kind of staying with Kimberly now.”
“So how did you plan…?” I stopped and looked down.
Raleigh touched my arm but didn’t answer. He kept smiling expectantly as if he was waiting for me to make it all work out.
Pride helped me suddenly. “I have to get to work now. And so, should you,” I added as an afterthought.
Raleigh leaned over and kissed me lightly. “Pretty woman,” he murmured and walked away toward the door so he could watch the people coming in.
I sat back down wishing I’d never come in to begin with, telling myself that Raleigh was just a good looking nothing, beneath me, and being with him was just a waste of time. The trouble was, only part of me believed it.
I kept my seat in the back and my eye on the stage area and the people seated at the tables. Drinks were flowing. The bar tenders, two older black men, were in constant motion and the waitresses ducked around the customers and scurried between the tables. I ordered a whiskey and seven, since they were on the house for security employees. A couple of hours later the pills I took earlier had almost worn off and I felt nervous and shaky, so I switched up to straight whiskey, because it was a little stronger. I dug around in my pocket and saw that I still had two more Placidyls left in a little plastic bottle. I swallowed them down after examining the oval shaped green pills that I heard they called “green meanies.” They had a look of elegance I decided and were prettier than the other pills. All and all they were my favorites and I hoped I could figure out a way to get some more.
As soon as the pills kicked in, I felt my heart slow down and my muscles loosen. I couldn’t bring myself to hit the street and try to score some more pills from one of the neighborhood dealers. I didn’t trust any of them, because they might name me if they got busted. I was afraid of finding another doctor and lying to him too. He might figure out I was a cop and report me. And
Rory, last I’d heard, was doing time.
I sat staring at the empty pill container, turning it over in my hands, and watched the girls one by one, take the stage to dance. Slowly the audience, mostly men, and a few couples, began leaving ahead of closing time. The back rooms where the girls took the men for lap dances were nearly empty now. Everybody had been well-behaved.
As I looked around, one of the waitresses came out of the office and hurried over to the table where I was sitting. She told me I had a phone call waiting in the office.
“A phone call?” I repeated surprised. Nobody ever called me at the club when I was working. Hardly anybody called me anyway, so I wondered who it could be. I walked back quickly to the office. Mrs. La Fontaine pointed to the phone receiver lying on its side and turned back to the adding machine where she was punching in numbers in rapid fire staccato.
I picked up the receiver a sudden feeling of dread coming over me. It was so late at night you knew somebody in the family had died.
I cleared my throat, feeling spacey from the pills. “Hello.”
The voice on the other end was gruff and the words were short and clipped. “Is this Genie Holmes?”
“Genie, I’m just calling to let you know that we haven’t forgotten you. Just so you know you’re on our minds and we have a little something special for you later, so you don’t forget us.” Then the voice stopped, and the phone clicked.
I stood still after the click, my mind trying to make sense of the words. “Hello! Hello! Is anybody there?” But the line was dead. You could almost see the receiver on the other end snap back in its cradle. A cold hard lump filled the pit of my stomach as I hung up the phone and walked away. I was right; it wasn’t over.
I thought about reporting the call, but I knew it wouldn’t make any difference. No matter what they said, nobody was investigating to find out who planted the car bomb, because they didn’t care. Nobody on the force felt any loyalty to me. Nobody had my back.
From now on, I needed to say close to home, and it was a good thing I’d made the decision to make tonight my last night here. I couldn’t let seeing Raleigh again change that now. Just home and work I told myself. Those were the only two places I would go from now on. Feeling suddenly chilled in the air conditioning, I wrapped my arms around myself and returned to my seat. I sat and stared straight ahead.
On stage a medium height black woman with processed hair that hung over one side of her face had discarded her pasties and danced nude. She held a stack of bills in each hand, her tips, waving them in the air toward a disinterested audience as she ground her hips. I watched her through the dull haze of the pills that washed over me like a spreading fog, softening the focus of everything I saw.
All around me floated a tranquil stillness. I closed my eyes and saw my mother’s face, smiling for once, and the Catholic school where I ran away. Slowly the images kept floating by, turning from soft pastel to darker shades of crimson.
I was fighting in the ring again, turning, and kicking my opponent. The muscles in my arms were hard and unbending, twisting beneath the surface of my skin. My legs were powerful; they struck out from all angles destroying their targets. I could feel the fullness between my legs again, the way it felt before my operation. My body was covered now in red material and outlined in black like a cardboard cutout. I could see my face; the nose and eyes, staring back in horror, but I had no mouth.
Suddenly the images had no color. They were all black, faceless, rising up toward me from a misty background, the supervisor in the shoe factory, Cristiano, and Mrs. Devereux. They moved toward me singularly, threatening. Behind them, I could see Richard’s face, his eyes, and mouth jagged like a Halloween jack-o-lantern, and Beth, her head bent down so I couldn’t see her face. Bennett floated past as he hung from a noose in his holding cell; a blueuniformed arm held the rope tight.
I heard myself yell out as I shook the haze from my eyes and tried to focus on the tables and chairs in front of me. Looking forward I saw that the stage had emptied: the dancers were in the dressing room now. Mrs. La Fontaine was in her office with the door shut, counting her money. The bar tenders were cleaning up and closing down the bar, and the DJ was packing up his equipment.
Raleigh stood leaning against the stage looking up at Kimberly, who now stood on the edge removing her bikini bottoms. Raleigh was watching with a big grin on his face.
I looked away, and then turned around when I felt a tap on my shoulder. One of the bartenders wearing black horn rim glasses and a frown that magnified his prematurely aging face motioned me closer.
“I haven’t seen you here for a while, so I just wanted to tell you…” He hesitated and then started again as he pointed to Raleigh. “That guy over there in the uniform; he’s security too, but you can’t trust him. He takes money all the time from the register, and the tables. Some of that’s my tip money. And he helps himself to the money in the office after it’s collected, before she counts it. I’ve seen him.”
“I’m just here to keep the customers in line,” I told him. “You should report it to Mrs. La Fontaine. She’s the owner. It’s her problem.”
“You’re a cop, aren’t you?” I mean if you’re scared of him you can get a man cop to help you, can’t you?”
I opened my mouth to answer, to tell him I wasn’t afraid, but that I’d have to catch Raleigh in the act before I could arrest him, something I couldn’t imagine telling him, and that I’d probably never do.
But he cut me off. “She’s a thief too.” He pointed at Kimberly who was still at the edge of the stage dancing without music, holding her bikini bottoms in her hand as she moved in time to a beat only she heard. “She stole a lot of my tip money since she started working here. I need that money. I’ve got kids; my wife’s in rehab and they live with me.”
I started back toward the office when Mrs. La Fontaine came out holding the sealed leather bag that she used to carry the night’s take to the bank. “Please, do me a favor and take this over to the Wells Fargo. Will you dear? Did I tell you? I’m so glad to see you back.”
Maybe it was the kindness in her voice or the fact that she looked exhausted, and suddenly a lot older than I’d thought she was. Maybe I felt I owed her a walk of a few yards to drop the deposit off in the night depositary before I quit. Maybe it was because she trusted me, believed I was honest and reliable. I needed somebody to believe that.
“Okay,” I said reluctantly, wondering why she insisted on using this bank, besides the fact that it was the only bank around that still that took nightly dropoff deposits.
Mrs. La Fontaine, I’d noticed, liked the little things, strong coffee with a good dose of chicory and a steaming bowl of gumbo seasoned with the hot sauce she kept close by in a drawer with the tax receipts.
I pictured her sitting at her desk, leaning over a stack of paper napkins, biting into her favorite “Mater Sandwich,” made with home grown tomatoes, she told me, from Saint Bernard’s Parish. I liked the way she had the janitor sweep down the place every night, and wash the floor with a mixture of cleanser, bleach and hot water. I watched in approval as she sometimes sent dancers home when they needed a bath and a good hair combing before they took the stage. Without a word said between us, I felt that we were in agreement about the things that were important in life.
I took the sealed bag from her as she walked back to the office and I stepped out into the alley. The fog had started to roll in and the gauze-like mist hung low, so it seemed you were stepping though it.
The air was still heavy and sickly sweet with the smell of Magnolia and Oleander that drifted over from the backyards fronting the alleyway. I paused for a second to adjust my belt. My Glock, and cuffs suddenly felt too heavy at my waist, and I wished that I could dissolve into the hanging mist.
I barely felt his arms as he grabbed me from behind and twirled me around, lifting me slightly, so that the tops of the roofs spun around in a nauseating blur. “What’s going on?” I heard myself say, as Raleigh pulled me to him, laughing and kissing me so hard that I stepped back to catch my balance.
“Baby I knew you’d come through for me. Couldn’t believe it when I saw you take the deposit. Ain’t this the sweetest?” He laughed and let go of me. “Just like we planned. I take the bag and you go back and say you got robbed. I’ll go back right behind you. Nobody’s the wiser. Tomorrow we’ll leave town, go to Vegas; take us a real vacation.”
I gripped the bag tighter to my chest. For a moment, I stared at his smiling face, hearing his happy little boy laugh, and wondered what it would be like to wake up and see him every day, to know he’d be coming home to me and not looking at some other woman.
Then it hit me that this was the same hope and lament of my mother, so many times over. I saw my mother’s face clearly, now wrinkled and scowling, her features collapsed in disappointment and indifference. “I told you before I’m not going to get involved in your crap,” I spoke as calmly as I could to Raleigh, while I pushed my way past him.
Raleigh came after me. He wasn’t smiling now. His eyes narrowed and he reached out and grabbed my arm pulling me to him. “Come on, just hand over the bag.
What’s wrong with you?”
I looked into his eyes that were covered in a dull glassy film. “High as a kite,” I thought disgusted with myself for being so drawn to his good looks and sweet talk, part of me though, willing those things to pull me under. I tried to get by him again. He blocked me and raised his fists, something I didn’t expect from someone who could smile so sweetly. I looked down the alley and decided I couldn’t bring myself to fight him. So, I pushed him hard and caught him off balance. He staggered and I turned around and started running back toward the rear door to the club.
