Cloud is alone, alienated, and outnumbered. Jessica and Leanne are convinced they have their Slave Quarter Killer in custody but Cloud isn’t convinced and he’s called back to Atlanta. The ladies lay it on thick, scolding Cloud for striking out on his own and not being a team player. Considering the facts, he has no choice but to submit to their logic and starts to second-guess himself…that is until he runs into KeNedra’s ghost.
The Slave Quarters
Chapter 15 – The Wrong Man
By Rock Kitaro
Since 1:30, I’ve been sleeping in a hospital bed on the 3rd floor of Augusta Medical Center. I have the whole room to myself. The alarm on my phone is set for seven. A strip of light floods the floor from the base of the door, getting brighter in the darkness. It wakes me up fifteen minutes earlier than expected.
It’s cold. My blazer is resting on the back of a chair but I’m still too tired to get up and get it. Thus, goosebumps prick up and proliferate my arms, causing me to slip my frigid hands into my pockets.
I’m staring at the ceiling with brooding eyes, dissatisfied, annoyed, disheartened. Nothing seems to be going my way. Now here I am, laid up in a hospital bed with the bumps and bruises stiffening my joints.
Meanwhile, Griffin’s the celebrated hero. Thanks to his “hunch,” he located the bodies of five missing girls. He’s rallied behind the judgment of my colleagues to settle on the idea that Jacory Godchaux is the Slave Quarter Killer and thanks to his provocations, he backed the poor fool in between a rock and a hard place.
Jacory’s shootout caused a stampede of protestors that resulted in five more injured civilians. He then led the police in, I would say a “high speed pursuit” but in downtown Augusta with its old narrow roads and stop signs galore, it was more like a game of cat and mouse. Either way, a victorious Griffin and his sidekick Jessica captured him without a single civilian casualty. They have every right to believe Jacory is the Slave Quarter Killer after everything he’s done.
I shouldn’t blame them…but I do. Especially Griffin.
After Jacory smashed his father’s SUV, he was brought to this very same hospital for emergency surgery. His right leg had to amputated and due to heavy blood loss, he hasn’t been conscience since. Right now, there were two officers stationed outside his hospital room down the hall from me. He was cuffed to the bedpost…as if they figured he’d try and hobble away on one leg.
Jamar and O’Shea Thompson received a police escort back to Coventry where their mother Amarah laid into them real good. The Thompsons, something about that family pulls at my heartstrings. They’re a good family. If KeNedra was still alive, I imagine she would’ve fared well with the lot of them backing her. I wish I had a family like that…little brothers, a sister, a mother who preached forgiveness but had the resolve to use the rod when the situation calls.
“Your mom is dead right?”
Jamar’s question comes out of thin air as clear as when he first said it.
“Are you glad?”
It wasn’t out of malice, I’m sure. Jamar was just curious. But still, why on Earth would he ask me that? My brows furrow at the thought. It’s in times like this that I could usually count on Maggie turning up to get a rise out of me, but at present, she does not reveal herself. She’s letting me rest, letting me think.
Focus on Griffin. He’s my guy. My next move is to lure him into a trap. Make that oaf give himself away. He’s out in front of everything, which means all eyes are on him. So what are you worried about? This should be easy for you, Cloud. So think…How do you get him?
Someone’s calling my phone. It lights up the room. A fiery sting spreads across my neck as I reach over to pick it off the nightstand. It’s Miranda. She’s been blowing up my phone for the better part of the afternoon, eight calls and twelve text messages.
“Hey, missy.” I groan.
“Cloud, what happened? Why aren’t you answering your phone?!” Miranda stresses with touching concern.
“Dude, you’re not gonna believe…” I’m just about to get started when suddenly I’m blinding by the overheads. Leanne whipped open the door and flipped on the lights as if she’s trying to wake a suspect for questioning. Jessica is right behind her, carrying a bag of fast food and sodas in foam coasters. My eyes are squinting with a confused grimace. Comical, I’m sure.
“Mm-hmm! Who ya talking to? One of your lady friends?” Leanne asks.
“Could be a guy,” Jessica smirks.
“Nope. All of Cloud’s friends are women. Trust me, I know.” Leanne points out as they drag over screeching chairs to sit in front of me.
I wince to sit up with the phone still pressed to my cheek. “I’m gonna have to call you back. I’m fine, Miranda. I promise.”
“See. Girl!” Leanne brags.