Raleigh hit the ground stunned, looking around him dazed. It took him a few moments to realize what happened and get back up. By that time, I was almost to the door. Something clicked in my head and I put my hand on my revolver. Just as I reached out, the door swung open and Kimberly staggered out, looking down the alley past me. Close up her make-up was smeared, and her hair stuck out around her head in crazy tufts. I stared at her hand dangling an empty liquor bottle at her side.
“Raleigh, where did you go?” She called out plaintively. “I just went out to the car with one of my regulars and you were gone.”
Raleigh kept moving toward me while his hand disappeared into his pocket and then reappeared in seconds holding a small switchblade that he flicked open and waved at me. “You got one more chance,” he snarled, and then immediately changed his tone and closed his blade. “Baby please don’t go back in there.
Just give me the bag, that’s all you gotta do.”
I kept backing up and he opened the switchblade again. Our eyes met for a moment and held. Suddenly his shoulders collapsed, and he looked down at the ground. Without another word, he clicked the knife shut and stuffed it into the pocket of his uniform cargo pants. “I’m sorry, you’re right,” he mumbled. “I shouldn’t do this.” Then he turned and slowly started to walk away. He walked a few steps, and then turned back to face me. “I didn’t mean it,” he said. “I still like you.”
I heard a shrill sound from Kimberly and saw her long legs fly by me, running toward Raleigh. She reached him as I pulled out my revolver and threw her arms around his neck, looking over her shoulder at me in defiance. I watched him collapse against her, one arm hanging off her shoulder as he turned and started to slowly walk away. And then I squeezed the trigger, and watched Kimberly fall, blood oozing from the wound in her back. She called out in pain, and I shot her again. She was silent then.
Raleigh stared at me astonished, turning his head slightly as I moved closer, and then I emptied my revolver, hitting him in the back where his uniform shirt tucked into his pants. A few shots connected with his partially turned chest. He groaned once as he fell over on his side and lay there without moving.
For a moment, it was totally silent in the alley, except for the sound of the birds calling to each other, alarmed at the sound of the shots. I stood there and looked at Raleigh, his eyes closed, and his mouth open, gurgling blood. I wanted to reach down and help him, but when I looked over at Kimberly, I changed my mind. Shaking, I holstered my revolver and a wave of nausea from the pills and liquor hit me like a wall. I bent over and vomited sour liquor a foot or so from their bodies.

Chapter Thirty

I don’t remember much of what happened after that. I remember people coming out of the back door to the alley, hearing screaming and then the shrill blare of sirens. I saw a patrol officer hand the deposit bag containing the cash to Mrs. La Fontaine, and I remember her crying and thanking me for stopping the robbery. “You’re a real hero,” she whispered in my ear while she stroked my hair.
I sat in the rear of an ambulance that somebody called, shivering in a thin white blanket provided by the paramedics and answered questions by the investigating officers until the morning light peeked out from under the mist.
I remember they asked why I shot Raleigh and if he’d threatened me with the knife they found folded in the bottom of his pocket. They said something about the location of the wounds and the angle of his body indicated he was walking away when I shot him. They asked about why I shot Kimberly, but I had no answer for them.
The Assistant Watch Commander came out then, followed by two other high-ranking cops. The Watch Commander’s uniform was rumpled and smelling of cigar smoke. I backed away from the smell remembering that there was always a poker game going on in the back offices at this time of morning. A tall older man with pale white skin, and a bowl-shaped haircut, who said he was from Internal Affairs, followed him minutes later. He rubbed his eyes and said he was not used to waking up in the middle of the night for “officer involved incidents.” There were more questions, and they stood around me in rapt attention, writing down anything I said.
Somebody said to call Mary-Alazia and another person said to call a priest. I remember thinking that Mary-Alazia was probably a real protective mother when Raleigh was a kid, probably thought he’d go to college, and become a lawyer or a doctor with all her hard work; but then we all go wherever our cleverness takes us.
Another ambulance pulled up and took Raleigh to the hospital, their siren screaming full blast, and their lights spinning crazily. The driver who loaded him on said he was still breathing and maybe he had a chance.
The coroner picked up Kimberly’s body.
The officer from Internal Affairs rubbed his eyes and the stubble on his chin and suggested I get a lawyer. He told me he would make some suggestions. His brother-in-law was a lawyer he told me leaning closer, and he could tell him to give me a good price.
The Assistant Watch Commander wanted to know if I knew the victims personally outside of work. When I told him, I knew Raleigh before working here, he said that made him suspicious, and had me describe how he’d tried to rob me. After I explained, he was satisfied that the shooting didn’t occur while I was on duty, which he said was all he cared about. He told me his obligation was over and that the investigating officers would go ahead and file their homicide report with the District Attorney. He said that the District Attorney would decide what would happen after that. He closed his tablet, where I could see the first page covered in hastily scrawled notes and capped his pen before lighting a cigarette.
Before he drove away, the Assistant Watch Commander explained that they weren’t going to take me into custody. It would be a waste of time since the court and the bail bondsman would be open to do business by the time they booked me, and the DA finished charging me. “You’re on OR,” he said without looking at me. “It’s one of the benefits of wearing a uniform. “Now you’re not gonna remember tonight that you got some family down in Mexico that you suddenly need to see, are you?”
I just looked at my feet and kept my mouth shut. Finally, another patrol car was sent to drive me back home, since they said I was in no condition to drive, and I was told to report back to the station promptly at nine o’clock in the morning to provide more statements for the investigation that was just starting.
The Assistant Watch Commander walked with me to the car and said he’d forgotten to tell me he was also placing me on emergency suspension and advised me again to get a lawyer.
As I stepped into the light of the patrol car, he squinted at me. “Oh yeah, I recognize you now. You’re the broad that wrote the letter. Well now, you got some serious trouble here lady. Looks like you got a little trigger happy tonight playing rent-a-cop.”
As I climbed into the patrol car and buckled my seatbelt, the sensation of being trapped, filled me with a new kind of fear and made me tremble. I felt the rookie driver’s eyes staring at me openly curious, probably praising his good fortune for all the excitement, in what was probably a boring night driving around in the suburbs, hoping that something would happen.
As I sat there, the patrol car became the prison cage that I shared with the brutal reeking men back in the Philippines.
The only sense of being alive was the pounding hangover that was just beginning, bearing down with full weight on my temples. I put my head in my hands and wished I had a few pills to take. We drove through the thick quiet of early morning for about ten minutes before the driver spoke. “I never handled a homicide before,” he said respectfully. “I never even saw a dead body.”
When I didn’t answer, he started again. “Never got called to any robberies either. The Commander said that the other security guard was trying to rob you, but the tall guy with him said he didn’t think so. He thought you were in on it, because you both worked together, and you shot the other security guard and the witness because you wanted the whole take for yourself.”
A hard lump was forming in my throat. I could see the scenario playing out in my head. My mother was right; there was no getting around a man’s betrayal.
We were only a few blocks from my house when we saw the smoke. It rose in black billows, darkening the sky and settling in the air like a heavy gray blanket blocking the light and the morning sun. We pulled to our right to let the fire engines pass, all three hook and ladders. They raced ahead of us, sirens howling in the stillness. We followed them for a block, but as I directed the officer to turn the corner, I saw where they were going.
Near the end of my block, the front house that used to belong to Mrs. Devereux, that I deeded away, and the back house that I lived in, were encased in bright orange and red flames that shot straight up toward the sky.
I recognized a few of the neighbors standing around watching the activity. The fire truck already on the scene was operating several hoses, spraying mighty blasts of water in the direction of the roof on the front house. My little house in the rear was now a pile of ashes surrounding by a few standing beams. The small side porch made of river rock sat abandoned in the pile of ashes. It was the only part of the property that survived.
In the confusion of the thickening smoke and the loud yells of the men operating the fire hoses, we pulled the patrol car over to the curb across the street, and I watched the remaining frame of the front house collapse. Minutes later, the wood was nothing but glowing embers that smoldered atop the heaps of ashes. I sat and watched it all burn. A bigger, more lethal fire than the one that burned my car.
“Oh my God, is that your house?” the young officer sitting in the driver’s seat stared in wonder, as one of the last beams ignited, exploding in a violent flash of orange and blue and then crumbled violently, the colors transformed to a colorless-black.
“It was.” I answered dully, watching the fire race as it ate through the wood greedily, finally reducing whatever remained to debris. Rising heavily, my feet unwilling to move, I finally stood up and walked over to the tall, thickset fire fighter, who was shutting down one of the hoses. He was fully dressed in his heavy layers of protective garb and huge rubber boots, and I remember wondering how he could stand to wear it all while he stood in the explosion of heat that radiated from the fire. With my hands shaking, I held out my badge and told him that I’d been the owner of the two houses on the property.
“Sorry we couldn’t save anything,” he said matterof-factly. “We actually got here pretty quick after the call. You were lucky. Nobody home in the front house or the back. They musta already left for the day. They probably don’t even know about it yet.”
Feeling dizzy again, I leaned against the bumper of his truck and watched the men slowly shutting down their hoses and pulling in the ladder they’d used to get to the roof in the rear of the front house. I remembered I’d heard the family talking about going to Shreveport for a few days to visit their aunt.
I was glad Mrs. Devereux didn’t live to see it. Maybe her death was a blessing I thought. Maybe I’d had a little part in it for the right reason. I pushed the thought away fast.
“How did the fire start?” I asked him. My heart was starting to pound as the realness of everything seeped in.
“Hard to say,” he answered. “These old places are fire traps. Everything’s wrong here, electrical wiring is shot to hell, and it doesn’t do well with too much use. So, places like this can go up like a bomb. Sometimes, maybe its arson.”
I felt my stomach drop. “Arson?”
“Yeah, could be. Won’t be the first time. Hard to spot in an old dump like this.” He pointed to the burning pile behind the back house. “Was that a shed?” I nodded. “Just a small one.”
“That’s all you need. Folks around here keep old paint cans, gasoline, kerosene, cleaning fluid. You name it. All it takes is one match you know.”
I stared past him remembering the old cans and bottles stacked on a splintering wooden shelf in the rear of the shed.
“You might want to look around when we get finished here,” he gestured toward the rest of the men who had reduced the fire to piles of smoking ash. “Before you call your insurance company.”
I walked to the back of the property, passing a few reporters standing close to the fire fighters, fresh on their human-interest assignment. They followed me, asking about how I felt when I saw it was my house and how I felt about it burning down.
I swore at them and went to lean against what was left of the mostly burned trunk of an old oak tree. I touched the charred crumbling bark on the lower part of the trunk, and it slid through my fingers, disintegrating into a coarse shiny black powder that quickly combined with the piles of ashes on the ground. There was no sign of my journal that I’d kept so carefully. It was somewhere in that pile of ashes where nobody would ever see what I’d written.
I closed my eyes and replayed the telephone call I’d gotten at the club. They must have thought I’d be home already. They didn’t know about the shooting in the alley.
The police finally showed up, walked around the property, called out two more squad cars, and then told me they didn’t find any incendiary devices.
They spent most of that afternoon leaning against the few trees out by the sidewalk, eating take out from Central Grocery and drinking out of bottles inside brown paper bags. They laughed and joked and smoked cigarettes while they caught up on the station gossip. Every now and then, they looked over at me and lowered their voices, so I knew they now had this fire to add to their collection of gossip about me.
After all the food was gone, they seemed anxious to leave, so they quickly finished their report and told me I’d receive a copy in the mail, or I could pick one up at work for my insurance carrier.
I explained again that I’d sold the property and told them Mrs. Boisseau was the new owner. This confused them, because they didn’t see how they could mail a report to a property that had burned down. They were still discussing just how to do this as they drove off.
It started to get dark by then. The neighbors grew bored because there was nothing left to watch, and nobody was burned in the fire. Disappointed in the lack of gruesome sights to see, they went back indoors. More time passed and shadows began concealing what was left of the houses’ framework, forming a dark ghostly outline that grew more sinister the later it got. I sat down on the ground in the dark and shivered while I cried.
Cold and nauseous, I needed my pills, and at the very least a drink; I finally stood up and wiped my eyes. I walked across the street and used a neighbor’s phone to call a cab. The old gray-haired woman who lived in the house stood watching me while I talked, twisting her print apron around her square body with thick knuckled hands.
After a few minutes, she spoke up, “How much payoff do you think you’ll get from the insurance on that house?”
“I’ll wait outside,” I told her pretending not to hear.
I had the cab driver, a young student from Tulane that I’d worked with back at the cab company, drive me to parking lot in back of the club. It was still early, and the lot was empty except for a few older model cars belonging to the dancers or the bartenders. I looked up and down the alley. Except for a square area, several yards away, marked off by yellow crime tape and the chalk outline of a prone stick figure, the alley was deserted and eerily quiet.
“This never happened,” I told myself as I started up the Audi and drove to my bank. I withdrew as much cash as I could from the versateller and told myself I’d get the rest when I got out of New Orleans. Then I drove to the Greyhound Bus Station on Loyola Avenue. I remembered that I was supposed to report to the station that morning for more questioning about the shooting. Even if they found out that my house had burned down, they would probably still issue a warrant for my arrest. There was no way the DA would let this one go by.
I reached into the small duffel bag that I carried in my trunk and pulled out a pair of jeans and a sweater. Checking the duffel bag, I saw I had another blouse, a pair of panties and a bra, a pair of flats, and some toiletries that I carried in case I got stuck on my watch and had to change at the station.
I scooted into the back seat and pulled off my uniform, changing into my jeans and sweater. I folded my uniform and placed it in the back corner of the trunk. Then I locked my car feeling a pang of sadness knowing that I wouldn’t drive it again.
The bus station was nearly empty except for a couple of winos sleeping on the cushioned benches in the waiting area, one with a rope tied from his ankle to his shopping cart.
Most of the departing buses pulled out a few hours ago, and the midnight departures were hours away. One older and more weathered bus arrived while I entered and I watched a young worried looking Mexican mother with her small children lagging behind her, cross the tile floor dragging a large canvas bag on rollers. The children, tired, and probably hungry, from what was most likely a long ride, stopped to stare in amazement at their surroundings, getting further behind their mother with every step. The oldest, a girl, about ten, glanced at me curiously, and then wistfully looked over at the concession stand displaying sodas and chips for sale.
“Mama, por favor, quiero una soda,” she called ahead to the woman who was now hustling her younger brothers along.
“No mi niña, No tengo dinero ahorita.”
I watched for a moment and then dug into my purse and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. Hurrying over, I held it out and motioned to her children. She stopped in her tracks and looked puzzled, so I pointed to the concession stand and then back to her children.
She stared at me then smiled shyly, taking the money. I hoped that wherever they were going somebody would be kind to them. Who knows what sorrow they were running away from or what unhappiness was waiting for them in the next place.
Then I went back to studying the schedule of departures. It was too cold in Albuquerque New Mexico and even colder in Denver Colorado now, and I would have to wait for a couple of hours for the buses to depart. Besides those places weren’t as far away as I wanted to be from New Orleans.
Then I saw the last departure on the right-hand side, Los Angeles California. The bus was scheduled to leave in thirty minutes, and visions of the television commercial I saw earlier, showing beautiful people, with beautiful bodies, basking in the sun, filled my head. The vision passed in a moment when I remembered my house and car burning to the ground, and the body of the dead dancer named Kimberly lying in the alley. Los Angeles was a big place. I figured there’d be enough dark spaces to hide me.
“Round trip?” The Asian man at the counter paused without looking up, his hand hovering over the computer keys.
“No, just one way.” I answered as he hit the keys and printed my ticket.
I waited inside the bathroom, washing my face with green industrial soap from the dispenser. The nausea kept rising in my throat, and my clothes stuck to the cold sweat that broke out every few minutes across my body. I needed some pills in the worse way, just to get through a few days I told myself. Maybe I could find a doctor in Los Angeles.
Alone in the bathroom I leaned into the mirror and stared at myself disturbed. My skin was sallow and broken out along my chin, and my usual bright eyes were sunken, red-rimmed, and swollen; lavender shadows filled in the deepening hollows underneath.
Just like one of the small burrowing animals, on National Geographic, I was running from a larger stronger species that was coming to hunt me.
Grateful to hear the boarding call on the loudspeaker, I hurried out of the bathroom and away from the mirror.
I slept on and off during the thirty-two hours it took to get to Los Angeles. I picked a seat in the rear of the bus and luckily, there weren’t too many people traveling at that time of night for the first part of the trip.
During the first twelve hours sweat trickled down my body and then I shook with chills that my jacket couldn’t warm. A cold hard fist dug itself into the middle of my stomach reminding me that I hadn’t had any pills in my system for hours. I closed my eyes and drifted off between the bouts of cramping, trying to make the time pass. About twenty or so hours into the trip, the cramping slowed, and I stopped sweating. I Looking in at myself, watching from the edge, I promised that I’d never take pills like that again.
I stayed in the bus during the stopovers and turned away when one of the male passengers looked me over and moved closer, trying to start a conversation. I told myself that being a fugitive should be easy for someone like me; if you thought about it, I had lots of practice.
The sun was setting when we pulled into the station on Los Angeles Street. I was the last passenger off, grabbing my duffel bag and jacket, as I stepped out into the smell of diesel fumes and sewage leaking onto the sidewalk.
I watched the stream of dirty water as it ran out to the street from the employee’s entrance to the snack bar. Then I walked to the back of the station and sat down on one of the hard-plastic benches and watched the people walk by, shocked and dismayed at where I’d landed.
When I was younger, before I had my change, I thought people were always looking at me and could see that there was something wrong, that I was a misfit, an unwanted mistake. I gave most people a lot of credit then for things that they didn’t really care about at all. Most people passed me by, taking no notice of me at all.
Now sitting there, staring at the stumbling winos, the brown-skinned people, young children with back packs, old people with canes and walkers, poor families in worn out shoes, transvestites, prostitutes, and those looking to meet them.
I could still feel the creeping fear from the time past coming back to visit me. Sitting here in a place I’d never visited before was just a repeat of old times. I’d waited for somebody to come after me all that time in Bangkok, always sure they were following me. I kept looking back at the blood running down the drain in that steamy shower, but nobody ever came.
Now I looked around the station and nobody looked back. Nobody met my eye or smiled. Nobody stared. I was just another woman, maybe a little better dressed than the people around me in my designer jeans and leather jacket, but otherwise just another woman with too much melanin in her skin to be white, sitting in a Greyhound Station. But maybe it was still too early. Not enough time for them to get a warrant out on me when I disappeared during the investigation.
The murder investigation, I repeated to myself. Kimberly was dead; I’d watched them carry away her body on a gray industrial gurney. I didn’t know about Raleigh. I started feeling a terrible sadness that made me blink back tears. And whoever burned my car and my house, what about them? Would they keep looking for me?
I started walking west toward the tall skyscrapers that partially blocked out the small patches of sky not covered in early evening darkness. The streets near the bus station were wide and dirty, crowded with homeless people shuffling along with their belongings loaded into shopping carts. I cast sideways glances at their faces, so many vacant expressions, eyes submitting to their fate on the cold concrete streets. Block after block of beat up and tattered blue tarpaulins slung over fences to form small tents, retreats from the indignities of life out here.
Men and women wandered into the traffic waving and gesturing, holding important conversations with someone nobody could see. Were they cursing God or asking for his help?
The enormity of seeing these dirty crowded streets littered with human cast-offs was like a sharp blow striking out the image of the slick and glamorous Hollywood that I’d seen on television. I checked the tourist map I’d picked up at the bus station and was relieved to see that Hollywood was nowhere in this neighborhood.