I’m a little embarrassed for the ladies to see me so disheveled. My hair looks like a blond fire that’s been hit by a freeze ray. My wrinkled white shirt is unbuttoned halfway down my chest and I have pillow lines engraving my red cheeks. I’m sure I smell or at least my feet do. My shoes are off and I have to move like an old man to keep my feet from touching the women. Jessica’s laying out burgers but from the way she keeps her chin tucked, I can tell she wants to laugh.
“Just got off the phone with Chomsky. He wants us back in the office by tomorrow afternoon,” Leanne says.
“Afternoon? We haven’t closed the case yet.”
Leanne and Jessica shoot me the same scathing stare.
Leanne continues with, “The local authorities can take it from here, Cloud. Chomsky’s been briefed. It’s a done deal. You should be glad. And you should know that while it was tempting to tell him about your gallivanting off by yourself and getting beat to a pulp, I refrained. We’re partners, you see. I wouldn’t throw you under the bus. Contrary to popular belief.”
“Thank you, Leanne.”
I say that bluntly. Now I have a time limit to catch the real killer. The ladies just swept the rug out from underneath me and I’m struggling real hard to hide my frustration.
Leanne senses it. She bats her lashes and leans back to cross her legs. Once settled, she gives me a long hard stare as if I stole her money and she’s still waiting for me to fess up. I don’t react. I’m starving. After putting on my shoes and buttoning up my shirt, I dig into a platter of burger and fries.
“Cloud, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. Why exactly did you ask to join this case?” Leanne starts in.
I’m sipping on lime soda through a noisy straw.
She continues with, “Ever since we got here we’ve been carrying you on our backs. I mean, seriously. What exactly have you done? We told you to come with us to the other plantations. You didn’t want to do that. We asked you for a hand in profiling Jacory. You didn’t want to do that. It shouldn’t have been Griffin in their questioning Jacory. It should have been you. But no! You had to go off and get yourself damn near killed. Yet, I’m the one who needs the partner! See! This is why I can’t stand this, condescending, patriarchal society. Meritocracy, my ass! It’s sexism at its finest!”
I sigh as I stay chewing on my burger. Leanne…Don’t worry. For all your talk of misogyny, I certainly see you pair on you. That’s what I’d like to say. What I do say is:
“Leanne…I hate to keep coming back to this. Fuck it. I need to know what time Griffin left your hotel room last night.”
“Cloud!” Jessica snaps.
“Un-freaking-believable!” Leanne shouts at the same time.
“That’s none of your business, Cloud. It’s extremely rude!” Jessica says.
“Thank you! Geez!” Leanne adds.
The purpose of my question isn’t to shut her up and get her off my back. I really need to know. My stubborn brown eyes are locked on Leanne. She’s munching on a fry but she knows I’m waiting.
“It’s none of your business when he left my hotel room, Cloud. That’s just none of your business.”
“What if I told you it’s pertinent to solving this case?”
“Alright, you need stop right there!” Jessica objects as her hands coil into a clenched fist.
I’m suddenly gripped with suspense as Jessica removes the box of fries from her lap, gets up and paces around while massaging the back of her neck. I’ve never seen her like this. In my own fantasies, I always imagined her anger as a source of arousal…not terror.
“Don’t tell me you think Griffin did this. And before you answer, consider this. Your line of questioning is extremely disrespectful and unbecoming. You’re insulting our intelligence and demeaning all our efforts, the integrity of our investigation. Believe it or not, you can’t always be the smartest person in the room. Jacory confessed!”
“To statutory rape, Jessica. Not murder.”
“Yeah and it adds up! You’re not a certified behavioral specialist. I am. The first victim, Alisha Collier, the arrangement of her body was positioned in a congenial state. That’s postmortem. She’s on her back with one hand resting over the other, on top of the navel. That tells us the killer was either racked with guilt, remorse, grief, or regret. All emotions displayed by our suspect during interrogation. Maybe if you had enough sleep you would’ve seen it for yourself instead of sitting there all high and mighty as if wisdom speaks only to you. Seriously, it pisses me off more than I fucking can stand!”
Jesus…I can almost see the steam fuming from her shoulders, her cheeks quivering with rage. From the way she stood in the center of the room with that arch in her back and those glowering eyes, feels like I just poked and prodded a caged jaguar whose on the verge of snapping. Even Leanne was surprised. To her, Jessica was still a newbie to the GBI.
I contemplate telling them what I know about Griffin, the racism and how it makes more sense that the Slave Quarter Killer could be a cop. But even if I did, all they’d see is the color of jealousy. Because honestly, I am a little jealous. It’s pointless to deny it. Jessica thinks she has the right man and after her little tirade, I’m starting to believe she might be right.
“I think you owe us an apology, Cloud.”