It was already dark when I walked as far as Broadway. I didn’t see many white faces out and about, black faces, either for that matter, after I left the sprawling city of makeshift tents and shopping carts. Once I hit Broadway, I stopped and peered into a newsstand where a few newspapers stood out because their headlines were in English. It was the year 2000 and Bush was now President, because of some kind of decision made by the Supreme Court, and somebody named Tiger Woods had won a very important golf tournament.
I kept walking, wondering if this was some mistake and I was in Mexico already. Spanish was spoken everywhere. Dark-skinned men trudged along, heads down, their skin burnt a coppery red from hours spent in the sun, their pockets bulging with wrinkled papers now soft from damp air, that they’d carried for months on life-taking journeys here.
The women looking worn-out and anxious, wearing cheap rayon clothes, and thin rubber flip flops, hurried through the streets carrying shopping bags filled with goods from the small shops all up and down the street. The store windows and the small spaces in front of the stores were stacked floor to ceiling with all types of plastic and canned goods. I saw diapers, auto parts, Spanish music CD’s, toilet paper, underwear, socks, cheap shoes, and plastic plates and cups.
I stopped in front of one of the stores in the middle of the street and stared into the window, my eyes following the crowded aisle running through the center. Finally, I walked inside and carefully searched through the aisles until I found a pair of scissors, and after sorting through some bottles of shampoo, I picked up a box of what looked to be blonde hair dye with a picture of a sexy girl on the box. Looking at the picture of the girl gave me an idea and I looked around hastily feeling as if somebody was watching me. It was just the store clerk, peering around the register to see if I was going to steal something.
I turned the box over in my hands satisfied that it was just like American hair dye, even though I couldn’t read the label, or the directions written in Spanish. I tore the corner of the box open and saw that there were thin plastic gloves included, and decided to buy it, because I’d seen Rory dye his gray hair with box dye using gloves just like that.
The clerk, a short dark-skinned man, rang up my total and told me what I owed. When I didn’t understand what he said, he wrote the number on the corner of a brown paper bag and pushed it toward me, keeping his hands on the scissors, and his eyes on me and the box of dye, until he had my cash in his hands. I paid him six dollars and seventy-two cents and walked out of the store.
After I left Broadway, I turned and walked east back down toward the bus station, stopping at a food stand and ordering something to eat from a color picture posted on the wall. It was Mexican food and it was good; something I couldn’t identify, cheap and greasy; it made my stomach rumble. I looked back toward the city in the distance. Tomorrow I’d have to find a bank and get the rest of my money but tonight I needed to find a place to stay.
The darkness of early evening sheltered the streets and the people who lived there from the glare of the here and now. That glare hit me like a brick when I first saw it in the daylight. Now sidewalk encampments, carts and baby buggies huddled softly together in the shadows covering the sidewalks for blocks and spilling out into the middle of the street where most of the people congregated.
I took small breaths and stayed away from the tents and bodies splayed out in front of the liquor stores and tried not to get too close to the dirty bedraggled forms that straggled down the street.
I was still bewildered at this mass of humanity crowded together so close to what I figured was the real Hollywood, with prosperous and beautiful people to the west.
Walking with my head down, gripping my duffle bag and purse, I couldn’t imagine staying here for very long. The streets were full of the insane. But as I looked around, I started thinking that maybe I should hide here, a place where nobody cared who, you were, or where you came from, because they were trying their best to blot out their own history of misery.
Just for a little while, I told myself. Then I could head down to Mexico. Everybody runs to Mexico. I’d heard about the cartel wars and all the people murdered over there, but those were just words to me, words written in a newspaper that I didn’t pay much attention to anyway. In my mind, Mexico was a sleepy peaceful place where I could escape. No prying eyes, no questions, no contact with police. That was what I wanted.

Chapter Thirty-One

As I turned onto San Julian, I started seeing signs advertising “rooms for rent,” in front of the dilapidated apartments scattered between the liquor stores and boarded up buildings. I spotted a sign that said “Hotel” and “Furnished Daily Rentals” in bright red, hanging over the front entrance to a building.
I stopped in front of the apartment building painted a light green with faded gray trim and a rusted fire escape hanging along the side. The entryway was crowded with a few old black men and a couple of women that looked like they’d come straight from the reservation, long tangled black hair and all. They were passing around something in a paper bag.
I pushed through the tightly packed bodies and stepped into the foyer, an even tighter space covered in worn-through yellow brown carpet and paneled in chipped plywood. To the right, was a counter set back from the room by a plexi-glass partition. Behind the counter an older man and woman sorted through stacks of mail, which they pulled from a dirty canvas mailbag.
A wooden frame with built-in small square partitions marked with numbers, blocked out most of the light in back of them shining through a large double-paned window. Some of the small squares were bulging with the envelopes stuffed inside.
There was already a line in front of the middle-aged man behind the counter. He wore a wrinkled green coverall and wire rim glasses. Every now and then, he jerked his hand back from the mail he was sorting and pinched the cigarette he had tucked behind his ear.
The woman next to him was plumpish with scraggly gray hair that hung below her shoulders and badly needed a combing. She wore a large flowered tent dress belted loosely at the waist, with a zebraspotted belt, making her look like a misshapen pile of laundry tied in the middle. The red burst of blood vessels across her nose and flushing her cheeks told the whole story.
The woman snapped at the man in a high whining voice, making the cigarette hanging from her mouth vibrate and dropping ashes onto the letters covering the counter. Every time she snapped at him, the man jumped and turned slightly to face her. “Now baby, don’t get so fucking upset,” he urged. “I’m taking care of it. Don’t be a bitch. Just wait a little.”
“You’re too damn lazy,” the woman’s voice rose, and she raised her arm to wipe her nose with the back of her hand. “I told you last week that pile was two weeks old at least. You take all day and do nothing.” She turned around and began to stick envelopes into the cubby holes.
“What the hell are you doing sticking mail?” The man yelled in the direction of her back. “Can’t you see we have a line here?”
“Shut your dirty trap,” She yelled back. Two people ain’t no line, you, dumb shit.”
Ahead of me in line was a petite copper-skinned woman pushing a small basket on two wheels. The basket was stuffed to the top with the priceless relics of her life, broken ceramic Santa Clauses, and cracked china teacups, their fragile handles chipped away to jagged points. It looked as if she’d once tried to wrap everything in the thin faded blanket that lined the bottom of the basket and poked out at the sides. A few rolls of toilet paper, a priceless commodity, on the street, sat packed in tight at the top of her basket. She was trying to explain something to the man behind the desk, something about her missing check and it being past the fifteenth of the month.
“I keep telling you, nobody took your check. You got cut off. Plain and simple,” he said, rolling his eyes and slamming his hand down on top of the desk for emphasis.
“No, it’s here. I know it. Just look through those piles.” She kept insisting.
“I’m not gonna look at nothing. You know the rules here.” He pointed to the corner where there was a large sheet of white paper tacked to the wall. I squinted at it and saw that there were a number of paragraphs following capitalized letters that said, “Rules of the
“But I don’t have anywhere to go. You know that.” She planted her hands on the counter.
“You don’t have a check either, so you can’t stay here. Go see if you can get into the shelter.”
The woman stuck out her lower lip and I saw she was completely toothless. Mumbling something about having to go to court next week, she put her head down and backed out of line dragging her cart with her.
“Next!” the man in the jumpsuit barked from behind the counter.
“Yes, I need to rent an apartment…just for a few days,” I told him digging into my purse.
“An apartment?” He cackled. ‘We don’t rent apartments here. Didn’t you see the sign?” He pointed at the wall and spelled out the letters slowly as if I couldn’t read. “It says Hotel” “That means we rent by the day or the week, if you have that kind of money. This is what’s called a “hotel.” “That’s what we have here. First come, first serve.”
I felt my face flush. “A hotel room is fine.” “Well you’re in luck today,” he said looking me over curiously. “We have a couple of rooms open for the week if you can pay. Then the city contract comes around. They’re gonna change everything down here. They call it conversion. All kinds of rules and you’ll have to get on the list like everybody else. Here fill this out,” he said looking puzzled, as he shoved a clipboard toward me. “We never get any woman that look like you. What are you doing here?”
I pretended I didn’t hear the question and filled out the first few lines on the form. I stopped writing where it asked for my address. I thought about giving the address where I’d lived with Rory but thought that maybe that was a little too close to home. In the end, I told him I’d been living with a friend but forgot the address and would get it for him by tomorrow. He grunted and pointed to the next line that asked about my employment. I told him I was looking for work and I could pay cash in advance for the next few days. “Well there’s nobody else waiting on a room right now. Nobody has any money this time of month.” He put away the clipboard then and took the cash I gave him that included an extra fifty dollars.
“For helping me out,” I told him.
He smiled showing a mouthful of crooked chipped teeth and gave me a mock salute. “Top of the stairs, room 203. Kitchen’s down the hall to the right, and bathroom’s to the left. They get cleaned once a week. You need your own towels. No hotplates or cooking in your room. That’s what the kitchen’s for. See that sign?”
He pointed to another sign in large capital letters, hanging above the entry to the stairs. It read “NO
I walked to the rear of the small lobby, passing two older black men dressed neatly in the baggy trousers and pork-pie hats that I’d seen in photographs from the forties. They sat facing each other in straight back chairs, like stone monarchs presiding over their kingdoms and their eyes followed me with interest as I climbed the stairs. I looked over at their view of the street strewn with trash and a few bodies sprawled on the sidewalk. A heavy feeling of misery floated around me in the air.
The room was small, and the heavy odor of Lysol didn’t cover the sickening smell of old cigarette smoke.
A single layer blanket that looked as if it was a castoff from a hospital covered the thin lumpy mattress. There was a small dresser made of plywood with cigarette burns along the top, and a smaller table meant to serve as a desk and probably a place to eat. Next to the bed was a metal folding chair.
I sat down exhausted, thinking that they must have issued the murder warrant for my arrest by now. Did Raleigh make it through? But if whoever bombed my car and set my house on fire could find me first, the cops investigating the shooting wouldn’t have anybody left to find.
I checked the double bolt on the door, shut off the light switch that covered a barely shaded bulb on the dresser, took off my clothes, and climbed under the threadbare blanket. I must have drifted off because when I awoke to the sound of men’s voices arguing outside in the hall, only a half hour had passed according to my watch. I looked around blankly for a moment and then remembered where I was. I quickly grabbed my purse and pulled out my service revolver. Tucking it under the covers next to me, I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep, but Raleigh’s face and Kimberly’s twisted body kept floating in front of my eyes.
The residents in this hotel woke up early. The commotion outside in the hall started as soon as the sky began to light up, a little after six in the morning. Doors slammed and high-pitched angry voices called out across the corridor. “You motherfucker. Fuck you!” Immediately after that, I heard a loud thud.
For a moment, I lay perfectly still, my mind speeding, trying to figure out where I was. Slowly I remembered and rolled over on my side to check for my gun.
I looked around at the small room. Yesterday I’d been on the move, ready to head straight out to Mexico, to keep on a trail that took me as far away from the state of Louisiana as possible. The trail ahead still had the possibility of freedom. I just had to keep moving. But today I felt weary, resigned, my spirit cracked like the walls of this hotel room that had witnessed so many others struggle to find life or hang on to what little they had. I pulled the cover over my head and tried to disappear so I wouldn’t hear the rough menacing voices and the pounding footsteps running down the hall.
A while later, the traffic cleared out from the second floor, and my full bladder started to complain. Reluctantly I put on my jeans and top and headed for the common bathroom. I’d shared a bathroom in Bangkok with other boarders, hotel workers who scrimped on life itself, sending everything they had to their families. Not even a sliver of soap remained when they came through. A roll of toilet tissue could be sold or traded. Nothing was wasted there.
I pushed open the door to the woman’s bathroom and looked around in shock as the foul smell hit me. Twisted filthy heaps of clothes, lay on the tile floor that looked as if had been recently flooded. Crude lettering, and gang scrawls covered the mirrors over the sinks. The sinks themselves, were plugged-up with paper towels and dried soap and black grime stuck to the porcelain. The large trash can in the middle overflowed with used sanitary napkins left unfolded.
I stepped around the puddles on the floor and opened the door to the first toilet stall. The toilet hadn’t been flushed and had overflowed out of the stall. The second one was plugged-up with what looked like a couple of diapers and the third one was missing a seat and most of the bowl. I finally opened the fourth door. It looked like this toilet flushed and I was grateful to see toilet paper hanging in long sheets over the door. I grabbed a handful and stepped inside the stall.
After flushing and carefully stepping around the soaking floor, I checked the shower area and saw that it was empty, except for one solitary figure with her back turned to me, bent over, shaving one long leg with a pink plastic razor.
Looking around I saw that there were five separate shower heads attached to the white tile wall about six feet from the ground, and a long tile bench attached to the wall where the woman shaving her legs, was sitting. I decided to take a shower in a little while and hoped that nobody else had the same idea.
Just as I started out, the figure in the shower turned around and pointed at me. “What’s your name?”
I stopped and stared. The figure was male, but it was clear that she was working to change that. A smallsized pile of dark body hair lay at her feet, and her nails were painted a bright red. She looked up at me raising carefully penciled eyebrows. “I asked, what’s your name?”
I hesitated, not wanting to let her know anything about me. On my way to Mexico, I told myself.
“Susan,” I answered after thinking about it, remembering the name, I’d given at the desk.
“So, you’re not going to tell me your real name?” She wanted to know. “Well Susan’s okay with me. Do you have any shaving cream honey? I’m out, and this hurts.”
I told her I didn’t, and she nodded in understanding, and bent over to finish her other leg. I hurried out quickly. Speaking to anybody if I could help it was not in my plans. I walked as fast as I could back to my room. My heart was hammering, and I kept looking down the corridor expecting to see the police right behind me. When I opened the door, I felt lightheaded and I quickly bolted it behind me, looking around for someone hiding, but there was nobody there. Sitting down on the bed, I put my head in my hands and tried to calm myself. I needed to think. This seemed like a good place to stay hidden until I was ready to move on, just a day or so. But would it be better to leave here and head up to a better part of town? Would it be easier to spot me there?
Shaking, I combed my hair and stared at my reflection in the mirror. Then on impulse, I grabbed the pair of scissors and held it up to my ponytail. I closed my eyes and pressed the shears together. When I pulled my hand away, I was holding a ten-inch length of hair in my hands. Sadly, I looked back in the mirror and a boyish face without make-up and chopped off hair looked back at me. I cringed looking at the image that I’d given up a long time ago and automatically reached between my legs and checked. Yes, I was still female down there. Taking a deep breath, I grabbed my purse and headed out the door. Part of my plan was to empty my bank account before I moved on. I needed cash to survive.
The lobby was crowded; most of the residents gathered around the mailboxes were asking when the mail carrier was coming. They were getting impatient and I could their low volume grumbling as they waited for their checks. I pushed past them and started toward the front door, when the man at the desk wearing the same coveralls from yesterday, called out. “Are you paid up through today? If you’re not, you need to pay now. We don’t allow deadbeats here.”
Part of me wanted to keep walking, but I forced myself to walk back to the desk while he checked under “Susan Smith,” the name I’d used when I registered. While he checked, the other residents stared at me openly, most of them eyeing my purse. I clutched it closer to me and when he finished, I started walking.
The streets were waking up, but there was no early morning mist floating through the air, rising off a neighboring body of water, no odor of fermenting green rot from the bayou or smell of jasmine drifting through the streets like in New Orleans.
Instead, the light sprinkling of rain on the concrete sidewalks triggered the smell of the hundreds of bodies of human beings who had passed through the area. The smells of garbage, human waste, and marijuana gave off an overpowering perfume making me move faster to avoid the gathering of early morning residents, most of them looking for their first high of the day. I kept heading down to Fourth Street until I saw a Bank of America further toward the downtown area. Checking behind me, I walked over hastily and found the versateller near the bank entrance. Quickly I punched in my pin number and waited as the balance came up on the screen. Then I quickly hit the keys to take out the maximum allowed. That still left me fifteen hundred dollars, money I was going to need, but I couldn’t take any more out for twenty-four hours. I thought about going inside to the teller and withdrawing it personally, but that was too risky; somebody could identify me. I was certain at that point that everybody was watching me, memorizing my face in case they needed to make a personal identification later on.
I hurried back out to the street and headed over to Broadway, thinking that if I took out the maximum amount every day, I’d need to stay around for a couple more days to clean out my account. If I stayed around, I’d have to pay more to stay at the hotel too. I mulled it over in my mind and decided I still wanted to take out all my money.
My head down, I started back down the street as the shops started pulling up the iron gates at their entrance, signaling that they were open for business. I stopped for a moment to admire the huge paper mache cartoon characters hanging in front of one of the shops. I’d never seen so many in one place before, just a few ragged ones in the back of a shop in Jackson Square. I remembered vaguely that they were something you bought for a children’s birthday party, and that I’d seen one made with the image of the president’s face back near the Ninth Ward. Children were hitting it with sticks, trying to break it open.
The strong smell of coffee moved me toward the Grand Central Market next door, and I purchased a cup of coffee and a piece of cake from a glass case labeled pan dulce. I gulped them down, and then ordered a second cup of coffee. Now fully awake, I was trembling with nerves, wondering how long I could stay here without them finding me.
Passing a newspaper stand, I stopped and purchased a copy of the Times, grateful that the vendor was blind with a seeing-eye-dog sitting at his side. While he pocketed my change, I looked around, my eyes scanning all the headlines on the newspapers on display. I fully expected to see “Police Officer Wanted for Murder,” captioned over a picture of the photo on my badge. I didn’t see anything in the headlines or on any magazine covers.
Maybe I’d imagined it all, but I could still feel my hand squeezing the trigger and seeing Raleigh and that girl, Kimberly, falling, blood oozing from the wounds that came from the gun I was holding. No, it was real, just like my supervisor in the shoe factory, and Cristiano in the hotel room. My mother was right;
Father Raymundo didn’t chase the devil away.
Just as I was telling myself that maybe I could get by here for a couple of days, even get used to the bathroom from hell; a sudden thought pierced through my mind like a spiked piece of glass. Once they started looking for me, they’d locate my bank account and then check to see if there were any recent transactions. I was a cop and I’d have to be really stupid to think that using the versateller, instead of going to the window to withdraw the money, wouldn’t show up in their investigation. Whoever found my location in the police department would probably tip off the people who burned my car and my house. Maybe they were the same people. Maybe they were on their way now. Feeling as if I’d been backed into a corner and punched in the stomach over and over, the way I felt when I was losing a fight. I sat down at the bus stop and watched the buses pass, trying to calm myself. Panic made me want to run somewhere away from here fast, and as soon as the next bus stopped, I jumped on. The sign on the front window said “Hollywood.”
I handed the young black driver, with a cleanshaved head and razor-sharp creases in his shirt, a handful of change, unsure of how much I needed to pay. He told me how much change to put in the box, but my legs were wobbling, and I dumped the entire contents of my change purse into the metal box at his feet. He watched me and shrugged his shoulders, turning back to face the traffic straight ahead. “You don’t get any change back you know,” he told me matter-of-factly, snapping the gum in his mouth.
I automatically moved to the back of the bus and turned my face away from the people sitting across the aisle. Most of the passengers were brown-skinned, Hispanic or some kind of Asian, with just a few older, black people. They all looked tired and disheveled. Most of them held shopping bags on their laps, carrying their purchases from the Grand Central Market, and placing the overloaded ones that didn’t fit there, next to them in the aisles, where they sat like plastic barriers shielding them from the other passengers on the bus.
I stared out the window as the bus lurched along, turning left on a street called “Sunset” and traveled west, passing aged store fronts, small take out places, liquor stores and clinics. I wondered how far we were from Hollywood while I saw block after block of crumbled and dirty concrete sidewalks, and small holein-the-wall bars where drunks stumbled out dazed into the daylight.
To the north, I could see the soft violet hills surrounding the run-down houses that ran off the streets parallel to the bus route. I also could see large, expensive-looking, white-washed mansions that clung to the sides of the hills with the dignity they’d earned over the last decades.
The bus continued west until we reached the intersection of Sunset and Hollywood Boulevard and then veered to the right to follow the Hollywood street sign. I sat up straight and looked around trying not to make eye contact with anyone. The bus took on more passengers, and most of them looked even more hopeless compared to the people we picked up downtown. We passed block after block, where young men drifted along the sidewalk, in no particular hurry to go anywhere and cars slowed down and pulled to the curb to speak to them. A few blocks up, a couple of women dressed in tight short shorts, high heels and halter tops, also strolled along the sidewalk, close to the curb and approached the cars directly.
We passed several porno theatres and a couple of Thai massage places that advertised in glowing neon. As we passed a street called “Western,” The bus began to empty out, and I watched a few groups of young people with purple Mohawks and ripped tights, some with safety pins sticking out from the sides of their mouths, congregate in front of the storefronts and in the parking lots. I saw some of them sitting on the sidewalk calling out to everybody passing by for change.
As we passed Wilcox Avenue, the streets began to fill up with a different group of people and I started to see the familiar faces of out-of-town Midwestern tourists carrying cameras and stopping every few feet to lean over and take a picture of something on the sidewalk. I guessed they were looking at the gold stars that I’d heard the actors and actresses had on the Boulevard.
Watching the people crowding around as we pulled in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, I suddenly wished I was back in Bangkok safely waiting tables or working in the kitchen. Those weren’t really bad times I thought. Men I met there thought I was beautiful when I was made-up and bought me things when they took me out. After I had my operation in the private hospital in Bangkok, the few people I’d gotten close to went along with my new identity as if they had known all along that I was going to change. They called me Genie, instead of Gene and I think they respected what I’d done, even if some of them told me they thought I should have kept my penis.
Maybe you were wondering, but I never hustled in the street bars when I was in Bangkok, even though people kept pushing me to, telling me you could meet more men that way, get more money, maybe even an American to marry and take care of you.
From what I saw, the locals and the tourists treated anybody who worked in the street bars like trash. Afraid of how angry I knew I could get when something bothered me, I stayed away from places where I knew I could hurt somebody if they pushed me too far. So, the street bars weren’t for me. The restaurants and the hotels paid a lot less, but I wanted to stay out of trouble.
Sure, I’d been lonely a lot of the time, but then I was lonely in New Orleans. The difference was when I was in Bangkok; I still had the dream of coming to the U.S. and making something of myself.
I’d come looking for the man who was my father and wanting to believe that he must be some kind of well-respected, financially successful man, who loved me dearly. Maybe I should have known, when instead I found a broken hateful alcoholic, that the dream was going to come crashing down.
As soon as the bus pulled to the curb, I jumped off looking around, feeling fear creeping back. So, this was Hollywood. Well now, I’d seen it and I could leave this city and move on I told myself. But right now, I didn’t want to go back to my suffocating little room that smelled like disinfectant, I kept walking west, past a shop whose windows were filled with cups, and banners that said “Hollywood California.” I looked inside and the store was filled with the usual paleskinned men and women, decked out in flowered cotton and carrying cameras. They were packed in tightly, holding the hands of whining children dragged along for the ride. To the right of the entrance was another smaller door with a large stenciled sign that said “NOTARIO,” across the plate glass frame.
I paused in front of the window, breathing in the scent of the street that was a mixture of smog and car fumes, filtered through a hazy humid cloud of air, and peered into the small space. I knew that notaries were like lawyers in the Latin countries and I wondered what a notario was doing here in Hollywood. As I looked in, I saw two women, and a young man sitting in folding chairs in front of a cheap metal desk.
The two women definitely were Hispanic. They looked like they were over sixty at least. Deep lines of suffering crossed their faces, and they both wore long black braids that were tied behind their back, aprons over their house dresses, and long black stockings.
They reminded me of the old grandmas in the Philippines. One of them turned toward the door and glanced at me before she turned to the young man sitting next to her. From where I stood, I could see that his arms and face were heavily tattooed, and his head was shaved clean and bare. He stood up suddenly, stretching his thin frame and I saw he was wearing a long baggy white tee-shirt, and baggy khaki shorts that were belted below the crack of his butt.
The woman sitting behind the desk must have felt me staring, because she looked up startled as if I’d encroached on her private space or caught her doing something very personal like picking her panties out of her rear end.
She put down the small phone she was holding to her ear, and I remembered that I’d seen those little phones advertised before I left New Orleans and thought about getting one myself. In the end, I rejected the idea. Sixty dollars for a phone seemed like a lot of money, especially since hardly anybody called me, except to confirm my work schedule at the station. Now a phone like this would be useless.
I don’t really know why I went inside that little office. But suddenly the clean white tee-shirt and the long-limbed body of the boy inside, reminded me of Raleigh and I felt I had to move closer. As soon as I stepped in the door, memories of home and my mother hit me. I guess it was the smell that did it, the strong odor of tangerines, window cleaner, and stale corn from the dried-up tortillas sitting on a paper plate on the front desk.
We always had a bottle of window cleaner at home, even when there was hardly anything to eat or if we had to borrow the bottle from the old woman who lived in the front of the house, Mrs. Mendoza, who had so many cataracts that she couldn’t see how much we’d used or if I refilled the bottle with mostly water, at my mother’s direction. My mother sprayed it everywhere, especially on the toilet seat after a male customer left.
The woman at the desk looked up, her hand in midair and asked me something in Spanish. I shook my head, not understanding. She looked at me a moment longer and then asked, “You speak English?”
I told her I did, and she nodded looking satisfied.
“What kind of legal service can I offer you?”
Not knowing what to say, I gazed around the room, my eyes landing on a small sign that said in English,
“We replace lost identification.” The phrase appeared again under the sign in what looked like Spanish.
Thoughts poured into my mind. I’d had other identification that I’d stolen from the office in the Philippines, where Cristiano sent me to get traveling identification. It identified me as male, but it was gone, destroyed like everything else in the fire.
The ID I had now belonged to the cop who shot the two people in New Orleans. Somehow, I couldn’t believe that I was that cop, just a few days ago.
I spoke up, “I lost my identification, and I need to get it replaced,” I told her.
The woman stood up showing off a tight black dress split high up her thighs, and sparkly stiletto heels. “You have to fill this out. It’s in Spanish, maybe you can only fill out the first couple of lines. We deal in cash only. No refunds.”
I reached over and took the clipboard from her. Sitting back down, I looked over at the young man seated two seats over. Up close, he looked nothing like Raleigh. His skin was too light, a yellowish shade, instead of the warm buttery tone of Raleigh’s, and when he turned around, I saw that he was missing the soft pillow-like lips and large hazel eyes that made Raleigh so good looking. This boy looked mean and nasty with this thin tight mouth and narrow eyes. His edginess was exaggerated by the cheap tattoos covering his arms, upper chest, and part of his face that had faded from green to a lackluster black.
I stood up and started to give back the clipboard. There was nothing I needed here. What I needed to do was to hang on to my money because it wasn’t going to last long. I couldn’t imagine that I’d need identification in Mexico if I was in hiding.
I glanced out the window, part of me not wanting to step outside on the sidewalk, afraid that they already knew where I was, and were right down the street waiting for me. Looking over one more time at the boy sitting next to the old women, I thought that situations that come about in life can take away your money and your possessions, but they can’t take away your memories.
Just as I started to tell the woman at the desk that I’d changed my mind, a door opened from an inner office and a short overweight middle-aged man, wearing a too tight iridescent green suit stepped out. He was dark-skinned and his black hair was greased back from his forehead showing only a little gray peeping out at the roots. His face and jowls were plump, and I noticed the glitter of large colorful rings on his hands as he clapped them together. “Who’s next?” He asked, looking around smiling.
The girl at the desk pointed at the old woman sitting to the right of the boy, “Its Mrs. Fernandez. She came to tell you that her other son is still going to serve life, and the money she gave you to change the judge’s mind didn’t work.
The little man waved his ringed hand through the air. “She needs to be patient. These things take time. The judge is probably thinking about letting her son go, but he doesn’t want to do it right away. Maybe we can have her give some more money to make the judge move faster.”
The woman at the desk sighed and winked her eye at the man with a knowing nod. She turned to the woman, but before she could say anything, the man interrupted and pointed at me. “Who do we have here?” He asked.
“I was just leaving,” I told him, thinking that he had the heaviest accent I’d heard in a long time.
His smile deepened. “Don’t leave. We haven’t had a chance to get to know each other. I can help you with whatever you need. Just tell me what it is. We don’t usually have such beautiful ladies, here do we?” He turned to address the woman at the desk.
She glowered at me, running a hand though her hair and then tossing it off her shoulders.
“Marta, why don’t you offer this woman a mango or a tangerine? They taste really good this time of year.” His eyes looked away from the old women and the boy and fastened on me as if they were trying to see through to the other side.
“I really need to go,” I insisted.
The man reached me in two steps. “Let’s just talk a little in my office. What can it hurt? I know I can help you with something. You would do me an honor. I get lonely sitting in there all by myself, worrying about all the people I have to help. Do you know I have a radio show?” he asked.
I sighed and allowed him to lead me gently by the arm to the inner office and close the door.
“Sit down,” he urged, pointing to a metal chair in front of his desk that was piled high with papers and folders stacked in various directions with no space between them. “As you see I have a thriving immigration business here along with other things.”
I looked around and saw that the file cabinets were over-flowing, and the drawers were off their runners. Files were stacked around the walls and lined all four corners of the room.
On a metal cart next to the desk sat a half empty bowl of something white in a red congealed broth. Dried tortillas that had passed the stage of dehydration, were lying on top of crumpled paper napkins. Half empty glasses and plastic cups containing differing colors of liquid stood abandoned at the edge of the tray. The office was stale and musty, with the exception of the cologne this man wore. The smell of it was sickeningly sweet and seemed to be secreting from the sweat on his face and forehead.
I suddenly felt nauseated and shaky, a feeling that came on only a couple of times a day or so, now that I wasn’t taking the pills. I realized I hadn’t had a drink for several days either, which was the longest I’d gone since I joined the force.
The man gestured toward the chair and this time I slid into it, feeling weak and grateful for the moments I didn’t have to face the street.
“My name’s Alberto,” he said matter-of-factly.
“What’s yours?”
I gave him the same name I gave at the hotel, Susan Smith, and watched the corners of his mouth turn up in a smile.
“Well, have a little drink Susan,” he directed, reaching for a bottle of vodka. Without asking, he poured a small paper cup full and handed it to me.
I took it without saying a word and swallowed almost all of it in one gulp while he watched me intently.
“So, what’s not right with you huh?”
I felt the drink hit my stomach and warm my insides, making my muscles relax and the nausea go away. I closed my eyes and held out the cup. He filled it again for me.
I was calmer now, some of my fear replaced by curiosity. “What is this place?” I wanted to know.
“I provide legal services. Help people out with their problems. You don’t understand Spanish, do you? If you did, you could listen to my radio show. It comes on once a week on Mondays.”
“This isn’t a law office is it?” I asked thinking that
I couldn’t see any lawyer working in a place like this. I’d met enough of them In New Orleans, snotty and entitled, mostly white, from old southern families. They liked to talk about the fancy schools they went to and the expensive vacations their families took.
They were strong on tradition, but not above stiffing a bar tender and walking out without paying their check or calling out to them, “add it to my tab.”
The guys on the force hated lawyers too. Most of them had been forced to testify before. They said that the criminal attorneys made them look like monkeys when they were finished.
“I don’t speak Spanish,” I told him.
He nodded his head. “I didn’t think so.” Then more directly, he inquired, “So what are you?”
“What do you mean?”
I mean I’m Mexican and Marta out there or whatever her name is, comes from El Salvador. Where do you come from?” “Thailand,” I told him.
“Really?” He looked at me doubtfully. “You’re kinda tall, not real skinny like they usually are. The women look like little girls.”
I shrugged my shoulders and started to stand. “Sit down! Sit down,” he directed. “Why do you need help? For your drinking maybe? I know a clinic in East Los Angeles. They keep everything a secret. Nobody has to know.”
“I don’t have a drinking problem,” I told him angrily, my face flushing with embarrassment. “And if
I did it wouldn’t be any of your business.” “Suit yourself then,” he said with a little smile.
“I wanted to find out about getting new
identification. That’s all.”
“Oh?” he smiled widely. “Everybody needs ID. I can get you the best ID. A driver’s license I suppose?” “Yes, a driver’s license. That’s what I want. But shouldn’t I go the Department of Motor Vehicles for that?”
“Oh no,” he assured me in a horrified voice. “I have better ID than they do. No waiting. No lines. That’s what comes with having connections. And,” he added, moving closer. “I can get you any kind of ID you need. It’s just between us. You’re not from here right? You need California ID.”
“How much is it?”
“Well,” he hesitated and moved closer to me. “You know I’m famous here in Los Angeles,” he said.” I do a lot of good for the people, and they love me.” “That’s good, but how much is it?” I said. “The ladies especially love me,” he added.
Suddenly I knew how to leave on a good note. I smiled wide and crossed my legs. “Why don’t you tell me what this ID will cost me, and I’ll come back and pay you in a few days.”
Alberto raised his eyebrows in appreciation. “Of course. Normally I charge five thousand dollars, but for you only four thousand.”
“Dollars?” I gasped. I couldn’t imagine things like licenses could be any more expensive than in New Orleans where you purchased them from the Motor Vehicle Department.
Alberto nodded solemnly. “See that young boy out there. Even you could tell he’s a gangster. But I got the connections to get him off. Maybe he won’t have to go to court at all. Of course, he had to pay.”
I looked up at this strange little man presiding over his kingdom here on Hollywood Boulevard, and thought what a strange place Los Angeles was. “Well, that’s pretty steep, but I can always come back another time.”
“Susan,” he began, “maybe we can make a deal.
Sometimes people trade things for what they need.”
As he spoke, a narrow, closed door at the rear of the office swung open, and I looked over at a young boy holding onto the knob. He was about six years old with coffee-colored skin and large dark eyes outlined with a heavy fringe of lashes. He wore a gray sweat suit, and flip flops on his narrow feet, that looked as if they were worn to the ground.
Inside the back room, I could see a cartoon dog and cat dance their way across the screen on an oldfashioned color television set balanced on cement blocks.
The little boy walked over to Alberto’s desk dragging his small fingers along the surface. “I’m hungry,” he complained.
Alberto reached into the desk drawer and pulled out a tangerine. “Eat this,” he told him.
The little boy curled his little fingers around the slightly brown piece of fruit and walked back to the room with the television shutting the door.
“Anyway,” Alberto began again. “I’m sure we can work something out.” He sighed deeply. “I have trouble too in my life. Just like you.”
I started to tell him I had no trouble, but he kept talking.
“Most of my trouble is with women,” he told me. “Even when they are gone, they leave me with trouble. But not just women. Sometimes people don’t appreciate what you do to help them. Jealous people, you know, I helped a lot of people, even a few lawyers, but they all left me even though I was the one that gave them an opportunity. I always give everyone an opportunity.”
I noticed his eyes were teary, and he looked past me toward the outer office when he spoke. “Sometimes people are jealous of me because I have a good life here in the United States, and I have all the pretty girls. They bring in the police and try to destroy me, I have to move away, but I always come back. I come back and give second chances. That’s what I do.” He reached over and poured the rest of the bottle in my cup. “Any way it’s a hard life.” He smiled a little. “Maybe we can make a deal if you’re nice to me.”
“Okay,” I gave my biggest smile as I tilted the cup back and emptied it. “I’ll be back on Saturday. How’s that?” I stood up avoiding his hands and walked toward the door.
Alberto followed close behind blowing me a kiss as I walked away. “I’ll be waiting for you. I’m here allday Saturday.”
The woman sitting at the front desk glared at me. The young boy with the sagging pants, just stared at the floor, his mouth set in a hard-sullen line. Nothing like Raleigh, I told myself.
I thought about Alberto as I headed back down
Hollywood Boulevard and picked up the same bus number that I’d ridden there. I got a strong feeling that he really didn’t like me, while he made his show of being kindly, that he probably hated all women, their bodies, their thoughts, their dreams, but maybe he wasn’t any different from most men.
The only thing I was certain about now, was that women had to learn to survive and thrive on their own, sometimes from nothing, and not let anything get in the way, especially loneliness. Not like I did with Raleigh. I was pretty sure I’d never see him again, one way or the other, but I understood why I shot him and that girl, Kimberly. When I pulled the trigger that time, it had nothing to do with protecting myself.
The bus turned again onto Sunset going east and I began to feel the cold shaking and nausea starting again. I stared out the window and on impulse I moved up to the gray-haired driver wearing a Lakers windbreaker. “Do you know of any bars on the way downtown?”
He half-turned and chuckled. “Sure lady. Here in Echo Park the old timers drink at the Short Stop or the Gold Room. I’d recommend the Short Stop. Used to be famous. Ball players drank there, judges and cops too.
Now just mostly cops. Old timers drink in the Gold Room. But they say the neighborhood will be changing soon. Young people starting to move in. They like those old bars, the dirtier, the better. Usually ladies don’t drink alone though,” he said as an afterthought.
I decided to stay away from the Short Stop as I moved my seat closer to the driver. Drinking with cops right now seemed like a sure death. “Tell me when we pass the Gold Room,” I told him.
A few minutes later after we had driven past rundown buildings housing small Mexican or Asian food stands, pawn shops, laundromats, and a few small store front churches, the driver turned back to me and pointed to the right as we came to Silverlake Boulevard. “There it is. Don’t buy any dope there,” he told me in a concerned tone. “When the Short Stop is crowded some of the undercover guys go to drink there.”
I hopped off and walked a few feet on the cracked and stained sidewalk that buckled into odd peaks and valleys. The sidewalk was filled in some parts with dry Foxtails and in others with old broken chunks of asphalt faded to a grayish shade by the sun.
A dirty brown curtain hung in the doorway of the bar, separating the old wooden bar from the street. The odor of the bar itself flooded out as soon as I pulled the curtain aside, a mixture of stale beer and old cigarette smoke, combined with mildew, reminding me that I’d pretty much stopped drinking in bars when I first got to New Orleans.
It was early afternoon, but the bar was fully occupied, with only two seats left. In the corner, a couple of day laborers with cowboy hats, and wide belts with big buckles, shot pool and sucked on their Coors.
Music poured out from a jukebox standing in the corner; the song was mournful and sung in Spanish, but it finished as I sat down on one of the empty stools and Frank Sinatra’s voice singing, My Way, took its place. I ordered my first whiskey and downed it before I looked around and noticed I was the only woman there.
Old hippies sat packed together, socializing. Men with long gray hair twisted into braids, scraggly beards and mustaches, beat up flannel shirts and blue jeans sat side by side, with other men around the same age who looked like winos. I noticed the man sitting next to me had no shoes as he rocked back and forth on his stool.
A few Mexicans and Asians also sat at the bar nursing their drinks and listening to the music. The bartender didn’t seem to speak much English. He looked around blankly following the voices and hearing the conversations, but only responding when he heard the names of the drinks that the men ordered.
I ordered another drink and listened to The Real Slim Shady, on the juke box, by a white rapper whose name I’d heard, but couldn’t remember. As the jukebox played, I closed my eyes and pictured my small back house burnt to the ground, and the larger front house that went up in ashes with it.
I wondered how Mrs. Boisseau was doing now and where she was living with her children. I figured the insurance company would be contacting her eventually because of the arson investigation. They would find out she was the owner of the property, and if she got a decent payoff maybe she could afford a better place to live.
One good deed matched up against all the other shit I’d done. I had to laugh to myself. I only wished I could go back before everything started, before I took Mrs.
Devereux’s money, before I saw the men in the woods, before I discovered Richard and Beth, and before I shot Raleigh and his girlfriend Kimberley. If I could just erase these last months and start over.
I started to feel the warmth of whiskey about that time. I just had to stay calm I told myself. Tomorrow I would take out the rest of my money and cross the border. I’d be safe there, and then I’d travel further into Central America. Maybe I could work my way back to Bang Kok eventually. Tomorrow.
After paying my tab, I walked back to the bathroom stall thinking that it wasn’t that long ago that I wanted to use the woman’s bathroom and couldn’t. Now I sat down freely on the toilet seat inside the closed cubicle and closed the door to count the remainder of the money in my purse. There wasn’t that much left after paying for tonight’s stay at the cheap hotel where I’d stayed last night.
I stepped out of the dimly lit bar into the blinding afternoon light, inhaling the fumes from a passing bus. Looking down the street, I saw my bus number 302 heading back downtown. I ran up the street to catch it, getting to the door when it screeched to a stop.
I walked to the back of the bus on shaky legs. The bus was pretty empty except for a few teenagers wearing expensive tennis shoes, who were laughing with each other while they talked about how many days of school they’d ditched this week. I listened with my head down, part of me wanting to interrupt and tell them that they were making a mistake. That I knew about that kind of mistake because I’d lived it, and I’d lost those years forever.
As the bus headed into downtown, I saw another branch of my bank on the corner past the criminal court building. My eyes followed it as we slowly moved past. I was going to wait until tomorrow to withdraw the last of my money before I crossed the border. But what did it matter? I thought. If they were looking for me, they already knew that I’d been in the vicinity of my bank.
I kept looking back thinking they were already just a few steps behind me. Maybe it would be better for me to get out of Los Angeles fast, not give them any more time to catch up. If I hurried, I could be across the border before the sun went down. I decided to take my chances and finish what I’d started.
I jumped up and pressed the bar near the window, the way I’d seen a few passengers do earlier. The driver, a young clean-cut pink-cheeked guy, turned and called out irritably. “What’s the emergency?” “I really need to get off,” I yelled.
He didn’t answer, but pulled over to the side, next to a row of parked cars and jerked the bus to a stop. I jumped off and without looking back and jogged over to the entrance of the bank. This time I opened the door and stepped inside feeling the rush of refrigerated air. No need to wait till tomorrow because I’d taken out the maximum I could through the versateller, just go to the window and get it over with, I told myself. They already had enough information to come after me.
Three tellers were servicing the crowded lobby of the downtown bank, and the line snaked around the roped off velvet barriers that separated the lobby from the teller windows. I waited behind a weaving line of impatient customers. There were young women in short skirts and high heels, their faces carefully made up, probably women who worked in offices, sneaking out to make a quick withdraw of cash before they were missed, elderly pensioners, bent at the waist, pushing metal walkers, waiting to deposit their small checks so they could get enough cash to eat for the rest of the week, and laborers and construction workers in paint and plaster-covered clothes, tool belts hanging around their hips, pulling out wallets sometimes thick with folded cash or sometimes thin and empty.
I moved to the window. As I stood in line, I was conscious of the cameras overhead that were photographing all of us. Nervously I wrote my account number on a withdrawal slip and handed it to the teller. I watched as she punched in the numbers. “So, do you want to withdraw the balance?”
I told her I did, and she punched a few more keys, entered some more information, and suggested that I leave five dollars in my account so that it could remain open in case I needed it again.
I told her that was fine, and she handed me my cash and a stamped withdrawal slip. I kept my head down hoping no one could really say they got a good look at me, and I started out walking next to a tall black man who’d also finished his business at the window and was leaving too.
There was something familiar about his stringy body and the lilting walk that drew my attention to his overly large shaved head. I was trying to remember why it seemed that I knew him when he called out,
“Genie is that you?”
A cold flush ran down my body, and I felt my throat close.
“That is, you. Isn’t it! God damn girl. I almost didn’t recognize you out of uniform. And the short hair, that’s different.”
I looked up miserably. “What are you doing here
“I could ask you the same thing,” he said laughing, as we drifted toward the door. “I heard from the station that they were looking for you down home.
Everybody’s talking about you.”
“I thought you were out of the police department.” I could hear myself speaking. Someone else talking from far away. I could see him bent over Bennett’s body as it lay on the ground, kicking him over and over, calling for the other offices to join on.
“Well I was for a minute,” he answered. “Some bullshit because of back child support, but I got it straightened out. The Department wouldn’t take me back. They say they’re cleaning house, but South Bayou was short on officers, and they picked me up.
I’ve been there for a while.”
I heard myself say, “That’s nice,” while dread crept up my body.
“Yeah,” he continued. I came down here a few days ago because my cousin’s living on the street somewhere here on Skid Row. He’s a bona fide addict. Ain’t that some shit? Almost OD’d so many times now, and I promised my aunt that I’d look for him, try to bring him home. I’ve been looking all over Skid Row.
Rented a car and everything, but I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him.”
I felt the blood pounding in my ears, and I fought the urge to run as fast as I could.
“I had to call the personnel office the other day. Some crap about checking in every day while I’m on suspension from the Department. Union rules. You didn’t know I was on suspension?” He said.
My voice quivered. “I didn’t even know you were back on the force.”
“Yeah well I guess you wouldn’t,” he said. “Anyway, there was this little problem when I shot this student from Tulane in his apartment. They said he was unarmed, and I got the apartment wrong. That I shouldn’t have pulled my weapon anyway.”
I looked up now, thinking about Raleigh and Kimberley.
“So, my union is fighting it, saying it was justifiable homicide. I just have to say what they tell me to, and keep my mouth shut the rest of the time. Anyway, when I called in to report like I was supposed to, my union rep wanted to know if I knew who you were, seeing we both worked in the same precinct. I told him I was at the academy with you and we were patrol partners for a minute.”
Monroe kept on talking. “Anyway, he told me you made up some shit and reported what’s his name…the white guy…wasn’t it Richard something? Real religious. He’s not around now. They say you told the top brass that he was having sex with some kid and it got reported to Children’s Services.”
He didn’t seem to notice I wasn’t saying anything.
Monroe continued. “He told me too, that you’re a suspect in the murder of some stripper, one of those whores that danced at a club where you worked security. You shot her and this other guy who was her boyfriend. The boyfriend said you went crazy and shot them for no reason.”
Raleigh’s alive, I thought, my heart jumped in my chest.
Monroe lowered his voice. “But the thing they’re really pissed about is that you sent a letter to the big brass saying you saw some kind of kinky sex going on in the woods. Supposed to be some kind of secret club these guys have and there were a couple of little girls there with some men. Rumor is, they told you to forget about it and keep your mouth shut, but you didn’t listen.
I hear there’s a lot of higher ups in that shit and they don’t want their name dragged through the mud. Everybody says that’s what you get for hiring a woman.”
“I need to get going,” I told him. “I have an appointment.”
“What are you doing here anyway? You never said.” Monroe took out a handkerchief and mopped the top of his head. You out on bond or something?” “I haven’t been charged with anything,” I said defensively, desperately wanting to ask him about Raleigh.
“Well I guess they’re not through with your investigation yet,” Monroe suggested. “Just a real surprise to run into you. You sure you don’t have time for a drink? I can take you some place nice. You should put your troubles on the run. You know, I’ve never been to L.A. before.”
I bit my lip and looked away.
“Well you know I got my own problems with my family and all, on top of that case they’re building against me.”
He waited for me to say something, but I didn’t, my throat had closed. The silence was heavy between us.
Monroe sighed in resignation. “Well I’ve got to get going. Going to cruise around again before it gets dark down here. You know I kind of don’t want to find him.
I don’t have the stomach any more for all that trouble. He steals everything that’s not nailed down. Even stole from his mama.”
He reached over and patted me on the arm. “Well
I’ll give your regards to everybody down home. Man will they be surprised when I tell them I ran into you all the way down here in the land of the crazies.” I could hear the voice inside my head screaming, “Please don’t.” But I didn’t say a word.
“Maybe I’ll see you when you get back. You can buy me a drink.” He gave me a small salute and walked away heading for the parking lot.

Chapter Thirty-Two

So, I headed back to the hotel, frantic for the safety of my room, where I could lock the door with the double deadbolt and hide…. for a while. The bus driver looked very familiar and as I got closer, I saw I’d ridden with him going into Hollywood. I looked him right in the eye as I got on, testing his recognition, but he was lost in his own thoughts and didn’t even look at me.
Bursting with impatience and feeling that I was being watched, I managed to stand in line at the desk behind a few other tenants who were giving over their weekly rental payment from their monthly checks. I paid up for another day. Just enough time to figure out what to do, in case I didn’t leave that night I told myself.
Then I poured a few shots from one of the bottles of vodka that I’d bought at the liquor store down the street. They were out of whisky, my favorite. Maybe that meant something.
Susan Smith was safe in this room with enough time to finish off what was in the bottles.
I sat back on the bed and got started. Serious drinking takes concentration and nothing else can distract you once you start. My only distraction was the carton of hair dye I’d planned to use. I read the directions over three times, but then decided that I didn’t really want to look any different than I did now, in life or death. I’d already changed enough for a lifetime. Nobody knew just how much yet. I put the box of dye in small drawer on the table. Whoever came here after me would find it. Maybe they’d have a better life as a blonde.
I pulled the threadbare sheet off the bed and polished my Glock, making the metal gleam and shimmer in the dim light from the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. I would have cleaned it too if I had a brass brush and some cleaning solution. I turned the revolver around in my hand and studied it. Minutes passed, and then hours. The light went away and then returned.
I rested my finger against the trigger of my revolver. It would take a lot of guts to hold it to your head and pull. But maybe it takes more guts to wait for what was coming. Either way, eventually it will all be over.
And this is where you first met me, at the end of my journey, all the way to Los Angeles California and to this particular hotel room. The irony is you never know where you’ll finally land when you’re running toward death, trying to catch up. I’m almost there.

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